Monday, March 9, 2015

lots of news and the 20 minute clean-up

Three weeks of funemployment down and we have made some big decisions.

A few months ago Mike and I decided to move out of the bay area, mostly due to cost of living, but also with the idea to explore a new city together. After mulling this decision over for months, we have finally locked down some plans...

First up, a three week trek across Australia and New Zealand with a quick stop on the Cook Islands. Then: scouting apts, packing up and driving north to Seattle, our new home.

All of these decisions have my type-A personality screaming with joy because I feel like the train that is my life is up and moving again. We have the trip of a lifetime booked, we have a general idea of when we want to move and I have begin scouting neighborhoods and rent prices. Oh, and I guess we both have to start looking for jobs. (one step at a time.)

Decisions are being made, we are moving to a new and exciting city and yet...this morning I started to panic.

The funemployment calm started to slip away when I began to think about all of the things that have to be done. There is less time to sleep in and cook elaborate dinners and lay on the couch watching Friday Night Lights. I have to plan. I have to clean. I have to pack. I have to move-again!

Organizing and cleaning calms me as much as planning does, but this afternoon I felt crippled with the stress of it all. So I employed one of my favorite tricks: the 20 minute clean-up. Set the timer on your phone for 20 minutes, blast some fun music and move as fast as you can and get as much done as possible. When the timer goes off? You're done. Or keep the momentum going and get a few more things checked off your list.

I felt instantly calm getting a few little things tidied up, the apt vacuumed and some laundry started. Now I relax on the couch with a book for a bit. Every little thing counts...

Any suggestions for Seattle? What about NZ or Australia? Leave 'em in the comments!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

pizza night: bacon + kale + muenster cheese

Tonys pizza here in SF has some of the most mouthwatering, simple pizzas- their margherita pie is so perfect and yet has the most basic ingredients. The fresh tomato sauce, basil, mozzarella and hint of salt is heaven.

They also go into the realm of some risky toppings: one pie has nutella, honey and blue cheese. You think it sounds weird, but try it.

On a recent visit I tried what they call the "Eddie Muenster": crispy, lemony kale, smoked bacon, muenster cheese, peppers, all drizzled with honey. And I never wanted to eat anything else ever again. I only wish I came up with that flavor combo-there is something about the sweet and salty combination that just works.

I knew I had to recreate this, so we planned a pizza night Sunday. One glitch: I got a little mandolin happy with my new kitchen gadget that morning and sliced my thumb right open. Lots of blood and a pretty deep cut. Rolling out pizza dough, grating cheese, basically anything that wasn't stirring a pot of something was just out of the question.

It was fun directing Mike around the kitchen while also taking a backseat. He rolled out the pizza dough like a pro and even taught me a thing or two: he roasted the bacon and the kale in the oven on the same baking sheet. The result? Bacon-flavored kale, aka how kale should always be eaten.

bacon, kale and muenster cheese pizza, aka the "eddie muenster"
serves 2-4 

1 pound of pizza dough (as always, you can make your own, but trader joes has a great one-way easier)
half a pound of kale (I like the curly leaf), diced into bite-sized pieces
half a pound of bacon
half a cup of muenster cheese, shredded
half a cup of mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 pepper (I used a red one, use any size, type you like)
1/4 cup honey
juice of a half a lemon
2 tbsp of butter
salt and pepper for seasoning

  • preheat oven to 375
  • line a baking sheet with tin foil (makes for easier cleanup!) and spread out bacon and kale. season kale with pepper
  • cook in oven until bacon and kale are crispy--about 10-15 minutes
  • drain kale on a paper towel lined plate, sprinkle with lemon juice, toss and set aside
  • chop up bacon once cooked and set aside
  • flour counter and roll out pizza dough. lightly oil baking sheet (if using a pizza stone, follow directions as usual) and place dough on baking sheet. 
  • oil top of pizza and poke with a fork to allow air flow
  • place dough in oven to pre-bake (about 10 minutes, until the bottom starts to lightly brown.)
  • slice top and bottom off pepper and slice lengthwise down one side to open up the pepper in one flat layer, remove seeds. season both sides with salt and pepper
  • preheat pan with 1 tbsp butter on high heat; once pan is really hot, add pepper, skin side down and then place a heavy object on top (i used a pot) for about 3-5 minutes
tip: this technique will "blister" the pepper skin and extract a ton of roasted flavor out of it, really quickly
  • flip the pepper over and repeat, remove from heat and let cool and dice up once cooled
  • heat honey in a sauce pan on low heat with 1 tbsp butter and a sprinkle of salt. keep on low heat, stir occasionally, until ready to use
  • once crust is ready, assemble your pie. spread sauce on (alfredo recipe below, is what I used) then layer on peppers, bacon and cheeses
  • bake for around 7 minutes, until cheese is melted
  • remove from oven and pan, add kale and drizzle honey mixture, slice up and serve!

alfredo sauce
I thought this would complement the flavor well--you could use a marinara or a basic cream sauce as well
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour (traditional alfredo sauce doesn't call for flour but I like it as a thickener)
1/4-1/3 cup milk or cream
1/4 cup pecorino or any parm you like/have on hand
salt and pepper for seasoning

melt butter on stovetop, low heat, add flour and whisk
remove from heat and add milk or cream, continue whisking and bring back to burner
season with salt and pepper
add pecorino and leave on low heat, stirring occasionally, until it thickens up

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

easy risotto (i promise!)

I tend to stay away from complicated dishes and anything that takes too much attention. I get too distracted by a glass of wine and five other things going on in the kitchen to stir one pot for 30 minutes.

Risotto always seemed like one of those dishes that I would eat at a restaurant but avoid ever cooking for myself. The constant stirring, the ease of turning it to mush or making it too al dente--it all sounds so stressful and not what I want in my kitchen.

Then Valentines Day rolled around. Mike makes an early or day after reservation to avoid the crowds and overpriced food and I cook the day of. Last year I made his fave: bbq chicken pizza, the first dish I had ever cooked for him. But this year I wanted to step it up and make him something I had never made before.

Enter: risotto. "Why not?" I asked myself. I found a few ideas online that I pieced together into my own take and the cooking method seemed so easy. It cooks in the oven for crying out loud. So no constant stirring?! I was in.

I customized a bit by adding white wine even though the recipe didn't call for it (my motto: add wine whenever possible), and changed the ingredients to crispy pancetta and asparagus. Here is the original recipe and my take is below:

asparagus and crispy pancetta risotto
serves 2 (with a bit leftover for the next day :)

5-8 stalks of asparagus (depending on how thick they are), diced into bite-sized pieces
half pound of pancetta, diced (you can get the pre-sliced or just get a chunk of it and dice it yourself)
1 cup arborio rice
1 carrot, chopped finely
1 parsnip peeled and diced
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 cup of white wine--pick a dry one like pinot grigio
2 cups of low sodium chicken broth
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2-1 cup of pecorino romano cheese--or any parm you have (amount depends on how much you like cheese--this also helps add a creamy feel to the dish)
salt and pepper for seasoning

  • preheat oven to 450
  • preheat an oven safe pot on the stove top on medium heat and toss in the diced pancetta, cook until crispy
  • scoop out cooked pancetta onto a paper towel using a slotted spoon, add 1 tbsp butter and asparagus
  • sauté until asparagus is slightly softened but not limp--about 5-8 minutes, tossing frequently
  • scoop the asparagus out, set aside, add carrots and parsnips. after about 3 minutes, add shallot and then add garlic 5 minutes later. season with salt and pepper
  • let sauté until shallots become soft and stir frequently to prevent garlic from burning
tip: you want to cook vegetables longer based on their firmness and also size. carrots and parsnips take longer to soften and cook down, whereas garlic will burn if you add it at the beginning.

  • stir in arborio rice, add liquids and remaining butter
  • cover with lid and place in oven for 20-25 minutes-risotto will be creamy when done. taste test to ensure its not too al dente and add more liquid a quarter cup at a time if it needs to cook a bit longer
  • add lemon juice, pecorino, asparagus and pancetta, stir together and serve
This recipe is so versatile--add an extra cup of chicken broth in place of the wine (if you must!), and sub in any protein or veggie. One day I will get Mike to eat shrimp and try that...

Let me know how it comes out--I have a feeling this will change your view on risotto.