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.

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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.

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.

Maryland Shrimp Pasta Salad

I had a very relaxing 4th of July at the beach… minus the really weird tan lines, sleeping in an igloo (not literally, but it felt like it!) and coming home sick. It was filled with sun, friends, drinks and good food. It had me thinking of all the summers spent at the beach throughout high school and what I love most about summer.

Nothing reminds me more of summer growing up in Maryland than steamed crabs and BBQs. When I moved to North Carolina, my piece of summer away from home came to be my mom’s Maryland shrimp pasta salad. It was always a staple side dish at all family BBQs and steamed shrimp was the closest to Maryland seafood I could get my hands on, especially since I kept an economy-sized container of Old Bay in my spice cabinet (yes, I have a spice cabinet… a rack just doesn’t cut it!).

I don’t think this recipe is “famous,” but it’s become famous among friends and at parties I’ve taken it to as a side dish. I’ve passed the recipe on more times than I can count–it’s easy breezy and you only really need to know how to boil pasta. It’s even been eaten alone as seconds and thirds, or as a cold salad for lunch. I’ve also made this recipe vegetarian by eliminating the shrimp and adding additional fresh vegetables. The list of vegetables I use isn’t all-inclusive, so feel free to experiment with what you like!

Maryland Shrimp Pasta Salad

1 lb. shaped pasta (Rotini or Trio Italiano)
2 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 carrots, shredded
1 small Vidalia onion, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1 bell green pepper, chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 lb. steamed shrimp, peeled (optional)

Dressing

1 cup mayo
1/4 cup oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Old Bay to taste

Boil and cook pasta. Drain and chill immediately using cold water and ice cubes. Chop the vegetables and peeled shrimp in a large bowl.

Mix and pour the dressing over the pasta and vegetables and mix well. Next, season with Old Bay to taste (Note: As a Marylander, I literally *dump* Old Bay on it when I make it… easily 6-10 tablespoons if not more. It also depends on if you have Old Bay on the steamed shrimp already.)

Refrigerate for 1-2 hours before serving. See, didn’t I say it was super easy?!

Champagne Risotto

As promised, I’m back today with the oh so creamy and rich recipe for champagne risotto. I’d also never cooked risotto until taking the French cooking class (although this is purely an Italian recipe at heart). I was always nervous since I heard it was one of those dishes you can’t take your eye off of and constantly have to stir. However, once you get the timing down, it’s actually not as stressful to make as a lot of people make it out to be.

I originally found this recipe in Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book as a side dish to a lemon cream chicken. For the purpose of making it as a side dish to the skirt steak, I chose to eliminate the pancetta and saute only the asparagus. However, I highly suggest re-adding the pancetta if cooking alongside chicken or serving as a main dish on its own. Who doesn’t like a subtle smokey bacon flavor?!

As a side note, the following recipe serves generous portions for two. I suggest doubling the recipe to serve four to six people, and you’ll have some leftovers!

Champagne Risotto (with Asparagus and Pancetta)

Adapted from Rachael Ray’s Big Orange Book

3 cups chicken broth3 tablespoons EVOO
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup arborio rice
Salt and pepper
1 split champagne or sparkling wine
1 lemon, juiced
1/8 pound sliced pancetta, chopped
1 bunch asparagus, cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
3-4 springs thyme, leaves stripped and chopped

In a medium saucepan, heat the chicken broth over low heat. In a medium to large non-stick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic to the skillet and cook until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the rice and toss to coat; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the champagne and boil to evaporate slightly, about 2 minutes.

Stir a couple of ladlefuls of warm chicken broth into the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid evaporates. Add more broth, a few ladlefuls at a time, reserving 1/2 cup. Cook until creamy, stirring occasionally, about 18 minutes.

In the non-stick skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon EVOO, 1 turn of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook for about 3 minutes. Add the asparagus and shallot and cook, stirring, for 3 more minutes.

To serve, stir the cheese and thyme into the risotto and spoon generous portions onto plates. Pour the lemon juice over the asparagus and toss; spoon around or stir into risotto.

Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese

Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese

Warm weather reminds me of outdoor BBQs and my mom’s potato salad. However, potato salad (as good as it is) isn’t always appropriate year-round to pair as a side dish with dinner. I also highly doubt it’s good for you with most recipes drenching the potatoes in mayo. That’s why I was excited to find this recipe in Martha Stewart Living (I’ve been on a Martha kick) this month paired with a simple white wine roasted chicken and sugar snap peas that you can make any season!

The tart goat cheese gradually melts onto the warm vinaigrette-covered potatoes to create a creamy coating similar to traditional potato salad recipes. I normally add a clove of garlic sliced to the boiling potatoes for extra flavor, but you can forgo this additional ingredient if you use goat cheese with herbs like I did.

Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese

Warm Potato Salad with Goat Cheese

Adapted from Martha Stewart

2 lbs. red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons EVOO
3 ounces crumbled goat cheese (1/2 cup)
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Course salt and ground pepper

Cover potatoes with water in a medium saucepan; season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon cooking liquid. Let potatoes cool for 5 minutes.

Whisk together vinegar, mustard and reserved cooking liquid. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until emulsified (mixing of two ingredients that don’t normally mix together well, as in oil in salad dressings).

Transfer potatoes to a bowl and drizzle with vinaigrette. Gently stir in goat cheese, celery, shallot and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.