Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Roasted vegetable soup and grilled cheese sandwich

Back from a week on the road in New York City and Philadelphia, I'm ready to start cooking again! This weekend I also started a 200-hour yoga teacher training program, so from now until mid-July time is going to be really tight in the Hartman house. So I'm doing more careful planning and prepping of our meals, although you know what they say about "the best laid plans..." Today I need to leave for training by 5:30, so I planned to make us an early dinner of flank steak and grilled potatoes. However, I just got a note from my boss that he needs to schedule a call with me at 4:00. Oh well... I guess we'll have leftovers tonight and save the flank steak for another day this week.

Fortunately we have some yummy leftovers to eat! Yesterday was my second attempt at a "meatless Monday" and the unseasonably chilly weather here made me think of soup and grilled cheese. A few months ago I picked up at Costco one of Martha Stewart's Everyday Food cookbooks and asked Richie to mark recipes in it he thought sounded good. I've liked almost everything we've tried... tasty, yet generally quick to put together. And there are beautiful photos for each recipe, which helps make stuff that Richie might not ordinarily think he'd like be willing to try! Case in point: yesterday's recipe for roasted vegetable soup. He saw me cutting the leeks and wrinkled up his nose, but I just pointed out he'd picked out the recipe.

This recipe was perfect for my work-at-home life. I threw the tomatoes, leeks, carrots, garlic, and oil (seasoned with sea salt and pepper) in the oven to roast at 4:00 while I finished up my office tasks. Then at 5:00 I dumped the veggies in a sauce pan with a carton of vegetable broth, simmered for about 10 minutes, then pureed using my trusted stick blender (greatest invention ever) and set aside while I made the grilled cheese sandwiches.

These were inspired by a late night snack I ordered from room service last week. The hotel version was good and totally hit the spot, but I knew I could improve on it at home. I bought a loaf of sourdough bread at the grocery store and made them with a generous amount of butter and a slice of cheddar and a slice of havarti each. The result: oozy, gooey deliciousness! It was a nice balance to the mild acidity of the soup, which was good also but will be even better in late summer when I can make it with fresh vine ripened tomatoes and not have to settle for the supermarket blah ones.

Friday, March 25, 2011

"Cornflake-Crusted" Baked Chicken and Sweet Potato Fries - Mar 25, 2011

This meal falls solidly into our 'Retro Dinners' category, although that category didn't actually take off like I'd planned. I guess it turns out that Nick and I don't get cravings for meals from our past all that often. It's pretty fun, however, when we do. I'll attribute this one to all the KFC adds running during the NCAA Men's Basketball tourney right now (Go Badgers!). We used this recipe, but instead of cornflakes, I used up the remainder of the multi grain flakes I had purchased to make marshmallow Christmas wreaths (remember, the ones with the red hots? Come to think of it, those might qualify as retro). The chicken was pretty good, although I think it would have been better with actual cornflakes.

Now, on to the amazing part of the meal...sweet potato fries. Honestly, nine times out of ten I'm a traditionalist when it comes to french fries. Sweet potato fries just don't hold the allure for me that they do for some. That being said, we are still slowly working through the massive amounts of sweet potatoes that we received from our CSA last fall and I thought this would be a good use. I also read somewhere recently that using coconut oil makes excellent sweet potato fries, and I just happened to have a giant tub of it because it was on sale and Heidi Swanson recommends it as a healthy alternative to vegetable and canola oils. So after cutting up a couple of sweet potatoes, I tossed them with about 2 Tbsp of coconut oil, which I melted in the microwave since it's a solid at room temperature, and seasoned with salt, pepper and smoked Spanish paprika. Next I spread them out in a single layer on a parchment lined baking sheet and baked at 400 deg F for about 45 min, turning occasionally to ensure even baking. Sooo good. Let's just say I think I know how we're going to use up the rest of our sweet potato stash.

And, because no circa 1985 dinner plate would be complete without a veggie side dish, we made a simple little spinach salad to balance out our protein and our starch.  My middle school home ec teacher would be proud.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Smoked Trout and Quinoa - Mar 24, 2011

Remember that little getaway Nick and I had up North? Well, that luscious looking smoked trout was one of the goodies we picked up along the way. All of you regular Dinner Clubbers already know how much Nick and I enjoy smoked trout. Not only is it packed full of flavor, but it's a nutritional powerhouse as well. It was clearly the star of this dish. To showcase it's smokey deliciousness, I cooked up some quinoa and stirred in some fresh spinach right at the end to wilt it a bit. This I flavored with some fresh lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Next we added some chunks of creamy avocado and then topped everything with the flaked, smoked trout. Nick and I were both quite pleased with our dinner, and we have some trout leftover for another meal, as yet to be determined.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara - Mar 23, 2011

Spaghetti with Anchovy Carbonara

When I got home from work the other night, I found Nick on the couch leafing through the new issue of Food & Wine that had arrived that day. I promptly joined him, reading over his shoulder, and we found this recipe. In a stroke of luck, we had all the ingredients in our pantry and decided to whip this up for dinner that very evening. It came together quite quickly and it was delicious. Every time I have them, I'm always amazed that so many people dislike anchovies on reputation alone. And by the way, where did that nasty reputation come from anyway? It's simply unfair treatment for a tasty and nutritious food. Anchovies melt down to salty, buttery deliciousness in a matter of minutes and add incredible flavor to salad dressings (Caesar salad is one of my faves) and, it turns out, pasta sauces. And, bonus, they are packed full of vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids. They are an amazing tool to keep in your kitchen arsenal. This carbonara was a perfect, simple, tasty and healthy weeknight meal, made exclusively of pantry staples. That's hard to beat, my friends. Long live anchovies!
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cauliflower-Kale Hash - Mar 20, 2011

Cauliflower and Kale Hash with Garbanzos

A quick skillet meal is hard to beat on busy weeknights. We make many different variations of this at our house (of which I'm sure you're aware). Trust me, they're all a little different. On this particular night I had some freshly cooked garbanzos, the majority of which I used for a batch of hummus, but a few stragglers remained. I also had some rather pathetic looking kale that needed to be used before it completely wilted away. That, and the giant head of cauliflower in the fridge combined to make an excellent dinner. I sauteed the cauliflower first, until it was nice and brown on the edges. Next the garbanzos got thrown in along with some minced garlic. After just a minute or two, I added the chopped kale and continued cooking until it was wilted (in a good way). I brightened everything with some orange zest and a splash of our orange infused olive oil. It couldn't be simpler or more delicious.
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Monday, March 21, 2011

Beef Short Ribs and Sweet Potatoes - Mar 19, 2011

Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs with Mashed Sweet Potatoes

I had picked up these ribs thinking we'd make them over Nick's birthday weekend. We opted to go out for sushi instead, so these were left for a weeknight meal. I consulted a few recipes to get ratios and cooking time down and then just free-styled it. In the past, we've ended up with really tough beef short ribs, so this time around I knew I wanted to use the slow cooker to make sure these got really tender. I seasoned the ribs with Chinese five spice powder and added onions, garlic and broth to the slow cooker. After getting everything set up, I turned the heat to low and went about my day. In about six hours things looked good and smelled even better. I used the last hour or so of cooking time to roast a giant sweet potato. Once the potato was cooked, I mashed it up, adding Chinese five spice and some honey-citrus butter. It was the perfect accompaniment to our tender and tasty ribs.
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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Corned Beef Hash and Eggs - March 20, 2011

It was a couple days late, but I made a traditional corned beef brisket and boiled potatoes for dinner to recognize St. Patrick's Day on Friday. Neither of us has Irish heritage, but I'm a sucker for themed meals. I bought the meat pre-corned, but next year I'm going to try doing it myself. The New Best Recipe says it is easy, but I'm not so sure...

Anyway, the real highlight of the St. Patrick's Day meal is actually the leftovers the next day, which we had this morning in the form of homemade corned beef hash and eggs. Yummm. I looked at a few recipes for inspiration first. Most include onions, which I decided to leave out because I know Richie is not a fan. A couple recipes had you start with bacon, which I also decided to omit in order to make the dish just a bit less rich, and since I was skipping the onions I didn't really need any fat to start with.

Instead I started with a minced garlic clove and pinch of dried thyme leaves sauteed with a dash of olive oil, then added the chopped corned beef and potatoes to the skillet. Cooked and tossed everything together, and then the ultimate kicker... I poured about half a cup of cream and a dash of hot sauce over the top. Despite leaving out the bacon, this was NOT a "light" breakfast!

I let everything sit in the pan over medium heat undisturbed for about 5 minutes, then started turning it so the top pieces got browned too. After about 10-12 minutes, I made a little divot in one half and cracked an egg into it (Richie only likes scrambled eggs, so I cooked his separately), turned the heat down to low, and covered until the egg was set. Unfortunately, I let it cook a bit too long and my egg was firmer than I would like but it was still delicious!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Peek into our Mornings...

Last week I collected these dishes together to bring them to the kitchen one morning, like I do nearly every morning.  For some reason it struck me as such a cheerful little sight, that I paused to take a quick picture.  Now, whether it's worth it or not, I'm sharing it with you, Dinner Clubbers.  On any given morning, I wake up to an empty little espresso cup sitting on the desk by the computer. It always makes me smile because I think of it as a secret message that Nick's day is off to a good start.   Next I usually make myself a mug of something too. Some mornings it's peppermint tea, some mornings it's a decaff latte (my body, sadly, does not tolerate caffeine well, which limits my coffee options). I take my cup at the desk too, often with a plate of toast, and sip while I check my email and favorite blogs. Then I pile everything up and bring it to the kitchen, ready to start the work of the day. I like our little morning ritual, and I like our happy coffee cups!
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Friday, March 18, 2011

Mac and Cheese with Broccoli - Mar 18, 2011

Mac and Cheese with Roasted Broccoli

Comfort food at it's cheesy best, my friends. Nothing new and exciting, and aside from that broccoli, nothing healthy either. But, it was oh so creamy and delicious. The flavor of this version is punched up by some caramelized onions and a pinch of smoked Spanish paprika. I can't remember what combination of cheeses I used, but I believe I put some whole milk mozzarella and gruyere (leftover from our Valentine's day French onion soup) along with Pecorino-Romano on top.
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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Roasted Veggies with a Poached Egg and Toast - Mar 17, 2011

Roasted Broccoli and Butternut Squash with Poached Egg and Stout-Gouda Bread

After making that chili, I had some butternut squash left over. To use it up, along with some broccoli, I tossed them in some olive oil and roasted them in the oven until they were nice and crispy. To add a bit of yummy protein, Nick and I used our favorite trick and poached some eggs. This we served alongside some very tasty Summit Oatmeal Stout and Gouda bread from a local bakery. It was delicious and quick, perfect for a busy weeknight. Also, with the green, orange and white color scheme, kind of a nice St. Patrick's Day post, don't you think? In case anyone has any doubt, I did not plan that.  I'm not that crafty when I've been procrastinating.  In any case, I hope you all have a fun and tasty day of celebrating Ireland's patron saint.
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Chili - Mar 16, 2011

Two Bean Chili with Sausage and Butternut Squash

It's time to do a little house cleaning around here. Due to my absence of blogging, I have a lot of meals to post from way back when (just because I wasn't blogging, doesn't mean we weren't eating). The details will be sketchy because they are not fresh in my mind, but at least everything will be documented for future reference and inspiration.

First up is the chili I made last month, while my sister was visiting and we had that big snow storm. Chili sounded delicious and I had everything on hand so, no need to venture out onto dangerous streets to stock up on groceries. I referenced the same Bon Appetit spread that Jaime mentioned in her last post and took ideas from all the recipes and incorporated them into mine. I cooked up some pinto and red kidney beans, chopped an onion or two, browned some ground sausage from the freezer, and cubed a butternut squash. To complete the dish, I added an assortment of spices, and a 28 oz can of tomatoes. Everything simmered away, making the house smell warm and cozy. It was a very satisfying meal.
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Honey-Citrus Butter with Sea Salt - Mar 15, 2011

Homemade Butter

Inspired by the butter brought to our table during Nick's birthday dinner at In Season, I whipped up this version at home. I had a pint of fresh cream that needed to be used, so I tossed it in my food processor along with some freshly grated orange zest, a little honey and a pinch of sea salt. Next I turned on the Cuisinart and let that thing spin until I had butter. It probably only took 5 minutes, tops. That is the easy part of making butter. So easy, in fact, that it leaves me feeling a little guilty when I think of women from past generations and their hours of hand churning. Perhaps in part to make up for that, the next step is a little more tedious. The liquid must be completely removed from the fat.  The first step involves pressing out the liquid with a cheesecloth. Once I had squeezed out as much liquid as I could, I unwrapped the butter and continued to squeeze it back and forth between my hands while rinsing it under cold running water. My experiences with homemade butter in the past have included the rapid onset of rancidity, which can best be avoided by squeezing out as much of the liquid from the fat as possible. I can never seem to get quite all of it out, so I also store this in the fridge instead of my butter bell. The finished product is super tasty, especially when paired with some yummy apple cinnamon walnut bread.
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Meatless Monday at the Hartman Household

Sorry folks... I know I promised Jess that I would be an active contributor to this wonderful blog back in January and now it is mid-March already and I have only one post to my name!

Like most resolutions, my intentions to make 2011 the year of "good food" were well-meaning and got off to a good start, but was then derailed. The first part of 2011 were tough for us as we had to say goodbye to our beloved yellow lab, Kili... pictured below at our wedding in 2006, where she was our ring bearer.

But even in sadness, comes joy; just as after every winter, comes spring.

To honor our match-maker dog and to try to do something for the countless dogs out there who aren't as fortunate as our Kili but no-less deserving, we've been getting involved with the Fairfax County Humane Society. First we donated a huge bag of food we optimistically bought for our girl after her brain tumor diagnosis but before we realized how bad it really was, along with a bunch of her toys and other dog paraphernalia. Richie is also going to volunteer on their farm, starting next weekend.

And we also attended a FCHS fundraising dinner at Whole Foods that was 100% vegan last week. To our great surprise, the food was delicious! Even my meat-eating, vegetable-avoiding Richie loved it. That leads me to the point of this post, which is that I am now going to focus my cooking skills on the area I'm not that skilled in, which is meatless entrees. We are going to start with Meatless Mondays, and yesterday was my first attempt.

Don't get me wrong... we are still confirmed omnivores (we had porterhouse steaks on the grill on Sunday and are having chicken enchiladas tonight!), but I really want to learn how to make tasty food that is better for our health and our world.

So, for our first Meatless Monday I made Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash (recipe from Bon Appetit) and Northern cornbread (recipe from the New Best Recipe cookbook). I forgot to take a picture before diving in, so here is the photo from Bon Appetit.

Mine looked pretty much the same, except I didn't make the fancy garnishes... just dumped some sour cream on top (I'll go meatless one day a week, but you'll have to pry the dairy products out of my cold, dead hands!). Richie also elected to cook up some spaghetti and eat his Cincinnati-style.

I made a few changes... I didn't have "fire roasted" tomatoes so I just used two cans of regular organic diced ones. And I used a couple dried peppers from our patio garden last year in place of the chipotles. All things considered, it wasn't bad. But I haven't mastered the art of cooking dried beans yet. I soaked them all day and cooked the beans for almost 3 hours, but they were still a bit al dente. Oh well. The taste was good and it is a step in the right direction.

Next week I will be on the road for work, so my next foray into Meatless Monday will be in two weeks. Looking for recipe ideas!!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Winter Getaway - Mar 11-13, 2011

Northern Minnesota Highlights

Hey Dinner Clubbers! I know I've been totally lax in my blogging of late. I think I'm just experiencing the end of winter blahs and feeling generally unmotivated. It is, however, time to snap out of it. For my welcome back blog entry I thought I'd put up some pictures of our weekend. Nick and I headed up to the North Shore where we snuck in one last cross country ski outing for the year. The conditions were sketchy, but the day was beautiful, with light snow falling amidst the cedars and birch trees, and deer walking across the trail not ten feet in front of us. On our 3km trail we came across a sloppy Joe stand, but it was, unfortunately, closed. Quite a good idea though...perhaps next time we'll catch them during serving hours.

In addition to some Nordic skiing, we also spent some delightful time in the wood burning sauna at the place we stayed. I love saunas and need to figure out how to convert our cedar closet downstairs into one so I can use it every night before bed. How dreamy would that be? Since that's not happening anytime soon, I made sure to take full advantage during our stay. To round out the whole Scandinavian experience, we visited that awesome house seen above, whose ground floor is a gift shop and upstairs is living quarters. I seriously felt like we were in the Swedish countryside when that thing came into view.

Other un-pictured highlights included a stop at Sven's Clogs in Chisago City on our drive up. It's my latest local love. It features shelves and shelves of gorgeous clog sandals, clog boots, and clog clogs all hand made right here in our very own back yard. I brought home an early birthday present! In Duluth we stopped and had lunch and beers at Fitger's. I had an amazing smoked dobblebock from their Great Lakes Series. It was deliciously rich and smoky with hints of sweetness.   We also stopped at a fun yarn shop in Knife River and had a delicious and picturesque lunch at the New Scenic Cafe on Saturday. Oh, and I almost forgot, Nick picked up some locally smoked trout too.  It will probably make an appearance on our dinner menu some time soon.

It was a fantastic weekend full of things that make Minnesota great.  Hopefully it gives me the kick in the pants I need to get back into the blog routine.
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Monday, March 07, 2011

Coconut Waffles - March 5, 2011

Harvest Grains Coconut Waffles

For Nick's birthday over the weekend, I made him a special, tropical-themed breakfast. Those of you that know Nick know that he's not much of a winter guy. He's a good sport and all, but he doesn't LOVE it like I do. Anyway, for the weekend at least, we tried to pretend we were on a tropical island somewhere, starting with breakfast. I made up a batch of waffles using the Whole Grain Milling Company mix my Mom got us for Christmas (a local favorite of mine!). I made a few substitutions to the recipe including switching out the vegetable oil for coconut oil, and replacing half of the milk with coconut milk, which I had leftover from the curry we made a week or so ago. With the rest of the coconut milk, I made a little syrup by seasoning it with cinnamon, cardamom and allspice. We topped our waffles with this syrup, plus some sweetened coconut flakes and macadamia nuts. They were delicious with the layers of coconut flavor, and not overly sweet, which is how I like them.

Birthday Breakfast Medley

Along with our waffles, we enjoyed some coffee from Nick's new French press, a birthday gift from his parents, and some freshly squeezed orange juice. All in all, it was a delightful way to start off the day. We followed up with a visit to Minneapolis' new brewery, Harriet Brewing Company, and picked up a growler of Nick's favorite West Side Ale. It's great and we are so excited to have a brewery to visit in our beloved city (It makes us feel like hipsters). Next we headed over to our sister city, St. Paul, and checked out the Como Conservatory for a dose of tropical greenery and humidity, which felt awesome when compared to our bitterly dry air. It was a blissful little retreat where Nick got to pretend we didn't have more snow on the way.
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