October 2010


Every once in a blue moon, I get a craving for grilled cheese.  I’m not looking for wheat bread, or light cheese; only the real deal will work. I bought some extra sharp white cheddar at Trader Joe’s to make the spoon cornbread and decided to recreate my all-time favorite grilled cheese sandwich from Tryst in DC.

Back in college, my girlfriend Becca and I would load up our bags with books and pads and pens and computers and laptop chargers and trek all the way from school to the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Invariably it would be snowing, and we’d have to walk through slush and muck all in the name of studying…well, that and a great grilled cheese.

Tryst features mismatched couches and chairs, fresh sandwiches and desserts, really great coffee, wireless Internet…it’s basically the perfect place to sit and read and study and check out cute artsy-type boys. Even the chai lattes come with animal crackers on the side. I never knew the secret to the grilled cheese (labeled on the menu as “George”) but I seem to have accidently discovered it while making this sandwich Monday night.

I started with freshly baked sourdough bread, from La Brea Bakery. Next, I added a slice of extra sharp white cheddar and a few rounds of tomato off the vine. Finally, I topped it all with a second slice of bread and placed a very heavy pan on top to get everything properly smooshed. Usually I would use butter but only had PAM, which did the trick.

See?

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Of course, in Tryst fashion, you must absolutely serve this sandwich with tortilla chips for the savory/salty combination. If you haven’t tried Have’a Corn Chips which are made locally in Laguna Beach and only contain corn, soybean oil, soy sauce and a dash of lime, I suggest you grab a bag. Or five!

Any other grilled cheese musts I should try??

Work on Friday was kind of intense, so I balanced out my day with a relaxing weekend. I went out with Julia, my sister, and her friends from college on Friday night, and then spent all of Saturday running walk-able errands and catching up with the current season of Grey’s Anatomy. Can you believe that I hadn’t watched a single episode? I’m still at zero for Gossip Girl, Private Practice and a few others I faithfully record. Is it weird that I can gauge how busy I am by how many TV shows I haven’t watched??

Sunday night, I pulled out a cookbook and got to work making an appropriate rainy day supper — vegetarian chili with cheddar-corn spoon bread. The chili recipe came from an old issue of Cooking Light, and I followed it closely, minus the olive oil and plus a big tablespoon of the favorite chili garlic sauce.

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I’m glad I added some spice; I thought the chili had a really nice heat. I let it sit on the stovetop while I prepared the rest of the meal, so everything got to meld for an hour or so. Best part? Tons of leftovers!

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The cheddar-corn spoon bread came from my Everyday Food cookbook, but you can also find it online. I followed this recipe exactly, but had to substitute regular ground pepper for cayenne, since I didn’t have it on hand.

The key to getting a light, fluffy texture was beating the egg whites and folding them in quickly. Can you believe I have NEVER beat egg whites into peaks before?!  It was kind of fun actually. I used an electric hand mixer and dreamed that I was working with a Kitchen Aid mixer instead. One day :)

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Overall, I really liked the “bread” with this meal, but next time I would add less egg and more cornmeal. I feel like the corn taste got lost a bit. I’m thinking a firmer, jalapeno cornbread would be REALLY good and more up my alley, taste-wise!

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Such a nice fall weather meal! Honestly, I didn’t even miss the meat. It was a good way to end the weekend before starting that craziness called MONDAY. In addition to work, I see yoga, a charity event, finishing The Girl Who Played with Fire AND Courtney’s wedding all happening this week. It’s going to be a busy one!

I love my friends.

Katie Jo guest starred on the CW’s Hellcats last night, so we all dressed up as cheerleaders to watch. Yup, just a regular Wednesday night, watching TV, drinking some wine, hanging with friends, setting up some stunts and pyramids…you know. The usual.

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My costume consisted of a short skirt, V-neck tee, high ponytail with a big white bow, and UGG sweater boots. In my mind, this is the standard high school cheerleader outfit. Three of the girls rocked out full uniforms, monogrammed with the name “Amanda.” Wouldn’t it be funny if they really all had the same name??

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Anyway, Kate was great. She played the volleyball captain who challenged the Hellcats girls to a game of flag football. Our favorite line was when she scored a touchdown and sneered, “Suck on that, pussycats.”

Now I’m just wondering how many of us will turn up as cheerleaders for Halloween…

I’ve been making good on my promise to cook two new recipes a week, although I’ve been terrible about photographing anything else but the finished product. My bad!

Even though I love going out for Mexican food, I’ve never been too adventurous when it comes to ordering something new. And my homemade attempts have basically consisted of cheese quesadillas, tacos, or chips with salsa. Lately, I’ve been seeing tons of enchilada recipes but none appealed to me as much as the Black Bean & Sweet Potato version featured on Kath Eats.

I mixed together a can of black beans, chili powder, a mashed sweet potato, diced green chilies, and my new favorite multipurpose ingredient — chili garlic sauce. If you ever see this in the store, buy it! You can add it to almost anything for a really full flavored kick.

I covered the bottom of my pan with Salsa Verde, then stuffed the enchiladas into La Tortilla Factory tortillas. I strongly recommend searching for the Smart & Delicious Low Carb, High Fiber whole wheat variety. Unlike most tortillas, these are decently sized and only 50 calories each, which means you can eat 3 tortillas for the same calorie count as ONE with most other brands! Finally, I topped them with more Salsa Verde and shredded jalapeno Jack cheese.

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Just bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes and voila! The enchiladas were a HUGE hit for both me and the boy and now I have a new dish to add to my dinner rotation.

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This past week, I also dug into my Martha Stewart Everyday Food cookbook to make two different meals. First, I turned to the Pasta with Peas and Ricotta for inspiration. This very simple dish was so easy to make (I even cooked it one morning to pack for lunch while getting ready for work!) and I could modify to serve for one. Better yet, this meal only dirties two dishes — one pot for cooking, and one bowl for eating.

Bring salted water to a boil; add one serving of pasta. I chose one with lots of crevices to hold the cheese! When the pasta has 3 minutes remaining, add snap peas (snip ends first). With one minute remaining, add 1/2 cup frozen sweet peas. Drain and pour pasta and peas back into the saucepan; add 1/4 cup ricotta cheese, parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper, mixing well. Then just transfer to clean bowl and eat. It might not be the prettiest meal, but it tasted very fresh and light.

By the way, the cookbook calls for butter, but I definitely didn’t see a need for it!

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When I saw wild-caught salmon on sale at the grocery store, I opened the cookbook to “Fish” and found a recipe for Salmon with Potato-Artichoke Hash. Sounds good, right? I also picked this meal because I had some of the ingredients on hand, and the rest were super easy to buy.

First I diced and seasoned potatoes and quartered artichokes (Trader Joe’s has a great canned version!) with salt, pepper, EVOO and thyme. Then I added salmon, sprinkled with salt and pepper, to the pan and roasted everything at 475 degrees for 20 minutes. While the fish, potatoes, and artichokes were cooking, I made a quick “sauce” of parsley, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, water, salt and pepper.

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Then I tossed some frozen asparagus into a boiling pot of water, turned off the burner and let it sit for a few minutes. Everything was cooked and ready in no time!

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The potatoes came out very crispy, which was nice. I forgot to spray the pan beforehand and when I went to flip the potatoes, they were sticking and I was worried they wouldn’t turn out well, but they tasted delicious. The parsley sauce was a nice addition to the salmon, although next time I will definitely grind it into more of a paste, or just throw it into the food processor.

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Of course, last but not least, I can’t forget my Pizza Friday. I promised you figs and ricotta…

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…so they had to make an appearance! I also added pear, ground pepper, kosher salt and shallots to the pizza. It was pretty good but nothing amazing. Maybe Granny Smith apples instead of pears for a little bite to contrast the figs?

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I’ve been amazed at how much easier it is to shop and get quality groceries when you have specific meals in mind. Normally I just wander the store and end up with all carbs, or 5 different types of protein when I can barely finish one within a week. Also, I’m getting really excited knowing I am coming home to make a delicious meal. I’ve always loved the dinners I’ve put together but they are usually very simple and plain. Now I feel like I can make anything I want :)

If you’ve ever stopped to read Eats Well with Others, you know that Joanne is an exceptional cook. Okay, maybe I haven’t actually tasted any of her dishes, but they all look amazing. Also, she has a gift for seeking out unusual recipes or combining unique ingredients on her own — to fabulous results. I’ve marked lots of her posts, adding them to my “try” list, but I couldn’t get past this fig and ricotta pizza.

Fine, I didn’t have ricotta. And I skipped the maple-balsamic reduction, not because it doesn’t sound amazing (!!!), but because I was very hungry and I’m terrible at reducing balsamic vinegar. I mess it up every time.

I did have fresh figs though, so my homemade pizza dough got topped with those, plus halved Farmer’s Market cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, and rosemary. 

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The figs were incredible on the warm, crusty dough. Next time, I am definitely making this with ricotta though…or maybe a combo of the two cheeses? Oh, and doubling the figs of course.

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Since I wasn’t sure how this pizza would turn out, I went traditional on the other half, with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, mushroom and rosemary.

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With endless topping combinations, making my own pizza is like creating a new recipe every time. No two pizzas alike!

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And I’m amazed; I’ve always liked pizza of course, but growing up I was a 1 or 2 slice, cheese-only kind of girl. Now I say, the more toppings the better! I love getting creative with my pizzas…pineapple being the new favorite addition. What’s your favorite pizza topping?

Maybe I’ll use it on my next pie, which I’ll probably be making in a day or two, knowing me :)

Recently I decided to start making two new recipes a week. I have been building up a mini library of cookbooks and starred posts, yet I keep making the same dishes…or, more accurately, coming up with a random dish based on whatever I can find in my fridge.

I think it was when I started to dislike going to the grocery store (normally something I really enjoy!) that I realized that my shopping list needed to grow beyond “bananas, yogurt, veggies, fruit and Skinny Cow ice cream cups.”

The October issue of Health features recipes that take a basic boxed soup and turn it into something a bit more filling and complete. When I saw an adapted French onion soup, I knew this was the place to start!

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Also, the stats looked pretty good, especially for something that can be easily overloaded with cheese and bread.

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I took everything from the recipe and then cooked it Kate-style. The first night, I only made it for one as a tester. I love recipes that can be customized for single servings!

First, I chopped some red onion and shallots into long, skinny strings and PAM-cooked them over low heat until they were nearly translucent.

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While the onions were cooking, I shredded a 1 oz. serving of Comte cheese and cubed one serving of French bread (1/2 demi baguette), setting aside two small slices.

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The recipe called for Gruyere, but I LOVE Comte and it works really well with the rest of the ingredients. My mind was made up for me when the descriptor card at Trader Joe’s recommended it for onion soups!

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I poured one cup of Pacific organic French onion soup into a small saucepan and set to medium-low heat. Can I just say, this variety was so hard to find! I searched in many stores before finally finding it at the Santa Monica Co-op. Apparently Pacific Coast Greens in Malibu has it too.

The soup is basically a flavored broth, which makes for a great base but means adding ingredients is a must.

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To the broth, I added balsamic vinegar, fresh ground pepper and thyme, all to taste.

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Then I added the bread chunks and let everything soak together before adding the cooked onions and Comte cheese. While the cheese was melting, I threw two thin slices of baguette topped with a tiny bit of Comte from the shredded 1 oz. under the broiler. These were perfect for dipping!

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Everything about this soup was delicious! I didn’t even miss the broiled cheese crust, since it melted so smoothly throughout the bowl. The main thing I will change in the future is to add a lot more broth — and more onions. I was worried about overdoing it but the onions were super tasty.  Nearly every time I am at a restaurant with French onion soup on the menu, I have to order it. I’m so happy that I can recreate this anytime I want!

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