Tuesday, September 16

Pasta, Pasta, Pasta

Yes, three times the pasta. Well, four if you count every dish we cooked and ate our way through at our pasta cooking class tonight. Our cooking class at the Downtown Market was such a blast. A great and, hello homemade sweet potato ravioli, tasty way to spend a Tuesday night.

Monday, September 15

Townies and Car Issues and Bears—Oh My!

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has always fascinated me. Its densely wooded and deserted landscape shocks city lungs with fresh pine air, surprises with natural beauty and makes for a comically terrible place for car trouble. I sadly speak from experience.

I offered to make the drive as my car’s last hurrah on our family vacation this past weekend. About 20 minutes after crossing over the Mackinac Bridge (which is terrifying) we were engulfed in forest. Just us, a little country road and dense trees. Well us and also the teenage black beer that sauntered across the road about 15 yards in front of my car. Dorothy, we’re not in Detroit anymore.

We stopped in Paradise, Michigan and toured the upper and lower Tahquamenon Falls. Tannins from nearby trees that have leached into the water make the falls golden and amber (see photo slideshow below). So beautiful it brought out our excited faces.

An hour and half west we stopped in Munising, home of the Pictured Rocks. We checked into our hotel, scored snacks from the first and only grocery store I’d seen that day, and waited in a cold line on the pier for a sunset cruise.

The sandstone cliffs extend 42 miles—and up to 200 feet high—along Lake Superior’s shore. There are tunnels and arches and waterfalls and trees growing on sandstone cliffs although their roots are plugged into soil several feet away like an gnarly extension cord (Ben’s favorite). And then there’s all the color—the reds (iron), blacks and whites (manganese), yellows and browns (limonite) and pinks and greens (copper) stained from nearby groundwater. The lake itself looks tropic in a bright turquoise from all the rock’s minerals. It’s breathtaking, I think. It could have also been the high 30 degree temp that took my breath away. The world may never know.

We cruised for three hours, and despite the aforementioned chill, I couldn’t not sit on the boat’s upper exposed deck to take it all in. We were all thrilled by the cruise—until we got back to shore and an unresponsive car. Dead as a sailor on a sunken Lake Superior ship. We opted to deal with it the next morning, when of course my little Saturn kicked right into life like the night before never happened. A trip to two different Munising auto shops and a townie’s quick tightening of a bolt on my battery and we felt confident to hit the road again.

We had planned to visit a ghost town (Fayette) on the ride back downstate but something about a potentially non-starting car in a town of zero people felt unwise to risk. It was a bit of a stressful night not knowing exactly how one gets home from a small city of 2,000 almost 6 hours from home, but thankfully we didn’t have to put too much thought into alternate travel plans. We got some laughs out of the situation too; like when I was too afraid to turn the car off at a scenic overlook we pulled up to and made everyone file out quickly as I kept the car running, “Little Miss Sunshine” style.

Somewhere in the state laws someone should pencil in a mandatory trip to the U.P. for all Michiganders. It’s so beautiful, so different, and even temporarily—it forces you to relax, take a deep breathe and embrace the adventure. Check, check and check. All three accomplished.

Sunday, September 7

Cranberry Balsamic Chicken

If I saw cherry pecan chicken on a restaurant menu, I’d order it fast. I hoped the version I saw on a local catering company menu was as good as it sounded. Plump cherries, crunchy sweet pecans, grilled chicken—what’s not to love?

Ben and I tasted that, plus a few more entrees, at our first catering tasting two weeks ago. Some dishes were so so; others—like the cherry pecan chicken—were spot on. So good I kept thinking about it days after our tasting appointment. So good I tried to recreate it myself.

I didn’t have cherries or pecans on hand so I used cranberries and almonds instead. I added kale, onion and apple knowing they’d stand up to the balsamic vinegar well. The caterer makes it better, but my version ain’t too bad for a quick weeknight dinner either!

Cranberry Balsamic Chicken
2 raw chicken breasts
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ small red onion, diced
½ green apple, peeled and diced
1-2 stems kale, stem removed and leaves chopped
¼ cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted in a dry pan
3 tablespoons brandy (whisky or rum would also work)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper, thyme and granulated chicken broth powder

1. Bring 1 ½ cup water to a boil. Pour boiling water over a bowl of dried cranberries. Cover the bowl and set aside for 30 minutes to rehydrate.
2. Poke chicken with a fork all over (both sides). Season both sides with salt, pepper, chicken broth powder and thyme. Sear on both sides—about 3-4 minutes each side.
3. Remove chicken from pan. Add red onions to pan and season with salt and pepper. Cook until just barely caramelized.
4. Pull the pan off the heat and deglaze with brandy and balsamic vinegar. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, then add apples, kale and drained cranberries to the pan. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes until kale wilts and apples lightly soften.
5. Add chicken back into pan and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Serve with toasted almonds on top.

Monday, September 1

Power Walking & Peppers

You know those power walking, arm swinging, phone squawking ladies around your neighborhood sidewalks? That’s me.

I’m dying to run, but I just can’t do it yet. My brain is ready for it (boy is my brain ever ready for it), but my leg just isn’t. So I’m walking instead. I go on long walks while talking to my girlfriends on the phone about work irritations and boys. It distracts me from my limitations, rejuvenates me with intentional catch-up time and yeah may slightly annoy fellow walkers briefly, too. Oops. Healing is hard and I haven't been entirely gracious (sorry, Ben). I’m thankful to have found a little peace in power walking.

Wildflowers seen on a walk with a friend
I battled in a similar way with a stuffed pepper recipe I made last week. I was ready to pass by a recipe I found online because of a long history of stuffed pepper failure: charred peppers, raw peppers, greasy filling, you name it. But this time I gathered my patience and gave it a whirl. And you know what? It worked.

The filling is a throw-whatever-you-have-in style, which I love. My version was loaded with red onion, zucchini, sun sugar tomatoes and kale. I bet it would be easy to do a Greek or southwest spin, too. All the veggies are tossed together with a boatload of quinoa, then piled in to the peppers. I cooked mine quinoa in chicken broth—a small move which amplified the stuffing flavor astronomically.

Raw filling
Cooked filling (pre-qunioa)
I roasted my peppers for 20 minutes pre-filling, then stuffed and baked for another 10. I finished them with a little feta cheese and breadcrumbs and tossed ‘em under the broiler for a minute or two for some crunch. And past failures be damned, my peppers turned out great. So great Ben requested the same meal two nights later when we had friends over for dinner. So great they too liked it and cleaned their plates—or else they’re just polite liars.

Honestly, I’d be surprised if these peppers won’t become somewhat of a staple around this kitchen of ours. And who knew it? I almost poo-poo’ed the idea of stuffed peppers all together. And you know what else? I’m thinking my power walks I once loathed but learned to love with the addition of good conversation might stay in regular rotation, too. Even when I’m back to my limitless ways of running wildly around town again, I think I stumbled upon a new habit I’m grateful for.

Simple Stuffed Peppers
All filled, waiting for cheese

Adapted from Food Network recipe found here.

4 small red bell peppers
1 cup quinoa
2 cups chicken broth
1 small zucchini diced
¼ a red onion diced
1 handful cherry tomatoes cut in fourths
1 handful kale, stem removed and finely chopped
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
½ tablespoon minced garlic
salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano and cilantro (if you like it)

1. Cut the tops off the bell peppers, pull out the membrane and slice them in half vertically to create small open cups. Drizzle them with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast at a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes—cut side down.
2. Cook quinoa in chicken broth to directions on package (bring 2 cups liquid to a boil, stir in quinoa and simmer, covered, for 12 minutes. Let it rest off the heat while covered for 15 minutes).
3. In a large saucepan, sauté onions, garlic and zucchini. After 2-3 minutes add the tomatoes and kale. Add the quinoa and season with herbs/spices to your liking.
4. Turn oven temp down to 350. Fill each pepper with quinoa/veggie mixture, top with feta cheese and breadcrumbs and bake for 10 minutes. Then stick them under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese and breadcrumbs turn golden brown.

Friday, August 29

Mr. and Mrs. T.

Three bananas foster cupcakes. Those leftover wedding treats brought over by Andy and Ashley are all that’s left from their wedding last weekend. Sure, somewhere in this apartment there are two can koozies with their name and wedding date on ‘em, but I don’t even have a photo of us with the bride and groom for cryin’ out sideways.

Watching our two buddies commit their lives to each other was too beautiful to witness from behind the screen of a camera. Plus I had to focus on controlling my emotional wedding weeping that has plagued me at every wedding since Chelsea’s. Talk about cryin’ sideways. Even their reception was too full of dancing, laughing, drinking and chatting to remember to take home the flowers gifted to me by Ashley’s mom.

I was too busy sing/yelling Backstreet Boys lyrics on the dance floor with Ashley and her girlfriends who have become my girlfriends, too. Ben, Andy and their Troy gang were too busy busting out dance moves that would put Usher to shame—plus a few booze-induced moves that Usher would just find downright shameful…sorry fellas.

By now my emotions have simmered and the lines my shoes temporarily tattooed onto my feet have faded. Yeah, we’ve got the cupcakes, but we don’t need any material reminders of how awesome their big day was. Andy and Ashley are the kind of fun-loving couple that live in constant celebration of the good in life—and Ben and I can’t wait to continue the party with them.