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Archive for February, 2008

Last week, as I waited for the sweet release of death from my illness, I found myself wishing I had a boyfriend. This thought does not cross my mind all that often, as I find tolerating other people’s bullshit to be even more draining that tolerating my own. That being said, every time I am sick, I feel incredibly alone and I find myself wishing I was not so damn stubborn about finding something I am compatible with. I should just settle.

Then, as I deliriously laid on my couch wishing a man with soup would magically appear in my living room, Irish Lebowski showed up. With soup. I loved her more than I had ever loved anyone at that moment. Also, I was reminded that I do not need a boyfriend one bit. I have her and a whole slew of other friends–and they don’t demand back rubs.

By last Friday, I was feeling better, but not great. I came home and made myself some Italian wedding soup, ready to spend the night on the couch. The soup was great; everything I wanted and more. Italian wedding soup seems to be in every cooking blog I have read as of late, so I have had it on the brain. I am glad I listened to the message the universe was sending me; it hit the spot. Next time I may use turkey meat for a little more flavor, but this is a must make.

I staged a whole pretty photo shoot for the soup, but then had an internal chuckle when I placed my bowl on the coffee table. Just a week after my sickness and yearning for a man in my life, I had resorted back to my single girl ways. In the photo below, you will see: soup, wine, an Entertainment Weekly, a Sephora catalog, and my remote control. Just out of the frame is a bottle of nail polish.

God, I am such a catch.

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Italian Wedding Soup

A Lemmonex Original

1 lb ground chicken

2/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs

1/3 milk

1 egg, beaten

1 clove garlic, finely chopped or grated

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dry basil

Handful fresh parsley, finely chopped

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Salt and Pepper

2 quarts (8 cups) low-sodium chicken broth/stock

1 carrot, finely diced

3 cups escarole, chopped

3/4 cup dry orzo

Preheat oven to 400. In a small bowl, mix together breadcrumbs and milk, which should soak while you chop the onion and garlic. In a large bowl, add ground chicken, egg, basil, garlic, onion, parsley, cheese, salt, pepper, and soaked breadcrumbs. Using hands, work together mixture until barely mixed (over mixing the meat makes tough meatballs). Shape them into 1″ meatballs, and lay them on a cookie sheet that has been sprayed with Pam. Bake for about 25 minutes.

While the meatballs cook, add broth/stock and carrots to a soup pot. Bring to boil and then lower heat. Add carrots, escarole and orzo. Add meatballs and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

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The talented charlotte harris asks:

OK, so here’s my question for Ask Lemmonex: What the heck is the difference between “Minestrone” and “Pasta e Fagioli”?!?!? I make what I call minestrone with ditalini pasta and cannelini beans but now I am starting to think I named it wrong. Help!

Basically, this is confusing because there is no real definition of minestrone soup. Essentially, minestrone soup is a kitchen sink concoction, where anything in your fridge is fair game to end up in the pot . It can be vegetarian or contain meat, with or without pasta, have beans or not contain any legumes, and the possibilities for vegetable combinations are endless. On the flip side, pasta fagioli must contain beans and pasta. Everything else is up for grabs, but the beans and pasta gotta be there… A fine line, but a line nonetheless when looking for a clear definition in this crazy world gone mad.

OK, kids…keep them coming. I am here to serve you.

If you have no questions, please tell me what song you hope I hear tonight at the Bon Jovi concert; personally, I am pulling for the underrated “Lay Your Hands on Me”.

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Minus the Youthful Glow

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This is my childhood/adulthood teddy bear, Rumphus. Here he sits, in the chair of a United States Senator, taking care of some very important business. When your friends who work on the Hill or for the government talk about how busy they are, please remember this photo. I spent more time than you would care to know wasting your tax dollars staging this elaborate photo shoot.

Most of the material things from my childhood have been long forgotten, but I am glad to still have Rumphus, with his hard, plastic, basketball hooped nose, semi-detached tail and matted “fur”, around.

A whole slew of memories was jostled forth today when I stumbled across a new obsession, Hometown Favorites. This site contains discontinued and hard to find food products from yesteryear. Some things that sent of drool inducing nostalgia: Betty Crocker Cherry Chip Cake mix (so synthetic, so yummy), Quaker “Dips” (chocolate covered peanut butter granola bars, which I am sure were just as bad as those candy bars mom didn’t want us to eat), Booberry cereal (which I know you can buy around Halloween, but I love it so and knowing I can get it any time I want is like a loving, tender embrace), and Moxie (a regional soda that kinda tastes like ass with a screwed up after taste, but I find it inexplicably delicious.)

So, tell me…what do you miss from your childhood?

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Growing up in a small New England town, there was not a ton to do. Drinking in the woods was a pretty common weekend activity, though I did not imbibe until I was 17-years-old. I was not always so indulgent– such a sweet, innocent light I was…

After these nights scrambling from the police in the woods, with me usually stone cold sober, we would always end up at a local diner/coffee shop called “Coffee and Cream”, which was right next door to the “Beef Barn”. (Yes, the “Beef Barn”. Weird name, weird place, great milkshake…) It was at “Coffee and Cream” that I learned several valuable life lessons. Like, do you know sometimes, when girls drink, they cry a lot? This is very annoying and glad I learned at 17 to not be “that girl”.

Anyway, I remember ordering three things at “Coffee and Cream”: the Norm McMuffin (an egg sandwich with sausage and cheese), a decadent peanut butter and jelly muffin and a grilled corn muffin. Sliced in half, slathered in butter and slapped in a sizzling grill, this muffin was sweet and crumbly and frankly, everything that is right in the world.

My love for the corn muffin lives, and I always feel kinda bad for this poor, neglected breakfast treat. It is always overlooked for the more classic blueberry or decadent chocolate chip muffin. But the thing is, if done correctly, it is both salty and sweet–it is everything that is delicious wrapped up in one muffin. For me, the deliciousness is heightened by a schmear of raspberry jelly, but that’s just how I roll… This recipe is (once again) adapted from Smitten Kitchen, the author of which I am a tad gay for. She did manage to pick out the best corn muffin I have ever made; you will never use a box of Jiff again. The corn kernels add great texture and taste and there is the perfect amount of sugar (which I tweaked a bit). The next time I make these I may swap out diced peaches or blueberries for the corn nibblets. For a more savory muffin, adding some diced jalapeños and reducing the sugar would garner fantastic result. I had the Divine Miss O over for brunch and she loved these; corn bread and muffins are a personal favorite of hers. I knew if they got the seal of approval from her, I had it made.

If only I had a sizzling grill near by…

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Best Corn Muffins Ever

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen who Adapted from Dorrie Greenspan

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional, but I used it)
1 cup low fat buttermilk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3 tablespoons corn oil (I used vegetable oil since it was handy)
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/3 cup corn kernels – fresh, frozen or canned (in which case they should be drained and patted dry)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan (I love Pam for baking) or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Alternatively, use a silicone muffin pan, which needs neither greasing nor paper cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg, if you’re using it. In a large glass measuring cup or another bowl, whisk the buttermilk, melted butter, oil, egg and yolk together until well blended. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. The batter will be lumpy; that is okay. Stir in the corn kernels. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes (12 minutes for minis), or until the tops are golden and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

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Splattered and Sated

This Saturday, I finally made it to Pho 75, a little cafeteria style pho restaurant in Arlington. Situated in a strip mall between Rosslyn and Courthouse, it sits in the same plaza as the celebrated Ray’s the Steaks (which I have yet to make it to, but hope to some time soon with another darling blogger) and the delicious Guajillo, which has the best damn margarita I have ever had. Who knew one could find food nirvana in Arlington?

Pho (pronounced “fuh”) is a brothy Vietnamese soup, consisting of long rice noodles and meat. I got the number 12, their most popular, and the broth was rich, flavorful, and beefy, while the meat, brisket, was tender and just a tad fatty (in a  good way). Along with the bowls of soup, which are as large as your head, comes a plate with limes, sprouts, spicy peppers and Thai basil. Plum sauce and spicy sirracha adorn the table as well. It is a bare bones type of place, but packed with a crowd of hungry patrons who are hustled in and out by the no nonsesense employees. The long noodles and various sauces pretty much guarantee you’ll be wearing your lunch by the end of the meal, but it is a small price to pay. I ended the meal splattered in plum sauce, but figure my dining companion should know right from the start how elegant, graceful, and downright klassy I am.

Coming in at $6 a bowl–and paired with their fantastic iced coffee–it is the best $10 meal I have had in recent memory. Make the trip and thank me copiously.

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Hot Mess

In one of my tours of duty in AuntLifesaver’s house (ie; another period of homeless desperation), a three year old SuperBoy toddled in to my room and proclaimed, “Lemmonex, you made such a mess!” I was schooled by a preschooler and all I could do was admit my utter failing as a Domestic Goddess and say, “Yeah, I know, buddy. I’m a slob”.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am not the tidiest person. For as long as I can remember, I have been recruiting friends to sit on my bed as I sort through piles of discarded clothes and scraps of paper I deemed important enough at one moment in time to hang on to; the company and chatter somehow makes the seemingly insurmountable task of cleaning a bit more tolerable. (Thankfully, my friends somehow manage to overlook this character flaw.) There are a million things I would love to change about myself–and a fair number of things I actually have changed over the years–but tidiness seems to be the last frontier. Somehow, losing 65 pounds is something I can conquer, but picking up my damn towels is just too much.

It goes without saying that I am not the cleanest cook, either. Egg shells litter the counter, the sink overflows with dishes and sauces splatter the stove. This is one area where I have gotten a bit better; using six spoons while making one recipe because you cannot find the previous five in the wreckage prolongs clean up even further, and my brain has somehow managed to put this together. Even with some (small) progress on this front, I would never call me organized in the kitchen, and I am always looking for ways to suppress the mess.

While tooling around on some food blogs last week, this recipe caught my eye for three reasons: 1) It is a healthy recipe that is not the same old boring chicken breast; 2) it contains olives and capers, two of Annie Birdie’s favorites; and 3) it was a Boston Globe “One Pot Wonder” contest winner. One pot, less mess–I am on board. Annie Birdie and I made this the other evening and it was more than we could have hoped for. The briny, saltiness pairs well with the escarole and the spicy sausage compliments the pine nuts well. I’ve made a few simple tweaks–fewer nuts, less oil, spicy sausage instead of sweet–to keep the recipe healthier and maintain it’s complexity. (Annie Birdie was the one who made the call on the spicy sausage…a great idea.) We threw this together on a week night and it took about 30 minutes. As a bonus, we had plenty of food left for lunch the next day.

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Escarole with Turkey Sausage

Adapted from The Boston Globe

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds hot Italian turkey sausage, cut into 1-inch pieces
10 cloves garlic, chopped
4 heads escarole, cut crosswise into 3-inch lengths
1 cup pitted Kalamata olives, halved
2 cans (15 ounces each) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup small capers
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup Italian-flavored bread crumbs, toasted

In a large, deep, ovenproof saute pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the sausage and cook until sausage is light brown on all sides and almost cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and the escarole and continue cooking over medium heat, stirring, until escarole begins to cook through and is reduced in volume but remains green and crunchy, about 10 minutes (do this in batches if the pan is too small). Add the olives, beans, pine nuts, and capers. Stir them in and heat through, about 2 minutes. Turn on the broiler. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the cheese, and season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the mixture with bread crumbs and heat under the broiler until crumbs are golden brown, about 2 minutes. (Our broiler was not big enough, so I jacked the heat on the oven as high as it could go and threw the pan back in the oven for about five minutes.) Serve immediately.

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Ask Lemmonex: Sauces

The lovely Jo asks:

I had a question, can you do a sauce post? Like a few basic sauces that go with lots of stuff?

I’ve been struggling a bit with this, because I have a few sauces up my sleeve, but I tend to be a more of a marinade gal. But, I need to give the public what they want…

My first thought was pesto. This traditional recipe is great with pasta, slathered on top of a piece of salmon or swordfish, or on bread with a chicken breast. It can be stored in the freezer, and individual portions can be prepared by freezing in an ice cube tray (make sure to put a thin layer of oil before popping in the freezer). There are multiple variations on pesto-using walnuts instead of pine nuts, cilantro or arugula instead of basil–so it is a good basic sauce to have up your sleeve.

Stirfry sauce is another straightforward sauce to have on hand. This weekend I had a few odds and ends of vegetables laying around and wanted to throw them together so they did not go to waste. For the sauce, I used (approximately) 1 1/2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sherry, shake of red pepper flakes, a generous pinch of ground (powdered) ginger and some corn starch to thicken. Another variation would be to use soy, a splash of oj, squeeze of lime juice, a clove of minced garlic, fresh ginger and black pepper. You don’t really need to measure either of these sauces, just kinda throw them together in a bowl and dump them in the pan as you stirfry your meat, vegetables, tofu, etc…

I could throw something out there like tomato sauce for my last suggestion, but that seems like a bit of a cop out; you all know a perfectly decent jarred kind you like and even the most novice chef knows how to throw some canned tomatoes, basil, wine, onion and garlic together in a pan. So, for my last suggestion, I am gonna go out on a limb here and suggest a balsamic reduction. This recipe can be as simple as reducing some balsamic vinegar over medium heat or more a more complicated recipe with multiple components. Over steak, fish, lamb, or chicken, it is an elegant trick to have in your repertoire.

And there ya have it…hope this helps.

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Restoring Honor

One of the things that just drives me bat shit insane is when folks dismiss something without even trying it. I know, not a unique thought. I don’t think anyone is gonna chime in here and say they like close minded people. I can think of maybe three things I just, under no circumstance, would do…but that’s about it. And, no, I won’t tell what they are; I have a mysterious facade to maintain.

Food wise, I have had to ask more times than I care to admit, “Have you actually tried it?” People will proclaim not to like sushi (a million different kinds), anise (licorice and fennel could not taste more different) and spinach (sauteed spinach and a spinach salad are diametric opposites) while never having let it pass their lips. All I ask is people try things, more than once, and prepared in different ways; we are no longer five-year-olds and thumbing your nose at something you’ve never tried is not attractive.

Wow, being sick has me crankier than usual. Let’s blame it on the cold meds and lack of sleep, shall we?

Another food people automatically dismiss: brussel sprouts. Today, I continue on my quest to bring honor to the good name of brussel sprouts. I actually stumbled across this recipe while digging for something else. I am glad I took the time to try it. I pretty much eyeballed everything here, but pasted the original recipe below for a point of reference. (Also, weirdly, the original recipe did not call for salt and pepper.) These brussel sprouts have a bitter edge, softened by the balsamic and mellowed by the buttery pine nuts. Parmesan cheese pretty much makes everything better, so the grating on top throws it from very good to excellent.

Gone are the mushy, stinky brussel sprouts you may have known as a kid; welcome to the crisp and tasty sprouts of your adulthood.

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Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Balsamic, Pine Nuts and Parmesan

Adapted from Kalyn’s Kitchen

1 lb. brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut into quarters

1 T olive oil

1 T balsamic vinegar

1 1/2 T Parmesan cheese (preferably fresh grated)

1 T pine nuts (preferably toasted, could substitute other nuts of your choice)

Salt and Pepper

Preheat oven to 450 F. Trim brussels sprouts, remove any discolored leaves, and cut into quarters (or halves if they are small.) Put sprouts in mixing bowl and toss with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.
Cover roasting pan with foil if desired, and spray with non-stick spray if needed. Arrange sprouts in a single layer on roasting pan, and roast 20 minutes, turning occasionally, or until sprouts are slightly crisp and golden brown on the edges.
When sprouts are nearly done, toast pine nuts in a dry pan about 2-3 minutes, until barely starting to brown. (Be careful, they can go from lightly brown to overdone fast.) Take sprouts out of oven and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Arrange on serving plate and sprinkle with pine nuts. Serve hot.

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Sicko

I have that horrible illness that everyone in the city seems to have contracted. My nose is clogged, my head is cloudy and my eyes are so puffy it looks like I have watched “Rudy” on an endless loop. If you are a kind soul in possession of a vat of chicken soup or a 10 gallon tub of Chubby Hubby, I will kindly take it.

In my foggy haze, some randomness on the DC dining scene:

Park at 14th: I haven’t stopped by later on in the evening, when the scene apparently gets a little swankier, but this is a good spot to grab an after work drink. The pours are generous and the waitstaff and bartenders are on top of things. As an added bonus, they are currently trying to push the launch of their bar menu and an endless stream of free appetizers emerges from the kitchen. Some of it is is shockingly good (a creamy corn soup), some average (basic sliders), and some disappointing (freaking TOSTITOS served with dip), but it is worth checking out. As an added bonus, ladies, if you are there with a group of women, drinks seem to magically appear in front of you but not on your tab.

Italian Pizza Kitchen: If you live in upper Northwest, make sure to stop by IPK in Van Ness. I agree with some complaints that the service there can suck, but call ahead and grab take out. The crust is delicious and the toppings are generous. The “Roma”, one of their specialty pizzas, is fantastic.

Addendum on Source: A close friend was there with a larger group at the lower level lounge area and had a run in with a racist bartender a few weeks back. When the group complained about the treatment, they were told this “was not the first time” that they have had problems with this particular bartender. In my mind, there should only be a first time…he should no longer be working there. Though I do love their tuna tar tar and the kobe beef mini burgers more than I love my hair (almost), I may have to think twice before spending my money there.

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Every gal has a few tricks up her sleeve. The dress she wears on a third date, the perfect response to an interview question, or that joke she knows will always be a hit in a crowd.

For a long time, one of my “tricks” involved a plunging neckline and lots of leaning forward. Much to the chagrin of all the men in my life, I am attempting to break this habit. Ok, not break it; that’s no fun…More like curtail it, tame it. Because, you know…I have more to offer to the world than my cleavage. Like…um, yeah… help me out here kids.

Below, you will find one of my other “tricks”, my culinary ace in the hole. People seriously lose it when I make this meal, and in a way, it feels like a deception. I make many things that require a ton more work, skill and proficiency in the kitchen, but this consistently sends people in to fits. This has four ingredients: chicken, garlic, thyme and olive oil (salt and pepper don’t count). Four! But these four simple ingredients do make something pretty spectacular; a moist and tender chicken with sweet and soft garlic, all perfumed with a light taste of thyme. Don’t freak at the prospect of 40 cloves of garlic. The slow cooking time renders them mellow and delicious. Make sure you have a fresh baguette to smear the garlic on; half the fun is eating the velevety cloves of garlic. I have been known to pluck them out of the pan and eat them whole.

So, I share this recipe with you; consider it a gift. My secret is out.

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Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

From Alton Brown

1 whole chicken (broiler/fryer) cut into 8 pieces (I used all breasts as they were on sale)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
10 sprigs fresh thyme
40 peeled cloves garlic
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Toss with a 2 tablespoons olive oil and brown on both sides in a wide fry pan or skillet over high heat. Remove from heat, add oil, thyme, and garlic cloves. Cover and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Remove chicken from the oven, let rest for 5 to 10 minutes

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