Monthly Archives: October 2013



So one of our colleagues was getting married. Our office is ALWAYS up for a party, so we planned a pot-luck to wish her and her intended well in their new life together (I know it’s old-fashioned, but they weren’t cohabitating, so it really was a new life TOGETHER). We had main dishes and desserts covered, so I offered to bring an appetizer.

The bride-to-be is a flexitarian but mostly vegetarian, so I wanted to bring something that was meat-free. Also, we have a culturally diverse workforce with many dietary constraints, so going meat-free also allowed the widest possible sampling. I hoped to make two dips, one vegan and one with dairy. Not hummus.

The vegan was easy — a white bean dip. No need for dairy, no need for honey … consider it DONE. My little twist: using pan-charred garlic.

As for the dairy dip, I’ve been a little obsessed lately with pimento cheese. There are a couple of decent supermarket brands, but they are EXPENSIVE, so it feels like a splurge. But c’mon, isn’t it just cheese and mayonnaise and some red pepper? So when America’s Test Kitchen Feed posted a well-described amazingly-simple recipe for pimento cheese, well, I had to take it and improve upon it (of course).

Pan-charred Garlic

This is an alternative to the oh-so-time-consuming oven-roasted garlic. No added oil and takes as little as 10 minutes.

Throw some cloves of garlic, still in their skin, in a dry pan over medium heat. Shake and flip occasionally, until the skins are charred and starting to slip off. Allow to cool slightly, then slip the cloves out of the skins. Refrigerate any you don’t use immediately. Probably okay for 5 – 7 days (guess).



Garlicky White Bean Dip

SAMSUNG1 can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained well
3 cloves pan-charred garlic
Generous squirt of lime juice
Leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
1/8 teaspoon ground chipolte (or cayenne)
Kosher Salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


This couldn’t be easier. Throw it all in the food processor. Process until smooth. Put it in a pretty bowl and garnish with some thyme twigs (see the image at the top). I’m embarrassed to call this a recipe.

Serve with sturdy dippers — like crackers or pita chips.



Spicy Pimento Cheese
Adapted from a recipe from America’s Test Kitchen

SAMSUNG6 ounces block sharp cheddar cheese
3 – 4 ounces block pepper jack cheese (depends on your tolerance for spicy)
4 tablespoons chopped pimientos
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sweet pickle juice
Squirt or two of lime juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (optional) [*]

Shred your cheese by hand grater or in your food processor. Do NOT use pre-shredded cheese! The texture won’t come out right because that pre-shredded cheese is coated with stuff so it won’t stick together in the ziploc bag. I adore pre-shredded cheese for a bunch of other applications, just not THIS one.

Dump the now-shredded cheese into a medium-sized bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients. Start stirring with a fork. It will look awful at first. Keep stirring. Don’t add more mayo. Don’t add more pickle juice. Keep stirring. Suddenly — it will look perfect. STOP STIRRING. You don’t want to completely pulverize the cheese. Don’t panic if it looks a little loose … it improves after a few hours in the fridge and will firm up beautifully.


How to serve:

  • Put it in a pretty bowl and serve with saltine crackers
  • Spread on white bread and eat it as a sandwich
  • Spread it on buttered bread and make a grilled cheese sandwich
  • Smear it on a hot dog
  • Embed a gob within a raw hamburger patty and grill
  • Eat it straight from the fridge with a fork, at midnight


 [*] Worcestershire sauce is traditionally made with anchovies. There are vegan varieties available.


Hot Toddy Season!

There’s a definite nip in the air! Living in the DC metro area, we do have actual seasons, although the switch from one to the next is rarely well-defined. I’ve turned the furnace on, but will have to turn it off again since we have a predicted high of 70F for Halloween Day. Changing seasons inspire a change in cocktails, and have I got a versatile cold-weather stand-by. I’ve served this to crowds, heating the cider on the stovetop (the scent warming the entire house), or served it to just myself, heating the cider in the microwave.

For the rum, I am currently obsessed with the Gosling’s Black Seal Bermuda Black Rum (used in the Dark and Stormy). I especially like the caramel notes in this rum — works especially well with apples. But any full-flavored dark rum would work well.

Any unfiltered apple cider would work nicely here, but I am fond of Trader Joe’s Spiced Cider. The right balance of cinnamon, nutmeg, and citrus — they already did the work for me (also delish cold without the rum).

SAMSUNGRummed-up Spiced Cider

2 – 4 tablespoons of dark rum
Enough spiced cider to fill the mug
Cinnamon Stick



Put 2 – 4 tablespoons of rum in a mug. Separately, heat the cider in the microwave or on the stovetop to a near boil. My little secret: while the cider is heating, gently rasp some of the cinnamon into the mug with a microplane (yes, there’s already some cinnamon in the cider, but the freshly ground cinnamon adds a nice warmth). Pour the hot cider into the mug, stirring with the cinnamon stick.


I gotta remember to take this down in a thermos the next time I’m fishing for Rockfish in the brutal November wind on the end of our community’s 450′ fishing pier!


Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. Neither Gosling’s nor Trader Joe’s know I exist and has provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement. In fact, they’ll probably sue me if this ever gets in a search engine.


Dessert or Breakfast?

This cooking adventure was inspired by my sister-in-law, Liz. She posted on Facebook all about her and my nephew making a apple clafoutis. Now, I have heard of clafoutis, and even looked up a recipe or two, but I was always a little intimidated by the number of eggs (as many as six!) and the use of half-and-half or cream. Not that I’m opposed to eggs or cream, but I really wanted to find a recipe that was a little lighter on the eggs and used low-fat milk, so that I didn’t have to make a special trip to the store if I got in the mood to make one.

Traditionally, clafoutis is rustic French dessert made with dark cherries. I think it gets a different name (flognarde) when you use other fruit, but I’m going with clafoutis because it’s more familiar to folks. Fancy French words aside, this is a baked custard and fruit delight! Served warm, perhaps with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream or a dusting of powdered sugar, it would be a lovely end to any dinner party. Served cool or room temperature the next day, it could grace a brunch table. But it’s also rustic, and we were happy to eat it a bit too warm with a spoon and gobbled it up cold the next day for breakfast!

Mixed Berry Clafoutis
Adapted from Apple Clafouti – a Recipe from a French Girl

SAMSUNGA teaspoon or so of softened butter
2 1/2 to 3 cups mixed fresh berries (I used raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries)
2 tablespoons creme de cassis
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup low-fat milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400F. Set a rack in the center. Smear the softened butter evenly on the bottom and sides of a 9″ pie plate.

Rinse and drain the berries well. Mix the berries with the creme de cassis and 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl and allow to macerate (hang out) while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Put the remaining ingredients (eggs through salt) in the food processor and whir until completely smooth. You may use a blender, but be sure to scrape down the sides frequently. My sister-in-law uses a whisk and does it by hand!

Pour about half of the batter into the prepared pie plate. Gently spoon the berries over the batter, making sure that the different types are evenly distributed. There will be a little juice/liqueur in the bottom — just drizzle that over. Pour the remaining batter over the berries.

Put the nearly-overflowing pie plate in the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes until golden brown on top and the center is JUST set (check it at 25 minutes). Also, I like to rotate the plate about halfway through the cooking time.

Remove and allow to cool on the counter until warm. I cut this one just a hair too soon — notice how the center is still a little loose? Refrigerate any leftovers.



Another winner from Bogle!

After that amazing Bogle Phantom a few weeks back (which I now wish I’d bought more of), and a stretch of cool weather, I had zinfandel on the brain. When I came across this Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel (2011), I knew I had to try it. At $12, this wasn’t a bargain wine, but it also wasn’t a total splurge.

This is a pretty classic zinfandel. Rich, fruity, gorgeous color. I drank it over several nights, and it actually improved over the first night. I’ll probably try to grab a bottle or two the next time I see it. But you know what I really have my eyes peeled for: this year’s Bogle Phantom!


Update: I visited my local TJ’s last night, and the Bogle Phantom has come and gone already for the year! Oh no!

Update 2: I am slightly obsessed. A little googling, and I managed to chase it down at the Alexandria Total Wine! Will post on it in within the next couple of weeks, promise :)


Green Tomato muffins … who knew?

I had two green tomatoes in the fridge. While I **love** fried green tomatoes, well, they are a bit time-consuming. And probably not the heart-healthiest way to prepare a savory side. So as I looked at these two lonely orbs, wondering how I might prepare them, I did a little googling. I found a number of recipes for green tomato pie — but I didn’t have nearly enough tomatoes. I saw a number of recipes for green tomato cake, but none really grabbed me, for multiple reasons.

So I thought to myself, how different is a green tomato from rhubarb, in terms of tartness? Why not give my rhubarb muffin recipe a try, subbing out the rhubarb for tomato? (if it’s a total flop, I’m not wasting alot of ingredients) I like that muffins are already pre-portioned, and, I think muffins last longer than a cut cake.

The CGP proclaimed the muffins a success! He said he wouldn’t have known it was tomato if I hadn’t told him. The bits of green tomato sweeten up in the oven heat and almost melt into the muffin background, similar to the rhubarb. The muffin itself isn’t too sweet, so more of a breakfast choice than a dessert. I have loads of cherry tomatoes that won’t ripen before our first frost — so I bet I can cut those in halves or quarters and whip out some muffins!

Green Tomato and Coconut Muffins
Makes six “Texas-sized” muffins

SAMSUNG1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup plain, nonfat greek yogurt
1/2 cup chopped green tomato (most of a medium-sized one), heaping
1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°. Line the muffin tin with paper liners, OR, grease them well with solid shortening.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In a big bowl, whisk together the butter, brown sugar, egg, and lime juice. Add dry ingredients with yogurt to first mixture and stir just until moistened. Stir in tomato, coconut, and walnuts. The batter will be very thick!

Spoon evenly amongst the muffin wells. Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. I would check at 25 minutes and then at 3 to 5 minute intervals thereafter.



BLT bested by the BFGT (Bacon with Fried Green Tomatoes)

So it’s green tomato “season”. You know, the bushes are slowing down (or maybe you’ve got a frost looming) and so you start to harvest the green tomatoes. As for me, I love a fried green tomato. There’s not much to it … it’s your basic three-dredge fry process. So if you have a little patience and are willing to lose some arm hair to oil spatter, well, it can be done.

Fried green tomatoes are an amazing accompaniment to any Southern meal. They are pretty damn good with steak and eggs at breakfast. But for a truly divine experience, you must layer them with bacon and mayonnaise on a sandwich. Truly divine.

Fried Green Tomatoes

SAMSUNGUnbleached all-purpose flour
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Ground chipotle (or cayenne)
Celery Seed
Buttermilk (or milk + lime juice)
Panko bread crumbs
Firm, medium-sized green tomatoes – 1 per person

Prepare three dredge stations:

  1. Flour seasoned with salt, peppers, and celery seed (use your dampened finger to taste for balance)
  2. Buttermilk
  3. Panko bread crumbs

Slice the tomatoes about 1/4″ thick.

Pass each slice through the seasoned flour and gently shake off the excess. Pass each through the buttermilk, ensuring all the flour is covered by the buttermilk. Place in the panko, gently pressing the panko into the buttermilk layer and shake off the excess. Gently set each slice aside on a cookie sheet. Put the cookie sheet in the refrigerator for one hour. Don’t skip this step — this allows the panko-buttermilk-flour to adhere to the tomato and stay adhered in the hot oil bubble bath. I do this for my fried oysters, too — no naked oysters. (many thanks to SteveK for the invaluable refrigeration tip!)


Heat an inch or so of neutral oil in a skillet to about 325F to 350F. Fry off four or five slices at a time, ensuring the pan isn’t crowded and that the slices can move freely. Flip when the first side is golden brown. Cook until the second side is equally lusciously golden and remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Salt lightly.


Eat ’em while they are hot. My two favorite ways:



TJ’s Coconut Water

I don’t remember exactly when coconut water became all the rage — a couple of years ago? I bought a couple of brands from the grocery store. Y U C K. They were bitter. They barely tasted like coconut. I really didn’t get the hype and decided not to waste any more money on the stuff.

Fast forward to this summer. I was wandering around a Trader Joe’s on my way to work, planning to grab a few work lunches and maybe some non-perishables for home. One of the things I like about Trader Joe’s is the sample station. On this day, they were using their coconut water and frozen tropical fruit to make smoothies. I didn’t want a smoothie — I wanted to try the coconut water. So Sample Lady pours me a little dixie cup — and I liked it! I was surprised, based on my previous experience. I could taste coconut, it was lightly sweet rather than bitter, and it was thirst quenching. Wow — maybe THIS is what all the hype was about?

One warning — this is a minimally processed product and highly perishable. You are supposed to use it within two days of opening. I don’t know what bad things happen if you don’t, but we drank it within the window, so I didn’t find out :)

Standard caveat: This is a personal recommendation. Trader Joe’s doesn’t know I exist and has provided neither product nor compensation for this endorsement. In fact, they’ll probably sue me if this ever gets in a search engine.


Roasted Shrimp and Tomatoes with Feta

So the summer before last, we planted ONE cherry tomato plant. Just one. The farmer-in-charge refused to do any pruning, so that plant TOOK OVER our tiny garden plot. It’s octopus-like arms grew to a tangle that was 4 feet deep by 8 feet wide. We couldn’t even reach all the fruit, much to the delight of wildlife. I swore NO MORE indeterminate tomato plants ever again!

The following summer (last summer), I planted ONE determinate bush tomato plant. It stayed in its place, we got a few tomatoes, I was happy, except for one thing … these volunteer cherry tomato plants that were sprouting up all over our and our neighbor’s yards! The wildlife had spread seeds far and wide and apparently these tomatoes bred true. So we continued to harvest cherry tomatoes and kept the plants in check when we mowed the grass. No staking — they just grew horizontally.

So this summer, I planted ONE determinate heirloom tomato plant. Again, It stayed in its place, we got a few tomatoes, I was happy, and we’ve STILL got the damn volunteer cherry tomatoes all over the place. We’re getting an even better harvest this year. It’s crazy. And I don’t even LIKE fresh tomatoes!

I love roasted shrimp, so I thought maybe I could use up some of these tomatoes in something not-totally-fresh yet not-fully-cooked. These flavors really do speak to summer, even if I did use the oven instead of the grill.

Roasted Shrimp and Tomatoes with Feta
Serves 3 – 4

SAMSUNG12 – 16 ounces dried pasta (I used penne)
2 cups ripe cherry tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Dried thyme
Crushed red pepper flakes
1 lb peeled, be-headed, de-veined shrimp (I use 21/25 count)
1 shallot lobe, peeled and sliced thinly
4 – 6 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Preheat oven to 375F. If desired, line a large sheet pan with foil to aid in cleanup.

Start your pasta! Water-to-boil plus cook-time should just about equal the oven roasting time (fingers **crossed**).

SAMSUNGCut the tomatoes in half and put on a large sheet pan. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt (lightly), fresh ground pepper and thyme (generously), and some red pepper flakes (to taste). Roast until they start to pop and break down (you probably want to move them around or flip them once or twice). Add the shrimp and shallots, tossing all of it together to coat the shrimp and shallots with the seasoned oil and tomato drippings. Continue roasting. Check the shrimp at about 4 or 5 minutes — they should be turning pink and slightly opaque. Flip them over with tongs and cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes. Pull them when they look NOT QUITE done — there will be some carry-over cooking as they rest on the counter.

SAMSUNGDrain your pasta well. Scoop some pasta on a plate, top with some of the roasted shrimp, tomato, and shallot (making sure to get some of the ooey gooey juices too), and then sprinkle with the crumbled feta.

I served it with some simply steamed yellow and green squash, because that’s what they had at the farmstand :)



Notes from Las Vegas

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my husband likes to lift/carry/move heavy stuff, you know, for fun. So every year (and I think this was our 8th), we head to Vegas for the Olympia Fitness and Performance Weekend. He likes to walk the Expo and collect swag (T-shirts, shake bottles, supplements, protein bars). And we both like to watch The America’s Strongest Man contest.

SAMSUNGThis is me and Mike Burke, America’s Strongest Man 2012. Mike was in the lead this year on Day 1 this year (2013), until he tried to take off the tip of one of his middle fingers in the middle of a medley. Crazy bastard stops midway, raises hand to show wife (who thought he was flipping a bird), and then FINISHES THE EVENT!! Otherwise, he’s an all-around nice family guy!


SAMSUNGThis is me and Nick Best, professional Strongman. My red T-shirt is the one he wore in an event at Worlds Stongest Man last year (2012) and I got it because I screamed the loudest (much to the CGP’s embarrassment). So of course I had to wear it to ASM this year and get a pic. Nick was SO charmed that I did that, he gave me the competition shirt in his left hand! Yes, I will thoroughly launder it. As I did the red one.


Vacations are for reading. I use a Kindle for most of my leisure (chick lit) reading, but my husband prefers used paperbacks. And since he finished his on the plane heading out to Vegas, we had to locate a used bookstore in Vegas. We googled some options and ended up picking Amber Unicorn Books, just off Sahara on South Decatur Blvd., only because a google review said they had a large selection of science fiction (the CGP’s preferred genre). WHAT A FIND!! They had the LARGEST selection of cookbooks I’ve EVER seen in a used bookstore! Lots of contemporary (Rachel Ray), some older (Jeff Smith), and plenty of vintage (Better Homes and Gardens). Large selection of non-American cuisines as well. I wasn’t ready to haul a suitcase of books back home, but they said they ship, no worries. I think I’m going to have to stop by the next time … because you can NEVER have too many cookbooks, right?


We generally eat well in Vegas, aiming for a mix of (higher-priced) casino and (wallet-friendlier) local restaurants. One of our Strip stand-bys is Zeffirino, an Italian restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal and Grand Canal Shoppes in the Venetian. Go for lunch — they have a fixed priced 3-course meal for about $30/pp. I had a seafood salad (poached mixed seafood in a lemon vinegarette) and he had fried calamari and zucchini as starters. I had veal ravioli and he had roasted salmon for our mains. Dessert was a plate of three mini pastries (each!) and coffee. We went here on our first trip to Vegas (when we got married), and try to get back most visits. Lots of good people-watching — the couple sitting next to us were decked out in wedding finery, having just renewed their vows there in the Venetian!

So we’ve got this friend out in Vegas — a competitive athlete (Highland Games, Strongman, Powerlifting) named Mandy Keefer. Mandy and her man C.J. introduced Keith and me to Island Sushi and Grill — way way way OFF strip. We went for their All You Can Eat sushi dinner at $26.95/pp. Now, this is NOT a sushi buffet. No, you ask for whatever you want off the menu and they make it to order. As many times as you want. And I think it was ANYTHING on the menu (only catch — you gotta eat what you order or they will CHARGE you for it). Appetizers too (you need to try the Chili Garlic Edamame, Ahi Poke, and Geso). We had ALOT of the basic tuna and salmon nigiri, but also tried a number of the specialty rolls. It was ALL good. Was some of the nigiri cut a bit thin, perhaps, but made-to-order is so much better than buffet, hands down. Also — this restaurant is a block or two from a Gold’s Gym, so we will combine the two on our next visit to Vegas.

We had a nice lunch at the Burger Bistro in our hotel, the LVH. I had at tasty pink-in-the-middle lamb burger with feta cheese and Keith had the seared-rare tuna steak (dressed as described on the menu). The garlic-parmesan fries (thick cut) were awesome. It hit the spot after a day tromping around the Expo. If you happen to be staying at the LVH, it’s a hearty well-prepared meal that won’t break the bank.

Heading back to the hotel completely famished one evening, we pulled in to the slightly off-Strip SATAY Thai Bistro & Bar, because you can never go wrong with Thai, right? Like every other hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant we’ve tried in Vegas, this one hit the spot. We split an order of bacon-wrapped scallops to start (mmmm bacon). I had the Mango Tofu with coconut rice and Keith had the Thai Spicy Beef Fried Rice (complete with soft-fried egg on top). I expressed concern about the sweetness level of my tofu as I was ordering, and the waitress brought out a sample of the sauce for me to taste and offered that the chef could make it less sweet if I liked — which I did. Keith’s fried rice was rich with all the Thai flavors we love — the anise-like basil, fish sauce, keffir lime, and chile heat. I couldn’t quite finish my dish and can attest to it’s absolute deliciousness the next morning, cold straight out of the fridge.



More muffin love …

Lately, I’ve been slightly obsessed with reducing kitchen waste and cooking down the freezer (I’m getting MUCH better about labeling those little zipper bags of treasure). Like, I have some frozen oysters and homemade shrimp stock in the freezer, which screams to me gumbo, but then I have to go buy some okra and bell pepper, as well as more shellfish and sausage, and then is that defeating the whole purpose of cooking down the freezer? I dunno … I’m just a walking contradiction I guess.

So when I had some crushed pineapple leftover from margaritas, I was looking for a way to use that up in a delicious way. I hadn’t baked in a couple of weeks. Plus my husband’s work-out buddies were coming over and one of them is a HUGE fan of anything I cook, grill, or bake. So I turned to a trusted recipe and mixed it up a bit. I added the carrot for a pop of healthy color (it IS a vegetable after all) and cut back a little on the sugar. It’s a tasty bite, and the coconut adds a nice toothy texture. I think I’ll be making them again soon since I only got one (the boys ate the rest).

Pineapple, Carrot, and Coconut Muffins
Makes six “Texas-sized” muffins

SAMSUNG1 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1/4 cup plain, nonfat greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/2 cup crushed pineapple, partially drained
1/2 cup finely diced or shredded carrot
1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut

Preheat oven to 350°. Line the muffin tin with paper liners, OR, grease them well with solid shortening.

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a big bowl, beat or whisk together the brown sugar, butter, egg, yogurt, and lime juice. Add dry ingredients to first mixture and stir just until moistened. Stir in pineapple, carrot, and coconut. The batter will be very thick!

Spoon evenly amongst the muffin wells. Bake at 350° for about 30 minutes, or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. I would check at 25 minutes and then at 3 to 5 minute intervals thereafter.