New Year’s Greens

While most bloggers take this week to reflect back on the best of 2012 or share their new year’s resolutions, I’m trying my best to only look forward. I could list what I was thankful for this past year — new friends, babies, milestone celebrations and vacations — but in all honesty, the best part of my year also took a dramatic turn to be the worst. I also failed at 2012’s resolutions — surprise, surprise — so not much to reflect on there either. However, here’s a few reasons why I’m hopeful 2013 will be my year.

1. Maybe it wasn’t the most congenial in-person conversation of all time, but I was able to seek closure after Christmas that I hope will help me find some level of peace with a bad situation in the coming months.

2. New Year’s Eve was spent on my sofa in sweatpants with curbside carryout from P.F. Chang’s, a bottle of champagne and a movie marathon. Might sound lonely, but it was exactly what I needed and here’s the hopeful part — I received not one, but two great fortunes in my cookies that ironically went hand-in-hand (yes, I’m guilty for asking for two cookies in case the first fortune was no fun).

3. I’ve thrown resolutions out the window! I recently read an article on a new favorite blog, The Everygirl, that said, “When you approach your life changes from an intentional point of view, you can see how far you’ve come from where you started and celebrate that as a success.” The point is to stop making quantitative goals that wane. So instead of new year’s resolutions, a few of my new year’s intentions are: trying something new at the gym (I’m leaning toward pilates), eat healthy more than half of the week, write more, start back with Shirlington Running Club, work at letting go and forgiving more, volunteer with an extra Make-a-Wish family, unplug from the Internet and phone simultaneously, and have no-shop months (a.k.a. no presents for myself). Is it bad I already picked out what I’m buying in February?

4. I have plans to look forward to including travel with family and friends on the books to Las Vegas and Riviera Maya, Mexico, and fingers-crossed, Los Angeles will be added, too.

5. In case you haven’t heard, the Pantone Color Institute has named emerald the color of 2013 — the color of growth, renewal and prosperity. And being a May baby, emerald is my birth color.

Okay, so maybe that last one is a stretch and I might sound crazy, but I need all the positive signs I can get. So how was my first day of the new year spent? Cooking for nearly 20 friends, of course! The saying is the way you celebrate New Year’s determines how you spend the rest of the year. So when I decided to have a low-key New Year’s Eve, I decided it would be good luck to share my family’s tradition of dinner on New Year’s Day with my closest friends away from home and as a way to say thank you. Now here’s a rundown of the menu.

Cocktail drink: Pear Rum Blush.

Appetizers: Vegetable tray; herb-marinated mozzarella, tomatoes, pepperoni and salami; bourbon hot dogs; and crostini with feta cheese, caramelized pears and honey.

Dinner: Zucchini and spinach goat cheese lasagna with homemade pomodoro sauce; baked shrimp scampi; balsamic roast beef; potato salad; garlic green bean salad; and sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon and raisins.

Dessert: Chocolate rum cake.

My favorite new dish was the sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon and raisins. I first tried them during a get-together at Christmas and then stumbled upon a recipe in an old issues of Bon Appetit during a recent cooking magazine purge. If you didn’t like brussel sprouts as a kid, you will surely like these grown-up brussel sprouts. Everything is better with bacon. And here’s to hoping 13 is finally a lucky number!

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Raisins

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Raisins

Adapted from Bon Appetit

2 slices thick bacon1 lb. brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup golden raisins
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and cook turning occasionally until crisp. Using tongs, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain and cool. Coarsely crumble and reserve.

Add brussel sprouts to bacon drippings in skillet and season with salt and pepper. Saute, stirring often, until well browned and softened, about 5 – 7 minutes.

Sauteed Brussel Sprouts

Reduce heat to low and add raisins, shallot and butter. Cook, stirring often, until shallot is soft. Add chicken broth and increase heat bringing to a boil, scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Reduce heat again to medium-low and simmer until broth has almost completely evaporated. Stir in vinegar and crumbled bacon.

Bourbon Old-Fashioned Cookies

After making between five and six dozen Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries, I wasn’t sure I had much energy left in me to bake for work gifts and a cookie exchange beyond Pillsbury. But as photos of red and green food-colored sugar cookies in the shapes of stars and Christmas trees started popping up on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, it reminded me that they aren’t up to par in my recipe book. Now I know I might be coming across as sassy as my former roommate would say, but even if I’ve lost my Christmas spirit this year, I’m not going to be known as the person who baked sugar cookies. I have a reputation to uphold!

I recently saw a recipe on Annie’s Eats for Pecan Pie Thumbprint Cookies. I loved the idea, but, eh, not so much a pecan pie fan. Bourbon caramel apple pecan pie – yes. Traditional pecan pie – no. Then I remembered a Cherry-Bourbon Pie recipe I found in Bon Appetit that I had planned to bake to accompany red wine braised short ribs for a welcome home dinner in October that never happened. Better late to try than never, right?

I made a few substitutions, including replacing the pecans in the dough with almonds to reflect the original pie topping. These might be hands-down one of the best cookies I have ever made. The verdict is still out – final judgement day won’t happen until the cookie exchange tonight. But at the very least, my boss immediately thanked me for baking “something other than a sugar cookie cutout.”

Add nine dozen cookies to the list I said I wasn’t going to be cooking or baking back on Thanksgiving Eve.

Bourbon Old-Fashioned Cookies

Bourbon Old-Fashioned Cookies

Adapted from Annie’s Eats and Bon Appetit

Makes approximately 3 dozen cookies

For the filling:
1 24.7-oz. jar pitted sour cherries in syrup, drained well (I used Trader Joe’s Dark Morello Cherries)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

For the dough:
1 cup (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

For the crumble topping:
1/4 cup quick oats
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Combine the cherry filling ingredients in a bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 hours or longer before baking.

To make the dough, combine the butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer. Add the sugars and beat until light and fluffy, and then mix in the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, add the almonds, salt and flour. Kneed the dough and cover the bowl. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. To make the crumble topping, microwave the butter for 15 seconds to soften. Add quick oats and brown sugar and stir with a fork to incorporate.

Spray baking sheets with Pam or line with parchment paper. Scooping about one tablespoon of dough at a time, roll the dough into balls. Place the dough balls on the baking sheets, and using your thumb (or I used a wine cork as suggested!), make an indentation in the center of each dough ball. Fill each indentation with about two cherries and their juices from the filling. Add crumble topping to each cookie.

Bake for approximately 16-18 minutes. I recommend removing cookies immediately from baking sheets and cooling on parchment paper or cookie racks. The baked juices from the cherries tend to make them a bit sticky until they’re cooled.

Comfort Food

Have you ever looked up the definition of comfort food in the dictionary?

n. Food that is simply prepared and associated with a sense of home or contentment.

My first thought of comfort food is a heaping bowl of pasta with my Big Nona’s tomato sauce and meatballs, loaded with Parmesan cheese (freshly grated from the Italian store no less!) on top. However, I also think about those meals as a kid that often found their way to the dinner table week after week, but not because of their five-star quality.

The first was a casserole of beef flavored Rice-a-Roni layered with thinly sliced sirloin, basted with teriyaki sauce, baked in the oven and served with peas – my favorite vegetable! Not kidding, I was the kid who asked for a side salad at restaurants to go with my children’s menu. My parents remember this as one of the cheap dinners they ate during the first five years of their marriage to save money to build a house. The second probably made the top three list of every kid in the 1990s – chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese. It had to be the blue box and the powdered cheese – we were not a Velveeta cheese family. While I still enjoy my Rice-a-Roni and Kraft from time to time, I have graduated to more, um, should we say sophisticated tastes? But sometimes we still need our comfort foods when life gets tough.

I lost six pounds in three weeks back in November. That’s a lot quickly for short me. Conveniently for him, the breakup coincided with a second trip back 7,926 miles away. The upset and stress of all of the questions surrounding our relationship and girl #2, his return before Thanksgiving and the inevitable fact we’re linked by the same social circle has taken its toll on my appetite. However, I have Whole Foods’ hot bar macaroni and cheese to thank for being there as my comfort food this time around and making sure that even if I only eat one meal a day, it’s definitely not short on calories. It’s the best homemade macaroni and cheese that comes close to beating out Kraft in my book! After spending way too many days hanging out at the hot bar, I overheard the secret ingredient is an Alfredo sauce base instead of your traditional milk and butter rue. Don’t let them fool you into thinking all that food is healthy!

I got the dreaded email in my inbox today at work reminding me of the holiday lunch potluck. With zero appetite, the last thing I could think about was cooking and a creative idea. So why not comfort food? Maybe I could knock out two birds with one stone – potluck and dinner? I stopped at the Harris Teeter on my way home from work and picked up ingredients. It took me all of 30 minutes to prepare this dish before baking in the oven. See that? Simply prepared. Unfortunately, even tonight macaroni and cheese couldn’t bring my appetite back. Lucky co-workers – more for them!

Alfredo Macaroni and Cheese

Alfredo Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb. elbow macaroni
1 jar Bertoli Alfredo sauce
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded Colby Jack cheese
2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Bring a medium pot of water to a rapid boil and cook elbow macaroni until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, heat Alfredo sauce. Slowly stir in Parmesan, Colby Jack and one cup extra sharp cheddar cheese until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and toss with macaroni.

Place macaroni and cheese sauce in a 9 x 13 baking dish. Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining cheddar cheese on top. Bake for approximately 20 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Don’t forget to serve with chicken nuggets!

Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries

I haven’t been sleeping lately. I’ve always been a solid 8- to 9-hour sleeper. I chalk it up to too many thoughts and anxiety around one situation. So I’ve been asked what am I doing at the wee hour of 3 a.m.? Well, here’s what I’ve been up to.

1. Zoning out on Pinterest.
2. Writing One Line a Day.
3. Staring at the pile of Christmas presents that need to be wrapped, wishing them to wrap themselves.
4. Drinking wine, pretending my wine rack is an Advent calendar.
5. Praying, praying and more praying.
6. Midnight cleaning sprees, including the stove, microwave and refrigerator.
7. Painting my nails in glitter.
8. Watching mindless reality shows.
9. Midnight grocery shopping trips – no one is there!
10. Speed reading through every book in my Kindle queue.
11. Laying in bed, staring at the dark, counting down until the alarm will ring.
12. Making these chocolate covered cherries.

Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries

Grand Marnier Chocolate Covered Cherries

2 jars maraschino cherries, drained (about 4 1/2 dozen)
1/2 cup Grand Marnier
2-3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup margarine
1/4 sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
2 bags milk chocolate chips
1 bag dark or white chocolate chips

Start by draining the cherries and placing in a shallow dish. Pour Grand Marnier over cherries to marinate overnight or longer – depends on how boozy you want your cherries!

Remove cherries from Grand Marnier and place on a baking pan lined with foil. Freeze for at least an hour.

Start by mixing 2 cups powdered sugar, margarine, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla and salt. Knead into a dough-like mixture. If sticky, gradually add remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar. Cover and refrigerate until firm for at least an hour.

Begin by taking approximately 1 teaspoon of the sugar mixture, rolling into a ball and flattening it in the palm of your hand to the size of a silver dollar. Wrap the sugar mixture around your cherry to form a ball. Place back on the cold baking pan you removed from the freezer. Once all cherries are wrapped, refreeze for at least 30 minutes.

In a double boiler, gradually melt milk chocolate chips. When melted, dip frozen cherries in chocolate to coat and return to baking pan. Refrigerate until cooled and solid.

In a double boiler, melt dark or white chocolate chips and drizzle over chocolate covered cherries. Refrigerate (one last time!) until cooled and solid. Store in an air tight container in a cool place up to one month. Cherries are best served after two weeks once the juices have had time to set.

Chili of Boyfriends Past

These last few weeks I haven’t just been reliving the most recent breakup in my thoughts, but every one before it. The long and short, past and recent, have ended in similar fashion – boy leaves girl #1 after lying to be with girl #2 because, at least for the short-term, girl #2 appears skinnier/funnier/prettier/wealthier/taller or just all-around the better choice.

The latter have all had an epiphany that makes them question or regret their decision. Every. Single. Time. How do I know this? Because they ultimately sought out girl #1 to say so. Maybe their guilty conscience makes it hard to sleep at night?

I really should have written a book. I could at least be independently wealthy by now.

Back when this blog was known as its previous self, I shared a recipe for chicken chili from boyfriends past. I haven’t cooked that chili again in more than two years. My thoughts wandered back to that chili when I was perusing my pins to decide what was going to be on this week’s menu. As I’ve mentioned, I haven’t felt like myself. Cooking was my therapy five years ago – the tangible when I didn’t quite know how to cope with the unfortunate situation I found myself in as a 22-year-old – and for now I don’t want much to do with it. So I just needed a pot of food that could cook itself with a few ingredients and I could reheat and eat for days. But I can’t bring myself to cook that chicken chili.

That’s how Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Chili was born. Unfortunately, I don’t think my nutritionist will be too impressed at my next appointment about the sausage.

Disclaimer: I’m not kidding when I say this chili is spicy! If you’re weak, I’d go the pre-packaged chili spices route to start instead of my spice measurements. But it’s the roasted red pepper and hot Italian sausage that make it different.

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Chili

Spicy Roasted Red Pepper Chili

3/4-1 lb. lean ground beef
1/4-1/2 lb. hot Italian turkey sausage, casing removed
2 red bell peppers
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 Serrano chili, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes and juices
4 ounces sliced Jalapeno peppers
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1-15 ounce can low-sodium kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet or saute pan, brown the ground beef and sausage until meat is no longer pink and drain.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Slice red bell peppers in half and lay flat side down on a baking sheet. Roast in oven for approximately 10-15 minutes until soft and blackened on edges. Cool until cool enough to handle and peel away skin. Chop coarsely and reserve.

In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, cook the onions, green pepper and Serrano pepper over medium heat, stirring occasionally until soft. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, for about 2 minutes.

Add the ground beef, sausage, diced tomatoes, Jalapeno peppers, chili powder, Tabasco, oregano, paprika and cumin. Bring to a boil, then add kidney beans and reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, with cover slightly ajar, for about 1 1/2 hours.


Perhaps better known as “Cranberry Barbecue Pulled Turkey” or “That Thanksgiving I Felt Completely Suffocated by a Turkey.”

Cooking and baking for friends and family has always brought me enjoyment and happiness. It’s the reason I always volunteer to bring a dish to the next get-together. I’ll even cook or bake for no special reason and hand-deliver dinner and/or dessert to your doorstep, especially if I know work or life has kept you too busy to think about your next meal. It’s my way of showing how much I care about you (but you have to be really special in my book to get that treatment).

One of my favorite new traditions in the last four years has been Friendsgiving the week before Thanksgiving. I haven’t left my house much in the recent month with the exception of work, gym and errands to the grocery store and Target. Before I knew it, Friendsgiving had descended upon me much quicker than I thought, and was going to force me to cook one of the month’s two actual meals and be social. And in true fashion, I decided to over do it and not only cook the turkey for the third time out of four years, but try a new, non-traditional recipe because I was looking for any type of change in my life to help get me out of my funk.

It all seemed like a great idea, since cooking usually has a way of being a sort of therapy, but then I had a busy week at work and felt like the to-do list was piling up and the cubicle walls were caving in. I realized I was on my way to becoming a hoarder when I couldn’t see my dining table or sit on my sofa – I hadn’t cleaned my apartment in, um, too embarrassingly long to tell (and shocking for anyone who knows me and my normal cleanliness and organization). Every volunteer commitment I had made to Make-a-Wish in the last year came to a head in one week. I suffered through one miserable evening that reminded me just how much I was missing someone. And then, the turkey…

I learned you can’t fit 12 lbs. of turkey into a crockpot at one time, just saying.

The turkey took me two days to cook each turkey breast separately (lots of people = lots of turkey), including one 5:30 a.m. wake up call to chop meat before putting the second turkey in to cook while I was at work and one late night spent on the kitchen floor with a bottle of wine after said miserable evening feeling like 12 lbs. of turkey was sitting on my chest. I could not escape the smell of barbecue turkey, even with the windows open and 40 degree temperatures.

Of course, everyone said they loved the Cranberry Barbecue Pulled Turkey. I don’t think I even tasted it – I had completely lost my appetite by Friendsgiving. And I felt absolutely drained of life that I was counting down to my 10 p.m. bedtime on a Friday so I could go home and sleep.

For the first time, cooking felt like a chore. I don’t know what to make of this. Today I sat at my desk looking at my December calendar filling up with cookie exchanges and potlucks. Will I make it a point to be there? Yes. But a warning: You might get ready to bake, refrigerated Pillsbury cookies this year.

Disclaimer: This recipe really was the simplest way to ever cook a turkey and extremely moist. So I hope you give it a try and enjoy it on my behalf, even if you go the traditional route of butter, salt and pepper or an herb marinade instead of barbecue. Just put it in the crockpot on low for 8-10 hours or until the thermometer pops. The cranberry barbecue sauce would also make for tasty post-Thanksgiving leftovers.

Cranberry Barbecue Turkey

Cranberry Barbecue Pulled Turkey

6 lbs. bone-in turkey breast

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons jalapeño pepper, finely chopped, seeds removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups whole berry cranberry sauce
1 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons mustard
Salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add onions and jalapeño and cook over medium heat until the onions have softened. Add garlic and continue to cook for approximately one minute. Add cranberry sauce, ketchup and mustard and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent burning. Remove from heat.

Place turkey breast in the crockpot and season with salt and pepper generously. Pour 1/4 – 1/2 of the barbecue sauce over the turkey. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or until the thermometer pops.

Shred or chop the turkey. Drain the juices from the crockpot. Place the shredded turkey back in the crockpot, add remaining barbecue sauce and simmer on high for about 30 minutes until hot. Serve on potato dinner rolls. A great non-Thanksgiving side dish would be Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese.

M is for May and Margarita Cupcakes

May has been a whirlwind and here we are already at Memorial Day weekend! Between Cinco de Mayo, Gold Cup, softball and bocce leagues, a fabulous wedding in Marco Island, FL, my birthday celebration  dinner and an O’s game, and my sister’s graduation in Connecticut after a 3-hour power nap… I’ve been on the go non-stop when I’m not at work. This weekend has many social plans booked on the calendar, but I’m at least glad to be spending it at home and not out of a suitcase for the third weekend in a row.

I made these cupcakes at the beginning of the month for Cinco de Mayo – now you understand why it’s taken me until now to post the recipe. I pinned my inspiration on Pinterest last summer and have been waiting all year to make them. I’ve made many homemade buttercream frostings before, but this Swiss meringue buttercream recipe is probably my most favorite – it has the buttery sweetness of buttercream, but the light, fluffy texture of meringue. How can you go wrong?

Well, a lot can go wrong when you’re trying to make meringue. And it did when I was making this frosting – it just wouldn’t fluff! But after reading these tips on how to fix Swiss meringue buttercream and popping it in the fridge for 30 minutes, I was good to go. If you have a stand mixer, I’d highly recommend using it. Don’t be like me and have to stand with a hand mixer on high for 25 minutes if you know what’s good for you.

Margarita Cupcakes

Margarita Cupcakes with Tequila-Lime Swiss Meringue Buttercream and Candied Key Limes 

Adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
3 limes, zested and juiced
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons tequila
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier

Tequila-Lime Swiss Meringue Buttercream

2 cups sugar
8 egg whites
3 sticks butter, room temperature
4 tablespoons lime juice
3-4 tablespoons tequila

Candied Key Limes

Key limes
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare cupcake tins with paper liners or baking spray. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. Cream butter and sugar on a high until pale, light, and fluffy.

Add eggs one at at time, mixing thoroughly before adding the next one. Add lime zest and lime juice. Turn mixer to the low. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two batches. Add tequila and orange liqueur. Mix only until just combined. Fill each cupcake cup about 3/4 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until a skewer shows only moist crumbs attached, rotating the pans at the halfway point. Allow cupcakes to cool completely in the pans before removing.

Slice key  limes into thin rounds, and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes and drain. In the same pot, combine water and 1 cup sugar. Bring to a simmer and add lime slices. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until white pith of limes looks translucent. Drain and spread limes on a cooling rack to dry for at least 1 hour. Put 2 tablespoons sugar in shallow bowl or saucer. When limes are dry, coat both sides of the lime slices by pressing them into the sugar. Store in an airtight container and layer between parchment paper or plastic wrap until ready to use, and refrigerate.

To make the frosting, place the stand mixer bowl or a stainless steel bowl over a simmering pot of water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water). Whisk the sugar and egg whites until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture registers 160 degrees with a candy thermometer.

Place the bowl on the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on high speed until the mixture is cool and holds stiff, glossy peaks, approximately 10 minutes. Beat in one tablespoon of butter at a time on medium. Add lime juice and 1 tablespoon of tequila. Increase speed to high and beat until the frosting reincorporates and is smooth and fluffy. Beat in remaining tequila as desired.

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.

237 S. High Street
Baltimore, MD 21202

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.