Friday, December 31, 2010

What I made with my apples...

My name is Erin and I'm a u-pick-aholic. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, apples -- I always come home with way more than I should. Luckily, the berries freeze, and freshly picked apples have a pretty long lifespan. This fall, I picked about 25 pounds of apples at Jones Creek Farm, a lovely u-pick orchard north of Seattle. They grow a ton of varieties and don't label most of the trees (you are welcome to sample as much as you want from the trees to find what you like instead), so it's always an adventure seeing what you end up with. I got a bag of tart (baking) and one of sweet (eating), but not really sure what actual kinds of apples I got beyond that!

I cooked with the apples in various spurts throughout the last few months, finally finishing them off with a desperation applesauce-making round this week. I made some yummy things, and with the applesauce sitting in the freezer, I predict making more yummy things in the months to come!

Apple Spice Bread

I have no idea what I did wrong, but this was a pretty bad flop. I baked it well over the suggested time and the outside got very dark, but the inside was still very gummy when eating it.

Apple Oatmeal Bread

This bread is very dense, but in a good way. The raisins add a great textural contrast and the flavor is good. Definitely more of a breakfast/tea time type quick bread. I can't wait to try this with honey butter.

Unsweetened Applesauce

I converted six pounds of apples into this. The taste and texture are both great -- so much better than store-bought. Since I don't have a baby to watch out for like Smitten Kitchen, I leave the lemon zest in and puree it up with the sauce. I'm planning on converting this into granola and some baked goods - will need to do a follow-up post!

One of the items I made with the applesauce was spiced applesauce cake, discussed here.

[Update 1/14/11] I used some of this applesauce to make this granola.  It was delicious, and not too sweet.  I halved the recipe and it still provided several weeks worth of breakfast yogurt topping.

Slow Cooker Sweetened Applesauce

You can't get much easier than crock pot cooking. This applesauce has just the right amount of sweetness and has an appealing texture. My only regret is that I ran out of flour before I could make the accompanying buttermilk biscuits!

Savory recipes documented here and here

2010.12.30 - Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Meatballs, Cranberry Spritzer, Pac Man Cake

Last dinner of 2010! This was also the first time baby F, the daughter of P and M, attended! She's too young to sample thursday night dinner food, but she'll be ready someday :) [not "ready" in the jonathan swift way, of course]

Spaghetti Squash with Turkey Meatballs

I've never had spaghetti squash before, and am still kind of amazed that it really does come out looking like noodles! This recipe was delicious and seems fairly healthy. I doubled it and served five, so I'm not so sure about the stated servings (4 for the recipe as is).

Roasting spaghetti squash is quite easy, although I was unsure how to tell if it was done. I ended up flipping the squash over and sticking a fork in it to test tenderness. It was rather awkward trying to flip the squash over (mine was over five pounds) when it was hot out of the oven. Pro tip: the squash cools off a lot more quickly for handling if you flip it over so cut-side is up, rather leaving it cut-side down and keeping the steam trapped beneath it. d'oh.

The parmesan cheese added a *lot* of flavor to the turkey meatballs. Definitely essential.

I left out the mushrooms from this recipe altogether because I don't like them. I skipped straight to simmering the browned meatballs with the reserved onion mixture and stock. I should have reduced the amount of stock to account for what would have been absorbed by the mushrooms, so my end result was pretty watery (I also just dumped the whole skillet into the bowl with the squash rather than prettily plating individually as Martha would have done).

White Cranberry Spritzer

Since I've stopped drinking Crystal Light iced tea (expensive, trying to eliminate artificial sweeteners besides coke zero at restaurants), I try to remember to make a special drink when people are coming over, usually not succeeding. This week I managed to remember. I made this spritzer without the booze, but believe it would taste great with the suggested rum too. It was a little overpowered by rosemary, so I think I would adjust the proportions of mint and rosemary next time. Overall, very good though. White cranberry juice definitely is a lot more mild than regular cranberry juice.

Pac Man birthday cake, inspired by this and this

A turned 30 in December, so I wanted to make him a birthday cake based on one of his favorite things - Pac Man! I found some good inspiration links by searching the net and made a pretty neat cake.

I baked brownies (box mix, gasp) in the Baker's Edge pan to make the course (right term?). I put parchment in parts of the pan and oiled it well, and luckily the brownie came out of the pan just fine. I then outlined the edges with blue frosting (Betty Crocker decorator icing in the spray can, gasp again) and used a star tip to make the pellets.

For pac man and the ghosts, I made sugar cookies using this recipe. I could not find a tulip cookie cutter, so I had to hand cut the ghosts, which was a minor disaster. The cookie dough warmed up extremely quickly (even in my cold house) and was then impossible to work with because it was so sticky. I needed the speed provided by a cookie cutter, but unfortunately had to settle with cutting one out by hand, freezing the dough, and then doing another.

This was my first ever attempt using royal icing. I used meringue powder instead of a raw egg white. I was so worried about the initial thickness of the icing that I added way too much water to thin it out, and then had to add in a ton more sugar to thicken it up. In the end, it still wasn't thick enough and ran a little bit. I used ziploc bags as the piping bags and the tip from here about putting the bags in cups for easy filling was great.  I always make such a mess of filling piping bags, but not this time!

I thought the icing tasted too corn-starchy and not good at all, I will have to experiment with other recipes. The cookies themselves were delicious -- the buttermilk adds a much needed interesting flavor to the otherwise typically cloying sugar cookie.

Other Goodies

C got a breadmaker recently, so she volunteered to bring some corn bread. As soon as I heard corn bread, I thought honey butter, so I made this recipe. I looooved this honey butter. The cinnamon and vanilla added an amazing taste.

C also brought some raspberry Chocovine, a chocolate/wine combination. I had been seeing this stuff in stores for the last couple weeks and was curious/disgusted. It was pretty terrible -- I compared it to yoohoo mixed with cough medicine. It is seriously disturbing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010.12.02 - "Beef and Broccoli" Salad

After two weeks of Thanksgiving dinners, I wanted to provide my friends with taste bud relief!  Nothing that tasted remotely like Thanksgiving would be found on my table.  I also needed something simple, so I gravitated towards a mashup of two salads.

Broccoli Slaw with Oranges and Crunchy Noodles combined with Asian Beef and Mango Salad

I took the ground beef of the Asian beef salad, cooked it with a bit of the dressing from the broccoli slaw, and combined it with the rest of the broccoli slaw salad.  I thought the toasted ramen topping was a bit odd and unnecessary, but the rest of the salad was really good.  Nice and light after marathon eating.

Banana Bread with Cinnamon Crumble Topping

I love to keep banana breads in the freezer so I can take some out if I need a dessert or a hostess gift.  This was one of my freezer breads, and of course they freeze and defrost beautifully.  Molly has the best banana bread recipes and this is certainly one of them.

2010.11.25 - Real Thanksgiving

Although not a Thursday dinner with friends, real Thanksgiving was a dinner on a Thursday that I prepared (with help!), so I think it counts :)

Herb Roasted Turkey

Everyone said this turkey was one of the best they'd ever had.  It was quite moist -- I almost thought it was undercooked, but the temperature and color were right.  I think I am just used to overly dry turkey and didn't know how to process this texture!  Flavor was great.  Ina, as usual, can do no wrong.


I made this on Fake Thanksgiving as well.  Awesome gravy.

Rosemary Sage Stuffing Balls

I can never decide how substantial a stuffing to make on Thanksgiving.  I like stuffing with sausage in it, but it feels to heavy for a day with so much other food.  These stuffing balls are on the lighter side, especially if you form the balls into small portions.  I thought this stuffing was ok, but not spectacular tasting. 

Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes

These are the world's best mashed potatoes.  Nothing else comes close.  Time saving tip - we use steam and serve potatoes from the freezer section cooked in the microwave.  Foodie card revoked, I know.

Rutabaga Puff

This was ok, but I thought it was a little bitter.  I would be interested in trying this again with turnip instead. 

Carrots and Parsnips with Honey

I make these all the time - yummy!

Brussels Sprouts Salad

The inspiration salad in the post is one at Picnic, a cute food store/restaurant in Seattle.  I looooved the brussels sprouts salad I got there (for free as a sample on the side of my turkey sandwich -- it outshone the sandwich!), but this one did not even come close.  I think the dressing must be different.  I prefer roasted brussels sprouts for now, unless I am headed to Picnic :)

Corn, Peas

Frozen corn, nothing special.  The peas are a tradition in my family, from my mom's uncle I believe.  I call them "silver can peas" -- they are LeSueur early peas and come in a silver can, obv.  They are their own unique flavor.

Framboise Cranberry Sauce

Dad vetoed the "fancy cranberry sauce", so this cranberry sauce was also accompanied by one from the can.  He can't have Thanksgiving without slicing off some cranberry jelly, using the can markings as cut lines.  I stuck to the framboise cranberry sauce, and it was delicious.  I think I prefer Ina's cranberry conserve from Fake Thanksgiving, though -- it is more interesting.

Orange Pumpkin Cloverleaf Rolls

These were the biggest disappointment of the night.  My yeast was either dead or I killed it, because these barely rose and were dry and dense when cooked.  I also didn't taste much orange or pumpkin.  Sad :(

Coffee Toffee Pie

The filling and whipped cream parts of this pie were delicious, but the crust could use improvement.  The rice krispies/melted sugar combination was difficult to work with and kind of bland.  The recipe did not call for nearly enough chocolate to provide a seal on top of the crust, which would have helped with some sogginess issues. 

We were also lucky to have a myriad of cookies and other pies from my mom and her friends.  Too much dessert!

Friday, November 19, 2010

2010.11.18 - Fake Thanksgiving - Turkey Roulade, Cranberry Conserve, Chard Salad, Pumpkin Pie Pudding, Pumpkin Fudge Cookies

Most people are spending Thanksgiving with their families, so I wanted to have a mini-Thanksgiving early for my friends.  Thanksgiving food is my absolute favorite, so two Thanksgiving dinners gives me the chance to try out double the recipes!  I wanted to make things that weren't standards so people wouldn't be eating the same exact thing a week from now.  As always, I turned to the Barefoot Contessa.

Turkey Roulade with Gravy

This was great!  The stuffing was delicious - I would make that again even if I wasn't making roulade.  I omitted the pine nuts and they weren't missed.  Rolling and tying the turkey wasn't too difficult and the end result was beautiful.  Hilarious fact: Food Network has a video segment from the show for making the roulade -- but they heavily edited the part where Ina is trussing the roulade!!  That is easily the most complicated and visual part of the recipe - why omit it, Food Network?  I did have some trouble slicing the roulade -- need a sharper knife or more arm strength or something.  I loved the flavor of the gravy and didn't mind the lumpiness caused by the onion bits, although you could use an immersion blender to get it more smooth. 

Cranberry Conserve

It has the disadvantage of not being shaped like a can, but is still delicious :)  It was *very* citrus-y from the orange and lemon juice and zest and not too sweet.

Chard Salad with a balsamic dressing

Since we were having stuffing, I wanted to pick a vegetable that wasn't too starchy.  I also wanted something that didn't require the oven or stove top, so salad fit the bill.  I substituted the dressing mentioned in the chard salad recipe for the balsamic dressing because I thought the flavors of that one sounded more interesting.  I always love raisins and walnuts in a salad.

Pumpkin Pie Pudding with Pumpkin Fudge Cookies

I have never liked pumpkin pie, but I have slowly been growing to like pumpkin-flavored things.  This pudding was enjoyed by other pumpkin pie haters, while the pumpkin pie lovers tolerated it (but wished they were having pie) :)  I was lazy, so I left off the sugared walnuts mentioned in the recipe -- next time I'd like to make it with sugared pepitas.  The pumpkin fudge cookies are a variation on one of my all-time favorite cookies -- I like the originals better, but this did taste very seasonal.  It was a really good combination with the pumpkin pudding.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

2010.11.11 - Mint Overload - Spiced Pork with Apples, Carrot Fries, Mint Limeade, Mint Gelato, Strawberry Tarragon Sorbet

The mint plant on my balcony was growing out of control, so this week's mission was to use it up!  I also managed to use up some of my other surpluses: apples picked at Jones Creek Farm, strawberries picked at Remlinger Farm, egg yolks hanging out in the fridge, and tarragon out on the balcony.

Spiced Pork with Apples

I thought this was pretty good.  I keep forgetting that I really detest pan cooking meat.  It makes a splattery mess, I'm always worried that the meat won't cook through before the outside burns, you have to monitor and flip, and I usually need to have two pans going to cook enough meat at once (more dishes to wash!).  Next time, I would use the rub for a pork tenderloin cooked in the oven - much easier.  I used pork loin instead of pork tenderloin since that was on sale, so I think my pork medallions were not as juicy as they could have been, but still good.  The spices really did work well with the meat.  The apples were a good way to use up excess apples, but nothing special.

Carrot Fries with Mint

I've made these before, I like them a lot.  Simple and delicious.

Mint Limeade

Juicing enough limes to get 1.5 cups of lime juice without a juicer is time consuming and difficult!  This drink was good though.  Instead of muddling mint in the glass, I infused the simple syrup with mint instead.  Next time, I would use club soda in this since I prefer fizzy drinks.

Mint Gelato

I love mint chocolate chip ice cream -- this is nothing like that.  Fresh mint ice cream has a much different flavor than ice cream made with peppermint extract.  This flavor is more palate cleansing and "adult", although I think I prefer the fake green ice cream of my childhood :)  Next time I would try adding chocolate chips to this, a suggestion from D!

Strawberry Tarragon Sorbet

I had a lot of frozen strawberries to use up, so I made this even though it didn't really go with my other ice cream.  Good texture, still not sure if I like tarragon in desserts, though.  Very refreshing and used up a lot of strawberries :)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2010.11.04 - Ribollita, Spiced Applesauce Cake

I planned this menu figuring it would combat the typical rainy cold of a Seattle day in November.  Typically, Thursday ended up being one of the warmest and nicest days in recent memory.  Oh well :)


I thought this was bland, bland, bland unfortunately.  I added way more salt than the recipe called for, which helped, but it still felt there was a certain depth missing.  The recipe also didn't seem to call for nearly enough liquid - I had to add a lot more water to make it resemble soup.  I did not enjoy the "grainy" texture of the broth caused by the mashed up beans and didn't think the bread held up well (tasted like soggy sponges, basically).  Ideas for improvement: add all beans in original form (no mashing), use chicken stock instead of water, two cups less cabbage, more salt, more seasoning of some other kind, keep the bread out of the soup and serve on top with cheese like a french onion soup.

Spiced Applesauce Cake

Deb never steers me wrong.  The cake was delicious and very "fall".  Next time I think I would omit the cream cheese frosting and try a salted caramel drizzle instead (personal preference).  I also really enjoy Deb's applesauce recipe -- it is very smooth and has a good texture.

We also had a tahini-dressed kale salad (delicious!), a watercress salad, and some bagel chips and dip courtesy of C's Whole Foods trip.  Yummy!

Monday, November 1, 2010

2010.10.28 - A Halloween Feast - Tentacle Pot Pie, Decomposed Salad, "Boo-tiful" Cake

This week's menu was a celebration of Halloween. I wanted to go all out and make everything with a Halloween theme and flavor. It was fun researching all of the Halloween ideas out there on Real Simple, Martha Stewart,, and Food Network, and I have a ton of ideas for next year.  A full collection of pictures from the dinner can be found here.

Tentacle Pot Pie

It's difficult to find a main dish idea for Halloween that looks spooky but does not involve a specialty mold.  There are some great meatloaf rats, hands, and skulls out there, but I did not want to buy specialty equipment.  I narrowed it down to two choices: the tentacle pot pie and the mummy meatloaf.  The tentacle pot pie ultimately won out because I had made turkey burgers the previous week and though meatloaf would be too similar.  There is always next year :)

I love the NotMartha website because Megan covers a lot of creative and cute crafts, cooking projects, and holiday ideas, and she lives in Seattle so I can get some local ideas too!  Megan particularly goes nuts for Halloween and has come up with some great ideas over the years (I made her junk food spiders back in 2006).  This year, she devised the tentacle pot pie, a pot pie with a crust that looks like a creepy spider-like creature.

I adapted Megan's idea to produce one large dish instead of individual servings because I didn't have enough oven-proof dishware for making single serving creatures.  Since my base was a pie dish instead of a flat plate, this actually allowed for some extra curling of the tentacles, making mine look more like an octopus than a spider.  Since it was large scale, I thought that olives as eyes would get lost, so I ended up using parsley leaves.  It ended up not looking like a face unfortunately, but I was still happy with the final product.

I used Simply Recipes' chicken pot pie recipe as recommended in Megan's instructions, subbing white wine for sherry.  A delicious and basic pot pie (I didn't make my own stock and used boneless skinless chicken breasts that I had roasted in the oven).  I wanted to use crescent roll dough instead of puff pastry dough because I prefer the flavor of the former, but totally spaced on the fact that Megan called for seamless crescent roll dough.  I'll need to check if my local grocery even carries such a thing.  I got pre-perforated dough and ended up sticking it together and rolling it out a bit so I could cut it in the dimensions I needed.  It ended up working fairly well, so the day was saved!

Decomposed Salad

This salad is a bit of a stretch (using a gross name to make a typical fall salad more Halloween-y), but I liked it nonetheless!  Since I have an strange skin reaction when peeling butternut squash, I cheated and got it pre-cut.  What a time saver!  The sugary/spicy pepitas were delicious (although I could have used twice as many seeds with the amount of coating the recipe specified) and I always love the combination of roasted squash, crisp lettuce, and a tangy balsamic dressing.  This one is a nice alternative to the all-time greatest squash salad (Ina's recipe of course).

Mexican Pumpkin Punch

I don't often make beverages, but wanted to make things extra festive.  This punch was very good, although I have a couple of quibbles with the recipe.  First, it seems very wasteful to throw away all the pumpkin pulp that is left over.  I saved it and am still trying to figure out what to do with it (mixing with yogurts or oats?).  Second, the suggested garnishes are pineapple and pecans, but I'm not really sure how to drink something with chunks of pineapple and nuts in it.  I ended up using my fork to eat the pineapple from the glass.  Maybe a splash of pineapple juice would provide the same effect.

My cake was a Frankenstein-esque melding of two different cakes -- I used the outside frosting and decoration of Martha's "Boo-tiful Cake" with the inside layers of this orange and black cake.

I love making project cakes and really want to get better at making professional-looking cakes.  This one was far from professional-looking, but was fun to make!  I loved the look of the black and orange cake, but wanted an outer decoration that was a bit more simple.  Martha's ghost cake looked great, so I decided to combine the two.  I made ten 6" round layers (I have 3 pans, so this took a bit!) and stacked them with the chocolate filling (delicious).  I then did a crumb coat and full ice with the cream cheese frosting from the ghost cake and make the marshmallow ghosts for the top.  I added my own flair by putting pumpkin peeps around the bottom :)

I could not get my marshmallow ghosts to look anything like Martha's - it was a bit frustrating.  I don't think they turned out all that great.  I was not a huge fan of the orange flavor of the orange cake layers, but others seemed to like it.  It wasn't the greatest cake texture or flavor-wise -- I should learn to make these cakes with time-tested cake recipes!  Overall, it was a fun and impressive cake, though!

Blood and Bones

I loved these meringue bones, but wow what a pain to make.  I was elbow deep in meringue trying to get it into the piping bag.  The final product turned out well though :)  I was not a fan of the hot chocolate - I couldn't get it red enough with the simple liquid food dye I have and it was pretty grainy.  Lesson learned that I need to use better quality chocolate than Trader Joe's for melting.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

2010.10.21 - Brie and Cranberry Turkey Burgers, Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Apple Cake

This week's menu was inspired by some leftovers, a sale, a monstrous vegetable, and my habit of picking fruit to excess!

Brie and Cranberry Turkey Burgers

I had some brie left over from last week, which immediately reminded me of this recipe.  The cranberries felt like fall, so that was extra inspiration to make it!  I used ground turkey instead of beef because it was on sale (buy one get one, thanks Safeway!) and healthier than beef.  Everyone was surprised by how good turkey burgers could be!  I think the key was using 93/7 lean turkey instead of 98 or 99%, plenty of salt and pepper to season, and the luscious melted brie on top.  I omitted the scallions from the recipe (couldn't find any at Trader Joe's with their inconsistent veggie availability), but liked the cranberry and butter lettuce accompaniments to the burger.  Next time I think I would do a chutney of sorts made with fresh cranberries and that would be even better.  Maybe a cranberry bacon jam...

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Last week, there were these amazing still-on-the-stalk brussels sprouts at Trader Joe's.  Regrettably, I did not buy them then and when I went back, they were gone!  I had to make do with a bag of brussels sprouts already taken off the stalk.  I had no idea they grew that way!  I omitted the garlic (allergic!) and walnuts from the recipe, but it was still very good and the lemon juice on top definitely made a huge difference.  Once again, everyone was surprised by how good brussels sprouts could be!

Apple Cake

I love doing "migrant labor farm work", as A describes it.  Really this means going out to a farm for some u-pick!  I ended up with over 25 pounds of apples, so it will be a lot of apple desserts from now until they are gone!  I picked this cake because it is gluten free, although ended up just using all purpose flour when I found out my gluten intolerant friend wasn't coming to dinner.  I used cinnamon instead of cardamom and about twice the amount of apples as the recipe called for.  The accompaniment was cinnamon whipped cream.  I had a couple of issues with this dessert.  First, it was very difficult to tell when it was done.  My tester came out clean, but when I was eating it, the middle seemed gummy, like it hadn't been cooked all the way.  Second, I think it would definitely be best served warm.  It smelled and tasted really appealing when I made it, but when I served it cold, it just fell flat to me.  Third, the cake seemed kind of bland, like I needed to add more salt, or some more spices.

K brought banana cake with coconut cream from Monsoon's recipe, and it was delicious!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

2010.10.14 - Chicken Normandy with Crispy Kale

The recipe selection was driven by a couple of factors: I was returning from a week-long vacation the day before, so didn't have time or energy for fanciness (no dessert!), I had some frozen chicken breast in the freezer, and I had kale I needed to use up (surprisingly my kale stayed fresh for over a week in my fridge).  I paired it with random cheeses leftover in my fridge + a cinnamon topped cheese from Trader Joe's I couldn't resist buying + crackers.  Even better, apple cake and banana bread were brought as desserts!

Chicken Normandy

It isn't the most attractive or healthy dish (I used a whole stick of butter) in the world, but I liked the flavors.  I used bone-in split chicken breasts instead of legs because that's what I had and I prefer white meat anyway.  Calvados is a little pricey for me, so I bought a little airplane bottle size of brandy for the sauce :)  I also used herbes de provence instead of thyme because I prefer it.  I think next time I would put the carved chicken back into the sauce to incorporate it well instead of just spooning the gravy over it. 

Crispy Kale

I still can't tell if I like kale.  The crispy kale tasted ok (although I oversalted it, which some people liked just fine!) but kale just seems to get constantly stuck in my teeth, making it unpleasant to eat.

Monday, September 27, 2010

2010.09.23 - Roast Pork with Raspberry Sauce, Leeks, Savory Monkey Bread

This meal used up the last of the raspberries that I picked this summer that I had in my freezer.  I guess I'm in for a long raspberry-less winter! 

Roast Pork with Raspberry Sauce

The pork was fairly good, if a little bland.  I used Penzeys' "Sandwich Sprinkle" blend instead of ground sage.  Next time I would figure out a way to make this in the crockpot.  The raspberry sauce was delicious, although I would use a bit less sugar next time.

Leeks Vinaigrette

I hate mustard, but can generally tolerate some dijon in vinaigrettes.  This was one of those situations -- the dressing for the leeks was good.  Next time I would cut off the leek roots after cooking - it would make it easier to eat and serve.  A had some texture issues with this, but J really liked it.

Savory Monkey Bread

As soon as I saw this recipe, I had to make it.  I have fond memories of making traditional monkey bread in home ec class in the 7th grade.  I had several issues with this recipe, although the end result turned out very good.  I prefer bread recipes that give a lot more instruction about why you are doing each rest, what the dough volume should do during each rest, and more clues about the expected texture in each part of the process.  I particularly don't like bread recipes that don't give an exact temperature for heated liquids when you are dealing with yeast.  I muddled through the best I could and thought it would be a complete disaster given how sticky my dough seemed (I added about an extra half cup of flour in with the whole wheat flour addition and the dough still wouldn't form a smooth ball), but it was a much better consistency after the second rise.  The process of covering each dough ball in the herb butter mixture was very messy.  In the future, I think I would make this more like traditional monkey bread where you cover the balls in dry seasonings and then just pour melted butter over the top.  I think I would also use the dough recipe from no knead pull apart bread instead.

2010.09.16 - Syrian Meatballs, Homemade Pita, Cucumber Salad, Honeydew Sorbet

Another project when you have a lot of free time is making your own pita bread.  My pitas turned out great, and the fillings equally so!  The meal was topped off with a refreshing dessert.

Syrian Meatballs with Parsley Dip

I read about Syrian beef kebabs in "The Butcher and the Vegetarian" and figured if they were the favorite meat recipe of a former vegetarian, then I should try them out!  I don't have a grill or metal kebab skewers, so I decided to make them into meatballs and bake them in the oven at 350 for 18-20 minutes.  I bet they would taste even better on the grill, but they were still very good.  A very unique flavor - I don't often have cinnamon and allspice with my meat!  I made these with beef for the dinner, and again with turkey a few days later -- the turkey ones were equally good so I'd stick with the healthier ground meat in the future.  I had an overgrowth of parsley on my balcony, so I searched for recipes that would use up a lot of it - this yogurt-based sauce did the trick. 

Pita bread and gluten free pita bread 

Making homemade pitas was time consuming but worth it!  The gluten ones puffed up amazingly well for the most part and were very delicious.  The gf ones did not pop up as well, but J took the leftovers home and reported that they puffed up a lot when she heated them up again.  The gf ones tasted more like whole wheat pitas because of the flours used -- I thought they were ok.  I think I may just not like sorghum flour.  Both kinds of pita made ample pockets or wraps for the delicious fillings.

Lemony Cucumber Salad

This was a simple romaine, cucumber, lemon vinaigrette salad that added crunch and lightness to the meatball pita sandwiches.

Honeydew Sorbet

This sorbet was easy to make and very refreshing.  It took about 15 minutes in the ice cream maker before it started to come together and really look like sorbet (trust me, I was very worried). 

2010.09.09 - Lemon Chicken, Vegetable Tian, Profiteroles

I found a copy of Ina Garten's "Barefoot in Paris" at the used bookstore, so decided to have another meal entirely out of one of her cookbooks.

Lemon Chicken with Croutons

I thought this chicken was good, but not lemony enough.  I used split chicken breast instead of a whole chicken because that's what I had on hand.  I used Udi's gluten free white sandwich bread for the croutons, and they turned out pretty good.

Vegetable Tian

This was very good day of, but I got really tired of the leftovers the next day -- not sure why. 

Profiteroles with gluten free pate a choux, creme fraiche ice cream

I used Ina's chocolate ganache recipe, but made a gf pate a choux for the cream puffs and filled them with Snoqualmie Gourmet's creme fraiche ice cream (very good).  The gf cream puffs tasted good, but the texture was nothing like non-gf pate a choux I've made before.  They didn't puff up as much and weren't as crispy.

2010.08.26 - An ambitious menu, including Dr. Pepper Ribs

Being unemployed provides a lot more free time to cook.  I took full advantage of this with a very time consuming and ultimately delicious menu. 

Country Ribs with Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce

I had my eye on this recipe for a while, and when country ribs went on sale, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try them out.  I did them in the oven because I do not have a grill (side note: how many continuous hours of cooking would a propane grill actually work -- 5-7 hours on a grill seems insane).  I even broke one of my cardinal rules and left the house while the oven was on because they had to cook for so long!  The ribs turned out to be fall off the bone tender, fairly well shellacked with the sauce, and delicious.  The Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce was very good.

Nectarine and Tomato Salad

This salad was supposed to use peaches, but my produce provider was all out so I used nectarines.  It was good, but watery.

Lemony Potato Salad

I used greek yogurt instead of mayo, per usual.  I like the flavor of this potato salad a lot.  That salad is supposed to accompany sweet tea ribs, which is on my list to make someday!

Gluten Free Berry Cake

This cake was delicious!  I used frozen berries I had picked myself.  The batter ended up making a nice crispy, sugary crust.  Definitely serve with whipped cream.

Mint and Lime Iced Tea

This was delicious.  After reading the comments, I used only 1 cup of sugar instead of 1.5 and that was definitely for the best - I may use only a half cup in the future. 

Watermelon Lemonade

This was pretty good, but I liked the iced tea better.  I was too lazy to strain the watermelon puree, so it was a little grainy for a drink.

2010.08.19 - BLTs, Pea Soup, FroYo

Ina Garten (the "Barefoot Contessa") is one of my favorite sources of recipes.  All of her recipes feed a crowd and always work every time.  I am also envious of her amazing house in the Hamptons :)  I bought myself the "Barefoot Contessa at Home" cookbook and wanted to make an entire meal out of it. 

California BLTs with Honey White Bread

I thought the bread was lacking a little something - maybe salt.  It wasn't as light and airy as I was hoping, and I didn't taste the sweetness from the honey at all.  It was serviceable, but nothing more.

I don't like avocados, but wanted to give them another try.  After making these sandwiches, I have confirmed I don't like them.  Texture issues :)  I prepared both regular and turkey bacon -- I wasn't a fan of the turkey bacon that night, but the next day I made some more and cooked the strips to be crispier and it was much better.  Turkey bacon lesson learned -- make sure it is REALLY done.

Pea Soup (served cold)

I used frozen peas because where in the world do you find fresh peas to buy?  I actually ended up preferring this soup warm instead of cold.  I thought it was ok, others seemed to like it more than I did.

Blueberry Frozen Yogurt

This was a pretty poor excuse for frozen yogurt -- a very chalky texture.  Maybe it's the brand of yogurt I used?

2010.08.12 - Breakfast for Dinner

Every couple months, I like to do breakfast for dinner.  I still don't think I've come across a perfect combination -- I haven't gotten down the secrets for making pancakes or eggs for a crowd without being in the kitchen the whole time.  The hunt continues for the perfect menu when you want your breakfast food after work instead of before.

Oven Scrambled Eggs

I hated these eggs.  I don't know if I overcooked them or what, but I thought they were rubbery and not seasoned well.  I wouldn't make eggs this way again.

Creme Brulee French Toast with gluten free challah and raspberry curd

This is a fun idea that I thought turned out really well.  Once again, I thought the gf bread tasted a little off.  However, I love challah bread so much (and have made an excellent homemade one from the Macrina Bakery cookbook) that I'm not sure a gf version can compare.  Again, the quest continues.  The raspberry curd was amazing and I would eat it by the spoonful if socially acceptable (I may have done this after my guests left, no one will ever know!)

2010.08.05 - Chicken, Tomato and Corn Pie, Smores

The tomato and corn pie was a revelation.  We couldn't get enough of it!

Honey Lime Roast Chicken

There was nothing really special about this chicken.  I couldn't really taste the honey or lime.  I always forget that I prefer marinated chickens because I don't eat the skin so flavors that are just basted get lost with the skin when eating! 

Tomato and Corn Pie

So, so, so, so good.  I subbed greek yogurt for the mayo and it turned out fine.  The biscuit-like pie crust was delicious and I want to use it in a lot more things!  Tomatoes and corn are my favorite summer produce, and they were delicious together.  It was a little more time consuming than I would like for an everyday meal, but it is totally and completely worth the work and I should have made this many more times this summer :(

Oven Baked Smores

The only way to go when you don't have a fire at your house :)

2010.07.29 - Pulled Pork, Corn, a Summery Salad

Pulled pork is always an extreme crowd favorite.  It is one of the few foods that A can't control himself when eating!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

This is my go-to pulled pork recipe.  Few things are easier and it is always delicious.   

Caramelized Corn with Mint

No matter how many times I do it, I always marvel about using mint in a savory recipe.  Even though it is a relative of basil and used in many kinds of savory dishes, my mind still puts mint in the dessert category.  Taking advantage of  my prolific mint plant out on my balcony, I decided to make this corn dish.  It was pretty good, but I think I prefer NYT's brown butter corn recipe.

Watermelon, Cucumber, Tomato Salad

This was delicious AND I served it in a hollowed out watermelon shell.  Very fancy!  Nothing is more refreshing than watermelon.

2010.07.22 - Tuna and Bean Salad, Scalloped Tomatoes

I felt I had overloaded people with chicken for too many weeks, so it was time for a change.  Tuna was on sale, so tuna it was!

Tuna and Bean Salad

I like tuna, but hate mayonnaise, so I have a couple standard preparations to make dry canned tuna "wet" without using the devil's condiment.  One method is greek yogurt (it is yummier than it sounds!) and another is mashed white beans and lemon juice.  This recipe uses the latter.  I've made this version many times - it is delicious.  I love the crunch of the celery (I omit the olives and onion and double up on celery) and the fresh parsley taste. 

Scalloped Tomatoes made with gluten free bread

These scalloped tomatoes were awesome.  The only thing that would have made them better was a different bread -- this gf bread just tasted funny to me.  I have managed pretty well with gf desserts, but still have not been able to make a gf bread that makes me happy.  There was just something off about the taste (not inedible or bad, just odd) and definitely didn't taste like "real" bread.  The quest continues...

2010.07.15 - Thai Style Chicken, Mango Slaw, Ice Cream Sundaes

Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite food blogs.  Deb has a way of making food that I would never normally consider eating sound so delectable that I have to try it.  That led to this adventurous (for me!) meal.

Thai Style Chicken Legs

I don't prefer dark meat, but these chicken thighs were delicious, although maybe a little too fatty/greasy "mouthfeel" for my tastes.  The marinade was a little sour, but oddly good.  The sweet chili sauce was a great accompaniment, although a little spicy for me! 

Mango Slaw

I inaugurated my mandoline for this salad - it was a very messy time of chopping and slicing!  No matter how well I tried to drain, this slaw ended up pretty watery, but it was still very delicious.

Ice Cream Sundaes
- Roasted Banana Ice Cream
- Strawberry Sour Cream Ice Cream
- Chocolate Ganache

I had leftover ice creams from a different dinner party and leftover ganache in the freezer from a different Thursday dinner, so I put them all together for a sundae bar!  I got the ice cream recipes out of my copy of David Lebovitz's "The Perfect Scoop" -- what an amazing dessert "cook"book.  The banana ice cream was addictive and made my house smell amazing when I was roasting the bananas for it.  I would also use the banana preparation as dessert topping without even turning it into ice cream, or maybe even over oatmeal for a fancy breakfast...

2010.07.01 - Chili...?

Being a delinquent blogger, I am writing this post months after the dinner occurred.  However, for some reason, I can't find the email menu that shows what I made!  Electronic evidence from around the date suggests that I made chili, so let's go with that :)  It was probably my favorite chili recipe from Smitten Kitchen - three bean chili.

2010.06.24 - Homemade Pasta, Chicken Milanese, Pavlova

P & M bought me the pasta maker attachment for the KitchenAid mixer for my birthday, and I finally got around to trying it out!  It took a while to get a hang of it, perhaps compounded by the fact I was making gluten free pasta, but in the end it looked and tasted like the real thing.

Zucchini, Cherry Tomato, Fresh Ricotta Pasta
Gluten Free Pasta

The gf pasta ended up tasting very much like the real thing, except possibly a little bit slimier.  It was difficult to keep it from falling apart in the pasta maker, but I was eventually able to get the dough long enough to make fettuccine.  The vegetable "sauce" for the pasta was delicious.  This was the first time I had made my own cheese - it was surprisingly simple, but the small yield of cheese to a large amount of milk was a little shocking!  I thought it was a much better texture than store bought ricotta - not grainy at all.

Chicken Milanese

I wanted a protein to go with the pasta -- these were just basic chicken cutlets, nothing special.

Pavlova with Berry Sauce

I didn't use the berry sauces directed in the recipe -- just searched for some simple strawberry and blueberry sauces to use up frozen berries that I had.  The pavlova was excellent - just right chewy meringue texture.  I love the combination of meringue with whipped cream and fruit sauce!  I used a protractor to make sure the meringue ended up a perfect circle :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

2010.05.27 - Turkey Larb, Pickled Carrots, Gelato

Larb is a funny name!  Therefore, I had to make it :)

Turkey Larb

I've never had larb before - I never see past the pad thai at a Thai restaurant.  This was pretty good, with kind of a flavor profile I've never had before.  Maybe it was the fish sauce.  I need to research recipes to use up the leftover lemongrass.

Pickled Carrots

I wasn't a fan, but I think that's because I don't like many pickled things.  I couldn't figure out a better vegetable to match with the larb.  Will have to research Thai veggie dishes!

Toasted Almond Gelato

This was deliciousssssss.  I wish the recipe had given more specific instructions for how to use the leftover almonds (I ended up throwing them out), but otherwise this was great.

2010.06.03 - Poppy Seed Chicken, Rhubarb Chutney, Spring Vegetables, Granita

I was working from home, so I could make something a little fussy like granita.  The rhubarb chutney and poppy seed chicken were delicious, didn't care as much for the vegetables or the granita.

Rhubarb Chutney with bread, cheese, crackers

I haven't had many chutneys, but this one was great.  Loved the color, paired well with the sharp Beecher's flagship cheese.  Everyone thought this one was a hit.

Poppy Seed Chicken Salad

I love poaching chicken, it's so easy.  I always use plain yogurt instead of mayo (hate) and it always tastes fine to me.  I'd make this again for any lunch or brunch especially.

Spring Vegetable Skillet

I couldn't find snap peas, so I used green beans instead.  This was just..blah.  I thought it was too oily as well.

Apple Tarragon Granita

This was...interesting.  Lesson number one - don't try to use a food processor instead of a blender for liquids - I got sticky apple juice all over my counter.  The granita was refreshing, but I don't think I like tarragon all in my face - I like it more hidden.

2010.06.10 - Beecher's Mac and Cheese

By popular request, I tried out Beecher's Mac and Cheese.  I added a salad to try to lighten things up :) 

Beecher's Mac and Cheese

I made an 8x8 dish with regular penne and 8x8 with Trader Joe's gluten free brown rice pasta.  I couldn't tell the difference between the two.  I used Bob's Red Mill GF all purpose flour fix for the roux.  It tasted just like what you get down at Beecher's in Pike Place Market.

Pro tip: buy Beecher's at Costco.  This mac and cheese is not cheap!

Salad with Herb Vinaigrette

The salad was a simple one of various lettuces, shredded carrots, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes.  I thought the recipe calling for "9 tablespoons" of vinegar was odd (and I think I lost count so I'm not sure if I put in 8 or 9!), but the dressing was pretty good!

2010.06.17 - Roast Chicken, Cherry Compote, Birthday Cake

I'm on vacation, so I could leisurely roast a chicken for this meal.  K's birthday was recently, so we celebrated with cake!

Honey and Lemon Roasted Chicken with Savory Cherry Compote

The chicken was great!  I didn't taste much lemon or honey in the end, but it was perfectly moist and the skin looked awesome.  I don't have a proper roasting rack, so unfortunately I lost a lot of the breast skin when I flipped it over as instructed since it had stuck to the bottom of my glass pan (hence the nontraditional chicken picture to the right). I used rosemary in the cavity of the chicken rather than the instructed thyme because a) I had rosemary on hand and b) I don't like thyme.  This was the first time I trussed a chicken!  I successfully managed to avoid getting salmonella all over my computer while trying to watch and pause and watch and pause a how-to video while tying the chicken.

The compote paired well and I did like it, although I'm not so sure about the texture of the walnuts compared with the much softer cooked down cherries and the syrup.  I'm not sure I'd make it again.

Steamed Asparagus

The ehow instructions for steaming asparagus were new to me and actually pretty fun!  They steamed perfectly and I served it with a little lemon juice and parmesan on top.  J said that must be the difference in being from the north versus the south - she cooks her asparagus in butter :)  I promised her an all-butter dinner in the near future to make up for it.

Got the asparagus from my favorite produce provider - Bill Pace, or as I call it, "the vegetable store".

Chocolate Cake with Fennel Ice Cream and Strawberries

I'm just beginning to scratch the surface of gluten free cooking, but discovering the Four Chickens blog seems like it will be a huge step in my progress.  This chocolate cake was GREAT.  Question: why does every cake recipe seem to always provide a ganache recipe that makes way more than you need?  I guess because you can never have too much chocolate ganache :)

Orangette is one of my favorite food blogs (and I've fan-girlishly sat right next to Molly at a Q&A once, eeee!) so I was very intrigued by the fennel ice cream.  She suggested it would pair well with chocolate and it did!  It tasted...too much like fennel seed on its own (if that makes any sense), but it worked very well with the cake.

Overall, a successful dinner and a ton of leftovers since only two others could make it that night.  The chicken leftovers microwaved just fine and remained just as moist. 



Since September 2004, I've hosted a "weekly" (as weekly as work has allowed, which sometimes means monthly :P) dinner for a small group of friends.  It started on Wednesdays (to coincide with watching America's Next Top Model), but has since settled in to Thursday.  I had just finished college and moved across the country for a job and wanted to turn some acquaintances into friends via bribing them with food :)  I was also sick of cooking for just one person - even the best recipe turns loathsome after you've eaten it as leftovers for three days in a row.   College friends, work friends, new friends, old friends - the group has changed throughout the years, but it's always been a great time.  The focus has always been more on friends, not food, but in recent years it has become the ideal venue for trying out items from my obsessive recipe collection.

The very first dinner was sandwiches.  At least I arranged the deli meat fancily on a platter :)  I would say I was a competent cook at the time, but I had grown up as a very picky eater and didn't have much imagination about food.  My college friends still give me a hard time about ordering nothing but chicken fingers in restaurants.  I'd been helping out with the family cooking since I was tall enough to reach the counter when standing on a chair (Dad's idea!), but I had just spent four years with an all-you-can-eat dining plan in a dorm.  No cooking required, unless you count microwave popcorn or Easy Mac. 

I don't remember much of what I cooked the first year.  However, I distinctly remember the turning point in September 2005 -- my friend X, original dinner member who has since sadly moved away, requested that I make Rachel Ray's Italian Mac and Cheese.  I don't remember how this came about and unfortunately deleted my work email archives and don't have the original email, but it was definitely something new -- the food being served as a project for the night, an event in and of itself.  It was a success and something about the whole thing caught my fancy.  I don't remember if I had already been watching "30 Minute Meals" at the time, but I started tuning in and bought some RR cookbooks.  Dinners for a while after that were mainly taken from RR's collection, and then I slowly discovered the world of food blogs and became more and more ambitious in my cooking.

I'm starting this blog so I can keep track of the menus I make weekly and some notes about how the recipes turned out.  I'm an engineer by profession and thought process, so I generally faithfully follow recipes and don't make up my own (so this won't be a traditional "food blog" with recipes per se).  Although I'm more creative in the recipes I choose to eat, I'm not very creative in how I cook them :)

I'll close with my Grandma's version of "Bon Appetit" -- at the start of any meal, she used to say "this is living".  Enjoy!