The New Year

Hello again, friends. I didn’t intend to take nearly two weeks off from blogging, but the days got away from me, and I think I needed the break. After posting my last weekend post of 2013 I toyed with the idea of quitting blogging altogether, but Matt quickly talked me out of it, which is somewhat surprising considering he’s the one who suffers most while I take photos that delay his enjoyment of a hot meal. I think I need more variety in posting and fewer arbitrary deadlines because when a hobby becomes a chore, it’s no longer a hobby. Furthering my temporary disinterest in blogging was the fact that my nice camera, after being away for repair for the second time in less than a year, broke yet again with the first picture I took after its latest fix. Off it went for another several days, and I was stuck with just my phone as a camera. It was liberating at first, but when you see the difference in photo quality below, it’s pretty clear (I hope) which photos are from my phone and which are from my camera, and mediocre photos make the whole process less fun. So, after delaying learning how to use all of the features on my camera for the last year, I am forcing myself to shoot only in manual. Maybe learning more about it is the key to it not malfunctioning every six months.

And now to catch up (see, I’m too much of an over-sharer to quit blogging). Life has been busy. First there was New Year’s Eve, which we celebrated at a friend’s house with law school friends and a crowd of Brazilians. New Year’s Day was spent at home, cooking, watching football, and eating so many homemade pretzels with cheese dip that we skipped the big dinner that we’d planned. My mom was in town for another round of wedding dress shopping (a decision has been made!). We introduced her to Everest on Grand before spending the next few days eating a crazy amount of leftovers, we made falafel, and then one of us took off for Hawaii (not me). We did our first wedding registry and then celebrated a good friend’s birthday with too much vodka (me). Then it got really, really cold for the better part of a week, and I now know what an air temperature of -22 feels like, although I could’ve done without that life experience. I learned that fleece-lined tights are one of the best inventions, and one of the best times to rid your freezer of leftovers is when it’s too cold outside make a stop at the grocery store on your way home from work. It finally (finally) warmed up, and I’ve stocked up on groceries, enjoyed a couple of nice, single-layer-of-clothing runs and resumed a full schedule of activities in the kitchen. It’s been good, and it’s been exhausting.

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Our last meal of 2013 was tilapia tacos with cabbage slaw, black beans, avocado and cumin crema. My goal for 2014 is to cook more fish.

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Cooking our first meal of the new year.

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Chocolate chip pancakes, sausage, soft scrambled eggs

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Rye pretzels that we made quick work of with some thrown-together cheese sauce

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It only took me twenty-one months to make a second batch of homemade falafel.

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It was as good as I’d remembered, and we were able to share it with my mom and also my dad, who enjoyed hand-delivered leftovers from my mom in an airport somewhere the following day.

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Saturday morning breakfast tacos

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Traditional roast chicken with lemon, garlic and herbs is fine and all, but roast chicken with harissa is my new favorite preparation. It’s just as simple as any other basic roast chicken, and biting a piece of crispy chicken skin that has a bit of a kick from the harissa is exactly how I want to spend 2014.

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Roast chicken with sweet potato and regular oven fries and a cilantro-yogurt dipping sauce

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Molasses-rye bagels

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Poppy, sesame and parmesan bagels

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Bagel bonding of the best kind

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Preserving lemons

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When I saw this recipe for Cheaters’ Duck Confit, I knew that the time had come for me to cook duck for the first time. It’s always intimidated me, but when the only ingredients in a dish are duck, salt and butter and the method is slow cooking followed by a quick sear, it seems a lot more approachable. I spotted duck leg quarters at our co-op yesterday, and a mere $13 later I was well on my way to making a very indulgent main course.

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Searing the duck legs after two-and-a-half hours in the oven and draining them of the butter and fat that they cooked in

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Duck with roasted potatoes and a spinach salad with fennel, grapefruit and feta. As you can imagine, duck cooked in its own fat and butter coupled with creamy roasted potatoes and a bright salad was pretty much the best Sunday dinner ever.

2013 Weekends – Week 45

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I kicked off Friday night with a dirty gin martini – a necessity.

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Matt made yet another dinner for us on Friday: chicken enchiladas.

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Saturday breakfast at work: homemade egg bagel with almond butter

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Lunch at work: chicken salad from Greek Grill. The chicken was so incredibly overcooked, but the fact that the guy making it gave me hot sauce from his stash behind the counter in addition to what they have out for customers makes up for a lot.

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We had leftover chicken enchiladas on Saturday night, and after dinner I assembled this bacon, spinach and cheese strata for breakfast on Sunday. It was my first day off in over a week, so I slept in and then went for a run while the oven was preheating and the strata was warming up to room temperature. The weather was perfect for running, and it felt so great both physically and mentally to be out there. Knowing that this strata would follow the run was also a big plus.

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Strata with arugula and coffee

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I generally prefer plain yogurt to flavored, but it never hurts to mix up the routine, especially when salted caramel is involved. I had a little bowl of this with granola for an afternoon snack, and while I probably won’t be buying it every week, I can see myself eating it for dessert or a sweet treat every once in a while.

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Whole wheat bread from My Bread with a bunch of millet seeds added for crunch

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Pre-dinner snack: fresh bread with mashed white beans + olive oil + rosemary + salt

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To thank Matt for all of the meals he’s made me over the last couple weeks, I thought Sunday night would be the perfect night to make him the one item that’s been on his cooking wish list for years: Tom Kha Gai.

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Success! I would have preferred the mushrooms to be replaced with vegetables or noodles or something, but Matt loved it as is, and that’s what matters. Maybe shiitake mushrooms instead of oyster mushrooms would make a difference for me, or maybe my mushroom-eating abilities haven’t reached the level of enjoying them in soup yet. The ginger/lemongrass/kaffir lime/coconut broth is something I could handle eating a lot more of, though.

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Oatmeal Fudge Bars for dessert.

2013 Weekends – Week 36

Matt’s parents were in town this weekend, and we did our best to show them a bit of the good food the Twin Cities have to offer, including that in our own kitchen. We went to Butcher & the Boar for dinner on Friday, and, as usual, it was incredible. From the turkey braunschweiger to the green chorizo to the red hot brussels sprouts to the massive, perfectly cooked pork chop, we savored every rich, meaty bite. Their whiskey sours are hard to beat, especially on a hot summer day. If only we’d saved room for their homemade s’mores…

Saturday was pretty low key aside from a round of golf for the guys and an outing to the Twins game on Saturday night. No summer weekend with visitors is complete with at least one trip to Grand Ole Creamery, and we made sure to check that off the list. Sunday revolved around watching football, all four of us trying to complete an impossible crossword and a decent amount of home cooking.

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I can’t get enough of this egg sandwich combo: bagel, fried egg, spinach, cheese and harissa. Any cheese is good – this one had smoked mozzarella, but sharp cheddar works well and is always in our fridge. Spinach allows me to think that I’m being healthy, and the same goes for avocado when we have it. The harissa takes it to another level and makes me crave it weekend after weekend.

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Goods from the St Paul Farmers’ Market: fresh dill, heirloom tomatoes, big beef tomatoes (I think), an assortment of peppers, zucchini, eggs and flowers

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The flowers keep getting better and better. I love ornamental cabbage!

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Spinach and goat cheese egg bake for Sunday brunch.

How to:

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Grate 1 lb. of potatoes, place them in a bowl and cover with water while preparing the remaining ingredients.

Sauté 10-12 oz of fresh spinach until it wilts. Once it’s cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess moisture and roughly chop.

Thinly slice 1 leek, rinse and sauté in a little oil until it softens.

In a large bowl, whisk 8-10 eggs with 1 cup of plain yogurt until combined. Season with 1 tsp salt and a little pepper.

Butter a 9×13 pan or its equivalent (I used a shallow 3.5-quart pan). Drain the potatoes and gently squeeze them to get rid of excess water. Line the pan with the potatoes, and top them with the spinach and leeks. Sprinkle (as generously as you choose) with crumbled goat cheese and chopped, fresh dill. Slowly pour the egg mixture over the fillings. Bake for about 45 minutes, until the center is set. If you prefer a browner top, crank the oven temperature up to 425 or so for the last several minutes.

Notes: Onion can easily be swapped for the leek, and while the herbs aren’t absolutely necessary, fresh ones add so much to the dish. This would be good with any number of cheese/herb combinations – Gruyère + parsley, feta + oregano, parmesan + basil, or all of them at once. Also, bacon. Bacon is always good.

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Egg bake, fruit and fresh biscuits that I did not screw up, much unlike my last attempt.

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While the others watched football on Sunday afternoon, I chopped vegetables for ratatouille. Everything but the onion was purchased at the farmer’s market, and everything but the eggplant was bought that morning.

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I used a recipe for Easy French Ratatouille from the Kitchn, and I specifically chose it so I could chop the vegetables instead of thinly slicing and carefully layering them. The former is my kind of busy work; the latter requires too much thought. I didn’t use the exact amounts of each vegetable called for in the recipe, but that’s the beauty of a non-layered ratatouille. Also beautiful: not slicing any fingers on a mandoline.

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Ratatouille after cooking and before stirring in fresh basil. This was so easy and such a delicious way to use a bunch of summer vegetables. The leftovers would be a great pasta sauce, especially with a blanket of grated parmesan.

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Along with the ratatouille we had rosemary roasted potatoes, chicken/ham/provolone roll ups that Matt’s dad had found a recipe for and bread. It was a great way to end the weekend.

2013 Weekends – Week 32

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Friday happy hour made possible by a bottle that’s been hanging around for an embarrassingly long time. Still tasted good, though!

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A few windy days led to top-heavy tomato plants falling over and losing green tomatoes…

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And a handful of green tomatoes led to fried green tomatoes. A creamy buttermilk dressing would have been perfect in this situation, but hot sauce was a nice stand-in accompaniment.

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BLTs on a defrosted loaf of homemade bread with a side of tomatoes

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Farmers’ market haul: fingerling potatoes, green onions, tomatillos, jalapeños, eggplants, fresh mint, cantaloupe, zucchini and eggs

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Post-market and post-run breakfast: failed-omelet-turned-scramble with tomatoes, green onion, dill and cheddar with a blueberry-peach smoothie and coffee

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I had several Anaheim chiles left from last week’s trip to the market, and a little googling led me to the conclusion that there’s not much to do with Anaheim chiles besides roasting them and turning them into something else. I opted for a salsa verde, slightly inspired by this recipe, but mostly inspired by an image in my mind.

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How to: Roast 6-8 Anaheim chiles until the skins are blackened, put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap, peel off the skins and remove the stems once cooled. Take about 1.5 pounds of tomatillos, half of a white onion, a jalapeño or two and a few cloves of garlic and drizzle them all with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast at 425ish for about 30 minutes, until the tomatillos are soft. Add the chiles and the tomatillo mixture to a blender and mix, adding a little broth if you need to thin it out and make it salsa-like. Season with salt, lime juice (I used the juice of half a lime), cumin, coriander, etc. Once cool, mix in fresh, chopped cilantro.

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Because the Anaheim chiles were so mild, I thought that two jalapeños would add a nice amount of heat. The voice of reason told me to add one to the blender, taste and go from there, but I ignored that voice and threw them both in. My advice: start with one and work your way up. This was hot. Good, but very hot.

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Cucumber margarita: 1 tbsp sugar and 1 oz lime juice muddled with several thin cucumber slices plus 2 oz white tequila and a splash of St. Germain

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Stuffed jalapeños: five large jalapeños, largely cleaned of the heat sources, filled with a mixture of cream cheese, grated cheddar and mozzarella, cilantro, green onion, garlic, salt and pepper. I basically started with a few ounces of cream cheese and kept adding stuff until the cream cheese was on the verge of not being able to bind it all together anymore and it tasted good. Once the peppers were full of cheesy filling, I baked them (around 375-degrees, I think) until browned. They don’t look like much, but they were pretty amazing.

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Grilled corn: an adaptation of this recipe, with less chili and with added cilantro. Buttery, citrusy corn is my new favorite thing.

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Mexican Roadside Chicken from Mexican Everyday (recipe reproduced here). We tried this grilling technique and didn’t have the best luck with it, but we quickly regrouped and once we scraped the charred skin off the bird, we had a delicious dinner.

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His & hers breakfast sandwiches. Last week’s bagels, defrosted and toasted, with harissa, scrambled eggs, bacon and cheddar.

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A sandwich well worth the long run that preceded it

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Graham crackers for a cookie butter taste test at work

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Homemade tortillas, which saved me from a trip to the store and in turn saved me from finding five other things that I “need” instead of buying the one thing that I go for. I used this recipe and replaced 1/3 of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour and used butter instead of shortening. Really good and super easy to make.

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Chicken and bean enchiladas. Shredded leftover chicken plus cooked beans from the freezer wrapped in tortillas, covered with homemade salsa verde and liberal amounts of cheese, baked at 375 until brown and bubbly.

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Enchiladas with Greek yogurt and a side of corn

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Backyard Mint (Chip) Ice Cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home for dessert. Which flavor to make next??