Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Swiss Chard Mac and Cheese

I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the well-wishes.  I'm really excited about all the changes going on.  Currently the food I'm cooking and eating is my attempt to clean out my fridge before I leave....luckily, I have a healthy backlog of recipes for you and a guest post to get us all through this transition!

I'm sure I'm not the only one guilty of this one....

You start the week with the best of intentions.  The menu plan consists of lots of fresh produce, lean meats, and whole grains.  Maybe you threw in a few creative sauces and preparations.

Then your day starts like any other.  Wake up, drink some coffee, make lunch and head to work.
But then, the day turns cold and windy.  You get a paper cut, spill tea on your keyboard and get an ink stain on your blouse......you just want to go home, put on sweats, curl up on the couch and watch a movie.

Healthy food has no place in this day.

The sauteed chard on the pre-planned menu immediately sounds terrible.  Your mood can only be saved with pasta, bechamel, and lots of cheese.  Ok, so you can make room for the chard too, inspired by this post.  A little bit of health (and avoidance of wasting ingredients) is on this decadent menu now.

Swiss Chard mac and cheese
2 cups pasta (I used whole wheat penne)
1 cup milk (I used unsweetened soy)
1 cup shredded cheese (I used a mix of cheddar and fontina)
salt (to taste)
cayenne (just a sprinkle)
nutmeg (just a dash)
1 cup of chopped swiss chard
Breadcrumbs and shredded parm for topping

Start by filling one saucepan with water and setting it to boil.  In the other saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.  Once it is melted, add the flour and stir to create a light roux.  The flour should be creamy but not brown.  You just want to cook until the flour is no longer raw and is just slightly nutty.  Whisk in the cup of milk and bring to a simmer.  Once the milk is hot, add your cheese and continue stirring until the cheese has melted with the milk into a creamy sauce.  Add a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne (or more if you like a little more heat- the pinch just gives a little depth) and salt to taste.  Reduce the heat to low.

By now your pasta water should be boiling, so dump your noodles in.  When they are just about al dente, drop your chard in.  It only needs a minute or so.

Drain the noodles and chard in a colander, and fold into the cheese mixture.

Pour the cheesy mac into a buttered casserole dish and top with breadcrumbs and parm.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, or until the crumbs are browned.

While the pasta is baking, put on those comfy sweatpants, cue up a chick flick, and if that paper cut was exceptionally bad, go ahead and pour yourself a glass of wine.

Sorry for the gratuitous pasta shots.  I couldn't help myself!

I can't get my mind off of moving.....Do you have any packing tips??

Sunday, November 28, 2010

BIG Announcement

Whew, I feel like a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.

We alluded to some celebrations last Sunday, one of them Megan's engagement, Michelle's engagement (though it happened a while ago, we never formally celebrated!) Meghan quitting her job.....and me.

I'm the type of person who talks about everything that is going on with her.  Every high, every low....and everything in between.  I'm an open book - which is probably fairly obvious since I log much of what I cook and eat for the entire Internet to see.  It's been hard to keep my secret to myself!

Most of you by now know about Rafe - my boyfriend who lives in CT where he's attending law school.  And you MUST know that I live in Boston. For those of you not familiar with the drive - That's a good 2 hours in the car - 3 hours if you're leaving Boston anytime between 5pm and 7pm.

Though we both believe that we've done incredibly well with the distance, its very hard being that far away from someone whom you'd like to share everything with.  A few months back, I started the search for a new job in the Hartford area....a few of my friends knew, but I kept it off the blog (for obvious reasons).

I was recently offered a job in the Hartford area - and I have accepted it.  I'm very excited about my new gig, and, in a few short weeks I will be joining Rafe in CT.  I've given notice at my current company and I'm currently in the process of packing everything I've acquired in my apartment in the last 4 years into boxes and bags.

The decision to leave Boston is a difficult one.  When I was in high school I dreamed of living in one of the beautiful brownstones in the Back Bay, walking to work, walking to dinner, and living the city life.  I've had amazing times in this great town, made some of the best friends of my life, and definitely eaten some of the best food.

I'm honestly going to miss my job, my friends, and a lot about this city.  I'm excited for all of the things I will have more time for without that awful weekend commute: blogging, hanging out with blogger friends, cooking, writing, and spending time with family.  I anticipate coming to Boston frequently to hang out with friends - and hopefully have more potlucks!

I am going to miss being part of such a strong food community, and seeing the same people I've come to expect seeing on a regular basis.  I'll miss my lunch dates with Michelle, my office farmer's market, Boston Blogger Brunches, and all the events in town.

I'm going to be living in a new community, and am looking forward to exploring and getting to know this new place the best way I know how.....through the food!  I'm really excited about what Connecticut has to offer.  Lots of opportunity for eating local and farm fresh foods, lots of ethnic influence, and a much much bigger kitchen than I have in Boston.

I've got a few more weeks of shuttling between Boston and CT, but I hope you'll join me in my next chapter!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Blogger Potluck Sunday

Do you ever read blogs and wonder if the food in the pictures taste as good as they look?  I always do. And although I've hung out and dined with Megan, Michelle, Daisy and Meghan before - I've never actually tasted their cooking!  It merely tempts me everyday when I peek in my Google Reader. 

Last Sunday I DID get to taste the food (and cook for my friends too) when I got together with some of my favorite blogging friends for a potluck extravaganza!  

Megan generously offered to host at the condo she shares with her fiance Jeff.  So on Sunday I picked up Michelle and Daisy, and we met Meghan across the river at Megan's condo.
Her home was decorated with festive fall colors.

We brought lots of champagne and wine - to celebrate an engagement (or two), as well as some news I will share later.....along with some of my recipes from this day.

I popped the bubbly (I love doing it) and we started with our champagne.                              

And our snacks.....

 Megan's alevropita......aka, feta tart

A trio of dips :

Walnut and Mushroom Vegetarian Pate


And Meghan's white bean dip with white truffle oil

After we dipped and tippled we moved on to some more dishes:

Michelle's cold curry peanut noodles 

Daisy plated her creamy parsnip soup so beautifully with crispy fried leeks.

Megan's tortilla de Patas
 Look at how beautifully caramelized the tortilla is.

Michelle fried and steamed Mama Chang's dumplings

Daisy's warm Brussels sprout salad......this was outstanding....and became my lunch the next day with some peanut noodles and a dumpling.

My Cajun shrimp and creamy grits.....

My plate full of deliciousness (picture this dish x4).....

After we chilled out on the couch a bit it was time for dessert 

With pumpkin ice cream.....

Gingerbread croutons......
 And (swoon) caramel sauce........

If this looks like heaven in a little glass dish, its because it was.

Gunner enjoyed all the attention we had for him!  Though, I think we may have tired him out a bit.

We spent a wonderful Sunday afternoon sharing food, bubbly, and stories.  And yes, I can honestly say that Meghan, Daisy, Megan, and Michelle's food does taste as good as it looks!  I left with so many leftovers that I have lunches for a couple days!

It's so amazing to think that I may have never met these great women without the Internet and our shared love of food to introduce us....and the sharing of meals, stories and lives to strengthen the bond.  They are strong, smart, and incredibly hilarious.  I can't believe how long we spent eating and giggling.

This was a truly great day.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Jan Kabel's First Rate Soup

 Cranberry beans.

I encountered them at the farmer's market and since I had never seen them before, I decided - heck, why not buy 2 lbs of them!  Arriving home I searched for recipes to use my beans, but I couldn't find anything that appealed to me, and I was nervous to try to wing it with an ingredient I'd never used before.

I took my search to twitter:

@cicii3:  I can't find a good recipe for cranberry beans....can I just use them in soup?

Luckily, Reuben Kabel - (@reub) responded with a link to his mother Jan's First Rate Soup - using fresh cranberry beans. I loved the simplicity of the ingredient list....especially because I had most of the ingredients on hand in my pantry and freezer.

I decided to give it a go.  While Rafe shelled the beans, I got to work on the bacon.  That's where Jan hooked me...soup made with bacon will ALWAYS taste amazing.

I really liked this soup- it was homey and rustic and simple, but the flavors were still really complex. I was pretty sick last week, and it came in handy to sooth my sore throat, and help relive my congestion. It reminded me of a pasta fagioli that my mom used to make.

First Rate Soup
courtesy of: Jan Kabel
  • 2 lbs fresh cranberry beans, shelled (yielding 3 cups)
  • 1/2 lb bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 cups onion, diced
  • 2 cups celery, diced
  • 2 small (14oz) cans chicken stock
  • 1 small can diced tomato, drained
  • 1 cup Orecchiette (or other pasta)
  1. In a stockpot over medium heat, carefully render out all the fat from the bacon. Remove the browned bacon bits and set aside.
  2. Add onion, celery and sweat until translucent.
  3. Add the beans, cooked bacon, 8 cups of water and chicken stock. Once a boil is reached, lower heat to maintain a simmer for roughly 75 to 90 minutes or until the beans are tender.
  4. Add tomato and orecchiette and cook until tender, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn't stick to the bottom and burn. This may require additional water as the soup thickens.
  5. Salt and pepper to taste at the end.
I added some shredded zucchini that I had in the fridge - and halved the amount of celery because I only had 1 stalk.  I think this is a great soup to utilize what you have on-hand.  If you have some greens or other veg, I'd say dump it in.  It's a great 'anything goes base.  I reheated my soup a couple times with some shredded kale and it was yummy.

I topped the soup with a little grated Parmesan and chowed down.

Thanks Jan and Reuben! This is a great soup, and a technique I'll definitely use for ages. I loved how the pasta helped to thicken the soup, and the broth was fantastic!
What's your favorite kind of soup? What's the strangest ingredient you've ever picked up at the market?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blogger Q&A

Anne from Your Kind of Salad tagged me for a Blogger Wednesday Q&A!
Here are my answers...

1. What’s the worst job you ever had?
My worst job ever was as a camp counselor for my town's summer camp.  I'm not exactly a natural with children (except for my nephews/godson) and I was the ART counselor.  That meant keeping the youngins cooped up indoors drawing on gorgeous summer days. We ran out of sidewalk chalk in two days, and  I didn't even get a tan.

2. What was the first food blog you ever read?
The Vegan Lunch Box - though I'm not vegan myself, it was a great blog for photography, creativity, and having a really specific topic.

3. You’re cooking for the dreamy Tom Colicchio, what do you make him? 
Well, I generally make comfort foods for the fellas, but considering that one of my friends told me that Tom's macaroni and cheese changed her life, I wouldn't want to compete.  I'd probably make him something Portuguese, like fular - bread stuffed with linguica.  Butter the top and put it under the broiler to brown - Tom wouldn't know what hit him.

4. Ice Cream: Chocolate or Vanilla?
Vanilla - with crushed oreos please! 

5.  Exercise: Love it? or Do it for Health only? 
I used to exercise primarily for health, keeping fit, etc - but I would always fall off the wagon and skip the gym for several weeks at a time. Lately I've been keeping a pretty consistent yoga practice and although I'm noticing some fitness - I think its more of a mental health thing.  I feel ready to take on the day after my yoga!

Instead of tagging people - I want you to answer a question for me in the comments section....

If you were stranded on an island and could only bring 3 foods, what would they be?  I'd bring bread, cheese, and red wine.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Poblano Albondigas with Ancho Chile Soup

Another culinary adventure inspired by another farmer's market trip.  
The market had perfect, shiny, unblemished poblano peppers.  I didn't know what to do with them, but I knew that I couldn't leave them behind.  Rafe and I both love mexican food - so at the very least I would use them in chili or something....

But then I remembered one of my favorite issues of Bon Apetit Magazine, featuring 5 different meatball recipes. 
 I'd already made the pork meatball banh mi - but I had yet to try the mexican inspired soup - a soup that would use up my two poblanos.

Now, warning.  This is not a quick dinner, nor is it for folks who cannot handle spice.  I think I have a reasonable tolerance for heat, and this dish had me sweating....but it was soooo worth it.

It did require a couple special ingredients, namely the ancho chile powder - but I managed to find it at whole foods - so save yourself a trip or a bunch of phone calls and just go there.  Instead of panko, I subbed homemade breadcrumbs made from another heel of my sourdough bread.  And for the beef, I made what at the time seemed like a ridiculous trek through traffic to City Feed and Supply for VT beef.  

To make the recipe a little less daunting, I made the meatballs the night before we would eat the soup.  I rolled them, then put them on a baking sheet lined with plastic, then covered them with another piece of plastic and stored them in the fridge.  

I find that breaking difficult recipes into smaller steps can make it easier to overcome an otherwise lengthy cook time.  And since I was making a soup, I rationalized that the leftovers would make up for it!

Friday night after work, I made the soup as directed in the recipe - and subbed brown rice for white.  No big deal there.  Once the soup was simmering, I just had to drop my meatballs in one at a time.

While the soup was cooking with the meatballs, I got to work on my garnishes.  I cut 4 corn tortillas into thin strips and fried them in a few tablespoons of canola oil.  Although the recipe did not include this instruction, I salted them as soon as they came out of the oil.

*warning* do not make more than a serving at a time of these little tortilla strips or you will most certainly eat them all.  They are amazing.

Once the soup was ladeled into bowls it was topped with the tortilla strips and some cilantro.

These albondigas were rich and spicy.  Rafe and I both felt very satisfied making this our dinner, and we  enjoyed the leftovers for a few days.  

How do you overcome lengthy or demanding recipes?  Do you break them into stages?  Do you save them for special occasions?  Go all out and eat dinner super late?  Or do you avoid them altogether?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Stuffed Peppers

I'm just finishing up Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)

I realize that I'm likely the last foodie to read this.  I was also last to the Kite Runner party, I assume I was busy reading Bon Apetit and perusing cookbooks.  But I have to say, I really love this book....I mean, obviously I tend to like books that are about food in some way, but I think that the author really does a great job of educating about eating locally and sustainably without sounding preachy.  This book encouraged me to visit my farmers market - and buy most of my food for the week from local vendors.

I went to the farmer's market without any recipes planned - I just grabbed whatever looked fresh or interesting and planned my meals around what I had in my fridge and pantry.  These purple peppers are a perfect example of how I was able to plan my food around what I could get from my local farm, and be inspired by unique items.

Have I been living under a rock all these years, or is a purple pepper kind of rare?  I thought they were pretty so I wanted them to be front and center in a recipe and I immediately thought of stuffed peppers.  When I got home I perused my fridge and found leftover brown rice, half a jar of marinara, some shredded zucchini, feta cheese, and cranberry beans (also a farmers market find) and the heel of one of my sourdough loaves.  

I poured the marinara into the baking dish while I sauteed half an onion and some garlic until they were soft.  I added the zucchini to the pan just to warm it through, then added it to a bowl with the leftover rice.  I added some feta and the cranberry beans.

I stuffed the halved peppers and placed them in the dish.  Then I topped with breadcrumbs from that sourdough heel and baked at 350 for about 30 minutes.
These made a great lunch on Sunday afternoon.  I think I undercooked the beans, but otherwise this was pretty tasty.  I was a bit sad that my peppers lost their purple hue, but as I tasted them, I was less concerned with their appearance - the were delicious.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Buitoni: Wild Mushroom Agnolotti

Due to my relationship with the Foodbuzz Tastemaker program, I am sometimes offered samples of food products to try.  A while back I was offered the opportunity to try out a product from the Buitoni Reserva line of pastas and sauces.

I am a sucker for anything mushroom, so I went with the wild mushroom agnolotti.

As delicious as they sounded, they sat in my freezer for a good while.  I tend to make soups and stews to heat up during the week....and frankly, I forget about things in my freezer.  After a particularly long workday however, I decided to treat myself to some pasta.

While a pot of salted water came to a boil, I diced up some zucchini in my fridge.  In a skillet I melted a dot of butter, then sauteed the zucchini just enough to soften it, and added some salt, pepper, and a little dash of garlic powder.

Then I did what any foodie with a plate of pasta and a fondness for fat would do.  I put more butter in the pan and browned it. (I had a pretty bad day).

I tossed my pasta in the water, and in a few minutes the delightful little pillows floated to the top.  I pulled them from the water, tossed them with the browned butter, and plated them with some basil and parmesan cheese.

I ate all of them.  The mushrooms were rich and delicious, and the pasta had a perfect bite.  They were better than I imagined a frozen pasta could be.  I thought they were better than some ravioli I've ordered in Boston restaurants.

Bad work day forgotten....mission accomplished. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ghiradelli Giveaway: WINNER!

Wow, so many entries for this giveaway!  Trust me, these chocolates are worth it - and much better than everything that the kiddos got last night :)

Using random integer generator I picked entry #2 

Congratulations!! Blogisthenewblack!! - please email me your address (at afidalgo12@gmail.com) and I will make sure you get the coupons for FREE CHOCOLATE!!