Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What's for Dinner?

I have to take Rachel Ray and her obnoxious acronyms in small doses. But sign me up for heaping helpings of her recipes! I'll admit, some of her creations are just downright insulting to the rest of the culinary world - Chicago Dog Salad? She cannot be serious...Oh, but she is. (In case you're wondering, it's a salad with mustard dressing and hot dogs on top.) But let's ignore the blunders for a minute and discuss one of Ray's more noteworthy recipes - Grilled Halibut with Fennel, Orange, Red Onions, and Oregano.

Rachel Ray's 365: No Repeats cookbook has served me well for over a year now. I haven't even begun to tackle all the recipes yet, but the ones I have prepared have been pleasantly delicious. Since citrus and fennel are in season, it was a good excuse to break this one out. The recipe is a unique blend of flavors; it's tart, tangy, and crisp. And if you haven't had fennel then I recommend you try this out.

Warning: If you buy fennel at Kroger, the cashier will not know what fennel is. Guaranteed. And unfortunately, it's not in their cheater code book. So be sure to jot down the PLU -- #4515.

Grilled Halibut with Fennel, Orange, Red Onions, and Oregano

This dish is fast and healthy and incorporates a favorite Sicilian combo: oranges, red onions, and oregano.

2 Tablespoons EVOO (plus some for drizzling)
4 6-0z halibut fillets
Salt & Pepper
Crusty bread, cut into thick slices
1 Orange
1 fennel bulb, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (a couple of splashes)
A handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (from 2 springs)

Of course you can substitute dried herbs if you don't have fresh oregano or parsley, but the recipe will be lacking. I speak from experience...

Heat a grill pan over high heat. Drizzle EVOO over the fish and season with salt and pepper. Grill for 4 minutes on each side, or until the fish is firm and cooked through but not tough. Grill the bread alongside or char under a broiler, then dress with EVOO, salt, and pepper as well.

Preheat a skillet over medium-high heat.

While the fish cooks, grate the zest of the orange and reserve (I always do this before I begin. I must be a slow grater, but works for me.) Peel the oranges as you would a melon; cut off the ends, stand it upright, and cut off the skin and pith in thin strips from top to bottom. Cut the oranges into thin slices (discs).

To the preheated skillet, add the 2 tablespoons of EVOO (twice around the pan), the fennel, and onions, season with S&P, and cook for 3-5 minutes, until seared and begining to soften. Add the vinegar to the pan and give it a shake. Remove from the heat and toss in the oranges and zest, the parsley, and oregano. Adjust the seasoning and serve the salad on dinner plates topped with the fish. Serve the seasoned bread alongside.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Turkey Day Trip

To all of you who sat around on Thanksgiving and didn't do much but watch football and stuff yourselves, try this on for size...

Tuesday, November 20

10:15 a.m. Sean, Stacey, Bonnie, Ed and Trevor depart Nashville International

7:30 p.m. Arrive in Philly

9:30 p.m. Cheese steaks @ Aunt Joanne's (she's not really an aunt), Abbington, PA

11:30 p.m. check into swanky room at Hampton Inn

Wednesday, November 21
11:00 a.m. visit Cousin Keef at the Shell station in Doylstown, PA

Head South down route 611 to downtown Philly (longest drive ever)

2:00 p.m. More cheese steaks at Geno's.

2:10 p.m. Realize that I'm a Pat's person. Wish I was eating cheese steak at Pat's instead of Geno's.

3:00 p.m. Meet Emily @ 30th Street Station. Drive back to the hotel in Bucks County, PA. (more driving).

7:00 p.m. Arrive at Tony's. Have dinner with Bonnie's family - Nanny and Pop Pop Teddy, Aunt Sandy, Uncle Kevin, Troy and Jackie

9:00 p.m. Visit with everyone at Uncle Kevin's house. Drink Uncle Kevin's nice wine from Simi Valley

Gettin' ready for some Geno's

Thursday, November 22

3:30 a.m. Wake up sick

6:30 a.m. Wake up sick. Wake Sean to tell him I'm sick. Take Airborne.

11:00 a.m. Check out of Hampton Inn - head over to Uncle Kevin's house again.

3:00 p.m. Eat up Aunt Sandy's wonderful Thanksgiving dinner

4:00 p.m. Drink more of Uncle Kevin's wine

6:30 p.m. Drive 2 hours to South Jersey

8:30 p.m. Dessert @ Aunt Judi & Uncle Brian's house. Celebrate Kirsten's 21st Birthday.

10:00 p.m. Crash at Tom & Anne's house (the in-laws on the other side)

10:30 p.m. Still Sick (just in case you were wondering)

Bonnie and Aunt Sandy

Emily and Jackie

Troy, Sean and Uncle Kevin

Nanny cleans up after Thanksgiving dinner

Sean, Emily and Pop Pop Teddy

Emily & Aunt Judi w/ Uncle Brian in the back

Kiersten, Tory, Sean and Emily
Sean with his daddy Tom

Friday, November 23

10:00 a.m. Eat Ann's delicious breakfast casserole

Hang out at Tom's house in PJ's in front of the fire place. Kill 4 wasps.

4:00 p.m. Arive to Cousin Sherri's house in Lanoka Harbor for Nanny and Pop Pop's 80th birthday dinner.

8:00 p.m. Drive 2 hours back to Philly

10:00 p.m. Check into Mariott @ the airport

Cousin Eddy, Desiree, and Pop Pop Teddy

Emily, Sean, Bonnie, Pop Pop Teddy and Ed

Saturday, November 24

4:00 a.m. Wake-up call

6:15 a.m. Depart Philly

11:00 a.m. Arrive in Nashville

12:00 p.m. watch football and nap on the couch

Gingerbread Time in Tennessee

Perry Como is singing in the background and the red placemats came out of storage. Ahhh...the holiday season has arrived. Take a deep breath and smell the pine, everyone. In just a few days Sean and I will be heading down to the Depot to buy a Christmas Tree. Why does the end of the year always seem to come out of nowhere?

For most of us (the normal ones anyway), the day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas season. But this year the kickoff to my Christmas season came a bit early. Mom's friend Linda hosted her annual Gingerbread House party prior to Thanksgiving rather than the day after, so I've been singing "Deck the Halls" a good week before anyone thought about putting a turkey in the oven.

A Gingerbread House party is the absolute best way to get into the Christmas spirit. Rather than give you all the details (since it's pretty self-explanitory), I'll let the pictures do the talking.

Kelly, Sue, and Janice glue the graham crackers on the foam core frame

Janice lines her roof with gum drops

Linda and mom use royal icing to add candy detials to their gingerbread houses

Linda's husband Phillip prepares egg nog with Bailey's for all the ladies who are hard at work

The Gingerbread Ladies enjoying a great lunch that Phillip prepared for us

My Gingerbread House

Mom, me, Linda, Kelly, Sue and Janice with our Gingerbread houses

If you're interested in hosting your own Gingerbread House Party you'll need to keep a few things in mind:

1. Get organized. Gingerbread houses are very messy.
2. Buy lots of candy.
3. Pre-cut foam core board for speedy construction
4. Supply hot glue, tons of royal icing, and graham crackers
5. Have plenty of snacks and drinks - this can take a while...
6. The stronger the drink, the better the house

Monday, November 12, 2007

What did we eat?

My Version of Nicoise Salad

Nicoise Salad -

This is one of our new-found favorites despite the fact that it's an old classic. I hear that traditional Nicoise salad doesn't have potatoes or cooked veggies; however, I believe these additions are what make the salad so great. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to add potatoes to last night's version (forgot to buy them), but there's a mistake I won't make twice! The starchiness of the potatoes brings a nice balance to the acidity and saltiness of the rest of the salad. Of course, you can always opt out of anchovies, but the balsamic dressing is still tart and tangy. Nicoise salad is lively and bold, like a party on your plate. It's the perfect choice for an entree salad because it's so filling, and especially delicious if you're craving something salty.

Since I couldn't find fresh tuna at the grocery, I used the pre-packaged, pre-cooked tuna. Yuck, yuck, and more yuck! I do not recommend doing this, but it worked for me in a pinch.

For the marinade and dressing...
Combine 1/3 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
Season with sugar, salt and pepper (to taste)
Slowly whisk in 1/4 Cup olive oil to emulsify

Place 1/4 Cup of the vinaigrette over tuna fillet in a shallow dish and marinate @ room temp for 20 minutes, turning fish once. Drain the fish and discard marinade.

Meanwhile, cook red new potatoes in a saucepan for 10 minutes. Add fresh green beans for the last 3 minutes. Drain the potatoes and beans and cool. Once cool, place them in a bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil. In another bowl, hard boil 1 egg per serving for 10 minutes.

Place the fish on a grill pan and cook over medium heat for 8-12 minutes until desired temperature is reached. Add the veggies to the grill pan and re-heat for about 10 minutes, or until warm.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, toss romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes and red onion. Arrange the cooked fish, potatoes, green beans and sliced hard boiled eggs. Top with capers and anchovies. Drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette.

Night out with the Navy...sort of

To me, music is an emotion. I don't just hear music...I feel it. I usually don't get all weepy on my blog, so I apologize for the mushiness. But music is an extension of my soul, and having the gift of music is very precious to me. To those of you who don't play an instrument or aren't musically inclined, then you may think I'm crazy. But trust me, it's true.

Friday night, as we sat behind the stage of the Nashville Symphony, my heart was fluttering with excitement. We were so close to the musicians that I felt I was a part of the show. Had I brought my French Horn with me, I would have played right along with them. Oh, the French Horns were amazing, and the first chair player had a lengthy solo that nearly brought me to my feet. Sadly, no one clapped for her solo, but I was quietly going nuts in my chair.

This particular Pops Series show featured the U.S. Navy Men's Glee Club in honor of Veterans Day. The men sang beautifully, and during their a cappella performance of Ave Maria, I think a small tear crept into my right eye. The acoustics at Schermerhorn Symphony Center will blow you away...literally. The show was very entertaining with a mix of patriotic tunes, sea shanties, and a couple of Broadway show tunes. I'm sorry to report that they did not sing "Love Lift Us Up where We Belong," which to me, is the best song ever related to the Navy. MAYO-NAISE!

The rest of our weekend was filled with a whole mess of excitement. Saturday my Nonnie had us over for lunch to eat some of her homemade vegetable soup and cornbread. Y'all, her cornbread is the WORLD'S BEST.

Sunday we finally tackled the kudzu in our back yard. After about an hour of tearing, chopping, cutting, and ripping, the back yard was full of vines and yard waste. Some of the vines were 30 feet long...I'm not kidding. And as usual, we had no plan for disposing of all of it. So what did we do? Well, we drug all of it to the "way back" which is the Blair Witch-esque kind of creepy part of our yard. I'm so afraid that those vines are going to take root and start growing again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Big Orange Anniversary

The traditional gift for a first anniversary is paper. Do tickets to a ballgame count? What about cards? Because we did buy each other a card.

Sherri & Keith were kind enough to hook us up with tickets to the UT Homecoming game, and we spent the weekend with them in Knoxville. It was an awesome way to celebrate 365 days of being happily married! Sherri refused to wear orange to the game (understandably), but the rest of us got decked out and enjoyed the true Tennessee Volunteer experience. We hung out at a few bars on The Strip, watched UT beat the crap out of The Ragin Cajuns, and ended up playing pool in the Old City after the game.

Ziplock + Jack Daniels + Sock = Drink at a college ballgame

After coming home on Sunday, Sean and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon and had a candlelight dinner. Nothing says "I love you" like 1.80 lbs of red meat and year-old cake.

I should probably offer an explanation as to why I bought such a ridiculous and over-the-top steak...While we were honeymooning in Florence (Italy, not Alabama), a local lady named Emmanuella took us out for a night on the town. We had dinner at her favorite restaurant, Osteria del Porcellino. She ordered a giant T-bone for the three of us along with lots and LOTS of red wine. It was such a treat for us to be there with her, and we had an excellent time until we had to send her home drunk in a cab. Anyhow, I thought a T-bone for our anniversary dinner would be a throw-back to that special night we shared in Florence.

Year-old cake still tastes delicious!

A picture of the Porcellino - we sat in the left corner by the window

Friday, November 2, 2007

Crock Pot Glory

Now that the fall weather has finally arrived, I decided it was time for a hearty meal to warm up our bones and stick to our ribs. A few weeks ago I was perusing the Food Network website and came across a variety of crock pot recipes...and these aren't your momma's crock pot recipes. My mom only used the crock pot for 2 things: mini BBQ weenies for parties, and pot roast. So you can imagine my excitement when I discovered crock pot recipes for Sweet and Sour Pork, Chipotle-Lime Chicken, and Chicken with Rosemary, Apples and Onions.

I chose Slow Cooker Chicken with Rosemary, Apples and Onions. I'm ashamed to say it's a Robin Miller recipe, and we all know how much I loathe her...but she gained an ounce of redemption with this meal.

Here's the deal: You dump all these yummy ingredients into an electric bowl and walk away. Six hours later, you have dinner. Why am I not doing this every day? Well, I'll tell you why...I'm away from home for a lot longer than six hours. To make the crock pot meal work for me, I had to scurry home on my lunch break, dump in the fixin's, and rush back to work. Still, it saved me loads of time in the end. When I came home after working out, dinner was ready and waiting.

The minute I opened my back door, my mouth started watering from the aroma of rosemary, apple, and onion that had been steeping for hours. What an amazing blend of flavor! I would have never in a million years paired apples and onions, but y'all, it works. The chicken was so tender that it was falling off the bone as I served up the dish. Sean and I deemed this recipe a definite keeper.

Slow Cooker Chicken with Rosemary, Apples, and Onions

2 cups sliced onions
2 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 pounds cut up chicken pieces (with bone), with or without skin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 Cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cream of celery soup

*a couple of notes before you begin: use more S&P if you need to (I did), make sure the rosemary is FRESH and not from a jar.

Let's begin...Arrange onion and apple slices in bottom of slow cooker. Place chicken pieces (I used thighs) on top and season all over with salt and black pepper. (I also added garlic powder.) Sprinkle chopped rosemary over chicken.

In a medium bowl, whisk together chicken broth and soup. Pour mixture over chicken. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours.

Serve chicken, sauce, apples, and onions over rice. (I enjoy Uncle Ben's 90 Second brown rice, or instant 5 minute brown rice is also a speedy choice.)

The raw ingredients...

7 hours later...yummo