Goodbye 2012, Hello 2013

20121231-190436.jpgThis year has in many ways been the best and worst year of my life. I started it out, newly pregnant and constantly throwing up. It was hell. They say you forget how awful being pregnant is once you have that sweet baby. They lie. Most of this year was physically miserable for me. I spent very little time in the kitchen.

And then I met my sweet girl. And everything changed. As harrowing as those first few weeks were, they led to more joy then I could possibly comprehend. I have a feeling 2013 will be the best year yet. Filled with giggles, first steps, and a million more firsts. I can’t wait for it all. Happy New Years boys and girls. I’ll be toasting to my tiny girl tonight.

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Cookies, granola and jam oh my!

20121228-200640.jpgHolidays for me are filled with food memories. As a child, that is what sticks out the most. My parents big blue cookie tin, that seemed to be filled with unending amounts of chocolate chip cookies. My aunts house smelling like cinnamon and clove, while cider bubbled away on the stove. Oatmeal muffins that my father and grandfather made every year. This is probably why my favorite gifts to give are homemade and edible. Here’s what my holiday gifts looks like this year:

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20121228-200739.jpgChocolate covered cherry cookies.

20121228-200804.jpgIrish creams.

20121228-200820.jpgBrown butter ginger.

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20121228-200901.jpgClementine jam.

20121228-200920.jpgAnd my favorite this year, maple honey granola with cherries and cranberries. Sooooo good. Alas I had even more plans for food gifts, but life got in the way. Somehow I managed to pull off the jam and granola the day before gifts were due. There’s always next year for grandeur. This year was full to the brim with baby.

Maple Honey Granola

1/3cup honey
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup veg oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla
4 cups oats
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1 cup slivered almonds
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small pan heat honey, maple syrup, oil and brown sugar. Once sugar is melted removed from heat and add vanilla. In a large bowl combine oats, cereal, almonds, cinnamon and salt. Pour syrup mixture over granola making sure everything is evenly coated. Spread granola on 2 parchment lined cookie sheets. Bake until golden, approximately 10 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking. Once cooled add dried cherries and cranberries.

Connecticut

I’ve been thinking all week, about how to write a post for you, about something I cooked, and the words just aren’t coming to me. Something has changed in this country since last Friday. Something shifted. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe being a new mother to a child who came dangerously close to death has made me more fragile. Seeing something so brutal and awful happen, it seems to have sort of broken us as a whole. Did things this atrocious always happen in our society and we only now live in a world of instant media to broadcast it? It seems like there’s something wrong, something broken, inside of all of us. I watched the coverage, while my tiny babe slept peacefully next to me, and looked at her beautiful face and lost it. I just kept imagining what it must have felt like to be one of those parents, rushing to that school to pick up your baby, and just waiting… I ache for those people. For the whole town. For our entire society to have to confront what is wrong with us. Because that’s just it. This keeps happening. People keep picking up guns, and murdering people. And there is something wrong with us. With our culture. With our community. Or lack there of. I apologize for this rant. For not talking about chocolatey cookies, or doughy cinnamon rolls. But some things are simply too much to stomach. Simply too hard to stay silent on. I thought about tucking this in a post about Christmas and food, and it just seems so wrong, and disrespectful. So pardon me as I digress. Something needs to change. Somehow, we need to fix our broken country. Begin to care about each other again. Not be so at war with one another. Somehow, we need to try, to breed a climate where are children are safe. And no one, no one, ever has to worry about their child being killed in school.

Pear Tartlets with Spiced Port Reduction

20121212-135428.jpgThese past few months I’ve learned what it means to be a parent. I’ve learned how much more important family is to me then I ever knew possible. I’ve watched my husband turn into the most wonderful father possible. And I’ve seen the amazing process of my own father turning into a grandpa. It really is something quite wonderful. There was a time, when I thought I didn’t want kids, and wondered how my parents would feel about never having grandchildren. Thank god I changed my mind, because these grandparents are loving it.

20121212-135539.jpgThis week was my dads birthday. I knew I wanted to make him something really special this year. He and my mother have been so amazing. They visited us at the hospital almost every single day. For four weeks. And let me tell you, once the terrifying aspect of having your baby in the hospital wears off, it gets really boring, really fast. They took care of our poor dogs when we couldn’t. They brought us food, gifts and hugs.

20121212-135642.jpgNow that we’re home they still come by like crazy. I’ve taken to having them over for dinner weekly as well. I don’t think we will ever be able to repay them for everything they have done for us over the years, but food is my way of starting.

20121212-135825.jpgI got inspired by these tarts. It was the port reduction that did it for me. My dad and I both share a love of port, so this seemed like the perfect place to start. I decided to cook my reduction down even further then the original recipe suggests. Turning it into something thick, dark, moody and syrupy.

20121212-140053.jpgIn my mind, this sauce is what makes this dessert. It has that perfect hint of winter to it, slightly spiced, with richness and depth from the port. I kind of impressed myself with this dessert.

20121212-140220.jpgIt wasn’t difficult, in fact I did most of it while entertaining a baby. I’m fairly certain I narrated the entire cooking process for her. I like this dessert because it seems so elegant, yet it’s beautifully simple. This would be a great way to really wow your dinner guests this holiday season. And you can do it all ahead of time.

p.s. I got a new camera, can you tell? I’m pretty much in love with it.

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Pear Tartlets with Spiced Port Reduction

Makes 6 tartlets

For the crust:

6 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt
1 rounded cup flour

For the filling:

2 large pears, any variety
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cream

1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 vanilla bean

For the spiced port reduction:

1 1/2 cup port wine
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cloves

Directions

1. Preheat oven 410 degrees. In an ovenproof bowl mix butter, vegetable oil, water, sugar and salt. Place in oven and heat for a few minutes until melted and bubbling.

2. Remove from oven and add flour. Mix until dough forms a ball and pulls away from the edges of the bowl. Place dough in tart pans and slowly spread to edges, bring dough up sides as well. Prick bottom of dough several times with a fork. Bake un-filled for approximately 10 minutes until edges just start to brown.

3. While the shells are baking, make the filling. Slice a few thin slices off of the pears to use as garnish. Place slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with sugar. put in the oven, with the oven off, while still warm from making the tart shells. Dice remaining pears. Add to a medium pan, along with water, brown sugar and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat 20-30 minutes until tender. Mash with a potato masher. Push pears through a fine metal sieve to remove skins. Return to heat and cook another 10 minutes. Divide pear purée among tarts. Cool completely.

4. In a small saucepan heat the port, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, until it has reduced by half.

5. In a mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Add the seeds from the vanilla bean and confectioners sugar. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form.

20121212-140459.jpgAlmost like whipped butter.

6. Pipe the cream onto tarts. Arrange your sliced pears on tops of cream. Serve drizzled with spiced port reduction.

Monkey bread

20121204-130813.jpgSo I’m supposed to be frazzled. Sleepless nights, crying jags that never end, irritation with an unhelpful spouse. That’s what being a new mother is all about, right? Somehow, I’m not frazzled, I’m getting more sleep then I ever did while pregnant, and my husband is the most amazing partner and father I could hope for. Truthfully, I am happier then I have ever been before, and wonder how I waited so long to do this. Sometimes I wonder if my expectations are different, if learning to be a mother in the hospital helped, and changed how I look at this. Would it feel this easy, this natural if we had a normal birth and a healthy baby? Does the day to day seem so simple to me only because we started out in such a terrifying place? Or am I just blessed with an easy babe and the mothering gene?

Don’t misunderstand, I still sometimes skip lunch, my house is messier then I prefer to keep it, my cooking and baking are neglected, as are my dogs. But it’s not because I’m worn down. I would rather spend the few nap time hours snuggling this girl then accomplishing tasks most days. She’s growing insanely fast and I want to be as present as possible for every moment.

20121204-132204.jpgThere are those wonderful times in the evening, where even though she’s fussy, my husband takes her and I spend a little time with some butter, sugar and my oven. Last night I decided to make monkey bread. It’s like making cinnamon rolls only much less precise. Balls of dough get coated in buttery cinnamon goodness, lumped together and baked. It’s so quick and easy, and will serve as my breakfast for the remainder of the week.

Monkey bread is perfect in its simplicity. Little nuggets of yeasty dough, meant to be pulled apart and coat your hands with sticky cinnamon sugar. I was too impatient to wait for rising so I used my quick cook pizza dough recipe for the dough. To make these even more magical, allow the dough to rise for 2 hours after mixing, and another hour after assembling the bread. The addition of maple syrup to the butter could also be quite fantastic. I would suggest a quarter cup.

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Monkey Bread

Ingredients

For the dough:

3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup lukewarm water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

For the filling:

4 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter

For the icing:

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk

Directions

1. Make the dough: Combine flour and salt in the bowl of a mixer. Add yeast and sugar to water, let sit for 10 minutes until yeast is foamy. Add vegetable oil. Using a dough hook, pour yeast mixture into flour and beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes. Dough should pull away from the sides and be slightly sticky. Here’s where you decide if you’re impatient and either let the dough rise for 2 hours or begin working with it. With your hands flatten the dough to about a half inch thick. With a serrated knife cut the dough into approximately 1 inch balls.

2. Make the filling: Melt the butter, if you’re adding maple syrup do it here. Combine sugars and cinnamon. Assemble your loafs. I used a mini loaf pan with 8 loafs. You could also use a muffin tin, or a regular loaf pan and just adjust the baking time. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease your pan. Dip the dough nuggets in the butter and then roll them in cinnamon sugar. Divide evenly in pan. Bake for 20 minutes until risen and deep golden.

3. Make the icing: Combine confectioners sugar, vanilla and milk. Drizzle over loaves.