Monday, January 31, 2011

weekend celebrations

When we received money at Christmas this year, Edwin and I decided to cash all the checks and put them into a date envelope. We made a list of restaurants in Asheville we've been wanting to try or revisist, and we'll go out at least once a month for a date. This weekend, in honor of EDW's birthday, we dipped into our envelope quite a bit and loved every minute of it.

We went out for drinks Friday night, and then had dinner at Table. I had the most amazing sea bass, which was served over sweet potato puree with charbroiled brussels sprouts and crispy duck. EDW had duck confit, which came with a fried duck egg and mushrooms. Both were phenomenal. For dessert, we split a frozen pomegranate souffle. Our waitress put a candle in it and brought us complimentary sparkling rosé. It was one of the best meals I've ever eaten. Ever.
Saturday we went to Starbucks for Edwin's free birthday drink. I had a coupon for a free beverage too, so that was fun. Then we met up with some friends for brunch at Tupelo Honey, one of our favorite favorite Asheville places. I had coffee and an omelet (with pesto, spinach and tomatoes). Edwin had Eggs Betty and a beer flight. All was delicious.
We also went to the movies Saturday afternoon, where I didn't take photes and we drank beer and ate leftover Christmas candy that I keep hidden in the coat closet.
Then Sunday Edwin's parents came over for the birthday meal, which I've already talked about. There was singing. There was laughing. There was candle licking.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend. I love celebrating Edwin's birthday. It always feels a little like it's my birthday, too, what with all the merry making.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

EDW's birthday cake

Happy birthday, EDW! Today marks sweet Edwin's 27th birthday, and we've been celebrating all weekend (more on that later).

We had Mary and Steve over for a birthday lunch today. Edwin requested, and was served, his favorite meal: crockpot barbeque, roasted butternut squash and black eyed pea salad, slaw, and collards.
For dessert, I made peanut butter banana cream pie. I made the graham cracker crust, and then poured melted chocolate over the base. I let that firm up and topped it with a layer of peanut butter. (I had every intention of making my own peanut butter, but I used my food processor for lima bean hummus recently and didn't feel like handwashing, so it was in the dishwasher. Thus I used storebought pb.) On top of the peanut butter layer went my homemade custard (hello cornstarch and egg yolks and milk: I like when you thicken like magic on the stove), and then freshly whooped cream and chocolate shavings.
We all loved this pie. It's like banana pudding in a pie, but fancier and with a peanut butter chocolate twist. I don't know what happened with my crust. I followed Joy's instructions but the whole thing crumbled. It was still tasty. This pie is a winner. If you have a banana pudding lover in your life and you want to show him how special he is to you, make this pie.

Friday, January 28, 2011

braised tofu and peas in curried coconut milk

This is my favorite Mark Bittman recipe so far: braised tofu and peas in curried coconut milk.* I made it Wednesday night, and it was a perfect one pot meal. It didn't take that long to prepare-- I got home from work at 6:30 and dinner was on the table at 7:30-- but it seemed like a meal I'd slaved over all day. I followed the basic recipe, but I added in some of the extras, too.

The first thing I did was prepare my tofu. Last week I tried freezing it, and this week I tried pressing. I cut the brick in half, put it between paper towels and plates, and stuck my tea kettle on top. I let that sit while I prepared the rest.
I combined onions and canned tomatoes in a food processor, and then I added those, along with carrots, garam masala and curry powder, to my hot le creuset with some oil. Mr. Bittman said to use a neutral oil like corn or grapeseed, but I didn't have those so I went with canola. I let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes, until it thinned a bit.
Next I added green peas and the chopped, pressed and squeezed tofu. About the tofu: pressing and squeezing is wonderful. I could tell, even before I cooked the tofu, that it would have a better texture, and I was right. People, press your tofu!
After the tofu and peas were heated, I added in coconut milk and spinach (and forgot to take a phote of the pot). I topped each bowl with a scoop of rice and cilantro, and we were ready to eat.
EDW and I LOVED this. It's got a tiny bit of heat, since I used half hot curry powder and half mild, and a wonderful flavor palate. The tofu is plump but still firm, and I love the spinach and peas with the oniony tomato mixture. This is a perfect dish, and I will make it again and again.

Bittman, Mark. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "Braised Tofu and Peas in Curried Coconut Milk." p. 648-649

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

sweet potato and quinoa salad

Last night I whipped up southwestern sweet potato and quinoa salad for dinner. I used a combination of white and red quinoa, because I had some white leftover but not enough for the whole recipe. It was pretty.

Instead of an avocado, I added black beans for additional protein, and mixed those with cooked cubed sweet potato, red pepper, cilantro, red onion, cayenne pepper, chipotle pepper flakes, lime juice and olive oil. I served it over a bed of spinach with some hot salsa on the side.
EDW and I happily gobbled up the salad. I really adore quinoa, and I like how quickly this meal came together. I'm looking forward to leftovers. Bittman, Mark. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "Southwestern Sweet Potato and Quinoa Salad." p. 84-85.

Monday, January 24, 2011

white velvet soup

I made white velvet soup yesterday. Cauliflower is a new-to-me vegetable (as in, I only recently realized I don't dislike it afterall. I try to retry foods I think I don't like every year or so to see if my tastes have changed. Sometimes they do-- hello eggplant love of my life-- and sometimes they don't-- hard boiled eggs are still gross to me), so I'm always excited to find new recipes with it.

I cooked my limas earlier in the afternoon and reserved their cooking liquid, so I didn't have to use vegetable broth at all. When it came time to make the soup, I roasted my garlic, onion, and cauliflower. Then I dumped it all in my soup pot, along with the limas and liquid, and pureed with my smart stick until smooth. Easy peasy.

EDW and I really enjoyed this. I'm always a little nervous when I present him with a smooth soup, but even Edwin could tell why this soup is better in a pureed form. It really is wonderfully velvety, and I love the flavors. I forgot to squeeze in my lemon last night-- I added some in to my leftovers at lunch today. Both ways are nice, so if you don't have a lemon, don't worry. It'll still be a delightfully warm soup. I definitely recommend the smoked paprika. It gives the whole thing a slightly smokey flavor that's absolutely delicious.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

stir-fried tofu with snap peas

I love tofu, but I have a hard time cooking with it. It never gets chewy and dense the way it is in restaurants and at the Whole Foods salad bar. I'm determined to remedy my tofailings, and I started on Friday with stir-fried tofu with snap peas.*

Mark Bittman says there are a couple things you can do to prepare your tofu before cooking. He recommends pressing or freezing, and this week I went with the freezing method. On Monday, I cut my tofu into chunks and froze the cubes until I was ready to cook. I pulled them out of the freezer when I got home from work on Friday, let them defrost, and went to town.

I sauteed my onion and snap peas first, then I removed those to a plate and heated my garlic and ginger. I added my tofu cubes, let them brown a bit, and then added in wine and vegetable stock. After it reduced a little, I added the veggies back in, stirred in soy sauce and green onions, and called it a day.
Edwin and I really liked this stir-fry. It's probably the best one I've made yet, and I think it has to do with the large amounts of ginger and garlic (I love that Mr. Bittman usually requests at least a tablespoon of garlic instead of a measly clove or two). The tofu's texture was a major improvement for me, but I think I can do better. When I read about preparing tofu in The Food Matters Cookbook, I noticed that I was supposed to gently squeeze the defrosted tofu to get even more liquid out. Since that mandate is absent in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I missed it.
I'm making more tofu this week, and I'm going to try pressing this go round. I'll keep you posted on the totexture.

*Bittman, Mark. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. "Stir-Fried Tofu with Snap Peas." p. 647.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

tomato-bulgur soup

I made tomato-bulgur soup* for dinner last night. I was especially excited because I bought San Marzano tomatoes for the first time this week. In case you don't read a billion blogs like I do, San Marzano tomatoes are all the rage with food bloggers. I finally splurged and got some, and let me tell you: they really are the best canned tomatoes I've ever tasted.
I sauteed onion, garlic and celery in olive oil, and then I deglazed the pot with white wine. Can I tell you how much I love to deglaze pans? It always makes a nice, satisfying sound and the smell is usually heavenly.
Then I added my chopped tomatoes and let them cook down for a bit. After that I added vegetable broth and bulgur, and let it all simmer for a few minutes.
This was really tasty. I really think I would prefer it if it were pureed before adding the bulgur, but EDW loved the chunks. The flavors were spot on, and it warmed me right up after a long day. I especially like the grains along with the tomatoes, and I'm looking forward to the leftovers.
*Bittman, Mark. The Food Matters Cookbook. "Tomato-Bulgur Soup." p. 102-3.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

spicy pasta with sweet potatoes

Last night I made spicy pasta with sweet potatoes. I finally have some peanut butter in the pantry, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

I quadrupled the required sweet potato (how is one sweet potato ever enough?) and roasted with chili powder and cinnamon.
Then I boiled some water, cooked some pasta (whole wheat spaghetti), and drained it. I made the sauce quickly, and was slightly skeptical that peanut butter, cream cheese, sriracha sauce, soy sauce and green onions would produce something good.

I shouldn't have worried.

EDW and I loved this. We gobbled it right up and we can't wait to have the leftovers all week. Thanks, BHG, preesh.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

glazed roast of brussels sprouts, onions and chickpeas

The Weeknight Kitchen meal a couple weeks back immediately caught my eye. How could it not when it's roasted brussels sprouts with chickpeas? (Remember if you want this recipe, I can email it to you-- past recipes from Weeknight Kitchen aren't archived on the Splendid Table) So I starred it in my gmail and made it last night.

Officially, this is supposed to be Tamarind-Spiced Glazed Roast of Brussels Sprouts, Onions and Chickpeas. I didn't feel like buying tamarind concentrate, so I used the alternamethod of lime juice and sugar-- I guess this is just glazed roast.

I didn't know you could include greens in a roast, but the recipe called for 1 cup tightly packed endive or spring mix. I went with the spring mix, and combined it with brussels sprouts, a red onion, a can of chickpeas, and a red pepper, along with a blend of cumin, coriander seeds, cilantro, pepper, olive oil, ginger and garlic. Then I squeezed in my lime juice, added the zest, and roasted.
I served this over brown rice with a dollop of greek yogurt. Edwin and I LOVED it. It's so unusual-- the cumin and coriander and lime juice and veggies all play so well together. I would definitely make this again.

Monday, January 17, 2011

granola bars

I made granola bars this morning. There were lots of recipes for me to choose from, but I went with this one because I already had everything I needed.

I toasted my almonds, oats, and coconut (I only had 1/2 cup sliced almonds, so I just went with it). I had some issues with math today and let the mixture toast for 5 minutes too long, which accounts for the slightly darker than light brown color I was going for.
Then I heated honey, vanilla, butter and salt. Did you know honey foams like crazy when heated? I'm not sure I did.
Next I added in wheat germ along with the honey mixture, and to that I stirred in dried cranberries and apricots. I used unsulphured apricots from Trader Joe's, which means they are brown instead of orange I think. They are delish.

Then I pressed the granola into a baking dish and baked.
I must have overbaked, or not scraped enough honey into the mixture, because when it came time to cut them into bars, the granola crumbled. I really tried to get bars out of it, but in the end I crumbled it all up into granola.
The flavor is great-- I love the toasted coconut especially-- but I wish mine had turned out as chewy granola bars. I'll try again another day.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

baked pasta with brussels sprouts, figs, and blue cheese

If there's one thing I like more than soup on a cold winter night, it's baked pasta. Monday night I made baked pasta with brussels sprouts, figs, and blue cheese*, and all was right in the world.

The recipe calls for rigatoni, but I already had penne so I went with that. I boiled the penne for 3 minutes, and then added 2 pounds of brussels sprouts. (Have I mentioned here before how much I love brussels sprouts? I love them sauteed. I love them steamed. I love them roasted. I love them baked with pasta.)

When the veggies and pasta were barely tender, I drained and then tossed them with dried figs, blue cheese and olive oil. Then I baked.
Then we ate, and sighed happily. EDW and I loved this dish. The flavors and textures are out of this world and absolutely perfect. I should have taken a phote of Edwin as he ate-- I swear he looked just like Bob Garner enjoying some legendary meal.
It has reheated nicely as leftovers all week, so that's a plus. I'll definitely make this again. Bittman, Mark. The Food Matters Cookbook. "Baked Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Figs, and Blue Cheese." p. 220.