Sunday, October 31, 2010

Making Sunday Dinner on a Saturday Night

After spending much of the day trying to restore sanity, Jason and I decided to spend a nice quiet evening at home Saturday night.  (Side note: you know you are getting old when you want to spend an evening cooking and hanging out rather than getting dressed up and going to a Halloween party with the rest of the “youth.”) Since we have plans to spend this evening eating chili and passing out candy to adorably dressed children at our friends Matt and Stephanie’s house, I decided to make a recipe I had been wanting to try out for Sunday Dinner: Butternut Squash Risotto.

Although I have chronicled my risotto making adventures in the past, I decided to try a slightly different technique that seemed to offer an alternative to the constant stirring of recipes past. This one, from Cook’s Illustrated, also made use of some distinctly fall flavors that seemed perfect for Halloween weekend. I ended up with a lot more squash than the recipe called for so I stuck the pre-chopped pieces in the freezer for future use.

All in all it turned out well (although be forewarned—if you don’t like sage you will not like this recipe!) and, according to Jason, I can add risotto to my list of specialties!

Butternut Squash with Sage and Toasted Pine Nuts
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

2 TBL olive oil
3 ½ cups of butternut squash cubes
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
3 TBL butter
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper
2 cups Arborio rice
1 ½ cups dry white wine
2 TBL minced fresh sage leaves
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
¼-1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (depending on cheesy you like it)

1.Heat olive oil in a large pan or dutch oven. Add squash and cook over medium heat without stirring for 4 minutes or until golden brown. Add salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for another 4-5 minutes until beginning to soften. Transfer squash to a bowl and set aside.
2.Combine chicken broth and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil, lower heat to a bare simmer and cover to keep warm.
3.In the same pan/dutch oven you used to cook the squash, melt butter. Once foaming has subsided, add onions and garlic. Add salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened (about 4-5 minutes). Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until grains begin to turn translucent around the edges—about 3 minutes. Add wine and cook, stirring frequently, until fully absorbed (about 4-5 minutes).
4.Add 3 cups of hot broth and half of the reserved squash. Simmer, stirring every few minutes, until liquid is absorbed and bottom of pan is almost dry (about 8-10 minutes).
5.Stir in ½ cup of hot broth and cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Repeat with additional borth until rice is creamy and al dente. Turn off the heat. Add in Parmesan, sage, remaining squash, and pine nuts. Taste for seasonings. If desired, add up to ¼ cup broth to loosen risotto. Serve.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sanity Restored?

So as you all have probably heard today was the big Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C. With all of the things we have had going on recently, I had actually sort of forgotten about it until last night when Jason asked if we were going to go.  My initial answer was no—as much fun as it sounded, I was a little turned off by the idea of being shoulder-to-shoulder with 60,000 other people for most of the day when all I really wanted to do was relax this weekend. But after a good night’s sleep, I decided we should at least give it a shot. So off we went into the city to take part in a faux political rally.

We came, we saw, we left after 20 minutes.

Despite our best efforts, we did not make it there in time to get a spot close enough to the stage (or even the jumbotrons) to be able to see or hear all that much. And as I had initially feared, the crowds were pretty nuts…I was just starting to feel claustrophobic when Jason suggested we high tail it home and watch it on the DVR instead.

Although we did not see too much, it was still pretty interesting to be a part of the insanity (to restore sanity) for a short time at least.  You can see more of how our day went below:

10:30am: We get the metro and it looks like this. A train goes by and no one is able to get on. Plan B: walk the 3-4 miles to the Mall instead.

12:00pm: We finally make it to the outer edge of the Mall (we did not choose the most direct walking route and so it took longer than we thought to get there). There are a lot of people walking towards the rally.

There are A LOT of people....and we aren't even there yet.

The best part of the trip was seeing all the signs people had made. One one side this guy's sign says "Liberals are appealing" (you know, cause he's dressed like a banana); on the other-"Orange you glad I'm not a teabagger."

We're getting closer!

But not close enough....this is about as far as we were able to get. And the stage is in front of the Capitol.

This was one of my favorite signs. The other side was a picture of Hitler and the caption read "Adolf Hitler, THAT GUY was a NAZI." Because whether you agree or disagree with the current Administration's politics, the name-calling has gotten a little out of control these days.

I also liked the sign on the left that said "Actually, the end isn't near. So there's time to, like, think and talk things through."

12:50pm: Did I mention there were a lot of people there?! This was as we were leaving the Mall to get the heck out of there.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I Have a Problem

My name is Lindsay and I am holiday-themed-cooking-magazines-aholic. Every year around this time when all the major food/cooking magazines start putting out Thanksgiving/holiday themed issues I go a little nuts.

Case in point:

Cook's Illustrated (subscription), Cooking Light, Food and Wine (subscription), Martha Stewart Living, and Everyday Food (subscription)

Yes, so far this year I have purchased (either through subscription or on the newsstand) five…FIVE!.... Thanksgiving/holiday themed magazine issues.

I know…it’s gross.

But I can’t help it…Thanksgiving is an important cooking/food holiday and the one I have looked forward to the most for many years. You see, my mom doesn’t like to cook and one year when I was in college she suggested that we (gasp) go out to eat for Thanksgiving. That was too much for me so I said if she didn’t want to cook, I would do it. So I planned my menu and made about 80% of the meal (my mom did pitch in with a few key dishes and helped do some of the prep work despite her aversion to the kitchen). And it got to be a tradition that I looked forward to. I loved researching recipes, creating a menu, and executing it from start to finish.

Things are a little different now that Jason and I are married; last year we went to his parents house for Thanksgiving which meant I had to relinquish my role as executive chef (as is the plan for this year too). Fortunately his mother has allowed me to bring a couple of dishes so I still get to indulge in my penchant for the Thanksgiving glossies. But you can bet on the fact that I am counting the days until we have our own house so I can host everyone and put together that Thanksgiving menu of my dreams!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday Night Chili

Remember this summer when I started my new job and I didn’t have enough to do. Yeah, those days are over. I laugh at those days.

Then I cry.

I’m only kidding. I’m mostly enjoying the fast pace at which I am currently working…except for days like tomorrow when I have meetings scheduled for 5 of my 8 hour workday (ha-- 8 hours is probably wishful thinking). Not only that but tomorrow is a Baltimore day which means I have to add at least 2.5 hours to my day for the commute AND to top it all off we are heading out of town for a wedding this weekend.

Much like my friend Stephanie, I tend to be more productive when my schedule is packed. Good thing since I have created a pretty large to-do list for myself tonight so I don’t have as much to tackle when I get home late tomorrow. In addition to pre-travel things like laundry and packing, this list also included making a pot of the easiest (and dare I say tastiest) vegetarian chili I’ve ever made.

This recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated by way of Cheap Healthy Good and I highly recommend it for those of you who like bean-based chili with a healthy dose of spice (which comes from chopping up chipotles in adobo and adding it into the mix). It comes together pretty quickly and makes enough for two meals if you are like us and only cooking for two.

Guess what we're having for dinner tomorrow :P

Easy Vegetarian Chili
Adapted slightly from Cheap Healthy Good

1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 15 ounce can of black beans, drained
1 15 ounce can of kidney beans, drained
1 1/2 TBL minced chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
Salt and Pepper
1 onion, minced
2 TBL chili powder
3 teaspoons cumin
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
2 TBL chopped cilantro

1. Pour tomatoes and juices into a blender or food processor and pulse 4-5 times until chunky.
2. In a large saucepan, combine tomatoes, beans, chipotles, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in another large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add onion, cumin, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Stir and cook until onions are soft, about 4-5 minutes. Add garlic. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Pour tomato mixture into onion mixture, stirring to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Drop heat and simmer for about 15 minutes (or longer if you are waiting for your friend/significant other/etc. get home from work). Stir occassionally.
5. When you are about 15 minutes away from servin

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Pasta Abruzzese Edition

I cheated a little bit tonight. Instead of selecting a new or time consuming recipe to try out on Sunday (when I have the time), I ended up going with a recipe that a) I’ve made before and b) is not very difficult. For whatever reason, I’ve been pretty tired lately and since we have a lot of things coming up in the next few weeks (including two out of town weddings) I decided that this was going to be a down weekend. No huge plans, not a lot of effort…the epitome of low key. Which is how I would characterize this recipe for Pasta Abruzzese from Rachel Ray (love her or hate her, a lot of her early 30 Minute Meal recipes—especially the Italian influenced ones-- are actually pretty good).

In almost the time it takes to boil a pot of water and cook some rigatoni, you can make a flavorful sauce of fennel, onion, garlic, sausage, and crushed tomatoes. It’s fast, it’s easy and it’s good….any day of the week.

Pasta Abruzzese
Adapted from Rachel Ray

2 hot Italian sausages (I use chicken sausages to cut down on the fat but you can use whatever you prefer)
1 fennel bulb, finely diced
1 small Spanish onion, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup chopped basil
12 ounces of tublar pasta—rigatoni, penne, etc.
Salt and Pepper

1.Heat a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Squeeze sausages out of their casings and brown, using a spoon to break it up. Remove from pan and let drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
2.Depending on the amount fat in the sausages, you may or may not need to add some olive oil to the pan (just want to make sure you have a thin layer of sausage grease or olive oil to cook the vegetables in). Add fennel, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
3.Add tomatoes and chicken broth. Bring to a boil. Add sausage and half of the basil. Lower to a simmer.
4.Meanwhile cook pasta according to package directions. Let sauce simmer until pasta is ready. Drain pasta and add to the sauce. Add remaining basil and toss to coat. Serve with grated parmesan.

A Taste of Fall

The perfect start to an Autumn Sunday:

A slice of pumpkin bread, a steaming mug of apple cider, and CBS Sunday Morning (not pictured).

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wedding Shower Brunch, Part 4 (Putting It All Together)

In addition to the breakfast and lunch items, we had a few sweet treats to round out the menu. Given Lauren’s love for shortbread (and how easy it is to make), I chose my toasted coconut shortbread cookies. Lauren’s younger sister also helped out by bringing cupcakes up from a Richmond bakery.

With the menu all set, the next hurdle was how to decorate the space. As I previously mentioned, we used the community room in my apartment which had recently been renovated. As luck would have it the room’s décor was mainly blues and greens….which just so happen to be Lauren’s wedding colors! That made decorating a whole lot easier. Green and blue balloons helped create a festive atmosphere and I decorated the small tables where we’d be eating with green and white votive candles I just so happened to have at home. A vase of white tulips helped pull it all together.

For the buffet, I kept it simple. A blue table cloth helped make clean up a breeze and white and glass platters kept things simple. To help ensure that everyone knew what they were eating, I used green and white placecards (leftover from my own wedding) to make signs describing each dish. Finally, to make it easier for attendees to carry everything, I  pre-wrapped the silverware in napkins and tied with ribbon I already had (I got this idea from my friend Stephanie who did something similar for my wedding shower last year).

Lauren and her guests really seemed to enjoy themselves which made all the planning and work worth it! Now I’ve got to start working on that Matron of Honor speech for the wedding….

Monday, October 11, 2010

Wedding Shower Brunch, Part 3

When we last left off I was sharing the breakfast recipes I made as part of my friend Lauren’s bridal brunch.  In addition the quiche, muffins, and pumpkin bread, I also had a few lunch items as part of the spread. Namely, gazpacho pasta salad (which you will remember from last April’s Foxfield Races tailgate) and ham rolls.

The ham rolls recipe is a tried and true family favorite. My mom used to make them for parties when I was growing up and I have made them many times myself—for book club, for New Years Eve, for the Super Bowl, for lunch before Thanksgiving dinner, and now for a wedding shower. They are easy and always a crowd-pleaser.  They never last long and Lauren’s shower was no exception---much to poor Jason’s disappointment.

Ham Rolls
(Not sure where the original recipe came from)

2 TBL finely grated onion
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup softened butter
2 dozen small dinner or party-style rolls
Thinly sliced ham and swiss cheese

1.In a small bowl, mix first 4 ingredients together until well-blended.
2.Split the rolls in half with a serrated knife. Spread butter mixture on both cut sides.
3.Place one thin slice of ham and one slice of Swiss cheese (each cut to fit the roll) between the halves.
4.When ready to serve, wrap rolls in aluminum foil and bake at 325 degrees for about 20 minutes or until warmed through.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Dinner: Oktoberfest Edition

When I asked Jason what he wanted to have for dinner this Columbus Day weekend, he said “brats.” I thought he was joking ….. at first. Turns out he was serious. With the weather turning cooler (although you wouldn’t know it by the Indian Summer we are currently having in the DC area) and football season in full swing, he was jonesing for some grilled sausages with peppers and onions.  Since we don’t have a grill we went for the next best thing—broiled brats.

As a side I decided to get in the spirit and try out a recipe for a warm potato salad. Rather the mayo-sour cream version we’re used to in the summer, this one relies on a vinaigrette for flavor. Warm, cold, or room temperature, it’s delicious just the same.

Even though I am generally not a hot dog/sausage kind of person, this was one seasonal meal I could get behind. Perfect for a (warm) October Sunday.

Brats with Peppers and Onions

½ white onion, thinly sliced
½ red pepper, thinly sliced
1 TBL olive oil
4 bratwursts
4 hot dog buns

1.Preheat broiler. Broil brats 8 minutes or so per side until cooked through.
2.Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add onion and pepper and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.
3.Toast buns. Place brat on a bun and top with sautéed onions and peppers. Serve with brown mustard if you would like.

Warm Potato Salad
Adapted from Serious Eats

2 pounds potatoes—I used a combination of red bliss and fingerling
3 green onions, chopped
2 TBL parsley, chopped
3 ½ TBL red wine vinegar
3 TBL olive oil
6 TBL canola oil
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

1.Slice potatoes into ½ inch rounds. Place in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for 10-12 minutes or until a fork easily pierces all the way through potatoes. Drain and set aside.
2.Meanwhile, mix together red wine vinegar, olive oil, canola oil, and mustard. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3.In a large bowl, combine warm potatoes, green onions, parsley, and vinaigrette. Check for seasonings. Serve warm (or whatever temperature you’d like).

Friday, October 8, 2010

Wedding Shower Brunch, Part 2 (Putting the "Br" in "Brunch"!)

Lauren’s shower was a great success, if I do say so myself. Everyone seemed to enjoy the food, the bride-to-be had a good time, and things went off without a hitch.  When I last left off, I mentioned that we had decided to go with a brunch menu. This was for two reasons—1) Lauren mentioned that she was partial to mimosas and bloody marys which definitely lend themselves to brunch over lunch or afternoon tea or anything like that and 2) I happen to like brunch and thought it would be relatively easy to put together a nice spread.

The first thing that came to mind when planning a brunch menu was quiche—it’s tasty, can easily serve a number of people, and is good warm or room temperature (which was important since I was hosting the brunch in the community room of my apartment building).  Rather than make three quiches myself, I decided to take a little help where I could get it and buy them from Whole Foods (which I knew from previous experience were delicious). We ended up with two spinach and roasted red pepper quiche and one quiche Lorraine (with ham, cheese, etc.). They were a huge hit!

To round out the breakfast portion of our brunch menu (the "br" in "brunch" if you will), I decided to go with some sort of muffin and quick bread.  Given the October date, I couldn’t resist making pumpkin bread. And since it was a wedding shower, I decided to go with delicious and equally cute raspberry-topped lemon mini muffins from Smitten Kitchen. I’d made these delicious things for Jason for Valentine’s Day last year and they definitely do not disappoint.

These recipes are perfect whatever the occasion!

Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins
From Smitten Kitchen 
1 1/8 cups granulated sugar, divided
4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from two large lemons)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
1 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Fresh raspberries (Blueberries or blackberries would also work)

1.Preheat oven to 375. Line 14 standard muffin cups (or 56 minis) with paper liners. You can also spray with cooking spray and avoid the liners all together.
2.Mash 1/8 cup of sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl until sugar is slightly moist. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat remining 1 cup sugar and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in egg. Beat in buttermilk, then vanilla and lemon sugar. Add in flour mixture and beat until just smooth.
3.Divide batter among muffin cups (until 2/3 to ¾ full). Top each muffin with 2 raspberries (or 1 raspberry each for the mini-muffins).
4.Bake muffins until lightly brown on top and tester inserted into the center comes out clean—about 35 minutes for standard muffins and 20 minutes for minis.

Pumpkin Bread
From Cooking Light
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 TBL baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground allspice
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup egg substitute
½ cup canola oil
½ cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
2/3 cup water
1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin
1/3 cup chopped pecans

1.Preheat oven to 350.
2.Combine flour and next 6 ingredients (through allspice) in a bowl.
3.Place sugar, egg substitute, oil, buttermilk,  and eggs in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at high speed until well blended. Add water and pumpkin, beating at low speed until blended.
4.Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture, beating at low speed until just combined.
5.Spoon batter into two 9 x 5 loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle pecans evenly over batter.
6.Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pans on a wire rack. Remove from pans and cook completely on the wire rack. (Note: I like to freeze one of the loaves and save for future use. Just be sure to wrap in plastic wrap and foil before sticking it in the freezer and let sit out overnight to thaw.)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Comforting Cold Season Soup

Well folks, it’s official. Cold and flu season has begun and I am apparently one of its first victims. And we all know that when you’re sick there is nothing like a good pot of soup to make you feel better.  Soups and stews are some of my favorite things to make when the weather starts to cool down—they are relatively easy, usually full of flavor, and reheat well (which as you know is one of the most important criteria when it comes to leftovers that I will actually eat). I had the foresight to make a batch of one of our favorite soups—Curry Carrot and Squash—on Sunday night for dinner, which meant that I had a nice bowl of comforting soup at my fingertips when I came home feeling like death-warmed-over last night. This soup will warm you up—in sickness and in health!

Curry Carrot and Squash Soup
Adapted slightly from Pioneer Woman Cooks

3 TBL olive oil
1 white or yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 carrots, sliced into rounds
4 large yellow squash, sliced into rounds
1 TBL curry powder (more or less depending on your taste)
A dash of ground ginger
Salt and Pepper
48 ounces of low sodium chicken stock
¼ cup milk

1.Heat olive oil in a large pot. Add onions and garlic and stir to coat. Add carrots and cook until starting to soften—about 5 minutes.
2.Add squash and  salt and pepper. Cook until squash is tender, about 5-7 minutes.
3.Add curry powder, stir to coat.
4.Add chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for an hour.
5.Turn off the heat. Use an immersion blender to puree soup (you could also use a regular blender, pureeing soup in batches). Stir in milk. Serve.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Is it the Weekend Yet?

I know it’s only Monday, but I’m ready for the weekend again already. This past weekend was pretty nuts what with wedding showers and bachelorette parties to organize, execute, and attend (and then clean-up from). Even with a very lazy Sunday, the highlight of which consisted of Five Guys and a viewing of Where the Wild Things Are, I still feel like I need a weekend to recover from my weekend. Not to mention that I woke up today with all the signs of a cold coming on (sneezing, runny nose, dull headache).

The last thing I want to do is spend time in the kitchen on days like these—which is why it’s a good thing I’ve got the rest of those turkey and artichoke stuffed shells in the freezer! I’m counting on the healing power of comfort food and a new episode of How I Met Your Mother to set me back on the path to wellness.

I know I owe you shower details and pictures—I promise they’ll be coming in the next few days.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wedding Shower Brunch, Part 1

I am sorry that I have been more MIA than usual this week. But I have a good reason this time! I’ve spent much of the week finalizing details and cooking for my friend Lauren’s wedding shower. As Matron (ugh—makes me sound so old!) of Honor, I am hosting her friends and family for a bridal brunch today.  I’ll provide all kinds of details over the next few days. In the meantime, here is what is on the menu:
  • Assorted quiches (purchased from Whole Foods—I can’t do everything!)
  • Pumpkin Bread
  • Raspberry-topped Lemon Muffins
  • Gazpacho Pasta Salad
  • Fruit Salad
  • Ham Rolls
  • Toasted Coconut Shortbread
  • Cupcakes (provided by Lauren’s sister)
Recipes and pictures of all the little details coming over the next week—stay tuned!

Me and the bride-to-be, circa 2006