New things....

Hello friends and comrades: I am so very excited to announce that I have switched to a new website, and things are a’changin! I am thrilled to be switching over to a blog where I will be showcasing not just recipes, but knitting projects, decorating ideas, and sewing projects among other things! All of my recipes were moved over, so this site has everything (AND MORE) from my previous site. Please feel free to browse, and also see my “About” and “Vision” pages for more information as to why this is a big step and new direction for me. I am still tweaking things here and there, but for now, enjoy! You can find all of my recipes here as well as all my future updates at:  fibreandspice.wordpress.com


Lentil Soup with Sausage, Chard, and Garlic

The Commonwealth of Virginia is schizophrenic and has no clue how to have a proper winter. In the past 4 days we have had 1) the snow pictured above and 10-15 degree weather, 2) hail at 40 degree weather, 3) rain and thunderstorms at 67-70 degrees, 4) clear sky at 55 degrees, and today 5) is back to 32 degrees with another inch of snow which fell last night. I'm not one to complain about weather in general; I love pretty much every season (except the pollen that comes with Spring) so I'm not offended per se... just mighty confused.

Last night was a night where it decided to be warm in the day, and then drop below freezing at night, so the house (after not needing the heat on all day) was a bit chilly. We fought off the cold with this incredibly hearty and easy soup from smittenkitchen.com found here and some homemade sourdough bread.

I only made a few adjustments from her original recipe: I switched up the kind of onions I used, removed the celery, and used spicy instead of sweet sausage. I have to say that I was a bit leery of the whole "drizzle more oil on the soup" at the end, but it really was a fantastic added touch that added flavor and depth, not grease. Olive oil is so good for you anyway and garlic is simply sublime and can never go wrong, that it's really a win-win situation.

1/2 cup olive oil, divided
4 large links of spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
3/4 cup mini onion pearls 

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into half-moons
4 cloves garlic, sliced (reserve half for later in recipe)
1 tsp salt
1 cup brown lentils, sorted and rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
6 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups shredded or thinly ribboned Swiss chard leaves
Grated Pecorino Romano cheese to finish

Heat 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large soup pan on medium heat. When oil is hot, add the sausage and break up into pieces till it starts to brown. Add the onions, carrots, 2 garlic cloves, and salt. Cook until the veggies soften a bit, about 5 minutes. 

Add the lentils, bay leaves, crushed tomatoes, water (about 2 empty 28-ounce cans), and more salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30-40 minutes. 

When the lentils are cooked, add the chard and cook another 5 minutes, until the leaves are tender.

When you are waiting for the chard to cook down, add the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 sliced garlic cloves to a small skillet and heat over medium until fragrant and the garlic sizzles and pops and softens.

Remove bay leaves and serve in soup bowls with a bit of garlic oil drizzled over the top and a sprinkling of fresh Romano cheese. Eat with lots of yummy carbs if you so desire, and enjoy!


Hosting Christmas

I have to admit, my Christmas tree is still up. I've gotten so far as getting the ornaments off, but I can't bring myself to pull the lights, ribbon, and star off quite yet... Unfortunately I think it's quickly becoming a fire hazard so I suppose it will have to go before the week is out. But but but... it was our first Christmas tree!! And it was the first time I got to decorate my own house! And it was our first Christmas together as a married family! Ah well. I suppose that the reason Christmas is special is because it only comes once a year, and even though we should celebrate the birth of Christ all year long because we know He has already come, we still long for Him to come again to restore us to fellowship with Him as it was in the beginning (and save us from run-on sentences like this one). 
Such joy and anticipation!

On a practical level, Christmas was a success! We were so blessed to host my in-laws for the week, and we also had a Christmas "Adam" party (ie the day before Christmas "Eve". Heh heh.) with 13 good friends. We started off with some appetizers...

From left to right: homemade fudge (from sister-in-law), warm apple cider, assorted stuffed olives/pickles/mini mozzarella balls, puffed-pastry-wrapped baked brie, crackers and french bread crisps, the Pioneer Woman's artichoke spinach dip, and homemade eggnog. (The garnish is fresh rosemary boughs)

I decided to make a turkey, and used my family's traditional poultry recipe found here
I used a combination of methods of baking, and it turned out pretty well for my first time. In order to eat around 3:30pm,  preheat the oven to 450* and put the bird in at 7am and bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 275*, place tin-foil tent over it, and bake for 5-6 hours. Around 2, remove the tent and raise the heat to 300* and cook till the inside temp reaches160*. 

My husband doing the honors...

Despite my forgetfulness to take pictures, the full menu was as follows:

- Appetizers (as shown above)
- Fresh cranberry sauce with orange zest
- Garlic braid bread
- Sweet potato casserole
- Wild rice with dried cranberries and pistachio nuts
- Steamed green beans with goat cheese and balsamic vinegar
- Turkey
- Bridlewood Pinot Noir, 2007 reserve
- Apple pie
- Pumpkin pie
- Coffee and tea

After dinner, we had a blessed time reading through Lessons and Carols, singing carols, and a white elephant gift exchange. It was such a blessing to have fellowship with close friends and family, and it was a treasured time together.

On Christmas Eve, we were surprised by a freak snow fall! It was beautiful, and we were on our way to a wine tasting in the Virginia countryside. It was a bit of a treacherous ride home, which included a 180 degree spin right around a corner. But we made it home safe, thank goodness... here are some pictures from our holiday together. 

For the first time in ten years, I woke up to a white Christmas... 

Santa had surprised my in-laws with some awesome flying money slingshots...

And we couldn't wait till after gifts to start breakfast, so we uh, multi-tasked.

Dad and sister-in-law and our second (more successful) snowman

Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you all!


Crunchy Chicken Tenders

No matter how old we get, chicken nuggets or chicken tenders will always be comfort food. I don't know if it's the ease with which you can vociferously consume these morsels with no concern for bones, or the fact that it's easy finger food; either way, there's nothing quite like a freshly fried, perfectly moist and tender yet crunchy piece of chicken. This recipe is based off the typical "dip in egg then flour then fry" method, but added some spices and sesame seeds to bring some crunch and more hearty flavor. 

- 2 chicken breasts, sliced into whatever size pieces you want
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp chili/cayenne powder if you are brave
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 Tbl sesame seeds
- 1 egg + 2 Tbls water
- Vegetable oil for frying

Heat the oil on the stove to medium-high. Mix together the dry ingredients, and beat together the egg and water in a separate bowl. Dip the chicken first in the egg wash, then coat with the flour mixture. When the oil is hot, fry until the chicken is no longer pink inside. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain. 

Serve with steamed asparagus and rice, and your favorite dipping sauce. 


Perfect Pie Crust

I finally made pie today. I know apple season has been in full swing since ages ago, but I just haven't gotten around to it until now. But alas, I have fixed the error of my ways. 

Pie crusts have always been the single deterrent to me making pies more often. I don't know if it was because my mom always complained about making pie crusts, or if her inclination to always use whole wheat flour just made it way more difficult than it needed to be, or if I just never really liked the taste of what resulted in my dry, hard, sandpapery pie crusts. 

Either way, I've experimented with several recipes, and I think I found a keeper. I've gathered from all the different recipes I've read that 1) butter is the only way to go and 2) everything must be cold cold COLD in order for it to be flaky. When the butter is able to keep in it's little clumps, this is what creates the little airpockets of layers of crispy goodness once the butter melts in the oven. 

All that being said, here goes. 

- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 Tbls sugar (I use raw sugar and really liked being able to see the large flecks)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 sticks cold butter (I place them in the freezer about 5 minutes before I am ready to use them)
- Egg white wash and 1 Tbls water, whisked together (optional)

- Fill a 1 or 2 cup measuring cup with cold water and drop in a few ice cubes. You will only use between 1/2 and 2/3 cup of this water. 
- Mix together all the dry ingredients in a large bowl (big enough to get your hands into the mix), and then remove butter from freezer and cut into small (1/2-3/4 inch) cubes. Add that butter to the flour mixture, and cut with a pastry cutter until an average size piece of butter is about the size of your pinky finger nail. It won't be consistent, but that's okay; don't overwork it. 
- Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the cold water over the top, and use a stiff spatula to work it in. Continue adding a little bit of water at a time (1-2 Tbls) until it all pulls together. You shouldn't need more than 3/4 cup total. 
- Pull together and knead until it holds itself together; divide into two, wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes. 

- Take one piece out of the fridge at a time to roll. Another note here: don't be afraid to be generous with the flour on the counter and rolling pin. If the dough is cold, it won't absorb too much and it won't get too dry and hard. To keep the dough from sticking, roll it out straight in front of you, then turn the dough about three hours counterclockwise. Roll straight again, then turn etc. This will keep you from having to scrape it off when it comes time to put it in the pie pan, while helping you keep it round. 

After getting it into the pie pan, place it back in the fridge or freezer while you are rolling out the top piece. Again, keeping the dough cold is essential and will make a huge difference, I promise!

After assembling your pie, slice slits in the top, and brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with raw sugar, and bake as directed by your pie recipe.

My husband is serious about his personal apple pie. 


The Best Sweet Potato Fries

I never used to like sweet potatoes, but this is obviously because I haven't fried them to smithereens before. I seriously could not stop eating them... a little sweet, a little salty, a little crunchy...mmmm so much goodness. 

I also haven't really had too much success with making the perfect crunchy fry. I've tried baking them before, but they either come out burnt on the outside and raw inside, or just end up being like baked potatoes in strips. If I am ever too lazy or feeling overly health conscious, I will probably stick to the baking method. However, this double fry method really makes these babies perfect. 

I know there are some pretty nifty contraptions that can be used to cut potatoes into fry-like pieces. However, I don't have one and here is a little trick I have figured out after cutting myself (or having a close call) many times. 

But first, preheat a pan of vegetable oil to a low frying temperature (300*). 

Meanwhile, after you peel the potato, cut it in half the long way down the narrowest side. Take one half and lay it with the flat side down. Cut it down the center the long way again. Flip this quarter onto the side it isn't already on, and then slice that quarter the long way into fry-width pieces. Flip the stack back, so that the slices are piled on top of each other. Take the top rounded piece off (so that your knife does slip off the rounded surface). Slice again into fries, and slice the rounded piece by itself. Repeat with all four quarters. 

Fry the pieces, in batches if necessary, just until the pieces are soft, about 2 minutes (not until they are brown; that will come later). Remove from oil, and fry the second batch. After removing the second batch, raise the heat of the oil to 400*. Fry each batch again, until they are brown and crispy (another 2-3 minutes, depending on how big the pieces are). Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Salt generously, and eat your heart out. 


Frosted Pumpkin Cookies

I know it's kind of cliche, but seriously. Fall is the best time of the year. I don't know if it's the relief from constant heat and humidity, or the almost unnatural wheel of colors that end up on the tips of trees. Or maybe it's the promise of holidays that are just around the corner, and their fond and strong memories that have accumulated over the years. Maybe it's the crisp mornings that make you shiver just a bit and remind you that you're human and need warmth to survive, or cuddling up with a loved one while sheltered from the frost outside. Whatever your reason, I will go one step further and say Fall wouldn't be Fall without pumpkin. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, pumpkin scones... and of course pumpkin cookies. (with frosting of course). These little treasures are the softest, lightest, moist-est cookies I've ever had; they are literally like mini pumpkin cakes. I used probably more pumpkin than most recipes call for in the flour-to-pumpkin ratio, which made them actually taste like pumpkin rather than just being orange cookies. It also makes them incredibly moist and fluffly.

3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice OR 1/2 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1 16-oz can pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350*. Mix the first six ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter, sugar, and maple syrup together; add the egg, and beat till incorporated. Mix in the pumpkin and vanilla, then add the dry ingredients and mix till the batter is combined.

Drop tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheets and slightly flatten. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the bottoms are brown and the cookies bounce back when tapped.

To make the "frost":
Mix together - 2 cups powdered sugar, 1 Tbls melted butter, and 3 Tbls milk. Mix together and add more or less milk to reach your desired consistency. Use the back of a spoon to spread on the tops and serve with a steaming cup of coffee.