Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

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31-recipe challenge Day 22 (the final day!): Beef Pho and Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshake

This is it, the LAST day of my 31-recipe challenge! It officially took me 22 days to cook 31 30 recipes. And I’m exhausted. Later this week I’ll put together a recap post that looks over everything I made last month and what I took away from it, much like I did at the halfway point.

And, to go out with a bang (well, a shake), I FINALLY nailed a dessert!

It seems as long as a stove isn’t involved, I can make a dessert. (Ironic, really, since I can cook but can’t really bake…Cookies! I can make cookies.)

But I want to go out on a high note, so I’m going to save the shake for last and start with my last-night-of-the-challenge dinner: Beef Pho from Zen Can Cook. The broth was easy enough to make, if not pricey–star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t even find a black cardamom pod–but they impart a really exotic, interesting flavor. It did make my place smell preeetty weird the first night, though.

beef pho

The only slightly “off” thing about this dish was the beef itself–I used a top round to make the broth, and despite the fact that it literally sat in liquid all night, it was pretty dry when I took it out and sliced it up. It came back to life a bit once the slices were re-added to the heated broth, but it wasn’t the tender, juicy meat I was expecting. It was actually the low point of the dish.

Otherwise, though, the pho was quite tasty–lots of fresh herbs, peppers and rice noodles in the warm, beefy broth. Much like the soba, this was a total comfort food. I wish I had this around when I was sick.

I had to make a couple of slight substitutions based on what was available. I couldn’t find any Thai basil, so I subbed in regular basil even though there’s a flavor difference. It was better than nothing. I also used a regular green long hot (seeds scraped out) in place of a Thai bird chili, which my local grocery store also didn’t sell.

Nonetheless, the flavor was still bright and vibrant, and I highly recommend this. It seems so much more complicated than it really is. Once the broth’s made, it’s really just cooking the noodles and slicing up some veggies, herbs and beef. Done and done. My only recommendation? I used only one cut of meat in my broth, because it was available and exactly the amount I needed. I would recommend mixing it up, and next time, I’d use oxtail. I almost went with it this time but opted not to. I think it would add even more depth and meatiness to the broth.

But now, for what we’ve all been waiting for…dessert!

Let’s just put this out there: Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshakes. You can screw this up nine ways to Sunday, and it would still taste fantastic. Because you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, Bailey’s and coffee ice cream.

milkshake

And, it’s a cinch! Add ice cream, Bailey’s, cookies and ice to a blender, blend, drink. If you actually do screw that up nine ways to Sunday, I might worry.

But in all seriousness, this tastes as fantastic (and fantastically bad for you!) as it sounds. (It was hard to even get a decent picture…Kevin was way too excited and impatient to drink this to wait for a photo.)

Now, I could’ve gone ahead and really pulled out all the stops and baked my own cookies to put in the milkshake (and that had been my original plan), but time became an issue, so I bought a few chewy, yummy cookies from the Wegman’s bakery department. And, frankly, they were probably more delicious than whatever I would have baked. So win-win.

And there you have it. Thirty recipes in 22 days, all capped off with the ultimate of nightcaps. It was a whirlwind month, and now, because I’m me, I’m jumping into another whirlwind month, but this time because of rehearsals. (What can I say? I thrive when I’m busy.)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll regain the strength to lift a pot or light a stove. Until then, I’m reveling in the beauty that is takeout (sushi!) and leftovers.

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WIAW: Memorial Day Picnic!

I’ve neglected What I Ate Wednesdays for the past couple of weeks, but now I’m back–with a recipe! Once again, thanks to Jen from Peas & Crayons for hosting!

So, obviously Monday was Memorial Day. And originally, I was hoping to have a party or a small cookout or something. But my lack of planning coupled with my friends’ work schedules meant that wasn’t going to happen this year. But I still wanted to do something fun and summery to end the long weekend. Kevin got off work at six on Monday night, so I decided to throw together a fun, light, healthy Memorial Day picnic!

I know, I’m freaking adorable. This meal was a mix of home-cooked and store-bought, which is my kind of combo. We started with homemade bruschetta and crostinis (check out my recipe for that here). Still on my pesto kick from the day before, I also whipped up a big batch of pesto pasta salad! (Recipe to follow.) It’s a great way to use fresh pesto and it lightens up an otherwise mayo-laden picnic staple. Personally, I prefer the basil-y freshness to gloppy mayonnaise.

I bought some prepared chicken leg quarters from the supermarket for an entrée, though we barely even made a dent in the chicken after all the bruschetta and pasta salad! For dessert, I bought some fresh mangoes, apricots and blueberries–so glad summer fruit is finally in season! I chopped up the mango and apricot and mixed all the fruit together with some sweetened lime juice to make a citrusy-sweet fruit salad. (Oops, was that a recipe?)

I still wanted something really dessert-y, so I baked cookies. But I cheated. I’m not much of a baker, and I don’t have a working mixer, so I was taking the easy route out on this one–I wanted a cookie mix. Well, who knew that it is shockingly hard to find a cookie (or brownie) mix without trans fats? (Be careful–the package can say 0g trans fats as long as it’s less than 1g. Check the ingredients list for partially hydrogenated oils, which equal trans fats.)

But lo and behold, in the refrigerated section, was my savior: Nestle Tollhouse Break and Bake cookies. Both the chocolate chip and the chocolate chunk are trans fat-free! Naturally, given those options, I went with the chocolate chunk. And so, we had a semi-homemade, chocolatey end to our meal.

And what’s a good picnic without some wine? So if you’re keeping track, yes, we drank wine out of sippy cups. Yes, I still own sippy cups. Note to self: buy disposable plastic cups.

A nice dry, Spanish rosé seemed like a good picnic wine. It was sufficient.

So, once everything was cooked and ready to go, we packed up our picnic and took it down to a park the next town over, overlooking the lake. Not gonna lie, it was pretty romantic. When I want to bring it, I can bring it.

But really, how can you beat a delicious (mostly) homemade dinner with views like this?

A lovely, relaxing conclusion to a lovely weekend. Then we went home and Kevin, my sister and I proceeded to finish off all two dozen cookies. Yeah, that happened.

Oh, and that recipe I promised:

As often happens with me, I didn’t measure, because I created a huge batch of this. It can obviously be adjusted to make a single portion or enough to serve a whole party. Use as much as you want to create as much as you want. Also, veggie-to-pasta ratios can be purely subjective. Do what you like.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Spiral, shell or other strong, sauce-holding pasta
Chopped red bell pepper
Chopped orange bell pepper
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Diced tomato, seeded
1 chopped scallion, white and light green parts only
1 batch of homemade or store-bought pesto (see pesto recipe here)
Fresh mozzarella cheese
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

-Cook pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water.
-While the pasta cooks, chop and prep all veggies and make pesto sauce.
-Once cooked, drain pasta but do not rinse. Let cool in colander or large bowl until room temperature.
-When the pasta is cooled, mix all vegetables, including the scallion, into the pasta
-Dice or tear the mozzarella into the pasta salad.
-Add enough pesto to generously coat all ingredients and give a good basil flavor. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.

This healthy alternative to traditional pasta salad may just become my go-to party dish! The chopping takes some time, but the actual assembly takes no time at all–a great, quick crowd-pleaser. Even Kevin, who doesn’t like pasta salad, couldn’t stop eating this!

Well, there you have it. Happy Memorial Day and Happy What I Ate Wednesday!

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