Wednesday, December 30, 2009

When Life Gives You Citrus!

About 9 years ago, we moved from sunny California to the big state of Texas. This was a huge shock to our systems and not for the obvious reasons you may think. Take our backyard garden - when we were in California, we were spoiled by the soil and the weather. We could virtually throw seeds into the earth and up would spring a glorious garden or plentiful fruit trees. Of course, the first time we started our garden here in Austin, we had the same expectations. Unfortunately, the results were very different. My dear husband hit that hard Texas clay earth with the shovel and we started to realize maybe we don't have the magic green thumb after all. Still, we persevered and over the years we have managed to start a few gardens and harvest crops not nearly as abundant as we had grown accustomed too (humbling, absolutely!). A few pumpkins (grown from old jack-o'lanterns thrown in the compost pile), lots of peppers (naturally) and a surprising herb garden have been the highlights. Over the years, we have learned what we can and can't grow and what veggies we still need to learn more about as far as growing in this environment.

With all that said, we may not have the fresh and plentiful veggies growing in the backyard garden (there's always the local farmer's market!) but what we do have are 2 of the most prolific citrus trees around. Granted, they are transplants like us and we didn't listen to locals that said citrus wouldn't grow here. We have one Meyer Lemon that we brought in our moving truck from California and my Mom brought us our Moro Blood-Orange tree in her moving van when she moved from California to Austin a few years later. Both are now firmly rooted in our Texas backyard, just like us. Every year, the Meyer produces the most amazing lemons - which I will be writing about soon. This blog, however, is about our beautiful blood-orange tree. If you have never had the pleasure of drinking fresh blood-orange juice, then I suggest you put that on your must-do "foodie list". Having a tree with an abundant supply allows us to try many different recipes and still have plenty left over to bless friends and family.

We started our holidays off with blood-orange mimosas on Christmas morning, a glorious and sweet ruby-colored drink that makes regular mimosas blush in comparison. I have made blood-orange vinaigrette's for salads as well as candied orange peel. My daughter and I baked rich, golden loaves of cranberry-orange bread as gifts for neighbors. We infuse the zest into vodka and make lovely martini's. And this year, I attempted to make blood-orange marmalade. Tonight, we had blood-orange sorbet for dessert and Wow! so yummy! So with all the recipes and new ideas out there, one would think that if life gives you all this beautiful citrus, why just make juice? I'm jus' sayin'!

Blood Orange Marmalade - I found an orange marmalade recipe online from "The Barefoot Contessa" as a base and revised it to make blood-orange marmalade. If you would like to try her recipe with plain oranges you can find it here. I suggest you start the the night before, right before you get ready to go to bed.

In a large stainless steel pot, slice 8 medium size blood-oranges in half and take out seeds. Take each half and slice paper thin half-moons from them. (Ina Garten suggests using a mandolin for the slicing to make this chore quicker - good luck! I tried mine and ended up with a mess and the thought that bloody fingers instead of blood-oranges was enough for me to use just my knife) Transfer all the slices as well as any juice to the pot. Fill the pot with 8 1/2 cups of water. Bring to a boil stirring frequently. As soon as it comes to a boil, turn of heat and add 8 1/2 cups of sugar to the pot. Stir until dissolved. Put the lid on the pot and let this sit on the counter overnight. The next morning, bring the pot with all the oranges, sugar and water to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 2 hours. Bring the heat back up and boil gently for about 30 minutes. Skim any foam off the top. At this point, use a candy thermometer and watch for the marmalade to come to 220 degrees F. It should be a thick consistency with a dark, golden-red color. Pour the marmalade into clean mason jars and place in a hot water bath to seal the lids. After they have been canned, they should last in a cool pantry for up to a year - that is, if you have not opened it and put it on a toasted English muffin, in which case I promise that jar will go fast. Enjoy!

Blood Orange Sorbet - Absolutely simple! I followed David Lebovitz's recipe which was very precise and you can too! I find David's work to be clean and clear and it's always a joy to read his blog.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Easy Baklava?

Don't let the title scare you. Thirty-something years ago, I remember tasting my first piece of delicious baklava. I was at a Greek festival in my hometown and my Mom had told me about this flaky pastry that had layers upon layers of sticky-sweet honey and nuts. After my first bite I was hooked. It wasn't until much later while in my 20's that the thought of actually making it crossed my mind. I had worked in an office where, of course, everyone brought in mounds of baked goods during the holidays. Amongst all of those goodies, one lady had brought in homemade baklava. I was so intrigued wondering to myself "How did she make this?" After drilling her with question after question, she finally told me that it's one of those baking moments where you just have to "conquer the fear of phyllo". So with that in mind, I set off to "learn" this pastry on my own.

I did research on recipes and, yes, the phyllo dough is intimidating at first but you will quickly learn that a pastry brush and melted butter are your best friends, allowing you to easily play "plastic surgeon" when and where needed on this project. My recipe was adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookies Cookies Cookies book and then tweaked over the years. This has become my "signature" dessert for the holidays and friends and family tell me they always look forward to receiving it. I just love that it looks so labor intensive, yet, I can put it together in the same amount of time it takes for a batch of cookies. Just remember, if you're going to try your hand at this, make sure you go into it with a "pastry warrior" attitude. That way, when your passing it out to your family, or a curious co-worker begins asking questions, you too can say, "It's just phyllo dough and once you conquer it, you will see how easy it is." I'm jus' sayin'!

Yes Easy Baklava

Adapted from Cookies Cookies Cookies by Better Homes and Gardens

Preheat oven to 325

Pulse the following until fine in a food processor:
2 cups of roasted unsalted shelled pistachios
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Melt 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter (set aside)

1 16 oz package of frozen phyllo dough. Defrost and lay flat with a damp paper towel covering the entire stack.

Honey/citrus syrup (recipe below)


Line a four-sided cookie sheet (15x10x1) with a sheet of parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the paper with melted butter. Take 2 sheets of phyllo and lay them on the cookie sheet (you may have a little overlapping). Brush melted butter generously over the entire sheet. Proceed 2 more times. Then sprinkle the entire nut mixture over the entire sheet. Again layer 2 more sheets of phyllo and continue until all sheets are used. Butter the top. Using a very sharp knife cut through all layers to make square or diamond shapes. This can be a bit tricky but don't get discouraged, your almost done. Bake in oven for 40-45 minutes until golden brown and flaky.

While your Baklava is in the oven, make the following syrup:

In a heavy pot combine the following:
1 1/2 C. sugar
1 C. water
1/2 C. honey
1 Tbs. lemon zest
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. cinnamon

Bring to a boil and let simmer for 15 minutes. Set aside. As soon as the Baklava is out of the oven, carefully take a pastry brush and paint each piece generously. Use all of the syrup.

Cool and put each individual piece in a muffin cup paper liner and serve. May be kept in an air tight container for 1 week. I do not recommend freezing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Visions of Sugar Plums!

Ahhh, the visions of sugar plums danced through their heads. I totally get this. I sometimes find myself daydreaming about that very thing. During the holidays, I feel so justified when I bump up my baking a degree or two to a psychotic frenzy! Maybe it's because it's the one time of year when people allow themselves to indulge. Or maybe it's the thought of giving all those gifts of "food". Whatever the reason, I find myself entranced in the "spirit" of all things sweet and delicious. I have some stand-bys that are my "expected traditions" - baklava, truffles, salted caramels, and candied citrus peel. This year, I will have another one to add to that list.

Last year, I played around with making marshmallows. Before you get that wrinkled furrow on your forehead and that feeling of "Martha failure", just hear me out. This really is easy if you have two things. You need to have a good candy thermometer - without it, candy making is totally hit or miss. You will also need patience, this being of the utmost importance. If you're covered in these two areas then you're ready to begin. I cannot stress enough that when it comes to candy making, you need to read over the recipe several times before you start. Sometimes, it's not the ingredient that you discover you don't have on hand, but rather the utensil for the job.

I got this recipe from and I plan on making several different flavors of these marshmallows this year for gift giving. Some of the flavors are Meyer Lemon (I have a tree in my backyard), Vanilla (the traditional flavor) and of course, these lovely peppermint swirls shown in the link. Give a bag of these with some homemade cocoa mix and I swear, you will be the hostess with the mostess! And when your recipients are sipping a steaming cup of cocoa with those marshmallows slowly melting and frothing up, I bet they, too, will be having visions of sugar plums! I'm jus' sayin'...

Peppermint Swirl Marshmallows

Makes sixteen 2-inch squares

* Vegetable-oil cooking spray
* 2 cups sugar
* 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
* 4 packages (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin
* 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
* 2 large egg whites
* 2 teaspoons red food coloring


1. Coat an 8-inch square pan with cooking spray; line bottom with parchment paper. Coat the parchment with cooking spray, and set pan aside. Put sugar, corn syrup, and 3/4 cup water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar is dissolved. Stop stirring; let mixture come to a boil. Raise heat to medium-high; cook until mixture registers 260 degrees on a candy thermometer.

2. Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over 3/4 cup water in a heatproof bowl; let stand 5 minutes to soften. Set the bowl with the gelatin mixture over a pan of simmering water; whisk constantly until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat, and stir in extract; set aside.

3. Beat egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Whisk gelatin mixture into sugar mixture; with mixer running, gradually add to egg whites. Mix on high speed until very thick, 12 to 15 minutes.

4. Pour mixture into lined pan. Working quickly, drop dots of red food coloring across surface of marshmallow. Using a toothpick, swirl food coloring into marshmallow to create a marbled effect. Let marshmallow stand, uncovered, at room temperature until firm, at least 3 hours or overnight. Cut into squares.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Bacon Hangover!

Lately, every time I turn around, I find bacon being used in all sorts of ways other than being served up crispy with eggs. I've also found a new cult-like following for this love of pork fat. With this in mind, I wanted to try my hand at some new bacon recipes so I searched several food blogs and found a few recipes that I feel will pay homage to this sweet, yet savory, salty strip of delicious heaven. This also gave me an excuse to go on a local field trip with my family in tow.

First off, from, I have bacon caramels. My husband was a bit skeptical of this at first because, though his love for both is strong and true, he didn't think this combination would hold it's own. I quickly reminded him of how much he loves it when I make sticky brown sugar bacon and he paused... then with a smile said "Your right. That could be good!" However, once I started the adventure, it quickly came to a halt when my thermometer proved to be less then accurate. I should have gone with my gut and my candy making experience and done the old fashioned drop in ice water test. Instead, I decided to risk the accuracy and go with what it said. I can now say that one should always go with their gut feelings. I ended up with bacon caramel sauce, which luckily can be salvaged as a topping on an ice cream sundae. Rest assured, before I make another batch, I will be purchasing a new candy thermometer. Sometimes these things happen and you just have to roll with the punches. Still, please go to the above site to see how they are supposed to turn out.

Next on my list was Bacon Jam from The picture looked to die for and all kinds of thoughts ran through my head of how I would use this lovely condiment. I took the two-plus hours to make this and yes, my friends, this was tasty! It has a nice "German" feel to it. I served it on crackers with cram cheese as a light appetizer, but I think having it on toast with a poached egg would be divine. I will be sending some of this to a mutual bacon-loving friend and awaiting to hear his opinions.

Lastly, a trip to Frank's, a local eatery that serves bacon in a large portion of it's menu, proved that the traditional Bloody Mary can be a top shelf cocktail when made with bacon infused vodka and a strip of peppered bacon as the condiment. Though it was a bit spicy for my taste buds (I was hoping for more smokey bacon flavor), it certainly is a beauty to admire. After finishing my lunch of a Chicago Dog and waffle-cut fries with bleu-cheese buffalo dipping sauce, I finished with a bacon chocolate chip cookie to end the meal. Again, great cookie, but no true bacon flavor shining through.

At this point, you are probably wondering if my husband is skilled in CPR - no worries! I didn't eat enough to render a pork-induced heart-attack, however, the bacon-infused hangover will stay with me a few days. Even with that, I'm still forever on that quest to find real bacon flavor, especially when incorporated into dishes unexpectedly. So whether you prefer sweet or savory, the fact of the matter is that bacon is more than a crispy side to eggs. Google "bacon" and you might just find that it gives you a whole new meaning to "the other white meat". Now to go find a remedy for my hangover - maybe some "Hair of the Dog", or more appropriately, some "Hair of the Pork"! I'm jus' sayin'!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Set an extra chair.

Here we are - the night before my favorite holiday. I'm writing this as I wait for the last items to finish baking in the oven, my to-do list nearly complete and ready to take to our lovely neighbor's house for Thanksgiving dinner. As I was making the pumpkin pie and listening to Christmas music, I started to daydream about why I love this holiday so much. Of course, you might assume that my love for Thanksgiving centers around all of the delicious food and it's preparation. Don't get me wrong - over the years that has been a huge part of my love for this holiday. However, when I truly stop and think about it, I would have to say it's that sense of comfort and safety that comes with sitting at a table and looking around at the people you hold dear to your heart. Those same individuals who did not pick up the dirty clothes. The same ones that wanted to see how high the dog could jump on the trampoline. The same ones that snuck in during the wee hours of the morning. The ones you argued with yesterday and will laugh with tomorrow. The ones who made you angry and the ones who made you smile. The ones you are still not quite sure of and the ones who are so predictable. Each and every one, whether blood-related or heart-related, all sitting there ready to give thanks for yet another year of God's rich blessing's. Yes, that is what it means to me.

As far back as I can remember, I had the blessing of setting the table. I took pride in every detail even when I was only 8 years old. I remember my Mom always telling me to "set an extra place setting". I always did this with a willing heart because it never failed that every year, at the last minute, a special guest would arrive and take up that vacancy. My Mom was notorious for inviting both strangers as well as friends with no family or place to go to our Thanksgiving table. Gets me teary eyed just thinking about how she and my Daddy would go out of their way to make them feel like they were a part of our "family". Our immediate family was never really large but our extended family of Love grew bigger and bigger every year. Sometimes those special guests would come back and then sometimes we would never see them again, but one thing I am sure of is that they were blessed and felt a sense of safety around that table.

God is good and he continues to bless us. Even in these times of economic fear, he still gives us comfort. This year, I may not have the job of setting the table, but I will be quietly thanking my parents for instilling the value of "family" and why it's so important to "set an extra chair" because you never know who may show up. I'm jus' sayin'!

My Twist on a Classic - The Honey Date Oatmeal Cookie

One recent afternoon, I found a container of dates in the fridge that were left over from an appetizer I had previously made. Not wanting them to go to waste, I thought about what I could make to use them up. I didn't feel like making the usual date bars. Though tasty, I was looking for something different on this day. I ended up going with a twist on a classic - oatmeal raisin cookies. Since I am not a big fan of raisins, the dates were, for me, a great alternative. Here's the recipe I came up with. Please give it a try and tell me what you think.

Honey Date Oatmeal Cookies

1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 stick of butter (1/2 cup)
2 eggs
1/3 cup Honey
1 3/4 cups of flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 cups regular oats
1 cup diced dates

Heat oven to 375. Mix sugar, butter, eggs and honey. Stir in remaining ingredients. Drop dough by rounded tablespoons about 2 inches apart onto parchment-lined cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 min until lightly brown on top and bottom.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Burnt Almond Cupcakes!

It doesn't matter if you have lived in the same place your whole life or if you've moved often and lived all over like the proverbial "army brat". We pick up special taste memories along the way. I am most certain that if you think about your favorite dish, your mind will go back to that first time you had it and how good it tasted in your mouth. I bet your thinking about it right now! It happened to me the other day and brought back a favorite memory. For no apparent reason I started thinking about a little bakery in the town I grew up in. Dick's Bakery was that cute little corner neighborhood bakery that you went to for coffee and donuts and one other thing - Burnt Almond Cake. We ordered it for birthday's, showers, and even weddings. It was that one delicious cake that you could always count on to never change. I even heard that Dick's is still there and still baking that wonderful cake. Many years ago, I took one of my first baking classes on "fancy cakes" and as luck would have it, the instructor used to work at Dick's. She showed us how to make those incredible caramelized almonds that mounded the pastry cream on top of that lovely white cake. Using that memory as inspiration, I thought I would create my own little cupcake version or that wonderful dessert. What a hit! It tasted just like Dick's and brought me right back to cakes I had as a child - minus the pink box and string. The beauty of this cupcake is that not only do I get to have that delicious taste (to curb my craving) but I also get to pass them along to my friends rather than my thighs! I'm jus' sayin'!

Burnt Almond Cupcakes

Prepare Almonds:
In a large cast iron skillet toast 1 8oz package of sliced (not slivered) almonds. (I used
Then sprinkle 1 Cup powdered sugar over almonds.
Stir constantly as not to burn the almonds.
Once the sugar is melted, add another 1/2 C. of powdered sugar to the almonds.
Your almonds should be brown in color and the aroma should be sweet toasted nuts.
Take off the heat and then spread on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to cool.

You may use your favorite white cake recipe here and add almond extract to the batter or you could even add almond extract to a box white cake mix (I think this recipe is all about the almonds and icing so as long as it's good cake you should be good) If you don't have one feel free to use mine.

White cake recipe.
* 1 cup white sugar
* 1/2 cup butter
* 2 eggs
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 teaspoon almond extract
* 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
* 1/2 cup milk

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x9 inch pan or line a muffin pan with paper liners.

2. In a medium bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Combine flour and baking powder, add to the creamed mixture and mix well. Finally stir in the milk until batter is smooth. Pour or spoon batter into the prepared pan.

3. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes in the preheated oven. For cupcakes, bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back to the touch.

Yummy Frosting:
In a mixer blend the following in this order-remember powder sugar will go every where on high speed so put it in slowly until it is all incorporated and then whip that frosting like mad!
1/2 cup butter (softened)
3 cups of powdered sugar
1/4 cup of vanilla coffee creamer or if you can find an almond flavor coffee creamer use that. (Yes I did say coffee creamer it's my secret ingredient)

Continue to whip until you get your desired consistency, now if it's too thin add more powdered sugar. If it's too thick then add a bit more creamer. Don't be intimidated by this. It's a no-fail icing that gets rave reviews every time.

To Assemble:
Cool cupcakes:
You can spread or be fancy and use a zip lock bag to pipe a large swirl of icing on the top of the cake. Then take your almonds (which after being cooled you should break into little clusters) and mound a good table spoon on top of frosting. If these make it after one day from being devoured I would keep them in the fridge up to 2 days. Doubt that will happen cause these really are yummy! Thanks Dick's

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Pass Along

Have you ever been at a potluck where you place your fork into an amazing dish and, after tasting it, find that you spend the rest of the party on a mad hunt trying to find the person responsible for bringing it? I, myself, have been known to leap over my fair-share of buffet tables and slither through large crowds like a snake on a mad dash through a jungle, and the only words coming out of my mouth are "Excuse me, were you the one who brought this dish??" Detective work was not required for this recipe, however. This recipe came via Facebook and long-time friend Joann Marks, by way of the daughter of one of her friends! Crazy? Maybe. But with the rise of online social-networking, finding and sharing recipes like this has become a lot easier. I love those recipes that arrive by way of "a friend of a friend of the daughter of the second cousin who used to go to school with my Mom".

Usually I find that when a recipe has passed through that many hands, it's either been changed or it is so tried and true that it leaves no room for mistakes. Here's one of those lovely recipes that's also appropriate for this season. Pears are abundant right now, are likely available at a great price and come in many delicious flavors and colors. Holiday get-togethers have already begun and if you want to bring something delicious and different, give this recipe a try. When those recipe detectives solve the mystery of "Who brought that dish?", just remember to pass it along, because after all, it was one of those recipes you got from a friend! I'm jus' sayin'!

Fresh Pear Pie

Crust: You are welcome to bypass this step and use a store-bought pie crust, just make sure you get the ones in the refrigerator section that you roll out and not a frozen pie crust.

1 C. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 C. finely chopped nuts
1/3 C. shortening (such as Crisco)

Combine all the above while slowly adding 2-3 TBSP of ice cold water. Mix until dough pulls away from bowl. Sprinkle a bit of flour on board and roll dough out and place in pie plate. (set aside)

In a large bowl take 4 fresh pears (un-peeled but cored) slice them and sprinkle 2 tsp. of flour over the top and set aside.

In a saucepan heat the following but do not bring to a boil. Then place to the side.
1/2 C. Dark corn syrup
1/4 C. brown sugar
dash of salt
2 TBSP of butter
1 tsp. lemon juice

1/2 C. Brown Sugar
1/3 C. flour
1/2 Tsp. Cinnamon
1/4 C. chopped nuts (optional)
cut butter in small pieces and crumble with your fingers all of the above until it forms small pea like balls. Set aside.

Assembly: Place pears in pie crust. Drizzle syrup all over pears. Sprinkle topping all over pie. Place pie on a cookie sheet and put into a preheated 350' oven. Bake appox 50 minutes until it is bubbling and golden brown. Serve with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream and a dash of cinnamon on the ice cream. This pie is so juicy that you may want to serve it in a bowl like a cobbler just so you don't lose any of those delicious juices.

Additional Ideas: If you have a good apple recipe and you want to try something different, try changing out the apples for pears.

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's your secret?

How do you do it? There must be a trick. I look at these moms with multiple children and wonder how they keep them all clean and fed. The house they live in always seems immaculate. What shocks me is how organized they are. I will often find myself daydreaming about what my house would look like if I, too, was that organized. I guess it's all in the way you look at it.

Coconut Ginger Chicken SoupI was recently asked "Kristina, how do you find the time to do all of the cooking that you do?" I responded with "It's what I do. It's who I am." If I'm not in my kitchen cooking, then I'm either on vacation or I'm sick in bed. Sure, the house could be free of those pesky dust bunnies. And those piles of the kids' completed school projects and that mountain of art supplies seems to grow every day to heights that even the skilled Mt. Everest climber would not want to attempt. But then, isn't that a part of "who I am"? I would love to live on an organized schedule - and for the most part we do - but here's a little secret: I sometimes go weeks and weeks without meal planning. Life gets so hectic at times that dinner will be made up in those mere seconds between helping with homework and audible stomachgrowls. Which leads me to my tip of the day. If you don't already do this, then I would suggest that the next time you take a moment to sit down and breathe, take out a pen and write down 7 "go to meals". These are those meals that you always keep ingredients for in your pantry and freezer/fridge. Be it soup, pasta or roast chicken. Make sure you're stocked with these ingredients so that the next time you come rushing through the door from work to find the dog chewing on a chunk of new carpet, the kids screaming and the pile of laundry so tall that it's hiding the washing machine, you can use your "go to list" to pull off a dinner that looks like you are a "polished and organized chef". It will leave all the others asking "How does she do it?" I'm jus' sayin'!

Coconut Ginger Chicken Noodle Soup

Sauté in a pot the following:
3 carrots (peeled & Diced)
1 onion (minced)
2 Tsp. Minced ginger

Then add the following:
2 32 oz boxes of good chicken broth
1 5.6 oz can of coconut milk
2 Cups shredded cooked chicken
salt & pepper to taste

Bring to a boil-cover and simmer 15 min.
Then add 1 cup of your favorite pasta.
Cook 12 minutes or until pasta is al dente.
This is a quick and creamy alternative to that chicken soup we all hold dear to our soul

Monday, October 26, 2009

God's Hugs

I recently (3 days ago) returned from a trip to New England and I guess you could say that this was one of those things that was on my "bucket list". My whole life, be it growing up in sunny California or most recently living in the big state of Texas, I have daydreamed about those Courier and Ives magazines with the covered bridges and the small town warmth that appeared to jump from the pages. For me, this was that trip. I departed with two other girlfriends, one an artist and the other a nature girl, along with myself the "foodie" (more blogs later on that). The trip was a whirlwind 4 states in 4 days, but we did it. All five senses came alive on this trip. The air was crisp with the hint of pine and a rustic dampness from the piles of leaves that covered the earth wherever we traveled. The people were kind and appeared to be hard workers from days gone by - you did not see them on cell phones making business calls but rather slowly discussing the days events and how the weather was changing with the people around them.

It was quiet out in the mountains. Occasionally a gust of wind would stir up and produce just enough vigor to make a pile of leaves do a little jig right before our eyes. We were blessed to have near perfect days (no rain) and as we drove from one quaint little town to another, I found myself daydreaming that I, too, could someday drop it all and retire to a place like this. We traveled to pumpkin patches and apple orchards, drank hot apple cider and munched on sweet, sugary apple cider donuts. I tried cheese in Vermont and maple syrup products that would make your head spin with thoughts of easy, laid back morning's sipping coffee and devouring a huge butter ladened stack of pancakes - things that I can do now, but always seem so much more relaxing when being done on vacation.

We saw wild geese, healthy cows, chickens, ducks, sheep and horses (for my Facebook friends, these are the real ones, not the ones on "Farmville"). We saw covered bridges and red barns. We ate sandwiches at picnic tables and watched the townspeople doing their daily routines. We walked down country roads with canopies of gold, orange, red and rust-colored trees. A strong moment for me was when my artist friend said (as we were driving down a road with trees and mountains on either side). It's like we are being hugged by God! That really made me think. Am I so caught up on the next blog, PTA meeting, e-mail, TV program, etc., that perhaps I'm taking for granted my hugs from God? Every moment of everyday I get them, yet, for some reason, I had to be taken out of my element to really grasp that. Today I am back to my routine. I will feed my family instead of chickens, I will grocery shop instead of pick apples, I will catch-up on Facebook instead of sit in the Rockwellian town square. But, I WILL take a moment in all of this and receive those abundant hugs - I'm jus' sayin!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dutch Apple Pie

Yummy! Who doesn't like the sweet smell of an apple pie baking in the oven? We buy candles and air-fresheners with this scent to fill our homes so why not just take the little bit of time to create that smell for real? That inviting smell will take you back to your Mom's kitchen or your favorite little diner. Whichever memory it conjures up, it always makes me think of Fall. This is the time of year to get to your local farmer's market and check out all the varieties of apples available. Honey Crisp is my favorite for just snacking - it's crisp and sweet with a little tartness at the same time - just amazing! I urge you to seek it out and try it and you will be forever happy, I promise. For baking, I always go for the tart Granny Smith. It holds up so well in the baking process and the sugars just meld together to create the perfect balance of sweet and tart flavors. Now, there have been times when I have picked-up other varieties, only to find them soft or mealy when I go to eat them. No worries! Don't throw them out as they make great applesauce.

Apple PieBelow is an apple pie that I played around with because I had some left-over Kraft Caramel Bits (my new fall baking ingredient) I added them to the filling and then made a streusel topping because my daughter thinks streusel should be on everything. It turned out super-juicy with just the right balance of apples and caramel. Home-made crusts scare you? In a hurry? Don't let these stop you! Buy your crust in the refrigerator section of your grocery store - it won't change the sweet aroma that will flow out of your oven and into the house... I'm jus' sayin'...

Apple Pie 2

Dutch Apple Pie

1 9in pie crust
1 batch of streusel topping (see below)
5 medium tart apples (peeled and sliced thin)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tbs ground cinnamon
1/2 cup Kraft caramel bits (found in chocolate chip aisle)

Streusel Topping

1 stick of butter
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Mix the above together until small pea-size crumbles are made.
Set aside

In a large bowl, combine the apples, sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon.
Put all of that into the pie crust. Distribute strewsel topping all over top of pie. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until it is brown on top and juices are oozing out of the top, and the house is smelling like pure comfort!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Girlpower vs. Foodpower

Yesterday I was chatting with a friend. The type of friend that you go to for common sense when your feeling down. The one you call for encouragement. And the one that will always "show you the light" when your walking through the shadows of that long hallway you call life. But the tables were somehow turned this day. She was in a funk! I know! I was thinking the same thing - "How dare her!" She is supposed to be the one that I run to. Selfish pride put aside, it was my time to listen. Funny thing is that when we were done chatting, I still felt blessed and encouraged by her lovely ways.

I just love that about good sister friends. They always come through, like a ray of sunshine pushing through those clouds that insist on covering the sun. I love how we circle ourselves with just the perfect girlfriends. I distinctly know which one I can call on for whatever I am going through. Just like girlfriends, I have that same ability with food. Now, I'm not saying I am so obsessed with food that I call on it when I am depressed - well OK, maybe in a sense I do.

When I am feeling blue, I can make something warm from the oven that takes me back to happier times as a child. When I am frustrated with a situation, I can take a recipe that looks complicated, yet, when followed correctly, will produce exactly what it says it will. When I am feeling under the weather, I know that a bowl of tortilla soup will perk me up. When I feel like I have put on a few (ahem!) extra pounds, I know that I don't have to settle for a plain tossed salad as there are so many healthy low-cal versions that are delicious too. And lastly, when I am needing comfort from a hectic day, I know that my dear husband's simple omelets show love in a way that only the two of us know. Don't get me wrong, a delicious meal NEVER takes the place of a dear friend, but... isn't it nice to know you can call on your taste buds too? I'm jus' sayin'

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Memories Old and New

Low and behold my birthday passed and October snuck up from behind with a blast of cool breezes and some welcome rain to perk up all my withered plants.

So many beautiful things occur during October. When I was little, I used think October was all about costumes, candy, caramel apples and cider. Now, as an adult, I realize that my palate has not changed much - except that now I can add so many more things to that list. I love how God created the different seasons, nature's cycle of refreshing itself, all the while astounding us with it's beauty. Just when we are through with the sweltering heat of summer, a leaf will slowly take flight from the security of its branch and fall ever so gently to the pile at the floor of the earth. The first sign of what's around the corner!

Farm stands will beckon me with colors and flavors of crisp apples and buttery squashes. Crimson pears will beg to be matched with a ripe blue cheese in a salad of Autumn greens. Pots will be bubbling with soups, stews and chowders. I will exchange ice tea for a pot of hot cider. I'll bake cobblers and pies and take warm cookies from the oven. My kitchen will be filled with the smells of vanilla and cinnamon. Warm blankets will make their return and I'll drape them on our couches or comfy chairs. Candles will again burn as the sun sets earlier each night, filling our house with a sweet aroma and warm glow. I will take trips to the farmer's markets and trips to the pumpkin patches. I'll clean up my garden and get it ready for winter. I will adorn our front door with chrysanthemums in hues of gold, hay bales and spooky ghosts. Pumpkins, too, wait to be carved and lit for all passersby to see. I will watch kids jump in a pile of leaves and ponder to myself if I should jump too. I will curl up to the ones I love and slowly watch the flames in the fireplace dance to an Autumn tune that says "Welcome cool weather... come stay for a while!" I will help my daughter create a costume that comes from her whimsical mind. We will try to slow down because we know this is our resting spot before the busy holidays take over. We will take off those flip flops and put on those boots. We will feel the comfort of those warm, bulky sweaters. We will replace ham sandwiches in the lunch box with chicken soup to warm our souls. And decorate our hearths with gourds and all things orange, brown, and green. I will do all these things not because I am pressured by "Martha" but because deep down inside, I love how warm they make me feel. Enjoy this month and take the time to pause and remember those little things - the ones that trigger a special memory. Without those memories, how are we suppose to create new ones? I'm jus sayin'...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Open Your Back Door

Have you ever wanted to go on a culinary food trip? You know, those ones that you can arrange through a travel agency that takes you on a gastronomical trip through Europe tasting all those delicious ethnic foods and then learning how to cook them. Well, as amazing as those trips are - and I do hope to go on one someday - the economy and my budget forces me to think on a smaller scale, taking "mini" trips or, put another way, foodie field trips. Seriously, I don't care if you live in the Big City or a small little Norman Rockwell town, there are always culinary adventures for the taking.

Asian MarketGoogle is your friend! Start by Googling a nationality and put the word "store" or "market" behind it, along with your town - such as "Asian Market Austin Texas". You will be pleasantly surprised as to what you may find. Now, I live in the town with the flagship Whole Foods store and corporate headquarters, so of course your thinking "why go so far for those delicacies when you can do one-stop shopping?" I'll tell you why. First, when I go to the Asian Market (for example), I am not laden with 4 choices of fish sauce. I get a whole aisle of fish sauces and I get fish sauce from more countries then you can shake a wok at. Why do I want all these choices? Because it's FUN and we live in the land of amazing possibilities.

Second, if you have questions about any of the food, what better way to get answers than go straight to the source. The majority of people that shop in these stores are "regulars" and always seem to have a smile on their face. More importantly,they are generally very willing to answer my silly questions!

Third, if you are looking at this trip from an artistic stand point, nothing screams art to me like all of the labels on the food in an ethnic market. It's like rows and rows of art and color in a food museum. Don't be squeamish of the language barrier - I can usually find a picture on the label that will give me some hint as to what's inside.

I have found that almost every city I have visited has its own unique little pockets of culinary wisdom. Try stepping out through your own back-door... You just may find those same kinds of gastronomical adventures, on a much cheaper "E"-ticket. I'm jus sayin'

Kitchen Therapy

First, I must say "Wow!" It's the first day of Fall, and I'm so blessed that it has come with the pitter-patter of rain. Here in Texas, it's been so very dry that we welcome any form of precipitation we can get. Rainy days make me think of baking and baking makes my mind wander to places that bring only comfort and peace. The last two months have been filled with the usual ups and downs, but they also brought with them the sad news of deaths in the family. I find a bit of comfort knowing that I can walk into my kitchen and let all that pain just melt away when I am cooking.

The kitchen is my therapist, and the food waiting to be transformed becomes my therapy. Of course, on the morning that followed my dog's passing I found it difficult to be as creative as I wanted - so I took a day off. But then, it suddenly occurred to me that taking a day off makes me sulk. Who wants to sulk when there are eggs to whip and sugar to melt and butter to beat into tasty goodness? My whole life, no matter what seems to be bothering me or making me happy at that moment, I have had security knowing that I can walk into a kitchen and release it all - as well as the added bliss that comes along with it.

Once the oven is turned off, you get two choices: indulge in the results of your work right there (which we all know I am trying hard to pass up), or give it away and bless others. When you hand something sweet or something comforting over to a friend, whether they need it or not, it gives such a sense of satisfaction that no words are needed - unless you consider "oooh's" and "ahh's" and "mmmm" words. I'm not trying to take any jobs away from licensed therapists, but hey, if you can find that "thing" that does it for you, then just jump right in because last time I checked, baking cookies was a lot cheaper than therapy - I'm jus' sayin'

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The arrival of every new season brings with it change. When I was young, I used to think God created the seasons because each of us was unique and in with that came the craving of a certain season, the season that makes us feel alive. That has not changed much in my daily theory of life. If you ask someone what their favorite season is, they will likely pop right up and say "Spring", "Autumn", "Winter" or "Summer". And of course, there are a few that will say every season is their favorite simply because they love change. For some, the mere mention of their favorite season will conjure up memories of a favorite pastime specifically related to that season. Personally, I love how food comes to mind 90% of the time. I read once that the sense of taste is the one that stays "alive" the longest in our memory. Whether this is accurate or not for the masses, I have personally found it to be completely true! You name a season and I instantly relate it to food. If I think of a person - any person - I can connect them with a food story. Perhaps I am a bit obsessed with food, however, I believe it's my special way of holding onto the memory of that individual and never forgetting how truly important they were (or still are) to me. With all of this said, I must not finish today's blog without letting you know what my favorite season is.

If you know me, then you know that my favorite color is orange and my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. If you have ever had the opportunity to come by my home during Autumn, you will no doubt have seen that our decorations rank right up there with Christmas - minus the outdoor lighting. I come alive when the thermometer starts to go down and that cool, crisp, familiar breeze forces the trees to release those amazing colors of amber, tawny brown and those lovely hues of my favorite orange. My mind races to pots of hot soup bubbling, scents of sweet vanilla and cinnamon permeating the kitchen. The smell of pot roast that has been in a crock pot all day and the power of its scent when you walk in the door from a long day at work. The feel of those warm slippers and the security of those down feather comforters that force you to stay under the covers just a little longer. The glow of scented candles and crackling fires. The giddy feeling you get when you see a pile of leaves raked up just begging you to "jump in!" and forget your an adult now. The dogs curled up by the couch enjoying the still moment. The apples at the farmer's markets that secretly scream at you to come taste there crispy texture and ponder over all the sweet recipes you can make with them. The children in their costumes running from door-to-door to get their next sweet treat. The blood oranges on my husband's tree out back that turn that lovely hue that says "It's time! Pick me!" The annual trips to the pumpkin patch to find that perfect one for carving and that perfect one for baking and that perfect one that will adorn the Thanksgiving table. The smell of the turkey sizzling in the vat of hot oil. Sitting at a long table of food and taking in the moment - the moment that all these people sitting with you are really, truly blessings and gifts that God has hand-picked just for you. The Fall picnics and the tailgating. The bubbling macaroni and cheese that just oozes comfort from the oven. The fall pies that cool on the racks on the kitchen counters. The mums in all of the shades of Fall, that come back year-after-year to remind you that this season is here again, and it's only here for a short time! So enjoy the walks, and enjoy the smells, and enjoy the tastes. Listen to the sounds and cozy up to the ones who bring you joy and remember that "change" is good, it brings new life. Whether you're Summer, Spring, Winter, Fall, or an equal lover of all, embrace it for all that it is and you will find that change is a gift that allows you to start anew. I'm jus' sayin!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Vote of Confidence

Today while at work - yes, I do have to help pay those grocery bills for all the crazy food ideas I get - I was asked what kind of book I was writing and why. After giving a brief rundown of my reasons, my co-worker asked if I was interested in going on the next Food Network Star TV show or another show like it. So here is my theory on this - and of course, this is just my own humble opinion...

My whole life I have been cooking for the people I love. When I first started with my Easy Bake Oven, it was for my Mom and Daddy (biggest fans, of course). Then it was for my 2 brothers who, bless there hearts, never, ever turned down my food (or critiqued it). They were just happy to get more food, since they were growing boys. As a teen, my Mom quickly saw my talent in the kitchen and put me to work cooking for the family, and why not? She was tired of doing it and I loved it. A classic "Win-Win", right? I soon realized I could win the hearts of my dates by cooking their favorites. I have cooked for seniors who just needed a friendly ear to listen to them and homeless who just needed a meal to fill their stomachs. I've cooked for weddings and funerals, for friends when they were sick and friends when they were celebrating. I have put on my fair share of parties and have been hired to cater events, large and small. I have baked birthday cakes for family and a cake for my Daddy the night before he passed away. I have cooked for church potlucks and finicky little eaters. I have cooked for my best friend/love of my life and the children we love so dearly. I have made fancy dinners as well as chicken nuggets and fries. I made enough brown-bag lunches to compete with almost any mom. And through most every single, solitary meal that I've prepared, I've made it for someone who appreciated it and generally enjoyed it. So WHY, I ask, would I want to go up in front of a firing squad of professionals just so they can pick me apart and tell me that I may or may not have what the tv-watching nation wants to see, when I know in my heart that I already have what my family loves and appreciates.

My point in all this is not to sell yourself short. The next time you think that the meal you create is simply mediocre, ask yourself this - Who are you cooking for? Why are you cooking for them? And are they really complaining? I'd just bet you hands down that YOU are their star. - I'm just sayin!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blog Block!

Here it is only four days in to this lovely endeavor and already, I can't seem to reach into my creative side to pull a witty blog out of my hat for nothing. While I was waking up at 5am, I had several moments of creativity - or should I say my cloudy dreams wrestling with reality. If it were not for that single, solitary bean and the prospects of a morning conversation with Juan Valdez, I would perhaps still be laying there. But alas, here I am, babbling on with nothing but mere useless words with no intent to inspire even the lowliest creatures.

Lists! Lists! Lists! Is that not what one does when they are in this state of utter confusion? So my morning routine is: roll out of bed, get my daughters lunch ready, press the ever loving button of joy that sits on my counter and exudes liquid caffeine and hit all my vast forms of electronic communication. Between e-mail, twitter, facebook and now this blog, I think I have reached a new level of "time-sucked-away-by-the-computer"! So, Juan, what do you say we get this ball rolling and put together what it is we should to do today? First off on that list, the morning walk. I must say, I thought it was going to be super-hard getting back into the swing of things, but walking with my husband and the dog has proved to make those walks far more enjoyable. Yesterday, I did accomplish finding clarity in my over-sized pantry, which in turn allowed me to produce - yep you got it - another list (grocery) of the things I don't have and the things that were lurking in the deep, dark, pantry abyss, all screaming to be released to the nearest trash receptacle. I labeled the shelves and organized all the oddities that most people would not find, nor wonder what to do with, nor care about in their pantry, and was still able to get most of my other chores done, bake cookies and make dinner. So in my eyes I will pat myself on the back and say "Well done my faithful blogger, well done"!

Today I will be making white chocolate bread, a yummy treat that my dear sister friend passed over and quickly found "star" status on - yep, you guessed it - the list of "will you make this". And no worries, as this WILL be going in the cookbook! You know, I find it kind of funny that one minute I am at a loss for words and then I scroll my eyes up and Bam! there you go, the block I was so worried about turned out to not be just a moment of wasted cyberspace after all.

Maybe I need to discuss my morning "lists" with Juan on a regular basis - I'm just saying...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Finding your inner Zen

Yesterday I had the amazing pleasure (insert sarcasm where due) to sit no make that stand for 2 1/2 hours at our delightful local Department of public transportation. My wallet was lost/stolen a few days ago (I know very sad) so I am slowly and might I add a bit inpatient about getting my identity back. While there I kept going over in my head how much time I was wasting just standing instead of keeping myself on track to my cookbook/weight project. Now had I been a far more organized individual I would have had a bag with my binder of recipes and notes and label maker and would have made much better use of my time. However that is NOT me (oh how I wish it were) My whole life I have struggled with the nagging aspect of turning into a pack rat. My Mother was a pack rat and then I married a pack rat and now have managed to raise not one but two pack rats. How did this happen? (is it embedded in the gene pool) Trust me I ask myself this every morning as I get up and start my routine of picking and purging. To some being a pack rat is just another way of keeping treasures dear to your heart-for others and especially me I find it overwhelming and a train wreck to my thoughts. If my house is in chaos then I am in chaos and as I am spinning out of control I notice that the rest of the family is continuing to co-habitat as if nothing is wrong and with the mere thoughts of "there goes Mom again trying Not to be psycho" Yes you can ask each individual in my family what consumes the most time in my life and they will all probably have some rendition on how much time I take picking and purging.
Well as far as I know today I will not be standing in any God forsaken lines -I will start my walk-I will do my chores-I will have a bit more time (without pressure) to tackle organizing my over sized pantry which in return for all that hard work will bring me that inner sense of Zen that will hopefully produce a good chapter in my cookbook and the will power to keep my body active finding better things to do then napping-wait is napping not a form of finding your inner Zen? I'm just saying!

Monday, August 24, 2009


So after tossing all night trying to think how I am actually going to start this whole endeavor of loosing 30 pounds and write a cookbook all in one year.........The word accountability kept popping up in my head like a crazed alter ego of sorts trying to wrestle with my other soul breaking personalities like "Ms. Gut check"-and the ever loving "Diva of Denial. " Is it possible that writing this all down for anyone as well as all my paternal peeps is a form of keeping me on track? Which brings me to that sign I see occasionally when they are building in town on a new highway it says "on track" and "on budget" So is it entirely impossible to spend a year writing a cookbook of all the comforts of your childhood, testing recipes and making them over and over for photo shots AND loose weight? I guess maybe if you were writing a meatless/sugarless/fatless (is that a word?) kind of cookbook. No offence to all those darling chefs out there who claim you can have a life and enjoy good food one string bean at a time. I am a pirate of good food, I am willing to sail seven seas to taste something new. Well I guess that is a bit exaggerated but I will take what my kids have always called "Mom field trips" at any opportunity and I am willing to try anything. ( well mostly food related but you know what I'm saying) So perhaps accountability is just a word that defines how you keep your self on track. Maybe I need to sit down with all of these "personalities" and work on a team plan. I am sure they will all have a part in this. How is a very good question. So as I get ready to push send on this blog I realize the first thing I need to do today is WALK WALK WALK! walking will help clear the brain right? then it's time to put ALL those recipes I have already started out in a pile and sort them, of course sort will probably require a whole other blog. But no worries is that not what the accountability thing is all about? I'm just saying!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Something new

So school starts tomorrow for my youngest, which means it's now my turn to get going. First off the dreaded exercise that we all hate at first but learn to love once we get into routine. I will be starting off slow with just dog walking and my cheap but workable virtual yoga Cd's I picked up from McDonald's about 5 years ago. Then once the exercise is started it's time to get my brain in focus to start that cookbook that I have been working on. (FOREVER) This cookbook will be a dedication to my children with a strong emphasis on their future spouses. I regress a bit. Lets see, well have you ever gotten married to the love of your life and you want desperately to cook him his favorite meals (you know the ones he grew up on that only his Mom or Father can make?) well then you figure a nice chat with the in laws will bring fourth this plethora of culinary wisdom? Not always the case I found out. Now I personally had a lovely relationship with my in laws who would always give me the right recipe when I asked-right meaning sometimes you ask your mother in law for that special recipe and though she writes it down, funny how when you cook it it seems to be just a tad OFF! well over the years this is what I have heard from many friends so I thought I would put a stop to this chain of frustration (if for my kids only) and create ALL my kids favorites with photo demonstrations so that their future spouses will never have to think they can not conquer their loves family secrets in the kitchen. So I guess I should let you know this book has a little more than how to make Roberts favorite Calzones or Johnee's favorite Bento box. I have been cooking since I had an easy bake oven and I find that I am most passionate when I am in the kitchen. I ran a bakery, small catering company and dabled in food styling and have been cooking and baking for my family and friends for 40 plus years. From every childhood friendship too every chance meeting I have gleaned recipes and food knowledge. Now it's time to put it all down in a book while my mind still allows it. This is my first blog and I can't imagine it is of anyones interest but with that said It will be my tool for accountability to keep me on track this year to finish this book.