Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Featured Eater: Mr. Biggers

Tonight, Mr. Fritz and I were delighted to have the incomparable Mr. Biggers join us for dinner. I made the Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs featured in last Friday's post and this time doubled the sauce. (Which still wasn't quite saucy enough for Mr. Fritz.) I also added a salad of spinach, pine nuts and Parmesan with a lemon-white wine vinaigrette and an Italian bread roll because, well, we were having company. And for dessert, we had homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and Moose Tracks ice cream (about which Mr. Biggers said, "Is this in honor of Sarah Palin?" Nope. Just really good stuff that was on sale awhile ago.).

Mr. Biggers is a delightful dinner guest. He's witty, has excellent manners and is just an all around great friend to us both. We also should note that he's available to star in his own Feeding Mr. Biggers blog should some lucky lady out there be in need of some inspiration!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Dinner tonight... Roasted Salmon with Lemon Relish

Wow. That's the word that comes to mind regarding tonight's meal. As I was making my meal plan for the week, I flipped through my Everyday Food Cookbook to see if it offered any inspiring salmon recipes. I found this one for Roasted Salmon with Lemon Relish and decided to give it a try. And I'm so glad I did! It is exceptional. And it's ridiculously simple to pull together, an essential on a night when I need to get dinner on the table in a flash.

The recipe has just a few steps. First, I toasted some pine nuts under the broiler on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil. While they were toasting away, I peeled and sliced some lemon zest, and put it, along with some golden raisins in a bowl, then covered that mixture with water I'd boiled in my tea kettle. Next, I pulled the pine nuts off of the cookie sheet and replaced them with two six-ounce salmon filets which went into the oven at 450 for 8 minutes (I also lowered the oven rack since I wasn't broiling them.) While the salmon was cooking, I drained the water off of the lemon-raisin mixture and added fresh lemon juice from the lemons I'd just zested, chopped parsley, olive oil and the now-toasted pine nuts to the bowl. After a dash of salt and pepper and a good stir, the lemon relish was complete. When the salmon came out of the oven, I laid each piece atop a bed of baby spinach, then topped each piece of salmon with the relish, and we sat down to eat.

The flavors of the lemon zest, raisins, parsley and pine nuts, along with the tang of the lemon juice and the subtle lilt of the olive oil, worked together in the most wonderful way. It was the perfect combination of disparate ingredients, all jumbled together to make the dish sing. It is seriously going to rival the Glazed Salmon I wrote about last week for my loyalty as far as Best Salmon Preparation Ever goes. Not to mention that because it looks so pretty and tastes so good, yet is deceptively easy to make, it has great dinner party potential. In other words, I will definitely make this again!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Dinner tonight... Honey-Sesame Grilled Shrimp, Jasmine Rice and Sugar Snap Peas

I am excited to share this recipe because it is one of my long-time favorites. Another recipe from Pam Anderson that I've turned to for years, Honey-Sesame Grilled Shrimp is simple and oh-so-tasty! The toughest part is gathering the ingredients for the marinade -- honey, soy sauce, sherry, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, tabasco (which I omitted), scallions, and toasted sesame seeds. Marinate the shrimp, skewer it, put the skewers under the broiler for 2 minutes on each side and, voila, dinner. Pam also suggests boiling the remaining marinade on the stove to reduce it and then serving it as a dipping sauce. I ended up reducing it and then pouring it over the shrimp once I'd plated them since it didn't seem like there was enough marinade left to merit special dipping bowls. (Although since I am slightly obsessed with "good presentation," I considered it!) I served this alongside jasmine rice and sugar snap peas that I'd blanched in boiling water. It was easy, easy, easy. And the entire meal smelled heavenly as it was cooking.

And actually, while I have your attention, can I say that I don't really understand why people own rice cookers? Making a pot of rice is so simple: bring some water to a boil, add rice, cover, reduce heat and simmer for a set amount of time. Tonight it was 1/2 cup rice, 3/4 cup water and 15 minutes of simmering. And it came out perfectly fluffy. So why keep an enormous electric contraption that does the same thing? If you have a rice cooker and you love it, please share why you are attached to it in the comments section right below this post. I am truly interested in hearing from some rice cooker fans. I feel like I must be missing something.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dinner tonight... Simple, Classic Chicken Potpie

Mr. Fritz can thank Mr. & Mrs. Glade for tonight's meal. Mrs. Glade had kiddo number four in September and it was my turn to bring the family a post-new-baby meal. Since I knew the Glades enjoyed this particular recipe (I made it for them after baby two or three -- I can't keep the years straight anymore!), and since it yields two 9-inch potpies, I thought it would be the perfect chance to treat both them and Mr. Fritz to its comforting goodness. Also, it's fun to have a pie crust to monogram!

This recipe, by cookbook author Pam Anderson, is not terribly complicated. But it can be time consuming to prepare. My best advice is to make sure you do all the prep work before you head to the stove, because by the time you start sauteeing, things will move very fast. In fact, if you can reel in a sous chef on this one to help you chop, measure, etc., you should. (Mr. Fritz doesn't presently cook and, unfortunately for me, is not interested in entering The Mrs. Fritz School of Cooking in order to become sous chef material. I adore him regardless.) In any case, here's how I went about preparing it: First, I chopped the onions and celery and put them in one bowl. Then, I put flour and thyme in another bowl and evaporated milk and chicken stock in a third. The recipe calls for shredding the meat from 2 rotisserie chickens; that went into a fourth, large bowl. And I chopped a quarter cup of parsley and put that in a fifth bowl. After measuring out 1/3 cup of white wine and 1/3 cup of butter, with my kitchen counter looking like it ought to be on the set of a cooking show, I finally headed to the stove.

And from then on, it really did go fast: First, I heated up the milk and stock mixture in the microwave. As soon as that started warming up, I began sauteeing the celery and onions in a little olive oil for about 5 minutes, then added those vegetables to the bowl which held the shredded chicken. Then I dropped the butter into the pan and waited for it to melt and stop foaming. At that point, I added the flour and thyme mixture and stirred until it began to turn golden, about a minute or so, and then whisked in the hot milk mixture. That quickly thickened into a nice sauce. Then in went the wine, then a bag of frozen peas and carrots and the chicken, onions and celery plus salt and pepper and a quarter cup of chopped parsley. Mixed all of that up really well and distributed it between two 9-inch deep dish glass pyrex pie plates. Topped each pie with a refrigerated pie crust, fluted the edges, made a little monogram on each one by pricking the surface with an appetizer fork, then put them each on a baking sheet and into the oven for 30 minutes on the low-center rack. Crust turned a lovely golden brown and resulting pies were hearty and filling -- just right for a crisp fall day and just right to bring to a family in the midst of a joyful, if tiring, transition.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Lunch today... Chicken Milanese with Arugula Salad

Sometime shortly before Mrs. McConnell got married in 1996, she received a cookbook to called, "The Bride and Groom's First Cookbook." We paged through it, wondering why so many of the recipes called for exotic ingredients such as arugula. What exactly was arugula? we wondered. And why does it seem, at least according to this cookbook, that married people are obsessed with it? Arugula, which turned out to be a leafy green vegetable, has since become much more high profile (Barack Obama referred to it, inadvisedly, on the campaign trail when lamenting the high cost of food these days) and, over the past decade or so, it's actually become my favorite variety of salad greens. Arugula has a peppery taste, which makes it a perfect complement to a lemony dressing, such as the one featured in this recipe for Chicken Milanese with Arugula Salad.

The real star of this dish, h
owever is the chicken. Pounded thin and dredged in flour, egg and toasted breadcrumbs, the chicken is placed on a rack and baked on a rimmed baking sheet at 425 for 10-14 minutes. It comes out golden and crispy, like fried chicken without the unhealthy deep frying. I employ a couple of shortcuts to make this fast recipe even faster: I use thin-sliced chicken breasts instead of pounding them out; instead of toasting the breadcrumbs, I just mix them with a little olive oil (I've found the breadcrumbs brown just fine during baking); I don't bother to set the chicken on a baking rack; and I line the baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray it with Pam for easy clean-up. Once the chicken is fully cooked, plate it and top with the arugula salad (really just greens mixed with a dressing that is equal parts olive oil and fresh lemon juice plus salt and pepper). Serve with lemon slices (good for spritzing the chicken) and you're done. This is one of my favorite chicken recipes, hands down. I'd eat it all the time if doing so wouldn't bore the heck out of Mr. Fritz!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Dinner tonight... Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs

Ten years ago this weekend, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Mrs. Plourde and Mrs. Capaldi made a special trip to D.C. to cheer me on, and various friends, such as Mr. and Mrs. Fleming, Mrs. Robertson, Mrs. Patterson, Mrs. Hartman, Mrs. Palmer and Ms. Bucher all came out that day to encourage me as well. It was probably one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it was also one of the best days in my life as well, because not only did I accomplish something that I never dreamt I could do, I also felt incredibly loved and supported by so many people.

So, perhaps it was in solidarity with my carbo-loading, ten-years-prior self that had me craving pasta tonight. Or maybe it was just that ground turkey was on sale this week and I wanted to find a good recipe in which to use some. Whatever the case, I have to say that this recipe for Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs is absolutely fantastic. As a rule, I've always eschewed turkey except on days when there are no other options (i.e. Thanksgiving). But in my efforts to cook reasonably healthy for Mr. Fritz, I am trying to be open to new things. So, for the first time ever, I found myself intrigued by a recipe that called for ground turkey.

For this fairly simple dish, you start by making a basic red sauce in a wide non-stick skillet. Saute a little garlic in olive oil, add crushed tomatoes, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper, bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for around 20 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, boil the spaghetti. Once you have the spaghetti and the sauce going, you mix up ground turkey with a little Parmesan, a diced onion, bread crumbs, milk and an egg. And then you get to the part that I thought was genius: you form the turkey mixture into meatballs and actually cook them in the sauce.

For all I know, that's how all meatballs are made (this was my first foray not only into groundturkeyville but also into meatballville), but I just thought it was cool. Once the meatballs are cooked through (you spoon sauce over them to help the cause -- I also turned mine a couple of times to ensure even cooking), you add the cooked and drained spaghetti to the saute pan and mix it all up. I thought the end result was pretty spectacular. I mean, even this turkey-disliker was sold. Mr. Fritz noted that it would be even better with more sauce and I agree. I had cut the recipe (which serves 6) a little randomly: I'd halved the meatball part and thirded the sauce. Next time I'll halve each part and it should yield a saucier end result. In any case, I highly recommend this one and I definitely plan to make it again.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Dinner tonight... Lemon-Roasted Chicken with Arugula Salad and Dilled Orzo

When we sat down to dinner this evening, Mr. Fritz said immediately, "Oh, an old favorite!" Considering I have only been cooking for him since May-ish and considering that he really isn't that interested in food in general, I was excited that he actually recognized the dishes I'd cooked. And I was also excited that we've been married long enough (more than five months!) that we already have an "old" favorite. Good times!

More importantly, he was right. This meal, Lemon-Roasted Chicken with Arugula Salad and Dilled Orzo has become a stand-by for us. It's fast, complete, and consistently turns out well. Plus, I get to use the very lovely baking dish that my excellent mother-in-law (The Original Mrs. Fritz) gave me for Christmas. Which means that I get to appreciate her thoughtfulness every time I prepare it.

That's been the case with many things recently. People were so generous to Mr. Fritz and me during the time surrounding our wedding, and as a result, our kitchen is filled with wonderful things that remind me of certain people. Every time I pull a cereal bowl or dinner plate out of the cupboard or a fork or spoon out of the kitchen drawer, I think of my sister, Mrs. Capaldi. When I set out bread plates, I think of Mrs. McConnell. When I reach for a mixing bowl, I think of The Original Mrs. Fritz's dear friend Mrs. Boersma. When I pull out the blender to make Mr. Fritz a smoothie, I think of my sister, Mrs. Plourde. When I grab a steak knife, I think of Mrs. Glade. When I grab a paring knife, I think of my new sister-in-law, Mrs. Bowers. And so on. It makes my time in the kitchen more meaningful by reminding me to be thankful for the amazing friends and family with which we've been blessed.

In any case, this meal really is simple to prepare. I generally mix up the marinade of minced garlic, fresh lemon juice, olive oil and oregano right in the baking dish to minimize clean up. Coat the chicken (I use thin-sliced boneless breasts) with it and lay them in the dish, place a few pieces of lemon on top and into the oven it goes at 450 for 17 or so minutes. Meantime, cook the orzo in a pot of boiling water on the stove. When it's finished, drain and toss with olive oil and dried dill. And while you wait for the orzo to cook, mix up the salad dressing (equal parts red wine vinegar and olive oil) and use it to dress the arugula. Plate the chicken and orzo together. Serve the salad in a separate bowl. Add a warm roll. And you're done. The whole meal only takes 20 or so minutes from start to finish. Seriously? Couldn't be easier.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Dinner tonight... Crispy Apricot Pork Chops and Green Beans with Orange Sauce

Boneless porn loin chops were on sale this week, so as I was making my weekly meal plan, I went in search of a recipe that might work. I turned to my Everyday Food: Great Food Fast cookbook (yes, they have a cookbook, too!) and came across what looked to be a very simple recipe for Crispy Apricot Pork Chops.

The ingredients were few: bone-in pork chops, breadcrumbs, olive oil and apricot jam. And the preparation was easy: pat the pork loins dry, spoon 1 tsp. of apricot jam over each one, top with breadcrumbs that have been moistened with a little olive oil, bake at 425 for 14-16 minutes until the internal temp reaches 150 degrees. I'm glad I gave it a shot, as it was as tasty as it was simple to make. The recipe calls for making your own breadcrumbs but I cheated and used plain Progresso. I also baked them on a cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil and sprayed with cooking spray to minimize clean-up. The end result was truly delicious and I could see using the same technique with chicken as well as changing up the apricot jam for peach or cherry. A great recipe for nights when you need dinner to come together quickly.

The cookbook suggested pairing the pork chops with Baby Broccoli with Orange Sauce. This would have been ideal except that Mr. Fritz doesn't like broccoli. (The texture doesn't appeal to him. This may become a problem as we start to rack up years as married people. Who can survive without broccoli?) In any case, the sauce looked too good to pass up, so I used it to top green beans (a Mr. Fritz-approved green vegetable) instead. The sauce, which is made with orange juice, balsamic vinegar and a thinly sliced shallot, reduced on the stove for several minutes, was really tasty. I think it would work on any green vegetable: asparagus, sugar snap peas, etc. Both of these recipes will definitely be making repeat appearances in the future.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dinner tonight... Glazed Salmon and Snap Peas with Lemony Mustard Sauce

Until recently, I had never cooked salmon. My ridiculously keen sense of smell kept me as far away from making salmon at home as possible. But somewhere along the way my tastes changed and I realized that not only can I handle the smell, I actually like the way salmon, especially when roasted or broiled, tastes. Add to that the fact that it's incredibly good for one's health and that it's crazy fast to cook and, well, it's one of my go-to sources for protein these days.

This recipe for Glazed Salmon is my standard by which all other salmon recipes are judged. It's fast, tastes great, and relies on ingredients (soy sauce, honey, brown sugar and minced garlic) that I almost always have on hand (well, save for the salmon, which I buy the day of or the day before I plan to cook it). Mix up the glaze, place the salmon on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, spread a little glaze on the top of each piece, broil for 8 minutes and voila, dinner. I always ask the fishmonger at the grocery store to cut the salmon into the size portions I want (usually 6 oz each) and to remove the silver skin before packaging it up for me. The result: even less mess in my own kitchen. This recipe is consistently wonderful. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's great for company, but it's also great for a random Tuesday night when I want to get dinner out in a flash. (Clean up is quick as well!)

While the salmon is roasting, I usually make a quick vegetable side dish to go along with it. Tonight, I went with sugar snap peas, boiled for about 3 minutes and then drizzled with a sauce made from 2 Tb. fresh lemon juice, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, 1/2 a tsp. of bottled minced garlic, all mixed together well. After drizzling on the sauce, I topped the snap peas with a little Parmesan. A warm, crusty bread roll rounded out the meal. All together? Delish.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Dinner tonight... Saffron Risotto with Pan-broiled Fennel Shrimp

Dinner tonight took too long to attempt again on a weeknight. I've made this dish in the past, starting about a decade ago, and so I should have known better. Cleaning and butterflying the shrimp, chopping the vegetables and, most of time-consuming of all, all that stirring, means that this is not a 30-minute meal. More like an hour-plus from start to finish. But as I was planning this week's menu of dinners, I was inspired by the fact that wild-caught shrimp were on sale and by my risotto success from last week. This dish probably cost only about $5 to make, but I'd gladly pay four times that for it in a restaurant because of the amount of effort it takes to make.

That said, if you have a leisurely evening to cook, the end result is really quite amazing. The shrimp, which marinate in a mix of extra virgin olive oil, fennel seed and sambuca, end up tasting divine. And the risotto, which mixes together wine, carrots, celery, onion, tomatoes, chicken broth, parmesan, and a little bit of butter, benefits wonderfully from a pinch of saffron. The golden red threads turn the entire dish a warm yellow and impart a subtle flavor. Top the risotto with the cooked pan-broiled shrimp and you have a meal that is sure to please.

Saffron Risotto with Pan-Broiled Shrimp
From "The $50 Dinner Party Cookbook" by Sally Sampson
Serves 6

For the Fennel Shrimp:
2 tsp. olive oil
1 Tb. Sambuca or Pernod
1 tsp. fennel seed
2 1/2 lbs medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and butterflied
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

For the Saffron Risotto:
1 Tb. olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, cut into small dice
2 carrots, peeled if desired and cut into small dice
1 celery stalk, cut into small dice
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 tsp saffron threads
2 fresh or canned tomatoes, diced
1 cup white wine
9 cups chicken broth
1 Tb. unsalted butter (optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

To marinate the shrimp, place the oil, Sambuca, fennel and shrimp in a mixing bowl and set aside.

To make the risotto: Place a large skillet over medium heat, and when it is hot, add the oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery and cook until they are soft, about 3-5 minutes. Add the rice and cook for about 1 minute, stirring until coated. Add the saffron and tomatoes and cook for about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until it has been absorbed, about two minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of broth, stirring constantly until the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Continue adding broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 18-20 minutes, stirring well after each addition. Do not add more than 8 cups of broth. Add the butter and Parmesan cheese and stir well. Place the remaining 1 cup of broth in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat.

To make the Fennel Shrimp: Remove the shrimp from the marinade, discarding the excess and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and when it is hot, add the shrimp and cook until it turns pink, about 3 minutes.

Just prior to serving, add the boiling broth to the risotto and stir well. Transfer to heated individual shallow bowls and serve immediately. Garnish with the parsley and the Fennel Shrimp.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dinner tonight... "Perfect" Roast Chicken, Buttered Mashed Potatoes and Asparagus

Mr. Fritz and I had a perfect fall afternoon. We walked down to Roosevelt Island to see the changing colors of the trees, then walked over to Georgetown before heading back home. The air outside was crisp, the sky was blue, and the whole tenor of the day spoke to the reality that fall has finally arrived. So, I thought I'd aim to make the perfect fall meal: Roast Chicken with Buttered Mashed Potatoes. I got this recipe from Jamie Oliver (a.k.a. The Naked Chef) back in 2000. He shared it in response to a request for a meal that any twentysomething could make. I can barely remember my twenties at this point, but I will never forget how easy this recipe is to make. It's been ever-helpful over the years whenever I've wanted to serve up excellent comfort food.

There are a couple of secrets to its success: first, he uses fresh herbs tucked underneath the skin of the chicken. I used a mix of rosemary, thyme and sage. (Mr. Fritz said, "what, no parsley?" when I made this for him the first time a couple of weeks ago.) The herbs, plus a little olive oil an salt and pepper conspire together to give the chicken a great flavor. He (Jamie, not Mr. Fritz) suggests stuffing the chicken with lemons and rosemary. He says to let the roasting pan heat up in the oven before you place the trussed chicken on it. And, he instructs that the chicken be roasted in each side for five minutes at first before putting it on its back for the duration of the roasting process. The most difficult thing about this recipe is just preparing the chicken for the oven, and even that shouldn't take longer than 10 or so minutes.

The mashed potato recipe he shared is also incredibly easy. I didn't bother to peel the potatoes. I li
ke keeping the skins on them. And I didn't feel like dirtying my mixer, so I mashed them (somewhat awkwardly) with a pastry cutter. The surprise ingredient in Jamie's mashed potatoes is nutmeg. A dash gives the potatoes just the right flavor. (Well that, and the copious amount of milk and butter you also add...)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dinner tonight... Tomato and Sausage Risotto

It is said that risotto is the dish of love. Something about the time it takes to slowly and carefully stir and stir and stir the aborio rice until it is nice and creamy somehow correlates to the care and attentiveness that flows from love. I've been feeling especially giddy about getting to spend so much time with Mr. Fritz, so it seemed appropriate to make risotto tonight as a small expression of my affection.

I've made a few different versions of risotto, some of which will likely end up being posted here eventually. This particular one, Tomato and Sausage Risotto, which is yet another recipe from Everyday Food (can you tell I'm slightly obsessed with that magazine?), is a particularly simple and supremely tasty version. I used sweet Italian sausage because Mr. Fritz is not a huge fan of spicy foods. It still had plenty of kick and the finished dish, which also includes fresh spinach and shredded parmesan, was wonderfully rich. It was ready in about 30 minutes, and even after cutting the recipe in half, we still had about a meal's worth left over. This recipe is definitely a keeper and if you are a risotto novice, this ought to be the recipe that tempts you into giving "the dish of love" a go.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Dinner tonight... Tortellini with Artichoke, Asparagus and Chicken Sausage

If I had to choose a favorite food, tortellini would definitely be in the running. While in college, I worked at a place called Pastabilities (the name alone makes Mr. Fritz laugh and laugh... but it was one of my favorite jobs ever) and, during that time, became slightly obsessed with fresh pasta and filled pastas in particular. Before we got married, I cooked pretty rarely for myself, and those times when I did head into the kitchen, I often walked out with a steaming bowl of tortellini or tortelloni in hand. These days, I turn to this old standby much less frequently, and when I do indulge in it, I try to make it a little more healthy and well-rounded. Which leads me to tonight's offering: Tortellini with Artichoke, Asparagus, and Chicken Sausage.

I cooked the tortellini according to the directions, adding a couple of cups of chopped asparagus to the boiling water about three minutes before it was time to drain the pasta. I added it to a bowl in which I'd already mixed one can of drained, quartered artichoke hearts, one can of drained and rinsed chick peas, a handful of shredded parmesan cheese. In a separate skillet, I sauteed 12 ounces of chicken sausage with roasted garlic in a a little olive oil, then added that to the pasta and vegetable mix. After adding salt and pepper and a little more olive oil and parm, dinner was served.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dinner tonight... Asian Chicken Salad

On Tuesday nights, Mr. Fritz co-leads a small group Bible study. As a result, dinner has to be extra quick and extra easy, since I rarely have very much time between when I get home and when he heads out. My go-to solution for such evenings has become an Asian Chicken Salad.

I use the Asian salad mix from Fresh Express, which contains pre-washed greens, sugar snap peas, shredded carrots, dried cherries, sesame orange salad dressing and those crispy wonton strips that will probably kill us due to their fried glory, and I top the salad with strips of chicken breast that I've sprinkled with powdered ginger and sauteed in a little olive oil. The ginger helps the chicken brown nicely and imparts a great flavor. One bag of the salad mix plus half a pound of chicken breasts makes for a great meal for two. Plus, the whole meal can be prepared in about 10 minutes. (Well, 15 minutes for me, since I'm generally turtle-like in all things.) Can't beat it! I usually serve it with hot crusty bread and olive oil for dipping.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Dinner tonight... Mini Honey-Mustard Meatloaves with Roasted Potatoes

When I was a child, the idea of eating meatloaf was truly repulsive to me. Despite my mom's best efforts to make what I'm sure was objectively a wonderful meatloaf, I just couldn't get excited about it. Maybe it was the word, "meatloaf." Maybe it was the fact that there was a rock star named Meatloaf. Whatever the case, I held firm to my anti-meatloaf bias until... March.

The March issue of
Everyday Food had an intriguing recipe for a complete meal that included mini-meatloaves. When I looked at the ingredients and realized that this particular meatloaf was really just a gussied-up cheeseburger (albeit with the cheese interspersed throughout and sans bun, I was sold. I also liked the idea that the meal included roasted potatoes instead of french fries (I am deathly afraid of frying anything in hot oil on the stove top, even though my mother is a pro at it) and that the potatoes and the mini-meatloaves cook simultaneously in the oven. Plus, if you line the baking sheets with tinfoil, clean-up is a snap.

The recipe includes panko, or Japanese breadcrumbs, and I've found that one package can be stretched quite a ways. I also think this would be a fun recipe to make with kids, for those who have little ones who like to help in the kitchen. They could mix up the ground beef, egg, cheese and panko, then mold the loaves into little football shapes and put them on one of the baking sheets. Or, they could be in charge of spreading the top of each mini loaf with a mixture of honey mustard and ketchup and then sprinkling shredded cheddar on each one. Kiddos could also help mix the potatoes and olive oil on the second baking sheet. Good times! Regardless, even in my kid-free kitchen, this has already become a standby.

I try to make sure to include a "real" vegetable with every meal. (Potatoes don't count.) Tonight, instead of serving a salad with the meal, I went with sliced mushrooms, sauteed in a little olive oil. Mr. Fritz isn't exactly a fan of the mushroom, but he indulges me by eating them when they find their way onto his plate. In return, even though I adore them, I try not to cook them too often. Is this what they mean when they say marriage is full of compromises? If so, I think we're off to a good start!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

28 Hours in New York City

Thanks to the gracious hospitality of Mr. & Mrs. Palmer, who are currently on a fabulous five-week honeymoon in parts unknown, Mr. Fritz and I had the pleasure of spending a couple of days in Manhattan. We took the Vamoose bus up and back ($25 each way, per person, straight from Rosslyn to Penn Station; we highly recommend it!) and, while there, walked all over the lower part of the city. We started out by walking down 8th Avenue all the way past Bleecker to a little cafe called The New French. We were fairly famished, and both went with the French Toast, which turned out to be very new indeed, in that it was spiked with chilis. The little kick was definitely different, but in a good way. The plates were garnished with fresh raspberries, blueberries, pears, and pineapple. I haven't had fresh pineapple since our honeymoon, and its presence on my plate was more than welcome!

After brunch, we wandered across to the Palmers' spectacular place. Along the way, we passed by Magnolia Bakery and marveled, yet again, at the line that stretched around the corner filled with people who were waiting to get their hands on the shop's fabled cupcakes. In my opinion, the gems at
Georgetown Cupcake far surpass those at Magnolia, but I guess that would be cold comfort to New Yorkers looking for a cupcake fix.

One of the many things I love about Mr. Fritz is that he is as interested in my heritage as I am. More than a year ago, I'd seen this story in the New York Times and after reading it, was convinced that we had to go find Atlantic Ave. the next time we were in the city. So, after dropping our stuff off at the Palmers', we made our way on the subway to the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn to check out, among other things, the famous Sahadi's market.

And make no mistake, it was a revelation. Family-owned for decades, it was awash in Lebanese goodness. As I wandered around the shop, dodging the many people that were packed in the aisles, doing their weekly shopping, I marveled at the Lebanese olive oil and cooking staples such as orange blossom water and pomegranate syrup. But when I got to the bulk foods section of the store, I was truly blown away: vats of dried mint leaves, chick pea flour, and grains of all varieties lay waiting to be purchased. Enormous containers of spices for pennies. Cheeses, fresh phyllo dough, nuts, you name it, it was there and it was inexpensive. I couldn't get over it. If I lived near it, I'd shop there all the time. (Well, there, and at the largest Trader Joe's I've ever seen, which happened to have opened two weeks ago about a block away.)

In addition to Sahadie's, we browsed the shelves at Damascus Bread and stopped at a restaurant named Tripoli for mezze and mint tea. T had some arabic coffee, and he said that the taste immediately returned him to his summers spent in Jordan. Taste memories are like that, I think. They can transport you in a way that telling a story or seeing a photograph just can't. After enjoying the mezze, which included some of the best falafel I've encountered anywhere, we stopped into another market, one that reminded me of Usherme's, the Lebanese grocery on Warren Ave. that I used to visit with my mother when I was a child. Here, too, there were vats of grains and nuts and flours. They also stocked the same dried fruit rollups I used to beg my mother to buy for me at Usherme's. Still packaged the same way, just seeing them made me think of my childhood.

Our time in New York included a couple of other meals. We had dinner (Pad Thai for me, chicken, noodles and broth for Mr. Fritz) Saturday night at a Chinese noodle bar called
amidst a crush of college students. Located right on Union Square, the place is quite a scene. We looked pretty boring in comparison to the woman with the red hair and the green-and-gold sequined mini-dress, for instance. The highlight, for me, was an excellent coconut milk-lime juice-pineapple juice-orange juice drink. I think they called it a Pineapple Coconut Cooler. I called it delish.

This morning, we walked over to the East Village to have brunch at a creperie called
The Crooked Tree. We walked across 8th St. to get there, passing all sorts of wild shops along the way. In addition to the multiple tattoo parlors, we also passed a place that offered cheap peep shows (oh my!) and a couple of street vendors that sold, among other things, neon-colored wigs. I was very tempted to try on and take home a hot pink one, a la Sidney Bristow, but refrained myself.

At The Crooked Tree, where the decor included three Run DMC action figures and a framed photo of Snufaluffagus, service was slooow, but we had a great meal. Mr. Fritz, not a fan of the crepe, went with a waffle. I had a savory crepe filled with fresh mozzarella, basil and Roma tomatoes, then convinced him to share a sweet crepe with me, one filled with bananas, chocolate and caramel and topped with freshly whipped cream. As Mr. Fritz put it, you can never have enough whipped cream. A man after my own heart!

All in all, a wonderful weekend. And fun to spend a couple of days not cooking!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Dinner tonight... Spicy Coconut Chicken Casserole

We were not planning to be home tonight. If this week hadn't been so intense for me at work, we would likely be on a bus right now to Manhattan. But since I have been spending 10-11 hours a day at the office for the past few days, we decided to give ourselves a break and head to New York in the morning instead. This change of plans meant that I could make dinner for us, always a good thing. Spicy Coconut Chicken Casserole is yet another recipe from the October issue of Everyday Food Magazine. This is the second time I've tried it and I think it came out a little bit better the first time. In any case, it was great to fill the kitchen with the scent of jasmine rice.

The recipe calls for bone-in chicken breasts, but I chose to use about half a pound of thin-sliced boneless breasts instead. As a result, I skipped the first step, which is browning the chicken before adding it to the rice and broth/coconut milk mixture. I found that it poaches just fine and remains very tender and cooks through easily in the amount of time it takes for the rice to cook and the vegetables to steam. I used the very excellent Le Creuset stock pot given to us as a wedding gift by the very excellent Mr. & Mrs. Corbin to make the dish and clean-up was a snap. There's something about putting that big, beautiful, heavy pot on the stove that just seems to guarantee that comfort food will soon follow. Additionally, since the recipe serves four and I wasn't interested in leftovers, I cut it in half, and there was plenty for the two of us to enjoy. It took about 30 minutes, start to finish: a few minutes to cut up the red pepper and green beans, plus 25 minutes on the stove with very little attention required.

In addition to jasmine rice, the recipe calls for Thai red curry paste. I love the flavor of curry and will be interested to uncover other recipes in which to use it. Because Mr. Fritz isn't one for super spicy foods, I kept the amount I put into the dish to a conservative 1 tsp, but I could see how adding more (the recipe calls for 1-2 tsps) would make the dish even better. If anyone has a can't miss recipe that includes curry paste, please share it in the comments!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Dinner tonight... Slow Cooker Pot Roast

This is the first time since we got married that I made something in my slow cooker for me and Mr. Fritz. And actually, the impetus behind the meal was less Mr. Fritz and more Mr. & Mrs. Fleming, as it was my turn to bring them a post-new-baby meal. I knew I'd want to get the meal to them as soon as possible after work and that I'd want to make something that could double as a meal for me and T as well. With that in mind, I turned to the October issue of Everyday Food magazine and settled on Slow Cooker Pot Roast.

Yesterday morning, I cleaned and cut up the carrots and peeled and sliced the onions into wedges. I put the whole lot into a Ziploc in the fridge, making it all the easier to assemble the ingredients in the slow cooker this morning. And assembly could not have been simpler: I mixed together cornstarch and water in the bottom of the crock pot, added the vegetables and tossed them with a little salt and pepper, then set the 3 pound slab of beautifully marbled beef chuck roast on top. After shaking a bit more salt and pepper on the meat, I drizzled it with 2 Tb of Worchester sauce, put the lid on the slow cooker and set the timer for 10 hours on low. When I returned from work around 6:20 this evening, the house was fragrant with the scent of what I could tell would be a really comforting meal. And it was! As soon as I returned from delivering most of it to the Flemings, Mr. Fritz and I dug into the bit I'd set aside for us.

The beef was perfectly tender, falling apart with the touch of the fork. And the vegetables were carmelized and flavorful. I paired it with a salad composed of baby butter lettuce and fresh raspberries (on sale at the Teeter!) mixed with a Raspberry-Champagne Vinaigrette and served it alongside hot, crusty French bread. A perfect meal as fall sets in!

Welcome to my kitchen

As a newlywed, I've spent the past five months getting used to this cooking-every-night thing and it finally occurred to me: all this work needs to live just a little bit longer than the 30 minutes it takes me to get most meals onto the table (or breakfast bar, as it is in our case). And I've spent the past eight months getting used to crazy web-related things like html coding and photo sizing. I thought maybe I could hone my web skills while also sharing the fun (and excellent) recipes I've uncovered by starting a daily (or almost daily) cooking blog. I hope to not only keep a record for myself of my culinary highs and lows, but also to hear from you on recipes that I ought to try out as I continue to undertake the fabulous adventure that is "feeding Mr. Fritz."