Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trick or Treat Mashed Potatoes

(Here we are handing out candy on Halloween. I'm the nurse and Andy is the swine flu. He's wearing a pig nose and a thermometer.)

If you've been reading my blog - you know I adore my husband. BUT - (there's always a but) He's a picky eater. To give him proper credit, he will pretty much TRY everything I make. There's a few exceptions. Like Fruit. Or Cauliflower. There are some foods he's never had but insists he hates them. It's maddening. His friends and family tell me how much he's changed and how much he eats... But to me, the girl who will eat just about anything - it's like saying, "Well, you used to be a Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad eater, and now you're just kinda bad..."

I have a special friend, Sue, who inspired me to start this blog. She's a chef in New Jersey and has a fabulous blog called Also you can read her articles at She's also responsible for my new addiction to Twitter. Recently she posted a recipe for "mashed potatoes". I told Andy that our friend, THE CHEF, had posted a new recipe. I just told him it was a different take on mashed potatoes. Andy replied, "LET'S DO IT!" (Which is code for "Make it for me.")

Now, hopefully you read in the first paragraph how he won't eat cauliflower.... Insert "TRICK OR TREAT MASHED POTATOES" here! For this particular dinner I sent him downstairs with strict instructions not to come up until dinner was on the table.

Here's the skinny on how I TRICKED my husband into LOVING cauliflower. (Ok - maybe he won't admit to loving it - but he had seconds. SECONDS!)

My adventure starts at Open Harvest in Lincoln, NE. I picked up 3 decent sized salmon fillets, 4 huge beautiful scallops, carrots, zucchini and cauliflower. (da da daaaaa! - that's the scary music.)

I've never been a huge salmon eater and needed a yummy way to serve it. So I tweeted, THE CHEF, and asked for a yummy salmon recipe. She tweeted back a Rozanne Gold sauce that she said was so good she'd serve it to the Queen of England! It IS delicious. Here's how to make it:

Boil 1 lb. chopped Zucchini with 1/2 c. Water and 1/2 teaspoon salt for about 15 min. or until soft. I left the skin on the zucchini for color and nutrients! Then throw it in a blender or food processor, water and all and puree with a couple tabs of butter. Taste for seasoning.

For the samlon - I rubbed it down with some good extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper and baked it at 375 degrees until it was just starting to get flaky. I like my salmon more on the underdone side. Dry salmon is awful.
The carrots were also easy - rub 'em down with olive oil and salt and pepper and get them in the oven with the salmon. After I took the salmon out I cranked the oven up to about 450 degrees to finish roasting the carrots.

The scallops looked so good I couldn't pass them up. Plus I wasn't sure how well the "Trick or Treat Mashed Potatoes" was going to go over so I thought I could butter him up with some seared scallops. I dried them thoroughly, seasoned them with salt and pepper and popped them into a hot pan with olive oil and seared them for a couple min on each side.

Now the fun part! This recipe comes which she got from

First, if your husband thinks he hates cauliflower also - buy some potatoes and set them on the counter. Then hide the cauliflower behind the FRUIT in the fridge. After the coast is clear - take out the cauliflower and chop it into big bite sized pieces. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and boil the cut cauliflower until they're easily stabbed with fork. The recipe says 6 min. I think I had to boil for closer to 8 min. Sue recommends putting your peeled garlic whole in with the cauliflower. She says she does this for regular mashed potatoes also.

Then drain the cauliflower and garlic and put into a food processor. Add 1 T. cream cheese. I used neufchatel cheese. It's just like cream cheese but a little lower in fat. Also going in the food processor or blender is a 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of pepper, a handful of parmesan cheese and some butter. The recipe calls for 3 T. I used 1 1/2 T. Then puree away. Unlike regular mashed potatoes you can puree until the cows come home and it won't get gluey. If you live in Nebraska like I do - it's very possible that those cows will really truly come home. Taste for seasoning - I added a bit more neufchatel and salt.

I plated the salmon dressed with the zucchini butter sauce and roasted carrots with Seared Scallops atop a heap of "Trick or Treat Mashed Potatoes". I nonchalantly placed the plate in front of my now suspicious husband. "Ok, what's the trick?" He asked. "They're pureed in a food processor honey! You can't do that with a normal version - but with this tricky version - you can!" I replied. (See? I didn't lie!) Until he asked, "So, is it really potatoes?"
I had a choice. I could tell the truth and reveal that in fact I was about to trick him into eating cauliflower. Something he has professed his pure hatred for. I could be honest and run the risk of him not evening trying it. Sending me into a heap of frustration and ruining our lovely dinner. OR! I could fib. It was for the good of the family. The good of dinner! The good of our health! I mean cauliflower is good for you! I was actually helping him by lying right? It's an important source of something healthy! He needs it!

"Yes, it's potatoes. See?" I lied. I LIED! I pointed to the bag of yukon gold potatoes sitting on the counter. (Please don't forget to have them ready for this exact moment.)

He grabbed his fork and took a bite. I sat there trying not to stare as he steered the fork to his mouth. "Yummmm!" He exclaimed.

What?!? Yum? You like it? I won? All these thoughts started racing through my head. But I thought to myself - victory isn't one bite. Victory is when he goes back for a second helping. So, I waited. I quietly said Thank You and kept on eating. Soon, he was asking for another helping of the "Trick or Treat Mashed Potatoes". I couldn't believe my ears! He ate another huge helping. I couldn't take it anymore! I was going to burst!

"Do you want me to tell you what the trick is?" I coyly asked him. "Uh huh." He stared at his plate, bracing himself for something terrible.

"IT'S CAULIFLOWER!!!!! IT'S CAULIFLOWER! YOU ATE CAULIFLOWER! YOU LOVE CAULIFLOWER!" I cheered. I knew he would like it! I had won! Victory was mine!

"So, seeee? You do like cauliflower don't you?" I teased him.

And do you know what that little booger said?

"Eh, It's Ok."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Happy Birthday to.... ME!

DAD to me: Another year "buffal-older"

I LOVE LOVE LOVE birthdays. This year, I decided to throw myself a party. It was so much fun! I invited family, friends and my students! We had an island of food including TWO carrot cakes and ONE chocolate cake. Yep. THREE cakes. I went easy on myself for the party and used Famous Daves for the meat: BBQ Pulled Chicken! All I had to do was chop up the veggies and fruit and make a few dips and baked beans!

Any excuse to make Guacamole... I've read recipes where people sub out some of avocado for peas! I've never tried it, but some people seem to really enjoy it. Plus, avocados are high in fat, a really good fat, but its still fat. So, anything to lighten it up is awesome in my book. Maybe next time, I'll add the peas... MAYBE
This is my favorite Guacamole Recipe:

4 Avocados
2 Jalapeno
1 Small Red Onion, small dice
1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped
2 (or more - use more) Garlic Cloves, pressed/grated/minced
2-3 Limes, juiced

Mash the avocado. I use a potato masher and mash it on a plate. It doesn't need to be smooth, leave it a little chunky. If you don't like your guac spicy - remove the seeds and ribs from the jalapeno. When I'm not making it for a party, I do half and half. One pepper with the seeds and ribs and one without. Add peppers, onion, cilantro, and garlic to the avocado. Add the lime juice a little at a time and taste for flavor. I like a strong lime flavor and used the juice of 3 limes. Season with salt to taste. I like to make it ahead of the party several hours to let the flavors incorporate.

I also made a charred corn, red pepper, onion and chipotle salsa. I take no credit for this as it was right out of my bon appetit magazine. But it was soooo easy and soooo good. I husked 3 ears of corn, quartered 3 red bell peppers, and trimmed 1 bunch of green onions. Then I brushed some olive oil on and seasoned them with salt and pepper. I had the grill on high, and grilled the veggies until they were pretty well charred. The corn and peppers took the longest, obviously. After they came off the grill and slightly cooled, I cut the corn off the cob and chopped up the charred vegetables. Finally I added some lime, lime zest, garlic, and salt. The recipe also called for a tablespoon or so of a chipotle hot sauce. But I think I would have preferred to char up some jalapeno peppers and used them instead. The recipe says this salsa keeps all week and goes great on top of fish, chicken and burgers. But it also goes really well with tortilla chips! :-)

This is about HALF the food we had. The other half took up the other counters.

The other half of the buffet which spilled on to the back counters.

Two of my rock stars, Rachael and Ashley were the life of the party!

These kids are so much fun! (And no, I didn't give Will the black eye.)

Towards the end of the party, I realized I had prepared a low(er) fat version of a five layer dip. But I had stored it in the downstairs fridge and forgotten to set it out on the table. It was recipe straight from by Ellie Krieger, a celebrity chef/nutritionist. It was very yummy and made for a great midnight snack.

Five Layer Mexican Dip

Five Layer Dip (Laura's Favorite!)


  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I would use WAY more garlic than this.)
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, preferably low-sodium, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon minced chipotle pepper in adobo (Next time, I would skip this and add jalapeno, roughly chopped or two to the onion garlic mixture.)
  • 4 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (I salted each layer of the dip.)
  • 2 cups corn kernels (10-ounce box frozen corn)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 4 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion (I used a small red onion.)
  • 1 tablespoon finely diced jalapeno pepper, optional
  • 3/4 cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar


Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions (and jalapeno, if using) and cook until they soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.

Put half of the onion (and all the jalapenos) mixture into a food processor with the black beans, chipotle pepper (optional), 2 tablespoons of the lime juice, cumin, water and salt. Puree until smooth. Set aside.

Add the corn to the skillet with the remaining onion mixture and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro leaves. (Add a pinch of salt.)

In a small bowl mash the avocado with the remaining lime juice. (Add a pinch of salt.) In a medium bowl toss together the tomatoes, scallion and jalapeno, if using. Season tomato mixture with salt and pepper, to taste.

Spread the black bean dip into the bottom of an 8 by 8 glass baking or serving dish. Top with the corn mixture, spreading it out to form a single layer over the beans, repeat with the avocado, then the tomatoes. Top with cheese. Serve with baked chips.

Per Serving:

Makes 12 servings. Calories 140; Total Fat 8 g; (Sat Fat 2 g, Mono Fat 3 g, Poly Fat 0.7 g) ; Protein 5g; Carb 16 g; Fiber 5g; Cholesterol 6mg; Sodium 245 mg

I have a wonderful family! My uncle Sean brought his guitar and it didn't take long to whip it out and start singing.
Katelin, my cousin, made my birthday card by hand and even included a lovely rap.
"Got them yellows, got them purples... wika wika wika"

Laura, my wonderful and talented student, made me this candle!
She'd like you all to know she's fundraising for her junior year abroad and you too can have one of these candles!

I had a wonderful and memorable night! I really wish I could have posted the recipe for the best Carrot Cake in the world, but Carrie Fischer, the local expert baker, will only tell me her secret ingredient is carrot baby food.

Happy Birthday to ME! It was truly the best year ever.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Little Italy - oh and a new puppy!

Meet Addy May!
About a month ago I finally convinced my husband that we needed to adopt a puppy. Not just any puppy. A black, female, pug puppy . This was no small feat! It took two years of begging, pleading, negotiating, bribing, I even thought about blackmail. He always said no. We already have an 8 year old pug named Zona who is King of the house. We travel too much to take care of puppy. We have a new(ish) house that a puppy would destroy. They're too much work. I mean, he had some good arguments.

Then one magical day. A Thursday to be exact. A pug rescue group posted a picture of this adorable, perfect, healthy female pug puppy. She needed me! I could see it in her eyes. She was calling to me! I quickly emailed Andy, telling him, "She needs a home." He emailed back, "Cute."

I started to send messages to the rescue group telling them how perfect I was for this puppy. Well, they started as messages and developed into full fledged essays. I pleaded my case to the foster mom. And then I pleaded my case to my husband. Maybe I just wore him down. Or maybe the picture of this adorable puppy called to him also. But finally he said, "We can go look at her."

After we passed a home inspection, bought the entire puppy section at our local pet store, we drove out to Omaha to meet and adopt the puppy. We named her Addy. Addy May.

She's the most perfect puppy ever! (And she loves me!) She's not destroying the house. We realized we really don't travel THAT much. And Zona's losing weight because he has someone to play with and go on walks with. Andy has even professed his love for the newest member of the family and confessed that he is, in fact, happy we adopted her.

Shortly after we adopted her, I took off in a jet plane with my mom for San Jose, CA to visit my brother, leaving my new puppy with Andy and Zona. Despite missing my puppy, I had so much fun with my family! We walked through a red wood forest, strolled the Santa Cruz pier, and made the short drive to San Francisco to ride the trolleys, shop in the Haight-Ashbury district, and of course, eat in North Beach (Little Italy).

When I think of North Beach I think of Trattoria Contadina. A delicous Italian bistro on the corner of Union and Mason. It's one block off the beaten path. And it's an intense hike uphill from the wharf. And I mean UPHILL! But it's heaven on a plate and worth every bead of sweat you work up by the time you arrive. This ristorante is so good, you'll need a kleenex to dab the tears that will fall as you bite into their expertly prepared dishes. I did. I started with a Salad Caprese. The tomatoes weren't in season, but I looked past it as the pesto and basil and fresh mozzarella on top of fresh greens were so flavorful.

I've had the pleasure of eating at Trattoria Contadina three times. I always order one of the specials. This time I ordered Spinach Fettuccine with Sea Scallops and Mushrooms in a Basil Cream Sauce. I ate every bite and proceeded to plan how I would recreate this dish when I returned home.

I started with some shitake mushrooms. Stemmed and chopped into small strips. I reserved the stems for stock or the cream of asapargus soup I've been planning on making one of these days.

Then I prepped some shallots.

Next, I made a basil chiffonade by stacking the leaves, rolling it into a cigar and slicing very thin strips.

The last thing to prep are the scallops. I bring them out of the fridge, blot them dry and check them over to remove the thick muscle that sometimes is overlooked by the monger. These scallops were dry frozen which makes me happy because I know they're not water logged and will taste fresher. Well, as fresh as any seafood can really taste in land locked Nebraska. I slice the scallops in half horizontally before gently searing them.

Spinach Fettuccine with Sea Scallops and Shitake Mushrooms in a Basil White Wine Cream Sauce

1 box Spinach Fettuccine
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Garlic, minced (Don't use garlic out of a jar. And use as much fresh garlic as you can stand! I love it!)
About 2 Shallots finely chopped
Shitake Mushrooms (you decide how many, stemmed and sliced into thin strips) Can also use Cremini Mushrooms if Shitakes are unavailable.
Sea Scallops (you decide how many) blotted dry, sliced in half horizontally
Dry White Wine (I used 1/2 c. at least - you be the judge)
1/2 c. to 1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream (I rarely measure, just add until it looks good and taste delicious.)
Salt and Pepper
Freshly grated Parmesan (let's say 1 cup)

After prepping my shallots, mushrooms, and scallops I bring large pot of water to a roaring boil and generously salt it with Kosher salt. Add pasta and cook according to directions on box.

While waiting for the pasta to boil, I heat enough olive oil over medium heat to cover the bottom of a large dutch oven. Add shallots and garlic. Once they begin to soften I add the mushrooms and let them start to brown. Remove shallots and mushrooms from dutch oven. Increase heat to medium high. Add more olive oil if necessary. Season scallops with kosher salt and pepper and add to dutch oven. Cook 1-2 minutes on each side and remove from pan. They'll cook more later.

De glaze the pan with the white wine. (And pour yourself a glass - this is a must.) Let wine simmer for a few minutes letting the alcohol evaporate and the flavors concentrate. Scrape up all the brown yummy bits also known as fond up from the bottom of the pan. Add basil, reserving some for garnish. (Some people add their basil in the beginning of the cooking process, but I think it retains more flavor if it goes in towards the end. Plus then I have less of a chance to burn it, something I'm very good at.) Then add the cream. Sprinkle some Parmesan over the top and stir to combine. (By some Parm, I mean a handful. It's good stuff!) Taste for seasoning. Add some freshly ground pepper. Add salt if needed. (I needed it.) Let sauce simmer and slightly thicken. Add shallots, mushrooms, and scallops back to pan. Reduce heat to medium low.

Pour yourself one more glass of wine. (Hey! You deserve it! You've been working hard!)

Drain pasta and reserve a ladle full of starchy pasta water. (Just in case.) Add pasta to dutch oven. Coat pasta with sauce. If sauce is too thick, thin out with reserved pasta water. (Mine was fine and I ended up discarding the water.)

Serve in large pasta bowl. Sprinkle some Parmesan and basil on top and enjoy!

I thought this recipe was ALMOST as good as the dish I had at Trattoria Contadina.
It's definitely an indulgence!

Here's one more pic of my helper in the kitchen.
She's always by my side.
As Always, Happy Cooking!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

White Chicken Chili (South Beach Style)

I. Love. Food. I envy my husband and my father-in-law who seem to be able to inhale just about any dish they choose and yet seem to look thinner after dinner is over! What's their secret?!?

For most of us "normal" people out there, this is just not the case. And for those of us who love to cook - not just cook - but really spend hours in the kitchen with challenging mouth watering recipes, full of butter, cream, and carbs... - Our inability to lose weight by simply eating more of these tasty fat laden ingredients is a problem!

To be honest, I don't trust skinny chefs anyway. I like watching the Food Network and drooling over the dishes Ina Garten creates on her show Barefoot Contessa. Even Rachael Ray is a little curvy. Look at Mario Batali! Emeril! BAM! - There's a chef I can trust!

Over the years I've played with the South Beach Diet. And for the critics out there, no - it is not a low-carb diet. The diet relies on nutrient dense food, high in fiber and low in fat. And to be honest, every time I've dabbled on the diet, I've lost weight. Not only that, but I just feel better! I sleep better. I have energy.

But slowly, as I would see the pounds come off, I would feel the need to celebrate my new found weight loss! Like the bread basket at a restaurant - yep - the WHOLE bread basket (and butter, because that's the best part). Or mounds of hand-rolled pasta. Mounds of ANY pasta. Brownies. Custard. Movie Theatre Popcorn. Real cream in my coffee. Cupcakes.

I mean, I deserved these treats, you know? I had worked so hard eating lean meats, fruits full of fiber, lots of vegetables. Plus, I hit the gym 4-5 times a week! Give a girl a cupcake!

And after awhile, all that progress was undone, there I was standing in my kitchen, chubbier, tears streaming down my cheeks, crying "WHY???? WHY????"

Well, duh...

Over the course of my battle with the diet - I did find one super star recipe. One that is appropriate for all phases of the South Beach Diet. (There are three phases. Phase one is the strictest and lasts for a couple of weeks, followed by a less stringent phases two which lasts until the weight loss goal has been met. Finally, Phase three is the maintenance phase.)

Here's my adaption from a South Beach Diet Recipe: White Chipotle-Chicken Chili

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (Or 3 Shallots)
4 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves (1 3/4 pounds), cut into 1" chunks
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoons crushed red pepper
Salt and black pepper
3 (14.5-ounce) cans white kidney or cannellini beans*, drained (save 1/2 cup draining liquid) and rinsed
1-2 cans butter beans, drained
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
1 teaspoon canned chipotle chil**, seeded and minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, ribs removed, finely diced.
1/2 cup nonfat half-and-half
Garnishes: Shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Warm oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add onion and jalapeno; cook 4 minutes, stirring. Push onions and peppers to one side; add chicken to skillet and sprinkle with chili powder, cumin, crushed red pepper, salt, and pepper. Cook 5 minutes, stirring.

Increase heat to medium-high. Add 2 cans of white kidney beans and 1-2 cans of butter beans and draining liquid, 1 1/4 cups broth, and chipotle; bring to a simmer. Cook 10 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 1 can of beans and 3/4 cup broth in bowl of food processor. Puree until smooth, then add to soup in pot, along with half-and-half. Simmer a few minutes, stirring, until ingredients are warmed through and flavors incorporate. Taste to check for seasonings. It will probably need at least another pinch of salt. Serve hot; garnish with cheese and cilantro.

*If you are unable to find white kidney beans (AKA cannellini beans), substitute Navy Beans or Great Northern Beans or a combination of the two. (I prefer the draining liquid for Navy Beans over Great Northern.)

**Chipotle in Adobo can be found in many markets now. However, not in small town Wahoo. When I can't get a can of this spicy and smokey pepper - I add an extra jalapeno or two and a tablespoon or two of a smokey salsa.

My best advice with this recipe is to measure the liquid ingredients. I never measure! But everytime I've eyeballed the wet ingredients, the soup wasn't the right consistancy.

Also, if you like it more spicy, leave the seeds and ribs of the pepper and increase the crushed red pepper.

Just remember - all that spicy food is said to increase your metabolism!


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Meat and Potatoes... Er... Rice

If there's one thing I generally don't touch in the kitchen, its steak. Not because I don't like it or don't know how to cook it, but because my husband has perfected steak. After drooling over our steaks at Ruth's Chris and Maestro's, Andy took it upon himself to recreate these mouth-watering, sweet buttery steaks at home. Without a 1500 degree oven, however, the task requires some improv.

We get our steaks, specifically - fillets, from Cetak's Meats and Sausages at 70th & Pioneers in Lincoln. He pulls them out of the refrigerator about an hour before he's ready to start cooking. Doing this is so important as it gets the chill off the meat and is less of a shock when the fillets hit the heat. While the steaks come to room temperature, Andy blots the steak dry with a paper towel to remove all excess moisture. He wants a good sear on the steak. He then brushes them with good olive oil and seasons the them with sea salt and pepper. We've prepared fillets a number of ways. When its too cold to grill we go for the cast iron skillet. Cast iron skillets can get incredibly hot and distribute the heat evenly throughout the pan. They are not expensive and every cook should hopefully have at least one!

Sometimes he sears them in the pan on the stove before putting them in a 450 degree oven while they finish cooking to the desired temperature. Other times, he cooks them in the oven in the cast iron pan on high broil and later reduces the heat to finish cooking the steak.

Tonight, he puts the cast iron pan in the oven and preheats the oven and the pan to high broil for at least 30 minutes. Immediately, I remember that I should have cleaned the oven yesterday and I open some windows! BRRR! But it definitely beats the fire department showing up!

He broils the meat for 3 1/2 minutes on each side. Before turning the oven to 450 degrees, he inserts the meat thermomter probe.

One of my favorite gadgets is a digital meat thermometer whose console sits on the counter while the oven proof probe is continually measureing the temperature. It makes it so easy to know when to pull the steak out of the oven! Perfect steak every time. Or poultry. Or Pork.
All-Clad Oven-Probe Thermometer

Andy pulls my steak out when the internal temperature reaches 128 degrees and pulls his out when it reaches 133 degrees. He immediately tops it with butter, tents with foil and lets the butter melt on top while the steak rests, at least 10 minutes.

When the Steak Master is in my kitchen, I'm in charge of the sides. Tonight, I chose a brown rice pilaf and roasted asparagus. Brown rice is so good for you but can be tricky when it comes to developing its nutty flavor without drying out the rice. In my last issue of Cooks Illustrated, they suggested cooking it in the oven in a large dutch oven. Here's what I did:

Brown Rice Pilaf with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Parmesan, Peas and Almonds

4 slices Applewood Smoked Bacon
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 cups water
1 cup chicken broth (reduced sodium)
Large pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds, lightly toasted
3/4 cup frozen peas
5 oz. parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 1/2 cups long grain brown rice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat dutch oven on stove over medium high heat. Meanwhile, chop bacon into small pieces. Add to dutch oven and render until bacon is starting to crisp. Remove bacon from dutch oven with a slotted spoon and set on a paper towel lined plate to drain. Remove all but 4 teaspoons bacon fat from pan.

Add shallots to pan and cook 8-10 minutes or until shallots start to brown. Stir in water, broth, and salt, scraping up all the flavor stuck to the bottom of the pan. Cover. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Stir in rice. Cover. And put in preheated oven. Bake about an hour.

Remove from oven. Stir in reserved bacon, peas, Parmesan, and toasted almonds. Cover. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve!
For a bit of green on our plate, we go with asparagus. Its loaded with Vitamins K, A and C as well as folic acid. Andy doesn't care about that. He just loves the taste. After snapping off the tough ends of the spears, I lay them on a baking sheet and drizzle the green goodies with some good olive oil, pinch of kosher salt, and freshly cracked pepper. (I save the ends for cream of asparagus soup!) In the oven they go at 425 for 15 -20 minutes, or until the heads start to turn slightly crispy. Mmmm!

Let me know what you think!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Chips and Salsa

If someone asked me, "What's your favorite food?" Without hesitation - I'd say, "Chips and Salsa."

I thought it appropriate that my first entry be about my greatest culinary love. Maybe to you, chips and salsa seems a novice answer. Not a fitting option for someone claiming to be a wannabe foodie. (At least I said wannabe - right?) But good salsa, no wait, not good - GREAT salsa - salsa that makes you get up and do a Mexican Hat Dance - is hard to find. And then trying to find the perfect chip to go with said salsa? That's practically impossible!

Recently, on a trip with my absolutely wonderful and adorable husband (more about him later) we went on a hike in the West Maui Mountains. It was raining. We couldn't hike to the waterfalls for a brief swim because of severe flash flooding. We were covered in red dirt mud. In fact, we were thinking about what a waste of a day in Hawaii this was. The guide crammed us into a van, promising us a tour of beautiful country on a road fit for one small car. It was a death road. Needless to say we survived the hike. We survived the death road. But nothing could have prepared me for what followed.

The guide served us lunch at a local art boutique. Lunch was good. My husband, Andy, hated it. It consisted of spinach wraps. Turkey sandwiches. Vegetable crudites. And juice - out. of. a. can. Really, every food that he refuses to eat was what was served for lunch. And lunch was OK - that is until the guide brought out the special sauce.

It was made from pomegranate syrup and hot chili sauce. That's it! It was spicy and sweet. And it was heaven all wrapped up in a bottle. Now I guess technically this isn't salsa. Its sauce. But salsa means sauce in English. I digress.

As my husband does each day on each trip we take, he turned to me later that evening, as we sat on our balcony overlooking the ocean, the sun setting on its endless waves, glittering the water with bright golden freckles, the island of Lanai in the far distance, "What was your favorite part of the day?"

I knew it immediately! The salsa! The special sauce! The heaven in a bottle! I knew this answer wouldn't surprise him. He knows how I live for good chips and salsa.

This was my latest adventure in the quest for the world's best chips and salsa. Now, the chips on the other hand - out of bag! UGH! Not good eats - as one Alton Brown might say. But the sweet and spicy salsa sauce? So memorable. And that's what makes a good salsa. Something you remember and can still taste days, weeks, months, after you've had it.

This was a very special sauce. But probably not the WORLD'S greatest salsa. And I've long way to go to find the perfect chip. So, my quest continues. And I'll report any other culinary gems I find along the way.