Thursday, July 30, 2009

Food is Pretty

Because I can't share the recipes of things I've been making, I wanted to show you some of the beeeyoootiful produce we've been getting from our CSA box.

I know not everyone gets weak in the knees when they see perfect, golf-ball-sized onions, golden corn, and green-tipped zephyr squash that weep when you slice it...

but I do.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back in the Saddle

Wow, what a crazy 2 weeks it's been since I last wrote. To begin with, I dropped a gigantic bamboo cutting board on my left big toe on the Tuesday before last, causing almost a week's worth of a gauze-wrapped foot, hobbling on crutches, doctors visits, and a small amount of painkillers. Needless to say, I spent very little time in the kitchen. In fact, I only made one meal the whole week! It actually worked out well that our kitchen was in shambles until the following Sunday, because I wouldn't have been able to stand in front of the stove anyway.

Then I left for London, and had a whirlwind week of incredible service, delicious food, and lovely company. I stayed at the Ritz London (not the relation) as part of a press trip sponsored by the hotel, and it was one of the most fabulous weeks I've ever had.

So now that I'm back, our kitchen looks wonderful, and everything is all put away—it's time to get cooking again. I've posted a fairly similar menu to the one I last did, because I wasn't able to make any of it while I was out of commission. As I mentioned before, I'm testing recipes for an upcoming cookbook, so those recipes will make up many of our meals the next few weeks.

- Veggie night: Tomato & Onion Salad with Mustard Basil Vinaigrette (cookbook), watermelon-feta salad (cookbook), sauteed squash, peppers, and onions from our CSA box
Monday - Chana Punjabi, brown rice, green salad with Coconut-Buttermilk Dressing (cookbook)
Tuesday - Simple grilled shrimp with grilled lemons, sauteed eggplant from CSA
Wednesday - Black-Bean Chipotle Cakes with Brown Rice (cookbook), TBD veggies from CSA
Thursday - Sopa Azteca (cookbook), TBD salad from our CSA box goodies

I'll post some before/after pics of the kitchen later! Have a great week.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Even though we're kitchenless, I'm still planning a few meals for the week. Oh, and I forgot to mention...I'll also be absent from blogland next weekend and the following week—I'm off to London for a work trip (!!!) so posting will be sparse until I'm home on July 24.

I'm currently testing recipes for a to-be-published cookbook {not mine, unfortnately!}, so I can't give recipes for a lot of the things I'll be making...but I'll still share what they are so you can see the fun things we're having.

Monday - Tonight we'll be eating from paper bowls, so I'll grab takeout soup from Whole Foods, and throw together a quick tomato salad with Mustard-Dill Vinaigrette (a cookbook recipe)
Tuesday - Black-Bean Chiptole Cakes with Brown Rice (cookbook test)
Wednesday - Chana Punjabi, brown rice, green salad with Coconut-Buttermilk Dressing (cookbook test)
Thursday - Sopa Azteca (cookbook test), TBD salad from our CSA box goodies
Friday - Robusto Flatbread with Romesco Sauce (cookbook test), TBD salad or side from our CSA box

Brief Hiatus

Our kitchen is in shambles, which is actually a good thing. Let me explain. When we moved in to our little rental cottage, we noticed the cabinets kind of stunk. No matter, we thought. We'll just let them air out, and all will be well.

Fast forward 6 months later, and they were still stinky. In fact, we realized the root of the problem was actually mildew or mold
in the wood of the cabinets. Gross. We were washing our clean dishes before using them because they smelled musty—completely ridiculous. Our lovely landlord took us seriously, though, and got the reno project started. First, we unloaded everything from our cabinets and put it all on our kitchen and dining room tables. It's crazy to see how much stuff we have! (And, we just had a yard sale. Sigh.)Then our landlord's handymen Juan and Juan (a father-son duo) started ripping out the old, moldy cabinets and started installing the new ones. When the old cabinets came out, it was obvious that the 1970s, gold-swirled formica counters wouldn't survive the renovation, so they're being replaced, too {halleluiah!}. Great to get new counters, but it means the whole project is taking a bit longer than we thought it would.

We've been without a kitchen since Friday morning...and it looks like it will be Tuesday at least before we have any semblance of a working kitchen. In the meantime, we're making do with takeout and eating out, with a few snacks and cereal on paper plates. Mostly, it's the lack of sink that's the hardest to work around...our stove and fridge are in place, and they left the old counters just resting atop the new cabinets, but it's not exactly the ideal cooking situation.

So, all that to say I'll be out of pocket for a few days until we're back up and running by mid-week. See you then!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Local Love

{photo via stock.xchg, as I don't have any farm photos of my own}

We {finally} did it—we joined a CSA. I’ve been trying to support local farmers via the farmers’ markets and produce stands, but the bulk of my shopping still happens at Publix. I’m a Publix girl all the way, but when it comes to fresh fruits and veg, the selection is less than inspiring. It can also be expensive, mainly because more than half of the stuff there isn’t even grown in America, let alone in Alabama. Even the produce at the stand isn’t all locally grown. Frustrating, since I know there are beautiful farms all around Birmingham, even one right in the middle of the city.

An explanation of CSAs, from the USDA site:
Community Supported Agriculture consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community's farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production. Typically, members or “share-holders” of the farm or garden pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation and farmer's salary. In return, they receive shares in the farm's bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production.

Here’s a link to our CSA. I’m thrilled to finally be a part of one. There are manifold benefits to eating locally harvested food:
it’s environmentally friendly, since you’re lessening your dependency the mass amounts of fuel used to ship things halfway across the country (or world). It’s healthy, because you’re getting boxes filled with farm-fresh produce, eggs, milk, cheeses, and meats, many of which are organic or at the very least grown and raised as naturally as possible. It’s a great way to stimulate and support your local economy. American farmers, dare I say, offer a huge solution to the rising obesity crisis we face as a nation. By supporting these farmers, we can guarantee costs stay lower, so fruits and veggies can be more prominent in the diets of Americans.

I found ours by googling "Birmingham, AL CSA." I hope you'll look around to see what's out there in your community...I bet you'll find something, too.

P.S. While we're on the subject, can anyone spare $400 for Jason and me to attend this dinner, put on by the oh-so-gorgeous and swoon-worthy Outstanding in the Field? Anyone?

{photo via}

Go Fish

Sockeye Salmon was on sale at Whole Foods for just $10.99 per pound, which is fabulous, because it's usually close to $20+ per pound. So while I walked into the store thinking of shrimp, I walked out with a neatly wrapped paper package of richly red and beautifully marbled sockeye.

I'm a sucker for crisp skin on just about anything, so since the salmon had gorgeous silver-and-charcoal skin, I decided on a quick sear. The trick here is getting the salmon to room temperature, and making sure the skin is super-dry. I slid the fillets into a hot, nonstick skillet skin-side down. Then, borrowing a tip I saw on Anne Burrel's great Food Network show, I placed an oiled skillet on top of the fish to weigh it down. After it was mostly cooked, I flipped it and let it cook for only a minute or so. The result was crisp, nicely browned skin and perfectly cooked salmon.

I served the salmon over a simple mix of fluffy couscous (1 cup uncooked+1 cup broth), sauteed zucchini and green onions (2 each, chopped), and lots of chopped fresh dill (about 3 tablespoons) for a light, summery supper.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Something for Everyone

As I have mentioned before, my master's thesis was a project (not a paper). I developed a healthy eating magazine for parents with young kids, and for the magazine, I created healthy but yummy recipes that would get lots of good-for-you things into kids but still taste good. (I also took all the pictures, did all the layouts, wrote all the stories...)

The recipes were a hit with my tasters (my then-14-year-old brother and friends, who are now—unbelievably—17), but just because kids would like them doesn't mean grownups won't. The thought behind this meal is that the chicken and pilaf are plain enough for kids, while the pesto adds an extra somethin-somethin for the parents. These are printed verbatim from the magazine, hence the little tips, etc.

Bon appetit!

Sunshine Bulgur Pilaf
1 cup bulgur
1 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 diced orange bell pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon orange juice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 sliced green onion

Bring stock to a boil. Place bulgur in a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling stock. Add in salt and bell pepper, stir and cover bowl with plastic wrap.

Let sit for 20 minutes or until bulgur is soft and liquid is absorbed. If necessary, drain in sieve, pressing out excess stock. Stir in olive oil, orange juice, green onion and black pepper. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Lemony Chicken Tenders
Chicken tenders are just that – tender and juicy. And they’re the perfect shape for dipping.

1 1/4 pounds of chicken tenders
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place chicken in a zip-top bag. Add olive oil, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper to bag. Squeeze and shake bag to evenly distribute marinade on chicken. Place bag in refrigerator for 30 minutes to marinate.

Preheat indoor or charcoal grill to medium-high. Grill chicken tenders until they are firm and cooked through.

Parsley-Feta Pesto
This pesto is deliciously mild and is lower in fat than regular pesto. Try the leftovers as a sandwich spread or veggie dip.

1/4 cup walnuts
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup crumbled reduced-fat feta cheese
2 tablespoons chicken broth
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Toast walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 6 minutes or until fragrant. In a food processor or blender, blend the all ingredients until smooth.

Four-Minute Zucchini
3 large zucchini
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon fresh chopped basil

Slice zucchini into 1/2-inch-thick half-moon slices. Meanwhile, heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Place zucchini in skillet and toss in oil. Toss occasionally and cook until zucchini is bright green and golden-brown in spots. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

27 Years

I had a lovely birthday. Before I talk about the delicious gift that was waiting for me in the mail today, I have to share the rest of my day yesterday.

My sweet coworkers (who are more wonderful than I could have even asked for) surprised me with colorful gerber daisies and a banner at my desk. I had a cheeseburger for lunch from my favorite local burger spot, Baha Burger. And for dinner, we enjoyed a fabulous meal at local eatery Bettola. I started with a Campari and soda, as well as Caprese salad with locally grown heirloom tomatoes and fior di latte mozzarella. For my entree, I chose Bettola's homemade tagliatelle with pork ragu bianco, which is basically a tomato-less meat sauce. To die for...the sauce was silky and perfectly seasoned. We all shared an almond cake for dessert and a bottle of Montepulciano wine. Love!

And today, I was so excited to find a gift from one of my best friends Peyton—two amazing artisinal chocolates that she found at a museum in Boston. The company, Taza Chocolate, uses traditional Mexican stone mills to grind the chocolate, giving it an interesting, rustic texture (i.e. not waxy in the least). How cool, too, that it's completely organic, and the cacao comes from a small co-op in the Dominican Republic. I couldn't wait to break into the salted almond variety, which was heavenly. The other one, infused with guajillo chilis (pictured above), is also delicious...the spice is very subtle and only announces itself right at the end before you a little surprise.

Salt and chili peppers might seem like totally strange things to some people to put in chocolate, but for me and my not-so-sweet tooth, it cuts the sugariness (even of dark varieties) and enhances the flavor of the chocolate itself.

Thanks, P, for such a thoughtful, tasty birthday gift!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Who's Your Beanie

It's hard to make black soup look good (especially when you're really hungry and don't feel like messing with it).

So. I realize I post about beans a lot. But let's be honest: what's not to love? Creamy, low-fat, low-cal, high-fiber...and flavorful, too. They're healthy and versatile, and they're oh-so convenient from a can. (Though we all know I prefer them from Rancho Gordo.)

I know it's been, like, a million degrees outside and soup seems like the last thing you'd want to be eating. But sometimes a soup can be so light and delicious, it doesn't feel like a winter meal at all. One night last week I set out to make another clean-out-the-pantry dinner to save money. I had a can of black beans, some leftover chicken stock, a getting-wrinkly jalapeno, and a fresh tomato, so I decided soup was in order. I just randomly tossed everything together and played around until it was right.

Success! It was so yummy I decided to make it again this week and write everything down so I could share it here. I hope you'll try it—if you want an easy and quick (and cheap!) weeknight meal, this is it.

Simple Black-Bean Soup

serves 2 as a meal
This soup is a perfect canvas for your kitchen creativity. I imagine the following would add more layers of flavor: roasted red peppers, a dash of cumin or chili powder, corn, and/or a garnish of crushed tortilla chips. This was enough for the 2 of us to have for dinner, with a little bit left over—a perfect lunch portion to pair with a salad or sandwich.

2 to 3 teaspoons olive or vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 big or 3 medium cloves garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups chicken stock, divided
1 can black beans
1 medium fresh tomato, cored and diced
2 green onions, white and light green parts, sliced
Garnish: chopped cilantro

Heat the oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and salt, and stir to coat onion in oil. Saute for 4 to 5 minutes, or until onion is soft and starting to brown slightly around the edges. Add the jalapeno. With a microplane (zester), grate the garlic into the pot. Stir well to distribute the garlic.

Add 1 1/4 cups of the stock, and whisk to loosen any bits of caramelized onion from the bottom of the pan. Add the can of beans, including the liquid; add 1/4 cup stock to the can, swirl it around, then add to the pot. Increase heat to high, and boil soup for 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium-low.

Use a potato masher to mash the beans in the soup so about half of the beans are mashed and the soup is creamy. If the soup seems too thick, add remaining broth, a bit at a time, until you like the consistency. Stir in diced tomato and green onion; garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve immediately.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Our Menu This Week

Sunday - Big salads with chicken
Monday - Black bean soup, creamy lime slaw
Tuesday - My Birthday! (Eat out.)
Wednesday - Chicken with quinoa, tomatoes, and broccoli
Thursday - Shrimp skewers, couscous-green bean salad with dill pesto