Friday, July 31, 2009

The Cheesecake Factory

Yesterday was National Cheesecake Day, so in celebration, Elisa and I ventured to the Cheesecake Factory for dinner. I happen to love the Cheesecake Factory. I love that, despite an enormous menu, the food is delicious. Sometimes restaurants get so focused on having a large variety that the quality of the food suffers. Not so with the C.F. Everything I have eaten there has been positively delicieux. I was in the mood for something light, so I went with the Thai Lettuce Wraps. They provide you with very large lettuce cups, shredded carrots, bean sprouts, these noodle things, a marinated cucumber thing, and peanut satay-like chicken. There are three sauces, and all are divine. My favorite is the peanut sauce. This dish is messy-- I even had to whip out my trusty wipes (thank goodness I'm a mom and am always equipped!) post-eating to take care of the carnage on my hands.

Because it was National Cheesecake Day, the cheesecake was half off, which was lovely. Not that I wouldn't have gotten it anyway, but you know. I usually opt for the Tiramisu cheesecake (or vanilla bean if I am sharing with Sam), but I decided to go for something a little different this time with the Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie Cheesecake. Oh. I am so glad did. It was so smooth, creamy, and decadent. It was a coconut cheesecake, with coconut cream on top, nestled on a chocolate macaroon crust, topped with shredded coconut. What's not to love? Coconut and I love each other so much. It was perfect. Plus, since the pieces are so huge, particularly after a huge dinner, I still had a hefty chunk of my cheesecake to bring home, which I will certainly devour tonight.

I'm feeling stretched thin these days-- Sam left for Virginia almost six weeks ago, and I did see him for a couple days in the middle there, but a girl can only go so long without her boy. I'm going to jump back into some of my culinary explorations to help spice things up a bit, so you can look forward to some better, more frequent postings. I'm hoping to try something new everyday. So stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oh, Baby!

I think it's high time I move on to try some new things and stop feeding my A Homemade Life addiction/obsession, so here is the last post on that for a while.
One of my other favorite restaurants is the Original Pancake House (OPH). They had it in Denver, where I grew up, and there is one here in Salt Lake. I have had so many delicious things there: their fresh fruit filled crepes are to die for. Last time I had those was one of those experiences where you are reaching dangerously full levels, but you keep eating and eating and eating and are so devastated that you can't finish because you are about to explode. But the thing OPH is famous for is their Dutch Baby. And, truth be told, I've never had it. But it is my mom's favorite, and Sam loves it as well. So, imagine my joy when I discovered a recipe for Dutch Babies in A Homemade Life! I told my mom, and she was positively thrilled at the prospect of having a Dutch Baby for dinner some night.
The Dutch Baby is surprisingly easy to make. More eggs than you can shake a stick at, half and half, flour, and salt are tossed into a blender, than poured into a hot and buttery dish. They bake in the oven and come out glorious, billowing towers of eggy-pancakey Dutch deliciousness. Devouring them with copious amounts of fresh lemon and sugar are required.
I didn't know just how HUGE the Dutch babies would get. When I went to check on the first batch (I made four), they were just finishing the minimum suggested cooking time, and they were burning on the top of the oven-- yes, they were on a lower rack and they had billowed up to reach the top burners of the oven. I yelled out, "WE HAVE A DUTCH BABY EMERGENCY!" And my sister Lindsay quickly came to my side. We removed them promptly, and I kept my eyes on the second batch from the get-go.

The second batch:

They truly are beautiful as you see them full and tall and steamy in the oven, and then watch them collapse the moment they leave their fiery incubator. There were five adults and two kids, and four dutch babies were more than enough.

So, here is Molly Wizenberg's Dutch Baby recipe from A Homemade Life:

2 T butter
4 large eggs
1/2 c flour
1/2 c half and half
1/4 t salt

lemon juice and sugar

Put butter in a single, deep 8 inch skillet, or in a 9- or 10- inch pyrex cake pan or pie plate (I used a pie plate). Put butter in the pan and put it in a preheated oven (425 degrees). Remove pan when the butter is melty and brush it all around the pan and up the sides. In the meantime, blend eggs, flour, half and half, and salt. Pour batter into the warm pan and bake from 18 - 25 minutes. When the baby emerges from the oven, immediately shower it in lemon juice and sugar (powdered or granulated). Serve immediately.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Count On The Counter

Bria has been a tad under the weather the last few days (cutting teeth will do that to a gal), so my blogging has been a little slack. Last night, when I should have been working, I ended up watching this episode of 16 and Pregnant on and cried my eyes out. Priorities, people. It was all thanks to my pal Elisa who told me about the episode. And, a fantastic time at lunch yesterday was also thanks to Elisa. We ventured to The Counter for lunch which sparked the following:

If I could eat out for every meal of the day, have endless finances to do so, and a stomach that stretched like the waistband of maternity pants (and didn't care about it either), I would choose the Counter for lunch. Clearly, I'm behind on the trend. My sister Amy, who lives in the Bay Area, has been telling me about The Counter for years. Oprah loves it; every major city in the U.S. loves it; your dog probably loves it. But it's fairly new to Utah. In case you are like me and are new to it as well, it's a burger joint. They give you a little sheet with all your burger options, and you check and circle and mark to your hearts content to create Your Perfect Burger. I happen to love burgers. Seriously. Love. Burgers. The first time, I created a fairly classic cheeseburger: 1/3 lb. beef patty (weighed after cooking), tillamook cheddar, lettuce blend (no iceberg in sight!), bermuda red onions, tomatoes (to pull off for Bria to eat), and mayonnaise. Let me tell you. Amazing. And when I went yesterday, I decided to go the same route, except I swapped in a veggie patty for the beef. The veggie patty was pretty awesome. It didn't look like a completely foreign mass, which I appreciated. There were visible and whole black beans and corn kernels, which made me giddy. But one beef (ha) I always have with veggie patties is the texture. I like it to hold its shape a little better. It did fall apart a little too easily, but that was my only complaint. I'll probably go back to beef next time.
Also, the sweet potato fries. Sometimes sweet potatoes give me the willies. I don't know. Sweet vegetables make me gag sometimes (like butternut squash). But these sweet potato fries will not make you gag, my friends. They might even make you cry with joy. Plus, they are served with a horseradish mayonnaise dipping sauce, which is like a modern and hip fry sauce. Oh so good. I much prefer the sweet potatoes to the regular fries at The Counter.
And lastly, Elisa and I idulged ourselves on shakes. She had chocolate; I had strawberry. What a fine choice, indeed. It was so big, I didn't even finish-- and I always finish. In fact, I didn't finish my burger or the fries either. It's so much food. Which I really don't mind.
So it's probably good Sam isn't here right now. We can convince each other entirely too easily that we should eat out, and then we might end up at The Counter every day. Not that I would mind on an emotional level, but apparently it's not healthy or financially responsible to eat like that every day or something. Whatever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

for you, amanda

molly wizenberg's coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache

(though the recipe in her book omits the almond extract, as did I.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Salivating in Rememberance

I think it's imperative to discuss the culinary delights of Matt's birthday party on Friday night. When I learned of the party, my mind starting spinning at all the possibilities. I settled on three recipes from my obsession. What, you don't remember? A Homemade Life guys. I shouldn't have to say it again. (P.S. Orangette is BACK! I'm dying with joy.)

I made the Winning Hearts and Minds cake twice last week once for random fun, and another time for the party. A delectable flourless chocolate cake/torte. Oh it is so rich. And there are only five ingredients. Chocolate (not cocoa), sugar, butter, eggs, and flour-- all of 1 tablespoon of flour. The flavor is so deep I couldn't even eat an entire piece, which is shocking. At Matt's party, people would ask me what it was, and I would say, "it's a rich chocolate flourless cake." A couple times people would say, "like a brownie?" and I would reply "no." simple as that, no explanation, as if I wouldn't lower myself to further explanation. Please. A brownie? Flourless cakes everywhere are insulted.
Ok, but my one confession is that I have no idea if that cake was baked all the way through. I mean, I guess it doesn't matter, because it was delicious and no one died of salmonella, but I still feel a bit unsettled.
Also, the batter is so delightfully gelatinous from all the eggs. I wanted to swim in it. Unfortunately, the only picture I have is this:

Though I do love the weirdness of that picture.

Also, I made little corn cakes with bacon, tomato, and avacado (it was like I was reproducing Molly Wizenberg's wedding menu . . . ahh, if only). When I read about the corn cakes, I was imagining things shaped rather like miniature hockey pucks. These were like pancakes. But made from corn. Hence, corn cakes. So that really threw me off for a bit, and I overcooked the first batch. But once I realized the beauty and genius of it, they turned out lovely. And once assembled, they were beautiful! So artistic. (Alas, I forgot to photograph them.) It was this perfect little disk with these gorgeous little wisps of color. And the flavors were fantastic. A perfect medley. The bacon. The avacado. The tomato. The basil. The mayonnaise. The corn cake. Oh man. It was heaven. (though I did substitute fresh tomato for the roasted ones in the recipe. I liked it this way, and it saved me time.)

And lastly. The macaroons. *Cue Angel Chorus.* I showed them off to everyone. And they were so delicious. And so beautiful! I was in awe. They were so fun to make, even though the recipe scared me just a little bit. And I felt like the fact that they were coconut macaroons with chocolate ganache was so lovely, because it my first time making ganache since the inception of this blog. So, Blog: I dedicate this recipe to you. Don't they look fantastic?


Now after the party (which also featured fried artichoke, bacon, cheese balls; a cheese platter; and sausage, basil, artichoke, bell pepper skewers; and a DQ ice cream cake among other things) I am dying to throw a dinner party. It might be a while before it gets to happen, but I am already planning.

Lastly, Sam was finally reunited with me for a couple days, so thank goodness we got to go together, and he also snapped the pictures of the macaroons and the cake.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Review: A Homemade Life

Oh I've so been meaning to post about that Denver Chocolate Pudding Pie. But every time I think to do it, I'm upstairs, the cookbook is downstairs . . . one of these times, I swear.
But I finished A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. Friends, I cannot tell you how happy that book made me. Molly is a fantastic writer and I gobbled up every sentence. She writes with such fluidity and grace. She has a very strong voice and vision, and I was constantly coveting her writing style. Every recipe I wanted to try, mostly because of the she talked about it. It was like every recipe was this precious gem she wanted to share with you because you are such dear friends. After finishing, I took a bunch of post-its and marked all the recipes I want to try: vanilla-black pepper ice cream, pickled grapes with cinnamon and pepper . . . oh I can't wait. And I am attempting her chana masala tonight.
I highly recommend this book. And for my current situation, it was perfect. Each recipe is preceded by a short (2-3 page) vignette. It worked out just right for me to be able to read a snippet here or there without feeling like I was interuppting my reading or my parenting. I will further report on other tried recipes in the future. Until then, continue to wait patiently for the denver chocolate pudding pie recipe.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

I love inside jokes. I hope to be a part of one someday.

Today I ventured to Logan to spend the day with my little sister, Whitney. It was about an hour and a half drive both ways, which I geniusly coordinated with Bria's two naps. As I was approaching Logan, I took note of the incredible small-town feeling of the place. Just outside Logan is a tiny place called . . . Wellville? I think. So tiny. Nothing but houses, mostly rundown, but then about 5 large, new, spacious, fancy-pants houses on a street. It all seemed to strange to me. I think one thing I don't like about small towns is that everyone knows each other. It's like middle school all over again. If you can't break your way in, tough luck. That's one thing I didn't like about Provo as a non-student. I didn't feel like I was (or could be) really a part of Provo. So I would love to live in a big city. Lucky for me, since this move to D.C. is imminent, or at least pre-imminent. Interesting that the very thing I wouldn't like about a small town is probably the most appealing thing for people who do like them. But I will miss something about Utah and the lack of development:

Ahhh, that drive was beautiful.

So Whitney and I sat by the pool and munched on popcorn chicken and strawberries. A delightful summer-day-by-the-pool lunch. And Bria's first time in the pool was quite the success.
She's so cute I could have gobbled her up with the strawberries. (She and I were covered, covered, in strawberry juice. She even had it on her shoulder in a dribble down to her arm pit. How?) And as I sat by the pool with her as she splashed and splashed, I was acutely aware of the fact that I have not shaved in, oh, ten days? Come on, Sam's gone.

And on the ride home, with a sleeping Bria, I sipped a diet coke the size of my head and snacked on the leftover popcorn chicken, which had taken on the taste of its in-the-grocery-bag neighbor, the banana. Disgusting, for sure, but I ate all of them with glee.

Now I'm perfectly sun-kissed and happy after a perfect day with my daughter and my sis. To top it all off, I am going to indulge on leftover Denver Chocolate Pudding Cake from last night. Definitely more on that later, don't you worry.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Meatball Madness

I am currently reading A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg, creator of Orangette. Which means I am currently obsessed. I've tried several of her recipes and am kind of in love. I guess I haven't had 100% success with her recipes-- mostly because I keep trying things I know I won't like (lemon cake and tuna corks, details forthcoming)-- but this all leads me to dinner. Oh dinner. Ohhhhh dinner. I was reading the book when I came across the recipe. I knew I had struck gold. I could almost taste it in my mind's mouth. Greek Meatballs with Lemon Yogurt Sauce? Yes, please. Over couscous? With fresh cucumbers? Yes and yes.

First, let's discuss how much I need a new, fancy camera. This is how mine looked:

They are perfect. I was particularly skeptical of the golden raisins in the recipe. Raisins and I don't like each other so much. I think they are weird and too chewy. But in the meatballs? They add the perfect touch of sweetness, and since they are chopped, you can't really tell you're eating a meatball. Then there are the pine nuts. Who doesn't love pine nuts? I had never used ground turkey before, but it was perfect to work with, and the flavor wasn't overpowering. The yogurt sauce was perfectly flavorful. It adds quite a punch to the meatballs, but it is absolutely divine. I served the meatballs over a pine nute couscous I bought at the grocery store and with cucumbers. It all went perfectly together. Sadly, I didn't get to eat any leftovers. My parents were fighting over them down to the very last one. Next time, my mom wants to serve them with warm pita bread.
This dinner was kind of medicinal. A) It was fantastic treatment for my taste buds. They were so happy. B) My mom watched Bria while I cooked, so it was a little break. C) It was so tasty, I just sat there and let the praise from my family soak in. It boosted my spirits a little. Usually all my baking and cooking is for Sam (because he is loose with praise), so it almost felt like home.

Thank you, meatballs. Thank you, Orangette. Thank you.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Talk of the Turkey

OK, it's been a week, and I have to tell you: dinner tonight was so fantastic, I've been inspired into writing again. I called Sam just to tell him "you missed out on one of my best dinners yet." He was (justifiably) sad and jealous. Seriously, it was good. But I'm not going to tell you about dinner tonight. Because I have to talk turkey.

I have been all awash in turkey sandwiches ever since my sisters retreat. It start at Carlucci's, which happens to be next-door neighbors with Caputo's (more on that bit of heaven later). We happened upon Carlucci's for dinner one night during retreat and found the lovely place offering a smattering of tasty sandwich options. I settled on the bacon turkey sandwich, and I cannot tell you how happy I am with my decision.
The bread was so thick, but soooo soft. The turkey was perfectly thin and light. The bacon, perfectly crispy. Even the tomato was perfect, which really says a lot. I'm not one for a tomato on my sandwich. And so much mayo I almost cried out of joy. I've been thinking about this sandwich non-stop. Really and truly. I think it changed my life.

This is all there was left (because I just don't do crust.)

Either way, it sparked this kind of turkey revolution. I think I've had six turkey sandwiches since then? (although they all consistently come up short to the Carlucci's masterpiece.)

One way I am trying to make do with the Carlucci's shortage in my parents' kitchen is with this turkey creation:
Swiss Cheese.

Heavily mayo the bread. Sprinkle minced garlic over mayo. Layer turkey on one piece of bread (and please don't buy the pre-packaged stuff. Get it freshly-shaved from the deli.) And layer pastrami on the other piece. Put a single slice of Swiss over the turkey. Pop into a toaster oven or the oven. Heat until the bread is toasty and cheese is melty. Beware: this is a juicy sandwich. I think the combination of mayo and hot meat creates for this particular fabulous detail. The sandwich goes particular well with Sun Chips and a glass of cold milk.