Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A bluebonnet after a blizzard

The big after-holidays blizzard of 2010 has come and gone. We stayed home for the holidays so were spared the traffic gridlock and cancelled flights. Aside from the marathon session of snow shoveling and clearing that followed, the blizzard left us relatively unscathed. We lit our first fire in the fireplace. Just for ambiance.

And I played with my camera.

The light quality late Sunday afternoon, as the snows began to blow in earnest, was fantastical. Ethereal. Straight out of a fairy tale.

The aftermath? required muscles and a willingness to get really, really cold. I cleared some paths by hand while Will cleared the driveway. My neighbors refuse to believe me, but I really like shoveling snow. But then again, I kind of like to vacuum too so maybe I'm just odd.

The dogs were uncertain.

And everything...everything was blanketed in white.

One good thing about being stuck home in a blizzard? Work on the kitchen has finally begun again. I hope to have some new photos to show you soon.

Stay warm!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry, merry

To my friends and readers who spend time with me here, I hope that your holidays, no matter what you celebrate, have been filled with joy. I meant to write this post earlier, but got sidetracked by a game of Settlers of Catan. It has been that kind of day. A stay-in-your-pajamas day. Silly and relaxed, full of play and laughter. And cookies!

Here are a few holiday images I wanted to share with you. Enjoy your time with your loved ones. Merry, merry!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Eggnog french toast with cranberry-apple compote

With all of my Christmas presents bought and delivered, I finally booted my slacker self (I am from Austin) into the kitchen for some last-minute holiday cooking. This dish combines some wonderful holiday flavors: eggnog, cranberries, and apples. What could be more appropriate? Festive. Ridiculously delicious. This would be the perfect Christmas breakfast. (I know. I know. It's the day before Christmas. I promise I'll repost this recipe with a couple of weeks to spare next year.)

Eggnog french toast with cranberry-apple compote
(Adapted from recipes originally published in Bon Appétit, December 2001)

Eggnog french toast:
4 cups purchased eggnog
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 14.5-ounce country white bread loaf, halved horizontally, each half cut crosswise into 8 slices (do not use ends)

Unsalted butter
Powdered sugar

Whisk first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Place bread slices in single layer in two 13x9x2-inch glass baking dishes. Pour custard over bread, dividing equally. Cover dishes and refrigerate at least 6 hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Butter 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Using spatula or tongs, transfer bread slices to prepared baking sheets. You may brush melted butter on the tops (I didn't do this). Bake 10 minutes. Turn over bread slices and bake until golden brown and crisp on the outside but soft on the inside, about 6 minutes longer. Place 2 french toast slices on each of 8 plates. Dust generously with powdered sugar; serve with cranberry-apple compote

Cranberry-apple compote:
2 cups apple cider
6 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1/2 cup sugar

Whisk apple cider, maple syrup, and brown sugar in heavy large saucepan. Boil over high heat until reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons butter; whisk until melted. Remove from heat.

Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add apple pieces; sauté 2 minutes. Add cranberries and 1/2 cup sugar. Stir until cranberries begin to pop, about 2 minutes. Stir in reduced cider mixture. Boil until reduced to syrup consistency, about 6 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Stir over medium heat until heated through.) Transfer compote to bowl and serve warm.

Apples, cranberries, and sugar beginning to cook

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday traditions (something old)

Every year during the holidays, we work on a new jigsaw puzzle. It's usually holiday-themed. Sometimes, like this year, it's just wintery. When we first started this tradition (our son was around four), the puzzle was 100 pieces. This year was our most ambitious yet: 1,000 pieces of neutral-colored, maddening puzzle. We had a separate, easier one for the girls to do.

I love this tradition. We spread out the puzzle on the dining room table and spend a lot of evenings poring over it. It's a nice way to slow down over the holidays. Take a breath. Focus on something that isn't rush, rush, rush.

Monday, December 20, 2010

I'm such a southerner

This afternoon saw an unexpected snowfall. The meteorologists had predicted just light flurries, but this was actual snow. The kind that sticks and creates slush and traffic havoc.

And I realized as I walked gingerly to school, I am still such a southerner.

I love snow. I do. I love the way it traces branches and leaves. The way it hushes sound, stilling the air. The pointillistic patterns it makes as it swirls in the air.

But I walked as if last winter had never happened. It was reflexive. I saw snow-covered sidewalk, and my body froze. I walked as if I was stepping on ice. Very slowly. Flat footed. Moving as creakily as an elderly woman who doesn't quite trust her knees. Ahead, my yankee child skipped across the snow. She ran and hopped joyously, pointing out the scattered pattern of footprints she left on the pristine white surface.

I'm such a southerner.

Friday, December 17, 2010

A very merry cocktail: peppermint bark martini

Tomorrow, we're having some friends over for drinks, dinner, and some much-needed puzzle help (more on the puzzle later). This chocolate peppermint martini is a perfect holiday cocktail. The sliver of peppermint bark adds a festive flourish.

Peppermint bark martini
2 1/2 fluid ounces vodka
1/2 fluid ounce peppermint schnapps
1/2 fluid ounce white Creme de Cacao
sliver of peppermint bark

Mix liquor together in shaker with crushed ice. Shake vigorously. Strain into a martini glass. Drop a sliver of peppermint bark into bottom of glass.

À votre santé!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Spinach croquettes

A couple of weeks ago, we bought an enormous bag of spinach, freshly harvested from Wilson Farm in Lexington. What to do with so much spinach?

These spinach croquettes may not be the most photogenic side dish. However what they lack in the appearance department, they more than make up for in taste. Rich and savory. A perfect side note to a simple main course...say...a roast chicken. Or you could eat them as a vegetarian main dish with some baguette. The croquettes require some prep work. One must cut away the thick stems. However, the recipe makes enough that you could easily eat the croquettes as a side dish one evening. A day or two later, use the leftover croquettes with some sharp cheddar cheese as an amazing omelet filling. I love dishes that stretch over more than one meal.

Spinach croquettes
From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

(Quick and crunchy, these lightly thickened spinach patties are cooked in a pan until crisp on the outside, but still soft on the inside.)

2 pounds spinach, trimmed of thick stems and well washed
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Gruyere
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (or use more oil) *we just used olive oil without butter

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Add the spinach and onion and cook for just about a minute until the spinach wilts. Drain thoroughly and cool a bit. Chop the spinach and put it and the onion in a bowl, along with the eggs, cheese, and bread crumbs. Mix well, then add salt and pepper to taste. If the mixture is too loose to form into cakes, add some more bread crumbs; if it's too dry, add a little milk or another egg.

Put half the oil and butter into a large skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Form the spinach mixture into small cakes (this amount will make 8 to 12) and cook, without crowding--you will have to cook in batches--until nicely browned, adjusting the heat so the cakes brown evenly without burning, about 5 minutes. Turn once, then brown the other side, again about 5 minutes. (My note: Add oil and butter for the next batch.) Continue until all the spinach mixture is used up. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A patch of sky

I misremembered this lyric. It's actually "corner of the sky" from the musical, Pippin.

I took these photos a little while back. They came to mind today as I was seeking that clear patch in our crazy holiday schedules.

This happens every year. No, not misremembering musical lyrics. Every year, I promise myself that next year, we'll have a laid-back holiday season. We'll savor family ties, celebrate old traditions, forge new traditions, help the needy, and revel in the joys, lights, carols, love of the season. Think an unholy alliance of Norman Rockwell and Martha Stewart.

Every year, I fail.

I thought this year would be different. (I think this every year.) This year, the siblings in my and Will's families decided to donate to charities in lieu of gifts. The children, of course, will receive gifts, but not the adults. It seemed a nice way to both scale back the stress of finding just the right gift while simultaneously helping others. And it is. Of course.

But this year, we've added a plethora of teachers as well as the sitter, the mailman (who's wonderful), the newspaper delivery guy, the trash collectors, and the various and sundry folks whose work and services we want to acknowledge. Of course, they'd appreciate cash or a gift card, but I end up wracking my brains for something special. Something that says, "I took time and energy and thought to come up with this for you." This year, I've got nada.

I could bake. I love to bake. I'm good at baking. But ironically, the more pressure there is to bake, the less I want to do it. So I'm not baking. In my beautiful new kitchen. With my beautiful two ovens in which I could churn out cookies as fast as Rumpelstiltskin spins gold. What a conundrum.

Happy holidays, whatever you may celebrate. I hope that you're finding your corner of the sky. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deal flash: Gamewright and Ceaco puzzle and game warehouse sale

For my Boston-area readers, Gamewright and Ceaco are having their puzzle and game holiday warehouse sale today and tomorrow (December 8 and 9), from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. This cash-only sale is located at their offices on 70 Bridge Street, second floor in Newton, MA.

My kids and I are huge Gamewright fans. If you check out their games' ratings on Amazon, you'll find that we're definitely not alone. Gamewright games are great fun, clever, educational, and compact. Their games have won over 150 awards from organizations like Oppenheim Toy Portfolio, Parents' Choice, Dr. Toy and MENSA. I love that many of their games are card-based, perfect for toting to after-school activities. Along with paper/crayons and books, Gamewright games are my go-to for entertaining siblings while waiting for fencing or karate or dance or piano lessons to finish.

The sale also offered a variety of beautiful Ceaco puzzles for all ages. If you're in the area, the prices make it worth the drive. So swing by for some wonderful holiday gifts or stocking stuffers, gifts for the final days of Hanukkah, or to stock up the birthday party closet.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First flurries

I first noticed them early this morning. Little bits of something glittery swirling through the air. At first, I thought idly that there was an awful lot of pollen floating about. (Okay, yes ... I am from the south.) Later, walking through a parking lot, I realized that it was snow. Our first flurry this season.

It was enough to make me stop. In the middle of the parking lot. And simply watch the tiny sparkles flutter and swirl.

Apparently one New England winter didn't freeze away this sense of childlike wonder at snow. Wherever I've New Orleans and in Austin...snow was a wondrous, fleeting, magical thing. Normal life skidded to a stop as soon as the snow started to drift down. Never mind if it was only a few snowflakes that vanished as soon as they hit the ground. Adults and children alike would bundle up and head outside to see the snow. We'd gaze at the skies and hold out gloved hands, hoping to catch a snowflake.

Tonight, the flurries started again, and my children rushed outside to see. They were singing, "It's snowing! It's snowing!" and making plans for snow angels and snow forts and skiing. I could just see the visions of hot cocoa and snowmen and sledding dancing in their heads.

Welcome to the season.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Go-to leftover turkey recipes: Will's turkey tetrazzini

Suffering from leftover fatigue?

I was too. Then Will came up with this fabulous turkey tetrazzini recipe. We gobbled it up. Even the kids who usually grumble when served up leftovers. Cooking the turkey in this variant of the classic bechamel sauce hides a variety of sins, including the turkey's drying out in the fridge or freezer.

Will's turkey tetrazzini
Inspired by a Giada de Laurentiis recipe for chicken tetrazzini

3 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 oz prosciutto, chopped fine
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 large onion, diced fine
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
frozen peas (1-2 handfuls)
1 lb shredded turkey
6-7 ounces parmigiano reggiano, grated
16 ounces spaghetti

Cook spaghetti in boiling, salted water in a large pot. When cooked, drain and reserve.

In the olive oil, sauté prosciutto until well browned. Remove prosciutto with a slotted spatula and set aside. In the same skillet, sauté onions and garlic until tender. Set aside.

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and keep whisking for a few minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in 3-4 ounces grated parmigiano and salt and pepper to taste.

In the large pot, mix everything together and pour into a 13"x9" dish. Top with more grated parmigiano and bake at 350ºF until the sauce is bubbling and the top is lightly browned (20-30 minutes).