Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Santa Baby

Remember this post? Well, Santa sure did. (Actually, it was my mom-- and she doesn't even read this blog! It's like magic.) I got these tongs.

They are amazing. When you close them while they are pointing up, they lock. Then you point them down, and they open. It's also like magic. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out how they work. But I think they are amazing.

But it gets better, folks. Oh boy, does it ever get better.

I also got this.

And this.

And you might be thinking isn't a pan just a pan? and then I would be thinking back at you how could you think such a thing? and then you might think for someone who loves to cook so much, don't you already have nice pans? to which I would think back I know, right?! Because the sad, sorry truth is that, when I got married and acquired my pots and pans, I didn't have the pretty penny needed to buy such lovelies as All-Clad or Calphalon (even the cheaper Calphalon found at Target!). So I have pretty low-grade pots and pans that have gotten the job done. (Luckily I did get a lovely crepe pan from my friend Jenna at my bridal shower, and I borrowed/stole a Calphalon soup pot from my mom. Good thing she doesn't read this blog! I'm not sure if she knows about that.) Anyway, having these two new beauties has sent me into full-fledged twitterpation. I can neither confirm nor deny saying to Sam that I wanted to "have a polygamous marriage with the pans and [Sam.]"

So, I have yet to christen the saucepan, but the fry pan-- oh the fry pan! It's so gorgeous. I love to just sit and stare at it. I have cooked in it a couple times, and it's perfect! It's so huge, so I never have to worry about everything spilling out of it. And the non-stick is fabulous and beautiful. I love hand-washing it and drying it and then just holding it like a new baby. (Did I mention that I love it? )

Well done, Mom. Well done.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


I spent more time than I ever wanted to at the DMV yesterday and today registering our car in the state of Virginia. So, now it's official! I can stop driving in fear that our 2-months-expired Utah plates will draw the attention of a nit-picky police officer. The only glitch is that we didn't know we needed an emissions test, so our new plates expire in one month. I think we can handle getting it all done in a month.
I have to admit that I also spent more time than I ever wanted to eating sugary confections over the last week. But it was Christmas, so I don't feel too bad about it. We had a lovely Christmas, just the three of us. Bria didn't fully understand it all, but she did get it enough to continue asking me for presents (or "puppy" as she calls them) for several days after. We were happy to have two of Sam's brothers living in the area, so we had a Christmas dinner with them. I have to retract a former statement, I think. The turkey we had on Christmas was SCRUMPTIOUS. I had three whole servings of turkey. It was a tryptophan spectacular. Sam's brother Marc prepared the bird using brine-- which I've heard does wonders, and now I have proof. It was so moist and juicy and full of flavor. Man alive! I loved that stuff. It's seriously weird to me how much I liked it. I'm feeling all anxious and giddy at the thought of someday cooking my very own turkey. Joy and rapture abound in my imagination right now.
Which brings me to the next topic. Jello. The McPhie family Christmas dinner usually takes place on Christmas Eve (more on this later), where we have the usual stuff, but also jello. Not just any jello-- and certainly not green Utah jello with carrots or cheese or cottage cheese or any such weirdness. This jello is spiced with cinnamon and cloves and then stuffed full of citrus. Topped with freshly whipped cream, it's simply delightful. The only picture I could get was of the last two pieces, all disheveled in their tupperware, right before I devoured them (and licked the tupperware clean!). And while I'm sorry to have not shared this with you before Christmas, I will assure you that this jello's place does not reside solely with December 25th. This jello would be happy at any holiday party. So if you're thinking of something snazzy to serve at a New Year's Party. This is a delicious way to make jello a little more posh and exciting.

Christmas Jello
6 ounces raspberry jello (the big box, and don't even think about using sugar free)
1/4 t salt
1/4 t (heaping) cinnamon
generous dash cloves
2 c boiling water
1 c cold water
1 small can cranberry jellied sauce
2 oranges
2 grapefruits
1 apple

In a bowl (or a mortar and pestle if you're lucky enough to own one) mix the jello powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves together. Make sure there are no clumps of the spices.
Dump the jello into a 9x13 and add the 2 c boiling water. Stir until the jello is completely dissolved, then stir in the cold water.
Dump in the cranberry sauce and stir until it is fully incorporated. This can be a little tricky and frustrating. I ended up dumping the jello through a sieve into a new 9x13 and then mushing the little cranberry sauce chunks through. This worked really well, but then I had two dirty pans. So, it's your call on that one.
Stash the jello in the fridge while you prepare the fruit. Cut the oranges and grapefruits into small, bite-sized chunks, removing all the pith (and I mean all!) (and pith is the white stuff). Cut the apple into small chunks as well. This will take a while and it will be messy, so just prepare yourself, or have your husband do it, like I did. :)
Dump the fruit into the pan and stir it all to distribute the fruit evenly. Then smooth the top back out and stick it back in the fridge. You might not use all the fruit. Just add enough to suit your tastes. I like mine very fruity.
Refrigerate for at least four hours. Cut individual squares and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. This would look particularly lovely with some pomegranate seeds sprinkled on top.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Last Friday, I was not really feelin' it for dinner. I wanted to get out of the house to get some Christmas shopping done, and my taste buds were itching for something new. So I called Sam, told him to get off the metro a couple stops early and meet us at the mall so we could shop, and on our way home, we would stop by Eamonn's for fish and chips. An inspired plan!
Bria and I headed over to the Pentagon City mall and picked up the gifts for our sibling gift exchanges and then met Sam straight off the metro. We hopped in the car and zipped over to Old Town to Eamonn's, which is on King Street and Columbus. Bria has been having some sleep issues, so she was at her wit's end in the back seat, and parking was scarce, since it was a weekend night, so we decided to call our order in and take it home with us. Our order was ready by the time we pulled up (maybe 5-10 minutes), and we headed home to enjoy our fish and chips.
Eamonn's was seriously awesome. I 100% recommend it for anyone looking for a bite to eat in Alexandria. The fish is fresh, which was very evident by the light and flaky texture. We both had the cod, which is a great, mild pick for fish and chips. I think even those who aren't fish fans could appreciate cod. The breading was pretty standard-- deep fried, so it isn't what you would call health food, but if you're eating fish and chips, why would you want to cut the grease? Just embrace it. The tartar sauce was fantastic-- flavorful and creamy. We also tried the chesapeake sauce, which had some spice that was so familiar, but I can't put my finger on it. It was good, but I much preferred the tartar. I will definitely continue to try their other sauces. They also have a curry sauce, which intrigues me. They are not stingy with sauce, so my fears of un-sauced fish were unfounded.
The chips are hand-cut and delightfully greasy (and far from soggy). Perfectly crispy on the outside with enough flavor that that you don't need to slather them in ketchup or another sauce. (Is it unethical to eat one's chips with ketchup when they are part of fish and chips? Is that decidedly nonIrish? Sorry to offend. I love ketchup too much.) Sam and I each had our own order of cod, shared an order of chips, and it rounded out to barely over $20. A fair price, I say.
I am already scheming our next visit to Eamonn's when I can try more sauces and other things on their menu (including some of their British import goodies!). And I would also love to try the Eamonn's creators' other restaurants. The pricey Restaurant Eve and the American classic restaurant The Majestic. When I have friends or family come to town, we will definitely be going out for some fish and chips. Eamonn's is an all-around success.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowed In

When it first started snowing, I laughed at all the silly Virginians racing for their emergency preparedness gear. The forecast predicted about a foot of snow. I'm from Colorado and spent the last six years in Utah. I think I can handle a foot of snow. And then, last night, the snow started. And it still hasn't stopped. And when the snow drifts started coming up our windows, we decided Bria needed to experience it. So we bundled her up. She doesn't have snow clothes, so decided a garbage bag would do the trick.
She was in heaven.
And now we are just thinking warm fuzzy thoughts for our snow day tomorrow. Church is canceled, but at least Hannah and Rob live on our street so we'll have some other humans to interact with over dinner.

And if we weren't snowed in, or at least if we weren't out of flour, I might make this warm and fuzzy treat:

That would be monkey bread.

I got the recipe from Pioneer Woman, and I highly recommend it. But the difference is that I made homemade roll dough. And that is what I want to share with you. This recipe comes from my great-great-grandma Venice Bigler (how awesome is the name Venice?). It's perfectly flexible for any kind of roll dough you need: dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, orange rolls, and in this case, monkey bread.

1 c milk
3 T butter
1/3 c warm water
1 T yeast
1 T sugar
4 c flour
2 t salt
1/4 c sugar
2 eggs

Heat the butter and milk together in a small saucepan until the butter is melted. Set aside to let it cool a bit. In a dish, put the water, yeast, and 1 T of sugar and let it sit for at least 10 minutes until it's foamy. In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, and 1/4 c sugar. In the the bowl of your mixer, combine 2 eggs, the yeast mixture, and the milk/butter mixture. Once combined, slowly add the flour by 1/2 c increments until it forms a nice dough. The dough should be sticky, but pull clean away from the sides of the mixing bowl. Let the dough rise for one hour (and double in size) before forming it into whatever kind of roll you need. (For the monkey bread, cut it into the little shapes now.) Before baking, let the dough rise one more hour. Unless you're impatient, because I didn't let the monkey bread rise a second time, and it was still delicious. For the most part, these rolls should bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, but the monkey bread recipe is different, so just adjust accordingly.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Cranberry Pear Cake, aka HEAVEN IN CAKE FORM

Several years ago, on a cold December night, my mom went to a party at her neighbor's house. Little did she know the food she would eat there would change her life and the lives of those she loved.
My mom's neighbor Mary introduced my mom to the cranberry pear cake. The cake batter is simple: flour, sugar, baking soda, eggs, fresh cranberries, and an entire can of pears. The cake naturally forms into rough layers as it bakes, the most cake-like parts at the bottom followed by mashed pears, with the cranberries rising to the top. As the cake goes into the oven, the cranberries glisten on top, like floating little jewels. The heat of the oven causes them to burst, shining like rubies, juicy and vibrant from the heat. The crowning glory comes in the form of a sauce. Let me tell you four reasons the sauce will change your life:
1. Butter
2. Cream
3. Sugar
4. Vanilla

Combine those in a pan with some heat, and you might begin to cry from joy. The sauce is so sweet, it balances the tart cranberries, and the smoothness of the sauce covers the weirdness I usually feel from eating mushy, cooked fruit. Indeed, this cake is the one exception I make for cooked fruit. Plus, covered with a hefty dollop of freshly whipped cream-- this cake is truly perfection. I offer a 100% guarantee that this cake will wow your friends' and your own socks right off your feet. It's a perfect holiday party dessert.

this is my work and my glory

Cranberry Pear Cake
from Mary Brinkerhoff
2 c flour
2 c sugar
2 eggs
2 t baking soda
1 large can pears, with juice, mashed
1 bag cranberries

Combine all ingredients. I like to add everything except the cranberries and then use my hand mixer, which effectively mashes the pears, then stir in the cranberries with a wooden spoon. Pour the batter into a greased 9x13. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. (My mom swears hers bakes in 40 minutes, but mine always takes infinitely longer.) Do a toothpick test to be certain it is done.

3/4 c cream
1 c sugar
3/4 c butter
1 t pure vanilla extract

Combine in a sauce pan and bring to a boil. Drizzle (liberally) over individual pieces of cake and top with a hefty dollop of freshly-whipped cream.

You're welcome.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

homemade pizookies

I was going to say that I've had a real sweet tooth lately, but the truth is that I always have a sweet tooth. I commonly make brownies and cookies, but I'm always on the lookout for something exciting and new. And back in March, we took a little trip to Arizona to visit Sam's sister, and we had pizookies. What's a pizookie? It's a giant cookie baked in a little tin served hot and gooey with a giant serving of ice cream on top. I was remembering how delish it was and decided to mimic it for our home enjoyment.
I decided I needed to start with a nice, hearty, delicious cookie dough-- because it's served slightly underdone. Also, I was fairly limited on white sugar, so I needed to find something that didn't require very much. I did a little searching and decided on this cookie from Orangette. It was perfect, firstly, because it only calls for 1/4 c white sugar. Secondly, it's perfect, period. I've decided that this oatmeal chocolate chip is hands-down the world's best cookie dough I have ever tasted. And I don't take that very lightly. This is serious stuff.
So I whipped up the cookie dough, made fairly large cookies (and just baked them like regular cookies on a cookie sheet with a silpat), and as soon as they came out of the oven (which was when they were a minute or two from being done), I flopped them into big bowls with a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.
This dessert hit the spot in so many ways. The cookie dough is so incredibly rich, but the ice cream counters that so you don't have to stop before you want to. And it's so comforting and wonderful-- simultaneously warm and cold, and chocolatey and gooey and chewy and creamy all at once-- it's perfect. I replicated the dessert a couple nights in a row, since we only used enough of the dough for two pizookies a night (plus a couple regular cookies for lunch the next day). If you're in a dessert rut (and hey, even if you're not), I highly recommend this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Not that YOU still have any turkey in YOUR fridge . . .

Truth be told, I hate turkey. I always eat a couple bites for Thanksgiving, but I never enjoy it. And more than turkey, I hate leftovers. And even more than leftovers, I hate pot pies. But, when I found myself with some leftover turkey from Thanksgiving and a leftover pie crust, I decided to give Pioneer Woman's turkey pot pie a try. And, let me tell you, I ate my words. That leftover-turkey pot pie was delicious.
Next time you find yourself with leftover turkey (or chicken) or with a hankering for a pot pie, try it out. It's fresh and delicious. And one thing I hate about pot pies is that I find them gluey and gummy (which I call glummy). Also, I hate soggy, mushy vegetables, and I hate soggy bread. But this pot pie was none of those things.
A note-- I left out the thyme, because I didn't have any. I didn't cook the vegetables very long in the beginning because I wanted them to stay firm. This was a good choice. And, when I opened my cream, it was one solid block (blerg). So I used whole milk.
And now, off to take some DayQuil for the fourth cold I have had in two months . . .

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Pine Hen

I've been feeling a little homesick lately. It's December 1 and I know I don't have a hope of seeing a snowflake for at least another month. I didn't expect to miss the snow! But I miss those mornings when you wake up knowing there is a gentle dusting of snow outside. And you peer out the window, and the world outside is silent as the snow falls slowly, forming a delicate white blanket over the earth. I miss that beauty.
But more than the snow (because I certainly don't miss that crusty, black, icy grossness that sticks around from October to April), I miss my family. It doesn't feel like the holiday season to me without my family around. So, in honor of my family, I made my parents' famous Pine Hen Pizza last night.
My parents make pizza every Friday night together. They have a pizza stone and a really great crust recipe, and I love the image of them standing in the kitchen, ordering each other around to create the perfect pizza. My mom makes the dough while my dad chops vegetables. My mom grills some chicken, then my dad shreds it and mixes it with sauce. Then, when the pizza is ready, it's a team effort to slide the pizza from the peel to the stone. They hover over their creation like new parents over their infant child. They have perfected the toppings of this pizza, and it is truly delightful. I'm usually not a fan of tons of toppings, but all of these work perfectly together to create a unified dish. It might just be pizza, but it reminds me of home.

My sister Amy sprinkling pine nuts on the pine hen pizza this summer at our sisters' retreat, where we made the pizza with out parents.

To make pine hen pizza, make your favorite crust and top it accordingly:
Barbecue sauce (we use baby ray's)
Grilled and shredded chicken, mixed with a little more barbecue sauce
Red and yellow peppers, sliced julienne
1 small onion, sliced thinly and carmelized (cook slowly over low heat for about 20 minutes-- this can be done while you make the crust and get everything else ready)
Pine nuts, lightly toasted
Mozzarella cheese
Cilantro, chopped and lightly sprinkled over the top after it comes out of the oven