Monday, December 31, 2012

Roasted Beet Salad with Truffle Oil and Q and A with Dr. Sal

Roasted Beet Salad with Truffle Oil
I love my friend Sally. When I told her I would be featuring her along side this recipe in December she said in typical Sally fashion "A perfect post in 'tis the season to overeat and indulge and then sit in shame during what I call "Boring January". I'm glad to give you this post in December, although I do realize it is New Years Eve and lifestyle changes will likely begin tomorrow. Even though this salad is healthy it's also very festive and just a little bit decadent with the truffle oil, so a natural choice for this time of year it is.
Roasted beet salad with truffle oil came to be when Sally sent me an SOS food text in the produce isle (there is reason she doesn’t write a food blog, ha!). She was staring at some beets in the store she wanted to buy, but didn't know what to do with them. She also specifically asked for a way to cook them so that they did not taste like dirt. I offered this recipe, which she loved and the rest is history. Then, she gave me the Myers Briggs (a personality test) and we talked about my results for three days. Did I mention Sally was a psychologist? She is, so that Myers Briggs thing isn't as weird as you initially thought. I also asked her a bunch of questions that us bloggers are always wanting to know, and then a few more about body image since we talk food here and her line of work. Sally obliged, so you are welcome in advance for her expert and free feedback. (Sally also asked me some questions...see my answers here!)
This is Dr. Sal. 
1) People who write blogs in general have an interest in "getting more followers" or receiving lots of comments/feedback about the content they post. We host giveaways and ask people to tweet about us so that more people read our stuff. They want more, more, more. On a psychological level, why do you think this is so important to most people? What do you think they are really after, since obviously, the quest for more is never quite quenched?
 Sally: A great question! Technology has changed our lives in so many ways, but your question helps me see that it also is just another avenue for us to do the same thing over and over again - the quest for more never quite quenched. But, to answer your question, I fall back on a phrase I coined recently - VMV. Value, Meaning and Validation.
 Each and every one of us wants to feel valuable, meaningful others and in this world...and we look for ways to validate ourselves in these areas. We try to fill this space in us that is never quite full, like there is a hole at the bottom where last week's gains seep out. I think this definitely challenges our never being content in the moment, remaining much less aware and thankful.
 I was given a great description once when dealing with my perfectionism (I am a Recovering Perfectionist)...many times it is harder to go with my gut, trust myself and the process of doing my best without comparing myself to another person. We can always turn to the right and someone is doing better than we are - better marriage, better body, better readership numbers on blogs, better attitude. And we can always turn to the left and see someone doing no as well as we are...meaning we are the person on their right. It is perpetual - there are always ways we can
grow, change, get more, but we can distract ourselves by looking at others instead of ditching the nasty practice of comparison.
I try to answer, "Then what...". If I get 1000 followers, then what? There is always more to get, have, obtain. But there is loss in the process too. When I am focusing on other people, I am less aware of what I do have, what I really want, how I really feel...and I lose when I trying to get more (e.g. I lose out on a great conversation with my husband because I need to make one more post this week, or I lose a chance to rest, I was too busy to talk to a friend, I snapped at my child for interrupting me as I write and try to be present at the same time, etc.).
 The short answer is that I think it is part of our human nature. And that making peace with "enough" is hard but rewarding.
Roasted Beet Salad with Truffle Oil
 2) Food and weight. What is a healthy way to think about it? And how important is the quest for "being healthy"? Does being healthy on the inside affect our mental health?
 Sally: I love being able to enjoy what is available, but know that enjoyment can turn into need and habit. (e.g. I need a sweet after lunch instead of just having one when I really want one...much less a good one. Nothing (for me) goes down as well as a great pizza and a glass of good red wine. But I choose not to have that every single night.
 I think we have relationships with food - and most fall in the category of "eat to live" or "live to eat". One way that psychology and food meet are when I “eat my feelings”. Whether it is feeling irritable, sad, blue or insecure, food can cover up some of those things we feel that we don’t want to feel. There is a reality to the term “comfort foods” - our brains respond in ways that might change how we are feeling, but we all know there is a down side to consuming a bag of Doritos while nursing feelings of failure or hopelessness. The original feeling remains, and then is topped with feelings of shame.
 I also think food plays a part in how we think about ourselves. Let's say I have Thankles (thick ankles), wider hips, a stubborn muffin top, small breasts, etc. something that is a part of my genetic makeup that I cannot change. When I try to change this characteristic, I am working against something that won't change.
 I definitely think there are ways to treat a body with kindness and respect - accepting it for what it is. That is so kind to do to your body. But just because I have a genetic makeup that gives me a big butt, doesn't mean that I need to accept it with resignation - I can work on it, include it as a "trouble spot" in my work outs, but enjoy my roundness because that is me.
 My answer is that being healthy is a delicate balance. If I remove all things that bring me joy where food is concerned, say NO chocolate, NO desserts, NO bread, etc. Then I might have a flatter stomach but I have turned off a part of me that is open to enjoying something I like, an my strictness might show up in different ways, like obsession with weight and/or calories, jealousy, uptightness or irritability. Often, strict adherence can breed shame and perfectionism. Balance and control are challenging, and for some (e.g. addicts) removing a food or substance is necessary for a balanced and controlled life.
Being healthy on the inside effects our mental health. In a concrete way, our brains and body function on what we eat. Something can be good going down, but the rest of the day is shot - my mood, my energy level, my diet. That is why health is a lifestyle, that can include treats on a regular, small basis...rather than it being a lifestyle of indulgence and always saying "yes" to food.
 3) Is it true that in your line of work the goal is to subtly get the person to answer his or her own questions to what they are asking?
 Sally: Yes and no. I think some therapists are like that - and I don't like the subtle style. It feels a tad sneaky and doesn't help people trust their if the therapist "knows" something or knows what is best. My belief is that my clients hold the keys to their own success and that I am only a guide along the way. To me, when I don’t let a client answer their own hard questions, I undercut their growth.
People get stronger when they solve problems for themselves, which is usually a trial and error process...which means they will make mistakes. When we own our words, our actions, our true thoughts and feelings, we grow in responsibility, self-respect, confidence and ability...usually in areas where this growth was really needed. But change is hard - and we often pull from other people so we don't have to go through the more uncomfortable parts of what it means to be responsible for what we decide and how we act.
So, just like the example you gave of my calling you about could have made me the recipe. But I got more out of 1) calling you, 2) admitting my need for help, 3) pursuing something I wanted to do, 4) accepting ideas and guidance from you 4) doing the work myself and 5) feeling accomplished in the results.
 4) What is the purpose of your Legacy website? Do you like to write?
 Sally: I do a few things on my website. The name of my business is Legacy because I believe that we all leave a legacy, whether we want to or not. We are important. We impact the lives of people around us.
In my work I am often given the honor and responsibility of people sharing themselves with me in the process of learning their own value, beauty and strength. This is an absolute delight in my work. It is also why, when I am asked about what I do...I don’t really like being asked how I can sit and listen to people’s problems all day (one example of how therapy is misunderstood). So, even if someone chooses not to work with me as a psychologist in therapy or consultation, I provide information for them that they might be able to use in finding a therapist or understanding why psychology is an important part of being human, of leaving a vibrant legacy.
 One of the things I like focus on is making psychology accessible in a personal way. “Psychology” and “therapy” are words that often scare people because there is a stigma attached to them. Many people think there is something wrong with them if they need to call someone for help, or they think they are crazy, or they think if they start therapy there will never get out. I like my website to show the many ways psychology is normal and how it shows up in our every day lives.
I do a lot of work with clients online and over the phone - which is newer to the field of psychology. This allows for therapy to move beyond the more traditional office setting. I also work as a consultant to small business and teams in my “The ME in TEAM” program. This consulting highlights how each individual on a team (e.g. husband/wife, parent/child, friends, family members, coworkers, etc) is critical to making the team function well. One thing I cannot get enough of is helping people see how great they are. It is astounding to me how many people are not able to put words to their personal strengths, abilities, style, preferences. Without this information, we are prone to look to the right or left (see above) to help the outside world define who we are.
I love to write...and I love to read. I write on my website and also co-author a blog on female friendship (with a good friend!). Some of my favorite topics to write on are emotions, “shoulding”, personality and personal effectiveness.
 5) What are the qualities of a good psychologist or therapist?
 Sally: In no special order:
 * Honesty. This can be hard because a lot of uncomfortable situations happen in therapy. It is hard to say something that someone doesn’t want to hear, it is hard to go to painful places in people’s lives. But really, this is like sneaking food on a diet. If I go to therapy to hear what feels good or go without being honest about who I really am, I am only cheating myself out of growth. But I am also accepting what that stunted growth means - it might mean I remain depressed, I remain insecure, I suffer with anxiety, I continue to eat my feelings, I battle thoughts that I am worthless, etc. A therapist being honest with me does not mean I have to agree with what a therapist says, it means I get to interact in a safe environment with someone who respects me enough to tell me the truth about how they see me and experience me.
 * Not doing the work for the client.
 * Being willing to feel awkward or frustrated and not fix someone’s problems. This is a feeling most people are familiar with, it is often the basis for unsolicited advice.
 * Being okay with silence.
 * Being willing to ask hard questions.
 * Good personal boundaries.
 * Being willing to say I don't know.
 * Being willing to say when therapy isn't working or that another therapist would be better with

Want to read more of what Dr. Sal has to say? Visit her over on her blog, Legacy Assessment, Counseling and Consulting.  

Sally, thanks for answering such deep questions with such thoughtfulness and a little bit of spunk. Spunk is my favorite part about Dr. Sal.

Roasted Beet Salad with Truffle Oil

You can't really tell, but there are bigger chunks of goat cheese at the bottom of the bowl, and when tossed it slightly melts into the still warm beets coating them a bit which makes for excellent eating but not so great pictures.

This salad is not an exact science. I'll give you the recipe just like I gave it to Sally.

Roasted Beet Salad with Truffle Oil

Baby Arugula
Roasted Beets (1-2 beets per person depending on how big they are. I like lots of beets)
Truffle oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Red wine vinegar
Goat cheese

Roast and skin beets according to the directions provided by the link. Place still warm beets cut into hefty chunks in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Crumble goat cheese on top and left it melt a bit into the beets by tossing it. Scatter arugula over the top of the beets and drizzle with truffle oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss and taste. Add more oil, vinegar or salt and pepper to taste.

I like more beets to arugula in this recipe. I shoot for a ratio of 2/3 beets to 1/3 arugula.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Card and An Announcement

Christmas Card 2012

Merry Christmas! We interrupt our regular scheduled food related posts to bring you this special announcement. Baby number four is on the way!

Due: June 30th 2013

Merry Christmas, friends!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Candy Cane Martini

Candy Cane Martini

This is a Bethenny recipe. Bethenny, as in "skinny girl". I get Health Magazine and I really like her recipes and column and look forward to it every month. The girl makes some tasty things. I made this cocktail for my friend, Danielle, because it completely reminded me of her. I made simple syrup and crushed candy canes for the rim and everything. Our expectations were high for some holiday cheer in a glass. We each took one sip. Whoa, it was strong. Danielle took another sip and said "Oh my, it's really strong". I took another sip and said "I like it, kind of, but I think it could be better". Then she said "I really like it too, it's just so...strong and pepperminty". I took one more sip and muttered the word under my breath. Strong. 

Candy Cane Martini

We talked about ways to tweak it. Then, by her fourth or fifth sip Danielle declared she liked it just fine and drank it till it was gone. A strong drink does not intimidate Danielle. Still, it needed some help. The original recipe called for 1 1/2 oz (which is 1 1/2 shots) of vodka, 1 1/2 oz peppermint schnapps, and 1/2 oz fat free sweetened condensed milk. It needed to be half as sweet and diluted with something because basically the whole drink was alcohol. I guess this is a given for a martini, but I like my changes better. It's still strong, but it won't make you roll back on your heels declaring it for 30 minutes. It's also now pleasantly pepperminty instead of being in your face pepperminty which is much better, even for Christmas. I couldn't help but think of how this is the perfect "first date" drink for ladies (or married couple who like to kiss) since it keeps your breath minty fresh. Where's the mistletoe?

Candy Cane Martini

Candy Cane Martini
adapted from Bethenny Frankel, Health magazine, December 2012

makes 1 martini

1 oz (1 shot) vodka (I like Grey Goose)
1 oz (1 shot) peppermint schnapps
1 oz (1 shot) club soda
1/4 oz (1/4 of a shot) fat free sweetened condensed milk

Mix all ingredients in an ice filled shaker. Shake, and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with a mini candy cane.

To make a crushed candy cane rim: microwave 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons water on a plate until sugar is dissolved (or make a simple syrup and pour into a plate). Crush 2 candy canes finely and put on another plate. Dip the martini glass in the simple syrup, then in the crushed candy canes.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

If there are two things I am absolutely smitten with in life, it has got to be Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake and Michael Buble. I stand by that statement any day. Did everyone see Michael's Christmas special? I was in bed smiling from ear to ear from the start. I may have giggled like a school girl and told my husband that I was swooooooooooning hard core. Here's where the conversation got weird. Jeremy actually turned to me and told me that hearing me say I was smitten with another (albeit celebrity) man actually made him feel a little...(wait for it)...relieved.

Weird right? I was like, huh? It's not like I haven't had other celeb crushes. Ben Affleck was it for a while, but theres something lasting about Michael, and I'm picky, so there really hasn't been anyone else who's caught my interest. See, it takes pressure off of him since I'm always telling or showing my husband how wonderful, sexy, smart, funny and charming he is (poor guy). I say I love you all the time. Like, overkill if there is such a thing. He'll sometimes look at me after I've said it the fifth time that night and say "okay seriously, stop it, crazy" and chuckle. I'll pretend to get mad and say he's rude. And so it goes. I think my husband is the pinnacle of a good man. I think he is the ultimate. I adore him. So, the fact that I got all giddy over Michael singing me  (and only me) White Christmas on TV actually relieved him from being "my perfect man" a bit. Apparently, when you grow up being the apple of your parents eye, and then on top of it, marry a spouse who thinks you hung the moon and the stars, theres some pressure. Some day he's gonna be like "Okay guys, step back. I'm not that cool. Seriously." Then he'll grab at his hair and scream "I'm just a maaaaaaan!" He's much more comfortable in company that doesn't think or hasn't yet realized the complete stud he is. He's a humble man, which makes him all the more appealing. He can't win.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

Now lest you think my husband is strange, I assure you he is not. He is the most wonderful, sexy, smart, funny and charming person in the entire world (poor guy). Like I said, I love him wholly, which is probably why we can tell each other these things. Why I am telling you these things? Heck if I know, but I thought it was a good story.

This is my husbands hand. I feel the need to clarify because I don't wan't you thinking I have man hands.
Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

One thing everyone in the world can agree to swoon over is Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake. Every. Single. Person. Whoeverlived. Ever. This the most wonderful, sexy, smart, funny and charming dessert there is. I'm determined to drive you nuts with that sentence. If this dessert were a man, I'd marry it because it's awesome sauce, like my husband. I can't believe I've waited 31 years to make it. We've all heard of sticky toffee pudding, but I never really knew what it was. I knew I'd like it, but somehow it flew under my Christmas radar for all these years. So, what exactly is it? Pudding or cake? It's cake, okay, but the moistest, most coziest, unassuming cake in the world. While it's still warm, you pour an insane amount of toffee sauce over top so it can seep in and soak every last morsel. It smells like brown sugar and butter. It's luxurious and over the top but simple and humble at the same time. Those kind of desserts are my favorite. And when a scoop of vanilla ice cream starts melting down in between the cracks of the cake, breaking up the caramel crumb...oh, you can just thank me later.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake

My husband ate three pieces the first day. He ate two pieces the second day, and then three pieces the third day (I made two cakes). He has proclaimed that he has found his favorite dessert ever. And he is relieved that it is gone, or he'd probably have another couple pieces tonight. Moderation is not his strongest suit. He actually does have some downfalls. Oh, but it's so fun when he's not moderate, so maybe it's not a downfall at all. I told you he couldn't win.

*A few notes about the cake: Follow the recipe. Your gonna be all worried about adding 3 1/2 cups of water to your batter but just do it. You'll wonder about the 3 1/4 tablespoons of baking powder called for, don't be. Yeah, it's a lot of baking soda but it thickens your batter. Theres a lot of butter, but you are making two cakes so just keep that in mind when you start to get anxious about it. It'll be okay. People only eat sticky toffee pudding one season a year anyway.

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
adapted from Laura Donnelly, on Barefoot Contessa

Make 2 9-inch cakes

For the cakes:
1 pound dates, pitted and chopped
2 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 tablespoons baking powder

For the Sauce (for 2 cakes):
1 pound butter
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Vanilla ice cream for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans. Place dates in a large sauce pan with 3 1/2 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, stirring a little to break up the dates. Then leave to simmer for 1 minutes before removing from the heat. STir in the baking soda (which will cause mixture to bubble up).

Cream the butter and the sugar together in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, occasionally scraping down mixing bowl. Add the vanilla extract and then the flour and salt and mix briefly to give a lumpy dough.

Next, add the warm date mixture (water and all!) in two batches. Scrape down the sides of the bowl in between mixing. The dough will now be quite watery but don't worry. Finally, add the baking powder (this will bubble up also).

Pour the batter evenly into the two pans. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, combine the butter, brown sugar, heavy cream and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer gently for a minute or two until thickened and well blended.

When the cake are done, let them sit on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Then, loosen the sides of the cake by running a knife around the edges, and invert onto a plate. Poke little holes with a toothpick all over the cakes (more than you think. Keep poking) this will enable the sauce to be absorbed more easily. Pour the sauce over the cakes while they are still warm in a few batches. It takes a few minutes for one coat to soak in so you can add another. (I suggest pouring half of the sauce into another container so you can guarantee each cake gets the right amount of sauce). Leave the cakes to soak into the sauce for at least 10 minutes. Serve while still warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

If you don't see the appeal of Michael Buble, and you're googling him, looking at pictures and thinking he's good looking but not anything extraordinary, I'd say you've probably never seen him in a an interview, or sing live, or host a Christmas special where he sings directly at you looking into your eyes, because that man oozes charisma, gentlemanly-ness, witt, and fun like no other. And, again, I stand by that statement any day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Winter Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel

Root Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel

Happy Tuesday from the snow drenched mountains of Steamboat Springs! I was ready for the snow this year. I bundled up in my cozy Gap sweater, sipping my fresh ginger lemon tea, tiny dog curled up in my lap, writing blog posts in the dimly lit room, gray outside, and all was right in the world. Mostly because only one kid was up and while I could hear Yo, Gabba Gabba and Little Bill, I tried to soldier on.

Root Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel

Speaking of my dog, have I told you that I bought him a sweater for the winter? It's a red fleece and snuggie-ish and he looks like a cult member. I keep expressing to him the importance of not drinking the Kool-Aid, but given that he gobbled up a nasty magnesium pill I dropped on the floor yesterday with cat like reflexes and apparent delight, I fear there's no hope of him resisting.

Root Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel

Root Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel

My dog eats anything that falls on the floor. Potato, onions, you name it. He probably thought that pill was a tasty little morsel before chewing and realizing damn, that sucked. Jeremy will allege it's because I feed him carrots and the occasional cashew from my hand, but I think he just eats random vegetables that drop on the floor so often that he has developed a taste for them and because of that, he now craves them and other root vegetables and gladly sits by my feet while I make dinner. So, you can imagine the blissful state my dog must have been in the night I made root vegetable chowder. Butternut squash, onions, fennel and carrots all trying to make their way into my sizzling olive oil from across the counter as I transferred them from my cutting board and dropped some along the way. I always drop stuff. Hog heaven for the little guy, I tell you.

Root Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel

The thing that first grabbed me about this recipe was that after you have made a root vegetable soup, instead of the usual splash of cream, you add a creamy bechamel sauce to the pot which thickens everything up and transforms it into a thick, hearty chowder.

Bechamel is a simple sauce made from flour, butter, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. I like it in my lasagnas, and am delighted to have found a new use for it.

Root Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel

Your soup will be thicker and more chowder like than the picture of mine. I tried to see if I could get away with making it healthier and only adding half the Bechamel sauce. The answer is NO. Not if you want it to be awesome. It was fine and all but I could tell that the extra sauce would give it the little nudge it needed to be a proper chowder. Well, that and oyster crackers.

If you don't like butternut squash, you could always sub sweet potato. If you hate sweet potatoes you could sub more white potatoes I guess, but I feel it's my civic duty to tell you to grow up already and put your big girl/big boy pants on and learn to like them because they're healthy and really good and my dog even thinks so.

Winter Vegetable Chowder with Bechamel
adapted from Rachael Ray

serves 4-6

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 large bulb fennel, quartered and thinly sliced
1 pound butternut squash, chopped into 1/2" dice
3 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 large parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 leeks, halved and thinly sliced 
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 large fresh bay leaf
2 tablespoons fresh chopped thyme
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried marjoram (optional)
3 cups vegetable stock or chicken stock
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
Salt and Pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Oyster crackers, for serving

Heat the olive oil on a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, squash, carrots, parsnips, onion, leeks, garlic, a hearty pinch of salt, pepper, and the fresh and dried herbs. Cook, partially covered and stirring occasionally, to soften, about 10 minutes. Add stock and simmer while you make the white sauce.

In a sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, cook for 1-2 minutes, then add the milk and simmer to thicken. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Once thickened, combine the sauce with the soup and keep warm over low heat until ready to serve. Season the finished soup with salt again, and taste to see if you need more.  Top each bowl with oyster crackers.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cranberry Bliss Bars - Just Like Starbucks

Cranberry Bliss Bars - Just Like Starbucks

Happy Wednesday everyone! Who's ready for a mid-week treat? Tis the season for baking, right? Truthfully, this isn't the sort of dessert I'd usually go for.  It's got white chocolate and is really sweet. I'm more of a dark chocolate, bittersweet, semi-sweet, watered-down sweet, or salty-sweet kind of girl, but for some reason this called to me with it's festive flecks of red and white, cranberries and white chocolate chips dotted throughout, and made me giddy with holiday cheer. The underneath is a fudgy blondie tasting mostly of cozy brown sugar with a white chocolate cream cheese frosting on top. It is most definitely Christmas party worthy. You are probably familiar with these little guys already. Apparently they are a huge seasonal hit at Starbucks causing the same frenzy the Pumpkin Spice Lattes do in the fall. Although I've not had one from Starbucks, I'm told this is a perfect knockoff. Easy too. I thought they'd be a lot more complex just looking at them, but fear not, even novice bakers could pull this off.

Cranberry Bliss Bars - Just Like Starbucks

This recipe makes a 8x8 pan which seems small but since this is a rich dessert, a little goes a long way. I cut mine smaller than Starbucks and get 18 wedges. To cut wedges, pull your baked and cooled blondie out of it's pan. This will be easy since you will have lined your baking dish with foil, you smart little thing, you. Now, cut into thirds. Then turn the pan and cut into thirds again so you have 9 squares.  Cut each square in half on the diagonal, wiping the knife with a paper towel after each cut so you get clean slices.

Cranberry Bliss Bars - Just Like Starbucks

Behind me, Giada is making Chinese on TV, and outside there is barely any snow on the ground. I feel weird. I find it hard to even play Christmas music since our little town is usually blanketed in the white stuff by this time yet our forecast keeps predicting sunshine. I've pretty much figured the only way to make it seem like Christmas is to bake. So I baked. As if that is even something I had to clarify. Obviously I baked. I'm presenting a post on Cranberry Bliss Bars. I'm so glad we just worked through all of that. You and me man, we can get through anything together.

Cranberry Bliss Bars - Just Like Starbucks
adapted from

makes 1 8x8 pan. 18 small bars

For the Bars:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
1 large egg
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries, loosely packed

For the Frosting and Topping:
1 cup white chocolate chips, melted and divided
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar (you may need a bit more)
1/2 cup dried cranberries, loosely packed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 8x8 inch pan with aluminum foil ( I cut mine to fit nicely in the pan), spray with cooking spray; set aside. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 60 seconds. To the melted butter add brown sugar and vanilla and whisk to combine. Next. add in the egg and whisk vigorously so it doesn't scramble in the warm butter. Add the flour and salt and stir just until combined. Switch to a rubber spatula or wooden spoon taking care not to over mix or bars will be tough. Fold in 1/2 cup white chocolate chips and 1/2 cup cranberries and stir to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing it lightly with a spatula.

Bake 20-22 minutes, or until center is set and golden or edges begin to slightly pull away from the sides of the pan, or toothpick come out clean; do not overbake. Allow bars to cool before frosting them. While they cool, make the frosting.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate on high power, about 1 minutes, and stir. If needed, cook at 10-second intervals stirring after each time, until chocolate is melted (white chocolate is notorious for burning, so it is important to melt it slowly). 

To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, about three-quarters of the melted white chocolate (just eyeball it), 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar, and vanilla and stir on low to combine, then turn it up to medium-high and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add additional confectioners sugar if you like your frosting stiffer. Frost bars. You might not need all of the icing. 

Evenly sprinkle 1/2 cup cranberries over the top of the frosted bars. Evenly drizzle bars with the remaining melted white chocolate, reheating for a few seconds if it has set up. Allow bars to set up for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Preserved Lemons - Christmas Gift From The Kitchen

Preserved Lemons

Never heard of preserved lemons? I'm so sorry. My mom used to buy jars of them when I was little. I don't know what she used them for, but I remember fishing them out and eating their salty, silky rinds straight up. I've always had an unadulterated love for lemon and salt. Preserved lemons are Moroccan and used in many dishes. Here in the states, people use them for most anything they can think of. I've heard the luxurious juice the lemons are packed in is especially silky, thick and prized in Bloody Mary's or for making a different kind of Dirty Martini in place of olive juice. Or why not try chopping them up in mayonnaise with capers and salt for a twist on tarter sauce? At Rioja, one of our favorite restaurants in Denver, the chef once used the rinds of preserved lemons and battered and fried them lightly and served them with a fresh aioli of some kind. It was divine, especially with the glass of grapefruit champagne I was sipping.  People throw them in chicken dishes (I was dreaming up a skillet dish of simple olive oil pan seared chicken breasts rubbed with oregano, salt and pepper, with artichokes and preserved lemons while thinking of different uses). They also mash the lemons into a paste over white fish for a special occasions. They are used plenty in various grain salads or tabbouleh dishes, as well as these six recipes, which particularly stood out to me:

1) Preserved Lemon Ice Cream
2) Israeli Couscous with Butternut Squash and Preserved Lemons
3) Preserved Lemon Cesar Salad
4) Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Olives
5) Fettuccine with Preserved Lemon and Roasted Garlic
6) Preserved Lemon Martini

*Something to note: When a recipe calls for "1 preserved lemon" it usually means one whole lemon, which would be four pieces in this recipe since we cut them into quarters.

Preserved Lemons

This year, I'm giving a few choice people who I know will appreciate them, this beautiful little jar of sunshine for Christmas. I've heard lemons for Christmas is kind of strange. They are yellow. They are summery, right? I beg to differ. Citrus is huge at Christmas time, and wrapped with a silvery bow I think it will make a very handsome gift. Plus, I made Homemade Limoncello as gifts a few years ago and no one seemed to mind at all. These little beauties couldn't be easier either. After a quick blanching of the whole lemons (to help soften the rinds and get the juices flowing which makes deseeding much easier) the lemons are cut into quarters and packed in jars with sea salt. You'll want to crush the lemons down forcefully to release as much juice as possible, then fill the jar with more fresh lemon juice until the lemons are about covered. Over time, the lemons will give off more juice, so leave a little room at the top. Then, all that's left to do is let them sit at room temperature, sealed, for 4 weeks until they are ready to eat. Refrigerate after opening and it'll keep for 6 months. I realize Christmas is in less than 4 weeks, but if you start this week, they'll be ready for the recipient to eat within a week after Christmas.

When you preserve a lemon, you are essentially pickling it making the whole thing edible, rind and all. In fact, some people only use the rinds and discard the insides. Some people wash them before use as well, if you don't need them as salty.

my sea salt has natural flecks of pink in it
Preserved Lemons

Preserved Lemons
adapted from David Lebovitz

Recipe can be adapted for as many lemons or jars as you want.

1) Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush

2) Heat a large pot of water to boiling and place the lemons inside and blanch them for two minutes. Then remove the lemons and let them dry and cool for a few minutes.

3) Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there's a hard piece of stem attached. Then, cut the lemon into fourths, making quarter slices, de-seeding as you go.

4) Place one tablespoon sea salt in the bottom of a sealable glass jar (like a mason jar). Pack in one lemon (or four pieces) and pour another scant tablespoon of sea salt over top. Repeat until jar is full leaving a tiny bit of room at the top. Use about a tablespoon of sea salt per lemon.

5) Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. If need be, add extra lemon juice to the jars (remember, the lemons will give off more juice in the following days, so if they are not completely covered at this point, it is okay). Cover and let stand at room temperature overnight.

6) The next day do the same, pressing lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for  2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid (add fresh lemon juice, if they are still not all the way covered).

7) After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they're ready to use. Store lemons in the refrigerator after this time and they'll keep for 6 months. Rinse lemons if needed before using to remove excess salt.

To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse (or not). Split in half and scrape out the pulp (some recipes you'll use the pulp. It's whatever you want). Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the tasty juice, which can be used for flavoring as well.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Perfect Gingersnaps and My Home Tour

Ginger Cookies

Today, becuase it's my birthday, and we built a house and lived here for five months and I  haven't so much as given you a sneak peak, I'm going to give you  tour of my house. I'm going to have you over for gingersnaps except in cyber world, this means you'll have to make them yourself. Let me know when you've whipped them up and then we'll begin.

We'll start off with the most important room in the house, the kitchen.



I went daring with light blue cabinets (Benjamin Moore's Paladian Blue) on bottom and creamy Monteray white on top. I don't regret for a second. It's fun and bright and a little vintage.

One of my favorite things is the windows that come all the way down to the countertop over the sink. We've planted lilac bushes right outside of them so that in the summer, I'll get to see beautiful purple blooms instead of my neighbors brown fence. My other favorite is the long glass cabinet in the corner.

My little desk where all the blogging magic happens

Dining nook, located directly left of my desk, with a fabulous jar pendant from Pottery Barn

And my very favorite, the pantry

Step in, turn the corner, and...

Living room is small but quaint. It would look a bit bigger if we didn't own a gargantuan couch

Living room view from kitchen

Back yard. I planted a huge flower garden along the fence with hollyhocks, delphinium, peonies and daisies among others, with a patch reserved for fresh mint in the back.

From the front. I love my red house. Theres a garden planted in that barren bed in front, too. Also red rose bushes by the entry and a white snowball bush and more lilacs to the right lining the driveway.

Entry coat nooks. My husband custom built them for me because I love them and he loves me. Thats my dried wedding bouquet on top

Hall to the living room. Aka, my picture wall

Master bedroom

Master bath

I'm not going to show you my kids rooms or bathroom because it's a little creepy being the internet and all. I would show you my powder room but it's so small it was very hard to take a picture of. We also have a guest room, but I don;t have a picture of it and right now there is heaps of Halloween costumes laying on the bed waiting to be put in the attic, and I'm not about to clean it up right now.

Isn't it the cutest? Now back to the kitchen and the cookies. I couldn't have you over without offering you something to eat and in colder months gingersnaps are my favorite. These are made with olive oil instead of butter and fresh ginger instead of powdered or candied which makes all the difference in the world. They're best warm, right out of the oven while still chewy with the crackle of the sugar on the outside. They get harder as they sit. I like all my cookies fresh so I'll usually make the dough in advance, form the balls and place them in a ziplock bag. They keep in the fridge for up to a week and the freezer for 3 months. Just pop on a baking sheet when you are ready and bake (add about 5-6 minutes to the baking time if the dough is frozen and about 2-3 minutes if cold from the refrigerator). Homemade cookie dough is sort of my secret weapon and something I keep on hand constantly for last minute dinner parties (dessert is ready to be baked!) or you know, when strangers from the internet come over to stalk my house. Same, same.

Ginger Cookies

Make these. They are sure to become a holiday classic in your house.
Ginger Cookies

Perfect Gingersnaps
adapted from 17 and baking

makes 2 dozen 2" cookies

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 heaping tablespoons finely diced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
3/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
1 large egg
Sugar for rolling 

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, spices, ginger, and salt in a medium bowl. In another bowl, combine together the brown sugar, molasses, oil, and egg until smooth. Mix the flour mixture into the brown mixture, stirring until dough comes together. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop up bits of dough by the spoonful and roll into balls between your palms, I like them about an inch circle or slightly larger. Roll the balls in sugar and place on the baking sheets 2 inches apart. bake 8 minutes. If you like crispy gingersnaps, try 9-10 minutes.

Cookies will be very soft but will firm up. Leave on the baking sheet several minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool...or just eat them right away because they are so delicious.

My future is looking rosy. Reservations tonight at my favorite restaurant, Cafe Diva, where it just so happens to be "fondue night". Heaven, I tell you. I'm off paint my lips red and gear up for a good night. I'm very, very thankful. Happy 31st birthday to me!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Easy Crusty Bread in a Dutch Oven

Easy Crusty Bread

Did you notice that mention of jogging in my last blog post? It's true. I jogged a mile one day. Then, the next day I jogged two miles. It's been about three weeks since that day and I haven't jogged since. I swear, it's like unless I do it everyday, I don't do it. And I don't do anything everyday, except brush my teeth, which I do anywhere from two to four times a day because I'm a psycho. I thrive on not knowing what I'm doing. Not having planned workouts. Just letting them happen organically. The only problem with this is if your serious about getting into shape, I mean really really, serious, you can't leave workouts to when you feel like it. It requires discipline and consistency. I should know. I've spent many an hour thinking about this and lamenting. It's not that I'm lazy (I can be crazy disciplined) it's just that I'm not "athletic" even though I am coordinated. I like walking, zumba class, barr class, hiking, and the like, but I do not like being uncomfortable for very long. I don't mind pushing myself or sweating a bit, and I do challenge myself on occasion, but don't make my heart beat out of my chest day after day. That feels horrible. Doesn't it sound horrible? Your heart beating OUT OF your chest.

step 1: mix all of your ingredients together until a shaggy dough forms and cover with plastic wrap overnight
Easy Crusty Bread

The next day, your dough will look like this:
Easy Crusty Bread

And so, I suspect I'll spend my life sporadically working out and moving enough to keep my heart healthy, but all the while baking things like bread. It sounds like a nice gig, yes? I'm not complaining. I've made peace with this, which haunts me sometimes because I know I could achieve the whole lean muscle body thing. Do I want to? Not really, which is where the lamenting comes in. I want to want to be better, but I don't mostly because I believe I'm not all that bad to begin with. Which I suppose is a good grace thing. I suppose it's healthy. But I know that won't keep my heart healthy. So I'll keep my walks and classes. But I'll also keep my bread.

Step 2: Turn your oven on and stick a dutch oven into it to heat up. Dump sticky dough out onto a heavily floured surface and form a ball
Easy Crusty Bread

Easy Crusty Bread

Seriously. I've never made bread like this at home. This is the kind of bread you buy at a specialty shop. Crusty, thick outside and soft pockets of pillowy but sturdy dough on the inside. Make this once and you won't be able to stop. It looks like a perfect sourdough boule, but this is not sourdough. Glad you brought up that point which goes nowhere, Krysta. Now, mind you, I've braided challah before, baked oatmeal sandwich bread, quick breads and focaccia but never thought I could get this kind of result in my home kitchen. I was literally shocked. Where has this bread been all my life?! Let your mind go wild with add in's. Kalamatta olive loaf? Yes please. Orange zest and cranberries? Kneed in some roasted garlic and extra salt? My mouth is watering.

Step 3: After the dutch oven has heated through, plop your dough ball inside. Place lid on and bake.
Easy Crusty Bread

Step 4: Remove lid and allow to bake again for extra browning
Easy Crusty Bread

After it's browned up. Do you see what you've made???
Easy Crusty Bread

And you all, this is the crazy part. This is the best bread I've ever made and it's also the easiest bread I've ever made. I have never even heard of this method before. You basically mix all the ingredients in a large bowl the night before. No rising of the yeast, no measuring temperatures of water. Just mix, cover and set aside at room temperature overnight. That's the clincher. You have to plan ahead. Oh, but it's worth it. The next day you'll just add whatever add-in's you'd like, or leave it plain. Kneed in a bit of flour, just so you can pick up the dough. Plop it into a already hot, heated dutch oven and bake. When you take the lid off, you'll be super impressed with yourself. And when you slice it and taste it, and slather with salted butter and a sprinkling of truffle salt, and drool a little, well, I don't even know what will happen because you are not me and I simply can't predict such things.

Easy Crusty Bread

Crusty Bread

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups water

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and yeast.  Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms. If you are adding additional ingredients like kalamata olives and roasted garlic, do it now and mix everything together before it rises.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 - 18 hours.  Overnight works great.  Heat oven to 450 degrees.  When the oven has reached 450 degrees place a cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, pour dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and let set while the pot is heating.  Remove hot pot from the oven and drop in the dough.  Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.  Remove bread from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.