Monday, February 28, 2011

Menu Monday

My fingers are crossed that this week will actually allow me to spend some quality time in the kitchen. Assuming all goes as planned, here's what's on tap:

Monday: Chicken Salad with Pineapple Lime Dressing (new recipe from this month's Everyday Food)
Tuesday: Leftover Vegetarian Bean Chili (which I made for dinner last night)
Wednesday: Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil (new recipe from SmittenKitchen)
Thursday: Baked Sweet Potatoes and Salad

Check back later this week!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Crazy Week Gets Crazier

As you can probably guess from the utter lack of was a crazy week (complete with 11 hour work days and trips to Baltimore). After all of that, you would think that I would have used the weekend to slow down and catch my breath.

Nope. Instead I dove head first into the deep end.

Big news y'all...

We bought a house!

Well, actually, we signed a contract (and wrote a LARGE check) for a house that does not yet exist.

But it about 5-6 months.

Stay tuned for more details later this week :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Menu Monday

The good news is that it's Presidents Day and the federal government is closed! The bad news is I spent most of the day working from home anyway :(

Yep, it's shaping up to be that kind of week, y'all. As a result, the menu is pretty light on cooking (by me) this week:

Monday: my favorite three cheese macaroni with bacon (I need me some comfort food!)
Tuesday: leftover mac n'cheese
Wednesday: Seared salmon with a deconstructed goat cheese/pear/dried cherry salad (thanks to Jason who offered to step and help out this week--isn't he the best?!)
Thursday: Big day at work (which also happens to be taking place in Baltimore) so we'll either do our own thing for dinner or order pizza or something

Blogging may be even lighter than usual (hard to image, I know) but maybe by the weekend I'll be ready to talk about our efforts to find and buy a house without going broke in the process!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book Club Pound Cake

I didn't get very far in this month's book club selection-- it has not been a good month for non-work reading unfortunately. So I tried to make up for it by making my food contribution count. This month I volunteered for dessert and initially I wanted to make my BFF's Mocha Icebox Cake, but I nixed it because I wasn't sure how well it would travel (and driving from Arlington to Fairfax during rush hour can mean a lengthy car ride). If I wasn't going to be able to make that, I decided to avoid chocolate altogether since I thought many of the other book clubbers might be chocolated out from Valentine's Day. Instead I decided to go with something a little lighter--honey vanilla pound cake. OK, so pound cake may not exactly be light but this one has a light texture (thanks to the cake flour) and a light taste (thanks to the lemon and honey). My original plan was to make a raspberry sauce to serve with this little beauty--but I ran out of time. So I served with a few fresh raspberries instead. I thought it was pretty first I tasted the lemon more than anything else (which was a bit disappointing) but then I realized that there was a creaminess (in taste if not texture) that the honey and vanilla really helped to impart. Either way, a solid pound cake for those who like that sort of thing.

Honey Vanilla Pound Cake

From Ina Garten

2 sticks of butter, set out at room temperature for about an hour
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 TBL honey
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups cake flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Powdered sugar and raspberries for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan and set aside.
2. Cream butter and sugar on medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until light and fluffy.
3. Meanwhile put the eggs, vanilla, honey, and lemon zest into a glass bowl or measuring cup but do not combine. Beat in egg mixture, one eggg at a time. Make sure to incorporate each egg completely before adding in the next.
4. Mix flour, salt, and baking powder together and slowly add to the egg and butter mixture until just incorporated. Finish stirring with rubber spatula.
5. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Smooth top. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool for 15 minutes then turn out onto a cool rack and cool completely. Slice and dust with powdered sugar and fresh raspberries. Serve.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Homemade Fudge--the Easy Way

The first year Jason and I were dating I made him chocolate truffles for Valentine's Day and presented them in a white tin with a bright red ribbon. It was his favorite gift that year. Now it is an integral part of our annual Valentine's Day celebration--every year I make him some sort of homemade treat and give it to him in that same white tin. One year was linzer cookies while another was chocolate dipped shortbread hearts. This year I decided to make fudge.

Speaking of Valentine's Day--get a load of this awesome dinner Jason made for me last night. Bacon-wrapped scallops, skillet roasted potatoes, and asparagus! YUM.

The traditional method of making fudge can be a little daunting as it requires a candy thermometer and boiling the chocolate mixture until it reaches a certain temperature, etc. I haven't quite mastered that art yet (there was the burned doughnut incident last fall and a failed attempt at making homemade marshmallows around Thanksgiving), so I decided to take the easy road in order to make sure Jason's Valentine's Day was a good one. All you do is melt chocolate, vanilla, sweetened condensed milk, and butter and cool the mixture for a few hours. It's as simple as that. If you want to get crazy you can add some additional flavorings-- cinnamon, espresso powder, even chili powder-- are good ways to personalize it for that special someone in your life. It's the perfect chocolate treat--any time of year.

Quick and Easy Fudge
Adapted slightly from Giada di Laurentiis

1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups chocolate chips (I used a mixture of semisweet and bittersweet chocolate but you can use either/or depending your preference)
3 TBL butter, room temperature

1. Grease an 8x8 baking pan and line with a 14 inch piece of parchment paper.
2. Fill a sauce pan with 1-2 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. Meanwhile, mix sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, and espresso powder (or other flavorings) together in a glass bowl. Add chocolate and butter. Place bowl on top of the barely simmering water.
3. Stir chocolate mixture until it is smooth and everything has melted together. It will be really thick. Use a rubber spatula to scrape fudge into the prepared baking dish. Smooth the top and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
4. Lift the parchment-lined fudge out of the baking pan and cut into squares. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to eat.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Menu Monday

Here's what we've got on tap for this week:

Monday: A Valentine's Day dinner to be prepared by Jason!
Tuesday: leftover chicken pot pie
Wednesday: Book Club night which means Jason is on his own and I'm making a honey vanilla pound cake to take for dessert
Thursday: Wild mushroom pasta (new recipe from a Cooking Light cookbook I got for Christmas)

Check back in this week to see how it all turns out!

Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Dinner: Chicken Pot Pie Edition

It seems like everywhere I've turned lately, I've come across recipes for chicken pot pie. Magazines, blogs, they all seem to be focused on this particular dish of late. I guess it makes sense-- chicken pot pie seems like a good candidate for cold weather fare. After pursuing a number of recipes, I decided to give Faith Durand's (of The Kitchn) version a try. With fennel and lemon as main ingredients/flavors and a biscuit (rather than pastry) crust, I thought hers might be a more interesting take on things.

 The verdict? The flavors were great-- loved the fennel, loved the lemon, and loved the white wine sauce. But something was not right about the biscuit crust. I followed the recipe to a "t" but it didn't get all light and puffy as I had thought. I wonder if I made it too soon in the process and the dough got dried out. I don't know. Next time I think I will swap out half of the potatoes for carrots for a little variation (and color) but all in all it was a good meal, perfect for a casual winter evening. One thing to note--this is definitely a weekend meal. From start to finish it took about 2 hours to make. But it makes a ton so we'll be eating it at least one other time this week.

Lemony Chicken Pot Pie with Parsley Biscuit Crust
Adapted slightly from Faith Durand


For the biscuit topping:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine
1/4 cup butter, cold, cut into pieces
1/2 cup milk

For the chicken:
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 fennel bulb, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1/2-inch chunks (Or 1/2 potatoes and 1/2 diced carrots)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3/4 cup frozen peas

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish.
2. Prepare the biscuit dough. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and parsley in a medium bowl. Add the cold butter and work it in with your fingers or pastry blender until the flour mixture resembles soft bread crumbs. Add the milk, stirring until the dough just comes together. Set aside.
3. Cut the chicken breasts into large bite-size pieces. Toss the pieces in a bowl with the flour and salt and pepper. Set aside.
4. Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large Dutch oven or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and brown for 6 minutes, turning halfway through. Remove chicken with slotted spoon and set aside (it won't be cooked through yet).
5. Reduce the heat to medium. Add onion, fennel, and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for a few minutes. Add white wine, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, scrapping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
6. Add broth and chicken and season with salt and pepper. Let the mixture simmer for 5-7 minutes until the liquid starts to thicken. Add frozen peas.
7. Laddle the stew into the prepared baking dish. Drop the biscuit dough across the top. Bake, uncovered, for 35-40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked and the biscuit topping is golden brown. Serve.

Morning Coffee

I don't sleep in that much on the weekends. I'm usually up by 8:00 or 8:30 at the latest. But during the week I tend to wait until the last possible moment to get up and get ready for work. I'm not one of those people who gives themselves lots of extra time to watch the news, read the paper, or leisurely eat my breakfast. No, I much prefer the extra sleep. My usual routine looks something like this:

6:27am alarm goes off. I immediately get up, take a shower, do my hair, and get dressed (I usually decide what I'm going to wear the night before or while I'm in the shower which also helps me save time). I make my lunch (which is the same every day) and then eat a bowl of cereal while checking my email/google reader. I brush my teeth, pack up my bag, and am on my way to the metro by 7:15ish. This allows me to be at my desk at work a few minutes before 8am.

This routine does not, however, leave time for coffee. I like coffee. I like the way it tastes and I need that extra energy boost in the morning. But I do not like gulping it down as I'm running out the door. If I'm going to drink it, I want to take my time drinking it and actually enjoy it. For the first 4-5 months of my new job I would buy a cup of coffee from the cafeteria when I got to work and drink it while I checked my email and got settled in. This worked out pretty well-- the coffee was ok and it was only $1.09 (with tax). I felt like I could justify the $5.45 a week I spent getting my coffee fix (especially since I bring my lunch almost every day).

But then it all changed.

Our cafeteria switched management over the holidays and suddenly my morning coffee was no longer $ was a $1.69 BEFORE TAX. For the same size! The rationale was because they'd switched to a different, fair trade brand. I'm all about fair trade, but I no longer felt I could justify spending almost $2 a day on cafeteria coffee...especially when a small drip coffee at Starbucks was pretty much the exact same price.

But I didn't want to alter my routine too much. So I decided I'd start making my own coffee at home and bringing it to work. Which meant that I'd need a new travel mug-- one that was insulated and completely, 100% spill proof so that I could throw it in my bag in the morning and not have to carry it in my hands on the metro. I did some research and found what appeared to be the perfect solution:

The REI flip-top vacuum tumbler. It has a vaccum seal which means it won't spill and it keeps coffee hot for hours. Seriously. I've gotten side tracked a few times in the morning and come back and my coffee has still been practically burn your mouth hot (which is how I like it) 2 hours later. In short, it's awesome.

So now I get the coffee pot ready to go the night before and then flip the switch while I'm making my lunch. It's been the perfect (and more cost effective way) to enjoy my morning coffee.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Jason's Simple Steps to Perfectly Seared Salmon

Jason doesn't do a ton of cooking, but he does have a few specialties. Pancakes. Waffles. He also makes a really good sandwich. The dish he is most proud of, however, is his seared salmon. The process is so simple, you don't need a recipe. You just follow these four steps:

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly coat an oven-safe skillet with olive oil and heat over high. 
2. Rub a little olive oil over the salmon and season with salt and pepper.
3. Place salmon fillets, skin side up, into hot pan and leave there for exactly 3 minutes. Use a spatula to flip the salmon over.
4. Place skillet into oven and cook for exactly 10 minutes. Serve.

Moist and delicious salmon every.single. time.

Try it-- you'll like it!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Menu Monday

Work has been busy which means that I either haven't cooked much lately or I've gone for recipes that don't require much effort. This coming week is no exception-- on the menu are all things I've made (and blogged about) before. But rather than letting the cobwebs grow further on the ol' blog, I thought I'd shed some light on the recipes I've made that warrant repeat appearances.

So without further ado, I give you this week's meal plan:

Monday: Curry Squash and Carrot Soup

Tuesday: Chicken Patty Pitas

Wednesday: Leftovers
Thursday: Roasted Beet Salad

Friday: Dinner out (I hope)

What's on tap for you meals this week?