Thursday, April 26, 2012

It's the Life in Your Years

I didn't realize yesterday that when I was picking out cheeses for my birthday Wine and Cheese event, that I would end up with nine different ones. Interesting coincidence, since I was turning 29.

Last year, my birthday was much crazier. I had just moved to Las Vegas and was still finding my feet. I went out for drinks and ended up staying out until 2:30pm the next day. Time dissolves in Vegas. I decided then that I didn't really need another Vegas experience. I was pretty much experienced out.

This year, my Stunt Guy is back in Georgia, so for my birthday I decided to surround myself with lovely positive people for an evening of nothing in particular. Just some great wine and great cheese.

The Menu

Blue Cheese, Pear and Honey Tartines

Goat Cheese and Caramelized Onion Tarts

Apple, Cheddar and Sage Flatbread

Lemon Ricotta and Blueberry Tarts

Raspberry Cream Cheese Tarts

Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries

Gruyere Gougeres


I also had some Bucheron, Triple Cream Brie, Seafoam Cheddar, Cave Aged Blue, and some bread with Mediterranean Dipping Oil.

It was quite the calorie fest. I love hosting get togethers. I really enjoy making food and hosting. I find it incredibly convenient also that once you are done, you can just roll into bed, no driving home, deal with the cleanup in the morning.

It was a lovely birthday.

My motto this year is a quote from Lincoln.

It's not the years in your life that counts, it's the life in your years.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hummus with a Twist and Breaking Records

Yesterday hit record temperatures here in the valley. It was 99 degrees. Have you noticed that is in April?I have learned in the last 15 months that Las Vegas really just has Summer and Winter, with a brief two week flirtation with Spring. The pool at my condo complex is already full of jovial happy people.  I, personally, am not impressed or happy regarding this temperature. This is because the air conditioning in my car is broken.  Because it is so hot outside, rolling down the windows simply creates a hair dryer effect. Fixing it is becoming a higher priority with every ride to work that I take.  I'm going to be eating out of my pantry possibly for what feels like the rest of my life to squeeze the necessary funds out of my meagre budget.

The big plus here, though, is that I frequently forget what I have in that pantry. I was sitting at work the other day, thinking about food, craving hummus, lamenting how I can't shop for food right now unless I'min dire need of something like spinach for my daily salad, when i did a mental inventory of my pantry and realized that I had everything that I needed to make hummus myself. Take that, gods of fate and fortune!

Since it's so hot, a nice cool dip with some carrots and maybe a few crackers is something that can really hit the spot.

Hummus is beautifully simple and it comes together quickly and easily. I adore it. I don't make it that often, because when I do I have a hard time not eating it all instantly. I tend to run out of dipping materials quite quickly. 

This recipe is a very classic recipe, though I add an odd and awesome little twist that, in my opinion, gives it a little extra depth.

Hummus with a Twist

The twist in this hummus is a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. It adds a little nuance to the finished product. It isn't overpowering, just enhancing. 

1 Can Chickpeas, drained with 1/4 Cup of liquid reserved
1 Large Lemon, juiced
2 Cloves of Garlic, peeled
2 Tablespoons Tahini
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Ground Pepper

In a blender or food processor, put 1/4 Cup of the chickpea liquid. Juice a large lemon, or use 5 tablespoons on lemon juice. Then, add in the olive oil, salt, pepper and the garlic. Blend this together, then add in the tahini and blend again. Blend in the chickpeas until a smooth paste is formed. When you're happy with the texture, stir in the balsamic vinegar and taste. Feel free to add in a little more acid if your palate leans that way!

Makes about 1 1/2 Cups of Hummus. 

Want something sweet with this? How about a Vanilla Bruise Pie!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Whilst I'm Not Cooking #5

This week I've finally gotten a handle on things. I'm back in my kitchen and I'm being a happy panda. I've been really enjoying playing around with food this week and I've got new recipes coming your way incredibly soon. Here are a few things that I found in my Google Reader recently that I'm completely inspired by.

Braided Garlic-Herb Bread from The Sweets Life

Sugared Coconut Raspberries and Rhubarb Polenta Cake from Desserts for Breakfast

Fig Gorgonzola and Honey Tartines from Tartelette
*Update. I made this sort of. I couldn't get figs, so instead I used D'Anjou pear. It was a huge hit at my birthday wine and cheese event. I'll definitely make it again!

Everything Bagel Bombs from Amateur Gourmet

Broccolini Salad from 101 Cookbooks

Like the picture? It is entitled Promise and can be found here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and The Bet

My friend Jacob is "going places someday". When you work in the entertainment industry, you get used to seeing your friends on the big screen here and there. You witness them perform, heck you even Stage Manage them sometimes and get to be awed by their talent and proud when good things happen to them. I'm lucky to have a lot of brilliantly talented friends and Jacob is way up there on the list. He's a brilliant actor, strong writer, and genuinely good guy... and he loves Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.

He is an incredibly picky eater. He's from Kentucky so he tends to lean towards un-complicated food. He orders his burgers mostly plain "Meat-Cheese-Bun-Done". He abhors the smell of vinegar.... he'll actually leave the table. I seem to recall that he loves green peppers if they are raw. He's a big strapping all american guy.

Back when I lived in Atlanta, there was a day that we were hanging out somewhere or another, and I can't remember how it came up, but he was lamenting that he wanted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, but it would take too long to make it (or maybe he considered it too complicated, I'm not sure now). I, being the culinary braggart that I am informed him that I could absolutely make that dough in less than five minutes with all the ingredients already in my house. I didn't inform him that I had never made them before, nor did I inform him that I'd never even considered that flavor combination.

Back at my house in a flurry of activity I ran around my kitchen, rapidly whipping together a cookie dough from a recipe I'd found online. The dough was created in four minutes, twelve seconds. I whooped and hollered around the kitchen, proud as punch. Jacob tasted it and declared it delicious. However, he didn't declare me to have won yet, insisting we make sure the cookies bake okay. I acquiesced and we stuck a batch in the oven. Ten minutes later, disaster. The cookies had spread all over the pan. I stated that as I had 48 seconds left, I was sure I could fix the remaining dough. Seventeen seconds and half a cup of flour later I had done just that. The next batch was perfect and I've adored Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies ever since.
I've played with many different recipes over the years, but I really like this one. I don't have any idea where it came from, but it's my go to.

Chewy Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

These cookies are chewy, not crispy, which is how my Stunt Guy likes them. I personally like them a little more crispy, but thats another recipe for another day. I highly recommend using semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips, else these come out a wee bit sweet.

1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Butter (4 Tablespoons), softened
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Egg
1 1/2 Cups Whole Grain Oats
3/4 Cup Whole Grain Flour
1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix the sugars with the butter, then add in the egg, vanilla, salt and baking soda. Beat well then sift in the flour. Mix in the oats, then lastly add the chocolate chips.

Portion out heaping tablespoons of dough onto a baking sheet. You should be able to fit twelve to a sheet. Flatten the mounds slightly, then bake for 13 minutes. They should still be a little soft when you pull them out of the oven. This is what keeps them chewy.

Enjoy with a glass of milk and a big smile. Make sure you lick the dough bowl.

Makes 24 small cookies.

Want something savory with this? How about a Tomato, Basil and Goat Cheese Quiche

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Asian Simmered Beef and an Excellent Trade

My friend Marshall is one of the busiest people I know. Not only is he an amazing talent at the Circus, but he is also in Massage Therapy school full time, meditates daily, and has impeccable taste. His apartment is one of those small, stylish, beautiful places that makes you want to give up everything you own and live there immediately.

Because Marshall is so busy, he doesn't have much time on his hands to cook. This is where I occasionally come in. Last week, Marshall found time on his day off school to give me a much needed and incredibly wonderful massage. Massages are not in my budget. i think I'm about two years away from them even coming close to justifying them. Since I have shoulder problems, one hereditary, one from being hit by a car, massages are blissfully wonderful for me.

I think sometimes that I forget to stop. I keep myself quite busy and I have trouble being still. When I'm at home, I'm almost always doing something. If I give myself down time, I usually make it about 15 minutes before I decide I'm not doing all the things I need to be. This is what is nice about doing something that forces you to be still, that you aren't in your house for, and that gives you the chance to take a break.

So, Marshall found the time to give me a glorious massage and, in return, I made him dinner. Boy was that massage good. Marshall is kind of a rockstar so I really needed to bring it when it came to dinner. It was a great opportunity for me to tweak this recipe for Asian Simmered Beef that I made up on the fly when my Stunt Guy was in town and personally fund quite delicious. This is apparently quite similar to Korean Bulgogi, which I've never actually eaten. With my guy out of town, it's really nice to have someone else to cook for. I'm the kind of person that loves to cook for others and make them happy through food. I'm hoping I can persuade Marshall that we should do this trade again. Soon. How about this Sunday?

Asian Simmered Beef

One of the most important things about this recipe is the cut of beef. I found a great deal on some very thin Chuck Steak. It was pretty perfect. You do want to go with steak here as the beef needs to be nice and tender. The other important thing is giving it time to marinade. You want to leave it at least 30 minutes, more if you can.

1lb Beef Seak, cut into thin strips
1/3 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Honey
1 Tablespoon Minced Ginger
1 Tablespoon Miso Paste
A few drops Toasted Sesame Oil (optional)
Several good grinds of black pepper

This really couldn't be a whole lot simpler. Cut your steak into thin strips, trimming out any fat or gristle that you find. In a bowl or container with a lid, mix all the other ingredients together. Use a whisk to make sure everything is really well blended, especially the miso paste. Taste the marinade and if it's too salty, add a little more honey. Tip in the beef and use your hands to squish the beef in the marinade, almost massaging it for a minute or so. Then, let it sit in the fridge for at least half an hour... longer is better. I usually try and let it sit for two to three hours.

When you are close to dinnertime, pour the beef and the remaining marinade into a non stick pan and place over medium heat. Let simmer for ten minutes and then check to see if the beef is as you would like it.

Serve with a stir-fry and rice, or put in a spinach salad, or make it into a wrap. I like it best over brown rice with peppers and carrots, topped with toasted sesame seeds.

Makes two large servings.

This also goes really well with Sesame Green Beans

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Lentil and Rice Salad and Letting the Dust Settle

The dust has finally started to settle after a really busy two weeks. My family is all back in England, my Stunt Guy is back in Georgia. My apartment is starting to get back into a more habitable state after looking for a few days like all hope was lost and it should be condemned.

I'm back to eating Single Girl's Lunch Salads daily, and the best part is that I'm finally managing to get back into the kitchen.

I'm starting to think that I might have a slight cooking magazine problem. See, I'm lucky. I often find really good deals on cooking magazine subscriptions, so I tend to get a lot of them in the mail. My problem is that I don't read them at the rate that they arrive. I read maybe one for every five that come in. This wouldn't be too big a problem, except that I keep finding stacks of unread ones all over my apartment.

Here is most of my unread pile.

I've started to get pretty good at marking recipes, then clipping them for later, though I don't think that the shoebox I am storing those clippings in is necessarily the best organizational tool. It is also getting a bit full.

But, the good thing is that I now have lots and lots of inspiration when I need it. I just dip into the shoebox, leaf through some clippings, get an idea and I'm good to go.

I also mark things in recipe books. I always have a little package of sticky tabs with me when I'm reading a cookbook. You can tell how much I like a book by how many tabs are sticking out of it.

I came home from running errands today and had what I thought was a pretty clear vision of something I wanted to make, but I thought maybe I should thumb through a book just in case. I pulled a random book from the shelf and started thumbing through the pre-marked tabs. I used to be vegetarian, and the one I grabbed happened to be a vegetarian cookbook. Inspiration, as usual, came before I'd gotten to the 10th tab. I found a lentil and rice salad. I liked the idea of that, but I decided to just use those two ingredients as my base and then make the rest up from what I had in the pantry and fridge. Luckily, it turned out pretty awesome, and I'm delighted to share the fruits of my labors with you.

I really do believe sometimes that the best food is borne out of raiding what you already have in the house. Sometimes it allows you to think up combinations that you normally wouldn't consider. This is a prime example.

Vegan Lentil and Rice Salad with Lime and Tahini Dressing
Inspired by Vegetarian and Vegetable Cooking by Christine Ingram

When you're thinking about rice for this salad, I would really recommend trying to include a mix that has wild rice in it. I have a rice medley that I pick up from Fresh and Easy and it's brown, white and wild rice mixed together. That extra chewy earthiness that wild rice has goes really well here. But, if you don't have it, use whatever you feel like.

2 Small Carrots, peeled and grated
1 Cup Cabbage, finely shredded
1/2 Cup Uncooked Rice
1/2 Cup Uncooked Green Lentils

1 Teaspoon Tahini
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley, minced
1 Tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
Juice of 1 Lime
Salt and Pepper to taste.... be generous with the Pepper!

Soak your lentils for thirty minutes in unsalted water, then boil them for 15-20 minutes until they are just tender. You want them cooked, but not mushy. Cook the rice, drain and set aside.
Grate your carrots and shred your cabbage. Then, mix your dressing together. Make sure to stir the every loving heck out of the tahini before you add it in. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning as you like. I added a smidge more vinegar than listed here, but I crave acid in everything. If you wanted, you could also substitute rice wine vinegar. Mix everything together in a large bowl. Serve with a little extra parsley on top.

You can eat this by itself pretty easily. It would go really well also as an accompaniment to fish, probably salmon or tilapia marinated in lemon juice.

Makes 4-6 Servings.

Want something sweet? Try these Chocolate Coconut Macaroons

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Brief Summary of Very Awesome Things

The Grand Canyon

Kissing the cheek of your Stunt Guy at the Grand Canyon

The way your two year old niece drinks milk

Being off work for 9 days so you can spend time with your Stunt Guy and aforementioned Niece

Discovering The Yardhouse

Craft services on a movie set when you are really tired and hungry


Ignoring the laundry

Having your two year old niece insist every morning that she "lost you" the night before

Reading a very funny book in its entirety in less than a week because you have the time

Watching a two year old girl react to dolphins doing flips in front of her

Feeling like life, though very busy, is also really amazing