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: 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

Chicken Enchilada Soup: A 2 Cats Recipe

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Chicken Enchilada Soup

My kitty sicknurses....hard at work

My kitty sicknurses….hard at work

The end of January has brought cold, nasty weather and a gnarly case of the sniffles to North Carolina. Yep, that’s right; this blogger is getting over a cold.  I took a few days off this week to rest and recover under the direct supervision of my two favorite sick nurses. The first night my wonderful fiancée made my guilty pleasure for dinner, blue box macaroni and cheese. The second night I was starting to feel better so I decided to get up, stop being a slug, and make Chris and myself soup.

A drained portion of the canned veggies for the soup

A drained portion of the canned veggies for the soup

Chicken, chilies, tomatoes and enchilada sauce all in a pot

Chicken, chilies, tomatoes and enchilada sauce all in a pot

I chose to make my hearty and fufilling chicken enchilada soup. It’s perfect for a wintry day or when you don’t feel like exerting a lot of effort…or both in this case. This recipe is more about ingredient assembly than cooking and all it takes is 15 minutes of effort, a can opener, and a slow cooker. The soup simmers away in the pot for 6-8 hours, making it an easy dish to start one morning before you get to work (or around noon if you’re deeply involved in a “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries” marathon).  This recipe is a crowd pleaser and has something for everyone; heaps of shredded chicken breast, hearty black beans, sweet corn, plump tomatoes, and a perfectly flavored soup base of broth, enchilada sauce and cumin.  I adore cumin; it’s nutty and warm and gives everything a wonderful depth of flavor. It’s the most used spice in my drawer, the soup wouldn’t be as stellar without it.

Soup pre-slow cooking

Soup pre-slow cooking

After 6 hours (and some chicken shredding) yummy warming soup!

After 6 hours (and some chicken shredding) yummy warming soup!

Once the chicken enchilada soup is completed, I’ve got a meal that stuffs Chris and I both, but also supplies leftovers for the next few days. The soup gets better the longer it sits and can be topped with all sorts of goodies. My favorite combination is cheddar, sour cream, and a little bit of Thai chili paste. This soup is really great for weeknight entertaining as well; just serve it with some tortilla chips and a toppings bar and you’re set. My favorite way to eat this soup however, is sitting under a fuzzy blanket, watching television with my two favorite space heaters.

Who ya calling a heater? I'm a supportive loving feline.

Who ya calling a heater? I’m a supportive loving feline.

Go away, you're interrupting my 20 hours of beauty sleep

Go away, you’re interrupting my 20 hours of beauty sleep

Chicken Enchilada Soup

Chicken Enchilada Soup Ingredients

Chicken Enchilada Soup Ingredients

2 pounds chicken breast

1.5 cups chicken broth

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 (15 ounce) corn, drained

1 (4 ounce) can diced green chilies

1 (10 ounce) can red enchilada sauce

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 heaping tsp. cumin

¼ tsp kosher salt

1 pinch red pepper flakes

1 (16 ounce) can refried beans

 

Add chicken to slow cooker. Cover with the broth, beans, corn, chilies, enchilada sauce, tomatoes, cumin, red pepper flakes and salt. Stir everything until mixed. Cover and cook on low for about 6-8 hours. Remove the chicken and shred.  Stir refried beans into the hot soup until creamy.  Add chicken back into the slow cooker and ladle the soup into bowls. Top with your favorite things.

A bowl of the good stuff

A bowl of the good stuff

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”

Recipe Review: Pumpkin & Black Bean Chili

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Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili

Recipe can be found at Unconventional Cooking

                It’s been six months since I’ve completed a blog post and a lot has happened in that time. I’ve got a new day job, my voice studio has grown, I made my directorial debut in the fall, and to top it all off I’m engaged!

The moment after I said Yes (and called my parents of course!)

The moment after I said Yes!!! (and called my parents of course!)

I haven’t really been cooking many new recipes because I’ve been so busy…and when I have made something new, I’ve forgotten to take notes and/or shoot pictures. 😦 But now the dust has settled (well, as much as it can) and I’m trying to get back on the horse so to speak.   I decided to use one of my favorite foods to get me back into the groove of recipe testing and blogging, soup.

The ingredient line up

The ingredient line up

I chose a pumpkin and black bean chili that I found on Pinterest (surprise, surprise). I’ve seen several recipes and restaurant dishes that use the pumpkin\ black bean combo and I thought it sounded intriguing and potentially very tasty. Chris was hesitant at first (he’s not a huge pumpkin fan) but said he’d at least give it a try. So one night after teaching a few lessons, I pulled out my small soup pot and gave the chili a whirl.

Mmmmm toasted onion and spices....

Mmmmm toasted onion and spices….

On the outset I made a few adjustments to the recipe. I chose not to use red bell pepper as I didn’t really think it would add anything to the dish. I also substituted granulated garlic for fresh because the bulb I had was really old.  The recipe says to take the time and toast the spices.  I think this step is vital in the success of the meal. In addition to making the house smell like scrumptious cumin, it really makes the flavors bloom and adds more depth to the quick cooking chili. The recipe says to add salt, but doesn’t say exactly how much. I found that the soup needed at least two or three pinches of salt to balance everything out.

Once the 30 minutes of bubbling is complete and the chili is ready, it’s really quite fantastic. It’s got a toasted smoky flavor with a little bit of heat from the cumin and red chili flakes. The canned pumpkin puree makes the chili hearty and filling without being too sweet or “gourd-like”.  Much to my surprise, Chris liked it even though it was a vegetarian meal!

The Chili after 30 minutes of simmering.

The Chili after 30 minutes of simmering.

The recipe makes several topping suggestions for the chili. Chris and I both used some shredded cheddar cheese which added a nice depth of flavor to the bowl. I also put a dollop of sour cream on mine; I thought the chili would benefit from the added tang.  Chris thought the chili was too mushy on day two, but I disagreed, it was even better the second day with the addition of a little greek yogurt on top.

A warm bowl of the good stuff

A warm bowl of the good stuff, pre-toppings

                I may fiddle with a few things here or there, but overall I think this is a very good recipe. I’m super excited that my darling carnivore liked the chili without any animal products.  I might try adding some ground turkey or chicken to a batch at some point for him, but for now I’m just glad he ate a whole bowl of vegetarian chili. This is a great meal for a chilly (wonk wonk) weeknight when you want a hearty dish but don’t have a lot of time.