Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I have no good excuse...

Cupcakes by Megan
Loving these cupcakes my friend made for her boyfriend's birthday.

Although I have no good excuse, I want to apologize for my sparce blogging lately. I just started a new job and although I'm loving it, it's been...busy.

I have a few great recipe reviews to share with you, I just need to find a few minutes in my day to edit the photos and write up the posts. I promise, they are coming soon, including some belated Passover dishes that would really be wonderful any time of year. I've been up in Chicago for work this week, but when I get back I'm going to set aside some dedicated blogging time. If not, you can feel free to pester me - I deserve it.

love, d.liff

Matzo brei
Very seriously my favorite breakfast. I use this recipe.  I still have 6-7 lbs of leftover matzo from Passover - win?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pasta Alla Vodka

I would like to welcome back one of my favorite guest bloggers for a post today.  From the city with the worst weather in the US, here's another great recipe from Jeff.

With Dani's new job consuming all of her time, it's lucky that she has such great friends to guest blog for her. One of my favorite pasta sauces is Vodka sauce, and I found a recipe definitely worth sharing. Plus, this took max 30 minutes to make and the pasta can be cooking at the same time. Add this recipe to your list of quick weekday meals.

I found this recipe from one of the most popular bloggers out there,The Pioneer Woman. Her pictures are awesome and she has a picture for every single step. You can literally match up your pot to hers to see if they look the same. As awesome as the blog may be though, it's missing the Dani, uh, unique tone and commentary we all love so much...

100% stealing this photo idea from Pioneer Woman, here are your ingredients:

You can absolutely cook your pasta while making your sauce, but I pre-made my sauce earlier - gotta love working from home.

First step is chopping up your onion and garlic. You'll notice I only used half an onion and I thought it was plenty, if not still too much - depends on your onion tolerance. For me and my mom it's next to zero. Unless you live in Eugene, Oregon where apparently she has found magic onions that don't destroy your tongue.

Anyway, speaking of onion breath, I hate garlic fingers. Despite being marginally OCD, this tip just makes good sense. I always wear a latex-free glove when handling garlic. Your hand stays clean and you get 10 minutes of Michael Jackson fantasy. iPod, glove... check and check.

Be sure to mince up your onion really well. Slap Chop© would've been great here.

Add your butter and olive oil into the pan and fry up your onion and garlic. You can add them all at the same time and cook until there is a hint of brown, then add in your vodka.

Somehow I missed taking a picture of the Goose cooking away... can't imagine why. It's like when a chef tastes the dish right? Make sure it's good? It's good.

After the vodka reduces a bit you add your tomato puree (I used sauce and it was fine) and heavy cream. The only thing I would have changed is finding a low-sodium tomato sauce because the one I used made everything way too salty. Mixed with vodka and heavy cream, my stomach wasn't too thrilled.

Side note: You know what really pisses me off? This.

All that's left is adding in your parmesan and stir. Done. Easy right? I left it on the back burner on "melt" setting, whatever that means.

To go with my pasta, I marinated some chicken in italian dressing and broiled it for about 4.5 minutes per side. And for some green I made a spinach salad with cucumber, tomato, jicama and Good Seasons© Italian dressing.

Pretty legit meal I'd say.

But again, go easy on the salt while making your sauce, and definitely don't add salt to your boiling pot of water.

See you next time.

Pasta Alla Vodka
from Pioneer Woman

1 pound pasta
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Butter
1 whole Medium Onion, Chopped Finely
2 cloves (to 3 Cloves) Garlic, Chopped
3/4 cups (to 1 Cup) Vodka
1 can (About 14 Oz.) Tomato Puree (or tomato sauce - I suggest going low sodium)
1 cup Heavy Cream
1 pinch Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 teaspoon (to 1/2 Teaspoon) Salt
Freshly Ground Black Pepper, To Taste
1 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions
In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and butter. When butter is melted, add in chopped onion and garlic. Stir and allow to cook for two minutes. Pour in vodka. Stir and cook for three minutes. Add in tomato puree and stir.
Reduce heat to low and tir in cream. Allow to simmer, being careful not to overheat. Stir in red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of pasta water in case sauce is too thick. Add cooked pasta to the sauce, tossing to combine. Splash in a little water if it needs it. Stir in Parmesan cheese.
Pour mixture into large serving bowl. Garnish with more Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Macaroni and Cheese Cups

Mac and Cheese Cups

Even though I had my last day at my old job, I didn't want to miss a baby shower that we'd been planning for months.  Luckily, it fell during my week off between jobs, so I was able to make it!  I was especially excited to meet my former coworker's wife, Christina, because I love her blog, Proper Hunt.  She is absolutely gorgeous and has amazing taste!  She looked gorgeous at the shower in a floor length blue dress.  You couldn't even tell she was pregnant until she turned around!


The shower was a really nice time.  We played the "baby food game" which I'd never played before.  We guessed based on look alone what a whole bunch of 1 ingredient baby foods were.  The chicken and turkey with gravy are some of the grossest looking foods I've ever seen!  Then, we had a few extra credit multi-ingredient baby foods.  The fruit ones weren't so bad, but the chicken-based jars smelled so terrible.  There was no way I was tasting those!  Do people really give these to their kids? Or do they make their own foods for their babies?

Macaroni Noodles

I wanted to make something for the adults that would be a little bit fun.  I love these Mac and Cheese cups because they are filling enough for a luncheon, but don't require a knife and fork.  The original recipe used full size muffin cups, but I wanted to make them a little bit smaller to fit with the "baby" theme.  I think they came out super adorable and everyone seemed to enjoy them!

Mac and Cheese Cups

The original recipe called for seasoned breadcrumbs, but I really like to season my own.  It allows me to have more control over my ingredients and salt content.  I added a dash of cayenne because I know that the father-to-be enjoys a little bit of heat.  It was just enough to add flavor but shouldn't scare away anyone who doesn't like spice - they definitely weren't spicy!  I really like panko breadcrumbs so I decided to use them for this recipe, but you can use anything you have on hand or even make your own.

Mac and Cheese Cups

I think this recipe came out pretty tasty.  They are super easy to put together and you can eat them with your hands.  These would be a delicious and fun meal to make for your kids or to serve at a barbeque as a vegetarian option.  If you wanted to make them even more special, you could use different types of cheese like goat cheese or monterey jack.  You could even add in chopped bacon for some extra flavor.   But really, it's pretty wonderful as is!

Mac and Cheese Cups

Macaroni and Cheese Cups
adapted slightly from all recipes

2 c uncooked elbow macaroni
1 tbsp butter
1 egg, beaten
1 c milk
1 1/2 c shredded sharp Cheddar cheese (divided)
1 1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 c Panko bread crumbs
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Grease a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray. In a small bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, italian seasoning, cayenne pepper, olive oil, and salt. Set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook for about 8 minutes (it should still be a little bit firm). Drain and return to the pan, removing from heat.
4. Stir in the butter and egg until pasta is evenly coated.
5. Stir in milk, mozzarella cheese, and 1 c of the cheddar cheese into the pasta.
6. Spoon into the prepared mini muffin tin.
7. Sprinkle the reserved cheese and the bread crumb mixture over the tops.
8. Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the topping is nicely browned. Allow the muffins to cool for a few minutes before removing from the pan and serving.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta

Creamy Polenta with Goat Cheese

Have you ever made polenta?  It sounds so fancy and looks so impressive but honestly it's one of the easiest things to make!  And, you probably have everything you need on hand - cornmeal, water, butter, and maybe some goat cheese?  You've got it?  Alright, then you have to make this!


I first made polenta under red meats.  It's wonderful to catch the juices from slow cooked pot roast or short ribs. But this week, I actually ate the polenta under healthy salmon!  When you're tired of mashed potatoes, rice, and pasta, polenta is a great and versatile alternative.  It's so easy, the Monkey Scientist made it this time while I was cooking the fish.

Creamy Polenta with Goat Cheese

This tastes so wonderful.  Polenta is creamy but with much more flavor than pasta or rice.  It's a little bit sweet, and tangy from the goat cheese.  The butter adds the perfect amount of richness.  If it's just the 2 of us, I'll halve this recipe.  I'd say it should serve about 4, which works perfectly with my cherry salmon recipe!  There are so many ways to enjoy this polenta - what would you serve it with?

Cherry Salmon over Polenta

Creamy Goat Cheese Polenta
from the Pioneer Woman

1 c yellow cornmeal
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp butter
4 oz (by weight) goat cheese

1. Bring 4 1/2 cups water to a boil.
2. Add cornmeal to the water in a thin stream, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.
3. Reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, adding salt and extra tablespoons of water as needed.
4. When polenta is done, stir in butter and goat cheese. Check seasonings, and add salt to taste.
5. Serve under your meat or fish main course and allow to soak up any juices.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Salmon with Cherry Sauce

Cherry Salmon over Polenta

There has been a theme lately on cooking shows and in cooking magazines - making a restaurant-style meal at home.  The Chew and Simple & Delicious both featured some amazing meals you can make at home with ease that would be as elegant as going out to an expensive restaurant.  The Monkey Scientist and I frequently try to save money by eating at home, and it's nice every once in a while to splurge a little bit more on an upscale dinner at home.

Salmon, seasoned with salt, pepper, and sugarSalmon

Even though this is one of the more expensive meals I make, it's still about a quarter of the price of getting a similar meal in a restaurant!  Salmon can be expensive, especially if you live in the middle of the country, but we waited and it went on sale for $6.99/lb which made it about the same price as the meats we usually make.  I estimate 1/2 lb per person, so for the 2 of us I bought just under a pound of fish.  The only other expensive ingredient is the cherry preserve.  I recommend a high quality preserve like Bonne Maman (it has been on sale 2/$7 at Giant lately), but if you'd like to make your own from fresh cherries this summer (especially if you're a Michigander), I bet it would be even better!


The best part is how quickly and easily this meal comes together.  I've actually made it twice in the last couple weeks (that's how good it is).  Each time we started cooking after 7 and were still able to eat before 8!  I'd estimate the total prep and cooking time around a half hour.  That's it! It's even quicker than going out to eat.  Even the busiest mom can find time to delight and impress your family with this meal.

Cherry Sauce

I like to serve this recipe over my favorite creamy polenta.  I have a wonderful recipe I'll share with you later this week!  Usually I only make polenta with red meat, but it complements the salmon fabulously.  The cherry sauce mixes with the polenta to make it tangy and sweet.  Polenta is incredibly easy and inexpensive to make, but, if you prefer, you can serve this with roasted root vegetables or potatoes instead.

Cherry Sauce with Butter

The key to making this feel like a fancy meal out is making this meal look as good as it tastes.  When you plate it for everyone, it's very impressive looking.  There are beautiful colors - pink salmon, yellow polenta, and dark purple cherry sauce.  A friend was over the first time we made this and she was so impressed that in such a short period of time we put together a plate that looked so delicious.  The next time you have a few friends over for dinner, they will be very impressed if you bring this to the table.  If you wanted to add a vegetable, roasted asparagus would complement this dish very well and add a bit of green.

Cherry Sauce, finished.

My review of this recipe is, of course, is that it is wonderfully delicious.  The mild salmon is complemented well by the sweet and tart cherry sauce.  If you serve it with polenta, the soft and creamy texture works well with the flaky salmon.  Salmon is one of the healthiest foods on the planet - high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D and selenium - so you can feel good about eating this meal, too.  This week, give your family a high quality, ultra delicious and healthy meal - at home!

Cherry Salmon over Polenta

Salmon with Cherry Sauce
from Emeril

4 Salmon fillets, skin-on, 6 ounces each, scaled and scored
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced shallots
Pinch crushed red peppers (we use about a teaspoon)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup cherry preserve (I like Bonne Maman best)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup chicken stock

1. Preheat a large sauté pan or cast iron skillet with the olive oil over medium to medium high heat. Season one side of the fillets with half of the salt, pepper and sugar; flip them over and season the other side with the remaining seasonings.
2. Place the salmon in the pan, skin side down, and cook until it is nicely browned and caramelized, 3 minutes. Flip over and cook on the other side for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from the pan and store in a low temperature oven (175-200 degrees F is fine) to keep warm, skin side up.
3. Using the same pan, add the shallots and crushed red pepper and saute, stirring, until just tender, 15 to 20 seconds.
4. Add the wine, red wine vinegar and cook until it is almost completely evaporated, 30 seconds.
5. Add the chicken stock and cherry preserve, stir to incorporate and let it simmer to slightly reduce it, 1 minute.
6. Stir in the butter and remove the pan from the heat.
7. Plate the salmon fillets and spoon the cherry sauce on top.  Serve over polenta or roasted vegetables.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover Recipes

Passover is back at Sundown tonight!  Did you get your 5-lb of matzo free from Giant this year?  The Monkey Scientist and I each got 5-lbs so there will be lots of Chocolate Caramelized Matzoh (aka Matzoh Crack) made this year!  (But also, if you live in DC, let me know and I will absolute share a box or 2 with you!!)

I'm having a MUCH smaller Seder this year - only 4 of us.  Last year was such a blast, but a lot of work!  Passover Seder is one of my favorite nights of the year, so I still had to do something.  I'm trying a few new recipes that I will share with you later this week.

If you're celebrating, I hope you have a lovely Seder with your family and friends.  Below you can find a little recap of the delicious recipes I made last year.  I hope they give you a little bit of last minute inspiration.  I also threw in some recipes from around the web that I'm looking forward to making this year. Enjoy!!

Chocolate Caramelized Matzoh (Matzoh Crack) (dairy if you use Milk chocolate) - my favorite!!
Coconut Lime and White Chocolate Macaroons (dairy)
Eggplant Matzoh Lasagna (dairy)
Potato Kugel Klein (dairy)
Southwestern Pulled Brisket (meat)
Raspberry Coconut Macaroons - I'd use black or blueberries
Matzoh Pizza (dairy) - we made this all the time growing up!
Saffron Matzoh Balls (meat if put in chicken broth) - the Monkey Scientist is in charge of the matzoh ball soup at our place, but I love this fancy twist on a classic! I think we're going to make it!
Chopped Liver  (meat) - I'm dying to learn to make my own! Have you tried  before?
Classic Brisket (meat)
Flourless Chocolate Cake (dairy) - mine came out awful last year, I need to try this new recipe!
Spiced Lamb and Eggplant Matzoh Crepes (meat)  - umm, YUM!
Lemon and Honey Artichokes - great for Easter as well!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Roasted Sweet Potato and Chorizo Lettuce Wraps

Sweet Potato Chorizo Lettuce Wraps

You may have noticed I've taken a long break from root vegetables, even though it was wintertime.  I made a few too many soups and sides of roasted butternut squash last fall and by mid-December I'd had enough.  I took advantage of the warm winter to eat vegetables we don't usually get in February and avoided squashes and sweet potatoes.  They felt too heavy in my tummy!

Sweet Potatoes and Corn

The Monkey Scientist, to be honest, wasn't all too pleased with my boycott.  He likes his root veggies!  So when this recipe came around for sweet potatoes used in a light and refreshing way, I jumped on it.  I'm slowly letting the root veggies back into my kitchen.  The fact that this recipe included perhaps our favorite ingredient - chorizo sausage - certainly didn't hurt its cause.  Usually I save recipes for the backburner, but this one I saw and printed immediately to make that night!

Chorizo and Onions

The first thing I loved was the roasted corn.  I'd never think to roast corn!  In the summers we have always eaten tons of corn on the cob, and I love it in salad and cornbread, but that's about the extent of my uses for corn.  Now that I realized how easily I can roast frozen corn, I want to try it in all sorts of new dishes - pasta, wraps, sandwiches!  The possibilities are endless!

Sweet Potato Chorizo Lettuce Wraps 007

I also want to mention this little juicer.  It was a Christmas gift from one of my mom's best friends and I love it! I'm the queen of dropping lemon/lime seeds into whatever I'm cooking, but this catches all of them, along with the pulp.  It's totally fantastic and I recommend you pick one up if you ever juice citrus for cooking.

Sweet Potato Chorizo Lettuce Wraps Filling

You may have noticed I slashed the cilantro from the original recipe.  If you follow this blog, you know it's because I think cilantro tastes like soap and no one should ever have to eat it.  Of course, if you disagree, just ignore me.  I guess you could add cilantro to the yogurt sauce, the filling, and added back on top of each wrap.  But don't expect me to eat it if you do! Blech!

Speaking of which, we had neighbors growing up with the last name Blech (like Bleck) and every time my dad would say their name he'd always pronounce it the way I would if I'd just eaten cilantro.  It always cracked me up... they were such nice people but what an unfortunate last name. I digress....

Lime Yogurt Sauce

This was such a yummy dinner.  It had so many flavor components.  The potatoes and corn add earthy sweetness, but with a bit of spice from the cayenne.  The chorizo is spicy but is sweetened by the caramelized onions.  Then everything is cooled down by the yogurt sauce and feta, which is tangy and fresh.  Finally, the lettuce and extra lime juice add the perfect bit of citrus.  This is an absolutely fantastic meal!

Sweet Potato Chorizo Lettuce Wraps

Roasted Sweet Potato and Chorizo Lettuce Wraps
slightly adapted from Perry's Plate

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 c frozen or fresh corn
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne
pinch of salt
1 c chopped onion (I used frozen)
16 ounces chorizo, removed from casing
juice from 1/2 a lime
yogurt sauce
1 c Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
1 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1 head of Boston lettuce (or Bibb or butter, leaves separated and rinsed well
1 c crumbled feta
additional lime wedges, for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. On a foil rimmed baking sheet, toss the sweet potatoes and corn with 2 tbsp olive oil, cumin, cayenne, and salt. Spread everything evenly across the plate and roast 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes, until potatoes are tender and there are brown spots on the vegetables.
2. When the vegetables are finished, set aside. Then, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until brown and caramelized, about 10-15 minutes. If you use frozen onions, you may want to add a pinch of sugar to help with the caramelization process.
3. Add the chorizo to the skillet and chop with the back of a wooden spoon until broken apart. Cook until they turn almost completely brown, but not quite, about 5-7 minutes.
4. Add the sweet potato mixture to the skillet along with the juice of 1/2 a lime. Stir and cook until the chorizo is completely cooked, and then remove from heat.
5. Combine the Greek yogurt, lime juice, and garlic salt in a small bowl.
6. Assemble the wraps by placing a bit of yogurt in the bottom of a piece of lettuce, adding a few large spoonfuls of the filling, and topping with a few pinches of feta.