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Archive for July, 2008

Tonight wasn’t a 30-minute meal, as is usually my custom on weeknights – I went for Moroccan Stew, from Sandra Lee’s Semi-Homemade Cooking Made Light (p. 110). I often make her recipes when I need to go to the grocery store, because a majority of the ingredients she uses are canned, frozen, or prepackaged. This stew was fantastic! The best part was that all you had to do was mix the ingredients, simmer for 30 minutes, add some couscous and done! The sweetness of the dried apricots combined with the softened vegetables and plump couscous was perfect – this meal was incredibly filling and would be great to warm you up on a cold, wintry night.

I can’t find an online version of the recipe, so I’ve listed it here:

  • 1 container (32 oz.) vegetable broth (I used 2 cans of chicken broth)
  • 1 box (5.7 oz.) curry-flavored couscous (I used 6 oz. of plain couscous and added 1 tsp. curry powder)
  • 1 bag (12 oz.) frozen broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots
  • 1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup dried apricots (be careful here – using too many apricots can be overpowering to the dish)
  • 1/2 cup frozen chopped onions (I used 1-2 tbs. dried onion flakes; fresh onion would also work)
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. crushed garlic
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (I actually used paprika here)
  • I added 1 can of chicken and a handful of raisins

In a large pot, combine all ingredients except couscous. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat. Simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in couscous and remove from heat. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Serves 4.

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Jared and I love living close to downtown Shirlington, which offers a wide variety of restaurants to choose from – including Indian, Italian, French, American, Mediterranean, and Japanese styles. One of our new favorite choices is Luna Grill, an American-style diner. We took my parents there on Saturday morning for Eggs Benedict, and they loved it as well. We enjoy the excellent service, delicious coffee, and cheap prices. We’ve also been impressed by their dinner options. The best part is it seems to be one of the undiscovered eateries in the area, so we never have to wait for a table!

Luna Grill has two locations in the DC metro area (Shirlington and Dupont Circle). Prices range from 8-15 dollars per dish.

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Want a new cookie recipe that takes only a few minutes to make and is a great hit with the crowds? Try this one, which I found on the back of a JIFFY Oatmeal Muffin Mix box. I made them for our church’s annual picnic and baptism at Sandy Point State Park, and they disappeared quickly! One note – the recipe only makes about 12 cookies, so I’d suggest doubling it to have some leftovers.

  • 1pk. JIFFY Oatmeal Muffin Mix
  • 2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 3 tbs. quick oats
  • 3 tbs. margarine or butter, softened
  • 3 tbs. peanut butter
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all dry ingredients. Mix margarine or butter, peanut butter, vanilla, and egg. Add chocolate chips. Roll into 2″ balls and place on baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes; makes 10-15 cookies.

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Monday’s dinner was supposed to be Polenta With Chunky Chicken and Chorizo Chili from 2-4-6-8 Great Meals (p. 181). I set out all the ingredients, including an opened bottle of Yuengling Light, and began chopping peppers and onions as the ground chicken started to cook. I opened a cabinet to get a storage container and ka-BOOM! A jar of honey fell from the top shelf and knocked the beer bottle to the floor, splashing all over the tile and cabinet doors.

What surprised me the most was that I didn’t overreact – I actually laughed, drank the remainder of the beer (and opened a new one for the chili), wiped the floor, and kept going. I think back to past kitchen mishaps – dropping an entire pot of rice and beans on the floor, spilling various spice jars, etc. At the time I wanted to cry. Haven’t we all had those moments?

I was curious as to what polenta and chili would taste like, and the answer is a very interesting combination of chunky and smooth. The polenta is spooned into the bottom of the bowl and the chili (and its light sauce of beer and tomato sauce) rests on top. The recipe called for chorizo in the chili, but I’m not a fan of its spicy, gritty flavor, so I left it out. I added a little sour cream on top to cool it all down.

Polenta is one of my new favorite ingredients to use – cooking it with chicken stock instead of water enhances the flavor and makes it taste like you’ve been cooking it all day. This meal had polenta mixed with scallions, butter, and thyme, and I’ve made it also with butter, parmesan cheese, and a little half-and-half. A few of Rachael Ray’s recipes call for polenta cakes in a twist on traditional lasagna – I think that will be my next attempt.

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On Sunday night I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to make for dinner – eggs, hamburgers, or just give up and make PB&J. I decided on an Olive Frittata and Tomato Bean Stoup from the 2-4-6-8 Great Meals for Couples or Crowds cookbook by Rachael Ray (p. 56-57). I like how she’s divided the recipes into how many people each will serve, although I tend to focus mainly on the “4” section. (I’ll admit I’m the queen of leftovers for lunch the next day.) This meal was listed in the “2” section, but it ended up making enough for 4 people.

This was the first time I’ve ever made a frittata from the stove to the oven, and it turned out great! I used the small skillet from Rachael Ray’s cookware line, which is the only skillet I have that is oven-safe (up to 400 degrees). I started the frittata on the stove and finished it up in the oven, and it was much faster than making it in the oven from the start. The frittata had a nice blend of green olives, roasted red peppers, and onions, with a creamy finish from the eggs. Next time I’ll fold the eggs more evenly on the stove so it has a flatter surface on top when it goes in the oven.

The stoup was wonderful because it had a great combination of fresh and canned ingredients. The red pepper flakes added a spicy note to the stoup without overwhelming it, and the mixture of beans and vegetables made the consistency of the dish hearty enough to stand on its own. I can see a wide range of possibilities with the tomato sauce/chicken broth/garlic/red pepper flakes base – for example, the recipe called for a 15-oz. can of small white beans, which I didn’t have, but a substitution of a can of soy beans worked equally as well.

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The Next Food Network Star is one of my favorite new shows – I love how entertaining it is, and I’m really impressed with the challenges they give the contestants, even more so than Top Chef. Being on the Food Network, to me, is much more challenging than being an executive chef – not only do you have to cook good food, you have to be able to explain it to a camera effectively, quickly, and with personality.

This week the final four flew to Vegas to participate in a “throwdown,” Bobby Flay style. Lisa and Adam competed first, making Adam’s macaroni and cheese and Lisa’s cassoulet in 75 minutes. They each clearly owned their signature dishes, and failed to improve on the dish of their competitors. Paula Deen went so far as to say about Lisa’s mac and cheese, “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.” Next was Aaron vs. Kelsey. I really like Kelsey’s likeable personality and her performance in front of the camera, but I’m really not sure how much different she would be than any other star the Food Network already has. Aaron, on the other hand, is an excellent chef and brings a variety to the table (pun intended) that is refreshing and interesting – if only he was more personable on camera! He and Kelsey made Kelsey’s chicken parmesan and Aaron’s stuffed pork. Although Aaron nearly forgot to make Kelsey’s dish (remembering with only 20 minutes left), he clearly beat her on both counts.

When the four contestants went into the elimination round, it was fairly clear who the bottom two would be (Adam and Kelsey). When the eliminated contestant was announced as Kelsey, part of me was surprised. The judges constantly berate Adam for his lack of culinary prowess, but he always manages to sneak by because of his sense of humor and personality. It’s going to be interesting next week with the final three contestants (Lisa, Aaron, and Adam) compete against each other to move one step closer to having their own show on the Food Network. I’ve been pulling for Aaron for quite some time, but I would also be willing to tune into Adam’s show – I think if he has more time to think about his “culinary point of view” (classic NFNS catchphrase), he could be quite popular. I really struggle with liking Lisa – her dishes look incredible and she always wins for the great tastes she creates – but her “Stepford Wife” persona rubs me the wrong way. Something really has to change before I’d be interested in watching her show. She reminds me of Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) in terms of the types of food she cooks, but at least Ina is more down-to-earth and comfortable on camera.

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Tonight Jared and I went to Tortilla Coast for dinner with friends before a Nationals game. In terms of tex-mex food, this place was fairly inexpensive and tasty. I had “Lucy’s Plate” (appropriate, considering my obsession with Lucille Ball), which had a chicken flauta, soft chicken taco, and crispy guacamole tostada. The best part was the cheese queso sauce that came with it – a great combination of creamy and spicy to complement not only my meal but also the basket of free tortilla chips our waiter kept replenishing for us. Jared had the chicken caesar wrap – not exactly fitting with the restaurant’s theme – but he said it passed the test 🙂

On another note, I had Dippin’ Dots ice cream at the ball game tonight (cookies and cream flavor). Although it hit the spot on what turned out to be a muggy evening, it didn’t have the same appeal it had when I was a kid…I guess the phenomenon has lost some of its magic for me. That, and a very small serving cost five bucks! 🙂

Tortilla Coast is located across the street from the Capitol South metro station in Washington DC.

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