Tuesday, December 27, 2011

New Food Resolutions: 2012

For 2011, I listed out a few ingredients I either never cooked with or hardly did, and I thought doing a similar exercise would be good for this year. There were some dark horses that snuck their way on my list and now I would never turn back on (I'm looking at YOU cauliflower and Brussels sprouts!). Looking at last year's list, however, I didn't do all that well (we'll blame it on the ever-so-small life event that was our engagement and wedding):

  • Eggplant - Yeah, I'm still not a fan.

  • Tofu - I experimented with tofu during my Vegan Week and enjoyed it, though it still isn't a favorite and definitely doesn't make an appearance all that often on my table.

  • Mussels - Sadly I didn't get to this one. It's going on the 2012 list.

  • Tarragon - While I didn't cook much with tarragon, I had it in a few more dishes and discovered I really just don't like it.

  • Fennel - See Tarragon :)

  • Leafy greens (kale, mustard greens, etc.) - This was by far my greatest 2011 resolution success. Due in large part to the green smoothies Luke and I now drink every morning and to fun and sassy salads, we've incorporated more leafy greens in our diets. This will definitely continue into the New Year.

Here's to hoping the 2012 food resolutions go a bit better!

  • Goat - now that this is becoming a bit more "main stream" I might need to take a stab at cooking goat. Let's see how it goes!

  • Tamales - After reading a bunch of fun Christmas posts on different variations of tamales and enjoying some at my mother in law's house for Christmas, I'd like to try these this year.

  • Homemade ravioli - you've seen my post on homemade pasta. Now I want to take it a step further to make some delicious homemad ravioli. Hoping to accomplish this by February!

  • Indian cuisine - I never make it, that's sad. Also, I never eat it except for the Indian offerings at the hot food bar at Whole Foods. This year, that's all changing!

  • Make my own tortillas - how have I never done this?! Luke and I go through taco phases, but I have a feeling once I master the tortilla, they'll be a lot more frequent.

  • The whole bird: Other than occasionally roasting a whole chicken, I rarely opt for the larger cuts of meat or the whole bird. Not only is it a better value to buy it all, but often you get a great deal more flavor by cooking larger cuts.

I also realized earlier this week that I don't have a basic mac and cheese recipe on the blog (a crime considering how much I love it and make it!) anything else you're hoping will appear in 2012?

Thanks for another great year,


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Second Place Gumbo

This year for the Whole Foods communications team holiday party, we did a gumbo cookoff with three categories - seafood, vegetarian and combo (i.e., anything goes!). The prize for each category? A trip for two to New Orleans!

I enjoy gumbo but had never tackled it myself, but I wasn't about to let me shy away from competition (and a potential free trip)! After doing tons of research and enlisting the help of my old roommate Rachel, a cajun to boot, I started testing. After the fourth try, I found my perfect gumbo. Did I win? Sadly no, but my second place gumbo was delicious and many loved it. Give it a try!

Seafood Gumbo


~ 1 pound shrimp shells, unrinsed (I asked my seafood counter to set some aside for me since I didn't care to peel that many shrimp myself!)
2 onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic cloves, minced

1 lemon, sliced

handful of black peppercorns
2 bayleafs
1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 gallon water

1 cup diced onion (1/4 inch dice)
1 cup celery, thinly sliced
1/2 cup green bell pepper (1/4 inch dice)
2 tablespoons minced garlic (5-6 cloves)

1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup flour

3 quarts shellfish stock
1 heaping tablespoon Tony Chacheret's (or Cajun seasoning of your choice)

1 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (I like 30 count)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 pound lump crab meat
1/2 - 1 teaspoon Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste
parsley, to garnish

For the stock, combine all in a large dutch oven or stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer an hour or more. Strain out solids through a mesh sieve and place broth in a container and refrigerate. This should make about 3 quarts. I prefer to make this at least one day before just to break up the gumbo process.

For the gumbo, prechop the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic and set next to your pot. This might be a good time to grab a beer or pour yourself some wine, since you're about to camp out at the skillet and not leave for a good long time.

To make the roux, heat a large cast iron pot or dutch oven on high heat. Add oil and bring to a high temp, almost smoking. Turn heat to medium high (or medium if it's your first time making roux!) and add the flour, 1/3 cup at a time, whisking constantly to combine. Once all the flour is added, get into a good rhythm of constantly whisking the pan, covering the middle and going around the edges to prevent scorching. If black flecks appear, you've scorched it and it's time to start again :( Continue whisking for 25 - 30 minutes to obtain a dark caramel color. If you're cooking at a lower heat, this could take 45 minutes to an hour.

Turn off heat and add the vegetables and stir to combine well. Turn heat back on medium and let vegetables cook in the roux for about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly.

Now add the refrigerated broth (don't warm it first!) and whisk well to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring often, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Now's the time to add the spices and let it simmer for at least an hour, stirring often and skimming as needed to remove the excess oil.

After an hour, toss the shrimp in paprika then add it to the gumbo and let it cook about 5 minutes until done. Stir in the lump crab and bring it up to temp, about 2 minutes. Add Tabasco to taste and season with salt and pepper.

Serve gumbo over steamed white rice and garnish with parsley. Note that if you're making gumbo in advance of eating it, wait to add the seafood until when you reheat it so that it doesn't get tough. You'll thank me later!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shepherdess Pie

After reading more magazine articles than I care to admit about utilizing Thanksgiving leftovers, I thought I'd break out of the sandwich mold and get a little creative. Don't get me wrong, I had a delicious sandwich yesterday too, but I wanted to branch out with the sides. Cue the truffled mashed potatoes! I used these beauties to glam up a comfort food favorite - Shepherd's Pie. I had some extra veggies sitting around leftover from making a stock, so all I had to grab really was so ground meat.

If you don't have truffle oil to add to your potatoes, you could try a teaspoon of truffle salt as well.

Truffled mashed potatoes

2 pounds russet potatoes
3 tablespoons butter
~ 1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon truffle oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, chopped (optional)

Peel potatoes and cut into 2 inch pieces. Place in a large pot of cold, salted water (that covers the potatoes) and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and replace in warm pot. Add butter and milk and blend until smooth, adding more milk or butter to taste. Stir in truffle oil, salt and pepper and thyme if using.

Shepherdess Pie

1 pound ground lean lamb
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
4 ounces fresh spinach
Truffled mashed potatoes
1 cup white cheddar (such as Seaside), grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, cook the lamb until browned over medium heat, about 7 to 8 minutes. Drain the fat and set aside in a bowl. Add the oil to the skillet then throw in the onion, carrots and galic and saute about 5 minutes on medium, until soft. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir in rosemary. Add spinach and stir until just beginning to wilt, about 1 minute.

Add lamb mixture to a 2 quart baking dish and top with an even layer of mashed potatoes. Sprinkle with cheese and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Snuggle up and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Noble Pig Charcuterie

I don't think I've ever been to a charcuterie before. I certainly didn't know what exactly it meant until I looked it up on Wikipedia. Basically a charcuterie is a specialty shop that sells preserved meats, especially pork based ones.

I had also never been to Noble Pig, although it's been on our list of places to visit for a while. When Noble Pig invited us to come sample some of the new items they will be serving from their about-to-open charcuterie, we found it hard to refuse.

Like I said, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I think I was expecting something more like a very fine deli. I was pleasantly surprised to find quite an assortment of imaginatively prepared and preserved meats. Of course sausages and pastramis were available, but also on the list was prosciutto, terrine (both linguisa and pork), duck pate, and finally spiced pork rillettes.

All of the meats were delicious, but the toppings and garnishes were also a large part of the flavors. On the menu were compotes, 2 different kinds of pickles (each equally attractive), and apricot mustarda. All the different flavors were light and crisp enough that both Lindsay and I went back for seconds!

I'll certainly be back to Noble Pig for some sandwiches next time I get a craving (although check their website, currently they are mostly open for breakfast and lunch), and I'll also be keeping TNP Charcuterie in mind for party plates of pate or terrine.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mrs. Apron Tackles Thanksgiving - TWICE!

Greetings from the new Mrs.! The wedding was such a wonderful blur of happiness, fun and love. Luke and I had such an amazing time celebrating with our friends and family. We then quickly jetted off to the Dominican Republic to experience our first all inclusive resort. The food was not the best part, but the resort was lovely and we had a blast!

Coming back to the states immediately thrust me into the holiday spirit. I absolutely LOVE Thanksgiving (a holiday celebrating food? Yes please!!) I'm thrilled to get to celebrate TWICE this year - once with the Robisons and again with the Lehfelds. My sister and I host Thanksgiving at her house and start planning several weeks in advance, complete with a multi-page itinerary to keep us on track. These are our usual suspects:

- Brined and roasted turkey (this year we're letting my brother in law fry it!)
- Truffled Pommes Anna (We ALWAYS Make mashed potatoes, so this is pretty daring for the Lehfelds. But with such a high recommendation from Cooking Inside the Lines, we're going for it!)
- Homemade green bean casserole with a fontina cream sauce
- Cornbread stuffing with prosciutto (This is a DELIGHTFUL recipe from Eddie V's that we've slightly adapted. It's not online that I'm aware of, so I posted it below)
- Sweet Potatoe Casserole (this is, surprisingly, a new one for us. My sister is making, and I'll be sure to share her recipe!)
- Honey baked ham (I know Thanksgiving should be all about the turkey, but we just LOVE ham (and especially the leftovers!) )
- Pumpkin pie courtesy of my mom :)
- Plenty of wine

For the Robisons, I'm bringing in some Brussels sprouts. Like my family, they're a little skeptical, but little do they know that when you cook them in rendered bacon fat, they're IRRESISTABLE. Coupled with that I'll be making my to-die-for apple crumble pie and creamy pumpkin pie.

What are your Thanksgiving traditions? Do you stick strictly to the rulebook or adventure out every year?

Cornbread and Prosciutto StuffingSlightly adapted from a recipe provided by Eddie V’s

3 ribs of celery, finely chopped
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
4 sprigs of fresh sage, chopped
1/3 lb. prosciutto
3 boxes Jiffy cornbread, prepared
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of whole salted butter
1 pint of chicken stock, plus extra as needed
2 teaspoons of poultry seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine oil and butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add celery, onions, poultry seasonings, salt and pepper and saute until tender. Next add prosciutto and herbs, stir to combine.

Crumble cornbread into mixture leaving sizable chunks, then gently combine. 6. Gently fold to combine. Add enough chicken stock to moisten, and allow to heat through.

Cook in oven for 10 minutes, then enjoy!

My sister and I hosting our first Thanksgiving together in 2009!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Please hold...

Apologies for the lack of blogging lately! Turns out wedding planning takes up a lot of a girl's free time - who knew?! That said, I did want to share this tasty gem with you - only the BEST PIZZA I'VE EVER MADE. It's funny, because I made this on a night when I was feeling totally lazy and didn't want to try that hard. Sometimes, laziness pays off :)

Sun Dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Pizza

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound whole wheat pizza dough (I picked mine up from the Whole Foods Market pizza guys)
1/4 cup prepared pesto (I had some leftover from dinner a few nights before)
1 4-oz jar sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1 4-oz log goat cheese
5-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Pound chicken breast to 3/4 inch thickness and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill on a grill pan until done. Set aside to rest, then cut into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread out pizza dough on a baking stone or baking sheet and spread evenly with pesto, getting close to the edges. Bake in the oven until set and beginning to brown, about 8 minutes.

Remove pizza from oven and cover with sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese, then top with chicken. Bake an additional 4-5 minutes until goat cheese is melting and crust is golden. Remove from oven and top with fresh basil. Slice it up and enjoy!

See, it's so good we ate half of it before we could take a picture :)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Wink Restaurant Review

Today Lindsay and I shared our anniversary together. In order to celebrate our two years together as a couple, I took us to Wink, located on Lamar just north of 6th Street. For some reason we hadn't been to Wink yet, despite it being high on our to-do list (and many Best of Austin lists) of date-worthy restaurants for some time. One of the amazing things about Wink is their dedication to fresh seafood and produce from local producers, and their constantly (daily!) changing menu to accommodate the ingredients they have available.

We were still feeling a little full from a slightly-too-late lunch, so we forwent the 5 course Chef's tasting menu for a hand-picked 3 course meal. Narrowing our list down to only 6 unique choices was difficult considering the wide range of options available, but we eventually settled on our decision.

First Course:

Arugula Salad - A delightful starter with oranges and a refreshing lemon cream dressing.

Tuna Poke - Even though this was the first course on the chef's tasting menu, I thought it was a little heavy to start with. The Poke was a bit under-salted, though eaten with the plantain chips it was perfectly balanced.

Second Course:

Dayboat Scallops - Incredibly tender, although a little too salty (even for me) at certain bites. The bright pink prickly pear cactus sauce was a very pretty and appropriately sweet counter-flavor, but we wanted more of it!

Steamed Pei Mussels -An ample bowl of very tender mussels in a white wine sauce with some shaved elephant garlic scattered throughout. I was a little disappointed that the jalapeno flavor didn't shine though more but pleased with the amount of mussels provided.

Third Course:

New York Strip - A thick and nicely cooked grassfed steak, but nothing about the plate really impressed me, with the possible exception of the incredibly flavorful kennebec potatos.

Seared Foie Gras - We both voted this the best plate we had. Served on a slice of brioche with a sweet almond crumble in a pear port reduction on the side. I'm not a huge fan of Foie Gras, so the meat itself didn't excite me (but Lindsay thought it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious), but the brioche provided nice body, and the sweet nuts and pears combined well to make the dish exceptional. The pear port reduction was such a nice sweet contrast, we were one step away of licking it off the plate for dessert!

Overall the waitstaff and ambiance was very good. Our waitress was rather brief and unenthusiastic, and didn't describe the first course she set down, but the front of house manager delivered the rest of the dishes to us with a detailed description and a smile. I received a very considerate confirmation call on the day of our reservation, and despite my failing to mention our anniversary (much to Lindsay's disappointment, they typically make unique menus), they were eager to satisfy my request for a table with some ambient light for pictures.

We were very pleased with our visit, but had a couple of critiques. Even though Wink prides themselves in being an "un-pretentious white tablecloth parlor," we both felt that the decor inside and the external face of the restaurant left a little to be desired considering we were paying $15-$30 per plate. While the ingredients used were highly local and fresh, often the dishes didn't quite come together to give you the "oh my god this is amazing" reaction (more of a "wow this is really good" reaction). I found nothing really wrong with any of the dishes but was only impressed with the foie gras.

We certainly plan on returning to Wink. Their constantly changing menu and intimate atmosphere make for a very romantic date night, but next time I'll be sure to let them know ahead of time what we are celebrating in order to stay out of trouble :)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Simply Spiced Salmon and Chickpea Salad AND....

My 3 year blog anniversary! That's right, Apron has come a long way. Now in addition to original recipes, you can sometimes find fun reviews here by my partner in blogging and soon-to-be partner in life, Luke. We've been all a-flurry with wedding planning, not leaving as much time as I'd like for cooking, and even less for blogging! Luckily, simple dishes like the one below have been sustaining me during this stressful but exciting time. Looking forward to the next year of Apron's Adventures!

Simply Spiced Salmon and Chickpea Salad
Based off Cooking Light's Cumin-Spiced Chickpeas and Carrots with Couscous

1 cup chicken broth
Zest and juice from 1 lemon
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 carrot, grated
1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup steamed, chopped broccoli
4 cups warm cooked couscous
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon chipotle pepper powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound salmon, skin removed

Whisk together broth, lemon zest and juice and tomato paste in a small bowl and set aside. Heat a large skillet on medium-high heat and warm 2 tablespoons oil. Add chick peas a cook a few minutes until beginning to brown, then set aside on a plate. Heat remaining oil and add vegetables and saute 3 to 5 minutes. Add in cumin, salt and pepper, cayenne and toss to coat. Then add reserved broth mixture and simmer about 3 minutes. Stir in steamed broccoli and remove from heat.

While vegetables are cooking, heat oil in a medium non-stick pan. Combine chipotle powder, cumin and salt and rub over both sides of salmon. Cook salmon in hot skillet about 4 minutes on each side.

Place bed of couscous on each plate and top with chickpea mixture. Top with a piece of salmon and a few dollops of greek yogurt. Sprinkle with cilantro and enjoy!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cooking Light's Market Salad

Thank you, Cooking Light, for providing the recipe for the most delicious salad I've ever had. And yes, this even beats out the bacon salads that are plentiful on my blog - well, most of them :)

Why oh why do I love thee, Market Salad? Here are the reasons:
1. Perfectly roasted beets
2. Juicy tomatoes
3. Delightfully tangy, satisfying and light vinaigrette dressing
4. Crisp green beans and chickpeas adding substance and texture
5. Did I mention the beets?
6. Fresh herbs (I used basil and mint instead of tarragon and mint, because that's what I had!)

Ok, if you're not convinced, read through the recipe below. Here's a link to the original, and below is my slightly tweaked version. Thanks again Cooking Light!

Market Salad with Goat Cheese and Shallot Vinaigrette
2 medium beets (about 3/4 pound)
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (CL's version calls for Heirloom tomatoes, but alas, I forgot to pick them up. The cherry tomatoes were fantastic, but try with heirloom if you have them!)
2 cups spinach
1 cup arugula
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled goat cheese

Preheat oven to 350°. Scrub beets with a brush and wrap in heavy-duty foil. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until tender. Remove from oven; cool. Put on plastic gloves if you have them to avoid staining your hands. Trim off beet roots and stems; rub off skins. Cut each beet into 8 wedges. I did this the night before to make the salad assembly quick!

Cook beans in boiling water 4 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and plunge beans into ice water; drain well. Combine beans and chickpeas in a large bowl and add in beets and sliced tomatoes.

Combine shallots and the next 8 ingredients (through pepper) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Pour half of dressing over beans, chickpeas, beets and tomatoes and toss to combine. Add in greens and goat cheese, then pour remaining dressing and toss.

Photo courtesy of John Autry; Styling: Leigh Ann Ross

Monday, June 20, 2011

Prosciutto, Watermelon and Feta Salad

There are some classic watermelon pairings that get used every summer, whether it's watermelon and feta, or maybe watermelon and fresh herbs. I have a hard time committing to just one pairing, so I threw together some of my favorite watermelon combos into one salad - and the result was delicious! The juicy watermelon, the salty prosciutto and feta, the crisp cucumber and the bright herbs all worked together for a refreshing summer meal. Give it a try!

Prosciutto, Watermelon and Feta Salad

3-4 cups seedless watermelon, diced (about 1/2 personal dized watermelon)
2 ounces proscuitto, chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
4 leaves fresh basil, sliced
4 leaves fresh mint, sliced
1/4 cup crumbled feta
2 cups arugula
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Peel the watermelon and dice into bite-sized pieces. Toss with prosciutto, cucumber, herbs and feta. Add arugula and squeeze lemon juice, then finish with olive oil and salt and pepper to toss to combine. Enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Updated Chicken Salad

I have a love/hate relationship with chicken salad. When done right, it can be decadent, flavorful and satisfying. When done wrong, it can be both dry and too mushy at the same time with little flavor and too much mayonnaise. I made this one to have on hand for quick and easy lunches at work - a great midday meal!

Updated Chicken Salad

3 cups chicken breast, shredded (I purchased a rotisserie chicken from the store- so easy!)
1 cup low fat, plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons diced shallots
3 ribs celery, sliced
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 lemons, zested and juiced
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine chicken, yogurt, shallots, celery, raisins and almonds in a large bowl. Add lemon zest and juice and parsley, then season to taste. Serve over spring greens or with some tasty bread.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chickpea Arugula Salad

Need a tasty lunch or a light, pre-workout dinner? This is a great way to use items you probably already have on hand (no arugula? no problem. Sub in spinach or other leafy greens). This was the perfect weeknight meal that got me through a strenuous cardio session at the gym and came home feeling great. Give it a try!

1 14-oz. can chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large lemon, zested and juiced (I made this with 2 lemons the second time for a real pop!)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano (the good stuff, it's worth it)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
4 cups fresh arugula
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a skillet on medium heat. Toast chickpeas for 4-5 minutes until almost fragrant. In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon zest and juice. Add in basil, cheese, almonds and arugula. Toss and season with salt and pepper. Add in chickpeas and enjoy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sweet Heat Shrimp, Mango and Avocado Salad

Often when Luke goes out of town, I either use that time to catch up on happy hours with friends and eating out, or I make a large vat of homemade mac and cheese and live off of that for several days. Since neither of those are particularly healthy options AND I've got a wedding to look forward to (no date yet!), I needed to focus on some gentle, nutritious meals for one. This salad was simple and FAST to make, and I made it to the gym afterwards feeling energized and not stuffed. You'll love the sweetness of the mango and honey, creaminess of the avocado and the little kick of the red pepper. Give it a try!

Sweet Heat Shrimp, Mango and Avocado Salad

1/4 pound shrimp, deveined and tails removed
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1 lime
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups spinach
1 Ataulfo mango, diced (these are the little yellow ones you might know as Champagne mangos - SO addictive)
1/2 small avocado, diced
1-2 small radishes, thinly sliced

Preheat a nonstick skillet with olive oil on medium high heat. Season shrimp with salt and pepper, then cook 1-2 minutes on each side, until curled up and pink. Place in a bowl and top with honey, lime and red pepper and toss to combine.

In a medium bowl, combine spinach, mango, avocado and radishes and toss. Top with spinach and toss to combine and dig in!

Mastering the Art of a Julia Child Dinner Party

I just celebrated another birthday, but this time, I brought the celebration to my friends - via Julia Child. I've been a longtime fan of hers as I mentioned in a blog post a while back, and after watching Julie/Julia with a glass of wine in hand one too many times, I decided I wanted to spend my birthday with a full Julia experience.

A few cute decorations were in order, but I didn't want to buy a bunch of random items I wouldn't be able to use again, so I got creative. Since our dinner table is small, I pulled out a card table and then just got a nice, clean tablecloth to cover it. On top I have some antique blue mason jars from my grandma that I put some simple roses in. On a tri
p to World Market I came across a cute little Eiffel Tower replica and chalkboard for a perfect Julia saying - Bon Appetit! Votive candles and wine corks did the rest - along with Edith Piaf playing in the background to set the mood.

Like any dinner party, if you plan well enough, it's quite simple to pull off. Luckily I had a resource for recipes (Mastering the Art of French Cooking of course!). I thought a simple start of french bread and cheese paired with artichokes with a lemon beurre sauce would be a gentle way to start the evening. And, with my sister in town to be my sous chef, she tackled the artichokes from start to finish!

Thanks for the help sis!

For the main course, I went with the tried and true Bouef Bourguignon that I'd blogged about in the past. Although the dish takes about 4 - 4 1/2 hours from start to finish, there's a lot of down time perfect to clean yourself (and your kitchen!) up.

For dessert, I made the Reine de Saba (chocolate almond cake) from her book. It was simple and small, perfect for a dinner party without a whole bunch of cake leftover to stare me in the face for a week!

I had to dress the part of course! Pulling off the Julia look wasn't tough. A simple buttoned shirt, knee-length skirt and pearls were the basis, and I made my own Ecole des Gourmands pin. I had a wig sitting around that a few clever placements of bobby pins gave me the perfect hairstyle for the evening. The finishing touch was of course one of my trusty aprons.

The most important part of a dinner party is the company you keep. Many thanks to my gentle friends for spending my birthday evening with me, bring wine to pair with the courses and for dressing like Parisians!
Cheers to a gentle birthday!

Thanks friends :)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Spicy Mediterranean Steak Salad

Well, I managed to survive vegan week, but it confirmed my joy for meat and dairy, so while I may enjoy a vegan meal every now and then, there won't be any big changes on Apron Adventures.

BUT, speaking of changes, this Apron will become a Mrs! My photographer, taste-tester and fellow contributor Luke proposed last week. Stay tuned for wedding details! In the meantime, be on the lookout for more health-conscious meals as this apron works to fit into the ultimate - a wedding dress! But, I do need to satisfy my palette, so no frou-frou here!

Spicy Mediterranean Steak Salad

1 pound skirt steak
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 small golden potatoes
1/2 red onion, sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and sliced
6 ounces mixed greens
1/4 cup crumbled feta
1/4 cup pitted olives, sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette

Marinade the skirt steak in 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper for about an hour. In the meantime, slice potatoes into 1/2 inch pieces, spread on a baking sheet and coat with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes, finishing on a broil if needed.

While potatoes roast, preheat a cast iron skillet on medium high heat, add remaining olive oil and cook steak 3-4 minutes on each side. Remove and set to rest about 5 minutes, then slice.

While the steak rests, saute onions, bell pepper and jalapeno for about 3 minutes. To assemble salad, toss greens, feta, olives, and vinaigrette with roasted potatoes and cooked vegetables, then top with steak. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Vegan Day 3

Yesterday I was finally put to the test. We were offered free Annie's cafe for lunch at work, however there were no vegan options. I could've opted for a salad and asked for no meat, but I had already packed my Mardi Gras salad that I was looking forward to, so I went with that. Then, some sweet/evil colleagues ordered Tiff's Treats, which I again had to refuse. But, I felt like one tough cookie and not deprived at all, so I'll chock it up to a win.

One large component of my success yesterday was snacking on a KILLER olive tapenade I whipped up. So easy, yet so satisfying salty. Give it a try:

Olive Tapenade

1 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 tablespoon roasted garlic
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Pulse the olives and garlic in a good processor, then stream in olive oil to reach desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper and you're done!

I've been eating the tapenade with The Pioneer Woman's Olive Focaccia Bread, which is a favorite in our house.

For dinner, I had spotted Stetted's recipe for Indian-Spiced Mushrooms and Lentils a few weeks ago and knew I wanted to make it. She describes it as almost stew-like, and she's right! It was really satisfying. I didn't have any naan, so we ate some just with a fork and I tried some in a tortilla as well - pretty good! Also, I'd never prepared lentils before, so this was a fun experiment - they were easy! If you're looking to mix things up, definitely try this dish!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Mardi Gras Salad

Apologies for the bad photo, but I had a share an image of my "Mardi Gras" salad. Why you say? Why, look at the vibrant colors - the green from the basil dressing and salad and the vibrant purple of the beets are perfect to celebrate Mardi Gras! This was quite filling and surprisingly sweet, a delicious salad.

Mardi Gras Salad
1-2 beets
1 cup fresh basil
1 tablespoon roasted garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
5 ounces salad greens
1/2 cup prepared couscous
1 small carrot, shaved or grated

Coat the beets in olive oil and roast whole in a 375 degree oven for about an hour and 15 minutes. Let cool, then peel the skin and dice.

Meanwhile, to make the dressing, add basil, garlic and pine nuts into a food processor and pulse to combine. Stream in olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

To combine the salad, place salad greens, couscous, shaved carrot and diced beets. Top with desired about of basil dressing, toss and enjoy!

Veggie Wrap

Day one of the vegan experiment went well. I found that by being prepared with small snacks throughout the day, I was able to put off any hunger before it got so bad that I caved in for a non-vegan treat. Let's see if I can remain that strong for the reminder of the week.

I made this tasty and very filling wrap for dinner last night that satisfied my hunger and got me through an hour-long Body Jam session. Success!

Veggie Wrap

1 large whole wheat tortilla
2 tablespoons homemade hummus
2 tablespoons salsa of your choice
3 ounces salad greens
1/2 avocado, sliced
1/4 cup cooked black beans
1/4 cup couscous
1/4 red bell pepper, sliced
A few red onion pieces

Lay the tortilla out and spared the hummus over one half of it. Next spread the salsa over the hummus layer, then pile on the remaining ingredients. Wrap it up and enjoy!

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Great Vegan Experiment

If you've been a long-time Apron Adventures reader, or even if you haven't, you've probably noticed my affinity for cheese, bacon and other meat/dairy products. I find I often rely on them to make a dish pop. So, in order to step out of my comfort zone, and also just to see if I can, I'll be following a vegan diet today through Friday. This isn't to make a statement, rather just a friendly experiment to see if I can hack it.

So far, I've armed myself with homemade hummus and olive tapenade, almond milk for my morning coffee and ceareal, tons of fresh produce, grains such as quinoa, cous cous and lentils, and tofu. If you have any tips for this brave blogger entering a new world, they are much appreciated.

I'll be blogging along the way, so cheer me on since I know I'll need as much support as I can get!

Roasted Red Bell Pepper Hummus

1 red bell pepper
1 can chick peas, rinsed
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin
Dash cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
Approx. 1/4 cup olive oil

Roast the red pepper in the oven until skin begins to blister, turning occasionally. Place in a paper bag for about 1 minutes. remove the blistered skin and place in a food processor. Add the chick peas and galic and pulse. Add in seasonings and pulse, then slowly stream in the olive oil until a desired consisteny is reached. Enjoy with pita bread, fresh veggies or on your favorite sandwich.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Homemade Pasta

My sister gave me a pasta machine for Christmas and I couldn't wait to try it. I knew I wanted to save it for an evening where I'd have time to devote to it and have a special meal, so things kept coming up and I didn't get to use it until late February. This was well worth the wait and yielded the most perfect pasta. This recipe is a combination of tips from a couple food blogs I regularly follow - Annie's Eats and Life's Ambrosia. The whole process took a very enjoyable hour and a half.

If you don't have a pasta maker, you could still achieve similar results by using a rolling pin and hand cutting, so no excuses!

Homemade Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes, Olives, Parmesan and Pine nuts

1 cup all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 cup semolina flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic
8 sun dried tomatoes packed in oil
1/3 cup pitted olives, diced

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup shredded parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

To make pasta, combine flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and add eggs. Thoroughly combine, then turn out on a floured surface and knead about 8 minutes, until it's nice and elastic. Divide into 4 balls and cover with a damp cloth. Let set for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, prep the pasta toppings. Mince the garlic and slice the sun dried tomatoes and olive. Shred parmesan and set all ingredients aside.

Once dough has s
et for 20 minutes, lightly flour one ball and pass it through the pasta maker several times until you reach desired thickness, adding extra flour as needed to avoid sticking. Set aside for at least 10 minutes and continue with the 3 remaining balls.

Now, pass the stretched dough through the cutter for the desired shape. Lay out to dry out a bit, or hang on a pasta dryer if you have one (I don't and it worked out fine).

While pasta is drying out, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large nonstick skillet, warm olive oil. Add garlic and saute 30 seconds. Add sun dried tomatoes and cook about 2 minutes. Stir in olives. Keep warm.
Cook the pasta about 4-6 minutes in salted water until desired consistency is reached. Drain and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water. Toss in olive oil, tomato and olive mixture and add pasta water as needed for moisture. Add 3/4 cup parmesan and pine nuts and toss to combine.

Serve with additional parmesan for serving and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Italian Grapefruit Cocktail (or mocktail)

Following up on my Grapefruit, Beet and Salad recipe, with the additional Rio Star grapefruit we had on hand, I decided to make this Italian Lemonade recipe from Giada de Laurentiis, but with a twist. We enjoyed the first half of the batch with Italian sparkling water at our picnic, and the second batch we enjoyed with Champagne the next day at brunch!

Italian Grapefruit Cocktail

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 bunch basil
3 Rio Star grapefruit
1 bottle Italian sparkling water OR 1 bottle Chamapgne

First, make your basil simple syrup. Combine the water and sugar in a medium sauce pan and simmer until sugar evaporates. Stir in basil and simmer 5 minutes. Strain out the basil leaves and place in refrigerator to chill.

Next, juice the grapefruit so you have about 2 cups. If you're smart, you'll juice a few extra for more tomorrow (I did!)

To assemble the drinks, pour 1 part basil simple syrup, 2 parts grapefruit juice and 2 parts Italian sparkling water or champagne in a fun glass and stir to combine. Taste and add additional simple syrup to match your preference, but this ratio was perfect for me. enjoy!

*I wrote this post on my own free time and not for work. Full disclosure, TexaSweet Citrus is a client of mine, but I love Rio Star Grapefruit and wanted to post this anyway. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Grapefruit, Beet and Burrata Salad

Rarely do I have inspiration come from so many places to meet for one delicious dish. Let me explain: One of the food clients I represent is TexaSweet Citrus, and as part of a program we were doing right here in Austin to promote Rio Star Grapefruit, we hosted a dinner at FINO with several bloggers and area food media to enjoy a dinner with some juicy, red grapefruit. At the dinner, one of the dishes was a salad with red grapefruit, beets and burrata. I've been hearing a lot about burrata in the past few months but hadn't tried it yet. It was such a unique, luscious texture and flavor that I was determined to use it myself. I recalled Jodi of Tasty Touring mentioning they sell it here in town at Antonelli's Cheese Shop, so I went there to pick some up.

Another embarrassing confession, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've had beets, and I've never prepared them myself. This salad made me realize that they are, in fact, delicious! I asked Teddy from
Fun With Your Food about how to prepare them, and she said simply peeling and cubing them like you would squash, tossing with olive oil and salt and pepper and roasting a while would yield delicious flavor. Thanks Teddy - you were right!

Finally, while flipping through the March issue of Food and Wine, I came across a recipe for Spinach Salad with Citrus and Roasted Beets. Um, perfect! So, I tweaked this recipe by using fresh spinach instead of steamed and added in a healthy dose of burrata. This salad was delightful, I hope you'll try it!

Grapefruit, Beet and Burrata Salad

4 small beets
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 Rio Star grapefruit
6 ounces fresh spinach or spring mix
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
4 ounces burrata cheese, torn in pieces

Preheat oven to 350. Peel beets and cut into 1-inch dice. Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper; toss to combine. Roast about an hour to an hour and 10 minutes until they are tender.

Meanwhile, combine sliced red onion and red wine vinegar in a bowl and let sit for about an hour.

Slice the top and bottom off of the grapefruit, then stand on one end and cut off the remaining peel with a knife from top to bottom. Next, use your knife to cut along the section and pop out. Continue until all the sections have been cut out. Here's a link with better instructions and photos: http://texasweet.com/About-Texas-Citrus/Quick-Sectioning-Tips

Combine the spinach with sectioned grapefruit and roasted beets. Reserve 3 tablespoons of the red wine vinegar from the onions and whisk with remaining olive oil, dijon mustard and salt and pepper to taste. Toss with salad. Toss in burrata pieces with your fingers and enjoy!

Salad and a sandwich picnic with a view at Mt. Bonnell

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Trace Restaurant Review

Lindsay and I were recently invited to eat at Trace Restaurant located in downtown Austin in the newly opened W hotel. They had just hosted a blogger event and graciously offered us a $100 gift certificate to come back even though we couldn't made it. The ambiance was quiet and sophisticated, but with a very comfortable feel. High-backed velvet booths lined the walls and warm light shone from the corners of the ceiling on to the white chairs in the middle of the room. It was a quiet evening with only six other tables eating with us, and even though the music was soft, it was just loud enough to prevent us from eavesdropping on our neighbors.


We started off with a wild mushroom and polenta appetizer, which featured a farm-fresh poached egg. The egg was perfectly cooked and the creamy yolk really enhanced the polenta, but somehow the mushrooms fell a little short. We both liked it, but felt that the mushroom flavor was nothing out of the ordinary.

From there Lindsay ordered the crispy snapper while I had the rabbit pot pie. The snapper was decent, but best part about the dish was the pistachio pesto it was resting in. Despite the pesto, we both agreed that the rabbit pot pie was the better choice. The crust on top was moist and doughy with a beautifully glazed golden brown color. The filling was not creamy at all, but a delicious mix of garden greens and rabbit that wasn't dominated by too many carrots or celery.

With our meal we ordered two sides: crushed potatoes with garlic, and fried olives. Neither side impressed us, and we both felt that with an appetizer our sides weren't really necessary. The potatoes were good, but a little plain. I think I was expecting them to be a little creamier and more seasoned like a nice hearty mashed potato, but instead it was simply crushed potato with garlic. Lindsay and I had different thoughts about the olives. I thought that the green olive flavor was a little too strong and I simply couldn't eat more than two or three, but Lindsay felt that there was a little too much breading, and so couldn't bring herself to eat that much fried food. Between us we left three or four in the bowl.

We finished with a bourbon and chocolate pecan pie topped with vanilla ice cream with a chocolate swirl in the middle. To call it a pie would be unfair, it was more like a collection of glazed pecan halves bathing in a small chocolate puddle. Delicious.


I was intrigued by the cocktail menu, and managed to fit in two drinks: the tamarind margarita, and the peppercorn martini. Despite the fact that I couldn't find the tamarind flavor, I thought it was an excellently prepared margarita, so no fault there. Likewise I felt the peppercorn martini was dominated by the flavor of the basil leaf floating in it, but I still enjoyed the spicy aftertaste of pepper. We both loved the martini, so much so that Lindsay nearly didn't give it back after I let her taste it!


We both felt a little constrained for choices, especially when it came to picking an appetizer for two. The menu is divided into three sections: "shared", "small plates" and "large plates". Of the three shared options, only one was a small enough to be eaten by two, and of the small plates, 4/8 were either a soup or a salad. There were only five large plates, although two more specials were offered just before we ordered.

Overall we enjoyed many of the dishes, but were nonplussed by a few. The drinks were all well put together, and might make a promising happy hour or brunch. The ticket for the whole meal came out to be $150 for 4 drinks, 1 appetizer, 2 main courses, and 2 sides. A little on the pricey side, but we weren't holding back, and we left quite full.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lemon Parmesan Swordfish Steaks

Ok, so swordfish wasn't officially on my list of new ingredients to try for the blog, but I HAVE been meaning to attempt it. Luckily, this recipe was simple and ROCKED and I couldn't wait to share it. We enjoyed it with a simple Greek salad to utilize the lemon juice and the parmesan that I already had out and was grating :)

Since this was a Sunday meal, I prepared the Pioneer Woman's easy Olive Focaccia bread to go with it. It takes a few hours, but it has easy ingredients and takes little effort - give it a try!

Lemon Parmesan Swordfish Steaks

1 pound swordfish steak
Kosher salt
Crushed black pepper
2 tablespoons butter (divided)
2 teaspoons shredded parmesan
2 teaspoons lemon zest

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season swordfish with salt and pepper liberally on both sides (especially the pepper!). Heat a cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe pan) on medium high heat and melt 1 tablespoon butter. Cook swordfish about 4 minutes, then flip and place in oven, cooking for another 9 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine remaining 1 tablespoon butter with parmesan and lemon zest. Spread over swordfish and enjoy!

Simple Greek Salad

6 ounces spring greens
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, cooked and cooled
1/2 cup sliced olives, assorted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons shredded parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic vinaigrette

Two-for-One Sweet Potato Chili

I love chili, and while I have a few favorite recipes, it can be fun to mix things up. While perusing through the January 2011 issue of EatingWell, I came across their Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili and thought it would be a delicious and healthy way to satisfy my chili craving. Luke and I enjoyed it for lunch on a Saturday, and I had the idea to combine it with scrambled eggs on Sunday for a healthy spin on huevos rancheros. Yum!

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

From EatingWell Magazine, Jan/Feb 2011

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium-large sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chile
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups water
2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed (
I used only one can)
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
4 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add sweet potato and onion and cook, stirring often, until the onion is beginning to soften, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, chipotle and salt and cook, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds. Add water and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the sweet potato is tender, 10 to 12 minutes.

Add beans, tomatoes and lime juice; increase heat to high and return to a simmer, stirring often. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly reduced, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cilantro.

Sweet Potato Chili Scrambled Eggs

4 eggs

1 tablespoon milk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cups sweet potato & black bean chili (recipe above) - warmed up
1/3 cup shredded cheese (I used 2% mozzarella)
1/2 tortilla chips, crushed

Whisk eggs and milk together until thoroughly combined and season with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet on medium heat and melt butter. Poor in egg mixture and mix around with a spatula until nearly done - about 2 minutes. Add chili mixture and stir to combine, about 30 seconds. Top with cheese and stir. Serve with tortilla chips (or in a tortilla wrap if you have them on hand). Enjoy!