Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cheesy Penguins

My effort to incorporate pictures on my blog isn't going very well. It's not just food I'm neglecting to photograph, but pretty much everything else too. Todd and I got this great new camera, a Canon PowerShot SD970 IS Elph which makes picture taking a much better experience than with our old cameras. I think I just got so out of the habit of taking pictures that I'm having a hard time getting back into it. Also, when I look at other cooking blogs, they seem to have really nice kitchens and cookware which makes a pleasant backdrop for the food. Our ghetto kitchen and boring dish set, not so much. However, I am inspired by some of the fantastic photography on these blogs and that of some of my photographer friends, so I will continue to make an effort. This website was the inspiration for the cocktail penguins we brought to a Three Kings party last night.
These little penguin guys were kind of fun to make. It was like being veterinary chef, operating on these little food animals. They rated pretty high on the cute factor, and in that sense were a hit at the party. They taste o.k., but were mostly just a fun food item.
Earlier in the day we had some fun photographing our city pet filling himself up on the various snacks we left out for him. I think his favorite were the almond crescent cookies I put out, but he had eaten the whole thing before I could get it on film. I was hoping he'd have some confectionery sugar dotting his face for a photo.
If anyone has anymore ideas for animal foods, pass them along. I'm thinking there's got to be something you could do with cherry tomatoes.

Cheesy Penguins
Cream cheese
Goat cheese (one with garlic and herbs is good)
1 can of black olives (I think canned works best since they are firmer)
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
cocktail toothpicks

1. Mix up some cream cheese and goat cheese to taste. You don't have to use goat cheese, but it gives a better flavor.
2. Slice the carrots, not to thin and not too fat. Cut a triangle out of each one. The triangle will be used for the beak.
3. Slice open an olive and stuff it with the cheese mixture. This is the hardest part. It's difficult to do without getting the cheese everywhere. I tried several different gadgets to perform this surgical procedure.
4. Assemble the head, body and feet with a toothpick and insert the beak.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


In Led Zeppelin's song Over the Hills and Far Away, Robert Plant muses, "Many times I've wondered how much there is to know." I can relate to this. Sometimes I get overwhelmed by how much there is to know, and just how little of it I do know. Further, I get frustrated by my limited capacity, time-wise, resource-wise and ability-wise to learn (and do) more. For instance, tonight on Fresh Air, George Lucas was being interviewed and he was asked about the mythology behind his films. He explained how he was an anthropology major in college and became interested in the psychology supporting the myths and when creating films he was exploring whether that psychology still resonates in current culture. He was also discussing that mythology is really storytelling. I'm probably misrepresenting precisely what he was saying, but the point is that while listening, what was going through my head was: I would love to be able to study anthropology and know more about various cultures; I would like to read mythology and be familiar with more of the classic myths. I remember being really interested in the little mythology I studied in grade school; I would like to pursue storytelling as an art form. I took a workshop a few years ago, but never did anything with it. Then, in this typical line of my thinking comes the part where I get frustrated thinking that at my job, while I learn knew information, it's nothing terribly interesting and I feel like I'm getting dumber by the day, rather than smarter and wiser.
The next step in this thought progression is usually my getting down on myself for not being disciplined in using my free time more productively - studying and researching (formally or informally) the litany of topics I'd like to explore. On the contrary, I end up being less scheduled than I could be and just falling back on the usual suspects to fill my time: biking, running, cooking and reading fiction (with the smattering of non-fiction mixed in). It's not like I'm spending hours wasting time in front of the t.v. or anything, so I suppose I could be far less productive,but I have do my time wasters: flitting about the Internet and playing my favorite iPhone app of the day (i.e. Boggle). I guess I long to possess a little more Type A personality, and be a morning person, as I've mentioned before (I think they probably go hand in hand), but I'll have to work with what I've got and make the best of it.
When I do make a meal that is spontaneous, creative, tasty and efficient all at the same time, I must admit, I do feel a good sense of accomplishment. This very thing happened the other day when I made potato pancakes from leftover mashed potatoes, applesauce from the softening apples that were no longer good to eat on their own, and a tasty side salad to use up the greens in the fridge. I was just about to throw away half a bag of McIntosh apples when it dawned on me that applesauce would be a good accompaniment to the pancakes. It cooked so quickly and did work well with the meal.

3 to 4 lbs peeled, cored and quartered apples (not all apples are good for cooking, but McIntosh, Fuji, Granny Smith and some others work well.)
4 strips of lemon peel
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tspn cinnamon
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
up to 1/4 cup white sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
1 cup of water
1/2 tspn salt

1. Put all ingredients into a large pot. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
2. Remove from heat, take out lemon peel, and mash with a potato masher or a couple of whirls of an immersion blender.

Would be good warm over vanilla ice cream or put it in fridge for a snack all on its own!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Winter Squash Soup

Butter totally rocks.

I'm finally figuring out that this is one of the reasons why everything in nice restaurants taste so much better than my own cooking. They put butter and cream in pretty much everything. While I don't choose to cook like this all the time, it's a nice treat once in a while. On Christmas day, we chose to stay home and have a quiet day by ourselves. We also defied tradition in a few other ways. I didn't put up a single Christmas decoration (cutting back from the few I scattered about last year), and we didn't partake in much gift giving. I exchanged gifts with a few friends and Todd's parents gave us gifts, but other than that, we abstained. I must admit, I really enjoyed it. I had more appreciation for the few gifts I did get and it made the holidays a little less frenetic. I plan to do the same next year. We also went to the movies on Christmas evening at the Boston Common theatre to see Sherlock Holmes with my friend, Sallie, and her three boys. It was a nice way to end our non-traditional Christmas.
For our quiet dinner at home I had planned to have a romantic candlelit atmosphere, and make something decadent, outside of my usual simple repertoire. I searched around trying to find something French and vegetarian, but couldn't find anything to get terribly excited about. As the day drew closer, I had settled on a menu that was far less intriguing than I had intended and then the day of, that got scaled back even more since we ended up in a bit of a time crunch due to unexpected activity. So, no candlelight, and we rushed through our rather standard type meal.
The only thing I did do a bit differently was to use butter and cream in both the mashed potatoes and the soup I made. The soup was from the Pickety Place cookbook, a cute, homey type restaurant in NH with lots of savory dishes that Todd took me to when we were first dating.
Normally, I would make the same type of recipe without the butter and cream, but I went for it and the results were good. It reminds me, I would like to go visit Pickity Place again (hint, hint Todd).

Winter Squash Soup
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 large Spanish onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups veggie broth (non-tomato based)
3 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
3 cups acorn squash, peeled and diced
1 tspn fresh thyme (remove leaves from stem and mince)
1 tspn fresh sage, minced
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tspns brown sugar
Salt and white pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add broth, herbs and squash. Cook on medium heat until squash is tender, about 20-30 minutes.
3. Remove from heat. Let cool a bit and puree until smooth. Whisk in cream and brown sugar. Reheat on low, being careful not to scorch cream.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili

Happy twenty ten! I am writing this entry as a means of avoiding the cleanup from yesterday's Chili New Years Day Ride/Party. Our day started with about 30 more degrees than it did last year. Despite that, we actually had fewer people join us for the ride. There were 10 serious competitive cyclists and me, for a total of 11. Last year we had at least 13. While last year's ride was frigid and in the snow, it sort of evened out the playing field a little better. Yesterday's ride was mostly spent with me falling off the back and the rest of the group waiting up for me at the tops of hills. After about 90 minutes of this, I begged the group to go on without me while I toodled back on my own. Pathetically, I was actually lost for a while in the sense that I had no idea where I was even though I was about 5 miles from my house. In the end, it was good because I found a new way home from Lexington and I realized I get stuck in the same routes and need to venture out. I will look forward to some new roads in 2010.

Another 20 or so people eventually joined us back at the house for some food, hot cider, conversation and Rock Band. Typically, Todd has made two versions of the same chili (see last year's post), one with meat and one without. This year I decided to venture out and make a vegetarian chili that was distinct from the other. I chose this recipe because it was a bit sweeter, and doesn't have as much heat, to have an offering for people who want something a bit more mild. Apparently it was good. I never actually got around to trying it, but several people commented on it. The basic recipe has very few ingredients and you can use this as a base to play around with. I added corn, carrots and some cider vinegar. You could sub sweet potatoes for the sqaush and kale or spinach for the chard. Add more spices if you like. Topping this with fresh cilantro would probably taste great.

Black Bean Butternut Squash Chili
2 tblspns olive oil
2 1/2 cups chopped onion
3 cloves garlic
2 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and chopped into half inch pieces
2 tblspns chili powder
2 tspns ground cumin
1/8 tspn cayenne (more if you want heat)
3 15 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 cups veggie broth
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
3 cups packed of roughly chopped swiss chard

Other stuff I added:
1/2 cup corn kernels
1 carrot, sliced
1 tblspn cider vinegar

1. Heat oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic (and carrot if using). Saute until tender and golden, but be careful not to burn - about 7-9 minutes.
2. Add squash, stir. Cook about 2 more minutes.
3. Add chili powder, cayenne and cumin, and mix.
4. Add tomatoes, broth and beans. Bring to a boil. Turn down heat, and simmer until squash is tender about 15 minutes.
5. Add chard or kale and corn (if using). Cook about 5 more minutes until greens are tender.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste and cider vinegar. Blend and serve.