Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Silence is Golden (and not very tasty)

Hello dear readers,
I apologize for my extended absence, especially since I said I was making a concentrated effort to blog more frequently. However, I have a legit reason for not posting recently about the foods I've been making.

Last weekend, my best friend in the whole world came to visit, so there's wasn't much cooking taking place, as we couldn't stop talking long enough to eat, much less cook :) I did manage to make a quick Chicken Divan for our final night's dinner, which was tasty, but didn't really call for an update as it's pretty straight-forward.

Then, last week, I had all four wisdom teeth removed. I'll spare you the details, but needless to say, I haven't been cooking, much less eating, anything for the past six days. I actually haven't been speaking much either, which is making me go somewhat crazy. I don't consider myself a huge talker, but I am on the phone for a large portion of the day for work, and I like conversing with The Doc about our days, and since I haven't been doing much of that, I'm fearing I am losing the ability to do so! Guess maybe I should be blogging so I can at least "speak" through my words.

So I've been subsisting on yogurt, mashed potatoes, a daring foray once into elbow macaroni (plain, no sauce) that almost ended in my choking to death - have you ever had plain macaroni? It's sticky and, therefore, dangerous when you're not chewing it! Take note...chew your food (if you can.)

The benefit to not being able to eat anything solid? I have become a Shamrock Shake aficionado - thank goodness it's that season so I can enjoy them and feel no guilt for my mass consumption!

I'm hoping to be back to solid foods in about a week or so, and at that time, I have grand plans to whip up quite the feast of chewy, crunchy foods. Nothing that's soft, pliable or creamy as I've had my fill and then some of that texture.

So, stay tuned, dear readers as I continue down the road to recovery and plan my grand re-emergence into the world of chewing.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

I feel it would be wrong not to post about Valentine's Day (even though I'm already a day late) - a day that is all about love. You see, I love love. I mean, I REALLY LOVE love. I love sappy movies about love, I love seeing people in love, I love being in love. I love love. And, Valentine's Day is all about showing and telling the people you love just how much you love them. I, for one, truly believe that people show their love through food. Why else do we all go out to dinner for special occasions? - Valentine's Day, anniversaries, birthdays, engagements (yeah, we got engaged at dinner), the list goes on and on.

So, the Doc and I decided no gifts this Valentine's Day and, instead, would just go out to a nice dinner. No need to stress out over buying a "good" gift when there's nothing either of us really need or want. Save the money and splurge on a nice meal. So I, ever the planner that I am, started looking into restaurants for where to go. Then, I realized, getting a reservation on Valentine's Day, at a nice restaurant, a few days in advance of the holiday, at a decent eating-hour, would be almost impossible (apparently, I wasn't as on top of my "planning" as I thought!) So, simple solution, we dine at home. I create a lovely meal that is (at least in my opinion) restaurant quality and we don't have to go anywhere. No waiting, no leaving the house, no having to walk/drive home once full from dinner, no problems! (save for having to do the dishes)

The Doc was cool with it - the lazier we can be at home, the better. So, our Valentine's Day was just that - celebrated at home, showing our love for each other by spending the evening together (comfortably dressed in jeans and T-shirts, no less), enjoying a delicious meal and vegging out on the couch watching our new obsession on Netflix, Sparticus.

Side Note: Seriously, need an addicting TV series? Sparticus (think it was originally on Starz or Showtime) has it all - violence, sex, blood, love, plot twists, more blood, gladiators, more blood, more violence, and blood. (note, if you get squeamish at the sight of blood, I rescind my recommendation for this show.)

Back to Valentine's Day, I set the table with themed placemats (gotta have the decor!) and busted out the Nambe candlesticks we got for our wedding - first time using them, so the day of love seemed appropriate. I made a tenderloin roast and cheesy cornflake potatoes. Nothing fancy, but oh-so-delicious. Discovery of the day? Using a roasting rack positively affects the outcome of a roast. Shocking, right? Last time I did a roast, I used a "homemade" roasting rack, which consisted of foil balls rolled up, lining the bottom of a pan and the roast set on top of those. NOT recommended. So, serious shout-out to my mom for sending me aforementioned roasting pan, which resulted in a tender, juicy and tasty tenderloin. Thanks mama!
So, making a tenderloin is about as easy as you can get. Buy pork tenderloin at the store. Make marinade - ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, black pepper, salt, curry powder, red wine and garlic. Marinate for about 6 hours, pop onto the roasting pan, set for an hour and 15 minutes or so at 325 and voila! Cue deliciousness....

I hope everyone had a fabulous Valentine's Day, whether spent with the one you love, or just the things you love (TV, wine, books, sleep, whatever.) Ours truly was a great "first" Valentine's Day as a married couple - good food, good wine, a good puppy, good TV and good times spent together.

PS - Valentine's Day is also my brother's birthday, so here's to you dear brother! Happy birthday - love you!



Thursday, February 3, 2011

Spain, Italy and Thailand - All in three days!

Ethnic Week continues, rather successfully if I do say so myself :)

We followed up our Sweet and Sour Chicken with a dish derived from the Spanish - chili. I realize this is somewhat of a stretch to be truly "ethnic" but cut me some slack. I use the recipe my mom shared with my from my dad's mom (who was Italian - go figure.) The best part of this recipe is its simplicity - when you've made it once, you don't need to reference the recipe again.

Brown some ground beef with green pepper and onion, add chili beans, chili powder or a package of chili seasoning, a small can of tomato sauce, a bean can-full of water and stir. The chili will thicken, and you can adjust the seasonings/spices to your liking. When it's thickened enough (or you're tired of looking at it and just want to eat it!) serve over elbow macaroni, top with shredded cheese and sour cream if you want to blow your diet out of the water and enjoy. Perfect for those nights that you're tired, not really in the mood to cook and just want something that's going to make you feel full and happy. Of course, top it off with a margarita or two and you night is complete!

Following our pseudo-Spanish meal, I went traditional Italian. I'm Italian, we both like Italian food, it's easy to make and, most of all, it is delicious when complemented with your favorite wine. I made a simple Pasta Carbonara with linguine, and the sauce is just eggs, parmasean cheese, parsley, salt, pepper and bacon. If you're feeling sassy, as I usually am, throw in some peas for color and a different texture. This dish took all of about 25 minutes to make, start-to-finish.

That is my kind of home-cooked meal - takes no time at all to make, but looks and tastes like you poured your whole evening into it. Plus, you basically let the sauce sit while the pasta cooks, so you can enjoy a glass a wine. I opted for my go-to favorite, sauvignon blanc, while the doc enjoyed his pinot noir. I'm no traditionalist when it comes to pairing wine with foods - let's be honest, I'd probably have wine with my waffles if it was socially acceptable. And, given that I don't like red wine (ever, trust me, I've tried most of them and haven't found a one that'll please my finicky palate) I tend to stick with what I like and that's it. Is it right to have a sauvignon blanc with pasta? I don't know what a wine "expert" will tell you, but I tell you "yes!" So, go ahead, pop a bottle, pour a glass and enjoy your pasta, or your hamburgers, or waffles (I won't judge you. Hell, I'll join you!)

So, for tonight, I was stumped. I've pretty much exhausted my very limited knowledge of ethnic foods over the past four days. So, what do I do? I know I have chicken in the freezer, so I turn to my handy-dandy cookbooks to see what kind of ethnic chicken dishes are out there, that also only call for the ingredients I already have on hand. Solution? Thai Chicken Stir-Fry! Easy, tasty, good for you, and I get to use my wok again. Oh the love affair that I have with that wok.

So, I don't know what technically makes this dish "Thai" and I'm pretty sure the version I made definitely doesn't qualify, but since it's got "Thai" in the title, I'm calling it ethnic and it counts!

I cooked up some gingered carrots, onion slices and garlic in the wok, tossed in my chicken pieces and coated everythign in a sauce of white wine vinegar (since I didn't have rice wine), soy sauce, corn starch, crushed red pepper and water. Let heat until everything is cooked and delicious-smelling, toss in some almond slices for crunch and serve over white rice. I had no idea if this would taste good, bad, boring, Thai-ish or what, and it actually turned out quite delicious!

The carrots give the dish a nice crunch, and the almonds have a very complementary flavor to the sauced chicken. Again, this took me about 30 minutes, which is just as long as the clean-up took! Definitely adding this recipe to my stack of go-to meals when I'm in a time or idea bind.

So, now, for the grand finale to Ethnic Week, I'm bringing the big guns. The truest, boldest, most traditional and patriotic dish I can think of - that's right, we're coming back to America with RIBS. And, I'm making them in the Crock-Pot. Nothing is more American than that. And it seems only fitting that we've traveled, culinarily speaking, across the globe this week only to find ourselved right back where we started - home. It's where the heart is, you know.


Monday, January 31, 2011

Ethnic Week

It's Ethnic Week in the Henry Household. What does that mean? Per my last post, "I've Been on Hiatus", I'm planning to make nothing but ethnic dishes this week in an effort to bring some new flavors to our palates and mix up the usual meals I've been making.

Now, "ethnic" is a loosely defined term in this context. Last night, I made Tequila-Lime Steak Fajitas, so we took a little trip to Mexico, complete with hand-shaken margaritas.

Forgive the poor photography, and somewhat unappealing appearance of the fajitas, but they were tasty! However, I have a bad habit of overcooking meat, especially on the stovetop. I am so paranoid about undercooking meat and getting sick from it (especially as I enjoy my steak cooked on the well side of medium-well) but this tends to result in steak the equivalent of tire tread.

There's the benefit of marinating, I suppose. This steak was marinated in tequila, lime juice, chopped onions, a bit of sugar, salt and pepper. I definitely think it helped lessen the toughness of the tires, I mean, fajitas, but still. I need to learn to properly cook steak on the stove. Any suggestions?

Ethnic Week continued much more successfully and less rubbery tonight with a trip to Asia, via America's influence on Sweet and Sour Chicken. Granted, this is the most American version of ethnic food imaginable, but it was still fantastic! I don't want to toot my own horn (too much) but the plated dish looked exactly like the one in the cookbook. Not too shabby for my first foray into Asian cooking. Not to mention, it was one of the more simple dishes I ever made.

All you do is coat your chicken pieces in egg white and corn starch and let that sit while you sautee your bell peppers. The recipe called for red and yellow peppers, but the store only had green and yellow today. So here we are:

In the meantime, I cooked a pot of rice to serve the final dish over. Once your peppers are sauteed (by the way, if you don't own a wok, invest in one immediately. Greatest. Tool. Ever.) you remove them from the heat, add the chicken and brown on both sides. Then add back in the peppers, a can of pineapple chunks and the sauce which is just ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, ginger and pineapple juice.

Mix, heat til the chicken is fully cooked and enjoy!

Tomorrow continues Ethnic Week. a la American-Style, with a Southwestern Chili. I haven't decided exactly which recipe to follow to truly include an ethnic twist, but I'll let you know how things turn out!



Sunday, January 30, 2011

I've been on hiatus

I think the title says it all - I've been on a cooking (and, therefore, blogging) hiatus the past few weeks. Between the doc working odd shifts this month, and the downtime from all the holiday celebrating, we've been taking the lazy way out and either going out, ordering out or not really eating dinner at all.

However, we took a lovely weekend trip to Temecula, a wine country area about 45 minutes north of us last weekend, and there is a blog post about all the fabulous wine (photos included!) to come shortly.

It was Restaurant Week in San Diego last week, so we took advantage of the great deals at a few of the places and tried out a seafood restaurant (pasta option for me, thankyouverymuch!) and a restaurant in Balboa Park that had a little of everything. My pasta at Harbor House was quite tasty - sun dried tomatoes, spinach and a cream sauce - while the doc got some kind of carribean-flavored shimp that he was not a big fan of. Prado was a big hit with both of us - I had a white truffle and mushroom risotto which is still making my mouth water as I think back on it, and the doc had a very tender and saucy short rib dish. Restaurant Week is such a great concept in any city, to let you try a new restaurant (or visit an old favorite) and try some of their signature dishes from a fixed menu for a less-than-usual price. I'm looking forward to the next one soon!

Outside of our Restaurant Week foray, we've ordered in pizza, gotten Chinese takout and headed out to a local watering hole to take advantage of their happy hour food specials. Lazy? Yes. Convenient (no dishes, no prep time, no menu planning, no grocery shopping required)? Also Yes.

However, we can't eat out like this forever, so we've been trying to get back on track with home-cooked meals. I'm really trying to make meals that are tasty, a bit different than the everyday fare we're used to, but also not super time-consuming or requiring a ton of ingredients.

So, the other night, we were lounging on the couch and I decided to make risotto. It's essentially rice, chicken broth and cheese, and you can dress it up with whatever you want. Super simple, yet so delicious. We made it a bit more interesting with some chicken, peas, carrots, garlic powder and coarse black pepper. It only took about 30 minutes to make and it is something that can be so versatile that I can serve it again soon, but with different ingredients to change up the flavor profile.

On the menu tonight is tequila-lime steak fajitas, and tomorrow is sweet and sour chicken. I'm thinking of making ethnic dishes all this week to utilize some of the recipes I've earmarked in my cookbooks and to bring a little different flair to our typical menu. I'll keep you posted on how it all goes - more regularly than I've been doing, I promise.

Here's to a great week - Cheers!


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!

I hope you all had a wonderful 2010 and have much to look forward to in 2011. We had a great celebration on New Year's Eve at home, with a bunch of our friends coming over to celebrate. We ate, drank, played Xbox, Kinect, cards and more. It was exactly the kind of low-key, yet so fun, way I wanted to ring in the New Year.

I also am thrilled to start out the New Year with an exciting piece of blog news - I am now an official guest blogger over at Head on over and check out my first piece about our Thanksgiving celebration:

Here's to a happy, healthy and fun 2011.


Friday, December 31, 2010

A Christmas Cookie Miracle

So, as I mentioned previously, I had gotten into the Christmas spirit in full swing. And, I harnessed that spirit in the form of baking...a LOT. I wanted to make Christmas cookies like I did when I was younger with my mom. So I looked up the recipe for the plain flour-based cookies that you can decorate, as well as the peanut butter kiss cookies that no holiday is complete without, and went to town.

I started with just a batch of the peanut butter cookies, which didn't last long in our house at all (I shudder to think back on how many cookies I actually ate, how much batter I tasted and how much butter was in all of it!) so I made another set (batch #2) to get us at least TO Christmas. :)

Then, the hubs asked if he could take cookies into the hospital with him one night - one think I've learned from him is that doctors and nurses LOVE treats, especially if they're working the overnight shift. So, rather than just packing up a few of the cookies that we had remaining, I made a whole new batch of the peanut butter cookies (batch #3.) They were a huge hit, so it was totally worth it.

Then, Christmas eve came around and I realized I had never made the flour cookies to decorate. The dough had been made for a week and was sitting in the fridge, and the doc was working all day Xmas Eve, overnight to Xmas morning. Cue genius idea - I'd make the flour cookies, and another batch of peanut butter cookies (batch #4) since they were such a hit the previous shift.

I certainly did not set out to spend my entire Christmas Eve in the kitchen, meticulously decorating cookies with a sense of creativity that I didn't know I possessed. However...the pictures below will show what happened much better than I could ever describe:

I'm a bit cookied-out after all that, but I ended up really enjoying myself, listening to Christmas music while I baked and decorated, baked and decorated, baked and decorated some more. And the docs and nurses were so appreciative of a sweet treat on a holiday that I'd do it again in a heartbeat...just not until next year.

Hope your holidays were wonderful and you all have a safe and happy New Year as well.