Happy and Merry

Christmas this year was like being on a rollercoaster for me this year. The emotions were high, some traditions changed, and I am exhausted from it all.

My father and stepmother are moving to the Adirondacks so this was the last year I was able to celebrate Christmas in the house that I helped build with my very own hands twenty years ago this year. Let alone this emotional ride, my father had to work and wasn’t able to be a part of it. I am so happy for them and the future that they will enjoy, but my heart aches knowing that they won’t be in my hometown anymore. No more walks in the back woods, no more treehouse and bear traps my siblings and I made when we were kids, no more faces on the pine trees, no more squirrels eating the bird food… Yet, smiling ear to ear to make new memories at their house surrounded by beautiful ADK mountains!!

For my mom’s christmas, my youngest brother wasn’t able to come home so we skyped with him as we opened our presents. It was weird not having him there, first time for everything I guess. Being in my mid-twenties I guess I have to get used to all of this… things just aren’t going to be the same anymore.

So, the happiness that I will always have during Christmas time is cooking with my family. SO MUCH COOKING! My mom and I were like little elves making toys, nonstop!

The day after christmas we spent the morning lounging around and then finally went to the grocery store to stock up for our family holiday party the next day. That night we invited my grandmother over for some homemade gnocchi! Check them out…

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I used purple, red, and sweet potatoes – boiled until soft, drained and left on the stovetop to stay warm. Then I mixed in 50:50 white wheat flour. Here’s where things get tricky – there isn’t really a specific amount for this, there more of a science to it – it just has to feel right 🙂

Then I made two different sauces to top the pasta off… a tomato meat sauce made with turkey sausage and roasted red peppers, and a balsamic red wine reduction portobello carmelized onion sauce with cashew cream. Here’s my plate with the mushroom sauce topped off with goat cheese, yum! My mouth is watering right now just thinking about how amazing this tasted!!

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The Saturday morning I cooked cookies, salads, soup, potatoes, and these… Vegan pumpkin cheesecakes!

Gingerbread Crust:

*1/3 cup coconut oil

*1/2 cup sugar

*1/3 maple syrup

*1/4 cup almond milk

*2 cups flour ( I mixed wheat, brown rice & coconut)

*1/2 teaspoon baking soda & 1/2 tsp baking powder

*1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

*1 tsp ground ginger

^Mixed & pressed into mini muffin tins, baked for 6 mins on 350

Cheesecake:

*1 cup cashews

*1 cup water

^blend in vitamix, adding water as needed until creamy consistency

*1 can pumpkin puree

*1 tsp baking soda

*spices – pumpkin pie spice, cinammon, ginger, clove

^I blended these ingridents together in the vitamix and then spooned the mixture out into the muffin tins on top of the gingerbread crusts. Then they were baked for 20 minutes at 300 degrees.

^I cooled them in the fridge for 4 hours and them topped them with coconut whipped cream (full fat coconut cream whipped in the blender) and cinnamon

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My family loved these little cheesecakes and were all so surprised that they were vegan!

Overall, with the high emotions, my christmas was joyful as always. Seeing the family members that I was able to see made it so worth it and I had a blast!

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Staying warm…

We finally got our first real snow fall! It was stressful when it came, thick, heavy, wet snow that piled up quickly and kept coming for two days, but it sure is beautiful on the trees 🙂

During the snow filled, cold week- I spent time inside, reading. I read an article in a magazine about food and the luxuries we’ve all come to expect… decades ago our food came from local farmers and families ate seasonally. There was no such thing as processed foods and sushi in upstate NY. I know that I’m too young to have lived like this, but I find joy in thinking about what it would be like. I would say that my family is quite traditional with their cooking. Processed foods weren’t a huge thing in my household and my mothers always cooked a full meal with meat, potatoes, and vegetables. In the summer time we ate fresh salads and green beans. In the winter time, more soups, stews, and casseroles.

After reading this article and reminiscing of my own childhood and my fictitious past life in the early 1900’s I vowed to myself that I would try my best to eat seasonal local foods for the rest of this winter. So, here’s my first stab at it…

I went to the public market Saturday morning and bought: butternut squash, spaghetti squash, carrots, beets and Asian pears. My fridge is fully stocked with winter wonderful foods. I instantly roasted both of the squashes and my mind wandered about recipes.

Warm Quinoa & Butternut Squash Salad

1 cup red quinoa, cooked

1/2 butternut squash, cubed and roasted with olive oil (@ 425 degrees)

3 beets, cubed and roasted

1 cup brussel sprouts, quartered & roasted

1/2 cup cranberries (roasted)

*I seasoned with pepper and fresh minced garlic and tossed all of the vegetables together with the quinoa. I plan on eating this over salad greens or just alone for lunches this week. A bit of goat cheese on top won’t hurt either 🙂

*This morning I warmed the salad in a frying pan along with two eggs, it was delicious.

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Spaghetti

1 spaghetti squash roasted at 350 degrees for 2 hours

Wegman’s Grandpa’s sauce goes vegetarian

1 head Broccoli, separated

*For dinner tonight I heated the spaghetti squash in a frying pan along with fresh broccoli and my favorite tomato sauce. This heart warming and so very simply dish will keep me happy this week for dinner that’s for sure!

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The other half of butternut squash I roasted whole and I am going to experiment this week with baking some sweet treats with it. Not sure exactly what yet, but if whatever I make turns out good I’ll post it!

Dedicated to…

Ashley! Thanks to my wonderful cousin texting me this past week, I’m back! It’s December… I have two more weeks until Christmas break from school. I’ve gotten into another stump. It’s not rare for me to get seasonal depression. The cold sinks in, walking up and driving the work in the dark and then driving home in the dark, it does something to a girl. Well, to anyone. It’s not like I haven’t been cooking. Heck, I’ve even been taking pictures of what I’ve made, it just hasn’t made it here. So, again, thank you to my cousin Ashley for reminding me that I have people counting on me to blog each week.

Cooking today helped me get back into my routine of things and it helped me forget about the cold, sad weather outside. I woke up, watched CBS Sunday morning, went to the gym, went to tutoring, then came home and cooked and lesson planned. Ah, the sweet joy of routines, makes me feel like myself again! So here’s what we’ve got this week… definitely going to be a crowd pleaser… may want to save these recipes for your holiday festivities!

Brussel Sprout Pomegranate Salad

(Inspiration: my dear friend and colleague… whom brought me a cup of her recipe and a fork in the last five minutes of lunch one day this past week. The two forkfuls I was able to get was heaven on earth and the only food that touched my lips since 6am… so, I may be biased, but this one’s a keeper! Also, please note that in her recipe, she used feta cheese… definitely a great choice, adds a bite of saltiness!)

My recipe…

Salad–

1 pound brussel sprouts (1/2 processed in ninja, 1/2 chopped by hand… gives an added texture to each bite by having the two different cuts, not necessary but delicious)

1/4 cup almonds, chopped

1 small handful pecans, chopped

1 pomegranate

Ginger Jalapeno Dressing–

small piece of fresh ginger, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 tsp toasted sesame oil

*I started with the brussel sprouts, processed and hand shaved and the nuts, mixed together in a bowl

*Then, I said to myself… why the hell am I cooking something with pomegranate? I’ve always loved these things but hate opening and seeding them… so I watched a couple of videos and learned the easiest way ever… took me no more than 5 minutes to get this huge pomegranate open and seeded! Check it out…

1. Cut off the top, similar to how you would do a tomato top

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2. Score the skin (don’t cut too deep) into 8 sections

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3. Gently pull apart into sections

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4. Turn upside down and pull at edges of skin, seeds will just pop out!

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5. Continue to pull and pick at seeds, or use Martha Stewart’s method of beating the bottom of the fruit with a wooden spoon… (yeah, makes sense for Martha huh)

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6. Lastly, put some cold water in the bowl and the extra pieces of skin inside that fell out will rise to the top, simply scoop it out!

Wow! Told ya, super easy! So, then I added the pomegranate seeds to the bowl, mixed, and made my dressing – threw all ingredients listed above into my ninja food processor and drizzled on top of mixture. Mixed with my hands, cause that’s how I am, and bam! The dressing says it all… this dressing is something that comes from an old recipe of mine that it a kale salad and I think it’s even better with this salad! Enjoy! I topped it off with some goat cheese and black pepper for lunch tomorrow – can’t wait!

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Next up, breakfast… It’s been awhile since I’ve made breakfast for the week. I’ve been stuck on eggs or granola and yogurt for weeks. So, I brought back a winner — Quinoa Banana Bake! I made this a lot last year, especially during the winter season , but here’s the recipe again for ya…

1 cup quinoa, cooked (2 cups water, boil, simmer)

2 over-ripened bananas

1/2 cup almond milk

1/3 cup almonds, chopped

cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger

2 tbs maple syrup

*Baked at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes just to let everything meld together. Can’t wait for this tomorrow morning warmed and topped with more almond milk, yum!

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Lastly, I tried to remake one of my mom’s recipes… Mushroom Black Bean Soup. Key word here is “tried”. My stepmom has taught me so much about cooking and yes, I am a better cook because of her, but I will never be better than her and some recipes, I just won’t be able to make as good. Either way, this soup is still a winner and will keep me nice and warm this week when its 20 degrees and starts to snow again. Frankly, I’m looking forward to the snow… better than this dirty muddy grass we have.

Mushroom Black Bean Soup

1 pound black beans, soaked and cooked in pressure cooker (20 minutes)

2 portobello mushrooms, chopped coarsely

2 cups crimini mushrooms, sliced

1 cup carrots, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3/4 cup frozen corn

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced thinly

seasonings: oregano, parsley, sage, thyme, salt, pepper, bay leaves

*All vegetables were sauteed together in vegetable broth

*black beans were cooked in vegetable broth in the pressure cooker for 20 minutes

*sauteed vegetables were added to the pressure cooker and cooked for another 20 minutes

This soup’s flavors are great, its nice and comforting. I think that the flavors could be more bold and melded together better if I slow cooked it… I may put it on the slow cooker for a few hours tomorrow just to see. I remember when my mom made this that it was so cooked down that it stuck to your insides and the garlic and mushroom flavors would burst in every spoonful. Hopefully slow cooking it will help. If you are only using a slow cooker, my mom slow cooked to bean on low overnight and then added the vegetables and let it slow cook for another 3 hours.

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Have a fabulous week, ya’ll. Turn on the Christmas music, light up the tree, and snuggle on the couch with one of these beauties! Enjoy!