Housewarming party menu

Yesterday we hosted our first party in the new house! About 20 friends and coworkers dropped by through the afternoon, and our good friends stayed until late. We borrowed a nice cornhole set and introduced the game to anyone who hadn’t heard of it.

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We made a ton of food and it all turned out great so I wanted to share the recipes we used.

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  • Tortilla chips with fresh guacamole and (storebought) salsa
  • Hummus (storebought) and veggies (carrots, celery, bell peppers, radishes)
  • Fruit, nut, and cheese tray (red grapes, roasted salted almonds, extra-sharp cheddar)
  • Ham and swiss sliders with butter-mustard glaze
  • Farfalle pesto salad with cherry tomatoes and feta (I used this pesto recipe)
  • Curried chicken and apple salad (researched many recipes and made my own, below)
    • a rotisserie chicken, diced
    • 2 Granny Smith apples, diced
    • 1 cup dried cranberries, chopped
    • 1 cup roasted salted almonds, chopped
    • 4 stalks celery, diced
    • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
    • enough mayonnaise to coat (about 1 cup)
    • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
    • 1 Tbsp curry powder
    • a pinch of salt, to taste
    • a pinch of sugar, to taste
    • baguette slices to serve
  • Pumpkin pie bites (with crescent roll crusts!)
  • S’mores over the firepit

We stocked up on beer and wine, and people brought even more as gifts. They even brought flowers and pastries! The leftover pastries were perfect with this morning’s breakfast…

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And we’re looking forward to enjoying the rest of the leftovers for the next few days.

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Our apartment flood disaster is nowhere near over. But they did remove the fans and dehumidifiers on Thursday, so we were able to start using a few rooms again. The kitchen was one of them!

To celebrate, I volunteered to bake a birthday cake for one of our friends. The partygoers devoured most of it before I thought to take photos. So this morning-after snapshot will have to do. Can you see the dense, rich texture? Can you taste the cream-cheesy goodness?

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Dan and I shared the final piece for breakfast Sunday morning. Let me tell you, it’s just as awesome with coffee and eggs as it is with vanilla ice cream.

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My family always saved this cake for special occasions because grating the carrots was such an arduous task. The last time I made it was for Dan’s birthday in November. But now that I have a food processor, it only took a few minutes!

It’s a very simple carrot cake — no nuts, pineapple, coconut, or multiple spices. It gets all of its lush flavor from the freshly grated carrots, cinnamon, and tangy-sweet frosting. Like magic, it tastes even better the second and third day as the flavors mingle. But if you can let it sit that long, you have a stronger will than I.

Carrot Cake Recipe

Cake:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2-3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 3/4 cup applesauce (preferably unsweetened)
  • 3 cups grated carrots (about 4 very large carrots)
  • 4 eggs

Preheat oven to 350F. Prep a 9×13″ pan (see notes for other size options) with grease & flour or baking spray. In mixing bowl, add all ingredients together except eggs. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Pour batter into pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean. Ice when cool.

Frosting:

  • 1 lb. powdered sugar
  • 1 8-oz. package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 stick (4 Tbsp) butter or margarine, softened
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Combine ingredients & beat until of spreading consistency.

Recipe Notes

  • The applesauce is my substitution to make it a bit healthier — the original recipe calls for a whopping 1.5 cups oil.
  • For a layer cake, use three 8″ round cake pans and bake approx. 35 minutes.
  • For cupcakes, bake 20-25 minutes.
  • The frosting recipe makes enough to ice a layer cake, so it’s too much for a 9×13 pan (even for a frosting fanatic like me). My family likes to spread the leftover frosting on graham crackers and eat right away or freeze for a later treat.

Artichoke Flop

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Artichokes were on sale this week, so I bought one. I planned to steam it and serve it with a spicy garlic mayo dip, restaurant style.

They’re an awfully intimidating-looking vegetable, aren’t they? But the instructions I found seemed so simple that it couldn’t go wrong. After trimming and rinsing, all I needed to do was steam the artichoke for 25-45 minutes over water with garlic, bay, and lemon. When you can easily pull off an outer leaf, it’s supposedly ready to eat.

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No leaves pulled off at 25 minutes. Nor at 45. At this point we dejectedly ate the rest of our dinner, which I’d been keeping warm. The middle leaves pulled off around 65 minutes and I was sick of cooking the thing, so we tried them. No dice. The flesh just wouldn’t scrape off the leaves with our teeth as it has when I’ve eaten restaurant artichokes.

So we dismantled the whole thing to get at the heart. It was rather disappointing too. But at least I got this otherworldly photo of artichoke innards.

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Do any of you have ideas? Do you think my artichoke was too old or poor quality, or I cooked it wrong? I don’t want to be defeated by a thistle!

Homemade Spaghetti

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My parents make the world’s best spaghetti. They don’t know where the recipe came from but they’ve made it the same way for decades. It’s the first recipe I learned to cook by heart. The sauce is not garden-fresh or fancy — instead, it’s an easy pantry meal using ingredients you always have on hand. But it’s not boring or typical. It’s a hearty sauce with depth from red wine and olive oil, bulked up with savory olives and mushrooms, all cooked into a thick stew-like texture. I’ve made it before without the beef and it’s delicious vegetarian style too.

Favorite Spaghetti Recipe (serves 4)

  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • one small yellow/white onion, diced
  • a few cloves of garlic, minced
  • one small can of mushroom pieces
  • about half a can of black olives, sliced
  • 14.5 oz can plain tomato sauce
  • small (6 oz?) can tomato paste
  • a splash of red wine
  • a glug of olive oil
  • dried oregano & basil
  • salt & pepper
  • dried pasta of your choice

Choose a skillet with a lid. Heat to medium-high. Brown beef, breaking into very small chunks. Reduce heat to medium. Check if there’s enough fat left to saute veggies — if too much, drain excess; if too little, add oil. Add onions, mushrooms, and garlic and saute until onions are translucent. Stir in tomato sauce and tomato paste. Fill the empty tomato paste can with half wine and half water, and add to sauce. Stir in the sliced olives. Season liberally to taste with oregano, basil, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil and cover loosely (tilt the lid slightly so it prevents splatters, but allows steam to escape so that the sauce thickens). Reduce heat and simmer a half hour or so until thick, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, boil water and cook the pasta according to the box.

Recipe notes:

  • I prefer 85% lean ground beef because it seems to have the perfect amount of fat left over for cooking the vegetables. Also makes the best hamburgers, IMHO.
  • I don’t use cheap cooking wine; I just use whatever I’m drinking with dinner. But if you don’t drink much wine, a great option is the tiny bottles sold in 4-packs for picnics. That way you don’t have leftovers to waste.
  • The box will say 2 oz of pasta is one serving, and many popular recipes suggest 4 oz per person (yikes!), but I like to make 1.5 oz per person — so 6 oz for this whole recipe. For me, the sauce is way more important than boring old noodles.
  • Top with grated parmesan or fresh herbs if you want to get fancy.

Stovetop barbecued chicken

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This easy one-skillet pantry meal takes an hour start to finish, but most of that is hands-off. It was one of my all-time favorite meals growing up and now is one of Dan’s top favorites too. A total crowd pleaser with a wonderfully high ratio of effort to reward. Delicious with boiled new potatoes and green beans, both coated in butter, salt, and pepper.

Stovetop BBQ Chicken Recipe

  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp crushed celery seeds
  • 1 to 1.5 lbs chicken breasts or tenders

Heat oil on medium in a large skillet (choose one with a lid). Add onion and cook, stirring, until softened. Meanwhile stir together all sauce ingredients (I do it all in a 2-cup measuring cup for simplicity). When onion is soft, add sauce to skillet and bring to a boil. Add the chicken, placing the (former) skin side down, and spoon sauce over the pieces. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Uncover skillet, turn chicken pieces over, and cook another 15 minutes or until tender.

I often increase the amount of sauce, especially if we’re serving the chicken with potatoes or rice. If you have a lot of sauce you might want to remove the chicken to a warm plate and boil the sauce until it reduces a bit. Otherwise it’s quite thin. This dish freezes well and makes great leftovers.

Meal plan 05.17.13

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(images from links below)

Last week I finally found rhubarb at the store and turned it into a delicious crumb cake. There’s some left over, and if it’s still in good condition this afternoon, I’ll make some sweet bread or maybe save it for pork with sweet onion-rhubarb sauce. Have you ever frozen rhubarb? I tried it once and wasn’t too happy with the results, so maybe you have tips.

Meal plan 05.03.13

Can you believe it’s May already? We’re heading fast toward a fun-filled summer packed with plans. Today it even hit 90 degrees. I love this time of year! This week’s meals include more grilling (as long as we refill our propane), and a summery chilled pasta salad.

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(images from links below)

  • Friday: Padres game — our tickets came with unlimited hot dogs!
  • Saturday: Mom’s pasta salad (save leftovers for weekday lunches)
  • Sunday: Breakfast: Chai spiced banana bread. Dinner: Thai fried quinoa
  • Monday: Leftovers (getting home late)
  • Tuesday: Grilled chicken with mango salsa
  • Wednesday: Burgers with roasted or grilled sweet potato wedges
  • Thursday: Bar trivia with friends

Recently I’m regretting how rarely I make it to the farmers market. Do you have any good strategies for getting out and about on weekend mornings?