Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Change of Pace

After a weekend full of what I like to call "holiday fare" (rich, often carb-heavy meals capped off by cakes, pies and cookies), I was craving something different. So I decided to try out a recipe that caught my eye back in the late summer/early fall-- seared beef and noodle soup from the Everyday Food TV show. It is sort of poor man's pho (or what I imagine pho would be like given that I have never actually had it before). Martha's version was indeed easy-- seared meat sitting a top a bed of rice noodles covered in a mushroom broth and garnished with carrots, scallions and bean sprouts. It looked awesome and tasted....just ok. I really wanted to love this dish. It looked cool and it was a cinch to make, but it lacked the flavor I was hoping for. I was underwhelmed. I think I'll try it again but I'd recommend adding some ginger, some sirracha, and maybe even some fish sauce to try and liven things up. Ooo, maybe even some cilantro and/or basil at the end!If nothing else, it definitely inspired me to try real pho the next time we decide to eat Vietnamese!

Seared Beef and Noodle Soup
Adapted slightly from Everyday Food

2 sirloin steaks about 1 inch thick
2 TBL olive oil
1 package of rice noodles
10 ounces of mushrooms, sliced (I used a combination of white mushrooms and portabello)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
6 cups of low-sodium beef broth
2 cups of water
2 TBL soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
4 scallions, sliced
2 carrots, sliced thinly
1 cup bean sprouts

1. Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 TBL olive oil. Pat sirloin dry and season each side with salt and pepper. Sear 3 minutes on each side. Remove and set aside (tent with foil to keep warm).
2. Add remaining olive oil to pan. Add mushrooms and garlic. Saute until tender. Add beef broth, water, soy sauce, and vinegar. Let come to a boil (this is also when I'd add the freshly ground ginger, sirracha, and/or fish sauce next time around).
3. Meanwhile, place rice noodles in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 5-10 minutes until soft. Drain and set aside.
4. Slice meat on the diagonal. To serve, place some of the noodles in a bowl. Top with broth mixture and several slices of beef (don't worry if you don't like your meet medium-rare-- the hot broth will cook it a little more). Serve with chopsticks and a spoon!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Better Late Than Never

Roku finally came through and thanks to Priority Overnight shipping Jason's Christmas present finally arrived today!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas Y'all!

Best wishes for a happy holiday season!

Yep, another shot of our tree...I'm obsessed with it!

PS Good news! Jason's Roku player was found :) Bad news is that it was returned to the seller who had started processing my refund. Hopefully we have it all straightened out now and he'll get his present next week. All in all , I have to say that I was very dissatisfied with the customer service of both USPS and Roku since I had to call at least 5 times (to date anyway) between the two to find out what happened....despite them telling me they'd call me back. But I'm putting it behind me and trying to enjoy time with family :)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

When No News is Not Good News

Still no word on Jason's package. It's looking like he will be opening a picture of his gift (a Roku XDS player, since many of you have asked...don't worry I told him not too read the blog until this weekend!). I'm getting kind of frustrated about it since I realized (somewhat belatedly) that I did, in fact, give Roku the correct apartment number (I went back and looked at the confirmation email for shipping/billing address) so if the package arrived without an apartment number (per my apartment complex's assertions), it seems to have been their fault...not mine! At this point I have resigned myself to the fact that Jason will not be receiving the one present he requested (and researched and agonized over for at least a month) on Christmas Day but I want to know when we can expect it! Despite going through all the proper channels with Roku and USPS, all I am still being told (a week into it at this point) is that they're looking into it. :(

On another note-- people have started receiving mail they sent to us back with "return to sender" marked on it, so it looks like it's not lost somewhere in the depths of the post office. I'm actually starting to think this is a good thing...aside from the other lost Christmas gift which we may have to re-order.

The good news is that work has been a little less stressful this week (so far anyway) and I've actually been able to try out a new recipe for dinner. Tonight I made Smitten Kitchen's Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree. It had all the makings of a great weeknight meal-- easy, relatively quick, and makes leftovers. But like SK noted in her write up of the recipe, I felt like it was missing something. Jason, on the other hand, seemed to love it as he ate three helpings (either that or he was just really hungry). I'd definitely recommend giving it a try, though I might up the cheese and/or red pepper flake quotient to give it a little something extra next time.

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

1 small eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves of garlic, whole
3 TBL olive oil
1 teaspoon (or more) dried red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
3/4 pound of rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
3 TBL olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan (plus for garnish if desired)
1 TBL balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or aluminum foil.
2. In a large bowl, combine eggplant, tomatoes, garlic, 3 TBL olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Spread onto baking sheet and roast until tender and eggplant is golden, about 30-35 minutes.
3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of cooking liquid and drain. Place pasta in a large bowl.
4. Transfer roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add basil and remaining olive oil. Puree.
5. Add pureed vegetables to bowl with the pasta and add Parmesan. Stir to combine. Add some (or all) of the pasta liquid to loosen the sauce as desired. Top with balsamic vinegar and taste for seasonings. Serve with grated Parmesan on top (optional).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Cookies

It's hard to believe we are less than a week away from Christmas at this point! It's even harder for me to believe that 2011 is in spitting distance as well....where did this year go?!

With the exception of the day we put up our tree I haven't had much holiday spirit this year. Work has been busy and there have been a lot of other things that have caused me to feel somewhat overwhelmed. As a result I was late getting my Christmas cards out and just today finished the last of the Christmas shopping and gift wrapping. In order to try and foster some additional holiday cheer I decided to do one of my favorite things this time of year-- make Christmas cookies.

When I was growing up my mom made a number of different cookies and treats around the holidays, but the ones that stick out in my mind the most are her Thumbprint Cookies. Nothing says "Christmas" to me like these buttery cookies coated in nuts and topped with a dollop of sweetness. My mom always filled them with red and green icing but I've made them my own by switching out some of the icing for raspberry jam. However you choose to eat them, I hope they will help make your holiday season merry and bright!

Thumbprint Cookies
Adapted from my mom

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, divided
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg white, unbeaten
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 TBL butter, melted
1/2 TBL milk
food coloring
Seedless raspberry jam (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line one or more rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. Cream the butter and granulated sugar together. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Add flour and salt and mix until soft dough has formed.
3. Shape into one inch balls. Dip each ball into the egg white and roll in the chopped nuts. Place on prepared baking sheets and "dent" the center with your thumb or back of a small spoon.
4. Bake 5 minutes and dent again. Bake another 12-15 minutes until the edges are just starting to turn brown. Gently transfer cookies (on parchment paper) to wire racks to cool.
5. While the cookies cool, mix powdered sugar, melted butter and milk together until smooth. Add food coloring of your choice to achieved desired color (you could also divide the icing into different bowls and tint with different colors).
6. Once cookies are cool, use a small spoon to fill the center with icing and/or raspberry jam.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How the Post Office (and My Apartment Building) Stole Christmas

It all started last weekend when I went to pick up a package from the front desk (my apartment building is responsible for receiving/distributing all packages). I knew the package, which had been sent through USPS, had been delivered because I had received tracking information on it. But the front desk couldn't find it. They looked and looked but the package (which just so happened to be something for Jason for Christmas) could not be found. Finally, someone asked for the last name again and said-- "Oh yeah....I remember now. We sent that back."

"Um, excuse me?" I said in total disbelief, "You SENT IT BACK??!?"

"Yes, we sent it back...there was no apartment number on it and we didn't recognize the name" was the (unapologetic) reply.

Turns out that despite statements to the contrary, not to mention a willingess to cash monthly rent checks that contain my married name, my information had never been updated in the system to reflect my name change post-wedding. So when they looked me up to see which apartment I lived in, nothing came up and they sent my package back.

I have spent a good portion of this week calling and emailing with the postal service and the retailer trying to track down the missing package-- you know, since I spent money on it and it's a CHRISTMAS PRESENT FOR MY HUSBAND-- to no avail. No one has any idea what it currently is (or at least every time I call USPS Customer Service I am told there is no new information...but they are looking into it. I'm not buying it). And I'm pretty sure the retailer is not going to just send me another one, which means I have to decide whether to just buy another item and hope the original package can be tracked down and returned or if I just wait it out and hope Jason will be content with a picture of his gift.

If that wasn't bad enough, our mail carrier decided that since the package was returned we must not live here any more and, without any sort of follow-up to make sure that was the case, stopped delivering our mail. After three days of a completely empty mailbox (no ads, no nothing), we got suspicious and called the post office to see what was up. They confirmed that they had been told we no longer lived at the address. After we assured them that we do still live here (in fact I've lived at this same address for almost 4 years now), we received  mail today.

However we are still missing four days worth of mail in addition to Jason's package--I'm pretty sure another gift has been lost in the mix as well (and this one did not have a tracking number associated with it). We decided to go by the post office this morning and ask about the missing mail in person but the clerk was totally unhelpful. So I left a note in our mail box that read

"Dear Mail Carrier,

Do you know what happened to our undelivered mail?

No response....of course.

Next up-- calling the post office again on Monday to ask whether all of our mail was returned to sender or if they might have it hidden somewhere.

All I want for Christmas at this point is my missing mail (which now includes TWO Christmas gifts I paid good money for) to show up.

Come on USPS, don't be a Grinch! Help a girl out.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Sweet Way to End a Sour Week

Last week was one heck of a week, y'all.

One heck of a really sucky week.

I spent most of it at work. And when I was home I was either sleeping or putting together meals that did not require much effort--tried and true favorites I can do in my sleep (chicken picatta, homemade pizza, fish tacos, and thai beef salad). And thank goodness I didn't try to tackle anything more difficult-- because pretty much everything that could go wrong last week, did, in fact, go wrong.

Even yesterday as I made Smitten Kitchen's Gingerbread-Apple Upside Down Cake, which I've made before to great success, I had problems. First the middle of the cake fell, then I had a hard time getting it out of the pan. And since I made this cake to take to my friend Lauren's house last night, I was a bit upset by its hideous appearance. Fortunately it still tasted great so I was able to salvage it by pre-slicing the non-fallen/fractured pieces.

Now I don't want you all to think this is too hard to do-- last time I made it, I had zero problems. So give it a try if you are looking for a sweet (but not overly sweet) seasonal treat. Let's hope this week is a little easier (and more conducive to blogging!)

Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

4 TBL plus 1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2-3 apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin slices
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup molasses
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 325. Grease a 10-inch cake pan (I used a springform pan). Melt 4 TBL butter in a small saucepan. Add brown sugar and simmer over low heat, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add a pinch of salt. Remove from heat and pour into bottom of your cake/springform pan. Layer the apple slices in overlapping, concentric circles on top of the sauce until the bottom of the pan is covered.

2. Cream the sugar and stick of butter together until light and fluffy. In a medium bow, whisk the egg, buttermilk, honey, and molasses together. Set aside. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon.

3. Alternate adding the wet and dry ingredients to the butter mixture, adding the next once the last has been incorporated.Pour/spoon the batter into the pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a wooden tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. (Note: if you are using a springform pan, be sure to place it on another baking sheet to catching any leaking caramel.) Let cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then turn out onto a platter.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas!

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you.....

Our very first Christmas tree!

Although last year was our first Christmas as a married couple, we did not get a real tree. I had a two and a half foot fake tree that I had been using for years so we decided to stick with that thinking that by this year we'd be out of our apartment and in a bigger space more suitable for a full size tree. I guess the joke was on us....a year later and we're still here. But I convinced Jason that we could find a corner in which to stick a real tree and after much cajoling on my part, he agreed.

After an hour at Home Depot, we left with a 6' Balsam Fir--the perfect size and shape for our apartment. And it's beginning to look (and feel and smell) a lot like Christmas!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving Recipe Recap, Part 2

Soooooooo. Thanksgiving. That holiday that I was so excited about that I consulted five different holiday food magazines in order to find the right recipes? That was a week ago.

A week ago.

And I’m just now picking up where I left off in terms of recipe reviews.

I am a bad bad bad blogger.

What can I say….after devouring a delicious Thanksgiving meal I spent most of the rest of the holiday weekend devouring The Hunger Games and its two sequels Catching Fire and Mockingjay (Note to my fellow book clubbers—if anyone wants to borrow either of the other two books, let me know!) Needless to say I was a big fan.  Before I knew it my vacation was over and I was back to work and headed to Kansas City.  And my poor blog was left all by its lonesome.

Well I’m back and I want to make sure I share the recipe that was the biggest hit at our Thanksgiving table: pumpkin crème brulee.  Pumpkin carmelized greatness. In Jason’s words anyway. And I’d say it was pretty accurate. Light, creamy, and tastes like fall….the perfect end to a hearty holiday meal. Plus it has the added bonus of being set on fire.

Although crème brulee may sound intimidating, it really isn’t. Sure it takes a few steps but none are extraordinarily difficult. And the end result is well worth it.

Pumpkin Crème Brulee
Adapted slightly from Emeril Lagasse

2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar plus 4 teaspoons
8 large egg yolks
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 cup pumpkin

1.Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Arrange 8 small (approximately ½ cup in size) ramekins in a large metal baking pan.
2.In a medium saucepan, combine cream, brown sugar, and ¼ cup granulated sugar.  Bring to a bare simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat.
3.In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until frothy. Slowly whisk in ¾ cup of the hot cream mixture, whisking constantly. Add the egg mixture to the hot cream and whisk.  Add pumpkin and whisk until smooth. Strain into a large bowl through a fine mesh strainer. Stir in vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. Divide among the ramekins.
4.Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake until custards are set in the center but not completely stiff, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.
5.When you are ready to serve, sprinkle each custard with ½ teaspoon of sugar. If you have one, use a kitchen torch to caramelize the sugar. If you don’t, place under a hot broiler until sugar caramelizes (1-2 minutes). Serve!