Sunday, December 23, 2012

Chapter 3: Are We There Yet? Please?

Saturday, December 22

Saturday morning began with some Mario on the Wii and some delicious quiche from the hands of our hostess. She brought us to the airport in plenty of time to make our 12:30 flight. Except that when walked in and pulled out our itinerary, the flight was scheduled for 11:55. And for two days earlier. The print-out from Fiji said the correct date (Saturday, Dec. 22) but our more recent printout from Brisbane said Dec. 20. You see, when we were in Brisbane a wonderfully helpful airport employee entered our updated itinerary officially into the system but accidentally put Dec. 20 (the date on our original itinerary from before we left the States) instead of Dec. 22 for this particular flight.

Now, remember how I said that the Fiji airport ticketing area was chaotic? That was nothing compared to the sight we beheld upon entering the ticketing area in the Port Moresby airport. There were about 10 counters at the front of the room, but there were no lines. Just a giant mob of people all trying to get to the front.

There was no way we'd be able to fight through the mob, straighten out our ticket discrepancy, and make it onto our flight by 11:55. So we tried the customer service window tucked in the back corner of the room, and with some persistence and long explanations, were able to get on an afternoon flight, and they were able to print our boarding passes. Though we still had to fight through the mob in order to check our luggage, we had boarding passes in hand and three extra hours to play with!

Oh, and while I was at the service desk, I met an Aussie guy whose flight had been delayed because the pilot was drunk. That bodes well. (At least they didn't let him/her fly drunk!)

We did manage to get through the mob, partially with the help of a security guard who, after our luggage was successfully checked, followed me and repeated in a low voice, "Now you owe me 30 kina" (roughly $15). I'd never had a bribe demanded of me, and I wasn't sure how to respond, so I lied and said I had no kina on me. He was persistent--but also trying not to make a scene and draw undue attention to his asking me for money--so he eventually did give up.

Then began the wait for our flight to Madang. I think it was between 12:30 and 1:00 when we made it through security and into the waiting area, and our flight wasn't scheduled to leave until 3:00.

By this stage in the journey, our little introverted selves were so exhausted from constantly being around hordes of people--not to mention the physical exhaustion of jet lag and lack of sleep, as well as the emotional exhaustion of losing two days with our family, having our plans tossed in a blender, and having no control over the situation. We were SO ready to be done with airports!




This particular departure lounge (using the term loosely) does not rank high on the comfort and niceness spectrum. It's overly crowded, only somewhat air-conditioned, and not remotely clean. They do get points, though, for having a decent PA system in that part of the airport, and a woman who spoke announcements very clearly in both English and Tok Pisin.

Somewhere around 2:00 they said that Madang passengers should prepare to board soon.

Then our flight's departure time changed to 3:30.

Then they said it was delayed indefinitely.

Then they said 4:30.

I literally choked back tears when I heard over the PA system, "May I have your attention please. Passengers of flight PX 126 to Madang, your plane is now boarding."

The flight itself was blissfully short and uneventful, and we finally landed in Madang, 49 hours later than originally planned. It sure felt good to hug our parents and middle brother!

Total travel time from start to finish: 84 hours, or 3-1/2 days. I began on Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. CST and arrived Friday 10:30 p.m. CST (5:30 p.m. Saturday PNG time).

Chapter 2: The One Where I Don't Know How to Set a Watch

Friday, December 21:

I don't normally wear a watch, since I almost always have my phone with me, and iPhones tend to be more accurate than cheap wristwatches from Walmart. But for this trip, when I knew I'd be wearing pocketless skirts most of the time and likely not connect my phone to a source of data that would tell it we were in a different time zone, I got a cheap Walmart wristwatch. But apparently I'm out of practice with reading and--more importantly--setting an analog watch, because it seems that when we touched down in Fiji and I set my watch to local time, I actually set it an hour off.

We left the hotel at 4:30 a.m. (or maybe 5:30--we're still not sure anymore) in order to check in around 5:15 for our 8:15 flight, recheck our luggage, and jump through the hoops for getting reimbursed for our $20 shuttle ride back to the airport.

After the indefinite limbo we were in Thursday, and with all the delays and  uncertainties, it felt unbelievably good to have boarding passes in our hands for a flight to Brisbane that morning! While we were in line for our boarding passes, I noticed that our flight had both Air Pacific and Qantas flight numbers, so I made a point of memorizing both numbers just in case.

Since we had ample time before our flight, we meandered through security and customs, purchased a chicken pie for breakfast, huge bottles of water (still dehydrated from the day before--we weren't sure if we could drink the hotel tap water), and a cappuccino. I had been wanting to find an outlet adapter so I could charge my iPhone and iPad, so we wandered through a few stores and leisurely bought an adapter (for under $2!), then wandered back up to the seating area surrounded by gates.

We still had a little over an hour before our flight, but one of us suggested we go ahead and head to our gate, just so we'd be there in plenty of time. We saw an entrance labelled with a gate range that included ours, but it led to four outdoor gates--the kind where passengers go through the security personnel then walk out onto the tarmac and up the stairs that have been rolled up to the plane. Translation: not the kind of gate where you camp out in a comfy leather chair for hours on end.

We glanced up at the list of flights in the gates beyond that exit and didn't see our flight FJ 921, so we started to walk away. As we were turning around, it registered with me that the screen had said QF 398, and I was pretty sure that was our Qantas flight number. We looked more carefully and, sure enough, it said QF 398 to Brisbane, departing at 8:15 . . . boarding now.

Huh. That's odd that they're boarding so early, but we might as well get on. So we handed our boarding passes to the gatekeeper and proceeded outside to where they had tables set up to search our bags the old-fashioned way, with eyes and hands instead of fancy x-ray machines. They pulled out our giant water bottles which we'd only begun to sip on, and said we couldn't take them on the plane. We'd just spent good money on them, so we asked if we could just drink them quickly before boarding the plane. The security guys gave us strange looks but didn't protest, though my guy reminded me multiple times that we could get water on the plane. Just to make sure the flight wasn't leaving early, I asked, "What time is the plane leaving?"

"In 45 minutes."

"Oh, we've got plenty of time, then!" So we kept sipping.

After about the third nervous suggestion that we could drink airplane water, we surrendered our bottles and headed toward the tarmac and our awaiting aircraft.

While we walked--still leisurely--to the airplane, someone alerted us, "Hurry! Your plane leaves in 5 minutes!" What?! Why is it leaving an hour early? Is my watch wrong? But we've been going by my watch all this time. And the security guys just told us we had 45 minutes. What if we hadn't happened past our gate when we did?

Looking back on the interaction, the bag search personnel must have said the plane leaves in 4 to 5 minutes rather than 45. They probably thought we were so ridiculous and arrogant to stand there sipping our water while our plane was mere minutes from departing!

Brisbane airport was gloriously uneventful. And clean. And air-conditioned. And efficient! We even had time to buy 20 minutes of internet. For this layover we checked and double-checked my watch against the clocks all over the airport, and camped out right at our gate.

From Brisbane, we flew to Port Moresby, PNG's capital, and met up with some of our parents' friends who live in Moresby and had agreed to house us for this unexpected overnight so we wouldn't have to figure out how to get to and pay for a hotel. Their six-year-old son is perhaps the most hospitable person I've ever met, and probably has more enthusiasm in his pinkie than I have in my whole body. He gave us the most detailed tour of a house I've ever experienced--even showing us such things as his vitamins he takes twice a day, each family member's bike helmet, the shovel stowed behind the front door, his bag of swim stuff, and the Christmas story book laying beneath the tree. We are so very grateful for this family's generous, warm hospitality and honestly don't know what we would have done without them.

Chapter 1: Off to a Bumpy Start

Note to self: Never, ever, ever again travel through a small island on a small airline the day after said island has been hit by a hurricane. Chaos will ensue. Travel plans will be scrambled.

On Tuesday I began the trek to the other side of the world to visit my parents in Papua New Guinea. I started the trip with a simple itinerary: fly to Dallas, then to LA, meet up with oldest brother, then fly together to Fiji, Brisbane, Port Moresby, and finally Madang. Simple enough, right? Only 36-ish hours in transit. Piece of cake!

That's what I thought until I went to get my boarding pass at LAX. While in line--a really loooonng line--a kind but frazzled-looking airline employee was making her way through the line to update people on the flight status. Apparently there had been a flight to Fiji scheduled for Monday night but, due to the hurricane hitting, it was delayed . . . until Tuesday night. So anyone who was supposed to be on Monday night's flight would get dibs on Tuesday's plane, and anyone who didn't make it onto Tuesday's plane (most likely us!) would get overnight accommodations and fly out of LA the following morning.

As my middle brother would say . . . loud noises!

I went through the line first, with Matthew about 30 minutes behind me in line. When I got to the front, there was no reasoning with the airline employee:
"That way to the hotel vouchers line."
"But we have four connecting flights, two of which are on an airline that won't let you connect it to another itinerary, so we'll probably lose those tickets entirely if we don't make tonight's flight."
"That way to the hotel vouchers." 
So I hopped back in line with Matthew.

Side note: When your parents live in another country and you don't have international service on your phone, it's really hard to talk to them when things happen like an airline telling you you'll be delayed 12 hours and miss your next four flights. There was a lot of frantic emailing from LAX.

When we got to the front of the line, we actually got ushered to a counter with a computered employee (I had just gotten the pre-sorting traffic director before) and handed her our passports. She looked at her screen and then, in a hushed voice said, "Okay, don't tell anyone, but I can get you on tonight's flight. You may not be seated together, but you can fly to Fiji tonight." We'll take it!!

With boarding passes in hand and our blood pressure down considerably, we proceeded through security and to our gate. When you pack 200 upset people into a tiny gate with very little seating, it gets a little chaotic. Then the plane was delayed. Then they moved us to a different gate, and the flight was delayed some more. Then they put us onto buses to take us to another building where the plane had pulled up. Then we finally boarded. Then we sat for  bit. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 9:30 p.m., and we started taxiing  a little after midnight. Which ordinarily would be frustrating anyway, but we were scheduled to have only a three-hour layover in Fiji before catching our flight to Brisbane. Good bye, comfortable layover!

By this point, I was pretty ticked, so everything about the plane annoyed me: the headrests didn't have the adjustable "wings" to keep your head in place, there was only one choice for dinner, the blankets were really thin, the movie selections were meager. First world problems. One nice thing was that I was by the window so could lean against it to sleep a bit. And there was a lovely couple from Alaska beside me. And since I was by the window, I got to see some stunning cloudscapes and watch the sunrise over the Pacific on Wednesday-turned-Thursday morning (we crossed the International Date Line). It began as a thin, vibrant ribbon of red stretched across the vast, dark horizon. Gradually the colors turned more golden and spread higher into the lightening sky.

Thursday, December 20:
 
Roughly 10 hours later, we touched down at Nadi International Airport in Fiji, at 7:20 Thursday morning. Our flight to Brisbane was scheduled to leave at 8:15, so there was still a slim chance we could make it. Except that we had to stay in our seats while officials sprayed bug spray throughout the cabin. And it takes a long time to get off a plane when seated in row 51. And once we did get off the plane, we deplaned directly into another massive line of our fellow passengers. Fortunately Matthew had been seated near the front of the plane, so he was able to get to the post-deplaning counter pretty quickly . . . only to find out that our plane to Brisbane had already left.

More loud noises!

So we collected our luggage (slightly miraculous that both our bags made it to the same country on the same flight), went through immigration, and into yet another line to see what kind of magic Air Pacific could work for us and our flight itineraries.

Remember what I said earlier about mass chaos ensuing when traveling through a small country on a small airline a day or two after a hurricane has hit? Yeah, that's no exaggeration. It seemed like Air Pacific just couldn't catch up to the delays. They'd delay a flight, put the original passengers on the next flight, which would bump the people scheduled for that flight, setting off this huge, awful domino effect. And since Nadi is a relatively small airport, they simply didn't have enough aircraft present to catch up. Plus, it was hot and muggy. There was little to no air conditioning in that part of the airport. Add to that equation several hundred increasingly frustrated, tired, hungry, and dehydrated passengers who are all frantically trying get to or from a whole slew of countries.  So . . . mass chaos.

After an hour or so in line, we had new itineraries in hand, the promise of hotel and meal vouchers soon, and instructions on when to check in for the Brisbane flight the following morning. We were anxious to find some water (see dehydrated comments above) and internet so we could email our parents with our updates and to tell them not to pick us up that afternoon in Madang. But we were afraid to split up, and we were afraid to go far lest we miss the announcement to pick up our vouchers, and we didn't have any Fijian dollars. So we sat around for a couple more hours, trying to stay awake and alert enough to understand the quiet, unintelligible announcements issuing from the ceiling. A couple hours later we inserted ourselves back into the same line, asked again for hotel and meal vouchers vouchers, and this time received a green slip of paper--which might as well have been pure gold--in our grubby little hands, along with the promise that the taxi was on its way to take us to the hotel.

The hotel was actually a pretty fancy resort, complete with light fluttery curtains, a balcony off our room, a nice restaurant, swimming pools, and other amenities like a spa if we'd been willing and able to pay for it. The airline had included lunch and dinner in our voucher, so we headed down to the resort restaurant for lunch shortly after arriving. I had some chicken and prawn stir-fry with vegetables, a red curry sauce, and jasmine rice. It was outstanding! I was eyeing their fish and chips for dinner, but ended up skipping dinner because I was so tired. You know I'm tired when I turn down free fancy food!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Cooking Tip: Non-Stick Spray

When spraying a pan with non-stick cooking spray, open your dishwasher and spray the pan over the open dishwasher door. That way, cooking spray residue will end up inside your dishwasher with your dirty dishes, rather than on your kitchen floor. Obviously don't do this if the dishes in your dishwasher are clean!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Roasted Cauliflower Risotto


Risotto has always intimidated me. Perhaps it's because people talk it up about it being hard to get just the right consistency. Perhaps it's because it requires a lot of hands-on time. Perhaps it's because it's one of the dishes that trips up the chefs on Hell's Kitchen and earns (well, maybe not earns, but prompts) screaming episodes from Gordon Ramsay.

But I've gotta tell you . . . it's really not that hard. True, it requires a lot of focused attention with a lot of constant stirring. But constant stirring isn't actually hard, is it? And as far as consistency goes, that's not that challenging either. Because, since you're adding the broth bit by bit anyway, you can just start sampling it when you think you're getting close to being done. Still a little crunchy? Okay, add another scoop of broth and try again when that's almost absorbed.


I made this recipe for Roasted Cauliflower Risotto during my many days off during Thanksgiving, since I was looking for more time-consuming recipes to make then. I started off really excited about the recipe, but then I started to second-guess whether cauliflower and chickpeas were worth the honor of being the stars in my first-even risotto attempt. They were. Cauliflower tastes much better roasted than raw or steamed, and the chickpeas provided the perfect . . . I don't know . . . chickpeaness? And, for how rich and creamy this tasted, the nutrition stats are really not bad!

Now that I've conquered this recipe and have a nearly-full bin of arborio rice, I think I'll be making risotto quite a bit. Little-known-fact: in my head, I usually pronounce risotto like Gordon Ramsay--ris-AH-tto rather than ris-OH-tto. It sounds more fancy that way.

I followed the recipe exactly from A Couple Cooks. I think they do a great job of describing the process in a thorough but not overwhelming way, and I don't think I can improve on their ingredients or instructions at all, so I'll just encourage you to hop over to their site for the recipe.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pumpkin Monkey Bread



Most of the time, I try to cook fairly healthy food. But friends, there is nothing healthy about this recipe. Nothing. I didn’t look up the nutrition stats, because why would we want to know? If we’re going to indulge, let’s do it right—and part of doing it right means living in ignorant, syrupy bliss about the calories, sat fat, and sugar. Right? Right.

This monkey bread adventure began with my friend Lauren sharing with me a recipe she found for Pull-Apart Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Bread. I drooled, thanked her profusely, and immediately put it on my “must make” list. Now, recipes sometimes sit on said list for quite some time, because I read way too many food blogs and food magazines, and add recipes to this list much more quickly than I can actually make them. Several weeks later my friend Jordan showed up to work one day with leftovers from her weekend of baking, and one of them was this same recipe! Then I posted on my blog that I might make this bread during Thanksgiving week. My friend Megan saw my link on Facebook, commented that she thought she’d make it, then several hours later followed up with, “Make it. MAKE IT! You will not regret it!” She was right.

I bought this mug for 49 cents at Goodwill. I chose this
particular one because it's the color of pumpkins.

Based on feedback from both Megan and Jordan that the rolling-out-slicing-stacking-slicing-more-and-arranging-in-the-pan method in the original recipe was really complicated and made for a big cinnamon-and-sugar mess all over the kitchen, I decided to make mine more like a monkey bread. Also, the shape of the bread pieces in the original recipe kinda weirds me out a little. I’m not sure why. Don’t judge me.

I used my bread machine to make the dough; but if you don’t have a bread machine, you can follow the dough-making steps on the original recipe. I also wanted a more syrupy, less glazey sauce to pour on top, so I made it more like the buttered rum sauce from my Pumpkin French Toast Casserole. Oh, and since my house was cold because I’m too cheap to turn on the furnace, I used this tip when it was time for the dough to rise a second time:
“Searching for a warm draft-free place to allow yeasted bread to rise? Preheat oven to 350° for about 2 minutes. Turn off and place covered bowl in warm oven.”
Now, there are a lot of steps here, but none of them are hard. This bread will take a lot of time from start to finish, but a lot of that time is spent waiting. So this is a great recipe to make when you have a long, leisurely morning (or afternoon), with plenty of time between each step to clean the kitchen, do laundry, watch TV, listen to the movie your neighbors are watching next-door, write, process food photos, or do whatever else strikes your fancy.



Pumpkin Monkey Bread

Adapted from Willow Bird Baking, as seen on Sunny Side Up
Yield: 1 loaf pan
Printer-friendly

Bread Ingredients
2 Tbsp. browned butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
2-1/2 to 3 cups flour
2-1/4 tsp. (1 envelope) active dry yeast – or 1 generous tsp. rapid rise/bread machine yeast

Coating Ingredients
2 Tbsp. browned butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Sauce Ingredients
3 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. rum (or appropriate amount of rum extract or vanilla extract)

Directions
To brown the butter: Heat butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Cook until the butter turns medium-dark golden brown and smells irresistible. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes in the pan. The butter will continue to cook a bit in the pan, so take that into account when you decide how dark to let the butter get before removing it from the heat.

To make the dough: In a bread machine pan, combine the bread ingredients in the order recommended by your bread machine manufacturer. Select the dough cycle and let it do its thing. For the flour measurement, start with 2-1/2 cups, and when you machine gives you the, “Hey! Check on the dough and see how it’s doing!” beep, add more flour if needed. Mine definitely needed it. My machine’s dough cycle includes an hour for the first rise. If yours doesn’t, be sure to let your dough rise in a warm place for about an hour before continuing.

To prepare the coating: Brown some more butter; set aside. In a large, wide bowl, combine the sugars and spices for the coating. Grease a loaf pan.

To assemble the monkey bread: When dough has risen, punch it down and turn out onto a clean, floured surface. Knead a few times with your hands. You can work in a bit of flour here, but not too much, because you’ll want the dough to be sticky. Pinch (or cut) off small amounts of dough and roll into balls about an inch in diameter. Roll in the sugar mixture and arrange in the prepared loaf pan. Be sure to get them good and heavily coated with the sugar mixture. About halfway through, drizzle a bit less than half of the browned butter over the sugared dough balls. When all the dough balls are in the pan, drizzle the rest of the browned butter over the top. Cover pan with a clean, damp towel and allow dough to rise for 30-45 minutes.

Note: You should have quite a bit of sugar mixture left over at the end of my assembly process, and it may be tempting to sprinkle it into the pan. Don’t. I was tempted, too, and I’m really glad I didn't  This bread is going to be insanely sweet and rich as-is, and I think that if ALL that sugary goodness was mixed in, it’d be too much. So, either discard the excess sugar mixture, or save it for some future use. You could even use some of it for the sauce.

To bake the deliciousness: Preheat oven to 350. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until top is deep, golden brown. It helps to tent the pan with foil for the first 20 minutes of baking time, and remove the foil for the remaining 10-20 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan on a wire cooling rack for 20 minutes. Go a little crazy with anticipation.

To make the sauce: Heat your skillet once more over medium heat and whisk together butter, brown sugar, and maple syrup until sugar is dissolved and butter is browned. Remove from heat; whisk in the rum.

To serve: Use a plastic knife to loosen the sides of the bread from the pan, and carefully turn it out onto a plate. Place another plate on top, and flip it so it’s now right-side-up on the second plate. Pour butter rum sauce over top, and serve.



I've always kind of hated my blue counters, but they sure do provide
nice, photogenic contrast to orange, pumpkin-based dishes.  


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Blue Cheese Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Pecans


For dinner my first night off of work, and to officially kick off my Thanksgiving Week of Deliciousness, I made these roasted Brussels sprouts. They were good--a little salty, but a small drizzle of honey helped with that.


Then I figured up the nutrition stats, and found myself liking the dish less and wishing that I'd eaten only one serving instead of two. Since when does a veggie side dish cost you more than 500 calories per serving? The pecans and olive oil were definitely the culprits (each one adding about 200 calories per serving!), but at least they bring some nice monounsaturated fats to the party.


If I make these again (which I probably will since there's still a half-pound of Brussels sprouts in my fridge), I'll make some pretty substantial adjustments for both health and flavor reasons: 1) use a bit less blue cheese; 2) halve pretty much all the remaining ingredients other than the Brussels sprouts and cranberries; 3) add a bit of orange zest to the cranberries before roasting (or maybe halfway through when I pull them out to stir them).

Blue Cheese Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Pecans

Pulled elements from Prevention RD and Two Peas and Their Pod
Yield: 2 servings
Printer-friendly

Ingredients
1/2 cup fresh cranberries, washed and chopped/halved *
1/2 to 1 tsp. sugar
Drizzle of olive oil

1/2 lb. Brussels sprouts, rinsed, with bad/loose leaves removed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

1/2 cup chopped pecans
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup blue cheese
Drizzle of honey (optional)

Directions
Line two 8 x 8-inch pans with foil.** Preheat oven to 400.

Combine cranberries, sugar, and olive oil in a small bowl. Pour into one of the foil-lined pans.

Cut the base off each Brussels sprout and halve each bulb. Put the sprouts into the pan in a single layer. Using your hands, toss the sprouts with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Roast the cranberries and sprouts for 20-25 minutes, stirring the cranberries and rotating the pans halfway through. After 20 minutes my cranberries were almost as shriveled as craisins. If you want them less shriveled, take them out 5-10 minutes earlier.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Toast the pecans for about 5 minutes, until pecans just start to brown and smell toasty. Remove from heat. In a small jar, combine remaining 2 Tbsp. oil, vinegar, and mustard. Put lid on and shake vigorously.

Stir together the cranberries, Brussels sprouts, dressing, pecans, and blue cheese. Return to the oven for an additional 3-4 minutes. Toss and serve. If desired, drizzle with the slightest bit of honey.

Notes
* You could use craisins instead of roasting fresh cranberries. I simply had cranberries in my freezer that needed to be used. Just skip the whole roasting process for the cranberries, and add the craisins at the end when you stir in the pecans, blue cheese, and dressing.

** If using fresh cranberries, I'm sure it would work just fine to roast the cranberries and Brussels sprouts in the same pan. I only kept mine separate in case one roasted much more quickly than the other.

from MyFitnessPal iPhone app

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Week Menu

Last year I was by myself on Thanksgiving day, which sounds quite a bit more pathetic than it was. I did celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends . . . just not until a day or two after Thanksgiving. To keep myself from feeling pathetic last year, I made myself a stuffed Cornish hen. It was like a cute little, single-serving-size turkey, and gave me something exciting and food-related to look forward to on Thanksgiving day.

This year, our Thanksgiving plans are again on Saturday instead of Thursday, so I've decided to do a whole week of fun cooking. I kind of intended to do a deconstructed Thanksgiving dinner spread out . . . but I didn't want to limit myself to traditional Thanksgiving dishes, especially since I'll be eating all of those on Saturday.

I'm going to share my menu with you--more because I'm excited about it, and less because I think you will be excited about it.

How about you? What are you eating for Thanksgiving this year?

Thanksgiving Week Menu 2012

Breakfasts:

Main Dishes and Sides:
  • Thai Peanut Pumpkin Hummus from Prevention RD - a recipe I discovered last year. It's pretty quick and easy, so I threw it together Sunday night as a warm-up and to get me through two work days with less time to cook.
  • Pumpkin Apple Harvest Rice from Healthy Happy Life - with the addition of turkey and cranberries, this could almost be Thanksgiving in a bowl.
  • Roasted Cauliflower with Apple and Dill from A Couple Cooks - this looks like such an interesting combination of flavors! 
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bleu Cheese and Cranberries - combining recipes from Prevention RD and Two Peas & Their Pod
  • Stuffed Carnival Squash - inspired by at least a couple recipes. I think it will have quinoa, turkey sausage, pear, and I haven't yet decided what else.
  • Roasted Cauliflower Risotto from A Couple Cooks - this will be my first attempt at risotto!

Dessert:



Thursday, November 8, 2012

Butternut Squash and Apple Calzones



Last fall (or maybe even the fall before) I discovered this recipe and bookmarked it as one I wanted to try. Then I promptly forgot about it, because it wasn't on my Google Docs spreadsheet where I keep my official list of recipes to try. A couple months ago I saw it linked from one of the food blogs I read and thought, "That sounds good! I need to make that!" Only to discover a few days later that I still had it bookmarked from the previous year.

I must say, that when these babies came out of the oven, they were worth the yearlong wait. They were crispy on the outside, and steamy, herby, and just the right amount of gooey on the inside. Sadly, they didn't reheat well; so if you live alone, I'd recommend holding off on these until a day you have friends over.


For this recipe, I cheated and bought pre-cubed butternut squash in a bag in the produce section, rather than peeling, seeding, and cubing my own. I also used store-bought pizza dough, but you could certainly do homemade dough if you'd like. Fun fact: the day after I did my shopping for this recipe, I saw the very pizza dough I'd just bought featured in a Rachael Ray magazine.

I made a half batch (4 calzones) of the Happyolks recipe and wound up with far more filling than would fit in the amount of dough I had. So I've adjusted amounts below to produce what I think will be the right ratio of filling to dough. The filling is good by itself, though, so having extra of that is not necessarily a bad thing!


Butternut Squash and Apple Calzones

Yield: 8 calzones; 4-8 servings, depending on how hungry you are and what else you might be serving with these
Adapted slightly from Happyolks
Printer-friendly version

Ingredients
2 (13.8-oz.) tubes of refrigerated pizza dough (I used Pillsbury artisan pizza crust with whole grains)
1 Tbsp. butter
3-4 cups cubed butternut squash
1-1/2 small sweet onions, chopped
3 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried sage
2 apples, cubed (I used gala)
1 clove garlic, minced
Pepper and coarse salt (such as kosher or sea salt)
Zest of one lemon
Mozzarella cheese, grated
Olive oil

Directions
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash, onions, rosemary, and sage; sauté until onion is soft, about 8 minutes. Add apples, garlic, and a dash of salt; sauté 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Add lemon zest and stir to combine.

Preheat oven to 500. Prepare a 9 x 13 cookie sheet with parchment paper.

On a floured surface, roll out dough into a rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 4 rectangles. Scoop about 1/2 cup of butternut squash mixture onto each rectangle. Add pepper and a bit of mozzarella. Fold over the other half of the dough and pinch around the edges to seal tightly. Transfer calzones to cookie sheet. Using your hand or a pastry brush, spread olive oil on each calzone and sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 5-15 minutes, until calzone is browned and warmed through. The recipe I followed said to bake for 12-15 minutes; mine took 6.

Nutritional Information Per Calzone (compliments of My Fitness Pal)
372 calories; 11.3 g total fat; 57 g total carbs (6.1 g dietary fiber; 9.3 g sugars); 11.5 g protein




Friday, November 2, 2012

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole with Buttered Rum Sauce



This is my new favorite breakfast. It’s cozy. It’s sweet and spiced. It’s got crunchy pieces and gooey pieces. It’s perfect for a 46-degree Saturday morning when you’re still trying to make it another month before firing up the furnace.


For the French toast casserole part, I pretty much followed a halved version of a recipe on Buns in My Oven. Though honey oat bread is my favorite French toast base, so I used that instead of French bread. I also decided to cube my bread instead of slicing it and doing two layers in the pan. Mostly because I didn’t start the bread soon enough the night before and wanted desperately to go to bed. So cutting the fresh hot bread into cubes was how I could make it cool more quickly so I could assemble the casserole. I’m pretty happy with my decision, though I suppose maybe this should be called bread pudding since the bread is cubed. (?) In fact, if you need a good dessert idea, call this bread pudding and—voila!—you’ll have a dessert instead of a breakfast.


For the sauce, I combined elements of Paula Deen’s praline topping recipe as seen on Buns in My Oven, with elements of the buttered rum sauce from this Pull-Apart Cinnamon Sugar Pumpkin Bread recipe that a friend shared with me (yes, I will be making that recipe soon).


Part way through baking, I was worried that the cubes on top would turn into croutons and be unpleasant. But the texture was great! Pouring the buttered rum sauce on top part way through baking helped moisten the top layer. Parts of the top layer were definitely more crispy (though not quite crouton consistently, thankfully), which provided a nice contrast to the gooeier layer below.


This casserole reheated really well, though the texture was not quite as nice and varied when reheated.

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole with Buttered Rum Sauce

Adapted from Buns in My Oven
Yield: 4 servings (one 11 x 7 dish)

Ingredients
About 8 oz. bread, cubed (I used honey oat bread)
1 Tbsp. melted butter
3/4 cup milk
2-1/2 eggs (2 eggs + 1 egg white)
3/8 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ginger
Pinch of cloves

For the sauce
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. rum (or substitute vanilla extract; or substitute 1/4-1/2 tsp. rum extract)

Directions
The night before: Spray an 11 x 7 inch glass pan and arrange bread cubes in the bottom. Whisk together remaining ingredients (through cloves). I find that the whisk attachment on my immersion blender is great for whisking eggs and leaving no globs behind. Pour over the bread cubes; cover and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.

The morning of: Remove casserole from fridge. Preheat oven to 350. Bake, uncovered, for 40-60 minutes, until casserole is browned and heated through. Mine took 40 minutes, but the recipe I was following said 50-60 minutes.

For the buttered rum sauce: About 20-30 minutes into the casserole’s bake time, put butter into a microwave-safe dish. Microwave in 20-second intervals until melted. Stir in brown sugar and stir until mostly dissolved. It may require a couple more 20-second trips to the microwave. Stir in pecans, cinnamon, nutmeg, and rum/vanilla/extract. Remove casserole from oven and drizzle with sauce. Return to the oven for the remainder of the baking time.

When it’s finished baking, allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before digging in. You can eat it as-is, or add a drizzle of honey or syrup and/or a dusting of powdered sugar.

Ideas for next time
  • For extra rich and gooey, I might make twice as much buttered rum sauce—half of it for pouring on top of the casserole for the last 10-20 minutes of baking time, and half saved to drizzle on right before eating. Especially if serving as a dessert rather than as breakfast. 
  • I wonder what this would be like with light coconut milk instead of regular milk. And/or coconut oil instead of butter in the sauce.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pumpquinoa

What, you may ask, is pumpquinoa? An excellent question, my friends! It's what you get when you stuff a pumpkin with a quinoa mixture. Pumpkin + quinoa = pumpquinoa. My friends Angie and Elizabeth deserve credit for coming up with the term. I'm still struggling with which syllable to stress (PUMP-keen-wah or pump-KEEN-wah). Neither one sounds exactly right rolling off the tongue, but this pumpquinoa tastes pretty good landing on the tongue.

At this year's pumpkin party, I got to make the big stuffed pumpkin dish that has become a staple at these annual pumpkin parties. For this distinct honor and distinguished occasion, I adapted a tasty-looking Quinoa-Stuffed Squash recipe from Cooking Light.

This is my favorite recipe I've made in a while, and I hope you like it as much as my fellow pumpkin party goers and I did!

Note, October 2016: I've been tinkering with this recipe every year and have decided it's time to incorporate those changes into this original recipe. Additions include celery, fresh sage, fresh rosemary, white wine, less quinoa, and a different kind of pumpkin.

Pumpquinoa

Yield: 16 servings
Adapted from Cooking Light
Printer-friendly version

Ingredients
1-1/2 to 2 cups dry quinoa (yields ~4-1/2 to 6 cups cooked)
1 pumpkin (mine was 13 lbs.)
2 lbs. ground turkey sausage
2 cups finely chopped carrot
2 cups finely chopped onion (I used yellow)
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup white wine (I used cheap chardonnay)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup fresh parsley
2-4 Tbsp. minced fresh sage
2-4 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary
Generous 1/2 tsp. dried thyme (or 1/2 Tbsp. fresh)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. pepper
Cayenne pepper, to taste
6 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (reduced fat, if available)
6 oz. pepper Jack cheese, shredded (reduced fat, if available)

Directions
Cook the quinoa according to package directions, but use a 1:1.5 (rather than 1:2) ratio of quinoa to water. This will result in less mushy quinoa. Also be sure to include a pinch of salt in the cooking water.

Cut the lid off the pumpkin, being sure to cut at an angle so that, when the pumpkin shrinks while it bakes, the lid will still stay on. Clean out the seeds and stringy parts and set the pumpkin aside.

Brown the turkey sausage; drain and remove sausage to another dish. Sauté carrot, onion, celery, and garlic in the skillet for a couple minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/2 cup water and white wine; increase heat to high, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the veggies are tender but not mushy.

Preheat oven to 350 (and arrange racks to accommodate a tall pumpkin).

In a large bowl combine sausage, carrot mixture, cooked quinoa, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, cayenne, and all but 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cheese. Taste--savor the moment!--and add more salt, pepper, or cayenne if needed. Taste some more, just for kicks.

Pour the quinoa mixture into prepared pumpkin, top with reserved cheese, and place the lid on the pumpkin. Put the pumpkin in a roaster pan or on a cookie sheet with sides.

Bake for about 2 hours, checking every 15 minutes once you reach the 1-1/2-hour mark.* You want the pumpkin flesh to be soft enough that you can scrape it out with a spoon when you dish up the quinoa filling, but not so soft that the pumpkin collapses.

Carefully remove from the oven (this was a two-person job for me and my co-hostesses). Transfer to a serving platter and, if desired, dress up the platter with some fresh parsley sprigs. Serve straight from the pumpkin, scraping out some pumpkin meat to go with each serving.

*Note: I've made this with basic jack-o-lantern pumpkins, as pictured here, but I like it better with Cinderella pumpkins, which are more flavorful and prettier. My first Cinderella pumpkin was extremely tender after just 1 hour in the oven, and my second one was still a little al dente after about 1-1/2 hours. So I recommend that you plan for 1-1/2 hours but check it after 45-60 minutes. The good news is that, if it cooks quickly and is done earlier than you need it, it does hold really well. Just take it out of the oven and keep the lid on, and it'll stay nice and hot.

Comments
This was phenomenal! Savory with the sausage, with a bit of kick from the cayenne and pepper Jack cheese, and delightfully autumnal and festive. The carrots were still a bit crisp which complemented the soft quinoa and chewy sausage. I don't say this very often with it comes to recipes, but I don't think I'll change a single thing next time I make this for a big group. When I make it for just myself I'll obviously scale it down and cook in a little pie pumpkin or some other squash that strikes my fancy. But as far as flavors, ingredients, and ratios, I think this was just right! (2016 me here. Well, those comments about not changing a thing are ironic.)

A little peek inside before baking.
Sorry about the blurriness of the iPhone photo.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blueberry-Peach Overnight French Toast


I made this overnight French toast months ago, drafted the blog post, and forgot all about it. Which is a shame, because it's a nice, tasty breakfast dish--and blueberries and peaches are so very photogenic. So without further ado, I bring you Blueberry-Peach Overnight French Toast!

While touching up this blog post for publishing, a random guy in Starbucks came up and asked me for my opinion on a really deep, emotionally-weighted ideas that "came to him intellectually." The conversation ranged from racism, theology, psycho-sexual development, abuse, politics, and murder. Interesting coffee shop conversation.

Back to lighter, tastier topics . . . I really enjoyed this breakfast--both straight out of the oven, and reheated the next few days. It needs a few tweaks for next time, but I've covered those in the comments below the recipe.

This dish is definitely wet and custardy, so if you have a strong aversion to soggy bread texture, this recipe may not be for you.


Blueberry Peach Overnight French Toast

Adapted from Prevention RD
Yield: 4 servings

~4 oz wheat bread, cut into 1/2-inch slices
3/4 cup skim milk
1/2 cup coconut milk, divided
2 Tbsp. white sugar
4 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 15-oz. can peaches (in juice or light syrup), drained and chopped
1 cup blueberries
1 Tbsp. honey

The night before: Spray a 7 x 9 pan with cooking spray. Arrange bread in a single, flat layer on bottom of pan, packing it in as tightly as possible. Whisk together milk, 1/4 cup coconut milk, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Pour over the bread. Top with chopped peaches and rinsed blueberries. Drizzle with honey. Cover and refrigerate overnight, or 8+ hours.

The morning of: Remove from fridge 30 minutes before baking. Preheat oven to 350. Pour reserved 1/4 cup coconut milk evenly over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 30-45 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. After removing from oven, let the dish sit for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Nutritional Information per Serving (compliments of My Fitness Pal):
323 calories; 11.7 g. fat; 340.2 mg. sodium; 43.9 total carbs (2.9 g. dietary fiber; 26.6 g. sugars); 12.1 g. protein.
Note: It didn't give me an option to plug in (to My Fitness Pal) 1 can of peaches, drained. So I plugged in 3/4 of a full can, figuring that 3/4 can peaches plus juice would be close to the nutritional value of 1 can peaches minus juice.

Result and Comments:
This was very good, but I'll make some changes next time. I really wish I'd had a lemon or orange to zest, as that would have brightened the flavor. I'd recommend mixing the zest in with either the egg/milk mixture or the coconut milk that gets poured on the top right before baking.

It was ever-so-slightly under-sweetened, so I'll add a little extra sugar and/or honey next time.

I've made this once before with just peaches, and with cinnamon and brown sugar on top (closer to the original recipe from Prevention RD), and probably liked that version better than this trial run of the blueberry version. Perhaps I like cinnamon more than I like blueberries. Though with the addition of lemon/orange zest and a bit more sweetness, it might put them on an equal level for me.




Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Pumpkin Chai Latte


I have nothing profound to say about this chai latte. Just that it's good. If you make it, I hope you enjoy!


Pumpkin Chai Latte

Adapted slightly from babble.com
Yield: 1 large mug

1-1/2 cups milk (I used skim)
2 chai teabags
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-2 packets Truvia, or sweetener of choice
2 Tbsp. pumpkin puree
Scant 1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. maple syrup

Pour milk, teabags, vanilla, and Truvia into a small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat until milk is just about to boil, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and discard teabags.

Meanwhile, in a large mug, whisk together pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, and maple syrup. Add milk mixture to mug and whisk to combine. Taste and adjust sweetness or spices if desired.

Notes:

  • More often than not, one or both of my teabags manages to break. If this happens, just pour milk mixture over a fine mesh strainer when adding to your mug.
  • You could heat everything in the microwave rather than stovetop. I feel like the chai steeps better on the stove, and it feels a little more like a treat to warm the beverage on the stove rather than zap it in the microwave.

Nutritional Information (compliments of My Fitness Pal):
163 calories; 0.9 g. fat; 29.7 g. total carbs (1.4 g. dietary fiber, 5.5 g. sugars); 13.1 g. protein

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fall (Happy Sigh)

I can't wait for fall. For the crisp nights, cozy meals, and frosted windshields. I wish I could say I've always loved fall, but in actuality, I used to view fall as simply cooler weather (good), going back to school (blah), and gearing up for the main event: Christmas. But within the past few years, fall has become my favorite season. One year, in an attempt to keep myself from breaking out the Christmas music in September, a friend and I wrote a blitz of fall-themed parodies of Christmas carols and church songs. Another friend invited me to her All Saints Day pumpkin parties (yes, we're theology nerds even when it comes to food-themed parties). Starbucks' pumpkin spice lattes happened. And I discovered the exquisite joy and versatility of cooking fall/winter squash and roasting vegetables.

This year, I'm especially ready for fall. My heart skips a beat every time I see predicted high temps below 85. I love the sound of the marching band practicing during lunch. I've been drooling over pumpkin recipes that keep appearing on my Facebook feed and favorite food blogs. And a couple weeks ago the smell of roasting garlic nearly drove me to tears (not exaggerating; yes, that was a particularly tough week with some emotion that seriously needed to be acknowledged).

But more than the lower temps and nutmeg-infused baking, I'm looking forward to the start of a new season in my life. This summer was hard. Sure, there were bright spots like taking part in a childhood friend's wedding and vacationing in New Mexico. But I spent the first half of the summer watching (and walking alongside) my boss and friend as his health rapidly deteriorated, while fully expecting him to not live through the summer. And I spent the second half of the summer mourning his death and dealing not only with my own emotional upheaval, but also with all the practical upheaval at the office. Someone had to cancel his five thousand email subscriptions, break the news to people who called the office asking for him, go through hundreds of his files, and help empty his office while not knowing who would be moving into it or when.

So I'm ready to close the chapter of summer 2012. Sure, there will still be grief for a long time, and nothing will ever fill the Charles-shaped void in my heart and life. And there are still days when I need to cry over something as emotionally neutral as roasting garlic. But the grief is becoming less intense with each passing week. This week I get to help move a new boss and friend into the office next to mine. A new semester is underway. And soon I will be burning my favorite Pumpkin Carnival candle and cooking my way through recipe lists like these.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Avocado Egg Stacks

Sometimes it's hard to cook when you're sad. For me, cooking is an artistic outlet. It's a chance to explore new ingredients, techniques, and flavor combinations. And it's hard to do that when someone you love has died and there's a big hole in your life. It's less fun to create, and it's often less fun to taste.

I discovered this recipe shortly before Charles died, and this proved to be a great go-to meal that week when he was in hospice and died. I think I made these Avocado Egg Stacks six times in the span of a week and a half to two weeks. It's a pretty balanced meal--complete with whole grains, protein, healthy fat, fruit (isn't avocado technically a fruit?), and veggies if you count the salsa. It's filling. It's tasty. And it comes together very quickly and easily. This was a good meal to throw together when I didn't want to think too hard or spend forever cleaning up my kitchen. And it was good in that I knew it would taste good with very little effort, but it's simple enough that I didn't care if it ended up tasting blah because I felt blah.

The full recipe is on A Couple Cooks, but here's the basic gist: toast an English muffin; add sliced or mashed avocado, salt, and paprika or chipotle seasoning; top with a fried egg and salsa; eat. I've made it with and without salsa, and actually like it a little better without. I used paprika every time since I don't yet own any chipotle seasoning. And I typically used half an avocado rather than a whole one.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Peach Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Lavender Balsamic Reduction

Confession: I get really frustrated with recipes that have summery ingredients and advertise themselves as summery, but require the oven. When it's over 100 degrees outside, I refuse to turn on the oven. Yet here I am sharing a oven-requiring recipe with summery ingredients. To my credit, it was only in the 90s the day I made it . . . and one of the two inspiration recipes was actually grilled rather than baked. I unfortunately don't have a grill, so I was stuck with waiting for a cooler day that could handle the oven being on for a bit. But if you're interested in grilling this baby, be sure to check out The Healthy Foodie recipe linked below.


Peach Pizza with Caramelized Onions and Lavender Balsamic Reduction

Yield: 3 servings (2 slices each)

1 medium to large yellow onion, sliced
1/2 Tbsp. butter
Salt, pepper, and sugar to taste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 scant tsp. dried lavender flowers
1 whole wheat pizza crust (cooked, not dough; I used Boboli)
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup reduced fat grated mozzarella cheese, divided
1/3 cup reduced fat bleu cheese crumbles
1 medium peach, thinly sliced (peeling is optional)

To caramelize the onions, heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the onions and butter and reduce heat to somewhere between medium and medium-high. Season with a bit of salt, pepper, and sugar. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until onions are very tender and golden brown. As needed, add a Tbsp. or two of water to deglaze the pan every so often. Note: for better caramelized onions, cook them on medium-low for close to an hour; I just didn't want to wait that long this time.

For the balsamic reduction, use the smallest saucepan you have. Bring balsamic vinegar and lavender to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently with a whisk. Reduce heat to medium-low-ish and simmer for around 15 minutes, stirring often, until vinegar is thick and syrupy, and has reduced to 1-2 Tbsp. in volume. Keep warm until ready to serve.

Preheat oven (and pizza stone if you have it) to 400 degrees.

Drizzle olive oil over the pizza crust and, using a pastry brush or your fingers, spread it around evenly. Layer 1/4 cup mozzarella, caramelized onions, bleu cheese, peach slices, and remaining mozzarella.

Bake for 5-12 minutes, until crust is browned and cheese is melted. Mine took about 7 minutes on the pizza stone in the oven. Remove from oven, drizzle with balsamic reduction, and cut into 6 wedges to serve.

Nutritional Information Per Serving (compliments of My Fitness Pal)
415 calories; 15.5 g. fat; 58.8 g total carbs (10 g. dietary fiber, 13.3 g. sugars); 18.3 g. protein 

Comments:
  • This was excellent. The mozzarella toned down the bleu cheese and kept it from overpowering the other flavors, as bleu cheese is very capable of doing. The cheeses and onion complemented the peaches beautifully, and the lavender balsamic reduction was the perfect final touch.
  • If you don't have lavender, you could definitely leave it out and the reduction would still be great on this pizza. I was just excited about finding another way to use dried lavender.
  • I didn't time my balsamic reduction well, so it cooled completely by the time the pizza went into the oven . . . and it got really thick--turned into more of a solid than a liquid. I was able to kind of re-liquify it by putting it back on low heat while the pizza baked, but it was still hard to drizzle. Next time I'll start the reduction later.
  • I imagine gorgonzola would be good on this, as in the Cooking Light recipe. I was even planning to get gorgonzola, but the bleu cheese was about 1/3 the cost and came in a reduced fat option. Sold.
  • There are a lot of "z"s in this post. With the mozzarella, the pizza, and the drizzle, we've got a lot of "z"s going on. Just thought I'd point that out.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Waiting for Bread . . . and for God's Future

I read this prayer this morning and wept. Once again, I feel like Walter Brueggemann has looked into my soul and expressed my thoughts, tears, and anxieties in such a beautiful, eloquently raw way.

Waiting for Bread . . . and for God's Future
On reading Micah

We are strange mixtures of loss and hope.

As we are able, we submit our losses to you.
   We know about sickness and dying,
                   about death and mortality,
                   about failure and disappointment.
   And now for a moment we do our
               failing and our dying in your presence,
               you who attend to us in loss.

As we are able, we submit our hopes to you.
We know about self-focused fantasy
                and notions of control.
         But we also know that our futures
                are out beyond us,
                         held in your good hand.

Our hopes are filled with promise of
        well-being, justice, and mercy.
Move us this day beyond our fears and anxieties
        into your land of goodness.
                We wait for your coming,
                we pray for your kingdom.
        In the meantime, give us bread for the day.

Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, page 167

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chicken Peach Quesa-pitas


This recipe was my favorite way to use up Honey and Lavender Crock Pot Chicken. I suspected that the flavors in which I cooked the chicken would pair well with the flavors in this quesadilla recipe. And, if I may say so myself, I was right. If using honey lavender chicken, I'd go with Monterey Jack cheese; if using regular chicken, I think the pepper Jack would be better.


You could certainly use tortillas, as the original recipe calls for. I simply had pitas on hand, so that's what I used.

I almost skipped the honey-lime sour cream element, and I'm really glad I didn't. The sour cream added a additional layer of flavor which was quite good. You could probably substitute plain Greek yogurt for the sour cream.


Chicken Peach Quesa-pitas

Adapted slightly from Cooking Light
Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients
1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 tsp. lime juice
1/4 cup reduced fat sour cream
2 whole wheat pitas, cut in half
Approx. 1/2 cup shredded reduced fat Monterey Jack or pepper Jack cheese
1/2 cup cooked, cubed chicken         
1 peach, thinly sliced
2-4 tsp. chopped fresh cilantro

Directions
Combine honey, lime juice, and sour cream, stirring well with a whisk or fork. Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Preheat a George Foreman grill. Spray the both sides of the pita pockets with olive oil cooking spray.

Fill each pita pocket half with 1/4 of the remaining ingredients—cheese, chicken, peaches, cilantro, and more cheese. Grill each pocket half in the George Foreman for 3-5 minutes, until pita is toasted and cheese is melted. Serve with the honey-lime sour cream.

Results
Fresh and summery. Quick and easy to throw together. Doesn't heat up the house. Delicious!



Monday, June 25, 2012

Lavender and Honey Crock Pot Chicken

A couple months ago several friends from my house church got together to kill, pluck, and gut some chickens. Yes, we slaughter chickens together. No, we are not a cult. I promise!

So at the end of that night, I got to take home two organic, free-range chickens that cost me nothing but a few hours of labor. Well, that, and the feeling that I still smelled like chickens after two days and three showers. As one who doesn't even like to handle raw meat from the store, that was certainly an experience! Perhaps I should write a whole post on that. But lest I ruin your appetite . . .


Since I worked hard for these chickens, I felt like I needed some really epic recipes to cook them. And since they were older chickens, one of the chicken experts in the group warned us that the meat would be tough--so she recommended soup or crock pot cooking methods.

Around the same time I decided to try my hand at cooking with lavender, which I'd eaten twice but had never been brave enough to cook with myself. And then this recipe happened. It used lavender, it featured a whole chicken, and it was easily adaptable to the crock pot. Sold.


I decided to skin my chicken for two reasons: 1) the skin brings a lot of fat to the party, and I wanted a leaner dish; and 2) whoever plucked that chicken (quite possibly me) didn't do the best job, so there were still some feather remnants. However, though I basted this little lady every 30 minutes, she still came out really tough. So if you make this, I'd recommend using more liquid, cooking on low instead of high, leaving the skin on, or a combination thereof.

But the flavor was excellent! The lavender definitely came out, but the dish didn't taste flowery or perfumey, as can happen if you use too much lavender. I don't think I'd change a thing about the marinade ingredients or amounts. For the past couple days I've been using this chicken in some peach quesadillas, and I plan to use the bones to make home-made chicken stock (a first for me).

Lavender and Honey Crock Pot Chicken
Adapted from food.com
Yield: 1 chicken

Ingredients
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. dried lavender flowers
1-2 sprigs fresh marjoram, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 red onion, finely chopped (2-3 Tbsp.)
1 whole chicken
Salt and pepper
2 lemons (oranges would probably also be good)
Additional sprig or two of marjoram or other herb(s) of choice

Directions
Combine first eight ingredients (honey through red onion) in a 1- or 2-cup measuring cup. Cut one of the lemons into wedges and slice the other one.

Skin the chicken, if desired, and remove any giblets or anything else that came packaged inside the chicken. Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper. Place the lemon wedges inside the body cavity and place chicken in a greased crock pot.

Pour honey-lavender mixture over the chicken, place additional herb sprig(s) on top of chicken, and spread lemon slices on top of that. Cover and cook 4-8 hours* or until chicken is tender and juices run clear. Since I skinned my chicken and since I was home all day, I basted my chicken every 30 minutes or so to try to keep her nice and juicy.

* Crock-pot.com suggests that, for a 6-lb. whole bone-in chicken, you cook on low for 7-1/2 hours or on high for 6-1/4. Obviously, individual crock pots vary, so adjust your cook time accordingly based on your crock pot and the size of your chicken.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Orange French Toast with Salted Caramel Syrup


French toast has become my weekend breakfast of choice. There are so many ways to vary the basic French toast to create a vast array of breakfast treats. You can change up the kind and flavor of bread, add various ingredients to the egg and milk mixture, polish the dish with different toppings, or all of the above. The possibilities are endless!

This orange French toast recipe is definitely a keeper! For a simpler version, skip the salted caramel syrup and top with your syrup/fruit/whatever of choice. But I highly recommend you try the salted caramel syrup at least once, as it complements the orange French toast flavors beautifully!


Orange French Toast with Salted Caramel Syrup
Adapted from diamondcrystalsalt.com, as seen in Cooking Light
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients
1 cup milk
3 large eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tsp. orange zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
8 thick slices of honey oat bread (or other bread of choice)
2 Tbsp. butter

Salted Caramel Syrup
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light cream or half and half
1 tsp. kosher salt

Orange French Toast Directions
Whisk together milk, eggs, orange juice, zest, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl. (This mixture can be prepared up to 1 day in advance.) Pour egg mixture in a shallow pan. Dip bread into egg mixture, and soak for 45 seconds.

Melt 1/2 Tbsp. butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium to medium-low heat. Place 2 slices of bread into skillet. Cook to golden brown, about 3-5 minutes on each side, and keep warm until ready to serve. Continue with the remaining slices of bread.

Serve immediately with the warm Salted Caramel Syrup, with a bit of extra salt sprinkled on top. Garnish with slices of fresh orange, if desired.

Salted Caramel Syrup Directions
Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and cook for 8 minutes or until golden. Watch carefully to keep the caramel from burning.

Reduce heat to low or medium-low. Gently stir in cream or half and half, using a long-handled spoon or whisk. The syrup will get glumpy, but just keep it on low heat, stirring frequently, until it gets melty again. (Warming the cream in the microwave before adding to the saucepan would probably help the glumpiness factor.)

Stir in kosher salt. Set aside, and keep warm until French toast is done.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Black Bean and Quinoa Bowl with Peach Salsa


One of my best friends got married recently, and for her wedding present from me and another friend, she asked that we make her a cookbook of some of our favorite recipes. In the process of compiling recipes for this cookbook, I’ve been reminded of how much I love cooking. And adapting recipes. And writing about food. And sharing food with others.


So I am resolved to post recipes and food pictures more often—I’m going to aim for about once a week. Photographing my food inspires me to make my meal a work of art, an experience. To not just throw something on a plate and scarf it down while catching the latest episode of Community or SVU.

Posting the photos and corresponding recipes provides a way to share the experience with others, even on evenings I eat alone.


So today I present to you this recipe from a food blog I’ve just started following within the last week or two. Surprisingly, I followed it pretty closely. The only significant change I made was to cook only 1 cup of quinoa rather than 2, and I’m very happy with that decision. I think the quinoa to bean to salsa ratio was perfect.

Black Bean and Quinoa Bowl with Peach Salsa
Adapted slightly from acouplecooks.com
Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
6-8 green onions, sliced
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste

Peach Salsa Ingredients
4 ripe peaches, pitted and chopped (peeling is optional)
1/2 medium to large red onion, finely chopped
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (more or less to taste)
Juice of 1 lime
Handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste

Directions
Rinse the quinoa well and drain. To a small saucepan add the quinoa and 1-1/2 cups water, and a few pinches of salt, if desired. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and let sit covered to cool for about 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add salt and pepper to taste.

Note: Quinoa package directions often call for a 1 to 2 ratio of quinoa to water. On this site’s recommendation, I tried a 1 to 1-1/2 ratio (1 cup of quinoa to 1-1/2 cups water), and the quinoa turned out fluffier and less watery/mushy. I’ll definitely stick with this method for future quinoa needs.

While the quinoa cooks, chop/prepare the salsa ingredients and combine them all in a bowl. Set aside.

Combine the beans, green onions, cumin, chili powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, and pepper. Mix well. Adjust seasonings, if desired.

To serve, dish the quinoa into bowls, top with black bean mixture and peach salsa.

Result
So good! Fresh, summery, and hearty, with a very healthy taste that the quinoa brings to the party. I enjoyed eating this for dinner last night and am excited about eating the leftovers throughout the rest of this week. Sadly, I forgot to buy a jalapeno while at the grocery store. I did miss it, but the dish didn’t suffer from it. Also, while in the checkout line, I thought, “I should have picked up an avocado or two to dice onto the top of this bowl!” I really wish I’d had that thought earlier, because after tasting the dish, I definitely think avocado would have taken this dish up a notch. Next time!

Nutritional Information Per Serving (compliments of My Fitness Pal)
423 calories; 4.9 g. fat; 78.6 g total carbs (18.4 g. dietary fiber, 13.2 g. sugars); 19.6 g. protein.