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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Apple, Orange Gingered Cranberry Compote

As it is almost Thanksgiving, I feel as though I must offer a few recipes for the season. I still cook the entire feast, even though the past few years it's only been the two of us at dinner. Last year, I made the whole meal healthy - cutting out a lot of fat, sugar, and the bad stuff, but keeping all the flavors intact. It was one of my finer meals of the year. The left-overs were spectacular. Which is the real reason why I even cook the entire meal. I love left-overs, the turkey sandwiches with coleslaw and dressing. Pumpkin pie with a dollop of cranberry sauce as a sweet/sour accompaniment; reheated and re-crisped stuffing. It's all good to me for about 3 more days. By Monday, there's usually little remaining, just in the nick of time, as I'm about done with the carb overload and the stale taste of 3-4 days old turkey.

As for today's recipe offering, here's my version of a cranberry compote or sauce. Cranberry sauce is so easy to make, almost as easy as opening that can of jellied ring-lined sauce that tastes of tin. MMM, Yum! I like the Williams-Sonoma version of Apple-Orange Cranberry Relish, and I have a nice recipe for Cranberry and Ginger Chutney, but I wanted something homemade a bit simpler for my holiday table this year. Herewith I give you my Apple-Orange Gingered Cranberry Compote - a sweet and sour study in color and taste sensations.

  • 2 Apples, such as Gala or Golden Delicious - Peeled, Seeded & Cut into Medium 1-inch Dice
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider (unfiltered, like Ziegler's)
  • Zest of 1 Orange
  • Segments and Juice of 1 Orange (cut away the pith and segment the orange slices)
  • 1/2 Cup White Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Bag Fresh Cranberries - rinsed and picked over
  • 2 to 3 pieces of Candied Ginger (about 1 tablespoon's worth) - minced or finely diced

  1. In a medium, non-reactive sauce pot, add the cut apples and the apple cider and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. Reduce heat to a simmer and stir in the orange zest, orange segments and orange juice.
  3. Add in the sugar and the cranberries and stir to combine.
  4. Raise heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir the mixture and keep a close watch on the mixture as the cranberries begin to pop and cook.
  5. Once the cranberries begin to cook and break down, reduce the heat to a simmer.
  6. Add in the minced candied ginger pieces.
  7. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool in the pot. The mixture should thicken and firm up as the natural fruit pectin's in the apples and cranberries will cause it to gel.
  8. Refrigerate and cool completely. Store in a tightly covered container for up to 1 week. Makes about 4 cups of compote.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ceci with Cauliflower, Spinach and Pumpkin Pesto

Because I work at a conservative synagogue, I am forced to "keep it kosher." This can be a real problem for a pork chop loving, shrimp snacking, steak loving carnivore. I know, going vegetarian is healthier and more economical but it's just not going to happen for me at this stage of my life. I won't say never, but I don't see how I can stop the chicken and turkey cravings I have. I love my tofu and have developed an awesome tofu chicken salad dish that is completely vegan, but I want my protein sources from fish, fowl and land roving grazers. However, there is only so much tuna fish I can and should eat even though I eat tuna sans the Hellman's. As for Salmon, it's becoming a fishing liability and the really good wild caught Pacific Salmon is too expensive for my budget. So I make my garden vegetable cakes, bibbity bobbity boo aka Bibimbop and other stir fries, salads, and other vegetable medleys to take to work every day. These meals do get boring after a while and I have to keep the starches and carbs in check too. As I am still going strong on the Weight Watchers treadmill, I try to keep my rice, pasta and potato intake to once a day, which is also difficult. Ah, the life of a non-kosher gay goy on a diet working at a synagogue. Meal time is tricky. Hence, a reason to celebrate my latest creation! Ceci, or Garbanzo or Chick Peas with Cauliflower, Spinach and Pumpkin Pesto over Brown Rice. Another inspired meal from several sources revised as one of my own lightened, healthier and vegetarian versions. I have taken a big short-cut though, the Pumpkin Pesto is from Stonewall Kitchens; makers of fantastic prepared products. Jams, syrups, pestos, and other culinary delights in jars. Liz and I found Pumpkin Pesto when we were at the shore this past summer in a little gourmet kitchen shop down in Cape May, New Jersey. I'd make my own, and would love to do so, but this was handy and so I used the prepared version instead. Some of the ingredients listed in the pesto are: Pumpkin Puree, Pumpkin Seeds, Brown Sugar, Balsamic Vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper and Parmesan Cheese. It was a bit on the sweet side. If I made it myself, I'd cut out the brown sugar. Anyway, here's the quick rundown on this recipe:

  • 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  • 1 Medium Onion - small to medium Dice
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - minced
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 1 Can (about 14-16 ounces) Ceci Beans - drained and rinsed
  • 2 Cups Cauliflower Florets
  • 1 Cup Frozen Spinach
  • 1/4 Cup Pumpkin Pesto (such as Stonewall Kitchens brand)
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 2 Cups Cooked Brown Rice - for serving

    1. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers.
    2. Add in the diced onion and saute for 3-5 minutes, until the onion turns translucent and begins to take on a golden color.
    3. Add in the minced garlic and saute for 1 minute.
    4. Add in the red pepper flakes and the Italian Seasonings, stir to combine.
    5. Pour in the white wine and reduce the liquid until only a few tablespoons remain, about 6 minutes.
    6. Add in the drained and rinsed ceci beans and stir well to combine. Cook the cecis in the onion/garlic mixture for about 5 minutes.
    7. Add in the cauliflower florets and the frozen spinach. Saute until the cauliflower is tender, about 5 minutes; the spinach will defrost and cook down very quickly as the cauliflower is cooking, and will release additional liquid.
    8. Stir in the pumpkin pesto.Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and freshly ground pepper.
    9. Serve hot over cooked brown rice. Makes 4 Servings as a side dish, or 2 servings as a main course.

    Monday, November 24, 2008

    Tagnabbit! Seeing your friends in a whole new way.

    I received a "TAG" notification today from my friend, Maren, who has a blog called: SuperMaren. The gist of being tagged is to write a few facts about yourself, tag some friends who have blogs or sights of interest, and get others to 1) have a post to read, 2) have another blog to read and check out 3) leave something like a comment behind to let you know they stopped by and checked out your page. Sounds easy enough. Plus, like my friend Maren said in her last post, it's fodder for blogging. I've been trying to think of things to write about that feel worth reading. There are thoughts in the old noggin, but nothing that I can really dig into or feel like sharing. Some topics are verboten and other things are just too stupid to get into. It's been too cold to bike and I haven't cooked up anything of note to recipe share. Yikes! I sound depressed and while I'm not 100% sunshine and daisies, I'm not that out of sorts. Busy, working too much, and trying to keep working out at the gym. Aside from divining my "Striper Name" - which I will share as well, I don't have a heck of a lot to post. Hopefully these two diversions will suffice and give you all something to help waste a few moments of your day.

    "The Game of Blog Tag" Here are the rules:

    1. Link to the person who tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
    2. Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
    3. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
    4. Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

    Seven odd, random or little known facts I am choosing for your reading pleasure:

    1. I have been riding a bike since I was about 5 years old. I can remember the first bike I rode - a teal coloured Schwinn with one of those "gas tank" metal pieces that was in the mid section of the bike. A neighbor from down the way taught me how to ride a bike, and turned up my training wheels. Once I learned to ride, it was all I ever wanted to do. I can remember "borrowing" a bike from a neighborhood kid who live next door to one of my grandparents. I would take the bike whenever I could so I could ride it. Borrowing became a problem. I wouldn't give the bike back. To this day, the sight of an old black cruiser gives me a thrill!
    2. My first cooking memory is of trying to cook bacon - when I was about 9 years old. I did not understand how you got the "grease" or oil in the pan. I didn't realize that the bacon made the grease. I poured cooking oil into the pan and then fried the bacon in that. It was messy and probably tasted awful. There haven't been too many culinary failures in the intervening 32 years or so, but...I'm sure Liz can tell a tale or two about some mishaps.
    3. I've always been the party hostess. As I write this, I realize I had an exciting childhood that is completely unknown to my mother - who for those who know me well, this comes as no surprise. I would often do things, have adventures or friends about whom or which my mother had no idea. Ah! A theme is becoming apparent. I remember when I was 7 or 8 throwing a Halloween party for my neighborhood friends in my little sleepy borough of Aldan, PA. The lady who became my adopted grandmother, Mrs. Rhoads, aka Nana Rhoads, set us up outside with treats and stuff. Another neighbor melted caramels for us to make caramel apples. I think I made treat bags, and I made all my little friends wear their Halloween Costumes. Parties, events, dinners have always been a part of my repertoire. Events with themes, costumes and appropriate decor is my speciality.
    4. My first memory is of climbing out of my crib to get our cat, George. The visual images are a bit vague but this act is totally in line with my personality. I'm sure the cat scratched the heck out of me. And how I did not fall and break my head is one of those mysteries that will go on unexplained. If ever I believed in guardian angels, it is through little stories like this one that make me believe I definitely had someone looking out for me.
    5. I had my first serious crush on a girl when I was 12. It was my schoolmate, a total bitch who was the queen of the cliques. She had all of us wrapped around her proverbial little finger. This gal was smart, sexy and conniving. She had gorgeous auburn hair, tawny colored eyes and an unusual but interesting nose. We were "frienemies" long before Paris and Nicole were born. I often felt inferior to her, as did a lot of the girls who circulated her orbit. Once we broke free of Junior High and escaped the petty mundane idiocy of the 13 to 14 year old set, I found myself and was no longer one of her slaves. My high school years were really happy and liberating. Hers, I heard through the gossip lines, wasn't so great. She got pregnant before she was 18, and whatever potential she showed at 12 to 14 was sadly wasted. Not because she had a kid before she graduated high school, but due to some other issues, like drinking and doing drugs. Thankfully, my taste in women has improved tremendously since then. Though I do still love the redheads and women with interesting noses. Liz - wanna dye your hair for me?! Haha!
    6. I hate leaving dishes in the sink or doors, drawers or closets open. I cannot go to sleep knowing there are dirty dishes to be washed, or if the closet door is open in our bedroom. Liz and I have a an evening ritual, which we laugh about daily, on how I have to make sure the closet is closed all the way or else I can't sleep. There's also this whole thing I do with putting on hand lotion and lip balm each night, pulling salves, balms and ointments out of my "apothecary" drawer in my bedside table (which must be closed too!) I'm a lucky gal to have Liz put up with my quirks.
    7. I believe that if you are lucky and stay true to your self, that the person you were at age 5 is the person you will always be. My friend Barbra Katus once told me this and I think it's true. I hope that that crazy bicycle riding party hostess I was and am will always remaining a firm part of my identity.

    Whew! I sure did have a lot to say. Now it's the turn of the following fellow bloggers to write a few words. Remember to check out these blogs that I enjoy. At present, it's only 5. I'm working on finding a few more to tag.

    1. Aimee, Ben and the Sheaffer Twins
    2. All about Triplets - The Peapod Squad (this is a friend of Liz's)
    3. Kate C - and her Japanese Adventure - Paper Flowers
    4. Bikes and Beer - Beer by Bicycle
    5. Rabbi Stone and his bicycle musings

    Wednesday, November 19, 2008

    Looking for a Sign

    The last impression I gave about my state of being from the previous post is that I'm feeling not so great about myself these days. This is sort of true. Going through body-identity issues and having to rethink my weight loss goals and place. It's funny, when I was fat, I never saw myself as such. Now that I am slim, svelte, in shape, with muscles, almost "skinny", I don't know how to view myself. Instead I fixate on the new wrinkles on my face,under my chin and on my neck. I see the flabby mid-section, the start of the dreaded dangling bubby arms. Ahck! It's to be expected at my age and other than working out and keeping it all at bay, there isn't much any of us can do sans surgery to prevent the body from slipping and falling and letting gravity do its thing. Apropos of these feelings, I was on the train last night, heading out to my therapist for my emotional "tune-up". Among the signs posted on the R5 Septa train was a sticker pasted over the sign that reminds one to take all trash, litter and stuff with you to discard it properly. Perfectly positioned, looking as official as the sign on which it was placed was the sticker you see in my above photo. If ever there was a sign for me, this was it. "You are beautiful". Simple, thoughtful and uplifting. All it cost me was the price of the train ticket (and a hefty fee to my therapist!)

    Saturday, November 15, 2008

    I Feel GREAT!

    Moyamensing Avenue June 22 #3
    Moyamensing Avenue June 22 #3,
    originally uploaded by neenyd03.
    Well, actually, I've been feeling myself mood swinging in the past few weeks. I feel great today because I've been asked for permission to have this photo used in a book project.
    called, We Feel Fine. Check out this amazing website - The request came via my photo host sight at Flickr. It's an interesting project and an amazing sight that collects data from the Internet and blogs in relation to feelings. It's hard to describe - but from what I've read, data is collected every minute looking for the phrases "I feel" or "I am feeling". While my photo does not exactly invoke a feeling or emotion, I do remember or "feel" that I was in a time and place that was far removed from my actual location. I thought the area and the lighting, the buildings and the way the sky and clouds looked reminded me of Europe or the Midwest.

    As for my photo being used, anytime that I get recognition for one of my photos is cause for me to celebrate and feel good about my photo hobby. This particular photo isn't one of my most favorites, but the series of photos it is from is. I remember the day so well because it was one of those perfect Summer days when the sky is so optimistically blue, the clouds look like happy cotton puffs and the air is clear and clean. Makes one feel anything is possible. As for my general moodiness of late, I do think it's related to the weather here in Philadelphia this past week - rainy and dreary, as well as to my weight loss state/stasis.
    In general, I've been struggling to move past this plateau I am at again. Can't quite get to my next goal number. I know I've made great progress but it just never feels like enough. It's not good enough that I've lost close to 65 pounds, I haven't lost that next 5, 10 and 15. I also have not been riding or heading to the gym nearly as much as I was in the summer or in September. This past week's been better - rode twice, went to yoga, I even ran and lifted weights! Geesh, I am turning into one of those weight and look obsessed woman who can't be satisfied with my weight loss accomplishments. No, I'm not becoming anorexic or bulimic (the bulimia phase I went through at age 16 is thankfully long over). As great as the Weight Watchers program is, I do find it a bit frustrating that the program is all about reaching your "goal weight" which is the weight one should be based on height and age. I don't know that I will ever truly be between 117 and 146 pounds. The lower end of those numbers sounds skeletal scary to me for my medium boned frame. 146 just seems impossible to reach, not as impossible as it did 63.8 / 65 pounds ago, but hard to reach. I wanted to get to 150 pounds, and/or to lose 75 pounds in order to get my next "weight charm". I will continue to work towards that number, but I have to say, it's freaking hard. Anyway, I will continue to stick with my program and work on new exercise goals. I need to train for another triathlon and a series of bike races. The goals for the Summer of 2008 were definite motivators for me and gave me a structure that helped with the weight loss and reshaping my body. Does anyone out here have any advice? Can you identify? Leave me a comment. I'm curious to know what you all might think.

    Sunday, November 9, 2008

    Mostly Martha

    I am a huge fan of Martha Stewart. Say what you want, love her or hate her, she is an inspiration. She's a great business role model (albeit one who has served her fair share of "time"); her company has great products and books; and her magazine is one of my constant resources for recipes, research, decorating and collecting ideas. This past Friday, November 7th, she came to the Williams-Sonoma store where I work. Martha has a new cookbook, Martha's Cooking School, that was just published. Our store was lucky to be her only Philadelphia book signing. It's rare, positively unheard of, for our store to land any celebrity cook book authors or chef's, let alone the queen bee of them all! There was a lot of planning, staffing, cooking and cleaning that happened in the weeks and days before her visit. The managers and assistant managers worked themselves to death to get everything ready for this book signing and their hard work paid off. Our store had an amazing event. We had Restaurant IXI giving out food; our resident chef, Margaret, made gallons of Martha Stewart's Tomato Soup and about a thousand chocolate chip ginger cookies. We made turkey stuffing and gravy, showcased in Calphalon chaffers. Staffers demonstrated knives and other equipment. Just about every staff person who works in our store, as well as several from other stores was on hand working. We were packed full with hundreds of customers, photographers and Williams-Sonoma corporate managers. It was like an elegant expo. I was asked to demonstrate the Breville Panini maker, and make turkey cranberry paninis for over 400 people! Mind you, it was just a taste, so I did not have to make 400 sandwiches! I think I made about 60, and cut them into small bite sized pieces. They were a hit! What was basically a "white-trash" sandwich became elevated to a whole new level! It was a slice pf whole wheat bread on one side and a slice of potato bread on the other - slathered with butter on the outside; I put Dijon mustard on the whole wheat, then a layer cheddar cheese, luncheon turkey meat, more cheese, and spread Williams-Sonoma Apple Orange Cranberry Relish on the potato bread slice; then onto the panini grill! People were losing their minds over these little sandwiches. I couldn't believe it. The soup, cookies, stuffing and offerings from Restaurant IXI were all scarfed up so fast, it was as though the customers came to our store starved and looking for their last meal. The evening's event ran smoothly and was a success. And Martha - she was so gracious. She came in at ten to five, went up to our offices, and was downstairs at 5 pm to start the book signing. In two hours, she must have signed over 500 books! At precisely 7 pm, she was finished; said a few words to the staff and remaining customers, and promptly left our store to head upstairs to Restaurant IXI for dinner. Luckily I was done making panini, so I was able to be at the end of the "receiving" line as she left the store. I felt like I was seeing the queen! Unlike the day when I saw Pat Burrell (The World Series Champion Phillies Right Fielder!), I was able to keep my composure and say something intelligent - basically thanking her for visiting. My big moment! Actually, it was just fantastic to be a part of the whole evening's event, and to snap a few photos, and get a signed book. Not that I can now die happy, the Phillies winning the World Series and Barack Obama winning the election made that possible, but Friday night's event was a definite event high light of my culinary life.

    Thursday, November 6, 2008

    The World is Ours

    The above photo is at the top of a new condo being built at 18th & Walnut Streets. Below is a photo from the polling results from one voting machine as posted at 18th & Spruce Street. The building where I work is used for a voting place. The election results were posted, I guess, as part of the official tally process. When I came to work on Wednesday morning, the sign was up with the printed results for each one of the 6 machines that were used on Tuesday. What a great sign. As we all know, it has been a truly historic week for the United States. I kept saying if the Phillies could win the world series, then anything is possible. While I am only in my 40's, I truly thought that this country would not get its act together to make Obama's historic win happen. Change may be slow to happen, but when it does, more quickly follows. Amen to the end of the Bush era; Amen to the end of the losing drought in Phillies baseball; and AMEN to Barack Obama winning the election.