Thursday, December 31, 2009

2009 Year In Review

I don't think I got around to doing one of these posts last year, but I have a little time, so I figured it would be a good time to recap the year. Instead of doing a Top 10 posts or something like that, I just want to talk a little about my year and then tell you what recipes from 2009 I've been making over and over again. In any event, Happy New Year from Joe and me! I hope you all have a wonderful 2010 and eat lots of delicious food!

From January through April, I was in school, hard at work but still managed to cook quite a bit. For Lent, I became pescatarian and really enjoyed finding creative ways to eat mostly vegetarian while still keeping my husband happy. By Easter, I think Joe was impressed, though he said he did not want me to do it again this year. In March, we visited Savannah and Atlanta on our Spring Break and had a wonderful time, even though the weather was unseasonably cool.

In May, I started my Clinical Pastoral Education, working as a chaplain for hospice. It was so much more exhausting than normal school work that I rarely cooked anything new. The fortunate thing about the summer was that Joe was finally finished with his intern year of residency, so we were able to travel a bit on the weekends. We especially enjoyed our trip to the Louisville-area to visit friends in July. That was also what sparked the idea for our Bourbon Trail Adventure!

In August, somewhat to our surprise and amazement, we bought a condo and moved. Although I had a much bigger kitchen, school hit me really hard this semester. Our new place is also conveniently close to many restaurants that we wanted to try, which led to a decrease in my experimenting and trying new dishes. For my 25th birthday, we had a marvelous local, sustainable dinner at Delvin Farms. In November, my niece was born, and Joe and I had our Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience (Part 1 and Part 2). After my finals and papers were turned in, my dad and I drove to Austin to visit his granddaughter and my niece. We also ate a lot of Tex-Mex. Then my parents and Joe and I drove to Charlottesville, VA for Christmas to be with my grandparents and other family.

It's been an exciting year. I'm halfway finished with graduate school. We bought our first property. Our cats and parents are healthy. We are so fortunate to be living in a great location in a great city with wonderful friends and vocational opportunities for both of us.

Having a food blog is interesting because it's difficult to tell what I actually make repeatedly, what goes permanently in the kitchen repertoire due to taste, ease of preparation, or, more likely, a combination of the two. So now is the time when I'll tell you what I made in 2009 that I make repeatedly. They aren't necessarily the BEST meals I made, but they are my kitchen staples.

Black Bean Burrito Bake
Soba Salad with Feta and Peas
Tomato Basil Soup
Black Bean Tortilla Casserole
Quinoa Soup with Avocado and Corn
Oatmeal Breakfast Clafoutis
Thai Peanut Turkey Burgers
Roasted Corn and Goat Cheese Quesadillas
Mango-Agave Sorbet
Gnocchi with Summer Vegetables
Ham and Cheese Corn Muffins

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Kale and White Bean Soup

Look at that bowl full of delicious vegetables and hearty greens. You can almost feel the health benefits from that dark green leafy kale. Due to the Southern tradition of eating greens and black-eyed peas on New Year's Day, both items were drastically on sale this week, so I stocked up on two large bags of kale, already washed and chopped for me. That made this soup even easier. Without the sprinkle of cheese on top, it would also be vegan, if you so desire. Despite lacking any strong spice in the recipe, the flavor of all the ingredients balanced nicely. The sweetness of the carrots and acidity of the tomatoes complemented the strong flavor of the greens with the beans adding protein and heft. It also comes together very quickly, making it a perfect weeknight soup.

Kale and White Bean Soup
source: Whole Foods Market

1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
4 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 (32-ounce) box vegetable broth
4 cups packed chopped kale (I tossed in 4 big handfuls.)
1 (14.5-ounce) can Italian-Style Diced Tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced

In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook 2 minutes longer. Add broth, kale, tomatoes, and fresh carrots and cover. Cook 5 minutes or until kale is tender. Add beans and heat thoroughly. Serve hot, garnished with Parmesan cheese or croutons, if you like.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ancho Pork and Hominy Stew

Like many others, I overindulged this holiday season. Add to that an unusually stressful semester at school, which led to some stress-eating during finals, and stepping on the scale yesterday was not a pretty sight. But in the middle of winter, who wants a salad? This is the time of year when I crave thick, hearty stews and regular "diet" food is not going to do it for me.

Yet again, Cooking Light to the rescue. This stew is only 300 calories per serving but is immensely filling and flavorful. I consider a meal a success when Joe asks if he can take the leftovers for lunch. After two bites of this stew, he asked if he could take the leftovers for the next few days! Joe's Christmas present to me was a beautiful red, oval-shaped, 6 qt enameled cast iron Dutch oven, and it was the perfect vessel for this stew. During the searing of the pork, those lovely little brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pot and were scraped into the broth, adding a ton of flavor. I served this with the jalapeno corn bread recommended by Cooking Light, made in my cast iron skillet. Follow the link for additional nutritional information and the cornbread recipe.

Ancho Pork and Hominy Stew
source: Cooking Light December 2009
Yields 6 servings

2 tbsp ancho chile powder (or other high-quality chili powder. I used Penzey's Chile 3000.)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp ground cumin (I halved the cumin because I used regular chili powder.)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/2 cups chopped green bell pepper
1 tbsp minced garlic
2 1/2 cups fat-free less-sodium chicken broth
1 28 oz can hominy, drained
1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained


1. Combine dry spices in a large bowl and set aside 1 1/2 tsp of spice mixture. It will be added in later. Toss the pork pieces with the spices until thoroughly coated.

2. Heat 2 tsp oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, and add pork mixture to pan. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until browned. Remove pork from the pan and set aside.

3. Add remaining 1 tsp oil. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes, stirring, or until tender. Add pork back into the pan, along with the reserved spice mixture. Add broth, hominy, and tomatoes. Bring contents to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer for at least 25 minutes.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cranberry Pork Roast

I feel like I'm really on a pork kick lately. It goes so well with all kinds of fruits, and there are so many different cuts and uses for pork. This roast could even take the place of a beef roast at a holiday meal, especially since the cranberries make it so festive. Of course, I'm a little late for that since I've been out of town. First, my dad and I drove to Austin to visit my brother and my new niece who was born on November 11th. Then we went to Charlottesville, VA for Christmas with my grandparents. LOTS of time in the car and not so much time cooking healthful food. Joe gave me a lovely flame red enameled cast iron Dutch oven for Christmas, and I'm looking forward to using that very shortly!

Cranberry Pork Roast
adapted from: Beantown Baker

1 (2.5-3 lb) pork loin roast or rib roast
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup cranberry juice
1/2 small lemon, thinly sliced


Mix dry spices and cornstarch together. Pat meat dry and rub spice mixture onto all surfaces of the meat. Add to a 4-6 qt slow-cooker.

Add fresh cranberries, sugar, dried cranberries, and garlic. Pour in cranberry juice, and top with lemon slices.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or high for about 4. The longer you cook the meat, the more tender it will be.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cranberry Ginger Muffins

Nothing says winter to me quite like cranberries. Those tart red orbs are a classic flavor this time of year. In graduate school, we read and absorb so much that we joke about how sometimes we don't have an original thought. Even when I think I may have had an original thought, I can usually go back in a book I've read or a lecture I've listened to and find the same idea. The same thing goes for cooking. I'm just honestly not that brilliant of a cook, so when I thought "cranberries and candied ginger in a muffin," I knew someone else had probably had the same thought at some point. So I went searching and found this recipe.

These muffins have some strong flavors going on. With the tartness of the cranberries and spice of the ginger, no one will mistake these for cake. The oats bulk them up. They freeze well and, heated up in the microwave, make the perfect pre-exam breakfast. Or really any kind of breakfast.

Cranberry Ginger Muffins
source: Coconut & Lime


1 1/4 cup flour
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup cranberries
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup chopped uncrystallized candied ginger (I used crystallized candied ginger)
1/3 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg


Preheat oven to 350. Line or grease and flour one 12 well muffin tin. In a large bowl, mix together the oatmeal, egg, oil, milk, and sugar. After it is thoroughly mixed, add in the flour, salt and baking soda. Stir to combine. Fold in the cranberries and ginger chunks. Divide evenly amount 12 muffin wells.

Bake 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the center muffin comes out clean. (Mine took about 25 minutes.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bourbon Ball Martini

What good would my trip to the Bourbon Trail be if I did not present you with fun ways to enjoy bourbon? Many of the distilleries sold bourbon balls in their gift shops, a chocolate covered candy sometimes topped with a pecan. At the Heaven Hill distillery, I purchased a small book called Cooking with Bourbon containing recipes from appetizers to entrees to desserts and, the most important section, cocktails, which is where this recipe came from. As a warning, this makes a rather large martini, so you might want to split it with someone you love. One of the things I like about this drink is that it isn't creamy like so many dessert-y cocktails. The recipe recommends that you garnish with bourbon balls, but chocolate shavings would also be a nice touch.

Bourbon Ball Martinis
source: Cooking with Bourbon

2 oz. bourbon whiskey
2 oz. creme de cocao
1 1/2 oz. hazelnut liqueur (like Frangelico)

Fill a shaker with cracked ice. Combine ingredients, shaking to chill. Strain into a martini glass. Garnish with two bourbon ball chocolates on a skewer.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Crockpot Red Curry Chicken with Butternut Squash

Somebody recently stated that they don't "get" crockpots. What's not to get? With often minimal preparation, the crockpot makes dinner for you, yielding blended flavors and moist, tender meat. This crockpot meal is relatively prep-heavy, even if you skip browning the chicken like I did, so it's better for a weekend meal, or you could prep it the night before and keep it in the refrigerator. Either way, coming home to a delicious, healthy curry makes any day better.

Next time, I would follow Cara's steps instead of trying to make it faster. I definitely missed some flavor, though the texture was deliciously creamy due to the squash. As an alternative to the fat-laden curries that I like from Thai restaurants, this does the trick. I served it on top of jasmine rice that I cooked using the rest of the coconut milk.

Crockpot Red Curry Chicken with Butternut Squash
source: Cara's Cravings

1 medium onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1lb butternut squash, peeled and chopped (or substitute another winter squash)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, about 6oz each
1/2-1 tsp each cinnamon, ginger, and cumin
salt & pepper
2 tsp red curry paste
2 cloves of garlic
1 tbsp fish sauce
juice from 1/2 lime
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp cornstarch
fresh basil or cilantro, for garnish


Place the onions, peppers, and squash in the bottom of the crockpot.

Cut the chicken into small pieces and toss with the cinnamon, ginger, cumin, salt and pepper. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat, and saute the chicken for a few minutes on each side, until browned.

Place the chicken in the crockpot. Combine the curry paste, garlic, fish sauce, lime juice, coconut milk, extract, and broth in a blender and process until smooth. Pour over the chicken and vegetables.

Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Stir cornstarch into 2 tbsp of water until no lumps remain and gently stir into the liquid in the crockpot. Increase heat to high and cook for another 20 minutes to thicken. Garnish with basil or cilantro.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Part 2

Okay, I'm back to tell you about the second half of our trip to the Bourbon Trail. Here's Part One.

We headed off on Tuesday morning to Buffalo Trace Distillery to make their 10 am tour. Our tour guide was absolutely fantastic, very energetic and knowledgeable. The tour started off with a cheesy video and then we learned a little bit about bourbon.

Although we didn't see much of the grounds on the tour, Buffalo Trace has beautiful, sprawling grounds that were just getting decorated for the holidays with lights and such. One of things that tickles me about the distilleries is that they're such an ingrained part of life in the area. Buffalo Trace has an Easter egg hunt, and we passed what looked like a elementary school that was sponsored by Wild Turkey.

Buffalo Trace is the oldest continuously operating distillery. Due to Prohibition, most distilleries closed down, but Buffalo Trace was allowed to continue operating in order to produce medicinal whiskey. On this tour, we did not see any of the distilling process, though they do have a "hard hat" tour by reservation.

They were bottling Blanton's when we were there. Blanton's is not only a very fine whiskey, but the stoppers also have different jockeys on top that spell out B-L-A-N-T-O-N-S if you collect them all. I enjoyed this tour because our tour guide gave us a lot of fun trivia about bourbon and Buffalo Trace in general. A short tasting followed the tour, and Buffalo Trace's gift shop was one of the nicer ones in terms of the sheer variety of things they offered.

Next we followed the turkey tracks to Wild Turkey Distillery.

We arrived shortly before their 12:30 pm tour and took the time to have some hot cider and peruse the gift shop. Our tour guide was, to be blunt, not very entertaining, and I had some difficulty hearing him. We saw quite a bit of the distilling process and machinery, but after the sixth fermentation tank, it isn't as exciting. Until...

we met Jimmy Russell, master distiller of Wild Turkey for 55 years. He's kind of a big deal in the bourbon world but didn't seem to mind taking a bit of time to talk to us. It completely redeemed the tour, especially considering that there is no tasting.

Next up was my absolute favorite tour. Joe and I had debated about going to Woodford Reserve, but we were so glad that we did. On the drive there, we passed several horse farms with large houses set on a gently rolling carpet of green. When we pulled into the distillery, we could hardly believe our eyes: gorgeous white limestone buildings nestled in a valley. This was the only tour that cost anything ($5) but we gladly paid it and warmed up with some bourbon coffee while we waited for our tour to start.

Another video kicked off the tour which was led by a retired science teacher, so he knew how to keep us entertained. He explained the bourbon-making process in a way that I understood things I had heard 6 times before and never quite caught. Woodford Reserve is simply stunningly beautiful, and they triple-distill their whiskey through these gorgeous copper stills.

Interestingly enough, they also heat and cool their warehouses whereas other distilleries rely on nature. They also claim that they are the only distillery that also raises horses, though the horses were off racing. We saw a bit of the bottling process and then headed back up the hill to try some Woodford Reserve (official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby!) which came in a small plastic glass that we could keep. If you could only go on one distillery tour, I would definitely recommend Woodford Reserve or Maker's Mark, depending on which end of the trail you're close to.

The sun was setting so we headed back to Lexington for a few drinks before dinner. We planned on eating at The Dish and parked our car close to the restaurant hoping to find a place close by. After wandering into a bar that didn't seem to welcoming to non-regulars, we walked around the corner to Buddy's Bar and Grill where they had a big sign posted with their Happy Hour specials. With 1/2 off appetizers and $2 premium drafts, we decided to pull up some seats at the bar and join the guys watching the UK basketball game. The bartender was friendly and helpful and let us try the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale before we bought a pint. The Bourbon Barrel Ale is an ale that is aged for up to 6 weeks in used bourbon barrels giving it that sweet oaky taste of bourbon and kicking the ABV up to almost 8%. I wouldn't drink this beer all the time, but it's a neat novelty.

Our dinner at The Dish was quite lovely and was our one "nice" dinner out. I had the Grouper and Butternut Squash Ravioli, but Joe won the ordering contest with his Hazelnut Stuffed Chicken. His came with these caramelized brussel sprouts that were delicious. We drove back to Bardstown stuffed and happy.

We still had one more distillery to go: Heaven Hill Distillery. This one was easy, located right outside historic Bardstown. I am unsure what their tour hours are, but we arrived and were told one would be starting in a few minutes. The Bourbon Heritage Center has all kinds of neat exhibits ranging from trivia to historic stills that were used by pioneers. So if you have to wait for a tour, you can entertain yourself. Heaven Hill suffered a very bad fire in 1996. Like you probably can imagine, whiskey can BURN.

These are Heaven Hill's rickhouses. Their distilling process currently happens in Louisville, but they store the barrels and bottle in Bardstown. We mainly toured the rickhouses and watched a video. The best part of the tour was the tasting. Inside of the Bourbon Heritage Center is a GORGEOUS tasting room shaped like a bourbon barrel. We tried Evan Williams Special Reserve and Elijah Craig 12 yr. I found the Elijah Craig just slightly too oaky for my tastes. I wish we had poked around the exhibits a little bit more as they were very informative and presented well.

On our way out of town, we stopped at Toddy's Liquors in Bardstown, which was recommended by our Tom Moore guide. They had an amazing selection of bourbons, and their prices were at least a few dollars cheaper than at the distilleries. When we bought a bottle of Woodford Reserve, the cashier remarked that they had received some gift sets that day that were the same price as just the bottle and swapped it out.

Our last stop was Jim Beam since we didn't get to see the video or do a tasting the first day. It was on our way back to the interstate so it wasn't too much of a detour. We tasted Red Stag, their cherry-infused bourbon (which I like chilled though it tasted like cough syrup neat) and Basil Hayden's. Jim Beam is MASSIVE, and they don't have a tour set up, so they take you to Booker Noe's old house and show a short video explaining the history of the distillery.

This is me with Booker Noe in front of his house. They are planning on restoring some of the older buildings and developing more of a tour.

My completed Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport! I sent it in and will receive a t-shirt. A few distilleries had the t-shirt on display, and they are surprisingly nice-looking.

I would highly recommend the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for an affordable domestic vacation. There is so much to think about that the distilling process captures: modernization and the need for a consistent product, American history, the effects of Prohibition, etc. In a time where people are concerned about preservatives and eating locally, bourbon is made mostly from corn grown within 100 miles of the distillery, by law cannot have any additives, and uses water from local lakes that is naturally filtered by limestone. The distilling industry also employs American citizens in an area of the country that would be much more impoverished if not for the industry.

Joe and I planned our trip primarily using Bourbon Review magazine, which gave us information about distilleries as well as ideas on where to eat and drink in Lexington. As I've said, if you could do one distillery tour, either Maker's Mark or Woodford Reserve would be a great choice. Unless you're a big Jim Beam or Wild Turkey fan, I could have done without going on those tours if we had been stressed for time. If you have any further questions, please contact me!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cinnamon Ice Cream

I tried to keep things relatively simple for Thanksgiving this year, knowing that Joe and I were going to be out of town up until the day before, so I wouldn't have a lot of time beforehand to prep. Consequently, I was a lot more relaxed than I have been in previous years. So relaxed that I ended up burning the rolls. Oh well! Before we left on our trip, I made this ice cream to go with the standard pumpkin and Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pies. It was the perfect complement. The cinnamon flavor is definitely present but not overbearing, and it made the ice cream slightly more exciting and seasonal than plain vanilla. This is the perfect ice cream with which to top your apple, pecan, pumpkin, or any other variation of fall pie.

Cinnamon Ice Cream
source: Lime in the Coconut (originally from David Leibowitz's The Perfect Scoop)

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
pinch of salt
10 3-in long cinnamon sticks, broken up (I bought mine for a very affordable price at Cost Plus World Market)
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Warm the milk, sugar, salt, cinnamon sticks and 1 cup of the cream in a medium saucepan. Once warm, cover, remove from the heat, and let steep at room temperature for at least one hour.

Rewarm the cinnamon-infused milk mixture. Remove the cinnamon sticks with a slotted spoon and discard. Pour the remaining cup of cream into a bowl and set a strainer on top.

In a separate bowl, whisk together egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrap the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Pour the custard into the strainer set over the cream. Refrigerate until cool.

Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer's directions.