Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Valentine's Day Dinner

I was fully intending on doing a practice run the week before making Valentine's Day dinner for my boyfriend, but I was prevented by the "Snowpocalypse" as they are now calling it. I had decided on a recipe for Rack of Lamb weeks ago, and I had my heart set on doing it, so instead of backing out, I enlisted the help of my boyfriend for the scary parts (i.e. cutting the meat). I would have done it myself, if I had been able to practice, but it was a $55 piece of meat and I wasn't about to mess it up. The directions for stuffing the lamb were surprisingly clear and easy to follow. Using a wooden spoon to widen the hole and push down the stuffing was quite clever. I just wish I had prepared it earlier so the lamb could have marinated for longer. (Tip: While we were waiting for the lamb to marinate, we toasted a some french bread, lathered on some olive tapenade and covered it with the remains of the feta cheese stuffing.) The only thing lacking in that particular recipe, which was mentioned by one of the reviewers, is that the cooking times are off. The recipes says to cook the lamb for 25 minutes, but my 2.5 lb piece of meat took more than an hour. It did occur to me that maybe the directions are supposed to read "25 minutes per pound". 

Only the day before did I decide on stuffed peppers for the side dish. I wanted to continue the Greek theme with the peppers, which are stuffed with orzo, mint, tomatoes and pecorino romano cheese. They were really easy to make and instead of cooking all the peppers right away, we saved the stuffing to make fresh peppers later in the week. 

We ended the meal with pears poached in brandy and cloves with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. We cut the pears in half and took out the seeds. Then, using the last of my boyfriend's Napoleon Brandy, a dash of cloves, and a hint of lemon juice, we simmered the pears on low heat for at least forty minutes ( they felt soft when poked with a fork). Served a la mode - it was quite decadent

I will post actual pictures soon - I just have to pull them off the camera!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Vegetable Fried Rice

When my roommate invited a friend over for potluck dinner, I soon thought of vegetable fried rice as the perfect mish mosh of whatever vegetables people bring with them. We used jasmine rice fried in sesame oil and soy sauce, scrambled eggs, onions, celery, carrots, canned peas and bell peppers. Also red pepper flakes in the rice gave it the slightest kick. Yummy!
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Taste Explosion!


Today, we turned pureed pumpkin into a Gourmet meal. Here's how:

J & A's Pumpkin Sausage Ziti 

Ingredients

Ziti, or any other tubular pasta 
Andouille Italian Sausage (1 link per person)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Garlic, 1 clove
White Wine, a splash
1/2 cup vegetable broth
10-15 oz pumpkin (1 small can)
3/4 cup 2% milk
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1/8 tsp Cinnamon
Coarse Salt and Pepper, to taste
Parsley, a pinch

Instructions

1. Heat olive oil in a deep saucepan until hot, add garlic
2. Add white wine and simmer
3. Add some vegetable broth and all of pureed pumpkin into pan
4. Allow sauce to reduce, stirring occasionally, and slowly add in more broth
5. When it starts to bubble, add in the milk
6. Add spices and seasonings
7. Allow sauce to simmer and reduce
8. Saute sausage links in a separate pan and heat water for pasta
9. Cut sausage into bite size pieces and cook pasta as directed
10. When the sausage is cooked, the sauce reduced, and the pasta is al dente, everyone serve themselves a gourmet treat!



"23° F Snow/Blowing Snow" and We Make Cake!

After my last post, I decided to be very selective in picking my next recipe - a yellow cake. Food Network had nothing resembling a basic yellow cake, while All Recipes had dozens of versions that were all just slightly different! After looking through reviews, I could not find a yellow cake recipe that did not have at least five reviews claiming it tasted like cornbread and five more who found it dry and tasteless. I ended up searching for Butter Cake instead, and chose a recipe that achieved a rating of 4.5 out of 5 with 100 reviews. Still on my guard for cornbread character and dry, tastelessness, I read through the reviews. Several people suggested adding an extra egg or egg yolk, so I added an egg yolk. At least one person suggested doubling the vanilla and I figured - why not? With the cupcakes ready to bake, my roommate and I had a last-minute urge to add food coloring and you can see the results....Personally, I think it looks like a griffin or a pegasus or something, but I may just have a creative imagination.


The cupcakes cooked up really fast actually - after about 20 minutes.  The loaf pan, meanwhile, is still in the oven. It is way past the 55 minutes that was prescribed, and the knife is not coming out clean. That said, I live in a college apartment with a poor quality stove, so it should not be surprising. 

More Snow, More Food!

I'm not sure that I have mentioned that I started cutting out recipes from magazines and putting them in an empty, old photo album. Well, it has been interesting to say the least. I have been disappointed with how some of them have turned out, (See Squash Casserole) while others were pretty tasty (See Holiday Fruit Pies). But to be honest, the recipes that are consistently good are the ones that are online. When I go to a site like allrecipes.com and there are rave reviews about the Molasses Cookies, I know they are gonna be amazing. And even better, a lot of the comments are very constructive - reviewers discuss substitutions they made and try to clarify some of the directions. It's kind of like Peer Review in scientific journals - as people test this "chemical reaction" they are checking the validity of the experiment and making it better! 

Yesterday, I made Macaroni and Cheese from scratch. I had a recipe from Rachel Ray in my recipe book/photo album that used 3/4 lb of gruyere cheese, which I just happened to have way too much of because I absolutely love it. Just from the picture she supplies, I was a little skeptical.  

The lack of color struck me right away and when I looked at reviews online, many people had added vegetables and pork or chicken. However, I was not deterred, and I think our version was much more appetizing.  

It's just not quite as beige!

Monday, February 8, 2010

No School - I'm making Cookies!


The urge to bake has not left and after dinner today I could not wait to make molasses cookies! When I look on my shelves at all the spices and sauces I have accumulated recently, I am quite impressed with how much I have really become a Cook. When one of my roommates is missing an ingredient to make dinner, it is not unlikely I will be able to find it in one of the five or six places that I hide away food. Even more exciting to me is when I try to make a recipe and have no way of getting the ingredients, I am able to throw something together anyways with the ingredients I have. I made crab cakes last week and we had neither old bay nor hot sauce nor dijon mustard. Instead, I used yellow mustard packets from the convenience store, I added lots of fresh black pepper and some Worchestershire sauce, and baked them up!
Today, I just got lucky because I had molasses and sugar and flour and spices. The recipe was your typical cookie recipe...beat wet ingredients, combine dry, mix together. But it does ask that you refrigerate the dough for an hour before you bake it. Well, being the impatient baker that I am, I ate the batter and I baked some of the dough right away. They were very doughy, but they were delicious. The later batches that had been refrigerated were more crispy, but still a little chewy inside. 

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snowed in and making Meringues


The University of Maryland probably got 3 feet of snow yesterday, and barely any stores are open. However, with my determination to bake, I found a recipe that only required a minimal number of ingredients. The recipe we used to make meringues is a very basic one - egg whites, sugar, cream of tartar, lemon zest and salt. But we added in cocoa powder and instant coffee to some of them to create a little more variety. They turned out amazing! We made the cookies really big, so we left them in for ten extra minutes, but other than that the recipe was really easy and accurate. I thought it would be funny to keep them in an old empty meringue container - but I am probably the only one who finds it immensely cool!