Wednesday, August 31, 2011

back to the start: cultivate a better world

I fully intend on writing a nice long post to catch you up on my world and to start in on the backlog of photographs and recipes, and I will by the end of the day.  But just to pop in and say I've missed you and I've been writing little posts in my mind for two weeks as life has happened.

So for now, please enjoy this video shared today on facebook by Coldplay (new album out in October, woo-hoo!) featuring a short with a powerful message courtesy of Chipotle and a Willie Nelson cover of "Back to the Start".  Cultivate a better world with me today.

Monday, August 15, 2011

last Sunday dinner together for a while: Farmer's Market Vegetables and Polenta

Well, here we are.  Kelly moves back to Purdue tomorrow and we start our journey to North Carolina to deliver Sara in a week.  Wow.  I'm super shaky on the inside.  A few tears in the corners of my eyes on the outside.  If you know me well, you know this transition is going to be very challenging for me.  I thought I'd never make it when Kelly started at Purdue and here she is a senior and I adjusted to her being gone after about a day when she sent an email full of happiness over her first day on campus.  But, I still had Sara at home.  When we leave Sara at Duke, we will be empty-nesters and the best part of some days might be playing a "game" with my cat.  Super thankful I have yoga, lululemon and a little tennis to keep me part of the tribe.  Never wanted this time to come.  I'll be fine, but know if you don't hear from me for a few days I'm just working it all out.  Cooking for one or two and working on accepting it all gracefully and gratefully.

No point in dwelling on it.  Nothing to be done about it but to take it a day at a time.  Meanwhile, everyone is still home tonight.  One last Sunday dinner for four to fix until sometime around Christmas.  I'll keep this quick and get back to helping Kelly pack her little car and my van.  Sara and I had a bountiful outing at the Broad Ripple Farmer's Market on Saturday.  Kelly did not want to choose something special for her last dinner at home, so I threw together what we had on hand and dinner was delightful.  I had technical difficulties with the grill (grilling once or twice every day really rips through the propane tank), so I heated the oven to 425 degrees (thankfully it was nice and cool this evening) and roasted sliced summer squash and red onions.  I sliced portabello mushrooms and sauteed them in a little olive oil and kosher salt.  When I was just about ready to serve dinner I added some beautiful tomatoes in yellow and pink, a few cloves of garlic and a big bunch or two of basil.

I have a rekindled love of polenta.  I bought a new bag of Bob's Mill polenta/corn grits because I like the coarseness of that brand.  Prepare polenta as directed with water, a little salt and a little olive oil.  I don't add cheese, but you could.  They are very savory with just the salt and olive oil.  Serve the polenta as a base for the vegetables.  Perfect.  Something different than pasta and just as easy.

For the omnivores, Greg grilled some boneless breasts sliced into tender-size, tossed with olive oil and the Tuscan seasoning from Costco.  Greg schlepped over the Wede's propane tank and then schlepped it back.  Nice of him.  He swears I heat the grill too long, but I swear it's the daily grilling.  We will probably disagree on this point until the end of time.

Kelly did request "that good salad"which means a trip out to my herb garden for thyme and rosemary.  First remove the leaves from the herbs and chop them a bit with kosher salt and a few cloves of garlic.  Then add the herbs and garlic to my salad bowl with a few generous grinds of black pepper, a few tablespoons of champagne vinegar (any white or red wine vinegar will work) and a good pour of olive oil.  The ingredients that make the salad "that good salad" besides the fresh herbs are a diced avocado and a good handful of crumbled feta cheese.  Toss it all with some romaine and it is "that good salad".

If you really need me to write these dishes out in "recipe" form, post a comment.  There was no measuring but I can give you a general guideline.  The best way to cook like this is to start with just a bit of salt and pepper (maybe 1/2 a teaspoon) and taste before adding more.  I usually use 3-4 cloves of garlic in my sautees and in my salad dressings.  Just chop it all at the same time and put the minced garlic in a little bowl.  I used four medium portabellos (one per person), one onion, two medium summer squash, two large tomatoes and maybe one cup of very loosely packed basil leaves.  There were no leftovers for four.  Too bad, because they would be great leftovers!

mushrooms, tomatoes, basil and garlic in the saute pan

summer squash and red onion after oven roasting

thyme, rosemary, garlic, salt, pepper, champagne vinegar, olive oil, avocado and feta
all that's missing for "that good salad" is the romaine and the tossing

sauteed and roasted vegetables tossed and in their serving bowl

my plate of polenta and vegetable goodness

Sunday, August 14, 2011

the anniversary post: no cooking :)

Thursday was our 27th wedding anniversary.  Greg was living the dream up at 5:00 a.m. in Baltimore for a day in DC that didn't end until he arrived home actually this morning at 2:40 a.m. (love flying through Atlanta).  Happy Anniversary!
Back at home the girls met me at the movies after my lululemon shift . "Crazy Stupid Love" was fabulous!  I average one or two movie theater visits a year and we picked a good one this time.  One of those cathartic movies that brings tears and smiles sometimes at the same time.  Seeing as how I'm teetering on the edge of tears at any moment as the days until my babies leave home dwindle, I didn't end up too big of a mess.  Good enough to head over to Seasons 52 for a light dinner anyway.

If you've been reading along for a while you know that I spent my birthday at Seasons 52 in an official capacity as a food blogger.  So, logically I spend my anniversary there too.  The staff was fairly amused that I was celebrating my anniversary without my husband, but really who wants to cook on their anniversary?  Truly, dining with my girls is always fun.  Same goes for the husband, but we'll have lots of dinners just the two of us soon enough.

Kelly, me and Sara outside Seasons 52 courtesy of the valet

Kelly and I ordered wine (still a little weird to have my child ordering wine, and funnier too that she loves red which has taken me years to appreciate) and at 6 p.m. on a Thursday our appetizers were on their way in short notice.  Kelly started with an organic baby spinach salad with berries and gorgonzola and I chose a bowl of corn chowder.   I'd been cold all day at work (it's Siberia cold in the fitting room areas at lulu) and the movies so the warm soup was heaven.  The fresh sweet corn was sliced from the cob in sheets so there were nice blocks of corn in the thick base.  Yummy.  Before Sara could completely starve, her pretty Farmer's Market Vegetable Plate arrived along with Kelly's flatbread and my Spicy Chicken Chile Relleno.  Filled with goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and spinach it was warm, spicy hot and cheesy.  I love warm and cheesy.

Of course I had mentioned it being my anniversary so the celebration tower version of mini indulgences was served with a shot glass filled with a lighted candle on top.  When they were first brought to the table Kelly thought to herself Seasons 52 brought them all out gratis for us to enjoy.  Seasons 52 is all about the guest experience, but they did just intend for us each to chose our favorite one.   Kelly picked blueberry cheesecake and I picked the peanut butter/chocolate loveliness.  Sara shared with me and you know it's tempting if she eats dessert.  Fun night.

The best part?  My girls surprised me with two cupcakes carefully chosen from the impressive array at Holy Cow Cupcakes.  Two desserts in one evening.  Truly awesome!   I love my little family.

Kelly's salad with baby spinach, raspberries, pine nuts and gorgonzola

my summer corn chowder

Kelly's flatbread (we shared)

Sara's vegetable plate (low light and one glass of wine=fuzzy pictures)

my chile relleno (note, not fried which is way better)

the celebration tower of mini indulgences

Sunday, August 7, 2011

peach season! peach salsa and peach cobbler with cinnamon chip biscuits


What is your favorite food?  Mine is peach pie.  Not any peach pie, but a pie made from scratch with a very generous amount of peaches.  You have to make the pie crust yourself and good pie crust must have at least some vegetable shortening involved.  At least Crisco is now free of trans fat, I know it freaks people out nutritionally but how often do you bake a pie?  Well, since Crisco is somehow not actually in my pantry that answer is:  not too often and not this weekend.  So with all my beautiful peaches I made salsa and cobbler.   Salsa because we were having Mexican dinner party round two for the extended Rogers family to view Kelly's European adventure slide show.  Cobbler because it is not a bad alternative to pie.  Especially when you had cinnamon chips to the biscuit dough and coarse sugar to top them.  My creative twists to a trusty recipe from Cooking Light.

Both recipes need peeled peaches.  The best way to preserve the most fruit is to bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare your peaches by rinsing them and scoring the non-stem end with an x-shape using a sharp knife.  I make my "x" using cuts about an inch long that just pierce the skin.  As long as you don't score deeply into the fruit you can't really do this wrong.  Drop the peaches carefully into the boiling water (big peaches displace water like a ten-year old doing a good cannonball into a pool, except the peaches splash boiling water which can be painful).  After about 2-3 minutes use a slotted spoon and remove the peaches from the pot into a colander.  Run cold water over the peaches in the colander in your sink.  The skins will slide or slough off with your fingers.  Works like a charm.  Sometimes I get distracted (imagine....) and the peaches are in the boiling water for five minutes.  Still works, you might get ragged peaches or they might be slightly cooked.  When you slice or chop them you won't be able to resist the slightly cooked peach's aroma or taste.  I really love peaches.  

Interesting fact:  peaches are on my list of cross-reactive foods to my grass allergy (they contain grass pollen-related proteins along with  celery, melons, tomatoes and oranges.  Super.  Bananas have ragweed  pollen-realted proteins the same as cantaloupe, zucchini and cucumber.  Since I take allergy medications 365 days a year, I don't really know if I shouldn't eat peaches.  Let's hope not.  That would be very sad.  I can tell you that all smoothies make my throat itch and almost all of them have fruits on my lists.  Just a little sidebar for readers that live on Zyrtec, Claritin or Singulair like me.  Better living through chemistry.  My dad's a pharmacist.  I come by it honestly. 

Alrighty then, we are ready for some recipes and photos.  The peach salsa was outstanding with tortilla chips and grilled chicken tenders with Sweet Mesquite seasoning.  The cobbler was heavenly and I'm looking forward to another bowl this evening.  Too much good food in the summer to pass it by.  Take another lap, play another set or whatever it takes to enjoy all the deliciousness of summer!

Peach Salsa

4 medium peaches, peeled and chopped
one-half sweet red onion, chopped
one jalapeno, seeded and chopped
one-half bunch cilantro, rinsed well, patted/spun dry and chopped fine
two limes, juiced
kosher salt to taste (start with 1/4 tsp)

Combine all ingredients and taste for lime and salt, adjusting as necessary.  Keep chilled if not serving immediately.
peach salsa

Peach Cobbler with Cinnamon Chip Biscuits


8-10 medium or large peaches, peeled and sliced for 6-8 cups of fruit
3/4 C sugar
juice of one lemon


1 C flour
3 T sugar
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 T chilled butter, cut into small pieces
6 T low-fat buttermilk (or 6 T skim milk with 1 tsp lemon juice stirred in to curdle milk a bit)
1/4 C King Arthur cinnamon bits or cinnamon chips
coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Combine peaches with sugar, pie enhancer (love that stuff, but cornstarch is fine if you stir it in to dissolve it with the peach juices) and lemon juice.  Spray a 2 to 3-quart baking dish with cooking spray.  Pour the peach mixture in the dish and bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes to thicken.   
Combine the flour, sugar, soda and salt in a medium bowl.  Cut in the butter using a pastry blender or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Stir in the cinnamon bits/chips and buttermilk until just moistened (too much stirring = tough biscuits).  Now you can either drop the biscuit dough in heaping spoonfuls atop the peaches or turn the dough out onto a floured surface, knead it a couple of times and roll it out to about 1/4 inch thickness before cutting with a biscuit cutter.  Obviously, the drop biscuits are easier and you can see I took the easy way out this time.  If you roll your biscuits or drop them, place them atop the peaches leaving a little room for them to rise.  Sprinkle the biscuit tops with coarse sugar.   Bake the cobbler 18-20 minutes until the biscuits are lightly golden.  Serve warm.  Serve with vanilla ice cream if desired.  

peaches with their little x's in their skin boiling on the stove

peeled and luscious (see, I scored the fruit and it was fine)

sliced and mixed with the filling ingredients

ready to bake just the filling

pastry blender waiting for me to finish working the magic

cinnamon chips

baked filling ready for biscuits

dropped biscuits

 all done, come on over!


Friday, August 5, 2011

fusion night: chicken fajitas and all the good stuff

Summer is waning.  Heavy sigh.  By the end of the month everyone will be back at school.  High time then to cross off the list things we promised to do.  This week we finally made good on our promise to have two of Sara's favorite HiLite (Carmel High School's award-winning student newspaper and website) staffers over for dinner.  David and Andy really wanted to assist in the preparation and since I had a full day at work even I, the original control freak in my family thought a little help might be fun.  

You can't have company, even if they just want to be part of the family for an evening, and not serve dessert so I quickly made a batch of Ghirardelli brownies.  The rest of the meal was Mexican in origin, so I added a half teaspoon of good cinnamon to the batter like Mexican hot chocolate.  I think maybe not so subconsciously, I bake all the time just so I can have a little of the batter.  Brownie batter is way up there on the batter deliciousness scale by the way.  Best part of the brownie experience last night:  Andy asking, "may I" as the brownies cooled right in front of him on the island.  It's always a good evening when you eat dessert first. 

Next up:  chicken fajitas from the grill and pinto beans on the stove.  Fun fact, I posted this recipe after attending the school board meeting where they recognized the HiLite staff for all around general excellence (actually, for some specific awards but really it's just an amazingly accomplished organization).  Greg helped grill the chicken, peppers and onions while the boys lent a hand sauteeing the pinto beans closely supervised by Sara who just loves the pinto beans and is always willing to help if it means dinner is on the table faster.  

And the final dish, my reason for being, the namesake of my blog (this post is my 125th since that post got it all started 16 months ago), the first recipe I ever posted and the reason the boys wanted to come over for dinner: guacamole.  Here's where the participation happened in earnest.  Everyone should learn how to negotiate an avocado.  First you cut them through to the pit from axis to axis.  Then split them open.  I usually pop out the big pit with my fingers, but it's pretty fun to use a good chef's knife and put some umph into it and cleave the pit to pull it out with the knife blade.  Both young men took a turn and no one was injured (most likely it would have been me since I'm fighting a cold and I'm super tired, but even I avoided disaster).  Right, back to avocado prep:  you then need to scoop out the flesh with a spoon, running it along the inside of the skin.  If you're going to be slicing the avocado for a salad slice the halved avocado while it's intact and in the skin and then just scoop it out in one piece and you'll have your slices ready to go.  

I started the guacamole in my serving bowl and it was almost full of chopped onions, tomatoes and cilantro so we mashed the avocados in a separate bowl with a potato masher.  Usually I just blend it all together in a bowl with a fork or my hands.  Just be sure to leave some chunky bits.  Next I demonstrated how to use a lemon juicer to juice the limes and everyone took a turn using some serious muscle to extract all the juice from the limes.  We seasoned the avocados with salt and then folded in all the chopped ingredients.  Folding is a great way to mix something to preserve texture.  We used a nice silicone spatula and lifted the mixture from the bottom.  Then the chips came out for the tasting.  More salt?  More lime?  Quality control is a very important (and delicious) step.  

The chicken and vegetables came off the grill and the tortillas quickly went on for a little warming.  We served sour cream, shredded lettuce, grated Mexican blend cheeses and hot sauce to complete the fajita dinner.  It was a great night!  The whole Rogers family wishes David all the best at Princeton this year and Andy the best of luck with his senior year at CHS and his college admissions.  Some time when Sara's home from Duke, we may need to dine together again.  Especially if they'll help with the dishes.  I really do not enjoy doing dishes.  

Enjoy the photos!

Andy scooping out avocado.  Guest photographer:  my husband!

David cleaving the pit.  Thought about having them sign waivers, but all digits
survived.  Both young men have serious potential to change the world through science and or
medicine and I certainly did not want any negligence on my part to interfere with their potential.

David putting his biceps into lime squeezing.

Andy's turn.

Sara's turn.
Andy expertly mashing the avocados.  He can mash potatoes with chopsticks.
Seriously, what does that look like?  Mad chopstick skills, I'm guessing.
Now you can see why Sara thought this should be titled "fusion night".  

My claim to fame, ably assisted by my dinner guests.

Dinner time!

Yes, they even do dishes!  Completely awesome.  

Monday, August 1, 2011

balance or lack thereof: amazing creme brulee cheesecake

Two weeks ago I was on a roll with posting.  One week ago I was on my bed exhausted.  Still loving the lululemon gig, but we opened the shiny new store last Friday and I worked almost 40 hours that week.  To many people 40 hours on the job is unremarkable.  To me it's kind of a big deal.  Not quite in working girl condition.  I'll build up to the challenge and I won't be working the straight 9 to 5 days we needed to get the store up and running.  A whole new appreciation for working moms.  Kudos to you.  And many thanks to my husband and my daughter who've been home and hungry.  They've run to the store, started dinner and not complained.  The last one makes me the happiest.   

This week looks good on paper, but traveling daughter arrives home from 10-weeks in Europe tomorrow night and has all of 12 days at home before heading to West Lafayette for her senior year at Purdue.  Somehow I think as soon as she gets over some jet-lag, there will be lots to do with her.  My baby moves to Duke in three weeks.  I know the hours unmarked by work and appointments will be filled with lists, shopping, packing and cooking everything they love before I send them off to sorority house and dorm food.  Food is love at my house.  Luckily for me, my family loves my food.   

I tweeted and posted on facebook a picture of the creme brulee cheesecake I whipped up for dinner club last Saturday night to celebrate Lance and Dawn's birthdays (yep, a couple born exactly one week apart and if you ever play Apples to Apples with them you'll re-think astrology because they are eerily on the exact same wavelength).  It would just be mean to post a picture and no recipe so here we go with an amazing dessert from my favorite cooking magazine, Fine Living.  Issue #104 from 2010 had a nice 8- piece feature on cheesecakes.  One of their fabulous base recipes with many suggested variations.  I chose creme brulee for the crowd-pleasing factor, but could easily have made lemon bar, chocolate coffee, cannoli, banana split, creamsicle, Irish cream caramel or chocolate peanut butter cup.  Yum.

A little note, a blow torch comes in handy for brulee-ing/caramelizing the sugar.  I thought of who might have a kitchen torch and the answer was clearly "me", but I do not.  But Tammy's husband, Bob right next door brought over two!  I gave him the honors of operating the blow torch (super scary for me).  We had left-overs so Sunday night Tammy and Bob came over for a little dessert.  

There's not much balance in a dessert like cheesecake.  I can say the balance of creamy goodness and crunchy sugar topping with the buttery crust is pretty amazing.  Here's what Kelly had to say on twitter when she saw my tweet and shared it with her traveling friends in Turkey:  " Robbie: whats that? me: creme brûlée cheesecake Robbie: hows that possible? Jackie: IN HEAVEN Robbie: your mom is a god".  

You won't find this version in Cooking Light.  But when you are getting your dear friends together or celebrating with your family, please don't care about the calories.  Have something amazing and savor every bite!  I might need to make this again for the family party we'll surely have so everyone can see Kelly's Europe pictures before Kelly and Sara are off to school.

look it's me and my cheesecake arriving at dinner club

Creme Brulee Cheesecake

2 C vanilla wafer crumbs (I used Ultimate Vanilla Wafers from Trader Joe's)
3 T sugar
7 T unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Crush vanilla wafers until fine in a ziploc bag with a rolling pin or kitchen mallet or use a food processor (easier and then you can mix in the processor bowl).  Combine with sugar and melted butter until crumbs are evenly moist and start to clump together.  Pat into a 9-inch springform pan evenly across the bottom and two-inches up the sides.  Bake until crust is slightly brown, about 10 minutes.  Let pan cool a bit on a rack and lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees.  

3 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature (I used light/neufchatel cream cheese because that is what I had and it was plenty rich)
1 8-oz.  container mascarpone cheese
2 T flour
1 1/4 C sugar
1 T vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature

In a stand mixer with the paddle blade (or whatever you have), beat the cream cheese, marscapone cheese and flour on medium speed until very smooth and fluffy (about 5 minutes), scraping down sides every minute or so.  Make sure there are no lumps.  Add the sugar and continue beating until well-blended.  Add the vanilla and beat an additional 30 seconds.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating just until blended (overbeating once the eggs are mixed in will make the cheesecake puff too much as it bakes and crack as it cools).  Pour the filling into the crust and smooth the top.  

Bake at 300 degrees until the center jiggles like Jell-O when nudged, 55-60 minutes.  The cheesecake will be slightly puffed around the edges and the center will still look moist.  Set on a rack and cool completely (or cool a bit and carefully place it in your chest freezer because you only have 4 hours to cool it like me), cover and refrigerate until well-chilled (a minimum of 8 hours unless you cheat like me). Sprinkle top evenly with 2-3 T of sugar (I always use Baker's Sugar which is extra fine, but regular granulated sugar is perfectly okay).  Slowly pass a hand-held propane torch (surely the kitchen size is safest, but the industrial one was fun) over the sugar until melted and caramelized.  

Since there were pretty berries that morning at the farmer's market I added a topping to each plate.  Purely optional.  Fresh berries without the macerating in liqueur would be great too.

Topping (optional)
2 C mixed berries
1/4 C creme de cassis (or other berry flavored liqueur)
2 T sugar

Mix all ingredients together to dissolve sugar and chill until serving time.  

ingredients (including optional berry sauce)

crushed vanilla wafers

wafers, butter and sugar 

pressing into springform pan

cheeses and flour getting fluffy

plus sugar, heavenly light

crust ready to go

crust filled with creamy goodness

let the flames begin

Bob and his torch

working some magic on the sugar

almost done