Monday, December 16, 2013

Seriously nothing

Listen, guys. I'm not doing anything lately. Nothing. Not a thing. I have virtually nothing to tell you about.

Everyone I have talked to in the past two weeks is doing everything right now. Getting ready for the holidays - getting ready for a baby - moving to a new house - hustling about with busy children - getting ready for the holidaaaaaays. But not me. I'm doing nothing.

I don't even have a program to watch!


This level of inactivity happens to me in the winter always, but not in December. Usually it's long after the new year, when the windows are frozen shut and my groaning car wants to leave the premises less than I do. That's when we hunker down and make hot drinks and pull Risk out of the closet, or maybe queue up Super Mario War and eventually (if we're lucky) head in the direction of the equator.

But this December is basically February, with the windchill reaching -15 on a regular basis. The burst of cold caught me off guard with no ambition to turn to those snowed-in or frozen-in activites, nor pretend it's OK and get on with my life outside the apartment. So here we are, or here I am, doing mostly nothing.

***

I had last Monday off of work. I usually revel in a day to myself with no plans, but I had just gotten done doing nothing on Saturday and Sunday. 

So on my day off of work, I:
1. Backed up my computer files onto a jump drive. This was the first time I have ever done this in the six years I have owned my computer, so it took a while. A jump drive is probably not even what you're supposed to use, but this was pretty good for me.

2. Scheduled a windshield replacement for my car, as the small crack on the bottom right of the windshield grew on Monday (-10 degrees that day, I think) to a pretty dramatic swoosh to the top left of the glass.

3. Walked to Whole Foods, then made this minestrone soup. The swiss chard leaves that were hanging  out of my grocery bag froze on my walk home and shattered in dark green pieces onto the snow. I started making the soup at 3 p.m. while my photos were transferring to the jump drive, and it was ready to eat around 4:00 - not anywhere near a regular meal time, but I ladled myself a small bowl anyway to sample on while I watched Jeopardy!. With a velvety tomato broth and hint of rosemary behind the little white beans and pasta, it was just the accomplishment I was looking for to round out my day.

At least the soup was a success!


Winter Minestrone
Adapted from Giada De Laurentis

Note: The fresh rosemary and parmesan rind make this soup special, so don't skip on either of those. You could switch up nearly anything else in the soup to your preference.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into coins or half moons
1/3 to 1/2 pound bacon, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 ounce can diced tomatoes
6 cups good quality beef broth
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 ounce piece of parmesan rind
2 14-ounce cans cannellini beans
3/4 cups small pasta, like cavatelli
a few handfuls fresh spinach or leaves of swiss chard, torn

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add onion, celery, carrots, bacon and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is soft, about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a food processor, puree on can of cannellini beans with 1 cup of beef broth. 

Add the been puree to the soup pot along with the can of tomatoes, remaining beef broth, rosemary sprigs and parmesan rind. Raise heat to medium high to bring to a boil; add pasta and cannellini beans. Cover and turn to medium low to simmer until pasta is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove lid and stir in spinach; cook a few minutes more until spinach is tender.

Soup is great with crusty bread on a quiet afternoon.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Hey thanks, salad

In the spirit of expressing gratitude this time of year, I'd like to share my appreciation for some late fall vegetables and a zippy horseradish vinaigrette that I tossed together in a bowl last weekend. A particularly nourishing fall salad that cleared the clutter out of my mind and made me feel more awake than I have in weeks.

Hey thanks, salad.


I suppose I should also say thanks, treadmill, for helping me realize on Saturday that I should be eating more bowls of roasted fall vegetables, and cutting back on the holiday cheer. I ventured into a four-mile run that day, in our condo-association "gym" where two treadmills on a mezzanine overlook a swimming pool. It was my first run in two weeks and oh, it was bad.

So, after that treadmill death run, I ate this power salad: first, on Saturday night alongside a piece of salmon, and then as leftovers right out of the tupperware on Sunday morning, standing in the kitchen, immediately after I finished taking pictures for the blog (all the while being prodded to "hurry up so I can eat that" by the other one that lives here). I give this salad full credit for the energy that carried me through my next run: a quite good five-miler on Sunday late afternoon, when cold wind blew the last bursts of brown leaves over the road and everyone else was indoors. I didn't run fast, but I ran strong and remembered that I like running. Quite the change from the miles I slogged through the day before.

***

While we're at it, I should say thanks, Thanksgiving. You never fail me. I'm came into your holiday last weekend like I had just reached the finish line of a marathon, at first ragged and weary, then with a sense of euphoria at finally taking a break from things. I spent the next four days hobbling around with a fuzzy mind and eating everything in sight. Just what I needed.

And thank you, even more, to Adam for all-around-great-guy-ness. On Monday night, I finished a big project at work and then trudged out into the snowy night to catch my much-delayed bus. I sent him a text message: Good night for tortilla soup! Too bad we don't have Modelos with limes. :) And by the time my bus dropped me off, there we had it: Modelos with limes. Does it get any better than that? 

And thank you, Gilt, and your impulse-sale tactics. My Nespresso machine arrived yesterday.

Thanks, this.

And hooray right now for beets and squash, and hearty soups and stews and bubbling sauces on the stove, if I haven't said it before (oh wait, I have). What a great time of year to cook.

And, to you: hey, thanks for reading my blog. I hope you try this salad.



Fall Salad with Horseradish Vinaigrette
Vinaigrette recipe from Sprouted Kitchen

Horseradish vinaigrette:
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish (added an extra 1/2 tbsp)
1 large clove garlic, minced
1/2 a shallot, minced
1 tsp. honey
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. each sea salt and pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the horseradish, garlic, shallot, honey and cider vinegar until combined. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until combined. Season with salt and pepper.

For the salad:
1 sweet potato, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
1-2 handfuls of Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed, halved
1/2 bunch of kale, torn into small pieces
Olive oil (few tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (white wine vinegar should also work)
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
small handful walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place the sweet potato, Brussels sprouts and kale on a baking sheet or two (try to not crowd it too much). Drizzle with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, and the white balsamic vinegar, then dust with nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Toss around with your hands to coat everything evenly.

Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the potatoes and Brussels sprouts are cooked through and have browned a bit. The kale will get a bit crunchy. Toss with the vinaigrette (I used about half of the vinaigrette from the recipe above) and toasted walnuts.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

And now, for something a little different

We've been almost hibernating this month. Slowing down big time. The dim days have kept us indoors mostly, while our constantly humming gas fireplace heats our living room to unreasonably high temperatures. An 85 degree apartment makes going outside even more painful, of course; like jumping from a hot tub into a cold swimming pool. And so, we've been venturing outside as little as possible already, which leaves us with the options of nap, or cribbage, or finally put the clean laundry away that I washed on Monday, or let's go to the gym; wait, nah, as our Saturday afternoon agenda.

Winter is here, my friends.

Do I sound like I'm griping? I'm truly not; I love this change of pace. For now. Our once-packed calendar finally gave way to long Saturday mornings at home and cozy meals each night, which is therapeutic for a homebody like me. I'm keeping our crisper drawer full of beets and Brussels sprouts (to me, this is exciting), and it doesn't hurt that a splash of Bailey's has found its way into my cup of hot chocolate on more than one occasion. Tis the season.

But, between our hot apartment, sleepy days and layers of clothing, as comforting as those things may be, I've discovered that it's amazing how a fresh little bite can wake me up. Like a cold drink of water after a pumpkin spice latte. 

Enter these little bruschetta. 




Yes, these are more of a summer appetizer, but I had a craving recently and couldn't help myself - and I think you might like to do the same. A cool swipe of creamy ricotta, a bite of fresh basil, a thick slice of tomato with a drizzle of sweet balsamic: these will make you swoon.

I'm telling you, make our own ricotta, and people will look at you like you've told them you just came back from the moon. In reality, it's embarrassingly simple: heat some milk and cream to 190 degrees, stir in some lemon juice, let it sit for five minutes, and pour it into a cheese cloth. That's it. After two hours, you have this lavishly creamy, perfect ricotta to spread on your baguette, or on anything else you fancy. I use this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and it's perfect. 

Try these little bruschetta for Thanksgiving, if you're willing to add something a little different to the appetizer table. Or, if you're just sitting in your 85-degree apartment one night, watching Thursday night football, give them a go. With a spicy winter ale, of course. We're hibernating, after all. Right?


Bruschetta with Fresh Ricotta, Tomatoes and Basil
Ricotta recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Note: You want to use excellent ingredients here. I use MN Bushel Boy tomatoes, which are somehow good all year. And choose a quality, aged balsamic.


Fresh ricotta:

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
(also need: cheesecloth and thermometer)

Line a fine mesh strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth, and set over a bowl. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk, cream and salt to 190 degrees, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatula so the bottom doesn't scorch. When the mixture reaches 190 degrees, remove from heat. Add the lemon juice, and stir gently (just a few stirs) to just incorporate the lemon juice into the milk mixture. Let sit, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, curds will have formed. Gently pour the mix into the cheesecloth-lined strainer - this will separate the curds from the whey (the whey is the liquid part - you'll discard this). Allow the cheese to strain for 1-2 hours; it will get thicker the longer it strains. I usually strain the cheese for the full two hours for the bruschetta recipe.

Bruschetta:

One baguette, cut into 1-inch thick slices
Fresh ricotta
Basil, whole leaves
Ripe tomatoes, cut into 1/2 inch thick slices, then slices cut in half (as shown in picture above)
Olive oil
Good-quality balsamic vinegar
Salt and Pepper

1. Toast the baguette slices. Preheat the broiler of your oven, and position the oven rack to the top position. Set the baguette slices on a cookie sheet, and drizzle them with olive oil on both sides. Place the cookie sheet under the broiler until bread is lightly toasted - about 1 minute on the first side, then flip the bread over and toast about 30 seconds on the other side. You want bread that is lightly toasted but not overly hard and crunchy.

2. Spread baguette slices with a thick swab of ricotta cheese

3. Press one piece of basil onto the ricotta on each baguette slice

4. Set a tomato slice on top; season well with salt and pepper

5. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic



Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hello, dark

I've been thinking about setting off on a week or two of strict, healthy eating. We've had piles of Halloween candy scattered about the office for weeks now, and, well, I've had my hands on it. I've always got room for a mini Salted Nut Roll, or two, or six, when given the chance. Don't we all? Even worse, my running has tapered sharply from 4-5 times a week (this summer) to 1-2 short runs per week, now that work is crazy and my last race of the season is over (which happened, ahem, nearly six weeks ago). 

I could use a kick in the pants.

Last Sunday was to be the start of something new: a Week (Or Two) of Healthy Eating. I made a big batch of steel cut oats for breakfasts, packed little tupperwares of minestrone soup for lunches, and flung a veritable cornucopia of fruit into my purse to snack on at work each day. Dinners would be light, and, above all else, I would lay off the sugar

I did great with my oatmeal and soup during the day. Mini Twix bar? No thanks. I'm on a diet.

But then? Well, it sure gets dark early now.


By the time I get off the bus at night, in the dark, with the wind tossing my hair and coat collar into my face, meh. Motivation just vanishes. The sun set at 4:30 p.m., and I'm not leaving the house tonight. Who cares what I eat? Who cares.

Who was I fooling with this plan, anyway? There'll be no race, no swimsuit for months. No reason to go crazy with my diet here (the running thing, though - that, I should be doing).

Why not eat your oatmeal, your soup for lunch, your light low-carb dinner, and then end the day with a freaking berry cobbler.


Berry cobbler is a summer dessert! you say? Nope. Stick with me on this one: frozen berries. I will confide that I rarely cook with the fresh ones. Even at the hight of summer, when buckets of berries fill the farmer's market, I can't bring myself to do anything with them beyond eating them out of the bucket, by the handful. Raspberries and blackberries especially: they are just so good right off the vine that each basket never stretches far enough to be mixed with sugar and folded into a pastry dough, or pushed into a cake batter.

I do need to work on this.

So, when baking a fruit dessert, I almost always use frozen berries from the grocery store; and, to terrific results. The great news about this is that you can make this berry cobbler any time of year, August or November, swimsuit season or not.

I truly love this one, and take it to dinner parties more often than any other dessert. Here, a mixture of frozen berries cook together with a bit of sugar and flour into a bright red-purple puddle of fruit, then is capped by lightly sweet buttermilk biscuits. Preferably, you'll serve this hot with a dollop of loosely whipped cream that will melt onto each plate. I've served this again and again, and the reaction is always the same - people love it because it's the perfect combination of berry and biscuit, and it's not overly sweet. 

So, I say cap this November night off with a warm biscuit and berry cobbler. Diets are for January, right?




Mixed Berry Cobbler
Biscuit recipe from America's Test Kitchen

Note: For the berries, I love a combination of 2 cups raspberries, 2 cups blueberries, and 1 cup blackberries. I recently made this with two bags of just generic "mixed berries" from the grocery store - each bag a mixture of strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. It was terrific.

For the fruit:
5 cups frozen berries (see note above)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons flour

For the biscuits:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

To serve: loosely whipped cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

First, prep the berry mixture. Into an 8 inch pie pan, pour your 5 cups of berries; add the 1/2 cup sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons flour over. Stir gently to combine (it doesn't have to be perfectly combined; you'll stir it again later). Bake for 20 minutes.

While the berries are cooking, prep the biscuits. In one bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a second bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, melted butter and vanilla. Gently stir the buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture, stirring until just combined and no pockets of dry flour remain.

When the berry mixture is ready, remove it from the oven and give it a gentle stir. The berries will have melting together a bit, and the mixture will look quite liquidy (don't worry, the flour from the biscuits will thicken it up a bit). Pinch the dough into eight equal pieces, and flatten them into small biscuits the shape of hockey pucks, about 1 1/2 inches or so tall. Set the dough on top of the cobbler, evenly spaced. They will puff up as they back and cover the entire pie pan.

Put the cobbler back in the oven and bake 15 minutes, until biscuits are just starting to brown on top.

Serve warm with a dollop of whipped cream.


Monday, October 28, 2013

To clear my head

I was hoping to dazzle you here today. I've been in the kitchen quite a bit lately, and I'm eager to get some of my new fall favorites into this space. I wanted to relive a cider-braised pork roast last Sunday and capture it for the blog - and oh, that will happen soon. (Did I mention the caramelized onion and apple confit? Oh. You just wait.) But instead of cooking and taking photos, I found myself mostly under blankets. A cold snuck up on me over the weekend and left me with what feels like an anvil on top of my nose. 

It's not a horrible cold, but is enough to slow me down and leave me a bit fuzzy in the brain. Today at work, for instance, I sent out a meeting invite with a conference dial in number. When I typed in the passcodes, I wrote:
Participant passcode: xxxx
Hoar passcode: xxxx

Seriously. I sent it out to seven or eight people like that, and didn't notice until six hours later when I was heading to the meeting. I think I was going for host, not hoar; but really, who knows.


Yes, a bit fuzzy in the brain.

So the cider-braised pork roast will have to wait, but it's high on my list of life to-dos. For now, I'm after something simple and hot to soothe my throat and clear my head. I'm not much of a chicken noodle soup fan, so when I'm looking for brothy soup with healing powers, I choose this simple cabbage soup.

I wasn't sure if I wanted to share this recipe here, because it's so simple and homey. Not really a dazzler. But the truth is, we make this probably once a month in the winter. A few pieces of smokey, sweet bacon flavor a rich base of chicken stock, with a spoonful of caraway seeds to add a depth of flavor that reaches to your bones. Shreds of cabbage and onion, a bit sweet from cooking with the bacon, round out the dish. With a slice of buttery wheat toast and a pint of dark beer, it's one of our classic cold-weather meals.

Another bonus - it's cheap! (So cheap. Poor Man Soup, we've called it since the beginning; cabbage and potatoes, stuff of peasant food), and decidedly German - I like to think my Grandma Laura had something like this in her repertoire for cold Minnesota nights.

I hope you're feeling well. And if not, feed a cold, eh?

Poor Man Soup (Cabbage and Potato Soup with Bacon and Caraway)
Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Notes: There's not much to this one, so make sure to pick high-quality, flavorful ingredients. For bacon, I've had good results with Trader Joe's apple smoked bacon and Whole Foods black forest bacon. For chicken stock, choose a darker brown stock (rather than a lighter yellow stock); I like Kitchen Essentials in the yellow carton.

4 pieces thick-cut, very flavorful bacon, diced (1/3 pound or so)
1 large yellow onion, halved and sliced
1/2 a medium head of green cabbage, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon caraway seeds (crushed in a mortar and pestle if you have one)
8 cups good-quality chicken stock
4-5 small red or yellow potatoes, diced
Salt, to taste

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and bacon is almost cooked through, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and cabbage to the pot; stir into the bacon pieces and fat, and cook until the veggies have softened a bit, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the caraway seeds, then add the stock and potatoes. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 15-20 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Season with salt, to taste, and additional caraway seeds if desired.

Serve with buttery wheat toast and, preferably, a pint of good porter or stout. Tastes even better the next day.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Is that a deal breaker?

We are on the hunt for a house, Adam and I. And what you hear about the real estate market is true: the good homes get snatched up in a flash. At least in the Twin Cities, there's not much sitting out there for sale that's of any interest (if it's been on the market for more than a week, it seems, there's probably a reason). So it's mostly new listings that spark our interest at this point.

I monitor the listings hourly. Ask anyone who has ever thought about buying a home: it's an obsessive practice. And when a new listing pops up that matches our criteria and looks cute, I immediately 1.) get excited, 2.) add it to our favorites list, and 3.) picture Adam and me standing with a SOLD sign on the front step.

Last week, a new listing popped up that met our criteria - a cute little red home in South Minneapolis, near a movie theater and wine bar, a short walk to the river. As I flipped through the pictures, my internal monologue sounded something like this:
3 bedrooms - nice
wood floors - cute
nice kitchen - cute!
nice yard - cuuute!
sunroom, lots of windows - cute, cuuute!!!

There were no other good listings that day, so I was forced to flip through the pictures of the red house again and again, and daydream about the garden I would plant in that cute backyard. Then I decided to click on the See supplements for this property link, which I never do, because it's mostly boring legal documentation - I figure we'll get to that later with our realtor, if we find that we're really interested in the property.

I skimmed through checked boxes reporting no known issue with wells, water damage, etc. And then, there was this:



Um, oh.

Is that a deal breaker?

I think that's a deal breaker.

I told Adam about the house, it's proximity to the wine bar, it's history with meth production. He had the same reaction - to laugh, then pause and ask, Well ... is that a deal breaker? It was probably a long time ago. I'm sure there's protocol for cleaning it up.

I still think that's a deal breaker.

Especially given our unrelenting infatuation with Breaking Bad. I really don't think a meth house is a direction we need to head.

And so the search continues!

I had another almost deal-breaker situation on my hands last week - some turkey meatballs that went awry. I guess I got a little cocky about the other turkey meatballs that I love so much, and thought that I would whip up some sort of Italian turkey meatballs with garlic and spinach - and cover them in tomato sauce for a comforting, healthy dinner.

The turkey meatballs tasted of nothing - just sad little flavorless lumps on a cookie sheet. Ground turkey at its worst. But! The tomato sauce I made to smother them in saved the dinner. It was simple and rich, a touch sweet and classically tomatoey - just the staple thick marinara sauce that I wanted for my repertoire. I piled it on top of the meatballs and scooped it up on slices of baguette to save dinner. I see this as the perfect sauce for smothering chicken parmesan, or good meatballs - any dish that you want to top with a sturdy and flavorful tomato sauce.

But turkey meatballs? Nope.

Classic Tomato Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentis

Note: I recommend good quality canned tomatoes here; I used Muir Glenn organic crushed tomatoes with basil

2 tablespoons or so olive oil
Small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, small dice
2 28 ounce cans of crushed tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt, to taste
3 tablespoons butter

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions soften, about 5 minutes. Add the diced carrot and a pinch of salt. Cook another 5 minutes or so, until the carrots soften a bit. Add the cans of tomatoes and bay leaves; heat over medium until the tomatoes bubble, then turn down to low and partially cover the pot with a lid. Cook at a lazy simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and flavors meld, 45 minutes to an hour. Add the sugar, a good pinch or two of salt and the butter; stir and taste. Adjust sugar or salt to suit your preference.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Those lucky bastards

Welcome to Columbus Day, friends. One of my favorite days of the year. A day I've been counting down to since Labor Day, with anticipation just short of creating a paper chain. No, it's not that I love history or Christopher Columbus.

It's because I don't have to work! And everyone else does!

There are few joys in my world simpler and greater than not being at work when it seems like I should be. Two weeks ago, I had an 8 a.m. dentist appointment at an office near my apartment. Afterwards, I stopped at the nearby Whole Foods to grab a cup of coffee and extend my morning for a few extra minutes before driving into the office. As I pulled into the parking lot, I looked at the handful of people parking their cars and walking casually into the store.

Who are these lucky bastards? I thought. Who goes to Whole Foods at 9 a.m. on a Monday? Don't these people have to work?

Today, I am them. I am those lucky bastards.

On my agenda today:
1. Watch The Price Is Right
2. Buy myself a treat

Just those two things.

I'm also happy to take advantage of this gloriously empty, wonderfully gloomy morning to drink coffee in my pjs and tell you about this unbelievable soup I made over the weekend. This is it. This is the one. It is unbelievable.





We have a soup competition coming up at work. Last year, my team won first place with the original Butternut Squash Soup with Rosemary. Safe to say that was my proudest professional accomplishment to date. In planning for this year's competition, I've had coconut curry soup on the brain. We sold a really nice version of this at the coffee shop I worked at in Seattle - warmly spiced and creamy with coconut milk, with sliced veggies and lentils to round it out. My thought was that this soup would be unexpected and special enough to wow the tasters and stand out among the 10 versions of tortilla soup we'll see again this year. I did some poking around online to find a recipe that sounded similar the the version from the coffee shop - and signs pointed to this one, from chef Michael Smith. It sounded similar to what I was looking for, and the chef says right off the bat that it's the most requested recipe in his repertoire. I gave it a whirl on Saturday night.

I'll say it again: this soup is unbelievable. With layers and layers of flavor - the warm heat of curry, a slight tang of lemongrass and lime zest, the spicy punch of grated ginger, all held in a base of creamy coconut milk and spiked with a salty splash of fish sauce - it blows to shreds any idea I had of coconut curry soup. I ate two bowls, and couldn't keep my spoon out of the pot on the stove. And I can't stop thinking about the leftovers in the fridge.

Competitors, be warned: Team Soupremes is hangin' on to that golden ladle.

Coconut Curry Soup
Adapted from a recipe by Chef Michael Smith

Note: You could make this vegetarian by subbing in vegetable broth for the chicken broth, leaving out the chicken (cubed tofu or a handful of lentils would be a great substitute), and skipping the fish sauce - I would suspect you'd want to add a bit of soy sauce or extra salt in its place. Let me know if you try it.

2 14 ounce cans coconut milk
1 heaping tablespoon Thai red curry paste
half of the stems from one bunch of cilantro, rinsed well and finely chopped (leaves reserved)
2 cups chicken broth
2 carrots, sliced
4-5 small red potatoes, diced
4 oz or so of sliced cremini or white button mushrooms
2 stalks lemongrass, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 lime, zest and juice
1 small knob (about 1 inch or so) ginger, peeled and frozen
Shredded rotisserie chicken - 2-3 cups (I used the breast meat from one chicken)
Leaves from 1 bunch of cilantro
Salt

To serve: cooked brown rice, sliced green onion

Set a large saucepan over medium heat. Open one can of coconut milk, and scoop out the thick cream layer into the pot. [Note: the coconut milk I was working with hadn't separated into the two layers (thick coconut cream layer and thin coconut water layer) - so I just poured about half of the can into the pan and proceeded.] Add the curry paste to the pot and stir into the coconut cream. Continue stirring as it melts over the heat. When melted and combined, add the rest of the coconut milk (whatever is left of your first can, as well as the second can), plus the chopped cilantro stems, chicken broth, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, lemongrass, fish sauce, lime zest and juice. Grate the frozen ginger into the pot using a microplane or fine grater. Simmer for 20-30 minutes, until the flavors have blended and the carrots, potatoes and mushrooms are tender.

Remove and discard lemongrass stalks, and stir in the shredded rotisserie chicken. Season with a good pinch of salt, to taste, and stir in most of the cilantro leaves. To serve, place a scoop of hot brown rice into a bowl, and ladle soup over. Garnish with a pinch of cilantro leaves and a few slices of green onions.

And try to pace yourself.



Thursday, October 3, 2013

My apologies

I've got an A+ recipe for you here, buried in a C- blog post.

Because,

1. This recipe is best made in the season we just tip-toed out of*
2. The photos are bad**
3. General lack of ambition was displayed on my part***

Sorry about that!

*Still, I proceed - with all my fingers and toes crossed, in hopes that we'll find a few precious baskets of little tomatoes at the farmer's market this weekend so you can give this one a whirl. My mom is, after all, still pulling tomatoes out of her garden - some the size of pumpkins! - so maybe there's a chance. This baked tomato sauce cannot wait until next summer.


It's truly one of my favorites; a highlight of the summer for me. Little cherry tomatoes are topped with small handfuls of breadcrumbs and parmesan, then roasted in the oven until the topping toasts slightly and the tomatoes slump into their own juices. Then, you stir in some sliced basil and season with salt, and then stop and do nothing else but scoop it onto pasta - for it is perfect right there. It's simple cooking at its absolute finest.



**And now, to excuse the photos: I had a night to myself recently, and a goal to write and publish at least a B+ blog post before Adam got home from his happy hour. The plan was as follows: make this pasta sauce, take photos for the blog, have a nice dinner for one, then write a blog post in the gloriously quiet apartment. But then, there was that half bottle of wine leftover from the the night before beckoning to me from the corner of our empty kitchen, and Wheel of Fortune was on with no objections from the man who wants to watch watch SportsCenter. And the apartment was so gloriously quiet. So the night got away from me. Dinner happened closer to 8:30 when the sunlight was long gone, so the nice camera (re: food photography needs natural light) was out of the question. Enter the iPhone photos you see above.

***So, to summarize: please try out this pasta sauce, and sorry for everything.

Pasta with Baked Tomato Sauce
Found on The Wednesday Chef, originally from Best American Recipes 2000. I tweaked it slightly.

Few tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup grated or shredded parmesan
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Few pinches of salt
1 pound dried pasta
1/4-1/3 cup fresh basil, sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the tomatoes in half, and set them cut side up in a 9x13 inch baking dish. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.

In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, parmesan and garlic. Sprinkle over the tomatoes to coat.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until the tomatoes are very soft and the topping is beginning to brown around the edges. Remove from oven and stir in basil. Stir the mixture with a fork to smash up the tomatoes. Season well with salt; drizzle in another 1-2 tablespoons olive oil if the mixture seems too dry.

While the tomatoes are baking, cook the pasta until it's al dente. When it's ready, top the pasta with generous scoops of the sauce. Enjoy!


Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Slowly ticking down

I've got a half marathon coming up next weekend, guys. A half marathon race, actually; competing against a few friends, girls vs. boys - the team with the best combined time wins. The prize: dinner prepared by the losers. And, infinite glory, of course.

This is the 9-month culmination of an ill-conceived bet made last New Year's Eve. Confidence was at an all time high that night. Every single person involved thought they would win. We've focused largely on trash talking and scheming since then. And now, here we are, more than nine months later with the race upon us; just a few short runs between us and the final 13.1 mile dash.

Do you think I'm ready? Well, it sort of snuck up on me.

Truth is, I got a little behind in my training during July and the first half of August, when I mostly chose drinking vodka lemonades and walking to the park over racking up miles on my running watch. There were weekends away, and a week's vacation, too, to blame for my lack of training; but really, I needed a break. It happens every year: I run my marathon in June, and then I celebrate my accomplishment by not running for a while. So, after my hiatus, I've been on sort of a fast-track training plan for the past six weeks, going from eight to ten then twelve miles on the weekend, and filling the space in between the long runs with some speed workouts and a special torture called lunges.

The sudden spike in weekly mileage has me walking around with a twinge of pain in my left ankle lately, and a state of constant wobbliness in my legs. I'm getting charlie horses in the arches of my feet almost daily, and in my calf muscles while I sleep - sometimes in both calf muscles at the same time. It's a real treat, I must stay, waking up thinking that both of your legs have been blown off below the knee by a cannon. I have found that Adam is really impressed by this occurrence, too, at 5:45 in the morning.

But, I'm getting faster. I can feel my legs getting stronger, and the seconds on my pace watch are slowly, slowly ticking down. At this point in the game, I wish I were faster, but at least I'm in the groove. I logged my last long run on Saturday, just eight miles this time - eight solid miles. I was a little hungover and I don't think I drank any water on Friday, but my legs were rested, and a cool morning sky gave me the rush of energy I needed to push my time down to low eight-minute miles. It was the perfect last run, a confidence booster, before the race.

But still, I'm getting nervous. I had my dream last week where I was getting ready to run, and then realized I was wearing black dress shoes (like, loafers). (This is typical for me: before the marathon in June, I got to enjoy a nightmare where I show up to the starting line wearing jeans.)

The other night, I asked my iPhone (via the voice thing, Siri), for a prediction.

Me (talking into the phone): Who is going to win the half marathon?
Phone: I don't know what that means. If you like, I can search the web for "Call Elizabeth doing this bath mat fun."
Me: ... Who is going to win the half marathon?
Phone: Searching the web for "Call Elizabeth doing this bath mat fun."

Guys, my running partner's name is Elizabeth. What does it mean?





Anyway.

All will be well. I'll likely take fourth place out of four, but I'll probably have the most fun. The important thing is that we there's a finish line - and I'll be crossing it soon.

I hope!


Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

I'm not kidding about this: these little guys might be my number one favorite weeknight meal. And, I especially love them when I'm running a lot; the lean protein is just what my tired muscles need at the end of the day. The sauce adds a nice sweetness, but the meatballs themselves are somehow satisfying in a way that ground turkey is usually not - I think the sesame oil is the secret weapon here that adds the depth of flavor, so don't skip it. I have brought these little guys to parties before to huge accolades, too. Seriously - do you get it? These are SO GOOD.

Word of warning: do not, do not use extra lean/99% ground turkey breast. I did that once by accident, and the meatballs were sad, sad, sad. Use ground turkey thigh (93% lean).

And a final note, about the mirin: I hate buying ingredients for a recipe that I don't use for anything else, and I can't say I use mirin a whole lot. But, I found a bottle of this at the grocery store for $7 or so, and it has lasted me through dozens and dozens of these meatballs; definitely worth the purchase.

For the meatballs:
1 pound ground turkey thigh
1 egg
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 cup scallions, chopped
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients together. Form into meatballs using about 2 tablespoons of the mixture each (you should end up with about 18 meatballs); place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 18 minutes.

For the glaze:
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and chopped, or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander (optional)

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until combined (the sugar will melt into the liquid as it heats up). Bring to a low boil, then turn the heat down to medium low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or so, until sauce thickens a bit.

Serve meatballs with some brown rice and a light drizzle of the glaze, with a stir-fried veggie on the side. Sometimes I'll plop these onto a bowl of rice with diced avocados, some browned onions and sauteed veggies, and a handful of walnuts. Go wild!



Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Coming back

My plan here was to tell you next about meatballs, or a pasta sauce of tomatoes baked with bread crumbs. Or maybe, my favorite: a beet and feta tart, where ribbons of red swirl into a pool of pale yellow custard. I've got a few new favorites up my sleeve to tell you about soon; you just wait.

But for now, I'm coming back to this space first to tell about a recent expedition. A few weeks ago, in the dead of August, Adam and I packed up the Chevy Cobalt with our tent, sleeping bags and a cooler full of frozen chili and Surly Cynic, and headed out on our first grand adventure by car - west to Colorado.


I've been trying to write this post for weeks now; truth is, there's just too much to tell. We spent nine days winding through the Rocky Mountains, in the car on steep mountain roads, and on our feet climbing up and down dirt paths, from in Estes Park and Aspen to Boulder and Breckenridge. We covered so much ground and did so much; every day found us in a new city or on a new mountain, peering into the distance and taking turns asking each other, Can you believe we're really here?

***

We packed up the Cobalt on a Friday and turned out of our parking toward lot, first heading straight south into Iowa, then turning sharp right in Des Moines to head west - our route from Minneapolis to mountains the shape of a backwards L. Armed with podcasts and homemade beef jerky, we floated through the drive over two days, passing mostly open, dusty farmland with the occasional cluster of windmills turning in the breeze.

The trek out there went nearly without a hitch. Then, an hour or so after crossing the border into Colorado (hour 12 or so of the drive), heavy winds started blowing over the flatlands and into our little gray car.

And then, tornadoes started touching down around us.


That cloud, I'm pretty sure, turned into a tornado.

Later we found out that one tornado actually touched down on the highway we were driving on, about 15 minutes behind us. We I had been so fixated on the storms during the last part of the drive, I didn't realize how close to our destination we were getting. At the moment the rain finally began to let up and we gained some visibility beyond the two cars ahead of us, we suddenly realized were winding around a cliff into the Rocky Mountains.

OH. Mountains, we both said.

And so our mountain excursion began.



We landed first near Estes Park at a campground called Moraine Park Campground, surrounded by hills of pines and valleys of elk. We were warned of bears upon entering (apparently, food is not safe in cars! They had four car break-ins by hungry bears in the week before we were there), but pulled ahead anyway to our little site, where we set up camp and nestled in with a campfire as dusk settled in.

We spent the next several days finding our perfect routine:

Wake up early and drink coffee under a crisp sky
Pack a bag with trail mix and peanut butter sandwiches, head out for the day's hike
Scramble through the hike because we didn't start as early as we should have and storm clouds beginning to roll in, as they always do in the early afternoon
Reach the top of the mountain, or the peak of the day's hike; turn around and get back below the tree line just as thunder starts
Return to the campsite, crawl into the tent and onto a thin air mattress; body sore and legs empty of energy, to nap long and heavy while rain sprinkles on the tent
Wake up, poke out of the tent while the sun is pushing through the clouds. It's time for happy hour!
Pull out the camping chairs; stacks a few logs together in the pit and starts the campfire; pull out two cans of Surly Cynic and set a snack on the picnic table
Heat up heat up dinner: a pot of chili, or chicken enchilada bowls
Toast s'mores and sip out of a bottle of honey whiskey as the sky fills with stars

It's those days we dream of when we're back at work.





We packed up our campsite on the fourth day and said goodbye to Estes Park with a drive up a dirt pot-holed road to the Continental Divide, where we saw elk crossing the road and standing in herds by the dozen, and bighorn sheep grazing in the distance.

Now, we were headed toward Boulder - where we found a last-minute hotel deal (hot tub, holla!). It's funny, after a few days of camping, staying at a hotel feels like a real vacation. We cleaned ourselves up and, feeling shiny and new, took to Pearl Street for the evening on a two-person mission to sample as many Colorado beers as we could. We made our way through pints and sampler boards of hoppy beers in every shade of brown from Avery, West Flanders, Walnut Brewery and a few more. The verdict: we like it! In the morning, we pedaled rusty hotel rental bikes up the Boulder Creek Canyon Trail and over to Mountain Sun Brewery, where we ended the stopover with a meal fit for two hungry mountain people: another pint each, a famous burger smeared with goat cheese and dates (Adam's new favorite of all time), and, for me, a massive, massive burrito.

And then, bellies full, we were Aspen-bound.

With no reservations and not many campgrounds in that area, the best option we could find for the night was a nonreservable site at Difficult Campground in the White River National Forest. When I found this campground on my iPhone during the drive there, I also found an article from the local paper titled "Bear aggression on the rise at Pitkin County campgrounds," informing readers that "a bear described as very large to huge" had been menacing this campground in June.

We decided to go for it anyway. Although the campground was just down the road from the highway, it felt quite remote. No ranger station, a drop box for money and an older woman designated as the Campground Host by a sign poked into the ground in front of her RV. We set up camp and had a small fire that night, but no s'mores so as to attract no bears. And thankfully, the night passed uneventfully.

The next day, we woke early to throw our campsite back into our car, and set out for two of the best days ever - a hike on the West Maroon Bells trail from Aspen to Crested Butte, past mountains like I'd never seen.






The route from Aspen to Crested Butte is over 100 miles by car as you wind around the mountains, but just eleven miles by foot. Eleven miles of steep climbs and unreal mountain views, meadows of wildflowers stretching onto green mountain hills; two pristine lakes and a horrendous difficult hike to summit a red-rocked mountain just over halfway that casts your view to infinity in every direction. Those 11 miles took us a tough six hours, with us keeping the a fast pace so we could get over the mountain pass before the afternoon storms came in.

On the other side of the trail, waiting for us was a shuttle to the little mountain town of Crested Butte and our hotel (!!) for the night. Our bodies sore and heads fuzzy from the elevation change, we wandered into the hotel and were greeted by, I'm not kidding, fresh chocolate chip cookies coming out of the oven. (Not to mention, a hot tub with mountain views in the back.) There's no greater blessing for two weary hikers, I swear, than stumbling into a cozy mountain hotel with cookies baking and a hot tub out back. We walked down the street that evening and dined at a restaurant in an old house called Ginger, where we shared bottle of wine as a toast to our best day ever - and crab rangoon, a lamb curry stew and the most gingery shrimp fried rice I've ever eaten to round it out. We were in bed by 9 p.m.

The only shuttle back to the trailhead the next morning was leaving at 6 a.m. So, from the deadest sleep, we woke at 5:30 a.m. to pull on our long underwear and hiking boots in the dark, and set out to do the hike all over again - this time in reverse - back to our car in Aspen. We cursed our luck at this early morning shuttle, but our when our hike took us into a still mountain valley still wet with dew, the sun just lighting the sky behind the mountains and bringing life back to the red and yellow flowers along the path, we considered it a blessing. This morning became my favorite part of the trip.

It didn't hurt that, when we reached the top of the mountain pass this time, we had a take-out carton of ginger fried rice to feast on.






Toward the end of the trip, we coasted down the mountains on rickety breaks, first for a night in Breckenridge, and then to set up our last campsite just outside of Denver near Red Rocks. We were lucky to have tickets to see Yonder Mountain String Band perform that night - so we said goodbye to our Colorado adventure by dancing to bluegrass and drinking Fat Tire under the moonlight.

***

The 14 hour trek back to Minnesota we did in one swoop that Sunday, after waking up at 6:30 a.m. in a hot tent and shoving - I mean, just shoving - our gear back into the trunk of the Cobalt. The drive was uneventful, except for a bad breakfast at a diner somewhere in Nebraska and a llama standing near the road. Adam mostly dozed off, I mostly drove, wired by This American Life and Professor Blastoff podcasts, and bad gas station coffee.

It could have been a somber drive as we watched the mountains disappear behind us and the flat nothingness of Nebraska stretch ahead, but it wasn't. We were tired, we were dirty, and were happy - ready to get home and plot the next big adventure; the two of us.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The old chuck and bung

Well, I've been 29 for a month now, and it seems that the march toward the 30s and that next phase of getting ever lamer (Saturday nights at home in my sweatpants) excitement in the little things seems to be gathering speed.

Take, for instance, this list of things that have brought me moments of true delight lately:

Cleaning out my closet
Changing my car insurance policy (I'm saving big money, people!)
Dairy Queen (OK, this one is not new)
Going to a concert on a Tuesday night, and taking Wednesday off of work so I could sleep in (felt pretty smug about this)
Finding a weeknight dinner recipe that I really liked to add to my regular rotation


But, in all fairness, finding a dinner recipe that is 1. cheap, 2. easy, and 3. tasty is something to get excited about. Am I right? 

Am I right??

I know I'm right. Some nights after work, Adam and I want to eat well, but we just don't want to spend time cooking - and I know we're not alone in this. Maybe we have laundry to do, or dishes to put away, or maybe we've finally picked up our mail for the first time in two weeks and have to sort through the stacks, or maybe we're trying burn through the last few episodes of Dexter season 7 because the final season is starting. You know, adult stuff. It's a blessing and a curse that we have zero good takeout options in our neighborhood, so these types of nights often leave us staring into the fridge, then at each other, then back into the fridge, hoping the issue will solve itself. 

Enter here, this awesome dish of chicken, tomatoes, basil and olives, from Jamie Oliver. Jamie's description of the recipe sums it up perfectly: 

So easy - chuck everything in one tray, then bung in the oven.



Is that not what we're looking for in weeknight recipes? More chucking and bunging, please!

In this recipe, everything is tossed into a pan and roasts for an hour or so - the chicken, tomatoes and chunks of torn-up baguette are infused with garlic, basil and the salty olives. Toward the end, you top the pan with a few slices of prosciutto - tasty and elegant, if you want to go that route. I may leave this off in the future to make this more of an inexpensive go-to meal. 

The best part? Those dang bread cubes; we couldn't stop picking them out of the pan of leftovers, long after dinner was over. They crisp on the top and soak in a little of the juices from the roasting pan on the bottom, and seem to carry the flavor of everything they've touched. Do not skimp on the bread chunks here.

What is on your list of weeknight recipes?

One-Pan Chicken with Tomatoes, Basil, and Olives
Adapted slightly from Jamie Oliver

This seems like a big pan o food, but it's not super filling - there's not a whole ton of meat on the chicken drummies. We made the quantities listed below, and with a big salad, it was just barely enough for a light dinner for two, plus light lunch leftovers for two (with a big salad) the next day. Or maybe we're just big eaters?

One mini baguette, or half of a large one, torn into large-ish chunks
2 lbs chicken drummies (about 8)
2 handfuls cherry tomatoes
Bunch of basil, leaves picked, big leaves torn into smaller pieces
One bulb garlic, broken into cloves, skin left on (I used about 10 cloves)
Handful of olives, pits removed (recipe calls for black olives, I used kalamata)
Olive oil
4-8 slices of prosciutto (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large baking dish big enough for the chicken to fit on one layer (I used an 9x13 cake pan), toss in the torn baguette, chicken, tomatoes, basil, garlic and olives. Drizzle with olive oil and toss everything to coat, then set the chicken pieces on the top of everything else.

Place the pan into the oven and cook for an hour total, turning the chicken once after 30 minutes. Chicken should be tender and cooked through. If using prosciutto, lay the pieces over the top of the chicken, and cook another 5 minutes, until prosciutto is beginning to crisp.





Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Freckled, tousled

I'm still here! It's been a while. I'm back. How are you?

My birthday, Memorial Day and Adam's birthday swallowed me up in the past three weeks, so forgive me, it's been busy. We turned the corner to age 29, and to what feels like summer, too. This time of year is inevitably hectic. Both of our birthdays zip through in the span of nine days, and then march us right into the season of weddings, cabin weekends, camping and general out-of-townness that takes up most of our free hours until the leaves start turning and football Sundays start up again. Welcome to summer, eh? Good thing we live all year for these freckled, tousled moments.

We spent Memorial Day weekend at St. Croix State Park on our first camping trip of the year. We pulled into the park on that Friday afternoon with no reservation, and we were lucky to snag a walk-in site set slightly apart from the overrun loops of the main campgrounds. Our campsite wasn't much, just a shabby little clearing, perched on a small round hilltop with a picnic table and our tent staked at an incline. But, it was quiet and under the stars at night, among a park full of hiking trails and a short walk to the river, which is all we needed.

On Saturday, we took a hike along the river. Now, this sounds lovely, but I can't tell you too much about it because I was too busy flicking wood ticks off my pants and shoes the entire time. Seriously. I knew the grassy trail didn't bode well, but I never expected this. Every 30 steps or so, we had to stop to flick off a tick or two or six. We kept pushing forward, thinking that the trail would have to get better, maybe we would get past the grass onto some pine needles or something for godssake. But it never did.

A good 50 ticks (between the two of us) (and no bites, thankfully) and a near-anxiety attack (for one of us) later, we drove back to our campsite, did a final inspection and cracked open some tall cans of Surly Cynic for a sunny happy hour. Only my favorite beer and the start of a late afternoon campfire could calm my nerves.

Oh, the adventure! Lest I deter you from the great outdoors: the Sunday of our camping weekend was marked with a glorious canoe trip. Or, rather, a glorious float down the river in a canoe while finishing off our beer stash, because the current was so strong that any paddling would have landed us at our destination too soon. So we were content to occasionally poke a paddle into the river to guide the canoe back to the center, and otherwise lay back and munch on Triscuits and laugh at the birds on shore, soak in a quick sunburn in the calm reflection of the river.

Anyway, I've got the great outdoors on my mind. And campfires, dirt under my nails, canoe trips and Starbucks Via coffee packets stirred into hot water in my metal camping mug. I'll tell you about the tinfoil pouches of vegetables and ground beef that we cooked over the fire pit in another post, and maybe the quick french toast that we charred on the grill. Welcome to summer, eh? It's here.






Red Peppers Stuffed with Quinoa and Goat Cheese
Adapted from How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

This is one of my favorite recipes to throw on the grill in the summer, but you can also bake them in the oven. If you plan ahead and make the quinoa a day or two in advance, these are even quicker to stuff together.

4 red peppers, tops trimmed off, seeds removed
1 cup dried quinoa
6 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced
1/2 cup or so walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

Prepare the quinoa: rinse quinoa well; drain. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add quinoa and return to boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer until tender, 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Stir into the quinoa: the goat cheese, basil, walnuts and salt. Divide mixture evenly among the peppers, stuffing it in lightly to fit.

To grill: grill at medium to medium high heat for about 30 minutes, until the quinoa is heated through and the pepper is soft and starts to slump a bit. The bottom of the pepper will likely blacken; this is fine, but you can remove this before serving if you prefer.

To bake: bake in 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, until the quinoa is heated through and the pepper has softened.





Wednesday, May 22, 2013

We get by

Lately, I've had this consuming urge to move out of our condo. Caused partly by our car being towed from our own parking lot without warning (oh, us against the world!!). But even more so because, well, doesn't a gal just want to sprawl out in her own backyard with a vodka lemonade when the weather ticks up into the 80s?

If I could, I would pick a little house somewhere - a place where the walls belong to us alone, with no neighbors roaming above, with enough cupboards in the kitchen (and perhaps a double oven). In aforementioned backyard, my garden would overflow with fresh tomatoes and herbs, and the zucchini would stay in check. And in this yard, I would have my sweet, sweet grilling setup. A charcoal and gas grill for sure, and, eventually, a big green egg. Oh, a girl can dream. 

Grilling runs in my family - the only food my dad cooks is over a flame, and my mom trudges through snow to cook outdoors year round. In my last apartment, I had my parents' old charcoal Weber grill. It was a housewarming gift to me from my parents, worn with the countless roasts and chops that both of them cooked over the years on its now-mangled grates.  The lid was a bit rusty, and the wooden handle was dangling by a loose screw, but I loved that thing. I want to have that grill forever. 

When I took ownership of the grill, I kept it in the backyard of the crumbling fourplex I lived in, on a lawn that was rarely mowed. The long grass quarantined my guests to stand in a row on the sidewalk while I leaned over the grill, the grass tickling over the tops of my ankles. Sometimes we would haul out camping chairs and sit around the grill, talking in the warm summer night until the sky darkened and the mosquitos forced us indoors.

I fancy myself quite the griller by now; we've done pizzas and stuffed peppers, smokey barbecue chicken thighs, cedar-planked salmon and whole turkey breasts. Last summer, I worked at a handful of the grilling seminars at one of the cooking schools in town and picked up a few tricks that way. But I fear that my potential is being stalled by our current rental patio, where no Weber shall go. That's right; grills aren't really allowed here. 

We make do, discretely, with a ramshackle portable gas grill that sits low to the ground, requiring you to crouch down when tending to the food and making sure nothing has somehow started on fire over the mediocre flame. But like I said, we make do! Last weekend, we made more meals on the grill than off - turkey burgers, chicken brats, my favorite quinoa-stuffed red peppers that I'll tell you about later, and this simple cod grilled on a foil tray, topped with a fresh pineapple salsa.





Cod is such a delicate fish that I wouldn't typically consider it a great candidate for the grill, but on Sunday when the sun came back out after the rain, I felt like cooking outside. So I made a little foil tray and set the cod inside (seasoned with salt, pepper and a fish seasoning we picked up), and dotted a few pinches of butter around it. I cooked the cod over a medium flame for about 10 minutes, then - to serve - topped it with this sweet and hot pineapple salsa, flecked with cilantro and heated with serrano pepper. The salsa was perfect on the fish, and great on chips, too - I plan to make it for barbecues all summer long.




Now I just have to figure out a way to make my mom's famous barbecue ribs on our little guy, and then we'll really be in business.

Pineapple Salsa
Adapted from Whole Foods

About the pineapple salsa - pick a nice, ripe pineapple to make sure the salsa is nice and fruity-sweet, and use caution with the serrano pepper. The recipe tells you to remove the seeds, but I got a little cocky and decided to leave about half of them in. Be warned! Serrano peppers are not for the wimpy spirit.

2 cups diced fresh pineapple
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 red onion, small dice
1 serrano pepper, seeds removed!
1 lime, zested and juiced (or more)
Good pinch of salt

Stir everything together. Voila! Add more cilantro, lime or salt, to taste. I think it tastes better after it sits for a bit, an hour or so, to let the flavors meld.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Really letting my hair down

Hi folks. Just a quick post for you today. Adam has been out of town for a business conference since Monday, and he returns tomorrow afternoon. So I only have a few hours left to drink wine and eat ice cream on the couch without shame. And, erm, tidy up the place a little. Perhaps I'm not the clean roommate I thought I was.

I've had quite the exciting "single lady" week so far, though. Really been letting my hair down. Monday night was a frozen pizza and a bottle of wine for one. I had a fridge full of veggies to make a healthy dinner, but decided to bypass that and make a special trip to Trader Joe's for the pizza. I think that's the first time I've ever made a frozen pizza for myself for dinner. Seize the day! I can see why people do that all the time. 

Tuesday morning, I snoozed my alarm six times, from 6:20 to 7:05, a practice that's typically frowned upon in this household. But I am alone this week! And I will not be restricted by the courtesy of turning off my alarm when it goes off the first, or second, or even third time. That evening, I dozed off on the couch after work, and then walked to Whole Foods to make a salad. Just didn't have time for my 7-mile run.

So here we are at Wednesday, and my to-do list hasn't budged a whole lot. But I do feel rejuvenated in a small way; sometimes you just need a few nights of quiet. I did get that 7-mile run in, and whipped up a healthy dinner - an egg mcmuffin, topped with avocado and sriracha. One of my favorite cooking-for-one and post-run meals.

With just a few hours until bed, here's one final thing I can cross off my list - telling you about this pasta I made last week. 


It's a simple pasta tossed with sauteed kale, chickpeas and almonds, topped with chipotle crema. Light and fresh, with a nutritious punch from the chickpeas and kale - it's just the type of carb-heavy food I'm into lately, with all this running and all.

Let's talk about the chipotle crema for a minute. It's a quick blend of just two ingredients, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and greek yogurt. Nice and healthy, right? And it's hot - hot hot - so you may want some extra yogurt on hand to tone it down. But the sauce is a nice change of pace - a creamy, hot topping for this pasta, a welcome reprieve from the all the red-sauce pastas that have been fueling my runs lately.

If you make this, you'll have leftover chipotle crema - here's what I recommend: simmer a can of diced tomatoes with some onion and garlic, then remove from heat and stir in chipotle crema to taste (1-2 cups). Toss this sauce with a shredded rotisserie chicken, and wrap it in to a tortilla for a saucy twist on chicken tacos. Our friends loved it, and so did I.




Pasta with Chickpeas, Kale and Chipotle Crema
Adapted from Food52

The original recipe called for 1 can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce to two cups of greek yogurt. It was way too hot for us; I've adjusted the recipe below.

1/2 pound bow tie pasta (or something similar)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch green kale, sliced 1 inch-wide pieces
3 cloves garlic
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Handful sliced almonds

1/2 can chipotles in adobo sauce
2 cups 2% plain greek yogurt

Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add garlic, cook for 30 seconds until fragrant, the add kale and a few good pinches of salt; stir into garlic and oil. Cook for several minutes until the kale begins to wilt. Add the drained chickpeas and sliced almonds. Continue to cook on medium high, stirring, about two minutes more. Add the 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water; stir until it mostly boils away and the kale wilts down even more.

For the chipotle crema:
Combine the half can of chipotles in adobo (and some of the sauce) and yogurt in a food processor. Blend until smooth; add a little water to think it if necessary. Taste and adjust heat with more peppers or more yogurt.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Balls to the wall

I'VE GOT A LOT TO DO THIS WEEK, just so you know.

It's funny; after a few weeks of too much free time, suddenly a busy agenda feels quite dramatic. Lot's to do this week! I keep telling myself. Better get that laundry put way, because there won't be time. Not this week!

And also: better get that blog post done. Truth is, I've been working on this blog post for days, but it's just not coming out. It's stuck inside me somewhere, sideways, scraping. But now with this VERY BUSY WEEK AHEAD OF ME, it's kind of now or never. Luckily, I'm a "does well under pressure" kind of girl. So here I am. Head down, charging forward.

Anyway, this VERY BUSY WEEK AHEAD OF ME, let me tell you, is the result of a crap ton going on at work all the sudden, and plans every night this week. I had hardly a thing going on in April, and now my "I Love Kittens" calendar is filling up with parties and dinners and babysitting commitments faster than I can scribble it all down. A forecast that includes 70 degree days, and people come right out of the woodwork.

And in addition to those commitments, I am also skidding into week 12 of an 18-week marathon training program, which means it's time to get serious about that, too. I'm getting ready for Grandma's Marathon on June 22, and I haven't quite wrapped my mind around it yet this year. I'm logging the miles and getting the long runs done (my longest run has been just over 15 miles so far). But I'm not excited about it yet. I'm not wanting to test my pace, or push myself harder or farther than the minimum suggested in my training program. I'm not thinking about it constantly, like I was this time last year, when The Marathon seemed to weigh on every decision, every meal, every social engagement that crossed my path that spring. This year, I'm still mostly dragging myself out there, still mostly drinking too much wine. I need to get my head in the game.

So this is the turning point, I've decided. Week 12 is it - time for me to commit. Now or never. All out, balls to the wall, I'm going to shatter my own personal record, let's really do this.

My diet is going to change a little, too. As my weekly mileage climbs to the high 30s and then stretches into the 40s, I need to take care of my body more than ever. My focus will be on protein to repair my muscles, good carbs to fuel my legs, and some healthy fats to nourish my whole self. Here we go. I'm looking forward to "redirecting" my cooking and eating habits a bit over the next few weeks as I start to look at food as fuel, in addition to looking at food as delicious and fun, as I usually do. It's kind of nice to have a sort of nutritional reset once and a while.

The first recipe on deck is for these Thai Spiced Turkey Burgers. I know, I know - turkey burgers. But hear me out on this one. This recipe transforms bland turkey burgers, something I would often consider "sacrificial diet food" - you know, the type of food you eat only because it's the healthy choice - into something special. It has you add a smattering of flavors to the ground turkey - including cinnamon, ginger and sesame oil. While the burgers are cooking, you do a quick pickle of some cucumber slices in rice wine with a splash of orange juice. And to top it all off, I've created my perfect sriracha mayo, which I plan to put on these burgers and everything else from here on out. The mayo isn't necessarily the healthiest condiment of all time, but hey, moderation, right?

I recommend serving these burgers with sweet potato fries, because those are perfect for the sriracha mayo, too. Go figure.

Onward!



Thai-Spiced Turkey Burgers with Quick Pickled Cucumbers and Sriracha Mayo
Burger and cucumber recipes adapted from the Thai Pork Sliders recipe from The Chef's Collaborative Cookbook. Sriracha mayo recipe is all mine.

We've been making these pretty much every week since I found the recipe for Thai Pork Sliders on Katie at the Kitchen Door. For my take on these, I went with ground turkey instead of pork to make the burger a little leaner. I also simplified the pickled cucumber recipe to cut down on the ingredients I would need to buy.

Burgers: 
1 lb ground turkey
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons soy sauce

Stir together all ingredients; set aside to let flavors meld while you prepare the cucumbers. When you are ready to cook, divide into four patties; cook as you normally would on a grill pan on your stove, or on your outdoor grill.

Quick Pickled Cucumbers:
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 large cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced

Whisk together the rice vinegar, honey and orange juice. Add the cucumber slices and stir to coat. Set aside to let the flavors meld while you finish preparing the burgers and mayo.

Sriracha Mayo (you may want to double this): 
1/4 cup mayo
1 tablespoon sriracha
1 teaspoon honey
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt, to taste

Whisk all ingredients together. Adjust seasoning and sriracha to your preference.