Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pineapple & shrimp skewers

Who here has ever been in a job interview when the employer asked you this question: "What is your greatest weakness?"

I certainly have.  And I remember thinking it was the most useless question to ask of a potential employee.  No one is going to answer honestly with something like, "I procrastinate too much," or "I avoid group projects like the plague."

Instead, applicants are advised to reply with some bad-is-really-good response like, "I am a perfectionist and need to have every last detail in place."  Do you a) think your future boss hasn't heard that one before, and b) want a pat on the back and a cookie?  Nothing like fishing for compliments before you're even on the payroll.

So, let's pretend I'm back in a job interview and you've just asked me to share my greatest weakness.  And let's pretend that I'd actually give an honest answer.  Impatience. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

And the winner is...

Us!  Because we had ourselves a pretty killer Oscars party.  Festive decor, check.

Sweatpants, check.  Ballot tally sheets, check.  Plennnnnnnnnnnty of judging and cackling (poor Matt), check.

Delicious and themed spread of food?  Check, check, and check!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fast Friday: Walnut rosemary chicken

Have I ever mentioned how I love being off work on Fridays?  I think I have once or twice.  I had such grand plans for today: wake up early, go to hot yoga, run errands, clean like crazy, and all before 4.

Of said grand plans, guess what I've accomplished?  One load of laundry, turning the oven to "self clean,"  and sleeping in almost 3 hours past my normal wake-up time.  At least the latter impressed my potential hot yoga buddy  -- she's a gem (and a newly-engaged one at that!).

Also slightly impressive was the next great chicken recipe that I discovered this week.  Matt and I picked up a lot of chicken last weekend at Costco.  A lot meaning enough to feed a small army/the Jolie-Pitt family (it is Oscars weekend, after all) for a while.  Intent upon not driving us into a chicken rut for the next few weeks, I did a little scouring of the interwebs for inspiration.

Chicken is one of the greatest culinary canvases, and this particular piece is one of the many reasons why.  All of the ingredients are common pantry staples and combine for a breading so packed with flavor that you won't be missing a trip to the deep fryer one tiny ounce.  Get yourself ready for walnut rosemary chicken!

Crunchy, nutty, fragrant, cheesy!  So many words to describe such a humble breading that took about 30 seconds to throw together.  I liked this breading so much that I'm going to try it for homemade chicken nuggets later.

Baking the chicken on a wire rack over the baking sheet was totally critical to get that super crunchy texture on the outside.

The walnuts were toasted, the corn flakes crunchy, the cheese salty and married to the chicken... yum!  Quick and easy, fast and breezy (Monica Gellar and the answering machine, anyone?), perfect for a hassle-free dinner.

Happy weekending, friends!  Oscars recap next week :)

One year ago: Peanut butter cup crunch brownies
Two years ago: Pear spice muffins

Walnut and Rosemary Chicken
(adapted slightly from Cooking Light)
-serves 4

1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 (6-ounce) chicken cutlets
1/3 cup crushed corn flakes
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3/4 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425° F.  Combine buttermilk and mustard in a shallow dish, stirring with a whisk.  Add chicken to buttermilk mixture, turning to coat. Combine crushed corn flakes, nuts, cheese, rosemary, salt, and pepper in a shallow dish.  Remove chicken from buttermilk mixture; discard buttermilk mixture. Dredge chicken in dry mixture.

Arrange a wire rack on a large baking sheet; coat rack with cooking spray.  Arrange chicken on rack; coat chicken with cooking spray. Bake at for 15 to 20 minutes  minutes or until chicken is done.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

So nice, I did it twice!

Matt is a fairly easy to please kind of guy.  Especially in the kitchen, which he considers my domain and happily gives me the reigns to plan meals week after week.  With a few exceptions (steamed broccoli, cucumbers, and black olives) he'll eat almost anything.

On Friday or Saturday, I'll ask if he has anything in mind for dinners next week.  He'll reply, "Oh, not really.  Whatever you make will be great."

And, although he knows I'm going to ask what he wants to eat, and I know that he'll respond that it doesn't matter to him, we continue to do our little dance.  We're creatures of habit, I suppose.  I call it the meal plan dance.

Confession: I just made that up.  I'm creative like that.

So, last week when I began our little waltz, I almost stepped on Matt's feet when he said, "You know, I could go for pasta.  With meat sauce.  You made it a long time ago, and I really liked it.  Yeah, that sounds good." 

Whaaaaaaat?  Who was this guy and what had he done with my husband?

We started talking about how I rarely repeat recipes, even the ones I swear I'll make on a weekly basis because they're that damn delicious.  So I dug up the instructions for my favorite simple bolognese sauce and realized that the last time I made it was almost, to the very day, one year ago.

I  guess some things are just meant to be!  Like this bolognese.  Why I didn't jump on the bandwagon months ago and make extra batches to freeze for cold mild almost spring-like nights in February I'll never know.  It's so easy and so healthy and so bleeping good!

Totally worth repeating again and again and again.  This is the kind of classic recipe that every home cook should have in his/her arsenal.  It's infinitely adaptable: ground pork, turkey, or even chicken in place of beef!  Throw in some sliced mushrooms or chopped peppers.  Serve it over polenta or make a saucy sandwich by loading up a big ciabatta roll.

Trust me, this is the real deal, folks :)

One year ago: Simple bolognese with pasta
Two years ago: Grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fast Friday: Grilled balsamic chicken

TGIF!  I've had a pretty fun week reliving an exciting trip to the west coast, enjoying the first Valentine's Day with my husband, and getting back on the hamster wheel treadmill since the Pittsburgh marathon relay is a few months away now.  Delaying laundry, bills, and cleaning just one more night was a must because Thursday night TV with Matt is a top priority.  (Did you watch?  It was 90 minutes of pure comedic genius, if you ask me!)

In order to minimize cooking time (and the growls coming from my stomach) and maximize couch time, I whipped up a perfect grill dinner.  Yep, you read that correctly -- grill, baby!

But, really, you don't need a grill.  Use a skillet.  Use a Griddler.  Use an oven.  Use a neighbor's oven.  Do whatever you must do to get this on your dinner plate, folks.

I give you the first of hopefully many installments of Fast Friday recipes: Grilled balsamic chicken with mozzarella and pesto!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Cheesecake stuffed strawberries

People occasionally ask how I come up with titles for the posts.  As a rule of thumb, I generally try to save the title for last, after the story and recipe are typed.  That's the best way to ensure that it all ties together.  Makes perfect sense, right?

But, with any rule in my life, I'm bound to break it a few dozen times.  For instance, I labeled the draft of this post "Quickest strawberry cheesecake" before even jotting down the ingredients.  Major no-no.  This is one of those rare occasions that needs no borderline clever subject or catchy headline.  What's that crap about beauty in simplicity?  Yes, that :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

City of Angels recap

Glad to be back and refreshed after a short but sweet mini vacay on the west coast.  I touched down in unseasonably cool Los Angeles on Thursday night after an easy flight on Southwest.  Started and finished the book The Descendants (phenoms!) which made the trip fly (pun intended).  That night, we opted to stay in and have a major reunion session with her couch and our sweatpants!

On Friday, we were up early and hit the streets for some serious fun!  Starting with breakfast at the Literati Cafe.  Loved the vibe in this place, super fresh and fast food.  We went with a breakfast quesadilla (why have I never tried this?!) and a plate of fresh fruit and yogurt.  Even the dining room was fresh and bright (check out my shadow):

Fueled and ready to go, we drove to Venice Beach for some exploring.  If you've never been, VB is a pretty funky/hippy area, so different from stereotypical LA.  Make sure to check out the canals... beautiful!  My favorite pictures are definitely from this stop.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Guacamole grilled cheese

Remember that teaser I gave you yesterday?  A toasted morsel that appeared to be photo-bombing the roasted tomato soup?

Well, get ready for this one.  The perfect mate for this amped up tomato soup needs to be a rockstar in its own right, because a regular ol' grilled cheese just won't do.  How about a grilled cheese and guacamole sandwich?  Um, yes please!

This falls into the category "Why didn't I think of that?" food combos.  Such a simple addition but, boy, does it take this classic sandwich from ordinary to extraordinary.  Even from extraordinary to amaze-balls!  Cool creamy avocado mashed with a little bit of minced onion, garlic, S & P, and a slice of tomato (hidden in the schmear of green goodness).  To die for, I'm telling you.  With this sandwich and that soup, you'll never think of grilled cheese and tomato soup as a last resort kind of meal again.

Have a fantastically cozy weekend, east coasters!  I'm visiting a friend on the west coast in LA until Sunday evening, so I'll be soaking up as much vitamin D as possible before I eagerly return to snow, where I'll recap my adventures to share with you :)  Happy bites to you and yours!

One year ago: Peas with shallots and pancetta
Two years ago: Valentine's Day blondies

Head over to Two Peas & Their Pod for their recipe for Guacamole Grilled Cheese Sandwich!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Roasted tomato soup

As a kid, I think I tormented my parents, teachers, and other adults in my life due to my obsession with one little word.


Who knew three letters could send people into such a panic?  And, as you can surmise, when you're young and see that something you've done or said can garner such a reaction from adults, you vow to do it again... and again and again.  I'm told that my parents always feared I'd let that three letter word slip out of my mouth during the weekly Sunday children's sermons.  You know, when all of the children are invited up onto the chancel steps in front of the whole congregation for a quick lesson.  Rest assured, I never did ask the minister "why", and my parents' hair continued to gray at its normal rate.  You're welcome, Mom and Dad :)

My love for that same little word has only grown as I've gotten older, but I've decided to add another three letter word after it: "not."  If you haven't noticed, I kind of have a thing for making things that can be easily purchased at any grocery store.  Cinnamon rolls that taste so much better homemade than out of those refrigerated tubes.  And the world's best macaroni and cheese with mountains of real, not powdered, cheese.  Even flaky pie crusts easily made from scratch and the most flavorful white bread you'll ever sink your teeth into.  Heck, I even dared to reinvent the wheel Oreo and made chocolate sandwich cookies in my own kitchen -- dynamite stuff, I'm telling you!  To all of my friends who, like young Katy, asked, "Why would you make those when  you can buy them?" I shake my fist and say, "Why not?" 

The same goes for this soup.  Once you try it, you'll never be able to eat the gloppy canned stuff again.  Roasted tomato soup will cure all that ails you and protect you from anything coming your way, I promise!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Philly cheesesteak Sloppy Joes

So far, it's been a very busy week, preparing for my trip to west coast tomorrow.  That's right, I'm headed to Los Angeles for a long weekend!  I'm far too excited to focus on anything for more than a few minutes (V.A.D.D. = vacation attention deficit disorder), be it work or TV shows.  Heck, I've even become a big fan of circuit training at the gym this week because I can jump from one exercise to the next.

My serious case of V.A.D.D. has even affected my cooking.  No matter how delicious the final product, I just can't find it in me to stand in the kitchen for 45 or even 30 minutes preparing dinner.  Thank goodness I had some great shortcut dinners planned that cut corners on time but don't skimp on flava'.

On Monday, I shared a easy peasy salmon marinade with you.  But today I've got a real doozy for you.  A fast and healthy twist on a classic keystone state sandwich: Philly cheesesteak sloppy joes!

It was a man meal that made Matt grinning from ear to ear.  (Say that five times fast.)  All of the ingredients you'd expect in a traditional Philly cheesesteak sandwich but with a twist.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Dijon soy salmon

Happy Super Bowl Monday, ladies and gentlemen?  Did you sleep in, lounge around, and chow down on all kinds of serious gametime eats?  ...and was it everything you dreamed it would be?

It certainly was for me!

With Friday off, the weekend felt extra long and, for once, wasn't packed to the gills with "must be here at this time" kinds of plans.  Instead, I flitted around to my heart's content, taking sunny walks, enjoying lunches and movies (The Artist is amaze-balls, btw!), hitting the gym super hard because there was nothing stopping me, and joining friends for a delicious Super Bowl party on Sunday night.

And then, because the pendulum must swing the other way, I was a total sloth... and it was glorious, peeps!  Sleeping in until -- get ready for this -- eight o'clock, afternoon bowls of cereal (you must try peanut butter Cheerios!), and board game championships in sweatpants.

If you think I took advantage of all that free time and took hours to turn out a five star meal, you'd be... half correct!

Five stars, heck yes!  But five hours, no.  Barely 30 minutes (including the roasted green beans), but only about 10 of active prep time, yes.  And all of the ingredients are pantry staples.  Sweet and salty salmon with a crunchy crust on the outside and tender flaky fish on the inside.  Just enough to deem eating at the dining room table but not so fancy that sweats weren't acceptable dining attire.  A perfect lazy weekend/busy weeknight meal that's as fresh and tasty as can be!

One year ago: Slow cooker beef ragu; black bottom cupcakes
Two years ago: Portobello mushroom lasagna; brown butter Rice Krispie treats

Asian Salmon
(adapted from Ina Garten's recipe)
-serves 2

2 5-ounce pieces of boneless, skineless salmon
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tablespoons good soy sauce
3 Tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, and garlic.  Drizzle half of the marinade onto the salmon (try letting it rest in a pie plate or large bottom shallow bowl) and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. Set aside the remaining half of marinade for later.

Preheat skillet over medium high heat.  Coat pan with nonstick spray.  Place salmon fillets in skillet and cook roughly 5 minutes per side, until pink flesh has become opaque.  Transfer the fish to a flat plate, drizzle remaining marinade over pieces and allow the fish to rest for 10 minutes. Serve immediately and devour.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes

I usually have a very good memory.  I can remember which friends were at a birthday party years ago, or what I was wearing at a certain event.  I especially have a talent of recalling where I found a certain recipe and when I made it for the first time.

This is not one of those times.  (Maybe I am getting old.)

I have no idea how I came upon these cupcakes, nor do I care at this point.  It reminds me of the part of the movie Inception when Leonardo DiCaprio's character is explaining to Ellen Page's character how our minds fill in details that are missing in dreams.  We remember the places and the people but aren't sure how we or they arrived there.  I'll let you write your own crazy story about how I found this recipe, and I'll just get to the stuff you must remember: chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes!

Sweet mother of pearl.  I've made and eaten quite a few of them and still have trouble wrapping my brain around these masterpieces.  If your head's still swimming, don't worry -- I've got diagrams for you later in the post :)