Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Sweet Tooth Fairy

I am finally able to report! I uploaded all my pictures, and I am ready to go.

On Thursday night, I presented the surprise treat: cupcakes from the Sweet Tooth Fairy. Joy! I've been wanting to write a review of this place for a while, and this was the perfect opportunity to get another taste for some research. I got five cupcakes-- one for each McPhie Woman.

Mom chose key lime:

Amy chose coconut:

Lindsay chose strawberry shortcake:

Whitney chose VaNIElla Squared:

And I chose black & white:

But really we just ended up eating portions of each. Key lime was generally decided upon as the favorite (though not by me. I loathe citrus flavored baked goods and almost gagged when I tried it.), and coconut was voted as the runner-up. The cake is moist while retaining its shape-- no crumbs or mess to these cupcakes. Though I do wish the actual cake had more flavor. I feel like all the cakes of each kind taste like generic cake without any distinctive flavor (except for the key lime and the strawberry). When I eat a chocolate cupcake, I want to be in love with the chocolateness. The frosting is applied in copious amounts-- to much for my taste, but this seems to be the trend with all cupcakes these days. The frosting for each cupcake is a cream cheese base-- which I can't decide if I like or not. I am all for cream cheese, but sometimes you want to have some options.
Overall, I will admit I have been there several times: it is quite delicious and such a fun treat. The location seems silly to me (creepy South Provo by KMart), why couldn't they be on Center Street? But no biggie. And even though I didn't sample the cake bites with my sisters, I will say they are absolutely divine. Yum yum yum.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

And by tomorrow I meant in six days

I fully meant to blog about my sisters retreat over the weekend, but I found myself without my camera cord, and the many things I have to say require pictures. So, stay tuned, please. Sam and I moved yesterday which means I don't know where every(any?)thing is. I am settled in my room at my parents house in Salt Lake, and Sam is flying to Virginia this afternoon. I'm trying not to think about it. I'm just sending positive vibes into the universe so he can find a job soon and get us out there!

Here is my new morning view.

And just to my right is Bria's bedroom, which doubles as the closet. It's pretty fancy, I know.

That's all for now. Sam is busy in Provo finishing things up, and I need to finish packing for his big foray back to the East. Starting tomorrow I should have entirely too much time on my hands.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Try Some of Column A; Try All of Column B

I forgot to mention another thing we dipped in chocolate, and I feel it is important to right my wrong.

Cream Puffs.

On a whim at Costco, Sam and I splurged on a box of 90 cream puffs. Dipped in chocolate? Divine. I also may or may not have given Bria two cream puffs for dinner on Monday night.

Today is my last full day in Provo, and I'm trying to decide if there is anywhere else I want to hit up. I mean, I can list several places, I'm just trying to decide whether my bank account and my waistline can take it. Because I'm also headed into a weekend vacation with my sisters. We're going to Caputo's, so you can expect a full report on chocolate and cheese. We're making sorbet, I'm thinking of making bouchons au thon (inspired by this book [by the creator of Orangette] I'm currently reading) with my leftover gruyere from fondue, and I'm bringing up a special surprise treat as well. So I won't be lacking good food over the next couple days.

I'll be back tomorrow night to report on the success of the surprise treat (with pictures!).

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I Fondue, Do You?

Every Monday night since October, Matt and Elisa have come over for dinner. It started with Matt in August as a way to watch Heroes together, then Elisa joined us, we fell way behind with Heroes, and we never looked back. There have been curries, pizzas, salads, ice creams, cookies, brownies, pastas, sauces, meats . . . the list goes on and on. Due to the upcoming move, last night marked our last official Monday dinner. And I have to say, it was one of the best ones yet.

We've talked about fonduing for quite some time, and I thought last night would be the perfect time to realize our dream. Last time I made fondue was with the old International Cuisine group (which disbanded last summer when too many of the group moved away). I made a cheddar and beer fondue which, sadly, curdled due to my penchant for high heat. Last night I turned to my old favorite: a swiss and white wine concoction. I learned of this happy combo from my old roommate Audrey, and have made it for many occasions. I once made it when my from-home friend Jenna and her husband, Nick, came over. She brought the items to dip, and she inspired me with green peppers and li'l smokies. I will eat li'l smokies whenever I can. Dipped in white-winey-cheese? Yes, please!

And the chocolate. Oh the chocolate. It's always, always about chocolate. I couldn't find my tried-and-true recipe, so I followed this one which turned out quite nicely. So rich. So dark. So perfect. We fondued strawberries, apples, brownies, marshmallows, cinnamon bears . . . (a sippy cup?) the joy cannot be described.

The night ended with Sam playing hibachi chef by tossing peppers, marshmallows, cinnamon bears at us while we tried to catch them in our mouths. This activity spotlights my lack of coordination, so I usually bow out at the very last second, letting the floor catch the food. I blame it all on a piece of shrimp that hit me oddly in the face at Asuka once. Anyway, the night ended when Elisa got a fat lip from a fast-flying cinnamon bear. And what a way to end the night. (Though, this morning, I did find Bria gnawing on a lost pepper from our charades.)

Classic Cheese Fondue
3 c Swiss cheese, shredded
1 c Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 t cornstarch
1 clove garlic, halved
1 c white wine
1 T lemon juice
Dash pepper
Dash nutmeg

Combine cheeses and cornstarch in a large bowl and set aside. Rub inside of medium-sized pot with garlic clove, then discard garlic. Pour white wine and lemon juice into pot and heat until air bubbles rise and cover surface. Do not cover, and do not boil.
Stir vigorously and constantly from this point on.
Add a handful of cheese and continue to heat on a medium heat. Stir until cheese is melted. Repeat until all the cheese has been incorporated. Every time I make this, I freak out a little because the cheese doesn't seem to be incorporating. Don't worry! It will all come together at the end. Just keep adding the cheese and stirring, and don't turn the heat up past medium-- you don't want the cheese to curdle. Once the cheese is fully incporated, add a dash of pepper and nutmeg. Quickly transfer the cheese mixture to your fondue put, and then eat it. My favorite things to fondue are french bread, apples, li'l smokies, and green peppers. Be creative. You will love it.
*I often use Emmentaler cheese in addition. Go for about 4 cups of cheese total, using whatever combination you like (though always heavy on the Swiss).

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Pancake Caper

Things have been a little crazy around here as we prep for our move. I planned a big yard sale with our apartment building, which put me in the kitchen baking cookies while directing the application of price stickers. Our brand new Macbook has a broken M key, and Bria has come down with something that caused her to toss her cookies all over me the other night. And I've been trying to pack-- I mean, I've been trying to motivate myself to pack. I haven't been up for much when it comes to cooking, so I'll admit that I've used our move as an excuse to eat out rather often this week. In doing so, I fell in love with a pizza-- more to come on that later.

One of my fall-back easy dinners is pancakes and scrambled eggs. I've been following this recipe lately-- light, fluffy, and flavorful pancakes. I'll often use a little wheat flour too. Served with some fresh strawberries and homemade syrup*-- mmm . . . delicieux!

But the other night, after I made several, and Sam and I gorged ourselves on a few too many, I poured the last of the batter onto the griddle pan. As the batter started to keep its bubbles without filling in, I flipped the last two cakes and walked away. Two hours or so later, Sam and I were watching a few episodes of The Office, and we turned on the fan. I started to smell something like burnt toast. Hmmm . . . maybe the neighbors torched their dinner. I mentioned it to Sam, and we looked over to the stove. Those last two pancakes were still sitting on the hot griddle. The tops still looked golden and delicious, but when we flipped them to their still-cooking other sides-- well, let's just say we needed to go by their dental records to identify them. Poor guys.

(Half way through the flipping process-- starting to assess the damage)

*Homemade syrup:
1 c white sugar
1 c water
1-2 T honey
1 T brown sugar

Bring white sugar and water to a boil. Simmer for a couple minutes to form this simple syrup. Stir in honey and brown sugar to full incorporate. Pour over delicious pancakes, french toast, or waffles. yummmm . . .

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Cheese Fries (Oh How I Love Thee!)

Today was Bria Mangum Grump Fest 2009 sponsored by a 6:20 wake-up time, two short naps, a new molar, and the irrationality of one year-olds everywhere. What fun we've had!
I actually got to miss a chunk of Grump Fest when I snuck out to go to the doctor and Williams-Sonoma with my mom. So, lucky me! But poor Sam, who also got up with her at 6:20 while I slept on until 7:30, has been subjected to Bria Mangum Grump Fest 2009 all day.
Around 3:30, Grump Fest had reached its peak, and The Grump was threatening to become a family-wide affair. We were all tired and a tad hungry, so we decided to indulge in a snack. Hitting up yet another Utah-unique restaurant, we gorged ourselves on some famous Training Table cheese fries.
Oh, cheese fries. The greasiness. The cheesiness. The crunchy-exterior-with-a-soft-interior-ness. Despite the title of my blog, I must admit I am partial to cheapo food like cheese fries. And I am a big fan of Training Table's fry sauce (barbecue and mayo rather than the typical ketchup and mayo). Oh, how I will miss fry sauce! With a HUGE diet coke, Grump Fest turned into Fun Fest. (This fun was enhanced by changing a dirty diaper on a changing mat on the floor near our booth. Hey-- if you don't put a changing station in your bathroom, I will turn your entire restaurant into my personal changing table.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Chicken and Rice (the delicious way)

My family grew up on chicken and rice dishes. Before you start to envision minute rice with cream of chicken soup poured over the top, let me show you a picture.

One common dish from the McPhie house is lemon chicken. My mom is a big fan of lemon curd and would use it as a sauce for baked chicken over Japanese rice (the only rice allowed at Chez McPhie-- more on that later). Several years ago, my culinarily-intuitive sister Amy showed me her updated version of lemon chicken. It has become a staple in my home now. When I make my weekly meal plan every Monday, lemon chicken graces the list more often than not. It's one of Sam's (and my) favorite dishes. In fact, I made it last night (as pictured above) for the weekly Monday dinner we enjoy with Matt and Elisa.
The citrus gives it a light and fresh flavor, and paired with broccoli and brown rice, it can be quite healthy (depending on how much oil you use). Lemon curd can be hard to find at some grocery stores-- I often (but not always) find it next to the jam or in the baking aisle. And now, the specifics:

6-8 chicken tenderloins, raw, cut into bite-size pieces
1 1/2 cup flour
1/2 T salt
1/2 T pepper
1 jar lemon curd
1/2 c chicken broth
1-2 lemons

Place flour, salt, and pepper in a large ziploc bag. Shake to mix well. Add chicken pieces and shake until chicken is fully coated. Heat oil in a large skillet. Cook chicken thoroughly, until it is no longer pink on the inside and the outside is nice and golden. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, heat lemon curd and chicken broth. Use a whisk to fully mix the two. Once hot, stir in juice from lemons. Taste the sauce and add more lemon juice according to how sour you want the sauce. Serve chicken over brown rice with sauce poured on top. Goes incredibly well with broccoli. To increase the health factor, eliminate breading the chicken, season with lemon pepper, and just use a non-stick spray on your pan.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Date: Sammy's and Sundance

Saturday ended up being a perfect day. We spent most of the day packing in Bria's room, Bria and Sam both took two naps, and we got some good cleaning done as well. Saturday night, Elisa came over to watch Bria so Sam and I could have a night on the town. Earlier in the day, I wanted to make cookies, because, well, I always want to make cookies. So Bria and I took a special post-nap trip to the grocery store to buy eggs. (By the way, I am so disappointed Target has raised their price of cage-free, organic eggs from $1.19 to $3.79. Now I have to feel guilty for dishing out the dollars just for eggs!) So the short list of eggs turned into cereal, pretzels (which Bria thought were hilarious to munch on while strolling through Target), tiny Bria-sized socks, Drano, parmesan cheese . . . but what else is Target for if not to make you remember everything you want/need?
So, I made cookies. And then I kept forgetting that Sam and I were going out for dinner in an hour and I ate cookie after cookie after cookie. Add a glass of milk and I was starting to feel sick. But I took that hour and spun it into enough recovery time that by the time we reached Sammy's for dinner, I was ready. Sam and I are hitting up all our favorite places before we fly the Provo coop in two weeks. Sammy's is just off Center Street on 100 W. The first couple times I saw it, it seemed an odd place. The outside looks lovely, but it just seemed like this random place touting its "Famous Pie Shakes." How are they famous if I've never heard of them? But then I read about Sammy's on Your Heart Out, and I decided to try it. Oh joy. Oh rapture. Famous Pie Shakes Indeed.
I went with my favorite: the Promo with regular fries and a chocolate oreo cream pie shake. I was nearly devastated because I was too full to finish (blast those cookies!). Even though the service is always slow, it is worth the wait, since you know they are making your burger specifically for you. They dress the burger in front of your very own eyes, and you can see the walls stacked with boxes of fresh tomatoes, avacadoes, and other vegetation. The reassurance that everything you are eating is fresh is delightful. Plus, when I received my burger last night, it had such ragged edges I started to think maybe even my patty was crafted by hand in the back. Whether that is actually true, I don't care. I will continue to think it and love Sammy's all the more for it.
Back to those Famous Pie Shakes. What-- you don't know what a pie shake is? Take a plastic cup (made from corn and therefore 100% compostable), put some ice cream in it, slap an entire piece of pie in it, and blend it up. What's not to love? There are bits of crust and chunks of unblended pie, oh my stomach is growling for another one. The cheesecake pie shakes are plain, new york style cheesesake pieces blended with fresh fruit of your choice. Now tell me you don't want one.
Even though I said the service is a bit slow, I want you to know that the service is simultaneously excellent. Every time we've gone, the people working there seem thrilled to be working. It seems that they feel their calling in life is to make you the burger of your dreams. Awesome.
We rounded out the night by heading up to Sundance for a full moon lift ride. One weekend a month, Sundance runs their ski lift from 9-11 pm for riders to enjoy the splendid view. It was positively breathtaking-- and a little bit spooky. It gets quite chilly up in the mountains (luckily we were forewarned and donned sweatshirts and a blanket). It was the perfect way to end the day.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Adventures of a Chocophile: Take One

I have a confession. I have not always liked chocolate.

Now, before you get all jumpy, let me explain. In my youth, my experiences with chocolate were brief and cheap. I was never exposed to fine, quality chocolate. There were Hershey bars and Nestle Quik, Reester bunnies and M&Ms, but never more than the cheap imitation of the fine confection. The details of my chocophilia I will save for another day, but tonight I will share one of the many ways well-used chocolate has changed my life: The Brownie.

My initial encounters with brownies were always at social functions: summer barbecues, church parties-- you know the drill. I was only familiar with cake-like brownies that left a synthetic oil taste in their wake and grainy, over-powering frosting that caused the brownie to wither and crumble under its weight. In short: I had been misled. In seventh grade, my friend made brownies from a box. The package stated these were "chewy," and I was intrigued. Upon exiting the oven, we dove in and devoured. I was shocked by the dense texture and the ability to eat the brownies piece by piece with my fingers without making a crumbly mess. We were getting somewhere.

Fastforward eight years. I was newly married and in a chocolate craze. I bought box after box of chewy brownie mixes. One day, while at my parents' house, my sister decided to make brownies. She opened my mother's recipe book and started to make some brownies from scratch. When I tasted the homemade treats, I fell into a dither. These brownies were soft and chewy. They retained their shape while eaten. They were dense and thick, but not overly rich. The flavor stood on its own-- perfectly sweet, with no need for frosting. The Holy Grail of brownies. How had I never noticed these before-- a staple in my own mother's cookbook? I am unsure how the oversight occurred; I am only interested in moving on, a changed woman.


2 c sugar
1 c butter
4 eggs
1 1/2 c + 2T flour
2/3 c cocoa
1/4 t salt

Cream sugar, butter and eggs. Add flour, cocoa, and salt and mix thoroughly. Pour batter into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 325 for 25 minutes.

Do not overbake. I once used a new kitchen timer while making these. The timer didn't work and I overbaked by a few minutes. In short, the brownies ended up in the dumpster instead of my stomach.
The batter is incredibly thick. You may have to mold it into the pan using a rubber scraper rather than simply pouring it into the pan. (take a look at the pre-baking picture below. isn't that batter beautiful?)

I usually cut the recipe in half, since it's just for me and Sam, and use an 8x8 pan.
Attention batter-eaters: don't pass up on the opportunity to lick the beaters. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Easy Dinners: caprese

Last night was a night for a simple, light dinner. After a day of too-short naps and, consequently, a grumpy one year-old, I needed dinner prep to be quick and easy (with an easy clean-up as well). My sister Amy introduced me to this scrumptious and easy dish last Christmas, and I fell in love. I tried it again at New Years, but didn't have the oven hot enough, so I ended up with tough, dry bread and chewy cheese. This attempt turned out perfectly from the simple change of cranking the oven up another hundered degrees. This is such a great easy dinner, and Bria loved eating chunks of mozzarella and tomato as I was preparing. We continued the tone of the meal by using paper plates and dining outside-- the quintessential summer night, if you ask me.

You will need:

1 loaf any dense, artisan bread-- I use ciabatta
Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
4-6 Roma tomatoes
Fresh and soft mozzarella (the kind that comes in a ball or tube-like loaf)
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil

Slice bread loaf in half lengthwise. Cut halves into desired size. Liberally drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over bread until fully covered. Top bread with sliced tomatoes and mozzarella (cut into chunks or slices-- whichever you prefer.) Sprinkle salt and pepper over the top. Bake in a 425 degree oven until the cheese turns golden. Top with shredded basil leaves and serve.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Jam Plan

The first time in our marriage Sam asked me to buy jam from the grocery store, I was nearly offended on behalf of fruit everywhere. But since it was winter, and we were on a tight, student budget, I obliged. I bought strawberry jam. There have been a few other mass-produced fruit concoctions in our fridge at various points during our marriage (even a grape jelly at one time), but even Sam will proclaim hands-down, there is no comparison to homemade jam.
I love seeing bits of fruit spread on a warm and crisp piece of buttered bread, and I hate the way cooking changes a fruit's texture, so jellies and cooked jams are out of the question. I am a freezer jam girl, through and through. I grew up on the stuff; I have visions of jars and their lids, mounds of sugar and mashed berries, and my mother wiping sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. (That last detail is surely a construct of my imagination. Making freezer jam is surprisingly easy.) Eating a perfect piece of toast with jam transports me home.

The first time I made a homemade jam, I geared up for a lengthy and involved task. Less than an hour later, I gazed at my accomplishment shocked by the ease of it all. Making freezer jam will make you feel like you were born to be domestic. My favorite is raspberry, though it is easier to consume large amounts of strawberry in one sitting-- the raspberry is much more intensely sweet. I get a box or two of pectin at the grocery store and follow the enclosed directions exactly. I love to give jam away, so I usually buy a couple fun jars (including these from IKEA this year) (I also hear the plastic freezer jars work well) and use regular tupperware for what doesn't fit in a jar. Freezer jam lasts for a month in the fridge and a year in the freezer. The only disappointing part of the jam I made this year is that we are moving in a couple weeks-- there will be no jam to pull out of the freezer this winter. I'll have to make up for it now by eating double the recommended daily dosage.

*I insist on buttering my toast before the jam. Sam had never heard of this method-- only choosing one or the other, but he now swears by it (I, on the otherhand, have never followed any other practice). If you have not yet married the two tasties, try it. Try it now.

Holiday Sides -- Memorial Day

On Memorial Day we had a proper barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers on our tiny charcoal grill. Sam sets it up in our parking space outside, and he tried a new method of heating the coals in a metal can before transferring them to the grill-- it only worked moderately. It cooked the meat through, which is the most important, but we're still looking for the perfect way to heat the briquettes. Despite the time commitment, I do love a real grill. The taste from the charcoals can't be beat.

To go along with our meat, I made a pasta salad. I get tired of the same old pasta salads, and I made this one for the first time for Father's Day a couple years ago. It's fresh, flavorful, and delicious. Each ingredient is flexible-- you can add more or less depending on your tastes-- so definitely take these measurements as approximations. I am a huge fan of the corn because it balances the spicy red onion. (I go for frozen corn whenever I use corn, and in recipes like this, I stick it in a strainer and run hot water over it until it's thawed.) One huge perk of this recipe is that it makes delicious leftovers. (And for one who hates leftovers, that's saying a lot.)

10 oz. orzo pasta, cooked in salter water to al dente
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups corn
1 red onion, small chop
1/2 bunch cilantro, rough chop
4 limes, juiced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Dump all ingredients into serving bowl and mix together. That's it!
The key to this one is the lime juice. I always find I need more than I anticipated. Take a couple tastes and add more of the ingredients you like best.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Gift from Birthing Class

When I was pregnant with Bria, I followed the natural pattern and was nauseated by nearly all food. At an elaborate feast (put on by my mother) of shredded pork burritos with cilantro-lime rice, homemade tortillas, saucy black beans, and other Mexican delights, I could only bring myself to eat tortillas slathered in sour cream. In addition to shunning all food with flavor, wheat bread and scrambled eggs were also banished. But my appetite slowly returned around month four and I found myself in the grasp of a seriously tenacious sweet tooth. I even made a special trip to the grocery store to buy a cake mix, a tub of frosting, and a jar of sprinkles. I came home, made the cake, and ate the cake. No questions asked (actually, I'm sure Sam asked questions about that one). But as my sweet tooth narrowed its gaze, I constantly desired-- and constantly devoured-- cookies. Any kind of cookie, really. I made cookies two or three times a week my entire third trimester. (Let's pretend I didn't have gestational diabetes.) I was constantly on the prowl for a perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe, and I tried probably ten different recipes until the heavens opened at my birthing class. Every week, my teacher, Katherine, provided us with gourmet treats (again, let's pretend I didn't have gestational diabetes). One week, she presented us with chocolate chip cookies. As soon as I bit into the cookie, I knew my search was over. I had found the perfect chocolate chip cookie. These cookies are chewy (my favorite), but they aren't so flat you only taste the chocolate. They stay soft for days (though they never last that long at my house). And, as with all cookies, they are perfectly accompanied by a glass of cold milk. I was thrilled when Katherine obliged to share the recipe. The number of times I have made these cookies since then cannot be numbered. The key to this cookie is three-fold. 1) A combination of butter and shortening creates the perfect texture. 2) Sour cream gives a tang to balance the sweetness. 3) A short oven time followed by carry-over cooking on the baking sheet makes a perfectly golden cookie without over-drying.

Behold, I give you the recipe for Hypnobirthing Chocolate Chip Cookies, courtesy of Katherine Reed:

1 c brown sugar
1 c white sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c butter (as close to room temp as possible-- better melty than too firm though)
1/2 c shortening (I use butter flavored)
2 t vanilla
1 t baking soda
1 t salt
3 c (plus a tiny more) flour
2 T sour cream
Chocolate chips to your heart's desire (one bag usually does the trick)

Cream sugars, butter, shortening, eggs. Add vanilla. Combine dry ingredients then mix into wet ingredients. Add a little flour so that the dough is
slightly crumbly, then add sour cream. Add chocolate chips. Scoop onto a cookie sheet (I use a #70) and bake for 8-9 minutes at 375. Remove cookies (they won't look done, but they should have started to crack on top). Leave on cookie sheet for 3 minutes, then remove to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag.