Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pantry Challenge: Strawberry Short(cut) Cake

So last night G and I "celebrated" our engage-a-versary with some flank steak, boxed mashed potatoes and a salad.

I hadn't gone 'real' grocery shopping in a while, since G was away on business. I must say, I LOVE the challenge of putting things together out of nothing more than what we have on hand. Sometimes disparate ingredients and improvisation results in the most satisfying product.

All we had was the frozen flank steak (which I thawed) and marinated with a little garlic and soy. G threw it on the grill for 3.5 minutes a side. Medium-rare. Easy. Then the boxed mashed potatoes--I've been eating these for dinners because my stomach has been quite upset lately...and I've been lazy. (That's not good improvisation, but boxed mashed is actually quite good!) The salad was just a bunch of green leaf lettuce that I had previously purchased earlier in the week for my plan to eat BLTs every night.( I only made it twice: once for lunch and once for dinner.) There was an over-ripe avocado and tomato that had to be eaten as well. So I made a honey mustard dressing for avocado and tomato (with green leaf lettuce) salad. And done! Simple, flavorful, easy, and resourceful! We love trying to use up everything and to not waste.

But the best part was when G, after sitting back, thoroughly satisfied with the deliciously pedestrian meal, asked, "Is there dessert?" Haha. He has a serious sweet tooth.

There were a bunch of unfrosted cupcakes that I baked (then froze) from the leftover batter from Michelle's engagement cake. We also had a bunch of frozen berries (previously fresh strawberries and blueberries that we saved for smoothies) and some vanilla ice cream from a dinner party we threw the other week.

Let the cupcakes thaw for a couple minutes
Put about two cups of the berries in a pot with equal parts water and sugar (1 cup each)
Let it stew for about 20 minutes
Uwrap the cupcake, place it in a bowl with a scoop of ice cream
Ladle the sauce over it...

et voila! Strawberry Short(cut) Cake!

So from herein, I'm going to document these simple, voila, improvised dishes...which I'll call my pantry challenge!

I also challenge YOU to try to use what you already have in your fridge and pantry before you go out and buy ingredients for your next meal. It'll save you time, money, and teaches you to be creative. It's thoroughly satisfying! Email ( me or comment on what you've done.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Mandarin Orange Cake with Pineapple Cream

This cake is such a big cheat. It's made with boxed cake mix, Cool Whip and boxed pudding. As you know, I don't bake, so this was right up my alley. And the results were fantastic. Everyone from the party wants the recipe. So, if you're feeling a little Sandra Lee ("semi-homemade"--that is an awful show, by the way) then this is the recipe for you.

This is my MIL's recipe that she adapted from Southern Living:

Mandarin Orange Cake
1 pkg yellow cake mix without pudding
1 [11 oz] can mandarin oranges, undrained
4 eggs
½ cup oil
1 [15 oz] can crushed pineapple drained
1 [9oz] carton frozen whipped cream, thawed
1 small pkg vanilla instant pudding

Combine cake mix, oranges, eggs and oil.  Beat 2 minutes at high speed of electric mixer.  Reduce speed to low, beat 1 minute.

Pour batter into 3 greased and floured cake pans (three 9" rounds).  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  Cool in pans, remove, cool completely.  [I froze them for several days so they would be easier to frost and frosted them the day we ate them.]

Combine 3 remaining ingredients, beat 2 minutes at medium speed, let stand 5 minutes or until mixture reaches spreading consistency.  I actually refrigerated the frosting
so it would not be so runny.  Spread mixture between layers and on top and sides of cake.  Chill at least 2 hours before serving.  Store in refrigerator.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Michelle & Graham's Engagment Brunch

We woke up really early (like 6:30 am) Sunday morning to do the remaining prep work for Michelle and Graham's brunch. It was worth it. Everything turned out well and the happy couple was ecstatic. They were also pleasantly surprised by the slight nod to Spain (Michelle studied in Spain for a year, and also brought along her friends visiting from Galicia).
 Remember the potted hydrangea?

The happy couple
Michelle's friends from Galicia (they did the authenticity test on the tortilla española I made and it turned out positive)
G was in charge of beverages
G's very own ice tea (he made a concentrate the night before and prepared the serving that morning)

We served cava (Spanish sparkling wine) and orange juice
Many, including Michelle, had a Mimosa; isn't her ring gorgeous?

Former roommates: Chris, Andrew, and Graham (the man of the hour)
Lindsay and Lily (Andrew and Chris' significant others, respectively)
The table (we borrowed a lot of stuff from G's parents)

Michelle's brother and mother

Michelle's family: brother, David; mom; nephew; and long(est)-time friend, Tracy

Tortilla española: There's a funny story behind the  making of this, and it includes half of it landing in the sink
Chorizo frittata (oven baked eggs are so much easier than their pan fried counterparts)
The gang digging in--it really brings me great pride and pleasure to know that people enjoy my cooking (G helped a tremendous amount, btw--all the clean up and dirty work he took care of without complaint and of his own initiative).

Speaking of which, he also grilled the asparagus that morning (served with hollandaise)

The night before, I stayed up late making traditional and buckwheat crêpes (served with honey syrup and lemons)

Dried chorizo and "almost" jamon (aka prosciutto--can't get Iberico ham around here--but our Spanish friends remarked that it was very close)

Potato wedges (whipped cream for the fruit salad)


The fruit salad--I actually went through the effort of cutting everything up myself (because the fruit salad at the grocery is never as fresh tasting)

And finally...the CAKE! It's G's mom's mandarin orange and pineapple cream recipe (and it was so easy). I made the cake and froze the three layers the night before and made the frosting and finished it the morning of. Recipe in the next post.


Saturday, May 01, 2010

Sidewalk Saturday

Today's a gorgeous day here in DC! It's in the 80s and breezy. G went golfing this morning and after he returned, we walked down to Hank's for a little brunch. I had told G that I want to get in as much of our sidewalk-culture neighborhood as possible before we move. I love it so (in spite of our craptastic neighbors). Everything is so accessible and within--yes--walking distance, and there are tons of great local eateries that have sidewalk dining.
Sidewalk culture; yes, I wear that $6 shirt every chance I get.

I had the perfect portion of the freshest pan-fried rainbow trout with fresh marjoram (simple with no acoutrements save for a bit of lemon) and he had the crab cake eggs Benedict (Hank's is an oyster bar, so lots of seafood, and it's my favorite neighborhood haunt). We sat outside on the patio. It was wonderful.

 Hank's crabcake eggs Benedict and simple pan-fried rainbow trout.

Then we took a walk around the neighborhood. It's amazing how lush and green all the gardens are. I love city gardens! The beautiful contrast of iron edging and fencing with federal and Victorian architecture, ivy, and flowery bushes!

Various gardens around the neighborhood; the Masonic Temple community garden around the corner from us.

We stopped by U street to a mid-century modern place, called Millenium--we pop in everyone once in a while to see what they have (it's ever-changing).

 Millenium Decorative Arts

Looked into the window of Cake Love (do you know who Warren Brown is? He's our local food celeb). 

Cake Love!

And then went to Whole Foods to pick up odds and ends for Michelle's engagement party I'm throwing tomorrow!
Hydrangeas and cured meats; We always forget to bring a bag (DC has a bag tax...a sort of sin tax to clean up the Anacostia River--that's right, 80-20 rule--20% of the population causes 80% of the problems--and we all get to pay because that's more fun than addressing the root cause--but I digress); we got hydrangeas.

I decided to get this hydrangea plant, as I can clip the heads off of them and put them into the mint julep cups we had leftover from the wedding.

Now, off to bake a cake and make some crêpes (Champagne brunch is the theme/menu)!
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