Spring Peaks Through Winter

For the first time in many years, we experienced a little of that Artic Blast last week and I have to say, I have not been that COLD in years!  We saw temperatures below zero and with wind chill, it just cut through my bones like a knife.  Granted, we did not suffer as badly as some of our neighbors to the north of us, but it was still cold! Our ground was covered in snow and ice for a couple of days until the sun finally melted it all.

While I enjoyed it a tiny bit, a part of me was excited to see the birds arrive this weekend.  It only means that Spring is on its way and warmer temperatures will be here once again.  I will then be able to get outside and play in the dirt!  This year, I need to revamp my garden layout and make some big changes with what I want to do.  So I am looking forward to warmer weather!

My yard was just alive with birds yesterday…Robins, Blue Jays, Wrens, Sparrows, and Cardinals.  Following the snow we had earlier this week, it was a rainy, dreary day brightened only by the choir of birds that came by.  Since they all know I keep bird seed available for them, they always stop by for a visit.  I grabbed the camera and camped out waiting for them.  After refilling the dish with some bird seed, it didn’t take long before I was rewarded with a visit from my little feathered friends! 

Winter 2013 Talbott 002

One that I haven’t seen in a very long time is the Blue Jay.  While they are quite annoying as birds go, I think they are beautiful and have some gorgeous markings.  And yes, he did chase off the other birds, but once he had his fill of the food, everything was fine and everybody came back.

Winter 2013 Talbott 011

Winter 2013 Talbott 003

He was a little showman for me and in my excitement I nearly scared him off myself!

Winter 2013 Talbott 009

Papa Cardinal arrived for his share of the feast.

Winter 2013 Talbott 008

Not to be outdone, Mama wanted a bite, too.

Winter 2013 Talbott 023

One last friend, the Mockingbird arrived and our visits were done for the day.

Winter 2013 Talbott 017

Soon I’ll be out shopping for a new feeder as mine has seen better days and this year, I hope to capture a hummingbird on film!  Until then, stay warm and count the days until Spring!

Orange Fig Bars

This year I am running behind on everything!  Shopping, baking, mailing the Christmas cards and gifts… So I am absolutely grateful to have a quiet weekend just before the big day.  I’ve been craving something fig lately and I came across this wonderful recipe in the Family Circle Magazine 2013 holiday edition.  Being a huge fan of figs, I just couldn’t pass it up!

So….(drum roll, please) here is my first attempt at homemade fig bars!

Cyns Kitchen Goodies 023

Pre-heat your oven to 350* F. The next thing I do is get the figs cooking down so that once I finish the cookie layer, they are ready to go and I don’t have to wait for them.

Cyns Kitchen Goodies 016

You’ll need a large, lidded pan that can hold 4 cups of dried figs that have been coarsely chopped.  In this pan will go the chopped figs, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, orange juice (I squeezed a fresh naval orange) and the zest from an orange.  I also added a little water.   The figs I used were organic, dried figs that we found at Costco.  They are wonderful!  And since figs can sometimes be difficult to find depending on where you live, this was a nice treat for me.

Cyns Kitchen Goodies 017

First chop your figs into smaller chunks.  I cut these figs in half, the cut each of those halves into another half.  Wash your orange really well (organic is best) and take your zester, pictured above, and zest all the peel off into the pot. Then squeeze the juice of that orange. It will look like a sticky mess once you add the honey, orange juice and water!  But it will smell absolutely wonderful!!

Cyns Kitchen Goodies 018

On medium heat, bring the figs to a simmer, lower the heat, put the lid on and let cook about 15 minutes or until they are all soft.  I made sure to stir occasionally and was actually able to resist the urge to lick the spoon!  While the figs are cooking, put together the cookie layer.  Once that is done and the figs are soft, you will put them into a food processor, or blender, and run until they are completely smooth.  This mixture will then be spread on top of the cookie layer to be baked for about 25 minutes.  Make sure you cool completely or cutting them into bars will be a nightmare!

Cyns Kitchen Goodies 020

The recipe is below.  Have fun with it and enjoy these!  I actually ended up cutting them smaller than what is on the plate.  They are so rich and delicious and not very sweet at all!

Cyns Kitchen Goodies 021

Orange & Fig Bars

2 cups all-purpose flour (make sure it is unbleached) or whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt (I used Celtic Gray Sea Salt)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (vegan butter works well here)

1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

4 cups dried figs, roughly chopped

1/2 cup orange juice or the juice of one large orange

1/4 cup water – this is my addition to the recipe

zest from a large orange

2 tbsp. pure honey

Pre-heat the oven to 350*F.  Line a 13×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper.  (I am partial to parchment)

In a bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  In another bowl, beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in vanilla.  Slowly pour in the flour mixture and beat on low until well combined.  Press firmly and evenly in the bottom of your lined baking pan.

In a medium, lidded pot, combine figs, orange juice and zest, honey, 2 tbsp sugar, and water, if you are adding it.  Bring to a simmer, then lower the heat and cook until soft…about 15 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a food processor (or blender) and run until smooth.  Let cool about 5 minutes.  Using a spatula dipped in warm water to prevent sticking, spread the fig mixture over the cookie layer. (re-dip your spatula in warm water as needed to prevent sticking)

Bake at 350*F for 25 minutes.  Cool completely.  Lift from the pan to a cutting board.  Cut into small squares.

Per cookie: 122 cal; 3g fat (2g sat fat); 2g pro; 24g carb; 2g fiber; 41mg sodium; 7mg chol

Cyns Kitchen Goodies 022

Mediterranean Lentils and Rice

Fall brings on cooler weather and with that comes a craving for warmer foods.  Warmer foods meaning soups, stews, casseroles and all those wonderful fall squashes, greens and of course, the year-round staple, legumes.

Lentils are one of my favorite foods.  Growing up, we ate it made into a thick stewp: too thick for soup, but not quite a stew.  We ate it on rice, we ate it as a meat substitute in a casserole.  It is a very versatile legume and one that I consider to be quite tasty!

Packed full of folate, fiber, iron, vitamin B1, potassium and protein, these are just some of the benefits we receive from eating lentils.  Being a cancer survivor, I like to add additional spices and seasonings to boost their value even more.

This week I went with the Mediterranean style that I love so much.  I hope that you’ll enjoy it as much as I do!  Remember, I do not measure so all measurements are approximate.  You will have to add/detract to adjust for your taste!  Enjoy!!!

Fall 2013 070

Vegetable Rice

Into the rice cooker went about 2 cups of white jasmine and brown jasmine long grain rice with enough water to cover the rice plus two fingers over.  I find that mixing the rice together helps my picky eaters enjoy the healthier brown rice more. 

Gather together the veggies for your rice.  I grabbed whatever was in the refrigerator:

1/4 red sweet bell pepper, diced

1/4 green sweet bell pepper, diced

2 large shallots, peeled and sliced thin, separate the rings

1 medium red onion, diced small

1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped or put through garlic press

1 small carrot, peeled, sliced and cut into small squares

1 stalk celery, diced small (optional)

Pinch Sea salt or kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 handful parsley chopped fine or big pinch dried, rubbed through your fingers

Sauté in extra virgin olive oil until the carrots and celery soften a little.  Add rice and toss until well coated with veggies and olive oil.  Add seasonings: salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder.  Warm thoroughly and add parsley.

Fall 2013 065

Mediterranean Lentils

1 large shallot, finely chopped

1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp Celtic Sea Salt

1/4 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp onion powder

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

1/4 cup to 1/2 cup lentils

Sauté shallots, garlic and spices together until shallots are soft and clear.  Add rinsed and drained lentils and enough water to cover the lentils plus about an inch above.

Let cook until the lentils are soft, add water if too thick.  You may need to adjust the seasonings if you add a lot of water.

Once done, serve up and enjoy! 

Start Spreading the News…

We finally made it to the Big Apple! Having never actually been there myself, it was exciting planning our road trip.  We made many stops a long the way, but the big feature was a couple days in the big city. 

New York City is probably one of the most well known cities in the world and is one of the largest cities I have ever personally seen!  When you look out over the city, it is endless!  The activity never stops.  Every street corner has something going on!

Sleepy Hollow & NYC 2013 226

Getting off the train and walking into the main terminal of Grand Central Station is truly an impressive thing.  For years, I have seen Grand Central featured in movies, on television and in magazines.  But walking into the main area of the terminal is an unforgettable experience! 

Sleepy Hollow & NYC 2013 217

We bought “off-peak” tickets and even during those “off-peak” times, the crowds were so big compared to what we normally see in our little mountain town.  People rushing from one track to another with bags, briefcases, luggage and what not.  Others running an Olympic sprint and still others were like us, tourists, perhaps there for the very first time who couldn’t help but look up at the beauty of this building.

Sleepy Hollow & NYC 2013 216

In 1831 the first rail line into the City was formed.  It was called the New York and Harlem Railroad.  But it wasn’t until the following year when service began at the terminal located at 4th Avenue and 23rd Street.  And in 1869 when Vanderbilt purchased land between 42nd and 48th Streets and Madison Avenue and Lexington construction of a depot building began of what would become Grand Central Station.

Sleepy Hollow & NYC 2013 223

Years of development and growth followed and in 1903 the winning design submitted by the firm of Reed and Stern became the blueprint for the Grand Central Terminal that we know today.  As with many large projects, nepotism sometimes takes precedence and this was no different.  Reed’s sister was married to New York Central’s vice president of construction, William Wilgua.  After the competition an appeal was filed by New York architects Warren and Westmore, of which Warren was none other than the cousin of New York Central’s chairman, William Vanderbilt.  Needless to say, after winning his “appeal” the firm of Warren and Westmore teamed up with Reed and Stern to become co-architects of the construction of Grand Central Station.

Sleepy Hollow & NYC 2013 212

Ten years of construction and Grand Central Station officially opened in February 1913.  Despite the fact that construction was not completely finished, the terminal still functioned without missing a beat.  It wasn’t until years later after decades of ill repair and neglect that the terminal got a restoration.  In 1998 a complete overhaul began and in 2012, the terminal had finally been restored to the original splendor that it had once been.  This year the Terminal celebrates 100 years and if you ask me, I think it is still a grand place!  And despite whatever challenges it went through at the initial stages, I enjoyed my time visiting it!

Sleepy Hollow & NYC 2013 245

We walked around a little before heading over to the big double decker buses.  The sites and sounds were constant and the characters that we saw was sometimes quite hilarious! From Elvis to the young man dancing in his heels and underwear, there is always something going on.

New York City Day 2 328

We loved the street markets and it suddenly hit me that New York City is made up mostly of small business.  Everyone you look, is small business.  Sure, the big stores and big corporations have their space, but when you go into the different neighborhoods, there is no Wal-Mart or big grocery store chain.  It’s small business running the neighborhoods.  That’s what America is all about!

New York City Day 2 117

There was even a little corner “flea market” and everywhere we looked were the street food vendors.  There was everything from hot dogs, sweets, Asian foods to Middle Eastern foods.

New York City Day 2 124

Of course, we had to stop at the Empire State Building.  This is one of the most famous buildings in the world and is featured in so many movies such as Sleepless in Seattle with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and one of my all time favorites, An Affair to Remember with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. 

New York City Day 2 004

Did you know that the Empire State Building sits on about 2 acres?  No wonder I was so tired after walking completely around the building trying to find the special entrance we were supposed to use with our VIP passes!  Hot city sidewalks that just seemed to be never-ending.  If it weren’t for the scaffolding providing some shade, I think I would’ve just died! 

New York City Day 2 007

Sitting 1,250 feet above street level, the 102nd floor Observatory offers some spectacular views of the City! There are 6,514 windows in this building and they estimate that about ten million bricks were used in the construction of this building.  After walking all over the place, elevator after elevator, we finally made it to the top!  With our tickets, we were allowed VIP access and could bypass the long lines, so we didn’t have to wait the 2-3 hours it normally takes.  So, I knew it would be crowded and it was.  Rows two and three-deep lined the deck, but with a little patience and keeping the camera ready at all times, we were able to snap a few great shots.

New York City Day 2 009

From the top of the world, the views just take my breath away!  I can only look in silence and in awe.  And if I speak, it only comes out in a whisper!

New York City Day 2 026

And the the new Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center site is high in the sky!  Not quite completed, it stands taller than any building in the skyline.

New York City Day 2 063

Feeling exhilarated after our sky-high adventure, we jumped back on the open top busses and went looking for more sites of what the City could offer us.  One stop was to see the Cast Iron Buildings.  The City is currently cleaning the buildings which accounts for so much of the scaffolding.  This is the E. V. Haughwout Building at the corner of Broome Street and Broadway.  It originally was a fashionable emporium selling imported cut glass, silverware, fine china and chandeliers.  And this was the place that the new official White House china was ordered by and made for Mary Todd Lincoln.

New York City Day 2 145

And it was in this building that the world’s first successful passenger elevator was installed on March 23, 1857.  It was a hydraulic lift designed for the building by Elisha Graves Otis and was powered by a steam-engine installed in the basement.  It wasn’t until 1965 when the building was designated a New York City landmark that it was protected from being torn down.

New York City Day 2 101

I loved all the little parks scattered through out the City.  Makes the concrete jungle seem less…concrete.  It seemed like every neighborhood had one squeezed in between two busy streets somewhere!  Needless to say we did not have enough time to see everything and want to go back someday.  Stay tuned for more photos from our trip…

Red Quinoa Summer Salad

Quinoa has been around for a long time, but I have been slow to try it!  In my part of the world, sometimes it can be hard to find certain items or if it is to be found, the selections are quite limited.  I ended up buying this online for several reasons with one being that it is organic.  It is Eden Foods Organic Red Quinoa.  Then because I was uncertain what to do with it, I just let it sit for a while.  A few days to be exact!  Then after talking to a few friends who eat quinoa regularly, I had a better idea of how to use this mystifying grain.

One friend suggested I try it for breakfast.  She eats it every morning like a hot cereal or oatmeal.  So I did on a weekend since this has to cook for a few minutes.  I tried mine with a little molasses.  It was delicious and I did not get hungry for 5 hours!

You can use quinoa to make veggie burgers, vegetarian meatballs and so many other things, but one idea that interested me most was the cold quinoa salad.  I love salad.  Lately, I’ve been eating a salad at least 5-6 times per week.  And for me, the busy week makes me keep everything very simple.  So here is my version of a Quinoa Salad.  I hope you like it!

Quinoa Salad

 

Red Quinoa Summer Salad

Cook the red quinoa according to the directions on the package and then chill for at least 24 hours.

1-2 medium cucumbers, seeded and cut into small chunks

1-medium tomato, seeded and cut into small cubes

1-2 tbsp. feta

Vinaigrette dressing – click here for the recipe

Once the quinoa is thoroughly chilled, toss with cucumbers, tomatoes, and vinaigrette.  Sprinkle feta in and mix well without breaking up the chunks of feta.  Chill for about 30 minutes so the flavors can marinate together.

Serve as a side dish or main meal.

This is such a refreshing salad!  I’m sure it will be reinvented often in my kitchen!

Bon Appetit!

Stuffed Zucchini Boats

This is probably my favorite time of year when it comes to fresh food.  Gardens are in full swing and every weekend weeds must be evicted from them.  Despite the weeds, the bounty that a garden yields can last the rest of the year if planned in advance.

The other day a friend of mine gave me a big bag of zucchini and summer squash from her garden.  And while watching my weekly recordings of cooking shows, I was inspired by Jamie Deen’s zucchini boats.  He stuffed his with Vidalia onions, sausage and tomatoes and cheese.  Mine are a vegetarian version, but all in all, they are so good that it didn’t take long to wolf mine down!

Suffed Zucchini Boats 7-13 001

Begin by roasting your zucchini in the oven.  Wash and cut them lengthwise – I snipped of the stem ends as well.  Spray your baking sheet with non-stick spray then drizzle a small amount of extra virgin olive oil.  Lay the zucchini flat down, sprinkle a little grey sea salt over them and roast just until tender.

Suffed Zucchini Boats 7-13 002

Set the zucchini aside for a few minutes until cool to the touch.  Using a small spoon, gently scrape/scoop out the center until they resemble long boats and set aside.  See the photo above.

While these are cooling, get your stuffing ingredients together.

Suffed Zucchini Boats 7-13 004

Finely dice a Vidalia onion and sauté in extra virgin olive oil.  One the onions have sweat and turn clear, add the finely diced sweet bell pepper.

Suffed Zucchini Boats 7-13 006

Then add your veggie burger or other choice of meat.  Add a pinch of onion powder, a couple shakes (dashes) of Worcestershire sauce.  Cook until meat is done.

Add a pinch of grated parmesan and cheddar cheeses and a handful of Panko bread crumbs.  Stir together and begin stuffing the zucchini boats.

Suffed Zucchini Boats 7-13 008

Return them to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Suffed Zucchini Boats 7-13 011

I served these alongside roasted potato halves and yellow squash that I topped with diced up fresh tomatoes and a little parmesan.  The actual recipe is below.  Keep in mind that the measurements are approximate as I do not measure when I cook.

Stuffed Zucchini Boats

2 Large Zucchini, washed well, ends trimmed and cut lengthwise

1 small Vidalia onion, finely diced

1 small Sweet Bell pepper, finely diced

Choice of ground burger, turkey or veggie burger

(I used about 1/4 cup of veggie burger crumbles)

Grey Sea Salt, to taste

Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste

1/4 cup Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese

1/4 cup Freshly grated Cheddar Cheese

A couple dashes of Worcestershire Sauce

Pinch of onion powder

1-2 tbsp Extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

Set oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash zucchini well, trim off stem ends and cut lengthwise. Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray and drizzle with olive oil.  Lay zucchini face-down and sprinkle lightly with a pinch of grey sea salt.  Roast until just tender.  Remove from the oven and let cool to the touch.  While still warm, using a small spoon, scoop out the centers making boats.  Set aside.

Sauté the onion and green bell pepper in extra virgin olive oil, add meat of choice and cook thoroughly.  Add a handful of Panko bread crumbs, big pinch of grated cheddar and grated parmesan cheeses.  Stir well and let cheese melt a little.  Spoon into zucchini boats and top with a sprinkle of grated parmesan and cheddar cheeses.  Put back in the oven and bake until the cheese melts.

For serving size, you can have one big zucchini half or two small halves per person.

Serve up and enjoy!