Saturday, February 16, 2013

Happy Hearts Day

"All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."
(Charles M. Schulz)

A couple of days later, are you still feeling the love? I know not everyone is keen on Valentine's Day, but any extra push to celebrate love and friendship is good enough for me. This time around, I'm not only in a relationship, but I'm married, unlike during my previous 2 posts about the holiday ("Leap Month 2012 Highlights" and "XOXO").

Even though I was never anti-Valentine's Day, I'm also not one to make a big deal about it. I actually think Valentine's Day might be more fun as a children's holiday than a lovers' holiday, and I enjoy seeing all of the cute crafts that come from it. This year was our first Valentine's Day together, and rather than going out, we stayed home and I cooked a romantic dinner (see details, photos, and recipe links below).

Fondue with Gruyère, Emmenthal, Brie and Champagne

I made this fondue with good-quality Gruyère, Emmenthal (aka Emmentaler), and Saint Angel, a triple cream French cheese (you can use any Brie or Camembert), along with champagne, shallot, a splash of lemon, and a dash of nutmeg. I served it with cubes of French bread and slices of Granny Smith apple. We sipped the rest of the champagne with dinner, and it was all good.

A friend gave me a small, candle-lit fondue set years ago, which I never got around to using before my sister borrowed it -- probably almost 10 years ago, because it was right after she got married -- and I never saw it again. It might be somewhere in their storage area or in my parents' attic, but it clearly has not been a kitchen must-have for me since I hadn't really thought about it until I decided to make fondue this Valentine's Day. I considered buying another small one, but my week was too busy and I didn't have the time or arm-space to buy or carry one from work to meetings to home. And I'm big on multitasking items, as some of you know.
The Three-Cheese Fondue with Champagne recipe from Bon Appétit via is meant for 2 people to share, and not for a large crowd, so I was able to transfer some of it from the stovetop into my gravy boat and it kept warm until it was time for a refill. I haven't actually used my gravy boat for gravy yet.

There is something about fondue that is so comforting, especially during the winter months. It also reminds me of a nice meal we had at Artisanal, complete with a chocolate fondue dessert.

Lavender Chicken with Lemon, Thyme and Honey

From the time I first saw the recipe for Poulet au Citron et Lavande, adapted from Rachel Khoo's The Little Paris Kitchen -- a BBC series and cookbook -- I knew it would make an unusual and special Valentine's dinner main course. I had never cooked with lavender before, and I found that it lends a distinctly fragrant, decidedly Provençal character to food (use sparingly).

 Did I mention that roasted chicken is one of my favorite foods? This might not be an everyday version, but it resulted in flavorful, caramelized skin, with melded flavors of lavender, thyme, and honey. It's surprising how many ways culinary lavender can be used (there are currently 910 lavender recipes on alone).

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries with Icing Drizzle

I love baking, but to keep things simple yet still sweet, I planned for a dessert of dark chocolate-dipped strawberries with white and red icing drizzle. I tried 2 different Barefoot Contessa recipes, but the first one -- which called for heavy cream -- became too oily and the chocolate wouldn't stick to the strawberries; so I started over and used Ina Garten's simpler Chocolate-Dipped Strawberries procedure, which worked out perfectly.

Strawberries and dark chocolate are both great sources of antioxidants.

Tonight, we will be having dinner at Osteria Morini and then we're planning to go see Identity Thief. In addition to the lovely roses and tulips, Sam got me a spa package for an organic facial, Swedish massage, and moisturizing mani at Venelle Salon & Spa, so I might try to take advantage of that on Monday. Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Piquing My Pinterest

"There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind."
(C.S. Lewis)

The C.S. Lewis quote above is one of the most popular and repinned sayings on Pinterest, the pinboard-style photo-sharing website that serves as a tool to find inspiration and share it with others. I created an account a while back when it was still pretty new, but I never got into it, even when I was wedding planning. Maybe it's my "urban Amish" tendencies, or my lack of bandwidth for multiple modes of social networking, but I didn't know how best to utilize it. It wasn't until I recently installed the Pinterest mobile app on my iPad and phone that I realized how easy and fun it can be to create personal inspiration boards and pin, organize, and share the things I like. I also appreciate that sources are linked.

Currently, most of my Pinterest boards are titled to correspond to the labels I created for this blog: Adventure + Travel, Arts + Crafts, Home Life, Occasions + Holidays, Sugar + Spice, and Weddings (please see screenshots below). I also have a board called Lookbook with some recent awards show looks, and will soon create boards on Beauty + Fashion, Books, Music + Movies, and Health + Wellness. (Note: After finally realizing that my blog labels containing "+" weren't being properly categorized, I replaced them with "&".)

Who else pins, and what is your favorite Pinterest category (Art, Food & Drink, Quotes, Women's Fashion, etc.)? I hope you take a look and follow me or any of my boards. I'm sure I'll be pinning this weekend, with Winter Storm Nemo keeping us inside... and making another banana cream pie!

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Southern Super Bowl Sunday

"It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, but it was us."
(John Harbaugh)
That's how Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh summed up his team's Super Bowl XLVII win (34) last night over brother Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers (31). Although I wanted the 49ers to win, and despite the power interruption, I enjoyed the game. I'm never that into the commercials, but the Budweiser Clydesdale was my favorite; I also liked Kia's space babies, and thought that Ram's "God made a farmer" was gripping and visually stunning. Beyoncé's halftime show was the highlight though; so much better than any big game halftime show in recent memory (sorry, Tom Petty). Did everyone else see the Beyoncé Bowl/Destiny's Child reunion?

We stayed in to watch the game at home. Sam's brother Daniel came over so it was just the 3 of us, but I still made a ton of food! I felt inspired to cook a Southern-style Super Bowl meal, since the game was played in New Orleans, Louisiana and I just wanted to do something a little different than the usual, as much as I love the usual... and Mardi Gras is next week. I ended up making a blue cheese-bacon dip, New Orleans-style chicken wings, Cajun vegetarian gumbo with jalapeño-cheddar cornbread muffins, and an old-fashioned banana cream pie with meringue topping and a surprise splash of banana rum.

Blue Cheese-Bacon Dip

I found a blue cheese-bacon dip recipe -- which I halved and made with turkey bacon -- on MyRecipes via Southern Living, as one of 40 party appetizers. It was the perfect amount to bake in 2 of my Le Creuset Caribbean blue stacking ramekins, which I love. This dip was delicious, but very thick and heavy, so I lightened it up with low-fat cream cheese and turkey bacon, and served it with celery sticks along with tortilla chips.

New Orleans-Style Barbecue Chicken Wings

My New Orleans-style chicken wings were from Food Fanatic, and were adapted from a shrimp recipe in Al Roker's Big Bad Book of Barbecue. I had made a Creole seasoning earlier in the week for another recipe, and I used that to toss the chicken wings in before baking, instead of chili powder; it added a great, complex flavor.

To make Creole or Cajun seasoning, mix all of the following ingredients together:
2 1/2 tablespoons paprika, 2 tablespoons salt, 2 tablespoons garlic powder, 1 tablespoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon dried thyme.

The recipe was for 16 wings, but I made 36-40 wings so I doubled it. You can make them hotter by adding more cayenne pepper or hot sauce. I found that there was much too much sauce left though, so next time I'd reduce the volume of sauce ingredients. These wings were yummy!

Cajun Vegetarian Gumbo with Jalapeño-Cheddar Cornbread Muffins

I'm a big fan of slow-cooked chili, but to put a New Orleans spin on that for the Super Bowl, I cooked some Cajun-seasoned vegetarian gumbo from Better Homes and Gardens, and served it with my usual jalapeño-cheddar cornbread, this time in muffin form. It's a really hearty, healthy bowl of beans and veggies -- including okra, which I'd never cooked with before -- and I used my homemade Creole seasoning again.

I didn't want to end up wasting buttermilk -- since only the quart-size is available near me -- so I made my own buttermilk substitute with 1 cup of whole milk and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice (you can also use white vinegar) for the cornbread. It was a nice way to save some money and ingredients; and I had a quart of whole milk for the banana cream pie but only needed 3 of the 4 cups for it, so the quantity worked out perfectly. The muffins were a little overcooked, but still good.

Old-Fashioned Banana Cream Pie

I had never made a banana cream pie before, so I really didn't know what to expect. Apparently, it's common for banana cream pies to be made with instant pudding mix and Cool Whip; and I'd definitely try those, because I like tasty tricks and I like instant pudding and store-bought whipped cream. But for my first banana cream pie, I wanted to go old-fashioned, meringue topping and all (which was easy with the leftover egg whites after making the custard filling). So the pie... oh, the pie. Sam texted me earlier today, "Want more pie." It was good.

 I'd like to think it was made even better with my addition of a little banana rum I had on hand as a souvenir from my friend's trip to St. Thomas.

I'll just have to make it again without the rum to be sure... Mmm.

So that was our Super Bowl! It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, but it was us. Especially since none of that food is left now, save for a little dip and 2 pieces of cornbread.