Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

While I was on bed rest for the wisdom teeth removal surgery I watched America's Test Kitchen on PBS. This slow cooker minestrone soup was featured and I knew it would be perfect for us to have now. I made it a few days after watching the recipe because it was a great option for needing softer foods.

The recipe does require quite a lot of prep before going in to the slow cooker but the soup is amazing! I debated halving the recipe but decided to make the full recipe with freezing intentions. We were able to put 3 two cup portions into the freezer so it worked out well.

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup Adapted from Cook's Country & Lemons and Lavender blog
   Recipe from Cooks Country August/September 2010
1 cup dried medium-sized white beans, rinsed and picked over
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 onions chopped fine
4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
2 cups loosely packed basil leaves, divided
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise, seeded and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 bunch Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves chopped
1/2 cup small soup pasta (I used Ditalini)
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish


   Cook Beans.  Bring beans and enough water to cover by 1 inch to low boil in medium saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until beans are just beginning to soften, about 20 minutes.  Drain beans and transfer to slow cooker.
   Saute aromatics.  Heat 3 tablespoons oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering.  Add onions and carrots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add tomatoes and cook until pan is nearly dry, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in broth, water, 1/2 cup basil, oregano, and pepper flakes and bring to boil; transfer to slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low until beans are tender, 6 to 7 hours (or cook on high 5 to 6 hours).
   Finish Soup.  Stir zucchini, chard, and pasta into slow cooker and cook, covered, on high until pasta is tender, 20 to 30 minutes.  Stir in remaining basil (chopped if you’d prefer) and remaining oil.  Season with salt and pepper and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Ramen with things

At the end of April Patrick took a solo trip to Chicago to celebrate his brother's birthday.

I took advantage of my time sans husband and had girlfriends over! On Saturday Marianne came over for some gardening and an outdoor picnic. Then on Sunday Stephanie came over for another outdoor picnic and an "August: Osage County" viewing. I think we both decided it wasn't our favorite movie.

You might can imagine I fixed some nicer meals for these outdoor picnics with friends which is true. But I couldn't sustain the nicer meals when I was eating by myself. Saturday evening I fixed boring ramen noodles but made them not boring!

Before I started cooking the ramen I peered into our vegetable drawer to see what CSA vegetable goodies I had hanging around that I could use. I found some kale and spring onions that would be perfect this. I also grabbed an egg. I did quite a bit of google browsing to figure out the best way to make ramen noodles unboring (a quick google search of how to make your ramen noodles better brings up more hits than you can read in a day).

Here's what I did:
   Bring water to a boil and add half the seasoning packet. Once boiling add in ramen. After a minute drizzle the egg (that I had scrambled) around the pot so that it creates threads of cooked egg. Then add in chopped kale to wilt. Everything should be done in another minute. I added the chopped spring onions on top as a garnish with a bit more of the seasoning packet. 

This was the most filling ramen ever! Any of yall have good ramen recipe hacks for making it unboring / better?? If please share!

From the farm pancakes

Since this session started, our CSA has been sending us a recipe every week as a suggestion of how to use their goods. We had the ingredients on hand (many of them from the CSA, of course) for this pancake recipe and were intrigued by the whole wheat and cornmeal components, so we gave this a shot for breakfast. I noticed that the recipe didn't include baking soda, so I was a little skeptical, but made the recipe as printed in case there was some sort of farm-grown pancake magic here. Unfortunately this was not the case, and our pancakes came out quite dense as one would expect. However, I do look forward to trying these again with a proper dose of baking soda to hopefully get some fluffiness. We did enjoy the cornmeal flavor in these.

Brinkley Farms
Whole Wheat, Cornmeal Pancakes

1 cup Brinkley Farms 100% Whole Wheat Flour
½ cup Brinkley Farms Yellow Cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 ½ cups buttermilk
1 Brinkley Farms brown egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Combine all dry ingredients, add wet ingredients. Mix well. (Batter will be somewhat thick, but if too thick you can add a little more buttermilk until desired consistency)

Pre-heat griddle or pan on medium heat, add desired amount of pancake batter to make desired size of cake. Cook on one side till the batter begins to form bubbles. Flip and cook till light, golden brown. Repeat till all batter is used. Serve alone or with your favorite syrup or honey. Pairs well with sausage links or bacon as a side!

And our CSA coordinator added "our kids like to add mini-chocolate chips to the batter as well!"

At least I flipped them perfectly!

Meal Plan Monday Post

Hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend! Due to the holiday our Meal Plan Monday Post has been bumped to Tuesday!

We headed to the beach for a family wedding and long weekend mini-vacation. We enjoyed the get-away.

The week before we left for the beach I made sure that we were cooking at home since we would probably be indulging throughout the weekend. The pork with sauteed apples and leeks is a new recipe; leeks appeared on the CSA last week! Lemon spaghetti is one of Patrick's favorite dishes and is a good "meat-less" dish. The lemon adds a lot of flavor to the dish! Then we had a marinaded salmon with asparagus side. We rounded on the week with a Chicken parmesan meatloaf. I doubled the recipe and froze one! Some meal plans are better than others for variety. Check out my protein variety this week! There was pork, fish (salmon), chicken, and a vegetarian meal.

Meal Plan for Monday May 19 - Sunday May 25

   Monday - Pork with sauteed apples and leeks
   Tuesday - Lemon spaghetti
   Wednesday - Salmon with asparagus
   Thursday - Chicken parmesan meatloaf
   Friday - Vacation through Memorial Day

We'll have the new recipes up on the blog soon.

Here's to summer starting!!

Egg Baked in Avocado

This egg baked in avocado has been popular on Pinterest and a few other places... I felt like I had seen it so much that I needed to try it! The premise is very simple - scoop out a bit of avocado, fill with egg, bake and top however desired.

A few tips (aka mistakes I made so that you don't):
1. Make sure you scoop out enough avocado. If you think you've scooped out enough, scoop some more to be on the safe side! Of course my egg spilled over the avocado.
2. Allow plenty of time for the egg to bake! Thank goodness Patrick doesn't have to punch a time clock at work or else he would be late quite a bit because his wife wanted to make him breakfast and she underestimated how long it would take to prep (happens a lot; sorry honey!).

The recipe I was following only topped the egg with chives, salt and pepper but I wanted to jazz it up a bit more. My topping mixture was a combination of the avocado I scooped out, chopped tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and salt & pepper. I added the mixture the final few minutes of baking to have it warmed through.

Once the egg has been cracked into the avocado it needs to bake in a preheated 425F oven for 15-20 minutes. It seems like you can really customize these however you want! We particularly enjoyed the tomato mixture on top.

We both really enjoyed it. The time factor is certainly something to consider. I'm not sure this method is that much better than a fried egg with toast and avocado; the tomato topping certainly added a lot of yumminess though. 

Patrick's reaction to learning the recipe was from Pinterest: "yeah, this seems like it would be from there." I guess my Pinterest recipe experiments are a bit on the extra creative side. 

Theater Steak

Whenever I go home my mom usually has a small pile of various things in my bedroom. This pile consists of items that she feels need to be brought to my attention. The pile is never the same; sometimes there are small gifts from neighborhood folks (this happened a lot recently with the wedding), items she's uncovered while cleaning the house that are mine and she'd like to see if I want to have it with me here, and there's also some newspaper clippings of sorts to share articles that I'd be interested in. Most recently in this pile was a section of the paper -- specifically the "Life" section from the N&O -- and this recipe caught my eye! She shared it for some other article but I read the whole section and saved it so I could make that recipe. I'm sure I would've tried the recipe had it not had such an interesting write up.

The recipe is called Theater Steak. The premise of the dish is simple: "a one-dish steak dinner that ... ensured a theater-goer made his curtain call on time." I highly recommend reading the article. And then making the dish!! You can read the article here. The author alludes to the simplicity of the dish and how she challenges herself to follow the recipe as is without making substitutions or altering the cooking method and I followed her lead. The dish turns out amazing. When we returned home with my pile of things (newspaper included) my mom also sent back some of her tasty homemade sourdough bread. I used her bread for the "thick slice of good-quality bread" the recipe calls for -- thanks Mom!

You'll see we served the recipe on our china for a fancy meal. This wasn't one of our anniversary meals. This was a celebratory meal for Patrick's recent promotion at work! He is such a hard worker and a devoted employee (he's working from home this evening as I edit/draft this post) who truly loves what he does. I'm glad he was recognized in this way and that his company sees him as an asset!

Theater Steak with Mushrooms, Onions & Grilled Bread Adapted from The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook | published on
Serves 2

2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil, such as canola or safflower
2 (8-ounce) beef filets, preferably 1 1/2-inches thick, at room temperature
1/4 cup chicken stock or white wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 pound mixed mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 large onion, sliced into half moons
4 thick slices good-quality bread
1 cup spicy greens, such as arugula or watercress
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

   Preheat oven to 325°F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
   Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high to high heat. Pat the filets very dry and season the side facing up generously with salt and pepper. When the oil is shimmering, place the filets, seasoned side down, in the skillet. Season the top with additional salt and pepper.
   Cook the steaks without disturbing until a deep golden brown crust has formed, 3 to 5 minutes. Flip the steaks and allow to cook for another minute or so. Place the steaks on the baking sheet (they should still be on the rare side, about 120°F on an instant read thermometer) and transfer to the oven.
   Return the skillet to high heat. Add the stock or wine and swirl to remove any caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan. Lower heat to medium and add 2 tablespoons butter. Add the mushrooms and onions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook the mushroom mixture, stirring frequently, until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
   Remove steaks from the oven and check their temperature: if they have reached 130°F remove them from the baking sheet and set aside to rest; if not, return them, along with the mushroom mixture, to the oven.
   Melt the remaining two tablespoons butter in the skillet. Add the bread and cook until toasted and golden brown on each side. Remove the steaks and mushroom mixture from the oven. Place about 1/4 cup greens over each piece of bread, followed by 1/4 of the mushroom mixture. Thinly slice the steaks lengthwise and arrange over the bread; pour any juices from the cutting board over the top.

Wisdom Teeth Removal Diet

Two and a half weeks ago I had to have my wisdom teeth removed. At this point in my recovery I am still cautious with crunchy / hard items but am just about back to normal. I thought I'd share a bit of what I ate the first week after recovery!

First week after wisdom teeth removal diet
   These first few items are all things you'd assume would be good for soft diets - jello, pudding, and ice cream. Yogurt and meal replacement drinks (like Slim Fast) were other things I ate to keep myself nourished.
   After just a few days I was really wanting something savory. All the other sweet soft foods just weren't very filling! I pureed two different vegetables on various days to satisfy this craving. In hindsight I should've researched homemade baby foods to have on hand for after the surgery!
   The first vegetable pureed was baby carrots! I boiled them in water until soft. Then added honey, some seasonings, and cream before pureeing. I adjusted the cream until the desired consistency was reached. Since larger food particles could get stuck in the back of the mouth I pureed the carrots until they were very smooth!
   The following day I made some super mashed potatoes. After the potatoes were boiled I used our Ninja blender individual attachment for pureeing the vegetables.

   After the potatoes were boiled, I added cream, seasonings, and spinach to make the mashed potatoes. I boiled too many potatoes for the individual attachment to puree at once so we had to do it twice. This meant that my spinach ratio was off a little bit. When Patrick made the leftover container of mashed potatoes he used the two different potato mixtures to make some nice artwork.

The smiley face has the extra spinach in it.
Second week after wisdom teeth removal diet
   When the second week rolled around I felt like I could start to venture back into normal foods little by little. It just so happened to be Cinco de Mayo and we met friends out at a Mexican restaurant. Unfortunately I couldn't have any margaritas (on pain meds) or chips and salsa (chips too crunchy) -- both of these things are my favorite things about Mexican restaurants. But I still enjoyed the company of friends! I was able to eat a combo plate with an enchilada and cheese quesadilla served with rice and refried beans. 
   At this point I can prepare meals in the kitchen that I can eat and would pass as substantial enough for Patrick. The prior week he was having to fend for himself for dinners. The first meal I prepared for us was this Cream of Tomato Soup with grilled cheese sandwiches. Then the next night I made macaroni and cheese, applesauce, and salmon cakes. Patrick commented that I fixed him all his favorite things... 

From this point on I slowly started introducing more heartier foods back into my diet. It will sure be good to be back to normal!

Special thanks to my mom and Patrick for taking such good care of me!!

Crabcakes for Breakfast

A few weeks ago we had a series of throw together meals and we shared them on the blog here. One of those meals was crab cakes with a side salad.

The can of crab made 4 crab cakes. Sometimes we make leftovers for lunch with the remaining food but since we only made a side salad for that evening we couldn't save these for lunch (just 1 crab cake wouldn't be too filling). Have no fear -- we still saved them! They became breakfast the following morning.

We warmed the crab cakes in a large skillet; on the other side of the skillet we cooked over-medium eggs and tossed around some fresh spinach to wilt it. Everything came together for a wonderful breakfast!

Remember to think outside of the box with your leftovers!! We're not perfect with our food waste yet but we're trying to be better every day. 

Meal Plan Monday Post

Here's our meal plan from last week! Again it was a little hard to put the proposed and actual in the post because as plans were made I would continuously bump meals around. This is one reason I love having the meal plans and doing grocery shopping ahead of time! If our plans change for a certain day then I know we'll be able to have that planned meal the following night. So here's what we did last week...

Meal Plan for Monday May 12 - Sunday May 18

   Monday - Out with friends to Cowfish
   Tuesday - Chinese chicken salad
   Wednesday - Pumpkin risotto with fried sage leaves
   Thursday - Chicken and kale hand pies
   Friday - Date night: dinner and DPAC show
   Saturday - Baked oatmeal // Pimento cheese sandwiches and strawberries // Dinner at Town Hall Burger
   Sunday - Crepes with fresh strawberries and bacon // Chicken salad, prosciutto crackers, and blueberries // Spinach pasta with tomatoes

Lots of new recipes! The Chinese chicken salad was one of our favorites. It's light and refreshing; a perfect entree salad for this warmer weather. The pumpkin risotto was made because I had one last frozen pumpkin puree from the winter that I wanted to use up. I look forward to making this pumpkin risotto as a side dish during the winter holidays. The hand pies were a fun twist on homemade Hot Pockets! All these recipes will be featured on the blog soon with more of our cooking comments!

Spinach Artichoke Pizza

It's no secret that when Patrick left Chicago and came to Duke his love of Chicago deep-dish pizza most certainly came with him. I think in general we're not the biggest pizza fans and will usually choose some other restaurant to go out to. When you put these two things together you get one married couple that hardly ever orders pizza take-out but still occasionally goes to a pizza restaurant. If we are heading to a pizza restaurant around town it's usually either Mellow Mushroom, California Pizza Kitchen, or Brixx. If Patrick found a suitable restaurant serving an authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza we would probably go there a lot! Fortunately Patrick has found a decent homemade version that he enjoys but it is a very time consuming recipe.

Since we're not going out to get pizza I still crave it every now and then. I've discovered the whole wheat pizza dough balls at Harris Teeter and pick them up for a simple pizza meal when the mood strikes. We're able to customize these pizzas exactly how we want and usually that's just with fresh veggies. We've made a veggie pizza, mushroom pizza, and pesto pizza in the past. On this particular evening we branched our a bit more -- we split the dough ball 4 ways for personal pizzas and made a spinach-artichoke version! Quite tasty; read on to see what we did! We read a few different recipes for the pizza topping but didn't find anything exactly like we wanted. Finally we just both started making the pizza and putting our ideas together.

Spinach and Artichoke Pizza
Flatten pizza dough and place on a baking sheet dusted with corn meal.
Drizzle olive oil on dough and then sprinkle with Italian cheese mix.
Meanwhile mix together 1 can of chopped artichoke hearts, 1 handful of spinach, 1/2 diced red onion, a few tablespoons of olive oil, bit of minced garlic, and red pepper flakes.
Divide artichoke mixture evenly among pizzas.
Bake at 450F for 10-15 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is melted.

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Don't have too much to say about this recipe. I think sometimes Tuna Noodle Casserole gets a bad rap sometimes but it's one of those comfort classics that you want every now and then. It's also a great recipe to get the ingredients to have on hand whenever you need a throw together night -- egg noodles, frozen peas, and canned tuna are all things we don't regularly keep in pantry/fridge but certainly worth picking up when they're on sale.

We enjoyed this recipe and will probably make it again. The recipe calls for the tuna casserole mixture to be transferred to a casserole dish for baking. To save us cleaning a dish we prepared everything in an oven proof skillet that we could then top the mixture with breadcrumbs and cheese then slide into the oven! Read on for the recipe:

Lightened Tuna Noodle Casserole from Skinny Taste blog
   Serves 6
6 oz no-yolk noodles
1 tbsp butter
1 medium onion, minced fine
3 tbsp flour
1 3/4 cups fat free chicken broth
1 cup 1% milk
1 oz sherry (optional)
10 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
1 cup frozen petite peas (thawed)
2 (5 oz) cans tuna in water, drained
4 oz 50% reduced fat sharp cheddar
butter flavored cooking spray
2 tbsp parmesan cheese
2 tbsp whole wheat seasoned breadcrumbs

   Cook noodles in salted water until al dente, or slightly undercooked by 2 minutes. Set aside.
   Melt the butter in a large deep skillet. Add onions and cook on medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and a pinch of salt and stir well, cooking an additional 2-3 minutes on medium-low heat
   Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly spray 9 x 12 casserole with butter flavored cooking spray.
   Slowly whisk in the chicken broth until well combined, increasing heat to medium and whisking well for 30 seconds, then add the milk and bring to a boil. When boiling, add sherry, mushrooms and petite peas, adjust salt and pepper to taste and simmer on medium, mixing occasionally until it thickens (about 7 to 9 minutes). Add drained tuna, stirring another minute.
   Remove from heat and add 1 cup reduced fat sharp cheddar and mix well until it melts. Add the noodles to the sauce and mix well until evenly coated. Pour into casserole and top with parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs. We actually used a large nonstick oven safe skillet for making the casserole and then topped everything in the skillet with parmesan and breadcrumbs then put it in the oven. Spray a little more cooking spray and top and bake for about 25 minutes. Place under the broiler a few minutes to get the crumbs crisp (careful not to burn).

Is tuna noodle casserole something you cook??


Patrick and I had a mango for the first time ever last week!

"First time ever" is used loosely; I'm sure we've had it somehow in our past but this is the first time I've purchased one and we've eaten it by itself. It wasn't too bad. I think I liked it more than Patrick. I imagine we'll try it again once we become more comfortable with it. As with any fruits or vegetables we'll have to learn how to tell if it's ripe and find fun ways to eat it.

Here's our mango:

Have any mango tips for us?? Please share!

Pioneer Woman's Broccoli Cheese Soup & a Luncheon

About a month or so ago Patrick and I hosted another couple for a nice weekend lunch. You know by now that Patrick and I love a good brunch but since this was planned for 1pm I conceded that brunch was over by that time and I needed to plan a lunch menu. Since the weather temperatures were still fluctuating that weekend and we were in a chilly spell, soup seemed to be the perfect menu item! I decided on Pioneer Woman's Broccoli Cheese Soup paired with fresh bread croutons and a salad.

   Be sure to visit her website hyperlinked above; as always her recipe posts contain step-by-step picture instructions!
   Serves 10 (I cut the recipe in half)
1 whole onion, diced
1 stick butter
1/3 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
2 cups half-and-half
4 heads broccoli, cut into florets
1 pinch nutmeg
3 cups grated cheese (mild cheddar, sharp cheddar, jack, etc.)
Small dash of salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Chicken broth if needed for thinning

   Melt butter in a pot over medium heat, then add the onions. Cook the onions for 3 to 4 minutes, then sprinkle the flour over the top. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute or so, then pour in milk and half-and-half. Add nutmeg, then add broccoli, a small dash of salt, and plenty of black pepper.
   Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender. Stir in cheese and allow to melt.

   Taste seasonings and adjust if needed. Then either serve as is, or mash it with a potato masher to break up the broccoli a bit, or transfer to a blender in two batches and puree completely. (If you puree it in a blender, return it to the heat and allow to heat up. Splash in chicken broth if needed for thinning.)
   We decided to puree the whole soup with the immersion blender; Patrick didn't want broccoli chunks. If you're not serving immediately I would definitely recommend adding in the chicken broth as it thickens the longer it sits.

We add some leftover French bread that we sliced, tossed with extra virgin olive oil and seasonings, then baked until brown and crispy. I chose to do this instead of serving the soup with sandwiches.

We had a salad too. The salad was romaine lettuce with tomatoes, carrots, parmesan cheese shavings, and a balsamic vinaigrette.

As always our hosted meals are serve yourself. We set everything out in the kitchen with appropriate plates and bowls and let everyone get what they want!

Our friends brought the dessert... a yummy pull apart monkey bread! Brunch doesn't usually have dessert so I guess hosting lunch isn't too bad after all.

Meal Plan Monday Post

This past week has been a delicate balance of nourishing two recovering bodies -- Patrick came down with a really bad cold and I was still quite sore from wisdom teeth removal surgery.

For myself I made sure to plan softer than usual meals with nothing crunchy or too hard. This meal plan evolved slowly throughout the week so there isn't a "proposed" and "actual" list. I didn't want to plan too far out for the week without knowing what I would be able to eat and good thing I did because I thought that by the time the new week rolled around I would be back to normal! Ha!

For Patrick I made sure he drank lots of water and some orange juice. Unfortunately I have now caught his cold but my mouth is doing much better. We are all meal planned out for the rest of the week too now that I am feeling better. Here's what we did last week:

Meal Plan for Monday May 5 - Sunday May 11

   Monday - Cinco de Mayo meet friends at local Mexican restaurant
   Tuesday - Cream of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich
   Wednesday - Chinese takeout
   Thursday - Salmon cakes, macaroni and cheese, applesauce
   Friday - Slow cooker minestrone soup
   Saturday - Ninth Month Anniversary Meal!
   Sunday - Scallops with orzo and chard

Eighth Month Menu

Patrick and I are enjoying our monthly anniversary dinner celebrations so much! I'm getting a little sad each month we get closer to our first year anniversary dinner because these have been a lot of fun and a great time for us to reconnect during our busy lives and I will miss these first year monthly anniversary dinners. I'm certainly not sad that our one year anniversary seems to be approaching so quickly!! However I may have secretly decided to continue this little tradition even though Patrick thinks it will be too hard to continue each month.

One thing that is kind of difficult with these anniversary dinners is the menu. I do think if we continue with the anniversary dinner it may morph into a more casual menu or something that would've regularly been planned for the week and then we can just serve it with our formal place settings. Until we hit the year mark though I want to try to elevate the menu from our more casual weekday meals. The hard part is not so much planning a fancier menu rather it's coming up with different menus. One of my go to planned fancier meals is seared scallops and I don't want to have scallops each month! For this particular Eighth Month menu I decided to keep it light and simple since spring and fresh produce are on the way. I actually just went to the grocery store the day of our anniversary and selected a fish (halibut) that looked good and some seasonal produce (chioggia beets) that looked good! Here's what we did:

Fish baked in parchment
Lightly dressed arugula salad with chioaggi beets
Carrot cake cupcakes

Biltmore Spring Release White wine,
in honor of Patrick’s Biltmore proposal two years ago this month (April 27th, 2012)

Fish baked in parchment from
1 (6-ounce) firm-fleshed white-fish fillet, such as halibut, cod, or haddock (the fillet should be between 3/4 and 1 1/4 inches thick)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf, cut in half (optional)
Fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley, tarragon, or chervil (optional)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 thin lemon slices
1 tablespoon dry white wine or water
   Heat the oven to 400°F and arrange a rack in the middle.
   Draw out a large piece of parchment paper (about 17 by 11 inches) and, with one of the longer edges closest you, fold it in half from left to right. Using scissors, cut out a large heart shape.

I may have selected the recipe because of the parchment heart!!!
Place the fish in the center of one half of the parchment heart. (The heart should be large enough that there is at least a 1-1/2-inch border around the fillet.)
   Set the parchment heart on a baking sheet. Drizzle the fish with half of the olive oil, rub the oil all over the fillet, and season with salt and pepper. Lay half of the bay leaf and a few sprigs of herbs (if using) on top of the fish. Break the butter into little pieces and arrange them on top of the herbs. Place the lemon slices over everything and drizzle with the remaining oil.
   Fold the parchment heart over to cover the fish. (The edges of the heart should line up.) Starting at the rounded end, crimp the edges together, folding them over themselves and leaving the last two inches at the pointed end unfolded. Slightly tilt the package up and pour in the wine or water. Finish crimping the edges, then twist the pointed end around once and fold the “tail” under.

I recommend visiting the recipe website because it has step-by-step picture instructions for this step.
   Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake 10 minutes for a 3/4-inch-thick fillet or 12 minutes for a 1- to 1-1/4-inch-thick fillet.
   Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the parchment package to a dinner plate. Serve immediately, cutting into the parchment tableside using scissors or a knife. Since we split a fish filet I opened the package and plated half of the filet on each plate then served.

Carrot Cake Cupcakes adapted from Cook's Illustrated
   Serves 15-20 *We cut the recipe in half and made cupcakes
For the cake
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (12 1/2 ounces)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 lb carrot, peeled (medium 6 to 7 carrots about 3 cups)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed (3 1/2 ounces)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil or 1 1/2 cups safflower oil or 1 1/2 cups canola oil
For the cream cheese frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon sour cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar (4 1/2 ounces)

   For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 13 by 9-inch baking pan (or 2, 9" round cake pans) with nonstick cooking spray. Line bottom of pan with parchment and spray parchment.
   Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in large bowl; set aside.
   In food processor fitted with large shredding disk, shred carrots; transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. Wipe out food processor work bowl and fit with metal blade. Process granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil through feed tube in steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. Scrape mixture into medium bowl. Stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.
   For the frosting: When cake is cool, process cream cheese, butter, sour cream, and vanilla in clean food processor work-bowl until combined, about 5 seconds, scraping down bowl with rubber spatula as needed. Add confectioners' sugar and process until smooth, about 10 seconds.
   Run paring knife around edge of cake to loosen from pan. Invert cake onto wire rack, peel off parchment, then invert again onto serving platter. Using icing spatula, spread frosting evenly over surface of cake. Cut into squares and serve. (Cover leftovers and refrigerate for up to 3 days.).

Since April also commemorated our engagement I couldn't pass up this Biltmore Spring Release white wine. Patrick proposed at Biltmore two springs ago -- here's our proposal blog post!

April was an exciting month for us! Stay tuned to the blog for these things we've been celebrating!

Mini Cheesecake Round 2

Remember when my mom was in town a few weeks ago and we made her some Margherita Risotto?? We figured since we don't have guests too often that we could splurge and have dessert that evening as well. She had raved a bit in the comment section of our mini cheesecake post about the dessert so we thought those would make a good dessert!

The mini cheesecake post can be found here. What's really fun about this recipe is there a "base" recipe for an original cheesecake and then all sorts of various "stir-in" ideas to customize your cheesecake. I imagine you could also come up with your own stir-in ideas too! For our first go at the mini cheesecakes we made an original and then a Mocha stir-in one. For our second go, on this particular evening with my mom, we made the Apple Pie stir-in (with cinnamon in the base recipe and then topped with sauteed apples) and the Chocolate Royale stir-in (with melted chocolate stirred in the base recipe). Here they are:

We find with the mini cheesecakes that a half-slice would be a decent portion. If we make two flavors then that's a quarter slice of each! I think we all liked the Apple Pie version best!

We'll keep you updated as continue to try the various stir-in ideas! What's your favorite cheesecake flavor??

Throw Together Times Three

A few weeks ago we had three "throw together" meals in a row! I explained the throw together meal in that meal plan post. Basically it's dinner made with everything we already have (so no grocery trip to supplement a few ingredients). Sometimes they turn out really good and sometimes they're a miss. But since it's using up things on hand no two are ever alike! Here are the details on the three we made in a row. Since these weren't very official blogging recipes I just snapped photos with my phone.

Throw Together #1
Pork Loaf with Crispy Potatoes

Patrick whipped up the pork loaf (something similar to this) and topped it with a dijon mustard-apricot jam glaze. We had some lettuce that needed to be eaten so that became the salad topped with some balsamic vinaigrette. At first that was going to be all but then I remembered we have some potatoes in the pantry so we roasted a few for crispy potatoes. Typically I buy yukon gold potatoes in the 3 or 5 lb bag since they keep so long and more than likely have a potato at our disposal.

Throw Together #2
Italian Chicken with Penne

I had seen a recipe for chicken with orzo and sun-dried tomatoes and thought we could totally do that. Patrick likes to buy our sun-dried tomatoes from Costco so that means it's a rather large jar that takes us awhile to get through. Usually we have some orzo but when I went to start dinner and grab it from the pantry there was no orzo to be found!! Throw together inspiration now needs to be altered. We had celery and carrots in the fridge so I chopped those up with an onion then added a large can of San Marzo tomatoes to stew down thus making a basic Italian sauce. We boiled some penne and baked a chicken breast with some Italian seasonings. We even had another salad from a second head of lettuce that needed to be used up in the fridge!

Throw Together #3
Crab cakes with Salad

When the third throw together meal night was coming around I wasn't sure we could produce another meal! But then I remembered we had a can of lump crab meat ready for whenever we wanted it. This has been one of our newest additions to our Costco shopping trips. We followed this recipe for the crab cakes we made for one of our anniversary dinners; the recipe calls for you to bake it but we decided to fry it. Unfortunately they fell apart but it didn't take away from their tastiness! We had some arugula leftover from a meal the previous week and added that to round out the plate.

Three very successful throw together meals! I think we were pleased with ourselves since our throw together success rate isn't usally this high especially for three in a row!

Marinated Chicken with Sauteed Kale

I stumbled across the recipe we're sharing today on one of the blogs I follow. It's from the Dinner: A Love Story blog and it's a marinated chicken recipe. She had a cute introduction story about the recipe that really made me want to try it. Her sister had tried the recipe at a friend's luncheon and raved about it so much that the blog author replicated the recipe, made it, and then raved about it herself. So I guess I wanted to see if it really was that good... And I think it merited all the raving! You can read her blog post here. She paired the chicken with sauteed kale which I also decided to do. I also added quinoa to round out the meal.

If you're looking to change up your ordinary chicken meal then I highly recommend this! Patrick was a fan as well. The one drawback to the recipe is that it requires a bit of planning and forethought. The chicken needs to marinate for at least 8 hours or overnight. I kept forgetting to do it the night before (there were a few days that I was planning this and forgot to start the marinating); I actually ended up just marinating for a full day by prepping the marinade in the morning.

The friend who hosted the lunch was apparently a Trish and this is dubbed Trish's Marinated Chicken so without further ado...

Trish's Marinated Chicken from Dinner A Love Story
2 tablespoons mayo
1/4 cup olive oil
squeeze of agave (or honey) *I used honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
salt & pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
squeeze of lemon
fresh rosemary, thyme or torn basil leaves *I used some of my hydroponic basil
Four medium size chicken breasts, pounded thin *I bought thin sliced chicken breasts

In a medium bowl, whisk together all ingredients and, along with chicken, add to a ziploc. Marinate eight hours or overnight, flipping in the fridge at some point if you can. When you are ready to cook, heat a stovetop grill to medium-high, and brush with a tiny bit of olive oil. Grill chicken pieces about four minutes a side (let excess marinade drip off before you place on grill) or until chicken is firm but not rock hard. Serve with Kale-Brussel hash below.

Dinner: A Love Story's Own Kale-Brussels Hash
   Directly from her blog:
Add a small piece of smoky bacon to a skillet set over medium heat. Once fat has rendered, add a little olive oil and cook a few tablespoons of onions or shallots (chopped) until soft. Add salt and pepper, maybe a few red pepper flakes if you are so inclined, then a few healthy handfuls of shredded kale and shaved brussels sprouts. Cook until just barely wilted (and still bright green) and add to a serving bowl. Drizzle with a little cider vinegar (or red wine vinegar) to taste. You can chop the bacon into small pieces if you feel like it...

My Notes:
   For the fresh herbs in the marinade, I used fresh basil. I bruised the leaves (with the end of a knife) to release the oils before throwing them into the marinade.    For the kale I did not add in Brussels sprouts. In my Harris Teeter kale is sold by weight and the Brussels sprouts are prepackaged. For this reason I bought the right amount of kale for this dish (we planned for leftovers) and then didn't have to worry about making sure the remaining Brussels sprouts were eaten in another meal.

It was a perfect night to break out the outdoor dining table for the inaugural first use of the season!

Meal Plan Monday Post

This weekend was not a routine weekend for meal-planning because Whitney had her wisdom teeth removed on Friday morning, and her mom stayed with us Thursday-Sunday to care for her. This would be why the meal plan gets a little vague after Wednesday. Whitney was on a diet of soft foods while her mom and I fended for ourselves. She had me pick out what I wanted for the CSA box this week which was bok choy, spinach, and eggs, and I made good use of the veggies over the weekend while she was out of commission. Things went as smoothly as they could but it made me appreciate when she keeps us on a good meal plan the whole week!

Meal Plan for Monday April 28 - Sunday May 4

   Monday - Fake bake
   Tuesday - Pumpkin ravioli with browned butter and sage
   Wednesday - Pork schnitzel with sweet potato
   Thursday - Mom in town; maybe eat out?
   Friday - Pasta of some sort?
   Saturday - Patrick to get something from grocery
   Sunday - Salmon cakes

   Monday - as planned
   Tuesday - as planned
   Wednesday - as planned
   Thursday - California Pizza Kitchen dinner with Mom and Glenda
   Friday - Baked chicken breast with bok choy and couscous (Mom and Patrick)
   Saturday - Patrick had concert
   Sunday - Whitney had pureed spinach and potato, Patrick had tortellini with spinach

Cheese Ravioli with toasted hazelnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and arugula

My mother came came from Chicago for a nice weekend visit at the beginning of March. On Saturday night she treated us to a very fancy dinner at Fearrington House Restaurant. All of us have been interested in trying it for quite some time, and it was great to finally go. It was definitely an experience!

Sunday night was Oscar night, so we planned a dinner at home using our new pasta maker. This time we made a whole wheat ravioli with cheese filling tossed with toasted hazelnuts, sun-dried tomatoes, and arugula. I think this is my favorite of the home-made pasta dishes we've made! The hazelnuts and sun-dried tomatoes are a great combination that I didn't expect. We based our prep on this recipe for the ravioli itself and this recipe for everything else.

Ravioli with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Arugula, and Hazelnuts
2 (8 oz. each) packages Monterey Gourmet Foods Roasted Chicken & Mozzarella Ravioli
   We subbed the freshly made cheese ravioli
2/3 cup thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts, lightly toasted
1 cup (packed) arugula leaves
1/4 tsp kosher salt (to taste)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
6 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Parmesan cheese for garnish (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the ravioli and cook according package instructions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the ravioli.
While the ravioli is cooking, stir together the sun-dried tomatoes, hazelnuts, arugula, salt and pepper in a large serving bowl. Drizzle in olive oil and gently toss to combine.
Add the ravioli to the sun-dried tomato mixture and toss gently to combine. You may want to use your hands to avoid ripping the ravioli.
Serve and garnish with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Three-cheese Ravioli
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon of salt, divided
1 recipe pasta dough

In a bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, eggs, thyme, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, mix well. Set aside. Fill a stock pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove.
Meanwhile, working with a small portion of dough at a time (such as one-quarter of the dough recipe), roll pasta dough into a thin sheet, about 5 to 6 inches wide, according to your pasta maker's instructions. Lay a piece of dough lengthwise on a floured work surface. Place teaspoon-sized dollops of dough about 2 inches apart in the center of the bottom half of the dough. Use your finger to moisten the area around each dollop of filling, then fold the top half of the dough over the filling to meet the other edge. Press down around each dollop of filling, making sure to press out any air bubbles.
With a sharp knife, a pasta cutter or a small pizza cutter, cut each ravioli apart by making a cut halfway between each portion of filling, as well as trimming the bottom edge of the pasta. Place ravioli on a parchment-lined sheet pan and repeat with the remaining pasta dough and filling. At this point, pasta can be refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, for up to a day.
To cook pasta, add 1 tablespoon salt to a stockpot of boiling water. Drop ravioli into boiling water. Cook in boiling water for 3 to 4 minutes (pasta will float to the surface).
This Recipe for Three-Cheese Ravioli makes 4 to 5 portions of pasta.

We used our fine china for an extra fancy dinner!

French Toast

There have been a few posts recently detailing ways in which we are trying to efficiently use all of our food. We're not always so successful and do end up with some food waste. This is one of the reasons we have our throw together meals. Why buy something for a new meal when we have everything we need for one already?

I've mentioned recently that we're figured out how to not waste ricotta (first use - savory dinner; second use to reduce waste - breakfast!).  Well another food product that poses thoughtful planning for using all of it up - sandwich buns. I like to plan a sandwich in our meal plan every now and then but it's hard to account for all 6 buns in the bag! If only there was packaging for couples...

What we learned from ricotta we applied to buns! Make the second use breakfast! Sometimes I do toast the buns and then put them in the food processor to make bread crumbs but we don't use bread crumbs a whole lot so this isn't always practical for leftover buns.

Wondering what we did with our buns?! We made french toast! We had leftover brioche rolls from Sloppy Joes and they were a perfect mix to break up boring weekday breakfasts of cereal and bagels.

I'm sure everyone has a basic french toast recipe. For ours, I sliced the buns into 1" thick slices then soaked each side in an egg mixture (2 eggs mixed with cinnamon and 1/2&1/2 -- I forgot vanilla!) before placing them into a buttered hot pan. Cooked each side until lightly browned and served with a dusting of powdered sugar.

Easy Throw Together French Toast
What do you do with leftover buns??