Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers

So I smashed my finger in a car door yesterday. Not intentionally of course and I'm still not really sure how I managed to pull off the angle required to get the last knuckle of my right pointer finger wedged between the frame and the door. All I know is my finger is very swollen and bruised. And I do not have small hands to begin with, so glamorous is not exactly my middle name. I will not be booking any modeling gigs any time soon. Although lets be honest, my hands were never going to be models for anything- except maybe for hobbits. Luckily I'm left-handed so I can write, but typing is a two-handed task my friends. So this post is going to be super short and sweet. Because I challenge you to type with nine fingers and not get crazy frustrated. Hopefully tomorrow I can put pressure on that particular digit and get on with my writing! And note to future self: hands and doors do not mix well.

I found this meal on pinterest and it was a fantastic find. It doesn't taste as much like as burger as a really awesome sandwich. I had whole wheat Italian rolls, so I decided to make my patties in the shape of thick sausages. It actually worked really great and they were so easy to eat I'll probably stick with the method.

Spinach Feta Turkey Burgers
recipe from here
1 lb ground turkey
1 egg, slightly beaten
5 oz frozen spinach (I used closer to 8 ounces) defrosted
3/4 cup feta cheese (I used about a cup)
1 tsp salt + pinch of pepper

You can tell from the ingredients above, I took this recipe very seriously. Basically, I dumped the container of turkey into a bowl, most of the feta cheese container, and most of the spinach box. Then I sprinkled salt and pepper and added the egg and mixed it all together with a fork.
I sprayed the bottom of the pan with non-stick spray and turned on the heat to medium. I formed three large patties (the recipe technically is better suited to four, but I only had three buns and didn't want to get more). Place in the hot pan and let each side cook for about 6 minutes.
This was side one after flipping. Because my patties were large, I cooked each side for a few minutes, flipped, cooked and flipped again to get an even cook through.
Top with onions, tomatoes and lettuce (if you are good and have all of those things in the fridge) and whatever condiments you like. I loved mustard, fiance used mustard and ketchup.
Serve with your veggie side of choice, or whatever is leftover in the fridge. Clearly I put tons of effort into this meal.
Thankfully it tasted amazing and no one was any wiser about my lack of preparation and attention....until now. Either way, definitely give this dinner a try. If I can make the meal on a night when I was less than focused and it turned out so great, so can you!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Channa Masala

I was going to wait and post this recipe next week, but last night my little sister (who just turned 22!) requested the recipe ASAP. Since yesterday was her birthday, I couldn't exactly refuse the request. My other recipe will have to wait until next week, but I really didn't mind because this one is too good not to share! I find Indian food to be really intimidating, but this recipe was really easy and surprisingly fast. I did cut a few corners (such as picking up naan from a real Indian restaurant. There is a little shop just down the street and fiance walked in and picked up naan in two seconds. Way easier than me trying to cook it). I also adjusted a few ingredients to make sure the recipe was friendly to my non-spicy palette. Of course, fiance dumped cayenne all of over the top, so it really works either way. We both really enjoyed the dinner and it was nice to do something a little out of the ordinary. I should also mention this meal is vegetarian friendly (and vegan except for the butter in the beginning).

Channa Masala
recipe adapted from here

2 15 ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (or if you are me, 1/2 of a green bell pepper)
1 inch knob ginger, peeled and chopped
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 lemon
1 tbsp coriander
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp garam masala
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, or can add at end)
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp butter

Start by melting the butter over medium in a large skillet. Cook until caramelized (about 15 minutes. The onions will start to smell sweet). The original recipe used a cast iron skillet, so I think my temperatures were a bit high. For those using a non-stick, I'd recommend medium to medium-low heat.
While the onions are cooking, chop the ginger, garlic and bell pepper. When the onions are done, add the chopped ingredients and three tablespoons tomato paste. Flatten as best you can (try using a plastic spatula, the wooden spoon is sticky) and let sit for a few minutes of medium-low to low heat until the tomato paste begins to crust. It's not burning, just thickening and the flavor is getting intense.
After the paste reduces, add the turmeric, coriander and cumin. Stir, stir, stir. The mix will be dry and thick. Add the rinsed chick peas and tomatoes (with sauce!) and stick some more.
Add the garam masala and salt and stir until nicely mixed. I ended up adding a little bit of water to loosen the sauce. I think my pan was too hot when I added the tomatoes and a lot of the juice immediately burned off. Just eyeball how thick you want your mix to be.
Serve with naan....
And your veggie of choice! We ate ours with a fork and knife because it was messy, but feel free to use your hands! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blueberry Cream Pie

I found this recipe on one of my favorite blogs a while back and decided it would be perfect for a hot summer's night. I've been trying to keep the baking at a minimum this summer unless I have a good excuse. A full pie for two people really isn't necessary right now. But, having some overnight guests provided just the opportunity to try this recipe and end up with less leftovers. I thought it was delicious! A great alternative to regular pie, and very easy. I used store bought dough because I don't have a large quisinart here and it worked fine. Although I will say that I think I overcooked my pie a bit. Don't get me wrong, it tasted great, but the blueberries started to explode inside, so inside of nice creamy white insides with pops of blueberry, it was all purple and the crust was a bit...crunchy. Notes to self for next time! Also, I loved it cold because it really brought out the cream flavor, but fiance insists hot would be better. I think it would be too runny. But it's up to you.

Blueberry Cream Pie
recipe from here

for the crust:
1 stick of cold, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 cup ice water plus more if needed

for the filling:
3 cups of fresh blueberries.
1 cup of heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1/4 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon

Keep in mind I made this pie during that period when I had no light. So pictures are a bit wonky. First, I placed the pie in pan and creased the edges using my fingers.
After poking the sides and bottom with a fork, I added the blueberries. Washed and patted dry of course.
I mixed the filling ingredients in a small bowl and poured over the top. I think next time, I'd be very strict about 3 cups blueberries, I might have used too many. I'd also whisk the mix a bit better so it stays on top.
I baked the pie for about 45 minutes at 400. I think 35 would be better. Let the pie cool completely then put in the fridge overnight. Or, you can freeze it for two hours, fridge it for one and enjoy!
When you take the pie out of the oven the center will be very jiggly. That's ok, it firms up nicely in the center after being in the fridge. We had ours with some whipped cream and it was delicious!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Broccoli-Quinoa Casserole

I keep going back and forth in my mind about whether this dish qualifies for this dinner series. It was crazy easy and very cheap, but it did require some baking time, so the "fast" criteria I usually demand didn't really fit. Ultimately the amazing taste and kid-friendly nature of this meal (not to mention vegetarian) won me over because I think so many people would enjoy it. Oddly enough, it tastes very similar to Chicken Divan (a dish I make often, but some how isn't on my blog. I'll have to remedy that). It does have many of the same ingredients, but no curry and no chicken and it is healthier. Even with the bake time, this dinner was such a great meal. Both fiance and I loved it and I will be making this dinner again. I really encourage you all to try this dinner, you won't be disappointed.

Broccoli-Quinoa Casserole
recipe from here

One 10 oz can condensed Cream of Broccoli soup, reduced sodium if available
1/3 cup reduced fat mayonnaise
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/4 cups reduced fat shredded cheese
1/2 teaspoon Splenda/sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Dash freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups cooked broccoli
1 1/2 cups  COOKED quinoa
Feshly grated Parmesan cheese

To cook quinoa:
3/4 cup quinoa
1 1/2 cups water
1/4 teaspoon salt

First, I cooked the quinoa. If you are a long-time reader of the blog, by now you know how to do this step. But if not, put the quinoa, water and salt in a small pot. Bring the water to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and simmer for about 20 minutes. Usually, I set the timer for 15 minutes, stir at about 10, then add a few more minutes to the timer once the buzzer went off. You just want the water to be absorbed.

Meanwhile, steam the broccoli for a few minutes. It won't take more than 4 or 5 minutes at most. You don't want to overcook the broccoli because it will bake as well.
While both of those ingredients are cooking, mix together the mayo, soup, cheddar cheese, splenda, pepper, nutmeg, and milk.
Add the broccoli and quinoa to the sauce and stir. It's ok if both the broccoli and quinoa are hot, because they are going to go right back in the oven.
Spray a baking dish with cooking spray, then pour the mix into the dish.
Cover with some Parmesan cheese.
Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges and on the cheese.
Serve up a large piece with your protein or side of choice. Fiance and I have been trying to do at least one vegetarian meal a week, so we had ours with Cuban Black Beans and it was delicious!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Restaurant Review: Landini Brothers

On Wednesday, I mentioned that fiance and I faced some hurdles when we tried to eat dinner on Saturday night. Initially we sat down at Columbia Firehouse. We were really excited because this restaurant had been on our list forever. But the dinner really didn't feel right. The hostess was downright cold. Chilly doesn't even begin to describe the arctic conditions when we came in the front door. Now I'm not expecting a whole lot, but a simple hello and a forced smile will suffice. She didn't even look up from the computer. And this restaurant is not a McDonald's. It's not crazy expensive, but nor is it cheap. So a little friendliness is to be expected. Then we sat down at this table under the stairs. Totally Harry Potter style. I'm willing to go with the cozy atmosphere and I enjoyed the table, but the lighting was very industrial and it was as if we had a spotlight on our tiny little corner. Not super comfortable. All of this stuff would have been fine had it not been for the people sitting next to us. We were at a two person table and so were they and the tables were close. Again, understandable. It's a popular restaurant. Unfortunately, these people were THE MOST ANNOYING PEOPLE IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD. I can't even begin to describe the waste of breathe that was their conversation. And the volume. So incredibly inappropriate for a restaurant, let alone a nice one with people very close to you. We couldn't even hear ourselves think. Had the restaurant conditions aside from Mr. and Mrs. Horrible been perfect, we would have asked to be re-seated. But neither of us really felt like staying. So before we could order drinks, we got up and left. Keep in mind I'm usually the person who is afraid to say my dish is cold. I hate being rude and I think Saturday was only the second time I've ever left a restaurant. HATE IT. But we really felt it was necessary. We want to go back and give it another shot because it's such a historic place, so we are thinking brunch might be the way to go.

Then we went to try Jackson 20. Fiance had been and loved it and wanted to take me. But they were only serving their bar menu. Not such a bad thing but fiance really wanted me to try their food and by this point we were starving. Thwarted again. Because it was hovering around 100 degrees, we went back to the car to consult our restaurant list in the comfort of the air conditioning. All of a sudden I remembered that I loved Landini Brothers when I went for lunch and had been wanting to take fiance. Especially since I had been thinking it would be a fun place for a rehearsal dinner. Luckily fiance was in the mood for Italian (I, however, could eat pasta and pizza nightly). We went and it was perfect. The ambiance was amazing, the service was attentive but not pushy, the other patrons were a normal dinner noise and the food was amazing.

After scarfing down a few pieces of bread (starving I tell you- although to be honest I scarf bread no matter what the hour), we shared a Caprese salad. I ordered Penne alla Romana- penne with Italian sausage and tomato and cream sauce. Fiance ordered Tortellini stuffed with veal in a cream sauce. The menu said my sausage was sweet but turns out it was pretty darn spicy. Luckily fiance liked my meal better and I loved his, so we gleefully traded. A wonderful cappucino for fiance and tea for me rounded out a perfect meal.

Landini Brothers is perfect for a nice, romantic Italian meal. It's towards the fancier and pricier side for Italian food, but way better than its neighbor Il Porto Restaurant. After dinner we walked down the block and got some great salt-water taffy. It ended up being a wonderful night and I'm more convinced than ever that things happen for a reason.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Weekend Adventuring and a New Favorite Store

On Saturday fiance and I did a whole lot of adventuring. We checked out a few possible wedding locations and quickly nixed three off the list and added one that we loved. It will be a tough candidate to beat. More on that later. We also found an awesome candy story (complete with over 60 flavors of salt-water taffy) and a great tobacco store. Apparently it had lots of options and great prices. I know nothing about tobacco products of any kind, but I'll take fiance's word. We attempted to try out the Columbia Firehouse which had been on our restaurant list forever, but it didn't go very well. I'll talk about that more later when I talk about Landini Brothers, which ended up being a very successful meal. But, the moral of this story is all about my new favorite shop. The Spice and Tea Exchange of Old Town Alexandria. If I'm being totally honest, I must confess that part of the reason I love it so much is because it's called the exchange. That's very historically accurate and you know me, I'm a sucker for all things old. I would still adore the place even if it had a different name, but it's a really nice detail if you ask me.

Here is the bag in which we brought home our finds. So cute and old-looking. The store is also amazing even if you don't plan on making any purchases. You can smell whatever you want, just be careful not to get too close to the pepper containers. Fiance was sneezing for quite some time after taking a too-strong whiff of the peppers. The music was great and the ladies that worked there were super friendly.
Let's start out with my tea infuser. I have good news and bad news. Let's go bad news first. Bf Fiance and I have been looking for a good tea infuser for years. Literally years. The problem is either the holes are too big or the clasp is too lose and the leaves come out all over the place. We've been looking because I am a tea-only drinker. No coffee for me. So I'd love to be able to use high-quality loose leaf tea. Bad news: this infuser didn't work at all. The leaf-bits came out through those tiny holes. You wouldn't think they could wiggle out, but wiggle they did. Good news: we tried using an old built-in coffee filter from an old machine (those mesh looking ones?) and it worked brilliantly! Which is excellent considering the purchase you will see below.
We tried this cocoa mix. Fiance loved it. I must have gotten a particularly chili powder-infused sip because my mouth was on fire. I immediate chugged milk. But the quality of the cocoa was incredible and if you like a bit of heat, it's great.
I've been wanting some larger sea salt for cooking for quite some time and so quickly snatched up a packet. No brainer.
And I got my starter packet of tea. Let me tell you- I will be going back for more. This tea is by far the best chai tea I've ever had. It's strong without being too spicy. The ratio of spices is truly amazing. I have my tea with some sweetener and milk and it tastes just like Christmas. Another positive? The spices are so fresh and strong that I actually get two massive cups of tea from each brew. I use a mug that's about 16 ounces and brew the first cup for 2-3 minutes. I take out the filter and the tea and place it in a bowl. Then when I'm ready for my next cup, I just boil more water and brew that cup for about 5 minutes. So it's a great value!

I also got a surprise present for my sister (so I can't write about it here), but let's just say, that if you are looking for a gift or stocking stuffers for people who like to cook, eat, or drink tea, you must stop at this store!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cheap and Easy Weeknight Dinner Series: Farmers' Market Skillet

I wish I could say that all of these ingredients were fresh from the local farmers' market as the title would suggest. Had last weekend not been a record high of 105 degrees (before humidity), then that might have been the case. Instead, I willingly opted for the air-conditioned grocery store. Despite my laziness, the meal was still amazing. Super quick to pull together, incredibly healthy, and very flavorful, this meal is the complete package in my book and one I will most definitely make again. Fiance didn't even know the dressing was Honey-Lemon (which is a major victory considering he isn't always a fan of lemon). We both gave it two thumbs up! Oh and ps- I'm sort of obsessed with the blog where I found this recipe. It's a new favorite, but the recipes look incredible and I will be trying many additional dinners. I should also mention that the main light in my kitchen has been out for over a week now. My building is kind of falling apart (I'm super pleased about it, in case you were wondering) and I guess they are dealing with emergencies and taking forever to handle maintenance requests. I've made do by moving a standing lamp into the kitchen and utilizing the surface light under the microwave, but it's not the ideal situation. The floor space in the kitchen is super limited to begin with and adding a standing lamp isn't helpful. Not to mention Winston is convinced the lamp is haunted and out to get him, so whenever he walks into the kitchen to get food he has to stay as far away as possible. As a result, he's frequently behind my feet and I've almost broken my and his neck several times. Finally, the pictures kind of suck and are few and far between because I was trying to remember ingredients in the dim light, not to mention pictures.

Farmers' Market Skillet
recipe from here

Ingredients (serves 2-3)
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small zucchini, quartered and sliced (or half a large one)
2 ears sweet corn, kernels cut off the cob (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 green onions
salt & pepper
1 vine-ripened tomato, chopped
1/2 cup feta
2 Tablespoons chopped basil

For the Honey Lemon Vinaigrette:
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons honey
1 garlic clove, microplaned or finely minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

I started by mixing together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl. I diced the garlic because the dressing gets mixed into the food so you really don't taste it. At this point, I also cooked the quinoa. Put the quinoa and chicken broth (you can also use water if in a pinch) in a small pot. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer. Simmer about 20 minutes, stirring every so often until the water is absorbed.

Then, I chopped up the garlic for the dish and cooked it for about 45 seconds in the hot oil. I also chopped the zucchini, green onions and cut the corn off the cob. A great tip for cutting raw corn: place the cob upright in a shallow bowl. When you cut down the corn stays in one place rather than hopping all over your kitchen. After the garlic briefly cooked, I added the veggies and cooked for about 5 minutes until just tender.

Add the quinoa and half of the dressing and stir. Cook for about a minute then add the tomatoes, basil, feta and the rest of the dressing. Stir and cook for just another minute or so. This picture really doesn't do justice to the meal, but it's just amazing!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tomato and Basil Chicken with Pan Sauce

I should really start off by saying, that when cooking, especially if you've done it for a while, you should always follow your gut. I personally hate cooking chicken breasts in a pan because I feel like they never cook evenly, take forever, and generally make my mood incredibly sour. I don't enjoy the dish because I'm so concerned the center of the breast isn't cooked. And if I'm not going to enjoy the food I made, what is the point of cooking? Right? Right. Ok, so now that my little rant is out of the way, I should say that I ignored my gut. Shame on me. I know. The recipe suggested you cut the chicken breasts in half to cook them. I did, but my breasts were massive (don't I wish! har har. sorry bad joke). Usually, I slice the breasts into tenders to make sure they cook fast and next time I definitely will. Had I done so last time, the recipe would have gone crazy fast. It didn't, I swore a lot, it wasn't pretty. So if you choose to make this dish, which I do really recommend, slice up those breasts! (hee hee).

Tomato and Basil Chicken with Pan Sauce
recipe from here

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (I used a bit more and left out the parsley)
A handful or two of grape tomatoes, cut in half
4 ounces cream cheese, regular or light
3/4 cup chicken stock or broth
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

I started by sprinkling each piece of chicken with salt and pepper. Then turn them over on flour to get a bit of a coating. Heat up the vegetable oil and when it's hot, add the chicken. The original recipe said to cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes on each side. If I had done tenders that would have been great.
See how the flour contributes to a nice golden brown?
When the chicken is done, remove it from the pan and cover on a plate. DO NOT RINSE THE PAN. Add the chicken broth, cream cheese and garlic powder. At first the cream cheese will look nasty and clumpy. Be patient.
Once all the cream cheese is melted and you let the sauce simmer for a few minutes, it thickens really nicely.
I added the sliced tomatoes and the chopped basil, let them warm for a few minutes, and then added the chicken. I reserved a few tomatoes and some fresh basil for the top. Turn the chicken over a few times so each piece is coated in sauce.
Serve each helping of chicken with some sauce and tomatoes.

But wait! I'm not done! We also had two sweet potatoes in the fridge that I wanted to use up, so I decided to make some sweet potato fries! I looked at a few recipes and then cobbled my own recipe together. Basically you need a bunch of spices and olive oil. Very simple.

I started by slicing my potatoes into fry-like thickness.
Toss with about 1/2-1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Dump a bunch of spices in there. I used Old Bay, garlic powder, salt, pepper and a steak rub (which had rosemary, some cumin, etc.). Basically anything that smells nice together.
This part of the recipe was a learning experience for me. First, use a very large skillet. My (or rather fiance's) very large skillet was occupied with chicken. Heat up a little more olive oil and lay out the fries. Cook for a few minutes (covered). Flip them over and cook for a few minutes, covered this time too. Remove the cover and cook both sides again to crisp up. I used the cover the whole time and mine were a bit squishy. Still delicious, but not super crunchy. Also, because my pan was small, I had trouble flipping, so some of the fries were a bit burnt.

Anyway, it was a pretty successful meal once we sat down to the table. I'd encourage you to try both parts! Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Pinterest Project: Wall Initials!

Hello All! As you know, I love to participate in the pinterest project initially thought up by Sherry and Katie. This season is no exception, except for a little challenge posed by my being in D.C. No matter, I was determined to create something to share. I will say, fiance was totally instrumental in this plan. Which is kind of nice.

A few weeks back we saw this sign in a small store in Old Town and we both loved it. We think it's hilarious and it's so like fiance to say something like this. So we snatched it right up and quickly determined on which wall it should reside. Only problem was that it was looking a little lonely.

Given that we just got engaged and I'm feeling extra smooshy and romantic, I wanted to do something like this sign. One of my friends made a similar sign in her apartment and I loved it. However, Michael's had other ideas. I couldn't find the right size wooden letters for the canvas size I wanted to use. Then bf fiance came up with the idea to do something with really big initials.

That's when I remembered I had pinned about a million things like this picture.

Or this picture. So I decided to do my own twist to go with the little sign we already had.

I started with my two letters and wiped them down with a slightly damp cloth. I still want to get an ampersand (one of those "and" signs) to go in the middle, but Michael's was out.
Then, using a foam brush, I painted on black paint to the front and sides. I just used the basic acrylic black paint. I'm not trying to match Monet people, just cover the surfaces.
I let the letters dry and then started to scratch them up with some super fine sand paper. That's part of the reason I didn't care if the paint wasn't the highest of quality. It was taking a beating anyway.
I did a light sand on the corners and on the front and then let it sit overnight. After some discussion, I came back this morning and gave it another sand to make the "weathering" look more severe. (See below).
This morning I hung out the sign and the initials above. Excuse the terrible light. Even in the middle of the day, this section of the apartment doesn't get much natural light and makes picture taking near impossible. I used two nails for the corners of the sign and command strips for the letters.
See how the second round of sanding make the letters look more worn?
Letters by themselves.
Signage and all. I still really want to get an ampersand for the center. Maybe a small one? I think it will make a bit more sense. But that's the beauty of command strips, I won't have to fill holes or move nails! Anyway, I'm very happy with how it turned out. Hope you enjoy it too! To see Sherry and Katie's projects, go to the links above. Thanks!