Jul 26, 2010

Cheese Please

Cute Hostess Gift Alert!

Check out these awesome vintage silverware cheese markers:

You can pick your own cheeses and at $27 these would make a great gift for a cheese-loving pal! Check them out on Etsy here.

Jul 20, 2010

How much do you love this?

Love to see smart, sassy Single Gals throwing such a fabulously creative get together! They supply the dogs, guests bring an interesting (or odd) topping to share and everybody makes their own creation - so fun, so easy & so cheap! Brilliant gals!

Can't wait... now, what topping am I going to bring?? Pineapple salsa? Crispy fried shallots? Sweet & spicy chili jam? Pickled jalapenos? Oh, the possibilities are endless!

Jul 19, 2010

How to Host a Recession-Proof Dinner Party

I’m so tired of hearing about how badly the economy has tanked, aren’t you? I miss shopping, and traveling, and throwing parties with my friends… Ok, so your entertaining budget may not be what it once was, but that doesn’t mean you can’t invite your pals over for a seafood feast.

Clockwise from Top Left: Taking a pre-dinner soak, making the sauce, ready to eat, no forks needed, extra bowls for the shells.

Mussels may just be the cheapest way to feed a crowd short of serving them Ramen Noodles. They’re usually $2-3 per pound and you’ll need a half pound per person for a large appetizer portion. If you want to serve them as the main event, figure about a pound per person. Add a few loaves of bread and a bottle of wine and dinner is served. It’s so easy and your friends will be seriously impressed… and if like me, you find the idea of preparing shellfish at home a little intimidating, then you'll even impress yourself with how well these turn out! Just be sure to buy the freshest mussels you can find from a reputable seafood market and you'll be fine. I swear.

Throw a Dinner Party: Thai Red Curry Mussels

What you need:
2 teaspoons peanut oil, or canola oil
2 shallots, sliced thinly into rings (or 2 medium cloves garlic, minced)
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled & cut into matchsticks
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1-2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste
1 14-ounce can “lite” coconut milk
1 cup white wine
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 green or red chili, sliced thinly (optional)
2-3 pounds mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded (see Tip)
1 bunch cilantro, chopped

How you make it:
Rinse mussels and place in a large pot of cool water about 30 minutes before you want to cook them. Inspect them carefully and discard any that have cracked shells or don’t close when you tap them. Farmed mussels don’t usually have beards (rough “hairs” that poke out of the shells), but if you find some that do just yank them off with your fingers or a pair of pliers. You have to de-beard the mussels just before you cook them though since pulling the beard off kills them.

Heat oil in a large high-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, lime zest and curry paste; cook until fragrant, stirring to break up the paste, 1 to 3 minutes. Add lime juice, coconut milk, wine, salt, fish sauce and chili (if using). Stir to combine everything and bring to a low boil for 2 minutes.

Strain mussels, add to pot, stir once or twice and cover. Cook over medium heat 6-8 minutes until the mussels open. Stir everything gently to coat with the sauce and top with a handful of chopped cilantro. Serve immediately with lots of bread for dipping.

NOTE: Want to try Belgium-style? Cook the mussels in a garlic, butter & white wine sauce and serve with French fries & beer – so good!

p.s. - Big thanks to Mrs. Weir for taking some pictures before we ate everything!

Jun 14, 2010

How To: Summer Salads

The Georgia Pearl Salad - recipe below

It's hot. Really hot. Like too hot to turn on the oven hot. But a gal's gotta eat, right? So open up the fridge, grab some supplies and start adding up your own summer salad... packed with whole grains, cheese and nuts, any combination you come up with will be filling and packed with protein.

Let's do a little Salad Arithmetic, shall we?

Start with a starch (pearl barley, couscous, orzo, rice, bulgur, quinoa)
a vegetable (cucumber, asparagus, spinach, carrot)
a fruit (peaches, mango, grapes, cherries, tomatoes, raisins)
an allium (yellow onion, red onion, scallion, shallot, garlic)
some cheese (feta, mozzarella, blue, parmesan)
a few nuts or seeds (pumpkin, almonds, cashews, sunflower, walnuts, pine nuts)
an herb (basil, dill, mint, parsley, thyme, oregano, chives, cilantro)
a little acid (lemon or lime juice, champagne vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar)
some oil (olive, sesame, hazelnut, grapeseed)
a dash of seasoning (salt, pepper, ground cumin, cinnamon, chili powder, red chili flake, curry)
a delicious & easy Summer Salad!

Some of my favorites...

Jun 9, 2010

Hello Sesame!

By special request...

Here's how I make the world's easiest spicy garlic sesame spinach:

Toast a small palmful of sesame seeds in a dry nonstick skillet over medium heat. Keep a close eye on them so they don't scorch. Once they've turned golden brown, remove from heat and set aside. Heat a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil and a teaspoon of spicy chili sesame oil in that same nonstick pan over medium heat. Add one clove of thinly sliced garlic and cook 1-2 minutes. Add 3 or 4 big handfuls of spinach leaves (you may have to do it in stages) and turn to coat with oil. Saute over medium heat until spinach has wilted to your liking. Top with reserved sesame seeds and serve with brown rice. Yum.

Jun 1, 2010

DFO: Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili

This may be one of my favorite things I've made. Like ever. And it's not even that it's particularly complex or sophisticated or even unusual - it's just good. It's quick and filling and, aside from the beer clearly pictured above, I was feeling pretty veggie virtuous while eating it. What else can you ask for on a weeknight?

Dinner For One: Black Bean + Sweet Potato Chili

You know the drill - this makes two servings, tops. But I'm not going to hesitate to quadruple the measurements and make a big pot of it next time I have a crew over. Neither should you. And yes, there are three kinds of chiles in here (i do love a jalapeno), just leave some out if you're a wimp. I mean... if you're not into feeling the burn.

What you need:
half of a large sweet potato, peeled & diced
2 TB olive oil
1 small onion, peeled & chopped
one jalapeno, diced (optional)
1 TB chili powder
.5 TB ground cumin
one 10oz. can Original Rotel diced tomatoes & chilies
one 15oz. can black beans, half of canning liquid drained out
4-5 kale leaves, woody stems removed & leaves sliced thinly
salt & pepper
lime wedges, chopped cilantro, pickled jalapenos, sour cream, corn tortillas (all completely optional)

How you make it:
Bring a small pot of water to a boil over high heat and cook sweet potato until tender. Drain and set aside.

Separate and set aside a quarter cup of the chopped onion. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté remaining onions and jalapeno (if using) until soft and translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add spices, stir to coat onions and cook 1-2 minutes more. Add Rotel tomatoes, stir to combine and cook 4-5 minutes. Add black beans and kale and cook until kale is wilted and beans are heated through. Add sweet potato, stir gently to combine and reduce heat to low.

Serve topped with reserved onion, pickled jalapenos, cilantro, sour cream, lime wedges and toasted corn tortillas as desired.

May 30, 2010

Spice Crispies

Adapted from a recipe that appeared in the February 2010 issue of Food & Wine, this Indian snack mix is a spicy, complex blend of salty & sweet. Put out a bowl with cocktails or serve instead of popcorn for movie night. It also makes a great traveling or hiking snack with a mix of salt, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and fat to keep you going.

MAKE IT: Spice Crispies

What you need:
4 cups puffed basmati rice*
1 cup cashew pieces
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened is fine)
2 cups fried chickpea fritters or lentils*
6 TB vegetable oil
1 TB mustard seeds
2 tea cumin seeds
1 tea ground coriander
1 tea mild or medium curry powder
.5 tea red chili flakes (or more)
2 tea salt
1 TB amchoor (dried mango) powder*
6 TB light corn syrup
salt (optional)

How you make it:
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Heat oil and mustard seeds in a medium non-stick saucepan over medium heat until seeds begin to pop. Reduce heat a bit and add next six ingredients, stirring to combine. Cook until cumin seeds begin to darken, add corn syrup and stir well. When corn syrup begins to bubble vigorously, remove pan from heat and pour spice syrup over contents in bowl. Mix gently until everything is coated in syrup, spread into even layers on two baking sheets lined in parchment paper, sprinkle with a little salt, and bake at 300 degrees until rice is crispy and cashews are turning golden, 20-30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and let mixture cool on pans for a few minutes before breaking up into bite size clusters. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

*Available at Indian markets or on-line. You can certainly use a puffed rice cereal like Rice Krispies in place of the puffed basmati but no substitutions will really come close to the fried chickpea bits or tangy, tart mango powder so it’s worth the extra effort to get your hands on the real thing(s). Of course, while you’re at the Indian market you could just as easily grab a bag of ready-made snack mix, called chevda, but that’s not really in the spirit of things, is it?

May 27, 2010

Veggie Tales

Scenes from the week:

These were all Dinner For One this week. They were all perfectly edible and sustained me through a long, tough work week. But none of them really dazzled, so I'm not going to present recipes as though they are worthy of you... yet.

Mostly I just want my mother to see how many leafy green vegetables I've consumed this week. I know she worries.

May 24, 2010

Local Heroes

When you go to the farmer's market you expect to find some really great stuff - farm fresh veggies & fruits of course, maybe some bread, cured meats, even cheese... but creamy, thick, absolutely delicious greek yogurt that's 100% local, organic and comes in the coolest flavors? No, I didn't expect that at all.

But this weekend, there it was - the Atlanta Fresh Artisan Creamery stand. And I'm in love. The Vanilla & caramel flavor? Like pudding, it's so good. I also brought home the Black Cherry & Port Wine and Tropical Sweet Heat (mango, pineapple & habanero pepper) flavors and I'm having to forcibly restrain myself from gobbling them all up right now...

For a list of local retailers, or to order some on-line, visit them here. They're also on Facebook & Twitter if you're into those kinds of things...

May 20, 2010

Da Bomb

This salad is a protein bomb packed with soy, dairy and grain proteins, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates. Not to mention its beautiful colors and the delicious combo of sweet carrots, salty feta and nutty quinoa... it's a keeper.

Roasted Carrot & Red Quinoa Salad
with Honey Lime Vinaigriette 
4-6 servings

What you need:
4-5 large carrots, peeled & sliced into large bite-size pieces
3 TB olive oil
1 TB ground cumin
4 cups water
2 cups red quinoa
1.5 cups shelled soybeans (frozen works great)
4 oz. feta cheese, cubed or crumbled ( I used reduced fat)
1 large handful parsley, cilantro or combination of both, chopped

Juice of 2 limes (about .25 cup)
.5 cup olive oil
1 shallot, minced
1-2 TB honey
1 handful chives, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

How you make it:
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss carrots with olive oil and cumin and roast, turning occasionally, until tender and starting to brown – about 40 mins.

Meanwhile, heat water and quinoa in a pot over high heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until quinoa has absorbed all the water and is tender. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Heat a small saucepan of water over high heat until boiling and cook soybeans until tender. Drain and set aside.

Make dressing by combining lime juice, olive oil, shallot, one tablespoon of honey and chives. Mix well and add the additional tablespoon of honey if needed – it will depend on how tart your limes are – and salt & pepper to taste.

Combine carrots, quinoa, soybeans, feta and chopped herbs in a large bowl and toss with dressing. Serve hot or cold. 

Note: I found red quinoa at Trader Joe's but the regular kind will work just fine...

May 18, 2010

What I'm Reading

Vanity Fair, June Issue

I love Vanity Fair and usually read every article, but this month it’s
all about the cover story. I mean, have you seen the cover?? I’m
calling it my treadmill motivator. I hang it up across the room and
run towards it…

Food & Wine, June Issue
Just about the best domestic food magazine left. Great article in this issue on how to grill one thing and spin it into a few different recipes. Makes heating up the grill or lighting the coals worth the effort.

The Kind Diet, Alicia Silverstone
I know what you’re thinking – “Alicia Silverstone, is she serious?” but I encourage everyone to flip through it before passing judgment. Yes, she’s pushing a macrobiotic vegan diet, which is too extreme for most of us but some of her arguments for eating less meat, chemicals, and refined foods are dead on. Presented in a friendly, nonthreatening way, she approaches a vegetable-based diet not just from a moral perspective, but from an environmental and health-based one too.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
Absolutely fascinating look at the food we’re all used to eating and how it all came to be. It’s so chock full of info though that I can only manage a few pages at a time before my brain threatens to explode. You’ll be horrified, embarrassed and seriously pissed off after reading this. And you’ll never look at an ear of corn the same way again.

New Good Food, Margaret Wittenberg
From the author’s site: Rather than being about what food is not, NEW GOOD FOOD is an introduction to or perhaps a reminder of what food is. It is a weaving together of descriptions, cooking suggestions, and just enough history, food science, and nutrition to get a glimpse of all the wonders each food has to offer.
Bottom line: this is a great resource and will help you feel like less of an uninformed loser while scanning the aisles at Whole Foods. Which, incidentally – is where I bought my copy.

Vegetable Love, Barbara Kafka
Beautiful cover design aside, this is like taking a walk through a farmer’s market – in fact, when I pick up something new from the market I come home and flip through Kafka’s ode to vegetables for a delicious way to prepare it.

My roommate’s autographed copy of Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller
For the average person, this probably isn’t a cookbook you’ll actually
cook from, though you’ll definitely learn some neat techniques.
Rather, I treat it more like an art book because it is visually
stunning. Just flip through the pages and admire the passion of a man
who loves food and the beautiful way he displays it.

Quick Note: I’ve only included a link to Wittenberg’s book since it may be tougher to find. Everything else will be available at any major bookseller or newsstand. And until Barnes & Noble ponies up my sponsorship money I’m not playing favorites. That said, I know it’s a little more expensive than ordering on-line, but please visit a local bookstore to buy books when you can – we don’t want them to go away.

May 12, 2010

Turning Over A New Leaf

Hey guys,

I haven't been around that much lately and I'm sorry. Truth is, I’ve been struggling lately, due in part to the fact that this site doesn’t really reflect how I’ve been living. More specifically, how I’ve been eating. I’ve decided to take better care of myself and, as a result, my kitchen has become a very different place. A very colorful and vibrant place actually. But not necessarily the kind of place you’re used to.

And I’ve been having trouble finding great stuff to post for you here because, quite frankly, not a lot has been phenomenal yet. It’s easy to make food taste great with butter and bacon fat (I’m lookin’ at you Paula Deen) but whole grains and low sodium? That’s tougher.

Case in point – I tried out a new barley dish a few weeks ago. I served it to my eternally patient roommate who, after intently chewing for many, many minutes, asked sweetly, “is it supposed to be so chewy?”

And the thing is, I have no idea. But I’m going to figure it out. And I’ll continue to share the abysmal failures with you here, for your enjoyment, as well as the winners I hope to uncover.

I’m not going to be counting calories, but I’m going to make the food I eat count. While I’ve never put many meat-based recipes on these pages, you’ll find even less now. The food you find here will be mostly vegetarian, occasionally vegan, and full of whole grains and interesting new ingredients.

Every week I scan the aisles of my grocery store and come home with one new thing. In the past few weeks I’ve added miso paste, pearl barley and umbeoshi plum vinegar to my pantry and I’m experimenting with them to create new recipes worth sharing.

So the posts here may be less frequent for a bit, but I am finding that the more whole, unprocessed foods I include in my diet, the better I feel. That doesn’t mean there will never be Pasta Carbonara, but it will be fewer and farther in between.

So, in the immortal lyrics of Bruce Hornsby – ‘Gonna be some changes made’.

I hope you’ll stick around for the ride.

The makings for tonight's dinner - roasted carrots, parsnips and Brussel sprouts. I'm going to serve them over a bowl of pearl barley with onions and thyme and the leftovers will get turned into a cold salad with sesame-miso dressing for tomorrow's lunch. 
I'll let you know how it goes. 

Apr 25, 2010

Rain, Rain Go Away

It rained here all day Saturday and we were cooped up inside. I had a bag of dried chickpeas in the pantry that I’ve been meaning to turn into something for forever, so I used them to make this soup. If you don’t have a rainy afternoon to spend at the stove you can certainly use canned chickpeas – just add an extra cup or two of stock and little more water to your soup to thin it.

Creamy Chickpea Soup

A trip in the food processor and a little bit of coconut milk turn protein-rich chickpeas into a thick and creamy soup. The recipe makes enough for 6-8 small cups or 4 big bowls.

What You Need:
2 cups dried chickpeas
3 TB salt
1 TB peeled and chopped ginger
1 clove peeled and chopped garlic
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1 tea garam masala spice mix
5.5 oz. can coconut milk
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup water
1-2 TB hot chili sauce (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

How you make it:
Place chickpeas in a big pot, cover with 8-10 cups of water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a slow simmer and partially cover pot. Cook until beans are tender (45mins-1hr), add 3 tablespoons of salt, replace lid and continue to cook until beans are soft, adding more water as needed to keep the beans covered.

Place garlic and ginger in the bowl of a food processor and chop until they are finely minced. Working in two or three batches, add beans with their cooking water, cilantro, and garam masala and puree until a smooth paste forms.

Place bean paste, coconut milk, water and stock in the same large pot over medium heat and stir well to combine. Add chili sauce, if using, and continue to stir until soup is thinned out and all lumps are gone. Since the cooking water was well salted you may not need to add any more salt, but take a taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. 

NOTE: If could take as long as three hours to cook the dried beans - it will depend quite a bit on how old they are. So don't start the process unless you have a long afternoon to work, or cook the beans the night before, refrigerate them in their cooking water and continue the soup the next day. You can also pre-soak the beans, but that only really cuts thirty minutes or so from the cooking time.

Apr 19, 2010

Great minds...

I really thought I had invented this dish. I was at a friend’s for dinner and we realized we didn’t have enough food for the number of people who had showed up. I hit the pantry looking for options and came up with a box of regular couscous, a can of chicken broth and a bag of golden raisins. A plan became to take shape and very soon after we set a beautiful bowl of couscous with raisins & mint out for dinner. It was a big hit that night and I’ve made it a few times since, always adapting the dish to fit what I have on hand.

Imagine my surprise then when I flipped open the March issue of Food Network Magazine (I wasn’t an early fan, but it’s getting much better) and saw a recipe for Israeli Couscous with Raisins. I had a bag of Israeli couscous so I decided to give it a try and ended up blending my recipe with theirs…enjoy!

MAKE THIS: Sweetly Spiced Israeli Couscous

I love sweet and savory dishes and this is an endlessly adaptable one. It makes a great side dish for a summer BBQ, or turn it into the main event by adding cubed, grilled chicken. Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a main salad.

What you need:
2-3 TB olive oil
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
.25 tea ground cinnamon
1 8oz. bag of Israeli couscous
1 cup golden raisins
1 cup water
1 cup chicken broth
1 large handful of fresh mint, chopped
1 handful of pine nuts, toasted

How you make it:
Heat olive oil and saute onion and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat until onions are softened and translucent. Add couscous and stir to coat in oil. Add water and broth, put lid on pan and simmer over low heat for 8-10 minutes until liquid is absorbed. You may need to remove the lid for the last minute of cooking to help the last bit of liquid to absorb or evaporate. Add raisins in last 1-2 minutes of cooking and stir to combine.

Remove couscous from heat, add mint and pine nuts and fluff with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve warm or at room temperature.

No raisins? Try diced dried apricots.
No mint? Parsley works well.
No pine nuts? I usually use toasted slivered almonds.

Apr 11, 2010

Get Rolling!

Looking for a fun way to jazz up Girls’ Night? Try this hands-on and figure-friendly idea: Make-Your-Own Sushi Party!

Individual bottles of sake (they come with little cups!) and Japanese beers
Miso Soup
Green Salad with Sesame Ginger Dressing
Make your own sushi hand rolls
Coconut, green tea and/or mango sorbet

You can go two routes with the edamame - either toss them in boiling water for a few minutes, drain and serve with salt for dipping or make them the way my friend Cheryl does: boil & drain then toss into a big frying pan with olive oil, minced garlic and red chili flakes. They’re a little messier but way more delicious.

Unless you’re a health nut, you probably don’t keep a jar of miso paste in your fridge. If you don’t want to invest in one, look for packets of powdered miso – they’re just as good. Making the soup is crazy easy: Heat as much water as you’ll need in a small saucepot until hot but not boiling. Add a few spoonfuls of miso and taste it. If it tastes good, you’re done. If it’s not strong enough, keep stirring in miso until you like it. Add small cubes of firm tofu and sliced green onions to the pot and keep it warm over very low heat. Stir before serving.

The salad is just as easy: These days you can find great bottled sesame ginger dressing that’s just a good as homemade, so save yourself a little time and grab some from the store. Iceberg lettuce is what you’ll get a most sushi restaurants but you can use any salad greens you like. Assemble little bowls of greens and let everyone grab one and dress it themselves.

Before everyone arrives, prep and chop the rest of the ingredients. Make a pot of white or brown rice. When it’s done I like to stir in a spoonful or two of seasoned rice vinegar, but that’s completely optional – just make sure you keep the rice a little sticky. This is one time you don’t want perfectly fluffed & dry rice!

You can use anything as filler for your sushi, but I like to cut carrots, cucumbers, peppers, white radishes and green onions into matchsticks and add shredded napa cabbage, avocado slices, cilantro leaves, toasted sesame seeds and sriracha chili sauce. If you want to include fish, ask for the freshest fish at the grocery store (or a local fishmonger if you have one!) and try tuna, salmon or yellow tail – which are all crowd pleasers. Be sure to give your fish a sniff to make sure it’s fresh – if it smells really fishy it’s probably best not to serve it raw to your friends! Keep it very cold and slice into domino-size pieces. Imitation crab meat sticks are another popular option for making California Rolls and are easy to find at most grocery stores.

Lay everything out on a pretty platter or cutting board with a stack of toasted seaweed sheets (they come pretty big, cut them in half for the right size) and let guests assemble their own sushi rolls. Cone-shaped hand rolls are the easiest to make but invest in a sushi-rolling mat if you’re so inclined and make pretty rolled and sliced sushi as well.

Give everyone a plate with a little dish of soy sauce, a pile of pickled ginger and a dab of wasabi paste. This is really hand-held food but put out a few sets of chopsticks for anyone who needs them.

Heat sake in a water bath over medium heat just like you would heat a baby’s bottle. Give everyone a warm sake or a cold beer and gather around a low coffee table to dig in!


p.s. - I heart Mark Bittman, I swear we share a brain. See his article on homemade sushi: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/dining/05mini.html?ref=dining

Apr 9, 2010

Make These Tonight!

No. seriously. Get some kale on your way home and make these tonight. You'll thank me.

No doubt you've heard about these. I'm not sure where the idea originated, but I've read about them in a few places and the consensus was that they're fabulous. And, boy, were they right. These rock.  

So simple. Start with a full head of kale. Trim the stems off and rub a few tablespoons of olive oil into the leaves. Lay out in a single layer on two large cookie sheets and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees for 5 minutes or until leaves are dark green, starting to turn brown, and crispy all over.

Remove from the oven and lay on paper towels to cool. If you can wait that long.

I dare you not to eat a whole pan all by yourself. But if you can restrain yourself, serve these to your friends as a cocktail snack and watch them freak out with joy. 

Mar 15, 2010

DFO: Peanut Rice Bowl

Hi friends, I've missed you.

I don't even have a good excuse - I've just been in a funk. Hibernating, working hard, hanging out, being sick, getting better and entertaining in between. But mostly just making do - and you deserve better than just making do, don't you?

You deserve this tasty rice bowl - it's incredibly fast and easy, and you can probably whip it up with what you've got in your pantry right this second.

A great substitute for Thai or Chinese takeout, this is a great combination of flavors - spicy, salty, sour & sweet. I had some leftover brown rice in the fridge - use whatever you have on hand.

Dinner For One: Peanut Rice Bowl

What you need:
2 TB olive or peanut oil
2 cups shredded cole slaw mix (2 big handfuls)
half an onion, sliced thinly
half cup cooked rice or noodles
1 TB creamy peanut butter
2 TB soy sauce
1 tea red curry paste
half cup water
juice of half a lime
salt + pepper
sliced green onion
chopped peanuts

How you make it:
Heat oil in a large pan over medium-high flame and saute cabbage and onion for two minutes, stirring frequently. Add rice or noodles, peanut butter, soy sauce, curry paste and water. Stir to dissolve peanut butter and curry paste and create a sauce. If it's not wet enough, add a little more water. Cook 2-3 minutes until rice or noodles have softened up and sauce has thickened. Add lime juice and salt + pepper to taste, serve immediately topped with green onions and chopped peanuts.

Feb 7, 2010

Sugar Baby

Next weekend, rather than celebrating the Hallmark/Hersheys holiday, I've planned a girls' weekend with some of my oldest pals. Instead of stocking up on store-bought snacks, I decided to whip up a few homemade candies for us to munch on. Because after all, what goes better with wine and girl talk than marshmallows, chocolate and peanut butter??

Sweet Treats: Cinnamon Marshmallows and Salted Peanut Butter Cups

Both recipes adapted from Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It. I got this book over the holidays and it's full of great food projects - always wanted to know how to cure your own bacon, make your own crackers or brew your own fruit liqueurs? Then you need this book. Not that adventurous? Don't worry, it also includes easy recipes for all kind of pickles, sauces and these sweet treats.

Cinnamon Marshmallows
These are fluffier and sweeter than the jet puffed ones we're all accustomed to. I added cinnamon to the original recipe but the possibilities are endless: cocoa, coconut, dried fruit, chai spices, toasted nuts or just leave 'em plain. Fire up the grill and make s'mores, top a cup of cocoa or eat them as is - they're delicious!

What you need:  
2/3 cup water, divided
3 (.25 oz.) envelopes unflavored gelatin  
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
pinch of kosher salt
1 tea vanilla extract
2 TB cinnamon (optional)
powdered sugar
vegetable oil

How you make them:
Lightly oil an 8x8" pan with vegetable oil and generously coat with powdered sugar. Set aside. Put 1/3 cup water in the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, add gelatin and let stand for about 10 minutes until gelatin has dissolved and softened.

In small saucepan combine remaining water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place pan over medium high heat and cook, without stirring, until mixture reaches 240 degrees F. You'll need a candy thermometer and make sure it doesn't touch the bottom of the pan.

With mixer on low speed, carefully add hot syrup to the gelatin. Add the vanilla and turn the speed up to medium high.  Beat for 12-13 minutes until the mixture is thick, very white and holds peaks. If you're using additional flavors be sure to add them in the last minute of beating, before mixture becomes too thick.

Spread marshmallow in the 8x8 pan using a lightly oiled spatula and smooth it into corners. Set aside for one hour until marshmallow has completely cooled. Run a wet knife around the edges of the pan and turn the marshmallow out onto a sheet of waxed paper sprinkled liberally with powdered sugar. Cut into approx. 36 pieces and toss with powdered sugar and cinnamon until no longer sticky. Store in an airtight container, layers separated by sheets of wax paper, for up to one month. 

Salted Peanut Butter Cups
Good flaky salt makes all the difference here, the original recipe doesn't call for it but I think you really need Maldon salt, or something like it, to make these shine. Good quality chocolate helps too, though no one will turn them down if you stick with Nestle. I doubled the book's recipe - I just have a feeling they're going to be popular! 

What you need:
2 2/3 cups salted, shelled, roasted peanuts
2 tea vegetable oil
4 tea honey
4 TB powdered sugar
1 tea vanilla extract
4 cups semi sweet chocolate chips
Maldon flaked salt

How you make them:
Puree peanuts in a food processor until smooth. Add oil if they get too thick to blend. Add honey, powdered sugar and vanilla extract and continue to puree until everything is combined, scraping down the sides as needed.

Using clean hands, separate peanut butter filling into 24 pieces if using standard size cupcake liners or 36 pieces if using mini-muffin size liners. Roll filling between your palms and flatten slightly into disks. Set aside. Place paper liners in muffin pans and set aside.

Heat chocolate chips  in microwave for one minute on high. Stir with a fork and heat for another minute. Continue until chocolate is almost completely melted, stirring at the end to melt the last bits. Spoon two teaspoons of chocolate in each paper liner using the back of the spoon to push chocolate halfway up the sides. Drop peanut butter disks into each cup and tap them gently into the chocolate. Top with one more teaspoon of chocolate, smoothing it over the peanut butter filling and making sure it touches the chocolate on the bottom and the tops are smooth. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.

Let peanut butter cups sit, undisturbed for at least 3-4 hours until chocolate has cooled and hardened. Store in an airtight container, at room temperature, for up to 2 weeks. 

Feb 3, 2010

Remember These?

The Crostata! This one has pears and crystalized ginger and was made with love by my #1 fan - my mom :)

I've been tardy in posting this one as we devoured it back in the fall, but I remember it being particularly tasty... have you made a crostata yet? Well, why the hell not? They're so easy, just assemble and pop it in the oven before you sit down to eat. When dinner's over you just casually head over to the stove, pull out a browned, bubbling treat and stand back while everyone oohs & ahhs. You'll be a hero. 

I love love love when you guys send me pics & stories about the recipes you've tried from the site - keep 'em coming!

Jan 27, 2010

I think I can, I think I can...

... and so can you!

Had dinner with a friend last week at one of our favorite spots and we ordered a gnocchi dish that was out of this world. Since I was still thinking about it a week later, I decided to try it at home. It's so easy!

I had a giant sweet potato so that’s what I used – but these would be great with a regular old russet too.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Brown Butter
Serves 3-4

What you need:
1 large sweet potato
1 cup all purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 egg
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
3 TB butter

How you make it:
Poke the sweet potato all over with a fork and bake at 400 degrees until it’s completely cooked and soft all the way through. Scoop out all the flesh and set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the sweet potato flesh with the remaining ingredients. You can certainly use a food mill or do it by hand, but I used the food processor to mix everything together into a smooth dough. Coat your hands and the counter in flour and working in thirds, roll the dough into a long log. Cut into pieces the size of a quarter and roll them loosely between your palms into a rounded oval shape. You’ll need to keep flouring your hands to keep everything from sticking. Gently roll the pieces off the back of a fork to give them the characteristic gnocchi look and repeat with the remaining dough.

Heat the butter in a wide frying pan over a medium flame until it bubbles and begins to brown. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and gently drop the gnocchi one at a time into the pot. They’ll float to the surface when they’re ready – just scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the hot butter pan. Sauté for a few minutes, turning occasionally, until the gnocchi are slightly browned. Taste to see if they need a sprinkle of salt (mine did!) or parmesan and serve immediately.

At the restaurant, the parmesan gnocchi were served in a roasted acorn squash “bowl” that was delicious. I also roasted some acorn squash halves, and they were good, but the gnocchi is the real star of the show. 

Jan 19, 2010

On a more positive note...

Go to Emersonmade's site. Order a too-cute valentine for your fella or maybe some of her adorable little flower pins for your best gal pal. Seriously, go now before they're all sold out. You'll thank me.

Jan 13, 2010

An Open Letter...

Hello all the single ladies! Don't you just wish you could send something like this every once in awhile??

Dear Mr. Right Now,

You’re charming, intelligent and funny. We seem to share a pretty long list of stuff we like. And kissing you doesn’t suck.

I think it would be nice to have somebody to go to the movies with. Grab dinner with. And yeah, I’d like to schedule some more couch time, but let’s be clear: I’m not booking the synagogue and searching for a white dress yet.

So on our second date when, mid-smooch, you felt like you needed to tell me you aren’t ready for a serious relationship and then you subsequently fell off the face of the earth… what the hell was that?

I have a great job. I’m smart. I read. I prefer single malt scotch or a cold beer to fruity cocktails or chilled Chardonnay. I cook. Pretty damn well actually. I can recite every line of dialogue from Top Gun and Navy Seals. I’m not hard to look at and I have great hair. My dog is cool. I believe in the importance of man caves and ‘Boys’ Night Out’. I don’t need you to clean up my yard, my gutters or take out my trash. I’m debt, disease and baggage-free. In short – I’m a catch. And, casually or not, you’d be lucky to have me.

You’re a cool dude and I’d like to hang out again. If I promise I’m not going to fall in love with you, maybe we can grab a pizza sometime.

Take care, 
The Single Gal

Jan 10, 2010

Where the hell have you been?

Oh wait, that’s your line, isn’t it?

Gosh, the new year just rolled in over me like a ton of bricks. Long days at work followed by catch-up dinners with friends and topped off with a Southern Blizzard – a quarter inch of snow that fell late last week and brought the city to a screeching halt. There’s nothing like the threat of winter weather to send everyone running for the grocery store in a complete panic. But rather than milk and bread, why not grab the ingredients for this slow-simmered sauce and make a home-cooked dinner for your fella or friends?

This will take you an afternoon to make but it’s well worth it. Plus, it freezes beautifully so even if it’s just you, go ahead and make it to stash in the freezer. Serve with lots of red wine and round it out with a salad of arugula and orange segments with lemon vinaigrette and a little tiramisu for dessert. Ragu recipe adapted from Mario Batali.

What you need:
2 duck legs and 2 duck breasts, skin removed
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
8 ounces red wine (Chianti preferred but any red wine that’s good enough to drink will work)
1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes, peeled & chopped
1 cup chicken stock
2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. short, wide pasta (campanelle or rigatoni)
3/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
Grated or shaved parmesan cheese for topping

How you make it:
Wash the duck legs and breasts and remove all fat. Pat dry. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil until smoking. Add the duck pieces and cook until brown on all sides then remove, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Add the onion, carrot, garlic and celery and cook until softened, about 7 to 9 minutes. Add the wine, tomatoes, chicken stock and dried mushrooms and bring to a boil. Add the duck pieces back to the pot and return to a boil, lower the heat, cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour. Remove the duck, pull all meat off the bones and return to pot, without the bones. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until quite thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water until "al dente", about 8 to 9 minutes. Drain pasta and toss with sauce. Stir in chopped parsley, top with parmesan and serve immediately.

NOTE: Most grocery stores stock whole, frozen ducks that you can cut into the pieces you’ll need. Just be sure to take it out of the freezer the night before so it has time to thaw!