Oh Rhubarb, How do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!

freshrhubarb

Only something as amazing as seeing fresh rhubarb on the grocery store shelf could pull me out of my month-long blog hiatus to write. Not that I haven’t wanted to write! It’s just that I started a new job which has consumed even the illusion of having free time, so both the cooking and the blogging has fallen by the wayside. Until now. When I saw those long red stalks from across the produce section, I literally did a happy dance and Mr. Foodie looked on in amusement as I scooped armfuls of the glorious plant into our cart. I’m only slightly ashamed to say that I took every last one. Rhubarb season is short. Too short for my desiring heart. 

When I see rhubarb, like most people, I remember pie. But not just any pie—my grandmother’s pie. As a midwestern transplant to California, my grandma would frequently serve forth this delicious treat. I liked it better than any pie I’d ever tasted. I found the tart fruit a perfect compliment to the buttery, flaky pie crust and the light sweetness of the added sugar. For some reason, I always look for rhubarb in the weeks prior to Easter. I’m not sure why I expect it to be there. Maybe I remember eating it around Easter time? In any case, April is too early in the season for rhubarb stalks, but I look for it just the same. Apparently, growing rhubarb in one’s yard is so common in the midwest that grocery stores don’t even carry it in spring! #gardeningoals

Since I was lucky enough to catch it this year before it disappeared from the shelves, I wanted to find other uses for this delicious treat. The first thing I tried was a topping for pancakes—a well-explored subject on this blog for sure. That being said, I outdid myself with the rhubarb topping. The first time you encounter rhubarb, you might be intimidated. It looks like celery and may have either strange green claws on either end or wide leaves attached. First, discard any leaves because they are very toxic. Second, go ahead and chop off the little claws. You’ll notice the red “skin” *can* be peeled off the stalk, but why lose the beautiful red color? It’s perfectly edible. For the topping, dice up the stalk like you would a celery stalk for a pasta sauce. I used enough stalks for four cups worth. dicedrhubarb

Add two tablespoons of butter and 1/2 Cup of sugar to the pan. Cook over medium heat until the rhubarb stalks soften and the mixture resembles a compote. That’s it! Pour it on pancakes, spread it on toast, eat it with a spoon out of the jar – you’ll have a hard time stopping yourself, I promise you!

rhubarbpancake (1)

Mr. Foodie and I, of course, made the traditional two-crust rhubarb pie, but we also dabbled with a rhubarb crisp – minus the strawberries because I did not want to dilute the gorgeous rhubarb flavor. Unfortunately I did not get any pictures of these due to the over-quick consumption by friends and family (and Mr. Foodie) lol. There were other recipes I wanted to try, but I only had enough stalks to try a small experiment with rhubarb simple syrup. Just dice up two stalks, add to one cup water and one cup sugar, cook for about 20 minutes on low heat until sugar is dissolved. Strain, and add to a clear liquor of your choice. In this case, I used vodka and a splash of prosecco for some bubbles. I added sliced strawberries more for garnish than anything. It was delicious!

rhubarbcocktail

Do you have any other rhubarb recipes?! I’d love to know for next year’s rhubarb stash! For more foodie adventures, follow us on instagram @fairfaxfoodie

Spring Break #Goals and Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

IMG_20170402_140521_353.jpg

Mr. Foodie and I are officially on spring break! Woot! Well we still have work to do, but we decided to utilize this spare time to also work on some projects we’ve been putting off since the wedding. First, I officially became Mrs. Azar today! It only took two plus hours at the social security office, but here I am – newly wed and newly named. We celebrated by having lunch at the grocery store because shopping for groceries when you are ravenous is never a good idea. My first meal as an Azar? Indian food! Oddly, Mr. Foodie had never even tried Indian food before meeting me. Or crab legs, artichokes, and thai food. He gave me his name and I gave him only the best food in existence lol

Our other spring break goals include a major deep clean of the home. We did a pretty good job before we moved to have our fl keys adventure, but a deep clean is a good idea at least once a year. And why not do it during spring when you can leave the windows open? Our cleaning goals include a cat bath, so Onyx is in for a treat. We also plan to work out every day – something we started doing roughly every other day a few weeks ago. I’ve noticed a huge difference in my energy levels. It seems to help with stress as well. I’m just happy I can get through 30 minutes of yoga again without wanting to die.

20170402_140548.jpg

We also, of course, have some cooking projects for the week, but honestly we are pulling back on ambitious cooking a bit so we can focus on these other things that we’ve wanted to accomplish for what seems like a long post-wedding while. Easter *is* coming up though, so you can be sure there will be some delicious eats in our future.

Before spring break started, I promised my students that I’d bring chocolate chip cookies in as a treat. These are the kinds of kids that are used to being bribed for everything, so I was careful not to attach the treat to some kind of reward for doing what they’re supposed to be doing. It went pretty well. These cookies are my grandma’s recipe which looks very similar to the basic one on the back of any chocolate chip bag, except in two really big ways: 1) Grandma uses shortening instead of butter and 2) We use half the amount of chocolate chips.

These might seem like tiny adjustments to an otherwise common recipe, but for me, they make a huge difference. In the first place, using shortening will give you a chewier, more cake-like cookie which is my preference. In the second place, I do not have a huge sweet tooth (unlike Mr. Foodie), so I like my cookies to be semi-sweet or salty-sweet. Reducing the number of chips in the cookie lets the buttery (slightly salty) flavor of the cookie dough shine alongside the sweet/bitter chips.

20170402_140619.jpg

I remember visiting a friend in Germany and having her produce a box of “American” chocoloate chip cookies – each one was packed to the gills with chocolate chips, and I just laughed, offering to make her my version. Even one of my students was like “Ms. Ravy, did you make sugar cookies AND chocolate chip cookies?” Because some look like they don’t have any chips in them. They gobbled them up just the same and were somewhat shocked when I told them that I made them from scratch.

Mr. Foodie was over the moon when I made these, of course, but most of them went to my colleagues, students, and extended family. I like making baked goods and giving them away – and not just because I’m trying to be healthy. My preference for baked things is to have a taste right out of the oven, when it is still a bit warm and fresh, and then gift the rest. That small, simple experience is ephemeral in nature, and so it seems more valuable than shoveling week old cookies into my mouth while I’m watching netflix.

Grandma’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 C Shortening

3/4 C Brown Sugar

3/4 C Sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 C flour (more/less depending on texture)

water (as needed)

Semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (to taste)

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. Mix together the shortening, both sugars, and eggs. Add vanilla, salt, and soda – mix. Add flour 1 cup at a time until the dough forms – it should not be too wet or sticky, but if it ends up too stiff, add a little water as necessary. Add the chips in last and mix until just combined. The amount depends on your taste – 1/4 of a bag works for me in this recipe, but you can also eyeball it. Using a regular spoon, scoop a meatball-sized bunch of dough and put on a lined sheet pan. Keep some space between the cookies since they will spread a bit while baking. Baking time can be between 8 and 11 minutes depending on the size of your cookies, the type of sheet pan you are using, and how hot your oven gets/stays. My rule is to keep an eye on the edges – once they turn brown, pop them out, let them rest and then put them on a drying rack until completely cool. If you let the cookies get totally brown, they will be tasty for a few hours and then get as hard as bricks (but my grandpa actually prefers them that way, so to each their own) 😛

For more foodie adventures, follow us on Instagram @fairfaxfoodie

Taking a Little Thyme: Lemon-Thyme Cake

20170326_155857.jpg

The other day Mr. Foodie surprised me after a bad day with a little thyme plant for our wall herb planter. So luckily we had it on hand today after I received the bad news that my former laptop would never again turn on. Yes, our bad luck streak continues (seriously, did we step on a mirror somewhere?). Even more annoying than losing the laptop was the big dent (haha, see last week’s posts) in my productivity. I planned on spending a lot of time checking things off my list. I did not plan on spending hundreds of dollars to replace a stupid laptop. But a little Sunday baking (and laptop shopping) does wonders for the weary soul. Mr. Foodie’s thoughtfulness came in handy, and so we made this lemon-thyme cake bread.

I seriously adore anything that showcases lemons. Is there anything better than a lemon? They work well in savory and sweet dishes. They are incredibly fragrant, excellent as a cleaning agent, delightful in cocktails, and one of the happiest colors on earth. Our next urban gardening project has got to be a lemon tree!

20170326_155836.jpg

I am especially excited about lemon in baked goods. Remember those lemon cookies we made? This is the loaf cake version of those with even the same lemon-sugar glaze for the top. The addition of thyme in this not only adds a little color drama, but also a punch of herby flavor that pairs so well with the sweetness of the powdered sugar and tartness of the lemon. Thyme reminds me of oregano, but more subtle and delicate. Because it is not an herb I would usually buy, it being more rare than other herbs in the recipes I use, I did a little research on it. Apparently thyme has medicinal properties. It was also traditionally used to give courage and ward off nightmares. Sounds like the perfect little darling for the week we are having.

Mr. Foodie can attest to the fact that I got a little woe-is-me for a second while clutching my new laptop in my arms on the car ride home, but after following the rabbit hole in my mind of all the worst possible resonances of this absurd week for our future selves, I relaxed. Mr. Foodie made me laugh. And then we took a little time to bake a lemon cake.

20170326_155755.jpg

Here is the recipe as it appears on Taste of Home*

(*Note: I recommend baking on the longer end of the range even if you have a hot oven – we usually take out baked goods earlier than called for, but this time we needed to bake longer so the top/middle cooked through all the way. It will remind you of banana bread a little – looks done bc of the browned sides, but still needs time more in the middle)

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • GLAZE:
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

  • 1. In a microwave-safe bowl, combine milk and thyme. Microwave, uncovered, on high 1-2 minutes or until bubbly; cover and let stand until cooled to room temperature.
  • 2. Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture alternately with reserved milk mixture. Stir in lemon juice and peel.
  • 3. Pour into a greased 9×5-in. loaf pan. Bake 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.
  • 4. In a small bowl, combine glaze ingredients until smooth; drizzle over bread.Yield: 1 loaf (16 slices).

Nutritional Facts

1 slice: 187 calories, 7g fat (4g saturated fat), 43mg cholesterol, 92mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate (17g sugars, 0 fiber), 3g protein.

Pulled Pork BBQ and Skillet Cornbread + Pie for Pi Day!

20170314_193050.jpg

So Mr. Foodie and I got to enjoy an unexpected snow day yesterday 🙂 Paradoxically, we had planned a dinner designed for being gone at work all day – crockpot pork bbq! As you know, we are trying to utilize our wedding presents in our cooking, so when Mr. Foodie spotted a huge pork shoulder at the grocery store last weekend, he pounced on it and quickly decided the optimal way to cook this massive thing was in the crockpot on low for 9 hours. I decided to take another stab at cornbread, and, this time, to use our new cast-iron pan. Since we popped the pork in early that morning, we had some time to break out Splendor – one of our favorite table games – and mid-game  I discovered (thanks so social media) that it was Pi day! So, of course, I had to make a pie as well 🙂  With all this glorious food we had to have someone over to share it, so my mother and my aunt joined us – thankfully because this really is WAY too much food for two people. We sent them home with leftovers also.

20170314_193101.jpg

The Pork

If you feel intimidated by an entire pork shoulder – don’t! It looks scary with the huge layer of fat on top and the big bone in the middle, but a little prep is all you need to turn this thing into the best bbq pulled pork you’ve ever eaten. Mr. Foodie handled the pork prep while I made the spice rub. To begin, trim the fat off the shoulder with a sharp knife, slicing in a downward motion and pulling the fat away from the meat as you go. Make a bed of diced onions and garlic for the bottom of the crockpot. The spice rub was super simple – salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne. I didn’t do measurements, but basically, you should have an approximate ratio of 1 salt, 1/2 pepper, 1/3 garlic powder, and 1/4 cayenne – make enough to cover the shoulder. Rub the shoulder with a spice rub, then set the shoulder on the bed of veggies. Pour in 1/2 Cup of water (this is so you don’t crack the crockpot bowl when it heats up). Start on high for 2 hours, then low for 9-12 hours (use a meat thermometer towards the end of cooking to make sure it is safe. Once it is cooked, drain, discard the bone, and shred the meat with two forks – it should pull apart nicely. Cover with your choice of bbq sauce (see ours below) and set to “warm” until you are ready to serve. Mr. Foodie also diced up a small onion and included it with the bbq sauce for a little texture and additional flavor (don’t worry, the onion cooks up a bit so it isn’t totally raw and you can omit this step if you don’t care for onions). The meat was so tender and juicy – low and slow really is the best way to make pulled pork. And I did notice a difference between making it myself and eating pulled pork from the store – our version is less salty and not as tough and stringy as pre-made pulled pork is usually. And you can’t beat the value! We spent $15 on the shoulder which is a lot for a meat purchase, but it made a TON of pulled pork. We gave a bunch away and will still have plenty for leftovers tonight.

BBQ Sauce – Homemade

While the pork was cooking, we made the sauce. I’ve written before about the formula for a basic bbq sauce. Mr. Foodie and I eyeballed it entirely this time, and I’m afraid we were not writing down exactly how much of everything we were putting in. That being said, you should definitely try experimenting with your sauce! When experimenting, keep the golden rule in mind – you can always add, but you can’t subtract, so go easy on the various ingredients – you can always add more if you need to. We started with a basic ketchup, brown sugar, Worcester sauce, salt, pepper, vinegar concoction. We ended up adding garlic powder and hot sauce to our version. I kept testing it (since my palette is a little better than Mr. Foodie’s) to get the right balance of salt, sweet, tart, and spicy – once I was satisfied, we refrigerated it until the pork was done. Let me tell you, it turned the already amazingly delicious pork into the best pulled pork we’ve ever had. I wish I had written down what we were doing so I could replicate it easily –  next time, readers, next time! In any case, it was the perfect amount of sauce (we don’t like it smothering the good meat) and it was a delectable flavor!

20170314_193056.jpg

Skillet Cornbread – Basic

For this, I just used the recipe from the Food Network with no alterations. Since it was my first time using the skillet for this purpose, I wanted to follow the instructions exactly. It turned out okay, but I felt it could be better. It had an okay texture, but the flavor needed some punching up. Covered in some butter and honey, it was fine. Next time I might add some fresh corn or something. I know cornbread is one of those things that is easily bought at the store and largely tastes the same everywhere, but I really want to find a recipe that rocks Mr. Foodie’s socks for our bbq nights 🙂 If you do have a cornbread recipe that you like, please send it my way!

20170314_201452.jpg

Apple Pie w/ homemade crust

For this, I just used the apples I had in my fridge – you can really use any apples you like, but I do recommend that they at least be firm and slightly tart for the best results. For this filling, I peeled and sliced up the apples – a total of 5 medium sized ones –  squeezed lemon juice and orange juice over them, and sprinkled 1/2 cup sugar and 1 T cinnamon on them. I made my usual pie crust (Ina’s version). Let me tell you, readers, I almost threw this crust across the room yesterday. I made the crust exactly as I always make it, and chilled it for a good amount of time, but when I went to roll it out on the counter, it kept breaking at the edges and sticking no matter how much flour I used. It took both Mr. Foodie and I using hands, spatulas, and super-human will to get the f***ing crust into the pan. Normally, I roll it up on the pin, and gently unroll it into the pan -voila! But not yesterday. I don’t know if the kitchen was too hot, the counter was too warm, the fridge wasn’t cooling properly. I was at my wit’s end. We got it into the pan and I pressed it in to get it to fit, put the broken pieces over the holes, tried to make the top look somewhat normal. It could (very charitably) be described as “rustic,” but to me, it looked like a heaping mess. I’m sharing this little meltdown with you because I want you to know that even people like us who cook all the time face situations in the kitchen which are so. damn. frustrating. Even more so, perhaps, than normal because we are relatively used to things going our way in the kitchen. I’ve made this crust a million times! And yet this time it chose to torture me. The other reason I’m sharing it is because even though it was difficult to get into the pan and not the ideal thickness thanks to my patch job, it ended up tasting wonderful. My dinner guests loved it. Remember what’s important, dear readers 🙂

So that was our fun snow day! What did you end up doing? For more peeks at what Mr. Foodie and I are up to, check us out on Instagram @fairfaxfoodie

 

Irish Soda Bread

20170310_191623.jpg

I’ve heard before that the world breaks down into two kinds of people. Those who like to be taken care of when they are sick and those who do not. I am squarely in the second camp. At least I was until Mr. Foodie came along. The first major head cold I suffered, he was right there, making me tea with honey and restocking my bedside tissues. Somehow, I didn’t mind that he was seeing me in this vulnerable state, and somehow I started to like his quiet doting. Mr. Foodie was down for the count earlier tonight, having broken the new house rule to never ever purchase hot food from 7-Eleven. Sometimes he forgets he doesn’t have the stomach (or the metabolism) of a 20-year-old anymore. In any case, he was doubled up with stabbing pains and unable to find a comfortable position. I flapped around uselessly, offering him water and aspirin and trying to shove pillows in strategic places. I admit I am not inherently the best caregiver. As a former person who would rather hole up when sick instead of accepting help, I find I am sometimes stingy with sympathy and attention when it comes to illness. I remember being anxious about it before Mr. Foodie first fell ill. I worried that he had been babied by his loving mother and would expect similar treatment from me. It turns out, when you do genuinely love someone, you do not mind caring for them when they are sick. Mr. Foodie is fairly stoic when he is ill, so that helps.

Today, however, I felt like the QUEEN of caregiving after I baked this new recipe! I had already planned on making a recipe from the Ellis Island cookbook that I received as a gift a while back, but it came in super handy on this particular night. After Mr. Foodie’s stomach pains subsided, he had no appetite and was afraid to even try to eat anything. Except for my soda bread. I gave him little pieces, one at a time, until he started feeling even better. This will surprise no one who understands the magic of baking soda, but the bread helped settle his stomach and eventually brought back his appetite.

Additionally, it was delicious! This particular recipe was sent in for the Ellis Island cookbook project by a woman who described her mother as one of the most warm-hearted caregivers in the world. She was always hitting the pavement to raise funds for the community, bring turkey dinners to families in need, or welcome new Irish immigrants home with her for some cabbage. I felt a wave of gratitude pass over me as I made this recipe tonight for that woman’s bravery and kindness. In a world that looked down on her and those in her community, she held her head high and just kept feeding everyone.

20170310_210007.jpg

Although this cookbook is not fancy, contains some rather vague recipes, and lacks mouth-watering photos of the food, it is one of my favorite cookbooks to read. Preceding almost every recipe is a letter – usually sent by a friend or relative of a household cook – detailing the memories of being a first-generation immigrant to come through Ellis Island. Many of the stories are heartbreaking, but many are also immensely inspiring and uplifting. The recipes tell me so much more than just how to make something. They reveal the dire circumstances of many who came here looking for a better life. They reveal cultural traditions adapted to new ingredients. But mostly they reveal the resilience of the human spirit.

20170310_191645.jpg

For this soda bread, we used our cast-iron skillet. The only “unusual” ingredient besides the caraway seeds is buttermilk, but no need to buy buttermilk specially for this bread. Just take a cup of milk and let it sit with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice for 5-10 minutes and voila! Buttermilk. You don’t even need to let any butter soften because it calls for melted butter, so woot! Basically, you mix all the dry ingredients together, make a well, pour the wet ingredients in, mix with a wooden spoon, and then plop into a buttered oven-safe skillet for an hour at 375. Before putting the skillet in the oven, cut a cross on the top and baste with some additional melted butter. We did not have caraway seeds on hand and I couldn’t say with certainty that I’ve ever even tasted them before, so I am not sure what flavor element was missing. But the slight sweetness of the raisins and the buttery lightness of the bread were simply wonderful. While I can’t taste the baking soda and powder, you can definitely smell it on the bread and see its work in the airiness of the bread’s interior. And, of course, you can see its effect on an upset stomach if you have a silly 7-Eleven-eating-husband lying around.

20170310_190251.jpg

The bread settled his stomach and brought back his appetite. Which is a good thing because I had also made sauteed cabbage and pork chops for dinner. The pork chops are just seared quickly, then baked alongside the soda bread for 30 minutes (don’t forget to let them rest under some tin foil before cutting). The cabbage is one medium head, core cut out, and sliced thinly as for slaw. Cook in some butter (or bacon fat if you have some) and season to taste. I used salt, pepper, and garlic powder – it was freaking delicious! One of my new favorite ways to eat cabbage now.

So there you have it, a week-night Irish meal that isn’t shepherd’s pie or beef stew.

For the soda bread, see the recipe snapped from the book below. For more Fairfax Foodie adventures, follow us on instagram @fairfaxfoodie

20170310_210105 (1).jpg

Let Us Eat Cake! Post-Honeymoon Chocolate Beer Cake

20170227_201717.jpg

The honeymoon is over! JK – I mean, yes, literally Mr. Foodie and I have returned from the honeymoon and are attempting to slide back into “real-no-longer-planning-a-wedding-life.” Here is what I have learned:

1) If possible, take a honeymoon right after your wedding. I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to leave our jobs, etc. and do this, but I am SO glad that we did. Not only is it a welcome respite after what feels like a year-long marathon race, it is also a chance to refocus on what actually matters here – your bond with your partner. And did I mention the free desserts?! Everywhere we went on the honeymoon, people gave us free desserts lol

2) Give yourself a buffer before going back to work. We came home last Thursday, so we had an entire weekend to put the house back in order. We went through all our awesome gifts (THANKS family and friends!!!), did laundry, wrote thank you notes, and even had some chill time with our families so we could rehash the highlights of our awesome wedding 🙂

3) Be prepared for the post-wedding to-do list. I found ample advice from all over about keeping pre-wedding to-do lists, but was surprised as hell that my post-wedding to-do list would consist of more than “write thank-you notes and sleep for 12 hours straight.” My post-wedding to-do list included gathering photos which, believe it or not, is a rather monumental task. In the days after my honeymoon, Mr. Foodie and I scoured our social networks to grab up all the beautiful pictures that our friends and family took that day. Additionally, we tagged a lot of photos so we could find them easily, but also so our friends could see nice pictures of themselves caught on others’ cameras. Of course we will have the many lovely pictures from our photographer at some point, but I wanted all these candid shots as well because you never know what gems your guests have until you start browsing. Next we started the surveys and reviews component of planning a wedding in the digital age – we were so pleased by all of our vendors that we wanted to reach out to them personally as well as post about our experiences publicly. We all rely on reviews to help us choose vendors, so it is only appropriate that we should contribute with our mainly positive and sometimes constructive feedback.  We also distributed extra supplies – we ended up with fair amount of “extra” things like cigars, beer, and decoration items. Part of our planning was to minimize the inclusion of what would become “useless” stuff afterward, so many of our decor pieces became permanent fixtures in our home. Our centerpiece flower containers are mason jars, so they will be used for jam this season. Our welcome sign now hangs on the living room wall and greets every visitor by our front door. Still, we had some things we knew would be more useful in the hands of others – so we gathered them up and delivered them before they could go “to waste.”

Those have been my big post-wedding lessons, may they serve you and yours well in the future 🙂

#happilyeverazar

One of my favorite shots from the night ❤

 

In addition to WEDDING, the theme of today’s post is CAKE. Mr. Foodie and I decided to go with – wait for it – grocery store wedding cake at our reception *GASP.* Many of our guests were surprised by our modest little cut cake – a simple red velvet round cake with cream cheese frosting, and further surprised by our two massive grocery-store-bought sheet cakes – one chocolate with raspberry filling and one vanilla with lemon filling – but the reason we did this is because we LOVE Wegmans’ cake. For those not familiar, Wegmans is a grocery chain located in the northeast. It will forever be my favorite place to shop and to eat cake. I say this as someone who does not usually care for the cloying sweetness of cake desserts. Wegmans is consistently awesome, flavorful, and by no means over-sweet. Everyone loved our cake btw. Like, a lot. The cherry on top of guests loving the cakes was the cost. For a full sheet, a half sheet, and the cut cake, it came to $121. Not bad when the average wedding cake for our size party will run you at least $450.

After my first day back to work, I admit I started to feel the kind of restless melancholy that I hear is common for some folks after the excitement and anticipation of planning a wedding for a year and a half is no longer there. I came home and decided to bake a cake to snap me out of my funk. The only problem is that we haven’t quite restocked our baking supplies, so I was running low on everything. Except beer – we still have tons of that stuff lol. So I decided to make this chocolate beer cake. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, right? Why not take a stab at a beer cake?

20170227_201442.jpg

The first thing you may notice is that all the dry ingredients are measured in ounces. For the average American cook, this is annoying since we are used to using cups and teaspoon measures, but Mr. Foodie and I acquired a food scale, so we set to work weighing everything out. I might have been a little impatient with some of the measuring, and I had to add in some shortening because we really did not have as much butter is called for, so the texture of our cake turned out a little more dense than I would have liked. I followed the recommended baking time as well, but our oven runs hot, so in hindsight I should have checked on it a little earlier. All that considered, it turned out pretty well. The recipe calls for  a stout beer, but I picked one that was kind of hoppy with a “orange blossom” flavor – it paired well with the flavor of the cocoa powder.

20170227_201605.jpg

Rather blurry, but this gives you an idea of texture – a little more dense than it should be, but still edible 🙂

We could not make the frosting because of the aforementioned lack of butter (and no milk to speak of), but I went ahead and mixed a quick beer-and-powdered-sugar icing (3 Tablespoons of beer to 1 Cup of sugar) to drizzle over the top. Then I chopped some of our leftover Hershey’s bars from our wedding favors (smore packets with a #starwars theme) to garnish the top. A use-what’s-in-the-pantry-cake if there ever was one.

I will be giving much of this cake away so Mr. Foodie and I can try to stay on our pre-wedding health kick track, but making it was just what I needed. The kitchen is my happy place. To be back, to be together, to be cooking. It was all so much fun. Are we allowed to feel so much joy in so short a span of time?

Mr. Foodie and I received many wonderful cooking gadgets and serving pieces for our wedding – it is our new mission to utilize each and every one, and to post our results here. Not sure how often we’ll be able to manage it, but not having a wedding on one’s plate tends to open up one’s schedule a bit lol So stay tuned! Also, I’ll be posting some fun wedding details on my instagram @fairfaxfoodie so check it out!

Welcome to the Family: Ekras Sabanekh and Lahema Bi Ajeen

20170212_122600.jpg

In a few days I will be joining my life with Mr. Foodie’s. After a year and a half of anticipation, I am baffled that it is almost here. I am also ecstatic. I’m not sure how most brides feel in the days leading up to their wedding, but I feel like I’m positively glowing. I won’t lie to you – last week I had a mini-meltdown on the drive home from work, but that’s mostly because I was wrapping up a 5 day head cold and saying goodbye to lady flow. And yes, I am very aware of how lucky I am that all that happened last week and not this week. Still, when I arrived at the weekend before my wedding, I found myself overjoyed hanging with my mom, stamping place cards, and drinking entirely too much wine while watching sappy movies.By the time Sunday rolled around, I was more than happy to take a break from wedding prep to help my mother-in-law bake some of the delicious spinach and meat pies I’ve been piling into my mouth over the past 2+ years.

There I was, sitting at the kitchen table, trying hard to make the perfectly folded triangles that my mother-in-law was doing so expertly, and I felt so grateful to be marrying into such a lovely family. The fact that she knew I’d not only want to eat the delicious pies, but also to learn how to actually make them is something I can’t take for granted.

While this will be a short, rather uncomposed post and my pictures are kind of blurry, I still really wanted to post this memory so I won’t forget how happy I was the weekend before the big day. Happy to be with my in-laws and happy to be baking.

20170212_122612 (1).jpg

If you have never had Ekras Sabanekh, you are missing out. These little pies are stuffed with spinach and onion – but you can customize the filling depending on your taste. They are little pockets of joy. Warm, tangy, with a crisp, but light crust and soft, tantalizing interior. Not to be outdone, Lahemba bi Ajeen is a heavenly meat tart – a little pastry, spiced meat, and, again, more onions. The dough is made from wheat flour and not unlike pizza dough. Both make wonderful appetizers for a party or quick bites for lunch – I totally got down on some spinach pies today while running around the office getting things ready for my brief departure for the honeymoon.

Baking, eating delicious pies, and spending quality time with family was just the ticket. I am so filled with love. Love for my parents who are working so hard to bring my vision into reality. Love for my new family for welcoming me so warmly. Love for my bridesmaids for being patient and supportive. Love for Mr. Foodie. Love for it all.

Time for the next phase of this exciting adventure to begin.

ps. Happy Galentine’s Day!

Tis the Season for Candied Cranberries

17299.jpeg

Happy Holidays! After a good two months in a baking/cooking funk, I’ve decided to pick up blogging again. I might not do it as frequently as before, but I want to keep going because Mr. Foodie and I enjoyed doing it so much and it helps me snap out of my routine which is good for the soul. Over the past couple months, we’ve baked and cooked some awesome new things, but for the most part our efforts have been lackluster at best. I started a new job, so we’ve been adapting to a new schedule. Mr. Foodie is doing a great job picking up the daily cooking slack. We still make our chicken stock and (especially now that it’s winter) tasty soups like the Kale-Sausage or Chicken Noodles ones.

More recently I helped my mom put together a Christmas Eve menu because my future in-laws and some family friends came over to celebrate. She wanted simplicity above all, so I restrained myself for her sake. I made these easy crockpot Swedish meatballs, shrimp cocktail, my standard deviled eggs, tortellini skewers, and this gorgeous spice cake with candied cranberries.

Is there anything better than cranberries? Mr. Foodie and I eat dried ones like candy out of a huge bag in our pantry. I love buying fresh ones in season and freezing them to have throughout the winter. My usual use of them is to make a simple syrup for cocktails – add tequila or vodka and fresh lime juice and you’re all set! This year I decided to candy them to decorate a spice cake. Basically, you make a simple syrup, coat the berries in the syrup off the heat, and spread them out on a wire rack (with paper or in underneath to catch the drippings). After they’ve sat for an hour, roll them in sugar (they will be slightly sticky). You can pop them in a ziplock bag to transport. Mr. Foodie ate the leftovers as snacks – he loves the intense tart taste with the sugar coating. They’re not for everyone as they do retain quite a bit of tartness even after coating in sugar (usually you cook cranberries down to temper the tartness). But on a rich spice cake with cream cheese frosting, they’re delicious. And so pretty!

I wish I had more pictures of the food and the beautiful holiday decorations in my mom’s house, but we were too busy eating, playing, and talking to take many photos. We’ll do better next year!

Candied Cranberries

1 bag of fresh cranberries (12-16 oz)

1/2 Cup Sugar

1/2 Cup water

Extra sugar

Cook the 1/2C sugar and 1/2C water in a sauce pot on the stove until the sugar is dissolved (stir with a wooden spoon). Turn off the heat and add the cranberries, coating thoroughly. Spread to set on a wire rack with something underneath to catch extra sugar. After an hour, roll in extra sugar to get that frosted look. Let rest for another hour or longer.

It’s Raining

20161108_161123.jpg

It’s raining outside. A slow, miserable drizzle. To say the weather reflects a human’s mood or has human qualities (“miserable”) is what we literary-buffs like to call a “pathetic fallacy.” Literary Analysts observe this. Creative Writers often shun it as a cliche. But today it is appropriate. I am miserable. I’ve had a nasty cold for two days. I’m facing massive anxiety over some recent life choices of mine. And this. What we all woke up to today. My heart is too heavy to even write about it except to say that it must be nice. It must be nice for all of you who backed you-know-who that you enjoy such privilege as to be unaffected by his hateful rhetoric, unthreatened by his proposed policies, and unshaken by what this means for our country. I wish I had such privilege. I know that this is a cooking blog, but it is also a blog about my life. About our lives, Mr. Foodie’s and mine. And this is not how I thought we’d start our married life together. We face the loss of affordable health insurance which Mr. Foodie desperately needs because of his asthma. We face the overt discrimination that will become more and more common because Mr. Foodie (and soon I will join him) carries an Arab surname. And like all millennials, we face increasing costs for living without corresponding increases in pay. We face starting a family in a world where I might lose control of decisions concerning my reproductive health. And we continue to face the xenophobic, racist, misogynistic, abelist, heteronormative, hateful rhetoric that has dominated this election cycle, but worse – because soon it will stop being rhetoric and become our new reality. I don’t even care if I lose some readers (or friends, or family) because of this post. I have to say what I’m saying. This is my life. This is our lives. And it’s fucking raining.

Oh yeah, and I made some new cookies yesterday.

 

Bread Knots v. Dinner Rolls

20161101_170313.jpg

Mr. Foodie grabbed a yeast packet out of the pantry and I looked up curiously from my computer. “Pretzels?” I asked. You might remember that we recently landed on a perfect soft pretzel recipe after many trials and errors, but it had a been a few weeks since Mr. Foodie had baked anything let alone something that required yeast. “No, let’s do bread rolls!” I used to be intimidated by bread (and still am when it comes to looking at/drooling over artisan breads I’d love to try), but Mr. Foodie just goes for it. That’s not to say he doesn’t have majorly mixed results sometimes, but instead of agonizing over the details of recipe for weeks before getting his hands dirty (like me), he just begins.

In this case, he piggy-backed off of this Soft Dinner Rolls Recipe by Beth. My first comment as I was looking over his shoulder was that the recipe was designed for a bread machine, so it did not say how long to let it rise, etc. Oh well, a fairly standard approach is to let it rise “until it has doubled in size.” My second remark, following a gasp of realization, was that I had used the last of the eggs for our breakfast and this recipe called for one. I am far from an expert on bread, or rolls, but every soft dinner roll recipe I’ve ever seen calls for at least one egg. Mr. Foodie pressed on nonetheless, substituting some veggie oil. I remained dubious.

20161101_170346.jpg

Because he didn’t have the egg, the texture of the dough was off, preventing him from cutting out the soft rounds that eventually bake into the soft dinner rolls. Instead he rolled them out (like Pretzels!) and tied them into knots. Et voila! Not-so-soft Bread Knots, as we came to call them. Because of the missing egg, they definitely lacked the airiness of dinner rolls, but the bread came out flakey and soft anyway. Because we did not flavor the dough or top with melted butter as the recipe suggested, the flavor was neutral. But we took care of that by topping the rolls with a pat of butter and drizzle of our farmer’s market honey.

While this recipe could not, perhaps, be characterized as a success, I wanted to share it with you anyway because sometimes I am a little too rigid in my baking and cooking. I (sometimes) won’t even try if I don’t have all the ingredients, or the time to do each and every step in the recipe as instructed. This prevents me from not only taking risks, but from learning – something I love to do. It was because of this recipe that I learned what gives a soft dinner roll its characteristic texture and flavor (ours were slightly sweet as most dinner rolls are, but lacked the browned tops that come from brushing with melted butter). And we still ended up with tasty bread knots that prompted the use of the farmer’s market honey we have (something I hadn’t even tasted properly up to that point). Not to mention the joy I get from cooking and baking with Mr. Foodie no matter how it turns out.

If you’re anything like me, you get too crestfallen when a recipe fails, too wary of new recipes you haven’t studied or practiced for weeks, or too timid to just wing it. While there is value in studying method and using the tried-and-true recipe of a chef, this is no way to grow in the kitchen.

20161101_170257.jpg

I challenge you to try something radically new (for you) in the kitchen this week! And since it is National #pieweek – consider making your own pie dough using my easy recipe. Don’t have shortening on hand? No problem, substitute with butter (or vice versa). As long as you have flour and some kind of fat on hand, homemade pie dough is within your grasp. Or try your hand at Pretzels (since we already did the work for you of finding a great and easy recipe). Or a focaccia-style bread recipe (great for beginner bread-makers!).

If you do push yourself this week, let us know! We’d love to hear from you.

Want to follow along with our foodie adventures?  Click the follow button and/or check us out on Instagram @flkeysfoodie and Pinterest