Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Let's Talk Cookies

If you're still sticking with your New Year's resolution to eat healthier and be healthier...good for you! You've outlasted the "resolutioners" who frequented my complex's gym for a while. Unfortunately, you'll probably hate me for what I'm about to post. It's time I finally get around to telling you about the Christmas cookie tins I gave to my loved ones this year. Aren't you glad I put it off until now?

It was by no means my first time making Christmas cookies, but it was my first time making tins and giving them to people, rather than gobbling them up myself. Though, let's be honest, there was an embarrassing amount of gobbling on my part, regardless. It all came about because Husband's dad's boss, up until this last year, would make a cookie tin every year, and Husband always looked forward to it. Last year she decided to retire from the holiday cookie obligation, as it really is a ton of work. Husband, completely bummed out, suggested I try my hand at it...and well, that's really the only encouragement I need to bake at this point!

Let me tell you...trying to whittle down my long list of possible cookie candidates was an exhaustive process. I had a whole list going in Google documents, that was actually comprised of several sublists; highlighting was involved. I had subgroups of cookies, where I grouped them by type (molasses, gingerbread, sugar, shortbread, etc.), then I pasted links to all food blogs and other websites I read that had recipes of that type that looked good. And here's where you'll really think I'm crazy. I read through all those recipes, compared them to each other, and one by one eliminated them until I knew which recipe I wanted in each category. Oh man, it took forever. But it was fun to see the subtle differences in ingredient to come up with a similar end product! And you can start pretending you don't know me now, because yes, I fully admit to being a bit obsessive sometimes.

I know I tend to be over ambitious when it comes to cooking and baking. If you're coming over for brunch, I don't just make pancakes. I also bake up some spinach and eggs, make a fruit salad, bake some scones and biscuits, always with the intention that I'll whip up something for dessert, though I always run out of time. Heck, if I have enough notice I'll bake up a fresh loaf of Challah, and the night before make up some boozy baked French toast for baking the next day. So I knew I wouldn't have time to make every kind of cookie I wanted. I ended up just planning for every eventuality. I made sure I had enough ingredients to make everything I wanted. I had a million pounds of ap flour, 500 sticks of butter, pecans, almonds, extra jars of cinnamon. It was like a war zone in the kitchen. Then I prioritized my cookies. What did I definitely want in the tin, and what could I live without? Then it was time to bake! I ended up hoping for ten different kinds of cookies, but ended up with six. Not bad! Especially considering I didn't much consider how much the tins I bought would actually hold. But I'll get to that. For now, let's talk cookie.

  • Chocolate peppermint cookies, courtesy of Martha Stewart. These are chocolate peppermint cookies with a white chocolate coating and a dusting of peppermint candy. They look like crap, but I swear they didn't before the white chocolate was involved. A word to the wise for those making these cookies: just do plain circles! These were supposed to be pretty stars, but well, the white chocolate coating didn't go so well. Have you ever worked with white chocolate? I hadn't. It doesn't melt! At least the chocolate I bought wouldn't. I thought I was going all out by getting the good stuff, but maybe I should have just melted some cheap white chocolate chips. In the end, rather than dipping the cookies, I had to brush on the goop (which is the most spreadable consistency I could get it to), and since I had to keep the chocolate over the heat to keep it goopey, it was also very hot, scalding in fact. So I pretty much burned the heck out of my hands while trying to evenly cover each cookie. Since this was the first cookie I attempted, I was afraid it didn't bode well for the rest of the day. Thankfully, this was the worst mishap I had, and it ended up being pretty worth the effort. They may not have looked it, but they were delicious, definitely enhanced by the white chocolate, so I wouldn't skip it. In fact, they were Husband's favorite! Maybe next time I should try thinning it out with some butter or water or something?
One note on the recipe, it called for way more white chocolate than I needed. It called for 2lbs, and I only wanted to shell out the money for 1lb. I think it ended up being pretty close, but I actually still had a little left over. Perhaps that's because I didn't have anywhere near the 6 dozen the recipe supposedly makes. Considering my cookie cutter was only like an inch and a half, and I only ended up with about 2.5-3 dozen cookies...that's a seriously small cookie she's making! Be warned. Also, have you ever tried sprinkling peppermint candy dust? It doesn't sprinkle so much as clump and stick to your fingers. I don't really have any tips for you, just play around with it until you find something that works for you. And maybe practice sprinkling before you turn half your cookies into a clumpy mess like I did. I ended up sprinkling with dust (a certain flick of the wrist helped de-clump), and then going back over with the courser crumbs for a bit of crunch.

  • Cherry-nut rugelach, courtesy of King Arthur Flour, via Serious Eats. Another (successful!) first attempt. If you've never had rugelach, it's a flaky almost pie dough-like cookie wrapped around a cinnamon roll-like filling. But it's a cookie! They're seriously good. The secret to the dough is cream cheese. I hear that it really makes all the difference in flavor and tender texture. I wouldn't know, but since they turned out so well, I'm not going to knock it, that's for sure. I used dried cherries and walnuts as suggested, but I'll bet you could play around with other dried fruits and nuts, though I don't know why you'd want to. Everything here just worked. Unfortunately, it was also very labor intensive. It made 64 cookies! That's 64 wedges of dough you have to cut out, 64 wedges you have to roll up and shape. The recipe makes exactly that many because you actually divide the dough into 8ths and then slice each piece into 8 wedges. I'd say you could always go for bigger wedges and end up with bigger cookies, but I think the size I ended up with was perfect, a nice bite size.
By far the best compliment I got on these cookies was my co-worker telling me that they tasted just like the rugelach her aunts used to make her. She said the best food is the kind that invokes a memory and I had done a really good job. Isn't that the sweetest thing ever?

  • Sugar cookies, courtesy of Martha Stewart. I decided to represent a little Chanukah in my Christmas cookie tin with these dradel-shaped sugar cookies. I decorated the tops with turbinado sugar I mixed with blue food coloring. I had to add quite a bit to keep it from looking green. It was a shout out to the sugar cookies we used to make when I was a kid, decorated with red and green sprinkles. I know sugar cookies are sugar cookies, but these really were divine. I really liked the simplicity of the recipe, and I wanted one with a good amount of butter. Sugar cookies should be buttery! Unfortunately, they really lost their freshness the next day. Even though they were stored properly, they became a bit stale in texture. Since these were traveling all over the place, I probably would nix this cookie next time. But for any same-day event, these cookies are a winner (and really, even "stale" they still tasted pretty darn good to me!). They also made a ton. Probably about 4-5 dozen because my cookie cutter was smaller. So unless you have a million people to feed, or unless you're using giant cookie cutters, I would halve this recipe.

  • Slice and bake cookies, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen. These were essentially shortbread cookies with cocoa powder, orange flavoring, and dried cranberries and pomegranate seeds. They were, unfortunately, really not my favorite. I added cocoa powder to the dough, mostly to appease my chocolate-loving husband. I think they would have been better without it. I also had a dried cranberry/pomegranate seed combo package from Trader Joe's and decided to use it, instead of just dried cranberries. There was nothing distinctive from the pomegranate seeds, they didn't add anything, and their texture wasn't quite right for a cookie. I would leave them out next time. And I would add more orange. They weren't orangey enough. Personally, I liked these cookies the least of all, but I had a friend who liked these the best, so you just never know.

  • Bourbon balls, courtesy of my mom. Let me tell you about these "cookies". When I told my mom I would be doing a cookie tin, and I was deciding which kinds of cookies to make, she told me about these bourbon balls my grandmother used to make. My mom said they were so good she literally gained 10lbs from licking the batter the one time she made them. Yikes! Fattening with booze involved? I was so there. First off, please pardon my lumpy spheres above. I don't know what deformity I have, but I am unable to roll dough into a ball to save my life. It always ends up some weird flying saucer shape instead. Anyway, these puppies were strong. I rolled them all out, popped one in my mouth, and then immediately started re-rolling them all smaller just so it wouldn't be such a kick in the teeth. Phew! It was like taking a shot! I think next time I would reduce the amount of bourbon I used...but not by too much! I'll post the recipe below.
I should also mention the reason these balls are so strong is because they are uncooked! It was actually kind of a pain because I felt like I needed to make a disclaimer to everyone eating them, especially those who were pregnant and breastfeeding. And I didn't want to give them to people at work because we have a dry campus and I didn't want to get in trouble. So I think next year I would leave these out. But they'd definitely still be good for a dinner party or other boozy event! Also, I really think these improved in flavor over time. The alcohol flavor chilled out a bit, and the flavors married together a lot better a day or two later. So next time I think I'll do these up ahead of time.

  • Gingerbread cookies, courtesy of 101 Cookbooks. Somehow I didn't manage to get a picture of these cookies, which completely bums me out because they were far and away my favorite, and beautiful! I had a gingerbread man cookie cutter and everything. I could not stop eating the dough while making the cookies, and after they were done, I could not stop eating the finished product. Fantastic. Seriously. Which is funny because up until, oh, a year ago, I thought I didn't like gingerbread. It's kind of a more adult flavor, but oh do I love it now. But even if you don't love gingerbread in general, you will still love these cookies; Husband did! I kept telling him to try the dough (omg, it's the best dough ever!), and he wouldn't, insisting that he wasn't a fan of gingerbread. Well when he finally tried the finished cookie, he was a believer, and even regretted not trying the dough. Sucker! Definitely follow her advise and don't over-bake. I know my oven runs hot, so I actually ended up pulling them out a good minute or two sooner than the minimum recommended time. When the cookies were cooled I dipped them in some royal icing I whipped up with yellow food coloring. Don't worry people who ate my cookies, I used pasteurized egg whites I bought in a carton, which are supposed to not carry salmonella or whatever, though really, who gets salmonella from eggs anymore? Did I mention how much raw dough I ate?
What set this recipe apart from the other gingerbread recipes? It was definitely the white whole wheat flour. Don't be fooled by the name, it's still a whole wheat flour. I believe it just comes from a different type of wheat than regular whole wheat flour. It's a finer grain, which bakes up a lot less heavy, more like AP flour, but with that hint of nutty flavor that I love so much. Everything about the ingredients in this recipe worked great.

And those are all the cookies I had time to make. It was pretty hilarious to see every single surface of my kitchen covered in cookies. Considering I only made about 8 cookie tins, I definitely ended up with more cookies than I needed. Next year, if I have the time to do this again, I will definitely halve some of the recipes.

Here are my lessons learned (ugh, I am such an engineer):
  • The freezer is your friend. I had dough firming up in the freezer pretty much constantly. It made such a huge difference in how they came out. Using the cookie cutters was a thousand times simpler when the dough was cold, and I think it really made a difference in how they baked up as well.
  • Use easy cookie cutter designs. I thought I had! A star, what's so involved about that? Well it was still a pain in the butt. Next year I might nix it and just stick with a circle.
  • Plan ahead! Make sure you have all the ingredients you need. You may have flour, but do you have enough of it for all the batches of cookies you want to make? I actually calculated it all out to make sure. I hate running to the store for one thing. I don't live close enough to make it not a complete pain in the butt. Also, plan what you'll make when. Some of the doughs I made 2 days in advance, just so I would have time! I made sure all the doughs were made the night before so cookie day was just about the baking. And read each recipe! If you need eggs and butter at room temperature, make sure you take them out of the refrigerator with enough time for them to warm up. I'm notoriously bad at this.
  • As I already said with the gingerbread, but this really goes for all cookies, don't over-bake! Nobody likes crunchy dried out cookies. If you're going to go through all the trouble to make cookies, it's worth the extra minute of keeping a close eye on the oven a little before the time they're supposed to be done.
  • Husbands are good at destruction. I got a bit stressed over the white chocolate fiasco, so Husband wanted to help out to help calm me down. I gave him the job of smashing peppermint candies, he enjoyed it immensely.
  • Buy big enough cookie tins! I knew the tins I bought would be too small, but I was stubborn because the next size up I found were just too darn big. Next time just go a size up. Sure, it's a pain to ship, but better that than feeling like you're shorting your loved ones. I only had enough room for 2-3 cookies of each type.

Bourbon Balls

1 c. ground pecans
1 c. powdered sugar
1 1/2 T. cocoa
3 1/2 c. crushed vanilla wafers
1/2 c. bourbon
3 T light corn syrup

Combine nuts, sugar, cocoa, and wafer crumbs and blend well. Stir in bourbon and corn syrup. Form mixture into balls about 1" in diameter. Roll each ball in powdered sugar and store in a tightly covered container. Makes 3 dz.

julo notes: I just threw everything in the food processor and pulsed. If you have that option, I would definitely use it. I would probably only use 1/4 cup of bourbon next time. The crazy hippie homemaker in me would rather make her own wafers and find a substitute for the corn syrup, like agave nectar, but the lazy girl in me probably would never bother.

Did you notice how awesome my cookie pictures turned out? No, I didn't learn not to suck as a photographer overnight. I got some help in the form of a Christmas/Chanukah present from my awesome sister. More on that later.

Friday, January 15, 2010

2009 In Review

It seems all the rage with the new year was looking back on the highlights of 2009. I can't count how many blogs I read that summed up their favorite recipes from the year past. And you know what? It's a darn good idea! Sometimes I'm in a bit of a rush and, I confess, I skim. I think, oh that looks tasty, I should make it some day, then I click away and never think about it again. Looking at this year's food from some of the food bloggers I follow, I appreciated them calling special attention to the real winners. So I'm going to copy, kind of. 2009, looking back, was kind of a big year for me. Lots of stuff happened, some good and some bad; lots of changes, some good and some bad. It's worth taking a minute to reflect.

Well lets get the obvious out of the way. In 2009 I lost almost 70 pounds. I gave up eating out for almost every meal and learned to cook, bake, and be an all around vixen in the kitchen. I quit my over-priced, scary, annoying gym I hated going to (and really never went to), and started running around my neighborhood, doing workout games on the Wii (Wii Fit and EA Sports Active), and slowly reintroduced myself back into the gym (in the form of the tiny crappy one in my complex, it's perfect). I've never been prouder of myself. Whereas before I could be described as a lazy, thoughtless couch potato, I am now a superwoman who gets things done. I'm still rather thoughtless, but now that's because I'm busy thinking of other things. I feel like I could fill a whole separate blog writing about my lifestyle change. I've often thought about posting about it here, but I don't want to sound preachy. When people ask me how I lost weight, I'm never sure the level of detail they're looking for. I could talk your ear off for days all about how I did it, and how anyone can do it. The ins and outs. The little things. The tips and tricks. But I usually just reply with "diet and exercise", because, really, it seems like most people just want to know which fad diet worked for me. I saw many a face fall with disappointment with my answer, only because it wasn't something easy they could do themselves (it is! It's just not easy). This blog has definitely helped play a role in my lifestyle change.

On the not so happy front, I almost lost my job, and in the process, lost all respect for the company I work for. Not because they almost fired me (sorry, ahem, was almost "impacted by a reduction in force"), but because of the manner in which they chose who to lay off and who to keep. As in, they kept all the over-paid older conservative white men and fired all the minorities. Seriously. I'm not making excuses like "oh, they got rid of me because I'm a woman" because I'm bitter. They really did fire a bunch of women! And African Americans, and Asians, and Latinos, and younger liberals (though if they were white, that seems to have mostly been forgiven)! They fired an African American co-worker of mine, only to bring a higher-paid white guy in to do the same exact work. They've had complaints filed against them with the government for it. It's been disgusting to watch, and I have nothing but disdain for the people who are now in charge. I ended up switching to another organization under a completely different set of managers. Not to say they are any better, but I, as of yet, have no evidence of their all out bigotry, as I do with those in my previous organization. If I could think of a career that I could feasibly transition to that would require not a significant reduction in pay and no further degrees, I would jump on it.

On a related, happier note, in the course of events on the job front, I ended up getting offered a job with another company. Doing the same engineering work, and contingent on a project they haven't been awarded yet. But still, an opportunity for a fresh start. Terrifying, but fresh. I won't know if/when I start until next month. I hate change, so I'm secretly hoping they don't get it. Hehe. But it was beyond flattering to know that it wasn't a fluke, my getting hired as an engineer. Apparently other people are desperate enough to hire me to!

Unfortunately, since Husband works at the same company I do, the drama of the past year seeped in and infected our home life a bit. Not to say there is trouble in paradise. There is not. But morale was low. And it still is. Here's hoping we can pick ourselves back up in 2010.

You know what helps with that? Food!

2009 I learned so much in the kitchen. It's kind of crazy to reflect on all the kitchen adventures I had last year. And I've got the burn scars to prove it! In 2009 I not only got in the kitchen to practice home cooking more, I actually learned to cook:

I discovered quick breads. Banana bread, zucchini bread, pumpkin bread. You name it, I love it. I didn't eat a lot of quick bread growing up, so my love is new and exciting. Here's hoping our honeymoon phase lasts awhile yet. I still need to try breads with cornmeal and berries and nuts and other good things!

Learning to cook meant learning to cook meat. That's a no-brainer for some of you, for others you might think vegetarianism is ok. And it is! I was one, basically, for most of my life, because I never really liked meat. But in 2009, I was a full on carnivore! Taking on culinary duties meant feeding not just myself, but Husband as well. And he likes meat. So I would make it, mostly for him, take a little for myself, and one year later, I am now on board. I'll say I'm picky about meat. Picky about the quality, picky about how it's cooked, picky about the texture. Rubbery chicken I don't do. Even good chicken I'm still not the hugest fan of, but put a good sauce on it, and it's all good. Not to mention pork is divine! Who knew? I tackled lamb, beef, turkey, and even some fish! I'm glad I finally like meat. Any vegetarians out there can feel me on this one. Not eating meat is a pain! Going out to a restaurant, you're usually limited to about 2 choices, rather than the usual 20 million. You have to ask for specialty meals at events like weddings or company parties. You have to make sure to tell your host before any dinner party. You have to struggle to get enough protein. It's a pain.

You know what else I learned to like? Brussels sprouts and kale and beets and squash and mangoes and persimmons! Oh how I love persimmons. Basically, by getting out and cooking "new" foods, I really opened up my palette to the wonders of fruits and vegetables. I admit it. I used to be one of those people who would always go for the mainstream produce. Apples, lettuce, green beans, broccoli, bananas, etc. The safe stuff. The stuff that's easy to prepare. The stuff I grew up eating. I still buy all those things, there's nothing wrong with them, but they are decidedly safe. I'm glad I got out of my comfort zone to expand my culinary horizons this year. Turns out brussels sprouts are not only fantastic for you, they are actually delicious! You just have to have a few good recipes under your belt. I learned that there is not a fruit or vegetable I don't love. Except bok choy. I don't know why, I just don't dig it. It's too chewy for my taste. Husband has never quite gotten over it. He loves it.

I also learned to bake! I tackled bread! Bread! I don't know why, but to me bread was one of those completely non-approachable foods. I held in awe anyone who could make a simple no-knead loaf. Bread was mystical, and surely must take years of intense study and practice in a specialized kitchen to make properly. Then I tried the famous no-knead recipe, and the rest is history. Bread still is rather scary, in comparison to quick breads or muffins or good ol' cookin'. But I tackled things like pretzels, challah, and even bagels, and won! I made cakes, muffins, cookies, brownies, anything and everything. I now have a pantry fully stocked with all kinds of flours, sugars, baking sodas, powders, spices, etc. I rarely have to pick anything up at the store before I can try a recipe. Nothing is worse than a hankering to bake only to find you're out of butter.

I, like the rest of America (ugh, I hate it when I'm accidentally trendy), discovered whole grains. Not just brown rice or whole wheat pasta, but quinoa, wild rice, barley, lentils, spelt, farro, etc. I used to look at a picture of french fries and drool. Now I cringe at the grease and drool over butternut squash risotto. I learned to change my portions. Not just how much food I eat, but of what type. "Eat food, eat less, mostly vegetables". It's a phrase that is old news to anyone who knows Michael Pollan, but I was living under a rock, and just heard this phrase for the first time this week. It's simple, it's true, it's genius. It's basically what I discovered on my own last year.

In 2009 I broke the bank in the kitchen. Well technically we broke the bank in 2008 when we remodeled the kitchen. But in terms of stuff that goes in the kitchen, Husband was very good about my Bed, Bath, and Beyond shopping habit. I bought cookie sheets, cake pans, muffin tins, measuring cups, cookie cutters, dishers, cutting boards, pastry blenders, dough scrapers. You name it, I oogled it, and if I could justify it, bought it. My kitchen is fantastically stocked, and I still can only think of the things I want and don't yet have. A mini muffin tin, a tart pan, more dishers, etc. That's what 2010 is for, eh?

Some of my favorite kitchen essentials this year have been, well, essential! My microplane, for one. It zests, it grates, it...well that's about it, but it does those things fantastically. I used it pretty much every week for citrus zest, grating ginger and garlic, grating nutmeg, grating cheese. It really is the best $12 you can spend. My cast iron skillet, another $20 well spent! What took me so long to get one? I don't know. They cook everything beautifully and are easy to maintain. But my all time favorite purchase was Kiwi, my dutch oven. That's right, I named it. It's my baby. I love it so.
It does soups, stews, braises, and breads perfectly. Kiwi is my first dutch oven, so I can't say whether Le Creuset is really worth the extra money. But I can say that this Le Creuset dutch oven is divine. Kiwi is one of those things I meant to tell you all about months ago, but never got around to. Bad! See that utensil set pictured along with Kiwi there? That came with it. For free. A $70 utensil set! They're all silicon, and they are also on my list of kitchen things I love. I use them all the time, along with a bamboo utensil set I bought for when I need something a bit more heavy duty, like if I need to deglaze. I also received a couple of awesome kitchen and food blog related gifts this Christmas/Chanukah from my family that I want to make mention of. But I don't have pictures yet, and couldn't really do them justice. So that'll have to wait, and technically, I'll count those under 2010!

The dutch oven was my dream drool-over item for 2009. And since I was lucky enough to get it, I need a new item! And I already know what it is. An ice cream maker. It seems like everywhere I look people are making ice cream and sorbets that look to die for! But they need ice cream makers, of which I am totally lacking. Husband is an ice cream fiend, so he fully supports the acquisition...we just haven't worked out the logistics yet. As in, they cost money, and our money is earmarked for other non-kitchen related things for the foreseeable future. But since we don't foresee very far at any given time, it may yet happen. We shall see.

I became a total wino. Ok, I was always a wino. I love wine. Actually, let me rephrase. I became a total lout. Not to say I drank a lot, because I don't. But I put booze in everything. You know why? Because it tastes better! A soup with chicken broth? Eh. A soup with white wine or dry sherry? Now we're talking! Stews with red wine or stout beer. Breads with bourbon and whiskey. Chocolate cake with flambed prunes. Bread pudding with Grand Marnier. You name me a liquor, and I'll name you a dish I'd like to cook it in. I've been boozy-cooking all year, but I didn't dawn on me until very recently just how much I enjoy liquor in cooking and baking. Is that normal? Am I a total freak? Either way, I am definitely a lout...and damn proud of it! Booze makes food taste better!

Ok, now that this post is reaching novel status, I'll wrap it up with my hopes and dreams for 2010. I read some articles predicting food trends for the year. I thought that was fun, so I'll give a go at it. I think in 2010 the following will be big: maple syrup (seriously, I've already seen like 20 recipes using it, and it's only 2 weeks into the new year!), whole grains (because they're trendy right now), pork (because it never goes out of style), and rhubarb (pulled that one out of my butt, so we'll see!).

And finally, here's some ingredients I'm really looking forward to cooking/baking with more this year: rhubarb, cherries, apricots, plums, peaches, asparagus, chard, peppers, sardines, salmon, trout, scallops, lamb, pork, and chocolate. Also, this is the year I tackle creme brulee. It'll happen!

What did you accomplish in 2009 that you're most proud of, kitchen-related or otherwise? What do you think will be big in 2010?

Update: I forgot to mention one thing. The meals I am most proud of from last year. There are two, and they actually fall on New Year's Eve, and a just a few days before that. First, after we got back from spending Christmas with the in-laws, I took advantage of the time off to make bagels. They are slightly labor intensive (though less so than I remember), so I had been waiting for the right opportunity. The bagels turned out fantastic! I got a much better rise than the first time I attempted them (I store my yeast in the fridge now), and the flavors were just...oh so wonderful. My mom once made a comment that she didn't see the point in making bagels when you could buy them just as fresh from a bagel place. To that I say, try my bagels! Well ok, they're probably just as good, perhaps even not quite as good as store bought, but they taste so much better when they're home made. I'm pretty sure that's a scientific know, on a psychological level or something. Anyway, once the bagels were made, we cut them open, layered them with cream cheese, slices of fuji apples, and smoked salmon from Seattle. Real smoked salmon, as in, it's smoked, not cured. It's not lox in any way shape or form (except that both are salmon). It's to die for. I hope you can try it some time. I piled that sandwich high and paired it with a glass of Navarro Late Harvest Gewürztraminer. If you ever have the opportunity to try this wine, do. It is so frakking good. It's pricey, but buy the biggest bottle you can afford. You won't regret it. We had just a half bottle. It's crisp, it's light, it's sweet without being cloying (and I'm not usually a fan of sweet wines, but this is restrained). Definitely Navarro's specialty. It was so good with the salmon. Husband and I have never been so silent. We just ate, the occasional grunt to let the other know we were blissfully happy. I'm so glad I married someone who loves food as much as I do.

Then on New Years Eve I kind of accidentally cooked up a gourmet meal for just the two of us. I say accidentally because it started out just needing to cook up some escolar I had bought. Have you ever had this fish? It was my first time trying it, and let me just say, this fish is like butter. It melts in your mouth. I grilled it with an orange, meyer lemon, and garlic butter. Perfection. I paired it with pureed roasted cauliflower topped with sautéed leeks and a raw beet and fennel salad with orange and meyer lemon truffle vinaigrette. I say accidentally because when I went to the store to pick out ingredients to go with the fish, I didn't have any specific dishes in mind. I kind of just threw these things together, and magic happened. Really. When I put the plate in front of Husband, I said to him, "I don't know how I put these things together, but I just kind of...did." The food gods were watching out for me that night. Also, I paired the dinner with our last bottle of Navarro Gewürztraminer (not the late harvest, but also divine). Another meal with silent grunting. Husband especially. Every time he took a bite of fish, he would moan. He doesn't moan. It was that good. Husband even had the piece of mind to recommend I take pictures. I debated. Pictures meant a longer amount of time before I could dig in to the food. But I did. They're still on my camera. So pictures and recipes to come...sometime in 2010!