Monday, November 9, 2015

Recipe: Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash

Last month, I was lucky enough to be asked to host two cooking demos at the annual Frederick County Chamber of Commerce Expo. It was so well organized and set-up, I really, really enjoyed myself this year. The crowd was delightful and I even had the chance to taste some yummies from the other vendors (the arepas were definitely my favorite!)

One of the dishes that I demonstrated featured that ever chic grain quinoa (sounds like keen-wa). Folks have heard of it but tend to be a wee bit nervous about making it at home. Seriously though, if I can whip up a batch in front a group of people, while talking the entire time, how hard can it be? ;)

Before you cook your quinoa, make sure you give it a good rinse, despite what the package directions may indicate. Quinoa has a bitter outer coating, and if you don't get rid of it, well, yuk, so why take the chance? I buy mine from the bulk food bins at Wegmans, and there are no cooking directions. If you go that route, here's an easy way to cook it:

Combine 2 cups quinoa with 4 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer until quinoa is tender, about 15 minutes. Drain it thoroughly after it's cooked

If you want to up the yum factor, cook your quinoa in vegetable or chicken broth instead of water. It gives you a chance to get some flavor into the grain, which is another layer and ultimately benefits the entire dish.

This recipe is a riff on one put out by the folks at Ancient Harvest. I've made a few changes that I think make it even tastier, but you be the judge.

Quinoa Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash
Serves 8
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes (you can also buy the already peeled and cubed stuff at the grocery store--no shame there!)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt 
  • black pepper
  • ½ cup pecans or walnuts, toasted
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup

Apple Cider Vinaigrette Dressing
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Place the butternut squash on a sheet pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper, and toss. Roast the squash for 20-25 minutes, turning once, until tender and a little brown. Drizzle maple syrup over the hot squash and toss gently to coat.

While the squash is roasting, place a medium saute pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Add minced shallot and cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant and softened.
Add the apple cider, vinegar, garlic, ginger, and dried cranberries to the pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 5-6 minutes, until reduced by about half and cranberries have plumped a bit. Off the heat, whisk in the mustard, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon of pepper, then drizzle in 1/3 cup olive oil while whisking.

In a large bowl, add the roasted squash, cooked quinoa, and pecans. Pour vinaigrette over quinoa mixture. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Do you Kittiwat?

As a rule, I don't review restaurants. To do a real review, you need to share the bad along with the good, and I just hate criticizing someone else's hard work. (SIDEBAR: I mean, have you ever worked in a restaurant? It's tough, backbreaking work, and folks are often putting their hearts and souls on the plate. I'm not the sort that can write how much they suck without it feeling cruel. If you don't have something nice to say... right?? )

Today though, it's easy to break my own informal rule to bring you Kittiwat, a fantastic new Thai restaurant here in Frederick.

Sarah, Krista, and me, on a break between classes
I know, I've got crazy eyes and six chins here, but this is a pic of the inside of the latest Thai restaurant in town. Situated beside Baltimore Coffee and Tea on Crestwood, this super yummy joint is my latest obsession.

With modern design and a not overly huge menu, Kittiwat sticks to traditional Thai fare in a clean, modern setting. Nervous to really branch out and sticking with the Pad Thai? The menu gently suggests asking for it in the traditional manner, with dried shrimp added to the mix for authenticity. Do that...please.

Chicken Satay, which may be pedestrian, but delicious, with fab dipping sauces

Some sort of fried pumpkin special...which was also tasty and served with more awesome sauce

Breaking it down, here's what I love, and what I don't about my new favorite restaurant:

  • Food is spot on and fantastic. Served piping hot, I have yet to be disappointed by a dish, and I've eaten there several times in the past few weeks.
  • Service is terrific and friendly.
  • The space looks cool and hip.
  • It's close to work, and I can zip over for a quick lunch.
  • Panang curry...with shrimp...sooooooo good.
  • The sauces. Oh my, the sauces...
  • It seems just slightly pricey (pineapple fried rice with mixed seafood is $20, panang curry with shrimp is $15, fountain sodas are $3), though it could be that I am incapable of going to a restaurant and ordering a single dish, thus upping my bill. 
  • The lunch menu is tiny.
  • The kitchen closes between 2:30-4. This seems reasonable, but as I often work split shifts, I'm still sitting there when they're trying to catch a break.
  • The cool, hip look, with high, open ceilings, concrete floors and subway tile walls is almost certainly clankingly loud if there's a crowd. There's really nothing around to absorb sound, but hey, there's always take-out.
  • The type on the take-out menu is so, so tiny, that no one over 20 could possibly read it without a struggle.
The pluses (food, service, curry) are definitely way more awesome than my pickiness (a little pricey, loud, tiny type take-out menu), no question. So go, check out Kittiwat, enjoy a little red curry and a few spring rolls and have a great time. Let me know what you think.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Recipe: Cheddar-Ranch Smashed Potatoes

You've probably seen a version of potatoes like these all over Pinterest. But if you're looking to up the ante, THIS is the recipe you're going to want. They're a wee bit whiskey tango if you know what I mean (seriously, ranch dressing mix? What have I come to???), but don't let that stop you. If I'm eating cheese and potatoes, I've already thrown caution to the wind, so with these taters, we're going for broke. With the addition of mayo (I know it's weird, but go with it), they're creamier, and by adding some dry ranch dressing mix, definitely have that taste of ranch that kids love. Want to make them even more spectacular? Add some crumbled bacon on the top before serving. Sure, you're gilding the lily a bit, but what's a cup of water when you're drowning? 

Cheddar-Ranch Smashed Potatoes

Serves 4-6
  • 1 1/2 pounds baby red potatoes
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (the real stuff, not light)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon dry ranch dressing mix
  • 2 tablespoons minced chives
Preheat oven to 400-degrees.

Scrub potatoes to remove any dirt. Place potatoes into a pot large enough to hold them and cover with cold water, plus 2" and a good pinch of salt. Place pot on stove and turn heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are just tender when pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes.

Cover a baking sheet with foil, then lightly coat with cooking spray. Place drained potatoes on foil and gently smash each one with the bottom of a glass or measuring cup until the skin breaks and they are slightly flattened, but not totally squished (chunkier will work better in this case). The potatoes should be close together and not spread out separately on the pan.

Place mayo, cheddar cheese, ranch dressing mix and chives in a bowl and mix until thoroughly combined. Spread cheese mixture on top of potatoes, then place in oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and beginning to brown. Serve while warm.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork BBQ

Dude--I seriously love my slow cooker. I know, I know. It makes you lazy, and yes, that can be true, but it can also be a lifesaver if you're running hither and yon all day long.

My family loves pulled pork, but I have neither the time nor the patience to smoke a pork butt all day. That's what Black Hog is for (amiright?). But when I want to make something they love, and keep the $$ low and eat on my back patio, this is the recipe I make. It's stupid easy, freezes well, and they'll gobble it up. For real.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork BBQ

Serves 6 (but easily doubles)
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon Worchestershire Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 pounds pork loin (end piece if possible)
Place all ingredients except the pork loin into a 5 quart (or larger) slow cooker. Stir well to combine. Add pork loin to slow cooker and turn to coat. Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours (no peeking!).
Remove cover, being careful of the steam, and remove pork loin carefully to a cutting board. Using two forks, shred meat, then return to the slow cooker, stirring well to combine with the sauce. Serve on rolls with a bit of coleslaw and you're all set!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Recipe: TKS Blondies!

For the past week, I've been on a quest to create the perfect blondie recipe. I've decided to make the kids their lunch every school day (something they've done on their own since late elementary school) as a challenge for myself for the next several weeks. As I'm a cook by trade, I thought that maybe I should actually cook something.

You know blondies...right? They're not chocolate like brownies, but are more like a bar form of chocolate chip cookies. With searching and testing and tweaking, I think I've worked out a terrific recipe that is the perfect mix of ooey and gooey. You can even whip them up today without a trip to the store - they're that easy.

TKS Blondies
Makes 9 big blondies or 16 small
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, but they're delicious!)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Spray an 8" x 8" pan with non-stick cooking spray. Tear a piece of foil approximately 18" long, then fold to fit bottom of pan, leaving excess hang over opposite sides to form a sling. Spray foil lightly with non-stick spray (like that --->).

Place melted butter, brown sugar, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl and stir to combine. Place the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into the bowl, and stir well to combine (it will seem a bit dry, but just keep stirring until it is all just combined). Add chocolate chips and walnuts, then stir to combine again. Spread batter in pan and bake for 23-25 minutes, until center no longer jiggles when shaken, and edges are puffed and beginning to brown.

Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Use sling to remove blondies from pan and place on rack to cool completely before cutting...if you can resist. ;)

Chef Chris

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Recipe: Italian Potato Wedges

So, it's a weeknight and I'm in a pinch for dinner. I'm tired of cooking the same old stuff, but not feeling super inspired. You've been there...right? Sometimes I feel like I live there if you know what I mean. I want the family to be happy, but they're so not into all of the fab Asian-inspired dishes that I'm into right now, so I'm looking for stuff that doesn't bore me to tears but will keep them happy too.

Enter Italian Potato Wedges.

I had potatoes. I had my own homemade version of Italian dressing mix in the cupboard. I had olive oil and an oven. BOOM. Quick side dish, tasty, no familial issues. Try 'em; you'll like 'em.

Italian Potato Wedges

  • 4 baking potatoes, scrubbed, not peeled 
  • 1 T. homemade Italian Dressing Mix (recipe below)
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1 Good pinch of salt (optional, depending on how salty your dressing mix is)

Preheat oven to 400-degrees with a rack positioned in the middle of the oven. Cut each potato in half lengthwise, then each of those in half, then in half one more time, resulting in 8 long wedges per potato. Place in a large bowl. Add dry Italian dressing mix, olive oil, and pinch of salt (optional) to bowl with potatoes and mix well with your hands (the kids love this part!) taking care to evenly coat the potatoes. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray or coat with a bit more olive oil. Place seasoned potato wedges on baking sheet, one of the cut sides down.

Place in oven and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until side touching the pan is brown. Turn all wedges over to place remaining cut side down. Bake an additional 10-15 minutes, until potatoes are browned and tender.

Homemade Italian Dressing Mix (And yes, you should totally make your own. It's crazy easy and way tastier than the stuff you get at the market):
  • 1 T. garlic powder
  • 1 T. onion powder
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 2 T. dried oregano
  • 1 t. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 t. dried thyme
  • 1 t. dried basil
  • 1 T. dried parsley
  • 1/4 t. celery seeds
  • 2 t. salt
Place all ingredients into a resealable container. Mix well to combine. Store in a cool dry place.

To make dressing instead of using the dry mix, whisk together 2 T. dressing mix with 1/4 c. red wine vinegar and 2/3 cup vegetable oil. Store in fridge.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

I Want Mussels!

If you just started singing, you're showing your age. If not, hey, how you doin'?

January's fish-a-geddon is in full swing, though I'm finding that I have replaced meat with cheese. Huh. I didn't expect that...did I? Aside from one brief bacon cheeseburger incident (Hey-a pipe burst and soaked, oh I don't know...EVERYTHING, so yeah, I had a little breakdown and it was kinda like if you're going to do this, then do this, and get bacon on the cheeseburger because pig on top of cow is like, amazing, amiright?).

Anyway, tonight, I had a 2 pound bag of mussels and was ready to throw down when I realized that I have never shared this recipe with you. Say what? If you are a fish-hater, no worries. Just start thinking about cheeseburgers and come back in a few days.

If, on the other hand, you are a serious fish lover like me, you can't get faster, cheaper, or tastier than a big 'ole bag o' mussels. My 2 pound bag, easily enough for 2 adults, maybe more if you have something else to serve with them, cost just $5. Add a few shallots, a little leftover white wine (yes, I actually do have leftover white wine, mostly because I'm a total lightweight), some fresh parsley, salt, and pepper and you've got a delicious, super Frenchy meal. Just look at those suckers...

If you're new to musseldom, here are a few tips to help you along and possibly even save your belly:

  • Mussels are alive when you buy them, and it's your job to keep them that way until it's time to throw them on the stove. Avoid the plastic bag at the grocery store, or if you must use it, be sure not to tie it closed, because your seafoody little friends will suffocate and die. And nothing stinks up the joint like a dead mussel.
  • Keep mussels in the coldest part of your fridge, usually the bottom shelf in the back. If you can keep them on ice, all the better
  • Don't buy mussels until you're ready to cook them. This isn't a "do the shopping on Sunday, have them on Wednesday" scenario. Buy fish, eat fish. Don't plan on storing it for more than a day. Your fridge and your belly will thank me.
  • If the mussel shells are open, give them a little tap on the counter, then set them aside for a minute. You'll want to be sure they're still alive before you cook them, and this is a good test. If you have a few with broken shells or that won't close, just toss them in the trash.
It sounds like a bigger deal than it is, I promise. Once you're hooked on these little morsels of briny goodness, you'll be whipping them up all the time. For real.

Mussels in White Wine

  • 2 pounds fresh mussels
  • 1-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 medium shallots, peeled and finely minced
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • kosher or sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
Place the mussels in a large bowl of cold water. Allow to rest in the fridge for 15 minutes in order to have the mussels purge any sand or grit. (This is the longest part of the whole recipe, and really, what are you doing? Sitting there, drinking wine while your mussels soak and purge. No biggie.)

Drain the mussels and repeat the process with a second bowl of very cold water.

Drain the mussels again.

In a large saute pan with a tight fitting lid, melt butter and cook shallots over medium-high heat until soft and translucent, 4-5 minutes. Add the drained mussels to the pan, along with the wine and a generous dose of salt and pepper (don't go too crazy, you can always add more later).

Cover the pan and cook, covered, for 4-5 minutes, or just until the mussels have opened. Add parsley to the pan and stir well to distribute. Taste and re-season if necessary. Discard any unopened mussels. Serve with a hunk of crusty bread to soak up the juices and enjoy!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

January Objective: Here Fishy Fishy!

Every January 1, I make a list of resolutions of that I somehow seem to break by January 2. You know the type -- I want to cook at home more, eat less, workout more and so on.


This year, instead, I've decided to make a monthly resolution objective. It seems more realistic to create a challenge that lasts a max of just 31 days, than try to commit myself to something for an entire year and fail. I mean heck... I LOVE a challenge. I trained myself and completed a marathon for heavens sake, and I don't even like to run! And 30 days? I can do just about ANYTHING for 30 days. Amiright?

For January, I've decided to give up meat and go pescetarian. That is, veggies and fish, but no beef, pork, chicken, duck, or any other creature along those lines. It's not so much the not eating anything with a face issue, but more so that with not feeling super healthy lately, I'd like to jump start my diet a bit and give some new things a try. I get into a rut just like anyone else, and I'm ready to challenge myself to eat...better. My super fab sister-in-law Mo went vegetarian last spring (the lowest maintenance vegetarian I've ever met btw), and I've found it inspiring.

Now don't misunderstand because hey, French fries are vegetarian, so yup, there are certainly loopholes (or escape hatches) in any veggie/fish-centric diet. In fact, tonight's super fab breakfast-for-dinner meal of eggs Benedict with homemade hollandaise sauce (sans Canadian bacon for me) hit the heart-stopping bill perfectly. Not to worry, my avocado sandwich for lunch had a healthier vibe to it.

So day one...success! Care to join me?

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas to You!

I wanted to take a moment to wish you the very merriest of holidays this year and to thank you for coming to visit, even though there hasn't been a whole heck of a lot to read. I've been pretty darn sick for the past month, with two blood clots in my lung and two in my leg. To say that this has put a bit of a damper on my holiday season would be an absolute understatement. But I'm trying... (maybe I'll learn how to take a more flattering selfie in 2014!)

I've learned a few things over the past month, and thought I'd share:
  1. Thanksgiving dinner at the hospital, regardless of how fantastic the hospital staff is, will always be awful, and may even make you cry...just a little.
  2. My husband has excellent turkey cooking abilities that I never knew existed.
  3. I will never cook a turkey again.
  4. Having meals brought to your home, when you have no energy to cook, is the most wonderful thing imaginable.
  5. Spending time with family and friends is truly fantastic, especially when they have a place for you to sit and don't mind if you go lay down for a bit in the middle of a conversation.
  6. If I never see another episode of Law & Order, or SVU, it will be too soon.
  7. Going vegetarian for a few days a week really isn't that bad, despite being an unrepentant carnivore.
  8. Technically, French fries are vegetarian.
  9. I am really, really, really ready to feel like myself again and get back out there and into the kitchen. 
  10. I have, without question, the best staff in all of Frederick. Thank you to Caroline, Kerry, Wendy, Sharon, Dotty, Elizabeth, Rachel, and Sarah. You. Are. AWESOME!
So let's raise a glass (sparkling cider for me-don't want to mess with those blood thinners) and toast the end of 2013, and get ready to seize the heck out of 2014. Merry Christmas!!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Recipe: Easy Pumpkin Bread, x 3!

I almost feel that title is misleading. I mean, isn't all pumpkin bread easy to make? Of course it is!

In my quest to cook more at home, and to feed my ever-growing teenage athletes, I've been baking pumpkin bread like mad this fall. It's super easy, takes mostly basic ingredients, and comes together in just a few minutes. My only problem is that my kids can devour a loaf in an afternoon (did I mention the growing part?), leaving nothing behind for breakfast or even snacks.

All of those recipes that bake one loaf? Ridiculous! Clearly, you need at least three to get through the week. If the novelty wears off after the kids hork down the first loaf, I've still got one for breakfast for a couple of days and one to freeze or even share. I mean really...look at those beauties!

This recipe makes three loaves. Don't cut it down to make one -- there are a million (really!) recipes out there that will make a single loaf for you. One of my favorites is from Simply Recipes. In fact, my recipe is riff on that one, making a few changes along the way to better suit my tastes and needs.

Pumpkin Bread
Makes 3 loaves
  • 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (can also substitute 3 1/2 c. ap and 1 c. whole wheat)
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 29-ounce can 100% pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees, with a rack positioned in the center of the oven.

Add the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger in a large bowl. Whisk well to combine.

In a separate bowl, add the vegetable oil, eggs, and water. Whisk until well combined and eggs are thoroughly beaten. Add pumpkin and stir well until mixture is completely combined. Add pumpkin mixture to flour mixture and stir until just combined, but taking care not to over-mix.

Spray three 8-1/2" x 4-1/2" x 2-1/2" loaf pans with cooking spray to coat. Note: You can also use 9" x 5"loaf pans, though they will take slightly less time to bake. I use what I have (they're all different!) and watch at the end of baking to see if they need to come out at different times).

Bake for 55-65 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Cool on a baking rack for 10 minutes, then remove from loaf pans. Allow to cool completely (good luck!), then wrap well in plastic wrap. If freezing, wrap well in plastic wrap, then place in a freezer bag.

Make it, eat it, love it, then hit the gym. :)