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.


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.

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.