Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dessert Envy

In my opinion if we lived in a perfect world, we would all get dessert with every meal. Without worrying about calories. Or fat. Or cholesterol. Unfortunately, my world is imperfect and does not include a daily dessert. If it did, however, Andi's Banana's Foster would be on the menu regularly.

The thought of my friend in her kitchen with a saucepan aflame made me laugh out loud, so I was slightly disappointed to learn that she chose the safe route and skipped the pyrotechnics. After seeing her dessert, though, I don't think she needed any special effects.

She took sliced bananas and sauteed them in butter, brown sugar, and a smidge of rum (...am I forgetting anything, Andi?). After letting the slices carmelize, she swirled them in a deep toffee brown sauce before spooning them over vanilla ice cream. I mean, does anything sound--or look--better?!? 

Honestly, at least two times while writing this post I have looked longingly at our fruit basket for spotted bananas...you know, the ones that usually occupy it and overstay their welcome? How is it that the one time I want to use them, they're not there?

All I know is that if I had some bananas in the house, I'd be making this right now. Delish!

Happy Searching!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chicken, Veggies & Rice: The Old Standby

Contrary to what previous posts may lead you to believe, we don't have fancy dinners every single night. We both enjoy being in the kitchen (though Ryan has been sporting the chef hat most of the time lately), creating new dishes and checking out interesting recipes. But sometimes we need to just throw something together.

One of our go-to meals is roasted chicken with veggies and steamed rice. It might sound a bit boring, but even our old standby is delicious. Here's what we do:

Chicken: Throw two (or however many) skin-on, bone-in breasts onto a sheet pan (you can use boneless skinless if you really want, but the bone keeps the meat juicy and the skin...oh, the skin is problematic delicious...when it comes out of the oven crispy and golden, calling for a nibble. Mmmm...I digress). Rub with olive oil (a tablespoon or so), squeeze half a lemon over them, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper (really, liberally is the key here--it's amazing what an aggressive toss of S&P will do for plain old chicken). Roast at 400 for about 20 minutes (or until the skin is crispy...mmmmm).

Veggies: After checking our fridge inventory and pulling out whatever hasn't started growing things, the veggies get similar treatment to the chicken. We usually have carrots, some sort of squash, onions, and maybe some cherry tomatoes or asparagus. We cut them up into big, rustic pieces (except for the tomatoes) and then toss them with olive oil. Add some salt and pepper, lemon juice (from the other half of the lemon) and maybe some crushed garlic. Roast at 400 for about 10-15 minutes (this really depends on how "well done" you like your vegetables...I prefer mine to still have some crunch; Ryan prefers them to be a bit more cooked...up to you). Finish with some grated parmesan if you have some.  

Rice: If the other two-thirds of this meal weren't so yummy, I could eat the rice all by itself. I love it. One of our favorites is this Brown Rice Medley from Trader Joe's (which they don't have in Texas so we get it "imported" from our California hook-ups). If we run out of the good stuff, we use some sort of brown rice (not instant, although I'm sure you could if you wanted to save time). 
What really makes the rice, though, is one of our kitchen staples: McCormick's Chicken Base. It's like a boullion paste that you just add to water and--voila!--dull rice to delish! You can get it at CostCo for cheap and we use it all the time. 

So there you have it! The Old Standby...pretty quick, quite satisfying, and one of our favorites.

Happy Searching!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Reconstructed Cobb Salad

Another salad? Oh yes, but it's not just another salad....

This salad is all about quality over quantity--there aren't many ingredients, but the few that are there are so good. Any recipe that has bacon or avocado in it is usually in my husband's repertoire. If it has both? He's in hog heaven (pardon the pun)!

The other day, we watched Tyler Florence make this Avocado Salad and within 8 hours, we were sitting down to it at our dinner table. Ryan made a few adjustments to the recipe (he always likes to add his own spin) and knocked it out of the park! He swapped lemon juice for blood-orange juice (since we had one on hand from another recipe), crumbled some gorgonzola on top (cobb-riffic), and added some sliced grape tomatoes.

I could've easily eaten the whole plate myself...with the bacon and the avo? It was doubly delicious!

Happy Searching!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Stylish Salad

When I think of Nordstrom, I think of style, shoes, and salads.  After barely setting foot into the store, I am surrounded by luxurious treasures and immediately feel en vogue. The gorgeous handbags, colorful scarves, and sparkly jewelry attempt to distract me, but I am a shoe girl through and through (if you don't believe me, ask my husband...he's allotted 1/16 of our closet space, poor thing). My inner shopping magnet draws me towards the shoe section and I spend nearly an hour oohing and ahhing over heels, flats, distressed leather, patent leather, and satin.

Once I've made a few laps, I'm ready to enjoy my other favorite Nordstrom department: the Cafe. The food at Nordstrom is like their merchandise: beautifully presented and of the highest quality. Everything I've eaten there has been yummy, but their salads are especially delicious.

The last time my mom and I went, we shared the most amazing spinach salad with a Dark Cherry Balsamic Vinaigrette. She bought me the salad dressing so I could recreate it at home, and although we rarely buy salad dressings because they're so easy to make, this one was definitely worth purchasing (you can buy it at the Cafe).

The Nordstrom Cafe Spinach Salad had bacon, candied pecans, red onions, goat cheese, and dried cherries; in our re-creation, we left out the bacon and used toasted pecans instead of candied (it was a weeknight, so we were being good).

It's really amazing what a few quality ingredients (and the right combination of them) will do for a would-be-ordinary salad. The tangy creaminess of the goat cheese, the tart chewiness of the cherries, and the nutty crunch of the pecans created a harmonious balance of flavors and textures. My taste buds were singing!

If every salad was this good, I'd consider becoming a vegetarian (who eats bacon, or course). Even the "knock-off" version of this salad was stylish and scrumptious!

So, I want to know...what salad do you adore? Caesar?  Pear and gorgonzola? Share your delicious ideas! As always...

Happy Searching,

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patty's Chocolate Chip Cookies

On a whim, I decided to whip up some green chocolate chip cookies in honor of St. Patrick's Day. I discovered the recipe on Kara's Kitchen Creations and became inspired.

Ryan was slightly apprehensive at first, since we were having company over and he's been witness to my previous baking extravaganzas (flour everywhere, just like the movies). He came around, though, when he took his first bite of these green delights. They turned out so incredibly gooey and yummy that I didn't even have time to take a picture before they were all gone...this one's from Kara's site.

The recipe calls for pudding mix, which I've never seen before in a chocolate chip cookie recipe but think was the secret to its heavenly texture. That and the added white chocolate chips made the cookies, as Ryan said, "Otis Spunkmyer-like". What a compliment!

I know it's too late to use this year, but I highly recommend printing the recipe and saving it for next year--or making it anytime without the green food coloring!

Happy Searching,

p.s. I used chocolate instant pudding instead of pistachio since that's what I had on hand. Also, mine turned out very dark green (probably because of the chocolate pudding). Still delish either way!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Greasy Grub: So Wrong Yet So Right

Ahhhh, weekends. I'm only slightly ashamed to admit that if it were possible to be complete gluttons all the time without any adverse side effects (obesity, skyrocketing cholesterol, clogged arteries, etc), Ryan and I would be on board. But alas, we have agreed to keep our appetites in check at least five days out of the week...so that we can reward ourselves with some indulgent eating over the weekend.

On Sunday, we were happy to discover a place that satisfied our craving for good ol' greasy grub. Situated just off of the UT campus, Dirty Martin's is an unassuming spot with a patio, picnic tables, and pints. What could be better on a sunny spring day? 

We started out with a $6 pitcher of locally brewed Austin Amber...that's $6 including tax! You can barely get away with a pint for that price these days! Served with two icy glasses, Ryan and I knew we were off to a good start.

As we deliberated over which fried appetizer to order, our eyes locked in on Chili Queso Fries. Ho. Lee. Smokes. They were a trifecta of savory perfection. Crispy, salty fries smothered in homemade three-cheese queso and homemade chili. Insanely good!

What comes after a gut-bomb like that? Burgers, of course. Out come two baskets lined with grease-soaked paper...and the best cheeseburgers we've had in Austin. Seriously. The buns were buttery, lightly toasted, and just dense enough to support the juicy goodness of the patties. The cheese was evenly melted and nestled underneath just the right amount of lettuce, pickles, and onions. Each bite was even better than the one before it. Delicious!

Local publications have given this place decent reviews, but I think they deserve some serious accolades. From start to finish, Dirty Martin's not only met but exceeded our expectations (which I consider to be fairly high). You know the grease is good when you're wishing you could have a second round of it later that same day (true story, it's a good thing we don't live closer...).

If Dirty Martin's is wrong, I don't want to be right. The beer is cheap and cold, the fries are smothered and scrumptious, and the burgers are bodacious. Two delicious, chili-covered thumbs up!

Happy Searching,

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Austin Restaurant Week

One of the greatest events in Austin (and there are many to speak of) is Austin Restaurant Week. For $25 or $35 per person, you can get a three-course, gourmet meal that would normally cost upwards of $50. A portion of the proceeds goes to charity, a portion of delicious food goes to your belly...what more could a compassionate foodie ask for?

Something a bit more delicious. 

Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with my meal from Kona Grill. As much as I wanted it to be delicious, it fell short. (To be fair, Ryan enjoyed his meal quite a bit more than I enjoyed mine, but we both left feeling somewhat unsatisfied).                                   

Ryan ordered the ATX roll, the Sushi Sashimi, and the Mochi dessert (along with a 'Bama Roll chaser). I ordered Potstickers, Lemongrass Crusted Halibut and for dessert, the Fudge Brownie.

Ryan's Sushi Plate 

The 'Bama Roll 

My Lemongrass Crusted Halibut

 Triple Fudge Brownie

I know what you're thinking...what's wrong with these? Kona's menu for Restaurant Week did offer a decent variety of items and although none of them were bad, none of them were show-stopping, either.

So, what was the problem? Well...

My potstickers, which happen to be a favorite treat of mine, were on the chewy side. They definitely appeared to be homemade (I admire the effort), but the dough was difficult to cut through with a fork. 
My halibut was seasoned well and the sauce was excellent (anything coconut curry is alright in my book) but it was overcooked...enough that it was a bit dry, and even the yummy sauce couldn't save it.
The brownie was fudgy...and rich...but somehow it was also a bit bland. How can that be? A chocolate brownie, topped with ice cream and drizzled with caramel and more chocolate? Sounds heavenly and believe me, I wanted to like it. It just seemed to be missing something. Sort of like those low-fat desserts (which I'm sure wasn't the case here) that sound good in theory but leave you wanting more.

On a scale of one to ten, Ryan and I gave Kona an overall seven-and-a-half. Not bad, but when you're always in search of delicious, you can't settle. So the search continues...    

Looking forward to the next Restaurant Week!

Happy Searching,    

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tortilla Soup Day

School cafeterias are not typically synonymous with gourmet cooking. Luckily at our school there happen to be a few dishes that, when served, spark smiles amongst the faculty. Remember being a kid and getting so excited when Corn Dog Day rolled around?!? (It was the corn dogs for me, anyway...) Well, the teachers at my school really look forward to Tortilla Soup Day. In fact, the Cafeteria Monitor always puts a sign on the Teacher's Lounge Door that says, "Tortilla Soup today!" with a big smiley face. It's the little things, right?

After having a small cup of it the other day, I was left wanting more. So, I decided to recreate it at home, with a few adjustments here and there. I have made several versions of this soup (and eaten even more). This one is fairly light, tasty, and very easy.

I loosely followed Ina Garten's recipe for Mexican Chicken Soup. What I love about the soup at school is the tomatoey broth (which Ina's recipe has), chunks of zucchini that soften when they cook (which I added) and crumbled queso fresco (that I substituted for cheddar). What's so great about this soup is that you can easily customize it--add things you love, omit things you don't.  Personally, I highly recommend the queso fresco, which is similar to a Mexican feta cheese and usually nestled in the cheese section at most grocery stores. I also made strips out of some blue corn tortillas we happened to have on hand and fried them up for a crispy (and delicious) garnish.  

I think the teachers would give it an A...I must say, it was muy delicioso!

Happy Searching,

Monday, March 1, 2010

S'more Brownies, Please!

For me, the nostalgia of making s'mores definitely plays into their appeal. I love the way the melty chocolate, crunchy graham cracker, and burnt marshmallow intertwine to make one exquisite creation. But I also love the way one bite of the s'more trinity transports me back to my barefoot, 10-year-old-self, roasting marshmallows (or lighting them into flames) over a campfire at the beach.

When one of my BFFs (actually, my VBFF: Very Best Friend Forever, as we dubbed each other in second grade) told me she was making s'more brownies for her fiance, I said, "Oooh, take pictures! That sounds like something delicious!"

Look how gorgeous they turned out! (And big kudos to Mike for the fancy plate drizzle, by the way!) I love how the marshmallows transformed into perfectly toasted pillows atop their chocolatey bed. (Unfortunately, my marshmallows never turned out that well over the campfire...sticking them directly into the fire and peeling off the blackened crust to shove in my mouth was more entertaining.)

Since Andi's in San Diego and I'm in Austin, I didn't get to try them, but they are rumored to be very yummy! I will be looking for any excuse to make them now that I have the recipe. She found it here and made a few adjustments:
"I used less chocolate. After grabbing all the big Hershey bars that would equal 12oz...it seemed like just too much for me! And I used a regular brownie mix which is a little less than the required."

If you think you've found something delicious, take a picture and tell me about it! I'd love to share your discoveries, too.

Happy Searching!
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