Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our 2 Days of Christmas

I hope this blog post finds you and yours happy, healthy, and simply tickled with the satisfaction of having a few days off for the holidays. I know I certainly am; what could be better than sipping a mug of your favorite tea while painting your nails with a new Essie nail polish Santa left in your stocking (called "Damsel in a Dress" - by far the best nail polish brand out there) and looking back at the past few days' pictures and reflecting on the memories made this year? Nothing, nothing is better than that.

To top it all off, my family's health seems to be on the up and up as well! We have all been struck by either the stomach virus or winter cold throughout the past week, and have taken turns fulfilling the duties of Christmas preparation while the others are nursed back to health. After all, the show must go on. Thank goodness I wasn't sick until Christmas Day, meaning that I, along with the irreplaceable help of my sister, was still well enough to prepare all of the Christmas feasts, which includes Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day brunch.

As you go about your day, most likely picking up where you left off last week at the office or in school work, please take a moment to savor the feeling of family togetherness and kinship, and try to sustain that throughout the year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Tarragon honey glazed baby carrots
Parmesan, orange, and toasted walnut salad

 Homemade balsamic orange vinaigrette

My Nannan's (my mom's grandma) pillowy soft sweet rolls. I think I finally managed to get close to her  baked masterpieces.

One of my Dad's favorites: scalloped potatoes, straight out of the Betty Crocker cookbook.

Checking for a perfect 140 degrees medium rare on our beef tenderloin...

...rubbed with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and lots of fresh rosemary.

Our Christmas Eve dinner table, set oh so beautifully by my sister

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Things that are Pains in the Butt at the Time...

... but are totally worth it in the end include:

1. Flossing
2. An extra 30 minutes of studying before an exam
3. Singing Happy Birthday the loudest at every party
4. Laundry
5. Rereading a 21 paper one more time before printing it out
6. Washing your face before heading to bed

aaaaand.... boning a chicken.

Why is it that necessary life skills, such as learning how to drive without taking out mailboxes and little old ladies with walkers, or getting yourself up to go to work and class on time, no longer include how to properly prepare a chicken for roasting? I mean there are a million ways and counting to prepare chicken, but a good old roasted chicken is almost impossible to beat. The epitome of comfort food, a classic at its finest if prepared with care, you just can't go wrong. But yet, I got the hair-brained notion that boning a chicken and then stuffing it would be a great idea for something different for dinner last night, and by golly, bone a chicken I did. Armed with a few last minute refreshers watching YouTube videos, and my handful of experiences in the past, I dug in with my ultra sharp boning knife and (finally!) came out on top. Talk about a victory in the making.

I stuffed my now boneless bird with a cornbread stuffing, dotted with toasted walnuts, Craisins, rosemary, and fresh lemon zest. This was a play off our traditional Thanksgiving Day dressing, and goes to show that knowing a few base techniques will take you anywhere you need to go. My chicken turned out moist, succulent, complete with crispy skin and no finicky bones to mess with. And the best part? Finally eating the bane of my existence for a whole 34 minutes.

I pair my perfectly prepared poultry with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, braised kale greens, and rosemary gravy. Good thing my dad was feeling better (for the first times in days, poor guy has been sick with the flu for a good week now) because he himself said he would have been sorry to miss this dinner. I only aim to please - and to remind a chicken or two who is boss.

I had some melted chocolate left over from making biscotti the other day and, not having the heart to throw it out (as that seems like a sin to me) I allowed it to harden again until I thought of something creative to do with it. When life gives you melted chocolate, dip something healthy in it and call it dessert.

Dark chocolate dipped orange and clementine segments, topped with toasted almonds.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Coffee in the PM

Since being home for break, which started on Saturday, I have:

  • Attended Cincinnati Ballet's new rendition of The Nutcracker (a yearly tradition in my family and fabulous by anyone's standards)
  • Written a plethora of blogs so that I can still post regularly once class is back in session in January
  • Had 3 inches cut off my hair so that I can start the new year with a fresh new look
  • Finished my parents' and grandparents' Christmas presents (a HUGE 5 month undertaking, let me assure you - more on these after Christmas)
  • Wrapped up my holiday wrapping and now all my gifts are snuggled under our tree, adding to the festive decorations
  • Completed a lengthy end-of-semester report for the Student Government Executive Branch (of which I am a program director)
  • Caught up on all my year end bills/email/general nonsense that was standing in my way of completely enjoying my break from all things work related
  • Almost completed my first book of the break and contemplated which one will be my next great read
And just today I have:
  • Spent a luxurious amount of time browsing Kroger's specialty foods section
  • Planned the next six days of meals in our household (including Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas Day brunch)
  • Made three batches of biscotti (which I am now enjoying with my early evening coffee)
  • Assembled a vegetable lasagna for tonight's dinner after my sister's band and orchestra concerts - yes, she does both. 
  • Prepped my mise en place for our dinners for the rest of the week so I can frolic about by day and still put a yummy dinner on the table at night
  • Planned a trip to Findlay Market downtown and the Festival of Lights at the Cincinnati Zoo
Due to all of this productivity, there has been lots of:
  • Coffee drinking at odd hours of the day/night (including 5:14pm today)
  • 15 minute cat-naps on my living room couch or sprawled out on the floor with my puppies, which I have missed oh so much
  • Sleeping in past 8am (though tomorrow I plan on getting up early and going for a hike - there is only so much lazy a gal can take before she goes stir crazy)
  • Finding comfy places all around the house in which to curl up with a book, mug of tea, and my laptop to blog, read, peruse my favorite websites blogs, or just sit and enjoy the spirit of the holidays.
The vegetable lasagna I made today was chock full of all those veggies some people don't like to eat but really should because they are good for you (like spinach and broccoli.) That being said, I stocked up on veggies today and put them all in the Italian treat, layering with whole wheat lasagna noodles, chunky tomato sauce, and fat free ricotta cheese filling. I love taking the guilt out of eating good tasting food, and by sneaking a few servings of veggies in there and cutting out the fat and calories, I think this is a great way to do just that for the holidays.
Mix of zucchini, red bell peppers, broccoli, onion, and carrot, all sauteed with oregano, basil, parsley, and garlic.

Beginning the layering process...

Fresh spinach leaves on top of the cheese mixture

Topped off with some more chunky tomato sauce and a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese.

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Different Kind of Birthday Cake

It was my sorority sister's birthday a week or so ago, right before finals (so unfortunately she spent it studying for an Accounting final, poor baby) but I am not about to let her work through her birthday and let it go un-celebrated. I invited her over for dinner, along with the rest of my Alpha Gamma Delta family. We enjoyed Chicken and Biscuits, a spinach, orange, and pomegranate salad, and Peanut Butter Brownie Pie. I assured my family that all of these dishes had brain food in preparation for finals (vegetables, lean protein, pomegranate, walnuts, and dark chocolate.) Everyone seemed thankful for the study break, and my little loved the non-traditional birthday cake.

Brownie pie with peanut butter frosting, soon to be topped with  chopped Reese's

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yeasted is the Best Way

Now that I am home safe and sound upon the conclusion of my (final!?) fall semester, I finally have a moment to post some of the yummy foods I made throughout the semester but didn't have time to blog. This will be the first of many "catch up" posts I have to share with you all, so buckle up and get excited!

This bread is a traditional yeast bread, complete with the double proof and kneading, and I love breads like this. You mix it up, do a bit of kneading, place it in a big bowl and let it raise for an hour (and in my case, work on some homework while finishing my laundry - queen on multitasking right here.) Come back, roll it into the loaf pan, loosely cover again and walk away one more time, then throw in the oven and fifty minutes later, you have wonderful soul-warming yeast bread!

So what is so special about this one? It doesn't use the traditional warm milk or olive oil liquid addition, this recipe uses pureed pumpkin and the traditional pumpkin pie spices to give this bread the great traditional fall and winter warmth you come to expect from pumpkin bread, but with a much lighter texture than a quick bread due to the yeast. 

I used this thinly sliced bread for a twist on turkey and cranberry sandwiches, toasted with split pea soup and spinach salads, and smeared with peanut butter and drizzled with honey for breakfast. I was immensely sad when I toasted off the last slice for dessert one evening (smeared with Nutella of course!)

With a little smear of cream cheese and some homemade cranberry chutney and you will think you died and gone to heaven.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Oldie but a Goodie

I AM OFFICIALLY FINISHED WITH ALL MY FINALS! And since today has been consumed by a lot of reminiscing about the past four months of classes, exams, and course material (while I gleefully return my textbooks and clean off my desk) I thought I would re-post something from my previous blog. Call it... recycling. New foods to come!

(Note: This post was from the summertime... quite the opposite of today's chilly drizzly weather. But pesto is for all seasons! I plan on making kale pesto tomorrow, so how appropriate!)

Pasta Time!
Hi everyone! I know I raved last week about how happy I am that it is getting warmer, and to spare you all from that rant AGAIN and how INCREDIBLY HAPPY it makes me, I will skip right to the food for once. 
I am a huge pasta fan, mostly because it is a carb and I have never met a carb I didn’t like. Love them ALL! I made this pasta up a few weeks ago and just held onto the pictures for a rainy (or incredibly beautiful and spring-like) day. I am becoming a big fan of pesto, so I have been playing around with difference combinations and ingredients in order to get the maximum nutrition, flavor, variety, the whole nine yards. So this one is not made with fresh basil but spinach instead, which is so incredibly good for you it’s not funny. Add some toasted pine nuts, olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some red pepper flakes (which made the dish pop,) and I was well on my way into a carb induced happy state.
When I have my herb garden back this summer I want to try a pesto with a combo of basil, thyme, and rosemary for chicken or bruscetta, or maybe one with chive and tarragon to go over grilled steaks. Mmmmmm!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

(Secret) Santa like Oreos

I LOVE LOVE LOVE to make homemade presents - birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, Valentine's Day, you name it, I want to make a homemade present for whomever we are celebrating. I get teased sometimes about being a Martha Stewart-in-training (I am not so pleased with this) - I just think homemade presents mean a lot more than something plucked off a shelf. That being said, when the Student Government Executive Team decided to have a Secret Santa gift exchange, I thought I would whip up some cookies or brownies, because who doesn't enjoy some sweets the week before finals? But with so many recipes I have been wanting to try, how was I going to decide which one to choose?! I instead went with an oldie but a goodie, and landed on a homemade Oreos recipe that I've used before and turned out beautifully.

I am one of the messiest bakers I know - good think I have patient roomies that tend to avoid the kitchen when I am in there!

Beginning the frosting process - which is much more fun whilst listening to Christmas carols!

The stovetop is not just for cooking anymore...

Oreos galore!
Finished homemade Oreos! My Secret Santa was oh so surprised!
For all of you battling finals this week or next, good luck, and treat yourself with a baked goodie when you get A's on all your exams, papers, and projects!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Studying for Finals has Officially Begun!

Well, as of last night I started studying. I have unintentionally taken over the living room that I am supposed to be sharing with my two roommates in order to start the laborious process that is studying for my cumulative Corporate Finance final. Doesn't even sound fun does it? makes me grimace just thinking about it. And that is completely ignoring my Business Law final - thank goodness these are the only two I am really worried about. But regardless, this is what my poor roommates, bless their patient souls, have to come home to today...

At least we have our Christmas tree up and lit! Hopefully that will distract them from the increasingly horrifying finance mess on the other side of the room.

But today is not a lost cause by any means. Actually, this time next week I will be footloose and finance free, so here's to looking on the bright side. It is a beautiful sunny day, the first all week, and it's not even that cold outside so I could indulge in a lunch that was not piping hot in order to ward off the cold today, (not that I am shunning my wonderful soups in the fridge, how I love you so, but a girl needs some variety!) And the very fact that I have the time to eat lunch today is Christmas miracle - it will be the first time all week! I must stop scheduling meetings through my lunch break... note to self for next semester. Anyway, I made a Christmas inspired salad! 'Tis the season afterall.

Notice the colors! GREEN spinach, RED apples, cranberries, and pomegranate vinaigrette,  and then orange segments and toasted walnuts just because I like them.

Getting ready to segment my orange using Mommaw's technique.

Why yes, I did take advantage of the sunlight streaming through my window to get at least a decent picture of this gorgeous salad! Don't judge, it's called resourcefulness. I enjoyed this salad with a toasted slice of my yeasted pumpkin bread - teaser! More of this wholesome loaf later.