Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Winning Appetizer

Blue Cheese Stuffed Bacon Wrapped Dates

Ok, I'll just let you read that first line again..... need I say more? 

There are three ingredients in this appetizer and they are super easy although they do take some prep time.  The only problem with this appetizer is they'll go so fast you'll wonder if it was worth the prep time. 

I started making these last year and every time they are a hit, barely making it to the table.  I made them for a holiday party recently and I didn't even get one!  But, I'm assured they were good.  So here are your simple directions.

1. Pick up a box of whole dates in the store.  For this batch I chose the Medjool Dates. 
2. Put a slit in each date, pitting them if they still have pits.  As you can see below, my dates had pits.
3. Try not to eat them all as you pit them.

4. Stuff the dates with blue cheese.  I use a block of blue cheese and slice it, as it's slightly less messy, but you could use crumbled.

Hint: I have found that it pays to do this earlier in the day and then put the stuffed dates in the refrigerator, so they are nice and cold.  That way the blue cheese doesn't totally melt away before the bacon is done.

5. Cut bacon in half or thirds, depending on it's length and partially cook in the microwave or oven. 
6. Wrap the bacon around the dates using a toothpick to secure.
7. Bake at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes, or until bacon is crispy.

  • You could also use Prosciutto in place of bacon.  If you do, there is no need to partially bake it.
  • Partially cooking the bacon is the second key to not losing all the blue cheese.

This is a definite "Please Repeat" appetizer according to my husband.  Happy Holiday Entertaining!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Facing Our Fears

We all have something that scares us.  Sometimes we know where that fear originates and sometimes it just is.  It may not be rational or explainable.  I'm ok with that idea.  I think it's ok to be afraid of some things and they don't all have to be explained away.

There are different strains of thought regarding fear.  Some think we should suck it up and once we do it and prove we can do it, then that fear will go away.  Some think we should always face our fears, and not let them get the better of us. 

Really?  No matter what? Fears can cause a lot of stress, imagine petting that snake or letting that spider on your desk be as you calmly keep working.  Did your heartbeat raise a little?  Was it worth it?  Are you magically a better person because you faced that fear?  Is it gone?

I've struggled head on with these thoughts for a few years now, ever since I decided I wanted to be a ski patroller.  You see, it turns out that being a ski patroller doesn't just mean you have to be able to ski, or snowboard, and learn about the first aid side of helping people.  It also means, just in case you are on a lift and the lift shuts down, you as the ski patroller, need to be able to confidently pull out the rope and webbing from your pack and rappel down from that chair lift.  Yes, push yourself off the edge of that hard seat and slide down a rope to the snow.  Hopefully in a way that is calm and inspires trust from the skiing patrons all around you, since the next step is getting them down!

Yes, I am terrified of those kinds of heights and have no desire to rock climb or rappel in any manner.  It doesn't thrill me in any way.

The first year of ski patrol I did it.  I have a very patient husband and friends that tried to get me comfortable with rappelling before the day, I even rappelled off a rock, near us.  Why anyone would choose to do this I still don't understand!  I did it.  Did my fear go away - nope.

The next year I chose to not do it, which meant I couldn't patrol by myself.  No problem, who wants to patrol by themselves anyway?  That would be boring.  And it was causing me so much stress that I never regretted that decision. 

But, this year I knew that I wanted to end this year being a full auxiliary member of the National Ski Patrol.  Hopefully we will move in the coming year and that will help us get on the volunteer ski patrol of our next closest ski hill easily.

So, I just decided I had to do it.  That helped with some of the stress, but not the fear.  I didn't even review rappelling until the night before I had to do it.  Then my husband when over everything with me in detail - a couple times, and I just took the attitude that I could do it. 

The thing with my fear is, I never doubt I can do it.  I believe I can do anything I choose to do.  But, do I want to do it?  What's the point?  I know I can be near snakes and not die.  Why would I want to be?  I know I have the ability to put on a harness, hook up my rope, and the knowledge of how to manage that rope so I easily rappel and don't plummet to the ground.  I don't question the safety of it.  But I don't enjoy it in any way, so why would I? 

Don't we do enough things we don't like because of work and just plain life.  Why force ourselves over and over again to do something we don't enjoy? 

I'm reminded to "Be Christine" and not apologize for it. 

I remind myself that just because my friends enjoy rock climbing, golfing, and Disneyland, does not mean I have to pretend to enjoy these things.  Now, I can respect their choices of activities and I can even enjoy listening to stories of their trips and ask about their trips.  I think of all the people who have no clue why I would walk 80 miles through a mountain range, but patiently listen to me talk excitedly about it.  But, that does not mean I have to do those activities.

Anyway back to fear.  Yesterday, on a crisp, cold, blue sky day, I successfully rappelled out of the chair lift again.  A perfectly good chair lift that would have started back up with the flick of a switch.  And I am proud of myself for doing it without my husband or any of my friends in that chair with me.  But does that mean my fear has gone away?  No.  Does that mean I won't stress about it every time I have to do it, just because I know I can do it?  No.   

In this case, this is a fear that I choose to face because it's a small piece of something larger, which I enjoy.  But, I don't necessarily believe we have to face all of our irrational fears to be better people.  Fear isn't a bad emotion.  It's ok to recognize it and it often keeps us safe. 

Don't be afraid of fear, respect it, listen to it, and choose when to overcome it and when to let it be.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Husband's Favorite Pecan Pie

The holidays are all about getting our favorite once a year foods.  Last year I shared our favorite cookie recipes, this wonderful Cinnamon Shortbread cookie from my husband's grandmother.

Every year dear husband asks for this Pecan Pie.  I drag my heals because there is just so much sugar in Pecan Pie, but I guess once a year isn't going to hurt any of us, except for that hour of sugar coma and slight headache after eating the pie - am I the only one that experiences these effects?

Anyway, this year we were at my mother-in-law's for Thanksgiving.  She is a wonderful cook, and she has always been amazingly generous with her kitchen and allowing me to cook in it.  So, she allowed me to make the Pecan Pie.  In fact, we were in Ohio early and my mother-in-law and I cooked Thanksgiving dinner together on Wed/Thurs.  For those of you that have not enjoyed the pleasure of working in the kitchen with someone else.  Try it.  Especially someone that is a great cook and you enjoy spending time with.  The day will fly by as you chat and move around each other.  But back to the pie....

Once again, I turned to Cook's Illustrated tried and true recipes for this favorite, and I don't even mess with it!  The only difference between this and a normal Pecan Pie is we heat up the filling first.

Pecan Pie (from The New Best Recipe)

1 pie shell  (I made a pie dough with about 3/4 shortening and 1/4 butter.)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into piece
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
¾ cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped into small pieces.
  1. Partially bake the shell until light golden brown.
  2. Melt the butter in a medium heat proof bowl set in a skillet of water at a simmer. Remove the bowl from the skillet; stir in the brown sugar and salt with a wooden spoon until the butter is absorbed. Beat in the eggs, then the corn syrup and vanilla. Return to the hot water and stir until shiny and hot to the touch. About 130. Remove from heat and stir in pecans.
  3. When take pie shell out of oven, decrease the oven to 275 and pour the pecan mixture into the hot pie shell.
  4. Bake on the middle rack until the pie looks set and yet soft, like gelatin when gently pressed with the back of a spoon. , 50-60 minutes. Cool completely.

The Pecan Pie was one of four pies I made in these 19 days.  The pies included the following:
  1. A double crust apple/pear pie
  2. An apple/pear pie with a crumb topping, (Both apple/pear pies used apples and pears from my parents trees and lard crusts.)
  3. The above Pecan pie
  4. My favorite: An apple pie with a walnut crumb topping, made with local Twig apples obtained at Findlay Market in Cincinnati, OH.  Apparently, practice really does help, this was the final pie and it set beautifully.
Sorry the below picture isn't very clear, but check out the height!

Nothing brings the same type of joy as a homemade fall fruit pie filling the air with that wonderful cinnamon smell.  While there is time involved in cutting up the fruit, this can become a very soothing process if you let it.  Don't be afraid of pie!