Halloween to Christmas: Holidays 2014

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The holiday season is almost over.  And I realized I hadn't even posted about Pumpkin Carving. So here's a busy (lazy) mom's overview of our celebrations since October, mostly so I can remember them next year. Especially if there's any debate over who had the best pumpkin.

Oh, and our little Viggo is three month's old today. Three! How did this happen? I go to work next week, and am terribly sad about it. I did not expect to be this sad. So wish me luck for an easy transition, where I don't cry at my desk (more than once a day).
For the first-time ever, the husband won the carving contest with his Lincoln. And no, I did not select him as winner because he gave me a baby, as some suggested. I think everyone else just dropped the ball.
Viggo is already learning about the judging process. It's not easy to pick a winner, little guy.
Pumpkin carving would not be complete without chili.
This year, the husband organized our friends to put on a second Koncert for Karine. It was actually called Kristmas 4 Karine and Baby Viggo, and featured holidays carols and tunes. Although I laughed at this premise, just like the first time around, it was a sweet and cozy way to kick-off the holidays with our friends. We're lucky to have a group of talented musicians, singers and poets among us, and enough folks willing to listen and cheer them on. Viggo and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
And of course, our favorite get-together of the season is Xmas Eve Eve. This year, we made fresh pasta and wild boar ragu. We drank lots of rum punch and wine. And Viggo was showered with love (and many gifts!) by our family of friends. He's still getting the hang of posing for photos, but I'm sure by next year, he'll be a pro. 
Hope you had a memorable holiday season as well. Next year, we're planning a little trip north, where Viggo will get to experience a white Christmas. Here's to 2015!


Lemon Love: Lemon Lavender Gelato and Preserving Our First Crop

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This gelato recipe is from way back, when I was still very pregnant and not into blogging. Now, even though I'm no longer pregnant, I've still been not into blogging. Mostly because the few quiet moments I get, I utilize by Googling "how to get spit up smell out of clothes". So yeah, gelato.

I made this for a dinner party. It was delicious. We used lemons from my husband's co-workers tree. This week, our own lemons were ready, and I was reminded of this delicious recipe while I spent an afternoon in the kitchen making preserved lemons with my little guy. He indulged me by posing for a few photos.
Finally, lemons from our mini tree. A decent first-year crop. You can find a recipe for preserved lemons here. And feel free to add whatever spices you like. Below I used anise.
Lemon Lavender Gelato
Serves 8

4 Tablespoons Dried Lavender
4 Large Lemons
1/3 Cup Honey
5 Egg Yolks
1/4 Cup Sugar
1 Cup Heavy Cream

2 Cups Whole Milk

1) Peel lemons.

2) In medium saucepan, combine milk, lavender, lemon peel, and honey.  Bring to a gentle boil, cover, and remove from heat. Let steep for 15 minutes, then strain mixture reserving the milk and discarding the lavender and lemon peel.

3) Beat egg yolks and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes.

4) Return milk to the saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring constantly. Take one cup of the warm milk and mix it into the egg mixture.  Next add the egg mixture into the pot with the milk whisking everything together.

5) Continue to cook over low heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Remove from heat and stir in cream. Strain mixture into a bowl and refrigerate until cold.

6) Freeze mixture in an ice cream maker.


Chia Pudding and Baby Times

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If you keep up with my Facebook page, you know we have officially entered parenthood. Our little boy came a few weeks early at the end of September. He's currently lounging in a rocker near me, passing gas very loudly and smiling right after. We're in love.

Before his arrival, I spent the last month preparing his room and eating lots of chia pudding. I discovered chia seed pudding by accident. During a work retreat at the Ace Hotel, I ordered the pudding for breakfast, thinking it was a good for me option that probably won't give me heartburn, but it turned out to be so much more, and I quickly became obsessed.

Once home, I demanded the husband buy me some almond milk and chia seeds, and after spending an afternoon looking at recipes on Pintrest, we made our first batch of pudding. It took all of four minutes to combine yogurt, almond milk, agave syrup and the seeds, stir real well and pop into the fridge overnight. The next day I prepared some toppings, and we had a delicious breakfast.  From then on, I made large batches of the stuff experimenting with different recipes and toppings. And here's what I've decided:

  • I prefer the white seeds. They plump up better.
  • After several versions, I liked the combination of almond milk and coconut milk, and ditched the yogurt.
  • For a fancier version, add cocoa powder and/or vanilla extract.
  • Toasted coconut as a topping is a must.
  • Basic proportions that I use are 1/3 seeds to about 11/3 cup liquid. This will obviously vary depending on how thick your liquids are. Start with less, and add more as needed.
This is a seriously simple, and healthy breakfast/snack/dessert. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Before our little guy arrived, we had a lovely shower on a very hot day in September. Many thanks to the our friends for putting this awesome party together. 
And here's our little joker and face-maker. Welcome to the blog!


Couch Day 2014, featuring Meatballs and Plum Cake

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It's hard to believe that next Couch Day there will be a baby in these photos. Where will he sit? Will he make funny faces? Will he enjoy lounging on couches? With so much up in the air, we made the most of our last babyless Couch Day this year, with friends old and new, delicious meatballs and even a dessert.
The husband recently splurged on a massive, electric grinder. Something you see in butcher shops. At first I didn't get it, now I don't care. It's impressive and amazing, and makes activities like sausage-making a breeze. We used the new toy to experiment with meatballs. Never having made meatballs before, we ended up making a lot. Giant ones for Couch Day festivities to be served over creamy and cheesy polenta, and smaller ones for post-baby times. Here's what I learned, giant meatballs are harder to cook, so next time, I think I'll make them smaller.

Along with meatballs, I also made a lot of marinara sauce.

Finished product, served over polenta. I can't wait for cooler weather and more polenta meals!
After seeing this amazing plum cake/torte on my favorite blog, I decided to bake! And guess what? It turned out delicious, and was super easy. It didn't convince me I need to do this regularly, but, I did enjoy this almost effortless process.

Here we are trying to be normal, except for one friend, who decided to lean back and disappeared.
And, normal didn't last ...

Italian Meatballs
via www.simplyrecipes.com 
Makes 16 large meatballs

1 pound ground beef (at least 16 percent fat)
1 pound ground pork
2/3 cup milk (whole or 2 percent)
3 slices of white bread, crusts removed (about 3 ounces)
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
2 eggs
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
About 1 cup of flour for dusting
1/3 cup olive oil
2 1/2 cups (24 ounces) of tomato sauce

Tomato Sauce:
2 Tbsp olive oil
3/4 cup finely chopped onions
3/4 cup finely chopped carrots
3/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed or whole tomatoes, including the juice, or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried basil or 2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
2 teaspoons tomato paste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1) Start with the tomato sauce, which will simmer while you prepare the meatballs. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and parsley. Stir to coat with the oil, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft and cooked through. Remove the cover, add the garlic, and increase the heat to medium high. Cook the garlic for half a minute, then add the tomatoes (if using whole canned, break up with your fingers as you add them to the pan.) Add the tomato paste and basil. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low and let cook uncovered until thickened while you prepare the meatballs, 15 to 30 minutes. Purée in a blender, or push through a food mill for a smooth consistency. Adjust seasonings.

2) Heat the milk in a small pot until steamy. Turn off the heat, tear the bread into little pieces and soak it in the milk until it partially dissolves. Mash it until you get something that resembles a paste. Turn it out onto a plate to let it cool.

3) In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, eggs, salt, parsley, oregano, black pepper, garlic cloves and the bread-milk mixture. Mix it well with your hands until it barely combines. Don't overwork the mixture or it will become tough.

4) Wet your hands and form the meatballs. A traditional size for this sort of meatball is 2-3 inches across, but you can make them any size you want. Once you roll the meatball in your hands, roll it in the flour to give it a good coating (I skipped this step since they went into the freezer). Rinse your hands a few times as you make the meatballs for easy rolling.

5) When all the meatballs are formed, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs on at least two sides.

6) Once all the meatballs are browned, arrange them in the sauce, turning each one over in the sauce to coat. Cover the pot and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with a little chopped parsley or basil for garnish.

Purple Plum Torte
via www.bonappetempt.com (and many other places)

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Large pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar plus 1 to 2 tablespoon
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
12 smallish purple Italian purple plums, halved and pitted (I used pluots here, they just looked better at the market)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1) Heat over to 350°F. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until fluffy and light in color. Add the eggs, one at a time , scraping down the bowl.
2) Add your dry ingredients, mixing until just combined.

3) Spoon batter into an ungreased 9-inch springform pan (but if you’re worried, you can always lightly coat it first with butter or a nonstick spray) and smooth the top. Arrange the plums, skin side up, all over the batter, covering it. Sprinkle the top with lemon juice, then cinnamon, then remaining sugar.

4) Bake until cake is golden and a toothpick inserted into a center part of the cake comes out free of batter (but of course not plum juice), about 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on rack.

Leave it covered at room temperature overnight as this cake is better the next day.


Three Cheese Pasta with Bacon, Peas and Sundried Tomatoes

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Also known as clean out your fridge pasta. It's easy. It's super quick. And it turned out to be super delicious. So if you find little numbs of cheese hanging in your fridge, along with some cream, this sauce comes together in minutes. Like less than five.

I'm not going to lie to you. This is called lazy blogging. But, I've dropped the ball on the photo taking. And been too busy preparing for a baby. Oh man, there's going to be a baby -- yikes! So lazy blogging is all I've got for the time being. Sorry folks.
Three Cheese Pasta with Bacon, Peas and Sundried Tomatoes

1 lb of pasta, cook according to instructions on package
a nice chunk of Hungarian bacon, cubed (any bacon or ham product will work here)
about a cup or so of frozen peas, defrosted
3 tbsp sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
heavy cream (I used about 1/3 cup)
cheeses! (I had cream cheese, cheddar and a bit of goat)
salt and pepper

1) Brown your bacon until crispy, and drain some of the fat. Add peas and sundried tomatoes.
2) Lower the heat to a simmer, add your cream and cheeses, until a nice sauce develops. This should only take a couple of minutes. Turn off the heat.
3) Add your cooked pasta, reserving some of the water, and adding it to the sauce if necessary.
4) Season with salt and pepper, taste and enjoy


Ricotta Blueberry Pancakes with Grapefruit Zest

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If only I could have ricotta magically appear in my fridge right now, I would stop typing and make these delicious pancakes. But, there's no ricotta, the store seems soooo far away, the husband is running up in mountains, so all I'm left with are the memories of these fluffy and cheesy little cakes. Life is not always fair.

But sometimes it is, and it usually involves your house smelling like bacon and tea being prepared for you, as you stand over the stove flipping pancakes. 
I saw this recipe on Smitten Kitchen, and the first time I made these, I had no lemons. So I used grapefruit zest instead. It was so good, I just keep sticking with it. This last time I also used fancy wheat flour, and the texture and flavor were just as good.

Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberries and Grapefruit Zest
Makes about twelve 3- to 4-inch pancakes

4 large eggs, separated
1 1/3 cups ricotta
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated grapefruit zest
1/2 cup all-purpose or wheat flour
handful of blueberries
Butter for the pan

1) In a bowl whisk together the egg yolks, the ricotta, the sugar, and the zest, add the flour, and stir the mixture until it is just combined.

2) In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they hold stiff peaks, whisk about one fourth of them into the ricotta mixture, and fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Then add your blueberries.

3) Heat a cast iron pan over low-medium heat and brush it with some of the melted butter. Working in batches, pour the batter onto the griddle by 1/4-cup measures and cook the pancakes for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until they are golden, brushing the griddle with some of the melted butter as necessary. Transfer the pancakes to a heatproof platter and keep them warm in a preheated 200F oven until you're ready to serve.


Garden Meals

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Every few days, the husband brings home a basket of goodies from his satellite garden. And so, the last several weeks there's been a lot of vegetable eating -- salads, bruschetta, stir fries. I've been putting our herbs to good use to freshen up everything from chicken salad (above) to pasta dishes. Below is a collection of deliciously memorable meals from the past month.

Sauteed squash, and green beans with minced pork. The husband fell in love with this green beans stir fry. I used coconut oil which added a nice subtle flavor.

 Giant salads featuring giant beans, cucumbers, radishes, olives, romaine, herbs and burrata.
Crab cakes with coconut mango rice, and a cauliflower salad with chickpeas and garden veggies.
For the Game of Thrones finale, we grilled some bread, and slathered it with goat cheese.Then I topped half of the bread with roasted tomatoes and the other half with figs and blue cheese. Served with cucumbers and peaches, these little toasts were almost too pretty to eat.
 Blue cheese and figs are a winning combo.
One night, I came home to a kitchen full of dudes making a mess. The result was homemade pasta and sauce, grilled vegetables and homemade fennel sausage. This past weekend, the husband and his friend purchased a beast of a grinder. There shall be lots more sausage in our future.