Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Italian Rice

I've had THE WORST marinara cravings lately. Not pasta, just marinara. So I've been trying to come up with ways to shake it up (i.e. not eating pasta 4 times a week). I sometimes do meatballs in marinara with no pasta for lunch, but I'm trying to go meatless this week, so that's out of the question.

So what's kind of like pasta only not? Rice! I mean a tomato based rice dish is pretty standard, and it's not too hard to adjust the seasoning. It's not authentic in any way, but it's slightly healthier than spaghetti (rice is less processed) and more importantly, heats up a little better (which is super helpful for a grad student with limited time and/or needing easily transportable meals. Plus is super high in veggies!

Marinara Rice
Oil for heating
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
Frozen stoplight peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup rice
1 8oz can no salt added tomato sauce
1 1/4 c water
1 can no salt added tomatoes with juice
One roasted red pepper
Fresh thyme, to taste
1 frozen basil cube (from Trader Joe's), approximately 1 tsp fresh basil
Italian seasoning, to taste
Parmesan cheese

Cook pepper and onion in oil.
Cook rice with water and tomato sauce. When almost done cooking, add tomatoes, garlic, and stoplight peppers.
Puree red pepper in blender and add to rice, then add seasonings and cook until water is evaporated, then check the taste. You might want to add more water and continue cooking until flavors blend more (or until garlic cooks more) or adjust the seasonings. I added some parmesan cheese and garlic powder and cooked a little longer.

I served with mozzerella cheese. Mmm! Satisfied my craving perfectly!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Root Vegetable Soup

The rainy weather last week made me feel like fall was really here, so I was craving fall type foods. And I thought, what better than making a root vegetable soup? I was going to follow a recipe and then didn't really follow it at all. I was at Whole Foods, appreciating the selection of vegetables they just don't have at Publix (at least not the tiny one I do most of my shopping at). Rutabaga? Sure, I'll figure out something. Parsnips, they're kind of like carrots, right? So I found a soup recipe, after buying these things, that called for turnips, so I ran to Publix (turnips are normal enough to have at Publix, especially at this time of year). The recipe I was following didn't have any seasonings besides onions and garlic, and I just didn't that would do. I had some leftover fresh thyme from my ratatouille (which I still need to post, oops), added that, but it didn't seem, fall-y enough. So I dug up a little fennel (my spice cabinet is full of useless spices), but only put a little in because I'm not a huge fan of the fennel flavor, I just wanted enough to make it taste like autumn. And what else tastes like autumn? Cinnamon of course! (Actually considering I put cinnamon in everything from chili to chocolate pudding to stews, cinnamon tastes like all seasons, but I guess I especially associate it with the cooling temperatures). And I also added my other go to ingredient when something is bland: red pepper flakes. Oh, one more thing, I forgot to buy celery, but I happened to have a can of tomatoes with celery and green peppers, so I used that instead of regular tomatoes, but more celery would have been better.

The soup is decent, I'd say it was better today then Saturday when I first made it. If the pot had been larger, I could have added more water and hence cooked up some Trader Joe's Harvest Grain Blend in it, but there just wasn't room in my 5 quart pot.

On a more personal note, I've never cooked with rudabagas before and had little experience with them. I did not try a raw piece, but they smelled very much like colarabi, which I think I remember liking last time I had it. But my goodness is rudabaga hard to chop. Definitely get small ones so you have less to cut through.

Root Vegetable Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 small rudabaga, peeled and cubed
3 turnips, peeled and cubed
3 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 vegetable boulion cubes
1 can tomatoes with celery and green peppers with juice
5+ cups water
Fennel, to taste
1/2 tsp+ cinnamon
Red pepper flakes, to taste
Thyme (optional)

Prepare veggies
Heat up oil in large pot, then add onion and garlic and cook for a while. Then add tomatoes, veggies, boulion cubes, and enough water to make a soupy consistency (I didn't have room in my pot to add enough to make it true "soup" rather than stew). You might want to add more boulion if you are adding lots of water. Add spices and cook until vegetables are tender (my recipe said 45 minutes, but it was less than this because I cut most of the vegetables pretty small). Check the taste midway through to determine if you need more of any spices. I always can go for more cinnamon personally, and I think I added extra garlic powder midway through because it wasn't garlicy enough (even though I upped the recipe from one clove to 3).

Sunday, September 20, 2009

A graduate student dinner

So I had a big lunch out packed with protein and carbs so I tried to take it easy for dinner. I had about a pound of green beans lying around, plus 5 pounds of apples I got a Whole Foods for only $4 (they have some good deals there if you know what you are doing). So I ate an apple and made some balsamic green beans, graduate student style. Plus some milk for protein and calcium. But I accidently ended up eating all the beans. Oh well. Here are my grad student style balsamic green beans. Technically you are supposed to use balsamic vinegar, but I used balsamic vinegrette and that's what makes them grad student style! I actually don't like balsamic vinegarette very much, but I went through this bottle pretty quickly and used it up tonight.

1 lb green beans, rinsed with ends chopped off
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp (plus or minus) sliced almonds
1/4 light balsamic vinegrette (I had some organic Newman's Own because I had a coupon and they were on sale and I love anything Newman's Own)

Heat the oil in a pan. Smash the garlic cloves and throw them in the oil when hot. Brown a little then add the green beans and balsamic vinegrette and cover. I stirred them every few minutes. Cook for a few minutes until the beans are almost tender then add the almonds and cook until tender.

Seriously, after that I'm a happy camper and I feel like they almost made up for my huge, fattening high carb lunch of jerk chicken with black beans, rice and cornbread.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Restaurant Review: Ecco

Okay, I was supposed to be saving time and doing homework (and I think my homework might actually be fun if i can figure out how to do it). But I'm just too food-blissful that I need to post this blog before I can focus.

Randomly, my dad was in Atlanta tonight. He has a business meeting tomorrow and was only supposed to be here for about 6 hours tomorrow, but the bad weather forced him to fly in early, which meant we got to meet up for dinner. And his company would pay for his, so we were getting two for one... or less, so we could really go anywhere. So I asked around and did a few internet searches and made a list of about 5 restaurants. But the leading candidate, and the one I eventually chose, was Ecco. Plus it's near the Midtown MARTA station so it made it easy to meet up there and walk over.

This may have been one of the best dining experiences I've ever had (and mind you, I eat well when I am with my parents). The waiter was attentive but not lurking, and very helpful. He greeted us and asked if we had been there before, and when we said no, he explained the philosophy of the restaurant was to make very fresh food and use local and organic food whenever possible. I really try to stick to these principles, but it's hard when you do not have much money. However, it is something I appreciate in a splurge restaurant (especially when I'm not paying). He then went over the menu with us in detail of all dishes, which I really like sinc ei have a hard time making decisions (and I like to know what's good and what's popular). The service was very prompt; we had barely looked at the menu when he asked if we wanted to start with a meat and cheese plate. Having not looked at it, he offered that some people say "surprise me," so we agreed to that. He asked if we have any preferences and I noted that I do not like Bleu Cheeses. We ended up with Smoked Gouda (I've decided I really like a quality Gouda), some Italian sausage (I'm not a huge sausage eater and they all kind of taste the same to me), and Robiola 3 Milk, a blend of sheep, goat, and cow milk cheese. The cheeses were fantastic and went extrodinarily with the crusty bread. I'm trying to develop my cheese palate, but right now I'm just working on getting "this tastes like this," and "I like this" down. One of my favorite parts of the cheese palate (besides you know the surprise!) was the waiter explained what all of them were and where they were from. Actually, the menu had the origin of all of the meats, cheeses, and wines (and fun fact: in Atlanta, it is more sustainable to drink European wine than wine from California, but probably barely, the boundary is Columbus, OH). Early on I was very impressed.

Then came dinner, which is obviously the most important part of a restaurant experience. My dad asked for a wine recommendation for his entre and I guess I can't tell you how that went because I don't know anything about wine (that's something else I'm working on, but I'm going to start with Trader Joe's 2 3/4 buck chuck and using it in food). I ordered the Chili-braised pork with garlic and homemade pappardelle because it sounded interesting and the waiter said it was a favorite and "kind of [their] signature dish." My dad had also been looking at it, but he let me get it and I told him to work around me. Fortunately, he chose my other top choice, with minimal prodding from me: organic chicken thighs with salsa verde. For both my dad and I, if you say "salsa verde" it is not a very hard sell, and for me the word "organic" helps a little. But neither of us likes dark meat, though I said it was probably worth a try and that I had also been looking at it, when he said that was his next choice (see, that is minimal prodding). He ended up with that. We both loved, LOVED our meals. My dad's comment was "I will never look at a chicken thigh the same way again," since it was so flavorful and slightly crispy with the salsa, and did not have any of the properties that he dislikes about dark meat (personally, I dislike that it tastes like iron and this certainly didn't). I actually ate very little of mine so I could bring it home with me (since i knew there would be an abundance of food, I tried to consolidate so there was enough of one thing to bring home). But it was slightly spicy, served with sweet juicy tomatoes, and deliciously pulled pork. Oh, and there was basil, which made me love it even more. I just hope it heats up well for lunch tomorrow. And the homemade pasta was also delicous. We also ordered green beans, which were served with rum infused raisins and honey with a pinch of cinnamon to give it a little spice. These beans were seriously amazing. I would consider buying rum (and raisins, for that matter) just to try to recreate them. The flavors blended so well, though I couldn't really place them. I even ate all the raisins.

And then there was dessert. Oh dessert. This almost merits it's own blog entry. Because the company was paying and because we couldn't decide and because we were both enjoying the dinner, as well as the surprise time together so much, we ordered three desserts. Three desserts! At a nice restaurant! We both eyed the Red Plum Sorbet immediately. We both love sorbet and have had a great sorbet experience in the past together (guava sorbet at Coquete Cafe in Milwaukee). And it just sounded interesting and unusual, but still delicous. He saw fresh figs and gravitated towards that immediately. And I... couldn't decide, go figure. The dish that caught me as possibly tasty and unusual was Honey Basil ice cream. There was a chocolate cake with pine nuts, which sounded fun because of the pine nuts, but very typical of what I get. And then I saw olive oil and chocolate ice cream with sea salt. This also sounded wonderful and interesting, so I figured I'd have the waiter make the ice cream choice for me. I asked him about both the olive oil and chocolate and the honey and basil ice creams and he said the olive oil and chocolate was "just about the best ice cream anyone has ever had," which if that's not a glowing endorsement I'm not sure what is. So I ordered that. The plum sorbet came out first and it was spicy and sweet. It tasted like all things that should go with plums: cinnamon, ginger, perhaps a dash of nutmeg and I swear there was a touch of wine in there, but I only tasted it when I switched between my chocolate ice cream and the sorbet later. It was very flavorful and the texture was so soft and creamy. It was light like sorbet should be without being crisp to the touch of the spoon like it often is. Possibly the best sorbet ever. And the ice cream was also up there. I don't think there were almonds in it, but it tasted like almonds. But the blend of sea salt and chocolate was just... magical. I am convinced sea salt and chocolate is one of the most understated but perfect food, or at least dessert, combinations ever. Then again, I say the same thing about chilis and chocolate (and chocolate with chilis and sea salt is also phenomenal, they have dark chocolate, chili and sea salt bars at Wal-Mart down here, as well as dark chocolate with sea salt and pop rocks, which are also unbelievable).

This was one of the most amazing meals I have ever had, for sure in Atlanta. I loved every bite of it. The restaurant was great, a nice ambiance, sustainable, and professional yet friendly. The food, as I just spent the past hour describing, was phenomenal. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in Atlanta. And I don't often return to restaurants (I'd rather try something new), but I would go here again for a special occassion.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I have not been cooking. Yay grad school! Fortunately, I had a huge stock of frozen leftovers. Unfortunately, I've gone through most of it.

So based on my blog reading, it has come to my attention that a good pudding recipe is hard to find online. They are all complicated and require food processors or strainers or all sorts of other weird things (or strange ingredients, like sweetened condensed milk or chocolate syrup, that just don't belong in pudding). Well, my mom made pudding from scratch for my family while I was growing up and her recipe is really not that difficult. And it's delicious. When I was a kid, she put animal crackers in chocolate pudding and called it "tar pit" dessert. It was one of my favorites.

And those of you who are grad students might ask why you need to make pudding rather than buying that junk you get in the store. Well, just ask anyone I've made pudding for, it is far superior. But it is time consuming. It's a special treat my friends often beg me for. I don't remember how to make butterscotch offhand (you use brown sugar, but I'm not sure how much).

1 egg
1/2 c sugar
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
2 c milk
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
(For chocolate pudding make it 1 c sugar and add 2 oz baking chocolate or 6 Tbsp cocoa powder and a Tbsp butter)

First, take out an egg and let it reach room temperature. This is critical to ensuring your pudding is not lumpy. In fact, go ahead and beat the living daylight out of it now. I usually require a friend help me as a condition of me making pudding. I put him or her in charge of warming and beating the egg while I do everything else.

Blend 1/2 c sugar, 2 Tbsp cornstarch, 1/4 tsp salt in a saucepan (if you are making chocolate, add the extra ingredients here as well).
Add 2 cups milk and cook and stir (make sure to scrape the bottom of the pan very well!) over medium heat until it is bubbly. Once bubbling, cook for two minutes.

Here's the tricky part, which I like having an extra set of hands for. Make sure the egg is beat in a heat proof bowl. Carefully stir the warm pudding mixture into the egg. The more mixture you stir in, the less lumpy your pudding will be, so go ahead and fill that bowl (but slowly, and beating the whole time). This is called tempering the egg.

Slowly mix the egg mixture back into the pudding and return to heat. Cook for two more minutes, then stir in vanilla and butter. If you are making vanilla pudding, use the best vanilla you can find. For the years following our trip to Mexico, my mom used Mexican vanilla and the vanilla pudding was amazing, almost better than chocolate (and coming from me, that means a lot).

I suppose you could strain it, as there will probably still be a lump or two, however, if you are careful with tempering the egg, there shouldn't be many. My dad commented on how smooth my pudding is (in contrast with my mom's). I'm not sure they let her make it after trying mine, although it's the same recipe.

There you go: simple ingredients and all you need is a pan and a bowl. And a friend (or three to help you eat it).

As a warning: the chocolate pudding is extremely rich, which is perfect for me, but hard to eat after a big meal. Also, I've mixed a little cinnamon and cayenne pepper into the chocolate pudding for something a little different, and both chocolate and vanilla are great with banana slices.