My Love/Hate Relationship with New Year's

I have a love/hate relationship with New Year’s.

My sister once told me that she loves January 1 because it’s a starting point. A chance to begin anew. I simply look at it as a way to measure time.

While January 1 marks the beginning of a shiny, brand new year, it’s also the end of another one, which always leaves me a little sad. After all, it has been a good year.

Some Great Things in 2010 {big and small}:

  • It marked a full year at my ‘new’ job - which isn’t so new anymore
  • I went on 3 (that’s right, 3!) vacations...

Our Antiguan Long Weekend Getaway

Our Yearly (and 2nd Anniversary) Family Trip to ArubaYellowstone National Park with Shaun's parents

  • We spent lots of time with friends and family at various dinners, parties and other gatherings
  • We leased a new car that we love - a Prius! Yep, we’re that couple
  • I got really good at painting my own nails
  • I made a whole lotta cupcakes

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Autumn Apple Cupcakes + Cinnamon Frosting

Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Dexter Season Premiere Cupcakes

  • I devoured said apple pie 
  • Friends got married and engaged
  • I started The Avid Appetite, found lots of fantastic blogs, and made lots of blog buddies in the process!

Not to shabby, huh? And with all of these great things behind me, I have a bit of anxiety over a whole new year ahead. What will it bring? Good things? Bad things? It’s anyone’s guess. In case you don’t already know me, that little lurker Change and I are not good friends. I’m not sure why, other than...well...it seems as though I just don’t like him. I’m feeling my heart rate increase just a little by simply thinking about it.

And don’t even get me started on the whole ‘getting older’ thing. That’s not lost on me either. I received 4 different age-defying moisturizers in my Christmas stocking this year, with a smile and a “It’s time girls!” from Mom.

Though at least my younger sister was included in the ‘girls’ reference. (And by the way Mom, after trying them out, I really do love each of them so thanks!)

So with this great year almost behind me and with some anxiety on my shoulders (that’s where I hold my stress ;)) there are some things that I’m absolutely looking forward to for 2011.

  • Good skin (see above)
  • The Avid Appetite’s 1 Year Birthday (coming in a few weeks!)
  • Traveling - back to Aruba, New Mexico and ????
  • Working to get our new home painted and fully furnished
  • Spending lots of time with my favorite guy

  • Getting back on track with exercising and shedding a few pounds
  • Enjoying fresh popcorn at a moment’s notice (though I guess that won't aid in the above)
  • Continuing to cook, eat and write avidly...and making more wonderful blog friends in the processο»Ώ!

So there it is. All of my feelings on New Year's. What do you think? How do you feel about the impending January 1?

Penne Alla No-Vodka

When I won Heather's giveaway for Rocco DiSpirito's new cookbook, I couldn't have been more psyched. His new book features classic comfort dishes that are 'lightened up' by making simple changes to the ingredients.

So after Shaun and I were snowed in eating popcorn all night...and drinking lots of wine...

...I realized I had all the ingredients to make Rocco's No Cream/No Cry Penne alla Vodka. I practically did one of these in celebration.

 

Yes, it's still pasta, which by nature just seems unhealthy. But by cutting out the cream in favor of Greek yogurt, this dish goes from decadent and rich to...not as decadent and rich. Oh and did I mention that I whipped it up in record time? It's super easy.

 

Penne Alla No-Vodka
*Adapted from Rocco DiSpirito's Now Eat This
1 box pasta of your choice (I used Cavatappi)
2 C or 1 jar tomato sauce (see below for further info)
1 C Greek yogurt (2% or 0%)
Parmesean cheese

Prepare pasta according to box directions.

In a saucepan, heat up the sauce. I used a store-bought organic brand and doctored it up to add a little more flavor. I started the sauce with some diced onions and 2 minced garlic cloves.

 

 

After sauteeing for a few minutes to soften, I added the jar of sauce, some dried basil and 2 bay leaves. I let this simmer and reduce.

In a small bowl, mix 1/2 C of the sauce with the Greek yogurt, stirring until smooth. Add back into the pot of sauce and whisk together (Note: this tempers the yogurt so that when it's added to the large pot of sauce it doesn't curdle. See? I teach you things too).

In a large bowl, toss the pasta and sauce together.

Serve in a pretty dish.

Top with {lots of} parmesean cheese.

Enjoy guilt free! Oh and if you are wondering why there's no vodka in this, it's because Rocco says it's not needed since it brings no flavor to the dish. All those Italian restaurants are merely fooling us with this fancy title apparently. Now you're an insider.

So what do you think? Have you ever lightened up a decadent dish?

 

Carmelized Potato Parsnip Tart

A few weeks ago, I found something fantastic.

Something that is destined to change a lot of things in my avid kitchen. Like how I make Ina's goat cheese & tomato tart or cinnamon buns, for instance.

That is, if I ever decide to go ahead and try making them.

I've heard so many good things about puff pastry, though I had never worked with before. When I offered to make a vegetable tart for Christmas Eve after seeing it in Food Network Magazine, I had to give it a test drive before serving it on the big day. And since puff pastry plays a major role in this star dish, I figured it was time.

Not only was the intimidating pastry super easy to work with, it baked up into a flaky delicious base for the sweet and savory tart. Topped with potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, onions and a light caramel sauce, this tart was a perfect weeknight dinner as well as a delicious hot appetizer cut into small pieces for our Christmas Eve celebration.

Carmelized Potato Parsnip Tart
*Adapted from Food Network Magazine
2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
2 medium parsnips, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small onion, sliced
3 tbsp olive oil
kosher salt
black pepper
1/2 C sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 C mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
All purpose flour, for rolling out the pastry

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel and cut up the potatoes, parsnips and sweet potatoes.  Toss with olive oil, onion, salt and pepper, spread onto a {foil-lined} baking sheet and roast for about 45 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

In a sauce pan, mix 2 tbsp water and sugar. Bring to a boil and stir frequently so as not to burn. Cook for about 7 minutes until the sauce is amber. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar.

Pour and spread {very quickly before it hardens} into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish (Note: The first time I used an aluminum baking dish, but the second time I used glass. Since the caramel hardens very quickly, I found the glass dish to work a bit better). Layer the vegetables on top, sprinkling with a bit of salt, the sage and oregano.

 

Sprinkle on the mozzarella. Next, roll out the thawed puff pastry using a rolling pin and a bit of flour. Once it's rolled out to the size to cover the vegetables, prick the entire thing with a fork (This is very important! Prick it allllll over. See below image). Cover the cheese and vegetables, folding the ends of the pastry in if it's too big.

Put it in the oven. And be careful of who's holding the camera while putting said tart in oven. Sometimes the photos turn out semi-inappropriately.

Bake for 20 minutes at 400 degrees and then reduce the temperature to 350, baking for 15-20 minutes move until finished. Let cool for 10 minutes.

Here's where it gets tricky. Since this is essentially an upside down tart, it requires a little skill to get it out of the pan. Run a knife around the edges of the tart. Place a cutting board face down over the top of the pan and very quickly (with potholders on - it's still hot!), turn the entire pan over onto the cutting board. The tart should come right out, but some banging on the top and light shaking might be in order. If any pieces stick to the pan, just replace them on top of the tart.

Don't worry, I've made it twice and didn't have a problem getting it out of the pan either time!

 

Doesn't it look delicious? The carmelization on top of the savory vegetables over the flaky crust is simply mouth-watering. Even the blackened bits were to die for. Oh and I have to admit that I had also not working with parsnips before this endeavor and always felt they fell into that 'obscure ingredient' category. I'm so happy that I finally jumped on the parsnip train! It's a great, carrot-like vegetable that was a simply wonderful addition to the potato duo.

So there you have it. A yummy, easy tart that's perfect for a weeknight dinner or for an elegant party. Have you ever worked with puff pastry? How about parsnips, or another obscure ingredient?