February 28, 2013

"Red" Red Wine

Wine is to women as duct tape is to men. It fixes everything.

This is a gorgeous wine.  I love it because it is perfect to sip after a long day of work, it pairs really well with almost any red meat dish, and makes a lovely gift to take to a dinner or party.  (As a matter of fact, every time I give a bottle away, the recipient asks me about it and wants to know how to buy more!)  On top of everything else, it’s not expensive… right around $12 a bottle. 

I first discovered Red at my school’s restaurant.   Tom, the dining room management instructor, is personal friends with the winemaker and recommended it to me with dinner one night.  

After a month long experiment of not eating red meat, I am ready to dive into a really great hamburger or a slow cooked beef stew this weekend with a glass to wash it down. 

Cheers darlings!



February 26, 2013

Kick Start a Meditation Practice

I’ve almost always been a worry wart.  Mostly, I worry about my kids and if they are safe, happy and healthy.  I also worry about money, work, aging, calories, laundry, world peace and what’s for dinner.  Ideas and thoughts swirl around in my mind and it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed.   Everyone knows stress is unhealthy mentally and physically--it can bury you and lock up your capacity to experience joy and fun. It interferes with sleep, mood, energy and productivity.   When I get anxious about too many things, I shut down and want to hibernate and my creativity suffers.  When I let myself get into a twisted stressed out funk, I’m definitely not the best version of myself.
For the heck of it, about 6 months ago, I decided to give meditation a whirl.  I set my alarm every morning for an hour earlier than usual and created  a sort of nest in the corner of our living room so I could sit on a floor pillow with a folded up warm blanket and I put a single white candle on the coffee table to set the stage.   I researched online and read a few books about all the different ways to meditate. There are so many styles and names of different practices that at first I was pretty confused about which one to pick.   I wanted something simple and practical, so I gleaned a few different ideas and just jumped in. 

Here are some easy steps to start your own routine:

1.      Choose a time of day with the least amount of distraction.  (When everyone is still asleep at 6:00 AM, I have the house to myself) Set up an area that is comfortable and soothing to you. Let your family or roommates know this is going to be an ongoing thing, and to please not disturb you unless there’s an emergency.

2.      I uploaded a cool little app on my phone that helps keep track of time so I don’t worry about falling asleep or going over my self-imposed 20 minute time limit.  Or you can put a couple of songs onto a playlist that are equal to the amount of time you want to meditate.  Headphones make the music a more intense part of the meditation and can help by blocking out distracting noises.

3.      Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing.  Don’t worry if random thoughts bubble to the surface.  Just try to imagine them as soft slow bubbles rising and popping on the surface of a warm, slowly simmering pot of soup.   If too many things rise to the surface, I tell myself, “Let go.”

4.      Sometimes I wear headphones and play soothing music, but most of the time I don’t.  There is something pure and rare about silence. 

I’ve read before that the main difference between praying and meditation is that praying is talking to God and meditating is listening to God.  No matter what a persons religious background is, being still and silent is about the best way to connect to something not only bigger than ourselves, but to go within to find a deep place of calm.   I love it because it quiets my mind and helps me figure things out… sometimes during meditation, and sometimes hours or days later, solutions just occur from seemingly out of the blue.   A great analogy is to imagine a jar filled with one cup of sand and 3 cups of water that has been shaken up.  Muddied and greyish brown liquid swirls around in the container and is impossible to see through.  After setting the jar down and letting the sand settle to the bottom of the jar, the water is clear.
One of my favorite quotes about meditation I found while researching was this:
“Think of your ordinary emotional, thought-ridden self as a block of ice or a slab of butter left out in the sun. If you are feeling hard and cold, let this aggression melt away in the sunlight of your meditation.” ~Sogyal Rinpoche

My kids tease me and think I’m being a bit “out there” I suppose.  They asked me when they first found out I was meditating if I was going to start collecting crystals and wear embroidered smocks.   But kidding aside, they reap the benefits of a mellower mom.          

I’ll always worry about my kids since I don’t have eyes in the back of my head to check up on them every minute. But that hour I spend in silence every morning gives me a foundation for a less stressed out day and a calm feeling of inner peace.   



February 22, 2013

Have a delicious weekend my lovelies.

February 20, 2013

Winter Veg and Lentil Stew

"Soup is a lot like a family. Each ingredient enhances the others; each batch has its own characteristics; and it needs time to simmer to reach full flavor." Marge Kennedy

The Hubs and I decided to take a cue from a couple of the Chef Instructors who work at our school... Chef Brophy and Chef Bailey ritually take a month off from eating red meat and poultry once a year.
We figured it can't hurt to give our stomachs and bodies a month long break, and hopefully clear out our systems a bit at the same time.  We are still enjoying seafood, and I've been cooking with salmon, cod and shrimp a few days a week, so I don't feel as though I'm missing out on protein. 

I do miss bacon especially.  In the winter months, I gravitate to heavier, hearty, satisfying soups and dishes, usually brimming with shredded chicken breast or a smoked ham-hock thrown in for a richer flavor.  When it's cold and dreary weather-wise, it seems my body naturally wants to pack on a few extra pounds for warmth. I blame biology and just reach for my favorite winter wardrobe pieces: Black wool turtleneck sweaters, chunky corduroy skirts and warm boots.  Perfect camouflage for a bit of seasonal pudginess.  Eating mostly fish and veggies this week hasn't really helped in terms of losing any weight since I still enjoy cheese and bread, but it's pushed me to cook more inventively and I feel pretty good.

I love this recipe for Lentil Soup, from one of the most flavorful and healthy cookbooks I own, "The Ultra-Metabolism Cookbook" by Mark Hyman.  I usually sneak in some bacon or a bit of ham or sausage, so this time, I stuck to his original recipe:

Lentil Soup

3 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup diced leek
1/4 cup minced shallots
1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 cup diced carrots
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup celery leaves
1 (15 oz.) can chopped tomatoes
1/2 pound (2 cups) French green lentils, rinsed and picked over
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 multi branch sprig of thyme
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the leek, shallots, and garlic.  Cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, until the shallots are translucent.  Add the carrot, celery and celery leaves.  Cook for about 3 minutes until celery is softened.

Add the can of tomatoes, lentils, broth, thyme, salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the lentils are soft, about 1 hour and 15 minutes.  The cooking time of the lentils may vary.  Remove the thyme sprig before serving. 

February 18, 2013

Sunday Morning Mancakes.

Yesterday was a slow and dreamy Sunday. 

Sleeping in, snuggling under the covers, wearing pajamas until noon, sipping hot coffee and reading the paper, and puttering were the focus of my day.

My husband spent Saturday with a fellow beer-lover in Eugene at Oakshire Brewery, celebrating and sampling a brand new “bourbon barrel” Hellshire aged beer that was being released.  He brought home a few of the fancy, artistic bottles of the stuff, along with a jug or “growler” of his favorite, Overcast Espresso Stout.  I decided to experiment a bit, and used some of the leftover amber brew as the liquid (instead of milk) in our pancakes Sunday morning. They were a lovely fluffy and yeasty confection, with a deep, rich, almost chocolaty espresso flavor that carried through in each bite.  I warmed up some real maple syrup then toasted some pecans to go on top.  A strong cup of Stumptown coffee with cream was the perfect pairing.

I told my hubs he could dub them “Mancakes” since they were made with his favorite beer.

February 6, 2013

Dream Torte

"Let's face it.  A nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people."
~Audrey Hepburn
My father in-law adores dark chocolate.  The darker the better.
Lately, I’ve been baking cakes for most our family’s gatherings, and aside from the Dark Chocolate Guinness Stout Cake recipe, this one has been overwhelmingly appreciated… one of the Chef Instructors at OCI gave it to me, and it’s the most popular dessert on our school’s restaurant menu.  Everyone who tastes it can’t help but rave, and there is a trick to enjoying it fully:
Take a small bite, and press it to the roof of your mouth while you inhale slowly and gently.  Close your eyes.  Your senses will reel with the warm, deep, rich, comforting thrill of chocolate.  Swallow slowly and take a sip of either a ripe red wine or hot coffee. 


OCI Chocolate Dream Tort
*If you have a kitchen scale, be sure to use it.  The students in the baking and pastry programs at my school rarely measure using cups and spoons; they almost always weigh things out on the scale instead.  As a home cook, I have finally switched to this method and it makes a world of difference in baking.

Line a 1”x9” spring form pan with parchment paper after buttering inside of pan and set aside.
12 oz. Dark Chocolate (cut into pieces)
5 oz. Water
1 Tbs. Dark Rum
6 oz. Sugar
9 oz. Unsalted Butter
6 Eggs
3 oz. Sugar (to whip with eggs)

Cut butter into small pieces and mix with chocolate.  Bring water and 6 oz. sugar to boil.  Pour syrup over chocolate and butter and stir until completely melted.  Whip eggs with 3 oz. sugar to soft foam, triple in volume.   Gently whisk whipped eggs into chocolate mixture.  Pour mix into a lined cake pan and bake in a water bath at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. (Most ovens vary in temperature; just make sure it’s firmed up in the middle before taking it out of the oven.  A skewer will come out clean from the center when done) Chill (or freeze) at least 2 hours before un-molding.

Ganache Glaze
8 oz. Cream
8 oz. Bittersweet Chocolate
1 oz. Butter, softened
Bring cream to a boil and pour over chocolate and butter and stir until melted.  Pour over chilled cake.



February 5, 2013

Sacred Coffee

Every morning at 6:00 I have the exact same routine:

Wrap up in a blanket or robe, slip into big woolly slippers, then silently make my way to the kitchen.
When everyone else is still asleep, I feel like I'm opening my day with a sacred ritual that begins with brewing the perfect pot of coffee.  Whether the beans are percolated, dripping slowly through an unbleached filter into my cherished Chemex Pot or pressed through the fine sieve of the stainless steel French press, the whole act is very near a religious ritual.

A good cup of coffee is my prayer for the day ahead.

February 4, 2013

Fresh Orange Salsa and Cocktails

Grocery shopping at Whole Foods Saturday morning, I stumbled across these gorgeous organic Minneola Oranges.  They were on sale, so I packed a good dozen of them into my grocery bag, knowing that if inspiration didn't hit for a fabulous recipe, they'd be perfect for snacking on all week. 
They are of course delicious on their own.   But I've also used them as a tangy-sweet addition to a fruit salsa for Super Bowl Sunday--chopped up with red peppers, black beans, cilantro, avocado and red onion.  Then for dinner, I squeezed the juice over a fillet of cod, added some fresh ground black pepper and grated ginger, and thinly cut slices over the fish and baked it in parchment.  Delish.
But my favorite way to use these little darlings?  As a cocktail.
Just juice a couple fresh oranges over ice in a martini glass, then add a splash of vodka or gin into the glass.  To get a little fancy, zest the peel and add a few swirls to the drink along with some club soda.