Waiting Games: Rounds 2 & 3

September 17, 2009

For those of you wondering how the pantry raid challenge is going thus far… I would have to answer, “why, deliciously.

Round 2 (Tuesday): roasted red potatoes and turkey chili for one.

Chili: 1 cup cooked turkey, remaining 3/4 can diced tomatoes, 1 orange bell pepper, 1/2 can dark red kidney beans and 1/10 onion (really, this is ridiculous now, but required for Round 3 below).

Potatoes: Six red potatoes, salt, pepper, dried thyme, extra virgin olive oil

Cook: Combine chopped onions, bell pepper, red pepper flakes, salt and 2 tbs chili powder in small pot and cook over medium heat until soft, about 5-7 mins. Add tomatoes and kidney beans, reducing heat to med-low. Cover and simmer 10 minutes, adding water as needed. While chili cooks down, slice red potatoes into thin disks and toss with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and dried thyme. Spread over foiled baking sheet and roast at 450 degrees, 15 minutes. In last five minutes, add cooked ground turkey to chili along with remaining chili powder and simmer until warmed through. Serve over 1/2 roasted potatoes.

Round 3 (Wednesday): Pizza Panino

[because without gooey mozzarella cheese, it just isn’t pizza]

Ingredients: 1 whole wheat mini pizza crust, 3 tbs diced canned tomatoes, frozen spinach (thawed), 1/10 yellow onion, 1/2 bell pepper, 1/2 cup cooked ground turkey.

Cook: Sautee onion and bell pepper over medium-high heat until slightly caramelized; set aside. Oil nonstick grill pan and heat over medium. Cut pizza crust in half and top with above ingredients, as well as pinch of salt, pepper and dried oregano. Place panino on grill pan, top with second half of pizza crust and heavy pot lid (note: you can also just use a panini press if you have one). Leave alone to cook 2-3 mins until crust develops nice grill marks. Carefully remove from grill pan, flip panino and replace on other side, pressing down with weight of pot lid. Mangia!

***I must admit, after this last meal I’m starting to feel a little twinge of self-doubt. The options are starting to grow rather thin for my challenge of dinnertime variety. I’m down to 1 can diced tomatoes, 1/2 bell pepper, 1/2 bag frozen spinach, 3/4 box of rotini pasta, and about 2 cups of ground turkey – and not one, but two more meals to go.

Hmmm, perhaps I was too lofty in my goal…?

Waiting Games: Round 1

September 16, 2009

(Monday): Whole wheat pasta with spinach, turkey, tomato and red pepper flakes. Straightforward enough – brown ground turkey in pan with extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper while rotini cooks. Set aside. Strain 1/4 can diced tomatoes and add to small nonstick pan with 1 cup cooked turkey, red pepper flakes and frozen spinach until warmed through. Top over cooked pasta and add olive oil and pasta water to moisten.

Round 1 – DONE.

Anyone care to make this interesting?

Waiting Games

September 15, 2009

The week before any prolonged absence is always excruciatingly drawn out. Good news, on the one hand, for procrastinators like me who keep checklists largely unaccounted for until the frenzied hours just before their suggested airline check-in time. On the flipside, there’s only so much a girl can do to occupy the stretch of time between preparation and departure before being caught in a sort of limbo, the empty blur between anticipation and the practical present. At the moment, I’m staring blankly at a small pile accumulating near the doorway to my room – two swimsuits, a pair of sneakers, passport and travel-sized shampoo bottles – all of which destined to be  crammed into a suitcase with the rest of my month-long supply closet; but with a whole four days still left to go, I can’t fully commit to compartmentalizing workweek from vacation just yet.

It’s the same kitchen conundrum, as well: buying groceries for one is tricky enough, and just how far leftovers will push chemical boundaries over a two-week hiatus is not an experiment I’m willing to test. But girl cannot live on dry cereal alone.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to initiate a little contest called ‘let’s see how long christie can subsist with only a handful of ingredients pilfered from the pantry cabinet.’

The challenge: produce FIVE genuine weeknight meals without a single grocery store stopover. I’m not promising culinary genius here, people – entries will be judged on nutrition and stomach-filling quotient. Points for creativity are all bonus.

The players: 2 cans diced tomatoes, 1 lb whole-wheat rotini pasta, 2 orange bell peppers, 1/5 yellow onion (seriously?), 1 can kidney beans, 6 [undersized] red potatoes, 1 frozen wheat pizza crust, 1 lb ground turkey, 1 package frozen spinach (okay, not from the cabinet, but the ONLY frozen food item in this list). Spice cabinet condiments are all within bounds.

Let the games begin.

Let the countdown begin…

September 9, 2009

So it’s September already, which is both thrilling and overwhelming at once.

On a very big plus, my birthday is just 15 short days from today. Contrary to the dismal association of time passing and spinsterhood feared by mothers everywhere, I’ve decided to celebrate the arrival of September 24 with the unabashed self-assurance that 27 sounds very lovely and sophisticated, elegant yet youthful – and not at all sophomoric like the number 26. Something about the balance of syllables, maybe, that makes the age sound much more refined, don’t you think  – or is it just me? I was twenty-six. I am now twenty-seven. TWENTY-seven. Twenty-SEVEN.

If twenty-seven had a favorite drink, it would be a pomegranate cosmopolitan. The Great Gatsby would top the list of books twenty-seven has read. Twenty-seven’s wardrobe would be effortlessly chic and never crumpled haphazardly in the corners of her closet. The personal day planner of twenty-seven would include art exhibit openings and jazz ensemble performances, wine bar rendezvous and park blanket journaling. Twenty-seven would always contribute intelligent and well-timed observances to polite conversation and would garner praise for her business savvy from the corner office. Twenty-seven would never dribble cappuccino down the front of her new blouse.

No wonder I am very much looking forward to this new year ahead! (Note to self: must first purchase day planner. Also borrow copy of The Great Gatsby.)

To this is the fantastic addition that I will be observing said auspicious occasion in the charming coastal village of Petrovac, Montenegro – preferably while lounging on the coast of the Adriatic Sea or swallowing fiery gulpfuls of Serbian rakia in time to pulsating discoteque Euro-trance. Vacation! Ten whole days of reconnecting family roots, afternoon strolls on the cobblestone sea wall, visits to mountaintop monasteries, balmy evenings on the terrace… and away-from-it-all bliss in a foreign country totally unreachable by landline or email.

Petrovac2

Zdravo, Petrovac!

Fortunately, EG will be coming along on the hiatus. Soon-to-come epicurean adventures include turkish coffee fortune-telling, curing cheese in olive oil, the art of Serbian rakia distilling and more – recipes and rich family anecdotes included, of course. The grego-girl guide to eastern europe premiers sometime around Sept. 21 (after I’ve survived the 15-hour travel ordeal).

Forced Perspective

August 29, 2009

I feel slightly dejected to admit this week’s revelation: epicurean enthusiast though I may be, my aptitude in the art of food styling and photography is shockingly sub-par. Amateur at best; might-as-well-be-a-drugstore-disposable at worst.

This stems from a newly developed habit of grazing foodie photoblogs (also referred to as ‘food porn’ – which makes me absolutely cringe and thus will never again be referenced to as such. ever.), scrolling through galleries of mouthwatering food photography shot so beautifully and in such detail of texture and depth, you can all but feel the moist crumble of warm olive oil cake or taste the fresh citrus pucker of ceviche. Lighting is flawless, camera angle in various degrees of closeups.

On a whim, I decided to contribute a single image. True, the shot didn’t have the shiny white background or perfect plating, but the biggest appeal of these sites is that content is completely user-generated. Surely not every random blogger in the webisphere can be a professional food photog in their spare time, right? Upload. Submit.

Denied.

An automated diagnosis by the site administrator mentioned something about poor quality – to which I interject adamant protest. Taste was anything but. Admitting I’m a little burned, I am nevertheless willing to accept the following compromise: I will focus on writing effortlessly witty, charming blog prose (wink) and leave the photography to someone else until I have some semblance of dignity behind a camera lens. Deal?

In the meantime, you might want to bookmark these top foodie photoblogs – this latest project could take a while.

Note: While savory has its following, you can’t help but notice bakery sweets and desserts have majority rule, with delicately plated fruit tarts, rustic focaccia loaves, singed meringues and plump cupcakes with glistening pink frosting. Naturally, all of us are gluttons for punishment. If you’re not drooling yet, you will be.

1. Foodgawker

2. TasteSpotting

3. Photograzing

(*And for a sugar fix blog bonus: Tartellette )

TasteSpotting

Any add-ons? Feel free to share!

Kitchen Couture

August 21, 2009

I suppose it’s inevitable that any girl of a certain age will gradually acquire one vice or another, regardless of meager paychecks and creeping credit balances. Whether a product of nature or nurture can only be of so much relevance here, because really, the only question that matters when handing over the visa is simple: exactly how much Ramen will I be eating over the course of the next billing cycle?

Perpetuating every storyline are the standard love affairs – stilettos! makeup! handbags! – stirring visions of labyrinthine closets and bottomless drawers of lipgloss. Varying degrees of borderline obsession follow: Tiffany, Jimmy, Louis, Chanel, Manolo, Fendi, Dior (leaving off here with the admission that I have to actually google the terms ‘haute’ and ‘fashion,’ or delve into research volumes like InStyle or Devil Wears Prada in order to name drop any further).

No, my designer labels go something like this: Mauviel, Le Crueset, Wusthoff, OXO, Calphalon, Krups, Riedel, Shun, Jura-Capresso, Cuisinart… And as any girl can attest to the bubbly feeling of retail aesthetic, mine just happens to peak among brushed stainless steel, gleaming enamel and eggshell porcelain adorning shelf upon shelf of Williams-Sonoma. Fortunately for my bank account, the impermanence of singledom (and conversely, a reliable lack of personal kitchen space) goes a long way in curbing impulse purchases. Sure, I could put that $500 kitchen mixer on our countertop, next to the leftover pizza box and half-eaten package of graham crackers … or, not. Instead, I’ll just pass a few wistful moments in the pick-up-put-down maneuver, flawlessly executed under the hopeful smiles of sales associates.

Which brings me to that most embarrassing emblem of my twentysix-and-still-the-single-girl stage to date. Really, it all started with a tablecloth – a lime-colored French linen tablecloth, marked down from $120 to $30 on a Saturday sale. So completely stunning, and so totally unfit for a girl without a single coaster and a natural talent for spilling wine. I couldn’t possibly keep it. But my natural reflex failed as I clutched the package tightly, frantically dialing number after number. Someone must have this tablecloth. Someone NEEDS this tablecloth.

It was after three unsuccessful attempts that my mother uttered the phrase dreaded by all unmarried girls who believe themselves to be completely self-fulfilled at that very moment: Oh, honey, why don’t you keep it for yourself, you know, for your hope chest?

Oh. Dear. God.

Domestic as I may be, I draw the line at keeping a collection of items in the hopes of my happily ever after – let alone a quantity that might necessitate an entire chest.

The tablecloth was an unfortunate casualty.

Toys of Summer

August 14, 2009

It’s amazing how quickly we seem to jump from the lazy bliss of early summertime straight into fall harvest. I can’t help but be slightly dumbfounded at the idea that, as if overnight, some seasonal kaleidoscope has rotated its dial without even the slightest dialogue – or at least a courtesy heads-up. Storefronts are now molting into shades like persimmon, merlot, nutmeg. And though the temperature here in Florida won’t dip below 80 degrees for another two months, clearance racks overloaded with strappy sundresses and cutoffs already signal the inevitable: sweaters. Lots and lots of sweaters.

Growing up in Southern California, August and September meant grass stains and sandy bare feet, watermelon seed-spitting and barbecued chicken, a garden abundant with juicy tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and green beans. We caught grasshoppers in jam jars and splashed in the ocean until the daylight waned to a thin, velvety coolness and ate ice cream bars past bedtime.

In defense of these simple kicks, I’m officially boycotting Autumn’s premature arrival. There’s still plenty of summer left to be had. And lucky for us, a full range of kitchen gadgets and cooking tools keep this season fresh and fun. Here are my current Top 5 favorites. More to come, but feel free to add your own!

1. The Cuisinart Brushed Stainless-Steel Ice Cream Maker churns out two quarts of frozen, creamy goodness in just 25 minutes, as well as sorbet and fro-yo – all in pretty much any flavor concoction you can dream up.  And it’s just so pretty. Of course, frozen pops are just as much a of a treat for a fraction of the price tag, especially when they come in fun shapes like stars and rocket ships. Check out popsicle molds by Tovolo and Orka.

frozen pops with a twist by Orka

frozen pops with a twist by Orka

2. Behold, the KitchenAid

KitchenAid Stand Mixer - Artisan Series

KitchenAid Stand Mixer - Artisan Series

3. When it’s hot outside, cold drinks are a must. Love this artsy pitcher from Crate & Barrel for everything from sparkling water to mojitos or sangria. With its sweet-tart and slightly menthol afterbreath, a little limoncello goes a long way; tote this Italian liqueur to the picnic in one of World Market’s glass bottles and you’re instantly in a seaside trattoria on the Amalfi coast.

Picture 4

4. These aprons from Anthropologie are just too cute. How can you not feel summer sunshine all over?

Apron

5. With scents like fig & savory flower and lime zest & cypress, Cucina soaps and lotions bring the Mediterranean right into my kitchen. Gotta love that all are made with natural olive oil and herb extracts. Put the olive & coriander body butter at the top of your wish list.

Cucina

Pineapple Express

August 10, 2009

There are clear indicators that a girl has reached a certain threshold of food fanaticism: the number of conversations that include terms like ‘zest’ and ‘blanched’; a bookshelf whose resident fiction genre now comprises the minority; casual one-name references to Gordon, Ina, Jamie as though dinner party acquaintances.  All relatively benign, I am assured. Of course, there are also those points at which one realizes she may have just crossed over … as on the day she is presented with her very own homegrown pineapple.

A little odd-sounding? Sure. Though quite honestly, it is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received – a labor of love meticulously nurtured, sustained and defended against insect and other would-be assassins, given for no other reason than to share the delight of finally ripened fruit with a girl who’d appreciate it most.

In truth, the pineapple itself was little bigger than a softball (don’t let the clever camera angle fool you), nearly toppled by the crest of spiky green leaves sprouting from its top. I was also warned it would probably not be very sweet, since the plant was a first-generation transplant experiment of sorts, brought back from a recent visit to South America – to which I scoffed that it would be the best-tasting fruit ever eaten (and if not, I would certainly find a way to make it so).  I thanked my friend and promptly took it home to ripen on my countertop, a process that ended up taking about two weeks for the fruit to turn a warm honey color and to give off any sort of scent beyond the raw, pulpy smell of its cut stem.

I finally decided last night would be the occasion to see what my pineapple was made of. As I cut through the rough shell, I imagined how perfectly sweet the fruit would be, intense with the subtle tang that makes your tongue feel slightly fizzy at its tip.

In fact, it wasn’t. The flavor was fairly dull and still a bit green (I have high hopes for a pineapple salsa to top grilled mahi later this week). However, it did nothing to take away from the significance of my little gift and the generosity of a good friend. To whom I say a very sincere “Mahalo!”

Culinary Therapy on a Friday Night In

August 8, 2009

It’s well past seven before I finally arrive home on most nights of the week – nearly a full twelve hours after the morning’s reluctant greeting to what will become a sequence of fundamental imperatives:

Coffee. Traffic. Power Up. Sit Down. Write. Call. Do. Now. Lunch? (No.) Rush. Wait. Approve. Deliver. Power Off. Workout? (Must.) Traffic. Home.

Most people I know view what follows as a mere part of this obligatory process: Wash. Chop. Boil. Cook. Serve. Shovel.

As for me (or any other everyday gourmet, for that matter), cooking is quite the opposite: unmediated, voluntary and spontaneous. At the end of the day, I can’t wait to retreat to the small space of our kitchen.  I am the chief executive here, the reigning corner office authority, subservient to no outside interest, deadline or contracts – and bare feet are the only stipulation on the code of attire. Though, perhaps even more significant is the power that comes in yielding sharp knives…

This Friday night warranted homemade pizza, super simple with ground turkey and a store-bought whole wheat crust at hand. Topped with orange and red peppers, onions and spinach, it’s the perfect weekday wind-down. Even better with a glass of chianti and flamenco guitar strumming softly in the background.

My kitchen is not ideal by any means, a U-shaped corner of cabinets and countertops that meet at a small but bright window looking out over the drive. It’s a crowded mismatch of cookware and tucked-away appliances, wrinkled dishtowels and scarred cutting boards, plastic lids with no partner – the obvious shared extension of four single twentysomethings and oddly comforting in its chaos. But by the time the pizza is ready, I’m relaxed and warm from the heat of the oven (maybe more so the wine) –  the perfect resolution to the compulsory and a welcome preface to the weekend.

Midweek Meltdown

August 6, 2009

Inbox overflow, cranky coworkers, harried deadlines and 5:00pm conference calls – some days are enough to stretch the limits of any workweek. And then, in a chance moment of sweet intervention, my Thursday is suddenly looking up… somewhere, there’s a media rep that’s just earned her wings.

Ben & Jerry: giving new meaning to the office happy hour

Ben & Jerry: giving new meaning to the office happy hour