September 30, 2011

A Sweet New Year

Happy New Year!

Wednesday night marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  In addition to attending synagogue, it is traditional to welcome the new year with a festive meal and dishes involving apples and honey (for a sweet new year).

I have been very lucky during my six years in D.C. to have developed a great group of friends with whom I often celebrate Jewish holidays.  Not all of them are Jewish, and the group changes a bit from year to year, but I definitely feel like these people are my family and I always look forward to sharing my holidays (and holiday food) with them.  This year, a good friend of mine has been gracious to open her apartment and kitchen for both Passover and Rosh Hashanah, so last night we co-hosted a small dinner party.

The menu consisted of: matzo ball soup, sweet noodle kugel, roasted root vegetables and the main attraction - roasted leg of lamb.  For dessert, MG made a spiced apple cake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting and our friends made an oatmeal apple crisp, which we devoured.  And, of course, there were apples, honey, and my personal favorite, round raisin challah.

We made a serious dent. 
From back to front: lamb, roasted veggies, noodle kugel, finger gun.

Unfortunately, I am still adjusting to my role as blogger and I got so caught up in enjoying my evening that I forgot to take pictures until the end.  On the one hand, I'm happy that my blogging didn't take precedence over my enjoyment of the evening, but I did hope to have some nicer pictures to share with you.

Apples in dessert form: the aftermath.

I hope that whatever holidays you have coming up in the next few months are as happy and filled with friends and food!  Shanah tovah!

September 25, 2011

Post-Race Brunch: The Heights

I am not a morning person.  Not at all.  If I'm going to wake up before 8 am there had better be a good reason like "if you don't get up and go to work, eventually you will be fired" or "if you don't get up and go to the airport, you will miss your flight to Miami" or "if you get up now you can have peanut butter, run 5 miles, and then have brunch."  

Pre-race fuel.

We found a stowaway in MG's gym bag. 
Sadly, he wasn't registered, so we had to leave him at home.

This morning involved the last.  MG and several of our friends and I ran the Navy 5 Miler around the Pentagon.  It was my first race of the fall season (I have 4 more to go), and it was great!  For the first time, I really felt ready for a race.  I've run a few races now, and generally I feel like I *can* do it, but not that I'm necessarily as prepared as I could/should be.  But this was probably the first race I've ever run where I felt like I was truly ready.

He loves it when I force him to pose for pictures at 6:15 a.m.

Despite some threat of rain in the forecast, the weather held, and although the humidity was less than desirable, overall we had good weather.  I was really proud of how well the race went for me.  I achieved my goal and ran a PR, and felt good throughout the race, despite not being very good at operating my watch or keeping an eye out for mile markers. 

Afterwards we came back, took showers (and had a much needed cup of coffee) and then headed out to a restaurant in our neighborhood for brunch.  Despite being a stone's throw away, I'd still never been to the Heights, so we decided that we'd take advantage of the weather and enjoy our breakfasts and beverages on their patio.

I treated myself to a Bloody Mary (my favorite drink, and not just because it comes with olives to snack on) and MG had a Bell's beer (I can't remember what kind).

Celebrating one race down!

For brunch I ordered the spinach, tomato and zucchini benedict, which came with an awesome spicy tomato sauce (I do not like Hollandaise).  

One of the better Benedicts I've had, and I do consider myself a connoisseur.

MG ordered the huevos motulenos, which was an awesome combination of black beans, chicken, plantains and avocado, with two eggs any style on top.  Although my dish was really delicious, after I had a bite of MG's I had a little bit of buyer's remorse.  I should have known that anything with "plaintains" in the ingredient list would be the best choice.  But, there will be a next time :)

If you look carefully, you can see a plantain peeking out from under the eggs.

We shared home fries and fruit salad - I wasn't impressed with the home fries, they were a little soggy and didn't have a lot of flavor.  The ones at Busboys and Poets are definitely better.  


Although I'll probably need a nap later, it's always exciting to feel so accomplished (and so contentedly full) before noon on a Sunday!  Totally worth the early morning alarm.  

September 24, 2011

Early Edition: Almond Joy Oatmeal

Now that the weather is cooling off, I'm starting to eat more oatmeal for breakfast.  I love oatmeal, but during the summer I usually prefer cereal with cold milk to beat the heat.  I'm excited to be breaking out the Quaker again, though, and I've been finding a lot of oatmeal recipe ideas from some of the blogs I follow.

During the week, I normally have my oatmeal with 1/2 a banana, some peanut butter, chia seeds, and lately, pumpkin puree.  But weekends are for being decadent, right?  So this weekend I decided to surprise MG with oatmeal based on one of his favorite candies: Almond Joy.

Using some great inspiration from Chocolate Covered Katie (check her out!) on how to turn oatmeal into a delicious morning sweet treat, here's what I came up with:

Makes 1 serving

1/2 cup Quaker Old Fashioned Oatmeal
1/2 cup almond or skim milk
1/2 cup water
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 banana, cut up
1 tbsp slivered or sliced almonds, toasted
1 tbsp shaved coconut flakes
1/2 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp chia seeds
sweetener to taste (1 packet of stevia in mine, 2 tsp brown sugar in MGs)

The night before:
Mix the oats, milk, water, cocoa powder, extracts and banana in a bowl.  Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.

When you wake up:
Remove the plastic wrap and microwave the bowls for about 3 - 3.5 minutes (keep an eye on them so the oatmeal doesn't overflow!)  Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat.  When the oatmeal is hot and thickened, add sweetener, if desired.  Finally, top with the almonds, coconut, chocolate chips and chia seeds.

Enjoy a delicious coconutty, chocolately morning!

One satisfied customer.

September 22, 2011

Spicy Sausage, Two Ways: Part Two

As I discussed in Part One of this epic series on how I used a pound of ground sausage, this meal was part of an effort to eat our way through the rather large quantity of meat in our freezer after we combined kitchens.

For my second meal, I wanted to do something that would make an easy lunch.  Around the time I was contemplating what to do with the meat in the freezer, I found a recipe on Serious Eats for Lentil and Sausage Soup.  Since lentils are basically awesome in all forms, this seemed like a promising option.  Turns out I made a good call - the sausage and olive pasta was good, but this was the real winner.  This is officially my new favorite cold weather soup.  Again, I basically just followed the recipe, with these changes:

1. I used 1/2 lb sausage, and I did not form meatballs.  I just browned it in a ground state.
2. Added a clove of minced garlic.  Garlic is supposed to be healthy, but I just think most things taste better with garlic.
3. I added 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced - put this in when you add the lentils and broth. DO IT. This is half of the reason why I think the soup is so awesome.
4. Added 1/2 bag of baby spinach at the end and let it cook down, uncovered, for about 2 more minutes.

I had this for lunch with a big piece of toasted whole wheat and flax bread that smeared with a little butter and a lot of Dijon mustard. Fun discovery: warm, soft whole wheat bread with Dijon mustard kind of tastes like a hot pretzel with mustard!

Although clearly this recipe is not vegetarian, I hope some vegetarians out there have read this far, because I'm eager to see if this could be accomplished using Boca crumbles or TVP or something.  Ideally I will get around to trying this out, but if it doesn't happen and someone else does, please let me know how it goes!  I'm thinking that a basic soy ground sausage or beef would work, with some traditional spicy Italian sausage seasoning, like fennel and crushed red pepper.  This soup made me so ridiculously happy that I'd love for everyone to be able to enjoy it (and I'd like to be able to make a vegetarian version for myself as well).

Lentil, Sausage and Sweet Potato Soup
Adapted from Serious Eats

Makes 4 servings.

1/2 lb hot Italian sausage, ground (again, if necessary, remove from casings)
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
1/2 lb green lentils, soaked for about 1 hour and rinsed*
4 springs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and minced
1 quart vegetable broth (I used Better than Boullion Vegetable)
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced
1/2 bag baby spinach, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat 1 tsp of olive oil in a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the sausage and brown lightly, breaking it up as it cooks.

Add the remaining 1 tsp of olive oil along with the garlic, onion and celery.  Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 3 more minutes.

Add the lentils, thyme, sweet potato and vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat.  Simmer for 1 hour, or until the lentils are tender.  Add the spinach, stir and cook for 1-2 minutes more, until all the spinach has wilted into the soup.


*Confession time: I have some trouble figuring out the difference between different types of lentils at the store.  This might partially be the result of my grocery store only having a limited selection of lentils. I *think* I used green lentils, but they just look kind of brown to me, and the package just said "lentils." So there you are.  Tasted great though.

Spicy Sausage, Two Ways: Part One

First!  This post and the next are about two recipes that are not vegetarian.  But if you are a vegetarian, please keep reading because I definitely think you can make vegetarian versions of both the recipes - and if you do, I'd love to hear how they turned out!

For the last two months, MG and I have not bought any meat.  Not because we're not eating it, but because 1) we're trying to eat *less* of it, and 2) we still had a lot in our freezer from when we combined kitchens. So, we decided to not buy any more meat until we finished what we had. When we finally start buying it again, we're going to limit it to only 1 or 2 purchases a month.

Getting browned, with some balcony garden rosemary.

Although I enjoy a good burger from time to time, I'm not a huge eater of ground meat in any form, be it beef or pork.  It's not that I don't like it, it's more that I don't love it, so when I'm trying to choose something from one of the hundreds of recipes I have, recipes that call for ground meat don't usually win out.  However, MG still had a package of ground Italian spicy sausage in the freezer that dates back to the old apartment, and I knew that we needed to get around to using it.  It was a whole pound though, which is more than I would put into any one recipe, and since I'm wary of refreezing raw meat, I figured I'd need to find two recipes to use.

First we add some tomatoes...

And then LOTS of olives.

I was successful!  My plan was to make one dinner-y type dish and then one soup that we could parcel out and freeze for lunches when the weather turned colder (spoiler alert: we ended up not wanting to wait until the weather turned colder. There is only one serving of soup left.)

For the dinner dish, I pulled out a pasta dish that I'd had my eye on for a while: Pasta with Spicy Sausage, Tomatoes, Rosemary and Olives from the New York Times.  I pretty much followed the recipe as is, with the following modifications:

1. I only used 1 tbsp olive oil
2. I used a 14 oz can diced tomatoes with a little of the juice drained off.
3. I added 1/2 yellow onion, diced
4. I used more like 1/2 cup green olives (I love olives!)
5. I didn't use whole-wheat pasta. We still have 5 boxes of pasta from the 15 we had when we combined households to go through before we're allowed to buy more. #singlepeopleshouldnotbuyinbulk
6. I added 1/2 bag of baby spinach at the end and let it wilt down.


I was very happy with the recipe, but I did find it a little oily.  I think the next time I make it I would drain off the oil from the sausage before adding the rest of the veggies, or even further reduce the amount of olive oil.

Pasta with Spicy Sausage, Tomatoes, Rosemary and Olives
Adapted from The New York Times

This made 4 really large portions.  You could probably get a 5th out of it, if you had a large bunch of greens on the side.

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lb hot Italian sausage - we used ground, otherwise remove the casings
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes, a little of the juice drained off
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup green olives with pimentos, sliced
1/2 bag baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 lb pasta (we used penne, something spirally would be good too)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook pasta according to the package.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute the sausage and rosemary until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the garlic and onion and saute until softened, about 1-2 minutes.

Add the canned tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Throw in the olives and cook for 5 more minutes.  Finally, add the spinach in handfuls, allowing it to wilt down a bit.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, or until all the spinach is completely wilted into the sauce.

Add sauce to pasta, mix, and enjoy!

September 20, 2011

Meatless Monday: Zucchini Pizza

Hey guys! Back after a bit of an absence - things have been busy and I often find that after coming home from work, going to the gym and then making (and eating) dinner, I’m too tired to blog. But fear not! I spent part of my off-day last week at a neighborhood coffeeshop working a couple of posts, which will be going up over the next week.

But in the meantime, a special Meatless Monday guest post by MG!

Pizza can be a great and healthy weeknight meal if you make one critical move. That move is making the crust the night before. Esther and I discovered this step when I realized we wouldn’t have enough time to make the dough the night-of as we normally did. So I whipped it up the night before, let it do its first rise and then put it in the fridge to sit until the next day.

Blank canvas.

The result of our little time saver was a wonderfully malleable crust that crisped up nicely and still retained its chew. With our crust settled, we then turned our eyes to the toppings. We went with a zucchini pesto pizza from Serious Eats, overflowing with delicious late-summer produce. There were a few modifications to the pizza, as I suppose you’ve come to expect.


In addition to feta, we upped the cheese quotient by using a reduced-fat provolone-asiago-mozzarella-parmesan cheese blend. We also substituted summer squash for half the zucchini. Finally, we used my homemade pesto (from a batch in which I had forgotten to put parmesan) and reduced the amount of pesto to only ⅓ of a cup. The end result was delicious and we happily consumed over our customary 2 nights with salads on the side.

Zucchini and Pesto Pizza
from Serious Eats, with minor modifications

Makes 8 slices

1 ball pizza dough (homemade or purchased - if homemade, the overnight second rise will give more of a "pan pizza" texture, as opposed to thin crust)
1/3 cup of basil pesto
1 medium zucchini and 1 summer squash, very thinly sliced
4 ounces fat free feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup Italian cheese blend, shredded
about 16 kalamata olives, sliced

Pre-heat your oven to 450F. Roll out your pizza dough onto your chosen baking sheet (we use a rectangular cookie sheet). I just use my hands (sprayed with some handy Pam) to spread out the dough on the pan.

Top the dough first with the pesto, then the feta, layer on the sliced zucchini and squash and finally top with the Italian cheese blend and olives. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden on the bottom and the cheese is nice and bubbly on top. Let cool a little, slice and enjoy.

September 14, 2011

Dining In: Mediterranean Chicken and Grains

Sometimes nothing is better than a whole bunch of grains, veggies and meat, all mixed up in one dish (unless you're vegetarian, in which case, not having the meat is better).

I had half a bag of Trader Joe's Harvest Grains Blend (Israeli cous cous, orzo, baby chickpeas and quinoa) to use, so I decided to make a Mediterranean casserole-y dish out of it (although I guess it's not technically a casserole since I didn't cook it in a casserole...)

There isn't really a recipe, but here is the general idea: I cooked the mixed grains according the the package with Better than Bouillion Chicken while I roasted a whole eggplant, cubed, for 20 minutes at 425F with some olive oil and kosher salt.  While that was all going I browned some chicken sausage with rosemary and feta.  Finally, I mixed everything up with red onion, green pepper, kalamata olives, sundried tomatoes, about 3 large handfuls of baby spinach and some fresh mint and thyme from the balcony garden.  Added a bit of allspice, red pepper flakes and salt and pepper (all to taste, I didn't measure), topped it off with some feta, and we were ready to feast!

It wasn't the fastest meal, but it was really delicious and very filling.  We made 5 large servings out of it - hurray for freezer leftovers!

September 13, 2011

Dining Out in the City of Brotherly Love

Over the weekend, MG and I went on our second (and my third) weekend trip in a row.  This time, we headed off to Pennsylvania for the wedding of one of MG's college friends.  We had a great time at the wedding!

Sunday morning we got up early and after a workout in the Holiday Inn Express fitness room (where apparently the circuit can't handle 2 treadmills and the TV all operating at once) we drove to Philadelphia to meet up with MG's parents, younger brother and family friends for lunch.  I had only been to Philadelphia once before (so I'm told - I think I was about 4 years old), so we arrived early and did a little sightseeing.  We toured the Old Quaker Meeting House and the Christ Church Cemetery where Benjamin Franklin and Benjamin Rush are buried.  It was very cool, but there are so many other things I'd like to see, so we definitely have a full weekend trip planned sometime in the next year.


For lunch we went to the Old City neighborhood where MG's parents had made a reservation at Fork.  It was a fantastic meal with great food and great company!

We started with a roll service - I selected the whole grain and MG had the fruit and nut.  Although there were a lot of really delicious-looking options on the brunch menu, I knew immediately what I wanted when I saw butternut squash soup with toasted pepitas.  I am a sucker for all squash (it might be my favorite veggie ever.  Except for eggplant.  And avocado.  Hmmm...) and the the cooler weather has got me all excited for fall flavors.  I also had a pickled beet salad with garden vegetables, chevre and a lemony aioli dressing.  Beets - another favorite of mine (I'm going to just take it all back and not pick a favorite veggie).

Tastes of fall and summer, all in one meal!

MG had fruit salad and a frittata with potatoes, green olives, tomato sauce and almonds.


After lunch we stopped for coffees at a local shop and then walked over to Reading Terminal Market.  I was really excited to visit, because I am a big fan of big indoor markets, but unfortunately about 1/3 of the booths were closed on Sundays.  We did find an awesome little shop that sold lots of fun kitchen items and bought some cookie cutters and two mini-springform pans!  I am a sucker for mini-baking items.  I can't wait to make a mini-cheesecake or two.  They are just so cute :)

We spotted this storefront next to the coffeeshop.  I have no idea what it is. 
Possibly something from a Stephen King novel? Obviously I had to take a picture.

We got a little lost on our way here.



Why don't we have this in D.C.? I love Eastern Market, but this is way better...

Finally we headed back to the car for the return trip to D.C.  It was a great weekend, although I have to be honest - I'm really excited about the next three weekends at home before we kick off our October of crazy travel.  Despite all the busy-ness though, we have found time to cook here and there, so I promise there will be some recipes in the near future!

September 9, 2011

The Lunch Box: DIY Microwaveable Veggie Burritos

Happy Friday everyone! This week ended up a good one, lunch-wise:

We got back LATE on Monday night, so all my hopes of preparing something yummy to take to work on Tuesday were dashed. I had to resort to my emergency stash of frozen lunches, which are an emergency stash precisely because they don't taste great, so I only eat them if there isn't any other option.

My original plan was to pick up a salad from Au Bon Pain to have with my Lean Cuisine, but as I sat at my desk thinking about lunch, I decided I just wasn't feeling that. The problem though, was that I couldn't decide what I was in the mood for!  There are plenty of options by my office, but none of them sounded spectacular. Then, I remembered to check Food Truck Fiesta to see if any food trucks were in my neighborhood. I was so excited to see the Ethiopian truck nearby, since I've been wanting to check it out for a while. Fantastic! I got shiro wat (a hearty split pea stew) and collard greens. And a huge serving injera bread to scoop it all up! It was super delicious, very filling and only cost me $7, so needless to say I will be doing that again.

Mm, Ethiopian! From a truck!

Anyways, I didn't get home until 11 p.m. that night because I had choir after work, so I had pretty much resigned myself to the Lean Cuisine for lunch on Wednesday since there was no way I was going to have the energy to prepare anything before bed.

But, MG, being the awesome boyfriend that he is, surprised me with DIY microwaveable burritos! He'd seen a post about it on the Kitchn that morning, so he decided to help me out of my lunch jam. These little guys are fantastic - he used whole wheat tortillas and stuffed them with black beans, reduced fat cheddar, red onion, green chiles and rice cooked with diced tomatoes. Then wrapped them up in foil and popped them in the freezer! I brought them for lunch Wednesday and Thursday and they are super easy to reheat - just wrap them in a paper towel (remember to take off the foil first!), place on a plate, and microwave for about 3-4 minutes. Super delicious, filling, healthy, easy, cheap...kind of the perfect lunch, eh?

Getting stuffed.

All lined up and ready to go into the freezer (for a brief stop before I eat you!)

Again, MG's looks more appetizing. I think it's the real plate.

But don't be fooled, mine was delish! With some salsa, of course.

And, we still have 5 more in the freezer! No more emergency Lean Cuisines for me, even in a pinch I can have a home cooked meal! :)