On Missed Opportunities

When the New Year had just begun, Tracy posted a list of her top 20 recipes from 2013.  As I scrolled through the list, I ended up kicking myself over just about every photo that appeared on my screen.  Why hadn’t I made that yet?  I’m looking at you, turkey, broccoli, cheddar panini!

spinach tortellini soup

But I started super simple, and ended up with a meal that is sure to become a weeknight staple in these, the colder months.  Spinach tortellini soup.  It’s a keeper because a week after making it, I could walk to my kitchen and recreate the entire dish without looking up the recipe again.  My recommendation is to double the recipe below so you can keep a full serving in the freezer.  You never know when soup weather is going to strike, and you wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared.

To make spinach tortellini soup for 4, you will need:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • salt and pepper
  • 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 32 oz. chicken stock
  • 10 oz. package tortellini
  • 6 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • Parmesan, for serving

Heat olive oil in large stockpot.  Add onion and saute 3-4 minutes, till translucent.  Add garlic, and stir 30 seconds, till fragrant.  Add red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add can of diced tomatoes and chicken stock.  Bring mixture to boil and let it roll about 10 minutes.  Add tortellini and cook about 6 minutes, or according to package directions.  Remove soup from heat, and stir in spinach till slightly wilted.  Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese.

Harry and David

We’ve lived in our house for 3 years now.

And for the past 3 years, Harry and David have sent us a nice, big box of goodies.

harry and david

Addressed to the previous owners.

Thanks to some texting with a neighbor, we know we have the okay to dig into our annual supply of gourmet food.

This year’s bounty was particularly serendipitous because of the arrival of the pears.

I mean, duh, of course there are pears, it is Harry and David, but this year they were well-timed pears.

They were pears that arrived shortly after Tracy Shutterbean posted her pear cranberry arugula salad.

salad

This is the perfect balance of ingredients.  The crisp pears get junked up by everyone’s favorite fried onions.  (Oh sure, you could fry your own, but who’s got time?)  And the sweet, dried cranberries are rounded out by the toasted walnuts.  And the cheese puts everything over the top.

salad con queso

Sold!

I made several adaptations based on my pantry, so take this recipe and run with it, dear readers .

To make pear cranberry arugula salad for 2 for dinner, or 4 as a side, you will need:

For the dressing:

  • 4 T olive oil
  • 2 T champagne vinegar (though white wine would be fine as well)
  • 1 heaping T cranberry sauce, or other red-fruit jelly
  • salt
  • pepper

For the salad:

  • 1 Bosc pear, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 8 C arugula
  • 1/3 C fried onions (I won’t tell if you add more)
  • 1/3 C roasted or toasted walnuts
  • 1/3 C dried cranberries
  • 1/3 C cheese (goat, feta, cheddar–something with a strong taste)
  • salt
  • pepper

To make the dressing, combine all ingredients in a jar, screw the lid on tightly, and shake it like a Polaroid picture.  Or, whisk it in a bowl (BORING!).

To make the salad, combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Toss till mixed, and top with dressing.  Toss again until everything is coated.  Serve immediately.

p.s.  I’m totally eyeing this pear pomegranate salsa, too.

Trader Joes

I have a serious thing for Trader Joe’s.

Their food is amazing, not much of it makes me feel guilty, and a weekly trip down their aisles costs me way less than a weekly trip to the big-name grocery stores.

Unfortunately, Trader Joe’s could not be more inconvenient for me to get to.  Nor could it be more crowded on weekends, when I do the bulk of my shopping.

So now, when I make my weekend plans, I google the closest TJ’s, and make a stop there before I head home.  When we were in Charlottesville for AGOMYR’s wedding, we hit it up before our 3 hour ride back to DC.  That’s how inconvenient it is to go to the TJ’s around me.  I would rather keep their frozen food in the trunk of my car for 3 hours, than drive into the heart of the city and park my car in a space that’s too small, all the while fighting off my Lululemon-clad peers, just to get my hands on their pre-made salads.

bbq chicken salad

Oh, their pre-made salads are good.  But they’re one of the few grocery items at Trader Joe’s I’d call expensive.  And one in particular happens to be laced with a mayo-based dressing. It also happens to be amazing and hard to resist.

tossed salad

Lucky for the world, Tracy freshened the dressing up with a combination of yogurt and barbecue sauce, making it less fattening, while keeping it oh-so-tangy.  I took a couple liberties with her recipe, based on what was in my fridge, and put together a huge bowl of Trader Joe’s Barbecue Chicken Salad for dinner last night.  I ate the whole thing, guilt free.

Then I started dreaming of a vegetarian version, plus black beans and quinoa, sans chicken.

To make a giant bowl of salad, that is probably too large for you, but doesn’t intimidate me in the slightest, you will need:

  • A mixing bowl
  • Romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 slices of tomato, small diced
  • 1 ear of corn, cooked, kernels removed (about 3/4 C if you’re using canned or frozen)
  • 1/2 avocado, diced
  • 1 scallion, diced
  • 2 oz. chicken breast, cooked, and chopped into bite-sized pieces (I buy bags of pre-cooked chicken breasts from, you guessed it, Trader Joes.  They are always in my freezer when the need arises.)
  • 1/4 C shredded cheddar (Which is in TJ’s version, but not in Tracy’s.  And I’m with her, it doesn’t need it.)
  • 1 T barbecue sauce
  • 1 T plain yogurt (Greek is fine)
  • a squeeze lime juice
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 5 or 6 tortilla chips, crushed

Place a heaping amount of lettuce in the bowl.  Add tomato, corn, avocado, scallion, chicken, and cheddar, if using.  In small bowl, combine barbecue sauce, yogurt, and lime juice.  Pour over salad and toss till combined.  Add a nice helping of salt and pepper, and toss again.  Top with chips.  Serve immediately.

This salad is pretty much this salad.  And so you might be reading it, wondering why I’d post something so closely related.  It’s the dressing.  The dressing is everything.

I’m Going to be Honest

Time is not something I have a lot of right now.

So the gushing is going to be minimal in this post.

toasted coconut popcorn

But if you, like me, have five minutes, and if you, like me, enjoy snacks that blow your mind, then may I gently suggest Tracy Shutterbean’s toasted coconut popcorn.

It’s popped in coconut oil, and ever so slightly salted, and it’s just plain fun.

To make some you will need:

  • 1/2 C coconut flakes (I use unsweetened, I buy them at Whole Foods.  I’m sure Trader Joes would come through for you, too.)
  • 2 T coconut oil, divided
  • 1/4 C popcorn kernels
  • kosher or sea salt

Toast coconut flakes over the stovetop.  Pour coconut in a small frying pan over medium heat.  Stir things around constantly for 3-5 minutes until the flakes start to brown.  No matter my stove, gas or electric, I always move the coconut off the burner right away because the amount of time it takes to go from lightly browned to burn is about the time it takes me to turn the knob.  What I’m trying to say is, remove it from the heat as soon as you can.  Set aside.

In a 4 qt. saucepan, melt 1 1/2 T oil over medium-high heat.  (If you’re not familiar, coconut oil is a solid at room temperature, but melts when heated. Science!)  Once the oil is melted, place three kernels in the bottom of the pan, and cover.  Let sit and listen for three little pops.  This should take between 1-2 minutes.  Once you’ve heard all 3 pops, that means the oil is exactly the right temperature.  Pour in the remaining kernels, cover the pan with your hand and get ready to get your work out in for the day.  With one hand, hold the handle of the pot.  With the other, hold the lid.  Shake the pot over the burner and in a quick second, you’ll hear lots of pops.  Once that slows down, and there is a second or two in between sounds, take the popcorn off the heat.  Keep the lid on for about 15 seconds, just to make sure there are no more pops, and then remove.

Tracy recommends layering this is a serving bowl so you get a little of everything in one handful.  So pour half the popcorn in a bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Add half the coconut.  Repeat with the popcorn, salt, and coconut.  Enjoy!

*I didn’t eat everything in one sitting, and stored my popcorn in a Ziploc bag for 2 days.  It kept much more beautifully than it usually does for me.  Perhaps it was the coconut oil instead of the vegetable oil I’m used to?

I’ll Try Anything Once

When Tracy Shutterbean posts a recipe that requires soaking a bowl of chocolate chips in half a teaspoon of bourbon, for the record, I’m in.

oatmeal chocolate chip cake

I had no idea what happens when you soak chocolate chips in bourbon, nor a clue about why one might want to soak chocolate chips in bourbon.  But it can’t be bad, right?  I’ll try anything once.

I love cakes baked and frosted in 9 x 13 pans.  They look so much like a picnic to me–perfect for sharing.  They’re always best served in little squares on brightly colored paper plates.  Typically, these cakes are also the easiest to make.  This one is a little different in that there are a couple steps going on in the making of this cookie-cake hybrid.  None of them are particularly difficult, but there are a couple more than usual.

The end result, though, a cake that tastes like a beloved cookie, topped with swirls of cream cheese frosting, is the best I’ve made in some time.  It already feels like an instant classic; something I know I’ll make for years to come.

To make an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie cake for sharing, you will need:

For the cake:

  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 C + 2 T all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. bourbon
  • 1 C rolled oats
  • 1 stick butter, unsalted, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1 1/4 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

For the frosting:

  • 4 T salted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 T cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 C powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 cake pan.

Place chocolate chips in a small bowl, and pour bourbon on top.  Toss with 2 T flour to coat, and let sit.

Heat 1 1/4 C water till boiling.  Place oats and butter in  bowl.  Pour boiling water over oat mixture and stir till butter is melted.  Set aside till water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.

Whisk eggs, sugars, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in large bowl.  Fold in oatmeal mixture till incorporated.  Fold in remaining flour till incorporated.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into pan and bake 35-40 minutes, till a tester comes out clean.

Let cake cool completely in pan.  To make frosting, combine butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix till creamy, about 3 minutes.  Slowly add powdered sugar and vanilla, and mix till smooth.  Frost cake and serve as-is.

 

On Delegating

Sometimes, it’s a good idea to let your husband do the grocery shopping.  Sure, you’re usually the one who goes.  Sure, you know the aisles like the back of your hand, how to read the price tags to make sure you’re paying the least per ounce, and how to make it out of there without spending a fortune.

Having him go means giving up control.  What if he doesn’t know which kind of yogurt you like best?  Greek, full fat, plain, large container.  What if he comes back without the one item you really needed?  Not that you’ve done that 8 million times.  What if he buys a round loaf of focaccia instead of a rectangular one? Ooooh, that might actually be the end of the world. 

Oh wait, none of that matters if it means you have one less errand to do.  Besides, what if he strikes up a conversation with the woman at the Whole Foods cheese counter, who assures him he’s getting the best cheddar the store has?

complete dinnerThen, you make panini!

sliced paniniTurkey, cheddar, red pepper, and pesto panini.

Approximately 0.25 seconds into a bite of this dinner I yelled, “Why does anyone ever eat at Panera?” in exasperation, out loud, to the world.  Fun fact–I have lunch plans at Panera this week.  It will be fantastic.  Whatever I eat will not live up to this.  I’m almost certain it was that top of the line cheddar that made all the difference.

To make Shutterbean’s Turkey and Pepper Panini for two, you will need:

  • 1 loaf focaccia bread
  • 2 T pesto
  • sliced turkey breast
  • roasted red peppers
  • cheddar cheese
  • olive oil

Heat up a panini maker while you begin to prep the sandwiches.  Cut whatever size sandwiches you’d like from the focaccia.  Slice the bread in half lengthwise.  Spread pesto on each half of the bread.  Place turkey on one half of sandwich.  Then layer cheese, peppers, and more turkey.  Place the other half of the bread atop your concoction.  Brush panini maker lightly with olive oil, and grill sandwich for about five minutes, or until the cheese starts to melt.  Assemble the other sandwich while the first is grilling.  Serve hot.

 

December 1 {baked crispy hot wings}

Be honest, how much did that week between Thanksgiving and 12/1 help you out?  I feel like I’m about to punch the holidays in the face, rather than let them drag me around by the seat of my pants for the next several weeks.  Judging by the number of evergreens I saw tied to cars out on the road today, I’d say we’re all in the same boat.  Here’s to that extra week of breathing room.

man and fireToday is December 1, which, for me, is the beginning of Christmas season (that is, if the day after Thanksgiving just seems a bit too soon).  In our house, that meant breaking out the decorations, starting a fire, and picking out a tree.

decorationsThat little guy on the dining room table belonged to Grandma Glass of Milk.  She passed it on to me during a fit of downsizing.  Speaking of little guys, casa Glass of Milk is now home to a new one.

elf on the shelfIf you didn’t already know, the Elf on the Shelf watches all the girls and boys and reports on their naughtiness, or lack thereof, to the jolliest man of all.  I’ve always wanted one.  I don’t care that I don’t have an actual child for this guy to watch over.  He can watch over me.  He did that today while I made Tracy Shutterbean’s baked crispy hot wings.

wingsYes, I said baked.  Baked, as in, not fried.  Baked, as in, eat as many as you darn well please, because how bad for you is chicken, and isn’t spicy food supposed to kick-start your metabolism, anyway?

wings on a platterSince I’m nothing if not honest, dear readers, I’m going to tell you I don’t love wings.  Give me a burger and fries in front of a football game any day.  But.  I mean, obviously, there’s a but in a post about wings.  But these are not greasy chicken parts sitting in a plastic basket at a bar that start your nose a-running.  That’s what I thought wings had to be.  They don’t.  These are homemade chicken wings.  Their crispy skin gives way to juicy,  oh-so-flavorful meat underneath.  With just enough kick to keep you coming back for more.

drummettesMy husband likes the wings and I like the drumettes.  We are a match made in heaven.

To make wings for 2 (a male and a not-as-hungry female), you will need:

  • A pack of chicken wings (1.5 pounds-ish)
  • 1 T butter, melted
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 C Frank’s hot sauce (or another hot sauce of your choosing)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and set a rack on top of it.  Now it’s time to get real.  You’re going to have to trim the chicken wings.  I was terrified.  But I thought of when I was terrified to touch raw chicken when I was in middle school and how I got over it.  And I thought of when I was terrified of taking the organs out of the chicken cavity and how I got over it.  And then I trimmed the chicken wings and I got over it.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat to eat these another night.  Alternately, you could search for the elusive pack of drumettes and go from there.

Combine the butter, cayenne, salt and pepper in a bowl, and let hang out for 5 minutes.  Add hot sauce and stir till combined.

In large bowl, toss wings with sauce.  Place wings, skin side down, on top of baking rack, and bake 20 minutes.  Flip wings over, and brush with sauce if you have some remaining in the bowl.  Let the wings crisp up in the oven another 20-25 minutes.

Serve hot, with celery and raaaaaaaaanch dressing.

Fun in the Kitchen

Let’s realtalk today.  In cooking, much as in life, it’s not a difficult thing to find yourself in a total and complete rut.  You know what I’m talking about.  You make the same staples again and again, because your pantry always has the same ingredients.

A rut like this can also be what zaps the joy out of cooking.  There’s no excitement, no looking forward to standing in the kitchen for an hour, making something you could make with your eyes closed, and maybe even your hands tied behind your back.

And to get out of a rut, you have to try something new.  For me, mustering up that motivation to do so typically happens when I stumble on a recipe that’s like nothing I’ve ever made, and that contains ingredients I always have on hand.

Enter Mexican Popcorn!

If you say it in Tracy’s Oprah voice, it helps.

Mexican popcorn is a twist, that I never would have thought of, on my favorite snack .  My default flavor setting is olive oil, garlic and herbs.  But if you want to make Mexican popcorn, you have to add spices!  Cumin, oregano and paprika to be exact.  And lime zest.  I’m a sucker for anything with zest.

It takes this snack to new heights.  Or maybe they’re old heights you’ve been trying to avoid when it comes to eating between meals.  Maybe you’re used to reaching back in the bowl for one more handful.  Maybe you like licking your fingers of all the flavor that remains.  Maybe you often have to throw food in the trash so you don’t finish it all yourself.  I’ve gotten so much better about admitting that since it’s been on Sex and the City.  Maybe you ate enough of this as a snack that all you had was an apple for dinner.  Maybe.

Mexican popcorn.  Addicting stuff.

To make enough for 2 hungry people, you will need:

  • 6 T coconut oil, divided (No coconut oil?  Use butter.)
  • 1/3 C popcorn kernels
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika (I used regular)
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • zest of 1 lime
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • Kosher salt

Place a small saucepan over medium heat.  Melt 3 T oil* and stir in spices.  Let things hang out for about a minute, stirring once or twice.  Off the heat, add lime juice.  Set this mixture aside.

Place 3 lonely popcorn kernels in the bottom of a medium saucepan.  Pour in remaining 3 T coconut oil, secure your lid, and heat over medium heat.  Be patient.  Eventually, you’ll hear those 3 kernels pop.  That will tell you the oil is good and ready for the rest of the popcorn.  Pour in remaining kernels, secure that lid again, and shake the pan over the burner.  I keep one hand on the handle and one hand on the lid for this part.  I don’t want popcorn and hot oil splattering all over my kitchen.

When popping slows or stops, remove pan from heat.  I vent the lid a bit to let some of that initial steam escape, and give any unpopped kernels one last chance to get the job done.

After 30 seconds to a minute, pour popcorn into large bowl.  Add oil and spice mixture.  Listen to it sizzle.  Sprinkle popcorn with lime zest and top with a generous helping of Kosher salt.  Snack happy.

*Coconut oil is this wacky fat that is a solid at room temperature, and liquid when it’s heated.  Go figure.  For this recipe, you’ll want it heated so it becomes the consistency of any other oil, like vegetable, canola, or olive.