HELLO! I’M BACK!

Oh my goodness, I so did not mean to take this long to write another post.  It has been one heck of a holiday season!  Work was insane….which scares the heck outta me because typically the spring semester is busier than the fall semester.  Time just seems to go faster and faster every year.  I can’t believe we are already in the second week of January.  It is hard to believe that my students come back on Monday.  I doesn’t feel like it has been a week since they left.

Anyway, I have been cooking and taking photo’s – just not blogging – so here goes!

For the last admissions open house in December, I always make desserts for our student ambassadors.  This year, time was tight, so I made a pan of caramel brownies, a pan of blondies, and this amazingly awesome apple cake.  Oh my, was the apple cake delicious, so full of apples, barely sweet, with a nice hint of dark rum….YUM! It was the first dessert that the kids devoured, but have no fear….they ate every bit of the home made desserts and begged for more.

 

2016 was a crazy year and I didn’t get the opportunity to make as much jam as I usually do, thankfully, I was able to make a 5 gallon batch of hard cider and multiple batches of cranberry vodka, so at least I had gifts to give away to friends and co-workers.

Hard Cidercranberry-vodka

I, of course,  made  multiple batches of what my neighbor Kim lovingly refers to as Christmas Crack….aka….Burnt Sugar Almonds

sugar almonds

So all was right with the world.  I am hoping that life will slow down a bit once I am finish my responsibilities as task force chair of one of our program review teams.  I am putting in an additional 15-20 hours per week as part of the task force.   March 1st can’t come soon enough!  I hope you all had a lovely holiday season, mine was good, it just went  by wayyyyy to quickly!

Beef….

Is what I did for Thanksgiving!  This year it was just the hubby and I for dinner.  Our niece has a big family Thanksgiving meal at her house on the Saturday after Turkey Day so I knew we would be having turkey.  It gave me a chance to change things up a bit.

t-day-menu

Between my work schedule and the husbands travel schedule, I haven’t been spending as much time in the kitchen as I like.  I find it very therapeutic, so I took the opportunity to spend the entire day in the kitchen on Thanksgiving.   We started with bacon and homemade buttermilk waffles.

Because honestly, a day that starts with bacon is ALWAYS a good day in my book!  For lunch, I made a pot of pasta fagioli soup and paired it with a good old grilled ham and cheese sandwich.

soup-and-sammie

Late afternoon, I put out a plate of cheese and crostini, I found a really awesomely sharp cheddar and a creamy brie.  It was a perfect little bit to get us through the second football game of the day.

Finally, it was time for dinner.  Our first course was homemade pumpkin ravioli.  I made the filling in the morning and just before dinner, I made the dough.  I picked up a ravioli maker from Williams Sonoma and it made my life so much easier.  That and the pasta rolling attachment for my kitchen aid meant I went from a ball of dough to actual ravioli in under twenty minutes!

I made a very simple cream sauce, butter, cream and Parmesan cheese for the ravioli, they were amazing.  I can’t wait to make them again!

For dinner, we grilled beef tenderloin steaks and asparagus, and I made twice baked potatoes. I even made homemade bread using my sour dough starter, I am telling you, I was in the kitchen ALL DAY LONG, and I loved it!

It is always good to end the day on a sweet note, neither the hubby or I are big fans of pie, so I made a caramel apple cheesecake instead.  It was AWESOME!

 

It was a very relaxing, enjoyable day, which I think we both needed and for which I was truly grateful.

Cranberry Vodka

Fresh cranberries have made their debut in my grocery store and it isn’t a minute too soon as far as I am concerned!  I started making liqueurs for the holidays about ten years ago.  Up until three years ago, I had never duplicated a recipe.  Well that all changed when I made Cranberry Vodka.  It was a huge hit and I have had multiple requests for it.  I sincerely doubt I could get away without making it for the holidays, it is now a tradition.

cranberry-vodka

It is super simple to make, you toss the cranberries in a food processor to chop them finely, you add them to a jar along with a bit of lime peel, orange peel, a cinnamon stick, vodka, and simple syrup.  You let it sit on the counter, covered, shaking it every few days, for the next 8 weeks.  After that it is a simple matter of straining the vodka and bottling it.   I absolutely love the color, it will deepen over the next few weeks, it is such a cheerful color that livens up even the coldest, dreariest, darkest days of winter.

Luckily, I have found some pretty bottles to decant the liqueur into for the holidays.   Between this and the hard apple cider that is currently fermenting in my kitchen, we should have a festive holiday season on our hands.

Apples, apples, everywhere

I worked Saturday morning, but was done by 12:30pm, whoo hooo!  I left work and drove straight to the farm stand.  I picked up a half bushel of Cortland apples and five gallons of apple cider.

I turned the apples into maple apple jam and an apple crisp.

It is so hard for me to believe that I have only done strawberry jam and now maple apple jam.  Usually by this time of year, I have at least 10 different varieties of jam, nicely labeled and sitting in my office ready to give away at Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas presents, I decided to brew hard cider again this year.   I took the five gallons of unpasteurized, freshly pressed cider from the farm stand, poured it into a five gallon food grade bucket and added a little bit of brown sugar.  Once the sugar measured 16 brix on the scale, I added the yeast and topped the container with a lid.

hard-cider-brewing

I will need to check the sugar level each day, until it reaches 2 brix.  Once that occurs, the cider is done fermenting and can be transferred to another container where it will sit until the cider clears and I can then bottle it.  For those impatience folks out there, yes, there is a product you can use to clear the cider and bottle it immediately, but it is made from shellfish so I can’t use it.  I just have to do it the old fashioned way and wait.  I did put a sign on the container, the last thing I need is five gallons of sticky sweet apple cider to be spilled in my kitchen!

Babies, lots, and lots of babies

Holy cow, in the last few weeks there have been no less than five babies born.   Four girls and one lovely, little boy.

One of those beautiful baby girls was born to my friend Cat and her hubby.  I promised I would make them dinner after she was born and I always  keep my promises.

So many folks in our area bring pasta dishes to new parents, which is lovely, but by the second week you are tired of looking at another pan of baked ziti.  I on the other hand, go in the complete opposite direction and make something with absolutely no cheese or tomatoes.   I make a Hawaiian Pork dish.  You start by dicing and browning pork tenderloin.  After the pork is browned, I put it in a bowl, and brown the peppers and onions.  I like to use red, orange, yellow, AND green peppers because they look so darn pretty.   Once the veggies are tender, put them in the bowl with the meat.  Add one can of pineapple chunks and a mixture of soy sauce and cornstarch to the frying pan.   Whisk until thickened, toss with the meat and veggies and bake for approximately 35 minutes until hot and bubbly.  I serve it over rice.  It transports easily once cooled, and it re heats beautifully.  More importantly, since everything is cut into bite sized pieced, it is really easy to eat while holding a new born baby!

Since I was stopping over in the morning, I also made a batch of chicken salad for lunch.  I served that over a bed of greens with a loaf of ciabatta bread.  Healthy, quick and easy to eat, everything you need to feed lunch to a new Mommy.  Congratulations Cat!  Your daughter is beautiful, thanks for letting me stop by and hold your bundle of joy.

Baby Shower

A dear friend of mine is due to have a lovely baby girl in August.   I was thrilled to be able to throw her a baby shower at my house on Saturday afternoon.   It wouldn’t be a party at my house if we didn’t have enough food to feed an army.  Since the event didn’t start until 2pm, I decided to make mini sandwiches, for those that hadn’t had lunch, snacks, for those that DID have lunch, and desserts, because seriously, everyone needs sugar to get through the opening of that many gifts!

buffet

I ordered three dozen dinner rolls from the local Italian bakery.  I used them to make mini sandwiches.  I  made a curried chicken salad with pistachio’s

A recipe I used to make at the restaurant where I worked as a line cook.  I started by poaching several boneless, skinless chicken breasts, and after they cooled, I diced the meat.  I added finely diced red onion, celery, and carrots before adding in a generous handful of pistachio nuts.  I toasted Penzey’s Hot Curry Powder in a dry saute pan to intensify the flavor then mixed that into some store bought mayo.  I would have made my own, but since my friend is pregnant, I didn’t want to risk it. I added the mayo to the meat and vegetables for a delicious chicken salad.

curry chx salad sammie

Next up, I made Caprese Sandwiches for the vegetarians in the group.  I sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.  I made a small batch of homemade pesto, which I spread on the roll, then topped it with the cheese and tomato. Easy peasy and so YUMMY!

The third sandwich was a simple smoked ham with swiss cheese and a spicy grainy mustard.  I was surprised, there wasn’t a clear favorite among the sandwiches!

For dessert, I made a pound cake with fresh sliced strawberries, a big batch of rice pudding, and chocolate crinkle cookies.  I know, a bit of a mish mosh, but I had very good reasons for each.  The rice pudding is one of Catherine’s favorites, the cookies are one of her mother’s favorites, and pound cake is one of my favorites….

rice pudding

Snacks were simple – a cheese display with marcona almonds, veggies with hummus, and chips with dip.

I swear I should have been a housewife from the 1950’s – I LOVE making (and drinking) punch.  I made two for the party.  A pink baby shower punch (cranberry juice, gingerale, and pink lemonade) and a whiskey lemonade punch.   The recipe for the whiskey lemonade punch called for a herb infused honey simple syrup.   I used thyme because I thought the earthy flavor would pair well with the whiskey and honey.   It was delicious and deceptively easy to drink.  All I had to do was infuse some water with lemon and we were all set.   I used my grandmother Irene’s punch bowl for the pink punch, I know she would have been thrilled!

punch

We all had a wonderful time.  Cat received some amazing gifts, and everyone walked away full.  I would say it was a total success!  The hubby was thrilled that we had some rice pudding left over for him to eat when he got home from entertaining the father to be.  A win/win situation if you ask me.  Now all we have to do is wait for their bundle of joy to grace us with her presence.

 

Hubby’s B Day Dinner

So last weekend was the hubby’s birthday and I worked both Saturday and Sunday. I took the easy way out on Saturday, after a long day at work, I made reservations instead of dinner. Yes, genius move if I do say so myself!  Sunday I had the morning off, but had to work the afternoon and I knew getting a elaborate meal on the table would be a stretch.  Thank goodness the hubby loves pasta and meatballs.

I was able to make the sauce and meatballs in the morning, go to work and then all I had to do when I got home was heat everything up and boil a pot of water.  Not too shabby.   Since I have been limiting carbs, I switched my plates, I used a dinner plate for my salad and a salad plate for my pasta.  It worked out really well for  me and it left a lot more pasta for the hubby so it was a win all around!

 

The plate with the pasta was his, I didn’t bother to snap a photo of mine, instead I figured I would take a pic of my salad.  I tried to make sure it had plenty of veggies and indulged with some blue cheese dressing.  All in all, it was a lovely birthday dinner and thankfully, it was super easy to put on the table after a long week.  Happy birthday to the hubby!