Friday, February 27, 2015

Spring break

Friday and spring break upon us! The day started cold, but not too cold, and with sunshine and mounds of white snow. Last meetings to wrap up before everyone disappears, some to Caribbean beaches, some to Europe, and some just wind down and kick up their heels, worrying only about leisurely pursuits for a few weeks.

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How come that lunch pans always look a lot better before they are cooked?

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I feel like jumping in my car and heading out of town, too. Exploring snowy beaches, hiking snowy mountains, cross country skiing frozen lakes, hibernating and drinking wine in sleepy, cozy remote cabins. Ah, winter fun!

Last weekend I started watching “Friends” on netflix, to really for once watch all the episodes in order. “Friends” is still the same gem as it was originally. These guys have such great comedic timing as an ensemble and of course such great personal chemistry. Only, the clothes they wear? Oy vey Smile

Other recommendable movies for spring break:

  • St. Vincent (It is “Up!”, just with people).
  • Gone Girl (as good as the book)
  • Two Faces of January (If you liked “The Talented Mr. Ripely” this is for you)
  • Fort Bliss (if you want to be inspired by a truly powerful woman)
  • Copenhagen (Sweet coming of age movie in Copenhagen)
  • Call the Midwife series
  • and yes, House of Cards, Season 3 is up on netflix today!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Valentine’s M&M Softbatch Cookies

Valentine’s day is long gone but I still relish in the Valentine’s day chocolate. Godiva, ferrero rocher, and the pink M&Ms. Yesterday, I felt like baking and cookies it was. Softbatch cookies, with valentine’s red and pink M&Ms.

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Valetine’s M&M Softbatch Cookies

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons light crème
  • 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch salt, optional and to taste
  • 1 cup Valentine’s M&Ms
  • 0.5 cup mini chocolate chips


Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and electric hand mixer), cream together the butter, sugars, egg, vanilla extract and light cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, salt, baking soda and pudding mix.
  4. Put speed on low, and slowly added the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute; don't overmix.
  5. Add the chocolate chips, and mix until just incorporated.
  6. Mix in the Valentine’s M&Ms in with a spatula, to not break them up.
  7. Line a baking sheet with a silicon mat or parchment paper.
  8. Using a small icecream scoop,  form heaping 1 – 1 1/2 –tablespoon sized mounds and slightly flatten mounds, ca. 8 cookies per cookie sheet.
  9. Bake for about 10-11 minutes.
  10. Do not overbake since the cookies will firm up as they cool.
  11. Cool cookies on the baking sheet for about at least 5-10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooking. They will be sticky because of the slightly melted candy corn.

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Soba noodle soup

After a morning of snow shoveling, the sun came out and it was unusually mild today. Spring was in the air. I love those days when you still can go skiing and you wear a regular top and a vest, and the snow is dripping from the trees. But, it was just a taste of spring, we are back to the 10s F by tomorrow. 

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While I am preparing for the Oscar party of the year, I made a quick soba noodle soup. I used to like the Oscars much better when I was still going to the movie theater regularly. That ceased with the convenience of netflix, and now I am usually a half year late on half of the nominees. However, for the ones I saw I very much liked Boyhood. The Grand Budapest hotel is cute but a little crazy. I just saw Gone Girl, and it was done really well, as mesmerizing as the book. And….Ms. Jane Bennett plays the Girl gone.

As for the soup the simplicity of it is that everything can be cooked in 5min. The soba noodles will be al dente, the carrot soft but with a bite, and the rest still fresh.

Soba Noodle Soup

1 serving

  • 3 cups of water  (or chicken or vegetable stock)
  • 1 ts of dry or liquid bouillon
  • 2 oz of soba noodles
  • 2 mini dried hot peppers, crushed
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced
  • 2 lacinato kale leaves, cut in thin strands
  • 3 TB frozen corn
  • some pre-cooked chicken

Put everything in a pot, bring to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for 5min. Serve.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Thinking out loud on a Friday

It is Friday --- the final February weekend. While Boston is digging tunnels through the Boston blitz, the Niagara Falls are partially frozen over, and we are a country divided (by temperatures) there is hope that things will change ---- it is almost March, after all. There will be daylight saving time again, the days get really long and a hope that the snow piles will convert into puddles and then into tulips. There is no hurrying out of February, there are still the Oscars on Sunday, a last school week until spring break, and much skiing to enjoy.

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It really is my kind of February: plenty of snow, cold temperatures so the snow sticks around and I can go skiing every day (if I want to). Based to the map above, Maine is right on track and it is business as usual. In other places? Not so much.  
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People head out over lunch break to skate ski through the marvelous, sunny winter wonderland, just like they would go for a run in the summer. Fresh air, sunshine, and you are back at your desk with a smile and a fresh mind. Bright sunlight and fresh air cure almost everything. What else to think out loud about?
  • Nigara Falls are frozen over. Next: Hell.
  • I am so in love with this. Had to buy it. Love this one, too.
  • I could not agree with this more.
  • My dreams came true: There is finally the German version of Greek yogurt in the US: Quark! by Elli Quark. How is it different? it is high in protein, low in sugar, but without the tart taste of Greek yogurt which always makes you want to add the sugar bowl to it. It is mild in taste, more like milk, but similar texture to Greek yogurt.
  • Have you seen these funny flyers ?
  • Enjoy the weekend!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Of kale, and snow and Maine

The temperatures eased up slightly. On Monday, I was snowblowing my drive way and put on my lunar habitat suit, that is, full face mask, ski goggles, 2 hats and a floor length down coat. It was –18F with wind chill, and I was toasty warm. Now, the temperatures seem back to normal, a bearable zone, like in the tenth F. The sun is out, I might go skiing again. Tomorrow, there is a ‘winter storm watch’. After 2 false positives with winter storm predictions, the weather service seems to take a chance with an err on the false negative side this time. 10 inches? We will see.

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What I start to miss most is to wear regular shoes. If you cannot wear regular shoes, your whole outfit is restricted to Aspen apres ski fashion. Well, spring can only be weeks away. The days get longer, if they’d also get warmer, all would be good.

After years and years, the local Hannafords finally started carrying organic lacinato kale in the produce section. For years it was not available at the Farmers market and definitely not in groceries stores so I had to grow it myself. But here we are, 8 years after the fashionable kale craze, it is sold, even at the most northeastern corner of the Union.

Too beautiful to put into smoothies, I made it as a side to the farro and roasted parsnip salad.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Blizzard lockdown

The wind still howls around the house with wind chills of –19F but the blizzard ended up being mostly wind, with 3 inches of snow instead of the predicted 24. Phew. We got off easy on this one. I ventured out yesterday afternoon, and the streets were empty with most people still entrenched in hunker down mode. When I arrived at Starbucks, which is under most circumstances a cozy home away from home, the doors were closed and the employees safely at home. Bummer. The city seemed under blizzard lock down.

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But Target was open and the good Valentine’s chocolate was 30% off. Godiva, Ferrero and pink M&Ms.

It’s a new week, for some another holiday, for some not, and it still seems to be at least 2 more weeks to go with freezer-type temperatures and the chance of new snow. Winter at its best.

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Friday, February 13, 2015

Valentine’s blizzard

Here we are. It is Friday, the 13th, and tomorrow is Valentine’s day, which has as special present another 22inch blizzard for some extra evening coziness. jenniferA

Not that I am much in the mood for heart shaped donuts this year, or any other type of donuts. I have the impression Valentine’s days will go down as most unobserved in history this year. I guess I not only feel drowned in snow but also in love.

I see reports that the National guard was called into suburbs of Boston to remove the snow; this will be just in time for another dump. We are just 2 weeks into February so there is no stopping anytime soon with all that snowy whiteness.

Things I love this Friday:

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Farro with roasted parsnips and cauliflower

The other day I had a wonderful farro salad for lunch at Chase’s Daily. It reminded me how much I love the nutty, hearty taste and texture of farro. The salad had notes of of roasted, sweet parsnip pieces and roasted garlic. What could be better? It was served with a spring green salad with a lemon vinaigrette and some smoked gouda.

I added roasted cauliflower to the original inspiration. A wonderful dish --- warm, cold, as a side to a main dish, as a main dish with a side of salad or even at room temperature for a salad.

Farro with roasted parsnips and cauliflower. Makes 4 smaller portions, or 2 main courses.
  • 1 cup farro
  • 1 ts olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 garlic gloves, minced
  • 2 cup vegetable broth
  • salt to taste (if you use a salty broth, you don’t need to add any).
  • 3 parsnips, peeled and cut into half inch cubes
  • 2 cups of cauliflower florets (I actually used frozen ones)
Preheat the oven to 400F.

Peel the parsnip and cut into 1/2 inch dice. With the cauliflower floret arrange the parsnip on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, sprinkle some salt and some olive oil. Roast in the oven for about 20 min. (You will smell the roasted parsnip).

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In a heavy bottomed pot, heat the olive oil and fry the onion and garlic. Add the farro, and ‘dry toast’ for about 1min. Then add the (hot!) broth, stir, turn down the heat, cover with a lit, and simmer for about 25-30 min.

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Stir, turn off the heat, and add the roasted parsnips and cauliflower, and mix both in. Adjust for salt.
Enjoy!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mini Meatloaves

Once in a while I eat meat, and meatloaves or hamburgers are one of my favorites. This is revisiting an old favorite of mine: mini meatloaves in a ramekin. They are so easy to make and each individual portion is both juicy and has a nice crust.

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Mini Turkey Meatloaves in a ramekin

Makes 4 small portions.

  • ca. 1 cup of ground turkey meat
  • 1 egg
  • 3 TB ketchup
  • 1/2 bag of Lipton onion dip mix
  • handful kalamata olives, slices
  • half of red bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 tiny hot pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup of frozen corn
  • handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • 3/4 cup of panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tomato
  • 4 ts BBQ sauce

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Mix all the ingredients (besides the tomato) in a bowl with a fork.

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Slice the tomato, and place a slice each on the bottom of each ramekin (4 ramekins overall). Distribute the ground turkey mix equally among the meatloaves.

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Bake the meatloaves for about 45min to 1h. Half through baking, add a teaspoon of BBQ sauce on top of each ramekin. They are very good hot, but also at room temperature or as addition to salads or sandwiches.

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Sunday, February 8, 2015

Party on a frozen lake

It was finally a weekend with promised sun and not another foot of snow coming down from the skies (that would start today). Well, the sunshine only lasted half of the day but nevertheless, time for explorations! The Tobbaggan National Championship takes places in Camden each winter, and it is described as “Mardi Gras in the Snow”. It very much is. Camden was my destination for the day, and I stopped by in Belfast and had a lunch at Chases and then I was on to the Camden Snow Bowl. As usual, it was not too crowded, the school buses are used to transport people from downtown Camden to the Tobbaggan race 2 Miles away, and it was indeed, a party. A party on a frozen lake.

The tobbaggan race is down a narrow, iced chute on what can only be described at the most antique, basic sleds, and it sprawls out on a frozen lake at the end of the chute. There is much hollering, whistles, bells and cheering when such a 4-person sleds races down the chute at 35Mi/h, and much laughter (of course) when the riders all fall over each other at the end of it. Most participants are local, but they arrive from all over the country. The spectators have tailgating like tents with open fires and chairs and music on the ice, too, and so it is all a big party. Good fun!
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Like the rest of us, Chase’s Daily also under snow siege
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Open kitchen in Chase’s daily
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The country ketchup at Northwood Gourmet Girl is spectacular.
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Here we are: snowy Camden.
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The chute:
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Two tobbaggans.
The start of the chute
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Under 10 seconds!
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A mini tobbaggan.
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For the hungry..
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For the cold and hungry.
And what is happening on the ice?
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A good finish.
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An assisted finish. And a party for the rest.
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Tailgating on the ice.
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Back in town it was nice and warm in the Owl and Turtle bookshop.
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There were fireworks at 6:30pm but I was already on my way home.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Hyderabadi biryani by Chef Harpal

Another Indian dish from the frozen isle section at Trader Joes that sparked my interest in cooking it at home: Vegetable biryani. Biryani is basically a flavored rice dish, more on the  rice side dish than main dish. My Indian friends tell me that the cooking process is similar to cooking risotto --- a layered approach to cooking rice.

Since the way dishes are cooked in Indian cuisine is quite different from Western ones I sought out youtube again for a recipe. And, I wanted a simple one for starters. (I followed this recipe).

The recipe starts out with soaking basmati rice. During the soaking time, marinade the chicken with yogurt, a ton of spices, browned onions (I bought fried onions), and fresh herbs.

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The chicken marinades for about 30 min. During the time the soaked rice is half cooked in a flavored broth with a bouquet garni made of spices; it needs to be undercooked because it finishes cooking with the chicken.

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The semi-cooked rice is ladled on the marinated chicken, which are placed on the bottom of the pan. There is the first layer of rice, which is followed with spices, and I also added vegetables, with more rice, and finished with spices, vegetables and herbs. The original recipe calls for melted butter over the mix, which I forgot, but it would have added to the flavor.

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Cover the pot, and cook for 20min on medium high, and then for 15min on low. This allows for the chicken to be fully cooked and the flavors to infuse and the rice to steam. (In the original recipe, the chef uses raw bread dough to seal the lid so that the steam is captured and used for cooking; I relied on tight fitting le creuset lids).

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Fluff up the rice, and it is ready to serve.

Hyderabadi biryani by Chef Harpal

Ingredients:  (for about 4 servings)

For the chicken marinade:

  • Chicken either 4 drumsticks on the bone or 4 chicken thighs on the bone
  • 3 TB Ginger garlic paste (made from raw ingredients or from jars, jars are fine)
  • 1/2 ts cayenne powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plain yoghurt
  • 1 ts ground garam masala
  • 1 ts ground green cardamom
  • 1/2 cup brown fried onions
  • 2 TB melted butter or ghee
  • 2 TB freshly chopped coriander
  • 10-12 fresh Mint leaves (coarsely chopped)
  • 2 hot green green chili (I used jalapenos and finely diced them)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • juice from 1 lime

For the basmati rice:

  • 1-1.5 cups good basmati rice, washed several times and soaked for 30 minutes
  • 1 TB black or regular cumin seeds
  • Bouquet garni:
  • In a 4 inch by 4 inch piece of  cheese cloth pack
  • 3 whole black cardamom pods
  • 6 small whole green cardamom pods
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 6 whole black pepper corns
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • 1 2-inch cinnamon stick

For the biryani:

  • 1 teaspoon ground garam masala
  • 1/2 ts ground cardamon powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped coriander
  • 10-12 finely chopped mint leaves
  • 1/4 cup brown onions
  • 1/3 teaspoon saffron steeped in 1/2 cup warm milk –
  • 2 TB melted ghee

Add all the ingredients for the chicken in heavy bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid, massage chicken with marinade and let sit for 1/2 an hour, or marinate longer, covered in the fridge.

Wash the rice 3 times, and then soak for 20min (important!). Add the spices in the cheese cloth in 4 cup water that is set to boil. Add the cumin seeds to the water, and the soaked rice.

When the rice is 3/4 done (ca 10-12 min), layer the half rice over the chicken (and let some of the water come along). Sprinkle some coriander (1 tbsp) , mint leaves (6-8), brown onions (1/8th cup), garam masala (1/2 tsp), green cardamom powder (1/2 ts) over the rice, and then layer the rest of the rice on top after straining it. On top, add rest of brown onions, garam masala (1/2 tsp), and the saffron soaked in milk. Finally, sooon 2 TB of melted ghee on top!

Put the biryani on the stove, and seal the pot. Cook the biryani about 20 minutes on medium high heat. Lower the heat to low, and for another 10-15 minutes. Serve!

The dish is also excellent at room temperature or a side in a salad.

Note: the marinated chicken sears to the bottom of the pan, and it might be better to cook the dish in an oven.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Go Pats!

And so, they did it. Go Pats! (What a comeback and final quarter!)

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We are under snowstorm warning again, and expect another 15 inches today, mostly in the late afternoon although it is snowing already. After complaining 2 weeks ago about “Where is the snow?!” I got my wish, and I feel I have to make amends and give praise to the weather gods, and hopefully, the siege stops soon. This is sufficient snow for a month of skiing.

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To juxtaposition the cold outside, I prefer hot food on the table these days. Spicy beef with basmati rice and a side of Asian cucumber salad.

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