Sunday, February 24, 2013

Peanut Butter Porter Bread

I do this thing where I go to people's houses and imagine what it would look like if I lived there. Almost in a creepy way, where within fifteen minutes of walking through the door, my plans for the place are fully mapped out. In older houses, I like to imagine what it looked like when the very first owners lived there. 

A few months ago we ended up this house party, in an awesome giant home built in the 50s, mid-century modern design at it's finest–huge wooden double door entrance, split level where you go up just a few steps to the living room. I didn't even care about socializing, I just wanted to explore that house. "No, I'm fine here alone in the dark sitting room, don't mind me." I can totally picture Betty Draper hosting a swanky little shindig there, passing around a tray of rumaki or some other retro cocktail snack (ps. I LOVE rumaki!).

I also like to do that at furniture stores. Yesterday Evan and I walked to a new consignment store in our neighborhood. The place is two floors with little rooms, which the consignment shop had fully decked out like living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms. Looking for a late 1991 style bedroom, complete with gold bed frame and pastel water color painting? Look no further! Would you like a drink? Step up to my 1970s home-bar, I'll mix you up a martini! There were even a few pieces that could have come straight out of Downton Abbey. I pulled Evan into my little fantasy world, and we wandered around for awhile, pretending to live in the little rooms. Imagining where that furniture had been when it was new. Who's homes it had been in. 

By the time we got home, it was pretty chilly out. Evan cozied up to a video game, and I cozied up to the oven to make peanut butter bread. I've made Fannie Farmer's peanut butter quick bread a bunch of times, but this time decided to do something a little different. I had one can of coconut porter in the fridge that Amanda brought back from Maui recently, so I decided to swap out the milk in the recipe for beer. I had been saving it for a special I-need-a-really-delicious-beer-right-now occasion, but then I saw that my local grocery store is carrying it (!!).  That coconut porter is SO good. Rich and dark but not too heavy, slightly sweet and coconutty. 

And, add it to peanut butter bread? Perfection. This bread is great–dense, slightly sweet, and peanutty, with just a touch of beer-tang. The best part about this recipe–aside from the fact that it's a breeze to make–is that while it's baking, you can drink the remaining half of the beer. My kind of bread! 

Peanut Butter Porter Bread
Adapted from Fannie Farmer

2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter
1 egg, beaten
1 cup dark beer (like coconut porter)

Preheat oven to 350, and grease a loaf pan (or line with parchment paper). Add dry ingredients to a large bowl (I used my stand mixer) and whisk/mix together. Add in peanut butter, egg, and beer, and mix until incorporated. Spoon into loaf pan, and bake for 50 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

White Chocolate Caramel Sauce

Guys, it's been a big few days. Evan and I bought a new car, I got a bike, we got a new chair for our living room, we're almost caught up on Downton Abbey, and I discovered the amazingness of caramelized white chocolate. CARAMELIZED WHITE CHOCOLATE. 

You see that glorious golden caramel there? That, my friends, is white chocolate. Seriously! All that's in there is white chocolate, sea salt, and a little bit of heavy cream. 

I've never been a white chocolate fan. Quite the opposite. I've always steered clear of the stuff. But, holy bajolie. Throw it in the oven and slow roast it to a golden brown, and sprinkle with sea salt. It's insane, people. Like, the only words I can think of to describe how stoked I am about it are gibberish. I can hardly even form a sentence I'm so excited. Or, maybe thats from all the sugar I've eaten? 

I followed this recipe from Food52 exactly. The first couple days after I made it, I just broke off a chunk of the hardened caramelized chocolate, and ate it straight up. To make a sauce, I added what I had left (about a half cup of caramelized white chocolate) to a sauce pan, heated over medium until it loosened up just a tad, added about 2 tablespoons heavy cream, and whisked over medium heat until it was the consistency I wanted. 

Did you know this was a thing!? How did I not know?? It's out of control good. It's "I think I just gained 5 pounds" good. It's "stop reading and go make it right this second" good. Seriously... do that. 


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Coconut Milk Peanut Butter Mousse

I love Valentine’s Day. There, I said it.

I know it’s all hearts and mushy-love and pink things. I know it’s super commercial and makes people cringe. I know single people go home and cry into their ice cream or get drunk or something. I just don’t get that. I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day. Even when boys had cooties. Even when I had a broken heart.

When I was kid, I would wake up on Vday, and there would be big gift baskets waiting for me and Amanda, full of candy hearts and chocolates, usually with a toy or earrings or makeup.  There would be flowers on the table for Mel, from John, with a homemade card that he painted or drew or collaged. In elementary school we would decorate bags or boxes to collect Valentine’s cards. In high school, my girlfriends and I gave each other little gifts, chocolates or scrunchies or mugs with pink and red pencils in them.

I think it’s sweet. I think love is sweet, romantic or otherwise. And I think that even if you’re single or heartbroken or on a major man-hating streak, you should still love love—you know, love that your friends and family love you. That your pets love you. Give all of them some of your love, too. This Valentine’s Day, can we make a pact? Can we all plan on being in love…with life? It’s just too short and unpredictable to be hateful or ungrateful.

Here’s a little something else for you to love—super simple peanut butter mousse, made with just a couple of ingredients, including coconut milk and that powdered peanut butter you ran out and bought to make instant oatmeal!
Coconut Milk Peanut Butter Mousse

1 can full-fat coconut milk (not Goya, it doesn't seem to separate)
1/4 cup powdered peanut butter + 1 tablespoon
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
Salted peanuts

Chill the can of coconut milk overnight. Open the cans (a lot of recipes for coconut milk mousse recommend opening upside down, as the cream will float to the top when it separates), and scoop the thick cream into a chilled bowl. You can save the liquid for something else (like throwing into a smoothie) or toss. If your coconut milk doesn't separate, it won't be thick enough to whip. It will still taste good though, but will pretty soupy. Add the peanut butter powder and powdered sugar, and beat until desired consistency. It will thicken up a lot once you add the powdered peanut butter and start whipping. I usually beat by hand with a whisk, because I only make 1 can worth (which isn't enough for my whisk attachment to reach in my stand mixer!). This is super rich, so 1 can worth is plenty for two people. Top with salted peanuts. PS. Try freezing it for a few hours for super delish PB ice-cream!!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Dinner & Movie: Shrimp & Grits

It's Mardi Gras time! For those of us that have to work on Wednesday, Fat Tuesday may be less of a party, and more of an excuse to eat some spicy cajun food and watch a movie! So, instead of flashing for beads, pull up a seat, grab a big bowl of shrimp and cheesy grits, and turn on a spooky bayou-inspired flick. 

It's dinner & a movie: New Orleans style! 

The Movie: The Skeleton Key
Ok, so I've never been to Louisiana, so this movie might not be the most authentic representation, but it's a fun one! The Skeleton Key is a horror film (with Kate Hudson!) full of ghosts, hoodoo, and Louisianan accents. I'm a big fan of haunted house movies, and this haunted house takes the cake (the king cake!?). A big, giant, old plantation mansion deep in the bayou, with a dark past and, gasp, a secret room in the attic. Add to that cool southern scenery, black and white "flashbacks" of a 1920s conjure man, and tons of twists. And did I mention Kate Hudson? Love her! It can be a bit predictable at times, but the last scene is worth sticking it out to the end! 

Photo credit:

The Dinner: Shrimp and Grits
I put a little poll up on my Facebook page, asking what I should make for Mardi Gras… the winner? Shrimp and grits! It's weird, but I had actually never had shrimp and grits before. I've had cheesy grits plenty of times, and I've had all kinds of shrimp, but never the two together. And, never in classic NOLA style. So, this dinner might be as inauthentic as the movie, but both make for a good time. For me, it's not Fat Tuesday without Andouille sausage, so obvious that went into the mix, along with some smoky bacon, tabasco, a little bit of molasses, lemon juice, and some worcestershire sauce. Spoon onto creamy, cheesy grits, and top with fresh parsley… you have yourself a tasty, cozy Mardi Gras dinner!

Shrimp & Andouille with Cheesy Grits

2 cups water
1/2 cup grits
2 T heavy cream 
1 T butter
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and Pepper

Bring water to a boil, add grits, lower hear, and simmer until tender and water is absorbed. Stir in cream, butter, cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. 

2 thick slices smokey bacon, diced
1 andouille sausage, sliced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 shakes Tabasco or other hot sauce
1 tablespoon molasses
1 squirt ketchup 
Salt & pepper
fresh parsley

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the bacon until just about (but not quite) crispy, and add sausage slices. Cook for a minute or so. Add butter, and cook until melted. Add garlic, cook for a minute, and stir in lemon juice through ketchup. Salt & pepper the shrimp, and add to skillet. Toss the shrimp in the butter and cook until shrimp are just pink and cooked through. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve shrimp with sauce over grits. Top with fresh parsley. 

I used the following recipes for inspiration: 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Soba Salmon Noodle Bowls

Before we talk about that delicious amazing soba salmon bowl, let's talk about… books! As much as I love TV, I also loooove reading. I just finished Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese. I love him. So much detail. I kept having to set the book down to do wikipedia research. I love that. 

I read his first book, My Own Country, three times in college. It took me a few chapters to get into Cutting for Stone, but I generally have two, and sometimes even three books going at once, so I was fine. My Kindle bill is through the roof, and my bookshelf is taking over Evan's office (i.e. our spare room that's also Biscuit's room). What should I read next? I'm eyeing Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walters. I love the cover! I totally judge books by their covers. Actual books, not people.

Ok, sorry. Now we can talk about that soup. Guys, I've made this soba noodle bowl like six times since November. It's so good! I first had something like it at Tom Douglas' Seatown restaurant, and immediately ran home to make it. Ok, not immediately, because I was really full. But, you know. 

Even though there are a few different steps, like making the broth, broiling the salmon, boiling the noodles, sautéing the mushrooms, and boiling the eggs (sheesh!) it comes together pretty quick. And tastes really good, light, and simple. Just make it already! 

Salmon Soba Noodle Bowl
Serves 2 people

1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 mushrooms, diced super small (I used shiitake)
2 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger
2 cups broth
2.5 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 Tablespoon rice vinegar

In a pot, heat oil over medium, and add mushroom. Cook for 5 or so minutes, until browned and sautéed (don't burn), and add garlic and ginger. Cook for a minute or so, and add broth, soy sauce, and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer while you prepare everything else. 

Salmon (adapted from this recipe)
1 green onion, minced
1 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
black pepper
2 six oz. salmon fillets, skinned
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Whisk green onion, soy sauce, vinegar, honey, ginger, and black pepper together. Put salmon in a ziplock bag, and add sauce. let marinate for 15 minutes (in the fridge). Preheat broiler. Line a baking pan with foil and coat with cooking spray, and add salmon, skinned-side down. Broil the salmon 4 to 6 inches from the heat until cooked through, 5 to 8 minutes. Add sesame seeds for last minute of cooking. 
Noodle Bowl Assembly
1 baby bok choy, white part thinly slice, green leafy part set aside
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I used shiitake)
3-4 ounces dried soba noodles
2 hardboiled eggs, halved
sliced green onion
Sriracha, to taste

Boil soba noodles according to package directions. Lightly sauté the sliced white parts of the bok choy with the mushrooms. In shallow bowls, add noodles, then add eggs, mushrooms and bok choy, and bok choy greens. Pour hot broth over noodles, and top with green onions. Add sriracha, to taste. 


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Roarin' 20s Murder Mystery Dinner

1928, Chicago. Jazz drifts from the old Victrola in the corner. The room is dimly lit, but lively. Alcohol is prohibited, but tonight, if you know the secret knock, it pours freely. Welcome to S.P. Keasy's Place. You've been invited here because you, along with the seven other people at your table, are suspected… for murder. 

Who dunnit? Was it the society dame and flapper with a sordid past? Or perhaps Chicago's most colorful millionaire gambler? Or was it the shady lady and owner of a prominent "private club?" Along with avid golfer "Socks," a young reporter with a questionable connection to the deceased, a crooked DA, a sultry, mysterious songstress, and the star pitcher for Chicago's major league baseball team, all eight of you played a role in the notorious gangster Hal Coppone's murder. 

My friends and I had a murder mystery dinner party! V and Ben's house was transformed into a speakeasy, and we were all transformed into flappers, mobsters, and madams. To go along with the 1920s Chicago theme, I went Italiano and made a lasagna and a "bathtub gin" cake. Ben stocked the Bar with prohibition era cocktails, and with Duke and Louis playing the background, we Charlston'd our way through four rounds of questioning to find out who killed the notorious bootlegging gangster. If you've never played a murder mystery game, I highly recommend it, super fun! It also helped that we had an improv actor in our group!

Also, if you've never made lasagna with homemade bolognese sauce and béchamel, I highly recommend that, too. It does take a bit of effort, but it's totally worth it. I've always liked lasagna, but never loved lasagna. That's because I had never had it quite like this. Forget the slimy pasta swimming in layers of red sauce and ricotta. This lasagna was thick and hearty, full of rich, meaty sauce and cheese. There's a touch of nutmeg in the béchamel, which seems weird at first, but totally works. Murder mystery or no, make this lasagna. And if you're feeling extra adventurous, throw on a fringed dress and and put a feather in your hair… it is the roarin' 20s, after all!

Bolognese Lasagna with Béchamel 
Adapted from Mario Batali's recipe

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 carrot, finely, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon oregano
Hearty pinch red pepper flakes
1/4 pound pancetta or slab bacon, ground or diced finely
3/4 cup tomato paste (add more by the tablespoonful if desired)
1 1/4 cup milk
1 1/4 cup dry white wine 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating

1 package no-boil lasagna (flat)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1. 5 cups shredded parmesan cheese
Fresh parsley, sliced thinly (optional)

For the bolognese: In a 6 to 8-quart heavy-bottomed pot (I used my dutch oven), heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and cook over medium heat until almost browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Turn the heat to high, and add the beef, pork, and pancetta, stirring to keep the meat from sticking together until browned. Add the oregano, red pepper flakes, tomato paste, milk, and wine and simmer over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and remove from the heat. Note: the béchamel is fairly salty, so don't over salt the bolognese. 

For the béchamel: In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside.

For assembly: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. In a large lasagna pan, assemble the lasagne, beginning with a layer of bolognese, a layer of grated cheese (both), a layer of pasta, a layer of bechamel, a layer of bolognese, cheese, etc. until all sauce and pasta are used up. The top layer should be pasta, bechamel, cheese. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the edges are browned and the sauces are bubbling. Remove and cool for 10 minutes before slicing. Sprinkle with parsley if desired. 

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