Monday, March 9, 2015

lots of news and the 20 minute clean-up

Three weeks of funemployment down and we have made some big decisions.

A few months ago Mike and I decided to move out of the bay area, mostly due to cost of living, but also with the idea to explore a new city together. After mulling this decision over for months, we have finally locked down some plans...

First up, a three week trek across Australia and New Zealand with a quick stop on the Cook Islands. Then: scouting apts, packing up and driving north to Seattle, our new home.

All of these decisions have my type-A personality screaming with joy because I feel like the train that is my life is up and moving again. We have the trip of a lifetime booked, we have a general idea of when we want to move and I have begin scouting neighborhoods and rent prices. Oh, and I guess we both have to start looking for jobs. (one step at a time.)

Decisions are being made, we are moving to a new and exciting city and yet...this morning I started to panic.

The funemployment calm started to slip away when I began to think about all of the things that have to be done. There is less time to sleep in and cook elaborate dinners and lay on the couch watching Friday Night Lights. I have to plan. I have to clean. I have to pack. I have to move-again!

Organizing and cleaning calms me as much as planning does, but this afternoon I felt crippled with the stress of it all. So I employed one of my favorite tricks: the 20 minute clean-up. Set the timer on your phone for 20 minutes, blast some fun music and move as fast as you can and get as much done as possible. When the timer goes off? You're done. Or keep the momentum going and get a few more things checked off your list.

I felt instantly calm getting a few little things tidied up, the apt vacuumed and some laundry started. Now I relax on the couch with a book for a bit. Every little thing counts...

Any suggestions for Seattle? What about NZ or Australia? Leave 'em in the comments!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

pizza night: bacon + kale + muenster cheese

Tonys pizza here in SF has some of the most mouthwatering, simple pizzas- their margherita pie is so perfect and yet has the most basic ingredients. The fresh tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella and hint of salt is heaven.

They also go into the realm of some risky toppings: one pie has nutella, honey and blue cheese. You think it sounds weird, but try it.

On a recent visit I tried what they call the "Eddie Muenster": crispy, lemony kale, smoked bacon, muenster cheese, peppers, all drizzled with honey. And I never wanted to eat anything else ever again. I only wish I came up with that flavor combo-there is something about the sweet and salty combination that just works.

I knew I had to recreate this, so we planned a pizza night Sunday. One glitch: I got a little mandolin happy with my new kitchen gadget that morning and sliced my thumb right open. Lots of blood and a pretty deep cut. Rolling out pizza dough, grating cheese, basically anything that wasn't stirring a pot of something was just out of the question.

It was fun directing Mike around the kitchen while also taking a backseat. He rolled out the pizza dough like a pro and even taught me a thing or two: he roasted the bacon and the kale in the oven on the same baking sheet. The result? Bacon-flavored kale, aka how kale should always be eaten.

bacon, kale and muenster cheese pizza, aka the "eddie muenster"
serves 2-4 

1 pound of pizza dough (as always, you can make your own, but trader joes has a great one-way easier)
half a pound of kale (I like the curly leaf), diced into bite-sized pieces
half a pound of bacon
half a cup of muenster cheese, shredded
half a cup of mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 pepper (I used a red one, use any size, type you like)
1/4 cup honey
juice of a half a lemon
2 tbsp of butter
salt and pepper for seasoning

  • preheat oven to 375
  • line a baking sheet with tin foil (makes for easier cleanup!) and spread out bacon and kale. season kale with pepper
  • cook in oven until bacon and kale are crispy--about 10-15 minutes
  • drain kale on a paper towel lined plate, sprinkle with lemon juice, toss and set aside
  • chop up bacon once cooked and set aside
  • flour counter and roll out pizza dough. lightly oil baking sheet (if using a pizza stone, follow directions as usual) and place dough on baking sheet. 
  • oil top of pizza and poke with a fork to allow air flow
  • place dough in oven to pre-bake (about 10 minutes, until the bottom starts to lightly brown.)
  • slice top and bottom off pepper and slice lengthwise down one side to open up the pepper in one flat layer, remove seeds. season both sides with salt and pepper
  • preheat pan with 1 tbsp butter on high heat; once pan is really hot, add pepper, skin side down and then place a heavy object on top (i used a pot) for about 3-5 minutes
tip: this technique will "blister" the pepper skin and extract a ton of roasted flavor out of it, really quickly
  • flip the pepper over and repeat, remove from heat and let cool and dice up once cooled
  • heat honey in a sauce pan on low heat with 1 tbsp butter and a sprinkle of salt. keep on low heat, stir occasionally, until ready to use
  • once crust is ready, assemble your pie. spread sauce on (alfredo recipe below, is what I used) then layer on peppers, bacon and cheeses
  • bake for around 7 minutes, until cheese is melted
  • remove from oven and pan, add kale and drizzle honey mixture, slice up and serve!

alfredo sauce
I thought this would complement the flavor well--you could use a marinara or a basic cream sauce as well
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour (traditional alfredo sauce doesn't call for flour but I like it as a thickener)
1/4-1/3 cup milk or cream
1/4 cup pecorino or any parm you like/have on hand
salt and pepper for seasoning

melt butter on stovetop, low heat, add flour and whisk
remove from heat and add milk or cream, continue whisking and bring back to burner
season with salt and pepper
add pecorino and leave on low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens up

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

easy risotto (i promise!)

I tend to stay away from complicated dishes and anything that takes too much attention. I get too distracted by a glass of wine and five other things going on in the kitchen to stir one pot for 30 minutes.

Risotto always seemed like one of those dishes that I would eat at a restaurant but avoid ever cooking for myself. The constant stirring, the ease of turning it to mush or making it too al dente--it all sounds so stressful and not what I want in my kitchen.

Then Valentines Day rolled around. Mike makes an early or day after reservation to avoid the crowds and overpriced food and I cook the day of. Last year I made his fave: bbq chicken pizza, the first dish I had ever cooked for him. But this year I wanted to step it up and make him something I had never made before.

Enter: risotto. "Why not?" I asked myself. I found a few ideas online that I pieced together into my own take and the cooking method seemed so easy. It cooks in the oven for crying out loud. So no constant stirring?! I was in.

I customized a bit by adding white wine even though the recipe didn't call for it (my motto: add wine whenever possible), and changed the ingredients to crispy pancetta and asparagus. Here is the original recipe and my take is below:

asparagus and crispy pancetta risotto
serves 2 (with a bit leftover for the next day :)

5-8 stalks of asparagus (depending on how thick they are), diced into bite-sized pieces
half pound of pancetta, diced (you can get the pre-sliced or just get a chunk of it and dice it yourself)
1 cup arborio rice
1 carrot, chopped finely
1 parsnip peeled and diced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup of white wine--pick a dry one like pinot grigio
2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2-1 cup of pecorino romano cheese--or any parm you have (amount depends on how much you like cheese--this also helps add a creamy feel to the dish)
salt and pepper for seasoning

  • preheat oven to 450
  • preheat an oven safe pot on the stove top on medium heat and toss in the diced pancetta, cook until crispy
  • scoop out cooked pancetta onto a paper towel using a slotted spoon, add 1 tbsp butter and asparagus
  • sauté until asparagus is slightly softened but not limp--about 5-8 minutes, tossing frequently
  • scoop the asparagus out, set aside, add carrots and parsnips. after about 3 minutes, add shallot and then add garlic 5 minutes later. season with salt and pepper
  • let sauté until shallots become soft and stir frequently to prevent garlic from burning
tip: you want to cook vegetables longer based on their firmness and also size. carrots and parsnips take longer to soften and cook down, whereas garlic will burn if you add it at the beginning.

  • stir in arborio rice, add liquids and remaining butter
  • cover with lid and place in oven for 20-25 minutes-risotto will be creamy when done. taste test to ensure its not too al dente and add more liquid a quarter cup at a time if it needs to cook a bit longer
  • add lemon juice, pecorino, asparagus and pancetta, stir together and serve
This recipe is so versatile--add an extra cup of chicken broth in place of the wine (if you must!), and sub in any protein or veggie. One day I will get Mike to eat shrimp and try that...

Let me know how it comes out--I have a feeling this will change your view on risotto.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

dinner roulette

I typically don't shop with a specific recipe in mind. Sometimes I will have a certain food I want to make, like steak, and shop/build around it. Other times I am looking at whats fresh and different.

There are rare occasions I go in craving something, like bbq chicken pizza, or with a mission to make one of Mikes faves like meatloaf (which..I have not made in ages. ::mental note::.)

But my normal routine is to pick up a few basics and then peruse, letting my mind wander and linger over ingredients. This usually causes me to spend three times as long in the store and make multiple trips to the produce section, always so far from the butcher.

However this method produces some great meals on the fly and allows me to cook to my mood and not get my heart set on a dish if the specific ingredients aren't available or fresh. Sometimes it also causes me to come up with multiple ideas and become completely indecisive on that nights meal.

One night I came home with ingredients for two dinners and just laid them out for Mike.

"You pick."

His eyes lit up and he played his first game of dinner roulette.

It was a win-win because he just ate the second option a few nights later but it made dinner fun again.

I had another such trip to the grocery store again yesterday. With my new funemployment (more on that in a later post) I have promised more blogging and lots of home cooked meals on the table when Mike gets home from work, so I texted him some clues and let him pick what to come home to.

Option one: a twist on a childhood favorite with a bit of a healthier spin.

Option two: an italian classic remade into individual portions.

He chose option one, which turned out to be baked chicken fingers, zucchini chips and creamy, gooey mac and cheese. (Use the comments section for any guesses on what option two was!)

Is this always a practical option? Nope! But it sure is fun.

baked chicken fingers
1 pound of chicken tenders or breasts, sliced and portioned out
2 eggs, beaten with a splash of milk
1 cup of flour, season as you like (I used some cayenne, salt and pepper)
1 and a half cups of breadcrumbs, season as you liked (I used the same as the above)
1 tbsp of olive oil for drizzling
  • pre-heat oven to 425
  • setup your breading station: flour in a bowl, then egg/milk mixture, then breadcrumbs. 
  • dredge each chicken finger in flour, shake off, then egg wash, then bread crumbs
  • place on a baking sheet with a wire rack (if you don't have the wire rack you can skip, or line with parchment paper)
  • drizzle with olive oil and place in the oven for 12-18 minutes (depending on thickness), turning once--the outside should get crisped and cooked up
  • serve immediately or leave in a 200 oven to keep warm; serve with your favorite dipping sauce
zucchini chips
3 zucchini, washed well and sliced thinly (I used a mandolin, you can also use a food processor attachment or slice by hand, but that will give you a less even slice)
salt and pepper for seasoning
olive oil for drizzling
any other seasoning you wish!
a few spritz's for cooking spray
  • line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray
  • toss zucchini chips on and drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and any seasoning you like
  • cook in oven (can be cooked at 425 at the same time as the chicken) until crisp and slightly browned--about 10 minutes
  • do these in small batches and keep warm wrapped in foil
  • serve immediately
tip: go easy on the olive oil--just a small drizzle is fine because mine took forever to crisp up since  I soaked them too much.

You can find my mac and cheese recipe here.

Let me know if any of you try out dinner roulette to switch things up!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

coffee rubbed pork loin

It was a long weekend-I am still shopping for the perfect pieces for our apartment (even more pics to come soon, I promise!) and Mike and I made a trip to Target on a Sunday.

That’s enough to exhaust anyone. I wasn’t making yet another stop at the grocery store so decided to use Targets fairly limited selection of fresh groceries to whip something up. Did I mention someone I was shopping with (I won’t name any names) was getting a bit cranky and had to go sit down in the outdoor furniture section to relax…? So yeah…

I grabbed a pork loin, a sweet potato, one red and one green apple. No clue what I would make, but arrived home with these ingredients and a hungry and cranky boyfriend.

I have always wanted to test out a coffee rub and had some coffee in the pantry we hadn’t opened. Fully invested in this idea now, I opened the bag and the beans weren’t ground.

We don’t have a grinder—we use a Keurig and I usually drink iced coffee anyway. Not willing to give this up for the zero other ideas I had, or completely throw my hands up and order takeout, I ground those beans, smashing them with my old-fashioned Italian rolling pin.

Let me tell you—I do not recommend this tactic. And luckily there are no pics of the aftermath. coffee. all. over. my. counter. Had I not been in a food-inspired frenzy, I would have thought this through. Maybe a ziploc bag, rolled over with the pin? But I went through with it, and got my grinds.

And let me tell you—the flavor was worth it. Try it out. But buy your beans pre-ground for your own sanity.

coffee rubbed pork loin
2 lbs pork loin
3 tbsp butter

coffee and chili spice rub
3 tbsp of coffee grinds
2 tsp of chili powder
1 tsp black pepper
3 tsp salt
  • preheat an oven safe pan with butter
  • preheat oven to 350
  • combine rub mixture and spread all over pork loin, pressing in and distributing evenly
  • cook on all sides in pan, turning every 3-5 minutes to sear in spices
  • place in oven for 30-45 mins—use a meat thermometer and pull when it reads 155-165 (depending on your preference)
  • let meat rest for 5-10 mins covered in tin foil to seal in the juices and then slice in medallions
apple compote
1 red and 1 green apple, peeled and diced
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup water
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of black pepper
juice of ½ lemon
  • combine all ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat, let it come to a boil
  • stir every few minutes, allowing ingredients in incorporate and reduce down
  • simmer on low heat until pork is ready; spoon on pork medallions

Monday, July 7, 2014

apt decorating in progress!

Hope everyone had a wonderful 4th of July!! Mike and I spent it in Santa Cruz and stayed at a resort in the mountains. This is our second 4th of July-together, and in Santa Cruz-we went on our first date 3 days after the 4th 2 years ago—aka today!

I love celebrating our first date and its nice to have a 4th of July getaway excuse—or any getaway excuse for that matter—so we use it as a way to celebrate.

We spent the remaining part of the weekend doing apt stuff-it really is all coming together and is such a fun process.

A little sneak peak into the apt work so far:

We came home I finished up spray painting some frames for the walls yesterday. I hope to have those hung up this week and then the living room will just need a few more small touches, but we can find those as we go.

I am looking for a big statement piece of artwork to hang over the fireplace. We are going to hang various photographs from artists I have collected through the years on the opposite wall, so I would like a painting or maybe even a quote. I also want to add an armchair in the corner and then we should be set.

From there, it’s on to the dining room table, and then bedroom. I can not believe we have been in this apt for over 4 months and how long it takes to bring things together.

More pics to come of the finished* living room!

couch/rug/curtain combo

bar area accent

frame painting in progress

*we all know this will never be finished and I will continue to add pieces and change my mind on every.little.detail.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

brussel sprout chips

To say Mike isn’t a fan of vegetables would be a huge understatement. He isn’t a fan of being woken up before noon. Or watching HGTV. But incorporating vegetables into his diet was a battle.

Some things were easier than others. He took to arugula quite well which made salads an obvious choice. He likes roasted carrots and even got hooked on some roasted broccolini, which is a commonly used side in our house. His fave veggie? Potatoes. Believe me, I have mentioned a time or two it’s a starch…

Then I just decided to go for it and started making kale chips. Olive oil, salt, pepper and a hot oven and he went crazy for them. I was feeling bold. He despised brussel sprouts when we first started dating. I got him to eat them once, on a pizza covered with bacon and cheese but that was too easy. So one night, I subbed our usual crunchy kale chips for brussel sprout chips—and now? He likes them more than the kale chips. I would call this a win.

Another heavily requested recipe below and it could not be easier.

brussel sprout chips

1-2 dozen brussel sprouts rinsed with the stems cut off and leaves peeled. toss the core out (tip: you can also just buy the shaved brussel sprouts bag at trader joes)
1-2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper for seasoning
any other seasoning you like—I have used mesquite bbq seasoning which makes them taste like bbq chips, garlic powder would be delicious too. Anything to add some extra flavor, but s&p is perfect too
  • pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  • line a baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray
  • spread the brussel sprouts out and drizzle the olive oil (you may need more depending on how many you have—you want them nicely coated)
  • season to taste with salt, pepper and any other seasoning you add—don’t be shy!
  • toss together to coat and spread in one layer
  • cook in 400 degree oven, tossing frequently (about every 3-4 minutes) until cooked fully (no more than 15 minutes)
  • taste one after its come out of the oven and cooled slightly, and add additional salt if needed
tip: if you do 2 dozen, split between 2 baking sheets—you want them to have enough room to cook
Munch happily :)