Thursday, May 24, 2012

Arroz con Pollo

I know what you are thinking.  The meal in the photograph looks just like your ordinary, run-of-the-mill chicken and rice dish.  However, do not be deceived by the simplicity of its appearance.  This meal packs a lot of flavor.  A LOT!  I first tried it a couple of weeks ago and have already made it three times since, which is a rarity in our household because we do not repeat meals very often.  The advantages of this recipe are threefold:

1)  It is absolutely delicious.  The salty olives, the juicy chicken, the tender rice, and the fresh cilantro combine to create one tasty party in your mouth.

2)  It is cheap.  Cheap, cheap, cheap.  All the ingredients are inexpensive and the recipe in its entirety will feed us for at least 3 meals.

3)  Matthew adores this dish.  He eats so much of it!  He has always been a lover of olives (we used to stick whole black olives on the ends of each of his fingers and then watch him eat them off one by one), so I think that is why he has such an affinity for this meal.

You do have to plan ahead a bit when making this because it requires about 90 minutes from start to finish. The best part is that this is a one-pot meal and everything else can be cleaned up while it bakes in the oven. Then you can sit down to dinner knowing that you do not have a huge mess waiting for you to clean once the meal is over!  Win-Win!

Arroz con Pollo
from Cook's Illustrated

6 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
Table salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar plus 2 additional teaspoons
Ground black pepper
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), trimmed of excess skin and fat
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
1 small green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped fine (about 3/4 cup)
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 ¾ cups low-sodium chicken broth
¼ cup water
3 cups medium-grain rice (see note above)
1 cup green olives (manzanilla), pitted and halved
¼ cup capers
½ cup jarred pimentos, cut into 1/4 by 2-inch strips

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place garlic and 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl; using rubber spatula, mix to make smooth paste. Add oregano, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper to garlic-salt mixture; stir to combine. Place chicken in bowl with marinade. Coat chicken pieces evenly with marinade; set aside for 15 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, green pepper, and pepper flakes; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften, 4 to 8 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons cilantro; stir to combine. Push vegetables to sides of pot and increase heat to medium-high. Add chicken to clearing in center of pot, skin side down, in even layer. Cook, without moving chicken, until outer layer of meat becomes opaque, 2 to 4 minutes. (If chicken begins to brown, reduce heat to medium.) Using tongs, flip chicken and cook on second side until opaque, 2 to 4 minutes more. Add tomato sauce, broth, and water; stir to combine. Bring to simmer; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add rice, olives, capers, and 3/4 teaspoon salt; stir well. Bring to simmer, cover, and place pot in oven. After 10 minutes, remove pot from oven and stir chicken and rice once from bottom up. Return pot to oven. After another 10 minutes, stir once more, adding 1/4 cup water if rice appears dry and bottom of pot is beginning to burn. Cover and return pot to oven; cook until rice has absorbed all liquid and is tender but still holds its shape and temperature of chicken registers 175 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes longer.

Using tongs, remove chicken from pot; replace lid and set pot aside. Remove and discard chicken skin; using 2 spoons, pull meat off bones into large chunks. Using fingers, remove remaining fat or dark veins from chicken pieces. Place chicken in large bowl and toss with remaining tablespoon olive oil, remaining 2 teaspoons vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro, and pimentos; season with salt and pepper to taste. Place chicken on top of rice, cover, and let stand until warmed through, about 5 minutes. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Black Bean and Mango Quinoa Salad

If you would have asked Paul five years ago whether he had ever tried quinoa, he would have replied:  "Keen...what?!"

Shortly after we were married, Paul and I began shopping at the Whole Foods Co-op here in town.  They have a magnificent bulk section that houses a huge variety of grains, flours, spices, dried fruits, and nuts.  It is essentially a treasure trove for the adventurous baker.  Paul and I were unfamiliar with some of the items they sold there, including couscous, polenta, kamut, and quinoa.  Over the next couple weeks, we decided to buy a few bags of these items and then find recipes to try.  Now, some of our favorite side and main dishes are based around these ingredients.  And one of our favorite sandwich breads is a Honey Kamut, which I will share soon!

Out of all the new and exciting ingredients we discovered, none has been quite as popular with us as quinoa.  Both Paul and I absolutely adore quinoa.  Quinoa is a grain-like crop that is actually a close relative of beets and spinach.  It has an extremely high protein content and is also an excellent source of fiber.  It was apparently an important staple in some pre-Colombian civilizations, second only to the potato.  Interesting!

This salad is our absolute favorite way to use quinoa.  I will be sure to post some other recipes for it in the future, but I figured that I might as well start with the most delicious one!  Mangoes, black beans, red bell pepper, and a tangy lime vinaigrette - this salad is incredibly refreshing, satisfying, and does not leave you feeling like a pile of bricks.  The best part about it?  It can be made entirely ahead of time - just pull it out of the fridge and serve!

Unfortunately, quinoa kind of freaks Matthew out a he will only eat the black beans and the mangoes.  We'll keep working on him.  The little goofball.

If you are unfamiliar with quinoa, give this recipe a try!  You might just fall in love with it as much as we have!

Black Bean and Mango Quinoa Salad
adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

3/4 cup dry quinoa
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 ripe, sweet mangoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine the chicken broth and quinoa in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat.  Bring to a full boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until all the water is absorbed and the germ has separated from the seed, about 15 minutes.  Sometimes, if the quinoa still seems a bit wet, I uncover the saucepan and let everything cook for about 3-5 additional minutes to allow a little more of the liquid to evaporate.  Fluff with the fork and set aside to cool completely to room temperature.

Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables, beans, and mangoes.  Combine everything in a large bowl.  Add the quinoa and toss to combine.  Whisk together the vinegar, oil, lime juice, salt and pepper.  Pour over the salad and toss to combine.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.  Enjoy!

Serves 4-6


Monday, May 21, 2012

Apple-Cranberry Vinaigrette

Things have been insane around here.  Moving is stressful.  We have our closing this week and I am both dreading and looking forward to it.  Like any commitment, there are a lot questions racing through our heads about whether we are doing the right thing purchasing a home at this point in our lives.  The amount of savings that will be obliterated with all the closing costs alone causes a fair amount of stress.  Then there is the packing, the organizing, the planning, the throwing away of items that we once considered treasures for the sake of freeing up some space.

Mr. Matthew has no idea what is going on.  I wonder how long it will take for him to get used to the new house.  Knowing him, he probably will not even notice the difference just as long as his monkey and his books are there with him.

However, he IS enjoying reaping the benefits from our management company's decision to replace the carpets after we move out.  Since we no longer have to worry about keeping them clean, Matthew has been allowed the following:

1)  To eat breakfast while watching Curious George in the living room.

2)  To wear shoes in the house!

I hope he realizes that he will be doing neither of these activities once we move into our new place!

We took a short break from all the chaos of cleaning and packing to take a hike through the woods.  There is a beautiful 5-mile trail along a creek bed that is so peaceful and relaxing.  A little too relaxing for Matthew apparently.  We had to cut our little jaunt short because the little guy just could not stay awake.  We made it about a mile into the hike before we had to turn around again because he was sound asleep.

The unfortunate thing about that backpack carrier is that it is not conducive to napping, so Matthew's head just flops along uncomfortably.  Neither Paul nor I wanted him to wake up with a stiff neck, so we turned back. Back at home, Paul and I reconnected over a shared peanut butter sandwich.  We had a pretty intense discussion about the benefits of smooth versus chunky peanut butter (Paul vouches for smooth, while I prefer chunky).  It was a dumb subject to debate for 20 minutes, but it was really fun to share a few laughs and relax while discussing something completely irrelevant and unimportant (who knew we were so passionate about our peanut butter!).  Plus, it was nice to take the time to enjoy the place that was our first home as a married couple.  The place where we brought our son home from the hospital.  The place where we mourned the loss of our two angel babies.  The place that, despite its many structural flaws, holds a huge amount of sentimental value for us.  But the time has come for us to move on.

The recipe for today is a simple, sweet vinaigrette that is one of our favorites.  It takes just minutes to throw together and is wonderful on salads with any combination of greens, fruits, nuts, or cheese.  One of my favorite combinations is dried cranberries, toasted pecans, apples, and Parmesan cheese.  Paul prefers pears, candied walnuts, blue cheese, and dried cherries.  Feel free to use your favorite combination!


I love giving dressing away in Mason Jars as gifts.  This vinaigrette turns pink when blended - so it makes an especially pretty gift!

Cranberry-Apple Vinaigrette
from Allrecipes

1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup apple juice concentrate
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon grated onion
1 cup vegetable or canola oil

In a blender, combine all ingredients except the oil.  Process until smooth.  With the blender running on low, gradually add the oil in a steady stream.  Process until thickened and smooth.  Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Grilled Scallops with Orange-Chile Dressing

I know Mother's Day was a few days back, but I just have to brag about the wonderful day I had with my two guys.  The only thing that would have made it better was if Matthew had been cooperative enough to take a decent picture with his Mother to preserve for posterity.  But alas, I just got another shot to add to my ever-growing photo collection of "Mommy + the tortured son."

He wasn't too great about taking a picture with Paul either.  At least it's not just me!

Anyway, Paul and Matthew were both so sweet.  I was awoken to Paul handing me a bouquet of beautiful  pink flowers and Matthew racing into the room carrying an envelope almost as big as himself:  "HERE MOM!  HEEERRRRE!"  Then, I got to enjoy some snuggle time with my little monster while Paul set to work making an elegant, scrumptious brunch of Cornmeal Pancakes with a Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote.  He even had some candied pecans and whipped cream for additional toppings.  In addition, he bought a bottle of my favorite coffee creamer to have with my morning cup of Joe.  It was so sweet, incredibly thoughtful, and delicious!

We then headed out as a family to the miniature golf course.  Paul and I had not been mini-golfing since college, but it used to be one of our favorite activities.  We were very excited to see how Matthew would take to the game.  All I can say is, thank goodness he golfed for free.

All the child wanted to do was chuck his little orange golf ball into the nearest body of water.  And the course was covered with little ponds, waterfalls, and streams.  Poor Paul was constantly fishing Matthew's golf ball, club, shoe, or hat out of the water.  And Matthew would giggle hysterically while watching his father fish out his latest victim.

"Ball in water?!?" He would repeat over and over again between guffaws.

"No water, Matthew! That's BAD!" I would reply.  Of course, he wasn't listening because, about two seconds later, we would hear the tell-tale splash of something else being tossed in.

We did manage to get him to take a couple shots.  With a little help.

Obviously, it was impossible to keep score.  The second any one of us would hit the ball, Matthew would go chase it, pick it up, and try to chuck it in the water.  This meant that as soon as Paul or I made a shot, we had to immediately dash to the other end of the course to reach it before Mr. Matthew.  Very rarely were we able to actually putt our golf balls into the holes.  Still, it was a really fun way to spend the afternoon.

Afterwards, we shared a bowl of frozen custard and then headed home for a decadent dinner of grilled scallops.  This has to be one of my favorite dishes of all time.  Paul had made it last summer and chose to prepare it for Mother's Day because he remembered how much I had loved it.  It was even better this time around - sweet, perfectly grilled scallops, crispy bacon, creamy eggs, piled high on top of a salad of mixed greens dressed lightly with a mildly spicy orange vinaigrette.  Heaven on a plate (especially when paired with a glass of my favorite Riesling!).

My husband can do amazing things with the grill.  Amazing things.

Grilled Scallops with Mixed Greens and Orange-Chile Dressing
adapted from The Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue

For the scallops:
1 1/2 pounds large sea scallops, tough tendons removed
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Salt and ground black pepper

Light a large chimney starter filled with hardwood charcoal and allow to burn until all the charcoal is covered with a layer of fine gray ash.  Spread the coals evenly over the bottom of the grill.  Set the cooking grate in place, cover the grill with the lid, and let the grate heat up, about 5 minutes.  Use a grill brush to scrape the cooking grate clean.

Meanwhile, toss the scallops and butter together.  Season with salt and pepper.  Thread the scallops onto doubled skewers so that the flat sides of the scallops will directly touch the cooking grate.  When the coals are medium-hot, the grill is ready.

Lightly dip a small wad of paper towels in some vegetable oil and wipe the cooking grate by holding the wad with long-handled tongs.  Grill the scallops, uncovered, turning the skewers once, until richly caramelized on each side and medium rare (the sides of the scallops will be firm and all but the middle third of each scallop will be opaque).  This will take about 5-7 minutes.  Serve the scallops hot or at room temperature atop the salad of mixed greens (see below).

For the vinaigrette:
3/4 cup orange juice
2 medium shallots, minced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons mined fresh cilantro leaves
Salt and ground black pepper

Combine the orange juice, shallots, and chili powder in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Lower the heat to medium high and simmer until thick and syrupy, about 8 minutes.  Transfer the mixture to a heatproof mixing bowl and cool to room temperature.  Whisk in the vinegar and honey.  Slowly whisk in the oil until the dressing is smooth.  Stir in the cilantro and season to taste with salt and pepper.

For the Salad:
1 package of mixed field greens
4 slices of thick-sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
3 hard-boiled eggs, sliced in quarters or halves
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

Toss half the vinaigrette with the salad greens.  Sprinkle the crumbled bacon, eggs, and onion slices over the salad.  Top with a skewer of scallops and drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.  Serve!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Green-Chile Cheeseburgers

My husband is excellent with the grill.  I really do not like burgers - but I find his completely irresistible.  They always remain juicy - even though we use 90% lean ground beef - and he always comes up with fantastic combinations for toppings.  Such was the case with these Green-Chile Cheeseburgers.  

Oh. My. Goodness. These were so delicious!  They definitely took a bit more work than the average burger, but they were so worth the effort!

Now, my husband is a purist when it comes to grilling and scoffs at anyone who uses anything less than a charcoal grill.  I have to say, it would be kind of a nice to have a gas grill once in a while just because it takes a bit of time to wait for the charcoal to heat up enough (especially when it is windy).  Such was the case when making these the other day.  The grill took FOREVER to heat up and we were absolutely starving by the time these were ready to eat.  But don't think that these tasted great just because we were so hungry we could have eaten a shoe...these really were the best burgers I have had in a long time.

To assemble the Green-Chile Cheeseburgers, Paul roasted some anaheim chiles, jalapeno chiles, and sweet onions over the grill.  He then skinned the charred chiles and chopped them in the food processor along with the onion and some garlic.  Part of this onion/garlic/chile mixture is reserved for the topping, while the rest is combined with some ground beef to form the burger patties.  Paul then grilled these babies up, sprinkling the reserved chilies and a slice of Monterey Jack cheese over the top in the last few minutes of cooking, and then served them on toasted buns with avocado mash, onions, lettuce, and tomato.  So good.

Of course, my occasionally-vegetarian son would not eat a burger.  He just ate the bun and a tomato.  He's still convinced tomatoes are "apples."  Silly little guy.  And I just had to share this little pose he was doing while we were assembling the burger patties.  Hilarious.

Green Chile Cheeseburgers
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Summer Grilling

3 Anaheim chiles, stemmed, halved lengthwise, and seeded
3 jalapeno chiles, stemmed, halved lengthwise, and seeded
1 vidalia onion, peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed
Table salt and ground black pepper
1 1/2 pounds 85% lean ground beef (we used 90%)
4 slices Monterey Jack
4 hamburger buns or rolls

Light a charcoal fire until hot. Clean the grate.

Grill the chiles and onion until charred and tender, 2-4 minutes per side. Remove the charred skin from the chiles and separate the onion into rings. Put the chiles, onion and garlic in a food processor and pulse until chopped in small chunks. Set aside all but 1/4 cup in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Process the remaining 1/4 cup until finely chopped.

Add the finely chopped chile mixture to the ground beef along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and mix until well combined. Form the mixture into patties, creating an indent in the center of each.

Grill the burgers, divot side down 3-5 minutes, or until well browned. Flip the burgers. Add chopped chile mixture to each and cover with a piece of cheese. Grill for an additional 3-5 minutes.
Serve on hamburger buns with condiments.

Monday, May 14, 2012

TWD: Pecan Sticky Buns

This is my first ever Tuesdays with Dorie post!  I am so excited to be baking my way through Baking with Julia with the many other fabulous food bloggers in the Tuesdays with Dorie group.

The recipe this week was for Pecan Sticky Buns by Nancy Silverton.  I actually recall watching the particular episode of the PBS series Baking with Julia where Nancy demonstrates how to bake these delectable pieces of buttery heaven.  And buttery they are.  I completely lost track of how many sticks of butter were tossed into these.  Nor did I really want to know because I really really wanted to taste one of these straight out of the oven without thinking about how many hours I would have to put in at the gym in order to melt the additional butter from my thighs.

These took quite a bit of time.  They were incredibly easy to make but did involve quite a few steps and a lot of waiting time that made the process a bit tedious.  I began them on Saturday night by making the brioche dough.  I then let the brioche chill overnight and then got up early on Sunday to fill, cut, and bake the buns.  They came out of the oven around 10:00 AM and my husband and son were eagerly waiting, mouths drooling and forks in hand, ready to try one.  How disappointed they were when I proceeded to take a few pictures of the finish product before they were allowed to "dig in."

However, they both agreed that these buns were worth the wait.  The brioche dough tastes more like a beautifully buttery croissant and the buns themselves were not overly sweet.  They were a rather refined version of a sticky bun (if that makes any sense whatsoever!).  Matthew gobbled down his portion as quickly as his little mouth could chew and then raised his plate and asked me, with his little cheeks still full:  "More?"

Paul took the leftover buns into work with him this morning.  He called to tell me that everyone was raving about how wonderful they tasted.  If I keep sending baked goods in with Paul, I have a feeling that I will become quite popular around the office!

Thanks to our hosts Lynn of Eat Drink Man Woman Dogs Cat and Nicole of Cookies on Friday for hosting this week's recipe!  If you want to try your hand at this fabulous recipe, the full recipe is posted by both of these lovely ladies at their respective sites.  Or you could pick up your own copy of Baking with Julia - it would make a fine addition to any cookbook collection!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Nistler Disease

Shortly after I began dating my husband, I became acutely aware of his penchant for falling asleep anywhere while doing anything. During a movie, during a meal, in the middle of a conversation, while driving.  You name it, Paul could definitely sleep through it!  His narcolepsy always followed a similar pattern:  first the eyes would begin to glaze over, followed by a slow drooping of the lids.  Then came the head bobbing as he struggled to fight off the fatigue before finally giving in and allowing his chin to rest on his chest.  Then came the snoring.

I was unaware that this ability to instantaneously doze off was in fact a familial trait until I visited Paul's family shortly after we were married.  We were driving into town with several of his siblings piled into the back seat of the car.  We had been having what I thought was a lively, stimulating conversation when suddenly I realized that Paul and I were the only ones speaking.  We looked behind us to find everyone in a trance, their eyes closed and their heads a-bobbing.  Later that evening, we tried to watch a movie as a family and no more than 20 minutes into it, I realized that I was the only one awake.  Everyone else was once again sleeping with their heads bobbing in rhythm.  Pure genetics!

After Matthew was born, he never slept.  Ever.  There were nights where Paul and I took turns staying up bouncing with him because he simply refused to sleep.  I was pretty sure that his insomnia came from my side of the family and that perhaps he had missed out on inheriting his father's deep-seeded need for regular sleep.  However, as he has grown, I think he has begun to develop the "Nistler Sleeping Disease."

I have video evidence to prove it...

Did I mention that alcohol in any capacity also knocks my husband out?  In any form.  Even when there is only a bit of it in the glaze of this banana bread.  Paul ate about half the loaf in one sitting and then felt exhausted.  It might have also had something to do with an uncomfortably full stomach.  Either way, this Bananas Foster Bread is absolutely to die for - especially if you enjoy a good rum flavor!  The bread really captures the traditional flavors of a bananas foster dessert.  It tastes extremely indulgent and would be great warm with a scoop of ice cream.  I could have (and should have!) licked all of the glaze from the pot.  Delicious!

Bananas Foster Bread
from Brown Eyed Baker

For the Bread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3 medium bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

For the Streusel Topping:
1½ cups chopped walnuts
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter

For the Rum Glaze:
¼ cup (4 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup rum

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

Combine ingredients for streusel topping in a medium bowl and combine with fingers to create a crumbly topping with the butter evenly distributed. Set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and baking powder in a small bowl to combine. Set aside.

On medium speed, beat the sugar and vegetable oil to combine. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each until combined. Add the mashed bananas and vanilla extract; beat to combine. Alternatively add the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat just until the flour is incorporated and finish mixing with a spatula.

Spread batter into the prepared loaf pan. Sprinkle the streusel topping evenly over the batter. Bake until a thin knife inserted in the center comes out almost clean, about 60 minutes.

To make the rum glaze, combine the butter, water and sugar in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the rum. Set aside and cover to keep warm.

Cool the cake on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then, using a skewer poke holes all over the top of the loaf. Spoon about ¼ cup of the rum glaze all over the loaf. Let the cake sit for about 5 minutes and then spoon the remaining glaze over it, a little at a time, until it is all absorbed into the bread.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Garlic, and Walnuts

After nearly four years of marriage, a lesson that I keep having to relearn over and over and OVER again is this:  Paul is physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually incapable of being able to read my mind.  Especially when it comes to birthday celebrations.

Now, Paul is a smart guy.  He seriously has one of the most brilliant minds of anyone I have ever met.  However, when it comes to the romance department, I have to say he probably has as much Romeo in him as Pluto the Dog.  Sure, he's had his moments which have made my spirits soar with the hope that maybe he has finally learned what it takes to be a "Prince Charming."  Here are a few:

  • Shortly before we were married, he sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers with a note proclaiming how excited he was for our wedding day.  
  • When I was pregnant with Matthew and my quickly expanding midsection was making it difficult to find ANYTHING that fit, much less something remotely fashionable, he surprised me with a beautiful maternity dress from Ann Taylor.  I wore that dress all throughout the pregnancy and, even though it is a maternity outfit, it remains one of my most favorite outfits!
  • For our anniversary last year, he planned a glorious event-filled day.  He set up a sitter for Matthew and then we went on a long bike ride, followed by lunch at a little Greek cafe, a walk along the beach, long conversations in the sun, a fancy dinner at a scrumptious Italian restaurant, and a communal ice cream sundae for dessert.  It was so wonderful to spend so much quality time together.
  • When leaving for work early some mornings, he will program the coffee maker to brew a fresh pot for me and leave a sweet love note next to my empty coffee mug.

Yes, Paul has had quite a few moments of pure romance and thoughtfulness.  However, there have been a couple of misses in recent years:

  • For my birthday one year, Paul bought me some summer clothes.  It was a sweet thought...but they were all size 15 on up.  I normally wear a size 4-6.  I was going through a bit of an insecure period of time with my body and immediately burst into tears when I saw the tags.  I think I traumatized him because he has not bought me any clothing since.
  • For Christmas, I bought Paul the complete Calvin and Hobbes hardcover treasury because I knew how much he loves that comic strip.  He gave me a calendar.
  • At 6:00 pm the night of my birthday, he asks me what I want him to make me for dinner.  I then had the pleasure of entertaining our extremely fussy baby while he ran out to the store to collect all the ingredients and then frantically prepared the dish by 9:00 pm.  By which time, we had to quickly inhale our food because the baby was extremely grumpy and screaming because Paul insisted on keeping him awake so he could see me "blow out the candles."    
  • And for my most recent birthday, Paul came home late and then immediately began reheating the leftover Manicotti from dinner the night before.  Swoon.

Paul tells me that it is just as much my fault as his when things do not go over so well as far as birthdays go because I do not tell him exactly what I want him to do for me.  I, on the other hand, do not want to have to plan out my own birthday celebrations.  I know that he would be more than willing to buy whatever trinket I desire or take me to the romantic restaurant of my choosing if I would just lay it out for him.  However, in my hopelessly delusional female mind, I want him to want to plan out a romantic evening, dinner, present, whatever!  I want him to think "I am going to do this for her because I know she will love it!"  I have no idea what he was thinking when  he decided reheating leftovers was something that I would love to have for my birthday dinner.

However, I need to realize that when it comes to gifts, dates, and celebrations I do need to be more specific with him.  Even though he knows me well (sometimes I doubt he does), he will never be able to interpret what exactly it is I desire.  If I get into the habit of being more vocal about what I would like, generally speaking, then perhaps he can fill in the details.  For example, I should have told him that I wanted a nice dinner out for my birthday.  Then, I could leave it to him to figure out what restaurant, whether to bring Matthew or not, etc.  For the past few Christmases (after the infamous calendar incident), I created an Amazon wishlist to make it easier for him to get an idea of what I would like as a present.  He has appreciated that (and I LOVE my new kitchen scale!).  Because the bottom line is that he  truly loves me and really desires to make me happy.  He just is unsure of how exactly to do that half the time.

Ignore the crazy hair.  It was VERY windy that day.

Anyway...marriage is all about communication and I know that it is something Paul and I struggle with on a daily basis.  And despite how much I love to pick on him for his lack of romance or forethought, there is no one I would rather be married to than Paul.  He is kind, generous, hard-working, and loyal.  Nobody can make me laugh like he does (nobody can irritate me quite as much, either).  He is my person, now and always.  And I thank God every day for the gift of my wonderful husband.

Alright, enough mushy stuff...

The recipe I want to share today is a delicious vegetarian pasta recipe that we enjoyed very much for dinner this past week.  Have you ever roasted cauliflower?  If not, you should.  I like cauliflower raw, but roasting it adds a wonderful nutty complexity to its flavor.  Toss it in with some hot cooked pasta, a roasted garlic sauce, toasted walnuts, and a generous helping of Parmesan cheese and you have an excellent, healthy meal that is a treat for the taste buds.

If you are looking for an alternative to regular spaghetti and meatballs, give this recipe a try.

Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower, Garlic, and Walnuts
from Cook's Illustrated

2 heads garlic, papery skins removed, top quarter of heads cut off and discarded
6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Table salt and ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 pound campanelle, fusilli, or bow tie pasta
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 – 3 tablespoons juice from 1 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
¼ cup chopped walnuts, toasted

Adjust oven rack to middle position, place large rimmed baking sheet on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees.

Place garlic heads, cut-side up, in center of a piece of foil. Drizzle ½ teaspoon oil over each head and seal packet. Place packet on oven rack and roast until garlic is very tender, about 40 minutes. Open packet and set aside to cool.

While garlic is roasting, trim outer leaves of cauliflower and cut stem flush with bottom. Cut head from pole to pole into 8 equal wedges. Place cauliflower in large bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and the sugar.

Remove baking sheet from oven. Carefully transfer cauliflower to baking sheet and spread into even layer, placing cut sides down. Return baking sheet to oven and roast until cauliflower is well browned and tender, 20-25 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to cutting board. When cool enough to handle, chop into rough ½-inch pieces.

While cauliflower roasts, bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta.  Cook until al dente. Squeeze roasted garlic cloves from their skins into small bowl. Using fork, mash garlic to smooth paste, then stir in red pepper flakes and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Slowly whisk in remaining 1/4 cup oil.

Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water, and return pasta to pot. Add chopped cauliflower to pasta; stir in garlic sauce, ¼ cup cooking water, parsley, and ½ cup cheese. Adjust consistency with additional cooking water and season with salt, pepper, and additional lemon juice to taste. Serve immediately, sprinkling with remaining ½ cup cheese and toasted nuts.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Kale Salad with Grapes, Strawberries, and Pears

I have been in love with Kale ever since I first tried it a little over a year ago.  The hearty flavor is reminiscent of broccoli, one of my other favorite vegetables.  Paul enjoys kale as well so I know when I throw together a salad featuring this hearty green he will be more than happy to polish off his fair share.  I still have not been able to sell him on my Kale Green Monster Smoothies, but maybe I just need to figure out a way to get rid of the interesting green color because I'm pretty sure they taste just fine.

Paul has been losing weight steadily over the past few months and I'm trying to help him along by feeding him a main dish salad in between some of his favorite, heavier meals like pizza, burgers, and steak.  He definitely appreciates the effort although he always groans about his stomach growling about an hour after dinner.  However, he claims the kale salad keeps him full hours after dinner.  Must be all that healthy fiber.

Next time you see a healthy looking bunch of kale in your grocery section, grab it and make a fabulous salad.  I love incorporating all kinds of seasonal fruits along with the kale.  This particular salad was just a complete medley of fruit that we had in the refrigerator.  We absolutely loved the results!  If you do not have strawberry vinegar on hand (I had purchased mine from a specialty oil and vinegar store), feel free to substitute another fruity vinegar like raspberry.

Kale Salad with Grapes, Strawberries, and Pears
Nistler Family Original

1 bunch of kale, tough stems removed and leaves sliced chiffonade
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1 pear, finely diced
1-2 cups grapes, sliced in half
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 cup toasted pecans
4 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 tablespoons strawberry or raspberry vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
Handful of gorgonzola or feta (We did not add any cheese this time, but it's delicious!)

Place the kale leaves in a large bowl and sprinkle the salt over the top.  Using your fingers, gently massage the salt into the leaves.  The leaves should start to turn a dark green color and release some moisture.  Continue massaging for 2-3 more minutes until the leaves start to feel tender.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, sugar, mustard, and pepper.  Pour over the kale and toss gently to coat (at this point the kale may be refrigerated for a few hours ahead of time).

Right before serving, toss the kale mixture with the remaining ingredients.  Serve immediately.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hearth Bread

Apologies for the hiatus.  A virus has once again descended upon our home, choosing a single victim to plague with stomach pains, sinus pressure, laryngitis, and a nasty dry cough:  ME.

I have been without a voice for the past four days.  Matthew has been really confused as to why I am unable to speak above a whisper.  I think he has been making up for my silence by being even more loud and obnoxious than normal.  His big thing lately has been to balance precariously on the edge of the couch and yell "Help! Help!" until someone comes to his rescue.  It was cute the very first time he did it, but got old quickly when he insisted on doing this for about 3 hours straight.

Since I have been feeling a bit under the weather, we have been surviving on make-ahead meals that I manage to assemble when I experience a surge of energy.  Last night, we enjoyed a delicious mushroom lasagna that I had actually made two days previously.  I wanted to make some bread to serve with the meal, but was really not feeling up to a recipe that was super involved like french baguettes or ciabatta.  I remembered a recipe that I have made a few times from King Arthur Flour for a basic "hearth-style bread" that can be prepared and baked within a matter of a few short hours.  It worked wonderfully and produced two beautiful loaves of bread.  Paul made a whipped garlic butter spread to serve alongside and Matthew polished off a good half of a loaf all by himself.  He sure does love his carbs.

If you are looking for an easy bread recipe to make for dinner tonight, give this one a try!

Hearth Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour

1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
5 1/2-6 cups all-purpose flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 5 cups of flour, the yeast, salt, and sugar.  Stir with the paddle attachment briefly to combine.  Slowly stream in the warm water until the dough comes together.  Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and increase the mixer speed to medium.  Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding additional flour by the tablespoon until dough is no longer sticky and feels soft and smooth.

Remove the dough from the ball and knead briefly on a floured surface.  Form into a ball and place in a large, greased bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Punch the dough down to remove air bubbles and turn out onto a floured surface.  Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a torpedo shape.  Transfer the shaped loaves to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spray the top of each loaf with cooking spray.  Cover with plastic and allow to rise for about 45 additional minutes.

While the loaves are rising, place one oven rack in the center and the other at the bottom of the oven.  Fill a roasting pan with water and place on the bottom oven rack.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Quickly diagonally slash the bread in 4 places with a very sharp knife or razor.  Spritz the surface of the loaves with water and immediately place in the oven on the center rack.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue to bake for 10-15 additional minutes.  The loaves should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.  Remove the loaves from the oven and allow to cool at least 1 hour on a wire rack before slicing.