Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 14: Holidays and Apple Cinnamon Cheeseballs

Mom, Dad, Matt, and Me on Thanksgiving
Too much turkey.
 Hello! How was your Thanksgiving? Did you celebrate?

While we have this rich U.S. history of coming together, sometimes the underlying history of Thanksgiving is hard to swallow (hierarchy, etc.). So I find more meaning in celebrating Thanksgiving by giving thanks for the amazing people, places and things that I'm able to come into contact with in my life. This year, I'm looking at the great ribbon that connects Thanksgiving themes to Valentine's Day. Puzzled? On Valentine's Day, we traditionally show love for others in a special way. At Thanksgiving, we can give thanks for all of those who have brought joy and love to us throughout the entire year. It's about appreciating life, seeing the joy in little things and unlikely situations and giving thanks to those who bring that joy. I thank God for people and creatures who make life just worth it. And Thanksgiving is also a special reminder for me that food brings people together. Big groups or small gatherings, food is this sacred instrument that allows us to give and receive love in a spicy curry, juicy burger, in bright red salsa, freshly baked apple pie. Beautiful.

Drive-through lights at the Portland Raceway...8 Maids a Milking--for our awesome cheeseball
Now let's talk about food. My parents visited, we have friends stopping by here and there both locals and out of towners (Pearl Jam NW leg of their tour), and we have more family coming in a few weeks. There has been more food in this house than I can devour. So let's talk about it.

Cheeseballs. That word can either make someone really excited or really grossed out. I remember seeing those packaged hunks of dairy disguised by sliced almonds at holiday parties as a kid, and I never liked them. But the cheese cubes were always appreciated. My husband likes anything cheese-related (who doesn't?), so I try to incorporate it here and there. I like cheese, but not TOO MUCH creamy, rich gloppy stuff. In saying that, I did sell gourmet cheeses at a deli in grad school. I learned a lot and ate a lot of cheese. My cholesterol went up. When I quit that job, my cholesterol was at a healthy level. Funny. So I like to eat little bits of cheese that pack a lot of flavor. One plus to that job:  I learned to make cheeseballs that were actually quite tasty.

Fresh ingredients. Great recipes. 10 minutes. That's all it took. So I'll share one of those secret recipes with you. Granted, I made 20-30 cheeseballs at a time, so I've scaled back the restaurant-size recipe, tested it, simplified it, and here it is for you.

Apple Cinnamon Cheeseball

This refreshing take on the cheeseball is simple, delicious and not-too-heavy. Serve with water crackers, butter crackers or even on bagels for a delicious, cheesy appetizer. Leftovers from your party? Spoon 1 tablespoon into your hot oatmeal for a creamy, warm cinnamony surprise.

8 oz lowfat cream cheese, softened (set on counter for 45 minutes)
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup dried apples, chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Step one: Combine cheeses, apples, cinnamon and nutmeg. Blend until incorporated all together. Roll into a ball the size of a baseball.
Step two: Roll into the chopped pecans, coating all sizes. Store the cheeseball on a dish, covering with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving.

The cheeseball can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days and, if you want to have an appetizer on hand at all times, actually freezes pretty well, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil (thaw in the fridge).

How to make dried apples-the quick way:
Step one: Slice 2 apples very thinly (use knife or mandoline). Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
Step two: On a baking sheet or rack, lay apple slices as a single layer. Let bake for 2-3 hours, flipping once an hour. The more hot air touches the apple surfaces, the better (so I use a cooling rack).
Step three: When they're ready, they'll be dry yet soft and 'bendy.' Store them in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. 
A thought: If you slice your pecan halves across the middle, you get these awesome little pieces that look like "M"s or the Batman symbol.

Happy post-Thanksgiving. Don't overshop but do enjoy the lights, food, festivities and people/animals around you. Happy, happy weekend. :)


Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving Inspiration

People with food blogs have different ways to find inspiration. For me, I love to look through old recipe books. My grandmother clipped out recipes from newspapers, magazines, and had hundreds of handwritten recipes that either she created or copied from a friend or family member's wonderful dish. I cherish each and every one of those little slips of paper, and it's so fun to see her notes (always in beautiful penmanship) on how to alter a recipe or her comments on a perfect dish. That's my first go-to.

And, of course, I thank the Lord daily for this wonderful invention of the Internet(s). :) Never has it been easier for me to find an authentic Southern Italian pasta or an Ugandan peanut sauce until now. I am so thankful for a huge community of food bloggers who give their time, talent and creativity to share with others. It really is an amazing, open-minded network of people!

Each blogger is different but, for me, I'm not in a place to spend 4 hours a day on my blog. (There was a time when I did have that kind of time...oh, bliss.) But I do what I can, and I hope you like what you see. For every dish I blog about, there are probably 6 others that didn't make the blog. It's not that even my BEST dishes are blogged about, sometimes I just like to share when I have time and energy to share it! (But I do try to give you the best, trust me.) Aside from the 6 dishes you don't see, I might look at 20 different recipes of pumpkin bread before I decide how I'm going to try to make 'my' pumpkin bread. I respect the opinions of so many cooks out there but, for a thing like pumpkin bread, I don't have to test bake all 20 recipes to know which one is 'good.' (Not anymore, anyway.) I am by no means a professional in the kitchen, but I know enough in the kitchen to figure that out. But for some recipes, I do follow it to the letter (and I always source it), and that can be great to learn, too.

In saying all of that, here are some places where I'm formulating ideas for the week of Thanksgiving. I'm trying to keep it simple this year. My parents will be in town for a week, and I want to spend time with them, not with my face in an oven. If you need a little inspiration, trust me, these are some quality sources:

8 Bite-Sized Thanksgiving Recipes from The Kitchn (Keeping it simple with little tastes like Sausage, fennel & gruyere mini egg stratas and Mini sweet potato pies)

 65 Thankgiving Side Dishes from Shugary Sweets  (Note: Stuffins--stuffing muffins and Artichoke Parmesan Sourdough Stuffing

A Vegan Thanksgiving Menu from Oh She Glows. (Pumpkin garlic knots are amazing.)

Holidays are so stressful, I'd like to relax with a cocktail from Serious Eats.

That's what I've got for you. Happy weekend/Friday!


Happy eating! Laurel

Friday, November 15, 2013

Day 13: A Hearty Fiesta Salad

When one hears, "We're having salad for dinner," this can invoke emotions across the spectrum.

Grumble...err...all I want is a steak & baked potatoes with a quart of gravy covered over it, not some puny little rabbit food.

Eh, salads are so boring...they never fill me up, and I'm just tired of eating them.

Yay! Salad! I had one for lunch, and I can't wait to try another way to turn the boring green salad or caesar on its head with this new one!

Are any of those YOUR responses when presented with a salad for dinner after a very, very long day? Sure, sometimes all we want is the one meal we know our doctor would disapprove of us having (like my stupid craving for Pizza Hut last night...what was I thinking?).

So we need an alternative. We need a healthy lettuce-based meal that is fun, interesting and (of course) delicious. It needs to be colorful and enticing to look at and eat.

Behold, the Hearty Fiesta Salad. Let's make it.

Hearty Fiesta Salad
4 servings (2 for dinner, 2 for lunch the next day)

8 cups of greens (your choice--I used spinach and baby kale)
Handful of baby carrots or 1-2 large carrots, chopped
1/2 cup corn or other veggie (use whatever you have on hand)
1 cup black beans (rinsed and drained, if from a can)
12-16 oz of chicken/pork/turkey/beef or veggie crumbles, cooked and seasoned with taco seasoning (cumin, garlic powder, chili powder, onion powder, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt)
1 cup Shredded cheese (your choice)
1/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
Optional dressings/on the side: Salsa, Guacamole

Assemble your plate or bowl by layering each of the ingredients (split the above into 4 servings). Add a dash of your favorite seasoning blend (like Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute) to the top of the salad for surprising flavor in each bite (much like a steak). :)

Eat, drink, be merry and full!

Happy eating! Laurel

Day 12: Pumpkin Pear Oats

It's so easy to watch the news (online) or read the paper (on an app) and resonate with the USDA's fight to end childhood obesity. Americans are fat because of sodas, refined sugars, white flours. American adults overeat and overindulge, which means we are creating children that overeat and overindulge. It's amazing how children pick up on their parents' habits. Can you think of some eating habits that you've 'inherited' from your parents?

My parents were great in their parenting skills, and I think they did a great job raising me. (The results are up for debate.) And, good or bad, I have definitely picked up many of their eating habits over the years, many without even realizing it. Good: fruit with lunch and veggies always with dinner. Not so good: dessert after lunch and dinner. They don't do that as much anymore, but it's amazing how even just a year of one habit can stick with a person (like me). But these are things we grew up with, and it is our responsibility to decide to incorporate healthier choices into our inherited eating habits.

So, instead of a cookie at the end of lunch, it's usually low sugar yogurt or a piece of fruit. I'm still working on dessert after dinner...that's a tough one to change. Since I am a self-proclaimed sugar/ dessert hog or sweet tooth, and it stands to reason that I need some alternatives. Why not oats?

When prepared in large batches, it can last for days.
Oats are the base for hundreds of flavors based on the ingredients you add into them.
Sweet or savory, oats are a great source of whole grains without spiking your sugar or salt levels.
They are so filling and, since they act as a sponge, cause you to drink lots of liquids (water) with them.

Okay, lets make some 'sugar free,' Fall-themed oats. Pumpkin, banana, and cheese are my three favorite ingredients to add into oats (but not altogether).

Pumpkin Pear Oats
Servings: 4
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups milk of your choice
1 ripe pear
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 t. cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped almonds

Top each bowl with one tablespoon of dried cranberries and almonds. Savor the flavor! 

Happy eating!