Category: Eating Well

Last-Minute Party Food for the #POWAW Book Release Party!

This past weekend, my friend Emily and I co-hosted a book release party for our friend Rachel Haas.  And somehow I thought my role as co-host meant I would show up early to help out and bring a platter of bacon-wrapped dates.  And Emily thought it meant she would host and handle drinks and I would bring all the food.  We laughed about it all weekend because for two professional writers, we absolutely failed on the communication front!

I figured out what was going on Thursday afternoon, the day before the party.  I was on a conference call and I saw a text message pop up saying something like:  We have 20 people coming tomorrow night and I’ve got all the drinks covered — can’t wait to eat your delicious food!  (This is a paraphrase.  It actually took me a few messages to catch on because (a) sometimes I’m kind of dense and (b) my brain was focused on some awesome spreadsheets.)

If I’d realized what was going on a little earlier, I would have spent a lot of time planning an awesome menu for Rachel’s party — because she wrote an entire book and we are totally psyched for her huge accomplishment — but since I only had from 6 p.m. Thursday to when I went to sleep and from 5:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. Friday when I had to leave for the party, we had to focus on easy, fast, tried-and-true favorites to get the party started.  Emily created the most beautiful party environment, and I think the food turned out pretty great too.

blog photo 2

Here’s what I did:

  1. Alton Brown’s Baked Macaroni and Cheese.  I doubled the version and when it was going into the oven it looked too soupy, but when it came out of the oven it was golden and delicious.  Macaroni and Cheese is vegetarian-friendly, super filling, and not too expensive on your party budget, so it’s a go-to for me when I need to feed a crowd.  I made and baked this Thursday night, and then reheated in the oven at Emily’s on Friday night.
  2. Bacon-wrapped Goat Cheese Dates.  You just put the tiniest bit of goat cheese inside the dates, wrap them up with raw bacon, skewer with a toothpick and bake at 375 until the bacon is crispy.  Super easy.  We prepped these on Thursday night and then baked them at Emily’s house while the party was getting started.  Bacon smells great while cooking, so it’s a win-win for everyone there.
  3. Barbecue Meatballs.  Grab freezer meatballs and throw them into the your crock pot with barbecue sauce.  I used a combination of Sweet Baby Ray’s, peach jam, apple cider vinegar, maybe a little Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and water.  I kept adding stuff until it tasted good to me.  Follow your heart here.
  4. Hummus Platter with Vegetables.  I used Sabra hummus but transferred it into a fancy container and topped it with a drizzle of olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper.  I hate how raw broccoli feels dry and scratchy in your throat at parties, so I skipped it and went with baby carrots and sliced red and green bell peppers instead.  Since the mac-and-cheese and meatballs were a bit heavy, the lighter hummus and vegetables offered a healthier option.
  5. Peanut Butter Fudge and Chocolate Fudge.  Cupcakes, cookies, cakes — I would usually bake something lovely for such a huge moment in a friend’s life, but since time was limited (and honestly, so was our fridge space!) I went with an easy, quick dessert:  fudge.  I’m sure there are really delicious ways to make fudge that are not easy, but for both of my efforts, it involved pouring things into a bowl, microwaving that bowl, stirring the contents of the bowl, pouring the melted contents into another container, chilling, and chopping.  So easy!  The small bites are party-friendly.  But, since some have peanut allergies I’m really careful to keep the peanut butter fudge separate so if needed, it can be swept away and the party can be allergy-free.

And the reason for the party:  Rachel’s New Book!

If you’re interested in fairy-tales, new fiction writers, or just making someone feel awesome, click through here to purchase Rachel L. Haas’s new book, Portals of Water and Wine.  I’m so impressed with Rachel’s tenacity to get this book written and out into the world — I think we could all learn a lot from her commitment to her art.  Here she is on Friday night, talking about her writing process and reading a selection from her new release!

Cooking Challenge Re-Make: Apple Pie Biscuits from @JoytheBaker

I spent a week with my family in Tennessee at the end of September/beginning of October.  It was my first time being there during the work-week in ages, and I worked from my childhood home about half-time and spent the other half getting in some hard-core family time.

On one of my last days there, I decided to make Joy the Baker and King Arthur Flour’s Apple Pie Biscuits from the September Baking Bootcamp.  It was so fun to have my mom and sister join me in staging food to make good-looking photos (I normally get the eye roll and “Can’t I eat this yet?” from H).  Also, since her recipe makes 12 biscuits, it was probably good that I made them for my family of four instead of just for me and H here in Chicago.

One thing that is too funny not to mention, is that when I went to the store I purchased EIGHT APPLES to use in this recipe.  Which was kind of overkill since it only requires one apple. One apple, guys.  [Pro tip: read your recipe before you go grocery shopping for ingredients!]

Bowl of Apples

Stir brown sugar and cinnamon into your apple slices. (My grandmother’s bowls.)

2skillet photo

Cook your apples in the skillet until shiny.

3howto do it

Roll out your biscuit dough and put apples on half — like this.

 

4beforebaking

Fold in half, slice into squares, and place on pan. Wash with egg and sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar before baking.

5all done

Golden and delicious. I mean, seriously. Yum.

I don’t like apple pie (chunky cooked apples are the worst!) but I really loved these biscuits!  I think the difference is that the apples are sliced v-e-r-y thin and they get cooked very thoroughly, almost like a warm biscuit topped with chunky apple jelly.

I had a great time following Joy the Baker’s recipe when I made these with my family, but when I wanted to recreate for H and me on Saturday morning, I took the lazy way out and they were still quite yummy.  Here’s what I did:

  • Slice and cook your apple slices in butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  (My apples were a bit thicker and so less delicious because my mom is much better at slicing than I am.  Just saying.)
  • Make biscuit dough however you normally do.  I used self-rising flour and shortening, but if you are a Bisquick person then follow your heart!  Make the amount of biscuits you need for the number of people eating breakfast with you.
  • Roll out your dough, put the apples on half of it, fold it over and pinch the edges.  Cut into squares, egg wash, sprinkle, and bake!

It’s basically the same as Joy’s recipe, but since I had done it once before and I wasn’t competing for King Arthur goodies (we are King Arthur Flour snobs in this family so we took that recipe SERIOUSLY), I didn’t stress so much about doing it perfectly.  These biscuits feel a little less high-maintenance and a bit more “me.”  And either way you decide to make them, they are delicious.

Leftovers Frittata

It’s almost the end of our 31 Days in the Kitchen, and I’m having a hard time narrowing down post topics: there is so much more I wanted to squeeze into this month!  I still haven’t touched on cocktails, I’ve barely grazed my favorite desserts with a (completely unplanned) emergency pie, and I wanted to talk about pantry basics and keeping a well stocked kitchen and make you a Holiday 2014 Gift List for the foodies in your life.  We may be running out of out of days in October, but I don’t think we’ve reached the end of talking about cooking and eating here at Pink-Briefcase.

Today, let’s talk about my favorite way to rejuvenate leftovers: the frittata.

A frittata is like a quiche without a crust.  You cook it in a skillet instead of a pie plate, and you begin cooking on the stove top and transfer into the oven to finish.  The edges and the entire bottom of the frittata get brown and crispy.  (I think that real Italians flip their frittatas so that both the top and the bottom get brown and crispy, but I do not have those skills and I am comfortable with that.)

My favorite frittatas are made from leftover roasted veggies.  So, if you want a slammin’ frittata for Sunday brunch, roast some veggies for dinner one night this week and save back some extras.

Roasted Vegetables

Chop red onion, red bell pepper, sweet potato, carrots, and any other veggies you particularly like into chunks.

Place veggies in a bowl, drizzle with oil, and salt, pepper, maybe some red pepper flakes, and roast at 375 for 30-40 minutes, until fork-tender.

If you don’t have leftover roasted vegetables, how about leftover asparagus?  broccoli?  potatoes?  steak and peppers?  (yum) Just see what is in your fridge and get creative.

Leftovers Frittata

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In this frittata I added chopped baby spinach in with my goat cheese. It’s good to hide vegetables whenever you can.

Here’s what you need:

5-6 eggs

Splash of milk

Goat cheese (or cheese of choice — but goat cheese is the best cheese)

Leftovers (or other fillings of choice)

Here’s what you do:

Preheat the oven to 425 and grab a nonstick skillet that can go into the oven (most can).

Chop your veggies into smaller bits.

Heat a little oil in your skillet and warm it over medium heat.

Throw in your leftover veggies to warm, approximately 1-2 minutes.

In a separate bowl, break your eggs, pour in your milk, and stir together.  You can use a whisk if you want to but I use a fork.

Shake in the same amount of salt and pepper you would use for 6 scrambled eggs.  I shake twice per egg and count in my head — so 10-12 shakes for a 6-egg frittata.  (Is this a completely obsessive thing to share, or is this accurate blogging?  You can decide.)

Pour the eggs over the veggies and let it cook for a few minutes on the stove top.  After 2-3 minutes, you’ll begin to see the edges forming a shape.  At this point, sprinkle on your goat cheese.

Pop your frittata skillet into the oven and bake until firm and golden, about 12 minutes.  I usually set the timer for 12 minutes and sometimes let it go up to 15.  If your skillet is larger, your frittata will cook faster so be aware and watch your time the first time.

Want to make a frittata but not out of leftovers?  Here’s a few other frittata recipes you can try:

Are you a frittata lover?  Any favorite flavor combinations?

This post is number 30 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

An Ode to Goat Cheese (Or, a Guest Post by Suzanne Terry)

When I found out with one week remaining in my kitchen-blogging month that I was not permitted to eat gluten or dairy or steak or a lot of other yummy things, my friend Suzanne from the blog CoffeeSnob318 stepped up to talk to you about cheese.  I simultaneously LOVE her for really connecting to this month’s series — I mean, if this wasn’t so well linked and didn’t include a Pinterest board (I am so terrible with Pinterest) it could be me talking! — and HATE her because I can’t eat goat cheese right now and this totally reminds me how much I love it.  And that’s what real friends do, right?  They meet you right where you are and share your overwhelming passion for delicious things.   To Suzanne — thank you.  And to the rest of you?  Enjoy! 

An Ode to Goat Cheese

When you ask normal people what their favorite food is, you will usually get answers like “pizza” or “steak and potatoes.” You might get answers like “Italian” or “Mexican.”

When you ask me what my favorite food is, the answer you get is “goat cheese.” I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to it.

I love goat cheese. Whatever one puts with it, I will eat it. Goat cheese with pasta? Great. Goat cheese with fruit? Awesome. Goat cheese smeared on a piece of toast? Breakfast of champions.

It’s so versatile. I generally like a food to pick a category – sweet or savory – and stick with it. Goat cheese, however, can do both. It can add a nice tang and some creaminess to a main course, making the dish tastier and a little bit fancier. Or you can top slices of fruit with it, drizzle it with a little honey, and you have a simple yet elegant dessert.

Here are some of my favorite things to do with goat cheese, organized by category.

Appetizers

  • One of the simplest appetizers in the world is grilled or toasted bread, spread with something delicious and topped with something else delicious (and ideally, pretty).

Observe:

Rye Radish Goat Cheese Toast

This is just rye toast with goat cheese and radishes. It took me ten minutes to put together a whole plate of them, and people LOVED it. You can top it with anything. I also am a big fan of roasted peppers, olives, roasted stone fruits (apples, pears, peaches, etc.), and caramelized onions.

Meals

  • Adding goat cheese to pasta, as in this Meyer lemon spaghetti, makes whatever else you’re doing with the pasta ten times better.
  • Use it as your cheese of choice on pizza.
  • Crumble it into a salad.
  • Spread it onto bread, top it with another slice of bread, and pan fry it for the best grilled cheese sandwich you will ever eat in your life. Sundried tomatoes, various peppers, or spinach make a nice addition to this sandwich as well.

Breakfast

  • Goat cheese in an omelet, frittata, or quiche. Do it.
  • Put it in your biscuit batter (or squish it into the canned ones and pretend you made them from scratch, because they’re going to taste like it).
  • Or, as I mentioned before, use it as your toast topping. Maybe add some jam. Maybe you want to invite me over. I’ll bring the coffee.

Dessert

  • Goat cheese makes a great tart topping.
  • You can also wrap goat cheese in phyllo dough, bake it, and then drizzle it with something sweet (or dust it with powdered sugar), for a real crowd pleaser. And you can call them something adorable like goat cheese cigars.
  • One of the simplest (and thus, one of my favorite) desserts is grilled fruit topped with a dollop of goat cheese.

 

As you can see, goat cheese is versatile and awesome. What are some of your favorite things to do with goat cheese?

This guest post by Suzanne Terry is number 29 of the #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Suzanne Terry is a fiction writer, public speaking teacher, and unapologetic coffee snob. She lives in Denton, Texas, where she is happy to be surrounded by college students, coffee shops, and farmers’ markets. She blogs sporadically at http://coffeesnob318.wordpress.com/.

Spaghetti Magic

Some nights, even when you love cooking the way I love cooking, the thought of making dinner makes you want to die.  Or give up on eating altogether.  Or order a pizza from papa johns.  (Which is totally okay to do.  We do it all the time)

But when your life is crazy and your body is exhausted, the last thing you really need is pizza for dinner.  Again.  If you can muster the energy to cook for 12 minutes, a box of spaghetti noodles and a tiny bit of creativity can get you through some pretty dire kitchen moments.  Whole wheat pasta will also work — although to be honest I hate whole wheat pasta, it tastes gross to me and I’d rather have half as much regular delicious pasta — or you can try another alternative like a gluten free pasta or my love the spaghetti squash if you just don’t eat regular dried pasta anymore.

I’ve already shared my favorite tomato sauce and meatball recipes, which I try to keep stashed in the freezer for emergencies like this.  A half-dozen meatballs and a quart of leftover tomato sauce can make a bit of boxed spaghetti sing.

spaghetti and meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs Glamour Shot

You can also make a quick and easy carbonara if you have eggs in the fridge, a hunk of Parmesan cheese, and bacon and green peas in the freezer.  (I keep bacon and green peas in the freezer for this very purpose, and also because chicken pot pie requires about 2/3 a bag of frozen green peas, and what are you supposed to do with the rest?)  Here’s the recipe I use.

carbonara

Carbonara Glamour Shot

But when there are no meatballs in the freezer and you don’t want to go into a food coma after eating (that carbonara is delicious but it is maybe a little too delicious.), there’s this perfect bite of summer:

Spaghetti with Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Basil (also known as Spaghetti Caprese)

caprese pasta

Caprese Close-up (here you’ll see that I added roasted shrimp for protein)

This is the easiest dinner to cook but it tastes fresh and fabulous.

Here’s what you need:

Spaghetti (or substitute)

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 package (or 4 sprigs) fresh basil, chiffonade style (roll it up and slice it into skinny strips like this)

1 container mozzarella pearls, or larger mozzarella balls that you can slice up

2 cloves garlic, minced

olive oil, salt, and pepper

Here’s what you do:

The magic of this meal is that you do everything in the amount of time it takes to cook your pasta.  Get a head start by chopping your garlic and slicing your cherry tomatoes in half while you wait on the water.

Boil a pot of salted water for your pasta.

Warm 2 -3 Tbsp. of olive oil into a large skillet to medium heat.

Put your pasta in the water — you now have 8-10 minutes until dinner is served.

When the oil is warm, throw the garlic into the oil and let it brown for 1-2 minutes.  Watch for burning.

Throw your chopped cherry tomatoes into the hot oil, stir well, shake salt over the entire pan and turn off the heat.  The tomatoes will soften in the hot pan.

About two minutes before the pasta is ready, put half of your basil into the pan to flavor the oil and tomatoes.

When the pasta is done, drain well and then drop it all right into your skillet full of tomatoes and garlic.  You may want to add extra oil if it looks like it needs it.

Stir in the remaining basil and the mozzarella pearls.

Salt well and you are ready to eat!

 

While it has a bit of a bad rap these days, pasta is still my go-to ingredient when I want a fast, easy dinner.  What about you — are you a pasta eater?

This post is number 28 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Dreaming of Brunch: Three Steps to the Perfect Brunch Menu

What better day to talk about brunch than a Monday?  Mondays are the worst, and this Monday is a little worse than normal because I had to wake up at 4 a.m. to get to O’Hare by 6:15 so I could fly to DC for work.  I’ll only be gone for three days, but grabbing a banana at the airport is a rough way to start the week.

It may be true that going to brunch is the old person’s version of going out, but I’m pretty comfortable with that.  I have a lot of grandmotherly habits that I also enjoy without shame.  Like falling asleep after one drink.  Always wanting to be home by 10 p.m.  Getting aches in my bones when the weather changes.  Spending my clothing budget on cardigans.  BUT anyway — I LOVE BRUNCH.  And I think you probably do too.  What’s not to love?

There’s really nothing better than an unscheduled morning and a delicious brunch.  If you invite me to brunch at your favorite restaurant, I will always say yes.  I just don’t say no to brunch.  But here’s the thing:  I would so rather cook for you than go out.  The best brunch places have lines a mile long, and sometimes you feel a lot of pressure to eat quickly and leave as soon as you can because of all the hungry brunch-wanting zombies staring at you from the waiting areas.  It’s never as relaxing as I imagine it to be.

But here’s the real reason I’d rather eat brunch at home:  I do not want an entire plate of pancakes.  I do not want three slices of french toast.  I want a few bites of sweet, a few bites of savory, a little saltiness, and something healthy.  And I don’t want to wait for coffee refills.  My ideal brunch menu is perfectly balanced and full of interesting bites.  I don’t want to feel stuffed when I leave, but I want to be full and happy.

The Formula for a Perfect At-Home Brunch

You may have to do the dishes, but making brunch in your own kitchen is the best way to relax.  If you need more coffee, just make a fresh pot!  You don’t even have to wear shoes!  Just choose three items from different categories:  1 sweet + 1 savory + 1 meat + 1 fruit.  Bonus points if you combine the categories, like a savory breakfast casserole that includes your breakfast meat or a warm fruit crisp that combines your sweet item and your fruit.

Here are some sample menus, which all sound delicious and provide me with that perfect balance of sweet, savory, salty (and give me enough fruit and protein to actually make it through the day):

  • Cranberry scones with peppered bacon (meat and savory) and mixed berries.
  • Pumpkin loaf (or banana bread or really any kind of loaf) with  baked apples, scrambled goat cheese eggs and turkey sausages.
  • Homemade biscuits with fancy jam, sausage patties, and fruit salad.
  • Homemade biscuits with sausage gravy and warm spiced peaches.
  • Blueberry crisp (fruit and sweet) with honey-vanilla Greek yogurt and turkey bacon.
  • Lemon-blueberry pancakes and turkey bacon.
  • And, our current personal favorite:  a dutch-baby pancake with goat-cheese frittata and sliced strawberries.

Are you a brunch maker or do you love going out for a weekend treat?  Or both?  There’s no shame in both!  If you have a favorite breakfast/brunch item to make at home, share in the comments!

 

This post is number 27 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.

Sunday Food Traditions

Growing up in a church staff family, Sundays were work days.  Our schedules varied from week to week, but on average they looked something like this:

9:15 Sunday School

10:45 Church

12:00 to 1:30 Lunch Invitations, Pot Luck Luncheons, Youth Group trips to CiCi’s, etc.

4:00 Choir

5:00 Discipleship Training

6:00 Church

7:00 to 8:30 Ice Cream Socials, Pot Luck Dinners, Youth Group Socials, etc.

Whew!  That’s a lot.  As a kid it felt totally normal but looking back I feel exhausted just thinking about it.  I have no idea how my parents did it for so many years.  When we did get home after these long days, we had a few traditional Sunday treats.  I remember watching Star Trek with my dad or one of those Sunday Night Movies they played on ABC and eating cheese toast.

I know what you are thinking: is this blog post really going to be about cheese toast?  And yes, yes it is. You’re welcome.

Cheese toast is warm and delicious and it fills you up!  My parents would make something called tomato and bacon sandwiches, but I have no idea what they are because this kid would NEVER eat something called a tomato sandwich.  On Sunday nights I ate cheese toast and chicken noodle soup and I LOVED IT.  Seriously, it’s a winner.  You can make it fancy if you want to, but I think this quick and easy method will please your heart, your wallet, and your stomach.

Kid-Friendly Cheese Toast

photo

Here’s what you need:

Bread

Cheese (A block of cheddar or colby-jack will be great here)

Here’s what you do:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Put two slices of bread per person on a cookie sheet and top with sliced cheese.  Go as thick as you’d like but I recommend about twice as thick as you’d slice for a sandwich.

Put the cheese on top of the bread slices.

Toast the bread and cheese in the oven until the cheese is bubbly and it looks beautiful.  Probably 3-5 minutes.  You may like it lighter or darker, so just follow your heart here.

Take it out, let it cool for a minute so you don’t burn the roof of your mouth, and enjoy!

My grown-up life does not require the hectic Sunday schedule of my childhood, but I still make cheese toast when I’m feeling lazy and want something warm and delicious to snack on.  I’ve also learned that my family isn’t the only one that had easy, relaxing food traditions on Sunday evenings.  My friend Abby makes popcorn for dinner on Sunday evenings, and other friends get Take-and-Bake pizzas from the neighborhood store or head to Whole Foods to graze the buffets.  Just like Birthday Cakes, Thanksgiving Turkeys, and Christmas Hams, low-maintenance food traditions make great memories too.

What about you?  What are your Sunday evening traditions? 

This post is number 26 of my #write31days project 31 Days in the Pink-Briefcase Kitchen. You can follow along with the series each day in October. An archive of posts is available here, or just click on that big button on the right sidebar.