Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another Year Over

From new year, new food

So I have no idea where the last 365 days went, but I'm eager to find them (they're probably hiding in a box in my closet somewhere) and thank them for being quite the time of learning, laughter, and food. Sometimes 2009 kind of sucked, and sometimes it was great, but overall, it was quite a ride.

No, I won't be hitting up any major parties, nor will I be trekking off for a night of debauchery in Times Square this New Years Eve. I'm actually off to make some Cuban food with my friend Terra (YES I'll be posting about it. Wahoo!) and to spend the evening with friends and family, enjoying a few drinks while playing a particularly vicious game of SPOONS. You heard me right. I don't mess around when it comes to playing SPOONS, and neither does my sister, as evidenced by her military-like tackles whenever we play.

Let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes that might do you well in 2010. These words always help focus and encourage me when that whole "What the heck do I want to do with my life?!" question looms a little too large, which, coincidentally, seems to come up every year around this time.

"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to win the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to give of one's self; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sing with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived---this is to have succeeded."

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be safe, Happy New Years and see you in 2010!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow Day Pancakes

Winter, my friends, is upon us.

From new year, new food
Oh hai, winter wonderland!

This year the snows, wind, and cold snuck in quickly and softly, and before we knew it, it had snowed for about 28 hours straight, the entire city shut down, and people burrowed themselves inside, mugs of chocolate in hand, a weekend of hibernation right before Christmas.

From new year, new food
Yes, that is snow built up on our sixth floor window... and no, we don't have a windowsill.

The weekend forecast actually predicted a THUNDERSNOW. What the heck is a THUNDERSNOW you ask? It’s a snowstorm that actually thunders…the gods apparently like bowling in the winter as well as the summer. I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t hear much of any thundering…I was looking forward to surviving a real life THUNDERSNOW and telling future grandchildren about the GREAT THUNDERSNOW OF 2009. And yes, I have to capitalize all of that, because how can you write THUNDERSNOW and not capitalize such an awesome term? Impossible, my dears.

One of the main reasons I love the idea of winter hibernation is the return of the Big Breakfast. Saturday mornings in my home consisted of pancakes, French toast, or waffles (with the occasional appearance of crepes and fresh strawberries thrown in if we were really lucky), bacon or sausage, eggs, toast, freshly ground and brewed coffee, and orange juice. My mom and dad just did not mess around when it came to Saturday morning breakfasts. It was the time we all got together before the weekend dragged us to different appointments, parties, errands and naps, the hour where we could reconnect in the quiet of the morning before the real world banged through the door and demanded our attention. We chatted over the newspaper, movies and books that were coming out, current events and the weather. We discussed our work weeks, our dreams from the night before, and told jokes. We had a lot of dinners together during the week as well, but the Saturday Morning Breakfasts were slow and delicious, luxurious and cozy.

From new year, new food

I’m pretty sure more than a few people busted out a Big Breakfast this weekend when there was nothing to do but stay inside or shovel sidewalks. I’m also fairly confident more than a few of those people indulged in pancakes, and while I KNOW everyone has a favorite family pancake recipe, I’ve stumbled upon a pretty solid recipe that has become my go-to for hotcakes.

I love Ruth Reichl. Former editor of Gourmet magazine, she’s incredibly passionate about food and people, and those two worlds culminate in her memoir, Tender At The Bone, which referenced, at least once, the making of pancakes and the tradition of Big Breakfasts. “Ruth’s Pancakes,” which I borrowed from The Gourmet Cookbook, are buttery, hearty, and slightly sinful, the perfect pancake in my mind. Not too sweet, they are delicious with maple syrup, chocolate chips, blueberries, or fresh strawberries, and are a snap to whip up.

From new year, new food

I recently made them when a good friend of mine came for the weekend, a friend whose birthday I’m always exactly 2 days late in wishing him for, and who I also haven’t seen in 3 years. I figured the least I could do was make Ruth’s Pancakes for him, and by jove, I think they redeemed my bad birthday memory AND established the fact that I can, indeed, cook a Big Breakfast. Joy!

From new year, new food

Safe travels to all of your holiday destinations! I hope you get a chance to make these pancakes and have a lazy morning with your loved ones in the midst of Christmas shenanigans. I myself am traveling back to Arizona with Erjona for a fabulous holiday time we’re nicknaming FERMAPALOOZA 2009. Again, another word you can’t write without all-capsing it…you know how I do.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Very Merry Birthday

Happy one year Blog-iversary, Vagabond Table! It's been real. Real fun, real challenging, and mostly a real kick in the pants.

And, to everyone who has read this, thank you thank you thank you.

Oh look! My 1 year old birthday pie, courtesy of Gourmet: Cranberry Apple Crumble Pie.

From new year, new food

Which basically means, cranberries-that-dye-my-whole-apple-pie-red-with-awesome-pecan-streusel-topping.

From new year, new food

Yeah, yeah, I know, another pie. But guess what. Christmas is coming, and this pie is gorgeous. I made it for the second time for Thanksgiving, and it turned out a little tart since I used Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples... ah well. I for one like sour-ish things, but I suggest you go for a mixture of sweet apples with a few sour ones thrown in as the cranberries do a brilliant job of balancing out the sweetness with their own tarty selves. Oh, and note to all: 'Tis wonderful served with a scoop of Vanilla Bean ice cream. Did you notice my attempt at Fall "leaves" on the sides of the pie? Oh yes. I went there.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving folks! Thanks for sticking with me this far, and I promise that great things are to come in the next 52 weeks.

Monday, November 9, 2009

As American As...

There is a simple equation that I have concerning Fall.

It goes like this.

Fall = Chilly.

Thus: Chilly + Leaves Falling = Beautiful / (Boots + Sweaters)

SO BASICALLY (in case my mad math skillz got you confused)…

Fall = Chilly = Beautiful = Samantha Busts Out Warm Things

Here is my list of current comfy things that I’ve loved reintroducing myself to again after months away:

A green knit blanket my Mama made eons ago
Fuzzy Socks
Saturday Morning Coffee
Wellie Boots
Red wine
Sweet Potatoes
Roasted Cauliflower

From new year, new food

Oh, Pie…Doesn’t it just sound great? Short, but sweet and to the point, Pie doesn’t get all fancy with multiple whipped creams and special flours like cakes do. No, sirree bob. Pie is homey. Pie makes you want to wrap your arms around it and hug it back, ‘cause that’s basically what it does: hugs you from the inside out.

You know, if Marie Antoinette had instead opted for saying, “Let them eat PIE!” people wouldn’t have gotten so miffed. Like I said, cake is kind of prissy, and the French took that whole cake-reference pretty badly when she brought it up. But let’s think what would have happened if she had gone with PIE instead? I think the peasantry would have been like “Huh. You’re right… I got a few old apples and a cup of flour lying around… Pie is good. We can do Pie. Thanks for the tip, Marie!” and a whole load of trouble could have been avoided.

From new year, new food

If you had trouble following where I was going here, I just want to let you know that I’ve baked a couple of pies in the last few weeks, both of which were awesome, both of which used apples, but for now I’m going to focus on the one I just baked, Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust, because I’m pretty sure this isn’t a common type of apple pie, and HELLO it introduced me in a roundabout way to an apparently very American tradition that I was out of the loop on: a slice of apple pie with a crumbly hunk of cheddar cheese.

*Side note: So...I guess people all over the country eat this? I don’t get it, so someone, at some point, will have to show me how to do this. What do you do? Grate some on top? Put a slice on the side? Is the pie hot or cold? I get apples and cheese, but I honestly would very much like to have someone explain to me how this works, and I will gladly follow because I’m uber curious how that hot mess would taste. End note*

From new year, new food

Gourmet (may you R.I.P., dear magazine) had a great article in their amazing September issue about Apple Pie with a Cheddar Crust, a clever take on this tradition. Kari baked one last week and added cloves to hers, so when Vanessa came over after a long day at work last week, we figured some cinnamon and nutmeg wouldn’t hurt, and neither would a small decrease in the sugar, and everything STILL worked out swimmingly! I have half of a pie sitting in my fridge which I spontaneously eat for either breakfast, tea time, or dessert, all of which are good pie-eating times. Especially when that day is Saturday and you have all the pie-eating time in the world.

From new year, new food

The crust was on the crispy-buttery side and reminded me of the flavor of a good cheese cracker while the apples were bright, tangy, and perfectly balanced in their sweetness. In short, it is a lovely, warm, comforting and completely Fall-y type of pie that would be a sweet addition to the marathon of all of my favorite comfort foods in one sitting: THANKSGIVING!!!

If anything, next time I’ll just add more cheese because this time I had cut off a big hunk for lunch earlier in the day and deprived my new pie of even more cheese-awesomeness in the crust.

Dear Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust: please don’t be mad, I won’t let you down again… it’s just that I really love sharp cheddar and couldn’t help myself from stealing a bit from you. Uh… I’ll try not to do it again. Toodles.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Spanish Reverie

Here's a little poem that's pretty obvious I just whipped up for you guys:

Ode to the Other Tortilla

It must be hard
To be a Tortilla Española.
People confuse you
with the kind made of lard-
like tortilla chips
served with tacos and a cola.

I’m sorry
For your identity crisis.

Oh, the humble yet deliciously satisfying Tortilla Española!

I know that it was only a few months ago that I was waxing poetic about these Flour Tortillas I had made, and trust me, you wont find a bigger fan of homemade tortillas east of the Mississippi. BUT I honestly can’t count the times I relied on the other tortilla - Tortilla Española, that is, and dios mio, is it a classic.

I first encountered this simple dish when I studied in Spain during the Spring of 2002. From the first day I arrived in Madrid (and immediately after Carlos, our program director, gave us dish suggestions to order at restaurants that first afternoon), the Tortilla Española was the one constant food that I returned to time and again. It was my first introduction to Spanish cuisine, and though humble compared to the glories of a good paella or gazpacho, its simplicity and adaptability made it perfect for everything from breakfast, lunch or dinner, to party food and a great sandwich.

From new year, new food

The best Tortilla Española I ever tried was in the small and crowded kitchen of our Spanish cooking instructor one chilly spring evening. About 10 of us students were gathered around the stove and watched in awe as she chopped, sautéed, and cooked, with a joie de vivre that pretty much lent her the title of the Spanish Julia Child in my mind. To this day, no Tortilla Española has ever compared to the one from that cozy Spanish kitchen, but darn it all if I’m not going to at least try to come close.

From new year, new food

Tortilla Española is a simple concept: basically it’s a Spanish egg frittata, filled with sautéed onions and potatoes, and can be served by itself in big slices, cubed up as a party appetizer, or, my second favorite way of eating it—tucked between two toasty sides of a baguette, a hearty sandwich that I ordered whenever I used to travel in Spain and was in need a good snack.

From new year, new food

Up close and blurrily personal

I love making frittatas for brunches and breakfasts, but for some reason had never tried my hand at my beloved Tortilla Española, but knew, as soon as my cast iron skillet arrived, that I’d found the perfect dish in which to cook it. If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, simply take any skillet pan that you have, wrap the handle in a damp towel, and you can bake it in the oven, easy as pie. Easier, actually, than pie, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s also group-friendly (as evidenced by three friends that spontaneously came over the night I happened to make it, and who gave it a warm reception).

From new year, new food

Bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos, Tortilla Española! I hope I can perfect you and spread your Spanish love everywhere I go. Kind of like Johnny Appleseed and his apples, but more like Samantha Tortilla…which just doesn’t have the same ring to it, but you see where I’m going here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Tale of the Never-Ending Sticky Bun

So something great has happened.

I am now the proud owner of a 12” cast iron skillet!!

Joy of joys. I’m sure this sounds silly, but I’ve been looking forward to this day for quite a while. You can use cast iron skillets on the stovetop, in the oven, even on a campfire or grill (endless possibilities abound!) It makes me feel extremely old-school--I’m pretty sure people were even using cast iron thousands of years ago (let’s hearken back to the Iron Age, shall we?) So really, I’m just continuing a classical cookery tradition, you see.

To celebrate New Awesome Skillet, I bought The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook which is chocker-bock full of breakfasty things I love like frittatas, scones and such. And, while they’re relatively still hot and fresh in my memory and stomach—Pecan Sticky Buns.

From new year, new food

I also need to preface this story by mentioning how I have horrid luck using yeast in breads. I never think it rises right, if at all, and dang if those yeasty little buggers aren’t extremely picky and finicky and they only like things at just so temperatures, humidity, etc. Ugh. I really have no patience for something that is so not easy to work with. I really don’t. So, to say that I am attempting my first Pecan Sticky Buns is one thing, but when I’m attempting them AND having to use yeast AND what happens later in my story seems to be the usual when it comes to me and stupid yeast-things, then it's quite a surprise and shock to me that these buns even worked out at all. Hot damn!

However…I frequently force myself to do things that make me nervous, and folks: yeast has been a constant source of nerves for me. When I want to bake, I make things that do not require yeast, like banana bread or cookies. I avoid yeast. It’s stupid, I hate it, and, above all, it concerns chemistry (me + high school chem = not good memories), and it’s a mysterious part of the food process that I just don’t understand and since I don’t understand it, I don’t like cooking with it. You know? But it was the beginning of October and I was having a Fall Day with my friend Lina and we decided to make some Pecan Sticky Buns while having brunch at Open City and dang it all—it was time to conquer my yeasty fears and make some Sticky Buns already.

From new year, new food

Gigantor mugs of coffee and animal crackers at Open City

The first problem came about when my recipe from The Cast Iron Skillet Cookbook called for corn syrup. I’m refuse to cook with corn syrup since it’s so bad for you, which set off a lengthy search for the second best option for a pecan glaze, which I found on Epicurious: Maple Pecan Sticky Buns. Even more Fall-ier and delish sounding---SCORE.

When Lina and I came home with the groceries, I realized I didn’t have nearly enough butter for the kajillion tablespoons of butter I’d need. Heavens. So we went back out to get more, then took a break because we were already annoyed at the whole thing and it hadn’t even started yet. When I finally started with the dough, I followed the directions to a T, and this is where the yeast really started to annoy me: the dough was supposed to rise and double in size in 45 minutes—which it did not. Not even a little bit, not even at all. Which set us off on another search—this time as we called everyone we knew who would know anything about baking and decided to solve the problem by warming the yeast up a bit—I put the stupid dough in the oven, which was a bad idea as it almost got melty. But THEN we just kept the oven on, put the bowl of dough on top of the oven with a wet towel over it, and an extra hour and a half later we were back on track.

That was when I read the rest of the recipe and saw the dough was supposed to be punched down and allowed to rise for ANOTHER FOUR HOURS. So. Not only is yeast a little pain in the arse, but it apparently likes to take it’s own gal-dang time to do whatever it does to dough. Also keep in mind it was like, 8 p.m. by this point. So then my friend Kelly came over and we watched Juno and then Kelly left and Lina and I decided that by 10:45p.m., the dough was as ready as it would ever be and that we should just roll it out and hope for the best.

From new year, new food

The problem, however, is that the original recipe had ridiculous proportions and this was the stickiest, stretchiest dough I’d ever worked with. My hands were covered in the stuff! Lina said it reminded her of Slimer from Ghost Busters and I said it reminded me of the Blob from that weird old scary movie. We had to add at least ¾ to another cup of flour just to be able to work it. Little by little, the dough came together, and I hoped the yeast gods wouldn’t be angry by this complete disregard for the recipe since baking is a SCIENCE and I was an ENGLISH major, and those 2 fields typically clash as I take things more as suggestions or metaphors, open to interpretation and what-not, and science and baking say No nonono do exactly what I tell you or you will FAIL.

From new year, new food

Attack of the killer monster yeasty dough!

Ahem. So, we rolled out the dough, filled it with butter, cinnamon, and sugar then rolled it up into a cinnamony-sugary log, and sliced it up. I’d already melted butter, brown sugar and maple syrup in my New Awesome Skillet, sprinkled in pecans, then just added the buns to the pan and let them rise for another 35 minutes or so.

From new year, new food

From new year, new food

Finally, by 11:34pm, we were ready to bake the damn things. Somehow, when they came out at midnight, the yeast gods had taken mercy upon me and Lina, and gave us an AWESOME pecan sticky bun! Seriously. I mean… we’d been trying to make them a success since 4pm and it was now midnight and all those hours were focused on these stupid Pecan Sticky Buns where the dough didn’t even rise for the longest time, and surprise of all surprises, it somehow worked. Honestly, they were the best Sticky Buns I’d ever had—probably because I’d never had them from scratch before, but damn if they weren’t all warm and gooey and delicious and Fall-y what with the pecans and maple glaze and such.

From new year, new food

From new year, new food

So, I guess the moral of the story is: If you want your silly dough to rise, put it on a stovetop while the oven is warm, and you’ll save yourself a ton of hassle and your buns will be hot and awesome. *Snerk.* Oh. And, I guess, always read through a recipe before you start it. That too.

Since this story was just as never-ending as the actual making of the never-ending sticky bun... a little Lucinda Williams for your listening pleasure. Because, honestly, she's just kind of rugged and comforting.. a perfect compliment to Fall and these here buns.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On 27 and Poached Eggs

So I think 27 is going to be a promising year.

At first I kind of freaked. I mean… almost 30! And I have next to nothing figured out! Aaaah! Then I realized I need to stop my sissy-fied attitude and instead enjoy myself a little. Good plan, no?

Here are a few pics from my birthday celebration…which was a lovely weekend. I had a Chocolate-Guinness cupcake with whiskey ganache filling and Bailey’s icing (gracias a Kari) smooshed into my face and up my nose-holes at my friend Ruben’s open-house party, and then went trotting around Virginia wine country with Roni and Teresa only to finish such a lovely weekend with a few work friends who could grab a last-minute pizza with us at the notoriously delicious 2 Amy’s Pizza. Le sigh. It was a wonderful few days.

Here are a few pics for your end-of-summer-enjoyment-pleasure:

A few shots from the Three Foxes Winery...

From 27 Skies

...with quite possibly the most Thanksgiving-ified port-a-potty ever...

From 27 Skies

...and a fine picnic balancing act...

From 27 Skies

And, of course, a grisly scene of the 27 balloon massacre I had to execute to clean my room (I see one got away, but he didn’t last long. Poor ‘bloon.)

From 27 Skies

One of my most comforting quick-night dinners during busy birthday and work times such as these, and when the weather can’t decide if it’s warm or cold, is the always-perfect Poached Egg Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette. Oh, heeeerrrrrooooooo, lover!

From 27 Skies

It’s a simple thing, really. A salad consisting of your favorite lettuces and such (I like to use baby spinach and lettuce, but do what you will), with bacon, a poached egg, and whatever other fixin’s you feel like throwing into the mix. Also, if you’re scared to poach an egg-—don’t be. If you mess up, it’s only an egg, and try, try again!

From 27 Skies

I’ve adapted this recipe from Alice Waters lovely book, The Art of Simple Food. For those of you unaware of the good foodie work started by Miz Waters, you need to google a little restaurant called Chez Panisse and read up for a hot minute on the multitude of reasons why she is awesome.

Anyway, I love this Poached Egg salad. I notice I’ve been doing a lot of salads lately, but this one is a hearty and warm meal salad, and I’ve gone into great discussions with several friends regarding our favorite ways to create a poached-egg salad. Folks, this is mine, and probably will forever and always be… I hope you enjoy it and cozy up to it like I love to do with a great work to read, like Great Expectations by one Mr. Charles Dickens who is also awesome and funny on way too many levels to count. So…I guess if you don’t listen to me about the salad, please read this book because not only is it written very wittily and craftily, it is a gorgeous tale and I’m sorry it’s taken me this long to ever pick up.

From 27 Skies

With so many great things under my belt already, and I’m only 23 days into being 27, I think I’ve got quite a lot to look forward to this year. And really… I’m still 3 full years away from when I need to have my life figured out at 30, which is plenty of time, me thinks.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Watermelon, Dressed Up

I can’t believe it’s the end of summer already. A week ago, it was warm, sunny, and humid, and this week has been gray, chill, and rainy. What happened to easy transitions?? Oh, DC and your strange and moody weather conditions! I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to you, but at least you keep me on my toes.

I also can’t get my mind around the fact that I have, as of this past weekend, been in D.C. for an entire year. I can write on and on about how the past 52 weeks have shaped and changed me, but what I really want to talk about before it gets any colder, is watermelon.

I’m nearly convinced that no fruit is as summery as watermelon, and, for that reason alone, we need to discuss this for a hot minute before the leaves change and Fall is in full swing. You still have at least a few weeks to make this before watermelons disappear from the markets, and it’s an ace to keep in your back pocket for years to come.

Being from Arizona, we had our fair share of watermelon since it seemed to be in season for what seemed like half the year. I could kick myself now for all the times that I missed eating it in my new favorite way, cause really, once you go where I’m about to direct you, few ever find their way back to eating straight up watermelon again. Unless you’re a purist, which… I can do nothing for you. Anyway,I love this salad. Watermelon Salad, to be exact. And boy, did I get a hefty introduction to it.

About a year and a half ago, I had the great luck to go to a special Top Chef demonstration with Richard from season 4 and Betty from season 2 serving as his sous chef. I personally was hoping for Sam from season 2 as he is a total dreamboat, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, I somehow scored a seat in the front row and while chatting up the audience, Richard whipped up some lamb shanks, made bacon maple ice cream (!) using dry ice and no ice cream machine because Richard is awesome and just does stuff like that, I guess. Then, he made Watermelon Salad, using cilantro, 4 kinds of onions, yuzu juice, mint, and cubed watermelon, and I was elated to find that my typical apathy to watermelon was suddenly ooomphed up and I was in watermelon heaven.

From new year, new food

I tried recreating the recipe a few times with other recipes I found online, none of which really captured the essence of what I thought Watermelon Salad should be: cool, slightly tangy, slightly salty, and just…interesting. After a few months of searching, Roni and I discovered a great Watermelon Salad recipe in Nigella Lawson’s book, Forever Summer. And hooo-eee is it easy compared to Richard’s version, but just as good. Better, probably, because it combines even more of my favorite things, like lime juice and kalamata olives and feta and pine nuts. Joy!

From new year, new food

It sounds weird. I know. But trust is key here. If you don’t like olives, just take them out. I’ve always been a lover of sweet-salty-sour combos, and this might be the winner. The watermelon is sweet and chilled, with a tang from the simple dressing of lime juice, and with a freshness from the mint, the saltiness from the olives and feta… the salad is the bomb and truly does belong in a cookbook entitled Forever Summer.

From new year, new food

I crave this salad on a regular basis, because really… a week going by without this, especially during summer watermelon season, is just the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s basically reflective of the fun and uniqueness that is Nigella Lawson, just in watermelon form, and while I’ve never been there, I love how Nigella ends the recipe instructions with this exclamation: “Hava Negila! The taste of Tel Aviv sunshine!”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

I'd Like You to Meet Your Summer Fling

So let me tell you a story about this dish I like to call “Crack Salad.”

One day in late Spring, Roni and I both accidentally stumbled upon a noodle salad recipe that sounded awesome and intriguing, the same salad, actually, just posted on different food blogs, and low and behold, FATE literally came and upsmacked us on the back of our heads.

People… we were meant to meet this salad, fall in love, and never look back. No sirree bob. And, I’m happy to report, the salad and I have gotten along swimmingly well since April, we’re going on five months of hanging out now, and damn if this isn’t my most successful relationship yet. Of course, this love is meant to be shared, and I’m happy to do so.

Let me introduce you to a Vietnamese “Crack” Noodle salad. Because it IS addictive, and you WILL want more, and it gives you a jolt of summer high right in your mouth.

From new year, new food

I even made it in AZ recently, and my G-ma had second helpings, which she never has. Also, don’t hate that it has shrimp in it again (like these tacos we made). Nothing says summer better that shrimp, a cold noodle salad, and the dressing that makes you want to do a little dance.

Basically you shred a napa cabbage (if you aren’t a cabbage person, ignore your instincts and just trust me on this one.) Then you chop up your veggies and herbs, like carrots, spring onions, and I like a combo of basil, mint, and cilantro, but choose what you will.

From new year, new food

You cook up the rice noodles, run them under some cold water, drain them, and set them aside. Sprinkle the herbs and carrots and green onions on top of the cabbage, and finish it off with some sautéed shrimp, more herbs, and some toasted cashews (or peanuts, or whatever nut fits your fancy). Somewhere in the midst of all this, you whir up the dressing in the food processor, which includes garlic, fish sauce, vinegar, water, chili flakes, lime juice, and brown sugar.

So… then you’re done. Because this is a salad, and that’s all there is to it. I like to put a helping of the rice noodles in the bottom of the bowl, a scoop of the salad/shrimp mixture on top, and then slosh on a good dose of the dressing.

From new year, new food

You have to understand, what makes this salad so addictive is its bright flavors and crunchiness of the cabbage and cashews, the way the dressing plays on the noodles and the shrimp just make it a nice hearty meal. The first time I had this I had 4 bowls, I kid you not. YUM. Let me reiterate: yumyumyumyum!

From new year, new food

What’s funny is that I pretty much avoided all foods of the “asian persuasion” throughout most of my life until college because I hated Chinese food and anything that, in my ignorant brain, reminded me of Chinese food. Then, my parents smartly introduced me to Thai food with its alluring coconut curries and peanut sauces and I was a goner. What also helped was my friend Lucy inviting me to her house for dinner in college where her mom made some very simple fish, a clear broth, and a rice pancake.... nothing like the Chinese food served at Panda Express, let me promise you. Now I crave sushi, pho, panang curry, and of course, my favorite vietnamese summer crack salad. Thank the Lord above that our taste buds change every 7 years. Or, I finally got over my aversion to soy sauce ever since that time I was five and ate so much of it in my egg drop soup I made myself sick and couldn’t eat Chinese food without wincing for almost 15 years. Whatevs. My taste buds have made a comeback and have a whole eastern continent of delicious tastes to discover. Joy.

From new year, new food

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

When the going gets tough... the tough make this

Most of my culinary experimentation takes place on Sundays. I spend all week thinking about a perfect Sunday meal, the kind that not only celebrates another week over but eases you into Monday ever so slightly.

It’s like a steady breath in for the week to come and a relaxed and contented breath out.

And while I usually dread Mondays, I love rehashing the weekend with Roni on our Sunday night evenings and then watching the Netflix movie that’s come in, or trying to (I recently fell asleep during La Dolce Vita and returned it without ever seeing the end. Woopsies.)

Once in a while though, I break out of my mold. I refuse to wait for Sundays. And sometimes, I stumble onto something so easy, so good, and so very worth your time that I just have to share.

In this case, my Wednesday meal (several Wednesdays over…once I started, I just couldn’t stop sharing) was inspired by my waking up one morning craving, almost as soon as I opened my eyes, a pasta with asparagus and goat cheese that I had seen in my Bon Appetít. It was really only a thumbnail of a picture, but dang if I haven’t been on a roll with actually MAKING the recipes in my magazines, and I thought I’d give it a try. Only after I decided to try it did I realize that not only my friend Erin had made it (and blogged about it) but so did Smitten Kitchen! What the heck! Either my subconscious is working overtime, or a lot of us just have really good taste (I lean towards the latter reason).

So, before my first test subject came over, my old friend Erik from AZ, I quite literally threw this dish together. No joke. I did the whole baddaBOOM thing with the mint and swirled things around and tossed the pasta and it was a dish that was more like mixing than cooking. Basically, if you can boil water, you can make this dish. Yay, you!

From new year, new food

I rocked out for a bit to The Format (which always reminds me of driving through Phoenix on a summer day), and this is all you do: boil pasta, add asparagus to the pasta water as you boil, and boil some peas that might be hibernating in your freezer too. This all sounds like a good and boring boiled mess, but trust me here… its worth it. Plus, I don’t like peas alone and have to mix them with things, and my mom always said I should eat more of them.

While pasta and said veggies were cooking away, in a big bowl I put a healthy glug of olive oil salt, pepper, chopped mint, the zest of one lemon, and an entire small package of goat cheese that I had scooped out in chunks.

I then drained the pasta, asparagus and peas and reserve some of the cooking water. I added all that to the big bowl of olive oil, goat cheese, mint and lemon and tossed it about, added some hot cooking water, a healthy dose of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lemon and HELLO dinner is ready in like, uh, ten minutes. Maybe fifteen if you chop asparagus slow, or have the slowest stove top ever, which you might, so I feel bad for you, but not that bad, because I just gave you a pimp daddy recipe that will impress your friends. Also, it’s affordable, relatively healthy, filling, delicious, and summery. If you like that sort of thing.

From new year, new food

Oh, and I gave my Aunt Deb the recipe, and she oooohed and aaaaahed over it the next day, and some more friends that came over for dinner the next week liked it, as did some other friends who have since tried it, so I know its pretty legit. The original recipe didn’t call for peas or mint, but I added the peas and substituted tarragon for mint and that’s about it. I’ve since heard the tarragon is pretty awesome too, so maybe next time I make a go of it I’ll really branch out, be all experimental, and try tarragon.

Also, I apologize for the lack of blogging in this last month. Work has just gotten pretty crazy, people have been coming into town, and I truly hope to be a bit more regular about this.

Please take this peace offering in the form of one of my favorite Format songs, which is also kind of like a musical welcome song for my friend Annie who I volunteered with in Santiago, Chile a few years back. We would have dance parties to Michael Jackson and The Format, and she’s coming to DC next week! Joy!

(Disclaimer: this is honestly the best version of this song on Youtube. Um....)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Shrimp Tacos = Summer Time

I must confess… it’s been a strange start to June. Today I woke up at 6 a.m. to a major thunderstorm, then I literally sunburned my arms while sitting outside during lunch, and then this afternoon a huge gale-force wind storm blew up again. It’s been quite a roller coaster ride into Summer, I must say, and while I adore summer storms, I’m sort of craving the sun these days. And honestly, since Sunday night, I keep thinking about a fantastic meal that Roni and I put together which is truly summer-swoon-worthy.

Before I delve into said meal, I have to preface this by saying that every month, we receive two printed culinary gems: Gourmet and Bon Appetit. Honestly, when each of these come in, I grab a mug of coffee/glass of wine/pint of beer and peruse to my heart’s content, dog-earing certain recipes, post-it noting others, etc.

Yet I hardly get around to ever making any of these recipes, mostly because I’m Lazy and Forgetful and these things do not bode well for meal planning. Yet I changed things with a “Mexican Seafood Saute” recipe in the June issue of Bon Appetit and am now UN-Lazy with a Great Memory. Anyway.

First of all…. For our Shrimp Tacos, I…wait for it… made… wait for it… TORTILLAS. Yes, I know, who does this? It’s like saying “Yo, I’m totally gonna make crackers” or “Man, I should just whip up some mustard right now.” I mean you can, obviously, but there are certain things that I think people take for granted at the grocery store, like tortillas. Tired of not getting my Mexican food craving satisfied, I took matters into my own hands and kneaded and rolled my way towards tortilla heaven. And guess what? Twasn’t hard at all. In fact, it was so flippin’ easy that Roni took one bite, looked at me, then said, “Sammy D, I’m sorry, but we are NEVER going back to store-bought tortillas.” This of course means I’ll be perfecting my technique because I kind of suck at rolling dough out into perfect circles, but oh MAN were they good. Here’s a quick shot, and I’m sorry that my stack of 9 tortillas doesn’t look taller.

From new year, new food

So, if that isn’t enough to get you all hot and bothered for this post, then we are moving on to the filling of said tortilla awesomeness.

Roni was in charge of the Shrimp Saute. First off, this sauce/marinade is so good I want to bathe in it. Which is kind of gross, but you haven’t tried it yet so don’t give me that look. With the shrimp it was incredible: bright, with multi-leveled flavors of fun and summer and there was a fiesta in my mouth.

From new year, new food

Money Shot!

We had some pretty ripe mangoes that I chopped up for the salsa, along with an avocado, jalapeno, shallots, lime juice and mint.

I can’t really describe why this dinner was so good. Maybe it was because the day had finally been sunny, we had gone kayaking in the Potomac in the morning, and were in complete summer-vacation moods with sunburned shoulders and that sweet exhaustion that comes with being outside all day. But, it was that good, and mama don’t lie.

From new year, new food

I also just made a straight-up black bean/corn/pepper salad that I always make when I have tacos or enchiladas because its tradition and I am a traditional kinda gal, you see. Plus its super easy and makes for good lunch-fixins for the next day or so.

Please make these tacos this summer, and set yourself a goal of making tortillas. It’s really not scary, I promise. Also, you’ll be the coolest person you know! It’s a win-win situation if you ask me. Oh, and don't rub your nose or your face after chopping jalapenos...even after you wash your hands twice...because it will burn. And if you actually read all the way through this long post, you get a gold star and I’ll even throw in a tortilla.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Your New Favorite Cookie

Okay. So. This is gonna be a quick and zippy entry because I’m kind of in between two bigger posts. Yet I know I need to get something up here like yesterday, so I thought I would treat you to some cookies.

Because everybody deserves a good cookie sometimes.

From new year, new food

I apologize for giving you such a meh oatmeal cookie recipe last time, but I am now making up for it with these Pecan Drops. I got them from The Wednesday Chef who in turn got them from the L.A. Times who in turn got them from Harris Ranch, which is an inn and restaurant owned by some huge beef feeder/marketer in California. Weird, I know, but what can you do. I’ve made them multiple times, they’re pretty fool-proof, and are SO GOOD. Also, they package and travel well according to Roni who has sent batches home to her family. This is made all the more important by the fact that Roni doesn’t really like baking at all. See? Easy as pie. Pecan Pie, actually, if we’re going to get down to business about what these cookies remind me of.

I love Thanksgiving, which I am sure I will discuss more and more as we get closer to the Big Event this upcoming November. One of my favorite aspects of Turkey Day is the array of pies. I LOVE pie. I do. Especially the crunchy topping on a good pecan pie. Honestly, that's what these cookies should be called- Easy Crunchy Pecan Pie Topping Amazingness Cookies.

From new year, new food

Oh, and guess what? They have no flour, no butter, maybe 5 ingredients, and come together in the flashiest of flashes. They are nutty and chewy and taste maple-y, which must be a magical caramel chemical reaction between the pecans and brown sugar.

From new year, new food

To the genius who invented these cookies: I want to give you a high-five and wear BFF heart necklaces together and then bake these cookies on rainy Sunday afternoons. Love, Samantha