Monday, September 29, 2008

one step at a time

It's that time of year again - Thanksgiving test recipe time. I've actually managed to spread out the testing over the course of the year, but with October fast approaching, I really need to kick the testing into high gear.

Today's test is Cauliflower Couscous. Unfortunately, it wasn't my favorite, but see, that's what tests are for. Much better to find out now then on the Big Thursday. I love cauliflower but it just wasn't very exciting. The lemon-basil sauce is pretty good, though, so I might have to find different uses for it.

The real star of dinner was the Salmon Roasted in Butter that I made to go with it. It is unbelievably easy, the salmon comes out perfectly cooked, and if you had a pre-made salad, a fancy dinner can be had in 15 minutes (plus preheating time - during which you could probably make your own salad).

I halved the recipe because I can't stand the thought of eating day-old fish. I didn't have a pan small enough to just fit our two fillets, so I put them in a loaf pan. Worked out really well. The fish came out really moist and flavorful, and the mint variation was just lovely. I'm really into mint for savory purposes these days, but I can't imagine how any of the other herb variations can go wrong.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

are you ready for some football

Corn dogs. Why not, right? It's football season, and I was vegging in front of the TV watching Sunday Night Football, and thought they might be fun.

The one thing I can say about these Baked Corn Dogs is that they don't take any time at all. I started at halftime and finished by the time the third quarter started. I even had time to make a quick Zucchini Saute so I would feel less bad about eating meat on a stick.

I followed the recipe exactly, but found the batter to be incredibly stiff. I didn't feel like adding more milk and risking the batter slipping off completely in the oven, so I just grabbed a handful of what was more like dough, and shaped it around each of the mushroom & fontina sausages I got at TJ's.

They came out fine, but I guess a little boring. If I make these again, I'll have to experiment with the amount of liquid in the batter so that the crust is a little thinner. I may also wrap some bacon around the sausage before cooking/grilling them, and then dipping that in the batter to re-create one of the finer things about going to games - the bacon-wrapped hot dog carts waiting outside.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need

This week started out so perfectly (lovely dinners out and seeing The Raconteurs and Fleet Foxes), and then went straight down the crapper from there.

Wednesday: an artist bailed on me for a show I had booked a month ago
Thursday: USC lost in the worst way
Friday: Matty left for the weekend to play ACL

I hardly want to talk about today, but since the pity party's started, let's keep it going. I opened a cabinet this morning, and a ramekin shot out, shattered and a shard managed to slice my wrist on its way down. I shut the closet door on two fingers a little later on, and may need a manicure before the wedding we're going to next Saturday to hide the inevitable bruising of my nail beds. I went out to buy some yarn for a baby blanket I'm crocheting for a new little friend, and forgot the coupon I was going to use. I couldn't find the yarn I wanted to use for a wrap I'm making to go to aforementioned wedding, and it'll cost as much as the yarn does in shipping to get it here Wednesday. And I probably won't have any time to work on it anyway since I plan on spending my entire Thursday evening screaming at Sarah Palin on TV.


I've also been PMS'ing all week (sorry if that was too much info), so I've had the most random cravings of all time. For instance, around 6:00p tonight, I just wanted to shove a spoonful of honey in my mouth. And since that's not really a respectable thing to do (while sitting on the couch in PJ's crocheting all day is), I decided to make some Rice Pudding to go with it.

I've never had rice pudding before, but it looked like the perfect thing to go with my foul mood, so I went for it. I think it was a little more al dente than it needed to be, but I was happy with it. I halved the recipe, and it yielded 2 ramekins full - a perfect way to see this horrible week out and ring in what I hope will be a better week tomorrow. Maybe with some chopped pears for breakfast.

See? Things are already looking up.

Monday, September 15, 2008

and the reason is you

Thank the dear Lord Matty is back home after a longer-than-usual 6-week tour. Sometimes I miss him so much I fear I'm becoming co-dependent, but I'll just tell myself I love him loads. :)

As a welcome-home feast, I made Mac and Cheese with Pancetta, previously made here and enjoyed by myself and the office (aka my guinea pigs) while Matty was out of town. This managed to last (and taste good) through 3 evenings - first as a side to some leftover chicken and newly-made Brussels sprouts, as an entree with some kale sauteed in olive oil with garlic powder and red pepper flakes, and as a side to some grilled steaks and broccolini and spinach at a dinner party last night (more details to follow).

The piece de resistance (I can never remember the Mac keyboard shortcuts to add accent marks to words) was to be this Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (hello, Chocolate Cake + Peanut Butter Cream Cheese Frosting and Peanut Butter Ganache). You might as well click over and look at Deb's cake because you are not going to be seeing ANYTHING like it in this here post.

First of all, it's supposed to be a 3-layer cake. I only have two 9" cake pans that I like, so I planned on baking two layers and one tin of mini cupcakes. I needed to take something to the first tailgate of the season anyway.

So. She wasn't kidding when she said these cakes were soft. They're REALLY soft. But of course, I was in a hurry like always, so I tried to take them quickly out of the pans/tin. And my haste was punished.

The first layer came out in more pieces than I could count. Balls. I paced around the house in a panic, trying to think of places I could potentially purchase a dessert to pass off as my own. To try give myself more time to think/calm down, I tried removing the mini cupcakes from the tin. I only managed to salvage the following lucky 13:

Cute, no? And we will talk about that peanut butter frosting in just moments few.

By now, I had managed to talk myself down, and suddenly had the most brilliant thought I've thunk in months. Cake Balls!

Since the original recipe called for 16 oz. of frosting to one 13x9 sheet cake, I used 8 oz. of the peanut butter frosting for the one 9" layer that I had just destroyed. Pure magical, peanut buttery goodness. I truly despise dipping them in chocolate (I don't have the patience, not I don't like chocolate on chocolate), but it was a small price to pay to create something out of nothing.

And what did I do with the last 9" layer? Well, I took it out tonight to try to make a pitiful one-layer cake for our dinner party with Jay + Reba and BN + Jason. Since it wasn't going to be nearly as impressive as a 3-layer cake would have been, I thought I'd try to go artsy and drizzle the ganache on top instead of just spreading it.

Looks like I'm no good at doing that either. :P Clumpy Clumperson. Oh well. And don't let that photo fool you - I managed to crack the cake right in half when I took it out of the pan, but the miracle of frosting helped complete the deception. Yet another magical thing that frosting can do.

I'm actually really glad only one layer made it to cake form. It is deathly rich (in a good way). I really don't know what we would have done had it been 3 layers. They would have found our smiling dead bodies scattered about the dining table, methinks.

This Double Layer Chocolate Cake is still my favorite (and it's loads easier to work with), but I may put that Peanut Butter Frosting and Peanut Butter Ganache over everything I put in my mouth from here until it kills me.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

make yourself happy

The first thing I thought when I saw these Lemon Mascarpone Blondies was, "Where is my 8x8 pan?"

Then I remembered that I had left it at my friend Greg's house with the forgotten peaches. Oh well. I shall be patient and wait for the pan's return before baking these.

However, nothing has gone right this morning. I woke up at 7:00a to go to the ATM to get cash out for the cleaning service I'm trying for the first time. They gave me a window of 8:00a-9:00a for arrival, so I did some work while waiting for them. I get a call at 9:04a saying they were outside. Except, they were outside of the wrong house. I give them the right address, but 45 minutes later, they still weren't here. I called to check in, and was told there were loads of street closures because of the LA Triathlon happening today. Okay, fine. I get another call at 10:30a saying there was just no way to get to my house around the closures, so could they please reschedule for between 1:00p-2:00p.

Okay. Now just so I don't sound too spoiled, I've never used a cleaning service before. I've just literally been too tired from work to clean in about 2 months. Things aren't getting any easier, so I figured I'd call a recommended service and have them help me get it together before it's too late.

I just hate waiting around. Thankfully, I had plenty of work to do, but I was cranky because I missed my yoga class waiting to let them in. How to fix that? By baking blondies, of course!

I wasn't about to wait for that pan to be returned. I busted out a 9-inch round cake pan, and start whisking away. I substitute orange juice and zest for the lemon because my lemons were beyond salvageable. Hooray for one-bowl recipes. And I got a little bit of an arm workout in by hand-whisking the mascarpone into the batter. And as an extra treat to myself, I folded in about 1/4 c. of semi-sweet chocolate chips at the very end.

They came out so wonderfully. Super-soft, moist and lightly perfumed with orange flavor. I can't wait to try these again with the lemon - I think the extra tartness would make the flavor pop even more. I'm also thinking a lime variation with shredded coconut folded in might be good, too.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

this year will be better than the last

It's been a year since the "Ghetto" Basque Debacle of '07, which means it's our dear friend Jay's birthday again.

It's too hot to bake during the day, but I can't let a friend's birthday go by without baked goods, so I whipped these up tonight and plan to drop them off with his wife tomorrow when I visit her for some much-needed physical therapy.

The banana cream is the same as before, the crust is my favorite stand-by pre-baked at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, and I chose to top off the mini-pies (baked in a mini muffin tin) with some melted chocolate to make them more portable after the chocolate hardened.

Unfortunately, the chocolate kind of overwhelmed the banana - you could hardly tell the banana flavor was in there. Thank goodness I used decent chocolate. I'm wondering if I could have waited until the cream set up a bit and then painted the chocolate thinly over top, instead of the drizzle-and-spread method I employed. Next time, if I'm not concerned with the portability factor, I think I'll just paint chocolate on the inside of the crust and top it off with a dollop of whipped cream.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

know your onion

I don't have very much to say about this Frenched Egg dish other than it combines four of my favorite things in the best possible way: caramelized onions, gruyere cheese and a runny-yolk egg over pesto tortellini. Sure, the recipe suggests serving it with crispy slices of bread, but I love my carbs in pasta form, so I just turned it into a pasta topping.

So very good. You have to be pretty serious about your onion love, though - even I had a couple curls left over. It's not a quick dish to make either - lots of attention and stove time for good caramelization. Probably not the best summer dish, either, since you're in front of the stove for so long. I can totally see me warming myself in front of the stove making this come winter, though.

Monday, September 1, 2008

you'll never know

This isn't really the best picture, but it's almost kind of romantic how the light plays off of these Baked Peaches with Amaretti Stuffing.

I couldn't find amaretti cookies at TJ's, and I was too lazy to shop around, so I used TJ's Swiss Almond Crunch cookies instead. About 20 cookies whizzed through the food processor equaled the required 2/3 cup. I used Maker's Mark instead of brandy (because I'm me), but otherwise followed the recipe exactly.

I baked these in a pie plate and transferred them into a lidded 8x8-inch container for transporting. I had high hopes for them as the bits I cleaned out of the pie plate with my finger were delightful - warm, jammy peach and very slightly boozy cookie crumbs. Brilliantly enough, I have no idea how a whole (half) peach tasted. I brought them over for a friend's housewarming, and we gorged ourselves on burgers (on English muffins with slices of Brie and avocado) and steak (simply rubbed and grilled). I didn't even remember I had brought the peaches over until I got home. I might have to go back to his house and pick them back up. The curiosity is killing me!