Sunday, January 29, 2012

Foodbuzz 24x24: Get Fresh with Citrus!

At this time of year, the farmer’s markets can be a bit bleak in the way of colorful fruits and vegetables, unless you want to eat rainbow chard with every meal, which I don’t. (Sorry chard lovers, but I don’t really even want to eat it with one meal. And yes, I’ve tried. Many times. You can have it all.)

So in the meantime, while I’m longing for the days of juicy tomatoes and sweet nectarines, I distract myself with some amazing varieties of citrus that are only available in the winter months…nature’s way of throwing us a bone, I guess.

Lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruits are available year-round, but blood oranges, Cara Cara oranges, and Meyer lemons are the gems of the winter season. With their vibrant colors and flavors, they brighten up any dish, so get them while you can…

This month I was selected to participate in the Foodbuzz 24x24 dinner event (24 different meals taking place within 24 hours). For my dinner last night, I created an entire menu of citrus-themed dishes that will get you through even the coldest winter nights.


Any good dinner party starts out with a cocktail, and this one sets the citrus tone with blood orange and Meyer lemon juices. It’s sweet and tart, very refreshing, and goes down almost a little too easily.  

Sweet and Sour Champagne Mojitos

Makes 4

1/2 cup blood orange juice
juice of half a Meyer lemon
2 ounces light rum
16 mint leaves

Combine juices, rum and mint in a blender. Puree completely. Strain.

Pour about 3 tablespoons of juice mixture into each glass. Top with champagne.


Now that you’ve wet your whistle, here is a spicy first course of shrimp with red peppers, lime, garlic, cilantro and coconut milk. This dish has a good amount of spice but is nicely balanced by the tanginess of the lime and the creaminess of the coconut milk.

Spicy Coconut-Lime Shrimp

Serves 4

1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup chopped red Fresno pepper
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound raw shrimp, tails on

canola oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup light coconut milk
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon sambal oelek

For marinade, combine first 7 ingredients. Add shrimp and marinate for 60 – 90 minutes.

When ready to cook, heat a drizzle of canola oil in a large pan. Sauté garlic for 30 seconds. Add coconut milk, lime juice and sambal oelek. Whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer. Add shrimp and marinade, stir well and bring back to a simmer. Cook until shrimp are completely cooked through (time will vary depending on size). Remove shrimp from pan and reserve. Simmer sauce for a few more minutes until thickened, stirring occasionally.

Divide shrimp and pour sauce over the top. Serve with bread to sop up sauce.


Citrus juice is a perfect component in marinades. It makes even a tough cut of meat cook up juicy and tender. The grapefruit and ginger in this marinade are a perfect match; so good that I boiled and reduced it down to be used as a sauce. Top with a fresh citrus salad with creamy avocado to turn this into a company-worthy dish.

Grapefruit-marinated London Broil with Citrus-Avocado Salad

1 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/3 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons grated ginger
1/2 tablespoon white miso paste
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 green onions, chopped
2-3 pound London Broil (top sirloin steak)

Citrus Salad:
1 grapefruit, cut into supremes
1 orange, cut into supremes
1 green onion, chopped
1 avocado, diced

Combine first 6 marinade ingredients. Add meat. Marinate 24 hours.

For citrus salad, dice citrus supremes. Combine with green onion and avocado. Add salt to taste. (Make just before serving.)

When ready to cook meat, heat barbecue to 400 degrees.

Remove meat from marinade and pour marinade into a small saucepan. Boil over high heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Strain out green onions if desired.) Reserve.

Barbecue meat on direct heat for 15-20 minutes, depending on size and desired doneness. (For 2-1/4 pounds at medium-rare, we cooked ours for about 8 minutes per side.) Remove from barbecue and let rest under foil for at least 5 minutes. Slice thinly.

Serve with citrus salad and sauce.


If you like Creamsicles, this panna cotta is for you. The Cara Cara orange gives this creamy treat a delicate hint of citrus that is also a perfect complement to the tart raspberry sauce. And even after a big dinner, you’ll have room for this light dessert. There’s always room for dessert, isn’t there?

Cara Cara Orange Panna Cotta with Raspberry-Orange Sauce

Makes 4

Panna Cotta:
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon Cara Cara orange* zest
1/4 cup Cara Cara orange juice
1 tablespoon Meyer lemon juice
1 teaspoon gelatin
1 tablespoon cold water
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons sugar

6 ounces raspberries
1/2 cup Cara Cara orange juice
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
3 tablespoons sugar, divided use
1/2 teaspoon Cara Cara orange zest

For panna cotta, whisk together yogurt, zest, orange juice and lemon juice in a large bowl.

In a small bowl, pour water over gelatin. Let sit undisturbed.

In a small saucepan, combine cream and sugar. Bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and whisk in gelatin mixture to dissolve, then whisk cream mixture into yogurt mixture.

Pour into ramekins. Refrigerate until firm, at least 6 hours.

For sauce, combine raspberries, orange juice, lemon juice and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes, then push through a sieve. Pour back into saucepan and add orange zest. Taste for sweetness and add up to 2 tablespoons more sugar as needed, returning to a simmer to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To unmold panna cotta, dip the ramekins in hot water. Slide a knife around the edge and tip out onto a plate. Serve with raspberry-orange sauce.

*Cara Cara oranges are a type of navel orange, but sweeter and with pinkish red flesh.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Chocolate-Coffee Pinwheels

Good morning! Have you had your coffee yet? Better go grab a cup…all this coffee talk will have you jonesing for a fix. Ahem…of coffee!

Am I addicted to coffee? I don’t think so. I don’t have to have a cup, but I sure do enjoy it. For me, it’s all a part of the routine. It means a slow-paced morning and a chance to take a breath and get ready for the day. Brew a strong pot of dark roast, sit down, inhale that heavenly aroma, and that first sip? Oh yeah…that first sip is the best. Does that sound like a caffeine addict? Okay…maybe it does. But I almost feel the same about decaf, so I can’t be too far gone, right?

I don’t remember my first taste of coffee, but I do have a vivid memory of my mom singing an old coffee commercial jingle to me. I was about five years old and sitting in front of one of those old wall heaters, cold feet tucked under me, still in my pajamas with bed head and sleep in my eyes. The jingle went, “The best part of wakin’ up, is Folgers in your cup.” But my mom, much to my delight, sang it as, “The best part of wakin’ up, is Folgers in your butt.” It still makes me laugh out loud (because I’m so mature). And now that I’m such an adult, I’m going to eat chocolate for breakfast. Because I can.

When I was chosen to participate in the #MyBaristaMoment campaign for Smart & Final’s Ambiance brand of coffee, I was thrilled to create a treat to go along with your morning cup of joe. My head was spinning with ideas of coffee cake and cinnamon rolls, but then I thought about what I really wanted to eat for breakfast…chocolate!

Coffee and chocolate go together like peanut butter and jelly. Except way better. The hardest part was choosing which coffee to use for this recipe. I wanted the darkest roast they had…something that would really stand up to the flavor of the chocolate, like Italian Roast.

Now if this doesn’t get you going in the morning, I don’t know what will…

Chocolate-Coffee Pinwheels

Makes about 40

1/3 cup Ambiance Italian Roast ground coffee
1/2 cup + 6 tablespoons sugar, divided use
2 sheets puff pastry
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips

Make coffee simple syrup by brewing a very strong pot of coffee by using 1/3 cup ground coffee and filling water to about the 3-cup line on your coffee maker. (You will have leftover coffee.)

In a small saucepan, stir together 1/2 cup brewed coffee and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil and let boil for about 5 minutes until sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly syrupy. Let cool.

Meanwhile, chop chocolate chips and pecans very finely. (Use a mini food processor to chop pecans very fine.)

When syrup is cool, lay a sheet of puff pastry on a cutting board. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar over the entire sheet. With a rolling pin, roll pastry out slightly in all directions, pressing sugar in (and keeping rectangular shape). Flip pastry over.

With a pastry brush, liberally coat pastry with coffee syrup. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar, half the chopped chocolate and half the chopped pecans over the syrup, leaving a 1/2” edge on one side of the pasty. Spread out evenly. Using your hands, press into pastry.

Starting with the end opposite the 1/2” border, roll pastry up tightly into a pinwheel. Seal by pressing the edge into the roll.

Repeat with second sheet of puff pastry.

Refrigerate rolls for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Slice the rolls into 1/2" pieces and lay on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 6 minutes on one side, flip over, and bake for 5-6 more minutes. (Watch carefully in the last minute…they go fast.)

Remove from oven and leave on baking sheet for another minute, them transfer to wire rack. While still hot, brush lightly with coffee syrup on top only. Let cool completely.

I have a confession to make: I think I ate about ten of these in one sitting. 

They are so light and airy that they can’t possibly have calories, right? There is just a hint of chocolate with a hint of coffee and it’s all caramelized to perfection.

This project has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for #collectivebias #CBias. All opinions are my own.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Spicy roasted nuts have my number…

It was going to be that kind of day. The kind of day when you wake up raring to go, have the best intentions, but then nothing goes right; the kind of day where you hear the “wah-wah” sound playing over and over in your head; the kind of day where you end up spending hours on something that you thought would be so simple…like spicy roasted nuts.

Never in a million years would I have thought that spiced nuts would give me the kind of trouble they did. The failed versions are crossed out and written over in my recipe notebook with descriptors like “Yuck!” and “Boo!” By far, the worst was chocolate-chipotle. The flavor of the mixture itself was very good, but once roasted in the oven, the chocolate burned and charred, leaving little black blobs where the nuts used to be. Other attempts were sadly flavorless.

Nothing was working…I wasn’t happy with the egg white coating or the vegetable oil coating. Then I remembered seeing this mouth-watering recipe for Buffalo Spiced Cocktail Nuts that Carolyn at All Day I Dream About Food made, and she used butter. Of course…butter! Why didn’t I think of that?? If not for the buttery inspiration from Carolyn’s recipe, I might still be in my kitchen trying to get this recipe right.

With that issue solved, it was time to up the ante with the spices. My rib rub tastes good on just about anything, so using that as a base, I added a little extra heat and came up with a version I was finally happy with. This version also happens to use beer, and since it only uses two tablespoons, the rest has to go somewhere, right? (A definite plus after fighting with nuts all day.)

Spicy Roasted Nuts

1/4 teaspoon each:
            onion powder
            garlic powder
            ground mustard
            chili powder
1/2 teaspoon each:
            cayenne pepper
            ground chipotle powder
            fresh minced rosemary
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons beer (I used an amber lager)
1/2 cup each cashews, almonds, pecans
extra salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Mix together all the spices, then stir in melted butter and beer. Whisk until completely incorporated.

Add nuts and fold into spice mixture into completely coated.

Pour onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-13 minutes, stirring about every 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer off baking sheet and let cool completely on parchment paper. Toss with more salt to taste.

Grab that beer…the spice definitely comes through with these addictive nibbles. The smoky flavor of the chipotle lingers with a hint of rosemary, and then the cayenne comes in loud and clear. But it only makes you want to eat more…

So, yes, this unassuming bowl of nuts made me crazy, but it also reminded me that when it comes to cooking, you can always have a bad day. All in all, I’m pretty lucky I don’t have more.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Potlucks and Plank-Grilled Salmon

The potluck: a great idea…unless you’re a control freak.

I can completely understand the appeal of hosting a potluck. Everyone else brings a dish, leaving you to concentrate on your other host duties. To be sure, there is always a lot to do when hosting a party, and not having to deal with the food can be a huge plus. Unless, I’ll say it again, you’re a control freak. (You may have guessed by now that I am.)

It would be nearly impossible for me to hand over the food reins to my guests. It makes me nervous just thinking about all the ways things could go wrong. What if the dishes didn’t go well together? What if everyone brought the same dish? What if someone slated for a main dish didn’t show? What if there wasn’t enough food? I could go on. There are those types of people out there who are much less high-strung than I am and who would be perfectly at ease if four plates of pigs-in-blankets showed up. But I am decidedly NOT that person. (And I'll admit that I’m a little jealous of those laid-back people.)

The "after" plank - burn, baby burn...

So, although I will probably not be having a potluck anytime soon, I was happy to contribute this spicy barbecued salmon dish to the gojee virtual potluck. Starting on Thursday, January 26, check out other potluck dishes fellow gojee contributors are sharing by going to and entering “gojeepotluck” into the I Crave field.  You can also follow #gojeepotluck on Twitter.

Pineapple-Jalapeno Plank-Grilled Salmon

Serves 2-4

1-2 pounds salmon fillets
3/4 cup pineapple juice
1 tablespoon hot chili oil
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 jalapeno, chopped
4 leaves pineapple sage* (optional)
1-2 cedar planks

Soak cedar planks in water for 2 hours.

Whisk together pineapple juice, chili oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, jalapeno, and pineapple sage (if using). Marinate salmon in mixture for 1 hour.

Remove salmon from marinade and pour marinade into a small saucepan. Boil rapidly for at least 5 minutes. Continue to boil and reduce if a thicker sauce is desired.

Heat barbecue to about 450 degrees. Prior to placing salmon on planks, season (heat) planks on barbecue according to manufacturer directions.

Place salmon on seasoned planks, skin side down. Close barbecue lid, but watch for flare-ups. (Spray plank with a water bottle if flare-ups occur.)

Cook salmon to desired doneness, 15-20 minutes, depending on size of fillets. (One 12-ounce fillet cooked for about 18 minutes.) Salmon should come off plank easily and skin may remain on the plank.

Serve salmon with sauce spooned over the top.

*Note: Do NOT substitute regular sage for pineapple sage.

Using a cedar plank is one of my favorite ways to cook salmon. It’s low and slow, which leaves the fish tender and moist. The wood imparts a scent and flavor to the fish that you can’t get any other way and when combined with the sweetness and spiciness of this dish, it makes for a fantastic result.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Laziness, Silliness and Acorn Squash Soup

Ah, the long weekend. Is there anything better? Long weekends are for laziness, no commitments, and no agenda. They also happen to be a great time for silliness.

Let me let you in on a little secret: Andy and I go to great lengths to make ourselves comfortable, even if it means being a bit silly in the process. We rearrange furniture from room to room, we pile couch cushions on the floor in front of the fireplace, we pitch an actual tent in the living room, we put air mattresses on the patio. Our latest creation in comfort is what we call “The Pump-It-Up Room” and it is absolutely fantastic. (For those of you without children or the mindset or a child, Pump It Up is a place for children’s parties that is essentially an entire building of bounce house.)

Here’s the scenario: we have an L-shaped sectional couch in the living room. The space between the couch and the wall that the television hangs on just happens to be a perfect fit for our queen-sized air mattress. It also happens to be the same height. So, you see, the air mattress was practically begging to be wedged into that space. The result is an enormous expanse of cushiony comfort that gets covered in pillows and blankets. Now you can basically lie (or sleep if the mood strikes) ANYWHERE in the living room. Does this not sound like one of the best ideas ever???

We so look forward to The Pump-It-Up Room that we even have an abbreviation for it: The PIUR. Sure, it’s silly. And maybe we’re silly too. But I love it for what it stands for. It means the weekend, laziness, fun, comfort, and best of all, togetherness. It’s hard not to be happy when you’re in The PIUR…it’s just too good.

Now, none of this has anything to do with acorn squash soup expect that I made it this weekend. And it was really good, kind of like The PIUR.

Maple-Roasted Acorn Squash and Fennel Soup

For roasting:
1 large acorn squash, about 2 - 2 1/2 pounds
1 large fennel bulb*
1 head garlic
maple syrup*
olive oil

For soup:
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped shallot
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon maple syrup
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Chop the top third off of the head of garlic. Lay two large pieces of foil on top of each other. Place the bottom part of garlic in the middle of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Wrap foil up around garlic and seal at top and sides.

Cut acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds. Place both halves, skin side down, in a glass baking dish. Drizzle flesh liberally with maple syrup and olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Cut fennel bulb in half. Cut out core and remove any tough outer pieces. Slice fennel into strips. Place in another glass baking dish and drizzle liberally with maple syrup and olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Put garlic, squash and fennel on middle rack of oven. Roast until tender. Times will vary depending on size, about 40 minutes for fennel, about 50 minutes for garlic, about 75 minutes for squash. Remove and let cool.

When cool enough to handle, squeeze roasted garlic cloves out of skins, scoop acorn squash out of skin (about 2 cup yield), and chop fennel (about 3/4 cup yield).

In a large pot, heat olive oil and sauté shallot until soft. Add fennel and garlic, season with salt and pepper. Deglaze pot with white wine, scraping the bottom. Stir in acorn squash, then chicken stock and syrup. Using an immersion blender, puree in pot. (Add more chicken stock if thinner consistency is desired.) Check seasonings and add more salt, pepper or syrup to taste. Heat through to serve immediately. 

*Note: If the fennel is very thick, it can be a bit fibrous, so make sure to chop into very small pieces and puree well. 
And don't even think about using any syrup that isn't real, pure maple syrup. Sorry Mrs. Butterworth, but you have no place here.

When I tasted the maple-roasted fennel, I was sold. I don’t consider myself a huge fennel lover, but maple-roasted fennel could convert me. In general, the maple syrup made everything better. The soup has a savory sweetness that I loved. It was creamy with no cream added in. It’s hearty and makes you want to curl up In front of the fire. Or in The PIUR. You know which one I’d choose...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

To-do lists, trying to focus, and chicken wings…

An interesting group of subjects, huh? Suddenly I feel like I should be on Sesame Street singing, “One of these things is not like the other…”

I’m finding that my time management skills are lacking a bit these days. Maybe it’s my tendency to bounce between many things at once instead of focusing on one task, or maybe it’s that things take longer than I think they should and I set unrealistic goals. Either way, I’ve been struggling for the last several days and am a bit worried as I watch my to-do list grow longer and longer.

One thing I have to remind myself is that when starting anything new, there’s always an adjustment period. Since I haven’t had to deal with deadlines and editors before now, this is all new territory. With my blog, I set my own deadlines and am my own editor. And that has made me incredibly lazy. If I didn’t feel like it, I didn’t have to do it. Now that I’m actually getting paid to do it for someone else, there’s this funny little thing about them actually wanting you to do the work…on time. It’s a cruel world, isn’t it?

My fingers are crossed that this will all get easier and soon it will become second-nature to dream up articles and submit pitches, then actually do the cooking, the photographing, the writing and ultimately submit something with the proper format, hopefully error-free and up-to-snuff. So far, I’ve got five under my belt and even the fifth one felt easier, which gives me hope that in another month all this angst will be for naught. 

As things get easier and I get more practice, I know my time management skills will come back, my focus will sharpen, and I’ll be able to check items off my to-do list quicker. I CANNOT WAIT. In the meantime, I’ll distract myself with chicken wings.

Do you ever get that craving for chicken wings where absolutely nothing else will suffice? Suddenly all you can think about is your need for that spicy-tangy flavor, creamy dip, messy hands and a pile of napkins. You can almost taste the cold beer that you’ll wash it all down with. No? Never feel that way? Oh, right…neither do I. (Sure.)

Super Bowl is just around the corner and chicken wings are a must-have dish at any football party. And, just in case you have picky eaters, I’m giving you three options to please them all: sweet and spicy, tangy with a kick, and fiery hot.

Check out the recipes here, and get the wet-naps ready.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Starting Behind and White Bean-Roasted Garlic Dip

Here we are, nine days into the new year and I’m just now going to talk about things I want to do differently this year. Yes, I’m a little late to this party, but better late than never, right?

I know myself better than to make resolutions. They just don’t stick, so why bother? Though for me, I am a big believer in starting fresh. For instance, if I decide on a Thursday that I want to start exercising, I’m very likely not going to put that into effect until Monday. There’s just something about a new week, new month, or new year that makes it easier to wipe the slate clean and become something else. So with this new year, there are definitely a few things I’d like to change. So far (nine whole days in), some changes have stuck while others seem to be having a slower start. Although I’m not surprised, I’m going to try harder to make those changes because I think they will ultimately result in a happier me.

Even though I’m not calling these resolutions, I realize they do sound an awful lot like them. But my thinking is simply this: There are things that are begging to be done differently in my life. Some may help me live longer, some may help me feel better physically, some may help me feel better mentally. So I will try to do them until they become habit and I no longer have to remind myself to do them. Or I will fail. Really, I’m okay with either one, because if I fail, there’s always another Monday on the horizon.

Change #1: Just be healthier. No rules for exercising five times a week or not eating sugar and red meat. Instead, remember that exercising for thirty minutes a day makes me feel better when I have that piece of cake or glass of wine.  Remember moderation. I don’t have the best family history when it comes to matters of the heart and this change could make a big difference in my future.

Change #2: Don’t be so lazy. I’ll admit it…my whole life I’ve gotten by doing the bare minimum. School came easy to me and as a result, I didn’t have to try very hard. I was always lucky when it came to jobs; they seemed to fall in my lap. As a result, I am a habitual procrastinator who can’t seem to get a job done until the eleventh hour. This needs to change. With this new job, I’ll be juggling a lot. The new job, a part-time job, my blog, and just regular life matters. Previously, I’ve had the luxury of working when I felt like it…I was my own boss. The reality of deadlines hit me this weekend as I cooked and wrote about six different dishes. Getting ahead will be key.

Change #3: Keep my emotions in check. Another thing I’ll admit…I have a tendency to react quickly to all situations. I’m an emotional girl and that makes me who I am, but I do realize that it might serve me well to take a step back and assess the situation before I invest too much into it. Doing this could potentially save a lot of angst and stress.

So there they are…my three non-resolutions that I’ll either keep or not keep. Maybe writing them down for all to see will help. Maybe it won’t. But with the goal being a happier and healthier me, there’s no harm in trying, right?

In my attempt to finish other assignments this weekend, I realized that I didn’t have a dish ready for my blog. My first instinct was to say, “Screw it. I can post a blog whenever I feel like it, can’t I?” But then I remembered that I was trying not to be so lazy. Darn these non-resolutions!

The good thing about this dip is that the active prep time is minutes. So you can still get that lazy feeling even though you’re actually getting something done. Win.

White Bean and Roasted Garlic Dip

1-15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 head roasted garlic*
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients into a mini food processor and run until smooth. Serve with tortilla chips, pita chips, crackers or bread.

*To make roasted garlic, heat oven to 350 degrees. Cut top third off of a head of garlic, exposing cloves. Center garlic on two sheets of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pull up sides of foil and seal around top and sides. Place foil package on oven rack and cook for 50 minutes until garlic is soft. When cool, squeeze cloves out of skins.

This dip will be my new go-to appetizer, especially since I almost always have these ingredients on hand. The flavors of roasted garlic, lemon and rosemary are toned down just enough by the beans and olive oil so that this dip doesn’t smack you in the face, but has enough zing to make you keep coming back for more. It’s addictive, but in a good way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re breaking any resolutions. We don’t need any help in that area, do we?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Living Bravely and Sparkling Cranberry Muffins

I have always had a love affair with Christmas. Not a Chevy Chase lighting up the neighborhood with obnoxious displays kind of love affair; but more like a little kid waking up at five in the morning, sneaking into the living room to open presents and then taping them back together before anyone else wakes up. Or agreeing on a Christmas morning wake-up time with your sister and then changing her alarm to go off three hours earlier. Not that I ever did either of those things…

Even now, come Christmas morning, I am beyond excited and I still wake up way too early. I pull on my most Christmasy socks, turn on the carols, and sip my coffee in front of the tree. Thankfully, Andy shares this excitement with me, making the holiday season even more special. It will always be a magical time of the year of me.

Now, what does any of this have to do with living bravely? This year, Andy bestowed upon me what I think is my most favorite Christmas present of all time (a close second being that Cabbage Patch Kid I got when I was five). It is a simple silver pendant, in the shape of a circle, with the words “Be Brave, Live Life” stamped on it. It made my cry and I love it with every fiber of my being.

See, Andy has long told me that I am brave, but I always brushed it off, chalking it up to a point of view jaded by love and affection. But he insisted. He insisted that it is brave to quit your very secure and well-paying job without really knowing what you’re going to do next; to make a huge change; to flounder around, trying to find your passion; to put yourself out there for anyone to judge; to risk rejection and heartbreak if it doesn’t all work out as expected or hoped. He insisted that I would find that thing that lit a fire under me and live out my dreams, however big or small they were. And I finally believe him. It has taken a bit of time, but now I think I’m brave, too. It would have been easier to stay in a comfortable job, collecting a paycheck every two weeks, and generally just mailing it in. But I didn’t. I took a chance, and with more support from Andy than I ever could have asked for, I am able to be brave and live life. I have a fire and a passion now, just like he assured me I would.

It may have taken some doing, but eventually I got to where I wanted to be. Even in those times when it would have been easier to quit, I didn't. Seeing this sentiment hanging around my neck reminds me of all of that. Of being brave and living life. Hands down, best gift ever.

Now I know Christmas has come and gone, but with the little vacation I took from blogging, I never got these festive muffins posted. So if you’ve already put away all of your Christmas decorations and taken down the tree, ignore the photos of the stockings hung by the chimney with care. Around our house though, I expect they’ll stay there for at least another couple weeks, along with the tree. It all just makes me too happy…

If you have any sparkling wine leftover from New Year’s Eve (how could that happen?), this is a good excuse to crack open a bottle. And since the recipe only uses a few ounces, you’ll have to figure out what to do with the rest.

Sparkling Cranberry Muffins

(I forgot to write down how many muffins this makes…I think it made 16)

8 ounces flour
4 ounces sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
4 ounces sparkling wine
2 eggs
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 cup cranberries, roughly chopped
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Sparkling Glaze (optional)
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 ounce sparkling wine

Whisk together all ingredients until smooth. If too thick, add a little more wine until desired consistency is reached.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, combine wine, eggs, butter and lemon zest. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in the walnuts, cranberries and white chocolate chips.

Prepare muffin tins* by lining with baking cups or coating tins with butter and then dusting with flour. Pour batter (about 1/4 cup) into muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes, until set.

Remove from tins and let cool on a wire rack. If glazing, wait until muffins are completely cool, then drizzle with glaze.

*Note: The outsides of the muffins were crisper when using the butter and flour method for the tins.

These muffins would be great for breakfast or dessert. They have just enough sweetness to satisfy a sugar craving, but not so much that you feel bad eating one in the morning. Bites have a hint of tart, a bit of crunch and are light and moist. They didn’t last very long, which is always a good sign.