Saturday, January 31, 2009

carrot cake and wine

My beautiful friend Daisy Church did me the honor of inviting me to cater her "If Wishes Were Horses" art show at Silverlake's The Living Room last night. Over email, we decided that I would make caprese bites, smoked salmon tartare on bok choy leaves, double chocolate-chip cookies (minus the spices), and carrot cupcakes.

The best part about it? I got to have her and her husband Damon over for dinner to do a carrot cupcake taste test a couple nights before the show.

I couldn't believe that I hadn't made a carrot cake before. I burned up the Google looking for recipes, and in the end, pulled a couple from trusted blogs. When I got home, Matty and I decided that we haven't ever really had any carrot cakes that had anything but carrot in them, so we decided to weed out the recipes that contained pineapple, orange, etc.

Then I decided to get all OCD and break out the only thing from my business degree that I still use on a daily basis - Microsoft Excel. Oh yes. Four years of private education has left me with no other daily application than a spreadsheet program. At least our football team is good.

Anyway, I digress. So I created an Excel sheet to break down the differences between all of the carrot cakes that I thought looked so interesting. Sources went along the top, ingredients went down the side, and the required amounts filled in the grid. I broke everything down per egg to make it extra clear. And you know what? There, um, weren't really any differences at all.

It just goes to show you how powerful great writing and beautiful photography is when it comes to food. I mean, I could have sworn all of these were extremely different and profound in their own right. Here I was thinking I was going to be up all night making 9 different kinds of carrot cakes. I ended up narrowing it down to a 4-star Epicurious recipe that about 300 people had said they'd make again and Amy of Nook & Pantry's recipe that had a very similarly proportioned ingredient list, but used a fascinating emulsion technique for incorporating the oil.

But the...then! What of the frosting? Would orange or coconut or even pineapple be okay to include in the frosting even though we had banned them from the actual cake? How different is marmalade frosting from orange frosting, or should I just use a lemon frosting? And then, just as I was about to be ill at my own obsessiveness, I spied IT. White chocolate cream cheese frosting. Except the recipe I found sounded a little fussy, so I decided to use Nicole's.

The unanimous winner turned out to be the Epicurious recipe. I actually think it would be a really great madeleine as well - the edges crisped up really nicely. The flavor was great, the cakes were moist but not greasy, and I'm glad I have leftovers. The whole recipe made about 75 mini cupcakes.

And here's a taste of Daisy's art, and the spread:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

get set go

This Blood Orange Jelly was never supposed to be. I don't even think it really IS.

Let's start at the beginning. Tomorrow is the Lunar New Year, and since it's a work day, my sister and I went over to my parents' tonight to celebrate. I didn't want to come empty-handed, so I thought I would make something nice and citrus-y as a gift. See, not only is it wonderfully in season, citrus is a big deal in the Lunar New Year celebrations. I think it has something to do with the Chinese word for certain types of citrus being homophones for health, wealth and/or prosperity. All I know is, we had lots of tangerines, etc. around this time of year.

My parents have a kumquat tree in their front yard, so I thought it would be nice to incorporate that into my gift, especially after I found this recipe for Kumquat and Vanilla Bean Pate de Fruit. My sister was planning on visiting them last weekend, and since I didn't get a chance to, I commissioned her to pick a couple for me, and we would make the exchange later.

Sign #1 this wasn't supposed to happen - she left the kumquats there after she picked them.

Okay, fine. I had just seen kumquats at the farmer's market this past week, so it would be no trouble to find more. Except that it was. I settled on some blood oranges since Zoe also had a recipe for them, and I figured it would be great since the color red is also a big deal in Lunar New Year festivities.

I followed the recipe to the letter, and was super stoked at how lovely it smelled and tasted. I set it out at room temperature to set for the requisite 2 hours.

Sign #2 - it didn't set.

So, I thought I'd not stress over it and take a nap, giving it a couple more hours to do it's thing. Woke up 4 hours later, groggy out of my mind, to continued jiggly-ness. Figured I'd stick it in the fridge overnight and see what happened.

No go. There was a gelled layer about the thickness of two fruit leathers stacked on top of each other, but it was still syrup-y underneath. So what does a very upset bakist do? Scrape the whole thing into a mason jar and call it Blood Orange Jelly.

It's a little too loose to really fool anyone into thinking it was supposed to be jelly, but the taste is actually very lovely, and I wouldn't mind spooning some onto some nice buttery scones or muffins. Which I'll bake after I get over this epic fail.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

purple haze all in my brain

I've been obsessed with this Grape Cake from the moment I found it. The obsession to bake it was only matched by the obsession to find Concord grapes, and the absolute refusal to bake it until I did. The fates were against me, though, as every grocery store from Albertson's to Whole Foods only carried red and green grapes.

Finally, I settled on the grape medley that Trader Joe's sells - red, green and these lushly purple grapes. Don't quote me on whether or not they were Concords, but I had a dinner party to throw, and they were going to have to do.

This is by far one of the easiest cakes I've ever made. No need to do anything as difficult as taking out butter to soften - no, the butter called for here is simply melted. I basically threw all of the ingredients into my Kitchen-Aid mixer in the order they appear in the recipe, stirred in the grapes and stuck it in the oven. It's a good thing, too, because I was having a major meltdown because the cheese for the fondue I was making (that I've made millions of times before) absolutely refused to melt down.

I highly recommend finding the purple grapes. My medley only yielded 1 1/2 cups of purples, so the final 1/2 cup ended being just the standard red grapes, and frankly, they're just not as good. Not only are they not as pretty, baking them does nothing for the flavor. You kind of get a bland mess, whereas the purples bake into sweetly concentrated goodness.

The cake itself is delicious. I'd be very tempted to just make the plain batter and stick it in a loaf pan and call it breakfast any day of the week.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'tis the gift to be simple

I had the fanciest breakfast planned for this glorious Inauguration Day - there was going to be fancy baked eggs, flavored bacon and freshly-baked scones. My office is closed today, so there was going to be one heck of a leisurely morning.

Turns out, I'm an old lady now, and even though I went to bed by midnight, I couldn't pull it together enough to get out of bed by 7a to start everything. Instead, I snoozed until about 7:40a, content with just making the all-American breakfast you see above - scrambled eggs, hash and super-crispy bacon.

The potatoes were leftover smoked potatoes from our barbecue the other day. Basically, I cut russets in half lengthwise (like you would to make a baked potato), tossed them in olive oil and a finely-chopped fresh herb (sage in this case), wrapped each half individually in foil and tossed them on the smoker for about 2 hours.

To make the hash, I used the bacon grease left in the pan to brown cubes of the potatoes. When they were heated through and browned, they were done.

I did manage to leave enough time for the most American bit of our breakfast - a recipe for a British treat shared by a Canadian friend:

Cranberry Scones
2 cups flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
7 Tbsp sugar, divided
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
10 tbsp cold butter
1/2 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, 6 T. sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in the butter. Stir in the cranberries and buttermilk to just combine. (I subbed about one cup of sour cream for the buttermilk because I was out). Don't overwork ingredients.

Shape dough into 2" thick disk and then cut out your scone shapes (I cut mine into 8 wedges). Sprinkle shapes with 1 T. of sugar. Leave an inch or two between shapes and bake for about 30 minutes.

They came out perfectly - slightly crisp on the outside, and buttery soft on the inside. I had left out some butter to soften, but we didn't need it. I started to put a little jam on, but it was just so tasty as is that I inhaled the rest of it plain.

Typing is making me hungry. I think it's time to re-scone.

Monday, January 19, 2009

wash me clean

After last night's smoke-a-thon meat-fest, I could barely stand to even look at the leftovers in the fridge. We were going to have a very vegetarian dinner, no two ways about it.

I've had this Beet Rosti bookmarked for over 6 months, and since beets are in every stall of the farmer's market right now, I bought two bunches for dinner.

I ended up using both bunches, or 10 very small beets. Thank goodness for the grating tool on my food processor - I would probably have turned the entire kitchen pink grating them by hand. I nearly burned the first side, so I chickened out and only cooked the second side for 5 minutes. Next time, I'll go the full 10 minutes - the crunch that came from the bottom was unbeatable.

I originally planned on serving a salad on top of the rosti, but it got kind of chilly this evening, so I thought warm greens would be more comforting. I would have loved to have just used the beet greens, but since not very many of them were salvageable, I supplemented the saute with some spinach.

By the time the greens were on top of the rosti, it kind of looked like a pizza, so I just went ahead and crumbled some blue cheese on top of the whole thing. I loved the combination of flavors and textures - the crunchy rosti edges, the yielding greens and the creamy bite of the cheese.

And because I'm always thinking about uses for leftovers, I see a runny-yolk fried egg in this rosti's future. :)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

opened my eyes to a new kind of way

Another Sunday, another barbeque. I am so bone-tired that this is going to be a quick post. I just had to share our most successful smoking event ever. And it all came from needing to buy bubble wrap in bulk.

We went to Costco yesterday to look for some packing materials for a package Matty sold on Ebay. Turns out that stuff was only available online, but we totally scored anyway on a massive bottle of Maker's Mark and some of the nicest meat I've seen in ages - a 4.2-lb. rib eye roast, and a little over 6 lbs. of pork babyback ribs.

We didn't even know what a rib eye roast was, but it was so gorgeous and so marbled that it looked like the meat version of a jellyroll cake that we just had to buy it. Fired up the Google when we got home, and lucked out with two of the grandest marinades we've ever tried.

First up was the marinade for the rib eye roast, an SF Gate recipe from 2005. God, I love the Internet. This marinade smelled unbelievable cooking, and really, I would have drank the thing as is. Fortunately, I managed to control myself, and we let the roast marinate for about 24 hours, and ended up making a gravy of sorts with it. Now, I don't know what the food safety issues are with msking sauce out of a marinade that a piece of raw beef has been sitting in for a day, but I figured I was boiling the liquid anyway, so it had to be safe. However, do check in if you don't see a post in the next couple days. :)

I had Matty help me with the second - a Honey-Tequila one for the pork ribs. Note that the recipe I'm linking to is for 30 lbs. of ribs. Let me tell you, it's crappy to divide cup measurements by 5. :P

We were absolutely thrilled about the way everything came out. The roast melted in your mouth. That marinade really made it through, and you could taste it in every bite. The ribs were juicy and sweet and spicy and had just the slightest kick from the tequila. It was all just unreal.

Dessert ended up pretty magical as well. I was trying to make cute little meringue baskets with which to serve some delicious chocolate sorbet, but my meringues flattened out in the oven into these accidental macarons that you find in the back of this picture. I also overbaked them a bit, so they were very crispy. I managed to make them into little ice cream sandwiches anyway, but I still felt I had to come up with a back-up plan.

I only had 2 eggs left after the morning's chilaquiles, so that put a real crimp in my plans to bake a chocolate-bourbon cake that called for 3 eggs. I know I probably could have gotten away with using 2, but I didn't want to waste perfectly good bourbon in case I screwed up.

Luckily, I had bookmarked this insanely easy Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie, and I figured something frozen might be a great ending to an 80-plus degree day filled with smoking and meat overload.

I was not able to make this vegan because I was out of soy yogurt, but I managed to make do with a regular organic vanilla yogurt. I did have a little trouble slicing through the pie straight out of the freezer, but letting it rest at room temperature for about 15 minutes did the trick. We all needed a minute to digest anyway.

The pie is delicious. It's got a fun tang from the yogurt, but the chocolate and peanut butter flavors really power through. Everyone licked their plates clean, especially high praise since I know we had all overdone it on the perfect meat.

i'll stop the world and melt with you

Okay. Don't come after about how unauthentic this is. I don't care. It combines several online sources, my ideas of what this dish should be, and most importantly, my desire to get rid of stale chips.

You see, stale chips annoy the crap out of me. You can't have a party without them, but really, there is absolutely no way to open just the right amount of chips for your party. And sure, it's not like a bag of chips costs very much at all, but I'm just against throwing away food. So, I give you, my chilaquiles:

Ngoc's Chilaquiles
Serves 2 generously

2 handfuls of tortilla chips from last night's party
6 eggs
3 T. salsa
4 oz. grated pepper jack cheese (approx. 1 cup)

Beat 6 eggs with 3 T. salsa in a medium bowl.

Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat. Throw in 2 handfuls of chips. Pour in the egg mixture and scramble as you would normally until eggs are just set. Sprinkle with grated cheese, and cover with a lid until cheese is completely melted and eggs are set.


Now, nachos these are not. The chips melt into soft, comforting goodness - there's really no way they stay/become crispy, and you're not going to be able to lift them out with bits of eggy goodness on them like nachos. I'm sure you can figure out a way to do it if that's what you're going for, but you're not going to get that from this.

Just a disclaimer - these are freaking fantastic. In fact, Matty nearly threw a fit when I suggested we figure out another breakfast because we were out of cheese. As you can see by the existence of this post, he won.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

come together

I'm not sure much else could be easier than tonight's dinner of Roasted Broccoli with Shrimp.

I've waxed poetic about roasted broccoli time and again, but I do realize that not everyone can make a full meal out of it. Hence the brilliance of this particular variation - you can add a little protein in and really call it dinner. Because I was too lazy to make a starch to go with it, and didn't really feel like rice or pasta even though I bought a package of rice noodles specifically for this dish, I cut up 4 potatoes (in half lengthwise and then into half-moons) and started roasting them first. 20 minutes later, I added the broccoli, and 15 minutes after that, I added some Argentinian red shrimp for a final 15 minutes of roasting.

I'm not really into coriander and cumin, so all I tossed each addition in was some olive oil and garlic salt. I zested a lime in with the shrimp as well, and it lent a very pleasing zip to the entire dish - any more (juice, that is), and I'm afraid the dish would have been overwhelmed.

I highly recommend Argentinian red shrimp if you can find it (sold in frozen 1-lb. bags at Trader Joe's). The bag claimed that it had a texture and flavor like lobster, and it didn't disappoint.

The broccoli didn't come out the way I really like. Thankfully, it didn't overcook - it just tasted like regular broccoli, not that magical golden-ness that is the reason to make roasted broccoli. Obviously, there were changes to the way I normally roast them - the addition of potatoes (perhaps liquid from roasting them acted to steam my broccoli?), the use of a 13x9x2 pan to hold everything as opposed to using just a baking sheet, etc. Or maybe I just have to be mindful to keep the florets super small.

I'll definitely be making this again. Matty loved it, and it's a super easy clean-up. Shrimp isn't the greatest for you, what with all the cholesterol, but I'd love to try again with chicken or chunks of some sort of white fish.

We finished a good two-thirds of the dish, and I'm already thinking about what a luxurious omelette the leftovers will make in the morning. :)

sugar in the morning

I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater. I'll try just about anything at least once. Weird flavor combinations? Bring 'em on.

I don't generally foist my thrill-seeking tastebuds onto others, though (Matty excluded, of course). So when I had to find a dessert for a dinner party with our friends Gabe and Winston, and I couldn't shake the thought of this Pear-Banana Crumble, I had to do a lot of rationalizing.

I like pear. Most people like pears - it's kind of hard to hate. I like bananas. A lot of people like bananas. But together? Really? But Molly thought it was good. So did Clotilde. This sentence sold it: "As they cook, the banana and pear slices fall into each other's arms, melding together in a luscious soft compote, while keeping their textural identities."

They fall! Into each other's arms! Obviously, if you don't like this crumble, you are dead inside. How could you not like this love story in a 13x9 pan?

Anyway, it was a huge hit (even if I forgot the hazelnuts in the topping - one has to know). The guys all went for seconds because, obviously, "that warm crumble taste" can't be recreated. That whole dinner just went so well that I didn't manage to take pictures of anything.

Skip ahead to breakfast this morning. I felt like something sweet, but I didn't want to work too hard or dirty up too many dishes. Luckily we still had a bit of crumble left, so I nuked it in the microwave while I waited for my frozen waffles to toast. Some crumble went on top, maple syrup was drizzled and nonfat vanilla yogurt was dolloped, and I had my very own breakfast of champions. Really, I just consider it to be a good day when I can put dessert on top of my breakfast.

Friday, January 16, 2009

hot, hot, hot

If I find a recipe that interests me, and I'm not on my home computer to immediately take it down in a Word document and file safely away, I'll email myself the link, with the name in the subject. Then, when I get home, I file those emails away on my computer. It's a really great system.

Matty happened to be over my shoulder as I was going through yesterday's emails. His eyes got big as saucers, and he said, "What does 'spicy drumsticks' mean?" Obviously, I had to make them for him tonight. And really, this could have been disastrous, but all's well that ends well.

You see, I cannot deal with spicy food. I try, but I really can't. Matty loves the stuff. I chase my mild wings with carrot sticks drenched in blue cheese; Matty asks if we can order a couple "suicide" wings. I sip my pho sweetly; he pours on the Sriracha. Sriracha drumsticks - oh, sure.

These came out pretty spicy. Matty loved them. Luckily for me, we didn't have enough time to marinate the chicken for very long before baking. I just "suffered through" the spicy outside and comforted myself in the fact that there was plenty of just plain chicken on the inside to cool the raging inferno of my mouth. I think the chicken was pretty good, but it's hard to fully enjoy when you're trying to swallow as quickly as possible so that the spice doesn't touch your tastebuds for too long. Perhaps next time, I'll use Cholula instead - get a little warmth without killing myself.

I wonder if they'll get more or less spicy as they sit in the fridge? I've got visions of shredded spicy drumsticks over some nice crisp Romaine with blue cheese crumbles tomorrow. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

can't conceal it, sugar high

Neither of us can sleep, and those his and hers waffle sundaes above were to blame. You see, I had to make up to Matty the fact that I was too tired and dry-eyed to go out last night to our favorite little diner and order their massive version. So, I stopped by TJ's to grab a pint of chocolate sorbet, a quart of coffee ice cream, organic! Midnight Moo and multigrain! frozen waffles so that we could make our own. Worth every calorie and every loud noise my partly lactose-intolerant belly makes in protest.

Anyway, having a dessert that looked like that meant we had to have a dinner that looked like this:

Namely, small. Just a little Israeli couscous cooked in coconut milk and seasoned with a little salt and a little sugar. I tossed in a bit of the leftover arame we had from the other night, mainly to bulk up the dish because we had less couscous left than I remembered, and topped it with scallops seared in sesame oil.

While I love coconut milk, and the kitchen smelled divine as it was cooking down, I think I may try a mixture of milk and water or broth next time. I thought the milk alone made the couscous a little slimy, but Matty just called it smooth. It's okay, we didn't waste too much time arguing about it - we were too busy polishing our plates.

And now, it's time to turn in. I feel a crash coming on.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

last christmas

Not to dwell in the past or anything, but Christmas Baking 2008 really swept by me. I had elaborate lists and plans to make cookies personalized for each of the recipients' favorite flavors, and by the time I got home from work every day, I felt like I was going so batshit-crazy that I couldn't sit still, let alone quality-control tiny things for gift-giving purposes. In hindsight, perhaps it would have calmed me, but in mid-December, dinner+whiskey+bed sounded like the only antidote to the day.

I promise this story ties in to tonight's dinner.

So, on the list of Christmas Cookies That Never Were were some hazelnut doohickeys that required the purchase of 3, maybe 4 small bags of them. That were overpriced. That never got used.

I very nearly fell over myself when I found this recipe for Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce, but even as I called Matty to pantry-check before I went to the grocery store, I knew I was not going to be buying pistachios and would finally be using some of these hazelnuts.

Holy hellfire was this good. It was rich, it was creamy, and we ate more of it than we should have. I barely used a splash of cream, and probably would have been fine with just some pasta water - as Matty noted, the ground hazelnuts made the pasta taste like there was already cheese in it (which makes sense, since I believe vegan cheeze often have ground nuts in them). I thought the small variance in the texture of the nuts was fun - most of the time you would only notice an essence of hazelnut, and other times, you got an extra-fun little bite.

I cannot wait to try this again with the pistachios. If only because I think it'll be really pretty (don't get me wrong - I love pistachios). One day. When the hazelnuts are all gone.

Monday, January 12, 2009

hot n cold

Having the flu this weekend was so painful. No, not the wretched fever/chills action, the constant coughing, the achiness that prevented me from sleeping because I couldn't find a comfortable position.

It was 80 degrees in Los Angeles this weekend, and all I could do was glare at the sunshine from my bed. I had elaborate plans of barbecues, granitas, Rose Bowl Flea Marketing...all visions fading away as quickly as our stock of TheraFlu.

Finally, finally I started feeling better today. I've still got a very pesky cough, and I'm a little stuffy, but my head has returned to be a workable space. Once I figured that out by the end of the day, nothing was going to stop me from making some Crunchy Wasabi Salmon.

Lurking behind the salmon is a quick saute I made of arame and leftover red chard and the very last of my holiday staple Sweet Potato Gnocchi, frozen about a month ago. To be real, they weren't quite as good - a month may be pushing it. I'm more distracted about the size of the gnocchi I cut, though - I can't quite tell if it's them that are offensively large, or if my piece of recession salmon is just that small.

Anyway, the salmon was pretty good. Not the best I've ever had, but I can't fully say I was disappointed because it wasn't like the prep was back-breaking. The wasabi peas definitely mellow out a bit in the roasting process (I popped one in my mouth for kicks before I started prepping, and was actually a little surprised at how spicy they were, and started fearing that a whole blanket of them might either kill me or shock my sinuses back into good health, but don't worry - neither happened).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

one love from left-eye

Today sucked.

- I skipped the gym this morning because I planned on going after work and before one of my favorite bands, The Gabe Dixon Band, was to play a show.
- I noticed my eyes were a little red, so I kept my contacts out during my shower. They felt a little better, so I put them back in and went to work.
- By about 11a, my eyes were tearing and it really hurt to look at the computer screen, so I called Matty to ask him to make the 1-hour round-trip drive to my office to bring me my glasses.
- By about noon, in glasses, my eyes were constantly tearing, and I was typing with my left eye tightly shut. I retired to the dark conference room to lay down, but it didn't help. Managed to squeeze into my optometrist at 2:00p, which meant calling Matty back to pick me up because there was no way I was going to be able to drive.
- I apparently have some kind of eye infection. I paid $75.69 for an insanely small bottle of drops whose side effects may include headache, nausea, transient eye burning/stinging, increased eye pressure, unusual tiredness or weakness, visual disturbances, engorgement of blood. WTF is "engorgement of blood"??
- I napped from 3:00p-7:00p so now I'm all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and probably won't be able to sleep for hours. Even though I shouldn't go to the show in my condition, my brain is firing about trying to figure out where I might find an eye patch and show up anyway.

The only thing that made it better - a dinner of crackers and eggless salad while my entree of roasted broccoli was in the oven, followed by crackers and a chunk of Brie, and a dessert of Trader Joe's Soy Creamy chocolate ice cream sandwiches.

I mean, have you ever had roasted broccoli? It is brilliant. I've always loved roasted cauliflower, but roasted broccoli may be even better. The stalks are crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, and the florets become crispy-chewy, browned bits of happiness. It's not even a recipe - toss florets with olive oil, salt and pepper, stick into a 450-degree oven for 30 minutes, and voila. New-found happiness. Now if only I knew where to get an eye patch...

Monday, January 5, 2009

make the most

In true recession style, Matty and I have started a new system where we try not to buy new food or go out if there are still leftovers to transform in the house. Sometimes it feels like punishment (because sometimes you HAVE to have sushi or you will just die), but other times, small miracles like this Israeli couscous dish happen.

The liquid is the pot liquor from cooking Collard Greens with Bacon on Jambalaya Day last Friday - I'd say there was about 2 cups worth. I set that to boil and began browning a cup of Israeli couscous in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the pot liquor was boiling, I added the couscous, about 1/2 cup of leftover greens, and 2 thighs worth of chopped chicken. I covered the pot and let it go for the box-recommended 12 minutes. Now with the appropriate amount of liquid, you'd get a nice dry couscous, but since I had about a cup more than required, I ended up with a lovely saucy situation. I added the 2 egg yolks leftover from making meringues yesterday, and I think they were the absolute perfect way to mellow out the spicy, slightly tangy pot liquor to turn it into creamy warmth, perfect for a cold night at home.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

me and the boys

Today was the 3rd food-centric party we've hosted in 5 days, and frankly, I'm exhausted. In the best way possible. :)

Today's occasion was the assembly of the new Weber Smoky Mountain Cooker that Matty's parents got him for Christmas. It was initially a "Man Day" with our closest friends, guys Matty went to college with - building and meat-eating, but hey, I live here. :P And Brandon brought his girlfriend, so we tried our best to balance out the test-fest. I even tried to have another girl crash the party in the form of Bonnie Raitt on the record player, but that was quickly vetoed and replaced by I believe Nirvana. *sigh* Boys.

Anyway, I made myself pretty useful. I figured that they'd need something to snack on, so I provided a spread that included crudites with a spinach chipotle dip made out of a dry mix I received as a gift a couple months ago. I usually thumb my nose up at dry mixes, but this proved to be a huge hit. There was also everyone's favorite Smoked Salmon Tartare, this time on crackers, and Eggless Salad on celery sticks.

The winner of the afternoon was the mountain of quesadillas I made. They were Matty's idea, and I used them as an excuse to rid our fridge of a lot of excess:

- chicken thighs from the jambalaya party - I diced one into half-inch cubes and sauteed it in olive oil
- one onion - sliced into half moons and caramelized in olive oil
- one portobello mushroom - from a package of two that I bought so our vegetarian friend could eat something at the jambalaya party, sauteed in olive oil
- a smidge of pumpkin butter
- a chunk of Brie
- the last of our pepperjack
- a chunk of Danish Blue

I used my new Calphalon 10" nonstick fry pan to heat a "soft taco"-sized tortilla, sprinkled a bit of cheese on, topped with a filling, sprinkled a little more cheese, topped with another tortilla, slipped onto a plate, flipped over and heated, then removed and cut into 8ths with a pizza wheel. We had pepperjack/chicken, Danish Blue/onion/mushroom, Brie/pumpkin butter and an "everything" quesadilla with pepperjack/chicken/onion/mushroom. Pure perfection.

And to gild the lily, we had an angel pie for dessert. The meringue crust was a brilliant one from Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Goeey that included graham cracker crumbs and chocolate chips. Instead of a whipped cream filling, I topped the meringue with a Key Lime Curd. This curd recipe is by far my favorite - not eggy tasting, and almost idiot-proof since everything is heated together over low heat (no need for tempering, etc.)

There was a huge amount of meringue, so in addition to filling a 9" pie plate, I also made 15 separate meringue cookies for dipping into the extra curd. Mid-bite, Matty announced that he didn't think I had made quite enough, and after everyone has finished with their slice, he came up with his own system of how to divide the leftover slices to best benefit him. :)

This dessert will be appearing many more times this citrus season, I feel. It's just so unfussy, but is definitely impressive and a crowd-favorite. And, you can pretend it's good for you. What? It's just egg whites and fruit. :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

i ain't into big names, but i like nice things

Better camera or not, twinkling Christmas lights will still reflect in peanut butter caramel dipping sauce. :)

This is more of an idea, than an actual recipe. Matty's mom had sent us some dried apple slices from a 100-year-old tree on a farm she helps out on, and I had made Peanut Butter Cookies with Salted Peanut Caramel as Christmas presents and had a ton of extra caramel (sans peanuts). I was also too lazy to actually make a dessert for the impromptu jambalaya party we had last night, so put the two together and voila - a super easy and really impressive dessert. And if there were any New Years Resolvers among us, they could easily convince themselves it was healthy. :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

maybe this year will be better than the last

Well, well. I'm back.

I suppose I always knew I couldn't stay away. I was definitely in a food rut for a while, never making anything inspiring enough to write about. But recently, I've kind of felt like I've been in a life rut, and the only things getting me through were the insane amount of crocheting I was doing for Christmas gifts and cooking. Seeing as how I don't have a crochet blog, I thought I'd give writing about our meals another go. Oh, and Matty also got me a new camera for Christmas, so I'm hoping to be able to post better-quality photos. The camera is leaps and bounds better than my old one, but my photography skills still leave something to be desired, so no promises.

After spending nine glorious days with Matty's parents where I barely lifted a finger and where Matty's mom ruled the kitchen, I was itching to get back in the kitchen. I ran across this "Ducketta" recipe while on vacation and bookmarked it to make for a NYE dinner for just the two of us.

The last time I made a duck dish, I had to go searching high and low for duck legs, but breasts were much easier to find - frozen at Gelson's. They weren't really recession-friendly at $14.99/lb (and I briefly questioned my choice since Gelson's had signs advertising live Atlantic lobster for $9.99/lb), but each breast was only about 1/3 lb., so I gave in to the splurge.

The preparation is insanely simple. While I chopped the stuffing and seared the duck on the stovetop, a pound of sweet potatoes went into the microwave (pierced all over with a fork, 10 minutes on high, flipping once) to be turned into a mashed side. While the duck was being finished in the oven, I mashed them with a splash of leftover coconut milk and added some caramelized onions I had left over from making an Onion Tart with Mustard & Fennel for the party we were hosting later that night.

While the duck rested (and the sweet potatoes went into the turned-off oven to keep warm), I sauteed a 12-oz. bag of spinach in the duck fat and started plating. Despite my terrible knife skills, the duck slices still turned out quite lovely.

I'm a huge fan of duck, so it doesn't really take much to impress me. The skin could probably stand for a crisping under the broiler - that contrast of the crispy, fatty skin and the melt-in-your-mouth richness of the meat kills me, and anything to further increase the contrast is welcomed.

I wasn't the biggest fan of the stuffing, but Matty liked it. I think I would have preferred something more like a traditional stuffing, with carbs and nuts. If I were to repeat the herb mix, I would just use it as a sort of rub as opposed to a stuffing.