30 November 2010

Gobble gobble mother effer.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for...


It's like an early Christmas present, gift wrapped just for me. Props to Sarah and Mike for spreading the word. And knowing me so well.

On a less foul-mouthed-turkey level, this year I am most thankful for our little family being together. You wouldn't think it, but four months of strictly weekend visitations is hard. Way hard. Now that me and the pooches have our Bradford back full time, we're never letting him go again. Even if he mocks the ThanksKilling.

This year we spent Thanksgiving together, and with special friends. What do special friends require? Treats! The Wednesday before, I spent the afternoon whipping up an apple cheesecake and some pumpkin-spiced gingersnap truffles. Heidi helped.

First up, the cheesecake, for Thanksgiving-night-Rachel's-dad's-taking. I searched for authentic Russian recipes and came across one for a baked apple cheesecake. It was in weird measurements and used ricotta (weird), so I searched for something similar and found this autumn cheesecake. I used 1/3 fat cream cheese, but otherwise I followed the recipe as is. First I made the crust.

Then I made the cake, using three gala apples and three, um, yellow apples (golden delicious?), all from nearby Berrien Springs (home of the weird fake meat).

I'm pretty sure this is my first cheesecake. It was really easy, actually -- the hardest part being knowing when it's done (the recipe gave a 10-minute either-way window for baking. Not helpful!), especially because the apple layer covered the cheesecake layer. I winged it (wung it?) and hoped for the best. And mostly the best it was, although I couldn't get the stupid pan to release and I had to take it as is over to Rachel's dad's house. Not to toot my own horn, but I really liked this and felt comfortable sharing it with my Rachel and her awesome family, who so graciously took us in. I hope this is the first of many visits with the lovely S. family. (And the first of many cheesecakes!)

Next up, truffles. Melting chocolate is fun. And strangely satisfying. Like watching heavy cream turn into whipped cream.

This recipe was also super simple. Mostly just melt chocolate, smash 'snaps, stir together, freeze, roll in 'snaps.

Rollin with the homies.
Voila! Truffles.

It was really that simple. These I served up Friday evening for our latest round of guests, the E. girls and some other dudes and a pooch. It was a full house and we got to utilize all of our spare sleeping quarters (even the office, where Meg got stuck {perhaps my secret plan to keep her close to me!}) for the first time. I love this whole crew and having them all buzzing around always makes me feel like part of the family.

Loving on George.
Doing the poop dance.

Hopefully the truffles showed my love, as, again, horn tooting -- they are amazing! Seriously. Chocolately, creamy, crunchy, snappy... You should definitely make these.

On a final food note, the girls introduced me to Food Dance, a very Roadhouse-type place in Kalamazoo (where we'd traveled for the bride-to-be to try on beautiful dresses). Because it was a special celebration, we ordered up some pomegranate mimosas, which were as delicious as they look.

I can't tell you how exciting it was to see this menu. I didn't look too closely beyond breakfast because I didn't want to get tempted away from (happy!) eggs -- there are NO good breakfast places in town, boo! BUT everything I even just glanced at sounded amazing, and I will have to take Brad back there sometime soon for a nice dinner out. I mean, they serve Zingerman's bread! Come on! They even have a gift shop. I love gift shops. * swoon *

So to sum things up, I am thankful for all the wonderful people in my life (that means you, too, hubby!) who make me feel so loved, even when I'm so (not that) far away. And for cheese. And chocolate. Yum.

22 November 2010

Welcome to the hotel St. Joe.

It's official... There are no disaster area rooms left in the house!! Every room is usable and recognizable for its intended purpose. There are still a ton of details to attend to at some point, but, for the most part, we're content to take our time finishing those up. Consider Hotel Church open for business and ready for more visitors.

We have a lovely spare bedroom with cable tv.

The beach room.

We have a second spare bedroom without cable but with lots of lovely reading materials.

The winter room.

We have an office for, well, officing.

This room needs the most work, mostly because there is no closet and I have nowhere to shove all my stuff.

So we need some cabinets, some shelves, and the like. But we're getting there. Next up, fancifying our master bath.

And, speaking of guests, hugs and kisses to Lisa and Digby for another lovely visit. Shopping, lunching, dinnering, after dinner drinking, and, of course, pooch piles. Oodles of fun as always.

19 November 2010

This food is sneaky.

After last week's field trip to Apple Valley and my subsequent purchase of the disgusting-looking "corned beef," we had to have reubens this week, right?

Looks... "yummy"?

I picked up some regular corned beef for Brad (I'm not that mean!), some Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, 1000 Island dressing, and a few sandwich rolls (I don't do rye... pickles! Yuck.) and got to making our sandwiches. I also whipped up some oven fries, which I'd forgotten how much we love. I toasted the rolls, then heated the full sandwiches in the oven for the last few minutes while the fries were cooking.

Looks like a reuben.

I have to confess... I give this two thumbs up! Seriously. I'm not just saying that to justify the purchase. Does the corned beef taste just like corned beef? No. It even has a fake-bologna-y taste to it. And it's bright pink. BUT I really liked it and it totally quenched the mad-reuben-desire I've been having for months. I will say I was not a huge fan of the Vlassic sauerkraut, though. I like my sauerkraut super sour, and this was just hardly tangy. Otherwise, I'll make this again. And I did -- for lunch the next day. (Brad also enjoyed his reuben with real corned beef [at least, corned beef made out of real meat; I just got cheater lunch meat from the deli]).

Last night I took another risk and snuck anchovies into our dinner. Actually, anchovy paste. I picked that up when we first moved -- had no plans for it, was just so surprised to see it at our little grocery store that I had to have it. Last month's Rachael Ray had a recipe for Sicilian spaghetti with anchovies, and last night I had a craving for some spicy spaghetti. Of course, I didn't mention the anchovies to Brad until he'd already said he liked it!

The recipe called for a ton of stuff I didn't have, so I did what I could with what I had. The sauce I whipped up had: a can of diced tomatoes, probably 6 teaspoons of anchovy paste, a few squirts of tomato paste, two bay leaves, a palmful or so of crushed red pepper, regular pepper, a few sprinkles of salt, probably two palmfuls of dried parsley, a few dashes of veggie broth, and about half a cup of diced onions, which I sauteed first.

I let it simmer for about 20 minutes or so, then I mixed it with some spaghetti. I know noodles all taste the same, but I always forget how happy simple spaghetti noodles make me.

This meal was another success. I was worried I'd over-red-peppered it, but it actually had just the right amount of spice. I'm glad I continued to taste it and adjust while it simmered (same with the anchovy paste). I had no idea what effect the anchovies would have, but that worked out well, too. Mostly just salty with the slightest slightest hint of fishy (in a way that wasn't fishy at all, if that makes sense). Will definitely make this one again, too -- and maybe next time I'll even have all the actual ingredients!

15 November 2010

This house is not for sale.

It's been nearly seven months, but the moving saga ended today. We sold our house. Officially. Papers are signed, money was exchanged -- they can't back out now! It's been quite the learning experience, and, sadly, I have to say I don't know that our faith in real estate will ever be restored. In the end, we came out ok... But if you spent any time with me this past summer, it wasn't easy. So I am popping a virtual bottle of champagne in my head right now, and I hope you'll join me in a toast. To Abigail Way, you were good to us and we made a lot of memories in you... but feel free to break somewhere so you can tick off the stupid buyers who have been royal pains for two months. :)

On to the next chapter....

13 November 2010

Pooches and pumpkins.

The five-year anniversary issue of Rachael Ray came this week, and there was a "staff favorite recipes" article that reintroduced me to cheesecake-filled pumpkin cupcakes. I knew I had to have them. A few days later, I had the perfect excuse: a Rachel visit!

I hate when recipes require this many dishes, but I had a Rachel to feed -- I wasn't backing down!

First I made the cheesecake filling, using fat free cream cheese. In terms of cooking, I don't think I can really taste the difference... Can you? Then I made the pumpkin cupcake batter, substituting applesauce for the oil. Then I layered them.


While they were in the oven, I mixed up some frosting. The frosting in the actual recipe looked like a real pain, so I found a simpler recipe with fewer ingredients. I knew I wasn't going to put much frosting on the cupcakes anyway, so why waste the effort? I made this vanilla icing, but I used real butter, not butter substitute.

I had to add two additional tablespoons of milk to make it creamy, but otherwise, super easy. A little sweet for my personal taste, but no complaints from the peanut gallery.

They cooked a little funny -- they never flattened out any and came out looking much the same as when they went in.

I couldn't serve our special guest untested treats, so Brad and I broke into them last night.

The cheesecake filling wasn't as creamy as I thought it probably would have been. Perhaps I mis-thought, perhaps I overcooked by a minute or two. But the taste was there, and that's what matters, right? Deliciously pumpkiny, deliciously cheesecakey, with a light coat of sugary frosting on top. I felt safe serving them up today when Rachel and Keith stopped by.

The whole gang.
Georgie loves his Auntie Rachel.

What a perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. A million hugs from all of us to Rachel for a lovely visit. We miss you already!

11 November 2010

Beef-flavored chunks.

So you know how in scary movies the grocery stores are all very 1950s, with really bad 1950s muzak, in little teeny towns... and you just know something is lurking around the corner? Well, I had a very Stephen King-type experience today when I ventured to nearby Berrien Springs to check out Apple Valley Natural Foods. In a conversation recently with the clerk at the bookstore, she mentioned that there are a lot of Seventh Day Adventists in Berrien Springs and apparently they don't eat meat, thus their grocery store has lots of vegetarian options. Turns out, the store has quite the history as well (see link above). I'm totally sold, even though I felt a little weird and creepy in the actual store.

The store is actually two stores in one. The main part is a pretty typical, small-town Spartan store (the aforementioned 1950s), but more on that later. First I wandered through the "health food" area, and even though it was freezing and gloomy and also a little 1950s, they have everything. Not that I use a lot of exotic ingredients or grains or flours even really, BUT, should I need anything beyond what my local grocery store has (which isn't much), I am not totally out of luck. In the midst of the awesome, however, was one very strange food aisle... CANNED FAKE MEATS. Very generic looking, with pictures that looked SO GROSS. I actually kept saying "ew!" out loud. Fake steak meat, fake hot dogs... In cans. I mean, I guess ok, that's nice of them to offer (I didn't even know that stuff existed), but seriously, no way in hell.

That being said, over on the regular side of the store, they also had an entire frozen aisle of veggie options, including the expected Boca and Morningstar products. The majority, though, was this Cedar Lake brand of everything, just like the cans. Also not very appealing looking, with really generic-looking packaging. But lo and behold...

This, too, looks so gross, but I MISS REUBENS! So I will try it out. Seriously, though, the options are just pure craziness. They have an online store -- go there and select "vegetarian meats." There are six pages of options. Nuti loaf? Vegan scallops? Swiss steak with gravy? Choplets? Beef-flavored chunks? GROSS! Ha ha ha! I don't want to eat anything simply labeled "chunk." But... A for effort, Apple Valley!

10 November 2010

Snowflakes and sunshines.

This time two weeks ago, I was drinking Cokes and Gingerales in England.

This time last week, we were "enjoying" our first snow at home.

Today, I was walking on the beach in a teeshirt.

Life is weird.

PS. We got curtains! I can't believe what a difference they make in a space. It's like a whole new room. I feel classy now. (And a snowflake pillow. Yeah Christmas!)

07 November 2010

My parents went to London and all I got was this lousy beer.

I have a ton to do, but it's chilly and my spot on the couch is all lit up and sunny and warm... Will just sit for a short spell...

Still more London tales to tell, but quickly I thought I'd share the pooch souvenirs we brought home. We first spotted dog beer at a pub in Manchester, which was voted "Manchester's Most Dog-Friendly Pub." Alas, it was brewed in Holland. Not a true England souvenir. Back in London, however, we discovered a new "dog shop and spa" at Harrods. It is unlike anything we have ever seen before. Designer dog accessories (we saw several-hundred-dollar collars), designer dog clothes (Juicy Couture for pups!), a very posh-looking spa, and even pug puppies (which they claim come from actual breeders). Obviously, we weren't buying a $500 tweed suit for George (tempting!), but we DID find some authentic, England-brewed dog beer. Hilarious.

It's basically water with some beef bouillon and a few random other things, but hey, it says "good for joints." So totally reasonable, right? We waited for the right moment, then introduced our pooches to their first pooch beer. Honestly, we had no idea what to expect. Would they sniff it and walk away, take a sip and be over it? We should know our guys better than that by now. Of course they gobbled it all up in just a few slurps.

Beer. Beer. Beer. Mmmm.

Looks good. (Or not.)

Of course, then Heidi had to go sleep off her bender.

I'm so wasted.

Still at Harrods, we also couldn't resist this little coaster, as anything that reminds us of George and his gigantic ears makes us giggle like crazy. George appears to be a fan as well.

05 November 2010

Stephanie says.

For your reading pleasure, I present the "Stephanie Loves You Best London Food Awards." As always, my opinions are highly scientific, unbiased, and based on much research. he he he jk ;) I like what I like cause I like it, darn it.

No. 5: Anchor and Hope

We grabbed lunch here on our first full day in London, post-St. Paul's Cathedral, pre-Tate Modern. It's on the other side of the river, like Tate, and this was our first time over there. Fun fact: not right here, but on our walking travels on this side of the river, we wandered along the old stomping grounds of lots o' ladies of the night (visiting the Clink Museum, where many of them were imprisoned). I'll admit, when we sat down, I wasn't that thrilled with the menu. There was one fish dish and one full-on veggie dish (boring), and the rest was meat. My eyes went to "shrimp" on the small plates menu, but I wasn't sure what "potted shrimp" meant. I asked the server, and apparently he thought I was crazy to just not know, and his description led me to believe I was getting a mini shrimp cocktail. Imagine my surprise when this appeared before me:

I giggled in delight by my little plate of maggots. ("Maggots, Michael, you're eating maggots. How do they taste?") So, of course, I smooshed them to get a closer look.

I didn't know what the heck I was eating at the time, but Andrew was nice enough to fill me in after the fact. Apparently, this is a very traditional Lancashire dish, made with teeny shrimps from local waters. They are seasoned with mace (nutmeg, I guess) and cooked in LOTS of butter. I still can't believe all of that substance with the shrimp is butter, but who I am to argue with the expert? On their own, the taste was a little overwhelming, but spread on toast, with a slice of cucumber, and with a little lemon squeezed on top? Yum yum! To round out my meal, I also had a salad with cod roe (yum) and a very English-tasting dressing of yogurt and goat's curd (kind of like lemony mayo). Luckily I didn't get the fish -- Brad got it, and it was delicious (if a bit of a chore -- it was a full hunk of fish, not filleted): it came with some very very garlicky spinach. 

No. 4: The Wolseley

On our last full day in London, we decided to get a nice, sit-down breakfast, which, of course, was very exciting for me, as breakfast and brunch are my favorites. This grand old restaurant was in the very posh St. James neighborhood (home of St. James Palace, home [former, perhaps?] of Prince Charles and the boys) and it was just beautiful.

Not my picture.

We'd previously had crumpets in Manchester with Marla and Andrew, and they are our new obsession. SO good. So we ordered some up, with jam (then we ordered up some more for dessert). I got some coffee and Brad some fresh-squeezed orange juice. I nearly broke the cardinal rule and got scrambled eggs (my guts will not tolerate scrambled eggs) because they came with smoked salmon, but the lovely waitress assured me I could get eggs Benedict with smoked salmon instead of ham. My hero.

They allow you to order a small version, which is just one egg, and, honestly, all I really need, if I am to avoid stomach issues (always a consideration on vacation, especially). Now, I've ordered this a handful of times, and while I like it, I've always felt I could do without the hollandaise sauce. This was a whole different story. Without a doubt, hands down, the most delicious breakfast ever. I could have eaten a bowl of this sauce on its own -- I don't know what the difference was, perhaps it was more subtle? Less... something? I don't know, but I never wanted it to end. The smoked salmon was amazing, too -- much better than the salmon I've been getting over here lately (theirs is more salty, mmm). Meanwhile, Brad munched on a very fluffy, very eggy, very Gruyere-y omelet. We both licked our plates. (Ok, maybe not literally.)

No. 3: The Orangery

This was more of an experience than a meal. In a good way -- definitely one of my favorite things we did the whole trip. Traditional high tea, of course! Because we are so fancy like that, you know. Located in the gardens of Kensington Palace, the Orangery is in a garden pavilion built by Queen Anne in 1704.

We both decided to get the "Orange Tea," which is served with a pot of orange tea (deeeelicious, and I've never even been a huge tea fan), a tray of finger sandwiches (Smoked salmon and butter? Cheese and marmalade? Yes, please!), a giant orange scone with jam and butter (SO SOFT and SO delicious; I've been fantasizing about this scone ever since), and two mini desserts (a banana cream tart and an orange tart).

I give two giant thumbs up to high tea. Rather, I give one pinky up!

No. 2: Arbutus

Our first (very sleepy) night in London, very conveniently approximately 20 steps away from our hotel. I started with a prosecco with pear puree.

We weren't going to get a starter, mainly because the one I wanted made Brad make the yuck face. But upon urging from the waiter, that's exactly the starter we got: the squid and mackerel burger. It was basically just a patty of very finely chopped seafood, with a side of razor clams, and it was super duper yummy. Guess who loved it? Brad! I still couldn't get him to try a clam though (wuss). Brad decided on the "bavette" (??) of beef (very much like a roast beef-type cut), which came with some very tasty cheesy potatoes, and I decided on the bouillabaisse. Very tasty, very fishy, and quite the meal "experience."

For dessert, we decided on the chocolate fondant (basically mousse with a crispy top and bottom) and salted caramel ice cream. This was so good I begged Brad to take me back the next night just for dessert (he didn't). Salty caramel ice cream may be my new favorite, too.

No. 1: DUH. Gordon Ramsay's Maze

What a night. We went here the evening of our fifth wedding anniversary, and it was the perfect celebration restaurant. We felt fancy, but it was more trendy and laid back than his better-known, namesake place (we peeked in earlier in the week... it was very "I wear suits and ties everyday!"). Did we really have a choice but to go with the tasting menus? (Imagine my joy to find a vegetarian tasting menu!)

The first course, the soft-cooked duck egg in a foamy broth, might be the most amazing thing I've ever eaten. I'm pretty sure it's my first soft-cooked egg, and I need to figure out how to do this (Brad's first course was the same but with a meaty broth, and he even loved it, too).

The second course was the only disappointment of the evening, a cold potato/artichoke dish. It just tasted super bland to me, and, surprisingly, I didn't like the truffle, either (my first truffle). The third course was also amazing, basically three beet and cheese sandwiches with a wine drizzle. This may sound strange, but something in the cheese or dressing (I think the cheese) tasted like a little zap in your mouth, like licking a battery. But in a good way. The fourth course was a risotto (which Gordon always makes on Hell's Kitchen!), butternut squash with pumpkin seeds. This was exciting for two reasons: it was veggie, so I know they weren't sneaking in chicken broth, and it was SOOO fluffy and delicious. Then a cheese plate, always good. And finally, dessert. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich of sorts. You had me and peanut butter and jelly.

I don't remember what any of this was really, technical terms and whatnot, but it was heaven. The filling is a peanut butter ice cream, and the "sandwich" was some sort of crispy thin cookies. Some jam drizzle. Some cream. Whatevs. It was the perfect way to end a perfect meal. Meanwhile, Brad was ending his meal with a panna cotta with... a mini muffin!

For LZ.

Honorable mention: Wagamama, and I don't normally even like this stuff. But my seafood ramen was to DIE for and even allowed me to try Gordon's famous fish, John Dory. Mmm noodles.

Notable side dish: Mushy peas, and I hate peas! I've never tried these before because, well, I HATE PEAS! But I was feeling adventurous and, guess what? Mushy peas don't even taste like peas! They're made with some sort of broad pea bean thing and they have tons of mint. I ate almost my whole serving.

Drink of choice: Aspall's organic sparkling hard cider. Do I even need to say more?

Peas and cider courtesy of Dog and Duck (aw, pooches).

I hope you've enjoyed this tour of London via my stomach. More London tales to come!