Weeknight Bolognese

I often get asked what I cook on weeknights.  Weeknight cooking is always a dilemma for me, because mostly everything I like to make requires ample time in the kitchen, which I no longer have.  I do have a few "somewhat" quick weeknight go to meals though. Spaghetti night is one of my favorites.  But, not just any spaghetti sauce will do in my house.  I tweaked my spaghetti sauce recipe to perfection, and I find that it's very doable after the work day, even with an 11 month old trailing me around the kitchen while grabbing at my legs :)  The sauce is insanely delish and I always make enough to freeze.  I do a mix of lean ground beef and Italian sausage.  But, you can go for ground turkey, chicken, and even soy.  It's the base of the sauce that really makes it.  I like my tomato sauce recipes to have a base of celery, carrot, and onion, better known as Mirepoix in French cuisine.  Every good sauce begins with a good foundation.  If you're in the mood to experiment, try sauteed fennel as one of your bases.  It adds a great twist to the flavor profile and will compliment the sausage.  Anyways, this is not your typical spaghetti night!  If it's too much for you to take on after work, make it on a Sunday and freeze.  


Malai Kofta

I don't cook Indian food very often...mainly because our parents are always making us loads of delicious food. Another reason is that if I ask my mom for a recipe, she'll be sure to leave out the main ingredient, or give measurements that make absolutely no sense! I find the same with a lot of Indian cookbooks. There's just always a key piece missing. But, my sis in law who also cooks fabulous Indian food, recently made us some of the most delicious, mouth watering dishes using recipes by chef, Tarla Dalal. Her recipes are so precise (which is very difficult w/ Indian food), and leave little room for failure. I bought a few of her recipe books, and so far everything I've tried has been a success. As with any recipe, you might have to tweak some (i.e., a little more spice here and there, etc), but the base of her recipes are very solid.

So, I'm obsessed with "themed" dinners. If I do Turkish food, I go all out by making kebabs, fresh pita, spreads, taziki, zucchini fritters, grilled veggies, etc. If I do Italian, I have to have the fresh foccacia, pasta, antipasti, meats, cheeses etc. If I do mexican....you get the idea.  A themed meal should be complete with all the apps, mains, accompaniments, and condiments. Neil finds this very annoying at times, b/c we can rarely have a "simple" meal. What's fun in simple food, I ask ???  For me, food is meant for celebration and enjoyment, and variety is key. When I did an "Indian night" using Tarla Dalal's recipes, I made Paneer Tikkis, Malai Kofta, Palak Paneer, Mushroom/Corn Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, and of course we had all the fixings (chutneys, naan, raitha, rice). It was quite a feast for two peeps! But, Indian food makes for great leftovers :)

Today, I'm posting the Malai Kofta dish. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, this dish is a must have for me. I even prefer it over any of the meat dishes. If made right, the Kofta (dumpling) should be fluffy, soft, moist and just melt in your mouth. The gravy it simmers in should be rich, creamy, a little sweet, and spicy. This recipe meets all of these requirements. Some of the ingredients will be hard to come by in a regular grocery store, but a good Indian store will carry it all. Try Indian food for your next themed dinner!



Corn & Black Bean Salad

Ring in Spring with this colorful, refreshing salad!  What makes this one different from other black bean salads is the addition of Cassava, AKA Yuca root.  The bite that it adds to this salad really brings it all together.  Cassava is highly underrated and probably the most overlooked root vegetable.  I'm trying to change that by using it every opportunity I get.  It's even sold at your local Safeway (at least it is at mine).  Sometimes, I simply steam the root, dice it and serve it seasoned with cumin, cayenne, salt/pepper, lemon, and olive oil.  It is addictive!  Of course, you can also fry it to make yuca fries which you may have tried at the Peruvian chicken joints.  If you do fry it, be sure to steam/cook it first, and then fry.  It is not like potatoes which can be fried from raw.  Experiment and make a mashed yuca for your next "meat/potatoes" meal, or a yuca hash topped with a runny egg.  Lots of possibilities  Potatoes, please step aside!

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Jalapeno Cheddar Bread



I've resorted to the fact that my updates to this blog are going to be extremely slow coming. While I've still been dabbling in new cooking experiments, I cherish any free time with my already 6 1/2 month old too much to be spending time posting. At the moment, she's taking a nap, so I'm sneaking in this recipe. I made this delicious, jalapeno cheddar bread during maternity leave and used it for festive sandwiches. These are filled with homemade jalapeno pesto, roasted peppers, avocado, tomato, and monterey jack cheese. No more description needed. Weekend lunch doesn't get any better than that! Till next time.....

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Chocolate Crackle Cookies

Wow, it's been a while! I wanted to get this one out for all of you participating in holiday cookie swaps. This year I added these chocolate "crackle" cookies to my holiday cookie baking. I can't get into the holiday spirit until I spend a day baking lots and lots of cookies. Each of these cookies has been a part of my daily diet lately :) Might have to do round two this weekend because I'm quickly running out! Wouldn't you much rather spend this last weekend before Christmas giving your home the aroma of cookies instead of standing in long lines at the dreadful mall?  Speaking of, I haven't even begun Christmas shopping...

See Recipe!
See Recipes for other cookies pictured!


Chili for the Soul

Maternity leave ended over a week ago and I'm slowly easing back into reality. I was fortunate enough to enjoy every moment of my leave with Jianna. Now I have weeknights and weekends with her :) My mom has been taking care of her during the day, which has been such a blessing. We're also still getting tons of home cooked meals from both moms :) While I love the fabulous food from the parents, I really need to get back into the kitchen, even if only once a week. The colder weather is officially here, so I thought to combat it with some hearty, homemade chili. I even kept Jianna in the kitchen with me for a little while as I spent the day cooking this simple meal. I really wonder what was going thru her little head. Everytime I looked in her direction, I was greeted with a huge smile and if I was lucky, even a squeal or giggle. These moments are so priceless.

I make a different version of this chili every Fall, and I make enough to last me throughout the cold months. I got the base recipe from my cousin, but as she conveyed to me, there really isn't a recipe for this. Just make it with your heart and soul, and there you have your recipe. She adds the secret ingredients of oranges and chocolate to the chili which really makes it unique. I'll do my best to give some general direction, but try to make it your own. Use the internet for some inspiration because you'll find that everyone has a secret ingredient. You'll find recipes that swear by beer, some w/ chocolate, others w/ chipotle peppers, etc. This time I decided, why not just use all three? Eating this on a cold night after hours of simmering in your kitchen is so comforting. Having my baby girl right next to me as I ate this heart-warming meal just felt like "home", which has taken on an entirely new meaning for me.

Chili always freezes great, so make some room in your freezer. I like to use some of the leftovers to make a "chili-mac". I really can't wait till Jianna starts eating. I hope my cooking agrees with her!

See Recipe!


Plum Frangipane Tart

As I was looking back at the postings on my blog, I noticed that I gravitate towards tarts, both savory and sweet. I suppose if I ever do anything professionally in the far, far future, tarts might be my niche. I recently made this plum frangipane tart after having tried it at Restaurant Eve. Neil's first question was "what's frangipane?"...and his pronunciation was quite comical. The simple answer is that it's a french almond cream "cake-like" custard most often used in tarts.

As I mentioned, I tried a version of this tart when we celebrated our anniversary at Restaurant Eve.  It was one of our first nights out without our little Jianna and I think we talked about her the ENTIRE time :)  Makes me wonder what we ever talked about before! My sister and cousins gave me a gift certificate there for my baby shower.  How cool is it to get a gift for mommy AND daddy at a baby shower instead of a gazillion bibs and onesies!?! Well, we jumped at the opportunity to use it, and indulged in the 5 course tasting menu.  For the last course, Neil picked the plum frangipane tart, and poor thing only got a bite, b/c I was devouring it.  So, I had to figure out a way to recreate it...for Neil, of course :)  I've made frangipane before, so all I had to do was top it with sliced plums.  The end result was a success, not exact, but a success nonetheless.  The only mistake I made was that I should have gotten the plums VERY ripe.  They were semi-ripe when I made this, and I didn't get as much plum flavor as I would have liked.  Anyways, this recipe is versatile.  Thanksgiving is next month.....maybe I'll make it with apples :)  I don't want to get anyone's hopes up (you know who you are), so don't quote me on this!

I had extra crust for some scrumptious mini-tarts too!

See Plum Frangipane Tart Recipe!

See Pie Crust Recipe!


Zucchini Tart

On July 14, 2010, I was blessed with a healthy baby girl. Jianna has brought pure love and joy to our home and I can't even imagine how I was living a life without her. Everyday now is an adventure.  She definitely keeps me on my toes! Taking care of her has been quite a learning process and once I finally think I've got the hang of it, she throws me for a loop. I have a feeling this will continue well into her adulthood :)

My culinary activities have been almost non existent for now. I have to admit, that's the one thing I really do miss. I thought that once on maternity leave, I'd have loads of time to make food, but I was in for a reality check! Between the infinite feedings, poops, and crying, sometimes I barely have time to take a shower. Thank god I have both my mom and mom in law to make delicious meals for us. But, all is not lost...I have been able to sneak in a few treats here and there :) Neil took some time off as well, so I took advantage of one of those days and made this zucchini galatte and a sausage/mushroom "risotto" for dinner. I actually felt like "me" again. The zucchini galatte is straight from smittenkitchen.com. The only additions I made were to add honey roasted cherry tomatoes and the zest of one lemon to the filling. I absolutely love the recipe. The great thing was that I could make different components of it throughout the day, so I wasn't stuck in the kitchen for a long period of time, allowing me to tend to Jianna as needed.

As I get closer to a routine and better adjusted to my role as a mom, I hope to update this blog more regularly. I'll be sure to post the sausage/mushroom "risotto" pictured here soon too. It was my first time making a risotto with Israeli couscous (which is so much faster) and I'm definitely going to do it more often. I also have a backlog of recipes that I need to post from when I was pregnant!

I can't believe I'm already 5 weeks into my maternity leave :( Jianna's changing constantly, and I love seeing what she has in store for me next. She already has quite a personality and has us wrapped around her tiny little finger. I'm simply in love. I posted a couple professional photos below that we took when she was only about 2 weeks old!



Avocado Salad

This is probably my last post for a little while.  The doctors decided that my little one is making her debut next week.  The 9 months have treated me wonderfully and I can only hope to be as lucky for D-day!

I wanted to leave you with something easy, summery, colorful, refreshing, and cool to the tongue..much needed with the extreme summer heat this year!  I served this alongside barbecue jerk chicken and it complimented the spicy dish beautifully.  This is yet another recipe that's entirely customizable to your tastes.  I swapped out parsley for cilantro.  You can also swap out lemon for lime.  Use chickpeas or fava beans instead of black beans.  Throw in some ripe, chopped mango for even more vibrant color and a touch of sweet.  Just make it yours!

I'll try not to be gone too long. Hopefully, my peanut gives me the luxury to continue my cooking/baking passion in due time.  The bumbo seat will sure come in handy on my kitchen counter :)  And soon enough, if she's willing, I'll have my very own sous chef, as I was for my mom :)

See Recipe!


Mushroom Tart

I made this savory mushroom tart a while ago and never got around to posting it. Tarts, savory and sweet make the top of my list of dishes I enjoy making and eating.  They can be made in advance, travel really well, look oh so gourmet, and somehow always taste better the next day.  This tart consists mainly of mushrooms, cheese, herbs, and custard in a buttery, flaky pie crust.  I go light on the custard part, so I call it a tart versus a quiche.  The crust is my staple pie crust I use for every savory tart.  This definitely isn't a quick one and making your own crust always takes some practice, but kitchen challenges are meant to be fun!  Posting these pictures is tempting me to make it again real soon.  I don't think it's in the cards given that D-day is only 3 weeks out, and quite possibly less!  Maybe during maternity leave if my peanut cooperates :)

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Sausage, Tomato, & Bell Pepper Pasta


About a month ago, we were out in The Plains, VA on our way home from our friend's family farm. Neil got hungry so we stopped off at this cute little market/restaurant for a quick dinner. Forlano's Market is a deli, butcher, and bakery with a focus on locally raised meats, produce, and cheese. I found it to be an adorable local gem that attracts a big local crowd. It seemed like everyone knew each other, and the vibe was pure fun and relaxation. Customers were lingering there for hours, sipping on wine, eating fabulous food, and simply catching up. The food is super fresh and the menu changes very often. They also have some great wines, which unfortunately I couldn't have :( While there, I had a delicious, simple sausage and pepper linguine. The fennel sausage was house made and absolutely incredible. We noticed customers buying sausage links to take home with them, so we followed suit. I've stored it in the freezer since then, and this past wkd, I decided that I better cook it soon before my peanut arrives and takes up all my time. No idea if I succeeded in recreating the dish, but I can guarantee that this concoction I ended up with is still delish!

Along with the pasta, I had a pizza craving, so we grilled a homemade pizza with roasted peppers, onions, and fresh mozzarella. If you haven't read my grilled pizza post from a year ago, it's an absolute must do this summer season!

Pizza and Pasta...doesn't get better than thatOk, maybe Pizza, Pasta and Wine :)...I'm almost there!!

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Hash Brown Crusted Quiche

I know I've been super lazy lately with keeping my blog up to date. I promise I've been cooking and baking! I just hate the writing part, and now I have a huge backlog of items to post on the blog. So, back in the 2nd trimester of my pregnancy, when I had spurts of random energy, I made this brunch for my cousins visiting from NY. It was also the first time we got to use our new kitchen table, and it worked out beautifully. Everyone fit comfortably for a change, and while we are by no means "civilized", it was still much nicer than having people hover over a small space, elbowing each other to get food :) I believe that with the new table, people even passed items to each other. Brunch was a hit and it was a wonderful way to break in the table and start to a gorgeous Spring day.
One of the items I made are these hashbrown crusted quiches. I got the idea from food network, but made my own variation for the quiche fillings. While I love all things "homemade", If you're making several brunch items, a "from scratch" crust isn't always practical. Using this hashbrown crust is a major time saver and so delicious. Who doesn't like a crispy potato crust? Quiche 1 was made with roasted red peppers, spinach, caramelized onions, mushrooms, chives and montery jack cheddar. Quiche 2 was made with chorizo, roasted red pepper, scallions, and a fun cilantro/jalapeno pesto to dollop on top. Have fun with this one and try your own variation. A simple asparagus and leek quiche would be a perfect compliment to the potato crust.
I'm now on week 35, and luckily still feeling great...not too much longer to go!
See Recipe!


"Pearl Pasta" with Mushrooms

I've only had "pearl pasta" at DC's Central restaurant. They make a creamy mushroom pearl pasta "risotto" that's just divine. But, what I loved most about the dish is the tiny little pearls. It looked so unique, elegant, and had a wonderful bite...very different from any other pasta I've ever had. Ever since then, I've been keeping an eye out for this cute pasta, with no luck. Recently, I came across a box of "Israeli Couscous" at Trader Joes that appeared to look very similar. I was thrilled to discover that it's exactly what I was looking for! It definitely tastes more like a pasta than couscous, but call it whatever you want. Neil calls it "addictive", and I think that's the best description. Israeli couscous will be yet another staple in my home.
I didn't make Central's version of it because I wanted something more summery and light. So, I made it with cremini/shitake mushrooms, lemon, dill, thyme, and chives. It's delicious, refreshing, and light. And unlike "risotto", it doesn't need to be served right away. This tastes fantastic at room temperature, so I suggest you take this dish to a friend's bbq this summer. That's what I made it for. Oh, and this also fits my "need for ease" right now :) I'm going to try the "risotto" version of it soon.

See Recipe!


Berry Buttermilk Cake

I'm nearing the "home stretch" of my pregnancy and as many of you have noticed, my cooking/baking has slowed down quite a bit...although eating hasn't :) Most everything I make now has to be fast and easy. This cake definitely fits the bill. You don't need to have any baking ability whatsoever for this one, yet your guests will see you as quite the expert. This is my go to cake whenever I have a last minute guest or making an elaborate dinner which requires a super quick dessert. And it definitely doesn't look or taste "quick". It's incredibly light and moist with the perfect sweetness and tartness from the berries. Look at how pretty this will look on your kitchen table for the sunny, warm months ahead! And you have the satisfaction of it coming freshly baked from your oven in the same time it would take you to go out and buy one. It's best served as soon as it's cooled to take advantage of the sugary crisp topping. The cake stands on it's own, but serving it with freshly whipped cream or ice cream is how I like it. Make it with whatever berries look good that day. You're really missing out if you don't try this one!


Balsamic Onion Salad

I've never been a salad person, but to balance out my increased consumption of pepperoni pizza, I've been trying to incorporate it into my diet for my little peanut. This is not at all easy for me given that my idea of a salad has always been potato or macaroni salad :) So, obviously not any salad will do. Luckily the traditional salad that I usually dodge can be easily reinvented into exotic goodness.
The word "salad" doesn't do this yummy dish justice. Loaded with balsamic onions, figs, nuts, and cheese, not only is it healthy, but it's absolutely delicious. Customize this to your own liking by switching out different types of nuts, cheese, fruit, etc. Adding some roasted chicken or even sliced steak makes this into a fabulous meal as well. I'm still not a "salad person", but I've come a long way :)

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Anytime we have Italian food at home which is quite often, I always make homemade focaccia. I love making my own breads, and this one is my favorite one. It's so worth the effort and far better than any store bought focaccia. It's pretty much identical to making pizza dough, consisting of the basics: high gluten flour, yeast, water, olive oil, and salt. The main difference is that it's baked in a super thick layer, and you make multiple dimples/indentations in the dough to create "rustic" look. Don't spend time trying to make it look pretty...the messier it looks, the better! Also, it usually doesn't have all the toppings a pizza would. In it's simplest form, a brush of olive oil along with a sprinkle of herbs and kosher salt is all you need. But, add away as you wish. You don't have to worry about over-topping this since it's thick enough to sustain any toppings. Pictured, I have one with tomatoes, basil, parmesan, and another with balsamic caramelized onions, parmesan, and gruyere. If Neil would give goat cheese a chance, I'd make one with roasted cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, and basil. Oh well....

I'm 26 weeks now and counting. Still no major cravings, although swedish fish have been appearing on my kitchen counter lately :)


Pad Thai

This is your basic pad thai technique that everyone should have if they ever attempt to make this at home. My cousin has been bugging me to post the recipe, and honestly I never got around to it, b/c I was being too lazy about writing it up. It's more so a technique than a recipe. If you follow it, I guarantee you'll be happy with the results. Plus, you'll feel so much better eating this knowing exactly what went in, versus your local takeout Thai. Customize the ingredients to make your own personal pad thai. I loathe bean sprouts, so I keep them out of mine :) The key to pad thai is using a wok, not over crowding your wok, and working very quickly. The biggest mistake people make with pad thai is trying to make a gazillion servings worth at one time. You'll just end up w/ a big mush of unflavorful noodles. I know it's annoying, but the best results are achieved by cooking only 2-4 servings at a time. So, I agree this is probably not the best dish to entertain with, but it's great for a night home w/ a few friends.

On a completely different topic, I know I've been a little slow with my updates lately. But, I have a decent excuse! Turns out that back in October, '09 when my kitchen oven crapped out on me, my "God-given" oven was pre-heating, and now I'm 5 1/2 months along with a baby girl on the way in July :) I was completely lethargic the first trimester, so my cooking slowed down, but, the 2nd trimester has been wonderful to me so far. Oh, and I haven't had any food aversions or weird cravings. Well, Neil thinks my nightly strawberry milk craving is a little bizarre and that it looks like I'm chugging Pepto Besmol. I guess it is weird, considering I haven't drank that stuff since I was 5 years old! I also crave a lot of pepperoni pizza, burgers, and meatballs (hence my recent meatball post). So far I've been blessed, and things are moving along beautifully. I don't know about the future life of this blog, as I prepare for the life of our 'peanut', but, I'll try my best!

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Spaghetti & Meatballs

This recipe doesn't make many appearances in my house, so it's a real treat for us. I rarely make these meatballs because, besides the tomato sauce and protein, this isn't exactly a "healthy" meal. Sure, you can make them healthy by using leaner meats like ground turkey, but what's the fun in that? I don't like substitutes, and have always been one to just stick with the real thing. These traditional meatballs were a blast to make. Sitting down to eat this comfort filled meal transported me to an italian home complete with "grandma's meatballs"...even though I made the meatballs :) You must try these meatballs. If you follow the directions, you are guaranteed the most fabulous, tender, mouth watering meatball. The secret lies in not overmixing or overpacking your meat. Also, I added milk-soaked bread to make them extra moist. I didn't add too many spices/herbs to the meatball mixture itself, because I wanted the natural flavors of the meat to shine, but play around with it as you wish. However, I can't stress enough, be very gentle with the meat. Overworking it will result in tough/dry meatballs. These freeze well too. I froze them and Neil ate very well during our massive snowstorms, chowing down on hearty meatball subs. I told him to make the most of them now because it'll be another year before he sees these again :)

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Chocolate Chocolate Cake

So after all my complaining of seeing no snow in No. Va for the last few years, we get slammed! This most recent snowstorm brought down two trees in my backyard, and Neil measured about 25 inches on our deck! But we got really lucky, because several people we know were out of power for the weekend, which is horrible. Despite our cabin fever, I must admit that the snow was a pleasant experience for us. Our neighborhood looked absolutely gorgeous, and being stuck inside with fully functional power, heat, water, and food was a blessing. That said, I won't run my mouth anymore, and I'm finally ready for an end to winter snow. However, mother nature has other ideas and we have more snow headed our way on Tuesday that could be an additional 10-20 inches!!!

Going back to the wkd storm...Neil even got us out of our neighborhood to make it to our friend's superbowl party on Sunday. The "party" turned out to be only 4 people, but hey, I was just happy to be out and about. We bought groceries early last week, so I had everything I needed to make this decadent cake. My last cake was strawberry, so I wanted to make chocolate this time...ALL chocolate. Hands down, my favorite chocolate cake recipe is an adaptation of Hershey's. This recipe yields the most incredible chocolate flavor with a wonderful moist, fluffy texture. To ice it, I found a luscious chocolate buttercream that has a unique taste due to the secret addition of ovaltine. I know it sounds weird, especially for me, because my memory of ovaltine is my mom forcing it down my throat and me refusing it. I hated anything deemed "healthy" when I was little. But don't knock this creamy, dreamy perfection till you've tried it! It's definitely the only chocolate buttercream recipe I'll use from now on, and the sole reason I have ovaltine in my pantry. I also threw in some homemade chocolate pastry cream and mini chocolate chips to fill/ice the cake. Is that enough chocolate in a cake? I thought it was sinfully perfect :)
At least I have leftovers to dig into as we anticipate the next big snow!