Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Turkey, Cranberry, and Brie Sandwich

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! We are heading to celebrate with my side of the family after quite the hectic week. Looking forward to some great food, conversation, and company! I am only in charge of a couple side dishes that were so easy to make that I employed Matthew to whip up one of them for me all by himself. Here is the kid finally earning his keep around here:

In case you're wondering what he's doing, he is pulverizing a bunch of pretzels to use for a crust. It's pretty much his favorite kitchen task.

Remember that bread I posted about far too long ago? Here is finally the sandwich that you should make with it! In fact, this sandwich is not only tasty when using good-quality deli turkey meat but would be absolutely phenomenal using some of the leftover turkey breast we are all going to have hanging around after tomorrow's feast.

Brie is one of the stars of this sandwich and if you're not a fan of the "mushroomy" aroma that can accompany it, ask the representative at the cheese counter in your grocer to direct you towards a very mild brie. I personally do not really notice nor mind the flavor of more intense brie, but Paul is very finicky about it so I always use the mildest one I can find. The one we have here is very buttery, soft, and mildly sweet. It's pretty perfect for this sandwich.

The basic construction of this sandwich is as follows: a generous slice of cranberry-walnut bread, a generous smear of cranberry chutney, an ample slice of brie, some thinly sliced roasted turkey, a handful of baby arugula, and another large dollop of chutney. A second slice of cranberry-walnut bread is added to the top and the whole sandwich is grilled until golden brown on both sides. Slice, serve, and enjoy one of the best things you'll ever eat.

Thanks again to my sister Sophie for the inspiration!

Turkey, Cranberry, and Brie Sandwich
inspired by Chicory Cafe

For the sandwiches:
Cranberry-Walnut Bread, sliced
Roasted Turkey, thinly sliced
Cranberry Chutney, store-bought or homemade

Spread a generous portion of cranberry chutney on one side of bread. Pile on slices of brie, turkey, arugula. Spread chutney on a second slice of bread and place face down on top of the arugula. Grill the sandwich, pressing down with a large, heavy skillet to flatten slightly until the bread is golden on both sides. Let cool slightly, cut in half, and enjoy!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Cranberry-Walnut Bread

A month ago, my sister Sophie informed me that the next time I visited her she wanted to take me to a cute little New Orleans-style cafe to try a sandwich. This sandwich was not just any ordinary slap-two-pieces-of-meat-between-bread-and-call-it-good sandwich. Nope. This was a very special sandwich made with fresh roasted turkey, cranberry chutney, melted brie cheese, pressed together between two perfectly toasted pieces of house-made cranberry walnut bread.

"I want you to try this sandwich and then recreate it for your blog!" were her exact words.

Never one to turn down brie, or a sandwich for that matter, I dutifully accompanied her for dinner and we had a grand old time and I tasted what truly proved to be a magnificent sandwich. I assured her that I could and would most definitely recreate it. But, I'm going to do it in steps because like all works of art, this sandwich is going to take a bit of time.

Thankfully, Sophie is patient with me. For those of you who don't know her, Sophie is my hilarious sister with a booming laugh, an obsession with cats, and talent for all things theatrical. She was also my maid-of-honor eight years ago.

This is Sophie...

And so is this...

And this...

And this...

And this was about the time she was ready to kill me for continually stalking her with my camera.

The other lovely looking lady there is my sister Catherine. She's a hoot too. And so photogenic!

Enough shenanigans, back to the food!

The first step in building this sandwich masterpiece is, of course, the Cranberry-Walnut Bread. I knew exactly where to find the perfect recipe for this purpose: my beloved copy of Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. In this bread-baking treasury is a fabulous recipe for Cranberry-Walnut Bread that I have made at least once a year for the past seven years, usually around Thanksgiving or Christmas. In fact, I normally made it just to spread with a thick layer of brie and then top with a bit of caramel-pecan chutney. Paul and I used to enjoy this delicacy while watching a Christmas movie on December 23rd before we had three children and pass out from exhaustion after getting everyone to sleep by 8:00 pm. The tradition might need to be resurrected this year.

However, memories of that bread still linger and to the kitchen I went this week to bake a loaf for Sophie's sandwich. This is probably the simplest of all Peter Reinhart's bread recipes. It just requires a little bit of patience because, like most sweeter yeast breads, it needs a longer proofing time. Reinhart dictates that the bread should be braided like challah in order to give it a decorative appearance worthy of the centerpiece for a holiday gathering. Since I am planning to make sandwiches, I did a simple three-strand braid and then tucked the ends under and stuffed the entire thing in a 9x5" loaf pan. An egg wash is added to give the finished loaf a dark, shiny appearance and after being allowed to bake for about 50 minutes the most gorgeous loaf emerged! Naturally, I helped myself to a slice as soon as it was done cooling and it did not disappoint!

The rest of the sandwich shall be revealed later, but this loaf of bread is truly a crowd-pleaser on its own! Slightly sweet from the generous amount of dried cranberries baked into the slightly sweet dough and studded with toasted walnuts, a loaf of this bread would make a wonderful gift for friends, relatives, teachers, and coworkers. Just send along a little wedge of buttery brie to go with it and you will be loved and praised forever!

Cranberry-Walnut Bread
barely adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice

3 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 orange or lemon zest (good, but I omitted this time around)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup buttermilk, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup water, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sweetened, dried cranberries
3/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, lightly toasted
1 egg, whisked until frothy, for egg wash

Stir together flour, sugar, salt, yeast and zest in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, buttermilk and butter. Stir, slowly adding water to make a soft, pliable dough.

Transfer dough to a floured counter and knead until smooth, soft, and slightly bouncy when poked. Alternatively, you can need using the dough hook of the stand mixer. Add water or flour as needed to adjust the consistency. Add cranberries and knead for another 2 minutes, then add walnuts and gently knead in until evenly distributed.

Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover in plastic wrap. Let rise for about 2 hours, or until dough doubles in size.

Transfer to a counter and deflate slightly. Braid as desired and then transfer to either a loaf pan or a baking sheet. Brush with half the egg wash and place the remaining egg wash in the fridge for later. Proof uncovered at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until dough nearly doubles. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees while the bread proofs.

When the loaf is ready to bake, brush with the remaining egg wash and slide in the oven. Bake for approximately 25 minutes, then rotate pan and continue baking for another 25-30 minutes. The loaf should be a deep golden brown and register between 185 - 190 degrees on an instant read thermometer inserted into the center of the bread (It's how I test all my yeast breads for doneness. It's foolproof!)

Remove the cranberry walnut bread from the pan and transfer it to a cooling rack. Allow the loaf to cool for at least an hour before slicing and serving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Green Chile Stew

Little Lucia has grown into such a doll. She is in one of my favorite stages right now; still a baby, but very self-sufficient, confident, and with relatively no attitude, unlike her older sister who has been giving me all the attitude lately. She brings everyone so much joy with her infectious laughter and fantastic sense of humor. I have always said that all babies are natural comedians and Lucy is certainly proving that to be true. For example, we have this little game that she invented where she will request a song ("Little Star?") and I will begin to sign the first few lines of the song and then Lucy will hold one finger up and indicate for me to stop singing by saying with conviction: "NO!" Then, she will request another song and I'll sing the first line or two and she will stop me again: "NO!" It might sound silly, but it puts all of us - Matthew, Emma, Paul, Myself, and Lucy herself - in stitches every single time.

The other game Lucy likes to play involves us taking turns asking her to say different words. At first, Lucy plays along and obediently repeats the requested word but then eventually begins to deliberately respond with the wrong word and then laughing hysterically afterwards. It usually goes something like this:

"Lucy, can you say Puppy?"
"Can you say Kitty?"
"Can you say Mommy?"
"Can you say Emma?"
"Hot Dog!" *Hysterical Laughter*
"Can you say Matthew?"
"Chicken!" *More Hysterical Laughter*

Maybe it's not all that amusing to you all, but this silliness certainly keeps all of us in stitches!

Lucy also has developed an obsession with all things Frozen. She loves the music and often requests for me to play it on my phone so she can dance about and sing. Yes, she knows most of the words, or at the very least she imitates the sounds that the words make even if she is not enunciating properly. Lucy also loves giraffes, kitty cats, dogs (although she does not like it when they lick her), and birds. She loves to read books, either by herself or with me. When she wants me to read her a story, she will come up waving her book of choice while asking: "Lap? Lap?" Then, she will back up into my lap and snuggle in as I read to her. She always has such a serious expression on her face as I read as if she is studying every word I say along with every picture on the pages, earnestly committing them to memory. She also loves to help me unload the dishwasher. I usually put her in charge of the utensils and baby cups because she can reach those drawers and actually does a decent job putting them in the right place. However, she doesn't understand that the dishwasher isn't always clean and more than once I have had to stop her from unloading and putting away dirty dishes! She also adores the outdoors and long walks. One of my favorite things to do with her is go for a slow walk around the neighborhood, with one of my long strides matching up with six or seven of her little quicksteps, and listen to her point out things she sees along the way - the leaves, the trees, the animals, and people. She loves it all. My heart breaks for her as I think of the long winter months ahead where it will be much too cold to go outside.

Lucy also adores her siblings, but in different ways. She looks upon Emma has more of an equal and thus tends to fight and compete with her a bit more. Whenever Emma tries to patronize her, she passionately protests because why the heck would she take direction from someone who is basically on the same rung of the social ladder as herself? However, Lucy looks up to Matthew with adoration. She loves it when he assists her and if she had her choice Matthew would be her playmate every single time. Matthew is incredibly sweet to her, reading her stories, building block towers with her, fetching her food and drink, and even helping her brush her teeth at night. Speaking of brushing teeth, that is also Lucy's current favorite activity. No matter what she may be doing - be it playing, eating, or dancing about - as soon as she hears that it is tooth-brushing time, she drops everything and makes a beeline for the upstairs bathroom as fast as her short, stubby legs can take her while chanting over and over: "Teeth! Teeth!! TEEEEEETTTHH!" The girl is obsessed.

But back to Matthew and Lucy, I have really noticed a huge maturation in Matthew due to how seriously he takes his role as Lucy's big brother and protector. He is very careful with her and is always keeping an eye out to make sure she is not getting into any dangerous mischief. It certainly helps me to have a second set of eyes around! He also is excellent at keeping her entertained for me when I need to cook, clean, or just get some other task done. At the same time, I love just watching them play that I end up not getting much accomplished anyway! For example, yesterday afternoon after Matthew came home from school, he took Lucy outside to play baseball with him. It was the cutest thing I have ever seen. They took turns playing the role of the batter and the pitcher. Lucy actually was pretty good at swinging the bat, albeit a bit late, as the ball zoomed past her. When it was Lucy's turn to pitch, Matthew would laugh hysterically because she would throw it maybe two feet, certainly not far enough for him to have a decent chance of whacking it with his bat. I loved seeing how much they were enjoying one another's company. In case you were wondering, Emma was inside passed out on the couch. She doesn't nap often, but when she does she is out for the long count.

A swing and a miss!

Lucy takes her pitching duties very seriously...

But the ball never seems to travel too far!

The recipe I want to share with you today is one of the best things I have eaten this Fall! As I mentioned a while ago, Paul and I bought about 30 pounds of Hatch chilies from our grocer when they rolled in at the beginning of the season. In addition, Paul's younger brother who lives in Albuquerque also sent us some bottled peppers after hearing that we love them so much. With so many peppers on our hands, I was in need of new ways to incorporate them into my dinner plans. My dear friend Shelley, the busy mother of three adorable kids of her own - who get along fantastically with my own children, is also from New Mexico. She instructed me on how to make the delicious New Mexico Stew and when I heard that it called for a large portion of Hatch chilies, I was sold. Of course, I couldn't help add a few vegetables to the mix along with some fresh cilantro and hominy. When I confessed to Shelley that I added more vegetables to it, she jokingly called me a "heathen." Mea Culpa. I know that you really shouldn't mess with traditional, regional recipes.

So, the recipe below might not be the most authentic version of New Mexico Green Chile Stew, but I promise you that it is certainly tasty. We loved this so much topped with freshly shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream, and more cilantro, because I'm one of those people who can never get enough cilantro. It is a bit on the spicy side, but you can use different pepper and omit the seeds and membranes to majorly tone down the heat. While I used chopped pork loin as my protein, Shelley told me that anything from ground beef, ground turkey, or pork shoulder can be used. Just be sure to drain the fat after browning. This is one of those perfect, comforting meals for the cold winter months ahead. Make it and enjoy it!

Green Chile Stew
adapted from my friend Shelley

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 pounds pork loin, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 teaspoon salt
1 large white onion, diced
1 1/2 cups diced Hatch chile peppers (may substitute anaheims or poblanos if necessary)
1 small green bell pepper, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
2 15-ounce cans white hominy, drained and rinsed
1 large bunch cilantro, leaves chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the pork with 1 teaspoon salt. Working in batches, cook the pork, stirring, until browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and discard the fat from the pot.

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in the pot. Add the onion, chile peppers, bell peppers and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 7 minutes. Return the pork to the pot along with the chicken broth; cover and bring to a boil. Stir the stew and reduce the heat to medium low; simmer, covered, until the pork is tender, about 30 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium high and bring the stew to a low boil. Add the potatoes, hominy and enough water to cover the pork and potatoes. Add half of the cilantro and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and the stew is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.

Serve topped with shredded cheese, sour cream, more cilantro, and a side of warm flour tortillas for dipping.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Teaching Children To Pray With Rosary Roses

We had a very special visitor in our home for one week in October. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the appearance of Our Lady of Fatima, our parish is passing around a beautiful statue of Our Lady to different homes for one week out of the year. When I heard about this, I quickly signed up for the first week so we wouldn't forget that she was coming! We cleared a space for her in the center of our house and tried to create an atmosphere of prayer where any one of us could come sit, reflect, and pray.

I tried to relate the story of Our Lady of Fatima to my children, careful to tell it in a way that would not frighten them as it did me when I was their age. You see, I was mortified to learn that two of the children, Francisco and Jacinta, died shortly after the apparition during the great influenza epidemic and their deaths were predicted by Our Lady. Although they died while joyfully looking forward to living in heaven with Jesus and Our Lady, I couldn't help but feel that their early deaths were the result of seeing Our Lady. That was the reason why, during my nightly prayers as a child, I would fervently ask God: "Please, oh please, do not let your mother ever appear to me!"

The kids were very excited to have Our Lady arrive. When we picked her up after Mass on Sunday, we didn't realize how large the statue was! The kids were in awe! They were especially thrilled that she came with a tiny crown to place upon her head. Matthew was especially in love with the image of Our Lady as the rosary has recently become one of his favorite prayers and I would often find him after school sitting quietly with a set of rosary beads in front of the statue. In fact, when it was time for us to package the statue back up and send it along to the next home, he cried! So sweet.

I can't really say that the same intensity of emotion and devotion was felt by our two little girls. Like typical little children, Lucy and Emma are very distracted during family prayer, often playing about, making noise, or just plain adamantly refusing to participate in any way. Emma especially bores quickly during our family rosary partially because she is too young to really learn all the words and also because she has the attention span of a distracted gnat.

Enter these beautiful, handmade rosary roses made by Annery's Handmade. Annie asked me months ago to review these exquisite, yarn-woven roses for her and I am sorry that I am only now writing this review because my girls have loved holding them, squeezing them, and focusing on honoring Mary with them during our prayer time. Each set of rosary roses comes with 10 roses in one color representing each of the 10 Hail Marys, and a single rose in a different color representing the Our Father. This way, the roses may be used to teach young children how to say the rosary. As we make our way through each decade of the rosary, I hand the roses to Emma and Lucy so that they have something tangible to hold and squeeze during the decade. At the conclusion of the decade, I collect all of them and we begin again and repeat this process until we have worked our way through the entire rosary. It's a great way to keep little hands occupied during prayer time while simultaneously teaching and guiding them through the steps of praying the Rosary.

At the conclusion of our prayer time, Emma especially loves to arrange the roses around our statue of Mary or make flower bouquets for Mary. Lucy admittedly really enjoys gnawing on them but there is something about the softness of the yarn or the pattern of the weave that keeps her attention as she fingers and strokes the roses. The girls know that we only will bring these roses out during prayer time so they actually look forward to it! They are a simple yet beautiful way to teach prayer to little Catholics. After all, we all want our children to be saints! Here's a sneak peek at the future Reverend Matthew and Sister Emma.

Anne makes the rosary roses in many different colors and you can select your desired color at checkout. I believe a set of these rosary roses would be a wonderful Christmas gift for a godchild, new mother, or just about anyone with very young children! Annie also has some other beautiful items, including scarves, dresses, and jewelry, available for purchase at her Etsy shop. Please check it out here!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Post-Election Thoughts

It has been a long few months, but the Presidential election is finally over and a winner has emerged and it seems that most of the country is not happy about it. I was looking forward to the elections being over so that the constant political warfare would end, but sadly after the ballots have all been cast it appears that the hateful exchanges and accusations have only increased! Below are a couple of my rambling thoughts in light of the election.

Both Presidential candidates were (and are) corrupt and deplorable individuals. Neither of them were people I would enthusiastically nominate to be leaders of our country or role models to my children. If there is one thing this election has so definitively made clear to me, it is that we cannot place stock in the transient promises of men. We can only rely on truth, love, and our belief in God to sustain us through this life. Jesus is my king, my role model, my strength, my guidance. In Him alone can I rely. This is the lesson I will continue to stress to my children at the end of this election. How fervently we need God in a world that is continually trying to shut Him out.

In addition to a firm reliance on God, this election has also taught me that we need to be more passionate, more focused, and more resolved to teach our children virtue, truth, love, and compassion. Our children are the future of the world and it is our responsibility to instill in them the tools they need to combat the hate, the lies, the greed, and the widespread moral relativism in our extremely flawed society. We need to teach them how to debate fairly, to remain steadfast in their viewpoints while simultaneously loving and patiently influencing those who disagree with them. More than ever we need parents, godparents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and friends to step up to the plate and pour their hearts and souls into teaching our children right versus wrong because heaven knows there is only so much child-rearing PBS can do for us. We are raising the future leaders of our country and our world. It is up to us to form them into the great men and women our world so desperately needs! We've got to give voters better options in the future.

In the end, I beg you all to pray for the President-elect. He is a deeply flawed individual who has now been entrusted with the great responsibility of leading our country. Pray for the sincerity of his heart, for a humble acceptance of the duties before him, and for the development of a strong moral compass within his soul. This may seem like an unlikely personal transformation to some, but for God nothing is impossible. May Mr. Trump do much good with the power that has been given to him. In addition, please make a conscience effort to be kind, loving, and gracious to all around you. There are a lot of people out there who are genuinely frightened by the results of this election, so try to be the face of Christ to them and provide a bit of comfort and solace.

One of my dear friends shared this prayer with me and I wanted to share it here as well because it is so incredibly fitting in light of recent events:

I do not know what will happen to me today. I only know that nothing will happen, that was not forseen by you, and directed to my greater good for all eternity! I adore your holy and unfathomable plans and submit to them with all my heart for the love of you and the immaculate heart of Mary! Amen

Pray for our country. And pray for our children, the hope of tomorrow.

And who knows? Perhaps you will see Matthew running for President in another 20 years.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Halloween Shenanigans

Over the past couple of years, I have been able to recycle old Halloween costumes and the kids were more than happy with it. Matthew was a dinosaur for three years in a row and last year Emma inherited Matthew's old monkey costume (with a little bow embellishment added by me to make it a bit more feminine). My Mom, after seeing the Halloween pictures last year, made the comment that I needed to let poor Emma dress up in more girly costumes since she is all about frills, skirts, rings, and bling. Well, this year, I took the kids shopping at the consignment store and let them pick their own costumes. Emma got her wish and was a princess for the day.

She had a bit of trouble deciding which princess she wanted to be. She found Belle, Ariel, Elsa, and Snow White costumes and made me help her try them all on before finally deciding on Cinderella. I was very pleased with her choice because Cinderella has always been my favorite princess. The skirt reached all the way to the floor so she was able to wear her rain boots without anyone noticing. Halloween night was a bit nippy, so I had her wear a white turtle neck underneath her dress and she didn't complain at all. The first time she tried the dress on at home, she also put on quite a few accessories to pair with it. When I tried to suggest that she wear a toy crown along with her outfit, she firmly refused because "Cinderella did not wear a crown." Very true.

Matthew wanted to be a Ninja Turtle. This came as no surprise to me considering his obsession with the turtles for the past three years. When we went to the consignment store, we found many, many turtle costumes but none of them seemed to fit quite right. Most of them were very small and Matthew began to get a little disappointed that he wasn't fitting into any of the costumes he liked. However, we did eventually find one in a size 10 - just as we were about to give up - that seemed to fit him decently well. It was a little big, but Matthew is quite lanky and tall so it was actually really great that he had a little extra length in the legs as opposed to previous years where his costumes were a bit on the short side. For his mask, we found a Michelangelo face since that's his favorite turtle but he pointed out to me that his costume is actually for Raphael. So, he was a mismatched turtle but he could have cared less.

And Lucy...well, we recycled costumes again for Lucy. She was a duck just like Emma was when she was 18 months old. I still think the duck outfit is one of the cutest costumes we have. I love the fluff in the back of the costume to mimic the backside of a duck.

Attempts to get all three of them in a picture together is getting more and more difficult. I should note that all these images are from the week before Halloween when we went to the annual ZooBoo. Everything was too rushed on Halloween night for me to snap a few shots.

The kids were a bit more picky about their pumpkin carvings this year. Emma adamantly wanted a cat face on her pumpkin whereas Matthew begged for a T-Rex design. Lucy was fairly silent on the subject so the kids chose for her, insisting that she would like a minion on hers although I'm fairly certain she hasn't a clue what a minion is.  I told Matthew there was no way I was going to get a T-Rex on his pumpkin because I can't even draw one on paper. However, I told him I could probably do a stegosaurus and he was happy with that. I almost cut my finger three times while carving that out for him but was thankful that he scooped the seeds out for me since I absolutely despise that part. I designed Emma's kitty pumpkin and Paul thankfully took over the task of carving it for her. Lucy's minion was a hacked job by me but the kids were pleased with the results.

Our friends Lindsay and Jack came over to trick-or-treat with us that evening. Matthew was pretty tired from school and was not as energetic about walking the neighborhood and begging for candy as I thought he would be. He had gotten up super early that morning and had a parade and a party at school that day. He can only take so much excitement. Emma, on the other hand, was fully alert and completely happy throughout the entire evening. I was very proud of all the kids for being so polite, always saying "thank you" and "Happy Halloween" as they moved from house to house. Emma was particularly proud of herself because she braved walking up all by herself to the house down the block that is completely decked out in horror decorations, complete with blood-splattered windows, a fog machine and a CD track of screams, howls, and groans. After she claimed her candy, she ran back to me as fast as she could and told me: "I did it, Mommy! I was so brave!" The little old lady who lives at that house apparently gave her three handfuls of candy for scraping up the courage to complete the walk up the driveway. I certainly wouldn't do that for a Kit-Kat!

Overall, it was a fun night made much more fun by the magical cider Paul concocted for the adults and portioned out into travel mugs before we headed out. The next evening, Emma asked if she could go trick-or-treating again. Thankfully, Halloween comes but once a year.

But, the damage has been done. My baby is now addicted to candy. I caught her sneaking treats from her big sister's candy sack. Thankfully, her sugar obsession is balanced by her favorite activity of all time: a good tooth brushing!