Sunday, January 31, 2010

Healthy Changes

January was the month for starting fresh, making good choices, and committing to taking care of yourself. I'm all for that. But it's always easier to make the resolution than to keep it up. February is the month of follow-through for the resolutions, and that can be a lot tougher.

I have many healthy habits already in place (exercising, cutting back on diet Coke, eating more veggies), but I know I have room for improvement. Certainly, when Mr. White Flour and Mrs. White Sugar are your best friends, there is room for improvement.

Now, don't get alarmed! I'm not swearing off my best friends. We've shared so much quality time together, I know we won't be strangers. But I can make better choices when I'm reaching for a quick something on my way out the door. Something that won't spike my blood sugar level and leave me lethargic in an hour. Something that doesn't contain enough preservatives to keep it "shelf fresh" for two years. And something that gives my body the nutrients it needs to be healthy.

Meet my new friend, the Power Bar. No, not the kind you buy at the store in a package. These are homemade, customized, and need to be refrigerated because they have no preservatives (but I'd feel OK keeping them out for the same length of time that you'd have a peanut butter sandwich unrefrigerated.) With all the antioxidant berries in them, I think I'll call them Berry Powerful Bars. Crammed full of healthy nuts, nut oils, seeds, rolled oats, and dried fruit, these bars will give you the power to cruise through your day. Plus they're super easy to make. You could even have your kids help you. But if you do that, you know they'll want some, and then there's less for you. Oh well, I guess if you want your kids to have healthy snacks, too....

Berry Powerful Bars
- adapted from Eating Well

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1 tablespoon flaxseeds, preferably golden
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 cup unsweetened whole-grain puffed cereal (see Note)
1 cup assorted dried fruits (blueberries, cranberries, cherries, golden raisins)
1/4 cup creamy almond butter
1/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

1- Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat an 8-inch-square pan with cooking spray.

2- Spread oats, almonds, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds and sesame seeds on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Bake until the oats are lightly toasted and the nuts are fragrant, shaking the pan halfway through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add cereal and dried fruit; toss to combine.

3-Combine almond butter, sugar, honey, vanilla and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture bubbles lightly, 2 to 5 minutes.

4- Immediately pour the almond butter mixture over the dry ingredients and mix with a spoon or spatula until no dry spots remain. Transfer to the prepared pan. Using a silicone spatula, press the mixture down firmly to make an even layer (wait until the mixture cools slightly if necessary). Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes; cut into 8 bars.

Note: I used Kashi Go Lean, which says on the front that it has "crunchy fiber twigs." Really? What marketing genius thought that was a selling point for a cereal? Have you ever gone to the store, hoping to find some crunchy fiber twigs for breakfast? I hope not.

Another note: All of the ingredients for this I purchased at Trader Joe's. Not that I'm paid to tell you that, I just thought you might want to know that it's not that tough to get all of those items you might not have in your pantry.

Just one more note: If you work for Trader Joe's corporate office and want to pay me to tell people things like I just did, please feel free to contact me any time!

Friday, January 29, 2010


My father used to be an avid hunter. Every fall he and his hunting buddies would don their vibrant orange vests and head off to the hills in hopes of bringing home a deer. On a good year (in my opinion), they would come home empty-handed. On a bad year (in my opinion), there would be a bloody carcass on the back porch to horrify me and my friends as the men skinned and butchered the deer.

I understand that it wasn't the thrill of the hunt that lured my father to the mountains every year. It was economic necessity. The single salary of a teacher doesn't stretch far for a family of 5 and having meat for a year laid up in the freezer was a godsend. It's just that I hated venison. I didn't like the taste or the texture and having for every meal made me like it even less. Venison steak, venison stew, venison sausage, venison get my drift.

The deer glut in my youth perhaps contributed to my current aversion to red meat. It's nothing moral for me, I just don't really care for it. I am a proud poultritarian. Almost all the meat I cook with is either chicken or turkey, with the occasional piggy product thrown in for flavor.

My daughter loves beef jerky and asked if we could make some. Since I don't buy beef, I made my own version. Chicken jerky. Turkey jerky works really well, too. It's way cheaper than what's in the store (always a boon for tough economic times) and since I don't have to go hunt my own chickens, I consider it a win-win.

Chicken Jerky

1/4 cup liquid smoke
1-1/2 cups soy sauce
1/4 lb (1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp) brown sugar
Chicken or Turkey breasts, very thinly sliced

Mix the first three ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. Add the thinly sliced meat and let stand for at least 10 minutes. Drain and place the strips in a food dehydrator. Dry at 240 degrees for at least 4 hours, until the meat is dry to touch, but still pliable. Thinner slices will dry faster than thicker ones, so check it and remove pieces as they are done so they don't become brittle.

Note: to make it easier to achieve thin slices, partially freeze the chicken breasts.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Chocolate Signature

My cookbooks are littered with commentary on the recipes I've tried. I scribble little notes in pencil in the margins and it always surprises me to stumble upon a comment like "Excellent! The family loved it. Jan '87" If it was so great, why didn't I ever make it again? A lot of recipes are like that. But a few are the ones I turn to again and again.

This cake recipe was given to me by a girlfriend in high school and since that time I've made it so many times I could probably make it in my sleep. I've taken it to block parties and showers, made it for birthdays, girl-friend nights, and slumber parties, and also any time I have a chocolate craving that won't go away. If I had a signature dish, this would be it.

I've seen dozens of variations on this one, some calling for rum, some put nuts in the frosting, some low fat (euwww), but this version is my trusty go-to for when I need a chocolate cake in an hour. Seriously - an hour. I timed it making it this time. And it's such a forgiving cake that it takes an effort to screw it up. And you can make it with one pan, two bowls, and a wooden spoon (plus measuring utensils). Plus no weird ingredients. So any time a chocolate craving strikes, I'm an hour away from pure chocolate heaven. Does it say something about me that my signature dish is fast and easy?

Texas Fudge Cake

1 cup butter (2 sticks)
5 Tbsp cocoa
1 cup water
2 cups sifted flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
Frosting (recipe below)

1- Preheat oven to 375 deg. F with rack in the center of the oven. Butter and flour a 9 x 13 metal pan.

2- In a medium saucepan combine the butter, cocoa, and water. Bring to a boil.

3- In a large bowl whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and baking soda.

4- Pour the hot ingredients in the the dry ingredients. Stir well with a wooden spoon.

5- Add the eggs, milk, and vanilla. Stir until the batter is smooth.

6- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place it in the oven. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. (While the cake is baking, wash the saucepan and bowl. You'll use them for the frosting.)

7- Remove the cake from the oven and place it on a wire rack to cool. Immediately make the frosting and pour the frosting over the warm cake. Spread the frosting evenly and let the cake cool as much as you can bear before cutting into squares and devouring.


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
3 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp cocoa
dash salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

1- In medium saucepan combine the butter, milk, cocoa, salt, and vanilla. Bring to a boil.

2- Place the powdered sugar in a large bowl. Pour the hot ingredients over the powdered sugar and beat with a wooden spoon until the frosting is smooth. (Think of this as pre-burning cake calories!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Naan Buddies

Since I was this month's host kitchen for the BBB, I get the privilege of doing the round-up of the Baking Buddies, those brave bakers who picked up their flour and spoons and followed us into the kitchen to make naan. Please visit their sites to check out what they did with this recipe! Good job, all! And if I missed anyone, I'm so sorry. Just write to me again and I'll add you to the list.

January's Bread Baking Buddies:

Kelly from A Messy Kitchen got hers done the same day we posted! And she did a bunch of variations, too.

Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms came up with her own variation.

Rita aka Soepkipje of ipernity made plain and curried, along with some tasty Indian food.

Rachel of My Munchable Musings subbed out some flours and came up with a delicious and nutritious naan.

Karin of Karin's Kitchen boldly tried the curry, even though she's not a curry fan. Or, she wasn't until she tried this.

Family & Food was excited at this introduction to Indian food.

Delta Kitchen decided to go with plain.

Cindy of Cindy Star substituted sweet and sour peppers for the chutney. Brilliant!

Nicole of Bread Butter and Buns did her own thing with raisins, coconut, and nuts, as well as a plain with sesame seeds.


Tune in tomorrow for a real recipe (yes, it's been a while since I posted one). It's one of my all time favorites, and it's chocolate. See you then!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ten Things That Make Me Happy

I was honored and flattered to receive this award from Elle of Feeding My Enthusiasms. She's such a sweetie and it makes me happy to know that she enjoys my blog. For this award we are supposed to list 10 things that make us happy and then give the award to ten bloggers who brighten our day.

Ten things that make me happy:

1- Trying a new recipe and having it turn out perfectly.

2- Getting a phone call from my sister (either one)

3- Finishing a project that I'm in love with. I look at it and just wiggle my toes with happiness.

4- Having someone love a gift that I picked out specially for them.

5- Massages (note the plural - one is never enough).

6- Snuggling with my honey by the fire with a bottle of wine.

7- The first snow of the year. Also the first flower of the year.

8- Getting a new book from a favorite author.

9- Having a friend call and invite me out to play.

10- Hugs and kisses from my kids.

Ten bloggers that make me happy (they might have already received this award because they probably make a lot of people happy)

1- Melinda of Melinda's Kitchen Diary. She is my almost sister on the other side of the world. Her thoughtful comments and often hilarious posts brighten my day. And no one knows how to send a care package like she does!

2- Ashley of Eat Me Delicious. Just up the road from me (OK, it's a different country, but I still feel like we're kind of close), she posts a wonderful array of tasty treats, always with an eye for keeping it healthy. Just what I need!

3- Peabody of Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. I know she already got this award, but I'm doubling it up because her posts never fail to make me smile, if not laugh out loud. Plus, her blog is a hit parade of amazing, drool-inducing goodies. I have dubbed her Queen Caramel. May she wear the caramel tiara proudly.

4- Tanna of My Kitchen In Half Cups. As above, I'm doubling her award. She is just flat out one of the nicest people I've ever met. Always kind, generous, and with a stealthy sense of humor.

5- Susan of Food Blogga. Beautiful and informative posts. I always feel like I learn something when I visit her site.

6- Grace of A Southern Grace. Her pictures make me drool and her posts make me laugh.

7- Abby of Confabulations in the Kitchen. A little bit of everything, but always keeping it happy.

8- Mama JJ of Mama's Minutia. I wish this woman was my neighbor. Visiting her blog is like stepping into a friend's kitchen for a cup of coffee.

9- A Duck In Her Pond. Every post is a happy whirlwind of food, fiction, and fun.

10- Aimée of Under The High Chair. A former food professional turned mommy blogger. Her posts are a beautiful blend of mouthwatering food and family life in Canada. And I can't resist her two adorable boys.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Some Baking Naan-Sense

After Christmas, I felt as if all my creativity had been squeezed out of me, leaving me flat. I'd done so much wrapping and then unwrapping, that my mind was definitely folding over on itself. And then I got tagged to pick the bread of the month for the Bread Baking Babes. So I picked Naan.

Does that seem like a naan-secquiter? Because it's not. It might seem like a naan-sense, but really it made perfect sense to pick a bread that's super easy to make and is really different, something naan-standard.

The challenging thing about Naan is that all the cookbooks preface their recipes with how you can't replicate the true cooking method of slapping the naan against the super hot walls of the specially-built clay oven. Well, I don't have that oven, but I don't think that lack makes it naan-negotiable. I used my cast iron skillet. A bit naan-traditional, but it worked.

Have you had enough of the bad puns? I hope so! Instead of more painful puns, I'll give you the recipe. Then be sure to check out what the other Babes have done with this month's challenge (links in the sidebar).

If you'd like to bake along and receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site, bake the naan and post it before the 25th, send me a link to your post (lynncraigATcomcastDOTnet).

Curried Naan Bread
from Paul Hollywood's 100 Great Breads
- makes 6 naan

scant 4 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for frying
2 Tbsp mild curry powder
1/2 oz / 15 g. package compressed fresh yeast*
1-1/4 cups water
generous 1/2 cup golden raisins
3 Tbsp mango chutney

* If you are using instant or dry yeast, reduce the quantities a little (I used about 1-3/4 tsp active dry yeast)

1- Put the flour, salt, oil, curry powder, yeast, and water into a bowl and mix together for 2 minutes. Tip out onto a lightly floured counter and knead for 5 minutes, or until the dough is soft and pliable. Let rise for 30 minutes.

2- Line a baking sheet. Incorporate the golden raisins and chutney into the dough. Divide the dough into six pieces, then put on the baking sheet and let rest for 1 hour.

3- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and, using a rolling pin, flatten each piece into a circle, 25.5 cm / 10 inches in diameter. Put back on the sheet and let rest for 5 minutes.

4- Heat a skillet to medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Shallow-ofry each dough until browned on both sides, then set aside to cool slightly before serving.

Plain Naan
- makes 3 naan

scant 4 cups white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1-1/2 tsp salt
1/2 oz / 15 g. package compressed fresh yeast*
water to mix
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds
olive oil for frying

1- Line a baking sheet. Put the flour, salt and yeast into a bowl and add enough water to make a soft, but not sloppy dough. Add the seeds, then divide the dough into three pieces and put on the baking sheet. Let rest for 1 hour.

2- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and, using a rolling pin, flatten each piece into a circle, 10 inches / 25.5 cm in diameter, and let rest for 5 minutes.

3- Heat a skillet to a medium heat and add a splash of olive oil. Shallow-fry each naan until browned on both sides, then set aside to cool slightly before serving.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Weighty Tomes

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes. I can get away from my humdrum routine and escape to a mystery, a tropical island, another galaxy, or just find someone who's life is worse than mine and take comfort in that.

One of the problems I have with reading, though, is that I'm very suggestible. Particularly about food. When a character sits down to a dinner of lobster bisque, I start drooling. When the character pours a glass of crisp chardonnay, I wonder whether there's any wine in the house. Heaven help me if the character is handed a dense, decadent chocolatey brownie with a crackly top and moist interior studded with chunks of dark chocolate. I'm off to the kitchen in a heartbeat to whip up a pan of brownies I don't need but suddenly want very much.

One author in particular has this power over me. Martha Grimes, in The Hotel Paradise, has as her protagonist a 12 year old girl who spends a great deal of time thinking about food. Her mother is the hotel cook and the girl rhapsodizes over the foods served. One dish in particular, the girl's favorite, Ham Pinwheels, was so lavishly described I knew that I had to have it. But where to find it? It's an old-fashioned dish (the book is set about 70 years ago), so I turned to my old faithful tattered copy of Joy of Cooking. Based on the description in the book of ground ham wrapped in a flaky crust with a cheese sauce poured over the top, I came up with something pretty close.

Being an instant gratification kind of gal, I didn't want to make the pastry, so I used the kind from the freezer. I'm OK with that. It leaves me more time to read.

Ham Pinwheels with Cheese Sauce
- makes 12 rolls,

1/2 pkg (1 sheet) frozen puff pastry, thawed
6 oz. cooked ham, ground (about 1-1/2 cups)
2 Tbsp minced fresh onion
1/2 cup minced mushrooms (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Dash of hot sauce (optional)
Cheese Sauce (recipe follows)

1- Preheat the oven to 400 deg. F. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper or cooking spray.

2- In a medium bowl combine the ham, onion, mushrooms and season to taste.

3-- Lay one of the thawed puff pastry layers flat on your work surface. Spread half of the ham mixture over it, leaving one inch uncovered on the side farthest from you.

4- Roll the pastry up, beginning with the side nearest you, so you have a long tube. Brush a bit of water on the uncovered pastry on the far side to seal up the edge. Slice the tube in 12 segments, like cinnamon rolls.

5- Lay the rolls on the baking sheet.

6- Repeat with the other sheet of puff pastry and the rest of the ground ham mixture.

7- Place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Make cheese sauce while rolls are baking.

8 - Place the pinwheels on plates and drench them in cheese sauce. Serve immediately.

(If you'd like to double the recipe, you can freeze half of the pinwheels. Place them in a ziploc freezer bag without the cheese sauce. Allow them to thaw in the refrigerator, then reheat in the microwave or briefly in the oven.)

Cheese Sauce

2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
Dash of pepper
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 cup milk

1- Melt butter in saucepan. Whisk in the flour, salt and pepper. Mix until smooth.

2- Gradually stir in the milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 1 minute.

3- Remove from heat and stir in the cheese, whisking till all the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth.

(If you have extra sauce leftover, save it to pour over broccoli. You'll be a hero to your kids.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

There's No I in Team, But There's Peanut Butter

There's been a lot of debate lately over Team Edward versus Team Jacob. Personally, I'm all about Team Peanut Butter. It's delicious, nutritious, plays well with others, and is convenient for a quick lunch or even a spoonful for a snack.

In our house, given the choice of candy-coated snack food, Reese's Pieces always wins. What a wonderful surprise to receive in my Christmas stocking this year a package of mini-Reese's pieces. Baking opportunity! And what to put it in? Cookies - duh!

These terrific cookies I adapted from Jumbo Empanadas' Team Cookies. They're stuffed with tasty ingredients, moist, but not gooey, and the perfect size to tuck into a lunch bag or take as a team snack. Join Team Peanut Butter -why waste time mooning over mythical creatures of fiction when you could be spending that time making these cookies?

Team Cookies
- adapted from Jumbo Empanadas ( a wonderful, though sadly dormant blog)

1 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3/4 cup Reese's mini pieces
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1- Preheat oven to 350 deg. Prepare cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2- In the bowl of an electric mixer cream together the peanut butter, butter, and sugars.

3- Add in the eggs, one at a time, then add the vanilla.

4- In a separate bowl, combine the oats, flours, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the peanut butter mixture and stir until blended.

5- With a wooden spoon, stir in the Reese's pieces and chocolate chips.

6- Scoop 1" balls of dough onto the prepared cookie sheets and bake for 9-11 minutes, just until the edges of the cookies have begun to turn golden brown and the tops have set.

7- Allow the cookies to sit on the cookie sheets for 2 more minutes to finish cooking, then remove them to a wire cooking rack.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Resolve To Eat Chocolate

It's tough recovering from the holidays. My husband had almost two weeks off and we filled it with a lot of nothing. The good kind of nothing - sleeping in, staying home, scrounging meals from leftovers, and wrapping up in blankets on the couch to watch TV or read books. For my kids the holidays were all about wearing pajamas all day, no school, and eating stuff like candy canes and gingerbread men.

Now we're back to reality with stuff like getting up on time, work, school, and genuine menu planning. I get all inspired for healthy living in my post-holiday menu planning and grocery shopping. I load up the cart with fresh produce and when I get it home I get to watch it go bad as my children desperately search between the couch cushions for one last nugget of Christmas stocking candy.

Of course with bananas it's easy to rescue them from the compost pile. There are tons of banana bread recipes, but I wanted something a little more special, something a little more alluring. OK, I'll admit it, I'm going through chocolate withdrawal, too, and I wanted something a little more chocolate.

I turned to a new cookbook that a baking buddy had given me, Baking Kids Love. It's the latest from Sur La Table, and it's terrific. It's packed with kid-friendly recipes, and the directions are so easy and clear that even I can follow them. The recipe for Gone Bananas Chocolate Chip Cake sounded like the perfect way to indulge my chocolate craving and pretend that it's healthy. Bananas = healthy, right?

Gone Bananas Chocolate Chip Cake
- adapted from Baking Kids Love

3 large, very ripe bananas
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

1- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F with a rack in the center of the oven. Lightly butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

2- Peel the bananas and mush them in a medium bowl with a fork or potato masher. It's OK to leave a few small lumps. This should yield about 1-1/2 cups banana pulp.

3-In a large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

4- Add the eggs, sugar, oil, and vanilla to the banana mush and whisk to blend well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the banana mixture into the well. Whisk until the batter is smooth and you don't see any more patches of flour. Gently stir in the chocolate chips.

5- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, until deep golden brown, firm to the touch in the center, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let the cake cool completely.

6- When the cake is cool, remove it from the pan onto a serving plate.

7- Put the chopped chocolate into a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream until it just begins to boil. Immediately pour the cream over the chocolate. Let the mixture sit for 2 minutes, then gently whisk until it's blended and smooth. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes to thicken, until the icing runs off the tip of a teaspoon like warm honey.

8- Using the teaspoon, spoon the icing evenly over the top, letting some of it drip down the sides. Let the icing set for 20 minutes, then slice the cake with a serrated knife.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Use Your Noggin

I'm the odd man out in my family when it comes to egg nog. My family jubilantly celebrates the return of egg nog to the dairy case at the store as if it were the swallows at Capistrano. Me? Not so much. But because I love my family, I will do a lot to make them happy. Like making egg nog ice cream.

There are two schools of thought about egg nog. One school is that it comes from a carton at the grocery store and is a rich, nutmeg and egg flavored beverage. The other school says it's all about the booze. I should have guessed, when I chose to try the egg nog ice cream recipe from The Perfect Scoop, in which school David Lebovitz is enrolled. While my kids attend school #1, Mr. Lebovitz is the principal at school #2.

I had made gingerbread cookies and I loved the idea of pairing the gingerbread with eggnog. Ice cream sandwich cookies, of course! There were a few glitches with the pairing, though. Because of the alcohol in the ice cream, it was very soft. I wanted to spread a thin layer on waxed paper, freeze it, then use the cookie cutter to get the precise cookie shape to layer with the cookies. Excellent thought, but the ice cream wouldn't cooperate. It kept getting softer and meltier until I ended up just spreading it on the cookie and quickly tossing it into the freezer to firm up enough to have its picture taken.

The flavor combination was good, but I'll give you the recipe as I'll make it next Christmas, with less booze and more nutmeg. Why don't I just wait and post it next Christmas, you ask? Well, because I'm unlikely to remember it that long. So I'll give you the recipe and the onus will be on you to pull it out of bookmark purgatory to serve up at your 2010 Christmas party.

Gingerbread and Eggnog Ice Cream Sandwich Cookies

Your favorite gingerbread cookie recipe, cookies cut out in mirror-image shapes (stars, trees, snowmen), baked and cooled
Eggnog Ice Cream (recipe, the way I'll make it next time, follows)

You can either spread the cookies with freshly churned, but still soft, ice cream, or for more Martha-like cookies, spread the ice cream on waxed paper on a cookie sheet in a thing layer. Pop the sheet into the freezer to firm up. When it's firm, use the same cookie cutter to cut out ice cream shapes and a spatula to move the ice cream shape to top the wrong side of a cookie shape. Put another cookie, right side up, on top of it. Wrap quickly in plastic wrap and pop into the freezer.

Eggnog Ice Cream
- adapted from The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
2/3 cup (130 g) sugar
Pinch of salt
2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbsp brandy
1 Tbsp dark rum
2 tsp vanilla extract

1- In a medium saucepan, warm the milk, sugar, and salt. Pour the cream into a large bowl and set a mesh strainer on top.

2- In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the warmed egg yolk mixture back into the saucpan and set it over medium high heat.

3- With a heatproof spatula, stir the mixture until it thickens and coats the spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan as you stir.

4- Pour the custard through the strainer into the cream. Stir. Mix in the nutmeg, brandy, run, and vanilla and stir until cool over an ice bath.

5- Pour the custard into a container with a lid and chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours, preferably overnight.

6- Once the mixture is cold, taste it and add more nutmeg if you wish. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.

Note - Because I know you'll ask, the lovely dish is from World Market.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Be Good to Yourself

When I asked my chiropractor what he had lined up for New Year's Eve, he told me that he skipped parties so that he could get up early on New Year's Day and go cross country skiing. He loves to be the first one out in the snow, breaking a trail through the pristine, sparkling landscape, having quiet time to think, review the year, and talk to God about what was coming up in the New Year.

I love that idea. Not enough to actually do it, though. I'm not a nature girl and being cold makes me cranky. But I love the mental picture of being alone and quiet, taking some time to reflect and plan, and setting goals for the new year.

That's why I got up early this morning. To be alone in nature - well, looking at the tropical beach calendar my husband got for Christmas - and to bake these muffins.

After the glut of Christmas and New Year indulgences, this muffin calls to me. It's my favorite bran muffin recipe with the twist of apple chunks and cranberries. I recommend that you bake a batch and then sit down with a cup of tea or mug of coffee to write up your aspirations for the coming year. Whatever your goals are, I wish you a happy and healthy 2010!

Apple Cranberry Bran Muffins

2 cups All-Bran cereal (the kind that looks like twigs)
1-1/4 cups milk
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 small apple, peeled, cored, and cut into chunks*
1/2 cup fresh cranberries, halved

1- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. (Your muffins will climb higher if you don't use cupcake papers)

2- In a large mixing bowl, combine bran cereal and milk. Let stand for about 2 minutes to soften the cereal.

3- Stir together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

4- Into the softened bran mix stir the egg and oil. Beat well. Stir in the apple and cranberries. Add the flour mixture, stirring only until combined. Divide the batter evenly into 12 muffin cups.

5 - Bake about 20 minutes or until golden brown. Best served warm.

* I'm really lazy and when a recipe says to peel, core, and chunk an apple, I skip the coring step and just cut hunks off the apple and then chunk it up. Saves having to wash my corer.

Baking Notes: If you go overboard on the apples and cranberries, you'll add a lot of volume to the batter and might end up with enough for more than 12 muffins.