Investing in the Future

Over the years Jeff and I  have made our share of financial mistakes and learned our share of financial lessons.  To quote my friend Andy, for a while Jeff and I were a “financial train wreck.”  But in 2001 we decided to do something about it.  Since then we have paid off all our debt, except our mortgage, and have done what we can to help others either become debt free or start off on a firm financial footing in their marriages.  Neither of us has a formal education in finances; but earning a degree from the School of Hard Knocks sure teaches you A LOT!!!

Today we spent the day with two great couples who will be married in the next few months. We shared our story with them, looked at what the Bible says about handling finances, and hopefully taught them some practical tools for paying off debt and living debt-free.

We also ate well!  You know I love a good opportunity to cook for other people and today provided one!  So yesterday I spent the majority of the day shopping and preparing food.  I was in my element.

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Marriage is Not a 50/50 Proposition – Neither is Brunch!

Breakfast 022013

This morning as I was eating my yummy breakfast parfait, I was mulling over the idea of gratitude and all the things for which I am grateful.  I wish I could say I start every day that way, but if I told you I do it would be a lie.  Not that I am not grateful every day, but most mornings begin with me in a somewhat grumpy mood – especially if you catch me before coffee. I am not a “morning person.”

One of the things that came first to mind this morning when I was thinking about gratitude was that Jeff made breakfast (actually it was more like brunch) for me on Sunday morning. And this act of kindness was completely unexpected!

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Rosemary Olive Oil Cake

The Finished Product w BrushstrokeJeff and I are having some friends over for dinner this evening.  It will be a very casual dinner as I try out some recipes for one of the cooking classes I’ll be teaching at the Kitchen Shoppe in the spring.

I am excited for this new journey and have been learning so much along the way.  Each iteration of a recipe teaches me about the effects of all kinds of things – a change in spices, different cooking times, higher or lower temperatures, fresher ingredients – on the end result.  It has been a fun process and I am thankful for the support of my family and friends – those people who are willing to eat not only the successes, but the failures as well!!!

For dessert tonight, we’ll be having Rosemary Olive Oil Cake.  Some people find the idea of baking with olive oil quite strange; frankly I feel sorry for those folks because they are missing out on some amazing moisture and flavor!

I thought I’d show you the process of making this cake.

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Topic Melange

The last 48 hours feel like a whirlwind…..so I am glad to be sitting down for a minute to write about them!

I spent the evening on Wednesday at the Kitchen Shoppe helping at a hands-on class. And I sure had a great time!  The class, Holiday Pierogies, was composed of 23 students who had various levels of experience making pierogi.  It was so much fun to see groups of friends, grandmother & granddaughter, father & son, etc. working together to make a traditional food. Tracee, the instructor, did a fantastic job of keeping everyone on track and making sure everyone had success.  Not only was it a fun experience for the students; but the bonus for me was that I had a ball as well!

I returned home on Wednesday evening to find a brown box on my front porch – not an unusual sight at this time of year since we do much of our Christmas shopping online.  However, I hadn’t ordered anything that was scheduled to arrive on Wednesday; so the mischievous part of me was anxious to get to the box before Jeff….I know, I probably shouldn’t admit that in writing, but it’s true!  I brought the box inside and it was addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Jeffery Groff….hmmmm…..curiouser and curiouser.  Jeff and I opened the box together and found a beautiful gift tower from Harry & David, but no gift card.  Interesting.  I called Harry & David and they told me who sent it – so now I can set about writing my thank you note.  But let me tell you about this gift – it includes six of Harry & David’s famous pears – including a single one wrapped in gold foil (a H&D tradition); a bag of Milk Chocolate Moose Munch Snack (a decadent mix of chocolate covered and caramel popcorn); a bag of mixed nuts; a box of beautiful chocolates with yummy fillings including milk chocolate, coffee, cherry, dark chocolate, raspberry (my favorite) and almond; and a bag of H&D chocolate cherries.  What a terrific gift for a foodie!!!!

That brings me to yesterday.  I had an extravagantly long lunch with my friend Holly.  She and I haven’t had a chance to spend much time together lately; so it was great to have a few hours (OK, maybe more) to catch up. We met at Sophia’s on Market (you know it’s one of my fav’s), where I ordered the Marinated Roast Beef Sandwich.  Their menu has several sandwiches that I love; but I was definitely in the mood for the one I ordered and I was not disappointed.  I always order the potato salad as a side, although for my taste there is never enough salt on it.  Fortunately, a salt shaker on the table fixes it up and I always enjoy it!!!  Sophia’s has such a warm and inviting atmosphere for spending time with a friend.  It’s cozy, decorated in a funky way with local art on the walls, and the conversation is lively, but not too loud.

After lunch I did some Christmas shopping and got the supplies for a Christmas project on which I am working.  Traffic was heavier than usual, but not the frustrating mess it can be near the holidays.  I hope to have my shopping done before the roads get too crowded!  When I got home I put in a little work on my Christmas project and then worked at my consulting job for several hours.  By the time I got around to eating dinner it was 9:30 – so I had a nice little cheese plate with red grapes. Mmm mmm mmm.

EARLY this morning my brain was spinning out of control – this often happens when I work later in the day, which I did last night.  So I got up and made myself a cup of homemade Chai.  If you’re not familiar with Chai it is a wonderfully soothing, warm spiced tea and milk drink that originated in India.  It was the perfect beverage for some time in God’s Word.  Both the drink and the message from the Bible wrapped around me like a well-worn blanket, soothed my mind and soul, and brought me to a place where I could sink back into bed for another two hours of sleep.

The ingredients I use in the chai I make include: water, milk (whole milk is best but I didn’t have any in the fridge), honey, vanilla paste, loose Darjeeling tea, and a mix of spices.  The photo at right shows the tea and spices, including from front to back: fennel seed, nutmeg, cardamom, black peppercorns, tea, ground ginger (I would have used fresh if I had any), a cinnamon stick and star anise. The spices are steeped in the water for several minutes.  Then the milk, honey, vanilla paste, and tea are added and the whole thing is steeped for about 3 more minutes. After it has steeped to the desired taste, it is strained and then I froth it a bit with a whisk and serve it in a pretty mug. Mmm mmm mmm.

As I said, the Chai and God’s message for me helped me quiet my mind so that I could get a few more hours of sleep.  When I woke up, I made a delicious fritatta with onion, red pepper, a mix of ground beef and ground turkey, cheddar, and parsley.  I made enough for me to have for breakfast and for Jeff to have for dinner.  You see, I will be back at the Kitchen Shoppe tonight by the time he gets home from work and I want him to have a warm dinner on a dreary, rainy day!

 

A New Cookie Recipe

Earlier this week our good friend Ben stopped by to plant a tree in our yard – yes, I told you, he is a good friend and he also owns a landscaping business – and while he was here he said had a question for me.  The question was related to the Apple Cider Caramel recipe I posted in early October.

Ben makes cider and was kind enough to share some with us.  From the cider he shared I made some apple cider caramel for he and his wife to try, which led to his question.  He asked, “Do you think you can make a molasses-type cookie with the caramel you made?”

Never being one to shy away from a challenge, I replied, “I’ll give it a try and let you know.”  So I did.  Today I delivered a batch to Ben and his crew at a job site.  I am awaiting their assessment, but while I wait I thought I’d share the recipe with you.  As soon as I hear back from him, I’ll let you know his thoughts,.  But for now I can tell you that Jeff has not been at all disappointed that I’ve made multiple batches!

I had the caramel already made, so the work was pretty easy.  I’d recommend you make a batch of the caramel and keep it on hand.  It’s good on plain yogurt, great in the appetizer on the home page of the blog, and I also think it would be great on grilled meats or even over vanilla ice cream….there are so many possibilities.

The recipe for the caramel is:

Apple Cider “Caramel”

Meal type Condiment, Dessert
This recipe was a happy accident. I envision it being excellent over vanilla ice cream, perhaps drizzled over a bagel with cream cheese or over oven roasted sweet potato fries. The possibilities are endless!!!! Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Apple Cider
  • 1 pinch Kosher Salt
  • 1 pinch Ground Black Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Brown Sugar (divided)

Note

mmm mmm mmm blog at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. Put cider, salt, pepper and 1 Tbsp of brown sugar in a heavy bottom saucepan, stir well and bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat to medium low (low if you have a particularly hot burner) and reduce to 1 cup.
3. Add the remaining 1 Tbsp of brown sugar, increase heat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and reduce to 1/3 cup.

Now for the cookies…

Melt 3/4 cup of butter and add it to the bowl of an electric mixer.  Add 1 cup of sugar and 1 egg and mix until smooth.

 

 

Add 1/4 cup of apple cider caramel to the butter mixture.  Mix until smooth.

 

 

 

 

Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and ginger.  Blend into the butter mixture.  Cover and chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Using a 2 Tbsp scoop, scoop dough into balls.

Cut each scoop in half and roll between your hands into a ball, working quickly to keep the dough cool. Spread the remaining 1 cup of sugar onto a plate and roll each dough ball into the sugar to completely coat.

Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 8 minutes (time may vary depending on oven), until tops are cracked.  (Photo below taken at approximately 6 minutes into the cooking time).

Cool on wire racks and enjoy!!!!

As I wait for feedback from Ben and his crew, I am mulling over the name for these.  I thought of calling them “Bennies,” but that reminded me of a friend’s dog.  I thought of using Ben’s initials, but then they’d be “BS Cookies” – not too appetizing.  So for now I’ve landed on “Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies.”  Sawgrass is the name of the street Ben and his crew were working on today when I delivered their samples….stay tuned for a name change….let me know if you have any suggestions, particularly you, Ben!!!!

To learn more about Ben’s business, visit http://www.souderlandscaping.com/!

Sawgrass Apple Cider Cookies

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cups butter (melted)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup apple cider caramel
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar (for coating cookies prior to baking)

Note

mmm mmm mmm at www.cookeatentertain.com

Directions

1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, 1 c. sugar, and egg until smooth.
2. Add the apple cider caramel and mix until incorporated.
3. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices and mix into the butter mixture.
4. Cover and chill for 1 hour.
Toasting Pepitas
5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Using a 2 Tbsp. scoop, scoop dough into balls.
7. Cut each dough ball in half.
8. Roll the halved dough into balls and then roll each one in the remaining 1 cup sugar.
9. Place cookies 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.
10. Bake for 8 minutes in the preheated oven (time may vary depending on your oven setting) until tops are cracked.
11. Cook on wire rack.

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/

Noun:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

On Wednesday evening I was in my office paging through a book entitled, The Cake Bible (those of you who read my post What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1 will understand why) when another book on the shelf caught my eye – Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti.  Jeff and I are hosting a dinner party on December 1st; so we’ve been planning the menu and other details.  When I saw Four-Star Desserts, I thought I’d browse through it to see if includes any recipes that would be a welcome addition to the dinner party menu; but what I found was even better than the best dessert for December 1st.

I found a recipe for which I’ve been searching for 5 years or more!  When we still lived in our old house, I made a cake that I really liked and wanted to make it again; but I could not for the life of me remember which cookbook it was from.  And when your cookbook collection numbers over 200, it is difficult to just thumb through them all in search of one recipe.  Every now and again, I am reminded of this cake and I look at a few books hoping to find the recipe – always to no avail and great frustration.  In fact, I’m sure I reach for the same books over and over hoping to be successful in my search. What was that definition of insanity again?

But on Wednesday – when I wasn’t looking for the recipe – it just appeared to me, presented as a gift from the cake gods!  So it must be time to make it again!

This is a great cake to make when you are entertaining people who are watching calories.  Of course, it IS cake; so it isn’t a diet dish.  But it is one of those cakes that you don’t have to say, “just a sliver” when it’s being cut!

The recipe says it can be made several days ahead and stored wrapped in plastic at room temperature, but it was best on the first day.  Fortunately it’s so good I don’t think it will last too long!

Espresso Chocolate Chip Angel Food Cake from Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/3 cup cake flour (sifted)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cup egg whites (about 12 large eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon freshley squeezed lemon joice
  • 3/4 cups chocolate chips (coarsely chopped)

Note

Recipe from the book "Four-Star Desserts" by Emily Luchetti

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together the espresso powder, cake flour, and the salt. Set aside.
3. Put the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase to high speed and slowly pour in the sugar. Continue whipping until the whites are stiff but still shiny, about 3 minutes.
4. Reduce to low speed and add the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Add the reserved flour mixture. When the flour mixture is almost completely incorporated, remove the bowl from the machine and fold in the chocolate chips. Make sure that the chocolate chips are spread throughout the batter and that the flour is evenly mixed into the egg whites. Do not overmix.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and cut through it a few times with a dull knife to break up any air pockets.
6. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Invert the cake on a rack and let it cool upside down in the pan.
7. Unmold the cake and slice it with a serrated knife.

Hint: To prevent the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cake, mix the chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour before adding them to the batter.

If you make this cake, I hope you look back on finding this post as a serendipitous event!!!  Enjoy!

Suppli and Salad

Yesterday was a dreary day, but it gave me a chance to snuggle up with a soft blanket and some favorite cookbooks.  I was looking for inspiration for dinner and feeding my soul at the same time.

I decided I would make Suppli (cheese-stuffed rice croquettes) last night, but God and Kissy had other plans.  We had to take our girl to the emergency vet, where she stayed overnight.  That meant little sleep for us as we waited for updates on her condition.  Apparently, she ate well on vacation too – unfortunately it was from the trash.  She ate some corn cobs, which then got “stuck” in her system.

After talking to the ER vet, we resigned ourselves to the fact that Kissy would either have emergency surgery last night or, best case scenario, they’d be able to stabilize her over night and our regular vet would do the surgery today.  Again, God had other plans.  Many friends prayed for our little Kissy and this morning after we transported her from the emergency vet to our regular vet, we found that our regular vet thought a conservative approach was best.

You see, Kissy’s had a difficult life medically speaking.  We rescued her a little over a year ago and prior to us getting her she had several surgeries – for eye issues, thyroid problems, broken legs, etc.  Because of all these things and because the fluids the ER vet administered over night perked Kissy up, our vet decided surgery would only be a last resort.

They continued to administer fluids, gave Kissy some pain meds and watched her closely today with periodic x-rays to see if/how the corn cobs were “progressing” through her system.  Although Kissy isn’t out of the woods yet, she is at home tonight – with many meds.  We will watch her closely over night and will begin feeding her small meals in the morning and pray she continues to improve.

I know, you’re waiting for me to connect this to comfort food.  Never fear…..After very little sleep last night, much praying (and a little worrying) both last night and today, and an early start this morning to get Kissy from one vet to the other; Jeff and I needed some comfort food.  My mind immediately goes to mac and cheese when I think comfort food, but I thought I’d make the suppli that were on my mind yesterday.  And I’m glad I did.

I adapted a recipe from the food of italy: a journey for food lovers. Making suppli requires first making risotto, which is a mesmerizing process.  The ingredients are quite simple:

Suppli Ingredients 1

3 Tbsp butter
1 small onion, diced
2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cups chicken stock (not pictured), heated in a separate saucepan

AND

Suppli Ingredients 2

2 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
15 mini mozzarella balls (approximately 6 oz. of cheese)
1 1/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs, with 2 Tbsp ground flax seed mixed in
15 small basil leaves

To make the risotto:

  1. Melt butter in a large heavy saucepan.
  2. Add onions and saute 4 – 5 minutes, until translucent.
  3. Add rice and toast for 1 – 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
  4. Add a ladleful of the hot stock and stir constantly until all the stock is absorbed by the rice.  Repeat until all the stock is added and risotto is creamy.  The entire process should take approximately 220 – 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and stir in the parmesan cheese, parsley and eggs – be careful to add the eggs slowly and stir vigorously to avoid scrambling the eggs.
  6. Spread on a half sheet pan and cool completely.

To make the suppli:

  1. Heat enough canola oil in a heavy saucepan to cover the suppli when frying.  Heat oil to approximately 180 degrees F.
  2. Divide the risotto into 15 portions.  With damp hands, take one portion and form it into a ball in your hand.
  3. Make a hole in the ball with your index finger and insert a basil leaf and a mozzarella ball.  Cover the hole with rice so that you end up with an oval with the cheese in the middle.
  4. Roll the suppli in breadcrumbs and place on a platter.  Repeat to form all suppli before frying.
  5. Lower a few suppli gently into the hot oil and cook for approximately four minutes – turning to brown evenly – until golden brown.
  6. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.
  7. Serve hot.

I made a salad to go with the suppli.  I started with a nice spring mix and added grape tomatoes and peppers from the garden, a little feta cheese and a few toasted pepitas. I made a quick vinaigrette, dressed the salad and dinner was ready.

Suppli & Salad

The salad was crisp and refreshing and the suppli were warm and crunchy with creamy, oozy mozzarella seeping out of the center.  Mmm mmm mmmm! Now we’ve got our fingers and paws crossed that Kissy’s breakfast tomorrow morning is as comforting to her as tonight’s dinner was to us!