Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Seafood Bisque Edition

I have never been one to eat soup in the summer.  The one exception is gazpacho, but since it is cold it doesn’t really count. It just always seems odd to me to eat hot food in the dog days of summer.  So  I surprised myself by selecting soup—a seafood bisque to be exact—as this week’s Sunday dinner.

There was just something about this soup that seemed right to me. Maybe it’s because two of the ingredients—tomatoes and halibut—are perfectly in season right now.  Or maybe it’s because September is approaching (!) and my mind has already started to subconsciously shift towards all things fall. Either way, I made this soup and it was, in a word, awesome.

Although there is something very luxurious about it (which made it a good candidate for Sunday night), it is simple enough to make during the week. I really only had one concern—seasoning. When I tasted the soup as it was nearing completion, I worried that it might be a little bland. The bacon garnish really brought all the flavors together.  Served with some crusty bread and a glass of wine, it is the perfect way to welcome fall.

(Note: It makes quite a bit and the original recipe mentioned that this should be reheated slowly over low heat so the cream does not separate.)

Seafood Bisque
Adapted slightly from Simply Recipes

3 slices of bacon, chopped
1 medium white or yellow onion, chopped
1 large celery stalk, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 pound skinless white fish fillets (we used halibut), roughly chopped
1 teaspoon orange zest
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Large pinch of saffron
1 quart of shellfish or seafood stock
¼ cup heavy cream

1.Cook bacon in a large pot over medium heat until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels for later use.
2.Add onion, carrot, and celery. Add some salt and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until onions are translucent. Do not brown.
3.Add the fish, tomatoes, and garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes, stirring often.
4.Add the orange zest, saffron, and cayenne. Pour in stock and stir together. Simmer gently (do not boil!) for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5.Turn off the heat and blend thoroughly using an immersion blender or by transferring (a little at a time) to a blender. If using a blender, pour the pureed soup back into the pot.
6.Turn the heat back on low and add cream. Stir well and taste for salt. Do not let the soup come to a boil. Ladle into bowls and serve with bacon bits and crusty bread.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Nothing Says Welcome Home Like Cinnamon Bread

I’ve been home alone the past few days while Jason’s been out in California for a work thing. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—traveling for work is no fun! Poor Jason was out to California and back in about 48 hours.) I wish I could say I have spent my alone time wisely, but for the most part I have completely vegged out--catching up on my DVR’ed shows that Jason doesn’t watch  (Mad Men, Top Chef, and my new guilty pleasure Covert Affairs-a poor man’s Alias) and eating crappy food for dinner.  By last night, however, I had caught up on most of my TV shows and decided that I should do something productive. I decided to stretch my bread baking skills and prepare a welcome home surprise for Jason by trying out a recipe of cinnamon bread.

As diligent readers of this blog, you will know by now that Jason loves his bread. And with the weekend approaching I thought cinnamon bread would be a nice morning treat. I decided to give Pioneer Woman’s very recent recipe a try.  Although time consuming (with all the rising and everything I finally pulled the loaf out of the oven at around 10pm) it was remarkably easy to make.  The only caution I would give is that you should resist the temptation to roll the dough out too thin, otherwise you may have to roll it up to much and end up with uneven cinnamon swirls (heaven forbid!) like I did.

I cheated and had a slice this morning before work. It was good (although to be honest, a bit chewier than I had hoped. Maybe I overworked the dough? Or maybe it was because I used bread flour instead of all-purpose? Or maybe that’s just how it is—not upsettingly chewy but just a little unexpectedly so). But even better than the taste (if there could be such a thing) is the smell…

WARNING: This bread will make your house/apartment/whatever smell like Cinnabon. It’s intoxicating and makes it difficult to sleep (as I learned the hard way) so try not to make it before bed time.

This marked my first successful attempt at using the dough hook on my KitchenAid stand mixer to knead—I’ll never try to knead sticky dough by hand again.
I was a little disappointed in how the loaf looked before going into the oven...
But it came out great!
 Too bad the swirls were kind of lame-- next time it'll be perfect!

Cinnamon Bread
Adapted ever so slightly from Pioneer Woman Cooks

1 cup milk
1 stick of butter
2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
3 ½ cups flour (I used bread flour but all purpose will do)
2 TBL cinnamon
Cooking spray

1.Heat milk and 5 TBL of butter together until butter is melted. Cool until mixture is warm but not hot. Add yeast and stir.
2.In a bowl (preferably of a stand mixer) beat eggs and 1/3 cup of sugar. Add milk-butter-yeast mixtures and stir together. Add half of the flour and mix until well combined. Repeat with remaining flour.
3.If using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook and knead on medium speed for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth, elastic, and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too sticky add an addition ¼ flour and knead for an additional 5 minutes (you want it to be slightly sticky but not overly so). If you are not using a mixer, knead by hand—be sure to flour your hands and work surface at regular intervals (did I mention this dough is sticky?!?)
4.Coat another large bowl with cooking spray and place kneaded dough in the bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours until puffy and doubled in bulk. Let the remaining TBL of butter sit out at room temperature during the rise time.
5.Dump the dough on to a floured work surface. Roll out the dough to a rectangle. Try to make sure the width of the rectangle is the size of the loaf pan. Spread the room temperature butter over the dough. Mix together the remaining sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the butter dough. Roll the dough into a log and pinch the seam shut. Place the log seam side down into a greased loaf pan—if it is a little too long for the pan, fold the ends under so that it will fit. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another 45 minutes to an hour.
6.Bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely before slicing.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Learning to Love Leftovers

One of things I like the least about cooking is the mess it leaves behind—the sinkful of dishes that have to be cleaned and the inevitable leftovers that come from cooking for two.  I have learned to combat the former by convincing Jason that doing the dishes is his manly duty and only fair if I’m the one who’s making dinner every day. But the latter is a bit harder given that most recipes are geared towards the traditional family of four, which wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for one little thing:

I hate leftovers.

I always have. You can ask my mom. I rarely want to eat the same thing two days in a row. Maybe it is because I find that a lot of things don’t reheat well (or maybe I just don’t know how to reheat them). For example, the two exceptions to my anti-leftovers rule are pasta and soup both of which reheat extremely well. But even then, I rarely enjoy as much as I did the first time around.

For most of the time that Jason and I have been together, I have been able to deal with this issue by giving him the leftover food to take for lunch the next day (Jason does not have a problem with eating the same thing two or more days in a row). But now that I am spending 90 minutes a day (at least) commuting to/from work, I am trying to embrace the concept of leftovers a little bit more. My theory is if I turn the leftovers into something new, maybe I will learn to love them.

I tested this hypothesis the other night with the flank steak we had leftover from Sunday night dinner. Rather than just heating it up and eating it with some of our leftover potato salad, I decided to use it to make something completely different—steak quesadillas!

Quesadillas (at least the way I’ve been known to make them) are a great weeknight meal. Simply throw some sautéed vegetables, cheese, and anything else you may want into a flour tortilla and heat it a non-stick skillet until everything is warm, the cheese is melty and the tortilla is golden brown—quick and satisfying.

Maybe leftovers aren’t so bad after all.

Steak Quesadillas

½ grilled flank steak, thinly sliced and cut into bite size pieces
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 cup shredded cheese (more or less depending on how cheesy you like your quesadillas)
4 flour tortillas
1 TBL olive oil

1.Heat 1 TBL of olive oil in a non-stick skillet.  Add onions and peppers and sauté until soft—about 5 minutes. Add steak and stir until it has started to warm. Transfer to a dish and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.
2.Divide the steak and vegetable mixture among the flour tortillas and add the desired amount of cheese. Fold each tortilla over in half so that you have half-moons.
3.Heat non-stick skillet over medium-low heat. Spray with cooking spray. Add two of the folder tortillas and cook 2 minutes per side (or until the tortilla is golden and the cheese has melted). Repeat with the remaining two tortillas.
4.Cut into wedges (I like to use a pizza wheel for this) and serve with sour cream, salsa, and/or guacamole.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Potato Salad Edition

Did I really not post anything after last week's Sunday Dinner post?!? Oops. In my defense it was a very busy week.... :)

I love potato salad. It is, hands down, my favorite side dish for bbq, burgers and other summer fare (although I’ll eat anytime of year).  My undying love for this dish stems from the homemade recipe I grew up eating at my grandmother’s house in Tennessee. It is such a family favorite that she makes it for every family occasion—Thanksgiving, Christmas, any gathering really. It is the gold standard of potato salad in my eyes and what I hold all others up against.  Unfortunately this makes me incredibly picky when it comes to potato salad—if it’s not as good as what I’m used to, I’d rather not eat it. It’s actually gotten to the point where I almost don’t even order it when offered at restaurants anymore (usually I let Jason order it and then I taste it to determine whether I would eat it or not—eight times out of ten the answer is no.)

You are probably asking yourself—why doesn’t she just get the recipe from her grandmother and make it herself if she loves it so much?! Believe me, I would if I could. But the fact of the matter is, my grandmother doesn’t have a recipe. She just makes it. Both my mother and I have (on separate occasions probably 20 years apart) watched her make it and tried to write down the proportions of the ingredients she uses so we could make it on our own. The problem is, it never turns out quite the same. So we’ve both given up trying to replicate it (same goes for her macaroni and cheese recipe). That doesn’t stop me from looking at every recipe for potato salad I come across to see whether or not it sounds like what I grew up eating.

About a month ago I found a recipe that sounded pretty close and have eagerly been waiting for a chance to try it out. I decided that today was the day to give it a shot.  The recipe is not an exact match, but the result was good though definitely missing something. But it’s as close as I’ve been able to get to date. And that is pretty high praise!

Since I didn’t think we could dine on potato salad alone, I decided to make a marinated flank steak (so tasty—recipe is also below) and corn on the cob to go with it. A perfect near-the-end of summer meal, if you ask me.

Not My Grandmother’s Potato Salad (But Pretty Darn Close)
Adapted slightly from Cook’s Country

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes—peeled and cut into smallish cubes
1 ½ teaspoons table salt
3 TBL dill pickle juice, plus ¼ cup finely chopped dill pickles
1 TBL mustard (I used a grainy mustard because that’s what we had but the original recipe called for regular yellow mustard)
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon celery seed
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
½ small red onion, chopped fine
1 rib celery, chopped fine
2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and diced

1.Place potatoes in a large sauce pan and cover with 1 inch of cold water. Bring to boil over high heat and add 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are tender (about 10-15 minutes)
2.Drain potatoes and spread out a rimmed baking sheet. Mix 2 teaspoons pickle juice and mustard together in a small bowl. Spread over potatoes and toss to coat. Cool completely.
3.Mix remaining pickle juice, pickles, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, celery seed, mayo, sour cream, red onion, and celery in a large bowl. Toss in cooled potatoes, cover and refrigerate until well chilled (about 30 minutes). Stir in eggs just before serving.

Marinated Flank Steak
From Simply Recipes

1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 TBL red wine vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon black pepper
Flank steak
Salt and pepper

1.Score the surface of the steak with ¼ inch cuts across the grain of the meat. Combine the first six ingredients (through the black pepper). Place steak in a large freezer bag and pour marinade over it. Seal the bag and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2.Preheat grill or broiler. If using the broiler, place the broiler pan in the oven for a few minutes to get hot. Take steak out of the marinade and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides.  Place steak on hot grill or broiler pan. Cook for about 4-6 minutes per side. Remove and cover with aluminum foil to rest.
3.After about 10 minutes, slice very thinly against the grain at a slight diagonal.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Vegetable Torta Edition

That’s right—I’m bringing “Sunday Dinner” posts back!

Last winter when I started this blog, Sundays meant some extra free time and a chance to try my hand at recipes that were a little more ambitious and/or too time-consuming for a weeknight meal. Then spring arrived and with it came work travel and a new job and lots of things to do. Sundays became more about relaxing and/or (more often than not) getting ready for the coming work week and less about kitchen explorations.

But yesterday was different. For the first time in a really long time, I found myself with no plans and very little that absolutely had to get done.  Even better, it was a rainy day. Perfect for spending some quality time in the kitchen!

And spend time in the kitchen I did! For my first Sunday back in the kitchen I chose to make Cook’s Illustrated’s Vegetable Torta, which while not exactly difficult was incredibly time consuming. From start to finish it took at least 2 and a half hours to make. (It was also borderline too much for my small apartment kitchen—at one point toward the end of the process every inch of counter space I have-- including the breakfast bar-- and even part of the dining table were in use.) But as usual the efforts were completely worthwhile--layers and layers of tender, roasted vegetables with a hint of richness thanks to a roasted garlic custard and grated Italian cheese. A hint of lemon added to the depth of flavor.

When we finally sat down to eat (I think it was almost 8:30 by that time—I had underestimated just how long it would take to get the torta on the table), Jason pronounced the dish his new summer favorite. Too bad summer is almost over!

Note: while this recipe is time-consuming it makes a lot which means less time in the kitchen the rest of the week! It is also a show-stopper that would make an impressive dish to entertain with.

Vegetable Torta
Adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated

2 large eggplants, halved crosswise and cut lengthwise into ½ inch pieces
1 medium head garlic, outer papery skins removed and top third cut off and discarded
2 medium red bell peppers
2 large tomatoes, cored and cut into ¼ inch slices
3 large zuchinni, cut on the diagonal into ¼ inch slices
4 slices white sandwich bread (I used Sourdough since that is all we had), torn into quarters
3 TBL unsalted butter, melted
5 ounces Asiago cheese, finely grated (I used a pre-shredded mix of Asiago, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses that worked just fine)
3 large eggs
¼ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt and Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
LOTS of paper towels!!

1.Generously sprinkle both sides of the eggplant with salt and transfer to a colander set over a bowl. Let stand for about 30 minutes while the eggplant releases some liquid. Arrange slices in a single layer on a double layer of paper towels; cover with another double layer of paper towels. Firmly press each slice to flatten and remove as much moisture as possible.
2.While the eggplant drains, adjust oven racks to the upper middle and lower-middle positions. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Set two wire racks on 2 rimmed baking sheets (you can also you a broiler pan if you have one); generously coat the racks with olive oil or cooking spray.
3.Place garlic cut side up on a double layer of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap foil tightly around garlic and set aside.
4.Arrange salted and pressed eggplant slices on prepared racks. Season with pepper. Brush peppers on all sides with olive oil and place one on each of the baking sheets. Place baking sheets into the oven. Place foil-wrapped garlic onto the edge of the baking sheet on the lower rack. Roast vegetables until eggplant slices are well-browned and peppers are blistered and beginning to brown, about 30-35 minutes. Make sure to rotate the baking sheets and turn the peppers halfway through the baking time. Transfer peppers to a medium bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow eggplant to cool on the wire racks. Continue to roast the garlic for about 10-15 minutes longer or until the cloves are soft and golden brown.
5.Meanwhile, arrange tomato slices on double layer of paper towels; sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 30 minutes, then cover with another double layer of paper towels. Gently press tomatoes to remove moisture.
6.While vegetables roast and tomatoes stand, sprinkle both sides of zucchini slices with salt and transfer to the large colander set over a bowl. Let zucchini stand for about 30 minutes while it releases liquid. Place a triple layer of paper towels onto a microwave safe plate. Arrange a third of the zucchini on the paper towels, then cover with another triple layer of paper towels. Repeat two more times until all zucchini are gone. Top the final layer with paper towels and another microwave-safe plate. Microwave stack on high for about 5-7 minutes or until zucchini are steaming hot. Remove carefully USING POTHOLDERS and let stand for about 5 minutes before removing the top plate.
7.When peppers are cool enough to touch, remove skin and slit pole-pole. Remove stem and seeds. Unfurl peppers so they lie flat; cut each lengthwise into three pieces each.
8.To make the crust, place torn bread into a food processor. Pulse for about 10 seconds until coarsely ground. With machine running, add melted butter through the feed tube and process until combined. Add 2/3 cup of cheese and pulse to combine. Transfer mixture to bowl (don’t wash the food processor).
9.Thoroughly grease a 9 or 10 inch springform pan. Pat bread crumbs onto the bottom and sides to make the crust, using all but about 3 TBL of the crumbs.
10.Squeeze garlic from cloves and mash with a fork. Transfer to the food processor. Add eggs, cream, thyme, and lemon juice. Process until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
11.Arrange a single layer of eggplant on top of the crsut, tearing pieces as needed to cover the entire bottom surface. Sprinkle with 2 TBL of cheese. Arrange a single layer of zucchini and sprinkle with another 2 TBL of cheese. Repeat another layer of eggplant and cheese. Layer in all of the red pepper pieces and sprinkle with 2 TBL of cheese. Pour half of the custard mixture over the top; tilt and gently shake the pan to evenly distribute. Repeat layering of eggplant and zucchini, sprinkling each layer with 2 TBL of cheese. Pour remaining custard over the vegetables, tilting and shaking the pan to evenly distribute. Arrange tomato slices around the top. Sprinkle torta with remaining 3 TBL of bread crumbs.
12.Set torta on a baking sheet (I re-used one I had previously roasted the eggplant on so as not to mess up yet another kitchen item) and bake on the lower-middle rack until tomatoes are dry, bread-crumb topping is brown and the center of the torta registers 175 degrees. The recipe said this would take 75-90 minutes but it only took mine about 65 so depending on the strength of your oven (mine is gas and gets really hot, really fast) you might want to start checking at the 60 minute mark.
13.Cool for about 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around the inside of the pan to loosen, then remove springform pan ring. Let stand about 10-20 minutes longer (depending on how hungry you are—I think we lasted about 8 minutes), cut into wedges and serve.

Note: according to the recipe you can assemble, bake, cool and remove the torta from the springform pan, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate overnight.  Let it stand at room temperature for about an hour before serving.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer Berry Birthday Cake

Jason’s parents came over last night to celebrate his mother’s 60th birthday.  I had, of course, volunteered to make a birthday cake and spent the previous weeks trying to come up with the perfect thing to mark the occasion. (One the things I enjoy most about cooking is that it allows me to create something—to take a recipe or idea and bring it to life—that I can then share with other people.  It’s seeing someone else take pleasure in something that I made that is really the most satisfying part of cooking for me. )

My original idea was to make a chiffon layer cake with fruit filling and vanilla frosting. In the past, Jason’s mother had mentioned how much she liked summer fruit and I thought this would be a nice, light seasonal treat.  I planned to use the chiffon cake recipe that I used for Jason’s Tiramisu cake (minus the espresso) but was on the hunt for a good vanilla frosting recipe.  Most of what I found was in the buttercream family which just seemed too heavy/sweet for the light summer dessert I had in mind. Cue Smitten Kitchen and her recipe for Strawberry Chiffon Shortcake. Rather than frosting the cake, she uses whipped cream as part of the filling and for the frosting. She also flavors the cake with lemon zest and the idea of summer berries +lemony cake + whipped cream fit with my vision perfectly.

As Jason’s mom blew out the candles she said she couldn’t remember the last time someone had made her a birthday cake.  Light, airy, and not overly sweet, it turned out to be the perfect gift.

Summer Berry Shortcake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

¼ cup vegetable oil
6 large eggs (or 5 extra large), separated
2 teaspoons plus 1 TBL vanilla
 1 medium lemon
6 TBL cold water
1 1/3 cups cake flour
1 ½ cups plus 1 TBL granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 container each of strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries (strawberries thinly sliced and raspberries cut in half)
2 cups heavy cream
6 TBL powdered sugar

Make the cake layers:
1.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 3 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper (I used pre-cut 9 inch parchment rounds I bought at Sur La Table which were awesome!) and lightly spray with cooking spray.
2.In a large bowl combine flour, 1 ¼ cup sugar, baking powder and salt until well mixed.
3.In another bowl, beat the egg yolks, water, oil, zest from the entire lemon, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla until smooth. Stir into the flour mixture until smooth and well combined.
4.In another large bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks are formed. Add ¼ cup sugar and beat on high until the peaks are stiff but not too dry.
5.Use a rubber spatula to fold ¼ of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites just until the whites are no longer visible. You want to be very careful not to deflate the egg whites otherwise the cake will not be as light and airy.
6.Divide the batter as evenly as possible among the three cake pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes. You may want to rotate the pans half way through to ensure they all cook evenly.
7.Cool cakes on a cooling rack for at least an hour. When completely cool, run a knife around the edges and flip out onto a plate.

Make the filling:
1.While the cakes are cooling, combine ¾ of the berries in a large bowl with 1 TBL sugar and juice from the lemon. Cover and let sit at room temperature. Reserve remaining berries for garnish.
2.Right before you are ready to assemble, beat the heavy cream, powdered sugar and 1 TBL vanilla in a clean mixing bowl until it holds stiff peaks.

Assemble the cake:
Place first cake layer on a cake stand or plate. Top with ½ of the macerated berries. Then spread 1/3 of the whipped cream on top of the cakes, being careful not to go over the edge of the cake. Place next layer on top of that and gently press down. Repeat the process. When you place the final cake layer on top, carefully spread the remaining whipped cream. Top with reserved (non-macerated) berries. I choose to pile them in the center of the cake but you could also arrange them in a pattern if you’d like.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

Friday, August 13, 2010

It's All Greek to Me

I love Greek-style yogurt. It’s thick and creamy and much more satisfying (thanks to all the extra protein) than your run of the mill variety.  Which is why it is the backbone of my new work lunch routine. But not all brands are created equal and I thought I would share my thoughts on some of the major brands with those of you who may be interested.  Here's how what I looked for—texture, flavor, and overall enjoyment.

First up—Oikos by Stoneyfield. Oikos was the first of the Greek-style yogurts I tried out and it continues to be my overall favorite. It’s definitely thicker and creamier than regular yogurt but perhaps not as smooth and rich as Fage (which we’ll get to next). It comes in a lot of flavors—I’ve tried the vanilla, honey, blueberry, and strawberry. The flavoring (which sits on the bottom of the cup) seems pretty natural and is easy to stir into the yogurt itself. My favorite is the honey—sweet but not overly so—but all the fruit flavors are good too. Overall a solid performer and the one that most often finds its way into my lunch bag.

Next: Fage (pronounced fa-yeh). Fage is the most authentic brand in that it actually originated in Greece! It is by far the best in terms of texture—so thick and creamy there is something almost luxurious about it.  It took me a long time to give this one a try and I’m not exactly sure why. I think it is because the flavoring comes in a little separate compartment of the container and I wasn’t sure how the logistics of getting it into the yogurt would actually work. Easy enough, it turns out; just flip it over and squeeze as much or as little of it into the tub as you would like. I have tried the strawberry and honey flavors to date. The flavorings couldn’t be more natural. According to the package, the strawberry goo is mostly strawberries, sugar, water and corn starch. Really tasty. The honey flavor was not my favorite, however.  Something about it tasted off. If I am going to have honey flavor, I’m gonna go with Oikos.  But otherwise, Fage is fantastic and slowly taking over my lunch bag.

Picture courtesy of

The third brand I’ve tried is the variety made by Dannon. It’s only so-so. The texture is pretty good—definitely thick but not as creamy/smooth as the others (it’s almost hard to stir up). And the flavors (I’ve tried blueberry) are fine but just don’t taste as fresh as the others. I buy it when my grocery store is out of the flavors I like of Oikos and Fage. Overall it’s fine but not as good as the others.

Picture courtesy of

The fourth and final brand I’ve tried is Yoplait. Normally Yoplait is my go-to when it comes to yogurt brands. But when it comes to Greek-style yogurt, it falls short. The texture is really not that much different from regular yogurt and the taste just doesn’t hold a candle to the rest (in my opinion, anyway). I’d honestly rather skip it.

Picture courtesy of

So there you have it—Fage and Oikos are my top picks for Greek-style yogurt. Are there any other brands I should try out?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Appreciating August

Heat. Humidity. Stormy weather. The end of Summer. August can bring a lot of things to mind… many of which are not all that great.  But it does mean at least one good thing: an abundant supply of fresh, juicy, flavorful tomatoes.  It’s difficult to go to a grocery store or farmers’ market these days and not be tempted (especially when it comes to heirloom varieties in their exotic shapes and colors).  Given the relatively short season (and the dismal selection available the rest of the year), It seems almost criminal not to include at least one tomato-based recipe on the weekly menu.

Last week I came across a recipe for a French Tomato Tart that seemed like a good vehicle for August‘s bounty.  It comes from David Lebovitz (famous American pastry chef and food writer currently living the good life in Paris) via The Kitchn.   I decided to follow the latter's lead and make mine free-form using store bought pie dough because it’s a Wednesday night and y’all know I’m all about weeknight shortcuts these days. (Plus it took me an hour and a half to get home from work today and the thought of doing anything else seemed way too daunting.) As a result, it ended up being a pretty quick and easy meal to pull together. And tasty too. I only had two small complaints—1) the original recipe did not specify the quantity of mustard to spread on the bottom of the tart. Since I like mustard, I was pretty generous—next time I’ll scale it back a little bit.  2) As The Kitchn also suggested, the ripe tomatoes resulted in a somewhat soggy bottom. I tried to proactively address this by seeding the tomatoes and then patting them dry but that didn’t quite do it.  I’m honestly not sure if there is an easy solution—August tomatoes are naturally juicy! I suppose I could par-bake the crust next time (although this would be easier to do if I were using a tart pan rather than going free form). All in all, I’d say the tart was a delicious (and easy) way to get my weekly tomato fix!

Rustic French Tomato Tart
Adapted somewhat from David Lebovitz

1 unbaked tart/pie dough (either homemade or store bought)
1-2 TBL Dijon or whole grain mustard (to taste)
2-3 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
1 TBL olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 TBL fresh thyme
3-4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled or sliced into rounds

1.Preheat to 425. If you are going to make a free-form tart, place parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet and place tart dough on pan. Alternatively, press dough into a tart pan trimming the excess dough.
2.Spread an even layer of mustard over the bottom of the tart dough.
3.Arrange the tomatoes over the mustard (the recipe says in a single, even layer but I decided to overlap a little bit). Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.
4.Sprinkle ¾ of the chopped thyme and then top with goat cheese. Sprinkle remaining herbs.
5.If you are going the free-form route, fold the edges up toward the center of the tart.
6.Bake for 25-30 minutes until dough is cooked and cheese has started to brown. Slice and serve with a green salad if serving as an entrée.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Case of the Mondays

Oh Mondays. How I loathe thee….

Between not getting much sleep last night (thanks to my ill advised decision to read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo before bed last night), waking up early for my longer than usual commute, and the commute itself, I am tired. And Friday seems so far away. Part of me wanted to ask Jason to pick something up for dinner on his way home from work so I could totally veg out tonight but I decided that was too much of a cop out, especially considering I planned and purchased a week’s worth of meals/food yesterday and don’t want any of it to go to waste.  Instead, I put on my big girl pants and made a lovely Lemon Fussilli with Arugula from my girl Ina Garten’s book Barefoot Contessa At Home (which is, by the way, my favorite of her cookbooks to date).

It is exceptionally good and very easy to whip up…even when you are *this close* to being a walking zombie. I found myself wondering why I don’t make this more often…..until I remembered that the recipe calls for 2 cups of heavy cream. TWO CUPS!

Warning: this is not a healthy recipe. Don’t let the tomatoes and arugula fool you.

I halved the sauce in order to try and dial back the fat a little bit and I think it was just as good as the original. A lemony, garlicky cream sauce over pasta with tomatoes and arugula that are just warmed through at the end.  It is comfort food at its best--the perfect cure for a case of the Mondays.

(Note: if you have leftovers, I would recommend re-warming them slowly in a saucepan on the stove or in short bursts in the microwave. The sauce has a tendency to separate and while it still tastes good, it doesn’t look as appetizing.)

Lemon Fusilli with Arugula
Adapted, a little bit, from Ina Garten

1 TBL olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 lemon
1 cup of heavy cream
8 ounces fussilli
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
A couple of handfuls of baby arugula
¼ cup (or less) parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper

1.Heat olive oil in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté for about 60 seconds. Add cream and both the zest and juice from the lemon. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer sauce until it just starts to thicken, about 15 minutes.
2.Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add fussilli and cook according to package directions. Drain and return to the pot. Pour thickened sauce over the pasta and cook for 2-3 minutes until the pasta has had a chance to absorb most of the sauce.
3.Take off the heat. Add parmesan cheese, arugula, and tomatoes and stir until combined and arugula has started to wilt slightly. Serve.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

I Heart the Weekend

This weekend more than made up for the less than stellar way my work week ended, in large part because of this:

Yep...Jason's replacement ring finally came in!

I celebrated the return of the ring by making a lovely dinner tonight of salmon kebabs, corn on the cob, and that awesome summer squash ribbon salad recipe I shared with you a little while back. You guys, this salad is SO GOOD. You need to make it…, right now. I'm kicking myself for not having made it more often this summer.

Another thing that helped—the Arcade Fire concert Friday night. What a great show—I always love watching insanely talented people doing what they so clearly love to do. How can you not have a good time watching performers who themselves look like they are having a good time?! If you don’t know Arcade Fire, you should definitely check them out!

Even though I felt like we were busy getting things done this weekend, I do feel like I had a chance to recharge a little bit. Which is good since I’ll be tackling the Northern Virginia-Baltimore commute for the next five days! Think good thoughts for me

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Worst Day Ever

Ok, so maybe that is a bit of an overstatement. It was pretty sucky.

My original plan was to write a post about how, in an effort to adjust to my new commute, I'm exploring how to take leftovers and turn them into exciting new meals. For instance, last night I made the Thai beef salad I've told you all about. The plan was take the some of the leftover meat and make Vietnamese Beef Sandwiches from Everyday Food's Great Food Fast. But that plan went up in smoke when it took me over two hours to get home today.

You read that right. It took me MORE THAN TWO HOURS to get home. TWO HOURS. UGH.

Today was the first day of a week of driving back and forth to Baltimore for work. In the past when I have had to do this it has taken me a little more than an hour. But, for some reason, the traffic gods were not with me today. Pretty much every road I had to take to get home was backed up, which meant that although I left at 4:45, I did not get home until after 7.

So instead of interesting, delicious sandwiches, we had sliced beef and Swiss.

I guess some days you just can't win.

All I can say is THANK GOODNESS tomorrow is Friday!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Brown Bagging It

My new job has also meant the start of new routines. New morning routines. New evening routines. New commuting routines. And new lunch routines. As I mentioned a week or so ago, I have started taking my lunch to work most days. While this isn’t all that different to eating at home everyday (back when I was telecommuting for my old job), it does require a little more planning and a few new accessories.

New lunch accessory #1—reusable lunch bag.

 I guess technically this means I am green bagging it!

In order to be green and save a few bucks, I have invested in this insulated, reusable lunch bag. It is the perfect size for my current lunch menu and at $4.99 at The Container Store, a total bargain. Truth be told, I originally had my eye on this adorable neoprene lunch tote (in polka dot), also from The Container Store:

But at more than $20 I decided it wasn’t worth it. I settled for the cheap but peppy green bag instead.

As for what’s inside my lunch bag? I am definitely a creature of habit and my daily lunches have already turned into routine. Every day pretty much the same thing: yogurt (I like the new Greek-style yogurt which is thicker and has more protein than your run-of-the-mill yogurt), a nectarine, a mini-bag of Smartfood white cheddar popcorn (only 100 calories!), and a Kashi peanut butter granola bar. Occasionally I throw in some carrots when I am feeling a need for some veggies. I find this to be a pretty healthy lunch that keeps me full most of the day.

I did worry about keeping my yogurt cold until lunch time since I work in a huge building with few refrigerators available for easy lunch storage. Which brings us to….

New lunch accessory #2—mini ice pack.

This was another Container Store find and was only, I think, $1. It is about the size of a pack of cards and works like a charm, keeping my yogurt the perfect temperature throughout the morning until I have time to eat. You just have to be careful how you arrange everything else in the bag—the first time I used it, my granola bar got too close to it and was so hard I could hardly break a piece off let alone take a bite!

All in all my new lunch routine seems to be working out well. What do your lunch routines look like?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Weeknight Shortcuts

As much as I like to try my hand at making things from scratch (see goat cheese and breadmaking as examples), sometimes a shortcut (or two) is in order. Tonight, for instance, I decided to give a new recipe for Pasta with Baby Beets, Mint, and Feta a try. The original recipe called for sautéing the garlic with olive oil and red pepper flakes before adding it to the cooked pasta. I decided to skip this step (and save Jason from having to clean a second pan) and just add it to the rest of the vinaigrette ingredients. In addition, instead of dealing with the hassle of peeling and cooking a bunch of beets, I decided to take advantage of the refrigerated pre-packaged (and already cooked and peeled) beets my grocery offers in the produce section. Now I know taking advantage of such “convenience items” can get expensive which is why I usually limit their usage. But every once in awhile I think it’s perfectly acceptable to cut yourself a little slack both in and out of the kitchen.  Life is short, avoid the stress where you can!

Whether you take advantage of the shortcuts or not, this recipe is worth a try. I will be honest, though, I was not a huge fan of the mint. I like mint well enough but after a few bites the interesting mint-beet-feta flavor combo got old and I wished the mint wasn't so quite so front and center. Next time I think I would cut back on the mint (or get rid of it entirely) and add in some other sort of herb—parsley, maybe. Or even basil.  But the rest of the ingredients—feta, beets, lemony vinaigrette—were great and well worth trying out.

Pasta with Baby Beets, Mint, and Feta
Adapted from The Jewels of NY

1/3 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
2 TBL fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 TBL shallot, minced
Zest of one lemon
1 bunch baby beets, peeled or you can also use prepackaged refrigerated beets like I did
8 ounces of pasta, I used mini fussili
1/3 cup of fresh mint, roughly chopped
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1/3 cup hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

1.If you are going to cook the beets yourself, cook beets in a pot of boiling salted water for 10 minutes or until tender. Drain and let cool and then dice up. If you are taking a shortcut, like I did, you can skip the cooking and just diced up the precooked beets.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook until al dente. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
3.Meanwhile combine olive oil, lemon juice, zest, mustard, garlic, shallots, and red pepper flakes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4.Add diced beets, mint, hazelnuts, and feta to pasta. (Note: if you decide to take my shortcut method and used pre-cooked beets, pour the hot pasta on top of the beets in the bowl in order to warm them up a little before adding all the other ingredients). Drizzle with vinaigrette. Toss and serve.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Breakfast for Dinner

Pancakes are a good idea any time of day.

Especially when they are blueberry pancakes.