Monday, December 31, 2012

A Small Bite Before the New Year

This is it...the last day of 2012.  The morning started off on an odd note...there was a weird power surge on my block.  Everything powered down and right back up and you could hear...something.  Don't ask me what caused it, because I have no idea.  I went outside this morning, saw my next door neighbour and asked him if he had the problem too...just to make sure it wasn't only me.  It seems only odd occurrence for an odd year.

But it's time to move on and count down the few hours that remain until 2013 arrives here.  New Year's for me is still based on East Coast time, so I'll have my glass of cava at 9pm, watch the ball drop in Times Square, and most likely be in bed before it's midnight in Los Angeles.  Go ahead, say it...I really know how to party.

It's going to be a quiet night.  I'm still debating on what to make for dinner.  There's an excellent chance that dinner will be lots of nibbles.  A carryover from my last life...where my partner and I usually stayed in on New Year's Eve and had a table full of small bites, antipasto, and hors d'oeuvres the we grazed on over the span of the evening.

I have eggplant dip in the fridge, fresh ricotta I made the other day, and wine biscuits on the counter.  With as many times as I've made them, I'm surprised I haven't really mentioned them more on here.  One of my BFF's asked me to make wine biscuits for the birthday party she threw herself yesterday.  I had them ready last Thursday, but since I can't have them sitting around without being continually tempted, I made more yesterday afternoon before the party.  I replaced the ones I ate over the past couple of days, added a few more, and kept a little for myself.  They really are amazing little cracker-like biscuits and a perfect project if you have the remains of a bottle of wine sitting around.  For some of you, that may not happen, but when I open a bottle of red, I usually spare the half cup required for this recipe.  I've been meaning to try them with white wine, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

This recipe comes thanks to the wonderful King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion (I also think they have the recipe posted on their website).  I've done a little adapting, making them more savoury than sweet.  I use a lot of black pepper in them, loving the bite it gives them.  They pair fabulously with ricotta, drizzled with a little olive oil, scatter them onto a cheese plate, or do what I them by the handful on their own.

Happy New Year, everyone...I wish you all an amazing, successful, and prosperous year!

Wine Biscuits
Adapted from the King Arthur Baker's Companion

2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4-6 teaspoons sugar (I use 4, if you want them sweeter, use more)
2 teaspoons black pepper (I use about 3 tsp)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons red wine
1/4 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)

Whisk the olive oil and wine together.  In a mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients, then mix in the wine and oil.  I mix it by hand, but you can use a mixer.  Bring your dough together, then chill for at least an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Split the dough into three pieces.  Roll out each piece and cut out biscuits with a 1 1/2 inch biscuit cutter.  You can also use a larger size if you want.  Place biscuits on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake for 25 minutes, about 30-35 minutes if you make them larger.  

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Out of Sorts...

...I know, I's been a few weeks since I posted. Here we are nearing the end of yet another holiday season and soon we'll be saying 'hello' to a new year. Another Christmas season and I wasn't in much of a holiday mood. The past few months of not having a job, coupled with the holidays, just kept me in a down mood. Some days, very down. I did end up finding a full time job (albeit, temporary) and a part-time job (also temporary), both in retail. While I'm thankful for both, it's not alleviated the constant knot of worry and anxiety in my stomach, since both jobs pay close to only half of what I was making earlier this year. I listen to all the news reports about the country about to go over the fiscal cliff as I stand precipitously at the edge of my own, trying to scrape together the money to pay rent.

 It's made me think about the service industry, one of the fastest growing sectors and one of the poorest paid. Living on minimum wage or just above is not easy. Low pay, no benefits, and you're expected to put a smile on your face and sell, sell, sell. Someone said to me recently that working in retail is corrosive to the soul. Not a bad way to put it. For the sake of my's time to get out.

 Why am I sharing this? I tend to throw up a lot of smoke and mirrors around myself to keep how I feel and what I'm going through close to the breast. But ultimately, how I feel affects what I cook, how I cook, and even whether or not I cook. For the past couple of months, I've done very little cooking and baking. A lot of what I cooked I put in the 'baby food' category. It was a need for comfort food. Think mush...grits, polenta, rice...and that's if I decided to turn on the burners. There were a lot of sandwiches in there too. And there were a lot of days when eating was just an afterthought because I needed an energy intake. I did bake for the holidays, though not nearly as extensively as I have in the past. But it's my way of showing love and appreciation to my friends and family...and those brief times made me feel better.

 So today I pushed myself to start the break-out...out of my mood, my depression, my cloudy day, and my unfocused mind. I started small; I roasted a couple of eggplants the other day and made an eggplant and roasted red pepper dip, which led to making ricotta, then digging in the fridge and finding carrots and cauliflower, which became a roasted carrot soup. Pita bread became Parmesan-black pepper pita chips to go with the soup. Tonight I will make wine biscuits from the dough I made this morning. This is the most action my kitchen has seen since before Thanksgiving.

 Now it's up to me to keep the black clouds and cold at bay, with the warmth and glow from the oven. Let's bring 2012 to a close, welcome 2013 with open arms, and seek the opportunities a new year brings.

  Roasted Carrot Soup 

 1 lb carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks 
2 cups cauliflower florets 
1/2 medium onion, sliced 
2 tbsp olive oil 
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock 
1/4 cup heavy cream
 salt pepper 

 Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a large casserole dish, toss carrots, onions, and cauliflower with olive oil. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt and pepper. Roast until tender, about 35-40 minutes. 

 Transfer vegetables to a stock pot and add the chicken stock. Heat until stock is simmering. Turn off heat and with an immersion blender or regular blender, puree vegetables. Add heavy cream and blend to incorporate. Salt to taste.

Bourbon Pecan Truffles

Cranberry Pecan Shortbread

Double Chocolate Marcona Almond Biscotti