Sunday, February 28, 2010

Party of One? Your table is ready.

I'm a total proponent of alone time.  But when given the choice, I infrequently opt to spend time alone.  Now that I'm married, a whole weekend alone is awfully rare.  So when it comes along, truthfully, I'm a little excited.  My single girlfriends tell me all the time that they don't cook for themselves because it's "too hard to cook for just one."  Ok, so I admit, I've never actually lived alone- I've always had roommates.  As a result, I don't truly know what it's like to cook for one on a regular basis.  And every time one of my friends tells me they will cook more when someone special comes along, or that they ate cereal for dinner the night before, I sympathize on the outside and snicker on the inside (I know, shame on me).  How can you want to eat more simply because there's someone eating with you?  Isn't nourishing yourself with good eats important no matter if you've you got someone to spoon at night or not? 

Then I became a cooking-for-one girl this weekend.  The week leading up to this weekend, I was full of fabulous ideas and boasting what great dishes I would cook for myself.  And then Friday night came and I was thiiiiis close to eating cereal.  No joke.  That's when the light bulb went on.  For me, I enjoy watching others eat almost as much as I enjoy eating.  I love knowing someone is eating my food and savoring it.  Maybe that's how it is for others.  Or maybe it's no fun washing and drying dishes alone and it all feels like too much work for only one person.  However, there's something to be said for having great leftovers to impress your friends with at work, right?  Since I'd been so high and mighty about feeding one mouth I kicked my own ass and got myself to the store and back to the kitchen to nourish my bod with something delish (all the while apoligizing to my single girls).  Ironically (or maybe not), I chose all foods my husband does not enjoy: polenta, black beans and cilantro.  The moment I know I'll be eating without my hubby, I immediately crave polenta.  It's creamy, hearty and versatile enough to tango with tons of accompaniments.  I wanted to add a little protein so I chose a black bean topping, and even added bacon for some crunch (don't want the whole dinner to be mush).  The end result was something all singles out there can appreciate- it's a cinch to prep, a joy to eat, and there's very little to clean up afterward!

Single Girl (or boy!) Polenta with Black Beans & Veggies
  • polenta
  • chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • shredded cheddar
  • half a bell pepper (red, orange or yellow) diced
  • half a small onion diced
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 5 or 6 button mushrooms, halved
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2-3 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces and cooked up nice and crispy
  • cilantro
  • sour cream
Make the topping first, especially if you've purchased quick cooking polenta.  Add some cooking spray or olive oil to a skillet and saute the bell peppers and onions until the onions become translucent and the peppers begin to soften.  Add the beans, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and garlic.  Lower the heat and give it a stir every now and then while you prepare the polenta.    Make the polenta according to the package directions by swapping in chicken stock for the water the package calls for. Stir in the butter and cheese once it has finished cooking.  To serve, scoop a large helping of polenta into the center of a plate or bowl.  Add the bean and vegetable mix on top.  Top with a spoonful of sour cream, sprinkle with bacon and add a generous helping of cilantro.  I adore cilantro.  I once ate almost an entire bunch of cilantro on my way home from the store.  I can't get enough... but a lot of people (my husband included) aren't big fans of the pungent little leaves.  So it's your choice if you want to add it to this dish or not. 

And as an extra bonus I have compiled a list of things to do while dining alone to make the experience feel less... well, less like "one" and more like "fun."
  • Play Jeopardy when it's on TV.  You don't have to phrase your answers correctly and you won't embarrass yourself in front of anyone when you realize you don't know most of the answers.
  • Drink from your sexy wine glasses (everyone's got sexy glasses, right?)
  • Get a fantastic bottle of wine- you deserve it!
  • Dress up... if you look good, you'll feel good.
  • Practice your dance moves all over the house! 
  • Buy a smut magazine and make fun of the stars.
  • Sing at the top of your lungs, you'll sound great. You can even serenade your pets.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cook Me Slowly

I know there are plenty of people out there similar to me.  People that have favorite utensils, pans, and bowls (even if they have an odd number).  People that refuse to get rid of something simply because it's done nothing wrong; it has just been used over and over and aged some along the way.  I have something in my kitchen that fits such a description: my crockpot.  It's no longer especially attractive or gleaming with newness. It's got an old fashioned spin dial- no digital, stainless steel or locked lid.  Its temperature gauge is a little off and it's permanently stained in some places.  But I love it.  I genuinely love it.  It's done nothing wrong but slowly and gently cooked everything and anything I've placed in it.  It has filled every home I've had with the most amazing and comforting aromas.  It has added happiness during football Sunday, warmth in the middle of the winter and a level of convenience during any night of the week.  When I consider purchasing a new, sleek and shiny, top of the line slow cooker, I feel as though I'm cheating and immediately feel remorseful and change my mind.  We're that tight.

My crock pot was a gift from my mom shortly after I graduated college.  At first I thought, "great, now what do I do with this thing?"   In spite of my initial indifference, I did take a shot at cooking something in it and the first thing I made was pulled pork.  Admittedly, after that first use, it didn't spend much time slow cooking anything during the next couple years and instead spent the majority of our early years together stuck in the back of a cabinet.  But one day, living in Florida, it came out of storage and our relationship blossomed.  Now I could probably dedicate a blog solely to the use of my crock pot and I've even nailed down one amazing recipe for pulled pork (which I'll even eat now!).  But pulled pork, while a logical recipe to share given its appearance twice in this post, is not the recipe I'm choosing to share.  Instead I'm opting for something we made recently.  I don't even have a real name for it but maybe I can settle on... Asian BBQ Short Ribs.  We picked up our ribs at our local butcher in Eastern Market with no idea of how they would ultimately be served.  But my husband and I knew one thing for sure: they would meet our slow cooker and they would love her.  In the end I settled for a mix of some Asian inspired ingredients- hoison, soy, rice wine vinegar along with some other staples such as ketchup and honey.  After eight hours of super low heat the short ribs were undeniably tender, juicy and finger licking delicious (did I just write finger licking? I'm almost embarrassed).  We served it with fresh brussel sprouts we picked up at one of the local vegetable stands and the combination with the ribs and rice was a perfect match. 

Disclaimer- I've said it before and I will continue to do so.  I am NOT a good measurer.  These measurements are estimates and may need to be altered to please your palate.  I often just throw in heaping tablespoons of something and smaller teaspoons of others, then alter as I go until the flavor makes me grin.  So forgive me if you choose to follow the measurements to a "T" and they don't work out just right.

3 pounds of short ribs (serves two plus lunch leftovers)
couple heaping tablespoons of hoison sauce
8-10 shakes of soy sauce
8-10 shakes of rice wine vinegar
about 1/2 cup of ketchup
2 tablespoons of honey
1 bottle beer- any light beer will do
4 scallions, white and green parts sliced on an angle and set aside
2 cups cooked white rice (make shortly before serving)

Mix the hoison, soy, vinegar, ketchup and honey together in a large bowl.  Stick your finger in it and give it a taste.  Adjust as necessary (it should be sweet and slightly tart with a deep flavor from the hoison).  Set aside just under 1/4 cup of the sauce to drizzle over the ribs when they finish cooking. Take the short ribs and toss them in the remaining sauce until they are well coated.  Place them in the slow cooker.  Pour 1/2 bottle of beer over the ribs.  Drink the remainder even if it's 9 am.  You will feel like a total rebel and it will undoubtedly put a smile on your face.  Cook on low heat, about 225, for 6-8 hours.  Check to make sure there is enough moisture about 1/2 way through the cooking time.  If not, add more beer, and feel free to polish this one off too.  I also like to flip my ribs over at this time to be certain both sides are receiving the love of the beer.  About 20 minutes before your happy meat is done, cook your rice.  You can choose to serve your ribs with or sans bone.  I went without because they were falling off of them anyway. It also gave me a chance to trim off a little fat so my husband and I could do our best to enjoy an evening where we weren't picking our teeth throughout the meal (it keeps the sexiness alive, ya know?). 

To serve, pile some rice in the middle of your plate.  Take the meat and pile in the middle of the rice.  Drizzle some of your set aside sauce over the top and around the rice.  Sprinkle with scallion and serve. 

What are some of your favorite slow cooker meals?  While I have hundreds (literally) of recipes, recommendations from real people will make it in my pot before a cook book recipe will.  So share!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Recipe for a bad day

Whether it's psychological or not, Mondays have a distinct tendency to be bad days. Eventhough I am a fairly upbeat, happy kind of girl,  Mondays almost always get me.  Maybe it's the fact that the weekends are never long enough or the realization that all those things I brought home to work on, stayed in my unpacked bag (and sometimes they never even leave my car!).  This Monday was no different, though I suspect its "badness" was fueled by the snow that has now turned black and continues to sit in large piles every where I look.  I'm yearning for cherry blossoms and song birds, spring fever and baseball seasons opening day (Go Sox!).  So I planned ahead.  I decided that I would schedule in a comfort meal for this Monday.  Something I could dive into and immediately feel better.  Something that would feel like the food equivalent of a hug.  That something was chicken pot pie.  My memory of pot pie involves a flimsy tinfoil tray and perfectly square cut potatoes with a hint of chicken.  I also recall always burning some part of my mouth and not being able to taste anything for at least 3 days afterward as a result.  They were always really small yet contained enough calories to satisfy three peoples' daily caloric intake!  As an adult, I wanted to make something healthier that still allowed us to eat for the rest of the day without having to hit the gym for 3 hours.  What I didn't want to do was detract from the comforting qualities of a miniature meat and veggie pie.  Mission accomplished. Some people make pot pie on a large scale... one pot and everyone digs in.  But when something is really good, (and this recipe is in fact really good), then it's rather difficult to share.  I opt for individual servings, but I serve them in crocks, not flimsy tinfoil trays.  I also take some help with the pastry (which is just a way of saying that I cheat).  While I'm certain there are chicken pot pie recipes that will knock this one out of the park, this recipe does just what I need it to do.  It hugs me.  

Recipe for a bad day:
Serves 2 people

2 oven safe individual size crocks
2 medium carrots, finely diced (small is good, they cook faster)
2 medium celery stalks, finely diced (keep all the veggies the same size for even cooking)
2 little potatoes, red bliss or similar, cut into little cubes
3/4 cup pearl onions (I use frozen for convenience)
1/2 cup frozen peas
About 2 cups chicken stock (give or take)
3 tablespoons flour
About 4 tablespoons butter
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Pillsbury Crescent Recipe Creations dough (it's the crescent roll dough w/o seems)
fresh or ground thyme
salt and pepper

Pre heat oven to 375
Prepare your chicken by slicing the thighs into bite size pieces.  Season 'em up a bit with some s&p. Add a little olive oil or cooking spray to a skillet and cook the chicken until they are mostly cooked through.  A little underdone is perfectly acceptable as they will be finished off in the oven.

Drop two tablespoons of butter into a wide sauce pan with high sides. After it melts a little, add the carrots, celery and potatoes. Season with salt and lots of pepper. Cook for about 6-8 minutes tossing them around every now and then.  Add about a half cup of broth to the veggies.  Continue to cook until the veggies have soaked up all the broth.  Add the onions and peas and another half cup or so of the broth.  Turn heat down to low. 

Roll out your dough.  It's one long sheet so you will need to evenly divide it into 4 sections (you don't need a ruler, just do your best, it's pretty forgiving).  Take one sheet and create the bottom crust of your pie.  It's the shape of a rectangle so you'll need to squish and push and play with it a little (an excuse to play with food!).  It should completely cover the bottom of your bowl and most of the sides of your bowl.  Repeat this procedure with another piece of dough and your other crock.  Bake in the oven until they are mostly done, about 9 minutes or so.  They do puff up a little, but it's no big thing because your filling will put them back in place. 

While your bottom crusts are baking, go back to your vegetables.  Add the chicken, the rest of your butter and three tablespoons of flour.  Stir it all together and add more chicken stock until you have reached a nice creamy consistency.  It shouldn't be thin like soup but you also want it to have enough liquid to keep it from being too dry once it's in the crust (think of the consistency of gravy).  Cook for another couple minutes to get it all incorporated and so the taste of flour dissipates.  Throw in your thyme.  I love pepper, so I usually add a couple more hits of that.  I'm cautious with the salt since the broth is typically salty enough. 

Now scoop the filling into each of your crusts.  There is a chance that you'll have leftover filling, but it's unlikely if you're generous. Take the top half of your dough and lay it over your filling.  Remember that your bowls may still be hot, so work quickly and carefully.  Again you'll need to squish and pull and play around.  If not every last bit of the top is covered, don't worry about it.  You're going to eat it and like it either way- promise.

Pop the pies back into the oven and cook for 12-13 minutes or until the crust on top is golden.  Let them sit for a few minutes once you take them out so you don't burn your tongue (see?  I've learned a little from my experiences!). 

Serve alongside a green salad and, if you really want to make it a throwback meal, a tall glass of milk.  Then prepare to receive one healthy, happy culinary hug. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My Man's Got Mussels

How do you know it's true love?  When your husband is willing to placate your every food whim.  And a girl like me has a lot of food whims.  Today I needed lunch, farmers market, AND Trader Joe's.  At first read, this may not seem like a huge feat.  So what?  Three stops, no big deal.  But you haven't been to the Trader Joe's at Bailey's Crossroads (and if you have, you feel my pain... lots of pain).  The plaza sits in the middle of two incredibly busy streets and the parking lot is too small for the three major stores and 7 or 8 other little shops and eateries.  Top that off with the fact that at least one quarter of the parking lot is taken up with 12 foot piles of snow, and it's a recipe for major anxiety.  But a girl needs what a girl needs.  Sadly that girl also needs her husband to take care of the driving because the sheer idea of a trek to Trader Joes panics me to the point of needing a xanax.  Last week when I tried to go solo, I actually took off a guy's side mirror with my own.  Cramped quarters.  But they've got a great cheese selection (which we didn't need) and a neighborhood vibe- most likely because every neighbor is in the store at the same time.  So, yes, we had to go.  Our actual shopping trip lasted 15 minutes but the wait in line was 30, resulting in an impulsive purchase of homemade apple pie and a sprint for whipped cream once we actually made it to the register.  

But it was all worth it, because my man got mussels.

And you may or may not know they are actually an aphrodisiac.  After all, Aphrodite was born of the sea and therefore not just the lovely oyster gets the fame for love inducing seafood.  So all this and he wants to feed me love food?  I am one lucky girl.  As a result tonights post is all about Ladd and his mussels.  It is also worth pointing out that nothing for these mussels was even purchased at Trader Joes (it was all for my dinner instead).  True love indeed. 

Ladd's Mussels

  • 1 pound farmed mussels

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

  • 1 can organic diced tomatoes

  • 2 cups white wine

  • 2 cups chicken broth (this varies)

  • crusty bread for soaking up the juice because you will want to do just that

Since the mussels are farmed, you won't need to debeard them, but you should give them a rinse in some cold water.  Discard any mussels that are already opened as they are no longer alive.  Using a deep sauce pan, add the olive oil and garlic and saute for just a couple minutes.  Add the wine and tomatoes with their juice.  Bring it just to a boil. Toss in your mussels to bathe in the broth and add enough chicken broth to just cover them.  Put a lid on it.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until the mussels have opened up.  Discard any that didn't, they clearly don't want to join the party.  Meanwhile, slice up some bread. We toasted ours a little for some added crunch.  Do what makes you happy.  Split the mussels, broth and all, between two bowls.  Top with some of your bread and enjoy over candlelight. 

One final note: As I watched the mussels take the plunge into a bath of wine, garlic and tomato I actually considered what that might be like for me... soaking in a hot tub of tomato and garlic.  It brought a smile to my face and I almost envied that mussel.  Is that weird?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dippin' into love

When I awoke yesterday morning, I was smacked with the almost painful realization that I was heading back to reality. Back to the day-to-day. Dug out from under the snow and the expectancy of clear skies in the forecast, I could no longer spend my days living in my pajamas creating and eating new recipes. The horror.

The truth is that I only spent the first week of our snowcation in my pajamas. The second part was full of shoveling, fighting other patrons at the grocery store (I was almost part of a scuffle over the last package of toilet paper), and enjoying some good quality time with our friends visiting from Rhode Island.

Disappointing as it was to bid adieu to our friends as they travelled north while I rejoined the morning commute, I still had the memories of my weekend-- full of great food, too many drinks and the right amount of laughs. One of our memorable food nights (admittedly all of them were memorable in their own right), was our Valentine's Fondue evening. Not only did we rock one fantastic meal, but it was interactive to boot.

The first time my husband and I went out with this dynamic duo we met at The Melting Pot for a fondue feast of cheese, seafood & tenderloin and a decadent finale of chocolate fondue and fruits. We have always had fun ( and great service-Thanks Amanda!) at the MP in south Florida and we thought surely this time would be no different. But it was different indeed. In their defense, the restaurant had just opened their doors two days prior to our dinner night. It was painfully clear that they still had some learning to do. I have learned from that very experience not to make reservations at a brand new establishment until they've worked out all the kinks. However, the night was still a blast and we very quickly learned how easy going our friends could be as a result! (phew)

Since we were spending the holiday of love with our BFFs, I decided to recreate our first dinner date with them. The difference? I'd keep their drinks filled and wouldn't make them wait over an hour for their food to arrive. I wanted to tackle cheese fondue, coq au vin fondue for meat and seafood and instead of the usual chocolate fondue I decided to call an audible and opted for a Molten Spiced Chocolate Cabernet Cake (are you terrified that I chose to bake?)

Admittedly the recipes weren't my own but I cooked them with style and threw in a couple Holly moves. If you want to wow your friends or just want an excuse to sword fight with fondue sticks, this is a meal you must make.

Cheese Fondue
*serve with bread chunks, cherry tomatoes, apple cubes, cauliflower and broccoli... or whatever you want... this is so tasty it would make cardboard seem edible
1/2 pound imported Swiss cheese, shredded
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 cup dry white wine *I swapped in light beer for the white wine since it's what I had on hand
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cherry brandy, such as kirsch    *couldn't find nips for this so I used sherry wine (seemed reasonable)
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Pinch nutmeg

In a small bowl, coat the cheeses with cornstarch and set aside. Rub the inside of the ceramic fondue pot with the garlic, then discard.

Over medium heat, add the wine beer and lemon juice and bring to a gentle simmer. Gradually stir the cheese into the simmering liquid. Melting the cheese gradually encourages a smooth fondue. Once smooth, stir in cherry brandy sherry wine, mustard and nutmeg. Pour into your pot and spear away!

Coq Au Vin
This is apparently the Melting Pot recipe, or so I was led to believe by a Google search.
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup Burgundy wine
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 green onions, sliced

Things to consider dipping: beef tenderloin, lobster, shrimp, tortellini (from the fresh pasta aisle), potatoes
Warning to consider heeding: Lobster and shrimp may take under a minute to cook while beef and pork will take slightly longer. Take the necessary precautions so you don't eat raw meat.

Heat vegetable stock in fondue pot until it begins to simmer. Add all other ingredients, bring to simmer. Pour into your cleaned and ready fondue pot. We like to add our potatoes right into the pot to cook awhile and enjoy the other options until they've become fork tender. Serve with an assortment of dipping sauces to flatter the protein and vegetables you choose to cook. I highly recommend a cheese like boursin to stuff inside a fondued (can that be a verb?) mushroom. You'll never stop eating them after that.

Last but certainly not least.... the "you can bake this cake even if you can't bake" (even me)
Molten Spiced Chocolate Cabernet Cakes: (McCormick spice recipe in Dec. issue of Bon Appétit)

side note: It was borderline obnoxious how excited I was when these little beauties came out like chocolate perfection. I thought my husband wasn't going to eat it simply because I had seriously gone over the edge with glee (even my friends considered leaving). It was a cross between astonishment and arrogance. Oops!

Molten Spiced Chocolate Cabernet Cakes
4 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 tablespoon Cabernet Sauvignon or other red wine
1 teaspoon McCormick® Pure Vanilla Extract
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Cinnamon, Saigon
1/4 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Ginger, Ground
1/8 teaspoon McCormick® Gourmet Collection Cloves, Ground (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Butter 4 (6-ounce) custard cups or soufflĂ© dishes. Place on baking sheet.

2. Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwavable bowl on HIGH 1 minute or until butter is melted. Whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in wine, vanilla and confectioners' sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and yolk. Stir in flour, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Pour batter evenly into prepared custard cups.

3. Bake 13 to 15 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Let stand 1 minute. Carefully loosen edges with small knife. Invert cakes onto serving plates. Sprinkle with additional confectioners' sugar. Serve immediately.

I think this will end up being my go-to dessert for company- well until they become repeat company in which case I'll have to find another recipe that can make me look like a baker (any suggestions??). It was rich, creamy and undeniably chocolate. It was lick every last crumb off your plate delicious then try to steal the rest from your husband’s plate if he has any left over. Tasty.
Thanks to Em (Shin) for taking all the pictures!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's all about the meat

Typically after a good dinner out, I contemplate how I would recreate the meal at home.  It's a rarity that my husband and I find ourselves at a restaurant more than once.  With so many possibilities it's hard to justify going to one place over and over.  I realize there is something to be said for a good neighborhood eatery, but we're like foodies with culinary ADD... just have to keep moving and trying new places. 

But after last nights meal (destination: Fogo de Chao) I realized that there was the smallest of small chances that I would ever recreate this meal.  Stop, edit.  Not that I would, but could is more like it.  There was meat everywhere.  Meat on sticks.  Meat on platters.  Meat, meat, meat.  My husband and my friends were in carnivorous heaven.  I like meat, I really do (side note, however, I was a vegetarian for about 10 years... until I met my meat loving hubbie), but this was overwhelming!  

The history behind the concept: back in the 1800s when Europeans settled onto the plains of countries like Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, they raised cattle.  When the cattle went out on solitary expeditions and needed to be reigned back in, it was the gauchos (or as Americans would call them, cowboys) that were on the scene to do it.  These men were considered nomads until, as time went on, they resigned to working on large ranches as settlements grew up around them.  Aside from their fashion sense (wide hats, ponchos and pleats), lasso skills and famed horse riding abilities, they are best known for the way they cooked their meat.
It is said that necessity is the mother of invention.  This is true for cooking... just ask a gaucho.  There was no way of preserving food so they simply skewered their large cuts of beef and sloooooowly cooked them over a wood burning fire.  All the beef basted in its own juices and became deliciously tender.  The method is referred to as churrasco (shoo-rhas' co).

Fast forward to today when there are now a number of Brazilian type steakhouses popping up all over America trying to recreate this flavorful method of cooking.  At the restaurants, the gauchos are not wrangling in cows but customers instead, by wielding large skewers of everything from lamb and pork to bacon wrapped chicken and about 4 different cuts of beef.  The salad bar is a giant example of salads (leafy, potato, apple), vegetables, cheese, meats (I know... more meat) and these puffy little biscuits that looked like mini popovers.  It doesn't end there.  Just in case you're still in need of accompaniment to your endless supply of meat, they also adorn your table with mashed potatoes (not recommended, I think they came from a box), fried bananas (I ate both of them like it was my job) and fried polenta (like crispy little corn chips).  When you're ready for meat, you flip over  a coaster like signal: green for feed me, red for let me digest a little. The whole experience is like a gastronomical Disney Land for people that want to increase a pant size.  If you go to one of these restaurants, I suggest baggy pants with room to grow.  Perhaps curbing your eating for 24 hours prior to your reservation should also be a consideration.

Short of finding some gauchos to attend my next dinner party, I am resigned to finding some not-so-authentic recipes online to try and capture the essence of a Brazilian steakhouse.  I found this recipe for Argentinian Churrasco con Chimichurri & Sweet Potato Fries that looks pretty good. 

I can't try it out for at least a few weeks though... I'm still full from last night.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

And the Gold Medal goes to...

All day yesterday, as I cleaned the house, bussed to the grocery store and blew up an air mattress, I kept chanting, "The Waylands are coming! The Waylands are coming!" (not in a British are coming kind of way, more excited and giddy). 

The Waylands are two of our absolute hands down, most favorite people in the world to spend time with.  The specifics of why aren't even necessary, but I will say one thing to that point: they love food as much as we do.  They come with empty stomachs and open minds and I for one, am happy to feed them. (I originally said they came with open mouths but the the visual everyone got was awkward). 
Last nights meal  was an Olympic themed menu that even included red, white and blue drinks (ahem, adult beverages).  Unfortunately, no one wanted me dropping blue or red food coloring into their vodka tonics.  I wonder why?  I kept offering: "would you like to be red, blue or leave it as is for white?"  EVERYONE chose white.  Hmph.

The appetizers included Amish bleu cheese with honey (this converted my friend Emily into a bleu cheese lover), thin slices of beef tenderloin with horseradish, crostini and smoked mushrooms.  The latter was actually brought home from our dinner on Friday night at Harry's Tap Room. (more on Harry's in another post).  They were like eating a mushroom version of the smell of a charcoal grill... divine.
Appetizers were replenished three times so it's good that the dinner planned was light.  I made a wild rice and fruit salad alongside kicked up chicken and vegetable skewers.  The skewers?  Not so Olympic.  That's not to say they weren't good because they were actually quite tasty, but let's not kid each other.  They were seasoned meat and vegetables threaded on a stick.  But I was thinking ahead.  With the Waylands, tonics are refreshed frequently.  By the time dinner came around I wouldn't have been able to handle much more than placing kabobs on the cast iron griddle.  As for the rice salad, it's made hours ahead of time so no need to worry that I was going to mess that up.  Actually, it was the rice salad that earned the Culinary Gold Medal of the night.  If we hadn't been hosting a dinner party, I could have single handedly eaten the entire bowl of this stuff.  When other people are around I try to control my caveman tendencies.  It was refreshing, fruity, and a perfect accompaniment to the spicy kababs.  In fact, it would be a perfect accompaniment to just about anything.  It should also be said that I was inspired to make this based on a dish that I had a couple weeks ago.  It was a fabulous platter of vegetables and a small serving of a wild rice salad.  It had so many ingredients in it and was dressed in the most flavorful vinagrette.  After that I was on a mission to make something similar. 

*note: I'm not sure that many wild rice salads include white rice.  But I've never made anything with straight up wild rice before.  When I saw it, I thought for sure I'd bought the wrong thing (yes, in spite of the fact that the box clearly stated WILD RICE on it. So I added white rice as well.... and we're all glad I did because it totally worked.*

Gold Medal Wild Rice & Fruit Salad
4 (1/2 c wild rice) servings of wild rice (follow the directions on the box)
1/2 cup white rice
handful of dried pitted dates, sliced into thin little rounds
1/4 c or more of dried cranberries
1/2 c red grapes, sliced at least in half but I quartered mine (you don't want them too big)
3-4 scallions, white and green parts sliced thin
1/4 c slivered almonds
few teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
few teaspoons rice wine vinegar
zest of one large orange (I stress large... this is the secret weapon to making it so tasty)

Cook wild rice according to package.  Do the same for the white rice but add the dates and cranberries to the boiling water as well and cook it together.  The white rice will be finished cooking well before the wild.  Add it a bowl and allow it to cool.  I added some salt and pepper at this time as well (I like to season as I go).  I also added about a teaspoon of rice vinegar while it was still warm.  After the wild rice is finished and has cooled down some, add it to the white rice and fruit mix.  Add the grapes, orange zest and scallions and stir it all up.  Add the rice wine vinegar and olive oil.  Your salad should not be wet and vinegar-y.  I added a couple teaspoons at a time and tasted inbetween (I know, I know... just an excuse to eat).  Season with a little more salt and pepper.  Toss in the scallion and almonds then pop it all in the fridge to completely cool down and for all the flavors to party together awhile.  Give it a quick toss again before serving (and maybe another quick taste to be sure the vinegar/olive oil mix is just right). 

While I'm not sharing an official recipe for the skewers, I do think they looked awfully pretty and were worth of a snapshot at the very least. 

Now off to do the dishes which weren't done last night.  Must have been the dance party that ensued after such a satiating meal.  Looking forward to Dennis and Emily's antipasto for lunch.  Afterall, February 13th is apparently the official Eat Italian Food day, or so I'm told.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Balsamic Butter Sauce, meet my friend Tilapia

My husband asked me last night what I would write about once we are no longer snowed in.

"Oh, I've got plans... I've got lots of plans for things to write about. I've been writing this blog in my mind most of my life!"

(This is a true story) 

But for now, for today's post, let me share a little favorite of ours. We will consider it our meal for the last night being snowed in. No matter what, we are leaving this apartment tonight. I don't care if the wind is blowing 12 inch icicles at 50 mph or the sky unloads another 22 inches of solid white precipitation on our already overloaded state: WE. ARE. GOING. OUT.

We were given this recipe from a friend last year and it took us a full year to make it. Now we've made it twice in the last three weeks (very uncommon for us as we are always trying to keep it changed up in our kitchen). Our friend found it on and it is from the January, 2007 issue of Bon Appetit. I've altered it a bit, as I do with most recipes for one reason or another. We love that it uses Tilapia as my husband and I are very focused on eating fish only found in the "best" column of Monterey Bays Seafood Watch pocket guide (want one for yourself? click here: ).

In the original recipe the Tilapia is paired with thyme mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas.

Last night we paired it with steamed broccoli and garlic-butter pasta (our fridge is beginning to resemble the empty shelves at the grocery store). Given the circumstances, I think we did quite well and I'd easily serve it this way again in the future even if my fridge is full of other options.

Before I launch into the specifics of the ingredients and preparation, let me just say: this balsamic butter sauce is so good it makes me want to bathe in it. When my husband isn't looking, I lick up what's left in the pot. It's almost barbaric. It's rich and velvety without being too overpowering. It's delicate but full of flavor. I would pour it on my cereal if I thought I wouldn't be committed (she's a foodie gone over the edge!).

Are you ready? Salivating? Here it is my friends...

Tilapia with Balsamic Butter Sauce & Steamed Broccoli

Balsamic Butter Sauce
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
just over 1/4 stick of cold unsalted butter, cut into little pats

On medium-low heat, simmer the garlic and balsamic vinegar in a small sauce pot for about 5 minutes or until the balsamic reduces to a thick syrup. It's not perfection yet, so resist the urge to follow my example of licking the pot. Turn off the heat and begin the tilapia fillets.

2 tilapia fillets (or more if you're having company, but don't forget to adjust the rest of the recipe as well)
salt, pepper, olive oil

This is a piece of cake (well, a piece of fish actually)... rub a little olive oil on each side of the fish and sprinkle it with coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. That's it.

Heat a little more olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat and add fish. Cook it about 2 minutes on each side or until it's golden.

Back to heaven sauce, I mean balsamic sauce:

Rewarm the sauce over a low heat and begin to add the butter, one pat at a time. Use a whisk to incorporate it as it melts. Repeat until all butter has been added and the sauce looks shiny and mouth wateringly delicious. This is where I changed the recipe. If you read the original, it calls for a full stick (yes, I repeat a FULL stick) of butter. I simply don't think it needs that much. If you do, go all in. Then let me know what you think. I think it will compromise the flavor of the balsamic. But I never made the original so that's just me making unfounded claims.


While all this is taking place, steam your broc for about 10-14 minutes. If you're good, this will all come together at the same time. Sometimes I'm good... last night, I was good.

To plate, serve your fish drizzled (or completely covered) in the balsamic butter sauce. Add broccoli and squeeze some fresh lemon on top to brighten the flavor a bit. And, if you're feeling rebellious, drizzle a little balsamic sauce on that too. Enjoy with a glass of wine and maybe a light salad on the side.

In all likelihood I will not post tomorrow. I meant it when I wrote that we are leaving tonight. In fact we are checking out a restaurant that prides itself on serving seasonal ingredients that are locally sourced. I can't wait. But this weekend will bring us great friends and therefore some very tasty (and knowing this couple, rather wild) culinary adventures. We're so lucky! The menu's been planned for three weeks. That's right, three weeks. I'll be sure to share all the juicy details (within reason, of course).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A muffin in disguise

Let's get this out on the table:

my name is Holly and I am not a baker.

My favorite room in the house is the kitchen. The sound of the gas stove clicking on is music to my ears. One of my favorite kitchen gadgets is my KitchenAid stand mixer (I just think it looks so pretty). I cook and I cook and every now then I just want to bake. I want to whip, beat, fold, and turn out some lovely little baked example of love. Yet every time I try, it's borderline pathetic. My husband reminds me time and again that it's "simply following directions, Hols."

Easy for him to say, he can bake.

I would imagine that bakers, both professional and novice, would say it's more than simply following directions. There has got to be something that I'm missing. However, I will not throw in my apron. I will keep driving my ever-willing husband to try my baked goods while I look up at him wide-eyed and hopeful. Is this it? Will he say it's AMAZING?

This morning I woke to blizzard-like conditions. (Yes, it's still snowing in D.C.) On a normal week day morning I grab a piece of fruit before heading out to work but I haven't had a normal weekday morning in almost a week. Instead I thought about how very June Cleaver it would be to bake up a batch of banana nut muffins, drink a cup of coffee and smile as I watch the snow cover the world. The scent of banana and sugar married together in a little muffin cup made me giggle like a child. But there was one problem (ok, there was more than one problem)- I only had one banana and there's that other thing...I can't bake. I once baked these adorable bite-size pumpkin muffins and brought a bag of them over to my neighbors door and left them there for her. Every time I saw her after that, she avoided my eyes and walked by me quickly. Must have been the muffins.... If I could just cook something that smelled and tasted like I baked it, then I would have the best of both worlds.

And that's just what I did. I created a muffin in disguise. A muffin that's really a bowl of oatmeal with all the flavors and scents of a banana nut muffin. Voila!

Banana-Nut Muffin Oatmeal
3/4 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups water or milk (I used half of each)
One overly ripe banana
brown sugar
1 tspn. vanilla
1 tbspn. butter

Add the liquids to a small pot and bring them just to a boil. While you're waiting for that boiling point, sprinkle in about a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the vanilla. Once it begins to boil, toss in the oats. Cook for about 5-6 minutes or until it appears as though your oatmeal is ready. Turn off the heat but leave your oatmeal in the pot. Add very thinly sliced banana, brown sugar (your call on how sweet you want it; I used about 1/8 of a cup), and the butter (what's a muffin without a smear of butter right?). When it's all incorporated and you just can't wait to dig in, pour it in your bowl, toss on a bunch of walnuts and drizzle a little bit of honey on top.

I think you'll love it. Let me know...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When life hands you snow... make bistecca salad

I never intended to blog each day; my meals aren't that interesting overall. But when Mother Nature decides it's time to dump enough snow to clear grocery store shelves and keep everyone indoors, then the cooking can get interesting. We only planned enough food for a few days. Now that we are expecting yet another foot of snow, I guess the jokes on us.

However, after a little digging through the fridge and a modicum of imagination, we came up with bistecca salad for dinner last night. And since it's really nothing more than salad and steak, I've decided calling it bistecca salad is way more appetizing than plain old steak salad. After all the heavy eating that winter has forced (yes, forced) me to partake in, a salad was exactly what was in order.

Another Foot of Snow, Bistecca Salad
serves: 2
1/2 head iceberg lettuce
1/2 bunch green leaf lettuce
5 or 6 radishes, sliced into rounds
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 orange bell pepper
1/4 c. red onion, sliced thin
thin sliced steak, like flank steak

To marinade the steak (I don't measure well, so bear with me): one big heaping spoonful of hoison sauce, about 5 or 6 shakes of low sodium soy sauce, a big squirt of honey, rice wine vinegar (about 2 tablespoons or more). Mix that all together. Toss in your steak and let it marinade for at least an hour, though the longer the better I think.
** Don't do red meat? Use chicken instead, I'll never know **

Assemble your lettuces and veggies for your salad. Sine the steak is sliced so thin, it needs minimal cooking time. I use a cast iron skillet to get those snazzy grill marks and cook it about 1-2 minutes on each side. After it's done, let it rest for about 5 minutes or so. You don't want it juicing up your whole salad. Slice the steak on an angle and top your salad.

My husband and I love adding a little cheese to our salad as well. Since we were only able to work with what we had on hand, he got the yummy bleu cheese (recommended) and I got the fat free feta. Admittedly I was envious of the pungent & flavorful bleu, but I still enjoyed my salad!

As far as dressing goes, use what you like. I'm certain a chef somewhere would scoff at this flexibility, but I also drink red wine with fish, so I'm clearly a bit of a kitchen rebel. A drizzle of balsamic and some olive oil would be lovely actually.

Now tell ME about YOUR salads. I am constantly looking for ways to jazz up a salad and would love to hear what you've got.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Eating my way through life...

Some people golf. Others scrapbook or paint.

I eat.

Scratch that- I cook and I eat.

My days revolve around my meals. Weekends are planned with feeding time in mind. When I want to think of something fun to do, I imagine what restaurant I can go to, or what new cuisine I can try to create. My memories are even attached to the way certain foods smell (Thanksgiving meal) or taste (goat cheese and honey apps at my wedding). I love food and I love that my life is fully immersed in the smells, tastes and textures of everything edible.

Thank God I found a husband that feels the same way!

I live in DC with my husband and we have recently just endured one of the worst snow storms to ever hit the area. It was certainly the worst snow storm that I've ever been in. The moment I realized that it was likely we'd be stuck indoors for 3 days, I made a mad dash to the grocery store. I wasn't alone. After fighting traffic in the parking lot, panicked customers in the aisles and frantic check-out clerks, I managed to secure enough ingredients to make my indoor weekend manageable.

Thankfully my husband also thought of a couple PlayStation games to incorporate into our weekend, because Lord knows I only had food on the brain.

On Saturday night we enjoyed a friendly competition of 2006 Winter Olympic games on our vintage PlayStation 2 and some seriously tasty calzones. It turns out I'm terrible at downhill skiing, but the calzones were the perfect dish for our cold, snowy night.

Holly & Ladd's Blizzard Calzones

Fresh Pizza Dough (pick up a bag at your grocery store deli)
ricotta cheese
part-skim shredded mozzarella
button mushrooms sliced in half
caramelized onions*
broccoli florets (small)

marinara sauce for dipping
*to caramelize the onions, add about a tablespoon of butter and a little olive oil to a skillet. Toss in your sliced onions and cook until they are soft and turning a caramel color.

Allow the dough to sit in a bowl lightly brushed with olive oil until it comes to room temp. Lightly dust your hands and a cutting board with flour. Roll the dough to about 1/4 inch thickness and cut it in half to create two monster calzones.

We like to start with the cheese as our base. Be careful not to spread the toppings out too close to the edge... give yourself some room for crimping the dough closed.
Put about 2 tablespoons of ricotta and about 1/4 cup of mozzarella in the middle of one end of your dough (so one half will have no toppings and can fold over the other half). Add as much pepperoni, mushrooms, onions and broccoli that you'd like without going too crazy- the calzone needs to close up!

Now fold the other half of the dough over your topped half and crimp the edges so that it all closes up. It's likely that it won't be that standard calzone shape, but that's part of the fun of it! It should look like a little bundle of stuffed food joy.

Put your calzones in a 450 degree oven for about 12-13 minutes or until they are a golden brown. Let them sit for just a couple minutes before digging in. I recommend a fork and knife because these truly are monster size calzones (much like our snow storm). Dip in your sauce or eat it naked- your choice. I also recommend an ice cold Full Moon Ale to go along with. We kept ours cold by sticking the bottles in the 24 inches of snow outside our apartment. You may just opt for the fridge. Either way- enjoy!