Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dinner Party

Too tired for words. I'll let the pictures do the talking...

The Dinner Party

Part 1: Preparations

Tonight I am having a dinner party. Now what is the cardinal rule of entertaining? Never make anything you haven’t made before. Now what did I do with this dinner party? You guessed it! Broke cardinal rule with absolutely every dish that I am making.

As Manatee said, why make things easy?

With the exception of the dessert, the menu is designed to pair with Pinot Noir. But by the time we get to the dessert, hopefully the guests won’t be caring too much about pairing.

Here is our menu:

Cheesy Mushroom Bread
Goat Cheese Empanadas with Roasted Red Pepper Sauce with Lemon and Basil

Aragula and Spinach, Red Grapes, Roasted Pumpkin Seeds, Sesame Sticks, Feta
Balsamic Dijon vinaigrette

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Pinot Noir Sauce
Buttered Green Beans with Mushrooms
Roasted Rosemary Fingerling Potatoes

Crust-less Pumpkin Pies with Spiced Whipped Cream

Last night I made the pumpkin pies and the roasted red pepper sauce. I also shredded a pound of Swiss cheese (yay food processor!), cut up the mushrooms, and prepped the green beans.

Things I learned:

1. Parchment paper is only ‘oven safe’ up to 425 degrees. Lucky I learned this before I put into the oven but after I subbed it for foil when roasting peppers and garlic. I had an inkling it could result in disaster so I actually read the package. Oops. Worked totally fine on a pan.

2. Why haven’t I roasted red peppers before? It was so easy! I guess it's not technically a lesson but a pleasant surprise.

That’s all I have so far. As part of my heritage, it is impossible for me to make just one trip to the store so I do have to run back for foil, chicken broth and possibly either ginger snaps or ingredients for ginger snaps. The crust-less pumpkin pies need a crunch so I may add either crumbled cookies or small cookies inserted into the top. We’ll see.

How to Roast Red Peppers

1. Cut red peppers in half vertically. Discard seeds and stems.

2. Place on foil (or just on a pan) skin side up.

3. Mist with olive oil.

4. Broil for 10-12 minutes until tops are charred.

5. Remove and let ‘rest’ until they are cool to the touch.

6. Peel off skins and voila! You have roasted red peppers.

*I roasted garlic alongside the peppers for the sauce. I was supposed to put them into a foil packet but it worked fine just leaving them out on the pan. When I took the peppers out, I turned the oven off but left the garlic in until the peppers were cool to the touch.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The White Flag

Some people take in stray animals. I take in stray cabbages. For some reason, I associated my failure at coleslaw with my food processor. Tonight I learned it was not the fault of the food processor. I am just not destined to make good coleslaw.

The photos I took somehow did not even stay on the camera. Don't worry, you didn't miss much.

Imagine a cabbage the size of the basketball with the weight of bowling bowl.

Then imagine a small vat of brightly colored coleslaw (putting carrots through the food processor was way too fun, seriously, TOO fun, I had way too many carrots in there by the end).

So I quit. No more taking home stray cabbages, no more lofty dreams of non-dairy creamy coleslaw. From now on I buy my coleslaw at the deli counter.

And now I have to burn some seriously smelly candles in my kitchen. As Manatee told me when he walked into the kitchen tonight, cabbage smells like fart.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Lessons Learned

Looking over my last few entries, I realized that I was starting to come across like I actually might know what I am talking about. This is grossly untrue. Therefore I decided to start a tradition of posting 'Lessons Learned' to prove that I am still in fact learning thereby lowering the standards if any of you readers come over to our house for a meal.

1. If you touch one of the burners inside an oven, the oven will turn off. This is also linked to...
2. When baking salted eggplant and zucchini, juices from the veggies do not come off the pan and start a fire. Thank God. Also linked to...
3. Always check to make sure the oven is on when you think something is baking.

So when making Garden Casserole, the recipe told me to put my slices of zucchini and eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet. Now despite our very generous wedding guests, we only have one very old rimmed baking sheet. I also needed to toast breadcrumbs for this recipe and quickly decided (based on a previous lessons learned) that it would be far worse for a 1/2 cup breadcrumbs to end up on the bottom of my stove than a slice of zucchini or eggplant.

So I put a sheet of aluminum foil on the bottom rack and prepared my sliced veggies and put them on two of my new unrimmed but awesome cookie sheets (Thank you Aunt Ellen!). This actually leads to another lesson learned:

4. Two cool unrimmed but awesome cookie sheets do not fit on the same rack in my oven.

Manatee and I developed a plan and rearranged veggie slices on sheet #1 so we could overlap them. Then I went to put in sheet #2 and I swear I wasn't throwing it in the oven, but in the process, one zucchini slice flew off the sheet (in slow motion) and landed under the racks and under a burner in the oven. Manatee came to the recipe with his new grilling fork (Thank you Aunt Bev) and in process bumped a burner.

Fast forward twenty minutes as I impatiently check the veggies and alas they didn't seem to be making much process. After I sighed and probably slammed a drawer shut, Manatee examined the oven and determined that it was no longer on. Oops.

5. Don't give up on something if you think it sucks. It may taste better tomorrow.

I hated the stuffed mushrooms we made on Monday. But Manatee didn't let me throw them away. At the last minute, I decided to reheat them with the garden casserole and with some additional baking time, they actually tasted good. Was it my low expectations? Maybe. The glass of wine I drank BEFORE dinner (see above lesson learned)? Maybe. But I am glad we tried them again.

6. If your oven locks down and starts to clean itself WHILE you have two pans of food in the oven, unplug it. When you plug it back in, it will reset and unlock.

Did I know this when it happened? No. Manatee figured it out. I could have also made this a here's what not to do:

6. When your oven locks down and starts to clean itself WHILE you have two pans of food in the oven, do NOT
1. Scream.
2. Call your mother who will also freak out.
3. While your poor mother is on the phone, pull on the oven door, yelling OPEN! Please Open! (Amazingly ovens do not respond to vocal commands)
4. Tell your husband that this is actually great because you can now get that stainless steel oven you have been fantasizing about.
4. Also tell him you will need new baking pans, a new refridgerator, new kitchen table to go with new appliances, or maybe just a new house...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Garden Casserole

This week, Manatee and I dove back into cooking. Our first night, Monday, was a bit of a disappointment. Well for me, at least, Manatee loved it but I am also blessed with someone who would be content to eat salads and hard boiled eggs every night so he still thinks all my cooking is awesome (Yay low standards!). We made white bean stuff portobella mushrooms. I admit, I was a little overzealous in creating bread crumbs (my new food processor is so freaking cool!) so Tuesday night I had a baggie of fresh bread crumbs and about 2 1/2 lbs of fresh tomatoes from our CSA.

I did a little online research and found a recipe from Food and Wine magazine which I modified a bit (due to reviews and my complete inability to follows a recipe) and it was stupendous. This will clearly be a staple in our diet. Even the leftover white bean stuffed mushrooms tasted good with it.

Here are some pictures, one includes said leftover mushrooms. We of course added a salad and voila: a complete hearty and healthy summer meal!


2 eggplants

3 zucchini

6 oz of feta cheese (we chose tomato basil fat free feta)

1/2 cup of TOASTED breadcrumbs (toast them until they are almost black- keeps it from being soggy)

2 1/2 lbs of fresh tomatoes (any kind)

1/2 cup of fresh basil (chopped)

1 shallot (minced)

Olive Oil

1. Slice the eggplants and zucchini length wise 1/3 to 1/4 inch thick. *If you want to skin the eggplant, go right ahead. I did not have the patience for it but the original recipe mentioned it.

2. Dice the tomato into 1/2 inch cubes.

3. Brush the eggplant and zucchini with olive oil and lay out on two baking sheets.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.

4. While it's baking, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Add shallot and cook for 2-3 minutes on medium heat.

5. Add tomatoes and cook for 1 minute Remove from heat.

6. In a lasagna pan, layer eggplant, tomatoes and then 1/2 of feta cheese and basil. Then zucchini, tomato, basil, and rest of eggplant and zucchini. Then rest of tomatoes and cover with remaining cheese and bread crumbs.

7. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes.

8. Take out and let the pan 'rest'. We did it for 5 minutes but it was probably 10-15 before you could actually get something resembling a slice.

It may not be pretty when you slice it but it sure does taste good.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Exhibit A in the Case Against Canning

Ha! Manatee- Ha!

I have begun to use my canning jars.

Let me present to the jury, exhibit A- Preserved Lemons. I will use one preserved lemon in a recipe for Moroccan Chicken, the other 5.....well, I may need your help for that.

Preserved Lemons

6-8 Lemons
1/4 to 1/2 cup of kosher salt

1. Sterilize your jar- I think the easiest way is to pop it in the dishwasher and run it.

2. Make a thin layer of salt in the jar. Put the rest of the salt into a bowl.

3. Cut lemon in quarters, but stop cutting 1/2 inch from base, so quarters remain attached.

4. Holding lemon over bowl, open lemon and spread salt over exposed flesh.

5. Close lemon and roll it in salt so salt gets on skin.

6. Smooth lemon into jar.

7. Repeat with as many lemon as you can squeeze into jar.

8. With any remaining lemons, juice them into another bowl and then pour into jar so that juice is covering all the lemons.

9. Seal jar and but in pantry (cool, dark place). For the next 4 weeks, you will need to flip the jar every day.

10. After four weeks, you can start to use your preserved lemons. Once the jar is opened, keep it in the refrigerator. The lemons will stay good for 6 months. Make sure there is always lemon juice covering the lemons (you may need to add fresh lemon juice). When you retrieve a lemon, use a wooden spoon (not your fingers) so you are not introducing any bacteria into the jar.

WORD TO THE WISE: Since you are working with both lemons and salt, make sure you do not have any cuts on your hands.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Special Occasion Salad

Now salads are an everyday menu item at the Manatee household. This salad is a 'treat' salad. We were invited to dinner by some friends and we knew they were going to serve pork tenderloin. I volunteered a salad- for Manatee a salad is a dessert hence why I refer to him as Manatee- so I knew this would make him happy.
I just got my own copy of The Flavor Bible and decided to put it to use. I looked up pork tenderloin and then from there put together a salad that ended up being a great compliment to the pork.

I wish I had taken a picture of it because it was quite lovely (unlike the potato leek soup) but perhaps next time.

Special Occasion Salad

Organic Spring Mix
Dried Cranberries
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Sesame Stix
Crumbled Feta Cheese (optional)
1/2 Apple
1/2 Pear
approx. 2 Tbsp of lemon juice

4 parts olive oil
3 parts Balsalmic vinegar
2 parts dijon mustard

Mix together the spinach and spring mix.

Add the dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds.

Cut the apple and pear into small slivers. Toss with the lemon juice. Add to salad.

Serve the sesame sticks and feta cheese on the side.

Mix together the ingredients for the dressing. Shake. Serve on the side.



Friday, September 17, 2010

Potato Leek Soup

Last night I got to try a new cooking toy- an immersion blender. My life has now changed for the better. Creamy soups without the dairy- Fall and Winter are going to usher in a new era at the Manatee household. Our first soup was potato and leek. Now looks can be deceiving. I was warming it up for lunch and just waiting for someone to comment on the aromas coming from the microwave or the beautiful soup I was stirring, and then I would say, nonchalently "Oh, this? I just whipped this up last night." Then I looked at my soup, I mean really actually looked at my soup.

It looks like gravy.

But I can assure you, it tastes much better. :)

Potato and Leek Soup

2 lb of golden Yukon potatoes

2 medium sized leeks

1 Tbsp of Olive Oil

4 cups of vegetable broth

1. Cut the green ends off the leeks and discard.
2. Slice in half the long way. Then thinly slice.
3. You'll need to wash the leeks between each layer. Easiest way to do this: fill your (clean) sink with cold water and put the sliced leeks in there.
4. Wash the potatoes (assuming you have a double sink :) ). My original recipe said to peel them and I say forget it. Just thinly slice and set aside.
5. Take leeks out of sink.
6. Get a 4 quart saucepan hot and then add oil. Add leeks and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly so they don't burn.
7. Add potatoes and broth. Turn it up really high so that it boils. Once it boils, turn down to medium low and cover. Simmer for 25 minutes.
8. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.
9. Add salt and pepper to taste (you'll need it) and enjoy!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Canning Challenge

Manatee must not know me very well. Amidst finishing our registry today at Bed, Bath and Beyond, he threw down a challenge. As I hoisted up a package of canning jars, he looked at me and said, "Come on, you're not actually going to can anything."
I think my jaw may have actually hit the floor. Aside from the fact that I have been happily planning all the things I wanted to can/preserve (preserved lemons, some kind of delicious berry jelly, tomato sauce, pickles, relishes) and have been setting aside countless recipes that were just waiting for me to get canning materials, did he really think that telling me I wouldn't do something wouldn't make me want to do it even more?
So, the canning challenge has been thrown down. I will can something or preserve something or put a bunch of stuff in all of these glass jars in the next few months. You readers are my witness, and you readers that are close friends may be getting some pretty jarred gifts in the next few months.

You have been warned.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Land of the Misfit Herbs

This post has been a long time coming.

Way back in July, I got into my head that I just had to have a herb garden. I went down to the local garden store and explained I knew nothing about herbs or gardening but I knew I wanted an herb garden. I would have thought they would have been excited to share their knowledge but all I got was a pitying glance, "Well," she said, "you know you are coming pretty late in the season. We really don't have much. Are you sure you don't want something else?" "No" I stood resolutely. "I want herbs." She sighed and radio-ed out to someone in back and sent me on my way.

That woman also met me with a pitying sigh. "We're pretty picked over. Are you sure you want an herb garden now?" I thought maybe it was like converting to Judaism where they turn you down three times before letting you convert.
"I really want an herb garden."
"Yes, I want an herb garden now."
She sighed again, defeated."If you insist, this is what we have" and she motioned over two rows of scraggly plants.
"We don't really have anything good left but you may be able to find something you like."
Their sales ability was truly astounding.
Because they had oregano, I didn't think the select was THAT bad. Essentially I chose the herbs that did NOT attract bees and so I picked out oregano, sorrel, sage, pineapple sage and savory.

It is to my utter shock that in September these herbs are still alive and (gulp) thriving. Now I am trying to figure out what to do with them. I did some internet research and learned how to dry them so more to come on that. Thus far Manatee and I have eaten fresh oregano and sorrel. Sorrel is kind of a neat one- in the pictures, it's the bigger green leaves and has a very lemon-y taste. We have mixed it with our salads and really like it.

So, any tips on what to do with fresh oregano, sage, pineapple sage and savory?

On a personal note, I am now officially Mrs. Manatee . :)