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Archive for October, 2007

“I did something really disgusting and please don’t judge me”, said DJ Jazzy K over drinks a few weeks ago.

I prepared myself for some abomination, a crime against God.  His face indicated this was going to be a truly hideous admission.

“Well, someone dared me to make an egg sandwich using Texas French toast as the bread…and I did it.  And it was really good”.

To which I said, “Uh, that sounds kind of awesome”.

As I have said here before, I have found myself enjoying some seriously disgusting assaults against food humanity.  Now, I know eating more than one of those sandwiches in his lifetime will probably kill my friend, but he lived to see another day.  I wish I had been there to take a bite. 

The pecan pumpkin cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory is number one on my list of foods that are so wrong, they are right.  It is a pie crust with pecan pie on the bottom layer and then pumpkin cheesecake sitting on top.  It is the dirty love child of Thanksgiving deserts.  Say what you will about Cheesecake Factory, but this piece of pie stops my world on its axis.

It is a tough call, but the pecan pie component is the best element of this pie. It is sweet, chewy and rib sticking.  My aunt made a fantastic pecan pie when I was a kid and I have always held a special place in my heart for them.  When I was invited to a late season BBQ the other day, I knew I had to make something with pecans.

Have you ever tasted heaven?  I have and the recipe is below.  These pecan pie bars once again remind me why I bake; I just will never be as excited about a piece of chicken as I am about these.  The base is comprised of a brown sugar shortbread, buttery and a touch salty.  The pecan pie-like filling is made with honey (instead of the usual corn syrup), a nice change of pace.  It was hard letting these cool enough to cut (it takes more than an hour) but it was well worth the wait. These are sin on a plate. 

If eating these is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

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Pecan Pie Bars

From Epicurious

Base

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In a food processor process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps. (This can also be done with a hand mixer.  It may becoming more doughy, but it is fine to press it into the pan.) Sprinkle mixture into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan and with a metal spatula press evenly onto bottom. Bake shortbread in middle of oven until golden, about 20 minutes. While shortbread is baking, prepare topping.

Topping

8 ounces pecans (about 2 cups)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a food processor or with a knife, coarsely chop pecans. In a heavy saucepan melt butter and stir in brown sugar, honey, and cream. Simmer mixture, stirring occasionally, 1 minute and stir in pecans. Pour pecan mixture over hot shortbread and spread evenly. Bake in middle of oven until bubbling, about 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan and cut into 24 bars. Bar cookies keep, covered, 5 days at room temperature.

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I met Irish Lebowski when we moved in together immediately following college.  We lived in a house with two other women. One, Jawsy, was nice, personable, but often busy with all her classwork for Med School. She was the ideal roomie and we keep in touch to this day.

But the other woman? Oh, I am sure living with her was punishment for all the horrible things I have put my mother through.  Quickly dubbed Sister Christian (stolen from Aunt Lifesaver) this woman became the bane of my existence.  She was the living manifestation of every typical roommate nightmare: lazy, always around and seemingly unable to replace toilet paper.  This was all topped off by religious sanctimony and an insistence that we hang a picture of Dali’s “Last Supper” in the living room.  I told her that was fine as long as she saved space for my “My Body. My Choice” sign I got at a NARAL rally.  This seemed to give her pause and I think Irish herself finally nipped this all in the bud by just moving the picture back into Sister Christian’s room.  Irish 1: Jesus 0.

The first couple weeks in the house, I did the best I could to keep my opinions on Sister Christian to myself.  Then, it finally happened; the day I had been waiting for.  Irish approached me one day in the kitchen and asked, “So, what do you think of Sister Christian?”

I paused, hemmed and hawed and finally went for it, “I think she sucks”.

And when Irish responded with “me too!” a beautiful friendship was born.

Joined together by a common enemy,  we became like two peas in a pod when we were home.  We initiated “OC” night, where we ate bread and brie as we screamed along to the “OC” theme song.  Every time I hear Phantom Planets “California” I remember Irish and I belting “heeeere weeee cooooommme” on the top of our lungs.  She has become a great friend and if I had to live with Sister Christian to find Irish, this is a price I gladly paid.  I was honored when she asked me to be in her wedding and as an added bonus, I like her husband a lot too. She may love TV even more than I do, and I fully appreciate her snarky streak.  I can always count on her for advice and comfort. She was over at my house within minutes, tissue box in hand, when I called her with a broken heart last year.  She is a good egg.

One thing that has bonded us has been food.  Before her wedding, we decided to lose weight together and we both did a great job.  She looked hot in her dress and I looked hot enough to make out with an usher.  But, damn, did we have fun gaining the weight. I was already heavy to begin with, but we certainly enabled each other.  There was the aforementioned brie and cheese,  cookie dough in tubes, and piles of pasta. But the thing we liked the most?  Armand’s Pizza, delicious deep dish pizza, with cheese an inch thick, that I lovingly refer to as “the gut bomb”. We would tear through those pizzas with wreckless abandon.   I think the bottle of vodka we were powering through on a bi-weekly basis helped it all go down a bit easier, too. Her now-husband was living in another city and I had an awful job…those blue bottles of SKYY were a shining light of hope in a dark, dark world.

This pizza crust recipe comes from Irish.  It tastes great and the quick rise yeast makes it easy to prepare.  The original recipe calls for all white flour. To make it a tad more filling, make it a smidge healthier and give it a nuttier taste, I did half white flour, half whole wheat flour.  I topped it with caramelized onions and gorgonzola cheese, much to Irish’s dismay.  Irish hates onions. (By the way, have you ever tried to cook for someone who doesn’t like onions? This limitation tests my abilities.) The onions and cheese are a perfect combination. This crust is a good one to have in the arsenal, for the topping combinations are endless and it can even be used to make a calzone.

I raise my slice to Irish.

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Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Pizza

Pizza Crust

1 packet active dry rapid-rise yeast

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 c whole wheat flour

1 1/4 c lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees F)

1 1/2 t honey

1 t salt

1 T olive oil

Toppings

Olive oil

4 large onions

Gorgonzola cheese (as much as you like)

Salt and Pepper

Slice onions thinly.  Heat large pot and add oil (about 2 T).  Throw onions in, stirring occasionally.  This will look like a lot of onions, but as they caramelize and wilt, the mass decreases.  Do not add salt, as the onions will sweat instead of getting golden brown. This step takes about 35 minutes.

Preheat oven to 500°.

While onions cook, dissolve honey in the warm waster. Mix together all purpose flour with yeast, salt, water with honey dissolved in it, and olive oil. Beat with electric hand mixer for 3 minutes.  Mix in remaining flour (dough should only be slightly stick). Knead 5 minutes on a  floured surface until smooth.

Place dough in lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Let rise
for 10 minutes in a warm place.   Punch down dough thoroughly and spread/stretch dough by hand and roller on a greased cookie sheet. (I didn’t roll it…just stretched) 

Top pizza with olive oil, salt, pepper, then pile on onions and sprinkle gorgonzola on top. Bake in preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until crust is golden brown.  Cool 2-3 minutes.

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For all the hating I do on vegetarians, I fell compelled to admit that I did, in fact, go through a stage where I did not eat red meat.  I could never bring myself to abandon chicken, but I made a valiant effort, as only a 13-year-old carry out, to forgo animal product.

I don’t know why I decided to give up red meat, but I believe it had something to do with my friend, Cupcake.  I found her to be exceptionally witty and charismatic and I wanted to emulate her.  Like I said, I was 13; it is a time in any young woman’s life where she wants to be anybody but herself. Apparently, to be like Cupcake meant giving up my beloved steak.

This was a major point of contention and source of annoyance to my family, but they humored me.  My red meat aversion lasted all the way through high school, until I left for college.  Faced with the poor choices in the food court upon arriving at GW, I abandoned all my principals for a Whopper at the Burger King in the Marvin Center. I believe this decision still pains my father–who had to work around my dietary restrictions-to this day, but that greasy monstrosity was worth it, even though it made me violently ill. (Now might be a good time for me to once again mention the following: I have many close veggie friends, I respect their opinions, I see their points in many ways, but we agree to disagree.)

My love affair with beef, especially steak, still carries on.  Though I eat chicken breasts several times a week as a matter of convenience and health, my heart will always be with steak.  I will never understand people who claim it is too heavy or say it wreaks havoc on their systems. It is meat, people: you should feel it in the pit of your stomach and it feels good. 

This weeks “Healthy Lunch Tuesday” is based on steak, and it could not make me happier that something good for me contains beef.  It is super simple-almost too simple-but a good recipe to have up your sleeve. I marinated a top round steak (though I admit flank steak is a better option, they were out of flanks) for 5 hours, grilled it, threw it on top of some spinach, tomatoes, and onions and called it a day.  I have been using a very light dressing and eating this meal without an ounce of guilt. I did lose track of time and wish the meat were a tad rarer, but as long as it is not well done, I can deal with it. If this were a dinner salad, I would through some gorgonzola and toasted pine nuts on top, but I am trying to avoid those heavy additions with my lunches.  I have used this marinade at BBQs multiple times and always get asked for the recipe.  The recipe is something that has evolved over the years and has now become my own. I find it incredibly convenience to throw together as most of these things can always be found in my kitchen.  It has never failed me.

Not that steak could ever fail me…

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Never Fail Steak Marinade

A Lemonnex Original

Ground pepper

2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon dried thyme

2 tablespoons chopped shallot

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar, light or dark

2 tablespoons Worchester sauce

¼ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

Grind pepper liberally on steak.  Mix remaining ingredients together, whisking in oil last.  Marinate for at least three hours (up to 24). Bring steak to room temperature and grill. Let sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serve over salad. 

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Training Wheels

About three or four years ago, “y’all” some how made its way into my vocabulary. I have no idea where or whom I picked it up from or how I subconsciously decided to add this to regular conversation, but it seems like it is here for the long haul. I have even uttered “all of y’all” a few times. This affliction seems to especially irk Bawstin, who points it out every time I use it.

While I cannot ever see myself becoming a good Southern girl, they do have it right on a few things, especially food.  Fried chicken, pecan pie and sweet tea are things I can certainly get behind.  I especially enjoy biscuits and gravy and the Southern affinity to slather things in butter.  While all these are great, my all time favorite Southern delicacy has to be shrimp and grits.

My lust for shrimp and grits was awakened about three years ago at Vidalia.  That meal was pure perfection; the shrimp was wonderfully seasoned and cooked for just the right amount of time. While I love shrimp, it can be fickle and become rubbery if it spends an extra 30 seconds in the pan. No such sin occurred to these shrimp.  The grits were velvety and smooth, with just the perfect amount of cheese. Since my introduction to this classic, I order it every time I see it on a menu.

I have been dying to make shrimp and grits at home, but have been hesitant. I am not a Southerner, have never made grits and I fear disappointing myself greatly. It is on my list of things to make (oh yes, there is a written list) but I haven’t quite summoned the nerve. So, instead, I made another shrimp and carb wonder, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

I prepared this last Sunday evening when my friend Sunshine came over. He is a pescatarian, so it proves a tad more challenging when he comes over.  This dish, Shrimp with Feta and Orzo, isn’t anything too fancy, but it was perfect for a casual dinner with a friend.  The leftovers were fantastic, too.  The original recipe calls for garlic herb feta; I decided to mince some garlic and use fresh herbs instead.  The feta melts a bit as it cooks, and along with the juices from the tomatoes, creates a light, pinky sauce.  In one pan, you get your vegetables, a protein and a starch. The only thing I love more than a delicious dinner is one that doesn’t dirty five pans. 

Hopefully, the shrimp and grits I vow to make turn out half as good.

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Shrimp with Feta and Orzo

Adapted from Good Housekeeping

1 1/2 cups orzo (rice-shaped pasta)

1/2 tablespoon butter or margarine

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 1/4 lbs peeled and deveined shrimp

2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

½ tablespoon fresh thyme

½ tablespoon marjoram, chopped

4 oz feta cheese

Prepare orzo in boiling salted water as label directs. Meanwhile, in nonstick 10-inch skillet, melt margarine or butter over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic and sauté for one minute. Add shrimp, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, and cook 3 to 5 minutes or until shrimp turn opaque throughout, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and cook 30 seconds, stirring. Remove skillet from heat. Drain orzo; toss with shrimp mixture and feta.

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With a Cherry on Top

Sometimes, the stars just don’t line up for you. The job you really wanted doesn’t come through, or he doesn’t call like he said he would, or maybe you are having a hideous hair day, or you have your heartbroken. Sure, they are on different levels, but they all suck.

This past year has been full of unpredictability. Try as I might, it seems I cannot make everything go my way. It’s been a year of ups and down, though admittedly more downs than ups. I was spanked–HARD– this past year and the aftershocks have been enormous. I grew a lot as a person, blah blah blah, but there were some bleak and dark moments, moments I hope to never revisit.

The past couple of weeks things have started to turn around. Day to day stuff has gotten much better. I have made a few career decisions that has made the daily grind much more tolerable. My vow to eat healthier lunches and workout more has paid off; my pants officially fit comfortably once again. After the great shake-up of 2006, I am once again starting to live my life in the way I want. I still have my moments, but don’t we all?

But, some bigger changes have occurred. I have finally accepted the role I played in some of these bad things. I really do want to see the best in people. I am hard to get through to, but once a person is in, they are in. This blew up in my face when I ignored my instincts, but if this what I get for being exceedingly loyal to my inner circle, this is a price I am willing to pay. More importantly, I have forgiven others who behaved despicably and disappointed me at a time in my life when I didn’t think things could get any worse.

This past year has shown me some incredible things. I have learned who my true friends are, I met some people I would have never known in my old life, and I learned I have a strength I feared I didn’t posses. I am ready to live in the present instead of dwelling on the past. These past few weeks I have realized I haven’t felt this good in over a year. My happiness snuck up on me. I feel such relief that the stars are finally aligning for me

And for this I deserve a giant, delicious cookie, with many, many cherries on top.

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Chocolate Cherry Chunk Cookies

Adapted from Cooks.com

1 c unsalted butter, softened

1 c. sugar

1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. salt

2- 4 oz. bars high end semi-sweet chocolate, smashed

1- 4 oz. bar high end milk chocolate, smashed

1 cup dried cheeries, roughly chopped

Cream butter and gradually add sugars, beating well at medium speed with electric mixer. Add eggs and vanilla beating well.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt; add to creamed mixture, mixing well. Stir in chocolate chunks and cherries. Refrigerate dough at least 1 hour.

Drop dough by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly brown. (Note: I suggest cooking for 15 minutes if you are transporting the cookies. While they were done at 12 minutes, the short baking time made them delicate and they broke into pieces when I transported them. A few more minutes would have rendered a firmer cookie, but everyone still devoured my cookie shards.) Cool slightly on cookie sheets. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Makes 4 dozen.

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Every single time I head to my local Whole Foods, the man behind the meat counter asks me the same question as he gestures to the pair of sunglasses perched on top of my head: “So, tell me something, Young Lady, when you put those glasses, do you have a whole new identity?”

And my response is always the same: “Yep, I’m a double agent. Don’t trust me.”

This guy is a weird dude, always kinda lingering around behind the counter and looking at me the whole time he pulls together my order. I find myself silently begging that he pay attention to what he is doing, lest he cut off his thumb preparing my sirloin tips. He always seems deep in thought, and every single time I am sure this will be the visit he says something original, something besides the old sunglasses line. This never happens, but I have hope.

Shady Whole Food Guy and me, though, we have a bond. He has a line, I play along, we are both happy. I am a shameless flirt, so it works for me, even if it is a bit off-putting. He cannot hurt me from behind his big glass case. I am sure the hippies in corporate would frown on his vague sexual harassment, but honestly, when I am in the trenches of Whole Foods Hell on a busy Sunday afternoon, I find this charade oddly comforting.

The same exact thing happened when I purchased the chicken chorizo for this soup over the weekend. I was feeling indecisive as to how much sausage I wanted to throw in to the soup, but he showed me the patience only he can show me. I do think I settled on the perfect amount of chorizo for the soup, so I appreciate his tolerance.

The original recipe for this soup was already quite healthful, full of nutrients from the sweet potatoes and spinach. I was able to make it even healthier by cutting the amount of oil (it seemed excessive), using chicken chorizo instead of pork and using more sweet potatoes and less white potato. I am also glad I resisted the urge to add more spices to the pot; the beauty of this soup is the chorizo spices up the broth by letting off its smoky flavor. Mashing the potatoes roughly breaks them down, lacing the liquid with sweetness and some starch. The soup is a beautiful, flavorful light orange that only gets better the next day. It is so great that Epicurious featured it as its “Recipe of the Day” today-I feel like a visionary. This is a proven winner.

Thank you, Shady Whole Foods Guy, for making this possible.

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Sweet Potato and Sausage Soup

Adapted from Epicurious

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 chorizo sausages (I used chicken chorizo)
2 medium onions, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams; about 2 large), peeled, quartered lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
2 yukon gold potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
6 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 9-ounce bag fresh spinach

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage; cook until brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Transfer sausage to paper towels to drain. Add onions and garlic to pot and cook until translucent, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add all potatoes and cook until beginning to soften, stirring often, about 12 minutes. Add broth; bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until potatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Using potato masher, mash some of potatoes in pot. Slice sausage in to thin, round coins. Add sausage to soup. Stir in spinach and simmer just until wilted, about 5 minutes.. Season with salt and pepper. Makes 8 servings.

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