Monday, February 28, 2011

Black and white cookies

Happy Monday after the Oscars!  Did you watch?  I certainly did, planted on one very comfortable couch at a friend's apartment for her third annual Academy Awards party... and we had a blast!   I went 14/21 with my award predictions, tying for first place in our poll.  I thought hosts Anne Hathaway and James Franco did a pretty good job for their first time.  Both were clearly nervous but charming enough to entertain.  I think this is the most I've laughed during an Oscars broadcast, at least in recent memory.  But I think that Kirk Douglas stole the show when he presented.  And I'm so happy that Inception won a few awards, albeit minor ones (sound, effects, etc.).  Do you agree with who/what took home the Academy Awards?

So, the real question the morning after the big red carpet is this: who was your best and worst dressed actor/actress?  My favorite was Mila Kunis.  She looked absolutely breathtaking in pale purple lace!

And the worst-dressed?  That distinction goes to not one, but two unfortunate recipients: Jennifer Hudson and Scar-Jo.  The colors.  The hair.  I honestly can't find one thing about either ensemble that I liked.  Sorry, ladies!  Better luck next year.

While we watched, talked, and judged Hollywood's finest from head to toe, we did the exact opposite of what they've done for the past two months -- feasted

Friday, February 25, 2011

Peanut butter cup crunch brownies

TGIFN (thank goodness it's Friday night)... whew!  My apologies for not posting earlier in the day like usual.  This week has seemed like an eternity!  Maybe it's because we've seen practically three seasons in the last seven days.  Maybe it's because work has been super busy, and working on one project nonstop makes me lose track of time completely.  Or maybe it's because I've had to resist the most mouth-watering bunch of ingredients in my pantry for much too long.

I've been pining for over a week now: peanut butter cup crunch brownies.  Say that three times fast.  I mean, just take a minute to dissect that phrase..  Any one of those elements is enough to put a smile on my face.  But, put them together?  As my coworkers called them, these are sinful brownies.  And it's worth every bite and calorie.  (Noticing a theme this week?)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Simple beef bolognese with rigatoni pasta

That, right there, is what I call dinner.  Doesn't it look so warm and inviting?  A big plate of noodles topped with a heaping pile of meaty homemade sauce.  Mamma Mia!

Oh how I love pasta night, and it doesn't seem to come often enough.  Back in high school when I was still a growing kid (praying for that growth spurt the doctor so dutifully promised), especially during track season, I had spaghetti at least twice a week and... oh my word... was it good!  My sister and I couldn't get enough of the thin buttery noodles swimming in marinara sauce.  My dad, on the other hand, became so tired of it that he'd request that my mom served it on nights when he was going to be late or out of town on a business trip.  He'd say that pasta is too plain, just carbohydrates and no protein, and he preferred something more balanced.  Like, totally unfair, Dad!  (Note: Imagine that last sentence with a whiny teenage voice and some pouting.  Yes, I know it's obnoxious.  Thankfully, I grew out of that phase quickly.)

Fast forward a few years to college.  Still loving pasta and, being solely in charge of my meals, I ate it regularly.  It was inexpensive, delicious, and oh so filling.  Plus, I had really taken to running since tennis wasn't as convenient, and all of those carbs gave me boundless energy.  And then I started to notice that my friends would scoff at the amount of pasta I ate.

them: "You... eat... carbs?"
me: "Uh, yes, yes I do.  Don't you?"
them: "Oh, I never eat carbs.  They make you gain so much weight."

Too afraid of offending my new friends and floormates, I kept my mouth shut.  But now?  I'd probably have uttered something along the lines of, "Sweetheart, it's not pasta that's making you gain weight.  It's the excessive fast food, pints of beer, and lack of exercise that's expanding your waistline.  Oh, and by the way, there are carbohydrates in practically everything!"  What, too much?  :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Warm spinach & corn salad with lime dressing

Happy Monday, minions!  Did you have a pleasant weekend?  I definitely did.  Friday I went rogue and totally skipped the gym or any semblance of exercise.  Instead, I headed to happy hour with friends -- gasp!  I've had Mad Mex and its legendary margaritas on my mind for months, so I finally indulged a little and enjoyed the warmer weather by walking there.  Certainly one of the perks of city life :)

At least that lowered the bar for the rest of the weekend so my stint as a sloth wasn't too disappointing.  Saturday morning started off on the right foot, I swear.  I was full of energy and, by 10:30, had made breakfast, cleaned the apartment, and organized my closet.  And then, out of nowhere, the motivation fairy came and took all that I had left.  What followed was the laziest day that I can remember... at least since college.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Garlic rosemary chicken burgers

Burgers are about as American a food if there ever were one.  What other food can be found at both black tie weddings and the most humble of backyard barbeques?  None that I can think of, that's for sure.  Miniature Kobe beef burgers have become trendy to serve as appetizers at all sorts of formal affairs (think the Governor's Ball after the Academy Awards).  On the other end of the spectrum, there isn't a more popular late-night snack food than a Big Mac or Whopper purchased at the drive-thru.  The burger has quite a wide-ranging group of friends, you might say.

As much as the burger means to American fare, so does beef to the burger.  It's available everywhere, relatively inexpensive, and just downright popular with the masses (save for the meat-haters out there, sorry!).  I'd bet that most people have only had beef burgers, and who can blame them?  Before a few years ago, I'd never strayed from the norm either.  And then it happened.  One day we were out to eat (for the life of me, I can't remember where) and I spotted a salmon burger on the menu.  Unique, definitely, so I figured I'd try it.  And BAM!  It suddenly became all I could think about... a burger made of something other than beef!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Strawberry shortcake

Two days after Valentine's Day and I'm just now getting around to writing about what I made for my betrothed.  Bad blogger?  Yes.  Good fiancee?  Hopefully -- I'd like to think that makes up for the former.  You see, love is a funny thing.  It can make people do things they may not otherwise do.  For example, last night I skipped the gym in favor of curling up with a good book next to Matt while he studied until he could study no more.  Not exactly medal-worthy, but I considered it a big deal to change up my normal routine.  But, what we did on Monday certainly was sacrificial for both of us:

1. Matt watched The Bachelor.
2. I made us a Valentine's dessert without any trace of chocolate.

To defend Matt's actions, it's safe to say he wouldn't have been so easily persuaded had the second thing never happened.  (Though the most recent episode was trashy TV at its best... even he started calling Michelle "Crazy Eyes.")  And, to defend my actions, I'd already made a batch of chocolate-somethings for my coworkers.  (But I didn't exactly suffer having slowly chiseled away at a towering piece of chocolate hazelnut cake from Saturday evening's dinner affair.)  Love is all about compromise, right?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mexican chocolate shortbread cookies

After a weekend of total decadence -- hello, champagne, lobster macaroni and cheese, steak, and to-die-for chocolate hazelnut cake at Capital Grille -- what's one more day?  After all, it's St. Valentine's Day!  A Hallmark-dominated day filled with flowers, jewelry, fancy dinners, and romantic gestures of all sorts.  Hopefully that doesn't sound too jaded (does it?).  It's not that I'm not against a day filled with expressing love for friends, family, and sweethearts in one's life... it's just that I think every day is a perfect day to share love!  (Gag, I know, I know.)

So what do I see in Cupid's holiday that makes it worth celebrating?  The fact that it encourages everyone everywhere to eat copious amounts of chocolate!  Not just chocolate, but sweets of any kind.  For me, it all started at grade school Valentine's parties.  You'd turn a plain shoebox into a mailbox fit for royalty, plastered with construction paper, stickers, and hearts of every shape and size.   And then the afternoon is spent sifting through cards from classmates to find the ones that have a Hershey's kiss or box of conversation hearts taped to them.  What?  Oh, come on, everyone did it.  At the age of 8, I hardly expect anything more :)

From sugar-craving kids grow adults who believe in real love, rooted in substance and companionship and all of those admirable traits you find in someone's personality.  They're in it for deeper reasons... or are they?  Take a quick look at restaurants' menus for today or what the commercials or grocery store flyers are advertising: chocolate-covered strawberries, boxed chocolates, brownies, molten chocolate lava cakes, chocolate chocolate chocolate!  Point taken, world.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Peas with shallots & pancetta

Isn't that the most colorful and cheerful looking dish ever?  It may be that green is my favorite color, but there is something so gorgeous about a bowl of fresh vegetables (but kicked up a few notches!) at dinnertime!  

Most of the time my weeknight sides are something basic, steamed, and seasoned with salt and pepper variety: broccoli, green beans, sweet potatoes, carrots... you get the idea.  Delicious?  Yes.  Exciting?  Hardly.  But isn't that what we all do?  Consider the vegetables a necessary part of a balanced meal and sneak them into our mouths between bites of the "good stuff."

Well, until a few days ago, I really was indifferent to what else came with my meal.  And then I spotted this recipe... I'm not even sure how I found it, quite honestly.  Some kind of frantic recipe search that leaves me wide-eyed and left to clean up the mess of scattered papers and cookbooks.  Imagine what Einstein's lab would've looked like and you won't be too far off... of course, then follows an also frantic organizing spree.  I guess you could say I'm a bit of a Type A personality... :)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Lighter broccoli potato cheddar soup

A perfect Monday night:

Rain turned to snow.  Work clothes swapped for sweats.

Adios, brothy mushy vegetable soups. 

Hello, thick and velvety broccoli cheddar potato soup in 30 minutes!

Potatoes, broccoli,...and cheese!

Goodbye, traditional dinner seating.  Greetings, comfortable couch!

So long, intelligent conversation.  Good evening, trashy TV (Bachelor)! :)

Broccoli Cheese and Potato Soup
(with some changes from here)

A few notes: Regarding the green stuff, I used a 2-pound bag of frozen broccoli, cooked and drained the day before, and stored it in a sealed container in the fridge overnight.  If using fresh, you might need to cook a bit longer.  Also, if you don't have an immersion blender, though I recommend it, feel free to use a standard blender, just blend 1 cup portions of the soup at a time, taking care to vent the steam occasionally.

1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 carrot, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 celery stalk, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable)
1 cup milk
2 medium baking potatoes, peeled and diced small
Ground black pepper
4 cups broccoli florets, chopped into small pieces
1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1 3/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Chop onion, carrot, celery, and garlic in a mini food processor (or finely chop manually).  In a large stock pot over low heat, melt butter and cook vegetables until soft and fragrant, about 5 minutes.  Add flour, salt, and pepper and stir until smooth.

Add chicken broth, milk, potatoes, and adjust heat to high until soup comes to a boil.  Cover and cook until potatoes are soft, 10 to 15 minutes.

Add Parmesan cheese, broccoli, and stir well.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust accordingly.  Cook uncovered until broccoli is cooked, about 5 minutes.  Add cheddar cheese, stir well until melted and remove from heat.

Using an immersion blender, quickly blend part of the soup until desired consistency is reached.  (I like some bits of broccoli in my soup, but if you like yours super smooth, keep blending.)  Serve with crusty bread and top with additional cheese, if using.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super disappointment

How was this sports-filled weekend?

1.Though it was a pretty thrilling Super Bowl game, it was very frustrating to watch the hometown team shoot themselves in the foot turn the ball over time and time again.  Ay, Steelers.  Next year, I suppose.

2. The Penguins went 1-1 this weekend in games, not terrible on its own, but most likely lost Evgeni Malkin for the season due to... this is just unreal... a torn MCL and ACL in his right knee.  I think I'm more upset about this one than the Super Bowl, to be honest!

3. On the bright side, last night's festivities did not disappoint.  If I were making a highlight reel, it would include homemade meatballs, the always-under-appreciated cookie cakes from Giant Eagle, and a small fluffy dog donning a Terrible Towel as a cape, a la Underdog.

How was your Super Bowl weekend?  Any exciting dishes? :)  Have a good Monday!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Black (and gold) bottom cupcakes

It's officially the start of Super Bowl weekend, folks!  Even if you don't have a team in the big game on Sunday, I have no doubt that you'll be attending or hosting a party of some sort.  If nothing else, you can sit back and enjoy the usually epic commercials among friends and good food.   I happened to catch a "preview" of some of the big companies' ads this morning on the Today Show but I turned away before I could see too much -- let's just say there will be plenty of monkeys and babies. Yes!

This week, my goal was to give you three delicious recipes that will satisfy hungry football fans everywhere.  I started with a quick and easy appetizer for my mom's irresistible chicken dip, perfect with crackers and veggies.  Yesterday I followed that up with a hearty main dish of slow cooker beef ragu; serve it with your favorite potato or kaiser rolls for a hot and juicy sandwich.  Today I'm going to show you how to make a sweet and portable treat that combines two of the most beloved desserts of all time, chocolate cake and cheesecake.  I present to you black-bottom cupcakes!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Slow cooker short rib ragu sandwiches

Oh. Em. Gee.  (Yep, I just did it.)  May I please show you what I had for dinner last night?

Slow cooker beef ragu.  And just for me!  No big party or summer picnic, just a warm and hearty meal, enjoyed in the comfort of my apartment away from the blustery cold that has returned to the city of bridges.  And on the perfect night, too, when I wasn't feeling up to cooking and would've settled on cereal had this not been eagerly waiting for me when I walked in the door.  By the end of work yesterday, my sore throat from that morning was still hanging around and I just felt very blah.  Nothing deadly, just a bit unpleasant.  I figured I could either push through a gym session and wear out myself further or take a night off and relax at home.  Guess what I chose.  :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Mom's disappearing chicken dip

Happy Groundhog's Day!  In case you haven't heard, we're in for an early spring this year.  Fine by me, but I'm a little bummed that the latest winter storm turned out to be quite a rainy dud.  Chicago dwellers, I'm a little green knowing how much snow you've gotten in the past day :)  What's that?  No one else shares my view?  Shocking... Though Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel certainly got excited over thunder snow.  (You must watch that video!)

Anyway, to kick off Super Bowl treat week, it's only fitting that I start by posting an recipe for an appetizer, something for football fanatics and casual party-goers to nibble on during the first half.  Because if there are any rules about game day foods, it's that utensils should be reserved for pre-game and half-time refueling.  Hands are man's greatest tools, thus making dips totally clutch during intense plays.  So, there was no question about what recipe I was going to make and write about -- my mom's chicken dip!