Thursday, December 30, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

You did know that it’s still Christmas right? That whole 12 days of Christmas thing just starts on December 25th and goes until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. Since I figured it was my last non-working Christmas, Joe and I convinced my parents to go to Colorado, which wasn’t hard to do because a) they love Colorado and b) my brother took a job in Denver in August. Joe’s sister also lives in the mountains, and we have other family there too. So we celebrated Christmas in Nashville a little early.


Vanderbilt gives the faculty and staff a turkey, so I roasted it according to this method, which has always turned out perfectly. We also had my mom’s cranberries (lower right corner), roasted brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds, and roasted garlic mashed potatoes. For dessert, I served the cranberry swirl cheesecake.

Then we opened presents! This year’s theme was owls and running. I got some nice running gear for the cold weather, and Joe got me this beautiful owl sculpture I had been eyeing at a store in Franklin. Owls are kind of my thing since my college mascot was an owl, and I love that they stand for wisdom. I know they’re becoming kind of trendy right now, but I also have a collection of owl pins that were my grandmother’s so I think they’re very classic.


We spent the actual Christmas Day skiing at Copper Mountain, but we kept Joe’s family’s tradition of Chinese food on Christmas Eve and attended Christmas Eve service at the beautiful Episcopal church in Breckenridge. I hadn’t skied in probably ten years, so it took a few runs to get back into the groove. Once I reminded myself how to do it, I picked up right where I left off. Isn’t muscle memory amazing?

Now, as we look to 2011, it’s traditionally a time to make resolutions or goals for the upcoming year. 2011 is going to be a big year for me. I will graduate with my MDiv degree, likely be ordained to the diaconate, and hopefully find a place to do ministry. I’m wary of making goals for the year that are relevant to my life as a student right now but might not be sustainable once I’m working (hopefully) full-time. Here are a few that I want to accomplish:

  • Keep running consistently and get back into strength-training. I’ve signed up for a half marathon in April, and this one I’m actually going to train for, so ideally it will be a little faster than the one I accidentally ran in September. I fell off the lifting wagon when I started running regularly and then when I hurt my ribs. I feel and look better when I lift regularly, so I’d like to aim for twice a week.
  • Stop eating chickens, turkeys, cows, lambs, pigs, and anything else with legs. I’ve been phasing meat out of my diet for the past few months, and I managed to make this past trip while eating minimal meat, so January 1st is going to be the line in the sand for me.
  • Blog more regularly, which will necessitate cooking at home more consistently. This past semester was hard because I was at work or class frequently until 7 pm. It was too easy to pick up something or throw together an un-blog-worthy meal. I’d like to aim for an average of 3x a week.

What are your goals or resolutions for the new year? Do you make resolutions?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake

The day after I turned in my final papers, I jetted off to Philadelphia with my parents for my uncle’s memorial service. Coincidentally, Vivek, another Nashville food blogger, also happened to be on the same flight. The security line at the Nashville airport was so long that he almost missed the plane, and we barely had enough time to grab the necessary Starbucks before bundling into our seats.

The next day was the memorial service, and I had agreed to sing. Yet again, it’s a small world I live in, and the priest at my aunt’s church, where the service was held, is the mother-in-law of the son of the priest I have been working with at the Cathedral. The church was beautiful, and it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s also a bit difficult to get to. When they chose the location in the 18th century, they probably weren’t considering where future highways and major thoroughfares might be. The service was very nice. I know I’m a little biased, but I think the Episcopal burial service is just stunning. Here’s my grandmother and me:


After the service, my parents and I went for a run on the trail near my aunt’s house. Never could I have imagined the day when I would go for a run with my parents and be the fastest one, but my mom is injured and doing low heart rate training and my dad is just getting back on the running wagon after his cycling season. I ran 6 miles in 59:30, which was definitely pushing it. Then we stopped by Wawa and on to Wegman’s, where my dad and I found these:


Giant bottles of Belgian beer! Too bad we couldn’t take them home. Joe would’ve loved a giant bottle of Chimay blue for Christmas. On our way back to Nashville, we saw Santa in the Southwest terminal and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to ask Santa for a few more presents. I also learned some fun photo tricks on Windows Live Photo Gallery.


I agreed to host Christmas dinner on Sunday night since we’ll be in Colorado on the 25th and because Joe gets a turkey from work every year. This is the first year we actually made the turkey for Christmas rather than waiting until Easter. So Saturday night, while Joe was on-call, I got to work making this Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake that was on the front of Cooking Light. I love the red and white combination because it’s so festive, but I’m not a big fan of peppermint or candy canes. And normally I would poo-poo a “light” cheesecake, but this one was delicious. It had a wonderfully light texture but was still creamy and rich. The cranberry swirl and the chocolate crust combination took it from plain to something special and was the perfect treat to dig into after we had finished opening all of our gifts. I found there was a little too much cranberry sauce to make the prettiest swirl, so don’t feel bad if you don’t use all of the topping.


Cranberry Swirl Cheesecake
source: Cooking Light December 2010


  • 4  ounces  chocolate graham crackers
  • 3  tablespoons  canola oil
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2  cups  fresh cranberries
  • 1/2  cup  sugar
  • 1/4  cup  Chambord (raspberry liqueur) (I subbed pomegranate liqueur that I had on hand)
  • 3  tablespoons  water
  • 1  cup  sugar
  • 2  (8-ounce) packages block-style 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2  cup  (4 ounces) block-style fat-free cream cheese, softened
  • 1  cup  plain fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 2  teaspoons  vanilla extract
  • 1/8  teaspoon  salt
  • 3  large eggs
  • 2  large egg whites


Preheat oven to 375° and wrap outside and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan tightly with a double layer of heavy-duty foil.

Place graham crackers in a food processor, and process until finely ground. Drizzle with oil; pulse until combined. Press mixture into bottom and 1/2 inch up sides of prepared pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 8 minutes; cool on a rack.

Reduce oven temperature to 325°.

Place cranberries, sugar, liqueur, and water in a saucepan; boil. Cook 8 minutes or until cranberries pop and mixture is syrupy. Set aside until cool. Place mixture in a food processor; process 1 minute or until smooth.

Combine 1 cup sugar and cheeses in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until smooth. Beat in yogurt, vanilla, and salt. Add whole eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Place egg whites in a medium bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form using clean, dry beaters. Fold beaten egg whites into cream cheese mixture. Pour filling over crust. Spoon cranberry mixture over filling; swirl together using the tip of a knife. Place springform pan in a roasting pan, and add hot water to pan to a depth of 2 inches. Bake at 325° for 50 minutes or until center of cheesecake barely moves when pan is touched.

Turn oven off. Cool cheesecake in closed oven 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven. Run a knife around outside edge. Cool on a wire rack. Cover and chill 8 hours.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies

Here is how a typical fall semester ends at the Divinity School: We have our last day of classes in early December, which is the last time that we’re guaranteed of having face time with one another. Then we immediately fall into a panic, writing final papers and studying for exams. We might see our friends in the library and nod hello, but there’s no time to stop and chat. We trade updates on our papers and stress-induced panic on Facebook and Twitter until said papers are due. Then, most people immediately leave town to go home where, inevitably, they collapse on their parents’ couch and watch bad television until sufficiently recuperated.

The problem with this is that there’s no time for decompression, no time to celebrate either the end of the semester or the birth of Christ. So I invited a few girlfriends over when most of us were finished with our semester for a small dinner and cookie exchange for this exact reason. I put on Christmas music, and my friends came over with sweets to munch on and wine to drink. It’s safe to say that we all needed that time to vent, whine, and moan and then to laugh and celebrate the completion of another semester of graduate school.

I made these cookies for our little get-together as well as for a Secret Santa gift. They’re the recipe that Cindy McCain submitted for the First Lady cookie recipe contest that didn’t end up being her recipe (Cookie-Gate!). They’re a touch crispy for my taste, since I like chewier cookies, but they have that great caramel and butterscotch thing going for them. As an addition to a cookie platter, they would be good for people who aren’t that into chocolate, and such people do exist, but otherwise they’re a little meh for my taste.


Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies
As seen on Erin’s Food Files
Yields 3-4 dozen cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Blend in eggs and vanilla until mixture is smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir into butter mixture, then mix in the oats and butterscotch chips.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls (large balls) of cookie down onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie to allow for spread.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Peanut Butter Fudge

I have a mental list of dishes that I want to try to make, though I really should write some of these down one of these days. Mostly the list consists of foods that are carbo-licious or a caloric splurge: biscuits and gravy, biscotti, bagels. Apparently, on this list, everything also starts with ‘B’. And then there is candy, like fudge, which I always assumed required a candy thermometer and knowing what the “soft-ball stage” looked like.

This fudge required no such thing. Four ingredients, a microwave, a refrigerator, and it was done. I wish I didn’t know how easy this was. I quickly packaged up the majority of it for gift-giving, but I also snuck a few pieces that happened to crack (or something) while I was cutting them. You will love this. Your friends will love this. How could anything that contains peanut butter, sugar, and butter be wrong?


Peanut Butter Fudge
source: Alton Brown via Erin’s Food Files


1 cup butter, plus more for greasing pan
1 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pound powdered sugar


Microwave butter and peanut butter for 2 minutes on high. Stir and microwave on high for 2 more minutes. Add vanilla and powdered sugar to peanut butter mixture and stir to combine with a wooden spoon. Pour into a buttered 8 by 8-inch pan lined with waxed paper. Place a second piece of waxed paper on the surface of the fudge and refrigerate until cool. Cut into 1-inch pieces and store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tamale Pie with Pumpkin Cornbread

On Monday, I turned in my baby – my senior seminar project that I’ve been working on all semester. Sunday, it snowed. And Monday, I braved the icy roads to print out two copies of that project and hand it in. Not coincidentally, Monday was also the first night I made dinner in quite some time. This had been on the menu for a couple of days but kept getting pushed back in favor of something easier, like Chinese take-out. Or bourbon. Just kidding about the bourbon.

But this dinner was worth waiting for. Once I started chopping onions and bell peppers, I got in the cooking zone. Even Joe remarked how good it was, and it’s been a while since he’s complimented me on a vegetarian meal. The filling is well-seasoned and hearty, and the cornbread is tender and moist. The cinnamon particularly makes for a fragrant and unexpected addition.


Tamale Pie with Pumpkin Cornbread
source: Veggie by Season


1 package Jiffy cornbread mix
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. skim milk
1/2 c. solid pack pumpkin
1 tbsp. honey or maple syrup
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 ears of corn kernels or 1 c. frozen corn kernels
1 yellow onion, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 15 oz. can petite diced tomatoes with jalapeños
2 c. cooked pinto beans
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper

Chopped cilantro
Grated Cheddar
Sour Cream/Greek yogurt


Preheat oven to 350*
Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add 1 tbsp. EVOO, peppers, onion and garlic.
Season with salt and pepper, saute' for 10 minutes, until vegetables have softened. While veggies cook, in a mixing bowl whisk together egg, milk, pumpkin and honey.
Add cornbread mix, sprinkle of cayenne, and stir until mixture just comes together.
Drain tomatoes and add to vegetables along with the corn.
Add beans and spices to vegetables, stir well and taste, adjust seasonings.
Pour the cornbread topping over the vegetable mixture and spread to the edges of the skillet. Place in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until cornbread is golden brown and set.
Spoon into a dish and serve with garnishes.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Chewy

The theme of this month has been cookies and singing. This semester I’ve had a few seminar classes with really great people, so what better way to show my appreciation than to bake them cookies? Pumpkin Oatmeal cookies for the worship committee and various people in Bible and Sermon, and chocolate chip cookies go to my fellow Episcopalians in Readings in Anglican Liturgics. Besides, baking is a far more enjoyable way to spend a cold winter afternoon than huddling with a stack of books in a library carrel.

And the singing? Well, any musician knows that this time of year is stellar for cash flow. Between Lessons & Carols and performances of Handel’s Messiah, December is a great month for music. Between First Friday at the Cathedral, community worship at school, and Advent Lessons & Carols, I’ve been asked to sing quite a bit. It’s also a way of letting myself rest and tapping into the more creative side of my brain.

A couple years ago, a variety of recipes for chocolate chip cookies made their way through the blogosphere, and for my Anglican Liturgics friends, I wanted only the best cookie recipe, so I turned to Bridget, who in her delightfully scientific way had done a cookie comparison of all of the different recipes. Though each recipe had its pros and cons, she ultimately recommended Alton Brown’s The Chewy.

I can certainly see why. It’s my ideal chocolate chip cookie with crisp edges and a soft interior. They were particularly addictive fresh out of the oven, and Joe and I may have made some ice cream sandwiches with these cookies. Who are you accusing of stress eating? Joe said that these were the best cookies I’ve ever made. They didn’t seem to be quite as good the next day, but fresh out of the oven, these were nothing short of transcendent.


The Chewy
source: Food Network


  • 2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


Heat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat.Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

Pour the melted butter in the mixer's work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Chill the dough, then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

On Saturday, we finally got our tree up and decorated. Weekends in December are a bit hectic. In addition to all of the fun holiday things, I’m also facing school deadlines. Because I’m going to be traveling quite a bit in the latter half of the month, we decided this year to do a fake tree. My parents always get a real tree, but I just wouldn’t be home enough to outweigh the frustrations and mess of a real tree. We won’t discuss how I spent a good portion of last January picking up tree needles by hand. Before we got dressed up for Joe’s department holiday party, we got a quick picture of the family in front of this year’s tree (LED lights!). Let it be noted that I will post unflattering pictures of myself on my blog.


Sunday morning, I woke up to make these cookies. These are the perfect fall-winter bridge cookie. They’re also freaking delicious. Chewy but soft and flavorful, with just the right amount of mix-ins. I love the wintery combination of dried cranberries and white chocolate chips but with the fall spices. It’s everything you could ever want in a cookie.

Seriously, until I made these, my favorite cookies are white chocolate macadamia nut and oatmeal raisin. I love the creaminess of the white chocolate chips and the chewy spiciness of oatmeal raisin cookies. These combine all of that, plus pumpkin. And who doesn’t love pumpkin?

Real or fake tree this year? Or what’s your favorite cookie?


Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
source: Annie’s Eats
Yield 2 1/2-3 dozen


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
¾ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
Dash of allspice
½ tsp. salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1½ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dried cranberries


Preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices and salt.  Whisk to blend.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Blend in the egg and vanilla.  Beat in the pumpkin puree until well incorporated.  With the mixer on low speed, mix in the dry ingredients just until incorporated.  Beat in the oats until combined.  With a rubber spatula, fold in the white chocolate chips and dried cranberries until evenly mixed.

Drop in small scoops (about 1½-2 tablespoons) onto prepared baking sheets, spaced 2-3 inches apart.  Bake 12-14 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly browned, rotating the sheets halfway through baking.  Allow to cool on the sheets about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pumpkin-White Bean Shepherd’s Pie

I seem to be about a season behind in the kitchen. Somehow, I made it through a relatively warm fall with a stash of pumpkin with which I kept meaning to bake and cook. Now that winter has reared its freezing cold head, I’m finally digging into it, particularly since quite a few of the recipes I had bookmarked call for pumpkin. All of this to explain why I’m using pumpkin in December.

After completely OD’ing on meat on vacation, I’m rediscovering my desire to take very seriously my move to pescetarianism. Though this recipe originally called for ground turkey, I subbed Morningstar Crumbles. With everything else in there, you hardly notice them anyway. Of course, when Joe asked me what I had added, and I responded, “Textured vegetable protein!”, he didn’t seem quite as excited. If you avoid fake meats, eggplant or additional mushrooms would be a good substitution.

As you might remember, I am a big fan of comforting winter meals that aren’t crazy heavy and loaded with starch and butter. Using the pumpkin-white bean puree really lightens up the typical mashed potato topping of Shepherd’s Pie. For a seemingly heavy meal, this was surprisingly light, while still being creamy and delicious.


Pumpkin-White Bean Shepherd’s Pie
source: Cara’s Cravings 
Yields 4 servings


2 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 10 oz package baby portobello mushrooms, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 package Morningstar Crumbles or 1 lb ground turkey
freshly ground salt and pepper
1 teaspoon Herbs de Provence
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
14 oz can diced tomatoes
10 oz baby spinach
1 15oz can pure pumpkin puree
1 cup cooked cannellini beans
1 oz grated pecorino romano cheese


Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Heat a olive oil in a 9-10" cast iron or other oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for two minutes, until starting to soften. Add the mushrooms and cook for 3-5 minutes more, until they have released their moisture. Add the minced garlic and veggie crumbles. Season the mixture with salt and pepper. Cook for several minutes, until crumbles are no longer frozen. Mix in the Herbs de Provence, tomato and paste, and flour; mix to coat well. Raise the heat to high, and add the diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat. Add the spinach, a few handfuls at a time, letting it wilt down.Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes, until thickened. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Meanwhile, puree the pumpkin or squash together with the white beans. Season the mixture to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the mixture over the filling in the skillet. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for about 10-15 minutes, until hot and bubbling around the edges. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and bake for 5-10 minutes more, until lightly browned.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Holiday Wish List

Happy New Year! I know you think that I'm a month early, but I actually mean happy new liturgical year. This past Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, which kicks off another cycle of the liturgical year. In my denomination, we really try to hold back on Christmas. Advent is a time of anticipation, both of Christ's birth and of the second coming. We don't sing Christmas carols until Christmas Eve, and the greenery doesn't go up in the church until the week before.

However, I don't have that kind of discipline in my own home. Yes, I have an Advent calendar, but it's right next to the poinsettia. The Christmas tree (fake this year, BOO!) is up, and I'll start wrapping a few presents soon. As much as I try not to buy into the consumerist aspect of the holiday season, it is fun to dream of what Santa might bring, and I enjoy picking out and buying gifts for other people. As long as it doesn't get too out of control, giving gifts is certainly a way of showing you care about someone.

Here are a few things that are on my wish list this year:

An electronic kitchen scale is a necessity for accurately weighing flour and other ingredients for baked goods. Volume measurements can add flour leading to dense breads and cookies. Using weight measurements is an easy way to determine accuracy, and with the use of ratios, you can even free yourself from the confines of recipes.


When we were in Sonoma (blog posts to come!), we visited Kendall-Jackson, where the guy working the tasting room had us try a wine out of the bottle and the same wine poured through the Vinturi wine aerator. In a simple step, the aerator developed the bouquet and flavors of the wine. The same guy said that when he goes to a restaurant with a bottle of wine, he always takes his Vinturi and his own glassware!


Speaking of glassware, when we registered for wine glasses when we got married, we only got one kind. No different glasses for red and white wines for us. But then, when we were in Sonoma, we had a lovely pinot noir in a pristine Riedel pinot noir glass, and there really was a difference! Since we purchased some very nice wines in California, including a few we are going to try to cellar, the glassware to enjoy them to their fullest would be a welcome gift.


I don't want to cook all the time, and one of Joe's and my favorite ways of relaxing is to head out on the town to explore new restaurants and hangouts. We like it even more if we don't have to pay full price! And if you read this before Thursday evening, you can head over to Eat.Drink.Smile to win one. Go ahead and enter, even if you're not from Nashville because then you can give it to me!


We're well into the realm of fantasy on this one, but a girl can dream. I think that this is a basic enough DSLR that I could actually figure out how to use it, and my point-and-shoot is getting a little beaten up. I do love the portability of my point-and-shoot, but I crave the pictures that people with DSLRs take.


In lieu of the fancy camera, a portable lighting kit like this one would be really helpful for getting decent pictures on dark winter nights. And it's only about $450 cheaper.

There you have it, my dream/wish/gift list for the holiday season for a cook, blogger, and Nashville foodie.

What's on your holiday wish list this year?