Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas Stories

This past December I was constantly working. Great for saving up for school; not so great when trying to get together with family and friends over the holidays. It wound up being that I missed Christmas dinner, eve, everything with my boyfriend's family, and with my mom.

So, I thought to myself, why mope around when I can make my own plans! I invited all of them over for a late Christmas dinner at my place. But I've never really hosted a dinner party like this before. Sure, I've made dinner for friends/family before. Sure, I've made food for special occasions. But this felt more intense. I had never made dinner for my boyfriend's parents before. I had to make this special.

Boyfriend and I have been dating almost four years, I can't believe dinner-making just never happened. I pulled out all the stops. I decided to make this Christmas pork roast, Butternut Squash with Onions and Pecans, asparagus and mashed potatoes. Oh, and of course chocolate quinoa cake for dessert.

Keep in mind through all of this that Boyfriend's dad is both gluten- and lactose-intolerant. Awesome.

For most of what was on the menu, I would just switch out butter for margarine. For the mashed potatoes and quinoa cake, though, things were a bit more tricky as both require milk (I've blogged about the quinoa cake before). I've been hearing a lot about negative health effects of soy milk, so I thought I'd give almond milk a try. Plus, the nuttiness in the potatoes would tie in with the pecans and squash! (supposedly, but I couldn't taste it in the potatoes).

The other tricky part is that I've never made a roast before. Actually, I've never cooked with squash or asparagus either. But! I know how each is supposed to taste/look/be prepared.

I made the squash about 4 hours ahead, as I had a job interview that day too. The recipe turned out really nice though! I only used one butternut squash, and wound up using half the pecans/parsley as recommended. But overall it turned out really well! Except I forgot Boyfriend doesn't like onions. Oops.

I knew the roast would need at least an hour to cook. At least, that's what both the recipe and my dad recommended. I picked up a 3 1/2 pound roast (despite the recipe calling for a 4 pounder) and made sure it was completely defrosted. The recipe calls for a lot of awesome spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves. Dreaded cloves. I know they are overpowering, which is why I never cooked with them before. I added about half of what the recipe calls for. Otherwise, I followed the recipe perfectly.

An hour passes. I check the roast with a meat thermometer. It barely registers 115 degrees. It needs to hit 160. Crap.

The roast needed an additional 30-45 minutes before it was done. But man, it was so flavourful and moist, it was kind of worth it. Except all my side dishes were lukewarm by the time the roast was done. Despite all that, everything turned out great!

Except the cake. A word of warning: almond milk is thicker than soy and regular milk. The cake mixture was so dense it almost burned out the blender's motor. Once it was done, the cake tasted fine but was super dense and heavy. Everyone seemed to enjoy nonetheless. I could only find bland icing that was both lactose- and gluten-free, so I crushed some candy canes for decoration, which gave it a minty flavouring. It was tasty!

Unfortunately I didn't take any photos. If you decide to try out that pork roast recipe, just be warned that a) it may take longer to cook than expected, and b) the seasoning mixture looks really gross, but smells and tastes amazing!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brown Rice Stir-Fry

I don't like rice. I've actually burned rice in attempts to make it. But, I love stir-frys, mainly because they make rice edible. My mom has always made very yummy stir-frys and always cooks the perfect rice — not crunchy, not mushy, not salty. Maybe it's because I always compare my rice to my mother's, but I never seem to be able to cook rice properly.

Fast forward to tonight. I'm house-sitting and, though I went grocery shopping the other day, I had assumed they had white rice in the house. Unfortunately they only had brown rice, the more temperamental and difficult type of rice to make.

Steeling myself against this hurdle, I followed this recipe on how to cook brown rice. It was the first hit on my Google search. I don't know about this recipe; it said to boil the rice, then let it simmer for 20 minutes, then to let it sit for 10 more minutes. If I had continued to let it simmer for the full 20 minutes, the rice would have burned. This might be because I only put in 2/3 cup of rice (with a ratio of 1 cup of rice : 1.5 cups of water). Regardless, the rice turned out well! Not as nice as my mother's, but hey, I'm new at this rice thing.

For the stir-fry part, I cut up 3 carrots and started to fry those first, since I wasn't boiling them first. After a few minutes with the frying pan lid on the carrots, I added in 1 cup or so of sliced green beans. After about 7-8 minutes I added about a cup of broccoli heads. Because I added the veggies to the pan raw, it took a lot longer to fry them. I recommend taste-testing every now and then.

At Superstore, they sell little heads of broccoli in bags — this is much easier than the huge heads they sell in the regular vegetable aisle. It's so handy not having to cut a big head of broccoli down to little ones, plus the ones in the bag are super cute!

For the sauce, I mixed in some Hoisin sauce. It's the Lee Kum Kee brand, which is different than the one I'm used to. It tastes different, but what that means exactly I can't explain. If you aren't familiar with Hoisin sauce, it's lighter than terriyaki sauce, yet is still sweet. Craving some bite in my sauce, I sprinkled in some chili flakes as well.

I wound up checking my email and forgot about my stir-fry, so when I came back the sauce was just about ready to burn. Luckily, it worked out for the better because it made the sauce thicker, stickier, and had a really nice almost-burned flavour to it due to its caramelization.

I apologize for the terrible lighting and quality of the photo. I didn't have my camera with me, so this is taken using Photobooth on my Mac.

I had a feeling the stir-fry part would turn out, so I'm most excited about the rice part not being burnt. As dated and weird as that brown rice recipe website is, the guy knows his rice. This stir-fry is likely to become a weekly meal.

Stir-frys usually have meat in them, or at least tofu or other protein component. I didn't include meat because, well, I still feel inexperienced with meat (either burnt or underdone or both) and I didn't want to overload my juggling when already dealing with rice. Beans are high in protein anyway, but I'm not sure if that includes these green beans, or just describes beans of the kidney variety. At any rate, feel free to add any kind of ingredient if trying this at home. Just remember the chili flakes and Hoisin sauce — it makes an amazing sauce!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Tying My Two Loves Together

I recently discovered this blog, Paper and Salt, which creates recipes inspired by famous writers. Be prepared for many more posts about specific recipes from this blog.

What a great idea to combine literature and food! Just recently I blogged about Jack London on my other blog, and I found this corresponding recipe for Jack London's Bacon and Tomato Baked Risotto. It has been stated before that I'm not a fan of rice, but I'm so attempting this recipe.

But before that baked risotto, maybe I'll try Elizabeth Bishop's brownies, or Louisa May Alcott's Apple Slump (only for the name though, I couldn't stand Little Women).