Scenes from Winter

Yup. A third post.  Look, go big or go home, right?

Really, what this means is that I am 1) at work and  burnt out, 2) scrolling through photos on my phone and finding all the food ones and 3) desperate to get myself back into a posting habit.  So, bear with me as I try.IMG_0180

Winter sangria.  Always welcome.  This particular pair was with a good friend, in a local tavern near us. We bonded and laughed and had a great time.

We made our annual cookies to decorate. The kids get super into it and we even had a friend over to help us.  They came up with some…unusual…decorating techniques but in the end, they had fun and the cookies tasted good.

The kids also decorated t-shirts for Daddy.  This is another yearly tradition.

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I also attempted peppermint bark this year.  All the mint fell off because I forgot to press it into the white chocolate.  Oh well… (It occurs to me as I write this, that the last three posts have now discussed kitchen failures.  Oops.  Maybe my skills are regressing?!)

Before the holiday rush, we celebrated Thanksgiving. The kids made the place cards for the table and attached them to each chair.

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We also managed to visit the beach right around Christmas- we’ve had some warmer than usual temperatures around here.

 

There have been some beautiful sunsets, sunrises and snow here.

So, there you go.  More photos.  Hopefully I’ll post again soon, with more food focus.

 

 

Ugly but Tasty

(I know, I know, two posts in two days?!  The excitement!)

Yesterday, January 27, was National Chocolate Cake Day.  I wasn’t feeling all that well so couldn’t celebrate this holiday appropriately.  But today?  Today we made a cake.

I used Ina Garten‘s cake and frosting recipe.  It was all going well.

My helper was fascinated.

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We measured and mixed and preheated the ovens.  We poured and leveled the batter into pans.

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This is where perhaps I went wrong.  I decided that rather than two cakes (which is what Ina did), I wanted to do three.  Keep that in mind, because I think that’s why it ended up… ugly.

While they baked, we did some clean-up.

It is important to lick all spoons and bowls shirtless.  Easier clean up later.

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The cakes cooled and we made the frosting.

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We talked about what to put in between the layers and agreed on the chocolate spread I’d just bought the day before, in a fit of homesick for Israel-ness.

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(When we lived there, my friend Heather and I couldn’t believe that parents gave this to the kids for breakfast, spread on toast.  It’s really just chocolate frosting.)

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Looks okay, right?  Yeah, well the next two cakes were really hard to take out of the pan so that they started crumbling at the edges as I took them out and frosted them.

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So, in the end, we had an ugly, crumbling, lopsided cake…..

That was really, really delicious.

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I mean dark, chocolaty, sweet, dense but moist.  My husband cut into it and said, “Your cakes are so much better than box cakes. I can tell just looking at it.”  My kids ate it and declared, through chocolate-stained teeth, “Mumma, you make the best cake.”

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Go forth and celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day.  Even if you’re a few days late.  It’s the kind of holiday I can absolutely get behind.

 

 

Photo Dump

Oh you guys.  I have been so remiss in posting.  I mean REALLY remiss.  Like…months and months and months.

I have zero excuses.  None.  Not a one.  Life is busy.  (So is everyone’s.)  Life is hectic.  (So is everyone’s).  I have two kids under the age of 6. (lots of people do!)  Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Nonetheless, I am cooking.  Perhaps not anything I can brag about or post about or photograph, but I’m cooking.  (Obviously I am cooking, how else would we be eating?)

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The kids and I often make cookies.  This was in July but still… cookies….

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An excellent summer meal.

See all that above?  That was all written about two months ago.  That is to say, LAST YEAR.

Yeah….  This whole life thing is getting in the way of me cooking, photographing, documenting, writing and keeping up with this blog.  Which makes me sad.  Sad, sad, sad.  I’ve always loved writing here and the fact that I can’t squeeze it in makes me feel like a piece of me is missing or changing or becoming less…. vibrant.

So, nothing to do for that except keep trying.  So here I am.  Trying.

New Year’s Eve I made beef wellington to celebrate a year’s end and a new year beginning.

My husband’s birthday is close to New Year’s and the kids and I had fun making him a lego cake.

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There’s a long weekend in January and the husband and I managed to get away for an overnight to Vermont where we had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, at Junction, which is at The Essex.

See?  We’ve been eating well.

My kids have been growing well, too.  My oldest is now in actual school and so I’ve been making lunches every day and you know what?  I actually HATE it.  I would’ve thought that I would like making lunches but, nope, not at all.  I rejoice every Friday when it’s pizza and jello/pudding day and she wants to buy lunch.

We spend some time being silly, though.  Always time for that.

Mostly, however, I am trying to appreciate what I have.  My kids are great, my jobs are good and fulfilling, we eat well and laugh often.

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I will try, however, to get some recipes up here.  In the jam-packed, full afternoons, evenings and weekends, I will try to pause and take the time to document so I can write later.  Thanks for checking in once in a while here, and not giving up on me!

The Next Food Network Star is…. Not Me!

The husband and I watch The Next Food Network Star pretty regularly.  He likes to comment on how there has to be a balance between being able to cook and being fun on camera. I just like watching all the food and all the different ways you can present it.

This year, the winner of the whole thing, Eddie Jackson (oh, hey, yeah, spoiler alert!) created a really interesting vegetable dish that I found fascinating.  It involved the new trend, zucchini and summer squash as noodles.  When my CSA on the following Tuesday arrived, full of zucchini and summer squash, I assumed it was a sign!

His recipe is here, so I won’t recreate it.  I will say that it was actually pretty easy and the most time-consuming part was peeling the zucchini and summer squash into ribbons with my veggie peeler.  A friend of mine has informed me that he has access to a number of veggie peelers that would do a better job but I have yet to see any of said peelers materialize in my home.

At any rate, I loved this dish and will be making it again, for sure.  Anything that uses butter, garlic, cheese and wine is ok by me!

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They really do look like real noodles!

My Favorite Night of the Summer

Each summer, friends and I get together to cook a meal.  A few years ago, it was a tribute to Julia Child, in honor of what would have been her 100th birthday.  The next year was an Italian theme.  The year after that was Middle Eastern.  This year was American Southern.  And, oh, what a  meal it was.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_4Fried chicken, collard greens, biscuits, honey butter, sauteed brussels sprouts with bacon, jalapeno cornbread, creamy grits, red velvet cake and mint juleps.  YUM.

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I was responsible for the mint and simple syrup for the mint juleps.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_1Simple syrup is just that- so simple.  Pour one cup of water and one cup of white sugar into a saucepan, stir and heat over medium high heat until it boils and all the sugar is dissolved.  Take it off the heat and let it cool and you’ll have liquid sugar- great for iced tea iced coffee or cocktails.

I was also responsible for the honey butter and biscuits.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_23Flavored butter is actually also pretty easy.  Whip the butter with the flavoring you wish and then let it cool/set up in the fridge.  I used the very good butter (8oz) and added probably about 1/4-1/2 cup of honey and a pinch of salt.  I did it to taste.  And , oh, did it taste good.  Sweet, creamy…. blissful on warm biscuits.  Looked pretty as well.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_33The biscuits were a bit of an issue for me.  I made two different sets, using two different recipes. What I wanted to re-create were the big, fluffy, buttery, crave-them-all-the-time biscuits from Sweet Cheeks Q but neither of my recipes did that.  I suspect my baking soda wasn’t activating in the buttermilk.  I bought new baking soda the next day but haven’t tried again yet.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_42One of the biscuit recipes had me laminating the dough (no, not through the machine making it impervious to water), which I haven’t done before at home but which was pretty easy to do.  Basically, it means that you push pieces of soft butter into the dough, fold the dough over itself and then roll it out again.  It means that as it bakes, the water in the butter releases steam, which creates layers in the dough, leading to layers in the biscuits (think: croissants).

So what that looks like is this:

My HipstaPrint 889764929_22Roll out the dough. Smear soft butter around the top.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_25Fold one third over.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_37Fold the other third over.

My HipstaPrint 889764929Fold the bottom third up.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_11Fold the top third down.  Now roll it back out into the same size as you started with and do it again, two more times.  Then cut the biscuits.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_34My HipstaPrint 889764929_9See how they didn’t really rise?  Oh well, the honey butter made them tasty.

I was also responsible for the dessert.  I made a red velvet cake.  It was delicious.  And red.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_19My HipstaPrint 889764929_43I made a small cake for my kids to take to OGWO’s house for the overnight.

This was a three layer cake which was kind of fun to put together.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_41Layer one.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_20The final product.

My HipstaPrint 889764929_26So delicious.  The sweet, slightly chocolatey cake, offset by the tangy, creamy frosting.  Yum.

The fried chicken, grits and collard greens were the result of my friend C’s day of cooking.

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My HipstaPrint 889764929_28Our other friend, C, provided the appetizers:   hush puppies and mini-corn dogs.  Brilliant. He also made the brussles sprouts and jalapano cornbread.  My HipstaPrint 889764929_7It was a gorgeous meal, with so much fun, laughter, friends and such. good. food.

IMG_6437Best night of the summer!

Summer, Summer, Wherefore Art Thou Summer?

11.5 days.

276 hours.

16,560 minutes.

This is how long I have until school is out for the 2014-15 year.

It can not come soon enough.

This year, for the first time since I started in this position, I am not buried in assessments.  Instead, I am managing the mental health needs for (it seems like) all the students, staff and people in my life.  I am pretty tapped out.

Over the weekends, the kids and I sit and make our summer lists- what we want to do, where we want to go, who we want to see.  Our big goal for this summer is to visit all of the playgrounds in our town that have “water features”- sometimes it’s a splash pad, other times a big fountain- and then go back to our favorites as often as possible.

To get myself ready, I’m moving into my summer cooking mode which always means increasing the fruit and vegetable intake and reducing the meat.  Something about the heat makes me prefer the crisp, cool veggies and acidic, sweet flavors.

Some of my summer favorites:

My HipstaPrint 931118145_1Sweet, red, ripe strawberries.  We eat so many of these in the summer.  I keep thinking I should plant strawberry bushes so that we can just go out the yard and pick them.  Someday….

My HipstaPrint 931118145_6Peach, fresh mozzarella and basil salad, dressed with a bit of olive oil and salt.  So very unexpectedly good.  The creamy mozzarella is offset by the sweet, tangy peaches.

My HipstaPrint 931118145_7Roasted broccoli with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan cheese.  Crisp, crunchy and salty.

My HipstaPrint 931118145_4A pedestrian version of ratatouille.  Chopped onion sautéed until soft in some olive oil.  Sliced zucchini, summer squash and red peppers mixed in with a can of diced tomatoes, a few spoonfuls of tomato paste and some crushed garlic.  Seasoned with salt and fresh basil.  Cooked until it’s all tender and the flavors have melded together.  So good over white rice or couscous.  Summer in a bowl.

My HipstaPrint 931118145Shredded brussels sprouts sautéed with bacon, red pepper and finished with a little bit of balsamic vinegar.  So delicious.

My HipstaPrint 931118145_3My husband’s favorite summer meal- corn cut off the cob and sautéed with butter, sautéed brussels sprouts and steak.

And of course the ever present ICE CREAM.  ALL THE ICE CREAM.

Everyone please cross your fingers for me as we countdown the days…..

 

 

 

 

South African Sweet

When I lived in Israel, I met people from all over the world. Some of my favorites were from South Africa. Something about the accent in general and then the specific people I met. Through the wonders of Facebook, I have managed to stay in touch with many of them and I hope that someday I can actually go to South Africa to visit. I think it would be fun to travel around to see each of them and the country. Until then, I satisfy myself by looking at their photos on facebook- of the places, the people and the food. Oh, the food. Recently something called “milktart” came up on my newsfeed.

Do you know what this is? I did not. But I was intrigued. I did a little google research and found a number of recipes- some more complicated than others. I improvised with one fairly simple one and what I ended up with was a sweet dessert unlike anything else I’ve ever had. I made it on a Thursday evening. We cut into it on Friday and it was gone by Saturday night. You must make this. It is so good. Creamy, smooth, sweet and a touch savory/spicy from the cinnamon on top.

If this is what the food is like, I should book my ticket now.

South African Milktart
(as improvised based on a number of recipes by me, with apologies to the entire country of South Africa)
Ingredients
1 can of condensed milk (sweetened)
2 cans (use the empty can of condensed milk) milk (I used 2% but I’m sure whole would taste even better)
1 can (use the empty can of condensed milk) hot water
2 Tablespoons of butter
4 eggs
6 Tablespoons corn starch
pinch of salt
1 package of Biscoff cookies (you could probably use vanilla wafers or oreos or graham crackers too)
2-4 Tablespoons melted butter

Cinnamon for sprinkling over top

Directions

Put the cookies into a food processor or smush them up with a hammer.  Add two tablespoons of the melted butter and mix.  Put some into your hand and squeeze.  If it stays together, press it into a pie or cake pan.  If it doesn’t, add a bit more butter. Once all of the cookie crumb/butter mixture is pressed into the pan, put the pan into the fridge while you do the rest.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine the condensed milk, regular milk, water and butter. Add the eggs and cornstarch, whisk all together. I was a bit concerned about the eggs scrambling but they didn’t. Cook over medium to high heat until it thickens. Which it will do.  Be sure to whisk well and to scrape up the bottom and sides so that there are no lumps.
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Pour it into the prepared crust.  Sprinkle the cinnamon over the top and then put in the fridge to set.  We left ours overnight but I did sneak a small taste before then- it was still slightly warm and it was delicious that way.

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Seriously, it was so good.  The kids loved it, the husband loved it, I loved it.  I have the ingredients to make another sitting in my pantry but…  I’m afraid if I do, I’ll hide it in my basement fridge and eat the whole thing myself.  Yum.

On an other note, I have about three posts started and in various stages of completion.  Work is slowing down now so perhaps I’ll eventually get to them….