Death for Five Voices…oooooOOOOOOOOooooo!

I don’t know if it really came across there, but that was meant to be a spooky sort of ghost noise in the post title. Just go with it.

So last Sunday, the UWO Early Music Ensemble (the recorder quartet that I play in) got together for a Movie Night to eat tasty food and watch a documentary on Carlo Gesualdo. Actually, I’m going to go ahead and say that it was a “documentary” because dear, old Werner Herzog definitely took some wacky liberties here – not that Gesualdo wasn’t a super crazy guy, but Werner really took it to the next level. In the words of Jason Mantzoukas, this movie was bonkers. Any description I give you won’t do it justice whatsoever, but I think if you have a quick Google around, you can probably track it down on a website that rhymes with Shoe…Lube, I guess?

But it’s a fun group of folks (the flute professor and fellow Star Wars Minute fan who plays alto; a pre-med pianist who plays tenor; an oboist who plays the soprano; and yours truly floundering around on bass) and we were joined by Drew and one of the vocal professors. We had lentil sloppy joes, a butternut pasta, a spicy corn dip, and pumpkin blondies (yes, I’m a basic bitch and love my pumpkin baked goods in the fall).

And I just realized that I kept putting off taking a picture of the blondes and now it’s too late – they’re all gone! Well, just use your imaginations…

I was actually a little disappointed in how these turned out – they were dense and fudge in texture, like a brownie, but obviously had the (very strong) flavor of pumpkin. Turns out I like my pumpkin items not so…moist (I probably could have baked them a skosh longer. I also put in pecans and I definitely wish I hadn’t – nuts have no place in baked goods. There. I said it. I’d say it again if I had to. So a bit of a bust if you ask me, but I think people enjoyed them. I was trying to resist, but I may just have to go back to Paula Deen’s pumpkin bars – they may be racist, but they’re soooooo tasty! 😦

Lovely fall food!

On Sunday, Drew and I invited the students in his saxophone studio over to watch the Packers game as a welcome back for the new school year. Drew made two different kinds of chili – one was chipotle and chicken and one was a vegetarian chili verde. I didn’t actually try the chipotle and chicken version, but it smelled amazing; the veggie chili was soooooo tasty – and I think most of the students stayed away which is fine – more for me! My contributions were the cornbread (my go-to cornbread – I prefer a sweet cornbread, more like cake than anything),

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Different pic of cornbread

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and two desserts. The first was brownies with caramel, pecans, and pretzels – they were super yummy, if a little bit too much for me.

The second was an apple streusel bar with homemade salted caramel sauce. The sauce is a-MAH-zing. I’ve always been a bit scared of homemade caramel – I’ve done it, but I’m not super consistent – but this recipe was so easy and turned out so well, sweet and salty and caramel-y and perfect. By far my favorite dessert of the two. Yum!

Not very good for my diet, but good for my tastebuds!

Yeah, we went a little overboard…

Jillian and I had a TV party a couple of weeks ago, too, and we…went a little crazy with the food that we made.

I made Cherry Cheesecake Scones (white chocolate-cherry scones with chunks of actual cheesecake baked in them), Apple Cheddar Beer (Cider) Bread (very nice – sweet and savory at the same time), Blueberry Goat Cheese Focaccia (also tasty – and pretty easy, too, which was a nice surprise), and a Chocolate Babka (which was unexpectedly and hilariously huge – but also very tasty, sweet but not too sweet, though I think the cream cheese filling could have actually used a bit of sugar). Jillian brought her famous cheesy bread, adapted from this version at Simply Recipes, Shrimp With Fennel (which was very yummy – with a nice bit of heat to it), and gorgeous Corn Cakes With Avocado Salsa (holy cats, yum!).

We could barely make it through two rounds of food, but it was worth the food comas we had by the time we were done. And they didn’t stop us from picking away at thirds (and fourths). Combine all this yummy food with an afternoon of Parks and Rec and Veep and it was very nearly a perfect day!

I made a pie!

For all my baking, pies are definitely not my specialty – I hardly ever make them! But when Kate invited us to a Memorial Day barbecue at their place, I decided the time was right – right for a Strawberry-Orange-Rhubarb Pie. And it was sooooo good!

We managed to polish off about half of the pie at the party and then Drew and I ate the rest of it the next day. It was sweet but not too sweet and a little tart but not too tart and the filling was lovely and jammy, not runny. The crust, which was a butter crust made in the food processor (my usual go-to crust is a Crisco crust made by hand), was perfect – sweet, flaky, tender. I added some turbinado sugar on top of the egg wash which gave it a nice extra sweet crunch. Yum!

What do you do with questionable celery?

Make Cream of Celery Soup! Soup is so forgiving, it’s always my go-to option for vegetables that are very nearly dead. I did run into a problem in the form of a disgusting potato (even though I’d just bought it) so Drew came to my rescue and ran to the market to replace it (and to get flour and baking powder – who runs out of baking powder?! – which allowed me to make us a dessert, too). It was not my night in the kitchen – I didn’t have enough baking powder for the Whole-Wheat Beer Bread and also had to substitute bread flour for all-purpose in that recipe, I spilled flour and butter all over me while making Orange and Dark Chocolate Buttermilk Scones, encountered the aforementioned gross potato, and may or may not have lost an earring back in a bowl of diced onions (Drew got me an onion to replace that one, too) – but somehow everything turned out all right!

The celery soup tastes like celery, but in a good way and the beer bread is a lovely combination of salty and a little bit of sweetness. Yum!

The scones are tasty, as well – I baked off two of them for us to eat that evening and the other four are in the freezer waiting for just the right moment. Can’t wait!

It’s still strawberry time!

I originally bought the strawberries that have featured in the last few cooking items to make this one recipe – the strawberries got a bit out of hand, I’ll admit that, and have found their way into pretty much every other thing I’ve made since then. But they were originally intended to be used in this Mahi with Strawberry-Avocado Salsa which turned out to be super tasty! The first night, I used the Slap Ya Mama Cajun seasoning that Drew brought back with him from New Orleans – it’s good but it’s very salty, so the next night, I used Emeril’s Essence instead and I think that had a better salt level. The salsa is really good – yummy on fish, but probably also just as good eaten with tortilla chips! To go with it, I also made the String Beans with Ginger and Garlic that I usually make at Thanksgiving, but without the ginger since I wasn’t sure that would go with the flavors in the fish and salsa. Still tasty just with the garlic!

Then, to use up some sour cream and cream cheese that I had around from the strawberry doughnuts I’d made, I made these Chocolate Sour Cream Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting. They turned out a little drier than I would have liked, but they’re still chocolate cupcakes, so how bad can they be! And I added a little bit of strawberry extract to the frosting, but was a little too cautious with it and you couldn’t really taste it. Next time I’ll know to add more!

Cleaning and baking, oh my!

Today is graduation day here at the U of I and Drew’s dad is coming down for the ceremony, of course, so after I got back from the Kirby Derby, I immediately got to cleaning. I don’t want him to know how we live! So I did many, many loads of laundry, hoovered, cleaned floors and the bathroom, took stuff down to hide it in the basement storage unit, and then after I was done with all of that, I baked a loaf of Whole Grain Strawberry-Banana Bread.

I love bananas because they’re so easy to eat, but I only like them for a teeny, tiny window of ripeness – as soon as there’s even the hint of brown, I can’t eat them anymore. Which means that our freezer is full of frozen, black bananas. The fridge is also full of huge strawberries, so this bread was the only logical choice for getting rid of a lot of both.

It’s so super tasty! Drew and I each had a slice this morning (well, I went back to eat the heel slice – it was worth it, I tell you!) and it’s lovely and sweet and very moist – and it smelled great while it was baking. I think it would make yummy French toast, but I don’t think it’s going to last that long. 😉

Mac and cheese with a kick!

We love Mexican food around here, so when I stumbled across this recipe for Macaroni and Cheese with Black Beans and Chipotle, I immediately added it to my to-make list. It ended up taking me a while to get around to making it, but it was super tasty when I finally did! Instead of American and cheddar cheeses, I took the opportunity to clean out our cheese shelf in the fridge and used a combination of cheddar, pepper jack, and queso fresco cheeses which worked just fine (though the queso fresco, known as a melting cheese, just did not want to melt!). I also added some sliced grape tomatoes to add a little cool, crisp flavor to the warm, rich cheese. Tasty!

A mini food party!

To celebrate the season finales of Parks and Rec and Happy Endings, Jillian and I decided to have a mini food party! She brought her specialty, the famous Cheesy Bread, which is OMG, so good! I always eat way too much of it, but it’s just so tasty. Her three tips are to add a little extra garlic, change the cheese ratio from 2 parts cheddar and 1 part mozzarella to 2 parts mozzarella (since it melts better than cheddar) and 1 part cheddar, and bake it first to get the cheese melty and then broil it to get some lovely bubbly, brown parts on top.

I was very intrigued by these Strawberry Thyme Olive Oil Cupcakes with Balsamic Frosting. They’re…interesting. And I really mean that – I can’t decide whether or not I like them (I’m not entirely convinced by the thyme and might try it with some different herbs next time and I think the balsamic frosting needs a little more sugar even though I added an extra cup already) – but I certainly can’t seem to stop eating them!

I also made these Brown Butter Strawberry Streusel Bars which are oh, so good! I halved the recipe which seems to have worked out just fine apart from having a little too much of the topping left – next time, if I halve the recipe, I don’t think I’ll put quite so much on top, or at least I’ll clump it together a big more before I do. Still, they were a hit – the filling is perfect!

Then, if you can see a theme, I made us this Strawberry-Jalapeno Martini. The jalapenos just float in the martini and I was thinking that next time I might try infusing the strawberry simple syrup with some jalapeno slices next time, but the longer the drink sat, the spicier it got! Well, spicy isn’t really the right word, but there’s definitely some heat there and you can feel it! Very tasty.

And finally we had this Strawberry Gin Smash Cocktail which was very tasty, but very strong! I measured everything, but maybe the shot glass I used was too big (though I used the same one to measure out the martinis and those were of the correct strength). So, yes, very tasty, but pour lightly!

Birthday time!

Drew’s birthday was on Sunday and he wanted to have a party to celebrate, so we invited friends over and got busy in the kitchen! Drew put together a tasty, tasty taco bar with fillings for three different tacos (pulled pork, shrimp, and tofu with greens), three different salsas (a mild roasted tomatillo salsa, a medium roasted tomato salsa, and a skull-and-cross-bones mango habanero salsa), and lots of toppings (queso fresco, lime wedges, red onions soaked in sour orange juice).

And I forgot to take pictures.

I’m so bummed that I did that because the kitchen looked gorgeous and the tacos were a big hit! We had some leftovers (though not as much as I originally thought we did), so I can also attest to the fact that the shrimp filling is very good over greens and Drew has been eating the pulled pork over greens with a balsamic-mango-habanero dressing.

The cake was my job and since red velvet cake is Drew’s favorite, I made this Lincoln’s Red Velvet (Cheesecake) Cake which was also a big hit! I have a picture of the outside of it, but forgot to snap a pic once I sliced into it, but it turned out very well, if I do say so myself.

You’d think a cake with a layer of cheesecake in it would be super rich, but it really wasn’t – the cheesecake was surprisingly light and the red velvet is less sweet (and far less chocolatey) than I was expecting it to be. Even the cream cheese frosting wasn’t overwhelming!

Drew managed to get rid of most of the leftover cake the next day at school, but I’m still picking away at the remaining cake tops that I had after leveling the cakes. Yum!

Even good enough for first-run salmon!

After we finished the Salmon and Guacamole Sandwiches, we still had a TON of salmon left over, so after a quick search, I turned up Emeril’s recipe for Smoked Salmon Hash with Sunny Side Up Eggs. I didn’t use smoked salmon (I just flaked what I had instead) and I didn’t deep-fry the potatoes (just sauteed them in a little bit of olive oil with salt and pepper) and I certainly didn’t use bacon fat to cook my eggs in (I fried them dry in a nonstick pan), but it was still pretty darn good!

(Even though I overcooked the eggs a teensy bit – they looked like they were going to have lovely runny yolks, but they were closer to soft boiled on top with a little bit of hard boiled on the bottom. Oh, well!)

Holy cats, this is good!

When Jillian came over to watch TV on Saturday, we watched a couple of episodes of Barefoot Contessa where Ina and Jeffrey were off gallivanting around Napa Valley. Now, along with a fairly smarmy appearance by Michael Chiarello, the highlight of the episode was this gorgeous Salmon and Guacamole Sandwich. Jillian and I were glued to the television and I knew I had to make them for dinner this week.

The first time around, I turned out to be out of fake bacon and ended up over-toasting the ciabatta rolls. It was still tasty, but the second time around, with the fake bacon to add a salty, smoky crunch and the perfectly toasted ciabatta rolls making it a little easier to eat it was definitely a homerun!

Ina’s method of cooking the salmon worked perfectly each time – 2 minutes on each side and then 2 minutes in a 400-degree oven, followed by a 10-minute rest to let the juices redistribute (something I didn’t know fish needed) – and is totally my go-to method from now on. Yuuuuuuum! (Oh, but do not fall for Ina’s 6-ounce fillet rubbish – 4 ounces should be fine – we have a LOT of leftover salmon to deal with – my life is so hard! 😉

Quiche!

I’ll admit that I’m not usually a huge fan of quiche, but I decided to make an exception for this recipe because I *am* a fan of goat cheese and sweet potatoes – and I’m glad I did because this was one tasty Goat Cheese and Sweet Potato Quiche!

It takes time to make – you have to roast the sweet potatoes and onions for 20 minutes before you bake the quiche for 45-55 minutes – so definitely plan ahead. And don’t, like I did, get distracted cleaning the bathroom and let the slices of sweet potato to be used for decoration burn to a black crisp – otherwise, everything went smoothly! The crust is also a lovely surprise – none of this chilling the butter and rolling things out, you just mix everything together into a lovely soft dough and then press it into the pie plate and voila! A nice, flaky quiche crust.

Jillian happened to be over catching up on TV (Parks and Rec and Happy Endings with a side trip into some Barefoot Contessa and an introduction to the train wreck that is Bitchin’ Kitchen) and both she and Drew approved of the quiche as well!

Falafel!

I love falafel, but my aversion to frying keeps me from making it. But then I stumbled across this fabulous recipe for Falafel Salad with Tahini Dill Dressing where the falafel is…baked! And it’s a good one. And so easy, too. Plop everything into the food processor, whir, bake, and voila!

I ended up with about 18 falafels so I froze what we didn’t eat right away – we already had one round of leftovers from the freezer and it seems to have worked just fine. Definitely a tasty thing to keep around the kitchen!