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.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

2011.04.14 - Roasted Vegetable "Enchiladas", Mexican Chocolate Cookies

I am a teeny bit obsessed with Pinterest.  It is a site that collates all of these pictures that you find and clip across the web and shows you what other people are pinning, which you can then "repin" to your own board.  I love it for making inspiration boards and gathering pictures of things I love.  I still use Delicious for my recipe storage since that's more of a searchable list interface, but Pinterest is great for tagging lovely cake designs, home ideas, and wedding ideas.

I was browsing Pinterest early last week, and saw this gorgeous picture of something called a "roasted vegetable enchilada".  I knew I had to make it for Thursday Dinner.  Have I ever turned down a roasted vegetable?

Since I was going with a "Mexican" dish, I decided to go with simple Mexican Chocolate cookies for dessert.

Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas

This was great!  It really has nothing to do with enchiladas, more like a Mexican casserole.  The vegetables all went really well together (who knew cauliflower would work well in this?)  Everyone loved it and it is fairly simple to put together.  I was going to add black beans into the dish, but forgot, so I just served them on the side and mixed it all up together on my plate.

K also brought some pulled pork, which was delicious and went really well with the dish!

Modifications: I left out the poblanos (no spice for me!) and increased the amount of cauliflower, corn, and spinach.  I used a 9"x13" pan instead of 9x9 and still found that I only had room for 2 layers instead of 3.  I also omitted cilantro (ew).  I used Trader Joe's pico de gallo, and found it to not be too spicy, even though it had jalapenos in it. 

Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies

These were nice and chocolate-y with a nice spice flavor.  I love mexican chocolate most things, as long as I take it easy on the cayenne.  Although they aren't the most attractive cookies while making them, slicing and baking right out of the freezer is awesome.  I still have half a batch left in there!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011.04.07 - Baked Brie, Broccoli Soup, Cake Pops

What to do with a ton of leftover brie?  First world problems, people.  I chose to serve it baked and oozy with a healthy broccoli soup to balance it out and a special dessert.

D recently finished her thesis defense, earning her the title of Doctor (PhD variety) in Physics.  Celebrating the culmination of over six years of work (and not blowing anything up with electromagnets or particle accelerators the whole time!) deserves a special dessert, at the very least.  I wanted to play with the theme of the atom, so it seemed like a good time to try my hand at cake pops.

Baked Brie with bread

Typical baked brie wrapped in puff pastry can be pretty great, but I felt like something a little "lighter".  This recipe calls for just baking the brie as is, and topping it with some honey and almonds.  It was great paired with Trader Joe's Rustic Rosemary Bread (a new favorite!).

Broccoli Soup

I've made this soup from Molly before, and I love it.  It is not at all heavy, it is better than the sum of its parts (even non vegetable lovers like this soup), and it seems pretty much healthy (as long as you take it easy on the sour cream topping).

Modifications: Left out all garlic, per usual (allergies).  I forgot to add the grated parmesan to the sour cream mixture, but we all survived :)

Red Velvet Cake Pops

Unless you've been living in a cave, you probably haven't been able to avoid cake pops on the internet or in the world.  I hear they sell them at Starbucks now!  I hadn't made some before, but I had a can of cream cheese frosting in the pantry, so I thought red velvet cake pops would be perfect for my atomic structure. 

Per cake pop tradition, I used a box red velvet cake mix.  Which tasted oddly like ... nothing ... after I baked it.  The least flavorful boxed cake I've ever had.  I knew that I'd be combining the sucker with a whole container of frosting, so I didn't worry about it too much.  The cake pop making process was messy (I used my hands!  they were dyed red!) but not too difficult.  I didn't quite have the patience to make them perfectly smooth, round, and even sized, so mine were pretty remedial looking.  One of the big downsides of my side-by-side refrigerator is that it is hard to freeze a batch of cake pops all at the same time, because I can't just stick a half sheet pan in there :( 

The dipping process went pretty smoothly, although I must emphasize instructions that I vaguely recall reading in Bakerella's book -- make sure that the pop is *completely* covered by the candy melt coating.  I had a few that had tiny holes and sure enough the cake pop mixture extruded out of the holes, for lack of a better word.  I chose chocolate for my neutrons, green for my protons, and purple for my electrons.

I arranged the pops in a loose atomic structure, paying no attention to proper balance, and used some thin silver thread to join the electrons together in their valence levels.  D said that the structure would be more appropriate for a neutron (also the subject of her thesis), so imagine they are instead quarks, some top, bottom, charmed, spin, whatevers :)

I find cake pops to be unbearably sweet (but still completely addictive).  I'd love to make a version with a more subtle frosting and a good homemade cake.  Most common reaction from people trying a cake pop for the first time: skeptical look, tentative bite, then "oh!" then "YUM!" then "how is this so moist?"  It's kind of hilarious.

Monday, April 4, 2011

2011.03.31 - Chicken Paprikash, Buttermilk Ice Cream, Flourless Fudge Cookies

Somehow, not a single picture from this dinner.  Oops!

Leftover buttermilk and the need for a gluten free dessert let to an amazingly delicious ice cream and cookies combination this week.  I had been seeing chicken paprikash recipes pop up here and there, so I had it stuck in my head as something I wanted to make.

Chicken Paprikash with asparagus and mashed potatoes

The paprikash was good, but I wasn't crazy about it.  I think I just don't like the taste of paprika that much.  I served it with mashed potatoes, but I accidentally boiled the potatoes far too much, so it was more like mushed potatoes.  Yuck.  I steamed the asparagus following these neat instructions, and then served with a squeeze of lemon juice.

Modifications: Since I was cooking for eight people, I modified this recipe to work a bit better with what chicken pieces were on sale and how many pans I wanted to dirty.  Chicken "hindquarter" was on sale, but they were way too large to fit in a pan, plus they would have taken forever to cook on the stovetop.  I roasted the hindquarters in the oven with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and paprika, and then picked the meat off after they were done and cooled.  I then cooked the recipe as instructed with some chicken thigh pieces and added in the roasted chicken meat at the end to warm up in the sauce.  I also omitted hot paprika/cayenne, since I don't like spicy food.

Gripes: Note to self, don't get caught up reading something on the internet while boiling potatoes.  Before you know it, they will be overcooked!

Buttermilk Ice Cream with Flourless Fudge Cookies

These cookies were fascinating to me, and also highly addictive.  Instead of using gluten free flours, these cookies just didn't use flour at all.  The dry ingredients were just confectioner's sugar, cocoa powder, and the usual leveners, and I suppose the structure was created via the egg whites.  They were chewy, crackle-y, and really chocolate-y.  I thought they went very well with the tang of the buttermilk ice cream, which I may prefer to vanilla! 

Modifications: As Deb discusses in the ice cream recipe, it calls for a ridiculous 12 egg yolks.  She said that you can get by with 6, so that's what I did.  The original version would go great with making an angel food cake, since that uses 12 egg whites!