Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Colds and comfort food

I've got four posts that don't actually include recipes in some sort of draft form right now, but I've managed to catch a late-summer cold. I'm heavily under the influence of various pharmaceuticals and not feeling very coherent or creative at the moment, so I'll share a few more easy, quick dinners. And a cake, because even when I feel like crap, I have to get off the sofa at some point during the day, and I had strawberries in the fridge that needed to be used.

Mediterranean Nachos

I've mentioned my undying love for Smitten Kitchen before, and this is one of my favorites. As usual, I like recipes that leave me a lot of wiggle room.  Once you make the beans (an I usually cut this recipe in half) and pile them on some pita chips, you can get creative with the toppings.  You can make Deb's salad and tahini, or maybe some chopped tomatoes and feta, or just a few dollops of that Skinnytaste tzatziki I'm crazy about. And if you use canned chickpeas, it comes together in about a half hour, which makes this dish even more awesome.

Pasta with Lemon, Spinach and Goat Cheese
This one originally came from Martha Stewart Living. I add 2-3 tablespoons of grated parmesan to the sauce - I think it gives it a bit more flavor. Also, I figured out a great trick -- place your chopped spinach in a colander, then once you reserve your cup of pasta water, dump out the pasta into the colander and let it sit and drain while you make the sauce. It will wilt the spinach just a bit.  Also, you can substitute grilled chicken for the walnuts and it's really good too!

Strawberry Cake
This was a Pinterest win for sure. Not too sweet, slightly lemony and full of fresh strawberries, this is a great cake for summer picnics, sick days on the sofa, and even for breakfast (not that I've ever done that) :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Mexican Salad - fast and slow

So it's been a busy couple of weeks, and when I have a lot of stuff to do in the evenings, my first instinct is usually to grab fast food or takeout. When I lived in Virginia, the fast meal of choice was often Cafe Rio -- a west coast-based quick mexican chain. Their chicken salad is out of this world - a fresh flour tortilla, baked with cheese and filled with beans, cilantro lime rice, shredded chicken, romaine, pico, guacamole, tortilla strips, cotija cheese and tomatillo ranch dressing.

Since I'm now 500 miles away from this bowl of absolute deliciousness (and Willy's salads, while good, aren't quite the same), I've perfected a way to make my own version that is easy to make, reheats well in the microwave and can be somewhat healthy (if you skip the cheese and rice). The shredded chicken is super-simple in the crock pot, and is great for burritos, enchiladas, or anything mexican-inspired.

Cafe Rio Copycat Chicken

4-5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup fat-free zesty italian dressing
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 small can diced green chiles
1 tsp chipotle hot sauce or chipotle powder (or to taste)

Place chicken breasts and chiles in slow cooker Whisk spices into dressing and pour over chicken. Toss to coat. Cook 4-6 hours. About an hour to a half-hour before serving, shred chicken in the pot with two forks and continue to cook.

Added bonus - you can re-create the tomatillo ranch by chopping up and blending two tomatillos and a fresh jalapeƱo pepper into a bottle of fat-free ranch dressing!
Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Veggie Overload!

As mentioned last week, my veggie bin is an overstuffed monument to good intentions. 

Every time I think I have a handle on it, I'll do something crazy like making a spontaneous after-work trip to the DeKalb Farmers Market (how much do I love that place).Of course, I overbought. :)

So with wonderful things like tomatoes and zucchini in high season, here are a few of the things I'm making this week to use up some of the goodies in the drawer.

Zoodles with Red Pepper and Goat Cheese
This is about as easy as it gets. If you don't have a spiralizer gadget to make zoodles, this actually does taste just as good with diced zucchini. And if you want to bulk it up a bit, it also works great tossed in with some cooked rotini and a splash more oil and vinegar for a hot or cold pasta salad. 

how to make it (per serving):
1 smallish zucchini, spiralized or diced
1 mini sweet pepper (red, yellow or orange), finely diced
2 tbsp crumbled goat cheese
1/4 tsp sugar
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
drizzle of olive oil

Saute the zucchini and pepper together with a little bit of olive oil until the veggies start to soften and brown. Sprinkle with sugar and drizzle vinegar on top. Continue cooking until veggies are slightly browned (less if you like more crunch). Stir in goat cheese crumbles and serve immediately.

Barefoot Contessa's Panzanella
Ina Garden is my ultimate foodie crush. I love just about every one of her recipes I've tried, but this may be my favorite. I could just about live off this stuff. It's that good. I like to make it with grape tomatoes cut in half, and I usually go a little lighter on the peppers and capers. One shortcut I often use are these frozen garlic cubes, that I usually get at Trader Joe's. I keep a package or two in my freezer at all times. They work anywhere you need fresh minced garlic, and they really taste fresh, not like the nasty old-sweat taste of the jarred stuff. They also make frozen basil... if you don't have fresh basil to toss in with the salad, just add a cube or two to the vinaigrette in this recipe and it works fine. Also, while frying the bread as directed is amazing, it does soak up quite a bit of oil. If you want to be a little healthier, you can mist the bread cubes lightly with an olive oil mister and bake them in the oven at 300 degrees, stirring once or twice until the bread is browned and crunchy to your taste. Also, if you want protein over delicious, toasty, garlicky carbs, you can skip the bread and add a can of drained, rinsed chickpeas for a different take.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Finding Frogs

Over the past few weeks, I've been cautiously dipping my toes into the world of online dating. And let me tell you... it's scary out there folks. 

I actually met my ex-husband online, which I suppose isn't a stellar recommendation, since he turned out to be a boil on the butt of humanity (there's a Steel Magnolias quote for pretty much every situation in life, isn't there?). But I have friends who have met perfectly charming guys who became perfectly lovely boyfriends or husbands, so figured I'd give it another try.

While I have tentatively struck up conversations with a couple of guys that do seem nice, I'll share some initial observations:

1. Maybe I'm just getting old (OK, probably), but I have a sneaky suspicion that a lot of these men are shaving a few years, if not decades, off their ages. 

2. Manitoba does not qualify as "within 50 miles of Atlanta." Although if Trump wins, I might reconsider.

3. Screen names that end in "4U" AND mention a body part or sexual position are actually kind of a turn-off. Ditto screen names that include "LUV."

4. If every last one of his pictures include images of fishing, dead animals, motorcycles and NASCAR stadiums, I'm just not sure we're going to have that much in common.

5. While they're probably judging my boobs and my butt, I'm judging their grammatical and spelling choices.

Bonus. Professional wrestlers need not apply.  Especially those in metallic hot pants and a keffiyeh. I'm not kidding. Really. And keep in mind the age range of my dating profile. I need eye bleach.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

How Girly-Girls Hunt

The excitement of the hunt, the thrill of the chase... for me it's antique hunting, and it's definitely an inherited trait. One of my mom's favorite things to do was to browse around junky antique stores. She and my cousin Becky would roam all around Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee to every antique mall, regional show and out-of-the way junk shop they could find -- and I was usually happy to tag along. The first piece of furniture I bought for myself was a 1920s chifferobe for $145 -- a staggering sum to me at age 19!

When I moved into my first apartment, Mom was there help fill the space with some fun pieces like a stained glass window panel and a vintage typewriter. And she kept bugging me to pick "something" to collect, so she'd have something specific to hunt for me. For her, it was English chintz china, in a specific pattern. She might buy other things that caught her eye, but that was her "hunt" - every store she went into, she was on the lookout for a new piece. When I'd go to antique shows or shops around DC, I knew her pattern, and the one Becky liked, and would keep an eye out.

Mom wanted something to be looking for for me, preferably china or glass, but I didn't have a clue... I was in a smallish apartment with a teeny-tiny kitchen. And knowing my Mom's tendencies for going overboard and being extremely generous, I wanted to pick something hard to find, so I wouldn't get shipments by the truckload!

Looking around my apartment, I noticed some pink depression glass candlesticks that my high-school bestie had given me when I moved away. And a second pair I had bought with Mom and my aunt at a flea market in Mobile. So I called my mom and said my collection was going to be "pink depression glass candlesticks." There! I had picked something so specific, there was no way I would be inundated! That Christmas, I got two more sets of pink glass candlesticks. Plus eight pink wineglasses, a pink glass candy dish, a pink glass platter and some miniature pink glass cordials. Oh dear...

Thus began my love of depression glass. Over the ears, I've expanded my color palette, and tried to limit myself to one pattern per color. Still, I've got two jam-packed china cabinets full of sparkly stuff proving that yes, I am my mother's daughter in so many ways.

Last month, I was finally able to make it to a depression glass show held near my house, and despite endless temptations, walked away with just two small pieces in my chosen pattern, and the guest pitcher set above, that I just couldn't resist. Isn't it cute? I've got friends coming into town this month and crashing in my guest room/office -- maybe they'll be thirsty!