a simpler sound.

Simple dinner staples: Red Lentils with ras el hanout and rainbow carrots.


Yes, this may look like baby food to the untrained eye.

But in reality, in this mush of food lies a perfect combination of red lentils, rainbow carrots, onion, garlic, and ras el hanout.  The last ingredient has become one of my most coveted ingredients [thanks to this guy], mostly because it turns any blah dish into a thing of beauty [and tastiness].

I threw this together one late night midweek, when I wasn't in the mood to cook, but also had no interest in just eating chips and salsa for dinner.  Out came a completely simple, but hearty dish [or side accompaniment to grilled chicken, pork, fish, etc. etc.].  I highly recommend trying this the next time you need to throw something together quickly, or just have a hankering for something left of center. Also, I can't say this enough...absolutely invest in ras el hanout- it's essential for this dish!

Recipe:

1 cup red lentils
1/2 cup diced carrots [I love using rainbow carrots, mainly for their color, but also for their sweetness]
1/4 cup diced onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ras el hanout [or more to your preference]
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups water
salt and pepper, to taste

In a small pot, heat the olive oil over medium and cook the onions and garlic, for a couple minutes until softened. Add the ras el hanout, and water and heat.  Once simmering, add the lentils and bring to a boil.  Cook at a simmer for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is absorbed.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve in your favorite bowl.

Serves 4





My foodie-talk hero: Alex Guarnaschelli.


For years, I watched cooking shows religiously.  I basically learned how to cook as a teen by following the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. These days, I do love me some Top Chef, and while I cook, I'll have the occasional throwback episode of Giada, Ina or Nigella [they're like my long time girlfriends] on in the background.

One reason I stopped watching most cooking shows is because after a while, the TV personalities start to all sound nearly identical and it becomes somewhat monotonous. A college drinking game could be made out of the Sandra Lee show- ALL she ever says is that her food has "great flavor."  There's literally no other phrase she can think of to describe her food and it drives me insane! I literally avoid using 'flavor' in my everyday vernacular because of this. And don't even get me started on her semi-homemade Kwanzaa cake!! [mini-rant]

My love for cooking shows has been revived with most recent addiction, chef Alex Guarnaschelli's show, Alex's Day Off.  

She's a celebrity in the culinary world, and is currently the executive chef of two New York City restaurants, Butter and The Darby, but I so dearly hope she gets into the food-writing business!

What I find so refreshing about Alex's show is her incredible way with words.  There's nothing like smelling and tasting a dish to truly familiarize yourself with cooking a meal, but when a screen comes between you and the cook, the only two ways to 'taste' the food is through sight and sound.  Alex tells a story about the ingredients she uses and the recipes she cooks that's unlike anyone I've ever seen on a culinary show [with the possible exception of Nigella Lawson- she's fantastic!].

Alex has a fantastic way with metaphors.  She'll compare mozzarella to a "quiet friend at a cocktail party, who needs a couple drinks before they get interesting."  When describing the making of dulce de leche, she compares the process to "a conservative person in their cardigan sweater who minutes later rips off that sweater to reveal themselves." I absolutely love it! My favorite line of hers is "when you pull up your dress just to show a little bit of slip" to describe the bit of cheese that oozes out of a pressed sandwich. Some might find these descriptions a bit garish, but I think they're fantastic! Her way with words gives such an alluring visual of her food, and makes me want to jump right into the kitchen.

I've been waiting for Chef Guarnaschelli to come out with a cookbook, or frankly, any kind of book, because I'm fairly sure she could make burnt toast mouthwatering!

Holiday Eating Tip: Don't forget to eat your greens!


Over-eating becomes entirely too easy at this time of year.  There's an embarrassment of decadence at ever meal.  [My fridge currently has THREE different baked desserts in it, and that's just not okay.]

One way to lighten the heavy handed eating this time of year is through making healthy choices, particularly with all things green. I'm not a big vegetable eater, and I blame that on my early years dealing with "severe-picky-eater syndrome."

Over the years, I've learned to love the green stuff through learning how to cook them properly and with bold flavors.  This recipe is one I've perfected, and I can confidently use the word "perfect" because I literally can eat an entire bowl of these green beans [or string beans as they're referred to in New York], and there's something to be said about that feat.

This recipe paired well with my Thanksgiving meal, but it's quick enough to throw together for any weeknight meal.

My best time-saving tip is to have your shallots sliced [or minced] ahead of time and stored in the fridge [you can do this a few days in advance].  Shallots make me cry more than anything else [yes, even more than The Notebook] so I like to prep three or four at a time, and get all my sobbing out at once.

I also like to have a jar of nuts [this recipe uses slivered almonds, but walnuts work well too] toasted ahead of time, since that just saves you a step and again this ingredient can be used in a number of recipes.

I added some crisped, diced bacon at the last minute, because I had forgotten to use it in a soup I had made earlier in the week, and just had it sitting in the fridge. Typically, I don't use bacon, but just a bit makes all the difference.

Sauteed Green Beans with Shallots and Almonds

1/2lb. green beans, trimmed [I used local greens from NC]
1 shallot, thinly sliced [I was using diced shallots in two other dishes this Thanksgiving, so I just prepped them all in a fine dice]
1 cup slivered almonds, toasted [I like using A LOT of almonds, since they turn these beans into a much more filling dish, and help me stave off the third serving of mashed potatoes...]
1TBsp. olive oil [I like to use a good quality one here, since you really taste it]
1TBsp. unsalted butter [you can also omit the butter and double up on olive oil]
3TBsp. diced bacon, crisped [optional]
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the green beans for five minutes.  Submerge in an ice water bath for a couple minutes.  While you wait for the beans to cool, heat the olive oil and butter on medium heat in a frying pan. Add shallots and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes.  Drain the beans and dry thoroughly.  Raise the heat to medium-high and add the beans, sauteeing for 3-5 minutes.  Add the toasted almonds and cooked bacon and toss to combine.  Garnish or toss with fresh parsley and serve immediately.  

For the love of cheese: putting together a cheese board.


I'm fairly certain the only thing keeping me from becoming a vegan is my undying love for cheese.  There is nothing that can substitute it, nothing that can replace that perfect combination of salty and creamy.  I don't discriminate.  I've never met a cheese I didn't like [though there are certainly some I prefer over others]. 

For this Thanksgiving, I decided to handle the lunch/pre-dinner snacking with a cheese board.  I really don't do this enough, but it's entirely too easy to put together.  If I'm having a party, I usually like to choose cheeses I know well and thoroughly enjoy.  In the same way I wouldn't try a new recipe on guests, I wouldn't want to spend money on a cheese I haven't tasted.  Thankfully, if you go to a great cheese shop [or in my case, Whole Foods], the cheese mongers are so knowledgable and do a phenomenal job choosing cheeses for you, and will let you taste before you buy.  

While I was doing my Thanksgiving grocery shopping, I was inspired by this small basket of goodies, also known as "Cheese Orphans." This is by far the most affordable way to put together a cheese board, or just test a new cheese at home.  Every wedge of cheese is less than $3 and they're just a delicious as their larger counterparts.


I grabbed one of everything. I couldn't help myself! I didn't use every cheese, since typically with a cheese board, I like to keep it to only three or four selections.

By far, my favorite cheese was a Parrano, which is a cow's milk cheese from The Netherlands.  It's incredibly salty, but also buttery with a hint of sweetness.  Surprisingly, it tastes quite a bit like an aged parmesan, but is only aged for five months and is quite affordable.

I decided to pair this cheese with some of my simple homemade cranberry sauce [I'll post this recipe later in the week], since I figured the salty bite would balance well with the sweet, citrus hints of my cranberry sauce.  






Mahón was another cheese I sliced for my board [seen on the left in the below photo], which is a Spanish [specifically from the island of Minorca] cow's milk cheese.  A fairly firm chesse, this one is much more subtle in flavor, and I think would work better in a sandwich, next time around.  But it too tasted yummy with the cranberry sauce and a slice of apple [which also made a debut on my board, since I had a few extra slices leftover from my pie. 


I also snagged a small portion [not from the Cheese Orphans bin] of one of my all time favorites, Gorgonzola Dolce, an Italian mild blue that is incredibly sweet, and pairs perfectly with caramelized onions [I used a jar of my go-to store bought variety].  One thing I should note, I like to bring my cheeses to room-temperature, so I leave them out for about an hour before serving. 

I paired this board with a 2009 Bordeaux blend from Chateau Doyac. My friend, who is a wine specialist at Whole Foods, gives me a wealth of information on wine, and helped me choose this particular bottle for Thanksgiving [slightly pricier than my normal, but it was for a holiday after all...]

Finally, some Marcona almonds and rice crackers rounded out this perfect pre-Thanksgiving snack.


Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola Bars.



I may never buy another another granola bar ever again.  I did some digging around, and compiled ideas from various recipes, eventually evolving them into my own concoction.  I modeled these after my favorite store bought variety. Naturally [or well, unnaturally] store bought bars have all kinds of ingredients that aren't necessary or good for you, despite them all having the predisposed idea of being healthy. I used only ingredients I had around the house, and lucky for me, I keep a good variety of nuts in stock [not a reference to me or my family's insanity], as well as seeds and grains.

I'm insanely proud of these bars, since they're incredibly filling, healthy and delicious. 


  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Granola Bars
Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup chopped macadamia nuts
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds [optional]
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg whites, whisked [optional, but acts as a binder, which allows you to use less butter]
  • 1/2 cup agave syrup
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter [I use Skippy because I'm still 10 years old, but natural peanut butter would amp up the health factor in this recipe - natural = less sugar]
  • 1/4 semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions


Preheat oven to 325 F. Lightly grease an 8 by 8-inch baking dish and set aside.
In a small saucepan melt butter with honey over low heat, stirring.
In a large bowl stir together oats, nuts, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, cinnamon and salt. Pour butter mixture over oat mixture and stir until combined well. Add the egg whites and stir until combined.
On a large baking sheet, [if you have a silpat sheet, use it!] spread the granola evenly in a thin layer. Bake, stirring every 5-10 minutes to keep from sticking or burning, until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes. 
Cool the granola and place in a large bowl.
Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, and peanut butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is at a boil. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the granola, stirring to coat well. Cool slightly and add in chocolate chips. Press the mixture into the prepared baking dish and let cool completely and harden. Cut the mixture into bars and serve at room temperature.

Easy Comfort Food: Hodge Podge Macaroni + Cheese.

With the blustering winds that brought chilly weather prematurely to Atlanta for the past week, I've been on a comfort food kick, stocking up my fridge with my favorite soups, stews, and most importantly with a big platter of macaroni and cheese.  There's just nothing like homemade, and it's insanely simple to throw together.  The secret is in the cheese, and this is a perfect time to get rid of the last bits left in the fridge [hence the name 'hodge podge', which then naturally gives me a good excuse to buy more! 

Hodge Podge Macaroni + Cheese.

Béchamel Sauce [taken from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home]

[this will make more sauce than you need, which I like to reserve and use later in the week for a baked chicken dish or broccoli-cheese casserole]


3 TBsp unsalted butter
3 TBsp all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 TBsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp finely chopped thyme
pinch of cayenne pepper

My added ingredients:

1 tsp white truffle oil [optional, not everyone loves truffles- but I can't get enough!]
12-14 oz cheese, shredded and/or crumbled
[I happened to have sharp yellow cheddar and goat cheese in the fridge, so that's what I used, but I've literally used every cheese I can think of [with the exception of a blue or gorgonzola- they're too overpowering to mix with other cheeses]

1/2 lb elbow macaroni


Melt the butter in a medium saucepan [I use my Le Creuset cast iron braiser] over medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 2 to 3 minutes; adjust the heat as needed so that the mixture does not brown. Whisk in the milk, lower the heat to keep the béchamel at a gentle simmer, and cook, whisking often, until the sauce has thickened and reduced to about 2 cups, 30 to 40 minutes; move the whisk over the bottom and into the corners of the pan to be sure the béchamel doesn't burn. In the last 15 minutes of reducing the sauce, bring water to a boil and cook the elbow macaroni to al dente.


If you have a fine mesh strainer, strain the béchamel into another bowl, and then return it to the saucepan. Straining is optional since it helps to create a more velvety [not velveeta!] consistency.  Add the truffle oil and cheese and whisk to combine. Add enough sauce to the macaroni [not all of it, as this is a double recipe for sauce] and you're done!

I sometimes like to add buttered bread crumbs to the top and bake off the macaroni in the oven for several minutes, but this time, I was starving and just dug right in.  Yum.




Layering Flavors: Turkey Meatballs with marsala sauteed mushrooms, wilted arugula and brown rice with a spicy parsley sauce.


Whenever I go out to a nice restaurant for dinner, I'm always hyper aware of two things: the presentation and the depth of flavors. I'm the type of cook who loves throwing things together on the fly and as quickly as possible.  That sort of cooking typically involves a lot of one pot [or pan] cooking, and not the most artful presentation when all is said and done. 

I do occasionally get inspired to push my usual boundaries a bit and try creating slightly more complex meals.  I still made this recipe off the cuff, with ingredients I already had in the fridge and garden. When I was making this dish, I realized as I was jotting down notes, how tough it must be to write a cook book with more complex recipes.  This was fairly simple, but since I used a number of ingredients and cooked them all separately, it was fairly laborious to write down.  So here's the run through of my new dish and I apologize for the wordiness in advance!

Turkey Meatballs with marsala sauteed mushrooms, wilted arugula and brown rice with a spicy parsley sauce. 

Ingredients

2 cups arugula, cleaned and dried
1 cup brown rice


For the mushrooms:
2 TBsp unsalted butter
1 TBsp olive oil
1 shallot, diced [with some removed for meatballs]
3-5 garlic cloves, minced [with some removed for meatballs]
1lb. white button mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup marsala wine
1/4 cup water [or chicken broth, I was just out at the time]

For the meatballs:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground turkey
1 egg
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1 teaspoon coarse ground mustard
1 TBsp of diced shallots [see above]
1 tsp of minced garlic [see above]
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon parsley, minced


For the spicy parsley sauce:
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, cleaned and stems removed
pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes [or more if you like the heat]
salt and pepper, to taste


Directions

Make the brown rice according to directions on box [takes about 45 minutes so you want to take care of this first- unless you're using instant]

When cooking the mushrooms, find the widest pan you have, since the mushrooms shouldn't crowd the pan.  I actually still don't have a large enough pan to cook a decent sized amount of mushrooms, so you can always cook them in batches, and in that case, just split the butter and oil in half and reserve half the shallots and garlic for the second batch.

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat and add the shallots and garlic, allowing them to soften for 2-3 minutes. Raise heat to medium high and add the mushrooms, making sure all sides are coated by the butter mixture.  Leave them alone and allow them to sauté until they begin to brown, 5-10 minutes. After at least five minutes, move the mushrooms around allow both sides to brown.

Remove them from the pan [I placed them in my warming drawer, but you can also just cover with foil to retain the heat] and add the marsala wine and water, scraping the brown bits off the bottom and allowing it to thicken, about 15 minutes.

While the sauce is cooking, start on the meatballs. Heat oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat and combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and form into small, golf sized balls. Once oil is hot, add to the pan and brown, turning them every so often to ensure an even crust, about 10 minutes total. 


While the meatballs brown, put together the spicy parsley sauce. [I used my food processor for this, but you can create this with a good knife and a whisk as well.] Place all ingredients, except for oil in the food processor and pulse a few times until combined.  Then drizzle oil through top while the processor is running, just until the ingredients combine, about 10-20 seconds. 

Once the sauce has thickened slightly, pour it over the mushrooms, reserving a bit in the pan.  Place the arugula in the pan with the remaining sauce and allow it to wilt slightly.  

Then, all that's left to do is assemble all the ingredients.  Check out how I layered everything below! 

Serves 2-3








Recipe Reviewing + Tweaking: Apple Crisp from Tartine.


Cat-sitting for my neighbors garners all kinds of yummy treats.  This time I was presented with half a peck of apples [yes, that's how apples are measured] and some yummy blueberry hand pies. These gargantuan apples [most were the size of a softball!] came from Ellijay, Georgia, the home of the Georgia Apple Festival.  I believe they're of the Fuji variety and they were naturally very sweet. 

Since I hate when fruit goes to waste, I knew I wanted to bake these off immediately.  It was the perfect rainy day in Atlanta for something warm and decadent. I had been meaning to try out another recipe from Tartine.  Most of the recipes in this cookbook are rather advanced, but the Apple Crisp I stumbled upon seemed fool-proof.  I'm extremely picky about my baked goods [brownies must be gooey, pies need that perfect crust, etc.] so when I follow a recipe from a cookbook, I like to follow it verbatim the first go around, and then make note of things I would change.  

I'll start by saying this recipe did turn out delicious.  I even found myself sneaking bites of the almost caramelized topping late last night - Nigella style [if you've ever watched Nigella Lawson's cooking shows, she always sneaks to the fridge 'late at night' and grabs a bite of whatever she created that day.  I absolutely love her and her unabashed obsession with food].

I knew the crisp would be tasty- I mean we're talking about Tartine here, one of the best bakeries in the US. But I find a lot of what I've made from this cookbook almost TOO decadent.  I try to cook healthier, always being conscious of what I put into my meals, and I'm the same way with baking.  When I saw the recipe called for ONE cup of butter, I knew I was in trouble...


Apple Crisp
Tartine
[areas in parentheses + orange are my recommended changes]

3 pounds assorted apples [the apples I used were perfectly firm, but quite sweet, so next time I'd recommend using a more tart variety]
1/4 cup sugar [if using a Fuji like I did, I would decrease the amount of sugar to just 3TBsp, whereas a tart apple might be able to take the larger quantity of sugar]
3 tablespoons lemon juice [MUST be fresh- but this worked wonders on the apples. Yum!]
grated lemon zest from one lemon [ditto to above]
1/8 teaspoon salt [as a cook, salt and acids make a dish- and I think the same goes for baking- use a fine grain salt here]

1 cup unsalted butter, cold [this was entirely too much butter, though I do know that's what gives it that crisp texture.  I actually was short on butter, so I only used around 3/4cup, and found it still too rich.  I recommend trying this with 1/2 cup [1 stick] or even 1/3 if you're trying to be extra healthy.  I like to add a bit of milk to the batter if it needs some extra smoothing out]
1 cup sugar [I found it too sweet personally, though that might be a combination of the apples and the topping.  I would half the sugar at the very least]
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon [this was certainly a lot of cinnamon, which I love.  But it could probably be decreased to two teaspoons, and would still carry that bold spice]
1/8 teaspoon salt [I would increase this to 1/4 teaspoon, because I love the combination of sweet and salty!]

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Peel (some or all, as you prefer) [I prefer peeling all- I'm not a fan of the firm skin of the apple when baked], core and slice [thinly- they almost melt in your mouth this way!] the apples and place them in a large mixing bowl. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, lemon juice and zest, and salt. Add to the apples and mix well with your hands. [I actually prefer to mix these ingredients in a large bowl first, then add the sliced apples to that, mixing occasionally. The immediate contact with the lemon juice prevents the apples from browning while you work and you save on cleaning one extra bowl!] Transfer the apples to the baking dish. 
To make the topping, place the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl. Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment on medium speed, or a wooden spoon, beat together until smooth. Add the flour, cinnamon and salt and mix just until it comes together in a smooth dough.
To top the crisp, scoop up palm-sized balls of the dough, flatten each scoop as if you are making a 1/4-inch thick tortilla, and lay it on top of the apples. Cover the entire surface of the apples with the dough rounds. Gaps in the topping are okay; they will allow steam to escape during baking.
Bake the crisp until the apples are tender and the topping is golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours [because I sliced the apples thin, this really only needed 45 minutes to 1 hour]. If the top is getting too dark before the crisp is done, cover it with aluminum foil. Let cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature. The crisp will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 1 week [this is a lie- the crisp will disappear within a day or two at most...]

I absolutely recommend trying the recipe exactly how it's written in the cookbook, but the way to becoming a good cook or baker is taking recipes and putting your own spin on them.  Whether you decide to omit certain ingredients, tweak the quantities, or alter the technique, you're evolving as a cook [and recipe writer!].







Pimento Cheese makes everything better: brunch at Empire State South.



A good friend visited this weekend for Music Midtown and her birthday, and it made me think of the last time she was here when we had quite possibly the best brunch ever.  The bulk of my meal consisted of a jar of pimento cheese, some good crusty bread from Holeman and Finch, and the best mocha I've ever had [and continue to have every so often].  Empire State South is one of my favorite spots in Atlanta.  It's got a great style, ambiance, and the food: OH the food.  I've never had a bad thing here, and I'd love to eat my way through their entire menu.  




A Hawaiian Party!


Combing through old photos brings up all kinds of great memories.  These photos are from a fairly recent birthday party I hosted back in May.  Since I have ties to Hawaii [my mom lived there for a few years and we have family there], hosting a Hawaiian themed party is really something I should do more often.  This was my first, and it was entirely too much fun! My friend Katy made a delicious cake with a mango jelly filling and cream cheese frosting [it was addictive!]. My mom pulled out all her big guns: lumpia [a traditional filipino fried spring roll], her special BBQ chicken [the secret ingredient is Coke!] and pancit [also filipino and is somewhat similar to Chinese lo-mein].  That along with some delicious grilled pineapple skewers with a teriyaki glaze rounded out our 'Hawaiian' meal.  

We even splurged on some awesomely tacky Hawaiian decorations, and we all donned our leis [even Kona!], played Hawaiian music and learned some serious hula moves from my mom.  I can't wait to have another one of these shin-digs in my backyard.  Hosting parties is what makes having a home and a backyard so worthwhile.  











Perfecting our hula moves.



Pan Roasted Swordfish with a Honey Ginger Sun-dried Tomato Glaze


I threw this recipe together a while back, and was UNBELIEVABLY pleased with how it turned out. I took numerous photos [all of which were lost in a certain battle with my camera and laptop...don't remind me].  I was initially planning to make a pan-asian style dish, and had just purchased a great piece of swordfish.  As I pondered through my pantry of spices, I noticed these Sun-dried tomato flakes from Williams Sonoma.  They were part of a spice set I got as a Christmas gift, and I had never used them before.  I was determined to give them a try, and thought combining Asian and Italian influenced food couldn't hurt [or if it did, it was only hurting myself and my mom who I was cooking for!] It turns out, combining these two cultures in cuisine wasn't half bad! 

 Here's the recipe:

Pan Roasted Swordfish with a Honey Ginger Sun-dried Tomato Glaze with arugula, lovebeets, goat cheese and baby heirloom tomatoes.

Marinade:
1TBsp Soy Sauce
1 TBsp Honey
1 tsp Sun-dried tomato flakes [or you can just mince Sun-dried tomatoes]
1/2 tsp Powdered Ginger
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Fresh ground pepper
1/2 lemon, juiced
 2 TBsp Extra Virgin Olive oil


Fish:
1TBsp Olive oil [or vegetable]
2 5-6oz. portions of swordfish
fresh ground pepper
coarse kosher or sea salt

Salad:
1 bunch arugula
4-5 lovebeets [if you haven't heard of these, they're a MUST try- so delicious- I use the honey-ginger infused variety and I may have to try and create them myself...]
1oz. goat cheese [I used a sun-dried tomato kind, but any will do]
Baby heirloom tomatoes [but cherry or grape tomatoes work just fine]

Dressing/Glaze:
[this is almost identical to the marinade, only I decrease the amount of olive oil and increase the honey, mainly because I love a nice, sweet dressing!]

1TBsp Soy Sauce
2TBsp Honey
1 tsp Sun-dried tomato flakes [or you can just mince Sun-dried tomatoes]
1/2 tsp Powdered Ginger
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 tsp Fresh ground pepper
1/2 lemon, juiced
1TBsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil


Combine marinade ingredients with a whisk and cover swordfish.  Marinade anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour [I made this on the fly, so I was just under 20]. 

Lightly rinse off fish [don't be too thorough, or you'll lose all the flavors from the marinade!] and pat dry.  Season with coarse salt and pepper.  Heat olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat.  Pan fry fish 3-4 minutes per side, or until a golden brown crust forms [I like a slightly charred taste on swordfish, so sometimes I'll raise my heat if I don't see this golden color forming fast enough]. 

Remove fish from pan and allow to rest while assembling salad.  

Whisk together dressing ingredients in a large bowl  [at this point, I remove some into a small saucer, to save for drizzling over the fish at the end]. Toss arugula, heirloom tomatoes and lovebeets in the dressing. Dot with goat cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 2  

Healthy + Yummy.

Lavender Thyme Roasted Chicken & Brussels Sprouts in a Honey Glaze.


I have an overabundance of fresh herbs this summer, so I've been trying to come up with new ways to use them.  I love the combination of lavender and honey in this recipe.

3-4lb. Chicken, rinsed & dried
1lb. Brussels Sprouts, bottoms removed and cut in half
2-3TBsp. Olive Oil
1TBsp. Fresh Lavender, chopped
1TBsp. Fresh Thyme [plus extra springs for inside chicken]
Salt & Pepper
Whole Bulb of Garlic
Half a Lemon
2TBsp. Honey [I like using a good local honey, see photo]

Preheat the oven to 450F. Liberally season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan. Insert the bulb of garlic, lemon and sprigs of thyme inside chicken.

Truss the chicken's legs [these reusable silicone rubber bands are perfect for this] and fold the wings inward [I forgot to take a photo of this process, but it's pretty simple. This blog shows photos of how I like to fold the chicken wings].

Rub 1-2TBsp. olive oil all over the chicken, then rub with the lavender and thyme [reserve some for the brussels sprouts] and season with salt and pepper. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the skin begins to crisp.

Remove the chicken from the oven and spread the brussels sprouts around the chicken.  Drizzle the remaining olive oil on the brussels sprouts and sprinkle with remaining herbs.  Season with salt and pepper.

Return the chicken to the oven for another 20-30 minutes, or until the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160F. Keep an eye on the brussels sprouts. If they begin to brown too much, remove them from the oven, and allow the chicken to continue cooking.

Immediately after removing from the oven, drizzle honey over the chicken and brussels sprouts.  This makes a wonderful, sweet glaze.

Serves 4.









The Sweetest Fig.


The Sweetest Fig is a book penned by one of my favorite authors and illustrators, Chris Van Allsburg [made famous by The Polar Express and Jumanji]. It tells the story of a surly French dentist who performs a procedure on an old woman, and in return receives two figs.  Aside from being the most delectable fig he's ever had, the dentist discovers these figs also possess an Alice in Wonderland quality he never would have imagined. 

When I first read this book as six year old, I too thought figs would have this magical ability. Much to my dismay, when I finally tried said fig, it tasted funky [nothing like a grape, which was one of my four food groups at the time, and I expected anything purple was automatically part of the grape family] and my dreams did not in fact come true, despite what the book led me to believe...
  


My picky eating habits as a child kept me from figs until a few years ago, when I had some dried figs in a Moroccan dish.  I was at Whole Foods this week, and was excited to see that figs were in stock.  Black Mission figs are only found in the summer, usually in early on and then again at the end, just before fall is in full swing.  Right now they're just reaching their peak, and are perfectly jammy and sweet. I love trying both sweet and savory preparations, but they're at their best just as they are.  I like my figs on the extra ripe side, so I'm holding off on eating them for another day. 

In the meantime, I get to enjoy their rich, indigo color, much like blueberries [I happened to also buy blueberries that day, so you can see the similarity].  If you're lucky to hang out with me tomorrow, that's when I'll slice into these beauties.  And that's really something to behold.  Yum.

1. Photo: The Sweetest Fig

The Anatomy of the Perfect Sandwich.


I'll keep this short and simple.  Sandwiches are delicious. There's no other way around it.  They're simple, they're quick, and there's an infinite number of ways to make them. Anyone who denies loving a good sandwich is a person I find highly suspect. 

As Liz Lemon so eloquently put it,
"All of human kind has one thing on common. The sandwich. I believe that all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich." 

I couldn't agree with you more, Lemon. If you don't watch 30 Rock [if so, what's WRONG with you? :)], then check this out.

That being said, here's my go-to sandwich.  Certain variables change, but the basic layers stay the same.

Step 1: choose your bread
For a simple, cold cuts sandwich, I prefer a nice, hearty wheat bread.  For this one, I used Arnold's Healthfull Flax & Fiber bread. When I'm being less health conscious, there's nothing like crisp ciabatta bread. Yum.

Step 2: choose your spread
Some people like to lather on the mayonnaise, but I can't stand the stuff. If I ever do use it, it's very sparingly.  I do love honey mustard [it's perfect with turkey or ham], but for this sandwich, I used cream horseradish, because it's fantastic with roast beef. 

Step 3: choose your lettuce
Baby arugula or baby spinach are my go-to veggies [I used spinach in this one] but I also like using alfalfa sprouts [or any other veggie in sprout form] or fresh basil for an Italian twist.

Step 4: choose your protein
The simplest sandwich uses cold cuts, and I love turkey, ham and roast beef.  The roast beef was particularly tasty this week, and has a stronger flavor than the other two [in my opinion]. I do love having extra grilled chicken breasts on hand in the fridge, since those are perfect in a sandwich.  If I'm going vegetarian, my protein of choice is mashed chickpeas, or hummus. I also love using avocado in place of meat.  It's not high in protein, but the good fat content satiates any need for meat.  I don't buy avocados enough since they've been on the pricier side recently, but they are a favorite of mine.

Step 5: choose your extras
I like to add on a couple extra fixings to a sandwich.  Apple slices add a great crunch to a sandwich, and pair really well with cheddar cheese; the same goes with pears.  But when heirloom tomatoes are in season, that's the first thing I'll use.  They're unlike any other tomatoes, and they're usually the perfect size for a sandwich.  For this sandwich I had an heirloom on hand, and also topped it with some thinly sliced white Vermont cheddar.  

And there you have it: simple, unfettered with, and always delicious.  Make it healthy, make it gluttonous- the choice is yours.  Therein lies the beauty of the sandwich.





Zucchini Pasta with Seared Scallops in a Chive Cream Sauce.


If you haven't noticed, I love Italian food.  I feel like there's this recurring trend of pasta and pizza in my posts.  It's a love affair I can't seem to quit. The family I cook for [have I mentioned I cook for a family?] wants to omit carbs as much as possible from their diet, which is commendable, but also torture for me.  90% of what I love to cook involves pasta, and it's something I've had to actively phase out of my repertoire.  It takes some creative work to come up with alternatives for such a major food group, but sometimes, the results can be delicious.


I recently tried a recipe for "zucchini spaghetti" and of course it was absolutely nothing like a traditional pasta. That being said, I was really impressed with how it tasted.  I've made spaghetti squash plenty of times, but zucchini is something I'd be more likely to have on hand.


My mom found this recipe on Martha Stewart's site, and I tweaked it to make it a bit more healthy. Don't get me wrong, I love me some heavy cream and there is absolutely a time and a place for it, I just try to keep it to a minimum. I also opted not to slice the zucchini as narrow as I paired this with seared scallops [something I've grown to love in recent years].


Zucchini Pasta with Seared Scallops in a Chive Cream Sauce


For the Zucchini:
1lb. zucchini, both ends cut off
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Mandoline [but this can also be done with a vegetable peeler, or a knife if you've got expert skills]
Colander


Slice zucchini in half, lengthwise.  Then, slice lengthwise in long, thin strips [if done this way, the thickness is similar to that of pappardelle pasta]. Combine zucchini with salt and allow it to sit in a colander for 15 minutes.


Lay on paper towels to remove any excess water [the salt naturally draws out water from foods FYI].


For the Chive Cream Sauce:
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2/3 cup half and half [you can also use whole milk, but it's much thinner and affects the texture of the sauce]
1/3 cup freshly minced chives 
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt [plus more to taste]


Whisk together all ingredients and allow it to sit [can sit covered in the fridge for an hour if need be]


For the Scallops:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6-8 diver scallops, rinsed and dried
Salt and Pepper, to taste


Heat butter and oil on medium high heat [making sure not to burn butter].  Season scallops and cook for two minutes per side.  The scallops will turn golden brown, while staying a creamy white at the center. 


To assemble:


Combine 1/4 cup of sauce with zucchini.  Place 2-3 diver scallops [per person] on top of a half cup of zucchini.  Drizzle top with additional sauce, and a squeeze of lemon. Garnish with chives.


Serves 3-4


This is a perfect, simple, light summer meal. Enjoy!







Summer Spinach Salad with Sugared Pecans.



On a hot day, something cool and refreshing is the only thing I can tolerate to eat. Ice cream and popsicles aside, I actually really enjoy a good salad on a day like this.  Usually my salads consist of a hodge podge of ingredients found in my fridge.  I'm of the 'more is more' mindset when it comes to ingredients in my salad.  That being said, here's what I'm eating today:


Jo's Hot Summer Spinach Salad with Sugared Pecans


Serves 2 [or one very hungry girl, like myself]


For the dressing:
1 Tablespoon unfiltered apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1 squeeze of clementine juice [this probably comes to about a teaspoon I'd guess]
salt & pepper [to taste]
a pinch of sugar [depending on the fruit in my salad, I sometimes omit this, but it does add a nice balance to the acidity of the vinegar]


Whisk all ingredients together in a large bowl.


For the salad:
2 cups baby spinach
1 tablespoon of alfalfa sprouts [I really like pea shoots too, whatever you've got around works]
1-2 clementines, segmented [or tangerines, or naval oranges]
1/4 cup raspberries, lightly rinsed


Add baby spinach to the large bowl with dressing and toss to coat. Add in sprouts, clementines and raspberries, gently tossing.  


For the Sugared pecans:
1 cup pecans [this is a bit much in one salad, so I like to save some for snacking later]
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar


Warm a pan on medium heat and add nuts.  Allow them to toast for a few minutes, just until they become fragrant.  Add butter and melt.  Toss to coat. Remove from heat and add sugar and toss to combine.


Add 1/4 cup of pecans to salad, lightly tossing.


I also like to add sliced grilled chicken breast to this salad.  In the summer, I like to grill a lot of chicken at once, allow them to cool, slice and store them in the fridge.  Then, I can always add them to any meal. 








My first inspiration to cook.



I’m trying to harken back to my early days as a chef.   It all began with the classic Easy Bake Oven & Snack Center by Hasbro [the current Easy Bake is NOTHING like what I had as a kid- and the insanely upbeat, irritating commercial makes me wonder if I'm watching a Disney Channel show or a television ad. Jury's still out on that].  
I was a bit jaded at six, thinking this was too juvenile a device for me to bother with for very long.  What was my mom thinking? Did she really assume I could be entertained by such a puerile gadget for more than a week? She likely has a reason to bemuse such a thought, since anytime I’d have a friend over, that little girl adored every minute spent with my 1991 deluxe edition.
I mean, it was and still is a glorified box with a lightbulb attached.  Essentially, if I was able to finagle a lamp to sit in a cardboard box, without setting it on fire, I could bake any delicious confection [made of course without eggs or anything that may cause me to succumb to food poisoning].
I will say though, the Easy Bake did train us from an early age to appreciate portion control.  Just about all recipes I could gather for the Easy Bake yielded one cookie or one cupcake.  I suppose when the average age of your clientele is 5, you can’t expect them to be supplying enough stock for a small business.
I'm sure some people have issues with this toy and the perception it gives young girls of what they're expected to do with their lives [which in my case, it trained me to love cooking and baking for the long haul with hopes of making a living out of it one day- fingers still crossed]. But despite its overtly Suzie Homemaker predications, the Easy Bake inspired me to get out of the playroom and into an actual kitchen at a very early age, since I was so underwhelmed by the quality of food I was receiving from this toy.  
Before long, I was crafting my own cookie recipes and to this day, I'm still throwing recipes together on the fly.  Once you get the cooking bug, it really never goes away.

1. Photo taken from: Super Chef Blog

I could eat pizza everyday.



I could. I could eat it several times a week, easily. I mean, everyone loves pizza [more or less]. Being from New York, I take my pizza VERY seriously. And I've had some pretty impressive pizza here in Atlanta [but nothing beats my ALL TIME FAVORITE PIZZA PLACE].  But there's something about making pizza from scratch that tastes so much better. 

The toughest part is really making your own dough, since it involves a lot of waiting and hoping you didn't completely botch up the recipe! Though I usually make my own dough, the next best thing is going to your favorite pizza place and asking them if they sell their dough.  I usually walk down the street to Fellinis and pick up dough there [for a large pizza, it's only $2!] which cuts down pizza making time significantly.  

Then, it's just a matter of rolling out the dough and picking out your toppings.  I like keeping things simple with just good sauce and fresh mozzarella and basil, but this particular night, we went all out. 



For one pizza, we used: blue cheese, bosc pears, walnuts, red onions, and these amazing caramelized onions as a sauce.  We also did a red sauce with sauteed cremini mushrooms, fresh ricotta and basil.  There were a couple other derivatives using these ingredients, and all tasted fantastic.  For a change of pace, we attempted to grill these on my charcoal grill.  I imagine they'll turn out better next time, since this go-around, the heat was too strong, leaving them crusty on the bottom and uncooked on top.  However, a quick trip to the broiler remedied this quickly.

Next time, try making pizza at home.  Even with some hiccups, it tastes delicious every time [it just may not look pretty, but who cares about that sort of thing anyway?].




Cravings.

Sometimes you just crave it.  You need that quick fix. It hits you out of nowhere; this guttural sensation.  Nothing else can satiate your appetite...


but CHOCOLATE.


[Allright, now you can all get your heads out of the gutter]






I don't consider myself to have a sweet tooth.  In fact, my tastes almost always lean towards the salty. But every so often, I'll find myself in desperate need for dessert. 


My cravings start up well after dinner, so rather than making a late night run to the grocery for baked goods or a pint of ice cream, I tend to whip something up myself.  I have this weird notion that if I make something from scratch, the calories don't count [or at least they're slightly more justifiable]. 


Here's a photo of one of my fastest desserts ever made: my Dark chocolate peanut butter truffles.  Basically it's one part chocolate [I like to use dark or semi-sweet] and two parts creamy peanut butter, melted over a double boiler together [you can also do this in the microwave, but you really need to watch it since it only takes a couple seconds in the wrong direction to burn and cause catastrophe to your sweet treat].


Then, I refrigerate this combination in a bowl [you can attempt to speed this up in the freezer, but make sure it's not in a glass bowl- it can crack]. 


Then, just use a melon baller or measuring teaspoon, and scoop out small bites.  Round them in the palm of your hands and roll them in crushed pecans or cocoa powder for an instant dessert.  It's actually a decent post workout snack [just one truffle!] since it's got great protein from the peanut butter and pecans.



A Little Farmers Market in Morningside.


I will make up any excuse to visit a farmers market.  I could be on vacation, where I'm staying in a hotel and have absolutely no way to cook anything, but I'll still manage to find the nearest market and oogle at the local, fresh ingredients, even if I can't buy a thing. 

Almost every Saturday, I make my way to this particular market, the Morningside Farmers Market.  It's so close to my house, so there's no excuse not to support local farms.

There are only a handful of vendors, which some might see as a detriment.  I actually love that this market is so compact.  Rather than having to shop around and compare vendors, I know that each stall I go to will have something I need [or in many cases, want but not necessarily have a use for- I almost always overbuy at these sorts of things].

The first stall I head to is always located on the far end of the market [the one on the right corner if you're facing the street].  I actually couldn't find the name of their farm anywhere and neglected to ask [but I will update with this information once I head back there next week]. 

The man who works at this particular stall is also the farmer, so he's incredibly knowledgeable about all his produce.  Not only does he know everything inside out, he can also tell you really innovative ways in which to cook said vegetable, tell you what fish it pairs well with, or give you simple techniques to prep it.  He completely sold me on some white turnips because he sautés them in butter and maple syrup and then pairs that with a nice, buttery white fish like chilean sea bass.  I've never had that flavor combination before, but he had my mouth watering by the end of his sentence. His confidence and passion for the produce is so evident, it's no wonder his stall is always the busiest.  I purchase 75% of what I need just from him because of this, but I still do like to support the other farmers. 





The loot I amassed last week included: pea shoots, dandelion greens, butter leaf lettuce, white turnips, jewel beets, and quite possibly the largest zucchini I've ever had the pleasure of purchasing [the photo does this guy no justice- it was a MONSTER]. I also grabbed a sizable rib eye steak, which I promptly grilled over Memorial Day weekend [though I left the grill semi-unattended by a friend and slightly charred it- still tasty because the meat is that good]. I always purchase my meat from Riverview Farms, because they consistently have the best tasting steaks I can find in Atlanta.  Since trying grass fed meats, I've always preferred them over the alternative.  

We also tried Riverview Farms' stoneground grits.  There's nothing like a hearty grained grit served up with Georgia wild-caught shrimp.  It's beyond all comprehension of deliciousness [a perfectly acceptable use of this word!]. 

I didn't get to do as much cooking with all of the ingredients as I'd have liked, so my Mom is getting most of the fruits [or vegetables] of my labor.  But it just gives me another great excuse to head back to the market next week.