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Archive for December, 2008

ENGAGED!

ringI have been very, very neglectful of this blog! But for a very, very good reason!! I’m ENGAGED!! And I couldn’t be happier!

Stas proposed on Christmas Eve as we were exchanging gifts. He handed me a large, heavy box, which contained a smaller box. I opened that box to find two smaller boxes. He pulled one out and got down on one knee, opened the box and asked, “Shushka, will you marry me?” (he doesn’t remember saying “Shushka” but I remember it clear as day!)

Although I had suspected there was a ring in that box, I was in shock and disbelief when it actually happened. I cried and cried and cried and kept asking, “Is this real?!”

… and it was! I said yes, of course. And now I’m engaged!

I absolutely love my ring. It looks like the one above – 14k white gold band with a 1.5 ct. round cut diamond. Oh you should see it sparkle!

So now I’m in wedding planning mode, trying to get a venue squared away. We’re hoping to have the wedding on September 5, 2009. To Stas, it’s ridiculously far away. For anyone who has planned a wedding, and for the venues I’ve called, it’s close! A lot of places are already booked solid for the summer months.

And the other consideration, of course, is cost. Weddings are expensive! But I’m trying to find ways to cut cost here and there, whether it be hiring a friend to be our photographer or assembling the invitations myself. We’re going to start touring venues on Friday – we have 1 on Friday and 2 on Saturday. I’m not going to name my dream venue (which we’ll be touring on Saturday) because I don’t want to jinx it. But cross your fingers for me! I’m hoping we’ll be able to afford it.

In the midst of this wedding planning, I’ll continue to post about food, but I’ll probably also throw in some wedding-related posts as well. Stay tuned!

I LOVE YOU, STAS!

I LOVE YOU, STAS!

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Last night, I promised Stas some kotleti for dinner… but I didn’t plan ahead and the chicken breasts I had taken out of the freezer were not defrosted by dinner time. When something like this happens, I usually turn to frozen fish. I always have some frozen shrip and frozen fish fillets on hand.

The recipe I used was originally intended for salmon. I got it from the POM website a year or two ago and only made it once, but it was delicious enough that I added it to my recipe book. Last night, I dug it out and decided that it would be yummy with some cod and shrimp.

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I thought it came out really well – especially with the shrimp! Probably because I brushed it on the shrimp after boiling and peeling them. I think it lost some of its flavor under the broiler on the thick cod fillets. Next time, I’ll brush some extra sauce on the fish after it finishes cooking.

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very festive!

Pomegranate Broiled Cod and Shrimp
adapted from the POM Wonderful site

1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate juice
4 6-ounce cod fillets
frozen shrimp (I just eyeballed the amount)
olive oil spray
salt
2 tablespoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh parsley
1 teaspoon fresh dill
pomegranate seeds, for garnish

1. Cook and peel the shrimp; set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the pomegranate juice, mustard, and black pepper; stir until blended.

3. Preheat the broiler. Meanwhile, coat the cod fillets with olive oil (I used spray) and sprinkle with salt. Using a brush, spread the pomegranate/mustard/pepper mixture onto each fillet. Place under the broiler and cook for about 5-10 minutes, or until done (depends on thickness). You may flip the fish fillets and cook on each side… my fillets were a little too delicate for this.

4. Remove from the broiler and serve with dill, parsley, and fresh pomegranate seeds.

serves 4

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This weekend in Massachusetts, we got hit with our first real snowstorm of the season. It started Friday afternoon and lasted all the way until tonight – when it switched over to a nasty snow/sleet/rain mix.

This meant that we couldn’t get out much this weekend. Stas and I did manage to get to the gym on Saturday afternoon, and we met my siblings and parents for dinner that night. But today’s wintry mix was a little too nasty to be on the road.

So I was bored!!! Seriously, seriously bored! Stas and I tried to walk to the grocery store, but we were getting too wet and I didn’t want to ruin my fur hat, so we turned back. I channel surfed for awhile, but there was nothing on.

… so I headed to the kitchen and flipped through my Joy of Cooking cookbook. These cookies immediately caught my eye.

I had seen a version of these cookies on the Gourmet site – apparently, they were a favorite in the 1950’s. I made the Joy of Cooking version instead because I’ve always had good results with that cookbook, and Gourmet kinda comes across as snobbish. I do like how their cookies look, though. I’d like to try their recipe soon to compare the results.

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“Benne” is the African word for  “sesame.” It’s still used in the South – particularly South Carolina.

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These cookies were easy to make – and tasty! They almost taste like they have peanut butter in them. And they’re  not too sweet, which means that Stas really likes them.

Sesame Seed (Benne Seed) Wafers

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sesame seeds, toasted*
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

for dipping:
1/2 cup white sesame seeds, toasted*, or 1 cup chopped pecans

*to toast the sesame seeds, place in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease and flour 2 cookie sheets, or line with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup sesame seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

3. In a separate bowl (I used my stand mixer for this step), cream together butter and brown sugar. Beat in the egg and vanilla.

4. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture.

5. Pull off pieces of the dough (or use a small cookie scoop) and roll between your palms to form 1-inch balls. Dip the tops of the balls into the additional 1/2 cup sesame seeds (or 1 cup chopped pecans). Place the balls, seed side up, about 2 inches apart on the cookie sheets. Using the bottom of a coffee mug, flatten the balls into 1 1/2 inch rounds.

6. Bake, 1 sheet at a time, for 6-8 minutes, or until the edges just start to brown. Let stand briefly and then move the cookies to a rack to cool.

Makes about forty-two 2-1/4 inch cookies

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Marzipan Mice

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Aren’t they so cute?!! I saw them in a Rachel Ray magazine at the gym and just couldn’t resist!!!

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Stas and I went to a holiday party at my friend Amy’s house last night – I brought these little guys and they were a hit. I was supposed to use black licorice instead of the red, but I don’t like the black, and I could only find red 🙂

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These are perfect for any occasions where you want to “wow” people, but don’t have a lot of time, or you’re not a great baker (no baking required!).

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Marzipan Mice
from Rachel Ray Magazine

one 7-ounce package marzipan
almond slices
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
licorice laces (black or red), cut into 24 tails and 24 dots for eyes

1.Remove the marzipan from the wrapper.Divide the roll into 12 equal pieces. Shape each piece into an oval. Pinch one end to make the nose and eyes:

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after shaping the the eyes

2. To make the ears: working with one mouse at a time, wet 1 end of 2 almond slices and stick them into the marzipan above the eyes. At the same time, stick a toothpick into the round side of each mouse:

after getting ears and toothpicks

after getting ears and toothpicks

3. Line a baking sheet with wax paper. In a small bowl, microwave the chocoalte chips at high power, stopping to stir every 20 seconds, until smooth, about 1 minute.

4. Insert a toothpick into the wide end of each mouse. Working with one at a time, dip 12of the mice into the chocolate. Tap gently to remove any excess. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.

5. Remove the toothpicks and replace them with 1 1/2 inch strips of licorice (for the tails). Use the licorice dots for eyes (for the white mice only)

Makes 24 mice

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This was my second contribution to the “Twelve Days of Cookies” at work.

… and it’s a good thing that I chose these to come after the egg nog cookies, because they were definitely the favorites. People have been coming by my office and stopping me in the hall to tell me how much they loved them.

I call them “Seven Layer Bars”, but they also go by the name “Hello Dolly Bars”. I modified mine a bit, because of what I had on hand (chocolate graham crackers instead of regular) and because I couldn’t find butterscotch chips (I used Heath Bar baking bits instead).

Personally, I think these modifications perfected the recipe 😉

The secret ingredient? Sweetened condensed milk. I’m convinced that NO ONE can resist sweetened condensed milk.

These bars are incredibly easy to make: no mixing required, and the cleanup is minimal.

You MUST make these bars!!

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Seven Layer Bars
adapted from The Baking Pan

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup chocolate graham cracker crumbs (about 7 full sheets)
1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup Heath Bar baking bits
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Melt butter in a 13×9 inch baking pan (I just popped it in the oven as it was preheating). Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs evenly over the melted butter and press down (It’s easier and less messy if you use the back of a spatula.)

3. Sprinkle on the coconut, then the cocolate chips, then the Heath Bar baking bits. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the whole thing. Sprinkleon  the nuts and press down lightly.

4. Bake for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Place the pan on a wire rack to cool. Once completely cool, cut into 2-inch bars. (If they’re completely cooled, you should have no problem getting them out of the pan)

Makes about 2 dozen bars.

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Each year at work, we have something called “The Twelve Days of Cookies”. It’s pretty self-explanatory… every day, for 12 days, someone brings in cookies. I think that for some people, it’s the highlight of the year.

Today was the 3rd day, and my 1st day on the sign-up sheet. I’m signed up for tomorrow, too (you’ll just have to wait and see what I have in the oven!)

For my first day, I wanted to do something festive, and something that I hadn’t made before. Originally, I was going to make just plain ol’ eggnog cookies – I originally planned to use a recipe that made a harder dough, that you rolled and cut into shapes with cookie cutters. But then I found these and just couldn’t resist! It doesn’t require chilling the dough, doesn’t require cookie cutters (I don’t have any!!), and has a rum frosting (eggnog + rum is a perfect combination)!

The verdict? AWESOME! My coworkers raved about them.

And they’re so festive 🙂

The only problem is that now I have a bunch of eggnog left. I don’t drink it because it’s too fattening and Stas tried it yesterday for the very first time and thought it was nasty (but he did love the finished cookies)! So I’ll probably end up making another one or two batches for him to take to work.

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Eggnog Cookies with Rum Butter Frosting

for the cookies:

1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
2/3 cup prepared eggnog
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

for the frosting:

1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons dark rum
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

(sprinkles are optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cream the brown sugar and butter until smooth and light (I used the whisk attachment in my KitchenAid stand mixer). Beat in the egg until well-blended. Stir in eggnog.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and ginger. Blend into the creamed mixture until smooth. Using a cookie scoop, scoop even amounts of dough onto ungreased cookie sheets (I used 2), about 2 inches apart.

4. Bake about 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden. Let sit on the pan for a minute to harden a bit, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

5. Meanwhile, melt the remaining butter and rum in a small bowl. Stir in the powdered sugar and blend until smooth. It will thicken slightly as it sits.

6. Once the cookies are completely cooled, spread icing on the top of each and garnish with sprinkles, if desired.

Makes a little over 2 dozen

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Lately in the food-blogging community, schii (Russian cabbage soup) seems like “the thing” to make. Smitten Kitchen, Sassy Radish, and Yulinka all posted some great photos. Apparently, The New York Times is what set it all off.

I guess it’s fitting, with the cold weather setting in…. who doesn’t love soup when it’s cold? And Russians know soup!

While I broke from the trend of making schii, I did  continue the Russian-soup trend, with my Borsch.

I don’t like borsch (I don’t like beets), but Stas has been aching for some Russian food lately, and I like having soup available on the weekends for him – for a quick lunch option.

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Borsch

1/2 whole chicken, meat removed from bone and cut into nice pieces
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
a few thin slices of red pepper
2 chicken bullion cubes
2 medium-large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 medium beet, peeled and shredded
1 medium onion, diced
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1/2 stick butter
salt, to taste
sour cream, to garnish
fresh dill, to garnish
fresh parsley, to garnish

Place chicken pieces in large pot and fill with water. Put on stove over medium heat; bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that forms.

After 30 minutes, add the potatoes:

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cubed potatoes

Cook for 10 minutes and add the cabbage, red pepper slices, bullion cubes, and a generous sprinkle of salt :

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shredded cabbage

red pepper slices (I quarter each slice)

red pepper slices (I quarter each slice)

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bullion cubes

(feel free to make your own stock. I make my own every so often, once I have accumulated enough chicken carcasses)

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes, until they start to brown. Add the shredded beets and carrots, and the can of tomato paste. Using a ladle, pour in some of the soup broth to make the mixture easier to work with. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

before going into the pan

carrots, beets, onion: before going into the pan

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in the pan, with the tomato paste

in the pan, with the tomato paste

10-15 minutes after adding the cabbage, pepper, bullion cubes, and salt, the beet/onion/carrot/tomato paste mixture should be ready. Add it to the pot and stir. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then cover and turn off the heat.

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done!

serves a lot 🙂


A few notes about my borsch:

  • The red pepper isn’t necessary. Stas likes the little bit of sourness that it adds.
  • Again, feel free to make your own chicken stock or use cans of it, rather than using bullion cubes.
  • Use more or less vegetables, depending on your own preference. Just BEWARE that it IS possible to use too much beets. See the above picture of the beets, onions, and carrots on the plate? That’s how I typically judge how much to use: enough to fit on 1/3 of a plate. One time, I used way too much – and Stas could tell right away.
  • If you don’t have tomato paste, you can also use tomato juice. I’ve done this twice, using V-8, and I just eyeballed the amount.
  • This soup is not an exact science, so play around with it, be relaxed about it, and enjoy it!

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