Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Winter Pinterest Challenge: Homemade Marshmallow Treats!

It's pinterest challenge time! Yay! I love participating in this tradition started by Sherry and Katie. I try never to miss a season if I can help it. This time, I knew I would be traveling and wouldn't have access to my craft supplies or time at home to complete a home project. So I decided to finally share my marshmallow recipe and take care of two birds with one stone!

Before Valentine's Day, I saw this picture and immediately started to think about how I could make treats for my family and friends...

Then I saw a few pictures that I pinned back before Christmas in which people had dipped their marshmallows...

And I thought to myself, I can definitely create something Valentine's Day-ish based on these ideas. I used the Barefoot Contessa recipe linked off the first pictures and started a few days before I needed them to be done. Marshmallows aren't that hard, per se, but they take a really long time, so plan ahead.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Tomato and Sausage Risotto

I haven't made risotto in a really long time. It doesn't really fit the healthy eating plan and it's not exactly the fastest meal to complete. I don't think it's particularly hard. Once I figured out how to make risotto, I actually find it soothing. It's just that on busy nights, it takes a while and when I'm really hungry, I don't want to wait. But I saw this recipe on pinterest (where else?) and the concept of using tomatoes and tomato juices instead of broth was so intriguing, I couldn't help but try it. The recipe definitely doesn't have the rich broth flavor of most risottos, but it's amazingly complex and delicious in its own right. I loved that it was completely full of spinach and sausage and goodness. I will most definitely make this dinner again. It's such a great meal in one bowl and so hearty. Give it a try!

Tomato and Sausage Risotto
recipe from here

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed (I used turkey)
1 small onion, finely chopped
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 bunch flat-leaf spinach (10 to 14 ounces), washed well, tough stems removed, chopped (about 7 cups)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving (optional)
2 tablespoons butter

I have to start by saying apparently my camera decided to poop out this weekend. The pictures are horrible. All of them are out of focus and blurry and I'm so sorry. I'm going to post them anyway so that you can see the steps but I won't blame you if you get nauseous from the blurred effect.

Start by chopping your onion and peeling your sausage. Heat up the oil and add the onion and sausage. Cut up the sausage as it cooks into bite-sized pieces and cook until the sausage is brown and onions tender.
Meanwhile, heat up your tomatoes with their juices and the water. You want the liquid to be hot, but not simmering. So just barely under a simmer.
Once the onion and sausage is cooked, add the rice and cook for a few minutes until the rice is coated. Then add the wine and cook for a few minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed. You want the heat to be on low, so the materials are simmering.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Eating Broccoli Like Potato Chips

I've never been anti-vegetable by any stretch. I could eat artichokes daily and asparagus has always been a favorite. But salads are not my favorite and steamed broccoli has always been one of those things I eat because I know I'm supposed to. I've been trying to find some vegetable side dishes that I want to eat. It's a challenge sometimes, but I know that it's necessary for controlling weight and improving nutrition. I saw this recipe pinned on pinterest and I was skeptical. I figured it would be good because I love roasted Brussels sprouts, but I wasn't sure I would want to down broccoli like candy or chips.

I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. This broccoli is so tasty and I was actually looking forward to eating the leftovers. That is the only reason I'm bothering to put a silly broccoli recipe on this blog. But it's so worth it and I'm making this dish again just to have it around as a snack. So you picky vegetable eaters out there, give this recipe a shot!

Roasted Broccoli

broccoli (I used three small heads, but it's really flexible)
a few tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
a few cloves of garlic

Start by trimming off the pieces of broccoli off the crown. Put in a bag and add some olive oil and salt and pepper. Toss it around. You want to have the broccoli look slightly dampened but not doused with oil. Spread the broccoli out on a baking dish.

Slice the garlic super thin. Like paper thin if possible. Lay on top off the broccoli.

Roasted at 425 for about 25-30 minutes. Toss around after about 15-20 minutes to make sure one side doesn't get too burnt. Enjoy hot, cold or room temperature. You don't have to eat the leftover garlic, but if your tastes are like mine, you will want to!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Browned Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I spent the weekend with my family up at our family cabin in the mountains. It was a crazy, busy, fun and food-filled weekend. Per usual, I was responsible for many of the desserts. I brought up the marshmallows I mentioned last week for Friday night and then on Saturday my mom and I made a lemon roll and these new cookies. To be honest, I probably don't need another cookie recipe. I've made tons. But none of those recipes included chocolate and oatmeal. I was pretty excited to find this recipe, because not only do they have these two ingredients, but also have cinnamon and browned butter. The cinnamon and browned butter make such a huge difference and amp up the flavor ten fold. It really adds incredible complexity and everyone kept asking "what am I tasting in these cookies!?!". As if you needed any more convincing, the cookies were gone by Sunday afternoon. Less than 24 hours later. If that's not the best compliment, I don't know what is!

This recipe is incredibly easy, so definitely give it a try!

Browned Butter Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
recipe from here

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup loosely packed brown sugar
1 large egg
2  tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup oats (not quick-cook)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup chocolate chunks (I used chocolate chips and it was difficult to incorporate all of the chips into the mix, so next time I'd probably use chunks)

Start by melting the butter in a pan and whisk frequently. Simmer at a low heat until brown bits form in the bottom of the pan. Set the butter aside and let cool completely.
In a small bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon.
Once the butter has cooled completely, mix it together with the sugars, egg and vanilla.
Add the oat mixture and mix until combined.
Pour in the chocolate and mix together by hand. Cover and chill the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Using a spoon or measuring scoop, form 1 1/2" balls of dough. Put on a parchment paper-covered pan and bake for about 9-10 minutes at 375. I was at really high altitude and I cooked mine for about 10 minutes. Next time I think I would take them out after 9 because they do harden after cooled.
Let the cookies cool on a rack.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Valentine's Day Craftiness

Happy Valentine's Day to you all! I feel like it's necessary to start this post by saying usually I'm not a crazy Valentine's Day person. Fiance and I have always done some nice together, and usually I send notes to my family, but I don't go over the top. In fact, I try really hard to show my honey bunches of love how much I appreciate him the other 364 days a years. But it is nice to have a day to remind you how special your special someone is and to shower them with some affection if you've been remiss lately. This year, the thought of it being the last holiday we are going to spend apart made me downright giddy. Dances and wiggles and squeals. We are going to celebrate our special day later this month when we are together, so I can't show you (yet) what presents I whipped up for him (although I'm dying to. I haven't been this pleased with my presents in a long time). So those will have to wait. But, I did make a few crafts for my family and friends that I'll be seeing this weekend. I may have gone the tiniest bit overboard. I really didn't mean to. I started with one little treat and it sort of spiraled from there.

I started off by picking up some paint strips at local hardware stores. I got them in various shades of pink and since I wanted to get several, I went to two different places so as to not be that greedy person that walks out with a massive handful of strips. I trimmed the white strip off the bottom first.
I bought a heart hole puncher and punched a hole in the center of the bottom three colors and then one just below the top.
While at Michael's, I also picked up some narrow red ribbon, which came in quite handy for both crafts.
I slipped the ribbon through the hole and formed a simple knot. I put a tiny dab of hot glue under the loop of the knot just to make sure it would stay secure.
When lodged in a book you just see the cute little pop of red.
But when the book is open you get a full frontal shot of love. Sorry, it's the holiday of love. One dirty joke is mandatory.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Little Dinner Party

Last weekend I had a few friends over for a little dinner party. I showed my mom a picture of my table and she suggested that it was perfect for Valentine's Day. While I had been going for a sunny, spring table, the Valentine's Day setup was a happy accident. So I thought I would show you how I pulled together my table without buying anything new. That way, if you are still in the mood to plan a last minute dinner, you can!

I got the tablecloth for Christmas. It French vintage and I think so fun and cheery. So pick something colorful. Add a cheap bunch of flowers (or use the ones you already have like I did). Add a few votives with tea lights.
Mix and match with your wine glasses, linens, candles, etc. The large green glasses are technically Margarita glasses, but I loved the green and I thought the round shape resembled my wine goblets, so they went ok together. I wanted to keep it simple, so I just stacked plates, napkins and silverware.

For dinner, I started with whole wheat pita chips and guac. To make the chips you just slice pitas, sprinkle them with olive oil and salt, and bake them for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees on a cookie sheet.
I tried to recreate the guac that I had at the Majestic. I failed. But it was still tasty enough.
For dinner we had lentil and sausage soup with crusty bread.
For dessert we had angel food cake, vanilla ice cream, and sliced strawberries. I didn't get a picture of the angel food cake. I was busy so I just bought it at the store, which kills me, but it was necessary. This bowl was my dessert the next day. Clearly my ratio of ice cream to strawberries is awesome.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Chicken Chili with Barley

This name of this recipe is a misleading. It's more like chicken stew with barley. But whatever the name, the result is beyond delicious. It's thick and filling, but incredibly healthy and the flavors are actually pretty unique. The lime and the toppings make this stew/soup/chili feel way more decadent than it actually is. I would potentially use breast meat in the future only because it's a touch healthier and easier because there is less fat to pull off. The leftovers are also incredible and great for lunch.

I'm going to post the original recipe below with my non-spicy notes. As you all know I'm a complete wuss, so I take out anything spicy and add citrus and salt. But either way it's a home run, so you should definitely give this recipe a try!

Chicken Chili with Barley
recipe from here

1 tablespoon oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green pepper, trimmed and diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 poblano pepper, trimmed and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder (I omitted and instead added a bit of black pepper)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1/2 cup barley
5 cups water
1 can diced green chiles
One 14-ounce can white beans, rinsed
Juice of a lime
Note: If you choose to omit the green chiles and poblano pepper, simply use two large green bell peppers, instead of one.

For serving:
low-fat sour cream
1 avocado, diced
Fresh cilantro leaves
Shredded sharp cheddar cheese

I started by chopping the peppers, zucchinis, onion and garlic and saute in some olive oil for about 10 minutes until soft and translucent. Push the veggies to the side and lay down your chicken. Brown each side of the chicken for a few minutes.
Add the spices and mix everything together. Then add the water and barley. Bring the mixture to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 40 minutes.

Remove the chicken and set aside. Pull off the skin and fat and shred the chicken. Add back to the pot, as well as the beans and the chilis if you are using them. Cook for another ten minutes, add the salt and lime and ladle into bowls.

Cut up some avocado and add to the soup with grated cheddar cheese and sour cream. I also squeezed a little more lime on top of mine and another sprinkle of salt because that's what I like. When you stir everything together, it becomes this amazing gooey, cheesy, creamy mixture. Enjoy!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Lots of Loot

Over the holidays I won a giveaway on Old Town Home. There was a great deal of squealing in the Reagan airport when I received the email. Especially because the giveaway I won was to La Cuisine, a specialty kitchen store in the heart of Old Town. Well this past week when I was in the DC area, I went into the store itching to spend my gift certificate. I went with my mom, who is a great cook, and we basically oohed and ahhed and sighed for a good 20 minutes. I could spend thousands of dollars in this store. I wanted practically every item I saw. Of course, my kitchen would look like a hoarder's special and fiance would kill me. So I had to make some decisions about pairing down my goodies.

I should start by saying, I have a bit of a baking problem. My motto has always been that I like to cook and love to bake. I'm working on making them a bit more equal. I really want to be an extraordinary cook. So I probably should have bought cooking items. But did I? Nope. Not a one. Technically one or two of the goods could be used for savory foods, but that is not their primary purpose. It's not 100% my fault. Fiance likes to cook too and has strong opinions about our cooking gadgets. He wasn't with me, so I didn't want to buy a new pot or pan that we would eventually use together if he hated it. Let's blame it on him, shall we? So, on to the details. I did spent a little extra, only because I needed  the items. But it was totally worth it. So for a total of $74, $50 from the giftcard and $24 dollars of my own, I bought...

A large frosting knife. I have a tiny one that is perfect for cupcakes, but I've been craving a big one for cakes. How I do love cakes.

I placed the knife next to the pie crust shield so you can see the size. It's a pretty big sucker, but isn't unwieldy.

A pie crust shield so that the crust and the center cook evenly.

A large frosting bag and one of the little do-hickeys that you insert your frosting tips into. (Insert dirty joke here). The great thing about these bags is that as long as you don't have any raw eggs in your frosting, you can just rinse these bags right out and use them again. 

A pastry blender. you have no idea how long I have coveted a pastry blender. Every time I make scones, biscuits or anything that involves cutting in butter, I curse my knives and wish for one of these. Culinary note: they can also be used for pizza dough, hence the savory purpose.

A dough scraper. Perfect for scraps of cookie or bread dough (savory!) or even transferring food like chopped veggies (double savory, yay for me!).

My momma got me this purchase. I have a serious weakness for maple sugar candies, so these was right up my alley. It would be perfect for waffles, French toast, pancakes, or even dusted on top of my gingerbread cookies. Oh! Or mixed into frosting to put on top of breads or cookies. Maple frosting. Seriously. Who is salivating with me?

I have little silver balls for decorating cookies but haven't managed to find gold ones in a while. They are worth their weight in, you guessed it, gold.

A powdered sugar duster. You can also use these for flour. Amazing for baking and decorating. My grandmother has one just like it, so it has a lot of sentimental value. 

That's a lot of loot right! I was really impressed by the store's selection.

So was Winston. He inspected the goodies and was impressed by their quality too. But actually, in all seriousness, I was expecting the store to be really overpriced, but was so wrong. Sure there are pots and pans that are very expensive, but there are also a ton of incredible accessories, tools and spices that are super reasonable. The selection of odd spices, beans and decorating objects is unlike anything I've ever seen before. I will definitely be back in the store and at the very least buying tons of Christmas gifts there.

Thanks so much to La Cuisine for allowing me to browse for an extensive period of time without rushing me and for all of your help. And a special thank you to Old Town for the gift certificate and to introducing me to the store. I had so much fun and will put my new goodies to great use!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

A Majestic Meal

I should start off by saying that the opinions given below are entirely my own. I have not been paid or compensated in any way by the organizations, groups or restaurants I am about to mention. I really should be though. Fiance and I push so much business at these places because we honestly and truly love them and want them to succeed. Ok, now that my little notice is out of the way, let me get to the meat of this story.

The occasion: fiance had a competition (which he and his partner won, by the way. Forgive my bragging). So  there were lots of family members in town. We spend most of our free time in Old Town, Alexandria so we encouraged family members to stay in hotels there, rather than in Arlington near our apartment and where parents have previously stayed. IT WAS SUCH GOOD ADVICE, if I do say so myself. We'd highly recommend the Kimpton chain in Alexandria. There are three hotels, the Monaco, the Morrison House and the Lorien Hotel & Spa. The Monaco is right in the heart of Old Town and great if you plan to walk around. If you need to get to downtown D.C. you can take the free trolley to the metro or use a car if you have one. The restaurant in the hotel, Jackson 20, is also amazing. My parents stayed at the Lorien, which is just two blocks from the metro, but also close to tons of restaurants, shops and fun things to do. It was super convenient for transportation and family has already booked future reservations there. Anyway, all of the hotels are fabulous and not at all like any chain. They are cozy, elegant, but not too stuffy. They are also cheaper than downtown D.C. or Arlington, but have a great neighborhood. So I give two thumbs up.

On to food. The good stuff. We originally intended to go to Jackson 20 on Wednesday night, but then walked out of the hotel and there was a torrential downpour. I'm not exaggerating, there was a tornado warning. So walking outside seemed less than advisable. Instead we went to the hotel restaurant, Brabo. The best part of the meal was the order of mussels my parents split for an appetizer. Although that phrasing is a bit deceptive because they brought out a massive skillet that was completely full. I've never seen more mussels in one place. It was a good dinner, but I thought it wasn't as fantastic as it should have been given that it was quite pricey.

The real star of the food show was our meal at The Majestic Cafe. The EatGoodFood Group owns and operates our absolutely favorite restaurants in the area. Virtue Feed and Grain is our favorite casual spot and where we hope to have our rehearsal dinner. Restaurant Eve is where we went after we got engaged and we are definitely adding the Majestic to the list. I have literally never had a single bad meal at any of these restaurants. Not one.

The owners have done such an incredible job restoring the original restaurant and keeping the feel of a 1950s neighborhood cafe. For a nice historical touch, visit the restrooms in the basement and see the old pay phone they've left in the hallway. I definitely had a history geek-out moment. Embarrassing, but true.

The cafe is incredibly cozy and is inspired by dressed-up comfort food. Despite it's more casual atmosphere, this restaurant is incredible. And on the pricey side. However, you get a huge bang for your buck. The appetizers alone are huge and the portions for the dinner are just massive. The leftovers could feed a family. Seriously. And the desserts. The coconut cake is the stuff dreams are made of. As with all of these restaurants, the cocktails are fantastic and the names hilarious. Not only is the food amazing, but it really embodies mid-Atlantic cuisine. It's hard to explain what that means exactly, but spend some time in the area and you'll know what I mean. Huge portions, tons of shell fish, a touch of Southern, but with Northern sophistication.

We will definitely be returning to the Majestic, even if it's just for a cocktail at the bar and the homemade guacamole. I've been thinking about it for a week and every time I do I salivate. It's not a good look, but man was it tasty.

I hope you get a chance to stop by some of these places, you won't regret it, we never do!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Week, New Month, New Blooms

Happy belated February to you all. I had the craziest whirlwind of a week and I'm just beginning to get my feet back under me. I'm really looking forward to sharing some restaurant reviews later this week, but tonight I'm still so sleepy. But for now, my February calendar art...

This print has got to be one of my favorites thus far. It has so much whimsy and reminds me of Paris. Not sure why. But clearly that means it's awesome. And my posies for the week.

Nothing fancy. Just some cheery yellow carnations to bring some sunshine to my day.