PFB C#3: Luxury dinner in

I’m here, with your help – writing a post for challenge #3 for Project Food Blog. Thank you!! Every challenge has been exciting and complex for its own reasons. This one required to “host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors.” I’ve had a good share of high end meals out but what a luxurious meal at home meant was obviously up for interpretation. At the end, I decided that a luxury meal to me meant that it had to be plated, consist of fresh ingredients and flavors and involve several courses. I wanted to make sure that this was the best, most luxurious meal I’ve ever cooked… I was ambitious. I cooked everything from scratch, which included freshly baked bread and homemade ice cream (I bought some back-ups just in case… you never know ;) ). Ever since getting back from vacation, I’ve had plans every night this week so I ended up taking Friday off work (that’s when the meal took place) since I had no time to prep any other night beforehand. This was going to be an involved meal and I needed time to make it happen! Without further adieu, THE MENU:

Sounds luxurious enough? ;)

I planned the meal the night before and hit up 4 grocery stores the morning of (it was supposed to be just 2, but they didn’t have pork tenderloin at Whole Foods and I ended up driving around to 2 other stores until finally changing the menu to pork chops – you have to be flexible sometimes. I should have made this decision right away but sometimes you get married to the menu and it’s hard to let go. It actually ended up being better at the end. :D )

The loot:

The night before I also made a detailed list of everything that needs to be done, including specific times for certain steps (like “churn ice cream at 4:30″, “bake bread at 7″). This schedule was essential to smooth prep work since there were so many components to every item! Scenes from the day:

Don’t forget to stop for lunch! I was going at 100 miles/hour; my stomach growled around 3 and I realized I haven’t eaten since breakfast. You need fuel, even if you’re having a little too much fun in the kitchen. :grin:

Finally the guests arrived a little after 8. I had fresh bread ready (kept warm in the oven until they got there). The recipe for the hummus bread comes from my newly acquired King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking cookbook. I made the hummus myself, substituting white beans for chickpeas, and served the rest of the dip alongside the bread. This was my first attempt at making bread and I found the dough difficult to work with and very sticky. It turned out well though. The guests had no idea about my struggles earlier in the day. :)

I also decided to be a little more fancy (you may say “luxurious” lol) by making some roasted garlic and thyme butter (recipe here). I think flavored butter is always a little more special and it’s definitely a very easy way to impress your guests. :grin:

Since I was responsible for making all the dishes, timing was key. I knew the amuse bouche and the entrees will take a bit of time (I needed them fresh out of the oven!) so I plated the salad when the guests arrived but didn’t serve it right away. About 15 minutes into dinner, everyone got their own pre-portioned salad.

My inspiration for the salad was the one we had at Zuzu just days prior. I actually had Anne Burrelle’s raw artichoke salad recipe saved for months and thought it would be a great base for the salad. Unfortunately, baby artichokes and me just don’t get along (they didn’t shave properly – I was getting tiny flakes that just looked messy) so I gave up on them pretty early on. The shaved artichokes were pretty much a garnish in the salad at the end (each person maybe got 1 artichoke’s worth – if that). The salad was very well balanced, though – peppery arugula, sharp cheese, nutty pine nuts and a rich finish of truffle oil. I was pretty happy to see everyone clearing their plates (including veggie haters). [She pats herself on the back ;) ]

While Adam was being a good host, I had to get back to business. I prepped the amuse bouche prior to everyone’s arrival but the little cups still needed to bake. The pork chops were also stuffed and wrapped but needed to bake.

The side dishes were made while everyone else was chatting up. I was all business (and yes, the kitchen was quite the mess at this point). :mrgreen:

Hey, look what just came out of the oven!

Puff pastry cups with creamy mushrooms, thyme and peas. The stuffing recipe was based on this one (I subbed ham for peas). I made my own “cups” by slicing a sheet of puff pastry dough into 9 squares, rolling it out and stuffing it into the muffin pan. So rich and buttery. A nice segway from salad to the main course if I do say so myself. :)

In 15 minutes or so, everything else came together (and the chocolate cakes were ready to go in the oven). I served the stuffed pork chops to each guest individually (the recipe is exactly like this one but I used pork chops instead of pork tenderloin, baking the chops covered with wet parchment paper for 15 minutes and then uncovered for 10). The sides were served family-style.

Haricots verts with wild mushrooms and hazelnuts (recipe from The best of Cooking Light 9, special edition)

… and roasted cauliflower (recipe here)

A little more wine, please. Thank you. :)

Check out the pork cross-section. Mmm, goat cheese and pecans. Yum!

I especially loved the wild mushrooms soaked in the delicious red wine vinegar and EVOO dressing. Liz and I were picking them out of the large dish towards the end of the night. Hey, we’re still at home and we’re all friends (no need to be too fancy)! ;)

No meal is complete without a fantastic dessert. This one definitely fit the bill!

The cake was based on this recipe (I baked them in my popover pan) and was just seriously mind-blowing. It tasted rich and decadent – the way a chocolate dessert should be. The butter pecan ice cream with candied bacon had the perfect cooling effect (ice cream base was a Ben & Jerry’s recipe, candied bacon recipe came from here). I decided to do the bacon twist to make this dessert just a little different. It added a nice sweet-salty component to the ice cream and was delicious although I think Ben & Jerry’s butter pecan ice cream is perfect on its own (so I actually wouldn’t mess with it next time).

What a meal! Happy bellies always makes for happy guests!

This was definitely the most involved, most luxurious meal I’ve ever made. My feet were burning by the end of the night (I was literally going non-stop for 12 hours!) but I wouldn’t change a thing. Being in the kitchen makes me happy and once in a while it’s fun to take it up a notch and make it fancy (yet still mostly healthy!).

What does a luxury dinner mean to you?

PFB C#2: Taste of Singapore in my Boston home

Thanks to all of your votes on my first challenge post for Project Food Blog, I got to advance to the next round. Thank you so much again – I definitely could not have done it without you!! :grin:

As expected, this competition is forcing me to grow as a cook and a blogger and the second challenge already forced me to step out of my comfort zone. That was literally the requirement! What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right? … Or maybe at least gets you brownie points with the judges? ;)

The challenge was simple – cook a classic dish from a foreign cuisine that takes you completely outside of your comfort zone, and make it as authentic as possible. I’d like to think that I’m not too afraid to try new things and have been quite adventurous in my little kitchen and while dining out. And yet, I knew exactly what I’ve been avoiding to make at home. For those of you who’ve seen the Julie and Julia movie, remember when Julie tries to boil lobsters and her husband starts singing “lobster killah, lobster killah”? Yeah, that’s what immediately came to mind. I love lobster but leave it up to Adam to do the cooking part. There is just something about a live creature being dunked in hot water that doesn’t sit well with me. And then there are those recipes that have you chop them cross wise with a giant knife while still alive. Yikes. Definitely outside of my comfort zone… way outside of my comfort zone. :shock:

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All right, so now we know my limits, but what did I want to make? Chilli crab. Chilli crab is Singapore’s national dish – it was literally created because Singapore didn’t have one. And it’s quite simple (at least in theory) – crabs are stir-fried in a semi-thick, sweet and savory tomato and chilli based sauce and are often served with rolls or French bread. The dish has been in the forefront of my mind for the past few weeks given Top Chef’s finale was filmed in Singapore. I couldn’t help but reminisce of our amazing trip there last winter. The meal at the No Signboard Seafood restaurant where we tried chilli crab was unforgettable. And yet, up until this challenge, I never considered making it at home as much as I wanted to have just one more taste of one of the most delicious (and messiest!) meals of my life. Because well, there was this whole cooking whole crab-thing that stood in the way. Not exactly my forte.

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Apparently a lot of Americans agree with me. Finding whole crabs was quite the challenge. A trip to several traditional groceries stores produced nothing better than frozen crab legs. Nope, not gonna cut it. Luckily, I thought of checking one more spot – an Asian supermarket not too far away. Score! They had several varieties of crab but whole crabs were all alive. I guess it was time to face my fears full-on.

I did a lot of research for recipes. If I was going to go through the trouble of recreating chilli crab, it better taste good! I chose this recipe because it had chilli sauce and shrimp paste and the dish I tried specifically mentioned these two ingredients in the description. I picked up most of the ingredients at the Asian grocery store as well, although surprisingly, there weren’t too many “funky” ingredients involved.

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I par-boiled the crabs for 4 minutes before stir frying them with the sauce. Many recipes said to chop them up right away and just throw them in with the sauce (and stir-fry until ready) but I didn’t have a cleaver and my knife definitely couldn’t handle this job. Plus, in all honesty, I really don’t know if I could even do that. I’m sure from my facial expressions in all the pictures, you can conclude that I was outside of my comfort zone as is.

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Once the crabs were cooked a little, I was a bit more at ease. I rinsed them under cool water so that they’d be easier to handle.

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Sorry, buddy, your time has come. I was actually shaking for a few minutes. I think it’s the eyes. Once I turned them over and realized the legs were actually falling off on their own, things moved more smoothly. I mean, I eat lobster and in that sense, it’s quite similar.

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Everything came together very quickly. The sauce developed and thickened in just a few minutes and then we were ready to dig in.

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Some Asian steamed buns were perfect for soaking up all the sauce.

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And yes, this was messy, VERY messy. Even though it didn’t taste exactly like the chilli crab we had before, it took me right back to our meal at the No Signboard Seafood. I’m sure there are hundreds of variations to this national dish. I’m so glad I overcame my fears and was able to have a little taste of Singapore right in my Boston home. :)

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What dish is outside of your comfort zone?

PS – I’m in San Francisco right now (I cooked this right before we left just in case :) ). I’ll be back in a few days with a full recap. We’re having a blast despite the fact that I got a crazy cold right before we left.

PPS – If you enjoy this blog and my second challenge entry, PLEASE vote for me (follow the widget link on the top left or go here). 200 challengers will advance to the next round so you can vote for your favorite 200 bloggers at this stage! Thank you so much again. I can’t advance without your votes so please do it now! :)

PFB C#1: Let’s get real!

A few months back, I received an email from my blog sponsor, Foodbuzz, announcing a new food blogging competition soon to be featured – Project Food Blog. There were no details at this point, the only thing I knew is that the winner got a cash prize of $10,000. Pretty sweet, right? I entered my name and forgot about it. And then last month I found out the rules. There are 10 elimination challenges, nearly 2,000 bloggers competing and only 1 winner. There is so much pressure! :shock: I know the odds are against me but I decided that self doubt is not productive. Sometimes it’s more about the journey than the destination. I know the challenges will push me outside of my comfort zone and will hopefully make me a stronger blogger if nothing else. Just creating my profile involved some soul searching.  And now we’re here… the first challenge is to write a post that defines me as a food blogger and makes it clear why I think I have what it takes to be the next food blog star. Pretty heavy stuff, no? I was going in circles, trying to pick my “angle”…

And then I wrote a post that came from my heart. A post about my recent struggles with weight gain and how I plan to tackle this problem. And I got the most overwhelming response (seriously guys, I was deeply touched by every comment – you are amazing!!!!) and it was all clear to me. Nearly every one of you said how refreshing it was to see such a raw and relatable post and how my honesty is what keeps bringing you back (I think some beautiful food pictures help though – amiright? :lol: ). I am a real woman, with a real passion for food and a seemingly conflicting desire to be fit and thin. There are days when I stress eat (like so many of us do!). And there are days when something as simple as a whole grain mustard, fresh fig and prosciutto sandwich makes my heart flutter and I can appreciate the beauty in food… and I feel so far from the person that mindlessly shoves handfuls after handfuls of almonds while watching tv (and getting sick afterwords). It’s so complicated sometimes, isn’t it?

I started Healthy and Sane nearly two years ago to document my food as I tried to lose some weight. I believed in balancing healthy home-cooked meals (Healthy) with more indulgent treats out (Sane). Now I’m back to weight loss mode and I plan on taking the same approach. There will be no “dieting.” Food is so much more than just fuel.  I love food. Food is my hobby, my passion, my pass-time. I love to plan meals, grocery shop, peruse the farmers markets, read cookbooks, magazines and food blogs, and then of course cook and EAT. I love thinking about food, tasting food, and getting inspired by food. Enjoying a fantastic meal out with my husband is our favorite “activity” together. I can’t let a restrictive diet take such a large part of my life away. That means that despite a few pesky pounds I’m currently sporting around my midriff, you will continue to see on this blog a lot of recipes, restaurant reviews and possibly even more videos. Some meals will be healthy, some will be a little more indulgent – my promise is that they will all be delicious and there really is room for both… even while trying to lose weight. It’s possible. I’ll show you! :) [And I will not pretend it's all easy either. It's not. Let's get real!]

Now seriously, how gorgeous is this sandwich?

Thank you all for reading. I feel like more than ever, I have an amazing support system that will be key to my success.

PS – Voting for entrees has opened. Please please please vote for me HERE (you can vote for up to 400 bloggers – every vote counts!).

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