Thursday, May 27, 2010

Third Time's a Charm

Last weekend I happened to catch the TV show version of one of my favorite food magazines—Everyday Food.  (It comes on PBS in case you are interested). One of the recipes featured was Thai Beef with Red Chiles and Basil over Coconut Rice. I was intrigued enough to look the recipe up online and print it out right then and there, adding it to the list of this week’s meals.

What I didn’t know at the time, however, was that it would take not one, not two, but THREE trips to various grocery stores in our area to find one of the key ingredients—fish sauce.  Fish sauce is a staple in a lot of Asian cuisine (especially Thai and Vietnamese from what I can tell). It’s basically fermented fish (anchovies I think), sugar, and water. I was really surprised that they did not have it at my usual grocery store on Monday when I did this week’s shopping, especially considering they have a pretty large selection of international ingredients and Asian condiments in particular. So I sent Jason by the Whole Food yesterday on his way to get his hair cut after work to see if perhaps they might have it in stock---they did not. So I set out to yet another grocery store after work today to try and hunt down this illusive ingredient. Fortunately the third time proved to be the charm as good ol’ Giant had not one, not two, but THREE brands of fish sauce to choose from.

(I was pretty happy about that because I am fairly certain that I broke my toe earlier today when I stubbed it on the leg of the coffee table by mistake. And hobbling through the parking lot of one grocery store was about all I had in me...)

Overall I would say this dish was a success, although I am not going to lie—the fish sauce did smell a little funky. Jason asked me to put it on the “make again” list (this list, by the way, only exists in his head).  I thought it was good too but may up the chile and basil quotient next time around for a little more zing. But overall I'd say it's pretty darn yummy.

Today's mise en place--red chiles, garlic (from one enormous elephant garlic clove), basil

Thai Beef with Red Chiles and Basil over Coconut Rice
Adapted from

1 ¼ cups jasmine rice
1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk (I used light coconut milk in order to make it a little more healthy)
2 TBL plus 1 teaspoon fish sauce
2 TBL plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 TBL vegetable oil
3 normal sized garlic cloves or ½ one elephant garlic clove, chopped
2-3 long hot peppers or red jalapeno chiles, seeded and sliced into matchsticks
1 ¼ pounds ground beef sirloin
1 cup fresh basil coarsely chopped

1.In a medium saucepan, combine rice, coconut milk, ¾ cup of water and ½ teaspoon coarse salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce to a low simmer and cook (covered) until rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 20-25 minutes.
2.Meanwhile combine fish sauce, soy sauce, and sugar in a small bowl—set aside. When the rice is almost done, heat cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add oil. Then add garlic and half the chiles, stirring constantly for 15-30 seconds until fragrant. Add beef and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden or silicon spoon/spatula, until meat is completely browned (about 4-5 minutes). Note: I found there to be a significant amount of fat in the bottom of the pan which I drained off at this point although the original recipe did not say anything about this—you can drain or not drain as you would like.
3.Add soy mixture and cook for 30 seconds or so. Add basil and remaining chiles and stir to combine. Serve beef over coconut rice.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Web Wednesday 2.0 (and a Pet Peeve)

Tonight I am making an oldie but goodie for dinner so I thought I’d share some things making their way around the web right now.

How to Order Thai Food like a Native found via Slashfood. I love Thai food. But I am usually so intimidated by the menu I almost always order a curry or Pad Thai. This interesting article has given me some inspiration to try something new during our next visit.

Confessions of a Young Married Couple is one of my favorite blogs. It provides a glimpse into the life of a twenty-something couple navigating the crazy ride that is marriage (hmm...sounds familiar). While a lot of it focuses on their life now that they have an adorable one year old son (affectionately referred to as Bean), it is nice to see someone else go through the ups and downs of marriage with grace and a whole lot of humor. This recent post reminded me that a) it’s the little things that keep a marriage going and b) I should really use my china more often!

No Bake Straweberry Icebox Cake from The Kitchn. OMG. This looks AMAZING. I might have found a future book club contribution!

Pet Peeve: Pop Culture Edition
Have y’all ever noticed that every movie that is supposed to take place during “ancient times” (e.g., Roman Empire, Greek Empire, etc.) features actors using British accents? No really...think about it. Gladiator did it. Troy did it. And now that new Jake Gyllenhal movie Prince of Persia or whatever is doing it. Every time a preview for that movie comes on, I wind up yelling at the TV, telling it that Great Britain as we know it didn’t even exist during those times so why in the heck are all the actors using (in some instance VERY FAKE) British accents?!? Seriously. IT DRIVES ME INSANE!

Ok, rant over. Phew. I feel better :) Happy Hump Day!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Home Alone

Jason was off mountain biking this afternoon after work (or trying to…he was foiled by a broken tire pump) so we decided that instead of waiting until late to eat together, we’d do our own thing. I decided to take advantage of some left over pizza ingredients and our Griddler and make a prosciutto/roasted red pepper/fresh mozzarella panini for dinner.

It. Was. Amazing. (Almost as good as tonight’s Glee episode!)

This is a no-recipe-recipe so I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking!

 Top one piece of bread with one slice of prosciutto, two thin slices of fresh mozzarella, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper 

Add one roasted red pepper (cut so it opens flat) and two basil leaves

Top with other piece of bread and grill until everything is warmed through, the cheese is melty, and the bread is crispy


Monday, May 24, 2010

Cook Together, Watch Alone

Like many other people out there I spent yesterday evening in the land of Lost, celebrating the end of six years of thoughtful, twisty, fun, and always engrossing storytelling. In the week preceding last night’s 4.5 hour extravaganza (including the pre-show), the blogosphere was ablaze with clever ideas for a Lost last supper—Smoked Lox, Shepard’s Pie, Jin and Tonics, etc. We chose to mark the occasion with homemade pizza (and by we, I mean me because Jason is not a Lost fan and while he watched a few snippets here and there and wanted to know how it all ended, I pretty much went this one alone which was fine by me).

While Jason may not have been all that enthralled by the show, he definitely enjoyed the pizza. One of the things I like so much about when we decide to make homemade pizza is that it is a truly collaborative process. I do the prep work while Jason is in charge of shaping the dough into individual rounds and we each get to top one just how we like it. This is the only meal I can think of that we always make together and, cramped apartment kitchen aside, it’s always fun.

We make pizza using a pizza stone but you can still make this dish without one. According to Smitten Kitchen, pizza baked at high heat on the bottom of a cookie sheet is pretty darn delicious (in fact the link provided there has lots of good tips from SK about making pizza at home—you should definitely check it out). But I have to say, pizza stones are a pretty cheap investment (assuming you don’t buy a defective one your first time around) and the results are delicious.

We kept our pizzas pretty simple last night—tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and roasted red peppers. But the world is your oyster when it comes to making pizza so get creative (one of the best homemade pizzas I’ve ever had was one topped with an artichoke dip and shrimp courtesy of my friend Katy—decadent but oh so good). They key is making sure you have a clean oven and that you heat it and the pizza stone for at least 30 minutes before popping in your pie.

All in all it was a solid end to a good weekend. And, for the record, I was pretty satisfied by Lost’s uplifting conclusion.

Jason working his magic on the dough
 My pizza before....
And after
 Jason's pizza

Homemade Pizza with Roasted Red Pepper and Basil

1 package of fresh Whole Foods pizza dough (next time around I am going to make my own so stay tuned for that but we decided to keep it easy last night)
1 can pizza sauce (we like Don Pepino brand and usually freeze what’s leftover for the next time around)
¼ cup freshly chopped basil
2 roasted red peppers, thinly sliced
6 ounces of fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper

1.Place pizza stone onto the middle rack of your oven. Preheat oven to 500 for at least 30 minutes.
2.Divide dough into two equal portions. Dust your workspace with cornmeal and work dough until you have thin rounds (or squares). We have tried both a rolling pin and our hands (see picture above) and would have to say the hands work better.
3.Move rounds to a cookie sheet that has been generously dusted with cornmeal.
4.Top pizza with a few spoonfuls of pizza sauce, mozzarella, red peppers, and basil. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5.Slide pizza off of the cookie sheet and onto the pizza stone. Bake for 9 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. To remove the pizza, we like to grab the crust with some tongs and slide it back onto the cookie sheet. Be sure to let the oven have time get back to temp before adding the second (or third or fourth) pizza.
6.Let stand for a couple minutes before slicing and enjoy!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

No Reservations

As promised, I thought I would share a little of what went on at the Anthony Bourdain-Eric Ripert talk/show/discussion Friday night. Here are the highlights:

The Good
  • Off the cuff and highly entertaining commentary on a wide range of topics from Bourdain’s recent quotes in a NYT article about marijuana use in professional kitchens to what they like most about their jobs (cooking for the Dalai Lama for Ripert and getting things by the censors for Bourdain) to what they really think about certain celebrity chefs (Bourdain would like Guy Fieri to grow up and stop wearing sunglasses on the back of his head while Ripert thinks Gordon Ramsey should be ashamed of himself for his public humiliation of contestants on Hells Kitchen)
  • Ripert thanking PBS for letting people “with accents” have their own cooking shows
  • Topical discussion on issues like factory farms and sustainable food sources, the role of immigrants in the running of America’s restaurants, and whether chefs play a role in the obesity epidemic in America.
  • The easy, good natured banter between the two was entertaining and nice to see—they are clearly friends in real life (and Eric Ripert apparently introduced Anthony Bourdain to his current wife!)

The Bad
  • They had a “host” for the night who introduced the Bourdain/Ripert and served as a moderator of sorts for the duration of the show. While I guess it makes sense to set it up this way—the guy they selected was a DJ from a local radio station and some of his attempts to be charming and/or humorous fell a little flat. It could have been a lot worse—when the guy first came out Jason and I both groaned but he ended up being tolerable for the most part.
  • The last 30 minutes was devoted to audience Q&A (no, I did not end up trying to ask a question) which had Jason worried that he’d have to sit there and listen to a bunch of idiotic questions. For the most part the questions were good ones and elicited interesting and often humorous responses. The one REALLY ANNOYING thing was that at least 75% of those asking the questions started off with “I’m a really big a fan of the two of you….” Uh…..pretty sure that the fact that you a) bought tickets to come this event and b) raised your hand for 10 minutes or more so you could ask them a question directly proves your fan-hood. IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING…..SO STOP SAYING IT!
  • Not a lot of Top Chef DC discussion

  • When we walked into the theater they had a slideshow of vanity shots of both of the chefs running on a screen towards the back of the stage. There was one particularly awesome of Eric Ripert resting his chin on his hand….a hand that was also grasping a large chef’s knife.  Not only that but he was clearly given instructions by the photographer to try and look sultry... the whole thing was just so ridiculous. Take a look and see for yourself:

Overall I would say that it was a highly entertaining event and that Jason and I both really enjoyed it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

It's the Day of the Show, Y'all*

*someone please tell me they know where that is from?!

Yes, that's right. Tonight is the night. The night where I will get to be (somewhat) up close and personal with Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert for what is being billed as an "evening of storytelling and observation providing the audience with a frank and provocative back and forth about what really goes on behind the kitchen doors- from both ends of the spectrum." Apparently it also includes a Q&A session so I will likely spend most of today trying to come up with something insightful (and entertaining) to ask.

For those that are interested, I'll be back tomorrow with all the details!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Happy Almost Friday

Hooray for Thursday! Sorry for being MIA yesterday—it ended up being one of those days where I was inexplicably tired and needed to go to bed at 9:30pm. You know those days where you think you are just going to rest your eyes for a few minutes and the next thing you know it’s 11pm and you have to force yourself to get up and actually take out your contacts (which have by this time become glued to your eyes) and brush your teeth. That’s what it was like. So between that and the fact that Jason and I decided to treat ourselves to a mid-week dinner out (where we engaged in one of our favorite past times—eavesdropping on other people’s dinner conversations), last night’s blog post fell by the wayside.

But today I am back and ready to share with you a new recipe I tried out for dinner tonight. Jason and I both love asparagus and since we are quickly approaching the end of asparagus season (sniff sniff) I’ve been trying to come up with various ways to eat it every week. Tonight I decided to try out Smitten Kitchen’s Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Lemon Pasta. Not only does it include asparagus (which we love), but it also includes a healthy dose of goat cheese (which we also love…as you can probably guess from the fact that we actually made our own a few months back).  The one thing that had me worried about this recipe is that it is one of those pasta recipes that don’t really have a sauce—instead it suggests adding some of the pasta cooking water to the dish to help the other ingredients (in this case the goat cheese, lemon zest, tarragon and olive oil) coat the pasta. I’ve never had particularly good luck with this approach but it was an otherwise appealing recipe so I decided to give it a shot.

The result? Who needs a "sauce" when you have melty goat cheese. Y-U-M. The goat cheese coated the pasta like a dream. And I really liked the hint of lemon with both the cheese and the asparagus. Only thing I might do next time is add some additional tarragon or some fresh parsley for a little more green, herbiness (yes, I know that's not a real word). Overall, a great SUPER EASY dish.

Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Lemon Pasta
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

8 ounces penne pasta (we used whole grain because it’s what we had)
1 pound of asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
2 TBL olive oil
1 TBL grated lemon peel
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 4-ounce log fresh goat cheese
Fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
Salt and pepper

1.Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until it is almost done (with 2-3 minutes cooking time left). Add asparagus and cook until pasta is al dente and asparagus is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Reserve one cup of pasta water and drain the pasta and asparagus together.
2.Meanwhile combine olive oil, lemon peel, tarragon in a large bowl. Break goat cheese into the mixture and add host pasta and asparagus. Toss until combined, adding enough pasta water to make it smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a squirt of fresh lemon juice and serve.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another Cooking Fear Bites the Dust

It’s Tuesday which has me excited for several reasons—

1.Glee comes on tonight! And this week it features guest star Neil Patrick Harris which I am very excited about.

2.Also coming on tonight—Lost! I have been a Lost fan since Season 1 (which is still, in my opinion, the best season ever) and even though I have not completely understood all of the series’ twists and turns, I have seen it through and I am really excited about the remaining two episodes and hopeful that it will all come together in the end.

3.I faced another one of my cooking fears in making dinner tonight….scallops. Now I am not really sure why I have been so reluctant to try my hand at this over the years…maybe because scallops done right are wonderful but scallops done poorly are just plain gross?

I decided to try a relatively simple preparation to start with—Seared Scallops with Spinach and Bacon.  I mean come on—scallops seared in bacon fat? How could you possibly go wrong with that?

Overall I would give the recipe and resulting dish a B. Definitely an A for presentation—Jason and I both thought it looked delightful. But I was a bit disappointed with the result. Part of it was certainly my fault—the scallops were not all the same size and I think the smaller ones ended up suffering in order for the larger ones to cook all the way through. In retrospect, I probably should have pulled the smaller ones off sooner. Also, I accidentally bought a pre-washed package of regular spinach instead of baby spinach and did not realize my mistake until I added the spinach to the pan. The baby spinach probably would have been a bit more tender. Overall, I’d say dinner was good, but not as great as I was hoping for.  But I was happy to have successfully faced down another cooking fear.

Seared Scallops with Spinach and Bacon
Adapted from Cooking Light

3 slices of center-cut bacon
6 jumbo sea scallops (about 1 lb)
½ white onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 ounces fresh spinach
Salt and pepper

1.Cook bacon in large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp (do not use non-stick as it will prevent the scallops from properly searing). Remove back from pan and set aside, reserving 1 TBL drippings in the pan.  Increase heat to high.
2.Pat scallops dry with paper towels. Sprinkle scallops evenly with salt and pepper. Add scallops to pan, cooking 2-3 minutes per side or until done. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil to keep warm.
3.Reduce heat to medium-high. Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté for about three minutes, stirring frequently. Add half of spinach, cook 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining spinach and cook until just wilted. Remove from heat.  Add salt and pepper.
4.Divide spinach mixture among plates and top with chopped bacon and scallops.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chimichurri....It's What's for Dinner

This is going to be a very foodie week, you guys. I have several exciting new recipes to try out (chimichurri! scallops! pasta with goat cheese!) AND Jason is taking me to see Anthony Bourdain (infamous chef/author and host of Travel Channel’s No Reservations) and Eric Ripert (renowned chef, host of PBS’ Avec Eric and recently named Top Chef judge) give a talk at DC’s Warner Theater on Friday. It’s going to be a great week!

And to start it all off I have two good recipes to share: Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce and Roasted Corn with Cilantro Butter. While drinking coffee and eating pancakes one weekend a few weeks ago, I watched as Bobby Flay made a delicious looking appetizer on his show Boy Meets Grill --sliced flank steak crostini with chimichurri sauce. I’ve been thinking about trying out some sort of dish with chimichurri for a  while now as it is something both Jason and I have enjoyed at various restaurants over the years.  Tonight I decided to give a try, turning it into an entrée instead.

It was a definite hit. We both ended up eating way too much (so much for my plan for leftovers later in the week)—it was that good. The only thing that would make it even better, in my opinion, would be to spice up the chimichurri next time around. At the last minute tonight I stirred some red pepper flakes in but it wasn’t quite right. Next time I might throw some jalapeno or serrano chile into the mix.

As per usual, we had no grill to use. One day perhaps we’ll have an outdoor space that looks like this:

From Google Image Search

Until then, I will continue to use our broiler instead.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce

Adapted from Bobby Flay

1 flank steak
2 cups red wine
¼ cup canola oil
6 cloves garlic, 3 minced and 3 roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 cup Italian parsley
½ cup mint leaves
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar

1.Mix wine, canola oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper in a non-reactive dish. Add steak, turn to coat, and marinate at room temperature for one hour.
2.Preheat broiler.  To make the chimichurri, pulse mint, parsley, cilantro, and remaining garlic until coarsely chopped. Add olive oil, vineagar, salt and pepper and pulse until you have a vinaigrette-like consistency. Check for seasoning. (May also add some red pepper flake, jalapeno or serrano chile to the mix if you want a little spice.)
3.Remove steak from marinade and season with more salt and pepper. Broil 4-5 minutes per side for medium temperature. Remove from oven and let rest for about 5 minutes before slicing thinly across the grain.
4.Serve with chimichurri sauce.

Roasted Corn with Cilantro Butter

2 ears of corn
1 TBL butter, room temperature
1 TBL chopped cilantro
Salt and Pepper

1.Preheat oven to 400. Mix butter, cilantro, salt and pepper together.
2.Place each ear of corn on its own piece of aluminum foil. Spread half of the cilantro butter on each ear (be sure to cover all sides). Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.
3.Wrap aluminum foil around corn and place on a baking sheet. Roast corn for 30 minutes or until soft.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friday Finds

o I wanted to share with you all a few new things that I am loving right now, and what better time to share the love than on a Friday—the very best day of the week!

Stella and Dot. Stella and Dot is a home-based business that sells really cute jewelry! I had never heard of it until one of my friends from high school sent me an email saying she was selling jewelry on the side in addition to her “day job”—although skeptical (when you usually think home-based business you think Mary Kay or Tupperware), I checked it out and was pretty impressed by the stylish products they had to offer. I recently bought the Bloom Flower Necklace in Red for myself and the Torquoise Sea Drop Earrings for a friend’s birthday.

Aveeno Nourish +Moisturize Shampoo. Jason does not have your typical wash and go guy hair—he has REALLY curly hair which, despite being kept pretty short, requires a little more management.  As a result, he is actually sort of picky about the type of shampoo he uses. Given that we tend to use a lot of Aveeno products (bath wash, face exfoliator), Jason was pretty proud of himself when he came home from Target a few weeks ago with a new line of shampoo from Aveeno. I had also run out of my (fancy salon) shampoo and decided to give it a try until I had time to go the mall and refill. In the first week I used it, I got two separate compliments on how nice my hair looked!  I’ve definitely noticed that it leaves my hair feeling softer and a little less frizzy. This might be my new favorite shampoo.

Crate and Barrel Loire Plates in Green. Last weekend Jason and I went to Crate and Barrel to pick up a new pizza stone (we received one as a wedding gift only to have it crack into several pieces after using it a grand total of twice--we're hoping to have better luck with the new one) and I came across these really cute springy plates. I was instantly in love but decided that I would have to hold off until I have more kitchen storage space...or they go further on sale, whichever comes first! They are really cute, I think....I've been thinking about them all week.

What finds are peaking your interest this week?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Not-so-guilty pleasures

Guilty pleasures. We all have them.  I got caught up in one of mine tonight (the season finale of a tv show that I am too embarrassed to name….it’s so good though!) which is why this post is so late.  Fortunately chicken piccata is anything but a guilty pleasure. It is an all-around crowd pleaser.  I have made it countless times for Jason and myself. And it’s just as easy to make for 10 people as it is for 2—I even made it for book club a few months ago!

To make it even easier I like to start with chicken cutlets—it takes the need for pounding the chicken breasts out until they are super thin (although that is good if you have some aggression/anger you need to take out on something). You then coat the chicken in flour, an egg and water mixture, and seasoned bread crumbs. Cook in olive oil a minute or two per side and then finish them off in the oven. While the chicken is finishing you make a quick sauce of butter, white wine, and lemon juice. Top the chicken with sauce and fresh parsley and there you go!

Tonight I decided to make a spinach salad to go with it. Given that we still had a few extremely ripe strawberries left from last week’s trip to the farmers’ market, I threw those in there along with some hearts of palm and walnuts. We were originally going to have chicken picatta last night and I was going to use some of the leftover chicken on this salad as the entrée tonight. But since I was not up to cooking last night and I knew my strawberries wouldn’t be able to last much longer I decided to serve them together. It worked well--  the strawberries in the salad were a nice complement to the lemony chicken.

A perfect meal to (almost) end the week on!

Chicken Piccata
Adapted from Ina Garten

1 package of chicken cutlets (or chicken breasts, pounded thin)
½ cup of all-purpose flour
1 egg
½ cup of seasoned bread crumbs
2 TBL butter
½ cup dry white wine
2 lemons
4 TBL fresh chopped parsley
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1.Preheat oven to 400. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil lightly coated with cooking spray.
2.Mix the egg with 1 TBL of water and beat lightly. Place the flour, egg mixture, and bread crumbs in separate containers (a plate or shallow bowl would work best). Season flour with salt and pepper.
3.Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet (you want a thin layer to completely cover the bottom of the pan) over medium heat. Meanwhile, dredge the chicken pieces first in the flour, then in the egg mixture, and finally in the bread crumbs (be sure both sides are covered).
4.In a couple of batches, cook chicken in olive oil 2 minutes per side until golden brown. Place on baking sheet. You may need to add additional oil to the pan between batches. Once the chicken is browned, place baking sheet in the oven to finish cooking about 6-8 minutes.
5.Meanwhile, wipe the skillet clean and return to heat. Melt butter and add white wine and juice from the two lemons. Add lemons to the skillet. Simmer until sauce has slightly reduced.
6.Spoon sauce over chicken and serve with fresh parsley.

Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Hearts of Palm
Inspired by a recipe from Paula Deen

2-3 cups baby spinach
½ cup sliced strawberries
¼ cup chopped walnuts
2 whole hearts of palm, sliced (I used the canned variety)
1 teaspoon Grey Poupon mustard
2 TBL lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1.Add spinach, strawberries, walnuts, and hearts of palm to a bowl.
2.In a small bowl, mix mustard and lemon juice together. Slowly whisk in olive oil until emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste
3.Toss salad with vinaigrette and serve.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Web Wednesday

I have a serious case of the blahs this week. I don’t know if it’s the crappy weather we’ve been having the last couple of days, a general sense of ennui with my current routine, or what, but I’ve been incredibly tired and generally apathetic about almost everything. I made myself go to the gym today in hopes that it would put some pep in my step but no such luck. I still feel like doing a whole lot of nothing. Which is why I very nicely asked Jason if he could pick something up for dinner on his way home from work (thank goodness for Rocklands!)  That’s right I am so tired and blah-ed out that I don’t even want to cook.

So instead of a recipe post or even a random musing on married life, I decided to share few links with you that have caught my interest over the last few days. Hopefully they will tide you over until my usual energy returns! I have a baking sheet that looks like it’s been through the wringer. I blame it on the fact that I have let it sit in soapy water for longer than it should. I am going to give this a try sometime soon and see if I can restore it to its former glory. We don’t have ability to entertain outdoors at the moment but I am dreaming of the day we do. And you better believe I will be making some tasty pitcher drinks to celebrate (I may use some of these good ideas –such as freezing ice in a oj concentrate tube so it will melt slower—the next time I host book club…who says pitcher drinks are just for barbeques?!) This just seems like an invaluable skill to have. My friend Jenny and her husband Dan (who are, by the way, two of the nicest people around) just opened Go Ape, an outdoor adventure course, in Rockville, MD. I am always so inspired (and a bit envious) of people who have the guts to strike out on their own. And from the looks of it, Jenny and Dan are going to be quite successful! Despite my issue with heights, I may have to Go Ape sometime soon :)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making Use of a Mise en Place

That’s right I’m getting all fancy on you and breaking out French cooking terms! Cause that’s what Tuesdays are for (apparently).  “Mise en place” basically means “everything in its place” and refers to having all of the ingredients you need on hand, ready to go when it comes time to make a dish. It’s how professional kitchens operate---because if you had to wait for all your ingredients to get prepped it would take a lot longer for your meal to be made and served (which means the restaurant would not make as much money). Using a mise en place is good for the home cook as well—with all the prep work out of the way, you can pay more attention to cooking things appropriately and efficiently instead of getting distracted by those herbs you still need to chop.

Since I work at home and don’t have much of a commute, I am “home from work” a lot earlier than Jason.  Lately I’ve been doing all my prep work (building my mise en place if you will) as soon as work ends and then when Jason calls me and lets me know he’s on his way home, I can start the actual cooking. And still have dinner on the table when Jason walks in the door!

The use of a mise en place is particularly critical when making things like Pad Thai. Tonight was my first attempt at the dish and I would say it was mostly successful. But the cooking process is really all of three minutes so you have to have everything chopped and ready to go ahead of time. I decided to dip my toes into these untested Pad Thai waters with a scaled-down version that comes from this month’s issue of Everyday Food (where else!).  Jason liked the dish but as someone who has eaten Pad Thai a hundred times at various restaurants, I found the flavor to be somewhat lacking. However it was easy and good for a weeknight. And it’s inspired me to looking into more authentic Pad Thai recipes—so stay tuned!

My mise en place--peanuts, soy sauce mixture, scallion whites and garlic, cilantro and scallion greens
Vegetable Pad Thai
Adapted from Everyday Food

6 ounces dried, wide and flat rice noodles
1 TBL brown sugar
2 TBL fresh lime juice
3 TBL soy sauce
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 scallions, white and green parts separated and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped
¼ cup chopped peanuts

1.Bring 3 cups of water to a boil. Turn off heat and add rice noodles and soak for 4 minutes. Drain. Rinse with cold water and set aside.
2.Once you have your mise en place ready to go, heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add scallion whites and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 30 seconds. Add eggs and cook, scraping with a rubber spatula until eggs are cooked, about 30 seconds. Remove egg mixture and set aside.
3.Add noodles and soy sauce mixture to skillet. Toss constantly until noodles are soft and coated with sauce—about 1 minute. Add egg mixture and toss, gently breaking up eggs and letting it all mix together.
4.Top noodles with cilantro, scallion greens, and peanuts and serve.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Kitchen Clambake (minus the clams)

By now y’all know me well enough to know just how much I love Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa).  I love her. I love her recipes. I love her house. And I secretly wish I could quit my day job (which I do actually enjoy) and become a self-taught cook/entrepreneur/store owner just like her.  While this is an unlikely scenario, I can learn to entertain like her. If you are familiar with her show, she almost always cooks some elegant yet homey meal for friends or her husband, Jeffrey. (Side note: there is something about Jeffrey that reminds me of Jason…maybe it’s because he is always so happy to eat Ina’s food and he always acts like whatever she makes on that particular day is THE BEST THING HE’S EVER EATEN and Jason does that with pretty much everything I make too.) On one particular show, she made a Kitchen Clambake where she filled a huge stockpot full of all kinds of seafood (mussels, shrimp, lobster, etc.), corn on the cob, potatoes and steamed it in white wine and stock. And she served it with crusty bread (to sop up the sauce) on a long table covered in newspaper. It looked awesome.  I’ve been waiting since the day I first saw that episode (probably several years ago now) to make that meal and serve it a large group of close friends.

Tonight… was not that night. (Sorry, if I got your hopes up there for a second.)

Instead I made a scaled down version of the kitchen clambake courtesy of Everyday Food. In this version, you make individual foil packets and fill them with fish, shrimp, sliced new potatoes, and corn on the cob, and cook it on the grill (or in our case in the oven) with a composite butter of dill and garlic. It wasn’t the showstopper of my dreams, but served with some lemon and dill asparagus, it was a nice weeknight meal for two. And as predicted, Jason thought it was one of the best meals I’ve ever made. Who needs more than that?!

New England Seafood Bake
Adapted from Everyday Food

2 TBL butter, room temperature
2 TBL finely chopped fresh dill, plus more for the asparagus if you decide to make that as a side
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper
2-3 red new potatoes (depending on size), scrubbed and thinly sliced
1 tilapia fillet, cut into two equal pieces
¼ lb of frozen uncooked shrimp, thawed
1 ear of corn, cut in half
½ lemon, thinly sliced (reserve the other half for the asparagus if you are making)
White wine (optional)

1.Preheat oven to 425. In a small bowl, combine butter, dill and garlic. Season with salt and pepper.
2.Tear off two large pieces of aluminum foil. Divide ingredients evenly between the two pieces of foil and assemble packets. Start by arranging potatoes in a single layer on one-half of the foil. Top with tilapia, then shrimp. Place ½ corn on one side. Season with salt and pepper. Add a dollop or two of the butter and top with two lemon slices. Splash the top with a tablespoon or so of white wine if using. Fold foil over ingredients and crimp edges tightly to seal. Place on baking pan.
3.Bake at 425 for 15 minutes or so until potatoes are tender (note: I found the potatoes to still be a little al dente for my taste—next time I might consider par-boiling the potatoes or even sticking the slices in the microwave to give them a heads start on the rest of the ingredients which don’t require as much time to cook through).  Remove from oven, slit packets open and serve. If desired, serve was roasted asparagus with lemon and dill (see below).

To make asparagus—trim woody ends of asparagus. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Cook at 425 alongside the seafood packets. Squeeze half a lemon, top with reserved dill and serve.

I would be remiss if I discussed the joys of cooking with seafood and did not say something about the oil spill along the Gulf Coast that is threatening our nation’s food supply as well as the livelihood of American fisherman for years (and maybe even decades) to come (not to mention the environmental ramifications). The New York Times had a sobering article about the impact this will have not only on those living and working on the Gulf Coast but for those of us who enjoy the fruits of their labor on a regular basis.  Definitely worth a look if you have a free minute.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Scream, You Scream...

When trying to decide what to do with our massive strawberry haul, the first thing that came to my mind was ice cream. When I was growing up we usually made homemade ice cream a couple times during the summer, usually for July 4th or Memorial Day, and it almost always involved strawberries. My mom would make the base from egg yolks, milk/cream, vanilla, and sugar, and we would slice strawberries until our hands turned pink from all the juices. Then I would watch my dad get the machine ready to go. We had one of those electric ice cream makers that made a gallon of ice cream at a time, and required ice and rock salt so we had to do it in the garage. It was quite the production and we treated it as such. Usually a pound cake was made to go with the ice cream and neighbors were often invited over to partake of its creamy, fruity goodness. Our ice cream always tasted better than what you could buy in the store. Or at least that’s how I remember it. (PS Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!)

When it came time to create our wedding registry last year, I was adamant about including an ice cream maker on the list. We chose one of the smaller versions that do not require ice or salt. You simply place the bowl in the freezer overnight and pour in the ice cream mix and the machine does all the work. Today was the first time we used it together (I made some chocolate sorbet once last fall by myself to surprise Jason with when he came home from being gone one weekend with mixed results) and I was really excited to try my hand at the strawberry ice cream I remembered so fondly from my youth.

I consulted David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop (which I bought for myself not long after the wedding in anticipation of using our new ice cream maker at some point in the  future) for a recipe and much to my surprise, his strawberry ice cream did not require eggs!  Apparently, there are multiple styles of ice cream—French-style ice cream uses a custard base made with egg yolks while Philadelphia-style ice cream is made with cream (and sometimes milk) but no eggs.  Most of David Lebovitz’s fruit-based ice cream recipes use the Philadelphia-style since he thinks is preferable to “let the flavor the fruits come forward without all the richness” of the French-style.  Even thought it was not the custard-base ice cream of my youth I decided to give it a shot…if for no other reason than it is a whole lot simpler to make!

Macerated strawberries, cream, lemon juice, and (the surprise ingredient) sour cream pureed, chilled and then poured into our Cuisinart ice cream freezer. In the words of Ina—“how bad can that be?!”

Not bad at all. It’s going to be a tasty summer!

Strawberries immediately after they've been tossed with sugar and Cointreau

An hour later...look a all that yummy juicy goodness!

Strawberry-Sour Cream Ice Cream
Adapted (hardly at all) from David Lebovitz

1 pound fresh strawberries, rinsed and sliced
¾ cup of sugar
1 TBL Cointreau (originally recipe called for vodka or kirsch but we had neither so I went with what we had)
1 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
½ lemon, juiced

1.Toss sliced strawberries with sugar and Cointreau, stirring until sugar begins to dissolve. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
2.Place strawberries (and all the ruby red liquid that comes out of them), cream, sour cream, and lemon juice into  a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth but still slightly chunky.  Refrigerate for 1 hour. Note: if you use a blender you can just place the vessel in the fridge which means 1 less dish to wash!
3.Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Jason and I have decided to take advantage of the lovely weather and our prime Northern Virginia location and spend some time in and around our neighborhood today.

First stop….our local farmer’s market. It had been awhile since I’d visited the market (which is open every Saturday throughout the entire year) and I was definitely kicking myself for not making an appearance earlier this spring. The market was teaming with plants, herbs, asparagus, free range meats, fresh cheese, and the first signs of strawberry season! We got a little excited and came home with:

Some huge asparagus

A pretty garden bouquet

And strawberries.

Lots of strawberries.

(Keep your eyes out for some strawberry based recipes to come in the next couple of days.)

Next on our agenda….hiking around Roosevelt Island! And possibly a trip to Eventide's rooftop this evening.

How are you spending your Saturday?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kicking it Up a Notch

There’s nothing like getting measured for a bridesmaid’s (ahem, matron of honor) dress to make you feel really bad about yourself. Why these traditional dress designers (e.g., not J.Crew or Ann Taylor where you get to order a size that is akin to what you normally wear) have to have sizes that run small, I’ll never know. But it really sucks to be told you need to order a dress that is two or even three sizes bigger than what you wear regularly. I know size is nothing but a number and all that, but it really is demoralizing.

But it also serves as just the motivation I need to get in shape! When I last spoke about my battle with the dreaded Newlywed Nine, I was starting to get on a better workout routine. Doing that was easier said than done given my crazy travel schedule. However, last week (my first back with no travel) I worked out three days and did a long walk (almost 4 miles total) with Jason another day. But this week, I’m kicking it up a notch and have started alternating cardio (either the treadmill at the gym or one of my DVDs—Turbo Jam and 30 Day Shred are my go-tos) and targeted toning. 

To help with this, I recently bought Denise Austin’s Hit the Spot Target Toners DVD. It includes 10 five-minute workouts each targeting a specific muscle group. You can do all 10 for a 50 minute, total body workout or you can create your own shorter combo. Today, I did my own routine of arms, shoulders, hips, and butt.  Denise can be kind of annoying with her super peppy “you can do it” attitude but the workouts are so short that they go by really quickly and it’s hard to get bored. We’ll see what kind of results I get.

Hopefully this goal of doing something every day (even if it is just 20 minutes of toning) and incorporating some weight/strength based exercises will help kick-start my metabolism and keep me on track!

What helps get you motivated to stay healthy?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Some Jerk (Chicken)

As you may remember, we had dinner with Jason’s parents last weekend to celebrate his dad’s birthday. His mother had planned to make some sort of mango and avocado salad to go with the meal only to learn at the last minute that Jason’s dad does not like mangoes.  His loss was our gain and we went home with two very ripe mangoes. When trying to figure out what to make this week, I was determined not to let the mangoes go to waste. The logical choice was some sort of mango salsa. And jerk chicken seemed like the perfect accompaniment.

If you are unfamiliar with the dish, the “jerk” in jerk chicken is a marinade with a wonderful mix of sweet/fruity and spicy flavors.  Be sure to marinate the chicken for a good long while so it can soak up all the flavors (if my chicken had been thawed I would have done so overnight but instead I settled for 8 hours during the day yesterday).  Served with mango salsa and some corn on the cob, you have a fantastic summery meal.

Jerk Chicken with Mango Salsa
Adapted from recipes by Ellie Krieger and Emeril Lagasse

4 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
½ -1 habenero or scotch bonnet pepper (depends on how spicy you want it)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground ginger (not the dried stuff you find in the spice aisle)
4 TBL lime juice
2 TBL soy sauce
1 TBL brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 chicken breasts
2 mangoes, pitted and diced
½ red onion, finely diced
½ red pepper, diced
½ cucumber, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon lime zest
Salt and pepper

1.Combine scallions, habenero pepper, garlic, ginger, 2 TBL lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, and thyme in a blender until you have a smooth paste. Pour over chicken breasts and marinate for 8 hours or overnight.
2.To make salsa, combine mango, red onion, red pepper, cucumber, remaining 2 TBL lime juice, and lime zest in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3.Remove chicken from marinade and broil or grill (about 5-6 minutes per side or more depending on thickness). Serve with mango salsa.