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


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


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.

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!!!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sardines aren't gross. Well, sort of.

Alton Brown is my favorite. He's funny, interesting, and he knows a ridiculous amount about food. I hang on his every word.

A couple years ago he had a series called Feasting on Asphalt. I was really getting worried about him. He'd gained a lot of weight and wasn't looking so healthy. To top it all off, he was riding his motorcycle around the country and eating things like pastrami stuffed hot dogs. That might be an exaggeration, but it was something like that in every episode. I was horrifically worried that my favorite Food Network cook might not make it back to Georgia to tape Good Eats ever again.

I started relaxing some when he seemed to slimming down a bit on newer episodes of Iron Chef America... but, when The New Iron Chef premiered to choose the next Iron Chef (Go Garcias!!!), I was down right relieved. He looked amazing. Not only did it seem he'd lost all the weight he'd gained, but he looked better than I'd ever seen him! Glowing, healthy, trim!!! Yay, Alton!!!

When the latest season of Good Eats began, Alton did an episode entitled, "Live and Let Diet." He called himself out on his once unhealthy habits and discussed a little about his new lifestyle. Good fats, nuts, beans, legumes, fruits, veggies, animal proteins in moderation- right up my alley and I couldn't wait to see what he was going to make!

He made ginger flavored almonds, a smoothie to die for, and... Sardine toast.

He talked in detail (of course) about sardines- how amazing they are for you- Omega 3's galore, protein, tons of calcium... but, I was skeptical. They're sardines. Gross.

I'm open minded though and I love to try to new things and really... could they be that bad? I do, after all, love fish. They are just fish. And they are so super good for you. Maybe it was worth a try... so, onto the computer to print out the recipe and off to Whole Foods I went.

Apparently, saying sardines on the can can mean they could be one of like 5 different varieties of fish, so Alton says to buy the can that actually says, "Brisling Sardines." He says they taste the best. I believe him. You can also buy sardines with other flavorings, such as mustard, but I did what Alton said and bought Brisling Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I also got the few other ingredients I needed and figured that I had a Kashi frozen pizza at home if all else failed.

I will tell you this first. It rocks. It is amazing actually. Sardines ARE yummy and after making this a second time, I think I might actually try to expand my sardine repertoire in the very near future.

I pretty much followed the recipe, but my ratios and a couple other details are different...

Here's exactly what I did:

One can of sardines- ok- here's the gross part. They still look like little fish, so I run away like a little girl and make Scott mash them up until they look like tuna fish from the can. I know, silly right? But, they look absolutely disgusting and I don't want to see the truth. I can't handle it.

I put in a good glug of sherry vinegar- about twice what he calls for since I'm only using one can of sardines. I also zest a lemon and am generous with freshly ground black pepper. I also hit it with a pinch of salt and some crushed hot pepper flake. Then let it alone for 30 minutes or so.
The first time I made it, I used 4 slices of a whole wheat sour dough boule and it was absolutely perfect. Today, I had the rest of my St. Germine baguette in the freezer to use up, so I used that. I dug out the extra innards of the bread and brushed it with EVOO. Still worked great, but the sourdough was better. I put it under the broiler just for a few minutes, then distribute the sardine mixture evenly. Only thing left to do is cut open an avocado, mash it up in the skin and distribute it on top of the sardines. Alton talks about how avocado evens out the fishy taste. Their vast nutritional value is merely a bonus in this recipe. Lastly, a pinch of salt and a little lemon juice. Dinner is served.

Last time, we drank a nice smoky petite syrah along with our toast. It was heaven. Today, I had to go to work, so that would be another reason why they were probably better last time.

Although you may need assistance in getting the sardines open, into the bowl, and looking like tuna fish- they are, in fact, delicious. I worked all night after having this for dinner and didn't even think about being hungry. I felt nourished, energetic, and completely satisfied.

The next time you're grocery shopping, take a look at sardines. Yes, they are sort of gross. But, you'll get over most of it after you eat sardine toast, I promise!

Ooooo... It's 11:00 pm!! Good Eats is on!!!