July 30, 2011

The Lunch Box and Dining In: A Week in Review

It was a pretty quiet week in the Cookies and Kale kitchen - we made a lot of travel purchases this month, so we were trying to keep our grocery budget to a minimum at the end of the month and work with what we had (as well as clean out our freezer before the beginning of the month cooking spree that is upcoming).

Lunch this week was a simple but classic fix: pb&j!  Deliciousness, protein and nostalgia all rolled into one.  The jams were two that MG's mom sent us (she cans her own, and they are fantastic): strawberry-rhubarb and blueberry-plum.  The bread was a little fancier than what I got in kindergarten - half a brioche loaf from one of the vendors at the farmers' market by my office that we had frozen for a slow cooking week just such as this one.  One of these with a juicy peach on the side is really kind of just an awesome lunch.

This never gets old.

Homemade > Smuckers.  Period.

Dinners were equally low key.  First, we had some leftover produce we needed to use up.  What does one do when one buys 2 bunches of parsley and then forgets to put it in the dishes it was intended for?  One makes fattoush!  Luckily, we had two pitas and a bunch of chicken thighs in the freezer waiting for just such an occasion, so with a little assistance from our balcony garden mint, MG put together a fantastic weeknight dinner.  

That was only HALF of the salad. 

MG marinated chicken thighs in a yogurt mint marinade, plus a little tahini with lemon juice on the side.
A glass of sauvignon blanc on the side and cherries for dessert - fantastic summer weeknight dinner!

The rest of the time we had leftovers for dinner, plus a couple of work lunch events.  This week off from cooking has been great, but I'm ready to get back in the kitchen!  Luckily, we have fairytale eggplant, a boatload of green chiles, and some farmers' market beets that are on the agenda for the weekend (not all in one dish).  And if I'm feeling really ambitious, there is a recipe for zucchini brownies I want to check out.  Be sure to stay tuned!

July 28, 2011

The Secret (Balcony) Garden

OK, it's not really a secret, but we do live on the 6th floor, so you'd have to be looking up to see it.

My last apartment had a balcony too, but it was north-facing, so I didn't bother trying to plant anything on it.  Our current apartment is south-facing, however, so as soon as we signed the lease we started plotting what we might grow.

Our hot hot jalapenos.

Seriously.  These things are freaking hot.  Ask MG.

Over Memorial Day weekend we put our plan into action and bought some seedling plants at the farmers' market in front of our building.  


We wanted an assortment and we wanted them to be edible, so we went with fairytale eggplant, basil, dill, chives, thyme, arugula, bell peppers, rosemary and jalapenos.  We later acquired mint and stevia plants that we received as guest gifts at a wedding we attended in June (coolest wedding favor ever?  Possibly). 

Cute little baby bell peppers!  I can't wait to eat you!

Our amazingly resilient arugula plant, on the right.  Seriously, this thing has survived both the temps and a very hungry green caterpillar that was feasting on its leaves.  Also a very hungry blogger and her boyfriend that were feasting on its leaves.

Minty fresh.

Despite the heat waves we've had this summer, they are all thriving!  (Well, not the dill, but even that appears to have made a come-back.)  We've been taking advantage of all the fresh herbs as much as possible.  So far we've used balcony garden harvest in:

-Lemon Thyme Bars
-Grilled Eggplant with Chives, Thyme, Tomatoes and Goat Cheese
-Fig, Arugula and Cheddar Melts
-Thyme and Goat Cheese Frittata
-Mint Chutney
-Chicken Curry
-Caprese Panini
-Egg Salad Sandwiches with Bacon and Arugula
-Rosemary-Lemon Chicken Kebabs
-Roasted Eggplant with Cous Cous
-Moroccan Carrot Salad
-Greek Salad
-Simple Roast Chicken with Herbs
-Tuscan White Bean and Tuna Sandwiches

Pesto waiting to happen.

Mini eggplant!  Hey there!

Some internet research informs us that our fairytale eggplant are ready to be eaten, so we have Spicy Roasted Eggplant and Tofu with Sesame and Honey on the menu for this upcoming week.

A view from above.

Chive flowers are so pretty!

Peeking through the foliage.

I love our balcony garden!  Do any of you do any urban gardening?  What do you grow?

July 27, 2011

Recipe Request (and Reader Survey): Oatmeal Cream Pies

First off, random observation: 3 years ago today I was sitting for the first day of the bar exam. So for all you bar takers out there, one day down! Hang in there!

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming.  I've received a reader request for the Oatmeal Cream Pie recipe that I wrote about last week...remember the tower of creamy goodness? Well, here at Cookies and Kale I aim to please, so today I bring you that recipe.

I was super excited when MG said he wanted homemade oatmeal cream pies for his birthday, because they are one of my FAVORITE childhood sweet treats. I was never a huge fan of Twinkies or Ho-Hos, but Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies...ooh boy. As a kid, our elementary school lunches always came with a "hot pack" and a "cold pack" - the hot pack was an aluminum tray with a foil lid, and contained, well, the hot portion of the meal. (My personal favorites were spaghetti and turkey with mashed potatoes.  Quite the gourmande I was).  The cold pack contained our sporks (did anyone else play a game where you turned your spork over and your "age" was whatever number was on the back? Anyone?) and a piece of fruit or the occasional dessert. The desserts varied, but what I remember most clearly were the individually wrapped oatmeal cream pies. I was trying to think of another quintessential dessert from my childhood that evokes the same kind of happy delicious memories and I can't really.

Several weeks ago, a coworker left a box of them out for the taking.  I try to limit my sweets intake, and I really try to limit my overly processed store-bought sweets intake (because I'd rather indulge in something homemade and special), but, secret confession: I took one and have it stashed in my desk for a special occasion. Like, you know, a Wednesday afternoon. I'm waiting until the right moment to eat it, since I don't plan on buying a whole box, well, ever, so who knows when I'll have one again.

My stash.

Anyways, if you are a Little Debbie lover like me, this DIY version is sure to please. As I noted before, the cookies aren't quite as sweet, but the cream sure is. Be careful, or you may eat the whole bowl before any of it makes it into the sandwiches. And, as we all learned last week, wax paper, people! Once the pies are done, put them in a single layer - no overlapping edges - and place wax or parchment paper between each layer. Unless you want to make an oatmeal cream pie cake, in which case, stack away!

In exchange for the recipe however, a reader survey!! I want to know what your favorite dessert snack was as a child. Post your responses in the comments! And, save an oatmeal cream pie for me :)

The legendary tower of gooeyness.

Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies

Yield: 18 oatmeal cream pies

For the cookies:
1 cup margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar (I used light, and it was just fine)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup rolled oats (I used old fashioned, but the original recipe says that quick oats will work too)

For the cream filling:
2 tsp very hot water
1/4 tsp salt
1 7-ounce jar of marshmallow creme
1/2 cup shortening
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

First, the cookies.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the margarine, brown and white sugar, molasses, vanilla extract and eggs.

In another mixing bowl, whisk together your flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet, 1/3 at a time, mixing fully before adding more.  Add the oats and mix (you'll probably want to switch to a spatula or spoon at this point, the dough will be thick).

Using a 1 tbsp cookie scoop (or a spoon, but the scoop works better), drop the dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet*, leaving 3 inches between each ball of dough.  Bake 10-12 minutes, reversing and switching the cookie sheet positions halfway through baking.  The cookies are done when they are slightly browned around the edges, but still moist and chewy in the middle.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes on the cookie sheet before moving them to cooling racks to finish cooling.

Meanwhile, make the cream filling.  Add the salt to the very hot water, dissolve, and then allow to cool.  In a medium mixing bowl, combine the marshmallow creme, shortening, powdered sugar and vanilla extract.  Mix with a hand mixer on high until nice and fluffy.  Add the cooled salt water and mix well.  Lick excess cream off mixers (optional).

Finally: cream pie assembly!  When the cookies are totally cool, use a rubber spatula to spread the cream filling on one cookie and then top with another.  Note: these cookies are very soft and the cream is very sticky, so be gentle.

Plate (waxpaperwaxpaperwaxpaper), serve and enjoy!

*The original recipe says to use an ungreased cookie sheet, so I did, but my cookies really stuck to the pan and some broke apart in my efforts to unstick them.  If I make them again, I'm definitely going to use parchment paper.

July 24, 2011

Day Trip to Annapolis

Yesterday I surprised MG with a day trip to Annapolis - he knew we were going somewhere for the day, but he didn't know where until we were on our way there :)

Despite the heat, we had a fantastic time.  The city is only about 30 minutes away, so we drove up in the morning, and arrived about 11:30.  After parking the rental, we walked down to the waterfront to start the trip off right - with a dockside lunch!  I had some delicious fish tacos and steamed veggies.  MG had jerk chicken and let me have a bite - also delicious!

I forgot to take a picture of the food, but this was a lovely view.

We knew generally that we wanted to see the State House, the Paca House and Gardens and the U.S. Naval Academy, but other than that had no real agenda, so after lunch we started wandering.  Luckily, a turn down a small street led us to Capital Teas - we though it was just a tea shop where we could buy iced teas, but it was SO MUCH BETTER.  There were no brewed teas, but every flavor (scent?) of loose leaf teas imaginable.  We smelled quite a few, but as soon as we found the chocolate mint flavor and the toasted almond flavor, we knew we'd found our winners.  It's way too hot to think about actually having any right now, but I'm starting to daydream of cooler (possibly sweater?) weather and a glass of hot toasted almond tea.

So happy we discovered this place!

Next we toured the Paca House and Gardens, an historical 18th century home built by one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  The house itself was lovely, but the real highlight was the extensive gardens.



A beautiful trellis.  I felt like I was in the Secret Garden.

Possibly a pomegranate?

After the house and garden tour we decided to have an ice cream break.  I had a scoop each of sugar-free butter pecan and sugar-free moose tracks, and MG had a scoop of raspberry truffle and a scoop of chocolate peanut butter.  It was fantastic, and fitting way to start my 1 week ice cream/froyo self-imposed moratorium, since I've had one of the two every day for the last 4 days (and twice on Friday).  Oops.

Essential on a hot day of walking.

After our frozen treats we walked the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy, which were beautiful.  There was a whole row of houses where the senior officers and deans live.  They were all in a row, with white porches and red, white and blue bunting and perfectly manicured yards.  I think if I lived there I'd pretend I was in the Music Man every day.

After the U.S.N.A. we wandered the streets for a few more hours, stopping at some antique stores and a book store or two.  Finally, we decided it was time to have dinner before heading back to D.C.  We lucked out and found a tapas restaurant called Level that features locally-sourced produce and meats.  Although Thai food sounded good too, we figured we didn't get a chance to sample locally produced Maryland food that often, so tapas it was.  Excellent decision!  Unfortunately the picture quality below isn't great - it wasn't well lit and I didn't want to disrupt other diners with the flash all the time.  Nevertheless, photo documentation was in order.


Potato gnocchi with a pea puree and bison satay in the background.
P.S. apparently they raise bison in MD?!

Japanese eggplant with goat cheese.

Grilled calamari with crispy capers.

Cuban pork spring rolls with habanero sweet dipping sauce.

Sauteed wax beans with red pepper and garlic - clearly we enjoyed these.

The gnocchi and the sauteed wax beans were our favorites.  The grilled calamari was probably our least favorite - MG is not a seafood fan (but was being a good sport in the spirit of trying new things), and I found the squid a little tougher than I'd like.  But everything else was fantastic.  

Why is this book on the table?

Secret check holder!  Fancy :)

If you're in Annapolis, I recommend this place. 

Middle Eastern Inspired Dinner Party: Roasted Eggplant Cous Cous

Friday night we had MG's cousin and his wife over for dinner to welcome them back to DC after living for several years in Macedonia (and even more years in several other countries).  Originally we planned to eat on the roof, but the recent warm-up made that seem like a less than desirable idea.

Nonetheless, we still decided to center our dinner around grilled rosemary-lemon chicken kebabs and I cooked up two Middle Eastern-inspired side dishes, a moroccan carrot salad and roasted eggplant cous cous.  Thursday afternoon I hit up the farmers' market by my office to get some necessities for our feast.


Crazy carrot!  It was hard to cut.

Roasting up the aforementioned produce.

The finished product, waiting to be consumed.

The moroccan carrots.  There was a final prep stage that involved topping them with toasted pine nuts and fresh mint.  It looked super pretty, so of course I forgot to take a picture.

Devouring my work-product.  
Check out those awesome looking kebabs!  Thanks, MG, for braving the heat to stand on the roof in front of an open grill and cook these for us.

We had a great time relaxing with MG's family and enjoying our dinner with a nice Macedonian white wine.  Dessert was vanilla ice cream and berries.  I don't know about you, but that's basically my idea of a perfect summer Friday evening.

Roasted Eggplant Cous Cous

Serves 8 as a side dish

2 lbs eggplant, quartered and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 large red onion, quartered and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 summer squash, halved and cut into 1/4 inch slices
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp salt, divided
1 tsp cumin
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup cous cous (or Israeli, or pearl, cous cous)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves (optional - you could also substitute parsley, or you could buy parsley to substitute, and then forget it in the refrigerator)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees - the original recipe set it at 450, but my first batch of onions burnt to a crisp, so I dropped the heat the second time around. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggplant, red onion and summer squash, plus 3 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tsp of salt, and the cumin.  Toss to coat the veggies completely.

Spread the veggies out on two foil-lined baking sheets, making sure to get them in a flat layer for even roasting.  Roast veggies in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.  Remove the pans, flip the veggies over so the other side gets roasted nicely, and replace in the oven, making sure to rotate and switch the rack positions of the pans for even cooking.  Continue roasting for another 10 minutes, and then check on them.  The veggies should be soft and golden brown.  Note: if you have a normal sized apartment oven, you'll probably have to do this in 2 batches, so budget your time accordingly.

Meanwhile, cook the cous cous according to the directions on the container.  For regular cous cous (what I used), you'll want to boil about 1.5 cups of salted water.  Add cous cous, cover with a lid, remove from heat and allow to sit for 5 minutes.

While the cous cous is doing its thing, make the dressing.  In the bottom of the serving bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, minced garlic, and remaining 1/2 tsp salt.  Slowly add the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil while whisking.   Fluff the cous cous with a fork and add to the bowl with the dressing.  Add the roasted vegetables and mix until everything is covered with the dressing.  

This can be served warm or at room temperature.  Just prior to serving, top with chopped cilantro or parsley (or don't, remember after the fact, and then have a fun time thinking up a way to use an entire bunch of parsley).*


*Dinner this week: fattoush.

July 22, 2011

Nutella. Enough said.

Last night MG and I went to dinner with a friend of ours who we haven't seen in a while due to busy summer travel schedules.  We had a Living Social coupon to L'Enfant Cafe that was going to expire soon, so we thought it was as good a time as any to indulge in some French (I said Belgian last night, but I guess I was wrong.  Silly Americaine) food and fermented beverages.

Despite the heat it was a wonderful evening.  Although they have a lovely patio area, we sat inside.  MG and I had planned on not drinking, but after the walk there from Columbia Heights we decided we'd definitely earned something cold (and in MG's case, bubbly).  I had a glass of sauvignon blanc (Mouton Cadet, Bordeaux, 2009*) and MG ordered some Belgian beer that I can't remember the name of.

Important to stay hydrated...

...but this is the best way to cool off on a hot day.

Dinner was excellent.  I ordered the moules marinere with a side of crusty baguette, which was nice and light, but filling.  I thought the mussels were excellent, but I don't feel qualified to give a real opinion, since it's only the second or third time I've ever had them.  But I intend to change that.  MG ordered the beouf bourguignon and our friend had the chicken fricasee - they both allowed me to try theirs and I can vouch for the fantasticness of everyone's dinner.

Fruits of the sea, as they say.  With, you know, a ton of garlic and butter and white wine.

I enjoy any food that comes with its own utensil.

I declined a second serving of bread and left most of my butter white wine sauce in the bowl, in anticipation of the nutella and banana crepe that I knew was in my future.  (Yes, I looked at the menu over a week ago.  Yes, I've been thinking about a nutella and banana crepe ever since).

All for me?  No, sadly not. 

Satisfied customers.

I may or may not have used my finger to scoop up a little bit of nutella that was on the plate.  I may or may not feel no shame in having done so.  The French and/or Belgians would probably be horrified.

On our walk back I forced MG to go into a used bookstore, but I exercised self-control and only bought one book.  All in all, a fun and delicious summer evening!

*I give you the label as if it means something to me.  I don't really know anything about wine, it's all pretense.  It tasted good though.

July 21, 2011

Instant Oatmeal Makeover

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but if you're in DC (or anywhere else on the eastern half of the country) it's pretty nasty.  MG and I have post-work dinner plans tonight, so we got up early for a run.  Considering that it was 80 degrees already at 6 a.m. when we got up and the humidity was through the roof, it was not an easy run, to say the least.  When we got back I wanted something filling but quick for breakfast, and despite the heat, oatmeal fit the bill.

I had two packets of instant "fruit and cream" oatmeal left, which seemed like a easy way to go.  I find, however, that the instant stuff isn't nearly as filling, delicious, or healthy (in terms of fiber and protein) as the real stuff, so some modifications were in order.

I selected the peaches and cream flavor and cooked it up to my liking.  Then I topped it with a tablespoon of fat-free Greek yogurt, a tablespoon of chopped walnuts, and half a cup of fresh papaya.  Fantastic!  The Greek yogurt melted and combined with the "cream" in the oatmeal and achieved a wonderful sweet cheesiness that almost reminded me of the sweet cheese filling in fruit blintzes.  (If you haven't had a blintz, I recommend remedying that, ideally with a trip to Katz's Deli in Manhattan.  More on that later).  That, plus the sweet tropical flavor of the papaya and crunch of the walnuts made for a tasty and filling breakfast, and my additions helped boost the protein and fiber.

Mmmm, creamy, crunchy goodness.

We're off to have Belgian food and beer for dinner, assuming we don't melt on the way there.  Stay cool, everyone!

The Lunch Box: Chicken Tomatillo Soup

Packing my lunch most days for work has been a huge factor in weight-loss (and it’s helped slim down my dining expenses, so bonus!) Last year I would eat lunch out 2-3 times a week, but now I almost always brown bag it.  I try to save my daytime dining out for work lunches or the occasional Fojol Bros. treat.

Because I get tired of eating the same thing, I rarely have dinner leftovers for lunch. Sundays I often cook a separate meal to take to work during the week and put some in the freezer so I can mix it up. Keeping lunch interesting but also portable and healthy can be a challenge, so I thought it would be fun once a week to share some of the best lunches I’ve brought in my lunch bag (and I’ll be honest - sometimes the laziness strikes. Hello Kashi microwave meals!)

This week I had two definite successes. Over the weekend I made the aforementioned egg salad, and had that for lunches two days this week. When I ran out of whole wheat wraps, an English muffin did the trick just fine.

Note balcony garden arugula. And BACON.

The star of the week, however, was the Chicken Tomatillo Soup. I’ve been eyeing this recipe for a while, so when we went down to the Dupont Farmer’s Market on Sunday I was on the lookout for tomatillos. The recipe also provided an excellent opportunity to use up two ears of fresh corn that MG picked up from the farmers’ market by his office, a jalapeno from our balcony garden, and some of the chicken we froze after our roast chicken feast last week.

The farmers' market bounty.

Fun tip: if you want to avoid painful mishaps involving fingers in eyes and essence of jalapeno, wear latex gloves.

I made the soup on Sunday evening, but today was the first day I had it for lunch. It was...delicious. I love tomatillos because they have this awesome tanginess, and even add a certain creaminess to the soup - almost as if there was some melted cheese in there, but there isn’t (although there could be.  I always advocate for some melted cheese).

I enjoyed mine with some multigrain tortilla chips.

Tomorrow we’re doing a work lunch outing and Friday I have lunch plans with a friend, but I have 3 more servings of this in the freezer to look forward to over the next couple of weeks. Excellent!

Tangy tomatillo-y goodness!

Chicken Tomatillo Soup
Adapted from Heat Oven to 350

Yield: seven 1.5 cup servings

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds chopped tomatillos
1-2 jalapenos, seeds removed, minced (I just used one, because ours are so freaking hot!)
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup chopped cooked chicken
1 14.5 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 ears of corn, husks removed
1/8- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on how spicy you like it - I went with the 1/4 tsp)
1/2 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional Toppings:
cheddar cheese, shredded
tortilla chips
chopped fresh cilantro - I omitted this, because MG doesn’t like cilantro (“It tastes like dirt”)

While you’re chopping up your tomatillos, onion, garlic and jalapeno, place a steamer basket upside down in a large pot. Fill with about 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil. Place the ears of corn onto the steamer basket, reduce heat, cover, and steam for 15 minutes. When the corn is done, allow it to cool enough to be handled, then using a sharp knife, remove the kernels.

Meanwhile, in a stockpot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute onions until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, 30 seconds (be careful not to let it burn!) Add tomatillos, jalapeno and chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.

Puree the soup using an immersion blender (my preferred method) or transfer to a conventional blender or food processor to puree in batches.* Return to pot and add cayenne, hot pepper sauce, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Add chicken, black beans and corn and simmer until heated through.

Serve with desired toppings and enjoy! (P.S. I bet this would be good with some diced avocado on top. Hmm...I guess I’ll have to make this again to test my theory...)

*Blending hot liquids can be dangerous because they want to expand and go all over the place. I know from personal experience. It involved sweet potato bisque and it was embarrassing. Anyways, a couple of steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of getting hot tomatillo soup all over your floor and your body are to only fill the blender halfway, and to remove that little cap in the lid to allow the hot steam to escape. Just make sure to hold a clean dish towel over the opening.