Easter Decorations

March has definitely been very generous to us in terms of the gorgeous weather. It certainly put me in a spring mood maybe a little earlier than usual! On my days off I've been sprucing up the house for spring and Easter! I've included pictures of my table decorations and something for the mantle. Remember what I did for Christmas? Then for fun there are a few outdoor shots because our yard is so cheerful!

Many thanks to Granny and Poppa for my little "Happy Easter" sign here. They gave it to me for my birthday. It's the perfect size to use as my centerpiece. I placed it on top of a pastel checkerboard placemat along with some candles.

These glass hurricane vases are my new mantle staple that easily transition from season to season. For Christmas I placed cranberries and white carnations in them. Now I have a white candle in the center surrounded by, you guessed it, jelly beans!! They're obviously perfect for Easter but also so colorful.

 Here's a snapshot from the end of our driveway. We've got lots of daffodils blooming and a few tulips. If you peer all the way to the front door you'll see the Easter wreath I made!

 Here's a closeup of our spring flowers. Patrick planted all these bulbs by himself in the fall.

Pork Loaf

Time to get creative with using food from the freezer! Patrick and I have done a pretty good job of "stocking up" on meats and veggies in the freezer. This particular hunk of ground pork was from our CSA; Brinkley Farms also offered meats (we're excited for the spring CSA to start back up). Ground pork must lend itself to yummy porkloaf just like beef, right? Well of course! I was inspired by this recipe from food.com. I'll have to admit I didn't really read the recipe. I was most interested in what glaze to put on the loaf so I read that and was pleased. I'll note what I did throughout the recipe in Italics!

Pork Loaf from food.com 
4 -6 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion , chopped
1 small bell pepper (green or red bell, seeded and finely chopped, or use half a pepper of both!)
1 ½ lbs ground pork
1 lb smoked ham, finely chopped (omitted this)
1 cup whole wheat crackers or 1 cup saltine crackers , crushed (used plain breadcrumbs)
1 cup milk
2 large eggs, slighty beaten
salt and black pepper 
½ cup orange marmalade (we had some apricot preserves in the fridge)
½ cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed
1. Set oven to 350 degrees.
2. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.
3. Add in onions and bell pepper/s; cook until veggies are tender, stirring occasionally (about 8-10 minutes) then cool the mixture completely. (I did not do this; just threw the chopped the veggies in the mix, next step.)
4. In a large bowl mix together ground pork, ham, crushed crackers, milk, eggs, pepper, salt and the cooled onion/pepper mixture; mix well to combine.
5. Shape into an approx 9x5-inch loaf, and place onto a shallow greased baking pan. (I used an 8x8 baking dish.)
6. Using a long knife, make shallow criss-cross (diamond) pattern in the top of of loaf. (Didn't do this).

7. Bake for 30 minutes.
8. Meanwhile for the glaze blend the orange marmalade, Dijon mustard and brown sugar in a small bowl.
9. After 30 minutes of baking remove from oven and drizzle about 1/3 cup glaze over loaf and return to oven to bake for another 15 minutes.
10. After 15 minutes, drizzle the remaining glaze over loaf and bake for about another 22-25 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf reads 165°F.
11. Transfer the loaf to a platter; let stand for 10 minutes.
12. Pour the pan juices into a small bowl and whisk to blend.
13. Slice the loaf and serve with the pan juices. Also serve with steamed broccoli and pineapple.

I thought the pork lended itself to pineapple as a side and this meal had a nice Hawaiian flair!

Bon Appetit: Salmon with Wasabi Sauce

For Christmas, my Mom gave us a subscription to Bon Appetit, which is a food and entertaining magazine that she enjoyed many years ago and which we have had fun reading over the past few months. This is what she had to say:

Hi Patrick and Whitney,

I thought both of you might enjoy this magazine, and it is a bit nostalgic for me too.  During the first few years that I had my own kitchen, I felt very privileged to have had a subscription to
Bon Appetit.  The recipes and dining/entertainment articles were gourmet-oriented, but doable.  They took me into some new territories of cooking beyond the central Wisconsin farm cooking I had grown up with and once even influenced me to prepare a Beef Wellington main dish along with a Baked Alaska dessert for some fussy Ukrainian guests that luckily was a success. 

I hope you will find some new inspiration here as well.  I truly enjoy reading of your joint cooking endeavors through your blog.  Maybe one of these days you will be publishing your own
Bon Appetit!

Wishing you both a wonderful New Year with lots of Happy Cooking!

In our quest to have similar successes, we decided to try this tasty sounding recipe. It was delicious, and certainly stands out among the many salmon recipes we've tried. My only recommendation would be to reduce the wasabi; even as a wasabi and spicy lover, the wasabi mayonnaise was still over-powering.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon wasabi paste (Japanese horseradish paste)
1 1-inch piece ginger, peeled, finely grated
2 large garlic cloves, finely grated
4 6-ounce skinless salmon fillets (preferably wild)
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 pound baby bok choy, halved
2 cups (packed) finely shredded green cabbage (about 5 ounces)
4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, sliced if large
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 450°. Heat a large rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix mayonnaise and wasabi in a small bowl. Stir in half of ginger and half of garlic; set aside. Season fish all over with salt and pepper. Place bok choy, cabbage, and mushrooms in a large bowl. Drizzle with oil and add remaining ginger and garlic. Toss to coat; season with salt and pepper.

Scatter vegetables across one side of baking sheet. Arrange salmon on other side. Roast, stirring vegetables occasionally, until salmon is cooked through, 12–15 minutes. Divide vegetables among plates; top with salmon. Serve wasabi mayonnaise alongside.

We served it with some wild rice.

Sweet Potato Burgers and White Bean Salad

I've tried a lot of things and from many different places that I've featured on the blog but the following is a first! This is the first thing that I cooked from Pinterest! For those of you that haven't discovered this wonderfully creative online board then let me share this with you and probably a few other recipes along the way. If you're unfamiliar with Pinterest here's a little bit from their "About" section on their website: "What is Pinterest? Pinterest is a Virtual Pinboard. Pinterest lets you organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes. Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests." I enjoy pinning recipes and craft projects the most! Sweet potato burgers caught my eye so I pinned them. And then cooked them! And fed them to Patrick. I served them with a side of white beans and cherry tomato salad.

Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers from lunchboxbunch.com & Pinterest
makes 7-8 large patties
2 cans cannellini white beans, drained
1 large sweet potato, baked/peeled/mashed (about 2 cups)
2 Tbsp tahini
2 tsp maple or agave syrup
1 tsp lemon pepper seasoning OR Cajun seasoning (or another fave spice!)
1/4 cup wheat flour
optional: additional seasoning
salt to taste if needed
plentiful Panko crumbs
safflower oil for pan
for burgers: avocado, Dijon mustard, grain buns, romaine, onion, olive oil, pepper

1. Bake sweet potato. Peel, place in large mixing bowl.
2. Add drained beans to mixing bowl. Mash beans and potato together.

Look at all that fiber!
3. Mash in seasoning, flour and any additional seasoning. Your mixture will be quite soft and moist. But you should be able to form a patty. Add more flour or a scoop of breadcrumbs - or dry rice to thicken the mixture if needed.
4. Heat 1 Tbsp safflower oil in a pan over high heat.
5. Form a patty from mixture and coat in Panko crumbs. Thick coating. Then drop the patty in the pan. Repeat until the pan is filled. Cook until browned on both sides. You could also bake. If baking, use less Panko.
6. Transfer cooked patties to paper towel. Cool for a few minutes.
7. Serve on toasted bun with lots of toppings. Read on for how we served.

White Beans and Cherry Tomato Salad from Simply Recipes
Serves 6-8
1 15-ounce cans of white beans, such as Great Northern or canelli beans, drained and rinsed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup coarsely chopped parsley
Dressing ingredients:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1 3-inch sprig of fresh rosemary
3 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped (omit for vegetarian option)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup of lemon juice
1. Start by making the dressing. Put the garlic and rosemary in olive oil in a small saucepan. Heat on medium until the rosemary begins to sizzle. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 20 minutes, allowing the rosemary and garlic to infuse in the oil.

This was real easy and imparted a lot of flavor to the salad (and makes the house smell really good).
2. Remove rosemary sprig from the oil, discard. Remove the garlic from the oil, reserving the oil. Add the garlic, anchovies (omit for vegetarian option), Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, lemon zest, and lemon juice to a food processor. Pulse until smoth.
3. In a medium bowl, gently fold the garlic mixture in with the beans until they are well coated. Let sit for a few minutes for the beans to absorb. Gently mix in the reserved olive oil, tomatoes, and parsley.

You may choose to serve it with bread and make it a sandwich. Avocado and dijon mustard top the patty beautifully. This was Patrick's choice.
You could also choose to serve a "deconstructed" version.  I put them white bean salad on the bottom of the bowl and topped with avocado and the sweet potato burger! 

Spaghetti & Meatballs

On this particular evening in February it was a little chilly and perfect for inviting friends over so I decided to make some spaghetti and meatballs! (It may have also been the first Carolina/Duke game but I won't mention that part.) Patrick and I kind of made these an experiment and merged a couple different recipes. So I'll just summarize what we did because I wasn't really happy with the way the sauce turned out. Do you have an amazing spaghetti and meatballs recipe? If so please share!

First, here's our merger recipe cookbook outpost. We would reference our Williams & Sonoma Food Made Fast Pasta book with America's Test Kitchen New Best Recipe

1. Make meatballs. I loosely followed what I do for regular meatloaf which is basically 1 lb of meatloaf mix mixed with chopped onion, breadcrumbs, egg, and seasonings. On this particular evening we roughly chopped 2-3 pieces of whole wheat bread, soaked them in milk, and then added this to the meat mixture for breadcrumbs. Mix together and then form into balls! You may choose to bake them or fry in a little oil.

Master Meatball Man

We chose the later option (next time we'll probably bake). Using a large dutch oven we warmed canola oil and fried the meatballs in a few batches. Once the meatballs were cooked we were able to start making the tomato sauce right in the same pan. 

Here I am working on the sauce!
To begin the sauce I sauteed a chopped onion in evoo in the dutch oven until it had softened then added some chopped garlic. I then added two large (28oz cans) of tomatoes. This is where I made a mistake! I accidentally bought tomatoes that had green peppers and those flavors threw off the sauce. Anyway I think I used a can of chopped tomatoes and whole tomatoes. Then I used my immersion blender to make the sauce. 

After the sauce was sauce-y I added back in the meatballs and simmered for 10-15 minutes.

Richard volunteered to fix the bread! He sliced the french loaf and then placed a small slice of butter with some garlic powder so we could pull it apart at the table!

Don't forget to make the spaghetti! Then have a serve yourself spaghetti bar. 

February Awards Potluck

Finally a potluck! The theme of the night was in honor of the Grammy's or any other award show in February such as the Academy Awards! Your options for a dish included a nominated artist's favorite dish, something that could served at a party, or something with an Oscar Meyer hot dog for the Oscar's!

Here's the spread! Most everyone went with finger foods...

Rachel: Pigs in a Blanket

Mimi: Korean pancakes with chives and pepper, plus a dipping sauce

Whitney: Creamy Artichoke Dip with triscuits

Richard: Andoille sausage tartlets with goat cheese and spring onions

Romin: experimental cheese balls

Patrick: Chicken Stir Fry

Tim made Bruschetta for an after dinner course during the Grammy's but we forgot to take a picture. :-(

Shrimp Pasta

No surprise here: another pasta dish in this household. This recipe was found on the Pioneer Woman blog titled Shrimp Pasta in a Foil Package. She's quite the cook and quite the character so I've really enjoyed following her and trying a recipe every now and then. If you remember Hoppin' Johns and roasted pumpkin puree came to you via the Pioneer Woman. Her posts are very detailed and she has pictures at every step so follow the link at the top if you'd like to see her post. Patrick and I found that putting it in the foil packet didn't really add to the dish. We would've preferred to just let the sauce simmer a little longer in the pan then serve over the pasta. Also we can't wait for fresh herbs to add basil to this! Otherwise here is shrimp pasta:

Shrimp Pasta in a Foil Package from The Pioneer Woman
1/2 cup Olive Oil
4 cloves Garlic, Minced
3 whole 14.5 Ounce Cans Diced (or Whole) Tomatoes
1/2 cup White Wine
2 pounds Jumbo Or Large Shrimp, Peeled And Deveined (we thawed frozen shrimp)
Salt And Pepper, to taste
Fresh Parsley, Minced
1 pound Linguine, Uncooked
Red Pepper Flakes, to taste

Preparation Instructions
1. Cook pasta for 1/2 the recommended cooking time. Pasta should still be very firm.
2. In a large skillet or pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for a minute. Dump in the tomatoes and wine. Stir the mixture together, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook for ten minutes.

3. Meanwhile, prepare a large parcel of heavy duty aluminum foil. It should be large enough to hold the entire pasta dish.
4. Throw the shrimp on the top of the pasta sauce. Throw the drained pasta over the top, then pour the whole dish onto the foil. Tightly wrap the foil into a parcel.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and keep warm until serving.
6. Open the foil parcel right before serving. Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil over the top. Squeeze on lemon juice, if desired.

Balsamic Beef Stew

I love balsamic vinegar and hearty stews, so I was pleased with Whitney's choice of this balsamic beef stew from our Simple Suppers cookbook. I thought the flavors were great. My only complaint is that the beef didn't quite get tender enough; perhaps the braise should have been over medium-low rather than low heat, or maybe it could use another hour.

3 tbsp flour
2 lb boneless beef chuck, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1.5 inch pieces
Canola oil
1 large red onion
2 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 lb red or yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1.5-inch chunks
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Combine flour with 1/2 tsp each salt and pepper in a plastic bag. Add beef and shake to coat. Brown beef on all sides in canola oil in dutch oven over medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes total. Transfer meat to a plate using a slotted spoon. Add onion to drippings and saute over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Stir in bay leaves, wine, and broth. Return the meat and any juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low. Cover and braise until meat is nearly fork-tender, 1.5-2 hours. Add potatoes and carrots, re-cover, and continue to braise until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes more. Season the stew with salt and pepper. Remove bay leaves. Stir in vinegar and serve.

Browning the beef
Ready to braise
We have the perfect bowls for this!

Quick Mushroom & Artichoke Pasta

Patrick was gone for a weekend to visit some of his friends in DC. Even though I miss him while he's enjoying his "bro weekend" I take advantage of the opportunity to eat all the things I love that he doesn't! I decided to make a spin-off of one of my mom's favorite dishes from our local Italian restaurant at home. She orders a simple dish: spaghetti tossed with olive oil and garlic then adds in sliced mushrooms. I wanted this! And incorporated some grilled artichokes into the pasta dish; grilled artichokes being one of the things Patrick doesn't like. Harris Teeter had a jar of grilled artichokes packed in oil that I used but you can use whatever.

Quick Mushroom & Artichoke Pasta
Prepare tubular pasta of your choice according to package directions. (I found a half-used box of ziti in the back of the pantry I decided to use up.) Slice fresh mushrooms (I used a large handful) and saute in a little evoo. While the mushrooms saute dice up the artichoke. You can leave them quartered but I like to save myself a step and make everything bite-sized here versus my plate. Once the mushrooms are tender add the artichokes and the oil they were packed in. If you chose to use regular canned artichokes and drained them, just add a little extra evoo. I added the extra oil because I knew I wasn't using a sauce.

Once everything has warmed through toss this with your drained pasta. Serve topped with parmesan cheese!

Perfect for an evening to myself.