Reasons to Stay Inside. All Day.

I woke up to 21° weather, and a promise that it would not top out over 28°. Given the lack of snow, when Christmas is but a week away (really, New England?), I consider this Reason Number One to not leave my apartment.

Reason Number Two: it’s a great excuse to spend a majority of my day cooking tasty things. Perhaps one of my guilty pleasures, I love few things as much as a lazy Sunday at home spent baking and bubbling and basting up anything delicious I wouldn’t necessarily have time for during the week. Case in point, a good hearty breakfast is the number one thing I never ever have time for on a rushed Tuesday morning at 7:34 when I’m trying to get out the door. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that breakfast is super important, and I do eat it daily, but it’s usually just a quick hard boiled egg or Nutella on toast. Which makes creating a nice breakfast on a slow weekend morning something of a treat.

What this usually means is I grab the eggs, some cheese, and whatever else I happen to have on hand and just wing it.  This morning I whipped up something like a strata, or a fritatta, or a hash, or a crustless quiche, or a casserole – I really have no idea what to call it, so I’ll just say it’s a “Brunch Bake”. As often happens, I have a handful of ingredients and a rough concept, spend half an hour Googling a recipe, and never find quite what I’m looking for. So I make it up as I go.

This morning, that meant red potatoes, fresh thyme, sharp cheddar, and of course, eggs. “Recipe” (loose term):
Ingredients
5 red potatoes, washed* & cubed to about 3/4″ dice 

4 fresh brown eggs from the farm*
3/4 cup milk (not skim) or half and half

1/2 cup sharp cheddar, shredded (Cabot=best)
several sprigs thyme, stemmed
olive oil, salt and pepper (of course)
optional additions: crisped bacon, sauteed mushrooms, fresh spinach, caramelized onions, garlic – fresh or roasted, or whatever your hungry heart desires.

  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Toss cubed potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and 2/3 of your thyme. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp on the outside. They should still be firm, but well cooked.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and milk, season lightly with salt and pepper, and toss in remaining thyme.
  3. When the potatoes are done, immediately transfer them to a greased baking dish. I used my favorite, beloved Staub enameled cast iron gratin dish, but I am honestly not sure of its volume. It’s about 6″x12″ and oval, but it was far deeper than necessary. I am sure an 8″ square pan would be fine, possibly even a 9″ pie pan. Experiment. Lower oven temp to 350°.
  4. Stir in any additions (I didn’t have any/forgot the garlic). Sprinkle half the cheese over top of the potatoes. Gently pour the eggs over the whole thing and bake for about 20-25 minutes, until the eggs are set, slightly puffed up, and turning golden.
  5. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake another 5 minutes until melted. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before you cut it.

*Reasons I insist on these two things: Potatoes are #9 on the “Dirty Dozen” list of produce that gets the most pesticide and chemicals. Organic potatoes are not the easiest thing to find, so wash them well.
As for the eggs, we have been tricked by the supermarket/factory farming/Big Ag into believing that paying more than $2 for a dozen eggs is outrageous. That price hides the true cost of eggs which are laid by hens who never see the light of day and are shot full of hormones and antibiotics. The $6 I spend on a dozen eggs from Allandale Farm is 110% worth it to me, because I am supporting local farmers, I know where my eggs are coming from, and I am protecting the environment, my health and the chickens by not having my eggs shipped from some CAFO in the midwest. Not to mention, a dozen eggs last me two full weeks and is the healthy protein basis of as many meals. Don’t get me started, but I believe 100% in the mantra “Pay the farmer, not the doctor” and I believe that the fact that Americans spend the most on healthcare and the least on food of any country on the planet tells the story on its own.

Reason Number Three. Need I say more?

                 

Reason Number Four: I have a whole list of things to accomplish, such as stuff to take care of before I go home for the holidays on Thursday (!), a variety of unsavory household chores, a sincere desire to hit the gym but reluctance due to temperature, etc. The laundry is haunting and taunting me as we speak. I always set aside Sunday as a day to Get Things Done, but usually I end up finding a way to Avoid Things that Need to Get Done. I’m an excellent avoider. But I’m a better cook, so…

Reason Number Five: taking the time to cook a nice, healthy, satisfying meal that will provide leftovers throughout the week. I’m trying to use what I’ve got in the house before I leave for Raleigh. I’m also sincerely trying to eat really healthfully because a, i feel live i’ve gotten off track with all the birthday/holiday/travel/visitor happenings, and b, Christmas is in a week and I’m going home, both of which means lots of eating indulgently. So for tonight, I’m planning a zesty, fruity, nutty wheat berry pilaf, some simple garlicky Swiss chard (self proclaimed chard addict here), and cumin roasted carrots. Details/photos to come, once that happens.

Reason Number Six: I haven’t updated this blog in over a month, but I have lots of highlights to share. That will come in a second post.

Reason Number Seven: the holidays bring out my artsy craftsy urges.

                 

It’s been a while…

We seem to be terrible at updating this thing. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been cooking and eating all kinds of deliciousness the past few weeks, despite the adventures of moving with 2 cats…. Shall we recap?

This is my new all-time favorite breakfast, favorite way to use arugula or goat cheese or eggs or tomatoes, and favorite 5 minute healthy meal! Even you can make it. It’s foolproof and shockingly delicious.

Got 5 minutes? Quick: Fry an egg in olive oil (not butter, this is important) – when the egg is mostly cooked, tip the pan and spoon some olive oil over the top. This gets a nice crispy-edged result with the velvety yolk still liquid. Plate a bed of arugula, sprinkle with chopped tomatoes and crumbled goat cheese and then slide the egg on top. Drizzle with the remaining olive oil in the pan. Prepare to want seconds.

I also made a nice chilled zucchini soup in the middle of a hectic weekend of cleaning and packing. It was beautifully accompanied by the fried egg salad.

The iPhone app ColorSplash is entirely too much fun…. moving on!

Last Saturday at the farmers’ market (we actually went to 2, shh…) we fell in love with the adorable variety baskets of heirloom tomatoes in rainbow colors. So we promptly made fresh bruschetta.
Pulse a bunch of basil, a clove of garlic, olive oil, a splash of red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor. Mix with chopped tomatoes and spread on toasted baguette.

Perfect post-market lunch, followed by a nice bike ride to a free ice cream tasting fest near Gallaudet. 4 free samples with the expectation you’ll vote for your favorite.  The heat (and crowd) was nearly unbearable, but the free ice cream and gelato was fantastic. I voted for Dolcezza for best gelato. We sampled their chocolate mint which is made with actual chocolate-mint leaves and their lemon basil which was just outstanding. They make everything from fresh, local ingredients and you can taste the difference. They also have really creative flavors, which keeps it interesting. Too bad (or not) Georgetown is eons away from where we live…

    

We also picked up both yellow and green zucchini (no, yellow zucchini is not yellow summer squash), fresh herbs and local goat cheese from our favorite producer, Cherry Glen. We made some delightful linguine with zucchini, goat cheese, lemon, mint and basil. The next day, we baked the leftovers with a breadcrumb-parmesan topping. Oh yes we did.

                            

We have a growing obsession with pie – I blame Dangerously Delicious Pies. I mean, the name says it all. We also have a new addition to our cookbook collection: Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing of Lantern (Chapel Hill, NC). You can catch a glimpse here. This is her blackberry-apple pie. We had a bit of a disaster the first go-round when the organic blackberries from the market turned out to be infested (I’ll spare you the unsavory details). But we persevered with a new batch of berries, and boy, was it worth it. We’ve eaten pie for breakfast every morning since!

We also made another of her recipes this week, the baked tomatoes with parmesan-herb breadcrumbs and olive oil, accompanied by zucchini-ricotta fritters,   from another favorite blog, Love & Olive Oil. I whipped up some lemon-cayenne aioli for dipping.

                             

And then there was last night. It was a damn good night. I invented my very own cocktail and it was mind-blowing. I’m still trying to come up with a good name for it, but it’s essentially a blackberry-mint cocktail.

I used my immersion blender, which was fantastic, but I’m certain you could also use a regular blender, food processor, or if you’re especially desperate, just cut up the berries and mint with a knife. Put 2 tsp sugar, 4 or 5 torn mint leaves, 1/2 shot of Rose’s concentrated lime juice and 1 shot of vodka into your blender/whatever and pulse until well combined and the mint is finely shredded. Add a couple of ice cubes and chop those roughly, then add the blackberries and puree until smooth, dark purple bliss. Serve over additional ice, garnished with a mint sprig. I think I might call it the BlissBerry.

Finally, we made a pizza that was so sublime, Emily swore it could have come out of a restaurant kitchen. I might’ve blushed a bit, but mostly I gave credit to the recipe, courtesy of all-time favorite Smitten Kitchen. I did not make the fresh ricotta, but I did make the honey-wine dough, my first successful pizza crust. I also added fresh basil and parmesan.
The photo, the blog post, the description – none of it does it any justice. It’s the onions. Caramelized with brown sugar and balsamic vinegar, they form an almost-jam or marmalade that I had to resist eating with a spoon. I can’t stop thinking about that onion jam, people. I am thinking up amazing ways to put it on other foods (though I’m certain this pizza won’t be missed for long). I’m dreaming of puff pastry filled with caramelized red onion jam, mushrooms and goat cheese… Or sweet potatoes gently mashed and accented with the onion marmalade… Or fancy BLT’s…

A Brief Update

So due to the inevitable craziness of life, we haven’t had a chance to update in a few weeks. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been cooking and eating great stuff! A brief photo synopsis of the past few weeks…

I intended this dish to center around salmon cakes, but surprisingly, the salad stole the show. I roasted sweet potatoes and onions until sort of caramelized, tossed with mixed greens, goat cheese, and pepitas, and whipped together a nice cider vinaigrette. Recipe (of my own improvisation) to follow.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad
Mixed baby greens
2 Tbsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
2 large sweet potatoes, cubed (1/2″)
1 sweet onion, diced
1/2 c. roasted, salted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
4 oz. chevre (goat cheese), crumbled
salt and pepper

Cider Vinaigrette
1/2 c. EVOO
1/3 c. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey (I was fortunate enough to have some from VT)
salt and pepper

  1. Heat your oven to 425. Meanwhile, toss your sweet potatoes and onions with the olive oil. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Roast for about 20-30 minutes, or until the onions are browning and the potatoes are soft but still hold their shape. Roasting brings out vegetables’ natural sweetness, so it will have a nearly caramelizing effect.
  2. Whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients together and taste. I never measure when I make my own dressing, so these are total guesses – your own taste will determine how sweet, salty, or sharp you like it.
  3. Top the greens with the sweet potato-onion mixture. Dress with the vinaigrette and then top with a handful of pepitas and goat cheese. Serves 4.

As for the salmon cakes, I simply mixed a can of salmon, 2 eggs, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, and bread crumbs until they reached the right consistency, and pan-fried them. Piece of cake!

Lovely trip to Ella’s Wood-Fired Pizza in downtown DC (thank you, LivingSocial for the half-off deal!)

A grilled portobello mushroom salad featuring pears, mozzarella, and spiced walnuts.

Pesto pizza with Shrimp, Roasted Red Peppers, and Pine Nuts at Ella’s. Really great restaurant known for its pizza, but I’ve had appetizers there that topped even this! Specifically a stuffed portobello mushroom with pesto, goat cheese, and sundried tomatoes, and an asparagus risotto with shrimp! Whatever you love in Italian cookery, you’ll love Ella’s.

I took a lazy Saturday afternoon to make a simple, cheap, and healthy favorite, Sweet Potato-Black Bean Chilli. It’s hardly even a recipe, just follow the photos…

First, roast 3 medium sweet potatoes, a large sweet onion, and a large bell pepper coated in olive oil, at 425 for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, start simmering a large can of black beans, a large can of diced tomatoes, a can of tomatoes with green chiles, a small can of tomato sauce, and a small can of corn (optional) over low heat. Add chilli powder. cumin, salt pepper, and cayenne if you’re brave, all to taste. A pinch of sugar will bite the acidity of the tomatoes.

Then stir it all together, taste, and season appropriately. The longer you can let it simmer and allow the flavors to mingle and integrate, the better. If you’re short on time, ten minutes will do. If it starts to get too thick, add a little water. Top with pepper jack cheese and serve with tortilla chips, cornbread, whatever you like.

A few other highlights…

Sunday brunch – just throwing together what we had on hand… A toasted bagel sandwich with cheddar, a fried egg, and seared bell peppers. Stuffed mushrooms with cream cheese and olives. And a simple side salad with cucumbers and feta. Not pictured: mimosas, of course!

And a random lunch: grilled pepper jack, pancetta, and arugula sandwich – a bit odd but quite good.

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