Monday, February 27, 2012

What do you mean it is Monday?

What do you mean it is Monday? That is how I usually feel at the beginning of the week. Toady was actually a little better. I got into work super early (as per usual) and started the proverbial checking voicemail from the weekend and returning emails. Right now I am taking a lunch break. I usually work at my desk and eat lunch but I just felt like today I needed to take a moment and let my mind settle. This morning I drove in silence to work (an hour commute) and just focused on my breathing. I don't know if it is because there are storm clouds (literal not figurative) approaching or if I am just at that reflective time I get into once in a while, but I just needed a break. I am sitting here eating my Bento-inspired-lunch that I made this weekend and thinking about my lack of free time during the week. Sometimes I think I get up, get ready, go to work, come home, make dinner, and go to bed every single day of my life. Now I know that is not true as I have the weekends, but 5 out of 7 days have 90% of my waking life being spent working can really drag you down. I have a list of shelf full of books I want to read. I have another 5K race to run in which I have not run in weeks and when I attempted to last weekend I found that walking was more my pace. Ahhh...I guess I am just trying to find a balance to my life and have yet to work that out. This week I want that to be different. I have some great meals planned for the week, super healthy and really tasty, and have packed my gym bag for tonight. I plan on returning those personal emails and calling friends back. Talking with my sisters and booking our tickets for Ireland. Stopping by the local Asian grocery store and finding egg molds for Bento Boxes. Filing my nails, or gasp, actually getting a manicure! (Okay, I will most likely do my own nails because who has time for a manicure during the week?!)

All of that to say, I am doing a little reflecting on my life and trying to re-order my priorities. I want to take a cooking class and to learn a foreign language. Stop by a coffee shop and read the newspaper like I used to do. And who would have thought that I would miss taking spin class at the crack of dawn. Is it still Monday? Well that just gives me the rest of the week to try and make it better.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Week 3 Donna Hay: Asian Fusion

Week 3 was Asian Fusion night or as T (bro-in-law) refers to it as, Asian Confusion night. The Asian fusion was Thai and Chinese mixed, that counts as fusion right? I am learning in this whole cook through a cookbook thing and did as much prep as possible on Wednesday night. I made the onion-lemon grass paste for the vegetables the night before, made all of the sauces, cut the vegetables, and prepared the herbs. So here was the menu:

Starter: Thai Chicken Wonton Stack
Main: Chili-Caramelized Pork on Cucumber Salad
Side: Lemongrass Greens
Dessert: Caramelized Pineapple Tarts

(Pictures taken by E & T, my dinner guests)

Review: Thai chicken wonton stack was so worth it and delicious. Easy to make and the sauce is a keeper. The vegetable, not my favorite. I have never much liked lemongrass and this just fell short for me. The vegetables needed a sauce or else to just do a quick steam with red pepper flakes. The pork was a bit big for me and needed to be cooked longer in the sauce to absorb more flavor. We all agreed that the pork should be marinated in the sauce and then flash fried for a crispier exterior. The sauce once again was amazing and the herbs and beans made the perfect combination. Something about the smell of mint and cilantro is completely intoxicating. The dessert, well you had me with coconut. It was coconut and pineapple and was pretty good. Again we wanted a little more crisp and thought that the pineapple to cook a little longer. The puff pastry has been in the freezer since kingdom come so it did not rise as much as expected.

Overall I liked the mean and would give it a 7 out of 10. All of the fresh herbs, cilantro, basil, and mint really put it over the top for me. The sauces were easy to make and I had almost all of the ingredients already. (Yes, I have fish sauce in the refrigerator.) Overall the meal felt refreshing and I would only make a few modifications to suit my liking.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and bon appetite!

Oh Martha

So apparently I recorded a Martha Stewart show episode. Now I couldn't let it go to waste so I watched it. The show had 4 competing chefs cooking $20 dinners for four. The chef who won ended up making homemade gnocchi with spicy sausage and broccoli rabe. I was inspired! I had a sweet potato and the broccoli all I needed was sausage and a potato ricer. I borrowed the ricer and tonight on my way home I picked up the sausage and went to work. I tried to let the sweet potato steam as much as I could, but the dough was still pretty wet so I added more flour than I expected which actually turned out perfectly. See above! Yummy yummy yummy! Guess what my sister is having tomorrow for our lunch swap!?

Now off to prep for my Donna Hay Week 3. Bon appetite!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Week 2 Donna Hay: Greek Inspiration

Success! So Monday was the night that worked for everyone for dinner party night which worked out perfectly. Sunday turned out to be very productive for me as I sat and menu planned for the whole week, and taking note from Week 1 of Donna Hay Instant Entertaining I read over the recipes I was going to cook several times, made a very detailed grocery list, and planned my attack. Here was the menu.

Appetizer: Cucumber & Tomato salad with parsley and crispy feta cheese

Entree: Oregano Lamb with a mustard honey dipping sauce, Dill & Parsley Potato Salad

Dessert: Lemon Panna Cotta with Blueberries (and raspberries for the sister not keen on blueberries)

Plan of Attack: Made dessert on Sunday evening. Recipe called for the dessert to cool in the refrigerator for 4 hours so the "Instant" part of the "Instant Entertaining" was lost on me. Glad I read the recipes thoroughly beforehand as I have had recipes backfire as I did not see the resting time. Next, pre-mix dressing for potato salad and let marinade together. The potato salad called for warm to room temperature so making it beforehand and putting it in the refrigerator was not the best plan. Last thing was to clear off and set the table. I wish I had taken a picture of the table (I blame my photographers) as I thought it was cute with my fun napkin folding and center piece of citrus fruit. Next time photos, I swear!

One thing I must mention was that the menu called for a certain cut of lamb. After my last dinner I wanted to get that exact cut of lamb and not accidentally buy an inferior cut. Well I went to four stores and could not find the cut, back strap boneless and trimmed. So I ended up getting a cut as close to it as I could. My sister and I discussed that Donna Hay is from Australia where lamb, especially all types of cuts, are more readily available and available all year long whereas in the US lamb is usually seasonal. I don't know why as lamb is very good and very easy to cook. The meal was paired with Four Vines Biker (can you tell I picked it out) and was great. Well most of it. The starter salad was killer, in my opinion. The taste and textures of the salad melded well together. The recipe called for the cucumber to be cut in half, then seeded, then cut into strips. I had reservations but I stuck with the exact recipe figuring if I wanted I could modify the next time. Well this needed no modifications and is definitely a keeper. The potato salad was sweeter than I am used to but worked well. I might scale back on the amount of red onion though. The recipe called for 1/2 a red onion thinly sliced. I put in less than half, but will hold back even more next time. Perhaps my red onion was larger than usual, who knows? The lamb. Oh the lamb. Wrapped in fresh oregano leaves, it needed to cook a bit longer than the recipe stated but that might be because my oven is stupid and likes to over-heat and under-heat on a whim. The lamb was perfect and that dressing/dipping sauce was to die for! I wish I could say it was this complex recipe but alas it was one part honey and one part mustard (I only had whole grain which was perfect!). Dessert, less sweet than American desserts which is not a bad thing, but the texture was closer to ricotta than pudding and a bit more dense than I would like. I am going to try and modify the recipe as the flavors were there, but it just needed some tweaking.

Two weeks down, twenty-eight to go!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Week 1 Donna Hay: Bistro Basics

Good morning from a grumpster. Well, I am not actually grumpy but I am miffed that I accidentally left my alarm clock on for Saturday morning and did not get to sleep in. By sleep in I mean wake up at 7am. Oh the life of a grownup. So since I am up so early I am posting just for you!

Last night marked the first night of my 2012 commitment. What commitment? Well you see I have been toying around with this idea for a while and decided to take the leap. I love cookbooks. I drool over cookbooks. I flip through them reading the recipes and dream up dinner parties and picnics. So consequently I have collected a few cookbooks as well. To be honest I have only actually cooked a few recipes from each book. Such a waste of wonderful ideas just sitting there begging me to give them a try. Well, I decided that in 2012 I am going to cook through one of my books starting with the very first one I purchased after sitting at the library for hours flipping through the pages. And surprise, surprise it is a Donna Hay book. The book I chose is called The Instant Cook. (Check it out here on The book is filled with 30 different meal ideas. Yes you read correctly, meals not recipes. Each meal has 3 different recipes which start with an appetizer then the entré and finally the desert.

All week I have meant to make a bistro type meal as the farmer's market finds I purchased were asparagus, portobello mushrooms, and a large sweet potato. Doesn't that yell bistro with a little steak fillet? Well Friday night I decided it was time to make the meal and just consulted Donna Hay and found a very close menu to what I wanted. Dying to hear it? Well here was the menu.

Starter: Asparagus With Simple Lemon Hollandaise
(toped with rocket or arugula)
Entre: Garlic Butter Steaks
(mustard garlic butter marinade used for the steak and whole portobello on a bed of wilted spinach)
Dessert: Molton Chocolate Cakes (accompanied by fresh raspberries)

Oh so many things were learned from this experience, as was expected. To start, making dinner always takes longer than you think. For instance, I went to make the dessert first and have it in the oven while I made dinner only to discover I had to bike over to the store for more chocolate as I had only purchase the filling amount for the cake. Darn it, mental note on that one. Next, I learned the choice cut of meat is imperative to the meal and that I need to become more familiar with the different cuts. I am not a big red meat eater/fan, in fact I make myself choke down protein because my body requires a lot of it and I would rather just have eggs. So consequently I had no idea what cut of meat to purchase. I ended up grabbing sirloin as it was package in 3 cuts and there were 3 of us for dinner. Perfect, I thought. Well luckily the people I had dinner with are big red meat eaters and seemed perfectly fine with my choice of meat. (I have a feeling any choice would have been fine with them.) I on the other hand have made a mental note to learn which cut of meat I like and don't like and sirloin is on my don't like list. Although I cooked it medium rare it was a bit chewy for me and a bit too thick. Also, red meat that is not marbled is just not as tasty. On the other hand the sauce I made to go with the meat and portobello mushroom was very good just needed more of it and a little more garlic. I made a sticky note note in my recipe book to make sure that I double the sauce recipe next time and that 1 garlic clove means 1 large clove or 2 small cloves. Next I noted that although I love the skinny asparagus that I think for this menu they needed to be a little thicker. The hollandaise sauce needed a bit more lemon juice.

Then there was dessert. I need to purchase ramekins to cook the dessert in as they were pretty puny and hard to dislodge from the cupcake tin. The almond meal needed to be ground down more to a finer texture. Also...I forgot the butter in the lava cake. (Paula Dean would disown me.) Don't you hate when you have something great and forget a key ingredient? I was suppose to measure out 2 servings of butter, one for the hollandaise sauce and one for the molton chocolate cake. Well I only portioned out one and forgot to put it in the cake. The cake still tasted great, but the texture was a bit off. Darn! But I did learn that fresh raspberries were the key as that dark chocolate and raspberries were a match made in Heaven.

I know you might be thinking I am such a Negative Nelly (phrase coined by my middle sister and I when jesting with our brother-in-law) but over all I thought the meal was a success. I just wanted to take these notes and put them on stickies in my cookbook for the next time to ensure the perfect dinner party.

Anyway, below are pics snapped by my guests on their iPhones. Thanks goodness they took pictures as I was scrambling and hardly remembered to turn the oven off.

One menu down, 29 to go!