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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 45

This might seem like a strange combination but just trust me on this one – it’s good. What was not good was my decision to start this risotto at 8:45 after I got home from yoga. I was so hungry I didn’t know if I’d make it through all the stirring! Risotto isn’t hard, it just requires constant attention and a block of time. I was expecting this risotto to be a simple weeknight dinner but it really surprised me. The flavors green pea and bacon flavors were great together and the addition of lemon zest and juice at the end added an unexpected brightness. I also really appreciated not having to open a bottle of wine to make this dish!

Unhappy to report that my left leg is not getting much better. After my run on Monday it was swollen and sore. Boo. I planned on running the RaceFest Half Marathon in April but that’s not looking good for me unless my leg starts feeling better. I’ve taken the rest of the week off of running but I’m going to test it out again this weekend to see how it’s feeling. The high here is 60 degrees on Saturday and Sunday and I can’t wait to get outside! It’s been such a cold and wet winter. I’m going to embrace the two days of nice weather to the fullest!

I taught BodyPump tonight and felt like pushing it a bit. Went super heavy on my weights for squats and back and hamstrings. Maybe the Olympics are inspiring me to be a better BodyPumper!? ;) (Seriously – did you see Shaun White and Lindsey Vonn win their gold medals? Amazing!)

And time for bed…up early tomorrow for my 6:30 hot vinyasa class. Can’t wait! Hope I’m not feeling too sore from BodyPump.

Risotto with Bacon and Green Peas
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, January 2009)

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
2 bacon slice, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons shallots, minced (my addition – omit if desired!)
2/3 cup Arborio rice
2/3 cup frozen green peas
4 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Directions:

Bring broth and water to a simmer in a small saucepan.

In a separate heavy saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Reduce heat to medium-low and add garlic to bacon fat in pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until pale golden, about 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat.

Add 1/4 cup hot broth mixture and simmer briskly, stirring constantly, until broth is absorbed. Continue simmering and adding hot broth mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring frequently. Make sure each addition has been absorbed before adding the next. Rice is done when tender and creamy but al dente, about 20-22 minutes. You might not have to use all of your broth but  reserve leftover broth mixture to thin the ristotto before plating.

Add peas and cook, stirring occasionally, 2 minutes.

Stir in cheese, butter, lemon zest and lemon juice. Thin risotto with some of reserved broth mixture if desired and season with salt and pepper. Top with bacon.

Yield: 2 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 37

It’s Wednesday night…which means I’m on my own! Brandon is in a bowling league (seriously) on Wednesday nights so I get to enjoy a night of eating whatever I want and watching what  I want on TV. Glorious! :) Tonight I had leftover Coconut Red Lentil Curry, a salad and a chocolate chip cookie.  It’s always some sort of meat-free feast!

It’s been a very relaxing night. I took the day off from exercising because I haven’t had a rest day in over two weeks and I’m just tired and my body needs a break. I’ve started teaching a BodyPump class on Monday mornings at 6 a.m. and it’s been a big adjustment. The 5 a.m. wake up call is very early for me. I know I’ll get used to it but so far I feel like I start the week in a sleep deficit.  The good thing is that I have a class full of people up early with me and they are ready to work!

Yesterday I went to a hot vinyasa class at Y2 Yoga. I’m so sad that my one month unlimited “new student” pass is ending! My brother-in-law and his wife gave me a pass to try this studio for Christmas. Obviously, I’ve definitely been using the free month to its fullest extent! So now I have to make the decision whether to buy a 10 class pass or a month unlimited. There’s about a $25 difference in price. I’m just not sure which is the right fit. I know I’ve been all about the yoga lately but I’m starting a new half marathon training plan on February 1. I dont’ know if I can fit in teaching BodyPump, running 4-5 days a week and utilizing a month unlimited pass to it’s fullest extent? Thoughts?

Okay…back to food. I’m sure you’re confused about the meaty pasta dish in the picture above since I’ve been going on and on about vegetarian dinners and working out. I made this dish on Monday night. It’s a Greek dish – Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio. I was craving eggplant and love Greek food so this recipe hit the spot.

It was so good…the cinnamon added an awesome warm flavor to the lamb sauce and the nutmeg I added to the cheese sauce complimented it perfectly. Although it took a couple hours start to finish, the end result was totally worth it. And it’s not all hands on time – lots of simmering and baking time in there too. I thought the double layer was really fun – you mix the bottom pasta layer with the meat sauce and the top pasta layer with the cheese sauce. Yum! I’m so embarrassed to admit that we both went back for not only seconds but thirds! And we had the leftovers again last night. If you’re a Greek food lover this is a must try. And just a side note, I think you could sub beef for the lamb if you’re not a fan of lamb.

Lamb and Eggplant Pastitsio
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, October 2001)

Ingredients:

FOR THE LAMB SAUCE
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound lean ground lamb
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 (28- to 32-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 garlic clove
1 whole clove or a pinch of nutmeg
1/2 pound feta, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large eggs

FOR THE PASTA
10 ounces penne (3 cups)

Directions:

FOR THE LAMB SAUCE
Heat oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook 3-5 minutes, until softened. Add lamb and continue cooking over medium-high heat, stirring to break up lumps. Cook until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, salt, oregano, cinnamon, sugar and pepper and cook another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

Stir in eggplant and tomatoes. Gently simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until eggplant is just tender, about 40 minutes. Remove lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened, about 15 minutes more. Season generously with salt and pepper.

FOR THE CHEESE SAUCE
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

While meat sauce is simmering, melt butter in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Whisk in milk and add garlic clove and whole clove or nutmeg. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 5 minutes. Add feta, salt and pepper and cook, whisking vigorously, until cheese is well incorporated.

Beat eggs in a large bowl and slowly add sauce to eggs, whisking constantly.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water. Slightly undercook the pasta since it will finish in the oven. Drain in a colander. Toss half of pasta with lamb sauce and half with cheese sauce.

TO ASSEMBLE PASTITSIO
Pour pasta with lamb sauce into a 9 x 13 baking dish, spreading evenly. Spoon pasta with cheese sauce on top, spreading evenly.

Bake uncovered, in middle of oven until bubbling and top is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Yield: 6-8 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 36

This vegetarian goodness was warmly welcomed after a weekend of splurging for Charlotte Restaurant Week. Friday night we went to BLT Steak and Saturday night we went to Sullivan’s. Both meals were delicious but very indulgent!

I taught BodyPump on Saturday morning and was very excited to have a great crowd! Love seeing people up and knocking out their workouts on Saturdays. Later that morning Brandon and I headed over to Y2 Yoga for a power 1 class. Saturday was Yoga Day USA so I couldn’t miss out on practicing! I headed over to Y2 again today for hot yoga. I’m happy to report that I practiced 6 out of 7 days this week!

After yoga I was famished. This dinner was so easy to put together and a nice change from all the steakhouse dinners we enjoyed this weekend. Honestly, it wasn’t my favorite curry that I’ve ever made but was still very good. My favorite vegetarian curry is still this Butternut Squash Curry which also happens to be from Gourmet!

Heading to bed early tonight…teaching BodyPump at 6 a.m. tomorrow.

Coconut Red Lentil Curry
(Recipe source Gourmet, December 2006)
Printable Recipe

Ingredients:

1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
1 fresh jalapeño or serrano chile, finely diced, including seeds
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups dried red lentils (about 10 ounces)
1 (13- to 14-ounce) can unsweetened coconut milk (I used lite)
1 pound zucchini (about 2 medium), diced
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro sprigs (omitted, cilantro is Brandon’s least favorite herb!)

Steamed brown or white rice, for serving

Directions:

Heat oil in a 3-4 quart heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until edges are golden, about 6 minutes. Add ginger and garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add cumin, coriander, turmeric, salt and chili pepper and cook, stirring, 1 minute.

Stir in water or broth, lentils and coconut milk. Bring to a simmer and then cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in zucchini and simmer, covered, until lentils and zucchini are tender, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and serve over rice with cilantro sprigs scattered on top.

Yield: 6 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 29

I feel terrible that I’ve been such a bad blogger this week. I started in the hole since I didn’t get to make my weekly menu and grocery shopping trip. It was a major pain to scramble every night to figure out what to have for dinner. Now we’re back in town and settled back into our routine.  I promise that I have lots of fun cooking and baking projects planned for this weekend that I can’t wait to share with everyone!

I was looking for something simple to make last night for dinner. I was browsing through the easy and healthy weeknight meals gallery on Epicurious and sent the link for this Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup recipe to Brandon. I was shocked when he said, “I’d eat that.” I still firmly believe that it’s only because this soup included sausage in the ingredient list! Also, kale is one of my grandmother’s signature dishes so Brandon has discovered that he loves it. I love using kale in recipes – it packs a HUGE nutrient punch. Check out this overview of the nutrients in boiled kale.

So back to my struggle with blogging and dinner this week…I work out pretty much every day after work. I usually don’t get home from my workout until after 7 p.m so if I haven’t planned dinner, it’s very challenging to make it happen. I’m very proud to share that it is extremely rare that we eat out on a weeknight. I always have something planned for dinner. I know I continue to harp on the importance of meal planning in advance but it makes a huge difference. I was stressed all week this week trying to pull together dinners and make time to get to the store.

On Monday Brandon and I went to a Vinyasa Basics yoga class at Y2 Yoga. It’s a newer yoga studio with smaller classes. I thought the class was pretty easy but it’s always nice to get back to the basics. Brandon enjoyed the class and got some great work in on perfecting the basic positions.

I planned on running with Sullie Tuesday after work but got stuck at work until 6:45. I still had to go to the grocery to get stuff for dinner (again, pre-planning people!) so by the time I got home at 7:30 I was hungry and cranky and it was freezing cold and dark. The run didn’t happen.

I set my alarm to get up and run Wednesday morning. Sullie is great motivation to get out of bed because she really needs the exercise and to get out of the apartment. We did an easy 3-miler but it was freezing – about 20 degrees and windy! Wednesday night I went to a power yoga class at Y2.

I planned on running today but got called at the last minute to sub BodyPump. Literally, at the last minute. I had to leave work a few minutes early to go home and grab my music, change and get to the gym. I hit terrible traffic and ended up being 10 minutes late to class. I felt terrible because I know how disappointing it is to have the workout you committed to cut short but hopefully all the push-ups we did made up for it! I ran 3 miles on the treadmill after.

So, hopefully I’ll be updating the blog A LOT more frequently and you won’t have to get a whole run down on my week in fitness in one post! I had this Kale and Potato soup for lunch today and it totally satisfied me for the whole afternoon! And I think the leftovers were even better today!

I made quite a few modifications to the original recipe. The original calls for only adding the kale in the last 5 minutes of cooking. There is no way it would have been done in that amount of time. We like our kale tender so I added it with the potatoes. Honestly, I didn’t  really follow the cooking directions at all for this recipe. I just did what made sense to me. But the soup turned out great and is an easy and nutritious weeknight dinner.

Portuguese Kale and Potato Soup
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, November 2009 – the last issue ever :( )

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound chouriço or linguiça (smoked Portuguese sausages) or kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (uh, I used kielbasa)
1 medium onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound russet (baking) potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (2-3)
6 cups water or chicken broth (I used half and half)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 pound kale, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves torn into small pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, like Sriracha, for serving

Directions:

Heat oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes. Add sausage and garlic and continue to cook 2-3 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then add potatoes, water or chicken broth, kale, paprika and salt to taste to the pot.

Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until kale and potatoes are tender. Mash up some of the potatoes with the back of a fork to thicken the soup a bit. Taste and do a final season with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of hot sauce.

Yield: 4 main course servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 28

Happy New Year everyone! The holidays have been busy for us with lots of family time and traveling. Since we spent Thanksgiving with my family this year, we stayed in Charlotte and celebrated Christmas with Brandon’s family. We rang in the new year in Asheville with The Avett Brothers and then headed to Atlanta on New Year’s Day for yet another Avett Brothers show and to spend the weekend with my family. It was so good to see them! My mom, Brandon and I went to the Georgia Aquarium on Saturday afternoon while my dad stayed home prepping our amazing dinner! He made Paul Prudhomme’s Seafood Gumbo. SO DELICIOUS! He made his own seafood stock and made the perfect roux. It was exactly the dark color of Paul’s in the book. It was full of oysters, crab, shrimp and fresh andouille! I roasted up some okra for a side dish and my mom made my favorite banana pudding recipe. Yum! I love going home and enjoying my parents cooking! :)

I was happy to arrive home yesterday and get back in the swing of our normal routine. I attend an incredible hot yoga class every Sunday afternoon at 4. It’s the perfect way to end my weekend and prepare my mind and body for the work week ahead. Since I was a little crunched on time given our afternoon arrival home and wanting to make my yoga class, I was looking for an easy meal. It is freezing here (seriously – lows in the teens, highs in the 30s – that is cold in the South!) and slow cooked meat sounded like the perfect dinner. Our grocery store had chuck roasts on sale so off I went to Epicurious to look for a Gourmet magazine pot roast recipe.

I found this recipe for Oven Braised Beef with Tomato Sauce and Garlic. It only had three ingredients and had received numerous positive reviews. Decision made. You don’t even brown the beef before placing it in the dutch oven! Can it get any easier than that? Off I went to the grocery to grab the ingredients. I threw everything in my dutch oven before I left for yoga and came home to an amazing smelling house!

I was a little nervous because the recipe called for so much garlic but it really mellows out in the oven during the long, slow cook and adds a wonderful flavor. I admit that I added a couple carrots and some onion during the last hour of cooking but it totally wasn’t necessary! I just wanted more veggies. Brandon decided that this should be my “go-to” method for cooking roasts.

I served last night’s roast over mashed potatoes with a salad and french bread. I’m making shredded beef enchiladas with the leftovers tomorrow night.

And now for the announcement:
If you’ve read the “About Jen” section of this site you know that my second love is fitness and nutrition. One of the questions I get all the time is, “How do you cook and bake all that food and stay fit?” Well…I’m going to start sharing that information with you on the blog. Don’t worry, I’m not changing the focus of this blog. It is definitely still first and foremost a food blog but I am going to talk about my nutrition and exercise for the day/week in my posts. If you’re not into it – simply scroll down for the recipe!

In a nutshell, it’s all about maintaining a balance. I’m going to talk about that balance in my posts. I hope I can provide a little bit of motivation and inspiration that you can enjoy delicious food and stay fit!

Let me know what you think in the comment selection below and if you have any questions! Eventually, I hope to add separate fitness and nutrition page to the blog but that’s later in 2010!

And now for the most delicious 3 ingredient roast recipe…

Oven Braised Beef with Tomato Sauce and Garlic
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, February 2001)

Ingredients:

28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
3-3 1/2 pound boneless chuck roast, trimmed
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves (unpeeled)
Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional: potatoes, carrots, onions or any other vegetables you’d like to add
Accompaniment: mashed potatoes, orzo or egg noodles

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Generously salt and pepper roast. Place roast in a large dutch oven. Pour tomatoes over the roast and then scatter around garlic cloves.

Cover and bake for 3-4 hours, until roast is very tender and shreds easily. Break into chunks or shred and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

*Note: if you’d like to add extra vegetables, add them when you have about 1 hour left in cooking.

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 25

I love black bean soup. It’s easy, healthy and hearty. It’s been so cold here lately so I thought black bean soup and cheese quesadillas would be a great dinner. This was my first time making this recipe and overall I was very pleased with it. I was hoping for a little more kick spiciness-wise but otherwise it was perfect. The leftovers were even more tasty the next day. This will definitely be in my regular soup rotation!

Spicy Black Bean Soup
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, December 2008)
Printable Recipe: Spicy Black Bean Soup

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh jalapeño (2 inches), seeded and minced
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (19-ounces) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups water (I used half water/half chicken broth)
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf

Directions:

Heat oil in a 4-to 5-quart heavy pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Saute onion and jalapeno for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano and salt and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Add black beans, water and bay leaf and simmer, covered. Stir occasionally until soup has thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.

Transfer 2 cups of soup to a blender or food processor (I recommend a food processor – use caution when blending hot liquids!) and purée . Return to pot and heat, stirring frequently. Discard bay leaf. Season with salt and serve.

Yield: 6 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 18

Brandon had been requesting Chicken and Dumplings or Chicken Pot Pie for dinner for several weeks. I browsed through The Gourmet Cookbook and found this recipe for Chicken Pie with Biscuit Crust. Kind of a hybrid of Chicken and Dumplings and Chicken Pot Pie – perfect.

I honestly wasn’t expecting much. I mean, I knew it would be a good dinner but I’m really not a pot pie kind of person. I know that sounds strange…but in general I’m not really so into comfort food. I was wrong. This was amazing. So amazing that I insisted that I didn’t need any help with the cleanup so I could shovel down more as I was putting away the leftovers :)

This can be a relatively quick dinner if you use leftover chicken, a rotisserie chicken or pre-roast a chicken. I put my chicken in to roast that morning while I was out on my run and getting ready for work. Really cut down on the prep time that night.

The biscuit crust was so delicious and the addition of cheddar cheese to the dough really made it special. The filling was a nice consistency and seasoned perfectly. This chicken pie will definitely become a winter tradition in our house!

Chicken pie with Biscuit Crust
(Recipe adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook, printed in Gourmet magazine – January 1991)

Ingredients:

FOR THE FILLING
4 cups chicken broth
3 carrots, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices
3/4 pound red potatoes (about 2 medium), quartered lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large celery ribs, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken (the meat from around a 3 pound chicken)
1/2 cup green peas
1 onion, chopped
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

FOR THE BISCUIT CRUST
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits
1/3 cup grated sharp Cheddar
1 large egg
1/3 cup buttermilk

An egg wash of 1 egg yolk and 1 tablespoon of milk

Directions:

FOR THE FILLING
Bring the broth to a boil over medium high heat in a medium saucepan. Add the carrots, potatoes and celery and simmer, uncovered, for about 10-15 minutes. Vegetables should be tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a large bowl, reserving the broth. Add chicken and peas to the bowl.

In another saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and add onions. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and transparent. Stir in flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes to create a roux. In a slow stream, add 3 cups of the reserved broth. Whisk constantly and bring to a boil. Add the thyme and let the sauce simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and stir in the nutmeg, parsley, salt and pepper. Pour over the chicken mixture and stir gently until combined.

Transfer the mixture to a greased 2-quart shallow baking dish.

FOR THE BISCUIT CRUST

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl. Add the butter and blend mixture with your fingers or a pastry cutter until it resembles a coarse meal. Add the cheese and toss to coat. Beat together egg and buttermilk. Add egg mixture to flour mixture and stir just until the mixture comes together and a dough forms. Into a liquid measuring cup break the egg, add enough of the buttermilk to measure a total of 1/2 cup, and beat the mixture with a fork. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture, stirring until the mixture just forms a dough. At this point you can either spoon 2-inch balls of dough onto the chicken mixture (drop biscuit style) or gather the dough into a ball, and on a floured surface pat out 1/2 inch thick. Cut rounds with a 2-inch cutter dipped in flour. Gather scraps and repeat until all dough has been used.  Arrange the rounds on the chicken mixture.

Before baking brush tops with an egg wash or whole milk. Prick holes into the biscuits with a fork. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, or until the biscuits are puffed and golden and the filling is bubbling.

Yield: 4 servings

NOTE:
* Filling can be made 1 day in advance and kept covered and chilled. Bring the mixture to room temperature before continuing with the recipe.

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