April Foodie Pen Pal

This month I very gladly returned to the Foodie Pen Pal Program.  I was paired with a woman named Alison that lives in Virginia.  She sent me a really great box this month.  She nailed it as far as foods that I go ga-ga over.  

I mean H-E-L-L-O, do you see all that dark chocolate?  Yum! 

I made the brownies last weekend.  To be honest, I didn’t have the highest hopes for gluten free brownies.  So often GF is code for not-as-good-as-the-real-thing.  When I was mixing them up,  I was really questioning them.  The batter was so thick that it really was more of a paste.  But I figured I’d go with it.  I mushed it into the pan and attempted to smooth it out.  After putting it in the oven, I turned the light on and watched it bake.  Side note:  I do this a lot.  Oh the exciting life I lead! photo 3 (1) photo 4

Here’s the thing.  The brownies started to puff about halfway through and by the end (they needed 5 minutes longer than the box suggested) they were legit brownies.  But how would they taste?  Ummm, delicious!  You really couldn’t tell they weren’t gluten filled.  They tasted exactly like regular brownies.  I will be buying these again.  Why not keep a box on hand for brownie emergencies?  Another side note:  I really have brownie emergencies from time to time.  photo 1 (1)

And yes, that finger print is where I stuck my finger in them to see if they were done.  Some people might use a toothpick.  Some people aren’t that smart.  Luckily, it was just me and Rob eating them and neither one of us cares.

I forgot to mention the tea.  I’ve been drinking the Vanilla Caramel one with breakfast and it’s so yummy.  It hits the right spot between green tea and coffee, which are my other two morning beverages of choice.  This is right in between , so when I don’t want as much caffeine as coffee but green tea isn’t milky and comforting enough, this tea is the place to go. 

Ok, so I loved the box, but here’s the best part.  Alison sent me this really sweet letter telling me about her life and where she lives.  I just love that.    Thanks Alison!

The Lean Green Bean

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Easter

We had a beautiful Easter here in Maryland.  The weather was just perfect.  And after the winter we’ve had (and much of the East Coast has had the same), it’s nice to be finally turning the corner on Spring.

My family has never been that into Easter as either a religious holiday or as a traditional ham dinner holiday, but we do like to get together and hang out.  A few years ago we started doing a non-traditional Easter dinner and now it’s our tradition.  The first year was a Curry Cookoff, last year we made a variety of pizzas and this year I decided we were going to have a taco night.  It went very smoothly but I was so busy, I forgot to really take any pictures of the meal.  So you’ll have to settle for what few pictures I did take.

How cute is my nephew dyeing eggs and giving them to Dingo?  I think both Dingo and Hudson ate a few too many hardboiled eggs.

Donnie & Dingo photo 2 (1) Hudson even puked in the middle of the night but I don’t know if it was the eggs or the enormous bone that he got in his Easter basket.  Aren’t the doggie Easter baskets cute?  Neither one was sure why they were being given a basket of toys and treats,but once they figured out they could have it all, they tore into it. doggie easter basketsI actually had a lot of fun picking things out for their baskets.  Dingo of course got the ninja bucket because she uses her ninja-like powers to sneak onto the bed in the middle of the night.

Have you ever had Salsa Verde?  It was just one of the 4 kinds of salsa that I made for our Taco Night, but it might be my favorite. salsa verde

Salsa Verde

 

  • ½# Tomatillos, husks removed
  • Jalapeno or Serrano pepper, to taste
  • 2 Shallots
  • 2-3 cloves Garlic
  • 1 Lime, halved
  • ¼ C Cilantro, roughly chopped
  1. Cut tomatillos and peppers into a large dice.  Halve the shallots, keeping root end intact to hold together.
  2. Combine all ingredients except cilantro in a small bowl.  Lightly coat with oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Roast under the broiler or over a grill until everything is soft and tomatillos are slightly charred, approximately 8 minutes.
  4. Let cool slightly.
  5. Pulse all ingredients, including cilantro in food processor or blender, adding up to ¼ C water, as needed.  Adjust seasoning to taste.

Salsa VerdeI just recently started roasting/grilling limes and lemons for my salsas and it adds such an interesting complexity.  You should totally do this!

Ok here’s the last picture.  It really has nothing to do with Easter but it was an amazing dinner I made for myself the other day completely out of leftovers.  It looks so yummy, I want another one now.  I love bread.  My love of bread has basically been my paleo downfall.  I keep thinking I can stick with paleo and then a baguette comes and smacks me in the face and makes me it’s b!tch.  Alas…

sandwich

 

Cooking Frenzy Weekend

Last week my work schedule changed and it’s really throwing me off.  I barely managed to make dinner 2 nights the whole week!  I felt terrible about it and was kind of kicking myself for being so lazy, so this week I am determined to do a better job.  On Saturday, I menu planned the crud out of the week.  It looked something like this:

  • Sunday: Risotto with Braised Squid
  • Monday: Grilled Chicken Thighs with misc. Grilled Vegetables
  • Tuesday: Gluten Free Pizza
  • Wednesday: Grilled Flank Steak with Roasted Tomatoes
  • Thursday: Coconut Shrimp with Mango Red Pepper Chutney and Grilled Pineapple
  • Friday: Birthday Party
  • Saturday: Savage Mill Crossfit Outing

And like the best plans, it is already off.  I couldn’t get the squid ink that I wanted and it ended up delaying the risotto until last night.  I also chickened out on buying $20 worth of ingredients needed to make the gluten free pizza recipe, so we’ll probably scrap that. By tomorrow night, I should be back on track.  And yes, I realize that that means I will only do two days of my plan.  That’s ok with me, as long as I’m not going out to eat a whole bunch.

Sunday evening I did a ton of prep work for the week.  Most of it was boring stuff like chopping vegetables but I did make a few things that I really got excited about.

This is savory granola.  It was inspired by a recipe that I saw in Bon Appetit but then I completely reworked it because I didn’t want the oats in it and I wanted to only use things in my pantry.  Luckily, my pantry is always chock full of a variety of nuts.  Savory Granola

Savory Granola

  • 3 1/2 Cups Assorted Raw or Blanched Nuts (I used sliced almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds pumpkin seeds and pistachios)
  • 2 T Fennel Seeds
  • 1/4 C Sesame Seeds (especially pretty with black and white mixed)
  • 1-2 t Chipotle Powder (could sub cayenne, but reduce it a bit)
  • 1 t Kosher Salt
  • 1 Egg White, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees.
  2. Mix nuts, seeds, chipotle and salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat together egg white and oil.  Pour over nut mixture and stir until all nuts and seeds are covered.
  4. Spread onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake until golden, approx. 40 minutes.  Stir halfway through.

I cannot stop eating this stuff!!!  I was really making it to go on salads in place of croutons or something else crunchy, but now it is sitting on my counter and I take a handful of it every time I pass by.

I also braised the squid for the risotto that we ended up eating last night.  It sounds so fancy, but honestly, it couldn’t have been easier.  And it was spectacular.  I could have eaten just the squid, no risotto and been perfectly happy.

Braised Squid

  • 1.25 lb Squid, tubes cut into 1/2″ rings, tentacles cut in half
  • 1/4 C Butter
  • 1/4 C Olive Oil
  • 1 Onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 C Dry White Wine
  • 1 T Parsley, chopped
  1. Melt butter and heat with the oil in a medium sauce pan (not like me – I started with a small one before realizing it was going to quickly overflow) over medium heat.
  2. Sweat the onions until they are translucent but not at all browned.
  3. Add the squid and cook for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the wine and parsley and then simmer over low heat for 45 minutes.
  5. Season… I’d tell you how much salt to add but I really have no idea.  I avoided seasoning the squid at this stage because I was planning on adding it to the risotto.  Seriously, it was that good without salt.  Next time I’m just making the squid.  Squid Risotto and Salad

During all this I also made some Romesco Sauce .  I love that stuff!  We will be eating it on roasted cauliflower for dinner tonight.  On Sunday I ate it on a piece of dark rye with a sliced hard boiled egg.  What a snack! romesco and toast

Sour Cream Ice Cream

How is it Thursday already? The days are flying by this week. Upside: The weekend is almost here. Downside: i don’t have anything to show for all this time that has slipped away.
I meant to post this recipe after the Cheesemaking class that Rob and I did, but I’m only getting around to it now. I made the recipe with quark, which is a soft-ripened cheese that is whipped. It tastes a lot like sour cream, so I instantly thought of this recipe that was passed on to me by one of the chefs that I work with – shout out to Neil! Since it very unlikely that I will have quark in my home again, I’ll make this next time with sour cream.  It is the richest ice cream and it tastes like ice cream and cheesecake got together and made a heavenly cheesecake ice cream baby.

Sour Cream (or Quark) Ice Cream

  • 5.25 oz sugar
  • 4 yolks
  • 12 oz heavy cream
  • ½ t salt
  • 12 oz sour cream (or quark)
  • 1 t vanilla or 1 vanilla bean
  1. Bring salt and cream to simmer. Meanwhile, whisk yolks and sugar in a separate bowl.
  2. Remove the cream and salt from the stove and pour a small amount (about 1/4 cup) of hot cream into the eggs, whisking vigorously.  Once this is all incorporated, do it again with another 1/4 cup or so.  The idea here is to warm up the eggs, without cooking them.  Add the rest of the hot cream and whisk.
  3. Pour the cream and egg mixture back into the pot and turn the heat back on to low.  Continue cooking while stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until it begins to thicken, about 5 minutes.  Run your finger along the back of the spoon and if the mixture is thick enough to hold the line you traced, it’s thick enough to pull of the heat.  Don’t overcook it!
  4. Stir in sour cream and vanilla until combined.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1-2 hours.  Or if you’re in a hurry (and who isn’t when it comes to ice cream), pour it into a large ziplock bag, squish out the air and submerge into ice water until it is cold, about 20 minutes.
  6. Spin your ice cream according to the directions for your ice cream maker.  Mine requires that I freeze the base for 24 hours and recommends spinning for 25 minutes.  Freeze overnight.

Yield: 1-1 ½ quarts

Since it tasted so much like cheesecake, I paired it up with a graham cracker crust and some raspberry sauce.  Heavenly… Sour Cream Ice Cream

In other news, our living room went from this: photo 2

To this: photo 3

It still needs a little styling but I’m in love!  They are so comfy and much more modern than our old couches.  Much more my style.

Will Winter Ever End? and Grilled Vegetable Dip

Broken record alert.  I am so sick of winter.  We have had so much snow this year.  And then it gets nice.  And then it snows.  Rinse and repeat.  Ugh!!  I’m over it.

So this happened on Monday. Last snow storm of 2014

And like I have done for nearly every snow day this year (and there have been many), I decided to dive in and bake and cook.  Except almost everything was a failure.  First I made macaroons.  They came out so ugly that I had to eat them all before Rob came home.  Luckily the dogs were more than willing to help. ugly macaroons

Then I made mayonnaise and broke it a record 3 times!  I finally got it right but I was so pissed by the end that I couldn’t even appreciate it.  I turned it into one of my favorite paleo lunches – tuna and peppers.  photo 1

photo 3And then I struck gold!  Grilled Vegetable Dip.  It’s almost like a cross between hummus and baba ghanoush but better because it used up things I had in my refrigerator.  Here’s what I did:

Grilled Veggie Dip

Grilled Vegetable Dip

  • ~1 lb. mixed vegetables – I used zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant and portabella mushrooms
  • oil – my choice, 100% olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 T tahini
  • misc. chopped herbs – parsley, chives, thyme, dill, rosemary
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • bonus points: 1 oz. goat cheese

1. Slice the eggplant and squash into 1/4″ thick slices.  Remove the stem and gills from the mushrooms.

2. Drizzle the vegetables with oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper.  Grill on each side until cooked but not falling apart.  Truth be told, my vegetables were the leftovers from dinner the night before.  Veggies shrink down quite a bit when they are cooked, but I started my dip-making with about 2 cups of grilled veggies.

3. Put the cooled veggies, lemon juice (start with half and add more as needed), tahini and herbs into a food processor and pulse a few times until it is consistently chopped.  If you’re adding the goat cheese, do it now.

4. Turn the food processor on to run consistently and stream in a few tablespoons of evoo until it comes together into an emulsified dip.

5.  Taste it and adjust the salt and pepper.  Try not to eat it out of the food processor directly.  Honestly, this got better the second day, so I’m really just trying to help you out here.

This dip is awesome with all sorts of raw veggies.  You could spread it on a sandwich if you were a sandwich eating type person.  I bet it would be good in a salad.  Mostly I’ve been eating mine off of a spoon, straight out of the fridge.

Running into Spring and Cheesemaking

It’s Thursday… wait, what?!?  This week has flown by (again).  Why is it that the older I get, the faster time seems to go?  I don’t know but it seems like every time I blink lately a day, a week, a year has passed without me noticing.

We had a very brief period of Spring weather over the weekend and I managed to run outside.  It was freaking ahh-mazing!  I have been having some very successful treadmill runs lately that I chalk up to my increased fitness from Crossfit, but I was a little nervous about running outside.  History has taught me that my comfort on the treadmill does not always translate when there are elements to contend with outside – wind, cold, heat, hills, sidewalk cracks, you get the idea.  I purposefully chose to wait until the weather was gorgeous before venturing out.  That way, at least the weather wouldn’t be crapping on me.  Turns out, I didn’t need to worry at all.  The run was fantastic.  I actually found myself able to do little bursts where I picked up the pace for a minute or two, generally until I got distracted and forgot that I was trying to run faster.  Speaking of distraction, I actually managed to zone out and “lose” a few blocks of running, which is completely my favorite way of running.  I actually zoned back in and was like “Woah, how did I get to the turn around point already?”  Now that is what I call a good run.

On Sunday, Rob and I went to a cheesemaking class.  Even though Rob basically has zero interest in learning to cook, he is endlessly interested in producing food items.  He wants to learn to make cheese and beer and liquor and things like that.  I find his interest confusing but I’m never one to discourage any interest he has in food, so for Christmas, I bought him a cheesemaking kit and then I signed him up for this class at the school where I work.  The cheesmakers are literally the sweetest people on earth.  They come twice a year from Three Shepherds Farm in Vermont to teach these classes.  Every time they come I look forward to it.

Rob making cheese

Rob is going to stretch mozzarellaWe made tons of cheese and we ended up taking home more than most because we were the last ones there (I had to lock up).  Our mozzarella balls turned into margherita pizza.  That is the thing I crave more than anything else when I am trying to eat grain free.  And man, did it hit the spot! photo 3

We also have a cup or so of quark that I’m planning on making into ice cream.  There are 5 (!) rounds of soft-ripened cheese rolled in herbs.  I plan on giving some of these away because as much as I love it (tastes a lot like chevre but it’s made out of cow’s milk) I know I can’t eat that much before it goes bad.  But a little part of me is sad to part with it.  My garage is now home to 3 rounds of feta that are brining.  They take 1-2 months, so we’ll see how that turns out.

 

Spice Blends that Make Me Smile

Heellloooo there!

Happy Friday!  I am so ready for this week to end.  Tomorrow starts an amazing 3 day weekend.  Amazing might be too strong of a word.  Pretty good? Yes. Super fun? Yes to that too.  Amazing?  We’ll see.  Last weekend I had zero days to do nothing and since doing nothing is my favorite activity, it was especially troubling.  I have purposefully made no plans for Sunday or Monday so Doing Nothing is going to happen.

Saturday should actually be filled with somethings.  My mom is finally cashing in on her Christmas gift.  I got her tickets to a dance performance at the Kennedy Center.  It’s some type of modern Brazilian dance troupe.  I don’t really know that much about it.  She asked for tickets to a modern dance performance and this was the best I could find.  Actually what she asked for was tickets to see “krumping, popping or something like that.”  Somebody’s been watching too much So You Think You Can Dance.  I jest.  I thought it was adorable and was happy to oblige.  Except that I have no idea where to go see things like that.  So the Kennedy Center will have to do.

In other random news, I got out of work early yesterday so I made a quick detour to Penzey’s.  Oh my golly!  That store is freaking amazing.  Dried spices may not sound all that exciting but I completely nerded out in there.  They have some really great spice blends that keep the cooking interesting.  They aren’t paying me to say this (although if they want to pay me in spices, I’d be ok with it), I just really love it!  Here’s what I bought. Penzey's Spices

The Sunny Paris and Aleppo (great alternative to crushed red pepper) are staples in my kitchen and I was really just restocking.  The other two were new to me.  I love that you can smell all of them in the store.  The Trinidad is a blend of salt, lemon zest, garlic, cloves and ginger.  Holy heck!  I was so excited by the smell that I actually busted open the bottle in the car just to try it.  And… delicious.  As Rob put it, it would be so good anywhere you put garlic.  Garlic bread?  Why not , lemon garlic bread? I almost could eat it straight out of the bottle.  Actually, that’s exactly what I did do, so I guess there’s no almost about it.

I also loved the Tsardust Memories.  It is a unique blend of salt, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, and marjoram.  Sounds a little strange, tastes great.  I made it into meatballs last night for dinner and I cannot tell you how excited I am about the leftovers I brought with me for lunch.  <<Happy sigh>>

I ate about 6 of these lettuce wraps.  No shame!

I ate about 6 of these lettuce wraps. No shame!

Last but not least, here’s an adorable picture of my favorite basenji.  What a cutie!  Dingo

I just found out a coworker had a basenji growing up.  Makes me like him even more.  Like we now have a special bond!

I just need to talk about Crossfit a little bit.  I love to talk about Crossfit and for some reason I never do it on the blog.  I don’t know why that is but it needs to change.  Crossfit is actually a pretty substantial part of my life right now.  I go 4 days a week!

It’s actually the only exercise that I’ve been able to stick to lately.  I usually kind of fade out, but so far I’ve been sticking to it.  The last few weeks have been a little tough, not for any particular reason, just because for some reason I’ve had other obligations that made it tough to go four times a week.  This week I’m back at it.  I went four days and honestly if my schedule had allowed it, I would have gone 5 days.  I just can’t get enough!

So maybe stupidly, I signed up for a sprint triathlon on June 1.  It’s not stupid because I think I can’t do it.  It’s stupid because I have no real way of swimming between now and then.  Enter Crossfit.  I’m hoping that my gained strength is going to carry me through the swimming portion with exactly 0 meters in beforehand.  When I say it out loud, it does seem like sort of a dumb idea.  Luckily, it’s only a sprint.  I just need to get my running and biking back in gear.  This weekend is when it begins.  My goal is 2 runs per week, 1 bike per week and keeping up with my 4 days of Crossfit.  I’ll let you know next week how realistic this is….

Cauliflower Tortillas recipe and other random musings

The winter blah’s have taken hold of me.  Like most of the east coast, we had a major (for Maryland) dumping of snow on Tuesday.  Maryland is terrible at dealing with anything more than an inch of snow.  Wait, that’s not true – we are also terrible at dealing with amounts less than an inch.  It is actually not uncommon to have schools cancelled for rain that “might” develop into a snow storm.

This time we got about 7″, so it’s been all out catastrophe mode around here.  Schools cancelled, businesses closed, bread, water and toilet paper completely bought out of the stores.  Things are only starting to return to normal. Did I mention that Monday (the day before this storm) it was 60 degrees?  Yep it was.  It was also MLK Day so I was home.  I did a noon Crossfit wod and then took Dingo for a hike.  It was muddy but glorious.  muddy hikeHiking is my absolute favorite way to get inside my head and spend a little quality time with my best girl.  And I mean Dingo, not me… I hope she enjoyed the exercise because she refused to go out in the snow.  She literally pooped today for the first time since Monday.  Wait that was TMI.  Sorry.  Not everyone likes to talk about my dog’s bowel movements?  Oops!  Socially awkward blogger here. hike

The upside of my cabin fever is a did a little cooking/baking.  I baked some cookies but I was too ashamed so I didn’t take a picture.  They were delish.  I have a good basic recipe for chocolate chip cookies and then I usually mix in whatever I have lying around.  This time it was a little whole wheat flour (to make them chewier, not to pretend to be healthier) and some granola.  I love chocolate chip oatmeal cookies, so I figured why not?  They were so good.  I think I ate the equivalent of 5 cookies in raw cookie dough alone.  And then I paid for it with a belly ache.  D’oh.

I also tried out the paleo “tortillas”.  I originally got the recipe from roostblog.com, but that site is no longer letting me in, so I can’t reference it.  Oh well, here’s the recipe, tweaked to my memories.  cauliflower tortilla

Cauliflower Tortillas

  • 3 cups of “riced” cauliflower, raw
  • 1 whole egg
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 tsp Salt
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Steam the cauliflower over a pot of simmering water.  When it is fully cooked, spoon it off into the center of a clean dish towel.  Let it cool just enough to be able to handle it.  Squeeze all the excess moisture out of the cooked cauliflower.  I rolled the towel up and then squeezed/twisted the ends like I was wringing out a towel.
  3. Mix the dry cauliflower with the egg, egg whites and salt.  Spoon about 3 T of the mixture onto a silpat lined baking sheet and spread out into a thin circle.  You can also use a parchment lined baking sheet, but it is harder to remove the tortillas when they are done.
  4. Pop them in the oven and cook until they are shiny and dry.  This took about 8 minutes but it would vary depending on how thin you spread the mixture.
  5. Let them cool slightly on the silpat and remove with a spatula.
  6. The original recipe called for browning them on each side in a little ghee in a pan, but I was feeling lazy and like the white color.  You decide!

The best thing about these is that they don’t taste like much, so they could be used for a variety of different things.  I filled mine with pulled pork and slaw.  I might have done something else with them for dinner, but when I wasn’t looking, Dingo stole them right of the counter!  She is learning some bad habits… but she’s eating well, so I don’t mind.

Ok last thing.  Here was last night’s dinner.  It was super fast and a total crowd pleaser.  It was a modified cobb salad with deviled eggs instead of plain hardboiled eggs.  Yum! cobb salad

Mine had pomegranate seeds, bacon, avocado, deviled eggs, peppers, blue cheese, olives, dilly beans (I’m obsessed!  Where have these been all my life?) and tomatoes.  Oh and lettuce.  I know Rob liked it because he took a picture of it and posted it to his friends on this online game he played.  He likes to make them jealous.

Wait one more random picture of my food.  This is what I made for dinner on Sunday night.  It was paleo, delicious and a quarter of the price it would have been in a restaurant.  How can you beat that? tuna