Vegetable Nut Loaf

Once when visiting Brad and Emmie in England, we strolled to the local pub for dinner. (Yes, I’m sure we did this more than once, but for this story, it’s once.) On the menu was a nut loaf roast – vegetarian’s alternative to meatloaf. Not a huge meatloaf eater (have never actually had meatloaf) I was intrigued and the description sounded wonderful. Bob thought I was a little nuts, but I went ahead with trying it. It was fantastic. Warm and comforting and filling without the meat. For me, it was a perfect dinner. Fast forward two years and a real desire to eat a little lighter after the holidays, and I decided to try my hand at a nut loaf roast.

One would think finding a recipe would be easy, but it wasn’t. I found a few, but most have mushrooms in them and if I can avoid the things, I do. Yes, I’m positive the original I ate had the fungus in it, I just didn’t care. But I settled on one recipe I found on a British site and decided to go for it. I chopped the beet and cooked it just a little in a large pan and a touch of water. While that was cooking I peeled and diced a carrot, parsnip and onion. I removed the beet from the pan and added the other veggies and cooked them down just until they were soft.

20131230-154917.jpg

From there, I mixed some chili garlic sauce (about a teaspoon) and a two small tomatoes. I added to all the vegetables the breadcrumbs (had panko on hand so that is what I used), sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and the oats. I did grate some cheese in here and added a little salt and pepper. For the nuts, I used a handful (my handful so about an once probably) each of walnuts, pecans and almonds that I ground up. I mixed everything together and put it in a loaf pan to cook.

20131230-155222.jpg

I was a little worried since my ability to convert metric to American units is a little iffy. I think I got most of the proportions right, but I was still nervous. After about 45 minutes in the oven came the moment of truth – how did it taste? Well. It wasn’t the nut roast I remembered, but it was darn good. Bob declared it a success, although not as good as the Moroccan Chicken Stew. My only issue is that, while delicious, it needed something to bind it together; serving was interesting. I think the next time I make it I may up the oats, skip the tomato and add an egg. Flavors were great but it fell apart really easily. But for a light, vegetarian meal, it worked.

20131230-155616.jpg

Hosting Christmas

When I decided I didn’t want to go anywhere for Christmas, I didn’t intend a big to do about the holiday. But if we were home, I thought I’d invite Mom and Dad over for dinner. I said the same to Val and Bill, and much to my surprise everyone accepted. After figuring out how many we’d have for dinner, I then had to figure out what to make. Bill and Dad aren’t big on vegetables, Val doesn’t eat a lot of meat, Bob is still limiting grains and wheat, and I’m just fussy in general. So I decided to do a variety of experiments in hopes that everyone would have something they liked. And if everything failed miserably, there was dessert and the Indian restaurant down the street.

For the main dish I went with pork loin roast. It looked good at Whole a Foods the weekend before. I plucked a ton of herbs from the garden and chopped them with garlic and olive oil to make a paste/marinade.

20131226-203152.jpg Oregano, thyme and rosemary made a really fragrant marinade. Then, and this was the fun part, I wrapped the pork roast in pancetta. Yep. Pork wrapped pork.

20131226-203331.jpg I let this set in the fridge overnight so the flavors soaked in and melded really nicely. I cooked it with a little white wine and vegetable broth for steam. Once it came out of the oven it looked like this

20131226-203435.jpg The fat from the pancetta rendered and basted the pork roast so it was moist and tender. This was a big hit with all the boys.

For sides I went one traditional and one out there sounding. For the traditional I made stuffing. Mom gave me leftover corn bread she froze after Thanksgiving and I used a loaf do bacon bread I made the week before for the bread base.

20131226-203646.jpg It was a little humid so I ended up using the oven at 200 for 45 minutes or so to dry the bread out. To this I added more pork (rendered pork belly specifically), opinions, celery and apples. Thyme and oregano completed the herbs and I used two eggs and vegetable stock for the liquid. I let it set overnight then baked it for an hour. I thought it ended up too wet, but Mom and Dad both said it was very good and the right texture for stuffing, so I’ll call it successful.

Now for the vegetables. Originally I wanted to go with chard, but the farmer’s market didn’t have any Saturday. But they had really beautiful kale. I love kale. Val loves kale. Mom is fine with kale, but it thought it’d be a hard sell to the boys. My figuring was that they would have pork, so we could have kale. I scoured some recipes and found one recipe that swore the salad was totally not bitter and really mellow. I admit I didn’t believe it at all, but wanted to try it anyway. So first thing Christmas morning I chopped up two small bunches of kale and then added a quarter cup crasions, a quarter cup golden raisins and some pine nuts I toasted (1/3 cup maybe). I substituted sherry wine vinegar for the rice wine vinegar but otherwise kept it the same. I added Parmesan right before serving. Somehow I totally forgot to get a picture of this and there were no leftovers, so the only picture I have is of the final plate.

20131226-204914.jpg
Oh … and I made gravy. I took a tablespoon of chopped shallot and sautéed that in a pat of butter. Then I added a teaspoon of flour and made a nice toasty roux. To that I added the pan juices and some light vegetable broth. It came together rather nicely.

Mom came prepared with desserts. She made cookies for a few mornings in a row when the temperatures were a tad chilly.

20131226-205303.jpg She made a fabulous cheesecake with lemon curd that was so good and I am still enjoying it.

20131226-205403.jpg And, as I promised Val, I made a variety of brittles.

20131226-205444.jpg Sesame, almond and pumpkin seed. Bob likes the almond best.

All in all it was a very lovely Christmas. And the weather cooperated so we could eat outside and enjoy the beautiful day.

20131226-205622.jpg That may seem like rubbing it in, but in all honestly the patio table is the most comfortable place for six people. The kitchen is very cramped and we sacrificed the dining room to make the space Bob’s office so … outside Christmas dinner it was.

20131226-205825.jpg The babies were so tired from hosting they needed a rest. Except Miss Leia. She is ready for more company.

20131226-210709.jpg

Merry Christmas

The holidays are special in part because of the memories they evoke. True memories or not we all remember something from childhood that says Christmas or Thanksgiving or whichever holiday it is to us. The things I remember and miss about childhood Christmas are midnight mass where Val would always lean over, hug me and say ‘merry Christmas’ right as mass started; she would be the first person to wish me a merry Christmas every year. I miss Christmas Eve at Karen’s mom’s; big Italian family Christmas Eve where. Christmas at Grandmom’s in Philly. Everyone gathering there, the abundance of food and the coffee chiffon cake. Whenever I think of Dad’s mom I think of that cake. The flavor, the texture and the mocha icing. This year, I wanted to try to recreate the cake for Dad. We always cook from Mom’s side of the family and we tend to see that side of the family more often, so I wanted something from Grandmom”s Christmas this year for Dad.

I started with a chiffon cake recipe. Separated the eggs (2) whipped the egg whites with a half cup of sugar (a little at a time) until they formed a nice fluffy meringue.

20131225-163819.jpg
Next I beat one cup of a sugar, 2 1/4 cup flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt together then add in 1/3 cup oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla, and 1/2cup strong coffee. Mix really well then add two egg yolks and another 1/2 cup strong coffee.

20131225-164316.jpg After it is all mixed, fold in the egg white/sugar mixture. Carefully.

20131225-164358.jpg Pour into two 8″ pans that have been buttered and floured and bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.

20131225-164501.jpg
In order to really get Grandmom’s cake I needed to also fold in about a quarter cup ground walnuts, but I didn’t have any and wasn’t totally sure about the type of nut. But, Grandmom did make the cake without nuts too, so I’m still following tradition.

Now the icing. My nemesis. I have tried for years to get this right. Grandmom showed me how to make it, Aunt Maryann sent me a recipe at one point – I never got it right. Usually the icing was just a total disaster, but I was determined to try again. I took 1/2 cup of strong coffee, 1/3 cup coco powder and mixed them together. I added one stick of unsalted butter and a pinch of salt. I mixed these until they were very well incorporated. I added a teaspoon of vanilla and then confectioners sugar. A lot of confectioners sugar. Probably a half bag of confectioners sugar which is all the sugar I had in the house. (3-4 cups more than likely) I beat, mixed and stirred until I had icing. It was a little thin (I thought) initially, but I wanted to try it.

20131225-165138.jpg
I took a cooled cake and iced it. Then came the moment of truth … did it taste like Grandmom’s?

20131225-165246.jpg
I thought it was perfect. Minus the nuts. But the texture, the flavor and the icing were exactly what I remember from childhood. The real test would come when Dad tried it Christmas Day. So the final verdict? Dad asked if I had a seance; it was the cake, and the icing, from Grandmom. I actually managed to get it right. I sent Dad home with the second cake.

I was also not the only one thinking about Grandmom this year. Mom made some of the almond cookies and picked up ….

20131225-165737.jpg a box of Andes mints. It was a very merry Christmas.

I’ll post the dinner pics later. Including the one of us eating dinner on the back patio – it was gorgeous here. Merry Christmas everyone. May you recapture a little of the magic from childhood this year.

Christmas Is Coming … Wait, I’m Not Ready

Usually by the Solstice I am fully prepared for Christmas. I have the cards written and mailed, presents bought, wrapped and mailed and holiday baking well on its way. This year? Not so much. I haven’t looked at the boxes of cards, no presents have been wrapped or mailed yet and I have zero baking done. I’m pretty fortunate that I made it to the last day of school (in a week with a full moon) before break intact. Hopefully I will manage to get a few things done Monday, but I’m thinking New Year’s cards and presents maybe.

20131221-112612.jpg In our on going discussion about what has to get done around the house with two people who work full time, Bob came up with a possible partial solution to getting dinner on the table. He listens to podcasts and one had a new sponsor he thought I might want to check out. Hello Fresh takes some of the meal planning and shopping out of cooking, but still let’s you cook at home. Interesting concept, so I checked out the website and decided to give it a try. Three meals for two people, portioned out and ready to cook; quite literally everything you need to make the meal except salt, pepper, oil and the hardware. Now, I love to cook. I love to experiment with recipes, but I hate the rush of the weeknight dinner and do I have …. Did I forget … Darn it, I needed … that often goes along with it. And honestly, some days after work, I can’t think coherently enough to plan and execute dinner. So how did this go? Well, I signed up and picked three meals for the week. I got a “welcome” email and then a “your food has shipped” email and then a “was there any issue with your delivery” email. The last one included a little survey to determine if everything was ok, which I thought was a nice touch. Wednesday afternoon the box arrived.

20131221-113317.jpg

20131221-113326.jpg
Everything was well insulated and cold and packaged to make knowing which ingredients were for which meals very, very clear.

20131221-113427.jpg
Everything is portioned so there is no waste (except for the box and ice packs, but no food waste.) Every meal has a recipe card with it with step by step instructions.

20131221-113622.jpg The cards are really nice but I do think you need a little kitchen knowledge with these. If you don’t know the difference between dice and chop and slice you may have an issue. But that wasn’t an issue for me, so I got to work last night on recipe #1 – Ginger chicken with parsnips and carrots.

20131221-113902.jpg I chopped everything up toasted the almonds and browned the chicken.

20131221-113942.jpg

20131221-113948.jpg I sautéed the onions, ginger and garlic then added the veggies while the chicken went into the oven. Final meal took about 40 minutes, start to finish and came out …

20131221-114116.jpg I’m going to say, beautifully. The flavors were good, the quality of ingredients were great, the meal was easy to cook and it was as good as I could make on my own. Bonus for having everything I needed right there. Plenty of food for both of us and no leftovers to store. I have to say, I am pretty happy with this little experiment.

20131221-114453.jpg
Gracie also got a box to play in which makes her super happy.

Disney Christmas

Disney is, at the core, a huge mega corporation that gathers personal data for the purpose of marketing. I know this and somehow I just don’t care. Disney does a lot of things with that data that make your experience there wonderful, and I’ll dare say it, magical.

Bob and I have tried to see the Christmas light display at Hollywood Studios a few times. Once we got there and the park was closed, once we just never made it out of the house to get there. I thought I was destined to never see it, but thanks to John, we got up there this weekend and had a blast.

20131215-074859.jpg
Hollywood Studios is a little tougher than the other Disney parks. It is not as large and there isn’t as much to do. It definitely needs some work put into it, but what they do have they do right. So we did the obligatory Tower of Terror, the Muppets 3D, The Great Movie Ride

20131215-075036.jpg and the Beauty and the Beast Show.

20131215-075103.jpg

20131215-075120.jpg
It was all a lot of fun, but the reason we were there, the reason to make the two hour drive was the Christmas Light Display. I love Christmas lights; don’t do them on my own house, but I love looking at them and wandering through great displays. It’s why DC is so great in December (other than the weather) and NYC has the department store window equivalent (but there you have weather and crowds). I have to give Disney props on this – they did it right. It was crowded, it rained and as soon as those lights went on, I didn’t care. That’s right, the person who will go through exhibits backwards just to avoid crowds did not care about the crowds. The lights, the music, the changing display … it was all perfect.

20131215-075601.jpg

20131215-075610.jpg

20131215-075620.jpg

I found four mouse ears in the lights, but they were really hard to get … they blink on and off so every time I tried to get a picture, I captured it with without the mouse ears … except for the tree.

20131215-075736.jpg

20131215-075753.jpg
We really did have a great time and in a year where it hasn’t felt like Christmas (I haven’t even gotten cards started yet) this really made it Christmas. Even in a t-shirt in December.

20131215-075925.jpg

Pulled Pork Enchiladas

After the roasted peppers that Bob put up with, I wanted to make something that I knew he would like. I had pulled part of a pork butt out of the freezer the other day so I tossed it in the slow cooker before going to work one morning. I had a few ideas of what to do with this, but was still pretty uncertain until I got home. I decided on enchiladas. I’m not known for Mexican cooking and I don’t do a lot of it., but I wanted to try. So I scoured recipes for a red sauce and found all of them included ingredients I just didn’t have on hand. True to form, I improvised.

Two cups chicken broth/stock
Two ounces tomato paste (it was all I had on hand)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes
2 pats butter
3 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chopped oregano
A lot of chili powder (about half a jar)

I melted the butter and let it get a little brown, then added the four to make a roux. Once that was mixed and browned (lightly) I added the chicken stock, tomato paste, cumin and oregano. I started adding the chili powder, but didn’t go as far as most recipes said. 1/4 cup? Really? Umm .. I just started pouring and when it looked like enough I stopped. I probably used half the amount most recipes called for, but it works. I stirred that all together and let it thicken a little. I then added the can of diced tomatoes because it needed something. I let that cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and then.

The enchiladas. Bob picked me up some tortillas so I used large flour tortillas for this. I coated both sides in some sauce, added more sauce to the bottom of the dish I was baking them in (after spraying it with cooking spray so everything didn’t stick). Add pork, fried (almost caramelized but not quite) onions and cheese. I used the last of the cheese from the Thanksgiving cheese tray so we had an English cheddar, a French sheep’s cheese and some Italian reggiano that I shredded and mixed together. I rolled up each tortilla and put them together in the baking dish. I added more sauce and cheese to the top, covered and baked them at 350 for 30-40 minutes.

The result?

20131214-083420.jpg
Bob loved these. He said the sauce was perfect and the whole thing was great. It help that we had good ingredients to work with, but I have to say I was pretty pleased with this little experiment. And since I actually remember what I did, bonus since I can make it again. I have leftover sauce and leftover pork so I can see another round of this soon. Just have to get cheese.

20131214-083619.jpg

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Usually when planing a menu or meal, I try to take Bob’s likes and dislikes into consideration. I try to cook things that I think he will like and avoid things he doesn’t. I try to make things spicy and filling and avoid couscous and peppers since I know he isn’t a fan of them. I try to limit my vegetarian experiments and cook chicken more than pork. I try. Bur occasionally I make something that sounds great to me and right up my alley and poor Bob has to deal. Tonight was one of those meals.

I love sweet red peppers and the farmer’s market had some adorable ones this weekend. I tried to find something else for Bob, but just couldn’t find anything that looked great. So sweet peppers it was.

20131209-204021.jpg

I sliced open and seeded the peppers then chopped some veggies I had on hand. Tomatoes, zucchini got mixed with quinoa for the filling. I tried to make sure I spiced it well using saffron, coriander and a little salt and pepper. At least that is what I think I did, I’m actually not positive about the spices. I let that cook just a little then crumbled some goat cheese in the bottom of the peppers.

20131209-204320.jpg I added the filling to each pepper then replaced the top after adding a little more goat cheese.

20131209-204418.jpg
I baked these at 325 for about 40 minutes and the results … Mixed. I loved these. Subtle spices and a nice texture with the sweetness of the pepper. Bob thought they were ok, but not great. Mind you, he liked them well enough to eat two, but he wasn’t nearly as happy as I was with these. I’m hoping tomorrow’s experiment is better – butternut squash with chickpea stuffing. Total experiment and I’m making my own recipe for the so we shall see how it goes.

20131209-204844.jpg