Sunday, December 28, 2008

Holiday Leftovers : No Knead Bread & Molten Chocolate Cakes

Tonight we ate leftovers from the holidays. A couple of notable items were the No Knead Bread:

This bread turned out really nice - my only complaint was that the inside was a little doughy - I could have let it bake for another 5 or 10 minutes. But it was really easy and didn't require the attention that my normal bread demands. Definitely nice for a change.

And the Molten Chocolate Cakes - we made six of these but only ate four over the holidays so had the last two tonight. Behold:

So good. That's a scoop of French Vanilla ice cream on the top. The ramekins we used were a little too big so it was a challenge to finish one but I did it!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Rutabaga & Leek Chowder

Tonight we made another soup from the cookbook that Chelsea recently sent us. This one was a rutabaga and leek chowder with crisp, smoky croutons. I had almost forgotten about rutabagas until we had them at my dad's over Thanksgiving, and then I remembered how great they are. The soup recipe was pretty simple - just leeks, rutabagas, thyme, a small potato, stock, salt, pepper, a bay leaf and a bit of butter. The ingredients simmered for about 25 minutes until tender, then we pureed them using our immersion blender (one of my favorite kitchen tools). Earlier in the day we had picked up a loaf of Italian bread from Girard St. Gourmet, so we used that to make the croutons in a skillet with Spanish smoked paprika and garlic. The crunchy/spicy croutons were perfect with the smooth creaminess of the soup. Another winner from this awesome cookbook!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Tomato Quinoa Soup

Recently Chelsea sent us a great cookbook, Vegetable Soups by Deborah Madison. We made our first recipe last night - Roasted Fall Tomato Soup with Saffron Quinoa. Luckily here in San Diego there are still tons of tomatoes at the farmer's market each week, so we were able to get our 3 lbs of ripe late-summer tomatoes without an issue. We used Romas, although I think any variety would work. The recipe called for roasting the tomatoes with onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of brown sugar for an hour. Meanwhile we cooked quinoa over the stove with a pinch of saffron - a new and delicious way to do quinoa that I had never tried before. We used chicken broth instead of water. Once the tomatoes were done, we pureed them, skipping the step of passing them through a sieve because neither of us is bothered by the seeds. We almost always skip that step! Then we added a bit of curry powder, ladled the tomato mixture into bowls, and spooned some quinoa on top. We topped the soup with a swirl of Greek yogurt. This was an awesome recipe! We took the leftovers for lunch today. Thanks Chelsea!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Making Toffee : A step-by-step photo guide

Last year around the holidays Dana and I made a couple batches of chocolate and pecan covered toffee to give to people as little events came up. It was such a fun process that we decided to do it again last night! We went a little crazy with the pictures so bear with me.

The prep - after toasting two cups of pecans (for about 8 minutes at 350 degrees) you chop them up roughly and then chop up half of them fine.

In a pot goes 3 1/2 cups butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, a teaspoon salt and 3/4 cups water. Heat and stir until reaches 310 degrees on a candy thermometer (I can't believe we own a candy thermometer!). This takes about 20 minutes - the toffee will darken as it cooks.

Getting closer...

Almost there!
After you hit 310, turn off the heat and add a tablespoon of vanilla extract - the toffee may bubble up at this point so be careful! We haven't had any toffee accidents yet but I think it would be very painful.

Mix in the finely chopped nuts as well and pour the toffee into a 10 x 15 baking sheet to cool for 30 minutes:

After a few minutes of cooling you can try to 'score' the toffee so that is easier to break up later. We've found that while this works a little, you have to be ready for it to just break however it wants.

Cut up and melt 12 oz of bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler and pour over the toffee - spread evenly:

Put the last half of the pecans on top...

Wait for a few minutes and then sprinkle on coarse sea salt to taste...and you're done! Put in the fridge for at least an hour to set.


Dinner : Homemade Pizza

For a while now we have been buying pizza dough and sauce from Trader Joe's and making pizzas at home. They always come out OK, but not great. The crust doesn't get really crispy and is a little mushy in the middle. A couple of weekends ago I made some pizza dough from scratch, in hopes that it would produce a better pie. The recipe made four chunks of pizza dough, which we put in plastic bags and tossed in the freezer. The first two attempts with the new dough was better than the store-bought dough, but not by that much. The issue was really how to get the shaped and topped pizza from the counter to the hot pizza stone that was in the oven. We tried making the pizza on the back of a jelly roll with lots of cornmeal to let it slide around, but once the toppings went on it didn't want to slide around anymore and was very hard to move. Once we did move it the crust didn't get crispy.

For this time, we shaped the pizza dough while the stone was heating in the oven. Then when the oven was preheated (to 550), we took the stone out and put the shaped dough on it. Dana then quickly put on the sauce and the toppings and we put the stone back into the oven. We could tell that even before going into the oven the dough was starting to cook on the stone. The result was a nice crispy crust - a killer pizza! This particular one is topped with homemade pesto from Dana's aunt Elaine (Thanks Elaine!), tomato sauce, onions, bacon and fresh mozzarella.

We also had a salad:

Dinner : Burgers

Quick post - here is a recent dinner - burgers. We have been out of propane for the grill outside for a few months now (we lugged the tank to the gas station last week only to find out they had just run out of propane - not meant to be!), so have been broiling all our meats. These burgers went under the broiler for 10 minutes. So easy! Also served was bok choy and a mango and raspberry side.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The first fire

A few days ago we built the first fire in our new place. The main feature of the living room is a large brick fireplace, but it hadn't gotten cold enough to use it until recently. Well, it's still not really cold enough, but we went ahead anyway:

with flash:

no flash:
I had a little bit of trouble getting it to light but some crumpled up newspaper did the trick. It was really enjoyable, although it would probably be best on a weekend night when we don't have to be rushing around too much.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Our 8 ft. Blue Noble Fir tree (from Oregon) is looking and smelling wonderful. We picked it up today at Green Gardens, and put the lights on tonight before dinner. The tree fits perfectly in the room next to the kitchen:

Elaine's Pesto

A fun part of the Thanksgiving trip was visiting my aunt and uncle and accepting the delicious gift of homemade raspberry preserves and pesto from aunt Elaine. She makes these, along with lots of other goodies, every fall and then preserves them. Receiving one of Elaine's delicious jars is something that everyone in the family looks forward to. We were so excited about the pesto that we had to use it in our first dinner back home tonight. We mixed the pesto with whole wheat penne, sauteed eggplant, and quattro formaggio cheese sprinkled on top. Served next to a big green salad with lettuce from the farmer's market - this was a great dinner. And we will be taking the yummy leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Ann Arbor Thanksgiving

We arrived home late last night from a fun-filled Thanksgiving in Ann Arbor. We visited my dad, grandmother, aunt and uncle, along with a few family friends who knew me when I was a baby (I was born and lived there until I was 2). We got to stay at my dad's new condo, checked out the local farmer's market, and even hit the town one night to meet up with Dylan's college friend, Hugh. It was lots of fun to spend time with Trevor and Liz who flew in from NYC - I don't get to see my brother enough! Here are some photos from Thanksgiving day of the cooking and eating that took place at dad's house.

Dana and dad, getting ready to carve the turkey:

The 20 lb. free range turkey that dad brined on Wednesday night:

Talented gravy-makers, Dylan and Liz, hard at work in the kitchen:

Dinner (turkey, gravy, grilled root veggies, spinach/cherry/goat cheese salad, cranberry sauce):

And the classic Vaughn chocolate pie for dessert (with my added touch of fresh raspberries):

Monday, November 24, 2008

Dinner : Sea Bass, Acorn Squash and Spinach Salad

Our last dinner before heading out to the freezing (but fun) temperatures of Michigan for Thanksgiving:

Sea Bass with acorn squash and spinach salad with a soy-mustard dressing. We only get Chilean Sea Bass about once every couple months due to its relatively high mercury content and Dana's 'condition'. We get it from a local fish market who says they get it from fishermen who catch it legally and responsibly. It is a very nice fish market so I tend to believe them - also the fish is sooooo good.

Hope everyone has a Happy Turkey Day!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dinner and Tomato Eater

Recently I've been working on my salad dressing. Normally Dana always makes the salad dressing for our dinners because she has a natural talent for it. Over the last seven years, after closely and carefully watching her prepare her dressings, I am starting to feel comfortable making them myself. So far I've just been doing the basic balsamic vinaigrette. The last couple of attempts have gone really well so I am going to start branching out into mustards and who knows what else!

Below is a recent dinner we made - spinach salad with avocado, onions, home-grown cherry tomatoes and a balsamic vinaigrette, and wheat-flax pasta with a sausage tomato sauce topped with coarsely grated parm.

Our heirloom tomato plant on the back deck has stopped trying to grow fruit, but the cherry tomato plant growing out of our driveway is still going strong. Dana found this little guy hanging out on one of the branches - a tomato hornworm. We just pick them off.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mexican Bass with Crispy Potatoes and Lemon Baby Broccoli

Last night we made up a very delicious recipe based on some Mexican Blue Nose Bass from our local fish shop and a bunch of things we had on hand. We had some leftover boiled potatoes and these beautiful, sweet orange cherry tomatoes from our farmer's market run last weekend. We also had baby broccoli, lemon and parmesan cheese (perfect for modified version of the Amateur Gourmet's broccoli dinner). The dinner plan was coming together! First we roasted the cherry tomatoes in the oven with olive oil, a few garlic cloves and basil from the garden. Once that became a sweet, pulpy mess, we kept it on warm in the toaster oven. Then we got the broccoli ready by drizzling with olive oil, salt, pepper and roasting for 15 minutes, spritzing with lemon juice and tossing with Parmesan. Meanwhile, we diced up the potatoes and cooked them in a pan till they got nice and brown/crispy. At the same time we coated the bass in flour and a little salt and pan fried it (with a nice pat of butter). When everything was done, we plated the broccoli, put the bass over a bed of crispy potatoes and then spooned on some of the yummy roasted tomatoes. There were a lot of dishes, but this was a terrific meal!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Farmer's Market Goodness

Raspberries, brussels sprouts, eggplant, orange cherry tomatoes, guavas, red grapes, ruby grapefruit, honey crisp and granny smith apples, satsumas, macadamia nuts. Will our healthy diet be redeemed after the dutch baby and bacon breakfast?

Sunday Dutch Baby

Dylan had a puzzled look on his face when I woke up this morning, rolled over and suggested that we attempt to make a dutch baby. This could be because I am already pregnant and neither of us is Dutch, but it also could be that he hasn't been keeping up with reading the Amateur Gourmet's blog posts.

A dutch baby is a puffy, baked pancake that you drizzle with butter, lemon juice and powdered sugar. I learned about them last week from my beloved Amateur Gourmet, and adapted Molly's recipe that he linked to on his website. I used milk instead of half and half (because it's all we had) and added a pinch of salt, a dash of vanilla sugar and a few dots of bourbon vanilla to the batter. I also cooked the dutch baby in a heavy ceramic dish instead of a cast-iron skillet, placing a jelly roll pan underneath to catch the stray bits of butter that would have ended up in my oven. Here is the preparation:

That baby really poofed up in the oven, and I was crouched below the oven for a while with the light on, marveling at the puffy, golden-brown bubbles that formed while I watched. It was pretty impressive!
We sliced it in half, put it on plates, drizzled on lemon juice, dusted on powdered sugar, added a few slices of bacon and a dish of strawberries and bananas, and had a breakfast fit for king and queen!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

Finally Streak is over 18 for a presidential election!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fun Weekend

This weekend Andres is in town visiting - lots of fun so far! This morning we drove to the mountains with Darin, Melissa, Zach and Karlyn for some apple picking. It's the perfect day with a hint of fall in the air - upper 50's and sunny in the mountains. There were a bunch of different apple varieties at the orchard we visited, and here they are (red delicious, fuji, granny smith) displayed in our fridge after the trip:

Along the way we found a blackberry bush along the side of the road, and scored a plastic container full of free berries. We also picked out pumpkins that we'll carve next weekend:

Right now we're on a break at home, playing Nintendo and goofing around before we head back to Darin and Melissa's tonight for pork tenderloin, cheese fondue, apple cider and blackberry crisp.