Sunday, January 29, 2012

Banana cake with Nutella and Hazelnuts

I was in a bad mood, a really bad mood.  The kind where my husband stays outside to split wood even though it is 15 below and a 25 mile an hour wind and when the bad mood was not his fault (well, maybe a little bit). Even the dogs stayed by the back door and weren't underfoot. There was only one thing to do.  Open the Nutella and get a spoon.  About half way though the first spoonful, I spied the very ripe bananas on the counter and decided I needed a warm from the oven banana cake.  And why not add some nutella?  And I think I have a handful of hazelnuts left-over in the freezer.  So, this cake was born, my mood improved with the warm smell of banana and chocolate baking in the oven, and my husband thought it safe to come inside.  It turned out to be a good night after all.

Banana cake with Nutella and Hazelnuts
  adapted from Barefoot Contessa How Easy Is That?

3 very ripe bananas
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 extra large eggs, room temp
1/2 cup greek yogurt or sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
grated zest of 1 orange
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baing soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 cup Nutella

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Grease and flour a 9 X 2-inch round cake pan.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the bananas, granulated sugar and brown sugar on low speed until combined.  With the mixer still on low, add oil, eggs, yogurt, vanilla and orange zest.  Mix until smooth.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.  With the mixer on low, add the dry ingredients and mix just until combines.  Stir in the chopped hazelnuts.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Drop spoonfuls of Nutella over the top.  Take a knife and swirl the Nutella through the batter. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.

January 29, 2012     Daylight   hours,   minutes,   seconds     Current Temp. -40 ºF

Friday, January 27, 2012

Lemon Drop Martini

This time of the year I crave citrus.  I don't know if it is the cold, the dark or just that there isn't much in the way of nice fresh fruit in the grocery, other than citrus, right now.  So because I am feeling a little (o.k. a lot) sour from the Packers' defeat (and football season is officially over) and I am craving citrus, we have the Lemon Drop Martini.
This recipe came from the Bar Book.  It was a birthday present from my friend Jim.  I'm sure many of my drinks of the week will come from this book.  It is quite extensive in the choices and selection of different drinks, with alcohol and without.  Hmmm...a drink of the week without alcohol?  That would be different!  In the meantime, enjoy this week's selection.

Lemon Drop Martini
The Bar Book, Mittie Hellmich

1 1/2 oz. lemon vodka
1 oz. Grand Marnier
1 1/2 oz fresh lemon juice

rub lemon wedge along edge of martini glass, dip in sugar to rim glass.  Pour vodka, Grand Marnier and lemon juice into shaker, fill with ice.  Shake until very cold. Strain into prepared glass.  Makes 1 drink.
This is a tart drink.  If you like yours a little sweeter, like my husband does, add a teaspoon of simple syrup or to taste.

January 27, 2012     Daylight 6 hours, 18 minutes, 44 seconds     Current Temp. -38ºF

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fluffer Nutter Cookies and the Great Pantry Purge

I have the luxury of a large pantry.  It was very helpful with 5 kids at home and the ability to stockpile products we used when they went on sale.  We used the space wisely and food moved through the shelves almost at grocery store rates.  Those 5 teenagers could eat!  Once a year I would take an inventory, wash the shelves, move anything that needed to be used up to the kitchen and life would go on.
Well, now that I don't really need a pantry like I used to and I don't have to be so organized, I've let it slip a little.  I don't buy much in bulk and I do try more new things knowing that Dave will eat anything once and not wrinkle his nose and announce,  "What universe do I have to be in to think this is good?" (o.k. no one ever said that out loud, not even about the fish stick casserole, but it was written all over their faces)  We do eat out spur-of-the-moment more often and sometimes unusual ingredients get left in the pantry.  Also, some helpful soul will bring over something to round out the meal, it won't get used and sits in the pantry. (I think that is where the box of chicken stove top came from, exp. 2009) And, I hate wasting food (major guilt about throwing away the box of chicken stove top that expired in 2009) so I decided to get organized and use EVERYTHING in my pantry (that hasn't expired).
So a few of the following recipes will have some unusual ingredients for me.  I don't usually use a lot of packaged foods, I really like to start fresh but somehow they show up in my pantry.  Like the three packages of cookie mix (really?), the 4 bags of marshmallows (large and small), the white chocolate covered pretzels, the jar of green curry paste, and even the funnel cake mix - complete with it's own pouring vessel!
Most of the things I'll make you can too, starting from scratch, like the fluffer nutter cookies I made with a peanut butter cookie package mix, chocolate bars left over from last summer's s'mores, and homemade marshmallows (although I do have 4 bags of marshmallows).

Fluffer-Nutter Cookies
Peanut butter cookies (your favorite recipe)

Make peanut butter cookies according to your favorite directions.  Roll into balls and press down with a fork, only one time (not criss-cross patterns).  Bake as usual.  When you remove cookies from the oven top with a piece of chocolate and a marshmallow (or 3-5 small marshmallows or one large cut in half).
Using scissors to cut homemade marshmallows for the top of Fluffer Nutter Cookies

This isn't really a real recipe, but they are delicious and after eating one(o.k. maybe two)  I sent the entire batch across the street to my neighbor for her sons to eat.  Somethings I just can't be trusted with.
My very messy pantry before...stay tuned for the after!

January 25 , 2012     Daylight 6 hours, 5 minutes, 41 seconds     Current Temp. -25 º F

Monday, January 23, 2012

Loaded Bread Boule

I've started to think about what to feed friends at the Super Bowl party.    We usually have a few friends and family over for the game.  They trudge over in the cold weather, plug in their cars in front of the house and defrost in front of the fireplace before they go upstairs to the family room to watch the pre-game show and vote on their favorite commercials.  Food needs to be warm, hearty and portable.
This is a bread boule.  A boule is a basic french bread in a circular shape.  The picture I saw of this was a large loaf of bread, but I thought it would be fun to make smaller, almost individual sized.  These are served hot out of the oven and are filled with garlic butter, bacon and sharp cheddar cheese.  They are cut so the pieces are pulled off and eaten, with the gooey cheesy goodness and smoky bacon melted into each  garlicky crevice, made by cutting the petals into the bread.  This one is the size of a large dinner roll.  You could make individual boules or one large one and set it on the table for people to pull off chunks, either way it is a warm treat.

Loaded Bread Boule

basic bread boule
adapted from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour
1 1/2 Tbsp. yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp. kosher salt
3 cups warm water

Mix flour, yeast and salt together in stand mixing bowl.  Add the water all at once and mix until all incorporated completely.  This can also be done with a portable mixer or by hand.  This bread does not need to be kneaded.  Pour dough into a container with a lid, but don't seal the lid.  Let is sit on the counter for about 2 hours, until it doubles in size and the top becomes slightly deflated.  Put in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 10 days. (This makes it so much easier to work with)

Take dough out of the fridge and shape into desired loafs.  This makes 4 1lb. loaves or 16 smaller boules.  Place on a non sided pan or board covered in cornmeal and let rise for about 90 minutes. Slash the tops and slide in a 400º F oven on a pan or stone that has heated with the oven.  Place a pan of water on the rack under the bread to create steam.  Bake for 30-35 minutes. (Complete directions for this method linked here)
Once the bread is cooled, cut down, but not through, in a grid pattern.  You want the whole loaf to stay together but have "petals" (think blooming onion).

For each smaller loaf (increase for one large loaf and/or to your taste)
2 Tbsp. butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 pieces bacon, fried crisp and chopped
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Melt butter and add garlic, let garlic toast a little in the butter.  Remove from heat and pour over the bread, getting between all the petals of the bread.  Sprinkle bacon in between all the petals of the bread and top with cheese, pushing it down inside the petals and some over the top.
Turn oven on to broil.  Broil bread until the cheese is melted and bubbly, serve immediately.

January 23, 2012     Daylight 5 hours, 52 minutes, 48 seconds     Current Temp. -9 ºF

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Donna and Saturday Morning Coffee

You will always be one of my best friends, you know too much.
Friendship: A Collection of Wit and Wishdom

Donna and I meet every Saturday at 9:00 for coffee at Alaska Roasters Coffee House.  We drink coffee, eat a cookie from the bakery and decompress from the week.  We talk about our kids, our jobs, our husbands, the food we've cooked, the quilts we plan to make, our lives in general.  We laugh at ourselves and the foolish things we've done (that would be me) and we encourage each other with what is facing us for the coming week.  I wouldn't make it through without my Saturday mornings with Donna.
Donna is that kind of friend that you feel so fortunate to have and wonder what you ever did to deserve her.  When our house burned down, 9 months after we bought it, she was sitting there, in a stranger's kitchen, having coffee and calmly waiting for me as I struggled out of bed to face the day.  She is the calm voice of reason when I get manic about this child or that, offers reasonable advice for home/work/school/kid situations, and quietly listens as I unfold my woes because I didn't take her advice and she never says, "I told you so."
 Donna is a gift.

January 21 , 2012     Daylight: 5 hours, 40 minutes, 9 seconds     Current Temp. -19 º F

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roast Beef Salad Sandwiches


Several years ago, Nancy and I were in San Francisco for a conference in the early Spring.  We sat through some great presenters all morning, trying to stay awake because of our late night arrival the day before.  We ate most of the catered lunch and decided to walk outside in the sunshine, there was a path along the water across the street.  We set out to enjoy the sun, leaving Fairbanks and the dark behind. Half way across the parking lot and on the other side of the street the wind picked up, blowing the salty scent of ocean in our faces.  In that instant, I burst into tears.  Nancy, who is used to me and my quickly shifting moods, was even startled by this.  "What wrong? Are you O.K."
"I'm fine," I choked through sobs "It just smells right."

I lived in Palo Alto for the first 8 years of my life, before my mother moved us to the land-locked state of Kansas.  I summered in Fairbanks, also land-locked.  And while my dad and mom took us all over Alaska camping, fishing, rafting and just hanging out, I realized something that day.
The California ocean smells right...and smells like family:  Grandma laying out on the beach with a towel over her face so she won't get wrinkles, the trees in her backyard where we would climb and eat the fruit, her kitchen where she would use her hand grinder to grind the left over roast beef to make Grandpa's sandwiches for lunch at work, playing cards and needing a shoe box to hold my cards because my hands were too little, watching Mighty Mouse on her T.V. with her dog Mitze ....... all that came crashing over me with that whiff of ocean air.  I was completely overwhelmed with childhood memories.
My grandma turns 95 today.  She lives in Montana now, about 30 minutes from where my mother now lives.  I know my mom will pick her up and take her to Helena for the day, make her a cake and have her spend the night.  They will head back to grandma's the next day so grandma can check her cats, she doesn't like to be away from her two cats very long.  I'll give her a call and wish her a happy day.  And then, I think I'll grind some roast beef to make sandwiches for lunch tomorrow.  I wonder if Mighty Mouse will be on?
Happy Birthday Grandma.

Roast Beef Salad Sandwich Filling
  Adapted from my Grandma's Kitchen
  • 1 pound cooked roast beef (I usually use left over moose)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup dill pickles
  • 1/2 to 1 cup mayonnaise
  • pickle juice, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, optional
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • sliced red onion, for topping
  • lettuce, for topping
  • sliced wheat or white bread

Put beef and onion, celery, and pickles through a meat grinder with the coarse plate, or mince the ingredients or process in a food processor until evenly chopped. Add remaining ingredients, with enough mayonnaise and pickle juice to taste and moisten as desired.  Toast the bread, if desired, and then spread with a little butter or mayonnaise. Add lettuce leaves; spread a layer of the beef spread over the lettuce, then top with sliced red onion.
Makes enough for 6 to 8 sandwiches.

January 18, 2012     Daylight  5 hours, 15 min., 42 seconds     Current Temp.  -38º F

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Homemade Marshmallows and 45 below

Homemade marshmallows in hot chocolate

Saturday was -45 degrees day.  It was really cold.  Dave complained every time he had to bring wood in for the fireplace, the little dogs complained every time they were made to go outside and I just stayed in and tried to stay warm.
Life slows down a little when it gets this cold.  Morning coffee with friends gets postponed, dinner out with friends gets postponed, schools cancel extra activities and everyone just sort of shuffles from home to work and tries to make it to warmer weather without a car breakdown or frozen fingers.
If ever there was a good time to drink hot chocolate this cold snap would be it.  And what is hot chocolate with out marshmallows?  I'm not talking about the rubbery store bought kind, but the soft, oozy kind you make at home.  Homemade marshmallows are so delicious, creamy, melty and so easy!  A stand mixer helps with this, but a hand held mixer works too.  They need to cure overnight, so make some today (or right after dinner like I did) and you'll have marshmallows for tomorrow.  In the real world (what we call the lower 48 or the rest of the United States), you might even be able to make s'mores outside by a bonfire.
melty goodness

Vanilla Marshmallows
makes 20-40 depending on size
 From Barefoot Contessa Family Style

3 (1/4 ounce) packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar for dusting and coating

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the gelatin with 1/2 cup of the water; set aside.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining water with the sugar, corn syrup, and salt in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.  Increase the heat to high and cook until the syrup mixture reaches 240º F on a candy thermometer.  With the mixer on low, carefully and slowly pour the syrup into the dissolved gelatin.  Increase the speed to high and whip until the mixture is white, glossy, and very thick, about 15 minutes.  Reduce the speed, add the vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. 

Using a fine-mesh sieve or shaker, generously dust an 8x12-inch non-metal baking dish with the confectioners' sugar.  Pour the marshmallow mixture into the pan.  Smooth the top with an off-set spatula and dust with more confectioners' sugar.  Allow the marshmallows to stand uncovered overnight to cure.  

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting surface and cut them into squares or desired shapes.  Dust the cut sides with more confectioners' sugar.  Store the marshmallows in an airtight container or bag.  Enjoy!
The easiest way to cut marshmallows, a tape measure and pizza cutter.

January 15, 2012    Daylight 5 hours, 4 minutes, 0 seconds     Current Temp -43º F

Friday, January 13, 2012

Packer-tini - Drink of the week

Yes, it is that time of year when we are mourning the loss of Monday Night Football, enjoying play-off games and hoping that we'll make it to the Super bowl.  In celebration of the Packers in the play-offs we have a drink of the week just for them.  This will be the drink of the week until the Packers are finished, so I'm hoping it will be until the Super bowl!  This is a particularly good drink of the week, so even if you aren't a Packers fan, you need to try this.


6 oz. vanilla vodka
6 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 cup cream of coconut
3 oz. key lime juice

Put all ingredients in shaker or pitcher, fill with ice.  Shake or stir until very cold, strain into glasses.

Makes 4 drinks

January 13, 2012     Daylight 4 hours, 52 minutes, 43 seconds     Current Temp. -37 º F

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Corn Bread and Plugging Your Car In

We have had a little break in the 40 below weather for the last couple of days.  You might wonder how we get around when it is so cold.  Why don't our cars freeze?  Well, we have a winterization procedure for automobiles.  Each vehicle is equipped with battery blankets or plates, frost plug(s), heat plates under the oil pan and or transmission, etc.  All of these heating accessories are generally attached to a three/four-way with the other end extending from the vehicle.  Drivers are then able to plug into an extension cord to an outdoor outlet to keep the engine, transmission and battery warm.  We also test our anti-freeze to 60 below (F).  Businesses provide plug in posts for their employees so their cars don't freeze during the day.  Many are set up on timers to run in hour or two cycles.  At home, my husbands truck is set on a timer to go on at 4:30am before he starts it at 7:30am.
Plug ins in the parking lot at my work.  I get to work about 8:00 am, notice how dark it is?

Notice the row of concrete pillars for the plug ins.  Most businesses have a type of these for employees.

Four cars plug into one pillar.  Don't forget to unplug before you drive away!

So today we had soup at work again.  My suite mates brought soup and I brought sourdough garlic bread and cornbread.  It was a wonderful lunch on such a warm day. A reprieve from the cold and catching up with coworkers.
It is supposed to be 40 below again by the end of the week.  Stay warm.

Corn Bread
makes 36 servings

2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 Tbsp. for top (optional)
2 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
2 cups milk
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can corn, drained and rinsed
1 can Rotel tomatoes with peppers - drained

Preheat oven to 400º F.  Grease a 13x18 or a 9x13 inch pan.

Mix dry ingredients together in large bowl, mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, pour wet ingredients into dry and mix until just combined.  Pour into prepared pan.  Sprinkle sugar lightly on top if desired. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until top is golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

I use a half sheet pan (13X18) and cut into 2x3 inch pieces.  If you use a 9x13 you would want to cut smaller pieces, like 2x2 because they are so thick.

I like a sweet cornbread so the sugar on the top is essential for me.  I just sprinkle the top until it has a light coat.  This is totally optional.

This is easy to half the recipe and use half a can of corn and Rotel, or the whole can and you get a little spicier flavor.

January 11, 2012       Daylight 4 hours, 41 minutes, 53 seconds     Current Temp. 8ºF

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sunday Dinner

Sunday dinner at my house has changed dramatically over the last couple of years.  When our kids were home they knew that nothing, and I mean nothing, got in the way of Sunday dinner.  During the week, we always tried to sit down together for dinner but with basketball, soccer, baseball, concerts, plays and everything else our 5 kids were involved with it mostly happened but it was a little difficult.  Sunday everyone was expected home at 6:00 and we had dinner together.
I will never forget the first Sunday dinner Dave and I had alone.  I was in the "cook for Sunday dinner" mode and made  3 lbs. of meatloaf, 10 lbs of mashed potatoes, 4 cups of gravy, 2 loaves of bread and a couple pounds of green beans.  Dave and I sat down to dinner, just the two of us, I looked at the food on the table and at the two place settings and burst into tears!
Well, I've gotten better at moderating the amount of food I make, but I do love to fix a big dinner for family.  We are lucky that Dave's mom and brother live in town.  We also have a dear niece and nephew who will be good sports and come over for dinner often.  So, while most Sundays are now just Dave and I, we do have family dinner a couple of times a month.
We had a family dinner last night.  Dave grilled a flank steak, I made citrus halibut and crusty french bread, a salad and broccoli rounded out the dinner. For dessert I made a grapefruit pound cake with berry compote.  It was all delicious, warm for our cold weather and fun to visit with family.  After the busy week we had it was good to reconnect, fill ourselves with good food and family love and get ready for the next week.

Grapefruit Pound Cake
Cooking light - January 2012
9 oz. all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)
1 tsp. baking powder
5/8 tsp. salt divided
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. butter, softened
6 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese
2 large eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp. grated grapefruit rind
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 1/4 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325º F.
Coat a 10 inch tube pan with baking spray.  Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dty measuring cups; level with a knife.  Combine flour, baking powder and 1/2 tsp. salt.  Stir well and set aside.  Place granulated sugar, butter and cream cheese in a large bowl, beat with a mixer at high speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, 1 at a time.  Beat in oil, rind and vanilla.
Add flour mixture and milk alternately to batter, beginning and ending with flour.  Spoon batter into pan, bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs clinging.  Cool in pan on wire rack 10 minutes.  Invert cake.  Cool on rack.
Place juice in a saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil.  Cook until reduced to 3 tbsp. (about 4 minutes).  Cool slightly.  Stir in powdered sugar and remaining 1/8 tsp. salt.  Drizzle over cake.

Mixed Berry Compote
12 oz. bag frozen mixed berries
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbp. corn starch
1 Tbsp. Grand Marinier

Mix berries, sugar and corn starch together.  Place in baking dish.  Bake at 350º F for 30 minutes.  Cool slightly, stir in Grand Marinier.  Serve over cake slices

January 9, 2012   Daylight 4 hours, 31 minutes, 47 seconds     Current Temp -34º F

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Chicken Soup - Crazy Cooking Challenge

So, along with Daring Bakers, I signed up for the Crazy Cooking Challenge.  Each month a featured food item is named.  Challengers find that item on another blog, make it and blog about it and highlight the blog they found the item on.  The food item this month is Chicken Soup.  Perfect for January and out 40 below and colder temperatures.  I also knew the blog I wanted to high light: Picture Perfect Meals .
This blog is lovely.  The pictures are spectacular, the recipes are always delicious and the stories Cheryl writes are amazing, she has a way of making you feel like you are right in the moment with her. I read a post about her saving a dog from a crevice by a waterfall and I was hooked. If you are only going to read one blog, read mine, but if you are going to read two watch Picture Perfect Meals.  I made her pumpkin donuts for work on Halloween this year, and then about 6 batches of the cheese crackers, I think I ate two batches by myself and served the crackers with our Christmas Dinner Salad course.   I appreciate the suggestions for food photography from Adam and someday I'll take a good picture because of his help.
So, I used her recipe for Chicken Soup.  We did the whole thing, made our own stock one day, then roasted a chicken and made the soup on the next. Dave decided he wasn't too excited about my cooking and baking challenges as it just makes a lot more dishes for him to wash.  I now have 7 quarts of homemade chicken stock in my freezer and we had a lovely, warm dinner of chicken soup and cheddar cheese toast.

Oven-Roasted Chicken Noodle Soup
From Picture Perfect Meals:
serves 6
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks (about 2), tender, light green and white parts only
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 small potato, peeled and small-diced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 3 cups cooked chicken, shredded*
  • 2 cups wide egg noodles
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  1. In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil.  Add the leeks, celery, carrots, mushrooms, potato, garlic and bay leaves.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the vegetables soften, about 7 minutes.  Add the stock and poultry seasoning and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the chicken and noodles and simmer until noodles are cooked, 10 minutes more.  
  2. Season to taste;  add parsley before serving.    

January 7, 2012       Daylight 4 hours, 22 minutes,  17 seconds       Current Temp. -24 º F

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Surprise Birthday Party

50 is the new 30.
My husband, Dave, and me at my surprise party.
My birthday was today.  I turned 50 and according to the poster on the wall at work, 50 is the new 30.

I had a great day at work full of gifts (I got a new bar book from Jim, can you say drink of the week?) food (we had cheesecake, chocolate walnut torte, lemon thyme cake, frog eye salad, a sweet cranberry and walnut braid, and fresh fruit.
Food  outside my office, presents inside my office.
There was yellow "Warning 50th birthday" tape all over and sunglasses and a tiara with pink feathers and signs in the hall.  It was all wonderful and fun.  It was a fun, fat fiftieth birthday.

Then my husband picked me up from work and we went out for a quiet dinner together.  We arrived at LaVelle's, my favorite, I was counting on a great glass of champagne and a blue cheese risotto pancake.  Dave gave his name and the Matre´ De said, "I'm sorry, your reservations were for yesterday. Let me see if I can fit you in."  I was thinking, "Crap, now I have to sit at one of those tall tables and stools where my feet don't even touch the ground.  He left to go check on the seating.  When he returned he said he could seat us, grabbed the menus and let us to our seats.  When we turned the corner, there were 45 or so of my friends shouting "Surprise!"  Boy, was I surprised!  Dave had planned this surprise party and pulled it off without me knowing!  I was overwhelmed.  Friends we has just had dinner with on Sunday and never said anything,  my niece, who I had visited with for about 15 minutes earlier, never said anything.  My boss, with whom I had a meeting with that day, never said anything.  All my suite-mates I work with all day, never said anything...and there they all were!

LaVelle's with friends for my birthday party.

The one gift I asked for was ground beef for our food bank.  I was gifted with well over 60 lbs of ground beef, and $50 donation in my name to the food bank.

I am so blessed to have wonderful friends and a family that loves me.  Thank you to everyone who came to the party, who helped my husband cover his tracks, who gave gifts of ground beef, even when they couldn't "get their heads around that" and the people who put up with me every day at work.  I can't think of a better way to start the second 50 years of my life.

January 5, 2012      Daylight  4 hours, 13 minutes, 31 seconds     Current Temp. -11º F

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Birthday Resolutions and Carrot Martini

I don't make New Year's resolutions, I make birthday resolutions.  My birthday is 5 days after the new year so I wait and start the day/weekend/Monday after my birthday.  This year I resolve to learn to take better pictures and add more veggies to my diet.  The picture resolution I'm really hoping to keep, the veggie resolution we are starting right now - with a carrot martini.  What better way to add veggies than through the drink of the week.
I found this recipe on the blog,  What a wonderful way to start on my birthday resolution.

Carrot Martini
 from Daydreamer Desserts

4 oz carrot puree (directions follow)
4 oz. orange infused vodka (directions follow)
Place ingredients in shaker with ice, shake until very cold, strain into glass.

Carrot puree
16 oz. chopped carrot
6 oz. pineapple juice
Blend together in blender.  Strain through cheesecloth

Orange Vodka
4 oz. vodka
1/2 orange
combine in jar, let sit at room temp for 2 days.  Shake once or twice each day.
(Really, use the whole orange and add 12 oz. vodka, you are going to want more than one of these.)

Here's to a happy, healthy year!

January 4, 2012   Daylight 4 hours, 9 minutes, 28 seconds    Current Temp. -26º F

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Aztec Chocolate Cakes and Desanta-tizing the house

January 1st brings a bit of a let down around here.  It is dark (have I told you that yet?), it is cold (-40º today), the holidays are over and it's time to put the Santas away for another year.  I LOVE Santa. I have them everywhere, smalls ones, 3 foot ones, tiny ones.  Everyone knows I love Santa, so much so that I can't remember a year when someone didn't give me a new Santa for my collection.  This year it was a Santa carrying a wine bottle and a bunch of grapes from my new neighbor, Suzanne (hmm, do you think that says something about me?)  I can't even begin to guess how many Santas I have.  Maybe next December I'll have a contest to see who can guess the closest, of course that would mean I would have to count them all.
Shelves of Santas in the kitchen.

So because of the aforementioned reasons, I believe it is a good day to bake chocolate cake.  I can't make a whole chocolate cake because I'm really the only one who will eat it.  Dave will eat a piece and then I'm left with the whole cake.  Then later this week, I have a birthday and will have a cake then too, so a whole cake is out of the question.
These small cakes are perfect.  They are a rich chocolate with a hit of cayenne and a smooth chocolate ganache over the top.  The recipe makes two big single servings or 4 smaller servings.  The sweet and the spicy are the perfect thing to warm you up and shake off the fact that the holidays are over, New Year's resolutions are going to start soon and it's time to desanta-tize the house.
Happy New Year!

Aztec Chocolate Souffle Cakes
adapted from Pampered Chef, Cooking for two & more, 2006

1 tsp. plus 3 Tbsp. sugar, divided
1 Tbsp. butter
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (at least 60% cocoa, I use a 72% cocoa bar)
2 eggs, separated
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Chocolate glaze (optional, see below)

Preheat oven to 400º F.  Spray two (or four small) souffle or pyrex prep bowls.  You could use cupcake pans also.  Coat the inside with 1tsp. sugar, tapping out excess, set bowls aside.  Melt butter and chocolate in microwave, uncovered, on hight 1 minute, stirring every 15 seconds.  Set aside to cool.

Beat egg whites until foamy.  Continue beating, gradually adding remaining 3 Tbsp. sugar.  Continue beating until soft peaks form.  Whisk egg yolks, cinnamon and cayenne pepper into cooled chocolate mixture.  Gently fold in egg whites.

Pour batter evenly into prepared bowls.  Bake 16-18 minutes or until cakes spring back slightly when gently pressed with fingertip.  Remove from oven; cool 10 minutes.  Turn cakes out onto serving plates.  Serve with chocolate glaze, if desired.

Chocolate glaze
1/4 heavy cream
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

Place cream and sugar in microwave safe bowl.  Microwave on high for 45 seconds or until hot.  Add vanilla extract, chocolate, cinnamon and cayenne.  Stir until smooth.  Drizzle over cakes.

Use really good chocolate, that is the main flavor of this cake so don't scrimp.

It is easier to separate eggs when they are cold, but let them warm to room temp. before beating the whites for maximum volume.

Two cakes are really big, they are very rich.

If you make 4 cakes, adjust the bake time.  I start checking them after 10 minutes of baking.
Small Santas lining the stairs.

January 1, 2012   Daylight 3 hours, 58 minutes, 41 seconds     Current Temp.  -40º F