Veggie Sub

I love a good sub sandwich and when I was a wee little teenager I was partial to Subway. They used to have these delicious giardiniera peppers that were so good that I swear I could’ve eaten them with only some melted cheese and that signature Subway bread. Of course back then I scoffed at the notion of eating any sandwich, let alone a sub, sans meat.

Then in college it was either Jimmy John’s or Blimpie’s and honestly I have no idea of either of these chains are still in business. But I will say that Jimmy John’s will always have a special place in my heart thanks to the owner (in Charleston, IL) who often made the after-hours food fix more memorable by playing old school TV show theme songs while hoards of drunk college students yelled out their best guess. To this day I get a craving for bean sprouts and turkey breast when I heard the first few beats of the Saved by the Bell theme song. And before you ask, no I don’t often hear that song these days, but when I do…I salivate.

Caille à Vin (Quail in Wine)

20140729_154427One of the things you may not know about me, and how would you since it’s the first time I’ve mentioned it, is that I am a total Francophile. Ever since I was a young girl I have admire just about everything French from the beauty of the sensual language to the buttery croissants and of course…the wine. So it should come as no surprise that I have tried my hand—not with a ton of success if I’m being honest—at several of the less complicated French dishes.

I have mastered the traditional coq au vin and one day I may even show you my efforts. As you can imagine it is difficult to make this dish with a vegetarian spouse, but I just make half the chicken and only serve him the veggies, sauce and rice or noodles. It works.

Throw in my need (compulsion?) to make traditional dishes in my own way and you can see how I thought this dish would be a good idea. Just ask my husband or my friends, you will often find on my menu things like steak-less Pepper Steak or Welsh Rarebit Mac & Cheese. I’m just a big fan of taking something I have always loved and changing it up to match how I eat now. I love macaroni and cheese, like freakin’ rub it all over my body LOVE it. But you will never catch me noshing on electric orange powder mac & cheese…EVER. I make my own cheese sauce so I can change it up and make it more grown up.

Hence my need to try something else au vin because, let’s face it, food drenched in wine is a pretty good idea. One of the best from the French which I think we should all embrace!

Tuxedo Cheesecake

pacman cheesecakeSo I’ve been working on my dessert skills these last few months. Before this year began I was able to make 3 desserts really well; brownies, German chocolate cake and peanut butter cookies. These were my “go to” recipes for parties, bake sales and just about any other occasion calling for something with a ton of sugar. But as I’ve discussed before…my palate bores easily, although very rarely when it comes to brownies and especially not if there are walnuts or pecans mixed in.

I don’t have a big sweet tooth but, of course, my husband has a major sweet tooth. So I have the perfect guinea pig for my experiments. In honor of the new season of Project Runway—13 seasons, can you believe it?!?! Seems like just yesterday the world learned what auf Weidesehen meansI decided to create something that would stun my eyes as much as my taste buds. What better way to celebrate the newest names in fashion than with a tuxedo cheesecake?

I don’t have many guilty pleasures and if pressed I wouldn’t really call this one of mine, but it is a show that LOVE. I have no shame admitting that I shake my head and smack my lips when a designer tries to give Heidi attitude, but I have no problem when they turn the bitch on Nina, because come on…Nina is. But, I digress.

Thai Spring Rolls

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Thai spring rolls with shrimp and basil

Food, for me, has always been about more than sustenance. In college food was a treat from the special reservation-only shrimp or steak dinners to my Wednesday takeout while I watched Dawson’s Creek. I would rush home from Mock Trial practice, place my order for pizza or grinders (those are super delicious warm sandwiches on the tastiest toasted bread you have ever sank your teeth into), get into my comfy clothes, pop a vodka cranberry into a glass and get giddy when the first strains of Paula Cole’s “I don’t wanna wait” started.

I don’t think the food had much to do with it considering my love—even today—of Dawson’s Creek, but whenever I think of that time the food always plays a role.

Today though, when I think of food I think of the event surrounding a new dish. The first time I tried Indian food I was in Washington, D.C. after a week of DNC training. The food was awful and it would be about 3 years before I ate a good Indian dish. The first time I ate sushi was in 1996 before it was “all the rage” because I read some chic lit novel and it sounded delicious and sophisticated to a teenage girl eager to be an adult. I have tons of these, but I won’t bore you with them all lest I use up all the space on the internet!

Ah, I lied…there’s one more. But it’s relevant, I swear.

Mini Frittatas & Smoked Salmon Pinwheels

mini frittata salmon pinwheelsLike most people, I absolutely love the weekends. I work for myself so it isn’t so much about what the weekend represents—time away from annoying coworkers and clueless bosses—but more about the relaxing culture that encompasses all weekends. I think I have a better appreciation for my weekends now that I’m living in Europe. I wake up and linger in bed for awhile before heading to the kitchen to prepare breakfast.

I admit that I’m not much of a breakfast person. Not that I don’t like breakfast, but rather I’m not all gung ho about it every morning. As long as I have a steaming cup of freshly ground coffee and a bagel…my morning is as good as mornings can get. But on the weekend we can be lazy and not rush to get him out the door to work, and that means I get to spend time with my honey and work on expanding my breakfast dishes.

Mediterranean Pizza

One of my favorite things about cooking is venturing outside of my comfort zone. There are foods that my tongue simply refuses to acknowledge as tasty such as eggplant and spinach. Luckily for my culinary skills my husband does like those foods, but this isn’t Iron Chef so I season and experiment but never taste. He seems happy about the flavors, which is about the best I can hope for, so I think I’ve done a decent job so far.

That brings me to one of my biggest culinary loves; pizza. I’m not talking about the crap that passes for pizza in the frozen section of the grocery store because let’s be honest, that is only acceptable after a long night of partying or for college students. Otherwise it is a disgrace. No, I’m talking about making your own dough, kneading it until your muscles burn and watching (okay squealing) with delight when the dough begins to rise. This is the kind of pizza that gets my mouth watering.

Spicy Coconut Moqueca

When it comes to TV chefs everyone has their favorites. I’m partial to Rachel Ray mostly because it was her easy and accessible style of cooking that prompted me to change my life by cooking my own meals and becoming more conscious of what I put in my body. Of course Rachel’s portion sizes leave something to be desired but I can’t fault her for that. I also love Tyler Florence because he’s all big and Southern and the man can cook! He’s definitely tested my skills as an amateur chef but I do make a few mean dishes thanks to his TV guidance.

But my TV chef crush, if you put a gun to my head, is Anthony Bourdain. That deep voice and the way he uses his words in that Beat Generation cadence…well let’s just say the food he introduces me to from all parts of the globe isn’t the only thing that gets my mouth watering. Given my desire to see as much of the world as I can before these lids shut permanently, it makes sense that I’d flock to this type of food appreciation show now that I am on my own journey to visit far flung regions of the world.

What’s my point, other than giving you way too much information into my Bourdain crush? Well it was an episode of Parts Unknown that inspired me to try out this Moqueca (sounds like MO-Cake-Kah) recipe. Of course I have neither the access to, nor the skill to handle blowfish so I used plain old white fish in my recipe. Specifically I used cod filets which I often have on hand because you’ll never know when a fish & chips craving will strike. Anyway I saw this recipe and I knew I’d have to try it and this is my first attempt.

Seafood-Shroom Burger

When it starts to warm up outside I like to challenge myself to find creative ways to enjoy some of my favorite dishes…but lighter. I’m not much of a red meat eater anyway because some of the things they do to beef, quite frankly, scares the hell out of me. I indulge occasionally but I usually end up regretting it because I feel so heavy and lethargic.

So one area where I really try to keep things fresh is The Burger. I honestly can’t say I miss traditional beef burgers but I do love a variety of other burgers. Most of the time I’ll take a boneless skinless chicken or turkey breast and throw it in the food processor with scallions or onions, herbs and spices and make my own lean mean burger. But that gets old and now that it’s finally starting to warm up I’d like to be able to have burgers more often and on the grill.

Thanksgiving Light

Even though I’m not living in America right now and even if I were, I’ve kind of shunned Thanksgiving, this year I’ve had a craving for some delicious Thanksgiving Dressing and I thought why not do a Turkey Day light?!

I’m sure you’re wondering what Thanksgiving has ever done to me to make me shun it. The truth is that I do enjoy the whole family aspect of the holiday. Some of my favorite memories are getting up early and trekking from the Chicago suburbs into the city to my Granny’s house, where she inevitably had a stove, table and countertop full of food waiting for us. I got to see my cousins, and eventually their children, and just have a nice day of family.

turkey dressing 1But as I got older it just began to ring false to me. Not the family time, that’s always incredible. But the rest of it; celebrating a time right before an entire culture was basically eradicated. It just didn’t sit right with me and you combine that with the doses of unhealthy food served and I began to wonder if this holiday was doing the nation as a whole, more harm than good. I mean, with a growing obesity epidemic it hardly seems right to ply ourselves and children with tons of simple carbs that are consumed throughout the day with no regard for health or nutrition.

So for the last few years we have kind of skipped over it. Sure we’ll cook some good food and give thanks, but usually I try out some different world cuisine like Greek (spanakopita or moussaka), Korean (kimchi), or even Moroccan (pigeon pie). This way we are celebrating other types of culture and still enjoying time together. Honestly I wish I had spent some time when I was still in America learning more about Native American cuisine because growing up in Illinois there is no shortage of the culture but very little of the food culture.

Besides I think we should be giving thanks to one another for what we do and what we have on a daily basis instead of treating one another like crap 364 days and being kind on one. But hey…that’s just me.

This year I went the simple route: no big ass turkey with all the trimmings. Just a few turkey breasts without the skin and a nice dish of dressing. I decided to skip over the cranberry sauce, partly because I couldn’t find fresh cranberries this week and partly because I had an idea that an apple compote might be perfect for the type of dressing I was thinking of making.

I easily found the ingredients I needed and got to work.

Ingredients

  • 2 turkey breasts (one for today and one for tomorrow)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 bag of dressing (bread cubes)
  • 1 egg
  • 2.5 cups of vegetable broth
  • 1 ½ tsp. each: basil & sage
  • Sea salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled & chopped
  • 2 Pink Lady apples, peeled & chopped
  • 1 tbsp. cinnamon
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 3 celery ribs, rinsed & rough chopped
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup each; raisins & cranberries
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • ½ long red pepper
  • ½ tbsp. each: oregano, basil, thyme and marjoram
  • 1 tbsp. Irish butter (I use Kerry Gold)

Since this meal has 3 different components we’ll just take them one by one. But I recommend you prep everything and then just start cooking; it’ll make the process quicker and more enjoyable. But don’t forget the tunes because you can’t really cook without music…can you?

turkey wine

You’ll need to preheat the oven, I used 375 so I could cook the turkey and dressing at the same time, but they have different cook times so you’ll need 2 timers. I just relied on my mobile phone. Yay technology!

For The Turkey

  1. Poke small holes on both sides of the breasts with a fork then slather with 1 tbsp. of olive oil.
  2. Season with salt, pepper, basil and sage on both sides.
  3. Place breasts on aluminum foil and cover, creating a bubble so the foil isn’t touching the breasts. Leave 2 sides open so it kind of bake/steams them.
  4. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until internal temperature is 155-160.

For The Apples

  1. Add butter and half the brown sugar to a sauce pan over medium-high heat until butter melts.
  2. Add apples and sprinkle cinnamon and remaining sugar on top.
  3. Stir frequently until apples begin to caramelize, about 10-12 minutes.
  4. When the apples begin to soften and a sauce forms, reduce to simmer for 5 to 7 minutes then remove from heat.

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For The Dressing

  1. Heat remaining olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.
  2. Warm broth in a small pot over medium heat.
  3. Add onions, celery and red pepper to skillet then season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook for about 10 minutes or until vegetables soften, then add cranberries and raisins.
  5.  Cook 5 more minutes or until cranberries and raisins begin to plump.
  6. Meanwhile in a large mixing bowl, pour in bread cubes and remaining herbs. Slowly 2 or 3 ladles of broth into bread in until it begins to soften, stirring frequently.
  7. Add cooked vegetables and berries to the bowl and add more broth until it starts to resemble a thick batter.
  8. Beat egg and then pour over mixture, stirring with wooden spoon or your hands.
  9. Add more broth as needed then stir in pecans and transfer to oven safe baking dish.
  10. Cook covered for 45 minutes and then uncover and cook 5 to 10 additional minutes.
  11. Serve dressing with apple compote on top.

Enjoy!

I’m a red wine fan when I’m not drinking Whiskey of the Irish variety so I enjoyed a dry Italian red with my meal.

Simple Marinara Sauce

When I’m in the mood for something quick and easy, pasta is one of my favorite ‘go to’ dishes. It doesn’t have to be complicated with a multi-ingredient Bolognese or with the precision of the perfect cream sauce. Sometimes it is best to follow the KISS principle: keep it simple stupid.

With the right pasta, by that I mean whole wheat pasta, you don’t need a bunch of ingredients to make the pasta palatable. All you need are just a few ingredients, along with a well-stocked spice rack and you’re ready to whip up a classic Italian dish without the fuss.

Back in the day before I quick smoking and made my health a priority, I was just like most people: convinced I just didn’t have the time to cook a proper meal and made do with the “sauce” in a jar. I use the term ‘sauce’ very loosely here because while I’m sure some tomatoes were harmed in the making of that product, it just doesn’t taste the same. At all. I find the stuff in a jar is very salty and acidic, and while I know that tomatoes have a certain degree of acidity to them, I can eat a tomato without getting heartburn…can’t say the same for Ragu or Prego or even the store brand.

mamas marinaraThis isn’t me being a food snob, but rather me giving my body what it needs. My body does not need heartburn, that’s for sure. Besides, if I want to pump crap into my body I’d still rather have a cigarette even after 9 years of being nicotine-free. With bad food your body has a negative reaction, and because of the lack of nutritional value you’ll still be hungry later…and that’s after consuming hundreds of calories worth of “food”.

Honestly I’d rather take an extra 20 minutes and make a proper meal that way my leftover calories & fat can go to something I’ll truly enjoy like a nice glass of wine or Irish Whiskey or even my famous (if in my own head) fudgy walnut brownies.

Maybe it’s my too logical (or illogical if you ask the hubs) way of thinking, but I’d rather put in a little effort so that I can have the things I love rather than suffer through something that is easier, but not as good.

Plus if you really think about it; do you really trust what a huge company says it puts into its sauce? I’m not anti-corporation—well, maybe a little—but I certainly am not going to believe any entity who’s main goal is to make a little bit more money by any means necessary. If you knew your doctor was getting a kickback from a pharmaceutical company, would you really believe you were getting the best medicine available or that he’s trying to secure a golf outing in St. Tropez?

Enough with my diatribe; let’s get back to this super simple marinara sauce.

Ingredients

  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 5 Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 yellow or white onion, chopped
  • 2 anchovy filets
  • Sea salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste (in a jar NOT a can)
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp. each; basil, oregano, rosemary and thyme
  • Whole wheat pasta (enough for 2-4 people)
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

simple marinara sauce

Once you have assembled your ingredients you’ll need a large pot for the pasta and a small sauce pot or pan for the sauce. Get the salted water boiling for the pasta and follow cooking instructions.

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in sauce pan over medium-high heat then add anchovies. Most of the time they come in oil so you can always use the oil from the anchovies. You can also skip this step if you want, but it adds an unmistakable earthiness to the sauce you will love.
  2. Once filets are nearly fully dissolved, stir in onions and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Cook onion about 5 minutes or until translucent and add garlic.
  4. After 2 minutes has elapsed, stir in tomatoes and reduce heat to medium.
  5. Season with salt, pepper, herbs and spices.
  6. When the water begins to cook out of the tomatoes, add the tomato paste and stir until blended.
  7. Reduce heat to simmer until you have a thick marinara, continue to season to taste.
  8. Plate the pasta and serve marinara on top, or blend it all together and serve.
  9. Add Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano to the top if desired.

Since this is a pasta dish you might want to have wine with it, but I’m of the mind that you can have whatever you want to drink with your meal whether its water or milk, beer or tequila.

Guten apetit!