2013 Weekends – Week 29

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Friday started with a surprise gift from a coworker, Basil Banana Pepper Jelly made (and sold) by his girlfriend.

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It was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

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I’d never had pepper jelly before and had always been afraid to purchase a jar without being sure that I’d like it, but like it I did – especially the spicy bites with pepper slices. I should have assumed that I’d enjoy something that’s traditionally served with crackers and cream cheese.

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Every once in a while I do something that’s really, really dumb. Like is-Chicken-of-the-Sea-chicken-or-tuna dumb. I kind of want to hang my head in shame and destroy all evidence of this event, but instead I’m going to write about it on my blog because we all make mistakes and sometimes they photograph nicely. So here goes. I made baking powder biscuits with baking soda. That little difference might not sound all that bad, but that’s only because you’ve never eaten a baking soda biscuit. It’s just as pretty as its baking powder brethren, only instead of tasting buttery it tastes buttery, bitter, and metallic (and in that order). Each bite starts out buttery, like a good biscuit should, but before you know it you’ll think that you’re chewing the fluffiest pop can that ever was and you cannot wait to get that awful taste out of your mouth.

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As a biscuit enthusiast, this one stung a bit. Aren’t they pretty though?

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Along with (or instead of) the biscuits, we had bacon, scrambled eggs with cheddar and chives, and a peach. And honestly, I ate way more of the biscuit than I should have, fooled by so many bites that started out so buttery and delicious before they took a turn for the metallic.

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Saturday night Manhattans

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Niçoise salad with Copper River salmon (similar to this recipe)

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One of my favorite meals, especially with a side of good bread to wipe the plate clean

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Sunday pastries and coffee from Bars Bakery

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Zucchini bread

I used this recipe and really liked it. I swapped out a third of the all-purpose flour for whole wheat flour, used half walnut oil and half plain yogurt instead of olive oil, and added half a cup of raisins plus about a cup of chocolate chips because I couldn’t choose just one.

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There was a one-day special on lobster tails at Whole Foods on Sunday, and as soon as I heard about it I started thinking about making lobster rolls. I delayed my run to the warmer afternoon hours so I could arrive bright and early to the lobster party, and it was totally worth it. No crowds, plenty of lobster, and more motivation to run.

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Matt took care of all the messy work.

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I took care of the doughy work.

I made a half recipe of the basic white bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprenticedivided the dough into six pieces and shaped them into hot dog buns. When they’re lined up closely on a baking sheet and bake together, the inner rolls, once pulled apart from their neighbors, have the perfect soft sides for buttering and toasting in a skillet.

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To balance out buttery rolls filled with lobster: a salad of blanched cauliflower, olives, capers, feta, and almonds, dressed in a mustard-herb vinaigrette.

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Lobster roll, cauliflower salad, kale chips

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Yes.

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Matt used this recipe for the lobster, and my only regret is not adding a little fresh tarragon. It’s hard to argue with perfectly cooked lobster on a buttery roll, though.

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To prolong our enjoyment of the lobster, I saved the shells to make stock. I followed the very basic recipe in How to Cook Everything: combine the shells, half a carrot, half a celery stalk, half an onion (sliced), and 4.5 cups of water in a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Let cool briefly and then strain.

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It smells wonderful. I think we’ll use it for either risotto or some kind of soup.

2013 Weekends – Week 19

I kind of figured that after a weekend as exciting as last, this one was going to be several notches down on the fun scale, but little did I know exactly how far down it would fall. I went to a yoga class on Thursday night, and not even five minutes into it I felt a snap in my lower back. Instead of rolling up my mat and walking out like any sane person would do, I stuck around for the rest of the hour, gradually modifying my movements according to the pain that was increasing by the second. By the time the class ended, I could barely stand up to walk to the locker room, and on the way to my car I had to stop every ten feet as I was overcome by a back spasm. I didn’t plan to start my weekend on Thursday, but when you’re unable to roll out of bed on Friday morning without writhing in pain, getting on a bus and eventually sitting upright in a chair for several hours isn’t really in the cards.

I spent most of Friday laying on the couch with an ice pack, but once Matt headed out of town on Friday afternoon and a voice of reason was no longer present to tell me to stop moving around and lay down, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen. To be honest, I didn’t realize just how much time I spent in the kitchen until I uploaded all of the photos to my computer, and now I completely understand why I was in so much pain on Sunday after having felt so much better on Saturday. Sitting still isn’t my thing, even if the effect of my restlessness is pain. At least there were freshly baked cookies to help me cope!

Without further ado, here’s everything* that I made while I should have been laying on the couch.

*Not pictured: a poorly photographed loaf of lemony olive oil banana bread

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Stovetop macaroni and cheese plus broccoli that was lightly blanched in the pasta water. I made about a third of this recipe, and it was neither amazing nor terrible, as evidenced by the leftovers still being around yet remaining uneaten.

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Toasted brioche with avocado and a fried egg, strawberries, tea.

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I was feeling considerably better on Saturday and ventured out to buy groceries, where I was overcome by the urge to buy a container of sprouts. I was pretty hungry by the time I got home, so I made a wrap with the sprouts and a bunch of other veggies. Again, not great but not bad.

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I ordered Pizza Luce for a late dinner, and continuing with the theme, it was not very good, mostly bad and very bland. The salad was decent, though.

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Another activity that I should have skipped in order to rest: bread baking.

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I made two loaves of partially whole wheat bread, and while they were pretty inside, they weren’t my best work. Maybe it was the universe telling me to sit down and relax.

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Toast with harissa, fried eggs, blackberries, tea, orange juice. Fuel for more Sunday activities that I probably shouldn’t have done.

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Like baking oatmeal M&M cookies. They were good.

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Then I made pesto/tomato/mozzarella/basil sandwiches for a picnic lunch with girlfriends.

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The only benefit of being stuck in horrible traffic because the main road between Minneapolis and St. Paul is closed for the weekend is that it’s a great opportunity for icing your back.

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If you thought that making breakfast, baking cookies and preparing sandwiches seems like a lot of activity for someone who should be doing none of those things, you’d be right. Instead, I did all of those things and prepared a pork shoulder for a day of slow cooking in the crock pot. At least I simplified the recipe to cut out most of the labor-intensive steps.

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By the time I got home from our picnic, my stubbornness was being punished with frequent back spasms, but that didn’t stop me from preparing a batch of creamy cilantro lime sauce to go with the pork. Some things are worth a little pain, and anyone who’s had the green sauce from Brasa knows that this sauce is one of them.

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After I cleaned my plate, I rested.

Christmas to the New Year

Matt gave me Super Natural Every Day for Christmas, and it’s probably the first non-bread cookbook that I’ve ever owned where I want to make every single recipe. I’ve given it as a gift twice, and I’m so excited to finally have my own copy to cook from. The first recipe that I tried was dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend made with toasted nuts and seeds that my aunt had been telling me about at Thanksgiving. I am now addicted and have been eating it on everything. I’ve liberally sprinkled it on pitas drizzled with olive oil, turned it into a paste with olive oil to use as a dipping sauce for leftover eggplant pizza and added it to a cream cheese-topped bagel, among other things. I think it would be a great topping for hummus or mixed in with a cucumber-yogurt dip. Thanks for the recommendation, Lisa!

In addition to dukkah, I’ve recently made muesli, yogurt to eat with the muesli, and, perhaps most exciting of all, buttery, eggy brioche. Thanks to the volume of bread that the recipe makes, which I failed to notice until it was time for dividing the dough, our freezer is now filled with enough slices of brioche that we will be eating a steady diet of french toast until 2014 (and I even gave away one of the biggest loaves!). So if you’re ever craving french toast, stop by with some eggs and we’ll have brunch.

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Dukkah ingredients: hazelnuts, cumin seeds, sesame seeds, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, peppercorns, dried mint and sea salt

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Dukkah, toasted and ground

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Muesli from my new cookbook

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Muesli in the morning after a night in the fridge with yogurt and water

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Garnished

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Arugula, pomegranate, avocado, pistachio and feta salad to stave off popcorn/Junior Mint/Sour Patch Kid overconsumption during Django Unchained

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Early stages of brioche from Tartine Bread, which undoubtedly made up for my Christmas Eve bread flop

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Fried egg, avocado, arugula and cheese…

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On toasted brioche

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I made yogurt! In the crock pot. I more or less followed this recipe, and it was super easy. The texture is slightly…imperfect, but it tastes great, and I’ll definitely be making more of it.

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Burger with blue cheese, caramelized onions, sautéed mushrooms and basil aioli. Matt cooked the burgers in a cast-iron skillet using a recipe similar to this, and they were outstanding. I’m fairly certain that melted blue cheese could make just about anything taste amazing (especially the salty Bleu d’Auvergne that we used that tastes like a barnyard in a delicious, earthy cheese way), but even without that added bonus, this was one of the best burgers that I’ve eaten in ages.

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Brioche french toast, breakfast sausages, and pom seeds all wading in a pool of orange juice that I spilled all over my plate.  Matt blames the spill on my insistence on drinking orange juice from a champagne flute, but I think it was due to my excitement over french toast.

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Bagel with cream cheese and dukkah

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Burnt eggplant with tahini from Plenty. Matt thought it was a little bitter, but I loved it, especially the bites with a lot of pomegranate seeds.

Slow-Roasted Pork and Chicken with Green Sauce and Arepas

We had a great weekend food-wise at our house, and it’s all thanks to Adam Richman.  We each ate a meter-long bratwurst and a kitchen sink ice cream sundae.  Just kidding!

The latest issue of Food & Wine arrived in our mailbox last week, and in an article about favorite dishes of TV food personalities, Adam Richman declared Brasa, home of slow-roasted meats and fantastic side dishes, to be his favorite restaurant in the US.  Brasa is one of my favorite restaurants, too, and their green sauce (kind of a cilantro and lime aioli) is easily one of my top five favorite foods in the Twin Cities.  The fact that it usually shows up on our table alongside a plate of fried yuca certainly boosts its appeal, but the sauce itself is so good that I could drink it.  You want to slather it on anything and everything (I am not alone in this), but they ration it out so carefully that you only have exactly what you need and not a drop more.   After every visit I say that I’m going to try to recreate it at home, but I inevitably get distracted by all of the other things that I want to make and forget about my quest until we end up at Brasa again.

The quest is finally over!  Thanks to Food & Wine I can now make green sauce any day of the week, and I can eat (or drink) as much as I please.  It took a couple of days for an opportunity to present itself, but everything, green sauce included, came together on Saturday night when we had a couple of (newly engaged!) friends over for a Brasa-like feast.

We started with chips, guacamole, and cocktails before moving on to the good stuff.

I attempted to make Brasa’s romaine and mozzarella salad (this picture is before I added the tortilla strips), and it was alright, but the dressing that I concocted was a huge flop.  I had considered just ordering a salad to go from Brasa, and next time I’ll probably take that route, but when all else fails, add green sauce.

The pork was fantastic – tender on the inside, crispy on the outside, and full of flavor.  It was marinated overnight in a citrusy mojo sauce and then coated with a dry rub and cooked low and slow in the oven.  There was reserved mojo sauce to add to the cooked pork, but I think we were all too excited about the green sauce to pay much attention to it (at least I was).

{click HERE for the recipes}

I wanted to make yuca fries as another vehicle for consuming green sauce, but after going to three grocery stores and coming up empty-handed, I settled on a batch of sweet potato fries.  While they weren’t quite as delicious as fried yuca would have been, they tasted great with the sauce, and they saved me the hassle of dealing with a pot of hot oil.

We somehow polished off all but a couple bites of the pork on Saturday night, but there was more green sauce to be used, so I did the only reasonable thing and roasted a chicken on Sunday.  I used Thomas Keller’s roasted chicken recipe from Ad Hoc at Home, changing a few ingredients but using his basic technique, and it was the best roasted chicken that I’ve ever made. I skipped all of the root vegetables except for the onion (I’d already gone to the store when I started flipping through cookbooks for chicken recipes, and we didn’t have most of the vegetables, nor did we need more things to eat on the side), I didn’t use any thyme, and I added half of a lemon to the cavity before trussing the bird. I also used about two tablespoons of cold butter instead of four tablespoons of room temperature butter, and I used olive oil instead of canola oil, thanks to my tendency to just glaze over the recipe that’s sitting right in front of me.  Even with all of my modifications, the meat was juicy, flavorful and slid right off the bone.  It would have been just fine eaten on its own, but as those who are in the know are aware, everything is better with green sauce.

Boom! Roasted.

A last minute addition to our meal was a batch of corn and cheese arepas.  I had briefly considered making cornbread, but I’m not that into it and quickly decided against it.  I am, however, into pancakes and pancake-like things, and I found a simple recipe for arepas in How to Cook Everything, so I opted for those instead. Cornmeal pancakes with corn and sharp cheddar cheese?  Yes, yes, and yes.  They took about fifteen minutes to make from start to finish, and while the green sauce was still the highlight of the meal, these were a very close second.  Plus, as you might have guessed, arepas can be enhanced with a drizzle of green sauce – magic!

To make the arepas:

  • 3/4 cup finely ground cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups corn (fresh/frozen then thawed/canned/whatever)
  • 1 cup grated cheese (I used cheddar)
  • Salt & pepper
In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal and flour with a little salt (1/2 tsp or so) and pepper.  In a separate bowl, whisk the milk and egg. Add the milk/egg and the cheese to the bowl of flour; stir to combine.  Add the corn, and mix well.  Heat a griddle or pan over medium to medium-high heat.  Brush it with a little oil, ladle on some of the batter, and cook it like you would cook a pancake, browning it on both sides and adjusting the heat as necessary.  Yield: about 8 4-inch arepas.

Roasted chicken with green sauce, arepa with guacamole and sour cream, romaine salad, and corn relish.  I’m not sure how next weekend can possibly live up to this.  Maybe Oasis falafel, Motley Cow brunch and birthday cake for a one-year-old?