April Dinner Club

Given the fact that today is the last day in May, I think its time I fill you all in on April’s Dinner club. April was a difficult theme to choose. We wanted something that was seasonal and reflective of Spring. Early Spring can be a weird time seasonally because all the Winter produce is no longer as good and no one wants to eat heavy meals anymore yet the Summer produce isn’t ready to be eaten yet. Perhaps that’s why Easter candy  is one of the first things I think of when trying to come up with a Spring theme ingredient! We did all finally agree on the theme ingredient mint.

We were chosen to cook the main course this month and mint is not an herb that I find myself using very often; I loved being forced to use it in a recipe that  was not a salad or a dessert. Immediately, lamb came to mind as a good protein to go with mint however I’ll admit lamb intimidates me. I made braised lamb for Christmas this year and I killed it; it was so dry that I think it resembled jerky more than the braised lamb I was going for. After that incident, I haven’t attempted lamb again. I tried to look up other recipes involving mint but kept coming back to lamb.

After finally giving in to the lamb I needed to find a recipe that cooked the lamb in a relatively short period of time, due to the fact that dinner club in progressive, I’d only have about 30 minutes to get everything together. I came upon a recipe for lamb that was marinated and grilled. It got excellent reviews online and seemed very simple, sold. The bonus was that dinner club was scheduled for the week following Easter and I scored a nice cut of lamb on super sale!

This recipe turned out better than I ever could have imagined. Not only was the lamb perfectly medium rare but the marinade had made the meat incredibly tender and flavorful. We devoured the entire thing and all agreed that, it had been the best dinner club to date. The marinade contained some Asian flavors which I’m convinced made the dish especially good. This is the first recipe I made from my new Jacques Pepin cookbook that Eric bought me for Christmas and it was the perfect choice.

Like I said, this dish was beyond easy but be sure to marinate it the day before. Prep all the ingredients including cutting the string mesh from the lamb roast. I had double the amount of meat so I doubled the marinade. Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl and then pour it over the lamb in a large freezer bag.

Turn the bag a few times in the fridge.

The following day, sear the lamb on a hot grill for about 7 minutes per side and then bring it inside to finish in the oven. The recipe calls for the oven to be 170 degrees. I was skeptical at first thinking it was not hot enough, but as I do with all first time recipes, I followed it. I was right, 170 is not hot enough to get the meat cooking more and I ended up turning the oven up to 250 degrees and cooking it another 15 minutes. By then, the lamb was perfectly medium rare.

**Do not cook lamb more than medium, ideally you want it rare to medium rare otherwise the flavor gets weird and its incredibly dry. The exception to this is of course when braising lamb, that can be cooked longer and is delicious but grilling the lamb or lamb chops you want to cook rare-medium rare.**

Here it is in its glory:

While the lamb was cooking, I cooked down the marinade in a small saucepan and poured it over the lamb when it went into the oven. It was SO GOOD!

We all wanted to lick our plates. I served two sides, green beans with crispy shallots and fresh mint.

I also braised carrots and brussel sprouts and tossed them with balsamic vinegar.

These were also a hit. The only thing I had leftovers of was the green beans. The mint was fresh and light in all the dishes, a great theme ingredient.

I won’t leave out the other courses! However, we forgot to take any pictures of those at all this month, sorry! The first course was an amazing Asian spring roll with shrimp and stuffed with rice noodles and mint. They were beautiful, fresh and light; a perfect starter. They were accompanied by strawberry mojitos.

The third course was a chocolate and mint trifle with chocolate shavings on top. It was cool and sweet, not to mention pretty. Chocolate is always a great way to end a meal.

So there you have it, the quick overview of April’s Dinner Club! Now, on to May and hopefully some warmer weather again.

Sweet Surprises

Yesterday, after a long day at the office I came home to find this on my kitchen island:

I opened the pretty pink box to find these babies:

Here’s a close up:

Eric had been away on business since Tuesday, working in Washington DC and decided to bring me/us home a special treat; cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes! In case you’re not up on cupcake news, Georgetown Cupcakes is the shop that is featured on the TLC show, DC Cupcakes. How thoughtful is my husband?! Pretty treats like these make the fact that he was away for a few days, a bit more bearable.

I know what you’re all thinking. Didn’t she just get up on her soapbox about eating less sugar earlier this week? Yes, its true. However, I never said I was going completely sugar free, I’m just making a conscious effort to cut back and until last night have been eating very small amounts of sugar all week. Every diet deserves a cheat day and last night was mine!

Now, on to the cupcakes themselves:

Eric and I split 2 cupcakes last night so we could try them both and I’m looking forward to doing the same tonight (and being sugar free all day long until that moment, it makes it so much…sweeter? terrible pun, I know). We tried the one with the chocolate icing and it was on white cake and the one with the pink flower was called the cherry blossom cupcake. The chocolate iced one was pretty standard, nice fudgey icing but the cake lacked a bit of flavor, in my opinion. Then, the cherry blossom one was AMAZING, the cake itself had chunks of cherry in it with hint of almond and was topped with cream cheese icing, a combination I never would have put together but was dynamite! YUM!

The other flavors left in the box are pumpkin spice, the one with the maple leaf on top, I think it also has maple icing, I can smell the maple syrup in the box. The one with sprinkles is the classic white cake, vanilla buttercream icing. The one with the lime wedge is a key lime cupcake, I’m very excited to try that one and in the back is a red velvet, of course!

Just writing this post is giving me a sugar craving, I can’t wait until tonight! And after inhaling consuming my cupcakes last night, I felt a definite sugar rush. Something that I’ve never noticed before.

Hope everyone has a sweet weekend!

Linguine Alfredo with Roasted Mushrooms and Asparagus

This is another recipe inspired by Pinterest. Something about seeing a nice picture of something delicious just makes me want to eat it immediately. I’m always up for trying a new pasta dish and this one used alfredo sauce, a sauce that I had never actually made before and it ended up being so easy! I love the combination of the roasted asparagus and mushrooms and the lemon juice cuts the heaviness of the cream very nicely. I ended up making the recipe I found my own by using an alfredo recipe from my Giada cookbook.

Prep the asparagus, mushrooms and garlic and combine them with mustard and olive oil in a bowl until well coated.

Roast the the asparagus and mushrooms on a baking sheet with minced garlic and olive oil.

Bring water to boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Combine the cream and lemon juice in a deep fry pan and add the butter over medium-low heat until melted, remove it from the heat until pasta is ready.

Add the cooked pasta to the cream mixture, pour over another 1/2 cup of cream, salt, pepper and parmesan cheese. Toss well and cook over medium heat until thickened.

Toss in the mushrooms and asparagus into the pasta and serve with extra cheese on top.

 

 The sauce is so creamy yet the lemon juice keeps it light. As person who typically prefers red sauce to white, I was initially skeptical of this dish but in the end it has won me over completely. It’s simple, quick, cheap and delicious!

Here’s the recipe:

Linguine Alfredo with Roasted Mushrooms and Asparagus
Print
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 30 mins
Total time: 40 mins
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. asparagus, tough ends snapped off
  • 3-4 cups whole mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup strained lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Creole or coarse-grain mustard
  • 8 ounces uncooked linguine
  • 1 recipe Guiltless Alfredo Sauce
  • Optional: Grilled chicken breast or sauteed shrimp
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine trimmed asparagus and sliced mushrooms. Zest the lemons (enough to get 1 tablespoon of zest) and set the zest aside.
  3. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and mustard. Drizzle over the veggies and toss to combine. Spread the veggies out onto the prepared baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes or until the asparagus is tender but not mushy. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5-10 minutes.
  4. While the veggies are roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and, when the water is ready, cook pasta al dente. Prepare the Alfredo sauce. After you’ve added the cheese, add the reserved lemon zest to the sauce. When the asparagus and mushrooms are done roasting, you can either portion out the pasta, veggies, and sauce into individual servings or toss it all together. Serves 6-8.

 

Workin’ It

I’m sure you’re wondering what’s up and where I’ve been lately, one post a week is not the norm for me but lately life has just gotten really busy. I find myself stretched and have not been able to put in the time for blogging like I usually do. I am trying to make more time for it now but this is what happens some times, especially when blogging is purely a fun thing for you and you still have a full time job, family and friends, etc.

Life hasn’t been too busy to cook, in fact I’ve been making a bunch of new and delicious recipes lately and they’re all still in my camera waiting for me to have time to write about them. I promise to give you some good new recipes this week! One thing that has been taking more of my attention is that I am paying more attention to myself and my own health.

I’ve always been an active person participating in sports for most of my childhood. My parents have always been great examples to me, feeding us vegetables with our dinner each night and packing fruit in our lunches along with making time to work out themselves. My mom is a big walker, I can remember her waking up super early for most of my life to get out and walk for an hour or so before her day started and recently she’s been jogging, something that she never really did, she even ran a 5K last year, and I couldn’t be prouder of her! My dad has always been in great shape, running, lifting weights in our basement and now he’s started swimming regularly. Besides signing my brother and I up for sports, my parents always encouraged us to get outside and be active and many times spent as a family were riding bikes together, swimming and even taking walks. I grew up thinking it was important and quite normal to be this physically active.

I realize now, what a great gift my parents gave me. Today, I see kids who aren’t active like that and adults who fill their stomachs with pre-made foods loaded with preservatives and the dreaded fast food. I’m not immune, I love Wendy’s and Burger King but the way that I feel after stuffing my face with a spicy chicken sandwich or a double cheeseburger is pretty telling; I feel disgusting. All I want to do it lay down and nap and it stays with me for a few hours after.

Overall, I think I eat pretty healthy, I go by the everything in moderation mentality and have been known to overindulge (especially with sweets). But I don’t really like soda and I do like drinking lots of water plus I make most of our food from scratch. That alone knocks out so many chemicals and preservatives that weigh down our metabolism. Since going through infertility (read about that here) and filling my body with chemicals and not being allowed to work out I feel like I’ve taken a new interest in my own health. I want to be informed and I want to get my body back.

I started reading about sugar this week and was shocked. I’ve always eaten lots of it, I love it and I’m thin and try to make healthy choices so I never thought it was an issue for me to have my lunch dessert and my afternoon chocolate and my dessert in the evening, oh and my morning tea with raw sugar and my chocolate chip oatmeal. Well, long story short, I really need to reduce the amount of sugar I consume. I am not currently living the “everything in moderation” diet when it comes to sugar.

And so, to wrap up this post which I’ve successfully rambled on with, I’m making conscious decision to go without sugar. It’s been really hard to cut out. I still allow myself one sweet treat a day but have been drinking tea without sugar (its gross but its getting easier) and have cut out my afternoon sweet snack as well as one of my desserts. I read that it will get easier but right now, it sucks. In combination with my lower-sugar diet, I’ve been running a few days a week and have been taking a weight lifting class at the gym for the last 2 months. **Small Plug** The weightlifting has been a new and amazing addition for me; it has really started to transform my body and its becoming something I’m actually proud of! Plus, bonus, my pants fit better! I’m not longer sucking in to get them buttoned in the morning.

It does take time to make yourself healthier and some research, everyone’s body is different but its true what people say, I do feel much better (aside from the sugar cravings, I did get a little mean yesterday afternoon). I have more energy and I just feel happier with myself in general. I hope I keep this up, I’m really going to try this time.

So how about you guys, any new health realizations lately? Tried a workout routine that you really like? How about healthy recipes? Or are you, like me, trying to get away from so much sugar, any sweet substitutes you can recommend? I tried Stevia and pretty much hate it. I’d love to hear what you’re up to!

Steamed Pork Buns

I hope that you all enjoyed your Easter. Eric and I spent a much needed low key Easter at home, catching up on sleep, relaxing and having a nice dinner with my family on Sunday; it was just what we needed. I didn’t cook much this weekend, which was nice for a change, just a simple breakfast on Sunday and that was it. Eric had been traveling on business for all of last week so it was great to spend some time just the two of us, relaxing.

The recipe I have for you today is one that I made a few weeks back, while Eric was golfing one Sunday afternoon. The recipe is not hard, but it does require a good amount of time because of the fact that it has homemade dough and uses yeast. Anytime you make something with yeast you know it will take a while because the yeast inevitably will need to rise. I made these steamed pork buns in between making a dessert and doing laundry and watching TV, like I said, easy.

If you enjoy the steamed dumplings or pot stickers from an Asian restaurant, then this is a great recipe for you. I personally always order steamed pot stickers, they are so delicious. Give me those and an egg roll and I’m one happy girl. I found this recipe on Pinterest, of course, and adapted it.

Start this recipe by cooking the pork tenderloin which will become the base of the filling in the buns. Coat the pork tenderloin with chinese five spice powder and cook in a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes, turning over half way through. Slice crosswise and refrigerate to cool.

While the pork is cooking, start the dough.  Combine the warm water, sugar and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer and let stand for 5 minutes until it looks foamy. Use the dough hook attachment on your mixer (if you have one) to mix the ingredients for the together. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead the dough for about 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Place dough into a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit in warm place to rise for 1 hour, or until it has doubled in size.

Once the dough is rising and the pork is cut and cooled, shred it with your fingers into a medium size bowl and add the onions and next 7 ingredients to the pork and mix well.

Cover and refrigerate.

One the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist and allow it to sit for another5 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and divide it into 10 equal portions.

Roll those portions into balls.

Use a rolling pin to roll the ball into a 5in circle. Fill the center with about 2 tablespoons of the pork mixture and gently fold all the sides up.

Twist the side together to seal the dumpling. Do this for all 10 dumplings.

To cook, steam the dumplings in a steamer, if using a metal steamer, spray with non-stick spray before putting in the dumplings to prevent sticking.

**Uncooked dumplings can be frozen on a tray individually and then placed into a ziplock bag in the freezer. These will keep for up to 6 months. To cook, simply pull out of freezer and steam for longer than the unfrozen dumplings. I did this with 4 of the dumplings and it was one of the best frozen leftover meals we’ve ever had, plus it was SO easy! **

Steam the dumplings until the puff up, about 15 minutes.

Serve with dumpling dipping sauce.

These dumplings were so good and worth all the work and waiting time. I was so proud of myself for making something that tasted like it came from the local Asian place we get take-out from. Plus, it made 2 dinners and 2 lunches, not to shabby for 1 recipe!

 

Here’s the full recipe adapted from Cooking Light and the dipping sauce is from PF Changs:

Steamed Pork Buns
Print
Author: Adapted from Cooking Light, Dipping Sauce from PF Changs
Prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 4 hours
Serves: 10
Ingredients
  • Filling:
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 1 pound pork tenderloin, trimmed
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Dough:
  • 1 cup warm water (100° to 110°)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 package dry yeast (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (about 14 2/3 ounces)
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Dipping Sauce:
  • cup water
  • cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chili paste
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, ground
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. To prepare the filling, rub five-spice powder evenly over pork. Cook pork on for 40 minutes, turning half way through. Remove pork from pan, and let stand 15 minutes.
  2. Cut pork crosswise into thin slices; cut slices into thin strips. Place pork in a medium bowl. Add onions and next 7 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt); stir well to combine. Cover and refrigerate.
  3. To prepare dough, combine 1 cup warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes.
  4. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Add flour, oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to yeast mixture; stir until a soft dough forms. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.)
  5. Punch dough down; let rest 5 minutes. Turn dough out onto a clean surface; knead in baking powder. Let dough rest 5 minutes.
  6. Divide dough into 10 equal portions, forming each into a ball. Working with one dough ball at a time (cover remaining dough balls to keep from drying), roll ball into a 5-inch circle. Place 1/4 cup filling in center of dough circle. Bring up sides to cover filling and meet on top. Pinch and seal closed with a twist. Repeat procedure with remaining dough balls and filling.
  7. Arrange 5 buns seam side down, 1 inch apart, in each tier of a 2-tiered bamboo steamer. Stack tiers; cover with lid.
  8. Add water to a large skillet to a depth of 1 inch; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Place steamer in pan; steam 15 minutes or until puffed and set. Cool 10 minutes before serving.

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cadbury Egg Cookies by Let’s Meet for Lunch

I hope everyone has a nice Easter holiday filled with chocolate and peeps! As a special Easter treat, I’ve invited Dana from the blog Let’s Meet for Lunch, you’ll remember her from back in January when we wrote posts for each other’s blogs here. Today we’re bringing you some Easter or Spring dessert ideas, without futher ado, here’s Dana, and don’t forget to click over to Let’s Meet for Lunch to check out my post on Grapefruit cake!

Hey Red Velvet readers! I’m so glad to be back, this time with an Easter treat for you. This is a recipe that I have been making for a few years, from the blog that inspired me to start my own. If you’ve never checked out Our Best Bites, you should – they have tutorials for everything under the sun and some really creative ideas. I’ve always made these cookies strictly according to the directions in the past because…. well, why mess with a good thing? However, when I thought about posting it on my own blog (or Marah’s in this case!) I wanted to make it my own. How better to do that than add some creamy peanut butter?  Chocolate and peanut butter are a pretty classic Easter combo if you think about it – I for some reason always associate Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs with my Easter basket growing up. These cookies combine that flavor with Cadbury Mini Eggs… I know, I know… over the top. If you have a peanut allergy, feel free to just leave the peanut butter out – they were good before without it!

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cadbury Egg Cookies
Adapted from ourbestbites.com
Printable Recipe Card

1/2 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. white sugar
1 Egg (ignore the second one in the picture!)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda (not pictured)
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. flour
3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 c. creamy peanut butter
1 10 oz bag Cadbury Mini-Eggs

Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Cream together the butter and sugars, then add in the egg and vanilla, beating well.

Combine the dry ingredients in a separate bowl and slowly add until combined.

Add the peanut butter…. look at those swirls! So pretty.

Pour the mini Cadbury eggs into a plastic bag and crush into chunks. Fold into the cookie batter….

…and drop by the tablespoon onto a prepared baking sheet. I like to use parchment paper for most of my baked goods because it keeps the bottoms from browning. But feel free to use nonstick spray if that’s what you have!

Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges are well cooked and the middles are still slightly soft. I prefer a chewier cookie, but if you want them more crunchy, take them out on the 10 minute side of things.


Enjoy, and have a happy Easter! Be sure to stop by my blog by clicking here to check out Marah’s Grapefruit Cake…. sounds delicious!

Printable Recipe Card available here.

Sweet Potato Hash

I hope you all enjoyed my blogiversary last week, it was fun to share some more details about me with all of you. This week, is the week of Easter and lucky for me, I won’t be cooking at all this weekend. I just get to attend dinner with my family and enjoy it. I will probably be making a nice breakfast for Eric and I on Saturday and the recipe I have today works great for breakfast or for dinner. This was the first recipe I made from my new Tupelo Honey Cafe cookbook and its very simple and delicious. It combines two of my favorite foods, mushrooms and sweet potatoes into a sweet potato hash.

Once your ingredients are prepped, boil the sweet potato for about 10 minutes to cook.

Combine the cooked sweet potato, mushrooms, onions and rest of the ingredients together in a bowl.

Saute over medium high heat until soft and browned.

Serve as a side for dinner, as pictured below, or next to eggs and bacon for breakfast or brunch.

This is such a simple and so tasty dish. The touch of maple syrup really plays well with the flavors and makes it a great accompaniment to breakfast. After the way this turned out, I can’t wait to cook more recipes from Tupelo Honey Cafe.

Here’s the recipe:

Sweet Potato Hash
Print
Author: Tupelo Honey Cafe
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 20 mins
Total time: 30 mins
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and discarded, caps thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup sliced green onions, white and green parts
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh sage
  • 1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tupelo honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Add the sweet potato and blanch for about 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are just fork tender. Remove the potatoes and transfer to an ice bath.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat and saute the mushrooms for 3 to 4 minutes, until just tender, and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potato, mushrooms, green onions, sage, hot pepper sauce, honey, salt, and pepper. In a nonstick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat and add the potato mixture. Saute for 8 to 10 minutes, until the mixture is caramelized.
  4. Serve immediately.