Monthly Archives: September 2011

Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad (Or, A Watched Pot of Beans Never Cooks)

As it turns out, in my case, an unattended pot of beans never cooks either.

I’ve had this bag of dried cannellini beans sitting in my pantry for a while.  The problem is that usually I’m resorting to eating beans when I’m looking for an easy, last-minute dinner, so I turn to canned, instant-gratification beans (to whatever extent beans offer you gratification….)

But the other week I was planning ahead!  I was going to make a tuna and white bean salad for lunch, so the night before I dumped a bunch of beans in a pot of water, and let them sit overnight, as the bag instructed.

The next morning?  Still totally crunchy.  That night?  Same thing.  Several days later, when there was still no change, I tossed them in the trash and decided to use a method of expediting the process by bringing a pot of water to a boil and letting the beans simmer.  Over an hour later, the beans were maybe a little softer, but I was not impressed by the progress and was also weirded out by the questionable burning smell coming from the pot.  So, those got trashed, too.

I have successfully made risotto.  I’ve prepared multi-course Christmas Eve dinners.  I don’t shy away from phyllo dough.  But soaking beans?  Fail.

So it looks like I’ll be sticking to canned beans….

Anyway, I love this recipe.  It’s easy, tasty, and healthy.  But it’s one of those things I eat and enjoy once, and then be finished with it for another month.  So I recommend cutting the recipe in half or sharing it with some friends.  Or maybe both.

This is another recipe from Giada De Laurentiis’ cookbook Everyday Italian.  As she notes, it’s a good use of pantry staples.

Red onion crop circles:

Cannellini Bean and Tuna Salad (based on recipe from Giada De Laurentiis)

Empty one 6-ounce can of tuna, packed in olive oil into a large bowl, with the oil from the can.  Gently stir in one 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed, and 1/2 half of a red onion, thinly sliced.  Stir in 1/4 cup capers, some chopped olives (I used mixed Greek olives in chili oil), sliced fresh basil, and a handful of quartered cherry tomatoes.  Drizzle with 3 tbsp red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Served over mixed greens, this makes fabulous lunch.


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Happy Anniversary to my parents!

Yesterday, my parents celebrated 40 years of marriage together.

In the same way that my dad often remarks that – regardless of familial obligations that come along with being sisters – Emily and I seem to “actually like each other”, I often marvel at the fact that – despite having spent over four decades together – my parents seem to “actually like each other.”  Not only that, but they actually like to spend time together.

Mom and Dad’s relationship is a model I hope to follow for my marriage – they have evolved both independently and together, through developing and changing careers, raising two daughters, and dealing with aging parents.  While maintaining individual interests and passions, they still find time to enjoy coffee and the newspaper together on the porch, have dinner and martinis at the local diner, visit museums, go to the symphony, travel, and spend time with friends.

On Friday night Emily, Mike, Nick and I helped them celebrate with Indian carryout and cake, and thanked them for being together and providing such a fantastic home for Em and me to grow up in.

Mom and Dad’s original wedding rings:

Original cake toppers (not the original cake):

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Sarah & Emily’s Wildlife Adventures, Part 2

This is Clive.  Clive the Grill Frog.

Because amongst many other talents, my sister is amazing at coming up with names for animals.  When we got hermit crabs (and we were far too old to be getting hermit crabs), she named hers Lentil and Peapod.  One time we were at a Christmas tree farm and there were two little goats wearing holiday sweaters (I am not making this up).  And we had the following conversation:

Sarah: I like the little black one.  I would name her Genevieve.

Emily: I think…. Buttons.

Maybe you had to be there.  But it still makes me laugh.

But I digress.  This story is about Clive the Grill Frog.  Or frogs in general, really.

Clive has now appeared at two of our Sunday dinners with Emily and Mike.  I also discovered him one night, climbing on my bedroom window.  I was equally thrilled to see him and worried that he would either fall or find a way to get into the apartment (and promptly be greeted by our murderer in residence, Matilda).

As I settled into bed and watched Clive and his amazing sticky little toes climb across my window, all of a sudden I had this uneasy, creeped-out feeling.   And I realized it was because as Clive was climbing, his long back legs were extended behind him.  Some people freak out seeing snakes slither along or having bees swarm around them.  For me, it’s frogs; specifically their back legs.  (The only thing that upsets me more is those frilled lizards who run on their hind legs.)  When frogs are chilling, with their limbs neatly tucked under them, they’re just cute round things with big eyes and smiley faces.  But when those back legs are stretched out they turn into these long, slimy, muscle-y things that can propel themselves into the air… or into your face.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about…

And yes, finding and watching this video did cause me to experience a substantial amount of anxiety.

So why is it that this causes me so much distress?

I think it goes back to an August evening about five or six years ago.  Emily and I were coming home from our parents’ house; we were either living together or living close to each other.  We took the back roads- dark, twisty roads that run alongside a river.  It had recently stopped raining, and the roads were still damp and covered with leaves that had been blown off in the storm.  Then, in the headlights, one of the leaves jumped up right before we drove over it.

“Oh no!  I think that might have been a frog.”


“There was nothing I could do!”

You know how when you’re cooking popcorn, there’s the first kernel that pops… then there are a few seconds before the next one?  Then the lag between the second and third kernels is a little shorter, and before you know it, there are tons of kernels popping simultaneously?  Well, that’s what this was like, except instead of corn kernels popping in a pot, there were frogs and toads hopping in front of my car.

They were everywhere.  Frogs, toads, leaves… they were hard to tell apart and impossible to avoid.  Emily and I were in tears- both laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation and feeling terrible about the frog massacre we were unwillingly pulled into.  In between the laughing there were lots of cries of “No, no!  Make it stop!”

And then the biggest frog I have ever seen in person showed up in the headlights, mid-air, with his creepy long legs stretched out behind him.  I swear he was over a foot-long.  I’m also pretty sure that Emily and I grabbed each other and screamed.  That dude was big enough that we were able to avoid him (or at least that’s how I’ve chosen to remember it).

By the time we pulled out onto the main road, I had the same adrenaline rush as when Em and I were kids, coming out of the haunted house on the Ocean City boardwalk.  Yes, it was that intense.

So yeah… since then, I’ve been a little uneasy around frogs.  And I’ve been far more scrutinizing of wet leaves on the road.

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Stocking Up: Marinara Sauce

The fall semester has started.  So far I haven’t felt too overwhelmed, but that might be because one of my classes doesn’t actually begin until this Monday.  Before I know it, there will be days of alternating between staring at scholarly articles and staring at SPSS datasets, nights of alternating between trying to write a paper and crying because it’s too hard to write a paper, and weeks that are so filled with classes and meetings that I’m not quite sure when there will be time for reading articles, writing papers, and running endless statistical analyses.  I can’t wait.*

But I know once this happens, there are going to be more times that I really don’t want to cook dinner.  Or, even if I want to cook, I just don’t have the time or energy.  I’m going to want to eat bowls of cereal.  Or convince Nick that we should go out midweek and blow the entire month’s dining-out budget on one meal.  So I’m being proactive.  After about an hour of chopping and sauteing vegetables, and another hour of simmering the sauteed veggies with five giant cans of crushed tomatoes, I now have a freezer stocked with several months’ worth of marinara sauce.  And yes, it does take me over 30 minutes to chop veggies… I’m really, really slow at cutting up food, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the cooking process.

I’m a little embarrassed by the fact that my marinara sauce recipe comes from a Giada De Laurentiis cookbook.  The fact that her books tend to have more pictures of her super-white teeth (and cleavage) than of the food costs her a little credibility, but I’ve pretty much loved every recipe I’ve tried from Everyday Italian.

I never liked marinara sauce when I was younger- it was always too heavy or tomato-pasty or bland.  But this sauce is bright and fresh.  Equally delicious left as is, or doctored up with some extras.  The marinara sauce gets used for all sorts of variations on red sauce and pasta: I’ll add some green veggies, olives, or a can of oil-packed tuna.  Or I use Giada’s recipe for vodka sauce.  (I usually add in some broccoli so that I can rationalize the heavy cream.)

As Giada suggests, I double the recipe and freeze it (although I use reusable containers rather than freezer bags as she recommends).

Marinara Sauce (doubled from Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis)

Makes about 16 cups

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 small onions, finely chopped (I used three, because by that point my eyes were done with chopping onions)

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

4 celery stalks, finely chopped

4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

4 (32-ounce) cans of crushed tomatoes (I can never find 32-oz cans, only 28-oz.  So it’s basically four and a half 28-oz cans….)

4 dried bay leaves

In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Saute onions and garlic until onions are translucent (about 10 minutes).  Stir in celery, carrots, salt and pepper.  Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes (when you double the recipe, this seems to take more like 15 minutes).

Stir in crushed tomatoes and bay leaves.  Simmer, uncovered, over low heat for about an hour, until the sauce thickens.  Discard bay leaves.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.

Can be refrigerated (covered) for a day, or frozen for three months.

*I’m only being half-sarcastic.  Part of me obviously loves this stuff.  I mean, I did choose to do this.

**Breakdown of the photos in Everyday Italian:

  • Photos of Giada with or without food (not including pictures featuring only her hands): 50
  • Photos of ingredients or cooking equipment: 36
  • Photos of  actual recipes: 30

(Yes, I did go through and count them… what do you expect? I’m a researcher.  At least I didn’t run a t-test or ANOVA… yet….)


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Technological “Advancements”

Things that are supposed to improve the quality of our lives but, in reality, just suck:

  • Any container/package labeled “Easy Open.”  They never are.  They either tear so easily that the “New, Resealable Package!” is no longer able to be resealed or they require a box cutter.  At the very least, they make me feel like an incompetent idiot.  That “Pull here to open” tab is mocking me, I know it.  If it’s labeled, “E Z Open,” anticipate a particularly frustrating experience.
  • The huge digital traffic signs popping up every mile or so on I-95.  You know why it’s taking 20 minutes to get 6 miles down the road?  Because everyone is slowing down to read these signs telling them it will take 20 minutes to get to an exit 6 miles away.
  • The super-convenient “unsubscribe” links at the bottoms of the emails I receive from every store where I have ever shopped or browsed.  Actually, the links themselves are great.  It’s the emails you then receive confirming that they have received your request to no longer receive emails from them.
  • Captchas.  I had my vision checked last year.  I was told (much to my disappointment) that I still have no need for glasses.  The MVA seems to have no concerns about me operating a vehicle.  So why does the internet demand that I decode partially obscured pseudowords before I can share something on Facebook?


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Last Night’s Dinner: Nick’s Grilled Chicken and more, Part 2

This is the second part of the Grilled Chicken menu- fruits and veggies (well, fruits in the form of dessert).  If you’re looking for the actual chicken recipe or some awesome duck fat potatoes, go here.

Marinated Grilled Zucchini

Grilled zucchini doesn’t require a lot of fanciness, as far as I’m concerned.  But if you are in the mood to kick it up a little, briefly marinating the zucchini is all it needs.  For the two of us, one giant zucchini, cut length-wise into inch-thick spears, was plenty.  I whisked about two parts olive oil and one part balsamic vinegar together (3 tbsp of oil and 1 1/2 tsbp of vinegar was enough to thoroughly coat the zucchini spears).  Mix in a few chopped fresh basil leaves.  Toss zucchini in marinade, season with salt and pepper, and let it sit for about thirty minutes.

These cook fast.  Just a couple minutes on the grill until you have some nice grill marks and they’re tender, but not floppy.

Sauteed Broccolini

Even easier than the zucchini.  Place the broccolini in a skillet and add a little water (about a quarter inch deep).  Cover the skillet and heat over medium-high heat for about 4-5 minutes, until the broccolini is bright green and just a little tender.  (Or let it go another minutes or so… I like my vegetables crisp.)  Drain the water, add a little olive oil to the skillet and over medium heat, saute the broccolini for a couple more minutes.  Drizzle with lemon juice, if desired, and sprinkle with salt (fancy pink sea salt works particularly well with this).

Balsamic-Glazed Strawberries and Basil over Vanilla Ice Cream

From Epicurious: Balsamic-Glazed Strawberries Over Ice Cream.  I love when dessert recipes actually are written for two servings, although sometimes I worry that it won’t be enough since Nick can often eat two servings by himself.  The nice thing with this is that if it’s not enough, just throw another scoop of ice cream in the bowl.

The recipe calls for 6 large strawberries.  I don’t really know what qualifies as a large strawberry.  Are we talking about the larger ones from a package of average-sized berries?  Or the giant ones that barely fit in your palm?  (Well, my palm at least… I have small hands….)  Anyway, I just decided the remaining berries I had looked like a generous two-servings worth (probably yielded about 1 1/2 to 2 cups, sliced).

Hull the strawberries and slice them into wedges.  In a small saucepan over moderate heat, stir two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar with two tablespoons of brown sugar.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and then simmer for a minute.  I actually let it simmer for a couple minutes to thicken a little bit while I ran outside to get a few basil leaves.  This isn’t part of the original recipe, but I’ve seen other desserts that combine strawberries, vinegar, and basil, and it sounded awesome.  Also, the recipe says to remove the mixture from heat and then toss the strawberries and serve immediately.  Instead I left the pan on low heat and stirred in the strawberries and just let it sit for a minute or two, to let the flavors meld, as some reviewers had suggested.

Scoop out some vanilla ice cream (we used Stonyfield Ice Cream, which was delicious) and top with the strawberries.  Sprinkle some sliced basil on top.

This took no more than ten minutes to make, and tasted amazing.


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Last Night’s Dinner: Nick’s Grilled Chicken and more, Part 1

If nothing else, I have to say this meal was our greatest success in cooking an appropriate amount of food for two people.  We ate a lot of different foods but not an excessive amount of any one of them, and only have a decent amount of chicken leftover (mmm… sandwiches…).

BUT, that’s not all there is to say about our dinner because it also happened to be awesome.  This was Nick’s second attempt at a grilled chicken and I didn’t think it was possible, but it was actually better than the first one.  I’ll let him tell you more later, but for now I will give you four words: beer-soaked wood chips.

The chicken was accompanied by zucchini (lightly marinated and then grilled), simple sauteed broccolini, and potatoes cooked in duck fat.  One of our favorite foods (I hate using the collective “we” for talking about things like favorite foods, but this is one Nick and I do happen to share) is the duck fat fries at the local gastro pub, served with aioli.  We’ve tried to recreate them at home and have come up with an acceptable substitute, although it’s still not the real thing.

Finally, for dessert, I made strawberries with a balsamic glaze, served over vanilla ice cream.  If you haven’t experienced strawberries and balsamic vinegar together, trust me, it’s worth trying.

This was starting to become a super long blog, so it’s in two parts.  You can find the recipes for the chicken and potatoes here, and the vegetables and dessert here.

Grilled Chicken

This is all Nick.

Me here. Grilled chicken. I used to be terrified of how to even approach an entire chicken. There’s so much information available on chicken. Some hearsay, some heresy. I did some furious internet research before I tried it the first time. This time around, I went with my gut… the very thing that ingests said meals.

My girl has reinforced the need for “organic” foods. I try to indulge her at most turns. In this case, I fully support her decision, and quite frankly, I wait for the opportunity to get a fresh bird from a farm, take its feathers off, and grill it. One day, I shall. Until that day, I’ll do what I did today. We got a fresh (not frozen, you deserve better…even if you don’t) chicken from MOM’S Organic Market in Jessup, MD. They get their chickens delivered on Thursday, and it’s Saturday, so that’s good enough for me. It’s an organic chicken, which means it’s probably 4 times more expensive than a standard supermarket bird. I cannot stress this enough, start with a good quality bird from a reputable joint. Do not screw around trying to save a few bucks. It’s not worth your health and lack of enjoyment in something as mind-blowing as grilled chicken.

Once you’ve got that bird, get out your big stock pot, fill it with two quarts of cold water, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup sea salt, and stir it up until the sugar & salt are suspended in the water. Make sure the chicken doesn’t have any giblets or anything erroneous stuffed inside it’s cavity. Once the space has been made, put the bird in the brine solution. Stick it in the fridge, or put a bunch of ice in with it, and let it sit for an hour. Now is a good time to start soaking your wood chips in some beer & water. It’s also a good time to start soaking your liver in beer as well. Get out your headphones, portable listening device of choice, and grill utensils.

Chicken submerged in its icy, briny bath:

Once your chicken has soaked in brine for 60 minutes, take it out, pat it dry with a paper towel, and then get out your poultry shears. Cut out the spine of the chicken, stick it in a freezer bag for making stock later. Then cut a few holes in the skin flaps, so you can pull the wing tips back and get them out of the way. I only do this because I saw others do it. Does it really help? Whatever.

Cover your bird in freshly ground salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Prepare a bowl with salt, pepper, smoked paprika, and Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA mixed together. That’s what you’re going to baste on while the bird is grilling. Also get a Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA for yourself, it does wonders for one’s constitution.

Get your grill hot, around 5oo degrees Fahrenheit or so. Get those wood chips in the grill, and get ’em smokin’.  I’ve been doing a combination of indirect and direct heat for chicken grilling. Put your headphones on, and get the bird on the indirect side of the grill. Start cooking it, doesn’t matter which side, really.

Enjoy your drink, don’t try and substitute your 90 minute IPA for something that dudes with backwards baseball caps drink when they’re trying to fit in at the bar. If anyone catches you grilling a chicken with something that says “lite” in your hand, then karma’s going to take over and make your chicken really dry and flavorless.

Enjoy the weather. Try and smile, enjoy the song. Flip your bird over, and baste it with beer. Repeat this activity until the skin is pretty well blackened, and your “special basting sauce” is gone. Keep moving bird between indirect and direct heat until you’ve got the desired grilly-ness and when you stick your grill tongs in sideways and have a look, nothing should look weird and pink.

If you give the chicken your full attention, and enjoy your drink, I promise you’ll have a great chicken. Let it rip, and don’t over-think the process. When it’s done, put it on a tray and let it sit for 6 minutes or so. Then how you enjoy it is entirely up to you.

I didn’t think I could even enjoy chicken this much until the last one I did. This one raised my expectations even more. I have a deep loving affinity for grilled foods, and this one is certainly no exception. I get the same great satisfaction in eating a great grilled chicken as I do in eating a great steak, or enjoying a fine Scotch. It’s a wonderful thing, so make a day of it, and there’s pretty much very little you can do to screw it up.



Duck Fat Potatoes with Lemon and Thyme Aioli

The aioli can be made before you start the rest of dinner prep; just cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  The recipe I use is from a Bon Appetit recipe for Roasted Asparagus and Baby Artichokes with Lemon-Oregano Aioli.  (The recipe in its entirety is wonderful, by the way.)  The only difference is that I used thyme instead of oregano.  I also made about a 1/4 cup instead of a full cup, but just eyeballed portions of the ingredients.  Just taste it and play with it til you’re happy.

The amounts I’m writing here are for eight servings, as the recipe is written.  Whisk together the following: 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp chopped oregano (or thyme), 1 pressed garlic clove, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon peel.  Season with salt and pepper.

We used baby red potatoes, cut into one-inch pieces.  Spread the potatoes in a foil-lined, grill-safe pan.  Sprinkle several sprigs’ worth of rosemary over the potatoes; season with salt & pepper.

Dot the potatoes with rendered duck fat (you could just as easily use butter or drizzle olive oil on top).   Place on grill over high heat, covered, periodically opening the grill to toss the potatoes around.  Cook until tender and crisp on the outside.  (I’d say this took about 15 minutes.  Nick doesn’t have a good sense of time.  The good thing is that potatoes are happy to patiently wait in the oven, wrapped in foil, until the rest of the meal is ready.)

Wondering what we had for dessert?  Or if we actually ate anything green?  Check here.

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