Sunday, April 28, 2013

Cantaloupe Drizzled with Lemon Cardamom Yogurt Sauce

As I get older, one thing that seems to get increasingly higher is my threshold of what constitutes "embarassing" behavior in public places.

In my middle school years, I would never leave home without my self-defined "mall outfit" - a fun shirt and jeans, makeup, and copious amounts of baubles emblazoned with smiley faces, yin-yangs, and peace signs (oh my god what were we thinking). Having parents in tow was an automatic source of embarrassment (for no logical reason).  All behavior was directed at the goal of "fitting in."

Eventually, things start to ease up.  You realize that no one actually dies if you decide to wear sweatpants out of the house.  And the mere fact that you have parents no longer seems to be a source of shame.

And now I am the girl who leaves home with giant knots in my hair.  As well as the person who traipses around markets, sniffing each melon to find the most wonderfully fragrant one.  Picking them up to make sure they are dense. Examining the color of the rind.  This is all very important work.  A bad melon is a bad melon.  But a good melon is transcendent.

But one could make the case that this behavior is quite odd.  Embarrassing, even.  Which I'm sure I will be told by Max sometime in the near future.  But that will be his problem, not mine.

Cantaloupe chunks (or slices, which would be prettier, but not as easy to eat )
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
zest from small lemon
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon honey
pinch cardamom

Mix the yogurt, lemon zest and juice, coconut milk, honey, and cardamom together in a small bowl.  Spoon over cantaloupe chunks.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Berries with Hibiscus-Infused Whipped Cream

I'm not always great at multitasking.  Okay, if I'm honest, I'm never great at multitasking. But I love to believe I am.

One minute I'm full of hubris about simultaneously doing some laundry, engaging Max in a toddler alphabet game, cooking some dinner, running the ice cream maker, and perhaps slipping in a quick phone call.  And then time passes, and I've forgotten that I was actually doing laundry.  And now it is smelling a bit moldy and the clothes in the dryer are now wrinkled.  I have no idea what letter we are on in our alphabet game, and I've left things in the oven for too long.  Or over-whip the cream, as was the case the first time I made this hibiscus whipped cream.

I've always found it hard to be in the moment, I never feel I'm experiencing things quite right. I can be at the beach, and instead of feeling the coarseness of the sand as I dig my fingers into it or the chilliness of the salt water on my toes, I'm on my phone - absorbed in some reading or writing.  I know I should be doing this whole "mindfulness" thing, but that just doesn't work for me.

So juggling multiple things at once feels natural for me.  Even if I often fail spectacularly at them.  It is that rare, fortuitous occasion in which success happens that keeps me going at this multitasking endeavor.  Plus, I'm stubborn.

But even a stubborn person knows when to let it go.  So this time, I made sure to devote most of my attention to the task at hand.  And instead of playing an alphabet game with the tot, I tried teaching him to say "hibiscus," a rather amusing word coming from him.  And this time, things worked out.     

I would like to say that this will be a permanent change in behavior.  But I can assuredly say that isn't the case.  Because I'm stubborn like that.

Here we used the whipped cream to top some gorgeous blueberries and strawberries that were picked up at the farmer's market.  For more strawberry dessert ideas, Cooking Light put together this slideshow.

1 1/2 cups whipping cream, divided
3 tablespoons dried hibiscus leaves
pinch salt
2 tablespoons sugar

strawberries, sliced

For the hibiscus cream:  In a small pot over low heat, warm 1 cup cream and hibiscus leaves.   Take off heat and cover, letting the leaves steep in the cream for 20 minutes. strain and chill the mixture.  Once the hibiscus cream has chilled and is nice and cold, add the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and add in another 1/2 cup of whipping cream.  Add a pinch of salt and the sugar and use the whisk attachment to the whip the mixture until stiff peaks form.  Serve with the berries.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Whole Wheat Shells with Four Cheeses

Post hoc ergo propter hoc, or "after this therefore because of this"
We clearly spent way too much of our lives watching West Wing.

One must be mindful of not falling into this fallacious logic trap.  But sometimes, sometimes - one can be fairly sure that event "b" is indeed caused by event "a" based purely on the order in which these events happened.

Like, for instance, when you are at the beach and there is a snack stand.  And you order the bestest, most obvious of options - fries covered in some sort of spicy fake cheese sauce.  And you consume them.  And then a half hour later your stomach hurts.

Not that this happened to us or anything.

We all know that the cheese fries led to the stomach pains.

Yet after eating noodles slathered in a creamy, cheesy sauce, I feel so happy.  Joyful, really.  And I know it is precisely because of eating cheesy noodles that I am full of overwhelming joy.  In fact, I even contemplate the possibility of a benevolent supreme being who reveals a divine grace just by the mere existence of noodles and a sweeping array of cheeses.  It is precisely because of eating this most perfect of combinations of food that endorphins flood my entire being. I am sure that is not a logical fallacy.

1 pound whole wheat shells
3 cups half and half
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon hot sauce (like Frank's Red Hot Sauce)
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups grated good quality cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Taleggio cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water according to package directions.  Drain.  If, like me, you want to save on dishes, keep the cooked pasta in the colander and use the pot to make the sauce.  Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat.  Add the half and half, cheeses, Dijon mustard, and hot sauce.  Stir, once the cheeses have melted and the mixture is nice and warm, pour the cooked pasta into the sauce and mix together.  Adjust salt and pepper levels to taste. Let the noodles mingle with the sauce over low heat until the sauce has thickened.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Not So Usual BLT Sandwich - Creative Cooking Crew Challenge

I am not an imaginative person. Whether this is caused by, or results from, similarly unimaginative dreams remains to be seen.  But because of this personal failing, I had to actually Google ideas for playsets to encourage Max in imaginative play.

One suggestion that popped up a few times was the ever so vague "office worker."  It was suggested I place a not-loaded stapler, a rolodex, some paper clips, and junk mail, amongst other things, in a box for a child to pretend to be an office worker.

I kinda get it.  I love office supplies with all my heart and walking through an office supply store is like attending a place of worship for me.  

But - really?  This seems more like an imagination killer.  I have to believe that there are better ways of encouraging fantastic, epic play, the kind of play that as an unimaginative adult I have yet to think of.  Better than shoving a stapler and junk mail in a child's face and telling them to "be creative."     

And then maybe I wouldn't be so completely bereft of ideas for "imaginative play" that I have to resort to looking up things on the internet.  And perhaps I wouldn't have needed to lug out cookbooks and flip to the index, looking through all the words that start with B, L and T.  Because all of a sudden, I couldn't think of any foods that started with a B or an L or a T.

This month's Creative Cooking Crew Challenge is a sandwich, one built around three ingredients that start with the letters B, L, and T and are not bacon, lettuce, and tomato.

After frantically rifling through glossaries just to even think of foods starting with these three letters, we finally came up with a BLT combination of berries, liver mayonnaise and leaves, and turkey.  Works really well, actually. 

Here is this month's round-up of all the BLT sandwiches made by the Creative Cooking Crew this month - definitely check it out!

Berries, sliced (we used strawberries and blackberries)
Liver aioli
Leaves (arugula and mint)
deli Turkey meat (we used smoked turkey)
slices of multigrain bread

For the liver mayonnaise:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 small sprig rosemary
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 pound chicken livers
1 cup mayonnaise (homemade or store-bought)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

To make the liver mayonnaise:
Melt the butter and oil in a small pan over low heat.  Add the onions and rosemary.  Cook until the onions are nice and soft, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about a minute.  Increase the heat to medium and add the chicken livers (add more oil if needed).  Cook those until they are cooked through and no longer red, about ten minutes.  Once the livers have cooked, take off heat. In a bowl, combine the liver and onion mixture with the mayonnaise and puree with an immersion blender until everything is smooth. Chill until ready to use.

To assemble the sandwich:
Toast two slices of bread.  Spread the liver mayonnaise on one of the slices.  On the other, stack slices of the turkey, arugula leaves and a bit of mint, then the berries.  Top with the remaining slice of bread and eat!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Rise and Shine Breakfast Sandwich and Hidden Valley Sandwich Spreads & Dips

We are big fans of the breakfast scene.  So to celebrate this most wondrous of eating occasions, we made a Rise and Shine Sandwich with avocado, strawberries, chopped scallion, bacon, and a touch of Hidden Valley Spicy Chipotle Pepper Sandwich Spread & Dip.  

Hidden Valley now has four Sandwich Spreads & Dips – Country Herb Ranch, Oven Roasted Garlic Parmesan, Smoked Bacon Ranch, and the Spicy Chipotle Pepper – to to help you create craveable sandwiches.  

To get the recipe, head over here to Relish!  

Click here to enter the "Create Craveable Sandwiches" Sweepstakes - You could win $1000! 

Thank you to Hidden Valley™ Sandwich Spreads & Dips for being a sponsor. I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Quaker Big Chewy Granola Bars, Chocolate Fondue, and a Night of Television

Seth is often found working late nights and weekends.  Sometimes, however, a Saturday bestows on us a bit of serendipity and magnanimously opens itself up with freedom.  When that happens, we run into it and embrace it, in all its weekend glory.

The day quickly fills up.  Some hours are wiled away on errands and chores that had been put off, but others are used for fun - pit stops at the beach, playground time, lunches at a favorite restaurant - to make the most of our time together.

By the time we get home, it is toddler-late, and time to scoop him off to bed.  And toddler bed time means Seth and I get to do “our thing.”

“Our thing” has two components:
            1.  Our television show of the moment
            2.  Food!!

It is our time to watch our shows, or our “stories” as we like to say.  We generally have room in our hearts for one dramatic series at a time.  But there have been so many wonderful love affairs through the years - The Wire, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, West Wing, House of Cards, Damages, Breaking Bad, Mad Men... just to name a few.  And in this Netflix era, we can bring up our show of the moment with the click of a Wii remote and binge on back to back episodes.

And while we watch our stories we like a snack.  A snack that doesn’t involve expending a lot of energy, as that attribute has been depleted during the day’s activities.  A snack that will curb our hunger with some whole grain goodness, but a snack that is still delicious.  A snack like Quaker Oat’s Big Chewy Granola Bars.  

We love chocolate chips (seriously, we love them), so we get the Chocolate Chip Big Chewy Granola Bars.  But the snack doesn’t stop there.  We cut the granola bars and put them on a plate with some fruit - bananas (for me, we all know about Seth’s strong aversion to anything banana), strawberries, tangerines.  And a dip.  A chocolate fondue to be exact - one made with coconut milk and a hint of cardamom.  

It has been awhile since we mentioned our love of dipping.  So active! So communal! So fun! And can possibly lead to some intense debates about what the precisely most delicious combination of foods is to combine with the dip.

And while we snack on our granola bar bites and our fruit slices and fondue, we can sit side by side, watching our stories, discussing camera angles and character development, analyzing plot twists and turns, and arguing about the morality of actions that characters have taken.  And life is good.

Quaker is on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest - so follow/like them!

And now that you totally need some of these granola bars in your life right now, you need to know where to find them - look here for product locator and here for more information about the bars.

This post is brought to you by Quaker.  We were financially compensated for this post by Quaker via AOL Media.   

A Chocolate Fondue

1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch fleur de sel

In a small pot over low heat, warm the coconut milk.  Take off heat and stir in the chocolate chips.  Once they are melted, stir in the cardamom and vanilla.  Sprinkle fleur de sel on top of the fondue for serving. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Broccoli Quesadillas - "Our Usual" and the "Fancypants"

Seth's dreams are epic dreams.   A fact that can turn bleary mornings into family story hour.  Seth regales me with a recitation of his most recent nocturnal tale while I greedily lap it up.

Tales of survival in a post apocalyptic world.  Heroic tales of saving lives - sometimes people, sometimes kitten. Tales of living life as a whale (whether that whale was a blue or a grey yet remains unclear) and fighting to stay alive in the face of killer whale attacks.  These are the dreams that Seth's subconscious produces.

I'm so eager to eat up these dreams and absorb them into my memory.  Perhaps I hope my own subconscious mind will start to produce similar results through osmosis.

Mine, are well, mundane.  At best.  If I can even remember them.  Which is a seldom occurrence in life.  The ones I usually remember are those anxiety-ridden ones, the ones where you are late and despite your best attempts to get to where you are going, you are stymied every step of the way.

Once I dreamed of a loaf of bread.  That's it.  It was the Platonic ideal of a loaf, just floating in front of a black background.  No events actually happened.  Just a floating loaf.  I strangely didn't even eat the bread, a surprising thing for me to do since I have a deep and abiding love for the stuff.

Seth's dreamscape couldn't be more different from mine.  Our quesadilla preferences suffer from similar discrepancies.  But this disparity runs the other direction - mine are the more epic quesadillas.  I started adding a mango and black bean spread to add some extra levels of flavor.  Our usual quesadilla involves broccoli and jalapeno with scallion, cilantro and cheese.  I wanted more.

When offered the quesadilla with "more," Seth determined that he still wanted his usual and not the "fancypants."  I long for more in my dreams.  Seth apparently does not feel the same about his quesadilla.  Somehow, we make it work.

Mango and Black Bean Spread:
1 can black beans and their liquid
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup chopped mango
1 teaspoon spice mix (below)
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch salt

Spice Mix:
1/2 tsp roasted Saigon cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground coriander
Pinch cumin
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground star anise

For the quesadillas:
black bean spread
sliced jalapeno
about a 1/4 cup finely chopped broccoli florets per quesadilla
chopped scallions
chopped cilantro
grated cheddar cheese
crumbled cotija cheese
flour tortilla
canola oil, for cooking

For the spice mix:
Mix all the spices together in a small bowl.  Keep leftovers in an airtight container.

For the mango black bean spread:
Place all the ingredients, including the spice mix, in a medium pot over medium-low heat.  Let everything cook together, and after about ten minutes, take off heat.  Use an immersion blender to puree.  Set aside.

For the quesadillas:
Take the flour tortilla and spread the mango and black bean mixture on half of the tortilla.  Then layer the jalapeno slices, broccoli florets, scallions, cilantro, and cheeses on top of the spread.  Or if you are being Seth, then just skip the mango black bean mixture part.  Once all your ingredients are in, fold the tortilla.  Heat canola oil (about a tablespoon) in a cast iron skillet.  Place the quesadilla in.  Once a side has a nice golden brown color, flip it over.  Once both sides are golden brown, take off heat and serve.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spinach, Strawberry and Asparagus Salad with Lemon Saffron Dressing

Spring is a season of contrasts.  Days full of sunshine and cheer, punctuated with periods of gray skies and rain.  Crisp, chilly mornings give way to afternoon warmth and that fresh feeling of being alive, which then hands the reins back over to the coolness to close out the day.

Or, at least, that is the spring that lives in my memory.  The one formed by living on the East Coast for 23 years. At first glance, it appears that we now live in a land of eternal spring.  Occasional forays, perhaps, into some hot or cold (relatively) weather, but mostly smooth sailing with blue skies and warm temperatures.

But it isn't quite spring.  Or if it is indeed spring, it is one with some blandness, one with less roughness around the edges.  In other words, one with less contrast.

This salad embodies the memory of spring.  Cool earthy green veggies interspersed with some fiery red from the strawberries and radishes.  Crunchy asparagus and celery sharing space with soft berries.  Warm floral saffron dressing coating some crisp greens.  Spicy radishes with sweet strawberry.

A salad full of contrasts.  Which makes it particularly well-suited to serving with a big, greasy take-out pizza, all bendable and delicious, which is what we did...

For the salad:
3 cups spinach leaves
1 scallion, chopped
4 radishes, sliced
handful of pencil thin asparagus spears, tough ends removed, then chopped
2-3 tablespoons chopped celery
handful of strawberries, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
bit of lemon zest

For the dressing:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 small shallot, minced
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
bit of lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a medium bowl, toss spinach, scallion, radishes, asparagus, celery, and strawberries.  Sprinkle a bit of salt, pepper, and lemon zest.

In a small pot over low heat, combine the olive oil and saffron threads.  Once the mixture is fragrant - about 5 minutes, take off heat and add the minced shallots.  Let the mixture cool a bit, then whisk in the white wine vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and mustard.  Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Pour desired amount of dressing over the salad and toss to coat.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Roasted Spiced Strawberries with Honey Vanilla Yogurt

I'm great at holding grudges.  Forgiveness does not come easily after being betrayed.  I've held one (or continue to hold one) against each of the following:
1. granola
2. hot dogs
3. orange juice
4. Fig Newtons
5. yogurt

Most of these grudges have lasted for years.  One has lasted over two decades.  I won't get into the details of how each of these relationships went sour.  But now that we are firmly into 2013, it is perhaps time to get rid of all that bad energy and drop the hard feelings.

Yogurt is an easy food with which to get back into a relationship.  So useful as an ingredient - especially with quick breads and smoothies.  But I'd like to take things to the next level - and enjoy the stuff on its own terms.  As creamy, luxurious yogurt.

Here, Greek yogurt is mixed with honey, vanilla, and some spices.  And topped with strawberries spiced and roasted.  It is hard to stay mad at the stuff, when turned into this concoction.  I can drop the hard feelings for yogurt, and granola looks like the next food to work on - but one thing is for sure, the hot dog war will never cease.  Time doesn't heal ALL wounds.

Cooking Light has a great slideshow about yogurt - Click here to get some nutrition information, recipes, and tips about the stuff!

1 pound strawberries, sliced
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon spice mix

Spice mix:
1/2 tsp roasted Saigon cinnamon
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp ground coriander
Pinch cumin
Pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground star anise

16 ounces Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons wild dandelion honey
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch spice mix

Place sliced strawberries in a bowl and sprinkle with the brown sugar.  Let them sit for an hour.  Meanwhile, mix together the spice mix in a small bowl.

Heat oven to 350.  Stir in olive oil, white wine vinegar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the spice mix with the strawberries.  Spread on baking sheet and roast for about 30 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the yogurt, honey, vanilla, and spices.  To serve, top with the roasted strawberries.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Lavender and Fennel

When I was in my early elementary school years, I was convinced that one needed to do everything perfectly to move on to the next grade.  Every spelling test, every math worksheet, every page in the phonics workbook needed to be perfect.  And obviously - mistakes were made.  Anxiety would ensue.

When I finally learned that I was actually moving on to the next grade, despite making some errors, such relief would come over me.

I eventually learned that perfection wasn't needed to move on to the next grade.  But a pursuit of this mythical idea of perfection never truly went away.  I rationally understand the concept of "we can't be perfect."  But on an emotional level, I haven't quite internalized that.  So anxiety continues to ensue.

It took me a long time to make a roasted chicken.  Making it perfect seemed so overwhelming -
how to achieve crispy, golden skin, to brine or not to brine, to truss or not too truss.  A paralyzingly fear resulted.  We all know that perfect can be the enemy of the good. I finally just started doing it and kept things simple.  This roasted chicken isn't perfect.  But it was very good.  And that is enough sometimes.

2-3 tablespoons duck fat
1 small fennel bulb, halved
2 lemons, halved
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon dried lavender
1 rosemary sprig
couple thyme sprigs
vanilla salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 roasting chicken

Heat oven to 400.  Rinse the chicken and pat dry, and be sure to remove the organs.  Rub the duck fat over the chicken.  Sprinkle vanilla salt, black pepper, and a touch of fresh rosemary and thyme leaves, and some fennel fronds on the outside.

Inside a cavity, stuff with the fennel, garlic, half a lemon, lavender, and sprigs of rosemary and thyme.

Around the chicken, nestle in some lemon halves, thyme sprigs, and some more fennel fronds.

Roast for 1-2 hours, until the breast meat reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees.

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