Thursday, April 28, 2011

National Caramel Corn Day!

I'm always surprised by the "National" days that are recognized.  Nutella Day?  Caramel Corn Day?  I think I may have to institute a "Me" day.  Regardless, I must sheepishly admit that I've had a lot of fun with some of the "celebration" of these days.  In honor of "National Caramel Corn Day", I'm going to prepare a recipe that my mom used to make for us growing up.  My mom was is considered by many a "health nut."  She read every label, and she still shirked from packaged items.  She made *everything* homemade.  This was one of many treats that I looked forward to.  She didn't make it often, but we always had it when we went camping.  I've carried on that tradition, but that's the only time I make it.  Today is a reason to break out the recipe and enjoy some popcorn!

12 C unsalted popped corn
1 C toasted whole almonds
1 C toasted pecan halves
½ C butter
½ C brown sugar
½ t almond or clear Mexican vanilla extract (optional – this is Dawn’s addition)
½ t salt

Combine popcorn and nuts. 
Melt butter and add sugar and salt.  Cook about 30 seconds.
Pour over popcorn and stir.
Spread on jellyroll pan or cookie sheet.
Bake for 10 minutes at 350 stirring once.

Bread: Rich, Soft, Smooth, Beautiful Challah Bread

I love making bread.  I find it incredibly therapeutic.  I don't use a bread maker, although I do use my KitchenAid Stand Mixer to help knead the bread dough to the perfect consistency.  My littlest man is allergic to eggs, so I frequently make eggless bread.  HOWEVER, my favorite homemade bread is challah.  It's a Jewish Sabbath bread that is traditionally served on Friday nights.  I made some this weekend, and I was reminded exactly why I love it so much.

Challah Bread
1 braided loaf                                       7-15 hours
This traditional Jewish Sabbath bread, blessed and served before Friday-night dinner, is a sort of butterless brioche.  It is particularly good at breakfast. It’s AMAZING as french toast.
Combine in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer and let stand until the yeast is dissolved, about 5 minutes:
1 pkg (2 ¼ t) active dry yeast           
½ C warm (105-115) water
½ C all-purpose flour
2 lg. eggs, lightly beaten                     
2 egg yolks, broken
3 T veg. oil                                           
 3 T sugar
1 ¼ t salt
Mix on low speed until thoroughly blended.  Gradually Stir in 2 ½ C bread flour.  Knead for about 8 minutes on low to medium speed with dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to the bowl.  Transfer dough to oiled bowl, and turn to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, 1 – 1 ½ hrs. Punch dough down, knead briefly, and refrigerate covered until it has again nearly doubled in volume (3/4 rise is sufficient), 4-12 hours. The dough is now ready to be shaped. Divide dough into 3 equal pieces. On an unfloured work surface, roll into balls and let rest, covered loosely with plastic wrap for 10 minutes. Grease baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal. Roll each ball into a 13 – 14 inch long rope, about 1 ½ inches thick and slightly tapered at the ends. Dust the 3 ropes with flour so that become more distinctly separated if desired. Place 3 ropes side by side, pinch tops together, braid, pinch ends together at bottom of braid.  Tuck both “pinched ends” under.  Brush top of loaf with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a pinch of salt).  Loosely cover the braid with lightly oiled plastic wrap, let rise in a warm place until not quite doubled, about 45 minutes. Preheat oven to 375, brush loaf again with egg wash.  Bake until crust is golden brown and bottom of loaf sounds hollow when tapped, 30-35 minutes.  Let cool completely on rack.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Halibut or Mahi in Parchment

My husband has been out of town on business all week, and I hadn't felt well for the last 36 hours.  The thought of making dinner for his return left me completely uninspired (and often nauseous.)  As I sat in the carpool line to pick up our oldest from school, I flipped through a Real Simple magazine.  I found an ad for their new Real Simple recipe app.  I have a recipe app that I love, but my Droid phone ate it, and they're still trying to figure out the glitch.  So I was desperate.  I used ScanLife to scan the encrypted square.  $5 for an app that I didn't know if I'd even want long term seemed like a lot, but if I didn't like it, I could "return" it within 15 minutes.  Well, within 2 minutes, I'd found the perfect recipe.  Quick. Easy. Healthy. Full of things my husband loves.

Asian-style White Fish in Parchment Ingredients
Adapted from Real Simple recipe By Kate Merker,  December 2006

  • 1 small head bok choy, thickly sliced, or 4 baby bok choy, ends trimmed
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 4 6-ounce halibut, mahi, or other firm white fish fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced on a diagonal
  • zest from 1/2 orange, cut into matchstick-size strips
  • 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons grated gingerroot


  1. Heat oven to 400° F. Tear off four 15-inch squares of parchment paper or aluminum foil and arrange on 2 baking sheets.
  2. Divide the bok choy and bell pepper evenly among the squares, place the halibut fillets on top, sprinkle with black pepper, and top with the scallions and zest.
  3. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, oil, and ginger. Spoon the mixture evenly over the halibut.
  4. Top each fillet with another square of parchment or foil and fold the edges over several times to seal. Bake for 15 minutes.
  5. Transfer each packet to a plate. Serve with a knife to slit open the package. Be careful of the steam that will escape.
We all loved it.  I'll definitely make it again.  I may do them in one large parchment pocket instead of individual ones next time if I'm only making it for our family.  It makes for a fun presentation if you're serving it to guests, but we don't really want all of the paper on our plates anyway.  One large parchment pocket would use less parchment.  I served it along with coconut rice (white rice made with 1 C rice, 1 C water, and 1 can low-fat organic coconut milk.)  My 6 year old said he didn't care for the rice.  Although, he has started critiquing ALL of my meal preparations in recent weeks, and I don't know how much of it is sincere.  We have always encouraged an open dialogue at meal time regarding things we love, things we like, and things we "don't care for."  (We've tried to nix "I don't like ___.")  It also means that our kids try EVERYTHING we feed them so that they can participate in the conversation.  They can also mix items on their plates to determine if certain combinations are more appealing.  All said and done, this recipe is a winner, and my oldest may get "plain white rice" with his next time if I have any leftover from another meal.  (I don't "short order cook" anything for any of our family members - 1 meal is served during each meal time.)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Summer Goodness Martini

I had a particularly rough day on Thursday of this week (although on Friday, we received even worse news, but the overall day went more smoothly.)  Anyway, point of the story is that when I ran across this martini recipe on Thursday, I knew I HAD to try it.  I think it's funny that the first place I saw and made note of it was on "Feed Your Kids" since you certainly wouldn't feed this to your kids.  I am a Food & Wine magazine fanatic, but I'm guessing this one was originally published when I was pregnant with our first son, so it "didn't apply".  It applies now, and it is VERY tasty.  I played with the simple syrup ratios, because I don't make simple syrup in one drink quantities....I make it 2 C of sugar and 2 C of water at a time and keep it in a glass bottle in my fridge for coffee and anything else that tickles my fancy. 

Basil-Lime Martini
adapted from Boston restaurant Via Matta’s recipe published in Food & Wine Cocktails 2006 .
This is a great light, refreshing Summer drink.
3 large basil leaves
1 small basil leaf or a very small “cluster” of basil leaves for garnish
1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
2 1/2 oz of your favorite vodka
1 oz Simple Syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar)
Simmer sugar and water together in a small saucepan just until sugar disolves. Cool. Tear large basil leaves (reserve the small ones) lightly and add to sugar mixture. Muddle (smash) together until leaves are well bruised. (This is much easier if you have a “real” muddler, but you can also use a wooden spoon or potato masher, etc.) Add lime juice and vodka. Chill (with ice) in a martini shaker and strain into a pre-chilled martini glass. Add small basil leaf garnish.
I like to keep big batches (I think I’ve made a 20-batch before!) of this in the freezer, and pull them out when we have friends over. It lasts a long time in the freezer (remove basil leaves before freezing) and won’t freeze, so it can be poured straight from the freezer (shake first, because the lime juice and syrup will settle to the bottom).

Saturday, April 9, 2011

But I don't *LIKE* cabbage...

Red cabbage is probably not on anyone's list of "favorite foods."  So how can you make it and LOVE it?
I came across this recipe years ago, and we love it.  All of us.  Even adventurous kids like it!  It sounds really fancy, but it's easy to make.  It's a very different pairing that the salmon "standard" sides.  I tire easily of "standards."  I usually serve it with some fresh Tuscan bread or brown rice, but it's fantastic alone as well. 

adapted from

1 t olive oil                                            2 t finely chopped fresh thyme                         ½ t salt                                  
¼ t black pepper                                  1 ½ lb. red cabbage, cored, cut into 2 inch pieces, layers separated
½ lb. red onions, cut into 1 inch pieces, layers separated
2 T sugar                                               4 T water                                                               2 T balsamic vinegar         
¼ C finely chopped shallots              1 C beef broth                                                      1 t olive oil
½ C Merlot or dry red wine                1 t cornstarch (slightly more if desired)
4 (5 oz.) skinned center-cut pieces of salmon fillet (about 1 ½ inches thick at the thickest part)

Make Cabbage:   Heat oil in large non-stick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté cabbage, onions, thyme, salt, and pepper, stirring, for about 3 minutes.  Cover skillet and reduce heat to med-high then cook, stirring occasionally, until cabbage is tender, about 20 minutes more. 

Make Sauce:        Bring sugar and 2 T water to a boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring until dissolved, then boil, swirling pan occasionally, until mixture is a golden caramel, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and carefully add vinegar, then add shallot, and swirl pan over low heat until caramel is dissolved, about 1 min.
Stir in wine and boil until reduced to about ¼ C, about 5 minutes.  Add beef broth and boil until reduced to about 1 C, about 8 minutes.  Whisk together cornstarch and 2 T water, then whisk into sauce, and boil, whisking, 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover to keep warm.

Cook Salmon:      Pat salmon dry. Season w/ salt & pepper.  Heat oil in 12 inch nonstick skillet over med-high until hot but not smoking.  Saute salmon 3 min.  Turn over and sauté until just cooked through,a bout 3 min.  Serve salmon over red cabbage, and top with sauce spooned over. (Each serving contains about 334 calories – makes 4 servings)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

When we moved into this house almost 2 years ago, we knew we would get new living room furniture.  I am positive I have a true "before" picture, but I have no idea where it is. I've done things somewhat backwards with the anticipation of additional upgrades.  The walls were initially the beige that's on the ceiling, but it's too colorless for my taste.  I painted them Pumpkin Butter which is out of my comfort zone of colors (more orange than my normal), but I get more compliments on it than I could ever imagine.  Next, I started on making the curtains. I quickly realized that our 1 year old twins were just going to yank them from the walls.  So they are all tied up in one way or another. (The 3rd window has one completed curtain folded back up over itself.  The top is actually a tone on tone pattern and the bottom band is a chocolate velvet.)  We've also already replaced the tv console and the television.  So these are the "before the new furniture" pictures, but they aren't truly "before" pictures.
This was "BEFORE"

I'm in the process of looking for some accessories - yellows, reds, and some greens - to give the room some kick with all of the brown.  They all have to be kid-friendly accessories which can pose a challenge.  I absolutely love the "legginess" of the new furniture.  The old furniture was so big and bulky that it closed the room off, blocked windows, etc.  Even the recliner has legs.  No more missing cups of milk that have found their way under the furniture and don't resurface for 48 hours or more! 
Next on the list, wood floors and a fabulous area rug.  Probably not until next year....