Wednesday, October 29, 2008

So much of Fall to take in

A friend of mine has a huge Halloween party every year. Everyone comes dressed in costume to compete for prizes and, mostly, bragging rights. It's so serious that many keep their costume idea a secret, only to be unveiled at the night of the party, preventing others from potentially trumping their idea.

Last year, I came up with a last minute costume - the “runaway bride” - after poking around on the internet for ideas. I bought a cheap wedding dress at goodwill, flaunted a pink sportsbra underneath, and wore white running shoes with pink trim (I happened to already own the pink accessories, even though I really loathe wearing pink – go figure). I even bunched up some fake flowers I had sitting around my apartment for a bouquet. It was really easy and, I think, fairly well-received.

This year, Ben and I wanted to come up with something we could be together. Our costume idea, after a LOT of thinking, ended up not being so easy, but I think it is pretty clever. We spent the majority of last Saturday afternoon getting it together and then carving our pumpkins.

And, if you read my last post, you will find it interesting to know that Ben prepared dinner Saturday night out of his own head. I was busy finishing up part of our costume and he noticed it was getting to be about that time to make dinner, so he started it up (and I think he was actually really excited to have the reigns and create the dish how HE wanted it!).

He put together a great pasta dish with fettuccine, chicken, spinach, and pine nuts (pictured above). He cooked the chicken in a good dollop of olive oil and seasoned the whole thing with Spanish paprika, crushed garlic, fresh basil,and a bunch of other things (I'm sure). He served it over a bed of fresh spinach. It was mighty tasty! And doesn't it look fantastic?

Our pumpkins turned out lovely, and check out the tons of seeds we got to roast! I don't think I have carved pumpkins since I was a kid and I forgot how slimy the pulp and seeds feel between your fingers; it was freeing, in a way, to roll up my sleeves and dig my hands in, careless about how dirty and messy everything became. I definitely recommend it – grab yourself a pumpkin and a carving set and release your inner child (oh, and it's even better with a gluten-free beer, of course!).

Oh, and our Halloween costume idea? You'll have to wait until my weekend post to see! Yes, I'm keeping it a secret for now :)

And, just as my arms have been literally elbow deep in pumpkin this week, our bellies have been filled with pumpkin, squash, cranberries, roasted pecans, apples, brussels sprouts, and all of the other lovely fall foods. They have been parading through our kitchen, filling our apartment with delicious scents, and lingering in my mind as I fall asleep at night (poor Ben only dreams about work lately and I dream about food!).

I have been intrigued by the bags of cranberries popping up everywhere, so I had to pick up a couple of bags. Admittedly, I have never in my life cooked with cranberries (I don't think that "craisins" count), so I have been slowly gathering ideas of how people typically cook with them and thinking of new ways to use them. They seem like such a great food – low in sugar and full of fiber, vitamin C, and manganese (among other nutrients) – I would love to come up with some new ways to incorporate them more regularly into my pantry.

I started out making the basic cranberry sauce, which usually calls for: 1 cup water, 4 cups of cranberries, and a bunch of sugar. However, I am boycotting processed sugar these days and substituted 3 tablespoons of agave nectar for the sugar. This may be a bit too tart for some, but I like it's lightly sweet, mostly tart flavor. Add more agave or honey, if you prefer yours sweeter. Basically, you bring the cup of water to a boil in a large saucepan, add the agave and the cranberries, and bring to a boil again. Then you reduce the heat to low and simmer for a bit, about 15-20 minutes seemed about right for me. It's fun listening to the cranberries burst and pop as they cook down.

What other ways do you like to cook with cranberries?

Mmmmm...just that rich red color is enough alone for me to love these berries.

For dinner last night, I created the apple-cider vinegar chicken dish pictured below, using my cranberry sauce.

I'm also working on a pumpkin scone recipe that will be allergy and vegan friendly, which I will post later in the week after another test batch (oh darn! More scones to eat??)

And, last, but not least, we will be celebrating our one-year anniversary this weekend! Ben and I had our first “date” on November 2, 2007... but more on that later too! I know, so much waiting!

Apple cider vinegar chicken with cranberry sauce:

The cider vinegar in this recipe makes the chicken tender and adds a sweet flavor as the vinegar cooks down in the pan. Sprinkling cinnamon on only one side of the chicken lends a subtle spice that I think really complements both the vinegar and the cranberries.

2 chicken breasts

½ cup apple cider vinegar

olive oil

black pepper


cranberry sauce (see above for how I made it)

1 cup cooked wild rice, spiked with a pinch of sea salt

Place chicken breasts in a small dish and cover with the apple cider vinegar. Allow to marinade for about 15-20 minutes.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place the chicken breasts in the hot skillet and pour vinegar over the top of the chicken. Grate fresh black pepper and sprinkle ground cinnamon over the top of the chicken. Carefully flip the chicken and grate black pepper on this side as well (but not additional cinnamon).

Cook for a few minutes on each side, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for an additional 10 minutes on each side (or until center is no longer pink).

Serve each chicken breast on top of half of the wild rice and spoon a drizzle of cranberry sauce over the top.


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