Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: French Onion Soup

Ah French Onion Soup.  I have never been a fan of this soup but it is one of my dad's favorites.  I remember him ordering a big crock of it but I was too turned off by the smelly cheese to ever try some.  When John mentioned it was his favorite soup I knew I had to try it.  Okay, he might have mentioned it more than once and I finally got around to it.  But I still had that vision from my childhood about smelly socks that was hard for me to get past. 

I had been planning to make this for a few weeks until it actually happened.  As it turns out, it was a night that John and I looked up, it was late and I hadn't even started THINKING about dinner.  On nights like that (why do we always have so many nights like that, anyway?), Rachael Ray is always my go-to for recipes.  This recipe was perfect for a quick weeknight dinner.  Originally, I wanted to make a recipe that took a lot longer, but I was glad we went with the quick version for the first try.  Plus, John gets grumpy when he's really hungry.

And even though John said it wasn't as good as its slow-cook counterpart, he admitted it was completely delicious.   I agreed.  Now that I'm old enough to actually enjoy smelly cheese, it was a great dinner! 
French Onion Soup (adapted from here)
Serves:  4
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
6 onions, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry red wine
6 cups beef stock
4 thick slices french bread, toasted
2 cups Gruyere cheese, shredded

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat.  When the butter has melted, add the onions.  Season with thyme, salt, and black pepper.  Cook onions until fully caramelized (about 20 minutes), stirring frequently.  Add bay leaf, red wine and deglaze the pan.  Then add the beef stock.  Let the soup come to a boil and boil for about 10 minutes.  Preheat the boiler to high.  Place the soup in four crocks or ramekins.  Top with toasted bread and cheese.  Broil for about 2-3 minutes, until cheese melts and is  browned.  Serve immediately.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, November 28, 2011

Sassy Sweets: Harlot's Baklava

It's time for my third round of Cook the Books!  I was thrilled when I learned this installment would feature Patricia Davis' book "Harlot's Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece".  I love Greek food and there's a great little Greek restaurant in our old neighborhood that John and I would frequently visit.  I knew that this book, making me test some of my kitchen skills with Greek foods, would be a crowd pleaser!

Ms. Davis is from Long Island (like me!) and is Italian (like me!) so it was easy to relate to her.  But you can also really relate to Ms. Davis because she writes her book in hindsight which allows you to look deeply into her life in a unique way.  For instance, there are many times where you can tell looking back allows her to tell a story more comically (like getting caught nude on a Greek beach) than it was at the time.  Even when she finds a huge bug in her hotel room in Greece and stands outside in her towel rather than confront the bug alone (totally something I would have done, by the way), you can tell she was terrified but you also get to laugh and it seems you are laughing along with her, not at her. 

This type of writing really spoke to me because, after all, John and I have been through a lot this year.  Between his broken ankle, packing and moving in a rented U-Haul through the streets of Boston, and now re-packing and starting new chapters of our lives separated (for a while, at least), it hasn't been the easiest period in our relationship.  Some of these stories we have already gotten to the point where we can laugh (like eating dinner on a big box in our empty kitchen).  Others, I think well, might take some time.  Ms. Davis gave me hope that at some point, we will be able to smile at all the memories--good and bad. 

Originally, I wanted to make her "harlot's sauce" recipe which the book was named for and as an homage to my grandparents.  In the end, after visiting Ms. Davis' website, I decided ultimately on a sweet instead.  Baklava is a very traditional Greek sweet and I think its a good note to end not only her book (which while having ups and downs, ends happy), but also this year of my life (which we have to do in November because Cook the Books next pick is due in January).  There will always be ups and downs but in the end, its nice to be able to look forward to something sweet!
Harlot's Baklava (adapted from here)
Serves:  6-8
1 cinnamon stick
5-6 whole cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
3/4 cup butter, melted1 pound fresh filo dough
1/4 cup fine sugar
1 1/2 cups finely chopped almonds
1 1/2 cups finely chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves

Make the syrup first.  Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and stir over medium heat until all the sugar has dissolved.  Then, bring the liquid to a boil.  Boil over medium heat for about 10 minutes.  Remove cinnamon stick and cloves.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Open the filo dough.  Unroll the sheets so they are flat; do not separate.  To help keep the filo dough moist, cover with a moist dish towel.  Use a pastry brush to brush some of the melted butter onto the base and sides of a 13x9 baking pan.  Place ten sheets of filo at the bottom of the pan, one at a time, brushing each lightly with melted butter.  Mix nuts, sugar, and spices together.  Spread half of it over the filo sheets.  Top the nut mixture with three more sheets of filo, brushing each filo sheet with butter again.  Then, top with remaining nuts.  Place all remaining filo sheets on top brushing each of these sheets also with melted butter.  If there are edges of the filo that are hanging off the sides, trim them before continuing.   

Sprinkle water on top of the filo dough and moisten the edges to keep it from curling.  Score the top layers of filo diagonally with a sharp knife (I used a steak knife at Ms. Davis' suggestion) making diamond shapes.  As the filo bakes, it will be "pre-cut" into the shapes of the baklava.  Bake the baklava for about 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, place the pan up one shelf in the oven and bake another 30 minutes.  Make sure that the filo has cooked all the way to the bottom layers.  If the top filo browns too quickly, cover with tin foil. 

When the baklava is done, spoon syrup over the baklava and let steep for several hours.  Then, cut into portions using the diamond shapes cut above as the guide.  John ate this alongside a strong coffee at Ms. Davis' suggestion.  It was delicious (with or without the coffee)!
I'm pleased also to say Ms. Davis will be judging our entries this month!  I love that she gets a chance to respond to our thoughts on the book.  As a collective club, I am always interested to see who takes what out of each book!  Check out all the entries for yourself. 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, November 25, 2011

Slow Cooking Supper: Pulled Pork, Black Bean, and Beer Chili

Are you sick of turkey yet?  We eat so early in our house for Thanksgiving (by 1 p.m.) that we always have a Round 2 around 7 or 8.  So, if you don't have pulled pork and it's right after Thanksgiving?  No problem!  This is a great recipe that you can substitute pulled turkey breast for!  It also camouflages the turkey and I bet your family will eagerly eat it up without complaining about MORE leftovers!

John and I had my yummy pulled pork tacos last week and I had about 2 cups of pulled pork left over.  It's not usually a problem (John LOVES eating leftover tacos!) but I had another trick up my sleeve!  I had conceived this chili in a dreamlike state the other night.  Seriously.  I have a habit of drifting off to sleep thinking of cooking contests.  When my day is over, and I am focused on creating dishes, its a nice way to decompress.  For this reason, I always have a notebook and pencil by the bed.

Sometimes I do shock John out of a stupor to reach over him and write something down (okay that might be poor execution on the notebook/pencil idea).  This time, I actually woke John up to ask him if it sounded good.  How do I get my boyfriend to stick around?  Sometimes I wonder.  Then I make chilis like this and I remember!
Pulled Pork, Black Bean, and Beer Chili
Serves: 4
1 red onion onion
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups pulled pork (used leftovers)
2-14.5 ounce cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1-14 ounce can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
1 cup canned tomato sauce
2 tablespoons cajun seasoning
1 can beer
cheddar cheese for topping, if desired

Dice the red onion, and mince the garlic cloves.  In the bottom of the crockpot on high heat, heat the one tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the onion and garlic and cook about 5 minutes, until translucent and fragrant.  Add pulled pork, drained beans, drained fire-roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, and cajun seasoning.  Mix well.  Add beer.  Let cook on low for 1-2 hours.  Top with cheddar cheese if desired.  Serve immediately.

Enjoy your weekend, I hope it is spent like ours is going to be--with lots of food and family (my two favorite things!). 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Weeknight Dinner: Seven Cheese & Pepperoni Calzones

What is the most popular Wednesday to order pizza in the United States?  It's today!!!  With so many people preparing their Thanksgiving feasts, today is the most popular Wednesday of the year to call out for pizza.  But, why call out for pizza when you can make these delicious (and super easy) Seven Cheese & Pepperoni Calzones?

I've made calzones before on the blog (that were also really easy and delicious).  But lately I have fallen in love with the blog My Life as a Mrs.  and no, it is not because I plan on being a Mrs. anytime soon (why do people keep asking me that?  Am I getting old??).  Anyway, after trying her Crockpot Korean Tacos which were a huge hit, I pretty much check her blog daily.  It's almost sad.  Almost.  I like to just think of it as inspiration.

Anyway, you can't have cheese without pepperoni in John's world and since we still have a few weeks left in the North End, I took the opportunity to get fresh pepperoni.  I also used Taste and Tell Blog's awesome Calzone Dough to make the recipe.  It may not be as fast as picking up pizza dough at the grocery store but if you're sitting at home all day preparing your turkey, it is worth the extra wait!
Seven Cheese & Pepperoni Calzones (adapted from here and here)
Serves:  4
2 cups flour
1 1/8 teaspoons yeast
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 cups + 1/2 tablespoon warm water
2 cups ricotta cheese (I like to get it fresh)
3 cups 6-Cheese Italian Blend Shredded Cheese
2 tablespoons italian seasoning
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup marinara sauce (for dipping!)

Whisk together the flour, yeast, and kosher salt in a large bowl.  Add one tablespoon of olive oil and water and using a your hands, mix until the dough comes together.  Knead the dough by hand about 10 minutes until elastic and smooth.  Clean the bowl and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Coat the sides and bottom.  Place the dough into the oiled bowl, turning once and cover with a damp paper towl.  Let sit at room temperature for 2 hours, until doubled. 

Meanwhile, combine ricotta cheese, shredded cheese, italian seasoning and garlic powder.  Refrigerate until ready to use.

When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Divide the dough into four small balls.  Roll out into thin (1/4 inch thickness) circles.  Place one quarter of the cheese mixture in each and fold the dough over to cover.  Cut a small slit in the top of each calzone (to let steam escape).  Place calzones on a greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.  Warm the marinara sauce in a small saucepan.  Serve immediately. 
I hope that tomorrow brings you plenty of food, family, and fun.  Most of all, I hope we all take a second (including myself) to be grateful for how much we have.  After a really difficult few weeks, I am so thankful to have my family, John, and a new job (one that I am actually excited about!  How many people can say that?).

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, November 21, 2011

Dorm Room Dinner: Chicken, Broccoli, and Ziti

The great thing about this dinner is that it is a restaurant dish, that you can make quickly, and easily.  Another great thing that is also very season-appropriate...this is the perfect dish for your turkey leftovers!  Replace the turkey for the chicken and you've got yourself an easy day after Thanksgiving dish!

Thanksgiving is coming up, but since we go to Mom and Dads, its not a big production in my house.  Although I AM in charge of the appetizers!  No surprise there.  But a Thanksgiving turkey (despite the fact that we've grown from a family of 6 to a family of 9 with all our boyfriends present) is the dish that just keeps on giving.  Mom always had so much leftover and we eat so richly on Thanksgiving that we were always on the lookout for easy dishes that were light for your tummy!

This fits the bill perfectly.  Whether chicken or turkey, this is a delicious meal that works even better as a work lunch!  It's one of those "Confessions of a Food Blogger" dinners that I make often when John isn't around.  I should note that I used to make this dish all the time for the two of us but after he once told me its "not his favorite" (basically the worst thing he will ever say about one of my dishes), I kept making it just for me.  It is one of my favorites.  That's the important part, right?
Chicken, Broccoli, and Ziti
Serves:  4
2 chicken breasts (or 2 cups of chopped pre-cooked turkey or chicken)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons pepper
1 box ziti (or other pasta)
2 heads of broccoli
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons garlic salt
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Dice the chicken breasts.  Season them with salt and 2 teaspoons pepper.  In a greased skillet, brown the chicken breasts over high heat.  Then, reduce the heat to low and let the chicken cook through (about 12 minutes).  Meanwhile, fill two pots with water and let boil.  Then, cook the pasta according to box instructions.  Cut the broccoli into bite-sized pieces and place in the second boiling pot of water for about 10 minutes, until bright green but still crunchy.  Drain both the pasta and broccoli.  In a large bowl, add the pasta, broccoli, and chicken.  Toss with olive oil, garlic salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Stir in parmesan cheese.  Serve immediately with extra parmesan cheese, if desired.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, November 18, 2011

Fancy Pants App: Tipsy Tequila Chicken Heroes

Football is really in full swing and John has been enjoying a variety of Sunday tailgate treats as a result!  When I received the Food Network Magazine last month (October edition), there was a section on "All-Star Tailgating".  Out of the five recipes, most of them were pretty obvious; recipes like chili, coleslaw, or hot dogs. that you could find on any blog, anywhere.  But then there was one by Guy Fieri called Chicken-Tequila Tailgate Sandwiches.  I think my name has a bit more pizazz.  

When I told John about Guy Fieri's recipe he was more than skeptical.  He actually calls him the "guy with the obnoxious hair".  We do love his show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives though and I thought once I read through these ingredients that this could make a really tasty sandwich.  I convinced him to try them and once we did we were so glad! 

These are the perfect lunch on Sundays, watching the big game (especially if you can't get there).  The original recipe calls to cook the recipe on the grill in a foil packet.  I cooked it in the oven and stirred it once.  It has so many parts to it that I think its perfect in the oven.  Also, it involves a lot of chopping.  I chopped a bunch of this the night before and put it in separate containers.  That way I could enjoy the game, too!
Tipsy Tequila Chicken Heroes (adapted from Food Network Magazine)
Serves:  4
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red onion
1 roasted red bell pepper
1 jalapeno
1/2 pound cooked chicken (they suggested rotisserie, I used leftover from earlier in the week)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cilantro
4 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 cups mexican blend shredded cheese
1/4 cup lime juice
2 ounces tequila*
4 hero rolls, toasted

Layer a 13x9 baking sheet with tin foil.  Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.  Add the olive oil to the bottom.  Julienne the red onion, and roasted red pepper and add on top of the olive oil.  Mince the jalapeno and add to the vegetables.  Then shred the chicken.  Layer that on top following with the salt, pepper, garlic, cream cheese, shredded cheese, lime juice, and then finally, tequila.  After 10 minutes, stir the mixture and place back in the oven to cook an additional 10 minutes.  Serve in hero rolls and garnish with additional cilantro, if desired.

*The original recipe called for 3 ounces of tequila.  We felt that was a little strong; especially if kids are eating the heroes as well. 

PS--these were also great reheated.  John took them and had the leftovers over the week.  We hope you get a chance to take in a football game or two this weekend!

Until the next time my oven is on...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Slow Cooking Supper: Chorizo and White Bean Soup

Now that the cooler weather is settling over Boston in earnest, soup seems to be the best thing to warm me up.  When I saw this soup over on the blog One Lovely Life (a lovely blog, if I do say so myself), I immediately bookmarked it.  The soup reminds me of hot dog soup we made growing up.  In our preschool, one day in class each family was instructed to bring an ingredient.  And then, we would all put it together and form this soup.  That's what I remember, anyway, from being four years old.  I tried to ask my mom but she had blacked out all memories of this soup.  Doesn't surprise me because it seems like a soup only a kid could love.  I can't find it anywhere online but I remember clearly the hot dogs, chicken broth, celery, and carrots.  I remember the celery because, well, I love celery.

We had hot dog soup at least once a year for well, many years.  I'm trying to put it together but it seems like we had it for at least six years (each of us going to preschool for 2 years at ages 3 and 4).  Here I should note K had to go to an EXTRA year of preschool that I do not think she will ever forgive my mom for.  She hated preschool.  Hated is not even a strong enough word for it.  In fact, we have many stories of K growing up being a little stubborn.  They have long been a part of our family lore, but this is one of my favorites. 

My grandma, Awa was responsible for bringing K and I to preschool one morning.  Mom usually took us but she was about 8 months pregnant with M and wasn't supposed to be driving.  K threw her usual fit and so Awa allowed her to miss school, took her to the 5&10 (for art supplies, I think), and then drove her back to Mom.  K remembers knowing how mad Mom was going to be when she found out.  Boy was she right!  Mom was so mad that she told Awa to go home; stuck her pregnant self and K into the car and drove her fanny right back to school!  That story never gets old. 

Chorizo and White Bean Soup (adapted from here)
Serves: 6
2/3 pounds chorizo
1 white onion, diced
1/2 cup celery, sliced (about 3 stalks)
1/2 cup carrot, sliced thin (about 2 carrots)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 quart chicken broth
2-14.5 ounce cans of cannellini beans
1-28 ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes (do not drain)
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1/4 cup minced cilantro

Dice the chorizo into bite-sized pieces.  In a large skillet, over medium heat, cook the chorizo until it has fully rendered its fat and is browned.  Add to the crockpot.  In the drippings, cook the onion, celery, and carrot, about 5-10 minutes until tender.  Add the garlic and stir, cooking about another minute until the garlic is fragrant.  Add this to the crockpot as well.  Add the chicken broth and mix.  Drain and rinse the cannellini beans.  Add these, the fire-roasted tomatoes, the salt, and the pepper to the mixture.  Stir well.  Let simmer at least 30 minutes, no more than 2 hours.  Top with minced cilantro before serving, if desired.

We also ate it as leftovers over the next week and it was just as good.  A perfect office lunch as well!  Hearty and delicious.  This is what I imagine the hot dog soup would be "all grown up". 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, November 14, 2011

Time-Out: Homemade Cheez-Its

If you haven't noticed, I've been big on the homemade snacks recently.  Sending out Halloween goody bags is always a great way to keep me entertained.  Plus I think M and her friends enjoy the homemade goodies.  It's the final few weeks until we see them all over Thanksgiving, and its a long time to be away!  I remember (though it was so long ago). 

Anyway, M's boyfriend M, is as picky of an eater as M herself.  They make a good match that way.  He doesn't really like snack food or dessert but he loves Cheez-its.  Halloween is mostly sweets and candy and that was my plan originally.  But the more I thought about it, the more I felt bad for boyfriend M.  In fact, he is on his own this year in an apartment style dorm.  That means he can cook but it's also harder for him, especially with a demanding class load.  What better thing to send then his favorite treat?

Of course I couldn't just buy the box and be done with it.  Although just to be sure, I DID send him a box of them along with these treats just in case.  But I do have confirmation that as much as he likes the boxed ones, mine were a big hit too (phew).  These are the perfect after-school snack for the kids, but don't be fooled--last week I was sitting at my desk eating some leftovers and lots of people were interested in trying them.  Which meant my half-cup snack turned into about 5 Cheez-its.  They are just too good to turn away.  And they are too easy not to make at home!

Homemade Cheez-Its (adapted from here)
Serves:  about 7 dozen cheese crackers (we had 80)
8 ounces cheddar cheese
4 tablespoons salted butter
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons ice water
2 tablespoons kosher salt

Grate the cheddar cheese.  In a food processor, combine cheese and butter until the mixture is crumbly.  Slowly add the flour, and then the water to the mixture while letting the food processor run.  Let it run an additional 30 seconds to one minute, until the dough is formed.  Separate the dough into two discs.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Working with one disc at a time, roll it out to 1/8th inch thick.  Using a pastry cutter or pizza wheel, cut the dough into 1-inch squares and use a toothpick to press a hole in the middle.  Separate the crackers onto cookie sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes until crispy and golden.  Once cooled, store in airtight bags or containers until serving.

I was baking mine between 10 and 12 minutes, and would suggest to check them often.  We only got one pan of burnt ones (my fault) which was a bummer, but I shouldn't even need to tell you by now that John and I ate them anyway.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, November 11, 2011

Fancy Pants App: Jalapeno Popper Dip

Our whole family is playing fantasy football right now.  All the girls, all the boyfriends, and dad.  Mom isn't but she watches from the sidelines.  It's actually a great way for all of us to stay connected, even if we are intent on beating each other.  K&E are currently winning (by a lot) and while I was losing in the beginning, I've come back pretty strong myself.  There's only one real problem.  John is losing.  Badly.  One of the many reasons I love my boyfriend is his self-confidence.  He really doesn't care that he is losing!  Yeah, he complains and watches his score on Sunday and groans, but I think we both realize we prefer the family interaction rather than the number in the W column. 

In order to make Sundays a little bit more bearable, I've been focused on making John-centric appetizers for us.  I feel silly reminding you how much John loves his jalapenos in everything from dinners to alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages.  I struggle with his love of jalapenos; I think they are a great flavor enhancer, but they are really too spicy for me.  I've decided I inherited my mother's spice tolerance.  Is this even inheritable?  Let's just say it is. 

So when I mentioned Jalapeno Poppers in dip form to John I thought he was going to jump up and down (difficult on crutches) he was so excited.  The creaminess of the dip makes this even a non-spice lovers kind of appetizer!  The best part is I made this the night before, and baked it 20 minutes before halftime.  It was warm, gooey, and perfect now that the weather is getting cold.  A three ingredient appetizer?  Perfection.
Jalapeno Popper Dip
Serves: 4 (2 ramekins)
8 ounces cream cheese
2/3 cup shredded mexican cheese blend
4 jalapenos, deseeded*
tortilla chips

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In a large bowl, using a wooden spool, combine cream cheese and shredded cheese until well-combined.  Dice jalapenos and add them to the mixture.  Mix in well.  Divide between ramekins. Sprinkle a little additional shredded cheese on top.  Bake 20 minutes, until cheese on top is melted and the mixture is hot throughout.  Serve with chips, carrots, and celery.

*Adjust the jalapenos to your taste and if you don't mind spice, don't bother deseeding the jalapenos (this is how John likes it). 

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Date Night Dinner: Caramelized Onion Caprese Pizza

Most weeknights that John isn't around, my kitchen is like something out of "Secret Life of a Food Blogger" (I really wish this existed).  Because my kitchen no longer holds gourmet dinners; instead I am making quick scrambled eggs, or my personal specialty "pizza pasta".  My sisters and I joke about this discrepancy a lot!  But, as I've alluded to, the past few weeks have been stressful, work-wise. So with my increased hours and difficult work environment (with a job I soon will no longer have), you would think it would call for even more quick stress-free dinners. 

But in fact, it has been quite the opposite.  This week, I got my first ever Boston Library Card.  When we lived in Brighton, I was too far from the library to do any real damage, but now that the library is literally 2 blocks from the apartment, I can hop over there whenever I want.  I can't explain how much I love to read except to say that when I was younger, I read every book I deemed "interesting" in our town library and Mom had to start bringing me to other libraries some 15 minutes, 20 minutes away to find better selections.  I wish I was joking.

When I got home from the library, it was later than usual, but I looked in my fridge and decided to make this pizza.  It wasn't a quick meal to put together--by any means.  In fact, I spent 30 minutes alone, perfectly carmelizing the onions, stirring them almost constantly.  But all that slicing, dicing, stirring, and baking, loosened the knots in my shoulder, the tension in my head, and the worries in my brain.  I thought only about making this delicious pizza for an hour of my night.  And by the time I sat down with this pizza (and a glass of crisp white wine), I felt like myself again.  Optimistic, happy, but most of all certain.  This is the life I want, even with its uncertainty and stress; but when I need a little slice of heaven, I can always make this pizza.
Caramelized Onion Caprese Pizza
Serves: 2
1 onion
2 tablespoons butter
Pizza dough
2 tomatoes
8 ounces fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup arugula

Slice the onion.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, add the butter.  When the butter melts, add the onion slices over low heat.  Stir often for 30 minutes, until the onions have caramelized.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Roll out the pizza dough.  Slice the two tomatoes very thinly and layer on top of the dough.  Slice thin pieces of mozzarella and sprinkle over the tomatoes.   Top with caramelized onions.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, add balsamic vinegar and sugar to the now empty saucepan.  Cook over high heat until the mixture is at a rolling boil.  Stir constantly until the mixture is reduced by half.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  When the pizza is done baking, top with arugula and drizzle with balsamic reduction.  Cut into slices and serve immediately.

I may post this again when the winter recedes and spring starts to turn to summer.  It was just that good.  It was my treat, for myself.  A date night to celebrate me.  Everyone needs treats like this now and again.  And are there any better kinds of treats than treating yourself?  I don't think so.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Monday, November 7, 2011

Slow Cooking Supper: Crockpot Korean Tacos

I haven't documented much of my life in the North End since we've moved here.  In part, it is because John and his crutches don't make it very far.  But also in part because I am really relishing this life while I have it.  But then I made these tacos from My Life as a Mrs., a blog that I love (and bookmark basically daily).  And, I knew it was time to share some of this life with you all.  I love living in a city.  I love its vibrancy, its life, its energy, and I feed off of it. 

But living in the North End (the "Little Italy" of Boston, if you will), it is like living in a neighborhood.  A real and true neighborhood.  There is Mike, an elderly resident who lives the street over.  He often sat outside in the nicer weather and one day I helped him with a package.  We talk now all the time.  He has lived in the same rowhouse for over 40 years.  When every other rowhouse around him is turning into apartments for the yuppies (including myself), he has a whole house.  I keep wondering if or when he will invite me inside!  And I hope that it stays a single home for another 40 years. 

There is my no-name friend and his wife Maria.  He sits outside with his lawnchair right on the street.  I introduced myself my first day here and he never reciprocated his name.  He just said, Danielle, if you ever need ANYTHING, anything at all, you come knock on my door.  I will get it done for you.  He reminds me of my granfather who passed away when I was just in high school.  The butcher where I bought these ribs is the butcher I walk past every day on my walk to work.  He watches for me to walk by the window now, waving, and always greets me by name.  I love waving to him as a I walk by.  In the crowded section of town--it makes me a local, not a tourist--and I love that feeling. 

I really, truly, feel like I belong here.  That I was made to be here.  My dad is Italian (obvious from my last name) and when I introduce myself people always nod, smile, and immediately induct me into their club.  It has been a goal of mine to live here for years.  And I'm so glad that goal has been accomplished.  I never knew you could feel like you lived in a small town in the midst of a big city, but you can, and I do.  Buying from the local merchants who carefully select their products, it makes you feel good.  And I think these tacos taste all the better for it.
Crockpot Korean Tacos (adapted from here)
Serves:  4
Cucumber Slaw:
1 seedless cucumber
4 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Beef Tacos:
1 1/2 cups low sodium soy sauce
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup minced garlic
3 tablespoons grated ginger
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
3 teaspoons red pepper flakes
4 pounds short ribs
8 burrito-sized tortillas
cilantro (as desired)
Sriracha (as desired)

Make the slaw:  Thinly slice the cucumbers.  In a small bowl, mix together the rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and red pepper flakes.  Toss with cucumbers.  Set in the fridge until ready to serve.
In the crockpot, combine soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes.  Add the short ribs so they are fully covered and turn the crockpot to low.  Cook 6-8 hours until the rib bones come out cleanly.  Remove the meat from the crockpot and shred.  Toss with 1/4 cup of juices in the crockpot to keep the meat moist. 
Make the tacos by placing some of the beef in each tortilla.  Top with cucumber slaw, cilantro, and sriracha (if desired).  Serve immediately.

John loved these tacos and they were a big hit.  They were equally good the next day for lunches, which is always great for us.  Of course, now I have a ton of sriracha which means I am on the look-out for recipes!  Feel free to share some!

Until the next time my oven is on...
Friday, November 4, 2011

Time-Out: Beer Bread

I've mentioned my office a lot in the past few months; in fact, in many ways this is the most rewarding job I have had in my (albeit short) career.  The people are wonderful and the job itself I find interesting, challenging, and very varied.  In fact even my uptight behavior has relaxed over the past few months because of how my office handle stress.  One of my first months working, we had to do a rush on something.  My manager and I sit next to one another and stare at each other all day, we also work as a team of two.  It wasn't hard for him to realize I was stressed.  When he asked why I was like check your email!! We have to do this right now!  He was like no, it has to be done by noon.  And we also have to have breakfast, and lunch, maybe make some phone calls.  That is his attitude (he is Irish, I don't know if I'm generalizing here). 

But it, in turn, has relaxed me (maybe not as much as he would like, but a great deal).  Our company is closing and in a few weeks, we will cease to exist.  I will (hopefully) have a new job before Christmas.  The problem is where that new job will be.  It could be a short car or bus ride away.  Or, it could be quite a long plane ride away.  The future isn't decided and in a way it is terribly exciting, and almost as terribly, anxiety-ridden.  One thing is for certain, it looks like my Boston chapter will be ending; it makes me hold every memory close.  My chilly walks to work, Haymarket, and all of my favorite restaurants.  I grew up in Boston, coming as a young college student, graduating and moving here without a safety net.  I really grew into my own here and I love this town.  And I will miss it.  But I am more certain than ever that in order for me to continue to grow, I need a change. 

In times like these, where nothing is certain, and every moment is filled with intense angst (okay, I'm a drama queen.  It's not every moment, but let's just say I've had my share of stress headaches over the last few weeks) you need something comforting.  This beer bread was introduced to me by an ex-boyfriend, but that doesn't discount its comfort factor.  I fell in love with it the winter we were together (the bread, not the boyfriend).  And John and I ate it this weekend with a big bowl of chili; both, contemplating our future; together and separate.  It's the perfect bread for fall, the perfect bread for comforting, the perfect bread for me, right now.

Beer Bread
Serves:  1 loaf
4 tablespoons butter, melted
3 cups self-rising flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 12-ounce beer

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Combine butter, flour, sugar, and beer until well-mixed.  Batter will be sticky.  Pour into a greased loaf pan and bake for 45-60 minutes. 

This is easy to remember (even when the boyfriend with the recipe is long gone) by thinking 4-3-2-1.  You can even mix it in the loaf pan if you prefer.  Couldn't get much easier than that.

Until the next time my oven is on...
Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dorm Room Dinner: Carne Asada

This Carne Asada post really begins months ago when we were in Miami.  Our first night, we went to this great Mexican restaurant; while I focused on the margaritas, John was in love with his carne asada.  It was the best carne asada he has ever had, which is saying a lot because he LOVES carne asada.  Well, we came home and tried to recreate it.  First, were carne asada tacos.  Then, just carne asada steak.  Then other variations.  For months we tried, and for months we failed.  None ever came close to the carne asada John had eaten in Miami.

So, I did what any good girlfriend (and food blogger) would do, I called the restaurant.  Repeatedly.  Every week for 12 weeks, I have called and tried to get the recipe.  Finally, a few weeks ago I got a hold of the chef who told me that the recipes are private property of the restaurant.  I get that; I am pretty protective over my cooking contest recipes.  I said, I understand but can you just tell me the ingredients?  It would really be helpful, NO ONE's steak has been as good as yours (flattery always works).

He finally told me their secret was sauce.  They used R--- sauce.  I'm saying R because I didn't hear anything else after and was too afraid to ask again.  I thought it was ronchetta.  John and I ran to the biggest supermarket open on Saturday night and wandered through the "Mexican" section.  John finally found it.  It was RANCHERA sauce! Sauce down, steak bought, this recipe was made literally the next night.  It's fast, easy, and honestly delicious!  It might not be "traditionally" carne asada but boy it is one good steak!
Carne Asada
Serves:  4
1 can Ranchera Salsa Sauce (suggested: Herdez)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 pound thinly sliced steak (suggested:  skirt steak)

Combine the Ranchera, garlic, salt, and pepper.  Marinate the steak for 30 minutes to an hour; no longer than one hour.  Preheat the grill to 350 degrees F.  Then, turn the grill down to 275 and add the steak.  Let the steak "steam itself in" for about 10-15 minutes, until fully cooked through.

I serve this with Mexican Rice (brown or white rice that cooks in water which I have flavored with two tablespoons of taco seasoning) and sauteed peppers.  It's delicious, easy, and best of all, John is finally happy we have "the best" carne asada.  Although, I see another trip to Miami in our future as soon as his crutches are gone!

Until the next time my oven is on...
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Welcome! I'm Dani (aka the Growing Foodie), just a girl balancing her career and passion for all things edible in NYC. I hope you'll join me in my adventures in life, through food. (Click for More)
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