Dec 26, 2009

DFO: Martha's Shrimp

By now we’ve all had our fill of the traditional holiday fare, and it’s too cold to venture out for takeout. I saw this recipe in the new issue of Martha Stewart and thought it looked like an easy, fast way to make to make an Indian-inspired dish at home - the perfect antidote for post-holiday taste bud burnout. The original recipe makes enough for four, so I’ve adjusted it a bit to create a great DFO.

Dinner For One: Shrimp Tikka Masala w/ Toasted-Coconut Rice
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, January 2010

This may not be the prettiest dinner I’ve ever pointed a camera at, but it’s really delicious. Full flavored with ginger, garlic and a little spice, it’s definitely beer food - perfect with a lager like Kingfisher.

What you need
for the rice:
1 TB olive oil
.5 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1 cup basmati or other long grain rice
2 cups water
pinch salt
1 scallion, finely sliced

for the shrimp:
2 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 TB grated, peeled fresh ginger
.5 TB minced garlic
2 tea tikka masala spice blend*
pinch of ground red pepper
.5 cup water
10-12 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 TB plain yogurt or sour cream

How you make it:
To make sure everything is ready to eat at the same time, start the rice about ten minutes before the shrimp. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add coconut and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Removed two tablespoons of the toasted coconut and set it aside. Add rice, water and salt to pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed and rice is tender, about 20 minutes.

In another small saucepan, heat two tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are browned, about 10 minutes. Add ginger, garlic and spices. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp and water, cook until shrimp is pink and cooked through. You’ll need to stir it while the shrimp cook to ensure the spice/onion mixture gets broken up and distributed equally.

Remove from heat. Stir in yogurt or sour cream and add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the shrimp over rice and top with scallions and the reserved toasted coconut.

*I happen to have some on hand – It’s available at international markets. If you can’t find it, simply stick to Martha’s original ingredients: mix two teaspoons of tomato paste with two teaspoons of garam masala, a more readily-available spice blend.

Dec 18, 2009

DIY: Holiday Mailing

Who says Single Gals can’t send out holiday cards? I know they’re usually plastered with precious photos of your pals’ kids or pets or kids with pets… but why not break the mold a bit and send out a holiday greeting of your own this year? You’re going to have to hurry though – it’s getting late! 

Image: Brown Parcel Press

I love this idea from the printing geniuses at Brown Parcel Press – a recipe postcard! Now that you’ve been cooking and entertaining all year as the fabulous Single Gal you are – drop a little culinary wisdom on your loved ones by sharing one of your favorite recipes.

Here are a few of my favorites you can crib:

Herb Crackers

Homemade Oreos

The best mac n’ cheese on the planet. For real.

Spicy Mexican Brownies

If you’re not going to buy pre-made cards from these guys and feel like making your own - then what to put on the front of your postcard?? How about a stunning image of you, decked out and looking fabulous – ideally with your head thrown back in peals of laughter and a glass of champagne in your hand. No such photo exists? How about a snapshot where you love how you look, or a picture you’ve taken that you think is cool, or use the camera in your computer and some of the funky effects to make yourself into a Warhol-esque portrait, or simply typeset a favorite greeting or quote in a fun font. Hell, put a picture of your cat on it for all I care – it’s your card!

Dec 17, 2009

DIY: Winter Wonderland

Image courtesy of Canadian House & Home

Loved this wintery white mix and it’s easy and inexpensive to duplicate:

Grab some branches from your yard (or a park!) and bundle them in a clear vase.
Hang small silver ornaments (try your local hardware store or, of course, Target) from the branches and fill a few small jars with the extras.
Drape the mantle (or table, or window, or anyplace else) with strands of white pom pom garland (a craft store like Michael’s) and tack a few (clean!) white socks up for fun.
Finish your display off with some small figurines or toys (again – the craft store).

Voila! A little winter wonderland of your very own…

Dec 13, 2009

yes, yes, yes!

Check me out:

These were a gift for a friend who loves the macaron like I do - pink lemonade + cocoa with bittersweet espresso ganache. I'll admit, there's a bit of a learning curve... but once you have the technique figured out these are really pretty easy! Drop me a note if you have any questions or want to learn how... as I told my gal pal: As long as you aren't afraid to waste a few eggs you can do anything!

Dec 8, 2009

Sweet Victory

I am magnificent! I am invincible! I am… exhausted.

I read the article about French Almond Macarons in this month’s Food & Wine magazine and thought to myself, “if that fashion designer & his supermodel friends can do it, then surely I can too!”. What I neglected to take note of was the master French pastry chef standing next to those bozos in the pictures. That was my first mistake.

I almost let the macarons beat me. It was a close battle, but after four rounds I emerged from the kitchen victorious. Just barely, but hey - a win is a win.

That’s right, it took me four tries to get these macarons to turn out right. Well, to turn out edible if we’re really being honest… so for those of you keeping score, that means I blew through a dozen eggs to end up with about a dozen cookies. It was a long day.

At last!

After my first three attempts were abysmal failures it occurred to me that maybe I had a bum recipe (particularly since it was becoming painfully obvious I’m no master pastry chef) so I switched over to this recipe by Martha Stewart and immediately turned my fortune around. It’ll still take some practice to get the meringues looking perfect - but the taste & texture are divine… maybe I’ll tackle piping skills next weekend.

I ended up with bright pink meringue cookies and I tried out two filling flavors – seedless raspberry jam & lemon curd. The lemon was so tasty – I’m calling them Pink Lemonade Macarons!

How to: Pink Lemonade Macarons

What you need:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups (4 ounces) sliced almonds, finely ground, or almond flour
All-purpose flour, for dipping
3 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4-5 drops red food coloring
Lemon curd for filling

How you make them:
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Sift confectioners' sugar into a bowl. Whisk in almonds; set aside. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats, and mark circles using a 1 1/2-inch cutter dipped in flour.

Put egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until foamy, then beat in salt. Beat in granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time, until medium-soft peaks form. Transfer mixture to a large bowl.

Using a rubber spatula, fold half the almond mixture into the egg white mixture until just incorporated. Fold in vanilla, food coloring and remaining almond mixture until just incorporated. Firmly tap bottom of bowl on counter to eliminate air pockets.

Transfer mixture to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch plain tip (I used a heavy duty plastic zip lock bag & snipped a corner off). Pipe mixture into marked circles on prepared baking sheets. Bake, rotating sheets halfway through, until macaroons are slightly firm and can be gently lifted off parchment (bottoms will be dry), 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool on sheets 5 minutes. Transfer macaroons on parchment to a wire rack; let cool completely.

Spread 2 teaspoons filling on flat sides of half the macaroons, then sandwich with remaining halves, keeping flat sides together. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes, before serving. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for 2-3 days or in the freezer for a week or more.

Chocolate: Substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder for 1/4 cup of the almond flour.
Coconut: Substitute 2 tablespoons desiccated unsweetened coconut for 2 tablespoons of the almond flour, and add 1/2 teaspoon rum; sprinkle with additional coconut before baking.
Peanut: Substitute an equal amount finely ground unsalted peanuts (peanut flour) for the almond flour.
Pistachio: Substitute 1/2 cup finely ground unsalted pistachios (pistachio flour) for 1/2 cup of the almond flour, and add 2 to 3 drops green food coloring.
Raspberry: Add 1 tablespoon fresh raspberry puree, strained, plus 3 to 4 drops dusty- rose gel-paste food coloring.
Vanilla Bean: Add 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped, pod reserved for another use.

How the pros do it...

Looking to really knock one out of the park? Make your own lemon curd! I made the Barefoot Contessa recipe below this weekend and it was easy, tart & tasty...

Ina Garten's Lemon Curd
Zest from 3 lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
4 extra-large eggs
1/2 cup lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Using a carrot peeler, remove the zest of 3 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the sugar and pulse until the zest is very finely minced into the sugar. Alternately, use a rasp to zest the lemons and mix the fine zest with the sugar by hand.

Cream the butter and beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.

Pour the mixture into a 2 quart saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees F, or just below simmer. Remove from the heat and cool.

Dec 6, 2009

Chalk it up to cuteness...

Love this mini chalkboard from World Market... use it as a wine bottle tag on a hostess gift or label the options on a cheese plate or buffet - so cute. 

Dec 4, 2009

DFO: Pasotto

Yeah, I know the name is stupid... stay with me, ok?

I really like Mark Bittman. I like what's he's done for food & cooking and while his newest ultra-health kick (and book) doesn't really speak to me, I'm a fan of his New York Times blog and that's where I came across this sorta recipe-slash-cooking method.

Dinner For One: Pasotto

Ok, so Bittman didn't come up with the silly name - that's all me. He calls it "Pasta with Chicken and Mushrooms, Risotto Style"... but that was a real mouthful & I left out the chicken so I really wanted to highlight the technique, not the ingredient list... you get the idea. Though the truth is, it doesn't matter what you call it - this stuff is pretty delish.

What you need:
1/2 lb. dried pasta, any short shape (I used Campenelle - short, wide noodles with frilly edges)
28oz. chicken or vegetable broth (you won't use all of it)
4-5 small portobello mushrooms, chopped (or any kind you like)
large shallot, minced
large garlic clove, minced
olive oil
parmesan cheese & fresh herbs (optional)

How you make it:
Bittman has posted a short video which I highly recommend watching, but here's the synopsis... you're using the basic risotto method. Heat a swirl of olive oil & a pat of butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add shallot & garlic and cook until soft & translucent. Add mushrooms and cook 2-3 minutes until softened. Add dried pasta & stir to coat in the oil/butter mixture. Add broth until the pasta is barely covered, cook over medium-low heat adding more broth as it gets absorbed into the noodles. When the pasta is cooked through and the remaining broth has reduced down to a thick sauce - it's ready. Add salt, pepper, cheese & herbs to taste.

Dec 2, 2009

Ready, Set, Go!

Any survivors out there?

I know, it's been awhile... can we blame it on Thanksgiving? oh, and let's blame the nasty head cold my baby brother gave me too - yeah, that works.

OK, so maybe you've heard that it's December? I thought so. Seems like it came on hard this year - my guess is that it's been a rough 2009 and everyone could really use a holiday. I know I could.

Here's my plan of attack...

First, I'm going to transform my huge framed chalkboard into a countdown calendar this month. Kinda like this:

Image courtesy of Living etc. Magazine

I'm going to tape up party invites, make note of dinner plans & plot out shopping trips. It feels a little soon to decorate the house for my taste, so instead I'll hit the grocery store for some of these:

A big bowl of clementines is a bright and pretty centerpiece - and I'll grab one every time I walk by so I should get enough vitamin C to fend off any more colds! I'm also going to stock up on real apple cider and cinnamon sticks so I can serve warm spiced cider to any and everyone who comes over this month:

Last but not least, I'm going to find some old fashioned ribbon candy like this:
Image courtesy of Hammonds Candies

I'll fill my candy jar with these colorful treats and maybe tie them to the outside of presents with beautiful ribbon when I start wrapping! Get some in every color of the rainbow here.

How are you welcoming the holiday season?

Nov 22, 2009

Big Fat Greek Feta

Is it just me, or did the "holiday season" start a little early this year? Christmas carols are being piped through store stereos, it's impossible to park at the mall, and I actually passed an SUV with a big red bow stuck on it's hood... what happened to waiting until AFTER Turkey Day for all this nonsense?

First things first - Thanksgiving is this week and it deserves our full consideration. Yeah, December may bring all the presents, but the really good eating happens in November. 

So whether you're heading home to feast with family, across town to stuff yourself with friends or hosting the whole showdown at your place, start everybody off with this pretty baked feta appetizer.  It's full of greek flavors and takes just minutes to prepare - so you can appease the crowd with a snack and get back to business in the kitchen!

How to: Baked Greek Feta
Layer quarter-inch slices of good feta cheese in a shallow oven-proof serving dish, overlapping slices slightly. Scatter 8-10 chopped kalamata olives (pits removed) over the cheese and drizzle with olive oil and a little salt & black pepper. Place under the broiler until cheese is bubbling at the edges and starting to brown on top.  Remove from the oven - carefully! - and top with chopped fresh mint, lemon zest and red chili flakes. Serve hot with crusty bread or toasted pita.

NOTE: It's really important to use good feta cheese here - the commercially packaged feta from the grocery store is so tangy it'll be overpowering. I like to use the kind that comes in a container of water - it's usually imported from Greece. You may have to go to a farmers market or specialty market to find it.

Nov 16, 2009

Pressed for gift ideas?

Want to impress the hell out of your holiday hostesses? Head over to Cost Plus World Market and pick up a bottle of their Pomegranate & Raspberry or Cranberry Presse. It's a beautifully packaged sparkling juice that will make a terrific hostess gift - simply pair it with a small bottle of good-quality vodka. 

Hosting your own shindig? Serve with a splash of champagne at brunch or straight up as a mocktail for your designated drivers or knocked-up gal pals!

Nov 11, 2009

Get Sauced

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Momofuku food empire? What started as a noodle shop in NYC has become a force to be reckoned with in the food world. Every time you turn around someone is praising the vision & talent of Momofuku’s founder, David Chang. He’s a regular mention in food magazines, was featured on the USA network, and he recently released his first cookbook.

I tried one of the recipes from the book this week, but rather than describe it, I’m going to let you read David’s instructions from an excerpt posted on - his enthusiasm and passion for food are addictive:

The dish goes something like this: boil 6 ounces of ramen noodles, drain, toss with 6 tablespoons Ginger Scallion Sauce (below); top the bowl with 1/4 cup each of Bamboo Shoots (page 54 of Momofuku); Quick-Pickled Cucumbers (page 65 of Momofuku); pan-roasted cauliflower (a little oil in a hot wide pan, 8 or so minutes over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the florets are dotted with brown and tender all the way through; season with salt); a pile of sliced scallions; and a sheet of toasted nori. But that’s because we’ve always got all that stuff on hand. Improvise to your needs, but know that you need ginger scallion sauce on your noodles, in your fridge, and in your life. For real.-- David Chang

2 1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 1/2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste
(Makes about three cups)

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it’s best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it’s stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge. Use as directed, or apply as needed.

I actually added quite a bit more soy sauce to mine, but other than that I stayed pretty true to the noodle bowl he suggested and it was phenomenal. Though I did use the pickled carrots from a can of pickled jalapenos instead of the cucumbers he listed. I know, I know - I have a problem with those damn jalapenos!

And the sauce is just fantastic. You’ll come up with a thousand ways to use it – I’m trying to decide between a gingery pork stir fry or a pile of dumplings to dunk in it. But one thing I know for sure is that David’s right – Ginger Scallion Sauce now has a permanent place in my fridge.

Nov 4, 2009

Easy, Delicious Meals

Real Simple magazine has put out a new compilation of their best recipes and it's great. As promised on the cover, it's full of easy recipes that sound pretty delicious. Most require only a handful of easy-to-find ingredients and simple techniques - pretty basic stuff but perfect for weeknights or starter cooks... 

It's $13 and you can find it on newsstands or the magazine section of your bookstore. It's scheduled to be on display until January 8th, 2010 but there's no guarantee - if they sell out before then there won't be any reprints.

Starting your gift list for the holidays? Why not wrap up a copy for a kitchen-minded gal pal and include a year-long subscription to Real Simple? Your gift will last all year long and she'll love it-

Oct 31, 2009

PumpkinFest Popcorn

Salty, spicy & sweet, this popcorn is perfect for snacking while you're carving your pumpkin masterpiece tonight or watching scary movies... simply toss dried cranberries and spiced pumpkin seeds with hot popcorn and a sprinkle of salt. 

Spiced Pumpkin Seeds
Spread seeds in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle a spice mix of cumin, garlic salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper and Chinese 5-spice powder over the seeds. Toss to make sure everything is coated and roast at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes until seeds start to brown. Keep an eye on them though - they'll go from brown to burnt really quickly! 

Oct 29, 2009

Trick or Treat

Treat - for sure.

These Pumpkin Spice Whoopie Pies are going to be the triumph of my pumpkin-themed bash tomorrow night...

There are plenty of recipes to be found on the web for Pumpkin Whoopie Pies. I combined a few to come up with these - fluffy spiced cake with a cream cheese based frosting - I also tripled the usual amount of each ingredient to make an extra-large batch of 30 cookies. Trust me - your pals will eat every last one!

What you need:
3 boxes yellow cake mix
2 15oz. cans pumpkin puree
2/3 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 tea each cinnamon, nutmeg, ground ginger

1 cup vegetable shortening
1 small jar marshmallow creme
1 8oz. block cream cheese
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 tea vanilla extract
2 TB cinnamon
2 TB water

How you make them:
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix cookie ingredients together in the largest bowl you can find. Batter will be very thick. Drop rounded tablespoons on a well-greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes until cake is set and tops are lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack and let the cookies cool completely before frosting.

Beat frosting ingredients in a stand mixer on medium speed until well combined and smooth. Add water a few drops at a time to help it come together if you need to. Sandwich two cookies with a tablespoon (or more!) of frosting and store in a cool spot. 

NOTE: You can absolutely substitute pumpkin pie spice rather than using individual spices for the cookies.

Oct 21, 2009

Save the Date

Now's the time to send out invites for a Halloween party if you haven't already - see mine below! I like to throw a pumpkin-carving party so everyone can create a fabulous jack-o-lantern before the big night... stay tuned for recipes!

Oct 19, 2009

Real Party!

Toni W. in Atlanta hosted a little fete last weekend and made carnitas - way to go Gal! My favorite part? That she put her fella to work searing all that pork!

From Toni:
"They were fantastic! Many folks asked for your recipe, and I passed the link along. Jim is ready to make them again for another shower we are hosting Friday night!"

Oct 18, 2009

DFO: A Hearty Stew

Right about now you’re probably asking yourself “What is that brown mess and why on earth would anyone eat it?” Well, fear not gentle reader, for that is a bowl of lentil and sausage stew and it may just become your new favorite weeknight supper.

Full disclosure: I actually saw this recipe somewhere recently and thought it looked delicious. I picked up the ingredients on my last trip to the store and then I settled in and waited for the cold weather to roll in. Because this just sounded like hearty, comforting bowl food. And then I lost the recipe. I cannot, for the life of me, remember where I saw it! I’ve re-created it from memory but if it rings any bells for you, would you let me know where you saw it before?? That would be so great – ‘cause I’m feeling pretty silly right now.

Dinner For One: Lentil and Sausage Stew

What you need:
Olive oil
2-3 ounces smoked turkey sausage, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
8oz. package baby portabello mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
14oz. can chicken broth
1 cup brown lentils
2 big handfuls baby spinach
Salt & pepper to taste

How you make it:
Heat a swirl of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook, turning occasionally until browned. Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Turkey sausage won’t render much, if any, fat so add another swirl of olive oil to the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly for about a minute. Add a splash of chicken broth and stir to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

Add lentils to pot and pour in the rest of the chicken broth. Add water until lentils are covered, put top on pot and let cook, over medium heat, until lentils are tender. Keep an eye on them, and add more water if they start to dry out.

When lentils are soft, add spinach and sausage and stir until spinach wilts and sausage is heated through. Season with salt and pepper and serve warm.

This would be great with some good feta or queso blanco crumbled on top but it’s delicious on its own too. You don’t really need the sausage – the mushrooms are tender and meaty, so feel free to leave it out if you’re so inclined. I might not serve it to company because it is so very brown… but make a pot for yourself on a chilly night, settle in on the couch with a big bowl and a glass of wine and see how happy it makes you. Go ahead, try it – you can thank me later.

Oct 14, 2009

This makes me happy

From Lauren S. in Atlanta:

Thank you so much for your fabulous Oktoberfest post! It inspired me to have a beer exchange and Oktoberfest get together a la casa de Gary. Attached are the pictures. Guests were RAVING about the sausage and potato salad - and the entire theme! Thank you again!

love to TSG!

My heart is full. Listen up Single Gals - Go forth and entertain!

Oct 11, 2009


Wanna go to a place where everyone knows your name? (Cue Cheers theme song…) Well then plan a trip to Jupiter, Florida. And before you go, call my cousin and tell her you’re on the way so that not only will she plan an elaborate dinner party in your honor with ten of the most interesting & fun people you’ve ever met, but she’ll also alert the ENTIRE TOWN that you’re coming so that once you arrive you will be greeted by EVERYONE as though you’re their long-lost relative or best friend. Everywhere you go people will call your name and be genuinely thrilled that you’re there. It’s absolutely enchanting. I think all the nicest people in the world must live in Jupiter, Florida.

One tip - when my cousin tells you that it’s getting “cooler” down there, just ignore her and pack your shorts and flip flops. Otherwise you’ll be the only idiot in Florida with a sweater.

Oct 5, 2009

DFO: Moo Shu Chicken

Perhaps I should change the name of this site to "101 Dishes to Make with Coleslaw Mix" - seriously, it's like I'm obsessed with the stuff! 

Dinner For One: Moo Shu Chicken

Forget the takeout and break up with the delivery guy – this is a fast and easy take on a Chinese restaurant favorite. Recipe adapted from Family Circle July 2008.

1 TB sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
5 oz. shredded coleslaw mix with carrots (about 1/2 a bag)
2 baby portabella or standard mushrooms, sliced into matchsticks
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cup hoisin sauce plus more for serving
2 TB soy sauce
4 6” flour tortillas
1-2 cups shredded, cooked chicken

Warm tortillas in a dry nonstick skillet over medium heat until light brown spots appear on both sides. Make an aluminum foil packet, place warm tortillas inside and set aside.

In same pan heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add garlic, coleslaw mix, mushrooms and scallions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, until vegetables are softened.

Add chicken and stir in the hoisin and soy sauces and cook 2 minutes, stirring to make sure everything gets coated.

Spread each tortilla with a little extra hoisin sauce and roll up with a large spoonful of the chicken & vegetable mixture.

NOTE: Grocery store rotisserie chicken works great for this but it’s just as easy to quickly poach a chicken breast – try adding a little soy sauce to the poaching liquid to boost the flavor.

p.s. - I've gone back to the original header... the photos were bugging me. Thoughts?

Oct 1, 2009

DIY: Spooky Centerpiece

I love Halloween. It might be one of my favorite holidays and, as such, I find it perfectly acceptable to start decorating on October 1st. I pulled together this centerpiece in less than an hour and it will live on the dining room table all month long. I especially love when a breeze hits it and the bats flutter a bit... 

DIY: Spooky Centerpiece

What You Need:
Small Garden Urn
Small Rocks or Gravel
3-4 Branches
Black Spray Paint
Needle and Thread
Black Construction Paper
Scissors or an Exacto Knife
Lamb’s Wool

How You Make It:
Make sure your urn is clean and dry. If it’s not already black, you may want to give it a coat of black spray paint. Plug any drainage holes with tape and fill the urn with rocks, gravel, marbles or even floral foam if you want. Go out to your yard (or someone else’s!) and gather 3 or 4 dead branches and spray paint them black. Once the paint has dried, nestle branches into the rocks.

Trace bat shapes onto the construction paper and cut them out with scissors or an exacto knife. Not feeling artistic? You can find templates at Martha Stewart’s site or download some free clip art. If you only have white paper, try a spooky ghost or a skull. Any Halloween-inspired shape will work. Using a needle and black thread, make bats into ornaments and hang from the branches.

Pull the lamb’s wool into wispy pieces and drape some in the branches. Pile the rest into the base of the urn, covering the rocks completely.


NOTE: I actually had everything I needed for this around my house and I bet you do too... no lamb's wool? How about cotton balls? No garden urn? Try an interesting vase or bowl. No thread? Try fishing line or un-bend some paperclips to make hooks... you get the idea.

Sep 28, 2009

The Book: Oktoberfest

Hmm... I may have missed the boat on this one this year - is Oktoberfest still going on? Do we even really need an excuse to invite our pals over and drink beer? Nah, I didn't think so...

Celebrate the arrival of October with this easy German-inspired menu. Lederhosen optional.

Late Sept/Early Oct.

German Beer
Skillet Sausage & Cabbage
Potato Salad w/ Warm Mustard Vinaigrette
Apple Pancake

Skillet Sausage & Cabbage
Serves 8

What you need:
2 (16oz) package of kielbasa or smoked turkey sausage, sliced diagonally into 1in. thick pieces
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 green bell peppers, seeded & thinly sliced
8 cups white cabbage, thinly sliced
1.5 cups dry white wine or chicken broth
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
salt & pepper to taste

How you make it:
Sauté sausage over med heat until browned, remove from pan & drain on paper towels. Do not clean pan, add onions & peppers and sauté until softened (2-3 minutes). Add cabbage and cook, stirring often until softened (7-8 minutes). Add sausage, wine or broth and seasonings. Reduce heat and cook over low flame until cabbage is tender (10 minutes).

Want to make it even easier? Take it to the grill:
Grill Brats or 6” lengths of kielbasa, serve hotdog-style on buns with purchased sauerkraut.

Potato Salad w/ Warm Mustard Vinaigrette
Serves 8

What you need:
3 pounds potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/3 cup champagne vinegar
1  cup extra virgin olive oil  
2 tablespoons coarse-grain mustard
1 small bunch fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

How you make it:
Place the potatoes and salt in a medium pot and add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a serving dish. Whisk together the vinegar, olive oil and mustard in a small bowl. Pour half the mixture over the hot potatoes, toss, and let stand for 1 hour. Just before serving, drizzle the remaining vinaigrette mixture over the potatoes, add the tarragon and pepper, and toss. Taste and add salt as needed.

NOTE: Drizzling the vinaigrette over the potatoes while they're hot helps them absorb the tasty liquid more readily.

German Apple Pancake
Serves 8

What you need:
4 eggs
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pinch salt
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup white sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 large tart apple - peeled, cored and sliced

How you make it:
In a large bowl, blend eggs, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Gradually mix in milk, stirring constantly. Add vanilla, melted butter and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Let batter stand for 30 minutes or overnight.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Melt butter in a 10 inch oven proof skillet, brushing butter up on the sides of the pan. In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. Sprinkle mixture over the butter. Line the pan with apple slices. Sprinkle remaining sugar over apples. Place pan over medium-high heat until the mixture bubbles, and then gently pour the batter mixture over the apples.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees and bake for 10 minutes. Flip pancake onto serving platter and cut into wedges.

Sep 27, 2009

Going for the Hat Trick

Another one! 

They're all gorgeous - This one belongs to the brilliant and talented Mrs. T_Ro here in the ATL. I'm so tickled you gals are cooking up a storm!

Sep 22, 2009

Another One!

 A delicious confection from the divine Ms. K - thanks for sharing!

It's absurd how happy this makes me. Especially considering I didn't actually get to eat any of it...

Sep 20, 2009

Yo' Mama

I was having drinks this weekend with another smart, gorgeous, 30-something Gal and at some point she remarked how much she was like her mom. What was really interesting was the way she said it – not in the typical “what am I going to do, the world is ending” groan, but in a really pleased, self assured tone that said “and I’m really proud of that”.

That got me thinking. In our early twenties, coming into our own fabulousity, none of my girlfriends would have been caught dead admitting she was like her mother – much less being pleased with it. But now it seemed un-escapable – we do become our mothers, it’s just absurd that we didn’t see it coming!

My own transformation is undeniable. Not only is there a strong physical resemblance, but our habits, our talents and even our downfalls are eerily familiar. Now keep in mind we’re talking about a woman who stockpiles toilet paper. Almost to an apocalyptic degree. It is a source of total amusement to my brother and I – it seems like she picks some up every time she goes to the store. Though in her defense, when asked why she bought yet more TP, her response is always “Well, you don’t want to run out, do you?” Um, no. Good point.

If I stop to think about it, the list of similarities is quite long. We wear the same lipstick shade, the same nail polish looks good on us. We both had a phase with Guerlain’s Shalimar perfume in our early twenties. We have the same crooked toes. We’ve suffered the same illnesses and share a mutual love for Ambien. We share a perfect black dress, passing it back and forth for events. We both love to be in the kitchen and tend to show our love for others by cooking for them. We both like to keep a stash of candy around the house. When my issue of House Beautiful shows up, I read it quickly and share it with her and she returns the favor with her Bon Appetit. I’ve watched my mother read for years and she absentmindedly holds her fingers up to her lips. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself doing it too. And we can both deliver a brutal tongue lashing when we’re peeved. Don’t say you weren’t warned…

And then there is the list of things my mother knew long ago about us that I’m just realizing. She made me wait to get my ears pierced until long after my friends’ had theirs done. She seemed to think it was over-hyped. And today? I rarely even wear earrings. I wasn’t allowed to perm my hair, because it would “ruin” it, to my eternal despair, and yet these days I don’t even like to blow it dry for fear of damage and my healthy, straight hair is my most complimented feature. The oddest trait I’ve embraced? When we were young and my mom would drive us around, no one was allowed to remove their seatbelt before the car was turned off. Even in the driveway. We always thought it was ridiculous – after all, it’s not like we were going to fall out of the car going 2 mph. And then last week it happened. I was driving around town with a pal and as we pulled up to the house he popped his seatbelt. And I lost my mind. “Are you crazy? Don’t take off your seatbelt until we’ve stopped!” I screeched. The expression on his face was priceless. Like looking in a mirror at my twelve year-old self.

So yeah, I’m turning into my mother & so are you. But just think – our moms hooked our dads, so it can’t be all bad, right?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick up some toilet paper. You know, just in case.

p.s. - This is my 100th post! Thanks for reading. 

xo, TSG

Sep 16, 2009

DIY: Menu Cards

There’s a fine line between creative & crafty… you can have great ideas but not necessarily the fine motor skills (or patience) to cut & paste them together. I fall pretty firmly in the former category – while I enjoy flipping through a Martha Stewart tutorial, there’s no way in hell I could ever get mine to look like hers.

So when it comes to decorating for a party I tend to keep things pretty simple – but I still want it to feel special. Even if you have no art skills whatsoever you can do these great menu cards.

Image courtesy of the now defunct Blueprint Magazine. 
They got fancy with the little pencils - great idea if you need to keep everybody busy while you're finishing up in the kitchen. 
Include a questionnaire, brain teaser or trivia quiz...

Simply type up what you’re serving, pick a font and color you like and print them out on heavy card stock. Then just trim them down and place one at each place setting.

Don’t want to include the menu? Try a simple holiday greeting, a quote, or just the reason you’re all together. I did the ones below for a friend’s birthday dinner at a restaurant. I just showed up a few minutes early, put out the cards, some simple flowers and small boxes of treats as party favors… it was a subtle and sophisticated way to make our table special - without the cheesy party store banners or balloons.

Got more skills? Turn it up with clip art, illustrations or your own masterpiece! Photos would be super cute – add pictures of your friends and use them as place cards to let everyone know where they should sit (“Find your face & sit down”…or, you know, something like that).

Sep 15, 2009


that you guys are trying out some of the recipes I've posted - and more importantly - sharing your own creations with me!

Loved this picture from E. in NC who made a peach crostata last weekend for her dinner party. She may have recently tied the knot, but she's putting her Single Gal skills to good use! It looks absolutely scrumptious and I'm just sorry I wasn't there to try some...

And a HUGE thank you to K. here in Atlanta  - the sassiest Single Gal I know - who whipped up some amazing chili and was kind enough to share it with me. Sadly, I ate it all before it even occurred to me to take a picture - but trust me, it was delicious! 


Sep 13, 2009

Sunday is Soup Day

Sundays were made for soup. They were also made for lounging around on the couch in your PJs, drinking coffee and reading the paper – but you can do all that while your soup bubbles away on the stove. Sunday is also a great day to entertain since you’ll have all day to cook and get ready leisurely. In my family, we always have dinner together on Sundays. It’s our time to catch up, talk about what’s going on and share a good meal. These days, not many of us still live in the same cities as our families, so why not treat your friends like family and invite them over for a Sunday Supper?

Keep it casual and easy – big bowls of soup, hunks of crusty bread, maybe a simple salad if you’re so inclined… just a comforting home-cooked meal to help everyone ease out of the weekend and get ready for the week ahead. This is one of my favorites:

Serves 8-10

1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds, cut into 5-6 pieces
4 Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
4 large carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
4 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 head of garlic, cut in half crosswise to expose all the cloves
3-4 bay leaves
2” piece of ginger, coarsely chopped
2 TB black peppercorns
5-6 whole cardamom pods

4 TB butter
1 medium onion, peeled & finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled & finely chopped
1 large celery stalk, finely chopped
1 cup rice
3/4 cup red lentils
1/4 cup flour
1 tea ground coriander
1 TB garlic, minced
3 TB curry paste, yellow or red
1 1/2 tea salt
1 tea ground black pepper
Chopped cilantro for serving

Make the Stock:
Pull out the biggest pot you have and dump all the stock ingredients in it. Add enough cold water to completely cover the chicken and vegetables and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat and gently simmer for one hour. The vegetables will be mushy and the chicken should fall off the bones easily.

Remove the chicken pieces from the pot, discard the skin and bones and shred the meat. Strain the stock and discard the vegetables and spices. If you want, you can let the stock cool and skim off whatever fat accumulates. But the fat adds richness, so I like to go ahead and finish the soup right away as is.

Make the Soup:
In the same large pot, melt butter over medium heat and add onions, carrots and celery. Cook ten minutes, stirring often until vegetables are soft. Add rice and lentils and cook two minutes, stirring constantly. Add flour, garlic, curry paste and about half a cup of the stock. Cook for two minutes, stirring to dissolve the curry paste and get everything evenly combined. Add the remaining stock (You should have 8-10 cups) slowly – about a cup at a time, stirring in between. Cook for about ten minutes or until rice and lentils are tender. Add shredded chicken, salt and pepper. When chicken is heated through, serve soup with chopped cilantro sprinkled on top.

Don’t feel like making your own stock? You can use store-bought stock or low sodium chicken broth – you’ll just need to tweak it a bit. While you’re sweating the soup vegetables, heat the broth in a separate pot and let it simmer with a piece of garlic and a few cardamom pods until you’re ready for it. When it’s time, simply scoop out the spices. You may want to add a peeled, chopped green apple in with the onions, carrots & celery – the sweetness is really great here, so you don’t want to loose it.

You can absolutely make this the day before – but it will thicken as it cools so you may need to add a few cups of water or stock when you reheat it gently. Not having people over? No problem. Just let the soup cool and divide it into single-serving plastic containers. Pop them in the freezer and you’ll have soup all season long!

Sep 9, 2009

DFO: Squashed Gnocchi

You know when you think up something late at night, maybe after a glass of cheap chardonnay or two, and you think it's completely brilliant and then the next morning you realize it's really, really stupid? Yeah... that's pretty much what happened when I was trying to decide what to call this dish.

But, stupid name notwithstanding, it's really fabulous and easy so give it a try-

Dinner For One: Squashed Gnocchi

This is serious comfort food - heavy, creamy & incredibly filling - you might want to have a salad for lunch. I just so happened to have some leftover roasted acorn squash on hand but I realize that's pretty rare. If it were me, I wouldn't cook squash just to make this - I'd use a canned version, but you do whatever suits you.

What you'll need:
1 package potato gnocchi
1 TB butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
.5 cup cooked squash, diced into small pieces
.5 cup half & half
Salt, pepper, red chili flakes & chopped fresh rosemary to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated for top (optional & totally indulgent)

How you make it:
Cook gnocchi in salted boiling water according to package instructions. Meanwhile, heat butter in a wide-bottomed pan and cook garlic over low heat until it begins to turn golden. Add squash and half & half. Use a fork to smush squash until it melds with the cream into a (more or less) smooth sauce. Add spices and keep warm until gnocchi are ready. 

When it's time, add gnocchi and a splash of its cooking water to pan, stir everything very gently until gnocchi are coated & serve with a sprinkle of parmesan and extra herbs-

Note: I really like rosemary but it's a strong flavor and some folks aren't that fond of it. That's cool 'cause sage would be incredible in this, as would thyme. And butternut squash would be great. You know the rules - adapt the recipe to use what you have and what you like. Because really, what doesn't taste good with cream & butter? 

Sep 7, 2009

All Tarted Up

Oh my. I've gone and done it again haven't I? Crap. Where does the time go?? Hmmm, would you like to hear my mea culpa now, or shall I just run the same old tired excuses by you again? 

Well, the good news is I haven't been hanging out in restaurants since we last talked. But I haven't been at home either - I've been enjoying the best perk of entertaining your friends. Are you ready? Here it is... If you invite people over, they will oftentimes invite you back over to their house! So I've been enjoying the hospitality of family & friends and just generally having a lovely time.

But somehow when you write about food and entertaining, it doesn't seem right to sit back and let the party happen without helping out. Remember the crostata from a few weeks ago?  I made this Ginger Plum version twice this week and it was a huge hit.

I used the same basic method as before with a filling of sliced plums, a few teaspoons of ground ginger and the juice of half a lemon. It takes about 5 minutes to assemble and 40 minutes in the oven - so simple. Served warm from the oven with a dollop of whipped cream... yeah, you'll get invited back for sure.

Aug 31, 2009

Fools Rush In

Ok, maybe I got a little carried away. It is still technically August after all, so it’s a tad early for roasting & such. But I was at the farmer’s market this weekend and it was full of apples and root vegetables and gourds of all shapes and sizes and it was all so unexpected and unusual after months of juicy peaches and ripe berries and sweet tender greens. And somehow I ended up with an acorn squash.

Now I don’t know about you, but I think acorn squash just cries out for roasting. So I complied with its request and popped that bad boy in the oven with a dash of olive oil, a pinch of garam masala spice, and a generous sprinkle of salt & pepper. At 400 degrees it took about an hour for the wedges to brown and become tender.

And then?

Well, then it was only just ok… sweet and subtle and not particularly thrilling really. I think it could have thrilled me – maybe with a roasted chicken or pork loin alongside or whipped into a rich pasta filling… but quite frankly, the oven had already been on for an hour, it was 80 degrees outside and I was starting to break a sweat.

The truth is, it’s just not roasting weather quite yet. So I spun my squash around with a little crumbled cow’s milk feta and then, oh then… it was downright delightful. Somewhere between savory and sweet with a little salty tang - it hints of the past and promises a comforting future - perfect for our present, somewhere between Summer and Fall.

An interesting and unexpected pairing, serve it as a salad at room temp or a side for your last BBQ of the season. And remember, good things may come to those who wait - but sometimes it's ok to peek ahead!

Aug 24, 2009

Farewell Friend

Oh Summer, what happened?

It seems like just yesterday we were heralding your arrival, pulling out swimsuits and beach towels, and shaving our legs more regularly. But in two weeks it will be Labor Day and then Fall will show up, and we’ll be braising and roasting, and you’ll be gone.

How about before you go we have one last hurrah? We’ll invite over some pals, fire up the grill and sit out on the deck drinking margaritas until the sun goes down. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

What to serve for our summer send-off? How about a sweet, spicy shrimp & pineapple salsa? More substantial than a traditional salsa, it’s a perfect way to kick off your fresh fiesta.

A cross between ceviche and a salsa, this chunky relish is great with tortilla chips, or as a topping for grilled chicken or fish. Don’t like pineapple? Try it with mango, peaches or any type of melon – it’ll be great.

Shrimp & Pineapple Salsa
Serves 6 as a starter

What you need:
8-10 medium shrimp, peeled, de-veined & tails removed (I use frozen)
8oz pineapple tidbits in juice
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded & finely chopped
half of a red onion, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
large handful of cilantro, stemmed & chopped
large pinch of salt (maybe 2, you’ll have to taste it)
Chips for serving 

How to make it:
Cook shrimp in boiling water until pink. Drain and let cool, then cut each shrimp into 4-5 small pieces. Combine with remaining ingredients (including juice from pineapple) and stir to combine.

This is better after it sits for awhile, so make it as far ahead as you can and leave, covered, in the fridge until you’re ready to serve.

Aug 21, 2009

Remember Me?

Um, hi. Are you mad?
I would totally understand if you are. I just run off and leave you for a week with no explanation? It was pretty rotten of me. And then I show up with a few lousy paragraphs and not even a pretty picture? And I don’t even have a good excuse. But I’ll try.

You see, it’s like this:

Work has been rough. Like “run around the office all day screaming at people while getting screamed at by other people and not having time to pee” rough. So I’ve been eating out a lot because at the end of the day I’m too wiped out to even plug in my rice cooker. And you know how much I love that thing.

So short of taking pictures of all the lovely wait staff that have coddled & cared for me this week, I just don’t have anything to share. I’m so ashamed. And, looking at my bank balance, I’m a little sick to my stomach. So I’ll be back on the wagon next week, promise. I’ll even invite some friends over – you available?

Oh, and one small side note…
I have a new roommate who moved in this week – and just in the nick of time too, ‘cause now I can use her rent to pay for all my restaurant meals – and I haven’t exactly figured out how to explain why I’m taking pictures of our food…

Hi Roomie ☺

Aug 17, 2009

5 Reasons: Quiche

1. It's a great way to use up bits & pieces you have lying around - any veggies, cheeses and/or meats will work. A quick inspection of my fridge yielded half an onion, a few handfuls of spinach, two kinds of cheese and an open bag of cooked turkey bacon crumbles (TOTALLY doesn't qualify as bacon but when you're desperate...).

2. You get incredible mileage out of just three eggs. Here's the basic recipe I used:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place ready-to-bake pie crust (by all means make your own if you're so inclined) in a pie pan and sprinkle a handful of cheese on the bottom. Put 3 cups of veggies and/or meats in the pan and spread them out in an even layer. Beat together 3 eggs, 2 TB all purpose flour, 1 cup milk, salt & pepper. Pour egg mixture in the pan, pressing down on everything to make sure it's submerged. Sprinkle another handful of cheese over the top and bake for 40-45 minutes until center is set, crust is golden and cheese is browned in spots.

3. It's great any time of day. Case in point - I made this one for lunch Saturday. It was delicious. Then I had a piece before heading out Saturday night. Still delicious. Got home in the early morning hours Sunday and seriously considered having a piece - it would have been delicious but I was too tired to even chew. Went to bed, woke up later Sunday morning and had a piece for breakfast. Yep, morning was just as delicious as noon & night. 

4. My friend Kate loves it for all these reasons and more.

5. You won't have to share it with any men. Men, as a general rule, do not like quiche. If offered to them, they will scoff at it. No one really understands why because if you were to offer them a piece of spinach and bacon "pie" (for example) they would gladly eat a piece the size of their head. Go figure.

Aug 14, 2009

Spanakopita Redux

Here's an idea. Let’s bring back the Potluck Supper, what do you say? 

Just think about it - In these leaner times it’s a great way to enjoy dinner with your friends without breaking the bank. You can hand out assignments by course (appetizer, salad, dessert), set a theme and let everyone pick a recipe (Mexican, Italian, Greek) or just pick a time and place and let it be a free-for-all.

No matter how you structure it, the rules are simple: everyone brings a dish. And this should be yours-

Incorporating all the flavors of spinach spanakopita, this easy, make-ahead pasta salad is great served at room temperature - so it’s easy to transport if the party’s not at your place.

Greek Orzo

What you need:
Two 14oz. cans chicken broth
1 lb orzo pasta
2 huge handfuls spinach, washed, dried & roughly chopped
2 TB olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
4 oz. feta cheese, cubed or crumbled
3-4 sprigs each fresh oregano and mint, finely chopped
Salt & pepper
Red pepper flake (optional)

How to make it:
Cook orzo in chicken broth until pasta is tender and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, add spinach to pot and stir until spinach has wilted and is well combined. Toss with olive oil and set aside. Once pasta is cool, Add lemon juice, cheese, herbs, salt & pepper to taste, and red pepper flakes if using. Toss until everything is evenly distributed. That's it - you're done. Now just pack it up and head for the party!

NOTE: You can absolutely cook the orzo in water if you’re hanging out with a veggie-minded crew.

Aug 12, 2009

Making the Most of Breakfast

I lived in Mexico the summer after I graduated from high school. It was a student travel abroad program and I loved every minute of it. The people, the culture, the community and the food – oh the food… Authentic Mexican food is nothing like what we have here and I tried so many new things that summer. It’s probably safe to say that my taco fixation began then as well… yep, I ate from street vendors in small villages in Mexico – I was living on the edge.

Dinner For One: Chilaquiles

One of my favorite dishes from my time there is actually considered a peasant breakfast – a way to use up yesterday’s tortillas and leftover salsa. In the U.S. it’s usually served for dinner and sometimes you’ll see it made with eggs on a brunch menu. While my version is nowhere near authentic - it is a quick and easy way to whip up this comfort food any time of day.

What you’ll need:
3 TB olive oil
1 medium white onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt & pepper
1 cup mild salsa
1 small can red enchilada sauce (approx. 10 oz.)
2 cups cooked chicken, shredded
3 large handfuls tortilla chips
1 large handful Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
crema or sour cream, diced radish & chopped onion for garnish

How to make it:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a wide oven-safe pan over medium heat on the stove. Add onions, garlic, salt & pepper and cook until onions are translucent. Add salsa and enchilada sauce, stir to combine. Add chicken and tortilla chips, stir until the chips begin to soften and everything is coated in sauce. Add half the cheese, stir once more, sprinkle remaining cheese over the top and put the pan in the oven until the cheese is melted, the chips are soft, and the sauce is bubbling.

Serving this to friends? Add a side of spicy black beans and a salad with avocado and lime – morning or night, it’ll be a hit.

NOTE: This is not a glamorous recipe. In fact, as I'm re-reading now, it really doesn't sound tasty at all, does it? But please - trust me on this one & try it. I've introduced it to friends & they all love it so I know you will too. And buy the really thick yellow tortilla chips - the kind with a picture  of someone's sweet little abuelita on the front - you won't be sorry.

Aug 10, 2009

Host It: Closet Swap

So maybe you’ve heard the economy is in the dumps? Lots of folks have lost their jobs and their savings… I’m sure you’ve seen something about it on the news, right?

Well, even for those of us who haven’t lost our jobs it’s a scary time, and if you’re like me, you’re really re-thinking your spending habits these days. Shopping, eating out, and hosting parties were pretty regular parts of my routine that have all slowed down to a trickle now that I’m watching my pennies. And with September just around the corner and every fashion magazine crammed with fabulous fall fashion, it’s hard to resist the call to shop…

So why not scratch the shopping itch by hosting a Closet Swap with as many pals as you can find and shop from other people’s closets??

Here’s how it works:
Clean out your closet and gather all the clothes that are still in good condition but just don’t work for you anymore – this includes anything you haven’t worn in a year, anything that doesn’t fit or anything that was for a special occasion and you won’t/can’t wear it again (somebody’s old bridesmaid dress could be somebody else’s hidden treasure!). Anything that’s stained or torn or otherwise needs mending isn’t eligible for the party – fix it and wear it, donate it, or throw it away.

Tell your pals to do the same thing, have everybody over, and set up a rack for hanging clothes. Clear off a bookcase for folded items and put everything out neatly, like it’s a little boutique. Put on some high-energy music, put out some snacks and cocktails and let everybody get down to the business of shopping!

My girlfriends & I have a rule when we’re in the dressing room: if it zips up, you have to show it. Put this into effect at the party and help each other put together outfits and try new styles. You might discover a new way to wear what you already have and everyone will go home with some new (to them) stuff. When it’s all over, bag everything up, give your pals one of those lovely Salvation Army tax forms and drop everything off at your local donation center.

What to serve:
Sangria (More drinks for your wine buck)
Have everyone bring a bottle of wine

Flavored popcorn - pop your own and toss it with any combination of spices. I especially like the version below:

Rosemary Popcorn:
Makes 16 cups (two big bowls)

Though it can be hard to find an old-fashioned hot air popper in this era of microwaveable popcorn, it is absolutely worth tracking one down. It’s every bit as fast as the microwave variety, has significantly less salt and fat, and it just tastes better. You’ll find yourself using it all the time – movie nights, sports events and as an unusual (and super popular) appetizer.

You can absolutely substitute the microwave version if you want, just look for low salt and/or no butter varieties.

An oil mister works great here – it gives you a fine, even spray of oil.

What you need:
1/2 cup olive oil
6-8 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
salt & fresh cracked black pepper

How to make it:
STEP 1: Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Add rosemary sprigs to pot & stir to coat. Let rosemary cook in oil gently for 8-10 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool. Remove rosemary sprigs from oil and strip leaves off the stems. Make a small pile of crispy rosemary leaves, the parmesan, salt & pepper on a cutting board and run a knife through it until everything is finely chopped and mixed.

STEP 2: When you’re ready to serve, make the popcorn according to the hot air popper’s instructions. As the popcorn comes out, spray with the rosemary oil & sprinkle with spice/cheese mixture. The hot popcorn will melt the cheese and help the seasoning stick to the kernels. Serve immediately.

Other flavor combinations (Skip Step 1 & proceed to Step 2 if not using fresh herbs):
Indian curry powder or garam masala with chopped candied ginger
Southwest chipotle powder & cumin
Mexican chili & lime seasoning
Chinese five spice powder and crunchy fried noodles

Aug 9, 2009

Sunday Morning

I love Sunday mornings. They are, without a doubt, my favorite part of the week. I’m usually out walking in the park with my dog and some old friends, followed by bagels & coffee at our usual spot. But every once in a while, when my walking buddies aren’t around, I get to spend Sunday morning at home – and that’s a real treat.

Coffee, toast and watching A&E are my Sunday treats but I woke up this morning to discover that the beautiful bread I got earlier in the week had gone stale. Really stale. Like too-far-gone-to-be-revived-by-the-toaster stale. So toast for breakfast was out.

I don’t know about you, but stale bread always makes me think of bread pudding (I know, I have a one-track mind) so I pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks – Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and found an easy recipe. I stuck to the basic recipe, but bread pudding is a perfect canvas for adding your own twist. If you’re into raisins (which I’m not), some golden raisins would be perfect. Really any fresh or dried fruit would work and you can vary the spices – nutmeg, cardamom, ginger – whatever you’ve got.

Clockwise from top left: Bittman's book, the star ingredient, out of the oven, good morning!

I put the pudding together, put it in the oven, took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood, and got back just in time to make a pot of coffee, pull the pudding out and sit down to watch Private Sessions with Gene Simmons followed by an episode of Barefoot Contessa. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

Basic Bread Pudding
Adapted from How to Cook Everything

3 cups milk
4 TB butter
1.5 tea ground cinnamon
.5 cup sugar (I used Vanilla Sugar, see below)
Pinch salt
8 slices white bread, cubed
3 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat milk, butter, cinnamon, sugar and salt over low heat, stirring occasionally, until butter melts. Do not let it come to a boil! Place bread in a small baking dish and pour hot milk mixture over it. Let bread soak for a few minutes, pushing it down to make sure everything is submerged.

Beat the eggs and add them to the baking dish, stir to combine. Sprinkle sugar over the top and place the small baking dish inside a larger one. Add hot water to the larger dish until it’s about an inch from the top (you’re creating a water bath so the pudding cooks gently).

Carefully – very carefully – put the whole contraption in the oven and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, until center is softly set.

Usually bread pudding is dessert and you’d serve it with whipped cream or ice cream. Since I was having mine for breakfast I topped it with a little maple syrup. Gilding the lily a bit, I know - but it was delicious. Next Sunday? I'm going to pray for rain so I can do it all over again... 

How to: Vanilla Sugar

This is silly simple... go to a high end market and splurge on a whole vanilla bean. Come home, put a pound of sugar in an airtight jar, nestle the vanilla bean down in the middle, put the lid on and let it sit for a few days. The longer the bean is in the sugar, the more flavor you'll get. And when the first batch of sugar is gone, just refill the jar - the bean will keep working for awhile. Use it in your coffee, on oatmeal, or as the finishing touch on cookies or cakes. 

Aug 5, 2009

How to: Bread Salad

Pop Quiz:
On one very lucky day you are given a bag of home-grown cucumbers, tomatoes, jalapenos, and cubanelle peppers AND a bag of fresh herbs including oregano, rosemary & basil AND three delicious loaves of bread. What do you do with them?

You make a Greek-Style Bread Salad of course!

Before & After

How to make it:
There's not much of a recipe here - really just assembly instructions. 

Peel a cucumber (half of one if they're large) and roughly chop the cucumber, one tomato, one cubanelle and half a sweet onion. Add two ounces of cubed or crumbled feta, a handful of chopped fresh oregano and a handful of olives (if you have them, I actually didn't!). Add two handfuls of cubed bread and toss with a few tablespoons of basic vinaigrette. I made an easy red wine vinegar and olive oil vinaigrette but any oil and vinegar combo will work. Allow the dressing to soak into the bread, add salt and pepper to taste. 

This is actually a great way to use day-old stale bread. Since my bread was fresh, I toasted it for a few minutes after I cubed it. That way when it soaks up the dressing it becomes soft - not soaked and squishy.

Big thank you to all the sweet folks who gifted me with beautiful produce and bread!

Aug 3, 2009

Just stopping by

Oh, hello there.

How are you? oh good. I trust you had a nice weekend? Great.

I've just stopped by quickly to share two things with you:

1. You have to get some za'atar.

I read this post by The Leftoverist (you should check her out - I love her attitude) about a delicious looking Mediterranean platter she whipped up in no time at all, and it sent me off in search of za'atar - the delicious spice mix you often find sprinkled on everything at Turkish restaurants.

Turns out it wasn't that hard to find - the fancy new Kroger had some so I snatched it up. And I came home tonight and whipped up my own easy dinner.

The package lists roasted thyme, ground sumac, sesame seeds and salt as the only ingredients . 
I sprinkled it on grilled chicken, pita, cucumber, feta and yogurt. 

It was quite delicious and I can't recommend highly enough that you go find some for yourself. Or, if you live nearby, I'll share with you.

2. Haagen Dazs tricked me.

I work in advertising so I'm pretty savvy when it comes to sneaky marketing tricks. I can usually tell you that a product won't make you thinner, help you clean faster or re-grow hair. So imagine my surprise when I fell for Haagen Dazs' new advertising campaign!

Have you seen it? They have a new line of ice cream called 'five' that's only made with five "natural" ingredients. It also has less fat than regular ice cream and comes in flavors like mint & ginger - I was sold. I picked up the mint flavor, looked at the pretty picture of a mint leaf on the front, read the ingredients listed next to the picture - milk, cream, sugar, eggs, mint - and got ready for an all-natural, delicately minted, semi-healthy ice cream experience. Ok, I was pushing it with the health thing...

So I popped the top, grabbed a spoon, dug in for a big bite and... yuck. Really yuck. Turns out when they say "mint" what they really mean is "fakey-tasting mint extract that closely resembles the flavor of toothpaste". And, in fact, if you turn the carton around, put on your glasses, and read the very small print on the back... they do list mint extract as one of their five ingredients. 

They got me - I hate that.

Jul 29, 2009

A soup for every season

This is a creamy & comforting soup that, at first glance, appears more suited for cold weather. The spicy ginger and tart lime juice really brighten it up though, so it makes a quick, easy and delicious year-round dinner.

Dinner For One: Gingered Lentil Soup

Generally if I was writing a recipe like this I’d start with chopped onion & garlic, but the first time I went to make this soup I didn’t have any onions. I did have shallots though, so I tried them and it came out great. I’ve listed them as ingredients here but if you don’t have shallots, just sub back in half of a large onion and a clove of garlic. The jalapeno adds heat and the carrot adds sweetness but if you don’t have/like one - feel free to leave it out.

What you need:
.5 cup olive oil
3 large shallots, peeled & chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded & chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1” piece of fresh ginger, peeled & chopped
2 TB curry powder, mild or hot
Salt & pepper
1 cup red lentils
14oz. can chicken broth
5.5 oz. can coconut milk, light or regular
1 lime

How you make it:
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute shallots, jalapeno, carrot and ginger until the vegetables are soft. Add curry powder, a few shakes of salt & pepper and cook for one minute. Add lentils, stir to coat in the oil and let cook for one minute. Add chicken broth, cover pot and simmer until lentils are soft, about 15-20 minutes. The lentils will absorb almost all the liquid, if it’s becoming too thick add water a quarter cup at a time until it loosens up. When lentils are soft, remove from heat and puree soup in a blender or with an immersion blender until smooth.*

Reheat lentil mixture over low heat and add coconut milk and lime juice. Stir until everything is combined, taste to see if it needs more salt and serve immediately.

*Not in the mood for soup? Just stop here and serve the thick lentil stew over white or brown rice.