Friday, December 17, 2010

Recipe Snapshots: Christmas Cookies

Because work and life have been very busy this December, I haven't had the opportunity yet to back any Christmas cookies.  This pains me.  But it will be remedied soon, when my husband and I head to Kentucky to visit my mom and step-dad for Christmas.  My mom and I plan to get our bake on!  Seeing that many of you may wish to do some baking this weekend, here are some of the recipes I used last year, most of which are likely to be repeated this year!

Peanut Butter KissesWe all remember these from childhood, right?  Well, I had to make them myself, and they were easy and delicious.  The recipe made about 93847587583 cookies, though, so keep that in mind.  I also made a slight upgrade to the basic recipe: I used the dark chocolate kisses.  Yum!

More recipes (and pictures!) below the cut!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Spaghetti all' Elsa and Roasted Sausages with Peppers and Onions

The holiday season is busy for many of us.  This week in particular, I have a lot going on at work, in addition to trying to make the holidays happen (Christmas shopping, decorating, and working on Christmas cards).  In these situations, I love a recipe that will make a lot of leftovers.  These recipes do just that--they will make about 6-8 servings, depending how generous you are.  Which is fantastic!

I'm not always the biggest fan of Rachael Ray, mostly because I find her a little irritating on TV.  But I've made a few of her recipes that were all pretty I will try to be more kind in my assessment.  Of the recipes I've tried, Spaghetti all' Elsa and Roasted Sausages with Peppers and Onions are probably my favorites.  (FYI, I skip the cheesy bread part of that second recipe, as this already makes SO MUCH food.  Maybe if I were feeding an army I might try it...)  The other great thing about these recipes is that they aired together on a episode of "Thirty Minute Meals."  I've never actually managed to make this meal in 30 minutes, but it doesn't take much longer than that.  A great help on a busy Monday night!

Recipes and photos below the cut!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Recipe Snapshot: French Chicken

This recipe is known in our home simply as "French chicken."  I think it has a real name, but being that I found the recipe in French (with its French name), I find it's simpler to stick with "French chicken."  I love this recipe.  It's easy, delicious, and impressive.  I've made it for guests, including a special birthday dinner for a friend this past fall.  I also made it last night on an ordinary Tuesday, because I happened to have all the ingredients on hand, and I felt like it.  What else makes it great?  It tastes, somehow, French, without being fussy or complicated (unlike the traditional boeuf bourguignon that I made that took nearly 7 hours to complete).

I often serve this chicken with haricot verts (fancy-sounding French words for skinny green beans) and some kind of potato.  Last night I served it with a green salad and some spaghetti squash.  I love that it has come out perfectly every time I make it.  And like I said above, it just tastes "French."  I think it's the Dijon (must use real Dijon, not plain yellow mustard or the grainy stuff) and the herbs.  If my guess is right, this is actually pretty healthy, as well.  Think about it--the only real fat is the Parmesan and the pine nuts.

Recipe is below the cut.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Tidbits

My apologies for being a neglectful food blogger.  My husband and I took a long weekend last weekend to visit my undergraduate alma mater and attend a football game.  There was no cooking to be done.  And since our return, I seem to have picked up a head cold, so the only cooking going on in our house has been microwaved soup.  I hope to pick things up again after Thanksgiving--so many Christmas recipes to dream about!

Nevertheless, Thanksgiving is next week.  My husband and I will be visiting his parents in New Jersey for the holiday, so I won't be cooking.  Part of me is relieved, but a bigger part is actually sad not to be hosting.  I've made Thanksgiving dinner a couple of times in years past, and with careful planning, it's actually been pretty fun!  And being the control freak that I am, I LOVE planning menus.  But such is life!

For those of you who have not yet planned out your Thanksgiving menu in full, I thought I'd share a couple of recipes I've really enjoyed--high on flavor, low on effort.  I can't share my favorite recipe (mashed potatoes), because it's a family secret.  Well, not really--mostly I don't follow a recipe.  I cook potatoes and mash them up with butter, milk, and sour cream.  And voila, mashed potatoes.  Anticlimactic, isn't it?

Fresh Herb Stuffing from Real Simple magazine: I also sauteed some sliced mushrooms and added those to the mix when I made this. I like this recipe because you can completely control how moist your stuffing is.  I prefer mine to be soft but not soggy (all the better to cover in gravy), but I know my husband likes his much drier.  (I give him the crustier edges.)  I like this recipe because it's easy, has a traditional flavor, and it shares many of the same ingredients as other dishes, so it's low stress.  I enjoy a fancy sausage stuffing as much as the next girl, but really, if you're making dinner by yourself, why make it more complicated than it needs to be?

Cranberry and Dried Cherry Relish from Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazine: Could this be any easier???  No!  And that's why it's perfect.  You can spice it up with some cinnamon and/or ginger if you'd like, but this is also good as is.  And the fact that you could make it in your sleep doesn't hurt!

Please promise me that you'll make your own gravy.  Promise?  It's really quite easy, and it seems a shame to waste the juices from the gorgeous turkey you roasted.  If you've been to scared to try it in the past, just follow these steps.  Classic Gravy from Real Simple.  If you don't have wine on hand, you can just use more broth.

Also note that if you've got a smaller group to cook for, go ahead and roast a turkey breast rather than a whole turkey.  Because you're only cooking the breast meat, it will cook faster and more evenly, and it will be the juiciest turkey you've ever had.  Trust me!  Because the breast is leaner, you'll have fewer juices in the pan for gravy, FYI.

Best of luck, everyone!  Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Cinnamon Apple Crepes

I woke up Saturday morning with the urge to make crepes for breakfast.  This has never happened before, as I usually have the urge to let my husband make me an English muffin and some coffee.  But I went with it.  I had seen a recipe for pumpkin spice crepes a while back, and decided those could be easily adapted.  (I might try the pumpkin version later, though.)

Believe it or not, I've never really made crepes before, despite my francophilia.  These took a little getting used to, but after a couple disasters, I got the hang of it!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Creamy Pumpkin Soup

I feel like a bad food blogger.  It's been too long, and I know it.  But in my defense, it's been a crazy week.  Last weekend was a bit of a whirlwind, and then on Monday and Tuesday, I traveled to Portland, Oregon for work.  Yes, 5,600+ miles in less than 48 hours.  And so I've been...wrecked...since then. Then yesterday I had a medical procedure that required anesthesia, so I wasn't allowed to do much in the kitchen when I got home. All I have cooked in the last week has been a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches.  Hopefully that will change today!

In other news, my dark chocolate cupcakes with pumpkin cream cheese frosting won the Halloween Bake Sale/Contest at work in a couple of categories--Most Wicked and Most Haunted; I came in second for Most Creepy, and tied for third for Best in Show.  So that's good, right?

Last weekend was Halloween, and despite the fact that I needed to wake up at 3 in the morning on Monday to make it to the airport to catch my flight, I did want to "celebrate," even if in a small way.  We only had a few trick-or-treaters (anyone want a Kit-Kat?  We have lots!), but luckily that gave me time to whip up a little something for the holiday: creamy pumpkin soup.

I've been making this recipe for years, and have shared it with several friends.  I think it could be a perfect first course at Thanksgiving dinner, but it's also perfect for a simple Sunday supper on Halloween, especially when accompanied by the perfect grilled cheese sandwich (which it was this past Sunday!).

I originally found this recipe online at, but I have made some alterations.  First, I don't make the cinnamon croutons; second, I use much much much less cream, as the soup doesn't need it.

More below the cut!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Apple Cider Braised Pork with Onions and Leeks (sort of)

I really like braising meat, as I believe I've said before (braised short ribs)  It's pretty much the easiest thing you can do that delivers such amazing results, though admittedly it takes a while.  The good news is that most of that time is hands-off from you.

This isn't quite a true step-by-step posting, as I had guests over for dinner, and then I got a tiny bit flustered,
and then I didn't take pictures.  It happens.  Sorry!

More below the cut.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Best Ever Apple Pie

First things first--time for a confession.  I made a pie yesterday.  An apple one.  But I did not make pie crust.  Yes, yes, I know *how* to make pie crust.  I just...didn't feel like it.  And I'd never used the ready-made stuff before, so I wanted to see how good it was (and just how easy).  And let me tell you...I can see why people don't bother to make their own crust.  :)  The Pillsbury stuff tasted good and was the easiest thing to use ever.

Okay, now that that's over...I *did* make the filling, which I think is more complicated than the crust.  Have you ever had apple pie where the apples weren't soft enough? (Ick.)  Where they were still sour tasting and not saucy enough?  (Gross.)  Well, if you make this filling, you will not experience that.  This smelled like...heaven.  And it tasted pretty great, too.  So if, like me, you've been scared or nervous to make an apple pie...fear not!  Try this recipe (and consider cheating with a storebought pie crust if you must), and you'll feel like a pro!

Friday, October 22, 2010

And the winner is...

Based on the votes from your comments, comments on Facebook, and a couple by email...Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting is the winner.  Thanks for voting, everyone! I might whip up a half batch this weekend to make sure I'm comfortable with the recipe.  Maybe pictures, too?

My apologies for being so quiet lately.  My husband and I have been very busy with work, and I have not been doing much cooking.  I made some pesto pasta the other night with what was probably my last basil harvest of the year...but since I've already posted that recipe...  I hope to whip up a few new things this weekend.  Braised pork roast with apple cider and caramelized leeks, anyone?  And maybe, finally, that apple pie.

Happy fall, everyone!  Hope you're enjoying some tasty fall treats!

Monday, October 18, 2010

PLEASE VOTE! Halloween Dessert Ideas

So my office is having a Halloween dessert competition/bake sale next week.  Apparently I've set the precedent that I am expected to make something awesome to compete.  Part of me is flattered...but most of me is anxious just thinking about it.

To minimize my stress, I'm thinking I'll want to make something I've made before.  I need some help deciding what would be best.  Here are my current thoughts.  Please respond in a comment to this post with your vote.

  1. Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting
  2. Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars with Gingersnap Crust
  3. Apple Cake (see post from last week)
  4. Something else entirely?
If your vote is for #4, please submit an idea...something I'll have time to try this weekend before the actual competition, since the very idea of baking something for other people to eat without testing it myself makes my stomach twist up into a giant knot.

Thanks!  I hope to get back to regular posting this week at some point.  I hardly cooked last week, since I was on travel for work for a few days.  And then I was just lazy.  And then my camera battery died when I was trying to photograph last night's dinner.  Oh well!  You folks don't care about sauteed chicken with mustard-cream sauce, do you?

And one more request...PLEASE VOTE!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Recipe Snapshots: Apples (Part II)

Over the long weekend (it was Columbus Day yesterday, which is a federal holiday, in case it wasn't a long weekend for you!), I used up a few more of our apples.  I still haven't made that apple pie I've been planning, but maybe next weekend?  The apples are looking good and fresh, which I guess makes sense because the ones you typically buy at the store were probably picked weeks before they find they way to the produce section.

One of my challenges with the apples was finding savory recipes to use them in.  Delicious as it was, that apple cake didn't exactly stretch the imagination much!  But then low and behold, a friend told about this recipe: Creamy Chicken-Apple Chili.  I know, it sounds weird.  But the reviews on the recipe were good, and the friend who told me about the recipe enjoyed it.  So I thought I'd give it a whirl.

It was pretty great.  It needs a little cilantro for garnish, and the apple flavor could actually use a boost, but overall, I was pleasantly surprised.

Also over the weekend, I tried to make Baked Apple Cider Donut Holes.  A couple of things: there are no actual apples in this recipe.  But it does call for applesauce, which I could have made with my apples.  I just don't plan to do this, since I don't really care for applesauce all that much.

According to my husband, these were fantastic.  I thought they were just pretty good. The ingredient list is really long, and I'm not sure how much a lot of those items really added.  And they sure didn't taste very apple-y.  But anything fluffy and baked and coated in buttery cinnamon-sugar?  How bad could it be?  (Note: my "donut holes" look more like muffins because I don't have a mini-muffin pan and had to use a regular one.)

Recipes below the cut.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Apple Cake

I don't think I had ever had an apple cake until last fall.  My sister- and brother-in-law had gone apple picking and were kind enough to share a half dozen or so of their pickings.  Being terrified of making a pie, and not being a fan of apple crisps (too healthy), I decided to try one.  My expectations were low...but wow.  Zack and I devoured the cake ourselves within a couple of days.  And then I made it again and actually shared it with other people!

I found this recipe online at  If you click that link, I have no idea what makes this cake "German."  I just know it's delicious!  I made a few alterations based on reviews from other bakers, and I think they're delish!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Recipe Snapshots: Apples (Part I)

For these first couple of apple recipes, I didn't do the full step-by-step thing.  Since the galette was a first-time recipe, I was too focused to take pictures.  And then I forgot for the second recipe.  But here are some pictures of the finished products and the recipes!

First I made an apple galette, which is basically a cheater's pie--it's pie crust filled with fruit filling and then folded in on itself, no pie dish needed.  It's rustic and a little bit less effort than a pie.  I had seen this recipe on one of the food blogs I follow, and decided to give it a try.

All in all, this was an okay recipe.  The filling needed a little bit more "sauce," because the apples on top were a little dry.  I altered the recipe a bit--I made my own pie crust from a fool-proof recipe I found, and then added some nutmeg to the filling and increased the amount of apples in the filling (maybe why it was dry?).  I would make this again, for sure, since it was pretty simple to throw together, even making my own pie crust!  I like how rustic it looked.  But I'll be trying a regular ol' apple pie sometime soon, to show off my crust-crimping skills (or lack thereof).

I also made roasted pork tenderloin with apple-cherry chutney, which was fabulous.  I like savory recipes that incorporate apples, and this was also very easy.  The recipe is from Southern Living magazine, though I found it online.

I've made this recipe before, and it's delicious.  I served it with brussels sprouts and a wild rice blend.  I made a few tweaks--I halved the amount of chili sauce in the chutney (I used sriracha sauce, and 2 tablespoons of that would have made it inedible for us), and added more apples, as well as a touch of cinnamon.  I also used a shallot instead of onion, but that's just because I had more shallots on hand.

Recipes below the cut.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Coming Soon: Apples, Apples, and More Apples!

This past weekend, my husband and I went apple-picking with some friends.  I had never been apple-picking before, and I really enjoyed it.  I am also enjoyed the 19+ pounds of apples we brought home!  I've already made a couple of things, and plan to make more in the next couple of weeks.  Last night I made my very first apple galette, and for dinner, I made roasted pork tenderloin medallions with spicy apple-cherry chutney.  I used about 5 percent of my apples to make these.  So there will be much more in the days to come.  Stay tuned!

And now I will leave you with my favorite picture from our apple-picking adventures: my favorite teeny-tiny little apple.

Check back later this week for my adventures in apple-cooking.  (I'm thinking apple cake tonight.)  In the meanwhile, please share any favorite apple recipes!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Mini Honey-Mustard Meatloaves with Roasted Potatoes

It's been grey and rainy in the DC area the last few days--particularly last night and this morning.  It's made me crave comfort food, so I did something I almost never do--prepared two beef dishes within one week.  I generally try to make only one beef dish per week, if that, for health reasons.  I figure we're already eating it twice a week since we usually have leftovers, and that's more than enough red meat for a week!  Because I try to limit the amount of red meat we eat, I often make these mini meatloaves with ground turkey.  Feel free to do the same, but be sure to use the dark meat turkey--the all white meat is too dry.  Also be sure to cook it all the way through, which might mean a few extra minutes in the oven.  But this week?  I was extra bad and used the "meatloaf mix" ground meat sold by our grocery store (a mix of beef, pork, and veal).  Don't tell on me!  It was delicious, and I have no regrets.

This recipe for mini honey-mustard meatloaves with roasted potatoes came from one of my Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazines.  My husband and I like it so much I'll make it 2 or 3 times every fall/winter.  When I make it, I skip the salad that is included in Martha's version of the recipe and prepare another kind of vegetable.  This week it was a green salad, but more interesting than the one provided in this recipe (I added grape tomatoes! I live on the edge, eh?).  Before we get to the recipe itself, let me state for the record that I am almost embarrassed to share this recipe because it is so easy.  But it's delicious.  And can be made on a weeknight.  And for those two facts?  On the blog it goes!

Step-by-Step Recipe: Braised Beef Short Ribs

In honor of fall, I felt it was time to make something hearty for dinner this past Sunday.  So I pulled out one of my favorite Pioneer Woman recipes, and we were not disappointed.  I made braised beef short ribs with creamy goat cheese polenta and brussels sprouts.  The latter two aren't part of the step-by-step, but I can link to the recipe for the polenta below (there was no recipe for the brussels sprouts).  I know braising sounds like some fancy technique, but it's really very easy--it just takes a while.  Lucky, most of the time is spent in the oven, with little hands-on help from you!

If you've never had beef short ribs, they are inexpensive, fatty, and delicious when braised.  Just make sure that if they have bones you get bigger pieces than I did.  Usually when I ask the butcher to cut them for me at the grocery store (they never actually have them in the meat case), they debone them, too.  It doesn't matter much--bone or no bone--since the meat becomes so tender from the braising that it falls apart, anyway.  But if you don't want to feel cheated, follow my advice.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Recipe Lesson Learned: Apple Muffins with Cinnamon Topping

Having made a less-than-pleasant discovery about something I made, I decided to try a new type of post here at the ol' blog-front.  Consider it an apology to all my friends and coworkers who ate the leftovers from Friday's blog...or consider it a lesson learned for future attempts.  I'm sure this will happen again, and in my efforts to be honest with the 5 people who actually read this blog, I'm owning up.

These muffins were good on Friday, I promise.  And Saturday, too.  Sunday we didn't eat any, because we got breakfast from our local bakery.  This morning they looked fine, but I didn't eat one, having reverted to my usual healthy breakfast.  I brought a few into the office and offered them to my coworkers, as I often do.

And now I feel bad.  I just ate the last one, giving in to the need for a snack. wasn't very good.  Somehow in the two days since Saturday, they got downright mushy.  Not moist--but unpleasantly mushy.  They lost their fluffy muffiny texture.  And the apples had a sort of weird bitter taste.  They weren't terrible, but they certainly weren't yummy like they were two days ago. apologies. And if you make this recipe (and I hope you still will)?  Try to eat them all in 48 hours.  Or maybe make half a recipe.

And now I will go hang my head in baking shame...  It's terribly vain, but I pride myself on my kitchen skills and get very upset when something comes out poorly.  (Which is why I didn't make pie crust for such a long time, because that is hard.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Apple Muffins with Cinnamon Topping

It is technically fall, but the record high temperatures here yesterday sure didn't feel like it.  It hit 98 down at National Airport.  It was my day off, so I stayed inside.  And then turned my oven on and baked some muffins.

In the summer I had a large bunch of rhubarb to deal with from my grandpa's garden, which is when I found this recipe.  Because I wanted to make something I knew would be good, I took this recipe and subbed apples for the rhubarb.  Success!  I can already think of a dozen ways to make them better, but this was a pretty good start.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Homemade Basil Pesto, with Pasta

In honor of the official end of summer (which is September 23 this year), yesterday I made a double batch of homemade basil pesto.  Is there anything better?  (Don't answer that.)  My basil plants will probably keep producing until our first frost, but they are definitely slowing down because of the shortening days (and lower heat).  Aside: Oddly enough, in July when it was about 1,000 degrees outside and 200% humidity (don't tell me I don't have a flare for hyperbole!), my basil grew and grew and grew.  The basil growth thing is pretty much the only good thing I think came out of that ridiculous heat wave.

Anyway, everyone should make homemade basil pesto.  There's no reason not to do so--unless you'reallergic to basil, can't have Par mesan cheese, or just hate yummy things.  Because basil pesto is certainly yummy.  And nearly embarrassingly easy to make.  Unless you don't like garlic, in which case...well, maybe this blog isn't for you, because I am not shy about garlic.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Restaurant Experience: Jaleo (and Red Velvet)

I almost feel like it's cheating to write about Jaleo, since I've eaten there at least a dozen times.  But that just proves how yummy it is, right?

For those not fortunate enough to have been there (you need to visit me, because I will take you there!), Jaleo is the Spanish tapas (small plate) restaurant of famed chef José Andrés.  (Chef Andrés also owns Cafe Atlantico--and mini-bar, Zaytinya, and Oyamel, all located in Washington, DC.)  There are three Jaleo locations in the DC area, but the best is the one in DC proper, in the Penn Quarter neighborhood (which happens to be close to my office!).  The Crystal City location is really beautiful and the food is still quite good, but I have a soft spot for the DC location.  Which is where my husband took me for dinner last night.  It was a special treat for a weeknight, especially since he works out in the suburbs and had to drive all the way downtown to go there.

Clearly I was very excited to go there.  But as it was not planned in advance, I only had my iPhone camera available.  And while the camera is surprisingly good, the lack of flash means it does poorly in low light.  Sorry!  I hope you'll forgive the poor quality photos.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Just for Fun Diversion: Chef Crushes

In honor of tonight's Top Chef Season 7 finale, during which a chef that I definitely do not have a culinary crush on will take home the title (I know this for a fact since none of the three finalists really do it for me), I thought I'd post about chefs.  And crushes.  (Also, I can't upload last night's photos from my iPhone at work, so I can't blog about that.  Yes, I'm at work.  It's my lunch hour, and it's completely allowed.)

I was inspired to talk about chef crushes because I had my first ever Chef Sighting yesterday.  I was on my way to lunch with my project team, walking near the Verizon Center, and I spotted a familiar face.  It was Susur Lee, the celebrated Asian fusion chef who was a finalist in season 2 of Top Chef: Masters.

Let me say for the record that Susur is not one of my chef crushes, though he was so fun to watch on Top Chef: Masters, and I am totally intrigued to eat at his DC restaurant, Zentan, at some point.  Mostly I was excited to see him walking around, and to recognize him!

So who are my culinary crushes? 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake

So I bake too.  Less often, of course, as I have fewer opportunities to bake than cook, but I find it therapeutic in an entirely different way.  This past week was a good friend of mine's birthday.  As long as I have known her, I've always known that she loves lemon cake.  So when I saw this recipe on Pinch My Salt, I knew I had to make it for her!  (It also gave me an excuse to use my bundt pan, which I am truly in love with.  It was a wedding gift.)

The recipe was a big hit--the birthday girl may or may not have had a third piece--I would never embarrass her by saying that she did.  Ha!  My husband has declared it superior to his favorite TastyKake, which I think is a compliment.  I enjoyed it--the lemon flavor in the cake is mild; it's much more potent in the glaze, which is why it's very important.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

It's September, and I needed a taste of fall.  Last week I posted about my food obsessions, and pumpkin is definitely on that list.  I really like finding pumpkin in unexpected savory dishes, and this is one of those.  The first bite the first time I made it was like, "Hmmmm...that's not what I expected."  But it's delicious if you can get over the whole pumpkin-not-at-all-like-pie flavor thing.

This recipe is from one of my monthly Martha Stewart Everyday Food magazines (which I have received for about three years now, thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband).  It's a quick one that is perfect for a week night.  Perfect served with a green salad...or by itself.  Pumpkin is a vegetable, after all.  Ha!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Thai Red Chicken Curry

I hated Thai food until about five years ago.  True story!  Now I love it--particularly creamy coconut curries and pad see ew.  I found this recipe (which I have since altered a fair amount) on a few years ago, and I was excited that it was so simple to make.  Hopefully you won't have trouble finding the curry paste.  Even in a metropolitan area like I live in it can sometimes be a challenge.  The last time I tried to find it at my usual grocery store, all they had was the Indian kind--which is totally different--so I ended up at an Asian food market.  I now have enough red curry paste to last me for years.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

My Personal Food Biases: Can You Trust Me?

I promised this last week, and since I haven't done much cooking this week (that happens sometimes, much as I wish it were not the case), I thought this was a good time.

We all have things--food things--that we just love.  Those things we seek out when they're in season, or must order when we see on a menu.  We also have those things that make us scrunch up our faces when we mention them, those things we push to the side of our plate, and those things that we can't even smell for fear of our stomach turning.  That's what this post is about.  I figure if you know my biases, you'll better be able to tell whether or not you can trust my judgment on all things food-related.

I'll start with the negative and work to the positive.

Vegetables:  Lima beans, beets.
As a little girl, I was forced to sit at the table by myself to finish my peas and lima beans.  Peas I [mostly] got over with age, but lima beans linger.  I will eat around them in vegetable soup.  I will pick them out of succotash.  They are mealy and bland and just...ew.  Beets are both better and worse.  In recent years, I have encountered a bite or two of roasted beet that did not completely gross me out.  But in general, I avoid them like the plague, as they mostly remind me of those foul purple pickled beets of my childhood.  *shudder*

Meat and seafood: Mussels/clams/oysters, sushi.
It's the texture of mussels, et al., that I cannot get over.  If I happen across a fried clam, I'm usually okay.  As for sushi, I can tolerate a California or salmon-cream cheese roll when the need arises...but in general?  Not my first choice.

Dairy: Milk, French cheeses.
As a little girl, my mom had to add strawberry or chocolate Quik to my milk to get me to drink any.  To this day, I don't think I could drink a glass of plain milk if you paid me $100.  (Oddly, I love pretty much all other dairy.  I would bathe in sour cream if I could.)  The French cheese thing surprises me, too, especially considering how much I like other cheeses...and how much I like pretty much everything else French.  But the French keep their cheese at room temperature, allowing them to get extra ripe.  And they really like them ripe and stinky.  On my two trips to France, I have tried all varieties of French cheese (even some very fine ones at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Provence).  I have only found a few I can handle: Comté, which is basically French Swiss cheese, Boursin, and the occasional bit of Saint-André.  I actually detest both Brie and Camembert.  Yes, I really feel that strongly about cheese.

Other: Chocolate combined with citrus flavors, licorice, eggs (hard-boiled or poached)
Chocolate with mint, yes.  Chocolate with peanut butter, please yes.  Chocolate with coffee, anytime.  Chocolate with raspberry or cherry, okay.  But with lemon or orange?  PASS.  Also, there are two kinds of people in the world: people who like licorice and people who think those people are crazy.  I'm the latter.  The only way I eat eggs is scrambled or in an omelet.  I cannot think of much that is grosser than the solidified sulfur-smelling yolk of a hard-boiled egg.  But the runny yolk of a fried or poached egg is a close second.

Okay, onto my food obessions!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Turkey Sausage Lasagna

Also known as Julie's Favorite Lasagna Ever.

Don't you want a piece right now?  Mmm...I know I do.  And this is why I'm happy we have leftovers.

Sunday night I made Turkey Sausage Lasagna, a recipe from Ina Garten (aka The Barefoot Contessa).  I don't actually own any of her cookbooks (though I probably should, as she's one of my Food Network favorites), but a friend made this recipe for my husband and I a few years ago, and after declaring it the best lasagna I've ever had, I asked for the recipe.  And she very kindly gave it to me.  I have since made this recipe for my parents, my in-laws, my husband (repeatedly), and even for Christmas Eve.  It's that good.  (Note: if you hate goat cheese, fresh herbs, and delicious food, do not make this recipe.  You will not like it.  And we can't be friends.)

Conveniently, the recipe is available on the Food Network website.  Click here to see Ina's original Turkey Sausage Lasagna.  I made slight alterations based on preferences (I prefer the hot Italian turkey sausage) and what I had on hand (lots of fresh oregano).

Sunday, August 29, 2010

DC Treat: Cacao by Jacques Poulain

My work team's summer intern (a foodie after my own heart) informed me last week that a new bakery had opened in Cleveland Park, one of the nicer neighborhoods in Washington, DC.  She told me that they had nearly authentic chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat), which certainly piqued my interest.  If you've ever had real croissants, chocolate or otherwise, in France, you know that there are very few bakeries Stateside that even come close to replicating that deliciousness.  I'm sure it's the butter and the flour that makes the difference.  But this is why I have insisted on having at least one (if not two) croissants every day when I'm in France.  This might sound like a disaster for the waistline, but seriously, the last two trips I've either lost a couple pounds or just maintained, despite all the ridiculous eating.  (Ice cream and croissants every day?  Wine with lunch and dinner?)  Now you know why I love France so much.  Ha!

In all seriousness, the huge faux-croissants you find at your local grocery store or Costco-type place just aren't even worth it once you've had the real deal.  So having a reliable source tell me I could find almost-real croissants just a few miles from home?  I immediately emailed my husband and asked if he was up for an adventure on Saturday morning.  And so our visit to Cacao by Jacques Poulain was determined.

Yesterday morning we got dressed and headed into DC (taking care to avoid the crowds of visiting Tea Party folks in town for the Glenn Beck rally).  We found parking on Connecticut Avenue, right across from Cacao, which is next door to Indique, for those familiar with the area.  Such good parking seemed like a good omen.

Cacao is more of a chocolatier than a true bakery.  The cases were filled with all kinds of decadent French treats.  But we were on a mission and headed straight for the croissants.  We got the traditional butter croissant, a chocolate croissant, and an almond croissant.  All three were delicious.  And had so much butter in them that the two extras we bought for some friends soaked through the little paper bag in no time.  Let me be clear: this is a good thing.  Verdict: the next time I get a craving for a taste of France on a Saturday morning?  We'll be headed back to Cacao.

But the real surprise of the morning?  The French macarons.  There was a case full of them, and apparently Cacao is known for theirs.  To be clear, a French macaron is nothing like the coconut macaroons you find in the U.S.  A French macaron is a sandwich cookie made entirely of eggs, sugar, and almond flour.  Delicious.  The filling may be jam, buttercream, or chocolate ganache.  They are delicious.  We saw them all over France, particularly in Paris.  They come in a wide variety of colors and flavors.  And did I mention they're delicious?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Step-by-Step Recipe: Stuffed Zucchini and Bell Peppers

For my first official recipe post, I wanted to make sure I made a recipe I was familiar with, so I didn't end up posting something inedible or unappetizing.  Some might consider that cheating on a food blog.  But I figure it's just smart.

So last night I made Giada's Stuffed Zucchini and Bell Peppers.  I made just a few alterations to the recipe, so the recipe listed in my blog reflects those.  If you want to make Giada's 5-star version, go to the link above.  The items I altered are starred below.  Notes: normally I use fresh parsley from my garden whenever I can, but mine hasn't done so well this summer, so I haven't even had a single harvest.  As for the peppers, I just bought the "traffic light" set from the grocery store, hence green rather than orange. As for the marinara, I usually use jarred, since I always have some on hand.  But this time I used the leftover sauce from Pioneer Woman's chicken parmigiana, which I made recently.  Lastly, the Giada recipe calls for just one large 13 by 9 baking dish, but I find that everyone won't fit without squishing it all together, so I just use my rectangular and my square baking dishes and it's all fine.

I'll do the step-by-step (with pictures!) first, then list the complete recipe at the end, so you can copy and paste if you're interested in trying it out.  So first things first, the mise-en-place.  This is a snobby French term for laying all the ingredients out so you're not still chopping when you should be stirring.  This is not completely done, obviously, as the onion isn't grated yet, and the peppers aren't prepped.  As PW would say: Don't be like me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Restaurant Experience: PS 7's

Last night my husband took me out to dinner at PS 7's, a high end eatery in downtown DC, not all that far from where I work.  We went because the restaurant had [kindly] chosen to extend its Restaurant Week deal for an extra week.  [For those of you not in the know about DC Restaurant Week: two weeks each year, once in winter and once in summer, many of the high end restaurants will participate in a special deal.  For this particular RW, lunch at a participating establishment was $20.10, and dinner was $35.10, for three courses (excluding beverages).  It's a good deal and a great opportunity to try out some of the premiere restaurants in DC for a little less cash.]  Last week was the official DC restaurant week, and it was very difficult to get reservations at the "good" places, and so we didn't really even try that hard.  (Also, having been in the DC area for a while now, Restaurant Week holds a little less thrill than it used to.)

I'd eaten at PS 7's (thusly named after the chef/owner, Peter Smith, and the address, 777 Eye St., NW) once before, with some of my colleagues for my birthday in June.  (I have great colleagues who also enjoy great food!)  I enjoyed it then, and was looking forward to enjoying it even more with my husband and a glass of wine. I started off with a glass of French rosé wine, because it was from Provence and all that talk of lavender ice cream had given me a craving for all things Provençal.  The wine smelled like France to me.  (This is a good thing.) 

For our first course, I had the heirloom tomato salad, with saffron tomato brulee, pantaleo cheese, Thai basil, 25 year balsamic.  (My husband had the warm spinach salad.  Because if you add spinach leaves to bacon, cheese, and fried onion strings, it's a "salad.")  It was good, but pretty acidic.  But I had some of their delicious fresh bread (cottage cheese bread, rosemary and lemon foccacia, and apple bacon biscuits) and butter to counteract that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My Favorite _____: Ice Cream

So I had a headache last night and ended up not cooking.  Since no one would care to see pictures of the take-out Chinese food I ate (though delicious), and I didn't bother to take any, I had to think of something else to post.

I may try to do a "My Favorite" series, depending on inspiration.  As summer is drawing to a close (or at least I hope it is) here in the DC area, I thought starting with ice cream was apropos! 

I actually have several favorite ice creams.  In no particular order: Baskin Robbins Pink Bubblegum flavor (ahhh...childhood), Ben & Jerry's discontinued Festivus flavor, and good old fashioned chocolate custard (when dipped in chocolate and consumed at the beach, of course).  And let's not forget any flavor of ice cream ever made by my Grandpa Skeen.  His peach is quite good, but the year he made black raspberry is fondly remembered by all Skeen offspring!

All of those ice creams aside...the BEST I ever had was in France this past May.  For anyone who has been to France, ice cream (or glace as they call it) is sort of a tradition.  You get one to eat while walking through the park.  You get one to eat while walking along the beach.  Perhaps it's because the servings are so much smaller (in general) that the French can get away with eating so much ice cream?  Or is it that everyone else in line was American like us?  Ha! 

We had tasty ice cream in Paris on our honeymoon in 2009.  We had yummy ice cream in the small village of Gigondas (known for their red wine) in the Cotes du Rhone area of Provence (salted caramel and real coffee flavor--mmmmm!).  But the BEST?  Had to be at the famed Fenocchio in Old Nice.  It was so good we ate there three times during our 4 days in Nice.

It was busy, even at 11 o'clock at night.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Diving into the deep end, even though I can't swim.

I'm going to give this whole food blogging thing a try.  I've been encouraged by friends and family, who have seen my many food pictures and ramblings on Facebook (and some who have sampled my food and declared it good). And let's face it--it's not like this is a high risk endeavor.  I fully expect that only a handful of people who actually know me will follow this, and I am okay with that. 

Expect my first actual food post in the next couple of days.  I'm excited!