Sunday, May 29, 2016

So much delicious food...Weekly recipes

We are getting oh, so close to the end of the school year. It's a busy time. We've been here, there, and everywhere so I've got a smattering of recipes from a few different places.

{Natasha's Kitchen}

I went to an end-of-the-year school party hosted by one of our teacher's beautiful houses.  She had a gorgeous backyard with a big open space where we could all gather.  A small stream trickled through a maze of rocks giving the backyard a great zen sound.  Groovy Girl would have loved the large trampoline set up in the corner of the spacious green space. Inside her sliding glass patio doors we had tables of food to choose from with every kind of dip and desserts galore.  I generally only eat meat at my own house and a few select restaurants (Go local!) so it makes it kind of easy to bypass certain meat-laden dishes and focus on veggies and desserts (my downfall).

One of the salads, created by a kindergarten teacher, was amazing. It's a perfect summer salad made with cucumbers, red onion, tomatoes, cilantro, avocado, and a squeeze of lemon.  The flavor combination was incredible.  I looked it up the next day and am sharing it here with you. I have not made it yet but plan to for an upcoming huge group picnic.  

I also made these brownies for two events; my 6th grade book club party AND a party for a retiring teacher-librarian. They were SO good and easy. So good you wouldn't think they were so easy. I made them before school and frosted them at school.  I'll keep this recipe handy for the next bake sale, picnic party, or kid-event.  They are in no way organic or healthy but my intended eaters were 6th graders and I wanted something they would love for our last party together.

We were out of town for an overnight in Rochester, MN for the Med-City Marathon and we ate at two incredible places.  Right downtown we tried Victoria's and it was a wonderful experience. I had a martini with blue cheese olives and the walleye with vegetables and rice.  The flavors were perfect all mixed together and the vegetables were slightly crisp-just how I like them.  It was such a big portion I had to share a lot with my husband after he finished his veggie pasta.

On our way home today we stopped at the Four Daughters Winery and Vineyard right outside of Stewartville. Wow. Can't believe I've driven past this place for years. It was a lovely day, cloudy with still a good amount of sunshine peeking through and we chose to sit outside on the patio for that reason.  We each ordered a flight of their wine, a good deal at $5 for 5 wines.  My husband ordered white and I the red.  After looking over the menu we decided to order lunch as well. He had the pork pancakes with eggs and I had the guacamole served with chips.  It was all delicious.  I scraped the bowl and ate all the chips. His plate was even cleaner than mine.  The wines were good and overall we prefered three of his whites over any of the reds.

Now I've got to fit in some extra yoga tomorrow after all this delicious food.  Tomorrow we head to a family party and I'm bringing the best margaritas!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Time passing...

Groovy Girl was confirmed yesterday. It was a beautiful service with lots of emotional moments.  Six confirmands-all girls-have had a year of classes filled with interesting discussion.  A few girls-including G.G. were able to take a trip to Nicaragua to deliver shoe boxes filled with school supplies to children.  They've had overnights, a ski trip and a June mission trip to W. Va still to come. Most of the girls have grown up together in the church.

It is still difficult for me to wrap my brain around the fact that my baby is 13, confirmed, will soon take driver's ed, and will be in 9th grade. Crazy. Seriously. She was a miracle baby, born early, but oh, so healthy and rambunctious.  Effervescent as her youth director described her.

To celebrate her and her best pal, Katy, I hosted a brunch for family friends including our minister and his wife. Impressively ALL my dishes turned out amazing.  This does not usually happen for me. I have best intentions but things fail, fall, or just don't work.  This all worked and they were new recipes so if I can do it; you too could make these brunch happy recipes.  Groovy Girl loves breakfast food so brunch was the perfect choice even though it was 1:30 in the afternoon.

{laughing spatula}

I picked two dishes and two side dishes.  This Mexican Breakfast casserole from Laughing Spatula was a perfect main dish and we had toppings galore with sour cream, cilantro, diced tomatoes, chopped avocado, hot peppers, and homemade salsa.  I followed this recipe closely except I added a layer of frozen spinach (almost thawed) to the bottom of the pan. Groovy Girl always orders omelets with spinach so I figured this was a good twist.

I knew I wanted my second dish to be sweet and I browsed through many recipes on line and in my own cookbook cupboard.  Many with apples seemed too Fall-ish and G.G. is not the biggest fruit lover. Watermelon is her favorite and that does not pair well in any baked dish that I know of. She does love bread though and I happened to find just what I was looking for in "Not Your Mother's Casseroles" by Faith Durand.  I've used many recipes from this book but never made this particular one.  I really wanted my daughter to swoon with joy with my brunch choices and this one did it.

Cinnamon Roll Breakfast Bake

9 x 13 pan 
Bake time: 50 minutes

One 12 - to 16 - loaf good quality white bread (Italian or French) with crusts removed, cut in half lengthwise and then into thin slices. {I skipped all this, left the crust on my fat French bread and sliced it into medium slices. I wanted it to be hearty}

For the custard:

5 large {farm fresh} eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
2 T. sugar
1 {big} tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg

For the cinnamon cheese filling: 

8 ozs cream cheese, softened
2 T. unsalted butter, softened
1 large {farm fresh} egg
1 T. cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

More cinnamon for sprinkling.

Preheat the oven to 325*. Lightly grease the baking dish with butter or spray.

Layer half the bread in the baking dish, overlapping and wedging them in tightly so they are in an almost solid layer.

To make the custard, whisk the eggs until fully beaten, then whisk in the milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Pour half of this custard over the bread in the baking dish, letting it settle in and soak the bread thoroughly.  Set aside the rest of the custard.

To make the cream cheese filling, in the bowl of a standing mixer or with a handheld, beat the softened cream cheese with the butter, egg, cinnamon, and sugar.  Beat until very soft and whipped. Spread over the first layer in the baking dish.  Layer the rest of the bread on top {making a sandwich} and then pour the rest of the custard on top.  (At this point the casserole can be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. {Think Christmas morning}

Sprinkle with extra cinnamon. Bake, uncovered, for about 50 minutes, or until it is firmly set. Cool for 15 minutes, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar, and serve.  

I skipped the powdered sugar-it didn't need that extra sweetness.  I did generously douse it with cinnamon though.  Also a few years ago I downsized my kitchen and I only have one 13 X 9 -in pan so I made this breakfast bake in my slow cooker. Perfect!  It worked so well I would do it this way again.  I made the cream cheese filling on Saturday night (after I'd made the Mexican egg dish and it was resting in the refrigerator" and then I layered the bread, custard, and filling into the slow cooker and let it soak for about an hour.  We turned it on low before we left for church and it was piping hot when I returned two hours later.  

We also had a strawberry spring greens salad and grits slow cooked with gouda right before guests were to arrive and strawberries mixed with a sprinkle of sugar just like my grandmother served in the springtime when she said the berries were still a little tart.  My son loves them just that way. My friend brought a dish or squared watermelon and we had glasses of mimosas to clink.  It was lovely and I have not one photograph of the table.  Happy guests though and a happy girl / young lady. Peace be with you.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

The brilliant David Rhodes

David Rhodes (2013)

Sometimes you read the written word and you just get a lovely chill up your spine, a chill of delight. For last month's book club we read David Rhodes for the second time and I was again overwhelmed with his ability to create sentences, paragraphs, and chapters into such beauty.  After reading two of his books I'm now counting myself to be somewhat of an expert.  I have a just a few quotes here to share to entice you to read him as well.

"Nate was rubbing the back of his neck when his Breakfast Pie arrived in a deep blue ceramic dish. Curling blades of steam rose from cracks in the top.  He poked his fork in, pried open a piece of crust and released and eruption of scalding air. ...Freeing a small piece from the dish, he held it in midair, watched steam curl around the fork, and slid it between his teeth. Anticipating the heat, he didn't close his lower jaw until this tongue informed him of an acceptable temperature.  The taste moved into the corners of his mouth and his feature-detectors identified separate flavors; the crust, as he suspected was mostly seasoned bread crumbs and mild white cheddar; the mashed potato base held vegetable and ham, the binding savor owing most of its character to marjoram and thyme." (7)

Beneath the dock, lazy liquid slapped against oak posts, and water bugs skittered madly in and out of rolling shadows. The hoarse croaking of a bullfrog sounded like an ancient door pried open, thick ribbons of iridescent green slime grew underwater, and the smell of moist heat, earth, and damp wood rose into the air.  These sensations dove to the bottom of Kevin's mind, where they were set to work in the mines of his young imagination." (24)

"The giant silver maple at the top of the hill had a trunk nearly as wide as a garage door. He looked up into it and saw massive limbs flowing, outward and upward, supporting an array of branches and stems and a plantation of leaves that quivered audibly in the breeze.  The undersides of the leaves, lighter in color, glittered when the leaves moved.

It was twenty degrees cooler here in the shade, and Nate immediately felt his body relaxing.  He sat down and leaned against the trunk, then looked out across the ocean of cornrows below.  On and on the green plants grew, pulling nutrients from the ground and turning them into corn.

The darkness that had afflicted him earlier evaporated." (81)

"The morning, however, had an altogether different story to tell. After washing in cold water, dressing, making coffee, and carrying a steaming cup of it outside to drink, his surroundings unfolded before him a a way Blake had never experienced before.  The preying vacancy of the night before had been replaced by the silent marvel of dew and plant life shaking off sleep, regrowing the world. A new sun rose in the east, and the beads of moisture hanging from the spokes of his motorcycle burned like blue diamonds.  A chorus of wild fledglings sang about the significance of eating weed seeds, having feathers, and flying wherever they wanted. The air felt alive, and he participated in its vitality with every breath." (233)

Rhodes has an affection for the wild, a connection to nature and good food.  His descriptions simply amaze me and his characters are interestingly flawed.

We read his book Driftless last year as well and this continues many of the same characters and plunges them into another story.  If you are in need of a good book look no further than Driftless and Jewelweed.