Sunday, February 22, 2015

Life (and food) with baby: part I

Greetings from the other side! After a nice long blog break, I'm excited to share some updates and tips on life with baby.

First off, meet Emmett!
 Born December 11th, we've enjoyed the last 2+ months getting to know him and enjoying his sweet hugs, snuggles and general good looks. Each day is different, but for the most part, he's a very good baby, not to mention, a good eater, just like his mom! So far, we've lucked out :)
Life with baby has changed our eating style for sure, but for the most part, we're cooking just as often as before! A few notable changes:

1) The recipes are simpler. These days long ingredient lists or complicated steps just aren't happening. One, because I totally have "mommy brain" and can't be trusted to keep track of where I am in the process, and two, because more and more, Luke is helping with recipe prep and cooking, and I know he appreciates it when I keep things simple so that he can pull it off.
2) Planning in advance is a must. This means more than ever before, I'm chopping ahead of time and even doing some of the cooking in advance as much as possible. It's rare I'm able to make an entire dish from start to finish in one time period due to a needy baby, so having veggies prepped and grouped together with their portion of a recipe, sauces whisked up and meats trimmed and prepped makes me getting dinner on the table at a reasonable time a reality.
3) We repeat meals more often. I don't have as much time to leisurely peruse recipes like I used to, so I have started relying on a few staple recipes or recipe styles. Before, it was rare we ate the same thing twice in our house unless it was REALLY good, mostly because there are SO many recipes I want to try!
4) I take more short cuts. Sometimes it's buying an Indian food simmer sauce so all I have to do is saute meat and veggies, then add in the sauce. Other times I'll snag pre-marinated meat from the butcher. I've started stocking the freezer with some delicious ravioli that I can just add to whatever veggies I find in the crisper that I then do a quick saute with. These little time savers make all the difference, when before I wouldn't have even considered it! 
5) I only grocery shop once a week. I've always been a meal planner, but I had the luxury of working above the store, so needless to say I was popping down every day to snag an ingredient I might have forgotten in my larger shop, or letting myself wait until the day-of to get produce at the perfect level of ripeness. Luckily, there's one just a couple miles from my house, so one-off stops aren't out of the question, but with a baby in the mix, those random stops are few and far between!
Things that haven't changed:

1) Breakfast is still king. Whether it's a weekend morning and the whole family is eating together, or a it's a weekday, it's rare that I have cereal for breakfast. Nursing is hard work, so I'm constantly hungry! Without a substantial breakfast, I'd be eating every hour on the hour (just like Emmett sometimes :) )
2) I still cook dinner almost every night. I still don't love eating the same thing all week long, so even if I do a big soup or crock pot dinner, I'll freeze any excessive leftovers rather than eating it 4x a week.
3) I still LOVE to cook. But it's a different kind of love now. I'm more focused on ensuring we're eating a well balanced diet (not that I ignored this before though!) to make sure I'm a) losing the baby weight and b) getting nutrients that I then pass on to baby Emmett.

In the next post, I'll share some of the foods we've been eating lately!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Challah French Toast with Cinnamon Brown Sugar Apples

Anyone who follows my Instagram feed knows that I have got it BAD for breakfast on the weekends. I pop out of bed and run down to make my (half caf) coffee then get started. While we eat pretty well during the week for breakfasts (green smoothies, pancetta and egg breakfast sandwiches, oats in a jar with all the fixins), weekends I get to spend more than 10 minutes on breakfast. I think this recipe took approximately 12 minutes though, so it might just sneak itself into the week day routine! 

Since we enjoyed a freakishly cool mid September day, I busted out the cinnamon container for a day of fall recipes, and this was up first. I can't wait to recreate it!

Challah French Toast with Cinnamon Brown Sugar Apples

1/2 loaf challah bread (brioche works too, you could do regular sandwich bread, but this will be WAY less exciting)
2 eggs
1/4 cup milk (I used whole)
2 tablespoons cinnamon, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 apple, sliced (peel on or off, your choice!)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Justin's Maple Almond Butter (I'm HOOKED on this and buy it 6 jars at a time whenever it goes on sale, but freshly ground almond butter would be nice here too!)
Maple Syrup

Preheat a nonstick skillet and a cast iron skillet on medium heat. 

Slice the challah bread into thick slices (mine were about 1 inch thick). Whisk the eggs and milk together, then add in 1 tablespoon cinnamon (reserve the other tablespoon!). Spray the nonstick skillet with cooking spray (or melt a little butter if you dare). Dunk each challah slice in the milk mixture to get it nice and soaked, then place on the nonstick skillet. Cook about 1 1/2 minutes then flip and cook another 1 - 1 1/2 minutes. Remove and keep warm.

In the meantime, melt the butter in the cast iron. Toss the apple slices with the remaining 1 tablespoon cinnamon and brown sugar, then add, in one layer, to the cast iron. Turn apples after 2 minutes and cook on the other side another 2 minutes.

Spread the French toast with your almond butter (I do about 1 - 1 1/2 tablespoons per slice) and top with apple slices, then drizzle with maple syrup. Enjoy!
Enjoy with bacon, coffee and fall decor! 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Naughty Mac and Cheese

When asked my favorite foods, I spout off my top three at lightening speed - cheeseburgers, queso and mac & cheese. Healthy and sophisticated, right? :) 

Needless to say, it's a good thing Luke isn't crazy about mac and cheese, otherwise I'd probably make it every week. I often try to go middle of the road in terms of naughty and nice components, but this one is like 95% naughty - sorry about that. I use whole milk here for extra creaminess, but by all means use 1 or 2% milk if you'd rather - but you may need to bump up with an extra tablespoon each of butter and flour to help thicken things up a bit. My one nice concession (other than the cauliflower, which doesn't REALLY count since I douse it in olive oil before roasting...) is whole wheat pasta - I find in a creamy sauce like this, I don't mind WW at all, so I go for it.

Naughty Mac and Cheese

1 head cauliflower
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 thick slices bacon
1/2 onion, chopped
1 pound whole wheat pasta (I used elbows, shells work nicely too!)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups whole milk, room temperature
6-8 cups shredded cheese (I mix gruyere and extra sharp cheddar for maximum flavor and meltability), room tempterature
1 cup panko or breadcrumbs
3/4 cup freshly shredded Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut cauliflower into bite-sized florets and spread on a baking sheet. Give it a few turns of olive oil (probably 3 ish tablespoons) and salt and pepper, then toss to combine. Roast 30 minutes, turning once, until browned. Remove and set aside.

Meanwhile heat a skillet on medium heat and crisp up bacon. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to remove excess grease, then chop into small pieces once slightly cooled. Reduce the skillet heat to medium low. Add onion to the bacon drippings in the pan and saute 10-15 minutes until beginning to caramelize. Remove from heat.

Set a large pot of water to boil for the pasta. Once water boils, cook pasta according to package directions and then drain. 

In the meantime, warm a large sauce pan (I used my dutch oven) on medium heat. Melt butter, then whisk in flour. Let this cook 45 seconds - a minute, stirring almost constantly. Slowly whisk in milk. Let cook on medium heat until thickened, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Once this has thickened, season with salt and pepper and add cheese, one handful at a time, stirring after each addition, until incorporated and smooth.

Add cooked pasta, cauliflower, bacon and onions to cheese sauce and stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together panko with parm and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle evenly over mac and cheese.

Bake 20 minutes in the 400 degree oven, then finish until the broiler for a minute to get a nice golden brown topping. Enjoy!

The finished product hot out of the oven! Definitely give it time to cool off :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hatch Chile Pimento Cheese BLT Sandwiches

When the whether gets to be scorching is also the time when Hatch chiles from Hatch, New Mexico come out to play. Over the years I've paid tribute to these green beauties not one, not two, not three, but FOUR times. 

This year I grabbed a modest amount (I need to go back for more) and roasted up three mild, two medium and one HOT Hatch chiles on the grill. My wonderful husband then peeled off the charred skins for me and I briefly pulsed them in the food processor and added them to things like my Herby Green Sauce and some more Hatch Chile Chicken Enchiladas

But what I was most excited about was pimento cheese. I've been on a total pimento cheese BLT kick all summer (baby Robison must be a fan). After a work dinner that quickly turned to pimento, my colleague from Georgia and others from the South all said that Duke's mayo is the best. I've never had it and haven't seen it in Austin, but they were nice enough to mail me a jar! They were right, you only need a few high quality ingredients and you'll have a delicious pimento cheese. I subbed in my chopped Hatch chiles for pimentos in this batch, but with the other half of the jar of mayo not yet used, I may have a traditional pimento cheese in my future!

Hatch Chile Pimento Cheese BLT Sandwiches

4 slices bacon (I like peppered bacon from the butcher's case)
12 ounces grated sharp cheddar (I do a mix of white and yellow cheddars)
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup chopped Hatch chiles or pimentos
3/4-1 cup mayonnaise (start with 3/4 and add more by the tablespoon to reach your desired consistency)
Salt and pepper, optional
8 slices bread of your choice (we kept it simple with wheat this time)
1 heirloom tomato, sliced
1 small avocado
Spinach or bibb lettuce

Cook your bacon to desired crispness (I like using the cast iron over medium to medium low heat, turning bacon often to prevent curling). 

While the bacon cooks, mix together the pimento cheese mixture. Combine grated cheese, chopped red onion, Hatch chiles or pimentos and mayo in a bowl. Since I was using peppered bacon, I didn't add any salt or pepper, but if you're using plain bacon you might want to add pepper, and if you're using no bacon, you may want to add a pinch of salt too.

Toast bread. Spread on about 1/4 cup pimento cheese and top with a piece of bacon, tomato slices, avocado and greens. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chicken Mushroom Spaghetti Squash Casserole

Even though Luke is in grad school, I haven't felt beholden to the back-to-school schedule since graduating college (to be fair, he only takes one class a semester and is still working full time). That said, I still love the excitement this time of year brings and love seeing friends post B2S pictures of their kids - it's just a few  years away for us now!

Last week Whole Foods Market (I work for them, but this post is all my idea) had a big sale on roasted chickens on Friday, so when I asked Luke how many I should buy and when he jokingly said "five" I wasn't far off - I grabbed four. I love using one or two straight away in recipes, pulling the meat off the others and freezing in convenient bags for future soups, stews and CHICKEN POT PIES, then making a huge pot of chicken stock with the bones and any extra meat I was too lazy to pick off for aforementioned meals. 

The other inspiration behind the dish is the awesome crop of spaghetti squashes we grew in the garden this summer. The peaked early and we got about 6, but luckily they last a while so we've enjoyed one every other week or so. I tend to always want to enjoy them spaghetti-style with tomato meat sauce, so I wanted to mix it up. The thought of the oh-so-90's chicken spaghetti casserole with cream of mushroom soup came to mind, but this is SO MUCH BETTER THAN THAT. 

I made all the ingredients the night before and mixed it together to leave in the fridge for two reasons - I could easily just top with panko and parm and bake off on a work night, and the flavors would get to meld together. Luke was commenting on how you could really taste the mushrooms, and I think that's due to the overnight resting period. But, it would still be quite delicious if you baked it off after making all the components - and you could reduce the cooking time to 20 minutes.

Chicken Mushroom Spaghetti Squash Casserole

1 medium spaghetti squash (about 2 1/2 - 3 pounds)
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
4 cups whole milk (room temperature is best)
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1/2 bunch lacinto kale, rinsed and torn into 2 inch pieces.
3 cups cooked chicken (for me, this was one rotisserie chicken)
1/2 cup panko or bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Half spaghetti squash lengthwise and remove seeds in the middle (I love using a grapefruit spoon for this task). Place cut-side down in a baking dish and fill with 1/2 cup water. Roast for 35 minutes. Remove to a plate and let cool at least 10 minutes. Using a fork, scrape out the squash flesh to form spaghetti-like pieces. Place in a bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, warm a medium-large sauce pan (I used my small Le Creuset Dutch oven which is the perfect size because I baked the final dish in this - one less pan to clean!) over medium heat. Melt 2 tablespoons butter (reserve the extra tablespoon) then whisk in flour. Let cook, stirring constantly, 30 seconds - 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and lower heat to medium-low. Cook to thicken and reduce, 10-15 minutes, whisking every 20-30 seconds (this will depend on the temp of the milk when you added, the cooking surface size of the pot and the heat on the stove). The goal is a thickened sauce-like state (but not SUPER thick). Season with salt and pepper and add 1/2 cup parm (reserving other 1/4 cup). 

While you cook your sauce, warm a large skillet (I used my 12-inch cast iron) on medium heat and warm olive oil. Add mushrooms and saute 5-7 minutes. Add kale to the pan along with a couple tablespoons of water. Stir to combine and then place a lid on top for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Combine the spaghetti squash, mushroom mixture and milk sauce along with cooked chicken pieces in a casserole dish. Top with panko and remaining Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake in 375 degree oven for 20 minutes if you bake it immediately, or 30 minutes if you refrigerate the mixture. Then, turn on the broiler and let it go for 2-3 minutes, depending on your oven, until panko begins to brown. Enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2014

New spot for North Austin - Punch Bowl Social

Luke and I moved to north Austin two and a half years ago, and I've loved seeing the influx of restaurants and entertainment in the area, especially in and around the Domain. They just announced a new Kerbey Lane opening one mile from my house! (dangerous....)

Typically when I'm invited to media events, it's for a sassy new place downtown, on the east side or south. Imagine my surprise when I confirmed the location and it was just a stone's throw away in the Domain!

Punch Bowl Social is kind of like the Goodnight or the Highball, but much bigger. They've got bowling, shuffleboard, ping pong, darts, arcade games, billiards and more, not to mention a restaurant and bustling bar. This pregnant lady finds it a bit difficult to bowl these days, so we focused on the food and drinks :) Another complaint I hear from fellow north Austinites is that there aren't many places that are open until the wee hours, even in the Domain, so I'm sure they'll be pleased to know Punch Bowl Social is open until 2 a.m. every night! (Hey, maybe Baby Robison and I will make an appearance during a late night feeding/diaper change... psych!).

Their grand opening is tomorrow, August 23 at 7 p.m. - tickets (at the door or on Facebook) are $10 and there will be free menu and punch samplings, along with games and live music. 

Now on to the food. I imagine Punch Bowl Social will appeal to companies to host large parties (especially with places like National Instruments just down the road), but it would also be a great way for a group of friends to go out or to celebrate a birthday. A lot of their food reminds me of a party style, and they even had a table set up with trays of food. Can I say this is the most impressive veggie tray I've ever seen? Love the purple cauliflower and carrots, endive and radishes. The cheese and charcuterie plates were epic too. And my table was impressed with the blintzes, saying these were the first ones we'd had that we liked - the ricotta tasted really high quality which was nice.

I'm embarrassed/not really that my favorite thing was the truffled potato chips. They tasted kind of earthy, like truffles should, not just doused in truffle oil like can often happen with truffle fries (though I love those too - don't get me wrong). You'd be remiss not to get these on your visit!

Another hit was the deviled eggs, which included a bacon jam on top - nice! The filling was really substantial - almost like mashed potatoes meets egg yolks?

One thing I was really impressed by on my recent trip to the west coast was that almost every restaurant I went to had a dedicated mocktail menu. I'm not talking about fountain soda and maybe a fresh lemonade, but actual mocktails that were delicious and made me not feel like I was missing out. I feel like that trend hasn't really hit Austin, and you typically have to tell the bartender what you generally like in a cocktail and cross your fingers while they give you stink eye and mix something at the bar. I was pleased that they had four different house-made sodas with special syrups they make in house. I tried the grapefruit and the strawberry with rhubarb bitters versions, but they also had one with cantaloupe and another with cucumber and jalapeno.

The cocktail portion is brought to you by Luke:

You didn't think we were going to the Punch Bowl Social without talking about the punch did you?  I tried three different drinks: One with mezcal, one with moscato-flavored SKY vodka, and one with chai tea, coconut, and rum.  All were very refreshing, but my favorite by far was the rum&chai.  None of the drinks were overly strong or sweet. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Herby Green Sauce + Grilled Fig, Ricotta and Arugula Pizza

If you're like me, fig season is just like Christmas! This year, the fig tree we planted after we moved in 2 years ago produced a whole 4 figs (we only got to eat one, slightly underripe - the birds got the other ones)! I'm hopeful next year we'll get a bowl-ful and the year after will have even more! In the meantime, I rely on the kindness of neighbors with better-established fig trees who have more figs than they know what to do with, or buying them in the store (the perk there being lots of varieties to try! And, they've been on sale which is always a perk - I buy a pint of figs every time I shop these days). 

So, even if you don't have a fig tree, that doesn't mean you can't make this recipe. If you're one of those people who don't like figs, I think a ripe plum would be an excellent substitute here. 

Appreciations to Jeanine of Love and Lemons - I was inspired by her ripe for Fig & Ricotta Flatbread Pizza posted earlier this month. Especially with the inclusion of pesto, since I made a delightful herby green sauce that I've used several ways. It's pesto-esque, but since there is no cheese or nuts, it's not a true pesto. So first off, the sauce:

Herby Green Sauce

4/5 a bunch of cilantro, stems included
Heaping handful of fresh basil leaves (about 20 leaves)
3 tablespoons roasted, salted sunflower seeds (pepitas would be nice here too)
2 cloves garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place herbs, sunflower seeds, garlic and lemon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined. With the processor running, pour the oil in through the spout to combine. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper to taste. If it's a little thick for your preference, add in water by the tablespoon until desired consistency is reached. 

If you plan on using this a few different ways, you  may want to leave on the thicker side so you can thin as needed for additional uses. I added in a tablespoon of freshly roasted Hatch chiles to use on top of grilled chicken and rice - nice kick!

Grilled Fig, Ricotta and Arugula Pizza

1 pound pizza dough (mine was purchased fresh from the pizza counter at the grocery store. You can also buy frozen dough or make your own!)
4 tablespoons herby green sauce OR store-bought pesto
16 ounces ricotta cheese (I like buying good quality ricotta from the specialty section of the store, full fat. But, follow your heart on this one) 
5-6 ounces fresh arugula
1 pint fresh figs, sliced
2 ounces pancetta, crisped up and then chopped
Balsamic vinegar for drizzling
Salt and pepper to taste

Start charcoals in a chimney start (we heat a lot of charcoal so that the grill will get HOT) or set your gas grill to high heat.

Divide dough into two balls. Stretch first dough ball on a floured wooden cutting board - get this as thin as possible without tearing the dough. Prick the dough a few times with a fork to prevent bubbles when the dough cooks.

When grill is hot, flip the dough onto the grill. Close the top and let grill 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Flip it over (there should be some nice grill marks. Let cook another minute on this side. Quickly spread 2 tablespoons herb sauce/pesto over the dough and half of the ricotta cheese. Let dough cook another 30-45 seconds, then pull off the grill.  Repeat with second dough ball.

Top pizza with arugula, figs and pancetta. Putting your thumb over the top of the balsamic bottle, lightly drizzle the top of the pizza. Season with salt and pepper. Cut each pizza into 6-8 pieces and enjoy!

Note: If you don't want to grill, you can easily replicate this in the oven. The cast iron method would work well.