Wednesday, September 24, 2008

One shoe at a time ...

I was going to share a new recipe with you today, but it’s a possible contender for our entry in an upcoming beer and appetizer pairing contest and I don’t want the competition stealing my secrets. So for that, you’ll have to wait and instead settle for a little anecdote about yesterday's oh-so-ridiculous morning.

For the past several weeks, each buzz of the alarm clock brings with it a noticeably colder and darker awakening. Yesterday was the worst yet. I was super sleepy, the house was chilly and the last thing I wanted to do was get ready for work. So I trudged through my routine, dragged myself to the vanpool after scraping *ice!* off my windshield, plugged in my headphones and started to fall into my commute-induced coma when I noticed something was off. Or on, rather. As in, I put on two different boots and left the house without noticing.
Even a year ago, I probably would have freaked out and nearly died of embarrassment on the spot. I can tell I’m getting older and relaxing a bit, though, because I got a good laugh out of it. And a nice reason to scurry to the mall and pick-up the new pair of Söffts
I had been eyeing.

I would also like to point out to my husband that the new shoes were a necessary purchase, as appearing completely catawampus during my afternoon meetings was an unacceptable option (on second thought, maybe I’m not quite as mature as previously mentioned).

I was also going to justify the purchase by claiming the shoes as Scandinavian (he's Swedish). Well, they certainly sound Scandinavian, don't they? Turns out they're just plain American, i.e., the company is Boston-based and my shoes were made in China. Dang!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Running to eat chocolate cake

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at my computer, gazing out the window, when a neighborhood mom trotted past our house pushing a double baby-jogger. She was not, however, jogging. She was running. Fast. Pushing two children. I’ve seen her a couple times since then and I’m totally inspired. One more person to idealize on my quest to become more fit.

I’m also signing up with a few girlfriends to run the 5K Winter Pineapple Classic in Seattle on Sunday, November 16. The race has obstacles like hula-hooping and Mai Tai drinking (well, the hula-hooping part is true, at least) to give you a rest every half mile or so. Definitely my kind of sport!
Like most things I do in life, I wrote a plan to prepare for the race. I love writing plans and making lists. Part of the plan is to tell you I’m doing this, so I’ll feel guilty if I don’t stick to my workouts. I don’t always follow my plans and lists, but they’re certainly nice to have and I find them oddly comforting.

I’m going to train using Robert Ullrey’s free podcasts that follow the Couch to 5K nine-week training schedule; I’ll also be doing some strength work a la Turbulence Training. And I’m going to try to eat “cleaner.” Less sugar, more veggies, fewer refined carbs, etc.

The plan appears simple in writing. Here’s the catch: I keep making things like this incredibly delicious Earthquake Cake, which throws my “clean eating” agenda out the window. It’s hard to be upset, though, when it tastes so, so good. (A very roundabout way to share a dessert recipe, I know.) Think cheesecake meets German chocolate cake, but better. I’ll just have to run little bit harder this week to make up for the butter and cream cheese, because I’m certainly not giving them up completely. Everything in moderation, right? Enjoy!
Earthquake Cake
1 cup coconut
1 cup chopped nuts
1 box chocolate cake mix
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter (1 stick); softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Grease a 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle nuts and coconut on bottom of pan. Mix cake mix as directed on box. Pour over nuts and coconut.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar and vanilla with a hand mixer on low to medium-low until well blended (add the sugar about a half cup at a time to prevent a powder explosion). This mixture will look like thick cheesecake batter.

Drop by spoonfuls over the chocolate cake batter, leaving at least a one-inch margin around the sides of the pan (this prevents the cheesecake from bubbling over).

Weave a butter knife in an s-pattern through the batter to create a swirl, but be sure to not disturb the nuts and coconut — keep the knife very shallow. Sprinkle with the chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Easy like Wednesday evening

During the week, I’m all about simplicity, i.e., any half-decent looking dish with only five ingredients is worth trying. I adapted this one from a Sara Moulton (Food Network) recipe, which I liked, but found a little bland and more tedious than necessary.
The episode showcasing this recipe was a five-ingredient theme, and I strongly suspect garlic was cut from the roster to meet the ingredient cap. It definitely needs that key sixth ingredient, though. And it screams for more cheese. A lot more cheese. In fact, let's get crazy and double the cheese! And while we're at it, we'll zest and juice the whole lemon. Lemon shouldn't be allowed in the title unless you can taste it!

In late April of this year, I couldn’t find any asparagus in the local stores due to a cold snap that ruined a lot of Washington’s spring harvest. I did, however, find a bag of frozen spears at Fred Meyer and gave the recipe a go with those — they worked perfectly! Nice discovery and good to know it’s possible to get some [relatively] fresh flavor during the upcoming winter when I grow tired (and a bit crazy) of squash and root vegetables.

Pasta with asparagus-lemon sauce
1 pound fresh, medium thickness asparagus, tough ends trimmed
Zest and juice of one large lemon
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound penne, malfade, or preferred shape
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Cut asparagus into 1-inch pieces; reserve tips separately. Cook asparagus stems in 5 to 6 quarts boiling water with 2 tablespoons salt until very tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a colander, reserving cooking water in pot, and rinse under cold water. Drain asparagus well and transfer to a food processor or blender.

Cook asparagus tips in same boiling water until just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer with slotted spoon to colander, reserving boiling water in pot, and rinse under cold water. Drain tips well and set aside.

Cook pasta in boiling asparagus cooking water for about three-fourths of the recommended cooking time (very al dente). Reserve 2 cups cooking water and drain pasta.

Puree asparagus stems with zest, lemon juice, garlic cloves, olive oil, and 2 cups asparagus cooking water. Sauce will be very thin. Transfer sauce to a 4-quart saucepan and set aside.

Add pasta and asparagus tips to the asparagus sauce and cook over high heat, stirring, 3 to 5 minutes, or until pasta is almost al dente and sauce coats pasta but is a little loose (the cheese will thicken it slightly).

Stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano and salt and pepper, to taste and cook, stirring, until cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My big, fat, Greek meal

I will use just about anything as a vehicle for Trader Joe’s tzatziki dip (including one desperate snack attempt with saltines and pretzels — neither of which were a very good combo, but worth a shot nonetheless).
TJ’s tzatziki is a creamy, refreshing blend of Greek yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill and mint. There must be some sort of witchcraft involved, too, because the cucumbers stay crunchy! I find this as amazing a feat as I did the sparking Wint-O-Green Life Saver in the fifth grade science fair. Don’t worry, I won’t go around babbling about tzatziki as I did triboluminescence. (It is fun to say, though, isn’t it?!)

My favorite combination is a whole wheat pita filled with grilled chicken and χωριάτικη σαλάτα — a.k.a. Horiatiki salata, a.k.a. Greek salad — all topped with tzatziki.
Even though I’ve never been to Greece, I like to think of myself as a Greek salad purist. I’m a firm believer in a one-to-one ratio of lemon juice and olive oil for the dressing. Nothing else. The owner of Orexi in Bellevue (“orexi” means appetite in Greek) told me this is the “true” way to make Choriatiki. Americans like to add lettuce and vinegar, but it’s just not right; they don’t belong in there! Just the veggies, olives, cheese and dressing. Mmmm. My orexi gets worked up just thinking about it — here’s how I make mine:

Choriatiki, a.k.a. Greek Salad

Salad
·2 cups diced bell peppers
·2 cups (about 12 oz.) cherry or globe tomatoes, cut in half (they hold their shape better in the salad than full-sized tomatoes)
·One red onion, finely diced
·One English cucumber, diced (skin-on)
·9.5 oz. jar pitted Kalmata olives, roughly chopped
·8 oz. crumbled Feta cheese (I use Trader Joe’s Light Feta)
·2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
·1 Tbsp. garlic powder
·Salt and pepper to taste
Dressing
·¾ cup olive oil
·¾ cup lemon juice

Directions
Add the oil and lemon juice to a container with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until very well blended.

Place the veggies, olives, cheese, oregano and dressing in a large mixing / salad bowl. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic power. Stir well. Allow to macerate for five to ten minutes (if you can wait). Stir again. Enjoy!

P.S. You may want to use a slotted spoon to serve the salad, as the dressing is thin and tends to go all over the place.