So Very Thankful…

I love Thanksgiving.

I have been lucky enough to cook Thanksgiving dinner for my family and friends for more years than I can recall. I HATE that Christmas  has been encroaching on my favorite holiday… I also hate how busy we all get – sometimes I am so busy reading, planning, shopping, prepping and cooking that I forget to stop. I forget to be thankful.. and I have a lot to be thankful for.

I am MOST thankful for:

  • Every single member of my large, complicated, amazing, wonderful and confusing family. I am lucky to have ALL of you in my life.
  • My husband. I have known you since I was 14, and I honestly do not know who I would be today without you. You are my best friend, biggest cheerleader, and favorite person in the whole wide world. I love you madly.
  • My friends. You are all incredible, and I couldn’t imagine my life without any of you in it.
  • My readers. I can’t express how much you mean to me. I am still shocked that it’s not just my mom logging on – I am humbled that you are interested in what I have to say, and hope that I make your day a little bit better.
  • Those who fight (and have fought) to protect my liberty.
  • Organ donors and the miracles of modern science.
  • The people who work so hard to grow and harvest the food I put on my table.
  • Finding the courage to work towards my dreams.
  • My neurotic dog, Cole. You make me laugh more than I could ever have imagined. You taught me patience, and the joy of the unexpected. I would do anything for you.
AND (on a lighter note and in no particular order):
  • Gingerbread Lattes
  • Twitter
  • Having a good job in this hard economy
  • SUPER cute and SUPER high heels
  • Quiet nights in and loud nights out
  • Anything sparkly
  • Lactaid
  • Navigation systems
  • Football
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Noodles in any form
  • Hot Coffee
  • Lazy Saturdays
  • Pretty Sunsets
  • Crisp fall days
  • Kindles
  • Yankee Candles
  • Movie night
  • Bacon

What are YOU thankful for?

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Posted in Holidays, Random | Tagged , | 3 Comments

My Quest For a Feijoada Recipe

At 6 AM one Saturday in September, Jacinta knocked on my door with bags full of black beans, rice, sausages, salted pork, dried beef, collard greens, manioc flour, garlic, and oranges. Her car was on the street with open doors and a backseat full of pressure cookers. She had come to our house to prepare a feijoada, and excitement had been building for a week.

Jacinta is regarded as the feijoada master by an extended circle of Brazilian families who live in the Washington DC area. She is often hired to prepare the meal for birthday celebrations, family gatherings, church fundraisers, or sometimes, just as excuse for a party! We had had asked for Jacinta’s help in preparing a birthday feast for my mother-in-law who was visiting from Brazil, and my plan was to learn the secrets of the intimidating dish from the master!

Feijoada is a slow-cooked black bean stew, full of pork, sausage and dried beef. Born of ingenuity and necessity, the story of the Brazilian version of the dish starts with slaves and a pig.  When a pig was butchered on a plantation, the “undesirable” bits (the ears, feet, tail, snout etc.) were given to the slaves as a supplement to their standard diet of rice and beans. By slowly cooking the tough scraps of pork and other meats with black beans, a hearty stew was created that became so much more than the sum of its parts. Over the years, the recipe for Feijoada evolved, and the meal has secured its place in the hearts of Brazilians everywhere. Today, Feijoada is more an event than a dish – served bountifully with steamed white rice, farofa (fried, seasoned manioc flour), garlicky ribbons of sautéed collard greens, and slices of orange – always accompanied by a generous helping of friends and family.

Brushing past me that morning with a flurry of kisses and Bom Dias, Jacinta went straight for the kitchen and set to work. First, the beans… she sorted them to eliminate rocks and ugly ones, rinsed them, and put them on the stove in large pressure cooker pots. Next, her practiced hands set to work cutting Carne Seca (dried beef), smoked pork, dried sausages, and salted pork ribs with a loudly thunking knife – adding the meats to the slowly cooking beans as she went. I have watched her cook for years, and tried unsuccessfully to recreate the dish in the past, but I thought this time would be different. This time I would learn the secret! Throughout the morning Jacinta bantered happily in Portuguese with my mother-in-law, but was less than forthcoming with cooking tips… I watched, helped where I could, took notes when no one was looking, and tried to absorb as much information as possible.

At a certain mysterious point, Jacinta decided it was time, and lids were added to the pressure cooker pots. Soon, an occasional hiss of steam signaled that feijoada was bubbling away on pressurized autopilot. As the house became fragrant, Jacinta was still working hard preparing the side dishes – deftly chopping garlic, washing and julienning the collard greens, cooking white rice, slicing oranges, and frying farofa in a deep skillet.

Before noon, Jacinta announced she was finished and gave us some final instructions finishing and serving. She had another feijoada to prepare and was off as quickly as she came, leaving me only slightly more enlightened in the ways of the mysterious dish than the last time I had seen her prepare it. I was happy for the experience, but frustrated that I STILL did not have the recipe worked out.

It was not until later, after the day melted into a happy blur of guests, toasts, laughter, and family, that the real secret of Feijoada revealed itself to me.

Feijoada is not about a specific recipe or technique, but the convivial atmosphere the meal fosters, the hours spent in the kitchen with family and friends cooking, toasting with loved ones over a traditional and historical meal. The rest? Well, that comes with experience…

Anyone want to come over for Feijoada? I need an excuse for a party.

Posted in Essays, Random | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Kitchen Adventures – Frisée Salad with Poached Eggs and Bacon

There are three things you should know about me…

1) I believe that the addition of an egg (fried, poached or otherwise) makes anything better.

2) I ALWAYS have bacon in the freezer – ready to go at a moment’s notice.

3) I really like to have breakfast type dishes for dinner. It feels wrong in all the right ways.

Armed with that knowledge, you will not be surprised to learn that this Frisée Salad with Poached Eggs and Bacon is one of my FAVORITE entrée salads, perfect for a quick weeknight dinner or a lazy stay-home brunch.

Frisée Salad with Poached Eggs and Bacon

** NOTE – Amounts of ingredients can be adjusted to appetite, number of servings and preference

  • 2-4 Oz Bacon
  • 2 Cups Frisée (aka Curly Endive)
  • 1/2 Cup Cherry Tomatoes
  • 1-2 Salad Dressing
  • 1-2 Eggs

Cut bacon (can be frozen) into small pieces and cook in pan over low heat until golden. Drain and set aside on paper towels to crisp.

While the bacon is cooking, wash and dry the greens (I like to use a salad spinner for this). Tear into bite-size pieces and put into bowl large enough to toss the salad in.

Wash, dry and slice cherry tomatoes in half, or in quarters depending on the size of your tomatoes. Add cut tomatoes to bowl with greens.

Lightly dress salad and toss well. Note – You can use store-bought dressing here, but I like to make my own using a 3:1 (fat to acid) ratio. (see addendum #1 below).

Add the dressed salad to final serving plate(s).

Soft poach eggs (see addendum #2 below), and carefully place on top of salad.

Sprinkle with crisped bacon and freshly ground black pepper – serve immediately.

I LOVE the way the salty bacon and warm runny yolks combine with the cool/bitter/crisp greens, sweet tomatoes and zippy dressing… ENJOY!

Addendum 1:

3:1 Salad Dressing (makes several servings)

  • 1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil (you can substitute some of the bacon fat here if you are so inclined)
  • 1 Tsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 Small Clove Garlic – grated on microplane or mashed into paste *optional
  • Salt and Pepper to taste (freshly ground)

Combine all ingredients in bowl, whisk well until emulsified. (You can also add the ingredients into a small jar – tupperware if you like – and shake until combined_.

You can double or triple the recipe and store in the fridge for convenience.

Addendum 2:

Soft Poached Eggs (thank you Alton Brown!)

This tip came from Alton Brown, and I LOVE IT! I am through with the swirling water, one-egg-at-a-time nonsense!!! Way to fussy if you ask me.

Add at least two inches of water to a heavy bottomed pot. Add in a tablespoon or two of vinegar and bring to a boil.

While water is heating, crack fresh eggs into separate containers, removing shells as needed.

When the water is boiling, remove pot from heat. Carefully pour eggs into water, cover, and let sit for 4-5 minutes (for 2 eggs) or 6-8 minutes (for 4 eggs).

Remove eggs carefully from water with slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain briefly. Add to dish (like the delicious salad above) or enjoy plain with salt and pepper.

Posted in Bacon, Breakfast/Brunch, Eat Your Veggies!, Kitchen Adventures, Recipes | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Kitchen Adventures – Fall Apple Slaw

One of my favorite things about fall is that good apples are back, I mean REALLY good – crisp, sweet, tart apples!

Recently, I started adding apples to coleslaw for a seasonal (and surprising) twist on the standard barbecue side dish. The beautiful and brightly flavored version below is perfect when served with pulled pork, BBQ ribs or smoked beef brisket.

Favorite Fall Coleslaw

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1/2 Cup Plain Yogurt
  • 1 Tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
  • 2 Tsp. Sugar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 Shallot – Minced
  • 1 Red Cabbage, Sliced into thin ribbons. (Approx 10 – 15 oz)
  • 4 Large Carrots, Shredded (Approx 10 oz)
  • 2-3 Apples, Cored and Shredded or cut into matchstick Size Pieces * sweet-tart apples work best, I like to use Honeycrisp or Pink Lady.

Directions:

In a large bowl, combine mayonnaise, plain yogurt (you can use greek-style yogurt thinned with a splash of milk), apple cider vinegar, lemon juice and sugar until smooth. Taste, then add freshly ground salt and pepper to your liking.

Once the dressing is prepared, add the minced shallot, shredded (or thinly sliced) red cabbage, shredded carrots, and apple (shredded or cut into matchstick sizes as described above) into the same large bowl as the dressing. **If you are pressed for time, you can use pre-cut veggies from the store. 

Toss the mixture gently until well combined. Cover, and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving so the flavors have a chance to combine.

Share this seasonal slaw at your next tailgate or end-of-the-season Barbecue. Enjoy!

Posted in Eat Your Veggies!, Fall, Kitchen Adventures, Recipes, Side Dishes | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Restaurant Review – Ren’s Ramen

For too long, I didn’t know what ramen could be. I was sure that the cheap college staple was it. I happily accepted the squared blocks of dried noodles as they were, doctored them up with fresh veggies and leftover chicken, and didn’t ask questions… until a friend told me of the FRESH ramen they enjoyed in Japan! THOSE noodles had never been dried, or pressed into compact shapes – I needed to try them!!

Enter Ren’s Ramen – a traditional Sapporo Style Ramen House in Wheaton, MD (formerly of Bethesda). Ren’s imports fresh noodles from the island of Hokkaido, and on a recent weekday lunch – I got my fix.

The menu at a ramen house is not very complicated. Pick your preferred broth and toppings, then prepare to be amazed.

At Ren’s you can choose from three pork based broths – fortified with either Salt, Soy Sauce or Miso paste (Ren’s specializes in Sapporo-style ramen which is built on the hearty Miso broth), and one vegetarian broth.

All soups are topped with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, green onions and dried seaweed. The pork based soups also include a thin slice of roasted pork and crumbles of ground pork. You can choose from other toppings including corn, butter and pork belly, but the BEST a-la-carte toppings  are the slow-cooked fatty pork, and the seasoned boiled egg.

Slow Cooked Fatty Pork

Boiled Egg Seasoned with Soy and Mirin

I insist you try them both! Mix the egg into the broth – the soft yolk blends in with the spicy soy or the rich miso broth with dazzling effect. While the gratis pork can be dry, the  fatty pork is transcendent. The meat falls apart in your mouth and melts on your tongue, perfect when included in a bite with the delicately chewy noodles. Do yourself a favor and visit Ren’s – SOON!

Ren’s Ramen
11403 Amherst Ave.
Wheaton, MD 20902
(301) 693-0806
CASH ONLY (No ATM)
 
Hours:  Mon-Sat  11:30am~3:00pm(Lunch) 5:00pm~10:00pm(Dinner)  
Sun     11:30am~3:00pm(Lunch)  5:00pm ~ 9:30pm(Dinner)
 
Closed every second and Third Tuesday of Every Month

Ren's Ramen on Urbanspoon

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Eat Your Veggies – Brussels Sprouts (with Bacon!)

Being able to eat well during the week means that I need to have a few tricks up my proverbial sleeve. I try to plan meals ahead of time, but so often – life gets in the way. Because of the unpredictable nature of life, I love veggies that can hang out in the fridge for a while, waiting to be turned into delicious side dishes on short notice!!

For me, as soon as the weather turns cooler,  Brussels Sprouts become the perfect fall veggie – they have a long-ish shelf life (as far as fresh vegetables go), and there are a ton of delicious and easy ways to prepare them. One of my favorite recipes for Brussels Sprouts involves bacon, onions and white wine.

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon, Onions and White Wine

  • 10 oz (or 1 Container) of Brussels Sprouts
  • 2-4 oz Bacon
  • 1/4 Onion or 1-2 Shallots
  • 1/4 C. White Wine
  • Balsamic Vinegar (the older the better!)
  • Freshly Ground Black Pepper

     

           Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F.
  2. Wash, trim and quarter Brussels Sprouts.
  3. Cut bacon into pieces (Lardon)
  4. Cook bacon on stove-top over medium-low heat in heavy bottomed (oven proof) pan until fat has rendered the meat begins to brown.
  5. Thinly slice 1/4 onion. Add to pan with bacon and cook until soft and browned.
  6. Add Brussels Sprouts to pan with bacon and onions and stir until sprouts are coated with bacon fat.
  7. Add white wine to pan and scrape up browned bits using wooden spatula.
  8. Place pan in heated oven.
  9. Roast for 10 minutes, or until the Brussels Sprouts are tender, and nicely browned in some spots.
  10. Serve hot – finished with freshly ground pepper, and a drizzle of Balsamic Vinegar (or squeeze of fresh lemon).

More than one suspicious, but polite, guest has tried this recipe and proclaimed themselves new fans of this much maligned veggie.

A quick note about bacon – I always have bacon in my freezer… a habit I strongly suggest you acquire! Instead of overcrowding the pan for extra weekend bacon that often gets thrown out, I only cook a few slices (2-3 per person), then wrap the rest of the package tightly, and freeze. You can cut off sections of the frozen bacon whenever you are preparing a dish that can benefit from Bacon’s salty, smoky presence. Enjoy!

Posted in Bacon, Eat Your Veggies!, Kitchen Adventures, Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Halloween!!!

Happy Halloween!!!

 

 

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Yes… That IS a Hot Dog Toaster

The Hotdog Toaster.

It winks at you from the pages of SkyMall and Hammacher Schlemmer. It is printed on leaflets that flutter out of the Sunday paper (often with a big red “SALE” stamped on top). It haunts you at work, when you want a hot lunch, but REALLY don’t want to walk too far from your desk… (or is that one just me?)

Yes friends – we got a hotdog toaster!

Let me start with the cons… It is dangerous to have this kind of easy access to hotdogs. People LOVE this thing, so be prepared to share. Also – the toaster only will fit slender hotdogs – don’t bother coming in with those fancy plumping franks.

Now… The PROS! This lovely little machine not only roasts hotdogs, but it warms the buns as well. Within minutes you can be eating a delicious dog. That, and it’s fun… ’nuff said.

Wary of storing this contraption at home – the shiny red snack machine has made it’s home in the office kitchen. On a *loosely set* schedule – someone in the “Wiener Wednesday” club is in charge of bringing in the makings of a delicious hot dog lunch!

Let me stop you before you ask about the name “Wiener Wednesday”… I had no choice –  “Frankfurter Fridays” were a bust because apparently everyone on my floor teleworks on Fridays, and “Hot Dog Happy Hour” was eschewed in favor of a REAL happy hour, so we were left with “Wiener Wednesday”. Don’t worry – it’s catchy – you’ll get used to it.

So far, we have sampled a variety of different hot dog brands, buns and toppings. The Favorites? Boars Head Beef Frankfurters and Hebrew National Beef Franks. The best buns have been of the potato bread variety, and while everyone likes different toppings, spicy mustard, sauerkraut and chili are favorites (raw onions? not so much).

There is something really pleasant about taking a break for a hot-dog lunch with co-workers. You chat about things you may not have talked about eating a more refined meal, and you relax a little. Best of all – my silly little hot dog toaster it makes Wednesday’s (or every third Wednesday…) just a little bit better.

UPDATE – There have been several of you who have inquired as to where to get this toaster… click HERE!

Posted in Hod Dog Toaster, Random | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Kitchen Adventures – Omelette with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Dill and Cream Cheese

I cook – a LOT. Because of this, I often have strange odds and ends of meals and ingredients hanging out in the fridge. I remedy this by turning leftovers into omelettes, hashes, salads, pasta sauces or random skillet type meals throughout the week.

Sometimes the results are good, sometimes not. But SOMETIMES, the resulting dish is greater than the sum of its leftover parts, SOMETIMES it is incredible!

Yesterday, was one of those times. I was poking around the fridge looking for something to eat for breakfast and noticed that I had some smoked salmon that I really needed to use. I also had some fresh dill (the remnants of a bunch used for a red snapper dish last week) that was wilting fast. I figured I would make an omelette – I added some cream cheese for texture and flavor and  ended up with one of the best omelettes I have EVER had. This is the perfect brunch food – Smoky, salty and creamy with a fresh burst from the dill and a slight tang from the cheese. It was SO good, that I felt the need to have one again today (so I could post about it of course!).

Omelette with Smoked Salmon, Fresh Dill and Cream Cheese

    • 3 Eggs
    • 2 Oz Smoked Salmon
    • 2 TBSP Cream Cheese
    • 1-2 sprigs – Fresh Dill
  1. Preheat small, nonstick pan (or omelette pan if you have one)
  2. Crack eggs into bowl (remove 1 or 2 yolks to lighten the recipe)
  3. For the fluffiest omelette, add a few drops of water, then whisk together well.
  4. Prepare omelette filling – Flake 2 oz of Smoked Salmon, tear washed and dried dill into small pieces and have cream cheese ready.
  5. Add butter, olive oil, or nonstick spray to pan (I like to use an olive oil mister) – making sure the pan is well coated to avoid sticking.
  6. Add eggs to hot pan. Use rubber spatula to gently move the eggs around – tilting pan so that the runny eggs fill empty spaces created as you gently push the set eggs out of the way.
  7. When the eggs are almost set (but the top is still a little runny) sprinkle with dill and add cream cheese (small dollops of cheese dropped randomly across the top of the eggs is the best way to do this). To lighten – use 1 Tbsp of cream cheese instead of 2.
  8. Just as the omelette sets and the cream cheese begins to melt, add the salmon to the top of the eggs. It is best to do this at the very end because the longer the salmon is heated, the firmer it will get – not a BAD thing, but the texture is nicer if you add the salmon at the very end!
  9. Fold Omelette gently in half using spatula and pan to help, turn Omelette out onto plate.
  10. Enjoy!

Posted in Breakfast/Brunch, Kitchen Adventures, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Kitchen Adventures – Make Your Own Pickling Spice

There are times when store-bought just won’t cut it… and I believe that spice blends are best when you make them yourself!

In preparation for a very fun project (hint – I’ve been talking about it on Twitter!), I made a batch of pickling spice today using Michael Ruhelman’s recipe as a template. My version is below:

                               Pickling Spice

          • 1 Tbsp Peppercorns
          • 1 Tbsp Mustard Seeds
          • 1 Tbsp Coriander Seeds
          • 1 Small Cinnamon Stick
          • 3 Bay Leaves
          • 1 Tbsp Hot Red Pepper Flakes
          • 1 Tbsp Allspice Berries
          • 1 Tbsp Whole Cloves
          • 1/2 Tbsp Ground Mace
          • 1/2 Tbsp Ground Ginger
          • 1/2 Tsp Oriental Mustard
          • 1/2 Tsp Ground Cardamom
    • NOTE – This recipe is infinitely scale-able – Today, I multiplied by 8 to make 3 cups of the mixture.
  1. Add whole Peppercorns, Mustard Seeds and Coriander Seeds to a dry, thick bottomed, pan.
  2. Heat over medium, stirring often until seeds are fragrant. (Seeds may pop, so keep lid or splatter screen handy)
  3. Quickly (before the mixture burns!) remove pan from heat and carefully pour contents onto rimmed baking sheet to cool.
  4. Break up Cinnamon Sticks into smaller pieces using a mortar and pestle – Add to glass storage container with tight fitting lid (large enough to hold all the ingredients)
  5. Crumble Bay leaves and add to storage container with the Cinnamon.
  6. Add remaining ingredients  to storage container.
  7. In small batches, gently crack cooled peppercorn/seed mixture using the mortar and pestle – add to storage container.
  8. Seal container tightly and shake well to combine.
  9. Store in a cool, dry place until use.
Pickling spice can be used in many applications including brining, canning, of course – pickling. It is a great mix to have on hand at this time of year – Stay tuned for one of my favorite applications to be featured in the next week.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    
Posted in Kitchen Adventures, Recipes | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment