Friday, December 31, 2010

Getting Back to Normal

It’s been quite a month. Typically in our house, December is a month filled with fun traditions that we look forward to all year long. However, this December turned out to be a stressful, anxious month, filled with more doctor appointments than I care to think about. Andy’s mystery eye swelling turned out to be a something called an Optical Pseudo Tumor. As the name suggests, it’s not actually a tumor, but a condition that causes severe swelling around and behind the eyes, which in turn causes double vision and a lot of discomfort. Since this is not a common thing, it took a while to diagnose, getting worse by the day. There were some very bad days. After more tests than I thought possible, and so many different doctors, Andy was finally put on steroids to reduce the swelling. Thankfully, they are working, albeit slowly, and he is still experiencing slight double vision and general tiredness of his eyes. Each day seems to be just a little bit better, and the doctors seem happy with the way things are going.

As you can imagine, cooking has been the last thing on my mind. After almost daily doctor appointments that lasted for hours, all I had the energy for was takeout and prepared foods. Actually, my appetite was nowhere to be found, and Andy ended up eating many meals solo. Finally, yesterday (four weeks later), I got back into the kitchen. I had fun, the dish turned out great, and it finally seemed like things are getting back to normal. Except I didn’t take pictures. Oops. So that dish will have to wait. But for now, this is a dish that I made for a Thanksgiving appetizer that I’ve wanted to write about for weeks.

Shrimp Poached in Spicy Asian Broth with Braised Bok Choy

Makes 2 full size servings or 4 appetizer servings

Bok Choy:
2 heads baby bok choy, leaves separated
vegetable oil
splash sesame oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green onion, chopped
white wine

Heat the vegetable oil and sesame oil in a saute pan. Saute garlic and green onions in oil. Add wine to cover bottom of pan and bring to a simmer. Put bok choy into pan and cover. Let simmer, tossing occasionally, until tender. When bok choy is done, remove from pan and roughly chop into bite size pieces. Return to pan and reserve.

Vegetable oil
1 green onion, chopped
1 hot pepper, diced
2 fresh cayenne peppers, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 cups seafood stock (I use Penzeys Seafood Soup Base)
splash fish sauce
12 shrimp, peeled

In a little vegetable oil, sauté green onion, peppers, garlic and ginger. Add stock and fish sauce and bring to a simmer. Poach shrimp in broth until cooked through. When shrimp are cooked, add bok choy and braising liquid into broth. Stir to combine and simmer a few minutes longer.

This is a very flavorful, spicy broth that pairs well with the tender poached shrimp and braised bok choy. A bit of heat lingers in your mouth, but doesn’t knock your socks off. A small bowl of this makes a nice start to a meal.

It’s hard to believe this year is already over. 2010 went by so quickly, with the exception of December of course. It’s been a wonderful year full of amazing memories, fun trips, and fantastic food, but we’re both very happy to be moving forward from a very long month.  Thanks to all of you that wished Andy well over the last several weeks.

Here’s to a new year, good health, more amazing memories and fantastic food. And to getting back to normal…

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Should have been…

This post is terribly late and should have been named “I pity the fool…” The giveaway ended Thursday and I said I'd post the winner Friday.  I swear I didn’t just keep it for myself and run.  We do have a winner.  We also have a very unwell husband. 

Remember last weekend when I said we had to take a trip to the ER?  Well…there have been almost daily doctor’s appointments since to try to determine why Andy’s eyes are swollen.  First it was around his eyes, and now it is his actual eyeballs.  Sounds gross?  Looks even worse.  I’ll spare you the photos that I’ve sent to family.  The good news is that doctors seem confused but not horribly concerned about it and are leaning towards allergic reaction.  It will be really fantastic when it’s over.

So do me a favor and imagine that you’re reading something witty and funny about the A-Team and Mr. T saying “I pity the fool” in all his gold-chain glory.  Then imagine that I effortlessly tied it in to the persimmon fool I made with the persimmons that I thought were destined for the garbage.  We’re talking sad, deflated, and mushy.  But I was determined to use them and here’s what came out of it:

Persimmon Fool

Makes 2-4 servings

1 1/2 persimmons, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon brandy
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons allspice
1/4 teaspoon ginger

3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon sugar

gingersnap cookies, crumbled

Stir persimmons, brown sugar, brandy and spices together in a small saucepan.  Let simmer for a few minutes.  Puree roughly (either by hand or with an emersion blender.)  Refrigerate to cool.

Whip cream and sugar together in a mixer to form peaks.  Fold cooled puree into whipped cream.  Sprinkle top of fool with cookie crumbles.

It was only recently that I heard of a fool (puréed fruit mixed with whipped cream), but I loved it before even learning what it was.  The immature 10 year-old in me loves the name and giggles every time I say it.  The adult in me loves the simplicity of fruit mixed with cream. 

This is such a quick and easy dessert and is the perfect light finish to a meal. The persimmons mixed with baking spices and brandy made me think “holiday dessert.”  Throw in the whipped cream and gingersnap crumbles and this is definitely a winner.

Speaking of winners, Lea Ann at Mangos Chili and Z is the winner of my $35 CSN giveaway.  Congrats Lea Ann!

Another winner last week was me.  Becky at Baking and Cooking, A Tale of Two Loves bestowed The Versatile Blogger award upon me.  Thanks Becky…I appreciate it!

Fingers crossed for Andy and his quick recovery.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A tart (and my first CSN giveaway!)

First, the good stuff…a giveaway! CSN Stores is sponsoring a $35 gift certificate giveaway for one of my readers. If you haven’t checked out the CSN sites, you should. They have everything you can think of, from cookware to briefcases. With Christmas around the corner, I’m sure we could all make use of this gift card. (See the end of this post for the rules.)

Now, some moaning and groaning…it’s been a long week. We’re both still battling our marathon colds. Andy’s has morphed into bronchitis with a side trip to the emergency room for an extremely swollen face. I came home from work and went straight to bed almost every day last week. Hence, no new posts. I am amazed at all of you out there that with kids and jobs and colds who still manage to post great recipes with fantastic photos almost daily. I’ve had no energy for any of it.  

The only notable thing we’ve done is to get our Christmas tree up. The house is decorated, and so is the dog. Meet Febby:

He’s our longhaired miniature dachshund and you can’t see it, but his shirt says, “Ho! Ho! Ho!” Yes, I am one of those people that put shirts on my dog. He has worn many ridiculous outfits, including the requisite hot dog costume. You can’t have a dachshund and not put him in a hot dog costume. As you can see, he also loves pillows and actually uses them like a person. But enough about silly dogs in clothes…

Today was the first time since Thanksgiving that I’ve actually felt like cooking. My uncle brought me a couple of homegrown acorn squash on Thanksgiving and they’ve been sitting on the counter ever since. Every time I saw them, I wondered what to do with them. Since I’ve never tasted acorn squash, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

When I cut it open, (which was a bit of a wrestling match complete with three different knives), I expected it to taste the way it smelled: like pumpkin. But after roasting, I was pleased to find that it has a very nutty flavor, not at all like pumpkin and more like butternut squash. I decided on a savory tart with classic squash-loving flavors: brown butter and sage.

Acorn Squash, Brown Butter and Sage Tarts

Makes 4 mini tarts or 1 large tart

2 pie crusts (for 4 mini tarts) or 1 pie crust (for a large tart)
1 acorn squash
olive oil
3 tablespoons brown butter, divided use
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon heavy cream
3 eggs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

sage and thyme roasted seeds, for garnish (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place pie dough into tart pans and press firmly in. Prick sides and bottoms with a fork and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

Turn oven down to 375 degrees to roast the squash. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds, then coat the flesh side with a little olive oil and place flesh side down on a baking sheet. Roast for about 40 minutes until tender.

Remove squash from oven and when cool enough to handle, scoop flesh out with a spoon (yield should be 2 cups). Put squash, 2 tablespoons brown butter, mascarpone, parmesan, cream, eggs, sage, salt and pepper into a food processor and pulse until well-blended and smooth.

Spread the filling into baked pie shells, enough to be level with top of crust. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes, until filling is set. Remove tarts from oven, and when ready to serve, brush with remaining tablespoon of brown butter and garnish with roasted seeds.

(To roast the seeds, rinse and dry them, then toss with some olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, ground sage and dried thyme. Roast at 375 for 8-10 minutes. Watch carefully…they burn quickly.)

For my first acorn squash dish, I’m very pleased with the way these little tarts turned out. Even Andy (who is not the world’s biggest squash fan), liked them a lot. The squash and the brown butter combine nicely for a very nutty flavor and a hint of sage comes through as you finish the bite.

One tiny problem: they were a little bit dry. I will say it again: I am not a baker (as you can tell from my use of pre-made pie crust.) So to those of you who understand the science of baking, what do I change or add to make the filling a little bit more moist without changing the flavor? Another egg, more cream, more butter? Help!


Here are the rules of the giveaway:

Follow my blog and leave me a comment by 10 PM (PST) on 12/9/10. That’s easy, right? Only one rule. Oh, and you must be a US or Canada resident. (Okay…two rules.)
I’ll pick a number randomly on Friday, 12/10 and contact the winner. Good luck!