Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homemade Fast Food: Tater-Tot Casserole

Zach and I had tots....

Lot's of tots... in this tater-tot casserole recommended by none other than our I-am-just-going-to-go-ahead-and-call-them family-even-though-Zach-won't, Chris and Rachel...Rachel recommended them in an "I-made-this" sort of way and Chris recommended this in an "I-ate-this" sort of way.

Juicy ground beef topped with crispy tater tots and melted cheese. Can we call this what it is? Homemade fast food. Delicious! No one eats more fast food than Zach and I. While I love to cook and even manage to update this blog once in a while, most days we are bringing food home from places all over the city. I even noticed this morning that Wing-Stop and Pappa Johns are among our "most visited" websites (as defined by our google chrome homepage).

Rachel managed to make a healthier version of this genius dish by using the healthier version of everything in the dish, but I didn't bother. I think I will lighten it up a little next time by throwing some vegetables into the meat mixture and using extra lean beef since I basically felt like I couldn't move after eating this, but it sure was worth every bite. Oh, and it was probably the easiest thing I have ever made.

Tater-Tot Casserole
Recipe by Craving Comfort
feeds 3-5 people

1 lb lean ground beef (I would use very lean maybe up to 1 1/2 lbs)
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can condensed cream of celery or cream of chicken soup (undiluted) - i did not use the whole can
1 16oz package frozen tater tots
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Brown ground beef. season with salt & pepper. - do not break it apart completely...leave some nice meaty chunks in there
Add chopped onion, cook until tender.
In a casserole dish, combine ground beef mixture & cream soup.
Top mixture with tater tots.
Bake , uncovered, for 30-40 minutes till bubbly and Tots are golden brown.
remove from oven & top with cheese, return to oven until melted.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Putting Off: Easy Tandoori Chicken

Have you ever had something lingering on your to-do list, for weeks? months? years?

I feel this way about a lot things that just sit in my "inbox" of life. To name a few:
Get a new license with my new name from the DMV (so I can subsequently get everything else with my new name on it)
Renew subscriptions
Learn how to use bleach to whiten my whites in the wash, idea
Toss that plant out front away because it has been dead for a while...literally walk right by it everyday
Clean my car
Hang out with friends who have been and will continue to be neglected by a busy a work schedule for the next few months

Zach left early this morning because he had to get an oil change. He said he had been putting it off and just needed to get it done. That is something that took me by surprise. Why can't I just get something done? Well, I am doing just that by blogging this morning since blogging is forever on my to do list because I can never seem to do enough of it.

It just so happens this meal I prepared last Sunday night has been on my mind for far too long. This one goes back to early December when I went to North Carolina for a wonderful girls' weekend with Amanda and Becky. We galavanted around Chapel Hill, where Dr. Becky is doing her residency. We had such a good time taking in the adorable "small town" (and that is me comparing it in size to LA) and the cool woods behind Becky's oh-so North Carolina apartment. We even saw what was left of Occupy Chapel Hill:

We just had the best time sitting in Becky's living room with Mate-the-perfect-dog-and-inspiration-for-me-ever-wanting-a-dog-in-the-first-place talking for hours. I am pretty sure that is what the three of us did for the better part of the first day we arrived. It was like we picked up right where we left off. Do you have friends like that? It is something really special when you can feel the same way with friends as you would with your family.

We did another thing girls love to do when they get together: shop. We ended up at World Market at one point where I picked up some tandori chicken rub/marinade. I thought it would inspire me to get back to the kitchen right when I got back to LA.

Well, here we are 3 months later. I would like to dedicate this meal to that fabulous girls' weekend...and my stomach....and Zach's stomach.

Tandoori Chicken with Curry Couscous and sauteed veggies.

For Chicken:
2 lb chicken thigh filets (you can get breasts or bone in thighs...really anything you want)
2 cups plain greek yogurt (do not use the low fat or fat free kind)
juice from one lemon - fresh!
tandori chicken powder rub/marinade (this was from World Market, but they have a selection of other brands in the ethnic food section in the grocery store)
1 finely chopped onion

For Couscous:
1 box instant couscous (ready in 5 minutes)
1/2 tsp curry powder
1/4 C almond slivers

For Sauteed Veggies:
1 tbs olive oil
mixed veggies, any kind you like...I used green beans, mushrooms and red onion
sea salt (I had some curry lime sea salt which worked well
slivered almonds

Place chicken in a resealable plastic bag and squeeze lemon all over it. Throw the lemon rinds in the bag too.
Mix the yogurt, onions and the tandoori spice powder together in a bowl and add to the bag with the chicken. Make sure the chicken s coated and let marinate in the fridge for about 2-4 hours
Remove chicken from fridge about 15 minutes before you are ready to bake it.
Set oven to 475 deg F.
Place marinated chicken and all the contents of the bag in a baking dish and place it in the oven for 25-35 minutes (depending on the cut of the chicken you use --- jus check it after 25 minutes.

Make the couscous as directed on the box. Once it has absorbed the water and is ready, add the curry powder and almonds and mix in thoroughly.

Sautee the veggies in a pan with the oil until just tender, adding the salt and almonds during the last 4-5 minutes so the almonds become toasted.

Pile it all up starting with the couscous on the bottom, then the veggies and then the chicken. Use the sauce from the chicken to pour over the plate as well.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We Like to Party

We like to party-we-we-we like to party.

Taking inspiration from the late 90's group, Vengaboys, we like to celebrate holidays, even holidays that are transparently just an excuse to celebrate.

February is full of holidays that are sometimes overlooked: Valentines Day and Presidents' Day. I cannot yet speak for Presidents' Day (a day off from work might be enough of a celebration), but this was our first Valentines Day as a married couple so there is no way we can ignore that!

Zach has made dinner for me precisely one time during the almost six years we have been together. He made me spaghetti and meat sauce one night when we were still in the ooey gooey stage of our relationship. It was delicious! His cooking skills have since been confined to manning the grill during steak or burger nights. I love to cook so I am not complaining, but when he said he was going to cook dinner, I jumped at the chance to see what he would come up with.

Beef Wellington. Fancy right? Well, it was delicious. He topped it all off with a great little homemade sauce, steamed broccoli and a sweet potato. We spent our first Valentines Day as a married couple eating like royalty on a blanket of the floor of our living room.

Of course, I can never stay out of the kitchen so my gift to Zach was to make him our signature cocktail that we served for guests at our wedding last year.

This was a combination between two recipes we came across while experimenting on mixing cocktails for our big day. We set up sort of a science lab of little bottles and garnishes and went to town on tasting different mixtures. We loved two different drinks so Zach went to make some sort of combination of them which turned out to be excellent!

Martha Stewart's Thyme Lemonade + Whisky Magazine's Bourbon Punch = The Lindzachary Wedding Cocktail

The Lindzachary:

1 1/2 C white sugar
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1 C water
1 C Whisky Bourbon
2 C pink lemonade
1/4 C grenadine
additional thyme springs for garnish

Put sugar, thyme and water into a saucepan, and bring to a boil. Stir until sugar is dissolved (about 2 minutes). Let cool.
In a pitcher with ice, mix bourbon, pink lemonade and grenadine. Then add the thyme simple syrup to taste (you may end up using all of it).

This recipe is going o be different for everyone. This makes a big batch that can be saved in a pitcher for later. You should mix it depending on your taste and how strong you would like the drink to be. A general rule on a small scale is to start with would be:

1 part bouron
2 parts pink lemonade
3/4 part thyme syrup
just a dash grenadine

Garnish with a sprig of thyme. Cheers!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Meat, Meet Cheese

Meat and cheese plate: the carb-counter's dream meal.

We tend to throw together meat and cheese plates on lazy Sunday nights when we would rather picnic on our coffee table than spend an hour or two cooking in the kitchen. These "lazy Sunday dinners" tend to turn into a feast for a king by the time I get finished plating everything I thought we would need for a successful nosh.

Our honeymoon was to Iceland, and I am going to be honest here: I had not heard good things about the food. With a national dish such as putrefied shark and things like puffin, raw whale meat and horse on the menus, I was kind of looking forward to the possibility of actually losing weight while traveling.

I decided I would be adventurous and try some things I might be uncomfortable with. The very first restaurant we went to was a recommendation from someone I stopped in the street. "Do you know of any great little restaurants or cafes to eat lunch around here?", I asked in English without hesitation to a young-ish pair of stylish-looking women (EVERYONE spoke English there). They directed us to a little place that was tucked slightly off the main drag.

We did not know what to make of the menu. First of all, diet coke was "pepsi max"; a quick trial and error session was all it took to figure out that one. We did not really understand what a lot of the things on the menu were, and the servers were not interested in walking us through it. Also, everything was insanely expensive! This was just a regular restaurant, cute but nothing special. The entrees could cost between $35-$50. We settled on splitting what we determined to be a "sampler-style appetizer plate" that was $35.

It turned out to be the most delicious version of a meat and cheese plate I had ever set tongue on. From then on, I knew my waistline and wallet were in trouble on this trip. At least when we asked the random woman in the street what is customary for tipping, she said in a heavy accent, "oh, we are Icelanders...we. don't. tip." I don't know if she was trying to say that we should tip since we were not Icelanders or if she was just so proud of the fact that they do not subject themselves to the custom of tipping, but who could even afford to tip on top of such pricey restaurant bills?

We went on to indulge in other great adventures while in Iceland some of which included other foods like whale sashimi (no wonder we did not see any whales when we went whale watching) and that putrefied shark I was telling you about.

Other adventures were of the outdoor variety like visiting Iceland's many scenic wonders:




Icelandic Horses:


And then there was the city-life. The biggest city was Reykjavik, where more than half of the 300,000 people in the country live. While Reykjavik was by far the biggest city we visited, it was still smaller than 200,000. I believe that is about the amount of people that fit into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium AKA "The Swamp" two times.


Sushi on a conveyor belt:


Some of you may see a meat and cheese plate as a cop out for a recipe, but I really wanted to share the idea since it is just the idea if you want to have dinner at home, but you are in no mood to cook. It has a "home-cooked" vibe without any mess or effort. There is something about plating up everything to create a nice spread that is relaxing and fun. Here are some tips to create a great spread based on my past trial and errors:

*choose 3 meats - one hearty style (i.e. something you might eat on a sandwich like a great roast beef or sliced ham), one sausage type (like a thick summer sausage or salami or chorizo - you could opt for two sausages if the first type of meat sounds boring to you), and one artisan style (like prosciutto or something you might just like to taste).

*Try to get your meats and cheeses from a grocery store with a great deli counter. That way, you can just buy what you need and still have plenty of variety. Or you could just spring for whole packages of everything so you will just have to make the spread again a couple of days later.

*choose three cheeses - one hearty (maybe a tasty cheddar or muenster. In honor of Iceland, we bought havarti cheese which was a staple at any breakfast meal we enjoyed while we were there), one special cheese that has been soaked or smoked or aged, read: hard (like a smoked gouda, manchego cheese is my favorite or one of those delicious cheeses that has been soaked in merlot) and something soft and strong like a goat cheese or blue cheese.

*Throw a baguette or whatever bread you like in the oven on a low setting until the crust is toasted and the inside is warm. Don't slice it. Just let people pull pieces off of it as they go; this way it will stay warm on the inside throughout the meal.

*Nuts are a great addition to the spread. I recommend cashews, spiced almonds, candied walnuts...

*Dried fruit or jam adds a great slightly slightly sweet touch and can be rolled up on a piece of bread with one of the soft cheeses

*some veggies with a dip - something light in case the meal gets to feeling too heavy

*I love grapes with cheese.

*Red wine is a must.

*Lastly, set up somewhere picnic-style, even if you are inside. Light some candles and enjoy!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Wedding and a Recipe.

I have had an abnormal amount of people lately tell me they really enjoy my blog (humble brag) which has inspired me to pick back up the laptop and finger-peck away another post. I make no promises here as I have clearly not exhibited consistent blogging behavior in the past six months; I am in no place to make any pledges.

The good news about being so absent lately is that I have an abundance of new material to yap away about. I guess the most obvious material would be the fact that Zach and I decided to get hitched back in September.

The wedding was in Orlando, Florida September 18th. It was a great day. Everything was perfect, and no I am not referring to the devine coming together of months of planning and crafting cute little do-dads. I am referring to the spending of quality time with all the people we care about most in the world and those that care about us (minus the few that were unable to make it and dearly missed).

Here are some highlights from the day in case you are interested and have not been assaulted with Lindzachary wedding photos too much already via the magic of facebook.

We did a private yoga class the morning before the wedding:

Rehearsal dinner, a backyard BBQ (Sonny's BBQ, that is) at Zach's parent's home:

The ceremony:

The portraits:

The reception d├ęcor...tables had names instead of numbers like "Jeff Goldblum: Zach kind of looks like him, Lindsey Kind of likes it.":

The party:

A couple if insider trading secrets from the day include:

The call to go through with the outdoor ceremony was made when it was still raining outside at 3:30pm for a 5:30pm ceremony. We had grandmothers on both sides of the family praying for sunshine, and boy did we get it. The weather was beautiful, and the rain from the whole first part of the day actually made the area nice and cool for the ceremony.

For pre-wedding gifts, Zach gave me a beautiful necklace with a thin gold chain and a garnet stone. I will wear it to any wedding I ever go to. I gave him a leather-bound book with blank pages and “Weissmueller” pressed into the leather on the cover. We wrote our vows in there and will write a little something to each other in there each year on September 18th.

We put ourselves through about 5 weeks of pre-marital counseling sessions in the months leading up to the wedding. I know this sounds like TMI, but I genuinely enjoyed our time doing it, and would recommend it to anyone. I know it is not for everyone. It was just really nice to talk to a neutral third party about our relationship. It is kind of a rare experience because if you think about it, anyone you or your partner might go to for wisdom or advice will have some sort of angle, bias or be sensitive to certain things they already know about you. It was really interesting to talk with someone who was a blank slate with us.

Planning a wedding out of state is not so bad. I know it sounds like it would really complicate things, and it certainly did. But there is something to be said about keeping your distance from the location of the wedding for the entire time you are engaged. It definitely keeps things in check since it is kind of impossible to get carried away when there are some things you just cannot physically accomplish from the opposite side of the country. The downside was that I definitely missed out on some fun wedding-planning related outings you tend to take with bridesmaids and family, but we managed to squeeze most of them in during the days I was in town to work on wedding things. The other stipulation (and it is a big one) is that I had a dream team of Orlandonites led by the mother of the groom herself that made the personal style of the wedding possible. I also had the worlds best wedding coordinator (if-you-are-having-a-wedding-in-florida-call-me-and-i-will-put-you-in-touch-because-you-cannot-do-it-without-her-I-don’t-think).

While the details of the bachelorette party shall remain under wraps, I will say there was a 3am (approximately) Domino’s pizza delivered to the house where we were staying. While I loved the whole bachelorrette party, my favorite part was sitting around the kitchen table with about 8 girls sharing one pizza giggling about the events of the evening. A slice never tasted so good.

We did not hire a videographer (pictures were more important to us), but our friend, Case, did record just our vows during the ceremony.

We wrote our own vows. They took up the majority of the ceremony. It was my favorite part of the day.

I am pretty proud of the fact that the "single lady" who "caught" my bouquet in the bouquet direct pitch, I mean toss, will in fact be the next to marry. We look forward to returning to Orlando for Rachel and Chris' wedding later this year. You're welcome.

Succotash has catapulted to the top of my list of favorite side dishes. So when Food Network Mag had a recipe using it, I decided to make the whole meal, including the delicious-looking pepper-jack stuffed chicken breasts. The whole meal is just, well, pretty. This meal looks more intense than it really is. It doesn't take long to prepare, and the payoff is really nice. Plus, succotash keeps in the fridge for a good week to serve as a side dish for other meals so make a bunch.

This recipe is from over a year ago in the magazine, and my husband was not even my husband when I made this meal. It must have been over the summer. Yikes it has been a long time since I have written. I have since made this and my previous succotash recipe using frozen edamame instead of lima beans. I have to say is superior to the limas. Edamame is a rich and buttery bean packed with all sorts of good-for-you stuff. Just make sure the frozen edamame are not in the pods, but peeled. They should be lose in the bag. They look and feel exactly like lima beans, but they have a deeper green color (similar to the color of green beans) and more flavor.

4 ounces pepper-jack cheese, shredded
2 cups baby arugula, roughly chopped
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (12 ounces each)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for brushing
Kosher salt
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons Cajun spice blend
Vegetable oil, for the grill

1 cup frozen lima beans, thawed (I like to substitute frozen peeled edamame)
1 medium yellow summer squash, diced
2 cups corn kernels
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
4 strips of bacon (I added this part, but believe me it makes it even better!)
Juice of 1 lime (I did not use this since I was using bacon, but you should use this is you don't add the bacon)

Combine the cheese and arugula in a bowl. Cut a deep 2-inch-wide pocket in the thickest part of each chicken breast with a paring knife. Stuff with the arugula mixture. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and the Cajun spice blend.

Preheat a grill to high and brush the grates with vegetable oil. Grill the chicken until blackened and a thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 155 degrees F, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over high heat or if you are using bacon, just cook it until crisp (the fat from the bacon will serve as the "oil" in this case) --- then take out the bacon and crumble it up, leaving the grease in the pan. Add the lima beans, squash and corn, season with salt and cook until the squash is just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and crumbled bacon and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the lime juice (if you did not use the bacon).

Slice the chicken and serve with the succotash.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Sides - Shallot/Lemon Brown Rice with Toasted Pine Nuts and Roasted Zaatar Carrots

I have always been all about the sides.

When you have a habit of wanting to taste the food on everyone's plate at the table, side dishes are important to you. They offer variety in a meal. Sure, the hunk of beef, chicken breast or fish maybe are delicious, but the side dishes really bring out the best in the main dish. I always like to have at least two sides, and one of them has to be special.

For this casual Sunday evening dinner, I was making some super easy tilapia with some herbs de provence and lemon rub. I decided to focus on some more adventurous sides. They both were very flavorful and turned out very well. I loved the zaatar carrots because the natural sweetness in the carrots contrasted the tangy kick of the zaatar spices; this made for such an interesting combination. I imagine you could substitute any vegetable for carrots like asparagus, zucchini, potatoes, etc. I also made brown rice with lemon, shallots and toasted pine nuts....yummmm. Yes, it was good.

Zaatar Carrots

(Serves 4, recipe from "Food Network Magazine")

Preheat 2 baking sheets in a 450 degree oven. Quarter 4 pounds carrots lengthwise and toss with 1/4 cup olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Spread on the hot baking sheets and roast until browned, 18 to 20 minutes. Toss with 4 teaspoons za'atar (a spice blend available at Middle Eastern markets), 3 tablespoons chopped parsley and the juice of 1 lemon.

Brown Rice with Lemon, Shallots and Toasted Pine Nuts

(Serves 4, recipe from "For the Love of Cooking")

2 tbsp pine nuts
1/2 tsp olive oil
1 shallot diced finely
1 tsp lemon zest divided in two
Brown rice prepared per instructions (use vegetable or chicken stock to cook the rice - it's much more flavorful). Also, add 1/2 tsp of lemon zest to rice while cooking.
1 tsp butter
Salt and pepper to taste

While the brown rice is cooking, add pine nuts to a DRY skillet over medium heat. Toast the nuts stirring often, until they are golden brown 2-3 minutes. After the nuts are finished cooking, remove from pan and set aside. In the same pan add the olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft and tender. They cook fast so stir them often. Once rice is finished cooking, add pine nuts, shallots, the remainder of lemon zest, butter and salt and pepper to taste.