Saturday, December 31, 2011

Goodbye 2011…Welcome 2012!

Pop open the's New Year's Eve!
Another year has gone by and I have that feeling I always have on December 31st: that surreal, mind-boggling, how-in-the-world-is-this-year-already-over??? feeling.

In some ways, 2011 crawled by. The first half of the year was angst-filled while Andy was dealing with an orbital pseudo-tumor. There was pain and surgery and radiation and so much waiting and then in mid-May, just like that, we were back to our normal lives. There were some really bad, agonizingly slow days in there, but somehow it all seems like it was eons ago. I suppose it’s always easier to forget the times that you don’t really want to remember.

The second half of the year went by in a blur. So much good has happened in the last several months that I feel like I should pinch myself to make sure it’s all really happening. I’ve been so fortunate with great opportunities coming my way and my blog has grown to a place I never expected. If I could have gone back and told my new-blogger self where I would be today, I could have avoided a lot of nail biting and stomach aches over the future of my little space on the web. 2012 will be bringing the particularly amazing opportunity to be writing and creating recipes as a job, which I ecstatically mentioned in my last post. I still can’t believe it, but am so thankful to be starting this new endeavor.

I suddenly feel like I’m writing one of those Christmas newsletters that I make fun of, so with that, I bring you my 2011 round-up as part a virtual New Year's Eve food blogger party…  

Once again, this food-blogging community that I’ve become a part of has amazed and impressed me. Some fellow bloggers put together a virtual New Year’s Eve party and of course I accepted the invitation to be a part of this event. Check out the other 2011 round-ups linked below. And thanks to Sanjeeta and Lora for hosting (and Heather for the logo).

To ring in 2012, I’ve put together 12 of my favorite recipes from the past year. And since it’s New Year’s Eve, it’s only fitting that we start with cocktails, right?






So, with the year coming to a close behind us, I'd like to propose a toast: To my family and my friends, both old, new and those I’ve yet to meet: Here’s to a wonderful new year filled with more happiness than you can imagine, good health, good fortune, and so much love.

For auld lang syne, my friends…


Here are a couple more champagne cocktails to wet your whistle:
Raspberry Sparklers (pictured at top right)
Strawberry-Amaretto Champagne Cocktails

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Being Happy and Matzo Ball Soup

Lately, my mood can best be described as reflective. I’ve been doing a lot of sitting quietly and contently, cup of coffee in hand, staring out the window past our Christmas tree in the corner, just thinking. Those moments of complete silence and comfort combined with the utter brilliance of the first sip of coffee that passes my lips makes me oh-so-very happy.

As I mentioned earlier this month, I’ve been having some trouble finding motivation to blog. But then I realized that I wasn’t even looking for motivation…I just flat out didn’t feel like doing it. Kids get a break from school during the holidays, and I wanted a break from this. So I took one. And also, soon I will not have the luxury of being lazy, so I’m trying to cram it all in now.

You see, I’ve got a new gig that’s going to keep me very busy and I’m absolutely thrilled about it. Like shout-from-the-rooftops kind of thrilled. I’m going to be writing and creating recipes for the food section of SheKnows, an online women’s magazine. Let me repeat that: I’m going to be writing. Me. Writing. Like, as a job. Cue the happy dance.

It just so happens that my first articles went live today, and I couldn't wait to share them...

Just in time for Hanukkah, I made matzo ball soup. It was my first time making it and I think it turned out pretty good. My goal was light and fluffy matzo balls and they came out perfectly, like little pillowy dumplings. Check out my recipe here: Matzo Ball Soup.

My other article is a fun look at the Mayan prediction for the end of the world, which happens to be one year from today, with some Mayan-inspired recipe suggestions for a tasty last meal. See it here.

So for this, and so many other things, I am happy. I have been given an opportunity to do what I love doing. I have family and friends who support what I do and are happy for my success. I have a husband with whom I couldn’t be more in love, who fills my life with love and laughter. And although it has been a difficult and sad week, one full of heartbreak with the loss of our precious little kitty, Rose, I have to remind myself how very lucky I am.

I’m going to attempt to post one more time before Christmas, but in case I don’t (there’s that laziness again), I’d like to wish everyone the happiest of holidays. And thanks to all of you for the kind and caring words on my last post. Andy and I appreciate it so very much.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sometimes, life is hard…

We lost one of our best little furry friends and a huge part of our family late last week. And I’ll say this: right now, life sucks.

It’s amazing how a tiny five-pound cat can make such a mark on your life. I only got to love her for the last four years and the void is incredible. Andy got to love her for 18 years, which still seems too short. They had a special bond and were so, so close. Her name was Rose, but to him she was Little Baby Cat, Rosie, Rose-a-lino, Rosebud, Ro-bo, Tiny Tim, Jo Jones, Bo Jones, Bo-Bo, Roosevelt, Sears and Rosebuck, and so many more. She was his baby. His heart is broken and mine aches not only for Rose, but for Andy too.

Sometimes, life is hard. Sometimes, life doesn’t seem fair. Sometimes, you just want to cry and cry and cry. I know things will get better, but it’s going to take some time…

Monday, December 12, 2011

The December Slump and Cranberry-Apple Crisps

It’s happening again. I could feel it starting during the Thanksgiving break; that laziness brought on by a holiday vacation and then driven home by a bad flu. Blogging took a back seat and has remained there, safely strapped in.

Thanksgiving seems to do me in. I remember feeling the same way last year, not wanting to get back into the kitchen for weeks afterwards, doing just the bare minimum to get a decent dinner on the table. I don’t know what it is about December that makes me want to do nothing but cook with Campbell’s condensed soups. In fact, that’s not far off from what has been happening. We’ve now made pork chops in cream of mushroom, chicken breasts in cream of asparagus, and a kind of pork parmesan in condensed tomato. And I have to tell you, although these dishes may not be particularly blog-worthy, I wouldn’t have traded them for all the fancy, gourmet food in the world. Throw in A Charlie Brown Christmas, the old stop-motion Rudolph, some mulled wine and a twinkling tree and I will happily ignore my blog…until that little nagging voice gets louder and louder and louder.

Okay, okay…time for a post.

Before Thanksgiving, I bought a huge bag of cranberries with big plans for experimenting beyond the typical cranberry sauce. Up to now, they sat forgotten in the refrigerator. Thankfully they seem to have quite a long shelf life. This weekend, I finally took the bag out and transferred it to the counter. I thought that seeing them sitting there might prompt me to do something with them. After many hours, a nap and lots of procrastinating, I decided on a crisp. Now I know that I’m not exactly pushing the limits with a cranberry crisp, but I’m still working on other more extraordinary dishes. At this point, I’m happy to have done anything at all.

Cranberry-Apple Crisp with Oat and Walnut Topping

Makes 4-6

2 cups fresh cranberries
1 large apple, peeled and diced (about 1 ½ cups)
2 ounces fresh orange juice
¾ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup roughly chopped walnuts
½ cup oats 
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup flour
¼ cup unsalted butter, diced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine cranberries, apple, orange juice, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.

In another bowl, combine walnuts, oats, sugar and flour. Add butter. Using a pastry cutter (or your hands), combine until mixture is crumbly and no large chunks of butter remain.

Divide cranberry mixture among ramekins (4 6-ounce or 6 4-ounce). Top liberally with walnut-oat topping, pressing slightly into fruit. (There may be a small amount of topping left over.)

Place ramekins on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes (depending on size of ramekins), until tops are browned and fruit is bubbly.

Let cool before serving and serve slightly warm. (Can be made ahead and heated in the microwave for about 30 seconds to warm through.)

I love desserts that can be described as rustic because it means I don’t have to spend lots of time trying to make it look pretty. But these crisps manage to be both rustic and pretty. And they taste like the holidays. Not too sweet, a little bit tart, spiced with cinnamon; my mom thought they tasted like cherry pie. Gooey cranberry and apple filling is balanced with crunchy brown sugar-baked oats and walnuts. They’re a little messy, but they were a big hit.

Now that I’ve gotten back into the kitchen again, hopefully I can keep the motivation going. Although more pork chops smothered in cream of mushroom and taking the rest of December off sounds pretty good too…

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Julia Child Moment with Whole Grilled Bass

When I first started this blog, I naively thought that I would post both my successes and failures…it is real life, after all, and there are bound to be plenty of experiments gone awry. What I quickly realized though is that it is WAY too much work to take and edit photos, write up a recipe and think of something (hopefully) entertaining to say about a dish when I’m not even happy with the end result.

Trust me when I say there have been plenty of dishes gone wrong. Most recently it was a bland turnip soup with weird unidentified woody pieces that didn’t puree and had to be fished out of our mouths. There was a fava bean puree that tasted like it looked (which was not good) and oddly chewy shrimp puffs that either needed more egg or less egg. Baking disasters are even more common; the worst being a miserable version of an upside-down apple dessert labeled in my notebook as “Awful Cake.” That one went directly into the garbage. I could go on. But I don’t want daily reminders of these things and I certainly don’t need them enshrined on my blog.

That brings me to this dish: a whole striped bass, stuffed with aromatics, bursting with flavor, grilled and ensconced in its crispy skin. Well, that’s what was supposed to happen. I’ve made this dish several times before and it worked perfectly each time. But this time I wanted to take photos and you know the saying about the best-laid plans…

Normally I wouldn’t post something that I don't deem cosmetically perfect. However, I’m making an exception because this fish was so tender, so juicy and so flavorful. The problem, as you can see, is that when I flipped it over on the grill, all the skin pulled off. The grill was oiled, the fish was oiled…it’s the same technique I’ve always used. Sigh. As I started to throw my temper tantrum on the patio for all the neighbors to hear, I thought about one of my favorite episodes of The French Chef.

Julia Child was making apple tarte tatin in this particular episode, but the apples didn’t caramelize the way they were supposed to and the whole thing was way too loose. She knew it wasn’t going to work, but carried on anyway saying, “If everything doesn’t happen quite the way you like, it doesn’t make too much difference because you can fix it” with emphasis on the YOU CAN. She was chuckling to herself as she moved forward, and as she turned the tarte tatin onto a plate in a messy heap proclaimed, “That unmolded VERY badly, but…it’s not going to make too much difference because it’s all going to fix up…” She was absolutely unperturbed by it all and it made me love her even more.

Somehow I channeled a little bit of that energy when all the skin disappeared between the grates of the barbecue, much to Andy’s surprise. He was preparing for an all-out fit. Truthfully, I surprised myself a bit too, but I picked a little piece of fish off the barbecue and knew that it was still going to be perfect. So what if it didn’t look just right. Julia Child flubbed a dish on TELEVISION, for goodness sake, and she didn’t seem to care one bit! In fact, she was laughing. What did it matter that I had skinless fish?

Whole Grilled Striped Bass with Lemon, Garlic and Thai Chili Peppers

Serves 2

1 whole striped bass, cleaned and dressed, about 1 pound 
3-4 slices lemon
4 cloves garlic, crushed
6 Thai chili peppers, crushed
6-8 sprigs of thyme
olive oil

Remove fins from fish. Liberally oil, salt and pepper the entire fish, including inside the cavity. Stuff the cavity with lemon slices, garlic cloves, chili peppers and thyme sprigs. Close the cavity by threading a skewer (or toothpicks) though the skin.

Prepare a grill to medium heat (about 375 degrees). Grill fish over indirect heat for 10-11 minutes per side, flipping once very carefully.

(Alternatively, I’m sure you could roast this in the oven and probably have a better chance of not losing all the skin.)

So there it is, in all its glory. I know it’s not the most beautiful dish I’ve ever made, but I will stand by its greatness. The fish is so tender it’s almost buttery, with hints of lemon, garlic, thyme and the slightest pinch of spice that lingers on your tongue. We devoured it, pretty or not.

At the end of the day, Julia Child said it best: “This looks perfectly alright.”

(Watch the apple tarte tatin mishap here at about 17:30.)