Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This is the post where I talk about what I am thankful for

I was driving home from work today mentally preparing for my long weekend and, as I was decompressing from a stressful day of work, I started realizing that I am really happy. I am not saying I do not have bad days.

I am human.

Unlike him, and I am pretty sure even he has bad days.

Generally, I have a lot to be thankful for. Every once and a while it is nice to think about these things. Also, everyone else on the internet is thankful for things right now and I am a trend follower. I hear it is a national holiday or something.

In no particular order:

1. My Parents. They raised me right. I am lucky to have grown up in a stable house with two parents who love each other (I am not saying alternate ways of growing up are not valid and perfectly wonderful, this is just my life). They taught me, by example, what it means to live a good life. I knew what would make a good husband by looking at my Dad. Everyday, they were there for me. My parents were my drivers, coaches, and cheerleaders. They pushed me to succeed and were there to catch me when I failed. My parents were happy when I got my first B in high school, because they thought it would help me relax and enjoy school a little bit more. What great parents, what great people.

2. My Wonderful Husband. I love him crazy tons. He is my best friend. I know everyone says this about their significant other and it is probably why we all chose them as our partners... I can tell him everything. My life is better when he smiles. When I am sad, he works tirelessly to make my happy. Derek is gone this year and it has been one of the hardest of my (admittedly very cushy) life.

3. Roommate. I met Josephine as the result of a Craigslist search and she has made my life immeasurably better. I cannot imagine a better person to share my house this year while Derek is off doing research. She makes me laugh everyday. Today she left me a slice of chocolate cake. What a girl. I do not think either of us were looking for a friend this past August, but I think I found one.

4. Friends. I am so lucky to have my friends. I do not have family in North Carolina, but my friends have become my family. Last night John, Julie and I went to a local restaurant, sat outside, and listened to live Bluegrass. It occurred to me that there is no place else I would have rather been. How many times can you say that everyday, every week even? It was an evening that will be frozen in my memory for its beauty and camaraderie. I am never ever lonely. Tonight my friend Lindsay and I had a wonderful couple of beers at a local bar. On Sunday, Jenny and I took a cheese making class (more on that later).

What is Julie doing here? All I know is that John is laughing.

5. Job and Coworkers. I am so lucky to have a job that challenges me everyday. I am learning so much. There are things I easily do today that I did not know how to do last month. My confidence is also growing. I am so much more independent and self reliant than I was just a year ago. The people I work with make my job a daily joy. They make me laugh, cringe, and squeak in mock outrage. You name it (except it will be real outrage if you put balls on that truck, you know who you are).

6. Food and Farmers. I was making dinner tonight and it occurred to me that when I see my food I do not just see ingredients, I see farmers. This sounds so corny, but I can honestly tell you that only three ingredients in my dinner came from greater than 50 miles away (chile powder from New Mexico, salt from the ocean somewhere, and parmesan cheese from Italy). For the record, I had roasted potatoes with sautéed cauliflower, topped with homemade paneer (with local milk), and home cured bacon (local pork). I am so grateful for the people who get up everyday and milk the cows, graze the animals, and tend the fields. You are heroes to me. Your food nourishes me and makes cooking dinner something to look forward to everyday.

Who is that shopping? She looks good.

7. Kitten. He greets me at the door everyday when I get home from work. He is my little spoon at night time. He is my constant, my lovable fuzz.

He really sleeps like this.

8. Anyone Who is Reading This. Thanks for reading my random thoughts. Writing them is fun, having someone else to read them makes me feel really special. You are my friend (even if we have never met). 

9. The Universe, the World, my Backyard. I know this sounds awfully corny, but I am so thankful to live on our beautiful, perfectly flawed earth. I believe this is a pretty big miracle because of all of the millennium of evolution and all of the happy accidents that created the environment in which I am happy and thankful in right now.

Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving! I wish you all gluttony, good friends and family, and good day!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Penne with Creamy Tomato-Chipotle Cheese Sauce on a Lazy Sunday

It is Sunday.

It is cloudy outside.

I am going to Nashville tomorrow. For 23 hours. Total. That is the whole trip.

How did I decide to spend this day?

There were many things I should have done. I should have cleaned the bathroom, paid bills, raked leaves, and done a million other things tormenting me from my to do lists (note the use of the plural). I did do some of these things.

Then, I needed a break. You ask, "how did you decide to take this break?" I made pasta and watched a made for TV movie (starring James Van Der Beek, no joke) with Max on the couch. Don't judge me about the movie.

This pasta recipe is perfect for happy comfort times. It is fast and simple. This is one of the pasta sauce recipes that taught me that pasta and sauce belong together. It is smokey, hardy, and creamy. So satisfying.

I used to think pasta sauce came out of a jar. You open a jar, heat up the sauce, boil the pasta, then you serve pasta and sauce at the table. It turns out that pasta tastes better when it is finished in the sauce, then it absorbs some of the sauce and flavor. Sauce does not need to come in jars all finished. It comes from ingredients, ingredients that do not necessarily need all day to cook. Not necessarily complex.

This is it. Pasta + ingredients = pasta in sauce.

Penne with Creamy Tomato-Chipotle Sauce
modified a little from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 small chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, minced (these exist in almost every grocery store)
1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce (from the jar)
2 14.5 ounce cans of diced tomatoes
1 pound penne, rigatoni, or any tubular pasta
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro leaves
5 ounces feta cheese or a fresh goat cheese

1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. I have always heard that the water should be as salty as Mediterranean... I am not sure I ever remember specifically tasting the Mediterranean, but I think the water should be salty because it seasons the pasta and then you need less salt later.

Garlic and chipotle chiles are really all it takes to flavor this pasta.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. The garlic should be golden and delicious smelling. Then add the chipotles and adobo sauce. Cook this until fragrant (about 1 minute)

3. Add the tomatoes and a three fingered pinch of salt to the chiles and garlic. Now we have a sauce! Bring this to a simmer and allow it to cook for 15 minutes.

These are home canned tomatoes. Derek and I spent hours making these this summer. When I opened up the can, it smelled like summer again. Was it worth the time? Questionable.

4. When there is about 10 minutes left for the sauce, add the pasta to the boiling water. Cook it for about 2 to 3 minutes less than the package says. You want it to be too undercooked to eat when you drain it. Trust me. Before you drain the pasta reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta.

5. Crumble the cheese into the sauce and combine. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir it up. At this point, I usually add about 1/2 cup to 1 cup of pasta water to the pasta and sauce. This helps get the sauce evenly distributed and the starches in the pasta water help thicken up the sauce. Stir the pasta constantly into the sauce until the pasta absorbs the sauce and the pasta is cooked to your taste. Stir in the minced cilantro.

Pasta water is miraculous.

6. Eat! Preferably with Van Der Beek and a kitten.

P.S. - His forehead is really huge. What a man.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Sweet Potato Dumplings

My life is really pretty simple most of the time. I get up in the morning, go to work, work, come home from work, cook dinner, watch Netflix, read the Kindle, and go to bed. With no Derek on the continent, my life has gotten even simpler. No one cooks complicated meals for themselves, me included. If they say they do, they are lying.

Then sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I go away for work. As I have mentioned before, October was really complicated. I was on the road.

When I get home, I just want vegetables and home cooked food. My friends want to see me and they want to go out (very flattering). Sometimes, I make them come over and cook them my vegetables, the more the merrier. Right?

My recipes have been gathering dust at home. This might be because every time I get home I have about 4 things going bad in the refrigerator. You could say mold and decay are inspiring me to figure out recipes to use decaying food. This is my real life.

Last week I made my friend come over, and I made dumplings. Inspired by the sweet potatoes under my counter. I am proud of this recipe. These were real good. They are vegan too. That was not on purpose, they just did not need animal protein. True.

Sweet Potato Dumplings
Makes about 20 dumplings

3 small sweet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes
1 jalepeno, minced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon red chile powder
squirt of sriaracha sauce (to taste)
dash of soy sauce (to taste)
dash of fish sauce (just do it, leave out if you really want to be vegan)
1/4 teaspoon of salt (I used a little less)
Wanton wrappers (your grocery store probably sells these)

1/4 cup soy sauce
1 heavy squirt of sriarcha (to taste)
2 tablespoons (approximately) sesame oil

1. Boil a large pot of salted water. Add the sweet potatoes to the boiling water. Boil until they are soft (about 10 minutes). Drain the water.

2. In a large bowl, combine the cooked sweet potatoes, garlic, jalepeno, red chile powder, sriaracha sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Mash the potatoes using a fork, potato masher, or pastry blender (if you are me).

3. Open the wanton wrappers, cover the open package with a damp paper towel so they do not dry out. Fill up a small bowl with water. Remove one wrapper, put a large dollop of the potato mixture on the wanton.

4. Wet a finger and coat the edges of the wanton wrapper. Bring all four of the corners of the wrapper together and pinch it closed.

5. This is where you have to make a decision. Do you want your dumplings steamed or pan fried? If you want the dumplings steamed it is now time to heat up your steaming apparatus. If you want to fry them heat up your frying pan to medium with about a tablespoon of canola oil in it.

6. When you have finished making all of your desired dumplings (this should make about 20 dumplings), add the dumplings to the frying pan for about 1 minute. Then decrease the heat to medium low, add about 1/4 cup of water to the pan and cover it. Cook with the lid on for about 5 minutes. Remove the lid and finishing browning the dumplings. I like to rotate them to get all of the sides crispy. You can also just eat them with one side browned.

7. If you are steaming the dumplings, put them in the steamer for 5 to 10 minutes.

To make sauce: Combine soy sauce, sriaracha sauce, and sesame oil.