Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How Bad Could That Be?!

By now you know that my love for Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa) is rivaled only by my affection for Smitten Kitchen. So when I saw SK had taken Ina’s recipe for Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons for a spin, I knew I had to give it a go myself.  Basically it’s a warm panzanella salad—bread, loads of fresh tomatoes, garlic, and basil. A very seasonal dish, indeed. I decided to add some spinach to the mix to add a little more green to otherwise carb-heavy dish.

While the recipe isn’t difficult to prepare it does take a little more time than some of my other weeknight dinners. Fortunately, the timing worked out well tonight since Jason had to work a little late. In the end, I really liked it….as a side dish. I think for it to be really satisfying entrée, I’d add some other veggie (zucchini or eggplant) or top with a poached egg (per SK’s suggestion). But I would definitely encourage you all give it a try. Bread, tomatoes, basil, and garlic…in the words of Ina “how bad could that be”?!

Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons and Spinach
Adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen

3 TBL olive oil
2-3 cups of bread cubes, SK recommends a French boule; I used a rosemary olive oil loaf—you just want to look for a chewy, artisanal type of bread that will stand up to the juicy tomatoes.
2 lbs of tomatoes (I used roma), diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBL sugar
2 teaspoons Kosher salt (less if you use table salt)
1 teaspoon ground pepper
3/4 of bag of baby spinach
½ cup thinly sliced basil leaves
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

1.Preheat the oven to 350. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add bread cubes and stir so they are all coated with oil. Cook, tossing frequently, until toasty on all sides, about 5 minutes.
2.Combine tomatoes, garlic, sugar, salt, pepper, and spinach in a large bowl. When bread is toasted add mixture to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes more.  Remove from heat and stir in basil. Pour into a shallow (6-8 cup) baking dish and sprinkle top with Parmesan cheese. Bake 35-40 minutes until the top is browned and the tomatoes are bubbly. Serve hot or warm. I served mixed greens alongside with it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The Black Keys

Tonight Jason and I are doing something a little bit uncharacteristic for a Monday--we are going to see a concert in DC. The Black Keys to be exact! If you don't know The Black Keys, you should. They're a rock band with a definite blues edge and we are big fans. (You can listen to one of their songs here.)

One of the fun things about being in a relationship, I think, is being exposed to new things (and, in this case, new music). Jason has pretty diverse taste in music and has introduced me to a lot of different bands, including The Black Keys. But it definitely goes both ways--for my part, I have introduced him to Ryan Adams and Arcade Fire (which we are also seeing in concert this summer!).

What new things has your significant other introduced you to?

Updated to add: The video that goes with the song in the link above was not done by the band and is definitely a little odd but perhaps a fun way to start a Monday?! :)

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Little Bit of Bubbly

Over the last several years I have attended probably 10 weddings or more (including my own) and in that time I have learned at least one important thing: I like sparkling wine. Champagne, prosecco, cava…it’s all tasty to me. It’s also fun and festive. The one drawback is that once you pop open a bottle, it doesn’t last. And it’s hard for two people to consume an entire bottle on anything resembling a regular basis (well it is hard for Jason and me, at least). From time to time we buy half-size bottles for weeknights or other times when a glass or two will do. But even that can be difficult when, for instance, I am in the mood for a glass but Jason isn’t.

So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered these little babies….

People, this is sparkling wine In A CAN! And it comes with its own straw!

Portion control perfection! And it’s not some crappy sparkling wine, either (in my opinion anyway); it’s Francis Ford Coppola’s Sofia which I first enjoyed on my wedding day as I got ready with my bridesmaids. It’s a little sweeter than a champagne, maybe, but not overly so (and believe me, I don't like sweet wine).

This fun idea was first brought to my attention when Jason and I went with friends to Galaxy Hut, a little bar in Arlington that we like because of its low key vibe and excellent craft beer selection.  So you can imagine my surprise when I saw “Sofia Sippy Can” listed on the menu. Unfortunately, I already had a beverage in hand but made a mental note to see if I could find these elsewhere. Cue our weekend trip to Total Wine and voila- a fun find perfect for low key evenings at home, picnics, or maybe even a bachelorette party!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Now I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert by any means, but I do know my way around the kitchen fairly well.  But I definitely made a huge kitchen blunder this week. You may remember that I used my cast iron pan in lieu of a wok Monday night for dinner. Just like any other night we cleaned up the kitchen after dinner, washed the dishes—putting the smaller everyday items in the dishwasher and washing the bigger items (including the cast iron pan) by hand and laying them out to dry on a dish towel.

Did you catch it? The big blunder, that is?

We washed the cast iron pan and laid it out to dry on a dish towel. When we should have dried it immediately. So when I went to put it away I saw this:

Yep, that's rust :(

Oh the horror!

Fortunately, it was not the end of the world. If I had had a potato, I would have tried an old trick using it and some baking soda to remove the rust. But there were no potatoes to be had here. So I used a scouring pad instead which meant that I was going to have re-season the pan.  I followed The Kitchn’s seasoning advice and wiped the pan down with vegetable oil and then baking it (upside down) in the oven for an hour (make sure to put some aluminum foil on the bottom rack to catch any drips). After an hour I turned the oven off and then let the pan cool completely before removing (I left it there overnight). Here’s what we ended up with:

Definitely looks a lot better, don't you think? Let this be a lesson to you-- always dry your cast iron cookware immediately!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Dressing for Success: Accessories Edition

I know I still owe you an update about the work clothes shopping extravaganza I did the weekend Jason lost his wedding ring to the New River (for some reason I haven’t been able to focus long enough to take a few photos of the fruits of my labor) so for now I’ll just say that it was a mostly successful outing.

Instead what I want to talk about today are two important work accessories I’ve recently acquired. First up, is this handy-dandy retractable identification badge clip I bought from Office Depot on Sunday. This is absolutely critical for those of us who have to wear ID badges at all times at work. The security office gave me a black lanyard to wear but after wearing it all last week, I felt that it was really hindering my work style by negatively impacting my ability to wear cute necklaces. The badge clip has been so much better—it discretely hooks to the waistband of my pants or skirts and the retractability allows for easy access when I have to show it to the security guards in the morning after I make my daily trip through the metal detectors. This feature will be even handier once I get my high-tech biometrically-enhanced ID badge in a month or two and can use that to enter the special side entrance. Best purchase made from Office Depot ever!

The second item I have recently acquired is another one that has significantly improved my quality of work life this week: a new tote bag. Almost as soon as I became one of the 800,000 people who ride the Metro everyday, I realized that even my oversized purses weren’t quite cutting it in terms of helping me haul all of the things I needed to bring with me to work everyday. I know you are probably thinking--  how much stuff do you really need to bring with you? It adds up, believe me. Here are my everyday work essentials:
  • Umbrella—you never know when you are going to get caught walking to/from the metro in the rain
  • Lunch bag—I’m following Jason’s lead and bringing my lunch 3-4 days a week (more on that in a later post)
  • Shoes—because even though I bought a new pair of low heels that I can walk in, I did not account for the other blisters they would create. So now I am that person who wears flats/flip-flops on to/from the metro and then changes into other dress shoes when I get to work.
  • Personal items—wallet, cell phone, keys, metro card, etc.
  • Magazine or book-- for the 20 or so minute metro ride
  • My fake Sigg water bottle—which I haven’t been bringing lately but need to
Since Jason and I were already planning to make a quick trip to the Leesburg Outlets on Saturday, I decided to take a look and see if I could find a nice tote bag that was large enough to fit all of the above items and anything else I may need to take to work on a regular basis. My goal was to find something that would be usable year-round so that I could get away with buying one bag. Fortunately I ended up finding something that was pretty much the size, shape, and style I had in mind at the Kate Spade Outlet store.

There was just one small thing…

It is a diaper bag.

 Can you see that the tag (with a picture of a small child) says "Kate Spade Baby"?!?

Yep, I am taking all my stuff to work in a designer diaper bag.

Fortunately it doesn’t look like a diaper bag but has all the benefits—easily cleanable nylon lining (perfect for the occasional wet umbrellas, dirty shoes, or leaking lunches), lots of pockets (once meant for baby bottles now used for water bottles), etc. Once I got past the label (and the awkward conversation with the sales lady who was trying to show me how the stroller straps worked), I was pretty happy with my purchase.

Now if I could just figure out how to repurpose the changing pad….

Monday, July 19, 2010

Back to Normal

Today marks week three of my new job (first week=orientation, second week= first week of actual work) as well as my first day back in the saddle dinner-wise. Yes, after two weeks of make-ahead and/or lack luster meals, I am back with a new recipe. I guess my adjustment period is officially over (at least until I start having to work more than my required 8.5 hours)!

For my first real night back in the kitchen I decided to try a stir-fry. Protein, veggies, and a tasty sauce—all seemed like a good (and healthy) way to get back into the swing of things. The Asian-inspired Chicken and Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce definitely lived up to expectations.  The one thing I would differently next time? Add a little more heat. Otherwise, it was a pretty close to perfect weeknight meal.

Chicken and Eggplant in Black Bean Sauce
Adapted from Serious Eats

4 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 ½ inch pieces (the recipe called for thighs but you could probably use chicken breasts if you’d prefer)
1 large Asian eggplant (I used a round variety), cut into 1 inch cubes
½ medium yellow onion, large diced
½ green bell pepper, large diced
2 TBL black bean sauce
2 TBL lime juice
2 TBL honey
2 TBL fresh grated ginger
¼ teaspoon garlic-chile paste (would use more next time if you like a little heat)
1 TBL chicken stock or water
4 TBL vegetable oil

1.Whisk black bean sauce, lime juice, honey, ginger, chile-garlic paste, and water or chicken stock.
2.Pour oil into a wok (or cast iron pan if you don’t have a wok) and heat over medium-high. When hot, add chicken. Stir often for 3-4 minutes or until the chicken is done. Using a slotted spoon, remove chicken (leaving as much of the oil as you can) and set aside.
3.Add eggplant, bell pepper, and onion and cook for about 5 minutes until the eggplant is golden and tender.
4.Add chicken back to pan and pour black bean sauce over top. Stir and cook for one minute until everything is cooked through.
5.Serve with white rice.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What I Spent My Day Doing

First weeks at new jobs are usually kind of slow. I knew that coming in. But I still wasn’t really prepared for just how slow it would be. As of Thursday and all I have been able to do, work-wise, is write two briefing memos (each took 1 day max and that was with lots of extra research and many breaks for checking my email), attend one staff meeting, listen in to two conference calls that probably would not have made my schedule on busy days, and get brought up to speed on some work done on in an area I’ll be working on by another unit in the agency.

So how, exactly, have I been filling my days?
  • Reading the NYT and Washington Post online….pretty much every article that looked remotely interesting.
  • Checking my google reader every 10-15 minutes for new blog posts.
  • Making lists of things I need to buy at places like Office Depot.
  • Pondering why my local metro station is so much hotter in the morning than in the afternoon….seriously, why is this? It is almost impossible for me to make it to work in the morning without sweating but I don’t seem to have the same problem during the evening commute. Surely the temperature at 7:30am is not significantly higher than it is at 5:00pm?
  • Reading (and in some cases re-reading) provisions of the health reform bill. Now as much of a policy wonk as I am, reading legislation is not normally my idea of a good time…
 You get the idea.

 Fortunately I had a meeting with one of my new bosses late yesterday afternoon and have some what of a better idea of what I’ll be doing… for the first couple of weeks at least.

 Hopefully week two will be a little bit busier!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Waiting for the Weekend

Is it Friday yet?



How about now?


While we wait for the weekend together, here’s a recipe I tried out a couple of weeks ago for Soy-glazed Salmon with Watercress Salad from the most recent issue of Everyday Food. Very tasty. Very pretty (would be nice for entertaining). And the hardest part—learning how to supreme an orange. By the end I was getting pretty good. As with all things, practice makes perfect.

Soy-Glazed Salmon with Watercress Salad
From Everyday Food

2 TBL soy sauce
4 teaspoons honey
2 oranges, peeled, flesh cut into segments and juice squeezed from them
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 TBL vegetable oil
2 salmon fillets
1 bunch watercress, thick ends trimmed
½ small red onion, thinly sliced

1.In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, honey, and orange juice to make the glaze. Season with salt and pepper. In a large bowl, whisk together 1 TBL glaze, 1 teaspoon honey, vinegar, and oil. Set aside.
2.Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. Season salmon with salt and pepper and broil for 5 minutes. Brush with glaze and then broil until opaque throughout, about 3 more minutes. Brush with glaze once more.
3.Add orange segments, watercress, and onion to the dressing and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Divide salad among plates and top with salmon. Serve.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Easiest Weeknight Meal Ever

Taco salad-- so easy it doesn't even require a recipe. Simply brown some meat (I like ground turkey for a lower-fat alternative). Add a can of red kidney beans and half a package of taco seasoning and heat through. Then serve with salad greens and your favorite taco fixin's--we like pico de gallo, shredded cheese, chopped avocado and sour cream. Crush a few tortilla chips and sprinkle over the top and there you have it- the easiest weeknight meal ever.

Perfect for your second first day at a new job!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Looking Forward to Going Back

Well, I survived my week of commuting to/from Baltimore! I did not enjoy the getting up at 5:30 part but fortunately my early hours meant that I was able to leave fairly early and avoid true rush hour traffic. Tomorrow will be my first day metro-ing in/out of DC and hopefully my first day doing real work. Last week consisted primarily of orientation, paperwork, security badges, etc and after 4 days of mostly sitting around, I am looking forward to figuring out what my job will really be like.

It will also be my first week commuting and making dinner most nights. Not knowing exactly what my work schedule is going to be like, I’ve planned some pretty easy dishes that require minimal effort—taco salad, goat cheese chicken, and pita with roasted vegetables.  Hopefully as things settle down and become more routine, I’ll be able to get back to more interesting dishes like the chicken kebabs and summer squash ribbons I made a couple of weeks ago.

This was a great summer meal—light and flavorful—and pretty easy to put together as well. The salad in particular won rave reviews from Jason and is sure to be a new classic around here. I am definitely looking forward to settling back into a weeknight meal routine!

Chicken Kebabs

2 chicken breasts, cut into 1.5 inch chunks
1 orange (or red or yellow) pepper, cut into 1.5 inch chunks
1 yellow squash, sliced into 1 inch rounds
1 red onion, quartered and layers separated
2 metal or wooden skewers (if you use wooden, make sure you soak them in water for an hour or so first to prevent burning)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1.Thread chicken and vegetables onto skewers. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
2.Broil or grill kebabs about 5-6 minutes per side until chicken is cooked through and veggies are tender.

Summer Squash Ribbons
Adapted slightly from Serious Eats

3 squash (I used a mix of zucchini and yellow squash)
1 shallot, very thinly sliced
2 TBL olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
¼ cup basil, sliced into ribbons
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
Salt and pepper

1.Trim the ends off the squash, and cut into very thin strips. I used a regular vegetable peeler, but you can use a mandolin or a knife as well.
2.Place in a large bowl with the sliced shallot, olive oil, and vinegar, and gently toss to combine. Let stand for 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add basil, pine nuts, and goat cheese. Toss to combine.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Embarking on New Paths

Today was my first day of work as a federal employee. As I stood there pledging to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic (yes, even us health policy wonks have to take an oath of office when accepting a federal appointment!), I couldn’t help but notice the timing of my choice in new careers---that my decision to embark on a path of public service came to fruition just a few days after celebrating our nation’s birth. I’m not sure you can get more patriotic than that.

The downside of this momentous occasion was that I had to drive to Baltimore for new employee orientation (this was day 1 of 3) which meant a 5:15am wakeup call and an hour’s drive north. Fortunately, the early start meant that traffic was fairly non-existent and I was home in time to get dinner together before Jason got home. Notice, I said get dinner together…..I did not cook dinner tonight. No, for this first week back to the real world I chose several make ahead menus (including shrimp and orzo and gazpacho) that also yield a number of leftovers. That way all I have to do after an early morning and a long day sitting in orientation/on the road is take dinner out of the fridge and heat up some bread to go with it.

There’s hope for Jason’s dinners yet!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Postcard from South Beach

Last week at this time Jason and I were sitting by the gorgeous (and famous) pool at our South Beach hotel in Miami. As I am running around today trying to get things done before heading off to my first day at my new job tomorrow, those sun-filled days of relaxation seem nothing more than a distant memory.  A memory that I thought I should share with you in case you too decide you need a beach getaway this summer.

Ocean Drive

First of all—why Miami. When Jason and I decided to take a mini-vacation during my week of unemployment we knew we wanted to go somewhere we could relax and recharge. For us the beach seemed like the perfect fit. We originally looked at island destinations until I remembered that—oops! I never updated my passport after I changed my name post-wedding. (Note to all of you newlyweds—just go ahead and change your passport when you are in the midst of changing everything else…otherwise you will forget all about it and may find yourself in this exact predicament.) We looked into Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (neither of which require a passport for US citizens) but decided that Miami, a city neither of us had been to before, might be the perfect fit given that its location and climate.  We decided to stick the South Beach area since we could get around pretty easily without a car.

Iced coffee for breakfast-- a necessity to beat the heat while still getting a morning caffeine fix

After looking at expedia and Frommers for hotel options, we ended up at The Raleigh—a beachfront art deco hotel on the northern end of South Beach (away from a lot of the crazy hubbub) known for its pool.  The Raleigh was an excellent choice—the pool and whole outdoor area lived up to the hype and the hotel definitely has an Old Hollywood vibe to it given the art deco decor (although when we first walked in we weren’t so sure—there was a little bit of an old building smell going on). We even got a room upgrade (to one with a pool/ocean view) since our room wasn’t ready when we checked in and we stayed in a lower tier room the first night.

The view from our upgraded room

One of the best things we did while we were in South Beach was take a 90 minute walking tour of the art deco district through the Miami Design Preservation League (it was also the only real “sightseeing” we did during the trip—the rest of the time we hung out at the beach and/or the pool).  South Beach has the highest concentration of art deco buildings in the whole world and the tour gave us a brief introduction to what this period of art and architecture consisted of and showed us how it played out in the heyday of Miami and South Beach which Jason, something of an architecture buff, really enjoyed. It also gave us a little bit of local history which, as something of a history buff, I appreciated.  I’d highly recommend it if you are ever in the area.

The Carlyle--an excellent example of an art deco hotel on Ocean Drive

Miami is also known as a foodie city (it was host to an earlier season of Top Chef) and, no surprise, we enjoyed a couple of really excellent meals while we were there. The first was at a little Italian restaurant called Spiga. It was probably some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had.  We started with a prosciutto and melon appetizer (such a good summery snack and so easy—I’ve got to serve that at home this summer) and some delicious homemade foccacia.  Jason had handmade crab ravioli with a light white wine-butter sauce and tomatoes while I had quadretti (thin, squares of pasta) with tomatoes, portabella and truffle oil. Both meals were phenomenally good. But the real show stopper for me was dessert—we shared the most delicious cheesecake I’ve ever had; made with ricotta it was light and custardy (and I’m already researching how to replicate it at home!)

But we saved the best meal for last. As soon as I was offered and accepted my new job, Jason suggested we celebrate with a nice meal out somewhere. I decided we should wait until Miami and I’m so glad we did. For my celebration meal, I chose Wish which was universally described as one of the best and most romantic restaurants in South Beach. The restaurant is part of the aptly named The Hotel and most of the tables are set up in a garden hidden from the surrounding city streets by tall hedges and a canopy of leafy trees. In the middle of the already beautiful garden setting is a aqua and teal tiled fountain; needless to say, the ambiance was indeed very romantic especially after the sun went down. The food, however, was the true star of the show. It’s not cheap, but well worth the price particularly for a special occasion. I started with the lobster ravioli—fresh and delicate in flavor and texture—while Jason had the ultimate gazpacho---a luxuriously smooth soup poured tableside around a bowl of lump crabmeat and avocado. Our entrees were just as good. I had seared scallops with Brussels sprouts and calabaza squash (pureed and pickled) while Jason had a local steamed snapper with tomatoes, artichokes and basil. We finished the evening off with a Meyer lemon tart that was out of this world (another dish I am planning to try my hand at now that we’re home).

After dinner at Wish

No trip to South Beach would be complete without a little nightlife. Jason and I have pretty much outgrown the party scene and were asleep by 11 or 12 most nights while we were there. However, on our last night there (after the sensational dinner at Wish) we decided to head to the Delano (a very posh hotel complete with a lounge designed by Lenny Kravitz) for a taste of glamorous Miami. And glamorous it was. The Delano’s interior is very modern—tall ceilings, white décor--- and with the music playing it definitely had a clubby feel. Fortunately we were able to snag a table near the Rose Bar and enjoyed a little people watching with our expensive cocktails and late 90s/early 00s jams.

 The beach-- we stayed under these umbrellas most of the time to keep our very pale skin from being burnt to a crisp

Overall we had a great time on our trip to South Beach. The summer is the off season which was both good (in that things were a lot less crowded and crazy then they might have been) and bad (it was HOT—even at night it was hard to walk more than a few blocks without breaking into a major sweat). From what we saw on our relatively short trip, South Beach is an eclectic area—extreme luxury adjacent to falling down buildings. But it is a fun place and one that we hope to see again one day (hopefully when it is a little bit cooler!)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope everyone out there is enjoying the holiday weekend. If you are looking for a last minute snack/appetizer/side dish to take to a bbq/picnic/etc. here is a good one for you—Caprese Bites. Basically it is a tomato mozzarella basil salad (also known as a Caprese salad) in finger food form. All you have to do is assemble—no cooking required--which is a godsend during the dog days of summer when tomatoes just so happen to be at their peak of flavor and freshness.

I saw some yummy looking yellow cherry tomatoes at the farmers market yesterday which would have been great for this. Enjoy!

Caprese Bites

1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half crosswise
1 container of perline mozzarella (the really tiny little balls)
10-12 basil leaves cut into thirds
1 package of bamboo skewers or toothpicks
Salt and pepper
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar (optional)

1.To assemble bites, skewer one half of a tomato, a mozzarella ball, piece of basil and cap it off with the other half of the tomato. Repeat with remaining ingredients.
2.Arrange skewers on a plate. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
3.If you’d like you can also drizzle with olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar. Note that if you are taking this to another location, you should do this step AFTER you arrive (I learned the hard way that olive oil can leak out onto a car seat if there is even the slightest angle). I skipped this step yesterday and they turned out just fine.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Homemade toast + iced coffee + grapefruit = perfect summer breakfast.

And it was truly a team effort. Jason cold-brewed the coffee overnight last night (using a recipe similar to the one on SmittenKitchen’s website), and we made toast from the bread I made a couple of days ago.

We have to talk about that bread.  I came across the recipe in the King Arthur Flour catalog several months ago but just got around to trying this week. So easy. So incredibly good.  The oats and honey give it a slightly sweet taste and the most intoxicating aroma. Just cutting into it, even a couple of days after it’s been baked, and you can smell the yummy goodness.  It’s so good that Jason insisted on having three slices of it this morning. (I cut a couple of them super thin so he wouldn’t overdose on carbs.)

My loaf turned out pretty good, I think, much better than the one I made last month—thanks to this little video I found on the internet.

If you are thinking about trying your hand at homemade bread, this is a great one. I will definitely be making it often! Next time I might add some cinnamon and raisins to it as well for an even better breakfast bread.

Oatmeal Toasting and Sandwich Bread
From King Arthur Flour

3 cups unbleached bread flour
1 cup rolled oats (also called old-fashioned oats)
2 TBL butter or margarine, melted
1 ½ teaspoons salt
3 TBL honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 packet active dry yeast—if you use the active dry yeast be sure to dissolve it in the warm milk before combining with the remaining ingredients)
1 ¼ cups lukewarm milk

1.In  a large mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients, mixing to form a shaggy dough. Knead dough for about 10 minutes until it is smooth and no longer sticks to your counter or board. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rest for 1 hour. It will become quite puffy but may not double in bulk.
2.Transfer dough to a lightly oiled surface and shape it into a log (see video above for tips and tricks). Place into a lightly greased 9x5 loaf pan, cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60-90 minutes until it’s crested 1”-2” above the rim of the pan.
3.Bake at 350 degrees for 35-50 minutes until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Being Productive is Highly Overrated

I think it is safe to say that I’ve had the most unproductive day ever. But boy, was it a good one!

Yesterday I was the very definition of productive—up at 6am on my day off (totally unintentional – I had the misfortune of  not being able to fall back asleep after being woken up by Jason’s going-to-the-gym-before-work alarm) I not only met a friend for lunch but also unpacked, baked some pretty tasty bread (more coming on that later), went to the gym, did several loads of laundry, ran some errands, bought some new work shoes at DSW, and made a very tasty dinner consisting of steak with chimichurri sauce and creamed spinach.

Today has pretty much been the antithesis to that.  Instead of getting things done I spent the morning getting pampered at the Sugarhouse Day Spa in Old Town Alexandria. I had a couple of gift cards leftover from Christmas before last (!) and my birthday  and decided if ever there was a time for some professionally aided me time, it is now when I am decompressing from one job and gearing up for another.

I did not want to leave that place…..ever.

I started with a hot stone massage. I’ve never had a hot stone massage but have always wanted and decided to give it a try. Oh. My. It was so delightful. In a way that you could never imagine that having someone rub you down with warm (and incredibly smooth) lava stones could be. It was all about heat and just the slightest bit of pressure rather than anything deep tissue related. And it left me in this odd twilight state of being—somewhere between being asleep and being awake-- that I can only imagine would be described by others a Zen state of mind.

Next I had my first facial which consisted of an exfoliating mask enhanced by steam, extractions (fancy spa speak for getting rid of any blackheads or other clogged pores), another clarifying mask, and then being moisturized. Oh and an additional hand, arm, and neck massage while the masks were doing their thing.  I left with sparkly clean skin and a directive to use a heavier-duty exfoliant from time to time to keep my pores nice and clean. (If anyone has a good one they like, be sure to let me know).

I got home around noon, ate some lunch, and then promptly took a two hour nap. I don’t know if all the pampering tired me out (ha!) or if it just had relaxed me to the point that I couldn’t do anything else but sleep. Either way it is now 4:30 and I find myself having accomplished very little today.

 I guess it’s a good thing that I will be returning to the working world in three days….I could get used to this!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Taste of Top Chef DC

Last week on Top Chef DC, the cheftestants were paired up and asked to work together to create a “bipartisanwich” (gotta love the DC food puns). The catch was that they were doing the kitchen equivalent of a three-legged race—cooking collaboratively, limited to using one hand each.  In order to determine who worked with who, they did a classic Top Chef “knife pull,” drawing knives with numbers on them; the chef who drew a number 1 would work with the other chef who had drawn a number 1, etc.

All this was very entertaining to be sure, but what was most interesting to me as I watched it today (getting caught up from my hectic week last week) was one of the chef pairings in particular—Andrea and Kevin.

Kevin and Andrea (courtesy of Bravo.com)

Why so interesting? Because it just so happens that I went to both of their restaurants last week!

First up, was Rats (yes, the name is unfortunate) in Hamilton, NJ, at which Kevin is the executive chef.  It happens to be located about 10 minutes away from my old office and when I was there last week finishing things up, some of my coworkers took me to Rats for a farewell happy hour. Unfortunately, I didn’t really get to eat much of Kevin’s food (it is a pretty pricey restaurant) but I did enjoy some awesome homemade hummus and bread as well as a vichysoisse (a chilled potato and leek soup) that was pretty fantastic. Not only that but the restaurant itself was really nice—charming and whimsical on the inside—making me somewhat disappointed that I might not ever get a chance to actually eat there.

Courtesy of Google Images

Then, two days later, Jason and I went to Talula, Andrea’s restaurant, in Miami Beach. Before we left I had done a little bit of research on where we should eat while we were there and Talula came up on several local food blogs I checked out. When I realized that it was the restaurant of a TC/DC contestant, I decided we had to give it a try. All in all, it was a good meal. I had a Ceasar salad and the baked grouper with lemon and thyme, while Jason had a tomato bisque and some sort of grilled or seared wahoo. Although the meal was good, I left a little disappointed. I guess I had wanted to like it more than I actually did.

Also found on Google Images

So far they have done pretty well on the show and it was fun to be able to get a bit of an inside scoop on what their food is like. I’ll be watching their progress on the show with even greater interest now!