While the majority of the world was celebrating Mother’s Day yesterday, I got to celebrate the engagement of one of my dearest friends, Liz.  I’ve known about the proposal for a while now, and it was quite hard to contain my excitement in the weeks leading up to the surprise day.

I must admit, I’m not a huge wedding person.  The more I hear about them, the more I fear they’re just filled with drama and poorly coordinated dresses.  My attitude about them did a complete 180 after yesterday’s festive brunch celebration, held just minutes after her now fiance proposed.   It was so wonderful to be a part of the memorable day, it even managed to bring me to tears at one point.

In honor of the happy couple I transformed these cupcakes into a cake. I had traveled to Buenos Aires with Liz a few years back and we consumed more dulce de leche sauce than I’d like to admit.  And beyond that, her fiance is from Argentina. Thus, this feature ingredient only felt appropriate.  For the cake I followed this recipe, and it truly delivered the most moist cake I’ve ever made (I can’t recommend it enough).  Though I was thoroughly stuffed from my two trips to the brunch buffet, I managed to scarf down a piece (and perhaps the rest of Brandon’s too).  While I’m glad Liz and Ivan with get to enjoy the leftovers this week, I totally wish that to-go box was sitting in my fridge.

Congrats you two!

With a big move coming up in less that two months, the weeks seem to be flying by.  I don’t know how it’s already Friday.  This period feels reminiscent of the end of college.  The weather is getting warmer, the days are packed with social engagements, and yet there’s just not enough time to see everyone you need to see.

It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in DC for as long as we were in college.  While I’m thrilled about all the change to come, I’m beginning to feel nostalgic about our time here.  It’s making me do things like bake muffins for my co-workers, because only once in the for years that I’ve been working have I done that.  So last night, while I had every intention of doing yoga, I baked these instead.  They came out beautifully, and the Suzy homemaker in me was excited to bring them to the office.  Then, as I was plating them up this morning, I realized that the blueberries had caused the muffins to take on this intense blue-ish hue.  These photos (thankfully) don’t do complete justice to the horrifying appearance of muffins.

In hind sight, we really should have enjoyed these at home (so much for my efforts to make something for my co-workers).  They taste delicious but their appearance is, well, rather off-putting.  My recommendation to you to avoid this outcome- fresh berries over frozen.

Incredibly Moist Blueberry Muffins adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 T baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 T cinnamon

3/4 c milk

1 egg

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

2/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Sift together all dry ingredients, set aside in medium size bowl.  Whisk together egg and milk, then mix in melted butter.  Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients.  Pour in the wet ingredient mixture, and stir gently to combine.  Do not over mix, there should be lumps in the batter.  Fold in blueberries and sugar.

Divide batter into muffin tins.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean.  Let cool and serve, or store in an air tight container for up to 5 days.  Muffins can also be frozen too for up to one month.

I’ve said it before, but I am by no means skilled in the area of Asian cooking, nor do I have much motivation to hone those culinary skills.  That sounds lazy.  What I really mean is that given the option, I’d much rather learn to make a killer souffle than master dumplings at home. Maybe dumpling is a bad example, I really love dumplings.  Ok- let’s just say that of all cuisines, I feel the least confident in this area in the kitchen.  When following even the simplest Thai or Chinese recipes, I measure every ingredient exactly, I don’t dare trust my own judgement.  I’m also very reluctant to attempt recipes which require a laundry list of unusual ingredients.  So when I happen upon a Asian inspired dish that is not only straight forward, but for which I already have all the ingredients in my cupboard- I’m sold.

Such was the case with this asparagus recipe.  It’s asparagus season, and I highly encourage you to welcome the bounty with this dish.  I’ve used this recipe to prepare all 3 pounds of asparagus in our fridge; it is that good.  It’s all in the sauce, which gains its highly addictive flavor from the combination of salty soy sauce, sweet brown sugar, and tangy rice wine vinegar.  When roasted, the sauce caramelizes slightly, giving the asparagus such depth of flavor.  The sauce is highly versatile, too.  Aside from spooning it straight into your mouth (yes, that happened), it’d be perfect as a sauce or marinade for shrimp, chicken, beef, or any other vegetables like green beans, cabbage, or mushrooms.

Sweet Soy Roasted Asparagus adapted from Dana Treat

1 lb asparagus spears

2 tsp water

1 tsp garlic chile sauce or curry paste

5 tsp rice wine vinegar

4 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp grated ginger

1/2 tsp sesame oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Whisk together all ingredients, from the water through the sesame oil.  Place asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet and drizzle with 3/4 of the sauce.  Bake for 12-14 minutes.  I like mine quite crisp, so I only cook them for 12 minutes.  Cook longer if you prefer your asparagus softer.  Once cooked, serve immediately with remaining sauce on the side.

When making certain dishes, you have to accept the outcome won’t be perfect the first time around. Try as you might, the final product will not look like the picture in the cookbook. One really needs to come to terms with this fact when making tarts and pies, or anything that involves pastry. Making pastry dough makes one realize how much cooking is truly a science. For someone who loathed high school chemistry, pastry intimidates me.

For a while I could avoid the act, as I didn’t care for pies that much growing up. Correction, I liked pie crust, I was just squeamish about the cooked fruit. Thankfully I’ve outgrown those tastes. And then, after having this quiche for Easter brunch last weekend, it became very clear I needed to take the plunge and attempt homemade pastry.

So for the past week I scoured the web for tips, tricks, and secrets to creating perfectly flakey pastry crust. Of all the article, blog posts, and recipes I read, they all shared the two main tenets: make sure every single ingredient is very cold, and work quickly. In the end, I settled on Deb of Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “Pate Brisee,” the french version of classic pie or tart pastry. I figured with a combination of Martha and Julia, one really couldn’t go wrong. With an abundance of vegetables in our fridge, I chose a mixture of asparagus, scallions, and shiitake mushrooms. You could easily do all mushrooms or asparagus, or a variety of other vegetables like broccoli, zucchini, squash, etc. Whichever you choose, you’ll need 2 cups of chopped vegetables.

The outcome? In terms of flavor and texture, I’d say pretty darn good for my first attempt. I had a few snafus; my crust shrunk a bit (a common pastry problem), and I forgot to pierce holes in a my crust prior to baking which made it puff up slightly, but overall, we were more than satisfied with this quiche for our at home Sunday brunch. With berry season just around the corner, I predict many pies in our future.

Asparagus and Shiitake Mushroom Quiche

Serves 6

Pate Brisee adapted from Smitten Kitchen

I followed Deb’s recipe very closely, except I needed a few more tablespoons of water for my dough to come together. I was concerned it would affect the texture, but I still found it to be flakey and light. I also stored my dough in the fridge over night, and then rolled it out the next day. Once rolled out, I placed the pie dish back in the fridge until my oven was fully heated. While the tart shell is par baking, prep the egg mixture.

Remaining Ingredients:

6 stalks thin asparagus, 1/2 inch dice

8 shiitake mushrooms, wiped with a damp cloth, stems removed, diced

3 green onions, finely chopped

3/4 c shredded gouda cheese

3 eggs

1 1/2 cups whole milk


s+p to taste

Set a medium size sauce pan to medium low heat. Add a pat of butter to the pan. Once melted, add in the vegetables, tossing to coat with the butter. Let cook for 10-12 minutes until vegetables are slightly softened. Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, several grinds black pepper, and a 1/2 tsp salt. Once the vegetables have cooked and cooled slightly, gently fold into the egg mixture. The fold in half the grated cheese.

After the crust has been par baked, pour in the egg mixture. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese. Deb instructs you to lower your oven to 375. I kept mine at 400 and and found the results to be fine. Mine took just 25 minutes, with a lower temp it would likely need the full 30 minutes to cook. Let the quiche cool for 5 minutes, then serve immediately along side lightly dressed greens.

This week has felt exceptionally erratic and I find myself longing for the weekend more than usual.  I have lots of little annoying things looming- a massive pile of laundry, store returns, and a dirty bathroom, but we’ve got some fun stuff planned too.  Tonight we have a long overdue date night scheduled at Rosa Mexicano, Saturday I’ll be attempting my first quiche (full report to come next week), and Sunday we’re having an early dinner with friends at the recently opened DC location of Hill Country.  The weather is also supposed to be glorious.  Not this sticky humid DC summer weather we’ve had this week (even though its April), but true spring 70 degree weather.

Unlike last week, I haven’t been too busy in the kitchen.  Except for this dip.  My food processor has been cranking out a lot of this white bean and sun dried tomato dip.  We’re quite fond of it.  I think the sun dried tomatoes provide just the right bite against the creamy beans, and a white bean dip is a nice alternative to our relentless hummus routine.  And with only a handful of ingredients, it couldn’t be simpler to make.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Sun Dried Tomato White Bean Dip

1 15 oz can white cannelini beans (reserve 2 T of liquid from can)

one head of garlic, roasted (instructions here)

7 sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, roughly chopped

olive oil

s+p to taste

Set aside 2 T of liquid from can of beans, drain and rinse remaining contents.  Placed sun dried tomatoes in food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Then add in beans, roasted garlic cloves, freshly cracked paper, reserved liquid, and 2 T olive oil.   Blend until well combined.    If dip seems dry, add a bit more oil, blending and adding more until it reaches a creamy consistency.  Serve immediately or store covered in fridge up to one week.