Thursday, February 24, 2011


On its own, skewered meat is pretty tasty as well as playfully portable.  Accompanied by a flavorful dipping sauce, skewered meat can be straight up awesome.  Two recent dinners happened to involve this combo; both were out-of-my-normal-box and seriously yummy.

The first was from Turkey and married the flavors of pomegranate, pistachios, tahini, and Baharat seasoning - a blend of cumin, mint and oregano.  Well, it would have included this precise seasoning blend if I could have found it anywhere.  Instead, I just threw together my own version with cumin, fresh mint, dried oregano, and an added pinch of optimism.  This recipe combines four, very different elements, which together yield splendid flavor as well as texture.  Smoky chicken plus a sweet, nutty and fresh relish plus savory tahini yogurt sauce plus a subtle whole wheat pita backdrop equals yum.  Superb work, Bon Appetit Mag!  By the way, the recipe suggests to broil the kabobs.  Since it had been a cool two days since the grill was fired up, Hub insisted we go that route.  I complied.

Turkish-Spiced Chicken Kebabs with Pomegranate Relish and Tahini Yogurt

Unless you're a Rachael-Ray-esque multi-tasker, I'd suggest saving this recipe for a weekend given the multiple prep steps.  The relish component, shown below, took especially long for me given the two little birdies perched at my ankles devouring the pistachios faster than I could hull them.  I had an "aha" moment grasping how my dad must have felt the countless times my sisters and I hovered over him as he labored, shelling pistachios, his very favorite treat, only to have them stolen by our miniature thieving hands. 

Aside from improvising the seasoning blend, my only other tweak was to brighten the tahini yogurt sauce with an extra squeeze of lemon.  It seemed just slightly flat, and a hint of acid can cure that in a second!

Skewered Greek Meatballs with Dipping Sauce

I'm nuts about Greek food.  We've embarked on a mission to taste-test the Greek joints around Richmond, and what fun it has been.  The idea of anything dipped in zippy Tzaziki sauce just never gets old to me.  As the Greek yogurt-based sauce below lacks garlic, it's a different experience than Tzaziki.  But it's still a fresh and delicious accompaniment to these meatballs - that, by the way, have crumbles of feta speckled inside offering a surprise punch of flavor!

I found the recipe for the side, Couscous Salad with Grapes and Feta, in Real Simple quite a while before the meatball skewer recipe came across my radar.  I was subconsciously waiting for the right opportunity to give it a whirl, and these skewers seemed to be an ideal partner. The sweetness of the grapes - that brilliantly fooled my children into partaking - plays nicely off of the salty feta and fresh parsley.  As with chicken skewer dish above, I thought the couscous "dressing" needed a bit more pizazz than the lemon offered alone; fittingly, I browsed my vinegar collection, selected the subtle white wine variety and splashed it on.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nerd Alert

I am the first to own up to my nerd-dom.  The plain and simple fact is that I appreciate order, and I find great satisfaction in the process of achieving it....whether it's organizing and then presumably reorganizing drawers, toys in the playroom, the linen closet, the garage, or best of all, the pantry (the thought of which brings angels to song in my head).  This photo reflects my latest organizing project, and I've taken it to the blog since its subject is food!  Here lives our weekly menu, shopping list, recipes, and miscellaneous info like planned meals for baby-having or elderly friends.  Many might find a food board (yes, only for food....other life-managing details like the calendar, appointment cards and invitations have their own home in the mudroom) a little odd/unnecessary/foolish.  But I'll tell you why I love it: 

1)  The grocery list is easy to find, update and grab on the way out the door to the store. 

2)  These papers no longer clutter our counter top, whose space is already limited. 

3) There's never a question of "what's for dinner?", because the weekly menu resides in plain sight.  This saves time - and money actually, because having it there seems to commit us to the pre-established plan, thereby reducing temptation for last minute take-out.  [Okay, I'll stop for a sec to say that I do realize I am sounding like a Type A lunatic.  In all seriousness, to some extent this phrase probably fairly characterizes me.  But please also know that I'm not so rigid as to lack any spontaneity in my life.  I can change plans every now and again and - omg - abandon a casserole in the freezer for a later date.] 

4)  How cute are those letter magnets?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Peruvian Chicken

If these two words mean anything to you, you've probably tried it - and I'd put money on the fact that you liked it.  If they mean nothing to you, I am sad and sorry.  I'll paint the picture:  rotisserie chicken that has been rubbed with a just-spicy-enough paste of seasonings and vinegar (whoop whoop).....pile of fried yucca ...mild and hot dipping sauce options, one/both of which will most certainly receive a fat dunk by each beautiful morsel of chicken and yucca "fry". 

There are a couple of joints that specialize in this delicacy in the Northern VA area.  "Edys Chicken and Steak" and "Crisp and Juicy" both sound kinda ghetto, and the facilities themselves actually sort of are.  But after experiencing the goodness inside the doors, any regard for aesthetics goes out the window.  Ryan's former workplace was close to Edys, and I knew it had to be good when I noticed one day that he had replaced our children's photo on his cell phone background with a picture of an Edy's platter.  I'm not even kidding.  Now that these establishments are no longer in our hood, Ryan has pulled out all the stops to replicate this feast at home. 

He removed the automatic-turn rotisserie from his gas grill and rigged it on his charcoal grill for a more authentic flavor.  This craziness motivation entailed manual turning every 15 minutes.  For anyone with curiosity, here's the spice rub recipe. (Ryan's tweaks: he used just 1 Tbsp paprika, and he added an extra Tbsp of  vinegar as well as a Tbsp of sugar for extra zip.)

Since we usually mix the mild and spicy sauces at the restaurants, we opted to attempt a hybrid.  This version's secret ingredient is aji amarillo paste, which necessitated a visit to a Latin market.  This fascinating adventure opened my eyes to a truly vast world of ethnic cuisine, whose surface I've hardly scratched despite my relentless culinary pursuit.  Also purchased at this market: two massive yucca roots.  If you haven't tried yucca before - and I've only had it fried with Peruvian chicken - there isn't much to say about its mild flavor.  I personally find its fried-state texture to be its most pleasing element. 

While breaking these suckers down took both time and muscle - even with a gargantuan knife, it was worth the effort to wind up with a crispy snack that even Molly loved.  Hallelujah for that alone.  The technique:  peel and cut the roots into 1/4 inch wedges, par boil for 10 minutes and then fry in super hot peanut oil.  After placing them onto a paper towel lined plate to drain, I sprinkled some salt on top and let them hang out in a 200 degree oven until the chicken's cooking and resting was complete. 
Okay, so I realize not many who read this will embark on an at-home quest for Peruvian Chicken.  My hope is that if one day you somehow find yourself standing in front of of a genuinely sketchy 'pollo' joint, you will at least consider going inside!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Saturday Breakfast

It's hard not to be happy while being circled by two little pj-clad, bed-headed sweethearts chasing each other, absent of any care in the world...all while I'm holding a perfectly enormous, hot cup of coffee and thinking only about what to have for breakfast.  I love a cozy Saturday morning, free of expectation and agenda.  Those seem to be the days when the most special memories are built.  It's not always sunshine and butterflies, mind you.  Typically at least one child will end up crying from some kind of minor battle wound earned in the course of the chaos.  (Assuming it's not serious), it's all part of the fun!

What could further enhance this happy picture?  Well, food of course.  The kids have seemed to embrace the rally over meal prep in our house, and breakfast time is no exception.  Saturdays are particularly nice, as they allow us to linger over our plates with no urgency for clean-up, or anything for that matter.

Cinnamon French Toast

The secret here is clearly the bread!  This is a cinnamon bakery loaf from Montana Gold Bread Company (on Cary Street, Richmonders).  Lots of places have good cinnamon bread, but you could also use another yummy loaf like brioche or challah.  Whatever the variety, I do prefer the unsliced stuff so I can ensure generous portions.  I'm shameless.  Here's the slightly tweaked batter recipe from sweet ole Mrs. Crocker:

3 eggs
3/4 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2+ tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
Unsalted butter for the skillet - don't hate on it

You know the rest!

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread

I am all about banana bread, because it's easy, uses up the bananas that have gone to mush, makes the house smell divine and offers fab versatility as breakfast, snack and (with the now seemingly required presence of chocolate chips) dessert! 

I don't really have a favorite recipe.  Sometimes I just go with one requiring ingredients I already have at home.  Knowing that I had a handful of bananas approaching the yuck, I picked up some buttermilk the last time I was at the store to make Betty's classic version of this.  Here are my minor changes included in the recipe below: I use unsalted butter, not margarine; I typically have extra large eggs around as opposed to large; and I substitute the nuts with a cup of chocolate chips.  My friend Allison made chocolate chunk banana bread for me years ago, and I will be forever indebted to her for adding this new dimension of joy to my life. 

1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted, room temperature butter
2 extra large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed, very ripe bananas
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 8" loaf pans (8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2) or one 9" loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3).  Mix sugar and butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Stir in eggs until well blended.  Add bananas, buttermilk and vanilla, and beat until smooth.  Stir in flour, baking soda and salt until just moistened.  Add the chocolate chips and give the mixer two or three rounds to incorporate.  Bake 8" loaf for 45 minutes to an hour, and the 9" loaf for 1+ hour - until toothpick comes out clean.

Greek Yogurt Parfait

There's nothing new about Greek yogurt, but only recently has it assumed staple status in my fridge.  It's a great thing to have around for savory sauces and baking.  But right now I'm singing its praises for  starring in the breakfast parfait.  Okay, so this photo reflects more of a mixed up mess than a neat, layered dish.  But the flavors are all there, and they taste darn good.  I like to use granola with dried fruit for textural interest. The berries add a bright sweetness that offsets the tang of the yogurt.

Another delightful partner for Greek yogurt, I've learned, is lemon curd.  I'm not creative enough to have dreamed up this breakfast time flavor marriage myself.

I have a stranger that I met at the meat counter at Whole Foods to thank for that.  We were both waiting in the non-line that I've griped about before, when I noticed that she had about 20 Fage yogurt containers in her cart.  While I don't usually intrude on the contents of other carts, she had offered a smile and her own gripe about the painful wait, and this seemed to open the door for pleasantries.  So I inquired what she was making with all that GY, and she said she just stirs lemon curd into it for breakfast.  Thank you, meat-line stranger, for this beautiful idea!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Backlog - Sweet

Onto the sweets for Part 2!

Pecan Pie with Cream Cheese Crust

I've provided this recipe before, but I've not expressed the enthusiasm it's due.  To me, there is little, I mean very little, better than the experience of meeting and subsequently devouring fresh pecan pie.

I can't say which component rocks my world the most: the toasted pecans, scrumptiously sweet and sticky goo or flaky crust.  All I know is that their combination - of course piled high with vanilla ice cream - is just Heaven.  Seriously, I know Heaven will be the most gloriously perfect place, and there has just got to be a lot of pecan pie there.

I'm kind of embarrassed that the below shot was taken just three (obviously massive) slices in.  We made this pie for our dear friend and sent him home with half of it.  Thank goodness; otherwise, I would have had to pay for this single dessert with the next 30 Pilates classes.

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzel Blossoms

I saw a blurb in Real Simple about out-of-the-box uses for pretzels.  This technique - I can hardly call it a recipe - seemed like a totally fun activity to do with Andrew while his little terror sister napped.  We were  also bringing a meal to friends with a new baby that needed a sweet finisher.  Perf!

I don't know whether Andrew or Mommy has more fun during our kitchen adventures.  I'm even getting the giggles right now looking at his sweet little posed authentically in-action hand in this photo.  It is just a blast to create things together.....such a blast that my extraordinarily Type A self seems to forget about the mess factor.  To be totally dorky, lessons on addition/fractions/measuring are easy to sneak in.

The method:  In a bowl, stir together 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter, 1 Tbsp room-temp butter, 1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp confectioner sugar and 1 cup crushed pretzels.  Roll into balls and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Dip into gently melted milk chocolate, and allow to harden in the fridge.  Okay, so these are clearly less than gourmet.  But they sure were fun!

  Backlog temporarily cleared.  Till next time!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Backlog - Savory

Despite somewhat frequent ramblings, I have accumulated a bit of a backlog of food photos not babbled over in this forum.  I'll take an opportunity to walk through them with an attempt to keep the discussion part short and sweet.... well, make that short and savory.  I'll follow up with some sweet on the next post!

Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes

Friends, I seriously cheated here.  In lieu of homemade pasta, I used wonton wrappers from the produce section. 

Aside:  Though not attempted, homemade pasta is an aspiration of mine.  I've actually been on the verge of purchasing a pasta maker/machine on several occasions.  I hereby commit to tackling this project in 2011.  Ooh, I'm already excited.  End aside.

Rather than layering and baking this dish (week night!), I threw the ingredients listed in the "assembly" section of the recipe into a pan and made a quick sauce on the stove.  Voila!  This was a bright and tangy supper that my crazy babies actually ate (despite my considerable nerves).  You gotta like artichokes for this, because their flavor sings in this dish.

Patty Melt with Balsamic Onions and Swiss Cheese

Sorry for no recipe clickage, but aside from being delicious, this is super easy and weeknight safe.  Saute sliced onions over medium heat for 20ish minutes along with some salt, pepper and a dash of sugar.  Add a splash of balsamic vinegar at the end and toss.  Top a (seasoned with salt and pepper and cooked!) burger with the onions and a few slices of Swiss cheese. Nestle this yummy pile between two slices of toasted rye bread that have been just lightly spread with whole grain (or deli or Dijon or whatever) mustard, and press in a panini maker.  The crunchy bread offers the perfect package for the juicy goodness inside.  Though unexciting, I'll mention that the side dish is just simplicious sweet potato fries from the frozen section.

Garlic and Herb Roasted Tomatoes

I'm always on the hunt for quick-prep veggies, and these tomatoes are both fab and fast!  The marrying of garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs over heat yields a surprisingly delicious and sweet result that's ready in under 10 minutes.  That sounded like a commercial.  Sorry 'bout that.

Andrew recently asked, "why do you take pictures of food all the time, Mommy?"  I told him that food makes me happy, and I like to share that with my friends.  Hope you enjoy!