Sunday, December 26, 2010

Organizing Kick

(First things first--how was your Christmas? Joyful and fun, I hope. Ours was full of smiles, surprises, snow and sweet things.)

What is it about this time of year that brings on an organizing kick?

Perhaps it is the throng of new gifts gracing our home, the slower pace after the holiday preparations and celebrations, or the coming new year; whatever the reason, I've been making lists, sorting and planning.

With all this organization in the air, I also updated my Sweet Pea Virtual Cookbook Recipe Index. Hope it helps in the coming year of menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking and yes, eating too.

And with this project crossed off my list, I'm hitting the hay's a snowy, cozy night, and the flannel sheets are calling my name.

Sweet dreams-

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Eve Eve Eve

R and G's friends are here for Christmas movie night, "Santa Buddies" is playing on our TV, a roaring fire is in the fireplace, SPH and I are sipping some wine and I am making some Christmas Biscotti:

Life is good.

Tomorrow we'll deliver some of the above biscotti, along with some other Christmas treats to our old neighbors and friends. Then we'll hunker down to decorate some last cookies for Christmas Eve and prepare for our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day menus.

Christmas morning I'll be trying a new take on a new recipe, an egg braid from Cooking Light, along with some fresh kiwi and pastry. Later in the day SPH will whip up his now-famous Bouillabaisse, along with a warm Spinach Salad and Champagne.

Again, life is good.

As we celebrate Christ's birth, I am thankful for the peace that passes understanding, love without end and true joy. I leave you with a quote from a friend of a friend's blog, that is so apropos this time of year:

“Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence…To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that ‘something more’ is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life.”Alexander Schmemann (For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy)

As you break bread this Christmas, may you find the fulfillment for which you hunger.

Peace, Love and Joy to you this Christmas Time-

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Annual Christmas Yule Log Cake

I am not sure when or how this tradition started, but ever since I was a teenager, Christmas Eve celebration has meant one special dessert: Yule Log. If I remember correctly, it might have originated from my learning about Christmas traditions in France during French class. Since je deteste learning a foreign language, this could have been the sole bright spot during a year of learning French from Mademoiselle Pinto.

But I digress...

This rich tasting lemon and chocolate dessert graces our celebratory table each Christmas Eve, and also adds a touch of excitement, as we drizzle a bit of rum on top and then ignite our log!

So, if you're looking for a way to add a little excitement to your Christmas Eve celebration, or a Francophile, give this dessert a try. It is not difficult; in fact the cake ingredients are quite simple. For assembly there are a few more steps than a typical cake, but the technique is not advanced.

Christmas Yule Log Cake

4 eggs, separated
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons white sugar
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 - 8 ounce package Neufchatel (reduced fat cream cheese) cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 - 1 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Make the cake:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat 6 egg yolks with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and the lemon zest until pale and very creamy (about 2-3 minutes on HIGH).

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form when you gently rise up the beaters (do this when the beaters are OFF!). Fold* in the remaining 5 tablespoons of sugar. Once fully folded in to the egg whites, fold the egg whites into the egg yolks.

Fold the flour into the egg mixture.

Line a 10x15 cake pan and up the sides a bit with parchment or waxed paper. Grease the paper.

Pour the batter into the pan and spread with a spatula until even.

Bake 8 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown.

While the cake is baking, sprinkle a clean kitchen towel with a teaspoon or so of white sugar. When the cake comes out of the oven, turn the cake on top of the kitchen towel. Remove the parchment or waxed paper.

Cover the cake with a new piece of parchment or waxed paper and roll up. Place seem side down on a cooling rack to cool fully.

Make the Frosting:

In a small microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips by cooking on HIGH for 1 minute increments, stirring between each minute. Once the chocolate is fully melted, set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the Neufchatel (or cream) cheese, butter and confectioner's sugar. Add the vanilla and the chocolate. Mix well.

Assemble the Christmas Yule Log:

Carefully unroll the cake (it is a sponge cake and is very pliable, it has never broken when I do this step). Spread a little more than 1/2 of the frosting on the cake, and then roll up.

Slice a small part of the cake off at an angle to and place on the side of the cake like this:

Use remaining frosting to cover the outside of the cake.

Voila, you've made an amazing Christmas cake that is sure to impress!

We drizzle a tablespoon or two of 151 Rum on top and then ignite our log!

Life is exciting and...igniting!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Decorating with Food

This weekend we added the final touch to the Sweet Pea Family outdoor Christmas decorations.

No, it wasn't a big blow-up snow globe (G's choice) or blinking colored Christmas lights with light-up reindeer (R's choice). Instead, we followed SPH's lead.

SPH lived a good bit of his childhood in Williamsburg, Virginia. I'll never forget our first Christmas together as a married couple when we went to his family's church in Williamsburg for Christmas Eve service, followed by a tour of Historic Williamsburg. It was beautiful and poignant, for it reminded me of my family and my own home church (where were married) since it always decorated its exterior a la Williamsburg for Christmas Eve.

So this year we decided to bring a little Williamsburg to Central Ohio. It was an undertaking, but well worth it! I love cooking so much, I think it is a bit apropos that our house is decorated with food for Christmas. But before we added the food...

SPH cut out the shape of the frame we would need and I spray painted it green and added nails:

I used Magnolia leaves to cover the edges:

I spaced out a pineapple and some Red Delicious Apples:

I added some more greens and SPH hung it above our front door:

I love this decoration for so many reasons: the meaning, the history, the sentimentality and of course, it's FOOD!

This week we have a jam-packed holiday schedule, so we'll be relying on a few freezer dives and pantry dives to serve dinner:

Breakfast for Dinner
Frozen Pizza and Spinach Salad
Easy Cheese and Black Bean Quesadillas and Fresh Pineapple
Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken Stir-fry with Edamame and Brown Rice

Have a sweet week and stay warm!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Make-them-your-own Italian Stuffed Shells

We've been on a bit of a red and green kick here at the Sweet Pea home. Decorations, wrapping paper and yes, even our food. I developed a new appetizer dip using red pepper and spinach (recipe due to post on next week) which was just bursting with Christmas colors. Now I want to share another favorite dish that is ripe for red and green: Make-them-your-own Italian Stuffed Shells.

This recipe is for basic stuffed shells to which you add either sauteed vegetables or ground meat. In fact, you can easily use this recipe to customize your meal and make, for example, half vegetarian and half with meat...perfect for holiday or group gatherings when you need to accommodate Aunt Linda's mushroom aversion and cousin Julian's new vegetarian diet.

Lastly, this recipe makes enough for 2 - 9x13 dishes...freeze one for later or share!

Make-them-your-own Italian Stuffed Shells

1 - 12 ounce jumbo shells package
32 ounce container reduced fat ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided use
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1-2 cups sauteed vegetables or meat (we used a combination of eggplant and mushroom, but spinach, bell peppers, broccoli, or ground beef or Italian sausage would work great)
2 - 28 ounce jars marinara sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the pasta shells according to the package instructions. Drain, drizzle with a teaspoon of oil (to help prevent sticking) and set aside.

In a large bowl mix the ricotta cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir well. Add vegetables and/or meat and stir again.

Pour one jar of the marinara sauce in each of the bottoms of the 9x13 pans.

Taking one shell at a time, add 1-2 tablespoons of the filling. Place on top of the marinara and nestle in, so the sauce comes up around the shell. Repeat until all the shells are filled.

Sprinkle remaining one cup of mozzarella cheese on top of the shells. Bake 35-45 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted.

You may also cover the pan with foil and freeze. If you do this, be sure to let it thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking, and add up to 15 minutes to the bake time.

Serves 6 (per pan).

Have a sweet day,

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Books and Easy Meals

R and G must be getting excited about Christmas. They have been pulling all the pillows from our love seat and sofa, and some from the living room too, to pile onto our love seat, aka, "Santa's Sleigh." They use their imaginations to come up with all sorts of scenarios for Christmas Eve. I love it.

Here they are after one session of Santa's Sleigh, when they found some books nearby. I knew something was up when their play got realllllly quiet. Thankfully, they were captivated by some books, not mischief. I tried to snap a picture without either of them catching me, but G was on to me...

Perhaps the sweetest thing I have witnessed this Christmas season is R, reading a Christmas book to G, without being asked to do so.

This is the time of the year when I shift into low-key mode with my dinner preparations. This week I'll rely on my slow cooker and some easy meal preparation helps from Trader Joe's:

Chicken Taco Fiesta Soup
Italian Bean and Artichoke Soup
Eggplant Parmesan (using breaded eggplant from TJ's) and Spinach Salad
Thai Green Curry Tofu (again, pre-made curry sauce)

With all the holiday fun, I'd rather use my kitchen time for baking up holiday sweets!


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Magical Snow and Sweet Potato Enchiladas

Today's the first day of December and we woke up to our first snow of the season. There's something pretty magical about the first snow, and for it to occur as we flipped our calendars to this new month, well, it's been a fun morning.

I volunteered in R's classroom, and when I arrived, the class was outside, "catching" snowflakes on pieces of black paper to make observations. Is there anything more exciting in the winter than the first snow of the season?

Today I posted a new enchilada recipe that uses turkey and black beans at It's a good one, but I also have a new vegetarian enchilada recipe about which I am fired up.

I used leftover sweet potatoes from our Thanksgiving dinner, combined with sauteed spinach and white beans and a whole lot of yummy Southwestern flavors. The sweetness of the sweet potatoes, paired with the earthy spinach and beans as well as the zesty spices created a symphony of good taste. If you don't have leftover sweet potatoes, cook one medium sweet potato and give it a good mash, you'll be ready to go.

Sweet Potato, Spinach and White Bean Enchiladas

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 4 oz can diced green chilies
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup water
2 cups (packed) fresh spinach
1 – 15 oz can Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
½-3/4 cup mashed sweet potatoes (about one medium sweet potato)
10 whole wheat or flour tortillas
1 – 12 oz can enchilada sauce
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium skillet over medium high heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic, cook for 3 minutes. Add the green chilies, salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and oregano. Stir well to combine. Add the water and spinach. Cook until the spinach is fully wilted, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Pour the spinach mixture into a large bowl. Add the beans and sweet potatoes and stir well.

Taking one tortilla at a time, place about 1/3 – ½ cup of the mixture at one end. Roll up like a cigar and place in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Repeat.

Once the baking dish is full, pour the enchilada sauce over all the enchiladas.

Bake in the preheated oven 20-30 minutes, or until they are bubbling and the tortillas are slightly browned.

Sprinkle cheese on top of the enchiladas and place into the oven for 5 additional minutes.

Let cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes 10 enchiladas

One last note: I am on Facebook. Search for Sweet Peas and Pumpkins, and you can friend this blog. I post on FB all the new recipes I post here.