Sorry, I Burned the Pine Nuts

In digging through my draft posts, the ones that never quite saw the light of the blogosphere, I came across this one … sharing an easy pasta recipe with sautéed spinach on the side.  I have mentioned before that my husband is the primary cook in this house; not that I don’t know how or am not willing, but for him it is a hobby and an art, and I willingly enjoy the products of his creativity.  Often when I cook, it is because my husband and boys are gone for the evening or weekend, and I go looking for something quick to put together, so I can pour a glass of wine and hunker down with a good chick flick!

Rigatoni with broccoli and brie ingredients

On one of these occasions when I found myself on the cooking rather than eating side of the food equation, and felt my blog had been sparse on the food posts, I tried to keep the mayhem (and cat hair) in the kitchen at a minimum as I cooked, with an occasional photo along the way.

Feline kitchen help

Four ingredients: whole wheat pasta, broccoli, brie and pine nuts.  Really can’t get much simpler than that.

Whole wheat rigatoni

Broccoli steamer
My old Pampered Chef microwave steamer pot is ideal for quickly steaming veggies.

The challenge is to not eat the brie while chopping it into cubes as the pasta boils!

Brie cubes for pasta

Actually, the real challenge is not getting distracted while the pine nuts are toasting in the skillet.  As usual, I multi-tasked one too many things, and soon the smell of burnt pine nuts was filling the house …. but it was not a loss, and I took one for the team, filling a bowl with a healthy portion.

Pasta with burnt pine nuts ..... aka Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli

And for an additional dose of green leafy vegetables, and another of my favorite quick and easy sides, I couldn’t screw up the Barefoot Contessa’s Garlic Sautéed Spinach (my kind of recipe — advertised prep time: 6 minutes, cook time: 4 minutes!).

Garlic cloves for sauteed spinach

A good olive oil, generous portion of garlic cloves, and fresh spinach leaves mix together for a wonderful wilted dish. It stands alone or would be tasty mixed in with pasta for another pasta with greens option.

For the Garlic Sautéed Spinach recipe, click here.

Garlic Sauteed Spinach

For the Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli and Brie recipe, click here.

Creamy Rigatoni with Broccoli and Brie

Ciao! ~ Kat

Confessions of a Seasonal Baker: Beware the “Fun, Fast and Easy” Cookie Recipe

I never said I was Martha Stewart.  And these cookies prove that I never need to say it — actions speak louder than words.  During the holidays, you will find people driving who shouldn’t be, traveling to their annual holiday destination and events.  No need to fear me behind the wheel this time of year.  But, you should be very afraid when I make my seasonal excursion into the kitchen for holiday baking.

Let me start by showing you what the goal was, Bakergirls’ Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies:

Bakergirl Reindeer Cookies
Photo credit: Bakergirl: Peanut Butter Reindeer Cookies ~ cute, aren’t they?

Pressed for time, I was lulled into a false sense of security with Bakergirl’s description of the perfect cookie: “if you need something fun, fast, and easy to make.”  Yes!  This was going to be a piece of cake for our evening baking session.  But, since time was extremely tight three days before Christmas, I confess: I cut corners further by purchasing refrigerated cookie dough, pre-scored and ready to place on baking sheets.  Seriously, I thought that I had removed all possibility for error by simplifying a simple recipe even further. I figured that those little reindeer cookies would be so cute, no one would notice the lack of a made-from-scratch base!  I had visions of a new blog post concerning the perfect cookie when in a holiday time bind. Little did I know what my camera would capture instead.

Short-cut cookie ingredients

My 15-year-old son was my partner-in-crime for what turned out to be “Operation Christmas Cookie Fail.”  We had our assembly line of chocolate-covered mini-pretzels (and, if you must know, no, I did not make those from scratch, either) and M&M’s ready to go.  Ding!  The oven timer went off, and we paid heed to Bakergirl’s words of instruction regarding decorating the cookies as they emerged from the hot oven:

Remove from oven and immediately (and gently) press two mini pretzels into the tops of the cookies for the reindeer’s antlers. Press two mini brown M&Ms in for the eyes and one red M&M for the nose (or any other color… some of mine ended up with green noses. They might be South Pole reindeer.).

Let me tell you, that some ended up with different color noses was the least of our worries as we proceeded.  We learned that we should have made larger cookies with more square footage to accommodate the full face and antlers.  We also learned that cookies cool very, very quickly.

Reindeer Cookie Assembly

Let’s face it — we learned that we botched this cookie project.

Reindeer Cookie Assembly

I almost had tears streaming down my face, I was laughing so hard as my son said with a straight face, “Mom, we shouldn’t have tried something so complicated.”  All we had to do was stick candy on cookies which we hadn’t even made from scratch, for heaven’s sake!  And, as antlers kept falling off the quickly cooling cookies, he said, “We can just tell people they are all antlerless reindeer.  We made does.”

Antlerless Reindeer Cookies

OK, so they’re sort of creepy, zombie-eyed does, but it works.

If you have the right perspective, you can observe the ingenuity that went into the reindeer cookie design:

Cyclops Reindeer Cookie
Cyclops Reindeer Cookie
Conjoined Reindeer Cookie Twins
Conjoined Reindeer Cookie Twins (these are fraternal twins — notice the different colored noses)
Missing Ear Reindeer Cookie
This poor cookie didn’t even make it off the baking tray before shedding its antlers.

As we surveyed the damage, the next trays came out of the oven, and I dug out some sugar cookie shaker decor which we unceremoniously shook and scattered.

Reindeer Cookie Cop-out
Reindeer Cookie Cop-out

Then, we took it up a notch and I found some glitter gels in the cupboard (I do hope they have long shelf life!), and we informally competed for the most artistic peanut butter cookie design.

Peanut Butter Cookies

It prompted another round of laughter.  Neither of us won awards in the creative cookie design department.

I transferred the still warm cookies to the cooling racks, so we could put the next batch in the oven.  Not only were antlers shed, but unfortunately, eyes and noses fell off too.  One reindeer couldn’t take the shame of it all, and leapt off the rack to a premature demise.

Reindeer Cookies lose parts

As I boxed the cookies the next morning, for later delivery to neighbors, the little cookie misfit peering out reminded me of the humane society commercials which tug at your heartstrings as a homeless dog or cat looks sadly out from behind a wire cage — take me home, love me!  Seriously, how can you resist this single antler reindeer pleading to be part of your Christmas cookie platter?!

Boxed Reindeer Cookies

Boxes packed for delivery, our neighbors will know that we thought of them at Christmastime — and that is all that matters.

Cheers!

CIao! ~ Kat

I Don’t Really Care About Your Blog, But Will You Post This Photo?

Periodically, I will send my husband a link to my latest blog post or pull it up on the screen of the laptop in the kitchen while he is cooking and say, “hey, take a look at this” — being pretty proud from time to time of my creative efforts.  Last time I did that, I had to ask if he actually read it, he scrolled so quickly — I mean, how could he really have absorbed my thoughtful text paired with carefully selected photos?!

On more than one occasion over the past few months, I have been summoned to the kitchen with the request that I have camera in hand.  Dutifully, I have taken the requested photos and, not surprisingly, my husband has not provided a proposed blog post for publishing alongside of them.  I would even give him guest blogger billing.  But, no . . .  apparently, the grilled pizza is supposed to write its own post.

The grilled pizza without a post . . .
The grilled pizza without a post . . .

As I looked at photos of the grilled pizzas he made in November, I was reminded that he used some of the flour my son and I picked up for him as we traveled back from a college visit in Illinois, day-tripping along the Mississippi River Road to Galena, Illinois (a completely charming river town I featured in this post).  Along the way, we stopped in Fulton, Illinois, and visited “De Immigrant Windmill Cultural Center.”

 

The Dutch windmill on the banks of the Mississippi River is fully functional.  It is an interesting stop along the River Road, with volunteers available to answer questions regarding the history of the city, the windmill, and the flour milling process.  The cultural center across the road also is staffed by volunteers who provide a brief overview and history of windmills through the working models.  The links below to the Windmill and Cultural Center provide more history and background information on these sights, if you are interested.

To help support the center’s operations, we purchased several bags of the fresh stone-ground flour made in De Immigrant Windmill, including different wheat flours.  My husband made not only the grilled pizza crust with the flour, but also some wonderful breads.  The quality of this flour was evident in the taste and texture of the foods in which my husband used it — no additives or preservatives, refrigeration required to maintain its freshness.

Perhaps I owe that grilled pizza an apology.  It did seem to write its own post, which so often seems to be the case when I start down a path writing about one thing, and then end up writing about another . . . photos often tell the story better than any words could do.

Grilled pizza
Grilled pizza

Ciao! ~ Kat

Related resources:

Pinterest Fail: Pecan and Salted Caramel Candies

Pecan & Salted Caramel Candies (photo courtesy of King Arthur Flour)
Pecan & Salted Caramel Candies (photo courtesy of King Arthur Flour)

When I originally pinned this lovely “Pecan & Salted Caramel Candies” recipe to my “Cookies, Candies & Gifts in a Jar” Board on Pinterest for future reference, it promised me a “super easy” recipe and a “quick, easy candy” that I thought could be a nice option for holiday treat boxes for neighbors and friends.  With traveling over Christmas and then getting bogged down with the nasty cold bug caught along the way, it was not until the Sunday after Christmas that I felt up to shopping and baking.

In my typical procrastinating fashion, I left the house after dinner and had a couple of other errands to run, ending up at Target’s grocery section at 8:00 p.m., since I was already in the store.  With my two teens’ input and offers to help bake that night, we had decided to make my mom’s easy microwave fudge and date mounds (two of our recurrent classics), and then try this new “Pecan & Salted Caramel Candies” recipe, because Pinterest suggested I could not fail with it.  I opted for the caramel candies, already pre-cut into little squares, and probably should have made one more stop at the large grocery store to see if perhaps they had the “chocolate disks” listed in the recipe; but the evening was already growing late and I had three batches of treats still to make so that I could distribute them the following day on New Year’s Eve!  I settled on semi-sweet chocolate chips when disks could not be found in Target’s grocery aisles, figuring a little cluster of chocolate would work just as well as the disk, when all was said and done.  Melted chocolate is melted chocolate, right?

Now, before we proceed, envision all those lovely cooking blogs with the charming, beautifully arranged ingredients, meticulously arranged background of kitchen accessories, and gourmet shop kitchen tools posed perfectly to illustrate each step of the process.  This is why I do not have a cooking blog — note that the reference to food in my blog’s title is “eat” not “cook.”  The photo speaks for itself:

Pinterest fail: Kitchen prep area
Kat B.’s kitchen prep area

Once I returned home (now 9:00 p.m.), my two teens (who I had made the mistake of earlier referencing as my baking assistants) melted away despite prior offers to help (in their defense, one had skis to wax for the following morning’s workout and the other, well, I still love the other one, too).  The microwave fudge went off without a hitch as it always does, and the date mounds were so tasty that my family’s portion of those treats are gone.  Then, there were the Pecan & Salted Caramel Candies . . . the process started with some promise for a good outcome. I even decided to get the camera out, thinking how nice these could be, just like the recipe!

"Before" Pecan and Salted Caramel Candies
There’s still hope in this “before” photo.

Now, I had softened the caramel squares in order to flatten them into “half-dollar” size circles, but in hindsight, I should have thrown them into a bowl and melted them together, to provide a nice dollop of caramel on top of each “small pile” of pecans.  And, in hindsight, I should have waited for the caramel to have melted somewhat further before placing the chocolate chips on top, because once that step was done, trying to smush the whole darn pile into a cohesive cluster as my patience got the better of me was not a pretty sight.

"After" photo of Pecan and Salted Caramel Candies
No, the cat did not happen to walk through the pan as I was trying to salvage this mess.

[Post update/edit: I showed my husband this blog post and he sees the first photo — the recipe photo — and says “oh, those look really nice.”  I told him, “those aren’t the ones I made, that’s the recipe photo.”  I then scrolled down to the photo just above and said, “this is the photo of my result” — he visibly cringed.]

At some point, after multiple rounds of, “well, maybe just another minute or two will help” in the oven, I said “screw it, I am done” and sprinkled the kosher salt across the candies, surveying the damage.

"Final" Pecan and Salted Caramel Candies
Just ignore the disaster in the background . . .

I probably should have included an apology note in each treat box with this layer of candies, but at midnight, the bar of expectations has been lowered, if not destroyed completely.

Perhaps you will have better luck than me?  Kat B.’s tip — search out those chocolate disks!

Pecan & Salted Caramel Candies

(from King Arthur Flour, link to printable recipe here)

  • 2/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted
  • 4-ounce block of caramel, cut into 16 pieces; or 16 caramel candies
  • 16 bittersweet chocolate disks (1″ to 1 1/2″ disks)
  • a pinch of Fleur de Sel or other sea salt, to garnish each candy

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Divide the pecans into 16 small piles on a parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheet (a scant 2 teaspoons pecans each).
  3. Flatten each caramel cube into the size of a half dollar, and place on the pecans.
  4. Heat in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, until the caramel softens and begins to melt.
  5. Remove from the oven; wait 1 minute, then top each cluster with one disk of chocolate, pressing it into the softened caramel gently.
  6. Top each candy with a few flakes of Fleur de Sel, or other coarse sea salt.
  7. Allow the caramel and chocolate to cool and set before removing candies from the pan.

Yield: 16 candies.

May your new year be filled with travel, garden and eat delights!

Ciao! ~ Kat

Stuffed Squash, Baked Ravioli and the Elusive “Eat” Post

I had good intentions when I started this blog. Visions of a weekly travel-related post, a garden-related post, and a food-related post.  I think that lasted a week.  The blog then degenerated into Kat’s Blog o’ Babble — but, hey, I’m having fun with it, so that’s all that matters, right?!

Food is one of my loves, though — integral to the travel experience and part of many of our best memories of time spent with family and friends (as I noted in my post regarding our 20-year dinner club tradition).  It’s not that I don’t want to blog about food, it’s just that I am at the stage of life that most nights we are lucky if we find ourselves all seated around the dinner table at the same time.  Some weeknights we have a progressive dinner theme, eating in stages and “courses” throughout the evening, to accommodate varying work and activity commitments.  Moreover, since my husband is the primary cook in the house, I am not routinely cooking with camera in hand (even when I do cook, the camera is not usually part of the process)  — and if I would hover with camera in hand while he cooked, our 20+ year marriage would not endure.

This past weekend, my husband found a recipe for stuffed squash on a blog called “The Dirt.”  When he told me the source of the recipe he adapted (by adding some bread crumbs, garlic, sweet Italian instead of regular sausage), I excitedly exclaimed, “I follow that blog!”  This exciting discovery of another mutual interest after 20+ years together was lost on my husband.

Sausage and Ricotta-Stuffed Squash
Sausage and Ricotta-Stuffed Squash (recipe adapted from “The Dirt” blog)

As he pulled the stuffed squash out of the oven, they screamed “food-related blog post”!  (I, for some reason, am the only family member who heard their plea.)  I dashed upstairs to grab my camera, and carefully turned my plate, trying to capture the lovely autumnal dish in the most favorable light.  We even had set the table, in anticipation of a leisurely family dinner.  Notice my husband’s half-eaten squash in the background?  It gives you some idea of how long I fussed over the photo.  This is why “Eat” is an elusive post.

Last night, I actually cooked.  I planned ahead, using my handy-dandy “No Time to Cook” smartphone app from Real Simple while standing in the grocery store (gosh I love that thing — pick the main ingredient and whether you have 20, 30 or 40 minutes to cook, and an array of great weeknight recipes pop up on your screen).  I knew we had some cheese ravioli in the freezer, and had selected a simple pasta dish, “Creamy Ravioli and Pesto Gratin.”

The photo below is what I have to show for that dish (after moving the piles of mail out of sight and wiping away the crumbs on the counter):

Parmesan cheese

As I lamented the fact I had not taken a picture of the golden-brown, cheese-topped bubbly pasta dish when it came out of the oven, my husband looked at me, puzzled, and said, “just post the photo from the recipe’s website.”  (Did I mention my husband doesn’t even read my blog, let alone follow other food blogs on a routine basis?)  I looked at him in horror, and whined, “I CAN’T do that!”  He wisely did not ask me to explain.  This is why “Eat” is an elusive post.

Creamy Ravioli and Pesto Gratin Recipe (Photo credit: Real Simple/David Prince)
Creamy Ravioli and Pesto Gratin Recipe
(Photo credit: Real Simple/David Prince)

Recipe links:

Stuffed Squash from “The Dirt” blog:  http://thedirt.areavoices.com/2012/11/02/stuffed-squash/

Creamy Ravioli and Pesto Gratin (from Real Simple):  http://www.realsimple.com/food-recipes/browse-all-recipes/creamy-ravioli-pesto-gratin-recipe-00000000028124/index.html

Ciao! ~ Kat