Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

It's been pretty snowy and blowy here in Michigan, and when I snapped on a Nigella Lawson program during a workout the other day, I was intrigued by what seemed to be an exceedingly easy and delicious-looking recipe for Chicken Pot Pie.

When I actually looked at the recipe, I found it was for "Chicken, Bacon and Mushroom Pie", and while I love all of those ingredients, I really wanted something that was heavier on vegetables and didn't use bacon (much as I love it). I felt the use of puff pastry was probably enough in the "over the top" category.

There were two things I particularly loved about the recipe, though - she has a trick to make an easy-peasy roux, and she had a trick to make the puff pastry actually seal to the rim of the bowls.

And I did have dinner on the table, start to finish, in about 40 minutes and this got six thumbs up from three people, so I think that was probably pretty good odds. So... my version of Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella:

Chicken Pot Pie a la Nigella


1 TBS garlic infused oil (I cooked a large, smashed garlic clove in olive oil for 30 or so seconds)
10 - 15 crimini mushrooms, quartered
1 large stalk celery, sliced
2 medium - large carrots, sliced
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/4 cups hot chicken stock
1 tablespoon Marsala (I used Sherry)
1 (13-ounce) 9 by 16-inch sheet all-butter ready-rolled puff pastry - I used Trader Joe's sheets, which are smaller, and I probably used 1 and 1/2 sheets for three people. I think next time, one sheet will probably do it.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

1. Prepare the oil and saute celery and carrots until they begin to soften. Add in the mushrooms and cook for 1 - 2 minutes more.

2. Toss the chicken strips in the flour, and then melt the butter in the pan before adding the floury chicken and all the flour left in the bag. Stir around with the vegetables until the chicken begins to color.

3. Pour in the hot stock, thyme and Sherry, stirring to form a sauce and let this bubble away for about 5 minutes.

4. Make a pastry rim for each of your pots for the pies, by this I mean an approximately 1/2-inch strip curled around the top of the pots.

5. Cut a circle bigger than the top of each pie-pot for the lid, and then divide the chicken filling between the three.

6. Pop on the top of each pie, sealing the edges with your fingers and making fork impressions around the edges.

7. Cook the pies for about 20 minutes turning them around half-way through cooking. Enjoy! (Serves three)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Meme via Gunfighter via Los Angelista

I've been brain dead lately, ergo no posts and now, a meme. Gunfighter posted this meme, which he found via Los Angelista. Both have uber-fabulous blogs, and if you haven't checked them out, you should!

1. What is your occupation right now? I teach literature and writing classes to high school students

2. What color are your socks right now? None - I'm wearing nice, warm booty slippers.

3. What are you listening to right now? The clock ticking in my office.

4. What was the last thing that you ate drank? Trader Joe's drinking chocolate - bliss.

5. Can you drive a stick shift? under duress, yes.

6. Last person you spoke to on the phone? a friend from NYC who is also my mother's friend. We were discussing the move. Again.

7. Do you like the person who sent this to you? Well, no one actually sent it to me, but I DO like both Gunfighter and Los Angelista. They are both thoughtful writers with huge hearts. Gunfighter is also a brilliant rosary artist and Los Angelista is training for her first marathon and she ROCKS!

8. How old are you today? 49... half a year from the big 5-0 and I'm just delighted about it! Seriously.

9. What is your favorite sport to watch on TV? Ice Skating during the Winter Olympics

10. What is your favorite drink? Whatever I'm into at the moment, but probably water over all. At the moment, I'm liking drinks with juice and rum.

11. Have you ever dyed your hair? Years ago and I really didn't like the texture, so I go natural now

12. Favorite food? Hard to say - I really prefer things with veggies and cheese, though.

13. What is the last movie you watched? GET SMART. I watched it with C after Fran died and we both needed distraction and a good laugh as therapy. And we got it.

14. Favorite day of the year? the first day of school

15. How do you vent anger? I yell. Embarrassing, but true. Hey, I grew up in NYC, what can I say?

16. What was your favorite toy as a child? Lite Brite (See my last meme).

17. What is your favorite season? Um... fall. Wasn't I just asked this?

18.. Cherries or Blueberries? Blueberries - now wait... THEY are my favorite food!

19. Do you want your friends to e-mail you back? Um.... I guess this was originally an e-mail meme. I do like it when friends e-mail me back, don't you?

20. Who is the most likely to respond? Whoever else doesn't know what to post

21. Who is least likely to respond? D, because he never posts anything.

22. Living arrangements? a usually somewhat messy house on a dirt road that's near a relatively lively small city. I share this abode with C, D and the 2 piggies (guinea pigs) and sometimes our various assortment of exchange kiddos (who are all adults now, so I shouldn't call them kiddos).

23. When was the last time you cried? Probably December 12th (when it really sank in that Fran was gone - my MIL)

24. What is on the floor of your closet? Clothes. Shoes. Okay, so this is the way both GF and Los Angelista answered this, but what would anyone say here? If anyone says they never have clothes on the floor of their closet, then they scare me a little.

25. Who is the friend you have had the longest that you're sending this to? Um... given that Anno and Charity both read my blog from time to time and I've known them about equal lengths of time... probably Anno and Charity

26. What did you do last night? Played Fluxx and watched Buffy episodes and had a great, homemade Italian dinner.

27. What are you most afraid of? Honestly? Global warming and its aftermath.

28. Plain, cheese or spicy hamburger? Cheese. In fact, I could skip the burger part and just do the cheese (as long as it was *real* cheese, not a "cheese product".

29. Favorite dog breed? Golden Retrievers

30. Favorite day of the week? Mondays, because I usually get to teach on Mondays

31. How many states have you lived in? New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, Tennessee

32. Diamonds or pearls? Neither - opals.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday (early): A Jew Does the Cookie Thing

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Like so many Americans, I'm proud to proclaim myself a "mutt". Maybe not racially, but in terms of my heritage. On one side I'm Irish/German Protestant and on the other side I'm Polish/Belarus Jewish. Add in a little bit of Welsh and maybe a Brit or two, and stir well.

Spiritually? Who knows... I'm still trying to figure that out. Culturally? I feel like what I am - a blend of things.

It's taken me a long, long time to feel comfortable with this. That's all I'm going to say right now.

Anyway, Christmas cookies were never a part of my experience growing up. I think that had more to do with my mother's lack of interest in baking than anything else. Also, too, we both lit the candles for Hanukkah and had Mom's family over for Christmas, and I think there was just too much to do.

Lovely early food memories were receiving a huge, heavy tin of Mrs. Brown's shortbread that we'd receive each Christmas time. That was the sum total of my understanding of Christmas cookies.

My first year as an elementary teacher I was presented with the best plate of Christmas cookies I've ever tasted. Maybe they were that much better because I'd made it through my first semester, but no Christmas cookies have touched these since, and those cookies first intrigued me with the whole Christmas cookie idea.

So our Christmas plans changed this year, and all of a sudden more presents were needed and also all of a sudden we were plunged into grief and chaos. Shopping completely stresses me out and I really felt a strong need to stay close to home. Finally, Christmas cookies seemed to be the answer. Making things would be relaxing.


Well, it was interesting, although after my first morning of baking I had herring and pickles for lunch - I think my Jewish side was rebelling against all this sugar and excess.

I planned my cookies carefully. I planned a swap. I searched recipes. I read tons of blogs. I haunted the Food Network and Epicurious.

Finally, this is what I came up with:

The bottom layer - traditional Christmas cookies, apricot-chocolate biscotti, espresso crinkles, candied walnuts with orange rind and chocolate

And this is what I came up with:

The top layer - pistachio-raspberry ribbon cookies, mincemeat swirls, cherry shortbread and peppermint bark.

For a first year, these were not bad. Did I make my own recipes? Heck no, I'm definitely not ready for that, yet.

Here's what I did make:

Traditional Christmas Cookies using a sugar cookie dough by Alton Brown. The reviews said that the cookies were bland, so I added 1 TBS rum and 1 tsp vanilla to the dough. I still found them bland, but C and his friend K loved them. And they are Christmas cookie fans, so who am I to judge? For the coatings I mixed a glaze of powdered sugar, water and rum. It was fine - the cookies were decorated by D and C, with some being decorated by me. The dough was PERFECT to work with. The recipe worked exactly as stated and rolling out and cutting out the cookies was easy (and I STINK at rolling and cutting). My new silpat pastry mat may have helped, too.

Apricot-Chocolate Biscotti: I used this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis, but I obviously changed the add-ins and I switched from lemon rind to orange rind. I used a TBS of Grand Marnier and 3 TBS of orange juice as flavoring, and added in 1/2 cup of chocolate chips, chopped fine, and 2/3 cup chopped apricots. Again, the dough and the recipe was perfect. If I had these to do over again, I'd use more oj and skip the Grand Marnier. There was a slightly bitter taste, and I think this would resolve it.

Espresso Crinkles. These were from Cooking Light. Don't. Bother. For chocolate lovers and children only. They're *okay* and C likes them fairly well, but they're not all that pretty and don't taste good enough and they were a pain to make. 'Nuff said.

Candied Walnuts with Orange Rind and Chocolate - I got these off an e-mail list, and I don't want to print the recipe without permission, but these ROCKED. I will find the author and get this to you. Promise. They were a tiny bit bitter, but cutting back on the orange rind would take care of it, I think.

Pistachio-Raspberry Ribbon Bars and Mince Pinwheel Cookies. Both of these recipes are by Marye Audet, and these were my two favorite cookies. Hands down. My only additions were that I used more jam and more Mince than Marye called for. The Mince Pinwheel Cookies may be my all-time favorite cookie, after Tollhouse Chocolate Chips. If you're a mince fan, you will LOVE these. The Ribbon Bars can be found here and the Mincemeat Swirls here.

Cherry Shortbread... hmmm... this did not work as well as I would have liked, although D thinks it's great. I used this shortbread recipe from the Hearty Boys, omitting the espresso aspects and stirred in one cup of chopped, dried cherries. The cherry flavor came through beautifully, but the shortbread really refused to set. I think I'd add 1/4 cup of flour the next time, due to the moistness of the cherries.

Peppermint Bark - easy-peasy and delicious! Just melt a cup and a half of bittersweet chocolate in the microwave, pour it on a parchment-lined, large cookie sheet with a lip, and sprinkle crushed candy canes on top. Let set. Break. Yum.

Phew. I'm exhausted.

I leave tomorrow morning for family and love and good fortune and I can't wait. See you in a few days. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa for anyone celebrating those holidays!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Traditions

I saw this on Widney Woman's blog and loved it. If you end up doing this, too, please let me know - I love reading about others' traditions!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
This year, a lot of cookie tins, as I'm making cookies as a major part of my family gifts. We usually do a mix of all kinds of wrapping, though.

2. Real tree or Artificial?
Neither. Given our mixed background (Jewish/Christian/Secular) our decorating usually runs to roping or a wreath that we decorate:

3. When do you put up the tree decorations?
The weekend after Thanksgiving. And we always have hot chocolate and homemade cookies of some sort. And a fire.

4. When do you take the tree down?
When pine needles start being a danger to the guinea pigs (they are poisonous to piggies).

5. Do you like eggnog?
Adore it. Especially Calder's Eggnog. The guy at Plum Market described it as crack cocaine, and I think he's right. Calder and a shot of rum and I am absolutely in the holiday spirit!

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
Lite Brite. And interestingly enough, my first professional career was as a lighting designer for theater. Coincidence? I think not.

8. Easiest person to buy for?
No one, because I truly, truly hate to shop. Easiest person to find gifts for? Maybe C, because he's not fussy.

9. Do You have a nativity scene?
No. We do have assorted Christmas settings, decorations from our exchange students, though, such as Swedish Star Child and Lucia candle holders and one of those things that whirl around when you light candles. Oh... and our favorite - a beautiful Santa hand-carved by our German daughter's mother, Margareta.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?

Um... depends. This year, I'm not sure. We usually send AFTER Christmas, though, and do more of New Year's greetings.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?

Um... sorry, D, but it was that shoe bag you gave me for our first Christmas together.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?

Probably Scrooged. And the original Miracle on 34th Street.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?

Whenever I see something that will work for someone for Christmas.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?

In a sense, but I haven't regifted specifically.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

Mince Pie!

16. Lights on the tree?

We've done New Year's lights instead - pigs and chili peppers (don't ask).

17. Favorite Christmas song?

This is truly impossible for me to answer. I am a REAL Christmas music fanatic. I may have more Christmas music than any other category. There are so many that I love. Particular favorites right now are "Mistletoe" by Colbie Caillat, "Winter Song" by Sarah McLachlan, "Angels We Have Heard On High" by the Roches.

18. Travel for Christmas or stay home?

Usually we get to travel to my wonderful, fabulous, lovely sister- and brother-in-law! We're going there this year and we can't wait!!!

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers?

Dasher, Dancer, Donner, Blitzen, .... um... no.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?

Growing up we always had a star and a dove.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?

Both. We do a gag gift exchange, which is great fun and has a lot of rules, at my SIL's house on Christmas Eve. We usually open family presents with my BIL, SIL and nephew on Christmas morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?

Shopping, shopping and shopping. And people getting stressed out when the holidays should be about love and reflection.

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?

Love those pickle ornaments! (Just the one you hide, though).

24. Favorite Christmas dinner?

Roast beef, yorkshire pudding, steamed green beans, squash pudding and mince pie.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?

Baking, from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Friday, December 19, 2008

Events: Blogger Aid, Menu for Hope, Worldwide Blogger Bake-Off

This is a season of giving. It's also a season when the hungry may very well feel it the most.

Various bloggers have taken up this cause in a variety of ways. I'm going to talk about a few of them here, all of which I learned about via Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast. I've seen these logos on various other blogs, but Val tirelessly pushes for food bloggers to do good in the world. My hat is off to you, Val.

Bellini Valli of More Than Burnt Toast, Giz of Equal Opportunity Kitchen and Ivy of Kopiaste have an event called Blogger Aid. The premise behind it is to send out food that can feed a crowd and also raise money for the U.N.'s World Food Programme via lovely items that Giz has made. You can read all about it here. I can't fit in more cooking this week, so I'm going to return to some old favorites as my entry for Blogger Aid. While Giz's items are beautiful, I chose to make a direct donation to the World Food Programme and you can also do that here, if you'd like. This event runs through December 28th. Here are my entries:

World's Easiest (and BEST) Chicken Noodle Whatever Soup


Jen's Rockin' Summer Vegetable Soup

Both are economical, can feed a crowd, and provide plenty of nutrition.

If you want some mystery bang for your buck in donating to the World Food Programme, join Pim at Chez Pim and buy raffle tickets for Menu for Hope - another sponsorship of the World Food Programme. Raffle tickets cost just $10 U.S. a shot, and there are oodles of fabulous prizes. You can read all about that contest here. This event runs through December 24th, so hurry!

Finally, the Worldwide Blogger Bake-off raises money for Breadline Africa. They have a very active site with great information on joining, supporting various fundraising efforts and donating. You can read all about it of here.

I will be baking for the last event, but only after the holidays.

I know many of you have supported these wonderful events already, but if you haven't - quick! Get going!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Seven Fishes Feast Entry: Tuna-Potato Chip Casserole

First of all, I want to thank everyone who left such lovely condolences here and via e-mail. I'm truly overwhelmed. Please forgive me for not getting back to each of you individually, but I'm still behind with everything, and probably need to really focus on catching up with family and Christmas and school issues. Again, despite the lack of response from me, the comments were absolutely appreciated in every way.

Thank you.

So D has been gone since Saturday working first with his brothers to help his dad, and now staying on to continue to be with his dad until his brother, J, arrives today, and D will come home (yay!). In the meantime, C and I have been on our own, and it has been downright frigid here in Michigan, and frigid calls for some rib-sticking, gut-warming foods.

I was really hoping to join Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita and Joe of Italyville in their Seven Fishes Feast, as I've always loved the idea of this tradition, and it may be the one night of the year, more than any other, that I wish I could claim Italian ancestry. I was hoping to create something elegant. I was hoping to create something visually spectacular.

I was hoping to create ... something.

It didn't look like I was going to make it by the December 18th deadline, but then when C called yesterday afternoon between his school and theater commitments I asked him what he wanted for dinner and an old family favorite reared its ugly, but oh-so-delicious (and rib-sticking and gut-warming) head: Tuna-Potato Chip Casserole.

So let's think of this as the "children's dish" for the Seven Fishes Feast. This was a favorite from my childhood, and I dredged up the recipe from the internetz, as my mother was horrified that she'd ever made such a thing and had lost the recipe at some point (probably tore it into shreds and dumped it someone else's garbage).

Anyway, in all its ugly glory, here it is:

Tuna-Potato Chip Casserole


2 cans albacore tuna in water
3/4 cup 1% milk
1 can 98% fat free mushroom soup
3 cups crushed - don't crush them too much - just use your hands to crush them a bit - potato chips (I prefer reduced fat Ruffles - you can NOT used "baked" potato chips in this recipe - they're actually made with dehydrated potatoes rather than real potatoes, and you end up with a gloppy, icky mess that DOES NOT taste good)
1/4 cup 2% sharp shredded cheddar or other reduced fat cheddar

(Needless to say, you can use full fat on all of this and it will be even better, but we really do just fine with the modifications).


Preheat oven to 350.

Mix milk with soup. Bring slowly to a boiling point, stirring frequently. Take off burner.

Crush potato chips.

Put 1/3 of potato chips at bottom of casserole dish sprayed with cooking spray.

Layer with half of the tuna. Put another layer of 1/3 of the chips. Put the rest of the tuna. Put the last layer of the chips.

Pour soup mixture over all.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Take casserole out and sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake for 5 more minutes or longer to get the cheese melty and slightly browned.

Number of Servings: 4

There's still time to join the Seven Fishes Feast. To find out what to do, just click here.

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

Friday, December 12, 2008


This has been a hard week.

I was in NYC helping my mother on her move (which I'll be writing about soon), and I got a call from D that his mother had died. D's mother had Stage 6 Alzheimer's and has been on hospice care since August, so it was both not a surprise, and in many ways a blessing, but she was a wonderful, sweet, loving, smart and funny person, and she will be (and for all purposes has been) missed tremendously by all who were lucky enough to have her in our lives.

I'll be back when/as I can.

I miss all my fave readers and blogs and I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Day to Read: January 8 2009

Soccer Mom in Denial is at it again. She wants us to take a day and sit on our heinies. Well, it is for a good cause.

What she'd really like is for us to turn OFF the computers and the other idiot boxes for the day and read. Really read. From a book. You remember those? They have many words on actual paper, and they're usually placed between two pieces of either paper-thin or thicker cardboard, sometimes or sometimes not covered in cloth. (And if you're having luck on January 8th, you won't read ANY sentences like my last one).

Despite my joking around, this is a serious issue. From SMID's launch blog post:

"...according to a report released last year reading books is linked to civic engagement. This National Endowment for the Arts reports that young folks aren't reading like they used to. Get this:

* only 30% of 13-year-olds read almost every day

* the number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004 - that is 1 in 5 kids don't read for fun

* Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure

* The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day watching TV and 7 minutes reading

According to Dana Gioia, the Chair of the NEA,

'The poorest Americans who read did twice as much volunteering and charity work as the richest who did not read. The habit of regular reading awakens something inside a person that makes him or her take their own life more seriously and at the same time develops the sense that other people's lives are real.'"

So those are all the good and civic reasons to do this, but I also want to hit on the FUN factor. To get the party started, I want to issue a bookworm challenge and also give you some suggestions for those books for Day to Read.

First, the bookworm challenge:

I found this fun challenge at anno's place:

THE CHALLENGE: Pass this on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 46. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The closest book, not the coolest, or the one you think will sound the best. THE CLOSEST.

The book closest to me is, believe it or not, BOOK OF POISONS: A GUIDE FOR WRITERS.

"A white crystalline solid, napthalene will usually be ingested."

er.... hmmm. I'm sure you all needed that information today. CYRANO is also nearby, but BOOK OF POISONS was closer. Darn. At least I get the very cool button.

I'm not passing this on to five more bloggers - I'm going to tag anyone who wants to play and NEEDS this very cool button on their site.

The Books

So, recently, there have been some great book launches around the blogosphere. One you read about on this very blog - SHOT GIRL by Karen E. Olson. Again, I'd recommend reading her entire Annie Seymour series first, but SHOT GIRL stands alone and it's just a fabulous ride. I think tying up a series can be difficult as hell, and Karen E. Olson does it beautifully. For anyone who knows her character, Annie, they know that Annie has more than her share of flaws and attachment issues. She has to face those in this final book, and Ms. Olson carries it off with aplomb and not a speck of melodrama. I just loved this book. From Karen's site:

New Haven police reporter Annie Seymour has a talent for running into trouble. So it should come as no shock when her co-worker's bachelorette party at a local club turns into a crime scene. What is surprising is that the dead bar manager on the sidewalk outside happens to be Annie's ex-husband - and the bullet shells around his body match the gun she has in her car.

Coming face-to-face with her past, Annie delves into a conspiracy involving everyone from a male stripper to a shot girl. If she wants to get the story, she'll have to escape a killer . . . before she becomes the next headline.

A book I read last spring via download, is about to be out in paper. For those of you who love romance - ENJOY!!! Marianne Arkins is a funny, warm-hearted writer and her many stories and this novel show her flair for comedy and her penchant for absolutely, melt-in-your-knees happy endings. (And there's often a cute dog, too). From Marianne's site:

Olivia "Liv" Leigh, wealthy socialite and spa owner, suspects her fiancé of cheating on her, so she takes drastic steps to discover whether appearances are deceiving. And if those steps require a bit of stalking, a change of appearance, a hippo-sized dog named Spike, and sacrificing her manicure to clean house for a sexy but sloppy man whose neighbor is determined to break several of the strangest Guinness Book of World Records, why should that be a problem?

Mike, a happily single auto mechanic, is more than content sharing his bachelor pad with piles of laundry, dirty dishes, and a sneaky ferret. But when a half-crazed woman in a bad wig shows up on his doorstep, what's a nice guy to do? Why, invite her in, unknowingly help her in her search for the truth and, in the process, fall head over heels for a woman who's never been less his type.

There is also this cool give away contest, so hurry over to Marianne's site right now!

Michelle, of Bleeding Espresso, recently had this post interviewing Diana Sprechler, author of Who By Fire. There is also a giveaway involved with Michelle's post, so by all means hurry over there. The interview with Diana was fascinating, and I believe Diana will be a guest here in the next few weeks, as well. From the Harper Collins site:

Bits and Ash were children when the kidnapping of their younger sister, Alena—an incident for which Ash blames himself—caused an irreparable family rift. Thirteen years later, Ash is living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, cutting himself off from his mother, Ellie, and his wild-child sister, Bits. But soon he may have to face them again; Alena's remains have finally been uncovered. Now Bits is traveling across the world in a bold and desperate attempt to bring her brother home and salvage what's left of their family.

Sharp and captivating, Who by Fire deftly explores what happens when people try to rescue one another.

So let's all read a good book. And write about our reading. Wander over to Soccer Mom in Denial and find out how to get more involved.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's Cooking Wednesday: Apricot/Chocolate/Pecan Muffins

Please go to Shan's place for more What's Cooking Wednesday participants.

So I think Anno felt sorry for me. I've been having a rather rough time with some family issues lately and I was reading this post and pressing my nose up against her blog window like a dispossessed orphan.

I can be whiny like that.

But happily, she loves me anyway, and when Monday rolled around, it was the last day of classes at the place where we both teach, and her charming daughter, m, brought me a plate filled with the kind of Christmas baking I was whining that I had no time to do.

And it was a truly lovely plate, and if I'd had my act together I would have photographed it, but ... um... no such luck.

It had all sorts of goodies, but I was particularly struck by a bread that contained apricots and chocolate and nuts of some type. So, given that my whining had worked so far, I whined at her for the recipe. And she pointed me in this direction. She told me that actually, she was trying to reproduce a recipe that her mother made, and that she might get the real recipe this weekend, so maybe she'll have her own post on this combination.

She also said that the bread she'd made seemed very crumbly and that a full tablespoon of baking powder seemed like a lot.

I agreed. And as I looked at the ingredients and saw mounds of butter, etc., I decided that I was going to have to make major modifications on this one. And that muffins would be better, because if I'm going to splurge with these sorts of ingredients, a whole, big, lovely muffin is so much better than a little slice of a 12th of a loaf (and they're the same serving size in terms of recipe portion). So I got up this morning, and made these muffins, as per D's request from his sick bed, and also experimented with the "Food of the Gods" recipe. And yeah, it's pretty darned good.

Apricot/Chocolate/Pecan Muffins


2 eggs
1 cup lowfat butter milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp rosewater (Marye has made me a big fan of rosewater in baking)
1 TBS canola oil - (take THAT 1/4 lb. butter!)
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup pecan pieces (the original recipe called for walnuts, but what I had was pecans)
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1 heaping cup chopped dried apricots (these can most easily be chopped using a food processor if you have one)


1. Preheat oven to 400
2. Beat eggs, stir in other wet ingredients.
3. Pour dry ingredients into the bowl, stir together (minus the "goodies")
4. Stir in pecans, chips and apricots
5. Spoon the batter into a greased muffin tin.
6. Bake for 20 minutes.
7. Let cool in pans for 5 minutes before removing muffins.

Post-mortem. I love Marye, but I think I'd use a TBS of Grand Marnier next time rather than the rose water, and if I'm really feeling ambitious, I'd zest in some orange rind. Other than that, these have gotten thumbs up from the fam.

Nutrition Info:

Fat: 6.4g
Carbohydrates: 27.4g
Protein: 4.1g

Nutritional info provided by

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

How to Clean Your Kitchen

One of the problems in working from home is that you have days when things are just going to hell not falling into place.

I mean, yeah, I had them at the workplace, too, but here I generally have no one to blame but myself. You know, at work, there's always someone else to blame. And that can be therapeutic, if inaccurate and unkind.

I was supposed to be in NYC this week with the ongoing project of "helping mom move".

D, however, ended up getting sick with a nasty bronchial thing, and since he's asthmatic and has run into pneumonia, it didn't seem really fair to leave D and C to fend for themselves, especially since C doesn't really drive yet and D has ended up in the hospital on occasion for these bronchial things.

So here I was. In Michigan. With no appointments or plans. I have papers to correct, but no lesson plans, as my last class session was Monday.

This is unheard of.

So I immediately schedule a bunch of appointments that I've been putting off during the time of "the move" and thought about projects that really, really needed to get done.

And, well, there was the kitchen.

The kitchen is absolutely, positively in need of an overhaul. That is frequent at this time of year because I'm still using up the last of my various farm share stuff, and I sort of end up converting from summer/fall ingredients to actual winter things.

What are winter things? Oh... things like oatmeal. Cookie-making supplies. Lots of soup bases and various containers of last summer's frozen soups defrosting in the fridge. Meat.

And then there were all the leftovers from THE turkey, and the things accompanying THE turkey, and the things that were made from the leftovers of the turkey and accompaniments, and those things made from those things, and if I ever see a turkey again...

But I digress.

So, here's how I clean the fridge when I'm in this kind of mood:

First, find appropriate music.

Decide you have no appropriate music. Use your last bit of iTunes money from your July b'day and download this.

Transfer it to your iPod.

Set up iPod in the kitchen.

Now you're ready.

Except you need a glass of water. And then it's probably time to check your e-mail. Because, you know, you only checked it fifteen minutes ago and maybe an agent wrote to tell you she NEEDS your book. Or maybe a student has a question. Or maybe D wrote.

Ooops, no. D is asleep in the bedroom. He's sick. D'oh.

Anyway, you've checked the e-mail and you cross the house back to the kitchen. But you've left the water in the office. So you go back for your water. And you walk back to the kitchen. (Are you bored yet? I was.)

Now that you're actually in the kitchen with Fiona Apple singing "Blue Christmas", you realize that you really need, yes need, a Torrone nougat before you get started. This is because you only buy these at Christmas time, and there's Christmas music playing. And you have to eat the Torrone as slowly as possible because a. it's food of the gods, and b. you're not supposed to be eating them anyway, so if you're going to splurge, you should really. take. the. time. to enjoy it.

So three bites and fifteen minutes later, you're ready to clean the kitchen.

Go check your e-mail.

Damn. That agent still hasn't written.*

Back to the kitchen. You realize that you probably truly have run out of excuses this time. You pull out the garbage can and drag it over to the fridge.

You have a guilt/panic attack because you're going to throw out food and that is wasteful. You make several silent pledges that you will eat everything from now on. Every scrap. Always. You have a sudden image of yourself as the Goodyear blimp. You have a panic attack for a different reason.

You go to turn up the music to drown out your internal dialogue. It doesn't work.

Shelf by shelf, you go through unmarked packages, moving things from side to side and realizing that what was really wanted was organization. You and your family did NOT let things rot, despite your worries that caused this massive procrastination in the first place. You are a good global citizen. You are not wasteful.

You are, however, very disorganized.

You finally decide that you can find things again, you make a mental list of dinners/cooking projects for the next few days and happily shut the door. You still have to clean the rest of the kitchen, but... nah.

Time spent cleaning the fridge: 14 minutes.
Time spent avoiding cleaning the fridge: 42 minutes.

Uh huh. Mission accomplished!

*Note to self: since you have no submissions out currently, the reality that the imaginary agent is going to write is slim to none.