Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Waving Goodbye to '09

As this year draws to a close, I can't help but pause to reflect on the ups and downs it has contained for me.  Echoing my first post here on this blog, it was the exploration of my hobbies/pastimes/loves that served to sweeten the pleasures of this year and temper the tough times for me.  Everything posted here (and much more!) has kept me sane and joy-filled.  I would never have survived the difficulties of unemployment or the challenges of graduate school that in many ways defined my 2009 if I did not continually take up cooking, baking, reading, crafting, and other things I love.  One of my New Year's resolutions is most certainly to continue this exploration of these things that I am passionate about--in other words, I hope to never forget love.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Go ahead, use real butter!

I've been thinking about butter lately.  Well it IS the holidays after all!  Ok so maybe not everyone immediately thinks holidays=butter.  But then again, not everyone loves to bake.  Oh and some people bake with butter substitutes.  Not me, I absolutely love butter.  And I'm not talking land o' lakes butter--I mean good, yummy butter.  I love to use Kate's Homemade Butter because it's made with fresh organic milk by a small family farm.  At Whole Foods it is one of the cheaper good butters.  I understand why people don't like to use butter in everything or eat it on everything; many of my family members have very high cholesterol and need to use butter substitutes.  That being said, I think maybe Americans have become too scared of butter.  I'm not a nutritionist, but if Julia Child (who loved butter and used it in absolutely everything!) lived up into her 90s, I think it can't be the bad guy many people think it is!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Season's Greetings

It's that time again.  We are in the midst of Advent and Christmas is right around the corner.  I know there are many people who do not celebrate Christmas and many partake in a non-religious way and I am definitely respectful of that.  But I think everyone can agree that the essential, beautiful messages of Christmas are needed more now than they ever have been.  As our nation continues to escalate the wars we are involved in, as children in the cities we live in continue to encounter violence every day, and as friends and neighbors suffer because of the economy, I think everyone needs the hope, light, peace, and faith of the Christmas message.

As for me, I have always loved this time--the waiting, the expecting, the hoping.  I love the preparation for the big day.  For me, it is more than just the material preparation.  I make sure to take extra time each day for myself--to enjoy quiet reflection.  It is that time that helps counter some of the commercial craziness that inevitably comes with Christmas.  This is not to say I don't enjoy some of the material preparation!  I have a mini-tree in my living room, a pine wreath hanging in the hall, and a snowman angel on our table. 

Also, I am currently reading the Martha Stewart Living Christmas Cookbook.  I absolutely love it!!  It was an early Christmas present from my mother and I've been up at night reading it in bed.  This is more than just a Christmas cookbook--yes, it has beautiful, wonderful, yummy holiday dishes and treats, but it is much much more.  Any kind of holiday party food you could want is all there in one book.  My only problem is that I can't decide which recipes I want to make.  I have a few holiday parties coming up and on Friday I am hosting book club here with my roommate so I do have some opportunities to test out the recipes.   

I will keep you all updated as my Christmas preparations progress.  Aside from making food for parties, I will be making treats to give as gifts and making some crafts for loved ones and tonight I am working on some holiday cards. 

How are you preparing for the holidays?  Whatever you do, don't forget to take time for yourself and remember why we do all of this preparation in the first place.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Adventures in Pumpkin Flan

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving everyone!!  I hope yours was as relaxing as mine.  I enjoyed some time in Connecticut.  It was nice to be out of the city.  I never thought the suburbs were quiet until I lived in big cities.  Now every time I am getting ready for bed in the room I grew up in, the quiet is so pervasive it is almost difficult to sleep. 

Over the holiday, I had the pleasure of introducing one of my roommates (who is originally from San Fransisco) to a Connecticut Thanksgiving with my family.  Since she is allergic to gluten, we decided to make a special gluten-free dessert to share.  Lo and behold, the December issue of Martha Stewart Living had a recipe for Pumpkin Flan.  The actual recipe comes from the book Mad Hungry by Lucinda Scala Quinn. 

 The result was a beautiful, spicy, sweet creation I think you will enjoy. 

 Now, don't let this seemingly fancy dessert fool you!!  Here is the recipe, it is actually quite simple and your guests will be more than impressed. 

1/2 c granulated sugar
3/4 c light-brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup cooked pumpkin puree
1 1/2 c half-and-half or cream (I used low fat half-and-half)
5 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract

-Preheat oven to 350. 
(Ok now comes the only complicated part, more on this below)
-Put the granulated sugar in a pie plate, set on the center rack in the over, and bake until the sugar is caramelized 8-12 minutes.  Swirl to cover the bottom of the pie plate with the caramel.
-In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the dry ingredients.  Then stir in the pumpkin.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, eggs, and vanilla.  Then blend the egg mixture into the pumpkin mixture.
-Set the pie plate with the caramel bottom in a large roasting pan then pour the custard over the caramel.  With care, pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to reach halfway up the side of the pie plate.
-Bake until custard is set, about 1 hour and 10 minutes then cool and set in the fridge to chill.  Once it has cooled off, run a knife around the outside edge of the flan and invert it onto a plate. Scoop out and serve with whipped cream.

 So, about that complicated part....carmelizing the sugar took much much longer than the 8-12 minutes from the recipe.  I'm not sure if the oven needed to be higher or if the recipe was wrong.  I also have to admit that I wasn't feeling well while we were making the recipe, so a lot of the work fell to my roommate.  She probably knows more about what happened with the sugar.  Anyhow, eventually it worked out but it was tricky so just note that when you try it.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!!