Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spiced Pumpkin Birthday Cake

Today is SP's birthday. Since he's usually at work on his birthday, I usually spend the day baking him a birthday cake and when he gets home from work, it's a surprise. I guess by now he suspects I am baking him a cake, but the kind of cake is a surprise.

This year, all the cake flavors I thought would be good choices were cakes that involved a lot of work, more than just the batter & frosting, like making a mousse or making a caramel sauce or something that I just felt I couldn't handle on my own. Or, a flavor that makes me gag because I find it so gross - peanut butter. He loves it. I despise it. So a couple of weeks ago, I approached him and told him that I wanted to make him a cake with SP friendly flavors but that all my ideas were involved and I thought I'd need help and would he be terribly disappointed if his cake wasn't a surprise and if he helped me bake it?
There also was the added factor that we've both been sick for nearly 3 weeks. I really didn't want to tackle an involved cake, by myself, while sick, with all the prep work and active time and clean up. Sometimes, it's really tough to do everything myself from the wheelchair. Trying to do everything, in the wheelchair, while coughing or trying to keep my nose from dripping... ugh!
Being a wonderful and understanding husband, he said that of course it was OK and he would be happy to help. I showed him all my ideas - Banana~Chocolate Chip with Peanut Butter Frosting, Spice Cake with Apple Caramel Sauce, Pumpkin Mousse Cake, and several others I cannot remember right now. He picked the Spiced Pumpkin Cake, which, of course, was the only one that I could have somewhat easily done on my own since it's make the batter, bake the layers, make the frosting, frost. Nothing like years past, no special strawberries in ginger syrup, no special lemon curd filling. Basic. Simple.
I ended up getting out and measuring all the ingredients myself, he mixed the batter in the stand mixer on the counter and poured it into the layer pans. I monitored the baking and took the layers out when they were done. After the layers cooled, he made the frosting in the stand mixer and I frosted the cake.
Two layers of pumpkin spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg (instead of mace since we didn't have mace) and iced with a basic vanilla buttercream frosting. Delicious. A cake we would make again.

So Happy Birthday to SP!

Recipe from Saveur, found here

Friday, February 22, 2013

Just Like Dining Out

This past Monday was Presidents' Day and SP had the day off - whoo! But he was still on call - boo. That means we were stuck at home, just in case he was suddenly called into work. On the bright side, he had an extra day at home to do chores (I'm sure he was super excited about that) and we had an extra day to cook, which was nice. So what did we cook? This is pretty much all SP. I made the dinner suggestions and did all the clean up. He did the cooking.
Pork Tenderloin marinated in soy sauce, dark brown sugar, lemon juice, fresh ginger, Dijon, & oregano

Even after draining off the marinade, lots of ginger and dried oregano clung to the tenderloin

It looked a little pink to me, bu he swore the thermometer said it was done. I ate the thinner ends of the tenderloins while he ate the fatter middle pieces that were pinker 

The sauce served on the side - the marinade simmered with the roasting pan juices and fresh orange juice

Homemade whole wheat dinner rolls

I like making cloverleaf dinner rolls in muffin tins. They seem like less work than making crescents or rosettes! I like how they easily pull apart into 3 pieces.
There also was a vegetable but a bowl of microwaved frozen green beans isn't really photo worthy!

This pork was a nice change from our usual Paula Deen Pork Tenderloin recipe. It used some of the same ingredients, but the different flavors were the Dijon, lemon juice, and oregano. Also, this one makes a side sauce out of the marinade, with added orange juice. It also didn't have to marinate over night (just at least 3 hours), which was nice because usually we get off the couch around midnight for bed, take our tea mugs into the kitchen, and then remember that we were supposed to get the pork marinating before bedtime.

We've made these rolls before and while they involve a bit of time, they're not difficult. They make me happy because it's a bread side and they make SP happy because it's a whole wheat side (I suppose technically only partially whole wheat since they use whole wheat & all purpose flours).

For me, it was just like eating out since I went to the kitchen table and voila! Dinner was served. No work on my part, not even turning on the oven.

Of course, the chef & server charged me with clean up and I tipped him by assisting with gathering the trash & recycling on trash night. So I guess it wasn't quite like dining out. But still pretty darn nice!

Pork Tenderloin Recipe
from dash

¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup dark-brown sugar
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried oregano
2 (1-lb) pork tenderloins 
¾ cup fresh orange juice
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Combine first 7 ingredients; mix well. Pour into a 1-gallon freezer bag. Add pork, seal bag, and refrigerate at least 3 hours. Preheat oven to 375°F. Place pork in a roasting pan; reserve marinade. Roast pork until center reaches 155°F, 35–40 minutes. Tent with foil and set aside. In a saucepan, combine marinade with pan juices and OJ. Bring to boil. Lower heat; simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Stir in butter. Slice pork; serve with sauce. 

Dinner Rolls
from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook (our old, tattered copy)

4 1/4 ~ 4 3/4 c all purpose flour
*for whole wheat version, substitute 1 1/4 c whole wheat flour for 1 1/4 c of the stirred in all purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast
1 c milk
1/3 c sugar
1/3 c butter
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs

Combine 2 cups flour & yeast. Heat & stir milk, sugar, butter, and salt just until warm. Add flour mixture along with eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low for 30 seconds. Beat on high for 3 minutes. Using a spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead in enough remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth & elastic. Shape dough into a ball. Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto lightly floured surface. Divide in half, cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Divide each half of dough into 36 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, place 3 balls in each greased muffin cup. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double, about 30 minutes.

Bake at 375 for 12-15 minutes. Makes 24 rolls.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Pasta Wars

I really, really wanted a pasta dish this week. At first, I was afraid to suggest it because I know SP is not a fan of pasta meals. Don't get me wrong - he really likes pasta but as a type 1 diabetic since the age of 3, he prefers to avoid lots of pasta meals, and if he does eat a pasta meal, he prefers multi-grain pasta to regular pasta, plus a big salad on the side (we had some arugula & tomato on the side with this pasta meal). I think multi-grain pasta is an abomination and refuse to eat it. If I am going to eat pasta, it's going to be the real deal.
I suppose this is better than when he was mis-diagnosed with celiac disease and I wanted pasta. We had to make two entirely different meals or two versions of the same dish, one with a gluten free pasta and a gluten free sauce. I am not sure which I am less a fan of, gluten free versions of foods I dearly love or multi-grain versions of foods I dearly love. And by foods I dearly love I mean pasta, pizza, baguette - white, carby foods!
It gets even uglier if I want beef in my pasta dish. My mom makes a red sauce with ground beef. I love that sauce, but we never make it. SP has changed a bit, he's gone from no beef at all to, OK, I'll eat happy beef, but... This sauce has prosciutto.
If I want a creamy sauce on top of all that, or a pasta with oodles of cheese... well then he sighs and rolls his eyes and looks like he wants to kill me. White carbs! Beef! Cream! Tons of cheese! I'm getting all excited right now thinking about it while he is probably going to read this and wince in pain at my preferred meal.
So. A compromise of sorts. Because I really wanted pasta and I found a recipe for Pasta with Creamy Tomato Sauce in The Science of Good Cooking. "I know it's pasta and it has some cream but look it has prosciutto not beef and it has sun dried tomatoes and some red pepper flakes and I'll let you put the pepper flakes in and I'll let you dirty up two pots and two colanders so you can make that yucky pasta while I eat the good stuff and I'll wash all the dishes."
And that's how I got pasta. It helped that we didn't get to have a Valentine Day dinner because of him being on call - we couldn't go out and we didn't have the time on a week night to cook a special meal. I think he felt bad. It also helped that this recipe makes enough for 2 meals for each of us (4 servings total) so we are only eating pasta 2 nights out of 6 nights.

This pasta dish is delicious. This is better than the tomato-eggplant-red pepper pesto that I adore. This is - gasp! - better than my mom's red sauce. Salty from the prosciutto and tomato filled and creamy and just so good that we both couldn't stop 'mmmmmmming' during dinner. Plus it's easy and doesn't involve a long simmer time and there was enough leftover for another meal during the week.

The best part about cooking at home with your dearest hubby - he's right there with you, literally licking the sauce out of the bowl because this sauce is that good.

*I don't usually like typing in a recipe from a cookbook, but I searched online and others have shared this recipe. So instead of me re-typing it all, I'll post some links, but I do recommend the Cooks Illustrated cookbooks (and magazine) - we have tried many recipes and never been disappointed. This recipe is in The Science of Good Cooking and apparently also in an issue of Cook's Illustrated from May/June 2008

From The Bitten Word here
From Sweet Life here
From Honey Dearest here
From Big Oven here

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Mashed Potato Casserole with Gouda & Bacon

This is another story of good intentions to make a dish healthier failing miserably when the dish morphs into an even less healthy yet so much tastier dish. It was a side dish to our turkey & mushroom gravy meal. When I think of turkey, I think of Thanksgiving, and then I think of stuffing & mashed potatoes. We made stuffing just a few weeks ago, so I was thinking more about mashed potatoes.

I have a strange relationship with mashed potatoes. It all dates back to when I was a little girl, of course. I'm not really sure what happened, but in my kindergarten book, my favorite food is mashed potatoes and my least favorite food is mashed potatoes. My illustration for both the good and bad potatoes is a huge brown crayon scrawl. I am not sure what I was thinking when I said mashed potatoes were my favorite food because what I remember is always loathing mashed potatoes. Even now, they do not excite me.

So as I thought about mashed potatoes, the mashed potatoes turned into mashed potato casserole - well there's something that is yummy enough to be a favorite food. Many (all?) mashed potato casseroles involve sour cream and cheese, so I was not too surprised when SP had a so-so response to my mashed potato casserole suggestion. He did agree with me that mashed potatoes do not reheat especially well, not like mashed potato bake, and we had roast potatoes and scalloped potatoes not too long ago, and we just had quinoa, rice didn't sound good, but...

So I decided to try looking for a less cheese & sour cream filled mashed potato casserole recipe. But in my search for a 'healthier' mashed potato casserole, I came across this recipe: Mashed Potato Casserole with Smoked Gouda & Bacon. There was no way I was not clicking on that search result.

Well, that was that. I showed it to SP and just like that, he was on board with mashed potato casserole.

And that is how we came to make the most delicious mashed potato casserole ever and to actually have fork fights over who got the last few forkfuls of it.

It does not photograph well, not even on a table right next to a window on a sunny winter day. You can barely see the bacon bits. But trust me - this is incredibly delicious. Smoked gouda, bacon, sour cream - yum. We may have used whole milk and greasy bacon and full fat smoked cheese but we also used low fat sour cream.

The mashed potato bake was the star of those meals that week, but in addition to the potato casserole there was steamed broccoli or green beans for veggie and there was this:
Roast turkey cutlet with a mushroom-vinegar-tarragon gravy. Lots of mushrooms. And a very liberal sprinkle of dried tarragon.
But the Mashed Potato Casserole with Gouda & Bacon - that was a dish we talked about for days afterward and a dish that we will definitely make again.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Cinnamon Rolls

Since SP was on call this past weekend, we did not do anything/go anywhere. We stayed home and decided to use our home time to make another delicious brunch.
Originally we wanted waffles or  pancakes for our weekend brunch treat, but then we remembered the Sweet Orange Buns we made last year and then we remembered that we had yet to try making Cinnamon Rolls, and the decision was made. We knew just where to look for a delicious recipe: Baking Illustrated.
SP seemed really excited to use the dough hook! It is kind of fun to watch the giant hook mix the dough. We also used a new thermometer to check temperatures of water and of the milk/butter mixture.
This is a cinnamon rolls with yeast recipe, so it requires time. And patience. The cinnamon rolls were not going to magically appear in front of me. Smelling the cinnamon-brown sugar mixture made me not so patient!
Since we had only mint flavored dental floss, we used our bench scraper to cut the log into slices.
Yum! Ready for the second rising -- which we did overnight in the refrigerator, not in 1.5~2 hours in a warm, draft free location. We got them out for an hour or so before baking them Sunday morning.
Mmmm fresh baked rolls.
Inverted for cooling - yummy, melty cinnamon-sugar!
The final product, topped with a delicious cream cheese icing.
Inside the roll.

These were definitely worth the time and effort. For me, the glaze was just right - not too cream cheesy and not too sweet, a nice counterpoint to the sweet cinnamony roll. We each ate two rolls Sunday morning and then on Monday morning, we quickly reheated a couple in the microwave and topped them with icing. We did not ice all the rolls - we stored the rolls in plastic containers and the left them on the counter and we stored the icing in the refrigerator. We are icing them as we want them since we like to reheat the rolls and didn't want the icing to melt.
Recipe from Baking Illustrated but can be found online here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Citrus & Cinnamon French Toast

I love breakfast foods, and brunch foods, but we rarely do much for breakfast and we rarely make it out on a Sunday morning for brunch. Every so often, we make a delicious breakfast/brunch on a Sunday morning. This past Sunday was one of those Sundays.

We made French Toast, but instead of regular French Toast with regular maple syrup, we made a citrusy syrup - maple syrup to which we added orange juice & zest plus honey.
Maple~Orange~Honey syrup
There was cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, and orange zest in the egg & milk mixture. We also made bacon - because every brunch should have bacon. Or sausage. The result was delicious - especially when you took a forkful with a bit of bacon and a piece of clementine and a piece of syrup covered French Toast. The clementine slices were not as sweet as the syrup, which was nice, and the bacon was a good salty counterpart to the sweet syrup.
We both really liked the citrus addition to the toast & syrup. I am not so sure it's necessary to add the honey and I think next time we would omit it. I'd also add more cinnamon next time. We made half the recipe because it was just the two of us. Neither of us likes to drown our French Toast/waffles/pancakes in syrup, so even though this syrup was really, really tasty, we had some leftover. Hopefully, it'll keep until next weekend and hopefully, we'll make brunch again.

The syrup:
Grated zest & juice of 2 clementines
3/4 c maple syrup (we used some we had received in our CSA)
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp butter
In a small saucepan, combine zest, juice, maple syrup, and honey. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Whisk in butter. Reduce heat to very low and keep warm.

French Toast egg mixture:
4 large eggs
3/4 c milk
1.5 tsp grated clementine zest
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 slices French bread

From the Costco Cookbook we got last Thanksgiving.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Kaleidoscope Cafe

Yesterday was one of our 'See A Show At The Benedum & Go Out To Dinner' days. This time, the show was 'Sister Act' and it was great - lots of laughs, dancing, and energy. Definitely a great show!

Our dinner choice was a place I wanted to try during Pittsburgh Restaurant Week, but we didn't have the time to get there: Kaleidoscope Cafe. Kaleidocope Cafe used to be River Moon Cafe, a place at which we dined back in May 2010 and really enjoyed. We were sad when it closed but hopeful when the space re-opened.  
 It's still a small, cozy restaurant. We were seated by a window, which was nice. I am guessing the triangle decor is supposed to evoke a kaleidosope, a tiny toy of which was on each table. At first, when the restaurant was nearly empty, it was very quiet and we could easily hear the conversations of fellow diners. Once the space filled with lots of people talking & enjoying their BYOB beverages, it got quite loud! 
We didn't BYOB. Neither of us has been feeling especially well, we have both felt a cold coming on, so we didn't feel like wine. We ordered hot tea. Mint for SP, Earl Grey for me.
SP started off with a soup of the day, a Fire Roasted Vegetable Soup with cayenne in it. I found it to be too hot/spicy while SP really enjoyed it. It looked like there was maybe a bit of cream in the soup and all the veggies were pureed so the soup was smooth not chunky.
There are several small plates on the menu. SP chose to try the Duck Cannoli with white chocolate cardamom beurre blanc and pistachio dust. I tried a small bite of duck and cannoli shell. The duck was moist, tender, and a bit sweet but not overly sweet. SP loved this and is looking forward to a return visit so he can order it again.
I ordered the Deep Fried Gnocchi small plate. Oh my goodness. These were the lightest, most delicious gnocchi I have ever eaten! When I took my first bite, the gnocchi seemed so creamy and moist and melty that I thought it was almost like eating fried cheese. Not too potato heavy or starchy or dense. Just light deliciousness. The marinara was delicious, too.
Our server brought us a basket of warm pita with a honey~lemon~pine nut butter. The butter was so creamy and flavorful and it melted on the warm pita. We both like lemon a lot, so it's not too surprising that we really liked this butter. 
For his meal, SP chose Pan Seared Basa with a lobster~white bean puree and greens sauteed with bacon. Our server had pointed out the basa to us when he first came over, telling us that it is a white fish similar to tilapia, and we heard him tell another table that the fish can actually be pounded without ruining the texture and taste. SP had heard of basa, and even eaten it once, but I hadn't heard of it. It was a huge piece of fish and he said it was perfectly cooked and delicious, especially with the lobster~bean puree and greens & bacon to add oomph to a mild white fish.
To SP's surprise, I ordered Scallops Beurre Noisette, seared sea scallops, toasted walnuts, & diced tomato in brown butter sauce over farfalle. Usually I don't order scallops as an entree. They were beautifully seared and flavorful. This dish was delicious - just 4 ingredients and a pasta. Simple, but it worked nicely. The walnuts added a nice crunch plus toasty taste, the brown butter was not too overwhelming and it was not a pool in which the other ingredients could swim. I ate all the scallops but only about half the pasta - it was a large portion, especially after the pita and gnocchi.
I knew SP would want the Poached Pear for dessert. It's poached in red wine & mulling spices, served with fig and spiced rum mascarpone quenelle and candied walnuts. He said it was delicious, of course, poached pear is one of his favorite desserts. I thought it was delicious, too, soft and spicy and moist, but I much preferred my dessert:
Apple Tart. Delicious crust with walnuts, pastry cream, thinly sliced apple, just so good. I really didn't think I'd be able to finish dessert when I ordered it, but this was so good I ate it all, scraping up every last crumb on the plate. Sometimes an apple dessert like this can be too bland or too sweet or rely too much on pastry flavor or a spice flavor. This was just right, not too sweet, creamy, I can't wait to go back again and hopefully they will still have this dessert!

I'm still sad we didn't get to try Kaleidoscope Cafe over Restaurant Week but I am very glad we went this weekend. The server and hostess (who also helped out in the dining room) were very nice and friendly, our water glasses were kept filled. I liked that our server pointed out a few items on the menu when he first came over.
Kaleidoscope Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, February 8, 2013

Quinoa Stuffed Peppers

Are there foods your family never made when you were growing up? Foods that you knew other kids ate, but you never had them? For me, stuffed peppers is one of those meals that I knew other kids ate for dinner, but my parents never made them. My dad dislikes peppers. He likes the flavor a chopped green pepper gives to my mom's meat sauce, but when he eats a plate of spaghetti with mom's meat sauce on top, he picks out the little bits of green pepper and leaves them in a pile on the side of his plate.
I grew up not liking red pepper. I know I would not have had red pepper at home, so it's probably meals from dining out that I remember little flecks of diced red pepper invading my rice or mixed veggies. I really disliked those little red blobs.
I didn't really start to appreciate and enjoy peppers until SP & I moved in together. He loves peppers. Sometimes, he'll slice a pepper and eat it as his veggie for dinner. He's made me a huge fan of roasted red peppers. So sometimes, when I am trying to figure out a meatless meal, I'll suggest stuffed peppers. In my mind, traditional stuffed peppers are green peppers stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, rice, and tomatoes. We've made peppers stuffed with wheatberries and peppers stuffed with crab & prosciutto. This time, we made quinoa stuffed peppers.
We stuffed red & yellow peppers - I now prefer those to green peppers. Our stuffing was a mixture of quinoa, mushrooms, spinach, carrot, pepper, onion, cumin, cinnamon, and parsley.
I liked these. I didn't love them. They seemed to lack something. SP really liked them. I think that I would have preferred them with a brighter, citrus flavor (lots of lemon juice and zest) instead of the warmer, spicier cinnamon & cumin. I'd make these again, but with lemon.

We used more of each ingredient than the official recipe listed and we could have used a bit more stuffing. We also like to have extra stuffing for on the side. Here's a rough recipe:

6 peppers
1+ cup quinoa, cooked (we make quinoa in our rice cooker)
8-10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
half a smallish bag of baby spinach
3 carrots, grated (recipe said chopped, but I dislike chopping carrots, so since we had the food processor out in order to grate cheese, I used it to grate the carrots)
onion (recipe said red, I used white)

Slice tops off peppers. Remove seeds, etc., from inside and place upright in lightly oiled baking dish. I chopped as much of the pepper tops as I could to add to the quinoa mixture. Saute onions, add mushrooms, add chopped pepper tops, add carrots, add spinach, add quinoa and seasonings, heat through. Spoon mixture into peppers. Cover pepper dish with foil bake for at least an hour at 350 until done.