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Archive for September, 2007

Pop the Bubbly

New Year’s Eve, 2005.  I was 24-years-old, with an extreme desire to create a memorable night.

Now, I have learned many things in the past (almost) three years, and I am glad one of those things is you cannot force fun.  Even with lots of alcohol.  New Year’s Eve is called amateur night for a reason, and that night, I was the ring master of the amateurs.

I attended a party with my ex and I was on a mission.  This mission included tequila, Miller Lite and a huge solo cup filled with champagne.  Very, very cheap champagne. I was warned by many people that a night full of pain awaited me at the bottom of that cup, but their warnings fell on deaf ears. The night ended with me pretty tipsy, but having had a fun time.  I thought I had shown all my friends I was the drinking champion of New Years Eve 2005, having successfully conquered the red vessel of liquid with no harm or foul. 

If I had known what awaited me in the morning, I never would have even looked at that champagne bottle. Man alive, it was a bad scene.  I had a throbbing headache for almost two days, and the slightest noise made me want to end it all.  It felt like my brain was in a vice studded with nails.  I never, in my 26 years, have had such a horrendous hangover. Besides the occasional rendezvous with a mimosa, my friendship with champagne was severed after that night.

I had some flashbacks when I found this recipe for bubbly pear cupcakes, but I decided to forge ahead and face my fears. I am very pleased I pushed the ugly memories of that night deep down inside me.  These cupcakes are why I bake. I brought them to a party celebrating Bawstin’s new job and the masses seemed just as impressed. They were moist, flavorful and nothing like anything you could buy at the store. The champagne (specifically the bubbles) is to thank for the moistness.  Besides my raspberry pudding cake, this may be the best thing I have ever baked.  The flavors together are perfect and they are like nothing I have ever tasted.

Finally, some champagne without a world of pain.

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Bubbly Pear Cupcakes

Adapted from YumSugar

Cupcakes:

2 ¾ cups flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

pinch salt

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

3 firmish, but ripe, pears

1 cup champagne

Frosting:

½ stick butter, softened

8 oz cream cheese, softened

3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

3 Tbs champagne

Preheat oven to 350°. In small bowl sift together flour, baking powder and salt-set aside.  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until mixed and airy.  Beat in eggs, one at a time. Slowly add the flour mixture to the egg/butter/sugar mixture.  Stir in vanilla and champagne.  Peel and grate pears and add to the batter. Line cupcake tin with papers and scoop an even amount in to each cup-I got 28 cupcakes.   Bake for 15 minutes, but start checking around 12 minutes.  While cupcakes bake, making frosting by beating all ingredients together.  Let cupcakes cook and then frost.  Enjoy.

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A Quickie

Basically, I feel inclined to include this recipe on the site for two reasons:

1. It is one of Annie Birdie’s favorites-one she asks for again and again.

2. It looks very impressive.

So, yes, this is all about me, a recipe steeped in ego. But this is a blog, so of course it is about me. This is the wham, bam, thank you ma’am of vegetable dishes, but everyone needs a good quickie from time to time.

I saw Tyler Florence make this on the Food Network one day and I was hooked.  I kind of love Tyler, with his rolled up sleeves and Applebee’s shilling ways. He always looks like he is about to break into a sweat and has some adorable little dimples. I also think he may be kind of a jerk, and I kind of roll that way when it comes to the fellas. I believe I would enjoy having him in my kitchen.

This steamed asparagus is great to serve at a dinner party; upon cutting the bag open you will get many “oohs” and “aahs”.  It tastes super fresh and can be thrown together in seconds.  I find the best size bag to for this to be the medium sized one from the liquor store. 

This is fast, simple, tasty.  These mean business time.

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 Steamed Asparagus in a Paper Bag

Adapted from Tyler’s Ultimate

1 pound medium asparagus, tough ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
1/2 lemon, sliced paper thin 
2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange an oven rack in the middle of the oven. Get yourself a paper bag large enough to hold the asparagus comfortable. Throw the asparagus in there and drizzle the outside of the bag with olive oil to keep the bag from burning. Sprinkle the asparagus with the salt and cracked pepper and toss in the lemon slices and bay leaf. Close the bag, folding it over several times and creasing the folds well to hold the steam in. Put the pan on a baking sheet, drizzle it with more olive oil, stick it in the oven, and bake for 20 minutes.

Take the baking sheet out of the oven and set it on top of the stove. Set a serving plate next to the stove. Using a kitchen towel or a pair of kitchen tongs, raise the bag over the plate, open the bag, and slide the asparagus out onto the plate. Drizzle with a little more olive oil and serve hot.

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I am a New England girl at heart.

The changing of the leaves thrills me and I am most comfortable in tall boots and a sweater.  The season’s first snow is a joyous day.  Dunkin’ Donuts are the only real donuts in my book; I have an insatiable lust for their French Vanilla iced coffee.  I am pragmatic and a tad detached.  I prove polite, but not chatty, with strangers.

As a New Englander through and through, I can not be more pleased that fall is upon us. It is my most favorite season, cool and crisp without the frigidity of winter.  Also, winter makes me break out in hives.  This only started when I moved to DC…  It’s miserable, but the good folks at Benadryl are pleased with my daily habit in the winter months. 

It’s no surprise fall foods are my siren call. While I enjoy the fresh herbs and flavorful fruits and vegetables of the summer, I always secretly wait for the weather to cool so I can eat my kind of food; soups, roasts, stews, and warm oatmeal feel like home.

As I poured over cookbooks and the interwebs for a “Healthy Lunch Tuesday” recipe, it was hard to resist the pages full of squash and sweet potatoes.  Yet, it is hard to think about all these comfort foods without also admitting to myself that it is 85 freaking degrees out.  It is still not weather that makes me want to roast a chicken.

So, as a last hoorah to summer, I threw together this Chicken Fiesta Salad. (Look at me, so official, making original names for my recipes.)  Bean and cornswith a healthy dose of fresh lime juice scream summer to me.  I lost my damn mind and decided to undertake soaking my own beans; I will not be doing this again.  They are turned out fine, but honestly, it is just a huge pain in the ass and in the future, I am going back to canned beans.  This would be great with some cilantro, and if I were making it for a party, I would have used some.  Over the course of a week, I feared the cilantro turning black in the salad. (Same with tomatoes; they would have been awesome in here, but probably mush by Friday.)  This would also be great without the chicken for my vegetarian friends. With the beans and chicken, it is a low fat but protein filled lunch. 

With this recipe, summer food leaves for a few months, along with my tan lines, roof top decks and sandals.

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Chicken Fiesta Salad

Chicken Marinade

1 lime, juiced

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

1 clove garlic, chopped

Salt and Pepper

2 large chicken breasts

Dressing

2 limes, juiced

1 ½ Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 ½ teaspoons ground coriander

1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin

A few shakes hot sauce (optional)

Salt and Pepper

Salad

2–15.5 oz. cans black beans, rinsed

1–15 oz. can Golden Corn

½ red onion, chopped

Marinate chicken for 30 minutes.  Grill on Foreman Grill, grill pan or bake in oven until cooked through (internal temperature of 180°).  Set whole chicken breasts asides to let juices settle.  Prepare dressing, juicing limes first and then whisking in oil and remaining ingredients.  Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl and pour dressing over bean mixture.  Using two forks, shred chicken and add to salad.  Chill. Makes 5 servings.   

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“You’re a pushover”, squealed SuperBoy.

And when it comes to him, three truer words have never been spoken. SuperBoy is my 5-year-old cousin, a little boy full of energy, curiosity and just a touch of stubbornness.  This is how we grow them in the family.

 

He was born when I was a junior in college, a time in my life when nothing too much existed outside of grades, work, beer and boys.  I was never much of a kid person;  their neediness, constant questions and never ending production of dirty diapers overwhelmed me.  This coupled with my own fears about my ability to parent had me convinced I never wanted to have kids of my own.  Some people are born with a maternal instinct; I was instead born with a great fashion instinct.

My life changed the day he entered it.  I am sure some of it has to do with how much I love both of his parents, but something opened inside of me.  I don’t think his Mom and Dad saw, but the first time I held him my eyes welled up with tears.  I knew I had never felt a kind of love like this before. My adoration was tested when I babysat him at 4-months-old and he screamed for an hour and a half.  Not once did I consider throwing him out the window; this is love. He has enriched my life in ways I could never verbalize, shown me a kind of unconditional love I have never felt, and shown me that while I may not ever love other children, there are some special kids out there that deserve an exception to my “no kids” rule.  Because of him, I hope to have children of my own one day.

So, yes, when it comes to SuperBoy, I can be a bit of a pushover.  Bedtime comes a little later, second cookies are liberally handed out and there may be some impromptu dance parties. I have drawn the line at playing with knives or running in traffic, but please don’t think I haven’t considered it.  I am sure he would bounce right back from being hit by a truck, but that’s a tough thing to explain to my aunt and uncle.

Given my love of him and of cooking, I jumped at the opportunity to combine both this weekend. (I love him more than cooking before anyone says anything, though I did have these short ribs once that could give him a run for this money…)  For a kid that can be so picky-he doesn’t really care for cheeseburgers-I was shocked to learn he is a fan of pumpkin bread, one of my personal favorites.  Maybe deep down in there he is harboring a sophisticated palette.

After reading some reviews of other pumpkin breads, his mom, Aunt Lifesaver, and I decided to do half brown sugar/half granule sugar on this recipe, as well as add a bit of molasses.  This produced a very testy, yet bricklike cake. I would not recommend this substitution. The prep was fun, though. Superboy enjoyed sifting flour and mashing the streusel topping.  And the streusel topping?  Delicious.  I think this is a solid recipe that we probably should have resisted the urge to tinker with.  But if you are in the market for a deliciously spiced rock, look no further! This recipe is copied from the Gourmet Cookbook. Generally, they know that they are doing. I shall never question them again when it comes to baking.

We had a great time making it, and luckily at 5, he doesn’t notice silly things such as density. He ate it and loved every bite.  I did, too; small failures like this don’t make much of a difference when you are with someone so special.

 

Pumpkin Apple Bread

Source: Gourmet Cookbook

For topping:
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
5 Tbs sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

For bread:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsps baking soda
1 1/2 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1 (15-oz) can solid-pack pumpkin
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 Granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (2 cups)

MAKE THE TOPPING: Blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter in a small bowl with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.

MAKE THE BREAD: Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 9 X 5 inch loaf pans.

Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice into a medium bowl. Mix together pumpkin, .oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add flour mixture, stirring until well combined. Fold in apples  Divide in to both pans and cover with streusel topping. Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of bread comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool loaves in pans on a rack for 45 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely, about 1 hour.

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Because I’m Worth It

I am not a believer in following certain rules.  I do not think a woman should wear an article of clothing that, while in style, is unflattering.  I think a lot of sexual norms are total BS; if you want to get monkey-wild on the first date, do it.  People should not have kids because it is what is expected, nor do I think marriage is for everyone.  Though I do my best to show respect, I think people have serious fucking hang-ups about using profanity.  I also believe people should talk more about money; ignorance on the topic is the reason our generation is so in the hole and unable to dig ourselves out of debilitating credit card debt. I think it is insanity my work is so bent out of shape about my nose stud. We are a society entrenched in norms, rules and victims of the pack mentality.

I feel the same way about food.  I see nothing wrong with having dessert for dinner from time to time, nor will I turn my back on a bucket of Popeye’s. The microwave can be a useful tool; I am sorry, but I just cannot ever see myself popping corn in a kettle.  The Food Network has some awful tripe, but I refuse to bash it.  It’s growing popularity has helped families get home cooked meals on the table, which is better than take-out or Easy Mac every night.  Some food rules need to be followed–chopped garlic is always better than through a press, the Olive Garden is not haute cuisine, and not owning a good knife is egregious–but almost everything is negotiable.  The only food sin that is unforgivable is vegetarianism.

So, tonight at the neighborhood wine store, the fine gentleman had a chuckle when I asked for a wine pairing with lamb. This chuckle was because it was a weeknight.  He asked if it was for something special.  Yes, that something special would be me.  Lamb chops were on sale this week and cost the same as a flavorless chicken breast.  I do not see much of a choice there.  In our prepackaged, McDonald’s society, somehow lamb chops seem over the top to make for “nothing special”.  Forgive me, but I do not understand why anyone would choose to wind down after a long day with the McDribbles. I am special enough to enjoy an evening sans GI distress.

Now that I have painted that lovely picture, down to the recipe.  It really could not be easier.  Just dumped a few ingredients in a bag and let it sit for about 20 minutes before slapping it on the grill pan.  Rosemary and garlic are a classic combo; the apartment smelled like Greece.  (Well, what I imagine Greece to smell like.)  I like my meat rare–in fact, if I wasn’t also cooking for Annie Birdie I may have made it rarer. Folks who like things on the medium side may want to extend the cooking time. Just please, no well done meat; I implore you. I steamed up some asparagus–using a secret technique that I will post soon–and it was just the perfect little meal.  Not too heavy, not too rich, just tasty stuff. 

Tasty stuff for any day of the week…

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Rosemary Garlic Lamb Chops

3 Lamb Chops

1 Tablespoon Garlic, chopped

1 Tablespoon fresh Rosemary, chopped

1 1/2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

One Lemon

Salt and Pepper

Salt and pepper lamb on each side. In bowl combine garlic, rosemary, oil, zest from lemon and half of the juice from the lemon.  Place lamb chops in baggie and cover with marinade. (This will not be a generous amount of marinade; it ends up being more like a rub.) Let marinate for 20 minutes.  Cook on a preheated grill pan at medium-high heat, 3 minutes on each side. 

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…and lately I feel like it may be the button on my pants.

A summer of reckless eating habits and non-stop drinking has torn my shit up. The mystery rash (yes, the one I mentioned a week ago…) still lives. It is getting better, but, y’all, it ain’t good.  Ray Charles could read War and Peace off the bumps on my stomach.  The skin on my face is kinda icky and I am tired as hell.  I am just a worn down, itchy, blotchy, exhausted mess.

This disregard to my health is not helping my malaise regarding the direction of my life. Or, more than likely, it is all tied together. 

Most distressing of all are my tightening pants.  A girl cannot live on wine, beer, and bar food alone, but I have had a good run attempting that feat the past four months.  I have discussed my life long battle with the bulge here before; more than two years of really buckling down and controlling things has given me enough wisdom to know it is time to tighten this ship up and get things in order before despair sets in. Don’t worry–I will spare you the neurotic ramblings of a former fatty for now; this is a time for action, not reflection. Fret not; I am sure one day I will pontificate on this topic.

So, a new weekly feature has been born: healthy lunch Tuesday.  I can feel your excitement! One of the biggest mistakes I have been making lately is not planning for lunches; this leads to impulse decisions like pizza and mayo laden sandwiches from some greasy hole in the wall.  I am not swearing these things off, I promise you; they are my life blood.  Just, if I am going to eat these things, I would like for them to count, not to taste like the bottom of a damn shoe. Every Sunday, I vow to make a health conscious dish to pack for the week and post the results on Tuesday. I don’t know if I can eat the same thing for five days straight, so I am sure there will be a salad from home or a Lean Cuisine thrown in there at some point, but still…healthy! Better than a burrito!  Hopefully this will keep me accountable and maybe point all my faithful readers (Thanks, mom!) towards some healthier recipes, too. Not that any of you need to watch what you eat; you are all beautiful children of the universe.

Lentils are one of the nature’s superfoods. Full of iron, protein and fiber, they provide some serious bang for the nutritional buck. They are also cheap as hell, which is perfect for those of us on budgets (or those of us who like to impulsively buy red patent peep toed pumps with blatant disregard to the bank account.) This is a super flavorful casserole and reheats really well. It is packed full of veggies and very filling. Some changes I have made to the recipe include using Italian Style canned tomatoes for more flavor and waaaaay cutting down on the (reduced fat) cheese on top. Three cups of cheese is a sack and a half! There is no need for this. Annie Birdie mentioned this may be good using some cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup. I think this is genius and will probably try it the next time.

This is a dish worthy of the innaugural addition of “Healthy Lunch Tuesday”. Things are changing.

 lentil-casserole.jpg

Lentil Casserole
Adapted from Cooks.com

1 3/4 c. lentils
2 c. water or stock
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/8 tsp. oregano, dried
1/8 tsp. sage, dried
1/8 tsp. thyme, dried
2 lg. onions, finely chopped or grated
2 cloves garlic
2 c. canned Italian Style tomatoes
2 lg. carrots, sliced
3/4 c. celery, chopped
1/2 c. green pepper, chopped
1/4 c. fresh parsley, chopped
1 c. reduced fat cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine first eleven ingredients in shallow 9 x 13 inch baking dish. Cover tightly and bake 40 minutes. Uncover and stir in carrots and celery, green pepper and parsley. Bake 40 more minutes, adding some water if it becomes too dry. Remove from oven and sprinkle cheddar on top. Bake until cheese is melted and serve. Makes a lot, ~8-10 servings.

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I ate two Pop Tarts for breakfast every school day in middle school.  Sometimes I would convince mom to buy the more expensive Toaster Strudels, but I always came back to the Pop Tarts.  Even more than a decade later, the smell of one in the toaster makes my mouth water.  Screw Wheaties–a blueberry Pop Tart, slathered in butter, is the breakfast of champions.

 As the years have passed, I have developed a more sensible breakfast routine.  A hard boiled egg and a banana is fine and much better for my arteries, but it just doesn’t illicit the same feelings as a Pop Tart.  Then again, if I have to go back to middle school to enjoy these trashy breakfast pastries, I will eat the eggs and bananas every damn day, until the day I die. I have managed to block a lot out regarding middle school, but the flashbacks prove to be unpleasant.  Polyester and perms were pervasive.

The weekends are a boiled eggs and banana free zone, though.  Omlettes, bagels, banana bread, muffins, egg sandwiches-bring it on. Breakfast is my favorite meal, for any meal with so many pork products playing a prominent role-bacon, sausage, ham-is a meal I can get behind.  When Irish Lebowski invited me over for brunch this weekend, I knew we would have fun.

We made Kahlua Rolls, a Lebowski family recipe, and Jesus Christ in a mini skirt, these things are good.  It is dessert for breakfast, with booze.  The only thing that could have made this meal better was doing blow off a stripper’s ass as an appetizer.

Look, here I am, eating the last bite of the last roll:

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I could not even be bothered to shut my huge mouth while this photo was taken.  If I did not eat it immediately, I feared Kalhua Roll withdrawal. After brunch, we went shopping; I can’t speak for her, but I had the sugar shakes. (It is a little known fact we are only friends because she can drive me places and I provide her with tales from dating hell, making her feel very happy she is married and does not have to tolerate this bullshit. Oh, and I swear a lot.  She likes that, too.)

Irish Lebowski did most of the heavy lifting for the preparation.  I was too busy yapping to her and her lovely husband, Waspy Wasperson.  I did make the Kahlua syrup, though.  Thanks for humoring me, Irish!  The pre-made bread dough is genius, because honestly, when Kahlua is involved in a recipe, I don’t think anyone has the patience to make bread.  It saves a lot of time.  They emerge from the oven hot, sweet and gooey.  The liqueur taste bakes off, but the Kahlua makes a deep mahogany caramel that compelled Irish and me to stick our fingers into the bottom of the empty pan.  The three of us made short work of this batch. 

I think I have found the 26-year-old Lemmonex version of the Pop Tart.

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Kahlua Rolls

A Lebowski Family Creation

1 loaf frozen bread dough

½ cup unsalted butter, divided

1/3 cup sugar

¾ tsp cinnamon

¼ cup and 1 Tablespoon Kahlua

1/3 cup packed light brown sugar (dark would be fine though)

1 Tablespoon light corn syrup

Follow instructions on loaf of frozen bread dough to let it rise.  Soften butter.

Prepare syrup: put ¼ cup butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and ¼ cup Kahlua in saucepan.  Bring to simmer over low heat.  Set aside 1/3 cup; dump the rest into a 9″ round cake pan.

Make spiced sugar filling: beat remaining butter, sugar, cinnamon and 1 T Kahlua until smooth.  Roll bread into rectangle on a floured board. (Irish was genius to let the bread rise in a loaf pan, spritzed with Pam. It kept a rectangle shape that just needed to be rolled out a bit.)  Spread with spiced sugar filling. Roll it up like a jelly roll, starting from the long side.  Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces.

Arrange slices in cake pan prepared with syrup.  Press down rolls to flatten them. Preheat over to 375°. Cover with towel and let the rolls rise for about 25 minutes, until they double in size.

Once rolls have risen bake them for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from oven, let stand for 5 minutes and then turn pan upside down onto a serving plate.  Spoon reserved syrup on to rolls and serve.

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