Saturday, March 31, 2012

Happy Bloggerversary to Me!

A little while ago, Ben surprised me with a card.  He knows that I get all happy and giggly when I get a card, most especially when it's a surprise in the middle of the week in March, when there are no noticeable reasons to give me a card.  Except, of course, for my bloggerversary.  Now, Hallmark is a little behind the times and has yet to make a "You made it a year!  Your blog is so dear!  Your stories cute and your pictures mostly clear!" bloggerversary card (I don't think Hallmark will be head-hunting me anytime soon... go thing I've kept my day job), so he had to make some last minute edits.

Then, to be even more awesome, the surprise didn't stop with a card.  Tucked inside and cut out of an old manila envelope, were two tickets to a meal of "annual significance" complete with a dessert that Ben promised to make using a recipe from my blog.  I wouldn't even bother trying to top that.  Because you can't.  It was sweet and adorable and I promise that gagging section of this blog is now over.

I don't know if this is couth or not, but I'm not sure I care.  I'm just going to come right out and say that I'm proud of myself for this.  Not only for actually doing this for a whole year, but most especially for not once (not once!) breaking my promise of at least one post a week.  Cause that was tough and sometimes I hated it, but I did it.  For a year, a whole year.  90 posts in a year.  (Which means, exciting, we have another big milestone in our near future!  100 hundred posts... can you feel it?)  And so, we celebrated.  I cooked, we ate and it was delicious.

Oh... and I also bought myself this.  A 1 year bloggerversary present to myself, the blogger.  Now, I love my Sony Cybershot point and shoot, because him and I?  We've have been through a lot together.  But after countless trips, a few over seas, four years of college and now a full year in the kitchen, I think he's ready, neigh happy, to settle down into retirement.  Which is good, because I can't stop playing with his replacement.  Does this mean pictures are going to instantly become better?  I'm guessing not.  Does it mean the number of gorgeous but still lucky shoots increase?  I hope so.  Does it mean I'm so looking forward to a whole new year?  Oh yes...

So, Happy Bloggerversary to Me!  I'll share my meal of annual significance very soon, but as for right now I'm going to sing myself a verse of Happy Bloggerversary...

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sausage & Spinach Rice Bowl

Recently, I came across the apparently infamous single lady pancake.  And let me start off by saying that I feel a little cheated that I am just finding out about this now.  That means for a good year and a half, when I have spent the majority of Saturdays and Sunday alone, I could have been eating this.  Because, really, on a weekend morning, what is more fabulous, more wonderful than a pancake?  Nothing.  I'll repeat that for you.  Nothing.  Hmphh... now I want a pancake.

Anyways, back to the point of this post, sometimes those of us who live in apartments with no roommates in strange new cities and towns, sometimes we are alone.  Which means that sometimes we sleep with the closet light on because we scare ourselves by identifying strange noises right before climbing in bed.  And that sometimes we don't put real people clothes on the entire day long.  And that we don't always have to immediately clean the hair out of the bottom of the shower, because it's just ours and there's no one else to get grossed out by it.  Sometimes it means we have to man up and kill the damn bug because there is no one to call for help.  And it also means that, more often than not, we are in our small apartment kitchens cooking for one.  Well, at least on those night's when we, the roommate-less, choose to eat a dinner that is more than a spoon, a jar of peanut butter and assorted things to slather peanut butter on.  What I'm saying here is that sometimes, we need things like single lady pancake recipes.

I kind of considered this a single lady kind of recipe.  First and foremost, it comes together in roughly 10 minutes and it is yummy.  On top of that, tt's very scale-able, you could make it for four or for one.  It uses leftovers, which is awesome.  And, finally, like most things that contain twice-cooked rice, it's incredibly comforting.  A warm bowl of this, a bottle of hard apple cider and reruns of Sex and the City?  That's one heck of a single lady night in.

Sausage and Spinach Rice Bowl
Adapted from the April 2012 Cooking Light 

CL suggests pairing this with some sort of side, sauteed mushrooms or the like.  Personally, you got your vegetable, protein and grain in here, so I say you're good to go.  One bowl of this, a (maybe smaller, but since you're alone, who's to know?) bowl of ice cream, a good drink and it's all you need for a good single night in.  The proportions below will give you a skillet full which is two very solid servings (I like leftovers...).  Divide or multiply as needed!

I also used leftover brown rice that I have frozen from a previous brown rice making shindig.  It worked great.  I thawed in the fridge overnight and then microwaved to warm, fluffing with a fork every 45 seconds or so.

1 1/2 c. brown rice
1 Tbsp. Grapeseed Oil (or Olive.  I wanted to use Grapeseed.  So I did)
6 oz. hot Italian Sausage
1/8 - 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
6 oz (basically 1 package) baby spinach
Parmesan cheese to top

Warm rice.  In large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add sausage (casings removed if using links) and red pepper.  Brown sausage, breaking up with spoon, 5 minutes or until brown and cooked through.  Add garlic, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add spinach and cooked until it has wilted down, about another minute more.  Add rice and stir to distribute all ingredients evenly.  Let cook for a minute undisturbed before "flipping over".  Let other side cook for another minute undisturbed, until everything is warmed through.  Move to bowl, top with cheese, eat while sitting on couch enjoying TV that you only watch when you're home alone.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Roasted Chickpeas

 It's been quite the fast-paced, exciting week.  First off, spring has managed to keep up the good fight and has refused to let winter return.  And seeing as tomorrow is the official start of spring, that means that we're done with snow for the year, right?  Don't answer that, I'm ok living in my ignorance.

Secondly, I've become an aunt!  And I couldn't be more excited.  My nephew was born on the ides of March, is a beautiful baby of 7 lbs 1 oz and officially, legally has the middle name "Danger".  I cannot wait to see who this kid turns out to be 7 years from now... I imagine many bruises and a few broken bones.

Lastly, on this brilliantly sunny and warm Sunday, I started an herb garden!  In the spirit of full disclosure,as of right now my herb garden consists of 3 pots of leafy green things that I luckily have not managed to kill yet.  But still, I'm excited.  I checked this morning and my cilantro, chives and mint are all still alive.  So far, so good.  I've always wanted a vast array of pots full of herbs, so this is especially exciting for me.  And as soon as I get more pots, I plan on expanding.  I'm thinking basil.  Thyme. Tarragon.

So, how does this all tie into roasted chickpeas?  Well, one, even though they are roasted, your oven is only on 20 or so minutes, so you're not heating up the entire apartment, which is great for 75 and sunny.  Two, maybe this is a good just-became-a-mommy snack, full of protein and easy to make.  Scratch the maybe, yes, and Katy, if you want some I will bring a jarful when I come to visit.  And finally, well, I'm just excited about my herbs in general.  Maybe the second round will have some fresh chives, or thyme.  I have to buy and plant thyme first though.  Baby steps with the herb garden.

 So, with all the stretching to make roasted chickpeas applicable in this rambling post, the truth is I've been seeing them on pinterest and tastespotting and I wanted to try them.  I was told they would taste like popcorn.  A myth that I am choosing to dispel right away.  These do not taste like popcorn.  The closet thing that resemble are Corn Nuts, although I won't be putting them on any Kwanzaa cakes anytime soon.  Ben wrote these off immediately.  I chomped a few, ate some sorbet, grabbed a few more.  I continued to reach for them sporadically throughout the weekend and just finished up the batch this morning.  It took me four days to form an opinion, but I would say I like them.  Especially when you intersperse the handfuls with a few dark chocolate M&M's, a combination I happily munched on all morning at work.  They're different and as long as you're not expecting them to taste like popcorn (see above), you just may enjoy them too, although it might take you 4 days to realize it.

Roasted Chickpeas
From Running to the Kitchen

As with roasted nuts, I would imagine these are infinitely adaptable to whatever spice combination tickles your fancy the most.  Try this.  Or try the recipe as is below, because they did smell absolutely WONDERFUL roasting up in the oven.  Like spicy apple pie.  Ok, maybe that doesn't sound good, but it sure smelled delicious.

1 can (15 oz) chickpeas
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. (heaping) paprika
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. kosher slat
1/8 tsp. (heaping) cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or silicone baking mat.  If using foil, spray lightly with cooking spray.

Rinse chickpeas thoroughly and drain.  Turn into shallow dish and drizzle with olive oil.  Combine all spices and sprinkle over chickpeas.  Toss everything until coated evenly.  Transfer to prepared tray and spread out evenly.

Roast chickpeas in 400 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, tossing every 8-12 minutes, so chickpeas roast evenly.  Let cool on pan and serve!  For any remaining chickpeas, keep in airtight container for 3-4 days (that's as long as mine lasted!)

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Apple Cider Pulled Pork

In the most uncharacteristically Northern Illinois way, it has been warm here the last few days.  My heart wants so badly to believe that the warmth is here to stay, but unfortunately my brain knows better.  My brain knows that it is only a matter of time before Mother Nature plays what must be known as the cruelest April Fools' Day joke there is... Spring is coming!  Go for long walks, sit in the sun!  What, 2 feet of snow?  Gotcha!  April Fools!

I promise, living in the Midwest has only made me a little bit bitter.  And even if I do know better, I can't help but daydream on this beautiful 70 degree day of the better things to come: spring, warmth, sunlight past 6 pm in the evening, fresh corn and tomatoes, cooking in a tank top and trying your best to minimize the amount of time your oven spends heating up your apartment just so your AC can cool it right down again, and lots, lots and lots, of pulled pork sandwiches.

Ben and I are both big fans of the pulled pork.  We were spoiled quite a bit with me living in South Carolina for awhile and any trip to the south isn't quite complete until we've had a BBQ pulled pork sandwich.  So when I told Ben all week long that I was making pulled pork for our Wednesday dinner together, his mind saw shredded pork smothered in some sort of BBQ.  And even though I gave him this instead, he was still quite happy.

Ben thought immediately that it was BGCB material, however I have my suspicions he's just trying to fill the thing out.  I think it has potential.  It's different and good, but the tang I was expecting from the apple cider wasn't there as much as I had hoped.  I used Simply Apple and Hornsby's Hard Cider, so I might play around with my ciders.  There was also A LOT of onions.  The initial recipe called for 4.  Being the kind, considerate girlfriend that I am, I cut it down to 3 (Ben is still convinced he doesn't like onions but only when he can see them...) and sliced them up the night before.  When I was assembling the next morning (did I mention this was a slow cooker meal!?  Perfect for those warm days...), it just looked like way too much.  I used a little more than half the onions I sliced up the night before.  And there was still a lot of onion.  The taste doesn't over power or anything, there was just onion every where you looked.  In the end the verdict was quite good:  I had a happy boyfriend and a full stomach myself.  I just need to tinker a bit more...

Bloggerversary....  Hey!  In case you didn't notice, someone's bloggerversary is coming up... (I've been debating about celebrating it the way I do my birthday... all week long!)  I've ordered myself a nice little bloggerversary gift just for the occasion.  Excited?  Me too.  I'll break it out on the big day!! (March 31st, just in case you were planning on sending gifts...)

Apple Cider Pulled Pork
adapted from Food 52

1 bottle hard apple cider
1-2 c. 100% apple cider
1 c. ketchup
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp. paprika
1 Tbsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
2 Tbsp. siracha
2 onions, thinly sliced
4 lbs. pork shoulder

To make sauce, measure out hard cider and add enough apple cider to measure 3 cups of liquid.  Whisk in ketchup, brown sugar, paprika, cumin, garlic powder and siracha.

Place half of the onions in 4.5 qt or larger crock pot.  Place pork shoulder on top (if you have time, brown pork shoulder on stove top first).  Pour sauce over top and cover with remaining sliced onions.  cover slow cooker and cook on low for 8-10 hours, until pork is fall apart with forks tender.

Remove pork from crock pot and set aside.  Turn crock pot to high heat and let sauce boil, reduce and thicken, skimming any fat from surface that shows up.  Using hands or forks or both, shred pork.  I kept mine separate (to help Ben with his onion fear), but you could also mix the pork back in the sauce and onion mixture.  Scoop pork and onions onto buns and make sure to top with sauce.  Enjoy!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Black Sesame Pear Cake

Maybe you are looking at that there picture above and thinking "well, Liz, today are you going to show us how to make cement?", you know, all snarky like. Normally, my answer would be something along the lines of "No, silly! Because cement, you see, does not taste good". However, much to little ole' frowny face me, this cake did not taste good. Really, the only thing that distinguished this loaf cake from a brick sized chunk of cement was the fact that it was not hard, but actually quite moist. So maybe it's more like wet cement.

Ok, I agree, that was a truly terrible analogy. It's just that this little loaf cake here, it really disappointed me. I haven't even had time to read through the entirety of my March Bon Appetit (ok, ok, maybe it's because I can't put this book down. What? Sometimes I am a lemming. And it's good, I will so admit it, it's good).  But even so with the lack of time or whatever you want to call it, I decided this recipe was going to happen.  Which meant trips to 2 different grocery stores looking for black sesame seeds, a few minutes where I almost bought toasted white sesame seeds instead (in my defense, they were black) and an $8 dollar bag of almond meal.  So, it had to be good, right?

And then it wasn't.  It was woodsy.  With basically zero sweetness.  The almond meal, well, I lost it.  And all the pears sank to the bottom, all sad-like.  I almost felt bad that that was how they had to meet their fate.  It was the black sesame seed show all the way.  The cake was as deep brown as a rich chocolate cake.  Had you not known, it would have looked like a delicious chocolate cake.  I was going to bring in leftovers to work, but didn't want to be the person who inflicted non-chocolate things on people expecting a big mouthful of chocolate cake loveliness.  So I didn't.  Because that's just mean.  Instead, the majority of this cake ended up in the trash.  And that makes me sad.

I did learn a few things.  Black sesame seeds should be used sparingly.  Which also means that grinding up half a cup of them and mixing them into a cake is not a good idea.  And I learned... hmm, would you look at that.  Maybe that was the only lesson that I learned here.  But it's still a good one, right?

In defense of BA, this recipe and black sesame seeds everywhere, this recipe got good reviews, by food editors and other random internet personalities alike.  It just didn't by me.  So venture on below, but only at your own risk.  Me?  I'm going back to an oldy, but a goody...

Black Sesame Pear Cake
From March 2012's Bon Appetit

The magazine calls for 1/2 cup of black sesame seeds.  Really for me, it would have to be cut back to at most 1/4 cup.  But at the same time, I don't really see me making it again... so do what you feel.  And let me know your thoughts!  Maybe I'm awfully wrong here (it happens, just not often!)

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 c. almond meal/flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. + 1/4 c. black sesame seeds
1 1/3 c. + 2 Tbsp. sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
3/4 c. buttermilk
2 medium "firm but ripe" Bosc pears

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a metal loaf pan with two criss-crossing strips of parchment paper.  Peel, core and dice pears into 1/4 inch pieces, toss with 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

In large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and soda, salt and 2 tablespoons black sesame seeds.

In spice grinder (or coffee grinder), grind remaining 1/4 cup of sesame seeds into a thick paste.

In large bowl of electric mixture, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Add sesame seed paste and continue to beat.  Add egg and egg yolk, beat until well combined and batter is pale and fluffy.  With mixer on low speed, mix in 1/3 of flour mixture.  Before it has all beat in, mix in 1/2 of buttermilk.  Repeat with 1/3 of flour mixture, then remaining buttermilk.  Ending with dry ingredients, mix until just combined.  Fold in pears coated with flour.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.  Sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Bake in 325 degree oven for 1 hour - 1 hour 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cool in pan on wire rack.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Parmesan Chicken with Roasted Romaine Hearts

I never once had a doubt about this chicken.  What was there to worry about?  Chicken baked with a Parmesan Panko crust?  Yes please.  And so what if it called for fresh parsley?  What else do I have a spice cabinet full of bottles for if not to avoid having to use not so yummy stuff like parsley?  This chicken, as far as I was concerned was going to be good - easy, peasy, lemon squeezey.  (What a truly horrible phrase...)

As not to be too much of a tease, I will start right off by saying, I was right.  It was terribly delicious.  A simple sub-in of 1 tablespoon herbs de Provence and bam.  Exactly what I expected.  What I did not expect was to be so utterly enthralled by the player occupying the other half of my cookie sheet.

 I was very close to not even bothering with the roasted romaine.  I was pretty sure it would be strange and weird and something I would end up eating simply to not waste food.  But then I remembered the whole "try new things!  blog!"  thing I've been trying to pull off for almost a year now, and decided to go for it.  (I did chicken out on the chopped anchovy toppings.  One hurdle at a time...)

And it was good.  Crunchy, flavorful, so simple to make.  Even after heating up my leftovers the next day for lunch, a task I was sure would yield soggy lettuce leaves amidst my chicken and potatoes, I remained pleasantly surprised.  It still had some crisp, some crunch to it.  It was shockingly exciting.  I never would have guessed that throwing romaine hearts in the oven would get me so excited, so pumped, but here we are.  I have gone and spent the majority of this post raving about lettuce.  Who would have known?

 The star of this dish is really the Parmesan chicken, but there was never really any doubt about that.  And even if it's not brimming with originality, it is still very good.  Which might just make it the perfect partner for an exciting new discovery like roasted romaine....

Parmesan Chicken with Roasted Romaine Hearts
Adapted from Bon Appetit March 2012

My grocery store had skinless chicken breasts on sale cheap, but they were not boneless.  A fact I did not discover until I was home and about ready to pat some topping on them.  They worked, but required additional cooking time.  Boneless would work much better and would probably let you eat leftovers at work a bit more civilized.  I listed BA's cooking time, because mine was thrown off by the bone-in breasts.  If you don't have herbs de Provence, any dried spice would do nicely... rosemary, oregano, whatever you got hanging out in your spice cabinet.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
salt and pepper to season
1 1/2 oz (~1/2 c.) grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. panko breadcrumbs
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 Tbsp. herbs de Provence
2 garlic cloves, minced, divided
2 large romaine hearts

Preheat oven to 450.  Line large rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Season chicken breasts thoroughly on both sides with salt and pepper.  Place on baking sheet.

In small bowl, combine Parmesan cheese, panko, 2 tablespoons olive oil, herbs and 1 garlic cloves.  Mix to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.  Pat mixture onto top side of chicken breasts.  Put chicken in oven and bake until topping begins to turn golden, about 10 minutes.

Halve romaine hearts length wise.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle evenly with remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle with remaining clove of minced garlic.  Remove chicken from oven (once breadcrumb mixture has turned golden).  Add romaine halves to sheet and return to oven.  Continue to roast until chicken is thoroughly cooked and romaine had browned around the edges, about 5 minutes more.  Enjoy!