Saturday, January 30, 2010

Snow Day!

It just doesn't get much better than this.  This morning I woke up bright and early in true Melody Ann Snowday fashion, and started the day by gazing out the windows at a blanket of 7 inches of snow and sleet covering everything in sight.  While I sipped on my favorite Whole Foods Pacific Rim blend coffee, and carefully chewed my steelcut oats with maple syrup, vanilla and raisins, I pondered what the day might hold for me.

Baking!  Sledding?  Snowman!  Soup!  You know what I'm talkin' about.  So I put on my many mismatched multicolored layers and busted out the cookbooks.

Priority number one on days like these is always snow cream.  So I waddled out the door, scraped mass quantities of still-falling snow off the hood of my car into an enormous bowl,  added some skim milk, vanilla, brown sugar (looked like dirt!), and maple syrup and whipped it into a snow cream frenzy.  Pour into a tall glass, gulp, freeze brain, feel five again.

Next up: exploratory walk.  Is that slushy looking part out in the drive really slush?  No.  Rock hard ice.  Is it really just a dusting that looks deeper because of drifts?  No.  It's really at least 7 inches deep and still going.  And really, really slippery and potentially hilarious for a clumsy person like myself to be out in.  Does it make proper snowballs/forts?  Not yet, but it's getting there...

After a very brief exploratory adventure, I surmised it was high time for some hot comfort in the form of my mom's fantastic chili.  See Exhibit B.
Alright, what's next?  Baking.  Sundried tomato herb garlic rustic loaf, to be specific.  I used the most random recipe out there.  We're talking like page 6 of a Google search from a lady in Great Britain who is definitely not a professional.  But neither am I, so I figured it must be a perfect fit.  I have to say, it smells absolutely fantastic right now as I wait for it to come out of the oven.  I did have to add a substantial additional amount of flour, and it didn't rise quite how I was expecting, so I anxiously await the finished product.  

So the taste is great, but I have to say I would have cooked it at 400 or 425 rather than 450 for 30 minutes, as the crust got a little dark.  It's better alongside a light soup since it's so dense.  I'm glad to have it, but I think I'll go with a simpler loaf next time.

After another outdoor adventure to the interstate, (which looks just like my driveway), I think I might need a glass of wine to warm me inside and out!  Now on to my next adventure...

I have no sled.  Must.  Make. Sled.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Rainy Sunday

I love weekends like this one.  Laid back, nothing on the agenda.  Yesterday I kicked off my Saturday by making some biscotti for my friend Sara.  We had a shopping/wine imbibing date scheduled, and I wanted to surprise her.  One of my favorite combinations ever in food land is peppermint and chocolate.  Sara has always hated this duo, yet subjected to it at least once a year when my birthday rolled around and we all had mint chocolate chip ice cream cake because let's face it- it doesn't get any better than that.

The stars have realigned and Sara is now quasi-obsessed with this new combo.  So mint double chocolate chip biscotti was a must.  The recipe I used was modified from a Weight Watchers recipe (who am I kidding, we all know I was going to eat some of Sara's biscotti).  Although it's not bad, it's not my favorite, so I don't think I'll share the recipe on this one unless someone really wants it.  I was quite proud of my little wrapped biscotti parcel though.  I didn't have any decorative disposable food containers, so I wrapped the buggers up in some parchment paper.

So off I scampered to Wine Authorities for some fun wine tasting followed by shoe shopping and completely forgot my little parcel!  Ah well, such is life.  After a lovely afternoon of shopping, it was time to fire up the grill.  It was time for Jeremy to fire up the grill, rather.  He had gifted me with some parmesan reggiano and some crusty bread from Whole Foods still hot from the oven to go along with our beautiful London Broil.  I like to keep the seasoning simple for really beautiful cuts of meat, so I stuck with a generous rub of pink salt and course ground black pepper.  So while Jeremy Grill Master fired up the grill, I sipped on a glass of incredible Dom. de la Bouysse, Corbieres Rouge "Mazerac", Languedoc, France 2007 (say that three times fast) and cooked up the broccoli.  One large head of broccoli cut into spears gets steamed only until bright emerald green and slightly tender.  Meanwhile,  two thinly sliced cloves of garlic get nice and toasty in two teaspoons of olive oil with one teaspoon of crushed red pepper.  When garlic has browned, squeeze the juice of one whole lemon in the pan.  Let it continue to cook down until broccoli has finished steaming.  Toss with broccoli.  Take steak off the grill when medium rare and let it rest for five minutes before slicing against the grain. The meal was rounded out by the crusty bread spread with some local herbed dill goat cheese from Celebrity Dairy.

Simple, delicious, and one of my favorite weekend dinners.

Another favorite I haven't had in quite some time is homemade pizza.  The whole wheat dough is proofing in my fridge, I'm listening to some Robert Earl Keen and Johnny Cash, and about to cozy up with a nice cup of coffee.  I hope you're having a wonderful Day of Rest.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Poblano Prelude to the Weekend

So sometimes you have one of those, "what can I cook with the very odd things in my pantry/fridge," nights.  That was me tonight.  But then I had this idea.
Take four poblano peppers and split them down the middle.  Place them on a baking sheet.
Drain a can of tomatillos (sort of like green tomatoes that you can find on the hispanic aisle of the grocery).
Place them on the baking sheet.  Broil both until browned/blackened on the outsides and discard the browned or blackened skin.  (It peels right off, so it's pretty easy).
In a blender or food processor, blend the tomatillos, two cloves peeled garlic, juice of one lime, half a chopped onion and a handful of cilantro leaves until smooth.
In the meantime, cook some jasmine rice until tender or as the package directs.  When rice is done, combine with the tomatillo mixture, the other half of the chopped onion, and one diced and seeded jalapeno.  Spread rice mixture on the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish before topping with the poblano pepper halves.  Top with shredded reduced fat or regular cheddar cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350.  Sprinkle with sea salt before serving.  Top with a dollop of greek yogurt and some chopped green onions or chives if you have them on hand.
It's pretty yummy,  but even better accompanied by a stout glass of red wine.  I am drinking California Frontier Red, which stands up to this dish perfectly.  I think it would be even better if you added some seasoned ground beef to this dish (or picadillo), but it's tasty cheap chic as is.  Let me know what you think.  Buen provecho!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ode to the cupcake

First thing's first.  Pesto is delicious.  What happens when it's freezing outside and your basil is dead?  You make sun dried tomato pesto!  I made a lower calorie version, but I really don't think you'd be able to tell.  Another admission-  I am obsessed with my Magic Bullet mini blender.  Yes, the one you've seen in infomercials.  Laugh if you must, but it gets the job done with as little fuss, mess and effort necessary.  I'm pretty sure a few of my coworkers have seen me do this infomercial...
Anyway,  cram the following objects in your blender, food processor, or Magic Bullet (should you be so lucky) and blend well:

1 cup sun dried tomatoes (you'll need to plump them in hot water for a half hour prior and reserve the leftover wather
2 Tbsp grated parmesan (spring for the reggiano variety if you can; there's no comparison)
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup water reserved from plumping tomatoes
2 Tbsp dried Italian herbs or one cup fresh basil
1 cup fresh baby spinach (only if you're using dried herbs)

Bring one pound of whole wheat spaghetti to a boil and cook for ten minutes.  Drain, toss with the spaghetti, and serve garnished with fresh herbs if you have them and parmesan.  I did not have fresh herbs, and I could not afford the reggiano this time, but I must say I was pretty pleased.

Not the most beautiful presentation, and not the most beautiful dish, but it was tasty and satisfying, and that's all I am asking for on a Thursday night.

So I have recently been captivated by the cupcake beauties captured on camera at SugarLush, a blog I have been following, so I felt it my duty to make some snazzy cupcakes.  I found a recipe for chai cupcakes with buttercream frosting at TasteBook that looked yummy.  I decided to recreate them, but using Orange Spice tea instead.  I'll test them on my coworkers tomorrow and see what they think.  I had to sneak one just to be sure it was fit to eat.  It's pretty spicy delicious!
I'd love to hear about the best cupcake combos you've tasted or heard of.  Any ideas out there?
Thanks for the input.  You guys are so awesome!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back to Basics and Canstruction

There are a few things I simply refuse to buy because they are so much better and cheaper made myself in almost no time.  I don't buy any sort of pre-peeled or pre-minced garlic.  Not only does this exposure to air and jarring process make the garlic not taste as good, but then I would miss out on the garlic smell on my hands which I admittedly LOVE, even after the meal is finished.  It lingers like such a sweet memory.
I will not buy salad dressing.  You would be amazed at the amazing flavors you can concoct in just minutes with the most basic and cheap ingredients.  (My favorite of late is a curry mustard vinaigrette, but I digress...)
I will not buy pasta sauce.  Let me expound on this a bit, if I may.

I never ever ever (except for by accident on very rare occasions!) let myself run out of fresh onions, fresh garlic, and canned tomatoes of some sort.  With these three staples, you will never be sauceless.  How long does it take to make, you ask?  Barely a flash.  Here's how:

In a heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat, pour in enough olive oil to just coat the bottom.  (I usually use about 2 teaspoons).  Finely mince or crush several cloves of garlic, depending on how strong you like your garlic flavor.  I LOVE GARLIC, so I usually use 3 large or 4 medium cloves and I like to mince them very finely since the smaller the mince, the stronger the flavor.  (More surface area if you're a geek like me that likes to know why).  Try not to let the garlic brown too much, as this will make it bitter.  The trick is to constantly stir it around.  Add in crushed red pepper flakes to taste almost immediately.  You're ready to pour in a large can (15oz) of tomatoes as soon as you smell the heat from the red pepper.  If you are doing this, you'll definitely know what I mean.  It tingles.  Once you've dumped them in, turn your sauce down to medium-low heat and give it a good stir.  If you used whole canned tomatoes, now is the time to smash them.  If you used crushed, diced, or pureed, you can just walk away. 

Let the sauce come up to a simmer and add in any herbs you wish.  Italian seasoning, basil, oregano, savory, a bay leaf, etc.  I like to use Italian seasoning, one bay leaf, and a little extra basil. I usually use tomatoes with salt already added, so I don't add any additional salt.  You're sauce is ready when you're happy with the seasoning.  Use it as a pizza sauce or a pasta sauce.  Dilute it with chicken stock for a great minestrone soup base.  Try it, and let me know if I've converted you into an ex-commercial-pasta-sauce-consumer.

In other news:
Here I am in the news:
The News and Observer, that is.  Every year our office (Duda/Paine Architects), competes in Canstruction, a themed contest benefitting the Food Bank of North Carolina.  This year's theme was super heroes.  Naturally, we chose to construct an eight foot Super Smurf (complete with cape) from 6,500 cans of Kroger Chunk Light Tuna.  Suffice it to say, we rocked it. 

Check us out killing it time lapse camera-style on YouTube:
Duda/Paine Smurf Squad Extreme

Thanks for checking it out!

-The Redhead in the Kitchen

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Melody Had a Little Lamb

So it's been a bit of a rough week, but it's time to get back in the saddle.  So here I blog again!  It's good for me.  Time for some cooking therapy and good vino.

Lamb was on sale tonight at Whole Foods, so I couldn't resist.  I picked up half a leg of lamb to butterfly and throw on the grill.  I haven't cooked Broccoli Rabe before, so I decided to pick some of that up as it was on sale as well.  At the moment I've butterflied the leg of lamb.  This just means cutting through the thinner side of the meat about 2/3 down and splitting it open so it looks like a steak.  At present it's waiting patiently for the grill while it soaks up a little olive oil, 1 tsp dried thyme, 1 sprig chopped fresh rosemary, 3 medium cloves minced garlic course salt and course ground black pepper:

Meanwhile, I sliced a medium white onion and started to caramelize it in a 1.5 Tbsp olive oil.
When they started to pick up some color, I added in a dry pint of baby portobello mushrooms I sliced thinly and a large clove of garlic.  Once the mushrooms brown, I seasoned with sea salt before adding in one bunch of broccoli rabe, coursely chopped.  Toss and cover with a snug fitting lid.  The lamb goes on the grill.  Until it hits that medium rare stage or an internal temperature of 150, my hard work consists of sipping on some Chateaux Bolchet I picked up at Wine Authorities.  I encourage you to say this out loud.  It cheered my day.

The lamb comes off the grill at a nice medium rare and rests for 10 minutes before slicing to ensure the juices don't come gushing out when the knife cuts through.  A good crusty Pane Bello from Whole Foods was just the thing to sop up the juices.  When it all came together, it looked like this:
I have to say, the lamb was pretty tasty.  I found that the Chateaux Bolchet, while it was drinkable and tasty on its own, was even better when paired with the earthy and meaty flavors of the lamb.  The broccoli rabe had some bitter, almost cinnamon-like flavors which were nicely mellowed by the mushrooms and onions.   I still think it might be a little too bitter for my taste, but I am glad I tried it.  Thanks for reading; it's so fun to share these cooking adventures with you!  I will definitely be posting more this week.  Next up:  Asian Endeavors with water chestnuts!  Stay tuned...

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pork. 'Nuff said?

So thanks to the generous lovelies that gave me a Trader Joe's gift card for Christmas, I was able to stock up on some delicious ingredients this week.  I have been craving juice (pretty much any fruit juice indiscriminately) for a few weeks now.  So one of the first things I picked up was some antioxidant-loaded pomegranate juice.  Aside from making lovely cocktails, turns out it makes a pretty awesome pork marinade as well.  For the marinade, I used the juice of two small oranges, 1 tsp orange zest, 2 cloves minced garlic, juice of one lime, 1/3 cup pomegranate juice, 1 Tbsp dijon mustard, dash of cayenne pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.  Let my 1.5 lb. pork loin roast soak overnight (although it could be ready in a couple hours) before grilling that baby.

While that is busy working its magic in a large plastic bag in the fridge, try mixing this up:
In cocktail shaker full of ice, shake one shot Grey Goose Citrus Vodka, one shot pomegranate juice, the juice of half a lime, and some Cointreau or other orange liquor if you have it.  Pour in a martini glass.  If you are like me and do not own that type of glass, pour it in a tall glass with ice and top with a little club soda.  Yummy.

It's been so cold outside lately, I was really feeling the need to experiment with some homemade bread.  So I followed the recipe in my Nordstrom Cafe cookbook for rosemary focaccia, and added a little sliced garlic.  Here's how it turned out:
I gotta say, it was pretty tasty.  But next time i would double the amount of sliced garlic and rosemary garnish on top and add a few very thinly sliced tomatoes before baking.  A little course Australian pink salt on top made all the difference.

Next up:  I removed the pork loin from the sauce and put the leftover used marinade in a small saucepan.  Bring it to a boil and simmer until it's reduced to 1/3 its original volume, and you have a tangy and wonderful finishing sauce.  Meanwhile, Jeremy tended the grill while I whipped up a salad.

For the salad:  2 cups arugula, a handful of dried cherries, 1/3 cup crumbled bleu cheese, 1 oz. crushed cashews, and 1/2 cup sugar snap peas get tossed with a citrus dressing.

For the dressing, combine the juice of one clementine or tangerine, 1 lemon, 2 pearl onions or one shallot, 1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, 2 tsp olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.  Give it a good shake and toss with the arugula mixture just before serving.

I chose a merlot for this meal (I used the Whole Foods house brand which set me back a grand total of $6), but you could go with a nice Zin as well.  I was pretty pleased with the final product.
I dedicate this blog post to my best friend and sister, Lori, who faithfully reads all my self-indulgent dribble and is my biggest cheerleader.  Poor baby LoLo, I applaud you for your bravery in having all four wisdom teeth removed this week and still being "cheeky" enough (no pun intended) to set me straight and tell me what's what.

After a great weekend, it's back to the daily grind.  Let's make the most of every hour this week, shall we?

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Mon Petit Cabbage...

So I might have felt a little bit like Pepe la Pew when I came across these beauts.  I had never seen brussel sprouts for sale on their stalk!  It was truly a thing of beauty and a source of inspiration for what could have been a beautiful meal. 
While my roasted chicken and brussel sprouts in a lemon dill cream sauce tasted pretty great, it wasn't so easy on the eyes.  The wonderful thing about cooking is how much you can learn from your own mistakes.  For example, a sauce containing dairy and citrus can look beautiful in your saucepan and poured over top of your finished dish, but should you choose to cook it in a very hot oven for thirty minutes atop your chicken and veggies, it will NOT remain emulsified.  You will have a very clumpy and separated looking mess.  At least it still tasted good!  If you want to try this one, I'm sure it could look almost as beautiful as it could taste should you choose to roast the chicken and sprouts first and pour the sauce on just as it's finishing.  This was a quick meal using individually frozen chicken breasts you can find at Trader Joe's.  No need to thaw.

Preheat your oven to 425 or as directed for the cut and quantity of chicken you're using.  I used four breasts.  Cut sprouts off the stalk and score an "x" into the bottom of each cut sprout.  Why?  Because Julia Child tells you to.  I have no idea why, but I blindly obeyed.  Put all your sprouts (I used maybe a pound?) and your chicken in a roasting pan and into the oven for thirty minutes, turning the breasts over once for even cooking.  While your sprouts and chicken is roasting, find a small saucepan.
For the sauce, finely dice one yellow or white onion and cook until softened in a tablespoon of melted butter and two teaspoons olive oil.  Add 2 Tbsp flour and keep stirring until the flour, onion and butter mixture begins to pick up a golden color.  Deglaze with the juice of a whole lemon, scraping up any browned bits.  Pour in a cup of chicken stock and a can of skim evaporated milk (or some half and half if you really want to go for the gusto) and continue to stir while this reduces and becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  When it reaches this point, add 3 Tbsp chopped dill and continue to cook and stir for a few more minutes.  When chicken is five minutes away from being done, pour the sauce over the sprouts and chicken.  Serve over brown rice garnished with chopped parsely.  Let me know how it goes.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pad Thai Success!

Okay, so technically it might not be Pad Thai since I used ground turkey breast instead of shrimp.  But darn if it wasn't tasty.  And so easy!  Really, it took me no time to whip up this exotic weeknight meal.  I used the flat rice noodles I found at Trader Joe's called "Rice Sticks," but really you could even get away with using vermicelli.  Here's what I did:

Saute approximately 1 lb ground turkey breast with 1 chopped and seeded red pepper, 1 Tbsp shredded ginger, salt and pepper to taste, a couple tsp fish sauce, and 2 cloves thinly sliced garlic. 
While the turkey is working, grab a saucepan and whisk together 1 1/2 cups chicken stock, 2 Tbsp tamari or soy sauce, salt and pepper to taste, 1 egg, 2 Tbsp peanut butter, 1 or 2 tsp sriracha (or other Asian hotsauce).  Bring to a simmer while the turkey finishes cooking.  Combine turkey and sauce and set aside or keep warm on low heat.

Bring the noodles to a boil and drain them when they are al dente, or slightly firm in the very center.  Toss with a large container of mung bean sprouts before combining this mixture with your turkey and sauce.  I added just a touch more soy sauce at this point.  Toss to thoroughly combine before plating.
Top each serving with sliced green onions (use white and green parts), crushed peanuts, and a bit of chopped cilantro if you have it.  Serve with lime wedges for squeezing on top. 

Let me know if you try it!  To be honest, Asian is the most intimidating cuisine for me to cook.  One of my intentions in 2010 is to cook a lot more Asian dishes.  I want to feel more comfortable with it and expand my cooking into other cultural realms I've yet to explore.  Does anyone have any good tips for experimenting with this type of cuisine?  I may have to try and master a favorite of mine- Hot and Sour Soup!  Although I don't know if anyone can beat Shanghai Restaurant's preparation of that one.  Yum!

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