Recipe Review: Coconut Curry Mussels

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Coconut Curry Mussels

Wanna try ’em: Go here for the recipe

My fiancé Chris is an amazing guy; he’s smart, funny, very sweet, and takes wonderful care of me. My only real complaint is that he’s a very picky eater. He won’t eat dishes including shellfish, sour cream, green onions, mayonnaise, hot peppers, mustard, or any sort of vinegar. Sometimes it makes weekly meal planning depressing, I mean a girl cannot live only on tacos and chicken and dumplings.

The mussels in an ice bath with the other ingredients

The mussels in an ice bath with the other ingredients

Chris was out of town this past weekend, which meant I had a whole 2 days to eat anything my little heart desired. I decided to cook a batch of steamed mussels. I love mussels. They’re not super expensive and are really fun to eat (it’s great to be allowed to use your hands and slurp!).  I used to make them regularly in college to reward myself after a project, big exam… or just for surviving a Tuesday. I always steamed them in a lovely tomato-basil broth, but this time I wanted to try something different. Instead of heading down the traditional route and cooking the mussels “a la Parisienne” (in white wine, garlic and herbs) I went Southeast Asian with a coconut curry broth.

Red Curry Paste

Red Curry Paste

This recipe from “How Sweet Eats” requires a few tablespoons of red curry paste. Red curry paste is a little miracle in a jar; I can’t believe I’ve never used it before! It has red peppers, lemongrass, and ginger… basically everything that makes Thai food delicious.  After I swirled a few spoonfuls into simmering coconut milk, the house smelled like my very own Shangri-La.

Mmmm broth of heaven

Mmmm broth of heaven

From start to finish the mussels and their broth take around 20 minutes. The little mollusks seem like they’d be a pain to prep, but they’re really not too bad. They just need to be checked for beards and scrubbed a bit before they can be tossed into the pan. The only thing I didn’t enjoy was having to repeatedly dunk my hands in ice water to retrieve the sleeping bivalves.  One taste of these delicious morsels made the discomfort totally worth it.

A pan full of cooked mussels....my tummy is rumbling!

A pan full of cooked mussels….my tummy is rumbling!

Make sure you have a large sauté pan or wok for steaming the mussels. I find it’s best if all the little shells are steamed in one layer. This helps to ensure that each mussel gets a spoonful of yummy broth. You’ll want to make sure you have a lid that fits snuggly over the pan, as you don’t want the steam to escape and the mussels to stay closed.  As my picture illustrates…the lid doesn’t have to match to make a good seal.

Why yes that's the lid to my dutch oven. Don't judge

Why yes that’s the lid to my dutch oven. Don’t judge

These coconut curry mussels are like potato chips; you can’t eat just one….bowl. They’re fragrant from the curry paste, sweet from the coconut milk and just all around addictive.  I ate 2 full bowls and wanted to try for a third, but then common sense (aka my tight fitting yoga pants) prevailed.  Make sure to have an extra bowl on the table for all the empty shells. You’ll also need some crusty French bread to soak up all the leftover broth, because it would be a crime to leave any remnants of that divine liquid.

Coconut curry mussels and french bread, a match made in heaven

Coconut curry mussels and french bread, a match made in heaven

 

This meal is great for a date with someone special or for a sunny Saturday afternoon alone with a good book and a glass of wine. Though I missed my fiancé over the weekend, these coconut curry mussels softened the blow.  Hmmm….maybe Chris should go out of town more often!

A Perfect Saturday afternoon

A Perfect Saturday afternoon

 

A bowl of the spoils

A bowl of the spoils

Recipe Review: Blue Velvet Cake

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Blue-ish Velvet Cake

Here’s the Recipe I used

I have a confession to make: I have never made a layer cake. In my opinion, the layer cake is the scariest culinary feat known to man. I’m dead serious. Cakes are usually associated with special occasions; birthdays, weddings, retirements, etc., and all those occasions come with high expectations. That’s a recipe for disappointment because something always goes wrong with a cake. They end up not cooked all the way through, too dry, with too much frosting, not enough frosting, or (my personal nightmare) the cake layers end up uneven and the whole thing resembles the leaning tower of Pisa.

In the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get over my culinary fears by cooking recipes that unnerve me. I decided to make a true southern classic, red velvet cake. Then I had a brilliant idea! Since the Duke Blue Devils were playing in the NCAA tournament, I would bake a Blue Velvet cake in their honor (let’s face it, UGA isn’t making it to the big dance anytime soon so a red cake can wait until football season).

The Ingredients needed for my Blue Velvet cake

The Ingredients needed for my Blue Velvet cake

Being a true Southern Belle, the only Red Velvet recipe I’m willing to use comes from Southern Living magazine. I thought it would be really easy to substitute blue food coloring for the 2 ounces red I needed…..I was very mistaken. I went to four different grocery stores and none of them had a large singular bottle of blue food coloring! I found red, green, yellow and (oddly enough) black food coloring, but no blue. After striking out at store #4, I admitted defeat and purchased one of those assorted food coloring kits with a .25 ounce bottle of blue.

A tiny bottle of blue food coloring

A tiny bottle of blue food coloring

The batter before food coloring

The batter before food coloring

Once back home with my food coloring I began to mix up the cake. It’s a very straight forward recipe with a POUND of butter creamed together with sugar and eggs. Then came the dry ingredients alternated with a cup of sour cream until everything’s combined. The cake pre-food coloring is a beautiful nutty brown. I almost didn’t add the food coloring I liked it so much, but this cake was in honor of Coach K and “tha Dookies”, so I squeezed in the entire bottle of blue food coloring and prayed it would turn out just like I wanted.

The drops blue food coloring starting in the mixer

The drops blue food coloring starting in the mixer

Swirly pretty-ness

Swirly pretty-ness

I waited as the food coloring swirled around the mixer until the batter turned a lovely shade of light blue…Carolina blue to be more specific. I was horrified! I couldn’t serve a Carolina blue cake to a die-hard Duke fan, that’s like asking my parents to do the Gator Chomp (the apocalypse would happen before my parents would do our biggest rival’s signature cheer). I covered the batter and rushed out to buy another 4 pack of food coloring. Once I returned I added a second .25 ounce bottle of blue coloring to the mixture. The batter color transformed from Carolina blue to a slate blue that still wasn’t anywhere close to Duke blue. I added a few drops of red food coloring hoping it would make the blue intensify; instead the dough became a tealish hue. At that point, I decided there was no way I would get to Duke blue without buying several more food coloring kits and that the best thing for me to do was bake my three layers of blueish cake and hope the color changed in the oven.

The accidental Carolina Blue batter

The accidental Carolina Blue batter

bluecakepans

My 3 layers before they were baked off

bakedbluecake

A cooling cake layer, more blue green than Duke blue

Once the cakes were baked, cooled, and taken out of their pans they looked very blue-green, I was completely deflated. Luckily for me, Chris took a break from basketball to inspect my work. He took one look at my uniquely colored cakes, laughed, and reminded me that what mattered was how the cake tasted, not how it looked. That was the boost I needed to make the cream cheese icing and complete the cake (side note, there are 3 sticks of butter in the icing….that’s 7 sticks of butter in the whole cake…I should probably jog this week).

Icing the Cake

Icing the Cake

 

When the cake was assembled and completely iced it was surprisingly very pretty. Then I cut a piece of cake for Chris to eat and it wasn’t as pretty. The blue-green cake against the white cream cheese icing made the whole thing look, well, weird. Chris said it looked like he was eating a huge piece of mold and my friend Faith said it looked like floral foam. Thank goodness it tasted much much better than it looked! The cake was buttery rich, sweet and the tangy cream cheese icing gave the cake a much needed bite. Ultimately everyone who tried a piece of cake said it was tasty.

A piece of my moldy/florist foam cake

A piece of my moldy/florist foam cake

The cake displayed

The cake displayed

 So, though I still think layer cakes can easily be a disaster, I am not as afraid of them as I was before making my blue-green velvet cake!

Roz waiting for her own piece of cake

Roz waiting for her own piece of cake

Recipe Review: Sunday Beef Stew

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Sunday Beef Stew

Interested in making this yourself? Here’s the recipe you seek

Me editing the blog, my least favorite thing when it comes to this hobby.

Me editing the blog, my least favorite thing when it                                comes to this hobby.

Dearest readers, my apologies for the lack of blog posts for the last two weeks. I was originally planning to skip a week and then post a long, exciting entry last Thursday about our trip to Las Vegas….but that didn’t happen. I’d start working on the post and then I’d get hopelessly stuck every time. I couldn’t write more than two paragraphs at a time before getting frustrated and scraping my draft. Eventually I decided to abandon the post and move on.  I’d love some tips from all my fellow bloggers on how they push through their writers block so that I don’t get stuck like this again.

 

 Anyway, back to the post at hand.  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! Today we celebrate the Irish, the color green, and public intoxication (Ok that’s more New York City than North Carolina, but still!) We in the 2 Cats household have another reason to celebrate on March 17th; it’s my beloved’s birthday! It’s comforting to know that on his birthday Chris will never have to drink alone.

The main players of this Sunday Stew

The main players of this Sunday Stew

In honor of these grand occasions, I turned to my favorite redhead for an appropriately festive recipe. I settled on the Pioneer Woman’s Sunday beef stew. I really love stews; they bubble away in or on top of the stove for several hours and always make the house smell amazing. I think they’re great for company because they make everyone feel welcomed and at home. This recipe was no exception and actually I did make it on a Sunday (though just for two). Not a lot of labor that goes into this stew; a little searing, some chopping and then 2 and a half hours of simmering away while I moved on to the huge pile of laundry upstairs.

mmmm searing beef

mmmm searing beef

The supporting players in this stew are diced carrots and turnips. To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever eaten a turnip before. I was always afraid they’d be super bitter and unappealing like the greens, boy was I wrong! The turnips were a little peppery and starchy and I loved them. That radish-like bite was the perfect balance for the sweetness of the carrot. When we were grocery shopping for the recipe Chris tried to get me to leave out the turnips but I said we should try them. I think he was also a turnip convert because I don’t remember any complaints about them once he started eating.

The diced veggies.

The diced veggies.

The stew was hearty and meaty and hit all those good comfort food notes. I’m not 100% sure but I think that I didn’t get the stew up to a simmer as quickly as I was supposed to and therefor not as much stock evaporated leaving a lot more liquid in my pot than in Ree’s. It didn’t matter because everything was cooked through and delicious. I enjoyed it so much that I went back for seconds, which is a big deal for me.

It seems turnips float....

It seems turnips float….

  To make the meal even more comforting, I served mashed potatoes under the beef stew. I didn’t use the recipe that went along with Ree’s post because Chris is anti-cream cheese. The starchy goodness adds another level of richness and depth to the whole bowl of food. As I was eating I realized this whole thing is an upside down shepherd’s pie! And really, what could be better on a Sunday Night, St. Patrick’s Day, or your fiancée’s birthday than that?

The final stew served over some yummy mashed potatoes

The final stew served over some yummy mashed potatoes

This picture isn't relevant to the post in anyway. Rosalind has this habit of sitting upon anything on our dining room table, I'm not sure why...but this was too cute to pass up.

This picture isn’t relevant to the post in anyway except that it took place on the day I made the stew. Rosalind has this habit of sitting upon anything on our dining room table, I’m not sure why…but this was too cute to pass up.

Recipe Review: Honey Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Grapes

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Honey Glazed Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Grapes

Want the Recipe?: It’s in this cookbook

What do you cook when company’s coming for dinner on Saturday night and you know you aren’t going to have a lot of time or energy to fix something complicated? That was my dilemma last weekend. I was scheduled to spend the morning judging a voice competition an hour away from home.  Meanwhile, Daniel, Chris’s cousin, had planned to spend the evening with us hanging out and watching basketball. I wanted to make a decent dinner for the three of us but it needed to be simple and stress free. I also wanted to avoid my usual, overdone “dinner for company” meals (aka pasta and chicken) and try to make something new.

Tchai, wanting to go out side to sit with daddy and Daniel

Tchai, wanting to go outside to sit with daddy and Daniel

Sounds like a challenge, right? Actually it ended up being a cinch due to Jessica Merchant’s fabulous cookbook, Seriously Delish (Side Note: Her blog, “How Sweet It Is”, is one of my regular weekly reads). In the book there’s a recipe for honey glazed pork tenderloin with roasted grapes that looked like it would fit my needs perfectly. I was a little hesitant at first (I had never cooked pork tenderloin before), but Chris seemed excited by it and Jessica’s recipe called itself foolproof, so I thought I could handle it.

The ingredients for the pork

The ingredients for the pork

One of the things that drew me to this recipe was the roasted grapes. I first had them a little over a year ago in a cooking class and I was blown away by how delicious this underrated fruit can be with a little time in the oven. Once they’re roasted the grapes take on a deep sweetness that makes me think of really great homemade jam. You can put them with anything; desserts, toasts, or chicken, but they are really perfect in this recipe with the honey glazed pork.

Searing the tenderloins

Searing the tenderloins

I know I say it all the time (possibly in every blog post) but this dish is incredibly quick to throw together. Searing the pork, glazing it, and combining all the remaining ingredients in the skillet took only 5 minutes.  From there, the recipe just goes into the oven for 35-50 minutes. The pork was done so quick it actually had to wait on me and the poorly timed mashed potatoes before it hit the table.

All the roasted yumminess

All the roasted yumminess

Even though the pork was a little cooler than I would have liked, it was amazing. It was sweet from the honey and the black pepper gave just the right amount of spice. The acidity from the soft red onion and the sweetness from the grapes played so well off of each other and gave the whole dish a much needed balance. To me though, the pan sauce with the red wine (we used a Bordeaux), stock, onions and grapes was the best thing on the table. I think I covered everything on my plate in the sauce!

The roasted pork and grapes along with broccoli and mashed potatoes

The roasted pork and grapes along with broccoli and mashed potatoes

Daniel plate, devoid of Pork

Daniel’s plate, devoid of Pork

The boys were super happy with dinner. Chris said he liked the tenderloin a lot, though I’m not sure he really had any of the grapes and onions. Much to my surprise, Daniel really loved the whole thing. He cleaned his plate in less than ten minutes and then went back for seconds, then thirds! He even took half of a tenderloin home the next morning. Throughout the meal and anytime afterwards when the pork was mentioned, Daniel said it was the best tenderloin he’s ever eaten. I think he should he should come for dinner every weekend so that my cooking is regularly praised and my ego boosted. 🙂

Roz, trying to figure out a way to steal a piece of pork without getting caught

Roz, trying to figure out a way to steal a piece of pork without getting caught

Recipe Review: Black Tea and Honey Pound Cake

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Black Tea and Honey Pound Cake

Wanna try it yourself? Here’s the Recipe

 Last week the kitties and I had the house all to ourselves.  Chris was out of town on a business trip and though I miss my fiancée when he’s away, I do enjoy the quiet of being home (mostly) alone. I get to put on PJ’s at 7pm, watch all the British period drama my little heart desires, and the house magically stays much tidier. However, the best thing about being home alone is getting to cook and eat recipes I love without worrying about pleasing my picky eater.

The Tea Cake ingredients

The Tea Cake ingredients

This time my self indulgent recipe was a black tea and honey pound cake from the fabulous blog “The Lady and Pups”.  I love pound cake, it’s uncomplicated, buttery, and satisfies my sweet tooth. This particular recipe is no exception.  The honey in the cake makes it sweet and slightly floral and the black tea gives the cake such a wonderful caramel-y aroma. Speaking of tea, I used a combination of Earl and Lady Grey tea, my favorite winter afternoon brews. They add a slight citrus note to the cake which I really like.  If you wanted a stronger tea flavor, try using an English or Irish breakfast.

mmmm tea milk, smell so good.

mmmm tea milk, smell so good.

 I start the cake by setting out the butter and eggs and steeping the tea milk. The milk takes about an hour to fully steep and cool, but luckily it synchronizes perfectly with the butter coming up to room temperature. If you’re in a hurry, feel free to stick the milk/tea mixture into the fridge and put your butter on the pre-heating oven to soften. Just be careful, you don’t want melted butter for your cake!

The Creamed butter and eggs

The creamed butter and eggs

Tea speckled batter

Light, Fluffy Tea Speckled Batter

In my many years of baking I’ve learned two things that almost always ensure success; whether its cookies, brownies, or cakes. The first is to make sure the eggs and butter are always at room temperature. It makes it much easier to get the ingredients mixed together and a more consistent batter. My other tip is to make sure to take the time (usually 3-5 minutes) to really cream the butter, sugar, and eggs together. It makes the batter light and fluffy and makes a huge difference in the final texture of the cake.

Ready to be baked

Ready to be baked

This tea and honey pound cake is good as dessert with whipped cream, but also a midday snack with fruit preserves, or (my favorite) toasted with cream cheese for breakfast. I actually ate it 3 mornings in a row like that! It’s also great as a hostess gift or as the final course of a dinner party. I’ve taken it to my students a few times, and all I come home with is crumbs!

a slice of supreme yumminess

A slice of supreme yumminess

You know what? An itty bitty part of me is looking forward to Chris’s next business trip and my next self-indulgence! 🙂

Recipe Review: Lime and Coconut Chicken

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Lime and Coconut Chicken

Recipe from Chaos in the Kitchen

Hey Mom, whatcha doin?

Hey Mom, whatcha doin?

I find it really challenging to consistently cook complete healthy meals on weeknights. With busy work schedules and everyday stressers it’s tempting to open up a bag of pre-cooked dumplings or call for take-out. But now, as I’m getting closer to my wedding date, I feel a renewed sense of dedication to cook a healthy weeknight meal. Chris is supportive of this, but, as I’ve stated before, he’s quite a picky eater. So not only should our weeknight meals be fast, simple, and healthy, but they also have to be “fiancée approved”.

All of the marinade ingredients

All of the marinade ingredients

One of my new favorites that has recieved Chris’s approval is lime and coconut chicken from the website Chaos in the Kitchen. It’s a great weeknight dish because it can be prepared in stages throughout the afternoon/evening. I can swing by the grocery store on my way home for chicken and whatever else I need, prep the meat and sauce in 20 minutes, let it marinate the 2 or 3 hours I’m teaching lessons, and then complete the whole dish in the time it takes me to boil some white rice. The flavors are also fantastic. It has sweetness from the coconut milk, a spicy nudge from the pepper and just the perfect tang from the limes.

The marinade before the chicken goes in

The marinade before the chicken goes in

All of the ingredients can be easily procured at any local grocery store. I use a generic curry powder and my very own homegrown cayenne peppers in the marinade. (Side note: Can I just take a second to say how awesome it is to grow your own ingredients? It makes you feel like you can accomplish anything!) The recipe doesn’t specify the kind of oil used for the marinade. I’ve made this successfully with both olive and vegetable oil, so I think it’s up to your preference and/or what’s on hand. I tweak the recipe by juicing the zested lime and tossing it into the marinade bag to add more citrus flavor, it’s a small thing but it really makes a difference.  I also don’t use cilantro….Chris is not a fan.

After 2-3 hours the little lime peak through the marinade, letting you know its done :-) (just kidding!)

After 2-3 hours the little lime peak through the marinade, letting you know its done 🙂 (just kidding!)

The smell of the marinade is one of the highlights of the meal. The curry, coconut, and lime are so deliciously fragrant; it gives me the urge to relax on a beach somewhere with one of those tropical umbrella drinks. I serve the chicken with white rice and a spoonful of reduced marinade on top of everything. The meal is gone within minutes of being put upon our dining room table. The leftovers are fabulous too; I make little rice bowls for lunch and pour any remaining sauce on top of dish before reheating.

The chicken cooking off in the skillet. Smells so good!

The chicken cooking off in the skillet. Smells so good!

In conclusion, this Lime and Coconut chicken is exotic, scrumptious, easy enough to do on a weeknight, and picky eater approved.

Recipe Review: Croque Monsieur

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Croque Monsieurs 

Recipe for the Barefoot Contessa

While Chris and I were in Georgia for the holidays I got a huge craving for French food. I decided that I absolutely had to make some croque monsieurs as soon as we got home. For those of you who don’t know, a croque monsieur is the French version of a ham and cheese sandwich, but it’s topped with a cheesy béchamel sauce and broiled. I adore these sandwiches even though I don’t like ham at all (I’m not sure why, just have always found it unappealing)! Chris is also a big fan of this meal and we agreed that we’d make the sandwiches soon after we got back to North Carolina.

Unfortunately, we returned home to find a dying refrigerator.  Want to know how to drive a food blogger crazy? Take away her fridge for 6 days. I had been thinking about these croque monsieurs for a whole week and as much as I enjoy take out (and not doing the dishes) it was torture not being able to scratch my foodie itch. After 3 delivery attempts and a 24 hour cooling period, I was able to stock my new refrigerator with the cold cuts and dairy needed to proceed.

Croque Monsieur Ingredients

Croque Monsieur Ingredients

I used the croque monsieur recipe from Ina Garten’s cookbook Barefoot in Paris.  Since these sandwiches were just for me and Chris, I halved the recipe. It usually makes enough for 4 people. Ina’s recipe calls for white sandwich bread, but I used the whole wheat bread we had in the house. I like that the recipe instructs the cook to cut the crusts off the bread. It makes the sandwiches feel fancy and well, French. You can leave them on if you prefer but I actually think that the overly toasted crust takes away from the other textures in the sandwich.

Yay Toast!

Yay Toast!

mmmm Gruyere Cheese....

mmmm Gruyere Cheese….

I’ve made the recipe with regular Swiss cheese before and it’s OK, but if you can get your hands on some gruyere cheese, do so. It has a sensual deep swiss flavor that you can’t find in anything else. It makes the béchamel sauce indulgent and luxurious. Speaking of that, the béchamel sauce is the only part of this recipe that’s labor intensive and is the key to this sandwich. It only took fifteen minutes to whisk the sauce together. While you’re whisking away on the béchamel you can be toasting the bread in the oven or keeping your kitty away from the ham.

the bechamel sauce pre-cheese

the bechamel sauce pre-cheese

Mommy, can I have some ham? Or Cheese? Pleeeeeese

Mommy, can I have some ham? Or Cheese? Pleeeeease

Rosalind and I have a "discussion" about how she can't have any sandwich

Rosalind and I have a “discussion” about how she can’t have any sandwich

The croque monsieurs are really just a quick assembly job once the béchamel is ready. They then go into the broiler for 5-7 minutes and come out bubbly and toasted. These sandwiches are little pieces of heaven, I find it so hard not to just gobble them down in 10 seconds flat. The balance is perfect: the tang from the Dijon mustard, the salty ham, the bubbly cheese sauce running over the toasty bread…I mean, as Ina says “how bad can that be”? My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Assembling the sandwiches

Assembling the sandwiches

Toasted Yumminess

Toasted Yumminess

The croque monsieur is kind of like a nice pair of jeans; you can dress them up with a nice green salad, or dress them down with a side of potato chips. They can be served for a nice romantic dinner with wine or with a few sodas while you watch the T.V. in your pajamas (don’t judge).  Anyway you choose, you’ll be happy with this marvelous melty sandwich on your plate. As the French would say; Bon appetit!

A plate of Croque Monsieur and chips

           A plate of Croque Monsieur and chips

Roz says "humpf. I just wanted a sandwich"

                  Roz says “humpf. I just wanted a sandwich”