Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Breaktime

8 words to the wise

I think I'm going to take a break from blogland until after the holidays. I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday. Don't forget to eat tons of yummy food (those holiday calories don't count) and spend lots of quality time with the ones you love! I'll be back after the new year.

Oh and don't forget to say, "rabbits rabbits rabbits" when you wake up on January 1st, before you say anything else. It's supposed to bring good luck.

Happy holidays!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Peppermint Bark (Recipe included)

5 words to the wise

Making peppermint bark was pretty easy as far as candy making goes. The hardest part was cutting/breaking it into pieces. I attempted to do this while it was cold and hard from the fridge and it was very difficult to get through. It also broke unevenly and the white separated from the dark. After about 1/4 of the way through, I decided to wait and allow to warm up a little and that made a big difference.

Peppermint Bark (from Use Real Butter)
Makes 2 pounds
Ingredients:
1 lb dark chocolate (I used 4 World Market Dark Chocolate Bars)
1 lb white chocolate (I used Nestle morsels)
10 peppermint candy canes

Directions:
Melt the dark chocolate. I did this by breaking it up into little pieces, putting into a micro-safe bowl and nuking for 30 seconds at a time and stirring after each interval.
Then, spread on foil on a cookie sheet and let set (in fridge).
Crush the canes in a food processor.
Sift fine (dust) pieces into one bowl, bigger pieces in another.
Melt the white chocolate and mix in the dusty canes with the melted white chocolate.
Carefully spread the white peppermint chocolate over the dark chocolate and then top with the bigger pieces of broken canes. Press down a little with a piece of waxed paper.
I chilled overnight in the fridge, but make sure to allow to come to room temp before cutting. The cutting process is the messiest part!It was really easy, yummy and makes a festive holiday gift. To purchase 2 pounds of peppermint bark would cost around $30-40. Total cost for this was $14!

I set each place setting at our dinner party with one of these sweet little packages and they were a hit. I neglected to photograph any of the cooking or prep for the event. I was too busy entertaining. Dinner was a success though!

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Peppermint Bark

4 words to the wise

Just a quick photo play-by-play to wet your whistles. I have to run and start on the cheese plate and chicken. More details to come later. I can't believe how hard it was to find normal, red and white, peppermint candy canes. The peppermint bark turned out great!





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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wild rice and chicken casserole

4 words to the wise

I'll be spending tomorrow with out of town guests and preparing for a dinner party (which of course I will blog). I also am intending to make Peppermint bark this weekend after seeing how expensive it is in the store and seemingly easy it is to make on Jen's blog. Until then, this was a "use up what I need to dinner" that turned out pretty good. Sandra Lee would be proud hahaha.

Wild Rice and Chicken Casserole
Makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
3 cups wild rice (1 box cooked per pkg. instructions)
1/2 lb button mushrooms, sliced
2 large shallots, sliced
2 tb olive or canola oil
2 tb minced garlic
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1/2 tsp seasoning salt
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup light sour cream
1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400. Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and shallots and saute until cooked, 3-4 minutes. Add minced garlic and saute 1 minute more. Remove from heat and add all spices, soup and sour cream. Stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste. Add cut up chicken and stir to coat evenly. Pour chicken mixture into a 9x9 baking dish and top with wild rice. Bake 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to set 5-10 minutes before serving.I served atop a pile of homemade collard greens with a side salad.

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Bright lights

0 words to the wise

It's amazing how different things look at night versus during the day. My commute transpires during daylight hours so it wasn't until this weekend, when I ventured out of town, that I was able to see all the amazing lights that are now flickering downtown.

The Lucky Strike tower dazzles with her rainbow colored lights on the American Tobacco Campus. Brightleaf flickers with lights and is adorned with decorations. Then there's the light sculpture at the new Durham Performing Art Center. I was amazed when I spied it from the Freeway. I'm sure to never miss my exit at night!!

I received my Neighborhood Association Newsletter this weekend and was tickled to see that Sunday is our "Night of Lights". They are selling luminaries to put out in everyone's yards and will be lining the park with them. I can't wait to see it all aglow. It probably won't be as magical as recent years due to the construction and re-routing of Ellerbee Creek, but I just love the mystery that night brings and enjoy even more the calmness and comfort of soft flickering lights.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to stink up your house - Brussel Sprouts

18 words to the wise

I remember liking brussel sprouts as a kid. I later had them on a truck stop buffet and they were mushy and bitter and just not good in any way. I decided at that time, that they were not good.

Skip years ahead. I'm standing in the grocery store on Saturday and I see them on sale. I know they're in season. I've seen lots of appetizing posts on blogs and decide that I want to try preparing them myself. I purchase a little over a pound. When I got home, I looked through some cookbooks and online and decided how I wanted to prepare the mini cabbages. I think they turned out great, even though they stunk up my house.

Brussel Sprouts

Makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
1 lb brussel sprouts, washed and trimmed
2 tb olive oil
2 tb butter
3 large shallots, sliced
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
a splash of lemon juice
1/4 cup toasted almonds
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Boil brussel sprouts in salted water for 3-4 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl of ice water to halt the cooking and keep the pretty green color. Cut the brussel sprouts in half.
Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until they are just softened (about 3 minutes). Turn the heat up to medium high. Add the brussel sprouts and butter and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Saute for another 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and toss with parsley, lemon juice, and toasted almonds. Salt and pepper to taste.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti

4 words to the wise

I embarked on a baking extravaganza this weekend. I decided this year that rather then buy unusable or random gifts for my older relatives that already have everything they need, I'd bake stuff. Once I started, I found it hard to stop, so I made a batch of Oatmeal Raisin cookies, Scottish Shortbread, Reese's Peanut Butter & Chocolate cookies and Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti.

I made this biscotti last year with almonds instead of pistachios and I have to say I think I actually like the almond variation better. I've also determined that I don't really care for the taste of almond extract. I might try this again with orange instead. Either way this is an AWESOME biscotti recipe and because there is no butter in it, there's no worry about it getting rancid if you don't eat it for awhile. I also have changed the nut to fruit ratio to my liking.

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (from All Recipes)
Makes about 3 dozen
Ingredients:
1/4 cup light olive oil (I used half light and half extra virgin)
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup pistachio nuts (unsalted)

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 300. In a large bowl, mix together oil and sugar until well blended. Mix in the extracts and eggs. Combine flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl and gradually stir into the wet mixture. Mix in cranberries and nuts by hand.

Divide dough in half. Form two logs (12x2 inches) on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Dough is VERY sticky. I keep a bowl of water nearby and wet my hands with water to handle the dough. This dough log just looks nasty, doesn't it? That's because it needs some quality time in the oven.
Bake for 35 minutes in the preheated oven, or until logs are light golden brown. Remove from oven, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 275.

Cut logs on diagonal into 3/4 inch thick slices (my slices were a little too fat this time). Lay on sides on parchment covered cookie sheet. Bake approximately 8 to 10 minutes, or until dry. Cool completely before storing.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Scottish Shortbread

11 words to the wise

At the request of my husband, I ventured to make Scottish Shortbread this weekend. I found this recipe at allrecipes and really, it couldn't be ANY easier. I couldn't believe how much butter it called for, until of course, I ate a piece. Holy moly!
Scottish Shortbread (from AllRecipes)
Makes about 2 dozen
Ingredients:
2 cups (4 sticks) salted butter softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions:
Preheat oven to 325. Cream together butter and brown sugar. I dropped these two in the kitchenaid and walked away for a couple of minutes. Too easy! Slowly add 3 1/2 cups flour. Mix well.

Sprinkle rolling surface with the remaining flour. Knead for 5 minutes, adding enough flour to make a soft dough. Roll to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut into 3x1 inch strips. Prick with fork and place on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 325 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Bull Durham and images of an older Durham

3 words to the wise

I suppose I should probably wait to write this until I've finished the movie, but I just can't resist. I rented Bull Durham and we began watching it last night. I'm ashamed to say I had never seen it, Durham lover that I am. And watching every scene thus far has been thrilling. I love seeing places I am familiar with on the big screen.

It's also pretty fascinating to see how much has changed just in the last 20 years (and not just Tim Robbins hair). It was really funny to see even the evolution of Wool E. Bull. Even though I grew up just 10 miles (give or take a few) away from Durham, I didn't frequent the downtown area much until I moved here a few years ago. I must admit that as a teenager, I was intimidated by the maze of one way streets.

There's so much growth and development going on Downtown, I am curious what it will look like when things lull to point of non-construction. It seems the skyline is forever changing. I can't imagine what it's like for those people who have lived in and loved this town for decades.

We only got an hour in last night before I needed to head to bed, but I can't wait to finish it. If anyone has any input on things in the movie that are true to history or not, I'd love to hear it.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Akashi Japanese Grill & Sushi Bar - Hwy. 54, Durham

0 words to the wise

Over the last few weeks, I've had the opportunity to dine at Akashi a few times. I can't believe I'm just now getting around to writing about it. Akashi is my new favorite for sushi in Southwest Durham.

Currently, I'm only able to order cooked sushi, but their menu is helpfully labeled to aid me in making a quick, easy decision. I also like that they break their expansive sushi menu into descriptive sections (rice on the outside, fish outside, etc). They do a lot of business during the lunch hour, but they are still very efficient in taking orders, and turning good food out quickly and at a good price. The service I've experienced each time has been attentive and friendly.

One of the things I really like about their sushi is that with the shrimp tempura, the end shell that most places leave on, they actually remove. So you don't have to dismantle your last bite of the roll to eat it! Genius!

All of their rolls are half price (listed on the sushi menu) and I've yet to go with someone else who didn't love what they had. They also have a hibachi menu and offer bento boxes at lunch time. While I'm always tempted to try them, I opt for sushi instead. I'm a little sad that my work recently moved farther away from Akashi, but I'll still manage to get a lunch visit in here and there :)

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ole NC BBQ - Roxboro Road, Durham

6 words to the wise

I can't remember where I read that this place had decent barbecue, but since we were in search of a quick warm meal the other night, we decided to give it a try. They are located in a very nice old hollowed-out house of sorts and definitely have the nicest atmosphere of any BBQ joint I've ever been in. On this Saturday night they had an enormous buffet featuring carving stations and meats and veggies galore.

We ordered take-out on the spot and didn't have to wait long. I ordered the small BBQ plate. It came with my choice of two vegetables (sides) and 4 big, light and crispy hushpuppies. I opted for turnip greens and green beans, though I was very tempted to get the mac and cheese or mashed potatoes. All this food for only $5.79 seemed like a steal! I was excited to get home and dive in.

Sadly the hushpuppies were indeed the best part of the meal. Everything else was cooked to death and sitting in 1/4 inch of liquid. The BBQ was the least edible. It was incredibly salty, and lacked any flavor or texture. It was extremely mushy. The only thing I can think to compare it to is maybe high school cafeteria BBQ, but actually, ours was even more edible then this. The green beans were straight out of a can, as were the turnip greens. Both lacked any distinguishable flavor or color.

My hubby ordered the fried chicken and barbeque combo and was relatively pleased with the chicken. He felt the same about the rest of his meal though. I'm not sure we'll go back, but if we do, I'd like to try the chicken. It's hard to beat the amount of food for the money. Perhaps I'll go the next time I've got a cold and can't taste anything ;)

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Photo of the Day - Rottweiler-in-law

5 words to the wise

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Chile corn chowder

4 words to the wise

Chile Corn Chowder
Makes 6 servings
Ingredients:
16 oz frozen sweet corn
2 poblano peppers (charred with skin removed), chopped
4 oz can whole or diced green chiles
1 potato, diced
6 green onions, chopped
2 chicken bouillion cubes
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
3 cups water
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup sour cream
handful of chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Sautee onions and potatoes 4 minutes. Add chiles, red pepper, butter and flour and stir. Cook 1 minute more. Increase heat to medium high. Slowly add water, 1/2 cup at a time and stir to incorporate. Once all water has been added, drop in bouillion.

Bring to a boil. Reduced heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Add milk, corn, parsley and sour cream and stir. Cook until heated through and serve.

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