Thursday, May 28, 2009

new way to love

This is the kind of dish I live for. More virtuous green salad than pasta, but studded with enough fluffy, rich goat cheesiness to make you think for just a second that you're being a little naughty, all before the light sunshiny-ness of the lemon dressing assures you that you are, indeed, a very good girl.

I don't think that last bit was a sentence, but I am way too tired for editing. Long day at work so I'm very glad this whole meal came together in about 45 leisurely minutes before being devoured in about half that time.

The Goat Cheese and Chive Gnocchi dough was extremely easy - no potatoes to worry about boiling and mashing, just flavorful goat cheese bound to some flour with an egg. I much prefer forming each gnocchi individually - I find it to be much more therapeutic than rolling dough into snakes and cutting them off. It does, however, take up the bulk of the prep time.

Kept the dough in the fridge while I chopped veggies and made the dressing for the Asparagus Salad I was planning on topping the gnocchi with. Except I got a little overzealous with the gorgeous purple asparagus and the cute broccoli florets so it ended up being more like I was topping the veggies with gnocchi. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Side note: the purple asparagus more or less turned back to green upon cooking, so next time I'll save the extra dollar and just get regular asparagus. We are in a recession, after all. :)

And for my next trick: pan-frying the gnocchi. Yep. Instead of boiling it like I always do, I thought I'd try to just brown the dough in some olive oil. Brilliant, I tell you. I don't know why I had never tried this before. I totally crave texture differences, and this more than satisfied that craving. Toss in the perfect crunch of barely-cooked veggies, and I was in healthy heaven.

Upon first glance (and obviously because my eyes are bigger than my stomach), I was sure Matty and I would finish the whole dish in one sitting. I would say this actually feeds 3 fairly perfectly - those little buggers are really filling. Or, should I say, just filling enough to have enough room for sundaes featuring Mascarpone Brownies. ;)

i have my chocolate

I don't really believe in one-bowl recipes. I mean, maybe I'm just messy or I don't have the right equipment, but I find it unrealistic to use only one bowl. So I give you my Two-Bowl Mascarpone Brownies.

In hindsight, I suppose I could have only used one bowl if I had melted the chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl over a pot of water, but I didn't have a big enough microwavable bowl, and I really didn't have time to use the double-boiler method. After an extremely frustrating day at work due to a busted Internet connection, all I could manage to do was nuke and stir.

I combined the eggs and mascarpone in a separate bowl so I could ensure a smooth batter, and to be able to temper the eggs with the hot chocolate mixture so I didn't have scrambled egg brownies. After that, it was just a matter of keeping the brownies in the oven long enough to cook through even though they started smelling heavenly long before they were done.

These are definitely cake-y brownies, and while I generally prefer my brownies a little denser, it's not like I'm not a fan of small bites of chocolate cake. And cake-y or not, these are still an intense chocolate experience, so small bites are definitely the way to go. :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

all in one day

It's a good thing the weather gods were kind on this Day 2 of Memorial Day weekend because my oven's been on overdrive.

These Chimay-Braised Short Ribs were never intended to be just a lunch - I had plans for fancy potato and veggie sides for dinner last night, but it was too beautiful to leave the first pool party of the summer, it takes two hours in the oven, and Matty had a gig. All the stars aligned last night to have cold leftover pasta straight from the Pyrex before heading out for the night.

It almost didn't work out time-wise today, either, but I didn't want to leave the ribs in the fridge for another day, so I browned them and stuck them in the oven, leaving Matty with instructions on when to turn them before I left for yoga. When I got home, bag of Caesar salad mix in hand, I nearly swooned at the scent wafting from the house.

And for being completely idiot-proof, this recipe was amazing. Matty compared it to crockpot food (in a good way, I think). If that's the case, I need to get me one - for having nothing but four quartered onions, salt/pepper and enough Chimay to come about halfway up the sides of the ribs, this was magic. We barely needed our knives. And because we decided not to sport-feed, we have half a rib left over - I'm thinking machaca tomorrow morning.

After clearing up lunch and taking a proper nap (we are creatures of leisure), I got on to the baking portion of our show - birthday gifts for our friends Dinora and Paul.

Dinora makes Room5 shine - she's our lovely bartendress. She's the same bartendress who interrupted a show back when we didn't know each other as well just to tell me how much she loved the creme brulee cupcakes I made. I thought it fitting to bring back that memory with Creme Brulee Bars.

The recipe is very straightforward, and the only thing I would change next time is the sugar topping. Drizzling the rapidly hardening caramel over the top turned out to be ridiculously annoying. I had to reheat the sugar so often to keep it at the right consistency, and I kept feeling like I was going to burn it. I think I might go ahead and torch sugar over it in the traditional way next time.

Definitely refrigerate them. They're a little eggy slightly warm, but delicious cold. The creme brulee layer is very thin, so it's not too rich.

And speaking of not too rich, this Strawberry Crumb Cake was next on the baking queue - a dessert for an early birthday dinner with one of my favorite people on the planet, my USC buddy, Paul.

He's the guy I turn to when I need a reality check after being too much of a GIRL, but most importantly, we're tailgate buddies. And wing-lovers. So when he suggested getting together at his place to try out wings recipes, Matty and I said, "Please and thank you."

So because we were going to have nothing but fried foods for dinner, Paul requested something light and smaller than Matty's cake.

Well, I don't know if this is smaller than Matty's cake since it rose way above my 13x9x2 pan (but thankfully didn't overflow), but it was definitely a nice light ending to dinner. The cake is wonderfully fluffy and the crumb layer is a nice contrast. It's very coffee cake-like, and I think it would make a wonderful brunch item, especially since it definitely serves a crowd. Can't wait for the next brunch now!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

my, my you're just like pie

Considering how hot it was today, it may have been a bad idea to have the oven around 400 degrees for the hour and a half or so it took to make two pies, but I'd say the end result was well worth it.

Pie #1 was basically the Potato-Onion Tart I've made previously, but alternately filled based on inspiration from What's For Lunch, Honey? I didn't bother pre-baking the crust this time, and I think it really helped to prevent shrinkage. The red potatoes I used this time were a little mushier than I remembered the purple potatoes being, and the leeks and Brie were totally lost in there, but I think the boys had three slices each, and I had two, so all in all, success.

Pie #2 is the new love of my life. And to think I had never had rhubarb before last week. Strawberry-Rhubarb Crumble. Yes, please.

I thought the filling was a little too sweet for me, but the boys attacked it whole-heartedly. I suppose it's a bit difficult to adjust the sugar for this since you never know how tart the rhubarb will stay or how sweet the strawberries will become. I guess you'll just have to serve it with some plain vanilla ice cream to balance it out. :)

Monday, May 11, 2009

lighten up

After a weekend of nothing but beef and sugar, I thought we'd go a little lighter for dinner tonight. We still had quite a few bags of Florida-caught tuna in the freezer, and I didn't really know what to do with it other than sear it, so for a change, I thought I'd suggest a Nicoise salad.

One problem - Matty doesn't like Nicoise salad, so sticking to searing it is. But I kind of created a deconstructed Nicoise out of the whole meal, and he loved every bite. :)

Side #1 was just a simple roasted green beans dish. Tossed in olive oil and garlic salt and roasted at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I prepped Side #2 - a potato salad featuring Dave's Hurtin Habenero Honey Mustard bought from the Mel's Olives stand at the Rose Bowl Flea Market. The recipe was inspired by the Potato Caesar Salad in June's Bon Appetit magazine, and although I wasn't quite sure which part of it made it Caesar-like, I did enjoy the fact that it was not mayonnaise-based.

Hurtin Habanero Honey Mustard Potato Salad
1 1/2 lbs. red potatoes, thickly sliced
1/4 red onion, diced
1 T. Dave's Hurtin Habanero Honey Mustard
3 T. lemon juice
4 T. olive oil
salt + pepper

Steam the potatoes for 10-15 minutes or until done. Meanwhile, whisk together onion, mustard, lemon juice and olive oil in a medium bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.

When potatoes are done, add to dressing mixture. Toss to coat. Adjust salt and pepper as necessary.

I'm telling you, I could eat that potato salad all day. I'm excited for tomorrow's lunch, when I'll combine the leftover potatoes with a touch of leftover tuna to make a fun carbo-loaded sandwich filling.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

it was a very good year

Wow. Today my blog turns 2 years old. But more importantly, Matty turned 30 on Friday. It has taken me this long to recover and blog about our adventures.

I took him out to a lovely dinner at Provecho followed by drinks at one of our favorite bars, Seven Grand. It was a really good time. A REALLY good time. So much so that canceling the bday barbecue the next day was a real possibility at about 10:30a (we had told everyone start time was noon).

What happened next is what I would like to call "motivation":

Yep. That's the Triple Chocolate Celebration Cake I woke up at 6:30a to finish assembling and decorating. Sympathy for Matty aside, I was going to be furious if this bbq was canceled.

That chocolate cake was a huge hit. It was a pain in my ass, but it was a huge hit. So big of a hit that I even forgot to pull out the cheesecake I had made as a back-up. You know, in case I dropped the cake, or if all the layers slid off the mousse or something. Cheesecake will be for a different post. :)

I'm no good at decorating cakes at all, so I didn't even bother with the transfers - I just used the rest of the ganache to frost the sides of the cake. I'm also especially bad at halving cake layers horizontally, so I just used three 9-inch cake pans and used the full layers. In the end, it worked out for the best because the middle of the cake layers sunk quite a bit, and I can only imagine the cursing that would have occurred had I attempted splitting the layers.

The cake is deathly rich, so make sure you have plenty of people to share it with. We've still got about three-fourths of the cake left even after sending people home with them, so I'll be freezing individual slices shortly.

And yes, that is 6 pounds of Italian sausage on top of 6 pounds of beef short ribs and 4 pounds of brisket. We went kind of nuts at Costco.

Luckily, everyone's hero, Morning Relief, stepped up, and all systems were go. I also like to think that photo helped. :)

So we'll start with appetizers. Of course, the requisite cheese & crackers and chips & guac abounded. I also made some roasted chickpeas, but they were not at all a hit, so I'm not going to waste valuable Internet space on them.

I also finally managed to make the Farfalle with Pistachio Cream Sauce that I had subbed out here. This time, I didn't bother with the cream and just added a little bit of pasta water to the end to smooth everything out. It was destroyed in mere moments. Unbelievably well-received, and took the least time to make out of everything. Amazing.

I also made Jicama and Black Bean Salad in wonton cups. I only had a partial package left over, so after they ran out, we just piled the salad onto tortilla chips.

The salad was wonderfully refreshing, and the lime-serrano dressing was perfectly tart and spicy. I meant to grill some shrimp to add to the salad, but everyone was fine with just the salad and then just the shrimp by itself, so I didn't bother tossing them together. My personal preference would have been to include the shrimp - I felt the salad needed a little protein heft to balance it out properly.

Just one cook's note from me: do NOT attempt to put in your contacts after you've chopped serrano chiles. Vision FAIL. It was very much a glasses day after that.

However, when your day ends like this, how could you possibly complain?

Happy birthday, my love! Can't wait to do it again next year!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

out on a bender

We've been eating like real champs over here at Chez D - birthday wish list notwithstanding, we went out to a magnificent birthday dinner at Arroyo Chophouse last night, and obviously, needed to celebrate Cinco de Mayo tonight.

Our favorite Mexican restaurant, Alegria, is home to some amazing chiles rellenos. They're stuffed with wonderfully fresh ingredients and not a boatload of cheese, and they're baked, rather than dipped in egg batter and fried. The accompanying side is a large and lovely salad, not the ubiquitous rice and beans found on every Mexican entree plate. Upon receiving Matty's request for chiles rellenos, I decided to follow their lead and Googled my brains out until I found Shrimp Chiles Rellenos and stumbled across Cauliflower "Spanish Rice" on my daily blog stroll.

Since this turned into a dinner party with our friend Greg, our resident margarita king, I subbed out the shrimp (or as Greg calls them, "worms of the sea") for some diced chicken. All that required was changing the cooking time - I added the chicken in along with the mushrooms.

The peppers were super fun to broil - you could hear lively snapping as the skin charred. After they cooled, they were also a cinch to peel - no need to do it under running water, either.

After the peppers were stuffed, I just returned them to the cookie sheet they broiled on, and baked for about 15 minutes. No sauce. Because I had Walnut Sauce. Heavenly, gorgeous, super-simple blender walnut sauce. Lord have mercy. It's pretty sweet, so I can't even imagine serving it over top the traditional picadillo filling that includes various fruit (a personal blech - not really into fruit with meat). However, for our purposes here, it did the trick. It also helped me tone done the spiciness of the cauliflower rice - I added a bit of sauce to my plate to cool my palate.

I decided to take a shortcut with the cauliflower rice, and just used an entire jar of our favorite salsa (Salsa Especial from Trader Joe's) in with the uncooked cauliflower after the pepper had browned a bit. I wanted to keep some texture to the cauliflower, and thought that pre-steaming might sacrifice that. I didn't quite keep an eye on the clock, but it's pretty much done when the liquid is gone. Obviously, test for your preferred doneness.

Matty called this the best Cinco de Mayo he's ever had. Greg only had "wow's" to share. I was quite thrilled. It was delicious, and it was fairly healthy after the meat overload of the last couple days. It was time-consuming, but it was straightforward enough to have a margarita with the process and not hurt myself. :)

Monday, May 4, 2009

kingdom for a kiss

Matty turns the big 3-0 this Friday. I kind of already bought him his birthday present back in November because it was the perfect thing, but that still left me with the need to come up with some token gift for the actual birthday. One of them was an offer to make him anything his tummy desires for his birth month. He's always such a good sport about going along with whatever adventurous recipe I come across in my food blog reading, but I thought it would be fun to let him dictate the menu this month.

Request #1 was for lasagna. I've made lasagna before, but really haven't done a "proper" lasagna ever. Actually, scratch that. I remember making a lasagna as a kid, and it was taking too long to bake, and my dad was in some huge hurry, so I pulled it out early. And we ate lasagna with crunchy (uncooked) noodles. Good times.

I like to think my cooking skills have vastly improved since then. And even if they hadn't, you can't really go wrong with this amazing recipe over at Lottie + Doof, one of my new favorite food blogs.

The recipe is very straightforward, and the end result belies the ease of preparation. The goat cheese was a lovely addition - I don't normally like goat cheese, but I could really tell it amped up the creaminess of the ricotta filling. I used hot Italian sausages and bumped up the red pepper flakes, but with everything else going on in the lasagna, didn't really taste the spice very much. I think next time, I'll go with turkey sausage to save the fat and calories.

It was kind of depressing to walk by the frozen section and see a mass of lasagna for $8.95 when my ingredients cost about 4 times as much, but I do find solace in not having stuffed myself with preservatives, etc. And I don't think Matty would have come into the kitchen and kissed me while I was cooking the sauce just because it smelled so good if I had just popped a frozen lasagna into the oven. So we all win in the end.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

don't you forget about me

Sorry, no photo, but delicious enough for me to share with you despite that fact.

Take Sweet Potato Pound Cake (subbing leftover canned pumpkin puree for the roasted mashed sweet potato) that your boyfriend forgot to take with him even though you made it specifically for his touring this week and use it to make Boozy French Toast.

I mean, I don't even think I need to say more.