January 19, 2017

Mushroom, Potato, and Barley Soup

Two very exciting things are happening in my life right now.

1) We are going to Hawaii in two weeks

2) We are buying a new car

First things first, let's talk about Hawaii. Brent and I haven't been on a real vacation in years. A real vacation that involves flying somewhere warm with the need for lots of sun screen (and I don't mean that trip that we took back home last summer). We've been putting off a vacation because of the whole - small baby, this really won't be a vacation thing. But I am finding myself extremely depressed and anxious these days, and a lot of it has do do with the current political situation and my fear for the future, but a part of it also has to do with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which I suffer from every year. So.... we are biting the bullet and taking our 16 month very high energy toddler to Hawaii and I am going to try to relax. We are flying to the island Kauai and staying at a resort for 7 days. We may rent a car and see some of the island or we may spend every waking minute on the beach. I can't say for sure.

This is a really busy time of year for Hawaiian travel. It probably has to do with the fact that a) Hawaii is beautiful b) the temperature is warm but comfortable and c) Hawaii does not have Zika virus. This means that flights are pricey and limited. Which also means that we could have spent $800 to get Sebastian his own seat, but instead, decided to save money and fly with him on our laps. I've been doing a bit of research and I have now come to the conclusion that this is a horrible idea, but it's too late, so if you have any experience or tips for flying with a toddler, please send them my way. Also, if you have any recommendations on things to do on the island Kauai, I'd love to hear.

Now, lets talk about the car. Back in 2006, I moved to BC for the summer. Brent was living in Seattle at the time and decided to buy a car to come and visit me every other weekend, instead of flying - which can get pricey. He bought a cute 2002 red Subaru Forester, that had been previously used as a rental car - so he got a pretty good deal. Our Subaru has been around for almost 10 years. She has seen us cry, she has seen us laugh. She was the car that we moved to Victoria BC and had so many adventures. She was the car that drove us across the country twice. She was the car that we later moved to Seattle and had 7 more years of adventuring. We brought home our puppy from the breeder in that car. We took Sebastian home from the hospital in that car. But two weeks ago while on a road trip through the mountain pass during a snow storm our car let us down, and she no longer feels safe. So after a few tears and the realization that we have to let her go, we are finally ready to get a new car. Even though it's sad, it's going to be nice to get into a nice new car that isn't covered in wood chips, baby cookies, empty M&M wrappers and smells like old climbing shoes.


Even in the winter months, every Sunday, we try to head down to the Farmer's Market, sometimes just to browse, other times to get produce for the week. We have our favorite stalls we like to visit. I have my bread guy, and my cheese guy. I also have my soup guy, but lately, he just hasn't been on his game. I think he started leaving salt out of the soup, which is really not ok. I usually get the potato, mushrooms, kale and smoked gouda soup, which is a great combination of flavors. I tried to recreate his soup, to see if I could do it better, but as I was adding ingredients it took a different direction and I ended up with a mushroom, potato, and barley soup, which to be honest, turned out way better than I could have expected. Its flavors are reminiscent of a stew, the only difference being this soup has a thin broth. It's savory and satisfying, and highly umami. It's so good I'm going to make another pot this weekend. And maybe open up my own stall at the market ;)



January 12, 2017

Butter Onion Tomato Soup with Pasta and Parmesan

The past 4 weeks have been hectic and wonderful, exciting and exhausting. We've been entertaining, and traveling, dealing with a sick toddler, and renovating our basement. My inlaws left on Wednesday. The house is weirdly quite and a thick layer of dust has now settled on all of the furniture. We finished up the last of the renovations on Tuesday, had our new carpet installed on Wednesday, and now I find myself spending every waking moment sprawled out on the basement floor. 

A basement renovation had been something we talked about almost every day for the last 2 years - "Oh, we can do this, and put up a wall there, and make sure that we never see a spider again". Over the years our basement has accumulated a pile of junk - boxes, tubs, wood, etc. It was basically a death trap for a toddler. It was leaky and cold and housed a million spiders. Brent is deathly afraid of spiders, so it was either spider-proof the basement, move, or watch him eventually burn down the house in a fit of panic. We sealed up all the leaky walls. We sprayed an expanding foam in all of the cracks. We put up a wall separating his tools, so he now has a cute little workshop. We tore out the old carpet, put down tiles in the shop and this super comfy new carpet in the rest of the area. We painted one wall with chalkboard paint and inserted a piece of metal into another for a magnetic chalkboard. We painted the ceiling and walls in a bright white paint, and we bought new pot lights to cover up any holes into the ceiling where spiders can come through. I kid you not, our basement was crawling with giant house spiders. It was actually terrifying. We still have a few things we want to do - installing a fireplace, purchasing a sleeper sofa, but for the most part, the basement is finished and is now my favorite room in the house. 

Aside from working on the basement, we took a mini vacation to Bend Oregon. We rented a super cute little cabin - it was actually more of a modern, extremely accessible, take on your traditional rural cabin. We went skiing at Mt Bachelor, did some browsing and shopping, and hit up a few breweries in town. Brent had gone on a ski trip to Bend the year prior and said that the weather was mild and that it only snowed in the mountains, so we packed light and were excited to spend time outside. But..... unfortunately, we started and finished our trip in one of the worst snow storms I have ever witnessed. So, we spent a lot of time in the cabin and then in the car, which would have been absolutely horrible with a toddler, but we purchased and Amazon Fire Tablet before our trip and it completely saved us. Sooooo... I'm now completely sick of winter and snow and if you need me I'll be in the basement hibernating. 

Are you guys familiar with Marcella Hazan's famous butter and onion tomato sauce from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking? It is my absolute favorite pasta sauce. I make it often, and always when we have visitors. What makes this sauce so delicious is that you simmer canned tomatoes with a whole onion until the onion loses all of its flavors and then you discard it. Oh, and the butter. That also makes it extremely delicious. Whenever I make this pasta, I always find myself slurping the leftover sauce off my plate. This gave me the idea to try and use the same principals for this sauce but turn it into a soup. I added a ton of vegetables and some pasta and then finished it with some Parmesan cheese. The broth is so rich and flavorful, similar to the pasta sauce. 


December 29, 2016

Focaccia with Rosemary and Grapes

Happy almost new year! Do you have any big plans for New Year's Eve or are you staying home to binge-watch West World? - which btw I encourage 100%. Or have you already binge-watched West World? and if so, we need to discuss, because next to Game of Thrones, this is probably the best show that I have ever seen. We don't have any plans for New Year's Eve as of yet, but we do plan on leaving the house to hang with some friends, which is probably a step in the right direction.

How was your Christmas? Ours was low-key and wonderful. We woke up super early Christmas morning because Sebastian hasn't got the memo that NO ONE ELSE wants to wake up at 6:00 am unless we a) have to fly somewhere or b) have to pick someone up or drop someone off at the airport. Naturally, I would have guessed that he would have been excited about Santa and presents, but as I predicted, he was way more into the empty boxes and wrapping paper. We still have gifts under the tree that we've been slowly giving to him over the course of a week.

For Christmas, I got Brent a fancy espresso machine and his mom got him a burr grinder which has been LIFE CHANGING - similar to purchasing a king size bed - something we wish we had of got years ago. Despite the constant presence of coffee grinds everywhere, I cannot recommend it enough. After many many hours of extensive research, we decided on the Breville Dose Control Pro Burr Grinder and the Breville Duo-Temp Pro Espresso Machine. Believe me, I have exactly zero experience making coffee, but after some research and dialing in the grind, I can now make an espresso similar to the fancy coffee place down the street, which kind of blows my mind. My milk frothing skills still need a bit of work, but every time I make myself a latte, I can't help but think about the $5 I am saving making it at home.

Since Christmas, I have had exactly zero desires to prepare food. My energy is limited to picking up the phone and ordering takeout, and microwaving a frozen burrito. This has proved itself to be extremely inconvenient, seeing as we have Brent's parents staying with us and I'm pretty sure they are sick of frozen burritos.  Dealing with a sick toddler for approximately 6 weeks has left me wanting to tuck myself into bed until next year. But life goes on, and sometimes we just need to make ourselves 3 shots of espresso and power through. Which is just what I did.

Which leads me to this recipe for focaccia!
Focaccia is one of the easiest breads to make. You can top it with a variety of ingredients, similar to a pizza. I've made focaccia with just garlic and rosemary and served it with a marinara dipping sauce. I've made it with artichoke hearts, olives, peppers, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes. It's fun to play around with flavor combinations. This was the fist time experimenting with a fruit topping. The grapes mellowed in their sweetness after baking and paired really well with the rosemary. Focaccia is best eaten the day of, when its' fresh out of the oven, warm, and soft!


December 23, 2016

Raspberry and Brie Stuffed Croissants

My in-laws are here and it's all kinds of wonderful. We now have a ratio of 3 to 1, adult versus baby, and 4 to 1 when Brent's home. Sebastian's attention works in 8.5 minutes increments, so we just tag-in, taking turns entertaining him. He's started walking with fierce determination and speed, which means that the only things that really seems to entertain him are walking fast and climbing on the dog. He's learned all these great skills at daycare - walking, sign language (not the walking on dog business though), but since he started going 3 months ago, he has had one continuous cold, that temporarily turned into a two-week bilateral ear infection, but it's now back to the running nose, stuffy, and miserable cold we've grown to despise. I've managed to dodge being sick for the most part, but this week I think I am losing the battle. And just before Christmas. Someone send help.

In other more positive news, I have finished my Christmas shopping - and a few weeks early this year! I completely spoiled Sebastian, I just couldn't help myself. The tree is mostly filled with gifts for him, and I'm not quite sure that he is going to understand, or even be interested in his gifts - he'll probably find more joy in the wrapping paper and boxes, but nevertheless, it was so fun for me! I got Brent the most amazing gift, and I can't wait for him to open it. And if I can kick this nasty cold, it is going to be a wonderfully magical day.

Every year I try and make something special for Christmas morning breakfast, and I don't mean pouring the oj and champagne into a wine glass. There was the year I attempted an apple cinnamon upside down french toast sort of dish that turned out much better than I had anticipated. The year I made savory cheese waffles with avocado. This year I wanted to make some sort of pastry, and because croissants are one of Sebastian's favorite foods, I thought they would be perfect. Although, this kid has pretty high standards. He will only eat the really good, super flaky croissants from the fancy bakeries around town. I've even done some experimentations. We went to the mall last weekend to take some Santa photos - which didn't turn out great because I don't think Sebastian likes Santa. Anyways, we went to some mediocre bakery and I ordered him a croissant and when it came he refused to eat it. I tried it, and it was pretty terrible - but I thought kids were supposed to eat everything, including dirt and sand?

Now I have to step up my croissant game, because if Sebastian refuses to eat them, I know they've got to be terrible. So last week I made a few trial batches of croissants, and one of the batches I stuffed with raspberries and brie and he absolutely adored them. One of my favorite holiday appetizers is baked brie and raspberries served with warm bread or crackers. I got the idea to turn this dish into a croissant, which is really streamlining the whole snack. Instead of scooping the brie and raspberries onto a piece of bread possibly spilling everything onto the floor, you now have brie and raspberries tucked into a warm flaky pastry, which is just a vehicle to get all of that deliciousness into your mouth. Croissants are a labor intensive project. They take time and dedication, but if you've ever had a warm croissant right from the oven, then you know that it is completely worth the time and effort.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!



December 19, 2016

Creamy Havarti Pasta with Mushrooms and Cauliflower

I love the holidays - the food and the gatherings. Everything just feels a little warmer, a little cozier, and a little more earthy with the all the fresh garland and wreaths scattered about. I'd also like to add that all the pine needles all over my floor are also really adding to the festiveness. (How do you get pine needles to stop falling from the tree?)

Because we normally go home for the holidays, I'm usually able to put my feet up and enjoy other people's planning. Occasionally, I'll step in and help put out fires - usually when there have been one too many boozy eggnogs thrown into the mix. But this year, I am the one organizing, planning, and hosting - so no eggnog for me? In all seriousness, though, I cannot recreate Thanksgiving. I just don't have the tolerance for day drinking.

Naturally, I feel like all this holiday planning should be stressing me out, but surprisingly, I feel pretty calm and relaxed about the whole thing, except for the needles that seem to be dropping at a fast rate off of my Christmas tree. That's actually kind of stressing me.

I've already started planning Christmas eve, Christmas day, and New Year's day dinner. I've bookmarked a lot of new recipes I'd like to try in the next three weeks, and with my in-laws visiting, it is the perfect opportunity to use them as taste-testers. Although, they would never actually tell me if they didn't like a recipe. There are themes, and appetizers, and fancy mixed drinks. I'm going to attempt to use a pretty new linen tablecloth that I made, but in all honesty, I think I'm too neurotic for a tablecloth. I'm the type of person that needs a tablecloth for my tablecloth. I'm just hoping that I don't totally overwhelm myself this year and swear off holiday entertaining for life.

I have a few semi-elaborate recipes in the works, ones that take a special kind of attention to detail, but I also have a few easier dishes in my repertoire, ones that I like to use for those lower-key holiday gatherings. Cute little appetizers, fancy napkins, paper straws, and elaborate cheese boards have their place, but sometimes I like to have people over, crack out a bottle of wine, and sit down to a meal that's not too fussy. Something comforting and delicious and easy to prepare. The type of meal that I can still stand around and have a conversation while making. There's nothing worse than having people over for a gathering, and you spend the whole night in the kitchen cooking and stressing. Where's the fun in that?

One of my favorite meals to prepare when I have guests over is pasta. It's something that I cook often, so it feels as though I have the timing down, the organization is there, and everything always seems to flow smoothly. Pasta can be substantial and filling, but also a great dish to incorporate a lot of in-season vegetables.

The recipe that I am excited to share today is a creamy Roth Chipotle Havarti pasta with fried cauliflower, mushrooms, red pepper, and tomatoes. The kind folks at Roth Cheese sent me over some of their cheeses to try and I was particularly fond of their Chipotle Havarti. It is creamy and flavorful, with a hint of heat, but not too overwhelming. It worked perfectly as a sauce, combined with a little cream, some pasta water, and salt and pepper. I had some friends over last week, and after I made this dish, we all stood around the kitchen island drinking wine and eating bowls of pasta in such a non-fussy manner, it was absolutely perfect.

*This post was sponsored by Roth Cheese. As always, thank you so much for supporting the brands that keep the Flourishing Foodie delicious! Of course, all thoughts and opinions are my own.