Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mr birthdaybirthday!

Yes, our birthdays are 12 days apart. It's a little tricky- I go way overboard for my birthday, and my husband is very nonchalant about his. I want a huge party, with lots of food and cupcakes and balloons and streamers and presents, and he wants to go out for dinner and if there happens to cake, that's cool. You can imagine how my birthday might overshadow anything.

Clint's birthday started out as kind of a hectic day. We'd been at the beach for 5 days, got back the afternoon before and had the night of kitchen accidents (I broke a pyrex dish by touching it, Clint cut his finger helping me clean up the glass shards, I bumped/scraped my head and saw stars, we worried I'd concussed myself).

Clint's breakfast was the last of this coffee cake apricot danish thing of deliciousness. With a candle stuck in it.

Which was much prettier once I took it off the baking pan and onto a platter, but I didn't get a picture of that. I followed Smitten Kitchen's recipe, substituting my apricot preserves for lemon curd, and omitting the pearl sugar (although after I made this danish/bread, I found that I can buy pearl sugar at the Swedish bakery for $4.99, so I'll never omit pearl sugar again). This danish thing was amazing, you have to try it. No, it's not particularly easy, but it's not too bad.

Mr birthdaybirthday had leftover bok choy stir fry for lunch (as did I).

I wanted to take him out for dinner (although when we have a joint bank account, it's really just "I'll take the credit cards points, dear"). I suggested going to the Sole Proprietor, partly because we can walk there, and partly because it was their lobster fest, but he chose Apsara, the new southeast Asian restaurant about 3 blocks from our house (bonus, it's a nice walk). Apsara is on Park Ave in Worcester.

I rarely photograph restaurant food these days- I've read a few things here and there, most recently in Bon Appetit, about how restaurant owners and staff get really annoyed at all the food bloggers disrupting everyone with camera flashes, and are insulted that they let the food get cold before digging in. So. (but oh, did I want to photograph- if it were busy, I would have, but there were only 6 other people in there).

Drinks: Clint ordered the Ha Tien, a tequila sunrise-looking concoction of guava juice, orange juice, pineapple juice, and at least 2 kinds of alcohol. It was tasty (the kind of tasty where you can down 3 of them without realizing they're rather potent). I had the ginger lime margarita, although it was a tough choice between that and the cucumber mint mojito (Mr birthdaybirthday is not a cucumber fan, so I chose the margarita in case he wanted to try). The ginger lime margarita is silver in color, and it was actually a very beautiful drink. And tasty.

Apps: summer rolls, served with hoisin sauce or peanut sauce. These are your typical fresh shrimp, lettuce, cucumber and cilantro summer rolls, very good. Not spectacular, but we were satisfied.

Clint: Clint had a seafood and rice noodle soup- I can only remember that it was called Phnem something. It had a salty, light seafoody broth, calamari, scallops and shrimp, and on the side was just about the hottest pepper sauce he'd ever had. He liked, very much.
Catherine: I had shaved beef pho. I was expecting more of a thai-like menu when we got in, but the dishes seemed more Chinese to me. (Technically, it's a Cambodian and Vietnamese restaurant. I'm completely unfamiliar with Cambodian food, and the only Vietnamese food I remember from eating at Pho Pasteur in Boston is pho and summer rolls). Since I dislike Chinese food, I stuck with the familiar pho. Which was the best pho I'd ever had. The broth was anise and spice- sweet (not sugar sweet), the beef was cooked perfectly, and it was served with hoisin and chili sauces on the side- hoisin and beef are amazing together. My pho also had rice noodles, bean sprouts, thai basil (omg yum, new favorite herb) and scallions. (and now I can't wait to make pho again, my previous batch pales in comparison to this, but I plan on figuring out ways to improve it)

I wanted the cake to be a surprise, since he thought he wasn't getting any birthday cake. So Mr birthdaybirthday decided to order the green tea and ginger creme brulee- omg yum! I love creme brulee anyway, but this was so much better than plain. It wasn't overpoweringly sweet, and it was interesting. And it had a great, thick and luxurious texture.

We waddled out of the restaurant, and were very glad for the chance to walk off the food (although the hill was unwelcome).

At home, I had to cook a bit to prepare for the weekend, so after a while, Mr birthdaybirthday was presented with 2 cupcakes from the Crown Bakery, the Swedish Bakery in Worcester (on Gold Star Blvd).
Cupcake 1: vanilla cupcake with a vanilla whipped frosting (halfway between frosting and whipped cream, and lightly lemon-flavored) with candied lemon peel and berries, and a surprise of lemon curd filling in the cupcake.

Cupcake 2: vanilla cupcake with fudgy chocolate frosting and a chocolate covered strawberry. Surprise- a vanilla custard filling.

Don't you love how they're square?

Beverage: lemonade! Mr birthdaybirthday is a big lemonade-maker (I bought him a juicer for our first Christmas together), but I'd never made it (unless you count Crystal Light). It was a noble first attempt.

1/2cup lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
3/4cup sugar, boiled with 2 cups water til boiling, then cooled
2 cups of ice water (fill up a 2 cup measuring cup with ice, then fill with cold water)

Stir together, pour in glasses with ice.

Next time, I'd like to add more lemon juice/reduce the water. The sweetness was perfect.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Beach knitting

I always tell people I write a cooking and crafting blog, and even though I knit just as much (if not more) than I cook, my readers would never know it. I've just returned from 5 lovely, lazy days at the beach, where I did nothing but knit, walk on the beach, swim, and eat. It was perfect.

I finished a pair of knee socks I began in April. I knit these because I love vickilicious' pair. These are "evening stockings for a young woman", from Knitting Vintage Socks, by Nancy Bush. I used size 1 needles and Gloss yarn in Winter Night from Knitpicks.
I immediately began a pair of socks for Clint. These are "Gentleman's Shooting Stockings", also from the Vintage Socks book. I'm using size 0 harmony wood dpns and Bamboo and Ewe from Joann's.

I actually finished the first sock last night, and started the second.  That's one sock per week.

I recently sent a red-themed swap package to a girl in Arkansas. She's a crocheter, and said in her questionnaire that she loves knitted socks, but can't knit herself. I thought, pah, I can never knit a pair of socks in time. Then I noticed on my questionnaire that I went on and on and on about how I love knitting socks, and I hardly knit anything else. I'm sure the swap coordinator paired us up for the socks! So I knit her anklets (and yes, I finished in plenty of time- she could have gotten full length socks, sigh).

I'm going away on a trip at the end of the week, so I'm trying to gather up enough knitting projects to get me through a one hour flight, a 5 hour flight, a 2 hour flight, all of the associated airport waiting and layovers, an hour bus/train (haven't decided yet) ride, and 5 full days in the car as we drive all over the midwest and back to the northeast. I think 3 pairs of socks should be sufficient.

I hope to use the pink and yellow yarn from this recent swap package for one pair, but I'm still deciding on patterns. I will likely knit at least one more pattern from Knitting Vintage Socks, but I want to use plainer yarns for those. I have some research to do before we leave.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

CSA! Weeks 1 and 2

We're now approaching week 3 of our CSA from the Many Hands Organic Farm in Barre, MA, and I haven't said a word about it.

So here we go, weeks 1 and 2.

Week 1 was exciting. We woke up (my 30 year old self is a little achier and tired in the morning, or maybe that's from eating the drunken fruit from the sangria), and Clint said, guess what today is!! I thought. I pondered. I said,...Wedne
sday? Duh, it's CSA day. Clint also researched ways to get there. There are 2 obvious/easy ways to go from our house, the annoying road and the pretty, woodsy, windy road. We chose the pretty road. We took an even windier road on the way back, Res
ervoir Rd, which, as you can guess, goes by a reservoir. So the drive itself was very pleasant. We pick up our share at an Episcopal church in Holden, about 15 min away from our house. Someone from MHOF comes with the bags and lines them all up in the function room of the church, and we all go and pick ours up within a certain time range. It's convenient.

Week 1 brought us:
A beautiful bok choy/chinese cabbage

scallions/green onions galore

5 heads of lettuce
itty bitty little white and red beets!
garlic scapes (hidden by the beet greens, sadly)
a large bag of baby spinach and mixed greens

and little tiny strawberries!

So... now what do we do?

First I used my garlic scapes. The CSA weekly e-newsletter includes a recommended recipe, and fortunately for me, the first week it was a recipe using the one ingredient I'd never heard of- the garlic scapes (which are... the stem of the garlic? We may have garlic scapes at grandma's house, there's some odd, garlic-scented thing growing by the door- we just have no idea where they came from).

White Bean and Garlic Scapes Dip From
1/3 cup sliced garlic scapes (3 to 4)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt, more to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more for drizzling.

1. In a food processor, process garlic scapes with lemon juice, salt and pepper until finely chopped. Add cannellini beans and process to a rough purée.

2. With motor running, slowly drizzle olive oil through feed tube and process until fairly smooth. Pulse in 2 or 3 tablespoons water, or more, until mixture is the consistency of a dip. Add more salt, pepper and/or lemon juice, if desired.

I used significantly less oil, and about 3T lemon juice total. The bean dip was thicker than hummus, and very, very tasty on carrots, cucumber spears, and crackers. Success!

Then we tried to use the kale. It was unfortunate.

I made these delicious bacon-wrapped pork medallions with cherry sauce that had been on my "recipes to make asap" list for quite some time. I served it with some leftover baguette and used the rest of the bacon (I made extra when I baked the bacon for the pork medallions) in the kale, which was first boiled in water, then added to a frying pan of onions and bacon sauteeing in the bacon fat, with some salt and pepper. The kale was overboiled and an unfortunate pukey green color. I won't pre-boil kale again (at least, not for 10 minutes).

The third CSA ingredient attempt was far better. We had salad.

I would love to tell you that more than just the lettuce in this salad was a CSA acquisition, I'd love to say the delicious salad dressing I made (I made!! Making salad dressings is very new for me) was from CSA herbs, but it was from the basil plant on my kitchen windowsill, which is still pretty cool.

Yes, I can apparently now grow basil.

I can also apparently make salad dressing.

1/2 cup basil
1 garlic clove (or a garlic scape!)
3T cider vinegar
1t dijon mustard

Combine all in a food processor and whizz. Turn it on, and drizzle in some olive oil- I don't like a lot of oil, so I used maybe 1.5-2T.

Fourth (and fifth) and finally, I took advantage of MHOF's recipe page, and found a delicious bok choy and scallion fried rice recipe, and a really interesting sauteed radish recipe.

Before I can tell you about this recipe, I need to introduce you to Week 2.

more scallions!
more lettuce!
snow and snap peas (good in the garlic scape bean dip)
massive amounts of dill
swiss chard
So I immediately set out to make dinner, using as many CSA ingredients as possible. Some of the week 1 stash was still in the fridge: bok choy, scallions, and one last garlic scape.

I made a bok choy and chicken stir fry with scallion fried rice.
(due to the length of this entry, just go there for the recipe. My changes: I used walnut instead of peanut oil (had walnut, no peanut), after removing the rice from the wok, I added 2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces, cooked that for a few minutes before adding the ginger, miso paste, garlic and dried jalapenos (instead of canned chili peppers), and used 2 4oz cans of mushrooms instead of fresh- we bought flat of canned mushrooms at BJ's a while ago.)

rice alone- it's very orange, and my rice was still a bit wet (why does brown basmati take so long to cook?!), so it was rather sticky. Still tasty.

The whole stir fry/fried rice dish. Yum!

I have to admit, I've never been a radish fan. I've only ever seen them sliced up on potato salad, or on a garden salad, and they seem like little discs of crunch, not flavor. When we got these in the CSA, I was a little confused, but since one of the main benefits of a CSA is to end up with new veggies and be completely obligated to eat them...

This was super easy.

1 bunch of radishes- chop the greens (they're a bit prickly, surprise), quarter the bulbs
chives (from my garden!)
1 garlic scape (instead of the recipe's green garlic- because what exactly is that? I need to grow garlic and figure out these garlic details)
1T butter
salt and pepper, as desired

Heat the butter in a frying pan. Add the quartered radishes, cook for a couple minutes. Add in the greens and herbs, cook for about 5 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Voila!

The radishes get kind of soft, kind of like a cooked onion, and are a little bitter, but at the same time, a little sweet. I think I'd like to try sauteing radishes with caramelized onions some time- we may get more radishes this week.

(I should note: the night of the bok choy stir fry and sauteed radishes, I magically made my 4 cup pyrex measuring cup explode simply by touching the handle, spilling glass shards all over the cabinet and floor (I'm so talented), and seriously bumped and cut my head on the stove top hood. It was pretty awesome.)

What's up next for Week 3? The weekly e-newsletter predicts more lettuce, more garlic scapes (YAY because that's my new favorite- more pictures to follow), peas, more herbs, and (gasp!) the first batch of raspberries!! Stay tuned to see what I do with it all! (raspberry, garlic scape and pea risotto, anyone? kidding)

oh ps- remember the tiny Week 1 strawberries? We ended up eating some, then I wanted to take half to share with my family, mostly so they could see the adorably tinyness. And they got a little ick. They're currently buried in our backyard, maybe they'll grow. We're not holding our breath, but it's better than chucking them down the garbage disposal (our compost attempts haven't been so great, we've mostly given up.)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I recently turned 30. To celebrate/mourn the occasion, I threw a standard Catherine-style posh cocktail party, with a few modifications over the standard hors d'ouerves and finger foods menu.

For one, I converted the pitcher of cosmos concept from a beverage into a cupcake. I also served meat, now that I'm no longer afraid of cooking it. And finally, I came close to providing an appropriate amount of food for the number of guests (the only thing we had unreasonable amounts of leftovers of were the fruit tartlets and old bay biscuits).

Pictured above, clockwise from the veggie platter:
veggies and onion dip
Stacey's naked pita chips
Asparagus tart (using refrigerated crescent rolls instead of puff pastry)
Maple kettle corn (I'm not pleased with the recipe- I'm not sure if I should give it to you until I've perfected it)
Fennel and melon wrapped in prosciutto (Giada's idea)
Avocado muffins (blocked by the flowers) (and note: you know how avocados always go bad before you eat them? Make this your my-avocados-need-to-get-used-NOW go-to recipe)
Spinach quiches (also blocked by the flowers)
Old bay cheese biscuits (recipe needs work before I share, but it was based on this recipe)
Caramelized onion tart (using cream cheese instead of ricotta)
Tomato tart (again with crescent rolls instead of puff pastry)

Here are the avocado muffins, quiches and old bay biscuits
the onion tart, tomato tart, skewers, and the veggies again,
and the asparagus tart, kettle corn, nuts and prosciutto-wrapped fennel and melon.
Not pictured: honey cumin chipotle pork tenderloin and peanut teriyaki chicken skewers (taken off the skewers)(fat free 1/2&1/2 instead of heavy cream, please). Both were cooked later, when I was too busy hostessing to photograph.

The dessert table was in the corner

My famous coconut macaroons (ok, Martha's, but I probably make them more)
Cosmo cupcakes (with 1 change: I used the Magnolia Bakery frosting recipe (the one with the cupcakes scared me by the huge butter:sugar ratio, I was worried it made that greasy frosting I hate) and instead of 1/2cup milk, I used a mix of cranberry and lime juices (about 5T cranberry and 3T lime).
Peach raspberry tartlets (crust was Martha's pate sucree recipe, filling was a bunch of peaches diced, a handful of frozen raspberries, a little flour, a little sugar. I followed Smitten Kitchen's construction here, and froze the tartlets a week before baking about an hour at 400F)

And that was just in the dining room!

In the living room were the cheeses.

I bought (from BJ's):
 lemon stilton, Cabot extra sharp cheddar, smoked gouda, iberico (like manchego, delicious) and from Big Y, a small wheel of camembert.
I also served a baguette, some crackers, more spicy nuts, pickled grapes, storebought olive tapenade, homemade olive pistachio tapenade (heavily modified from Anne Burrell, via Smitten Kitchen) and the fabled apricot preserves (delicious with the camembert on a baguette).

The bar was in the kitchen.

Now, minor oopsie on this one- I don't drink beer, only wine, so I wasn't considering what beer we had on hand. I assumed we had some. My husband assumed I was on top of everything (I thought I was). We... had no beer. Like, none. We had sufficient quantities of wine, seltzer, coke and diet coke (which was a feat for us), and the sangria that will go down in family history (2 weeks later, I've made 5 batches of it, that's how popular it is).

Sangria: modified from here. I used the simple syrup left over from the epic candied orange peels (later I used honey). I'd suggest increasing the simple syrup or honey 1.5-2 times over the sugar, especially since I used plain seltzer instead of lemon lime soda (I'd rather have sugar than HFCS).

The best part of the bar was using all the beautiful Simon Pearce pitchers I've bought my husband over the years. He has a real thing for pitchers, but he never used them, and I usually only put flowers in them.

There were 2 items on the table I did not make, both of which were delicious. A made a delicious baked brie (totally rivals mine, hers had the added bonus of not being greasy and messy like mine is), and Bird brought me these adorable and delicious cookies. (I ate the last one on National Wear Lilly Day- is that appropriate or what?)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Apricots, apricots, everywhere!

Oh, excitement at the Coop (fabulous grocery store in Lebanon and Hanover, NH) last week: apricots for $1.99/lb! Now, for you dears in California or other places where apricots grow, you might think, "meh, so?" It's kind of a big deal for New England. So I sent my husband up (he was there anyway) to buy me 3lbs of apricots for me to play with. 

I planned to make coconut&lime's apricot upside down cake, but I was unsure of how to use the other 2.5lbs. After hemming and hawing and looking at all sorts of options, I realized that the apricots had to be used, stat, so I made Martha's apricot jam. I highly recommend both recipes.

Apricot Upside Down Cake, from Coconut&Lime

7T butter, softened
1/3c light brown sugar
together til fluffy. Add in 1 egg, 1/3c sour cream and 1t vanilla, beat for a minute. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together 1cup flour, 1.5t baking powder, 1/2t ginger and a pinch of salt.

Beat flour mixture into butter/sour cream mixture til combined. The batter will be sticky.

In an 8in round baking pan (sprayed/buttered with 1T butter), arrange 4 halved and pitted apricots, cut side down, and sprinkle with 2T brown sugar (my accidental change- it worked fine).

Bake at 350F for about 40 min. Let cool, then loosen edges with a knife, and invert on a serving plate.

For a photo, see coconut&lime's: 1. my computer has issues, and I don't want to make it do unnecessary tasks, and 2. her cake was prettier than mine.

Apricot Jam, from Martha Stewart

2.5lbs apricots
3cups sugar
1/4 water
juice of 1 lemon

Cut the apricots into 1-inch pieces (I left the skin on). Take 4-5 of the pits, smash the hard outer shell with a hammer, and save the soft, almond-shaped inner seed. In a large pot, combine the apricot pieces, soft apricot seeds, sugar and water, and cook over medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Keep stirring until reduced and thickened, about 15-20 min. I kept lowering the heat little by little as the jam starting splattering all over my hand. Once it's thickened/after 15-20min, turn off the heat, stir in the lemon juice, and let cool. Transfer to mason jars (I used Tupperware, my pickle-queen mother would be so ashamed to hear her daughter doesn't have boxes of mason jars in the basement! :( ), keep refrigerated. Be sure to lick the pot and the spoon, because there is nothing like warm apricot jam. It's off-limits for me this week while I'm on a 5-day reset diet, and I've been dreaming of it.

Next week I'll tell you how I've used my 4cups of apricot jam. I have plans, oh yes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Orange cod

When you were growing up, did your parents have a small numbers of recipes they rotated through? Mine did. I despised some of them (minute steaks, stuffed peppers), loved some (beef stroganoff) and was iffy about others- such as mom's orange cod.

My parents love their microwave. My microwave is used onl
y for softening or melting butter. My husband likes to heat things in it, but I could happily live 
without. Needless to say, when my parents cooked scrod in the microwave with some oranges and lemons, I had to restrain myself from stopping them. It's a 
decent dish, just... not approached the right way. In my mind, at least.

I know the microwave is easy, and I don't want to snub anything convenient, I simply try to find a better way.

And when I found Orangette's cider-glazed salmon, I knew she was on to something. So I used her recipe to remake my mom's. And... I developed my very own. Woohoo!

Tilapia with orange cream sauce
for 2

3/4 cup orange juice concentrate
3 1/4 cup water (or just use 3 cups orange juice- I never have OJ on hand, so I like to use Sandra Lee's OJ concentrate trick)
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, just the thyme leaves
1t dried tarragon
1 fennel bulb, cut into bite-sized pieces
a pinch or 2 of orange zest
4 small tilapia fillets
1/2 cup fat free 1/2&1/2
Bring juice/water and herbs and zest to a boil over medium heat in a large skillet/pot. 

Add fennel, cook for 12-15 minutes. Place tilapia fillets in and cook til done, about 5-7 minutes, spooning liquid over them often. When fish is about cooked through, remove fish and tilapia and keep warm on a foil-covered platter.
Continue cooking orange juice until reduced by about half, then stir in 1/2&1/2 and season with salt and pepper as desired. Cook til thickened, like so.

Serve: place fennel and fish on a plate, cover/drizzle with orange sauce. Very tasty with orange jasmine rice.

Note: I've also done this with cod, i.e. 2 large cod fillets. The cod took longer to cook (it was much thicker than the tilapia). one thing: the fennel wants to cook about 20 min total. If you use a longer-cooking fish like thick cod, cook the fennel for less time before you add the fish, since the fish-cooking time will be longer. You can also just pull the fennel out before the fish is done if you're miscalculated. You'll figure it out.

Orange Jasmine Rice

1/2 cup jasmine rice
1/2 cup orange juice (2T concentrate plus 6T water, or fresh squeezed)
zest of 1/2 orange
1/2 cup water
dash of white wine
salt and pepper, as desired
1t tarragon

Bring water, OJ and wine to a boil in a small pot over medium heat, stir in rice and herbs. Cook over low heat, covered, for about 15-20 min, until rice is soft, making sure the pot doesn't go dry (add a little more water if it does). Turn off heat and keep covered for another 10 min, then serve.

I made this rice because Clint usually makes rice. He cooks it well, but his recipe is: rice and water. And it's boring. If I'm going to eat something not solely for its health benefit, I need it to taste good. This tasted good.