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Friday, February 26, 2010

Quinoa Deliciousness!

Last night was a really great night of cooking for me. First time I've ever (completely strangely, I realize) roasted a chicken. (I'll save that for an upcoming post.) But to go with said delicious chicken, I decided to cook some Quinoa--one of my favorite things to eat, yet something I rarely ever cook.

For those who aren't in the "know" quinoa is all the rage. It is all over the news/magazines these days, with nutritionists and chefs alike touting it's "superfoodness." Originally a staple in the Incan diet, it is known as a super grain because it has the highest protein count of any grain. In addition, this protein is of an amazingly high quality--containing all the amino acids you need. It's incredibly versatile, and if I do say so myself, super easy and delish. There are people who make it for breakfast--I'll stick with my steel cut oats, thanks. But for anything that resembles a rice dish or salad, it's perfect. And what's not to love about finding a "carby grain" that actually encourages you to eat seconds! (Which I did last night, and then polished off for lunch today.)

So clearly, I enjoy the stuff. For some reason, I don't make it very often--I have no idea why, and I can tell you that it will be making a serious move into my favorite side dishes to prepare. Last night, I decided to just wing it, and the result was really fantastic. (I have been tooting my own horn about it all day today.) It had the perfect balance of tang, spice, and comforting healthy goodness.

Did I mention this one is SO EASY to make vegetarian? Just sub out vegetable stock for the chicken stock. Or, make this a full meal and add in some extra protein! It's really versatile, which I'm finding I'm drawn to (hence the bulgur risotto) with dishes that are this healthy. It's nice to know you can change it up with spices, herbs, flavor profiles--and make an entirely different meal that your husband doesn't mind eating more than once in a 10-day period.

Make it happen for yourselves! And if I were you, I'd make double this recipe. Trust me, it won't last.

Roasted Poblano and Swiss Chard Quinoa
1 TBSP olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
1 C quinoa
2 C chicken stock (or vegetable, if going vegetarian.)
2 poblano peppers, roasted, peeled and sliced (see below for info)
1 bunch rainbow chard (or other dark green) washed, dried, and chopped
Zest and juice of 1 orange, reserving a bit of zest for garnish
1/4 C goat cheese, crumbled

In a large saucepan, saute onion until softened, about 4 minutes.
Add garlic and cook another minute.
Add quinoa and stir, coating grain in oil and onion mixture
Add chicken stock, season with salt and pepper
Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cover and cook until all the liquid is ALMOST absorbed, approximately 12 minutes. (Check out the box for information on how the quinoa will look when cooked--you will be able to visibly see the grain outline once it's done.)
When quinoa is cooked, add in greens and wilt down (you can recover for a minute or so) stirring to wilt.
When greens are wilting, add in peppers and stir.
Turn off heat, and add zest and juice of orange and goat cheese, and stir GENTLY so as not to totally melt the goat cheese.

**To roast poblanos, or any other peppers, you've got some options:
1-Place on a baking sheet and place directly under broiler, and turn every few minutes until all sides are charred.
2-Place over open (gas) flames on stove and turn while charring. Just be careful.

When peppers are charred, here is MY preferred method of getting the skins off. Lots of people have lots of ways, this is mine. Place peppers in a glass bowl while hot and cover TIGHTLY with plastic wrap. When peppers have cooled, the skins will come off (usually) really easily. Remove stem and seeds before slicing.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Local or Organic: Which is the better choice?

There is a food question that I struggle with almost EVERY time I hit the grocery store. It's no secret that in my little corner of Southwest Michigan, we don't have much in the way of super organic-based grocery stores. No Trader Joes, no Whole Foods. But there are stores that offer organic varieties on most things, and that is always helpful.

But here is the question. Which is better to buy, eat, serve: local or organic? Yes, obviously, both would be ideal. But honestly, unless you're rolling in cash, or live somewhere near a big city, that's tough. It works in the summer--I almost always buy produce that was grown within 5 miles of my house (if not in my own backyard.) I'm a big farm shopper--you'll understand this better if you've ever been out this way. It's farm country. (At our wedding, we served beer and wine that was made 2 miles away from our house.)

While I don't know that all (or even most) of the farmed produce I buy in the summer is organic, I do know that it's in season, and local--and I always feel like that tops everything. But sitting on the couch, eating cottage cheese (local) it made me think about whether or not I should be buying organic cottage cheese, and sacrificing the local quality?

In my quest for healthy living, not just internally but knowing how it makes me look outside, what do I do? I'm not going to forgo tomatoes because they're not in season. I'm guilty of buying blueberries from Peru. I try not to, but at times, I need a strawberry!! I just can't live through the winter on squash and canned vegetables alone--even if I did the canning.

This is not something I know the answer to. I buy farm fresh eggs--organic and local, given how I know the chickens are fed, treated, and cared for. I know a grass-fed beer person--haven't purchased yet, but keep meaning to. And in the summer, we have friends and neighbors who drop off endless amounts of salmon and perch caught in the lake.

But is this enough? Is purchasing organic more important than purchasing local?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Beer, Glorious Beer

"Do not cease to drink beer, to eat, to intoxicate thyself, to make love, and to celebrate the good days."--Egyptian Proverb

Words to live by, right? Perhaps mixed in with some exercise and good judgement now and again. But it has me thinking today, about, well, beer. I had a work thing in Chicago today, and was there with two colleagues/friends from the shop. Getting to Chicago with no afternoon agenda is rare for me these days. Either J and I are going in (at night) for a gig, or for some other very specific reason. (Though, yes, we did go the weekend of Valentine's Day, just to hang.) Becky and Mike and I were lucky enough to be able to roam around for a bit and do some picking up of needed items, and then headed to eat. With all the choices a city has to offer, specifically ones we don't have in SW Michigan, I had kind of assumed we'd eat somewhere...specific. But it was clear we all could "use" a beer, and instead headed to an old work haunt of mine, Jake Melnick's.

As I perused the (newly phenomenal) beer list, I was struck with a decision I often have to make--order something I know I like, or be brave and bold, and order something new. I tend to go towards the latter, and I'm rarely disappointed. I mean, it's work research, right? I should always be looking for something great for my customers. At first look, I decided to try a beer from a brewery in MN, Surly. I had the "Blender" and my friend had the "Furious." Both on tap, they were phenomenal, and though the Furious was much stronger--a great American IPA, the Blender was, strangely, the perfect beer for my veggie burger lunch. Post lunch, while Mike ordered an Ommegang Rare Vos (oh my, always sooo good) and Becky ordered another Rogue Hazelnut, I decided to go the rich, delicious way...toward an Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence. Just freaking delicious, I swear. Like a half-pint of dessert.
Ohmygod! Look at the gorgeousness of that lacing, the beauty of it all! 

My point is not to suggest or review Jake Melnick's, or these beers, or the incredibly fantastic and surreally delicious house-made veggie burger. My point is to encourage you to try new things. Indulge. Sometimes, you need a two-beer lunch. Sometimes, you need to sample something new to find something delightful. Occasionally we all need to stop THINKING so much, and just DO! Whether beer, wine, food...our mother's were right. It DOESN'T hurt to try.

**A little tip: if you're interested in ordering a new draft beer, but are "scared"--ask the server for a taste. They will almost always bring you a little sample so you can be sure not to waste money on something you will not like.**

Monday, February 22, 2010

Queen of the (Matzoh Ball Soup) World!

Sunshine. New shoes. Zero-calorie full flavor ice creams (that don't exist.) My husband begging me to let him rub my shoulders. All things that make me smile on a regular basis.

My matzoh ball soup does the same. So much so, that, even though I made it the other night for dinner, I might just have to make it again to get through this snowy day.

Most of my experience with matzoh ball soup, up until the age of 18, was my grandmother's. (Yes, the aforementioned Evelyn Rosen who wasn't the best cook ever.) Her chicken soup was a very thinned out version of chicken stock--more like a bouillon cube and some water. Her matzoh balls were pretty great, mostly light, generally lacking in flavor. There was always (strangely) one giant carrot in each bowl. But I didn't know any better, and I ate it with glee and delight--hell, it was better than gasoline chicken!

As I became an adult, and eventually tasted other people's matzoh ball soup, I began to see subtle differences in the actual balls themselves. (Please, anyone else's soup was better. Anyone's.) My first visit to The Bagel in Chicago proved a worthwhile experience, and changed my opinion of all things matzoh ball soup. And as I have moved along in the culinary world, I've learned how to make my own version--one that fills my house with amazing smells, doesn't take me 7 years to make, and makes my husband smile. My "balls" are light enough, yet extremely flavorful, and my soup...well, it kicks ass. Yes, I used store-bought organic stock, most always. It's delicious, easy, and accessible! (And, makes my soup not take very long at all!) With all honesty, I don't make my own stock very often--don't have the time, resources, or large carcasses lying around my freezer. This week, however, J is getting roast chicken dinner just so that I can make (and blog about) my own stock recipe.

I just learned a new trick with matzoh balls, that I used last week on this version, and it was hugely helpful! A bit of seltzer in the balls, added to the stock you use, keeps them light while maintaining the flavor profile.

Yum yum gimme some. Almost makes you wish you had a cold, no?

Matzoh Ball Soup
For Soup:
1 TBSP olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 large carrots, diced
4 large celery stalks (and tops, if you have), diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, grated or minced
salt and pepper
3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from stems (or 1 TBSP dried)
1 tsp dried (or fresh) rosemary
1 TBSP red pepper flakes (we like a kick, adjust to your liking)
1 TBSP fresh sage, chopped (or 1 tsp dried--if you have)
2 quarts low-sodium (preferably organic or homemade) chicken stock (or broth, but I like the flavor of stock)
1/2 C whole grain small cut pasta, like ditalini or small shells

In a large, heavy bottom pot or dutch oven, heat oil on medium heat.
Add vegetables, season with salt, and saute approximately 8-10 minutes, until veggies are softened.
Add herbs, red and black pepper, stir.
Add chicken stock, stirring up any brown bits on bottom of pan.
Turn heat to high, bring to a boil.
Turn heat to low, simmer at least 1 hour (if possible, the soup will be just fine after about 20 minutes) covered, with lid slightly ajar.

Add pasta in roughly 6 minutes before serving. (If not serving all at once, make pasta on side and add into each bowl. Pasta will soak up all the liquid if you're saving the soup.)

For Matzoh Balls: (This makes 8 balls)
All disclosure--this recipe is (mostly) on the side of the Matzoh Meal box. I doctor it up a bit.
2 large eggs, beaten
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP light colored oil (I like grapseed or soy)
1/2 C Unsalted Matzoh Meal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1 1/2 TBSP seltzer
1/2 TBSP chicken stock

In a bowl, mix eggs, oil, matzoh meal, salt and pepper.
Add liquids and mix until blended together.
Cover and place in refrigerator for 15 minutes.
With a small ice cream scoop (my preferred method) scoop from bowl and drop into simmering soup.

Cover soup and cook 30-40 minutes.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Beer Wars

I've been in the beer and wine world for about 3 years. I moved into the world somewhat seamlessly, thanks to the influence of first my sister and brother-in-law, and then my husband. I learned to love craft beer, and am always looking to be in on what is new and exciting and cool--even when it doesn't work. The beer industry is huge, and ever changing. Never has that been more apparent than when I saw "Beer Wars" last night.

"Beer Wars" is an independent movie that I only recently heard about. Through  the joys of conversing with my beer cohorts on Twitter, it became clear that this was something I not only wanted, but needed to see. In a nutshell, it explores the United States beer industry, from convenience store to Capitol Hill, and gives huge insights onto just how the few gigantic beer corporations are being challenged by the smaller, independent brewers.

I know this story, and am obviously (given my line of work) a huge fan of the smaller breweries. I most often, unless at a concert and given no other choice, NEVER drink one of the well-known light lager companies--Anheuser-Busch In Bev or Miller Coors. (I'm not defaming those beers, but I don't drink them or enjoy them.) I hear distributors tell stories weekly about the "other guy" who came in to one of the stores and ripped down signage from the competition, but I never realized just how much goes into that shelf space! I love small production lines at larger breweries and even more, love finding a brewery like Jolly Pumpkin (Michigan) that still runs on a 3-barrel system. I'm friends with home brewers, and hold Extreme Beer Fests for my shop.

In the way that I try as hard as I can to eat locally, sustainably, and organically, I feel that beer should be approached similarly. I champion for the little guy who is producing an insanely hoppy and delicious beer that is sold in a 4-pk for $10 WHOLESALE. And this movie only reconfirmed that sensibility.

What was fascinating was learning just how many "beers" the larger companies have acquired over the last decade or so...I, for one, was shocked. For anyone living in the beer community, or someone who just enjoys great craft brew, I highly recommend seeing this. It may not be the best documentary I've ever seen, but man, it was eye opening.

So while you're drinking your Stella, or Corona, or Leffe, make sure to think where that beer is actually coming from. And if you're lucky enough to have a Dogfish Head or a Lagunitas, a Founders or a Stone in your area, visit often and support your local breweries.

**For more information, visit Who Owns What

Thursday, February 18, 2010

"Better than Grandma's?" Split Pea Soup

My grandmother was NOT a good cook. Evelyn Rosen was a wonderful woman who could do many things well, including pouring a great glass of scotch, but cooking was rarely her strong point. We jokingly called Friday Night Chicken "gasoline chicken" and on more than one occasion, the mashed potatoes came out of a box.

She did make a few choice dishes. The black bottoms I still make today (and so do almost all of our cousins), and the bbq beef ribs I now know were mostly delicious due to the high fructose corn syrup'd barbecue sauce she inevitably bought on sale and drowned the ribs in. And she made really good split pea soup. (Though, literally while writing this, my brother just informed me that my grandmother didn't actually MAKE her pea soup. She used the Manischewitz instant pea soup and added water. My memories of childhood will never be the same.)

Until yesterday, I had never even attempted it. Truth be told, before this blog, I don't know I ever even thought of making it. But yesterday, in the grocery store with J, who was craving something "hearty" but new, I came across a bag of split peas and decided to give it a whirl. I looked up a few pea soup recipes, and then basically tossed them aside to create this. It was delicious! Hearty and filling, and chock full of grandma-like goodness. My grandmother used to "put" barley in hers, and when I asked my husband about this, he didn't really seem all that interested. But after we started eating, we both agreed it needed a little bit more texture, even with the seared chicken sausage I used. So next time, maybe some beans, maybe some barley...maybe some extra sauteed carrot added in post-puree. I'll play around with it I suppose.

I won't say it was better than grandma's. I will say it was a little more "gourmet" (hardly, but a little) and that it was really yummy. But mostly? It tasted like my grandmother's, in all the ways that matter.

Split Pea Soup with Chicken Sausage
1 lb chicken sausage (I used the sweet Italian version, with fennel in it) sliced into rounds
2 TBSP olive oil
1 large yellow/spanish onion, chopped
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped (I use the leafy tops, too)
4 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
1 TBSP dried thyme
1 TBSP red pepper flakes
2 tsp Old Bay
salt and pepper
2 C (or 1 lb) split peas, sorted through for stones
2 quarts chicken stock

In large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium heat.
Add cut sausage and sear, stirring every few minutes, until very browned and slightly crispy.
Remove sausage, set aside.
Add remaining oil, onion, carrot, celery and garlic.
Season with salt, to draw moisture out of vegetables. Saute 8-10 min, until veggies are soft.
Season with thyme, red pepper flakes, Old Bay, LOTS of black pepper, and salt. Cook 2 min.
Add peas, toss in vegetables and seasonings. Cook 1 minute.
Raise heat to high, and add chicken stock, scraping up anything stuck to the bottom of pan.
Bring to a boil, lower heat to low, and place lid partially on pot.
Cook until peas are tender, approximately 75 minutes.

When peas are tender, turn off heat.
Blend soup with an immersion blender until just about smooth, but still chunky. You want some texture in the soup, not just baby food. (If you don't have an immersion blender, you can blend in blender or food processor, in batches.)
Taste soup for salt and pepper--I added a lot more black pepper at this point, and a bit of salt.
Add in sausage, return heat to very low until ready to serve.
If waiting to serve, kill heat completely, and reheat.

Serve with some crusty bread (I made this multi-grain loaf--a blog post for another day.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Method to My (Cookie) Madness

There are things, in my cooking life, that I am extremely egotistical about. My chocolate cookies, or almost any variation thereof, are freaking good. Ridiculous. I've been told this by just about anyone who has ever tasted them, especially in the last few years. I send them as birthday gifts, I bake them for lots of events. They are just that good.

I haven't baked them in a long time, though. Probably since October. Between trying to lose the post-wedding weight, working like a fiend, and focusing my culinary efforts of new endeavors, I just lost the gusto for them, I guess. But this morning, I woke up, and was craving them. To be clear, I don't usually eat very many of them. For all those reasons above. J gets the majority, I give them to friends and spoil our bff's kids with lots of them! Making them is my therapy. I love it. Usually a very clean "cook," when it comes to cookie baking, all bets are off. My "cooking counter" is a mess with flour, spoons, eggshells...and I love every single minute of it. I I bake them in batches, eating the raw cookie dough in very small increments as I go along. (Probably why I have no idea just how many cookies this recipe actually yields.)

To be honest, cookie recipes are all basically the same, especially chocolate chip cookies. I didn't reinvent the wheel or anything here. What matters is not necessarily the standard ingredients. What matters, in my recipes anyway, is the little extra touches. Extra brown sugar to keep them chewy. Taking them out 1 minute too early so they stay nice and soft. Not using room temperature butter, much to Martha and Ina's chagrin. (They would probably lose their minds if they knew I also recommend using salted butter!) I vary up the amounts and types of chocolate used, or I add cocoa powder or peanut butter or use agave.

I've just washed the last cookie sheet, and the 36 or so cookies are resting on their cooling racks. 2 are missing--one in my belly (to check the salt content, I swear!) and one to J. After all, what kind of good baker doesn't taste their product every single step of the way?

But the real question: To dunk, or not to dunk? I know my answer...what's yours?

Salty Sweet Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 C all-purpose flour
3/4 C whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 sticks SALTED butter, cold
1 C brown sugar, packed
1/2 raw, unrefined, sugar (you could use plain granulated, but I don't)
2 TBSP vanilla extract (or 1 TBSP extract and 1 TBSP vanilla bean)
2 eggs
1 12oz bag white chocolate chips (I use Ghiardelli)
2 bars Ghiardelli (or similar) semi-sweet or dark chocolate bars, chopped
sea salt, for topping cookies

Preheat oven to 350

Whisk together first four ingredients in bowl, set aside

In stand mixer or with a hand mixer, beat together the sugars and the butter for 4-5 minutes, starting on low and increasing to high speed
When butter mixture is extremely well mixed and appears almost "fluffy" add vanilla. Beat 1 minute
Add eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute in between additions.
Turn mixer to low, and add flour mixture in 4, small batches. Only mix for 30 seconds or so, until flour is BARELY incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl in between additions.
Remove bowl from mixer, fold in chocolate and chips.

Prepare ONLY 2 baking sheets (or at least only put 1 in the oven at a time)
I use a silpat (a silicone baking mat) or parchment paper. Either works. Do not grease.

Spoon out cookies with a small (or large, if that's what you're going for) ice cream scoop. For real, this is the best way to do it. I have 3 different sizes, depending on just how much cookie I want J to eat!
Only put 6 or 8 on the baking sheet at a time. The cookies need room to groove!

Once cookies are scoooped, sprinkle with a tiny bit of coarse seal salt on top of each cookie.

Cook for between 10 and 12 minutes, depending on your oven. I would test at 10 on the first batch, and then see. If they look runny, give them another minute. If they look just a little smushy, take them out. They will carry over cook.

Allow to cool on baking sheet for about 3 minutes (while you prepare the other sheet, if you want.)
Place on a cooling rack covered in parchment.

Allow to cool completely. I only put one in the oven at a time to ensure perfect cooking. If you have an issue with time, go for more, but I know how my oven works. And it only likes 1 sheet at a time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Self-ly Dreamin'

So, I sort of bogarted this recipe for Bulgur Risotto from "Self" magazine. Well, not sort of. I did. But I took their recipe (which no offense, looks a little on the boring side) and made it my own. Normal and usual, I know. This month's "Self" had a whole article on whole grains and why carbs are actually GOOD for you. (By the way, this is always music to my freaking ears, no matter how many times I read/hear/see it!)

Bulgur Wheat is super, "super" high in fiber, and when mixed with the protein from the chicken, you have a "super" meal. Plus, having literally just gotten halfway through my bowl, it is incredibly filling, and I'm guessing will be the bomb, cold, for lunch tomorrow. Not to mention, when you talk about things I'm almost positive I've never used before in my cooking-life, Bulgur is right up there at the top.

I spiced it up a bit, and decided it needed a bit of fat--hence the goat cheese to finish. The goat cheese melts beautifully, and adds the perfect tang to balance out the dish.

Look. This meal is healthy. I'm not pretending it's not. It's a weeknight alternative to eating something LESS healthy, especially if you're feeling less than fabulous about your recent eating habits. (Ahem, I wonder who I'm referring to??) But it's actually REALLY good. I'm home alone tonight, while my rockstar husband plays a 'Fat Tuesday' gig, but I will absolutely recommend it to him for his 1:30am "just got home from gigging" meal. And if you're on the vegetarian side of life (LN, you know this is for you) I think it would be AWESOME with browned tofu instead of chicken. You could probably toss just about anything in here and it would taste good!

I'm going to work on this ingredient a bit, so I'm sure you'll see it again. I've also stocked my pantry with things like Quinoa and Wheatberries to try and use them, too. I eat sooo healthy, but sometimes I like to remember that certain carbs do GOOD things, instead of only adding thickness to my bod.

And for those of you wondering just what the HELL bulgur wheat is, if I can find it in the boondocks of SW Michigan, trust me. So can you.

Please, comment and let me know your thoughts on whole grains, carbs, and thoughts if you make this!

Bulgur and Chicken Risotto
2 TBSP olive oil, divided (1 and 1)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or something similar, or tofu, or pork) largely diced
1 shallot, minced
3 garlic cloves, grated or minced
1 C bulgur wheat
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
1 TBSP oregano
1 TBSP red pepper flakes
1/2 C white wine
2 C chicken stock, heated on the stovetop (if you're going veggie, feel free to use vegetable stock)
1 C Frozen peas
1 red bell pepper, diced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
Goat Cheese for topping

In a large skillet, heat 1 TBSP olive oil and brown off chicken, seasoning with salt and pepper when you add to pan. Remove from pan, set aside.
Add remaining olive oil and shallot, cook 2 minutes
Add garlic, cook additional 1 minute
Add bulgur, salt, pepper, and oregano. Cook 2 minutes, to coat bulgur in oil and vegetables
Add wine, cook 2 minutes, until the alcohol cooks out and the wine has nearly evaporated
Add stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring as you add to develop the starches.
Continue adding stock until bulgur is slightly soupy, about 10 minutes
Add chicken, stir. Cook another 2 minutes
Add pepper and peas, cook 1-2 minutes, until peppers and peas are heated through
(If you need to add more stock to keep it creamy, rock on.)
Add zest and juice of lemon, turn off heat.
Check your seasonings and add salt and pepper if necessary.
Spoon into bowl, add small amount of crumbled goat cheese (preferably by hand)

Drink with water, because come ON people, we're being uber-healthy! Or, a lovely glass of Sancerre or a zero-oaked Chardonnay.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Gym Sucked it Out of Me

Happy Monday y'all. Today is a big day in February. The Olympics are on (sadly, I'm so less-than-interested.) Yesterday was Valentine's Day. It's snowing everywhere from here to the Atlantic Ocean. That chick is most likely totally returning to The Bachelor tonight. One of my best friends found out that she is having a baby boy.

Oh, and I went back to the gym for the first time in a very long time. I'm slightly embarrassed to admit just HOW long it has been, but roughly 4 months. Since my grandmother passed away in October, strangely. I'm fairly certain that those two occurrences have absolutely nothing to do with one another, but it's a very good excuse, no? The truth is, I was burnt out. I was a total gym/workout rat all summer, leading up to my wedding. And let me just tell you, I looked damn good. Best I've ever looked, if I do say so myself. But then, my brother Eric (evil, slightly psychic man) told me to enjoy it, because I'd never look that good again. (I promise, he did not say this with any malice, just in a very matter of fact way.) And damn him if I didn't feel something sucked out of me on that very day. I was excited to eat, and to be lazy (yeah right) and to NOT get up at 6am to hit the sculpting class and treadmill before work. I'm being nice by saying I probably went twice post-wedding. I was busy, what with unpacking wedding gifts and becoming the super home-cook you see here daily. I mean, I had a fancy chef-like Cuisinart, now. What did I need with the gym when I could puree and chop to my heart's content?

Anyway, time has come. I am out of shape. J tells me I look perfect (such a good husband) but the truth is I quickly feel the fab moving to flab. Though I eat very healthy (most days) and am active, I am in no-way-shape-or-form the gorgeous armed goddess I was here. (Ok, I wasn't Michelle Obama or anything, but I liked the way I looked. A lot. Which, for a former fat-girl, is a pretty bold statement.) So this morning, I woke my behind up, in the near dark (and 7 degrees I don't mind telling you) and went to sculpting class. It was hard. My legs shook, my knees creaked, and I actually felt fantabulous.

One problem. I had several healthy meals planned for this week, tonight being a Quinoa stir-fry, and I've lost the will. I'm tired, yo. And so, I'm doing something I haven't done since starting this blog. I'm allowing J to make (I shudder just typing this) boxed mac and cheese, and I'm making something leftovery-salady. I feel pretty damn awful about it, especially since I know, and preach, how easy and quick it is to make mac and cheese from scratch. But between a full-day of "stuff" and the cold and the soreness from this morning creeping up my thighs, I've decided the "exhaustion" far outweighs the guilt.

I promise to come at you tomorrow with a wicked recipe. J has a gig, and though that generally means I spend the night eating a deliciously HUGE salad, out of the salad bowl, on the couch/in bed with today's General Hospital episode on DVR, I will cook. For you.

And before you totally jump down my throat, J eats the mac and cheese DELUXE. The sauce comes out of a packet already liquidy, ok? It's not like I'm feeding him something from powder. Jeez.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Valentine's Day: A Case-Study

I've never been that into Valentine's Day. Or at least I've always tried not to. I can remember giving Shane O'Brian a heart-shaped box of drug store chocolates on the school bus in 5th grade. He did not reciprocate. Shame on him. I'm quite certain that right then and there, I lost my spirit for the holiday. The question is, am I saying that because that's what is true, or because that's what's been drilled into my head and I've been made to think was the right way to think? I mean, what's so wrong with celebrating a day that's meant to celebrate love. It doesn't have to be coupley love--it can be the love you feel for anyone, (in my opinion) right? Who's to say you can't have your bff be your valentine? Or your niece, or your sister, or whomever you love at that particular point in your life? Hell, I say go polygamist for a hot 24 hours and have SEVERAL valentine's!

But truthfully, J and I have always done something super low-key to "not-celebrate" the day. The first year I worked a press opening--he came with me. Then two years of home-cooked meals, and last year, we went out to dinner. We were engaged, a bit stressed out, and it seemed like the right thing to do.  It was not the most fun night of our lives, to say the least. We had a GC (gift certificate, duh) to a restaurant we LOVE in the area, that we were given as an engagement gift. They don't take reservations (even on Valentine's Day--COME ON NOW!) and we had to sit at the bar and wait for about 2 hours before getting seated in the more casual room in the restaurant. It was a great dinner, of course, and the 2 bottles of wine we polished off certainly helped. But it was almost like we put WAY too much pressure on the night. And ourselves.

Any gifts have been awesomely practical. J sometimes gets me underwear (the kind I love but never buy because I can always think of 10 other things we need more.) One year I got my favorite bath robe. This year, he got recording software he would have bought himself--I just beat him to it!

Having said that, (thank you Larry David) I was so unsure about what we should/would do this weekend. I figured I'd cook, we'd hang out, and that would be that. Basically, a normal night, only with more wine. We went back and forth about doing that and going out for about a week--at this point, we're going out tonight, and staying in tomorrow. Again, fairly normal. There will be no large declarations of love via red clothing, no sappy cards, none of that. There will most likely be a slightly intoxicated toast about how happy we are to be married to each other--this being our first V-Day as a married couple. But that's less Valentine's Day and more a few glasses of wine mixed with the knowledge that we are very lucky to have each other.

Eat your heart out, Shane O'Brian!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Finding balance...through pasta??

I, probably like many of you, struggle with balance. Balancing work and home, balancing eating well and enjoying food. Balancing our social life with our never-ending love of relaxing. It's all a big game, a big balancing act. Working from home for most of the week makes this so much harder (a thing anyone who has never worked from home probably does not believe.)

Figuring out how to maintain balance is something that most often escapes me. I try hard, every day. I'm sure we all do. But how do you find that perfect balance? How do you turn off your brain at the appropriate moments? Hell, I can barely sleep certain nights, lying there, exhausted, trying to figure out how to stop thinking about money and beer and wine and shipments and get the picture.

I'm working on that a lot through food right now. Cooking provides me ample ability to turn off my brain, from almost anything that is on my mind. I can easily get lost in it, and find myself smiling on even the worst days, while I'm cooking my way through an old favorite or something new. It allows me, even when it doesn't turn out perfect, to complete something. Usually successfully, which certainly helps with the balance/self-esteem issue.

But it also helps me to work on recipes, while figuring out how to make a comforting, winter-ish, not exactly super duper healthy version of something--and making a very, very similar dish HEALTHY less than a week later. That's what happened the other night, on the last night I cooked during my mom's visit. (Last night she and J were craving BBQ chicken pizza--who am I to deny them?) Last Friday night, while J and I sat and watched Celebrity Rehab and 24, I made what I called 24 Pasta. It was freaking delicious, as I believe I mentioned about 24 times. Well, on the 2nd snowed in day of mom's visit, I cooked a very similar, but much healthier version. I was in a totally different headspace, and wanted/needed something a bit lighter. And I got to tell you it was really, really good.
I'd ideally add some protein into it, maybe chicken, maybe sausage (but the latter kills the super healthy version.) J ate a huge bowl, and mom actually ate a full small bowl, which is a lot for her! I also have serious dreams of making this in the summer, when the tomatoes are fresh and there is fresh basil abundantly growing, and I can add a few more veggies to the mix.

My point is, balancing is hard. It's not the easiest thing we can do. But it's almost diabolical to try and create 2 dishes, both very similar, with two different mindsets and come out triumphant with both. I highly recommend trying it. And trying this. It's damn good.

Light and Happy 24 Pasta (again, I need another good name...)

2 whole bulbs garlic
1/4  cup olive oil
salt and black pepper
1 medium eggplant
1 pound whole wheat spaghetti
2 TBSP red pepper flakes
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 shallots, sliced
1/2 cup white wine 
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
Greens (2 bunches mustard greens, cleaned and chopped)
Zest of 1 whole lemon, juice of half 
Crumbled feta, for topping (I buy blocks of feta, so I just crumbled enough for all of us.)
Preheat oven to 425°F.
Cut ends off garlic bulbs, exposing the tops of the cloves. Place on a piece of foil then drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Wrap garlic up in the foil, roast 45 minutes.
Let cool then squeeze out the garlic cloves from the skins in a bowl and mash with fork. Cover with olive oil, about 1/4 C. Set aside.
Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet. Slice eggplant lengthwise into slices 1/2 inch thick. Brush each piece with some of the roasted garlic oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place eggplant in oven and roast 15-20 minutes until golden and tender. Remove, let cool then cut into 1 inch chunks (bite-sized-ish)

While eggplant roasts, boil large pot of water. Cook spaghetti, and drain.
Place remaining oil with the roasted garlic in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add red pepper flakes, oregano and shallots, sauté about 5-6 minutes, til tender.
 Add wine and stir. Add tomatoes. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Stir in eggplant and heat through. Add greens and wilt into sauce.

Drain pasta and toss with sauce. Adjust salt and pepper to taste, add zest of whole lemon and 1/2 lemon juice.
Dish into large bowls and top with crumbled feta.
We had this with a great White Burgundy, super reasonably priced I might add, that I love. You could also go with a light bodied Pinot Noir.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"It Smells So Good!"

As I said yesterday, I made slow-cooking, all day chili during my snowy day. All day, from noon on, we all just kept saying how GOOD it smelled in the house. It was awe-inspiring, almost. Ok, that's a bit much, but it really did smell amazing.
                 *Sorry--I only remembered to take a picture after we had all eaten!*

I've become quite fond of making chili these days. I don't think I've made the exact same one twice this winter, but keep working on a theme. I've come to realize that if you have the time, using dried beans in chili really makes a difference. You don't have to pre-soak them if you have 2-3 hours to let the chili (or soup, or whatever deliciousness is gracing your dutch oven) cook. You just toss them into the hot pot and let 'em rip! They add a natural thickness to the chili without having to add anything or reduce the chili all that much. Not to mention, they have much less sodium and are just tastier sometimes!

I also added hominy to this, which is one of my favorite things in the world. Hominy is a staple in a lot of Southern and Mexican cooking, and adds a great thickness and flavor to chili, soup, and stew. You can find it in a can, and I add the whole shebang to this chili. Though hominy is not ACTUALLY a whole grain, it's a very healthy carb! If you've ever had Posole, you've had hominy. And if you've ever been to that amazing speakeasy Manifesto in Kansas City, you've hopefully eaten the insanely wonderful fried hominy. (Something I hope to replicate someday...)

I don't mind tooting my own horn and telling you it was freaking amazingly delicious. I mean, so good that I had seconds, and it wasn't like I had a very small bowl to begin with! All in all, it was healthy(ish.) Venison is a very lean meat, and aside from the added fat to make it into sausage, everything else was super good for you! Veggies, bad could that be, right? 

It's not snowing right now, but we're supposed to get a bit more before it's over, and I don't see us leaving the house today. So the real question is, what the heck am I going to make to top this??

Venison Slow-Cooking Chili
1 pkg (4 medium links) venison sausage (or any kind you'd like to use), cut into half-moons
2 TBSP olive oil
1 large yellow or spanish onion, diced
5 medium cloves of garlic, grated or minced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 poblano pepper, diced
1 TBSP dried oregano
2 TBSP red pepper flakes
1 TBSP coriander
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp rosemary
salt and pepper
1 medium bodied beer (I used Abita Amber)
1 28oz can hominy, drained
6-8 cups chicken stock (about 2 boxes)
1/2 C dried cannellini beans

In a large, heavy bottomed, preferably dutch oven pot, heat 1 TBSP olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, and cook until fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. (This will change depending on the kind of sausage you use.)
Remove sausage with a slotted spoon, and set aside. Lower heat to medium-low.
Add onion, both peppers to the pan. If the veggies look a bit dry (again, depending on the amount of fat your meat gave off) add another drizzle of olive oil. Cook 5-6 minutes, until veggies are softened.
Add garlic, stir, cook another minute.
Add spices, salt and pepper, and stir. Let cook 1 minute.
Raise heat to medium-high, and add beer to deglaze. Stir up all the bits of brown stuff from the bottom of the pot. Let beer cook down, about 3-4 minutes.
Add hominy, stir.
Add chicken stock, stir.
Add beans. stir.
Let chili come up to a bubble and lower heat to very low. 
Place lid on pot and cook for 2 1/2-3hrs, checking and stirring every once in a while.
When beans are cooked and tender, remove lid and continue cooking for about 30 minutes, if you want chili to reduce a bit more. (It should reduce by 1/4 by the time you serve.)

Serve with crusty bread or tortilla chips--I used these incredible multigrain chips.
Drizzle with a bit of balsamic vinegar and hot sauce and serve. (J added sour cream, of course.)

If you're looking for a glass of wine on your snowy chili day, I'd reach for a Malbec to go with this. The spice will go wonderfully with the mild heat of the chili, and the salt will balance it all out. Or, try a Carmenere, which is a bit more mellow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Days

I live in Southwest Michigan. It's gorgeous here--summers by the lake, the leaves change color beautifully, and we have fantastic snow days. There are days when J and I LITERALLY cannot leave our house. Those are the days when we watch endless movies and marathons of bad tv, drink pots of tea and then move on to some phenomenal beer we've been saving.

It's snowing today, and we, like the rest of the country it seems, are getting hammered. We're supposed to get about 18 inches by tomorrow night. Ordinarily, this would delight me to no end, and quite honestly, it does. But my mom is visiting, and it limits our ability to do much of anything fun. So we sit, and I work, and we're watching The View, and I'm laughing hysterically about how angry the ladies are getting about the thought of Howard Stern taking over for Simon on American Idol. It's causing some serious belly-laughing, which helps on a snow day.

So today, and most likely tomorrow, I will cook, and eat, and drink tea, and maybe have a beer or two. In approximately 1 hour, I will start cooking the chili with the Venison sausage given to us by good friends. I will eagerly use dried beans instead of canned, because, well, I actually have time. I will move from couch to kitchen with ease and excitement, tasting and testing. And 6 or so hours later, we will eat it, and it will (hopefully) rock.

I will work, with laptop on lap (never a product so aptly named) and I will half-listen to whatever is on the television that mom is watching.

But for most of the day, I'll look out the window at a sea of sparkly white, and smile. Because it's days like this that make me so excited that we live here, and as soon as the snow stops and becomes a nuisance and turns brown and muddy and icky, I won't love it as much. But it's remarkable.

Any snow day cures from the peanut gallery? What do YOU do on snowy days when leaving the house is the worst idea ever?

Saturday, February 6, 2010


This is my version of the popular religious acronym. Because, in almost all cases, one can ask themselves, "What would Jack Bauer do?"

Last night, on my way home from work, I stopped at the store to pick up SOMETHING to make for dinner. (Don't worry, recipe is below.) One of those, I'll just pull this all together with no recipes kind of night. J had asked for spaghetti and meatballs, and given the long week we'd had, I was more than willing to oblige. Unfortunately, there wasn't any good-looking ground meat at my favorite market that I always talk about here and so I just grabbed some stuff and ran with it.

When I got close to home, J called and said he wanted to do "date night"...what a sweetheart! I came inside and we chatted about the options, eventually succumbing to the knowledge that I had just purchased an enormous whole wheat baguette to eat with dinner that would NOT be good by the time we got around to eating it if we went out. (There were other factors, as well, I guess.) But there was more. There was the down right attractive knowledge that we had several fantastic things on our DVR from being away, that we should probably get to, before things doubled up on us. (I HATE when our DVR doubles up--it's a pet peeve. I get overwhelmed.) And so we decided on a "state night." State night is our version of a staycation, a stay at home date. :)

I set to work making dinner, with a 7:30ish deadline, and created an awfully good meal. It was so yummy that I ignored my inner health-nut and ate seconds. Ah, delish! We ate in front of the tv (why lie and say we didn't?) and turned on another huge fav, "Celebrity Rehab." Judge if you must, but it's amazing. Playing Camera 1, Camera 2 with Heidi Fleiss and Mackenzie Phillips, understanding why that one guy got kicked out of 'Alice in Chains' and questioning just why that fabulous Shelly chick doesn't own a brush. It's wonderful, and a great way to unwind after a long week.

Sidebar: J and I don't like watching dramas or anything that involves our brains while eating. We like to focus on the food, and have some delightful giggling in the background, the ability to pause and discuss what we would have done differently with the food, and so on.

Once the dishes were done and the kitchen was clean, I made us some tea, and we turned "him" on. In all his glory. Jack. Uncle Jack!!!  I've been watching 24 since the beginning, save a few seasons in the middle where I didn't care. But in the last 4 years, J and I have watched. We know it's gone down hill a bit, but yet, we're there, through every ridiculous gun fight, building jump, and helicopter rescue. Not to mention the ABSOLUTE DELIGHT at watching Chloe's crazy-face reactions to things.

But here's a question. Is it just me, or does it REALLY seem like they're grooming Freddie Prinze Jr. to be the NEW Jack Bauer?

24 Pasta (For lack of a better name at this moment)
3-4 C marinara sauce (jarred, or your own)
1 pkg spaghetti fettuccine (I used fresh, and it was some gourmet brand thing--super yum!)
1 TBSP olive oil
1-2 large sausages (I actually used a chianti sopressata), cut into large half-moons
1-2 large bunches of dark greens (I used mustard greens, my new favorite), cleaned, stemmed, and chopped into large chunks
1 container bocconcini (mozzarella balls, or you could just dice up a large chunk of fresh mozz)
 1/4 C parsley, chopped
Zest of one large lemon
Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (for serving, use whatever you've got/want)

Before you heat the sauce, heat a large pot (large enough to toss the pasta and sauce) on medium-high heat. Add olive oil.
Toss in the sausage chunks, and render out the fat--meaning, cook them until they are a bit crispy. 
With a slotted spoon, remove the sausage and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Set aside.

If you're cooking the sauce from scratch, now you would want to add the onions, and move forward. Otherwise, just add the marinara to the remaining oil in the pan, and heat through. (If you are using jarred sauce, I would add a bit of red wine, some crushed red pepper, and some extra seasonings--but that's just me.) Simmer on low. 
Boil the pasta. If you're using fresh, it will take all of 4 minutes.
While pasta boils, add sausage and dark greens to sauce, and allow greens to wilt (about 4-5 minutes).
Drain pasta.
Turn off heat under sauce, and add drained pasta.
Season with salt (if necessary) and black pepper.
Begin tossing the pasta, using tongs. 
Add in the lemon zest and the mozzarella balls. Stir, toss, and do whatever you need to to make sure the pasta is WELL COATED. The cheese will start getting all melty and amazing.

Serve in large bowls (or whatever bowls you'd like--we like large bowls!) and add grated Pecorino  Romano to taste. Stick two thick slices of a whole wheat (again, or whatever) baguette on either side of the dish, and use that to MOP UP the remaining sauce.

We drank this with a bottle of wine I had open from Wine Friday, but truthfully, this begs for something either Italian or French, in my opinion. Try an earthy (but not expensive) Cotes du Rhone. This one is really good, and the bite from the mustard greens and the Pecorino will balance out nicely.

Enjoy, preferably in front of the tv. Now THAT is WWJBD! (Ok, probably not, but still...)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

"Julie and Julia"... And Judd.

(Jayson has a tendency to take lots of pictures on planes. I was not aware he took this until after.)

Judd Apatow should have conceived the screenplay for, and directed, the movie "Julie and Julia." I say this, on a flight home from NY, having literally just closed the book after reading every last page. I say this because though I find Judd Apatow's movies most often hilarious, I often find them 45 minutes longer than they need to be. However, if Judd had adapted and written "Julie and Julia," the movie might have left me feeling much more like I do now...inspired, delighted, and joyful.

I purchased "Julie and Julia" (the book) before seeing the movie--one should almost always read the book before the movie, if possible, in my opinion. I started reading it on a short flight from Chicago to Kansas City in January. Unfortunately, I got sick on that trip, and J, my brother E, and I wound up watching a LOT of On Demand movies. I mean we're talking 5 or 6. One of which was "Julie and Julia." (Coincidentally, we also watched--and loved--Judd Apatow's "Funny People" on that same trip.) I did NOT enjoy the movie very much. For someone who loves food, loves cooking, loves viewing the incapacitation of an otherwise slightly-sane woman taking down by boning a duck, I was severely underwhelmed. Nothing personal, but I could not STAND Amy Adams' performance. I found the character (or person) Julie Powell to be insipid, annoying, whiney, and otherwise displeasing. In fact, the only things I LIKED about the movie, were the parts about Julia Child. If Meryl Streep had only made a biopic about Julia Child, I would have been much happier. (In truth, I actually LOVED the parts with Meryl and Stanley Tucci.)

I didn't return to the book for a few weeks, until this trip to NY. I figured it was my duty, now that I had started blogging about food, to read it and be ready to fight off the non-stop comparisons. About halfway through our flight to Albany, I realized I was falling in love with the writer. Part of this is because the movie does her absolutely no justice. None. They changed so many (in my opinion) crucial parts of the story that you almost have to hate the movie-version of her. In the book (I'm not giving anything away that you won't read in the first 10 pages) she is actually a "never-acted struggling actress" turned temp, and she comes by the project so much more organically than she does in the movie. The movie portrays her as a struggling writer who, hmmmm, just DECIDES she's going to cook every recipe in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in 365 days. In the book (or what I like to hope is real life) she basically stumbles onto this idea during a more than slight nervous breakdown in a bodega after a really crappy gynecologist visit. That sings to me so much more than thinking that a struggling writer who just wanted to write. I don't know why.

In addition, the book is just interspersed with letters from Julia Child's husband Paul. The movie does a side-by-side comparison of Julie/Julia, and it's hard to grasp Julie Powell very well. The book is almost a true memoir, riddled with cooking and recipes and David Strathairn. That is not to say I didn't find her whiny at times--she is, and would/did/has admitted it. So is Elizabeth Gilbert, so is almost every writer who has tackled a project this personal, or so it seems. She takes her amazing husband for granted a lot, and is judgmental, and is, well, insanely narcissistic. But she's also very lovable, and realizes that she's mean to her amazing husband and makes up for it, and realizes she's judgmental to her friends and supports them all at the end of the day.

I don't want to give away too much, in case people read or are reading the book, or haven't seen the movie yet. But the truth is simple, at least for me. Julie Powell stumbled upon so much more than how to cook french food during her true exploration over a 365 day period. She learned how to like herself, how to find something she loved doing, and consequently make money doing it. She learned to get out of her head, at least slightly, and to not mind it all so much.

She talks about sex. A lot. And she also learned to make a kick-ass mayonnaise by hand.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Here Fishy Fishy Fish (Tacos)...

I'm in New York, at my parent's house. We've been here since Sunday night, and are leaving on Thursday. My parent's house is most often interchangeable with "the place where I automatically gain 5 lbs." Does that happen to everyone when they go home? No idea why, but it probably has something to do with the fact that my mom has things I would never HAVE in my house, like a constant supply of feta-stuffed olives and every kind of hummus imaginable and cheeses up the wazoo. How can one say no?

Yesterday, before my mom and I headed out to do some errands, she asked me if I felt like cooking dinner. Um, hello...does she know me? OF COURSE I do! It's the best form of "being away from home out of control feeling" therapy I can think of, so I was all over it. The question of what to cook is always a tough one, but here it's even harder, because the world is literally my oyster. The market here is unbelievable for most people, but for a girl who lives in a place with no fish monger, no Trader Joes, no Whole's mecca. (The fact that Mom picks up the tab for the groceries is also a huge bliss-factor, I won't lie.)

I mentioned tacos and Mom's eyes lit up. Done. Chicken or fish, depending on "what looked good at Adams." (I get giddy just being able to write that, let alone actually think it!) There was some lovely Scrod at the fish counter, among other, done! I decided I'd oven-fry it, and picked up a bunch of other things to make to go with it. Cabbage slaw. Mango salsa. Black beans and rice. Blue AND white corn tortillas. Mmmmm.

I've made the oven-fried coating before, but for chicken. It was a bit tougher on the fish, due to the delicate nature of said animal product, so I think next time I would just steam it in the oven with some citrus and spices. And the mango salsa I've been making in some form or another since my days in NYC at E. 63rd Street when my sister and I FIRST started Taco Night. And the slaw...well, I made it up the moment we got home and it was awesome! The recipe is below for you, and I think it's not only the perfect pair for a fish taco, but for any kind of taco--especially in the warmer days. I might actually serve it with some mexican kind of bbq for Cinco de Mayo (also known as the day after my husband's birthday when we celebrate. A lot.)

My parents were more than impressed with dinner. I don't think I've seen my dad eat that much in one sitting in a very long time. J loved it and told me I outdid myself--always the real test of any meal I create, as he is always the most important critic in my opinion. We all sat around the dinner table, eating almost every last bite until we were all stuffed. Literally.

The best part? Mom did the dishes. Gotta love her.

Cabbage Slaw Salad (for fish or other tacos)
Serves 4 people

1/4 large head of red cabbage, finely shredded
1 red bell pepper, finely sliced
1/4 C good quality silver tequila (I used Cuervo 1800, it was in the bar)
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 C olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine cabbage and bell pepper in a bowl.
Mix the dressing (the remaining ingredients) and whisk together in a bowl.
Add to cabbage and pepper and toss VERY well.
Cover, let sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving.

Add in tacos with salsa, fish, whatever you'd like! And then snack on it at the dinner table in a way that irritates your mom because you refuse to put some on your plate and instead keep sticking your fork into the bowl.
Exclaim "ah, we're just family!"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stir Your Way Into a Better Mood: Risotto 101

Have you ever had one of those days that felt like THE WORST day of your life? One of those "I'll never get through this without a total nervous breakdown and if I do it will be a miracle and I might require a bottle of wine/vodka/tequila and I definitely cannot cook dinner tonight and will be eating beefaroni out of a can if necessary." Yes, we've all had them, we all might have one this week and we'll all DEFINITELY have one in the near future.

I had one last week. A bad one. A craptastic day at work mixed with end of the month budget situations added to just enough stress to make me realize I needed an extremely high calorie count to even begin to cope. I was at the shop for a few hours, and in the last hour, J (who was there working on something else) and I split several Young's Double Chocolate Stout's with our friends/my colleagues. We literally couldn't decide what to eat, and the slight beer/chocolate buzz didn't help. A quick mental check of the budget and a meal at home was deemed the event. We stopped at the market on the way home--the good one, with the freshest produce (even in the winter, mostly local if possible) and some fabulous gourmet niceties. I wanted to spend zero time and zero money, and we were looking in the "prepared by the fancy Garden Center chef-type" case. And for some reason, it hit me. If I were a cartoon character, a lightbulb would have literally popped on over my stress-case head. Risotto. Now, I'm ALMOST positive I've never actually made Risotto. My husband swears I've made it once before, but in that way that I'm almost always certain he's thinking of someone else/some other dish/some movie, I think he's wrong. At the very least, I don't remember ever making risotto. I've seen it done on TV countless times, and always enjoy eating it. But almost every chef (aside from Rachael Ray, who says everything can be done in 30 minutes) says it is time consuming and stressful. Yet for some reason, this was the dish I KNEW I would be making on the stressiest of stressful days. A glance at the gorgeous Chorizo in the market and the knowledge of the other ingredients in my house convinced me I would BS a recipe from thin air--red wine and chorizo risotto with peas. Done.

**This was the best of all the photos we took. We're getting there, and appreciate your braveness and imagination.**

Now, um, to figure it out. I knew the drill. Heat a quart of stock on the stove. Saute onions and garlic in oil (or butter) and add Arborio Rice. Toast in the fatty garlic/onion mixture. Deglaze. Add stock one ladle full at a time, stirring constantly as the risotto comes together and gets creamy and delish. Finish with butter and cheese. Serve immediately. Armed with that knowledge, I literally pulled this out of my insanely perturbed with my life behind. It was FREAKING delicious. It was so delicious that I ate the leftovers, cold, out of the fridge for the next few days. It was like mac and cheese only slightly more fancy, and the depth of flavor was insane. But here is the most important part. It calmed me down. I SWEAR! I'm not making it up. Perhaps it was the constant attention to the cooking process that helped--I really didn't want to think about the crappy day, because I was more into thinking about the crazy thought I had about cooking something like this for the first time with a slight buzz and my head somewhere else. By the time we sat down to dinner, I was in a remarkably better mood, and could breathe again.

Risotto is definitely not for the low-cal set. I probably could have gotten away with using less or no butter to finish the dish, but it added such a gorgeous finish. I can't wait to try different kinds, for special occasions, and spice it up with whatever meat/cheese/wine/stock I have around. It's not an every day kind of meal, but it has a bad reputation for being so intimidating. It really wasn't that difficult, and I have faith that as long as you have the patience to sit in the kitchen for 20-30 minutes, you're all good in the hood.

Red Wine and Chorizo Risotto with Peas

1 C diced (large dice) spanish (hard) chorizo
1/2 T olive oil
1 small yellow onion (or 1/2 a large onion), finely minced
3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 C Arborio rice
2 C dry red wine (I used a Rioja--it was open) :)
4 C chicken stock, warmed on the stove
2 T butter, diced
1 C frozen (or fresh) peas
1/4 C chopped parsley
1/4 C grated Manchego cheese (you could also use Pecorino Romano)

Warm stock in saucepan on stove. Bring to a simmer and keep warm.
Heat a large saute pan on medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and cook out until the meat is crispy and the fat is rendered. 
Remove chorizo with a slotted spoon. (If there is TOO much fat in the pan, drain a tiny bit.) 
Add the onion and olive oil and cook 3-4 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
Add the garlic, cook an additional 1 minute.
Add the rice. Stir for about 3-4 minutes, toasting the rice.
Add the wine, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. 
Cook out the wine for 2-3 minutes.
Lower the heat to low.
Begin adding stock, one ladle at a time (two if it's a smaller ladle) and stir constantly with a wooden spoon.
You're basically stirring the starches out of the rice, and you want to stir (not meanly) until the liquid is absorbed.
Repeat until all the stock has been used, and the rice is JUST al dente. (Keep testing it, starting when you have just a few ladles of stock left in the pot.)
When the rice is done, finish with the peas (the heat from the risotto will heat them through) the butter, and the cheese.
Fold everything in together, and serve immediately.

You could serve with a spinach salad, but let's be real. With the day I had that day, I heaped a GIANT MESS of it into large bowls, and J and I sat down in front of bad television, and gorged.
And then promptly entered into food comas while watching '24.'