Monday, December 17, 2012

Noodle salad fresh and festive

‘Tis the season to overindulge. Give this salad a try if you want something quick and fresh to balance out all the ridiculously rich goodies you’ve enjoyed at Christmas cocktail parties, family feasts and other holiday festivities. This recipe is similar to the Thai Beef Noodle Salad I made a couple summers back, and the ingredients taste just as great with shrimp as they do with flank steak.

Shrimp Noodle Salad
1 pound raw, peeled and deveined shrimp, tails removed
2 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
3 tablespoons minced garlic, divided
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons minced jalapeño
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
1 6-ounce package mung bean noodles
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
½ cup fresh cilantro, torn
⅓ cup crushed unsalted peanuts

Make dressing by whisking 1 teaspoon sesame oil and 2 tablespoons garlic in a bowl with soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, jalapeño and rice wine vinegar. Set aside. Cook noodles according to package instructions, drain using a colander, and rinse in cold water before placing in a large bowl with bell pepper, carrot, cilantro and dressing. Heat remaining teaspoon sesame oil in frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two, until aromatic, before adding shrimp. Cook shrimp for a couple minutes on each side until shrimp are fully cooked. Toss shrimp with noodles and vegetables. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Baked fish with plenty of fresh flavors

I need to cook fish on a more regular basis. Boneless chicken breasts, jumbo prawns and ground turkey are my constants when it comes to cooking animal proteins. However, there are plenty of other fish in the sea (ha) when it comes to menu planning, which is I created a recipe around cod, quite a mellow fellow as far as fishy flavor is concerned. I think the acidity of the tomatoes and the salt of the olives really complement the fish in this dish, which also gets some wonderful fresh flavors thanks to parsley and a little fresh lemon juice squeezed over the plate at the last second. This recipe yields four main-course servings.

Baked Cod with Tomatoes and Olives 
2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 tablespoon minced garlic
28-ounce can plum tomatoes in liquid, coarsely chopped or crushed by hand
¾ cup Spanish manzanilla olives
¼ cup dry white wine
1 pound cod fillets, rinsed and patted dry
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
8 ounces pasta, cooked al dente (I used Trader Joe’s Lemon Pepper Pappardelle)

One lemon, cut into wedges Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Coat bottom of 9-inch-by-13-inch glass dish with one teaspoon of olive oil and set aside. Heat remaining teaspoon olive oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for just a minute or two, until aromatic, before adding tomatoes, wine and green olives. Let simmer over medium heat until sauce thickens a bit, stirring occasionally, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in parsley and remove from heat. Place cod fillets in glass baking dish and pour tomato sauce over fillets. Cover dish with foil and bake for 20-30 minutes, until fish registers 140 degrees with a meat thermometer and flakes easily with a fork. Divide pasta among plates, topping each plate with cod fillet and a spoonful or two of sauce. Garnish each plate with a lemon wedge and serve.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Going meatless? Go with mushrooms

It’s an odd day when there’s not a mushroom to be found in my kitchen. We go through them like they’re going out of style, and my ears always perk up when I come across recipes calling for any sort of fungi. Mushrooms are just so versatile, and have a wonderful flavor, no matter if you grill, stuff or sautée them. I find myself using them more as a substitute for meat -- grilled portobello caps make great burgers, and I like my fajitas with sliced creminis as much as I do chicken or steak.

I came up with this super-simple, meat-free dinner the other night in an attempt to use up the rest of my Thanksgiving-stuffing herbs. Sure enough, I also had a pound of white mushrooms in the fridge.

Farro with Mushrooms 
2 cups farro
6 cups water
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup vegetable broth
½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
¼ cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine farro and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce to low heat, cover, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until farro is tender. Drain farro and set aside. Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add mushrooms and thyme and sautée, stirring occasionally, for 4 or 5 minutes. Add broth to pan with mushrooms and simmer for a few minutes. Lower heat and add cooked farro to pan, stirring to mix. Stir in the parsley and Parmesan, season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Giving chicken soup a little kick

Homemade chicken soup is such a simply wonderful meal. It’s a great comfort when you’re under the weather, but a warm bowl full of chicken, broth and other goodies is delicious no matter how you feel. The next time you want a little twist on a traditional favorite, give this recipe a try.

Kickin’ Chicken and Rice Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, ends removed, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning
1 cup dry white rice, rinsed
1 cup diced cooked chicken
1 cup (7-8 ounces) diced smoked sausage (I used one of these guys)
8 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
8 ounces large shrimp, butterflied and separated

Heat olive oil over medium heat in large, heavy pot. Add garlic, onion, carrots, celery and bell pepper and sautée for a couple minutes. Stir in Creole seasoning, rice, sausage and chicken and sautée for a couple more minutes. Add broth and tomato paste. Bring pot to boil and then reduce heat, allowing soup to simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until rice is cooked. Stir in shrimp, cover, and simmer for another five minutes, until shrimp is fully cooked.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Keeping cans of cannellini beans close

I try not to play favorites, but when it comes to beans, I absolutely love cooking with cannellinis. These white kidney beans are just so versatile. Give any or all of these three quick, no-cook cannellini recipes a try and you’ll see what I mean.

Cannellini Bean Salad 
2 15-ounce cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups roasted red bell peppers
2 cloves garlic juice of half a lemon
Chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

Put peppers, garlic and lemon juice in a blender and process until smooth. Stir dressing in with beans in a bowl and top with parsley.

Pesto White Bean Dip
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup pesto
Juice of half a lemon
Possible dippers: Pita chips

Everything goes into the blender for a quick spin, until smooth.

Red Pepper White Bean Dip 
1 15-ounce can cannellini beans
1 cup roasted red bell pepper
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Possible dippers: Carrot and celery sticks

All ingredients go into the blender. Purée, adding a little more balsamic if you’d like to thin the dip a bit.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Roast chicken is the gift that keeps giving

The inspiration to roast a chicken is based on my love of a good deal. I can’t resist bringing home a bird when they’re on sale for only 99 cents per pound. I bought a whole chicken for the same price some people pay for just one foot-long sandwich. Please believe I’m going to get a lot of mileage out of this five-dollar fowl. First up was tonight’s delicious roast chicken with potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Tomorrow I’ll make a few quarts of chicken stock with the carcass and start thinking of different ways to use the huge bowl of cooked chicken meat currently chilling out in the fridge.

Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Brussels Sprouts 
One roasting chicken (this one weighed in around five pounds)
1 teaspoon smoked salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon melted butter
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 cloves garlic
1 pound small white potatoes, washed, dried and cut into quarters
1 pound Brussels sprouts (I used Trader Joe's frozen variety)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix melted butter, two tablespoons olive oil, salt, paprika, garlic powder, thyme and oregano in a small bowl. Rinse and pat dry chicken. Place garlic cloves in cavity and tie legs together to hold shape. Place chicken on rack in roasting pan and spread seasoning mix on skin. Toss potatoes and Brussels sprouts in a bowl with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper to lightly coat. Place potatoes and Brussels sprouts in roasting pan with chicken, and then place roasting pan in the oven. Bake 80 to 90 minutes, or until chicken is golden and the thickest part of the thigh measures 180 degrees with a meat thermometer.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Not-so-red lentils the base of spice-infused soup

I swear these lentils were red when I bought them. Granted, this delicious, spice-infused dish is nowhere near red in color, but I promise, it does contain tons of red lentils, garam masala and all kinds of other goodies that make it worth a try.

Not-So-Red Lentil Soup with Shrimp 
2 cups dried red lentils
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large white onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons garam masala spice mix
2 teaspoon smoked paprika, divided
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 14-ounce can light coconut milk
1 14.5-ounce can petite diced tomatoes with liquid
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 pound large raw shrimp, peeled, deveined and tails removed
Cilantro, for garnish

Put lentils in a bowl and fill with enough water to cover lentils with an inch or two of water. Soak lentils for an hour before draining and rinsing.

Heat oil in large, heavy pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and carrot, sautéeing for a couple minutes. Stir in garam masala, tomato paste, salt and one teaspoon smoked paprika and cook for another minute or two. Add lentils, coconut milk, tomatoes and broth to pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and allow soup to simmer, covered, for 30 minutes or until lentils and vegetables are tender. Remove from heat.

Put shrimp in non-stick frying pan and dust with remaining teaspoon of smoked paprika. Cook at high heat for a couple minutes on each side until shrimp are fully cooked.

Ladle lentils into soup bowls, top with four shrimp and cilantro sprigs, and serve.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Adding the recipes of others to my repertoire

A caterer once told me that it only takes a minor tweak to someone’s existing recipe to make it your own. Can’t say I agree, which is why I’m going to share a couple photos and then refer you to some delicious recipes others have created but that I’ve tried and love.

Corn Farrotto from Bon Appetit (doctored up with some garlic shrimp)

One of my favorite food bloggers posted this Toasted Sesame Quinoa with Chicken recipe a couple months ago and I’ve already made it half a dozen times.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A soup with plenty of spuds and spice

We’re not big potato eaters but every once in awhile I’ll spot a ginormous bag of spuds at the grocery store, see that it costs mere pennies, and before you know it I’ve hoisted a bag into my cart.

This is what happened during my most recent trip to the supermarket, when I spent a whopping $2 on 10 pounds of white potatoes (this soup was the result of my last cheap-as-dirt potato deal). I also picked up some end-of-season corn for 25 cents per ear.

It’s finally cooling down and feeling like fall, and these super-cheap ingredients were the basis of one of the first of many soups and stews I plan to make in the coming months. I like the sweet flavors of the corn and the cooked red onion mixed with a little bit of kick from the jalapeno, diced green chiles and cumin.

Spiced Potato and Corn Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large jalapeno, seeds removed, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 pounds white potatoes, cleaned and cut into small cubes
2 ears of corn, husked, kernels cut from cobs
7 cups chicken broth
4 oz. can diced green chiles
Salt and pepper, to taste
Green onion, for garnish

Warm oil in a large heavy pot. Add jalapenos, red onion, garlic and cumin and cook mixture, stirring occasionally, for just a couple minutes. Add potatoes, corn and broth to pot, cover pot and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Use two-cup glass measuring cup to scoop six cups of soup into blender. Puree soup mixture and pour back into the pot. Stir in the green chiles and simmer for just a couple more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Finding redemption after shopping on autopilot

Do you ever find yourself bumbling through a supermarket on autopilot, not really considering what goes into the shopping cart until you’re unloading it at the cash register?

This is what happens when I shop in zombie mode:

Yup, that’s a ridiculously small portion of dry multi-bean mix. I spotted these beans in the bulk bins a while back and thought it would be a good idea to bring some home for a future soup recipe. The problem is that I wasn’t thinking of how many beans should probably go into this soup, and I only bought about a cup of mixed beans. Ridiculous! Luckily I had plenty of dried pintos and lentils to mix in with the aforementioned sad scoop of beans. Throw the hodge podge into a pot with some veggies and spicy sausage and boom, you’ve got a delicious, filling soup for the masses.

You can prepare dry beans for a recipe like this a couple different ways. One option is to soak the beans in water overnight. What I did, because I forgot to soak my beans, is go with a “quick soak” method by putting the bean mix in a large pot, adding enough water to cover the beans with a couple inches of water, and bringing the pot to a boil. After a couple minutes of rolling boil, you can remove the pot from heat and let the beans sit, uncovered, for an hour before draining. Either method will get you beans that are ready to be cooked. And no matter which method you employ, be sure to rinse the beans prior to soaking and pick out any stones or bad beans.

Bean Bonanza Soup 
2 cups mixed dry beans, soaked, drained and rinsed
32 ounces low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
28 oz can stewed tomatoes with liquid
2 cups andouille sausage links
1 white onion, diced
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, carrots, celery,oregano and bay leaves. Sauté for a couple minutes before adding sausage to pot and sautéeing for a couple more minutes. Add tomatoes to the pot, using hands to crush tomatoes. Stir in beans and broth and bring to a boil before reducing heat. Allow pot to simmer, covered, for 30-60 minutes, until beans are tender. Remove bay leaves before serving soup.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Summer snapshots

September? Already?

We’ve still got a little bit of summer left here in Sacramento, but the season’s on its way out. I didn’t spend an awful lot of time dreaming up new recipes over the past couple months. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to stay as far away from the hottest room in our house (the kitchen) as possible. But just because I haven’t been cooking too much doesn’t mean I’ve been withering away for lack of a delicious meal.

So, with that, I’d like to share some summertime snapshots.

Hallelujah! sandwich (fried chicken breast, spicy coleslaw and lemon garlic aioli on a French roll) from Cato’s Ale House, Oakland

Kobe beef tartare with dijon mustard, capers, shallots, garlic and toast points at Chez Papa Resto, San Francisco

Chris and I both got some good mileage out of our beach cruisers over the past couple months. One of our more adventurous rides was a 20-plus-mile trek up to Folsom by way of the American River Trail. Our final destination? Samuel Horne’s Tavern for celebratory burgers and beers. Here’s the Tavern Turkey Burger with pepper jack cheese and serrano aioli

Chris had the Johnny Cash burger with bacon, cheddar, onions and a bourbon-espresso red-eye sauce

Mountain Nachos, Tahoe Mountain Brewing Company, Tahoe City

Too many good beers at Mellow Fellow Gastropub, Crystal Bay

Bakers Benedict (sausage patties and poached eggs atop a toasted English muffin, topped with Hollandaise sauce) from the Fire Sign Cafe, Tahoe City

Macarons, like these lovelies from Estelle’s Patisserie, always make me think of “Alice in Wonderland.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Parsley to the rescue

Tonight’s original dinner plan involved trying a recipe for a white bean salad that calls for roasted red peppers.

Unfortunately, I shopped for the ingredients a few days ago and the bell peppers are now past their prime. After hucking the peppers in the trash and having a two-second pity party I started rooting around in the fridge for Plan B.

Eureka! I knew I could do something with the partial bunch of flat-leaf parsley in the produce drawer. Rinsed it, tore it up and tossed it into the Vitamix with some olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Such an easy, fresh, green dressing. Give this salad a try the next time you want a no-cook dinner with some zesty flavors.

White Bean Salad
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
3-4 cups chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed well and drained

Put olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and parsley in a blender and process until smooth. Combine cannellini beans, tomatoes and feta in a bowl; drizzle dressing over mixture and toss lightly until evenly coated.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

What makes Friday fun when you’re 31

Oh, how Friday nights have changed.

While I fondly recall the Fridays of my younger days, rushing home to get ready for a big night out, I must say that I’m equally fond of the much more relaxed approach we now take when kicking off the weekend.

Happy hour? Sometimes.

Meeting up with friends for dinner/drinks/trouble? It still happens.

I find that more and more that the energy I used to dedicate to prepping for a blowout night I’m now redirecting into firing up the stereo when I get home, cracking open some beers or a bottle of wine, cooking a great Friday night dinner and relaxing with my sweets. Yes, this might seem a little sleepy compared to what some you have got going on, and yes, I’m only 31, not 101, but sometimes it feels really good to get home and just chill. And, all this relaxing on Friday night means we’ve got plenty of energy for weekend shenanigans Saturday and Sunday.

Last Friday was nice and warm, a prelude to the much warmer (OK, blazing hot) summer days we have ahead of us in Sacramento. It was the perfect night to fire up the barbecue for some delicious lamb burgers. I’ve only made lamb burgers a couple times and knew I wanted to top them with a little bit of red onion, possibly some cucumber too. My good friend Kimmy made the great suggestion to make a “quick pickle” of the veggies, and the result really made the flavor of the meat sing without overpowering it.

Last Friday’s pre-summer vibe also inspired me to mix up some frosty cocktails. I’ve recently developed a love for the sweet, clean flavor of elderflower liqueur thanks to friends Melissa and Mike, who recently hosted cocktail hour during a neighborhood progressive dinner. They served white linens, a drink they originally discovered at the Shady Lady Saloon and that features elderflower liqueur.

I found a couple recipes online and made a couple tweaks, using Hendrick’s Gin (tastes great with cucumber) and opting for agave nectar instead of simple syrup. This just might be my new summer cocktail.

Lamb burgers with Quick Pickle 
1 cup thinly sliced English cucumber
⅓ cup thinly sliced red onion
¼ cup rice wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of salt
1 lb. ground lamb
⅓ cup chopped fresh mint
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon paprika
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup crumbled feta
Four sandwich thins or buns of your preference

For the quick pickle: Combine cucumber, onion, rice wine vinegar, salt and sugar in a bowl. Let sit for one hour and drain excess liquid.

 For the burger: Mix ground lamb, mint, cinnamon, paprika, garlic and feta in a bowl to combine. Form four patties. Cooking on the grill for 4-5 minutes each side resulted in some mostly done (not pink) patties. Place patty on bottom half of bun, add a scoop of pickled veggies and top with the other half of the bun. We rounded out the meal with a side salad of green-leaf lettuce, red bell pepper and the best (store-bought) dressing ever.

White Linen 
1 ½ ounces Hendrick’s Gin
½ ounce elderflower liqueur
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce agave nectar
Two slices English cucumber, slightly muddled
Soda water

Combine first five ingredients in a glass (I used a mixer because I made two drinks at a time). Add some ice and some soda water and enjoy!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Getting saucy with baked potatoes

We’re not big baked-potato people, but every once in awhile a spud topped with all kinds of goodies sounds amazing. The next time you get a hankering for a baked potato, give this low-maintenance meal a try.

BBQ Chicken Baked Potato 
2 chicken breasts
2 cups Kansas City-style barbecue sauce (this was enough sauce to cover the chicken in my little Crock-Pot)
2 tablespoons dried minced onions
4 russet potatoes, baked to your liking and split lengthwise
Garnishes: shredded cheddar and sliced green onion

Place chicken breasts, barbecue sauce and minced onion in slow cooker. Cook on low setting for 8 hours. Remove chicken from slow cooker and shred meat with knife and fork. Return meat to slow cooker so the chicken gets nice and saucy. Top each baked potato with a heap of shredded chicken and garnish with cheddar and green onions.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Kitchen in one word: Wow!

My favorite Wisconsinites, Chris’ parents, came out to California last week for visit. No trip to visit their favorite son is complete without dinner at The Kitchen, and Chris and I are always delighted to share the experience with his parents.

 The Kitchen serves a decadent, multi-course demonstration dinner. Nothing is off limits at this restaurant, where they invite guests to stroll through the kitchen, chat up the chefs, peek into the wine cellar, even do dishes if that’s what floats your boat. The menu changes monthly, and every ingredient has a story. But instead of trying to recall each of these stories, how about I just show you some photos?

Here’s what we feasted upon last week.

First Course: Tortilla Soup with Maine Lobster, “Creamed” Chorizo, Avocado and Smoked Chilies 

Second Course: A Salad of Foie Gras, Frisée, Sea Grapes, Grilled Chicken, Fennel and Crisped Brioche 

Not pictured (because I was too busy throwing elbows to get the best goodies): The intermezzo, when you’re invited to leave your seats, stretch your legs and help yourselves to a variety of sushi, sashimi and other treats.

Third Course: 100-Mile Salmon, Dungeness Crab Béarnaise, White Asparagus Flan and Preserved Meyer Lemon

Fourth Course: Slow Roasted Young Beef, Duck Breast and Crispy Skin with Shepherd’s Pie and Black Peppercorns

 Aaaaannd, Dessert: Nancy’s Carrot Cake with Butter Crunch Ice Cream, Caramel Popcorn and White Chocolate.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A different-yet-delicious take on lasagna

While grocery shopping the other night I passed by some rotisserie chickens that smelled particularly good. Before I knew it, I had tossed one in my shopping cart and started formulating a plan to make the following dish using meat from the ready-to-eat bird. Pesto makes everything taste better, including the jars of alfredo sauce that also ended up in my cart. The pesto and alfredo tasted so good together that I found myself sampling the sauce a few times (quality control, right?) while assembling what turned out to be quite a winner of a midweek meal.

Creamy Pesto Chicken Lasagna
2 15-ounce jars alfredo sauce
 ½ cup prepared pesto
 12 oz. bag frozen artichokes, thawed
3 cups cooked chicken meat, diced
9 lasagna noodles
1 bunch spinach, rinsed and chopped
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup grated mozzarella (optional)

 Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bring large pot of water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water for 8-10 minutes, drain and rinse with cold water. Whisk alfredo and pesto together in a bowl. Pour ¼ cup sauce into 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish. begin layering remaining ingredients, starting with three lasagna noodles and continuing with chicken, spinach, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and sauce. Ingredients should be enough for two layers, topped with three final noodles and sauce. I noted that cheese is optional with this recipe because I think the lasagna has plenty going for it already without the cheese. If you want cheese, sprinkle it on top of the lasagna before covering the dish loosely with aluminum foil. Cheese or no cheese, you’re going to want to bake the lasagna for 30-40 minutes. Remove the lasagna from the oven and allow it to sit for a few minutes before serving.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Taking a bite outta Boston

Chris and I recently spent a long weekend in Boston. It was my first time visiting Massachusetts and I had an absolute blast exploring Boston. Please believe the hunt for restaurants began as soon as I booked my flights! Here are some of the highlights:

Redbones was packed Friday night but well worth the wait for delicious barbecue.

Chris ordered the ribs and I went for the “meat and three” because I’m a sucker for trying as many sides as possible. I’m happy I did because the macaroni and cheese, greens and corn pudding were all quite good, as was my barbecue chicken and the buffalo shrimp we got to start the meal.

We got our history fix by walking the Freedom Trail

and ended up at the delightful Neptune Oyster.

Chris enjoyed the raw bar’s finest

and I savored every rich, buttery bite of my first-ever lobster roll.

Great dim sum brunch at Myers + Chang, where offerings included crispy salt-and-pepper calamari with jalapeños,

lemony shrimp dumplings, chicken congee and dan dan noodles with spicy peanut sauce.

Dinner at Sportello was pure heaven from start to finish (had a couple cocktails at Drink, the bar downstairs, before dinner).

Pheasant soup

Strozzapreti with braised rabbit, picholine olives and rosemary

Veal loin with peas, fava beans and mint.

If you have a favorite restaurant in Boston please let me know, as I definitely want to go back for another visit!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Speedy soup is simply taco-licious

Not sure how I got it in my head that I wanted to make taco soup, but it’s been simmering in the back of my mind for a little bit. It’s a chili-like soup that gets its flavor from taco seasoning. After conducting a quick recipe search, I started building my shopping list.

One ingredient that kept popping up was ranch salad dressing mix, which upon first glance might seem a little off but I’ve tried it in chili before and was happy with the results, so there you go.

The majority of this soup’s ingredients are canned, and I must say it’s quite enjoyable to open up all those cans, pour them into a pot without draining anything, and being done with a good portion of the prep. The soup is super easy and cooks up in no time, making it the perfect weeknight dinner.

Taco Soup
1 pound ground turkey
1 white onion, chopped
1 15-ounce can kidney beans
1 15-ounce can pinto beans
1 15-ounce can black beans
2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with green chiles
1 4-ounce can diced green chiles
1 cup corn (I always keep a bag of corn kernels in the freezer)
1 packet taco seasoning
1 packet ranch salad dressing mix

Possible garnishes: grated cheese, green onions, tortilla chips or strips, sour cream, avocado

Brown ground turkey in large soup pot. Add chopped onion and cook for a couple minutes over medium heat, until onion is slightly translucent and fragrant. Add corn and pour contents of cans, without draining any of them, into pot. Stir in taco seasoning and ranch mix packets. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Serve soup in bowls and top with desired garnishes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Quick, easy and veg-friendly weeknight winners

Some of the tastiest meals I came up with during our (now long-forgotten) vegetarian month were quite quick and simple.

For example, I made a speedy tomato sauce that worked well with back-to-back weeknight dinners. All it took was one 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes, one red bell pepper, diced, and a handful of garlic cloves, minced. I crushed the tomatoes by hand and simmered them (and the juice in which they were canned) with the pepper and garlic for a few minutes before puréeing everything.

This sauce tasted great simmered with some sliced Tofurkey Italian Sausage and a can of cannellini beans (rinsed and drained), served atop a huge plateful of spinach which I wilted with a couple dashes of soy sauce and some red pepper flakes.

The sauce tasted equally delicious the next night with Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs and whole wheat spaghetti.

Some other successful veg-friendly meals that I’d make again even if I wasn’t trying to avoid meat:

  • Trader Joe’s Masala Simmer Sauce heated up with a can of chickpeas and a few handfuls of fresh spinach and poured over brown rice. A piece of masala tandoori naan (also from TJ’s) on the side was great for soaking up the sauce.
  • Sandwiches with Trader Joe’s Masala Veggie Patties (toasted in a frying pan), tandoori naan, micro greens and spicy hummus
  • Quinoa with Black Beans and Cilantro, wrapped in wheat tortillas 
  • And assembling this trusty lasagna took just a couple minutes without cooking up any Italian sausage.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My favorite meat-free menu items

Keeping meat out of my kitchen wasn’t too much of a struggle during our vegetarian stint in January. Avoiding it when dining out? Not quite so easy.

As mentioned in my previous post, we don’t typically keep a lot of meat in the house, so as long as I kept up with my meal planning and grocery shopping we didn’t have any must-have-meat-now! breakdowns.

I don’t know about you, but when going out to eat I try to order something I wouldn’t normally have at home. I’m going for elaborate, rich, and, in most cases, meatier-than-usual options. It’s tough to focus on the roasted beets when you’re normally cruising the menu for filet mignon.

However, we stepped outside of our routine when dining out in January and were rewarded with some wonderful dishes.

We finally got around to checking out Andy Nguyen, and the Buddhist-inspired vegetarian offerings were fantastic.

Buddha Rolls: Lemongrass-infused shiitake mushroom, rice noodles, carrots and daikon wrapped with lettuce in rice paper and served with a soy ginger dipping sauce

Limitless Compassion: Spicy Mongolian “beef” (they have a lot of vegetarian “meats” on the menu) sauteed with broccoli, bell peppers and carrots

Universal Love Lemongrass: Sauteed mushrooms, onions, tofu and mixed vegetables with soy chicken in a spicy lemongrass sauce

We headed to the mountains a couple weekends ago searching for snow and discovered the Cottonwood Restaurant and Bar, which overlooks downtown Truckee -- you can see the glowing red sign atop this ski-lodge-turned-eatery’s roof from the bottom of the hill. Chris and I were impressed with our meal from start to finish: roasted polenta gratin with fresh mozzarella, tomato and roasted garlic with an almond and red bell pepper romesco; a salad of warmed chevre cheese, spiced pecans, roasted garlic and spring greens; and some heavenly butternut squash enchiladas with ancho chile mole sauce, cilantro, white cheddar and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Orphan serves the best breakfast (at least, in my opinion) in Sacramento. Ordering is always tough because their menu is amazing. On a recent Sunday brunch I opted for the soy chorizo breakfast, an amazing pile of scrambled eggs, soy chorizo, jack cheese, tomatoes, sour cream, salsa, green onions, cilantro and avocado served atop corn tortillas and black beans. So good!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Meat-free month good way to start 2012

“Why would you do that?” is the typical reaction I’ve received when telling people that I was giving up meat for 28 days. 

Cutting meat out of our diet for 28 days (Chris and I kicked it off January 4 so as not to waste already-prepared meat dishes in the fridge) felt like a good way to kick off 2012, to repent for some of the overindulging that happened during the holiday season, to test myself in the kitchen.

We don’t eat a lot of meat to begin with, and definitely don’t keep a lot of it in the house, but it’s still been a fun challenge to find veg-friendly recipes and to stick to the meatless entrées at restaurants. 

I must confess that neither of us get a 100 percent for sticking to the meat-free diet -- we both put the diet on a one-meal hold for Chris’ work holiday party at the ever-delicious
Hawks -- but I’m still proud of what we’ve done over the past couple weeks. We’ve definitely gone through a lot more vegetables, and I’ve spent more time menu planning in order to waste less produce. I made my own vegetable stock, brought barley and quinoa home for the first time, and have consumed more tofu in the last month than I probably did in 2011.

I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t looking forward to Feb. 1 and the promises of cheeseburgers, deli sandwiches and chicken enchiladas it brings, but I’m still happy with how our meat-free month turned out.

As previously mentioned, I finally got around to buying barley this month, which I used to make this super-hearty soup (recipe adapted from
Epicurious) that would be perfect for a frosty winter's day. 

Mushroom Barley Soup
1oz. dried chanterelles (I used Fungus Amongus)
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 ribs celery with leaves, diced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms
6-7 cups vegetable broth
2 cups whole barley
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper, to taste

Soak the dried mushrooms in at least 2 cups hot water, to cover, for 30 minutes. Strain through a filter and reserve 2 cups of the mushroom water. Coarsely chop the dried mushrooms.

Melt the butter in a large pot (I used my
Le Creuset Dutch oven) and sauté the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, thyme and fresh mushrooms until soft, about 5 minutes. Add vegetable broth and barley, reserved mushroom water and bay leaf to the pot and bring to a boil. Stir well and add salt and pepper to taste. 

Simmer, covered, for 45-60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until barley is tender and soup thickens. Remove bay leaf and season with adjust seasonings to your liking.