Ina Garten's Make Ahead Cranberry Martini

I was waiting for Ina's new cookbook, Make it Ahead, for almost a full year. I made a beeline to Barnes & Noble on release day and raced home after work to read through it.

And it was kind of disappointing.  A lot of recipes were rehashes of old ones (which you almost can't blame her for, it is her 9th book, how many ideas can one person have?), and a lot of them were just prep ahead tips, not things you could completely make and reheat.

I've had the cookbook for two months now, and Ina's make ahead cranberry martinis were the first thing I tried.

This is basically an upscale version of a cranberry vodka. I served it at our Hanukkah party, and it was very well received. It's fun and festive and easy enough to make (though not as easy as just a regular cranberry vodka...). I did doctor the original recipe by squeezing in the juice of half an orange, and adding an extra half cup of cranberry juice, but if you like more of a vodka bite, do it Ina's way.

Make Ahead Cranberry Martinis (from Make It Ahead, recipe written with my changes)

1 cup cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
6 strips of orange zest, 1x3 inches (I used a vegetable peeler)
1 750 ml bottle vodka
1 and 1/2 cups cranberry juice cocktail (original recipe calls for 1 cup)
1/4 cup Triple Sec
Juice of half an orange (original recipe omits this)

Pour bottle of vodka into a large pitcher, Pyrex, whatever it can hang out in for a couple days.

Combine cranberries, sugar, orange zest, and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and let simmer about 5 minutes, until cranberries start to pop. Let cool, then add to pitcher with vodka. Refrigerate for up to five days.

Up to two days ahead of time, you can make the cocktail. I did mine Friday night for a Sunday afternoon party. Strain the vodka mixture into a pitcher, reserving cranberries but discarding zest. Add the cranberry juice, triple sec, and juice of half an orange. Stir.

When ready to serve, fill a cocktail shaker with ice, pour in some of the drink mix, and give it a good shake. Pour into martini glasses, garnishing with cranberries. Enjoy!


Hanukkah Recap

Yesterday was our family's fourth annual Hanukkah celebration, a tradition I instituted when my husband and I got engaged.

Usually, the celebration takes place on a Sunday night, but I like Sunday nights to myself and thought I'd do an elegant holiday lunch this year. We live about an hour from the rest of the family, so I figured it would be easier on them too to have it earlier in the day.

I was very happy with this year's lunch menu, though it's not exactly traditional.  We have a couple of different kinds of eating habits (aka some people are easygoing and some are pains in the asses!) so I served two main course options.

We started, of course, with matzo ball soup. No picture, but here's last year's post with the recipe. Delicious and make ahead.

For my non-meat eaters, we had Ina Garten's Roasted Salmon Nicoise salad:

I loved this. It's a mix of room temperature salmon, served with blanched green beans, spring mix, roasted red peppers, steamed fingerlings, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, and olives, all topped with a tangy Dijon vinaigrette. The salmon, eggs, and green beans can be done a day ahead, the potatoes need a quick boil before serving, and then you can assemble it in the morning and refrigerate until serving time. Easy, healthy, delicious, and customizable- key for my crew.

Find the recipe here.

Our other main course was a roast beef tenderloin, an expensive option, but well worth it for ease of prep and crowd pleasing factor (and the sandwiches with leftovers!). All I did was salt and pepper the living hell out of it, and roast it for about 30 minutes at 425. I took mine out when it was 130 degrees and let it rest about a half hour before serving. You may want yours done a little more rare, so give it a shorter rest time or take it out at 125.

I served this with a horseradish mayo. No real recipe there either, I used about half a cup of mayo, a few tablespoons of sour cream, a tablespoon of Dijon, and a teaspoon horseradish.

We had latkes, pictured above. These I always cater, they are too much work and too smelly to cook at home.  Wegman's charges me $25 bucks for 40 or so latkes and applesauce. I'd say that's worth it!

My sister in law made a nice mixed greens salad, and we also had Food52's ridiculously good spinach gratin, and roasted asparagus. A loaf of challah made an appearance too.


And, as always, we had piles of gifts and a cramped apartment:

Happy Hanukkah!


Friendsgiving Recap

As you may remember from last year, I host a “Friendsgiving” party for my friends and I in our apartment.  This year’s featured a lot of excitement, from issues with my oven early in the day(cue panic, thank you God it finally kicked in and worked!), to our first close couple friends to announce a pregnancy!

Today, I’m sharing this year’s menu, for anyone who may need a little last minute inspiration.

A friend of mine recently started an invitation business, and is learning calligraphy, so I had her do the menu. Amazing job, right?

As you may remember from last year (LINK), I host a “Friendsgiving” party for my friends and I in our apartment.  This year’s featured a lot of excitement, from issues with my oven early in the day(cue panic, thank you God it finally kicked in and worked!), to our first close couple friends to announce a pregnancy!

Today, I’m sharing this year’s menu, for anyone who may need a little last minute inspiration.
A friend of mine recently started an invitation business, and is learning calligraphy, so I had her do the menu. Amazing job, right?

Our Menu:

Antipasto: assorted cheeses, crackers, prosciutto, salami, soppressata, olives, and marinated artichoke hearts.

Roast Turkey: this year, I used Rachael Ray’s dry-brined turkey recipe. You salt the bird a day ahead and rub it down with a butter and herb mixture. Day of, all you need to do is let it sit out for an hour at room temp, and then roast away, 15 mins per pound.

Stuffing: I used my classic sausage stuffing recipe from last year.

Spinach Gratin: absolutely love this make-ahead from Food52. This was the big hit side dish this year.

Quinoa with Roasted Squash and Walnuts: Another great make-ahead. Cut a butternut squash into 1 inch cubes, roast with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 425 for 35 minutes, or until tender and browned. Meanwhile, cook up a batch of quinoa. Combine the two and refrigerate a day or two ahead. Just before serving, toast walnuts and combine with quinoa. Delicious.

Roasted Cauliflower: another make ahead. I roast the cauliflower the day before, and just reheat before serving. I like to dressing mine with a lemon/caper/parsley dressing.

Kale Salad: I modified Marcus Samuelsson’s kale salad from the November issue of Food and Wine. I used his dressing and curly kale, and added fennel, carrots, and  radishes. You can dress it ahead, which is rare and convenient for salads.

Cider Punch: this Saveur chilled cider punch recipe is AWESOME. Cold sweet cider, whiskey, and ginger beer (my favorite!) make the perfect large-batch drink.

And of course, we always have cornbread, regular bread, cranberry sauce, and gravy! I count on my friends to make those. 

Dessert this year was a fantastic selection of pies, tarts, and tiramisu from the Cake Boss’ shop in Hoboken, courtesy of my very generous friends Brett and Debbie. I have to admit, I expected them to be terrible. I figured with all Buddy’s fame, he’s gotta be slacking in his pastry shop, but he’s not. I was gobbling down that blueberry crumb pie for days. SO good. 


Entertaining Essentials

Inexpensive Charger Plates, $1.00
Charger plates instantly dress up dinner, and I love being able to buy multiple colors to go with different table settings. These were only $1 at Amazing Savings, so I stocked up on red, gold, and silver.  I’ve also seen them at the Christmas Tree Shop, if there’s no Amazing Savings in your neck of the woods.

Pottery Barn Caterer’s Box Collection, $15-$60 for 12
This dinnerware collection is perfect for entertaining.  White porcelain plates, bowls, and mugs, as well as glass drinkware, are sold in sets of 12 and inexpensively priced from $15-$60 for the dozen.  You can also pick up napkins, flatware, and table linens to match as well.  They’re perfect to keep on hand so you don’t have to resort to paper plates when entertaining.

The brand 10 Strawberry Street also sells similar plain white bulk entertaining dinnerware, at a slightly lower price point. You can find them often on One Kings Lane, and sometimes in Walmart.

World Market Galvanized Party Tub, $17 
When I host parties, the boys always bring truckloads of beer, and we run out of room in the fridge very quickly. Now, I fill this large tub with ice and leave it out, giving guests easy access to the booze without compromising the fridge space I need.

Walmart Inexpensive Serving Utensils, $2 
You can never have too many serving forks and spoons, and I really like these plain silver ones from, believe it or not, Walmart. They’re sold open stock, so you can buy as few or as many as you need. They look attractive and elegant, they hold up well, and you can’t go wrong at only $2 each.  

Table Runners
I like to use a plain ivory tablecloth and accessorize with a colorful runner. My favorite is Luxury Linen Loft’s Burlap Runner, which I picked up on Etsy for $10. It adds a great rustic element to a fall table. I also love the runners on World Market, my favorite being the Kavita runner in the picture above- so colorful!

Sur La Table’s sale rack is one of the best places to find gorgeous table linens deeply discounted, which is how I scored the pretty ones above.

I tried very hard to find an inexpensive glass drinking dispenser, but all the ones I bought leaked. I finally bit the bullet and got this item from Pottery Barn, and I love it. Sixty bucks well spent- no leaking, easy to clean, and I was able to have it monogrammed to match my PB decanter. Awesome.

Disposable Condiment Bowls, $2.99 for 20 

Another great find from Amazing Savings. I like to use these for my mise en place during a dinner party- I’ll pre-chop my herbs or lemon zest and put them in these bowls in the fridge.  They take up less space than a bowl, and just before serving, I can sprinkle the garnish over my dish and toss them when done, saving dishwasher space as well.  They double as little ramekins too for dipping sauces, olives, or nuts. 


Recent Reads

10% Happier, by Dan Harris

Harris is a Nightline news anchor who suffered a panic attack on live TV, which subsequently propelled him into the world of meditation and mindfulness.  Harris studies Eckhart Tolle, works with a prominent psychiatrist well-versed in Buddhism, encounters the Dalai Lama, and attends a 10 day meditation retreat. He begins to understand and observe the frenetic way his mind works, and calm the disparaging, ragingly insecure voice that runs constantly inside him.

The book is incredibly well written. I loved watching the struggle- we see him start out hating anything spiritual, thinking mediation is for goons, and ultimately wind up benefitting from it and preaching its cause to anyone who will listen. It reminds me of the way I think God works in most of our lives, putting struggles in our path to continually improve and change us, challenging us to open our minds and embrace things we once rejected. 

The book is not a “how to” on meditation, though you can gain lots of tips and insight by reading it. Harris formally includes some notes and resources in the appendix, but my favorite were the little nuggets of wisdom I picked up throughout:

“When a big wave is coming at you, the best way not to get pummeled is to dive right in.”

“You may find that it’s not the pain that is intolerable, but instead your resistance to it.”
“How often are we waiting for the next pleasant hit of ...whatever? The next meal or the next relationship or the next latte?”
Simple and maybe even obvious, but so many of us, especially myself, live our lives on the exact opposite way. 
I didn’t devour this in a day like I do with a good fiction novel, and I admit I don’t find Harris to be the most likable person in the world, but it was definitely a worthwhile read, and has, of course, inspired me to meditate. 
Some Luck, by Jane Smiley
Loved this book. The novel starts in 1920 with newly married couple Rosanna and Walter Langdon, living on a farm in Iowa.  Each chapter spans a year, ending in 1953. I loved the format of the novel; it moved quickly and mimics life- first you have a newly married couple, primitively without electricity, and all of a sudden their children are grown up with kids and adventures of their own.  The story has births, deaths, love, and family, set against historical backdrops of the Great Depression, World War 2, and the McCarthy era. A sweeping, fascinating portrait of American family life. Loved it.
Boy, was this a weird one.  The book explores the friendship between two opposites: Mia, the “bad girl,” and Lorrie Ann, “the good one,” and what happens when their fortunes change. A string of bad decisions and bad circumstances catapult Lorrie into a dark, depressing path. Mia watches from afar and attempts to reach out, but their friendship falters over issues like illness, death, drugs, and parenting. The novel explores the bonds between friends. Though compelling, I ultimately found this one unnecessarily dark with a depressing ending. 
Evergreen, by Rebecca Rasmussen
Okay, I have to admit the cover art drew me in, even though I read by Kindle.  This one’s a bit similar to Some Luck, in that it involves a couple in the earlier part of the 1900s living off the land. Eveline and her husband, Emil, live in a small cottage in the woods.  They raise one small boy, but one day when Emil is off at war, Eveline is raped and conceives a daughter. She  never tells her family about this event, or the daughter, whom she gives up, but after her death her son Hux finds out, and seeks to find his sister.  The novel is an easy read, touching on themes of loss, regret, love, and what might have been. Enjoyable, fast paced, and interesting.


Holiday Outfit Guide: The Office Party

Every year in my office at Christmastime, there’s people who dress with a bit too much holiday spirit. I’m talking blinking reindeer antler headbands (seriously), immense amounts of red sequins, ornament shaped earrings, or non-ironic ugly Christmas sweaters.  It’s fine to get excited about the holidays, but I tend to think the office is a place of restraint.

I usually opt for a black and white outfit with pops of red in my shoes or accessories. I also love a classic pencil skirt and button down in a festive color, or a professional wrap dress in a deep red or evergreen. If you go with something in a festive color (like red, green, or metallic), pick one and stick to it. Don’t pair your green dress with red shoes.  And please, please, please avoid sequins.  

And while I’m being bossy, watch the booze too!! I learned this the hard way when an old boss delivered a pitcher of Alabama Slammer shots to our table…at 11:45 am. Whoops. Stick to wine, it’s classiest.

Some classic and professional holiday office attire:

And of course, the shopping guide:


Holiday Outfit Guide: Home for the Holidays

Between office events, family get togethers, and cocktail parties, there’s a plethora of events to get ready for during the holiday season.  Today I’m starting a miniseries devoted to dressing for all your holiday season events.

My husband and I spend the entire 4-day Thanksgiving weekend at his parents’ house with some extended family, and multiple nights at Christmas with  mine. We leave straight from work on Wednesday night and fight through hours of traffic to get home for a laid-back night of pizza and chatting with cousins. I need an outfit that’s comfy for the trip but cute enough to be presentable to people I haven’t seen since last year.

I hate wearing a coat while travelling, so a down or fur vest, or a big sweater layered over another shirt is perfect for me. And of course, plaid always feels festive at this time. Some style inspiration:

Now get shopping:

Flannel Shirt, J. Crew, $88 //  Puffy Vest, J.Crew Factory, $108  //  Turtleneck, J.Crew Factory, $52  //  Frye "Philip" Boots in Brown, $427  // Point Sur Hightower Jean in Drifter Wash, J.Crew, $198  //  Weekender Bag in English Leather, Madewell, $298  // BP Heritage Plaid Scarf, $24


Fashion Friday: Capes

I've always thought capes were an incredibly elegant alternative to a coat. I received one for Christmas a few years back, and I always feel super glamorous wearing it. I'm loving this look for November weather, where it's not quite cold enough for down coats, but not quite warm enough for my light trench.

I love this textured sweater cape:

This elegant version is a nice option for wearing to work:

Obviously, Olivia Palermo gets the casual version just right. (On a side note, who exactly is she? All I know is that she's super stylish, but what is she actually famous for?)

This is the cape that I have. It's from Ann Taylor, only mine is solid brown whereas hers is colorblocked. I usually pair mine with slim pants or jeans and boots, rather than a skirt. 


20 in 6

I’m not normally a reader of the Design Darling blog, but the other day I somehow stumbled upon Mackenzie’s 101 in 1001 list, a list of 101 things to accomplish in just under 3 years. 

It got me inspired to create a list of my own, although there’s no way I’m coming up with 101 items. Honestly, I need to find less to do, not more.  I came up with 20, which I'll attempt to have done in...six months? Sounds good to me.

These aren’t in any particular order, just the order in which they came to me, and I decided to leave them that way. Here goes:

1.      Master swiss meringue buttercream frosting. I have never, ever been able to get this right.
2.      Bake that damn Graham Cracker Cake you’ve been wanting to try for four years now.

3.      Eat solidly clean for one week (so much harder than it seems!). I'm thinking something along the lines of the Whole 30 program, with beans and legumes allowed.
4.      Try a cycling class.  Loved it! 
5.      Actually use the 5 pack of yoga classes I purchased.
6.      Get to run a 5k solidly, regularly in under 30 minutes. Right now I'm at around 31-32 minutes.
7.      Go hiking. The hubs and I visited Ann Arbor this weekend, and that included a trip to the University of Michigan Arboretum.  We walked around the trails and the lake, looking at all the fall foliage, and this definitely satisfied my craving for a fall hike.

Fun/Before We Leave the City
8.      Visit the Highline.
9.      Visit botanical gardens and/or Museum of Natural History.
10.   Spend one afternoon in a cool BK neighborhood I haven’t been to yet.

11.   Meditate regularly for one month. Continue indefinitely if you see results.  I've meditated before and definitely find it valuable, but I'd like to make it a regular part of my routine. I think doing 10 minutes a day would be a good start.
12.   Go one week without being unnecessarily negative.
13.   Find a better hairstyle and master a great blowout.
14.   Actually learn the right way to use your fancy camera. Take a class if that makes you do it. No excuse for owning an external flash for two years and never having opened it!
15.   Go to bed, for real, at 10 pm every night for one week. It IS possible! Right? It has to be. I average 5 and a half hours a night, that needs to change.
16.   $20 into savings for every goal accomplished.
17.   Go one month without shopping. AH. Probably will save this one for Lent! To clarify, shopping = clothes shopping.

Family and Friends
18.   Call mother in law more often. She’s always calling me first and I feel bad. I’m not so great at being the first to pick up the phone; I much prefer to communicate by text or email.
19.   Create a family birthday list.  Maybe then my cousins could get their birthday cards on time.

20. Work on having a better filter at work.  I like and feel very comfortable with my coworkers, and I tend to be very opinionated, so sometimes I just blurt stuff out without thinking.


Fall Trend: Turtlenecks

I was at my parents’ house this weekend, trying to clean out some old things, when I stumbled upon a set of old, barely worn, thin cotton turtlenecks. I remember buying them; they were $9 or something insane at Old Navy when I was in college. I picked up burgundy, oatmeal, brown, and gray, and then realized I felt too covered up and never wore them. I’ve been hanging onto them for years now, unable to justify tossing a staple item in good shape. 

And now it appears turtlenecks are sneaking their way to the forefront of fashion again. They’re popping up on the mannequins in J.Crew stores, on fashion blogs, and in magazines. I still can’t say I love them, but I do plan to bring them out again, just for a change of pace. 

I do love oversized turtleneck sweaters, and I also particularly like the look of layering thin ones over or under button down sweaters. But then again I tend to think any outfit looks better in layers- just seems a little more thought out. 

Below, some inspiration for wearing this year’s turtleneck trend:

Under a sweater:


Layered under your winter coat

With a skirt:

Cropped with a matching skirt:

The classic cozy, oversized sweater, made more interesting layered over a button down:


Pasta with Butternut Squash Sauce

I was surprised at how much I liked this pasta drenched in a butternut squash puree. Its orangey color made me think of mac and cheese, and I figured that I’d bite into it and just wish that it was mac and cheese, and not some healthy impostor.  But this had so much flavor, and was so surprisingly creamy, that I didn’t miss the cheese at all. For a cheese lover like me, that’s saying a lot.

I made a few modifications to the original recipe, which came from an old issue of Bon Appetit. First and least importantly, I changed the name. They called it a “squash carbonara,” but as it contains no egg, I think that’s misleading. Secondly, they also used prosciutto, fried up and crisp, with the onions cooked in the prosciutto’s rendered fat. I skipped this step as I was trying to keep the meal a little healthier and a little cheaper (the best imported stuff goes for $26/pound where I am!)  The good news is, it was still delicious.

Pasta with Butternut Squash Sauce, adapted from Bon Appetit
2 lb butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes (about 3 cups)2 cloves garlic, smashed½ a small yellow onion, diced2 cups chicken stock1 tbsp chopped fresh sage leaves2 tbsp olive oil¼ cup grated ParmesanPinch red pepper flakesSalt and pepper1 box pasta (I used rotelle but think this would be great on linguini)

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash, onion, garlic, pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.  

Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add broth, then bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer until reduced by half, 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then puree in a blender or food processor until smooth.  Reserve skillet.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup cooking liquid.

Combine pasta and squash puree in reserved skillet and cook over medium heat for two minutes. If it seems dry, add ¼ cup of reserved pasta cooking liquid. Mix in ¼ cup Parmesan.

Serve, with extra Parmesan for topping.

Make Ahead: Squash puree can be cooked up to three days ahead. Let cool, cover, and chill.


Back with Some Recent Reads

Hi again.  I basically took a summer vacation from blogging, but I’m back now and hope to be posting regularly again.

The reason for the hiatus was pretty exciting- we bought a house!! Construction hasn’t actually begun on the house yet, so it’ll be quite awhile till we move, and I’ve got no pictures to show, but my heart was in planning and getting all that together. Plus we took a no-computer-access vacation in August, which didn't work any wonders for my blog. 

But it leads me to my first post in over a month, a new edition of recent reads. I spent a large part of the summer gloriously lounging by the pool or on the beach, and I got some wonderful reading in.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
I loved this. It’s ultimately a redemption story- the memoir of a woman wrecked by drugs and death and a broken home, who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail when she has nowhere left to turn. The story was gripping.  Her ability to access and describe her emotions is amazing, as is her resolve, strength, and toughness. The hike is not an easy one, and Strayed is not even close to properly prepared, but nothing deters her.  Strayed, and her life, are my polar opposites, and reading this, I was amazed on so many levels- the abuse a human body could take, how much you can overcome with sheer willpower, and even the way the universe appears to look out for each and every one of us. Truly a stellar read.

This Is Where I Leave You,  by Jonathan Troppel
This movie comes out Friday night. My husband’s was obsessed with this book, so I picked it up too and enjoyed it. It’s a hilarious story of an extremely dysfunctional family who comes together for a shiva after their father’s death.  The characters are entertaining and vivid, and they’re all facing some intense personal problems, which makes some of their interactions quite bizarre.  A fun read, if a bit vulgar at times.

Women in Clothes, by Sheila Heti, Leanne Shapton, Heidi Julavits
I’d describe this book as a literary collage. The authors surveyed 639 women from all perspectives and backgrounds- young, old, rich, poor, famous, sweatshop workers, transgenders, you name it- to get their views on style and fashion.  The book, which is crazy long, puts these answers together in variety of fun ways, from straight-up survey reprints, to interviews, to photo collages, to arty little literary pieces (that, admittedly, I didn’t understand and skipped over).   It got a little long and boring for me by the end, but overall cool and something a little different.

Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld

This is a kooky chick lit book about two twin sisters born with ESP. One chooses to go all out and become a medium, and the other chooses to abandon her skills in favor of a typical suburban life. When the psychic sister predicts a huge earthquake will hit their town, she gains crazy notoriety and the twins are forced to grapple with sibling and self-image issues that have been brewing for years. This is a fun, easy, chick-lit kind of read.  


Summer Vegetable Pasta

Whenever I'm in a farmer's market, I get a serious case of my eyes being bigger than my stomach. I want to buy everything, and I grossly overestimate how much I'll actually be cooking that week.
This past weekend was no exception. Two of my awesome girlfriends spent the weekend, and we hit up the farmer's market before breakfast. Not knowing what we'd wind up cooking that day, I stocked up on everything- peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, spinach, tomatoes, fruit, you name it.
And as is usually the case with us, we skipped past the vegetables in favor of scrambled eggs with brie, and I found myself with a nice little bounty for the week ahead.
Which is where this yummy summer pasta comes in. This is my favorite type of meal to make: an assortment of vegetables, sauteed in oil, deglazed with wine, and finished off with Parmesan and fresh herbs.
I'm going to attempt to provide you with a technique, not a recipe, because the beauty of this dish is its flexibility. You can start your saute with onions, garlic, fennel, and any vegetable,  add in anchovies, or tomato paste, or swap the wine for lemon juice, finish with butter.  I don't like to provide exact quantities because you can do whatever you want. If you love eggplant, add a whole one. If zucchini's not your favorite, add a tiny bit.
Summer Vegetable Pasta (Serves 2-4)
1/2 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1/2 a large eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 a medium sized zucchini, cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup sliced baby portabello mushrooms
1/2 cup chopped mixed herbs- I used parsley and basil
2 smashed garlic cloves
1/4 dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock (I throw a teaspoon of bouillon in a measuring cup and pour water out of my tea kettle, but you can be fancy
1 box pasta (I used a mix of gemelli and rotelli, was trying to use up those awkward half boxes!)
Olive oil
Pinch red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
In a large skillet, saute olive oil and garlic until golden. Add in all your vegetables, and saute about 8 minutes, until golden.

Add white wine to pan and bring to a boil. Let wine reduce by at least  half, and then add chicken stock.  Add pasta to your pot of boiling water, and let vegetable mix simmer and reduce a little while pasta cooks.

Drain pasta and add to sauce. Cook together for one minute, then top with parmesan cheese and herbs.



Kale and Grain Salad

Over the past year, my husband and I have gotten really into weight lifting. Recently, we started seeing a personal trainer, who explained that "what you eat is everything" and sat us down for a nutritional consult.

Her rules are strict: no pasta, no cereal, no bread, extremely limited sugar intake (and sugar includes fruit, carrots, etc). She recommends lean proteins, sweet potatoes, lots of greens, and whole grains- the typical bodybuilder diet.

I can't stick to a diet like that too closely (I'm Italian, I love my pasta!), but I do want to try to eat a little cleaner during our weeknight meals.

This salad is my bodybuilder diet "training wheels"- I mixed couscous (a pasta) with freekeh (a serious whole grain), and added kale, snap peas, and a few shavings of Parmesan.  It was pretty good- I don't like the freekeh by itself, but blended with Israeli couscous, it made for a delicious mix of textures.

Kale and Grain Salad
1/2 cup freekeh
1/2 cup Israeli couscous
1 cup chicken stock
1 bunch kale, trimmed and chopped
1 cup sugarsnap peas
1 clove garlic, smashed
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

1/4 olive oil
1 small shallot, chopped
2 tbsp vinegar

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add snap peas, boil one minute, then drain and rinse under cold water to set the color.

Combine 1/2 cup freekeh and 1 and 1/2 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer 45 minutes. (Alternately, you can buy cracked freekeh, which cooks faster. I had a hard time finding that).  Drain, and add to a serving bowl.

In a separate pot, add couscous and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, until water is absorbed.  Drain, and combine with freekeh in serving bowl.

Saute the kale, garlic, and olive oil in one of the pots until wilted, and add to serving bowl. Add sugarsnap peas as well.

Mix all dressing ingredients together and pour over freekeh/couscous combo. Using a vegetable peeler, shave some Parmesan over the top. Serve and enjoy.

*You can also make this salad with just freekeh or just couscous, to make it easier. Or swap quinoa or farro for one of the ingredients.


Life Lately

I've been majorly MIA lately, due to an overwhelmingly jam-packed June, so I figured I'd share what I've been up to before I got back into regular posts.

managed a few summer nights drinking on the pier with friends // spent a weekend on the lake at my husband's old sleepaway camp // hubby's grandma shared some relics from her past as a famous ballerina  // LOTS of house hunting // badass new sneakers, only $14.99 // june was full of events: birthdays, family parties, and a friend's baby shower


Steakhouse Dinner

My husband is, quite literally, the pickiest eater I have ever known. He will not eat anything that swims, he’s not huge on most vegetables, eats very little "healthy" food, and usually acts as if trying something new will kill him. 

But his favorite thing is when I make him a classic steakhouse meal:

Seared filet mignon,

with crispy matchstick potatoes,

and of course, the classic wedge salad.   

It's a delicious and fairly simple meal, although things can get a little smoky while cooking the steak!

Seared Filet Mignon
2 5-6 oz filet mignon steaks (about 1 inch thick)
Cracked black pepper
Two slivers of butter

Heat a cast iron pan over high heat until screaming hot. I usually do this for somewhere between 3-5 minutes.

While pan preheats, coat your steaks very generously on both sides with salt and cracked black pepper.

When ready to cook, brush the pan with a small amount of oil. Place the steaks in the pan, and allow to sear for 3 minutes.  Flip to the other side and sear until desired doneness. I do ours to 130°, which is medium rare.

Just before serving, top each steak with a sliver of butter.  Sometimes I also use a drizzle of Trader Joe's balsamic syrup.

Serves 2.

Matchstick Potatoes, adapted from Ina Garten
4 baking potatoes, peeled
Corn oil (I used almost a full quart)

Preheat oven to 350°. Fill a large pot or Dutch oven with 1 inch of oil and heat it to 350°.

Slice potatoes into thin matchsticks, using a mandolin or the shredding disc of your food processor. Drop potatoes into a bowl of cold water as you work.

When ready to fry, drain potatoes very well. In batches, drop them in the hot oil and cook 3-5 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate, and sprinkle generously with salt. Repeat.

Keep warm on a baking sheet in the 350 degree oven for up to a half hour.

Serves 2-4.

Wedge Salad
½ head iceberg lettuce
½  pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1 rib celery, diced
4 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped
Ranch or blue cheese dressing

Slice the half head of lettuce into four wedges and arrange on a plate.  Top with tomatoes, celery, bacon, chives, and dressing.

Serves 2.

(I think this would be much better if you made your own dressing, using a recipe like the one here, but I told you, I have a picky husband, and a blue cheese is on the no-fly list).

Next project, fancy sauces for the steak. Anyone have any good recipes?