Sunday, June 23, 2013

Let's Get Back to Cooking

Remember that time you made a New Year's resolution and it lasted a few weeks?  In denial?  Maybe you can deny it because you didn't go blogging about it then stop abruptly after 8 weeks.  Must be nice...

Anyway, yes I signed on to cook my way through every Deb Perleman recipe posted on her site, Smitten Kitchen, last year and obviously it did not happen.  I am going to childishly point the finger here.  I blame this gem:

Seriously, did she not just take your breath away?  I'll give you a moment to get it back...better?  Not long after starting my cooking extravaganza, I found out I was pregnant with baby #3.  Yay!  Except this time was different than the first two times around with my boys.  Is this nausea?  Exhaustion?  An aversion to basically all foods?  My first two pregnancies were so easy, then this bundle of preciousness came along.  I fought for a few weeks, but in the end, throwing in the towel was the better decision.  Not with regrets though.  I made over 100 of her recipes, exploring cuisine I would have never considered before this challenge, so all was not lost.

Flash forward over a year later.  This site hasn't much crossed my mind, if at all.  Craving a new blog to follow, I checked out Deb's Good Reads, only to discover I was still on her list.  Because of this, this site is still receiving daily traffic.  Well that's no fun, checking out a site only to discover it hasn't been updated in over a year.  So I thought I would do something about it.  

Honestly, I don't exactly have a plan.  I don't have a goal in mind, which I like because that leaves the timeline open-ended.  All I do know is the cooking will be centered on no other than Deb's fare.  Whether that's from her site or this beauty - it will vary.  But it will be delicious.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Week 8, Day 5 - Dessert Before Dinner

Remember when I told you cakes were taking over my life?  It didn't stop.  I mean, it has now - temporarily - but I haven't finished telling you about the cake streak.  So here's two more before a week-long lull.  First, a cake for my son's friend's (or my friend's son's - confused, yet?) 4th birthday.  I made a pirate ship cake and attempted to ice it so it looked like wood.  It was great, too, because when looking at it you tend to assume it must be chocolate or vanilla of sorts, but no.  This was a carrot cake with cream cheese icing.  If I had been responsible, I would have snapped a shot of the cake baked, pre-decorating, or a shot after it was cut.  I have never claimed to be very responsible, though.  So, take my word for it - inside is a carrot cake chock full of 6 cups of carrot!  I received rave reviews from it's attackers eaters.  One person had me repeat "Smitten Kitchen dot com" three times before (like any smart man does) turning to his wife and saying "Will you remember that?"  I even received texts later that night about the leftovers and further comments days after the party.  All over carrot cake - who knew?

The next cake was for my grandmom's 80th birthday.  I don't think I've told you about my grandmom - the one who, even at 80, has more energy in one day then I can probably muster in a week's time.  The one who also is cooler than I in that she follows sports so closely we are taking her to a Phillies game in June with her decked out in the new jersey she received.  It will be a wonder if I can name more than three players.  Anyway, I made a strawberry cake with cream cheese icing (think I bought a lot of cream cheese this week?).  I failed on the decorating.  See, at this party my grandmom is "grandmom" to me but is also mom, mother-in-law, great-grandmom, and friend.  Not wanting to be selfish and let the grandmom title trump all, I simply wrote "Happy Birthday" on the cake.   Which is fine, except the cake is called a pink lady cake and is all cute and pink inside.  But do you think I wrote in pink?  Noooo - blue in fact - what was I thinking?  And in retrospect, I really should have skipped it all and just drew a Phillies logo to go with the gift.  Eh, I was told the cake was a lovely combination of strawberries and pound cake, so I'm thinking no one notice the icing faux pas.

Now that you've had your dessert, you need to eat your dinner.  We've been chickening it up around here the past two nights.  Tuesday night we had cranberry-walnut chicken salad tucked into soft wraps served with roasted sweet potato discs with a cheese, nut, and celery topping.  I love chicken salad only when it's decked out with things like cranberries and walnuts.  Always a bonus too when not only your husband is "Mmm"ing through dinner, but your kids are too.  Last night we had chicken legs topped with a dijon wine sauce.  Few things are quite as cute as watching your two year old chomp directly into his own chicken leg.  But I think the salad was the kicker - a bed of arugula topped with green beans and potatoes.  Something about putting potatoes in a green salad is new but genius to me.

- Carrot Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Icing
- Pink Lady Cake
- Cranberry-Walnut Chicken Salad
- Sweet Potato with Pecans and Goat Cheese
- Roast Chicken with Dijon Sauce
- Arugula, Potato, and Green Bean Salad

Friday, February 17, 2012

Week 7, Day 6 - Hello 100!!

As the craziness of life has begun to creep up on me, this project has somewhat fallen to the wayside.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still cooking in the Smitten Kitchen every night for dinner.  But I've lost the zeal for lunch and breakfast recipes and baking just because I feel like it.  I'm not too concerned - it will return.  However, amidst all the busyness, I complety neglected the fact that at the end of week six I reached the 100 recipe mark!!  Woohoo!  And, if you refer back to the ridiculous calculations I presented here (Eh, maybe don't refer back.  Just take my word for it.) you will see that I was actually ahead of schedule!  Which will make up a bit for my recent streak of laziness.  So now, let's catch up, shall we?  

We kicked off the week with a late night Mexican dinner called Migas with Chipotle Coulis (or, if you're my husband, "something Spanish").  Here's the jist of it all:  You make a savory coulis - think pureed goodness - of tomato, onion, and chipotle and top that with this cooked mix of chorizo, homemade corn chips, and scrambled eggs.  Then, if you're me, top it with cheddar cheese and serve with sour cream.  Straight up, the dish is not attractive.  But you're tastebuds will love it and one bite will have your eyes forgiving you.

Tuesday was Valentine's day which means basically nothing in our house.  However, it ended up being a good excuse to make a themed craft at playdate and while my friends took care of that, I made lunch.  Because it was supposed to be cold and snowy, I made this roasted tomato soup that sounded heavenly mostly because it is topped with a crouton "lid".  Deb makes these in individual mugs which are so cute that next time it will be motivation enough to go out and buy some oven-proof mugs.  Alas, having none, I settled with a pot and 12 mini croutons.  And though the snowy afternoon actually became a gorgeous warm day, the failure of meal-matching-weather did not spoil the deliciousness.  For dinner I made what I deemed a quintessential Valentine's day food - mushroom lasagna.  Something about Valentine's day makes me think Italian restaurant (hey, it's where my girl Sue got to go!) so I thought this lasagna fit the Italian bill but in a more grown-up way. Lasagna does not need to have red sauce.

On Wednesday I spent three hours in my kitchen baking six layers of two very different types of cake (more on these later).  Needless to say, I made dinner easy.  Linguine with an almond pesto.  The fresh basil and Deb's gorgeous beach-town pictures make this a wonderful summer dish.  Ah, summer...I can dream, right?

We went out with a bang last night - short ribs on a bed of Swiss chard and pearl onions topped with a horseradish cream and sided up with creamy mashed potatoes.  Woah, I know.  We bought the short ribs this past weekend from the farm - a couple days defrosting, an overnight marinade, then hours braising in the oven led to a fall-off-the-bone red meat goodness that we sadly do not enjoy often enough.  Oh - and just when you start to feel like you know it all...My mashed potatoes came out gummy.  This was strike two.  Strike one was Christmas day when I was asked "Why are the potatoes like caramel"?  Who messes up mashed potatoes and who does it twice?  Well, I determined to get to the bottom of it, and I did - overmixing.  You see, in an attempt to move things along and also avoid using any extra ounce of energy, I came up with the brilliant idea to make them in my food processor.  Bad idea!  Lesson learned and hopefully lesson taught as well.

Finishing up the second of two cakes tomorrow, so expect sweetness ahead.

*New here?  Check out this post for all the details on the project!*

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Week 7, Day 1 - Birthday Cakes and Tales

Cakes, cakes, cakes!  They are beginning to take over my life.  I suppose there are worse things that could take over your life, though, so no complaining.  This past week I made two birthday cakes for two very different women in my life.

The first cake was for a woman in my church whose age I was told not to make public though if I look and live half as good as her at that age I hope to have it shouted from the mountaintops on my birthday.  Let's just say this woman will tell stories of my mom bringing me to the nursery as a baby and I was by no means the first of the babies she watched - she had been doing it for years before I was even born.  She has a great sense of humor - loves to laugh - yet has a sensitive side she is never afraid to show.  Perfect example of this - when I first presented her with the cake, she laughed and laughed.  She was as giddy as a child - unbelieving that someone had made her a cake.  Yet, when we lit a candle and sang to her, she was so overwhelmed with emotion she hid her face and had to work through tears just to be able to blow the candle out.  Sight hindered by tears, though, when she went in to blow the candle out she knocked her face in the top edge of the cake, laughing the whole time.  Laughing and crying and so full of life, further inspiration for the life I hope to grow into.

Oh wait, did you want to know about the cake too?  It was a vanilla cake with lemon curd filling and a pearly white meringue icing.  Admittedly, I did not have any.  As it is, on the whole I do not like cake, but I especially do not favor any lemon desserts (With the exception of those lemon Girl Scout cookies.  Tried them for the first time and am obsessed.  Cursed bubbly girls in uniform get me every time with those cookies).  Sorry, I'm digressing into the woes of Girl Scout cookie season (which are hardly woes) - the cake!  Despite not trying any myself, I can tell you I brought it to this church dinner a whole 8in cake and - despite the chocolate, marble, and coconut cakes and brownies it had for competition - I received a clean plate back at the end of the night.  To even further it's credit, I rushed this recipe to it's breaking point - literally.  I was in such a hurry, I took the cake out far before cooling, managing to keep one layer somewhat in tact but having to strategically piece the other back together on the plate.  I also hurried the cooling process of each step in the freezer.  But all was well - cakes are strong like that.

The other cake and it's recipient - completely different tale.  She's an old gal as well, but I can say this only because she manages to beat me to 27 by two months.  Kim was my best friend in high school, keeping close though hours apart throughout college, bridesmaids in one another's weddings, pregnant with our first kids only a couple months apart, and continue having dinner with two of our other childhood bests every month.  Each month has a cuisine theme, and February being Kim's birthday month she chose a Caribbean island dinner.  She particularly chose an espresso chiffon cake which may not sound very fitting but that's only because I have yet to inform you that while each layer of cake was soaked in sugar-laden espresso they were soaked in an equal amount of rum.  I've watched enough of this guy to know rum is enough of an island drink to satisfy our dinner party.  As if espresso and rum weren't enough, it was further layered and covered with a fudge icing that made my chocolate-loving heart melt.

So quick, find yourself a friend to make a cake for.  Or a stranger.  Or yourself.  Not sure if most people need a reason to make a cake as delicious as these.

Lemon LayerCake
Espresso Chiffon Cake with Fudge Frosting

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Week 6, Day 5 - Easy Soup, Salads, and Pizza

We haven't been feeling too well around these parts lately.  Well, I  haven't been feeling too well.  The wonders of winter - stuffy nose, itchy throat, the norm.  All I wanted for dinner were comfort foods.  So Monday night we enjoyed a very simple cauliflower soup alongside a loaded tuna salad and a simple Caesar salad with homemade dressing.  The soup was very much like a thin potato soup - I know people have swapped these two vegetables in other recipes and I hear cauliflower provides a bit more nutrients than the classic baking potato (though I have no intention of leaving my potatoes in the dust - ever).  The tuna salad had a great array of flavors in it - especially for a girl who typically only adds mayonnaise.  I think the addition of pine nuts was my favorite, though.

On Tuesday we had pizza.  I can hardly think of anything I'd rather eat when I'm not feeling well (or even when I am feeling well).  I made a broccoli rabe and onion pizza.  I've never tried broccoli rabe, so I was pretty excited to take the plunge.  It was not what I anticipated - much leafier - but it held up well in flavor.  My only complaint about the pizza was the amount of onion.  I think I would have been more ok with it had the onion bee cut into think rings or half-moons, but this onion was died and roasted and it just didn't do it for me.  I was a good girl and took my taste-testing bites, but then resorted to scraping most of it off, child-style.

I wasn't home for dinner last night - the husband helped in clearing out some leftovers - but I did make a cake for a dinner party I went to.  More on that and our guest of honor later.

- Silky Cauliflower Soup
- Deb's Caesar Salad Dressing
- Dill-Pepperoncini Tuna Salad

- Pizza with Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Onions

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Week 6 - Baking Extravaganza (And a Dip...)

I promise you I am not a slacker.  You wouldn't know this seeing as how after not posting for two days I'm coming to you armed only with three desserts and a simple dip.  Where are the dinners?  Well, they've been scarce around here, that's for sure.  I had some planned, but time ran a bit short, desire for them died out, and someone cooked for us last night so I'm coming empty-handed.  But I've brought you three desserts.

First came the cake.  A blood orange olive oil cake to be exact.  The flavors blended nicely and I was impressed by the strength the orange flavor held.  The one drawback was this cute little process of "supreming the oranges".  Basically, get the orange off it's peel and membrane while still salvaging a decent amount of orange.  Oh dear.  At least my hands smelled fresh afterwards.  I don't even have a pictures to show for all my work.

No worries, though, because next came the cookies and there are few things for me that can not be improved when cookies have been made.  First, another recent post of Deb's because it seems her recent recipes have really been catching my eye.  Potato chip cookies.  Don't judge.  Not until you have made them and tasted them and after that if you still turn up your nose you can just bring the rest over to me.  Because I thought they were perfect - buttery and sweet with just a slight edge of crisp saltiness.  Indulge your curiosity and try them.

If potato chip cookies are too strange for you, how about some classic chocolate chip cookies instead?  Deb's favorite, in fact.  And I can understand why.  These beauties were chunky with the much longed-for chewy soft centers and crisp edges.  Drop the nuts if you're allergic, and I think the cookies would suffer little.

Finally last night I threw together a quick dip to bring to a game night at a friend's house.  Literally thrown together as you toss a few ingredients into a food processor, mix it up, and (if you're me) juggle it immediately out the door with kids in tow.  It's not the most attractive dip, but I know few dips that are truly attractive in their mashed up glory.  But it was quite tasty and I argue that more of it would have gone if we hadn't run out of crackers.  Note - one box is not enough.

So really, Renee - Why have you been so distant/busy?  
Alright, I'm not here to self-advertise.  But remember that cake I baked last week?  Well, I completed the project at the end of this past week.  You can see the results here.  As much as this blog is about cooking through the Smitten Kitchen, I worked hard on said project so encouragement over there is always welcome!

2/1 (Oh yea, I baked on Wednesday.  It took me this long to get it up)
- Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake
- Potato Chip Cookies
- Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookies

- White Bean Roasted Red Pepper Dip

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Week 5, Day 5 - Indian Food and Some Expletives

In the precious movie Julie and Julia, Julie Powell comes to a turn in her endeavor of cooking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking that she dreads - aspics.  Now, I wouldn't dare compare anything in the Smitten Kitchen to the gelatinous mess of a savory aspic.  Seriously, Julie Powell was a much braver woman than I to attempt such a feat.  However, I tapped a bit into that feeling of dread earlier this week when I forced myself to pick out some Indian cuisine for this week's menu.  Dreading...dreading...dreading.

There isn't one particular thing about Indian food I dislike - it's more of a culmination of events.  The spices, mainly, but also the ever-presence of chickpeas just doesn't jive with my tastebuds.  Fortunately, Deb's list of Indian fare is short - less than 10 recipes from what I remember - but I thought better to take some of it on now before I reach December and have a week full of Indian meals before me.

I will say that the meal came together quite easily.  Chana masala  is what I would define as a sort of Indian chili.  Chickpea and tomato based and loaded with Indian spices of every kind.  Now, Deb instructs you to make the investment and buy all these spices which I'm sure is great advice if you like Indian cuisine because you will then surely tap into them again.  However, if you're like me and cooking it merely to fulfill a project or you simply want to try it for the first time, I suggest going to Whole Foods where you may conveniently purchase a wide variety of spices in bulk and by bulk I mean 15 cents worth, which is exactly what I did.  I tasted the dish before letting it sit for a while and though it had some kick it was nothing compared to what it was after some time simmering.  My gracious husband ate his entire bowlful by taking a swig of milk between each bite then triumphantly yelling "FINISHED!" when he reached the end.

Alongside I made vegetable fritters with a curry lime yogurt dip - think latkes with many more vegetables.  I relished in the thought of my boys scarfing down vegetables for dinner and even explained to my son they are like pancakes and even come with "dippies" on the side.  He didn't object - even took a bite.  And here's where the expletives come in.  Alright, expletives was a total coy to get you to read, but in all honestly what he said should be considered expletives at the dinner table.  First was "This is disgusting!"  Well, unaware that he even knew what this word was, my husband and I failed in our parenting skills and both burst out laughing. Now egged on by the laughter, he followed it up with "Pee-you!" and "That's Gross!".  I did compose myself enough to instruct that he is never to react that way when someone cooks for him, but still allowed another night of noodles for dinner.  Apparently the boy has his mother's love of Indian food in him.  I, however, did not mind the fritters nearly as much and my husband even raved about the dip.  For being some of the most dreaded meals on the list, the night could have been much worse.

- Chana Masala
- Indian-Spiced Vegetable Fritters