Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Southwest Grilled Cheese

My friend Kristy is getting married, and I'm her maid of honor! Kristy was my randomly assigned roommate in the dorms freshman year, and we were pretty much inseparable from the moment we met. We had booze-addled study sessions to get through our philosophy homework together, stayed up until 4 am laughing every night, and had a million inside jokes. After freshman year, we moved into a big old house near greek row with a bunch of other girls, and then after that we got our first apartment together. Kristy was the one who introduced me to Evan, through her high school pal Bree (who's now one of my bff's too), and I introduced Kristy to her fiancĂ© Mark, though my friend from high school, Jimmy. 

Kristy was the inspiration behind this boozy kahula cake, and this chai-spiced biscotti. She also makes a killer taco salad with an unlikely combination of secret ingredients (including nacho cheese Doritos and creamy French dressing). When we lived together (for 5 years!) we pretty much always had an unending supply of black bean and corn salsa in the fridge. We went through phases where we practically lived on the stuff. We would mix up a giant bowl of black beans, corn, onions and bell peppers, sometimes with tomatoes, cilantro, and avocado, sometimes with sour cream. Then throughout the week we'd have it inside quesadillas, on salads, or simply with tortilla chips. 

It's also really good sandwiched between two pieces of chewy bread, grilled crispy, with melty cheese oozing out the sides. 

Southwest Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

1 can black beans
1 can corn
1 bell pepper- diced
1/2 white onion- diced
1 tomato- diced
1/4 cup- finely cilantro
1/2 cup sour cream
juice of one small  lime
pinch cumin
salt, pepper

Unless you're making sandwiches for a crowd, you'll probably have extra salsa afterward, so get some tortilla chips too. 

Thick slices of sourdough bread
mayonnaise (I learned this trick from Ruth Reichl)
shredded cheese (I used white cheddar)

In a large bowl, mix together beans, corn, pepper, onion, tomato, and cilantro. Stir in sour cream and lime juice. Add cumin, salt, and pepper to taste.

To assemble: heat griddle over medium heat. Spread mayonnaise on one side of each slice of bread. The mayo adds extra tang, and doesn't burn the way butter does. To assemble, add bread (mayo side down) to griddle, add a layer of cheese, a few big spoonfuls of the bean mix, and another layer of cheese. Top with second slice of bread (mayo side out) and grill several minutes on each side, until bread is crispy, and cheese is melty. Sometimes if the bread is crisping faster than the cheese is melting, I'll cover the griddle for a minute, which steams everything up to help melt the cheese. You might need to use two spatulas to flip without losing the filling. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Food Blogger Unplugged: Q&A

So, there's thing called Food Bloggers Unplugged. It's a Q&A for food bloggers, but the idea is that you get tagged, and then fill out this fun interview, and tag other food bloggers, and it just keeps on goin'. But, well, I haven't been tagged! Is it weird if I do it without an invite? 

I'm totally goin' rogue here. I'm showing up unannounced and uninvited, an absolute party crasher. I'm not even using the official Unplugged logo. Instead you get a chicken. I know, revolutionary. 
This is for all of you that ever got picked last in gym class…or something like that. 

What or who inspired you to start your blog?
In 2009 I was laid off from my job, and had a lot of free time on my hands. I spent a lot of time perusing food blogs and dreaming about Anthony Bourdain. I think I back-read Molly's entire blog in a week. I was also cooking up a storm since I was home all day, so it just made sense. 

Who is your foodie inspiration?
I love Anthony Bourdain. I mean, I love him. But I'd say my biggest foodie inspiration is my mom. And my dad. Even though I grew up in a tiny rural town,  my parents always found ways to use interesting ingredients and make creative dishes. In my tiny school, I was probably the only 2nd grader bringing whole pomegranates, smoked salmon dip, artichokes, and leftover cordon bleu in my sack lunch. 

Your greasiest most batter splattered cook book is? 
The original Fannie Farmer. Its the best for the ol' fashioned basics like muffins, quick breads, and chocolate chip cookies. I also reference my old Gourmet mags on a regular basis, and Evan's my iPad pretty much lives in the kitchen. 

The best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it and what was it?
That's a tough one, because I've had some pretty amazing food in Mexico, and the fruit in Tahiti was out of this world. But, I'd have to say that the very best was a liege waffle from a little kiosk at the train station in Antwerp, Belgium. I proceeded to eat about a hundred more liege waffles when we got to Brugge, many of them freshly made, some covered in chocolate or strawberries and whipped cream…but none of them added up to that plain pre-made train-station waffle

Another Food Blogger’s table you would like to eat at?
Sara from Sprouted Kitchen. That girl makes whole foods and veggies look better than I could ever dream.

What one kitchen gadget would you like Santa to bring you?
Does 'a bigger kitchen' count? No? Then maybe really good pots and pans…maybe copper ones (mostly because I love how they look). 

I’m coming to you for dinner, what is your signature dish?
Pulled pork. I'm obsessed with slow roasted pork, shredded and served all saucy with a side of roasted veggies, stuffed into a tortilla carnitas style, or doused in BBQ sauce and piled high on a bun. I don't know if I'd call it my signature dish, but I make a mean pork butt, and it's great for a crowd. And if you're coming for dinner, we might as well make it a party. I throw one hot taco party. Carnitas with fresh taco fixings, a pot of black beans, and some pico. And of course, some ice-cold Pacifico. 

What is your guilty food pleasure?
Cheese. The grocery store by my house has a little basket of priced-by-the-pound odds and ends from their fancy cheese section, and I buy at least two every time I go there. Which is almost every day. It's kind of past 'guilty-pleasure' territory, and on the way to being a problem. I also love a good spoonful of peanut butter, almond or cashew butter, or nutella (or, if I'm really lucky, all of those on a  spoon together!)

Reveal something about yourself that others would be surprised to learn? 
I love rockabilly music, Quentin Tarantino, and really good hoppy beer. Screw wine and Love Actually. Give me a Hop Lava from Double Mountain Brewery, paired with a Grindhouse flick or some CCR tunes (don't judge) and I'm yours. 

And finally...
This is the part where I 'tag' five other food bloggers who I'd love to dine with.  This was a hard one, because I admire so many other food bloggers out there.  Honestly, this list changes daily. So tonight, my ideal dinner party would include:
Joy from Joy the Baker: Joy seems like a real down-to-earth kinda gal, someone that's super hip and fun to be around, and isn't afraid to call it like it is, or use a little butter now and then.
Nicole from La Buena Vida: I love Nicole's photos and style, and her fresh approach to food. She also seems like a genuinely awesome, creative person.
Vanessa from V.K.Rees Photography: Vanessa always makes super good-for-you amazing looking food, and I love her photography. And, she includes a picture of her cat in every post, so obviously we'd get along. 
David Lebovitz from Sweet Life in Paris: Do I even need a reason? David is amazing. And hopefully he would host this ideal dinner party (in Paris).
Sarah from 20 Something Cupcakes: Sarah is another quarter-life blogger, who loves throwing dinner parties, making cocktails, and cooking delicious food. If David doesn't host, we can move the party to Sarah's in sunny Florida.

If this group got together, we'd have a pretty bitchin' time. I wouldn't even make you listen to CCR. Well, I'd turn it down low, at least. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cheater, Cheater, Cookie Eater

These cookies aren’t dessert, I swear.

Every January, Amanda and I do a cleanse, of sorts. Last year we gave up meat and booze for the month. This year, we decided to give up dessert. Actually, it started out as no sugar, but my friends all said I was pretty boring this time last year, so I didn’t want to exclude alcohol. So, it became less about sugar, more about sugary-dessert-food. Cookies, cakes, pastries, candies, ice cream, brownies—off limits.

Friends, this is hard for me. Really hard. I’m a cookie-a-day kinda gal. I’m a firm believer in dessert after dinner. Or before dinner. Or—who am I kidding—instead of dinner. But, ya know what? It wasn’t too bad! The first two weeks were a breeze. I stopped craving sugar, started eating an apple-a-day, and even resisted sweet treats at the office. No biggie.

But then, something happened. Snow. I’ve been snowed in all week (for all you people calling us wimps, these picture were from the beginning of the snow-storm...duh). And you know what I want to do on a cold, snowy day? Bake. It’s an animalistic instinct, people. Snow makes bears hibernate, and it makes humans bake, it’s just nature’s way. 

As quickly as the snow started falling, my resolve started crumbling. I found myself staring at dessert blogs, then at the snow, then at the oven, then back at the desserts…a vicious cycle. Just as the urge became almost unbearable, I stumbled upon Heidi’s sugarless, butter-free peanut butter cookies.

I called Amanda to see if this was cheating. She said it was. To be fair, we agreed that pure maple syrup and peanut butter were both ok. Technically, these cookies were within cleanse regulation. But, they did contain a cup of syrup, which I guess tips the scales (and my scale) in the other direction. Desperate to have cookies (I think I was literally salivating and clawing at the peanut butter jar at this point), I cut the recipe in half, and then substituted half the remaining syrup with Mel’s home-canned applesauce. A quarter cup of syrup divided amongst 16 cookies is fine, it’s fine I tell you!

At first they didn’t taste like peanut butter cookies. So I tried another one, and another. And ya know what? After 3 cookies, there it was! Peanut butter cookies! These are SO not dessert.

Absolutely Not Dessert Peanut Butter Cookies
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

1 cups whole wheat flour
½  teaspoon baking soda
Pinch sea salt
½ cup chunky peanut butter
¼ cup pure maple syrup
¼ cup apple sauce (or more)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional: shredded coconut, sliced almonds, chocolate chips (I mean, if you’re eating that sorta thing)

Preheat oven to 350. Place racks in the top third.
In a small mixing bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. In a larger bowl, combine the peanut butter, maple syrup, apple sauce, olive oil, and vanilla. Stir until combined. Pour the dry mix over the wet mix and stir until combined. It should be a crumbly still, but if it seems too dry, add more applesauce. Taste, and add more salt, syrup, vanilla, applesauce—as needed. Since there aren’t eggs, you can taste a few more times, if you’d like. Hell, you can just eat it as is, if that suits your fancy. Stir in optional add-ins.
Roll into small balls (should make about 16 cookies), and place on parchment lined baking sheet. Press down to flatten each one. Bake for 10 ish minutes, sprinkle with more sea salt, cool on a drying rack, and eat—guilt free.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Amanda and I have a favorite sandwich. It's not really even a sandwich, but more like some stuff, on toast. We named it the BLE. That doesn't stand for bacon, lettuce, and random-ingredient-that-starts-with-E. It stands for Best Lunch Ever. And it is. It's really easy to make, pretty affordable, and is so good that I could eat it for lunch every day. At least for a whole week. 

First, you need to spread cream cheese on toast. Or on a bagel. The BLE is pretty flexible. 

Second, mash up half an avocado, and spread that on top of the cream cheese. Then add salt and pepper. That's your basic BLE. 

There are lots of variations though. Like adding a squeeze of fresh lemon to the avocado, maybe some tomato slices, maybe even some leafy lettuce and red onion. At that point, it starts turning into a veggie sandwich, but whatever. You can still call it a BLE.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Eggplant Fries

This weekend, I watched almost every episode ever made of My So Called Life (I mean, there were only 18 episodes ever made, but still). 

I also made eggplant fries, doused in honey and showered with sea salt. Crispy, sticky, sweet, salty eggplant fries. 

PS. Jordan Catalano…call me! 

Baked Eggplant Fries with Honey and Sea Salt
Inspired by Poppy, adapted from this recipe

1 eggplant, sliced into ½ inch fries 
1/2 cup rice flour
Pinch of garlic powder, cumin, ginger, salt
olive oil
sea salt (like flakey maldon)
black sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 500. Soak eggplant in ice water for 10 minutes, drain, drizzle with olive oil and toss to coat. Mix together flour and spices. Dredge eggplant in flour, and shake off excess. Bake for 10ish minutes, until crispy and golden brown around the edges. While still hot, drizzle (heavily) with honey, I mean really get in there with the honey, and sprinkle with a good shower of sea salt and a pinch of sesame seeds.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Hasta La Vista, 2011!

Well friends, 2011 was pretty good. For me, it looked like beaches and glaciers, and lots of weddings, engagements, and babies. It also looked a lot like late nights, closing down the office—I want 2012 to have even more beaches and sparkly things, and less late nights at work. What do you want the new year to look like? 

Traveled to the South Pacific with Amanda

I have a friend who, rather than making resolutions, makes themes for each year. Like happiness, or sexiness. I like that. I mean, what’s greater than resolving to be totally sexy all year? Instead of rolling to work with unwashed hair and feeling off all day, you could shower… or you could toss around that disheveled do, throw on some red lipstick, and work it. And, as you make the decision to eat a second corndog, you can ask yourself “does this make me feel sexy?” If it does, then hell yeah, eat that delicious corndog girlfriend, and look great doing it! Or not. Either way, if you resolve to be sexy all year, you’ll be more confident, and you’ll own it.
My theme is to not waste time. I mean, it’s not as, well, sexy, as the sexy-theme, but after 3 straight months of 50+ hour workweeks last year, I decided I need to make better use of my time. I’m a bit of an over achiever, so it’s no one’s fault but my own—I didn’t create boundaries, or have a healthy work-life balance. It was either all or nothing—trips every weekend, followed by being the last one in the office every weeknight—and I majorly burned out.
Burning Beast 2011!

I mean, I like my job, but I missed out on some important things…like not taking extra time off for my best friend’s wedding, or not training as much as I should have for runs. Don't get me wrong, I did go on some amazing vacations. I was so stressed out though, that I spent half of my vacation time unwinding before I could relax. I cried a lot. I ate too many frozen pizzas. I bailed on a crazy amount of happy hours and get-togethers, and now a lot of my friends—the ones I bailed on—are moving away. I don’t want to miss out on the important things anymore. The little things that make life great.

A wedding in Cancun one weekend, a wedding in Seattle the next!

So, in 2012, I’m going to reflect on what makes me happy, and I’m going to value my time more. I’m going to go on vacations without feeling guilty about it. I’m also going to make more time for running. I want to shave at least 10 minutes off my half-marathon time. 

I’m going to leave the office at a reasonable hour each day, and not pass up opportunities to spend time with my friends. I’m going to figure out what I really, really enjoy about my job—the things that make it a valuable use of my time (and not just the company’s time)—and I’m going to make those things happen.

My dad helped me with a hot buttered rum photo shoot!
I’m also going to cook lots and lots of delicious food, definitely going to make time for that. Here's to the time well spent in 2012! Happy New Year!

Best sandwich of the year: post-Thanksgiving pulled turkey.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Bring on the Bubbly: Champagne Cupcakes

Happy New Year! I know, I know. I'm a little late on this one. We all did our celebrating last night. At this point, the champagne bottles are empty, and we're hitting the gym, cleansing, or at least drinking lots of water (followed by lots of ibuprofen). I made these champagne cupcakes for last night, and by the time they were frosted, I was squeezing myself into a sequined dress and heading out to dance the night away, and didn't have time for cupcake photos. So, sorry that I didn't get this to you earlier, in time for New Year's Eve. But hey, don't let a holiday be your only occasion for  a champagne toast! 

These bad boys have 2 cups of champagne in the batter, and a splash more bubbly in the frosting. And they're delicious. They really taste like champagne!

So, pop a little bubbly, and have a New Year's Day toast! Cheers!

PS. How amazingly adorable is that cupcake pedestal?! 

Champagne Cupcakes
Adapted from Booze Cakes

3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter - softened
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 egg whites
2 cups champagne (at room temp)
1 glass champagne 

Preheat oven to 350, and add cupcake liners to 24 cupcake cups. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt. Set aside. In mixing bowl, beat together butter and sugar until combined. Add vanilla and egg whites (one at a time) and beat until light and fluffy. Mix in flour and 2 cups champagne, alternating 3 times (starting and ending with flour). Drink one glass of champagne. Pour batter into cupcake liners, filling almost to the top. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before frosting.

3/4 cups butter (1.5 sticks)
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup champagne
1 tablespoon vanilla
edible glitter sparklies for decoration

Beat butter until light and fluffy. Slowly add in powdered sugar and add remaining ingredients, mix until combined (add more sugar or bubbly for desired consistency). Frost cooled cupcakes either with a spreader or pipe it on. Top with sparkly things. 
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