Rainbows and tamales

During the recent holiday season, I had a craving for Italian rainbow cookies. Much to my dismay, I couldn’t find them in any stores. Rather than go online and order something pre-made, I decided I’d make the cookies myself. I’d never made rainbow cookies before and creating them takes more steps than normal cookies, but the effort was well worth the rewards! I modified the recipe slightly to make them a bit healthier without sacrificing flavor and the results were delicious. They didn’t look perfect, but they tasted right and I’m sure I’ll perfect them over time. I ended up with enough cookies to last me for months and there’s still a batch frozen in the freezer.

Italian rainbow cookies

The rainbow cookies were the first new baking technique I’ve used in quite some time, but that showed me that I can do anything I put my mind to. I applied that concept again this past weekend to satisfy my craving for tamales. I had a tamale appetizer at The Cheesecake Factory over the holidays and it was so yummy I almost licked the plate! I’ve never had tamales before but I was instantly addicted and wanted more. There aren’t any restaurants close to me that have tamales (I checked) so I decided I needed to make my own.

I found several recipes online, but finally settled on one by Marcela Valladolid from The Food Network because it didn’t involve making any meat filling like the others did. I bought all the ingredients (I used cooked frozen corn because it’s not sweetcorn season) I could find at the local grocery store and bought corn husks and a bamboo steamer from Amazon. The recipe says to stand them up in a boiler pot but  I figured my luck they’d fall over and turn into soup so that’s why I opted for a bamboo steamer I could lay them down in. Two packages of frozen corn equaled 6 cups of corn and for the last cup, I cooked up some Iroquois Hulled White Corn from the Ganondagan State Historic Site. The combination of sweetcorn and hulled white corn was divine and I admit that I licked the mixer beaters.

tamale dough with Iroquois white corn

Blended up sweet corn with white corn ready to be blended in

Once the dough was mixed up, I wrapped it in the 10 corn husks I’d been soaking in water. There was enough dough to make at least 20 more tamales but I didn’t want to conquer such a huge batch all at once. Of the 10 I made Friday night, I ate 5 and it was difficult not to eat every last one!

tamales in bamboo steamer

My tamales cooking away in the bamboo steamer

I made a second batch yesterday afternoon and I still have enough filling for one more batch. Now that I’ve made tamales once, I have all sorts of ideas for recipe modifications and I’m sure by the end of winter, I’ll be a tamale making pro!

corn tamale in corn husk

One of the tamales I cooked Sunday afternoon. Yum!

The Perfect Meal at Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar

Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar, Amesbury, MA. Photo courtesy of Crave

When I’m at my home in Upstate NY I usually make all my own meals and don’t eat out a lot but when I head up to New England for one of my trips, I splurge on delicious food. My hotel room usually has a microwave and fridge but as my trips are mini vacations, living off frozen dinners really doesn’t appeal. I love freshly made and delicious food and it’s  always a bonus when someone else makes it for me.

As detailed in my blog post A chilly evening stroll in Amesbury back in April, I spent my first evening in New England wandering Amesbury during my last trip. I was quite cold after walking around and the aromas from Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar pulled me in on the way back to my car. I went inside the restaurant with its cozy illumination and reveled in the feeling of warmth seeping back into my body. I was seated at a four chair table by the windows and happily took my coat off as the chill left my skin.

I ordered coffee to wake up a bit and further thaw out and then began looking over the menu. They had an extensive wine and beer list but as I had to drive home after dinner, I couldn’t indulge in any such spirits. My waitress was very friendly and helpful and everything I ordered came in perfect time. I was the only person there alone that I saw but I’m quite used to that by now and settled in to enjoy the atmosphere and food.

Interior of Crave. Photo courtesy of Crave.

As an appetizer, I ordered the Crispy Tomatoes and Wolf Meadow Farm Mozzarella because I loved the mozzarella I had during Wolf Meadow Farm’s grand opening during my previous visit.

Crispy Tomatoes with Wolf Meadow Farm’s mozzarella. Photo courtesy of Crave.

The tomatoes were flavorful, warm and had just the right amount of crisp to go with the delectably soft and creamy mozzarella and I cleaned my plate rather quickly!

For my main meal I ordered the Seared Sea Scallops because I love scallops and hadn’t had any in a while. When the entrée arrived on a nice rectangular serving plate, it looked almost too good to eat!

Seared Sea Scallops. Pic taken on my phone

Seared Sea Scallops. Pic taken on my phone

I forced myself to mar the perfect display in order to eat the food and they were the most divine scallops! Melt in my mouth, full of flavor, cooked perfectly and superbly complimented by the savory creamed corn and roasted potatoes. I didn’t quite clean that plate because I was growing full and wanted to leave room for dessert. There was a fridge back in my room but no microwave so taking leftovers home wasn’t feasible that trip.

To finish the amazing meal off, I ordered the Flourless Chocolate Torte for dessert. It came on a nice round plate with a scoop of ice cream on top and it’s bewildering to me that such sweet, divine and delectable chocolate heaven fit in that simple plate!

Flourless Chocolate Torte. Pic taken on my phone.

Flourless Chocolate Torte. Pic taken on my phone. I nearly licked the plate!

It was absolutely the best form of chocolate dessert I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating! It was like a warm brownie kicked up to the max of chocolate decadence and I devoured it, only to be quite dismayed that it was gone.

I was pleasantly full by the time I was done and glad that I’d finally treated myself to a superb meal at Crave Brasserie & Wine Bar. I highly recommend the restaurant to anyone in the vicinity of Amesbury and to anyone in the world! It’s just one of the many fine dining establishments in Amesbury, MA and definitely one I’ll be returning to on future visits! Why are you still reading this?? It’s Friday night, go to Crave and eat some bewilderingly delicious food!

Sweetness on Earth Day (recipe included)

A heart-shaped glimpse of blue sky this afternoon.

A heart-shaped glimpse of blue sky this afternoon.

Today was Earth Day and while it started out overcast and rainy, it was still beautiful. I added my own touch of sweetness to the day by baking a fresh batch of chocolate chip orange bread and that made the house smell amazing! I’ve included the recipe at the end of this post.

Chocolate chip orange bread, yum!

Chocolate chip orange bread, yum!

When I completed my freelance work for the day, I happily sat down at my craft desk and finished up the pair of earrings I started working on yesterday evening.

Pink and burgundy glass pearl earrings.

Pink and burgundy glass pearl earrings.

I then started working on a new earring design and as I did, the sun started to break through the clouds. I took that as Mama Nature’s approval of what I was doing and I smiled as I continued to fiddle with beads, findings and wires. Time flew rather quickly and it was soon time to head to the school to pick up my daughters. Jordan was staying late to practice for choral solo fest and was going to meet her sister Jaycie and I in the gym.

When I arrived at the school and snatched a nice close spot, I stepped out of my car and was overjoyed to see more breaks in the clouds and glimpses of blue sky. One of these blue sky breaks reminded me of a heart and I took it as Mama Nature’s way of saying that when you love Mother Earth, she loves you back. Along with the blue sky, I also saw see numerous signs of spring. The cherry trees were on the verge of opening blossoms and several clumps of daffodils by the front entrance of the school were budding or already blooming.

Daffodils soon to open.

Daffodils soon to open.

Blooming daffodils

Blooming daffodils

My daughters and I headed back home and the sky turned gray once more but that’s okay. Rain is necessary for reviving the earth and restoring life to grass, trees, flowers and all living things. We must pay attention to, honor, help, preserve and protect this planet every day, not just on Earth Day because it’s the only planet we have. I hope that my daughters and all future generations get to experience the amazing sweetness of nature and life.

*****

Orange Bread with Chocolate Chips

Modified from the recipe for Fresh Orange Muffins found on Food.com. I removed the butter and replaced it with yogurt and applesauce. I also reduced the sugar because the orange and orange juice are already quite sweet.

Ingredients:

  • 1 orange, unpeeled, quartered, seeds removed
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup vanilla or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup applesauce (I use Motts Natural applesauce or homemade)
  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/8 cup sugar (I use Sugar in the Raw)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees, spray an 8×8 cake/brownie pan with non-stick spray, set aside
  • Put orange quarters in food processor with orange juice and process until pureed
  • Add egg, yogurt and applesauce into processor and blend until combined. Pour into large bowl.
  • In separate bowl, combine dry ingredients then add to orange mixture.
  • Stir to combine. Add chocolate chips if desired and mix them in.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan.
  • Bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until top is just turning brown. Let stand until cool enough to eat. (I always eat one piece warm from the oven)
  • Place orange bread in fridge and enjoy cold or heat for a few seconds in microwave. Enjoy!

 

Why I cook and bake from scratch

My homemade cheesecake topped with sliced strawberries

My homemade cheesecake topped with sliced strawberries and chocolate sauce

Earlier this week I had to purchase big groceries and my shopping experience reminded me why I choose to cook and bake food from scratch. The two main reasons I do it are because I love cooking and baking and because when I make food from scratch, I know exactly what’s in it. I’ve added another reason and that’s the cost of food these days. Prices keep going up on my grocery staples of milk, bread, eggs and meat. Judging by the way the world is going, I don’t see the prices going back down anytime soon. Making meals from scratch is more involved than buying pre-packaged foods but the effort is always worth it in the peace of mind I gain and the money I save.

My latest food craving has been cheesecake and as I said in a previous post, my first ever attempt at making cheesecake came out delicious. I’ve since made a second cheesecake (because the first one was mysteriously devoured by fridge-raiding fairies) and that one came out even better! The recipe I used was a combination of two I found online, with my own unique modifications of course. I modified it further in my second attempt and wrote down everything I did for future reference. My third attempt will be cheesecake swirled with fresh strawberries so I need to do a bit of research on that.

While I was grocery shopping, I decided to see how much the store charged for a full-size cheesecake. I found their plain cheesecake with a sliced up strawberry on top as garnish and my eyes widened in shock as I read the price of $22.00! I couldn’t believe people would actually pay that much money for a cheesecake but considering that was the only plain one in the cooler, they apparently do. There was also a cheesecake made of various slices of flavored cheesecakes and that one cost a whopping $26.00. I snapped a picture of the two cakes to prove I wasn’t hallucinating.

The two store cheescakes

The two store cheesecakes

Not only were the cheesecakes expensive, but I couldn’t pronounce half of the ingredients listed which is never a good thing in my book. Now that I’ve made cheesecakes, I know exactly what goes into them and none of my ingredients were 15 letters long and impossible to say without tripping over my tongue. Upset by the cost of the cakes and the ingredients, I then continued shopping and jotted down the prices of all the ingredients I use in my cheesecakes. The grand total came to less than half of what the store was charging for a cheesecake that was in fact, smaller than the ones I make. Proof that you definitely pay a price for convenience.

The power of cornbread

skillet cornbread

Yesterday morning I woke up craving cornbread. So I made some. This might not seem very monumental but considering I’ve been sick, tired, not quite myself and that my biggest daily feat has been showering, mixing up and baking cornbread from scratch was a very big thing. I baked the bread in one part of the two-part cast iron skillet I received as a gift and it came out perfect and tasty!

An interesting thing happened when I took the first bite of cornbread, I had a sudden idea for a dish to go with it. It was a dish I’ve never seen made before and never made myself but the ingredients for it popped into my head as the perfect complement for the cornbread. I decided to go out that afternoon and get everything I needed, along with ingredients for cheesecake because I’ve been craving that lately. I’ve never made cheesecake before either so it’s quite amazing what just making that one batch of cornbread motivated me to do.

I made my new main dish this evening and it turned out exactly as I thought it would. The taste was how I imagined it would be and I was impressed that I’d bought all the right ingredients to create it. I didn’t do a lot of measurements, I don’t usually when I’m cooking, but it included tomato paste, cooked winter squash, ground pork, ground turkey, lentils, pinto beans, corn and all the perfect spices to accomplish a savory, delicious, hearty and satisfying dish. Dipping my cornbread in it was divine and I was so proud of myself! I made cheesecake too and while I haven’t tasted it yet, it looks and smells yummy!

I’m happiest when I’m doing something, especially when it’s creative. I consider baking and cooking just as creative as my writing, painting and clay work. Being too tired to express any part of my creativity has been extremely frustrating for me. Now that I’m feeling better and am awake more than asleep, I’m certain I’ll continue my creative work and find new avenues for expressing my imagination. Behold, the power of cornbread!

Sunday Evenings

Pancakes made from my own special recipe.

Pancakes made from my own special recipe.

This won’t be a long post but I didn’t want to fall behind again and have to play catch up. Sunday evenings are about my girls. If it’s my weekend with them I’ve had them since Saturday morning, if it’s my ex’s weekend then I don’t get them until 4 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Regardless, I always have them Sunday evenings and our Sunday dinners are always a nice little relaxation before the school week begins anew.

Tonight I made tacos for dinner and while that wasn’t a fancy meal, it doesn’t have to be. Sometimes I make pancakes or waffles for dinner and carry on my father’s tradition of making breakfast for dinner every once in a while. I own tons of cookbooks but only open them now and then for bread or cookie recipes. Most of the dinner meals I make are ones I’ve been making for years or something I come up with on the fly. I have a decent idea what ingredients taste good together by now and while I will never have my own show on a cooking channel, I always please my most important tasters, my girls.

Past Traditions, Future Prospects

My girls all festive with their hats.

My girls all festive with their hats.

A new year has begun and 2014 holds even more promise and potential than the year that has passed. I embrace it, welcome it and charge into it with fresh determination! I will never forget the lessons and fond memories of my past though, they make me what I am today.

Growing up, my family would all gather around the wok on New Year’s Eve to make tempura. I don’t remember if we did it every year but it seems like we did. I don’t know why or how it started but it was a great way to get all of us together and participating in the same activity. We cooked vegetables including mushrooms, cauliflower and onions and for meat, chicken and shrimp. I always enjoyed sticking the food on the long fondue forks and placing them in the oil where they’d bubble away as they cooked. I imagine that doesn’t all sound like the healthiest thing, but it we only did it that one time during the year and it was special for me.

I decided that this year I would finally start that tradition again. I didn’t even own a wok so I remedied that and got a set of fondue forks exactly like the ones my family used. I bought a whole bunch of vegetables and some shrimp and found a recipe for tempura batter that sounded easy enough. The girls had no idea what tempura was and they still need to expand their culinary tastes but they humored their mother.

I cut up the vegetables, thawed some shrimp and only then realized how much effort my parents had put into this family tradition. I got my wok at just the right temperature and set to work. The girls came over to watch the food bubble and stuck a few pieces in but after that, they went back to playing in the other room. That’s okay; all that mattered is that I started the family tradition back up.

The girls weren't real sure at first but they liked watching the bubbles

The girls weren’t real sure at first but they liked watching the bubbles

Veggies and shrimp bubbling away!

Veggies and shrimp bubbling away!

As with all family traditions though, I think sometimes they benefit from some improvements and adaptations for each new generation. For example, now that I have my very own, shiny wok, I’ll be able to cook up all sorts of new stir-fry dishes, starting very soon thanks to all the vegetables still in my fridge! So perhaps the tradition of the Corbin New Year’s Tempura will transform into the Corbin New Year’s Stir-Fry. Not forgetting the past traditions, just realizing the future prospects and evolving into a new way to honor what has come before.