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Posts Tagged ‘Romance’

Greetings, friends, family, and cyber-stalkers! We’re about to head out for a celebratory weekend away in the Catskills for our one-year anniversary, but realized it’s been nearly three weeks since our last post, and we couldn’t leave the world of computers and cell phones and the like without one final update. (Confidential revelation: we may actually have all such devices of modernity available where we’ll be staying in the Catskills, but we have plans to strictly limit our use to Netflix-streamed episodes of Pushing Daisies and no email!)

Before we head out, here’s a shot of our pre-departure lunch — whole wheat penne, grilled leeks, sauteed mushrooms, ricotta. It’s a cinch to make — boil pasta, grill leeks on a Foreman grill or a panini press or an actual grill (which we’re to acquire soon thanks to the tremendous generosity of a certain friend’s parents), saute up some chopped mushrooms, and stir in ricotta.

And in honor of our anniversary, we leave you with this: “Murder, certainly; but divorce, never!!”

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They did it! They tied the knot! Two of our favorite people, joined together in joyous, holy matrimony. It was one of the most beautiful, most fun weddings we’ve been to in a while (excluding our own, of course!), and very much a testament to the value of community that both Andy and Marcella have come to share.

A few highlights:

  • Marcella walked down the aisle with her father, who had suffered a stroke a few years ago, and made a difficult journey out to Connecticut from Phoenix.
  • Both Andy and his father gave endearing, thoughtful toasts to the guests (as is English tradition). Afterwards, Andy’s father beamed rays of fatherly pride at how well Andy has grown up.
  • The bridal party and friends fully rearranged international trips home, housing decor and guest space availability, and work schedules in order to pitch in and contribute to the finishing details of the wedding week.
  • Our friend GH officiated his very first wedding, and his delightful wife, JH, catered her very first wedding.
And we, as you may know, made our very first wedding cake. It was a vanilla cardamom cake, three tiers each with two layers, with a Swiss meringue buttercream frosting. The tiers were 12″, 8″, and 6″, decorated with some miscellaneous flowers and eucalyptus branches pilfered from the Sharps’ dining room arrangement in a last-minute flurry the morning of the wedding. Despite it being slotted to feed 120 at least, it fed about 80. (What can we do when guests come back for seconds and thirds and fourths?)
This cake may be a game-changer. I’m now reconsidering my career trajectory. Goodbye, Columbia; hello, socialist bakery! (If you have seen Stranger Than Fiction, a certain baker lady in that movie has been providing some inspiration for these upcoming plans.) Seriously, this cake was such a success that I’m reevaluating my gifts and my interests and wondering whether a small local bakery with an emphasis on job skills training for underprivileged women may instead be a better alternative than my current track. The million muffin movement? Cookies for the community?

Onto the frosting… If you’ll remember, the first frosting attempt over Easter weekend turned into a curdled disaster. Since then we’ve experimented quite a bit and have been thrilled with the following recipe. This recipe yields the most spreadable frosting I’ve ever experimented with, and the egg whites add a lot of structure that would ordinarily be replaced with by extraneous sugar. It holds up remarkably well for 24 hours (not that we had it out for that long, but an earlier trial version did withstand that duration) without any discoloration or melting. Of course if you were attempting your own wedding cake, I highly recommend you give this a couple tries. It’s not the easiest frosting I’ve ever made, but once you’re familiar enough with how it works, it is worth the effort.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting

4 egg whites, room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 sticks butter, room temperature

In a double boiler, whisk together egg whites and 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar. Whisk continually in order to keep egg whites from cooking, until egg whites are frothy and warm. (If you don’t have a double boiler, a stainless steel bowl over a pot of simmering water is fine.) Warming the egg whites allows them to stiffen up more in the next step.

Remove egg white mixture from heat. In a stand mixer, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. This should take about two minutes on medium speed first, then another two or three minutes on high speed. Remove egg whites from stand mixer and set aside.

In stand mixer, beat butter and remaining 1 1/2 cups of sugar until fluffy. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the butter. Mix thoroughly by hand. Do not use a stand mixture for this portion — the egg whites are very delicate at this stage and can curdle if beaten too hard into the butter.

At this stage, the frosting can be spread onto the cake immediately or kept refrigerated for a few days. If refrigerated, the frosting will harden. To bring it back to a spreadable texture, microwave for 30 seconds or keep it at room temperature for a few hours.

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Valentine’s Day, Victory Day

I had to laugh the entire night this past Monday.  Nothing went according to plan (I couldn’t exaggerate this if I tried), but it didn’t matter in the slightest.  Had this happened a year ago, I think I would have collapsed on the floor crying (fun fact: that’s what happened the first time I made duck for Joann), but not this year.  In fact, I think Joann had one of the best times of her life–which is probably why I did, too.  I’m going to credit it all to the institution of marriage.

We made duck for Valentine’s day.  Yes, duck.  Oh, very fancy you are thinking.  Well…I’ll let you think that.  Duck breasts are actually particularly hard to screw up, and I don’t think a roast duck is much different.  Duck is just really good.  Don’t overcook it, and….that’s about it.  Duck take 1 (2009): seared breast with a cherry-rhubarb sauce.  Duck take 2 (2010): roast duck cooked three-ways with a port reduction.  Duck take 3 (2011): no plan actually.

This is where the problem starts.  Not to wax nostalgic, but at Fairway one can buy fresh duck–whole or breasts–no problem.  Certainly, I thought, Ferraros would have the same.  Nope, just a big vacuum-sealed frozen duck with a bit of plumage to pluck out.  Okay, so we should have planned ahead–do we just go with lamb?  Yummy  lamb leg, cooks in an hour, rich, great with wine–nah, let’s take the challenge.  We’ll have a late dinner, but we should be able to get it defrosted without too much effort.

An hour goes by (sitting in warm water) and it’s still pretty frozen.  But it’s 7, so we decide to just go for it.  This is where I normally would have despaired: Valentine’s day dinner, want it to be nice (forget perfect) and it’s hours from being done.  Thankfully, though, in researching the best way to prepare a whole duck (keep in mind, though, that there is no bad way to do duck) we learned that “the best way” to cook duck is to steam it first.  This penetrates the meat with moist heat and renders the fat so that when you do put it in the oven it crisps up nicely while staying moist.  And this is especially convenient because I’m not afraid of steaming a frozen bird–it’s not going to over cook or dry out.

Forty-five minutes later I’m ready chop up the bird and throw it in the oven.  Except that the center is still frozen solid.  Cue sad face, but also cue Joann enthusiastically assuring me that everything is going to be fine and that she’s having a great time.  So, in my dress shirt and slacks, I throw on my apron (“Not only handsome, but can cook, too”–although with a crease in the right place it also reads: “not handsome, but can cook”) and wield the largest kitchen knife we’ve got.  Duck juices and parts are flying everywhere.  Also, I’m pretty sure that using a large knife on a frozen bird while your hands are dripping in fat and juices is not the safest way to spend an evening.

So at…I have no idea what time it was at this point…but when the duck looked ready enough–it was ready.  I think it was 9pm, and I had no expectation for how it would be.  But, remember how I said it’s hard to ruin duck?  I did my best to test that theory. We drizzled a bit of pomegranate molasses on each piece, served alongside some roasted beets, and called it a day.

It was truly remarkable what a good time Joann had.  But wasn’t I responsible for dinner, and didn’t I blow it?  Wasn’t there a chance we wouldn’t have ANYTHING to eat? Didn’t we want to spend our time together, um, doing something besides tossing around frozen duck pieces?  Apparently not.  A joint adventure in the impossible was much better.  I, too, prefer this version of romance.  And, by the way, those heart-shaped guys are roasted beets.

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Since getting married in June, we have collectively put on 25 lbs. of happiness. Yes, happiness.  It’s true: when you get married, you get happier.  We thought that we were gaining weight, but all of our friends corrected us that, no, we were getting happier.  “You must be sooo happy!” one of our NYC friends exclaimed.  Some people might even be surprised to hear how happy you’ve gotten.  Skeptically, one friend at church asked us where all of Joann’s new happiness goes. (When she answered “her hips, butt, and stomach” another woman remarked, “Just where Greg likes it, I bet.”)

Why do you get so happy after marriage? It could be the tiny little kisses that your spouse gives you for many different reasons (joy at seeing you again, to cheer you up, to get the food off of your face, to calm you down after she scared you because she made a scary barky sound); it could be the unconditional love and commitment and the peace that comes with knowing that no matter what you are loved; it could be the promise and hope for a future together (with beautiful little babies!); or it could be because you eat so much damn food.

Seriously people! We nearly finished a full loaf of bread for dinner (4 cups of flour!) with butter (which we’ve discovered is, well, delicious) and soup (the soup was actually really healthy…on top of all that bread and butter).  And all of these recipes that go on our blog: it’s not like we’re pulling out the stops and saving up.  We eat like this every night.  Actually, maybe several times a day.

We got married knowing that it would teach us more about how Christ loves His Church.  We didn’t know we’d get so fat–I mean, happy–too.

This is a good last-minute kind of bread. All in all it takes about an hour to make, mostly inactive time. It’s quite different from yeast bread, much more dense and biscuit-like with a moister crumb and hearty crust. Very good with butter.

Short-Notice Soda Bread

2 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t baking soda
1 3/4 c plain fat-free yogurt (or buttermilk)
2 oz butter
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400F.

Whisk egg until smooth. Add in yogurt, whisk until well-blended. The butter can either be melted beforehand and whisked in at this stage; otherwise, some heavier-duty mixing will be in order. Stir in baking soda and flour, adding in flour half a cup at a time until the batter is thick and on the wetter side.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan. (We used a 9″x5″x3″ loaf pan, but I imagine a free-form Le Creuset version would be great as well.) Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 50 minutes, remove when the top sounds hollow when knocked on. Serve warm. With butter.

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Has it really been a full week since we last posted? Yes, I see the readership dwindling… Come back, readers, come back! Time sure does fly when you’re totally overwhelmed and busy. School started last week, and it’ll be a doozy getting all of this done. Who decided a master’s degree, a full-time demanding job, a new husband, and lots of social inclinations was a good idea? I guess I did, but that doesn’t stop me from complaining about it. As long as it doesn’t keep me from baking…

Speaking of baking, look at these two beautiful smiley people, Andy and Marcella! After months of dating cross-continentally, they’d been reunited in New Haven in August thanks to the generous efforts and string-pulling of a few dear friends, and they’re now officially engaged! And somehow I managed to talk myself into the biggest baking challenge thus far in a young baker’s life… wedding cake. How hard can it be?

Trial number one was a modest, two-layer affair involving pomegranate molasses and vanilla cream cheese frosting. Marcella is a frugivore, you see, and for a recent dinner gathering in part to celebrate her birthday she requested a bowl of exotic fruits in lieu of a birthday cake. Fantasizing about this cake already, I delegated the fruit responsibilities elsewhere and went ahead with my cake-baking! (And yes, I’d consider pomegranate molasses to fall in the exotic fruit category…)

While the cake was very well-received, I’m still brainstorming a few other ideas. Coconut has been vetoed, but I’m willing to take suggestions. What is the best cake you have ever had?

Pomegranate Molasses Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 stick butter, room temperature
3/4 c sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 c milk
3 T pomegranate molasses

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour two 9-inch cake rounds. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until fluffy and well-mixed. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter, scraping down the sides of the bowl between each mixing. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk to the butter-sugar-egg mixture. Add in the molasses and stir well.

Pour the batter into each cake round. Bake for ~35-40 minutes until cake is set. Cool completely before removing it from the pan and frosting.

Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

1 package of cream cheese
2 T vanilla extract (the good kind)
sugar to taste

In a large standing mixer, beat cream cheese at a high speed. Add in the sugar and vanilla extract gradually while continuing to beat. The frosting is done when when the ingredients are mixed well and the cream cheese is fluffy.

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