December 25, 2009

Christmas reflections

Merry Christmas to one and all. I know it's common to say things like, "I hope we all remember Christ and the meaning of this time of year not just now, but all the year through", and I echo those sentiments. However, it's also good to know that because of what I know and believe, being grateful for my many many blessings comes easier all year. There is something special about this season, though, and this year, it was even more palpable.

Ted and I feel so blessed to be in North Carolina, even if only for a short time. We've often talked about how we've never lived with this much debt hanging over our heads (and it's only going to get worse over the next few years), but at the same time, it helps us communicate and realize all the things we do have and all the things we can really do without. (We used to go without cable, but now that we get it for free, I also have to include that I'm very grateful for the food channel.) This year, our budget was tighter than it's ever been for Christmas, and though I'd like to experience maybe just one year not buying one gift for anyone and instead reveling in the music and togetherness and traditions of the season, I'm a product of Christmas Consumerism, and I have to confess that along with many other things, it does bring joy.

This was Tessa's first Christmas, and though she woke up with her first present - a bad cold - she was the number one reason I enjoyed the day so much. To see a 10-month-old baby perfectly happy with ripping wrapping paper and shoving it in her mouth while looking adorable in a Christmas dress is sheer joy. We tried to think of little things that really would make her happy, so we bought her BIG bottles (she instantly tried to gnaw on the plastic-covered nipples) and wrapped a bow around a banana, and we just laughed at her reactions and thought everything coming out of her mouth was nothing but genius. Several of the presents we gave this year were homemade, and therefore, more personal and special (and, I found out, much more fulfilling than just picking something off a shelf and laying down money for it). Ted and I spent many hours working and talking together about the things we wanted to give to our loved ones, so we came away not only with fun trinkets and games, but a stronger relationship, which is a much better feeling than the stress and hullabaloo that often surrounds this time of year.

I remember being about 7 months pregnant this time last year, and every time we'd sing a carol about the sweet baby boy Jesus, I got teary and tried to blame it on the hormones. The truth was I couldn't wait to hold and swaddle my own little sweet baby, and every day, I feel grateful for that chance. Christmas is about love and giving and celebrating Our Savior coming into the world to give a gift only He could give. In so many ways, I know that gift of His Atonement was for me, and He shows me that mercy by blessing us with a sweet child to love and raise the best we can. We often reserve Christmas for His birth and Easter for remembering His death and Atonement, but I recall one Easter when a friend wore a bowtie to church to honor our Bishop who had recently passed away. Bowties were this Bishop's trademark. I smiled and complimented him on it, knowing why he had donned it that morning, and he grinned right back and said, "I'm celebrating the resurrection." I've never thought of the Atonement and His mission the same way since that day. Every day is a day to celebrate that gift, including Christmas day.

I always find it so interesting that those who claim they're atheist or agnostic have no problem buying up a frenzy of gifts for their friends and family members. What are they celebrating if they claim to not know, care about, or believe in Jesus Christ? Is Christmas just a day for passing expensive baubles around? A chance to get the latest gadget at 10% off? Do they sing carols about angels proclaiming the Savior's birth? Do they have an inkling of what that means? I'm so glad to say that I do. I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I choose to know Him, to sing praises, to commune in prayer with the One who makes it possible for me to learn from my mistakes and improve on them. He makes up for my imperfections, and He deserves my gratitude daily.

Today I was reminded of all the reasons I am a happy person. To be with family, to recount memories, to laugh until your face hurts, to give without expecting anything in return, to bring joy to someone else, to sing your heart out, to remember all your friends who feel just like family - these are the things that make Christmas grand. I hope all of you were able to revel in such joys this season. Let us remember His gifts to us and give of ourselves as much as we can.

Merry Christmas!

December 17, 2009

Yum Day 6

I know I JUST did a post about food, so I wasn't going to do two in a row, except that there were extenuating circumstances. 1. this was too delicious to pass up, and 2. right after I made it, I watched an episode of Iron Chef and my favorite, Chef Bobbly Flay, busted out the SAME DISH to be devoured and judged. Of course, his was fancy and had some raw quail egg or something on top and a few drips of a roasted red pepper sauce (the man loves peppers), but the way he described making it was essentially the same. So here it is:

Risotto with Prosciutto and Peas
or, Bobby's name: Bacon Risotto
Makes 4 good-size servings

4 slices prosciutto
5 cups chicken broth
4 T. butter, divided
1/2 onion, diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio or other short grain rice
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup frozen peas, blanched
fresh ground pepper

Cook up the bacon (or prosciutto, as it were) until crisp. Crumble or chop and set aside. Meanwhile, heat up the chicken broth on the stove or in the microwave until almost boiling.

In a large saute pan, melt butter over med-high heat and add onion and garlic until edges are brown - about 3 minutes. Add rice and toast a few minutes, making sure you stir enough so that it all gets buttery. Mmmm. Once it's toasted, add about 1 1/2 cups of the broth and stir until broth is absorbed. Repeat twice more until rice looks nice and creamy. Taste test to make sure it's not too al dente. If so, add a bit more broth, but 5 cups should do it. Remove from heat.

Add the other 2 T. butter, the parmesan, the peas, and the prosciutto. Stir until parmesan is melted and peas are hot. Serve immediately, and prepare to have your world rocked.

Tonight it was served alongside the Prosciutto-wrapped Tilapia with Sage that I blogged about earlier. Quick splash of lemon juice and olive oil on those bad boys, and my mouth was in flavor heaven. The picture also shows a sweet potato with brown sugar, but my daughter ate all of that, so I can't report on how it tasted. I spawned a piggy.

A quick word on the Iron Chef episode that seriously came on right after I finished making this: the secret ingredient was BACON! I've often wished I could be a judge on that show, but this was the first time I was ready to put a fist through that fat "man who ate everything" judge because he didn't need all those incredible-looking dishes to add to his huge belly. I did. And I know, I know. My anger only stems from jealousy. One day, one day...
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December 14, 2009

Yum Day!

I realized I haven't had one of these "yum day" entries in a long time, and I'm fully convinced I haven't been able to make the food look as good on camera as it tastes in my mouth. So I employed my friend to come over and take pictures with her shmancy camera - and she happily complied (for the small fee of two slices of pie).

So here it is: an Italian Three Cheeseburger with Roasted Rosemary Fries.

Inspiration came from the one and only Bobby Flay, who, since we now have cable, has become as much of an idol as that there Barefoot Contessa. The man is a master, further evidenced to me when I borrowed a cookbook from the library (should have added that to my "Living on a Budget" post) entitled "Burgers, Fries, and Shakes", written by none other than Bobby Flay himself. Well, the man owns a burger joint where he does nothing but, so I thought he knew his stuff.

And boy, does he. He's quite particular how a burger should be cooked, and until I gave it a whirl, I realized I'd been doing it all wrong. Here's a sum-up:

-Patties should start out at about 6 oz - a little more than 1/3 pound
-Make a nice indentation in the center on both sides of each patty - this prevents the "puffing up" in the center
-Salt and pepper both sides of the patty. Don't bother adding egg, bread crumbs, and what not. That's a meatloaf. This is a burger.
-Use a grill pan or outside grill - a little vegetable oil should just start to smoke over med-high to high heat. My stove runs pretty hot, so I keep it at medium high and get a nice little char on both sides.
-Cook about 3 1/2 minutes on each side, adding cheese during the last minute and covering it with a metal pan or lid to steam up and melt the cheese. According to Bobby, it's not a proper burger without melted cheese. Amen, brother.
-DO NOT SQUEEZE THE PATTY WITH YOUR SPATULA WHILE COOKING. If you do, congratulations, you've just cooked one of the world's driest burgers.

Seems simple, but I was making all the mistakes I just told you not to do. I made some burgers a couple weeks ago with tomato and gorgonzola... YUM. And I decided to do it again tonight in honor of Ted finishing one more final (one more to go). So tonight, we took a tastebud trip to Italy. It's much cheaper than actually going there.

I cooked the burger as above using mozzarella, parmesan, and asiago cheeses during the last minute. I then toasted the buns in the oven while the fries were roasting, transferred each patty to its bun, and topped with a slice of cooked prosciutto (Italian bacon - can't go wrong there), caramelized onions, roma tomato slices, and spinach. We THOROUGHLY enjoyed them. And then I spanked my little guido and told him to get upstairs and keep studying so that one day, he can bring home the prosciutto.

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December 13, 2009

Living on a Budget

Lately, I can't just buy something for our sweet morsel just because she looks like the cutest baby on the planet in it. Therefore, living on a budget means keeping your camera in your purse for moments like this in the store. I'm sure I looked like an idiot pulling out my camera while others were pulling out their wallets, but hey. Now I have more money for bacon.

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December 1, 2009

Giving Thanks

It's wonderful to know that no matter where you are, Thanksgiving is pretty awesome. I went to a meeting tonight and we all gabbed about what we did for the holiday. One woman hosted in her home. Another hosted in her home WITH two other families, and every year they pore over past issues of the Bon Appetit magazines to try new recipes to round out their dinner. Three different baked bries, a Clementine and citrus salt rubbed turkey, and streuseled sweet potatoes with a lemon gingersnap cheesecake. Yes, of course I remember all the food. And I wasn't even there. Another woman went to her parents' house for all the usual, another goes out to eat Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant every year with her family, then drive down to visit a local dam and drive back. (And for Christmas, they go to Cabo - EVERY YEAR!! I started considering family restructuring...)

This was the second Thanksgiving I spent in the South. The first was on my mission in Georgia, and I can remember the members who invited us over (I made an apple pie) for dinner, but mostly I remember the Turkey Bowl we played with the ward members that morning. I was new to the area, so it was a little surprising when, during a game of flag football, I lunged for the flags of the 17 yr-old Bishop's son and ended up ripping his pants off. Not just the drawstring coming undone - actually ripping them off his body. It was pretty embarrassing for both of us, and I gained a reputation really fast.

This second Southern Thanksgiving wasn't as naked. Ted's parents flew out from Utah to join us for a week, and during that week, we drove up to Virginia with 3 desserts and a big batch of Apples & Yams (though a couple nights before, we learned from the Food Lover's Companion - thank you, Christy - that they're actually sweet potatoes and that most yams are improperly named). For the fourth time in two months, I made the pie pictured above - Chocolate Butterscotch Pecan. I can't get enough of it. Literally. Every time I make it, it's for some sort of function or party, so I get maybe a sliver or one bite and then pine for more until I make it again. I think I'm sated now, at least for another month.

Ted's aunt put on a huge spread, which is pretty typical of a Thanksgiving "Feast", but everything tasted so GOOD, too! Lemon & Chive Carrots, Garlic & Sour Cream Potatoes, Herbed Turkey with homemade cranberry sauce, Grandma's homemade rolls, Frosted Pecans, Zucchini Bread, Cranberry & Orange Pull-apart, Stuffing, Green Beans, and the Rasmussen special - a Shrimp Cocktail to start things off. In addition to my three desserts, she had made a divine Key Lime Cheesecake and Pumpkin Pie, so once the whipped cream was whip-it-good, we gorged all over on those, including my Apple Cream Cheese Torte and Caramelized Cranberry Tart.

Excuse my drool.

I could make an extremely long list of things I'm thankful for, and it still wouldn't be exhaustive, so I'm going to focus on the six things I've been especially grateful for (and that I've been thinking about at a near-constant rate).

1. I'm grateful for my husband of two and a half years. He cleans up after my messes, all while being as studious and patient as any man could be. Plus, he's a most sweet and wonderful father to #6.
2. I'm grateful that I lucked out in the in-law department. Not all folks can say that (but my husband sure can - and he better.)
3. I'm grateful for Chocolate-covered Peanut Brittle. Yeah, you heard me. Williamsburg hooking me UP.
4. I'm grateful that Christ allows me to screw up and start afresh way more often than I would ever let my own kids. That's why He's perfect and I'm, well, less than.
5. I'm grateful for my mom's unwavering dedication to the greater good. It's hard, it's often a huge sacrifice, but her example is something I've looked to countless times.
6. I'm grateful for this little morsel who I get to hug and slobber over every day. Tessa, you are the frosting to my cupcake, the peanut butter to my chocolate (ha! you thought I was going to say "jelly", didn't you? No comparison), the pride to my joy, and soon, the Merry in my Christmas. I love you, my little pumpkin pie.

The Cooling Rack

Baked goods are only half the story...