Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Norwegian Grub and CHRISTMAS Cinnamon Rolls

Christmas is HERE!! 

This year the anticipation has just been killin' me! 
This is my first year working retail in a setting where the music is not really... negotiable? If you will... 

However, even with the endless hours of 'Santa Baby' and 'All I Want for Christmas is the Girl of My Dreams'... I
still have been so unbelievably excited for it all. 
Last night my parents and I went to my great-uncle's house, as we always have, and although it was a smaller crew than I am used to, it was
so great. My cousin and great-aunt made traditional Norwegian food... We almost always enjoy lefse, but this year were able to experience lutefisk (more on that in a moment) and rømmegrøt. 

Lefse is a Norwegian flatbread or tortilla of sorts made of flour, cream, and potatoes, of course... We always doctor it up with butter, cinnamon, and sugar, but others often enjoy it with savory items like ham and cheese or beef. 

Lutefisk is a traditional Nordic soup made from aged cod and a whole lotta butter. It is gelatinous in texture (the second of the two main problems... and has an extremely strong, pungent odor (the first of the big problems). Its name literally means 'lye fish'.  I am not a 'gaggy' person... I couldn't stomach this. My great-uncle, Keith, is a big, burly Viking and told me while I was giving my very best efforts to choke it down, that even he couldn't stomach it... it was at that moment that I decided I wouldn't renounce my heritage by spitting out the rank fish soup. 
Ahhhh, rømmegrøt. :) My first introduction to this decadent treat was at Nordicfest in Decorah, Iowa. It is a porridge made of whole milk, butter, and is often topped with cinnamon. It is rich and delicious and the perfect way to end a wonderful evening of food, stories, and laughter.

I just love my lil tree! It might be why I am still so very excited about Christmas! 

While last night was wonderful, today was lovely too!! My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their third little bumpkin and just moved into their new house about a month ago. It's much larger than their last house and a really great layout for rambunctious boys and a bunch of adults to eat, drink, and be merry.

My contribution to the brunch was homemade cinnamon rolls.... I have backed way off on baking in the last few years as I've been noticing it's really just not all that necessary, nor does my body like it very much... but I forgot how much I LOVE whipping up something sweet. :) Thankfully, I had the opportunity to tap into that delight once again this Christmas.

If you're interested in making these lil Christmas beauts, just follow these simple steps!

For the dough, you'll need:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (NOT pastry flour!!)
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the deliciously gooey insides, you'll need:

  • 1 stick of butter or 1 cup
  • 1/4 cup cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar

For the icing, you'll need:
  • 1/2 bag of powdered sugar (about a pound... they're sweet!)
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons butter (about 1/3 of a stick), melted
  • a dash of salt
  • a generous splash of pure maple syrup
To make the dough, you first need to heat the milk, oil, and sugar in a medium pot over medium heat. You want to warm the mixture, but NOT boil it... it's a delicate dance here. Once you've heated the mixture, but saved it from boiling, set it aside and let it cool until it's lukewarm.

Once the milk, oil, and sugar have cooled, add 4 cups of the flour and your packet of yeast and stir just to combine. The dough will be sticky. Cover the pot with a towel and let the dough rise for an hour while you wrap more presents... or while you shower and beautify before everyone else wakes up. ;)
After your hour has passed, add the remaining 1/2 cup flour, baking soda, baking powder, and the salt. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, start melting your butter, and roll your dough into a large rectangle. I had to roll mine into two large rectangles... just do what you need to make it work. :) 

Pour on your butter and spread it around with your lovely little hands! (Have fun with it, how often do you get to slather butter all over your counter?!)

Sprinkle your cinnamon allllll over your rectangle of gold... I mean, dough. I love cinnamon, so I was extra liberal in this step. Don't be stingy on the edges! Follow with your sugar - the same mindset for that ingredient... the more, the merrier.

Do your best to roll your rectangle up super tight... this will simply make it easier to keep all that ooey, gooey, goodness INSIDE your rolls rather than all over your counter. Take a step back to enjoy your masterpiece and break out the butcher knife to slice your log into rolls. 

I felt like a combination of when I eat corn on the cob going back and forth, making sure I don't miss a single kernel and how I used to pretend to type or play the piano as a kid - you need quick fingers to keep it all together!

So much goodness right there.

Bake at 375 for 13-17 minutes, depending on your oven. Make sure not to let them get too brown as nobody's looking to eat any hockey pucks for their brunch... golden is good, aim for golden. 

This is the part my nephews love the most: the icing. It makes sense, who doesn't love straight sugar and butter? Mix together powdered sugar, milk, butter, and a smidge of salt. Once that's all mixed well, add in your splash of maple syrup. Most would whisk this all... I don't care for whisks though, so I simply mix it with a fork. To each their own! 

If you can even contain yourself for the 7 minutes or so that the smell of baked dough and buttery, sugary, cinnamony perfection has been tantalizing your nose, then break them out and let them cool for a moment before slathering the icing ALLLL over them. I'd suggest doing this while they're hot as the icing is pretty heavy duty.

I could stare at them all day... is that weird?

Good as gone.


Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Vagabond Image & Design

Just another shout out for the current scholarship-giveaway going on with Vagabond Image & Design!

Here are a few ideas of whom you may want to nominate:

Your sister and/or best friend for being there for you always.

Your friends who are crazy in love and trying to stick to a budget for their upcoming wedding.

Your brother who has this gorgeous family that just keeps growing and changing and you just know they need to document the exciting moments, but have other things at the top of their priority list.

Your sister who cares for everybody she meets and treats them with utmost respect and dignity. She cares for her family, but never seems to treat herself. Perhaps she needs a little something extra special this Christmas.

Your co-worker who has a new little gem to love on and simply hasn't taken the time to capture those first memories...

...or your darling friend who doesn't neglect to capture the moments, but never seems to be in the frame for those moments as well!

How about that one special someone that is nourishing and carrying new life.

Nominations can be anonymous or not, whichever you choose! Simply follow the instructions on this link to enter the person you're thinking of right now... Go ahead! What are you waiting for?!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Morning Bliss...

  • blog facelift
  • rediscover favorite CD from high school
  • start conquering to-do list
  • mountain of deliciousness
After making potato skins the other day, I had left over baked potatoes to make breakfast with...
I wish you could taste them... I also wish you loved potatoes as much as I do...

Check, check, check, check! And all before 8:30. 

Heavens, I love Saturdays. It's really a shame it always takes another 6 days for them to roll around again.

In case you haven't heard, girlwithagypsyheart is hosting a scholarship-giveaway with Vagabond Image & Design... read the previous blog post here for details -- in short, you can nominate a loved one to win a grand prize of a full photo session with copyrighted disc of their edited images for free! All in the spirit of giving. Check it out!

Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Giveaway? Christmas? WHAT?!

In the spirit of GIVING, Vagabond Image & Design wants to help you take a step back and remember the reason for the season with a scholarship giveaway!

Do you have someone on your gift list that you want so badly to give the perfect gift, but just can't quite find that very one? Do you have a loved one who really struggles during this time of year (it's not always easy or natural for some to join in on the joy and cheer -- lots of loss and memories spark sadness instead this time of year.) Or maybe you're like me, and have someone who has everything they want and need... I get it. Those people are very tricky to Christmas shop for. 

Have no fear, an answer is here! Photography is a way to capture and document where you are here and now; it's something that can be looked back on to recognize the growth, memories, cheer, and oftentimes a point of reference for a new start!

**Here are the deets:

PRIZE: GRAND PRIZE- ONE FREE PHOTOGRAPHY SESSION of the clients choosing plus a disc of edited images with copyright. (Engagement, Newborn, Family {immediate only}, headshot, maternity, or a children session – must be done in the Cedar Valley or if mutually agreed within 30 miles of Cedar Falls/Waterloo). 

2nd Prize- ONE mini 30 minute photography session of the clients choosing (Cedar Falls/Waterloo location only - all additional items ala-carte).

HOW IT WORKS: Click the girlwithagypsyheart Facebook link and become a FAN of the FACEBOOK page (I will check this) and this is good for one entry. Check out the blog before it gets it's incredible face-lift.

Email why the person you wish to make merry with this gift should be treated to a personalized photography session. This can include why you're thankful for them, how they've impacted the community or another's life, how they have persevered through a difficult season of life, or anything that you deem worthy of a personal, fun, never-to-be-replicated gift. Please include your name and contact information as well as your connection with whomever you're nominating and what type of photography session you wish to bless them with. In 250-1000 words, please paint a picture for me of specifically why this person is the best fit to receive the Grand Prize. (This is the fun part - get creative, enjoy it!)

The scholarship will be open the 12 days of Christmas and I will announce the winner on New Years Day. 

(aka: Feel free to email your essays from December 13th-December 25th, at which time the contest will be closed and I will take a few days to read through them and find a winner. Winner will be announced the first day of 2014!)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Roasted Chicken

So... my man lives too far away and next weekend I'm heading out to see him for a 'faux-Thanksgiving', as he has deemed to name it... it was $600 more to visit DURING Thanksgiving. Not even kidding.All that to say, I want to make him a chicken. :) And when I actually make it for him, I want to make it perfectly. :)I hate cooking poultry. Seriously. It's one of my few OCD things... who wants salmonella?! Not this chick, that's who.HOWEVER, Thanksgiving is meant to be spent with your favorite people gathered around a delicious bird. And I don't care much for turkey... so chicken it is!Life has been a little extra chaotic lately with a new job and life transitions, so while I'm testing this 'recipe', if you will, we'll see if I remember how to roast a chicken. Fingers-crossed.While putting this idea together, I found some fresh thyme and rosemary in my dad's garden, picked up a lemon from work, and whipped out the usual EVOO and fresh ground sea salt and pepper.(I also managed to whip up some mulled wine, which will be better laid out in a later post and the culprit for any and all madness following this sentence. Glad I included that!) 

The wine wants you to know I was the
2012 Toad's Chili Cook-On Runner Up...
Second Place out of 30 entries!
The ladle will vow for me.
I purchased the bird from our local 'Moo-Roo'... There's a dairy farm about 15 minutes away that has a small shop on my way home from work. They carry not only local, hormone free, dairy products, but they also carry local honey, produce, and meat.At the register I found out the chicken actually wasn't local... they informed me that it was from a farm in Pennsylvania - that it was the closest humane farm. I'm glad I asked.I took my Microplane and probably used about 1/4 of the lemon to incorporate some zest in my chicken rub. 

I mixed the zest with salt and pepper, thyme, and rosemary. I made sure these ingredients were properly minced, and added a bit of olive oil before rubbing the mixture all over the bird and as well as I could under the skin.I stuffed the cavity with half of a lemon, thyme, and a sprig of rosemary. I roasted it on a bed of baby red potatoes for 30 minutes at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. When my timer beeped, I took it out to find this beaut:
I then added some butter to the chicken and finished roasting it for about 10-15 minutes. When all is said and done, the chicken should read 165 degrees and rest for 10 minutes before being carved to serve. 
The wine seems to be all about bragging tonight...
it also wanted you to see this video I made with
Better Homes and Gardens' a year and a half ago...
even though I didn't use the tent.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Wilted Spinach

A few weeks ago at our quarterly meeting for work, I was amazed that I was the only person in the room who claimed to eat spinach for breakfast! This is a staple of mine, super easy, and so great for you!

These 'Persian Greens', as they're still referred to in China, gained more fame and attention during the 1960's as cartoon Popeye, the Sailorman, encouraged children to eat their spinach so they could grow up to be big and strong... the crazy part being that there was a LOT of truth to this cartoon's claim to fame:

Spinach is low in fat and even lower in cholesterol. It is high in niacin and zinc, as well as:
  • vitamins A, C, E, and K
  • thiamin
  • protein
  • fiber
  • vitamin B6
  • folate
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • iron
  • phosphorus
  • copper
  • potassium
  • manganese
All this to say... it's loaded with so many nutritional benefits to aid every part of your body!

Spinach has been known to help maintain vigorous brain function, memory, and mental clarity. (Clearly I still don't eat quite enough!)

Spinach's abundance of flavonoids give it antioxidant characteristics that keep cholesterol from oxidizing and protects your body from free radicals - especially your colon. Spinach is also rich in folate, which keeps your cardiovascular system in tip-top shape. The magnesium in this super-veg helps to bring high blood pressure down.

Now that you know why you should eat it, here's one of the easiest ways how to eat more spinach!

I like to take a couple fresh mushrooms, slice them up and set them aside to add in at the very end... it's a texture thing for me - add them whenever seems best for you.

I always start by heating up my skillet and throwing in a knob of butter and a whole clove of garlic... lately I've been fighting an ear infection so I leave the clove in the mix and eat it whole, disregarding the scent of my breath as the day goes on... :)

Once the butter has melted and covered the skillet, I throw as much of a bag of spinach on as possible.

It looks like a heap, and it is, but as it wilts, you'll see it's not excessive... by the time it's done, you'll have incorporated the whole bag.

I have become accustomed to using a glass plate for my lid... keep that steam in there! 

You'll see that the spinach cooperates in sections... 

Just keep turning it! It really comes together quite quickly.

At this point, feel free to throw in any additional veggies or even eggs! Spinach will keep you full, regular, and absolutely radiant. Eat it up and enjoy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

the best gift...

I don't know about you... but my love language isn't gifts. I like gifts and I enjoy giving gifts, but not when they're expected... certainly not on holidays. It just puts so much pressure on them! 

I was so thrilled when I mentioned to my beau that I was having a hard time coming up with something perfect to get my dad for his birthday. 

My dad is someone who has what he needs, enjoys Led Zeppelin, and doesn't necessarily enjoy more 'stuff' if it isn't something he's picked out himself... (honestly, I realize I am more like him EVERY DAY.)

Stephen instantly replied that I should give him a push pin, map of the states, and a jar with $20.

I sat silently for a moment to encourage him to elaborate so I could understand fully what he was getting at. He went on that it's all about the presentation. He said I need to wrap them all up separately and explain each gift as I give it to him. 

I am continually amazed and at how perceptive he is to me and the people I care about from SO FAR AWAY.

I knew this would be well received, if not the most perfect gift ever. 

Dad's not huge into gifts either, but I can't tell you how perfectly he received this one.

I walked into their house announcing that he needs to close his eyes that I was bearing very important birthday gifts. I handed him the small parcel enclosing the push pin. He opened it and, quite honestly, probably knew right then what I was up to... but continued to play along as I gave him a poster rolled up and wrapped so inconspicuously... 

I ended up purchasing a map of the world, partly because I would rather explore far away lands... and partly because it was $3 cheaper than a map of the states. :)

Did I mention that I can't even put into words how perfect this gift is for my dad? So unbelievably perfect.

I handed him the jar with $20 in it and told him that I have a matching jar at home, where I'll do just that - match every dollar he puts in there. I hope I was clear enough that he needs to let me know when he puts money in there so I'm not dropping Benjamin's all at once!

If you're looking for the perfect gift for someone adventurous and who speaks the love language of quality time, THIS IS MOST CERTAINLY IT!

After I pulled myself together from the great success of this presentation, if you will, I was sitting there next to my Daddy watching 'Vikings' on the History Channel and asked him where we were going and he just nodded at the TV. 

I smiled. 

He later confirmed how excited he was to see Ireland and Norway. 

You and me, both, Jefe. So excited. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Chicken Dijon

My momma made a great discovery the other day while cleaning - she came across one of my Grandmother's old recipe holders. Knowing my love of food and our family history, she sent them home with me. 

This was such a blessing because, especially lately, I've been missing her a LOT. It's been hard and fun, but it's crazy all the random things that bring her to mind with my new job. I think she would be really happy with what I'm up to these days. Sometimes I just want to sit with her over coffee and fill her in and get her input as to what's best... She definitely was one of my biggest cheerleaders! She was always so great at creating things, making pretties, and being adventurous with even the small details of life. Little gestures like following a recipe written in her handwriting makes her seem ever so slightly, less far away...
Nostalgia at it's finest.
I went ahead and started with the first recipe held in the book: Chicken Breast Dijon. 

Per usual, I changed things around to fit what was already in my kitchen... here's how it went... 

Chicken Dijon

1/3 cup crushed Nut Thins (I was looking for a GF option - it worked really well!)

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon dried Herbs de Provence 
3 tablespoons dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt & pepper

1 chicken breast

1 teaspoon butter

1.) Combine cheese, seasonings, and mustard in a shallow dish, stir well. Brush mixture over sides and dredge in crumbs.  

Mustard, Parmesan, Herbs de Provence, thyme, and salt & pepper mixed together before brushing on the chicken.

I brushed one side with the mustard mixture before dredging with the crumbs, then did the same to the other side.

2.) Heat butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add chicken and cook 6 minutes on each side or until done. 
I put a plate over my skillet (as I have no lids - gotta make the most of what we've got!) I believe this helped the chicken to keep it's moisture and have really perfect texture once it was done.

Unfortunately, my chicken breasts were ginormous. The six minutes didn't quite cut it... I added a few minutes on to each side and they cooked up very nicely. As soon as my parents caught wind that I was trying out some of Grandma's recipes, they made their way over to my house to be my taste testers (always so helpful). I asked my dad if he remembered this recipe at all and he said he most certainly did not... could have been my adjustments - could have been a more recent discovery of hers too! Either way, it was super easy, delicious, and such a nice surprise!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

re-instilling family dinners...!

I'm entering another new season of life as I start a new job at the beginning of September... it's exciting and wonderful, but mostly I'm looking forward to getting back into the kitchen... for fun. :) 

I've lucked out again and been blessed with two incredible girls for roommates. We are all three very different, but we groove. :) We gel. ;) To celebrate this, I informed my wonderful roommates that we're going to be having a lot more family dinners going forward. There's no just reason not to.

Last weekend while we were in Dubuque, I tried this San-J Thai Peanut Sauce and LOVED it. We had been wandering around the farmer's market and got some spring rolls... they offered this for dipping - whoa, baby. Delicious. 

So, naturally, I bought a bottle. 

Last night, I bought three chicken breasts, marinated them in 3/4 cup of this great sauce, and sautéd them for dinner. We added steamed broccoli & ginger and basmati rice. (Does anyone know if they sell basmati candles?! What a perfect scent. Yum.) 

The magical sauce.

Maybe someday I'll invest in some lids... then again, maybe not. :)

Napkins I found from my time in France! 

So simple, yet so good!

IOWA table wine. :)