Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Homemade Vegetable Stock

I love making my own stock. I love chopping up an entire leek and an entire fennel bulb with greens attached and just tossing it in a pot. I love not peeling the onion. I love having just that much more control over the subtle flavors of a special soup.

This is a basic vegetable stock recipe. You can and should use what you have lying around, begging to be used. Celery a little wimpy? Forgot to use that bunch of parsley you bought last week? Toss it in. Organic veggies mean you don't need to worry about peeling. As Ingrid, my almost-7-year-old would say, "Easy Peasy lemon squeezy."

Try making your own stock, I know you'll love it.

2 TB olive oil
8 peppercorns
1/8 tsp cardamom seeds, crushed (use side of chef's knife)
10 fennel seeds
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
few gratings fresh nutmeg

4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 med yellow onion, chopped (no need to remove skin)
2 med carrots, chopped
3 whole celery stalks, chopped (including leaves)

1 fennel bulb, chopped (greens, too)
1 bunch parsley, chopped (reserving 1/2 c. for soup garnish)
1 entire leek, chopped

Heat olive oil in large stock pot. Add peppercorns, cardamom, fennel seeds, rosemary and nutmeg. Saute until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add garlic, onions, carrots and celery. Saute until onions are translucent, about 8 minutes.

Add fennel, parsley and leek. Stir and sauté until coated in oil and leaves have wilted some, about 2 minutes. 

Add 8 cups filtered water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let sit for several hours, or overnight in the refrigerator, to allow flavors to fully develop. 

When ready to use, strain through a colander, then a fine mesh sieve. Keeps refrigerated for up to 2 weeks, or freeze. During times when we were really into making stocks, we'd measure out 2 cups servings into ziplock baggies and stack them in the freezer. Ice cube trays work well, too. 

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Southern Pecan Biscuits

These biscuits are very nearly scones. But I'm calling them biscuits because there's no sugar in the dough. And because I'm working on a pretty amazing Maple Pecan Scone recipe, which I'll post here as soon as it's perfect. For now, these biscuits really hit our spot with a little butter and a side of scrambled eggs for a simple, but sufficiently special Sunday breakfast. (Plus an afternoon treat with coffee. Gotta love a baked good that can work double duty!)

2 c. flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 TB ground flaxseed
3 TB cold butter, cut into pieces
1 TB Crisco vegetable shortening
1 1/4 c. cold low-fat vanilla yogurt
2/3 c. chopped pecans, toasted

1 TB half & half
1 TB maple syrup
1 TB decorating sugar (or Sugar in the Raw)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a heavy baking sheet with parchment paper. Go ahead and toast the pecans first, so they have plenty of time to cool -- 3 or 4 minutes stovetop on medium heat, until fragrant and golden. (You don't want to mix hot nuts into your biscuit batter, melting the butter & shortening.) Set aside.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Igloo Mini-Cupcakes

Did I mention cupcakes are totally part of The Plan?

Just kidding. I made these for Malcolm's preschool class. Winter Festival was this week, for which their awesome teachers even made an igloo out of milk cartons:

How cool is that?!
I decided to make some cupcakes to match.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Plan

Well. Talk about a cleanse. I wrote that last post on the way home from a rich-food-filled trip to TX... Not two days later, I came down with the worst stomach flu of my life (along with the rest of the family). It took us down for a week, and hit me especially hard. Usually, I can summon that Mom Power that makes us capable of carrying on, taking care of everyone else no matter what.

Not this time.

My poor, sweet, awesome husband had to do it. Super Dad was super sick one night, went to court the next day to advocate for a child, pro-bono as Guardian ad Litem; came home early to make us all toast for dinner, and continued to plow through an immensely heavy work load. All while studying for another bar exam.

I was humbled. (And thankful!)

And now, if we can all collectively touch wood, I will tell you: We are feeling MUCH better.  My plan going forward is thus:

Breakfast: Fruit smoothie with yogurt

Lunch: Salad with hard-boiled egg

Dinner: Veggie-based, low-carb; occasional chicken or turkey
-sufficiently allowing for creativity

Snack One: Nuts
-high fat, but sustaining; fights hunger

Snack Two: Hummus & veggies

Not so revolutionary, I know. But, with reasonable portions, it keeps calorie consumption below 1200/day, achieves my goal of cutting added sugar and refined carbohydrates, is low-fat but filling with plenty of protein, and increases my raw vegetable intake with a daily salad. I'll also be limiting alcohol to special occasions.

A nice long walk/run on the treadmill and my favorite yoga video, alternating days for exercise.

This is totally doable. And totally in line with my New Year's resolution to just do what I know I ought to do. This is the "You Know What's Good for You, So Eat It" diet!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Don't try to fight it!

I know I can't... The urge to revitalize body and mind at the beginning of a new year: It's time for a cleanse.

This realization has less to do with resolutions and weight loss goals (though that'd be nice, too), and more with a sort of tired, sloppy malaise I can't seem to shake. I haven't practiced yoga in over a month. Haven't gone for a run in just as long, and in the past two months, I've consumed more sugar, butter and caffeine than should probably be legal.

SO... Here it is. I hearby succumb to the trend. Like so many food blogs in January, you're gonna see a lot of fruit and yogurt here. A lot of salad and nuts and broth-y soups.

I'm studying up on a few different cleansing diets, reviewing those I've practiced in the past, trying to come up with a short, practical and adaptable "back-to-basics" plan that makes sense for me, while still accommodating the fam. I'll probably (okay, definitely) toss a few free days in there to ward off desperate and furtive chocolate chip binges. If (when) I bake, a good amount of the resulting calories will be pawned off on friends and co-workers(sorry!). As usual, I'll post recipe success here.

Once the plan is a bit more solidified, I'll post that, too. We've been down in Texas all week, visiting family and celebrating a 90th birthday! (As I type, we're heading north through Alabama, toward home.) All stocked up on Texas pecans and even some Original Recipe bottled Dr. Pepper (um... to be consumed pre-Cleanse, of course). Did you know it's only sold in TX? And yes, it tastes better :-).

If you're still reading and you have any tips or tricks or super-awesome cookbooks to recommend, please leave a comment and let me know. Anybody wanna join in?

Sunday, January 1, 2012


Goodbye 2011. Alas, we hardly knew ye.

You were a good year... I might nearly even say, A Great One. You flew under the radar a bit, forced into the shadow of your audacious older sibling, who ushered in a new baby and a new puppy. Within months of each other. WHAT was 2010 on, anyway? I mean, really.

Josh got in shape in 2011. And I cooked. And I ate. A lot. Then I started this blog because I wanted to remember some of the recipes.

We spent a couple of weeks on a farm in Vermont, with some of our dearest friends, which were quite possibly my happiest times. We cooked and ate and drank and laughed until we cried. We yelled at the kids to stay away from the electric fences.

Thanks, 2011. Simple and easy, understated joy. That was you, my friend.

Travels also saw us home to Texas, where we always enjoy ourselves immensely. It was a hot, dry, tree-killing summer in the north east Texas country, but it was beautiful, too. And the peaches were glorious. The peach ice cream was even better. And that dinner with my parents at the winery was fantastic!

Further south, our good old Houston was so full of loving family, it very nearly made me want to drop everything we've got goin' here and move right on back. Even though it is a four-day drive from Vermont.

Josh and I left the kids overnight for the first time ever when we visited NYC for my 30th birthday. (Oh yeah, I turned 30, too. But I won't hold that against you, 2011.) As is good and right and true to our inner gourmands... we basically ate our way from Penn Station to Central Park and back again. At least we walked. Anthony Bourdain's joint, Chef Ramsay's, pizza, coffee, falafel, macaroons from the Plaza Hotel and everything in between. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. We also saw a really fun show!

Back on the home front, one kid left kindergarten in the dust and quickly began smokin' through 1st grade; one is laying waste to his last year of pre-k. The youngest started walking, and hasn't stopped since. All of them bravely sampling a variety of interesting foods along the way, and thinking no less of me when I snuck beets and walnuts and pears into their pancakes*.

So, now what? 2011 was pretty great. And maybe there's not a whole lot I want to change in 2012...

Then again. I've already said that at least one resolution is to include the kids more in the things I like to do, like cooking. They love to help, and as much as it slows a person down (and as "special" as the cookies look when they do), I know it's important to let them. I am going to let them help more.

Well, hello there.

Other than that... I'll spare you all of my great hopes involving the treadmill and that stinky, lonely yoga mat. All of my 2012 resolutions can be boiled down to two sentences:

I resolve to do all the stuff I know I should. And not to do the stuff I know I shouldn't.

Should I elaborate?

I know that I should exercise. I know that I shouldn't carb-load every meal. I know I should put down the laptop and read to my toddler...

...Okay, I'm back. Where was I?

I know I should smile more. I know I should get down on the floor and really play with the kids more. I know I should relax, worry less and maintain perspective because, deep down, I know what is important. I should write more letters. I should spend less money. I should take the dogs on more walks. I should finish the book I'm writing and I should let someone else read it. I hear that's an important step in the publication process.

I know that I should not spend so much time on Facebook. That I should not expect the kids to get along all the time. I should not clean the house obsessively before people come over. I shouldn't scowl when I concentrate because it's causing a wrinkle. I shouldn't sweat the small stuff. And I shouldn't yell at the puppy so much, especially now that the baby is starting to imitate me... Whoops.

So. You know. I resolve to be the mom/wife/friend/writer/dog owner/person, that I know I ought to be in 2012.

Totally doable.

Cheers, readers! Both of you! And Happy New Year! I wish you LOTS of good food shared with good people in 2012.

*Believe it or not, the 6 year old has been begging me to make these again. They're really quite good.