Friday, December 31, 2010

Butternut Heaven





I bet you remember the first time you ate butternut squash soup. I just think it's one of those foods that do that to you... you take the first bite- not expecting much- but as soon as the first bite enters your mouth you realize something special is happening.
I was at Revelations- a restaurant that used to be where The Mix currently is in Greensboro. I had just stopped eating meat and seafood, and still wasn't sure what to do when I was out to eat... so, I ordered butternut squash soup for dinner. I remember being less than thrilled about my choice. But, what choice did I have? I had done this to myself...
Once I had that first bite, however, I realized the beginning of vegetarian bliss... it was just the start of being introduced to an endless amount of food I'd otherwise never take the time to notice...

The richness of the squash, the sweetness of the supporting veggies, silkiness of the cream... all hosting seasonings beautifully... butternut squash soup has become something I crave. I have tried to make it before- in my food processor. DO NOT TRY THAT EVER! What a mess! I learned rather quickly that using something too liquidy in a food processor is not a good idea... and you might be thinking how obvious that is considering something more liquid should go into a blender, while things that are more dry go into a food processor... I learned said lesson that day.
It also should be noted that using a blender for HOT liquid can also cause quite a mess- although it's doable if you are careful... I wasn't and another kitchen disaster left me feeling over ever trying to make soups that required blending... an immersion blender was the only answer. And an immersion blender, I did not have for a very long time.
Scott is a great man and got me one for Christmas this year and there was not a doubt in my mind what I would make first! Upon my next trip to the store, I bought 2 small beautiful butternut squashes. I knew I had carrots, onions, garlic, milk, and veggie broth at home... I could make that work.

First, I prepped the veggies for roasting... I coated quartered squashes, halved onions, peeled and quartered carrots, and a garlic bulb with EVOO and roasted them for about 40 minutes on 425 until the skins of the squash were golden brown and everything was soft. The house smelled so super good. When they were done, I sprinkled them with salt and pepper and gave them time to cool a bit on a plate. Into my soup pot went EVOO and a good amount of Penzy's Balti seasoning and Penzy's Vietnamese Cinnamon. I gave the oil time to heat and roast the spices before adding almost an entire box of veggie stock- maybe about 3-31/2 cups? I'd only used some of the box for a sauce on Christmas... Next, I squeezed the garlic out of the bulb, threw in the carrots and onion, and dug the meat out of each quarter of squash. The heat was on low, and it was time to use my new toy! Immerse, Immerse, Immerse! Everything began to come together... the carrots were my favorite-when I would buzz them, it was like a carrot blood bath into the yellow of the squash! This was fun!
Once it was smooth, I turned the heat up a bit until it got to temperature, then I turned the heat off completely. I added a glug of milk and tasted... a little more Balti, a bit more cinnamon, a little mild kosher salt... and it was perfect. I was so happy.

There were 2 biscuits left from Christmas Day, so I'd decided to turn them into crutons. I cubed them, put them in a small ziplock, added some EVOO, garlic powder, salt and pepper and shook to coat. They toasted up nicely in a 250 degree oven... excellent garnish.

Thanks to Scott, I can now quickly whip up one of my very favorite soups anytime I wish... and if you have somehow put off trying butternut squash soup, I hope you will order it next time you see it on a menu... or just come over, and I will make it for you!

Monday, December 27, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is Food.





Deciding on the menu for the most important cooking day of the year is always the good kind of stressful.. do I try new things? Stick with tradition? Balancing flavors, keeping some semblance of nutrition... there are a lot of aspects which must be considered as I lay out a menu that will hopefully outdo years prior.

It's just Scott and me on Christmas Day, and it is never anything short of magical. We sleep until we're ready to get up and open our stocking gifts while the coffee brews... Green and Black's 85% dark chocolate for me, Rocher truffles for him, new socks, silly gifts, it's so fun...

A little Kaluha in the coffee, and it was time to make breakfast. I decided to make homemade biscuits for breakfast this year... I used Bobby Flay's recipe instead of Grandma Phoebe's- as hers calls for pure trans fats. I'm sure she'd understand the switch. Flour, loads of baking powder, salt, well over a stick of butter, and buttermilk... I really was worried I'd worked the flour too much- afraid they'd be like hockey pucks... but. They came out beautifully. Before putting them in the oven, I'd brushed the tops with half and half and sprinkled freshly ground black pepper on top. A fried egg, Port de Sol cheese, and a couple strips of Morning Star Farms Bacon and we were ready for meal #1. They didn't disappoint... gooey, crunchy, biscuity heaven. Yum.

Time to open another gift. Hottie Bryant Terry's Vegan Soul Kitchen cookbook for me! I got Scott Michael Jackson Experience for Wii. My man has moves and loves him some MJ, so I knew this would be a hit. We made blood orange mimosas and set off to play- what a blast!!! We were laughing so hard and needed to rest after so much activity. I put beets in the oven to roast- just wrapped them in foil with plenty of EVOO, set the oven to 400 and we put in Scrooged- and passed out. Scott set his phone alarm for the hour the beets needed, so no burnt beets!

It was time for lunch already! Not that we were hungry, but I don't think anyone gets hungry on Christmas Day, do they? I set to work on the stuffed zucchini. I've been making these on Christmas Day for years. They are the perfect lunch- still decadent, but packed with veggies, so at least there are some vitamins and minerals going on...
I halved the zucchinis, dug out the innards and set them aside. After brushing each half with EVOO, they went into the oven to roast until they were golden. In a sauce pan went EVOO, a chopped onion, 5 minced garlic cloves, and hot pepper flake. Once they were soft, I added the innards from the zucchini, a handful of chopped basil, and a can of diced tomatoes- the juice drained and reserved. Once the liquid cooked off the veggies, I deglazed the pan with a glug of nice Sauvignon Blanc... I gave that some time to cook off, and deglazed again with the reserved tomato juice. The stuffing was ready. In another small pan, a couple TBSP of butter and about a cup of whole wheat bread crumbs. When they were buttery and toasty, I added some additional pepper flake and chopped basil. The zucchini were ready and I filled each one with the stuffing and topped each with the bread crumb mixture and plenty of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Back into the oven while I got the salad ready. My best quality EVOO, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper... a good whisk to that... I added some into a large bowl with arugula and tossed. Big mounds of the arugula on our plates topped with slices of the roasted beets and blood orange segments... after our heavy breakfast, I was looking forward to some veg...

After lunch, I made a vodka soda and Scott began to try to varied beers I'd put in his stocking that were now cold enough to drink. We drank and watched a couple of our favorite trash TV shows that we continually pause and add in our own commentary. Good times. We also polished off the very yummy homemade popcorn I'd made for our viewing of Miracle on 34th Street the night before.

We opened a couple more gifts and I squealed with joy as I opened a Cuisenart hand blender with mini chopper and whisk attachment. I have been wanting one forever!!! Now I can make the butternut squash soup I've been craving!! I also have a small processor now and won't need to get out my HUGE processor just to make something small like pesto or tapenade. I was elated! Alton Brown would also be pleased at my man's ability to buy me a multi-tasker!

The snow began to fall! What a treat! Snow in Virginia on Christmas Day!!!

Dinner prep began with a dijon mustard sauce. I started with EVOO, minced garlic, and thyme- and then had to dump it and start again.... I walked away for all of 15 seconds and came back and my garlic had begun to brown... no good. Second time was much better. After the garlic was soft, I added a mixture of veggie broth and arrowroot (arrowroot is like cornstarch, basically...) and it began to thicken as soon as it hit the heat... I added a bit of the Sauvignon Blanc, lemon juice, tamari, pepper, and whole grain dijon mustard... brought it all to a boil until it was the right consistency, and set it aside to cool.
Into the oven to roast were Brussles sprouts and asparagus each lightly coated with EVOO. I added a bit of lemon juice, zest, and Penzy's Flordia Pepper to the asparagus. The Brussels would simply need salt before serving.
My chickpea cutlets begin by mashing the chickpeas with EVOO, then adding lemon juice, zest, sage, thyme, paprika, pepper, tamari, bread crumbs, and wheat gluten. I kneaded the mixture until it was combined and the gluten did it's thing making the mixture almost stretchy in a way... hard to describe...it's almost like stretchy play-dough... that doesnt sound appetizing, but they are so very good. I formed small patties and prepped a skillet with canola oil.
Baby Yukon potatoes were soft and ready. I drained them, put them back into the pot and added a little butter and some buttermilk along with salt and pepper. I gave them a rough mash and... omg, they were good. I let them stay warm on a back burner while I cooked the patties. The trick to a good veggie patty is low-medium heat and patience. You have to have the heat low enough that they will cook within without burning on the outside. They turned out perfectly.

The Asparagus was still bright green and crisp, the Brussels were brown and crisp like Scott loves them, and potatoes were fluffy and buttery and topped with fresh chives, and the patties were golden. I had added a bit more broth to the sauce, let it get just above room temp, toasted a couple of biscuits... and dinner was served.
Scott had opened and poured the wine- a lovely Avenel Red Table wine from Napa that I'd bought him last year for Christmas- We have started a tradition where I buy him a good wine each year- and we save it for the following year's Christmas dinner. This one was smoky, but soft in the mouth and absolutely perfect for the meal.
We sat and ate slowly, talking about our childhoods, our future, how good the food was... it was perfect.
We ended our day of celebration by opening the rest of the gifts under the tree. I got purple patent Danskos!!! I was so excited I put them on immediately and ran around the house- they are too cute! Henry sat right between us while we opened- trying desperately to fit himself into a box that really didn't fit his girth... he's so funny.
When the gifts were opened and the wine was gone, the intensity of the day hit hard- we were exhausted! We fell asleep together on the couch reliving our day while the snow began to accumulate outside... I am really not sure I'll be outdoing myself next year because this entire day was nothing short of absolute perfection...

Monday, November 15, 2010

Soup for Joyce



At the start of the school year, each grade level signed up to bring one of our staff, Joyce, dinner. Joyce is going through chemotherapy right now, and on the weeks she has treatments, we are all making sure she has a good dinner on the table the night before they begin. Being new at the school, I have only just met Joyce. It didn't take long, however, to see the compassion she has for the students, and the great knowledge she has from her years of experience.

Joyce is our media specialist, and for anyone who is a teacher, you know this position is at the heart of the school's functional system. She has dropped everything to help me find a book, she has talked to our team at length about creating lessons to support our grade level's curriculum, and she has helped me out of technology jams more than once. All of this, while she is going through what must be a very difficult, scary, and challenging time in her life.

I decided to make soup. Soup always builds me. It makes me feel nourished and stronger, and that's what I wanted for Joyce. I thought about exactly what kind of soup I would make for awhile... but, I ended up deciding on minestrone. A soup so simply stuffed with every possible vitamin- what else could be better?

Soup is decidedly simple. It's one pot. It's chopping and some seasoning and some broth and it's eating. But, I had to put more than that into this pot of soup. Somehow, I had to get every positive thought, every ounce of strength, and every bit of extra energy I had into this soup. I started by chopping the freshest organic vegetables I could find.

Leeks, green beans, onion, garlic, carrots, celery, yukon potatoes, zucchini. As I chopped, I thought about Joyce and thought about her full recovery. I saw her be able to stop wearing her handkerchief- which I must note- she rocks- I saw her with her family, I saw her busy putting away books, I saw her teaching media lessons, working with the 5th graders on morning announcements, and reading stories to the kindergarten students... I saw her strong.

Into my Le Creuset all the veggies went along with a generous glug of extra virgin olive oil, a hearty couple pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. I added in 2 bay leaves (this was a lot of veggies), a few pinches of thyme, a few shakes of ground fennel, and a few shakes of hot pepper flake. On medium, I allowed the veggies to sweat out and begin to soften. I also added a small rind I cut from a wedge of parmesan cheese.

When they had about 10 minutes or so, I added in a bunch of chopped kale and a can of whole tomatoes with their juice. I gave the tomatoes a quick chop before adding them. I also added 4 cups of veggie stock, a can of cannelloni beans, and a couple handfuls of whole wheat orzo pasta. From here, it just needed time. I allowed it to come to a rolling boil for about 3 minutes, before backing it down to a slow simmer. About 20-30 minutes later, I scooped out bowls for Scott and I to have for dinner, and packed a large container to take to Joyce the next day.

I also packed her a small container of basil pesto and some freshly grated parmesan cheese. Soup is great, but the garnishes make it fabulous. The pesto was extra special, as it was from a jar of homemade that Rachel gave me. She'd canned loads of pesto in August when her garden overflowed with basil.

The soup was good. Really good. I hadn't made a minestrone in awhile and Scott and I were in heaven. It was tomatoey, brothy, veggie heaven. We ate it along with a chunk of sourdough bread, and I would allow the corner to soak up the soup until it was practically falling apart... delicious. I was happy that this was the meal I was passing on to Joyce and her husband.

After I ate, I felt nourished and strong- and convinced Joyce would feel the same.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stuff Yo' Peppers!




A dreary rainiy day makes it easy to want comfort food, but I had to choose something on the lighter side since I gained a few pounds my last few weeks at Hondos. (Why not have a drink 0r two every night with co-workers and eat french fries as if they were carrot sticks?!) Comfort food for most people includes the foods they grew up eating. For me, that would include lasagna, goulash, pigs in a blanket (NOT hot dogs wrapped in frozen bread dough, btw), fried chicken, ham and bean soup, stuffed peppers...

Yes! Stuffed Peppers!!! We used to have them at home ALL the time. My dad would stuff green peppers with white rice, ground beef, onions, tomatoes... and then top it with a little cheddar cheese and bake them in a light tomato broth. I knew I could top the PA version by making it healthier and just as good (if not better!)

I started by toasting some brown rice with a bit of evoo, then adding water and getting it to a simmer. I'd have used vegetable stock if I had any. In a saute pan, I added another glug of evoo and threw in a chopped onion, half of a diced red pepper, 4 minced garlic cloves, and a big handful of grape tomatoes that I'd quartered. I gave it time to get soft and just a little caramelized. I then diced 2 Quorn 'Turkey' burgers and added it to the veggies along with a generous amount of Penzey's Spanish Smoked Paprika and some cumin. I coated all the veggies evenly while allowing the spices to toast up a bit. Then I added a few splashes of Habenero hot sauce for some heat. Next was a heaping tablespoon of tomato paste... I incorporated that into the mix to give it some heat and mellow it out some, then added water a little at a time until I had the consistency I wanted. I adjusted the seasonings with a little more salt, pepper, and hot sauce.

When the rice was done, I added about a cup to the mix. I stirred it all together, tasted once more and was very happy with the outcome. I turned off the heat and just let it do it's thing for about 30 minutes while I puttered around and got the peppers ready. I cut the tops off 2 orange and 2 yellow bell peppers and hollowed them out. I coated my small Le Cresuet baking dish with a little evoo and set the peppers inside. Then, I spooned the mixture to fill each pepper and topped each with a small amount of shredded pepper jack cheese. I covered the dish with foil and placed it in a 400 degree oven while I worked on my "TRAILBLAZERS" sign for my new school. I quite like that as a mascot. I like that purple is the school color even more! When the peppers were soft, I removed the foil and allowed the cheese to brown just a little.

When they were done, they were gooey and so so comforting! The paprika, cumin, and pepper jack cheese gave them a perfect smoky flavor and the hot sauce gave it a bit of heat... the peppers are sweet though, so the contrast was perfect! I had to blog about these quickly because I have to remember how I made them! I have to say I think I exceeded the PA version... they were definitely healthier and I must admit, I think I liked them better... So happy there are 2 leftover for our dinner tonight!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Birthday Dinner




When I was growing up, we ate dinner pretty much every Saturday night with family. It was a mix of family, but it was perfect. It was my mom's brother, Frank, his wife, Carol, and their two boys, Travis and Jason. My Aunt Carol's dad, Ray, and her Aunt, Fay, were always there as well, along with my parents and my Dad's mother, Phoebe. Other random friends and family could also show up on any given weekend. We would eat and usually play Trivia Pursuit, or other games, afterward. Even as I got older, I loved these dinners. Mom and Dad would request that I wait until after dinner and visiting for awhile before I went off with my friends. I never minded a bit and some of my favorite growing up memories are these dinners.

Well, when it was your birthday, you got to pick what you wanted- the whole thing- from start to dessert. It was fantastic. I usually chose beef on wick and french fries or spaghetti with Italian sausage. I remember that Travis always chose pancakes and Jason always wanted my mom's pineapple upside down cake. Funny I don't recall what the adults ever wanted. Travis and Jason and I were 3 peas in a pod growing up. They are 6 and 8 years younger than me, respectively, but they lived 2 houses away and were my brothers full stop. Travis is a father now, and Jason's been to Iraq 3 times. How'd we grow up so fast?

I digress. This post is really actually about Scott's birthday dinner... I got a little sidetracked by my memories.

I didn't give Scott a choice of what he wanted me to cook because since starting his new job, I think this was one of his busiest weeks. He was up at 4 or 5 in the morning every day and traveling around with another sales guy and working until quite late in the evening. I also worked every single night and before his birthday at dinner time on a Thursday, hadn't seen him awake since Sunday afternoon. So, I was going to pick for him.

It was a random assortment of food, but it actually came together rather well. Brussels sprouts were the easiest choice. He didn't know how much he loved them until I roasted them once for him. Now he asks for them all the time. For potatoes, I decided on making homemade potato chips and blue cheese dressing since homemade potato chips in any form on restaurant menus always has him wanting some (even if I'm stubborn and don't give in most of the time) and he especially likes the ones from Harper's in Greensboro that are served with a blue cheese dressing. I chose Salmon because we needed a protein and it's been awhile since I've made it. To personalize it a bit more, I did bread and pan fry it. Every guy likes fried stuff and Scott is no exception. I slaked on dessert mainly because I did not want to have leftovers taunting us! Thank you Whole Foods for the lovely cupcakes!

Prep on the salmon and Brussels really isn't that exciting or difficult, so I'll focus on the chips. I used my mandolin on a fairly thin setting to slice a huge russet potato. I used russet because they have a lot of natural sugars and therefore get really brown just like we like them. (My dad and I used to literally ruin bags of chips fighting over the "burned" ones! If only Utz made their bag of russet kettle chips back in the day... a whole bag of "burned" chips... it's heaven.) I put all the sliced potatoes in a tea towel and dried off the excess water. I set the oven on 400 and placed the cookie sheets inside to get hot. When the oven was ready, I covered the cookie sheets with parchment and brushed the paper with canola oil. I spread out the chips in one layer and gave the tops another brushing of oil. After that, I just had to keep my eye on them and flip them when they were golden. I guess it took about 10 min on the first side and just a few on the second. I worked in batches until they were all done. As soon as I removed them, I placed them on paper towels to remove the excess oil and gave them a generous sprinkling of salt. For the blue cheese dip, I mixed about a half cup of a Danish blue cheese, some Duke's mayonnaise, sour cream, a little milk, a few dashes of pikka peppa, (think Worcestershire) and salt and pepper. After some counter time to come together, it was perfect.

With all the fried foods, it wasn't long before we were full and there were loads of leftovers! If you saw my status update on Facebook, you know how the reheating of the leftover chips ended... we decided the toaster oven would crisp the chips back up... and that it did when the entire thing caught on fire. Thankfully, Scott had his eye on things and the fire did not spread beyond the toaster oven itself, but it did create enough smoke to set off the fire alarm! We were bummed that we didn't get to eat the leftover chips.

I wonder what Scott will cook me for my birthday? :)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Friday Night In






Jason and Melissa are friends we've made in our building, and after spending a few nights together heading out and about for food and drinks, we decided to have a night in. We thought we'd play games- I'd make some food to munch on and they would bring the drinks.

Well, games never happened, which is not surprising considering the strength of Jason's cocktails and the fact that the four of us don't shut up long enough to actually get out a game to play. Five hours into our evening we realized it actually just felt like half that time. This is a nice discovery to make with new friends.

Jason made two different cocktails. One was called a Transfusion and was 1 part vodka, 1 part grape juice, and 1 part ginger ale. It was fantastic. On the second round, we used a little soda water to lighten the grape juice flavor. The other drink (in picture) was 2 parts Absolute Acai, a touch of simple syrup and lemon juice, and topped with blueberries and mint. It packed quite a punch as you might imagine.

Dinner was on me. Initially, I was just going to make some heavy snacks, but pizza was calling since JB's recent post. I made the dough from Tyler Florence's recipe this time. I will use it again. The only change I made was using a lot more evoo- that tip being from Amber- she says you can't use too much, so I was generous throughout the entire process. The crust was crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle- perfect. It was also much thinner than the crust I made on my last attempt and this is an improvement in my book.

For the tomato sauce, I used a can of tomato paste, a few glugs of evoo, water, oregano, fennel, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flake, and two garlic cloves that I grated with my microplane. I made it in the morning and gave it all day to sit on the counter and blend and blend it did- quite nicely in fact.

I roasted broccoli, zucchini, squash, asparagus, a red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, a head of garlic cloves, and a red onion. I just chopped them all into big pieces, coated with evoo, and roasted them on 425 til they were golden sweet delicious. After allowing them to cool a bit, I prepared them to top the pizza by giving them a really good coarse chop.

I layered the sauce, veggies, and- STOP. WHOLE MILK MOZZARELLA. The 2% part skim crap you buy in a bag is disgusting in comparison. I can't even remember when/who/how I was enlightened to only use whole milk mozz, but I am thankful for the experience. (I buy the big pack, grate it all in my food processor and freeze half) I finished topping the crust with some freshly grated aged Parmesan and into the oven it went. When it came out, I garnished with chopped scallions and of course- my homemade ranch dressing. Please see my AMB post for that recipe... it blows everyone away- and Jason and Melissa were no exception.

For dessert, I made chocolate peanut butter swirl brownies. I really like baking, I just don't do much of it. I have a cook's mind, not a baker's, and all the exactness is just too much for me sometimes. I used a recipe from my Martha Stewart holiday magazine. It's my go to for cookies/bars, etc... the empire that is Martha has never let me down. The chocolate part was bittersweet chocolate, butter, sugar, vanilla, eggs, and flour. The peanut butter part was peanut butter, butter, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla. With Haagen Dazs, whipped cream, and some candied cashews I had in the pantry, it made for a terrific late night snack.

The food was a hit- everything was just really super good. Melissa fretted about how much I had done until I convinced her that nothing makes me happier. I love it so much... really. Having Jason and Melissa as new fans of my cooking is also quite nice. They offered to always bring the drinks. Deal. Maybe next time we'll actually play a game.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Egg it up.




I really enjoy eggs. I always have, but I went a good long while without eating them. I'm glad I got over that. Eggs have been a very controversial topic over the years, but it seems it has settled down. Most nutritionists say one egg per day will not elevate cholesterol- if you don't follow it with loads of other high cholesterol foods and if high cholesterol isn't a problem for you. An egg has 270mg of cholesterol and we're supposed to keep it under 300mg per day.

When you just use the whites- which I do about half of the time- you get plenty of protein, but not much else. When you include the yolk, yes, you get cholesterol and fat, but you also get a ton (around 25% or more of your daily value) of Vitamin B6 and B12, folate, Riboflavin, Vitamins A and D, Selenium, and Phosphorus and quite a few others...
For more go here.

I've done my research on the purchasing of eggs and feel it more than necessary to be very picky. This also tends to mean I buy the most expensive- it's more than worth it. Not only do they taste a million times better, but it is much, much more humane. I won't go into detail about why battery cages (you know, where they are all cramped and can't move) are so horrible, I enjoy writing my blog and thinking of the research I've done and what I've learned brings tears to my eyes and I'm not even actually typing it. Spend a second looking it up- The Human Society has good information. Parts of Europe have already banned battery caging. Hopefully we will follow suit.

Cage Free isn't always cruelty free either, but it's a better bet. They can at least lay their eggs in nests and spread their wings. Know your company. I've found Organic Valley to have a very good reputation from my research. I also prefer the chickens be fed an organic vegetarian diet and I get all of that with Organic Valley. I'd eventually just like to find a farmer I can buy from directly.

So, that said, here are some ways I prepare eggs... I'm not going to go into technique, because honestly, it's just practice and every one likes their eggs a little differently anyway. Eggs are super fun to cook- I was surprised when I heard Bobby Flay say eggs were his favorite food to cook because I really just thought it was me being sort of... I don't know- fascinated with everything? :)

The top picture is a fried egg. I love fried eggs. Sometimes I just smash one up with a fork and put it on toast. But, I really love to put fried eggs over food. Here I put it on top a garden burger on Ezekiel bread. Romaine and Duke's brought it all together. Putting fried eggs over leftovers for breakfast is awesome. My favorite is any type of tomatoey pasta warmed up in the skillet so it gets a bit of crust... and then a fried egg on top... omg, tomato eggy pasta heaven. Try it on something you have leftover in the fridge right now- I promise, it will rock... I've never been let down and I have tried it on a lot of different foods.

Next is an omelet. Most of the time when I make omelets or scrambles, I use like 2 whole eggs to 1 egg white. For this particular omelet, I'd sauteed jalapenos, tomatoes, and onions. I'd also crisped up some Tofurky Italian Deli slices. My daddy taught me everything I know about making omelets. And rule #1 is that you ALWAYS cook everything you put in an omelet first. He was very persistent about this rule and after having a few in restaurants where they do not follow this procedure, I more than agree on its importance. For the cheese, I used a pepper jack. They were spicy and perfect for a morning following a few margaritas.

I will also say this about omelets. Beat the hell out of the eggs with a splash of cream or milk. You have to get some air into it and you have to have the whites and yolks come together for a nice even light yellow color. Watch some You Tube videos on the details if you are not comfortable with making omelets- they aren't hard, it's just practice and a good pan.

Up next was a soft scramble. I follow the same prep as mentioned about omelets- the cream and the whisking is also important here. I put smoked salmon and cream cheese in this scramble and topped it with fresh scallions and lots of smoked paprika. Killer.

The last picture is a rougher scramble. I used a smaller whole egg to egg white ratio b/c I was only cooking for myself, so it was one to one. I'd sauteed a bunch of veggies, reserving most for other uses, but leaving some in the pan for my current breakfast situation. I added in the egg and let it sit much longer than I would for a soft scramble. Once the egg browned a bit- I just like this consistency sometimes- I broke it all up and let it finish cooking. I ate rye toast slathered with Earth Balance alongside and it was heavenly.

Eggs are just such a great food companion. There is so much you can do with eggs. So many ways to prepare them. You can put anything in a scramble, omelet, or fritatta. You can put a fried egg on whatever you'd like or just eat it alone. Hard boiled and soft boiled just make salads more dynamic and interesting- no matter what other ingredients are along for the ride. Eggs are often called the perfect food because of their vitamin and mineral makeup and because they have all 9 amino acids, but I'm not sure that's the only reason.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Taco Night in 1241





Even though Trader Joe's is a 2 minute walk from my apartment, I don't go too often. I love it there, but it's more of a novelty grocery store vs. the place where you pick up your weekly groceries. When we go, we spend a lot (not that it's expensive!) on stuff we probably really didn't need, but is super fun to have around. I mean, I can buy some of the basics that I need there, but I inevitably end up with things like Baked Jalapeno Corn Puffs and such.

The other day I had a huge craving for Pizza Fusion's previously mentioned roasted beet salad, so we popped in there, ordered it to go, then did some shopping at Trader Joe's while it was being prepared. This led to the discovery of their soy chorizo. I said I would make some tacos one night soon. The chorizo was sold in one large link, just like the real stuff. We wondered if removing the casing would allow it to crumble as the real stuff would...

I started thinking about these tacos and I decided I was going to make my own corn tortillas. Could it be that hard? If I messed it up, we could always just have taco salads, right?

I went right to the source of all that is Mexican cooking- Mr. Rick Bayless. The man is not only an amazing chef who specializes in Mexican cuisine, he is an absolute presence. Even from seeing him only on TV, you can tell you'd be better just for knowing him.

Well, corn tortillas really were no big deal. Unless you were going to grind your own corn, and that was not what I was going to do. You only need masa flour. A tortilla press would be great, but a rolling pin would work. I have Grandma Phoebe's rolling pin, so I was ready.

A cup of the masa flour, some water, some salt. You mix it with your hands, then divide it into 8 balls. Keeping a wet tea towel over them is crucial. You must cut a large plastic zip lock bag on 3 sides so it's like a book and you put the ball of dough in between when you roll it out. I heeded the warning: Don't even consider not using the bag. This is apparently the way it is done. Even if you use a press. After a circle is rolled out, (well, mine weren't exactly circles- the pic I'm including in the blog was honestly the best one!) it goes in a dry skillet for a minute on each side and that's IT!!! SO easy! Next time I might make them bigger, but they were sort of cute all tiny too. As I did each one, I added it to the pile I had wrapped in another wet tea towel. When I prepared everything else, I would warm them in the microwave before serving. They were tasty- way better than any I'd purchased from the store. I would be making my own from now on.

I made some pico de gallo with exactly what is in pico de gallo. I decided to stay true to form. Mr. Bayless says this is called Salsa Mexicana and that we're the silly ones who gave it the head of the chicken name. I make salsa often, and I always find when I just stick to the simple ingredients in Salsa Mexicana I am most pleased. Yellow onion, plum tomatoes (seeds squeezed out), jalapenos, lime juice, and cilantro, and salt.

Next up was the Soy Chorizo. I expected it would taste pretty good, and I figured I'd doctor it up to make it taste really good. I sauteed some yellow chopped onion in a good bit of evoo until they were soft, then added in the chorizo. It did crumble easily outside of the casing. I let it warm through just enough for a tasting and exclaimed, "HOLY HELL!! THIS STUFF IS FREAKING GOOD!" I may have used curse words. I made Scott try it right away. He yelled about it too. I honestly was way impressed. Other than the onions and salt I added to them, I didn't touch it. It was fantastic as it was... perfectly spiced.

I shredded some romaine lettuce, got out the pepper jack cheese we also purchased at Trader Joe's, and sour cream. I wrapped the tortillas up in the wet tea towel and put them in the microwave for 20 seconds. They were pliable and soft and ready to be topped with lots of goodness.

If you have a Trader Joe's near you, buy the soy chorizo, I don't care if you are fine eating the real thing- just buy it anyway. It really is crazy good. I believe I might become a more frequent Trader Joe's shopper based on this ingredient alone. If this means I buy a tub of chocolate cat shaped cookies and blue cheese frozen pizza as well, then so be it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

On a Saturday.




I don't have a picture of the final product because I accidentally deleted it. Damn. I've posted a cute picture of Henry instead. He got very excited during cooking.

We went to Maymont Park on Saturday to run. We hadn't been before. Maybe people don't normally go to Maymont to run or work out. There were hundreds and hundreds of people there, but no one was exercising. There were tons of families and groups of friends walking around, having picnics, lounging on the grass... We dodged a lot of people as we ran- maybe it was just that it was Easter weekend, but it was sort of strange.

It's a huge city park and includes a nature center/zoo, Italian and Japanese gardens, a waterfall, mansions, a view of the river, lots of interesting little paths and nooks and crannies, trails through bamboo... and that's just what we could cover in the hour I had to spare since I had to work that day. On the outskirts of the park there seemed to be an Easter egg hunt. There was also an Arbor Day Festival where I watched tree maintenance guys up in a HUGE tree trimming branches and stuff. They had safety ropes on and were climbing all over the place. I couldn't walk away, I was enthralled with this job and honestly feel like I could put this on the list of career change interests.

After the park, we were, of course, starving. Scott said he wanted citrus something. I wanted shrimp something. Luckily these two things are easy to put together.

I made a marinade from the zest of a Navel orange and a lemon, the chopped up fruit and juice from each, about 2-3 tablespoons of evoo, a few good shakes of extra hot crushed red pepper, a large minced garlic clove, ground black pepper, and salt. I added about half a pound of shrimp and let it hang out on the counter soaking up the spicy citrus goodness for about a half hour while i got ready for work.

I roasted some asparagus simply with evoo, salt, and pepper. I made some whole wheat couscous then added chopped toasted walnuts, evoo, pepper, and shallot salt to the finished product. The shrimp cooked in no time- I threw the marinade and shrimp all in the pan and allowed them to cook in the juices. When the shrimp were done, I removed them and reduced the remaining marinade down until it was a saucy consistency. Spicy sweet sour goodness...

A nice pile of the couscous, a few asparagus spears balanced across, and the shrimp and sauce on top. It was pretty and if I knew how to work my camera by now, I could share.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

I haven't stopped eating...






So, it's been a week since I posted. I don't like that.

On Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I was sick w/ a horrible head cold...I couldn't breathe, my head felt like it would explode, and it absolutely exhausted me... allergies? I don't know. But, honestly, I was sick like 3 times in 10 years in North Carolina, but have been ill 3 times since moving here in September. Everyone keeps telling me Short Pump is full of mold? What does that mean? I worked Monday night, Tuesday night, and a double on Wednesday... outside of working, I had energy only for the couch. This meant I ate a lot of cereal and pre-made soups from Whole Foods deli. Not a very exciting culinary week I had going...

I'm better now. And I considered cooking on Thursday. After getting lost in Richmond coming back from my eye appointment, I needed a drink. I popped into Kona right beside my apartment for a happy hour cosmo. Chris has a heavy hand and halfway through, I calmed. Scott surprised me by joining me on his way back into town from Tidewater. We had some Ahi Won Ton Crisps and a couple drinks and caught up since we'd barely seen each other since Sunday.

Some texting occurred and within a few moments we had plans for dinner. I would not be cooking, and instead, Scott and I would be joining my friends Jessica and Roger for dinner at Little Venice.
I'd not been to Little Venice before and wow, we were in for a treat. We started with a glass of wine at the bar. I am just getting acquainted with Italian Reds and it's been enjoyable. After our wine, we all moved to a table for dinner. My house salad was accompanied by a terrific homemade red wine vinaigrette. And the kalamatas on the salad might have been the best I've ever had, I don't know what made them so special, but they were, and I could have eaten an entire jar. Scott's ceaser salad was topped with anchovies and also quite tasty.
I contemplated the Eggplant Parmesan special, but the Salmon ala Marco Polo was also catching my eye. The owner, Alberto, steered me in the direction of the salmon. Roger had chosen a great wine for dinner, and Alberto felt the salmon would make for a better companion. I wouldn't doubt Alberto. This guy clearly knew what he was talking about.
My salmon was served in a white wine lemon caper sauce. There were little roasted potatoes and zucchini along the side and it was just a fantastic meal. Half would have been a reasonable place to stop, but I did not. I finished pretty much all of it, other than a potato or two. Scott had a chicken dish and I cannot remember what it was called. I know there was ham and mozzarella involved and a small bite proved he had also hit the jackpot.
We all had a taste of chocolate wine (served in rocks glasses over ice- it's delicious), and a shot of lemoncello cream to end the meal. I am all about the the lemoncello cream. I have only had the regular before, and I always found it a little harsh. The creamed version is yummy and was dessert on its own.
If I wasn't already convinced we'd be back again, the tiramisu sealed the deal. You all know it's my favorite dessert and I can be quite picky about it. Little Venice did it very well. My cappuccino only made it that much better.
Great dinner, great wine, great company. I did not miss cooking that evening.

I worked a double on Friday, so, no time to cook outside of a quick breakfast sandwich. I had a salad at Hondos before I left for my break (which was long enough only to pick up my new glasses) and half a crab cake, a few fries, and one Pierogie at Capital when out with co-workers after my shift. Not a very exciting food day.

Yesterday was much more eventful, even though I cooked not a thing. Scott and I met Jessica at Nacho Mama's in Carytown. After a 30 minute wait (we passed the time with a margarita), we had great meals. Scott had nachos carnitas and I opted for the grilled fish tacos. They were super and topped with cabbage, pico de gallo, and a creamy lime sauce. The beans and rice were awesome... the beans definitely have a mole in them and I ate every last bite. Even Jess ate more than just the cheese off of hers, and this says a lot.
After filling our bellies, we shopped at Penzey's. I could stay in that place all day, it's so fun smelling all of the spices and I always make 3 or 4 trips around at least. I ended up with their chili 3000 chili powder, Mexican Oregano, India Extra Bold Black Peppercorns, Ground Ancho Chili Pepper, Smoked Spanish Paprika, Vietnamese Cinnamon, India Ground Fennel Seed, Shallot Salt, and a pound of Kosher flaked salt. Super exciting!

We hit up Pizza Fusion for dinner. We can walk there and it's good food. It is a franchise, and seems to be growing, so hopefully there will be one near you quite soon. It's an organic vegan/vegetarian friendly pizza/sandwich joint. They also have great salads and we started by sharing a large one. Ours was arugula, feta, roasted beets, red onion, and walnuts. With the sesame goddess dressing, it's become my favorite thing to eat there. We went for the roasted eggplant, buffalo mozzarella, and onion pizza. It was really good, but I kept eying the plain cheese pizza of the little girl beside me. I guess I know what I am getting next time.

Today, I worked brunch, and we got out pretty late. I thought about making chili tonight, but when it was time to leave Hondos, I realized it would be quite late before we would end up eating. Instead, I bought some shrimp, some mixed nuts, a whole wheat baguette, some lettuce and veg... I made shrimp salads, a nice vinaigrette, and some homemade croutons and we enjoyed them while we watched Duke make it to The Final Four!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reubenesque


Yesterday was gorgeous. Scott and I met my friend Jessica at Deep Run Park and we had a great time walking, chasing each other around, and playing on the FitCore course they have there. Afterward, Scott and I went to Whole Foods to pick up a few staples and contemplated what our growling tummies might want for lunch. We looked at the hot bar, we looked at the salad bar, we looked at the deli. Nothing really seemed that appealing, so we did our shopping in the hopes that something would jump out.

Sauerkraut jumped out. The best part, was that I had a jar at home that needed finishing up. Bubbie's is the only brand I've found worth buying. The bagged stuff my parents used to use in the slow cooker, and even most jar brands are just floppy and gross. You buy Bubbie's in the refrigerated section near the deli meats. It's crispy and tender at the same time and has a magnificent flavor.

Reubens sounded fantastic. I had some of the aforementioned seitan at home which would be a great corn beef substitute, and although the apple sage variety would have been my first choice, I had Italian, so Italian is what I would use. I went over to the bakery and managed to snag the last loaf of Jewish Rye and then scoured the basket of cheese bits for a good swiss. I love that Whole Foods has cheese scraps. You can buy really great cheese without spending a ton of money, because you just buy what you need. This swiss was called Robust and it was fantastic. I could even eat it straight and I'm not a fan of doing so with the cheaper varieties. It had a great bite without that gross aftertaste I often associate with swiss cheese. And for $2.50 I got just enough for 2 sandwiches.

We headed home. I sliced the seitan and put a nice sear on each side. Next, I sliced up the swiss and made a quick Russian dressing by mixing up some Duke's, Heinz Organic, chopped dill pickles, garlic and onion powder, paprika, and a couple dashes of cayenne. I couldn't resist dipping a piece of the Rye to check for flavor- yummy.

I coated a slice of the bread heartily with Earth Balance butttery spread and placed it in a non-stick over low-medium heat. I piled the seitan, swiss, and used up my remaining sauerkraut. I topped it with another slice of rye that I also smothered with Earth Balance. I got a good browning on both sides- the key is using a bit more buttery stuff than you might consider healthy. That way, it seeps into the bread and just gives you the perfect golden crunchiness you want, while still being soft.

After they were done, I opened them up and poured on some of the Russian dressing. A few Jalepeno Kettle Chips on the side and lunch was served. I knew I was putting back in every calorie I burned at the park, but so be it. I would be working my tail off all evening and that would manage to even things out a bit. Even if it not, it was a damn good lunch.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Amb






I've been putting off making pizza crust for a really long time... and I love making pizza, so it only seems right that I should be making my own crust. I also love cheesecake and I am resistant to it as well. I thought about this a lot as I attempted my first pizza crust and decided on a reason for why this might be.

Amber isn't even just one of my best friends. She is a sister to me straight up. We are so different and so alike at the same time- just as sisters often are. Many of my best memories include her, and as is true with sisters- we have certainly had our fights and disagreements. Every single moment made us stronger and closer. She lives a world away from me now, but I couldn't hold her closer to my heart.

Amber and I first met in 1996. We were in college, but this was over the summer. I was dating- are you ready for this small town mess- Ryan at the time. Ryan's friend was dating Billi Jo (who actually is my 2nd cousin.) Billi Jo and Amber were bff's. Billi and Amber lived in Penfield/DuBois- about an hour away from Emporium. Ryan and I were at the DuBois mall one day- where Amber worked- and he wanted me to meet her, as they'd had several opportunities to hang out seeing as their friends were dating one another. He introduced me and I don't think I made a very good impression. Luckily, I had another chance soon when I bunch of us caravaned it to Lilith Fair. Ryan had told me what a great girl she was, and I decided I wanted to be her friend. She was driving in another car, so I took the opportunity when we made a stop, and just went up to her and started talking, determined to make a better impression this time. We had a great time at Lilith Fair. I can't imagine if I hadn't taken that chance. What a loss that would have been.

Amber and I ended up living in the same apartment complex my senior year in college. (H-O!) That is when we became really close. I headed off to England the following year, but when I came back, we were both working at Chi Chi's. Ryan too- even though we were no longer dating, we were very close friends. Oh, the Cheech. Good times. Amber spent a lot of time at my place, and I spent a lot of time at hers. We were together pretty much all the time between working and hanging out. And then I got a teaching job in Greensboro. (Amb went with me for a week to do all of my interviewing- Amber!!! They are taking a SURVEY up ahead!!! What are we going to do?) Amber was finishing school. She visited a couple times, we talked all the time. This wasn't a friendship that was going to end. She decided after graduating that she would move to Greensboro as well to pursue teaching.

We thought a good long time about whether or not we should share an apartment. We certainly did not want to end up hating each other! We decided to take a chance. Amber, me, Heidi, Mama, and Booey. We were quite the little family. I will never forget unpacking her things and finding this orange plastic bowl that really has to be from the 1970s. I'd never seen it before and we laid on the floor laughing so hard we couldn't move. (I now own said bowl and always will- unless she moves back!) I remember starting each morning on the porch with our coffee and all the flowers Amber always had all over the place- I can't grow things, she is incredible. We took turns being the parent to each other. We had the best time, I'm so glad we had that time together. I am truly trying to keep this blog at a reasonable length, but it has occurred to me that I could probably write an entire book about our friendship. Amb- you still have the journal, right?

So, what does this all have to do with my anxiety over pizza crust and cheesecake?

Amber can cook. I mean, the girl has an Italian background and she can tear it up. She's awesome. And she would cook a lot of phenomenal food, but what I remember the best are her pizzas and cheesecakes... No words can explain how perfectly she does each. I realized this was what was holding me back. These were things Amber made... could I really even come close? Could I make them without her standing right there with me? I'm glad I chose to attempt the pizza crust first. Cheesecake is coming. At least I have her springform pan that she used every time to give me good luck... watch this space...

I needed a cocktail for some liquid courage. I made a killer one. Equal parts silver tequila and grapefruit juice, a splash of Grand Marnier, and ice all in a shaker. Shake it well, then strain into a glass. A martini glass would have been nice, but was dangerous in this situation. Top with soda water and squeeze in the juice from a hearty chunk of lime. Delish.

I decided to make a whole wheat crust. I think I wrote on her Facebook wall at least 3 or 4 times during the process. Since it was the middle of the night in New Zealand, I wasn't getting a response.... I was nervous, antsy waiting for the yeast to do its thing, and waiting for it to rise. I paced and worried... and it turned out just fine, outside of the funny shapes! I did dump out the first yeast/water/honey mixture and started again when the yeast didn't seem to foam up like it was supposed to- or was it?! I didn't really know for sure. I was more exact about water temperature the second time and it seemed to like that a bit better. The crust turned out a little dense maybe, but I did go with whole wheat flour for the nutrition factor. I think I'll try half and half next time. Or maybe whole wheat pastry flour, as it's supposed to be lighter. Anyway, I knew it wasn't going to be Amber's super light and crispy crust... I'm not ready to even try to make it like her's yet.

When my crust was done, I topped it with some homemade bbq sauce that I made from OJ, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, dijon, mustard powder, onion and garlic powder, chili powder, pick a pepper sauce, brown sugar, ginger... um? I think that's it. Who knows? I just threw a lot of shit in a pot until it tasted pretty good. On top of the sauce I layered onions, garlic, and corn that I had caramelized together . Next were black beans, some chopped pineapple, and a nice Wisconsin Cheddar. In the oven it went and when it came out, I sprinkled cilantro all over the top. After cutting slices for Scott and I me, I drizzled each with a homemade ranch.

And where, do you ask, did I get this fabulous ranch dressing recipe? Amber, of course. My friend, Cameron, will absolutely choke me if I don't give exacts on this, as she's been asking when I'm going to make it and blog about it since my very first post. I make it a tiny bit different by adding a couple extra ingredients and upping the quantity of a few others, but the skeleton is all hers. Mine would have never become mine if it weren't for her and I give her all the credit.

3/4 cup Duke's
1/2 cup buttermilk
heaping TBSP sour cream (I only add this if I want it thicker, I didn't when making it for the pizza)
1 1/2 tsp dried onion
1 clove grated garlic
1/4 tsp garlic powder
2 TBSP dried parsley
4 TBSP high quality freshly grated Parmesan
a lot of freshly ground black pepper
splash of cayenne powder
TBSP or so of chopped chives if I can find them cheap
salt to taste

It's damn good. It's good on pizza, potato chips, hell, I even dipped crackers into this time. I don't think I ever ate it with salad, ironically... but, damn, that would be a rockin' salad. You just need a vessel to get it into your mouth. It's sensational, and it topped this bbq black bean pizza perfectly.

Amb would have been proud. It wasn't as good as her pepperoni pizza. Not even close. I am resigned to the fact that I just won't accomplish that... but, that's ok. I am pretty psyched it turned out at all, and according to Scott, it was one of the best pizzas I've made. It was filing at least. It even made a great breakfast when I baked off a leftover slice and threw a fried egg on top.

I end this post with a very grateful heart. Words can't describe how much I miss Amber since she moved to New Zealand several years ago. She has a beautiful daughter now, named Olivia, and although I've not met her, I miss her too. Amber will always, absolutely always, be my family. I truly cherish her and cannot imagine my life without her being a part. I know our kids will play together one day, and I can't wait. Who knows? Maybe we'll even end up as the crazy cat ladies with a house down by the river just like we always imagined.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Protein Par-tay.





I haven't felt well since the weekend... just a head thing... allergies? I don't know, but it made me feel crap and completely worn out, and I've not been to the gym since Saturday. I also haven't had much of an appetite all week and have just been sort of picking at food. I felt a little more human this morning and decided I was going to get some exercise and eat lots of protein and veggies today to ensure I completely kick this thing. Pump/Body Combat class was my exercise choice and that was fantastic. I didn't push it as hard as I normally do since I'm still recovering, but it was still a great workout.

I try to make sure that on the days I lift that I eat a bit more protein. Robert, my Greensboro trainer, who I miss SO much, suggests I eat a protein meal or snack within 2 hours of my workout.

My choices when it comes to pure protein are somewhat limited. I don't eat beef, pork, or poultry. This leaves shrimp, tuna, salmon (about the only fish I eat), eggs, and tofu (of which I am careful not to eat too often.) I don't eat a pure protein everyday and even on days I do, I try to be mindful of the amount I take in. The way I get most of my protein is by eating foods that also give me important stuff such as complex carbohydrates and fiber. Examples are beans, whole grains, seitan, tempeh, and Quorn.

After class today, I headed to Whole Foods to pick up a couple staples we needed and when I got there, I decided I wanted tuna salad. I did not want any of my normal go to tuna salad recipes, though. I just started buying some vegetables and figured I'd decide when I got home.

I got home and put a few eggs on to hard boil. I had set aside broccoli, tomatoes, kale, red onion. I finely chopped each and placed them in a bowl along with a drained can of chunk light tuna. I buy Bumble Bee because both EarthFare and Whole Foods sell that brand (making me slightly more confident that the tuna is dolphin safe/Earth friendly) and it's not super expensive. I buy chunk light because it has much less mercury than albacore. When the eggs were finished, I chopped one up and added that also. Next was a handful of chopped toasted walnuts, salt and pepper. If you haven't noticed, I've been all about sherry vinegar lately, so I made a sherry vinaigrette with evoo, capers, grainy mustard, garlic powder, salt and pepper and coated the tuna and vegetables thoroughly. A quick taste proved my throw together was on point. And it looked super pretty too! I put some in a bowl along with a few multi grain tortilla chips and lunch was served. Scott was thrilled also so I guess I have another go to tuna salad recipe!


For dinner, I did decide on tofu. I was sort of hungry for it because it's been weeks since I've had any. I had to open for dinner at work tonight, so I didn't have a ton of time for cooking anyway. I decided to cut corners in the tofu department and just bought some Whole Foods already had prepared. I couldn't decide between a bbq tofu and a honey chipotle tofu. I decided to get one piece of each since I felt pretty confident the sauces which coated the triangles would meld very nicely together when heated.

I cut zucchini and summer squash into a large dice. The broccoli I cut into medium florets and the cherry tomatoes got halved. I cut a red onion into 6ths and peeled about 8 cloves of garlic. I mixed it up with a good coating of evoo on a cooking sheet and threw it in the oven on 425. After about 30 minutes, when things were going well- golden brown spots, close to done, I pulled out the veggies. I gave them a good splash of balsamic vinegar, a hearty sprinkle of whole wheat bread crumbs, a handful of Parmesan, Penzey's Tuscan Italian blend, Alleppo pepper flakes, salt, and pepper... back in the oven for about 5-10 minutes and I'd have vegetable perfection.

I cut the tofu into bite size pieces and just warmed it up in a non-stick skillet. It was a good dinner, the veggies winning the prize here. Whole Foods does a good job, don't get me wrong... but, the tofu tonight made me wished I'd spent the extra time to prepare it myself. I'm glad I didn't buy extra.

Protein is important, but I do think we tend to over do it in our culture. I'm not an expert, and I don't claim to be!!! But, I do like to read on the topic. Studies are showing it may be animal protein more than saturated animal fats that lead to heart disease. Animal protein also causes our bodies to be in an acidic state- which leads to more disease and inflammation. I find I feel and look my best when eating animal (the seafood/eggs mentioned) protein in small amounts and focusing on vegetables, grains, and beans as my main source of sustenance.

I'm not sure what I will eat tomorrow, but my thoughts are turning toward a meal with much less protein than my meals from today... There are a lot of roasted veggies left and I can see their use clearly... It's going to be a Saucy day!!! I'll make a bechamel and a tomato sauce- along some with penne or fussili... yum. Bechamel down in the bowl first, then pasta, followed by the tomato sauce and a pile of the roasted vegetables... It's near midnight now, dinner was hours ago...if I wouldn't wake Scott, I think I might have to start on my saucy day immediately.

The result of said day appears below. I made a bechamel cream sauce and a very rustic tomato sauce and followed my initial idea to the T. It was absolutely delicious. We ate around 2pm yesterday while watching Duke make their way to the ACC finals. Not only did it prove to be great game day food, it also allowed me to get through my entire shift at Hondos without even thinking of being hungry!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Soup Mama




I used to make soup every Sunday when we lived at Bell Orchard. Soup is the perfect Sunday meal- and it provides leftovers for lunch during the week. I would make something different every weekend, I was the self proclaimed Soup Mama...

Now that I'm serving and my schedule is all out of whack, I have probably only made soup a handful of times since moving here. Scott likes to remind me that I've yet to make chili this year. I can't believe it myself, actually... Maybe there is still time before spring is completely upon us.

It was gorgeous this weekend, and if there was a weekend not to make soup this may have been it. Believe me, I'd actually have rather been running at the park since I've been craving an outdoor run. I've been waiting for the weather to break because unlike my friends, Melanie and Katie, who love to run in sub zero weather, I need it to be at least 55 degrees. As luck would have it, I came down with a nasty head cold this weekend and running anywhere was not a great idea if I want to recover quickly.

Soup seriously is the best comfort food, and when you're under the weather, nothing is better. The comfort starts the second you start making it, it just makes you feel good and the house smell even better... I'm not sure I can express my adoration for soup. I decided I wanted something a bit hearty, a bit spicy, and very warming. Red Lentil soup would be perfect. I did get to enjoy the weather on my walk to Whole Foods where I picked up the few vegetables I needed and a few packs of Emergen-C.

My red lentil soup is a hodge podge of a million I've made. I feel like I've taken the best of each of them, added my own preferences and a star was born.

First, I must talk about my dutch oven. I have a red 7 quart Le Creuset. Le Creuset pots are porcelain coated cast iron. If you cook a lot, they really are worth the investment. And if you buy 'seconds,' they are discounted quite a bit. Being seconds means they have a tiny air bubble on the finish somewhere, so not a big deal. Best $100 I ever spent- and I have a 7 quart- trust. That was a deal and a half. Greensboro peeps- head over the Le Creuset store at Alamance Crossing. I've gotten so many deals there. They distribute heat unlike anything I've ever cooked with- you can bring them up to temp, then back off, and they just hold the heat and cook so evenly.

I add a few glugs of evoo to the pot, and add a couple skinny carrots cut into thin wheels, a small diced yellow onion, 2 small diced waxy yellow potatoes, 2 garlic cloves and a jalapeno- both minced, about an inch of ginger grated with a microplane, a hefty pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper. I give it some time to soften and break down a bit- maybe 5-10 minutes. Now, it's time to party. I use my spice grinder (just a cheap coffee grinder I use only for spices) to grind up a large star anise and about a teaspoon of cumin seed. OMG, it smells amazing... those get added to the veg and now it's curry time. Curry powder is so vast in its variation. Just buy quality curry powder and it will be good regardless of which spice takes the lead or how much heat it has. I have about 5 different, but when it comes to red lentils, I want coriander to stand out. I love coriander's soft floral flavor. I have one from Penzey's that is a Balti curry powder. It's one of the best I've ever bought, I absolutely adore the blend of spices here. So, I add about 2 teaspoons- maybe a bit more- and coat the veggies with the spices. I give it a minute or two to take in the heat and get toasty. Then, I add a box of vegetable stock and a about a cup of red lentils that I gave a good rinse.

Heat up, bring it to a slow boil, then back down to just a slow simmer. Lid goes on with about an inch of breathing space on one side and now I have time to get the rest of dinner together. I just give it a stir every few minutes making sure it's not getting too thick (If so, add a bit of water) and not boiling too heavy.

I cut 3 large scallions on the diagonal and add them to a small skillet with a bit of evoo and about a teaspoon of butter. I will let them cook down and use them for a garnish. The bright green will pop in contrast to the yellow/orange of the finished soup.

I cut a small baguette into cubes and put them in a zip lock bag along with a pinch of salt, ground pepper, few shakes of crushed red pepper flake, and a generous amount of Penzey's Tuscan Italian blend. I shake and move around the cubes so they get well covered with the oil and spices. Emptied out onto a cookie sheet (after eating a couple of them, of course) they go into the oven on 350 until golden. Also plan to use these for a garnish. They will provide a perfect contrast in texture on top of the soup.

I get together a salad- romaine, parsley, carrot, scallion, tomato, walnuts, and almonds. Dressing tonight will be a throw together of evoo, sherry vinegar, bit of dijon, good pinch of parmesan, salt, and black pepper.

When the soup is done, after about a half hour or so, I check the seasonings. Sometimes, I might need to add a little more curry, cumin, or salt. This time, it's perfect and I start to get excited for Scott's first bite. He's my biggest fan and it's been awhile since I've made a lentil soup... he's going to love it. Soup Mama is back! I get out the potato masher and mash the soup up a bit. If I had an immersion blender, I may hit it for a second, but I don't, and the masher works pretty well for the effect I want.

I get our salads dressed and the soup garnished and it's time for a quiet Sunday supper. The apartment is quiet- no music, no TV, no washer running. Just Scott and me and Henry, who is adorably napping on the couch. Scott showers me with compliments and we visit between bites. It really tastes so good. This is exactly what I wanted tonight. I'm even breathing easier and I realize it's the best I've felt all day- cooking and then sharing the meal with my sweet man. I am nourished completely.


***I talk about Pensey's a lot. There is one in Carytown and I've been super happy with everything I've bought there. They do ship, so check them out. Great stuff.
www.penzeys.com

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Game Night!!! Duke: 82 Carolina: 50






The burgers are based on a recipe by Paulette Mitchel. It's from a book of vegetarian sandwiches. I never bought the book, but I looked at it a million times during my Barnes and Noble trips. It's a gorgeous book. She also wrote A Beautiful Bowl of Soup. Also a gorgeous book, one which I own and use often.

I don't make these burgers on a regular basis because they are actually pretty fattening, but when Duke is playing Carolina, good bar food is needed.

You will need about a cup of ground toasted walnuts. I buy the pieces, pulse them several times in the food processor, then toast them in a dry pan. I've read that walnuts should always be toasted before eating. From what I understand, they can harbor some sort of worm. I also recommend buying walnuts in bulk. Try one first. I learned this lesson today. We needed to hit up the ABC store, and Ucrops is in the same shopping center, so that is where I did my grocery shopping. I did not try the walnuts. I got home, and ew. They were rancid. So, back to Ucrops to return them, and off to Whole Foods to buy some more. The ones that are sold in the bags are always gross and never worth buying in my opinion.
Throw those in a bowl and add about 1/2 cup bread crumbs. I make my own bread crumbs much of the time, but I use store bought whole wheat bread crumbs for burgers. I think the fine course is best for patties. Two garlic cloves and about 2 tablespoons of onion- both finely minced- go in next. Chop up a tiny handful of fresh Italian parsley, then, add that along with the tiniest palm full of dried thyme (maybe like 1/2 tsp), a pinch of salt, few grinds of black pepper, and a few shakes of hot pepper flake. I'm currently obsessed with Penzey's Extra Hot Red Pepper Flakes.
In a separate tiny bowl, lightly beat an egg and add about a tablespoon of tamari or soy sauce. Add that to the dry mixture along with 1/2 cup of cottage cheese.

Cottage cheese. Sorry, I have to divert from my recipe talk for a moment. I don't buy cottage cheese often. Actually, outside of needing it for these burgers, I'm not sure I ever buy it. I should once in awhile. It's damn good. As soon as I got home from the store today, I pulled out a small ramekin filled it with the curds of goodness and ground on some black pepper. One bite, and I was sitting at Grandma Phoebe's kitchen table. She'd have a paper towel folded in half, a small bowl of cottage cheese, a few saltine crackers, and a small bowl of peaches. Almost every day, this was her lunch. I could smell the house, see her there in her chair. She was beautiful, my grandmother. You could take one look at her and see her absolute strength. I love how food transports you... I love how close it can make me feel to my family.

Now, it's time to mix it all up. I use a spoon to pull it together most of the way, but your hands really are the best tool, so you just gotta get in there and get it combined. I score it in 4, and build the patties. I put them on a plate and put them in the fridge until I'm ready for them.

Time for aioli. Now, I don't make my own mayonnaise. I'd like to try one day, but when I can buy absolute perfection, I see no reason. I scoop out about a cup of Dukes into a small bowl, I add about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice- maybe a bit less? You can always add more... along with a few good grinds of black pepper. Next, I break down a garlic clove with salt. You just smash the clove with your knife, add a pinch of salt and go between mincing and smashing until it's almost a paste. The salt helps bring out the liquid of the garlic and then it breaks down... add about half of it to the mayo, stir it up and sample. If you need more garlic or lemon or pepper to balance, add. This is the only way Dukes could be improved upon.

When I'm ready for the patties, I heat up a hefty tablespoon of canola oil in a non stick skillet. You could use peanut also, but don't use evoo. Medium heat will do. Make sure it's hot (I usually put a crumb of a patty in and wait for it to sizzle.) and add the patties. They will need about 5 minutes on each side and should be golden brown. If you're stove top runs hot, like the one at my apartment, you'll need to go a bit under medium. You know your stoves. They are funny things.

That's it. I brown the bread in the pan after I remove the patties- just a tiny tiny tiny bit of butter on them to help them along. Smear a generous amount of the aioli on top and that's it. I like romaine leaves for a bit of crunch, but put whatever you like on them.

On the side- French Fries of course... what else would you eat with a burger at a bar when watching the biggest rivalry in college basketball? I won't go into great detail since I certainly did with the burgers, but here are my french fry tips.
Buy red potatoes or another type of waxy potato if you bake your fries like I do. You'll get crunchy outsides but creamy insides and in my opinion, this makes for one incredible fry. I keep the skin on. Cut them into fry shape and dry them well with a tea towel. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, dump on the potatoes and add enough evoo to coat them well. In a 400 degree oven they go. I started these way before the burgers. They need around 40 minutes. You don't need to even peek at them for 20 minutes, then, you might want to turn them- each one by hand- if you use a spatula they will break!!!
That's it. When they are golden on both sides, they are done. I put them on paper towels to get off excess oil, season with salt and ground pepper and they are ready! Of course, I ate them with ketchup AND the aioli. It's a special occasion.

While eating, Scott and I commented that our food made us feel like we were at Grey's in Greensboro- which, by the way, does indeed have the best bar food I've ever eaten. After Scott proposed to me almost a year ago, we actually sat at Grey's Tavern, had a few celebratory drinks- and watched Duke beat Carolina.

"That was one of the best games we've played all year," Krzyzewski said. "The three veterans on the perimeter really set the stage in the first half with how they passed and moved with one another. ... I think we would have been tough to beat by anybody tonight."

But, it just happened to be Carolina!!!