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Saturday, November 24, 2012

Vanilla Praline Pumpkin Pie

Well, if you haven't noticed, I've been hesitant to return to my blog. An apology is now in order, and I am sorry!
So, when I last posted, we were about to move. The move went fairly smooth thanks to the tremendous help of my parents. A potential disaster with a 7 month old puppy and a 7 year old cranky cat was diverted, and all of the thanks goes to my mom who sat in the backseat of the Element for over 20 hours to control the kids! Our return to Minnesota has been glorious. We've been introducing Dinah to the lakes (we can't keep her out of them!!), running and biking on the trails, eating at our favorite restaurants, visiting with our friends, and working. In September, I began working in a seasonal position that involved a lot of travel. I traveled locally to places in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. But I also had the chance to head to Miami, New York City, Boulder, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle. I'm not going to lie: it was very difficult to be back in Seattle, I was sick, and the timing of the recruiting events, and memories of one year prior, made my visit extremely hard. But in some weird way, I think I found some sort of closure while I was there. 

A number of people have asked me why we returned to Minnesota. So many people are confused as to what happened. Strangers (who have inquired about where we got Dinah) have given me funny looks when I tell them that we just moved back to the cities and Dinah was from Washington state. "Why? Why would you leave there? It's incredible. It's amazing!" I've also been referred to as "the only person I've ever met who hated the Pacific Northwest." Despite these anticipated questions, we are truly happy about our decision. It's so good to be back by our friends and closer to family. Our quality of life has improved. And we're smiling again. Real smiles, not fake ones. And laughing.

For whatever reason, blogging was not high on my list of priorities as we settled in to our new surroundings. But I realized how much I have missed my blog, and after meeting a fellow blogging friend from Virginia (Hi Elizabeth!) on the road this past recruiting season, I was inspired to start back up. I've missed it, I've missed the variety in our dining, and what better a time to start than the holiday season! And by posting this amazing pumpkin pie! (I know I promised a different post for Texas Cavier... eventually it will come. But as I have left months go by, and seasons have changed, and temperatures have dropped, I felt that a warm and comforting holiday pie would be a better return post.)

There are some things I miss about Seattle. Truthfully, the food is probably the highest on my list. The Seattle dining scene, the plethora of farmer's markets, and the quality of grocery stores are out of this world. I was reminded of this when I was back in the city, so I returned to my old stomping grounds - my most favorite cafe of all time - to pick up some soup, and the latest cookbook. This recipe for Vanilla Praline Pumpkin Pie is adapted from Macrina's first cookbook, and I already know that it will become a staple at our Thanksgiving table. Ron, the resident pumpkin-pie hater, said that it was incredible. As the resident pumpkin-pie lover, I had to agree.
Vanilla Praline Pumpkin Pie
from Kitchen Treaty, adapted from Macrina Bakery's Maple Pecan Pumpkin Pie
Yield: one pie, 8 servings
Cook time: 1 hour 20 minutes   Total time: 1 hour 50 minutes

Pie Filling
  • 1 pre-baked pie crust, cooled
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 cup fresh pumpkin puree (note: you can also use 2 cups canned pumpking or 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree instead of a combination of both, however, I'd encourage you to mix!)
  • 2 Tablespoons sour cream
  • 5 Tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup half and half
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla bean paste (or 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped plus 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste (or 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped plus 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Place pre-baked pie shell on a lined baking sheet to catch any spills.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin purees and sour cream. Whisk in the brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, cloves, and flour.
  3. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth, then whisk in the buttermilk, half and half, and vanilla bean paste.
  4. Pour filling into the pie crust. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the center of the pie is just set and no longer jiggly.
  5. Remove the pie from the oven but leave the oven on.
  6. In a small bowl, combine all of the topping ingredients. Gently spoon the pecan praline topping over the top of the pie. Do not press.
  7. Return pie to the oven and bake for another 20-25 minutes until the top if set and golden.
  8. Let pie cool to room temperature. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Where am I?

Well, I find it ironic that my last blog post was about my annoyance with moving. And here we are again, less than two months later, and I'm surrounded by moving boxes. The movers are booked, hotels are booked, and I've closed utilities on two Seattle houses and started utilities at our new place in Minnesota. Yep, we're moving back to 2 days. I am beyond excited - ridiculously elated - and I can't wait for Ron and I to be back "home" surrounded by our friends and closer to our families.
Obviously, as I haven't posted in several weeks, life's been... colorful. Thank you to my family and friends who have stood by me throughout this past year, offering words of encouragement, support and love.

I am excited to start blogging again. I am grateful for my family and friends who have reminded me that they enjoy reading my blog. I recognize that I cook more and eat better when I am blogging, so I promise to return to my posts and maintain consistency once we are settled.

And Kelly, the first recipe to be posted will be the Texas Cavier. This delicious recipe is courtesy of my friend and loyal reader, Emily, and I can't wait to make it again!


Monday, May 21, 2012

Kugelhopf (aka Morning Buns)

I think one of the worst feelings is starting something and realizing that it was a pretty big mistake to start. I'm not talking about these morning buns. These were awesome. But I am talking about what led to me making the morning buns. . .
As mentioned in a previous post, Ron and I are no strangers to moving. We've moved many times during the course of our relationship. And we just finally realized that we hate moving our stuff around. That wine cooler we bought and used for our Christmas party in 2007? Yea, we haven't used it since and I don't recall it being used that night. Yet it carts around with us in it's gigantic glory just because we never got rid of it. Because we've moved so much, we've also become very careful not to buy things that will take up even more space the next time we move.

Our new house has a pretty large lawn. And shortly after we moved, I started complaining about the fact that our grass was horrendous. In Washington, it's a liability issue for a landlord to leave a lawnmower for the tenants so this was the first time Ron and I were responsible for mowing the lawn. "Please just let me buy a lawnmower, Ron." "No, Ashley. I do not want to make that investment. We have a 11-month long lease." (Oh, I guess I should mention that we're moving in less than a year. Woo hoo!! *sarcasm*) "But Ron, I love mowing the lawn. I've mowed the lawn in every single house we've ever lived." "No, Ashley."

So, I searched for landscaping and was quoted a few times at $50 per visit. Annoyed, I realized that we'd be investing hords of money just trying to keep the lawn looking decent. I searched for lawn mower rentals. Nothing. I did the whole "Ask your neighbor to borrow their mower" thing but everyone in the vicinity uses landscaping services. I was getting frustrated and the grass kept growing. Now, I know we're relatively new to this marriage thing. But Ron and I have been together for eight years. In my defense, he should know by now that if I complain about something more than five times, I'm going to find a way to do it myself. And for crying out loud, our lawn was ridiculous! It was embarassing. I couldn't find Dinah when she was outside because the grass towered over her. So I drove to Home Depot. I saw a lawn mower for $150. I bought it.

Here's where the whole "pretty big mistake" thing comes in. The lawn mower was $150. In other words, the lawnmower was cheap and had the bare basics of lawn mowing gidgits and gadgets. It was easy enough to put together but it went downhill from there. In Washington, the ground is not firm. They lawns are quite soft and the grass grows on moss. As I have never mowed a lawn in Washington before (and naturally, I did not do any research before driving to Home Depot), I did not realize that a cheap push mower would be quite difficult to push. Not to mention, our lawn was literally one foot tall. Every three feet, the mower would get jammed and stuck, turn up moss and spit out a ton of dirt. Two hours into this ordeal, Ron had already found out about the mower - no need to get into the details but it involved a desperate plea for a wrench (and a subsequent trip to Ace Hardware to buy one) - and I knew that because I had caused such drama, the damn lawn was going to get mowed one way or another. So I discovered the only way to mow the lawn. I walked backwards and pulled the mower the entire time. About 5 neighbors were out watching me. It was embarassing.

Which brings me to this recipe for Morning Buns.

Ron, too, tends to mention something once, twice, thrice... and it hangs on his mind until he does it. The past few days, our coffee trips have frequently discussed the Morning Bun that Ron should have purchased for breakfast but for some reason did not. So at some point during my 4-hour long lawn-mowing adventure, I realized that because I went against what Ron said and bought a lemon of a mower, I was going to have to do something pretty damn special to make up for it. Hence, the search for a copycat coffee shop Morning Bun recipe. I found the perfect recipe and was ready to deliver him with a delicious treat as soon as he got home that night. But in my excitement and haste, I neglected to read the recipe in full. A big Ashley no-no. You can only imagine what words were spoken when I read those words I so often see after starting a recipe unprepared - Put the dough in the refrigerator and let it rest overnight. At that point, I decided it was time to throw in the towel for the day.
The lawn-mower situation is now far behind us and eventually these Morning Buns were finished. It is a recipe that requires waiting time but fortunately there is not a lot of hands-on time. The steps are really easy so it's definitely worth the wait. I've come to realize that for delicious breakfast pastries, rushing through the recipe or whipping up quick breads is not always best. And these Morning Buns are case in point. I was blown away by how delicious these were and will most certainly be making these buns again. The dough was more like a croissant dough and as one of Ron's co-workers exclaimed "They are better than a donut!" These buns were best right out of the oven because of the butter-cinnamon-sugar bath. However, I opted to melt small amounts of butter when needed instead of drunking the entire dozen at once. This way, Ron had his Morning Bun freshly dunked before work for a few mornings. If you're not able to eat them all at once, I'd advise doing the same because they keep better. They lasted for about 3 days kept stored in a tight container. Enjoy!
Kugelhopf Morning Buns
from the Kitchn
Yield: 12 buns
Kugelhopf Dough
  • 2 Tbsp warm water
  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup milk, warmed
  • 1 3/4 cup flour (divided into 3/4 cup and 1 cup)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large yolk
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 8 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
Sugar Coating
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  1. Stir the water and yeast together in a small mixing bowl until the yeast dissolves, then stir in the milk. Add 3/4 cup flour and stir until it forms a smooth batter. Cover the bowl and let this poolish sit for at least 20 minutes or up to 60 minutes. You'll see lots of bubbles appear on the surface.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the eggs, yolk, and almond extract. Stir into the poolish.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine the remaining cup of flour, sugar, and salt. Pour of the poolish-egg mixture into the flour and stir until it becomes a shaggy dough. Put the dough hook attachment on and knead the dough on medium-high until it is smooth, about five minutes.
  4. Reduce the speed to medium and start adding the butter in blobs, waiting until the blob is nearly incorporated before adding the next. Once all the butter has been added, increase the mixer speed back to medium-high and knead the dough for 10 minutes. The dough will come together in a ball, look glossy and jiggle.
  5. Turn the dough into a clean bowl, cover, and let rise for an hour and a half, until doubled in size. Put dough in the refrigerator and let it rest overnight, or up to two days.
  6. The next morning, turn the chilled dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough to roughly 10" by 8"m or 1/2" thick. Use flour as needed. Brush the dough with melted butter, leaving an inch of un-buttered dough at the top. Sprinkle the buttered areas with the sugar. Roll the dough up and pinch at the seam to close.
  7. Using a pastry cutter, cut the dough into 12 equal pieces. Spray a muffin tin liberally with non-stick spray, including the wells and surface of the tin. Nestle each roll into a well, pressing gently to make sure it settles in the bottom. Cover the tin and let the rolls rise for about an hour, until they're starting to peak over the tops of the wells.
  8. Fifteen minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  9. Uncover the rolls and bake for 25-30 minutes. When rolls start to turn golden brown about halfway through, tent them with foil. The rolls are done when a cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  10. After the rolls have cooled, melt the butter in a small bowl. Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a second bowl. Dip each roll into the butter and roll it in the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
  11. Enjoy with a fresh cup of dark-roast coffee!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Grilled Pizza

The weather has been amazing lately. For the past week and a half, there hasn't been cloud in the sky. It has been crystal blue and the temperatures have ranged from 65-75 degrees. Every snow-capped mountain has been visible in the skyline and the tulips and cherry trees are in full bloom. Accordingly, there has been little indoor activity. I'm walking, running and biking all over town. As I write, I'm out on the back deck with a clear view of Lake Washington and the Cascade range.

I am very surprised by the weather in Seattle. As we closed out the winter season and entered spring, I found myself saying "Wow, that really wasn't bad." Ironically, everyone I have talked to in Seattle said that it was the worst winter they've had yet. What?! I have to wonder what they are talking about. Then again, I do come from dreary Pittsburgh so perhaps I am more prepared for clouds. But I can honestly say that the weather in Seattle is not what people make it out to be. And it definitely beats Pittsburgh in the weather category.

I do think that a lot of my surprise had to do with the fact that I prepared myself for the absolute worst going in to the winter. After everyone's comments, I was convinced that from October until April I would see nothing but dark grey clouds and rain buckets would be pouring on my head. I was honestly terrified and before winter started, I began giving myself sun pep talks. But it did not turn out to be bad at all. Sure, there were cold, blustery, windy and rainy days. But I think this is akin to a fierce snowstorm in Minnesota. I was pleasantly surprised by how kind Mother Nature was to Seattle. When we had rain, it would quickly follow up with sun. There's a lot of sun, actually. Most days, Seattle was 50 degrees with a fair sky. (More like 40 degrees with the water.) I saw the sun nearly four to five times a week and watched the sun set behind the mountains almost every day. I'm not kidding. I was keeping track for a while. There was a time in February when I didn't see a cloud in the sky for over two weeks.

But even though the winter wasn't bad, the past week has just been such a treat. I think it's because I'm back on my bike and able to soak in the fresh air on two wheels. Yesterday, Ron and I biked along Lake Washington and grabbed ice cream by the marina. It was awesome. It reminded me of our glorious bike rides along the Grand Rounds in Minnesota. We've also been spending a lot of time eating outside. With all of this amazing weather and with summer right around the corner, the grill has been re-introduced into our weekly dinners. I was craving something different from my usual plank grilled salmon and veggie kabob meal. When I saw this recipe for grilled pizza, I knew we had to give it a go. It was so unique and delightful sounding.

It was a bit of work and required some prep but the finished product was incredible. It was chewy in the right places, crispy in the right areas and had just a hint of charcoal taste. I do advise that you read through the recipe, plan accordingly and prep your ingredients before you head to the grill. The pizza dough is very easy to work with because it's so thin... but that also means that it cooks up super fast. It took us one pizza casualty to get it right but the pizza makes four rounds so if you mess up, you'll have plenty left to feed the hungry crowd. We'll be making pizza on the grill a lot this summer for both meals and appetizers at bbq's. I highly recommend using the best and freshest ingredients (fresh mozzerella, tomatoes, basil, etc.) you can. It's easily adaptable to whichever pizza you prefer. We made a pepperoni and mediterranean pie (cubed fontina, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives and feta). Our pepperoni was brushed with olive oil, topped with fresh mozzerella and sliced pepperoni, sprinkled with some thinly sliced fresh spinach, shredded Parmesan and a sprinkle of fresh herbs. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

Grilled Pizza
from Cuisine at Home
Yield: Four 12-inch pizzas
Time: 15 minutes + 3 hours rising for dough
Pizza Dough
  • 1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • One 1/4 oz package active dry yeast
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup cake flour
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce (5 cups)
  • 4 lb Roma tomatoes, quartered (8 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, or less
  • 1/2 cup snipped fresh basil
Pizza Dough
  1. Combine water, sugar, and yeast. Proof until mixture turns foamy, about 5 minutes.
  2. Mix flours and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook.
  3. Add oil to proofed yeast mixture; then pour into flour mixture. Knead dough on low speed (or by hands) for 10 minutes.
  4. Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, turning dough to coat surface. Cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 2 hours.
  5. Punch dough down and divide it into four balls, pinching the bottoms closed. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for another hour.
Oven Roasted Tomato Sauce
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Combine tomatoes, onion, garlic, salt, pepper flakes, and sugar in large baking dish. Toss tomato mixture with olive oil.
  3. Roast until tomatoes soften, 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and mash with potato masher, keeping tomatoes as chunky as desired.
  4. Stir in basil.
Grilled Pizza
  1. Prepare toppings and set aside. Have them set up near the grill before you start cooking your pizza.
  2. Roll out dough on a dry work surface dusted with flour. Shape it into a 10 to 12 inch circle.
  3. Preheat one side of grill to medium-high, the other side to low. (If you do not have this setting, place a baking sheet nearby to transfer dough while preparing toppings.)
  4. Transfer dough to the hot side of the grill. To transfer the dough to the grill, lift it by the edges with your fingertips and drape it directly onto the hottest part of the grill. The high, direct heat will quickly firm the crust. If your grill has hot spots, use tongs to move the crust around so it doesn't burn.
  5. Close lid and cook 2-3 minutes. The crust will bubble and grill marks will appear underneath.
  6. Before adding toppings, flip the crust over to the cool side of the grill. (If you do not have a double burner, move the crust to the baking sheet before adding toppings.) Quickly brush the crust with olive oil.
  7. Add toppings. Keep quantities light so they will cook quickly. Return the pizza to the hot side of the grill to finish cooking. Pizza is done when cheese has melted. Remove pizza from the grill using a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet. Enjoy!

Friday, May 4, 2012

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

I'm just going to come out and say it. . . Dinah is a turd. She is a very cute turd. But boy oh boy, she is bad. Well, I guess I should rephrase that. Dinah is not bad, she is a puppy. She's just doing what puppies do. But holy crap. Puppies are bad! I'm pretty sure I am partly to blame. But I also blame Ron. He was intent on getting the puppy who whined and screamed and yelped while all of her other littermates slept calmly in the corner. However, it should be known that Ron and I are only 30% to blame combined; Dinah herself makes up for the other 70%. She is a fiesty bugger and I am convinced she is the reincarnated version of the ornery Madison (or as my Dad used to refer to her - the hound from the Darkside) and cunning Salem mish-mashed together.
I should note that I am slightly annoyed with Dinah right now so I obviously don't think these things of Dinah all the time. Dinah is an absolute joy and I love her so much. But she just tore a giant hole in my favorite running shorts and sprinted away with a rather sizeable piece of my right thigh in her mouth. And no matter how many times I yelped or pretended to be a dog or ignored her or whatever else the positive reinforcement training teachers tell us works, she still thought that my right thigh was an awesome chew toy to play tug-of-war with. In the middle of the street. In front of the new neighbors. This was almost as bad as the time she ripped my pants down in the middle of a crowded park and exposed my bloomies! (I'm kidding. I don't even know what bloomies are. So no bloomies. But she did let the park-goers see what color undergarments I was wearing that day.) Sadly, I don't have enough fingers to count how many times this has happened to me since Dinah came into our lives. But I thought we were over the ripping pant and human flesh stage so I mistakenly opted to put on my exercise gear earlier than usual this morning. Human error. But Dinah is now 15 weeks and this behavior needs to be nipped, fast.

Raising a puppy is hard. It is so hard. Oh my goodness is it hard! And I seriously have no clue what I am doing. I'm new to this parenting thing. I should add that it is obvious that Dinah is a dog, so who knows what I am in for when human babies enter the picture. However, parenting is parenting. And most days I fail at it. There was a while there when Ron would come home from work. I'd be slumped on the kitchen floor, hair a total mess, dressed in the same clothes I had on when he left for the day. It was not pretty. I also think words like "[y]ou were less stressed out when you were studying for the bar exam" were thrown about a few times. And in all honesty, I was. At least I got law. At least law let me sleep. And leave the house to go for as run! I could read it and figure it out. Dinah, not so much. Right now, I know she does love us, she just has an odd way of playing. She is the most socially-oriented dog I have ever met and instead of playing with other dogs, she plays with humans and by pouncing on her sister Cali. We need to figure out how to teach her to distinguish because when she is 65 pounds, she can't just jump on humans and eat their legs!

I think the key to teaching her these things is to shove massive amounts of treats in her face. This is the only way Dinah learns. Dinah is obsessed with food. Obsessed with her kibble, her dog treats, her Scooby snacks, any type of dog food. She can be tearing through the house and as soon as you say 'sit' and she sees that there is a possibility of receiving a treat, she will come to a screeching halt on her butt. She recognizes words that bring her really yummy goodies. She's remembered some key words since she was 7 weeks old! For instance, the word 'cookie' is one of her favorites. Last year, I watched my professor's dog. Gibson Prince, a lovable goldendoodle, would get six cookies before bed. And I loved how excited Gibson got when I said the word cookie. So, when it was time to start training Dinah, I called her kibble 'cookies' as if thinking it would trick her into realizing it wasn't just blechy kibble. So now Dinah comes sprinting for a cookie when the word cookie is spoken.

This has never been a problem.

Until yesterday when I decided to make cookies. Ron is coming back from a hectic work week in Minnesota so I wanted to surprise him with a recent request for White Chocolate Macadamia Nut cookies. I started up the oven and got out the baking supplies. . . Dinah was there, in an instant, at my feet, freaking out. Now, I've never admitted this outloud because, well, I just haven't. But when I cook or bake - and I am alone - I talk outloud like I am hosting a cooking or baking show. I also sing. Loudly. Sometimes I even create lyrics about the ingredients I am using. Yes, haha. Now let's move on. So, you can imagine what happened when I kept "telling the camera" what type of "cookie" I was making for Ron. It was an interesting baking experience - Dinah managed to cause a few cookie casualties - but the end result was amazing.
White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
from Ghirardelli White Baking chips package
Yield: 5 dozen cookies
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups unsifted flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups (one 11 oz bag) Ghirardelli Classic White Chips
  • 1 1/2 cups Macadamia nuts, chopped
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, and beat well.
  3. Blend in flour, baking soda and salt.
  4. Stir in white chocolate chips and nuts.
  5. Drop by teaspoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Hello. I am here. I am alive. I am cooking. And things are calm. Settled. Finally.
Dinah is now 15 weeks old, 20.5 pounds and likes to pounce on her sister Cali!

Actually, scratch that. I should probably not post this blog as I am sure that things will be shot to shit now that I declared that all is well in the Reed household.
All was not calm for a few months. You might have noticed by the fact that the pancakes have remained on the front page for a very long time. (Mom and Regina, Sorry about that.) But instead of going into a plethora of details I will just say that for the first time in 10 months - certainly for the first time since moving to Seattle (and since losing Salem and Madison) - perhaps for the first time in 4 years - I am able to smile again. I feel normal, like myself. I'm rejunivated. It's like a new life has been breathed into my soul! And honestly, it's incredible to feel content and at peace.

It has been a little less than two months since Dinah Rose joined our abode. She is a delightful challenge and the fun we have with her makes up for any of her puppy crazies. But she is a redunkulous amount of work and most of my time is spent chasing her around to avoid any additional emergency vet visits - Like the time she ingested an entire non-edible nylabone.

It has been two months since I completed the bar exam and moved into the unsettling world involving no paid responsibilities and the mental battle that came with. It's amazing how much time submitting one single resume can take. It's amazing how much you can doubt your abilities when you have 6 consecutive weeks to think about it. So most of my non-Dinah time is spent talking about how detail-oriented I am and why someone should hire me. But despite the fact that my job-hunt has been difficult, I have since learned wonderful news: I passed the bar exam and I will soon be a licensed attorney in the state of Minnesota.

However, we have since learned that we are staying in Washington. There were several emotionally charged discussions but we decided to do what is best for us. We also opted to leave our current lease two months early due to the fact that our neighborhood became very unsafe, our townhouse shrunk in size and our neighbors enjoy to listen to their television on level 50. Last weekend, Ron and I moved into our new home in Kirkland, a small suburb on the eastside of Lake Washington. We still have a unique waterfront and a view of the skyline but without the Seattle city grime or traffic. We are within a short bike commute to the main Microsoft campus and the city of Redmond - the bicycle capitol of the Pacific Northwest. I took my road bike out the other night for the first time since August. The views were amazing, the air was crisp but most importantly, the pavement was incredible. I love Kirkland. Love it. And I love our new home. It feels like a home, not a hotel stay. We have twice as much space as the place in West Seattle. We have neighbors who greeted us with cookies and goods from their CSA. We have a quiet, comfortable and safe neighborhood.

For the record, I effing hate moving. I'm sick of it. And I don't want to do it ever again. I've lived in 14 different places since 2001. That is not okay. We also have too many things. The next time we move, I am leaving these things behind.

So, yes. Things have been busy. While this is not an excuse for leaving pancakes as the post for the past several weeks, it is my reason because I have simply not cooked. And I planned to leave the pancakes up for another day while I broke in the new kitchen today with something delightful to post tomorrow... but my mom just said to me on the phone "At least explain what you are doing!! People are wondering why all they see are pancakes!!" So, there you have it. Between chasing a puppy around, searching for a job, wasting my life away in Seattle traffic while searching for a house and transporting Dinah to puppy day camp, packing up the house, visiting with my sister and mom when they came to visit, moving again (thank you mom for all of your help!!) and trying to find some sort of calmness, Ron and I have dined on nothing but take-out soup for over a month. I figured taking a picture of the take-out container (with a side of crackers) was not really what you wanted to see.

But as stated early on in the post, life is now calm. I will bake today! I will post this weekend.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce

Ron and I are slowly adjusting into our new roles as parents. Everyone has always said that having a puppy is like having a baby and I'm starting to understand what they mean. I follow Dinah around constantly. When she is sleeping, I have one eye on her at all times. At night, I sleep with one ear open so I can hear if she whimpers (even though there is no need for this; I could be sleeping with Bose headphones on and still hear her when she gets up). Our schedules are so out of whack that I'm running around the kitchen trying to cook a quick meal and make sure that Dinah and Cali don't head to blows. I have a limited time frame to get things accomplished so resumes and cover letters are worked on after breakfast, when Dinah is napping, so I can spend the afternoon teaching her how to be a civilized puppy. Random strangers are offering unsolicited advice about how to parent. We're learning how to re-adjust our furniture to keep items out of her mouth. My workouts are limited. And, I haven't slept more than 2 hours at a time since we got her. We have gates and crates around the house. And yesterday, Dinah climbed her first stair. Ron and I looked at eachother and started whimpering. Dinah's fear of the stairs was our saving grace. Cali could eat upstairs while Dinah ate downstairs. We could sit in the living room and not chase her when she'd go up the stairs. But watching her climb that stair noted that some of our freedom was removed. Is that what it feels like when you watch your baby crawl for the first time? Or take his first step? You are so excited but at the same time, you know what that means. Baby is on the move. And for us, it means that Dinah is on the move.
But we are learning, adjusting, adapting, and growing. And we love being parents. We've had some frustrating moments (last night we had a potty stand-off with her in the front yard for 40 minutes, sadly she won) but after realizing that Dinah has only been a Reed for 5 days, we recognized that we're doing alright for newbies. Dinah is so dang adorable and she loves being praised. It's such a fulfilling feeling when you say "Come" and she comes. Or "Walk" and she walks. We're trying to raise her in as loving of a home as possible. She curls up next to us and lays on our feet. She gives her sister kisses. She is so excited to meet new people and new puppies. She is just a spitball of energy that loves life and it is so nice to be reminded of that innocence and joy. Yesterday, we got caught in a 4 minute hail storm (while it was cloudless and the sun was shining... Seattle weather is so weird) and it was just incredible to watch her chase after the little hail pellets and yip out of confusion and excitement. And I look forward to romping around in the grass with her, watching her sprint around with her tiny ears flopping back, and with this happy expression on her face. She's a treasure.

Even more exciting? I have a new kitchen buddy. Yep, Dinah knows that yummy things - puppy, kitty, and human things - come from the kitchen. So at breakfast and dinner, Dinah and Cali surround me in the kitchen, sit down, and stare at the counter. The other day I walked in to find them sitting hear one another just staring up at the counter. I have to wonder what Cali is teaching her... It hasn't been terrible cooking with Dinah in the room but it is nice to have Ron home to help out at night. The other day, I was craving pancakes - nothing unusual - so I decided to try out a new recipe that I've always wanted to try. These were delicious. They tasted like a light cheesecake and were so fluffy and filling. The recipe is not as terribly un-nutritious as some of the ricotta pancake recipes I've seen out there so I was pleasantly surprised to see that they tasted just as delicious. The blueberry sauce was so quick and easy to mix up. Next time you want a slightly indulgent pancake breakfast, lunch, or dinner, check these out!
Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce
from Food Babbles
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 cups fresh (or frozen) blueberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups AP flour
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta (do not use fat-free)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp grated lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp canola oil, plus more for brushing griddle or pan
  1. Make blueberry sauce: in small bowl, combine the lemon juice and cornstarch; set aside. In small saucepan, combine blueberries, 1/4 cup sugar, water, and 1/4 tsp salt. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer. Stir in cornstarch/lemon juice mixture. Simmer and stir until mixture thickens, about 2 minutes. Cover and set aside.
  2. For pancakes: whisk together the flour, 3 Tbsp sugar, baking powder, baking sode, and remaining 1/4 tsp salt. In separate bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg, egg whites, lemon juice, lemon zest, and canola oil. Fold the wet mixture into the dry mixture to make a thick batter.
  3. Over a griddle or skillet heated on medium-low, brush canola oil. Measure 1/4 cup of batter and drop it on griddle, spreading it slightly. Cook pancakes until browned on the underside and beginning to set, about 2 minutes. Flip and cook until browned on the second side and cooked in the center, about 2 minutes longer. Repeat until batter is used. (Keep pancakes in oven preheated at 200 degrees to keep warm in the meantime.) Serve with blueberry sauce and enjoy!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Dinah Rose

Everyone, meet Dinah Rose! The new addition to the Reed family.
Ron and I have been talking about getting a dog for many years now. We started discussions shortly after we moved to Minnesota but never opted to introduce a dog in our home because we were always renting and wanted to wait until we owned our own place. But after many discussions and after an "OK" from the landlord, we decided it was time - for many, many reasons.

After a harrowing 2 hour car ride and a nasty experience with Seattle traffic, Dinah Rose was introduced to her new home on Friday afternoon. So far, she's done quite well for a puppy. She is slowly experiencing new things. She is quickly learning how to defy her mom's wishes. But she is a smart, smart puppy who reminds me SO much of Madison. In fact, when we met all eleven puppies a few weeks ago - ten curled up in a ball to nap - and Dinah ran around the pen whimpering for more attention. Then Ron said "I want that one!" and I was quickly brisked back to that memorable day when Madison came home with us over sixteen years ago. As I said "oh no bite" she yipped hew jaws and I said "Mom, I want that one!"
Adorable, but mischevious. But Dinah is doing good. She loves her toys, especially the ones her grandma sent her. She sleeps relatively well (but not yet in her crate) and lets us know when she needs to go potty. It'll take time. And it'll take growth for us as new puppy parents. It's a whole new experience for us and we're taking it one step at a time. She's already the bell of the ball. We brought her up to the farmer's market yesterday and she met no less than 30 people. She even got her little mug on a few camera phones. Some people have even stopped their cars mid-drive so they could hop out and say hello to her! But we had to leave because she got pretty tired and a Seattle windstorm blew through and almost whisked her away.
Dinah has met her sister Cali. She's given her kisses and Cali has sniffed her. Cali has shown Dinah that she runs the house (and Dinah went and sulked in the corner) but Cali remains relatively patient so we're happy to see them nap in the same room. Dinah is learning to back away when Cali isn't interested and it's nice to see Cali calm around another animal again. She actually seems at peace, something I haven't seen since Salem went to go chase butterflies in the sky. Cali loves companionship so I know that in time her and Dinah will be nuzzled up next to one another.  Now, I know you might wonder why we chose the name Dinah Rose. Well, I must admit that it was largely me. Dinah Rose combines the best of my two favorite worlds; Disney and Harry Potter. Alice in Wonderland is my absolute favorite Disney animation movie of all time. Dinah is the name of Alice's small red kitten. (Note: Dinah (the dachshund) is also the name of Pluto's girlfriend.) And Rose? Rose is the name of Ron Weasley's (my favorite wizard) and Hermione Granger's daughter.

So far, we're really enjoying our experience. She has such a loving personality and has already brought so much love into our home and we find ourselves excitedly anxious for the challenge. I'll keep you posted on her progress and continue to post pictures as she grows. But tomorrow, I promise to get back to food!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New England Clam Chowder

Annd... I'm back. Well, wow. The bar exam is over. I am no longer a manic mess. I can sit at the computer without shaking so much that I spill coffee and water all over the place. I can walk around the neighborhood without reciting statements of law. I am falling asleep and staying asleep. It's a nice feeling. Thankfully, I'm also slowly moving away from the horrible, unsettling feeling that I will need to retake the exam. I am no longer telling Ron about the answer I should have picked. I am no longer tormenting myself by looking up my inaccurate statements or incorrect answers. I'll deal with the results when they come. And if there is a next time, I know what I need to do differently.
This past Thursday, I turned 29 years old. I spent most of the day walking around, watching the waves crash, and basking in the sunshine. And I ate a really gigantic piece of cake. This past weekend, Ron and I took a trip up to Vancouver, British Columbia. We spent the time enjoying eachother's company, having lengthy discussions about our future, and realizing that it was our last weekend hurrah before our little girl arrives! Yes, that's right. We're getting a little girl! Surprise! It's time for the Reed's to expand.... our four-legged family. This has been a long time coming, a discussion that has occurred for over two years, and an ongoing decision process since early November with a lot of pro/con debates. In January, the decision became final and I am happy to announce that our little family will again be four. This weekend, we will open our home and heart to a puppy. I am very excited. Ron is very excited. And Cali is very excited. I'll keep the name private until I can show you her beautiful little face on Monday's post.

I wanted to post the best cookie recipe ever but I can't find the pictures. Argh. So, I'm posting this amazing chowder that Ron and I had a few weeks back. Since moving to Seattle, I haven't eaten as much seafood as I thought I would. I often walk past the fish guys at the farmers market, near the fish counter in the grocery store, and view seafood items on the menu. Yet, I rarely get seafood. This is bizarre because I love seafood and I'm in a prime location for it! I've decided this should change. So I started with something easy. Ron and I loved this soup. It was from the "Light Issue" of the January/February Food Network magazine but you would have no idea that this soup was a light version. If you have any seafood fans in your house, definitely check out this recipe. It doesn't stink up your kitchen, it takes an hour to make, and it's absolutely delicious!
New England Clam Chowder
from Food Network magazine
Yield: 6 servings
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp olive oil
  • 4 slices Canadian bacon, diced (2 ounces)
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 6 stalks celery, diced (about 2 cups)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 Tbsp finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 1-pound containers frozen clams packed in their own juice, thawed, juice reserved (I used fresh with extra clam juice, you can also use cans)
  • 1 1/4 pounds russet potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups low-fat (1%) milk
  • 2 Tbsp heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • hot sauce, for serving, optional
  1. Heat 1 tsp of oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the Canadian bacon and cook; stirring frequently, until crisp, 3-4 minutes. Transfer bacon to plate.
  2. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp oil, onion, celery, 3/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper to the pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables have softened, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add 1 1/2 cups water, the reserved clam juice (about 1 1/2 cups), the potatoes and bay leaf and bring to a boil.
  3. Partially cover the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Whisk the milk, cream and flour in a bowl until the flour is dissolved. Slowly add the mixture to the pot, stirring constantly. While stirring, bring the soup to a simmer (do not boil). Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 8 minutes. Add the clams and simmer 2 minutes more. Discard the bay leaf. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Right before serving, stir in the bacon. Serve with hot sauce, if desired.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Crockpot Chickpea, Lentil & Butternut Stew

Okay, folks. It's time to take another extended break from the blog. Thank goodness I don't do this blogging thing for a living. I'd be fired by now! But at least I am giving notice for once, as opposed to just falling off the face of the earth. Because I am without the capacity to cook (or bake without restraint, said the blogger as she stuffed yet another giant peanut butter chocolate chip cookie, fresh from the oven, into her mouth. Note to self: blog these babies!!) at the moment. And because I can't seem to discuss anything but the bar exam and laws that could potentially be tested, I'm signing off for a few weeks. But I must say that I'm looking forward to my return. When I come back, I'll be post-bar exam Ashley, one year older, and with a super exciting announcement!! Oh the suspense, I know.... :)
For now, here is a wonderful stew that I made in the crockpot last week while Ron was in Minnesota. It's not the most glamorous meal to leave you with but it was really quite good. It lasted me the entire week Ron was gone. It was filling and I felt satisfied while eating it because it is packed with veggies and chickpeas and lentils and good stuff like that. As per usual, I added raisins and nuts because I just feel it's necessary to have the sweetness and crunch to combat the textures of the stew. It was delicious. I even substituted some diced sweet potato for the butternut squash. I highly recommend checking it out because it's so simple and lasts for days. Enjoy! And see you soon!
Crockpot Chickpea, Lentil and Butternut Stew
from Eat, Live, Run
Yield: 4-6 servings
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp olive or canola oil
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 2-3 tsp garam masala
  • 1 butternut squash (about 3 lbs - average sized, peeled and chopped)
  • 1 x 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in tomato juice
  • 1 quart vegetable broth
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1-2 tsp sea salt (to taste)
  • fresh minced cilantro, optional, for serving
  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot and jalapeno and saute for about six minutes. Add the minced garlic and saute for 30 more seconds, and then add the garam masala, stirring well to coat. Remove from heat.
  2. Place the chickpeas, butternut squash, canned diced tomatoes, red lentils, vegetable broth and onion mixture in crockpot. Turn the heat on LOW and cook for 8-10 hours.
  3. Season with sea salt to taste and serve with minced cilantro on top, if desired. And mix in raisins and chopped almonds if you are like me. :) 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Cinnamon Streusel Pumpkin Pie

I made a pie the other day. A pumpkin pie. A cinnamon streusel pumpkin pie. Just out of the blue, for no reason other than the fact that I wanted a damn pumpkin pie. Well, I guess last Monday was National Pie Day so I was kind of inspired to bake a pie because of that. And I've also been craving a pumpkin pie since I didn't make one for the holidays this year. And ever since Ron had a bite last time and "realized what he'd been missing out on" (his words) I've wanted pumpkin pie. So, I guess there were reasons.
I'd mentioned in the previous post about our recent vacation-mode eating. I'm pretty sure I can pinpoint the culprit. I'm currently studying for the bar exam. In other words, I'm a total stressball. The bar exam is the test, after you receive your J.D., to become a licensed attorney. It is two days long, full of essays and tough-as-hell multiple choice questions, and tests your knowledge in various areas of the law. For the Minnesota exam, the test-takers are responsible for thirteen areas of law. I've been "studying" for about 3 weeks now. There are less than 4 weeks remaining until exam day. And, well, I had my first freak-out session the other night. It wasn't a big freak-out. I expect that they will continue to grow in duration and size. But it did involve chucking a large book across the room and swearing loudly. Ron looked at me and said "Well, I'm surprised it's lasted this long." I suppose I had been relatively calm leading up to that point. But I started on the multiple choice questions, feeling confident, and subsequently missed 50% of them. Hence, the flying book.

Now, I've heard from multiple people that this is normal. But I still sent a sanity check email to my friend Colette. She and I have similar study behaviors and habits and I knew she'd calm me down. She did. Thank you, Cole! And thank you for reassuring me that getting even 50% of these questions correct is okay. I realized that a lot of my annoyance was because I wasn't studying for myself, but for the BarBri schedule. And this simply does not work for me. I have never been a person who studied in the "traditional" sense and excelled. So now is not the time to try and do somebody else's thing. I've learned what works for me and what doesn't. So, I decided to switch gears on my study schedule and move forward with what I know works for my learning style. What does not work? Listening to offensive and annoying lecturers. What does work? Condensing the material in my own words so I can recite the entire area of tort law from memory as I walk around the neighborhood, attracting interesting looks as I audibly say things like "If a giant vat of flour falls on your head, use res ipsa loquitur because the thing speaks for itself!!" Weird. I know. But it works.

So, to combat some stress, I turned to baking. But I opted for a "light" recipe and an easy recipe that used pre-made crust (to avoid having dough meltdown). This pumpkin pie was so easy to throw together and seriously, it was the best pumpkin pie I've ever had. It was just so good. It was an interesting take on your usual pumpkin pie with the streusel on top. I enjoyed the extra crunch. We thoroughly enjoyed it. And I'll use it as my pumpkin pie recipe of choice from here on out.
Cinnamon Streusel Pumpkin Pie
from Cooking Light
Yield: 12 servings
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (15-ounce) can unsweetened pumpkin
  • 1 (14-ounce) can fat-free sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie dough (such as Pillsbury)
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup regular oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • 2 Tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 2-3 tsp water
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  2. To prepare filling, combine first 8 ingredients (cinnamon through condensed milk) in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.
  3. To prepare crust, roll dough to an 11-inch circle. Fit dough into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Fold edges under; flute.
  4. To prepare streusel, lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 5 ingredients (through 1/8 tsp ginger) in a bowl. Cut in butter with a fork until crumbly. Sprinkle with water, tossing with a fork just until lightly moistened.
  5. Pour pumpkin mixture into crust; sprinkle with streusel. Place pie on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from baking sheet; cool completely on a wire rack.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Winter Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

People occasionally ask me how I stay in shape if I eat so many baked goods. Well... for starters, this recently taken image of equipment in my garage is generally how I study.
When it's time for general reading or reviewing materials, I hope on the treadmill or get on my bike trainer. I had a friend invite me to stay with her in Minnesota for the month of February to help study for the bar exam. It was difficult to explain that the reason I couldn't come stay with her is because I study while moving. Honestly, I really like eating. But I dislike when my pants are tight. And studying involves a lot of sitting. This in turn makes me crazy. So, I try to find ways to move, a lot. It might be extreme but this is how I've always been. I have problems sitting still. I always have. Ask my parents. They'll tell you that they used to strap me in my chair at the dinner table because I'd take one bite, get up and go run around, come back for another bite, get up and run around.

Then again, it's not like I'm eating baked goods constantly. I do indulge daily on a tiny treat (like a piece of candy) and I firmly believe that everyone should eat what they want, in moderation, but I'm not one of those people who bakes every single day. Trust me, I wish I was. But for the sake of my cholesterol, I'm pretty strict on myself. I'm always conscious of my portions and I eat a ton of salads, like the one in this post, and fruits and vegetables. I do snack, a lot, but my snacks normally consist of carrot sticks and hummus. And I keep my intake of processed snacks very minimal. So, Ron and I keep ourselves in fairly decent shape. It's important to me and it's important that we are as active as possible. We didn't always have this mindset. You see, once upon a time, Ron and I lived in a house where the pantry was like your own personal fun trip to the grocery store every time you opened the door. I had no less than seven boxes of cereal (a delicious assortment of boxes like Lucky Charms, Golden Grahams, Trix) at the house at any given time. We also had various kinds of chips, pop-tarts, granola bars and other snack items constantly on hand. Then, I woke up and realized what we'd been doing to our bodies. Since then, we've lost a collective weight of 75 pounds.

We're strict but also relaxed. And we judge our conscious eating in various ways. For example, we have about six chip clips in the house: 3 large and 3 small. The smaller ones tend to care for things like wheat germ or flax meal. However, the 3 larger ones are for our snacks... the chips or candy or whatever. When all three big chips are used, I know it's time to reign in our snacking. The other day, I noticed all three were in use. Now, we've been back from Florida for nearly two weeks. But we haven't snapped out of vacation-mode eating. The Disney dining plan blessed us with a lot of food and we came back with a ravenous sweet tooth; so I baked up a pumpkin pie!  (It was so good, totally worth it, and it will be posted soon.) And we definitely didn't let it go to waste. So, after noticing our chip clips after cleaning out an empty pie pan, I quickly realized that it was time to nip our "vacation-eating" in the bud for the time being. Hence, this nice winter salad. It is very satisfying and has enough variety to please anyone's taste buds. The dressing was awesome - it's one of several home-made salad dressings I like to keep on hand - and was so flavorful. It is an easily adaptable meal. Choose any type of nut, mix up your cheese, or swap out the fruit. This salad alone provides a filling dish but can easily be accompanied with a main protein dish, if you'd prefer. The original recipe included bacon but I opted to leave it off of mine. However, I can imagine that the bacon would be a delicious accompaniment to this salad. Most importantly, the salad was relatively healthy and provided enough greenery to put me back on track to snap out of vacation eating mode.
Winter Salad with Maple Vinaigrette
from Greens and Chocolate
Yield: 2-3 large servings
  • 6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 2 medium pears, chopped
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 3/4 cup pecans, toasted and chopped
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled, optional
  • 6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  1. To make the salad: Toss together the romaine, pears, cranberries, pecans, feta, and bacon, if using.
  2. To make the dressing: Combine maple syrup, olive oil, apple cider vinegar, dijon mustard, and salt; whisk to combine. 
  3. Drizzle half of the dressing over the salad and toss to combine. Gradually add more dressing, according to your liking. Enjoy!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Spinach Stuffed Shells

These spinach stuffed shells are almost exactly like our favorite turkey-spinach lasagna, except for the fact that they are baked shells! These are so delicious and filling. We had leftovers for days. There is nothing more comforting than pasta and cheese, so this is the perfect dish next time you want a delicious meal. It is a "lightened-up" recipe so it uses some reduced-fat options, but feel free to adapt as you prefer.
Spinach Stuffed Shells
from Gina's Skinny Recipes

  • 27 (9 oz) Jumbo Shells
  • 1 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 lb lean ground turkey
  • 32 oz crushed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups part skim ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz reduced fat mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1 egg
  • 16 oz package frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed 
  • 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano


  1. Boil water and cook shells according to package directions, make sure to make them al dente.
  2. Meanwhile, saute onions and garlic in oil. Add turkey and salt and brown until cooked, breaking up in small pieces. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper and basil, then simmer on low, covered, about 15 minutes.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  4. In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, egg, spinach, mozzarella, and parmesan.
  5. Once shells are cooked and cool, fill each shell (with two heaping Tbsp) cheese mixture and place on a large baking dish covering the bottom of the dish with a little bit of sauce.
  6. Top shells with half of the sauce, cover with foil and bake 40 minutes; uncover foil and bake for 5 more minutes.
  7. Serve with additional sauce on top, aside a small salad. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

School Bread (Skolebred)

In February 2011, I started planning our January Disney 2012 trip. I know, it seems a little ridiculous. Eleven months ahead? But trust me, it's necessary in order to carefully plan the best trip for value and to ensure that you get a spot at your favorite restaurant 180 days in advance of your vacation. Those get-in-the-park-before-opening-hours character breakfasts aren't available if you try to book two months out! And cast members will laugh at you if you walk right up and expect to get a table. I've become quite crafted at preparing the most awesome trip as Disney possible for myself and Ron. I take pride in this. We go often and I somehow manage to make sure that we do something new, try something new, and stay somewhere new each time. The Walt Disney World Resort is always changing, so I try to make sure that our trips are as new and fresh as possible. This involves a lot of careful planning and copious amounts of research. But I absolutely love this so should you ever have any specific Disney, Universal, or Orlando related questions, I'd be happy to help! I read Disney Imagineering books for fun and I can tell you things like "Walt Disney's "room" above the Ice Cream Parlor is the only window on Main Street that has a view of Cinderella's Castle."

So here we are in January 2012 and I've already planned out our entire 2013 Disney vacation. Yes, my friends. We're going back. We'll always be going back. I can't stay away from that place and I'm so grateful for my ever-so-patient husband who recognizes that I adore Disney. Besides, I owe myself a runDisney medal, as I did not receive one this past marathon weekend. Sad. Here's the story: I had no time, energy, or strength to run. J-Term beat the heck out of me. I finished the class, rushed to the airport, hopped on a plane and arrived in Orlando feeling super... exhausted. I was practically out of it by the time my flight arrived in Orlando at 10:00 at night. I was running on no sleep from the night prior, minimal food and hydration. So, strange things were coming out of my mouth when Ron picked me up at baggage claim. I was seeing more furry creatures than just the Disney characters in the airport. From there, we were off to our Disney hotel for the night to prep for the run the next day. You might be wondering, why did you plan a run the day after your class ended? Isn't this your fault? Well, friends... J-Term was not in the plan at the time Disney 2012 was booked.

We had a 3:00 a.m. wake-up call and it was already 11:30 a.m. by the time I climbed into bed. I started noticing that I was having heart rate issues. My breathing was stale and I was very clammy, something that happens when my heart rate spikes too fast. So, I tried to rest but watched the clock as it ticked by from midnight until 2:59 a.m. when the alarm went off. I got up to prep some coffee and noticed I was out of breath just from getting out of bed. I went outside and did a brief jog that solidified what I had been thinking the night before. It was not worth it to try and do the run. :'( I woke Ron up, who told me he felt the same (he had not slept either on his red-eye flight), and we decided that our trip was more important than face-planting the pavement during the race. We had 5 days of meticulously planned theme park a-going so we decided that we'd be back in 2013 to run the run we didn't do in 2012.
Looking back, I'm glad we didn't run. Our trip to Orlando was pretty incredible and we could have potentially ruined it if we'd forced ourselves to run. Granted, I know we would've finished but bad things happen to your body when you force a run on no sleep, no hydration, no food and no mental stability. Sigh. It still stings though. This is a bad habit that I need to break. Anyway, we had two days at the Hard Rock resort over by Universal (gorgeous hotel, within walking distance of the parks, early access, and front of line perks; highly, highly recommend!) then we shifted back to Disney where we stayed at the Beach Club Resort for the remainder of our trip. It was a blast. It was our first time at the Beach Club Resort and as a perk of visiting during the time we went, we received a free Disney Dining Plan (over a $300 value), which is something we'd never done before. I'd spent so much time researching dining options (what qualifies as a snack? where do you get the best bang for your buck? who has the best table-service menu? what is the best quick-service meal?) and had booked our table-service reservations by the time we arrived. However, choosing snacks and quick-service meals was so much fun! We would absolutely do it again and if you go down to Disney, I highly recommend the Dining Plan (at least if its free) and researching dining options ahead of time.

In Epcot's World Showcase, Norway has a well-known bakery called Kringla Bakery Og Cafe. We normally stop in there on our way to the Maelstrom ride to pick up a sweet pretzel or another treat. We'd never had the School Bread but I've always wanted to try it. So, we planned to use it as one of our snack options but was thrown off course after Ron learned it was covered with coconut shavings. This threw our "snack plan" into total derailment and Ron had a pout session because he was peeved about the addition of coconut. I recalled seeing the recipe on the Disney Food Blog site so I made a note to surprise him with some School Bread once we got back to Seattle. I did not end up using the recipe posted because I heard some mixed reviews, but I did find another similar recipe. School Bread is a Norwegian pastry that is often served around the holidays. It is filled with a sweet cream custard, dipped in glaze, and often coated with coconut... but the coconut can easily be omitted. They smell great while they are baking and they are so delicious when complete. It might be worth it to use all-purpose flour because the wheat can make the dough a bit tough, but I found my pastry filler to work just fine. The custard was very easy to make and tasted so good. Don't be fooled by the fact that I had a little too much fun with the custard, these pastries can easily be decorated for elegance. I'd love to make these again and even better, Ron satisfied his "school bread" snack craving.
from Bubbling Cauldron
Yield: 24 pastries
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup sifted powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp milk or water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • coconut, optional
Pastry Cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 drop vanilla extract
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm milk. Add melted butter, 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup sugar and cardamom. Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, knead the dough until it is shiny and pliable. Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with the oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
  2. Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and form into rounds. Place the rounds on a lightly greased baking sheet, cover with a damp cloth and let rise until doubled in volume, about 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F. Brush the risen rolls with the beaten egg and bake in the preheated oven for 8 to 10 minutes until nicely browned with pale sides. Cool completely on wire racks.
  4. Mix glaze by placing powdered sugar, milk and vanilla in a bowl and whisking until combined. Once the rolls are cooled, spread glaze across the top and then dip in coconut, if you prefer.
  5. To make the pastry cream: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until well combined. Whisk in 2 Tbsp of milk. Place the remaining milk and vanilla in a medium saucepan. Bring the milk to a boil and slowly whisk it into the yolk mixture. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and slowly bring it to a boil over medium heat, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter. Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap and spread the pastry cream over the plastic to let it cool as quickly as possible. Cover with the plastic wrap and refrigerate it until cold. Place the cooled pastry cream into a pastry bag and fill the buns with cream. 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Asian Salmon Noodle Salad

It's been one week since we returned to Seattle from a whirl-wind two week trip. And I think I'm finally setting back in to the swing of things. Well, at least I'm back to a new routine that involves pouring over BarBri materials 24/7. I'm done with law school. I graduated last Saturday. And it still hasn't completely sunk in. It doesn't seem so long ago that I was sitting at home on a Saturday night with my study group studying first-year contracts materials until midnight. It doesn't seem so long ago that I was sitting in my car on Summit Avenue crying to my parents about how I had absolutely no clue how I was going to finish. And they would reassure me "You'll look back at this time and think my goodness that time flew." I do think that now. It's hard to believe that 3.5 years have passed.

Last semester was a little untraditional. And I don't generally discuss my grades. But I'm still in amazement about how things turned out. Somehow, I managed to obtain a 4.0 in my fall semester. And after three and a half years of school, one of my exam responses was finally posted on Blackboard as a "model answer." Never-mind the fact that I rewrote the exam response at 3 a.m. after I had already spent weeks working on it. It made it there! My work! Then somehow, I managed to thrive off of coffee, 13 hours of sleep total and peanut butter sandwiches for an entire week so I could research, draft, and negotiate my butt off in my Deals and Disputes class. Woozers. I say somehow because I just don't know how I did it. But I'm done. All done.

I graduated law school with academic honors. Magna Cum Laude. For the first time in my life, I am proud of myself and didn't (and still don't) feel guilty for tooting my own horn. Not bad for a person who was waitlisted before entering law school. Yep, folks. Waitlisted. I just didn't have the numbers to show that I was a successful candidate for law school. But, I like to think of myself as inspiration to people who might not have the best numbers entering. If you are willing to put in the work, you can prove those statistics wrong. I'm happy to say that I worked my tail off and I'm even happier to say that my friends in similar situations were successful just as well. Hard work and determination does not go unnoticed.

A number of people expressed shock at graduation when they saw that I actually had a clue in law school. I found that funny. Just because I remained quiet in class most of the time did not mean that I was failing out! I loved my time at Mitchell. I just didn't love the way I reacted to the stress and pressures of school. But who does? I will eternally be grateful for the school that gave me a new life, new opportunities, and a new chance to smile. It's still hard to imagine that it's done. But that chapter has closed and a new one has started. Though, it's slightly boring to start. I sit here now with bar prep materials surrounding me, reciting things like "P.I.N.E. stands for Prescriptive, Implied, Necessity, and Express" and trying to jam as much material into my brain as possible. Enter brain food. This recipe was inspired by three separate recipes so I don't really have a source. Ron has started eating salmon so I've been able to cook it more often. Ron has also started eating octopus, which is just mind-boggling to me. But anyway, this recipe was really good. I had been craving something and couldn't put my finger on it. So, I pulled some asian ingredients together, opened the soba noodles I've had in the pantry, marinated the salmon and whipped up this noodle bowl. Enjoy!

Asian Salmon Noodle Salad
from a number of sources combined
Yield: 3-4 servings
For the Salmon
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Pinch freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 1/4 lb salmon
For the Noodle Salad
  • 1/2 lb soba noodles
  • 3 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp freshly minced ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, shredded
  • 1 cup bean sprouts, chopped
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 cup crushed peanuts
  • 3 Tbsp sesame seeds
For the Salmon
  1. Slash knife marks in the skinless side of the salmon. Place salmon skin side down in glass baking dish.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk all of the other ingredients and pour over salmon. Cover dish and place in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake salmon, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until fish is cooked through and flakes. Meanwhile, prepare your noodle salad.
  4. After noodle salad is prepared and salmon is cooked (and slightly cooled), scrap salmon off of skin with a fork. Chop salmon into several small pieces and mix in with noodle salad. 
For the Noodle Salad
  1. While salmon is cooking, bring water to boil and cook soba noodles according to package directions (normally 4-5 minutes) then drain and spray with cold water to stop cooking.
  2. Whisk the next 7 ingredients (sesame oil through sea salt) in a small bowl. 
  3. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, carrots, bean sprouts, scallions, and cilantro. Add the cooled and cooked noodles to the bowl and toss to combine.
  4. Once salmon is cooked and mixed in with noodle salad (see step #4 above), pour sesame dressing over the veggie-noodle-salmon mixture and toss to evenly distribute. 
  5. Place noodle salad into bowl and sprinkle with peanuts and sesame seeds.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Be Back Soon!

Sorry I haven't posted in some time! I'll be traveling for a bit longer.
Cheers from Hogsmeade Station!