Back in the {blogging} saddle…

Seared foie gras with cherries

Seared foie gras with cherries, Loulay Kitchen & Bar, Seattle, WA

In case you were concerned, like my mother was, about why this blog has been so quiet lately, I have a lame but entirely honest excuse — life got crazy.

At first, in mid-February, I became so bogged down in planning my birthday party (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s my favorite holiday and I take it seriously) that I had no time for cooking projects, let alone photographing and writing about them. I was too immersed in making this year’s birthday extravaganza as awesome as possible. (Not to brag, but I totally succeeded.)

My theme, The Drunker Games, was a play on the Hunger Games and involved 14 adults, a city park, oranges in nylons and other strange and unusual field day games. There was one true winner, lots of beer and plenty of laughs.

Then came my actual birthday, which I celebrated by taking a trip to the Oregon coast with my husband. Immediately following that was a long weekend in Seattle with a co-worker, which involved a lot of eating under the guise of work/sales calls (18 restaurants capped by an all-you-can-eat crab dinner).

And then it was March….I don’t even remember March. I had to look through my pictures to try to figure out what I did.

Apparently it was a whirlwind of weekend hikes and wine trips inspired by the incredible sunny weather. I didn’t do much cooking but I did do a lot of living.

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What have I been doing and how is it almost December?

Um...what the hell happened to autumn?

Um…what the hell happened to autumn?

Basically this is my apology in case you’ve noticed I’ve been a bit behind in the world of WordPress. Life has been so hectic it’s kept me from reading and writing as much as I would have liked these past four weeks.

One of the reasons for the madness is because a month ago I decided to embark on the “Whole 30.” If you’re unfamiliar with the program it’s essentially a thirty day eating plan/elimination diet that helps participants rethink their food choices, overcome cravings, heal their digestive track and eat 100% clean for thirty days. (I don’t want to bore you too much with specifics so if you want to read more about the Whole 30, click here.)

Basically from Oct. 23 through Saturday, Nov. 22, I abstained from all sugars (natural or otherwise), grains (even whole grains), legumes (except green beans and peas), alcohol and dairy. That sounds like an overwhelming list of “can’t have’s” but I did eat plenty of meat, seafood, eggs and vegetables with a limited amount of fruits, nuts and seeds added in for good measure.

For someone who eats lots of grains and is known to indulge in a few pints of delicious beer, I was very worried I wasn’t going to complete the challenge. In fact, I vowed not to mention my mission on this blog until it was over — just in case I threw in the towel. Not very confident sounding, I know, but hey, I’m realistic. I work in the food industry, my husband cooks everything with cream, butter and cheese, and the holiday stress level at work usually has me and my co-workers doing mid-morning shots by now.

But I made it and it feels really good to say that. I do eat fairly well in general so my cravings weren’t too bad and I didn’t suffer a lot of the detox pains that many people do the first week. What made it difficult for me was the struggle of time. On this program you have to make every meal — there is no convenience eating on days when you’re feeling overwhelmed. No English muffins for breakfast or ramen for dinner. Instead I would make huge batches of soft-boiled eggs, curries and roasted vegetables just so I wouldn’t be caught hungry and off-guard.

I could talk on and on about the results from the program and how I feel about it (and maybe I will in another post) but this was just to let you know what’s been monopolizing my time lately. I love to cook and I relish time in the kitchen, but I am really  happy to be able to heat up a frozen burrito after a late night at work!

But don’t think I ate in misery for thirty days. Check out all the good things I scarfed down:

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

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From a carrot to a (double chocolate brownie) cookie…

Have a cookie?

Have a cookie?

The blogging world is a funny place. You start writing and then you begin to discover other people’s blogs. You start to follow those blogs and slowly you develop relationships with those bloggers. And through those friendships, you discover new bloggers, and start to follow their blogs and so on and so forth.

It’s a beautiful thing. And, in my case, it often leads to delicious recipes, as evidenced by these double chocolate brownie cookies, which I found on a post by Shanna Ward from Curls & Carrots.

I first stumbled upon Shanna’s blog because of my fellow blogger, Liz of deLizious. Liz had mentioned one of Shanna’s posts on her Facebook page and so I wandered over to have a look. The post itself was rather sad but I’m still happy Shanna wrote it because that was the first glimpse I had into the world of Curls & Carrots.

If you read C&C you’ll know it’s chock full of great recipes, for everything from vanilla & cardamom challah to udon salad, and pictures of Shanna’s adorable kids. And each post often contains multiple recipes so it’s like hitting a culinary jackpot.

Not too long ago she posted a recipe for double chocolate brownie cookies and I knew I had to make them. I also knew who I had to make them for — my mother, an admitted and dedicated chocoholic.

I finally got the perfect opportunity this weekend, when it was time for our annual family reunion. Having just returned from vacation, and freshly recovered from a post-vacation cold, I was fairly exhausted and unmotivated. I couldn’t think of what to bring for my contribution but then it hit me — who doesn’t love a cookie?

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The curious case of cookies combined with carbonnade…

Beef Carbonnade w. Beer, Marmalade & Gingersnaps

A beef carbonnade made with marmalade and gingersnaps.

Have you been to Gourmandistan? It’s a land known for its food — a place where things are often cooked in duck fat, strange and unusual flavor combinations are discovered and pork is a prized beast. It’s also the inspiration for this post, as I continue to try out one recipe a month from some of my favorite blogs.

Many things that Steve and Michelle (the primary residents of Gourmandistan) cook intrigue me, but when it came time to pick one dish to make, I already had the winner in mind. The title for the original post with the recipe was so clever it gave me some serious blog-envy, but it was the ingredient list that solidified my decision.

Gourmandistan’s version of a beef carbonnade, adapted from a Daniel Boulud braising cookbook, includes the following: Chimay beer, beef, bacon, creme fraiche, orange marmalade and gingersnap cookie crumbs. It’s like a list of my favorite things!

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The week that I stuffed my face with homemade bread…

Meatball Sandwich on Homemade Bread

Meatball Sandwich on Homemade Bread

A bit of a confession: I can be strangely intimidated by certain culinary projects. Sure, I’ve made pasta by flicking water on semolina flour and I make my own dim sum, but other fairly simple things can make me stop in my tracks — like making bread from scratch.

In fact, it’s been since culinary school (back in 2001) since I’ve made bread on my own — with the exception of last year’s surprisingly successful English muffins. In general though I leave bread making to the professionals, which means I buy a lot of bread.

And while regularly baking bread is one of those things I’ve always wanted to do, I tend to chicken out when things like yeast, knead and rise come up in recipes. It just seems like too much potential for failure.

But with my combined resolutions to try new things and to attempt recipes suggested by WordPress friends, I decided it was finally time to get off the pot. I started with a recipe for French bread, posted by my friend Liz of Food For Fun.

Happily the recipe is straightforward and easy to follow, even for someone nervous about baking bread. It does take some forethought though since the dough needs to be started the day before.

After it’s spent the evening in the refrigerator, let it come to room temperature.

Making French Bread

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Keeping my word would be easier if it was February 31st

Spicy edamame hummus

Spicy edamame hummus

Remember last month in January when I said I was going to dedicate a post each month to trying a recipe made by a fellow WordPress blogger? High off my bacon-onion marmalade success, I had all the confidence in the world for February. And then my birthday happened. I spent one weekend in Tacoma with family, one weekend (my actual birthday) with a few close friends and the third weekend was my big blow-out party.

So basically I would just like all of us to pretend that February is not a short month and that I haven’t already failed at my resolution. Everyone in agreement? Excellent!

Mr Wonderful White Cake

Mr Wonderful White Cake

For February, I wanted to tackle a recipe from one of my longest standing blogging buddies, Liz from food for fun and deLizious Food Communications. I actually made a recipe from her blog last summer, the Mr. Wonderful White Cake, for a family reunion potluck. And it was, in fact, just as delicious as she had promised. It was also incredibly easy to whip up which was good because I was on such a time crunch that I almost bought a cake mix. This was ten times better!

But this post needed to be new stuff and since I was already late, I figured I’d try out two of Liz’s recipes to make up for being a slacker. The first one was super quick, I whipped it up in 10 minutes: spicy edamame hummus with lime and jalapeño.

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