Friday, December 31, 2010

Chocolate Covered Strawberries


Like my pumpkin pie disaster, my chocolate covered strawberries didn't work out very well. I have never used the quick-melt-candy-stuff, you see. I had always used a double-pan with boiling water underneath and chocolate chips melting in the top pan. This time I thought I'd take the easy route, which should always be a red flag.

Everything was going fine. As I was cooking my wild rice soup, I was melting the chocolate. In my opinion, though, it was too thick. It wasn't melting correctly. So, after some time, I decided to add water.

Bad idea.




Not only did it boil over and make a terrible mess, but it clumped up and made it nearly impossible to coat the strawberries.



Though, in the end, I made them work... they're not as pretty as wanted. However, I'm sure they taste fine. Just, to advice you, don't add water. Ever.

Wild Rice Soup


Before I get to the promised famous chili recipe, I thought I'd make something else that's a tradition in my family. Though it is a Christmas Eve tradition, Clark and I are moving it to New Year's Eve this year since we partook in his family's Christmas traditions.

Some people think Wild Rice Soup is a required taste. I have personally always loved it and looked forward to the smell of it filling my nostrils Christmas Eve. I'm not sure how to explain the taste, other than there's a celery-onion-creamy-chicken base filled with wild rice and tastes even better if you add bacon bits when you serve it.

I know. That doesn't help much. If you're up for trying new things, I would suggest making this recipe. It is wonderful to make for company because it's easy to make the recipe larger, but try it on your own first so you can make sure you can gush about it appropriately!

Supplies:

- 1 medium white onion

- 4 stalks of celery

- 1 green pepper

- 3 TBLSP olive oil

- 1/3 C flour

- 8 C of hot water + chicken bouillon (or 8 C of chicken broth)

- 1 bag of Uncle Ben's (or any other brand) Wild Rice Soup (the bag is easy because you can stick it in the microwave to cook it right before you need it. If you get the box or what have you, make sure to have sufficient time to cook it!)

- 1 TBLSP parsley

- 1 tsp black pepper

Directions:

- Chop up the green pepper, onion, and celery. You can either puree these in a food processor with the olive oil to make the soup thicker, or you can chop up the veggies extraordinarily finely.
This time I chopped it up, only because my food processor is broken, but normally I would puree it.

- Sautee your veggies, whichever way you've prepared them, in a deep pot. Cook them for about two to three minutes, then add the flour. Mix this thoroughly until there are no separate clumps.

- Add the water or chicken broth. Cook on Medium to Medium-High heat and mix constantly until it thickens. You do not want the soup to clump.

- Once the mix has come to a slow boil, add the cooked rice. Mix this consistently, then add the pepper and parsley.

- Turn the soup on low, cover it, and let it simmer for around twenty minutes. Make sure to check on it and stir it as many times as possible.

New Year's Eve


It's New Year's Eve. Time to reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. Resolutions are being made, preparations for parties are underway, and even though Christmas was only a week ago, it is considered "so last year."

I have never had a big New Year's Eve since I was younger. For some reason I always got to go to parties with my family then, though I've never been to one now that I'm older. Perhaps it's a good thing. Last year Clark and I spent New Year's Eve on my parents couch in SC. This year we'll be spending it on our own. Though I've always imagined a "When Harry Met Sally" type of New Year's Eve, I am content with spending it at home with chocolate covered strawberries and the amazing husband I have been blessed with.

As people get older, it is important to remember who is most important. As a New Year begins, take time to reflect and be thankful for those in your life and sad for those who have been lost. Look forward to the things to come, and learn from the things that are in the past.

"And here's the hand, my trusty friend, And gives a hand of thine.We'll take a cup of kindness yet, for Auld Lang Syne."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Heading home... finally.

After two days of being snowed in we are finally heading home. Though the roads may not be as clear as they should be for us to travel, I'm not sure it's wise for us to stay another day. We've been here for 2.5 days extra... and it's just time to head home.

I don't know how everybody is, but I'm a person who can only be around certain people for a certain length of time. Meaning, if I'm around a friend, or family, or Clark's family, for over five days or so... I start to get anxious. I have to get to my space with my things and just have a moment to sit back and breathe. That way, I can start up with whomever the next day again.

It's only natural, I think, for people to be this way. Usually if we're with people for an extended period of time we'll find ways to get away: go out to dinner by ourselves (meaning Clark and me), go out with friends, shut ourselves in our designated room for some quiet time-- anything. Unfortunately, most visits are jam packed with family time, especially if you haven't seen them in almost six months.

This visit has been phenomenal. With our extra time we got extra eating-outs with the family, a trip to see The Tourist, and quality time playing Cranium. I'm just ready to be home.

I promise posts of pictures and more when I am finally sitting at my own computer!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

After Christmas Glow

Well, Christmas has come and gone. Wrapping paper has been discarded of, new presents are still the center of attention, and everyone feels as though they've gained five pounds from all the good food and sweets. Now comes the week of going back to work, still trying to spend time with Christmas presents, and attempting to start a diet that's going to crash and burn as soon as New Year's Eve arrives.

Christmas with Clark's family was wonderful. Though it was much busier and not as low-key as I'm used to, it was very satisfying. In the morning we were up by seven opening presents, which took until near ten o'clock. Then we busted butt to prepare the house for all the breakfast guests, and by twelve the count was around seventeen people total (not all family members). Everyone didn't file out until around three in the afternoon, which is when I was finally able to shower. Then the grandparents took naps, the "kids" played with the new XBox 360 Kinect, and everyone prepared to go over to the maternal grandparents house. Then Christmas was done with those grandparents, and everyone returned "home" exhausted, and crashed in bed.

I actually slept until 8:30 this morning, which for me is amazing. While the initial plan had been to leave for our home today, we woke up to a white-post-Christmas. It is pouring snow, if you can use that word with snow, and there has to be at least four to six inches stacked on the ground, roads, cars, and so forth. We've been told it's even worse at our house in the mountains, and therefore we have to delay going home until things are cleared up a bit.

So, this morning, Clark and his little sister Laura are still playing the Kinect, his brother John is trying to decide what to do with all his gift cards, his mom is back in the kitchen, his dad is organizing the post-Christmas mess, and after I write this blog I'm going to be sitting on the couch with a nice cup of tea reading my new book Columbine by Dave Cullen. Hopefully the pleasant aura of the visit continues and no one steps on each other's toes while we're here for an extra day or so. With any luck, we'll be on our way home tomorrow to recover from this trip and prepare for the next!

Hopefully everyone had a fabulous Christmas and is making plans for the New Year. This is the time to reflect and think of what you can do to make 2011 even better than 2010.

Friday, December 24, 2010

After all there's only one more sleep 'til Christmas....

Another Muppet classic from "The Muppet Christmas Carol," Bob Cratchit (played by Kermit) and the "book keepers" close up Scrooge's office and prepare for Christmas Eve and, ultimately, Christmas Day.



Have a wonderful Christmas Eve, everyone. Merry Christmas!

Gingerbread House Love

We are finally in the midst of Clark's family. Though it is very different from hanging out with mine, considering how much larger it is because everyone is in semi-close proximity of everyone, we are having a wonderful time. To start the holiday right, Clark's little sister, Laura, and I took nearly four hours of yesterday putting together an edible house.

I had never in my life made a gingerbread house before. Maybe I can vaguely remember making one in grade school with a milk carton, but other than that I've had no such luck. Every year I try to get Clark to buy a kit that we can put together and bond over, but he's never been too thrilled. This year, showing up to one of the family houses, Laura had the kit ready for us to put together. I was beyond excited.

It took four hours. No, that is no exaggeration. We started around ten, had to let the dough sit in the fridge for an hour, then we had to roll out the dough, cut out the shapes, bake the shapes, decorate it, put it together, and decorate it some more. It was exhausting, but I don't think I've ever had so much fun. It was a thorough bonding experience with my lovely little sister(in-law... whatever).

Now, for those of you who may have children, I would not suggest the kit we had. You had to do everything from scratch: the dough, the frosting, and so forth. It did not come with easy decorating tools or anything to help you with figuring out how to get the dough to stick to the stencils. There was a lot of improvisation, a lot of mistakes, but ultimately a wonderful time. If you have kids, get the pre-made kits that come with more candy and sprinkles and such. If you don't, and you have a good friend and time to spare, then the ones from scratch are the way to do it!

Today is Christmas Eve, and if your day isn't packed with plans then it's the perfect opportunity to take time to spend with your family, friends, or whoever you have in your life that is important to you. Go get a Gingerbread house and see what stories, laughs, and love come from it!

(Pictures to be posted later due to insufficient equipment!)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Chile Chicken


This is an all-time favorite of everybody who I have ever cooked it for. It's the first thing I cooked out of my first cookbook gifted to me by my older sister my senior year of high school. Now, it's the thing that everybody wants whenever I offer to cook. It's what I cooked for Clark's family the first time I cooked for them, and though Clark's younger brother protested that he didn't like chicken dishes, he went back for seconds. It's what I made for Clark when we were first married all on our own, and since then any time I let him request dinner, Chile Chicken it's what he wants. So, that pretty much lets you know just why he wanted it for his birthday dinner.

Though Chile Chicken is extraordinarily easy, there are some unique cooking supplies needed if you aren't usually making Asian dishes. Also, make sure to start the rice (if you're serving it with rice, as I always do) at least twenty minutes before you start cooking the chicken and vegetables. The preparation of cutting up the peppers and chicken is what takes time, so start the rice minutes before you start chopping!

Supplies:

- 1 lb of Chicken breasts cut into "cubes"

- 3 Tbsp Vegetable Oil

- 3 Cloves of Garlic

- 1/2 tsp Ginger

- 1 Egg White

- 2 Tbsp corn starch

- 1 Red Bell Pepper (I don't use the red pepper when I cook it for Clark, as you will see, but for everyone else I do. He's just not a huge fan of red pepper.)

- 1 Yellow Bell Pepper, chopped

- 1 Green Pepper, chopped

- 2 to 3 Chile Peppers, chopped (these are the small red ones, but just about any peppers will do. Last night I used three Serrano peppers which made it spicier)

- 2 Tbsp of Soy Sauce (though I probably end up using around three or four)

- 1 Tbsp of Cooking Sherry (though I always use about 2)

- 2 Tbsp Asian Rice Vinegar (or you can use Red Wine Vinegar, but my husband says the Rice Vinegar makes it taste more authentic)

Directions:

- Cut up the chicken into cubes (as directed) and place them into a medium sized bowl. Add the egg white, corn starch, and 1 tbsp of the vegetable oil. Mix well until all of the chicken is as evenly coated as possible.
*At this point, make sure that your peppers are already chopped up and you've started your rice. If neither of these things have been done, do this before moving onto the next step.

- Heat the rest of the vegetable oil in a Wok over Low to Medium heat. (If you don't have a Wok, you can use a large frying pan. I did this the first few times I made it and it worked just fine. However, if you can settle for a cheap Wok, you can find them at a Target or Walmart for around $20 to $30.) Mince the garlic into the oil and add the ginger. Cook the garlic until it is browned.

- Add the chicken to the wok. Stir fry this until the chicken is browned or cooked all the way through. It really only "browns" as the cookbook says if you use extra cornstarch. If you want this effect, make sure to use extra cornstarch in the beginning!

- Once the chicken is "browned" (or cooked), add the peppers, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and cooking sherry. Stir fry all of this for a good 2 to 3 minutes. Then. turn your oven down to low (it should have been between Low and Medium previously), cover, and let sit for about five minutes, checking on it every minute or so to stir it.

- You can easily keep the chicken on Low or Warm (if you have that option) if your rice is running a little bit behind. I really don't ever serve anything with Chile Chicken other than rice, but I imagine roles and a salad of some kind would go wonderfully!

- Once your rice is done, serve it in bowls or on a plate, depending on if you have other sides, and enjoy this fabulous dish! Be prepared: if your family and friends like Asian cuisine, they'll constantly be asking for Chile Chicken!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Chocolate Coconut Cake


The only other time I've made a cake from scratch is when I contributed to making my Mom's German Chocolate Birthday Cake. Well, this year Clark said he didn't want a funfetti cake, he wanted a "real" chocolate cake. So, I made a REAL chocolate cake. The treat, though, is the icing. Mixing up some Coconut icing to stick in the middle and on top, while wrapping the rest in a normal chocolate frosting, was me making the cake unique.

Cake:

Supplies:

- 2 C Flour

- 1 tsp Baking Soda

- 3/4 tsp Baking Powder

- 1 C Cocoa Powder

- 1 C Butter

- 2 C Sugar

- 3 Eggs

- 1 tblsp Vanilla

- 1 1/2 C Milk

- Wax Paper (If using 9" Round Pans)

Directions (Cake):

- Preheat the oven to 350 Degrees

- Let the butter and eggs sit out to warm up to room temperature.

- While the butter and eggs are "thawing," cut out wax paper to coat the bottom of the 9" pans. If you're using a 9 x 13" pan, don't worry about the wax paper.

- In a medium bowl, mix the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and baking soda. If you have a sifter, this is the best option. If you don't, mix as thoroughly as possible (not with beaters). Set mixture aside.

- In a large bowl, beat the butter for about 30 seconds until soft. Gradually add the sugar. I usually add 1/2 C at a time and mix it afterwards. After you've done this, add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla.

- Add about a third of the cocoa/flour mixture to the butter/sugar mixture. Mix, then add 1/2 C of milk. Do this until you've added all of the cocoa/flour mixture and the milk.

- Pour the batter evenly into each pan. I measured it out to be about 3 C into each pan. I would suggest doing 2 C in each pan each and then add 1/2 C to each pan until it's as even as possible.

- Put the pans in the oven and cook for 30 to 40 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the cake with a tooth pick to see if it's cooked through the middle. If not, continue to cook the cake until it's cooked all the way through.

- Remove from oven and move to a cooling rack. Let cool in the cake pans for about five minutes.

Then, very carefully, flip the cakes from the pans and let them cool on the cooling rack on their own. Make sure to remove the wax paper if it's sticking to the bottom of the cakes.


Icing:

Supplies:

- 1/2 C Butter

- 1 C Powdered Sugar

- 1/4 C Oil

- 4 Tbsp Cocoa Powder

- 6 Tbsp Milk

- 2 C Shredded Coconut

Directions (Icing):

- While the cake is in the oven, take a medium sauce pan and put/mix together the butter, powdered sugar, oil, cocoa powder, and milk. Bring the mixture to a full boil, mixing constantly.


- Keep stirring, and let it boil until it begins to thicken. Stir in the shredded Coconut and keep stirring until it's really thick.

-Let this mixture cool in the fridge for about 30 minutes.


Spread it over the cake while the cake is still semi-warm. I am just putting it in between the two layers and on the very top. For the sides, I'm using a normal chocolate frosting (store bought this time).