Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Break...and our Tradition of Christmas Fettuccine

Thank you to everyone who commented and encouraged me as I worked through my exams.  I finished my last one this morning, and that noise you just heard was a sigh of relief!  I spent the rest of the day catching up with many of you on Christmas baking and preparing, packaging and Santa-ing, and am truly looking forward to a good post-exams nights sleep tonight.  We'll be South-bound early tomorrow morning!

Since we're so far from our families, we have become creative with our Christmas traditions.  Thankfully, some traditions remain untouched, like the cookies we (two adults) leave for Santa, but there are many more that have been abandoned or modified.  When we first got married, we decided that we would always wake up in our own bed on Christmas morning.  That went out the window as soon as we decided to move 12 (or more) hours away from everyone.  Family is much more important than our "tradition!"  A couple of years ago we decided to start a tradition of Christmas fettuccine (à la The Holiday), on Christmas eve.  Well, I don't think that tradition is going to happen this year, although I am thrilled to be going to my home church for the beautiful candlelight Christmas eve service.  While we will not be eating fettuccine on Christmas eve this year, we celebrated a bit early with the meal so it would not be completely missed. 

This Fettuccine is jam packed with vegetables, making it closer to a Primavera than a simple Alfredo.  This year, we made it extra rich by adding fresh crab.  I thought the crab overwhelmed the dish a little bit, but my husband loved it and deemed it the best yet.  Either way, it is a delicious celebratory dish, worthy of a yearly tradition.

Christmas Fettuccine

 12 oz fresh fettuccine
1 bunch broccoli, stems removed and cut into bite-sized pieces.
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz sliced wild mushrooms
5 oz fresh spinach
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 cup vegetable broth
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon white pepper
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup Parmesan cheese
¼ cup Romano cheese
8 oz fresh crab (optional)
4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fresh minced parsley

Before beginning, prepare all of the ingredients, as things move quickly.

In a large pot with a steamer insert, steam the broccoli for 8 minutes, or until tender. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 2 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until slightly wilted. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for 1 more minute (the flour will clump a bit on the bottom of the pan and vegetables). Add the milk, broth, salt, peppers, and nutmeg, making sure to stir the bottom of the pan well. Cook for 6 more minutes, or until thick, stirring occasionally.

While the sauce is cooking, drain the steamed broccoli and add to the sauce. In the same pot, bring 1 quart of water and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions. Drain and keep warm.

When the sauce has thickened, stir in the cheese and crab (if using) and stir until the cheese has melted. Stir in all but ½ cup of the diced tomatoes. Serve the sauce over the pasta, and top with the remaining diced tomatoes and parsley.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

One Down...Christmas Stollen makes Good Study Food

I just finished the first of four exams!  I am thrilled to say that by this time next week, I will be finished for the semester, and can ponder the season without worrying about how much studying I need to do or what chapters I need to finish reading.  I absolutely love what I am learning; it is life-changing!  I even love how exams bring 12 weeks of classroom material and makes it "stick," in distilled form.  However, the plight of school is the never-ending to-do list that is always rumbling in the back of our minds until that last exam is submitted, and so until these tests are done I'll probably grumble and complain about them.  Thankfully, semesters end and the break ushers in a restful reprieve, and much more appreciation for my professors and their assignments!

As a teacher or student, sometimes it is hard to enjoy the Advent season and to enjoy those festivities which lead up to Christmas day because there is so much to do scholastically with final papers, exam prep, studying, and those pesky exams.  So we take our holiday cheer and make traditions where we can, even during study sessions.  I had some classmates over yesterday for a study session and decided to make a loaf of Christmas stollen for our brunch meeting. 

I'll be honest; stollen is far from traditional Christmas fare for me.  I had never made nor tasted it and none of my study-mates had even heard of it, so I cannot attest to its authenticity.  But that didn't keep us from immensely enjoying the loaf of fruit-studded and marzipan stuffed bread.  And it certainly didn't keep my husband from devouring the few leftover slices, while talking in a pseudo-"German" accent.  Authentic or not, we may have just added a new tradition to our holiday study time!

Christmas Stollen

Adapted from Cooking Light, November 1999

Give yourself plenty of time when making this.  While the hands-on time is relatively short and the work easy, there is a lot of resting time in this recipe (several hours plus an overnight rise, and cooling time after baking).  

3 tablespoons brandy
1 tablespoon cherry juice
1 cup mixed dried cherries, golden raisins, dried cranberries, and currants
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (1 package)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees)
3 1/2 cups flour, divided
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup sliced almonds
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
7 oz. box of marzipan 
1 tablespoon butter, melted
2 tablespoons powdered sugar

In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the brandy, cherry juice, and dried fruit.  Stir and let the fruit marinate for 1 hour. 

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, and warm water.  Let this sit for five minutes, or until bubbly.  Turn the mixer on low and strain the liquid from the fruit into the bowl, then add 1 1/2 cups flour, milk, sugar, butter, salt, and egg.  Increase the mixer to medium-low speed and mix for 2 minutes, until combined.  Add the fruit, almonds, zests, cardamom, and an additional 1 1/2 cups flour and continue to mix for 6 minutes.  With the mixer still on, add up to 1/2 cup of the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl. 

Transfer the dough to a second metal bowl that has been lightly greased.  Turn the dough to coat the top.  Cover with a clean towel and set the dough in a warm, draft free place to rise for two hours.  The dough will not double, but an indentation should remain when you push two fingers into the dough when it is ready.  Punch the dough down and let it rest for five minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a greased baking pan and stretch the dough into a large oval, about 13 x 8 inches.  Cut the marzipan in half length-wise and put the two pieces end-to end in the center of the dough.  Fold the two long sides over the marzipan, seal the ends, and flip the loaf over, reshaping it as needed (it should now be about 12 x 4 inches oval).  Cover with a layer of saran wrap and a towel, and refrigerate overnight. 

In the morning, take the baking pan out and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bake the loaf for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes, then brush with butter and sift powdered sugar over the top of the bread. 

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Window Shopping Gift List and Cherry Almond Granola

When I was young, Christmas seemed to be all about what I would get.  I wouldn't sleep well on Christmas eve because I was dreaming about what might be waiting for me the next day.  Now, I find that I love pouring my energy into what I will give others.  I still don't sleep well on Christmas eve, but my excitement is more over sharing the day with others, and being able to bless them with gifts! 

When it comes to gifts, I'm more of a window shopper.  I love looking at the gift guides, seeing what's new and what's wanted, but I don't do much of the actual purchasing.  Apart from my husband and a few family members, most of my gifting is of the home-crafted kind.  But since I do love window shopping, I wanted to share my "window shopping" gift list with you.  Many of these things I already have and love, and others are on my wish list.  Maybe my little window shopping list will help you fill in those last few gifts that you have been looking for. 

My favorite gifts for the food lover:

Peppermint Hot Chocolate (Williams-Sonoma); Tucker Honey Glazed Pecans; Crate of Clementines

My favorite gifts for the host:

Mug Cozy (Socks and Mittens); Monogrammed Mug (Anthropology); Dorothy Gail Apron (ImaginAprons)
Latte Bowls (Anthropology); Alabama Dish Towel (Catstudio); Provence Platter (Williams-Sonoma)
12 Days of Christmas Napkins (Williams-Sonoma); Cow Creamer (Williams-Sonoma); Bon Appetit, Y'all (Amazon)

My favorite gifts for the chef: 

In case you're like me and prefer to give gifts of the homemade variety, here are a few ideas that go beyond the cookie jar.  I love the combination of Colonial Oatmeal bread with Apple Butter, or a pretty glass container of pimento cheese.  And a bag of granola will always be welcome. 

Cherry Almond Granola

1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup powdered milk
½ cup honey
1/3 cup 100% cherry juice
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon almond extract
5 ½ cups old fashioned oats
¼ cup wheat germ
¼ cup oat bran
½ cup millet
1 ½ cups dried cherries
1 cup slivered almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar, powdered milk, honey, juice, and oil. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the extract.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Pour the sugar mixture over the oats and stir well.

Spread the oatmeal over a large baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, stirring 2-3 times. Reduce the heat to 250 and bake for 20 more minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

In Between Holidays...and My Favorite Apple Crisp

I know we're all Christmas-minded these days, but I just had to post some pictures from our past couple of weeks.  We've been busy! 

I am proud to say that my husband ran the Philadelphia Half-marathon two weeks ago.  He did a great job!

A few days after the race, we had our family in town for Thanksgiving and some vacation time together.  They were so gracious to drive for two days both directions to spend this precious time with us!  For all of their driving, we could at least share a delicious meal with them:

And the turkey!  It was one of the best roast turkeys I have ever had! 

We actually ate that meal on Wednesday, and then packed up to spend Thanksgiving day in New York City.  We enjoyed exploring the city, watching Macy's parade, walking up 5th Avenue and window shopping, wandering through bustling Rockefeller Plaza, and heading back down Broadway through flashy Times Square.  There's just something exciting about New York during the holidays! 

After watching the parade, we ate a lunch of turkey sandwiches, broccoli salad, sweet potato chips, and chocolate dipped pecan bars in Central Park. 

On Friday, we did a quick tour of Philadelphia, including a trip to legendary Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's for cheese steaks, the Rocky Statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the light display accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ at Macy's, and lunch at Reading Terminal Market. 

Last week was full of paper-writing and late night studying, but I won't bore you with the details of that.  I am just happy to say that all of the papers are in, and we just have exams to go!  Everything will be done by next Friday, and we will be homeward bound. 

I haven't quite moved into the Christmas baking and goodies yet; exam time just doesn't allow enough time for everything.  That means that our break time with family, and the food we eat then will be all the more enjoyable (and we can really splurge!)!  If I only get to make one thing this year, I'm hoping to make my favorite gingerbread cookies before the season is out. 

I made this apple crisp long before Thanksgiving, but I think it's a great low-fuss dessert that carries right through the winter.  My husband calls it "apple deliciousness," but I just call it perfectly comforting. 

Apple Crisp

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 stick unsalted butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup flour
1/3 cup rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Stir together the filling ingredients in a small baking dish (8 inch square or equivalent).

In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  Remove from heat and stir in the brown sugar and salt until well combined.  Gently stir in the oatmeal and flour until just incorporated.  Crumble the topping  over the apples. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, 50 to 60 minutes.  Serve with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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