Hello! How are you all faring this winter? Last week Scott and I finished our interviews for his residency and our whirlwind travels around the country are now done! I can now cook (yay!) and buy a gallon of milk without wondering if I should have bought a half-gallon or if the expiration date is far enough out that it will still be good when we came home from wherever his interview was that week. It was actually a good experience though, and on this last trip to Denver, Seattle, and Portland, we managed to squeeze in some fun, despite Scott naming the trip on our Expedia itinerary “The Trip of the Century” (all three cities in one week and five different hotels, yikes!).

We went skiing in Colorado and I did my best to teach Scott how to ski. I tried to take it slow and easy with him showing him the “pizza wedge” and other tricks to slow down, but he thought he knew better. Perhaps he got a little over-confident when he successfully made it off the chairlift, because he took off, shooting right by me, on our first run down the mountain. Well, he lasted about twenty feet before he went tumbling head over heals for another twenty losing both skies and a pole! Poor guy, I could not stop laughing at him and how utterly predictable it all was, as I skied down to him gathering his skies and pole along the way to help him “reassemble” himself. The day included many other falls for Scott, like one when he got stuck in the trees,

or the one when he bent his pole in half, and the one where he was going so uncontrollably fast that when he fell he slid down the hill 60 feet from where his ski had come off and received a compliment from the guy who retrieved his ski saying that his fall looked “awesome, like an atom bomb went off.” Thankfully Scott did not receive any injuries (though he was terribly sore during his interview the next day), and by the end of the day his skiing was much improved, not falling once on our last two runs down the mountain.

The rest of the trip managed to be fun as well despite it being a "business" trip with Scott’s interviews and my meeting with realtors. Near Pike’s Place market in Seattle we found a spice shop that had hundreds of different exotic spice blends and pure spices from all around the world. I purchased some pink peppercorns, dried edible roses, a tandoori spice mix, and gomasio.

Scott and I also ate at a restaurant (the picture above is the view from our table) where a scene from Sleepless in Seattle was filmed, attended our first wine tasting, had an excellent supper at Delancy (the restaurant of one my favorite bloggers, Molly Wizenburg of Orangette), and I hiked through the rainforest outside of Portland to some gorgeous waterfalls.

But it is so nice to be home now! Despite the freezing cold and blizzards, I do like it. There is something peaceful about sparkling bright white, piercingly cold days. For me they have a calm quietness to them that I appreciate. It is on days like these, that I just want to be a hermit inside our house and crave something homey, comfy, and totally delicious. One of the first things I made upon returning was Aged Cheddar Risotto. I posted a picture it last spring on this blog and promised to tell you about it later when I “had more time.” Well, now is the perfect time! It is a warm, flavorful, wonderfully cheesy, risotto and it is so good. In my opinion, macaroni and cheese has nothing on this. The risotto’s texture is just so smooth and creamy! Combine that texture with an aged cheddar cheese and you’ve reached a whole new level of goodness.

*There are more pictures of our trip posted below the recipe.

Aged Cheddar Cheese Risotto

This recipe has been adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Cheddar Risotto. I have found that using an aged cheddar cheese, with its extra sharpness and depth, gives a lot fuller flavor than an ordinary cheddar. I’ve also omitted the chives per Scott’s request and replaced them with peas and added a sautéed chicken breast as well. By all means, make this how you would best like it; chives or no chives, with or without chicken, it is your choice. This is not meant to be a fussy recipe that must be exactly constructed. You must simply pick a worthy cheddar cheese (I’ve tried this with gruyere and it was not as good), keep it very simple with very few add-ins (lest your dish becomes clumsy and the cheddar flavor muddled by the crowd), and add plenty of chicken/vegetable stock so the risotto can avoid clumpiness and be properly smooth and creamy. Follow these tips and you’ll be golden.

Serves 4

1 Tbsp butter

1 Tbsp canola oil

2 baby leeks or one large leek or 2 fat scallions, finely sliced (I have substituted ¼ of an onion or 1 shallot for this and it seemed to work fine)

1 ½ cups risotto rice (Arborio to be exact, but I find this short grain rice painfully expensive so I cheat and use medium grain white rice and this works fine. Do not use medium grain brown rice! I tried and it’s a no go.)

½ cup white wine

½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

5 cups hot chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup chopped aged cheddar cheese (I use Kerrygold Reserve Cheddar Cheese)

½ cup peas, thawed if frozen optional

2 Tbsp chopped chives optional

4 chicken breasts optional

Melt the butter and oil together in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the baby leeks (or whatever substitution you have) until softened. (Or until turning golden brown in the case of the onions.) Heat stock in a smaller saucepan to have at the ready.

Add the risotto rice and stir for about three minutes until the rice turns transparent around the edges. Then add the wine and mustard, stirring until the wine is absorbed.

Spoon in two ladlefuls of the hot stock and stir the rice until stock is completely absorbed. After a few minutes that stock will be absorbed and you can add your next two ladlefuls. Continue stirring and let stock absorb again. Keep repeating this process for about 25 minutes until rice is tender.

After you last stock addition, before all the stock is absorbed, add the cheese and stir vigorously until the cheese melts. Not only does this melt the cheese, but it also releases starch from the rice that will give the risotto that wonderful creaminess. Check the consistency, if you think it looks like the perfect consistency add more stock to thin it out because it will thicken by the time you get it on your plate and are ready to eat. The risotto should be able to flow and should not hold its shape. Stir in the peas if using, spoon out onto plates, top with the sautéed chicken breast and chives (if using), and dig in!

Please fit Pillow, you have to! I can't sleep without you!
It's in! Barely. Thank goodness!

Scott, master skier, King of the mountain.

Myself, I managed not to fall once the whole day! It helps when you stick to the greens ;)

This Seattle icon was a block away from our hotel so we did our duty took a picture of it.

Walking along the Puget Sound on our way to the market.

Umm, the sign basically says it all.

Eye-catching produce at Pike Place market.
Watch out! This fish will "jump" out at you if someone behind the fish counter sees you standing close by and thinks you could use a good startling.

Hooray for crêpes! Especially for giant ones :) at a crêperie in the hip Nob Hill neighborhood of Portland.


A delicious, guilt-free "Carrot Cake" Bread

A few months ago a coworker brought a carrot cake to work from a local, organic foods store that has quite a good bakery. This cake was beyond rich, with a full inch of cream cheese frosting on top and a half-inch down the sides and in between the cake layers. I liked cake, but the fact that the baker seemed to have no qualms in putting 2 pounds of cream cheese on six inch round cake gave me an uneasy feeling about what else lurked inside the cake, it was the same feeling you might get eating Mystery Meatloaf at your school cafeteria. My conscious wouldn’t allow me to continue eating the cake and I was left unsatisfied. This experience taunted me for the next week. It had awakened a craving in me for carrot cake that could not be quenched until I had another, more trustworthy cake. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that what I like about carrot cake has little to do with what makes it decidedly unhealthy. I love the flavor that the warm spices bring and the mixed texture of the walnuts, the moist cake, and the sweet, and sugary bursts from the raisons. I do like the contrast of the cool tang of the cream cheese against the cake so that had to stay in some form, just maybe not in such egregious amounts. Knowing all of these flavors could be accomplished in a much healthier form, I set out to construct my own, feel-good, carrot cake. In the end however, instead of making an elaborate, time-consuming layer cake, I decided to make a simple quick bread that could be dressed up as breakfast cake if spread with a (sane) layer of cream cheese frosting or simply sliced as bread and spread with maple-walnut cream cheese. Yum!

Since I decided not to make a dessert cake, I reduced the amount of sugar by two-thirds and added ½ cup unsweetened applesauce to give it a little natural sweetness and to make up for the moisture that would be lost by taking the sugar out. I also reduced the amount of oil/butter as the carrots themselves contribute much of the moistness that I love about carrot cake. I felt I had the right, since I was making a bread, to sub-out the majority of all-purpose flour for whole-wheat flour. The end result completely satisfied my craving, and when a few slices were brought to work for a taste test, my coworkers heartily agreed that I had fulfilled my mission of creating a healthy carrot cake bread that tasted just as good as the cake, if not better.

"Carrot Cake" Bread

¾ cup whole-wheat pastry flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon allspice

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground ginger

¼ cup canola oil

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp. firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

½ cup natural applesauce

1 Tbsp. real maple syrup (optional)

1 Tbsp. plain yogurt (optional)

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups finely shredded carrots (about 2 medium carrots)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts

1/4 cup raisons, plumped by soaking them in hot water for five minutes (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray bread pan with nonstick spray.

Toast walnuts in a sauté pan over medium heat or on a cookie sheet in the 350 degrees oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Careful not to burn!

Sift together the first 8 ingredients. In a large bowl, whisk the oil, brown sugar and eggs until well combined. Whisk in the applesauce, yogurt, maple syrup (if using), vanilla and carrots. Add the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in 1/4 cup of the chopped walnuts.

Pour batter in to pan and, if you are not frosting the top of the bread, sprinkle the remaining two tablespoons of walnuts on top of the batter. Bake in the oven for 55-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on rack and enjoy! Maple walnut cream cheese goes great!

If you would like to frost the top of the bread try this frosting:

4 ounces 1/3 fat cream cheese (recommended: Neufchatel)

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

With an electric mixer, beat together the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and lemon zest until smooth and creamy. Frost the cooled bread and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts. Store in the refrigerator.