January 31, 2014 § Leave a comment
New England, love it or hate it? This is the dilemma I have been dealing with lately. The temperatures in Boston have been hovering around the teens or below for most of January and no warm air is in sight. I won’t lie; the unbearable chill has made me a bit of an unhappy insider, and has left me blowing my nose about every five minutes. (I have been going through a box of tissues a day, yikes!) The dry, itchy skin, the excessive amounts of lotion, the bright red nose and constantly being bundled up like the Michelin man, are not in New England’s favor right now.
I think I question why we live here every winter. I can deal with December; it’s filled with beautiful white snow and holiday cheer. January is usually bearable, it’s cold, but it’s the first month its actually chilly all the time, so you’re not sick of it yet. February, you start to go a bit crazy. It’s still freezing cold, you have been inside for months and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Oh, and the illnesses that get passed from one person to the next and back to you again, all winter long, are at times unbearable.
So the question remains, why do we put ourselves through this each year? To be honest, I’m not sure I really know the answer. I don’t participate in winter sports, I no longer ski, and I don’t ice skate or sled. I rarely venture outside when it’s this cold, but hate that I’m trapped in the house all day. Other than enjoying the warmth of a hot cocoa in my hands now and then, I’m not a winter lover.
Something seems to happen each year though, in March, sometimes as late as April, all of a sudden there will be this beautiful, sunny, 60 degree day. And you can’t help but smile and feel that winter was all worth it for a day like this. Everyone rushes from their homes to be outside, filling the parks and bike paths. And then it’s May and you’re buying potted plants and growing fresh herbs, and you think, how lovely is this? Summer rolls in and you gawk at how hot the rest of the U.S. is, while you enjoy mid 70s and 80s. Then fall comes and your days are filled with colorful leaves, apples and pumpkins. And by the time winter comes, you have all but forgotten the winters that came before. You get ready for the holidays and cheer for the first snowfall. And then all of a sudden it’s February again and you’re back to this state of misery, that you had almost completely forgotten.
It’s a constant cycle that I just can’t seem to get out of. I am still putting up with this year’s New England winter and I am sure there will be many more to bear. I don’t know if I love it or hate it here, but I do know, at the start of February, I could not want more for it to be May.
Inspired by The Year in Food
8 oz. pappardella noodles
1 cup plain greek yogurt
2 cloves of garlic
2/3 cup fresh basil, lightly chopped
1 tablespoon chives
2 tablespoon fresh rosemary
1/4 cup fresh parsley
zest from one lemon
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 small zucchini, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Cook the pappardella noodles according to the package directions, typically al dente in 8-10 minutes.
While the pasta is cooking, in a food processor combine the greek yogurt, garlic, 1/3 cup of basil, chives, rosemary, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. Pulse until everything is chopped and combined.
Toast almonds in a small pan over medium heat for just a few minutes until fragrant and slightly browned. Set aside and let cool.
Once pasta is cooked, place in a large bowl and toss with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and zucchini. Add the creamy yogurt sauce and toss until combined. Top with toasted almonds, the rest of the basil and feta.
*Note: When I tried to cut this in half and make lunch just for two, the herbs didn’t chop up well in my big food processor. So if you decide to make a half portion, give all the herbs a good chop before adding.
January 25, 2014 § Leave a comment
I bought a white dress. It’s stunning because it’s simple and yet elegant. It’s shear and sparkly all at the same time. And I plan to wear it on my wedding day. I have always said that when I got married, I would not buy a wedding dress but rather a white dress. Seemed like a simple enough goal. Well, it was not. Problem number one, white dresses are hard to come by, especially in winter. Problem number two, a lot of white dresses are absolutely hideous and the ones that weren’t, looked horrible on me. I have very pale skin and blended right into most of them, just a heaping blob of bland.
So I fell into the typical engagement trap of going to wedding dress shops, and I went to quite a few; small boutiques in the city, locally owned places in smaller towns and large department store style shops. It was exhausting, and everything felt so plain. I was never really wowed. Yes, maybe the color of this one looked OK and the back of this one was beautiful, but no one dress was stunning. There was no “I have found it!” moment. And honestly, I was a bit disappointed that I hadn’t fought harder to stick with my non-wedding dress plan. It’s very easy to get caught up in, “This is just what you do, what it costs, where you rent, what you eat, for a wedding.”
And then I found it, in an ordinary shop of high-end jeans and dresses. There were two beautiful white dresses in the window and I was drawn to them immediately. I tried them on and honestly loved both. The one I decided against had a 20s inspired style was tight fitting with lots of shiny jewels. It was beautiful, but it did not fit our wedding, so a no-go. But the second dress was perfect, other shoppers complimented me in it, my mom had a big grin on her face. We had found the dress! I should preface this with the fact that I had the flu at the time, hadn’t showered that day, and was using all my energy just to stand up in the dress, as well as blow my noise at the same time. If I could look beautiful and love the dress at my worst, it would be just as wonderful at my best.
I am actually quite proud of myself for finding a white dress. I am saving myself more headaches down the road by eliminating the need for alterations and multiple fittings, the dress already fits! Just a quick hem and it will be wedding ready. Wedding planning is nice in these moments when things actually come together and you feel happy about getting closer to the wedding date. There are many more things to do, but the success of this one thing has made me very happy.
Inspired by Food and Wine
1 cup quinoa
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 carrots, shredded (I use a vegetable peeler to get thin strips)
6-8 oz. mixed mushrooms, thinly sliced (shittake, cremini and white are nice)
1 small zucchini, cut into matchsticks
1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
3 cups baby spinach
1/4 cup tahini
juice from 1/2 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper
Prep all of your vegetables first. This is the most important thing when making a stir-fry because the cook time of each ingredient is essential. You want everything to be cooked but still crisp. Otherwise you end up with a soggy mess of veggies. (Take a look at the photos above for how I chopped all my veggies).
In a small pot, combine 1 cup quinoa with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, cover and simmer over low heat until all of the water is absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Immediately add the carrot and cook for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms and cook 2-3 more minutes. Add the zucchini, some salt and pepper, stirring everything together, cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet. Add the broccoli and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the broccoli is slighty browned and bright green. Add the spinach and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Season with a bit more salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and add to the other vegetables.
In a small bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and a touch of salt. Stir the tahini mixture into the cooked quinoa. Keep covered for a few minutes to allow the mixture to be soaked in by the quinoa.
Scoop the quinoa into four individual bowls. Top each with the cooked vegetables. Enjoy immediately.
January 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
This may sound a bit childish, but you know the saying “As soon as you’re told you can’t have something, you want it even more.” Well, it’s true!
Late last year, I came home from a doctor’s appointment in tears. Ross rubbed my head and told me we would figure it out. But deep down I knew this was not going to be easy. I was diagnosed with acid reflux disease, while not serious; this is a huge blow to someone who loves making and eating food. It may sound silly to be so upset about this, but I truly was and still am. This now meant I had to stay away from so many foods that I love. All acidic things like lemons, limes, pineapples and tomatoes. Anything with high fat or grease, like pizza, nachos, or anything fried. Caffeine is bad for me too, which is in so many things, coffee, tea and chocolate, to name a few. I can’t eat a lot of raw things like onions and garlic. Nothing spicy. And no alcohol. The list goes on and on.
I have eliminated a lot of these things from my diet already. I have basically weaned myself off my daily morning coffee. I treat myself to a cappuccino or latte only occasionally. I have thrown out my red pepper flakes and only add a touch of spice when necessary. I rarely drank before, but have decided to eliminate it from my diet altogether. I am struggling in many areas though, the hardest being lemons and chocolate. I put lemon juice in everything, from salad dressings, to pesto, to rice dishes. When I eliminate lemon juice from recipes they fall flat, you can taste the lack of acidic kick the recipe desires. And my love affair with chocolate continues. I’m not sure how to give something like chocolate up; I’m not even really trying to at this point.
It comes down to this. I have been working on my cooking style for quite some time now and I quite like where I’ve ended up. So to have to start all over and approach food completely differently is not only a little disheartening but also quite overwhelming. The alternative though, eating food that makes me feel sick, isn’t really an enticing option either. So although I’m not sure how I will tackle this on a day-to-day basis, I know I must. I’m hoping all this eliminating, experimenting and work translates into a brand new cooking style. A style I can fall in love with too.
This sandwich is bad for me in so many ways. But I wanted to pay tribute to it one last time, as well as share it with you. It’s a tasty one!
Whole Grain Mustard & Apple Panini
4 slices 8 grain bread
4 slices fresh mozzarella
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 green apple, very thinly sliced
olive oil for brushing
Heat a grill pan over medium heat. Assemble your sandwich by spreading the mustard on two slices of bread. Top the mustard with the mozzarella, apple slices and second slice of bread. (There will probably be a few extra leftover apple slices, which make a nice side to the sandwich. Don’t over stuff!).
Brush one side of the bread with olive oil and place this side down on the grill pan. Press the sandwich down with a spatula to get some nice brown grill marks and leave for a few minutes. Brush the top of the bread with olive oil and flip over. Grill until both sides are lightly browned and the cheese in melted.
January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
I made a few wonderful things over the holidays, meals that take longer to prep and are meant to be shared. I made fresh potato gnocci, something I haven’t done since I lived in Florence six years ago. I made jam, Rice Krispie treats and spicy pretzels to munch on. Most of these things were gobbled up quickly, no leftovers to spare, but a few things traveled back home with me, which forced me to think of new ways to finish them.
I think it’s important when cooking to think outside the box a bit. I made this wonderful pomegranate jam which I had on toast and English muffins for more than a few breakfasts, but that got old quickly. I stirred it into yogurt with a side of granola. And to finish up the last jar I made this crostini with creamy ricotta. I never would have thought of this combination if I hadn’t made the jam to begin with.
I have found myself over the last few months, walking into the grocery store in a daze. Buying the same vegetables, the same fruit and the same grains. Even if my recipes are a bit different each week, the flavor profile ends up being much the same. How boring. I am hoping to be a bit more adventurous over the next year. I know this will lead to some horrible recipes, more findings of ingredients I don’t necessarily like, but I will also discover some wonderful food that I won’t believe I have been living without for so long. Every once in awhile we need to reboot in the kitchen. I can’t wait to share my new discoveries with you!
Pomegranate & Ricotta Toast
pomegranate jam (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Slice bread rather thinly. Place slices on a baking sheet and brush the tops of each with a bit of olive oil. Bake for 6-8 minutes until the tops are just slightly browned and crisp to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.
When bread is cooled, spread a layer of ricotta on each and top with the pomegranate jam and a sprinkling of thyme.
Serve immediately while the bread is still slightly warm, otherwise it will become too soft from the cheese.
Inspired by Green Kitchen Stories
1 1/2 cups pomegranate seeds (from 2-3 pomegranates)
1 cup frozen raspberries
1/3 cup agave syrup
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
Slice the pomegranate in half. Pull the membrane apart and pick out the seeds. Discard the membrane and place all the seeds into a medium sauce pan. (Mind you this is a messy job. Pomegranate juice will stain and it likes to get everywhere; prepare accordingly.)
Add the raspberries and agave to the pomegranate pot and set on medium heat. Stir until combined and then allow everything to come to a boil. Once boiling, turn heat down to medium-low and allow to simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
In the meantime, sterilize a cute jar or two, and allow to fully dry.
Add the lemon juice and thyme to the pot and simmer for an additional 5-10 minutes. This jam will be on the soupier side so do not wait for it to thicken.
Remove from the heat and pour into the jam jars. Allow to cool completely before covering and keeping in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
January 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
The week between Christmas and New Years came and went too quickly. And although each year it feels like a blur, this one felt even faster. I spent most of the week on the couch, half awake, half asleep, bundled with blankets, battling the flu. It knocked me on my butt for over a week and unfortunately made me miss out on some of the things I truly love to do over the holidays. There was no cooking in the kitchen for me, prepping big family meals, all us kids crowded onto one stove top, fighting for counter-space. (Hence why I have no new food to share with you). I missed most of the card games and cribbage matches. I slept through the annual wine tasting. I was terribly unhelpful and most of the time couldn’t get more than a sentence out every couple hours. Food tasted horrible and I was lucky to not get instant nausea after just one bite.
Luckily, because my family has impeccable timing, I did get to enjoy one wonderful treat before falling ill. My mom and I had spent the afternoon at another wedding dress shop, trying on awful dresses, none of which had any potential for the wedding we are trying to have. It had its moments of fun but was mostly exhausting and a little disheartening. I left the shop really questioning whether all of this work was worth it. Doubt was seeping in and it left me a bit unhappy. When we arrived back home it was dark and cold. We were both hungry, secretly wishing someone had decided to make dinner.
A little sign hung on the back door “Surprise”. And soon I was just that, terribly surprised. I swung the door open and was greeted with shouts and kisses. My whole family dressed in ties and suit jackets, the ladies in heals and cute dresses. Ross stood in the hallway with the same look of shock I must have had on my face. We were ushered upstairs and told to put on something nice. Downstairs the dining room was filled with more banners, lit candles, pretty white napkins and pine cones. Around the room were tons of photos of Ross and I, some of us together, but most from when we were young. (The first picture in this post was my favorite, both of us were such unbelievable fashion icons!) Champagne was toasted, dinner was served and we played an engagement game. I learned that I will never for the life of me be able to remember Ross’ celebrity crush. I have already forgotten who he said at the time. But, I also learned that he knew I was the one the minute I moved to Boston.
My family is simply wonderful for throwing us such a party. I’m not sure they realized even how perfect the timing was. I wanted to marry Ross right then in that instant. And it made me realize that I do want to have this kind of moment again and celebrate our wedding surrounded by the people that love us. I know I didn’t thank my family enough that night, it meant everything to us.
So with my flu almost past, and the new year underway, I am looking forward to a bunch of new changes. And I am happy knowing there will be many more wonderful reasons to spend time with family this year.