Friday, December 16, 2011

2011.12.15 - French Dip, Sweet Potato Fries, The Burger Cake!

Thursday was A's birthday!  I wanted to make a meal of some of his favorites + a surprise cake!

Deviled Eggs

I despise deviled eggs, but A loves them.  I tried to keep things simple and not gag when mixing up the egg/mayo mixture.

Modifications: I left out the shallot and substituted a dash of cayenne pepper for the tabasco. 

French Dip Sandwiches

Slow cooked meats are one of A's favorites.  I stuck with my tried and true french dip recipe, which I've made before.  Served on french bread with melted provolone and dipping sauce on the side -- pretty good!

Sweet Potato Fries

Amazingly enough, I did not use a recipe.  I sliced up sweet potatoes (skin on) and sprinkled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  I cooked at 425 for about 30 minutes.  Unfortunately, my potatoes were more mushy than crispy.  Maybe cook at a higher temperature next time?
The Burger Cake

When I was taking cake decorating, there was a cake in the instruction book that had a piped hamburger on it.  This cracked A up to no end and he demanded a hamburger cake.  I told him I would make him one someday - and that day was Thursday, his birthday.  I decided to make a cake that looked like a hamburger, rather than a cake with a hamburger on it. 

I used this cake and this one as my inspiration.  Both types of cake used were gluten free -- a chocolate cake for the "burger" and a pumpkin spice cake for the "bun".  I glued the layers together with store bought chocolate icing.  The lettuce, cheese, tomato, and onion were all made of colored fondant.  I built the cake by putting a bit of frosting on the cake plate, then placing the bottom bun, then adding a layer of frosting, then placing the burger layer, frosting the burger layer, putting the fondant decorations in place, then placing the top bun.
  • Lettuce - I mixed some green and white fondant together and rolled it to about 1/8th inch thick.  I cut strips with a tool with wavy edges.  I then used ruffling tools to make the edges more ruffly.
  • Cheese - I mixed some yellow and white fondant together and rolled it to about 1/16th inch thick.  I cut triangles and placed them around the cake.
  • Tomato - I rolled out some red fondant to about 1/8th inch thick and cut out circles.
  • Onion - I rolled out some white fondant to about 1/16th inch thick and then cut out circles.  I used a slightly smaller cutter to cut out the inner circle, so I ended up with rings.  I stretched them a bit and draped them around the cake.
I then glued on some rice krispies with piping gel for the seeds on the bun.

I think the cake came out great!  I found it much easier to make a great looking fun cake when there was little frosting involved.  My frosting efforts still come out a bit messy and lopsided :)  Using the fondant was easy, although I did recommend that people pick it off the cake before eating.  A was surprised and pretty happy with the cake :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Baking Roundup, 2011

This post is embarrassingly belated, but I do like to keep a historical record of the recipes I try for Christmas baking each year.  The roundup from 2010 is here.

Orange Cranberry Brownie Cookies

I make these cookies almost every year.  They are delicious and versatile.

Pumpkin Snickerdoodles

These were great!  The texture and taste were both wonderful.

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

TOO salty.  I like the idea of using whole wheat in cookies for texture, but I was not a huge fan of these.

Funfetti Sandwich Cookies

I used canned chocolate frosting as my filling.  These cookies are adorable and fun, although sandwich cookies always end up too messy to eat for my tastes.  I had not yet tried making cookies out of a box cake mix, but it worked pretty well.  You really can't go wrong with funfetti.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

The recipe promised chewy cookies, but I thought these were a strange texture and bland.  Give me the Toll House recipe any day.

2011.12.08 - Crockpot Chicken, Herb and Cheese Biscuits, Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Orange Curd

I'm always looking for new crockpot meals to try, since it is the easiest way to get a Thursday dinner prepared after work before guests arrive.  J moved back to town, so it was also time to start experimenting with gluten free recipes again!

Creamy Crockpot Chicken

This was ok.  Nothing special.  I didn't find it all that creamy, and the proportion of chicken to sauce was too low. 

Herb and Cheese Biscuits

These were delicious.  They had a great texture (I could barely tell they were GF) and were easy to make.  I used dried "Italian Seasoning" and a swiss/gruyere cheese mix, and the flavor combination was great.

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake with Orange Curd

As you know, I love the Barefoot Contessa.  I wanted to make her honey vanilla pound cake, so I was quite pleased to find that Jeanne had already done the GF conversion of the recipe for me using her awesome flour mix!  Jeanne's GF recipes always turn out the best for me, and this one was no exception.  The pound cake was delicious and had a great slightly crunchy crust.

The orange curd was a bit confusing to me.  It was a completely different way of making curd than I'd ever tried before.  It did not seem to thicken up enough, even when I hit the correct cooked temperature, and it didn't thicken up much more in the fridge.  This was somewhere between a sauce and a curd in consistency.  I don't know if that's expected, or a problem in my cooking somewhere.  It was good, though!

2011.12.01 - Parsnip Soup, Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad, Cranberry Sorbet

I forgot to take pictures this week!  Seattle is sliding into its dreary winter, so I figured a soup, some fortifying vegetables, and a seasonal dessert would be just the thing.

Parsnip Soup

Everyone loved this.  It was sweet from the parsnip and had the slight onion taste from the leeks.  I got to use up a substantial amount of my crazy-growing parsley plant, which was another bonus.

Modifications: I put in the zest of a lemon instead of putting in strips of lemon peel to fish out later.

Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad

This one got mixed reviews, but I liked it a lot. The dressing was nice and shallot-y and lemony and not too mustard-y.  It felt healthy in a good way :)

Modifications: I attempted to make the sauteed almonds, but I ended up burning them terribly.  I used regular raw almonds instead.

Cranberry Sorbet

What.  A.  Disaster.  This mixture never froze up in my ice cream maker and then only half froze up after an entire day in the freezer.  It ended up being mostly melty, syrupy cranberry sauce.  Blech.  I have no idea what happened, but this recipe did not work for me. 

2011.11.17 - "Fake" Thanksgiving

Every year, I like to make some Thanksgiving food for my friends at the last Thursday dinner before Thanksgiving.  I call it fake Thanksgiving :)

Whereas last year I was not working and went crazy, this year I was sick the night before and busy at work and ended up not making a single original recipe.  It's the thought that counts, right?

The Menu
  • Turkey breast (cooked by good old QFC)
  • Pepperidge Farm Herb Seasoned Stuffing
  • Whole Berry cranberry sauce
  • Roasted brussels sprouts (I did cook these myself!)
  • The wonderful cake wreck turkey brownie seen on the right

2011.11.06 - A Dog Birthday Brunch

Thursday dinner was turned into a Sunday brunch, since it was the 5th birthday of our doggie, C.  We've only had C a few months, so it was our first birthday with him.  I thought a brunch sounded like a fun way to celebrate!

We picked up bagels and cream cheese from our favorite spot and I made some sweet and savory breakfast treats.  And I attempted to make a dog cake :)  Chewie only got to eat a little corner, as he is only a 12 pound dog and has a pretty small stomach.  I think our little birthday boy had a good time :)

Spinach and Cheese Strata

This was delicious.  It is definitely my new go-to brunch item.  You can't go wrong with that much cheese, really, but the bread, spinach, and seasoned egg mixture all worked well together.  Great crunchy toasted bread bits on top and good consistency too.

Fruit Baked Oatmeal

I needed something for a MSPI (milk soy protein intolerant) friend, so I found a lovely vegan oatmeal.  I think I actually prefer using almond milk in dishes like this, as it lends a nice flavor to the dish.  The raisins plumped up nicely and the apples had just a bit of bite left to them.  I would definitely make this again.

Modifications: I omitted the chia seeds (can't get ch-ch-ch-chia out of my head) and used unsweetened almond milk as my non-dairy milk.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

These are one of my go-to fall cookies.  I love the pumpkin and chocolate combinations and the cookies are very soft.

Modifications: I omitted the nuts and frosting.  I made these MSPI-friendly by using soy-free earth balance instead of butter and Enjoy Life chocolate chips.

Peanut Butter Pumpkin Doggie Cake

C loves peanut butter, so I liked the sound of this dog cake.  It came out with more of a biscuit texture than a cake texture, so it was a little messy to eat.  It definitely wasn't a texture or taste for humans, but C didn't seem to mind :)

I made my own frosting of peanut butter and pumpkin whipped with some almond milk until it reached a frosting-like consistency.  I added pumpkin because C loves the flavor.  He liked his birthday cake a lot!

2011.10.27 - Halloween - Mummy Meatloaf, Spaghetti Squash Braaains, Breadstick Bones

I am not a big fan of Halloween, but I do like making thematic foods for the holiday!  I found the mummy meatloaf last year after I'd already set my menu, so I knew I'd be making it this year.

Mummy Meatloaf

I couldn't find very wide noodles for the wrapping (besides lasagna noodles, which I probably should have used in retrospect), so my mummy had some very thin bandages.  The meatloaf was your basic, good meatloaf.  I really like the look of this for a Halloween dinner and it isn't too difficult to make.

Spaghetti Squash with Almonds

Finding thematic vegetables for Halloween is always the most difficult to me.  This one is a bit of a stretch - I thought the spaghetti squash could possibly look like some braaaaains.  Spaghetti squash is easy to make, yummy, and fun (it still amazes me that it comes out in strings like it does) and the almonds were a nice bit of crunch.  The lime, cumin, honey dressing was good and different from usual flavors I pair with squash.

Breadstick Bones

These were really fun and easy to make.  I served them with pizza sauce for "dipping blood".  I think these would work as well for a dog birthday party :)

Spiced Iced Tea

Bleeech.  I was NOT a fan.  I didn't have unground cardamom or cloves, so I tried to substitute with smaller quantities of ground.  I must have messed up the math somewhere, because this tasted like liquid potpourri.  Terrible.

Oreo Chesecakes

These were good, but kind of a disaster in the looks department.  I think that the recipe cuts a few corners (mixing all wet ingredients at once instead of in steps) that must only work with VERY soft cream cheese.  Mine was softened, but I never got all the lumps out of the mix and this translated to a "curdy" cheesecake.  I couldn't find Halloween Oreos in the store, so I dyed the cheesecake orange, which was another terrible idea, as it came out looking like vomit in a muffin cup.  Perfectly ghastly for a Halloween party.  It did taste pretty good, though.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

2011.10.20 - Curried Pumpkin Apple Soup

The Seattle rains have started, so it felt like a good week for soup.  I hadn't made much with pumpkin yet this season (besides adding it to Chewie's special dog food mix of chicken + brown rice + pumpkin + yogurt), so this soup sounded appealing.  I served it with a wheat bread loaf from Trader Joe's some cheese, and a bagged spinach salad.  D brought us some awesome hazelnut chocolate from Germany, which has the very metal sounding name of HASELNUSS.

Curried Pumpkin Apple Soup

This had a tad too much curry powder in it for my taste, but it was a very good and hearty soup.  And extremely easy to make, and make ahead.  I did not find that the suggestion of sour cream topping added much, since the soup is already "creamy" to begin with.  Using canned pumpkin in an interesting variation in something I'd typically make with butternut squash.

2011.10.13 - Breakfast Bake, Yogurt Brulee

Since I eat the same thing for breakfast every day (greek yogurt with some jam) and am normally not hungry enough in the morning to eat a big breakfast, I love doing breakfast for dinner nights!  I believe I saw this breakfast bake floating around on Pinterest and thought it looked amazing.  Trying bi bim bap has been opening me up to "runny" eggs, so I was intrigued by the egg preparation in this dish.

Bacon, Tomato, and Cheddar Breakfast Bake

This dish has a LOT of cheese.  An embarrassing and shocking amount of cheese.  It was also REALLY good.  Coincidence? :)  I am normally not a fan of sourdough, but that flavor worked really well with the other ingredients.  Because of my inexperience with not completely cooked eggs, I did unfortunately end up overcooking this.  The egg yolks were almost rubbery :(  Oh well, will know better for next time.

Modifications: I left the bacon on the side and used vegetable stock instead of chicken stock to make it vegetarian. 

Yogurt Brulee

The idea of this intrigued me when I first read about it.  Creme brulee, but with yogurt??  I don't have a kitchen torch, so I did the best I could under the broiler (which ended up in a mediocre sugar crust).  I used raspberries and a bit of honey on the bottom.  You would think that hot greek yogurt would taste odd, but this was actually pretty good.  Next time I think I'd use vanilla sugar or mix some vanilla into the yogurt.

2011.09.22 - Spaghetti with Cabbage and Breadcrumbs, Caprese Salad, Red Wine Chocolate Cake

In my journeys on the internet, I see a fair amount of pasta + breadcrumbs recipes, but I've never made one before.  I had some leftover cabbage in the fridge and was intrigued by this recipe, so I went for it.  I served it with a basic tomatoes + mozzarella + basil + balsamic caprese and an awesome chocolate cake for dessert.

Spaghetti with Savoy Cabbage and Breadcrumbs

Making your own breadcrumbs for this elevates the breadcrumbs from adding crunch to being a delivery system for more butter.  Sauteing the cabbage completely mellowed out its flavor and the butter and cheese made a great coating for the pasta.  Everyone was surprised by how much they liked this dish.

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

Like Deb says in the recipe, I'd never heard of putting red wine in chocolate cake.  It was a really interesting addition and made for a very rich cake.  As much as I liked the cake, I think the marscarpone whipped cream was the real surprise here -- SO GOOD.  I should never make regular whipped cream again.

2011.09.15 - Tortilla Soup, Lemon Sorbet with Prosecco

This dinner was also a going away party for K, who moved down to the sunnier climes of California.  When I think of California and food, I think of avocados and wine country, so I found a dish and dessert that would incorporate each.

Tortilla Soup

This soup was very fresh tasting and delicious and feels healthy with all the vegetables. 

Modifications: The recipe is for a vegan soup, which I didn't follow in a couple ways.  Instead of vegetable broth, I used homemade chicken stock (recipe from Urban Pantry).  I omitted the garlic, chili pepper, and chia seeds (I don't think I could cook with those -- ch ch ch chia is too ingrained in my mind).  And I served with real cheese, not vegan cheese.

Lemon Sorbet with Prosecco

Not much is simpler than this.  Scoop of sorbet with some prosecco poured over top.  Since I served soup for dinner and only have about 10 bowls, having a collection of jam jars saved me from running out of bowls for dessert :)

Monday, September 5, 2011

2011.09.01 - Chik-Fil-A Nuggets, Tomato Salad, Potatoes with Peas and Mint

I had never encountered Chik-Fil-A until we moved to the south in the 90s.  Later, back north, there was one in my college science center's cafe, which fueled more all-night computer programming sessions than I'd like to admit, until they closed it down to bring in "healthier options" (pizza??).  A first got exposed to the wonders of Chik-Fil-A down in Arizona, and ever since we make a point to eat there once when we head down to AZ or back east.  I've had a candy/frying thermometer that's been sitting unused far too long, so when I saw this taste-a-like recipe flying around on Pinterest, I decided to give deep frying a go. 

Chik-Fil-A Nuggets

I've never deep fried anything.  The thought of it terrified me, and I didn't have the proper equipment.  This time, I had the aforementioned thermometer, and I used my 6 qt dutch oven as the oil vat.  After trying it this time, I don't foresee doing it much in the future.  The amount of oil used is wasteful (I know you are supposed to filter and reuse, or something?), the whole process is messy, and when you can only cook a few things at a time, it takes forever to get dinner on the table.

These nuggets were good, but did not taste much like the Chik-Fil-A I remember.  Even with the powdered sugar added to the flour mix, I did not think they tasted sweet enough.  Frying does give a pretty awesome crunchy texture and a very moist chicken though.

Tomato Salad

The recipe made way too much dressing, but other than than, a good simple recipe.  I love my tomatoes in any form (except red sauce).

Potatoes with Peas and Mint

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this side dish.  The peas and mint really freshened up the potatoes and made it feel like a spring/summer dish.  I could not get my peas to mash into a paste (maybe I didn't cook them quite long enough), but even keeping the peas mainly whole, this was still very enjoyable.  It isn't the prettiest thing, but I'd make this again.

2011.08.25 - Italian Antipasto Salad, Herb Cheese Bread, Cantaloupe Basil Sorbet

This meal all started with the bread.  I came across it in my internet travels and couldn't stop thinking about it.  While walking the dog, I puzzled over what to make with it.  The idea of antipasto salad stuck with me, so I looked up a recipe (Giada seemed like a good place to start, and lo and behold she had one).  To combat the excess of cheese and meats, I decided a sorbet for dessert would be best.

Unfortunately we were so caught up in the food that none of us took any pictures!

Italian Antipasto Salad

The lettuce and beans make you almost forget that you are eating a salad filled with fatty meat and cheese :)  I enjoyed this salad a lot, but would individually dress each portion next time.  The dressing decimated the lettuce as it sat and made for leftovers with a bunch of really soggy, wilty lettuce.  Ew.

Modifications: I used just romaine and butter lettuce and left out the iceberg.  I see no reason to eat iceberg lettuce (even though my dad contests that is the only TRUE lettuce).  I bought a Trader Joe's appetizer pack that had prosciutto, salami, and capicola, and augmented with a bit more salami.  I think that the combination of meats was a lot better than just using salami -- the prosciutto in particular added great flavor. 

Herb Cheese Bread

I liked this bread a lot, although I think it could have been well served by reducing the amount of cheese by half.  I wished that the herb flavor would have come out more.  It is a nice alternative to garlic bread, though.

Modifications: Omitted garlic, per usual.  I used a par-baked ciabatta from TJ's, since it had to bake to melt the cheese filling anyway.

Cantaloupe Basil Sorbet

When I was planning the meal, I kept thinking that cantaloupe was the green melon.  Of course when I got to the store, I realized I had been thinking of honeydew, and that cantaloupe was the orange melon.  I am not a huge fan of cantaloupe, but charged forward regardless.  I think I would have preferred a honeydew/mint or a watermelon/basil combination, but this was fairly refreshing and inoffensive.  Not great praise for a dessert.  There's a lot still sitting in my freezer, which is telling.

2011.08.18 - Tomato and Corn Pie, Blueberry Fool

When I started this post, I typed: "Tomato and Corn Pie was a revelation when I made it last year" and then looked back at my last write-up.  Sure enough, I discovered that I called it a revelation back then too.  Tomato and Corn Pie = revelation.

Tomato and Corn Pie

I used the same substitution as last time - greek yogurt for mayo.  I don't know why I don't make this way more often.  Once a year is not enough.

Blueberry Fool

The heart cookie in the picture is a lemon almond cookie from Trader Joe's.  I found it to be too crunchy and too almondy -- was expecting more of a lemon shortbread.

I added too much lemon juice to the blueberry sauce, but otherwise this fool was a nice dessert.  Sweet but not too sweet and light as air.  And a GREAT color :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011.08.11 - Liptauer, Chicken Salad, Smores Cookies, Honey Herb Soda

A picnic theme this week, all inspired by the appetizer.


YUM.  This gussied up cream cheese spread is very savory.  Perfect on bread, a bit of a salt lick on pretzels.  It's very addictive.  Read the story that comes with the recipe -- it will make you want to go to Austria.

Chicken Salad

I picked this because I knew that a meal of cheese wasn't the most balanced, but it ended up being quite good on its own accord.  The blend of the red peppers, almonds, parsley, and chicken was harmonious.  However, I think I prefer roasting bone-in chicken for chicken salads versus poaching like in this recipe.  I am biased against poaching because I find it a bit imprecise (letting chicken sit without heat and hoping that it cooks through in the specified time!) and find that times given in recipes don't often match up for good results in my kitchen, since it is all a variation of stove heat, pot insulation, and chicken breast thickness.

Modifications: I omitted the garlic and onion, per usual.  I forgot to toast the almonds, but I didn't miss the taste at all.

Honey Herb Soda

I used mint as my herb, since that's what I have the most surplus of in my garden.  Unfortunately this recipe doesn't provide the proportions for a pitcher, so I just guesstimated and dumped the honey syrup into a standard 2 quart pitcher with the juice of two lemons and filled the rest of the pitcher with seltzer water.  This was pretty good, and I served in it jam jars (how adorable)!  I've been saving up jars for various kitchen uses from my favorite preserves.

Smores Cookies

I think I may have hit a milestone with this one -- I found these to be too sweet.  That didn't stop me from eating them, mind you, but I kept thinking "I wish this was dark chocolate".  I found this recipe quite confusing -- you lay down graham crackers and then drop rounds of chocolate chip cookie dough on top.  It seems like the dough is supposed to melt and spread out evenly on its own, but mine did no such thing during baking.  I ended up spreading it out after the five minutes in the oven with a spatula, which of course ruined the shape of the chocolate chips.  Everyone at work loved the leftovers the next day.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

2011.07.14 - Turkey Burger Pitas, Zucchini Carpaccio, Cinnamon Cake

Another July birthday means another cake!  We celebrated C's birthday with a cinnamon cake and a vaguely Mediterranean meal.  This was also M's going away meal.  She moved down to California, like so many people are doing these days.  It seems sometimes that for people in the tech industry, you can only live in Seattle or SF, and SF is winning right now.  Best of luck to M and her husband M!

Turkey Burger Pitas

I love food like this.  It's healthy, gives an excuse to eat tomatoes and fresh herbs, is sandwich-like, and is delicious.  The yogurt tahini sauce is key here -- turkey can sometimes be a little dry, so this offsets that.  This would be even better with real pitas from a gyro place (or homemade pitas!), but I went the healthy route with whole wheat pita pockets.

Modifications: The store had NO ground turkey when I went, so I ended up with pre-formed turkey patties.  Not ideal.  Instead of mixing those up with the seasonings, I just sprinkled some onion powder on before cooking and hoped for the best.  I served the pitas with tomatoes, parsley, and the salad.

Zucchini Carpaccio Salad

Everyone loved this salad.  It had plenty of salt and cheese, which really made it stand out from a typical salad.  I finally found yellow squash in the market, so I used a combination of that and zucchini.  One more successful use of a mandoline without slicing a finger off!

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake

This is definitely more of a breakfast/tea cake than a dessert cake, but I loved the sound of it and had to make it.  I served it with whipped cream to fancy it up, but it was unsweetened (my preferred way to make whipped cream these days) - next time I would sweeten the cream up a bit, and maybe add almond extract.  It doesn't help that I forgot to buy the berries I planned to serve on the side!  I would definitely make this cake again as a breakfast cake.

2011.07.07 - Bourbon Orange Coriander Pulled Pork, Kale Salad, Cherry Limeade

My favorite easy pulled pork method comes up again!  This time, with a different BBQ sauce for variation.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Bourbon Orange Coriander BBQ Sauce

I asked the gang to vote between three BBQ sauces: tangy coffee, rhubarb, and this one.  This one won by a landslide, I think because of the bourbon :)  The orange flavor really came through, so it was an interesting take on a sweet BBQ sauce.  

Modifications: I didn't cook the sauce because I knew I'd just be throwing it in to the slow cooker anyway.  Time savings!  I omitted the garlic per usual and used a sweet tea bourbon since that sounded good.  Everyone made fun of me because I bought a tiny bottle of bourbon for cooking instead of having a real bottle for my (nonexistent) alcohol collection.  I swapped out the sauce called for in the pulled pork recipe with this one; luckily they both had about the same yield.

Kale Salad

This sounds like nonsense health food, but it was actually quite good.  The dressing was very tangy and I'd definitely use it again.  Trader Joe's came to the rescue with pre-chopped kale, but it wasn't perfect because they leave a lot of the tough stems on.  Why??  I really enjoyed the sweetness that the raisins added to the salad.

Modifications: I omitted the red onion (don't like it raw in salads), bell pepper (too expensive here!  not paying $2 for a single pepper), avocado (forgot), goji berries (??), and hemp seed (???).  The dressing calls for nutritional yeast (????), which I couldn't find, so I left it out and it was still great. 

Cherry Limeade

This was good, but had the same problem that I have every time I make a lemon or limeade -- too much pulp.  Even with a juicer that strains, I still get a bit of pulp and I don't like any at all in these kinds of drinks. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

2011.06.30 - Baked Ziti with Summer Veggies, Salad, Macrina Chocolate Cake

A birthday this week + some time = a proper birthday cake for R.  The cake was the main event, so I tried to keep things relatively light with a veggie-heavy pasta bake and a salad (that was also from leftovers, shame on me).

Baked Ziti and Summer Veggies

I despise red sauce, so any pasta bake dish I can find without it is a godsend.  This has plenty of vegetables in it, and could hold even more if you wanted.  The filling is enough to hold it together, but it isn't soggy at all and the pasta remains pretty distinct (this definitely isn't mac and cheese territory).  You could omit some of the cheese on top if you want to be more health conscious. 

Modifications: I couldn't find yellow squash anywhere (it has been a long cold "spring" and "summer" here in Seattle and the produce is very late), so I substituted it with zucchini.  I thought that I had mozzarella cheese in my fridge, but it turned out it was Trader Joe's shredded gruyere mix, so I used that instead.  I omitted the garlic, oregano, and red pepper.  I multiplied the recipe by 1.5 to serve more people, which was essentially a doubling of the filling because how do you get 1/2 an egg?

Farmers Market Salad

This is a wonderful main dish salad when served fresh and warm.  I had made this for dinner the night before and had a ton left over, so I refreshed it with some shredded carrots and more lettuce and served it as my side salad.  That is probably a hostess faux pas, but I don't want to waste food!  Although this salad is best warm, it is still pretty good cold as leftovers. 

Modifications: I omitted the olives (ew), basil, shallots, and thyme.

Mom's Chocolate Cake from Macrina Bakery

This was my first cake with an infused syrup brushed between layers.  I am not sure what to think about it -- I couldn't really tell if I liked the addition or not.  An annoyingly large amount of vanilla was required for it (that stuff is expensive!), so I was expecting better.  This cake batter is quick to put together, refreshingly not calling for creaming butter and sugar together.  Everyone loved the cake, but I thought it tasted somewhat flat.  I think I should have used better quality chocolate in the frosting.  Although I love Macrina Bakery, I haven't tasted the original, so I don't know how it compares. 

Modifications: I baked two 8 inch rounds (because I don't have 3 round pans except in the 6 inch size) and just layered them, instead of baking one large cake and torting it for the layers.  I halved the frosting recipe because I couldn't stomach using 4 sticks of butter at once, and it was more than enough frosting.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

2011.06.16 - Roast Beef Salad, Rhubarb Tea, Banana Bread Bites

Roast Beef Salad is a cult favorite with the Thursday dinner crew.  It is M's favorite in particular, and the first thing I made for her after she had little F and could risk the dangers of listeria again :)  When summer rolls around (which is in fits and starts in June in Seattle), I like to make this a lot.  The rhubarb tea was my first foray into a rhubarb beverage.  The banana bread bites were part birthday cake/part contribution to the year of banana bread and were delicious.

Roast Beef Salad

Roast Beef Salad is a great simple weeknight meal.  Some chopping/tearing, some assembly.  The most difficult part is whisking up some dressing.  I am NOT a mustard person, but the touch of dijon in this dressing really adds something.  I like serving this with rye bread and extra roast beef on the side, in case someone wants a straightforward sandwich, or they just want to plop some salad between two pieces of bread (recommended!).  This recipe only has a 3/5 rating on Real Simple's site and is very simple, but for some reason me and some others just find it very addictive.

Modifications: I realized at the last minute that I didn't have balsamic vinegar, so I went with a substitute of apple cider vinegar and some sugar.  It still tasted good, but the dressing was missing the depth of flavor that balsamic provides.

Rhubarb Iced Tea

I've been cooking more and more with rhubarb over the past few years, and have tried to branch out from the tried and true strawberry and rhubarb combination.  This drink is simply steeped and sweetened rhubarb.  It was very tangy and had an interesting flavor, although I didn't find it very refreshing (something about the sour/tangy-ness).  Next time I would try to lighten it up with club soda.

Modifications: I used agave sweetener instead of honey, since I hate squeezing large amounts of honey out of the bottle (don't have the grip strength!).

Banana Bread Bites

O...M...G pretty much sums up A's reaction to this banana bread.  The base for these bites was a very rich, butter-based banana bread, and it was amazing.  Dipping in candy melt chocolate was merely gilding the lily.  I had no clue how the recipe author could have rolled this banana bread into cake balls without the aid of frosting or something -- it wasn't *that* moist.  So after a failed, crumbled attempt, I decided to cut out squares to dip in chocolate instead.  It was just as good!  Even without the chocolate, this is my new go-to banana bread recipe when I want something more dessert-like than snack- or breakfast-like.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2011.06.02 - Sandwiches, Asparagus Artichoke Salad

This week felt like kind of a cop-out.  Sandwiches!  However, the side salad was pretty amazing, so hopefully that makes up for it a bit.  And sandwiches *was* the first Thursday night dinner, after all.


Every Saturday, A and I have lunch at a local bagel establishment.  My usual is turkey and havarti with tomatoes and lettuce on a rosemary bagel (or sesame or pretzel).  I almost never eat havarti outside of that lunch, so I thought it would be nice to replicate my favorite a bit for this dinner.  I thought that roast deli chicken and havarti sounded good, and amazingly enough, those were the two things on sale at the deli counter.  Extreme couponing!  (not)

Asparagus Artichoke Salad

I've been going asparagus crazy this spring, but it seems like that's the only thing that's seasonal right now.  It's been a cold and rainy winter in Washington state and the crops just aren't ready yet.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've had artichoke, but for some reason the description of this salad called to me.  I love simple, non-lettuce based salads, and this one is certainly near the top of my list now.  The simple dressing of lemon juice, garlic powder, artichoke marination liquid, and oil from roasting the asparagus was just right.  The asparagus, artichoke, and tomato worked well together.  This salad was great and I need to make it again soon!

2011.05.26 - Taco Thursday, Black Bean Salad, Funfetti Cupcakes

Another simple-to-prepare-after-work meal is tacos.  I jazzed these up with a black bean and pineapple salad.  We were celebrating a big award won by B, so I thought funfetti would be appropriately festive.


I typically make my tacos with ground turkey breast and Penzeys taco seasoning.  I like the flavor of this spice mix and think that turkey tacos are a bit healthier than ground beef.  I served them with corn soft tortillas, tomato, mexican cheese blend, sour cream, and lettuce.  I make a toppings bar so people can add what they want, which does mean that tacos win the record for most bowls and spoons used in a meal. 

Black Bean and Pineapple Salad

This "salad" was delicious.  The roasted pineapple was amazing.  I think this would be even better on the grill because I didn't have the patience to get my pineapple fully caramelized under the broiler (it took over 30 minutes just to get a light broil!).  I would definitely make this again.

Modifications: I left out most ingredients from the original recipe because I was serving it as a taco topping, not as an individual meal or side.  I only used the onion, beans, pineapple, and spices. 

Funfetti Cupcakes

These were a paaaain to unmold from the muffin tin because they grew slightly over the edge of the paper liner and cemented themselves to the pan.  They were pretty sticky from the sugar in the recipe and it was just an annoying unmolding (although at least most stayed intact).  Aside from all that, funfetti is FUN and one of my favorite kinds of cake.  I've only made it with a box mix before, but this recipe was pretty simple.  I'd love to try it as a full cake sometime.  Rainbow sprinkles are the best!

Modifications: After I bought my stand mixer, I threw out my crappy hand mixer and rejoiced that I would never need one again.  Unfortunately, marshmallow frosting like the one in the recipe requires using a hand mixer over a double boiler.  After realizing this at 10:30 PM the night before the dinner, I gave up and used a container of cream cheese frosting that I had in the pantry.  I bet the marshmallow frosting would have been amazing though.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

2011.05.19 - Minestrone Soup, Secret Dessert

The crockpot world tour continues.  Another week, another slow cooked dish.  Until summer produce arrives, which makes for the ultimate quick and easy dinners, my version of quick and easy is set it and forget it.

This week was a simple soup with bread and cheese, and a secret dessert.

Minestrone Soup

Healthy!  Delicious!  This was so much better that my usual minestrone from a can that I want to make sure I have a stash of this soup in the freezer at all times.  No more canned soup for me.  I think the tomato paste was really they key to making the soup taste rich and not watery.  It was mainly dumping cans into the crockpot and chopping a few things -- super easy. 

I accompanied it with rosemary bread and a cheddar/gruyere "melange" cheese from Trader Joe's.  The cheese was really great -- best of both worlds.  Everyone loved it, I think it will become one of my default cheeses for entertaining in the future.

Modifications: This soup makes a LOT.  I filled my crockpot almost to the brim with the initial set of ingredients, so I could only add in the zucchini for the last hour of cooking.  I left out the cabbage, green beans, and pasta.  The soup was still delicious without those, and I think I actually prefer making pasta-less soups.  The pasta soaks up too much liquid for eating soup as leftovers.  I also omitted the garlic, per usual. 

Secret Dessert

I've been doing a small amount of recipe testing for Jeanne's gluten free holiday baking book.  I can't share the details, but it is a delicious buttery rich cake that's definitely a keeper.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2011.05.12 - Crockpot BBQ Pork

Back after a two week hiatus due to a new job and a family wedding!  Since I am no longer unemployed, I can no longer choose meals that take all day to make.  I eased back into things with a crockpot meal -- one of the easiest ways to get food on the table with very little work.

Crockpot BBQ Pork

This is hardly even a recipe -- some pork, soda, pre-made BBQ sauce, salt, and garlic powder in the crockpot for 8+ hours. I used Stubb's Honey Pecan BBQ sauce, which was pretty good. This wasn't my favorite pulled pork recipe -- that award still goes to this one.

I served it with baked beans from a can (gasp!) and some cucumber sticks.  Nothing fancy here.  Hopefully as I get more acclimated to having a job again, I will try things a little more on my usual grandiose scale for dinner.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

2011.04.23 - Easter Brunch

A special Sunday edition of Thursday Night Dinner!  I try to host an Easter brunch every year for as many people as I have plates and chairs for (and usually more than that).  Sometimes it is more on the breakfast side of brunch, sometimes more on the lunch side, sometimes very involved (homemade pop tarts...what was I thinking?), and sometimes simple.  It usually involves chicken salad, because I really like chicken salad. 

Rosemary Chicken Salad and Egg Salad in Carrot-Shaped Rolls

The carrot-shaped rolls made the rounds on Pinterest and I knew I had to make them.  Thanks to the wonders of Amazon Prime, I had the conical molds in time for Easter.  My only regret is that the molds were a bit on the small side, so I couldn't fit too much salad into the rolls.  I liked how the rolls turned out, although they were a bit difficult to make because I was unable to find seamless crescent roll dough, so I had to mush together the pre-cut seams.  The overall effect was very cute.

I despise hard boiled eggs and mayonnaise, so the egg salad was purely for the benefit of my guests who like such things.  They seemed to like the egg salad :)

I thought the chicken salad was good.  The almonds were an interesting crunchy alternative to celery and the scallions were an interesting touch.  I hardly tasted the rosemary at all.  I think this is a nice savory option.  For something a little sweeter, I prefer Ina's chicken salad veronique (which is amazing).

Modifications: I used all yogurt instead of a yogurt/mayo mix in the chicken salad.

Veggie Platter with Herb Dip

I love the look of the garden-like veggie platter from the linked Martha slideshow, but I didn't have time to track down a galvanized metal garden tub and perfectly tiny baby vegetables.  I used what I had and came up with a somewhat artful display of carrots, radishes, asparagus, tomatoes, and green cauliflower.  The radishes were my biggest splurge - French Breakfast radishes from my favorite vegetable store.  These radishes were so much better than conventional varieties I've had -- they were hardly spicy at all.  I was worried that the herb dip would be too dominated by dill (because that's all it smelled like), but it tasted very good and balanced.

Challah with Raspberry Jam

A got me a braided sesame challah from Blazing Bagels, one of our favorite local places.  Challah is one of my favorite breads, so it only gets broken out for special occasions :)  I was going to make strawberry jam, but realized that the red berries in my freezer were raspberries, not strawberries.  I therefore substituted the strawberries for raspberries and doubled the amount of sugar.  Because of raspberry's lower pectin content (I think), this didn't firm up much at all, but it was a nice "spoon jam".  Most recipes I saw for raspberry jam had a 1:1 fruit to sugar ratio, which I thought was crazy.  I believe it is mainly for preservation reasons, but I wasn't canning this jam, so I greatly scaled back the amount of sugar and it turned out properly sweet.

Dirt Cake

Dirt cake is a home ec favorite.  I'd love to make a "luxury" version of this someday with real pudding and whipped cream, but the box pudding/cool whip version has a sense of nostalgia.  I did not bury gummy worms in it because I don't like them, but apparently this was missed :)  Unfortunately I forgot to take a picture, but my dirt cake had peeps hanging out on top.

White Wine Spritzer

A and I are obsessed with the show "30 Rock".  I've often been compared to Liz Lemon at work (which I realize isn't flattering...but can kind of explain why I quit that job).  In an episode this season, it is revealed that her signature drink is white wine with Sprite and ice cubs in a thermos, called "Funky Juice".  I thought that this white wine spritzer recipe sounded like a classy Funky Juice, so I had to make it.  It was delicious, even though I was drinking it from a glass without ice cubes.

Modifications: Trader Joe's was out of sparkling lemonade, so I used sparkling limeade, which I thought was even better.  I made a pitcher out of 1 (750 ml) bottle of "3 buck chuck" sauv blanc and 1 (1 L) bottle of sparkling limeade (a higher proportion of juice to wine than the recipe).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

2011.04.21 - Ham, Slow Cooker Mac n Cheese, Lemon Tarragon Asparagus, Strawberry Sour Cream Bread

I decided against making a ham on Easter (huge blog post about my Easter brunch to come), so I wanted to get my yearly fill of ham in on a smaller scale.  I often associate ham with macaroni and cheese, and I believe this slow cooker version was another Pinterest find.  Asparagus is seasonal right now, so chose that as my vegetable, and I had a loaf of strawberry sour cream bread in my freezer pantry.  Easy!

Slow Cooker Macaroni and Cheese

I just heated up a ham from the supermarket, so no recipe for that. I was intrigued by the idea of making macaroni and cheese in the crockpot, since making the bechamel cheese sauce on the stovetop is kind of a chore. I thought it came out ok, although a little grainy. Since it only takes about 3 hours in the slow cooker, it isn't a dish that you can start before work and eat at the end of the day, which is one of the huge benefits of a crockpot for me. This wasn't my favorite mac and cheese and probably wouldn't make it again.

Modifications: I didn't add toasted bread crumbs at the end, but I bet that would have been good. I added another quarter-box of macaroni (without adjusting any other proportions) to get more servings, and added chili powder (a teaspoon) as recommended in the recipe's blog post. I didn't coat the crockpot in oil (since I didn't understand how this would help against sticking considering you whisk things in the crockpot after that step), and I didn't have any sticking problems.

Lemon Tarragon Asparagus

I looooved this. It was definitely the most popular dish on the table.  I usually pair lemon with my asparagus, but this was the first time I've tried a tarragon vinaigrette over it.  The tarragon paired so well with it, and (bonus!) I got the tarragon right out of my garden.

Modifications: I left out the shallot and garlic and didn't miss it. I used my usual steaming method for the asparagus.

Strawberry Sour Cream Bread

I had a loaf of this bread in my freezer from my Christmas baking frenzy. I figured it was high time to actually take it out of the freezer and serve it :) The bread was good, but as I discussed in my post about it, using whole strawberries caused there to be huge bites of strawberry in some pieces and almost no strawberry in another. I would definitely chop the strawberries if I made this again.