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Sunday, August 29, 2010

What a Vegan, Gluten-Free Dinner Party Looks Like

Just the right number of (smokin' hot) cooks in the kitchen.
(I swear we were all in the kitchen until it was time to eat...)

Our second fabulous dinner party was a serious group effort. Although I did the menu planning, everyone pitched in to get all the ingredients together, and then everyone just took a dish and ran with it. I tend to be somewhat controlling (ok, I'll admit it - I'm a complete control freak!) so I was mildly apprehensive about letting people help. But, as I am discovering over and over again lately, doing things together totally rocks.

It was, in a word, AWESOME, to share my kitchen with these fabulous women.

Here's what we made:

Watermelon Salad with Mint and Lime (recipe)
Cucumber "Bruschetta" (recipe)

First Course
Plum, Raspberry, and Tarragon Soup (recipe)

Second Course
Zucchini Tagliatelle with Cucumber, Mint, and Lemon (recipe)
Zucchini Pasta with Pesto (recipe)
Yellow Potatoes with Swiss Chard, Garlic, and Rosemary (recipe)

[Imagine we did not eat it so fast, and there is a picture here.]

Coconut Curry Ice Cream (recipe)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Down on the Farm: Goat Loin and Homemade Butter

Roasted Goat Loin over Kale, with Asparagus and Caramelized Onions
Last week at the farmer's market, we were at one of the meat vendors, and we decided to give goat a try. They had some loin pieces that looked good, so we took a couple of them home with us and cooked up some asparagus to go with it. Delicious!

On an unrelated note, if you're wondering what to do with that extra heavy cream you've got in your fridge, I'll give you one word: butter. Gone are the days of sitting on a stool churning for hours and hours... all you need is your mixer and a little bit of time.

Whipping up some cream. Don't be like me - use the splatter shield!
First, whip cream using whisk attachment until it breaks apart into liquid and clumps. (This is well after it looks like whipping cream.) When it starts to breakup, switch to the paddle attachment.

Butter and Buttermilk
Keep beating until it's really divided into liquid and solid. Push the solid to one side of the bowl with a spatula and drain the liquid. Keep it - it's buttermilk! Now you can make biscuits, waffles, pancakes, or various other delightful buttermilk-y things.
"Washing" the butter
Now that you've got your buttermilk set aside, we need to deal with the butter. In order to keep it from spoiling, it's essential to get every last drop of milk out of it. So, we're going to pour in some ice cold water, mix again, and then dump out the liquid. (This is not buttermilk, just milky-water, so go ahead and get rid of it.) Then repeat this until the water runs clear.

Voila - butter!

It turned out pretty well, but honestly didn't taste much different than what we buy at the store. We were hoping it would be more like the Irish butter we occasionally splurge on - rich and creamy. Perhaps we need to use cream that isn't processed, and we definitely think we'll be adding a pinch of salt if we do this again!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dinner Party: Cornish Hens & Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

We decided to throw a dinner party this weekend and it went splendidly. The food was fantastic, and the company even better. I may have gone a little bit overboard in making it fancy, but we had a great time. Honestly, the only thing stopping us from doing this on, say, a weekly basis is the cost of the food. Apologies in advance for the blurriness of some of these photos... the amount of wine I consumed may have contributed to a slightly shaky camera, and the inability to notice at the time. Without further ado, here's what we served:

Amuse Bouche
Warm Brie with Sun Gold Tomato preserves, served on water crackers.
wine Paul Masson Medeira (California)

First Course
Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas
wine Winking Owl Chardonnay (California)

Second Course
Cornish Game Hens with Blackberry sauce; Sweet Potato Souffle
wine Tilia Malbec (Argentina) and Fat Bastard Shiraz (France)

Third Course
Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
[that's chocolate cake, dark chocolate mousse, and mocha whipped cream]
wine Winking Owl Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Comfort Food: New England Clam Chowder

When we went on our legal wedding/honeymoon in Boston last month, one of the first things we did was stop in a restaurant that Julia remembered for its excellent, authentic New England Clam Chowder. It was the first time I ever tried it - in my entire life! - and it was delicious. Also, as good as Julia remembered it being. While we were savoring it, we discussed how we really should find a recipe and make it at home, since previous efforts to find one up to Julia's standards in Chicago restaurants had failed miserably. So a week or two ago, I scoured the net, and pulled a couple of recipes that seemed promising, based on Julia's knowledge of what should and should not be in clam chowder. During the grocery trip last week, I bought all the ingredients as a surprise to her.

Then, at the end of last week, I was running a low-grade fever and feeling under the weather. Historically, I'm not much of a soup eater - probably because when I was growing up, "making soup" meant microwaving a can of Campbell's and tossing in some oyster crackers - but Julia has managed to win me over with soups that consist of fresh ingredients, and simmered in a big pot for a while - no cans or microwaves allowed. What a difference real food makes. So, we decided to give the clam chowder a try, and, um AMAZING. We could not stop eating it... except that it is pretty rich, so you get to a point where you *have* to stop, even though you really, really *want* to keep eating it.

Here is the recipe, if you want to test it out on your own:
(I wish I could give credit, but it is a combo of a few recipes, an anonymous comment on a random food blog, and our addition of dill, which was specific to the restaurant in Boston, and happens to be a wonderful touch.)

1 yellow onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
32 ounces canned clams, chopped and/or minced (we used about half and half)
3 cups whole milk
3 cups heavy cream
3 large Yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste
¼ cup fresh dill, chopped

Saute onion in butter. Sprinkle in flour and cook until almost light brown. Pour in juice from clams and add bay leaf; simmer until thick. Pour in milk and cream; simmer again, adding potatoes and reserved clams. Cook until potatoes are tender but still firm. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in dill.

Makes 8-10 servings, depending on how much you can eat in one sitting!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Craft night redux.

If you were reading last week, you remember how our craft night became an eating and drinking night, and we kinda promised that this week we'd do some actual crafting. Well - let's just say we crafted pizza and ice cream, and call that a promise kept. And another failure (success?) was that we devoured it before grabbing a camera. So, you'll have to live with a description instead.

Prior to turning the night into a food free-for-all, we had discussed just having some ice cream, and Jenni tossed out the idea of peach and bacon for the flavor. You may also recall that in not making the initial shrimp dish last week, we consequently did not consume the peaches we'd bought for it. So - this was a perfect idea. Jenni volunteered to candy some bacon and we decided to mince some ginger and add it to the peaches. Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. What about dinner, you ask?

Right, so early in the day on Tuesday, after finding out Greta couldn't make it, we decided to invite Jenni and Rebecca to head over early and join us for dinner. I had been wanting to put homemade pizza on the menu sometime during the week, and this seemed like a perfect opportunity. We asked Jenni and Rebecca to bring toppings for one pizza (they brought mushrooms and Mexican cheese; we used some garlic and onion pasta sauce as well) and we had some "like gruyere" cheese and herb sausage from the farmers market, shallots, and pomegranate balsamic vinegar for the second pizza, which was a "white' (a.k.a. no red sauce) pizza. They were both delicious.

Then we made the ice cream. In order to keep it edible for everyone (Rebecca is a vegetarian) we kept the candied bacon out of it, and just sprinkled it on top. It turned out a bit more gingery than I was expecting, but not in a bad way. Everyone agreed it was yummy (though secretly Julia and I were both thinking that the strawberry basil was better.)

Next week, we're really going to craft. I swear!

Week in Review: Lots of food, not a lot of pictures.

So. We were pretty good about planning our menu and sticking to it. However, we didn't do so well with remembering to take pictures. Here's a little summary of how the week turned out, food-wise.

Thursday: The Zucchini Tagliatelle was a tasty, light, crisp salad.

Zucchini Tagliatelle with Mint, Cucumber, and Lemon (click for recipe)

Fresh, well-seasoned, and a perfect thing to eat on a hot summer night, especially as it requires no hot oven. A little bit more time-consuming than we had anticipated, but worth it.

Friday: We were going to make a Roasted Shrimp and Peach salad, but I ended up having to work until about 8:30pm, so I ordered some Thai food and Julia ate pasta. Not a day for culinary masterpieces, at least in our house.

Saturday: We were back in the game with another favorite recipe from Real Simple, Lemon-Oregano Lamb Chops with Orzo. This is an easy recipe to make, but tastes very indulgent - I think because lamb kinda always tastes indulgent, doesn't it?

Lemon-Oregano Lamb Chops with Orzo (click for recipe)

The orzo and tomato is a really nice complement to the lamb. Also - this was the first time we made it with fresh (rather than dried) oregano, and it was really, really good.

Sunday: I hit the farmers' market early in the morning hoping to score some fresh strawberries and basil for my first ice cream experiment, and hopefully something for dinner. I came out with some red rubin basil and a pint of cherry tomatoes, but no strawberries were there to be had. So I picked some up from the grocery store and headed home.

We made a Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas, from this recipe. I cheated a little bit and used the leftover orzo from the lamb chops in this salad, since both recipes had it paired with tomatoes, lemon juice, and pepper. It turned out really well. One thing about this recipe is that we had to hit up a chain store (Jewel/Dominicks) to get the canned (i.e. already cooked) black-eyed peas, as our favorite neighborhood markets only carried the bags of beans that need overnight soaking and cooking and we are far too lazy for that. I personally thought this salad was delicious - another easy, light summer meal. We ate it for lunch and then again for dinner. Julia was not too keen on the black-eyed peas, so we may use a different kind of bean if we make it again, but I personally loved them. I think it was the first time for both of us tasting black-eyed peas.

Enough about healthy food though - we need to talk about ice cream. On Friday, the ice cream maker attachment for my beloved Kitchen Aid mixer arrived, and we used this recipe from Scott over at The Improvised Chef [which if you aren't reading and you enjoy food, you should be. go on, I'll wait.] It was easy to do, and I'd bet even if you never made ice cream before you'd have no trouble churning this out.

Very, very yummy finished product:

Which brings us to Monday. Now if you'll remember on Friday we didn't make the shrimp. So we had that, and some leftover orzo. (Seriously, one pound is a *lot* of orzo. This is, in fact the *third* meal we've used that one batch in.) We also had some Belgian endives that we bought for a recipe which looked like it would be yummy but probably not enough food for a whole dinner. Which led to Julia making up this delightful dish, which paired the shrimp, endives, and orzo with pine nuts, dijon mustard, and a little bit of red wine vinegar.

And that wraps up the week.