Monday, April 27, 2009

Chit Chat and Chocolate and Cheese

If you have read any of my past posts, you may have noticed that clicking on the majority of my links will lead you into a special little place that I adore. It's warm and inviting and smells like vanilla. It's about time that I dedicate an entire post to Bakespace, to help out those of you whose lives are, unbeknownest to you, a dark, empty void.

Yes, it's an online community, yes, it's a recipe sharing site, but it is even more than that. It's a place to find cooking mentors, inspiration, and advice. You can find a perfect recipe, get tips from the author on how best to execute it, and even learn the background story. It's those stories that got me hooked on Bakespace from the get go. I'm a sucker for sap, and when I started reading about a girl who lost everything in a fire and was trying to recreate her grandmother's famous cake from memory, I about lost it. The site is full of food rock stars like piday and krrispy (who I actually watched win a Bake Off on Food Network way before I found her on Bakespace!) and also lots and lots of regular people looking to share some ideas and a love of food. You can sign up for monthly newsletters, which takes me back to the reason I was inspired to write this in the first place.

This month's newsletter focuses on food photography, a subject and art about which I have much to learn! I have a cheapy little digital camera, and I have never even read the manual. Usually I just turn off the flash, set my dish near a window, zoom in close, and pray. Apparently, that technique is not all that bad, since the site's creator, Babette, has included three of my photos and recipes in the Bakespace newsletters (Chocolate Cheesecake Cupcakes in February's chocolate issue, Peanut Butter Fudge Bars in the brownie issue, and Scrap Wraps this month) and I just found my brownies on her blog, too! I'm such a goofball that I get excited when people like what I make, but even more so when other people go out and try it for themselves. I love it I get an email from a member whose family enjoyed one of my recipes. Makes me warm and fuzzy.

I'm not the only one who has noticed how much Bakespace rocks, by the way. The site has been nominated for a Webby again this year. The Webby Awards are like the Oscars for websites, and will bring tons of buzz and attention to the site if they win! So get your butts over to Bakespace and sign up, post some recipes, make some friends, and then go vote!

Monday, April 20, 2009

What's for Dinner?

After the butchering debacle of Easter ( I mean I love meat, don't get me wrong, but there is something about carving a whole leg!) I knew I had to do something with the 7 lbs. of leftover meat in my fridge, or risk feeling guilty for being wasteful and impulsive. I didn't want the poor little guy to have sacrificed himself for naught. Plus, lamb ain't cheap! I knew there was a way to eat lamb for days on end without becoming bored, sick, or worse. The fact that this week was also spring break helped immensely, since I get really bored when I don't work and I need projects to keep me busy. Therefore, I decided to give myself a little dinner challenge for the week. It looked like so:

1. Create five meals for the week using up all of the remaining lamb.
2. Lamb can only be the main ingredient of one meal
3. Round out each meal only with items already in the pantry and refrigerator
4. All meals must be healthy and designed to feed 4 (that way E could take the rest for lunch the next day)
5. No repeats!

It turned out to be pretty easy, since I also wanted to use up ingredients I had purchased for Easter dessert and side dishes, but I did have to get a little creative to keep from getting entirely sick of meat. I started with the aforementioned 8 lb. leg of lamb, 1/2 tub of ricotta, 1 bag arborio rice, 1 c. Greek yogurt, several lemons and a bunch of mint. These ingredients led me to make the following dinners:

Monday: Grilled Marinated Lamb
This is essentially what we ate on Easter Sunday.
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1 c. olive oil
3 cloves garlic
2 Tbls. dijon mustard
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1 tsp. fresh oregano
juice of 1/2 lemon

Pulse 1/2 oil and remaining ingredient in a blender to combine. While blending on low speed, add remaining oil in a thin stream until marinade is thickened. Set 1/4 cup marinade aside and pour the rest over lamb. All of the lamb was marinated overnight, then grilled for 3-5 minutes per side. We served with a salad of mixed baby greens, grape tomato, and green onion tossed with remaining marinade.

Tuesday: Spiced Lamb Pita Pizza with White Bean Hummus
This meal was inspired by the lamacun I used to eat when I worked in a Turkish restaurant in Rhode Island. It was one of my favorites. Lamacun is just a meat pi, but the hummus and yogurt sauce made this really tasty. I've made hummus many times, but all I had was white beans in the pantry, so that was a first. The texture and flavor were both really similar to hummus with chick peas, so we didn't really notice the difference! These pita pizzas were so good, we had to stop ourselves from eating before we got sick! I will definitely be making these again.

Wednesday: Sauteed Vegetable Risotto
After making lamb stock on Sunday, I used it for this risotto. I always try to cook at least one "vegetarian" meal per week. Heart health and carbon footprints and all that jazz! You can really make this with anything!

Thursday: Lamb Ragu with Polenta
I made the Ragu with the remaining grilled lamb, pulsed in the food processor until finely chopped. Therefore I skipped the browning step in the recipe and just added wine and the lamb at the same time. I served this over polenta with a side salad. Mmm... polenta.

Friday: Vegetable Lasagna
Okay, so arguably this is not the most creative way to end the week, but it was Friday and I was over it! The leftover ragu became part of the sauce for this dish.
1 c. ricotta
1 c. shredded mozzarella
1/2 c. shredded parmesan
1 egg
1/2 c. bread crumbs
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
Beat all ingredients to combine.

2 cups lamb ragu
2 large cans of crushed tomato
1 cup of cooked chopped spinach
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 c. sliced mushrooms
2 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Stir ragu, spinach and tomato in a large sauce pot over medium heat. Saute onions and mushrooms in a little olive oil until tender and add to sauce. Simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.
To assemble lasagna, pour 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9 by 9 glass pan. Layer two sheets of Bertoli no-boil lasagna. Top with 1/4 filling and 1/2 c. sauce. Repeat 3 times. Top final sheets of lasagna with sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 50 minutes.

Overall, the challenge was a success, especially since E had no idea we were eating lamb half the time. Everything was delicious, everything was health conscious, and it's all gone. I don't think I'll be buying lamb for quite a while though!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter for Agnostics

Easter weekend is not usually one I consider to be all that exciting, as far as the holidays go. We don't go to church any more, haven't for years; I'm now realizing J.C. never even appeared in our conversations. Ah, the loss of faith. Alas, since there are also no presents to buy, it's really only about the food for us. I'm happy as long as I get at least one Cadbury egg. This year Easter weekend happened to be one full of nice surprises, however, including...

Free Tickets to Tigers Opening Day: E has never been one for surprises or having exceptional luck, but things are looking up for him in both categories. Not only did he score us Cubs tickets for Jessica's visit to Chicago (more on that at a later date!), but he also nabbed tickets to opening day at Comerica Park. Now, as you all now, we are not Tigers fans, but we never say no to a ball game. A ball game on Good Friday that marks the start of the season? Even better. We plunged headfirst into the dirty D with some friends after several mimosas and were met by riotous drunkenness and snaking lines. Sweet. We ended up at the Fillmore, if only because it had the shortest line. The placed was mobbed and the crowd control was so frightening that the security guards closed the restrooms. Apparently they thought forcing drunk people to hold their pee would make them go party elsewhere. It worked for us. Note to Self - next year, arrive before 9:00 AM if you wish to get into a decent bar without bribery, personal injury or criminal behavior. Overall, I figure being psyched for Opening Day in Detroit only really makes sense if you like Detroit.

Then there was WhirlyBall: Two of our friends had birthdays this past week, and they celebrated after the game with a party marked by sake bombs, confetti cupcakes, and yes, drunken WhirlyBall. Having never even heard of this before, E and I weren't quite sure what we were in for. It's basically like lacrosse and basketball blended and played in bumper cars in a venue that allows alcohol and smells like a bowling alley. Oh, how I love a bowling alley! If you're going to play here in Ann Arbor, get ready for awesome 80's era neon carpet, classic video game machines, a diesel jukebox and some painful hip bruising. It reminded me of our curling expedition, in that we were clueless and left with a mark. It certainly takes a little practice if you want to get good at it, but otherwise, twirling around in a bumper car after many beers is just as entertaining if you aren't all that competitive.

Last but not least comes food: My parents decided to make the drive out to A2 for Easter, so it was really nice that we didn't have to spend the holiday alone! It was our typical affair, which means the food was slammin', the guys fell asleep, and the dogs were under everyone's feet. Not all that exciting on the blog-front, but the new recipes are certainly worth sharing. Dessert was an experiment inspired by one from a Martha recipe. It turned out so well I may have to make it every year. The Ricotta Rice Pie is sort of a mix of rice pudding and Italian cheese pie and worth every fattening calorie. We also bought an eight pound leg of lamb since that was the smallest the butcher had, and most of it was marinated and grilled a la Tyler Florence. The enormous bone and the remaining meat became a lamb stock and stew, and we'll be eating it all for weeks. Check it out in the event that you happen to have some giant bones lying around and a few hours to kill. I'm off to spend my week of vacation with my Wii Fit and some Bravo marathons. Nice.