Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Practice Makes Perfect. And Research Makes Perfect-er

You want to know an embarrassing secret?  NO!  WRONG!  I DO shower every most days and I have NOT worn a fanny pack in my entire lifetime the last decade.  Geez people, give me a little credit! 

The real secret is that I have a professional-grade DSLR camera, complete with every switch and button and mode you could ever dream of AND a bad-ass VR zoom lens, and I kind of have not earthly idea how to use it.  In a past life, I was a retail buyer for DSLR cameras and knew a whole lot about marketing them and pricing them and bundling them in ads, but really no clue how to actually use them if I needed/wanted to.  So when I ended up with a Nikon D200 and the zoom lens to go with it, I'll admit it went in the closet for awhile.

Now that I have a bit more time to play with the thing, I've started using it again, hoping that the sheer awesomeness of the camera will make up for my lack of knowledge about how to use it.  I'd say that its worked okay (being generous here) so far, and that I've had some good photo successes, and some epic failures, depending on light and my level of motivation on a given food-blogging night.

I'd mentioned a couple of times to my mother-in-law, Mona, that I wanted to try to take better pictures.  She's the sweetest, and got me this book to help me along the way:

Its amazing!  It makes using a complicated camera so much easier and it feels really intuitive (even for a self-admitted ditz like myself).  The author has such wonderful ideas about how to stage food pics and what to look for in lighting, etc.  I can't wait to try all of the tips I got from this book!

In the meantime, I practiced some of the tips in the first few chapters, and I think it makes a real difference in my pictures.  It might be that I have been using natural light a lot more, which AUTOMATICALLY makes food pictures better, but I think there is more to it than that.  I might be that I'm actually learning how to use this Nikon bad-boy. Imagine that!

No recipes in this post...just some practice shots that I think came out pretty well.  They look pretty good, eh?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lakeside Seafood Boil

My in-laws have a beautiful home on Lake Gaston, situated right on the border of Virginia and North Carolina (score!).  Its one of my favorite places in the world....taking the boat out and catching some sun, grilling out, throwing the pups in the water and watching them try to swim, drinking wine and laughing with the family, drinking wine and playing board games, drinking wine and cooking, drinking wine and reading on the porch...you get the idea.  Its pure bliss.  Plus, its where my husband and I got engaged.  He proposed out on the dock at night and then SWORE he bought me a ring but that he couldn't take it out of the box because he was pretty sure I'd drop it through the deck boards into the water (true).  He let me touch the box to prove there WAS a ring, and of course I said yes, even though I hadn't seen the ring (that's true love right there, folks!).  Once we got inside he proved that there was in fact a diamond as part of the deal and its the most gorgeous ring in the world.  Couldn't be more perfect.

But, I digress.  We spent this past Memorial Day weekend at the lake house with part of the in-law clan and had a wonderful time.  It wasn't quite as relaxing as it usually is, given that there were 4 dogs and only 8 people to watch the little mongrels.  Getting up at 6 AM to feed a whiny little monster while on vacation just isn't right.  Good thing I have a husband for that.

We spent a lot of time on the boat, and convinced that I tan easily, I only applied sun block once and never bothered re-applying.  Big mistake.  BIG.  I look like a total freak show.  My nose and forehead are bright red but the area around my eyes is white as Casper's backside.  I like to read on the boat, so my neck is pale but my shoulders and chest are a deep reddish brown color.  The fronts of my legs are a nice brown hue while the backs look like they've never seen the light of day.  Its a pretty special look, if I do say so myself.

Luckily my unfortunate appearance was forgotten when it was time to eat.  We ate like kings this weekend.  Or people who hadn't seen food in weeks.  Or people competing in professional eating contests.  But it was worth it!  I didn't photograph everything we ate, but here's a smattering.  And a recipe for the seafood boil we did.....SO delicious, and SO easy.  If you have a turkey fryer and a propane tank.  And a kitchen timer.  And access to frozen crab legs.  And someone not scared to work the turkey fryer and who's not afraid of the possibility of burning their fingertips off.


Seafood Boil
Source: My Mother-In-Law Mona!

(Feeds 8)

3 lbs small new potatoes
3 (12 oz) packages smoked andouille sausages, sliced
8 ears corn, broken in half
10 knuckles frozen snow crab legs
2 pounds E-Z peel shrimp (thawed if frozen)
1 cup Old  Bay seasonings
1/4 cup lemon juice
kosher salt and pepper to taste

Fill large turkey fryer halfway with water (and attach to propane tank).  Add Old Bay, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and bring to a rapid boil. 

Add potatoes and set kitchen timer for 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, add sausage and set timer for another 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, add corn and set timer for 3 minutes.

After 3 minutes, add crab and set timer for 4 minutes.

After 4 minutes, add shrimp and set timer for 3 minutes.

Turn off heat and remove food from fryer with large handheld strainer.  Serve on newspaper-covered picnic table or in a newspaper-lined bucket.  And serve with melted butter if you dare.  Enjoy!

Tomato Mozzarella Salad
Source: Italy.

1/2 pound roma tomatoes, quartered
1 large ball fresh mozzarella, chopped into large chunks
course ground pepper to taste
few drizzles olive oil
fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Mix tomatoes and mozzarella in a bowl and pepper to taste.  Drizzle olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and mix carefully.  Add basil and serve.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Writer's Block. And Pork!

Today is the Friday before Memorial Day weekend and I decided to bless the office with my presence (I know, I know, you're welcome).  Appears that I'm the only one.  This place is a dead zone...completely silent.  Which is unfortunate for someone like me who lacks an indoor voice but also likes to gossip.  So since I have to sit here in silence during lunch, I started getting excited that I could have some quiet time to work on the blog.  But I can't think of anything funny or witty to write about!  No good stories come to mind.  I can't even think of anyone I feel like making fun of today, including myself.  Blasphemy!  I guess I'll have to talk about food, which I KNOW is the purpose of this blog, but as you probably know, I usually get going on quite the tangent.

Anyway, I love pork tenderloin more than life itself.  There are a million things you can do with it and its so flavorful and juicy.  Unless you over-cook it, which I tend to do at least 30% of the time.  I always get scared because they say that undercooked pork can quite literally kill you, and I'm not quite ready to die.  I mean, who would keep up this blog if I were gone?  And who would "forget" to empty the dishwasher?  And my husband would probably starve to death if I weren't around (or eat only fried chicken and weigh 500 pounds).  So sometimes I over-cook the pork and then get real sad because its so much better when cooked properly (go figure).  The pork pictured below is an example of this travesty.  It LOOKS good, and it TASTED good, but it was a bit dry.  Le sigh.  I'm posting it anyway, though, because I still recommend that you make it, and cook it according to the directions instead of how I did it (which was to INTEND to take it out at an internal temp of 140 but instead get distracted by Real Housewives of Orange County on DVR and leave it in for 10 minutes too long).  If you've ever seen RHOC, you'll know how this can happen.

But I digress.  I served this with my world locally household famous honey couscous (I also added crumbled goat cheese this time, and you should too) and roasted asparagus.  You should also drink Pinot Noir with this meal.  Because, well, isn't just about anything better with Pinot Noir?  I think so too.


Sweet-and-Spicy Pork Tenderloin
Source: Prevention

1⁄2 teaspoon ground cumin
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon ground allspice
1⁄8 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄8 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper
1 pork tenderloin (11⁄4 pounds), trimmed of visible fat
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon minced garlic
11⁄2 teaspoons hot-pepper sauce

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Lightly mist a small roasting pan or ovenproof skillet with olive oil spray. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the cumin, cinnamon, salt, black pepper, allspice, garlic powder, and chipotle pepper.

Rub the pork evenly with the olive oil. Then rub evenly with the spice mixture until coated. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the honey, garlic, and hot-pepper sauce. Whisk to mix. Set aside.

Set a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until it is hot enough for a spritz of water to sizzle on it. With an oven mitt, briefly remove the pan from the heat to lightly mist with olive oil spray. Place the pork in the pan. Cook for 1 minute per side, or until browned on all sides.

Transfer to the prepared pan. With a basting brush, evenly coat the pork with the reserved honey mixture. Roast the tenderloin in the oven for 16 to 18 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted in the center reaches 140°F and the juices run clear.

Remove from the oven. Cover the pork loosely with aluminum foil. Let stand for 10 minutes. Transfer the pork to a cutting board. Holding a knife at a 45° angle, cut into thin slices. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grilling Out and a Summer Cold

I have a cold (in May!) and it sucks.  If that sounds like I'm whining, it's because I AM whining.  It doesn't really seem fair that as soon as I get home from a sucky business trip (over a weekend no less) and the weather is gorgeous, that I'm unable to breathe through my nose and that it hurts to swallow.  I feel bad for myself, but I also feel bad for my husband who has to live with me.

I've never been a very good sick person and never have been.  I tend to do whatever is necessary to garner sympathy from those around me, including consistent whining, loud updates on my symptoms, and pitiful faces.  If I'm sick, you'll know it.  And its really ironic because when OTHER people are sick, I'm usually quite the skeptic.  I don't think any co-worker of mine has ever called in sick to work where I didn't secretly roll my eyes and think say "yeah right!". 

I'm going to tell 2 sick stories from when I was younger that indicate that I CAN be tough in the face of illness when I really need to be.  I also need to apologize to my parents ahead of time for sharing these stories.  This is going to make it sound like they were neglectful of my health, which couldn't be any further from the truth.  They were (and still are) the best, most supportive and caring parents in the whole world.  My mom is lovely and sharp as a tack.  She's also so kind and nurturing, and my dad is a sweet, funny, brilliant physician who taught me to be mentally tough.  These were TOTALLY isolated incidents, and besides...I ended up turning out okay, right?  Right!

Anyway, when I was younger, I used to get strep throat a lot, and I'd get pretty darn sick, too.  I'm not even exaggerating!  The worst part was that I'd get really high fevers, so high that I'd hallucinate at night and say crazy things that I didn't remember the next morning.  Kind of like frat-boy style blackouts for 8 year olds.  One time I was particularly ill my bratty darling little sister was also sick with a stomach bug.  Even though I was literally too ill to move or walk, I went to the hospital with her and my Mom when she threw up so much she got dehydrated.  Way to steal my thunder!  Plus she was really cute and I was in a bit of an awkward stage, so that didn't help.  When it was finally evident that I needed to go home to bed, my Dad (who worked at the hospital) offered to leave early to take me since I was so sick.  He didn't mention the fact that he had parked 11 blocks away and that I'd be expected to hoof it.  Guess 8 year olds are too young for curbside service!  Mental toughness, I'm telling you!

The second story is the details around the time I almost died from appendicitis when I was 12.  I'd been sick for a couple of days with a stomach ache, but had insisted that I was okay and just needed a couple of days to recover away from school.  Trouble was, my stomachache started getting worse and shifted nicely from the middle of my belly to the right side, 1/3 of the way between my hip bone and my belly button.  For future reference, this is an important spot and indicates that you're screwed if you don't book it to the ER.  Trying to be tough, I didn't really mention this to my Dad, who had been asking how I was feeling.  I mean, I said my stomach still hurt (a lot), which it DID!  No one asked WHERE it hurt.  Finally, after a couple of days, it got so bad that I did mention where exactly it hurt, and you would have thought I'd told my parents I'd just cut off my own pinkie toe and eaten it raw.  We hightailed it to the emergency room where they did emergency surgery to remove my appendix which was leaking poison throughout my body.  Who knew!?!?  The parentals did feel really bad about this, even though it was mostly my fault.  I mean, I had spent my entire life detailing all of my symptoms to anyone who would listen, but the ONE time I try to tough it out and keep my misery to myself, I'm slowly dying of appendix poison. 

I didn't die, though, and the 7 days I spent in the hospital totally got rid of my baby fat and I returned to the basketball court (and the oh-so-judgemental world of middle school) about 20 pounds thinner.  Score!

I love to give my Dad a hard time about this, and you know what?  Ever since then, I've gotten a LOT more sympathy when I am sick.  Go figure.

Anyway, the meal I cooked last night has nothing to do with any of this, besides the fact that I'm blogging about them while feeling like crap on a stick.

The chicken I made is a repeat, and it can be found here.  Its amazing.  Make it.

The potatoes are Ina Garten's recipe, and while I've made iterations of it before, I've never followed it exactly like I did last night.  I thought they were great, but I still think I like some other versions better.  Sorry, Ina!

The salad I made up, inspired by the instructor at a cooking class I took awhile back.  I'll just mention that putting truffle oil on anything makes it automatically amazing.  Try it, its true!

Mustard Roasted Potatoes
Source: Barefoot Contessa At Home

2 1/2 pounds small red potatoes 
2 yellow onions 
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the potatoes into one-inch cubes (halves or quarters for the small potatoes, several more cuts for the larger ones). Place potatoes into a large plastic bag with a zipper seal. Peel onion and cut in half. Slice crosswise to about 1/4 inch thickness to make half rounds and add to bag.

Add the olive oil, mustard, 2 teaspoons salt, and pepper to bag; seal, and toss together. This can be prepped a few hours in advance and left in the plastic bag until ready to roast.

Line a sheet pan with foil and spread potatoes and onions onto pan. Bake for 50 minutes to an hour; until potatoes are lightly browned on the outside and tender on the inside. Toss the potatoes occassionally to prevent sticking and for even browning.

Garnish with chopped parsley and more salt if needed and serve immediately.

Spring Mix and Arugula Salad with Truffle Vinaigrette
Source: Adapted from The Compleat Gourmet Cooking Class, Richmond, VA
1 bag mixed greens (I used 1/2 bag spring mix and 1/2 bag baby arugula)
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white truffle oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Whisk dressing ingredients together and drizzle over greens.  Top with goat cheese and walnuts; serve.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm Baaaaack!!

Hey y'all!  I've been at summer camp a sales convention in Dallas for the past several days, and I'm oh-so-happy to be home.  I missed my pup and my husband and this blog!  Its hard to say anything nice about banquet food meal after meal after meal.

So, now that I'm back, expect some delicious concoctions in the next few days.

I know you missed me!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Very Special Potluck. And Yogurt Chicken.

How cool is this?  Evidently, my husband's co-workers read my blog (Hi guys!!!).  Presumably the blog reading is occurring AT work, but what these people do with their internet time is none of my business (but judging from the number of YouTube videos that my dear husband has seen and wants me to watch when he gets home, I have to deduct that their place of work has a fairly liberal internet policy).  If my blog is ever  blocked at a big company, I totally want to know because that means that I've MADE IT, and that my humor has finally once again crossed the line.

Often, my husband will come home with stories about various comments people have made about the blog and what kinds of things they demand suggest I make next.  And as much as he hates to see my big head get bigger, he's admitted that his work friends think I am funny (because I AM!).  I feel like now I know all of these folks, even though I've only met a few of them (I'm waiting for the next happy hour invitation ANY DAY NOW....), and I get so excited when he tells me someone liked a post they read on my blog.  It seriously makes my day.

So anyway, tomorrow there is a potluck lunch at my husband's place of work (I'll refrain from naming said place of work, so karma doesn't cause their HR department to start taking interest in employees' internet activities).  I was so excited about cooking his contribution to the event until I heard there was no oven involved.  Totally throws a wrench in the meatball sliders I was going to make from scratch (sorry guys).  So I had to come up with something that can be made the night before (because, although I love this man and love his co-workers, I'm not getting up at 4 AM for a potluck I don't even get to enjoy).  So I got inspired by cream cheese and made a dip and a summer veggie pizza.  I just finished making them, and they look amazing.  If they suck tomorrow, its because Andrew somehow messed up the transport and presentation.  I'm just saying.

Anyway, I hope the co-workers enjoy.  And I hope they keep reading and giving me suggestions.  In fact, I'll make them a deal....send me a recipe that you'd like to see on the blog, and I'll give you a juicy tidbit of gossip about Andrew.  I promise it'll be good!  And I promise it'll be true.  Mostly true.  Probably true.  Or, at least true according to me.

After finishing the potluck contributions, I got started on dinner for the night....crispy yogurt chicken with corn on the cob and roasted brussels sprouts.  I was so excited that it was finished while there was still natural light outside....the pictures come out SO much better that way.  Summer is a food blogger's dream come true, I guess.

Garden Veggie Pizza Squares
Source: AllRecipes

1 (8 ounce) package refrigerated crescent rolls
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (1 ounce) package Ranch-style dressing mix
2 carrots, finely chopped
1/2 cup chopped red bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup fresh broccoli, chopped
1/2 cup chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F 

Roll out crescent rolls onto a large non-stick baking sheet. Stretch and flatten to form a single rectangular shape on the baking sheet. Bake 11 to 13 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. Allow to cool.

Place cream cheese in a bowl.  Mix cream cheese with 1/2 of the ranch dressing mix.  Spread the mixture over the cooled crust.  Arrange veggies on top and chill in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours.  Cut into small squares and serve.

Crispy Yogurt Chicken
Source: Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

2 cups Plain, Unflavored Yogurt
2 cloves (to 3 Cloves) Garlic
Parsley, To Taste
1 whole (juice Of) Lemon
Chicken Legs (I used boneless, skinless breasts)
Salt To Taste
2 cups Panko Bread Crumbs
Butter (1 Pat For Each Piece Of Chicken)

Pour yogurt into a mixing bowl. Peel and mince garlic; add garlic to the yogurt. Chop up a small amount of fresh parsley and add it to the yogurt. Add lemon juice. Mix together to combine.

Sprinkle chicken with (kosher) salt.

In another bowl, place the bread crumbs. Sprinkle with salt and stir lightly.

Butter a baking dish. With a pair of tongs, place the chicken, one piece at a time into the yogurt mixture. Turn it over thoroughly to coat. Then roll the chicken in the Panko bread crumbs. Cover each piece thoroughly with bread crumbs and place in the baking dish.

Place a slice of butter over the large part of each chicken piece. Cover with foil and bake in a 350º oven for 1 to 1 ¼ hours, removing the foil for the last 15 minutes of cooking. When the chicken is nice and golden, remove from the oven and enjoy!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gnocchi with Shrimp, Asparagus, and Pesto. And Grilled Romaine. AND a Story About Kitchen Gadgets.

Today, I made Caesar salad dressing from scratch in my super awesome food processor (thanks to my mother in law for the gift!).  I realize this isn't very monumental, especially given that I'm a well-known food blogger.  But for me it is, because A) there was a period of time when I was known as a terrible, hopeless cook, and B) I've had some embarrassing logistical issues with kitchen gadgets.  I guess its possible that "B" has something to do with "A".  Or maybe just that I can tend to be a bit ditsy from time to time and attention to detail isn't my strong suit.

Anyway, the Caesar salad dressing came out perfectly (or at least that's what my husband says, but maybe he's just buttering me up for the next time he wants to play golf and leave me alone with the puppy-monster).  But it got me thinking about the last time I used a kitchen gadget to make (what I consider) an elaborate condiment.  That time was Thanksgiving, sometime around 2005.  I'll never live this one down, and my Mom and sister just LOVE to make fun of me relentlessly for my little condiment mishap.  I happen to think that this could happen to anyone and it was an innocent mistake.  You be the judge, though.

One of the best things about Thanksgiving in our household is that instead of crappy green bean casserole or that weird jelly/cranberry sauce monstrosity, our side dishes consist of things like broccoli with homemade hollandaise sauce.  This particular year I had decided that I wanted to help prepare the meal instead of just standing around drinking wine and watching, so I offered to do the hollandaise sauce.  It seemed easy enough....put some egg yolks and butter and...well, some other stuff...in a blender, and blend!  So I got out the blender pitcher and set it on the counter, and go about my business of adding the ingredients in there.  Easy as pie!  So then I announce loudly that this is "the easier thing EVER", and make a grand gesture of picking up the blender pitcher in an attempt to place it on the base to do the actual blending.  Well, no one told me that there was a BOTTOM to the pitcher, and that if you don't attach it, nothing will stay in the pitcher if you pick it up.  Egg yolks and butter went EVERYWHERE.  And since I called so much attention to myself before this happened, everyone say it, and they made fun of me relentlessly about my bird-brained attempt at "cooking".  They still do.

Today when I made my Caesar dressing, I was very careful to use all of the required pieces of the food processor, and it only took me like 20 minutes to assemble the darn thing and I only lost my temper and cursed at it twice.  Progress, my friends.  Progress.  I hope my family is proud.

Either way, dinner tonight was tasty (as usual!).  I will admit that I cheated and used store-bought gnocchi AND store-bought pesto.  But I made my own Caesar dressing, so there.

Gnocchi with Shrimp, Asparagus and Pesto
Source: The Comfort of Cooking

1/2 cup basil pesto
1 16 oz. package gnocchi
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch (about 1 lb.) asparagus, cut in 1-inch slices
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

Prepare the basil pesto (see recipe below) and set aside.

In a Dutch oven, bring water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt. Add gnocchi to pot; cook about 3 minutes or until gnocchi rises to the top. Strain and set aside in the strainer.

In the same Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add asparagus to pan. Cook 2 minutes. Add chopped onion and continue to cook another 2 minutes. Add shrimp and cook until heated through, about 3-4 minutes.

Add gnocchi and pesto to the pot, and toss until combined. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. If desired, grate over some fresh Parmesan.


Seared Romaine Spears with Caesar Dressing
Source: Food and Wine

1/4 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10 hearts of romaine, halved lengthwise
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shaved

Light a grill. In a blender or mini food processor, blend the mayonnaise with the vinegar, garlic, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. With the machine on, gradually add 1/2 cup of the vegetable oil until the Caesar dressing is creamy. Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.

Lightly brush the hearts of romaine with 1 tablespoon of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over moderately high heat, turning once or twice, until lightly charred but still crisp, about 3 minutes.

Spread half of the Caesar dressing on a large platter. Arrange the grilled hearts of romaine on top and brush with the remaining dressing. Garnish with the cheese shavings.

Oh, and we had some white wine, too.  Lola seemed interested in having some.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Checking In. And Steaks with Blue Cheese Sauce

I'm probably too old to love Facebook as much as I do, but I can't make myself any younger, and the chances of Facebook getting any less awesome in my eyes is slim, so we're going to just have to get over the whole notion.

I recently discovered this whole concept of  the "checking in" concept where you can tell your Facebook friends where you are at any moment.  You just click "check in" on your iPhone (or whatever inferior device you may have if you DON'T have an iPhone) and it searches around where you are and you can post your current location and activities.  A stalker's dream come true!  I don't really know why we're under the impression that 200 (ugh, okay its more like 100) of our Facebook friends really CARE where we are eating dinner or what airport we are currently in, but other people do it, and like a nosey wench, I enjoy it.  And I KNOW the people I'm friends with are nosey as well, so I've started "checking in" to give everyone the sheer joy of knowing that I'm out to dinner or that I'm stuck in O'Hare (again).

Friday night, I checked into 2 very, very classy establishments.  Bandito's Burrito Lounge, and the Sunset Lanes Bowling Alley.  I'll tell you why they are classy.  Banditos isn't just a regular Mexican joint, its a weird, sketchy "regulars" bar during the day, and a meat market for early 20-somethings at night.  It even has a disco ball on the dance floor, and bartenders with an affinity for making a stiff, stiff cocktail.  I used to go there a LOT when I was younger and cooler, but Banditos is way out of my league now.  They do have a mean chimichanga, though, and some cheap happy hour drinks, so off we went on Friday at dinnertime.  The conversation quickly turned into what should be done after dinner (dancing under the disco ball was ruled out), and for some reason bowling came up. 

Now, we've talked previously about my stellar athletic skills, specifically pertaining to golf and tennis.  But let me tell you, I'm actually pretty decent at bowling and pool.  Never mind that they are both sketchy bar "sports", and golf and tennis are typically known as the classy sports.  I'm sure it means nothing that I'm really good at the bar sports and really terrible at the classy ones.

Anyway, once we decided on bowling, I loudly announced to the group that I used to be in a bowling league.  Because ITS TRUE!  I WAS in a bowling league a few years back.  Never mind the fact that we came in last, but I was in a league and that automatically makes me good.  Or at least better than you.

After bowling on Friday night (and after checking into the Sunset Lanes AMF Bowling Alley on Facebook), AND after my third announcement that I used to be in a LEAGUE, we decided that we should join a new league at the very classy Sunset Lanes.  You can play 10 weeks for $10 a week and at the end, you get a disco-inspired plastic bowling ball!  Score!  I can't tell whether my fellow bowlers were being serious about joining the league, but I was being totally serious.  I'll go by myself if I have to.  Its pretty much the only thing I can possibly be good at.  We all know golf and tennis aren't happening.

Anywho, eating and bowling were about the only things I did this weekend.  It rained a lot, and I lazed around like a slug a lot.  I did manage to plan the menu for the week, starting with tonight's meal of grilled steaks with blue cheese cream sauce, cauliflower "mashed potatoes", and roasted broccoli.  We also had a lovely glass bottle of Cabernet, purchased at Sam's Club along with some beach towels and a bunch of toilet paper.  And nothing else that resembled a grocery.  Evidently our Sam's got struck by lightning last night and everything frozen or perishable was taken out of the store.  Made for a very productive grocery shopping trip.  Still managed to spend like $200, though.  *Budgeting Fail.*

Dinner was delicious, though.  I guess that's not even necessary to say, huh?  Its not like I'd blog about it if it were terrible.

Grilled Strip Steak with Onion Blue Cheese Sauce
Source: Adapted from The Pioneer Woman

2 New York Strip Steaks
4 Tablespoons Butter (I used 2)
1 whole Very Large Yellow Onion, Sliced
1 cup Heavy Cream (I used 1/2 cup light cream)
½ cups Crumbled Blue Cheese

Salt and pepper both sides of the steaks. Grill until medium rare.

Saute onions in butter over high heat. Cook for 10, or until dark and caramelized. Reduce heat to simmer and pour in cream. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until reduced by half. Stir in blue cheese until melted. Serve steaks on generous portion of sauce.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Flank Steak Never Gets Old. But Tennis Does.

Yesterday, I participated in what can only be described as an epic doubles tennis match. It was totally intense. Why was it intense? Because 3 out of the 4 players are really terrible at tennis, while simultaneously being really good at thinking they are awesome at tennis. I tried and tried to teach the other 3 some of my professional-grade skills and to encourage confidence that there is hope for them to improve, but they were a lost cause. I'm going to have to find some new friends who can keep up with me on the court and can match my mad skills.

Just kidding, we all know I was one of the 3 terrible players. And we all know that I was the worst. By far. I fear that tennis is going to be much like golf (see the post from February about my experience with THAT sport), wherein my lack of skill and coordination is crippling and that even with a lot of practice, I'll probably still be hopeless. So when my husband suggested we play tennis with his brother and his girlfriend Lauren, I gently reminded him of my shortcomings and he was like, "its totally fine, I'm sure we're all going to suck". I wonder if he realized that by marrying me, he's stuck with me as a partner for pretty much everything. For life.

So off to the courts we went, full of hope for a productive and competitive workout. Not surprisingly, it didn't go well. In an hour, I think our record for a volley (is that what you call it? Or maybe its a "rally". Whatever) was about 6. Most of us had debilitating backhands and absolutely no self control in regards to how HARD we hit the ball, resulting in 90% of the balls sailing out of bounds, over the fence, onto the other courts, and once dangerously close to a jogger 50 yards away. It was like a bunch of blind, drunk clowns out there with tennis rackets. Big Bird and a bunch of other Muppets could have done better. They WOULD have done better, given the chance.

After showing off our tennis skills to a park full of people, we headed home for dinner. Grilled chicken and veggie kebabs, grilled asparagus, and buffalo mac and cheese were served (along with some much-needed booze), but I forgot to take pictures (because my DSLR camera wouldn't fit in my tennis racket bag!!). So I'm going to blog about something completely unrelated, which is flank steak and lemon/salt/vinegar roasted potatoes. If you don't like the random nature of this post, you can file a complaint with either Mother Nature or Big Bird. I hear they are both open to feedback.

Roasted Lemon, Salt and Vinegar Potatoes
Source: Adapted from Eating Well

1 pound baby red potatoes, halved
3 tablespoons thyme leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon rind, grated
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
few splashes white wine vinegar
juice of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

On a baking sheet, toss potatoes with thyme, lemon rind, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 40 minutes or until brown and fork tender.

Remove from oven and toss with lemon and vinegar. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Vinaigrette Marinated Flank Steak
Source: Adapted from Rachael Ray

1-2 pound flank steak
1 bottle balsamic vinaigrette
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons grill seasoning
3 sprigs rosemary, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Combine all ingredients in a large freezer bag. Seal and refrigerate overnight.

Heat grill to medium high, and grill steak, about 4 minutes each side.

Slice thinly against the grain.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Seared Shrimp and Scallops with Truffled Mashed Cauliflower

Y'all.  You know what's not fair?  I'll tell you what's not fair.  The general fact that: Delicious Food + Lack of Daily, Grueling Exercise = Fatness.

And I'll tell you why.  Well....actually no....Science and Mother Nature will tell you why that happens, but I'll tell you why its NOT FAIR.  Ugh - Because the best tasting stuff is the most fattening!!  And I don't care who you are or what you say, that's always true.  Sure, in real life we may make different food choices, like grilled vs. fried, veggies over mashed potatoes, sparking water vs. wine (ugh, just no), etc. to avoid weighing 700 pounds.  But I just can't wrap my head around the fact that anyone would make those choices day in and day out if the whole calories in vs. calories out phenomenon didn't exist.  And also if heartburn didn't exist.

Truth be told, I've always struggled with food and weight issues.  And I've always struggled with the "why" behind it.  Is it because I just love food that much?  I mean, the mere act of having a food blog indicates that I love thinking about it, reading about it, planning it, obsessing about it, writing about it...Hell, I even TAKE PICTURES of food almost daily.  So its clear that I love food, not only for how it tastes but also how it fits into my social life.  So is my love just about the love...OR.... is it because I have an emotional attachment to food that I never even realized?  Do I turn to food when I'm sad or stressed or even happy?  Sure, but I think that to some extent everyone does.  Right?  Who celebrates, say, a promotion at work with steamed broccoli and a lemon water?  Hmmmm....Disturbed health nuts (broccoli instead of filet mignon) or pregnant people (lemon water instead of Cabernet) do that, that's who.

I guess there has to be a balance, though.  Like I said, I've always struggled with my own feelings about my weight.  I spent a lot of my childhood years a little chubby and then spent a lot of my teenage and early 20's years in a constant yo-yo situation, often erring on the side of too thin.  Adulthood has been tough.  Wild fluctuations in weight aren't as easy any more....clothes at Anthropologie and Banana Republic are a lot more expensive than Forever 21 and DEB (OMG does anyone remember that store called DEB?  Do those even exist any more!?!?).  I think, like many people, I put too much emphasis on a number on the scale or a size of the pants I'm wearing on a particular day. 

So, I'm a foodie who loves food.  Guess there's only 2 things that can be done... 1) find a way to implement negative calorie days so a supermodel's body can be achieved while eating whatever I want, in whatever quantity I want, or B) find a little more acceptance of myself the way I am...that would be great.  Thanks Mother Nature, but #1 would generally be the preference.  You know, if I had to pick.

Tonight, I had a hankering for something with truffle oil (only a splash!  geez!).  I decided on seared scallops over pureed cauliflower (sounds like baby food but is so much better than that!) and arugula salad.  Seriously folks, so good.  I think I already lost 15 pounds. 


Seared Scallops and Shrimp
Source: Adapted from Alton Brown

1 to 1 1/4 pounds dry sea scallops and shrimp, approximately 16 pieces total
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
garlic powder

Remove the small side muscle from the scallops, rinse with cold water and thoroughly pat dry.  Peel and devein shrimp.

Add the butter and oil to a 12 to 14-inch saute pan on high heat. Salt, pepper and garlic the scallops and shrimp. Once the fat begins to smoke, gently add the scallops and shrimp, making sure they are not touching each other. Sear the seafood for 1 1/2 minutes on each side (a little longer for the shrimp). The scallops should have a 1/4-inch golden crust on each side while still being translucent in the center.

Serve immediately over pureed cauliflower.

Cauliflower "Mashed Potatoes"
Source: Adapted from: Ask Your Neighbor

1 medium head cauliflower
1 tablespoon cream cheese, softened (I used low fat)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (I used about 3 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (I used a lot more, everyone loves garlic!!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh or dry chives, for garnish
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used 1 tablespoon and it was fine!)
DRIZZLES OF WHITE TRUFFLE OIL (this make the dish.  For real.)

Set a stockpot of water to boil over high heat.

Clean and cut the cauliflower into small pieces. Cook in boiling water for about 6 minutes, or until well done.  Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small saucepan and cook the garlic until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Drain the cauliflower well; do not let cool and pat it very dry between several layers of paper towels.

In the bowl of a food processor, puree the hot cauliflower with the cream cheese, Parmesan, butter, garlic, salt, and pepper until almost smooth.

Garnish truffle oil.  Not optional.  Do it.

Arugula Salad with Orange Vinaigrette
Source: Adapted from Frontier Soups

About 12 ounces of Arugula
4 ounces Crumbled Goat Cheese
4 ounces Carmelized Walnuts

8 stalks roasted aspargus, cooled and chopped into 1-inch pieces

Dressing Ingredients:
1/4 Cup vinegar
2 tsp. grated orange rind

1/2 Cup Orange Juice
Juice of 1 Lemon
1/4 Cup sugar (I used Splenda)
1/2 tsp. each: dry mustard, salt
1 Cup Oil, either Vegetable or Canola
pepper and garlic powder to taste

Combine all ingredients in a 1 pint glass jar, make sure lid securely attached, and shake. Use as needed to lightly coat salad greens.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Turkey Meatballs with Honey Couscous and Roasted Carrots

I'm having a bit of an "off" week.  Not even for any particular reason or anything...I've just been....grumpy.  Or "lumpy" as my sister-in-law (and now my entire extended family) calls it.

The "lumpy" story has nothing to do with turkey meatballs or roasted carrots, but I feel like telling it and its my blog.  So I'll go on random tangents as I see fit.  You don't have to read it if you don't want to.  Well, actually, you kind of do.  If you follow this blog, I have to assume that you kind of like me, and therefore you're required to read my stupid stories.


I get my tendency to be grumpy from my older brother.  We're typically prone to act like curmudgeons if we are hungry, tired, annoyed, stressed, in need of a cocktail, or even if someone looks at us funny or uses poor grammar.  Our spouses and family find this trait extremely charming.  So charming in fact, that my brother's wife termed his behavior "lumping around" or "being lumpy".  When my sister and I went to visit while they were living in London a couple of years ago, we started using the term "lumpy" too.  Around dinnertime every day, my brother would start pacing around the house, grumbling things under his breath, and in unison, we'd all say, "Looks like SOMEONE is getting a little LUMPY!", and then we'd eat and everyone was happy.  When I returned home, I told my husband all about it and he thought it was hilarious that I learned something worthwhile in London and we started referring to my own offensive behavior as "being lumpy" as well.  We still do.

The other term I learned from my sister-in-law (also while visiting in London) was "making leeps", which means sleeping (in her language).  I don't know where this comes from, but we quickly picked up on this lingo as well and used it often.  I was not uncommon for someone to mention that that if my brother was "lumpy" because he was tired, he should go "make some leeps" and he'd feel better.  My husband also found THIS term hilarious (another gem learned in London!) and we still use it all the time.

Fast forward 2 years.  We're on our honeymoon in St. Lucia.  Its lovely.  One fine day, my husband and the guy who serves drinks on the beach saved an old British dude (former rugby player!!) from drowning.  They ran down the beach, dove in, swam to him, and then held him up in the water until the boat could pull him in. My husband even had a bloody cut on his chest to show what a manly hero he was.  I was so proud.  Anyway, later that night, the British dude and his wife find us at the bar and offered to buy us drinks as a thank you for my husband saving the British dude's life.  This is curious since it was an all-inclusive resort and the drinks were free anyway, but it was a nice gesture.  British dude brings my husband glass after glass of some concoction resembling whisky and it started going down a little too easy.  Tipsy, my husband "whispers" to me (have you ever heard a drunk person whisper?  SO discreet) that he's going to ask our new British friends if they know the British slang words "lumpy" and "making leeps".  I choke on my wine and gently tell my husband that those words are not BRITISH slang, they are made up words that my sister-in-law uses to make fun of my brother and that NO ONE, NOT EVEN BRITISH PEOPLE, knows what they mean.  He was like, "No Ann, you learned those words in London, they are British slang words.  I'm going to ask our new friends if they use them, too".  Um, okay.  Knock yourself out.  So he does.  Completely seriously, with a straight face, my husband saunters up to the old British folks and ask them if they frequently use the British slang terms, "lumpy" and "making leeps".  Shockingly, they look at him as if he's just given birth to a llama.  So he decides, instead of being like, "just kidding, haha!", to explain the MEANING of each word.  Like, "oh come on, YOU KNOW!  MAKING LEEPS MEANS SLEEPING IN ENGLAND, RIGHT?  RIGHT!?!?".  No dice.  They thought he was nuts and didn't offer to buy us any more drinks.  Bugger.

So, you are welcome to use the term "lumpy" for being in a bad mood, or "making leeps" for taking a nice cat nap.  Just know that they are made up words whose meanings are only known within my particular family.  You can't use them in London without getting a lot of crazy stares.  I'm just saying.

Anyway, thinking of that story kind of makes me feel less lumpy because I laugh out loud every time I think of the look on this couple's faces when my husband attempts to convince them that these crazy made-up words originated in their homeland.  Ha!

So, time to talk about food.  This meal came together wonderfully...I was totally impressed with myself.  I made some changes to the recipe since I was too cheap to buy a ginormous bag of pine nuts at Trader Joe's the other day.  No one needs $12 worth of nuts.  No one. 


Turkey Meatballs with Lemon-Garlic Yogurt Sauce
Source: Adapted from One Perfect Bite

1-1/4 pound ground turkey thigh meat
1/2 cup finely minced onion
1 large egg
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (I used dried Italian seasoning)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (I used chopped walnuts)
1/2 cup cup golden raisins (chopped if large)
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil

Lemon-Garlic Sauce (I didn't do the sauce because I forgot, but I'm sure its good!)
1 cup plain yogurt (Greek-style if possible)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

To make meatballs: Combine turkey, onion, egg, cilantro, nuts, raisins, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and cumin in a large bowl. Mix just until ingredients are combined and evenly mixed. With wet hands form the mixture into 1 to 1-1/2-inch balls. Set on a tray. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and chill until ready to sauté.

To make sauce: Combine yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, cumin and salt in a small bowl. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate.

To cook: Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, and sauté meatballs in batches, so as not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm, but not hard when touched. Place on a paper towel to catch excess oil. Serve hot, warm, or cold with yogurt sauce.

Whole Wheat Couscous with Honey and Walnuts
Source: My own genius brain

1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
garlic powder
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Cook couscous in chicken broth and oil, according to package instructions.  Fluff with a fork.  Add garlic powder, honey, walnuts, and salt and pepper.  Mix well and serve.

Thyme Roasted Carrots with Goat Cheese

2lbs whole carrots
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2-3 sprigs of fresh thyme
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 400. Peel the carrots and cut diagonally into thirds. If the carrots are large, half or quarter the pieces (aiming for uniform so the pieces will cook evenly). Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and the leaves stripped from the thyme sprigs. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through. Crumble goat cheese over the warm carrots and serve.