Friday, December 27, 2013

Lighter Rice Pudding with Cardamom

Rice pudding is one of my favorite comfort foods, and the winter months are all about comfort food, right? This rice pudding recipe is very satisfying and delicious, yet it's "lighter" because it uses skim milk instead of whole milk and cream. And it features one of my favorite spices: cardamom! The recipe calls for long-grain white rice, but I used basmati because I didn't have long-grain white rice on hand (we prefer basmati, jasmine and brown rices). I think rice pudding made with brown rice would be delicious, and with its higher fiber and mineral content, brown rice would be a healthier choice. Cooking times will vary according to which type of rice you use.

Lighter Rice Pudding with Cardamom

1 cup basmati or long-grain white rice
6 cups skim milk
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup golden raisins
Note: If you don't like raisins, you can substitute pistachios or almonds. If you don't care for cardamom, try cinnamon.

1) In a large saucepan, combine rice and 5 cups of the skim milk and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender, 15 to 17 minutes.

2) Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, vanilla, cardamom and remaining cup of milk. Slowly pour egg mixture into rice mixture and cook over medium-low, stirring constantly, until pudding coats the back of a spoon, 3 to 5 minutes. Note: this step took me a lot longer, closer to 14 minutes, before the mixture was thickened.

3) Remove from heat and stir in raisins. Pour pudding into a casserole dish or large bowl. Let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour, or up to 3 days. Serve garnished with more raisins and a sprinkling of cardamom.
Recipe adapted from Everyday Food

I hope you had a very merry and peaceful holiday. Here's wishing you and your family a happy, healthy New Year! See you in 2014!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Details

Welcome! I thought I'd show you some of the simple Christmas decorations from around our home. I'm not one for following trends or changing things up from year to year. Once I find a look I like, I usually stick with it. This year on our front door is a wreath I ordered online from L.L.Bean. It's made of real greenery and  pinecones, accented with faux berries. It has that simple, natural look we like so much.

Indoors, on the dining table, I used the same faux wood, pinecone and white tree candles as I have in years past, mixed with small, real pinecones and faux snow (from Pottery Barn). Everything is set upon a new table runner I purchased from Neiman Marcus. It is  burlap, and the only thing I don't care for is that it "sheds." There was also a mix-up in the shipment: I had ordered the 90" runner, which would have provided a 9" overhang on each end of the table, but they shipped the 72" runner by mistake. There's no overhang, but I like the look, so I kept it. Plus, it was too much trouble to return it. Too bad they don't ship this rolled up in a tube instead of folded a million times -- it's impossible to get out all the creases.

From the chandelier, I have hung silver and pearlescent ornaments, just like I have for years. No changes here.

We bought a very nice, healthy tree this year. It's a nice shape and size -- and we didn't have to move any furniture! We string our tree with colored lights. I think we're one of only two houses on the block with colored lights. I'm a convert. For years my preference had been white lights, but my husband has always preferred colored lights. The past couple of years we draped fresh garland along the porch railing and decorated it with white lights, but this year we skipped the garland. So no white lights for us this year. 

In fact, my husband secretly created a "tree" using a camera tripod that he strung with those large, round old-timey colored lights. He then balled up a string of blue lights and placed them on top. He told me not to peek as he installed his creation in the back yard. When it was dark outside, he had me go to the bedroom window while he plugged in his surprise. I loved it and squealed with delight! I told him we mustn't hide this festive "tree" in the back yard, so it's now in the front of our house below the dining room windows. I'm not sure what the neighbors think, but I love it -- so festive and fun and unique.

Here's a felt poinsettia ornament I made a couple of years ago. They're super easy to make and perfect for a non-crafter type like me!

So, that's a look at our little bungalow decorated for Christmas. Thanks for visiting. I hope you're enjoying a peaceful holiday season. Wishing you and your family a joyful Christmas,

Friday, December 13, 2013

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix and a New Electric Kettle

In one of my first posts on this blog (3 years ago!), I shared a homemade hot cocoa mix recipe. Tired of buying commercial hot cocoa mix with its hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and other unwanted ingredients, I searched for a simple hot cocoa mix I could make at home. I found a good one, but not great. And I wanted a great hot cocoa recipe.

I searched the internet recently for a new recipe and found one on Mel's Kitchen Cafe. It's what I had been looking for. This recipe makes terrific hot cocoa! The ingredients are blended together in a food processor, so the mixture ends up powdery and dissolves well in hot water or milk. White chocolate chips add a richness and creaminess that's hard to beat. I don't usually buy white chocolate, but I found some at Whole Foods that doesn't contain hydrogenated oil and artificial flavor. 

The next time I make this recipe, I'll experiment with dark chocolate chips for an even deeper chocolate flavor. You could also add crushed peppermint candies for a fun twist. The down side to this recipe? It's so yummy, I want to make hot cocoa morning, noon and night! 

Make a batch and give some as a gift. Package it in an old vintage jar tied with a ribbon and attach a handmade tag with directions on how to prepare it.

The recipe:
In a large bowl, whisk together 3 cups of dry powdered milk, 2 cups of confectioners' sugar, 1-1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in 1-1/2 cups white chocolate chips. Working in batches, transfer the mixture to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Store in an airtight container.
Note: I used Carnation instant nonfat dry milk, Ghirardelli 100% unsweetened cocoa, and Whole Foods' 365 brand white chocolate chunks.

To make a cup of cocoa: 
Combine 1/3 cup cocoa mix with 1 cup hot water or milk (I prefer it made with water; it was too rich for my taste when made with milk). Top with marshmallows if desired; I'm interested in trying these vegan marshmallows.

I have to tell you about something I bought recently. It's a small thing, but has made me very happy. It's this electric kettle, and I love it. It boils water super quickly and shuts off automatically. And because it's so fast, I'll now enjoy more cups of tea and hot cocoa (yippie!) this winter. 

I hadn't bought an electric kettle until now because of the lack of storage and counter space in our little bungalow kitchen. Our glass tea kettle, and the metal one before that, lived on the stovetop when not in use. Where would I keep an electric kettle? However, once I experienced the speed of the electric kettle we have in the kitchen at work, I knew it was something I had to have. So I carved out a little space in our "pantry" (two shelves above our washer and dryer) for this new kettle. I love it!
(Please note, this is not a paid endorsement for Hamilton Beach)

Finally, I wanted to show you one of the four handmade pottery mugs I bought at a crafts show last month for my husband's birthday. They are all slightly different in size and color; this one is my personal favorite. Christmas Eve herbal tea by Stash is a delicious peppermint tea that I enjoy year-round. I bought boxes and boxes of it online a couple of years ago when the holiday season ended and I could no longer buy it in our local grocery store. 

I hope your Christmas preparations are coming along nicely, and that your holiday season is merry and bright!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Jamaretti" Cookies

I may have found my new favorite cookie. In my inbox was an email from Everyday Food featuring a video on how to make these pretty "jamaretti" cookies. Described as "every bit as delightful as jam-filled thumbprints" but faster and easier to make, I was intrigued. I've never actually made jam-filled thumbprint cookies. Hard to believe, I know, but I have such a long baking "bucket list," it's not even funny. Anyway, I had a feeling these would be delicious. Like most Everyday Food recipes, they are fantastic. They're fun to make too. 
Go here to watch the video, or see the recipe below.

Jamaretti Cookies

2-1/4 cups flour, spooned and leveled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup almond paste
3/4 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 cup jam (I used apricot, but raspberry or blackberry would also be delicious)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
4 teaspoons milk

1) Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; set aside. In a food processor, pulse almond paste and sugar until combined. Add butter, cut into pieces, and eggs and process until smooth. Add flour mixture and pulse until dough forms. Divide into 4 equal pieces, wrap in plastic, and chill for 30 minutes. [Note: the dough can also be frozen for up to a week. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.]

2) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a 10-inch log. Transfer logs to two parchment-lined baking sheets and flatten to about 2 inches across. Bake until just dry, 12 to 15 minutes.

3) Remove from oven and with the handle of a wooden spoon, make a trench down the middle of each log. Spread 2 tablespoons jam into each trench. Return sheets to oven and bake until golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.

4) When logs are cool, make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioner's sugar and milk until smooth. Drizzle glaze over logs (I used my mini whisk to do this). Let glaze harden, about 20 minutes. With a serrated knife, cut logs on the diagonal into 1-inch slices. Store up to one week in airtight containers.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ella's New Outfits

Ella has two new outfits: an outdoor coat for these cold, wintry days and a sweater she can wear indoors or out. We went to our local pet supply store the other night to buy a pack of yak milk chew sticks (the dogs love them!) and we brought Ella along. She enjoys going to the pet supply store and making new friends, both human and canine. She met a handsome Corgi named Bandit and received lots of attention from the salespeople. 

Ella is a great little dog. I've never had a dog I could put clothes on, and, to be honest, it's quite a lot of fun. Ella is very tolerant of being dressed (it makes me wonder if her former owner put clothes on her). Our other dogs would never put up with it, but they don't need coats or sweaters like Ella does. She shivers in the cold -- and we've been having some cold weather lately! We even had snow flurries the day before Thanksgiving (not typical for these parts). At night, especially if it's raining, Ella will run from us when we try to get her to go outdoors to use the potty. Fortunately she's small enough to pick up and carry outside. Now we put her coat on and I think it helps keep her a little warmer. When she curls up to go to sleep at night, we sometimes put a towel over her, which she seems to like.

Doesn't this sweater look smart on her! My husband picked it out, and it was 50% off (only $9 -- what a bargain!).


Over the holiday weekend we all went for a walk along the greenway. It was a cold, windy day, but sunny. Before long, we were toasty warm from our brisk walk. Above are Ella, Henry and Phoebe posing for a photo with their daddy (yes, he wears shorts year-round, even in 30-degree weather!). I hope you enjoyed your Thanksgiving weekend. What fun things did you do?
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