Thursday, March 29, 2012

OreOwls

These owls are the reason things have been so quiet around here lately. I have been doing a lot of thinking the last two weeks. That thinking has been mostly related to work and life here in Alaska. It was a year ago that I applied to be the Executive Director at the Alaska Bird Observatory. I knew it would be a lot of work and job security can be tricky with non-profit organizations as funding sources come and go. The hiring process was slow, which often happens when the hiring committee is a group of busy volunteers. I wasn't actually offered the position until July. I remember that whole time being quite grueling, but the good thing is that I had plenty of time to think about whether it was a good choice. The last two weeks of preparing our annual report and presentation for the annual meeting really brings it all full circle. I am always amazed to see all the great work we have done over the course of a year.
Each year we have a bird-themed cake auction for our annual meeting. Last year I made a hummingbird cake. I have had this owl cupcake recipe in the back of my mind for a while now and luckily stumbled across it again last week. The cupcakes were a hit, eight of them went for $60 at the auction. Of course the recipe actually makes twelve! You know, I had to keep a couple to make sure they were actually good. Which they were. I like how the oreos inside the cake get kind of soft and just blend in with the rest of the cupcake. They are a little challenging to eat with all the stuff on top, but the cuteness factor makes up for it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Blood Orange and Campari Sangria

I had anticipated this Sangria to go with the fresh spring rolls I made last weekend, but unfortunately the ice maker in our freezer decided to go on strike for several days. I wasn't sure if it was even considering making ice or not. So, the Sangria had to wait until a few days later. The funny part is that this is not the first unfortunate incident I have had involving spring rolls and sangria.
I was going to tell you about how I found this recipe while spring cleaning last weekend even though it is not anywhere near spring here. It snowed this morning if that gives you any indication. Yet, just as I sat down to write I remembered another time when I tried to make Sangria in college. As far as I can remember it was the last time I tried to make Sangria. I always refer to my years at Northland College as the second time I went to college as I had dropped out the first time and I honestly never thought I would go back. It is amazing what a difference a couple of years makes at that point in your life. I was only 24 years old, yet I felt so much older and really out of touch with the rest of my classmates. I did make a few friends with a small group of girls who lived together and one warm spring we decided that we would have a party at their apartment. I was going to sublet from them for spring semester, so I felt at home there. We decided to make a huge batch of home made egg rolls, the deep-fried kind. My friend Melinda showed me how to make them and roll them up. I still use the same recipe to this day. I have always been a big fan of Sangria and figured that it would also be a good way to serve a crowd on a budget. I'm pretty sure it was my idea (I will take the blame anyway) to start soaking the fruit about a week in advance. I thought that is would make the Sangria really good. Before everyone arrived I took a sip and thought that it tasted a little bland, my friends agreed and we jazzed it up a bit with some more sugar and juice. Even as people arrived I still thought it tasted a bit like watered down Kool-aid. I was trying to take it easy anyway, I probably hadn't had a drink in months and alcohol always goes straight to my head. The egg rolls were a hit and the party started out pretty well and lots of people showed up. Two hours later I noticed that the place was starting to thin out and I also noticed that I had finished several glasses of Sangria and didn't feel as much as a slight buzz. By 10:00 p.m. everyone had gone home and the four of us sat staring into a big jug of spent fruit. It looked a little slimy and gross after sitting in booze for a week. We all sat staring at each other wondering why everyone had gone home so early and even worse why we were all stone cold sober. Then a friend picked a piece of fruit out of the bucket and ate it. She told us it tasted really good. I hesitated, but also took a piece. Before long we were all picking fruit out with our fingers and admiring how wonderful it tasted and wondering why the Sangria hadn't tasted this good. It wasn't long before we were all laughing and carrying on before we realized we were all quite drunk. You see, the fruit having sat all week had absorbed all the alcohol. A lot of alcohol. Five or six pieces was probably the equivalent of five or six shots. We stayed up most of the night playing cards and eating the remainder of the egg rolls. It is still one of my fondest college party memories and one of my only college party memories from the second time I went to college. 
I was a little worried the same thing would happen with this Sangria. After my ice maker gave out, this Sangria sat in the fridge for four days before we drank it. I think it helped that there were only two small blood oranges in the mix rather than pounds of fruit. I found the flavor of the finished product to be a wonderful sweet and tart mixture. The blood oranges I had were exceptionally red and almost tasted like berries, paired with Campari it was the perfect blend. I loved the color too. It initially wasn't this dark, but after sitting for days the mixture became a nice deep shade of red. This is the perfect spring drink and I hope to make it again once spring actually arrives.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pork (First Day of) Spring Rolls

I have a love/hate relationship with spring. I love all the things that spring is supposed to represent. You know things like warm weather, buds on the trees, tulips, daffodils, and fresh produce. Those kinds of things don't come to Fairbanks until May, that is if we are lucky! Here we have had temperatures hovering around zero and snow that just won't quit.We are blessed with more sunlight and lately some beautiful displays of northern lights at night. I have been grumbling for years that I have not seen northern lights in Alaska anywhere near to those I grew up with in Michigan. Two nights ago the Alaska sky finally showed me what she can do and produced an amazing and colorful display. Unfortunately, I was too in awe to get out the camera. By the time I had my fill and went inside to get the camera the show had concluded. It was more fun to watch anyway. On this first day of spring I will make my annual trek down the road to see if I can find the first pussy willow of the season. Seems that I can always find one every year. Although it will be months before we see fresh, local produce here in Fairbanks at least the stuff in the grocery store looks a little less wilted these days. Despite the cold weather I start craving fresh greens this time of year.
This was my very first time making spring rolls at home. I used to make regular deep-fried egg rolls often, but I also haven't done that in a long time either. In fact, doing a little research I found out that these fresh spring rolls aren't really spring rolls at all. They are actually supposed to be called summer rolls. Since I was so excited to share fresh spring rolls with you on the first day of spring, I say let's just go ahead and call them spring rolls like all the restaurants in Fairbanks do.The best part about these spring rolls was the marinated and grilled pork. I could have easily eaten it on its own or maybe in a stir fry. I can also see using the same method for tofu, in fact I am sure I will do that soon. One final tip, the package of wrappers I purchased said to put them in hot water before stuffing the eggrolls, I recommend using lukwarm water instead. The hot water caused them to stick together like mad. Other than that I found them to be pretty easy, although a bit time consuming with all that stuffing and rolling. The effort was worth it and a great way to celebrate the arrival of spring, or at least the thought of it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Irish Coffee Cupcakes

I have been dying to share this recipe. Actually, I have been dying to make these cupcakes again. They are delicious! I made them over a month ago for a party using the original recipe. The original was very, very good. I had a few things I wanted to change when I made them the second time to share just in time for St. Patrick's Day. The original recipe was for 12 cupcakes, but I found that they rose up really high. This time I made six more cupcakes (18 total) and they came right to the top of the cupcake papers, perfect. I also doubled the frosting and the glaze to make up for the extra cupcakes and the change in the method for the frosting. The original recipe had you cutting little holes in the cupcakes and filling them with frosting. A great idea, but terribly time consuming and not to mention a waste of all those little pieces of cake you cut out of the middles. I decided to pipe the frosting right on top and then cover it with the glaze. I thought they looked a lot prettier this way.
These are definitely an adult St. Patrick's Day treat. There is plenty of Bailey's in the frosting and a nice splash of whiskey in the glaze. The flavors are perfect. The only thing I would do differently next time is use espresso in place of the coffee. Both times I made these cupcakes, the coffee flavor was overpowered by some of  the other flavors. These make a great presentation at a St. Patricks Day party. I'm sharing them early in the week so you can plan ahead. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Potato, Onion, and Feta Tart

I have the same problem every week. Friday rolls around and I still haven't grocery shopped for the weekend. The last thing I want to do at the end of the day on Friday is hit a packed grocery store. So, I run in and grab a few quick things that I make every weekend. I think that I will run back in and grab a few things later that weekend. I never buy enough to get me through Monday dinner. Since I work from home on Monday, there is really no good reason for me to run into town except to buy groceries. Then I kick myself that I didn't plan ahead. I repeat this scenario week after week. This makes Monday dinners a creative event, not to mention scrounging up something for lunch that day.  On a recent Sunday night things were looking pretty grim. I had little bits of things leftover from the weekend. One leftover baked potato, a couple slices of cooked bacon, some greens, and a box of puff pastry in the freezer. I put the puff pastry in the fridge thinking I might fill it with apples or maybe some raspberry jam and cream cheese for breakfast. The last bagel had disappeared on Saturday, so that left slim pickings for breakfast as well.
It turned out that I wasn't in the mood for breakfast on Monday, but I was ravenous by the time lunch came around. That was when the idea struck me, a savory tart with caramelized onions, potatoes, and bacon. I did a quick google search and found something very similar by Donna Hay which gave me the idea to add rosemary.  I used dried, but would use fresh if I had it available in the future. This turned out so well that I immediately put two more potatoes in the oven for that nights dinner. I didn't have any bacon left, but it was still really good. I want to try making this again in the future with some toasted walnuts. David asked what made me think of this for dinner, I laughed and said it was all we had left in the house. The only problem came when I was snowed in on Tuesday. We have had some tremendous snowfall here in Fairbanks this week. Probably would be smart to plan ahead for this weekend.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

One of the most common questions I get about this site these days is whether I ever make anything that totally flops. My answer lately is that I did in the beginning, but now I have become pretty good at reading recipes and tweaking them so they don't fail. Yet, a couple of weeks ago I had three failures in a row. I was feeling pretty frustrated. They were all baked goods, one a brownie recipe (like this site needs another brownie recipe). All three recipes went into the trash. I try to avoid that at all costs. I do the majority of the work for this site on the weekends, the cooking and photographing anyway. I work my "real job" from home on Mondays and I was having a hard time concentrating knowing I would have nothing to post on my blog in about two weeks. Once I fall behind it is nearly impossible to catch up and I usually have to skip a post. I went to make myself some lunch and started thinking about why those recipes failed. I think it is because my spring brain has finally kicked in. I'm no longer craving baked goods. It appears that both my body and mind are rejecting the winter foods. So, I pulled out some greens and salad dressing I had leftover from a dinner that weekend. Just as I was about to pour the dressing on the salad I looked down and thought, "Why don't I make this a blog post"? It's exactly what I want to be eating this time of year, so I am hoping that you are craving salad too.
You can swap out regular store bought lemons for the Meyer Lemon in this recipe, just add 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey to the dressing.
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