"All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!"
-- Lucy Van Pelt (Peanuts)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's for dinner?: Cornbread, Braised Leeks, Roasted Garlic and Butternut Squash

Wow. So Eat for America was a smashing success. The four of us had some delicious meals and some great laughs together, bonding even closer over the savory and sweet mouthfuls that just didn't end for 4 days.

It was hard to go back to Philadelphia and eat like a normal person. Not that Philadelphia isn't an AMAZING food city, don't get me wrong, it is, but eating in three cities with no restraint for a long weekend is really hard to compare.

More about that later, but tonight, I bring you some healthful yet hearty cold weather cooking. Mmm. Well start with the corn bread. During Eat For America, we got to enjoy the corn bread at Volt restaurant in Frederick Maryland. While the entire meal was delicious - I have always had a thing for corn bread. It's. so. good.

Volt's cornbread is the most delicious cornbread I have ever had. If I could replicate one thing we ate that night, it would be the cornbread. Call me crazy, but this stuff is good. There were choices of bread of course, I think four in all, but if you get the opportunity to dine at Volt (which I hope you do) go for the cornbread. You will not be disappointed. In three rounds of bread, I had convinced my whole table to come to the cornbread side, and it ran out in our basket.

Since our trip, I've been craving cornbread. So tonight, I decided to make some with my dinner.

Pairing nicely with my corn bread, I power played some vegetables. A creamy butternut squash roasted with garlic cloves (mmm - you can throw the left over in the blender tomorrow for a delicious soup) and some olive oil braised leeks inspired by the olive oil braising feature in the most current issue of fine cooking.

No real recipes tonight - just ideas, sorry was busy cooking! But if you have questions, you always know where to find me :-) Now go make some cozy cold weather food, it's chilly out there!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Eat For America

I always like to eat well on vacation, and have dragged travel companions to restaurants and eateries when in the area of a place I'm dying to try, but never have I planned a get away SOLELY based on food.

Enter EATforamerica, which frankly, I didn't really plan at all. The most I've contributed is setting up a "pop-up" twitter account - which I'm still learning how to use - that currently only has it's future decided from now through the duration of the trip. After that, who knows. Follow us here: @eatforamerica

The trip is mostly the brainchild of Grace (former head of the Wu-teach clan, the pack of science teachers I spent two years with during my time in Teach for America.) and included suggestions from her brain trust, Jon, also a former TFA teacher, and Sophie who you know from Girls Night In, and of course, a former member of Wu-teach. While we have bonded over our classroom woes, we have forged a friendship that goes even deeper because of our love for Top Chef, food, brunch (which has turned into an annual Brunch for America), and most of all - eating.

We are traveling this weekend to Frederick, MD, Washington, DC, Baltimore, MD, and Atlanta, GA in order to do just that. Together, the four of us will EAT for America. More details to follow.. but for now:

Eat for America

The Players

Lauren (a.k.a. LBD, dark horse) - Yours truly, your blog host and honored participant in EATforamerica 2k12. Skilled in sugar work, according to some. Executive Chef of three annual Brunch for Americas. Idolizes Martha Stewart.

Height: 5'3"
Hometown: New York, NY
Current Residence: Philadelphia, PA
Current Occupation: Analyst
Prize possession: Pair of patent leather lace Valentino pumps.
Favorite Food: If carbs were a food.. no really, bread, chocolate and cheese.
Best thing you've ever cooked: Braised leeks and short ribs.
Most excited about on EFA: Potentially meeting some great chefs and of course trying their food!

Grace (Wu-Teach, mother) - Creator and lead executor of EATforamerica, Grace dreams of owning a food truck. Competed in TFA Philadelphia's "Chopped" competition with sous-chef Sophie. They finished in 2nd and were also tagged as the competition's underdog duo.

Height: 5'5"
Hometown: Carrollton, TX (if a car rolls over you, it weighs a ton) (seriously, that was her response)
Current Residence: Dallas, TX
Current Occupation: Math/Science Content Coordinator
Prize possession: Splat - my catters!
Favorite Food: Any pappardelle dish usually gets me.
Best thing you've ever cooked: An appetizer. It was a seared scallop over polenta with arugula salad
Most excited about on EFA: Table 21 reservations!

Sophie (Daughter) - Writer and photographer of acclaimed facebook album "A trip to tasty town," as well as the co-author of this post. DIY home cook. Loves pandas (so much that I can't look at one without thinking of her) and is part of the localvore food movement in Philadelphia. An advid potluck dinner party junkie, Sophie has attended all three Brunch for America's and has served as the sous chef for the past two.

Height: 5'4.5"
Hometown: Great Neck, NY
Current Residence: Philadelphia, PA
Current Occupation: Research Associate
Prize possession: Global chef and paring knife (named Ajito and Manzanita, respectively).
Favorite Food: Pork belly, duck bacon, fresh summer corn, poached egg and potato chips.
Best thing you've ever cooked: 2011 Thanksgiving spread for 17 (including three pregnant women) and one baby.
Most excited about on EFA: Hugging Kevin and seeing his pig tattoo en vivo!!

Jon (Mr. Wiiing!, M.D.) - Our senior advisor of EATforamerica has been instrumental in suggesting where to sleep and various dining options with his experience and inside hookups on our chosen path. Sharp palate, sharp comments, nothing gets by this witty foodie.

Height: 5'11"
Current Residence: Philadelphia, PA
Prize possession: a med school textbook

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dark Chocolate Mini Peanut Butter and Jam Cups

Happy Valentine's Day! While there are mixed opinions on the day, for me it's always been the best excuse to just indulge in chocolate. Of course.

Today's treat is just that. A chocolate peanut butter cup with the addition of tangy sweet raspberry jam to amp up the love. I gave these out to co-workers and of course my Valentine this year, and they were a big hit all around. What's not to love?

I use small candy cups, not just mini muffin baking cups, but smaller than that. I get mine from Sur la table, but I'm sure they can be found in any general baking store or crafting shop, as well as online.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Dark Chocolate Mini Peanut Butter and Jam Cups


4 Ounces of good quality dark chocolate
2 ounces crunchy peanut butter
2 ounces raspberry jam

makes about 16 - 20 mini cups

Melt the chocolate either using a double boiler or microwave method. Add a small spoonful to the bottom of a baking cup, just enough to cover the bottom. Add a tiny dollop of peanut butter and jam, and flatten with the back of your spoon. Pour a layer of chocolate over the jam and peanut butter, enough to cover and lay flat. Refrigerate until chocolate hardens and enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Kale Bacon and Tomato Mac and Cheese

Macaroni and cheese is not a health food.

It is time to accept the fact that you are eating a gooey concoction of cheese, pasta, milk and butter, no matter what you do. It pains me to see the plethora of "healthy" mac and cheese recipes that can be googled, with wheat pasta, or low fat cheese, but what those recipes are really doing is taking the deliciousness out of the dish. I've yet to find a "healthy" mac and cheese that is really both healthy and delicious. On the opposite end of the spectrum, with Valentine's around the corner, lobster mac and cheese renditions are just popping up everywhere. That's beyond accepting your fate. That's embracing it with open arms.

So I have come to accept the truth, that when I am going for mac and cheese, I'm going for a really unhealthy meal. It is what it is.

Nothing you can do about it.

What you CAN do is amp up the nutritional value by adding veggies into your typical mac and cheese, and cut back on fat sources that really don't add to the flavor, and mix in some cheese content that is a little easier on the system. Note: I am in no way, shape or form claiming that I have made mac and cheese healthy. I have simply added nutrition into the mix so that these calories aren't as extremely empty as they were before. This dish is still really bad for you. I would NOT recommend this as a diet. Got it?

Great. So what's different about this mac and cheese... well.. it is full of superfood kale, arugula and heirloom cherry tomatos. Instead of a sauce full of whole milk, I add a lesser amount of skim milk into my rue in order to keep it from getting too watery. Rather than use my usual sharp cheddar, I use a mix of grated gouda and creamy goat cheese. And while I'd love to pour in lots and lots of cheese, I use just what is needed.

All in all it is delicious. It is not healthy, but does provide some nutrients that aren't usually there and will be easier to get down if you're not in love with vegetables (which, if you haven't noticed, I'm not).

And without further ado...

Kale, Bacon and Tomato Mac and Cheese


1 pound of pasta (any shape, but I like shapes with grooves, they hold the cheese well)
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cup skim milk
5 ounces grated gouda cheese
3 ounces crumbled goat cheese
1 ounce grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp olive oil
2 cups chopped and rinsed kale, ribs removed
1 cup arugula, rinsed and dried
1/2 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes (seeds removed)
1 slice of bacon cooked and chopped (it's mac and cheese afterall..)


1 cup breadcrumbs (fresh is best)
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 clove garlic finely minced

Bring a pot of water to a boil, enough to cook the pasta. While the water is heating up, saute the kale, arugula and tomatos in the olive oil. Set aside.

In a saucepan, melt the butter, and stir in flour, whisking until frothy. Add the milk slowly, still whisking at medium heat until creamy, about 5-6 minutes. Turn off the heat, but keep on the burner and add grated cheese, whisking until melted.

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Stir vegetables into pasta and mix well. Add cheese sauce and stir well. Add to a baking dish (9x9 for thicker servings, 9x13 for thinner servings).

Stir together garlic, butter and breadcrumbs for the topping. Sprinkle mixture over the pasta mixture and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes. Cut and serve with a spatula. Enjoy!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Red Wine Chocolate Cake

I've never been a fan of frosting. Especially the overly sweet processed stuff that comes out of a can. I much prefer a cake that stands on it's own.
What I am a fan of is red wine and dark chocolate.

So when I realized I could combine red wine and chocolate and into a rich, moist cake that needs nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar for effect, I was so in. With ingredients like this, and a recipe this simple, what's not to love? And why don't I make this more often?

Red Wine Chocolate Cake


6 tablespoons butter, sliced and room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup red wine
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and grease and flour a 9 inch cake pan.

Cream the butter and sugars in an electric mixer, adding eggs one at a time. Add the wine and vanilla. In another bowl, mix your dry ingredients with a whisk and then add slowly to the wet mixture on low speed until just combined. Pour the batter into the pan. It will be a little dense, so spread the batter to the edges of the pan. Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, until the center is done. Cool and dust with powdered sugar. Serve with strawberries and you've got yourself a Valentine's day dessert!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quick Fix: Arugula Pesto with Goat Cheese

I'm really lazy. Especially when it's cold out. Sometimes I can't muster up the energy (yes, I can, I'm just being lazy), to go to they gym, to go to the grocery store (I can eat bread for dinner right?), to do my laundry, to update my blog...

It happens to the best of us. Sometimes the couch is calling and a marathon of your favorite show comes on, or maybe a marathon of your not so favorite show, but will be your favorite show if it means you don't have to get up right now..

Who hasn't been there? Just where will Adam Richman find his next food challenge.. what will Robert Irvine do to fix THAT restaurant.. which FBI agent will suffer an emotional meltdown while tracking down THIS serial killer.. how DOES he meet their mother.. why can't these housewives just get along with each other?

As you can probably tell, I have a lot of lazy experiences..... and when C.S.I. calls, and I'm missing an ingredient, I can't just stop and get to the grocery store. So I get creative in the kitchen. This is a quick recipe I thought up when I discovered that I didn't have a sauce on hand for the pasta I was boiling during a recent marathon.

What I did have, was arugula. Peppery, tangy, fresh arugula. And that's when it hit me, PESTO!

I was so excited (distracted) by the idea (by what was on TV) that I forgot to put the nuts in, and it still was absolutely delicious. Which means that if you or a loved one have nut allergies, no worries! It's all good, just omit the nuts! So fresh tasting and acidic, serve over pasta and top with a bit of crumbly creamy goat cheese to contrast. Mmmm, now get back to the couch...

Arugula Pesto


2 cups Arugula
1/4-1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (I like more cheese, so 1/2)
2 garlic cloves smashed and chopped finely
1/2 cup Olive Oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
A handful of almonds (optional)
Goat cheese (for serving)

Add arugula, parmesan, garlic, lemon juice and almonds into a food processor with about 1/4 cup of the oil. Begin processing and add remaining oil in a small stream. Keep adding the oil until the mixture becomes a thin paste (the consistency of pesto). Enjoy!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Les Macarons

Fears. We all have them. Many are exaggerated or irrational.. such as globophobia (the fear of balloons) or katsaridaphobia (fear of - ew - look it up if you have to, I can't even say what it is).

But none of my fears have been more irrational, more ridiculous and more worthy of conquering than my fear of making macarons.

I know. It's terrifying - the thought of making those perfect little pastries. What if they don't rise, what if they aren't light and airy, what if the ends don't crust up and give the wafers their distinct character?! There is so much room for failure.

But today, I tell you, there isn't! It's so much easier than it seems, and you TOO can conquer your fear of making macarons (as far as google tells me, there isn't a word for this condition yet, but do not worry, you are not alone)!

That's right my friends. Today, I liberate you from the emptiness you feel when you think of Paris, the envy you feel when you pass by your local patisserie (or four.. macarons are so trendy right now!) and look inside to see the delightful pastry perfectly executed inside.

Okay, so maybe your suffering doesn't exactly mirror mine..... but who cares! It's time to talk about cookies!

photo credit: urbanspoon.com

I first encountered the macaron in Paris. In a shop window, I distinctly remember walking by with my group of girls, and longingly gazing back at the filled wafer cookie. What was it? Why were there so many colors? How did they all look SO perfect? I will one day return to Paris and reunite with the birthplace of the cookie I have since learned so much about.

I often wondered about the macaron, as I later found out was the name for the elegant wafer filled with ganache, jam or curd. I needed to know more. Why didn't I just go inside?! Only a couple of years later, I began to notice macarons everywhere I went. Small gourmet food shops, pastry shops, literally everywhere. Well not, everywhere. Not to be confused with the American coconut macaroon, these are reserved for high end bakeries - for now. There is something special about the macaron, and an unlimited number of flavors and fillings to experiment with as I've learned.

Over Thanksgiving, I got to talking to Chris' mother, and she mentioned that she was going to make some for the very first time. I shuddered.


This was it. No more buts.

"I'll make them with you!" I exclaimed. "I'm just..... intimidated.." I explained sheepishly.

She nodded, and together we cried and hugged. She understood! Okay, that last part didn't happen, but she did understand. And we agreed to make them.

We settled on a classic almond cookie filled with dark chocolate ganache. The flavor was fantastic! While they did not come out as "perfect" as I had seen in stores, they were delicious, and the experience was a breakthrough! We had a starting point, and we discussed our mistakes, learning where we had room to grow. I've since made macarons three times, even as gifts for coworkers (mini almond macarons with strawberry ganache filling). I have even taught another friend how to make them for the first time (vanilla buttercream). Things have really turned around.

Check that out! Happy Holiday's at the office!

For Christmas, I gave Chris' mother a backordered magazine with a spread about macarons. I book marked the page and thanked her for the experience, promising to master the art with her. Sweet, I know. However, I don't think I could have better expressed my gratitude to her for pushing me to conquer this baking hang up.

I'm not printing the recipe we used yet because I'm continuing to master and tweak the art, but my own recipes will follow. Until then, feast your eyes, and go try to make macarons! Lay that deliciously light and crisp foundation, and together we will fill it with ganache! With that, I leave you with today's lesson - in the wise words of former Nike marketing executives: Just do it.