Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pretty Little Things

As much as I love cooking, my passion for dining out and trying new foods is pretty equal. And you know what else is pretty? The three amazing meals below.   

Spicy Cream Shrimp

Bacon & Bleu Cheeseburger with Parmesan Potato Wedges

Southwestern Falafel "Burger" with Sweet Potato Fries
The Top Restaurant 

Kinda makes up for a dull Thanksgiving fare, eh?
Love to all,
~the "if only my wallet was a deep as the pit in my stomach" gal, Jess

PS. This was also an interesting look at my photography skills. 

Photo one was taken at lunch, sitting by a window, using my DSLR.

Photo two was taken in a dark bar with my point and shoot (post two martinis = shaky hands), I was using the flash, but trying to deflect it with my sticky gin fingers!

Photo three was taken in a smoky dinning room, by the light of a dim on table retro lamp, also with the point and shoot.

Monday, November 28, 2011

A slightly different take on T-Day

Anyone who spends time with this gal (either in real life, or "imaginary") knows I'm not a fan of Thanksgiving. You know the drill: family obligations, boring food "traditions", blah, blah, blah.

But this year, by escaping to my mother's best friend's house we got out of the family bit, and I decided to (slightly) shake up the menu.

For dinner, I contributed the "green" side-dish, which I based on a Catalan recipe for fruited spinach.

I did sub pecans for pine nuts, because that's what I had on hand. (or as the real story goes I forgot to buy pine nuts during my shopping trip)

This was an incredibly easy dish to throw together. Saute the apples and shallots until tender, then add the rehydrated raisins and chopped, toasted, pecans. 

Deglaze the pan with a splash of sherry, plus the juice of 1 lemon, and add 1lb of fresh spinach. Remove from the heat as soon as the greens start to wilt. Garnish with lemon zest and serve immediately!

Pretty, no? Nothing like bringing a touch of Spanish flare to the hum-drum pilgrim feast.

Speaking of hum-drum? Let's talk about the fact that I've been making the same "Libby's Classic" pumpkin pie since I was 9 years old. (and let's NOT do the math on that one, ok?) This year I took a page out of one of my co-worker's books, errr cookbooks, and made Pumpkin Pie Cake instead.

I know, I know, this doesn't sound like that big of a stretch, but trust me, this pie/cake/hybrid is even tastier than the classic and oh so easy to make!

First, make a standard pumpkin pie filling:

1 12oz can pumpkin
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 cup of sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp "pumpkin pie spice" (or if you are like me, generous dashes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger, because who actually finishes a container of pre-mixed pie spice? Keep the real stuff around, friends)

Add the hand blended pie "filling" to a 9 x 13" baking dish.

Top the filling with 1 box of (dry) yellow cake mix. No really, it sounds weird, but sprinkle-sprinkle to your little inner fairy godmother's contentment.

Then ditch the fairy godmother act and channel your inner southern grandmother this time, by scattering 1 cup of chopped pecans over the cake mix and then drizzling 1 stick of melted butter over the whole mess.

Bake for 60 minutes at 350 degrees F.

The finished product isn't pretty, nor is it healthy per say, but it is damn tasty.

And really, isn't that how all Thanksgiving dinners could be described? Family gatherings and rich foods only come around a few times a year, and while they aren't all that "healthy" I am thankful for every tasty moment.

Love to all,
~the little "turkey bird" gal, Jess

Friday, November 25, 2011

Let's Talk Tofu

Hey you. Yes you. I'm looking at you. The one with the drumstick glued to your hand. Now focus on the following picture.

Good job. Just take some deep breaths. I know it's easy to get sucked into the turkey leftover rut, but resist. And make the best tofu ever instead.

Need even more convincing? It won't take 10 hours to make, like that slightly disappointing, completely over-rated Thanksgiving Feast you are still trying to digest.

All snarky Thanksgiving comments aside, this is truly the best tofu I've ever made, and possibly the best I've ever eaten as well.

To make it, I basically followed this Cooking Light recipe for Udon Noodle Salad with Broccolini and Spicy Tofu, with a few modifications based on what I had on hand. In spite of the the fact that the tofu is mentioned last in the name of this dish, it is the real star.

Let's make tofu.

After pressing and cubing extra firm tofu, I marinated the cubes for ~15 minutes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of Sriracha sauce.

After the 15 minutes of soak time, I spread the tofu cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet (coated with cooking spray as instructed) and roasted them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F. (again, all per the recipe) When I pulled the tofu out of the oven it wasn't even close to being crispy. And trust me, successful tofu needs to be crispy.

I made the best decision of the day by cranking up a dry skillet to scoring hot and quickly searing all the cubes.

Perfection. I will never make tofu any other way. And neither should you. Yes, I'm bossy, but I'm right.

If you are wondering how the rest of the noodle salad came together, here it is:

Blanch bok choy and broccoli (which isn't scary at all...I'd never actually blanched anything before!) and toss with crisp radishes, crunchy cashews, tender noodles all dressed in the leftover marinade and a generous splash of rice vinegar.

This totally beats a leftover turkey sandwich any day!

Love to all,
~the, "even though an actual tofurkey freaks me out, I love tofu" gal, Jess

PS. If you were wondering how I press my tofu? Well, good ol' Joy comes in handy now and again!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Food Dare Fail

It started off so well.

Cutie little leeks, beautiful romaine and sweet, if frosty, peas. Plus soup. Who doesn't love soup? And this gal loves soup. So, what could be so awful about Lettuce Soup?

But as the greens began to simmer down in chicken stock, with an overly generous portion of mint, I began to have my doubts. (I was following a food dare recipe from Everyday by Rachel Ray) The aromas coming off this (ginormous) pot of green stuff wasn't making my mouth water. It was more of a "dirty socks nose wrinkle" reaction.

I should have known better. I don't "do" dares. When playing truth or dare at slumber parties as a child "truth" was my go to answer. No freezing of my best friend's brother's undies for this gal.

However, while I have no shame in being a cautious wallflower at times, I am very stubborn. So, I pressed on.

The lovely green and white vegetables became a baby vomit green after their trip to the blender...which I then tried to "richen" up with some 1/2 and 1/2 that hand been hanging out in my fridge. Still fooling myself, obviously.

Nope. Not even garlic croutons couldn't turn this whale of a fail around. I knew I should have stuck with my truth safety zone. Because no matter how pretty it all started, even when you blend up dirty socks with cream and mint, it still isn't going to be winner, much less a chicken dinner.

Now, does anyone want to come clean out all the leftover lettuce soup from my fridge? I never was a fan of dirty socks. Or mint. ugh.

Love to all,
~the, "hey, I can embrace a failure now and then" gal, Jess

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Semi-Abnormal Barbequed Salmon

My local grocery store recently had salmon on sale. So, of course I bought a large fillet (~1 lb) and I'm fairly certain I had some fancypants idea for roasting this lovely, sustainable fish, with lemons and rosemary. (which actually isn't fancypants at all, it's my normal take on just looks fancy!)

But then as I was driving home on that fateful day, I wasn't longing for lemons. Oh no. I was day dreaming about barbeque sauce. Sweet Baby Ray's Honey BBQ Sauce to be specific, but really, who cares about those details? (oh, you do? have I mentioned lately that I love you?)

So, I went to change-of-plans-town and decided I would grill the salmon and smoother it in bbq sauce. Yum-o.

Except my propane tank was empty. Ergo, no grilling. But I still wanted flaky, rich salmon smothered in sweet and sticky sauce. wahhhhhh.

Join me for plan C:

Poach the damn salmon with some dill. (you can do this in the microwave-just add ~1/2 inch of water to a glass dish and cover with plastic wrap. Yummy, BPA)

Then skin and shred the salmon. 

Mix with a generous amount of sauce.

And serve along side a zingy Asian broccoli slaw and classic mac n' cheese.

And that's just how this gal does barbeque, ya'll.

Love to all,
~the, I love when random cravings actually work gal, Jess

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Superb Saint Petersburg Saturday

Welcome to another edition of why my weekend was totally wonderful. (and I sincerely hope yours was too!)

On Saturday I traveled down to St. Petersburg, Fl to spend some time with the beautiful ladies of Yoga Moves, as they embark on a new journey in their studio: Aerial Yoga.

Denise, myself and Tara- modeling the studio tee shirts

We spent the day exploring the benefits (and flat out fun!) of introducing aerial yoga into your established yoga practice.

I'll be doing a full review on my experience of the aerial yoga workshop soon, but it was an amazing experience I would suggest to any yoga lover.

Since it was Saturday, I was excited to visit the downtown farmer's market, during the break between the workshop's two, 2 hour long sessions. 

The St. Pete Farmer's Market is one of the best I've seen in Florida. It is a mix of farmer's market, art show, and food festival, all set to to tune of live bluegrass.

After drooling over all the wonderful options, and reminding myself I still had 2 more hours of flying ahead of me...

...I ended up choosing a Mixed Vegetable Empanada and a Raspberry Iced Tea, which I enjoyed in the shade of a beautiful oak tree, in a park across from the St. Pete Harbor.

One of the things I miss most about St. Petersburg is all the beautiful parks and green spaces. So relaxing and perfect on a sunny, fall day.

After a second amazing session of freeing "anti-gravity" yoga, Tara, Denise and I, along with a few other attendees of the workshop headed down to Bangkok Thai for dinner.

This was just icing on the cake for me, since Bangkok Thai is one of my favorite Thai restaurants, anywhere.

I happily devoured an order of Nam Sod (a spicy ground chicken "salad"), plus a Yummy Roll (sweet potato and avocado with eel sauce) and the Futomaki Roll (krab, tamago, asparagus, carrot, radish and cucumber) while chatting away about yoga, travel, high schoolers and Facebook, relationships, cruises and fur coats. It was a blast!

A day in St. Pete is always worth the 6 hours of driving in my opinion. A HUGE thanks again to the ladies of Yoga Moves for such a great day!

Love to all,
~the, "flying high" on life gal, Jess

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Food and Wine 2011: The Do's and Don'ts Edition

We all probably know by now that I think the EPCOT Intentional Food and Wine Festival is a huge DO in my book.

I only go every single year, and refer to the festival as it's own season. This year I was getting worried that it was going to be the year that I became the DON'T by missing it for the first time in 6 years! First it rained, then I was sick, and then I ran a triathlon.

But wait, attending a huge food festival is totally a DO after a big race, so bestie Jenna and I loaded up after my tri (and a blessed 2 hour long nap!) and headed out to the Happiest Place on Earth to meet up with a few other friends to eat, drink and be mousey merry all around the world!

Here are a few of my tips to make your experience at F&W a huge DO!

DO stop by the awesome cranberry bog, sponsored by Ocean Spray.

DON'T be too disappointed that the cute Ocean Spray guy (Justin Hagan) isn't there, even if he is your future husband.

Isn't he just the cutest? 
I've heard from sources that in "real life" he is just as goofy as his commerical character!

DO stop by the Canada stand to get a cup of Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup.

This may have possibly been the best batch I've had, as this soup is a staple for me at F&W. 

DON'T mind my chipped "tiger striped" nails, leftover from Homecoming week at my school of employment! 

DON'T bother stopping at "neighboring" Greece, because they took both the Spanikopita and the Boutari Santorini wine off the menu this year. Boo.

DO get your seafood and comfort food fix all in one amazing dish with Ireland's Lobster and Scallop Fisherman's Pie.

This small portion is incredibly filling, has a fantastically complex flavor profile for such a traditional and rustic dish and is even prettier mixed up!

DON'T get suckered into standing in the left hand line at the Ireland is the beer line and all they have is Guinness. I adore Guinny, but I'm not about to stand in line for 25 minutes for a beer I can get at nearly any decent bar/restaurant!

DO brave the line at France. The Escargots Persillade en Brioche and Sparkling Pomegrante Kir are a must every year!

DON'T be sad that the rest of the usual "festival crew" (aka the drunk and rowdy boys) are too busy doing tequila shots in the "not so secret anymore and now packed" taqueria in Mexico to come join you, because you won't have to buy double plates for sharing this year! More for me = a huge DO.

DO get your beer fix at the Belgium stand with a refreshing Hoegaarden because the line is short, the smells of waffles are free (and totally satisfying!) and Belgium beer is delicious! 

DO get excited about the new Portugal stand, at first.

DON'T bother with the Calamari Salad with Fennel, Smoked Paprika and Olive Oil because while it sounds tasty and refreshing, it's just an oily mess with no hint of fennel.

DO recover from the Portuguese mess by stopping at the Hops and Barley stand to pick up the Sam Adams 16th Anniversary Festival Beer-Boston Ale and Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce.

DON'T worry about the let down of the 16th anniversary festival beer, since it tastes just like regular Sam Adams Boston Lager, because the Pumpkin Mousse is really the star of the show.

I would have named the "mousse" a trifle, since it also included some layers of spice cake, but what ever you call it every tiny bite was a tasty combination of classic fall flavors, without being too sweet. I would certainly get this again and am considering making something similar for an upcoming work social.

DO ask a friendly fellow park goer to take the picture of your group, as we all know "if you don't take a picture, it didn't happen."

DON'T forget to jump back up on the bench, since your cute boots won't be shown off if you are standing.

DON'T bother getting the Kiebasa and Potato Pierogie with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream if you've ever "met" the lovely Mrs. T and her frozen pierogies, because I'm fairly certain that these are the same thing.

I've raved about this dish in the past, but I've declared this year to be the last that I visit the Poland stand.

DO stop at the South Korea stand and get the Lettuce Wrap with Roast Pork and Kimchi Slaw if you've taken my advice and skipped Poland. DO email me to remind me of how wonderful it is, how bright and tasty, the perfect balance of savory, sour and spicy with a wonderful crunch. I knew this dish was a DO when I tasted it for the first time in 2010, so DON'T make my "I ate too much already" rookie mistake.

Any day spent with my best friends, enjoying tasty treats and eats is a DO. So, DON'T miss out on all the yummy tastes and "travels" that EPCOT has to offer during the International Food and Wine Festival.

Love to all,
~the, "I guess all those years of Glamour subscriptions are rubbing off on me" gal, Jess