Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Vodka Pasta and Running a 5K

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I've always hated exercising; many people have encouraged me to do it, some have even tried forcing me (which really doesn't work... I'm a redhead, we're stubborn), but at the end of the day I've always had a "screw it, I don't have the time" mentality. Back when I was a freelance theatre technician it didn't matter all that much because I got a lot of exercise at work, and I was always too busy (or broke) to eat. Now, I have an awesome job but a lot of paperwork, and I have a desk in a room with a fridge and a microwave and a whole bunch of people that like to bring in baked goods. I also write a food blog. You might have figured out where this is going.

So when I moved to Las Vegas I gained a little more weight than I was comfortable with and I also lost a lot of my energy. There was much scolding from my guy, who is essentially a professional athlete, and from my mother who owns a gym, so I've forced exercise into my schedule. I spend probably a total of four hours at the gym a week, spread over six days. How do I manage this? Hulu+ on my phone is how. I get on the treadmill, stick in my headphones, and I watch TV. Since my Hulu queue rarely gets below twenty, there is no shortage of shows for me to watch, and it really does help me forget how long I've been running. Otherwise, you see, I over focus on the time, think how much laundry there is to do, and talk myself out of doing a decent job.

Two weeks ago, I decided for sure that I was going to run the annual 5K that the Circus does as a fundraiser. I've never done one before. From what I understand, the terrain for this one is downhill for half of it and uphill for the other half. So, yesterday I took a stab at running a 5K and my time was pretty respectable. I'm hoping to do quite well!

Of course, I had to give my body the necessary fuel it needed when I came home, and what better fuel than pasta? But, again, I write a food blog, so I put a crap ton of booze in it. Running a 5K is a great excuse to make this stuff.

Vodka Pasta is something I discovered a few months ago. It's remarkably easy and made from pantry staples. It goes wonderfully with chicken or veggies, and it's pretty great just on its own. Plus, hey, booze!

Vodka Pasta
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

You can use cream instead of the yogurt in the sauce, but I went for the lower fat version and to me, I honestly prefer it with the little extra tang that the yogurt creates.

200g Penne Pasta (about half a standard box)
1 Large Onion, diced
1 Can Diced Tomatoes
2 Garlic Cloves, whole but peeled
1 Tablespoon Plain Yogurt
2oz Vodka
2 Tablespoons Butter

In a large pan, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil and add the onions. Cook them slowly over a medium heat until they are soft and just starting to brown a little around the edges, about 15 minutes. Then, tip in the tomatoes and the whole garlic cloves and stir, letting them cook for another 15-20 minutes. While the tomatoes are cooking, bring a large pan of water to boil and cook the Penne according to the directions on the box, usually about 12 minutes.

When the pasta is done, drain it and then put it back into it's pan, adding in the butter and stirring until melted, then add in the vodka. Turn the heat off the tomato and onion mixture, fish out the whole garlic cloves, and stir in the yogurt, then add in a good grind or two of salt and pepper to taste. Mix the sauce in with the pasta and serve with a few grates of good parmesan cheese. Yummy! Serve this with some slow cooked chicken, or a bunch of veggies, or just on it's own in a giant bowl in front of the latest episode of Chopped.

Makes 2 main portions or 4 side portions.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Whilst I'm Not Cooking #2

I did actually cook this week. I made Beef Stew, Cottage Pie, Spicy Beans, Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies, Barbecue Pork Riblets and Bitter Lemon Icecream. Most of these don't have recipes and most of them also don't have pictures, which is horribly lame of me, I know. So I thought instead I would tell you of the things that I plan to cook, and what I managed to pull off from last weeks list.

One of the things I managed to make off last weeks list was David Lebovitz's Wild Rice Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Lemon-Tahini Dressing. I made it with Butternut Squash and a Wild Rice blend, and it was pretty good. I think it was a little heavy on the Tahini, so I probably would change the balance of the dressing if I made it again. It was a nice set of texture and flavor though. I definitely recommend it.

Whilst I'm not cooking this week, I'm drooling over these recipes:

Easy Spicy Garlic Bread in a Pot
from Joy The Baker

Smoked Trout and Cave-Aged Gruyere Bites from Coconut & Lime

Twice Baked Boursin Souffles
from Eat-Tori

White Chocolate Pistachio Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Eat the Love

Spicy Spinach Stuffed Mushrooms from The Pioneer Woman

The picture that you see above is out the window of The Flying Biscuit Cafe in Atlanta, the one location on McClendon Ave. It's one of my favorite all time brunch spots. If you ever get a chance to eat there... do. Order a biscuit, some scrambled eggs, and some Moon-Dust Potatoes. Delicious. When I was in Atlanta in December I did that twice.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cottage Pie and 24 Hours of Sympathy

Whilst I was growing up, there wasn't a whole lot of home cooking in my house. Most of the cooking I experienced as a child was done by my Nana. When I was sick, though, there were two things I remember having; boiled eggs and soldiers, and tomato soup. I was fed these when I was sick with regularity. I now only ever want to eat them when I'm feeling under the weather.

You know how I've been really really swamped the last couple of weeks? Well, when you're super busy and everyone else around you has a cold, you tend to eventually succumb yourself. I started getting quite sick on Monday morning and by Monday evening I felt absolutely rotten. Lucky for me, my weekend is a Tuesday/Wednesday one so I could rest at home and get over my speedy cold without having to miss work.

The other thing about being sick as a child was that my Mother had a rule that you get 24 hours of sympathy when you're sick and thats it. I don't know if she ever kept hard or fast to this rule, but as an adult I now pretty much only allow myself to mope around for that long when I'm sick. I really feel like giving myself a swift kick in the ass after a day can really help me get better faster. One other lucky thing for me is that I tend to only get sick once a year, and almost never for longer than two days. I love my immune system. It's terribly good to me.

When you're getting over being sick, a nice big hearty meal can really help boost you out of it. Since being sick always makes me homesick, I figured that I should bust out something charmingly English to make me feel better.

Cottage Pie

Some people may call this Shepherds Pie, but they aren't really correct. See, Shepherd's Pie is called as such because it is traditionally made with ground lamb. If you're making it with beef it's called cottage pie. Either way, you're looked at ground meat sauteed with onions, carrots and peas, then topped with mashed potatoes and baked in the oven. It's a very delicious hearty meal.

1lb Ground Beef
1 Medium Onion
2 Carrots
1 Cup Frozen Peas
2 Tablespoons Fresh Parsley
Salt and Pepper
1/2 Cup Finely Grated Gruyere Cheese
2 1/2 Cups Mashed Potato

Preheat the oven to 375F. Dice the onion and sautee it in a little olive oil until it is softened and the onions start to brown. Grin in some salt and pepper. Next, add in the carrots. Cook for another five minutes and then add in the ground beef. Cook until the beef is starting to brown a little. Take off the heat and add in the frozen peas and parsley.

Tae a medium casserole dish, something around 8x8 or so and fill the bottom with the meat mixture. Then, spread the mashed potatoes in a layer over the meat. Use the tines of a fork to gently drag across the potatoes and then scatter the grated gruyere over the top. Bake for 20 minutes, then turn your broiler on high. Let the broiler brown the tips of the mashed potatoes for about five minutes, just to get a little color and a little crisp.

If you have a favorite mashed potato recipe, by all means use that. You'll want about two and a half cups. Or, you can use this one:

5 Medium Sized Potatoes, scrubbed and diced.
3 Tablespoons Butter
3 Tablespoons Milk
Lots of Salt and Pepper
1/2 Cup Finely Grated Gruyere Cheese

Boiled the diced potatoes in salted water for twenty minutes. Drain them and put them back into the original pan. Mix in the butter, salt, pepper, milk and Gruyere. Mash the ever loving heck out of them until they are creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Makes four nice big servings.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Whilst I Am Not Cooking

Still not much time for me in the kitchen, though I did have the fabulous Myles over for brunch. I made a Goat Cheese, Tomato and Spinach Quiche similar to the recipe found here. He made biscuits and Man Hash Browns, which are made just like normal hash browns except that you use Bacon Grease instead of oil or butter and you have to make them in a cast iron skillet. Delicious.

When I have a few minutes in the evening I generally pull out the cookbook that I am currently reading. I read cookbooks like novels, and I keep little post it tabs next to my bed so I can mark recipes that I like. Right now, I'm reading Girl in the Kitchen by Stephanie Izard. I've always been a huge fan of Stephanie's since she became the first woman to win Top Chef, but I have to say I don't love her book yet. I was a good 100 pages in before I marked a single recipe to try. It seems like every blurb about a dish references one of her restaurants... it doesn't tell me about where the food came from. I'm just not feeling the soul. But I'm sticking with it and hopefully I'll see what I'm looking for soon.

If I were in my kitchen, these are the things that I would want to make right now:

Chocolate Orange Pots de Creme from Pioneer Woman

*Update! I did make these, though I left out the Grand Marnier and topped them with white chocolate mousse and then a peppermint whipped cream. This recipe came together remarkably easily, and I hope to tweak it and share my layered version soon.

Greek Lemon Chicken from Everybody Likes Sandwiches

Butter Pecan Shortbread from Bake or Break

Wild Rice Salad with Roasted Vegetable and Lemon-Tahini Dressing from David Lebovitz

*Update. I made this! I really loved it, though I found it a little heavy on the tahini. I'd back that off next time and use a touch more lemon.

Cheezy Jalapeno Pull Bread from Simply Recipes

What are some other recipes that you've seen lately but haven't had time to make?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sometimes, Suddenly, Always

Days like today are always a wee bit challenging for me. I didn't sleep well. My shift at work is an extra three hours longer than normal. There is no home cooked food in the fridge and I have absolutely no idea when I will get back in my kitchen. My weekend will be half the normal length. I miss my other half.

I want to write. I want to write and eat and have a bay window to curl up in with a cup of tea. I want the time to read a book. I want to work on knitting blankets for the babies that are being made by my sister, heart-sister and sister-in-law. I want trees and gardens and things that are rustic and old. I want sunlight glimmering through branches. I want to practice cartwheels on real grass, falling, failing, laughing.

I want to be three years older, past this time in my life where everything is uncertain. I want to know where I'm going to be next year and be happy about it. I want to call a girlfriend over for lunch or a late glass of wine. I want to feel like I'm happy with a place. I want a kitchen, filled with light and color, with stainless steel appliances. I want to wear a little apron as I potter around making cookies, casseroles, stews, cakes.... comfort food. I want my fridge to be well stocked. I want a chest freezer. I want a puppy.

Mostly though, I just want my time back. I want to be in control of my fate again. Well, it'll be a while. But hopefully that will still come.

So since I can't cook right now, I write.

What do you want?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Charred Cabbage and Midnight Snacks

I'm a snacker in general. It really is my dieting downfall. I deeply love munching on things throughout the day at any opportunity. I'm the girl that will always take the cookie/cracker/grapes/fries that you offer. I can't actually keep snacks in my desk at work because I will eat them all within a day.

The one type of snack though that I tend to allow myself (and greatly look forward to)is the midnight snack. See, my bizarre schedule means that I frequently get home at around 11:50pm. When I get home, after the required hug from my guy and wandering over to pick up the mail, I tend to pour myself a glass of wine and grab myself a snack. Sometimes on the way home I place an order for a Johntoe, which is a microwaved baked potato that, for some reason, is succulent and divine and perfectly seasoned. The reason why it is a Johntoe is that John makes them. He calls them Johntatoes, but I ignore that and choose to shorten it. Also, I think it's funnier my way. I swear I don't know how that boy does it but they are just delicious.

Sometimes, I'll make myself an egg, or just some toast. If we have it in the house, though, you can bet your bottom dollar that I'm going to make charred cabbage. I never really thought of cabbage as snack food before I made this. Most people think of cabbage as wet and sauerkrautish. They think of pale boiled cabbage and things that are uninteresting. For me, though, cabbage is delicious, texturey yumminess.

The other good thing about this snack is that it's actually pretty healthy, which means less calories, which means more available for wine. Hurrah!

Charred Cabbage

This really isn't a recipe, it's rather directions for yumminess.

Take a non-stick pan and place it over a medium heat.
Take a cabbage, either Napa or regular and cut a wedge out of it. I usually make my wedges about an inch and a half thick. You want to cut them on a vertical so you are keeping part of the stem. This holds it together.
Pour a little olive oil on one side of the wedge, grind over some salt and pepper and place it oil side down in the pan. Then, drizzle some more olive oil on the other side that is now pointing up. Salt and pepper it again and then leave it.
After a few minutes, the edge against the pan will start to brown. You want this to be pretty dark, almost black.
When it's well charred, flip the wedge. Cook the other side in a similar fashion, knowing it will take less time to cook than the first side.
When it's done, flip it on a plate and enjoy with a fork. The edges will be deliciously crispy and salty, while the green parts should be just cooked.

So, what is your favorite midnight snack?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Roast Chicken and the Superbowl

I've lived in this country for ten years, nearly eleven, and until Sunday I had never actually seen the Superbowl. My boss has a Superbowl party every year because the Circus never runs on Superbowl Sunday. This was the first year that I was able to go and it was a really good time. There were great drinks, amazing food, and really good company. I ate two of the yummiest things I've ever had. Jenn makes these legendary meatballs. The sauce is just to die for and the meatballs are so delightfully tender and the recipe, well, it's apparently a secret. So I don't get to make it at home, which might be good, because then I would probably eat nothing else.

The other thing I ate were these mini Pumpkin Cheesecakes. They were ridiculous. I ate three, even though I swore I didn't want to and they were probably about 600 calories a pop. But they were so gooey, tender, moist and delicious. I'm hoping that I might be able to get that recipe, though, again, it's a huge risk.

So after the meatballs and the cheesecake and the burger and the potato chips and the chicken wings and the beer, I headed home late that night and decided i would probably never need to eat again. I felt so delightfully heavy. But then I kept waking up in the night with that "Oh god what have I done" feeling.

Now, here's the weird part. I'm not normally a soup girl, but all I wanted to eat all day yesterday was homemade chicken soup. So, I picked up a wee chicken at the store to roast so that I could then turn it into delicious soup. Then, I got distracted by the gym, Jenga, and The Voice. I managed to roast the chicken and I'll be making the soup later today, but I was so darn happy with the chicken that I wanted to share how I made it.

Roast Chicken with Rosemary and Garlic

1 Whole Chicken, rinsed
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
8 Sprigs of Rosemary
5 Cloves Garlic
Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 500F. On the breast side of the bird, lift up the skin a little and push in six sprigs of Rosemary and four clove of garlic. Having them under the skin really imparts flavor to the chicken breast. Put the rest of the Rosemary and garlic in the cavity of the chicken. Pour half the olive oil on the chicken breast and massage it all over, then grind over some salt and pepper. Place the chicken in a roasting pan breast side down, then pour the rest of the oil on the underside and salt and pepper again.

Roast at 500 for twenty minutes with the breast down, then flip the bird and baste with the olive oil that has collected in the bottom of the pan. Roast for another 8 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350F and cook for one hour and 15 more minutes. Check the bird for doneness and add in any cooking time you might need to finish it off.

Carve up and enjoy the chicken, and make sure to save the bones to make soup with!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Poached Eggs with Tomato and Avocado and Having No A Key

A while ago now there was a bit of a disaster when it came to my computer. My A key decided that it didn't want to work any more. It wasn't that I lost the key... it just stopped functioning one day. I've kept it. I carry it around with me in my purse and I'm sure I'll get it fixed one day. Until then, I've been making things work as best I can. I've been copy and pasting the offending letter when necessary, and I've tried to avoid starting any sentence with it's capitalized version.

This makes me seriously reconsider when I'm writing an article or an email how I start it and what its subject matter is. It seems so silly, but it does make for a lot of extra work. It bothers me but since I'm super frugal, I'm making do.

Since we are a frugal household, we tend to eat in more often than not. We might go out to dinner once a month or so, but that is all. Sometimes, I find myself craving going out for breakfast, eating something out of the ordinary that someone else made.

This was how I felt when I got up today, but instead of making my normal poached egg on toast I decided to rummage around and do things a little differently.

I adore avocado, and I really adore eggs benedict, but my healthy guy isn't really into the hollandaise sauce that goes with it and we rarely have bacon on hand. So today for breakfast I made a delicious concoction of avocado, tomato and poached egg on an English muffin. It was both the same and different, healthy and tasty, and could be easily pumped up with sauce and bacon if you so decided.

I douse John's with Hot Sauce and leave mine plain. The yolk from the egg sauces the plate quite nicely.

Poached Eggs with Tomato and Avocado

2 Eggs
1 Avocado
1 Tomato
1 English Muffin
Salt and Pepper
Hot Sauce (optional)

So many people have different methods for poaching eggs. For me, I take a small saucepan and fill it with water and a little salt. Then, I boil the water and once it's boiling I turn it down really low and add a nice splash of white vinegar. Then, I crack in the eggs and let them sit for about three to four minutes. I then take them out with a slotted spoon. I like the yolk runny and the whites set.

Cut the English muffin in half and toast it. Then top this with sliced tomato, and some salt and pepper. Then, cover with sliced avocado, more salt and pepper, then top with the poached egg and season a little more. If you like it spicy, add some hot sauce.

If you like to add bacon for texture, go for it, and hollandaise too if you want.

Makes breakfast for one if you like a large breakfast, or two if you would like it lighter.

Here's hoping that I don't make a recipe with so many a's in it any time soon.