I love baking and cooking – it’s one of the things I do to relieve stress. But there’s something about spending time and cooking a meal for someone you love that can make sitting down and eating 10 times more special than it would if you went out to a fancy restaurant. While I’m not good enough to make things up on the spot, I usually know what I want to do, and will mix and match and take liberties with recipes to create my own. It’s a trial and error process that kind of ensures I’ll cook everything FINE but gives me the freedom to experiment and learn on my own.
I usually like to cook a “fancy” meal for D and I on the weekend – Friday or Saturday night. It gives me a chance – and the time! – to be creative with my cooking (something I don’t do during the week), but it also works as a good cost-saving activity on a tight budget. Eating out is EXPENSIVE. While purchasing the ingredients can get expensive, a little planning (and a little swapping or cutting out of ingredients) can keep the costs lower. There’s no point in buying an ingredient if you’re never going to use it, and you can usually cut it or swap it out if need be. I also usually will steer clear of recipes that have ingredients that I can’t buy in small quantities or that I won’t ever eat again. Because if I won’t eat them again, D sure won’t. But one thing I like to keep in mind when I look at the cost of the ingredients or a look at the final grocery bill, the meal for two cooked at home is much cheaper on the wallet. My recommendation would be is to plan to day ahead – so if fancy meal is on Friday, plan on Thursday night so you can scour your pantry and fridge for ingredients before heading out shopping!
I do try to keep my “fancy” meals relatively healthy – but sometimes the meal gets away from you. I figure if I can keep it light on fats (sometimes recipes can be heavy with oil, butter, and fat), keep it heavy on vegetables, and convert it to smaller portions of the heavier and larger portions of the lighter, then I’m doing okay. So that was my goal last night.
So the original planned meal was thinly sliced, marinated steak over potato pancakes with a fruit glaze/sauce, served with a simple side salad. A few weeks ago I tried my hand with potato pancakes – I loved them, but D said they were bland, and requested them to be citrus-y. I was appalled at his request, but in an effort to make it work, I planned this meal.
Here’s the final meal from last night:
We ended up with glazed ham instead of marinated steak, and had pineapple upside down cupcakes for dessert.
I wish D would have been able to help me take pictures as I cooked, but he was busy with the present I bought him from my business trip – a baseball with all the president’s faces, and a book about the best and worst of the presidencies since the beginning of the U.S. of A.
The order in which I made things:
- Vanilla/pineapple upside cupcakes
- Red wine tomato vinaigrette dressing
- Cinnamon citrus glaze
- Ham warmed up in the oven
- Potato pancakes
- Cherry whipped cream frosting
How I made the cupcakes:
Because I don’t like making large batches of cupcakes (24 cupcakes is a lot for 2 people, or more like 1 person since I’m the only who eats them), I found a recipe that would make just two cupcakes. It actually ended up being 3 cupcakes, but who cares? I used this recipe for the pineapple bottom of the cupcakes, and this recipe for the vanilla cupcakes. I made these first so the cupcakes could cool off while we ate dinner.
I did not use cherries on the bottom – instead, I made a cherry whipped cream frosting (instructions below). A little twist on the traditional.
If you’re going for the pineapple upside down cupcakes, pull them out of the oven and let them cool for a few minutes. After they’ve cooled and the pineapple bottoms have had a chance to “harden” up a little, cut the tops of the cupcakes off, pull the wrapper off, and flip them up. That’s the essence of the pineapple upside down cake anyway.
How I made the ham:
I used ham instead of steak because I had ham on hand, and I used this recipe for the glaze. The glaze had a bit of a kick to it – I think if I were to make it again, I would cut down on the ginger and the cloves. I think I was a little heavy handed with it. It’s a RICH glaze.
I started the glaze first, and got it cooking to boiling. Once the glaze was going, I prepped the ham for the oven. Since it was leftover ham, I just needed to warm it up, but I wanted the glaze on there to caramelize. I laid the pieces of ham out on a pan, and heated the oven up to 450 degrees. With the rack as high as it would go, I spooned some of the glaze on the ham, and let the ham do it’s thing in the oven. I would say it was in there for 10-15 minutes. I did do a second round of the glaze on the ham about halfway through; it left a nice glaze that you sometimes get with hams at holiday dinners.
However, I wanted the glaze to be thick, to put on top of the potatoes (and on top of the ham, although it didn’t really need it). So I mixed a little corn starch and a little water together and put it in the glaze to thicken it up. Mixing the corn starch with the water first ensures that the corn starch goes in smooth, and you aren’t left with little lumps of corn starch in your sauce. Add it a little bit at a time until it becomes the consistency that you want. I typically cheat like this with glazes, gravies, and sauces because I’m too lazy to sit there and stir.
How I made the potato pancakes:
I don’t have a recipe for the potato pancakes. I remember seeing it being made on TV, and basically made it up from that memory.
Using a fine grater, I grated one peeled potato and part of an small onion – it was probably about a quarter of the onion. Yes I grated the onion, it creates this really thick onion juice, that adds flavor to the potato. Using a fine grater for both of these ingredients means creamy potato pancakes – if you use a more coarse grater, you’ll get “chunks” and I don’t like chunks of onion in these. I added some garlic paste (I discovered it at the grocery store last night, it’s super awesome), some black pepper, one egg, and some flour – maybe a 1/4 cup? I didn’t measure; I mixed those ingredients up until I add some batter the consistency of regular potatoes.
On low, I heated up some oil – yes I fried these; that’s how it’s traditionally done. The first time I made them I tried baking them, but it just took too long. This is quicker. I spooned in the batter, and fried the pancakes on each side for about 4 minutes (8 minutes total). I think we ended up with about 10 potato pancakes using the above “recipe.”
How I made the salad:
D is a hard core Caesar salad fan, but I wanted a salad dressing that was lighter, so I made a red wine tomato vinaigrette from Skinny Taste. I love this website – the recipes are lightened up but don’t taste like it. It’s my go-to almost all the time – and I especially love it for salad dressing. Just as a sidenote: the creamy cilantro tomatillo dressing is another one D loves. Sometimes, we’ll eat it as a dip with chips. It’s delicious in the summer with a taco-inspired salad – corn, black beans, tomatoes, and some crunchies on top.
D loved the red wine vinaigrette as did I. I like to toss my salads together before serving, to evenly distribute the dressing, so I threw some romaine, the dressing, and the croutons together, mixed it up, and topped it with some parmesan cheese.
How I made the frosting:
Grenadine and heavy whipping cream! If you’ve never made homemade whipped cream, you’re missing out. It is the simplest thing – literally heavy whipping cream and some beaters. Beat the whipping cream until it’s the texture you want. I like mine a little fluffier, so I might whip it longer than most people.
For this particular whipping cream, I just added in maybe a teaspoon or two of grenadine before I started whipping. Pineapple upside cake traditionally has cherries and pineapples, so I wanted something lighter and ingredients I would use again (maraschino cherries would sit in the fridge, while grenadine and the whipping cream will probably get consumed). It had just enough cherry flavor for the top of the cupcakes.
Grenadine lasts a long time in the fridge (it’s pure sugar, seriously) and let’s be honest – that whipping cream is going to taste delicious atop of my coffee this weekend
Exercise update either later tonight or tomorrow – I just wanted to share my foodie moment with you all!