Skipping the Restaurant! Homemade Crab Cakes and Crême Brûlée

My husband and I have a very bad tendency to always want to go out on the weekends. Since I’ve been trying to eat better after Cath’s departure, I couldn’t afford (health-wise) a scrumptious meal out. I figured a great dinner at home, as indulgent as it may be, would still be healthier since I would know exactly what was in it and I could control the portions better. So after browsing through the many recipes I’ve been wanting to try on Pinterest, I settled on crab cakes and crême brûlée. Jeff bought me a small blow torch for my birthday and I hadn’t had a chance to try it yet. This was the perfect occasion.

Main dish: Crab cakes with homemade mayo and a side salad

For the crab cakes, I used a recipe I found on How Sweet It Is. The recipe was super simple. It only took a few minutes to make. The biggest challenge was my cats who desperately wanted to know what that divine crab smell was.

I wanted to make a homemade mayo to use with the crab cakes. I followed the recipe from Fast Paleo. I did use my immersion blender instead of whisking for 8 minutes. What a breeze. The only hurdle (which could have been avoided if I paid attention to the comment section) was the very strong olive oil flavor. In my opinion, I could have use half as much olive oil. To compensate, I added random spices until it tasted good enough (paprika, salt, garlic powder, Old Bay seasoning).

The salad was super simple. Originally, I wanted to replicate a beet and goat cheese salad we had tried at a restaurant but Jeff said he wasn’t in the mood for beets and suggested using pineapple instead. After giving him my best annoyed face, I agreed and the result was really tasty. The simple salad was spring mix, pineapple pieces, little balls of herbed goat cheese and a simple homemade vinaigrette (olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt & pepper).

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Dessert: Crême Brûlée

I was so excited to try out my new blow torch. I found a crème brûlée recipe that looked easy enough and went for it. I used the Chef in Training recipe. Honestly, it’s really easy to make but it does take time as you need to bake it for 45 minutes and then it needs to be in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Using the blow torch was fun and the result was so so tasty. Jeff finished his before I finished mine, which says a lot since he’s not usually big on desserts and rarely finishes one.

First time using the blow torch. Somewhere between fun and scary.

First time using the blow torch. Somewhere between fun and scary.

The result: I need to work on my "brûlé" technique but the tasty was great!

The result: I need to work on my “brûlé” technique but the taste was great!

I know it sounds like a “duh!” statement but last night was yet another reminder of how much I like to be in the kitchen. I love eating out so much that it’s easy to forget that we can make pretty tasty stuff ourselves. I managed to cook two things that we very often order when we go out to dinner, and it tasted pretty darn close to restaurant level. Must. Remember. To. Cook. More.

Exploring My New State With An Old Friend.

In 1999, I met Cath in my Secondary 1 class. I asked her if she wanted to team up for a geography project and we’ve been best friends ever since. Despite my move to the US, we always stayed in touch and although we only see each other every one or two years, our friendship is just as strong as it used to be. She’s the sister I never had and will never be able to get rid of me. :)

Cath visited us three times in Charlottesville and it was now time for her to check out my new life in Atlanta. She managed to schedule her trip during my spring break for maximum time together. Of course, as soon as we settled on the Marta train to get back home from the airport, after a few “how are you? how was your trip?”, I started listing restaurants I wanted to try with her. Because I have food on my mind 24/7.

So, here are some highlights from her trip, mostly through food.

Saturday

We visited the World of Coca-Cola, walked through Centennial Olympic Park and had a late lunch at Meehan’s Public House. Once we got back home, we decided to make Easter treats for the next day. The original coconut macaroon idea was modified when I realized we were out of coconut. Instead, we chopped pumpkin seeds and almonds and told ourselves it was simply a healthier version.

World of Coca-Cola

World of Coca-Cola

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Making Easter treats

Our bird nests

Our bird nests

Sunday

We made our version of an Easter breakfast with eggs, turkey bacon, toast and chocolate-dipped strawberries. Soon after, we drove to Stone Mountain Park and managed to hike to the summit, despite a few detours in the forest (following the signs on the trees isn’t always as simply as it seems!). On our way back home, we went to Buford Highway Farmer’s Market. We ate lunch at the cafeteria, Cath was surprised by the spiciness of the dumplings, and we grabbed some ingredients for dinner.  Dinner was an adventure in itself. Inspired by our Easter theme, we grabbed random items at the market and figured we could come up with something once we’d be home. We went for a pastel theme: purple carrots, green spinach noodles, pink shrimp…then we added mushrooms, and shallots, just because. The sauce really became the challenge. We wanted to make a semi-Alfredo sauce but without the typical ingredients. So we used Gouda cheese and soft farmer’s cheese to make the sauce. The result was tasty enough but certainly not worth repeating. Despite the questionable results, we had so much fun making it and, honestly, it’s all that matters.

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At the top of Stone Mountain

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Sampling specialties from around the globe at Buford Highway Farmer’s Market

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Our attempt at an Easter dinner

Monday

Monday was our most productive tourist day. We started the day at the CNN tour where I came across a giant poster of foodie dreamboat, Anthony Bourdain. After the tour, we walked to the Underground to be reminded that there really isn’t much to see there. We then headed over to Little Five Points and had lunch at Porter Beer Bar where we both enjoyed the duck confit rueben sandwich. We stopped by Java Lords for a coffee break and bought 2 pounds of coffee beans to get us through the week. We then found the Beltine, a beautiful walking/biking path that surrounds the city, all the way to Piedmont Park where we enjoyed the view before heading back home. Of course, a fro-yo stop was forced upon us when Cath admitted that she had never been to a self-serve fro-yo store. That night, we had dinner at Eclipse Di Luna, another local favorite.

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With my foodie dreamboat at CNN

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A mural we came across while walking on the Beltline.

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Cath’s first self-serve frozen yogurt

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No my first brain freeze from fro-yo

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Glimpse at the city at Piedmont Park

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Tapas night at Eclipse Di Luna

Tuesday

We decided to take a short road trip to Savannah. We spend the afternoon at Tybee’s Island where I was reminded that I find beaches pretty but generally boring. Cath was a good sport though and didn’t force me to stay there too long. We had an incredible dinner at River House Seafood. I enjoyed a fabulous surf-and-turf plate with filet mignon and lobster. After dinner, we walked along the river and discovered a candy store where they made taffy and Georgia pralines in house. Best of all, there were free samplings of freshly made treats. Yum!

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At Tybee’s Island

Surf-and-turf at River House Seafood

Surf-and-turf at River House Seafood

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Old-school taffy machine.

Wednesday

We spent all morning exploring Savannah on the Old Trolley Tour. What a gorgeous town! We had a quick lunch at B&D Burgers where Cath discovered the biggest onion rings ever and I finally satisfied my need for a chili dog. We drove back to Atlanta in the afternoon and got back just on time to make ourselves a nice dinner at home: steak with (baked) sweet potato fries and a salad.

Mega chili dog with sweet potato fries at B&D Burgers

Mega chili dog with sweet potato fries at B&D Burgers

Biggest onion rings at B&D Burgers

Biggest onion rings at B&D Burgers

Beautiful Savannah building

Beautiful Savannah building

Thursday

Our last day together was lazy but so nice. We watched funny shows in the morning, made egg salad sandwiches for lunch, then took Marta to go check out Decatur. Once we got there, it was so hot that we had to get ice cream at Jeni’s Decatur Square. We ended the trip with dinner at Taco Mac, a nearby usual for Jeff and I.

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Ice cream break in Decatur

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Our last hurray at Taco Mac

I couldn’t have asked for a better week with my bestest friend in the world. We walked, we laughed, we ate. We created new memories to cherish as we get older and (arguably) wiser.

HMMW: Tortellini and Kale Soup

Processed with RookieI’m quickly reaching the point where our freezer is full of all the extra soups I have made in the past few months. Seriously. Our freezer is filled with chicken noodle soup, Quebec dumpling soup, split-pea soup, winter greens soup and now, I just added a container of tortellini soup. It’s getting out of hand. The problem is that each week, I think I will just eat the soup we have in the freezer. Then I find a new recipe and change my mind. I appear to have a soup addiction now.

Tortellini and Kale Soup

This week, I found a recipe for tortellini and kale soup. It had been buried in my Pinterest board for a long while and I thought it was a good time to finally try it. For some reason, although I wanted to make it, I expected it to be bland. Not sure why. Well, it certainly wasn’t! This was one of the tastiest soups I have made in a long while! I used this recipe from MyFitnessPal.

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Now, Jeff has been home unexpectedly this week (long story but all positive) so I didn’t have my usual evening meals prepared in advance.

Jeff made his famous curry (a recipe I should certainly share soon!) with a few tweaks: chicken, broccoli and spinach curry with a blend of brown and wild rice. It looked pretty different because he used green curry paste and the different rice but the taste was just as wonderful as I remembered it.

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On Wednesday, I went to Buford Highway Farmer’s Market with a colleague and, of course, I suggested having dinner there. I highly enjoyed my beef empanada and kimchi dumplings…Although the dumplings were spicier than I remembered!IMG_6617

Next week should be interesting since it will be both our wedding anniversary and my birthday! I already have a few baking and cooking projects in mind and I look forward to share the results!

HMMW: Cooking While “Surviving” Atlanta’s Version of a Winter Storm

This week has been a tad crazy. Our school has had 3 snow days this week. How much snow did we experience, you might ask. Well, outside my apartment, the answer is none. I understand why we had to close, like many other businesses in town. Last year, no one closed and that’s what caused the chaos that was “Atlanta’s Snowpocalypse”. There was also a faire amount of ice rain and sleet.

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So back to the food. Before I even realized all the upcoming weather madness, I made myself two meals for the week: Beef and vegetables lo mein and winter greens soup.

Beef and vegetables lo mein

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I found this simple recipe for lo mein and made a few modifications. Last time I went to the Buford Highway Farmer’s Market, I bought a pack of homemade-style Chinese noodles. I used them to make the lo mein. I also added beef strips and broccoli. I doubled the sauce quantity…because I like having a lot of sauce but I think the recipe would have been just as good with a regular sauce quantity.

Winter Greens Soup

I had a leek left from the Irish stew I made last week. And what could be better than soup on a cold winter’s day? So I found this great Vitamix recipe. Although the recipe was from the Vitamix website, it could certainly be made with any blender or immersion blender, in my opinion. The only thing I changed (because I forgot and then was too lazy to fix it) was the basil and red wine vinegar. The soup was still really good without it although, next time, I’ll try to follow the recipe better. :)

The soup and lo mein...plenty for lunches, dinners and some extra to freeze!

The soup and lo mein…plenty for lunches, dinners and some extra to freeze!

Now, here’s a list of random things I did while going stir-crazy in our apartment for 3 days:

  • Cleaned the apartment
  • Sewed new beddings for the cats’ bunk bed
  • Bought a new couch and kitchen table for ridiculously cheap (our apartment building management was selling everything from their model apartment)
  • Watched too many episodes of The Office (yes, I’m many years behind but I just started watching it a few weeks ago on Netflix)
  • Worked out for the first time since December
  • Created a potential website for my preschool

I will leave you with a picture of our cat, Fattie, enjoying her new bed set. :)

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Homemade Meals of the Week

I would like to make a weekly commitment to share the meals I make. Since my husband started traveling, it has been very tempting to eat out and to be lazy about cooking. I love cooking but after a long day at work, especially when Jeff isn’t in town, I just want to get cozy, eat a quick dinner and then watch TV or read until bedtime. So here’s a new post category to help motivate me: Homemade Meals of the Week (or HMMW). Here we go…

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Mac’s Pub Irish Stew & Mac’s Brown Irish Soda Bread

Both recipes were from The Irish Pub Cookbook. I picked the stew recipe because I had bought and frozen lamb a couple of weeks ago and also had been wanting to make a good Irish stew for a while. Right after making it, I honestly didn’t like how the stew looked. It was super liquid and I thought I would end up trying it once and throwing the rest away. But I was so wrong! The result was super tasty. I’m so glad I didn’t just chuck it out!! It turned out to be the perfect week for it too as it got mighty cold in Atlanta for the past few days. The Irish bread was suggested to go with the recipe. It was fairly different from the Julia Child recipe I usually make. Much denser bread and the use of whole wheat flour certainly changes the taste. I don’t know that I really liked it as much but it was nice to try something new.

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Irish stew with lamb, potatoes, carrots, leek and celery

Caesar Salad

I understand that Caesar salad isn’t too impressive. My mom used to make Caesar salad regularly (she probably still does, I just live too far to confirm) but in the last decade, I somehow forgot how much I like it. After having some a couple of times at restaurants, I figured I should just start making it at home. So simple, yet so tasty. It often ends up being the perfect dinner when I’m tired and not too hungry. I can prepare it in a couple of minutes and it is so very satisfying.

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Caesar salad with romaine lettuce, croutons, turkey bacon bits, shaved Parmesan and dressing

I already have a few things in mind for next week…we’ll see what I manage to pull off! :)

For the Love of Cheesecakes

IMG_6263Although for many people, Valentine’s Day is just another commercial holiday, I see it as a fun opportunity to remind people we love them…and a great excuse to prepare a nice meal! This year, there was an unexpected cheese theme. It all started with my sudden urge to try making a cheesecake and was followed by our constant craving for cheese fondue. During my last trip to Target, I found a fair amount of Valentine candy as well as adorable individual heart-shaped baking pans. I spent Saturday morning looking for a cheesecake recipe and ended up making a modified version of Cooking Classy’s recipe.

Strawberry and Oreo Cheesecake:

(4 individual baking pans, 12 muffin-size or 1 regular cake)

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups of crumbled Oreo cookies (with cream removed)
  • 5 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1.5 cups of strawberries
  • 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 2 packages of cream cheese, softened
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream

What’s Next?

  1. Preheat the oven to 325˚F.
  2. In a bowl, stir the Oreo crumbs and the melted butter until evenly moistened. Place the crumbs at the bottom of your dish/es. Press firmly into an even layer.
  3. Bake the crusts for 5 minutes, then remove from the oven and let cool.
  4. To make the strawberry coulis, place the strawberries in a blender or food processor to make them mostly liquid. Add a little bit of water if needed. Put blended strawberries through a strainer to eliminate any chunks or seeds. Set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and flour. Using a stand-mixer (or electric mixer), add the cream cheese and lemon zest and blend until smooth. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla and sour cream until combined. Tap your bowl against your countertop several times to release the air bubbles that might have formed in the mixture.
  6. Divide the mixture among the baking dishes. Fill each dish nearly full.
  7. Add a few dollops of strawberry coulis on each dish and create patterns with a toothpick.
  8. Bake the cheesecakes for 20-25 minutes or until they are puffed and nearly set.
  9. Allow to cool completely, then refrigerate for 3 hours before serving.
  10. For serving, you can drizzle some strawberry coulis on your cheesecake.

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The result was very tasty. I was so proud to have it taste like actual cheesecake! If anything, I could have mixed more strawberry coulis in the cheesecake mixture.

This Valentine included cheese fondue, good wine and my first cheesecakes. Not bad at all. :)

I hope you all had a love-filled weekend and wish you all the love in the world, every day of the year!

Past posts about Valentine’s Day:

The Germans Visit Atlanta!

In 2007, I was an AuPair in Virginia. I met a cool German girl named Jenny and we really got along. We watched the Oscars together, went to all the restaurant chains in town, shopped and really just had a good time. Although we stayed in touch through the years, we hadn’t seen each other since.

I was overjoyed when she told me she could come visit Atlanta for a few days during her trip to the US last November! She was accompanied by her sister and sister’s boyfriend. Unfortunately, during her stay, we were both pretty sick so we didn’t spend quite as much time together as we would have hoped. I did join them to tour the Georgia Aquarium as well as the Coca-Cola museum. We used that time to catch up on the last 7 years

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Jenny, hanging out with the penguins at the Aquarium

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Taking my Coca-cola bottle at the end of the World of Coca-Cola tour.

On our last evening before Jenny left, Jeff recommended taking them to The Vortex, a cool bar in Midtown. Now, a smoky bar with greasy food might not have been the best place for two sick girls but we had fun nonetheless. :)

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Jenny and I at The Vortex

My wonderfully generous friend also came bearing gifts! She brought me a ridiculous amount of delicious chocolate as well as two German cookbooks! I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet but looking through it, I can’t wait to try many of them! As for the chocolate, I did dig in…I still have some left but it did confirm that European chocolate is far superior to any of the American stuff. Sorry America. ;)

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Jenny’s stay was short but it was so nice to see one of my closest AuPair friends. It was nice to see that even if we didn’t always do the best job at staying in touch, we could still catch up as if it hadn’t even been that long. International friendships are funny that way. It’s always sad to think about how far we are from someone but then, there is something extra special when we actually get to see each other again.