Friday, October 31, 2008

how sweet it is

I had bookmarked Bitten's Beef Tenderloin in Caramelized Sugar on Wednesday, hoping to find a dinner in the near future to prepare it, but I knew our insanely busy schedule might not allow for it before the weekend was up.

Luckily, our office closed early today due to the hell of Halloween traffic surrounding the West Hollywood Carnaval, so I had time to go home and make dinner for us before we returned to the fray for a friend's house party. I had Matty pick up the ingredients (and some Brussels sprouts for a side) since any stops along the way would make my commute just that much more miserable.

We like our steaks rare, so this took nearly no time at all. The only scary part is when you add the nuoc mam (or soy sauce, in my case) to the caramelized sugar, it seizes up. However, the recipe is correct, and the sugar does melt back into the liquid with careful and patient stirring. After that, it's all easy-peasy - onions in to cook, and then about 3 minutes per side for perfectly rare steak.

I was afraid Matty wouldn't like it because he doesn't really like sweet flavors in savory dishes, but it was a hit. The steaks were perfectly cooked, and the caramel-soy sauce and those sweet onions became a great topping for the smoked cheddar crostini I had broiled while cooking the steaks. A very large and decadent meal, but just what was necessary to brave the WeHo freaks. :P We should start a pool on how many Palins there will be.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

suit your mood cuz you're so smooth

This Curried Winter Squash Soup with Red Lentil, Coconut Milk and Clams soup created one of the greatest aromas of all time.

I had been dying for soup since the weather decided to cool down a bit here in LA. Then it got super hot again, and today wasn't really the coolest, but I had to do it. I tried to make it easier on myself by using pre-cut butternut squash (because nothing makes me more fearful for my fingers than cutting into a whole butternut squash). I still ended up having to dice the pieces further, but it was a lot less nerve-wracking.

I debated stopping for stock to use instead of water, but my shopping bag would have been too heavy, so I didn't. I was actually pleasantly surprised by how flavorful the soup still was just using water.

The only other change I made was to puree the soup in a blender. I felt the lentils and clams would be enough of a texture contrast, so after the veggies finished simmering, I moved it all to a blender (my kingdom for an immersion blender), returned it to the pot for warming and added the lentils and cooked clams.

And by the way, can I just say how fun red lentils are? I found them in the bulk bins at Whole Foods, and they were like little Halloween treats! They're bright orange (I would never have guessed that's what they looked like if I hadn't been scouring the labels for a description). :)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

we can make it better

I was really hoping for so much more with this Parmesan Crab Risotto. I mean, how perfect does it sound? I did use canned crab meat (but it was the good stuff in the refrigerated section at TJ's), and I'm sure it could benefit from the fresh stuff, but I found the flavor to be very one-dimensional, and not even a proper salt and peppering could bring it to life.

Thank goodness we also had Elise's Collard Greens with Bacon to go with it. The risotto was vastly improved by swirling the greens in. Intensely flavorful and delicious, even though collards aren't my favorite. I may substitute kale and make this for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

nobody do it better than us

Ah, all the things a girl needs for her birthday: whiskey and Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake. :)

It's true, I turn 26 today. Terrifying. :P

For my birthday, Matty wanted to bake me a cake. I narrowed it down to about 3 (a very difficult task), and Matty chose this one. While I was at work Friday, he IM'ed frantically saying that he had read the detailed instructions that was linked on Deb's blog, and had become very nervous about the whole situation. We decided that we would wait until I got home to bake it together.

First of all, I think those detailed instructions served more to frighten - the cake isn't nearly as difficult as those instructions make it out to be. Pretty much the only thing I did was brown the butter, and Matty did everything else.

The cake smelled amazing while baking. Matty did a beautiful job frosting the entire cake with the ganache, and then perfectly wrote out my happy birthday message. 26 candles later, we had 16 little slices to share with the friends who had gathered for the USC game (and the 4 strangers behind us).

The cake was a huge hit. The only thing we would change in the future is to go ahead and grind those hazelnuts alone to make it easier to check on the consistency of the nuts. The powdered sugar can then get mixed in afterwards.

All in a all, a perfect birthday. I was really hoping to hit 70 points, but I suppose that's just being greedy. :)

Friday, October 17, 2008

use your love

Nothing too fancy tonight. We're making a dessert with egg whites, so we had a couple egg yolks to kill.

Tomato Carbonara
8 oz. penne (or any other pasta)
2 cups cherry tomatoes (or any other tomatoes, diced)
4 oz. bacon, cut length-wise into 1/2-inch strips
5 egg yolks

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.

Throw tomatoes and bacon into a skillet. Cook until bacon is done to your liking.

In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks well. Add tomato/bacon mixture and pasta, and stir well to coat.

Serves 2, maybe 4 if your boyfriend doesn't like it.

And Matty didn't. He said the flavors don't really go together well. I rather enjoyed it, but it may be the stereotypical female favorite - sweet and salty. Like I said, not groundbreaking on any level, but a great way to get rid of those egg yolks.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

baby what a big surprise

Are these Healthy Cookies still healthy if you, hypothetically, shove 4 in your mouth as soon as they're cool enough to do so? I say yes.

And all joking aside, these really are. If your chocolate chips are vegan, you've got yourself a nice vegan snack. And if your oats are gluten-free, you've got a nice vegan, gluten-free snack that you can still eat, unlike a previous vegan, gluten-free snack yours truly once attempted.

It's basically fancy, clumpy granola - which is not a bad thing at all. Somehow the mixture magically turns into tender cookie-ness. I know that's not really the most eloquent or technical way to describe it - I guess I'm just surprised it tasted as much like a cookie as it did for not having any butter, egg or flour (well, I guess it did have almond meal).

Whatever. I'm no scientist. I just stuff cookies in my mouth.

Monday, October 13, 2008

start now

Matty and I had tentative plans to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving with our friends Jeff + Marcela, but they're in the middle of major action re: the house they just bought, so we postponed our dinner date.

Never one to let a holiday go uncelebrated, I decided to make a mini-Thanksgiving for myself and Matty anyway. And since I pretty much hate turkey unless it's been smoked, I decided to go with chicken. Chicken with Vinegar to be exact.

Let me tell you - I have not been this excited about chicken in a long time. And if we're going to be shallow, this one is much prettier than the pale Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic. Just look at that browning (courtesy of 7 Tbs. of butter, as opposed to the 2 Tbs. of olive oil)! What? It's a holiday! Calories don't count!

I mean, I wish I had made more, that's how amazing this was. As it was, I only used 6 drumsticks, and Matty and I polished them off in record time. Since my red wine vinegar was already at 5% acidity, I used just 6 oz. of it and all of the pan juices + the remaining Tbs. of butter for the sauce.

The vinegar rounds out the dish so well. The slight tang contrasts wonderfully with the rich, fatty skin and the perfectly moist chicken. I picked up some orange muscat vinegar at TJ's, and can't wait to try that in the next version of this dish.

For sides, I kept it simple. I mashed some Dutch baby potatoes and mixed in some shredded smoked Gouda. Nothing else - no butter, no milk. A bag of yellow and green beans were blanched in boiling water for about 3 minutes, and their addition made us feel slightly virtuous.

For dessert, I crossed another item off my Thanksgiving test recipe list: Maple-Hazelnut Pie from the October issue of Bon Appetit. Now I admit that in my haste (and because the pie already smelled so damn good), I may have taken it out before it was completely set. It firmed up a bit more after it cooled, but the filling still had a very flan-ish texture, which I wasn't very fond of at all. I don't really want to try again for Thanksgiving in case the texture remains the same, so I for my Thanksgiving nut pie, I'll be crossing this pie with this Butterscotch-Bourbon Macadamia Nut Pie, basically swapping out macadamia nuts for hazelnuts. Or get crazy and do half of each. :P

Saturday, October 11, 2008

the sun has finally had its say

Today was our first day game of the season. I have a love-hate relationship with day games. On the one hand, I prefer them because evening games make me feel like I've spent my entire day drinking beer like a frat boy. However, it's really hard to plan tailgate food when kick-off is 12:30p.

Luckily, I came across this Boozy Baked French Toast recipe, modified it a bit to serve my oinky needs, and considered myself a hero for finding a way for myself to sleep in just that much later since I knew custardy goodness was already soaking in the fridge.

Because I'm that lazy, I mixed all the custard ingredients in the 13x9x2 pan instead of using a separate bowl. Instead of challah, I used 6 croissants. I halved each and let them soak in the custard overnight. Then, before baking, I spread half of them with Nutella, and sprinkled the other half with chocolate chips (because our tailgate buddy Paul doesn't like Nutella for some reason). The tops went on the sandwiches, and then into the oven it went while I got into my cardinal and gold finest.

They were a hit at the tailgate, even if the syrup I brought along (and we didn't end up needing) spilled all over my cloth bag. Oh well. It's certainly very rich, and the added Nutella and chocolate don't help that. Or the croissants, for that matter. I think the next time I make this, I'll decrease the liquid by a bit - I thought it worked out really well, but Matty prefers his French toast a little crisper, so I don't think he would have liked the consistency of this.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

when you least expect it

We've been eating out for most of this past week, and we've been eating pretty poorly. As another Sunday passed with me stationed on the couch watching football, Matty requested that we have a light, healthy dinner tonight.

He first suggested salad. I hate salad. I don't know why. I can barely tolerate entree salads, and I avoid side salads like the plague. I mean, I like veggies just fine, but ugh, I can't stand a salad.

Matty compromised with a quinoa salad, so I set out looking for quinoa recipes. I'm fairly sure I gasped aloud when I found this recipe for Quinoa with Hazelnut Parsley Pesto. I had everything but hazelnuts so we set out to the store before we started dinner.

I also didn't have parsley, but I had plenty of basil, so I just went with that. The pesto was made and the Brussels sprouts sauteed while the quinoa cooked, and then everything went into a big bowl to be tossed together.

The pesto was not as hazelnut-y as I expected, but I forgave it because toasting those hazelnuts in the oven really put me in a sort of holiday spirit. The house just smelled so lovely. The dish itself was amazing - really quite filling for the size of the servings I was dishing out. This might also make an appearance at the Thanksgiving table, especially if some of our vegan friends end up coming over.

I love finding recipes that just end up working out even when I had no specific plan for them.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

i do love you still

I'm telling you. Once the test recipe train starts, it's hard to stop. I nearly dropped in my tracks when I saw this Pumpkin Spice Bread with Maple Cheesecake Layer. I didn't have 3 mini loaf pans, so I made it in a bundt pan.

Unfortunately, my cheesecake layer was not quite as luscious as Peabody's so that creamy maple layer was lost in my finished product. Obviously, you can't tell from this photo, but I'd say that spread around the bundt pan, the cheesecake layer only ended up being about 1/4-inch thick. However, the bread is unbelievable - perfectly spiced and dense in a good way. It's still a major contender for Turkey Day breakfast without the cheesecake layer.