Potato Chips in my Omelette, per @chefjoseandres

My husband and I got a few of the new Jose Andres package foods as a housewarming gift, mussels, olives and these really simple potato chips with pink salt. The only ingredients are potatoes, olive oil, and salt. I was almost finished with the bag when I noticed Jose’s suggestion on the back: delicious in omelettes.
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Just home from visiting family over the holiday, and what am I doing tonight? Nothing, therefore making an omelette.
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I beat two eggs and a little half and half with salt, pepper, and paprika, plus two slices of chopped ham. I reserved a little ham to put on top after I was finished cooking.
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Added about one tablespoon of olive oil to my little nonstick IKEA pan, but I could have used less. The chips let out a little oil as they cooked.
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I like a two fold omelette. I hear Julia Child said an omelette should only take a minute, but this took about four.
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No surprise, Chef was right! The chips were so rich, I’m really glad I didn’t add any cheese. Not a ton of texture, like the tortilla chips in migas, but way more flavor. Buttery, salty, fabulous. When you’re down to the last few crumbs of chips, I highly recommend adding them to eggs!

Turkey & White Bean Slow Cooker Chili

I mentioned in my last post that I recently ran out of canned beans. Who lets that happen? What can I say? Last weekend we had friends over for football, and I made a triple batch of turkey chili from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two.

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I used 2 cans of cannelini beans and 1 of black beans, diced tomatoes (I buy them in bulk), about 2.5 pounds of ground turkey, and only one kind of chili powder. I also added a jalapeno, and about 3 T of cumin. Never enough cumin.

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Couldn’t have been easier, and it was a big hit. Marjoram and cocoa powder create a smokey flavor, there was great flavor depth. The turkey didn’t dry out. It’s possible that mixing kinds of beans exaggerated their musical fruit effect. What are farts among friends?

I’ll definitely make this again, and I think I would double it. Should freeze well.

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Rice & Bean Revolution: It’s Not in the Mix

It’s rice and bean night early on this week. I was ready to make catfish and grits with peppers and onions, but I’m out of grits. Rice and beans were the stand by, but I’m actually out of canned beans. So what did we have? Refried beans!

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I usually get refried at Burrito Brothers (2nd and Pennsylvania SE), but I hadn’t tried it at home. Made the rice and veg as usual (actually, another change: I used cilantro from a tube).

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Microwaved the beans, and just served them on the side.

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I have to say, welcome change.

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You will probably find refried beans in the Hispanic food section of your grocery store. Give them a go! Couldn’t have been easier to use, they store well. I didn’t spice them up with anything, but the possibilities are endless.

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Beef Stew Redux

I’m giving this recipe a solid ok. Not great, not at all bad, but not great. It needs more spice.

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The ingredients are pretty standard, but the only spices called for were salt and pepper on the beef, and 1/2 teaspoon of either thyme or marjoram. I did half a teaspoon of each, and it could have stood a good deal more. Even salt and pepper mixed into the crock would have helped.

I will make this again, it also scored a solid ok from the mister. But, expect a bay leaf or two, maybe some fresh herbs, more onion, maybe shallots, and more salt and pepper. Live and learn!

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Before Beef Stew, Slow Cooker Style

All that mid week Greek wore me out. This week, I’m backing up and taking it easy with a couple of slow cooker recipes. I’ve had a crock pot for years, but I’m not as good about using it as I’d like to be. Full disclosure: I actually have three, a mini, a medium and a large. Nuts, I know.

Tonight I prepared a beef stew that I’ll put on all day on low tomorrow. It’s from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes For Two, given to me by, who else, but my mother? I put it in the larger crock, but I think it would have been ok in the medium.

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Couldn’t tell you how many quarts, but it’s big. I’ll post all the ingredients tomorrow, but it’s a basic beef, potato, carrot concoction with broth, wine and spices. The recipe calls for beef broth, I used vegetable because I had it open. It calls for sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, but I finished a jar of marinated artichoke hearts instead. I could use thyme or marjoram, but I went for both. Carpe diem, y’all. The carrots are diagonal cut, because they’re fancy.

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Add all the veg, put it in the bottom.

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Brown the meat, then add it with the liquids and spices.

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Then, disobey the rules a little. A better student of slow cookery would wake up earlier, do this in the morning, and put it right into the crock pot. Eh, mine is in the fridge. If it takes longer to cook, great, my workday plus commute isn’t 7-8 hours. If it makes more liquid, who cares? It’s stew. I haven’t run into trouble with my brand of laziness yet, but I promise to share as soon as I do.

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I think I’ll pick up a baguette on the way home tomorrow to serve with it, soak up the juices. Mmm. Hope it turns out!

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The Go-To Shrimp Rice & Bean

I’ll eat anything that could be construed as a hot sauce delivery vehicle. But, I’m especially fond of rice and beans with shrimp, and loads of veggies. I make a big pot every other week. We love the leftovers, plus it’s an easy lunch. Nothing revolutionary about this one pot meal, but there are a few upgrades that I think are worth sharing.

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First, I like to brown the garlic, then add the onions and cook til translucent, then add the peppers. It’s all about building the flavors, one on top of the other. I used to mix everything into the rice while I was boiling it, which was fine, but I get way more out of starting with the veg, and working up to the rice. After the base, add whatever else you like–last night, kidney beans and about 2 cups of frozen corn.

Once everyone is in the pot, add the spices. I go with 3 C’s: chili powder, cinnamon and cumin. I tend to have more cumin, less of the other two, but it’s all about your taste. If you have fresh herbs, I recommend cilantro, but towards the end so it doesn’t lose the beautiful green color, and crunch. Delicious!

Give the spices a couple of minutes to incorporate over low heat. Next, we add the rice. It might feel unnatural to add rice to a liquidless pot, but don’t worry, we’re getting there. I wanted another dinner, plus a lunch, so I added 1 1/4 cups of rice. Stir it around, incorporate the rice with the veggies.

Now, add the liquid. You can add water, of course, but I’ve been experimenting with some different things. Last night I did half vegetable broth, half apple cider vinegar. The goal is not to cover the contents of the pot in liquid, but rather to add just enough that you can see it coming up the edges of the pot. I tried lime juice and broth a couple of weeks ago, and while tasty, the sugar in the fruit made more rice than anticipated stick to the bottom of the pot. I’ve done beer and lime, also good. I’d like to try beer and apple cider vinegar, but this is contingent on me not having drank my whole beer yet. We’ll see.

rice added

Cover to simmer for about 7-8 minutes, and lift the lid periodically to stir. Once most of the liquid has been absorbed into the rice, and the rice tastes done (i.e. not crunchy), lift the lid and let the rest of the liquid evaporate over the lowest heat. When you test your rice for doneness, check the spices–you may want more! If you want less, I recommend adding more beans, more corn, or more of whatever starchy vegetable you have laying around. Potatoes are good (but only if they’re already cooked). You can also tone it down with dairy–cheese, plain yogurt, sour cream.

thawed shrimp

Want to add shrimp? I always have frozen salad shrimp in the freezer. They’re already cleaned, cooked and without tails. Just thaw them in water, and they are ready to go. I use about 1 1/2 cups, and I like to chop mine up to ensure shrimpy goodness in every bite. Because they’re already cooked, stir them in at the end of cooking–the last of the liquid evaporating–or else they’ll get rubbery. You’re really just knocking the chill off and letting them get flavored.

finished shrimp rice bean

From start to finish, this is about 20-30 minutes, depending on how many veggies you add, how much chopping is involved, and how big of a batch you want to make. Easy to make, easy to clean up!

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Unexpectedly Chick Fil A Chicken Thighs

My husband and I ran a 10K this morning, so last night I wanted to make something hearty but not heavy. We had some chicken thighs, so I decided to go with a favorite marinade combination:

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1/4 olive oil
Juice of 2 citrus fruits + zest from 1/2 of one fruit
Handful of fresh herbs, finely chopped

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I had limes and dill. I like to marinate for at least half an hour, but not much longer with fresh herbs. I don’t like them to be discolored and mushy.

I grilled the thighs, and we had them with kale and bacon. Reasonable minds will differ on whether it’s wise to eat leafy greens before a race. As slow as I run, really, who cares?

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So we’re eating, and I feel like something tastes really familiar in a restaurant way. It was the chicken! Chick Fil A uses pickle juice with their chicken, and it turns out my lime and dill tastes very similar. I used a little salt and pepper on each side, but otherwise the dill was the star.

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If you’re mad for Chick Fil A but don’t want fried (or worse yet, you want it on a Sunday) try this easy marinade. Who knew?

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Four burner pastitsio on a Wednesday night

In honor of last weekend’s Newport News Greek Festival, I decided to take advantage of sale ground lamb at Safeway, and make Ina Garten’s pastitsio. Baked pasta seemed like a reasonable weeknight recipe: makes leftovers for lunch, easy to freeze portions for another dinner. I was right on leftovers and freezer portions. I was less right about the weeknight reasonableness.

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Live dangerously.

A few notes about how I used the recipe (which I highly recommend):

  • Ina calls for a pound of ground lamb and a pound of ground beef. I used lamb, and then an eggplant. I recently learned how to properly salt the eggplant before cooking it (I know, where have I been?), and now I’m putting eggplant in everything. Pasta, cereal…
  • I thought I had crushed tomatoes at home. I, in fact had, diced. I used one 14 oz can of diced, and then a bit of Ragu Traditional leftover from a lasagna last week.
  • The bechamel calls for whole milk, in addition to heavy cream and real butter. I went all in for the cream and butter, but I wasn’t going to buy whole milk especially for this experiment. I don’t feel like I lost out on luxury.
  • My pasta was elbows, not shells. I used Barilla Whole Wheat, it held up well to being boiled to al dente, and then baked for an hour at 350F.
  • All of my herbs were dried. I only have fresh dill right now (and I don’t think it would have played nicely with the other spices, but I’m usually not above blatantly wrong substitutions).
  • I used Big House’s Cardinal Zin for the dry red wine. Lovely! Also, what we drank during Conclave, because we’re cheeky.

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I mentioned this took four burners. One for the pasta, one for the red sauce, and two for the bechamel (butter and flour, then milk and cream). I boiled and drained the pasta way earlier than Ina suggested because I’m never sure when I’m going to need to use the stove top as a counter. I just wanted it taken care of, but I don’t think anything bad happened, texture wise.

First, the red sauce.

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I cooked down the onions, added the lamb, and let it brown. I added the spices–I had never considered pairing cinnamon and lamb before, but the smell alone whiffed of instant success. I realized that I forgot to add the wine. I hadn’t even been drinking the wine. I let it all mix together for a couple more minutes, then added the eggplant.

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Eggplant can get mushy, and my husband’s top eggplant issue is textural, so I didn’t want to overdo it at the outset. Lastly, the diced tomato and Ragu Traditional mix.

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I let it simmer while I tackled the bechamel, and grating the Parmesan. I almost finished a massive block of Costco Parm with this recipe. Quality cheese, just the right amount of saltiness (much like myself), I recommend it. The bechamel wasn’t hard, it just felt like a lot of moving parts. Melt this, simmer that, whisk constantly, stir occasionally. In the end, you mix in a cup of the red sauce and about half of the grated cheese, and it becomes the top layer of the final baked product, over top of the pasta mixed into the red sauce. Top it with the rest of the grated cheese.Image

I’ve mentioned that I’m working in the kitchen of my first house. Before this, I was in an apartment kitchen not much bigger than this house’s kitchen, but with miniature appliances. My bake ware is Easy Bake Oven sized, including this, my largest pan. I need big girl bake ware if I intend to serve more than four. Any recommendations? My hack this time was putting a pizza sheet on a lower rack to catch the spill over.

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It baked for about an hour, came out browned and glowing. We could really taste the spices individually–my compliments to Chef Ina for the pairings! Next time, I would (first acquire, then) use a bigger pan, but I would definitely stick to the eggplant. My husband loves lamb, I’d hate to hide it from him in ground beef. Besides, hiding the eggplant from him in plain sight is a much larger victory.

Tonight we’re having this again, maybe with some kale, but mostly with a size of fun sized candy bars. Happy Halloween, y’all!

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Pre-pastitsio photo

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There’s a feast for 8 in a pan meant to serve 6 in my oven right now. Pastitsio success? I hope! Opa, y’all!

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Acqua Al 2 (@acquaal2dc), 7th & North Carolina Ave. SE

Having exceptionally generous friends who share their birthday gift certificates, I had the pleasure of dining at DC’s Acqua Al 2 at Eastern Market on Monday evening. The original Acqua Al 2 is in Florence (Firenze, y’all), and the menu is uniform across all of their locations. I wonder whether it’s boring for the chef, but everything was so incredibly good–I’m disinclined to care. Sorry, chef!

We chose Acqua Al 2 for the tasting menus, and shared the tasting portions of pasta (Assaggio di Primi, five different vegetarian pastas) and steaks (Assaggio di Secondi, three different steak preparations). They also offer salad, cheese and dessert tastings, and I don’t doubt that we’ll be back to try those soon!

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We started with a burrata on a bed of spaghetti squash, with pomegranate seeds and a drizzle of honey–their special Monday evening. Wow. I’ve never thought to use spaghetti squash as a garnish, but it really worked. Burrata melts as it’s pulled apart; the squash gave your fork something to grab, and your mouth a different texture to compare with the velvety cheese.

The pastas came first, in courses. They were small plates, about 6 bites per person. Now is a good time to confess that my exceptionally generous friend is the Italian, not I, and I can’t (correctly) recall the names of all the pasta shapes, so I’m going to focus on the sauces. First, we had a butternut squash puree with a hint of Parmesan. Then, a very delicate porcini mushroom in a cream sauce. Third, a vegetarian ragu with the right amount of pepper, and yet no fresh peppers. Fourth, an eggplant with penne and the most delicious cheese hiding in the middle. It really worked with the saltiness of the eggplant, I regret not asking what it was! Fifth and final, my favorite, orcchiette (I will not confess how I tried to spell it just now in order to have Google ask me if I meant “orcchiette”) with a super smooth Gorgonzola sauce. I live for funky cheese, and this was back of the tongue, lip puckering glory with no hint of old socks. Perfecto.

The steak course arrives all on one plate, three fist sized steaks in a row. One was in a deep, dark balsamic reduction, one in a not-at-all-sweet blueberry reduction, and one was lightly seasoned under arugula and sliced cherry tomatoes dressed in bright citrus. At medium rare, the steaks were tender perfection. In retrospect, we should have ordered our eating like a wine tasting and had the light spice with arugula, then the blueberry, then the balsamic. No matter, butter-soft beef withstood our (maybe, who even knows?) error.

If you go, consider a reservation. The dining room is not huge, and it’s a popular spot. Credit cards are accepted, there is a coat check, you’ll get basil seeds on your way out. The wine list is extensive, but the lighting is moody–do bring your reading glasses. Notice I don’t have any pictures of the food? It’s a classy establishment, bring a date, impress your parents, wage business. Buon appetito!

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