Thursday, March 31, 2011

my go-to: strawberry salad

Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Almonds, Craisins, and Goat Cheese

Last night I had dinner at Hook, a seafood restaurant in Georgetown.  I was planning on taking pictures and writing a review for today's post, but I had a really long day yesterday and completely flaked as soon as my dinner was set before me.  Here's a back-up post instead.  Sorry to drop the ball...

Florida strawberry season is in full swing right now, which means that berries are inexpensive, flavorful, and plentiful.  A few weeks ago I bought a four pound box of delicious strawberries at Costco for $5.99 - which lasted six days in our fridge.  What I mean to say is not that they spoiled in that period of time, but rather, they were so good that two little girls  young women demolished them in less than a week. 

That very night, I sliced some up and topped them with a bit of whipped cream for a post-dinner sweet treat.  After I took the first bite, I almost fell out of my chair.  Y'all, as much as I dislike hyperbole, I do believe that they were the best strawberries I have ever bought from the grocery store, bar none.  They were huge, bright red strawberries bursting with sweet flavor.  The kind in which the juices dribble down your chin and you scramble to catch the runoff before it drips onto your white pants.  They tasted fresh-picked from the farm - just like the ones my mom picks in Pungo each summer.

The thing with these fresh strawberries, especially the first ones of the season, is that you want to showcase them.  It's sacreligious to mix them with sugar and bake them into some sort of pie, shortcake, pudding or compote.  That's a practice reserved for the dog days of August when you think you might turn into Violet Beauregarde if you eat another berry, but you need some sort of fruit in your rotation before good local apples are available again.  Heck, for the season's very first berries, it even seems backwards to mask the flavor in a bowl of oatmeal, yogurt, or a smoothie.  So, besides berries-n-cream dessert, how else does one go through four pounds of berries in a less than a week?

If you say chocolate-covered strawberries, you're wrong.  I'm not doing that sort of romancin' over here in Kitchen 203.

So you make a lot of salads.  

Strawberries in a salad may sound strange, but this is my favorite salad.  And by favorite, I mean, I’ve been known to eat it, or some variation of it, four times a week when it's berry season.  Some things just don’t get old to me.  It's perfect for when I am pressed for time, not too hungry, or craving something sweet (I've been told it's not okay to eat a box of caramels for dinner.)  This salad is light, crisp, refreshing, and incredibly easy, and can also be varied depending on what you have in your own kitchen.

How to build your own go-to strawberry salad:

Base:  Generally spinach, but sometimes mixed greens, if that's what I have
Main component:  Sliced strawberries (can also use raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or some combination if you prefer)
Protein:  Almonds or walnuts, though I sometimes use chicken breast when I'm not a temporary veg, and scale back or eliminate the nuts
Creamy goodness:  Optional, but I like to use about 3/4 ounce - 1 ounce of crumbled goat cheese 
Extras:  dried cranberries
Crunch components:  diced celery, cucumber, or green onions (optional, and don't go overboard, just chop enough to get a nice texture)
Dressing:  Brianna's blushwine viniagrette, Annie's raspberry viniagrette, or just some balsamic vinegar and olive oil


Everyone have a great Thursday and look out for tomorrow's Friday Breakfast.  It's gonna be a good one!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

recipe for #winning: curried chickpea and quinoa salad

Curried chickpea and quinoa salad

Last week I gave you some recipes for your March Madness viewing parties, but there's a different kind of March Madness going on at my office.  I am fortunate enough to have a fitness facility at my workplace, one that offers a variety of cardio equipment, weights, group exercise classes, personal training, and promotional programs.  Each year, the gym puts on a March Madness competition, a friendly fierce contest running concurrently with the NCAA tournament.  Teams of three rack up points for participating in various exercise programs, and after the final basketball game, the top three teams with the most points win prizes.   This year, the top prize is an iPod, followed by a free six-month locker rental at the facility and a massage from the therapist that comes to our facility.  Needless to say, my two teammates and I want a prize.  For additional incentive, we have a head-to-head competition with another threesome from our office in which the losing team buys Happy Hour for the winning team.

We're working out a lot, so we need good, clean food to give us energy.  This recipe, inspired by Whole Foods' curried chicken salad, has given me endless fuel over the past couple of weeks.  I'm no dietician, but  this salad is a nutritional all-star, as it provides a healthy mixture of fats, complex carbs, and proteins.  It's sure to power any athlete through a tough workout and still have energy remaining for the rest of the day - #winning!  I've polished off the whole recipe over the last week - once over spinach, once in a wrap, and once on its own.  I think I like it over spinach leaves the best, though they were all three quite tasty, and the one in a wrap was slightly more filling.

Curried Chickpea and Quinoa Salad
Makes about four cups, or 3-4 servings

1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 diced red bell pepper
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup uncooked quinoa + 3/4 cup stock (yields about 1 1/3 cup cooked quinoa)
6 ounces plain greek yogurt
2 teaspoons mild curry powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
small drizzle honey

1.  Prepare quinoa according to package directions or see my instructions for Ecuadorian quinoa here.
2.  Once quinoa is cooked, combine with first six ingredients in a large bowl.
3.  In a small bowl, prepare the yogurt curry sauce.  Stir the curry powder, lemon juice and honey into the greek yogurt.
4.  Pour yogurt sauce over the quinoa-chickpea mixture and toss to combine.

Note:  Since this salad is made with greek yogurt as opposed to mayonnaise, you may find that it is a little dry if you eat it more than 4-6 hours after you prepare it.  In that case, I'd recommend mixing in a small squeeze of mayonnaise right before you eat it. 

Who's in favor of #winning?  When you know you're going to have a tough workout, what do you like to eat to keep you going?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

vegetable & edamame stirfry with thai peanut sauce

Vegetable & edamame stirfry with Thai peanut sauce

Did y'all hear me shout from the rooftops last week?  I have a big, huge announcement.

I'm. In. LOVE.

Love, I tell you!  I didn't see it coming either, but they always say it comes when you least expect it.  I kind of forgot what it felt like.  But it's back, and it's the real thing.  You know how I know?  This is what people do when they fall in love:
  • Dance around the room like that fool Nellie Forbush singing "I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love, I'm in love with a wonderful guyyyyyyyy!!!"
  • Channel Tom Cruise on Oprah and jump up and down on the couch 
  • Babble incoherently and giggle when speaking of their love
  • Try to lead normal, functional lives but inevitably become utterly incapable of thinking of anything else other than their love
  • Write about their love to be published for the whole world to see, even if they have a million and ten things to do so there was already a post pre-prepared
And y'all, I did all of those things last week.  Why wouldn't I?  Sleek body, sizzlin' hot, works quickly, and gives me exactly what I want.  And you had better believe that if this relationship ever ends, I am going to go BSC like Taylor Swift and write a song about it.  Another thing people do when they're in love.

Last week I fell in love with my wok.

One night, (can't remember which - must be love brain!), I came home from work and was really irritated about something that had happened that day.  In fact, I was so annoyed that I hadn't even thought about what I wanted for dinner that evening.  When I got to my apartment, I had a package from UPS!   I thought it was a pair of pants I had ordered until I saw the size of the box.  Then I remembered what it was!  I had ordered this wok a couple days before with my temporary Amazon Prime membership, which gives me free two-day shipping on most items sold by  So, I opened the box and decided on a big vegetable stir-fry.  (Side note:  I am just now realizing how much Asian cuisine I've eaten lately.  I love Asian food - Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, it doesn't matter!  Sorry if you don't like Asian food because I know there's a lot of it on this blog!)

For the stirfry, I took a shortcut and used a bag of frozen veggies - a Safeway mixture with sugar snap peas, water chestnuts, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.  I threw in some frozen edamame for protein and fresh skinny asparagus and let it sizzle in the wok with a tiny bit of canola oil and soy sauce.  I wanted to serve it over white rice, but I was out of it.  What a shame!

While the veggies were a wok-in' and a rollin', I prepared a very quick, very easy Thai peanut sauce to drizzle over the finished product.  More protein!

Thai Peanut Sauce, a 40-day Vegetarian original
Serves one

1 tablespoon all-natural peanut butter
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon plus 1 to 2 tablespoons water
minced garlic, minced ginger, and crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
    1.  Heat one tablespoon of peanut butter, one teaspoon of soy sauce, one teaspoon of water, and 1/4 teaspoon brown sugar over medium-low heat.  (If you use traditional peanut butter, you do not need to add sugar).
    2.  Using a fork, mash the peanut butter into the liquid and allow it to start melting.  Add garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes, stirring to combine all ingredients.  Do not burn the sauce.  Add up to 2 tablespoons of water, little by little, if you find the sauce is too thick or is sticking to the bottom of the pan.   
    3.  Drizzle over stirfry and enjoy!

    I've made this same dish probably a dozen times before because it's easy, cheap, and Whitney and I love it.  But I don't know HOW I did it without a wok!  I used to fry the veggies using a huge nonstick pan, but the wok makes all the difference.  The vegetables get a deep brown char on the outside, retaining their crunchiness and flavor.  This is a stark contrast to the limpness that can afflict vegetables that have been cooking on a pan too long.  And bonus!  Just like any good man, this thing is fast - dinner went from my freezer to my plate in under ten minutes.  Since I am an economist, after all, I'm a real sucker for rationality and efficiency.  Most importantly, the meal was so delicious that I wasn't even angry anymore.  Boyfriend picks me up when I am down.

    So yeah, I am in love with my wok.  I kept it under wraps for a week because I didn't want to jump the gun, but we're still goin' strong, so I am ready to announce it to the world. Also, I just read this entry and I realized that there is an unnecessary number of exclamation points and I am literally babbling in parts of it.  But ya know what?  I'm going to keep both the enthusiasm and stream of consciousness in for added effect.  I told y'all I'm in love.

    Have y'all ever fallen in love with an inanimate object?  (KHelm, I'm looking at you and your iPhone.)  Do y'all have any kitchen appliances you can't live without, or any items on your culinary lust list?

    Monday, March 28, 2011

    israeli couscous with basil, portobellos, and sundried tomatoes

    Israeli couscous with basil, portobellos, and sundried tomatoes

    Paging the fail whale. I made a mistake in Blogger last night and accidentally published the post that was meant for this morning.  It can be found here.  Therefore, this post is sub-par - a straightforward recipe with no anecdotal backstory.  Sorry to let you down, but it's better than a no-post Monday. 

    Lots of people try to eat lighter in January after enjoying the holidays.  My eating habits don't run on a yearly cycle, but rather a weekly one.  My Friday through Sunday is analogous to Thanskgiving through New Years, and come Monday my body actually craves simple, healthful food.  This very easy and healthy couscous salad does just the trick.  The secret to the recipe is a bag of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend Couscous - a one-pound bag of Israeli-style couscous, red and green orzo, baby garbanzo beans, and red quinoa.  Like so many other 40-day Vegetarian recipes, it can (and should) be easily adapted to whatever you have on hand, and whatever you feel like eating.  I'm thinking maybe I'll make it later this spring with peas, artichokes, asparagus, and green onions.  It's the perfect side dish or main course.

    Israeli Couscous with Chopped Vegetables, a 40-day Vegetarian original
    Serves two

    One handful spinach, chopped
    One handful sundried tomatoes, chopped
    Two portobello mushroom caps, chopped
    Three artichoke hearts, chopped
    fresh basil leaves, chopped
    1/2 cup Trader Joe's harvest grains blend Israeli couscous
    3/4 cup vegetable or chicken stock
    1/4 onion
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
    1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
    salt and pepper, to taste

    1.  Heat half of the olive oil and all of the garlic in a pan, add the onion to saute a few minutes.
    2.  Add 3/4 cup of stock and 1/2 cup Israeli couscous blend.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed, about 12 minutes.
    3. Saute the spinach and mushrooms in the other half of the olive oil to wilt the leaves and soften the caps, 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and add sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts, stirring to combine.
    4. Toss chopped vegetables with cooked couscous and season with olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic or red wine vinegar.  Top with fresh basil.

    That's it - sorry this post is so lame.  I will make it up to you tomorrow!

    Sunday, March 27, 2011

    the weekend in food

    How was everyone's weekend?  Per usual, mine was a little overindulgent.  Again. (Are you noticing a trend here?  I think I whined about the same thing last week or the week before!  #mondayanxiety)

    Friday night was "girls night" for my DC besties and I.  We had been looking forward to this night for a while - even though we live within a two mile radius of each other, we've all been so busy with work, travel, and fun that it had been a while since we'd hung out together!  This night had been on the calendar for a while, but we didn't know what we felt like doing until a couple of days before.  Anna-Catherine suggested a late dinner at Bangkok Joe's, a Thai restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront.

    Bangkok Joe's has a très chic ambiance - very swanky and trendy, even though you can't tell by the picture of our corner table.  The food was solid and flavorful, with huge portions, but overall I didn't think it was anything to write home about.  I got the tofu basil rice bowl and also tried Randi's tofu pad thai; everyone else got noodle bowls with chicken, so I didn't try theirs.

    I wish my dish had been a tad spicier; it just didn't pack enough punch for me.  Admittedly, I like my Thai food really spicy, so most people probably would have thought it was perfect.  The "upscale Thai bistro" put me even more solidly in the camp that ethnic food is best when cheap and from a hole in the wall.  (The one exception may be Indian food - which seems to be pricey everywhere.)  However, I will say that the company was a blast.  It was so good to see everyone because I think it has been a couple months since all six of us sat down together.  I have no idea when my friends and I all got so old.  Dinner conversation ranged from office woes to friends' upcoming weddings to wrinkles and anti-aging regimes. Whaaaat?  Slow down, Father Time!


    After dinner we popped by Daily Grill to have a beer and watch the basketball games.  After a while, "a beer" multiplied into many drinks.  Randi, AC, and Kate left and it was just Brittany, Whitney, and me.  It was a slow night for the bar, and the bartender, with whom we are pretty friendly, was soliciting ideas for a new cocktail.  We wound up with something pink that was "girly, but sassy, snarky, and bitchy".  Whatever that means.  Was he trying to describe us? I was skeptical, as I hate sugary girly-tinis, but it actually wasn't that bad.  It tasted like strawberry pineapple juice with a kick.

    Saturday, one of my sorority sisters from college, Ann-Somers, was in town for her birthday and the National Half Marathon.  She works as a consultant based out of Dallas, so we got our girlfriends from all over the East Coast (New York, DC, Richmond, and Charlottesville) to meet in the nation's capital.  Our friend Sarah made a reservation at Farmers and Fishers, another restaurant at the Georgetown waterfront.  Farmers and Fishers is a farm-to-table sister restaurant of one of my DC favorites, Founding Farmers.

    It was my first time at the restaurant, and even though I had heard varying reviews, I was impressed with most of the food!  (And all of the made-in-house cocktails!)  We started with crab dip, fried calamari, a sprawling hummus platter, and a caprese salad tray for the table.  The apps were delish.  By the time the main course came, I wasn't even hungry, which was probably a good thing because my beet and goat cheese salad was kind of boring.  I suppose that's my fault for not ordering something more interesting.  Apparently Lyssa's tacos were 100% inedible, but other than that, I think everyone was happy with their meals. I had a bite of the roasted vegetable pizza and a couple different types of fish, which were all pretty tasty.

    We took the party back to Sarah's house, where we were joined by a few more girls and some of our guy friends from college.  Then, by request of the birthday girl, we went dancing.  Look how happy we all are to be reunited! #dimples

    Sunday was a lazy day.  Whitney made shrimp and grits on Saturday night so I threw a fried egg atop a block of leftover grits and called it brunch.  I spent the afternoon watching basketball and doing some boring, administrative Sunday activities.  I also did some trip planning for the vacation my sisters and I are taking in May, following B's graduation.  We're going to Italy for 18 days and I could not be more excited!  We're flying in and out of Milan, stopping in Bologna, Parma, Modena, Ravenna, Florence, Siena, Rome, Cinque Terre, and Turin along the way.  If anyone has suggestions on places to eat (or see!), please send them on over.

    What did everyone do this weekend?  Any tasty vegetarian eats?

    Friday, March 25, 2011

    friday breakfast: round 2

    Asparagus and goat cheese frittata

    Spring is the season for one of my favorite vegetables - asparagus.  I've learned the hard way that it's silly to pay $4.99/pound for the fat, flavorless spears in December, so I am always thrilled come March and April when the fresh, skinny variety becomes available for less than half that price.

    Today's Friday breakfast special features my favorite green vegetable paired with my favorite breakfast food - eggs.  I already waxed poetic about eggs in my last breakfast post (even though I wasn't feeling them that day) - I just love them.  And frittatas are a great way to eat eggs - fast, super easy, and a great way to up your vegetable intake (just like salads!)

    This morning's Friday breakfast was an asparagus and goat cheese frittata.  I've made countless other vegetarian frittatas, most all of them delicious.  Some of my favorites are spinach, artichoke, and goat cheese, tomato-basil, sundried tomato and mushroom, spinach and feta, and mexican cheese and bell pepper, but the permutations are endless.

    The best way to make a frittata, in my opinion, is in a cast iron skillet.  I think eggs taste better when they are scrambled or fried on cast iron, and similarly, I think frittatas cook better when they are prepared in cast iron.  There's no one way to make a frittata, but there is a fool-proof one!  Give this method a try - it's easier than scrambled eggs! 

    How to make a delicious one-serving frittata in 10 minutes:
    1.  First, decide on your filling.  You can make an empty-your-fridge frittata, but I would stick with just two or three vegetables to start out.  This excludes garlic and onions, which are freebies if you would like to include them.  You may also pick a cheese, if desired.
    2.  Chop the veggies so that they are similar sizes.  This will help them cook more uniformly.  Set aside.  Separately, crumble or shred the cheese and set aside.
    3.  Generously coat your skillet with several sprays of Pam.  This will help the finished product slide out more easily.
    4.  Saute the garlic and onions on medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes, taking care not to brown the garlic.  You don't even need to use oil if you use an adequate amount of spray.  Add the rest of your veggies and continue to saute until the veggies are cooked through.  This will depend on the vegetable and the size, but a good rule is another 3-4 minutes. 
    5.  Meanwhile, make your egg mixture in a cup or small bowl.  I usually use two eggs - maybe two whole eggs, or maybe one egg and one egg white.  Personally, I never eat just egg whites....but if that's what you like, go for it.  Consider adding an extra egg white, in that case.  Season eggs with salt, pepper, and other seasonings, if desired.  Add a splash of milk (or water), and whisk thoroughly with a fork or small whisk.
    6.  When your vegetables are cooked through, pour the egg mixture directly over the vegetables.  Turn the heat down to medium and turn on your broiler.  Leave the skillet alone for 4-5 minutes while the frittata cooks.
    7.  When the egg has begun to set (you can tell because the sides will look hard, not runny, and the eggs will still be uncooked on top), add your cheese.   
    8.  Transfer to the oven and put right under the broiler.  Let it sit under the broiler for 2 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
    9.  Remove from oven and invert onto a small plate.  The frittata should slide out with minimal shaking and wiggling, but if it doesn't, use a small, narrow spatula or knife to loosen the egg from the rim of the pan.  

    IMPORTANT NOTE:  If you only have non-stick pans you will need to bake your frittata instead.  Most non-stick pans are oven-proof up to 450 degrees but they are not broiler-proof, as the high heat and proximity to the flame can damage the non-stick coating.  Follow steps 1-5, but after you pour the egg over top of the veggies, transfer to a preheated oven and bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. 

    Now that I've had breakfast, it's off to put in some laundry and get to work.  But first, random thought of the day.  Remember when Matt Bomer hosted the last hour of the Today Show (the irritating segment with Hoda & Kathie Lee) last week?  Unfortunately, he's been replaced, and this week's co-host will be none other than....

    Kris Jenner. Who Matt Lauer just referred to as Kris Kardashian-Jenner.  Has she picked up her ex-husband's name again to ride the coattails of her daughters' success, or did Matt just want everyone to know that she was Kourt, Kim, and Khloe's mom (and thereby reinforce that America loves the famous sisters more than her current, has-been hubby)?  Don't get me wrong - I LOVE Bruce.  He rules a wild roost.  And coming from a house of all girls, I can confidently say that any man who has to deal with that much estrogen deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. (Love ya, Dad. Thanks for being such a trooper.)  But Bruce has had a weeee bit too much plastic surgery, and I mean really, who do you prefer?



    That's what I thought.  (For the record, Bollie, Jamie, and I look like that when we have sister photo shoots too.)

    Have a great weekend!!

    Thursday, March 24, 2011

    meatless march madness

    I've never been one for football, but I do enjoy watching a great game of basketball.  The NCAA Championship, also known as March Madness, is in full swing and I'm loving it!  The next four days are going to be good - tonight and tomorrow there are some excellent match-ups for the Sweet Sixteen, with the winners going on to join the Elite Eight on Saturday and Sunday.  For the record, as a born and bred Virginia girl, I'm rooting for VCU and Richmond (Dad went there - go Spiders!), but I secretly want my all-time favorite basketball team, Duke, to win it all.  I know people love to hate them, but I don't.  Sorry I'm not sorry.  I don't feel that bad about it because I went to an ACC school, so I always want the conference to perform well. 

    Are any of you hosting viewing parties and looking for ideas of what to serve?  Think vegetarian!  The NCAA tournament and vegetarianism don't exactly go hand-in-hand (how many college boys do you know who would choose a veggie tray over wings?), but I've found two meatless crowd-pleasers that are sure to satisfy even the most voracious carnivore - Rockin' Moroccan White Bean Dip and Spinach Artichoke Dip.

    Rockin' Moroccan White Bean Dip
    First up is my Rockin' Moroccan White Bean Dip, which I originally made several weeks ago for a potluck hosted by the lovely ladies of T Street.  I got great reviews on the dip, but I made so much that there were still leftovers.  Whitney and I noshed on it for several days, even after I froze a bit of it.  Since Lent has started, I've defrosted the reserves and stuffed it in pitas with chopped veggies for a quick and nutritious lunch.  It's also great spread on crackers or toast, or, as it was originally intended, as a dip.  The Moroccan seasoning I used comes straight from Kayln's Kitchen, though it's so delicious I wish I could take credit for it myself.  If you follow the link, you'll see that she originally had the spice mix paired with big bad Mr. Butternut, which I think is how I found the recipe in the first place.  Kayln has really great ideas for South Beach-friendly recipes, so if you're interested in that sort of diet, check out her site.  Though I've never been on the South Beach diet, I think that the program's approach is intuitive and sensible, so I've made and enjoyed quite a few of her recipes.

    A note on this recipe - I had no clue what I was doing while I was making it, but dips and hummus recipes like this are hard to screw up.  I didn't think it was thick enough with just the white beans, so I added a can of chickpeas in there.  In my humble opinion, there's no need to use salt because Lord knows there's enough in canned beans anyway.

    Rockin' Moroccan White Bean Dip
    (Spice Mix recipe from Kayln's Kitchen)
    Serves an army

    3 14.5-oz cans drained white beans (I used canellini), with liquid reserved
    1 14.5-oz can drained and rinsed chickpeas
    1 teaspoon lemon juice
    Moroccan spice mix, to taste

    Moroccan spice mix:
    4 tsp. ground cumin
    2 tsp. ground coriander
    1 tsp. chile powder
    1 tsp. sweet paprika
    1 tsp. ground cinnamon
    1/2 tsp. ground allspice
    1/2 tsp. ground ginger
    1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

    1.  Mix all ingredients together for the Moroccan spice mix in a small bowl.
    2.  In a food processor, combine the beans and chickpeas and pulse/puree to desired consistency.*  If necessary, add reserved liquid 1/3 cup at a time to thin the dip.
    3.  Once your dip has been processed, add the Moroccan spice mix and stir to combine with a large spoon or spatula.**  
    4.  Transfer to bowl and top with more spice mix, for garnish.

    *Personally, I like my dips and hummuses half pureed so bites are slightly chunky.  I like to be reminded that I really am eating food, and it's not air!
    **I wish I could tell you how much spice I put in the dip, but I honestly don't remember.  I think I put in maybe three tablespoons, but I like it really spicy.  (There's a reason I call it my Rockin' Moroccan White Bean Dip!)  I'd start with one tablespoon at a time and just keep tasting - y'all know that's how I like to cook!

    Next up is my "famous" creamy spinach artichoke dip.  I've only been making this dip for a few months, but I've made it three or four times and everyone always asks me what the secret is.  Well, I'm about to let the cat out of the bag.......first, it's not my recipe.  And, while you're already shocked, I need to throw in another detail.  It's a light version.  

    Creamy Spinach Artichoke Dip, photo from Cooking Light

    I originally made this dip for the Super Bowl.  I was skeptical of the recipe because it comes from Cooking Light.  Spinach dip is so decadent, so how could it be delicious in a "light" version?   I very rarely use low-fat and fat-free ingredients because I think it's actually healthier and tastier to eat a little bit less of the real thing.  Often, low-fat and fat-free ingredients are loaded with extra junk and sugar.  However, I think one area where it's okay to go for a reduced-fat version is dairy - products like yogurt, cream cheese and sour cream. (But never fat free, except for yogurt and obviously milk.)

    My theory with the "healthier" dairy products led me to try this recipe out.  And man, am I glad I did.  I couldn't even tell the difference!  This dip is really, really delicious.  The boys at the Super Bowl party devoured it.  It was gone as quickly as the pepperoni dip!  I made the same dip again for a massive, multi-table bridge tournament a few weeks ago and people were eating it plain out of the dish after the chips were gone.  If you have some left over, it's nice spread for sandwiches, too!

    While low-fat ingredients are fine, do not go for fat-free ingredients because it definitely won't taste as good.  Also, I read the reviews first and adapted the recipe accordingly by using a whole package of spinach and cutting out one block of cream cheese.  My version is below.

    Creamy Spinach Artichoke Dip
    Adapted from Cooking Light
    Makes 5 1/2 cups

    2  cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
    1/2  cup reduced-fat sour cream
    1/4  cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
    1/4  teaspoon  black pepper
    1 tablespoon minced garlic
    1  14-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
    1  8-oz block 1/3-less-fat cream cheese, softened
    1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed dry

    1.  Preheat oven to 350°.
    2.  Combine 1 1/2 cups mozzarella, sour cream, 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and next five ingredients in a large bowl, and stir until well-blended. Spoon mixture into a 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.
    3.  Let cool for a few minutes and serve with tortilla chips - seriously, let it cool, or you'll burn your tongue off!

    What are your favorite game day treats?

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011

    citrus tilapia with mango salsa

    Citrus tilapia with mango salsa and black bean & corn salad

    This post may as well be called "the art of enjoying leftovers" because I made this meal, less the fish, entirely from remnants of Sunday's black bean & corn enchilada supper.  However, the food is totally inverted in this recipe, so I didn't even feel like I was eating the same thing.  Sunday's main dish (the enchilada stuffing) became last night's side, and Sunday's salad (mango) became a part of the main attraction.  The seasoning, texture and temperature were different as well, which also helped disguise the "leftover" aspect.  The final product is a light but satisfying dinner, perfect for a mid-week meal.  Even better is that tilapia cooks lightening fast on my George Foreman!

    I have made this mango tilapia recipe several times before to rave reviews, so I bought the ingredients for the salsa on my last trip to the store, fully intending to prepare the fish this week.  However, I ended up making the salsa and throwing it over spinach as a last-ditch attempt at a side dish for Sunday's enchilada dinner.  (See....another non-traditional salad!)  Luckily, there was some salad left over, so I got to enjoy the mango tilapia recipe in the end anyway!

    For one tilapia filet, I just sprinkled each side with cumin and Goya Adobo seasoning.  Then, I whisked together equal parts lemon juice and lime juice and a drizzle of olive oil and poured it over the tilapia filet.  I refrigerated it for just about twenty minutes and threw it on the George Foreman for about two minutes on each side.  I then topped it with the mango salsa recipe, as follows.

    Mango Salsa
    Serves 2-3

    1 large ripe mango, peeled, pitted and diced
    1/2 red bell pepper, diced
    1/4 red onion OR a handful of green onions, chopped
    2 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish
    1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
    2 tablespoons lime juice
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    salt and pepper to taste 

    Combine the mango, red bell pepper, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno pepper in a bowl. Add the lime juice and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

    I wish I could keep writing, but I have things to do.  I have been really STRESSED OUT the past couple of weeks and have far too much on my plate (sorry, couldn't resist the pun), so I better get to work knocking things off my to-do list.  Hopefully I'll be a member of the Clean Plate Club by the end of the next week (okay, maybe that was overkill.)  Before I leave, a few things:

    1.  The blog has reached over 1,000 page views!  It's REALLY time for you stealth readers to leave some comments before I install a real-time location feed on my page :)
    2.  I am REALLY glad Whitney comes back from vacay tonight....I have missed my taste tester and editor-in-chief!  I am normally quite the grammarian, but I typically write my posts at 11pm and save them on Blogger to be automatically posted the next morning.  Considering I am up every day at 6am, by that point of the night, I'm exhausted.  Apparently, I haven't caught all of my mistakes because last night she texted me with a pretty embarrassing spelling mistake on one of my earlier entries....shame on y'all for not pointing it out!
    3.  A very close friend of mine has been battling some serious and scary health issues recently.  I don't want to name her here because she's the selfless mama bear-type who wouldn't want anyone to worry about her.  She will be okay in the long run, but right now she's having a bit of a difficult recovery.  It would mean the world to me if you could please keep her in your thoughts and prayers.  To that person, I love you and I'm sending good vibes your way and thinking about you always!

    With that, I hope I didn't kill your buzz.  Make the mango tilapia for dinner tonight and I promise you'll be on high again!  Until tomorrow!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    in-between salad

    In-betweeny salad
    When the weather is nice, I run after work most days.  Last week the weather was consistently in the high 50s to mid 60s, so I set out on a longer run from my office down to the Lincoln Memorial and back.  It's about a six mile stretch that crosses Capitol Hill, passing the Supreme Court on my left and the dome of the Capitol on my right, and then traverses the length of the National Mall.  When I'm fully hydrated, the temperature is right, the route is clear of confused tourists, and my allergies aren't yet in full swing, it's delightful.   That was how it was last week.  Three days of mid-length, mind-clearing, refreshing runs.  But yesterday afternoon, I set off to do the same thing, and it was terrible.

    Why?  Because sometime between Thursday and yesterday, we have switched seasons.  I set out yesterday afternoon and was delighted to see the cherry blossoms on the Hill in full bloom.  Then I sneezed.  My nose, and more specifically, my congested nasal passageway, was not so happy to see the pink flowers.  Then I got down to the Mall, streaked with school groups and foreign tourists.  (Why do they always ask me to take their picture as I'm running toward them?  Do I look that nice?) Dodging the throngs of people felt like I was poor Frogger trying to cross the road without getting hit by a car.  Yep, it was clear - sometime between last week and yesterday, Spring has SPRUNG in the District.

    So how appropriate it is that I made a delicious "in-between" salad last week.  I never posted it because I had enough recipes to cover the blog for the week, and also, it really gets my goat when bloggers post salad and sandwich "recipes."  I mean, come on.  Do you really think that you're the first one to come up with that salad combination?  Or the first person to realize how "lovely" carmelized onions and mushrooms are on a grilled cheese?  That's why I've been blogging for almost two weeks and I've yet to post a salad.

    But, a lot of you have told me that you lack creativity in the kitchen; not so, you just haven't found it yet!   I'm willing to talk about salads for a bit, and how to make a daily staple turn into a dish that's different each time.  This salad was born completely out of desperation.  I basically just took everything I had, roasted it, and threw it on top of a bed of spinach leaves.  I roasted the last of my winter squashes in the pantry (an acorn squash, to be precise) with a bit of olive oil, salt, pepper, and a hint of maple syrup (from my friend the Canuck.)  I also threw in some wintry brussels sprouts along with 'em.  At the grocery store, I had picked up an artichoke, some plum tomatoes, and skinny asparagus.  I roasted those as well, topped with some feta, drizzled with balsamic vinegar, and voilà!  A delicious betweeny salad. 
    Some of you have said that you don't like salads, or you would never choose to eat them.  I think that is because too many people think of salads as synonymous with house salads.  You know the deal - cucumber, tomato, and croutons all atop a bed of romaine.  Boring!  Salads, by their very nature, are flexible.  Don't get stuck in the same old salad rut all the time - that gets tiresome and you will become uninterested!  Be creative with your salads!  Unsure where to start?  Here are some tips for making a delicious salad time after time.

    1.  Mix up your base - I love spinach as my base but also like mixed greens or arugula from time to time.  Romaine is fine, though it isn't a nutritional superstar like the other two.  Remember that the deeper and darker the leaf, the more nutrients the green contains.  (That means that there is absolutely no nutritional value in iceberg.)
    2.  It doesn't have to be raw - A lot of people don't care for crudite, but have no fear!  Roasted vegetable salads are great.  Just remember that if you're roasting vegetables in olive oil, you should go easy on the dressing.  You don't want your salad base to be bogged down in oil.
    3.  It doesn't have to be all veggie - Pears, apples, berries, grapes, oranges, and grapefruits are all delicious options for a slightly sweet salad.  Think of a classic Waldorf with grapes, red onion, avocado & grapefruit, or roasted beets with feta & orange.
    4.  Eat with the seasons - For fall and winter, go with broccoli and cauliflower, acorn squash, brussels sprouts, and big bad Mr. Butternut.  Choose juicy heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, and zucchini in the summer.  Spring is the time for asparagus, artichokes, and vidalia onions.  When you eat with the seasons, your food will have so much more flavor (and it will be cheaper, too!) 
    5.  Texturize like you'd accessorize - Crunchy items like celery, cucumbers, bell peppers, walnuts, almonds, or apples provide a stark contrast to soft or creamy salad toppings like chickpeas, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, avocado, or roasted mushrooms and squashes.  Opposites attract!      
    6.  Go with the flow - change up your dressing!  A little bit of balsamic vinegar and olive oil is my favorite, but I also love a good cilantro-lime dressing or a honey-dijon vinaigrette.  I barely ever buy pre-made dressings anymore, but I do have a few brands that I love: Annie's Naturals (I am obsessed with her Raspberry Balsamic Vinaigrette), Brianna's (very good Blush wine Vinaigrette and a delicious Ginger Mandarin dressing), and Virginia Brand Vidalia Onion dressing (Dad's favorite!  You can get it at Costco).
    7. Walk the balance beam - This is probably the most important tip.  Don't think of salad as diet food, think of it as a delicious way to get nutrients.  Sure, if you're looking to add volume to a meal, keep it small, simple, and don't go overboard.  However, if you're eating a salad as your main course, you will want to get a good mix of healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbohydrates, just like any other meal.  You can get healthy fats and proteins from nuts, beans, and cheeses.  I am partial to feta cheese or goat cheese on salads. Vegetables are a natural source of complex carbohydrates; you could also toss some grains on your salad like couscous, orzo, or quinoa (okay, I know I said quinoa isn't a grain, but it kinda is...)

    Follow those tips and you're sure to get a great salad 90 percent of the time.  (The other 10 percent of the time I end up with a "kitchen sink" salad, in which there's a couple of ingredients that just don't belong). I eat some sort of "salad", whether it's a side salad or entree-sized, almost every day, even when I wasn't a sometimes-vegetarian.   Salads are a great way to boost your vegetable intake and add volume to your meals without a lot of unwanted fat and calories.  I've noticed that getting in a salad a day gives me more energy, clearer skin, and even makes my hair shinier!  And you know what, it never gets boring!

    What do y'all like on your salads?  Roasted veggies or raw?  Sweet or savory?  Let me know in the comments!

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    black bean & corn enchiladas

    The enchilada picture was ugly, so enjoy this photo of Sarah
    Happy Monday!  I hope everyone had a great weekend.  Mine was filled with food, friends, and nice spring-like weather here in the District.  Friday night was the first beautiful night of the year, and I enjoyed margaritas on the rooftop of Surfside with what seemed like the rest of Glover Park.  Saturday I went to an oyster roast, where I spent the afternoon outside in the sun livin' the dream - drinking beer from a tap on the side of a van (I've always wanted to do that) and shucking and slurping delicious raw oysters.  I had to pass on the chili and instead had a little bit of Beaufort Stew (without sausage, of course).

    Sunday night my cousin Sarah came over for dinner with her roommate Emily.  Sarah lives just a few blocks away and I am so lucky to have her close by!  She is always willing to play guinea pig for any crazy recipe I may want to test.  Tonight was no exception.  She's been interested in my meatless project and was excited to try out a dish.  I wanted to make a substantial, satisfying meal making use of pantry staples and things I already had in my refrigerator.  I surveyed the scene:  several cans and bags of beans and grains, a can of tomato paste, and whole wheat tortillas in my pantry, frozen corn in the freezer, and various fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator.  With only needing to pick up a few things from the store, I had a full meal - black bean and corn enchiladas with a mango spinach salad.

    I was especially excited when I thought about how appropriate it was to make this meal for Sarah.  The frozen corn I had wasn't just any frozen corn - it was hand-picked last summer from our family's farm in Sussex County, Virginia.  Each year, my family picks the corn, gives some to friends, and freezes the rest, on and off the cob, for year-round use.  Whitney thinks this is the corn of the gods.  In fact, Sarah took one look at the enchiladas and said, "It's farm corn!  I can tell by the color and smell.  Delicious." 

    This corn is a sweet, juicy, tender corn that tastes like the Fourth of July, even in March.  Every summer growing up, we would wait for the phone call from the farmer saying that the corn was ready to be harvested.  It would generally come in late June or early July, "Yep, I think it's gonna be ready any day.  Y'all better come get it this week."  A couple days later, my parents, Bollie, and Jamie and I would pile into my mom's station wagon and drive out to the farm.  We'd pick ear after ear until the trunk of the wagon was filled to the windows with fresh corn.  With all five of us working, it was a quick trip - we could fill the car up in less than a half hour.  When we were young, we thought it was a blast - what city kid doesn't want to pretend to be a country girl every once in a while?  However, as we grew into the tween/early teen years and became more interested in glitter lotion, platform flip flops, and Britney Spears, we became less interested in driving to the middle of nowhere on a summer evening.  But my parents, always one step ahead, found a new system of incentives.  If we went to pick corn, we could drive on the property.  (By this point the old Buick station wagon had died and my mom had gotten a studly Dodge Grand Caravan).  With an offer like that, we tagged along to help our parents.  Unsurprisingly, my parents had a hard time recruiting any of us for the trip after our sixteenth birthdays. 

    So, since Sunday was the first day of Spring, I took out a couple of bags of corn that had been frozen after last year's harvest.  I've had a tough, long winter, and this meal reminded me of everything good that is in store for the spring and summer.  Before today, I'd never actually made my own enchilada sauce, but it was actually really easy!  After simmering for just 30 minutes, the sauce had already developed a deep, complex flavor.  This recipe is adapted from several on the Internet; the key is to add the spices little by little until the desired level of spiciness and flavor is achieved. 

    Black Bean & Corn Enchiladas
    adapted from The Vegetarian Times
    Makes 8 enchiladas

    For the enchiladas:
    2 (15-oz.) cans black beans, rinsed and drained
    2 cups frozen corn
    1/3 cup sliced scallions (white and light green parts)
    1 large tomato, chopped
    1/3 cup plus 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro
    1 tsp. dried oregano
    1/2 tsp. ground cumin
    Dash of paprika (optional)
    10 whole wheat tortillas (soft-taco sized)
    1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
    2 cups enchilada sauce

    For the sauce:
    6-oz can tomato paste
    1 - 1 1/2 cups water
    1/4 onion
    1 teaspoon brown sugar
    1 teaspoon minced garlic
    1 teaspoon garlic powder (you could choose to use one or the other, but I really like garlic!)
    1 teaspoon onion salt  (I like onions, too!)
    2 teaspoons cumin
    2 tablespoons chili powder
    Salt and pepper

    1.  Preheat oven to 375F. 
    2.  To make the sauce, combine all ingredients in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat and allow to thicken, about 30 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and water according to taste.
    3.  In large nonstick skillet, combine black beans, corn, scallions and tomato. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add 1/3 cup cilantro, oregano, cumin and paprika.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
    3.  Coat medium baking dish with thin layer of enchilada sauce.
    4.  Place tortillas in stack on microwavable plate; cover with moist paper towel. Microwave tortillas on high until soft and heated through, about 1 minute. Spread tortilla with bean mixture. Roll tortillas and place seam side down in baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and bake, uncovered, until bubbling, 15 minutes.
    5.  Sprinkle enchiladas with remaining 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro and serve.

    I served this with avocado, cilantro, and more chopped green onions.  We also had a mango salad on the side, which I will probably post a recipe for sometime this week.  It's a versatile dish that goes well with several different flavors.  We all thought this meal was pretty tasty!  As seen above, Sarah swiped her membership card to the Clean Plate Club.

        Friday, March 18, 2011

        friday breakfast: round 1

        Happy Friday!  Did everyone have a good St. Patrick's Day?  I celebrated in a bit of an untraditional was bridge night and we ordered Thai food.  Yes, I am 23 and I play bridge.  It's such a fun, challenging game and a real blast when you have a good partner and exciting competitors.  (Hey Stephanie, are you reading today?)  We had a great time, and we played until almost midnight.  It may have been more fun than a crowded pub!  I made it festive with some Harpoon Celtic Ale and green curry to honor St. Pat.  I'm coming around on this tofu thing.  If you live in or near the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, DC, you've gotta check out Beau Thai!  That place is awesome.  I've only had the green curry and the drunken noodles, but both are flavorful and spicy (just the way I like it).  Everybody else is always happy with their dishes, too.

        But this post is about BREAKFAST!  Fridays are my favorite weekday, not only because it means the weekend is coming, but because I get the privilege of working from home.  This means that I get to sleep in and make my own breakfast before I start working.  Normally that means eggs - I love eggs, any way.  Fried, scrambled, poached, soft boiled, it doesn't matter - as long as it's fresh and yolky, I'm a happy girl.  However, I didn't want eggs this morning, and I wasn't thrilled about any of my other options, either.  I thought about making oatmeal, but I've had yogurt most mornings this week and didn't really want anything out of a bowl.  On top of that, for some odd reason, I wanted pancakes, which is bizarre because I'm not typically a huge fan of yeasty breakfast foods like pancakes and waffles.  So....after quickly googling the interwebs, I decided on Oatmeal Banana Pancakes!

        That is the last bit of enthusiasm I will show because these were just okay.  They weren't bad, but they weren't really great either.  The inside was still kind of dense - not really uncooked, but not fluffy and airy like pancakes usually are. 

        I probably messed up the proportions or something - this is why I don't bake.  Normally, people with Type-A personalities like me love baking because it's a science.  It's black and white.  The proportions must be correct and you must follow the directions exactly.  If you don't, you're wrong and you fail.  That perfectionism is the mentality to which I prescribe in most areas of my life.  I admit, not my finest trait, but I'm working on it.  However, when I'm cooking, I don't play by the rules.  The way I see it, cooking is a release, and it's oddly therapeutic to follow your impulses and not worry or obsess over everything.  I hardly ever follow recipes and work off my tastebuds, which is why I don't enjoy the precise science of baking in the least.  I subscribe to an old school way of cooking I learned from my mom - "Ehh, a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  Maybe a teaspoon, maybe a tablespoon, I don't know!  Just taste it."

        So, long story short, I threw a bunch of stuff together in a bowl (pulsed oats, a bit of flour, 1/2 an overripe mashed banana, a little bit of egg, milk, some baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and a hint of vanilla), mixed it together until the consistency resembled pancake batter, and then threw it on the stovetop.  They seemed to cook just fine, but as I said before, the texture in the middle was just meh.  The best part was the brown outside and the toppings - chopped almonds and sliced banana.  I topped it all off with some maple syrup - not the bobo kind, but real, 100% pure maple syrup.  My Canadian co-worker gifted me a half-liter from his latest trip to the motherland. 

        I guess it wasn't an epic failure because I ate it, but I would definitely classify this as a misstep rather than a step.  I'm not even going to provide a recipe because I'm not exactly sure what I did.  Hope everybody has a great weekend - it's a beautiful day in DC so I am off to do some work so I can get off early and enjoy the weather.  I am determined not to let my allergies to get me down just yet!  Meanwhile, Matt Bomer is co-hosting the Today Show.  I DIE.  Sorry ladies, but it's widely believed that he is gay.  Either way, he's such fun to look at.  They should replace Kathie Lee with him permanently.  Check out this refined hipster. (picture from his Wikipedia page).

        What does everybody else like for breakfast on a lazy morning?  (Matt Bomer is not an acceptable answer).

        Thursday, March 17, 2011

        redemption! butternut squash and portobello multigrain pasta

        Butternut squash and portobello multigrain pasta

        I have a confession.  Until last night, I was terrified of butternut squash.  Every fall, when butternut squash is plentiful, flavorful, and inexpensive, I stock up, vowing to make lots of purees, soups and roasted vegetable salads all winter long.  There's just something about a butternut squash puree that reminds me of my mother’s kitchen.

        However, despite my alacrity at the market, I get impatient and cowardly when it's time to face the beast.  I lug the squash home and set it on my counter.  I think about the best strategies to attack the giant gourd so that it yields the maximum number of those requisite peeled and chopped one-inch cubes.  I turn the squash several ways, putting a knife to where the globe-shaped base meets the cylindrical part.  (Does anyone know what the technical term for this is?  I just call it the shaft.)  My knife meets the tough, dull rind.  I spend minutes debating the options in my head.  "Should I peel first?  No, it couldn't possibly matter, I'm just making puree with the insides.  Okay, time to cut.  No, not that spot, let's try a different way.  No, that won't work either."  I grow impatient and frustrated.  Eventually, I tuck it away in the pantry and look at it for weeks (or months - butternut squash has a long shelf life), until I youtube some cooking videos and muster up the courage to just get it over with.  And that, my friends, is how I found myself with three pounds of butternut squash in March.

        My batting average for butternut squash dishes is pretty mediocre, but considering all the prep work, they are huge PITAs. (Whitney and I are using this acronym a lot now, y’all clever readers can guess what it means.)  I have made multiple varieties of butternut squash soup and puree.  Butternut squash and apple.  Butternut squash with creme fraiche.  Curried butternut squash.  But sorry, no matter how excited I try to be about it, butternut squash soups and purees are just not that interesting!

        My most valiant, but most traumatic, butternut squash attempt was a made-from-scratch butternut squash ravioli I made for my then-boyfriend.  Let me tell you – that was a true labor of love – and I will never, ever do it again.  It was pretty much a dealbreaker for my relationship (with Mr. Butternut Squash, not the boyfriend.)  First, I prepared the roasted butternut squash puree, which is a feat in and of itself (see prepping and dissection of the butternut squash, above).  Then, I made the dough from scratch and by hand.  At this point, it's probably worth mentioning that, since I lack a stand mixer, rolling pin, and pasta machine, I could have chosen to use wonton wrappers like a normal person.  But I'm a glutton for punishment.  I spent far too long carefully mixing, kneading, folding, and repeating, all the while thinking, "There is absolutely no way Giada's bony little arms can knead pasta dough.  She obviously has Mario Batali do it for her between takes."  At last, the dough was ready to be rolled thin, which I did with a wine bottle, and cut into long, wide ribbons using a sharp knife.  Next, I painstakingly spooned the puree onto dough, folded the dough over to make square pouches, and sealed and sliced off each one.  I repeated until I had two dozen slightly-misshapen ravioli.  After sealing off the last sucker, I promptly crumbled onto the floor, wiped my brow, and thanked God I had time to wash the blood, sweat, and streams of mascara off of my face.  The ravioli was imperfect, but overall it was delicious and straight from the heart.

        That’s cute and all, but it's just so much less painful to make butternut squash ravioli from a package.  However, I think there's still something charming and romantic about a homemade butternut squash pasta, it just has to be manageable.  After months of searching for the perfect recipe for a rematch of the battle of the butternut, I found this one.  This recipe is not too difficult, and best of all, it does not require rolling your own pasta or bastardizing an Italian classic with foreign noodle sheets.  And, it comes from Mark Bittman, who I deeply admire for his cooking, writing, and general epicurean knowledge.

        I found the recipe on epicurious, though it recently appeared in the January 2011 issue of Bon Appetit.  The glaring problem is that the recipe calls for 8 ounces of lamb, and I am the 40-day Vegetarian!  So, I made some modifications.  I subbed 8 ounces of portobella mushroom tops, which were on sale at Safeway.  Conveniently, they have a meaty texture and consistency, so when chopped into small pieces, they were a great choice to mimic the lamb.  (Note:  I said mimic, not replace.)   Also, I didn't even bother with the cilantro.  A butternut squash and mushroom combination screams out one herb to me - SAGE.  So that's what I used.  Also, Bittman calls for a kasseri or hallumi cheese - but they were each about $9 for a very small wedge, so I settled on a grated parmesan.  If you do choose to use a stronger, more exotic cheese, just remember that a little bit goes a long way.

        The final product is a decadent, rich pasta dish that is totally healthy, relatively guilt-free, and 100% delicious.  It's the kind of heartwarming pasta that sticks to your soul and not your thighs.  The cinnamon gives it a lovely, earthy heat, one that I think pairs quite nicely with the sage.  Honestly, I didn’t even miss the meat!  This one is definitely a keeper.  The recipe serves four, so cut it in half if you want to woo someone special but don't want the sore arms or frustration that comes along with a homemade ravioli.    

        Butternut Squash and Portobello Multigrain Pasta, the 40-day Vegetarian Way adapted from Mark Bittman 
        Serves 4

        2 pounds butternut squash (about 5-6 cups), peeled and cubed 
        2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
        8 ounces portobello mushroom caps, chopped into very small pieces
        3 large garlic cloves (or about 2-3 teaspoons)
        2 teaspoons ground cumin
        1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
        1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
        1 cup canned chopped tomatoes, with added puree  (from 28 ounce can)*
        2 cups vegetable broth
        8 ounces multigrain pasta
        1/2 cup chopped sage
        1/2 cup parmesan cheese

        1.  Preheat oven to 450°. Peel and cube squash or used a precubed package.  Toss with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Roast until tender and brown around edges, using metal spatula to turn occasionally, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven.
        2.  Heat additional olive oil, about one tablespoon, in deep, large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onions; sauté until soft and fragrant, 7 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and cayenne; stir 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, then broth and bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits. Reduce heat; simmer until mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in squash. Season with salt and pepper.
        3.  Cook pasta until al dente, according to package directions.  Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.
        4.  Return pasta to pot. Add mushroom mixture, half of sage, half of cheese; and toss. Add reserved cooking liquid by 1/3 cupfuls to moisten to desired level. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to bowl or plate. Sprinkle with remaining sage and cheese. 

        *Note:  I didn't have canned chopped tomatoes in puree, so I used a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes that I pulsed in the food processor a couple of times.  That works fine, but it is a little watery, so I bulked it up with a little bit of canned tomato paste.  I wish I could tell you how much, but I didn't measure.  Maybe 2 teaspoons?  Because it was a little on the watery side, I added only about half of the broth.

        So, dear readers, I've talked your ear off today and now I want to hear from you.  Have you had any epic failures in the kitchen that have scared you from cooking with that ingredient ever again?  If so, what ingredients are to blame?  Maybe I can find an easy way for you to prepare it! 

        Wednesday, March 16, 2011

        when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, il Canale....

        Admittedly, I am a bit of a pizza snob.  Don't get me wrong - I believe there is a time and a place for every type of pizza - from high-brow gourmet pies to a 3am heap of melted, cheesy goodness from Jumbo Slice in AdMo.  I sometimes like a cold slice of Papa John's for breakfast.  And, disgustingly enough, I have been known to polish off an entire Kavanagh's pizza in one afternoon, but let's not go there.  All-time low. 

        In DC, gourmet pizza shops are a dime a dozen.  People rave about 2 Amy's, but I've always been a bit underwhelmed.  Their sauce is too thick and not quite zesty enough for me, and I think the crust is undercooked.   I am always happy with Matchbox and Pizzeria Paradiso, both excellent choices in my book for a quality pie with premium toppings.  However, when I really want pizza, there's only one failsafe place in my book - Il Canale.

        Il Canale is a charming pizza restaurant that I stumbled upon last summer completely by mistake (another failure that ended up okay).  I was actually searching for another pizza restaurant, Fratelli La Bufala.  Unbeknownst to me, FLB was only in DC for a hot minute.  When I walked up to the shuttered door on 31st Street, a notice taped to the door revealed that they had moved out due to a lease dispute, and were apparently not planning on returning to the city.  An additional notice said that another restaurant, Il Canale, was to move in soon, and a few weeks later I checked it out.  The Georgetown establishment (I refuse to call it a "pizza joint") boasts my favorite type of 'za - the high-quality Neopolitan variety, complete with a D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) qualification.  Tim Cameron, I apologize for the blatant elitism in that statement, but just work with me on this one - D.O.C. pizza is one of a kind.  

        Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe there are only two places you can find a D.O.C-certified pizza in the District - Il Canale and 2 Amy's.  The certification essentially means that the Italian government deems the preparation and ingredients "authentic" and respectful of the art of Neapolitan pizza making.  Similar certifications are common with wine, cured meats, and fine cheeses, and are not unique to Italy.  For D.O.C. pizza napoletana, the pie must be tossed by hand, prepared with authentic Italian ingredients (for example, San Marzano tomatoes and bufala mozzarella), and cooked in a wood-burning oven.  In fact, it takes less than 2 minutes to cook a pizza this way!  

        I had the pleasure of dining last night at Il Canale when Whit's parents were in town.  Every time I go there, I'm reminded of why I love it.  First, it's never full.  This must be the best kept secret in DC!  I arrived a bit earlier than my fellow diners and was chatting with the pizzaiolo and watching him assemble one pizza after another.  That's the other thing about this place - the staff is so friendly.  I think they only have about three waiters on staff because I usually always get the same server, Ben.  The meal itself is 100% Italian from beginning to end.  Your dinner starts with complimentary bread served with a delicious olive oil that has whole roasted garlic cloves swirling around.  Your server may or may not be interested in taking your order, so you might have to flag him down.  Very Italian.  Best of all, food aside, is that this place has the most legitimate rooftop seating in Georgetown.  You could easily fit twenty of your closest friends on the upstairs terrace on a warm summer's night.   

        The restaurant has a ton of vegetarian options, and any of the pizzas are customizable (you can ask them to hold the meat, if desired).  I've ordered almost every pizza on the menu and they are all delicious.  Whitney loves the Regina.  I am obsessed with the Ortolana and the Margherita, but last night I ordered the Capricciosa (sans ham) and it was also delicious.  My favorite salad is the Ciliegina, but Whitney's mom ordered the Mediterranea and raved about it.  You also can't go wrong with a create-your-own antipasti platter.  Also, because everybody loves a good happy hour special, Weekdays from 5-7pm - $10 for a Margherita pizza and a glass of house wine or a beer!!  That can't be beat.  You must check out Il Canale!

        I forgot my trusty point-and-shoot, so these are from the Il Canale page on yelp.  Head to the website or facebook page to check out more pics!

        Tuesday, March 15, 2011

        french lentils: this must be what people call "inner beauty"

        French lentil soup stew stoup bowl
        First, let me get something out of the way.  I know this picture is terrible.  Disgusting, really.  I don't blame you if you don't want to make this dish from the looks of this particular picture.  But throw me a bone, because I am not a real blogger with a real camera.  I have a pink point-and-shoot that is more often on the floor of wherever I am than in my own hands.  Additionally, the blogosphere has this set of rules that you can't take other blogger's pictures.  Something about being "under copywrite".  So, I have to take photos with the aforementioned point-and-shoot instead of just doing a google image search for "french lentil soup."

        Sunday afternoon I came down with a bad case of Monday anxiety.  A common 24-hour bug that afflicts millions, Monday anxiety sets in late in the weekend and is most often caused by an overindulgent, overzealous few days, changes in weather, and a daunting to-do list for the week ahead.  When all of these causes coincide with daylight savings time, it is a recipe for disaster, and the only prescription is simple, healthful comfort food.  Since DC is stuck in this "let's-have-the-temperature-hover-at-52-degrees-with-obnoxious-wind-gusts-and-no-sunshine-at-all-and-call-it-springtime" mood, a vegetarian french lentil soup fit the bill.  I have gotten really into making soups this fall and winter.  I love french lentil soup, but I've never made it without a ham hock or some kind bacon fat for flavor.  Wanting to stick to my resolution, I figured I'd try to do without it, but I made a half portion in case the stew was a flavorless fail. 

        Well, the dish did end up as a quasi-fail, but not for lack of flavor.  It was just the "soup" part that failed.  I make this soup all the time, normally with great success, but something happened here.  Somewhere along the way, the vegetable stock was completely absorbed and I ended up with just lentils.  Maybe I mismeasured something, or maybe I let it all simmer too long - I am not really sure.  It was surely an operator error, as I was barely functional after returning from New York.  When I realized I had not a thin soup but a thick pot of cooked lentils, I stored the beans in tupperware, covered with an extra cup of vegetable broth, and went to bed.

        On Monday morning, I opened the tupperware and, to my amazement, the beans had continued soaking up the extra liquid I put in, even though they were already cooked.  My poor lentils were ugly.  "Well," I thought. "If this tastes bad I am totally going to Taqueria Nacional."  (I obviously was still FOMO over the missed opportunity for La Esquina.)  I shoveled some of the ugly stuff into a smaller container to take for lunch, mixing it with a bit of leftover quinoa from last week's stuffed eggplant.  When 1pm rolled around, I begrudgingly heated it in the office microwave and wow - I was blown away!  Though I wanted it to be a soup, it turned out to be delicious, hearty, fork-based lunch that stuck to my ribs all day long - I didn't even have dinner until 8:30pm! Since it is so thick, the lentils would also be nice as a side dish or wrapped in a tortilla.  The nice thing about green lentils is that they weren't too mushy, because even when overcooked they still maintain their shape better than other lentils.

        This recipe for lentils is for green lentils, French-style, though lentils make a terrific canvas for any flavoring you'd like.  I also love robust Moroccan flavors for regular brown lentils.  (Stay tuned for a Moroccan recipe next week!)

        French lentils
        Serves six

        olive oil and/or butter
        3 stalks celery, finely chopped
        3 carrots, finely chopped
        1 onion, finely chopped
        6 cloves garlic, chopped (or about 3 teaspoons minced garlic)
        1 medium sweet potato, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
        1 pound dry green lentils (about 2 cups)
        2 bay leaves
        2 teaspoons fresh or dried thyme
        1/2 teaspoon pepper
        6-8 cups of stock, varying the amount of stock depending on desired thickness
        Note:  I like a lot of "stuff" in my lentils.  If you don't want the extra veggies and potatoes, just cut it down or out entirely.  Most recipes only call for one stalk of celery and one carrot, for example.

        Rinse the lentils and quickly sort through them to make sure there are no small pebbles in there.   Finely chop the onion, carrots, and celery.  In a large pot, saute the onions, carrots, and celery in olive oil and a pinch of salt.  Let them all mix and cook for 5-7 minutes until they start to sweat.  Make sure they don't brown.  Then, add the sweet potato, lentils, stock, and spices.  Bring to a boil.  When it comes to a rapid boil, cut the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for about 40-45 minutes.  Make sure to keep checking on the soup to ensure the desired liquid content is maintained and lentils remain al dente.  I think that's where I went wrong!

        That's it!  Hard to believe that I neglected the pot and ended up with a thick lentil dish instead of a thinner soup.  Either way, they are both tasty dishes!  This soup/stoup/hot mess also freezes very well.

        P.S. On a completely unrelated note, what did y'all think of The Bachelor?  I must admit, NOT the outcome I expected, and, after watching the after-show, I can't say I'm pleased with the result.  (Not that I saw a great future with the other one, but I wasn't as happy as I thought I'd be when I learned who he chose.)  Yep, I said it....sorry, y'all, but I do not see a rosy future for those two.  I hope they prove me wrong.

        ALSO, I get the stats for this blog and I know how many of you peeps are reading it.  It's a lot more than just the five of you who have commented.  Stealth readers, reveal yourselves!  Leave your feedback in the comments or shoot me an email.  Thanks!!

        Monday, March 14, 2011

        new york, new york

        I am thrilled to report that I have made it back from NYC without consuming meat.  In all honesty, I was in such good company the entire time that I couldn't have cared less what I was eating.  I am suffering from a bit of writer's block (probably has something to do with the fact that I slept 4 hours on both Friday and Saturday night), but I will recap the weekend with my epicurean high-lows.

        -The cookies and cream mini cupcake courtesy of Baked by Melissa and the bite-sized brownie bars from Crumbs at Sophie's birthday party at MercBar.
        -4:30am pizza from New Amici at 12th & 3rd, i.e. the Christian's Pizza of New York City.  Same set up - point at the slice you want and wait for it to be reheated in the oven.  There's even the same list of characters - one Italian proprietor and no less than four Mexican pizzaiolos. 
        -The four flowers punch at Sarabeth's West.  I met up with my friends Laura and Katherine to "have a drink" at 4pm (so casual) and out comes a rum-spiked pureed tropical smoothie in a goblet the size of my head.  The drinks were strong and we were slightly buzzed when we left two hours later.  Sorry I'm not sorry.
        -Waking up at Eleanor and Alicia's apartment on Sunday morning and eating one of the Nutella Cheesecake bars I made them. They're made of cream cheese, so that counts as a breakfast food, right?
        -Saturday's brunch at The Smith with Ali and Morgan.  The Potato Waffle Benedict, three savory potato and onion waffles topped with poached eggs and a creamy spinach sauce, was the most unconventional, surprising, and delicious version of bennies I have eaten maybe ever.  And that's saying a lot, because I have had a very exciting love affair with eggs benedict for the last 6 years of my life.  You see, hollandaise is the bad boy of any brunch menu.  Inevitably, you see it once or twice a month.  You tell yourself to avoid eye contact.  You're trying to be good and you've been doing so well for yourself without it. You avert your attention and look for a distraction, perhaps a more wholesome dish.  But nothing makes you feel that way, so you meet up, derailing your otherwise perfect existence.  Sometimes it just feels so good to be bad.  

        The potato waffle benedict at The Smith, photo courtesy of the Village Voice

        -Having to feed my little three-year-old cousin sausage and bacon on Sunday afternoon (and not being able to nibble on the sausage myself).
        -Major regret/minor meltdown in the taxi on Friday night after I realized we had driven right past La Esquina and I didn't stop at the taqueria for an avocado taco.
        -The green curry (vegetable with tofu) I had Saturday night.  I am trying really hard to like tofu but I just can't get behind it.  I hate the texture!  Any suggestions on how to ease myself into it?

        That's all for New York, food-wise.  Other highlights included, of course, an impeccably-done birthday party for Sophie, lounging in "the cave" with Eleanor discussing her new job (she has been making big moves and I'm so proud of everything she's accomplished!), celebrating Ali getting into an amazing journalism program, an impromptu karaoke rehearsal with tunes from Bieber and TSwift to prepare ourselves for our actual 2am (yes, 2am) reservation at karaoke one 7, being silly with old friends, making new ones, and enjoying the spring-like weather.  Hope you all had a fabulous weekend.  I'm planning lots of fun recipes for the blog this week, so stay tuned.

        Clockwise, from top left:  Girls enjoying Soph's birthday party.  My first-year college roommate.  
        Mis chicas Valencianas.  Eleanor, inventor of high-low.