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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year - a look back at 2009

2009 in Review

As we prepare to head out for the evening (for a rousing night of Pictionary or something similar) I thought I'd post a quick month by month review of 2009.

It began with a girls weekend with three friends from high school in January:



The highlight of February would be our trip to Yosemite - SNOW!



March brought the Persian new year celebration, Noruz:



In April, Ana and I traveled to Oregon to attend a wedding:



And in May we celebrated the conclusion of 4 years of watching girls lacrosse:



June brought Hallie's graduation:



July began while we were still in Mexico:



And the highlight of August for me was seeing Jason Mraz (yes, again), the day before my birthday - but sadly I have no pictures...

In September we took Hallie to college:



October I spent obsessed with preparations for our Mad Men themed Halloween party:



In November my brother came for a visit and we went to the Oregon-Stanford game.  We lost. :-(



And finally December - the Ducks won the Civil War, we had a great Christmas and we are looking forward
to a fabulous 2010 and hope the same for everyone!




Happy New Year!






Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Chocolate dipped pretzels



As I've mentioned before, we have a tradition of exchanging homemade gifts with hubby's side of the family.  I had a good start on my gifts in November and then hit a bit of a creative block.  I've set it aside and will perhaps bring it back next year.  I don't know.  So it was on to Plan B.  We worked on Plan B and we did eventually finish it but we came awfully close to Plan C - which I figured would be a personalized interpretive dance or mime show.  I was SO out of ideas.  But we pulled it off.  Ana asked for some ideas for her contribution and we came up with the chocolate dipped pretzels pictured above.  We simply melted some semi-sweet chocolate chips over a double boiler and then painted on chocolate, leaving a handle of plain pretzel.  We then sprinkled on a variety of toppings - chopped pistachios, toasted coconut, crushed candy canes and toffee bits.  I love the picture above - it makes the pretzels looks like trees that were hit by a wintery storm of nuts and candy.   It was tricky getting them into the glasses for drying - a test tube rack would have been handy.  Once the chocolate was hardened we packaged them up in cellophane bags and sealed them with a gold seal.


Our Plan B gift was in keeping with the repurpose/recycle theme of last year.  What we made this year were bags out of old t-shirts for taking to the grocery store, library etc.  They are lined with duct tape (which essentially cancels any green credibility but makes them strong and long-lasting).  Everybody got three bags each and I'd tried to find t-shirts that were similarly themed.  We were actually putting the finishing touches on these on Christmas Day before we left for our family celebration.  So much for planning ahead.  

We had a great Christmas day and were the recipients of far more creative (and well-made) gifts.  Next year....

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Buon Natale and tiramisu

Merry Christmas!  The past few days have been busy ones - lots of family and food.  The kickoff for Christmas, for us, is always our Christmas Eve Eve dinner with my best friend and her family.  They are family to us so we make sure to set aside the night of the 23rd to have dinner together.  It was our turn to host this year so in honor of my husband's last year and a half of Italian language study, we had a Buon Natale dinner.  The kitchen was far too hectic for taking pictures but I did get one of dessert since it was made a day ahead.

For starters we had Pecorino Romano with Apples and Fig Jam.  These were delicious.  I did cheat a bit on the fig jam and used a jar of Bonne Maman Fig preserves mixed with chopped toasted hazelnuts.  I'll definitely make these again.

Dinner was:
Pasta with vegetable bolognese
Spinach Salad with citrus vinaigrette
Roasted Fennel and baby carrots

I made the sauce ahead of time up to adding the mascarpone cheese and then reheated it before dinner.  For the salad we skipped the parmesan cups though I had made some for practice the day before and had all the ingredients.  The dressing was fantastic with lemons and oranges from our yard.  I loved the roasted fennel and carrots but cooked it longer and at a higher heat as I like my roasted veggies to get pretty well done and they weren't in the initial time specified.

Dessert was tiramisu.  I looked at so many recipes and of course most use eggs that aren't cooked.  I have confidence in the eggs that I buy but still...didn't want to give the gift of salmonella for Christmas!  So I found a recipe that cooks the eggs and sugar over a double boiler for about 10 minutes.  It was a tiny bit time consuming but simple as far as desserts go.  And it was delicious.






by Melissa Roberts and Maggie Ruggiero 
Ingredients
2 cups boiling-hot water
3 tablespoons instant-espresso powder  (*note - I just brewed several cups of espresso)
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
3 tablespoons Tia Maria (coffee liqueur) (*note - I didn't use this though I think it would have been good)
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup dry Marsala (*note - I used dark rum)
1 pound mascarpone (2 1/2 cups)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
36 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers; from two 7-ounce packages)
Unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
Preparation:
Stir together water, espresso powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, and Tia Maria in a shallow bowl until sugar has dissolved, then cool.
Beat egg yolks, Marsala, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or handheld electric mixer until tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.
Beat cream in a large bowl until it holds stiff peaks.
Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly.
Dipping both sides of each ladyfinger into coffee mixture, line bottom of a 13- by 9- by 3-inch baking pan with 18 ladyfingers in 3 rows, trimming edges to fit if necessary. Spread half of mascarpone filling on top. Dip remaining 18 ladyfingers in coffee and arrange over filling in pan.
Spread remaining mascarpone filling on top and dust with cocoa. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.
Let tiramisu stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving, then dust with more cocoa.






Sunday, December 20, 2009

Time to exhale




I think that most people I know are feeling crazy right now - the last minute shopping, wrapping, traveling.  I'm feeling a wonderful feeling of relief and calm - at least for today.  The past few days it was a different story - we had two rounds of houseguests this past week, a really fun party and a lot of work related stress.   I am mostly done with my shopping - a few little things to pick up but they can be done locally at small stores with no need to hit the mall.  We got our cards mailed - both business and family - and used every single card I'd ordered.  We still have our homemade presents to finish but even that I'm feeling okay about.  I'm sure tomorrow will be a different story but today - aided by a solid night of nyquil sleep - things are looking good!

Every morning we start our day with a homemade cappuccino (two actually).  A few years ago I gave B an espresso machine that has been a complete workhorse.  We probably make three rounds of coffee a day on that machine - minimum.  This time of year I like to drop a piece of peppermint bark in the bottom of my cup and turn it into a peppermint mocha.  We use the vanilla soymilk from Costco - it's the best we've tried for both taste and for frothing ability.

I'm busy planning my menu for our annual Christmas Eve Eve dinner with my best friend and her family.  They are like family to us and this dinner is as important to me as any of the family celebrations.  I'll be posting that dinner hopefully!

But for today, I'm going to enjoy my coffee, enjoy the quiet house and look forward to the Hannukah party we are attending tonight.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Spiced Maple Sauce



One of the side dishes I made for Thanksgiving was this Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Spiced Maple Sauce from Food Network.  I don't like to experiment too much when we are having company so I made them once a few days in advance - we loved them.  The sweetness of the sweet potato and maple contrasted so nicely with the bite of the cayenne. An absolute winner and one I know I will make over and over again.  The other bonus with this recipe is that the sweet potatoes (I actually used yams) don't have to be peeled.  Just diced and roasted.  Couldn't be simpler!



Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Pecans and Spiced Maple Sauce

Recipe courtesy Aida Mollenkamp

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup roughly chopped pecans
  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes, cut into large dice
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

Heat oven to 450 degrees F and arrange rack in the middle.
While oven heats, place pecans on a baking sheet to toast until they smell nutty and are slightly darker, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Place sweet potatoes on a baking sheet, drizzle with oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and toss to coat. Roast until golden brown and tender when pierced with a knife, about 40 to 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When it foams, stir in maple syrup and cayenne and let cook briefly, about 1 minute. Serve sweet potatoes with a drizzle of maple butter and a scattering of pecans.



Sunday, December 06, 2009

Pumpkin curry soup



There's a storm coming to the bay area.  Rain, wind, even snow down to 500 feet in some areas.  That's a big deal around here.  So today was the rush to get the Christmas lights up on the house.  This task also involves cleaning out the gutters so it was a big job -  I don't do heights so it's not my big job mind you.  Turned out the fig tree was attempting to take off the roof with one of its branches and the grapevine was hard at work snaking its way under the shingles so there was a lot of pruning to be done.  As per tradition I ran out to get more lights while B was on the roof  since there was one string not working.  Everyone was out - the hardware store was full, the road was full of cars with trees strapped on top - people getting things done before the rain hits.

I put out Christmas decorations on the porch and was then left with four pumpkins that we'd used for fall decorating but hadn't carved.  Normally I would toss them in the green bin.  But the bin is always full and I felt a little guilty just tossing them.  They were in perfect condition and I figured I could at least toast the seeds.  Then I decided to cook the pumpkin in the microwave thinking I could freeze it and use it a bit at a time for the dogs (they love pumpkin).  But this was getting to be a lot of pumpkin and I also didn't have anything planned for dinner.  I couldn't face another trip out so decided I'd make a Thai flavored pumpkin soup.   I roasted two smaller pumpkins (cleaned out and cut into large sections) in the oven -  I rubbed them with olive oil and seasoned them with some salt.  They probably took close to an hour at 450 degrees.  I threw the cooked pumpkin in a soup pot with a can of coconut milk, some red curry paste and some salt.   Then I just started digging in the fridge - I had two opened containers of vegetable broth leftover from recent cooking.  In they went (probably two cups?), some heavy cream - which was leftover from Thanksgiving - it went in as well.  I never use cream in soups but figured this would get thrown out if I didn't use it.  I decided it was missing something so I sauteed an onion in some olive oil and then added that in along with some powdered ginger.  I pureed the whole thing with my immersion blender (one of my "can't live without" kitchen tools).  It was delicious and I felt so virtuous using up the pumpkins.  We had an awesome dinner, I have several containers of cooked pumpkin for the pups and a big bowl full of crunchy, salty pumpkin seeds.  Now if only Mad Men were still on it would be a perfect Sunday!