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Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

22 Nov

I think it’s time to admit to myself that I just don’t have much free time these days. It’s been over a month since my last post, some weeks it feels like I barely have time to feed myself. I really do enjoy being busy, but it does mean I have less and less time for the non-essential things in life. And sometimes it means I get stressed out and start crying because my roommate keeps putting my nice knife in the kitchen sink with all the other dishes. Sometimes that is what pushes me over the edge.

Essentials:

1. Office job

2. Restaurant job

3. Working out (I live for Sunday morning Step class.)

4. Laundry

5. Watching Parks and Rec (and 30 Rock when it finally returns)

6. Sleep

7. Showering

That’s right, sleep and showering rank AFTER Parks and Rec and 30 Rock. They are really good shows, guys.

Non-essentials:

1. Taking the time to take pictures of my food on the rare occasion I have time to cook or bake

2. Baking macarons. I want to try it soooo bad. (Sorry dad, not macaroons.)

3. That sewing project I started about 7 months ago

4. That other sewing project I started a month ago that is supposed to be someone’s christmas present

5. Painting my nails. I need to avoid peep toe shoes until I take care of this. It’s embarrassing.

6. Making lists of essential and non-essential things in my life

7. Everything else

It’s actually a good thing my houseplant perished when I moved to my new apartment. I would have killed it from neglect by now anyway.

Needless to say, I am very much looking forward to the holidays. I’ve got a nice Thanksgiving dinner planned: braised short ribs over polenta, rosemary roasted potatoes, green beans, spinach madeleine, and the world famous (okay, my family famous) chocolate cinnamon torte.

I’ve got a hefty stack of magazines I need to catch up on, and my goal is to do absolutely nothing on Saturday. Movies in bed, ordering take out, reading, 30 Rock marathon, sweat pants. It’s going to be epic.

I won’t be going home for Thanksgiving for the first time ever . I guess that makes me an adult…and I don’t know how I feel about that. I’m thankful that I won’t be battling through the airports on Wednesday afternoon, but sad that I won’t be seeing the usual suspects: the grandmas, the uncle. But Christmas is just around the corner and the gang will be back together again, putting our family motto into practice: “Let’s eat again, reeeeeal soon!”

And speaking of eating again real soon, this soup is easy to throw together, and would make a great starter for your Thanksgiving meal, or a light lunch when you’re recovering the day after. My sister made it during the holidays last year and it recently popped into my head as something I was craving. Try it out! It’s delicious and makes you feel good about yourself because it’s so healthy.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup

Serves 4

1 medium onion, diced

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 cups sweet potato, peeled and diced
2 medium granny smith apples, cored, peeled and diced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cayenne (I left it out because I’m a wimp about spicy things)
In a large heavy pot, saute onions in olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. In a food processor or blender, blend until smooth.
I topped it with toasted butternut squash seeds and goat cheese, and it was delicious!
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Quinoa Stuffed Zucchini

7 Oct

One thing I don’t really understand about restaurant patrons is this: why do you always try to order from someone who is not your waiter? Maybe you don’t pay much attention so you can’t remember which one of us is your server? But…I’m a girl. The busboy is a boy. So you could at least differentiate between us. I know you’re probably super psyched about that tiramisu. But I just brought you the dessert menu, and I promise I will be back within a couple minutes to see what you want. In fact, right now I’m standing right behind him, about to ask you what you want. So maybe you could wait 2 seconds for him to clear your plate and I’ll get that order from you?

Pro-tip: At least at my restaurant, only your server can access your order in the system. Another server can’t enter whatever you ordered for me. So when you tell someone else you want a refill of wine, they have to first find me, tell me, remember what you asked for and what table you’re at. By the time they do, I probably would have already come over and gotten the order from you personally.

But I do love waitressing. Especially when you’re just at that right amount of busy that you never really stop moving but you are still able to get to every table as often as you need too.  And since I love food, I especially enjoy when people ask for recommendations. I have some strong feelings about some of those dishes.  People veer away from things named Hunkar Begendi, and they just need someone to assure them that it will be the best decision they’ve made all week, even if they can’t pronounce it.

Also the nachos are great when you’re drinking margaritas. No really, we’re a Turkish restaurant, I swear.

I’d also like to admit right now that I am REALLY bad at carrying martini glasses. I didn’t know it was possible to so consistently spill things on myself. Why did we design a glass that is shaped with what seems like the sole purpose of spilling alcohol?

So yes. In case you were wondering, I did just spill some of your Cosmo down my arm. My bad.

One side effect of waitressing, though, is that I’m really not cooking as much as I was before. Two nights a week I eat at the restaurant after my shift, and a lot of week nights I’m throwing together something easy. So, I’ll try to post something up here whenever I make something worthwhile, but it’s likely going to be less frequent than I would like. My mom has been hassling me to post this recipe, since she saw a photo of the finished product but I didn’t get this post together until WEEKS later. Sorry, mom! (Also you might be saying “your recipe calls for shallots, but I see onions in that picture.” True. I used onions, but after eating it, I think shallots would have tasted much better, so I highly suggest going that route.)

Stuffed Zucchini
Serves 3
3 medium zucchinis
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs olive oil
2 ears sweet corn, cut off the cob
1 large tomato, diced
2 shallots, diced
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Slice zucchinis in half longways. Use a spoon to scrape the seeds out, creating a small hollow area in each zucchini, like little zucchini canoes. But don’t take out too much, you still want to taste the zucchini. Set aside on a baking sheet lined with foil.
Add quinoa, water and salt in a small pot and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy and semi-transparent. While quinoa cooks, heat olive oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sweet corn and cook for 5 minutes. Set aside.
When quinoa is finished cooking, taste and add additional salt if needed. Add shallot and corn mixture to quinoa. Add tomatoes and mozzarella and stir to thoroughly combine.
Divide quinoa mixture among hollowed out zucchinis. Top with a little extra shredded mozzarella.
Cook stuffed zucchinis for 15 minutes or until cheese on top is bubbly.

Heirloom Caprese with Balsamic Reduction

8 Sep

Things that have happened since my last post:

1. Earthquakepocalyspe. I knew it was an earthquake, but refused to believe it was actually happening in DC. But after the first few seconds, I got up from my desk and braced myself in the doorway of my colleague’s office. He ducked under a table. We looked pretty ridiculous.

2. Come on, Irene. I had a Living Social deal to go whitewater rafting the day Irene hit. They didn’t cancel the trip ahead of time, but I eventually decided that I didn’t want to risk being stuck on a bus in West Virginia should the hurricane prevent us from getting back to DC. My best friend was visiting me from CA, so we ventured out before it got too bad and stocked up on quesadilla-making supplies. All-in-all, it was a good excuse to sit around inside watching TV and playing Scrabble all day.

3. “We’ve got two specials tonight…” I am now officially a waitress instead of a hostess. I’m pretty thrilled about the change. It’s so much more fun, since hostessing gets pretty boring. On slow nights I make about what I made as a hostess, but I make way more on busier nights. (Except when that French table stiffs me $20 on the check. Jerks.) I’m still learning…I tend to forget to bring people bread, and I’m still memorizing which beers we carry. But I think for the most part I’m pretty good. And to make my mother proud, I constantly make an effort to talk slower.

4. I painted my nails with hot pink stripes. It just felt right. I blame Joy the Baker.

5. I had a love affair with heirloom tomatoes. It all started when I went to Graffiato and had the Burrata salad. Heirloom tomatoes, watermelon, and homemade burrata. Good golly, words cannot describe. So I started trying out different heirlooms at the farmers market. My favorite is that guy on the right in the above picture. It’s kind of got red and orange tiger stripes. So yummy.

I know I’m not very creative. Caprese salad? Been there. Done that. But you know, when I buy a gorgeous fresh tomato, this is the only way I want to eat it. I don’t want to cook it, I don’t want to mask it with too much other food. My dad has it right: he just eats plain slices of tomato with salt and pepper. Being a cheese fanatic, I need a little mozzarella thrown into the mix.

And my favorite part is sopping up the tomato juices at the end with a fresh loaf of bread. It’s a must.

Heirloom Caprese with Balsamic Reduction

Serves 1

Print this recipe!

1 small or medium sized heirloom tomato
4-5 slices fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
sea salt
fresh ground pepper
fresh basil
Balsamic Reduction:
Heat small sauce pan over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup balsamic and allow to simmer until it begins to thicken. Whisk frequently to prevent burning. It’s done with the vinegar has reduced by about half.
Slice tomato. Lay alternating slices of tomatoes and mozzarella on a plate. Drizzle with balsamic reduction, and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Garnish with fresh basil. Serve with slices of fresh crusty french bread.

Crab and Roasted Cherry Tomato Sandwich

4 Aug

I don’t wear shorts. I either wear jeans or skirts in the summer. I don’t know why, I just hate shorts. In high school I’d buy shorts from the boy’s section of the store, but now that I’m in my mid-twenties that doesn’t seem like a viable option. I know they make longer shorts for women, and I always try them on, hopeful, but they never look good. My opposition to shorts can be a problem. Especially when it’s 107 degrees out.

I went to the Nat’s game last Friday, and it was somewhere upwards of 100 degrees. There was just no way I could wear jeans. And none of my skirts really go very well with a red Nat’s t-shirt. So, I dug deep, both psychologically and into my dresser. I pulled out the one pair of shorts I own. The pair I bought at Target because I thought this might be the year I start wearing shorts. It wasn’t. I would occasionally put them on, look in the mirror, and promptly change into a pair of jeans. I’d also like to add that this has nothing to do with body image. I just hate shorts.

But I decided this had to be done. So I bypassed the mirror and headed to the ballpark.

As my friend and I were walking in, a guy with a camera pulled me aside and asked if I wanted to be in the Fan of the Game Contest. I waffled, knowing that this would involve me making a fool of myself on the jumbo tron. But really, how can you say no?

They pre-tape the contest. So they choose three fans, have them act like an idiot in front of the camera for what feels like 4 hours (they cameraman kept saying “ten more seconds” ….. “ten more seconds” …. “ten more seconds”) Sometime after the third “ten more seconds” I stopped believing him that this was almost over. Then some producer chooses your best 5 seconds of embarrassing yourself, and they play it on the jumbo tron in the 6th inning. The crowd cheers for the fan they want to win. Sadly, I was beaten out by the guy who painted his entire torso white and then painted on a Nat’s jersey, complete with name and number on the back. In the end, he really committed more than I did.

I did provide a catalog of awkward dance moves. This one looks like some snaps with a head bob. I also busted out the “crazy white girl” (jump around in a circle while waving your arms over your head. A real classic) and the Liz Lemon “spinning a basketball on your finger” (as seen in the Dealbreakers episode of 30 Rock).

I also specifically asked if they were going to match me up against some cute kid so there was no way I’d win. He assured me they wouldn’t. They did. Luckily, I still got more applause than the little sucker. Yeah, take that, cute kid.

Anyway. The rest of the night was a lot less eventful. I devoured a plate of chili cheese fries faster than should be humanly possible. To atone, I went to the farmers market the next morning and bought tons of fruits and veggies. The sweet corn right now is out of this world. And the peaches are so juicy you don’t really eat them so much as drink them. And sun gold cherry tomatoes. Ah, the light of my life. They are so sweet when you roast them, it’s like candy.

So, hit your local farmers market and grab some this weekend. And then make this sandwich. You can sub out anything for the crab. Maybe tuna? That’s easier to come by. Salmon? Chicken? Or keep it veggie.

Crab and Roasted Cherry Tomato Sandwich

Serves 1
6 inch baguette
10 cherry tomatoes (sun gold is the best!)
1 tsp olive oil
pinch of salt
3 slices fresh mozzarella (or whatever cheese you prefer)
1/2 cup fresh lump crab
handful of fresh baby spinach
1 Tbsp mayo
1 Tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat cherry tomatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Spread out on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, or until skin breaks and they look wrinkled.
Slice bread in half lengthwise. On one side, spread mayo, on the other spread pesto (or whatever tasty spread you have on hand). Add roasted cherry tomatoes to the side of the sandwich with the pesto, smooshing them down a little. Top with crab and slices of mozzarella. Stick back in the oven for another 5-10 minutes, keeping the sandwich open-faced (so that the mayo side gets all nice and toasty and cheese gets melty. Remove from oven and add spinach. Close sandwich, slice in half, and enjoy!

Sweet Corn Polenta

12 Jul

I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July! I know it’s a little late…but this polenta is a great Fourth of July appetizer. I made it for my family and it was a hit. We took part in the traditional Towanda Fourth of July festivities, I woke up early  on the 4th to bake the cake that would become Pioneer Woman’s Strawberry Shortcake Cake. Then it was time to gather and prepare for the flea market and parade.

We headed down to Towanda in two waves: the first wave (my dad, my grandma and I) set up chairs along the parade route in the shade so we’d be sure to have a good spot. Grandma protected the location while I did an initial flea market scouting mission. The bartering started early when the very first tent I hit had two plates I wanted, marked $2 a piece. The seller immediately offered me 3 plates for $3. This was going to be a good day. I ended up taking 2 of the plates for a dollar a piece. My next find was a yellow glass vintage cake stand. The $12 price tag was reasonable, but it’s more fun when you haggle, so I offered her $10. We settled on $11.

I headed back to drop off my finds and wait for the second wave. Wave two: my mom, my other grandma, my sister and my uncle showed up right on schedule. My sister and I did another quick lap through the park, and I bought two more plates, before taking our seats for the parade. It was a good one: you have your antique tractors, your antique cars, your local sheriff, the septic tank cleaner, the town fire truck, and one float…we’ll still debating whether the people with the sign “TEA” were a local Tea Party branch…or the Towanda Education Assocation. It’s a mystery that may never be solved.

After the parade, those who couldn’t handle the heat headed into town for some last minute groceries, and the remaining four did our last round of shopping. We headed over to the south park to see what they had to offer. My sister picked out a wooden necklace, only to discover the seller was our neighbor, who gave it to her for free. I found two more plates at various other tents around the park, so that I ended up with a nice set of 6 mis-matched vintage plates. Hopefully they will soon be making an appearance on the blog…once I get them shipped here (sadly six plates and a cake stand wouldn’t fit in my carry-on).

Unfortunately, the corn was behind this year in IL due to a very wet spring, so I didn’t get any local sweet corn while I was home, but it has made an appearance here in the mid-Atlantic at the farmers markets. Because it was so yummy the first time, I decided to make the polenta again this past weekend for my apartment-warming party. Except I got impatient, and my electric stove caused it to thicken pretty quickly. I was worried I was going to over-do it, so I didn’t let it go the whole 30 min. Don’t be like me. Instead of pretty polenta triangles, I had…gooey polenta mounds. It doesn’t really work very well as finger food…

This picture is what happens when you’re watching a parade full of tractors and your mom says “act excited about the parade!” We did our best.

Sweet Corn Polenta

Adapted from Bon Appetit
Serves 8-10 (appetizers)
3 cups water
1 cup stone ground polenta
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, diced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Heat olive oil in medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion, cooking for about 5 minutes, until translucent. Add garlic and corn, cooking an addition 3-5 minutes until heated through. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup water with 1 cup polenta, whisking to remove lumps. Bring the remaining 2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Whisk in the cornmeal/water mixture, continuing to whisk to prevent clumping. Reduce heat to medium-high, and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.
When polenta is thickened, fold in corn/onion mixture.
Grease a 7×11 pan lightly with olive oil, and spread polenta into pan. Allow to cool for a few hours, or you can make it a day ahead and pop it in the fridge overnight. When you’re ready to serve, use a sharp knife to cut polenta into triangles (cut into squares, and then cut each square at a diagonal). Transfer to a greased baking sheet. Top triangles with Parmesan and place under the broiler in your oven for 5 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and browned. Enjoy!

Roasted Asparagus and Fontina Risotto

6 Jun

This right here is probably my favorite time of the year. It’s a confluence of all my favorite things at once:

1. Berries berries berries everywhere

2. The end of a long winter of lame imported produce, the farmers’ markets are back!

3. BASEBALL (going to two games next week when my Cardinals are in town playing the Nats)

4. SOFTBALL (even better, because I get to play every week. My team crushed last week. I like winning.)

5. Rooftop pools.

6. Rooftop bars.

7. Just one month until the best holiday of the year, 4th of July.

8. Tank tops. I love them. I just do.

9. It’s the perfect time for a new haircut…

10. Did I mention berries? Holy cow I can’t stop eating them.

One thing I’ve been buying a lot of at the farmers’ market is asparagus. I really like the skinny asparagus spears. I think the fat ones intimidate me. I don’t think I ever bought asparagus before this spring. But now I’m all about it. Me + Asapargus = Love.

I actually couldn’t decide which picture of the asparagus I liked better…thoughts?

On almost a daily basis I chop up some asparagus, roast it, and top it with balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese. It’s easy, it’s delicious, you can’t go wrong. But every once in a while you need to get a little fancier. A little less healthy.

Not gonna lie, I was sweating like crazy by the time this risotto was done. Risotto is not a great dish to make when it’s 95 degrees and humid and your AC isn’t on. Combine that with your oven being on at 400 degrees to roast the asparagus, and it is just not a great life choice.

But hey, all those calories I burned off while stirring and sweating and stirring and stirring and sweating meant that I could eat an extra large portion…

Roasted Asparagus Risotto with Fontina
Serves 3

Print this recipe!

½ pound fresh asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
salt
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 medium shallots, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 cups arborio rice
Fresh cracked black pepper
1/2 cup fontina cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread asparagus on a baking sheet and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 5-10 minutes, until bright green.

Heat chicken broth in a medium pan and keep warm.

In large, heavy pot add ½ tablespoon of butter, olive oil and diced shallots. Cook until nearly translucent over medium high heat. Add rice, stirring. Cook for 2-3 minutes.

Reduce heat to low and add wine. Stir until wine is mostly absorbed. Add 1 cup warm chicken broth, stirring until liquid is mostly absorbed. Continue to add warm chicken broth by the ½ cup, stirring and allowing it to be mostly absorbed before adding more. Add broth until risotto is cooked. Rice should be creamy but still have a slight al dente bite to it.

Stir in grated fontina cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Fold in roasted asparagus spears.

Stuffed Mushrooms with Red Wine Onions

13 Apr

I just got back to the District after a nice week at home in Illinois. I spent a lot of time hanging out with my parents, did some shopping with my mom, helped my dad take apart the back deck so they can replace the pool liner, consumed the messiest burger known to mankind, tried to go to a roller derby but it got postponed, ate saffron risotto and beef nachos (weird combination, I know) at our favorite tapas place, got iced chai from my favorite coffeeshop, ate a chicken caesar salad sandwich at my favorite cafe, got a mani/pedi while my mom got her hair done, went on some nice walks around the neighborhood in the evenings after dinner, went to a spin class with my friend, jogged with my mom, watched the Cards games with my dad on his huge tv, got to hang out with this guy:

He was mostly interested in eating, but I think he was at least a little happy to see me.

I also went to a cookout at my friend’s apartment. She lives in this fantastic old house with a huge front porch. I threw together Pioneer Woman’s Blackberry Cobbler and some of these tasty little stuffed mushrooms.

And you’ll notice how much fancier the kitchen I’m in is. My mom recently remodeled hers and it is fantastic. I also got to use my parents’ camera, which you can probably tell from the pictures is way nicer than what I normally use. It made me very excited for when I can afford to throw down some money on a DSLR.

Stuffed Mushrooms with Red Wine Onions
Makes 30 stuffed mushrooms

30 baby bella mushrooms, washed or wiped off, stems removed
2 medium onions, halved and sliced thin
2 tbsp butter
¼ cup red wine
½ tsp tarragon
½ tsp salt
1 cup grated swiss cheese

In a large skillet, melt 1 tbsp of butter over medium heat, add onions, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once soft, add wine and continue to cook for 5 minutes. Season with tarragon and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In the same skillet, melt the remaining 1 tbsp butter over medium heat and add mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and let cook for about 2 minutes. Remove and place stem side up in a large Pyrex dish.

Stuff each mushroom cap with onions and then top each with grated swiss cheese. Bake for 10 minutes, and then turn on your broiler for a few minutes to brown the cheese. Pop one in your mouth to check the levels of deliciousness. Pop another one in just to be sure. Try to save a few for your friends.