They say it’s your birthday…

22 07 2011

My friend, the lovely Mrs. Dunwell of the adorable Done Well blog, has been prodding me to update F-Words with some of my recent culinary experiments. Given my penchant for procrastination and wordiness (meaning blog posts take forever to write), I’ve been rather reluctant. But the Husband’s 30th birthday celebration extravaganza presented the perfect opportunity for me to kick my lazy butt into high gear and give my camera a bit of a workout.

The mister enjoys his food quite a bit – one of the reasons I love him so much – so I decided I was going to prepare a gigantic, multi-part feast to celebrate this milestone, with the help of some of my favourite food bloggers and sites.

For starters, I made The Pioneer Woman’s Crash Hot Potatoes and a cheesy jalapeño cornbread recipe that I cobbled together from a couple of random sites. The mains: a modified version of Martha Stewart’s chicken with feta cheese and Cooking Light’s barbecued pork tenderloin (my first-ever attempt at grilling). And for dessert, a strawberry summer cake from Smitten Kitchen/ Martha Stewart that I’ve been obsessed with and have made three times in the past two months.

The finished product

The finished product. The cornbread isn't in the picture, and neither is the cake, though.

Now, I’m not the greatest cook or anything, and my meals are still taking a remarkably long time to prepare, but I’m quite enjoying the process of learning how to do things. This particular dinner took me about four hours to prepare, plus some time the previous night for marinating the pork. The recipe calls for “spicy brown mustard” (i.e. Dijon) but I had none in the house, so I used honey mustard instead. This was also the first time I used molasses and I must say, it’s weird stuff. I did not expect it to be that liquidy.

(FYI, the following image is not the most appetizing, but it does show the colour of the marinade.)

marinated pork

By the way, I just have to make a quick plug for the coffee I used for the marinade, and that we brew almost every day at home – B.C.’s Kicking Horse Kick Ass blend. It can be a little pricey, but the unique, bold flavour is worth it. Plus, it’s organic, fair trade and Canadian! /endplug

While I left the pork to sit in the marinade, I got cracking on the rest of the prep. I figured the potatoes would take the longest and could probably sit for a while after being boiled, so they were the first victims.

Boiling the potatoes

I used a bag of PC Golden Gems mini yellow potatoes and a bag of PC mini red potatoes. So cute.

The Pioneer Woman’s recipe is for 12 potatoes but as you can see, there are quite a few more here, so I mostly eyeballed it. They turned out a little more tender than they were supposed to be, and some fell apart when they were done, but I think the final product was fine.

The mini potatoes

I love the combination of red and yellow mini potatoes as I think the red ones are much heartier with the skin on and it just looks more special.

Waluigi and the boiled potatoes

Just had to take this picture to introduce you to Waluigi, my pizza cutter. He's a jolly fellow, although he hasn't had much to do lately.

The most tedious part of prepping is often the chopping and cutting, but I have to say that since we got our Slap Chop, it’s a lot easier to mince stuff up. (Wow, I am just the biggest plug machine today!) I hated the idea when the Husband first proposed it, especially as I really dislike the Vince Shlomi infomercial, but I’ve definitely turned around.

Choppin Etudes

The elements for three different dishes - jalapeño & onion for the cornbread, peppers for the chicken & strawberry for the cake.

Sliced strawberries

Strawberries! Aren't they pretty?

Figuring that the strawberry cake would be able to sit for the longest, I made that first. The only thing I changed about Smitten Kitchen’s version was to use whole-wheat flour, not because of any philosophical or flavour reason, but because that’s what I had in the house. I can’t comment on the difference since I’ve never made it with regular flour, but I’ve found the cake has a delicious nutty taste with the whole wheat.

Everything about this confection is absolutely wonderful; from how beautiful the fruit looks both before it goes in the oven and after it emerges from the oven in all its jammy glory, to how easy it is to mix up, to the buttery, ambrosial aroma that wafts around the house as it’s baking. And of course, it tastes lovely.

The strawberry summer cake before going in the oven

The strawberry summer cake before it went in the oven. I always end up overstuffing the batter with fruit, but it definitely doesn't hurt the cake.

And now, a commercial break, brought to you by our oatmeal-coloured ball of terror, Labu (pronounced LA-boo, which means “pumpkin” in Malay).

We return to our regular programming with the finished strawberry cake. Et voila!

The finished strawberry cake

Next to go in the oven was my cheesy jalapeño cornbread. I put this recipe together a while back when I was looking for a copycat recipe for Montana’s cornbread since the mister had requested it. I didn’t end up finding one, but he loved the version I came up with, so I made it again for his birthday.

The recipe:

2/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1  2/3 cup milk
2  1/3 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
4  1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups grated nacho cheese
1  15oz. can cream-style corn
2 cups sour cream/yogurt
1 medium onion, chopped
Chopped jalapeño to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cream butter and sugar in large bowl. In small bowl, combine eggs and milk. In another bowl, mix dry ingredients (flour through salt). Add to creamed mixture alternately with egg mixture. Add in corn, jalapeño, onion, cheese, and yogurt (remove jalapeño and onion for non-spicy cornbread).

Pour into two greased 13″ x 9″ x 2″ baking pans or 12-muffin pans. Bake until toothpick inserted near the centre comes out clean, roughly 25-28 minutes.

I didn't take a picture of it, but the right pan totally exploded in the oven because it was too full. I ended up scooping a bunch out into another loaf pan.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a photo of the finished product, but I’ve always liked how moist the sour cream or yogurt makes the cornbread; I’ve gone without it, but it does make the cornbread significantly more crumbly.

The stuffed chicken breast was definitely the trickiest part of the meal; I have no idea how people do them without toothpicks, but I wasn’t able to use them because I had to pan-fry the chicken instead of baking it.

Stuffed chicken breast

These babies were stuffed to the gills (too bad there isn’t a poultry equivalent to gills!), especially as I added in chopped red pepper, which wasn’t in the original recipe. However, I saw the red pepper touch in a Kraft greek chicken dish and thought it would work well. I didn’t have fresh lemon either, so I substituted 1 1/2 tablespoons of bottled juice for the half-lemon required.

What followed was a disaster of trying to flip the chicken with its feta innards intact, and failing miserably. I tried the ol’ two spatula trick, but more stuff just fell out and started melting around the chicken, so eventually I just gave up and occasionally pushed the stuffing back in while waiting for it to reach the prescribed 160-degree internal temperature. It turned out OK and was quite moist as Ms. Stewart’s recipe predicted, which is always a concern with chicken breasts this big. (That’s what she said?)

Then the main event: barbecuing the pork. Sorry, at this point I was rushing to get dinner on the table and forgot to take pictures.

I pretty much stuck to the Cooking Light recipe, having never made anything with a rub or on a barbecue (my grilling experience is confined largely to my trusty George Foreman), although I substituted the paprika for chili powder and made sure to use finely ground French Roast coffee (as per this Fine Cooking recipe).

Also, we’ve always loved the apple butter BBQ sauce at Montana’s, so when I found a PC brand version at the grocery store, I decided to get it on a whim and use it for the basting part.

Personally I found the tenderloin a wee bit dry and burnt-tasting, even though I only waited for its internal temperature to reach 140 F, rather than Cooking Light’s 160 F recommendation (140-145 seemed to be the consensus across several other coffee pork recipes). The coffee does impart a robust smoky flavour, though, without having to actually use a BBQ smoker (which we don’t have on our cheapo Canadian Tire model), so that would account for some of that, but at any rate, the Husband quite enjoyed it, which is the most important thing =)

Labu is tired from not working all day

Labu, on the other hand, was totally bored and/or exhausted after a long day of watching me cook.

And to make dessert extra-special, I decided to put sparklers on the strawberry cake. On a side note, I can’t believe they sell sparklers next to the birthday candles at Loblaws!

Sparkler cake

This one is to give you a full view of the cake, and also of the chaotic mess that was my kitchen following the dinner.

Happy 30th birthday to the best husband a girl could ask for!

Sparklers

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2 responses

3 08 2011
Kelly

WEEEEE!!!!!! I love when you write.

Buddy: HAPPY BIRTHDAY! seems not that long ago we planning shared birthday parties at my parents’ place!

Krys: Super kudos to you. that’s amazing. a multi course meal. Two proteins. Corn bread. a dessert to boot. you’re awesome.

10 09 2011
Jer

I enjoyed the commercial. And the food looks delicious.

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