Monday, January 25, 2010

Cupcakes, Frittatas, and the Melting Pot

What a lovely weekend. It was calm and relatively low stress. Not only did I get to spend time with Jeremy, but I also got to bake (and eat) all these yummy treats. First, a few words about my latest crockpot dinner, Chianti braised short ribs. I decided to use some spinach and risotto to finish out this dish, as I'm on a total risotto kick and Jeremy hadn't been around to taste my last round.

The short ribs came out fairly well. I really enjoyed the sauce and tomatoes that they were cooked in, though I think next time I'll use pork spare ribs or try to find some bison ribs. Not that these were bad, I just don't think I'm into beef short ribs that much. To me they were a little dry, just a hair. One thing I did learn though, was to sear your meat in a sauce pan first before putting it in the crock pot. This will coat the outside in that nice flavorful crust, if you will. Similar to what you would do with a steak.

I also took some time this weekend to make some king cake (from scratch) as well as snickerdoodle cupcakes. Let me tell you, these cupcakes are awesome. The recipe is from Martha Stewart and can be found HERE.

The recipe makes 24 cupcakes, however, since I was taking them to work, I decided to make mini cupcakes so more people could enjoy them. Plus, they make wonderful bite size snacks throughout the day. Also, I would cut the seven-minute frosting recipe in half. Man, it makes a LOT of frosting. As I was frosting these yesterday, I thought to myself, man it's a shame to throw all this frosting away, I should do something with it. So I put the remaining frosting in a container and into the fridge. Because it's a marshmallow/meringue type frosting, I wasn't sure how it would hold up, but I though I'd give it a try. Well I'm so glad I did this, because this morning I woke to a mess on the floor and a very guilty looking cat. Now the story goes like this...

I wake up this morning and grab the king cake and the cupcakes to put them near the door (lest I forget them). At this point I realize that I have the cupcakes that were in cake caddy, but I couldn't find the ones that I had just wrapped up with aluminum foil. They weren't on the table, in the kitchen, on the chair, nowhere. At first I thought I was loosing my mind, surely they didn't just disappear... did they? Then the light bulb goes off. I slowly walk myself over to the dining room table and peer over the edge to the back side. Yep, there they are, laying upside down. UGH! I step closer to examine the damage. They are still contained in the tin and foil, more or less, but there are distinct tears in the foil as if some little creature was trying to get at that fluffy white icing. I turn my head and said little creature is peering through the doorway looking at me clean up this mess. After we had a little "discussion", and she could sense the anger in my eyes, she took off under the bed and hid for the rest of the morning. Probably a smart decision. Anyway, I managed to salvage 12 of the 24 cupcakes that fell and then was very grateful that I kept the remaining icing from the previous night. I managed to remove all the icing from the 12 salvaged cupcakes and re-icing them doing a half-ass, but probably not too bad, of a job. I think people at work will still like them, even though the icing isn't perfect. See the above picture for what they looked like, pre Malachi attack.

Also this weekend I whipped up a king cake (see above mention) as well as a breakfast frittata (eggs, bacon, shallots, cheese, bacon, green onion, bacon, potatoes... and bacon). Garnish with avocado and Greek yogurt.

To make one of these, I used a mandolin (not the musical instrument) to slice up some potatoes and fry those up in a cast iron (or other oven proof) skillet. Also add green peppers, onions, garlic, shallots, bacon, meat, whatever else you want. When these are about done pour over 5-6 eggs scrambled. (I add pepper, pinch of salt, turmeric, and cumin to my eggs during beating). You'll want to let the bottom of the frittata set up carefully pulling the sides away and allowing some of the egg to slide down and cook. After it's beginning to set up, (top may still be liquid) add some cheese and stick in the oven on a rack 6" from the top. Broil for 3-4 minutes, watching it until it turns brown in color. Ta da. Frittata.

I realize this post is getting long, so I'll just quickly update you on our melting pot experience. Jeremy and I went last Friday night, for the first time. It was a LOT of food... and expensive. We got the 'big night out' special, which includes a cheese fondue, salad, meat course with your choice of broth fondue (NY strip, lobster, ravioli, shrimp, fillet minion, wurst, chicken), and a chocolate fondue. To me, the best part was the cheese. I'd love to go back for happy hour and just do cheese fondue and drinks. The chocolate was also very tasty, though we were quite full at that point.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A quick jaunt to PA for the weekend

Last weekend I headed home to PA to spend some time with my parents and my friend, Karen, and her family. After some hiccups with the flights into Allentown, I made my way to Philly Thursday night and had my parents pick me up there at 11:00 at night. Fortunately, they were more than willing to make the drive down, and they even brought me warm turkey dinner, as I hadn't eaten since 11am.

Friday morning came quickly and it was time to prep for the event of the day... a magic show for two 7 year old birthdays. Karson and Ky turned 7 last week, so as a present to them (and 60 of their classmates) I did a magic show at their school. Now, what you must remember is that I haven't done a magic show in about 6 years... maybe more... probably more. Though I never got nervous, there were definitely some parts of the show that I had to review and practice prior to the 1pm start time. Thanks to our friend, Jud, we were able to acquire a rabbit, as ours are no longer with us. Let me tell you, these kids were great. I like I mentioned before, there were about 60 kids (all first grade or kindergarten) and they were so excited. I really think I could have just stood up there and done nothing and they would have been thrilled. Karson and Ky enjoyed coming on stage to help, although Karson was really shy. Both girls did a great job. If you want to see more of the pictures from the show, check out the Magic set on my flickr page HERE.

On Saturday morning, Dad and I got up real early and headed to the local ski slope. One thing to know, is that you've gotta get to Blue Mountain early on the weekends, because by about 11am the crowds are so bad that it takes like 20 minutes to wait in a lift line... or longer. The skiing was actually pretty decent especially on the "older" trails, where no one likes to hang out anymore, and the weather was just perfect. They're really doing a lot with that mountain, always adding new trails (2 new ones since last year). This year they've gone and taken it one step further... an airbag! So the deal is this, you ski (or hike) to the top of a small hill, point your skis straight, go down the hill, up the jump and fly off into an airbag. Well let me tell you, it was AWESOME!

Of course you have to pay extra to use this thing, so I went and got myself a pass for 3 jumps. You can buy a day pass, but I knew we weren't gonna stay long, and quite frankly, I was pretty nervous. Mainly, I just didn't want to break a leg or something. After borrowing a helmet from the staff there (and getting reassurance that I would not break my leg), I hiked myself to the top of this little hill and summoned my courage. Here's a video of my first jump.

As you can tell, I was just doing whatever I could to a) not stop or slow down, and b) land on the airbag some distance away from the jump. After landing, I think I had the biggest smile on my face. It was awesome! In fact I was so excited that I decided to just go right into trying some helicopters (360's). Keeping in mind that I've never successfully done one of these on the ground, I figured this was the best place to try it out.

My next two jumps went well, but I only managed to get myself around to about 90 deg on the first try and 180 deg on the second try. After this some guy watching told me that the key to twisting is to turn your head first. So stupid, of course! Why had I not thought of that. It was at this point that I was done with my 3 jumps and it was time to go. But as I turned to my father, I could see that look in his eyes. He was too scared to try the jumps at first, but after seeing me do it, I could tell he longed to try. So I asked him. "Would you like to do it, I can go in and get two more passes for 3 jumps each." (still total less than a day pass cost) To which he responded "noooooo, it's okay." Which really meant "yes, I want to try it, but no, i don't want to make you walk back into the lodge to get a pass." Well before I could hear any more, I had my skis off and was making my way down the hill into the lodge. (btw - all this hiking in my ski boots really killed my calves. I was so sore for the next three days, I thought I wan't gonna be able to walk). So I acquired two more passes and we took off up the hill. Here's the video of my dad doing his first jump. This is the perspective from the start and it gives you an idea how you land into the airbag.

After his first jump, he too started playing around doing daffy's and having fun. Finally on my last jump I managed to get around 360 deg, and although the landing wasn't pretty (that is, if I were on snow, I would have probably face planted), I was proud of myself. I'm so excited that I got a chance to do this. I really wish they had something like that down here in TX, because I know I'd be doing it all the time. And if I still lived in PA, I would totally buy a season pass for this thing. (oh yea, there's only two rules... you must have a helmet, and you can't do any inverted flips. So don't be like "why didn't you try flipping"... I wasn't allowed). Here's a video of my final jump.

For some other pictures check out my ski set on flickr HERE.

Oh and don't forget. Please help me raise money for the MS150 this year! I'm already at $950 and I'm trying to get over $1500. You can follow the link HERE to donate to this great cause!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rack of Lamb, Kiwi Mint Sauce, and Wild Mushroom Risotto

Mmmm doesn't it just make your mouth water? I love lamb, it's so succulent, and now that I know how to make risotto, I just don't see any reason to ever make plain white rice again. Last Thursday I made this for my friend Christen. It turned out awesome. I've done this lamb recipe before, but the risotto part was new for me. Sure, it takes about 25 minutes and a lot of patience to cook, but it's so worth it. Also, the kiwi mint sauce/salsa came out much better since I let the wine properly reduce and turn into more of a syrup.

Here is the recipe that I used for the lamb. I'd recommend 2-3 pieces per person, though three pieces plus the risotto was almost too much. (but of course I ate it all!)

1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup raspberry vinegar
1/3 cup fresh lime juice (i actually use a bit less)
2 cups chopped fresh mint leaves
4 kiwis, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon finely grated lime zest
2 racks of lamb with about 7 bones each
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp ground pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 cups fresh bread crumbs
1/2 cup melted butter

In a small saucepan, combine sugar, raspberry vinegar and lime juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes (or until reduces to a syrup). Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. When cool, add mint, kiwi, and lime zest. Chill until serving time.

Place racks of lamb in roasting pan or on boiler pan. Convect Roast at 400 degF for 20 minutes. Remove from oven after 20 minutes and let cool slightly.

Brush cooled lamb with Dijon mustard, sprinkle with minced garlic, pepper, and thyme. In a small bowl, combine parsley, bread crumbs and melted butter. Coat the lamb generously with the crumb mixture. Return lamb to oven and roast for 20 minutes longer. At this point the lamb will be about medium rare (145 deg). Remove from oven and cover loosely with foil and allow to stand for 5 minutes before cutting.

Serve with kiwi mint sauce.

Now I know what you're thinking. Great, now I can make the lamb, but how about that risotto. Okay, okay, here ya go. This one I got from, but I modified it a little.

4 cups (32 oz) chicken broth (I recommend Kitchen Basics unsalted)
2 tablespoons olive oil
diced mushrooms (whatever kind you like best)
1-2 shallots diced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/3 cup white wine (since I wasn't drinking white wine this evening, I just used some basic cooking wine)
ground pepper to taste
2 1/2 tablespoons butter (set out on the counter to soften before you start the risotto)
3 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a pot warm the broth over low heat and keep warm.

Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft (about 3 minutes). Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the shallots. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. When the rice has turned a pale, golden color, pour in the wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente (about 15-20 minutes).

This takes time. Don't be afraid if the liquid looks like it isn't being absorbed. Give it a few minutes, you'll be surprised how much liquid that little amount of rice can absorb. When I made it, it took about 20 minutes to get through the 4 cups of broth, but with each addition and absorption, the rice took on a thicker consistency as its natural starches were released.

Once finished, take the skillet off the heat and stir in the mushrooms (and any mushroom liquid), butter (sliced), and the Parmesan cheese. Garnish with mint (or other fresh herb) and serve.


Monday, January 11, 2010

I love me some food...

After a long weekend of eating out, Sunday we decided that it would be best to eat in. So for breakfast I put together this caprese omelette. Basically it's an omelette made with basil, tomatoe, and mozzarella. I added pepper and cumin to the eggs, but in retrospect I should have added a bit more. I was very proud of the way this one turned out (although the picture isn't great). The most important part was how much I whisked the eggs. I beat the hell out of them (and added about 1/2 a tablespoon of water per egg to the mixture). The more ya beat 'em the more fluffy they'll be. (disclaimer: I'm only referring to eggs here, no humans or babies were harmed in the making of this omelette).

On Sunday Jeremy was very excited about using his new crock-pot. So we decided to head over to HEB in the morning and grab a pork shoulder and make some pulled pork sandwiches. Unfortunately they only had 6.5 lb pork shoulders and the lady at the butcher counter didn't seem very willing to help me out by cutting a smaller piece. So we decided that it would be a good opportunity to call our friends and have a small get together. When you have 6.5 lbs of pork on your hands, it just seems logical to call your friend, Moose, to help you out. Though I should say, 4 people and 8 pork sandwiches later, and there was still half the pork left. This is my favorite pulled pork recipe so I will share it with you here:

Pulled Pork (a la Bonnie)
x lbs of pork shoulder or pork butt (we used a 5 qt. crock-pot and 6.5 lbs was almost too much to fit)
Bull's Eye BBQ Sauce (Origional)
Pineapple Juice

Cut the pork into 2ish pound chunks. Place in crock pot. Pour over BBQ sauce and some pineapple juice. My mom uses a 1:1 ratio, but I prefer to make it a bit less sweet and we used about a 2:1 ratio of BBQ sauce : pineapple juice. Or basically 1 small bottle of BBQ sauce and about 6oz of pineapple juice. we also added a bit of water. You want to bring the liquid mixture about 3/4 up the way of the pork. Cook in crock pot on high for about 5-6 hours or on low about 8 hours (I just put it on in the morning before work, and it's nice and tender when I get home). When it falls off the bone and you can easily pull it apart with a fork, you know it's done.

Speaking of food. My boss showed me this great website today. Taste Spotting. I've already found a bunch of great recipes and I can't wait to look for more. Also, the link is conveniently located on the side of my blog in the blog roll.

Finally I bring up one more subject for ya'll. Le Creuset vs. Tramontina. Supposedly there's this company, Tramontina, from China that's making these dutch ovens very similar to the ones made by Le Creuset. Now, I haven't used either of them, yet, but I have read reviews that say the $50 Tramontina is just as good as the $250 Le Creuset, cooking wise. Since I haven't seen the Tramontina pieces up close, I can't comment on the looks of them yet. It will be interesting to see if they are as nice and functional as the Le Creuset pieces. Personally, I'm still looking forward to owning my own Le Creuset piece sometime in the near future. Though I am curious about not only this Tramontina stuff, but also this other brand that I saw at Bed Bath and Beyond this weekend called Fontignac. If you have experience with any of these, please let me know what you think.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A New Year, A New Blog Format

I decided it was time for a change. What do you think of the new format?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Orleans... and the MS150


Well the decade is over, and I think we can all agree that we are ready for 2010. Though personally I can't complain much. This decade I got my kitty, Malachi, finished college with my Masters Degree, bought a house, bought a new car, got a kick ass job, found a wonderful boyfriend, gained an extended family, lost said extended family (not a bad thing), and got to travel.. a lot!

So, in order to start this new decade off right, we had to do something super fun. So Jeremy and I decided on new years eve that we would go to New Orleans for the weekend :) We went on Expedia, got a hotel, and took off at 6am new years day for a 5.5 hr car ride to Bourbon Street. Our trip was awesome! We stayed for 2 nights and saw a ton of live music each day and into the night. We saw a lot of Jazz including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. We also saw a band called Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers. You should definitely check out their CD 'Up in Flames' on iTunes. In addition to the guitar, bass and drums, they have an accordion and a washboard. Very unique and very high energy.

While in town we also spent time at Cafe' Du Monde (of course), and walked around the garden district. . We took the St. Charles trolley of death to get down there. Man, those things are old. We also picked up some nice art in Jackson Square. I'm hoping to get it framed sometime soon (maybe even tonight). Also, here's a fact of interest if you are visiting New Orleans... use the free parking at Harrah's casino. So the deal is this, you park your car in the garage and then enter the casino. Ask for a free total rewards card. Go gamble for 30 minutes (we played the penny slots) and then go back to the rewards desk. If you play for 30 minutes they'll validate you're parking for you for 24 hours. We did this and it was a great deal. The second day I even won $1.25 while playing my 30 minutes. Each day you just have to go back, move the car out of the garage and pull it back in with a new ticket to get validated. Super easy and way nicer than paying $30 to park for the night. Thanks to Ami and Randy for telling us about this one.

If you want, check out all the pictures on my flickr page HERE.

Oh and before I forget. Help me raise money for the MS150 this year! I'm already at $950 and I'm trying to get over $1500. You can follow the link HERE to donate to this great cause!