The Extent of My Experience

In elementary school, we had to participate in the science fair as an assignment for class.   Science has never really been my strong suit; I was always better equipped to proofread a friend's book report than be someone's lab partner.  I'm okay with it, mostly because I am an excellent proofreader, but I remember envying classmates science fair entries.

My best friend project was paper that had flecks of real flower petals in them.  She did a demonstration for the class on how she made it.  It was amazing.  The purpose of her project was to show that our paper waste could be made into something new and special by recycling it.  My project felt silly in comparison.  I dyed muslin using different ingredients found in nature:  tea leaves for yellow, coffee grounds for brown, red cabbage for purple, and beets for red.  I had to boil my ingredients to extract the color so I couldn't do a live demonstration of the process.  I missed my opportunity to relate it to current events, social issues, environmental concerns, or anything that would make the understanding of dyes important for my classmates to know about.  I think my grade for that project was a B and I didn't win any awards in the fair. 

Between the science fair project and finding them pickled on the salad bar at a local restaurant, that was the extent of my experience with beets until adulthood.  Then they seemed to be everywhere--either finally it became chic to eat beets or I had only just starting noticing them.  I had a beautifully composed beet salad at the Brown Dog Cafe with my friend Sharon, and I was reminded that I do like their flavor.  They remind me of a savory carrot, with a deeper, earthier flavor that fills the mouth with each bite. 

I wanted to make a few different dishes using the small bunch I picked up at the market.  Roasting and pureeing the beets seemed the easiest route to do this, and it was incredibly easy.  I trimmed the root and stem ends from the beets and gave them a good scrub.  I then placed them in a baking dish with about a 1/4 cup of water and covered the dish with foil.  I put them in a preheated 425 degree F oven for about an hour.  Then I took the baking dish out of the oven, discarded the foil, and let the beets cool for about 20 minutes.  With gloved hands--because I knew from my science fair days that beets will stain anything they touch--I peeled off their skins, roughly chopped the flesh, and placed them in a food processor.  I pulsed the food processor until the beets were broken down into very small pieces but not quite down as far as, say, a sauce.  I had about a cup and a half of puree from three medium sized beets. I let the mixture cool all the way down to room temperature and then stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator until I was ready to use it. 

If you make this in advance as I did, you can keep the beet puree for up to a week in the refrigerator in a sealed container or freeze it for later use.  I'll be back in a few days to show you what I did with it! 


Past Their Prime

Around three o'clock this afternoon I looked out the window and a dreary rain-shower had upgraded to a damp snowfall.  Of course, this is only an upgrade for those who have been disappointed by the muddy, mild weather we've had so far this winter.  I normally behave like a shut-in come January, but I think the weather has me out of my norm.  I'm tackling my new year's goals with gusto, brainstorming new ideas for this website, gearing up to attend local blogging events, and even feeling confident at my day job. 

I guess winter has finally settled in but I don't plan on slowing down.  I've even been thinking about spring gardening again.  One of the perks of living way out here in the suburbs is that we have so much space for things to grow.  Some things like leafy greens can be started as soon as April--that's only a few months away!

Our potted herb garden was extremely rewarding this year.  Whenever I needed a handful of chives to add to a sauce or to finish a salad, I walked out to the patio with the kitchen shears.   That incredibly easy oregano pesto?  Trimmed from our backyard plant.  There was also parsley for adding to homemade stock, dill for homemade pickles, and, my favorite, thyme bouquets stuffed into whole roast chicken

Except for the rosemary, though its time will soon be over too, the rest of the herbs are past their prime.  Some will come back next year and some won't.  Come February, when the ground is frozen and the air visibly holds my breath, I will chop down the thick stems of what's left to allow for new growth this spring.  I have a feeling that the time will fly by between now and then, don't you?

Did you grow anything wonderful this year?  Any gardening resolutions or goals for 2012?


Monday Links: Cold Nights, Hot Drinks

The weather held out for our New Year's Eve trip to southeastern Ohio, but the temperature plummeted to 20 degrees on New Year's Day.  Mentally, I was ready for the cold, but physically I was chilled to the core.  Instead of going into a hibernation this month, I am focusing on ways to warm up.

My solution: steamy beverages.  In this week's edition of Monday Links, I've rounded up some hot drinks that I've been eyeing around the web. 

Molly and Matthew debate hot chocolate vs. hot cocoa as well as share some recipes for their favorite versions on Episode 54 of their Spilled Milk Podcast. 

I'm sure it's not a healthy prescription for stress, but a Hot Toddy sounds like the perfect way to recover from a tough day at the office. 

If you are like me and have leftover fresh pumpkin puree from the holidays, this Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe from Our Share of the Harvest is a great way to use it up.  (And I don't think eating pumpkin should be limited to November, do you?)

Melissa loves Chai Teas from Starbucks (and so do I) so I think it's high time we learned to make our own.  Thanks Tasty Kitchen for these step-by-step instructions on making a chai tea concentrate

Alright, I know this isn't quite fitting with my theme, but wouldn't it be cute to drink out of these mustache mugs?  It makes me giggle just thinking about it.  Mustaches never go out of style. 

Do you have any hot drink suggestions to add to my list?  Share in the comments.


New Year's Resolution: Show My Appreciation

Have you made any New Year's resolutions?  If not, that's okay.  But this year I've been pretty focused on what I need to do now to get where I want to be in the future, and goal setting (or resolution making, whatever you call it) has been a big part of it. 

Tim humored me by sitting down to a formal dinner on December 27 and creating a list of joint goals for our family.  Truthfully, most of them are things I thought of in advance, but some of them are things that Tim contributed.  One of his resolutions for our family is to create an emergency kit; it would give him peace of mind and help us tremendously should their ever be a natural disaster or terrorist attack.  One of my goals for our family was to learn to cut Tim's hair.  He needs it done every few weeks and it's a regular expense that we could cut back on.  I've already started fulfilling this goal: I gave him a hair cut last night (and did a pretty good job for a first timer). 

My personal goals are focused on work, relationships, and health, but I was careful to make them attainable.  An important one on my list--and something we all should constantly be working on--is to not take my family for granted.  This means sending thank you cards, phoning relatives to tell them I've been thinking of them, and making time to show my family that I appreciate them.

Recently, as a part of this personal goal, Tim and I have started planning ahead to spend time together doing something special.  Sometimes we go to a movie or out to dinner, but on occasion we plan in advance, like we did for our goal setting night, to have a nice dinner at home.  There is the same anticipation and similar planning that would occur if we were going out, but we get to be more relaxed in our own home.  Since I love to cook, this is one way I show Tim that I appreciate him.  

If you are thinking about instituting more date nights in your household or just want to make a nice dinner for a friend, I'd like to share a menu I made recently that was elegant and easy to pull together on a weeknight.  Most of the components can be made in advance, freeing up your time to spend with your date rather than standing in the kitchen.  When you're ready to eat, all you will need to do is cook the fish, toss together a quick salad, and re-heat the rest. 

Pan-Fried Sea Bass with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce and Broccoli Puree
recipe slightly adapted from French Food at Home
serves 2-4, depending on how many filets you purchase

When picking out the fish for this dish, look for a filet that is of even thickness throughout.  That way it will cook evenly and you won't have to worry about it being over or under-cooked in sections.  If the price of seabass gives you sticker shock, you could substitute mahi mahi or salmon.

I made slight changes to the recipe to make it dairy free, but you could substitute butter for the Earth Balance.  I served this with a glass of dry white wine and a simple salad of mixed greens tossed with oil and vinegar.  If you need a wine recommendation, I'd suggest a Sauvignon Blanc from California or New Zealand to cut through the richness of the fish and broccoli puree.  And just a tip from this wine geek--cook with a wine you like to drink; it will make good food taste even better!

If you have leftover red pepper sauce, mix a few tablespoons into some hummus or stir it in with some mayonnaise for a fancy sandwich. 

Ingredients for the Roasted Red Pepper Sauce
2 red bell peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
6 tbsp chicken stock
Lemon juice, to taste
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Place the peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast for 35-45 minutes, until the flesh is soft and puckered.  Take the peppers out of the oven and place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow the peppers to sweat for 10 minutes.  Remove the plastic wrap and peel and seed the peppers.  Discard skins and seeds.  Cut the flesh into pieces and set aside. 

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a saute pan.  Add the shallot and cook for about 5 minutes until slightly soft.  Turn heat up to medium-high and deglaze pan with white wine.  Cook 1 minute.  Add the chicken stock and red pepper.  Return heat to medium and cook 5 minutes.  Cool slightly, and then puree in a blender or food processor.  Pour sauce through a strainer to remove any solids and transfer to a small saucepan to reheat sauce when you need it.  Season with salt & pepper to taste.  Can be made 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 

Reheat in saucepan before serving. 

Ingredients for the Broccoli Puree
1 head of broccoli,
1 leek, white and light green parts, trimmed, sliced into rings, and rinsed well
1 tbsp Earth Balance spread, soy-free
Zest of 1 lemon plus juice, to taste
salt & pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to boil.  Cut the florets off the head of broccoli.  Peel the stem and thinly slice.  Add the leek, broccoli florets, and broccoli stem to the boiling water.  Cook until very tender, about 10 minutes.  Drain.  Add the Earth balance and puree with an immersion blender or in batches in the food processor.  Return to the pot and add lemon zest, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.  Can be made 1 day in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Reheat in the microwave or slowly on the stove top (careful not to evaporate too much liquid) before serving. 

Ingredients for the Fish
2 filets of sea bass, 4 oz each
salt & pepper
1 tbsp Earth Balance spread, soy-free
1 tbsp olive oil

Season the filets with salt & pepper.  Heat the butter and oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Fry the fish about 4 minutes per side, until golden and fish is cooked through. 

Serve on a bed of the broccoli puree with red pepper sauce along side.


Scenes from a Weekend Getaway II

First three photos taken at Shawnee State Park.
Last three photos taken of the Floodwall Murals in Portsmouth, Ohio. 

Happy New Year!