Christmas Dinner

Merry Christmas Everyone! Over the weekend Chris and I cooked a small meal: using spare pork shoulder from the tamales to make Braised Pork Shoulder, accompanied by mashed potatoes and the family's specialty: oyster stuffing. The Pork was braised in a Brown Ale, so we poured our own to pair with the meal, and finished it up with pecan pie.

I'll be in Jordan for the next 15 days--so stay tuned for one or two special travel editions of LCC. Have a great New Year--and be safe!


Christmas Tamales...
Day Two

Click here to go back to Tamales Day One

Final Tamale ready to eat!
The Tamales are made! I was kind of dreading the assembly, so I put it off until this morning, but this was actually the fun part. I pulled in Chris to help with the assembly, so it went by pretty quickly (we made 27 tamales in about 30 minutes). I spread out the masa on the corn husks, and Chris added the filling and rolled them up.

Here's a video of Chris showing you how to assemble the tamale:

I was a little shocked at how quickly we went through both the masa and filling--I was hoping to make at least 3-4 dozen, and we barely went over two. The recipe below is adjusted from what I did to give you a larger yield--because if you're going to go through the trouble to make your own tamales, you definitely want to end up with way too many than not enough. Luckily, 27 should just get us through the party we're throwing next weekend.

Christmas Tamales
- Chilies, masa, and corn husks can all be found at an ethnic grocery store.
- I doubled the filling recipe to bring the yield up to around 50, but you can also consider making two varieties of tamales.

Pulled Pork Filling
Original recipe
6 lb. Pork Shoulder, trimmed of most fat
Water--enough to cover meat, plus 3"
2 medium onions, quartered
6 garlic gloves, peeled
6 sprigs cilantro
2 T. salt
  1. Trim fat from pork shoulder, chop into fist-sized pieces and place in a large dutch oven. Add enough water to cover meat, plus 2-3 inches. Add in remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Skim off fat every few minutes until stock is clear.
  2. Once at a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover for 2.4-3 hours, until meat is tender and cooked through. Remove meat and discard onions, garlic, and cilantro. Strain broth into a separate container, and allow to cool.
  3. Using two forks, shred the pork and set aside for chili paste.
Sauce Filling
From Martha Stewart Living
6 plum tomatoes, halfed lengthwise
8 dried New Mexico and/or ancho chilies
1 c. broth, reserved from above
2 chipotle chlies (in adobo sauce) one can will have a few whole chilies, just pull out two.
1/2 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
1/4 c. cilantro leaves
2 T. lard or veggie shortening
Salt and Pepper to taste
  1. As the pork is cooking, half the tomatoes and preheat your broiler. Broil on a cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes, flipping once, until skin is starting to blacken. Place aside.
  2. De-seed and de-vein the dried chilies. Heat chilies in a skillet 1-2 minutes until you can smell their aroma. Pour in enough hot water to cover chilies, and let soak for 10 minutes. Drain water and set aside.
  3. In food processor or blender (I used an emulsion blender, but it got messy) puree chilies with 1 c. of reserved pork broth until smooth. Add in tomatoes and remaining ingredients (not lard or seasonings) and puree until smooth.
  4. In large skillet, heat the lard on a medium-high heat and add in the chili paste and cook 5-7 minutes until thick. Season with salt/pepper. Add in shredded pork, and cook an additional 15 minutes until meat is tender.
Masa Dough
From Homesick Texan
2 c. lard or vegetable shortening
8 c. masa harina
4 c. broth, reserved from above
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
2-3 t. salt
  1. Beat lard with mixer until fluffy. Add in cayenne, salt, 2 c. masa harina,  and 1 c. broth and beat until smooth. Continue adding remaining masa and broth until final dough is soft, but still holding it's shape. Refrigerate at least one hour.
I split up the tamale making into two days, as this first part took the most of an evening. If you get an early start, this can be a one day process, but splitting up the work was a nice way to not be overwhelmed by too much cooking.

Tamale Assembly
1 large bag dried corn husks (at least 50--but you will want to pick out the larger ones)
A flicker slide show of the steps:
  1. Cover the corn husks in water (holding down with weight) and let soak for at least 1 hour. As you assemble the tamales, look for wider, taller husks to use. Drain tamale husks and pat each one dry with a towel before using.
  2. With the wide end of the tamale facing you, take about 1/4 c. of the masa dough and spread it over the lower right corner of the corn husk. You should leave around 2-3" at the short end, and 2-3" at one wide end. Make sure the dough covers the edge of that corner.
  3. Taking 1 T. of filling, spread out lengthwise in the center of the masa.
  4. To Roll the tamale, take the masa-side of the tamale and roll over to meet the other masa edge (that is in the center of the husk). Tuck in that side under the dough slightly, fold the top, short-end of the tamale over, and finish rolling the tamale up like a cigar. 
  5. In a large colander (that will fit into a steamer) begin stacking the tamales vertically with the fold-side down. Once you have them all packed in tight, fill the base with 2-3" of water and steam tamales for around 2 hours. You will need to keep an eye on the tamales and add in water as needed. You will know they are done when the husk rolls cleanly away from the tamale.
  6. Refrigerate for a few days, or freeze for up to a month.


Christmas Tamales...
Day One

Since I'm not going home for Christmas, I really wanted to bring some element of a San Antonio Christmas to myself in DC. Nothing really says the holidays like Mexican tamales, and unfortunately, I haven't found the right kind up here in this area. Normally we order a few dozen from a lady at church, pick up a selection of pork, cheese, and venison from her garage, and then feast on them from Christmas Eve through New Years.

Of course because I'm slightly crazy, I decided making them from scratch would be a better use of my time (and oh, how much time it's taking) than picking up some frozen Salvadorean ones from the market. I'm throwing a holiday party next Saturday, and spent today prepping the items for this recipe for pork tamales I found on Martha Stewart.

While the recipe only called for 1 lb of pork shoulder, I could only buy a 6 lb. hunk of meat. So I tripled the first part of the recipe—reserving the extra meat and broth for future meals—and froze back half of the shoulder for another day (any good recipes for pork shoulder?)
Pork Broth simmering in my LC
The tamales almost didn't happen, as it's insanely hard to find dried corn husks at a typical grocery store. I finally hit pay dirt at El Eden in Alexandria--and was really impressed with their spice and chili selection as well.

Dried chilies soaking
I'll post the recipe tomorrow (I'm pulling elements from two different ones) but spent the evening making the pork filling and tamale dough. The filling is a wonderful mixture of pork cubes, with New Mexico, ancho, and chipotle chilies pulverized together with garlic, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. (I found this handy glossary of chili types too!) Tune in tomorrow to see how the assembly goes!

All the ingredients, pre-emulsion blender

Click here to go to Tamales Day Two


Gooey Pumpkin Awesomeness

Gooey Pumpkin....Year Two
If you ever see a pile of baking pumpkins at a grocery store..STOP. Buy immediately. Pick up some cheddar and Emmenthal cheeses too (yes I know, you are suppose to throw Gruyere in there but YUCK.) I first heard this recipe described on NPR, and it reminded me of the cheesy deliciousness I made last year based on a Gourmet recipe:
2009 Attempt
More an assault on my stomach..too much cheese!

This recipe was a much better attempt--instead of just cheese, bread, and pumpkin, this recipe had chives, thyme, and BACON. The porportions worked out a lot better, and the finished product is less of a stomach ache and more of WOW, amazing...and it's gone.
Some tips:
- Use fancy cheese. It makes a difference in flavor and you will thank me when you taste the first bite.
- Original recipe calls for Guyere, which you can include if you like it, but keep the total cheese weight the same.

    Baked Pumpkin Fondue
    Original by Dorie Greenspan 

    • 1 pumpkin, about 4 pounds
    • Salt and freshly ground pepper
    • 1 c. stuffing cubes (or stale bread, no seasoning!)
    • .25 lbs Emmenthal cheese- cut into small cubes
    • .25 lbs Cheddar (I used a sharp, gourmet white New Zeland cheddar)
    • 3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
    • 4 strips bacon, cooked crisp, drained, and chopped
    • 1/4 c. green onions (or scallions, chives)
    • 1 T. minced fresh thyme
    • 1/3 c. heavy cream
    • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
    Read the recipe for some really good tips on prep, serving, and additions. But if you want the quick and dirty directions:
    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, cook the bacon, prep the rest of the ingredients and add everything together in a bowl (except the cream and nutmeg). 
    2. Cut the top off the pumpkin (KEEP IT--it cooks with the lid on) scoop out the innards and season liberally with salt and pepper. Stuff the dry ingredients inside until almost full, then add the nutmeg-cream mixture. Finish stuffing the pumpkin until over-full. Add the lid back on, and bake for 2 hours.
    3. The pumpkin is done when you can easily poke the skin with a knife, and the inside is bubbly with cooked cheese. Cut slices of pumpkin with stuffing and serve. 

    Served by the fire


    Cayenne Chicken

    The avocado salsa really matches the spicy cayenne rub nicely
    Not really sure what to make tonight, I did a quick troll of Everyday Food's website (why don't I have a subscription yet!) and found this recipe for a Cayenne-rubbed Chicken with avocado salsa. The prep was super easy--10 minutes, and I liked the versatility of the meat. We ate the breasts whole, but you could easily shred the meat and make some tasty tacos as well. The kick from the spice was a perfect pairing with both the bland chicken flavor and the citrus avocado salsa. This is a must-make recipe.

    Cayenne Chicken
    Everyday Food

    • 2 chicken breasts
    • 1 t. salt
    • 1/4 t. pepper
    • 1/4 t. cayenne pepper
    • olive oil for pan
    • 1/2 small red onion
    • 1 haas avocado
    • 1 lime
    1. Mix the salt, pepper, and cayenne together and rub over the chicken. 
    2. Heat a pan with oil and add chicken. Cook on a medium heat for 5-8 minutes on each side, until the outer skin is crispy and brown, and the meat is puffed out (resist slicing into the meat because you'll let the juices escape). Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes.
    3. As meat is cooking, thinly dice onion and squeeze lime juice on top of the pieces. Right before you serve, cube the avocado and add to the onion mixture.
    Again--this recipe took 20 minutes tops---and the entire meal was under $15. And we've never devoured anything so quickly. (well, maybe honey mustard chicken) Try it!


    Two Holiday Classics

    FOUR pies: Chocolate Icebox, Pumpkin, Apple, and Pecan

    Normally, I don't do anything for Thanksgiving but when Chris invited me to go with him to Atlanta to have Thanksgiving with his family--I couldn't resist. I hadn't had a true Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, dressing, and FOUR pieces of pie. Among the feast, I made two family favorites: Squash Casserole and Pecan Pie.

    If you add in extra cheese, I promise not to tell!

    A Pain in my Side Squash Casserole
    So even though I hated squash as a child, this recipe is amazing. It's got a ton of cheese in it and the eggs make it more of a custard. The name comes from the first time I had the dish—I was in middle school, and after eating squash for the first time (a lot of it!) my appendix ruptured and I spent the next 48 hours in pretty horrible pain. I blamed the casserole at the time, but luckily, I got over it and this has been a staple at holiday dinners every since! Originally from Minette Son, additions by Alicia Weaver

    3 eggs
    1/3 cup half and half
    (mix together and refrigerate)
    1 small onion
    1 clove of garlic
    Dice onion and garlic and saute in olive oil or butter until translucent
    6 squash
    Thinly sliced, using a food processor or mandolin blade. Add squash in batches until it is cooked through. Move the squash to a pan, siphoning off as much water as possible. 
    1-2 t. salt to taste (if you don't use low sodium crackers, you can skip the extra salt)
    Add in egg mixture slowly, so it does not scramble. 
    1 packet low-sodium crackers, crushed
    1 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese
    Add crackers and cheese and mix together with squash, reserving enough to top the casserole at the end. Bake 35 minutes at 350 degrees until bubbly.

    My pecan pie!
    Jackson Family Pecan Pie
    An old recipe from my grandfather---surprisingly easy to make too!

    3 eggs, beaten
    1 c. light brown sugar
    1 c. white Karo corn syrup
    1. 5 c. pecans, chopped
    3 T. melted butter
    Mix all ingredients together and pour into an unbaked pie crust. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour, until consistency becomes less shaky and pie crust is cooked. (The middle should still be a little loose).

    My Grandfather's Pecan Pies!


    A Chili day....

    What a better use for a brand new french oven than a big pot of turkey chili on a cold day. I made the following for myself and Chris before Thanksgiving came over us and it turned out fantastic. The recipe was originally from my sister's friend Robin, and the ground turkey substituting for beef really takes a lot of grease out of the mix. You're left with a lot of flavor, and bacon bits to top it!

    Turkey Chili by a warm fire!
    Turkey Chile
    Courtesy Robin Benson

    2 strips bacon
    1 16 oz. package ground turkey
    1 medium onion
    2 cloves garlic
    2 T. chili powder
    1 T cumin
    2 t. paprika
    1 t. oregano
    1 t. cayenne pepper
    28 oz. crushed tomatoes
    14 oz. water
    12 oz. beer--amber or darker brew preferred
    1 c. frozen okra (optional)
    1/2 c. frozen corn (optional)
    2 T. molasses
    1 T. dark chocolate
    Garnishes: cheddar cheese, sour cream, green onions, Fritos (if you don't want to make corn bread), and bacon from the first step.
    1. In a dutch oven, cook two strips of bacon, cubed into small slices, and remove when cooked. Leave the bacon grease in the pot to use to cook the rest of the chili---the flavor you get out of it will really make this dish!
    2. Dice 1 medium onion and 2 cloves of garlic and add to pot. Cook until translucent
    3. Add in ground turkey-cook for 5 minutes (should only be partially cooked)--then add in your spices (more cayenne if you want a spicier finish) and then your beer, tomotoes, and water. Keep the mixture at a simmer for about an hour. 
    4. After an hour, add in your molasses, chocolate, and optional frozen veggies as needed.  Cook additional 10-15 minutes until chili thickens to your likening. Season with salt and pepper---garnish with cheese, bacon bits, sour cream. Serve with corn bread.


    My pretty Le creuset!

    So the Le Creuset arrived, and of couse it's awesome. Here's some pictures I took as soon as it came:

    Beauty Shot

    See? Super Pretty!

    Even the box is awesome

    I've already used it twice---first to make some cashew brittle, and again for some delicious Turkey Chili (those recipes later this week, still recovering from too much blogging).


    A Case of the Can't Cook

    Sorry I've been MIA, I think all the promotion to get people to vote for my recipe last week has given me a serious case of the 'Can't Cook Right Now'.

    I want to make this but I don't have the energy or inclination to grocery shop at the moment, so I'm content stopping at El Charrito and buying a veggie burrito for $3. I even got the Le Creuset in the mail Friday...and all I did was watch my sister make cashew brittle with it. Chile night to come for everyone who voted....as soon as I pull myself together and face the kitchen again.

    Wow adding those two links above really took a lot out of me. I'm gonna rest up, but I'll be back soon as we prep for holiday craziness.
    If I stare at this picture long enough, do you think the calories will seep in through my thoughts?


    The Winner of a Brand New Le Creuset is....


    Just found out from Amanda over at Metrocurean. I won with 30% of the vote---so thanks to everyone for voting and putting up with an annoying amount of Facebook, blog, and twitter posts last week.

    Here are the final stats:


    One more day of voting!

    Vote for my Braised Short Ribs!



    It's been fun getting everyone behind my recipe all week. I promise to use my power for GOOD and will cook for everyone--all you have to do is ask. Even if I don't win the Le Creuset, I'm happy that I was able to share the Braised Short Ribs recipe with everyone.


    Drunken Pasta

    Did you vote for me today? Braised Short Ribs! And now back to your regularly scheduled recipes...

    Pasta's always more fun in bright colors
    Give me an excuse to add alcohol to my cooking and I'm there. This Drunken Pasta recipe from Tasting Table was both delicious, fun to make, and relatively easy considering it's from a professional chef. The pasta turns this really bright purple in the red wine and when you add colorful veggies to the mix, the colors pop even more! (Sorry, my phone camera is not up to the proper color standards)

    I used brocolini and red peppers, because I had them, but I think you could toss in anything you had around--just blanch them first to keep them bright and crisp.


    Show Your Support!

    A few weeks ago I entered my Braised Short Ribs recipe on Metrocurean to be entered into a giveaway for a free Le Creuset dutch oven...and I've been named a finalist!

    Please vote for my Braised Short Ribs recipe (the last one on the list) here

    You can vote all week--once per day!


    Everyone should roast their soups...

    Roasted Chicken and Butternut Soup
    So this is the second soup recipe I've used from Everyday Food in a week--and it's another fabulous one. The roasting helps speed up the cooking process, as well as gives the soups a really rich flavor, no matter what ingredients you use. The Roasted Chicken and Butternut Soup was amazing--nice, juicy chunks of chicken resting between creamy, butternut squash. This time I was better about seasoning, and the soup wasn't too salty (again--watch how much you add throughout the cooking process). You can go ahead and follow Everyday Food's recipe exactly, except I would adjust a few things:
    • Roast the chicken in a separate pan so the grease from the meat doesn't mix with the vegetables. That way, when you're ready to add the roasted veggies to a pot to simmer, you can add a little broth to the pan and scrap out all the blackened bits that are stuck to the pan--those will be amazing in the soup.
    • If you like a thicker soup, withhold 1 cup of broth from the pot until you mash up the veggies—4 cups makes a rather thin soup.
    They've finally posted the recipes online here for the October issue (which sadly, is not in stores anymore) so you can make it yourself. I'm probably going to try all these recipes before the month is out, but you don't have to wait for me to try them:


    Steps to Selecting a Food Magazine

    Pulling the trigger on a food magazine is tough---I've had one for Cooking Light and Food & Wine but the first was too overwhelming (you'll have enough recipes for 5 years after 3 issues!) and the next was a little too travel focused for my taste (although it had some great regional cuisines).

    I'm loving Everyday Food right now for a few reasons. First, it's quick--there's enough recipes to keep you interested and the departments are topics that actually appeal to my life (In Season; Tonight's Dinner, Tomorrow's Lunch; Dinner for One). Second, it JUST focuses on food so I don't feel like I'm wasting paper with travel, health, or beauty pages I never read. Finally, the recipes are really good.

    So before I buy a year's worth, I wanted to make sure it would be a productive investment. I decided to buy the current issue and see how often I use it in a week.

    My first recipe: 

    Roasted Eggplant and Chickpea Soup
    Everyday Food
    1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel and cut into 1-inch cubes 2 medium eggplants, salt the pieces and add to a roasting pan. Add 1 small yellow onion (diced medium), 2 garlic cloves (unpeeled) and drizzle everything with olive oil (about 4 t.) Season with Salt and Pepper. In a second roasting pan, toss 1 can chickpeas (rinsed, drained, and patted dry) with 1-2 t. olive oil. Roast both pans until eggplant is golden and chickpeas are slightly crunchy and whistling (30-35 minutes).
    2. Set aside chickpeas. Unpeel garlic and place in a pot with the eggplant, onion, and 4 cups unsalted chicken stock. Bring mixture to a simmer over a medium-high heat, and then mash together until soup is thick and chunky. Add chickpeas back into soup and season with salt and pepper. Top with oregano and plain yogurt (or goat cheese.

    Edit 10/22/10:
    I meant to link to this article The Washington Post ran earlier. There is another roasted eggplant soup at the bottom, but it seems much more complicated. If anyone tries it, let me know!


    An Intro into Squash

    I've never been a big squash fan, but once I moved up north I've starting to see the benefits of the food group in the cooler, fall months. The starchy texture and flavor of squash is really filling when it gets cold, so I've started to expand my recipe repertoire to see what squash can do for me.

    Acorn Squash with Rosemary and Brown Sugar
    I started with a recipe I found at The Bitten Word, although their review wasn't so stellar. Despite being warned, I tried it anyway. It wasn't all that bad—the brown sugar overpowered the dish with its sweetness, but lemon helped cut that down a tad. With six more wedges to eat, I decided to set them aside and try again the next night, only this time cube the squash and add it into a pasta recipe:

    Sweet Acorn Squash in Brown Butter Sauce
    Sweet Acorn Squash Pasta in Brown Butter Sauce
    Converted from a Fine Cooking recipe
    • One 2-lb. acorn squash (unpeeled), halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut into 8 wedges
    • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter
    • 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1/2 cup dry white wine
    • 3 Tbs. packed dark brown sugar
    • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
    • 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 lb. pasta
    • 2-3 T. butter
    • 1 t. Rosemary
    1. Using a paring knife, score each wedge of squash lengthwise down the middle of the flesh. Heat the butter and oil in a straight-sided sauté pan over medium-high heat. Arrange the squash in the pan in a single layer and cook, flipping occasionally, until deep golden-brown on all cut sides.
    2. Carefully pour the wine into the pan, then quickly scatter the brown sugar, rosemary, lemon juice, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. pepper over the squash. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the squash is almost tender, about 10 minutes more.
    3. Meanwhile, heat a pot of water to boil and add in pasta.
    4. Uncover the pan and increase the heat to medium. Flip the squash and cook until the liquid is thick and the squash is tender, about 5 minutes more. 
    5. In a separate pan, heat butter until it browns, then add in rosemary leaves. (Note: If you have a lot of liquid left in your squash pan, you can skip this step)
    6. Season with salt and pepper, cube into 1 inch pieces. Add pasta to pan and serve. Sprinkle Parmigiano Reggiano.
    Adding the sweet squash to pasta helped break up that sweetness, and the brown butter sauce made the entire meal really delicious and rich.

    So what other squash recipes should I try? I think I'll explore Butternut and Spaghetti squash next, and maybe a soup recipe or two. Any suggestions?


    My '60s Style, Mad Men Finale Party

    The Bar...right next to the door

    Sunday night was the Mad Men finale, and as my entire department is addicted to the show, I wanted to host a '60s era party to let us all watch it together. Not only was it a chance to talk about my favorite show with my friends, but it also let me explore my Betty Draper-self and see how I did hosting a party. Thanks to everyone who brought a few supplies with them, I also managed to keep it fairly economical and only spent $50 on the party (not counting liquor). Here's what I made:

    Spinach Artichoke Dip
    Celery Stalks with Peanut Butter and Goat Cheese/Paprika
    Cheese Fondue
    Tomato and Mozzarella Tart
    Pigs in a Blanket
    Spinach Feta Wheels
    I divided up the menu between things I knew would be good (The Cooking Light Spinach Artichoke Dip is by far the most popular dip I've ever made), things I wanted to try out (Pigs in the Blanket, and the Spinach Feta Wheels--two puff pastry recipes in one box!) and things I could assign out for others to bring (Utz, dips, the delicious Tomato Tart).

    The homemade chex mix was made the day before with Chris and his mother. Although she used the original recipe on the back of the box, there was definitely some alterations based on how Chris liked his Chex Mix (more pretzels, cashews, and Worcestershire...no Brazilian nuts). I loved it because it was a lot less salty than the store-bough kind, and the flavors really grew by the time of the party to this fantastic flavor.

    Because I wanted to serve everything hot, but didn't want to be slaving away in the kitchen, I spent the afternoon making everything else, and chilled them in the fridge until an hour before people were suppose to arrive. Sure enough, as I prepped my Joan hair and costume, the puff pastry items were in the oven and served hot as people started arriving around 8.
      My Joan Look
      Finally, what would a Mad Men party be without drinks? We served Old Fashioneds, Gimlets, and Gin Martinis, all listed below.

      The Old Fashioned
      1. Place a large sugar cube (or a spoonful) in a short tumbler glass with 2-3 dashes of Angostura Bitters. Add one orange slice and two maraschino cherries and muddle together until sugar is dissolved. 
      2. Fill glass with 3-4 cubes of ice, and pour in 1-2 shots of Bourbon (until it reaches the ice).
      3. Note: for virgin old fashioned drinkers, you can add in a shot of orange juice to cut the taste of the whiskey.
      Gin Gimlets 
      1. Add 3 parts gin and 1 part Roses' Lime Juice to a shaker with 2-3 cubes of ice. Shake vigorously until shaker is freezing, and pour into a martini glass. (Although it is said shaking bruises the gin)
       Gin Martini
      1. Add a dash of Vermouth to a martini glass, coating the sides, and then discard.
      2. Add 1-2 shots of Gin (or vodka) to shaker with ice, shake 2-3 times, then pour into the glass. Add olive, and as much olive juice as you like (if you like it dirty).


      Fun Deal Today: Sweetgreen

      I saw this deal for Sweetgreen on Living Social today and decided to check it out before buying my $40 coupon for $20. Sweetgreen is a local company started in Georgetown that focuses on local, organic ingredients. Fast food that is fresh. Sounds yummy right? Plus once I saw the avocado staring at me on their website I knew I had to try it, so I went there for lunch:

      Set up like Chipotle, only with yummy, healthy ingredients
      A perfect lunch for someone who loves toppings
      The layout was very clean, and there was a big chalkboard next to the counter that detailed both the local farms used that day, and the seasonal ingredients to choose from. They have eight salads on the menu that could also be made into a wrap with no extra charge. You get to choose light, medium, or heavy dressing, and they serve it with a piece of fresh bread!

      There are a few locations in the area, so if you are close by one, you should definitely try it out--if not take my word for it and buy the coupon (it's good for another day or two).



      Food Budget Revisited

      So if you've noticed I've kept up my ongoing food budget on my blog to see how I do without the pressure of a month-long project. You've also noticed, I'm not doing very well--already $65 over just 10 days into the month. Right now, I'm spending a lot at Whole Foods--plus two $20 dinners out (which isn't too much of a problem). Looks like I was celebrating a little too much with fancy foods after an entire month of holding back.

      I wanted to post this because I wanted to call myself out--and then see how I can fix it. There are three weeks left in October, so that's plenty of time for me to bring more lunches into work, go through my pantry for dinners, and cut down my eating out until I'm back in the green. So here goes--let's see how it turns out.


      The Long and the Short of Dinners

      I made two dinners this weekend, one took 4 hours, and the other was ready in 30 minutes. Both can be made for $10-$15, and both were amazing meals and worth the effort it took to make them--so I wanted to post both in case they give you any ideas going into the winter. 

      The Short Ribs are a great meal to make in the late afternoon on a cold, winter weekend when you have the time to let them braise---and the Honey Mustard Chicken is fantastic for a quick, easy weekday meal; so you can decide what sounds good for when.

      Short Ribs on Polenta with red wine
      Braised Short Ribs 
      • 1 package 5-6 bone-in short ribs
      • 1 t. allspice
      • 2 T. flour
      • 1 large onion, finely diced
      • 2 celery ribs, finely diced
      • 2 large carrots, finely diced
      • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
      • 2 cans Rotel tomatoes (10 oz. each)*
      • 1 can tomato paste (8 oz.)
      • 2 cups hearty red wine 
      • 2 cups chicken stock (if needed)
      • 2 t. thyme
      • 2 bay leaves
      1. Coat an oven-safe dutch oven with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Salt spare ribs, combine allspice and flour and coat the ribs on all sides. Add ribs to the pan and brown, 2-3 minutes per side, and remove.
      2. Add onion, celery, carrots, and garlic to pan, season with salt, and cook 5-7 minutes. Add in tomatoes, cook another 5 minutes. *The Rotel gives the ribs a spicy finish, but if you'd rather use 1 large can crushed tomatoes, that's more traditional. Add in the wine, lower the heat to medium, and reduce the mixture by half--usually about 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
      3. Return the ribs to the oven and add in enough chicken stock to just cover the ribs. (If your mixture is still watery, you can skip adding in the stock--but feel free to add more as it's cooking to keep it moist). Cover and place in the oven for 2 hours, uncovered for the last 30 minutes. When done the meat should be tender, but not falling apart.
      4. Serve ribs and braising liquid together. Also, placing the dish on baked polenta, mashed potatoes or something else that can sop up the braising liquid is a nice touch--and easy to create when you're waiting for it to cook.

      Honey Mustard Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Old Fashions

      Honey-Mustard Chicken
       Serving for two
      • 2 Chicken Breasts (thighs are okay too)
      • Garlic Salt
      • Dijon Mustard
      • Two parts lime juice
      • One part honey
      1. Preheat oven to a high broil. Sprinkle with garlic salt and spread each liberally with mustard. Broil chicken 5-7 inches away from heat for 10 minutes.
      2. Stir lime and honey together and brush mixture on chicken. Broil for another 5 minutes then turn the pieces over. Spread the other side with mustard, broil for another 5 minutes, or until tender. Baste with remaining lime-honey mixture and let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting into it. Serve with rice or potatoes.


      Food Budgeting Recap: Success!!

      I can't believe it's the last day of September--this month was really fantastic for me because I was able to meet my food budget and it wasn't something that was completely unbearable to do. As I mentioned at the beginning of the month my goal was to eat for $10 a day--or $300 total. Having just ONE meal left in the month tonight, I can say I am UNDER budget by $18, which I will promptly spend on Pho and Spring Rolls.

      What did I get out this? 
      • Bringing your lunch to work is key. Wouldn't be possible unless you planned ahead with leftovers or set lunch items. Making my own hummus was fun, and economical! When the old sandwich and yogurt routine got boring, I planned out leftovers from my dinners the night before.
      • Bring a Shopping List With you...and Stick to It! When the bills ring up for $20-30, I started seeing that as 'two days of food, three days of food' and over time was able to stop myself from grabbing items that wouldn't hold out for a longer shelf life. There are always things you forget, or need to restock (like olive oil) but when I grabbed those items, I thought about what I would be using it for, and how long it would last me. Olive Oil: in; Lay's Barbecue Chips: replaced with carrots (ugg) which I could use as a snack or for a stock.
      • The freezer is your friend. That lasagna was amazing, but took 2 hours to make! Freezing a second one spread out my ingredients over more meals, and gave me a great dinner the week I didn't feel like cooking. Plus, I still have leftover Chicken 'n' Dumplings to eat at a later date!
      • Split up the month. I started with a clean out week to rid my pantry of older items, then followed it with two weeks of family style meals that worked for 2-3 dinners plus lunch. It made the month a lot less daunting and easier to follow.
      • Don't Forget to Treat Yourself. A while ago, I tried to save money by only eating out once a week for both lunch and dinner. I picked this up again---but also tried to keep these meals within the $5-8 (for lunch) and $15-18 ranges (for dinners). Keeping track of my food by day (on the right column of my blog) let me know when I was under budget and could allow myself a little more leeway on what to order
      So that's all--until my next project--hope it helped you plan your own meals a little more consciously :)


      Poll: Cooking Hot Dogs in Beer?

      Oh it's happening. The only question is will it be good?

      That's right. We're cooking some hot dogs in four Budwisers and a Dogfish Head Mahogany Ale...all of which are too old to actually drink. The plan is to pour all into a pan, bring to a boil, toss in the hot dogs for 15 minutes (cuz they are frozen--10 should be fine for defrosted brats) and then serve.

      So do you think we've stumbled upon the best football snack ever, or just a quick trip to the emergency room...let me know.


      Food Budgeting Week 3: More Lasagna

      The final product--served with Caesar salad
      Last Tuesday, I spent around $30 to make my mother's lasagna. It was an all-night affair, but I came away with two pretty large lasagnas—one to serve the next day to my friends—and the other I froze back for a later meal....which would be happening tonight. I know, a week later isn't what people expect when you freeze back meals, but I've been thinking about how delicious it was---and how I was kind of over cooking for the next few days---so I went ahead and pulled the second one out of early retirement.

      Some tips before you begin. Unless you are cooking for six or more, I would use a smaller, square pans and split up your noodles, sauce, and cheese into two or three dinners. It means you'll be stuck with fewer leftovers. Also, I tested out both regular noodles and oven-ready noodles you don't have to boil first. The no-boil noodles worked out fine, but you will want to drown them in a little more sauce or else the outside is a little tougher than usual. Definitely a time saver.

      Patricia's Lasagna
      • 1 package lasagna noodles
      • 12 oz. ground beef
      • 4-6 Italian sausage links--sweet
      • 1 c. chopped onion
      • 2 cloves minced garlic
      • 2-3 jars spaghetti sauce
      • 1 T. flour
      • 1/2 c. red wine
      • 1 chopped tomato
      • 1 chopped zucchini
      • 6-8 oz. fresh mozzarella--sliced
      • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
      • 1 T. fresh basil, chopped
      • 1 beaten egg
      • 1 T. parsley
      • Parmesan Cheese
      1. Sauce: In a dutch oven (trust me, you'll need to space) cook the sausage, ground beef, onions, and garlic until meat is brown. Add in flour to thicken sauce, then tomatoes, zucchini, and 2 jars of tomato sauce. Season with salt/pepper. Add in red wine, bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.
      2. Meanwhile, cook the noddles. (Or buy oven-ready noodles and forget this step!) and slice your cheese. 
      3. Ricotta Sauce: Beat egg and add in ricotta, basil, and parsley.

        Ricotta Sauce
      4. Layering: Start with a layer of sauce, then begin layering: noodles, ricotta, sauce, noodles, mozzarella, sauce. Repeat once and you should have a pretty decently high lasagna. Shave some Parmesan on top:

        The final lasagna
      5. Cover with foil and store in freezer for two months. OR heat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 minutes until it's nice and bubbly. 


      RIP: Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Olive

      Brand: Bertolli Extra Virgin Olive Oil "Rich Taste"
      Bought: July.
      Lasted: 10 weeks
      Flavor: Pretty decent flavor--worked nicely on my popcorn. I would buy it again.

      And in honor of my record-setting Olive Oil intake this year, I found the following stats at The Washington Post:

      •  99% of the olive oil consumed by Americans comes from other countries.
      • 70 million liters of olive oil were consumed by Americans in 2009.
      • $700 million was spent by Americans on olive oil, 60% of which was labeled "extra-virgin."
      • 8% more olive oil was consumed in the United States in 2009 than in 2008.
      • 3rd largest consumer of olive oil in the world is the United States.
        Statistics: North American Olive Oil Association


      Sauce Weekend Part 2: "The Smell of Summer"

      This past Saturday, I was invited over to my friend and coworker MaryLynn Haase's house to experience a day in the life of an Italian kitchen. MaryLynn still has family in Italy, and most of her cooking is pure Italian: eggplant Parmesan, manicotti, and—of course—traditional Italian tomato sauce. It was this last item that I ventured over to MaryLynn's to see first hand.

      MaryLynn has a seasonal goal of 750 pounds of tomatoes. Split up over 7-8 weeks, you can pretty much guarantee where she will be on the weekends between August and October, as long as the tomato crops are coming in.

      The day starts with a trip to the farmer's market in Court House, Arlington. There are a few stops to make before 8 am—she buys from Maple Avenue MarketToigo Orchards, and others—until she has around 100 lbs of whatever tomatoes are on hand that week: slender romas are great for thickening your sauce, but don't have the flavor of the obese-looking heirlooms, which come later in the year. She also threw in some San Marzanos that were growing in her backyard, as well as some regular juice tomatoes to finish it off:

      A run down of the tomatoes used...

      Once home--the process begins. MaryLynn has an industrial-sized squeezer that will de-seed, de-skin, and juice the tomatoes. First, the tomatoes must go through the "quality control" that is her husband. His job was to quarter the tomatoes, while seeking out blemishes or cuts that needed to be removed, or tomatoes that were just a little past their prime based on smell. From here, they are poured into the top of this juicer, and the pulp and liquid gets pushed out into one bowl, while the scraps get poured into another. Here's a nice video of all the action:

      Once all 125 lbs. has been juiced--plus running the scraps through again to pick up any liquid that escaped the first time--it's into the pots to simmer down by HALF. By the end of the morning, we had five pots going at once--all filled to the brim with the most pink, delicious smelling tomatoes ever. Here's where I left to grab lunch---coming back 3 hours later once the sauce had started to thicken. As the liquid burns off, you can definitely feel the heaviness of the tomato sauce start to form. We combined the pots into two large ones, and went on from there---continuing to boil as we prepped the additions.

      MaryLynn's sauce is made up of onions, garlic, red peppers, and spices. One pot of sauce held about six medium onions, 2 bell peppers, 10 cloves of garlic, and 1 bottle of wine. Cooking the onions and peppers first, I learned a neat trick about when to add int he garlic and wine. Leaving the veggies to saute on their own, when you push aside the onions with a spoon, you should hear a nice sizzle--your cue to add in the wine. .

      Here's a great video of MaryLynn adding the wine, (she's talking to her daughter in the background--it really was a a family affair):

      You want to cook down the wine until it's almost gone and the veggies just have this purple hue to them. That's when you add it to the sauce. Be careful here---boiling tomatoes can pack a punch if they splatter toward you:

      From here on out--you just want to continue to cook down the sauce until all the flavors merge. A taste test when you first add in the onions will still have the aftertaste of raw tomato, but after a few hours that will go away--along with the liquid halo you will see lining the spoonful of the sauce. Your key that it's done is when that halo disappears and the sauce becomes thick and wonderful.

      I left MaryLynn around 5pm, but the sauce was still brewing. Some basil and oregano were added in while I was there, but she assured me she would keep fiddling with it until it was 'just right'. MaryLynn told me later that she was up until midnight sterilizing her glass jars and canning the sauce itself--in the end our 125 lbs of tomatoes came to 28 jars of sauce.

      A slide-show of the day:

      And that's that! But sadly, I've already used up my portion of that making two lasagnas--but it's totally worth it. Having already sampled one of them, the freshness of the sauce really stands out, even when cooked in with meat and pasta. No one could mistake it for Ragout ;)


      Sauce Weekend Part 1: Why We Cook

      Slaving away all day in a kitchen with little immediate yield sounds daunting. You know whatever you are cooking will be worth it, but in the end there is going to be someone who can't tell the difference between a store-bought Ragout and homemade tomato sauce that was infused with sweat, tears, and the love of a chef. So why do it? What keeps us coming back at the end of a hard work day to a hot, cramped space when ordering a pizza is faster and less labor intensive? The answer is either immediately apparent to you as you read this, or you aren't a cook.

      My Mamam
      Before I get to the point, let me throw out an example. When I was a child, my grandmother made this wonderful pasta dish that was hands-down my favorite meal. I've made here. When she passed away while I was in high school, the recipe seemed to disappear with her, but that didn't stop me from constantly trying to recreate a taste from memory. My mother gave me my start--explaining how to make a cream sauce, and when and how long to cook the vegetables and shrimp--but it only took the dish so far. A distant cousin who can't speak the language.

      But I continued--five years--perfecting my bechamel sauce while working at Cooking Light--and finally, almost by accident, stumbled upon what I had been missing: parsley. As soon as I added the fresh herb to my sauce, I could smell the difference. Did that dish taste more delicious than the others I've made throughout the years? Probably not--but the memory of my grandmother comes back to me with every bite, and the love I feel for her when making it the way she made it is something you can't buy in a store.

      So back to my original question. Why do cooks slave away for hours? Clearly, it's for love. Love of food--love of family--love of fine ingredients.

      Last Saturday, I had a day-long experience devoted to the love of cooking by spending it with my friend and coworker MaryLynn--a truly awesome Italian mother whose kitchen turns into a tomato factory every weekend from August through October as she makes homemade tomato sauce.

      Tune in tomorrow to see more details and pictures from my Sauce Weekend, but for now--see some great pictures of the final output: my mother's lasagna. Another dish that brings my family immediately to mind, I couldn't help but invite my friends and boyfriend over to share a delicious family-style meal of meat lasagna, garlic bread, and Cesar salad. Because for me, life doesn't get much better than this.

      Read Part Two Here (where I actually get into the cooking)

      The final meal

      Chris showing off his perfectly toasted bread--it's impressive because it was broiled in our oven

      Kate made guacamole cause it's delicious


      What to Make with a Whole Chicken

      If I can give potential food budgeters one piece of advice, it would be to eat what you can use the most. Cooking an entire chicken this week was a huge success for a few reasons:
      1. You get a ton of meat from it--precooked and ready to reheat and use for quick weekday meals. Just store away in tupperware and use as needed.
      2. The bones and gross parts (neck, back, heart, etc.) can be saved and used to make a really great chicken stock.
      3. For a $7 chicken--I'd say this is a definite must for those under a tight budget.
      Shredded meat w/ reserved bones

      For a few recipes to get you started, here's a run down of what I made this week:
      Aji de Gallina A family recipe from South America, great ethnic comfort food.

      New Mexico Enchiladas. Another family favorite--this is more along the lines of do-it-yourself enchiladas. The tortillas are served flat, covered in enchilada sauce, and then 3-4 are layered on top of each other with meat, onions, tomatoes, cheese, etc in between—plus (most delicious of all) a fried egg on top. 

      Chicken 'n' Dumplings. Southern comfort food at its finest. Recipe below.

      and finally, Chicken Tacos with the remaining leftovers from other meals.

      Chicken 'n' Dumplings
      • 8 pieces of chicken (or a whole chicken, shredded)*
      • 1 T butter
      • 2 c. Chicken Stock
      • 2 c. water
      • 1 t. salt
      • 1/2 t. pepper
      • 1/4 t. saffron flakes
      • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
      • 2 small onions, diced
      • 2 large carrots, diced
      • 2 stalks celery, diced
      • 1 T. chopped parsley
      • Dumplings: 1.5 c. flour, 1/2 t. salt, 1 egg, 3-5 T. milk
      1. Brown the chicken in a dutch oven with butter, add water and broth, salt, pepper, and saffron and bring to a boil. Add in potatoes, onions, carrots, celery, and parsley. Cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes. (*Note: if you've already cooked the chicken, reserve the meat until the veggies are cooked, before the dumplings.)
      2. In a bowl: combine flour and salt. Separately, beat the egg and add 3 T. of milk. Add into flour until dough is smooth, and not sticky. Add more milk if need be. 
      3. Spoon out teaspoon-sized nuggets of dumplings, flatten, and add them to the soup. Cook an additional 15 minutes. With five minutes remaining, add 2-3 T. of milk to thicken the soup. Sprinkle with cheese, and serve.