29 December 2017

What to do with those terrible neon cheese balls at Safeway

You know those cheap cheese balls in the grocery store, the ones that are bright orange and covered in ground up nuts, stored next to the Sabre hummus and other things you really should just make yourself? In a rare moment of optimism, we picked one up at the beginning of the holiday season. It wasn't good.  It didn't cause any gastro-intestinal distress, but that's about all I can say for it.  So, we choked some down with crackers and beer one night and then shoved it to the back of the cheese drawer. TYhree weeks later, the thing was still edible, but not edible enough to actually put on any more crackers.  I hate to waste food, so I wondered what I could do with it.

If you have ever found yourself in this situation, I can highly recommend these two super-easy recipes that will also help you use up some other holiday meal leftovers shoved in the fridge. And if you'd like to try making a cheese ball you and your guests will actually enjoy for New Year's Eve, there's a recipe for that at the bottom, too.

Party Mac and Cheese

Serves 4

1/2 pound macaroni or pasta shape of your choice
4 oz. or so of your sad cheese ball
1/2 cup leftover vegetables (I leftover pesto peas from Christmas: pesto stirred into some thawed frozen peas and gently heated by Chef Mike while my dad carved the turkey)
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomato (optional)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
salt and crushed red pepper to taste

Bring a well-salted pot of water to boil.  Cook the pasta al dente and drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Stir in the cheese ball and Parmesan, if using, adding some of the cooking liquid if necessary (try a tablespoon at a time) to form a smooth sauce.  Stir in the cooked vegetables, sun dried-tomatoes, and season with salt and red pepper.  Serve hot.

Cheese Ball Potatoes

Serves 8 as a side

4-6 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup (4 oz) leftover cheese ball
2 eggs

Mash everything together and spread in an 8x8 pan. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
OR, to make it faster, reheat the mashed potatoes in the microwave before adding everything, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes, then move it to the top rack in the oven. Broil for 2-4 minutes (check at two minutes), until browned on top.

Edible Cheese Ball

Serves: depends on how drunk you are

16 oz softened cream cheese 
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup crumbled cooked bacon (don't you dare use Bacon Bits)
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1/4 cup chopped pecans 

Whip the cream cheese and cheddar cheese together in a high power blender, food processor, or stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Form the cheese into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, until firm.
In a medium bowl, stir together the bacon bits, green onions, and pecans. Roll the cheese ball in the mixture.
Wrap the ball tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

22 December 2017

Wild Rice and Miso Soup

Planning on having wild rice again for Christmas dinner?  Just go ahead and plan on making this soup now, because you know you're going to have a big tub of the dried-out stuff taking up precious space in your refrigerator afterwards. I did this one after Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, and I already miss it.

Wild Rice and Miso Soup

Serves 4

1 tablespoon neutral oil, like peanut or grapeseed
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 small carrots, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1 large garlic clove, minced
pinch salt (maybe 1/2 teaspoon?)
2 oz. dried shitake mushrooms
4 oz. mixed fresh mushrooms (portobello, white button, whatever)
6 cups water
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 packed cups chopped kale
3-4 cups leftover (cooked) wild rice
1 tablespoon white miso
1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon dark toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon (or to taste) Sambal Olek or other chile sauce

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat and, when it shimmers, add the onion and carrots.  Saute until fragrant and slightly soft, then add the ginger, garlic, and salt.  Continue to cook until you can smell the garlic, then add the mushrooms.  Give them a stir, then add the water and soy sauce.  Cover and increase heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat again to maintain a gentle simmer.  Cook until the shitakes are soft, about 15 minutes, then stir in the kale and continue to cook another 5 minutes.  Finally, dump in the wild rice and break up any clumps. 

While the rice is coming up to the temperature of the soup, place the miso, vinegar, sesame oil, and Sambal along with about a tablespoon of the hot broth in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake thoroughly to break up the miso, and when you have a thick sauce, pour it into the soup.  Turn off the heat, give it a stir, and serve. 

14 December 2017

Roasted Pumpkin and Spinach with Whole Wheat Pasta

After Thanksgiving I cut and roasted my pumpkins, which had been serving as table dressing until then. I ended up with some some puree for making smoothies or baking and some cubed, which I used in the recipe below. It's a totally satisfying, yet not overly rich, pasta meal that can be whipped together quickly for lunch or dinner.  If your pumpkin is already cooked, I still recommend tossing it in the oven for a short time to get those brown marks you can only achieve through roasting. 

Roasted Pumpkin and Spinach with Whole Wheat Pasta

Serves 4

1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely diced
2 cups of cubed pumpkin
about 2 cups torn spinach
½-1 tsp chili flakes
½ lemon, zest and juice
salt and pepper, to taste
½ cup walnuts, finely chopped

Coat cubed pumpkin in 1 tbsp of olive oil and season with salt and some of the chili flakes. Bake in a hot oven (425º F) for about 40-50 minutes, until pumpkin turns soft and gets lightly caramelized. 

Heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil in a pan. Fry onion gently on a low-medium heat, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Add chili flakes and garlic and cook for another minute or two stirring frequently.

Cook spaghetti for a minute shorter than you would normally.

Mash half the pumpkin with a fork or potato masher. Put both mashed and whole pumpkin chunks into the pan with onion mixture.

Add drained pasta and washed spinach into the pan. Incorporate them well into the pumpkin. Taste and season with pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice and additional salt and chili if needed.

Serve immediately with chopped walnuts and lemon zest on top. Shredded Parmesan on the side is also a nice garnish. 

08 December 2017

What is the Cocktail Hour equivalent of fika?

I've been really getting into the Swedish fika tradition now that it's cold and I am getting tired of grading online Intro to Music assignments...basically, I flaunt my Swedish heritage as an excuse to procrastinate and drink more coffee and eat snacks.  It's great, thank you Sweden!

I have also enjoyed replacing a big heavy dinner with light snacks to go with my cocktail around 5pm.  Here's a little plate I made up to go with my gin and tonic a couple of weeks ago (above).  What do you call that?  Just being a pig?  I'm OK with that.

These little snacks were totally delish with that G&T and super easy to make, though, so here's how you do it:

Deviled eggs: I've written about those here before. It's a kind of old-timey snack that's quick to make if you keep some boiled eggs available in the fridge and it's very filling, which I love. The one on my plate, above, is just a plain old deviled egg with some fresh chopped tarragon added to the filling. Obviously it was very artlessly stuffed after the filling was made.

Almonds: I love all varieties.  These are salt and vinegar almonds I got in the bulk section of my grocery store, but smoked, tamari, or wasabi all would have been great, too.

Smoked salmon: another quick, protein-rich snack that is much more luxurious tasting than it costs.  I put thin slices from a cheap, small package I bought at Safeway down on some Wasa crispbread, then topped with finely chopped pickled beets, thinly sliced red onion, a few capers, and a generous crank of black pepper.

Asparagus: who knows why it was on sale at the store yet completely out of season, but there it sat in the fridge with no plan.  So I steamed it, then tossed with a little soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and toasted sesame seeds. 

All of this took less than 30 minutes to prepare (I already had boiled eggs, though). And dinner somehow managed to feel like a festive holiday party without leaving me overstuffed and regretful the next morning. Now, we just need a better name than "evening fika"...

28 November 2017

Chick pea and cauliflower bowl with tahini sauce

I have been eating horribly, and the Christmas parties haven't even started yet. So I put this pile of things together for lunch today and already feel far superior to the rest of you. But now you, too, can know the secret of true righteousness.  You're welcome. 

Chick pea and cauliflower bowl with tahini sauce

Makes 4 servings

For the sauce:
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup lemon juice 
1 heaping tablespoon plain yogurt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp salt 

For the spiced chick peas:
2 cups (or a 15 oz. can) cooked chick peas
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder

For the cauliflower and kale:
1 head cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 bunch kale, roughly chopped (about 3 cups packed)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

About one cup cooked grain (rice, barley, quinoa, etc.) per bowl
1 tablespoon chopped tomato per bowl

To assemble:

Heat the oven to 425F. Toss the cauliflower and kale with all ingredients on a large baking sheet and spread out in one layer.  Roast until browned, stirring once during baking time (so, I pop it in the oven for 20 minutes, take it out and stir it around, then cook another 10 or so).

Meanwhile, combine all chick pea ingredients in a reusable container (you'll probably have leftovers to refrigerate).  Combine all sauce ingredients in a food processor or blender. 

In a large bowl, put in your cooked grain, then top with chick peas and roasted vegetables to your heart's desire.  Top with chopped tomato (that's optional, really) and drizzle sauce over the whole thing.  Can be eaten hot or at room temperature. 

Everything can be kept in separate containers in the refrigerator for a week, so you can keep making these until you run out.  Extra sauce makes a great salad dressing, too. 

17 November 2017

The obligatory Thanksgiving post

...actually, I haven't done one of these in a couple of years!  It's not that I get sick of talking about Thanksgiving or food--the two are one in my opinion, and it is among my favorite subjects.  But I tend to like the same things every year, and I don't know if it's that interesting to read about my variations on cranberries and sage.  Thanksgiving is my Pumpkin Spice; I know it's derivative and terribly predictable, but I get sappy every fall when I think about cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts...if you want to snag some of my old faves, links to previous blog posts are below.

I'm also thinking about the other aspects of Thanksgiving I have come to love: alternatives to Black Friday and giving thanks. So, if you don't have any thoughts about those two categories just yet, might I?:

I love being thankful for the things I had nothing to do with: a supportive, loving family; my physical and mental health; great neighbors who put up with our stinky compost pile and help us fix the annually busted sprinklers in the yard,...I am not lucky in all aspects of my life, but I can think about those things some other day (though I try not to).

Favorite things to do on Black Friday:

  • Go on a hike / bike ride / long walk around the neighborhood to admire the fresh Christmas decorations
  • Do kooky things with leftovers (creatively combined ingredients in a soup, curried anything, kitchen sink quiche...)
  • Mull some cider (OK, I dump spiced rum in it too) and read a book under a blanket
  • Rake the yard
  • Stumble in to the neighborhood brewery in the afternoon
  • Make a list of donations for the year

Favorite household recipes:

Thanksgiving-worthy chicken or pork, as well as a mushroom-potato pie and Indian-inspired spaghetti squash: "Turkey shmurkey"

The other stuff--wild rice and vegetable gratin, curried squash galette, and cranberry ginger bread: "Holiday Flavors Remix"

More sides: carrots, green beans, and Brussels sprouts: "Showstopping sides!"

A coconut-pumpkin pie

Cranberry-Cornmeal Shortbread

Spiced apple cake with warm rum sauce

Holiday-inspired cocktails: "Forget the food, let's drink!"

10 November 2017

Fake a fancy ramen for lunch

I got really excited about all the over priced, hipster noodle shops that opened up in Denver and NoCo a few years ago, and I was always disappointed. Even in L.A.'s Little Tokyo, the homemade ramen is hardly any different from a decent package at the store (whatever, I'm cool with Maruchan too). Now I just make it at home and eat it in my pajamas without having a 20-something get in my face and loudly explain the "concept" of their restaurant. Here we go...

Fancy-assed Ramen at Home

Serves 2 in giant bowls

1 teaspoon peanut oil
5-6 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 packages instant ramen (get a shrimp or chili flavor)
2 cups broccoli florets
1 teaspoon white vinegar
4 oz. (leftover) cooked meat of your choice (I like pulled pork or seared steak, but shrimp's nice too)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 scant tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili sauce like Sambal olek (optional)
handful fresh cilantro, chopped

In a large saucepan, heat the peanut oil on "high" and quickly stir-fry the scallions until you have some blackened bits on them.  Remove them from the pot and set on a plate or something. 

Add 5 cups of water to the pot and bring to a boil.  Cook the ramen with the seasoning packet until almost done (stir in some cayenne if you want), then add the broccoli for the last two minutes of cooking. When broccoli is crisp-tender, remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. 

Meanwhile, combine the sot sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and chili sauce in a small bowl. Add the cooked meat and stir to saturate.  Divide the meat / sauce mixture evenly between two large soup bowls.  Ladle the ramen soup into each bowl over the meat, then garnish with cilantro and the seared scallions. Eat immediately with loud slurping noises. 

03 November 2017

This steak is not very Italian-o

When I was growing up, one of my favorite meals from my mom's treasure trove of recipes was a dish called "Round Steak Italiano".  It was round steak cooked in a gravy of tomato sauce and a packet of instant onion soup mix, and by Midwestern standards, it was Euro-delish. Mom would serve it over those "no yolk" curly noodles in the cellophane package.  By adding some spinach and using slightly less instant-y ingredients, this can become one of your staples, too. (PS, replace the beef with mixed mushrooms and the beef broth with a non-beef substitute, and you've got a tasty vegetarian option.)

Round Steak Italiano Reboot

Serves 4

1 pound pappardelle pasta, cooked al dente
olive oil
10 oz. flank steak, London Broil, or other lean cut
salt and black pepper
2 large shallots, minced
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 10 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup beef broth
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (or dried oregano and a pinch dried basil)
1 tablespoon corn starch + 2 tablespoons cold water
2 packed cups torn spinach leaves

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil and cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil over high heat.  Sear the flank steak on both sides and remove from the pan when the steak is edible but rare.  Allow to sit on a cutting board. 

Lower the heat to medium and add the shallots and garlic.  Saute until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat momentarily and add the red wine; it will smoke up a bit.  Scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan, then return to heat.  Add the tomatoes, beef broth, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Lower to a simmer and cover.

Once the steak has cooled a bit, cut it into thin strips.  Scrape the steak and all juices into the pan, toss in the spinach, give it a stir, and replace cover, allowing to simmer for about 5 minutes or until the spinach is wilted. Bring to a boil and stir in the cornstarch mixture, whisking to thicken. Remove from heat and serve over the noodles.

27 October 2017

Spooky Cocktails

Hey, what are you guys doing for Halloween?  I 'm going to dress up as pregnant Kylie Jenner (the one who wears sweatpants and eats candy) and lay around on my couch drinking.

Black Magic Margaritas

Makes 2

1/3 c. black sanding sugar
2 c. ice
4 oz. silver tequilla
2 oz. triple sec
1/2 c. lime juice
red food coloring
blue food coloring
green food coloring
lime slices, for garnish

Rim two glasses with a lime slice and dip in the black sanding sugar. Divide tequila, triple sec, and lime juice between two glasses and stir to combine. Add food coloring until desired black color is achieved. Add ice and garnish with a slice of lime. Serve.

Embalming Fluid

Makes 2

1½ oz. mandarin vodka
½ oz. sour apple mix
½ oz. lime juice
4 oz. gingerale
2 drops green food coloring, optional

Mix all ingredients except ginger ale in a shaker over ice. Shake and pour into highball glasses, then top with equal amounts of ginger ale.

El Diablo

Makes 1

1 1/2 ounces reposado tequila
1/2 ounce​ creme de cassis
1/2 ounce​ lime juice
6​ ounces ginger beer

Pour the tequila, cassis, and lime juice into a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into a collins glass filled with fresh ice. Top with ginger beer.

20 October 2017

Tuscaloosa is utterly charming

I had the pleasure of visiting the flute studio at (the?)* University of Alabama a couple of weeks ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by how adorbs downtown Tuscaloosa is.  I mean, it would really behoove you to like sports, but if not, there's still a bit to do.

Visit University of Alabama's grandiose, thoroughly Southern campus (down below).  There are Roman columns everywhere.  There are probably porches with rocking chairs, too, but I just didn't see them.

On campus, the Museum of Natural History is quite impressive for a university. Also on campus, Gorgas House delves into the Civil War history of the area, but whatever, you're in Alabama so there's no avoiding it.

There are nice parks, like Bowers (it has a pool and mini disc golf, below) and Cardinal (nice walking trails).  Capitol park boasts electricity.

There are some great restaurants downtown.

R. Davidson Chophouse is cool and soothing inside, with upscale, modern Southern cuisine. It's pretty fancy.

The Avenue Pub is a little more casual and boasts great happy hour specials.

Five Bar has nice snacks like the baked avocado and a proper Southern weekend brunch.

Here's how cute the downtown is!

Anyway, thanks for having me, UA flute studio!

*It is always a total crapshot trying to figure out how the natives refer to their school, and I hate it.  When I was at University of Illinois, it was called U of I, and you got mocked for adding "the" in front of it.  But the letterhead all says UI, so what the hell is it, actually?  What the hell is UA?  Is it UA? the U of A?  Or are they dyslexic like University of Colorado, which is inexplicably CU?  In short, I wish you would get it together, academia!

13 October 2017

Thai curry squash soup

It has turned to fall for reals here in NoCo, and we are swapping out our late summer dinner salads (bye-bye, fresh tomatoes) for some warming soups.  You can throw in whatever vegetables you want, but I think the most valuable thing here is that the broth will help you utilize some of that massive pile of summer squash, if you're starting to lose hope but still don't want to just throw it in the compost heap...

Thai Curry-Summer Squash Soup

Serves 4

2 cups roughly chopped summer squash
1 vegetable bouillon cube
3 cups water
1 tablespoon red (or green, or yellow) Thai curry paste
1 cup chopped frozen spinach
1/2 cup frozen corn
handful fresh cilantro, chopped
2 large fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/4 cup flaked coconut
1 cup cooked brown rice (optional)
salt and black pepper to taste
roasted, salted cashews as garnish
Bring the 3 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the bouillon cube and the squash, and cook until squash is tender, about 5 minutes.  Pour into a blender (careful to place a towel over the cover) or use an immersion blender to blend until smooth.

Replace this thick broth to the sauce pan and stir in the spinach, corn, and cilantro.  Cover and simmer until vegetables are hot about 5 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes, coconut, lime juice, and rice and season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook until heated through and serve in bowls topped with cashews.

06 October 2017

Chicken and Rice revamp (Romanian style)

This is not actually Romanian, nor does it have rice.  It's very loosely based on a delicious, simple, and incredibly comforting dish that a Romanian friend, a talented filmmaker named Ouana, would make to take the chill off a snowy Wyoming night after shoveling the driveway clear.  The peppers, paprika, and sour cream (or my favorite substitute, yogurt) are pretty clearly Eastern European, and the pasta was just what she served with it.  But given the almost international tradition of chicken and rice (of some sort), I thought orzo would echo that nicely. 

Romanian Chicken and "Rice"

Serves 4

8 oz. whole wheat orzo
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 chicken breast, cut into 1/2-in strips
1 teaspoon paprika
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 small green bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 small red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
12 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper to taste
generous handful of fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded
sour cream or plain yogurt for serving

Cook the pasta in well-salted water according to package directions.  Drain except for 1/2 cup of reserved cooking liquid. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  When it shimmers, add the chicken breast strips along with some salt and the paprika and stir fry until almost cooked through.  Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add the onion and peppers to the hot oil and lower the heat to medium-low. Season with salt and stir.  Allow to simmer until very soft, stirring occasionally, which should take about 20 minutes.  Add the wine, garlic, and chicken to the pan and stir to coat.  Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

When the garlic becomes fragrant and some of the wine has reduced, add the pasta and reserved water.  Stir thoroughly to mix and allow to simmer another 5 minutes to allow flavors to meld and liquid to reduce slightly.  Stir in the fresh chopped basil and serve in bowls topped with sour cream/yogurt.

29 September 2017

Borscht, how I love thee...

I know it's not cool to say this, but I really love beets.  And I particularly love them in borscht.  They are sweet, earthy, and a great carrier for all things acidic and creamy. Beets are doing great in the garden right now, so you should find your own favorite recipe and make it over and over until your poop looks like you're going to die (just kidding, that will happen after just one bowl).

This is a hot borscht that's very fresh but hearty for cooler weather. This recipe is vegetarian, but you could pop some pre-made little meat balls in at the end of the cooking time, as well:

Ukrainian/ Russian Steppe Borscht

Serves 6-8

3 medium beets, peeled and cubed
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 cup water
1/2 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded
1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
3 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sour cream, for topping
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill for garnish

Fill a large pot halfway with water (about 2 quarts), and bring to a boil. Add the beets, and cook until they have lost their color. Add the carrots and potatoes, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage, and the can of diced tomatoes.
Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and water until well blended. Transfer to the pot. Add the raw garlic to the soup, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Taste, and season with salt, and pepper.
Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with sour cream, if desired, and fresh dill.

If it's still hot where you live, this summery cold borscht (very Lithuanian) is just the thing:

Cold Borscht

Serves 4

2 pounds of beets (5-6 beets, depends on size)
1 cucumber
2-3 eggs
5 green onions
Small bunch of fresh green dill
2 quarts of kefir or buttermilk
About 2 quarts of cold water
3 tablespoons of sour cream
Salt and black pepper to taste

Boil the beets skin-on and cool them down to room temperature; also boil eggs till hard, cool then down too; rinse greens and cucumber. Once boiled beets are cooled down, skin them: take a big cooking pot and grate the boiled beets into it using the large slots of grater. Peel and dice the eggs and add them to the cooking pot. Dice the cucumber and add to the cooking pot. Chop the green onions and add to the cooking pot. Add finely chopped fresh dill. Add 2-3 tablespoons of sour cream and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything; add all buttermilk or kefir. Add about the same amount of water (or more, to taste) and mix everything. Cover cooking pot with a lid and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving.

22 September 2017

BLT rice salad

We are frantically trying to pick and use as many tomatoes form our garden as we can before the frost starts, because everyone knows tomatoes have the most give-up in them when it gets a little chilly outside.  Well, tomatoes and basil.  Basil is such a weak baby. It reminds me of my ex-boyfriends. 

So, I started cutting the tomatoes and making the vegan microwave baconish the other night before I realized we had no bread in the house. But we did have a bunch of cooked frozen jasmine rice and a glorious cucumber from the neighbor's garden, so BLT rice salad it was. This was our dinner, but I think it would be a great side to some grilled fish or chicken or this nice lentil salad

BLT Rice Salad

Serves 2 as a light meal or 4 as a side

2 cups cooked rice (any kind you like)
1 large fresh tomato, cut into chunks
1/2 cucumber, cut into chunks (try to match the size of the tomato chunks)
1/2 avocado, diced (optional)
1 tablespoon rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (basil, tarragon, chives, parsley), optional
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 strips of cooked bacon or bacon-like product, drained and crumbled

You can eat the rice hot, room, temperature, or cold.  If it's a long grain rice, best to keep it warm or it will get too dry and hard to eat.  Stir in the tomato, cucumber, avocado, fresh herbs, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with the crumbled bacon.

15 September 2017

Recreating those great salsas from your neighborhood taco joint

...oh, you don't have a neighborhood taco joint?  Neither did I until I moved to northern Colorado, and my first trip up to the salsa bar was mind-boggling.  I've settled on three favorites, which I find work perfectly with everything from barbacoa to zucchini tacos or just dipping the chips you use to soak up your tequila-induced alcohol poisoning, and they're all quite simple to make.  Get to work on these recipes while you can still get fresh tomatoes and peppers from your garden or local farmer's market!

Creamy Avocado Salsa

3 ripe avocados
3 tomatillos
1 serrano chile
1 small lime
1 clove garlic
4 tablespoons Mexican cream or sour cream
6 tablespoons water
1 tsp salt

Pit the avocados and remove the flesh. Peel and wash the tomatillos. Remove the stem from the serrano chile. Peel the garlic clove. Squeeze the juice from the lime.

Add all of the ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until very smooth. If the salsa is too thick to blend add water 2 tbsp. at a time until the salsa blends smoothly. Add salt if necessary.

Classic Pico de Gallo

4 fresh tomatoes
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1 tablespoon minced red onion
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
juice of 1/2 a lime
salt to taste

Cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze the seeds and excess juice into a bowl. You can reserve this for soups or freeze into cubes in your ice cube tray for later use to add tomato flavor to anything. 

Dice the tomato flesh and add all other ingredients in a serving bowl.  Mix and salt to taste. 

Smoky Four-Pepper Salsa
8 ripe plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 poblano peppers
4 Anaheim chile peppers
1 jalapeno chile pepper, or more to taste
1 large green bell pepper
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/4 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon mesquite flavored liquid smoke concentrate (optional)

Preheat an outdoor grill for medium heat.

Rub tomatoes with oil and grill for 10 minutes, turn. Place poblano, Anaheim, jalapeno chiles, and the green pepper on the grill. Grill 5 to 7 minutes per side, being careful not to let them burn. The skins should blister and brown. Remove tomatoes to a separate bowl. Place the chiles and pepper in an airtight container to let them steam while they cool so they're easier to peel.

Peel tomatoes and drain excess liquid. Peel and seed peppers. Place the tomatoes, chiles, green pepper, cilantro, vinegar, onion, garlic, and salt in the container of a food processor. Pulse 4 or 5 times. Add liquid smoke and more jalapenos if desired. Pulse until salsa as chunky or smooth as you like.

08 September 2017

Mexican Corn Salad revamped

There have been several versions of this dish going around the interwebs this summer, from Taste of Home's Pinterest account to an overly complicated vegan version in which you make queso out of tofu and use precious vegannaise in the dressing. It's not a bad combination of flavors, and reminds me quite a bit of the corn on the cob I had in Rhode Island to accompany my fatty-ass lobster dinner there in June. But there are a couple of things I've changed about these recipes--the vegetable content and the amount of mayo, for starters.  I have a lot more (not very Mexican) basil than I do cilantro in the garden, so I made that trade, as well. Here's my version.  Since it's no longer just corn, I guess we should call it...

Mexican Corn and Squash

Serves 4 as a side

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 oz. corn kernels (frozen is fine, but thaw and drain first)
2 small-ish yellow summer squash, sliced and cut into half-moons
2 scallions, thinly sliced (green and white parts)
1 medium garlic clove, minced
1 small jalapeno, minced
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
juice of 1 lime
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1 tablespoon thinly sliced basil leaves
4 oz. crumbled goat cheese
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat and dump in the corn and squash with about a teaspoon of salt.  You want to get it a bit charred in places, so spread it all out into a single layer and let it sit there for a minute or two, then stir it up and do the same again.  When you're satisfied, lower to medium heat and add the scallions, garlic, and jalapeno. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the jalapeno has softened a little.  Remove from heat and stir in the mayo, lime juice, paprika, and basil leaves.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle the goat cheese on top.

01 September 2017

Tastes like Asian...noodle edition

I love, love, love noodles of every kind. And while I'll never turn down a homey pasta bolognese, I think I might like Asian noodle dishes the most. These two are stupidly easy and definitely worth the investment of those fancy oils and vinegars you've been putting off buying. 

Cucumber-Soba Bowls with chile oil

Serves 4

1 medium seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, finely chopped or grated
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
9 ounces soba noodles
14 ounces silken tofu
Hot chile oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Large handful torn fresh basil leaves

Place the cucumbers in a large bowl and season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Set aside, tossing occasionally, until the cucumbers have release some of their liquid, about 15 minutes.

Drain off any accumulated juices into a separate medium bowl, and whisk in the ginger, garlic, soy sauce, vinegar, and oil. Pour over the cucumbers and toss to combine.

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the soba noodles and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, then drain once more.

Add the drained soba noodles to the cucumber mixture and toss to combine. Divide the noodles and cucumbers among 4 bowls and top each with a spoonful of tofu. Drizzle each bowl with some hot chile oil, sprinkle with sesame seeds and basil, and serve.

Fried tofu and Maifun

Serves 4

14 oz. extra firm tofu
6 oz. thin rice noodles (maifun)
1 small serrano chile, thinly sliced
3 cups washed baby spinach (or larger leaves roughly chopped)
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

Press tofu. In a large bowl, soak rice noodles, chile, and spinach in hot water. While the tofu is being pressed, mix together Sriracha, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar.

Slice the tofu into slabs, heat vegetable oil in a high-sided skillet, and fry the tofu pieces until brown. Chop the fried tofu into chunks, spoon over drained rice noodle mixture, then pour the dressing over everything.

25 August 2017

Lazy end-of-summer meals

Because I do a fair amount of traveling during the school year, I am always asked again and again over the summer, "so, are you going anywhere exciting?" The answer is occasionally yes, but the summer months are frighteningly lean for a freelance classical musician, and so the answer is, quite often, a big fat NO. That's OK, because I live in a state other people save up to visit on vacation, and we have created a modest yet cozy habitat here in Northern Colorado, homemade patio, messy vegetable garden, and all. So while I spend my days at home writing, practicing, and teaching flute lessons, I would much rather mix up a cocktail and fix the quickest snack I can at the end of the day in order to maximize that precious patio time. With summer drawing to a close, I feel all the more impatient to hurry up and sit down without resorting to Doritos for dinner. Here are some ideas I've played around with this summer; perhaps you'll find something here to help you live the good life a little sooner, too. 

Current lazy girl dinners at the DFT house:

  • Finely chop cauliflower, garlic, and onion, sear in a lightly oiled pan over high heat, then crack in an egg and cook till set.
  • Mix together chili oil, soy sauce, sesame oil, and black vinegar while you cook soba noodles. Toss noodles in sauce. Top with sliced green onion. Fry an egg and add it to the bowl. 
  • While you cook noodles, blend together avocado, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Toss hot pasta with the sauce, top with freshly ground pepper, and chopped cilantro. Toss in some chopped tomato.
  • Fry garlic slices in oil. Add a can of clams, chopped herbs, and butter. Then stir in cooked pasta, along with a spoonful of its cooking liquid, and a splash or white wine or light beer. Zest a lemon over top.
  • Fry up leftover bits of any cured meat or a lone breakfast sausage with a little sliced bell pepper, stir in greens, dump in a container of takeout rice or leftovers form the freezer, and warm through. Splash in some rice vinegar and soy sauce before serving.
  • Mix canned tuna with canned chickpeas or white beans, diced red onion, olive oil, and lemon. Plop onto salad greens or toast.
  • Warm a can of black beans and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes together on the stove, seasoning as you like. Spoon over a pile of tortilla chips. Top with avocado slices and a fried egg.
  • Dip slices of bread into beaten eggs seasoned with a salt, pepper, cayenne, finely grated Parmesan, and chopped chives or scallions. Fry like French toast, then eat with hot sauce.

18 August 2017

Chillin' in Uptown (ish), Minneapolis

I had this nerdy flute thing to go to recently in Minneapolis.  It was at the convention center, but I was able to land a sweet cheap Air BnB room in Uptown for the week, and here's what else I spied while I was there...

Lake of the Isles Park is this insane chain of three lakes with little islands in the middle and bustling city all around.  It is a supremely pleasant place to walk/jog/bike, or simply sit and gawk at the city's skyline and the natives' adorable dogs.

If you need to bring some snacks or hooch to the park (I don't even know if that's allowed), hit up Kowalski's on the way. It's like a cheaper, local-centric Whole Foods with a great wine selection.

LynLake Brewery: I liked the Rubbish Oat Amber Ale and Sideburns Milk Stout because that's how I roll, but my friend's pint of Dirty Heffer with Pineapple was pretty good, too.

Muddy Waters, open daily from 8am to 2am keeps the kind of rock and roll hours I wish I could.  I had Cuban hash with chorizo, black beans, yucca, chiles, and eggs, with a great cup of coffee, but I would totally go back and try some of their many whiskeys when I don't have a presentation to give.

Quang is affordable, super fresh Vietnamese and seems to be kind of an institution in the 'hood. Get ready to have your heart broken on Tuesdays, though, because they are closed that day.

Spyhouse is a Minneapolis coffee chain, but I don't feel bad going there because Minneapolis is so super cool, anyway. Their baked goods are nice and I would describe their coffee is very "coffee flavored".

Art that is not exactly in Uptown, but it's walkable and you should go:

Minneapolis is a great city to visit if you love art.  Please visit all of these places when you go.

Walker Art Center: contemporary visual arts and design exhibitions; dance, theater, and music performances; and film screenings. Free admission first Saturday of every month and all Thursdays from 5-9pm. They're the ones with the big spoon with a cherry on it outside.

Minneapolis Institute of Art: This place is free.  Seriously.  They have some nice Chagall right now, too.

Minneapolis College of Art and Design:  Also free and student-run; it is very exciting to see what great art students are inventing right now!


The American Swedish Institute is a beautiful castle-like structure with an amazing amount of  history and art, and the even make good (albeit Swedish) food in the cafe.  There's another one for Danish people somewhere, but who cares.

11 August 2017

"Pairs well with..."

Alright, this is my last one before I get my shit together and start packing for the National Flute Association annual convention.  Stay tuned next week for all the non-flute highlights from my stay in Minneapolis. I do find that whiskey gets me in the right frame of mind for these things...

Pineapple Whiskey Sour

Makes one drink

4 oz. pineapple juice
2 oz. whiskey
1/2 oz. lemon juice

Put all ingredients and shake over ice until your hands are cold. Pour over some fresh ice.

Pairs well with...

Quick Zucchini Tacos

Makes 8 petite tacos

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped white onion
1 minced garlic clove
1 medium serrano chile, minced
8 corn tortillas
Possible toppings: sour cream, crumbled goat cheese, sliced radishes, sliced avocado, chopped tomato, chopped cilantro, lime wedges

In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium and add the onion, garlic, chile, and zucchini. Season with cumin, salt, and pepper and saute until onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Serve with warmed corn tortillas and all the toppings you desire.

04 August 2017

"Pairs well with..."

It looks like I've created a mini-series of alcoholic drinks paired with snacks.  I'd like to dedicate this one to long-suffering American hero, OJ Simpson. P.S. He totally killed his wife and America is OK with that.

Classic Tequila Sunrise

Makes one drink

2 oz. tequila
3 oz. orange juice
1/2 oz. grenadine

Pour the tequila and orange juice into glass over ice. Add the grenadine, which will sink to the bottom and look all sunrise-y. Do not stir. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and serve.

Pairs well with...

Heidi Swanson's Avocados and Mustard Seeds
Yields about 1 cup 
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/4 cup coarsley chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds
1/2 small yellow onion, mined
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon Indian curry powder
1 small serrano chile, minced

Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into a small bowl. Add the lemon juice, salt, and most of the cilantro. Mash the avocados a bit with a fork, but don't overdo it-- you want the mixture to be quite chunky. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the mustard seeds. Keep a lid on hand because the seeds will scatter as they pop. When the spattering stops, after about a minute, stir in the onion and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Stir in the garlic, curry powder, and chile. 

Count to ten, and then remove from heat. Stir in the avocado mixture, but just barely, and transfer to a serving bowl. Serve warm or at room temperature with crackers or tortilla chips. Garnish with remaining cilantro.

28 July 2017

Too much eating, not enough drinking

I noticed that this blog is called DrinkFoodTravel, but it's always about food lately.  Stay tuned for some travel next month, but for now, the least I could do is mix it up with some drankin'...

It is very hot here, and we just put shade sails (TM) over the patio, making it the perfect place to hunker down with a thermos full of cocktail to share with friends.  Or myself. I like to keep things simple so that I don't have to do too much work before I plop down in my lawn chair, so I'm limiting myself to three ingredients per cocktail for the next couple of weeks...

Old-Timey (at least I think it is) Gin Buck

Makes one drink

Juice of half a lemon
Ginger ale
1.5 oz. gin

Stir together in a glass and guzzle.

Pairs well with...

Dill Pickle Dip

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

12 oz cream cheese
5-6 tablespoons pickle juice
1/3 cup finely chopped dill pickle
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped

Mix cream cheese with pickle juice, chopped pickle and fresh dill. Serve with celery sticks.

21 July 2017


Finally, there is really no cooking here.  You can pull out any leftovers from those other two salads, add these sammies and dip, take a quick look around the mess that your guests left in your house last weekend, and ditch it all for a picnic in the park. Maybe I'll see you there, avoiding eye contact over our beers.

Vegetarian Muffuletta

Serves 4
1 loaf of Italian bread (or something else firm and crusty)
8 oz. roasted red peppers, cut into strips
1 tablespoon capers, chopped
1 cup pitted Castelvetrano olives (or your favorite pitted green olive)
1 clove garlic, minced
3 pickled pepperoncini peppers, stems and seeds removed, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil, plus extra for roasting the carrots and cauliflower
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus an extra splash to season the cauliflower
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1 shallot, minced
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin rounds
1 small head cauliflower, chopped into small bite-sized pieces
Small handful of basil leaves
1/4 pound aged provolone, thinly sliced (leave this out for a vegan sandwich)
Handful of arugula

Add the capers, olives, garlic, pepperoncini peppers, and the 1/2 cup of olive oil to a food processor, and pulse until the ingredients are roughly chopped. Transfer the pulsed ingredients to a large mixing bowl, and add the red wine vinegar, dried oregano, celery seeds, chili flakes, and shallot. Fold all the ingredients together. Some excess oil is OK—it will soak into the bread and make the sandwich delicious. Taste the olive mixture. It should taste strongly acidic, salty, and spicy. Adjust the flavor with more salt or red wine vinegar as necessary. Set the mixture aside.

Slice the bread in half with a serrated knife. If the bread seems too tall, dig out some of the middle of the bread (you can save this to make croutons or thicken soup later). Spread the olive mixture onto both halves of the bread, allowing some of the extra oil to soak into the bread. Starting with the bottom piece of bread, lay down the carrots, followed by the cauliflower. Tear the basil leaves with your hands and place them on top of the cauliflower. Next, add the provolone, followed by the roasted red peppers. Place a handful of arugula onto the top piece of bread. If there is excess oil leftover from your olive mixture, drizzle some of this over the arugula. Close the sandwich and nom nom nom. 

Feta Pistachio Dip

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup shelled pistachios
1 clove garlic
1 bunch of dill
1 teaspoon dried mint or a few sprigs of fresh mint
4 ounces feta
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Get a selection of raw seasonal vegetables for dipping.

Buzz the garlic and pistachio together in a food processor into a rough crumble. Add the dill and mint and pulse until well chopped and amalgamated, add the feta cheese, and pulse. Add the yogurt and pepper and pulse. Drizzle the olive oil in and pulse one more time. Taste for salt; because of the feta, it shouldn’t need any. This dip will hold easily for a day or two in the fridge and should rest for at least 4 hours to let the flavors meld. I actually like it better at room temp for dipping, though. 

14 July 2017


This is another salad, made super filling with barley (and yes, you're going to have to cook that), equally portable for picnics, potlucks, and work. I promise this is my last non-cooking recipe that involves cooking in this mini-series.  (Pro tip: you can cook the barley, as well as the lentils from last week's recipe, at any time and freeze for later use.) Also, you could totally serve this at your next otherwise lame backyard BBQ and everyone will love you for not being that person who brought "ambrosia" or uncooked ramen noodles in a bowl.

Grilled Corn and Barley Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette

Serves 4

1/2 cup dried pearl barley
3 ears of corn (shucked)
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 cup cooked cannellini beans
1 large tomato
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 large garlic clove
1/4 cup basil cut into ribbons
1 bunch of chives, thinly sliced
¼ cup olive oil

Boil barley according to package directions, using a large stock pot. Par boil corn for 5-6 minutes with the barley to impart some of the corn flavor directly into the barley.

Remove corn. Brush corn with olive oil and grill on all sides until charred gill marks appear.
Meanwhile, halve all of the tomatoes and prep beans (rinse and drain if using canned, prepare in advance if using dried).

Cut kernels off the corn.  As you cut, collect any of the “milk” that comes from the cutting process, then use the back of the knife to scrape the remaining “milk” from the cleaned cob. 

Next, cut the large tomato in half and grate with a box grater over a dish or wide bowl, discarding the skins, but collecting the juice and pulp. Paste the garlic clove by mincing the garlic, and then adding some salt and rubbing the mixture between your cutting board and the side of your chef’s knife. Add that paste into the tomato mixture. Add a pinch of salt, crushed red pepper to taste, vinegar, and corn milk.  Whisk in olive oil slowly. 

Combine barley, tomatoes, corn, beans and fresh herbs in a large bowl and dress with your tomato vinaigrette. Toss to combine.

07 July 2017

A picnic-ready lentil salad with cheese

It is officially too hot to cook again, but sometimes I get hungry for something other than box wine.  Perhaps you struggle with this, too. Behold, the summer 2017 version of STUFF TO EAT WHEN IT'S TOO FRICKIN' HOT TO COOK, PART 1 (sorry if that seemed like I was shouting):

Lentil Salad with Herbs, Peppers, and Cheese
(adapted from Deborah Madison's Lentil Salad with Mint, Roasted Peppers, and Feta Cheese)

Serves 4 to 6

1 ½ cups small French lentils (Puy or beluga)
1 medium carrot, peeled and diced into 1/8-inch squares
½ small onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1 (8 oz.) jar roasted red bell peppers , cut into ½ inch pieces
2 teaspoons chopped mint
3 tablespoons chopped mixed herbs: parsley, marjoram, cilantro, thyme, basil
Black pepper
Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar to taste
8 ounces feta cheese
Olive oil, for garnish

Rinse the lentils, cover them generously with water, and bring them to a boil with the carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic, and salt. Simmer them until they are cooked, about 20 to 25 minutes. They should be tender, just a little firm, and still hold their shape. Drain the lentils and set aside.

Prepare the vinaigrette (see below) and fold it into the warm lentils. Add the mint, herbs, and peppers. Taste, and season with freshly ground black pepper and additional salt, if needed. Taste again just before serving and add a little more vinegar to brighten the flavors. Crumble the feta and gently stir it into the lentils.

Garnish with a drizzle some olive oil over the surface.

Lemon Vinaigrette
1 large lemon
¼ teaspoon paprika
Pinch cayenne pepper
1clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons olive oil

Remove two wide strips of peel from the lemon with a vegetable peeler, and slice them into narrow slivers (alternately, grate finely with a microplane). Put 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a bowl with the lemon peel, paprika, cayenne, garlic, and salt. Whisk in 6 tablespoons of the olive oil and taste. Adjust for tartness, adding more lemon juice or oil, whichever is needed.

Alright, so there's actually a little cooking involved, but you can make a big pot of lentils with it's cool in the house and refrigerate this salad for days, carry it with you to work and play, and add variety with accompanying breads, leftover pastas, etc. So, I think it's a worthy investment. 

30 June 2017

The best coffee-lime-rum martini you will ever drink

This cocktail comes--with slight modifications--from the wonderful family-run Backwards Distillery in Casper, Wyoming. I have tried their gin and rum, and they are both amazing--the gin is the most interesting I think I have ever tried. I am not a paid advertiser, just a huge fan. So, without further ado...

Buzzed Martini (originally called "The Perky Daiquiri" from Backwards Distilling)

Makes 1 drink

1.5 oz rum (their's is called Sword Swallower  and it's delish)
2 oz cold coffee
1/2 oz lime juice
1/2 oz coconut milk
1/2 oz simple syrup

Shake all that shit up with some ice and pour into a glass. Try not to drink it too fast...