November 30, 2012

Nibbles and Novels Dec. 1

"And then it started. A great surge of sound from the organ. Huge chords and waves of music filled the church, overflowed out through the open doors, resounded up and out into the night... The music thundered all about her, filling the huge void of the soaring arched ceiling..."

So begins my favorite moment of one of my favorite books in all the world.

*Welcome to my Nibbles and Novels party! Thank you so much for stopping by! I hope you're here to join as well as look, there is a button at the bottom and I'm excited to see what you share! Now, on with the show!*

My book this month is "Winter Solstice" by Rosamund Pilcher. This being the beginning of December, it seemed the perfect time to share it! I've been reading almost since I was born, and out of the thousands of books I've read, this simple, heartfelt story has made it into my top five favorite books of all. It is a story about people. Almost strangers, really. Some related, some not, all just happening to come together in the midst of snarls and tangles in their lives that have left them all, in one way or another, feeling loss or displacement. They forge bonds of love, family, and friendship. It has heartbreaking moments, and moments of deep and shining joy. One of those moments brings literal tears to my eyes, every single time I read it. Even though I know what will happen!

It's the perfect book to snuggle up with on a rainy, snowy, misty day, with a warm drink and a yummy treat. Out of every book I will ever tell you about, this above all others, you should try. It's just... beautiful. Deeply, soul-touchingly beautiful. Ha, I got teary just flipping through looking for a quote to share!

Ahem. On to the recipe!
"Oscar liked rice pudding. Elfrida had made him one before, and it had been splendid, creamy and rich, and lightly spiced with lemon zest."

There are many mentions of yummy food throughout this book (most of which takes place in Scotland! Eeee!) but I picked this one because I love rice pudding, have never made it, haven't had one I liked since childhood, AND it was the recipe I typed into Google that led me to the blog that inspired me to start my own. *Phew! That was quite a sentence!*

The Best Rice Pudding (adapted from The English Kitchen)
Printable Recipe

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)
2 1/2 cups whole milk
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 strip of lemon peel, without pith (or a tsp of lemon zest)
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 ounces flaked almonds, toasted and crushed with your fingers
Aren't vanilla beans neat looking??

Combine the milk, cream, vanilla bean and it's seeds (or vanilla extract), cinnamon stick, nutmeg and lemon peel in a large saucepan.
Bring almost to a boil, then add the rice. Return to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring frequently. (If you don't, it will burn to the bottom!)

Add the sugar and cinnamon and stir in until dissolved. Simmer for another 15 minutes, stirring often, until the rice is completely softened, tender and creamy. Remove from the heat. Take out the cinnamon stick, vanilla bean and the lemon peel. Stir in the almonds. (or sprinkle them on top!) Marie serves this with a gorgeous looking cherry sauce spooned on top! I sprinkled mine with lemon zest, almonds, and extra nutmeg. Serve immediately!
She's right, this IS the best rice pudding!! Best I've had, at least! It's rich and creamy, the rice is tender, NOT mushy. Very important! 
Full of delicious spices and hints of lemon... and the vanilla bean! This is my first time cooking with it, and it is delicious! Not as strong as I thought it would be, I might add a little extract to back it up next time... But still so smooth and delicious! 
I never would have thought of adding lemon, but I love it! Of course :) You can always skip it if you aren't a lemon-lover like me, and add raisins like the classics, or berries, or maybe chocolate chips! Who knows! 
Either way, if you love rice pudding, this is the one to try!! Homey, decadent, comfort food at it's best. Mind you, I only ate a tiny bit, but it was worth it. :)

Now it's time to link up your own book-inspired posts! Your subject matter can be anything, from book reviews to crafts, projects, fashion, food, etc! Just link back to this little party, please, and I'd love it if you followed me! There's also a button, if you'd like one. Thanks for stopping by!

Dimples and Delights

Blackberry Raspberry Cobbler

I love being a Mom. It's the only career I've ever wanted since I was ten years old and my little sister was born. I was just about the best babysitter in the world for the next ten years. (not to brag, or anything... :) I was even a nanny for a whole summer at a guest ranch! I love my boys with all my heart. The funny thing is, I didn't want boys. Like, really REALLY didn't want boys! It seemed that all the boys I babysat were violent, Power Ranger watching, snotty, dirty, grimy things. I even swallowed 2 live worms just to impress one that was being a total brat. I seriously earned his respect with that one. Anyway. Not a fan of boys. I was so disappointed when I found out Stephen was going to be a boy... shame on me! Now I know better. Boys are AWESOME. I love my boys!! Sure, they have a penchant for dirt and pain that I will NEVER understand, but they are so indescribably sweet. Joe brings me flowers whenever he can find one. Stephen is never too cool for snuggles. They both forgive me in an instant when I explode at them (and apologize!).

Someday soon we hope to get our adoption process back off the ground. Moving put quite a kink in it. Someday I will have a little girl... and I wonder which I will prefer by comparison? Hopefully neither. Hopefully they will just be our kids, each as sweet as the other. I can't wait!

Don't forget, the Nibbles and Novels party goes live tonight at 10:00 (Mountain time :) PLEASE link up!! I've got one of my favorite books in the whole world to share, and can't wait to see how you've been inspired! Or just what you're reading :) Any book-related posts are welcome. See you then!!

Blackberry Raspberry Cobbler (adapted from The Best Recipe Cookbook 1999)
Printable Recipe

1 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tb cold butter
7 Tb milk
2 Tb sugar

24 oz frozen blackberries and/or raspberries (or 2 pints fresh)
1 heaping Tb cornstarch
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 8x8 inch baking dish, and set it aside.

Combine all fruit filling ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to coat and evenly distribute. Dump into the baking dish and smooth into an even layer. Set aside.

Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar together. Cut in butter, either with a food processor, 2 knives, or a pastry cutter, until your butter bits are no larger than small peas.

Add 6 Tb of milk, and mix till it comes together in a crumbly dough. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead just till all the bits come together in one lump.

Press (or roll) the dough out into an 8x8 inch square (it doesn't have to be perfect! Messy edges are fine!) Lift dough and place on top of the fruit filling. Brush with remaining Tb milk, and sprinkle with sugar. Cut a few vents in the top.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes, then serve! It's amazing with vanilla ice cream.
Mmmm, look at that bubbly berry glaze coating the fluffy golden topping! Scrumptious! I've tried quite a few cobbler recipes since I've been married, and this is hands-down my favorite. Look no further, this is cobbler perfection!
They call this a "shortbread" topping, and that's pretty much what it is! It's lightly sweet, buttery and fluffy and delicious. Soaks up the juices just enough, but not too much, then it would be soggy!
And those berries!!! Tart and tangy and sweet, coated in a smooth glaze... It's glorious over ice cream!
This is one of The Geologist's favorite desserts. Raspberries and blackberries are our favorite combination, but you could use any berry combo! He prefers it hot, straight out of the oven, but I love eating it cold for breakfast the next day. I might have to try drizzling it with cream next time... Yum!

November 29, 2012

Spiced Sweet Potatoes

This has been a season of innumerable blessings for us. After spending most of our marriage living on student loans, and only getting the things we needed, having a real income is amazing!! The thing is, we're saving for a house. So as much as we would like to go a little crazy on our wants, we have to look ahead. This was the year I was determined to deck our home out with Christmas decorations, buy new designer glasses, fill my kitchen with gloriousness from Williams Sonoma, buy a whole new wardrobe... but slowly, I am putting each of those aside, again, for later. A house is worth it. We were happy living on less. We truly were! Except, of course, for the awful days when less turned into "not enough". But most of the time, we were happy. And we can be happy saving for a house. Not living to the fullest of our income. I get a bit wistful, but we can do it.

There's your introspection for the day!! Now, we have a movie review!! Those of you who have been reading for a while know I'm a little obsessed with Great Britain. All of it. But most especially Scotland. I don't really know why. Anyway, when I saw the very first preview for "Brave" from Pixar, I nearly fell out of my chair with excitement. I never got to see it in theaters, but finally watched it on Thanksgiving with the boys. I've heard a lot of people say it doesn't measure up to Pixar's usual genius. I completely disagree. I cried 4 times during that movie!! All at those Mother moments. I may not have a little girl, but I fight with my boys. And I would bet all of us have had those moments where we just lose it, and go too far, and are immediately horrified at ourselves. This movie didn't just tug at my heartstrings, it yanked. Sure, it's not constantly funny, and yes, the basic plotline has been done. But to me, somehow, they did it better. Oh, and the animation!!! Those shots of Scotland! Her hair!! The HORSE!!! *faint* I bought it. End of review :)

Spiced Sweet Potatoes (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

3-4 large yams or sweet potatoes
6 Tb butter, melted
2 Tb honey
3 Tb molasses
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp table salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 Tb cornstarch

Note: It took me years to learn this, but sweet potatoes and yams are totally different beasts! And here in America, the ones you can find at the grocery store are usually yams. The deep orange ones. Sweet potatoes  are much lighter. So even though we call this "sweet potatoes", I always use yams. And call them sweet potatoes. :) You can use either.
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Peel and cut sweet potatoes into 1-1 1/2 inch chunks. Dump them into buttered 9x13 baking dish.

Whisk melted butter, honey, molasses, ginger, salt, and cayenne in small bowl and set aside. Mix cornstarch with 2 Tb water in small bowl until smooth, then it whisk into butter mixture. Pour this over the potatoes and toss it all to coat the chunks.

Cover tightly with foil and bake until potatoes are almost soft enough, about 40-50 minutes. Remove foil, stir yams gently, and bake until potatoes are soft and glaze thickens, about 15-20 minutes longer. Cool slightly and serve hot.
I've never had the kind with little marshmallows on top. But I've never really wanted to! This is my favorite. Yum. It's full of sweet, dark, warm flavors...
Soft and tender with a bit of a kick...
Personally I think Thanksgiving needs a bit of kick! These are delicious, easy as pie, and make great leftovers! In the mood to try something new? I recommend this one. Sure to get you rave reviews. No if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go eat some for breakfast. :)

November 28, 2012

12-Hour Butterhorn Rolls

Sometimes my brain likes to take long naps without me. Like this week! It has abandoned me. Mostly with dinners. Sunday we couldn't make taco salad, because I forgot a key ingredient. So Monday I went to the store, just to get a few things, and get that key ingredient... and forgot it again. So The Geologist had to get it on his way home. Yesterday we were supposed to have pizza... but I had forgotten the yeast! Sheesh. Sure wish that lazy brain of mine would get back on the job!

Anyway. These rolls are kind of a family heirloom recipe. I mentioned before that my Grandma worked at the Lion House, where this recipe originates. I can't remember a Thanksgiving without them. They are possibly my favorite part. It's a close battle between them and gravy... on everything...

12-Hour Butterhorn Rolls (adapted from The Lion House cookbook)
Printable Recipe

1 package/Tb active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup milk, scalded (heated till the edges just barely start to bubble, or get a bit frothy)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 tsp salt
3 eggs, well beaten
4-5 cups flour

1 more stick of butter melted, for brushing (1/2 cup)

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in a small bowl. Let sit while you move on. Combine melted butter and scalded milk. Stir in sugar, salt, and eggs. Cool.

Stir in the yeast and water and enough flour to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. (Start with 4 cups, add more 1/4 cup at a time, mix well between each) Form dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl. Cover, let rise 5-6 hours.

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead a few times just to coat the dough with flour. This dough should stay very soft. Divide in half. Roll each half out into a 16 inch circle. 
Brush with 1/4 cup melted butter. Cut into 16 pie pieces.
Roll each piece loosely from large end to small. 

Place on greased/lined baking sheet (at this point you can freeze them for later) Allow to rise 5-6 more hours.
After the second rise, preheat your oven to 375. Brush each risen roll with more melted butter. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and brush with more melted butter. :)

For frozen rolls: Remove 6 hours before baking time. Arrange on greased/lined baking sheet, allow to thaw/rise 5-6 hours, bake as directed. Use within 2 weeks of freezing.
Yes, I know, there are three layers of butter. But it's in the name, isn't it? These are butter rolls!! Gloriously buttery rolls...
Growing up on these little beauties, I was ruined forever for all canned crescents. There's just no competition. None. These are simply, The Best. My favorite rolls of all time! And if you split up the prep (freezing them halfway through) they aren't very difficult! I used to wake up at ungodly hours to make them in one day... I don't know how I never saw that little note about freezing in there! I got to sleep in this Thanksgiving :)
They're light and flaky and soft and heavenly. And just as good the next day! I love them leftover. I hope you will too :)

November 27, 2012

Egg Nog French Toast

Ah, the adventures of being a parent. Last night we discovered that Joe had pulled all of the wooden slats out from under his mattress. When we asked why on earth he would do such a thing, he raised that stubborn, defiant little chin of his and declared," I don't want my bed anymore!" Well kid, wish granted!
We made him sleep on the bathroom floor... his nights aren't quite "accident-free" yet, and there's no way I was risking the carpet!! Needless to say, he was happy to retract his statement this morning. :)

Egg Nog French Toast
Printable Recipe

a loaf of your favorite french toast bread (I used homemade Challah bread)
4 eggs, beaten
2 Tb butter, melted
3/4 cup egg nog
1/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
a pinch of salt

Whisk all ingredients together in a pie dish until well-combined. Dip bread into egg mixture, (the pie dish helps get your bread evenly dipped) coating each side. Place each slice in a lightly greased frying pan or on an electric griddle at medium/medium high heat and cook till each side is golden brown. Serve immediately with loads of butter, powdered sugar, syrup, jam, etc.
We coat ours with butter as soon as they come off the griddle, then choose each our own topping. I love syrup, The Geologist is a plain butter man (though he liked golden syrup this time!) and little Stephen and I had some with apple butter, which was a heavenly combination!
This challah bread was perfect for french toast! Fluffy, eggy, and lightly sweet all on it's own! You get plenty of spiced, rich egg nog creaminess, lightly crisp buttery edges...
Sometimes, instead of adding the spices into the egg mixture, we just sprinkle them over each side as it cooks. That way it has an even spice coating.
Without a doubt, the best french toast I have ever made!! This just might become a traditional Christmas breakfast!

November 26, 2012

Weekly Menu Nov. 26

Source: Ruki-Duki via Pinterest

Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas season is here! My favorite time of year. Our tree is up, our house is decorated, the lights are hung, and today is wonderfully cold and cloudy. It feels very Christmassy today! Time to get to work on my homemade Christmas presents! Well, I only had 2 requests for my Thanksgiving favorites, and one was my Mom... but I also never made a new meal to post, so you get them anyway! It's all right, you could use them any time. Especially those rolls... Yum. This week I'm going to take deep breaths and just BE, because starting Saturday, things get busy again for next week! Including 2 three hour choir rehearsals and our concert Friday! I can't wait, I'm jumping out-of-my-skin excited. 

Remember, Saturday is the Nibbles and Novels party!! Please link up your book-inspired posts, I'd love to have you there, truly! I'm linking one of my all-time favorites, hope to see you there!

This week we have: 
Blackberry-Raspberry Cobbler
Nibbles and Novels!!

November 25, 2012

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs

Lack of sleep has put my brain in hibernation mode. Life is good and calm, and happy, and I need a nap, so I have nothing deep or clever to share today. :) I will, however, apologize for my lame pictures; I thought "Of course I have to decorate my spaghetti with cheese!" and failed to notice till just now, that you can't see a darn thing under that cheese. Oops!! Next time I make it I'll replace the pictures for you. Until then, I'll just have to use words to paint my images! And then nap. 

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs (adapted from Cooks Illustrated)

3 slices white sandwich bread (without crusts) torn into tiny pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg yolk
1 clove garlic, minced/pressed
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1/2 tsp pepper
oil for pan-frying

8 oz pasta (spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair, etc)
2 Tb olive oil
1/2 small yellow or white onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, minced/pressed
1 can crushed tomatoes (or 2 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and crushed)
1-2 Tb minced fresh basil
1/2-1 tsp dried oregano
a pinch of sugar
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
salt and pepper
grated Parmesan cheese

Meatballs first! Combine the bread and buttermilk in a bowl, then mash them together until they form a smooth-ish paste.

Combine all meatball ingredients, including bread mixture, in a medium bowl. Mix well, then form into small meatballs, about 1 1/2 inches across, or about 2-3 Tb each. Form them gently, if you press them together too much they will become dense. These will be soft meatballs. Place them on a place while you heat your oil in a large pan (or Dutch oven!) You want enough that the meatballs are about half covered, not submerged or floating. Heat the oil to about 260-275 degrees. (If you don't have a thermometer, you want the meatballs to sizzle when placed in the oil, but not immediately start browning)

When edge of meatball dipped in oil sizzles, add the meatballs in single layer. Fry your meatballs, turning when the bottoms are browned (be gentle when pulling them up, sometimes they stick to the bottom) Place browned meatballs on a paper towel--lined plate; set aside. Repeat until all meatballs are fried.
Time for the sauce!  Heat the olive oil in a large pan. (You can also use the pan you fried in, just discard the oil and leave any little browned bits in. Scrape them up while the oil heats, they add flavor!) Add onions, and cook on medium heat until onions are softened and translucent. Add garlic and cook till garlic is golden, about 30 seconds-1 minute. Add tomatoes, sugar, basil, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. (Start water boiling for your pasta, and add about 1/2 tsp of salt to the water. Add the pasta whenever the water boils) 

Simmer your sauce gently until it thickens, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I find I generally need very little salt.) Put your meatballs in the sauce, and make sure they're covered.
Stir them in a few times. When your pasta is just barely almost done, drain it and add to the sauce and meatballs. Stir/toss together until the pasta is evenly coated.
Serve with parmesan cheese!
My cheese looks funny because it is very very thin, I grated it with my microplane. Love that little gadget!
You can't tell, (ha!) but there are three beautiful browned meatballs on top of that perfectly coated pasta! These are my favorite meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs are one of those meals that for years, I so much wanted to like, but they always seemed lacking somehow. These, however, are perfect. In my opinion, of course. :)
They're soft, and juicy, and packed with flavor. I know there is bread (filler) in them, and lots of people swear against that, but I can't tell it's bread. It just makes them softer. The buttermilk adds a little tang, the cheesy is all melty, and frying gives them a delicious crust. You may wonder why there is a mix of meats. Well, beef is pretty lean, and gets dry and dense easily. The pork adds fattiness and flavor, which may sound gross, but trust me, you want it there. And if just using the 1/2 pound bothers you, do what I do, and squish the other halves together and freeze it for my next batch! (Or a batch of Vietnamese Egg Rolls)
Of course, there are plenty of ways you could adjust this: you could bake instead of frying them, add some parsley or other herbs, skip the mix of meats if you don't care much, try some veal or sausage...
I don't know about you, but I hate it when my sauce won't stick to my pasta. When all the sauce slides off and puddles on your plate, and you're left with oddly wet noodles. Bleck. That's why I love tossing this all together, the starch from the pasta makes it all stick, so it is perfectly coated. You could always use your own favorite sauce recipe, or even a jar! Just warm it up and toss together! I like making my own. The freshness of the simple sauce is a great contrast to the meaty fried meatballs.
This is how mine usually looks at the end, I like to break the meatballs up to have a bit with each bite. So there you have it! A classic that will never go out of style. I'm about to fall off my chair, so it's time to say I love you ALL, Good Night! (Good afternoon...?...zzzz)

Shared at the Sunday Showcase and Tasty Tuesdays

November 24, 2012

Small and Wonderful Things 9

Hot Cocoa

Christmas lights

Car wash rainbows

Thanksgiving leftovers

Trees of many colors

A comfy, cozy, home stuffed full of warmth and gratitude

Directing music with the conductor in Fantasia

Parking spaces up front!!

Colorado Sunsets

PS: I've had a suggestion that I should just post my Thanksgiving favorites next week, instead of waiting till next November. What do you think? If you'd like to see them, let me know!! You could certainly use them anytime...