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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holiday recount & Happy New Year!

Now that the gift giving part of the holidays is past, I can post about my endeavors. This year I went super simple and the recipients received: wild rice in the re-usable gift bags, homemade vanilla, and a variety of dishcloths. I underestimated how much vanilla was needed and only had enough for 6-4oz jars.

I’ll start with the vanilla: last January I made my “starter” and kept it super simple – just vanilla beans and vodka, no sugar. I let this sit all year and bottled it up in these lovely little 4 oz brown jars. It smelled wonderful. I think I let everyone know that I would refill it for them when they run out.

The wild rice I blogged about here. What a fun item to share! And because I brain-farted typing up cooking instructions, here they are: ½ cup rice to about 2 cups water or broth. Cook about 30 minutes or until kernels have “popped” and are nice and tender. Drain off excess water and let stand covered for a few moments. Serve or cool and freeze for a later recipe.

Dishcloths. I made everyone at least two and I tried to pick colors that would compliment kitchens or personal tastes. So that ends up being about 10 total. I used these patterns from Leisure Arts Kifty Knit Dishcloths: Simple Diamonds and Basic Cable and Leisure Arts Kitchen Bright Bee Stitch. I pretty much have the Basic Cable and Bee Stitch memorized so I can keep a little skein of Sugar and Cream and a pair of size 6 needles in a little bag that can travel with me.

Every thing was packaged up in a nice little holiday box that I found at Michael's Crafts.

As for myself, I was the happy recipient of the 2009 Cooking Light Annual (and I have all of my notes from the magazines already transferred!), Harney and Son’s Guide to Tea by Michael Harney, a beautiful skein of wool/bamboo sock yarn, a lovely selection of loose leaf teas, a couple of gift certificates, and some soy candles, confections, homemade soap and cute magnets (which are already at work).

My youngest sister and her husband made a CD with everyone's favorite songs. When we got together, we had to guess who picked what song. Much to my surprise, I won with 7 out of 12 right! She then gave everyone a copy of the CD, with pictures on the cover of notable family events from 2008. Way cool.

Thank you everyone!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Recipe Review from Christmas week

I had a little splurge of baking last week – holidays can be good for the recipe tally that way. We had a family gathering on Christmas Eve, and I volunteered to bring the Vegetarian Main dish and a couple of desserts. It was just the Husband and I for Christmas Day and we had fun with the dish you will soon read about.

Soft Polenta with Wild Mushroom Saute(Ckng Lght, Nov 08, pg 125) 4.0
I was in a conundrum about what to have for the veggie main dish at Christmas Eve dinner. Because I worked Christmas Eve day and would be going directly to the folks house, I needed something that could be made ahead of time or would be super simple to make upon arrival AND the SIL would like. This seemed to be a good choice and was easily made when I got there. I don’t know what she thought of it, but I felt that it turned out very good and was a nice complement to the rest of the meal.

Cranberry Oatmeal Bars (Ckng Lght, Nov 08, pg 142) 3.5
These were easy to make, could be cut into small bars for socializing or smaller portions, and had a nice balance between tangy and sweet. Plus they made a smaller pan so there aren’t so many leftovers to worry about.

Pear Pie with Streusel Topping (Ckng Lght, Nov 08, pg 125) 5.0
Can we say fantastic? The lightness and sweetness had folks thinking it was a apple pie, but they knew something wasn’t quite right with the apple flavor. And this was super simple to make as well, almost easier than an apple. I left the leftovers at the folks place and my pie plate came back empty on Friday. I promised the Husband I would make another for New Years.

Roast Duck with Pineapple Chutney modified (Irish Pub Ckbk, pg 134) 4.5
I note modified because the recipe calls for duck breast and the only duck we are going to get our hands on up here is whole duck. So I consulted Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child (if anyone is going to have directions on how to cook a duck, it will be her) and we roasted a whole duck. It turned out superb! We basted it with mixture of butter and brown sugar, baked for about 2 hours at 350*, let rest and carved. From there we picked up with the Irish Pub Ckbk and added a pineapple chutney, which was a combination of butter, brown sugar, pineapple and apples.

Our original intent was to make Irish potato cakes to go along side, but we had some leftover potato dumplings that we sliced up and fried in a bit of butter. I also had some leftover cubed butternut squash that didn’t get baked for Christmas Eve dinner so we baked that as well. Oh, the house smelled lovely! I am fairly certain we’ll be trying duck again.

And last, but hardly least, not wanting to waste said duck carcass, we made stock using a combination of similar instructions: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child and The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman. Ruhlman is adamant about making stock properly and has blogged about this on several occasions. Figuring the guy might know what he’s talking about, the Husband and I purchased our fresh veggies (carrots, celery and parsley, I had leeks and mushrooms on hand), roasted them and ever so carefully brought our duck carcass, giblets and roasted veggies to 170*. Both Julia and Michael are particular that the stock MUST NOT BOIL. This is where I’ve gone wrong in the past – boiling the hell out of my stock. Ruhlman even goes so far to say not to even simmer the stock water. So for four hours I kept an eagle eye on my temperature, and skimmed and skimmed and skimmed. I think I may be on to something...

It’s cooling on the porch right now. Next step is to remove the last of the fat after it has had time to congeal. How much did this make? Well, I have enough to last for several months, which is pretty neat.

**The three Ckng Lght recipe photos are from and I've linked to the recipes as well.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Risen Empire by Scott Westerfield

I really enjoyed this book and I think that was because my last couple of books have been just sort of eh. At least the last one in particular (Children of Huirn by Tolkien). I was craving a true scifi book (read space opera, space ships, aliens, and galaxies far, far, away) and The Risen Empire was exactly what I wanted.

Premise of the book is the Risen Empire is ruled by the Emperor, who is 1500 years old (give or take a bit). He discovered how to defeat death and the reason was his younger sister, known as the Empress of the Risen Empire or, The Reason. She is held in a hostage situation by the Rix, an human-alien race who infect planets with the compound minds they worship. The rescue goes very badly for Laurent Zai, and he is obligated to commit suicide, but decides not to - an action tantamount to being a traitor to the Emperor.

The book isn't divided into neat and tidy chapters per see, but each "chapter" is a characters POV. The book didn't feel choppy - with the exception of a couple-three flashbacks - but rather I felt compelled to keep reading. The author touches on nanotechnology, alien races, AI's (I particularly liked one Senator's "House Mind") and the division of humanity. The Empire is divided between the Greys, who accept eternal life as the living dead; and the Pinks, who feel the dead should stay dead because it's preventing the living from getting on with things. I'm simplifying a, quite a bit actually. Anyway, it's a very quick read and I polished it off in a couple of days.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands on book II.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter's Interlude

I have been absolutely swamped with meetings at work this past week and the husband has been swamped with finals and final papers. So what do these two seemingly unrelated bits of news mean? No computer time! But I found a quiet moment here late Sunday evening (we were in town all day today with niece Lydia's baptism and a yoga staff meeting) and I am bound and determined to fit a post in!

Because of said busy schedule, no new recipes last week. The crock pot roast I posted about previously feed us most of the week. Dinner Friday night was at the folks with a lovely visit from my sister, her husband and nephew Finny.

Update on Kia-dog, her mishap with a stick seems to have healed well. After a couple days of "the cone" we gave up and stuck her in one of my old t-shirts. That worked really well and the gouged spot seems to be healing nicely. Here's a picture of the two hounds out hunting mice in a snowstorm.

My other neat news is we seem to have a female cardinal visiting our feeder. She showed up a week ago and has been back daily (I have to rely on the husband keeping an eye on the feeder for my daily report). On Saturday I observed that she visited several times. It sure would be nice if she stuck around. It was also on Saturday that we recorded 5 varieties of birds at one time: cedar waxwings, cardinal, blue jays, chickadees and evening grossbeaks. Very cool. No finches yet though, most peciliar. Here's a poor picture of our lovely rose-colored female cardinal (in a snowstorm).

I also haven't been able to post about my knitting projects - my needles have been smoking from my little projects - because not everyone has received their Holiday gifts yet. I'm looking forward to Christmas when I can finally tell you about the gifts I'm giving! (Adam - send me a picture of you in your hat please! Or even just the hat would be great...thx!) :)

Monday, December 15, 2008

Recipe Review from 12/8/08

...and winter has arrived with a vengeance! We were hunkered down all day on Sunday with 30mph winds and blowing snow. It was so bad over in Wisc that they shut down the main highway between Superior and Ashland! That doesn't happen very often. I wasn't certain I was going to make it out of my driveway - the Husband was snow blowing at 10:00p last night but it all blew back in. Currently it is -4* with a -26* windchill. Yup. It's a little brisk!

And poor Kia-dog! She was out playing with the Husband this weekend and somehow ran into a stick hard enough to take a serious gouge out of her tummy/chest. She's back in a cone to prevent licking and give the spot a chance to start scabbing up. Poor us because she likes to take us out at the knees with her cone.

With the Husbands help last week, we made three new recipes:

(Picture from

Lentil and Edamame Stew (Ckng Lght, Dec 08, pg 204) 4.0
This was very tasty and easy to make. I'm departing from my usual MO and attaching the recipe. I skipped the fresh mint and used dried parsley. It made about 5 servings.

Fava beans are traditional in this stew, which we updated with edamame. You can also substitute green peas for the edamame, if you like. Scoop up the thick stew with Teff Injera Bread or pita. Halve the portion if you'd like to serve this as a hearty side dish.

4 servings (serving size: about 1 cup)

1 cup dried lentils
3/4 cup frozen shelled edamame (green soybeans)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups minced red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Dash of ground cloves

1. Place lentils in a large saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above lentils. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes or until tender. Drain well, and set aside.

2. Place edamame in a small saucepan; cover with water to 2 inches above edamame. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until edamame are tender. Remove from heat; drain well.

3. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and tomatoes to pan; sauté 6 minutes or until onion is translucent, stirring often. Stir in lentils, edamame, juice, and remaining ingredients. Cook 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring often.

(Picture from

Cornmeal Crusted {Coho} with Lime Butter (Ckng Lght, Dec 08 pg 250) 4.0
Another winner. I subbed coho for tilapia because we had some in the freezer. This recipe would be great with wild salmon. We were underwhelmed with the "lime butter" and ended-up adding some mayo to the sandwiches.

4 servings (serving size: 1 sandwich)

3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
4 (6-ounce) tilapia fillets
Cooking spray
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon grated lime rind
1/2 teaspoon fresh lime juice
4 (1 1/2-ounce) French bread rolls, toasted
4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices tomato
1 cup shredded red leaf lettuce

1. Preheat broiler.

2. Combine the first 6 ingredients in a shallow dish. Coat both sides of fish with cooking spray. Dredge fish in cornmeal mixture.

3. Place fish on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Broil 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork or until desired degree of doneness.

4. Combine butter, rind, and juice in a small bowl; stir well.

5. Spread 1 1/2 teaspoons butter mixture over cut side of each of 4 roll tops. Place 1 fillet, 1 tomato slice, and 1/4 cup lettuce on each of 4 roll bottoms. Place top halves of rolls on sandwiches.

{Roast Beef} and Veggies (Ckng Lght SlowCooker Ckbk, pg 13) 3.0
This recipe originally called for corned beef, but neither one of us are fans of that cut of meat so I subbed a basic roast. The flavors of this dish were good, but we would do one differently next time:

The potatoes, carrots and onions were overcooked and the cabbage undercooked. Recipe called for placing the veggies in the bottom of the crockpot, put the meat in the middle and the cabbage on top for the last hour. The meat and veggies ended up being overdone and the cabbage underdone. Less cooking time for the meat and veggies and add the cabbage much sooner.

Everything kinda "braises" in a mixture of water, beer and peppercorns. This made a lovely liquid that I pulled out and made gravy out of. Yum yum. This also made a lot for just two of us, but that turned out to be a good thing this past weekend!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Children of Hurin by JRR Tolkein


At the risk of having rotten tomatoes thrown at me, I am going to admit: I find Tolkien tedious. I have read the Hobbit and LOTR trilogy several times now, and you know, I didn't find them all that engaging. I DO think the world Tolkien created is absolutely fascinating, but his writing style leaves so very much to be desired and they are such depressing books

And so it was with Children of Hurin. This was the book groups selection for December.

First - I dislike the use of 3 names (or more) for one person. I'd have to go back and count, but I think Turin had about 10 by the end of the tale. I don't see why character's had to go around re-naming everyone and thing.
Second - I dislike the use of 3 names for one place (see same note as above).
Third - Since I can't pronounce any of the names or places, I have a very difficult time remembering what is what. Most annoying. The names all become "mush" (seriously - I think Ahnon...mush).
Forth - I had a difficult time placing where in Middle Earth all this was taking place. I only read part of the intro, perhaps they elaborated more there.

This book was depressing: Hurin was stupid. Turin was stupid. Nienor was stupid. Morewen was stupid. The ELVES were stupid. Elves to Turin, "Don't do that. It's a bad idea. You are aggravating your curse and becoming arrogant." Turin, "I'm going to do it anyway." Elves to Nienor and Morewen, "Don't go. It's a bad idea. There is a large nasty dragon. Just wait here and we'll go." Morewen to Elves, "I'm going to do it anyway." Repeat several times with Men, Dwarves and a Dragon. Honestly? I was rooting for the dragon to just put everyone out of their misery.

I'm all for a book where main characters die - it adds a sense of realism for me - but this book was just too much. I couldn't even feel sorry for the characters as they died, they were so very two dimensional and had no redeaming qualities that said "Hero".

Lastly, I couldn't help but think this was comparable to the Odyssey (Illiad? I get them confused) but set in Middle-Earth. Main character travels far from home with a grievous curse upon his head. Women are left behind to wait. Then the long journey back to find everything is changed. And it all ends very badly.

If you are an avid Tolkien fan, this might be worth reading just because it IS Tolkien. However, I was an avid Tolkien fan and I was underwhelmed. It will be interesting to see what the book group has to say.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Monday Monday

Much to my great surprise, I didn't make any new recipes last week! Still trying to clean-out the basement freezer in anticipation of our deer.

So I'll leave you with a picture of a recent visitor to our bird feeder instead.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Re-useable Gift Bags!

(Note - pictures are up on the previous post now!)

I don’t know what’s gotten into me. I haven’t touched my sewing machine since I left the Dance Troupe in 2005. And I haven’t made a quilt in, oh, at least 8 years. But yet, there I was last Saturday, rotary cutter in hand, sewing machine humming, fabric and ribbon strewn about the kitchen as I made these nifty re-useable Gift Bags!

They measure roughly 10" tall by 5-6" wide. I didn’t do a drawstring top because I despise having to pull the ribbon through. I’ve done enough of that with elastic for dance skirts that I was in no mood to do it for a bunch of little bags. I just attached the ribbon about 2" from the top so I can tie it around the outside of what ever I put in them.

The fabric was a selection of leftover remnants I had from past quilts that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away. Ribbon was from Michaels - Ooo, be careful buying ribbon from them. I THOUGHT I was buying 2 $.50 rolls, but found out one was $2.00 after I got home! And there was hardly any ribbon on it! Grrr.

It only took me a couple hours at the most from start to finish. I may look through my remnants again and see if I can’t make a couple more. I’ll need some different ribbon though.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Knitting Update!

Thanksgiving proved to be a rather busy long weekend for me. We spent the whole day on Thursday at my Folks place, noshing and visiting and playing with the nieces - well, playing with Miss Amelia, Miss Lydia was just handed around for all of us to admire her cuteness. Friday was catch-up on house stuff day and Saturday I meet up with my Saturday morning yoga group then ran errands till 1:00p. Sunday, had the parents out for lunch and electrical work.

But little tykes aside, I kept my hand busy with a couple three knitting projects, so this is my Project Update Blog! Unfortunately, I forgot the camera at home this morning and will have to upload the pictures tomorrow.

Socktober Fest Socks
I haven’t forgotten about sock #2! I’ve been waiting for a quiet moment to count out the heel flap and heel turn - which I finished on Sunday, sitting in the dark, while waiting for the Husband and the Dad to figure out the electrical problem, while watching the Packers lose. I don’t recommend knitting with dark sock yarn in a dark living room with only the TV as light. I hope to be moving onto the instep stitches in the next week or so.


I picked up a new dishcloth “book” by Leisure Arts a while back and dishcloth #1 grabbed my fancy. I think it’s the Bee Stitch Cloth. Once I figured out how to keep track on whether I was on row 1 or row 2 stitches (look at the back), I whipped out two of these in a couple three days - fun, fun, pattern! And seriously, they knit up that fast.

Fashion Scarf

Sorry about the dark picture. It was the best I could do at 7:30 in the morning!

And I started a neck warmer based off of a pattern from Lolly Knitting Around for the youngest Sis. I’m hoping I have enough yarn for this - the yarn is originally from this hat and scarf set and there was a partial skein leftover that I’ve been wondering what to do with. I saw this pattern and thought it would be a elegant addition to her set. It’s a super simple pattern, but as Lauren noted, it curls rather significantly. I'll need to teach myself how to block for this one. And I LOVE how the pattern looks on both sides! I did do one modification - I did a seed stitch for 5 rows at the start for a nice border. Meanwhile, I’m crossing my fingers I have enough to finish!

I need to knit faster...I would like to make 2 more hats before the end of the month and a couple more dishcloths. My poor sock - it might not get any attention after all!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Recipe Review week of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is usually my big recipe week, but not so much this year - we had Thanksgiving over at my Folks place and dishes and dessert were divvied up almost potluck style. The Mother made the turkey, dressing, potatoes and gravy; I brought a root vegetable side dish, a cold broccoli salad, 2 pies and a vegetarian main dish; the SIL brought a pumpkin roll and cranberry pumpkin cake; and the SIL’s parents brought cranberry sauce. Needless to say, we didn’t go away hungry!

Here’s what I made last week:
(photo from
Glazed Root Vegetables (Eating Well, Dec 08, pg 82) 4.0
This was one of the better vegetable side dishes I’ve made for Thanksgiving, and it’s super versatile, calling for a 3 lbs of any kind of root vegetable. We used parsnips (from the garden), carrots and sweet potato. Rutabagas, turnips, beets, celeriac, any variety would work. Apple cider is mixed with brown sugar, salt and pepper and everything is tossed together in a 9x13 pan. This is covered and put in a 400* oven (I think - we modified the temp and times to accommodate le bird). Bake for 20 minutes, then uncover and continue to bake, stirring every 20 minutes until the vegetables are nicely glazed and cooked through.

This was supposed to be tossed with cinnamon glazed walnuts, but in the business of final prep, they were forgotten. Isn’t that how it goes? I would make this dish again.

(photo from

Crisp Turkey Tostadas (Eating Well, Dec 08, pg 29) 4.5
Joe over on Culinary in the Country made these a while back, but I had to wait till I actually had some poultry leftovers! I made this for the Folks on Sunday, as a thanks for helping the Husband with a tricky electrical conundrum.

A can of diced tomatoes are placed in a sauce pan and brought to a boil. Thinly sliced onion is added and simmered till soft. Thinly sliced turkey is added and heated through. Meanwhile, I had the Mother mash 1 avocado and combine with sour cream, salsa (homemade!) and cilantro. 8 corn tortillas are lightly sprayed with olive oil, placed in a piping hot oven and cooked till nicely crisp (watch carefully! They go from crisp to burnt rather quickly!).

Here is where I deviated from the recipe - I slathered the avocado mixture on the tortilla (refried beans for the Dad since he doesn’t do avocado) and layered with the turkey mixture and popped back into the oven to warm up. Then everything was topped with thinly sliced lettuce and a bit of cheese.

I really liked these, though I think 2 tostadas per person is a bit much when serving refried beans and fresh corn muffins on the side. I would make these again.

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