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Archive for December, 2013

Appetizer Roundup: 6 Party Appetizers Revisted “Ugh, I have to bring appetizers again! Any ideas on what I should make for the party next week?” grumbled my daughter. “Why don’t you check out the appetizer recipes on my blog?” I replied, trying not to smile. “You could make “Bloomin’ Onion Bread, Pepperoni Pizza Puffs, or Kate’s Cheese Squares. They’re always crowd-pleasers. You could make something healthy like a Trio of Dips served with crudités. Or, if you’d rather bring something more exotic, make Sushi Casserole or Banh Mi Bruschetta,” I suggested to her. “Oh, I don’t know . . . . I’ve got to think about this,” sighed my daughter.

That conversation reminded me of some of the great appetizers that I’ve prepared in the past, so I thought I would revisit them – just in time for holiday and New Year’s entertaining!

Banh Mi Brushetta (Top left)
Bruschetta with a twist or Banh Mi simplified? Either way, this appetizer brings together some incredible flavor combinations.

Bloomin’ Onion Bread (Left center)
Sourdough bread, Monterey Jack cheese, butter, green onions, garlic powder, and Parmesan cheese . . . need I say more?

Sushi Casserole (Bottom left)
This recipe serves a crowd and can be easily adapted. What ingredients you layer and the order you layer them is part of the fun in making this appetizer. Sushi rice will always be the base layer, but be creative with everything else!

Kate’s Cheese Squares (Top right)
A tried and true recipe that’s been around for decades is the best way to describe these cheese delights. They are light in texture, yet sinfully rich.

Pepperoni Pizza Puffs With Homemade Pizza Sauce (Middle right)
The smell of these small puffs of pizza will drive you crazy while they are baking, but they will be even more irresistible fresh out of the oven. They are best eaten hot, but they’re never around long enough to cool down!

Trio of Dips for Crudités (Bottom right)
Healthy does not mean blah. These three dips paired with fresh vegetables creates an explosion of flavors and colors!

ENJOY!

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Icy Leaf Heart Frost-tender plants wore coats of burlap and once-fluid water took on an other-worldly appearance. For several nights in a row, a hard frost hit my area. Like a child on Christmas morning, who runs downstairs to see what Santa Claus brought, I ran downstairs every morning of the frost to see what Mother Nature left. Dashing outside, dressed in pajamas, bathrobe, overcoat, sheepskin boots, and hat, I would survey the icy transformation of my backyard with wonder. As the sun rose higher in the sky and rays of sunlight hit my face, I knew I had no time to lose to make my frosty observations. The lens of my camera whirred as my cold fingers tried to focus on scenes that captured my attention. While walking around my yard, being careful not to disturb bits of icy magic, I spied an interesting arrangement on the ground – a heart-shaped composition of autumn leaves with fan-shaped ice crystals clinging to them like sparkling diamonds. Beauty is everywhere, you just have to take the time to notice. (Click on photo to enlarge it and to be able to see the ice crystals.)

#1 – The Secret Life of Ice
Intrigued with ice, snowflakes, and glaciers? Learn more about ice by watching the BBC’s fascinating hour-long presentation on the Secret Life of Ice. You are never too old to learn something new!

#2 – Castles

Alcazar of Segovia, Spain

Alcazar of Segovia, Spain

Castles and snowflakes both have a fantasy, fairytale-like quality about them. In this photo series Collection of Castles During Winter, we are treated to beautiful winter scenes of some of the most famous castles around the world.

#3 – How to Make Clear Ice Cubes
How to Make Clear Ice Cubes Have you ever wondered why icicles are clear, but most ice cubes are cloudy? Ice is ice, right?  Not so. A simplified answer to whether ice is cloudy or clear has to do with the type of water or water source used and the process used to create the ice. If you would like to serve clear ice cubes, like restaurants serve, at your next gathering, follow this Instructables tutorial.

#4 – Ice Art
Ice Art Viewing ice art is not restricted to cruise ship patrons. In its 25th year of highlighting ice art and hosting ice art competitions, Ice Alaska is now organizing the 2014 World Ice Art Championships which takes place from February 24th to March 30th in Fairbanks, Alaska. At last year’s World Ice Art Championships, the Artists’ Choice Award and 1st place winner in the Realistic Multi-Block Division went to the spectacular piece above called “Hunting Dragons” created by a 4-man team from the USA.

#5 – Constant Kindness
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.”
Albert Schweitzer

Now Go and Spread Joy!

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Gingerbread Pancakes Take a good look at these lightly-spiced caramel-colored pancakes. Better yet, click on the photo to enlarge it. They appear deliciously light and fluffy, but something is missing. Butter? No. Syrup? No. Maple Cream? Yes! I should have whipped the cream before I cooked the pancakes, because resisting pancakes hot off the griddle is obviously not one of my strengths!

Gingerbread Pancakes
From the Great Gingerbread Cookbook By Sara Perry

PANCAKE INGREDIENTS
1/3 cup light molasses
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2 cups milk
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat an oven to 250° degrees F.

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Place an ovenproof dish on the rack.

3. In a large bowl, beat the molasses and oil, by hand or with an electric mixer, until well-blended. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then add the milk. It is important to stir all the way to the bottom of the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are brought together.

4. Sift the all-purpose and whole wheat flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon into the egg mixture, and beat until just blended. The batter will be slightly thick and have a rich, dark caramel color.

5. Heat a griddle or nonstick skillet on medium-high heat until a few drops of water skip along the hot surface. Working in batches, measure out a scant 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. When cooking more than one pancake at a time, pour the batter so that the pancakes do not touch. Cook the first side until the edges begin to dry and bubbles begin to appear on the top surface. Turn and cook 1 minute on the second side.

6. Place in the oven on the preheated dish to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve the pancakes hot with Maple Cream.

Makes twenty 4-inch pancakes.

MAPLE CREAM INGREDIENTS
1 cup chilled whipping cream
1½ tablespoons pure maple syrup, at room temperature.

DIRECTIONS
In a chilled bowl, whisk the cream until it just begins to form soft peaks. Drizzle in the maple syrup, continuing to whisk until soft peaks form and begin to hold their shape. Cover and chill until ready to use.

Makes about 2 cups.

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. I used dark molasses, because that’s all I had in my pantry. Peggy Trowbridge Filippone of About.com says, “Although light and dark molasses are interchangeable in recipes, be aware that using the dark will intensify flavor and slightly darken the end product and vice versa.” Indeed, my pancakes were slightly darker in color than those in the cookbook photo, but they had a nice molasses flavor to them.

2. It is better to measure out the oil first instead of the molasses. By doing so, the oil will coat your measuring cup, enabling the molasses to pour out more easily.

3. Keep an eye on these pancakes as they are cooking; they have a tendency to brown quickly, due to the sugar content in the molasses. It would be wise to start at a lower temperature than you normally would for pancakes and then adjust the the heat accordingly. My husband liked the darker pancakes, because they had more intense flavor.

4. The gingerbread flavor in these pancakes is very subtle. If you want a spicier gingerbread flavor, add more spice.

5. If you like thinner pancakes, thin the batter with a little bit of milk.

ENJOY!

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Christmas Cookies Like fog rolling in and stealing the sun, winter doldrums came and swept over me. Even though it’s not officially winter yet, I’ve been feeling kind of blue these last couple of weeks. Realizing this, I knew I desperately needed a special kind of therapy – cookie therapy. Luckily, a friend sensed my mood and we set up a “therapy session.” Baking and decorating cookies with reckless creativity and chatting and laughing made my case of wintertime blues disappear.

#1 – The Cookies
The cookies featured in the photo above are my holiday version of my Valentine’s Day Cookies. Click the link for the recipe and directions. These decorated shortbread cookies are cheerful to look at and delicious to devour!

#2 – Edible Gifts
60 Ideas For Homemade Edible Gifts If Chocolate-Covered Bacon, Earl Grey Kumquat Marmalade, or Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti sound delicious to you, just think how impressed your friends will be when you give them one of these edible gifts. PopSugar’s post Over 60 Ideas For Homemade Edible Gifts is filled with intriguing and interesting ideas. Some of them take advance planning such as making homemade limoncello or vanilla extract.

#3 – In The Mirrored Room
Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrored Room - the Souls of Millions of Light Years Away Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama created an art installation called the “Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away” that is both breathtaking and surreal. Lucky New York City folk can visit this amazing installation until December 21st at the David Zwirner Gallery. How I wish I could step into that room!

#4 – Finding Courage
How to Find Courage In the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion sought to find courage, not knowing it was already within him. Each day we face a variety of struggles, most of which we deal with and then we move on with our lives. To do this requires courage. Like the Cowardly Lion, many of us don’t realize that we already possess the courage we need to face issues. We just need to uncover it. While reading an online magazine this morning, I came across an article by Steve Keating called How to Find Courage. Although it was written by a business man for a target audience, its message is applicable for everyone.

#5 – Never Too Late
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.” Eric Roth, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Go Now and Spread Joy!

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IMG_0129 Frosty cold days and nights call for hearty stews. Saffron, cumin, ginger, and orange zest are among the ingredients that add a wonderful depth of flavor to this lamb stew. The list of ingredients may seem long, but your taste buds will be greatly rewarded as you eat this aromatic dish.

Moroccan Lamb Stew
Williams-Sonoma Soup & Stew

INGREDIENTS
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 lb cubed lamb for stewing
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger
2½ cups beef stock or prepared broth
1 cup canned crushed tomatoes
1 cup chopped dried dates
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

2. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the onions and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and cook until slightly softened, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

3. Pat the lamb dry with paper towels. Place the flour in a large bowl or lock-top plastic bag and season with salt and pepper. Add the lamb in batches and stir or shake to coat thoroughly with the seasoned flour.

4. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil to the pot and heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches to avoid crowding, add the lamb and brown on all sides, 4-5 minutes for each batch. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

5. Return the onion mixture and browned lamb along with any accumulated juices to the pot. Add the garlic, cumin, saffron, and ginger and stir to coat the meat and vegetables. Add the stock and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan with a spoon. Add the tomatoes, dates, and orange zest and juice and bring to a boil over high heat.

6. Cover and bake in the oven until the meat is tender, 1½ – 2 hours. (If the sauce seems too thin, transfer the meat and vegetables to a bowl with a slotted spoon and boil the sauce on the stove top until thickened. Return the meat and vegetables to the pot.) Taste and adjust the seasoning.

7. Transfer the stew to a serving bowl and garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings.

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. A lamb shoulder or leg of lamb could be cut up for this stew.
2. I needed to use more oil than called for to brown all of the meat.
3. The sauce turned out perfectly. There was no need to reduce it on the stove top.

ENJOY!

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Dog Enjoying Car Ride His eyes close as the sun shines on his face and the wind blows through his hair. My dog’s face reflects sheer bliss during a recent car ride. Dogs live in the present moment and savor all of life’s little blessings. Simple things bring them joy: pats on the head, kind and encouraging words, treats to treasure, naps in the sun, running free, being loved. How is it that animals with brains the size of a human two-year-old can figure out the essence of happiness? Perhaps, we should let the world go to the dogs?

#1 – Dogs And Cats
11 Differences Between Cats and Dogs During the Holidays What do dogs and cats think about the holidays? If you’re a dog or a cat owner you’ll get a chuckle out of this BuzzFeed photo series called 11 Differences Between Cats and Dogs During The Holidays.

#2 – More Gift Ideas!
65 Homemade Christmas Gifts From week to week the number of homemade gift ideas on the Internet keeps increasing. This week I found 65 Homemade Christmas Gifts, which provides a wide-ranging collection of ideas and links. My favorite idea? There’s too many to choose from!

#3 – The Right Box

Gift Box Template Maker An obscure cabinet in my house contains boxes of all sizes. Because so many of them are crammed into a small space, I don’t dare remove one box, lest I create a box avalanche. I was elated to find the site Free Template Maker. Using the template maker, I can make small boxes to my exact specifications any time I want. All I have to do is plug in the dimensions and a template is made. Plus, I can re-purpose the cardboard from boxes in my cabinet that are missing lids or bottoms to make new custom boxes. The only limitation to this template maker is that your box template must fit on your printer paper. If you need a larger size, you can probably take a copy of the file on a flash drive to a copy service and have a larger template printed.

#4 – Go With The Flow
Learning To Go With The Flow
“There’s so much to do and so little time.” “Arghh, that person just stole my parking space!” “Look at how long the line is!” “What do you mean you’re all sold out?” Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? If they do, you might want to take a brief refresher course on how to go with the flow. 12 Practical Steps for Learning to Go With the Flow by Zenhabits provides the tips you need.

#5 – Is It A Waste?
“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
Marthe Troly-Curtin

Now Go and Spread Joy!

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Sugar and Spice Pecans Do more ingredients and more steps make a recipe better? Not necessarily. Last week my daughter and I attempted to make an elaborate pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. The recipe involved more steps and more ingredients than a usual pumpkin pie recipe contains. In the end, the pie was good, but not incredibly better than other pumpkin pies of the past. However, one of the steps in the recipe required making sugar-coated pecans. Unlike other sugar-coated pecan recipes that incorporate one spice, this recipe’s winning combination of spice made these pecans stand out as the best part of the pie. Their ease of preparation make them a great snack for holiday parties or a crunchy salad topping. Put these crunchy bites of spicy-sweetness into cute jars, complete with a ribbon and tag, and you have a delectable gift to give to family, friends, and holiday party hostesses.

Sugar and Spice Pecans
Adapted from a recipe by BRIT & CO

INGREDIENTS
1 pound pecan halves
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.
2. Place egg white and water in a large bowl. Whisk mixture until egg whites are frothy. Add pecans and stir to coat.
3. In a separate bowl mix together sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and salt. Add to pecan mixture and stir until well-coated.
4. Spread pecans onto a baking sheet and bake for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
5. Let pecans cool completely.
6. Store in an airtight container.

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. Toasting the pecans first brings out their flavor. Make sure they are completely cooled before using them in this recipe.
2. I love the recipe as it is, but just for fun, I’m going to try experimenting with other spices to see what variations I can come up with. Cayenne pepper, ancho chili powder, and espresso powder come immediately to mind.

ENJOY!

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