Monday, July 29, 2013

GaryTalk #6

Set aside your fear and embrace change.

A fortuitous and at the time quite scary event happened in my life when I was 15 years old. My family moved away from our home in North Carolina to a small town called Beaconsfield outside of London.
We lived there for three years before moving back to the States.

At the time, I DID NOT want to move. I loved my friends, my school, and my life as I knew it. I didn't want to make new friends. My father, sensing my fear, called a family meeting and proceeded to read, out loud, the motivational book "Who Moved My Cheese". I'll sum it up for you in a few sentences: the story is about two mice and two small humans named "Hem" and "Haw". They all live in a maze and eat cheese. The cheese is moved. The mice adapt and find the new cheese, no biggie. The humans do not adapt and cry and mourn and have a giant hissy fit, and then die. The end. Adapt to change. Do not hem and haw. Got it.

Over the next year, there were many challenging moments, but I can not even describe how much my life was affected for the better because of that move. My brother and I became incredibly close, London was our new playground, yet most of all I realized how big and fun and adventurous life can be when you do not live with the fear of change. My dad instigated that move. He took the plunge with the family, one that changed the course of my life for the better.

Now that I am an adult, it is up to me to instigate good changes and not be paralyzed by fear of the unknown. I ask myself: Are you currently happy where you are living? In your career? Want to move out West? Want to go back to school? Want to take 3 months off and hike the Appalachian trail? The biggest plunge that I have taken recently was starting this blog, and at the time I was scared that I wasn't tech savvy enough, that nobody would read it, and that I didn't have the photography or cooking expertise to have a blog. Then, one day, I just did it. Gary says, set aside your fear and embrace change.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

French Baguette

A good crunchy baguette is at the top of my list of simple pleasures.  It's right up there with my first cup of morning coffee, mom's chocolate chip cookies, and a ripe tomato sandwich (with Duke's mayo and S/P, on untoasted honey wheat bread). 

I must thank my great friend Elisabeth's mom for sharing her baguette recipe with me. This recipe has been made in their house every day for years, and was a staple on the dinner table when Elisabeth was growing up. I have hauled my Kitchen Aid mixer to South Carolina just so I could make this baguette for my parents, it's just that good.  I love to make a good mussel broth for the perfect baguette dipping sauce. 

This evening, we are pretending we are sitting in a French bistro with a bottle of white, Madeline Peyroux on the iPod, and this simple dinner.  Bon App├ętit!

French Baguette
1 cup water (must be room temperature)
2 and 1/2 cup bread flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 tsp Fleishmann's yeast

Put the ingredients in a mixer with the dough hook, in the above order (very important). Put salt on one side of bowl and yeast on the other side of the bowl (also very important). 

Mix for 2 minutes - then shut off mixer and let it sit for 7 minutes. Then mix for an additional 3 minutes. 

Take dough and place in a greased bowl (I use Pam) and roll the dough around so the entire ball has a light greased layer. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warmer place for 1 to 1&1/2 hours. Then punch dough back down. Roll into the baguette (either one or two depending on size) and make sure the roll has a kind of seal around it so that the yeast expands within the baguette. Let rise for an additional 30 minutes. Make slices across the top with a knife before placing in the oven.

Bake at 375 to 400 degrees for roughly 20 minutes, until it looks nice and brown. For a crusty baguette (which I love) place a cake pan with ice cubes in the lower oven shelf to create steam. Try not to open the oven while cooking because it lets the steam out.

Let baguette cool for a bit before cutting. Enjoy! 

Spicy Mussels Marinara

Growing up, I was what a parent would describe as an unadventurous eater. My idea of seafood was popcorn shrimp. I loved cheese pizza, milk chocolate, cereal, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and generally nothing too weird. I could eat PB&J every day. It drove my dad crazy. I was a "Plain Jane". 

For those parents who wonder whether their kids will ever learn to love REAL food, I offer my story as a glimmer of hope. I no longer have staring contests with asparagus or brussel sprouts, and I actually look forward to eating steamed oysters with horseradish and Crystal hot sauce. Now, a few decades later, mussels are one of my very favorite meals. I have tweaked this recipe over the last few  years, and I just love the combination of saffron and red pepper flakes. The broth has an amazing flavor, and I will not let a single drop go to waste! 

Spicy Mussels Marinara 
serves 2 hungry people

4 lbs mussels (can use 3 lbs for the less hungry)
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp good olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped shallots (5-7 shallots)
1 cup white wine
1 (28oz) can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
2 tsp Kosher salt and 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp Saffron threads
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional - adds the heat to the recipe)
1/2 bunch Italian parsley, roughly chopped
baguette for serving

To clean the mussels, put them in a large bowl with 2 quarts of cold water and the flour and soak for 30 minutes. Drain the mussels, then remove the "beard" from each with your fingers. Scrub mussels if they are dirty, and discard any mussels whose shells are not tightly shut. 

In a large pot, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the white wine and bring to a boil, then simmer for another 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and add the tomatoes (crush by hand prior to adding), saffron, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. 

Once the sauce is at a simmer, add the mussels, stir the pot, and raise the heat to medium. Cover the pot and cook for 6-8 minutes, or until all the mussels have opened. Finally, stir in the parsley prior to serving in large bowls with baguette on the side for dipping. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

for the love of...CHEESE!

If you were on a desert island and could only have ONE type of cheese, what would it be? You see, I have a love affair with cheese, and consider it a food group all on it's own. A perfectly acceptable dinner in my house consists of cheese and triscuits, or cheese and wine, or just cheese. I love it. I'll blame it on my Wisconsin blood. 

Right now, I am completely obsessed with The Dubliner (Kerrygold) which I  buy in giant blocks from Sam's club.  Please tell...what's your favorite? 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce

One of the rewards for driving down to South Carolina and helping my mom recuperate from knee surgery was a couple pounds of tomatoes from her friend Jane's garden. I drove home with aspirations of putting those tomatoes to good use.

On arrival in Spartanburg, I had the full intent to cook her three square meals a day, though when her friends started rolling in with spaghetti, shrimp pasta salad, peach cobbler, spiced nuts, fruit tart, chocolate covered strawberries, wine, and chocolate, I quickly took a place beside her on the couch and made my official job changing out the bag of frozen beans on her knee. There is no hospitality like Southern hospitality, my friends, and I witnessed it first hand last weekend.

My mom has talked about this recipe so many times, and it comes from her friend Jane and is often served at parties and book club. It is adaptable, and you can use it as a traditional pasta sauce, or pizza sauce, or spread over a baguette and top with cheese, or just drink it right out of the bowl with a straw. Not even kidding. This is my first time making a slow-roasted tomato sauce, and I served the sauce over spinach-stuffed ravioli.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Demarle Tomato Sauce recipe

Olive oil
Balsamic Vinegar
2 pounds fresh tomatoes
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh Basil (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place rack in center position.
  2. Wash tomatoes and cut into equal sizes with pairing knife. Small tomatoes can be cut in half, and for large tomatoes cut into three slices. Lightly oil baking sheet with olive oil, and place tomatoes on top. Then drizzle tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, and salt and pepper. Slice butter into tiny small pieces and dot evenly over tomatoes.
  3. Bake the tomatoes for 2-3 hours. This is very flexible, though mine were just right at 2 hours. Open the oven door occasionally to allow moisture to escape. The tomatoes are finished when they are deep in color and the water is mostly gone. For a chunkier sauce, serve as is, or for a smoother sauce place mixture in food processor and blend. I added fresh basil to the food processor before blending. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's Five O'Clock Somewhere!

In celebration of today being Friday, with most of us looking forward to a hot summer weekend, I have combined all of my favorite "adult beverages" in one post.

At my house, it will be a sangria weekend. Done and done. Come on by friends, I always have plenty to share!



top 5 favorite recipes

A few friends have come to me recently wanting to know what one recipe off this blog they should try at home. It's SUCH a tough question, and after much thought I've been able to narrow the choices down to five. It's more than one, but I just could not declare a favorite, since it totally depends on the weather, my mood, how much time I want to spend in the kitchen, and whether I'm in the mood for wine or mojitos or margaritas. Without further ado... (click on the recipe to go to the page)

1. Hungarian Mushroom Soup

2. Marinated Shrimp with Capers and Dill

3. Quick Sesame Soba Noodles

4. Bacon Fried Rice

5. Wedding Salad

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Cucumber Salad

I made this simple salad to go with the Spicy Sauteed Chickpeas, using the cucumbers I picked from my mom's garden in South Carolina. I would have loved the salad regardless, but picking the cucumbers myself made it extra special. I think most gardeners would agree that vegetables taste better when you grow them with love in your own backyard.  
Cucumber Salad
adapted from Ellie Krieger
2 pounds cucumbers
1 small white onion
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped
  1. Slice the cucumbers lengthwise, remove seeds, and slice thinly. Then thinly slice the onion.
  2. In a colander, toss the cucumber and onion with salt and allow to drain for 20 minutes. Press the liquid out of the vegetables and rinse with cold water.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the vinegar and sugar and stir well. Add the cucumber mixture and toss to coat. Stir in the dill. Refrigerate prior to serving.

Spicy Sauteed Chickpeas with Beef and Cilantro

If you love chickpeas or hummus, this recipe is simple and scrumptuous! To increase the spice, add a little extra chipotle powder or Sriracha. This was a perfectly simple weeknight meal that I will be making again and again.

Spicy Sauteed Chickpeas with Beef and Cilantro
Adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen

1/2 lb lean ground beef
2 cans chickpeas, save liquid, then rinse chickpeas
1T and 1tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp Spike seasoning
chicken stock (add to chickpea liquid to make 2 cups)
1 and 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground chipotle chile powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Drain chickpeas into colander, saving liquid. Add chicken stock to chickpea liquid to make 2 cups, then rinse chickpeas until no foam appears.
  2. Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a large frying pan (I used my dutch oven) over high heat. Add ground beef, crumbling into pieces, and Spike seasoning. Use a spatula to stir and break up meat while browing, for approx 3 minutes. When meat is fairly broken up, add chickpeas. Keeping heat on high, saute meat and chickpeas together until meat is well browned and chickpeas are browning are starting to pop (10 minutes)
  3. Add cumin, ground chipotle chile powder, minced garlic, and cook for one minute more. Add reserved cooking liquid/chicken stock (to make 2 cups). Scrape the bottom of the pan (to loosen any brown bits) and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until most of liquid has evaporated.
  4. Turn off heat, stir in cilantro and 1 Tbsp olive oil. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 8, 2013

sweet friendship

During her bridesmaid brunch, Taryn mentioned the wise advice that she received from her mom and dad years ago - to make a few real friends at every stage in your life, and carry them with you forever. These girls are my heart and soul, and I am so lucky to have met such amazing women in our brief two years during PA school. LOVE YOU!! 

No Noodle Lasagna

Life is about finding balance. Discovering that perfect place between moving fast and moving slow, juggling work life and home life, declaring "to-do list time" and "play time", deciding when to drink water and when to drink wine. Too much play and you're a glutton, too much serious and you're a stick in the mud. 

With that being said, I'm currently leaning more towards the "glutton" after a FABULOUS wedding weekend in Asheville, NC. Joshua and I were there for three whole days, and had some seriously great food and beer, while hanging out with amazing friends and watching one of my very best friends marry the love of her life. Here are a few of our favorite places in the "beer capital of the USA":

  -  Zambra's tapas
  -  Jerusalem Garden Cafe
  -  The Wicked Weed
  -  Asheville Brewing Company (possibly the best pizza in Asheville)
  -  Broadway (walked into a crazy fun 80s party on a Wed night)

The trip was wonderful, and we ended the weekend by ordering midnight pizza (who does that!) while sharing stories with friends.

Now we are back to our normal lives. This week we will again find the balance towards our more health conscious selves by eating less in general, more greens, and much less booze. C'est la vie. I learned long ago that healthy food can taste really good, and this recipe is just what I was in search of. Hearty yet light, flavorful, and low on carbs. 

Healthy "No Noodle" Lasagna
adapted from allrecipes

2 large zucchini
1 Tbsp salt
1 pound lean ground beef
1 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup tomato paste (I like Muir Glen)
1 can (16 ounce) tomato sauce
1/4 cup red wine
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 egg
1 (15 ounce) container low-fat ricotta cheese
2 Tbsp Italian parsley, chopped
1 (16 ounce) package frozen spinach
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
8 ounces grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan.

2. Slice the zucchini lengthwise into very thin sloes. Sprinkle lightly with salt and set aside in a colander to drain

3. Prepare the meat sauce: stir ground beef and black pepper in a large skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the green bell pepper and onion; cook until meat is no longer pink. Stir in the tomato paste, tomato sauce, wine, basil, and oregano. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer sauce for 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

4. Meanwhile, stir ricotta, egg, and parsley together in a bowl until well combined.

5. To assemble lasagne: spread half of the meat sauce into the bottom of prepared pan, then layer half the zucchini slices, half the ricotta mixture, all the spinach and mushrooms, then half the mozzarella cheese. Repeat by layering the remaining meat sauce, zucchini slices, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella. Spread parmesan cheese evenly over top, and cover with foil. 

6. Bake covered for 45 minutes, then increase head to 350 degrees, remove foil, and bake for additional 15 minutues. Allow to stand 5 minutes prior to serving.