Lucy’s First Birthday

I cannot believe that it has been a year since Lucy was born.  In celebration, we had a big birthday party for her.  She had a blast, and so did everyone else.

For the week before her birthday I was slowly covering the house in pink.  To be honest, some of the decorations are still up because I think they are cute.

Here is a picture of Lucy helping me get ready.

 

She was a fan of the pink tulle.

I made more desserts than necessary too.  I actually asked Alec if it was enough.

 

 

Here is mom helping Lucy get ready before the party: 

Nice pic of Lucy and me: 

Somewhere during the evening it became very apparent that Lucy did not like her dress, so I grabbed her giraffe onsies, and things were looking up.  I also forgot to buy birthday candles, so that is a tea light stuck on a mini-bundt cake.  

Lucy loved the presents.  The book in this photo is from her Uncle Carl, the furry sparkle boots are from her Uncle Joe.  

Happy Birthday my little Lucy! I love you so much.  

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Rib-Fest 2011

My dad has always been a master at making barbecue ribs.  In fact, I would never get ribs out somewhere because they honestly do not compare.  This year my parents hosted Rib-Fest with four rib entries.  Honestly all were fabulous.

Here are the contenders, from left to right: Larry, Gary (my dad), Alysse, and Deb.

Entry #1 was a garlic rib from Alysse.  The garlic was STRONG, but it was very good.  Bring your mints along for this one!

This apple glaze rib from Deb was literally falling off the bone. It was sweet and delicious.

 Entry #3 was from Larry.  He was a smoker that he can apparently fit 6 turkeys in, and these ribs were prepared in that.  They had a dry rub, and they were very smoky and juicy.  I would love to have some of these again.

Entry #4 is my dad’s.  A classic rib that is prepared in I think about three steps.  I will eat these any day.

So…who was the winner?

Well, no one could decide.  It was a draw.

There was also a bunch of wonderful food prepared by my mom:

Although Lucy did not eat any ribs, she had a blast with a strawberry, and I was there documenting the whole thing:

 

 

We’re going to Party like it is 1958…

It all started when my mom gave me a book from 1958 about cooking and entertaining.  I figured this would be the perfect party.  I spent about a month looking at old recipes.  I sent out invitations.  I got myself a 50s housewife dress.  And last Saturday, I threw a pretty fun 50s party.  I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that everyone dressed up, and everyone seemed to have a  good time.

Now I believe that if you are going to go to the bother to throw a party, you should be able to enjoy it.  That is what I kept in mind while planning.  I was able to make all the food ahead of time.  Most of it was done the day before, in fact.  Instead of bar-tending all night, I made pitchers of drinks, and let people pour them for themselves.

The Menu:

I had a buffet style sampling of appetizers and desserts.  I made two types of Jell-o, a cherry-chocolate bundt cake, little cakes, ambrosia salad, a cheese ball, refrigerator pickles,  and spinach dip.  I made almost all of this on Friday morning.  Food in the 50s was easy! Packaged things, processed things, convenience food galore–I have never put such little effort into making food for a party before.

Cheese Ball: 

1 small tub of Merk Cheese

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese

a little blue cheese

a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce

Throw it all together and mix together.  Wrap in plastic wrap and form into a ball.  Put in the fridge overnight.  Before serving roll in parsley or chopped nuts.

Easiest Chocolate-cherry Bundt Cake Ever

1 devil’s food chocolate cake mix

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 eggs

1/2 cup water

1 can cherry pie filling

1 cup chocolate chips

Mix it all together and put it in a bundt pan pre-sprayed with Baker’s Joy.  Bake for about 45-50 minutes.  Leave it cook in the pan for about 15 minutes then slide it out and let it cool completely.  Top with chocolate frosting.

Ambrosia Salad

1 package of marshmallows

1 tub of cool whip

1 can pineapple chunks, drained

1 can mandarin oranges, drained

1 cup coconut

Mix it all together.  That is it.  It is actually that easy.

The Drinks:

For ease, I wanted just one or two drinks at the party.  I decided on a Mojito and an Old Fashioned because they were both around in the 50s and they are both delicious.  According to Wikipedia (so it is probably right), the Old Fashioned was the favorite drink of President Truman, and the Mojito was the favorite drink of Hemingway.

Mojito:

1 2/3 oz white run

1 teaspoon sugar

2/3 ox lime juice

bunch of fresh mint

sparkling water

Put the sugar and the lime juice together in the bottom of a high ball glass.  Throw the mint in and muddle together.  Add the rum, ice, and sparkling water.  Serve with a slice of lime.

Old Fashioned

1 2/3 oz bourbon

dash of Angostura bitters

1 sugar cube

club soda

oranges and maraschino cherry

Place the sugar cube in an old-fashioned class and soak with the bitters.  Add some orange slices and muddle together.  Add the bourbon, ice, and cover with soda.  You can also use Sprite for a sweet Old Fashioned (serve with a maraschino cherry) or Squirt or 50/50 for a Sour Old Fashioned (serve with an olive).  If you are from Wisconsin, you can make these with brandy instead of bourbon.  Both liquors are quite good.  I like all varieties of Old Fashioneds.

The People:

Everyone came looking fantastic.  I didn’t get a ton of pictures, but here a few.

Here we are looking like a nice happy 50s family.

Our friend Joe came up from Madison for the party.  He helped me out a ton preparing for the party.  Plus he spent a couple of hours putting together a great 50s playlist.

I think Kelsey (my friend and former roommate) took the cake for the best outfit.  The baby she is holding is not hers though.  The adorable little baby Nina belongs to our friends Ann and Antonio.

Joe and Antonio showed up in the same hat…

Kara and Caleb–he is sporting a bow tie and she is wearing metallic gloves–pretty awesome.

Kim and Josh–my cousins-in-laws (is that a thing?).  Kim had the cutest hat!

Here is my friend Katie all decked out with broaches.

Here is Elle holding little Milo (Milo is not her baby.  He belongs to our friends Ray and Angie).

It was an absolute beautiful night, and we enjoyed some time outdoors.

Thank you so much to everyone who came.  I feel really bad I didn’t get pictures of everyone because everyone looked great! Next time I will be more on top of pictures!

 

Asian Dinner Party: Spring Rolls, Steamed Dumplings, and Key Lime Pie

Yesterday we had our friends Caleb and Kara over for dinner.  As you can see from the photo to your left, Lucy did not want me to spend my time making the meal.  So I strapped her to me, which is not the easiest way to make a meal, and started cooking.  Here I am making spring rolls, and she had finally fallen asleep. Despite having a baby strapped to me, it was a very fun evening.  I had only met Kara a few times before so it was great to get to know her better.

For the dinner we made the yellow Thai curry that Alec and I like so much.  Here is the link to that: https://meteaandlucy.com/2011/04/05/yellow-coconut-curry/

To accompany the main dish we made vegetarian spring rolls and pork steamed dumplings.  To finish off the meal I meal I did a key lime pie.  I have been making key lime pies for a number of years and slowly improving on it.  I think I might have perfected it last night (not to sound too arrogant about my pie or anything).

To be honest, I made too much food like usual.  You would not need to make all these things for a dinner.  You could probably have a nice appetizer dinner with spring rolls and dumplings for example.

Spring Rolls:

This is a recipe you can easily modify according to taste.

Ingredients:

Spring Roll Wrappers (You can find these at Asian grocery stores or the ethnic food aisle at your grocery store.  They are large, hard, translucent discs)

Warm water in a large dish

Thin rice noodles

Cilantro

Green onions (cut lengthwise)

Radishes (cut very thing)

Carrots (I use a peeler to cut carrot ribbons)

Avocado

Firm tofu (cut into long strips)

Method:

Take the hard wrappers and soak them in warm water until they are soft and flexible.  It will take about 30 seconds to a minute depending on the water temp.  Move the wrapper to a large cutting board and lay it flat.  Put the fillings in the center of the wrapper:

To fold them up I do it like they roll burritos at Chipotle ( I am guessing most of you know what I am talking about here).  So you take the bottom of the shell and bring it up over the filling, then fold the sides in, then roll it up.  Make sure all the folds are nice and tight.

I served them with soy sauce and Sirachi sauce.  You could serve them with any number of Asian sauces though.

Steamed Dumplings:

I had made these years ago when Alec and I were first dating.  It is a recipe I modified from a Thai cookbook called Easy Thai (the recipes are not as easy as the name would imply).

Ingredients:

1/2 pound ground pork (cooked and slightly cooled)

1 egg

1 small can of water chestnuts

1 carrot

A sprig or so of cilantro

1 dried red hot chili (you could leave this out if you don’t want them to be spicy)

Salt and pepper to taste

Wonton wrappers

Method:

Take all the ingredients and put them in the food processor, and blend until nice and smooth.

Once it is blended you are ready to fill the wrappers.  I put about 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle of each wrapper.  I line the outside edges with water and then seal them up.

I don’t really have any advice on rolling them up because mine did not look all that great.

To cook them, fill a large pan with water and put a colinder in it.  If you have a steamer, use that.  I do not have a steamer and this worked fine.  Put about 5 dumplings in at a time and cover.  It will take a few minutes to cook them.  You will be able to tell when they are done.  The wrappers get kinda translucent looking.  You can always eat one or two just to make sure though!

Key Lime Pie:

I really hyped this up, but it is good.  I originally found a recipe online.  Since then I have drastically changed it.  I think the real trick is using a flour/butter crust instead of a graham cracker crust.  I know this sounds weird because they are always made with graham cracker crusts, but I swear this is better.

The pie crust:

2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 sticks of butter (cut into 16 pieces and put in the freezer for about 15 minutes)

1/3 cup very cold water with 3 tablespoons of sour cream or full fat yogurt mixed in–it really doesn’t matter which one

Method:

Put everything except the water mixture into the food processor and pulse until blended.  Add the water mixture bit by bit until it is the right crust consistency.

Once it is mixed, divide into two.  Shape into a 5 inch disc which will be about 1 inch thick.  You only need one crust for this dessert, so put one in the fridge to cool and put the other in the freezer to keep for later (when you want to use it just take it out and thaw it in the fridge over night).

Roll it out and put it in a a glass pyrex pie plate.  Here is an easy pie crust tip I got from Jaime Oliver.  If you aren’t into rolling out pie crust, cut the dough into thin strips and press it into the pie plate.  It works just fine.  Cover the shell with greased tin foil and fill with pie weights.  Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes.

While the pie crust is baking make the filling.

Filling Ingredients:

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup lime juice (I used to use key lime, but I can’t tell the difference between key and regular limes.  Regular limes are much cheaper and it is much easier juicing big limes instead of all those little limes.  Make sure you use fresh limes juice not any of that bottles stuff).

Zest of one or two limes depending on size

1 can of sweetened condensed milk

Whisk all the ingredients together until smooth.

Once the pie shell comes out of the oven, drop the oven temp to 325, fill the crust with the filling, and put it back into the oven.  Bake for about 15 minutes.

Let the pie cool until room temp and then put in the fridge.  When you are ready to eat top with whipped cream.  I whip my own cream because it is really good.  For a pie this size put about 1 cup of whipping cream and one tablespoon of white sugar.  Whip until thick.

An Italian Dinner Party: Bruschetta, Pizza, and Flourless Chocolate Cake

This past weekend we had our friends Katie and Richard over for dinner.  At Alec’s suggestion we decided to do our homemade pizza–a big favorite of his in particular.  For appetizers I made some bruschetta and olive tapenade.  I thought the dinner turned out quite well.  It is a nice way to do pizza because no one needs to agree.  Every can just make their own half of a pizza.  We all had a nice time, and I can’t wait to have them over again.

I am going to save the tapenade recipe for another post (I am keeping this short because the baby is sick, and I am a little short on time here because of it).  Apparently it is actually French, though I usually eat it with either Italian or Middle Eastern food.  We served the appetizers with a French bread that Alec made (he is good at making bread).  However, feel free to serve this with any crusty white bread.

Bruschetta Recipe

This is not a very exact recipe.  Please adjust the quantities according to your own tastes.

Ingredients:

4 tomatoes chopped

2 shallots chopped small

2 cloves garlic finely chopped or put through a garlic press

Basil, preferable fresh but dried is fine

a pinch or so of sugar

olive oil

balsamic vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together and let it marinade for a bit.  I left mine for about an hour which worked just fine.

I served this with slices of fresh mozzarella.

The Pizza

Ingredients:

4 1/4 cups of bread flour (it must be bread flour otherwise it will not turn out)

1 yeast packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

Put all this in a food processor and pulse a few times to mix.

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Add 1 1/2 cups of warm-hot water

Run the food processor until it blends into a ball.  Take it out of the processor, make sure it is in a ball shape.  Put it in a greased bowl and it let it raise for about 2 hours.

This makes enough for two pizza dough crusts.  Cut the dough in half and roll into rounds.  The dough is ready for toppings at this point.  You do not need to pre-bake anything.

Top the crust with your toppings of choice.  Bake for 8-10 minutes at 500 degrees.  It is best if you can do this on a pizza stone.  This recipe is originally from the America’s Test Kitchen.  I have made it so many times I just do it from memory so it is not exactly the same.  You can also use this crust for a pretty good stromboli.

Cuban Nights and a Tropical Rum Tart

On Saturday some friends from school and I got together with our significant others for a nice dinner.  At my somewhat joking suggestion, we had a Cuban theme to the get-together.  My friends John and Cassie graciously hosted, and everyone brought a dish.  Not surprising, I brought the dessert.  We had chicken with flaming pineapple, beans and rice, a cucumber and avocado salad, the tropical rum tart, and mojitos.  Everything was wonderful.

I decided that we should dress a little tropical for the dinner, although not required.  We got Lucy dressed in a cute little flowered dress.


Here are a few other photos from the night:

Here is Katie and Dave making Mojitos.  Katie made a pretty fantastic drink.

Here is Katie and Richard who will be tying the knot this July, yay!

And here is John and Dave bringing in the tart.  Apparently Dave wasn’t enjoying the picture taking.  And that is about when Lucy started getting fussy, so that is where the pictures stopped.

Here is the recipe for the tart:

I was looking through books trying to find a recipe that I thought would work for this dinner, and I couldn’t find anything just right.  So, I decided to make up a recipe.  I used the basic shortbread tart shell which I used in the tarte noire (I am going to add that to a basic recipe section on the site soon, so it will be easier to fine).  Then I made a rum flavored pastry cream for the filling, and topped it with mangos and kiwis.

The Run Pastry Cream:

Ingredients:

2 cups whole milk

6 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/3 cup corn starch

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

3 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons rum

Method:

Bring the two cups of milk to a boil.  Meanwhile mix together the egg yolks, sugar, and corn starch in another sauce pan.  Once the milk boils, add about 1/4 cup to the egg mixture to temper the eggs.  Slowly add in the rest of the milk, stirring constantly.  Once mixed together, put back onto the burner and boil for a minute or two until thick.  Add the vanilla and the rum.  Let sit for 5 minutes.

Because this recipe makes enough pastry cream for two tarts, I decided to split the cream in half and add rum to one and Chambord to the other.  In the above picture the rum is on the left and the Chambord is on the right.  I will come back to the Chambord cream in a bit.

After you add the vanilla and liquor, let sit for five minutes.  Add the pieces of butter and whisk in.  Put in the fridge to cool for 4 hours.

Once the cream is cooled, spoon the mixture into the baked and cooled tart shell.  Smooth out with a spatula.  Add fruit to the top.  For the rum tart I cut up kiwi and mangoes.

To the Chambord tart I added fresh blackberries.

Dinner Party: Recipes for French Onion Soup, Homemade Crackers, and Tarte Noire

Last night we had our friends Anna and Chris over for dinner.  They are a fun couple to entertain for because a) they are great people b) they are totally foodies, so it is fun coming up with a meal that I think they will enjoy.

Before we get to recipes, Anna made Lucy this beautiful giraffe.  This is Lucy looking him over this morning.  The giraffe is really going to be fun for her.  It is so cute, I think I am going to keep it in our living room instead of her room.  Plus, to be honest, once you have a baby, your living room kinda becomes a giant play room.

Now to the food, we started our meal with a cheese and sausage plate.  I got a nice assortment of cheeses that I like: brie, manchego, jarlsberg, and a blue.  We also picked up two artisan salamis made with wine at Trader Joe’s.  We had that with some French bread and these crackers I made.  This recipes is adapted from one in the America’s Test Kitchen Baking book.

1 c. all-purpose flour

1/2 T. olive oil

1/2 T. honey

1/4 t.  instant yeast

1/4 t. kosher salt

1/4 c. warm water

Put all the ingredients, except the water in a standing mixer fixed with the dough hook attachment.  With the mixer on low, pour the water slowly into the mixture.  Keep mixing until the dough becomes a ball.

Left: Dough before the water

Right: Dough after water was added and mixed

Let the dough rise for 1 to 2 hours, depending on how warm your house is.  Because I live in a perpetually freezing house, I usually let my dough rise longer than a recipe says.

Once the dough has risen, roll out and place on a baking sheet.  Put a clean towel over it and let rise for another 10-20 minutes.  Once the dough has sat, brush on some olive oil and toppings of your choice.  I sprinkled mine with pepper, kosher salt, and a little parmesan cheese.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  Watch it closely at the end.  At 20 minutes my cracker was still a little pale, and the next time I checked it, it was a little darker than I wanted, though it still tasted fine.  Sorry I didn’t snap a picture when it came out of the oven, I forgot and now the crackers are gone.  Once the giant cracker has cooled, break into pieces and serve.

French Onion Soup:

My next recipe comes from the master of all French cooking, the great Julia Child.  This recipe comes from her classic 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The recipe is actually quite simple, though it takes a bit of time to make, about an hour and a half to two hours.

1/2 pound (or about 5 cups) onions sliced very thin

3 T. Butter

1 T. Oil

Cook the onion with the butter and oil over low heat with the cover on for 15 minutes.  It is important to have a nice heavy pan for this.  I used my Le Creuset, which works perfect.  Note, if you do not want to invest in such an expensive pan, there are other cheaper brands that I have heard work quite well.  Although I have not used it, the Lodge brand, which price about $50 gets good reviews.  Sometimes you can find Le Creuset and other less expensive brands at Marshall’s or TJ Max at a good deal too.  I do think that a large cast iron pot is essential for cooking.  I have two and I use them all the time–I do not think I could possibly be without them to be honest.

1 t. salt

1/4 sugar

Once the onions have cooked for 15 minutes, remove the cover and add the salt and sugar.  Cook uncovered over low-medium heat for 30-40 minutes.  I did mine for 40.  Once they are done they will look nice and brown, and they will smell just fabulous.

3 T. flour

Add in the flour and stir constantly over heat for three minutes.

2 quarts brown stock (It is important to use stock and not broth.  Broth is much to salty and strong for this recipe)

1/2 cup white wine (a dry wine–nothing too sweet)

salt and pepper to taste

Add the liquid and bring to a boil.  Drop the heat down and let the soup simmer for another 30-40 minutes.

The soup is done at this point.  To garnish, put soup into oven-proof bowls.  The only ones I have are fiesta wear bowls, which worked well.  Put a piece of french bread into each bowl and cover with shredded Swiss cheese.  Pop into the broiler until the cheese is bubbly and starting to brown.  Serve immediately.


Anna and Chris brought a wine that paired amazingly well with the French Onion soup.  Here is a picture of the label; I highly recommend it.

Tarte Noire:

I was awfully excited to make this dessert.  My mom recently bought me a tart pan in exchange for a promise of future desserts.  I looked through my Dorie Greenspan baking book looking for the perfect tart to try for my first tart.  So many looked wonderful, but I finally decided on a simple French classic–the Tarte Noire.  You make this recipe in two steps, first the shell then the filling.  You need a number of hours to complete the recipe, so make it ahead of time.  This recipe is for a 9 inch tart pan.

Sweet Tart Dough (the shell which is essentially a shortbread)

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour

1/2 c. confectioners’ sugar

1/4 t. salt

1 stick plus 1T. unsalted butter very cold or frozen cut into peices

1 large egg yolk

Put the flour, sugar, and salt into the food processor.  Pulse a few times to combine.  Scatter the butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in.  Stir up the egg yolk and drop in little by little, pulsing for about 10 seconds after each drop.  Once the dough is starting to come together, pour out on a smooth surface and knead a little bit.  Press into the buttered tart pan (I use Baker’s Joy which always works fantastic though it is actually for bundt pans I believe).  When pressing into the pan make sure you don’t loose the crumbly texture of the dough.  Freeze for at least 30 minutes

Heat your oven to 375 degrees.  Cover the tart with tin foil. The book says you do not need to use pie weights because the dough has been frozen.  I decided to use them anyway.  If you do not have actual pie weights, dry beans work just fine, though sometimes it makes the house smell a little like cooked dry beans.   Bake the crust for 25 minutes.  Remove the tin foil and pie weights and cook for another 8 minutes.  Transfer the shell to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

Note: This crust can be used for just about any sweet tart.

The filling:

8 ounces bittersweet chocoate, finely chopped (make sure this is good quality chocolate and not something like Roundy’s brand chocolate chips [although just fine for cookies].  You will really taste the quality of the chocolate in this recipe).

1 c. plus 1 T heavy cream

1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

Put the chopped chocolate into a heatproof glass bowl

Bring the cream to a boil and pour half over the chopped chocolate.  Stir in small circles in the middle of the bowl working outward until all the chocolate is melted and mixed with the cream.  Add the rest of the cream and mix in the same manner until all is combined.  Stir in the butter pieces one by one until incorporated.  The less you stir, the darker and creamier your mixture (a ganache) will be.

Pour the mixed filling into the tart shell, and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to set.  Remove after the 30 minutes and let sit a room temperature until you are ready to serve the tart.

Here are a couple of picture of the finished product:

It is as easy as that, and in case you are wondering the tart is on a plastic parrot plate in the top picture–very classy.