Monthly Archives: July 2011

Last Night’s Dinner: Grilled Chimichurri Chicken and Roasted Pattypan Squash

One of my favorite monthly events is the day I check the mail and find a new issue of Bon Appetit.  Several years ago I received a free subscription after purchasing some culinary gadget as a gift for my dad and I’ve been hooked ever since.  I actually have several framed covers decorating our kitchen wall.  And I may have – on one occasion – convinced Nick to drive through a snowstorm to pick up an issue after a subscription mix-up sent it to my aunt’s house 30 minutes away.  He was not happy.

Anyway, I was a little apprehensive a couple months ago when the magazine got a new editor.  I was particularly unhappy when I received the issue featuring Gwyneth Paltrow on the cover.  I mean, seriously???  This isn’t Cosmo or People- it’s Bon Appetit!  The cover is supposed to have a close-up of a perfectly grilled steak, or a cherry pie with an impossibly precise lattice top.   Fortunately the last two months’ covers have been strictly food, so I am hoping they’ll be sticking with that.

Some of the other changes, however, I really like.  There’s a new philosophy focused more on basic skills (kind of the art and theory of cooking) and less on specific recipes.  I believe the editor described it as “how to cook, not what to cook.”  There certainly are still plenty of recipes, but they are accompanied by things like last month’s math behind marinades.  The formula: acid + salt + alliums (e.g., garlic, onions) + sugar/syrup + chiles + herbs = a good marinade.  I love this idea of helping people think about the balance of ingredients by offering guidelines while still encouraging experimenting and allowing flexibility for substitutions.

All of that being said, I did stick pretty close to their recipe for Chimichurri Sauce when making a marinade for chicken tenders last night.  It worked out well that I was looking for a use for the big bunch of cilantro I bought last weekend, and I happen to be growing chile peppers and parsley.  It also worked well that when Mike (my sister’s fiance) moved in the other week, he brought a snazzy new grill with him and, being the awesome soon-to-be-brother-in-law that he is, offered for us to use it.

To go along with the chicken, I decided to roast some pattypan squash.  I have fond memories of my mom frying tomatoes (in cornmeal) and pattypan squash (in a flour mixture) in the summers when I was a kid, and it was tempting to try to recreate it, but opted for roasting as a slightly healthier preparation.

You’ll want to prepare the marinade at least three hours before dinner so that the chicken has time to soak up all the yumminess.  Note that I halved the BA recipe since I was only cooking 1 lb of chicken, and their recipe is intended for handling 2 lbs of beef.  To start the chimichurri marinade, combine 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 1/2 tsp of kosher salt, 1 or 2 sliced or minced garlic cloves (I used one giant clove, sliced), 1/2 of a finely chopped shallot (I used one whole, but smallish shallot), and 1/2 of a finely chopped Fresno chile or red jalapeno (I used two little peppers from my pepper plant…. I’m not entirely sure what kind they are, but I had them in the fridge and one happened to have turned red).  Let this mixture stand for about 10 minutes.

Then stir in 1 cup of minced fresh cilantro, 1/2 cup of minced fresh Italian parsley, and about 2 tbsp of thyme (because I didn’t have oregano).

Arrange 1 lb of chicken breast tenderloins in a glass dish or bowl and toss with marinade.  Cover and chill for at least three hours.

Nick grilled the chicken.  I don’t have particular instructions for that part, but it’s grilled chicken… it’s not that difficult.  I do recommend brushing the marinade on the chicken while it’s grilling.  Anyway, this is what it looked like afterwards:

Delicious.

For the pattypan squash, I got my inspiration from a recipe for Roasted Pattypan Squash and Herbed Chickpeas (which sounds awesome, and I’ll definitely be trying it in the future).

As suggested in the recipe, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees, and then divided each squash into eight pieces.  (I ended up halving a lot of the pieces, because the one squash was substantially larger than the other!)

In a baking pan, I drizzled the squash with olive oil and then seasoned with salt and pepper, then threw ’em in the oven.  After about 15 minutes I stirred them around, and then let them go for another 15 minutes.  They were a little more cooked than I like, but I did like the amount of browning on the outside.  So, next time I’d probably cook them at 425 or 450 and pull them out earlier.  These were still really good, though.  Pattypan squash has this wonderful buttery-ness and, to me, is just one of those quintessential summer flavors.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Chickpeas and Olives with Sauteed Fennel, Broccolini, and Spinach

Now that I don’t have a wedding to plan and I have over a month before classes start, there’s really no excuse for not getting back on track with eating well and exercising.  So, last week, I renewed my membership to My Food Diary and pulled out the yoga DVDs.  One of my biggest goals is loading up on vegetables and fruits, which have been seriously lacking from my diet for the last few weeks.  Instead of topping my cereal with a couple strawberries, I’m sprinkling a little cereal on top of a bowlful of berries.   And I’m striving for my dinner plate to consist of half vegetables and the other half split between grains and protein.

The other night was all about sauteeing- garlic, chickpeas, and kalamata olives in one pan; fennel, capers, broccolini, and spinach in the other.  My plan was to mix them all together on top of some brown rice, but for some reason I ended up eating them separately.  I do think they would meld nicely together, though, and will try that next time.

When the brown rice was about 15 minutes away from being done, I heated a little olive oil in a small skillet and a medium skillet.  After they heated up, I put some sliced garlic and chickpeas in the small pan, and sliced fennel and capers in the other; seasoned both with pepper and a little salt.

After a couple minutes I threw sliced kalamata olives in with the chickpeas and chopped broccolini with the fennel.

Then I poured a little dry white wine in to steam the broccolini.  Everything cooked a few more minutes until the chickpeas were a little crisp on the outside and the fennel was just starting to brown on the edges.  At this point, I removed the chickpeas from heat and stirred in  chopped Italian parsley and thyme.  Keeping the fennel over low heat, I added a few handfuls of baby spinach and squeezed lemon juice over it, stirring until the spinach wilted.

And when I plated everything, I was happy to see that there was a heaping mound of vegetables taking up half of the plate.

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Night Geckos

In a recent post I mentioned how I tend to be the one who freaks out and worries about things, and Nick is the one who talks me down and – in the rare instance where there is actually something to be worried about – he helps me get to the point where I can find a solution.  On our honeymoon, however, I found out it doesn’t always work that way.

First of all, I should mention that we had an absolutely awesome week in Mexico.  We enjoyed eight days and seven nights of beautiful weather, margaritas and ceviche served to us on the beach, and just being with each other.  But one of the things that I loved most about it was that it really wasn’t that different than how we are at home, we just had this gorgeous backdrop to do our normal thing.  This meant that there were still times when both of us were feeling a little under the weather, and just hung out in our room and watched weird Mexican cell phone commercials in between music videos on VH1.  And there were still times that we argued a bit.

Which brings me to the story of the night geckos*.  On our second night, Nick and I went to the Pan-Asian restaurant and enjoyed some really yummy sushi.  I also had several glasses of wine.  I’m not sure exactly how much I had because at an all-inclusive resort they refill your wine glass like it’s water.  After dinner we decided to go back to the room for awhile before going back down to the bar; after all, we had a free bottle of sparkling wine in the mini fridge.  Neither of us particularly like sparkling wine, but if it’s given to us, we’ll drink it.  So, we took the bottle and a couple glasses out to the balcony, and we shortly discovered that we had company.

On the wall and ceiling were a couple little geckos (I know he looks kinda big in the picture, but he was probably no more than 4 inches long).  Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I get excited about pretty much any animal encounter.  (I made Nick walk around the perimeter of the hotel with me on an unsuccessful mission to try to find some coatis).  Anyway, I was happy to take some pictures of the geckos and watch them hunt bugs.

So we were hanging out on the balcony, drinking sparkling wine and watching the geckos.  Despite my insistence that we would not use our cell phones in Mexico unless there was an emergency, I suddenly decided I needed to text my sister to tell her about the geckos, as she likes animals as much as I do, and actually has a pet gecko**.

I should mention at this point that I almost titled this, “Why I Should Not Be Allowed on Balconies After Drinking.”

I went back into the hotel room to retrieve my cell phone, closing the door behind me, at which point Nick started yelling at me because the sliding door locks automatically and I consequently left him stranded on the balcony.

I opened the door and he started lecturing me on how I can’t close the door all the way.

“I know that.  I was just going to get my phone.  I’ll be right back.”

So, I went and found my phone, came back onto the balcony, and closed the door behind me.

Yep, now we were both out on the balcony on the wrong side of a locked door.  Did I mention our room was on the 5th floor?

I come from a smart family.  But with this intelligence comes a propensity to do really dumb shit at really inconvenient times, particularly during vacations.  At age 3, my first day of my first trip to Disney World was delayed when my grandfather locked the keys in the rental car in the parking lot of the Magic Kingdom.  I also have a recollection of sitting outside our Ocean City condo late at night because my dad lost the keys somewhere on the boardwalk and had to go to the realtor to get another set.

Thus, I blame genetics.  And the waiter who kept refilling my wine glass at dinner.

Nick immediately started doing this heavy breathing thing he does when he’s getting really angry and/or freaking out.  Pulling frantically at the door didn’t really seem to help anything.  Somehow, I stayed very calm (for which I thank the waiter who kept refilling my wine glass at dinner).

“It’s fine.  I have my cell phone.”

“Do you have the hotel’s number?”

“No.”

I contemplated climbing over the half wall to our neighbor’s balcony and pounding on their door.  But through the sheer curtains I could see their television pretty well, and based on what they were watching I’m guessing they did not want to be disturbed.

What I did do was call my parents and ask them to look at the email I sent them with the hotel contact information and text the phone number to me.  During and in between my conversations with them and with the hotel concierge, there was a lot of pacing and “I can’t believe you did that” coming from Nick.  The concierge was nice enough to let himself into our hotel room and let us in from the balcony.  It’s hard to tell if he was amused or annoyed.  But as I told Nick, there’s no way we are the first people get stuck on the balcony.  And we resolved it without having to scale the building or throw a chair through the door.

Once we were inside, Nick recovered quickly and forgave me.  At least we have a good honeymoon story.  And we knew we didn’t have to worry about anyone breaking into our room from the balcony.

*I think they are really a type of house gecko, but they were on our balcony at night, so I like “night geckos.”

**Emily’s gecko is a desert gecko, not a night gecko, according to my taxonomy.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Lemon and Zucchini Risotto with Broccolini and Shrimp

I get a little nervous when Nick takes the first bite of something I’ve prepared and is then silent.  Is he completely disappointed?  Is he about to suggest that we throw the plates in the trash and order pizza?  Fortunately, when I broke the silence last night and asked him if dinner was okay, the response was, “This one is special.  Really outstanding.”

Following the few weeks surrounding our wedding and honeymoon, which were filled with lots of dinners out and convenience foods, I was excited to get back into the kitchen and eat some food we prepared ourselves.  In all of the recent dining out, I’ve had a couple really good risotto dishes, so I decided it was finally time to take a stab at the “Lemony Zucchini Risotto” recipe in The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman.

I received The Food Matters Cookbook last year for my birthday, and I absolutely love the concept behind it- meals based on plants (e.g., veggies, fruits, whole grains) with animal products as a part – but not the center – of the meal.  Think “Linguine with Tomatoes and Clams” rather than “Clams with Linguine and Tomatoes.”

Bittman’s risotto relies on grated zucchini to provide richness, and the “optional” additions of Parmesan and chopped fresh basil really round it out.  Having never made risotto before, I followed the recipe closely, and then topped it with some sauteed shrimp, broccolini, and fresh diced tomatoes.  An impressively fancy meal that, while time-consuming, is also very basic.

Because this is a more complicated recipe, I’m going to swap out my typical narrative style for a more straightforward “cookbook” style:

Lemony Zucchini Risotto (adapted from Mark Bittman’s The Food Matters Cookbook)

Serves 4, Requires 45-60 minutes

Salt

1 cup short-grain brown rice

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, chopped (I used vidalia)

Black pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine or water (I used Sauvignon Blanc)

3 to 5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock, or water

4 small or 2 large zucchini (about 1 1/2 pounds), grated

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, optional (but, really, unless you’re vegan, why say no to cheese??)

1 tbsp butter or additional olive oil, optional (I opted for the olive oil)

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish, optional (I highly recommend it)

1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt it.  Stir in the rice, adjust heat so the water bubbles steadily, and cook without stirring for 10 – 15 minutes.  Drain well.

2. Put the oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  When it’s hot, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens (about 5 minutes).  Add rice and stir occasionally, for a couple of minutes.  (Bittman says to cook the rice until it is “glossy and coated with oil”, but mine looked like that as soon as I stirred it in, so I let it go a couple more minutes.)  Sprinkle with salt and pepper, add the wine.  Stir and let the liquid bubble away.

3. Gradually add the stock, about 1/2 cup at a time.  Stir after each addition and then every minute or so.  When stock is just about evaporated, add more.  The mixture should be neither soupy nor dry.  Keep the heat medium to medium-high and stir frequently.  (It seemed like I was adding a 1/2 cup every 5 minutes or so.)

4. After about 15 minutes of adding stock, stir in zucchini and cook, stirring, until it releases its liquid and the mixture again becomes dry.  Begin tasting the rice about 5 minutes later; you want it to be tended but with still a tiny bit of crunch.  It could take as long as 45 minutes to reach this stage. When it does, stir in lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan, butter, and basil if you are using them.  Season to taste.  Serve immediately, garnished with additional basil if you like.

So, this last step is where I deviated a bit.  First, at 15 minutes, I had only added 1 1/2 cups of stock to the rice, so I didn’t add the zucchini until 20 minutes of adding stock.  At that point I had added 2 cups (not the 3-5 the recipe calls for).  After adding the zucchini, I think it was about 10 minutes until the rice met my idea of “tender but with a tiny crunch.”

Sauteed Shrimp and Broccolini

At the point of adding the zucchini, I heated another small skillet with about a tbsp of olive oil, and sauteed 1/2 pound of jumbo shrimp, seasoned only with salt and pepper.  When the one side was pink, I flipped them over and added a splash of Sauvignon Blanc in there with them.  When the other side was pink, I removed them from the skillet.  Then I added about 6 stalks of broccolini and a little water (maybe 1/4 inch deep) to the skillet and covered.  After letting them steam for about 4-5 minutes (they should be bright green), I drained the remaining water and adding a little more olive oil and another splash of Sauvignon Blanc to the skillet.  Tossed the broccolini for a minute or so, then removed from heat.

Once risotto was finished (technically I did not serve “immediately” since the broccolini was still cooking, but I don’t think it was problematic), I placed a serving in a bowl, arranged broccolini stalks around and shrimp on top in the center.  Sprinkle with some chopped fresh tomato (room temperature) and a little more chopped fresh basil.

*Please note that the shrimp and broccolini portions are for two people and the risotto yields 4 servings.  This allowed Nick to go back for a little more risotto.  And it meant I had an awesome lunch today: put a handful of raw baby spinach in a microwave-safe bowl, top with leftover risotto and heat for a minute or two, until spinach is mostly wilted.   Stir spinach into risotto and top with chopped tomatoes and basil.


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Pre-Wedding Musings

I wrote this last Thursday.  Things got a bit hectic and I didn’t get a chance to post, but I wanted to leave it “as is” in my pre-wedding state of mind (not that much has changed since then!)

We’re just a few days away from the wedding now and I can’t say I’ve been doing much cooking that is worth sharing.  Actually, other than baking more than 150 sugar cookies for wedding favors, the most involvement I’ve had in the kitchen was cooking rice and heating up a bag of frozen PF Chang’s chicken and broccoli.  (Which, by the way, was only in my freezer because there was a “Buy this crap and get a free pint of Ben & Jerry’s” promotion.)  Instead there have been cookouts with friends, fancy lunches in celebration of marriage licenses (well, one fancy lunch), and dinners like this:

Yes, that’s tuna salad.  And two kinds of crackers.  But look at that presentation.  And it really is good tuna.  Maybe I’ll see if Nick is willing to share his recipe one of these days.  It’s quite possibly the best tuna I’ve ever eaten.

Speaking of Nick… have I mentioned that I am super-excited to be marrying him?  Getting caught up in all the details and logistics of wedding planning makes it easy to forget why you’re doing all of it in the first place, particularly as other family members and friends and wedding vendors get involved (although the involvement of family and friends is very much appreciated- we couldn’t be doing this without you!)  Still, when just the two of us took some time last week to get our marriage license and enjoy a lunch at one of our favorite restaurants, it was a welcome reminder that the purpose of all this craziness is to celebrate the fact that Nick and I want to be together.

Because that is exactly what it comes down to- Nick is the person I want to be with.  He’s the person I want to be next to me as we go through life together.  Just a few of the reasons why:

-He balances me in all the best ways. He helps me to be more relaxed about life and not take things so seriously.  He tells me I can do something when I feel completely discouraged. 

-He tells me I’m beautiful.

-He tells me if a dress does not look good on me.

-He laughs at me when I’m trying to be funny.

-He doesn’t laugh at me when I’m not trying to be funny.

-Running errands is instantly more fun when Nick is with me.

-He gets along with my family. I get along with his family. Our families get along with each other.

-He is wonderfully honest and that has allowed me to feel more secure than I ever have.

-If it wasn’t for Nick, I would not like asparagus.  Or the Bee Gees.

-He rubs my back when I can’t sleep… at least for about 60 seconds until he falls asleep.

-He quit smoking when I asked him to.  Actually, his first reaction was “f*** you.”  But he has now been a nonsmoker for about 18 months, and I am so proud of him. 

-He never protests when I suggest stopping to get ice cream on the way home.

-He patiently goes along with my attempts to eat more healthy meals.

-He makes up silly songs and has ridiculous conversations with our cats.

-Even though the wedding has gotten bigger than we initially planned, and it’s not exactly what he envisioned when he suggested we get married at my parents’ house, he is working so hard to get things together for a day that I know will be a great extension of ourselves and our love for each other.  It’s the same care and effort that he puts into our relationship every day, and I cannot wait to marry him.

So, that’s all for now.  Yes, the wedding was beautiful and more fun than I could have ever imagined.  I will certainly share more in a week or so, but at the moment I need to go have dinner with my husband, and pack for our honeymoon!

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Thanks, but I already know fifty-five ways to do that.

I am proud to say that as many times I as look longingly at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups when I’m in line at the grocery store, I only cave in about once a year.  Please do not take that to mean I am always so disciplined when it comes to chocolate, or desserts, or any form of baked good.  But I try to save it for the good stuff- Green & Black’s Maya Gold Chocolate bar, Trader Joe’s sea salt brownies, any loaf of bread from Wegman’s bakery, cranberry walnut scones wherever I find them.  I just happen to be good at resisting the last minute urge to throw a Hershey’s product on the conveyor belt.

My relationship with magazines is kind of similar.  Years ago I traded in the Hershey bars of the magazine world (i.e., Cosmo) for something just as indulgent but with less junk I don’t really want (i.e., Self, Bon Appetit).  Yes, I just compared Cosmo to a Hershey bar- they’re both appealing and easy to impulsively grab in the checkout line, but also contain a lot of unnecessary crap I’ve outgrown (I just don’t want that much sugar in my chocolate anymore, and really, how many more “confessions” about 19-year-old women getting their periods at inconvenient and embarrassing moments do I want to read?)

Still, sometimes I am tempted….  I mean, I could use some advice on what jeans are most flattering.  And what if that sixty-seventh way to blow your man’s mind is the one that isn’t (a) completely cheesy, (b) boring, (c) totally disgusting?  And speaking of multiple choice, a quiz on “what does your nail polish say about you?” could be really informative and insightful.  (Hello, Barnum effect.)

And in the same way that I allow myself the rare indulgence of a Kit Kat bar (usually during final exams), I always tell myself I have one opportunity each year to buy all the trashy magazines I want- when I go on vacation to the beach.  The difference between this and the candy thing?  I never can bring myself to actually go through with it.

Three years in a row, I’ve gone to Barnes & Noble eager to finally buy armfuls of Marie Claire and Glamour and Cosmopolitan.  And three years in a row, I’ve looked at the covers, and said, “Oh God, I can’t do it.”  (Interestingly, this coincides with my recent approach-avoidance with fast food: it’s pretty much the same reaction I have any time I think I might want to get a cheeseburger or milkshake from McDonalds.)

So my dilemma is this- I love magazines, and I want magazines for beach reading, but I can’t find any that suit me.  I used to read Entertainment Weekly, but since I don’t have cable and almost exclusively listen to a “listener-supported” radio station, half the content in EW is meaningless to me these days (seriously… I only figured who Lady Gaga was about three months ago).  Reading an article in Bon Appetit about cooking burgers with bacon ground into the beef just doesn’t seem appealing when I’m wearing a swimsuit and sitting in the sun.  Plus I don’t usually cook on vacation so, at that time, reading about cooking seems irrelevant.  As much as I liked Domino, the fact that owning a home or even being able to afford new furniture seems years down the road makes me  think that reading something like Dwell is going to depress me rather than inspire me.  And while I will fully admit I did look at Cat Fancy for a moment today (I actually had a subscription when I was a little girl), I’m just not secure enough with my cat lady-ness to be seen in public reading about Munchkin cats… unless I’m at the vet’s office.

As far as the “Women’s Interest” publications go…

Today I was at Borders with Nick.  The “Women’s Interest” section is split in two rows- one on my left and one on my right.  “This is why I can’t find any magazines to read.  I’m way beyond this,” I say, gesturing to the five different covers featuring Katy Perry on my left.  Then I turn to my right, “But I’m definitely not here yet,” as I look at Good Housekeeping and Martha Stewart Living.

So yeah… where’s the periodical for boring, married graduate students with no children, no money, and a wide range of interests?

Where do I belong??

Why can’t there be a magazine that includes:

  • Food porn
  • Some well-being and health-related articles to compensate for the food porn
  • Home decorating articles that don’t suggest buying a $600 end table
  • The occasional article about sex and/or relationships that indulges the part of me that misses Cosmo
  • Pictures of kittens
  • Fashion articles that don’t suggest buying a $600 dress
  • The occasional article on important, worldly topics that indulges the part of me that feels guilty for not knowing more about what is going on around the world

Really, that’s all I want.  Oh, hidden picture puzzles would be good, too.

So what reading material will I be taking to the beach this year?  Baltimore Magazine’s countdown of the 26 best crab dishes in the city.  And Real Simple, which is the closest to meeting my criteria, although it is seriously lacking in the cat photo department.

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