Treats Without Sweets: Cheese Scones

Lately, I’ve tried to take the advice of Lady Hirons and trim sweet things from my diet. Because I found myself reaching for sweet treats more often than not, I’ve decided that a three week fast from sweets was necessary to somewhat reset my cravings and remind me that I can, indeed, live without sugar.

Sadly, this coincided with the beginning of a new rehearsal cycle with a director who likes to schedule Saturday morning rehearsals and loves to have breakfast treats to keep us motivated. I generally like to bake for my acting colleagues, so I was somewhat disappointed that I couldn’t bring a batch of soft, sweet cream scones with cream and jam. But then I thought, well treats don’t have to be sweet, and I could easily bake scones without sugar. But they might be rather bland. So I thought back to my old Nigella Lawson recipe for onion pie with cheese scone dough and decided to make a batch of cheese scones.

These are really a simple batch of scones, without even any egg to give them more structure. I recommend you use a nice, sharp cheese, as the sharper the cheese, the stronger the cheese flavor will be. I eat them without any accompaniment, though I imagine a tart jam might be nice.

Cheese Scones

2 cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick of cold butter, cubed
4 oz. shredded cheese
2 cups cold milk

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Stir together the flour, salt, and baking powder, and then cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the cheese. Add the milk, a little at a time, until a soft dough forms. Pat the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/2″ thick, and then fold three times, like a letter, and again in half. Pat this out again and cut out your scones. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until quite brown. Makes about 8 scones.

A Quick Old-Fashioned Treat

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Although the weather has been cooling, I have still had a taste for ice cream. Lately, I’ve been having ice cream sodas. I remember when I was a girl, my mother bought me my first ice cream soda, made with soda water, syrup, and ice cream, at a local old-fashioned ice cream parlour. It was coffee flavored and delicious.

Since then, floats and sodas have been one of my favorite things to do with ice cream. The soda brings a lightness to the drink that makes it easier to drink than a heavy milkshake, and doesn’t hold the problem of ice cream against one’s teeth that arises when one eats an ice cream cone or a bowl of ice cream. Plus the ice cream just lasts so much longer. I’m seriously considering buying a soda siphon to be able to make ice cream sodas whenever I want.

To make a soda, you can simply add a scoop of ice cream to a flavored soda, as in a root beer float, but I like to mix flavored syrup into plain soda water and add a scoop of ice cream at the end. The stainless steel straw has the double benefit of serving as a stirring rod. I add chocolate syrup to the bottom of the glass, as though I were making a chocolate milk, and then add a splash of soda water to get the syrup thinned out a bit. I mix in the soda little by little so it doesn’t froth out of the glass, leaving about two inches of headroom so I don’t make a mess when I drop in the scoop of ice cream. Topping with whipped cream is optional, but pretty.

A Simple and Delicious Autumnal Dinner

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Fall has officially fallen and the weather is starting to reflect it. While we’ve had our fair share of beautiful sunny days this week, the mornings have a chill to them and it cools off more quickly in the evenings. So it’s time for autumn dinners to come out. I perused the bounty of winter squash at the market recently and decided to choose two variegated, acorn-shaped darlings.

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Now, acorn squash, with its deep ridges, is a right pain to peel and dice like one might a butternut squash or a pumpkin. So I don’t generally bother. When I have an acorn-shaped squash in my life, I stuff it. Some chopped aromatics, something to bulk it up, maybe a bit of green veg and some mushrooms, and then a topping of lots of cheese. It’s totally versatile, using grains or no grains, meat or no meat. The cheese on top could be substituted with any nicely-melting vegan cheeze. If you use a grain to bulk it, you can use a bit of cooked quinoa to keep it gluten-free. Or eliminate the grain altogether and add some ground meat or chopped sausage, as I did here. You don’t need much. I found a lonely Andouille sausage in the fridge that needed to be used up, so I included it in my topping instead of using oats or quinoa.

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Anyway, I hope you enjoy this recipe and consider adding it to your autumn cooking rotation!

Sausage, Kale, and Mushroom Stuffed Winter Squash

Ingredients:

1 large or two small acorn squash or acorn-shaped squash

1/2 a medium onion, diced

1 Andouille sausage (about 3 oz.) diced

8-10 crimini mushrooms, chopped

2-3 leaves of kale, chopped

salt, pepper, and garlic powder, to taste

oil, butter, or bacon grease, for cooking

about 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar or jack cheese

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment. Prepare your squash by either chopping in half along the equator and trimming the bottom of each half to sit flat, or by chopping the top 1/2-1″ off two smaller squashes and trimming their bottoms to sit flat. Scoop out the seeds. Turn them cavity-side-down and roast for about a half an hour, or until tender when poked with a fork.

Chop the squash scraps and saute them with the onion over medium heat in a bit of oil or fat until they are tender and the onions start to go translucent. Add the diced sausage and allow to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook everything together until the mushrooms are cooked. Then, add the kale and turn off the heat, allowing the kale to wilt in the hot pan. Stir everything together.

Remove the squash from the oven and turn cavity-side-up. Fill each squash cavity with the sausage mixture, patting it into the cavity and mounding it up a bit. Top with shredded cheese. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and slightly browned. You can turn on the broiler for a few minutes to brown them, if you like. Makes two servings.

A Busy Weekend and a Busy Monday

Sunday morning, we woke up and realized that our front garden bed was woefully neglected. We hadn’t weeded in weeks and the weeds were almost as tall as the azaleas. So that we didn’t get too much sun, I suggested we go out and weed in the early morning. The front of the house is shaded until about 9:30 a.m., so we had plenty of time to pull most of the worst offenders in the weed department. We’ll have to get out a couple of weeks in a row before fall to keep things under control and then put down more mulch as the weather cools. We also gave them a bit of water since it was drier than usual last week and they were looking crispy.

After that, we decided it would be nice to walk to the store to get supplies to make waffles. I had most of the ingredients already, but we were out of maple syrup and butter. I was really excited to find Kerrygold Irish butter at the supermarket, and at a surprisingly good price. So I got fancy butter and went home to make waffles. I stirred up the batter and Boyfriend took care of cooking them. Waffles with butter and syrup was the perfect post-weeding treat! We did get a little down time for a couple hours while we ate breakfast, and I used the time to start watching Series 3 of Downton Abbey on Amazon, and do a deep conditioning treatment for my hair.

I’ve decided to officially try to grow my hair out again, and to that end, I’ve re-joined the hair forum of which I was a member many years ago. There’s a few treatments that have attained near-cult status and I knew one of them worked for me, so I put together a treatment with conditioner, honey, and aloe. I managed to use the last of my Griffin Remedy conditioner, but since I don’t want to order online when we’re going away soon-ish, I’m trying a brand from the natural food store where do our normal shopping. I’ve used it in the past and always thought of it as expensive, but it’s not actually that much more expensive than Griffin. Anyway, I let my treatment sit for an hour under plastic wrap and a bandanna, and then rinsed it out. It left my hair very soft and shiny. I let it dry hanging over one arm of the sofa while Boyfriend showered, and then put it up while we went to the store to shop.

After shopping for the week, I set to work, baking muffins and putting together lunch things for the week. I found the absolute best whole-grain blueberry muffin recipe last week, which I made again this week and froze for breakfasts. They’re fabulous with a cup of tea at my desk after I’ve made my smoothie at home. I also made a chopped salad, and hard-cooked some eggs for protein. I’m finishing out my healthy July re-boot strong!

Sunday evening was nice because we took my mother out for a birthday dinner. I was able to have a cocktail and a nice meal with her at one of her favorite restaurants. We even all got dessert and coffee (except I had tea!). It was nice because the slightly larger dinner served me well the next morning because I got up to go running early. I’m experimenting with only washing my hair three days a week and adjusting my running schedule so I run on days I already plan to wash my hair. This allows me to skip showering on some days, saving water and my skin, which has started to get more dry lately. We’ll see how it goes.

After running and a full day at work, I spent my Monday evening at an audition to which I’ve been looking forward for a long time. It was very busy and lasted longer than I would have liked, but I got to read for both characters in which I’m interested, AND the director remembered me by name without prompting, even though he asked almost everyone else to remind him of their names throughout the evening. So maybe that’s a good sign. Either way, it was fun to get to read something from the script. It would be a fun show to be in because it would further indulge my vintage loves!

I managed to make it home very late and fall into bed, but not before eating some pizza Boyfriend saved for me. He really is so sweet!

A New Month and a New Start

It’s the first of July, and the beginning of the second half of the year! The end of a month always feels a bit like a mini-New-Years-Day for me because it’s the perfect time to take stock of life and see what might need changing. June found me facing some uncomfortable truths about the state of my health, and so I’ve made a commitment to move more, even buying a fancy fitness tracker to do so. I’ve also resolved to spend the month of July re-vamping my eating habits by adding lots more fruits and veggies. With our housemate gone, I have the freedom to use noisy appliances in the mornings, and so I can make my favorite green smoothie with breakfast. That, along with a big salad with lunch will go a long way towards filling my belly with healthy, vitamin-rich veggies, so that I will hopefully be less tempted by the quick and easy snack foods that led to weight creep and other health bugaboos.

This is Boyfriend’s and my first month of having our house all to ourselves! I’ve already told you about some of the garden improvement we’ve undertaken in the past month or so, but now we get to redecorate most of the downstairs of our house! I already have a plan for each room, and hopefully we won’t have to buy too much, but it will involve some heavy lifting. Right now, it’s kind of amusing how we’re watching a television on the floor in the living room rather than bother bringing down our stand, but it works for now.

I’ve also started making an effort to exercise more. In addition to aerial class, which I’m trying to do twice a week to build my strength up for a while, I’ve also been running a couple times a week, and hopefully will be fit enough soon to run with Boyfriend on the weekends. He would slow down for me, but I feel bad when I have to stop and walk and complain. And I’m also trying to just walk more. When I’m not running around to meetings at work, I try to park as far away as I can, and take walks during the day. It’s also nice to get some fresh air and sunshine, really, although I’ve taken to wearing one of my large sunhats when I walk in the midday so I don’t get too much sun!

Hopefully, July will prompt a bit of a new beginning for me, with better health leading to a better mood. Is anyone else taking advantage of a mid-year tune-up?

A Simple, Healthy Meal

This is not perhaps a summery post. This is perhaps a recipe I will revisit when the weather chills a bit and a drizzle of rain greys the sky, rather than the sudden, violent storms of late spring and summer. But for now, it served well as a light supper on a day with a late, hearty lunch. I based it on a cleansing recipe from the blog Deliciously Ella, but made it my own with some simple tweaks.
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Rather than focusing on detox or cleansing, I focused on the vibrant flavors in the fresh veggies. I added a leek to enrich the flavor, as I love the taste of leeks, and I augmented the water with some rich beef broth, despite the fact that this would no longer be considered vegetarian. But you are certainly welcome to keep this soup vegetarian. I imagine it would be delicious if you used the rich leftover liquid from soaking dried wild mushrooms.
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Green Leek Soup
(adapted from here)

1 bunch of broccoli, washed and broken into florets
1 leek, sliced and washed
1/2 bunch of kale, washed and torn
1 can of canellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 handful of parsley, washed
2-1/2 cups of liquid (water, broth, etc.)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for sauteing
2-3 tsp. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste

Heat some olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the leek and saute until it starts to soften, add the broccoli and a splash of water. Cover and steam for a few minutes, until the broccoli turns bright green and begins to become tender. Add the kale and wilt. Turn off the heat. In a blender, puree the beans, parsley, and 1/3 of the broth. Pour out into a large pot. Then, puree, half the vegetables with 1/3 of the liquid and add to the pot. Finally, puree the remaining vegetables with the remaining liquid, plus the garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add to the pot. Bring to a simmer, taste and adjust seasoning. Turn off the heat and add lemon juice to brighten the flavor. Serves three, with crackers or bread for dipping.

A Brief Update and Taste of Things to Come

Hello, there! I’ve once again been remiss in my blogging. It’s a little bit of personal responsibilities, a little bit of ennui, and a bit of just general hectic-ness (hecticity?). You see, my birthday was yesterday, and I was having so much fun planning and executing my small festive gathering. I’ve also had rehearsals for a new show. But I have some posts on deck in my mind that will come out in the next couple of weeks.

To Come:

1.) Tea subscriptions: I’ve recently started looking into tea subscription services. Now I’ve found that so many of them focus on flavored teas that I’ve had to really hunt around. I ordered a sample box from one company, and have decided to order a three-month subscription to another. The first sample box has come and has been consumed and I took notes to share my thoughts. And I’ll share thoughts on the other as soon as my first box arrives.

2.) Makeup and skincare updates: It’s not been long since I posted my series on vintage-inspired beauty, but my routines are an evolving beast. I’ve recently made two pretty major modifications. I’ve started using almost entirely homemade products for my skin, and I’ve started using almost exclusively natural lipsticks with food-grade ingredients. To come are posts detailing both of these developments.

3.) Recipes: I had to develop some recipes for my birthday gathering and I’ve gotten some new baking supplies that will bring more recipe development. Once I have something good, I’ll be sharing. I also have some cocktail recipes I might share.

A Chilly Valentine’s Weekend

I’m now on my fourth day off as we nestle in among the snow. Our Valentine’s Day was pleasant, if somewhat uneventful. Most of the weekend was spent keeping warm, which is generally fun when you have someone else and a whole lot of blankets.

I had the presence of mind to put together a batch of frozen scones on Friday evening so I popped two of those out in the morning and baked them. I brought them up with some coffee for Boyfriend and a pot of rose Earl Grey for me. It seemed appropriate to the occasion. Thoroughly fed, we considered the day. I gave Boyfriend his gift, a new board game, and he told me mine would be on the way. And we decided to go out for a brunch a bit later.

We decided to go to our favorite brunch spot, which serves chicken and waffles in a quaint, European-cafe-style atmosphere. I had a lavender soda and we shared some appetizers before getting two plates of chicken and waffles. It was way too much food, but we boxed it up, along with an order of macarons. That left me a nice snack for tea time and us some leftovers for dinner. From there, we settled in for a cold, snowy evening together.

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Sunday was a day of high winds. We decided not to venture out, beyond a quick trip for groceries, so I made a roast chicken for dinner. I seasoned it with a blend of salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, and paprika, and surrounded it with a bed of root vegetables, which roasted and soaked up all the delicious juices. Served with a bit of steamed kale, it was a perfect healthy dinner on a cold, windy night.

IMG_0193Monday was to be another holiday, so I enjoyed my relaxation and looked forward to my long weekend. Little did I know how long it might be!

A Simple and Elegant Luncheon

Every once in a while, I want more than a simple sandwich or a soup for my luncheon, even at work. On those occasions, I hearken back to a recipe from my vegetarian days that my mother made for me: broccoli and cheese quiche.

It either sounds overly twee for a weekday lunch (“quiche”) or it sounds like nothing special (“broccoli and cheese”), and yet somehow ends up a little of both. Fresh broccoli is lightly steamed and combined with onions sauteed in a little bacon grease. The smells coming from the kitchen are intoxicating, mostly bacon and onions as the broccoli is not cooked long enough to render its often-unpleasant smell.

A single pie crust’s worth of dough is resting in the fridge, waiting to emerge and be rolled into submission. The oven heats. The kitchen is waiting expectantly to burst into activity. I crack six eggs into a bowl and add a splash of cream, a dash of salt, pepper, paprika, and a grating of nutmeg. Whisking is vigorous but controlled, until the whole mixture forms a kind of creamy, light-golden fluid.

The onions have taken on just a hint of brown from the bottom of the pan, so I turn the burner off and tip them into the bowl with the vibrantly-green florets. I attack the dough. A buttery-rich mass, so simple in its composition of butter, flour, salt, and water, yields under the roller into a pliable, smooth circle. Into the pie plate it goes. I make short and rustic work of crimping the edge, and then tip the veggies into the crust. The eggs pour over, just filling the crust, along with a cup of shredded Emmentaler cheese, a Swiss cheese whose light sweetness balances the heartiness of broccoli and onions. Into the oven it goes.

It bakes for almost three quarters of an hour, puffing up and falling down and browning deliciously. The smell is amazing. And then out it comes, to wait on a hot pad until it cools almost to room temperature. At which time it is sliced into large wedges and boxed up for the week to come, tucked away in the fridge and freezer, ready to re-emerge as a delicious lunch.

[Recipe from Martha Stewart.]

A Very Busy Weekend Indeed

Well, I’m heading into Tech Week for the play in which I am currently involved, so the coming week promises to be hectic. We actually started yesterday, when I spent almost twelve hours out, moving and building set pieces, checking costumes, doing a cue-to-cue rehearsal, and then topped it all off with another audition in the evening!

But it all started Saturday. I realized that Sunday’s busy schedule meant I would not be free to prep food for my week. It was doubly critical to have healthy homemade food this week because tech means eating dinners out and having a lot of stress and not nearly enough sleep. So homemade breakfasts and lunches were essential. But they also had to be really quick, so I could throw them together even when I chose to sleep an extra half hour instead of getting up to get ready on time. I also wanted to make sure I had a healthy choice for building day Sunday because it looked like it was going to be all donuts and pizza and soda.

So I spent Saturday cooking. I made a winter vegetable lasagna that turned out pretty well. There are still one or two more tweaks to make before I deem it perfect and put it on the blog. Perhaps next weekend I’ll make another. But it was made with a base of pureed winter squash thinned with a little broth instead of tomato sauce, and then layered with sauteed portobella mushrooms, baby spinach, grana padano cheese, and whole wheat no-bake lasagna noodles. It was just cheesy enough without being too rich, and packed full of veggies. I also made egg muffins, which are kind of like mini crustless quiches. Just eggs whisked up with some chopped steamed kale, roasted grape tomatoes, salt, pepper, and garlic powder, all poured into muffin cups and baked. Then, just because I could, I finally made Conor’s Dreaded Sausage Rolls, although I went more traditional with sage and garlic sausage, mainly because I didn’t have fennel. They were still amazing. Almost too good to dip in HP sauce. Almost. There were even a few left over!

Thoroughly exhausted, I fell into bed on Saturday. I awoke bright and early on Sunday, and showered. I put on grubby clothes for building, and packed up my audition things in one bag, and my stage prep kits in another. Audition things were nice clothes, my everyday makeup kit, my portfolio with my audition materials, and jewelry. Stage prep included my stage makeup bag, Spanx, spare stockings, heavy-duty hairspray, and styling tools. Then, I made a cup of tea in my travel mug and pureed some mango that I had defrosted the day before. This I strained and added turmeric and ginger for a base for kefir-mango lassis for breakfasts this week. I was out the door more-or-less on time to help load the truck and move all our props, costumes, and sets to the theater.

There, we assembled the set in place, which meant I got to use the drill a lot. I like using the drill; it gives one a sense of purpose. I also got to share my egg muffins with the cast, who were dubious of the idea of kale for breakfast, but tried them just the same. Still, I’ve got a few leftover for this week’s breakfasts. I was glad to have them. I lasted much longer on two of those and a single donut than I would have if I had had only donuts to keep me running. With my travel mug of good Assam tea, I was ready for the morning. The afternoon was mostly checking costumes and props, and then we did our cue-to-cue rehearsal. I got out with just enough time to change into nicer clothes and do my makeup in the car for my audition. I did my standard minimal makeup routine, with a neutral lip, so I looked like myself, only better.

After the audition, which was blessedly shorter than I thought it would be, I made my way home, where Boyfriend had saved my the leftover sausage rolls. I scarfed them down and had a glass of homemade hard cider while dozing off to an episode of Poirot. Monday has found me ready for my week, with provisions to be well fed, and the determination to face this week head-on!