Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Year of Sweet Treats

I may have mentioned once or twice that a really important person got married recently. Well, I guess that makes it two important people got married. To each other.

Anyway, their wedding present (besides my wonderful presence, of course) is a year of sweetness in the form of 12 boxes of assorted cookies, fudge, and the like. Each month I'll mail their treats about the time of their wedding date- in this case, the 28th. And each month, I'll share with you what I've mailed.

We'll have to get some feedback from the bride and groom here, but I think this is an excellent idea. Personalized, sentimental, and not simply more "stuff." I mention this not to toot my own horn, but to give you a present idea, whether it be for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, or assorted winter holidays. I also like this idea because it spreads the [insert holiday here] gifts out over time. If you're not a baker or don't have the time, simply send me an email or convo me via Etsy and we can set something up.

Have you ever given anything like this or received some sort of present-of-the-month? Was it a hit?

This month's recipe is over at Smitten Kitchen. I added dried orange flavored cranberries (in tribute to the wedding colors!) and chocolate chips, both of which I mixed in finely chopped. If you haven't ever browsed her blog, do. It's humorous, pretty, and always mouth-watering.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake - Vegan and (easily) Gluten Free

Happy Fall! Even if it doesn't feel like fall where you live, it's officially autumn, and, for me, that means candy corn, pumpkins, apples, and the crisp feel of the air. It means I can start adding cinnamon and/or pumpkin pie spice to everything. It's a good season.

This cake is super easy, both in the making and in the cleaning up, like the Blood-Orange Olive Oil Cake I showed you earlier this year. It's also super easy to eat for breakfast. It's very moist and quite rich. I made a simple glaze, mostly because Official Taster has an issue with frosting-less cakes. It doesn't need it, but it works. You could also just dust on some powdered sugar to jazz it up if you'd like.

I happened to find a can of pumpkin pie mix in the pantry, which is what I used in this cake. It's just regular canned pumpkin with pumpkin pie spices already mixed in. When you make this, you can just use regular pumpkin with or without spices or this pre-mixed stuff. Depends on how sweet you want your cake and how pie flavored you want it.

For all you gluten free folks out there, I believe this cake would lend itself very well to substituting either an all-purpose gluten free flour or the sorghum blend I told you about for my patriotic cupcakes.

Chocolate Pumpkin Cake
cooking spray
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa
2 C all purpose flour
1 C water
1 C sugar
1 C pumpkin
1 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan, and either flour it or use cocoa instead (no white splotches on the finished cake that way)
2. Combine water, sugar, pumpkin, and vanilla until thoroughly blended. Sift baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, and flour into the mixture and beat until very smooth.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove cake and let cool in the pan at least 5 minutes. Remove cake from pan and finish cooling on a rack.
4. Frosting is optional. For a chocolate pumpkin glaze, combine some confectioners sugar, cocoa, and pumpkin until smooth and your desired thickness. Drizzle or spread on cake. Another option is to dust with confectioners sugar.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Flowers

Good Morning! These lilies were a surprise in the backyard when we moved into our new apartment. Does anyone know what kind they are? They grow on a slim, medium-tall stalk with no leaves. A couple popped up close to one another, and then a day or so later, another peeped out about 10 feet away, followed by another 6 feet away. So I'm not sure if they are some sort of running lily (do those even exist?) or just several clumps deposited back there at some point. Ideas?
Plumeria flowers always look like the ideal, perfect flower to me. Clean lines, clear colors, and a lovely, soft fragrance if one were to stick one's nose in the center of a bloom. We have several plants; the others are pinks. One of these days I may share pictures of them.

I hope you are having a wonderful weekend!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Corn and Tomato Scramble

As promised, today's post is this delicious, delicious side I made to go with the pesto ravioli. But to see "side" and automatically consign this scramble to "just a boring side" would be really unfair. It's fantastic. Seriously, go find fresh corn and tomatoes and make this tonight. Where I am, at least, both of these vegetables are in season and just right.

As in previous occasions, when I try a recipe from Gourmet, I didn't make a single change to the original, and so I'm simply linking you over to their recipe.

It's fast and delicious, easily halved or doubled, and the leftovers are great. It's excellent (eggcellent) scrambled with eggs, and I imagine it would be tasty as a version of bruschetta.

Why aren't you getting your veggies yet?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Pesto Ricotta Ravioli

If the thought of making homemade ravioli intimidates you, read on. If not, read on anyway. It might be fun.

Saturday was a gorgeous day and the perfect afternoon for the weekly farmers' market. The one closest to me is literally down the street, about 5 blocks away, and happens twice a week. Good deal! Unfortunately, Wednesday afternoons I'm tied up at school, but Saturday afternoons usually work out. This week, Official Taster and I walked away with tomatoes, oranges, scallions, corn, grapefruit, and plums for a grand total of $12.50. I was able to put the corn, tomatoes, and scallions to work right away, and I'll be posting that recipe in the next few days. (It was fantastic. Be sure to come back for it!)

Anyway, back to ravioli. I wanted to make some, but I also was a little wary. So I got some won ton wrappers at the grocery store (they're in the refrigerated section) and used those to wrap up some ricotta-pesto goodness. After I made about 30, I froze them to help them keep their shape during the cooking. The ones I didn't cook are still in the freezer, and should be good for quite a while. I discovered that making ravioli this way is still time consuming, but probably less than making the pasta from scratch, especially since I don't have a ravioli maker. Official Taster thought the texture of the won ton was a little odd since he's used to won tons being fried, but I thought they turned out well. I might try steaming them next time instead of boiling them because they were very sticky once drained. I had to be very careful removing them from the colander and getting them to plates. The pesto sauce you see in the bottom photo? That's actually the insides of a couple ravioli that broke as I tried to unstick them.

Pesto Ricotta Ravioli
1 package won ton wrappers, found in the refrigerator section of the grocery store
1 C ricotta cheese
3 ice cubes worth of pesto, at room temperature
2 garlic cloves (optional)
1/4 C romano cheese (optional)

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Stir together ricotta cheese, garlic, romano cheese, pesto, and sprinkling of salt.
2. Place 1 won ton wrapper on your work surface, spoon some of your mixture (approx 1 Tbsp) in the center of wrapper. Use your finger to brush water onto the edges, fold wrapper in half and line up edges, and pinch to seal. Or use a second wrapper instead instead of just one folded. Repeat with your remaining ingredients. Arrange in a single layer on your baking sheets and freeze at least 30 minutes.
3. Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add ravioli- stir to help keep them from sticking. Cook about 2 minutes, or until tender. Drain, serve, and enjoy!

I didn't make a sauce to go with these since I just used the insides of broken raviolis to spread over the top. This recipe is easily variable- just omit the pesto and add a different tasty amendment. If I were to make a sauce for this, I would choose something light that doesn't overpower the pesto taste. Experiment and let us know your results!

Frozen, uncooked ravioli can be stored for up to a month

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Flowers

I hope you are all having a good weekend. Does it feel like fall where you are? It was pretty cold Saturday morning, but, wonder of wonders, the coastal clouds and fog dissipated before noon and we had a beautiful sunny day, complete with blue skies. (Why do we say "skies"? We only have the one) The photo above is of a succulent, but I have no idea what kind. Ideas? It is the only photo in today's Sunday Flowers that is of an actual flower, but I hope you'll forgive that and enjoy anyway.

Below is one of my Aeonium succulents that I got from Nadia. This one was a cutting and is still quite small, but they get to be several feet tall if they're happy where they are planted. I love having this one in my planter for a contrasting color.
I just couldn't resist showing you this cute little pepper! I have some larger ones, but they're not nearly as cute, so no picture of them yet. The pepper at least used to be a flower...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Pesto Tomato Risotto - vegan & gluten free

Risotto is a staple for Official Taster and me. I love it because it's so versatile and easily adapted to the season's vegetables. It's not something I make a lot in the summer because it does require the stove to be on for quite a while, but it's cool here in the mornings and evenings. In fact, morning air has fall's crisp edge, and nights are cool enough for a quilt.

Believe it or not, this was the first meal I've cooked in our new apartment. We moved a month ago! Cooking was such a relief! I've been subsisting on sandwiches, yogurt, and peanut butter because I've been home so little at night. I haven't baked here, yet, but I hope to soon.

For this particular batch, I used some of the pesto I made earlier this summer and some grape tomatoes that needed to be eaten. I've also used avocado, squashes, eggplant, tofu, peppers, pine nuts, and probably some others I've forgotten, as well as an assortment of fresh herbs. Risotto is also easily adapted to various diets and allergies. I use olive oil instead of the traditional butter, and the cheese is totally optional.

Basic Risotto Recipe
2 C vegetable or chicken stock
2 C water
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 C Arborio rice
1/2 C dry white wine
1/2 C finely grated Romano cheese (optional)

1. Bring the stock and water to a simmer in a small pot. Once boiling, reduce heat so it's just high enough to keep the broth warm.
2. Add olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent (about 9 minutes).
3. Add the rice and stir frequently until the kernel ends are transparent. Add the wine and, stirring frequently, simmer until the wine is completely absorbed by the rice. Add a couple cups of stock, and stirring infrequently, cook until liquid is absorbed and the bottom of the pan is dry.
4. Add more stock, about 1/2 C at a time, as needed to keep the bottom of the pan from drying out. Cook, stirring frequently, until the grains of the rice are mostly cooked. Add vegetables/pesto/pre-cooked meat or whatever else you'd like, and cook for a few minutes more, until the rice is cooked through. Stir in cheese, serve, and enjoy!

If you're adding fresh herbs, you can either mix them in at the very end or just sprinkle them over each serving.

For this batch, I used 3 of my pesto ice cubes (see pesto post), but more would have been better. Fewer, and the pesto taste wasn't really there.

Instead of romano cheese, you can use parmesan, or even types like mozzarella. Play around with flavors!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Flowers

After seeing my garden post earlier this week, Official Taster expressed his disappointment. Apparently, there should be more close up shots. So, Happy Sunday and enjoy the flowers!

Come back next Sunday for more!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Succulent Boxes

Longtime readers may remember my little succulent container gardens. Some of those were crying out for new homes, and Official Taster and I wanted to condense our plants and pots. In a joint project, we created wine box planters. It turns out that some of Costco's wine comes in wood boxes and customers are welcome to take the empties home. Perfect! After adding L brackets as added support, Official Taster added dirt, I wiggled all the plants free from their former homes, and he planted them in their new digs. (ha!)
I'm really happy with how they turned out, and I love that the boxes were free and a reuse. I think wine boxes would also work great with herbs, bulbs, mums, etc. You could even set potted plants in them.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Welcome To My Garden

I know, I know. I said I was back. baa-aaack even. And then I wasn't.

But here I am! Between moving and a wonderful wedding and school starting and whatnot, things here have been rather hectic. If you're a fan on facebook, you'll know that I was working on my garden the other day and promised pictures soon. These are them!

The two little raised beds hold tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, basil, lavender, and rosemary. You can't see it in the pictures, but I also have a hill of pumpkin seeds sewn, and a couple of sunflowers. The marigolds are not just cheerful; they're also a natural pest deterrent. In the next few weeks, I'll be planting some cool season crops, including spinach, lettuces, and sweet peas.

My little (dwarf) orange tree survived the move with all of the green oranges intact, so I'm looking forward to some fresh-off-the-tree citrus this winter. Official Taster and I also acquired a Passion Vine, and I'm hoping a few of it's blooms will turn into passion fruit for us to taste. I'll try to get a shot of it's unique flowers to show you.
It's still a work in progress (what garden isn't?), so I'll periodically post updates. I think it's looking pretty good, especially if you consider it started as a blank, and very dusty, slate.
Japanese Maples are my favorite tree, so I was super excited when Official Taster bought me one to plant in our new home. I hope that whoever lives here next appreciates it!

One of the things I love about living in Southern California is hummingbirds! I see them every day zipping about, visiting flowers, trees, and feeders. Usually I know they're around because I can hear their wings. Once in a while, one of the little guys actually sits and drinks. I always sort of hold my breath and try not to scare them away. I'm glad I was able to actually get photos!

While I was investigating the Mandevillas, hunting for the perfect shot, I came across this little moth hiding from the sun inside a blossom.
I have a few more photos from the garden for you in my next post, so stay tuned!
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