Monthly Archives: March 2012

Last Night’s Dinner: Tacos and Tequila

Man, I love Spring Break.  Sure, I still have readings to do and data to work with and a bridal shower for a very special lady to plan, but it’s a whole week of not having to drive 40 minutes to campus, go to class, or sit in meetings.  And consequently, I’ve been able to make dinners and tell you about them!  These are still quick, easy recipes that are doable for busy weeknights, but I feel relaxed enough to think ahead and take pictures while I’m cooking, and write about them afterwards.

So, Bon Appetit claims that this recipe takes 25 minutes, but I bet that if you use pre-shredded coleslaw mix, or if you have one person making the beans and tacos, and another making the slaw, you could have this whole thing together in 15 minutes.  Of course, if you’re making rice or some sort of grain to accompany the tacos, that will take a little longer.  But my point is that this has the potential for being the fastest dinner you’ve ever made without using a microwave.

I followed the recipe exactly, so I’m not going to copy it.  I’ll just give you a link: Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Cabbage Slaw and share some notes.

First, serving size/number of tacos… The recipe states that it makes four servings, but it really means four tacos.  I don’t know anyone who eats just one taco, so I think this recipe is really good for two or three people, unless you’re supplementing the meal with some other dishes.  Also, if you use taco-size corn tortillas (like 6-inch), the bean filling can really be stretched among at least six, if not seven or eight tortillas, rather than four.  Since you have to flip the folded tortillas in the skillet after filling them with beans, you don’t want them over-stuffed.

And speaking of tortillas… Be sure to use corn tortillas.  I usually prefer flour tortillas, but they just won’t get crisp the way corn tortillas will.

Cooking strategy… Unless you have an industrial kitchen with an industrial-size skillet you probably won’t be able to cook all the tacos at once.  There are a couple ways to handle this.  You could just wait until they’re all finished and then have a plate of half hot tacos and half cold tacos.  Or you can channel my dad’s Sunday morning pancake-making approach where he would throw hot pancakes on our plates while he continued to cook them, and then we’d all be finished by the time he sat down to eat.  But why not just keep them warm by sticking a paper towel-lined plate in the oven and transfer finished tacos to the plate while you cook the rest?  And if you happen to have a spare tortilla warmer hanging around, say, from a Mexican-themed wedding buffet, that works pretty well, too.

Accompaniments… Cabbage, cilantro, and lime slaw?  Wonderful.  Topped with feta cheese and hot sauce?  Even better.  But I don’t think anyone will complain if you offer sliced avocado and jalapenos as well.

Rice is nice, but farro is awesome  Do you remember me mentioning a new favorite blog, Attempts in Domesticity?  She recently presented a compelling argument for Why I Think Farro is the Shit and I must admit she convinced me.  I’ve wanted to try it for a while, but she inspired me to finally follow through.  My plan was to do something a bit more elaborate with it, but since I needed something to take up some space on my plate (so I wouldn’t fill it with four tacos), I decided this was as good a time as any to try it.  So, I just cooked it plain, and threw in a little lime juice and cilantro, and oh, I love it.  Since it’s plumper and chewier than rice, it reminds me a little bit of Israeli couscous, which I love, but far more nutritious.  I’m converted.

Finally, another nice thing about Spring Break?  I don’t have to worry about doing school work after dinner, so there is no reason not to enjoy some tequila with dinner.  Well, technically, we had Scorpion Mezcal.  And yes, it has a scorpion in the bottle.  It also comes with a tiny sombrero.  Unfortunately it’s too tiny for a real cat.

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Last Night’s Dinner: Pasta with Shrimp, Scallops, Calamari, and Spring Vegetables

At first glance this might look suspiciously similar to the Spaghetti with Seafood and Pinot Grigio recipe that I just posted.  Yes, they both have pasta, white wine, shrimp, and spinach.  But there is one very big difference: this has butter.  And cream.  But not too much cream- we’re not talking Fettucine Alfredo decadence here.  Just enough to pull everything together.  And there are green things mixed in, so that negates the butter and cream, right?  This is a great meal to transition from winter to spring- the cream and pasta give enough richness to be satisfying on a chilly night, but the fresh veggies and seafood bring a lightness that foreshadows the sunny days and warm breezes to come.  It’s also super-quick and easy.

This is based on a Real Simple recipe for Shrimp, Leek, and Spinach Pasta.  The first time I made it, the only uncooked shrimp I could find at Trader Joe’s were in a “Seafood Medley” of shrimp, scallops, and calamari.  I liked the variety, so I’ve stuck with the blend since then, but you definitely would not go wrong with just using shrimp.  The slight sweetness from the little pink guys rounds out the rest of the flavors, and I think the forkfuls that included a bite of shrimp were my favorites.  Since scallops have a little sweetness, too, they would work on their own as well.  If you are looking for a recipe to use just calamari though, I wouldn’t recommend this- they work fine here, but it’s not greatest flavor palate to really showcase squid as the main ingredient.  Which reminds me that I should share my favorite calamari recipe with you soon….

What else is different between my version and Real Simple’s?  Well, my proportions of ingredients are a little different.  Originally, since I was just cooking this for Nick and myself, I planned to reduce the recipe by a third.  It’s supposed to be four servings which seemed like too much but I got nervous that if I cut it in half to two servings, Nick might not have enough to eat.  I still used a full pound of seafood though.  After emptying two-thirds of the shrimp, scallops, and calamari into the pan and contemplating wrapping up the rest and putting it back in the freezer, I just said, “F*** it,” and dumped it all in.   In the end, I think the portions I used would make four reasonable servings- we both went back for seconds after dinner and still had some left for Nick’s lunch the next day (minus the couple bites I sneaked in the morning while supervising the cats’ breakfast feeding).

Pasta with Shrimp, Scallops, Calamari, and Spring Vegetables (serves 3-4; adapted from Real Simple, April 2011)

8 ounces short pasta (I like strozzapreti if you can find it, but fusilli or gemilli works as well)

1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 large leek (white and light green parts only), cut into half-moons

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 pound of uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined; or 1 pound total of uncooked small shrimp, bay scallops, calamari rings

grated zest of 1 lemon, plus juice from 1 lemon

1 cup of broccolini, chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream

6 ounces baby spinach

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and return to pot.

In the meantime, heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the leeks, season with salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks have softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the white wine and cook until wine has almost evaporated.  Add seafood and lemon zest and cook, stirring frequently.  When seafood is about half-cooked (starting to get opaque), add the broccolini.  Cook a couple more minutes until seafood is cooked through and broccolini is bright green and slightly tender.

Add cream and a little salt to the large pot with pasta.  Over medium heat, stir until slightly thickened, 1-2 minutes.  Add in seafood mixture, spinach, and lemon juice, and stir until spinach is wilted.  Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

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Versatile Blogger Award, Third Round of Nominations (finally)

Remember back in January when I was excited to announce that I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award? And how I quickly posted the first ten nominations?  And then… things happened.  There was The Cleanse, and then school started, and finding the time to think about the last five blogs to nominate got a lot tougher.

But now I’m enjoying spring break, and finally had some time to think about this.  So, I am happy to share with you five more terrific blogs:

Sarah’s Place.  I’m always wary when I encounter other women named Sarah (although not as wary as when I encounter women named Sara).  I think I hold Sarahs up to higher standards than I have for most people, as I don’t like to share a name with people who don’t seem awesome.  So when I say that this Sarah is an awesome person with an awesome blog, you can be sure that I mean it.  To begin, she loves Bon Appetit magazine as much as I do.  And despite being a self-proclaimed “professional worrier,” she bravely tackles recipes that I find incredibly intimidating.  I mean, she made Raviolo Al’Uovo, which requires nestling uncooked eggs yolks into ravioli dough during assembly.  I was impressed.  This is not just a food blog- Sarah also covers her travels and creative pursuits outside the kitchen.  Her photos, and the blog layout itself, are beautiful, too.

Ordinary To Extraordinary.  The subtitle for this blog is “Live Inspired” and I can confirm that this will inspire you.  Micheline and Amy, whose families share a farm, pour so much enthusiasm into their posts about that it’s difficult for me not to feel completely energized after reading their blog.  Whether they are organizing spices or redecorating a chicken coop (because chickens enjoy some color just as much as the rest of us do), these ladies absolutely turn ordinary into extraordinary.  If you’ve ever wondered about repurposing a fruit bowl as a lighting fixture, or how to turn newspapers into a stunning dress, this is the blog for you.  And be sure to check out the Gallery with Micheline’s beautiful artwork.

Awesomely Awake.  I love reading parenting blogs.  While this might make Nick a little nervous, I can assure you that this is a completely (or almost completely) scholarly pursuit.  As someone who is studying child development, and particularly how parent-child interactions and play can promote development, it is so inspiring to read about real-life parents who encourage playful learning and meaningful exchanges with their children.  And what I like about Shawn, the writer behind Awesomely Awake, is that she does so in a way that seems doable for busy families (says the grad student with no kids), and that she comes across as a mindful, supportive, and fun parent.  But beyond my interest in this from a purely academic perspective, I think Shawn’s messages and ideas can be applied towards being more present in any type of relationship, or aspect of our lives.

Sydney’s Kitchen. Sydney is amazingly prolific.  It seems like she posts a new, delicious recipe every day.  There are lots of wonderful baked goods (my weakness), such as Mocha Eclairs and Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread.  But she balances it out with plenty of savory dishes, many of which are healthy, with clean, bright flavors, like Seared Scallops and Shrimp with Avocado Mousse and Jalapeno Sauce, which I cannot wait to try.  Plus, she has her own video demonstrations and a page full of bread trouble-shooting tips.  Whenever I finally find the courage and time to get into bread-making, I will definitely be relying on Sydney as a great resource!

Attempts in Domesticity.  I just discovered this blog, but it immediately became one of my favorites.  I was sucked in by the great titles- “Chicken for Procrastinators”, “Why I Think Farro is the Shit” but it didn’t take long for me to realize this is a blog I need to follow.  This writer and I clearly share some common ground in food interests, as she’s made the same kale and brussels sprouts salad that I made for Thanksgiving, and admits to being tempted to eat spoonfuls of pesto, which is a temptation I have definitely given into.  Did I mention that she has cats?  And threw a bee-themed “bee-day” party?  She just started writing in December, but already has a ton of great posts, and I can’t wait to see what she’s going to cook next!

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Spaghetti with Shellfish and Pinot Grigio

A few weeks ago I got the urge to visit the seafood market and find some fresh fish or shellfish for dinner.  As I drove home with a pound of shrimp and a four-pound bag of clams, I realized I might have a bit too much food for just Nick and me.  So, we called my parents and invited ourselves over for dinner- they’d provide the kitchen, we’d provide the food.  Seems like a reasonable exchange to me.

This is a wonderfully simple recipe from Giada De Laurentiis’ Everyday Pasta.  It’s pretty quick, too, although I did run into a little trouble with cooking the clams.  You are supposed to add the shrimp and clams at the same time, and simmer until the shrimp are pink and the clams have opened.  According to the book, this should take about 7 minutes.  Yes, the shrimp were done in 7 minutes.  But at 10 minutes, none of the clams had opened yet.  I started to panic, convinced that I had not stored the clams correctly and they were all ruined.  Fortunately, my parents and Nick are a little more patient than I am (at least when it comes to mollusks) and encouraged me to wait a few more minutes before I threw the clams in the trash.  I pulled the shrimp out of the pan so they wouldn’t overcook, and miraculously, at about 12 or 15 minutes, every single clam finally opened.  So… if you have hesitant clams like I did, don’t worry.  But once the majority of clams have opened, do be sure to discard any stubborn ones that remain closed.

Have lots of crusty bread on hand to soak up the wonderful broth.  The white wine adds depth to what is generally a light, but satisfying, dish.

Spaghetti with Pinot Grigio and Seafood (serves 4-6; from Everyday Pasta by Giada De Laurentiis)

1 pound spaghetti

1/4 cup olive oil

3 shallots, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

3/4 cup chopped, oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes

1 1/2 cups Pinot Grigio (or other dry white wine)

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 pounds littleneck clams, scrubbed (I used four pounds, because that’s how they were sold… no one complained)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 cups arugula (or baby spinach)

Cook spaghetti according to package instructions, and drain.

In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and garlic and cook for three minutes, until tender but not brown.  Add sun-dried tomatoes and cook for another minute.  Add wine, shrimp, and clams.  Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and cover.  Simmer until shrimp are pink and clams have opened.  (As I mentioned, if your clams are being stubborn, you can always remove the shrimp from the pan so they don’t overcook.)   Discard any clams that have not opened.

Add the spaghetti to the skillet (or if you don’t have enough room, return the spaghetti to the now-drained pot where you cooked the pasta and then add the seafood mixture in the pot).  Add salt and pepper, stir to combine, then fold in arugula (or spinach).  Serve immediately.

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Salad Seduction

Some people say they can tell when they’ve been overindulging because their body sends them messages.  Their skin breaks out, their pants don’t fit as well, they start dreaming about donuts….  I can tell when I’ve been overindulging (or at least not eating a well-balanced diet) by how quickly we run out of clean spoons.  When there is rice pudding in the fridge, or ice cream in the freezer, we go through about five times as many spoons as we normally would in a day.  Is this a real statistic?  No.  But opening the utensil drawer and finding the spoons all gone does seem to coincide with the presence of ice cream quite often.  When we run out of spoons and ice cream is not to blame, it’s probably because I haven’t gone grocery shopping and I’ve been relying on bowls of cereal for at least two of my three meals a day.  While that might be less unhealthy than going through a container of ice cream in a couple days, one spoonful at a time, it’s still not very balanced.

Anyway, we experienced a spoon shortage a couple weeks ago, and since then I’ve been trying to bulk up our supply of fruits and veggies, but I’ve been in a bit of a rut.  As much as I love winter vegetables, I need a break.  For weeks I have been fantasizing about asparagus and tomatoes.  While I might have to wait a bit longer for those, when I was at the grocery store last weekend I got inspired to stock up on some salad ingredients.  I have to admit this resulted in buying some veggies that aren’t really in season around here at the moment, which I generally try not to do.  But I figure keeping the amount of produce I buy from faraway lands to a minimum is still better than not limiting it at all.  (Please don’t come after me, hardcore locavores…)

I don’t think it’s a secret that I love lime and cilantro.  When avocado and jalapeno are added in, even better.  It’s not everyday that you get excited about a salad, especially one you prepared yourself.  But as I was assembling the salad, the colors and smells of all the ingredients started to play together and, I swear, the salad started to seduce me.  Can a salad be seductive?  Apparently it can, at least for me.  After months of kale, chard, and Brussels sprouts, complimented by the rich, almost bacon-y, flavors of shallots, this salad was a welcome change.  The spring greens of jalapeno peppers and avocado, the aromas of cilantro and lime, and the pops of colors from cherry tomatoes and red onion felt so bright and perfect to accompany the unseasonably warm, sunny day.


So, what exactly went into the salad?

  • Couple handfuls of baby romaine lettuce
  • One slice of red onion
  • 1/4 large cucumber, cut into long narrow strips
  • Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Half of a jalapeno pepper, sliced thinly
  • Couple tablespoons of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • Half of an avocado, cubed
  • Some pea shoots (probably about a 1/4 cup, if you really want to know)
  • Raw pumpkin seeds (because a little iron never hurts)
  • Dressing made of olive oil and one lime’s worth of juice*, seasoned with salt and pepper

*Technically, it was one lime minus one wedge that was sliced off for presentation purposes.

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I Am Still Alive but I Cannot Say the Same for the February Exercise Challenge

Oh my.  It’s March already?  How did that happen?  Where have I been?

I guess things have been a bit busier than I anticipated.  I just logged on and discovered that I have an incomplete draft that I started writing on February 20 and have not touched since then.  And I honestly don’t think I’ve actually logged on to WordPress since then.

Needless to say, the February exercise challenge kinda fell apart.  Am I disappointed?  Yes.  After my success with the food cleanse in January, I really was optimistic about my self-imposed daily exercise goal.  Am I embarrassed?  Yes.  Failure in itself doesn’t bother me too much, but I’m not crazy about other people knowing when I mess up.  Am I upset, though?  Not really.  First of all, I think it’s a healthy experience to openly fail at something and not be horribly traumatized it.  Sure, it makes me cringe a little bit to admit that I am not awesome everything I attempt, but I trust that none of my dear readers are going to leave comments that kick me while I’m down.   The same way that phobias can be extinguished by having positive experiences with a stimulus (or the thing someone is afraid of, for you non-psychology majors), failing in front of others with no terrible consequences will help encourage me to continue to take risks in the future.

There is a second reason why I am not completely torn up about this. I don’t exactly see it as failure.

One of my biggest challenges is doing enough that I feel productive at the end of the day and historically there have been a lot of times when this doesn’t happen.  I will waste a day and not do anything I wanted or needed to do, and then feel frustrated and disappointed with myself.   For the most part, however, the last few weeks have been busy enough that I haven’t had many opportunities to waste a day, even if I wanted to do so!  That does not mean that finding the time to exercise has been completely out of my control though.  In addition to the externally-regulated time commitments that I don’t have much control over, there have also been times when I have made deliberate choices to devote my time and energy to something other than exercise, like spending time with friends, family, and my husband.  The thing I feel good about is that I’m swapping out one important thing for another, rather than trading something I need for what I think of as “empty calorie” activities… the things that suck up my time, but don’t really do anything for me and I typically regret later on (like spending a full hour on Facebook).  Yeah, there have been some moments like that, but definitely not as much as there have been in the past. In general, I have felt good about the decisions I’ve been making about how to spend my time.

So perhaps there is a difference between failing and not succeeding.  You can put in a lot of effort and still not succeed because there are obstacles beyond your control, or perhaps because the goal you set was too high.  You can also not succeed because you decided to focus your effort into a different goal, at least temporarily.  In either case, at least you are moving forward and doing something.  I think the only true case of failure is when you are doing absolutely nothing.

Don’t think this means that I am letting myself off the hook.  I still really want to find some sort of exercise routine that works for me, and I still like the idea of using my blog as a vehicle for following through on the goals I set.  It just seems like it might require some more exploration and reflection (or pilot testing, if you will) before I try this again.  So at this point, I’m easing up on myself a bit and reevaluating what might work better.  And with spring break coming up soon, I will have a nice long week to reset and maybe try to get back on track.

Also, I want to mention that as I’ve been working on this, I realized that I’ve really missed writing!  (Similar to how I feel when I exercise after taking some time off, actually.)  So, I’ll try to check in a little more frequently and at least share some recipes with you, because no matter how busy things get, I still seem to find time to cook.*

*That is not entirely true.  But there have certainly been times in the last couple weeks when I cooked something and wished I had taken photos and/or had the time to write about it!

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