Sunday, October 26, 2014

Little Ole' Estonia

A view of "old town" Tallinn in Estonia, this is a hike through the town to get to the top of this vantage point.  Totally worth it.  

Let's start at the beginning though...
We walked from our cruise ship harbor up the hill towards the town, it's easy to see where to go, just point yourselves towards the red roof buildings.

The old town is surrounded by a medieval wall complete with red topped turrets everywhere.  Not sure how many there are, but it seemed like dozens.  Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  My advice to you?
Always research plays you are going to make sure you see a Unesco site.  We missed on in Helsinki, sigh... but now we have a reason to go back.

Interesting thing about this photo is the large tower in the front is called "Fat Margaret" as it's the biggest tower, nearest the harbor.  Not so nice as Margaret was the Danish Queen that had something to do with getting this wall built in the 1200's.

Three Sisters buildings, very tall narrow merchant houses.  Now there is a fancy luxury hotel in these three building.

See the post over the top window?  That's how they hoisted big stuff into the upper stories as the staircases are small and twisty.
It was challenging to get a good shot of these buildings in the bright sunshine, but I like that I got a shadow of one of the turrets in there!

Russian Orthodox Cathedral, Alexander Nevsky.  

Very ornate and lovely, however this place wasn't popular with Estonians as it was built when they were occupied by the Russians.

There are better photos of the ornateness of this place, I just liked it peeking over the other buildings as we walked along.  Also, much of the cathedral was being renovated and was covered in scaffolding.


Everywhere you go in the Baltic's, you are inundated with Amber for sale.  It's literally everywhere.  It's very cool, but it's not cheap.  I took this photo in a shop and immediately got in trouble for snapping a picture.  As a former retailer, I really should know that.

I didn't buy any amber, while it's very cool, it's just not my color even though it comes in many shades, or yellow, brown and... well, amber!

The town square is amazing and picturesque, with tons of tall narrow buildings and cafes as the tourists mill about.  You can imagine a market set up in the past with stalls of fruits, veggies on the cobblestones. We sat and had a beer in the sunshine, enjoying the scenery, the company and the beverage.

Time for a beer with some new friends, and Maria in her cute Estonian traditional dress.  Either that or Maria is certainly a snazzy dresser

And my BFF too.  Saku is the local Estonian beer.  Not bad!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Pineapple Blossom Martini

Well, I guess you can tell I took this picture back when the sun was still shining in Seattle... enjoying the sun and the friendship of a good buddy (I didn't snatch his cocktail from his hand for this photo shoot, but hubby's are fair game)
We had obviously already started sampling the wares, you can tell by the partial fullness of the glasses.
However, I hope this picture conveys the yumminess of the cocktail???

Sorry, no umbrella, no pineapple wedge, no orchid or cherry.
Pure ungarnished deliciousness.

Today, after a busy, crazy week of woe, misfortune, and tragedy, here's a little ray of sunshine you can inflict upon yourself and a couple chosen others. 
Have a great weekend... anyway.

Makes 1

1/2 jigger (1/2 oz) St Germain liqueur
2 jiggers (2 oz) vanilla vodka
3 oz pineapple juice

Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into chilled martini glass.
Garnish with a wedge of pineapple, lime wedge, orchid, cherry, or umbrella! 
Whatcha got handy?

Here's a tropical pictorial of our week... minus the sunshine, the warmth, the flora and the fauna.  That leaves the rain. Sigh.


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Banana Pudding Trifle

Banana pudding
Some crazy Southern dessert that so many people talked about.
Okay! I'm in, I'm gonna try it.
So I did some research...
Imagine how disappointed/confused/amazed that most recipes for it called for VANILLA pudding.
Wait a sec... isn't it BANANA pudding?
Why the heck wouldn't you use banana pudding into your dish along with fresh bananas?
Why wouldn't you want a double wallop of banana?
Well I DO.
So that's what this recipe calls for.
Oh, you're a traditionalist?
Feel free to substitute vanilla, by all means! Who I am to tell you what to do?

NOTE: I wish my picture was better, but in the need to serve this after a big Thanksgiving dinner last year (plus a wee bit of wine), I never did take a picture with the fresh whipped cream on top.  My Advice?  Do it ahead, and use my Stable Whipped Cream Frosting.

NOTE NOTE:  My daughter is gluten free and was a bit chagrined that she was given pudding layered with bananas in a fancy dish instead of the Trifle  She ate it, all the while saying "I've never had pudding for Thanksgiving".  It still makes me laugh, because obviously pudding doesn't seem like a "real" dessert, but it IS yummy. Spring for some gluten free cookies and do a separate one for those loved peeps.

I happen to be the biggest banana flavored FAN of pudding/candy/ice cream/Popsicle girl out there.
I actually like artificial banana more than real banana flavor.
It's my dirty little secret.  
Banana Laffy Taffy anyone? 
Psych, I'm not sharing.

Makes a big batch, serves 10

4-6 bananas
2 boxes cooked banana pudding, prepared to directions on box, cooled
1 box Nilla wafers
2 cups heavy cream, whipped (OR 1 recipe, Stable Whipped Cream Frosting)

Make the pudding according to the box directions.  Don't bother using diet or instant pudding... it gets watery and icky.  Just go for the "real" stuff.  Cool the pudding.

In the bottom of a bowl, pan, baking dish or pie plate, make a layer of Nila wafers on the bottom. 
Top with pudding.
Top with sliced bananas.
Repeat until you run out of ingredients or room in your chosen dish.
Top with whipped cream and SERVE.

Be Happy! 

Do you like Trifle?
Here's another Strawberry Lemon Trifle

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Zucchini and Corn Pie

A great little brunch dish, or perfect for a quick Meatless Monday dinner too.
I loved all the veggies combined with eggs and cheese, accented with some fresh herbs.
There's no crust in this "pie", which makes it a bit lighter calorie and gluten free too.

I was inspired by this recipe, but I had a little go at changing it up to things that I had on hand, or flavors I liked better. 

I did my complete Zucchini and Corn Pie in a cast iron skillet, stove top to oven, however, you could use a quiche dish for the baking part if you prefer.  I also think this would be fantastic in individual baking dishes too.

Makes 1 9" dish, serves about 6-8

3 Tbsp butter
1/2 onion, diced
3 small zucchini, sliced
1/2 bell pepper, diced
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
1 tsp oregano, dried
1 Tbsp basil, fresh (plus more for garnish)
1/4 cup green onions, sliced
1 1/2- 2 cups of cheese, I used a mix of cheddar and parmesan
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 375

In cast iron fry pan on medium heat, saute the onions in the butter until softened about 3-4 minutes, add the peppers and saute another 2-3 minutes.  Add the corn and combine.

Add the sliced zucchini, chopped basil and the green onions and stir to combine. Don't worry about cooking the zucchini at this step, it cooks in the oven.

I didn't really cook it much, I just heat it up a bit, and incorporated into the mixture.  

Turn off heat, add the beaten eggs and stir to mix.

Here's what it looked like after I flattened out some of the zucchini and added the eggs.  Top with the cheese and throw it in the oven for 20 minutes. Let cool for about 5-10 minutes, top with more chopped basil and some green onions.

Here's my brunch, mid forkful.  I'm excited to have leftovers for my work week lunches/breakfasts.

Smokey Bourbon Caesar Cocktail

We had a 7 hour layover in Calgary recently, and had a blast going to lunch at the Calgary Tower (tall rotating restaurant like our own Space Needle).  

We spied a place for a beer in the sunshine before heading back to the airport.  The place was a total hoot, as we wandered into a Cowboy Gay Bar!  Yeah, we had a great time meeting some new friends and enjoying a cold beer in the hot sunshine with good looking cowboys all around.  But, the menu for cocktails was exceedingly intriguing to me, so I snapped a shot of the cocktail menu (see below) so I could make the Smokey Bourbon Caesar Cocktail when I got home.  

I was really, really surprised to find out what I thought included tomato juice (it might have been the beer goggles... lol) was actually orange juice.


I struggled with this one.
I just wasn't feeling it.
I'm going to have to think about that for a while.

Well, today "a while" came and I decided to whomp some of these cocktails together for brunch.
Maybe it's not for everyone as most people don't put bourbon, pickles and worcestershire into their OJ, however, we really liked them.
For the record, I believe that this cocktail would be terrific with tomato juice instead of orange juice too!

Makes 1

1 jigger Bourbon
1/2 jigger Drambuie
2-3 jiggers orange juice
Dash Tabasco
Worcestershire Sauce
Squeeze of Lime 
Pickle Spear, garnish
Crisp Bacon, garnish

In an ice filled glass, add the bourbon, the hot sauce and the worcestershire sauce. Give it a stir.  Add the orange juice, a squeeze of lime, with a float of Drambuie.  Add pickle and bacon garnish.  Serve at once.

Just in case you thought I was making this up, here's the menu:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Greek Chicken Thighs- Marinated with Yogurt, Garlic & Oregano

This is such a simple idea for chicken, I really didn't expect much.
However, there is something to the yogurt with some spices too, that really add to the flavor of this chicken.

Don't worry about the yogurt being kind of a weird sauce, because most of it bakes away!  Some little bits of baked yogurt remain around the edges, and while they don't look beautiful, they taste yummy.

If you need more inspiration, here's a link to a whole bunch of Greek recipes on my blog.

Serves 4-5

8-10 chicken thighs (about 2-3 lbs), w/bone and skin-on
1 cup Greek yogurt
1-2 Tbsp parsley, minced
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp oregano, fresh or dried
4 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper

Mix the yogurt, parsley, lemon juice, oregano, garlic with the chicken thighs.  Let sit for at least 30 minutes, or longer if you can.  I think overnight would be fine too.

Preheat oven to 350

In a 9x13 dish, add the yogurt covered chicken thighs to the baking dish, skin side up.  You may need another dish, if your (chicken) thighs are large.  Don't worry about greasing the pans, the chicken thighs give off a lot of fat (from the skin), and juice from the chicken and the yogurt.

Bake for 60 minutes, until most the yogurt appearance has disappeared and the thighs are cooked through. Drain off the liquid, and retain for another use.  

NOTE:  About the cooking juices that you save, chill it and throw away the chicken fat when it's hardened.  The juice/stock will be great for another recipe that calls for chicken broth, it's got a nice tang and made some great soup at my house when I add a bit more chicken stock to it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Greek Pork Meatballs with Spinach and Feta

Yesterday we spent the day at the St. Demetrios Greek Festival in Seattle.
We hadn't been there in years, but thought it was perfect Fall day thing to do. It was.

For lunch, we stuffed ourselves by sharing a Lamb sandwich, pork souvlaki, Greek french fries sprinkled with oregano and feta, Greek coffee, and then some sweets; Kataifi (looks like shredded wheat log filled with nuts and drenched with syrup) Bogatsu (think thin baklava, topped with egg custard and more flaky filo dough). Maybe a little walk is in order...

So what do I do when I come home?
Start thinking about more Greek food...

I had a bunch of ground pork to use... 4lbs worth.... I'd suggest that you don't leave your hubby unattended at the business Costco.  More recipes to come...

I apologize this isn't the prettiest picture of meatballs, however these were easy and delicious.  I also have to say that ground pork is very under rated!  It's quite lean, and has better flavor than beef or turkey would have in these meatballs.

Made this and served it with Sauteed Spinach with Bacon and Tomatoes (as shown above).

Alas... once again, I did not pre-assemble my ingredients (as is my usual way...) but here they all together, ready to be mixed.

Makes 9-10 large meatballs

2 lbs ground pork
1 egg
1/2 cup minced fresh spinach, packed
1/2 cup (or more) feta, crumbled
1-2 tsp fresh thyme (or 1 tsp dried thyme)
1-2 tsp fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt & Pepper

In a large bowl, add the ground pork, the egg, the spinach, feta, fresh herbs (if using), fresh garlic and salt and pepper.  Mix thoroughly (I used latex gloves and used my hands!).
Form into large meatballs, which is around a handful, and place on a greased baking sheet.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, turning over once, if desired. 

Here's what they look like when cooked.  The greased pan helped to make clean up a cinch!

Sauteed Spinach with Bacon & Tomatoes

The weather had turned, with some thunder and lightning turning into pouring rain.
I needed a warm side dish, a cold spinach salad just was NOT going to work for me that night.

Large clear container of spinach, staring at me.
Still looking good, but threatening to turn into some mucky compost fodder before I got to it later during the coming work week.

Here's what I can up 'on the fly'. We decided this one was a keeper.
Sorry, but my usual picture of the ingredients was not taken last night....

Serves 2

4 cups fresh spinach
4 slices of bacon, pre-cooked
10-12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 onion, cut into thin strips
Salt & Pepper

First, cut the bacon and onions into thin strips.  I liked using the pre-cooked bacon because it saves time, and most of the excess fat has already been cooked away.  This left just enough to saute the onions in.  

Over medium high heat, stir together until the onions start to soften, about 3-5 minutes.
Add the cherry tomatoes and continue to stir.  They will release a little juice, which is perfect for cooking the spinach!

Add 4-5 large handfuls of spinach, and stir until it starts to wilt. This usually takes 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper, and serve at once.

Here's another photo of the sauteed spinach with bacon and tomatoes served with Greek Pork Meatballs with Spinach and Feta.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Maple Old Fashioned Cocktail

An old favorite with a nice Fall flavor!
Here's a recipe I found that originally called for maple syrup instead of Maple Crown Royal.

I've been loving Maple Crown Royal... but had to find some new ways to use it, though drinking it "neat" doesn't suck.

Makes 1

1 jigger maple crown royal
1 jigger fresh orange juice
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice (optional... you could skip this)
4 dashes of Angostura bitters
1/2 orange wheel
2 jiggers bourbon
1 1/2 ounces chilled seltzer
Maraschino cherry for a garnish

In a rocks glass, combine the maple Crown Royal with the orange juice, lemon juice and bitters. Add the orange wheel and lightly muddle. Add the bourbon and stir well. Fill the glass with ice and top with the chilled seltzer.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Tom Yum Shrimp Soup- Thai Hot & Sour

I've been meaning to blog this since I learned to do this recipe while in Thailand on business last year. I was lucky enough to be able to take an evening Thai cooking class, read about it here.

The funny part about this recipe is that I was SO surprised that in the Thai class (in Thailand!!!) they used Tom Yum Soup Paste... I struggled with that as non-authentic... but when I tried it, I loved it. The Thai cooking instructor's said "it's so easy, this is what we use!".
Okay... now I've been making it at home for over a year, meaning to blog about it

You cannot beat it for easy!
You can, of course, make yours from scratch, I am sure it will be great.  There are a lot of great recipes for it on the internet.
This one, well, it's GREAT and it's EASIER.
I always like GREAT and EASIER when paired together...
...Don't YOU? 

I used frozen prawns, but you could use raw thinly sliced pork or chicken, and it will cook quickly in the hot broth. Use your imagination, this one is easily adaptable, yummy and pretty darn good for you too.

Serves 4

1 Lime, strips of peel removed, and juiced
2-3 slices of fresh ginger, leave peel
1Jalapenos, sliced or 2-3Thai chilies
4-5 slices of fresh Lemongrass, cut on the diagonal (Asian market or some grocery stores)
2-3 Tbsp Tom Yum Paste (Asian market or some grocery stores)
4 cups Chicken, or Vegetable, Stock
24 Frozen, or fresh, prawns (about 1/2 lb)
8 oz. Button mushrooms, cut
1 Tomato, cut into chunks
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup Green Onions, sliced

Assemble all your ingredients ahead of time.  This soup comes together fast!
Using a sharp knife, cut the lemongrass on the diagonal in thick slices.
** You don't eat this, it only flavors the broth, so you need to get people's attention that this is a DON'T EAT item (also ginger, lime leaves or rind, and maybe those jalapeno's too).

Since I didn't have Kaffir limes leaves, I used thick pieces of lime peel.  Hey, it works!  Plus, I cut the jalapenos (or bird's eye chilies into rounds)... same thing, for flavoring, not for munching on... unless you want to.  See the photo at the bottom to see what we happily picked out of our soup.

Cut the tomato into big chunks, I got about 16 pcs from my big tomato. Cut in half, each half in quarters, each quarter in half!  Cut the mushrooms into quarters, or keep whole if you use smaller mushrooms. 

Add the broth to the pan, add the ginger, lemon grass, lime peel/leaves and bring to a boil. Add 2-3 Tbsp of Tom Yum paste to the broth.  Stir to combine. 
Add prawns (or chicken, pork, beef, fish or scallops)
Add mushrooms and tomatoes.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Ladle into bowls.
Top with cilantro and green onions. 
Serve at once.

Here's what we took out of our soup.... we easily could have eaten those jalapenos... just chose not to.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Raspberry Rhubarb Crisp

Looking for a quick dessert with company coming... so I made a quick perusal of my freezer and pantry.  I had some stuff I wanted to use up; frozen rhubarb and a half bag of frozen raspberries leftover from my Chocolate Raspberry Jam episode.

You could use any fresh or frozen fruit for this one, just substitute about 5-6 cups of something else that you have, or like.  I think it would be yummy to use mango and pineapple!

Serves 6

5-6 cups of raspberries and rhubarb, fresh or frozen
2 Tbsp corn starch
1 1/2 cups sugar

1/2 cup butter, cold and cut into small squares
2/3 cup flour
2/3 cup oatmeal
2/3 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the fruit and any juices with cornstarch and sugar.  Mix well.  Add to small dishes, or to one 8x8 baking pan. Put it on a baking sheet (very important... see the bottom for why)

In a separate bowl, mix the oatmeal, flour, chunk of cold butter and brown sugar.  With a fork (or your hands) and mash the butter into the mixture creating lumps of the mixture.

It should look like this.  Don't worry if it looks dry.  It will be fine once it bakes.

Add a generous amount to the top of each dish.

Bake for 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees until the mixture looks hot and bubbly.  The topping may not look "crisp" at first, but will continue to cook and harden as the dessert cools.

Serve hot, warm or even cold with either ice cream, whip cream, or just plain.  Also good with plain Greek nonfat yogurt too.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Moscow Mule

A Moscow Mule?
Who knew they were so easy, and tasty?
If you've had a tough Monday, or maybe you're watching 'the game'.
Here's a little something to sip.

Kind of a funny name, I guess they got their name from the vodka, and the kick from the ginger beer (which is nothing but strong ginger ale).  But I'm totally guessing (its my super power).

You can sub ginger ale, but most grocery stores have good quality ginger beers that are worth buying.

Serves 1 
(Obviously I tripled this recipe...)
2 oz vodka
1 oz fresh lime juice
4 oz ginger beer
Ice cubes
Wedge of lime for garnish

Pour vodka and squeeze lime juice into tall glass with three ice cubes. Throw the spent limes into the glass. Add ginger beer. Stir and drink.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Green Herb Creamy Spaghetti

I had to call my sister for this one.
It was the pasta dish I remembered from growing up as one of my favorties.
I was somewhat shocked with the fat content and the fact that my sister was able to pop off the recipe by text within 2 minutes of my request for the "green pasta, you know the one".
And she did.
Love that.
She may point out that I changed a couple things... I added parsley (because I had it) and I reduced the butter a bit, (like you would even notice) and I decided to just use the hot pasta water for the sauce (nothing earth shattering with that...) and accidentally added more cheese.

Serves 4-6

1/2 lb of spaghetti noodles, cooked (I used whole wheat)
6 Tbsp butter (cut 2 Tbsp off of a cube to get 6 Tbsp)
1/4 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced 
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
1-2 Tbsp parsley, chopped
1-2 Tbsp green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper  
1/2(or more) cup hot pasta water, or boiling water
8 oz cream cheese (I used the 1/3 fat kind)
1/4 - 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Boil water for noodles, 

Sauté the garlic, green onions, parsley and basil with in butter and oil

Add cream cheese, salt and pepper 

It looks a little oily here, but it all comes together in the next step

Then boiling water. It's thin at first, and then thickens up. Add the Parmesan stir and toss with pasta. 

I served this to some friends, snapping some pictures as I finished, and he insisted on getting a picture of me with the finished dish.

Note:  My sister says you can let the sauce (without the noodles) firm up and use as a spread too!