HAPPY BIRTHDAY ERIKA!!! & watermelon granita

happy birthay!

photo by Will Clayton (from Flickr)

Today is Erika’s birthday – HAPPY BIRTHDAY, FRIEND!!! We took the week off from cooking so she could spend some time with her family. E, you get a day and a half more and that’s it!

Below is a dessert we tried a couple of weeks ago.

Watermelon Granita

It irritates me so much that every awesome-sounding recipe for ice cream, sherbet, sorbet involves an ice cream maker. Ack! I have no room in my apartment-sized kitchen (complete with no storage – as per “big city” rules) for another kitchen tool that I’ll use once a year (if that).

Last month, Self magazine published about five different recipes for cold treats and NONE of them needed an ice cream maker. Yea!!! You win, Self!

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not frozen yet!!! don’t drink it.

The first recipe we tried was watermelon granita with blueberries. I adjusted the recipe a bit. I had extra whipping cream. Naturally I just had to use it.

Ingredients
6 cups (or 2 lbs) seedless watermelon, cubed
1/2 c fresh lime juice
1/3 cup agave nectar
2 cups fresh blueberries
whipping cream (optional)
powdered sugar (which I’m still out of … if you read the lemon cake post)
vanilla extract

Directions
In a food processor, puree watermelon. (I used a juicer. One of the newest large kitchen tools we stuffed into our kitchen.) Strain puree through a sieve, reserving liquid, discard solids. In a 9″ x 13″ pan, combine watermelon puree, juice and agave. Freeze, scraping thoroughly with a fork every 20 to 30 minutes, until granita resembles coarse crystals, 2 to 4 hours.

SONY DSCWhile granita is freezing, whip the heavy cream. I usually put a small metal bowl in the freezer to get it really cold to make the whipped cream. I would say that you should add a bit of powdered sugar to the cream after you whip it, but I don’t have any so I used some agave syrup. It took some of the air out of the whipped cream, but it sweetened it just fine. I also added some vanilla extract. Cause I like it.

Remove from freezer, scrape granita once more with a fork. Divide among 6 glasses. Top each with 1/3 cup blueberries and some whipped cream, if desired.

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Dinner fails and cilantro vodka

SONY DSCLast week Erika and I had a little bit of a dinner fail. She made Pan-Seared Sichuan Shrimp with Mung Bean Noodles from Food and Wine, and I made Bon Appetit‘s Summer Squash Saute. Go try those recipes. They were delicious. The flavors were really enticing. Let me tell you where we went wrong.

SONY DSCFirst, BA says to cut your vegetables into matchsticks. I debated cutting it up by hand, or using a mandoline and cutting that up into matchsticks. But then I found a large cheese grater that looked like it would perfectly! The product looked matchstick-like, I thought. Anyway, during the portion where you are supposed to squeeze out excess moisture I started to realized maybe a cheese grater wasn’t the way to go. Once in the pan, it looked like this:

To see what it was supposed to look like, click on the Bon Appetit link.

SONY DSCI think being well aware that my portion of the dinner was not going to be good, Erika fell on her sword. Figuratively. Maybe. At one point I know I heard her say, “maybe I should cook the noodles longer.” But then she shrugged and walked away. We usually don’t make a habit of butting in when the other is cooking, so I didn’t give my two cents. I don’t think I even looked up. I was quite distraught over my mush. The flavor of Erika’s meal was great. I love that she likes to cook with shrimp so much. But the noodles were hard.  Okay, there, I said it.

I tried to salvage my mush by over-browning it and hopefully turning it into some kind of hash. Like I said, the taste was really great for both meals. But the consistencies left much to be desired. Damn desire.

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doesn’t look that bad, huh?

Jill saved the day with a taste test of some cilantro vodka she just bought. I thought she was going to make us each the same drink … but that was silly of me. First she made a Cucumber Daisy (elderflower, cilantro vodka, lime juice and a cucumber wheel) – Erika got that one. Next she made a Cilantro Lemonade (cilantro vodka, lemonade and club soda) – that was mine. Finally, a Cilantro Rita (cilantro vodka, triple sec and lime juice) – Jill’s. I know all this because I found the absolute vodka website on my computer the next morning.

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Jill won this dinner duel.

Granola Part 2!

I tried to make granola a few months ago, and it was pretty bad. It seemed promising (it had chocolate!), but it was a fail. So, this time around I opened The New Best Recipe book from America’s Test Kitchen to see what I could learn about granola.

SONY DSCI learned that honey is hygroscopic (uh huh) which means it attracts and absorbs water, so when you use only honey to bind and sweeten the oats your granola will be soft and stale. Yuck! ATK recommends you use brown sugar, but keep some honey for taste. I did not do that.

Also, there rules about the fruit you use. Raisins don’t work very well because they have thin skin that puffs up, burns and then turns hard. That was a problem that ATK couldn’t solve. Their solution? Use something like dried cranberries, coarsely chopped, because of their thick skin. I didn’t do that either.

ATK only had recipes for granola bars and I needed granola for a yogurt parfait thing. So, I found Alton Brown’s recipe for granola and altered it a bit.

SONY DSCMaple Syrup Tangent: Earlier this year, I was visiting a friend in Madison, WI and we went to the  Dane County Farmers’ Market. The market wraps around their capitol building. Very cool. I bought this little bottle of maple syrup for a cocktail I had been reading about. Months later, I still hadn’t made the cocktail so this maple syrup was available when I need it for granola! But it used the whole bottle. Now my supply is tapped. Time to head back to Wisconsin.

Ingredients
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup walnuts
3/4 cup shredded sweet coconut
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup combo dried cherries and dried blueberries
You can find the directions on the food network. It’s still good (not stale) a week later! Yea Alton Brown!
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before baking – pasty

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after baking – evenly tanned

Moscow Mules

When E and I made our garlic chicken/veggie mac&cheese dinners, our drink of the night was the Moscow Mule.

SONY DSCErika and I once had a very fun night at The Lodge, sitting by the window, sipping Moscow Mules out of copper cups – which I guess is a rare treat because it is a popular item for people to steal. So, a lot of places are forced to serve this drink in boring glasses. It was probably one of my favorite nights in the city, where the evening is beautiful and everything is fun. The Moscow Mules helped. We also happened to have front row seats to Chicago’s naked bike ride, which was unexpected and interesting. Later that night the novelty had definitely worn off when my commute home was delayed by the same naked bike ride parade.

About a week ago, one of my friends got great job offer. We’ve worked together for nearly six years, and now we won’t see each other everyday anymore! I know she loves Moscow Mules, so to celebrate, I got her set of Moscow Mule copper cups. (Why is this drink supposed to be served in copper cups? Google could not tell me.)

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Our classy, non-copper cups. Go Bears!

Of course then I craved Moscow Mules. Serendipitously, when Erika came over to cook our meals, she brought ginger beer! So I headed over to the Bon Appetit website and found not only the ratio of ingredients (4 parts ginger beer, 2 parts vodka and 1 part lime juice), but we learned that the Moscow Mule was invented in 1941 by John G. Martin (liquor distributor) and Jack Morgan (owner of Hollywood’s Cock ‘n’ Bull bar) “to sell exotic ‘white whiskey’ (a.k.a. vodka)”. Interesting, no?

Lemon Layer Cake (no duck sprinkles)

SONY DSCMy brother was in town last weekend to celebrate his birthday, and I wanted to make him a cake. I scanned my pinterest and determined I had everything I need to make Love and Olive Oil’s Lemon Layer Cake with Chocolate Fudge Frosting. (What?! yes, you heard right. Lemon & fudge.) But by the time I got back to my apartment I had two hours before my brother was supposed to show up, and unsoftened butter. I am continually shaking my fist at unsoftened butter. So, I decided we could do without cake. Good decision since we had to change plans last minute and ended up leaving for dinner as soon as he got here and didn’t get back til very late. No cake time. Unless you feel it is acceptable to eat cake for breakfast. Which I do … anyway.

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The homemade frosting is on the left

I made the cakes on Sunday and froze them overnight (as per instructions). Monday evening, when I went to make the frosting, I ran into your typical frosting snafu: I was missing powdered sugar. Other common frosting snafus? Missing milk or butter. Each pretty tragic in its own way. Three stores and one hour later, I still did not have powdered sugar, so I picked up store bought frosting. I made a 2/3 batch of the fancy stuff (since I had 2/3 of the required powdered sugar), and then whipped a can of store bought stuff and added some vanilla extract. Can you see the difference? You can taste it. Not the end of the world. Chocolate and sugar are typically crowd pleasers in any situation.

I used the store-bought stuff in the middle, but after the cake was entirely frosted, I realized the 2/3 of the recipe would have been just enough for the whole cake. I don’t regret my decision. I don’t!

SONY DSCAfter I assembled the cake, I had a tough decision to make. Duck sprinkles or green shimmer? Honestly, if not for my sister, I might have agonized over this decision for awhile. She choose green shimmer. Personally, I think she choose wrong, but it was out of my hands. But I know her decision was pure. She doesn’t get any of the cake. I’m taking it to work. Maybe she didn’t think they’d appreciate ducks. As if.

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Oh! It was three layers … I regret not taking a picture of it all cut into.

 

Another Dinner Duel: Garlic Chicken vs. Veggie Mac & Cheese

This week has been my favorite kind of weather. Cool, but not cold, a little rainy, some days were absolutely beautiful. Those were the perfect days to go to a movies in the park, walk the beach or take a bike ride. Of course I didn’t do any of those things. Instead, I spent a lot of time indoors, watching Orange is the New Black, reading The Book Thief and hanging inside with friends.

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Lies, I went to the beach once. Yea Montrose Beach!

One of those nights, Erika came over and we made another set of dinners. Erika choose Anne Burrell’s garlic chicken with israeli couscous from the Food Network, and I made roasted summer vegetable mac and cheese, another How Sweet It Is recipe. This time we both had the afternoon off, so we were able to start cooking around 4pm rather than our usually 8pm, which makes for a much better night. When you’re constantly fighting over the stove and creating mounds and mounds of dishes, dinner duels can take up to three hours before anything is ready, which is fun … but waking up for work the next morning is not easy.

h_lqnt on Make A Gif, Animated GifsTo get a head start, I began chopping up the vegetables before Erika came. I mixed ’em up with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper and started roasting them. E arrived just before I put them in the oven, so she threw in some garlic she needed roasted.

My veggies were much more finely cut than I think was needed, but they didn’t get mushy, so I guess it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that they look pretty, right?

Once E had everything prepped for her dish, we needed to wait for the chicken to marinate for an hour. I started grating the cheese, which was no fun, so I made E help me. This recipe called for 8 oz of white cheddar, 8 oz of havarti and 2 oz of parmesan. Grating soft cheese stinks! I ended up putting the cheddar and havarti in the freezer for a while. It didn’t help much, but that might be because I only left it in there for two minutes. I can be a tad impatient.

We cooked both dishes at the same time without changing the oven temp or time, but everything came out hot and cooked. So, I guess learning how to adjust time and temp is a skill I can avoid learning for another day.

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tiny, mocking jar

This is silly, but my favorite part of this dinner? Erika’s recipe called for saffron, which my aunt and cousin gave me for my birthday (eight months ago). I haven’t had a reason to use it before now. It just sits there, mocking me with it’s distinctive flavor, challenging me to use it. I was finally able to tell my cousin I opened it! Though, I couldn’t taste it in the dish. Too many other flavors?

Both dishes were yummy. I think they were both soupier than either of us anticipated, but still good. We were done, fed, dishes cleaned and leftovers packed up by 8:30. Super success!

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