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





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.  

Holiday Drinks: Pom-Germain Champagne Cocktail.


Any special occasion [especially one with a big meal attached to it] isn't complete until you have the perfect cocktail to complement it. This Thanksgiving, I went with a simple, straightforward cocktail, with a bit of a twist. I combined pomegranate juice and prosecco [but any sparkling wine works well] and added a splash of St. Germain liqueur to the mix.

St. Germain is a French liqueur made from elderflower berries found in the alps.  It's described as having notes of pear, lemon, orange, and passionfruit.  I definitely taste the pear, but I actually find it tastes more like a late harvest dessert  wine I'd brought back from Napa a few years ago.  

Long story short...it's delicious! The combination was nice and bright, and not terribly sweet, so it cut through the heaping mounds of mashed potatoes and turkey on my plate. Here's the recipe- I highly recommend it!

Pom-Germain Champagne [or prosecco!] Cocktail

1/2-1oz. St. Germain Liqueur
2oz. 100% Pomegranate Juice
6oz. Champagne [I used prosecco, but any good sparkling wine will do]
Sliced Orange

Add the St. Germain and pomegranate juice to the glass and swirl. Top with champagne and garnish with a slice of orange.




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.


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.

the sunset. the catalyst. etc. etc.


West Palm Beach, FL

I was in south Florida this past weekend helping a friend move [and spending some brief, but much needed time with my long, lost love- the Atlantic Ocean] and caught this unbelievably saturated sunset on my last day before heading back to Atlanta.  I snapped this photo [and quite a few more] with my phone, regretting I didn't lug my SLR around with me. I never seem to have it when something beautiful crosses my path [and if this guy ever crosses my path, I'll certainly need more than my Canon to capture the moment...wink wink].  Nevertheless, my iPhone does come in handy, and I must say, it takes a decent photo.  

[Now, get ready for the cheese...]

What motivated me to get the cogs in my blog turning again was how moved I was by such a gripping wash of colors in the sky.  I'm so inspired by color and nature, and a thousand thoughts stream through my mind when I see [or hear, or taste] it. It can be hard to sift through it all. I was hoping to hold off on starting a blog until I decided on the most perfect name [a task I may never accomplish] and a focused concept.  But in reality, I can't focus on just one topic. [this speaks volumes of my personality..] Don't get me wrong, I'm insanely passionate about cooking and photographing every meal I eat or create [much to the chagrin of my friends and family]. But my mind is constantly wandering between different facets that intrigue me.  Music. Photography. Food. Design. Nature. etc. etc. etc. 

Maybe you'll just find 1/100 of what I post interesting, but I'm curating this more for me and all my etc.