Goodbye Old Year. Hello 2012!

asian-market-trip

Yesterday my friend Gloria (who loves to grocery shop as much as I do) took me on a field trip to the Asian markets, one of which is just 3 miles from my house, uh oh. Check out my goodies! Clockwise from top left: lavender green tea (I love lavender anything), lemongrass, white miso, jackfruit in syrup (Zoeya and I tried today, yum!), silken tofu, dried shrimp, pickled mustard greens and dried seaweed (I also bought some jasmine water I forgot to put in the picture). I see lots of Asian food experiments coming in 2012; we are already investigating how to make bulgogi.

2011 is drawing to a close. In a lot of ways 2011 was productive, but in other ways it was just laying the ground work. I have good feelings about 2012 and am motivated to make things happen and move our lives forward.

I love New Years resolutions. I am definitely not in the camp that says “I don’t make resolutions because I never keep them, it’s just discouraging, blah blah…” That annoys me, if you want to keep them, just keep them! Every year I make a giant list for myself. An old boyfriend saw it once and told me “I had no idea there were so many things you didn’t like about yourself.” That’s not the point at all! I love everything about myself, but I also have so much potential, and no one ever becomes better by staying the same.

  • In 2011 I started a new job. This year I want to flourish in work. I go through hot and cold spells in regards to everything, web design included, and right now I feel very inspired.
  • In 2011 I paid off our debt (inherited through marriage of course, haha). This year I want to save, especially for Zoeya’s future.
  • In 2011 I started to green our life in big ways. You guys, I stopped washing my hair with shampoo. I’m almost ready to talk about it. I want to do even more this year, as well as simplifying.
  • In 2011 I had the saddest loss. This year I feel brave enough to try again.
  • In 2011 I cooked my ass off. This year I want to cook even more. More Indian and Pakistani dishes, more vegetarian dishes, more homemade condiments, more witchy dishes, and just becoming more organized about everything.

And of course all the usual stuff – do more yoga, drink less coffee, spend more time outside with little Zoeya, have more dates with my sweet husband. This year’s giant list includes Big Food List 2012, a bunch of things I want to make throughout the year.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year, may it be the best year (so far) of our lives!

Merry Solstice! Some Sweet Links.

tree

Tonight is the longest night of the year. It’s dreary, dark and rainy today, which seems almost as perfect as snow. It’s cozy inside, and I’m thinking of baking. Here’s some of the sweet festive fare I’ve been perusing for inspiration:

I’ve wanted for awhile to make a Yule Log – Martha’s looks delicious of course. Chocolate pinecones? Cute.

You could also decorate the log with these Meringue Mushrooms on Chow.

Now bring me some figgy pudding! Dorie Greenspan’s recipe for the classic on All Things Considered.

Oh wow, Black Sticky Gingerbread on 101 Cookbooks. Yes please.

The Scandinavian Gingerbread House on What’s for Lunch, Honey? is adorable.

This White Christmas Martini on Fragrant Vanilla Cake looks so pretty – and lighter than eggnog.

These Holiday Chocolate Gingersnaps from Mourad New Moroccan from Turntable Kitchen look simple and delicious (and I think I have all the ingredients in my pantry, hmmm).

I made these cute little Alfajores from Chez Pim a couple years ago; I loved the crumbly shortbread, and dulce de leche is always wonderful.

And OMG Nigella’s Christmas Kitchen (love!) is all over YouTube…I may be busy the rest of the day.

Reducing Coffee Waste. I mean you, Keurig.

coffee

My office, like many offices, has a Keurig coffee machine (if you aren’t familiar, it’s the machine that makes individual servings of coffee and tea from little plastic cups). I, like many web designers, suffer from a coffee addiction and make coffee at work from K-cups. I’ve been able to overlook the little cups I discard every day, but this week I was musing that at 2 cups a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, that’s a shocking 500 K-CUPS – and that’s just from me!

This might not be so unforgivable if the alternative, coffee in a regular coffee maker, leaves behind coffee grounds and a filter, both of which are biodegradable and compostable. So we are creating waste from something that used to create no waste at all.

I am unwilling to give up coffee – that is another issue for another time – but like a sign from the gods, the very next day my husband brought me home a reusable mug from his new job (at Great Wolf Lodge!), so I decided to switch my habit. I am now making my beloved Bustelo at home, perhaps with cardamom, and carting it in – just a tiny shift that is one shade greener.

Note: this is not to be ungrateful. Surely the office that springs for a Keurig machine is more generous than one that provides the old school pots with grainy dregs in the bottom. Also, Keurig itself recognizes the problem and is making efforts to become more socially responsible. So I won’t write them off completely, but in the meantime I’ll be toting my own.

Mulled Wine

mulled-wine

Mulled wine is lovely, warming, and festive. I first made it for a Christmas party my husband and I were having the year we moved in together. None of our friends were familiar so I described it as warm sangria. Feel free to spike it with rum or brandy, and if it’s for a party, I recommend doubling the recipe and floating a clove-studded orange for effect. I didn’t do either this time; I didn’t have any rum, and I made this for a regular old Friday night in December.

Mulled Wine

1 bottle cheap red wine
generous splash of juice (such as apple, apple cider, or orange. I used apricot nectar since I still had some in the fridge)
1 cinnamon stick
1 black cardamom
1 star anise pod
several each of: cardamom pods, allspice berries, cloves, black peppercorns
honey to taste
peel of one orange, tangerine, or clementine

Combine everything in a sauce pan, stirring to dissolve honey, and heat on low (don’t allow to boil!) for an hour and a half to two hours.

Note: if you don’t have all these spices, don’t despair! Use what you have, even a pinch of powdered spices.

Persephone Salad

persephone-salad

Whenever my husband and his friends are putting dinner together, they always put me in charge of salad. I guess salad is a girly thing to make so I get it by default, but maybe it’s also because I can be artful in diving into the depths of the produce drawer and pantry and emerging with interesting salad ingredients and the means for a homemade vinaigrette.

As green salads are just as much about texture as they are about flavor, here is the formula: something fresh (possibly fruity!), something creamy, something crunchy. And this salad fits perfectly.

This particular salad concept is based on the Arugula, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (from where else, Food52, pretty much my favorite food resource on the web). I made it a couple years ago for Thanksgiving, and I’ve made variations on it ever since – including for Thanksgiving this year, and now for Zoeya’s holiday potluck.

The ingredients are very autumnal, but the pomegranate seeds like little ruby jewels look gorgeously Christmassy as well. This is not so much a recipe as a concept with lots of options (and I’m not going to be fussy with amounts). The only absolutely essential ingredient are the pomegranate seeds, which is what makes this so lovely and appropriate for the dark months.

Persephone Salad

For the salad:
greens, such as arugula, mesclun, spinach
a green apple or pear
seeds from half a pomegranate
blue cheese or goat cheese
walnuts, almonds, pecans, or pumpkin seeds (I used pumpkin seeds in this latest rendition, it’s a great options if you’re serving to people with nut allergies)

For the vinaigrette:
pomegranate molasses (instructions below) – this is your best option, but if you don’t have it you can use honey or jam or jelly. Maybe like that yummy lingonberry stuff they have at IKEA.
sherry or balsamic vinegar
olive oil or walnut oil
salt & pepper
a thinly sliced shallot, pickled in the vinegar, is nice

To make pomegranate molasses, take a small bottle of pomegranate juice and heat it slowly in a saucepan, stirring, until it is thick enough to coat a spoon. Be careful not to burn.

To assemble everything, just toss the greens and the apple or pear with some of the vinaigrette (enough to lightly coat, not to drench). Sprinkle all the rest of the ingredients on top, along with another drizzle of vinaigrette.

Holiday Quick Breads

holiday-quick-bread

One way to get the holiday spirit swirling through your home is through scent, especially scents wafting from your oven – warm spices, fresh citrus, sweet vanilla.

Quick Breads are perfect for this time of year; flour and baking powder are like a blank canvas to be painted with any flavor that reminds you of Yule. They are simple to throw together and perfect in the morning with a cup of coffee or in the afternoon with a cup of tea, and easy to wrap up and transport to holiday brunches or to leave in the break room at work as a gift from the Sugar Plum Fairy.

So far I’ve whipped up this Ginger Molasses Pumpkin Bread from Food52 – divine! As a ginger fiend I love the use of both dried and fresh ginger.

I also used my leftover cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving to make this Cranberry Sauce Quick Bread on Rufus’s Food and Spirits Guide (which I found after a quick search). My cranberry sauce has apricot and cardamom, so I tweaked the recipe to go with my sauce, using apricot nectar instead of apple cider, walnuts instead of pecans just because I had them, omitting the cardamom since I already had it in the sauce, and using brown sugar just for fun. I also topped it with demerara sugar since that was so nice on the gingerbread. Quick breads are nothing if not flexible. Here’s my version of the cranberry sauce bread:

Cranberry Sauce Quick Bread

My cranberry sauce had apricot nectar, chopped dried apricots, cardamom, and honey, but any kind would work fine

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/c cup apricot nectar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
8 tbsp cranberry sauce
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbsp demerara sugar

Heat oven to 350° and grease and flour a loaf pan.

Combine flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, apricot nectar, butter, egg, and 2 tbsp of the cranberry sauce. Stir in walnuts.

Spread half of batter in the loaf pan, then make a layer of cranberry sauce. You can do this evenly, I tried to swirl mine into the batter a little bit but don’t think it worked. Spread rest of the batter evenly on top, sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing the loaf from the pan.

Spice Reboot

spice-dabba

After October’s Gourdfest and November’s Thanksgiving Extravaganza I’m worn out. This week we’ve been eating simply – scrambled eggs, sauteed greens – an effective holiday detox. It’s pretty imperative though that I ramp it back up quick for the festive Yule season. Something that inspires me is to clean out my dabba and my spice cabinet before I get started. I can feel my warm holiday kitchen coming back to life.

I’ve written about my masala dabba before, and this morning I cleaned it out and refreshed the contents a little. Instead of powdered cumin and coriander, I put cumin and coriander seeds which I can either use whole, or toast and grind. I cannot emphasize enough how beautiful and fragrant freshly toasted and ground spices are! I also replaced the cayenne with red pepper flakes – I’ve mixed up my paprika and cayenne only once, but that ruined a pan of roasted cauliflower. No mixing the two up now.

I cleaned out my spice cabinet too. I love taking mental inventory of my cabinet, and it’s contents remind me of dear friends and what we’ve cooked together (Sazon = Denise, Fancy Salts = Gloria, Tony’s = Meg, Shan Masalas = Shan my husband). Some things, like ground mustard and safflower, I don’t use often and it gives me the notion to experiment more. Other things, like the store-bought candied ginger, were a complete rip off, bought in a Thanksgiving panic, and remind me I need to make my own before I’m in another pinch.

For so many recipes I already have everything on hand, so I can definitively say the best reason for having a well-stocked spice cabinet is pure laziness.

I’ve got overflow in my spice drawar…large bags of spices that I use to refill smaller containers, or dried herbs that I use in dishes and also for their medicinal benefits.

And then of course I have more little goodies stashed around the kitchen in jars and pots, like cloves and my beloved cardamom…and it occurs to me (nerd! nerd!) to start indexing and writing a little about my spices and herbs. I’ve started with cardamom – with which I am admittedly obsessed! And plan to add more little by little, with a little information and links to recipes.

Wishing you a spicy holiday season!