Orzo with Roasted Asparagus, Chickpeas and Eggplant in Smokey Arrabbiata SauceOrzo with Roasted Asparagus, Chickpeas and Eggplant in Smokey Arrabbiata Sauce

What’s for Dinner (and Lunch!): Orzo with Roasted Asparagus, Chickpeas and Eggplant in Smokey Arrabbiata Sauce

Last Sunday as I evaluated the pantry and fridge, deciding I wasn’t in the mood to tackle my weekly trip to the grocery store, I realized I had enough leftover fresh vegetables and pantry staples to pull together a meal for dinner and lunch leftovers. I’ve recently seen recipes substituting chickpeas (or garbanzo beans) for pasta as a healthier, gluten-free alternative. I only had about 1/4 – 1/3 of a box of orzo, so I thought it would be the perfect match to try.

For my gluten-free friends, this meal could be made gluten-free by eliminating the orzo and increasing the amount of chickpeas. Next time, I may even roast a red pepper or two and puree to add to my smokey arrabbiata sauce.

Orzo with Roasted Asparagus, Chickpeas and Eggplant in Smokey Arrabbiata SauceOrzo with Roasted Asparagus, Chickpeas and Eggplant in Smokey Arrabbiata Sauce

Orzo with Roasted Asparagus, Chickpeas and Eggplant in Smokey Arrabbiata Sauce

1/3 box (about 5 ounces) orzo
1-14 ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
1 bunch asparagus, ends tripped and sliced in 2-inch chunks
1 small (1/2 large) eggplant, diced
1 small (or 1/2 large) eggplant
3 tablespoons EVOO
Salt and pepper
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 – 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Fresh basil
Grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a pot of water with salt to a rapid boil and cook orzo until al dente. Drain.

Spread chickpeas, and sliced/diced asparagus and eggplant on a large baking pan. Toss with 1 tablespoon EVOO, and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 20-25 minutes, tossing halfway, until asparagus and eggplant are tender.

In a medium pot, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO with minced garlic and crushed red pepper on medium heat, stirring continuously until garlic begins to become fragrant and yellow in color, being careful not to burn the garlic and crushed red pepper. Add crushed tomatoes, smoked paprika and desired chopped basil to the pot, simmering sauce on low heat for about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine orzo, roasted chickpeas and vegetables, and desired amount of sauce, mixing to combine. Serve with extra fresh basil for a garnish and grated Parmesan.

Braised Short Ribs and Goat Cheese Mash

Back in the Game with Red Wine Braised Short Ribs & Goat Cheese Mash

Welcome, old (and new) friends! I’m sure some of you remember my old blog “A Touch of Garlic.” At the end of last summer, I dropped off the face of the Earth between balancing a new job and consulting part-time for my old one, and moving. Then at the end of December when I could actually breathe again – bye, bye old job for good – and I decided 2012 would be my year, I wanted to give this blogging thing another shot since many of my friends said they missed it, or at least missed the easy access to my recipes! But it just didn’t feel right writing on the old blog – so much has changed in my life in the two years since I started it. So, I bombed the old and it’s taken me this long to get my act together. What can I say, I’ve been busy?

I went from 100+ posts down to a mere 30-some in the transfer. I wanted a fresh start so I only brought over my favorite or most popular recipes. Unfortunately, all of your comments did not make it over, so if there’s an old recipe you go back to and have a question, feel free to ask again. Some of the posts still have their photos, some do not. My photography is just horrible, so bare with it and when I make the recipe again (since I’m sure to in the next year), I’ll post hopefully a newer and better one to fill in the gaps. As for the other content – life updates, trips (or more importantly, the food I eat on trips), link roundups, decorating ideas, cooking tips – all of that will make a reappearance over time. But you can always get some of that by following me on Pinterest, too.

Now onto what I do know how to do, unlike photography: cooking. I found this on Pinterest a while back and it made me LOL.

Drinking a lot of wine alone is not lonely, it is romantic. Damn, self, you got nice eyes.

I do an inordinate amount of my wine drinking by myself. In my kitchen. In my sweatpants. In my bed. In my bathtub, or hey, even the shower (I’ve mastered that, too). I can also easily polish off a bottle of champagne or Asti for dessert. There’s something to be said about a relaxing night of me time and a bottle of wine. Last weekend I had one such night and decided to make red wine braised short ribs, too, before a phone date with my best lady friend who lives in the far away land of Albany. What a nice romantic dinner. I even got fancy and used a cloth napkin on the sofa!

So I’m in my 20s, unmarried and somehow own a Dutch oven. Don’t ask, I know this isn’t the norm. I cooked my red wine braised short ribs in the Dutch oven – a one pot shop – which did make the cooking and clean up easier, but this could easily be transferred from a large, deep pan to a crockpot or slow cooker if you don’t have one.

Braised Short Ribs and Goat Cheese Mash

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs & Goat Cheese Mash

Adapted from Bon Appétit

5 lbs. bone-in beef short ribs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
1- 1lb. bag baby carrots
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 750-ml bottle dry red wine (preferably Cabernet Sauvignon)
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
8 sprigs thyme
4 sprigs oregano
2 sprigs rosemary
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 cups low-salt beef stock

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons drippings from pot.

Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste. Cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven, or transfer to your slow cooker if you’re using one instead of a Dutch oven.

Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard. Serve over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

Goat Cheese Mash

2-1/2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and chunked
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
4 ounces soft goat cheese
Salt and pepper

Cook potatoes in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 25 minutes.

Drain potatoes and place back into pot. Allow them to sit over the heat for a minute or two, adding milk, butter, and goat cheese to allow them to slightly melt. Mix on slow speed with a with a hand mixer until mashed and combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chiapparelli's House Salad

Chiapparelli’s House Salad [Little Italy, Baltimore]

Surprise! One of my favorite comfort foods is a salad! Chiapparelli’s is an Italian restaurant located in the heart of Baltimore’s Little Italy. While some diners might consider Chiapparelli’s outdated in comparison to more modern Italian cuisine, it’s the same reason why many of us (my family included) keep coming back again and again – it always remains comfortingly the same.

My favorite dish at Chiapparelli’s, other than the pasta, is its famous garlicky, cheese house salad that’s served on an enormous dinner plate. Honestly folks, this “side” salad that comes with every entree is big enough to be an entree itself! And back in the day, my Big Nona used to be friends with the owner/cook, so we were lucky enough to snag the recipe to what we thought must be a “top secret” dressing (it’s surprisingly very simple).

It may not be for everyone – there’s only so much garlic and cheese one can eat – but Chiapparelli’s is a must for dinner if you’re in the Baltimore area, followed by an Italian chocolate-dipped cream puff for dessert at Vaccaro’s.

Chiapparelli’s 
237 S. High Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Vaccaro’s
222 Albemarle Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

Chiapparelli's House Salad

Chiapparelli’s House Salad

2 heads Iceberg lettuce
1 red onion, thinly sliced
4 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 can black olives, sliced
Pepperoncinis, sliced
1/2 cup white vinegar
1 cup EVOO
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons oregano
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Chop the lettuce, red onion, hard boiled eggs, black olives and pepperoncinis in a large bowl. Emulsify the white vinegar, EVOO, garlic, oregano and sugar into a dressing. Pour over the salad and toss with the grated cheese.

Vodka Gimlet Cake

Vodka Gimlet Cake

A few months ago, I tasted one of the best vodka gimlet’s mixed when I was treated to drinks at The Majestic. It tasted like cool key lime pie. The secret: powdered sugar, not simple syrup. When I made this lemon lime cake not too long after, my thoughts immediately went back to the vodka gimlet. Many desserts are infused with liqueurs and I wanted to recreate this drink in a cake.

To make my vodka gimlet cake a bit more fancy, I infused strawberries with lime and made homemade vodka infused whipped cream (none of this new fangled stuff out of a can for me!).

Vodka Gimlet Cake

Vodka Gimlet Cake

Inspired by How Sweet It Is

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons key lime zest
1 1/2 cups baking flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup vodka
3 tablespoons key lime juice

Vodka Infused Whipped Cream

1 pint cold whipping cream
3 tablespoons vodka
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon key lime zest
3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Strawberries for topping
1 key lime, juiced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter, sugar, and eggs together until fluffy. Add vanilla and zest and combine until mixed.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Add the key lime juice and vodka, and thoroughly mix. Once mixed, add milk and beat until combined.

Pour into a greased 9″ round baking pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes and let cool completely.

Cut strawberries in a bowl and mix with juice of one key lime. Refrigerate.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, add cream, vodka, vanilla, sugar and key lime zest. Beat on medium-high speed until cream stiffens, about 7-8 minutes. Frost cake, add strawberries and refrigerate.

P.S. Since I made vodka gimlet cake (and shared with co-workers… don’t worry I didn’t eat it by myself!) I accepted a new job that starts tomorrow and I’m moving at the end of the month. Hopefully this is the universe tossing a few crumbs my way…

Sirloin with Chimichurri

June Girls’ Night: Sirloin with Chimichurri and Parmigiano Polenta

Every Monday night the girls and I indulge in our guilty pleasures of good food and The Bachelor/Bachelorette/Bachelor Pad. Or more like it’s the one night of the week we can stuff our faces with dinner and dessert (and sometimes wine!), and make snarky comments about the cheesiness of “the most dramatic season ever!”

Last week was my turn to cook dinner. We had been stuck in a rut of pizza delivery and pasta due to our busy schedules, so I had been anticipating making chimichurri using fresh basil.

Chimichurri is a marinade for grilled meats from Argentina made with parsley, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar and crushed red pepper flakes. While chimichurri is traditionally used as a sauce for beef, it is also served well with white fish (halibut, tilapia, cod).

I chose polenta as a side dish because I wanted an alternative to potatoes, and the basil and oregano variation of chimichurri I made reminded me a lot of pesto. The chimichurri even tasted great on top of the polenta! Believe it or not, prep and cooking time for this meal clocked in at just an hour, so it ranks as a perfect weekday dinner to impress in my recipe book. And I quickly roasted zucchini and carrots seasoned with EVOO and salt and pepper alongside the sirloin in the broiler.

Sirloin with Chimichurri

Sirloin with Chimichurri

3 – 3 1/2 lbs. top sirloin roast
1/2 cup EVOO
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white vinegar
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper
1 cup fresh parsley
1 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh oregano
4 cloves garlic
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat the oven on broil to 500 degrees. In a large roasting pan, rub 1/4 cup EVOO on the sirloin. Season generously with sea salt and pepper. Pour water and white vinegar into bottom of roasting pan for basting. Roast sirloin in oven for approximately 30 minutes, basting occasionally for medium-rare to medium temperature, or until a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees.

In a food processor or blender, combine parsley, basil, oregano, garlic, lemon juice, remaining 1/4 cup EVOO, red wine vinegar and crushed red pepper flakes. Pulse until ingredients combine to create a smooth sauce.

Parmigiano Polenta

2 tablespoons EVOO
1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 cup polenta (also called cornmeal or corn grits)
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
3 tablespoons butter

In a large non-stick pan, heat EVOO and saute red onion until translucent on medium heat. Add garlic and saute for another 3-4 minutes until fragrant, being careful not to burn garlic.

Add chicken stock or broth and bring to a boil. Combine polenta and lower heat. Simmer and stir frequently until polenta becomes thick and smooth. Before serving, add butter and Parmigiano to melt into a creamy mixture.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

One of my favorite side dishes at summer barbecues and picnics has always been pasta salad. Heck, I even love eating lunch on Fridays at Whole Foods when their salad bar features every salad imaginable from yellow fin tuna pasta salad and marinated artichokes with tomatoes to southwestern beef and red bliss potato salad.

Time and time again, I fall back on my reliable Maryland Shrimp Pasta Salad. But it’s heavy and creamy, and I wanted a cold (and lighter) salad I could serve with dinner that would pair well with Barbecue Alaskan Salmon.

Orzo is a rice-shaped Italian pasta. The pasta absorbs flavors well so dressing it with olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon juice goes a long way. This would be a great alternative pasta salad for a picnic and you could experiment with adding different vegetables and cheese based on your preference.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

1 lb. orzo
Kosher salt
1/2 cup pine nuts
8 tablespoons EVOO
4 green onions, chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 cucumber, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
12 pepperoncinis, sliced
1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. Generously salt water and cook orzo until tender, approximately 7-9 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While orzo is cooking, spread pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast lightly in oven on 400 degrees. Remove from oven and set aside.

Heat two tablespoons of EVOO on medium heat in a non-stick pan. Saute chopped green onions for approximately 2 minutes. Add parsley, lemon juice, lemon zest, toasted pine nuts and cooked orzo. Saute for 3-4 minutes for flavors to combine and absorb into the orzo. Remove from heat.

In a large bowl, combine cucumber, green bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red onion and pepperoncinis to orzo mixture. Additionally add crumbled feta cheese, red wine vinegar and remaining six tablespoons of EVOO. Mix well. Can be refrigerated or served immediately.

Barbecue Alaskan Salmon

Barbecue Alaskan Salmon

Yesterday the parentals came to town for a few hours to help me begin my apartment search for the pending end of summer move. After five hours driving in an approximately 3-mile radius, I was tired. Done. Even though I was left with two good options, I don’t even want to think about it anymore this week. Or this month. And don’t get me started on what can qualify as a “kitchen,” or for that matter, “clean…”

Mom has a way of laying on the guilt when I talk about a new recipe I’ve cooked for our weekly girls’ night dinner or a dessert I’ve baked to only be devoured by 20 intoxicated so-called adults floating down a river in tubes. I get it — I may be the only person in history to make homemade Oreos for a day of river tubing. Apparently I don’t cook very often for my family outside of holidays. Since Dad was willing to leave the compound for the day and miss out on watching the O’s or hitting golf balls, I decided the least I could do was cook dinner and provide a cold adult beverage.

This is my favorite basting marinade for grilled salmon. I always triple or quadruple the recipe below since I like to reserve some of the sauce to pour over the salmon after it is cooked. I usually pair it with scalloped potatoes or risotto and grilled vegetables. Yesterday I experimented with a new Mediterranean orzo salad (recipe to come!). All in all, it must have been a hit because Dad also repaired my vacuum cleaner. Score! Then again, he does do anything I ask him. :)

Barbecue Alaskan Salmon

Barbecue Alaskan Salmon

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 – 2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
4 salmon steaks (1 inch thick)

In a small saucepan, combine the first six ingredients. Cook on medium heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Heat a grill to medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Note: If you don’t have a charcoal or gas grill (or maybe you want to make it in the winter and don’t have a boy to venture out in the cold to the grill!), this recipe can also be made in a glass baking dish uncovered on broil at 500 degrees in the oven until desired temperature by pouring 3/4 of the marinade over the salmon and basting every 5 minutes. It does not need to be turned.

Grill the salmon, basting with the marinade for 7-9 minutes. Turn and continue to baste until salmon flakes easily with a fork.

Peach Baked Alaska

Peach Baked Alaska

Oh, meringue, how you continue to make a fool of me. Meringue and I have a love/hate relationship dating back to my French cooking class in 2008 with Chef Francois. He taught us how to make delicately light and crisp (and let’s not forget “easy!”) Pavlova meringues with passion fruit. When it came time for me to replicate this marshmallow-y sweetness at home, I was left with a burnt pan of flat liquid egg whites. Hmmf! Two more failed attempts at tweaking the recipe, I broke up with meringue and wrote it off forever.

When I found this recipe in Real Simple this month, I decided to give meringue a second chance. Maybe it was my craving for ice cream. Or summer peaches. Or Francois’ cooking. I don’t normally give second chances… I mean, it’s a break up for a reason… but I thought the recipe looked simpler.

Then I quickly learned my dating mantra was yet again true when my roommate described my first attempt at Peach Baked Alaska as “melted Eggs Benedict.” Fail.

But if you personally know me, I don’t give up on something I believe in. I believed in this Peach Baked Alaska. I researched tips for making meringue and Baked Alaska. And with my last peach, I succeeded!

So follow my tips included in the recipe. It will keep it from looking like melted Eggs Benedict.

Peach Baked Alaska

Peach Baked Alaska

Adapted from Real Simple

2 peaches, halved and pitted
Vanilla ice cream
2 large egg whites at room temperature
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Approximately an hour before you’re ready to serve the Peach Baked Alaska, place a baking sheet in the freezer. Wash, cut in half and pit the peaches. Put a large scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center of each peach like a bowl. Put peaches filled with ice cream in the freezer.

Tip 1: Freezing the pan and the peaches will keep the meringue from melting instantly off of the ice cream when baking. This will also give you the combination of frozen fruit, smooth ice cream and crispy, warm meringue when finished.

When you’re ready to serve, preheat the oven on broil at 450 degrees.

Tip 2: Broiling will cook the meringue a lot quicker than baking. If you wait for it to bake, the ice cream is going to melt. If you have a mini torch for creme brulee, you could also lightly torch the meringue. If you choose to use this method, I would skip the step of freezing the pan, peaches and ice cream since that is strictly needed for the oven!

Separate the egg whites into a metal or glass bowl. Add a pinch of salt and beat with an electric mixer until foamy. Next, add the cream of tartar, and beating on medium-high speed, slowly add 1 tablespoon of sugar at a time over 2-3 minutes until meringue becomes smooth, glossy and stiff. 

Tip 3: It is best to use a metal or glass bowl when making meringue. Plastic bowls are more porous and tend to keep oils or grease even when clean. The slightest trace of oils can keep meringue from stiffening.

Place frozen peaches on the pan from the freezer. Cover the ice cream with the meringue. Broil in the oven for 2-3 minutes until meringue lightly browns and becomes slightly crispy. Generously serves four!

Hearty Bolognese

I made this bolognese back in October when the weather started to have a fall chill. Bolognese is a meat-based sauce originating in Bologna, Italy. Authentic bolognese also has very little tomato base.

I can’t take any credit for this recipe as it comes from the kitchen of a good friend from college’s mom. I cut this recipe in half to serve four, and still have leftovers! My friend’s mom makes the whole recipe and freezes it. Then again, my friend could also probably eat it for an entire week.

It’s best if simmered for several hours, adding the cream at the very end before serving.

Hearty Bolognese

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 oz. pancetta, cut into ¼ inch diced
5 thin slices prosciutto, minced
2 large onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, peeled and minced
2 ribs celery minced
8 oz. lean ground beef
8 oz. ground veal
8 oz. lean ground pork
2 cups dry white wine
2 cans (35 oz. each) plum tomatoes, chopped and undrained
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1 cup heavy or whipping cream

Melt butter in large heavy pot over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook until lightly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the prosciutto and cook one minute more. Stir in the onions, garlic, carrots and celery. Sauté, stirring occasionally until softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in the beef, veal and pork. Cook, crumbling the meat with a wooden spoon, just until the meat begins to lose its pink color. Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until the liquid is almost completely reduced.

Add the coarsely chopped tomatoes and add their liquid to the sauce. Season the sauce with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered on low heat, stirring for at least 1 1/2 hours. Just before serving, stir in the cream. Makes enough for 2 lbs. pasta.

Bourbon Hot Dogs

Bourbon Hot Dogs

Mmm… hot dogs. Who doesn’t like them?! These hot dogs are a perfect appetizer while watching the football game on Sunday or to take in a small crockpot to your next party. I always called them “special hot dogs” because I only associated them with three specific days a year when we would get them at home–Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and, of course, Superbowl Sunday (in fact, the recipe file on my computer is labeled “Special Bourbon Hot Dogs”).

And what man doesn’t like bourbon whiskey?! So ladies, wow your guy by fixing him these to snack on (maybe you’ll get some extra brownie points)… or guys, these are simple to make and add to the crockpot for when your bromance is in full-gear during game time (you won’t be distracted with this snack like adding more chips to the bowl).

Note: I doubled the recipe below when making for 6-8 people as a heavy appetizer.

Bourbon Hot Dogs

Bourbon Hot Dogs

1 lb. hot dogs, cut
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard
2 tablespoons bourbon whiskey (I used Maker’s Mark)

Cut hot dogs in circular pieces and place in a skillet on medium high heat. Cook until browned all over, about 15 minutes.

Add brown sugar, ketchup and mustard. Mix well with the hot dogs, allowing the brown sugar to melt and create a thick sauce. Turn off heat and add bourbon whiskey (Note: I’ve even been known to double the bourbon to my taste… whoops!).

Serve in a crockpot, in a heated fondue pot or in a warmed casserole dish.