Dec 16, 2012

It started with the soup...

I can’t remember the last time I had anyone over for dinner. I hate that. I especially hate that whenever anyone asks me what I’ve been up to all I can come up with is “work” Ugh. That has got to be the lamest answer of all time. Or, god forbid, the answer I gave when some dude asked me what my hobbies were a few months ago. “Do people really still have hobbies?”.
“Um yes” he said “it’s whatever you do for fun.”
Oh, fun…. Right. I remember fun.

And then last week I had lunch with a super cute Emory senior who had spent weeks emailing me about internships at my agency. Her emails were polite but had personality, and she followed up tenaciously so when she asked if we could have lunch so she could pick my brain about how to get into advertising, I told her that it was already pretty picked over but the rest was hers to explore.

The advice that I gave that day was so contradictory to how I’ve actually been living that I felt almost guilty dishing it out.

Though I think I rambled more, here’s what I told her:

Your job shouldn’t be your life. Your job is what you do to fund your life. If you expect it to fulfill your soul then you’ll always be missing something, you’ll never be full. So find a job that you enjoy, something you’re good at but still challenged by and always keep it in context. Then find your passion and keep that for yourself. Have something that you love to do and do it simply for that reason. Play music, take photographs, write, cook, build model airplanes… have an answer when someone asks you what your hobbies are. Or better yet, have a great blog or on-line journal where you can show them what makes you, you.

And then, because I was getting a rather alarming look from my young lunch companion, I tried to bring it back around by telling her about one of my team members who once challenged himself to take a self portrait every day for a year. He posted them on-line and used the project to hone his photography and retouching skills. Not only was it a creative endeavor that made him unforgettable, but he had a great portfolio of work at the end that made him impossible not to hire.

That seemed to get through to her. She was a photography buff and had asked for a new SLR for Christmas so she was going to come up with a project for herself. I told her I couldn’t wait to see what she came up with. And in that moment I decided I would take my own damn advice and get a life too.

The Single Gal’s Guide was an easy choice. I’ve missed this space, these conversations, this outlet. But what I’ve really missed is actually being the Single Gal – the vivacious, fun, interesting girl who has her friends over for dinner ‘just because’ and laughs with them over glasses of wine long into the night while the dishes pile up in the sink.

So there will be more dinners, more parties, more cooking and a more entertaining life in general. And the next time someone asks me what I do for fun there won’t be an uncomfortable silence. It’ll be impossible to shut me up.

Holiday Girls’ Night In

The holidays are a great time for dressing up, going out and eating every cheese-topped, gravy-laced dish in sight. But the craziness of trying to fit everything in, and the overindulgences and the rampant consumerism can be downright exhausting. Add the traveling and the inevitable family drama to the mix and frankly it all just makes me want to stay home.

So that’s exactly what we did last night. One of my pals had an especially tough week – her father is in the hospital and she’s been juggling visits to see him with work and the cutest baby of all time. So a night at home seemed like the right medicine for her.

My friend Tami had posted about this soup and there was a lonely little head of cauliflower in the fridge, so that was our jumping off point. That made me remember an article with more Dr. Weil recipes I had read in this month’s Whole Living magazine on a plane last week so I dug out the issue and pulled all the other recipes from it’s pages.

Caramelized Sesame Chickpeas
Curried Cauliflower Soup
Braised Chicken and Parsnips
Kale Salad

We were supposed to ride out the fruit & veggie kick with an apple galette, but one of the ladies showed up with Sufganiyot from an Israeli bakery in town so we gorged on those instead. I mean, seriously, who can turn down a dulce de leche-filled donut??

Caramelized Sesame Chickpeas
These were meant to be a little nibble while we got the wine opened and everyone got settled into the sofas. I have to say, I wasn’t that crazy about them. The girls made appropriate yum yum noises but I don’t know that I’d make them again. Sorry Martha, this one was a miss.

Free to a good home

Curried Cauliflower Soup
Tami is not only the voice behind Running with Tweezers, but an uber-talented food stylist and photographer so I’m embarrassed that I even attempted to take a picture of this. Please hop over to her site to ‘ooh’ & ‘ahh’ over her bee-u-ti-ful images and see the recipe. I must confess that I didn’t mess with the raw cashews when I made the soup (I just added a little extra water), and mine was delicious but I bet that would make it even more so. I did follow her lead and top the bowls with a sprinkle of toasted pumpkin seeds though and I finished it off with a drizzle of green cilantro chutney thinned out with a splash of good olive oil. This was so, so good.  Good enough to have again for breakfast the next day alongside a slice of sopressata cheese toast. I mean, if you’re into that sort of thing. Which I totally am.

Because I’m out of practice I didn’t manage to get many pictures of our feast. But the talented crew at Whole Living took some lovely photographs when they prepared the dishes so we’ll gaze upon those from now on…

Braised Chicken and Parsnips
I followed the recipe with two exceptions. First, I’m not a huge fan of leeks but I adore shallots so I made a swap. Six shallots roughly chopped stood in for the leeks and they were delicious. They just melted into this unctuous base for the tender chicken and creamy parsnips. I also had to remove the lid from the pot and cook everything for about 20 more minutes to get the liquid reduced. But it worked like a charm and couldn’t have been easier.

Oh, and I MIGHT have used skin-on chicken thighs… because nothing adds flavor like a little schmaltz. Plus crispy chicken skin is a favorite treat of my trusty four-legged kitchen assistant Ms. Grace.

Kale Salad
This salad was the runaway hit of the night. The absolute star. It’s got the brightness of the lemon, the bite of the garlic, the heat of the chili flake and sweetness from the cranberries I added. Just total perfection and a nutritional powerhouse to bot. Everyone kept saying, “I can’t believe this is just raw kale!” Believe it people. The key is the 30 minutes it sits before you serve it so don’t skimp on your timing.

I started with Dr Weil’s recipe but took a few detours… I omitted the breadcrumbs he calls for and added a handful of dried cranberries instead. The recipe says it gets even better the next day. I’d be surprised if you end up with any leftovers to test that theory.

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, mashed (I smushed mine through a garlic press)
1/2 tsp coarse salt
Pinch red pepper flakes
2 bunches Tuscan kale (about 14 oz), ribs removed and leaves sliced into 1/4-inch shreds
1/2 cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 Tbsp dried cranberries

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper flakes. Add kale and cranberries and toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Garnish with shaved cheese before serving. 

Feb 21, 2011

DFO {devil's eggs}

Spooned over slices of toasted bread or scooped up with tortilla chips, this is a quick, easy & inexpensive supper. Multiply the recipe and bake in a large casserole dish to create a great group brunch dish.

Dinner For One: Eggs El Diablo {Devil's Eggs}

A friend who lived in Texas for a bit introduced me to Rotel tomatoes – a brand of tomatoes canned with chile peppers. They’re a must for melting with Velveeta to make queso dip and help keep the ingredient list & chopping requirements low here. Can’t find Rotel in your grocery store? Just used regular canned tomatoes and a spoonful of canned green chiles or half of a fresh, chopped jalapeno. You don’t want anything with too much heat though, the chipotles in adobe are pretty fiery so you’re just looking for some mild green chiles to add depth to the dish’s flavor.

What you need:
1 Tb olive oil
½ small white onion, peeled & chopped
1 chipotle chile in adobe, chopped plus 1TB adobe sauce
10 oz. can chopped tomatoes with mild green chiles, such as Rotel
salt & pepper
2 eggs
1 oz. feta cheese, crumbled
chopped parsley (optional)
toasted bread or tortilla chips

How you make it:
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a small saucepan. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add chipotle chile and sauce, sauté for another minute. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cook, breaking up tomatoes with the back of a spoon until sauce has thickened, 4-5 minutes. Taste, add salt & pepper as needed and remove from the heat.

Place oven rack as high as possible and turn on broiler to high. Place tomato sauce in a shallow, ovenproof serving bowl. Use the back of a spoon to create two little valleys and crack eggs, one at a time, into the spaces. Place bowl on a baking sheet and place under the broiler until eggs whites are set and yolks are still runny, 5-7 minutes. Top with crumbled feta and chopped parsley, if using, and serve immediately.

Note: You're only using one chile from the can of chipotles here so you'll have quite a bit leftover. They add great smokiness and heat to anything, so be sure to save them for later use. Not sure you'll use them all right away? Generally you just use one at a time so separate the chiles and a spoonful of sauce into individual plastic baggies and store them in the freezer for later.

Feb 11, 2011

Make It {mexican hot chocolate}

I'm famous in certain circles for these, but this kicked-up hot chocolate may just become my new claim to fame. It's sweet & spicy with tingling heat and an espresso kick... think of it as the cold weather alternative to those (in)famous brownies...

Mexican Hot Chocolate
makes 2 cups

What you need:
50 grams good bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
2 cups milk (anything but skim)
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1-2 tablespoons light brown or turbinado sugar, to taste
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a pinch ground chipotle pepper

How you make it:
Coarse chop chocolate and combine with remaining ingredients in a small sauce pot. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to melt & combine chocolate. Serve immediately.

Feb 9, 2011

DFO {salt + pepper tofu}

Inspired by the most popular lunch special at one of my favorite Asian restaurants, this is a quick & easy replacement for weeknight takeout. The crispy, fried tofu squares would be delicious served with the garlic ponzu dipping sauce as an appetizer as well.

DFO: Salt & Pepper Tofu

DFO recipes generally make two servings so you can pack up the leftovers for a tasty lunch the next day. The tofu won’t stay crispy if it’s stored overnight though, so this recipe makes enough for just one generous serving.

What you need:
4 TB cornstarch
1 tea each salt & pepper
½ block extra firm tofu, cubed
vegetable oil
½ white onion, sliced thickly
2 cups of your favorite veggies, peeled, trimmed and cut into bite-size pieces (green beans, green onion, celery, bok choy, carrots, brocolli)
1 TB ginger, minced
1 TB, garlic, minced
1 TB soy sauce
Juice of half a lemon
Rice for serving

How you make it:
Combine cornstarch with salt & pepper in a shallow bowl. Toss tofu cubes in mixture until well coated.

Heat vegetable oil in a wok or large sauté pan on medium high heat until shimmering. Fry tofu, a few pieces at a time, turning occasionally until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and set aside in a warm oven.

Drain all but one tablespoon of the oil remaining in the pan and return to high heat . Add onion and vegetables. Sauté on high heat for about 2 minutes. Add ginger and garlic. Cook another 1-2 minutes. Add soy sauce and lemon juice and cook 30 seconds.

Serve stirfried vegetables over rice, topped with the crispy tofu. I like to include a side of ginger ponzu for dipping – mix bottled ponzu sauce with pickled ginger… so easy.

Feb 7, 2011

Inspired {kraft paper}

Not only does brown kraft paper make a great replacement for pricey wrapping paper to wrap gifts all year long, but it makes an easy and inexpensive table covering - elegant & chic or casual & kid-friendly, here are a few ideas from around the web that caught my eye...

Image Source: unknown
Image Source: Sunday Suppers, Karen Mordecai

Image Source: unknown

Head here and order yourself a roll of Kraft paper. A 24" roll costs $25 and you'll never have to worry about someone spilling red wine on your grandmother's lace tablecloth ever again. Ask your friends to leave their mark on the table - put out crayons or colored pencils and let them create an impromptu work of art. Or decorate it yourself - replace place cards by scribbling your guest's names where you'd like them to sit or create hand-drawn "place mats" like the image above. Then start finding other ways to use your roll - I love the framed menu board below!

Image Source: Sunday Suppers, Karen Mordecai

Feb 4, 2011

Game Time

Are you ready to really blow your friends out of the water? Then make these. But only if you think they can handle it...

My advice is to eat these as soon after they come out of the oven as possible. Possibly while watching a big football game - if you're into that sort of thing.

You can see mine didn't turn out particularly photogenic. Don't even sweat it. Just call them "Rustic Pretzel Rolls" and act like they're supposed to look like that... at least that's what I did.

Spicy mustard is a must. Or some cheese sauce to dip into. Or make them a little longer, split them open and turn them into the best damn hotdog bun mankind has ever put his lips around. You're a shoo-in for MVP, trust me.

Feb 3, 2011

Ok, I'm impressed.

Check this out! Serious kudos to her...


If anyone attempts this for Valentine's Day, I want pictures. And you will become my new personal hero...