Wednesday, June 1, 2011

BHI Quickfire Challenge!

Anyone else obsessed with Top Chef on Bravo?  Well, I am, and one of my favorite parts of the show is the "quickfire challenges."  Becky introduced me to the show and I have been hooked ever since.  I watch it all the time (although not as much recently because of BarPrep (boo!))  Here's another question: have you ever been to the beach and brought food down with you and then realized that you have not consumed all of it and there will be tons leftover/left behind that will just go to waste?  Enter BHI Quickfire Challenge...

So Becky has this gorgeous beach house on Bald Head Island that she was kind enough to share with her friends after we graduated law school (woot!).  We brought down some food to make and we didn't have to spend a dime while we were there because we brought so much! (Ok I think Becky had to buy limes for our margaritas, but those margs were to die for and it was totally worth it).  But here's how it went down...each day the group got smaller and on the last night it was just me and Becky.  It was a precious date and we had a lot of fun eating apps and drinking champagne on the porch.  See picture above...yea that champagne was amazing...
Okay, I lied, it wasn't just me and Becky on the last night; Muggs and Lenny were there too and they were great company. after we ate our little apps around 4 with our champagne, we were pretty set for food and not really hungry...just thirsty...enter wine.  Then 9 o'clock rolled around and we figured we better have some dinner.  We opened the fridge and realized that there was a LOT of uneaten food that was just going to go to waste if we didn't do something.  We had a lot of stuff, including but not limited to: Leftover spaghetti; eggs; potatoes; pasta sauce; onions; asparagus; turkey; cheese; rum; beer; etc. etc. etc.  WOW...what are two people to do with that?  
Becks looking excited

Apparently what two ambitious culinary dreamers do is hold a Quickfire Challenge: us versus ourselves.  Padma would have had a blast in our kitchen.  We made a main course dish, a side dish, and a dessert.  We also made a frittata for the next morning.  I'll go through them one by one, complete with pictures, naturally.

Main Course:
Started with: Leftover Pasta
Finished with: Baked Spaghetti

How it went down:
We took the leftover pasta from the storage container (see pic of Becks above) and placed it in a baking dish.  We then spread the leftover pasta sauce over top and sprinkled with various spices: Basil, Oregano, Pepper (basically whatever we could grab ahold of in the pantry).  We then sprinkled with panko bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and drizzled olive oil on top to get it to really crisp in the oven.  We cooked the pasta in the oven at 375 until crispy and brown (about 40 minutes).
See the before cooking and after cooking below:


Side Dish:
Started with: Potatoes, Asparagus, Cheese, Onion, Turkey and White Wine.
Finished with: a delicious Gratin
What we did:
Peeled the potatoes and sliced them as thinly as possible without having a mandoline.  We decided that the asparagus would look and taste better if it was shaved, so we shaved the asparagus.  We broke up the cheese into little bits.  While I was shaving the asparagus, Becky mixed the turkey with some diced onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, and some other pantry spices on hand (can't really remember at this point--all I remember is that the mixture was delicious).  We both agreed that this would have worked better either by substituting shallots for the onions or using fewer onions because it was slightly overpowering, but still was quite good, especially given that we made up the whole thing.  
We took a small baking dish and layered the dish by doing a layer of potatoes, followed by a layer of the turkey/onion mixture and then some cheese and asparagus.  On top of each layer of potatoes, I placed a few small dollops of butter (like maybe 1/4 teaspoon).  Once the entire gratin was layered, we topped it off with about a cap-full of the sauvignon blanc.
pre-cooking, so you can see the layers
We cooked the gratin at the same time as the baked pasta, so we cooked it at 375 for about 45-50 minutes (basically until it was brown and crispy on top).

What we had: brownies, fruit, sugar and RUM (not a coincidence that rum rhymes with "yum")
What we made: a molten brownie topped with a fruit-liquor infusion.

We took the fruit, the sugar (maybe about 1/4 cup) and some of the rum (not sure how much...see above reference to champagne and wine...we weren't being specific with measurements) and heated them on the stove.
When the mixture was warm and mixed thoroughly so that the sugar was all dissolved and the consistency resembled a syrup, we took it off the stove and poured it over the brownie.


Breakfast for the next day:
What we had: Potatoes, eggs, Corona, and half a croissant
What we made: Potato and Beer Frittata

What we did:  Took about 5 eggs and whipped them in a large bowl with the Corona (basically the entire bottle except for maybe 1/4).  We chopped the potatoes into small pieces and added them into the mixture.  We also added in a little extra onion that we had chopped and not used for the gratin.
We then chopped up the croissant into tiny pieces and sprinkled the pieces on top in the hopes that it would create a nice crust (guess what? it actually worked #winning).  We cooked the frittata at 400 until the crust was slightly crispy and the frittata looked firm (about 15 minutes).  Refrigerated it overnight and enjoyed it in the morning!

 So there you have it.  Our very own quickfire challenge at the beach.  Not everything turned out spectacular, but all in all it was a great meal and a fantastic way to use up all of the stuff in the fridge so we didn't waste as much food!  Great time had by all (including the pups--see below picture for evidence of how much fun they had over the weekend)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother's Day Treats

Grandmother, Mother of my niece, and my Mother
For mother's day, I decided to bake. I am not a good baker, we have covered this, but I thought it'd be fun to give it another shot. I noticed while at the beach last weekend that my  mom had torn from a magazine a recipe for "Whoopie Pie".  I'm guessing this is a childhood favorite of hers, not really sure. But I stole the recipe and decided to make them as a surprise! I also made some Pecan-Toffie bites adapted from various online recipes.  Both of these baked goods are sinful- terrible to your health but delightful to your taste-buds. Hopefully they'll make a nice little mother's day present anyway for my mom, grandmother, and sister-in-law who just became a mother! 

Whoopie Pies (recipe from Joanne Weir)

- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup cocoa, sifted
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 cups all-purpous flour
- 1 cup milk (recipes call for buttermilk but I used regular) 
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted
- 1 1/2 cups prepared marshmallow creme
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 tsp salt 

Preheat your oven to 375.   With an electric mixer, beat the eggs, sugar, butter, and vanilla. Mix until it looks "light and creamy".   In a separate bowl mix the cocoa, baking soda, salt, and flour.  Add mixture with milk to creamy mixture and blend- it will look like a mousse. Using a spoon place tablespoon size drops onto a greased baking sheet.  they drops will expand so leave room if you want them to be perfect circles (mine were not).  This recipe should make about 15 pies (30 mini-cakes).  Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes.  

For the filling, combine all ingredients- blend well. Let the cake halves cool before filling with the marshmallow goodness!!! 

Toffee-Pecan Bites 


  • 1 (15-ounce) package refrigerated pie crusts 
  • - 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
  • - 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • - 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • - 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • - 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • - 1 (10-ounce) package toffee chips
Preheat oven to 350.  Roll out the pie crusts to a flat dough. Create small bite size circles with the pie crusts.   I used a shot glass to make the circles but use whatever size you want!  Place the slices on a baking sheet. I did not grease the pan but i think you should because it was hard to get some of them off after baking.  

Next make your pecan-toffee mixture by combining the above ingredients. Mix them into one cohesive bowl of yumminess. Top each circle of pie crust with the mixture.  I saved my toffee-pecan leftovers in a freezer because i think it would make an amazing sundae topper for a future time! Bake for 25 minutes or until pie crusts are lightly browned. Do not let the pecan-toffee on top to turn too dark or they will taste burnt! Let cool before eating.   - 

The Toffee-Pecan Bites are just okay, in my opinion. They are very very sugary so I think you can only have one or two at a time.  I like the Whoopie Pies much better.  They are not as overwhelming (although also packed with sugar).  I think, in general, I'm just having a bit of a sugar overload  from all the sampling I did during and after the baking.. I have now learned not to bake before a meal because you will inevitably load up on the bad stuff (sugar and butter) and lose your appetite for a proper meal.  All in all, I had a great time baking and shall keep working on it! 
These are the ingredients we're dealing with... hello sugar!

A Royal Wedding Breakfast

My mother and I woke up at 4am last Friday to watch the Royal Wedding of William and Kate.  My mother had watched the wedding of Princess Di so I was very happy to share this occasion with her.  We decided out menu would be light: scones and mimosas.  We made both blueberry and cheddar scones but I will just provide the recipe for the blueberry scones.  They are surprisingly easy to make and tasted great!

Blueberry Scones:

2 cups all-purpose flour  
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
2 1/2 teaspoons baking power 
3/4 teaspoon salt 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces 
1/2 cup chopped dates 

1 egg, beaten2/3 cup milk

Preheat oven to 325.  Combine the dry ingredients first in a large bowl.  Add the butter and then the milk and mix until you form a dough.  Do not over mix, scones are mean to be flaky and imperfect.  In order not to turn the scones blue, carefully fold blueberries into the dough- just a small handful at a time.  Form medium size rounds to make the scones and line on a pan. We used a small glass to make our rounds.  You may want to sneak a couple more blueberries on top of each scone. Bake in oven for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.  Enjoy with mimosas and a royal wedding! 

Dixie wanted a front row seat! 
Pidldles couldn't care less about a wedding

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Hello bloggers! Happy Easter! I hope you are all having a nice holiday weekend. Matt's dad and Karen invited us over for dinner for Easter and as luck would have it, I found this amazing cake on My Little Expat Kitchen, a great blog by a Greek woman named Magda who lives in the Netherlands. I won't even dare compare my cake to hers because hers was about 500 times more beautiful than mine...

However, I didn't let my inexperience stop me from trying! I started with her recipe but changed it a lot as well. She had the eggs made of ganache, while I used the recipe for the Buckeyes I made awhile back, and substituted white chocolate for dark chocolate (NOTE: I could have used way more white chocolate, as I only really was able to coat about half of the buckeyes...the white chocolate was much more difficult to manage than the dark chocolate--thicker and stickier! so I ended up wasting a lot of it trying to figure out the best way to coat the eggs).

In addition, I did not make the cake from scratch *cue gasp*!  I know, I know, I should have done it from scratch but it's finals and I have been dying to try this "all natural" cake mix that they sell at Fresh Market by "Naturally Nora." However, the eggs, their coating, the ganache, the icing, and the nest were all made by moi!

Okay so here is how I will break it down for you...I used cake mix, but you can use any recipe for any chocolate cake you wish, I'm pretty sure any chocolate cake would taste incredible with this. I will give you her recipe for the ganache eggs, if you would prefer to make ganache eggs instead of peanut butter.  Note: her ingredients are provided in grams, milliliters etc.  If you wish to do them with peanut butter the way I did, make the buckeyes and instead of shaping them into 1 Tbsp balls, make them more oval shape (and slightly bigger, like a heaping tablespoon) and use white chocolate instead of dark chocolate.

For the ganache frosting
1/2 cup good quality dark 55% chocolate, roughly chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream

For the chocolate glaze
1/2 cup good quality dark 55% chocolate, roughly chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 Tbsp mild-flavored runny honey** (I substituted agave nectar for the honey because I already had agave nectar and honey was like $5 at Fresh Market and I'm on a budget)

For decorating the cake
1 1/2 cup good quality milk chocolate
Chocolate truffle or peanut butter eggs (see recipe below)
First step: make your cake (whichever cake recipe you are using...or if you are short on time, a simple boxed cake)

Make the ganache frosting:
While the cake is cooling, make your ganache.

Place dark chocolate and cream in a pan over barely simmering water. Do not let the bottom of the pan touch the water. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth.

Transfer the ganache into a mixing bowl and place it in the fridge for 40 minutes, taking it out every 10 minutes to stir with a rubber spatula. Take ganache out of the fridge and whisk vigorously until smooth and fluffy (totally missed this step when doing this...I was watching Julie & Julia at the same time...sorry I'm not sorry, it still turned out delicious...but yes, this probably would have made the consistency better).

Coat the cake layers with the whipped ganache:
Level the cake layers so that they are flat. If the cake layers are not flat, they will crack and break (although will undoubtedly still be yummy).

Use a good serrated blade to level the cake
Place one cake cut side up and measure ½ cup of the whipped ganache frosting and spread it over the top of the cake, smoothing it out with an offset spatula (if you don't have one, they are like $10 and will change your life). Place the second cake on top of the first, lining it up as well as possible (cut side down). Pour the rest of the ganache on top and then smooth it on the top and sides using the offset spatula.

Place cake in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

Make the chocolate glaze:
Place dark chocolate, cream and honey (or agave nectar) in a pan over barely simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the pan does not touch the water. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove the pan and let cool for 5 minutes. 

Let the glaze drip down the sides before spreading
Take the cake out of the fridge and pour the glaze over it. Use the offset spatula to spread the glaze around and let it drip down the sides of the cake. I did this in parts: pouring a little bit of the glaze on at a time and letting the glaze kind of slide in whatever direction it wanted. Smooth it out and put cake back in the fridge so the glaze can set, for about 20 minutes. At this point I took a small paper towel and wiped the glaze from around the plate so that the chocolate wasn't all over the serving dish.

Decorate and serve the cake:
In the meantime, make milk chocolate shavings or curls by using a knife and scrapping the back side of the chocolate bar. You will need approximately 1 ½ cups of chocolate curls and shavings to make the nest on top of the cake. Place curls in the fridge until ready to use. This was so hard for me. I did this in shifts, whenever I wasn't when the ganache was chilling or the cake was chilling. The problem was that the kitchen and probably my hands as well were too warm, so the chocolate would get soft and difficult to "shave" so I would basically just keep putting it back in the fridge to try to let it harden again and then try again. My shavings ended up being quite small compared to Magda's but that's okay...different birds make different nests :)

Take the cake out of the fridge and form a nest using the chocolate shavings (not all the way out to the edge of the cake and not in the middle). Place 3-4 small eggs in the middle (I did 4 because I wanted a bunch of different colors but I think 3 probably looks better from a food photography standpoint).

I kept the cake in the fridge until we were ready to leave for dinner.

Truffled Eggs:
According to Magda, the secret to making thumbprint-free truffle eggs is to use toothpicks or small wooden skewers to hold the truffles and dip them into the melted chocolate.
Again, if you wish to make the peanut butter eggs, use this recipe.
230 g good quality dark 55% chocolate, roughly chopped
90 ml heavy cream
115 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
700 g good quality white chocolate, roughly chopped
Food coloring

Special equipment: 1 packet strong toothpicks

Melt the dark chocolate using the same method as above, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove the bowl from over the pan and add the butter. Stir until it melts.

Empty the ganache in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is very cold and set but still pliable, for about 2 hours.

Peanut butter eggs
Using a tablespoon as a measure, scoop balls of ganache, placing each one on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Put them in the fridge for 30 minutes to firm up. 
chopped white chocolate
Meanwhile, melt white chocolate using the same method as above.

To color the white chocolate, divide it among bowls and then use food coloring to make different shades. To make the speckled blue eggs, don't stir the coloring in with a spoon but rather, just swirl it around with a toothpick.

Take the eggs out of the freezer and stick a toothpick in one end of each egg. Holding the eggs by the toothpicks, dip them one by one into the colored chocolate. Coat the eggs well and let the excess chocolate drip off back into the bowl. Place eggs back on the parchment paper and once you're done with all of them, place them in the fridge to set. Remove toothpicks from eggs.
Use the eggs to decorate the cake. Decorate the rest however you wish! Sprinkles, chocolate gems, the works!
Keep the rest of the eggs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.  You will inevitably have can just make them into cute little chicks or me, they will still get eaten...and if not, send them to our place because Matt loves anything containing peanut butter.