Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hearty Apple Corn Chowder

I'm so excited to share this recipe. 1.) it's the first real cooking I've done since moving, 2.) it's the first personal recipe I've posted in more than half a year, 3.) it helped me work out some of the challenges of photographing my food in the new apartment, and 4.) it's delicious.

Hearty Apple Corn Chowder

  • 16 oz yellow corn
  • 3 small red skin potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 apple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup cream (or cashew cream for a vegan version)
  • 4 heaping tbsp flour
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start by heating 2 tbsp of olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the red pepper and thyme, then cook for about 5 minutes while stirring frequently.

Reduce heat to medium-low, add another tbsp of olive oil, then add the garlic and corn, and continue roasting for about 2 minutes.

Add the flour and stir to coat the veggies thoroughly. Pour in the vegetable stock, stir, and let the soup come to a boil. Add the potato cubes and continue simmering with the lid off for about 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Stir in the diced apple pieces, then pour in the cream and season with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer on low until the chowder has a thick, soft consistency- if it gets too thick, add more veg stock 1/4 cup at a time. Makes 4 generous servings.

I first came across the idea of adding fruit to chowder a couple years ago when I saw a pear corn chowder on a menu at a Fairfax hotel restaurant. I didn't order it that day, but it stuck with me. You're playing with the same flavors and ingredients you might use to make a good cornbread, but instead of adding the traditional sugar you get some sweetness from the apple. It's a really nice balance of salty and sweet, and the flavor is super rich and savory.

I might try a variation on this in the summer when corn is in season- I used canned yellow corn for this, and much to my dismay, this led to a discovery that I don't have a can opener... I ended up using a screwdriver and pliers to do the job. I've been so organized, I can't believe I missed that!

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Apartment: Days 1-3

The move is finally over! I never ever ever ever want to do that again. Despite being really sore still, I can hardly complain. My new apartment is wonderful, and I have amazing people in my life.

Technically my move-in day was the 24th. My dad and I arrived that day with the first two car loads of stuff, I signed all the requisite paperwork and got my keys. To me, Saturday the 25th was officially Day 1. Both my parents, plus six of my best friends showed up to help unload the rest of the stuff, then my friends stayed to help me assemble some of my furniture. I have trouble reaching out and asking for help even when I really need it sometimes, but they coordinated with each other and came anyway. After all the carrying and building we had pizza together, using two yet-to-be-assembled glass shelves as a makeshift table on the floor. I already know my friends are great, but that experience was heartwarming beyond words.

Golden morning sun falling across my work-in-progress living room...

On Day 2 (Sunday) I woke up before my alarm. The first night was rough and I didn't sleep very well, but I was greeted in the morning by a really beautiful gold sunrise. I'm not superstitious or the kind of person who interprets "signs from the universe," but if I was, I'd say this was a start of good things to come.

Day 2 started quietly, with a mug of coffee and a loooong soak in the tub. Then I set up my computer, did a load of laundry, and shopped for some home essentials. This whole experience has given me a new appreciation for all things quotidian. In the evening I did my first tiny bit of cooking- really it was just making popcorn on the stove, but it was delicious, and a good way to start breaking in the hand-me-down pots and pans my parents were kind enough to give me.

Where the Magic happens (literally).

This morning's great event was getting my internet connection set up. I had to go to Best Buy and get a new wireless adapter, but after that, voila. Still need to manage that jungle of wires in the back, but everything works, and for today that's all I care about. I'm back online, and ready to get back into some semblance of a routine. I also did some neighborhood exploration while I was out, and tried out the business center at my leasing office (to print out some new recipes, go figure).

So with all the goings-on, January feels almost like it didn't happen. I'm mentally and physically exhausted, but I'm feeling stronger now that the moving experience is over. I'm looking forward to taking things slowly from here, doing some real cooking this week, and hopefully getting back to more regular updates!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 Holidays and Life Changes

The 2013-2014 holidays brought about some unexpected life changes. The big one: my husband and I are going through a separation. Sometimes you get comfortable thinking things will always stay the same, and then you get flipped on your head. I hadn't prepared for this even a little bit, but it's a reality I'm facing with different emotions and strength every day. The details are our business, though I will say there's no real "bad guy," and the decision to separate is a consequence of incompatibility, not wrongdoing. But it still hurts, and it's still a process.

When I started this blog I was on a journey of health and wellbeing, and learning to express myself with food. The inspiration tapered off when things got busy with work, and in June I stopped writing altogether because things were hard all over. I was too exhausted to write. Normally when I'm feeling down, I choose not to write openly or post to social media (so I don't say anything I'll regret later), which sounds fine and polite, until you realize that I missed a lot of days in 2013.

Now, a year later, I just turned 30 and I'm packing to move into an apartment of my own. Even though this has been a very hard change so far, I'm trying to stay positive, and looking forward filling the new living space with good vibes and things that make me happy.

Future box fort?

I wasn't sure if/when I'd return to this blog, but maybe writing here will help me cope with my feelings. Maybe strict silence isn't always the healthiest response to pain or change. Renewing my passion for kitchen adventures is something I wanted to do anyway, but feels extra important now in light of these massive changes. I need good food in my life to keep myself strong, and cooking and baking are expressive and therapeutic.

So that this isn't all doom-and-gloom, I wanted to share some of my Christmas cookies, too. I spent a lot of time distracting myself with baking in December, and had some visually cool results with these gingerbread and sugar cookies, which were gifts for my family and close friends.

Cookies rolled out, cut, and baked.

I made the gingerbread cookies using the Eileen's Spicy Gingerbread Men recipe, which my friend Laura introduced me to a couple years ago. The only sub I made was using real butter instead of margarine. The sugar cookies were from The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies recipe. In the comments, several people mention the dough being sticky and hard to work with. They're not entirely wrong, but if you run into that problem you can re-chill your dough in the fridge before rolling more out and/or use additional flour.

The icing process...

The base coat of icing was applied using a paintbrush (yes, that's very me). It's an extremely simple mix of 1/3 cup milk to 3 cups confectioner's sugar. If you want to give it a flavor you can use orange or lemon juice instead of milk (which is what I drizzled on the Elizabethan Lemon Cakes for last year's Game of Thrones party). Then I mixed in some simple food coloring gel and made red, green, and gold icing, and applied it with a clean artist's brush. It's remarkably easy to work with and dries to a glossy but durable finish.

Piping on royal icing.

The white icing on top is also just a basic royal icing, made by beating together 4 cups confectioner's sugar, 2 egg whites, and 1 tsp cream of tartar. I find it easy to use squeezing it from a sandwich bag with an icing tip attached, though in the future I'd like to try it with a smaller #2 tip instead of a #3.

All that said, I wish you a very belated Happy New Year, and here's to the remainder of 2014 going better than it started.