Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Coming Soon...

This blog, which I have neglected for so long, is getting a makeover and a new address.

See you there!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Still Cooking.

So, I could start this post off by apologizing profusely for my absence. I'm the worst blogger, sorry I never update, blah blah blah.

Or I could just skip all that and get into it.

Here's some stuff that's happened since last time:

1. David and I are getting married. I KNOW, RIGHT? We're deep in the forest of wedding-planning with approximately 4 months to go until the happy day. I am artsing and crafting all over the place. I am weeping over caterers. I am keeping a running list of songs to play at the reception. And I am loving the hell out of my fiancé. Planning a wedding is one of the most enormous, exhausting, exhilerating things I have ever done.

2. David is in graduate school for his MBA (Masters of Business Administration).

3. I am still working for the state if Minnesota (39 hours per week, y'all) and still loathing every moment of it.

4. I've cooked some pretty damn amazing things in the last year.

5. But maybe not quite as awesome as what David made me for dinner tonight. This was his first Saturday off since January and he probably won't have another one until the wedding (September 1, 2012!) We really took advantage of every moment.

We slept in until 8:00am (for people who normally get up around 5:00am, this was heavenly) and went grocery shopping first thing to get it out of the way. It was supposed to start raining later in the day, but the morning--although cloudy and crisp--was clear. We headed to the park to play catch for an hour.

Afterward, we came home and watched some TEDtalks on food systems and agriculture (we are food people. Um, clearly) while drinking beer and working on wedding arts and crafts.

Yes! (A quick aside; bear with me).

In the interest of saving money while simultaneously indulging my inner craft-whore, I decided to make all of the decorations for our wedding reception!

I'm making paper flowers out of book pages (David and I are also book people) and using paint chips swiped from hardware stores to make garlands. Here's a sneak peak:

ANYWAY. Around 3:30pm we packed up the art supplies and spent the next four hours making dinner. Actually, David spent the next four hours making dinner, and I kept him company and documented things on Instagram. Here's how our evening went, start to finish:

Lamb shank stewed with caramelized onions, prunes, and garlic, topped with mint and served with an Israeli couscous with quinoa, parsley, shallots, and toasted pine nuts. ***

Recipes adapted (rather loosely) from: 

Am I the luckiest, or what?

***We didn't realize this until after the fact, but this is basically the Lamb Stew with Dried Plums that Katniss is so obsessed with in THE HUNGER GAMES. She is correct; it's freaking amazing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Homemade Samoas! Happy Birthday, Maura!

I used to challenge my younger sister to popsicle eating contests when we were kids. 

"I bet I can eat my popsicle faster than you can!" I'd say, and she would totally buy it. Maura would risk a cold headache and chattering teeth to finish her popsicle first. Me? My intention was never to "win." I'd slurp mine as slowly as I could, enjoying every sweet, dripping lick I had left while Maura looked sadly on with nothing but an empty stick and a sticky face. I pretty much did it just to torture her. 

If you ask her, I'm sure she's got plenty of similar stories about all the crummy things I did to her in our childhood, since I was older and had the advantage of experience and overactive imagination on my side. (Maura, I am really, really sorry that I tricked you into giving me your favorite troll doll. And also that I made you switch Popples with me because yours was way cuter). 

Despite it all (don't worry, she gave as good as she got), my sister is one of my dearest friends and makes me laugh like no one else can. Her scathing wit and sharp insight make for the best phone conversations, her sense of style is impeccable and enviable, and she inspires me constantly with her creativity and perseverance. I am proud to have her in my life, as both a sister and a friend. 

So when she requested homemade Girl Scout cookies for her birthday this year, I didn't bat an eyelash (I also totally kept several of them for myself). 

Homemade Samoas

Shortbread Cookies:

2 Cups flour
1 cup of butter (softened)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 Cup powdered sugar

Cream butter and sugar. Add flour and salt to form a dough. Wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Roll out dough to roughly 1/8th of an inch and use cookie cutters or the rim of a glass to cut cookies into the traditional ringed shapes (Sprinkle counter liberally with powdered sugar to prevent sticking). Bake on parchment paper for 8-10 minutes or until bottoms are just golden and tops are still pale. Let cool completely.

Coconut Topping:

1 lb sweetened shredded coconut
1 stick butter
1 Cup sugar
1/2 Cup heavy whipping cream

Preheat oven to 350. Spread coconut on a baking sheet and toast coconut until lightly golden brown, flipping several times to prevent burning. 

Make a caramel sauce (CAUTION: SUGAR WILL BE EXTREMELY HOT!): Melt sugar in a heavy-bottomed pan over steady, medium-low heat--whisking constantly--until amber-colored. Add butter. When all the butter has melted remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the cream (the caramel will froth violently, just keep stirring). 

Set aside 1/2 Cup of caramel sauce, and combine the rest with the toasted coconut. 

To Assemble:

Brush the tops of cooled cookies with caramel, then spread the caramel coconut mixture on top and allow to set completely. Melt some high-quality dark chocolate in a double-boiler and dip the bottom of each cookie in the melted chocolate. Pipe chocolate stripes across the top of the cookies with a piping bag or a ziploc with the corners cut off. 


A very happy 26th birthday to my little sister, Maura. I hope the cookies were just want you wanted! I love you!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Some Days Are More Difficult Than Others (A Boyfriend Post)

For those of you who know Kelly Riley, you know she's been taking her punches lately on the career front. That's twice now a certain local publisher has treated her--in my mind--with a lot less respect than she deserves. If you go back a few Fridays, not only did this publisher finally communicate that she didn't get the much desired position Kelly has wanted since moving to Minnesota, but the her current/not-current/current employer was also toying around with this lovely person.

It's a difficult thing to watch when someone you love is being treated so poorly by people she is better than. And there can be a feeling of helplessness knowing there is not much you can do about it. On this specific Friday, however, I took it upon myself to do what I could within my power to make sure this difficult day didn't get any worse than it already was--I arrived home after work on that Friday with a bag full of culinary delights and flowers.

In the grocery bag were a few of her favorite things: there was cheesecake, there was lemon ice cream and the ingredients for a delicious home cooked meal too. Chicken, lemons, cream, butter, potatoes and cheese--there are just a few of her favorite things. Do you see a theme here? We got cooking and had gnocchi and chicken with a lemon cream sauce! Oh and a "Kelly Riley Salad" made of iceberg lettuce, red bell peppers and cucumber with a light, homemade vinaigrette. It turned out to be a wonderful evening. We hung-out in our kitchen, worked together to create a meal and for a few brief hours Kelly forgot her woes.

Just because you get some release doesn't mean the difficult things in life go away. That's how things work, though, and we all learn to work through every day in our own way. As you can see, our household focuses on food--and here we come to the following night's meal and the recipe of this post: Pasta with Chestnuts, Pancetta and Sage via Epicurious.

We happened--don't shun us because this might sound pretentious--to have a jar of chestnuts in the pantry and pancetta in the freezer. Though we didn't have the called-for tagliatelle, we did have some angle hair pasta on hand. So, Saturday being Saturday, we opened a bottle of wine and began that evening's work. Mise-en-place is common phrase at our place. While Kelly watched, talked and listened we had Girl Talk on in the background and the preparations began.

The recipe called for 'crumbling' the chestnuts. When you see a jar of nuts, you don't usually associate that word with the limitations of what you can do with the ingredient. The things crumbled with ease however, since they are already roasted and ready to go. Very convenient!

From there it was easy--chop, dice, grate and you're ready.

Then you saute, boil, toss and it's done!

Some days are more difficult than others.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Love = Laminated Dough

Traditions are important--birthday traditions even more so. In my house the very best birthday tradition is that you get to eat whatever you want. I can't remember the last time I celebrated my birthday with a traditional frosted cake.  Infancy, perhaps. For me? Cheesecake all the way. I'm a loyalist, too, so it's cheesecake every single year. Sometimes I'll switch the flavor up a bit--plain cheesecake, raspberry swirl, salted caramel, whatever strikes my fancy.

My birthday isn't until July, though, so cheesecake will have to wait. (Sorry. Didn't mean to get your hopes up, there).

David's birthday was in March, though, and he definitely knew what he wanted:

Croissants. I love croissants. I love the girl who bakes croissants. And she must love me--otherwise, why would she make them for me? They were damn good.

One of our annual traditions is making a food item for one another on their birthday. I think the initiation of the tradition happened when I made fresh Cod with sun-dried tomato tartar sauce (at the end of the night I found out Kelly doesn't like sun-dried tomatoes...or tartar sauce) and fresh fava and jalapeno salad (she doesn't like beans either). She enjoyed the meal and in subsequent years began baking for me on my birthday. She's an excellent baker.

Kelly had previously mentioned (numerous times) that she had always wanted to make croissants. So why not provide an opportunity? 

This year, when she asked what I wanted I immediately replied "marzipan croissants". Hell yeah. When I lived in Germany, I used to go to this bakery for breakfast whenever I had class in the schloss. I used to get two things: a warm marzipan croissant and a warm ham and cheese croissant.  So damn good. The only issue: what's marzipan? Well, in Germany it's almond paste. An almond paste that by law (yes, by law, much like the Reinheitsgebot) is two parts ground almond to one part sugar, only additional flavoring allowed being rosewater. Apparently here, Kelly discovered, marzipan is a type of almond dough. More for baking independently or as part of cake, than stuffing pastry. After some additional research on both sides, we agreed that Kelly would make an almond paste then.

As such we spent the better part of my birthday proper sitting around the house, relaxing and every few hours beating butter or folding and rolling dough with butter. It was a fun, long process. But worthwhile. The almond paste was spectacular by itself. Baked into homemade croissant: amazing.

So. Croissants. From scratch. What had I gotten myself into?

Croissants are a lengthy ordeal centered on something terrifying called "laminated dough." Essentially, that means that you make a dough and layer it with butter about a thousand times. When you put the croissants in the oven the butter melts, leaving flaky pockets behind. Mmmm.

I'd never made a laminated dough before, and they're rumored to be pretty high maintenance. Keep the butter and your work surfaces cold! Work fast and roll out accurately! Don't panic!

Luckily there's a built-in step in the croissant-making process to help you get out all your fear and anxiety. Beating the butter!

1. This is the first video I ever took with my phone, and it shows. Apparently it doesn't reorient itself the way the regular camera does?
2. "Pasturized" butter. Obviously, the butter is pasturized! What I meant to say is that the butter was made using milk from pasture-fed cows. David thinks this mix-up is hilarious.
3. Unintentional cleavage shot. Sorry!

After that, things just seemed to fall into place...

The verdict?

The very best part is that David had the brilliant idea to freeze the shaped croissants before the rise. That means we have a whole stockpile of croissants in our freezer and we can just take them out, thaw, rise, and bake 'em, and have fresh, homemade croissants on a whim! As a matter of fact, we had some for breakfast this morning. DELICIOUS.

Happy, happy birthday, my love! Hope your croissants are everything you wished for! I am so excited and also terrified to see what you'll request next year...

I have to say that making these was a blast. Time-consuming? Yes, but not nearly as scary as I thought they'd be. Rather than try to detail the process here, I'm going to redirect you to Julie's excellent tutorials at Willow Bird Baking.

I've been reading her bog for over a year. She issued a croissant challenge to all of her readers, and without  her encouragement and painstaking instructions and photo tutorials, I wouldn't have known where to begin. If you want to make croissants look through all of her amazing suggestions and success stories and get in the kitchen:

I made my own almond paste using this recipe: 
(I also used the orange vanilla simple syrup in that recipe to glaze the croissants before baking so the almond slices would stick to the top).