The Kitchen and Curry

IMG_0861Lindsey found a great recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala. I say great in hindsight because I was very skeptical for two reasons. First, it promised to be quick, and second it promised to be healthy. Anyone who knows anything about Indian food (at least the curry we find in the U.S.) knows why I was skeptical. But I was wrong, it scored on both accounts.

Even though it was a relatively easy recipe, it was not without its challenges. First, it depends on a curry spice mix that was not easy for us to find. So, my adventurous wife decided to make it herself. It was a brave call, but for the second time today my beautiful wife was right.

IMG_0862She pulled together what had to be 7 to 10 spices into a base Indian spice mix called garam masala. It served as the base for the curry (which is really just a type of gravy) with some to spare for next time. It turned out quite good.

We spent about an hour in the kitchen together, working through the recipes. It can be a little tough when we are both in the kitchen. I tend to be very direct and not take directions in recipes too seriously unless we’re baking. Lindsey is meticulous with directions and very careful with everything she does. These two styles don’t always mesh and can cause conflict, but tonight that was not the case. We had a disagreement over directions, but other than that it was a great time cooking together.

Spiced rice that we made and naan bread from HEB finished off the meal. We sat down to watch Downton Abbey and enjoy a great meal together. Sure, the weekend seemed to short as it always does, but this was a fantastic way to close it out.

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An epic cake

On Sunday, I set out on an adventure. Scratch that. I set out on it last Thursday watching countless YouTube and eHow videos. You see, folks– I did something that many young brides do. It’s called biting off more than chew.

But… I’m not most young brides.

I’m stubborn. I’m stubborn like my Gran– and if you know my Gran, you know that’s some serious stubborn. It’s also called “stick-to-it-tive-ness” in kinder circles– but I don’t run in those 😉

I learned lots of things from the videos and other things from trial and error. My husband also learned a few things: 1. a chef needs to eat or else she gets cranky, 2. a pep talk goes a long way, and 3. to keep thanking the chef for the tasty creation profusely so that even though on Sunday she swore she’d never make it again, she might. Maybe.

This thing took 7-8 hours total. I took a break to go to church. Brian didn’t get to taste it until 10:30pm, but he assures me that it was worth it.

I took photos along to way, so you get to share in the adventure…

The icing was Ginger Buttercream Icing. I had to peel ginger root, which really looks like something used in voodoo, and then grate it. Both of these steps required research.

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Then, the recipe called for 10 egg whites (research) and 8 sticks of butter. It’s a lot of butter…

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I, then, had to cook the egg whites and sugar to a specific temperature over a double boiler (thank you, Brian),  before about 20 minutes in the Kitchenaid mixer.

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The icing took about an hour and a half from start to finish. I was exhausted, but at that point, I only had icing. Must keep going…

There were some interesting steps for the cake batter as well. I had to core and grate 10 pears, and then squeeze them through cheesecloth…

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…toast and chop pistachios…

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…burn– I mean brown– butter…

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…and then bake it in three pans.

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And then there were the pear chips. It was a lot of work for a topping– but man, those chips were delicious!

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And several hours later, I got to show off my final product.

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I felt pretty accomplished, until we realized there were some unforeseen issues: 1. the cake is so rich and dense that one can’t eat more than a couple of bites at a time, and 2. two people cannot eat this entire cake!

Solution: share. That’s been fun 🙂

Recipe from Garden & Gun: 

Brown Sugar, Pear & Pistachio Cake with 
Ginger Buttercream Frosting and Oven-Dried Pear Chips

Ingredients (Serves 12)
CAKE:
4 sticks butter
2 lbs. (6–8) winter pears, or unripe Bosc or Bartlett pears, scrubbed clean
6 large eggs
3 cups brown sugar
3 tsp. baking soda
1½ tsp. baking powder
1½ tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
3 tsp. vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 lb. (3 cups) toasted pistachios, roughly chopped

GINGER BUTTERCREAM FROSTING: 
1 cup egg whites, about 10 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups sugar
½ tsp. kosher salt
8 sticks unsalted butter, softened and cut into 2-inch chunks
4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tbsp. freshly grated ginger
2 tbsp. powdered ginger

OVEN-DRIED PEAR CHIPS:
¾ cup pear juice (or water)
¾ cup sugar
Juice from half a lemon
3 very pretty, symmetrical winter 
(or Bosc or Bartlett) pears

Preparation
CAKE: Adjust oven rack to center. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment, then lightly butter and flour.

In a small lightly colored saucepan, melt butter over low heat. When it has completely liquefied, turn heat to medium to brown the butter. It will bubble, and brown bits will form on the bottom of the pan. When the sputtering stops, strain butter through cheesecloth, and set aside to cool. You should have 1½ cups.

Core the pears, leaving the peel on, and shred using the large side of a box grater or the medium-size grating attachment on a food processor. Gather shredded fruit into a triple thickness of cheesecloth or a thin cotton dish towel, and squeeze the liquid from the pears, capturing ¾ cup of pear juice (for the pear chip recipe).

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg at medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. Then drizzle in brown butter and add vanilla. Add flour, and stir until just incorporated. Stir in shredded pear and pistachios gently. Divide the batter evenly among the three pans.

Bake for 25–30 minutes, or until the cakes have puffed and are lightly browned. Remove to a rack and let cool entirely before peeling away the parchment paper.

To assemble the cake, generously spread buttercream frosting between layers before stacking. Frost the sides and top once with a thin “crumb coat.” Chill cake for 30 minutes, then frost sides and top again with a thick layer. Chill well. Decorate with pear chips.

Make Ahead:
GINGER BUTTERCREAM FROSTING: Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in a medium-size mixing bowl. Set it over a pan of barely simmering water. Whisk the mixture gently until it warms to between 145 and 150 degrees. Remove from heat. Using a mixer, beat on medium-high speed until the egg whites double in volume and turn snowy white and the bowl is completely cool, about 10–15 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and add in butter, one chunk at a time, giving each addition several seconds to incorporate. (You’ll see the meringue deflate during the first few additions.) Add in vanilla and both gingers, and continue whipping until evenly incorporated. Store in the refrigerator up to one week. Whip again before frosting.

OVEN-DRIED PEAR CHIPS: Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. Combine pear juice (or water) and sugar in a small saucepan, and cook over medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Stir in lemon juice. With a sharp knife or a mandoline, slice both sides of the pears vertically into ¹⁄8-inch-thick chips, placing each slice into the syrup as soon as it’s cut. Let slices stand for ten minutes. Remove each slice, letting the excess syrup drip back into the pot, and transfer to the baking sheet. Bake until the slices feel very dry, about 1½ hours, turning them over midway.

Marriage makes you fat

It’s true. Neither I nor my husband would be designated as “fat” in most circles, but we’re both much larger than we were on the day we said “I do”.

We’ve gone through some different food plans and preferences in our time together. Pre-wedding, I was doing a modified version of the Abs Diet, where I basically cut out whites (rice, bread, sugar), replaced them with whole grains, ate mostly low fat foods, and did so 5-6 times per day. I was successful on this plan, but it is a no-fun plan and on the day I got married, I started having fun again 🙂

On our honeymoon, Brian reread a book he loves about real food, which propelled us into a no processed, eat lots of locally sourced items and tons of veggies mindset. We learned quickly that it is very difficult to cut out processed foods when you have busy schedules. Eating real food takes a lot of planning and preparation.

The other thing is that Brian and I both really love good food. We love interesting flavors, international foods, gourmet items, etc. Alton Brown makes us hungry every time we watch him, and I’m partial to the Pioneer Woman, who regularly pours cream or butter into recipes (so good!). This is the kick we’ve been on lately– the good stuff.

Thus, marriage has made us fat. Ugh. This means we need to make changes, and who has time to do that? But we must. We’re too young to blow up like balloons, and –honest moment– I want to stay hot for my husband!

Since we talk about food a lot on here, I’m sure you’ll hear more on what changes we make… or don’t make… we’ll let you know 😉

A hint of the weekend to come

Today was a small hint of a hopefully relaxing weekend to come. After our Thanksgiving with Lindsey’s family we have no commitments ahead of us until Monday, and that is such a great thought right now.

It’s been good having her back home, aside from a few small arguments brought on by stress on both of our parts. We’ve both been going 110% for the last 2 months, and it is starting to show. But, today we had a good day of just getting stuff done. It bodes well for the weekend.

We got up this morning and went to the grocery store to take care of preparing for tomorrow. We’re taking a couple of things out to her parents for lunch tomorrow, and we wanted to get to the store early and beat the crowds. That was a successful effort, much to our relief.

Yes, that is a stalk of brussel sprouts

While at the store Lindsey learned a small agricultural lesson. HEB had brussel sprouts still on the stalk. Lindsey pointed to them and asked, “What is that?”

“It’s brussel sprouts on their stalks.”

“They grow on stalks?”

“Yes, they grow on stalks. How did you think they grew?”

“I don’t know, out of the ground?”

Now, while they are a small hassle to dissemble, they really are better this way because it keeps the sprouts from wilting. We used them in one of our favorite dishes, brussel sprouts with toasted pecans and dried cranberries– along with a healthy dose of butter. Trust me, it’s great.

In between fun conversations and stalk puns (“Get it? I’m ‘stalk’ing you!”), Lindsey was able to very successfully study for and take her mid-term for the Women’s Development program. We sat down and talked all about it, had a good dinner of my Mom’s chicken and rice and the brussel sprouts. Lindsey made a pie for tomorrow, and now we’re heading off to bed.

It was a really good day, all in all, and I think it really points to the start of a good holiday weekend. I’m really looking forward to it.

An easy dinner

We’ve had mixed results with our plan to eat less processed foods. We really do a good job when we cook at home, not so much away from the house. I thought it would be fun to share the really quick, but very good dinner we had tonight.

We had grilled chicken, lemon sesame glazed kale, and patty pan squash. The chicken was simple, just HEB Natural chicken breasts lightly seasoned with the HEB chicken fajita seasoning (which may be our one somewhat-processed part of the dinner). I know it’s called a fajita seasoning, but we’ve found it’s just a good all-around chicken seasoning. I cooked them on the grill pan and it only takes about 10 minutes on medium to medium-high to cook them perfectly.

Removing the stems, key to a good texture

The greens recipe is one of our favorites and comes from Alton Brown. If you want to try greens but don’t know what to do, or think you won’t like them, try this recipe. It’s olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper combined in a skillet. Cook the greens (we like kale) for 4 minutes, add in sesame seeds and red pepper flakes and cook for one more minute. Serve right away. It si so good, it’s our favorite way to eat greens. Oh, and a tip for greens rookies: most recipes tell you to remove the stems. Do this, but remove almost all of it, cut the leaves in half and remove as much of the stems as you can. This definitely helps with the texture.

Patty pan squash

Finally we bought some good patty pan squash at the farmer’s market yesterday. It’s an interesting squash and I am still learning to cook it, so almost every time it’s an experiment. Tonight I went very simple. A good bit of olive oil in a skillet, along with a small (very small) pat of butter. Once the butter is melted and combined I added salt, pepper, thyme, and allspice (I just guessed on amounts, probably a half tablespoon or so). To this I added the sliced squash and cooked over medium heat for 10-12 minutes. You want them soft, but not mushy. Even slices and a watchful eye help.

Everything in motion…

That’s it, and its a great meal. With prep time it took me maybe 30 minutes, not bad at all for a meal from scratch.

This is for the NPR

“So… you could bake some chocolate chip cookies. They’re my favorite,” he says.

My immediate thoughts: I already have dessert planned for our guest tonight–We’re leaving town tomorrow and won’t even be here to eat them– Why does he act like they’re aren’t any sweets in the house when I went grocery shopping yesterday– And how am I supposed to lose weight with cookies on the counter?

My response: I look up a killer chocolate chip cookie recipe, go to the grocery store, and make an entire batch of deliciousness. They’re coming out of the oven when my husband walks through the door. Why? Because I love my husband and want to make him happy.

I frustrate Brian. I annoy Brian. I drive him crazy at times. I test his patience, I steal his covers, and I listen to NPR. The least I can do is bake him cookies when he says he wants cookies.

I won’t always be able to make him happy. I won’t always bring him joy. There will be times he wants something from me that I just can’t deliver…

…but not today 🙂

PS– This recipe really is killer. I think it’s the almond extract. I’m a huge fan of all five recipes I’ve tried from this site (and yes, I do use their flour– the organic): King Arthur Flour Chocolate Chip Cookies

A million thanks

Well, it’s here. Summer. I made it through another school year.

Today was my first official day of summer vacation. So what’s a new wife to do with a day of freedom? I decided to take care of a few things I haven’t had time to do.

Task #1: Thank you cards

I am embarrassed to say that my thank you card to-do pile has been stacking up since the wedding. It’s so impolite. I realize this. I likely nearly killed my dear mother over the embarrassment of it all. I just felt like every time I had a moment to sit at a desk during the school year, the priority had to be grading. Thus, the thank you card pile grew.

But yesterday and today I sat down and put the pen to the notecard. I wrote 69 thank you cards and proudly marched them down to the outgoing mailbox. The mail(wo)man was at the box and I was able to place the pile into her capable hands before proudly prancing away.

The task wasn’t without its issues. Cards were separated from gifts at the wedding, so there were several gifts for which we don’t know the exact giver. On the upside– we loved everything we received, so I could accurately relay that we loved the “gift,” even though I couldn’t specify the exact nature of the “gift.” And then there was the pile of cards that were in the to do box that I could swear I already sent the thanks for. But I couldn’t leave it to chance– better two thank you cards than none at all. Better someone think I’m crazy than rude.

Though this task should be checked off as completed, I have the ridiculous feeling that I forgot to thank someone, and thus, I also have the feeling of guilt. Brian looks at me with his confused face when I try to explain this. I accept that there are things like thank you cards or high heeled wedges that he will never understand.

As I wrote the individual cards, I began to once again feel the corporate blessing of all of the gifts. We were overwhelmed by the incredible generosity and love. I remembered once more how many people contributed in ways big and small, seen and unseen to our wedding and household. It was at that point I realized that my meager 69 cards did not express the million thanks I felt in my heart. We are so blessed.

Once Task #1 was completed, it was on to Task #2: cooking a nice meal for my husband on a weeknight. This was a treat for both of us; I got to love and serve, and he got to relax and eat. For my first weeknight solo run in the kitchen as wife, I served up herb breaded baked chicken, sweet potato risotto, and green beans.

It was a satisfying first day off. Just enough to do to feel productive, but not enough for it to feel like “work.”