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**So I’ve been very busy the past few months and realized I haven’t updated in a loooong time.  This is evidence of that.  I found a draft I never finished.  Instead of posting the recipes (since they’re not at all healthy) I’m just going to post it as a brag about how awesome B is.  If you’re interested in any of the specific recipes let me know and I’ll post them.**

B has always been very lucky in terms of Valentine’s Day obligations: he only has to say “Happy Valentine’s Day.”  This is because my birthday is only two days prior so we usually have a nice dinner out, etc. that day.  This is also because the first year we were dating, we decided to celebrate this holiday with a dinner out at a nice Italian restaurant in Chambersburg (a neighborhood in Trenton, NJ).  Reservations for 2 at 7:30pm, check.  We arrived and the place was wall to wall people.  It was like being in a hot bar at midnight (I am not an anchovy in a can!).  We also didn’t get seated until 8:30pm.  This was the beginning of the end of our Valentine’s Day celebrations.  Six years later, B decides that he wants to make me a feast for Valentine’s Day.  Let me tell you, he puts me to shame.  What follows are  the meals and pictures associated with said feast.   This is definitely not a diet friendly meal but worked for me since I’m in maintenance now.  Adjustments could be made for the sake of making the dish healthier (reduce butter, replace with something else) but I would be you would really lose something in terms of taste.  As the main reviewer of this meal, I can say that it made me think B needs a new career as a stay at home husband/personal chef.

Course 1: Arugula Salad with Broiled Goat Cheese and Crostini

Course 2: Seared Sea Scallops and Brown Butter Lobster Risotto

Course 3: Chocolate Souffle with Strawberry Sauce and Whipped Mascarpone Cream

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One of the (many) things B has taught me about food over the years is that broccoli on sandwiches can be delicious.  This lesson was passed on by through B from his grandfather.  His grandfather was a very good cook, even though he used a lot of oil in everything.  He used to send a batch of broccoli rabe out to B (and, in effect, me).  With this, B introduced me to broccoli and provolone sandwiches.

I had never been introduced to broccoli rabe let alone broccoli rabe sandwiches.  I was hooked.  When we stopped getting that shipment we started experimenting with making it ourselves.  One thing we cut back on was the amount of oil (see above comment).  As B started eating meat again after we got engaged, we starting incorporating chicken, roasted long-hot peppers, and other things into these sandwiches.  When B’s parents came to visit we decided to treat them to these sandwiches for lunch on their last day here.  We decided to match them with homemade herb crusted fries with basil and roasted garlic mayo.  This side dish was inspired by the frites at Park Brugge, which are matched with roasted garlic mayo, and at Point Brugge, which include basil mayo, restaurants in the Highland Park and Point Breeze neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, respectively.  I’m not going to post this recipe because it was essentially all the taste.  The basic steps are: cut potatoes, coat with herbs to taste, bake for a while, then sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and broil for a short while; roast garlic, cut basil, combine mayo, basil, and roasted garlic to taste, add salt to taste.

Chicken and Broccoli Rabe Sandwiches
(Makes 6 sandwiches)

6 sub/hoagie rolls (semi-soft)
1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch broccoli rabe
1/2 cup roasted red peppers
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
12-14 Chicken Tenders (1 Quorn naked chi’ken cutlets for the non-meat eater)
1 block/wedge of sharp provolone cheese

(1) In a large pot, bring water to a boil.  Add broccoli rabe to boiling water and boil for approximately 3-4 minutes.   Prepare a bowl of ice water and blanch broccoli rabe after removing from boiling water.  Set aside.

(2) Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare chicken tenders by making sure they are very dry and then seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.  In a large pan, add 1 tbsp of olive oil and saute garlic.  Sear chicken tenders approximately 3-4 minutes on each side.  Place chicken tenders in a baking pan sprayed with non-stick spray and finish chicken in oven for approximately 10-15 minutes or until juices run clear (For Quorn, just sear the cutlet).

(3) In a large pan, saute remaining olive oil, garlic, roasted red peppers, and salt and pepper to taste.  Add broccoli rabe and saute for an additional 4-5 minutes.

(4) To serve, add broccoli rabe over chicken on the sub/hoagie roll.  Top with shaved sharp provolone cheese to taste.

I recently got started on Pintrest.  Honestly, I really enjoy it because it saves me from having an overcrowded bookmark folder since I have always done “..aaaand bookmark” when I found something I liked/was interested in.  During my Pintrest endeavors I have learned a few things (all somewhat related to food, so it counts for this blog!):

(1) I am the only person on the planet that does not know how to take professional looking pictures

I mean seriously.  Do people not take bad pictures of food/DIY items/household items/their hair/their clothes?  It seems like almost every picture people find has the perfect shutter speed (that’s a thing, right?), lighting, and overall “wow” factor.  I’m lucky if the flash works properly so you get an actual picture and not a big white blob.  For once, I’d like someone to take one of those oh-so-unappealing pictures and say “this looks delicious.”  I bet it wouldn’t even get 1 re-pin.  I guess there’s something about having the perfect picture; people are only able to think “this looks delicious” when they see the image of it.   This also leads me to a new plan.  Any disgusting recipe I accidentally make I’m going to take a pro-level picture of it and make it look great.  That’ll show people who know how to take pictures!  I’ll start a new trend to make my style of photography (which focuses on making sure a picture is actually taken) starts to be the norm.  Because seriously people! I can’t afford one of those fancy-shmancy cameras.

(2) I’m not nearly creative enough

Sometimes I think I’m being so creative.  Look at me!  I can combine different recipes and things to make something edible!   I thought one of the most inventive things I ever came up with were these won-ton tacos.  Lo and behold, a recently pinned item are these tac0 cups.  So much for being inventive. Some of the stuff that people come up with just blows my mind.  I found red wine lollipops that I pinned.  I was AMAZED someone was smart enough to come up with it (and I patted myself on the back for finding it).   Apparently, a lot of people agreed with me since a lot of people re-pinned it. And don’t even get me started on the sewing crafts.  Man, just makes me feel more and more inferior. Last week I tried to sew on a button onto my wool jacket.  My mother took one look at it, laughed at me with her eyes, and went on to do it herself.  Thank you Pintrest, for increasing my own feelings of inadequacy.

(3) People sure know how to make it look easy.

Oh you want to do a fishtail braid?! Here you go, here’s a tutorial that only an idiot wouldn’t able to replicate.  Well I’m that idiot.  Seriously, how do you people get hair to do that?!  I think this goes for all these recipes you see on Pintrest too.  Oh look! Here’s a recipe for a baked Alaska and Beef Wellington!  Perfect Valentine’s recipe combination!  What these pins fail to tell you is that you will fail if you don’t know what you’re doing.  And you will fail spectacularly.  From my experiences, learning how to cook was a multi-stage process.  First, you find a recipe you want to make.  You fail spectacularly your first time.  You try same recipe again.  You fail less.  Cooking is about learning how to fail less often and less spectacularly.  As a side note, I believe my “fail” recipe was spaghetti.  I had no idea I was making it wrong until B, who grew up with real Italian food, pointed it out to me.  Apparently, it’s a sin to eat sauce out of a jar (who knew?) and pasta isn’t supposed to be slightly crunchy. *cue music*  The more you know.

*End Pintrest rant*

Pretzel Nuggets

This came about from exposure to the Philly Pretzel Factory, a persistent urge to make it from scratch, and a weekend away with good friends.  B and I decided we wanted to make these pretzel bites to bring to our weekend away in the Poconos for all to snack on.  They were a real hit and were gone within the hour.  I made these two days before we ate them. I stored them in containers and briefly reheated them before serving.  Enjoy!

Soft Pretzels Bites
(Pretzels adapted from Annie’s Eats and Cinnamon Sugar topping from Sophisticated Gourmet)

Ingredients:
For the dough:
1½ cups warm water (110-115° F)
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2¼ tsp. instant yeast
22 oz. all-purpose flour (about 4½ cups)
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for greasing the bowl

For finishing:
Cooking spray
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Pretzel, Kosher, or Sea Salt

Cinnamon Sugar Topping
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons butter

Directions:
To make the dough, combine the water, sugar, salt and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on low speed to dissolve the yeast.  Add in the flour and melted butter and mix just until the dough comes together.  Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and clears the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased with vegetable oil, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.

Divide the dough to make it easier to work with.  Take pieces of each section of the dough and roll into approximately 1 inch balls.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 or 2 at a time, for 30 seconds.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and return to the baking sheet.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.  Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 12-14 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

If using the cinnamon sugar topping:  Skip the step where you sprinkle lightly with salt.  Combine sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl.  Brush melted butter over pretzels.  Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over pretzels.

S’mores Cupcakes

This presented a little bit of a challenge because, first, I don’t eat gelatin (and as a result, don’t eat marshmallows) and, second, none of these recipes we found actually struck either my or B’s fancy.   These were made for a weekend away with a bunch of friends in a house in the Poconos.  We decided we wanted to make a cupcake that was reminiscent of the outdoor experience (even though we were inside in the warmth).  This recipe is a combination of a number of different ones:  I got the graham cracker cupcake recipe from here, the recipe for the chocolate cupcakes from here, and the chocolate marshmallow frosting from here.  We decided we wanted to replicate the “s’mores experience’ by making a triple layer cupcake filled with marshmallow creme. One thing I learned by making another multi-layer cupcake (the dark and stormy cupcakes) is that its very, very easy to add too much and cause the cupcakes to overflow.  Be VERY CAREFUL about how much batter you add into the tins.  This was a little bit of trial and error for me as I did these s’mores cupcakes to make sure that I had the right amount to add into the cupcake tins.

S’mores Cupcakes

Cupcakes

Graham Cracker Batter
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 15 whole crackers ground in processor)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup skim milk

Chocolate Batter

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick ) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup reduced fat sour cream

Frosting and Filling

2 – 7 oz jar marshmallow cream
3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar, or to taste
3 oz Hersey’s chocolate, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tbsp butter flavored shortening
1/4 cup half-and-half, or as needed

Instructions
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 standard muffin cups with paper liners.   First, prepare the graham cracker cupcakes:

  1. Whisk graham crumbs, flour, baking powder, and pinch of salt in a medium bowl. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat in vanilla. Add graham-cracker mixture in 3 parts alternating with the milk (in 2 parts), beginning and ending with graham-cracker mixture. Divide batter into two parts.

Next, we will work on the chocolate cupcake component:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a standing mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Stir in the vanilla.
  3. Sprinkle 1/3 of the flour mixture into the mixing bowl and mix until just combined. Add half of the sour cream, mixing until just combined. Repeat, alternating the remaining flour in 2 more additions with the remaining sour cream in one more addition (ending on flour).

In lined cupcake pan, first add a layer of the graham cracker cupcake batter (approximately 1-2 tbsps) using one part of the batter you have divided.

Next, put the chocolate cupcake batter (approx 1-2 tbsp) on top of this. Make sure to spread out the chocolate batter so it bakes evenly.

Finally, use the second part of the graham cracker batter and add the top layer of graham cracker (approx 1-2 tbsp). Bake approximately 20 minutes or until the tester comes out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before icing.

Once cupcakes are cooled, use an apple corer or similar instrument (I actually used a grapefruit spoon. Work with what you’ve got, right?).  Reserve the top of the piece of cupcake you have removed (so what would have been on the top of the cupcake).  Fill the hole in the cupcake with Fluff.  Repeat for each cupcake.

For icing:

Combine 1-7 oz container of Fluff, two-thirds of the confectioners’ sugar, melted chocolate, shortening, and half of the half-and-half in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Alternately add remaining confectioners’ sugar and half-and-half until desired level of sweetness and consistency is attained. (Note: We ended up making the icing too liquid-y but did not want to make it any sweeter.  B used cornstarch to thicken the icing and it did not influence the taste).

Shrimp Sandwiches

B and I were planning on having delicious, unhealthy lunch from Taco Bell.  We talked ourselves out of that and decided to do something healthier.  We started talking about shrimp po’boys and decided to make a healthier version.  We used a lot of Old Bay so make sure you reduce the amount if you don’t like it that spicy/salty.

Shrimp Po’Boy Sandwich
1 serving, approx 8 Weight Watchers PP per serving

Sandwich
1 Hoagie Roll
5-7 Shrimp, deshelled and deveined
1 tbsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 tbsp bread crumbs

Remoulade
1/4 cup fat free mayonnaise (I used Miracle Whip)
1 tsp spicy brown mustard
2 tsp dijon mustard
1/4 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Coat defrosted shrimp with Old Bay seasoning, bread crumbs, and pepper.  Coat a pan with non-stick spray.  Saute shrimp for approximately 4-5 minutes.  Mix all of the ingredients together for the remoulade.  Spread remoulade on the sub/hoagie roll.  Place shrimp on roll with tomato slices and lettuce.

As part of New Year’s Eve and day, B and I have a tradition to eat extremely decadent food to end and start the year on a good note.  For New Year’s Eve day, we made: Parmesan crusted goat cheese ball with basil oil (I didn’t strain the oil like she did in this recipe though); an arugula salad with cherries, gouda, and pralines with a dijon mustard dressing; and lobster ravioli (we used the fake lobster instead of steaming and cleaning them).  It started out as being a dinner I was going to make for B, but given my terrible time management, it ended up mostly a dinner made by B for me.  The goat cheese was great, nice and light and a good way to start the meal.

The arugula salad was also great.  The sweetness of the pralines and cherries with the sharpness of the gouda and dressing was great.  We actually used two types of gouda since I had gone to our local supermarket and B had gone to Whole Foods to get some herbs they didn’t have at the other supermarket.  We used smoked gouda (I got that) and a very aged gouda (B got that).  The aged gouda was different from anything I had ever seen; it was a hard cheese and was very similar to Parmesan. It was, however, absolutely delicious (but I’m a cheese girl).

The ravioli was the biggest endeavor.  We made the dough from scratch and rolled it out.  We tried to use our ravioli attachment but, alas, that was not meant to be.  For some reason we just cannot make ravioli.  They either don’t come out filled enough, get stuck in the machine, or are just off.  One of these days we’ll learn the trick.

For New Years day we planned to eat french onion soup and beer steamed mussels.  I spent most of the day curled in the fetal position on the couch due to the champagne and beer imbibed the night before so B enjoyed the soup day of (I had made it ahead of time) and made the mussels for us (I helped a bit since I had become more human by that point).  I calculated the Weight Watchers Points Plus for the soup; it made seven servings and were 3 PP per serving without the bread and gruyère cheese.

B said that this mussels recipe was the best we had made to this point.  We have previously made a fennel recipe and the standard one with white wine.  This was the first time we did it with beer.  The mussel’s recipe was built off of something online that we had found that I cannot find now (go figure).  It was very simple.  We basically did garlic, onion, chopped tomato, and beer to taste.  We also added some thyme since we had it leftover from the lobster ravioli.  We figured, its mussels, you can’t really go wrong.

All in all, a good end to 2011 and beginning to 2012, which will be very, very eventful for both B and I.