Saturday, December 3, 2011

One healthy meal...check

Feeling a bit stuffed like last week's Thanksgiving turkey, Chris and I decided to get ourselves back into the gym every day this week. So far we've made good on that promise.

Another promise we made post-Thanksgiving was to eat a bit healthier. In other words, cutting out sweets (as much as possible). We're still working on that one. It's hard to resist Breyer's chocolate ice cream especially after having a salad with every dinner. But I haven't baked anything this week (yet). That counts, right?

I turned to homemade soup to help with the healthy food part of our December "resolution." What could be better for you than a nice hot bowl of minestrone soup?

I looked at a variety of minestrone soup recipes online since I haven't made it before, and decided to put together my own version which thankfully, turned out to be just what I was hoping it would be. It's loaded with vegetables and helps check off the box on our promise to eat healthy -- at least for one meal.

Minestrone Soup
(Courtesy of the Clarendon Cook)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup carrots, diced
2 large celery stalks, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
5 cups chicken stock
1 (28 oz.) can of petite diced tomatoes
1 (15 oz.) can of cannellini beans
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup of orzo pasta (or other small pasta)
1 cup of frozen diced green beans
1 cup of frozen corn
3 T. of your favorite pesto (This adds a fantastic depth of flavor to the soup. My favorite store-bought pesto is Bear Pond, which I've only seen at Whole Foods.)
Salt and pepper, to taste (I used about 1 tsp. of salt and 1/2 tsp. of pepper.)
Grated Parmesan, for garnish


In a stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrots and celery, saute for 10 minutes. Add zucchini and saute 5 minutes longer.

Add chicken stock, tomatoes, basil, oregano, and pasta (if uncooked) and simmer the soup for 10-15 minutes. (If pasta has been cooked ahead of time, add this at the very end.) Add the green beans, corn, and pesto, and simmer 5 minutes longer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with grated Parmesan.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving, the ultimate foodie holiday

Honey and Walnut Pumpkin Bread
Since Thanksgiving is just a few days away, I will be baking like crazy tomorrow. I'm tasked with bringing the desserts -- pumpkin pie and apple pie. This is quite a foodie holiday, isn't it? The food at Christmas is always great as well, but for this holiday, it's really all about the food.

I saw a friend at church yesterday and she was excited but nervous about making her first Thanksgiving meal for her family. It wasn't too long ago that I was in her shoes. The one thing I learned from making turkey on Thanksgiving is that it's not as difficult as you might think. I'll leave it to the experts (1-800-BUTTERBALL) to give you tips and tricks about turkeys, but I remember thinking after making my first one that I should make more turkeys throughout the year since it was fairly simple and provided great leftovers. Perhaps the most difficult thing on Thanksgiving is coordinating all the side dishes -- baking or reheating so that every dish is perfectly warm when you're ready to eat. For that, all I suggest is to prepare as much as you can ahead of time and have a few helpers in the kitchen.

But since I'm only tasked with making dessert this year, I'll give you some recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth. As I said, I'm making pumpkin pie and to let you in on a little secret, I use the recipe on the back of the Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin can. The pumpkin pies have turned out perfectly every single time, so why mess with a good thing? In addition, I found a more healthy pumpkin bread recipe from Whole Foods. It was delicious, but a little too healthy-tasting for me. However, a good friend of mine said that it suited her tastes perfectly.

Whatever you make (or just buy) for Thanksgiving, I hope you have a wonderful food-filled day with friends and family!

Libby's Famous Pumpkin Pie
(Courtesy of Libby's)

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
2 large eggs
1 can (15 oz.) Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin
1 can (12 fl. oz) evaporated milk
1 unbaked 9-inch (4-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell

Mix sugar, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk. Pour into pie shell.

Bake in preheated 425 degree F oven for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees F; bake 40-50 minutes or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate.

Note: Do not freeze pie, as this will cause the crust to separate from the filling.

Note #2: 1 3/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice may be substituted for the cinnamon, ginger, and cloves, however, the taste will be slightly different.

Honey and Walnut Pumpkin Bread
(Courtesy of Whole Foods)

Canola oil cooking spray
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup oat bran or wheat germ
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
6 tablespoons cane sugar
1/3 cup canola or sunflower oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup milk
1 1/4 cups fresh or canned pumpkin puree
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch loaf pan with canola oil cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, oat bran, baking powder, pumpkin pie spice, salt and baking soda. In a second large bowl, combine sugar, oil, honey, milk, pumpkin, egg and vanilla then add to flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in walnuts.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan and bake until cooked through and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool for 15 minutes on a wire rack then remove from pan and set aside to let cool completely.

Serves 8-10

Per serving (1 piece/113g-wt.): 320 calories (150 from fat), 17g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 25mg cholesterol, 170mg sodium, 39g total carbohydrate (5g dietary fiber, 19g sugar), 7g protein

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Free Lattes and Other News

I think Trader Joe's being a block away from where I live is going to be my downfall. I've already been there twice since it opened. But to be fair, I needed two receipts so that both my husband and I could enjoy free lattes at South Block Smoothie & Wrap Co. in Clarendon this weekend. All we needed to do to get that great deal was to show a receipt from Trader Joe's. So the two shopping trips were worth every sip of those delicious free lattes! The deal ends today so make plans to stop at both places if you're in the neighborhood.

Speaking of my new neighborhood grocery store, a really nice thing happened on Friday. The Clarendon Culture blog showcased some of the photos I took from the Trader Joe's opening. You can see the post here. Clarendon Culture often showcases a lot of Arlington eats, among other neighborhood news, so definitely check out the site. It's one of my favorite daily reads.

If you're new to my blog, or even if you've been following my site for awhile, please take a minute to "like" my page on Facebook. Just click here or you can search for "Cooking in Clarendon" on Facebook to sign up that way. I'm posting recipes that catch my eye (that I may not have gotten to try yet) and other food-related news. Sometimes it's just easier that way, especially with a toddler running around (or with me running after my toddler, that is).

Hope you're enjoying this beautiful, unseasonably warm fall day!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trader Joe's in Clarendon is finally open!

Chris, Claire, and I were some of the first customers through the doors of the new Trader Joe's in Clarendon at 8 am today. Greeted by cheering employees handing out free Trader Joe's reusable shopping bags, leis, and food samples such as apple cider and pumpkin cheesecake, we became glad really quickly that we got up early and braved the cold weather. At 16 months old, Claire officially became the youngest customer to set foot in this store.

Welcome to the neighborhood Trader Joe's!

Trader Joe's Clarendon
1109 North Highland Street
Arlington, VA 22201
(703) 351-8015

Welcome neighbor!

Grand opening!
Chris is enjoying the free apple cider...

Beautiful murals and food...
Claire, the youngest customer in Trader Joe's Clarendon store

At the Clarendon Metro "stop"

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A hiatus from chicken...

I guess it can be easy to fall into a groove of using the same main ingredient. I didn't realize I had done that until my husband said he didn't want to eat chicken for at least two weeks.

So my chicken hiatus sent me scurrying back to my cookbooks. This was going to be a challenge for sure.

Oh, if I only had a grill! I tend not to make steak or burgers very much because of that reason, and besides, if I want either of those, so many restaurants in Arlington do a much better job.

So what would I make? I decided on something with shrimp -- Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham to be exact. I had made this awhile ago, and thankfully, it was rather simple to prepare and tasted delicious too.

That would take care of one meal. Back to the cookbooks...

Jambalaya with Shrimp and Ham
(Courtesy of Ellie Krieger)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more, to taste
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 ounces diced, smoked ham
2 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can no-salt added diced tomatoes
1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
1 pound peeled and deveined medium shrimp
Hot pepper sauce

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over a medium heat. Add the onion, peppers and garlic and saute until they begin to soften, about 10 minutes. Mix in the next 11 ingredients, salt through the diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Stir in the rice, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until rice is done and most of the liquid is absorbed.

Add the shrimp and cook, covered, for 5 minutes more, or until shrimp is cooked through. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with hot pepper sauce.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Hot dogs. Wagon wheel pasta. Sliced carrots from a can. French fries. Goldfish crackers. Kiwi.

What do all those things have in common?

Claire will eat them.

Of course, she will eat just about whatever she can fit between her fingers as long as its sweet, fried, or tastes like a hot dog and doesn't require me feeding her with a spoon. (Sigh...cue the nods of agreement from moms who've been through the toddler phase.)

I don't think I've ever bought so many packages of hot dogs in my life.

But today I'm back to trying something else that worked a few weeks ago -- salmon cakes, in baby-sized portions. Babycakes, for short. (Yes, I know she's technically not a baby anymore, but she's still my baby and always will be.)

So hopefully, she will just love this for dinner tonight, along with her carrots from a can. I guess I can always give her another hot dog. Sigh...

Salmon Cakes (a.k.a. Babycakes)
(Courtesy of Kelly Oliver)

2 (5 oz.) packages of salmon
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
1 tsp. dried dillweed
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 egg
Dash of salt
1 cup dried bread crumbs
2 T. olive oil

Combine all ingredients, except for the 1 cup of dried bread crumbs and olive oil, in a bowl and mix well. Form into small patties. (This recipe makes about 6 small patties.) Put the 1 cup of dried bread crumbs into a separate bowl. Cover each side of the patties with the bread crumbs.

Heat a skillet over medium, and then add the olive oil. Pan fry each patty on both sides until golden brown, roughly 2-3 minutes on each side.

Serve to your baby, or to yourself!

These also freeze really well in case your baby likes them one day and not the next.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Winter Weather Advisory: Stay Home and Make Toffee

A week or so ago, I started creating a list of sweets I want to make, and perhaps it's no surprise that the list keeps growing. There are so many amazing-looking cookies, cakes and candies out there! And I never mind experimenting with chocolate and sugar. Ever.

Besides, the weather is cooler, and Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming very soon. Might as well start practicing my sweets menu early. (Do I even need a real reason to make sweets?)

I spotted this Pecan-Molasses Toffee recipe in the Williams-Sonoma Desserts cookbook and put it on my list immediately. What could be better than a toffee-scented house on a cold rainy/snowy day?

Turns out that this recipe is divine. It's thick, nutty, and of course, the chocolate makes a great partner with the toffee.

This is one recipe that will show up with me during the holidays, if not several times before then. It does appear that it will be a long winter, after all.

Pecan-Molasses Toffee
(Courtesy of Williams-Sonoma Desserts)

1 1/4 cups unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup very coarsely chopped pecans, plus 1/2 cup medium-fine chopped pecans
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
6 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Butter a small baking sheet. (I used an 8x8 metal pan, which worked very well.) In a heavy 2 1/2-qt. saucepan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the granulated sugar, brown sugar, water, and molasses. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring slowly but constantly, until a candy thermometer registers 290 degrees F, about 15 minutes.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the coarsely chopped pecans and the cinnamon. Immediately pour the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet. Do not scrape the residue from the pan bottom. Let stand for 1 minute. Sprinkle the chocolate over the toffee. Let stand for 1 minute to soften. Then, using the back of a metal spoon, spread the chocolate over the toffee until melted. Sprinkle with the medium-fine chopped pecans. Refrigerate, uncovered, until the candy is firm, about 2 hours.

Break into 2-inch pieces. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Makes about 1 1/2 lb.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Time for the Slow Cooker!

Time to break out the slow cooker! I had almost forgotten I even owned one and then the temperature dropped, ushering in a need-to-hibernate-and-eat-slow-cooked-food kind of feeling. (That, and cookies.)

I love this slow cooked stew recipe below - it's not your typical beef stew because of the hoisin sauce, which has a wonderful sweetness. And don't be afraid of the hot sauce - the heat isn't overwhelming. (Although if you like heat, you may want to add a little bit more than what the recipe calls for.) The best part is that I was able to put this together with a toddler underfoot, which means it's rather easy too. And these days, that's the best kind of meal. Hopefully, doing more slow cooking will leave me more time to bake some cookies.


Slow Cooker Hoisin Beef Stew
(Courtesy of Whole Foods)

1/2 cup beef broth
1 (10-ounce) bottle hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon hot sauce
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece peeled ginger, grated
1 1/2 pounds cubed round or chuck stew beef
2 yellow onions, roughly chopped
1 cup baby carrots
2 ribs celery, roughly chopped

Whisk together broth, hoisin, hot sauce, garlic and ginger in a wide, shallow dish or bowl. Add beef, onions, carrots and celery and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate overnight. (Refrigerating overnight is optional. The stew will still turn out delicious.)

Transfer meat mixture to a slow cooker, cover and cook on a low setting until beef is very tender, 6 to 8 hours. Alternately, cook on a high setting for about 3 hours. Ladle into bowls and serve. (I like to serve this stew over rice.)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Picking Peaches

Summer just isn't summer unless there's peach pie. But for the first time in my life, I actually got to pick the peaches that went into my annual summer fling. For some of you reading this, that may not seem like such a big deal because, well, picking fruit at various farms and orchards has been something you've done growing up, or that you've recently done with your kids. I've noticed that it seems to be the thing to do with your kids ever since I moved to Virginia. That, and picking strawberries, which I fully intend to do sometime.

Well, I've picked my fair share of apples from an old apple tree that grew in our big backyard of the house I grew up in. Mostly it was apples that had fallen to the ground already because the tree was so tall, but my family and I still ate them so it's as close to the real thing as you can get.

So my first time picking peaches was also Claire's first time as well, although she probably won't remember it much since she's still a little person. But she did get to ride in a red wagon at the orchard for the first time, letting out squeals of delight along the way. (See picture below.) My excitement was a little different. It was when I got to pick my first peach from the tree, when I realized how cool it was cool that peaches could grow on trees. It's just not a sight I see every day. A slow smile crept onto my face. Satisfaction.

So after Chris and I had picked a few pounds worth, we headed home while I contemplated what I would make with our bounty. I furiously researched peach recipes on my iPhone, finding some good ones at Whole Foods and on the AllRecipes app, and put out a call to my friends on Facebook for their ideas. I knew I wanted to make a peach pie and came across a fairly straightforward one at By the time we got home, I decided to make a peach salsa and the peach pie. Both turned out well, much to my delight, though I'm not sure which I enjoyed more - picking the peaches or eating them.

Claire taking her first wagon ride at the orchard.
Peach Salsa
(Courtesy of Chiles Peach Orchard)

3 large ripe peaches (for about 3 cups diced)
1/2 teaspoon sugar (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large ripe tomato (for about 1 cup diced)
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeno pepper (for about 1 tablespoon minced)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves (or less, depending on how much you like cilantro!)

Peel and pit the peaches, and cut them into roughly 1/4 inch dice. lace pieces into bowl, and squeeze the lime juice over the peaches and sprinkle on the sugar and salt. Stir to coat well.
Core the tomato, leave peel on, and cut into 1/4 inch dice. Add it to the bowl.

Peel and finely chop the garlic. Rinse and seed the jalapeno (might want to wear gloves), mince it finely and add to bowl. Rinse and dry cilantro, and mince finely. Add it to the bowl. Stir well. Taste for sweetness, add more sugar if necessary.

Classic Peach Pie (shown above) 
(Courtesy of The City Cook)'

6 to 8 large fresh peaches, peeled and sliced into thick, 3/4-inch slices, enough to produce 6 cups
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar (use a little more or less depending on how sweet your peaches)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into small bits
Pastry dough for two-crust pie (I used Pillsbury refrigerated pie crusts for simplicity's sake.)


Pre-heat the oven to 400° F. Prepare the pastry dough and roll into two 10-inch circles; reserve one circle and keep it refrigerated.

Line a 9-inch glass or metal pie plate with the other circle of pastry dough, leaving about 1-inch of dough along the rim.

In a large mixing bowl combine the sugar, cinnamon and flour, using a fork to blend together. Add the peeled and sliced peaches and lemon juice and stir gently to completely coat the peaches. Try not to do this step too far in advance of assembling the pie because you'll get too much juice.

Spoon the peaches into the prepared pie plate. If there are juices already in the bowl, leave them behind and don't add to the pie. Scatter with the pieces of cold butter.

Cover the pie with the second rolled-out crust. Carefully seal the edges by crimping it by hand or with a fork. Cut 4 steam vents in the top crust.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the crust is golden brown. If the edges start getting too dark before the pie is finished cooking, gently wrap strips of aluminum foil around the edges to protect them during the last minutes of baking. Remove from the oven and let cool completely -- at least an hour -- before cutting. Serve warm with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A week of 10 year anniversaries...

It's been a week of remembering events that happened 10 years ago, and my personal story is no different. While we were engulfed in the 9/11 tragedy, I was preparing to move to a different state, further away from home than I had ever lived. People that week repeatedly asked me why I would move to the Washington, DC, area from Pittsburgh, given the awful attacks. Yet I didn't feel unsafe. Unfortunately, there is no area in the world that is truly safe. I was excited to start a new phase of my life, yet, like everyone else in this country at the time, I was in a cloud of uncertainty about what would happen next.

Now, 10 years later on this very day, I've gone from driving my car packed with my belongings, my dad following behind driving the moving van, wondering where I would find work and how I would make new friends, to a day where I woke up next to my husband of 6 years in our home in Clarendon, with our 1-year-old daughter peacefully sleeping in the next room. It's such a wonderful contrast, it brings tears to my eyes as I type. God is good.

It's good to reflect on where we've been and how far we've come. We can see hope in the midst of tragedy and uncertainty. We can see love bloom where we didn't know it would grow. We can see that some dreams do come true. We can know for certain that there is redemption.

In honor of 10 years of living in Northern Virginia, I submit to you one of my new favorite recipes for a cuisine I didn't try until I moved here -- Indian food. It's not spicy, just savory and delicious. (I know many people who say they don't want to eat Indian food because it's too spicy. Not so here.)

So here's to trying new things, to future hopes and dreams, and to the next 10 years!

Chicken Tikka Masala
(Courtesy of Redbook)


From the pantry -
2 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 tsp. each garam masala, garlic puree, and minced fresh ginger
1 (14 oz) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, drained well
1 (15 oz) jar tikka masala cooking sauce
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk

Fresh ingredients -
1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Accompaniments -
cooked basmati rice with green peas - (follow cooking directions on the rice package, adding frozen peas while the rice boils)
Cucumber Raita  - optional - (see below for recipe)


1. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add chicken and cook 4 minutes, turning pieces as they brown (chicken will still be raw in middle); remove to a plate.

2. Add onion, garam masala, garlic, and ginger to skillet; saute 5 minutes, or until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes and saute 2 minutes longer.

3. Add tikka masala sauce and bring mixture to a boil; cover skillet and simmer 10 minutes. Add chicken to sauce and stir in coconut milk. Continue to simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes, or until chicken is just cooked through. Stir in cilantro. Serve over cooked basmati rice with green peas and Cucumber Raita.

Makes 6 servings.
Each serving: 278 cal, 15 g fat, 25 g protein, 10 g carb

Cucumber Raita: Coarsely grate 1/2 of a long seedless cucumber and squeeze out most of its water. Combine in a bowl with 1 cup thick Greek yogurt and 1/2 tsp. each salt, ground cumin, and dried mint. Makes 1 cup.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yummy Baby Food Meal Combos

So with a little inspiration in the kitchen comes some fun meals. I've been experimenting a bit with food combinations for Claire. After all, if she likes Earth Best's Creamy Chicken Apple Compote, surely she will like a few things I came up with, right?

Right and wrong. I've made a few meal combinations that she enjoys though she still seems to prefer single ingredient servings. Like everything else with a child, I'm sure that will eventually change. In the meantime, I'm going to keep experimenting.

That said, here are a few meals that I've put together for Claire which are, in my opinion, pretty tasty. Feel free to use these for your child and feel free to post some food combinations in the comments section below that your child enjoys! I'm always looking for new ideas.

Black Beans and Chicken

1 (15 oz.) can of black beans, drained and rinsed
2 oz. serving of cooked and pureed carrots
2 oz. serving of no-salt-added diced tomatoes (homemade* or from a can)
1 can of pre-cooked chicken, drained (or about 1/4 cup of pre-cooked plain chicken)
4 oz. pre-cooked brown rice

I had already cooked and pureed the carrots and tomatoes ahead of time. Add the black beans, carrots, tomatoes, chicken and corn into a blender, food processor or in your Beaba Babycook. Blend ingredients until desired consistency, adding water to thin the mixture out as needed. Stir in the rice after the mixture has been blended (or blend with the ingredients if your baby is texture-averse). This makes for a very delicious and nutritious meal.

*I made the tomatoes by steaming about 5 diced tomatoes and then blending them together in the Beaba Babycook. I froze individual servings so that I can use them as needed.

Potatoes, Spinach and Tomatoes

1 medium Russet potato, cooked and cubed
1 1/2 cups frozen spinach, thawed
2 oz. serving of no-salt-added diced tomatoes (homemade* or from a can)

Blend ingredients in a blender, food processor or in your Beaba Babycook to desired consistency, adding water to thin the mixture out as needed.

Chicken, Potatoes and Green Beans

1 can of pre-cooked chicken, drained (or about 1/4 cup of pre-cooked plain chicken)
1 medium Yukon gold potato, cooked and cubed
4 oz. serving of frozen green beans, thawed, steamed and pureed

Blend ingredients in a blender, food processor or in your Beaba Babycook to desired consistency, adding water to thin the mixture out as needed.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The secret to kitchen inspiration has been found...

I've had a love/hate relationship with food the last few months. I love food, especially sweets, but since March, Chris and I started focusing on exercising six days a week and eating more healthfully and sweets usually don't fit into that regimen. Don't get me wrong, we are still eating some sweets, but we're trying to cut back a bit and try different things to satisfy our sweet teeth like eating dark chocolate or munching on fresh fruit. So I haven't been baking like I used to, which is kind of sad, and perhaps as a result, making meals have become somewhat routine and mundane.

I'm hoping that's changing a bit though. Maybe it was the short trip we took over Memorial Day weekend to St. Michaels, MD, where the seafood (especially crab) is plentiful, that gave me a much-needed break from cooking, let alone even thinking about it, that is giving me new momentum. After all, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, making "adult" food and lots of baby food since Claire is getting bigger and requiring more calories. The only thing I had to think about food-wise over the weekend was at what restaurant to eat. Now, that's a vacation! We stayed at a bed and breakfast (the Hambleton Inn) with a lovely innkeeper, Sherrie, who made amazing breakfasts, complete with dessert after each meal such as baklava and tiramisu. (Our diets were also on vacation.) One day we had afternoon tea at The Inn at Perry Cabin, a beautiful hotel with an idyllic scene -- a wide grassy lawn with wooden white lawn chairs and tables that led right up to the edge of the Chesapeake Bay that was dotted with sailboats. No wonder The Wedding Crashers movie was filmed there. (See pictures below.)

I must feel refreshed since the day after we got home, I made three dishes -- a delicious pasta with broccoli and sun-dried tomatoes, a Tex-Mex mash for Claire, and curry chicken with rice. I haven't done that much cooking in one day in quite a while. So I guess the moral of the story is that if you feel uninspired in the kitchen, take a vacation!

Here's one of the recipes I just that's now destined to be one of my go-to meals for the summer. It's easy, delicious and can be enjoyed warm or cold.

Penne with Broccoli and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Courtesy of Alan Greene, M.D., "Feeding Baby Green"

3/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
8 oz. penne pasta (I used elbow macaroni which worked fine.)
4 oz. portabella mushrooms, sliced (I used a 4 oz. can since I didn't have fresh on hand.)
3 cups fresh broccoli florets, cut into bite-sized pieces
4 oz. kalamata olives or other black olives
4 oz. feta cheese (I didn't have feta on hand so I just used Parmesan, and it was delightful nonetheless.)
2 oz. Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

Put the sun-dried tomatoes and chopped garlic in a small bowl and pour the olive oil over them. Let them stand at least 30 minutes before cooking, or overnight, to allow the tomatoes to reconstitute and the oil to become flavored. If you allow the flavors to marry for longer than four hours, put them in the refrigerator. (Instead of following this step, I used a jar of sun-dried tomatoes that were packed in olive oil and just added them together with the 5 cloves of garlic and 1/4 cup olive oil in the skillet. It was much quicker that way.)

Cook the penne according to package directions in a very large cooking pot.

While the pasta is cooking, begin cooking the sauce. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and add the tomato-garlic-oil mixture to the pan. Saute for one minute. Add the mushrooms and broccoli, and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the broccoli is tender but still crisp - about 5 or 6 minutes. If the mixture appears to be dry, add 1/4 cup of water during the process.

When the pasta is al dente, drain the water and pour the penne back into the cooking pot. Add the tomato, garlic, broccoli, and mushrooms to the pasta. Gently stir in the olives and feta cheese. Mix thoroughly. (I also added a few teaspoons of the oil in the sun-dried tomato jar for extra flavor and a teaspoon of red pepper flakes for a little kick.)

Divide into four servings and sprinkle Parmesan on each serving if desired.

Claire on the grassy lawn of The Inn at Perry Cabin, St. Michaels, MD.
The Inn at Perry Cabin is in the background. Beautiful, isn't it?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy 1st Birthday to Claire!

Happy birthday to my baby! My little one turned one yesterday...ushering her into official toddler-hood, much to my (and Chris') dismay. Wherever did the last year go? Perhaps it's a bit ironic that the first few months of her life, I was wondering how we'd make it to her first birthday...after all, infants require a LOT of energy...yet, now I'm wishing the last year wasn't over.

But enough of the tears and on to more exciting things. This little one certainly enjoyed her first cupcake -- vanilla cake with vanilla icing and purple sprinkles on top -- from our neighbor, Bakeshop ( Yum!

Claire, being a true Oliver, first touched the icing on the cupcake and quickly pulled her hand away because she hasn't really gotten to touch gooey things and didn't seem to enjoy that sensation. But she recovered and eventually dove right in, battering the cupcake back and forth and smashing cake and icing all over her tray. She couldn't eat it until I broke off some pieces for her and, as I expected, she definitely liked it as she demonstrated with big one-tooth grins and shouts of joy. She also eventually realized that when she sucked on her cake-and-icing-coated fingers, they tasted really good! What a great surprise that was!

It's been a great first year having a child -- I cannot wait to see what the next year brings! I'm sure I'll need even more energy than this past year. And I have a feeling that I'll be right back at this computer next year wondering where her second year of life went. See you then.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fabulous Food Friday: Georgetown Cupcake

I was late on getting into the cupcake craze. I just didn't see what the big deal was. I loved cupcakes and all, but why not just bake a cake? It lasts longer.

So when the now-famous Georgetown Cupcake opened up shop a few years ago, complete with lines around the block, I shook my head. Was a cupcake really worth standing in line for long periods of time? Could those cupcakes really be worth it? Surely this was just a fad spurred on by all the Georgetown college students. (In case you're wondering, Georgetown Cupcake is featured on TLC's DC Cupcakes show.)

I didn't find out what I was missing until a client sent me a dozen cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcake as a thank you. Well, getting a thank you like that was something I wasn't about to resist. (Plus, can you imagine my surprise when a box of cupcakes was delivered to my office? I just about fell over in disbelief.)

Ok, so now you're wondering, were they good? Well, no, they weren't good. They were little pieces of heaven. The cakes were moist and flavorful and the icing was swirled on perfectly - they had the right ratio of cake to icing - just enough to put me into a sugar coma. I can't believe I had missed these all those years. What was I thinking?

But I've made up for lost time. When I went out for a walk with a friend, both of us pushing our daughters in strollers, we walked a few miles from Clarendon to Georgetown and ended up at Georgetown Cupcake. I brought home a dozen. Why not, right? Then Chris had his birthday. And Valentine's Day came around. Then our anniversary. My birthday will be here soon enough.

It's hard to pick a few favorite flavors because every cupcake I've tried from there so far has been delightful, but I definitely recommend the ones that have filling in the middle, such as the Lava Fudge. They are especially divine.

I can see why these cupcakes were worth standing in line for (though I've only done that once). But just a note, the shop does make deliveries inside the Beltway, or you can order a day ahead and pick them up in person, bypassing the line. (They also ship if you're out of state.) Now that the weather is  nicer, I have a feeling I'll be strolling towards Georgetown Cupcake again real soon.

Georgetown Cupcake

Two locations: 
3301 M Street NW (corner of 33rd & M)
Washington, DC 20007

4834 Bethesda Avenue
Bethesda, MD 20814

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Move over meat, vegetables are the new star!

I grew up on meat and potatoes so to speak, so the term "vegetarian" was like describing a member of a foreign country. Vegetables were normally just side dishes, not main dishes, in our family.

Well, fast forward just a couple of years (okay, maybe a few more than that), to present day. I wouldn't call myself a vegetarian (I still love meat too much) but I do love vegetables even though they're usually relegated to the side of a meal as an afterthought. After all, I have a husband who when he's hungry, wants to be filled up. Vegetables usually don't fill that void. Claire, on the other hand, is the one member of our family who consumes more than her fair share of them right now.

However, I found a dish that's pleasing to my hungry husband and to me, and that is (gasp!) vegetarian! This "Bombay Vegetable Stew" is quite delicious, nutritious, and plenty filling. The recipe is from a book titled "Feeding Baby Green" by Alan Greene, M.D., which, being a new mom and all, I've been reading since it has a lot of good meal ideas for kids. This is a meal I will eventually make for Claire when she gets a little more used to chunky textures but for now, I'm definitely going to be making this a lot for the adults in this household.

Bombay Vegetable Stew
Courtesy of Alan Greene, M.D., "Feeding Baby Green"

1/2 cup lentils, dried (or 1 cup canned lentils)
1 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 T. fresh ginger, minced
3 large carrots, diced
1 cup cauliflower, broken into small florets
1 (14.5 oz.) can of diced tomatoes
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 cup cooked chickpeas
1 cup green peas
1 1/2 cups water (if using canned lentils, include the liquid from the can with the water to equal 2 cups total)
Kosher salt, to taste

In large saucepan, cook the dried lentils according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and saute the onions and garlic until the onions are tender. Add the ginger and stir.

Add the carrots and cauliflower to the onion mixture and continue to cook until the carrots are warm all the way through, but still crisp. Add the tomatoes and curry powder and cook a few minutes more.

Add the lentils, chickpeas, green peas, and water. Simmer on low heat for about 20 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Turn off heat if you are not serving immediately to prevent the vegetables from becoming mushy. The flavors will intensify and blend beautifully. Reheat briefly before serving.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Quick Weeknight Meal: Tortilla Stack

I'm always on the hunt for dinner ideas that will be quick and easy to serve during the week.  My mom made this creative Tortilla Stack dish for us while we were visiting and it was delicious and relatively healthy. What's easier than putting a few layers together and then baking? Not much. And of course, any Mexican food is alright with me. I've made this several times and it's best right out of the oven. Leftovers tend to make the tortillas a tad soggy. But if you're looking to feed a crowd, this one's a pleaser! Thanks for the recipe Mom!

Tortilla Stack
(Recipe adapted from Cooking Light)

1 medium green pepper, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 T. fresh cilantro, minced
1 lb. ground beef, cooked
1 tsp. cumin
1 1/2 cups salsa
5 flour tortillas (8 inch)
1 1/4 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided
5 T. sliced black olives
1/3 cup pickled jalapeno slices (I used a small can of diced mild green chiles which worked well.)

Saute peppers and onions in oil until tender. Remove from pan and set aside. Cook the beef in the same pan. Then add the peppers and onions to the meat, stir in the cilantro and cumin; heat through.

Spread 1/4 cup salsa into a 9-inch deep dish pie plate coated with nonstick cooking spray. Layer one tortilla, a 1/4 of the meat mixture, 1/4 cup salsa, 1/4 cup cheese, 1 T. olives and 2 or 3 jalapeno slices. Repeat layers three times. Top with remaining tortilla, salsa, olives and jalapeno slices.

Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining cheese and bake 5-10 minutes longer until heated through and cheese is melted.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Quick Weeknight Meal: Chicken Cobb Salad

One of my good friends is always asking me what I'm making for dinner so she can find some inspiration in the kitchen. Sometimes I'm taking an adventurous route and trying a new recipe, though most nights I'm making the go-to dishes I've posted on this blog. One of the new dishes I've tried recently is this yummy and colorful Chicken Cobb Salad. It was an easy and delicious meal that didn't require cooking - just assembling. (Though I did cook the bacon and hard boiled the eggs a day ahead.) I hardly knew what to do with myself after dinner when there weren't any pots and pans to wash!

Most salads seem to be on the lighter side but this one was even filling enough to keep my hungry husband satisfied - a definite plus. You can bet I'll be making this one again. Plus, I'm always willing to hang up my dish gloves for a night!

Chicken Cobb Salad
(Recipe adapted from "Everyday Food")

4 slices bacon (4 oz.)
3 T. red-wine vinegar
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 large head romaine lettuce, shredded
8 oz. cooked chicken breast (or roasted turkey), cut into 3/4-inch dice (2 cups) - (I use pre-cooked packaged Perdue grilled chicken breast strips.)
1/2 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 oz. feta (or blue cheese), crumbled (3/4 cup)
2 hard-cooked eggs, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 handful of grape tomatoes
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

Cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp on both sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Let cool, then crumble the bacon. (This step can be done ahead of time.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, and mustard. Place the lettuce on a serving platter, and toss with the dressing. Arrange the remaining ingredients on the lettuce as desired, and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Leftovers Revamped with Peruvian Chicken Dish

Leftovers really have a bad reputation, though I'm not sure why. I mean, I live for leftovers. In a mere few minutes, I have ready-to-eat, no-fuss food. Maybe combining the words "left" and "over" has a negative connotation, as if the extra food isn't worthwhile. Poor leftovers. Don't worry, you're always welcome in my house.

Leftovers will be happily eaten in my family if they are this Peruvian-Style Roasted Chicken dish, as pictured. I'd categorize this as a quick weeknight meal only if you have about an hour and a half to chop the ingredients and let the dish bake, but not many of us have that kind of time in the evening. So make this on the weekend when you have more time, and then come Monday morning, you'll have great leftovers for lunch or even dinner. I love this dish because of the delicious combination of flavors and the chicken ends up melting in your mouth. And it's pretty healthy as well. Bring on the leftovers!

Peruvian-Style Roasted Chicken
Courtesy of Whole Foods

1 1/2 tsp. canola oil, plus more for oiling the pan
1 1/2 T. sweet paprika (regular paprika is fine)
1 T. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
1 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 1/2 T. white wine vinegar
2 large sweet onions, peeled and thickly sliced (definitely use sweet onions, not regular onions, otherwise the dish won't taste as good)
1 chicken, cut into 10 serving pieces* (I used 2-3 chicken breasts instead.)
2 red or yellow bell peppers, cored, seeded and cut into chunks
1 lemon, sliced

Preheat oven to 425°F. Oil a large roasting pan and set aside. In a small bowl, combine paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, garlic, vinegar and oil to make a paste. Place onions in a large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of the paste. Rub chicken pieces with remaining paste and place in prepared pan, then cover with onions, peppers and lemon. Roast, basting occasionally with pan juices, until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are very tender, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 5 minutes before serving. Serve over rice.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fabulous Food Friday: Clarendon's Delhi Club

An Indian food feast at Clarendon's Delhi Club
It's been a long time since I've written about a fantastic restaurant, and given how many new places I've tried since then, it's about time to begin again. (Yes, even the Clarendon Cook needs to go out once in a while.)

There have been a lot of great restaurants opening in the Clarendon neighborhood in recent months (with more to come), but one of my favorites has been around for a few years - the Delhi Club. Chris and I have been going there for dinner for years and the Indian food it serves has become our favorite. Each dish is warm and delicious, definitely comfort food that fills you up. Look at the picture and tell me that doesn't look AMAZING, right?

I recently discovered that this place has a lunch buffet Monday through Friday. The buffet is a fantastic deal (just less than $10) for the wide selection offered -- they had my favorite Butter Chicken, and other great dishes like Chana Masalla, Chicken Vindaloo, Lamb Rogan Josh, Saag Paneer, Dal Makhani, and more.

I owe it to the Delhi Club for making Indian food my favorite cuisine. And that's hard to do given my Italian roots.

Delhi Club
1135 N. Highland Street
Arlington, VA  22201

Saturday, February 12, 2011

I Love Chocolate Cake

Nothing says love like chocolate. For me, I'm not too picky about what kind of chocolate, though the dark and milk varieties are my favorites. Chris, my brother Brett, and I once toured a real chocolate factory - Scharffen Berger - in San Francisco (which has now closed down), and it was like visiting heaven. We got a great education on chocolate that day, and although I have a great appreciation for Scharffen Berger's amazing chocolate, I'll take (eat) Hershey Kisses any day. I think Chris feels the same way, he being even more of a chocolate lover than I am. While that may be surprising, case in point, he would choose chocolate cake over a slice of apple pie any day. I'd probably go for the apple pie first because pie is one of my favorite foods, and then sneak a small slice of the cake afterwards. But I found a chocolate cake recipe that I've made twice now - just within the last 4 weeks. That's saying something because most chocolate cake recipes are just so-so. Not so-so with this one. The different kinds of chocolate, and I think the brown sugar, make it an amazing cake. So if you're looking for a chocolate cake recipe for your Valentine (or for any time, for that matter), here's a great one to make. Your sweetie will thank you.

Double Chocolate Chip Bundt Cake
(Courtesy of Daisy Brand)

1 cup cocoa
6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup boiling water
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
10 T. butter (1 1/4 sticks), softened
2 cups brown sugar
1 T. vanilla
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups Daisy Brand sour cream
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 heavy pinch powdered sugar *as needed


Set the butter out to soften at least an hour prior to baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray. [Funny story: I found out the hard way that my bundt pan wasn't big enough when a waterfall of chocolate cake descended onto the bottom of my oven. Thank goodness for "self-cleaning" ovens, right? The second time was more successful. I put the extra batter into four smaller bundt cake molds. So be forewarned that this recipe definitely makes a lot of batter!]

Mix cocoa and chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Pour boiling water over chocolates and stir to melt. Let stand to cool (about 2 to 3 minutes). Meanwhile, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Cream butter, brown sugar, vanilla until creamy. Add eggs to the butter mixture. Fold the sour cream into the cooled chocolate mixture. Add the flour mixture and the sour cream chocolate mixture to the butter mixture and blend. Add chocolate chips and stir to incorporate. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes or until a inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool slightly before removing from pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve. *Optional – may serve with whipped cream, ice cream and drizzled with chocolate syrup.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A New Culinary Adventure: Baby Food

There it is -- one of my newest adventures in being a mom -- homemade baby food.

Butternut squash, to be exact. Packaged in neat, 2.5 oz. containers. Ready to eat. Gotta love that.

I'm happy with my efforts in making baby food since introducing solids to Claire over the last month, although this is about the simplest cooking I've ever done. Steam. Puree. Store. And it tastes good. (Yes, I've tried it - every time.)

(I have been using the Beaba Babycook which allows you to do all of that in one device, but obviously, you can make your own baby food without it. I do love it for the pure convenience factor.)

Claire has been particularly fond of butternut squash and sweet potatoes, but thankfully has eaten everything put in front of her so far. Even though she first snubbed carrots, she eats them now. We'll see how long that lasts, right?

A byproduct of introducing solids into her diet is that Chris and I have been eating more veggies. And one of my new favorite ways to eat butternut squash is through roasting. It's easy and makes for a delicious side dish. So while Claire is feasting on steamed and pureed squash, we will be enjoying it a different way.

Roasted Butternut Squash
(Courtesy of Whole Foods)

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Halve the squash lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out and discard seeds.

If desired, peel with a vegetable peeler or cut into big chunks and keep steady on the cutting board while cutting off the peel with a knife.

Cut into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and spread out in a single layer. Roast, tossing occasionally, until just tender and golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Love is in the Air

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake, a perfect Valentine's treat
It's hard to believe that January is over already. Of course, I find myself saying that every year. Is it me, or does time seem to go faster when you get older?

Now that it is the beginning of February, it's time to start looking forward to Valentine's Day. Yes, I said looking forward to. I know many people seem to feel the opposite of love towards this holiday, but regardless of whether or not I've had a Valentine, I've usually enjoyed it for the sweet treats that seem to magically appear in my home, whether I'm baking them, or someone's giving them to me. (Last year, Chris surprised me with some Bakeshop cupcakes, and yes, I still remember them. See, sweets are powerful things.)

So if you need something sweet for your sweetie, this Cranberry Upside-Down Cake is a festive and delicious choice. I loved how the cranberries and sugar caramelized during baking and oozed into the batter.  Put it together with the cake and you've got yourself a very tasty treat. While this is a pretty dessert, I think it would also be a nice dish to serve at breakfast or brunch. Enjoy!

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake
(Courtesy of Everyday Food Great Food Fast)

8 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1 3/4 cups cranberries (fresh, not canned)
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
whipped cream, for serving (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, with a rack in the center. Rub the bottom and sides of an 8-inch round cake pan with 2 T. of the butter. In a small bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup of the sugar with the cinnamon and allspice. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan; arrange the cranberries in a single layer on top.

With an electric mixer, cream the remaining 6 T. butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla; beat until well combined. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk, until well combined.

Spoon the batter over the cranberries in the pan, and smooth the top. Place the pan on a baking sheet; bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake; invert onto a rimmed platter. Serve with whipped cream on the side, if desired.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My New Kitchen Partner Makes Hummus


Just looking at this picture makes me hungry for hummus. I love this stuff.

Chris surprised me with a new toy - a food processor - for Christmas. I had been playing with the idea of getting one for a few years now, but living in a small space makes me really think before buying something. That said, Chris figured out how to make our space issue work so that this new Kitchen Aid would fit. Awesome!

I've been happily working through recipes requiring a food processor, and since I had never had the proper equipment to make hummus before, I had to try. The hummus turned out wonderfully, and the food processor made it happen with ease. I liked this hummus recipe, although next time I'm going to try it without the parsley just for simplicity's sake (the parsley tasted just fine in the hummus).

This is a great recipe for any Super Bowl parties next weekend since it makes a lot (3 cups worth)! Go Steelers!

Hummus Bi Tahini
(Courtesy of Elisabeth Rozin, "Ethnic Cuisine: How to Create the Authentic Flavors of 30 International Cuisines")

2 to 2 1/2 cups cooked chick peas (reserve cooking liquid), or 20-ounce can chick peas (reserve liquid)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/4 cup tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 tsp. salt
dash freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
pita bread, for serving

Drain chick peas, reserving liquid. Puree in blender or food processor with lemon juice, garlic, and parsley. If more liquid is needed to blend properly, use some of the reserved chick pea liquid. (I didn't need much.)

Place pureed mixture in a serving bowl and stir in tahini, salt and pepper.  Mix to blend thoroughly.

Just before serving, pour olive oil on top of the hummus. This can be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated. Serve with pita bread.

Makes 3 cups.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who Needs Birthday Cake When There are Chocolate Covered Oreos?

In honor of my husband Chris' birthday today (Happy Birthday honey!), I'm posting a secret to a quick and astoundingly delicious dessert.  Chris and I have been feasting on homemade chocolate covered Oreos topped with Heath Bar crumbles (as if the Oreo itself wasn't enough) in the last few weeks.  Not only are they AMAZING and elegant but they are so simple to make.  What else is there to do when it's cold outside, right?

I also made some of these with my 3-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew over Christmas, and they were as delighted with making these as I was (and the cookies got eaten rather fast).  We also topped the Oreos with multicolored sprinkles and sliced almonds, in addition to the Heath Bar crumbles (as shown in the photo above).  We made chocolate covered pretzel rods too.

Eat and enjoy!

Chocolate Covered Oreos
(Courtesy of Kelly Oliver)

1 package of your favorite Oreos
1 bag of milk or semisweet chocolate chips
1 bag of Heath Bar crumbles (or other topping of your choosing, such as multicolored sprinkles)

In a microwave safe bowl, melt the entire bag of chocolate chips, starting with 45 seconds, then stirring, and then 15 seconds, then stirring, and continuing in 15 second intervals until melted.

Dip the top of each Oreo in the chocolate and then in the Heath Bar crumbles.  Place on a waxed paper lined baking sheet until chocolate is firm, which takes a few hours.  Store at room temperature.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Fresh Flavors: Lebanese Bean Salad

I've recently been working my way through a cookbook titled, "Ethnic Cuisine: How to Create the Authentic Flavors of 30 International Cuisines," by Elisabeth Rozin.  I tried her baba ghanouj recipe the other day -- which I'll add to this blog soon -- and it turned out wonderfully.  I'm going to try to make her hummus recipe in the next few days.  Another recipe, Lebanese Bean Salad, looked inviting since it combined very fresh flavors -- tomato, cucumber, parsley, mint -- with kidney beans, providing a great way to make my diet a bit more healthy.  (Gotta balance those chocolate chip cookies out!)  The salad turned out really well, and it was definitely best after the flavors were allowed to sit and meld together for a few hours.  I feel healthy just writing about it.

That said, on a related note, a news story about Lebanon's government collapsing this week caught my eye.  (Associated Press story:  I don't hear much about Lebanon normally, nor do I hear much about governments collapsing (I cannot imagine that happening in the USA), and so this post is dedicated to the people in that country who are living through this tumultuous situation.  I'm praying for the Lebanese people and hope you'll join me.

Lebanese Bean Salad
(Courtesy of Elisabeth Rozin, "Ethnic Cuisine: How to Create the Authentic Flavors of 30 International Cuisines")

2-2 1/2 cups cooked or canned red or white kidney beans, drained
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped, or 3-4 scallions, finely chopped
1 T. fresh mint, chopped, or 2 tsp. crushed, dried mint leaves
1 large ripe tomato, coarsely chopped
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

Combine beans, parsley, onion, mint, tomato, and cucumber in a bowl.  Combine olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a separate bowl and beat together.  Pour the dressing over the vegetables, and stir together.  Refrigerate the salad for at least 2 hours.  Mix again before serving.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

It's a beautiful, sunny, yet cold day here in Arlington.  The minimal snowfall we got last night dusted the trees and rooftops enough to look make my neighborhood look like a peaceful and quaint winter village.  That scene calls for something a sweet treat that is classic and all-American -- chocolate chip cookies.  And not just any chocolate chip cookies.  I found a recipe on the Brown Eyed Baker blog about a year ago for chocolate chip cookies that has made me fall in love with these cookies all over again (which I didn't think was possible!).  So while I enjoy this winter scene outside my window today and while Claire is sleeping, I'm going to be baking these lovely treats.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Courtesy of Baking Illustrated/Brown Eyed Baker)

2 cups plus 2 T. (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until warm
1 cup packed (7 ounces) light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1-1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed just until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.

Roll a scant 1/4 cup of the dough into a ball. Hold the dough ball with the fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate the halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join the halves together at their base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough’s uneven surface. Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake until the cookies are light golden grown and the outer edges start to harden yet the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a side metal spatula.


Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! Chris and I spent the week after Christmas with colds so by the time New Year's Day came around, I was craving something other than chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese sandwiches -- both easy things to make when you're feeling under the weather and a parent of a six-month-old (gotta save what little energy you have for the baby, not cooking).  And since we didn't get to ring in the New Year with a champagne toast (yeah, we didn't even make it to midnight), I decided to celebrate with a bottle of beer (Shiner Bock, to be exact) by adding it to some homemade bread.  Yum!  If you have any leftover beer from your celebrations, this is a great way to use it (especially if you're on cold medication) other than drinking it, of course.  I paired it with some homemade beef vegetable noodle soup, a perfect complement.  I think it's best fresh out out of the oven when it's warm but it does reheat well in the microwave if you have any left the next day.

Beer Bread
(Courtesy of The Good Housekeeping Step-By-Step Cookbook)

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 T. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 can or bottle (12 oz.) beer
4 T. margarine or butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease 9" by 5" loaf pan (you can use cooking spray).  In large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt until evenly combined.  Stir in beer and melted margarine just until moistened (batter will be lumpy).

Spoon batter into loaf pan and bake 40 minutes, or until golden and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool in pan on wire rack 5 minutes; remove from pan and cool completely on rack.

Your house will be filled with the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread!