Sunday, February 28, 2010

Simple Pleasures

Life has been crazy around my house.

If you read my last post, I have been gathering myself up for an exciting future. Well, all that gathering takes up a lot of time and energy. Today I was thinking I needed some simplicity in my life.

I wanted to cook something delicious and yet I wanted something raw and simple. I wanted to taste all the flavors and complexities the ingredients had to offer in and of themselves. I found what I was looking for.

A creamy squash soup served in a crystal clear bowl, a touch of elegance on an average day. It was, as all meals should be, an experience for all the senses.

My hope for you is that you would take time to enjoy to simple pleasures of life.

Here's to you and your culinary adventures, friend. Cheers!

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 4
101 calories per serving

1 TBS country crock margarine spread
3 1/2 cups cubed, peeled butternut squash
1/2 cup chopped carrot
1/4 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
1 clove garlic
1/2 TBS Italian seasoning
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup fat free half and half
fresh cracked pepper
Jane's Crazy Mixed up Salt

Melt margarine in a large stock pot. Add onion, celery, garlic, carrot, and squash. Saute for 10-12 minutes.

Add stock. Bring to a simmer. Add Italian seasoning. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in half and half.

Place soup in a blender. Remove the center piece of the life to allow steam to escape. Secure blender lid. Place a clean towel over the opening to prevent splatters. Blend until smooth.

Return soup to pan. Add pepper and mixed up salt to taste.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Thoughts to ponder

I was recently compared to a leaf clinging to a branch in the dead of winter.

This leaf actually: I have some very big decisions in front of me.

The question was posed to me, "What are you waiting for?"

The leaf and branch was symbolism for the question. It was very thought provoking for me. I sat and thought about it for a long while.

This image is very striking for me. In so many ways it describes my situation. So in this, I say thank you to the woman who posed the question. :)

After a long time of thinking, here's what I came up with:

I am not a lifeless leaf clinging to the dead branch waiting for something.

No, I am water sitting on a strong, healthy leaf. I am wisely collecting my scattered water droplets. I am getting them lined up, ready to form the most beautiful drop the world has ever seen. And then, when the moment is right, ready or not, the drop will be released into the ocean and become what it always wanted to be: part of something bigger.

This is how I see it in my head:

This entire process has been beautiful. There has been growth, trust, and love involved. The weight of the water is gathering on the end of my leaf. Before I know it, it will be time to let the drop fall into the ocean. I wait, in joyous anticipation, of that time. That time approaches more quickly with every day that goes by.

Where are you today? Are you a lifeless leaf holding onto the things that no longer sustain you? Or, are you a water droplet gathering yourself up, moving toward where you want to be?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A thing of love

I decided to make a special treat for Jon last night.

When he comes home from working overnight he is usually ravenous. So I often hear him banging around the kitchen in search of something sweet and filling.

I had some time last night, so I made him fresh cinnamon rolls from scratch. All he had to do was pop them in the oven and put the icing on them. I even made the icing last night and put it in a zip top bag so all he had to do was snip the corner of the bag.

He was very surprised and pleased to find his treat this morning when he got home. He baked up what was in the fridge, a half batch. Once they cooled off he indulged in a couple of gooey rolls for a sweet, warm, filling breakfast. He was happy and so was I. I put the other half of the rolls in the freezer to have another time. All the reward, non the of the work :)

Here's to you and your culinary adventures, friend. Cheers!

Cinnamon Rolls
Serves 18
223 cal per roll

1 cup warm fat-free milk (100° to 110°)
3 TBS melted butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar, divided
1 package quick-rise yeast
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp salt
Cooking spray

2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 TBS ground cinnamon
2 TBS maple flavored syrup
3 TBS melted butter

2 TBS margarine, softened
2 TBS maple flavored syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

To prepare rolls, combine milk, 3 TBS melted butter, 1 TBS sugar, and yeast in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes.

Add egg and remaining sugar to bowl. Stir in 1 cup flour; let stand 10 minutes.

Add remaining flour and salt to milk mixture; stir until a soft dough forms (dough will be sticky).

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 6 minutes).

Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray; turn to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 35 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch dough down; cover and let rise a second time for 35 minutes or until doubled in size.

Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.

Combine brown sugar and cinnamon. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; roll dough into an 18 x 11–inch rectangle.

Stir maple syrup into remaining 3 TBS of melted butter. Brush over dough; sprinkle evenly with brown sugar mixture.

Beginning at one long side, roll up dough tightly, jelly-roll fashion; pinch seam to seal (do not seal ends of roll). Cut dough into 18 (1-inch) slices.** Arrange 9 slices, cut sides up, in each of 2 (8-inch) square baking dishes coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise 35 minutes or until doubled in size. Or cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350°.

If rolls were refrigerated, pull out of fridge and let sit, covered for about an hour before baking.

Uncover rolls.

Bake at 350° for 22 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cool 10 minutes.

To prepare icing: Combine all ingredients in a small bowl; stir until blended. Spread icing over rolls; serve warm.

** You can freeze the rolls at this point. After slicing simply lay rolls on a cookie sheet and freeze until hard. Store in a zip top bag until ready to use. When ready to use, spray your baking dish, place in rolls, and allow to rise until doubled in size. Bake as directed.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I got that squishy feelin'

Yesterday was Valentines Day.

I was treated to the most beautiful bouquet of pink roses when I woke up.

A little background on the flowers: I always protest red roses, they are too cliche for me. I prefer tulips and carnations, I am a simple girl in the flower department. Jon is a traditionalist so he compromises and gets me pink roses.

In short, he did great. :)

We ate dinner at home, as a couple. It was so nice to sit down and spend some time together. We watched the Olympics and enjoyed each others company. It may not sound like the most romantic evening on the planet, but it was perfectly suited to us.

We enjoyed ham that I warmed up in the crockpot and tortellini in homemade stock. It was simple but so tasty.

Another sweethearts day successfully spent, with my sweetheart.

Here's to you and your culinary adventures, friend. Cheers!

Fresh Tortellini in Stock
Serves 3
349 cal per serving

1 (9-ounce) package fresh three-cheese tortellini
14-16 oz homemade chicken stock
1 plum tomato, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp dry Italian seasoning
2 TBS shredded fresh Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting fat; drain.

While pasta cooks, bring stock to a boil. Remove from heat; stir in parsley and Italian seasoning. Cover and let broth mixture stand until pasta is done.

Add drained pasta to stock mixture. Ladle soup into three shallow bowls; sprinkle each serving with cheese and tomatoes. Garnish with additional parsley leaves and pepper, if desired.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

As the sun glistens on the snow...

The weather likes to toy with me.

One day it's bitterly cold. The next day the it will be 35 above zero and the snow will melt off the roads. Then, once again, the air turns frigid and my eyelashes turn white with frost.

I made soup on Monday, only to turn around and grill steaks outside on Tuesday. It's all very odd.

I need some comfort in this crazy mixed up weather. So tonight we are having my mom's cheeseburger meatloaf. It's the classic dinner, updated.

Here's to you and your culinary adventures, friend. Cheers!

Cheeseburger Meatloaf
Serves 4
310 cal per serving

1/2 slice light Italian bread
1/4 cup diced onion
1 medium egg
12 oz extra lean ground beef
1 1/4 shredded cup reduced fat cheddar cheese
1/3 cup bottled BBQ sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, pulse bread until you have small, even breadcrumbs.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, bread crumbs, onion, egg, salt and pepper, and mix well.

Spray a large loaf pan or a 10x6 rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.

Divide the meat mixture into thirds.

Fill the bottom of the dish with 1/3 of the meat. Top with HALF the cheese, avoiding the edges. Gently pat another 1/3 of the meat over the cheese. Make sure to seal the edges. Top meat with remaining cheese. Finally, pat the last 1/3 of the meat over cheese, sealing the edges again. Spread BBQ sauce over meat.

From the top down, the layers should look like this:

BBQ sauce
1/3 meat mixture
1/2 cheese
1/3 meat mixture
1/2 cheese
1/3 meat mixture

Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. Remove from oven and let set for 10 minutes before cutting into meat to allow juices to redistribute.

Slice and serve.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Super Bowl Snack'n

Sunday is Jon's national holiday.

Superbowl Sunday.

We have this tradition of having friends come over and watch the game. And eat. And eat. And eat some more. Every year there are a few things that we just can't live without: pizza, better than sex cake, Dawn's shrimp dip, little smokies, chips, veggies & dip, and cheese & crackers.

Well, last summer Dawn and her husband, Art, moved to Cincinnati, OH. So, that means no shrimp dip. I just can't make it the way she does. We will just have to wait until they come visit in March.

Also waiting until March? The cake. I just can't bring myself to make it with only a few people coming over, not that there are ever leftovers ;)

So what are we going to have for the "big game"? Something a little different. We are having mini pulled pork sammys, little smokies, baked garlic pita chips, fresh fruit and dip, raw veggies and dip, and mini english muffin pizzas.

This year's eating will be a little more healthy than in years past. But, I don't doubt the game will be just as fun as we are surrounded by good company and good food.

Here's to you and your culinary adventures, friend. Cheers!

Pulled Pork Rub

2 TBS Spanish smoked paprika
2 TBS brown sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp celery salt

Combine all ingredients well. Rub over a large pork loin. Slow roast by cutting the loin into chunks. Carefully fit meat into a large crock pot, add a small amount of ham stock. Cook until falling apart tender. Once cooked, shred with two forks. Mix in BBQ sauce to taste.

Pulled Pork BBQ sauce
2 1/2 cups

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons ketchup
1 cup water
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons molasses
3/4 teaspoon ground celery seed
1/2 teaspoon smoked salt

Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer 25 minutes or until slightly thickened.