Wednesday, August 29, 2012

To the Beach!

Greetings from Virginia Beach, bloggies! If you are wondering where the heck I have been, let's just say I am taking a little jaunt to paradise.

Everyone deserves a vacation once in a while!

And I am so grateful--we have had spectacular weather since we first got here. If summer must leave us soon, I'm happy to send it off with a bang on the beach and by the pool in sunny VA.

I am also completely obsessed with the wildlife down here. I went for a morning run on the water yesterday and was treated to an amazing show from the dolphins. They were swimming right alongside from where I was running doing all sorts of jumps and dives! So cool. I want one.

Obviously I am also taking this time to eat at many of the fabulous restaurants on the strip down here, so don't expect new recipes until after Labor Day. Of course you can take a browse through the "List of Recipes" page to see if there is anything you missed!

I may be inspired by all the amazing seafood I've eaten down here near the Chesapeake. Like Thai style Mahi with a red curry sauce and coconut rice? Yeah, that is real life down here.

Anyway, I hope everyone has an awesome holiday weekend and I look forward to bringing you new and delicious fall recipes come September!

Ahh, sunshine :-)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pink Lemonade Cupcakes

When someone says "summer" what do you think of? Here's what I think:

Air Conditioners.
Pink Lemonade.

Pink lemonade is probably one of the most refreshing beverages on the planet. I cannot say why. When it is poured over a mountain of ice, it's just always the most desirable beverage after a long day in the sun.

On an unrelated note, another thing that I love to use in cooking and baking is lemon. The flavor is  so aromatic and it brings a note of freshness to any dish.

Fresh. That's another thing I think of when I hear "summer." Fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh summer cocktails. Everything is just so fresh!

I was poking around the internet for some new cake recipes a while back when I stumbled upon a Paula Deen recipe for Pink Lemonade Layer Cake. The thought of pink lemonade sweetness in a cake really caught my attention. I tucked the thought away in my mental "recipes to try at some point in my life" file and continued my day.

Now summer is upon us (and rapidly leaving us!) and cookouts are aplenty. And I'm sure many of you would agree that bringing a dish to a cookout is a given. I always rack my brain trying to think of a reasonable dish to bring to a friend's summer get together.

That's when Paula Deen's charming southern accent came flowing through my cerebellum saying "Piiink Lemonaddeee Caakkkee y'aaallll!" Of course!

Now, cake is not always a practical option for a casual backyard barbeque. And, also, I don't have any cake pans. But cupcakes. Well, cupcakes are always in style. (Cupcake recipe adapted from Your Homebased Mom)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Potage Parmentier - Potato Leek Soup

"We should enjoy food and have fun. It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life." - Julia Child, 1990
Julia Child was a pretty cool woman. In fact, "pretty cool" doesn't seem to fully embrace the kind of woman she was. She was spunky, talented, smart, funny, and loving. And of course, she loved food. The quote above is one of my favorites. Nothing can put me in a better mood than delicious, tasty foods--I'm sure Julia woud agree.
This past Wednesday would have been Julia's 100th birthday. Articles and blog posts about her and recipes inspired by her were all over the place! I won't pretend that I am some huge fan that worships everything Julia Child, but I personally was loving the great things honoring her this week. In case you missed it, this was the Google banner that day:
Love it! Those Google people are so dang creative.
Julia's creativity flourished in the kitchen. She embraced French cooking throughout her many years living in Paris and brought that cuisine into the kitchens of so many here in the States from her now infamous cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."
In honor of her birthday, like many foodies out there, I wanted to try and cook a recipe from Julia. Many of her recipes require some impeccable skills and techniques and equipment, but when I stumbled upon this recipe, I knew I could do it.
So, ok, it's 80 degrees outside and we're having soup. But it's really, REALLY good soup.
Julia's Potage Parmentier -- that is, Potato Leek Soup -- adapted by from the infamous aforementioned cookbook. Yes, please.
This soup was elegant, filling, and downright delicious. It is also a simpler recipe, and so any home cook could whip this up to impress house guests. It is honestly so delicious that it can (and SHOULD) be cooked year-round.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Harborthon -- My First 5K!

I ran my first 5K yesterday. By ran, I mean I jog-walk-jog-walk-jogged it. Like my mom said – you have to start somewhere!

It’s not like I came in last place or anything. For someone who played tennis and softball throughout high school (meaning, of course, that long distance running was not a regular part of my day), I have to say I held my own. I’d love to keep up with the training and run more races in the future.

The race itself was a charity run to benefit the Camp Harborview foundation. Camp Haborview is a program designed for Boston-area kids and provides it’s campers with opportunities to build confidence, encourage creativity, and develop leadership skills (according to their website). From running around a majority of the camp grounds, I have to say it looks like an amazing way to spend the summer. The camp and race are located on Long Island—now, this is not the New York Long Island that I am from…it is actually a knock-off Long Island located in the Boston Harbor. But, hey, it was a nice island, so I’m not mad about the name.

I finished the race after 35 minutes -- which was great for me considering I was guessing I could do it comfortably in 45. Turns out, the course was a bit hilly -- something I didn't account for during my training. For the most part I trained on the treadmill with no incline or at Jamaica Pond (an amazing but not very hilly park near my apartment). The added challenge didn't deter me though! And there is nothing better than the feeling of making it to the top of the hill then flying down to the bottom.

Here’s my bib! So official. It’s hanging on my fridge. I felt like a 5th grader bringing home an A+ paper.

I wanted to quickly share my food regimen from race day.  Like I said, I am no professional runner/racer/or marathon guru, so I would encourage you to discover what kind of race-day diet works best for you. I also do not guarantee that this is going to in any way improve your race performance. However, for me, this meal plan left me feeling full but not bloated. I also felt sufficiently hydrated and energized (come mile 2, that energy is REALLY important).

Breakfast: 2 pieces of whole wheat toast (be sure there are no “enriched” flour products in your bread!) with all-natural peanut butter, sliced banana, and honey.

Mid-morning snack: fresh strawberries and blueberries, followed by a small bottle of low-fat chocolate milk.

Lunch: a whole wheat pita stuffed with black pepper turkey (this stuff is awesome), kale, romaine lettuce, hummus, and feta cheese. I had cherry tomatoes on the side (they always make the pita pocket bust…)

Afternoon snack: a black plum. And, ok, let me be honest. There was this huge ice cream social at my office. I had 2 scoops of coffee ice cream. With reeses pieces and some cherries. I WAS WEAK. But it was delicious.

Pre-race snack: Nature Valley Dark Chocolate and Peanut protein chewy bar.

Post-race dinner: cheeseburger and homemade potato salad (provided by b.good to the foundation).

Water: an estimate of at least 50 ounces throughout the day, 2 small cups (drank slowly) before the race, and 1 water bottle immediately after (again, sipped fairly slowly).

Have you run any races before? What’s your race-day routine? Any suggestions for improvement?!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chicken Cordon Bleu Burgers


An American classic. The perfect complement to a heaping plate of French fries and ketchup. A juicy getaway from reality.

I think I love burgers (among MANY other reasons) because a simple hamburger on a bun is an amazing empty canvas waiting to be painted with summer tomatoes and condiments and tangy pickles. There are so many ways that you can take an ordinary burger and elevate it to new, creative levels.

I have to credit my mother for first introducing me to the idea for last night’s dinner. That clever woman took a traditional dish, Chicken Cordon Bleu, and made it into an easy but delicious meal that can get pulled together in a flash on weeknights. That’s right – she made it into a chicken burger!

Traditional Chicken Cordon Bleu is typically a chicken breast, pounded out thin and then rolled with ham or prosciutto and Swiss cheese, then finally it is breaded and baked or fried until juicy and gooey. Pretty mouth-watering, yes. Quick and easy meal option? No.

So you would probably agree that Susan’s (read: Mom’s) idea for a Chicken Cordon Bleu Burger was a stroke of genius. I’d have to say it was. And I’m not even trying to butter my mom up for some nice gift or piece of jewelry or anything (I swear. Just compliments here. No games. Though I have been dying for a Kitchen Aide Mixer…) And since we are jazzing up our burgers, we should probably fancy up our starchy side dish. Let’s 86 those frozen fries that are far too familiar to the McDonald’s variety and roast up some red potatoes and sprinkle them handsomely with fabulous herbs.

I am hoping this recipe will inspire you and let your ham/chicken/turkey/veggie burger creative juices flow freely. What other traditional dishes can we form into patties and slap on a deliciously toasted bun!? Chicken Parm? Thanksgiving Dinner? TACOS?! I’ll let you decide.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Asian Steak Roll Ups

I love Asian cuisine. I love the flavors of soy, lime, teriyaki, honey, and sesame--combinations of these flavors are some of my favorites.

I have unfortunately found that Asian foods tend to be some of the most difficult to pull together in my own kitchen. It is difficult to find sesame oil, hoisin sauce, or miso paste in the average person's pantry. However, this should not discourage us!

A few nights ago, I pulled together an Asian-inspired steak dish that had bold flavors and textures for the whole pallet. Even my recipe guinea pig boyfriend enjoyed the strong essences of soy and honey. This will definitely be a dish I will be making variations of over and over again!

Now, I didn't run to the specialty store and pick up a myriad of Asian marinades, sauces, or seasonings. In fact, the main flavor agents here are pantry staples, namely low sodium soy sauce, honey, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce.Still think you can't bring the flavors of Asia into your own kitchen? Think again!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

On the Grill: Lemon & Garlic Chicken with Corn on the Cob

I’ve made a handful of mistakes in life. You know, just a few moments here and there when I REALLY blew it.

For example, one time I fed my cat a delectable piece of chicken that I was cutting up on the countertop. This normally would seem harmless except for the fact that animals are creatures of habit and now, no matter WHAT I am cutting in that exact spot, I have a begging kitty pawing at my shirt.

"I can haz chickenz?"

This other time I was playing softball in ninth grade and I didn’t call for a short fly ball behind the second base bag. This resulted in a hard collision between me and my shortstop, leaving me with a bloody nose and which actually sent my teammate to the hospital (she’s fine now…). It was my birthday…worst birthday ever.

I also made the error of not buying a stovetop grill pan sooner.

This little (and extremely heavy) kitchen gadget is awesome. I am coming to regard it as a kitchen essential for the home cooks who are living in apartments with minimal backyard space. This particular pan I have is pre-seasoned and cast iron. On my gas stovetop, this baby gets hot REALLY quickly. However, with a few adjustments and the right kind of temperature control, these grill pans allow you to get that awesome backyard barbeque-grilled taste anytime, anywhere.

That’s exactly what was on the menu tonight. Lemon and Garlic Marinated Grilled Chicken with Grilled Corn on the Cob. Serve alongside a fresh salad, a Sam Summer or a Sangria and you have the epitome of summer on one table. Ready in a flash!

Here’s what you need:

1 pound of thin-sliced chicken breasts (I used the pre-sliced Purdue breasts)
1 cup of your favorite marinade (as the title suggests, I did a Lemon and Garlic blend—perfect for chicken and fish! You could use the bottled kind…I did that today because I was away in Philly this past weekend and needed a time saver…you can also combine lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, S&P and Dijon mustard to create your own!)
Ears of corn on the cob, shucked (enough for each dinner guest to have 1)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt, pepper, dried basil to taste
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, divided
Freshly grated parmesan cheese (about ¼ of a cup)
Salad of your choice using summer’s best in season vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, and spinach are my favorite)

Here's what you do:

Place your chicken in an air tight container and season with cracked pepper and dried basil. Top with your marinade and cover. Let the chicken sit in the fridge for at least 1 hour or up to 8 hours. I love the basil and lemon combination!
Heat your grill pan on one side only over medium heat. Natural convection will get the other side warm without direct heat on both sides.
Brush your corn ears with a light amount of oil. You may want to spritz the grill pan with cooking spray as well.
Place the corn on the hot side of the grill and cook for about 3 minutes on all sides until nice grill marks appear on some of the kernels.

This was a really funny time for me. I put the corn on the grill and started doing other things when all of a sudden...*POP POP* yeah, turns out, regular corn kernels will pop under extreme heat as well. The cat went flying into the other room and I had to take a few deep breaths as I calmly convinced myself my kitchen was not under attack.

So, anyway...After the initial searing, move the corn to the unheated side of the pan and cover with a bowl that is O.K. under heat. This will finish the cooking process after about 5 or 7 minutes (turn the corn once while it's under the bowl).
Remove corn from the grill and immediately brush it with 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper. Serve hot.
While the corn finishes cooking on the unheated side of the pan, add a touch more cooking spray to the hot side of the pan and add the chicken to the grill. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until cooked through and grill marks appear, about 4 to 6 minutes on each side. To keep the chicken moist, use any reserved marinade that has not touched raw chicken (nobody likes contamination) to brush onto the chicken after the first flip.

This was a great summer meal. Corn on the cob has always been one of my all-time favorite side dishes, and I personally think we need to be grilling up our corn cobs more often! Grilled chicken is a classic meal, but giving it enough time to marinate and letting the flavors marry together can really bring it to the next level.

What's your favorite food to throw on the grill?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Lunchbox Makeover: Greek Cous Cous Salad

Soggy bread with cold cuts, wilted lettuce, and a slice of cheese. How often is this not-so-appetizing lunch awaiting you at noon?

I say, too often. It is nasty and unsatisfying. It is a gateway to endless afternoon snacking and a grumbling tummy come dinner.

Because I have not yet perfected the homemade, brown-bagged sandwich, I'll often scoot down to the cafeteria in my office and pay too much money for a meal that is chock full of empty carbs and who knows what. This is a waste of money and a waste of calories, I know. But what else am I to do?

Well, I decided it was time to be more aware of my lunch choices and to get creative with my lunchbox. It was then that I started thinking of salads and how I could make a salad fill me until dinner.

I am totally obsessed with Greek salad. Feta cheese, cucumbers, red onions, many of my favorite things! Using this classic as my base, I pumped it up with some whole wheat cous cous and a homemade dressing. I have to say, this will definitely be a repeat contender for lunch time bliss!

Makeover your lunchbox with my Greek Cous Cous Salad with a Garlic Hummus Balsamic Vinaigrette!

Here's what you need:

1 cucumber
1/2 red onion
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 red bell pepper
1 box whole wheat cous cous, cooked according to the package
1/2 cup feta or parmesan cheese
salt and cracked black pepper
Garlic Hummus Balsamic Vinaigrette (recipe here!)

Here's what you do (so easy!):

While your cous cous cools, finely dice your cucumber, red onion, and red bell pepper.
Half or quarter the cherry tomatoes.
Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.

Top with cous cous, dressing and cheese.

Stir well and enjoy!

These measurements will make two lunch-sized portions of this salad. It is refreshing and light, but also filling and flavorful! The perfect summer salad.

Do you have a go-to lunch that keeps you full and satisfied all day long? What was your inspiration?