Be My Valentine {One Bite At A Time}

Nikki of Cupcakes For Breakfast asked me to guest post in her week long series for a bloggers’ Valentine’s Day! Hope you guys like it – and thank you so much Nikki!

A Guide For Two Cooks In The Kitchen

When Nikki originally asked me to do a Valentine’s day guest post I was excited, but at a loss as to what to write about. Then I recalled a conversation I had with a chef friend of mine.

Food is so many things, but most importantly food is all about love. And on special days, it’s quite sexy too! My chef friend asked me if I’d ever cooked with someone before and imagine his surprise when I said no, no I had not. For loving food as much as I do and cooking or baking all the time, I’d never cooked with someone!

Click through to check out my tips for cooking with a (special?) friend :) 

Orecchiette with Balsamic Roasted Brussel Sprouts

Let’s talk about weeknight dinners. A Monday dinner no less. Could there be a less appealing night to get in the kitchen and dirty up a ton of dishes?

Last night, after hiking up the hill to my apartment, peeling off layer after layer of cold weather gear, slipping off my boots and putting on pajamas, I plopped down on the couch and just stared at my kitchen. I was starving. I needed to eat. But all I wanted in that moment was my make-believe cabana boy (who doubles as a chef) to come cook me dinner.

Alas. My cabana boy seemed to have the night off. So I reminded myself how therapeutic cooking can be, even when your body and mind are tired, and got to it.

The brussel sprouts were two days shy of being thrown out. The orecchiette hadn’t been opened despite taking up valuable real estate in my cupboard for over a month now. The butter and the cheese, well, that was my reward to myself for getting off the couch.

I cooked in silence for once. Usually I jam some music or have MSNBC on in the background, but the sounds of the knife thunking on the cutting board, the hissss of gas when I turned on the oven and even the crinkle and tear of the parchment paper I used for roasting the sprouts was a soothing back drop. And there it was, I found my zen.

It was a nice little moment, and something I need to remind myself I can have every day if I like. I have a tendency to stop before I even start when it comes to weeknight cooking, don’t you? I have these big ideas for, let’s get real, ambitious meals, and once I get home the idea of cooking for more than 15 minutes sounds completely overwhelming. (Not to mention the dishes. Oy! The dishes!) But these meals can, and should, be simple but special in some way. So here are my weeknight cooking tips:

  1. Start with a pantry staple (in this case, pasta)
  2. Add an ingredient you don’t normally use (brussel sprouts)
  3. Boost flavor (balsamic here, but think spices and herbs too)
  4. Indulge a bit (butter and cheese)
  5. BONUS TIP: add an appetizer

Regarding that last one – start keeping some good bread/crackers and cheese in your house. You’re not going to eat the whole loaf or inhale the entire wedge of cheese, but a couple slices of each with a glass of wine while you wait for dinner to finish can be really nice. I probably have more cheese in my house than I know what to do with, and am perpetually freezing my favorite loaf of bread.  These odd habits have served me well for both the average weeknight and for entertaining unexpected guests.

But let’s get to it – here’s what you’ll be making for dinner tonight! Continue reading

Braised Chicken with Shallots

Can we take care of a bit of business before we dive into this dish here? The Washington Post is once again holding the DCTweeps contest. They’ve spruced up the rules, added new categories and thrown in wildcard voting – but they still have a “Favorite Foodie” category, and I’m still nominated! Would you guys take a moment and go vote for me? It’s nearly the last category (so annoying, I know) but along the way you can vote for great folks like Borderstan (Fave Local Blogger), Andy Carvin (Fave Social Media Geek) and Allison Sosna (Fave Activist). I’ll be forever thankful – I’ll even make a weird or difficult recipe for you and do the dirty research to see if it’s worth it! (Maybe. If you want me to make something ridiculous from the Alinea cookbook well, no. I won’t do that.)

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled recipe.

Remember when I butchered that chicken back in March? Well, I walked away from the class with two whole chickens, broken down, bits and all. It was still chilly and I’d just bought my dutch oven and was itching to use it. In case you didn’t know: chicken + dutch oven = braising. At least in my house it does.

A quick Google search brought me to this Martha Stewart recipe, which I have to say is a nice jumping off point for braising chicken. It has all the important elements – white wine, mustard and a good sear on the meat before you get started. Here’s the good news: the chicken comes out so tender, nearly fall off the bone tender. And the shallots, translucent with each layer delicately separated, take on a whole new texture and flavor, almost candied!  Continue reading

Cherry Tomato, Avocado and Red Onion Salad in a Citrus Vinaigrette

“What you really need is another tomato on top. Yeah! Right there! In the middle!”

You know, as a food blogger, bringing new people into your life is always an interesting experience. Some people hate all the photography before you can enjoy a meal. Some people seem to enjoy (too much) any  freebies you may receive. Some hate the multiple stops at the farmers’ markets AND grocery stores every weekend.

And then there are people who actually want to be involved in the photography (hence the tomato comment). And they get excited about apples at the markets. And they run off to buy bison steaks while you fawn over fennel. And they think it’s funny to take pictures of you, taking pictures of food (how, Inception).

I think most food bloggers prefer the latter. At least, I do. My aforementioned friend did just that the other night while I was photographing the Grilled Chicken Sandwich with Pepper Jack and Chipotle Lime Mayo. Those pictures, me hunched over a patio chair, in pajamas, nasty curly hair frizzed out in all directions – and with a plumbers crack apparently – will not appear on this blog. Or anywhere else for that matter!

And when it came time to snap another photo of the cherry tomato and avocado salad he happily chimed in with tomato placement suggestions. You sir, are a trooper.

Anyway, when I agreed to post a lunch suggestion for  the Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge I was pretty adamant that my lunch would have a side. And what’s better than cherry tomatoes and avocados in the summer time?  Um. Nothing!

I love the salad even more because it was so easy to throw together and got better with some time in the fridge…perfect for a work-day lunch.

So here goes:

Cherry Tomato, Avocado and Red Onion Salad in a Citrus Vinaigrette

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Combine cherry tomatoes, avocado, red onion and cilantro in a bowl.

In a separate bowl combine remaining ingredients. Whisk aggressively with a fork for 30 seconds. Taste your concoction…add salt or pepper as needed.

Pour vinaigrette over the salad and toss very lightly with two spoons. Place in a to-go bowl and you’re ready to take it for lunch!

Brown Bag Challenge: Grilled Chicken Sandwich With Pepper Jack and Chipotle Lime Mayo

I met Cara and Phoebe of Big Girls Small Kitchen fame over brunch with Mrs. Wheelbarrow about a month ago now, and their energy was infectious. Meeting the people behind the blogs you love can be awkward, do I gush and say how much I love the blog? Will they be in real life how they write on their blog? All I can say is, these are the kind of gals you want as your friends – savvy, smart and hilarious.

So, when they asked me to participate in the Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge I was very excited! There are all kinds of fun giveaways from BuiltNY (the folks who make all those fun lunch bags and wine carriers) and chats all week. But, first the food!

The challenge is all about making it fun and easy to take your lunch to work. I like my lunch to be the most filling meal of my day. I’m not too hungry in the morning so I eat light and am usually starving by lunch which also needs to fuel my evening work out. My go-to healthy lunch is a salad, but I decided to branch out and try a sandwich for today instead.

A grilled chicken sandwich seemed like a pretty boring move, but I zhuzhed it up with a “fancy” deli roll from the grocery store (shmeared with butter and grilled, too, of course), melted pepper jack cheese and some smokey spicy chipotle lime mayo.

My dining companion who taste tested the sandwich wanted a bag of Lays potato chips to go with it, but I opted for a cherry tomato, avocado and red onion salad dressed in a citrus vinaigrette. That recipe will come tomorrow though!

Something to consider: make sure you get a particularly plump chicken breast if you like your lunches large and in charge – or double up and do two chicken breasts. We definitely wanted more chicken on our sandwiches (whimpy breasts) to balance out all that bread from the fancy rolls.

I’m happy to say that while I thought this was a great sandwich, my taste tester, a boy, also thought it would make a filling meal. Who says you can’t eat well for lunch?!


More Details on the Small Kitchen College Brown Bag Challenge:

Wednesday, July 13th from 12pm – 1pm, BGSK be hosting a live twitter chat with The Daily Meal, using hash tag #brownbag.

So, you can also  win BuiltNY prizes on Facebook and Twitter, @BGSKCollege,  by posting a photo of your brown bag lunch. Items up for grabs include: Gourmet Getaway Lunch Totes, Water Bottle Tote, Six Pack Tote, Market Tote, Spicy Relish Lunch Tote, and Wine Bottle Tote.

Grilled Chicken Sandwich With Chipotle Lime Mayo

  • 1 thick chicken breast (or 2 small breasts)
  • 1tsp olive oil
  • 1-2 slices of pepper jack cheese
  • 3 thin slices off a small red onion
  • 3 pieces of crisp lettuce
  • 1 kaiser roll
  • Butter
  • 1/4c mayo
  • 1tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1tsp adobo sauce (from the chipotles in adobo sauce you’ll find in the Hispanic foods aisle at the grocery store)
  • Salt/Pepper

I did this meal entirely on a gas grill, which certainly made things easy, but you can achieve the same results with a pan and your broiler.

Before you head to the grill:

  • Halve your deli roll and shmear each side with a healthy portion of butter.
  • Slice your onion, tear off some lettuce and grab your cheese.
  • Combine mayo, lime juice, adobo sauce and salt/pepper in a bowl. Mix thoroughly & taste. Add more adobo, salt or pepper to taste.
  • Rub down your chicken breast with the olive oil, salt and pepper.

Get the grill nice and hot, say, 400F.  Place chicken on the grill and close the top. After 7-10 minutes, turn the breast. While you have the grill still open, throw the bun, butter side down, on the upper portion of the grill so it’s not directly on the flame.

Check on your chicken after another 7-10 minutes…lookin’ all pretty with those grill marks?! Time to take your bun off the grill. now, using your tongs and a sharp knife, cut the breast in half lengthwise. This is your chance to make sure it’s cooked all the way through…no pink! Place your pepper jack cheese on top of each half of the chicken and close the grill again. Mmmm…melty, spicy cheese!

Since you’re taking this for lunch you’re going to want things in separate baggies or containers. One for each:

  • chipotle lime mayo
  • grilled chicken with melted cheese, lettuce and onion
  • bun

When you get to work all you have to do is shmear on the mayo and assemble your sandwich. Maybe heat up the chicken in your office microwave if you’re feeling fancy. 

Tune back in tomorrow for the side salad recipe to complete your lunch!

Now if you’re looking at that can of chipotles in adobo sauce and wondering what to do with the rest of it…just make albondigas for dinner! They are great re-heated…for lunch even! :)

My Mom’s Meat Sauce

I really enjoy a hearty meat sauce. Simple ingredients, almost…plain. More than that though, I love my Mom’s meat sauce.

Growing up I remember her browning the meat as I would get ready for school, chopping the veggies quickly and throwing all the ingredients into her crock pot. It’s one of maybe ten dishes I distinctively remember from my childhood. Another one is a three bean chili I refused to eat for no good reason. (Sorry, Mom.)


This is my back yard at home! Meat sauce makes me think of (and miss) home...a lot.


I made a batch of the meat sauce this weekend for friends who came over to enjoy the Oscars and was proud when, in the final taste test, it tasted just like I remembered. I even called my Mom to tell her, “No worries…I’ve done right by your meat sauce. Everything tastes as it should.” People went back for seconds. Leftovers were handed out for lunch the next day. It was a rare moment when dinner seemed to come together effortlessly and everyone was content and full with food.

I told you when I made Alton Brown’s meat sauce that my Mom’s is better (and much easier). So here we go. The recipe is like a mom’s recipe should be…from memory and loose. Don’t get frustrated when I say for the 500th time, “to taste.” Just…keep tasting…and adjusting slowly but surely.

Recipe after the jump!

PS – Okay, so I realize I haven’t been posting actual pictures of the food lately. Like most people, I go through phases. Right now, thanks to winter light (dark by 6pm) and my general desire to eat the food I make as quickly as possible, or that I’m taking the food I make to parties, I haven’t been snapping (pretty) pictures of any of it lately. For this I apologize but I hope you’ll stick with me through this fickle phase. I promise. I’ll get back photographing my creations soon. Until then, I’ve gone the way of Apron Anxiety with a Kitchen Porn twist, which I don’t think is all that bad.

Continue reading

Alton Brown’s Meat Sauce

Talk about a case of culinary excess.

Okay, here’s a question. You’re faced with a recipe that has an ingredient list the size of the New York phone book. Not really…but 23 ingredients. TWENTY THREE! What kind of food do you think you’re about to make? Thai? A complex, authentic Chinese dish? A deep, rich Mexican mole?

No. Alton Brown’s meat sauce.

Alton Brown...he's smirking because his meat sauce is ridiculous.

Why was I making this in the first place? Twitter. It’s a beast. @DarthGarry had tipped me off that he’d made the sauce and thought it was delicious…and basically challenged me to make it. I’m always up for a challenge and after he reminded me several times to make it (especially after I had announced my purchase of a dutch oven) it was on like donkey kong.

I reserved this adventure for a Sunday evening. I resolved to follow the recipe to the “t” as much as possible – even though I thought it was the most ridiculous thing ever. Ever. After reading the recipe and the time it would take to complete each step, I realized, this was a FIVE HOUR endeavor.

I know what Alton was trying to do here. With each step he is trying to extract the fullest and richest flavors out of each ingredient going into the pot.  He also has a touch of delusion mixed in there. Because I hardly tasted the 1 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce or the 1 tablespoon of ketchup. If unnecessary ingredients like this make or break your dish, well, you have bigger issues to tackle. Other steps just felt fussy and unnecessary.

There is an upside to all this complaining though. The sauce is delicious. I just don’t think it’s worth five hours of my time. My mother has an equally delicious meat sauce recipe that calls for a day of slow cooking in a crock pot. Prep takes about 20 minutes of opening cans of various tomato products, browning meat and chopping veggies. Dump it all in the crock pot and you’re done for the day. That’s my kind of meat sauce!

I’m not going to publish the recipe, because you can find it here. Also because I’m going to make my mom’s meat sauce for you all and publish that recipe instead. Be on the look out!


Basic Braised Short Ribs

My buddy Evan authors a lovely food blog, The Carnivore and The Vegetarian. (He’s the carnivore.) He recently asked me to guest post so, in the spirit of his carnivorousness, I thought I’d share a basic braised short ribs recipe I tried last weekend.

Go check is out! And add Evan to your RSS reader or subscribe to him – he makes some very cool food! If you’re on twitter follow him! He’s @EvanHalperin.


Thanksgiving Wrap Up

I know, I’m way late in posting this…sorry : \

I have a confession. I don’t really love all the traditional Thanksgiving fare. I enjoy gratins, veggies prepared various ways and I certainly enjoy desserts. But I’ve never been a huge fan of turkey, cranberry sauce or traditional bread stuffing.

Thanksgiving Hostesses

What I do love is a gathering of happy, friendly faces – each with a glass of their chosen libation in hand. I enjoy a room full of chatter and laughter. I enjoy people eating – preferably my food and preferably they’re enjoying it.

What I love even more is when tradition is thrown completely out the window and people go for something so unique to their family it becomes a tradition to break tradition. This is my family. Mostly on Christmas though. Years ago, I convinced my mother to do a Mexican food-only Christmas dinner. My father grumbles annually, but in the end we’re always glad we did it. She makes amazing tacos!

I’m posting my crew’s Thanksgiving menu because there were some truly great dishes…but mostly because I’m a food blogger. Next year, I think I’m going to buck tradition, no matter the size of the group, and make different things…maybe things I grew up with, or just favorites I’ve acquired over time.

Thanksgiving Menu 2010

It was such a lovely meal. And clearly, we had a good time with each other :)

Thanksgiving 2010 Crew