Boom Chakalaka

A non-successful hike - but never miss a photo op with B

I began Saturday with the intention of taking a little fall hike – the weather was beautiful, the sky was bright… the ground was still muddy from the aftermath of Irene and continued rain this week.  About 100 feet into the hike, we had to turn back around – my relatively new Nikes were already a muddy mess.  Ah well… what is a girl to do after walking 100 steps?!  Shop and eat.  We made a trip over to Stuvesant Plaza and grabbed lunch at one of my favorite spots – Bountiful Bread.  I ordered the usual – roasted Portobello salad, with cranberries, goat cheese, and pumpkin seeds. Mmm.  Make it – it’s easy, or go and order it, equally as easy, but in all reality I make this on my own all the time and it’s the perfect fall salad.  

Decided to do a night out for dinner with some friends – and BOOM – the food was amazing.  We went to the New World Bistro in Albany.  We had our own giant wooden table, and felt very special about it. 

Giant table for four

 

Dinner with (the soon to be) Mr. and Mrs. Jones

Our first order of the night included cucumber gin cocktails, a margarita, and something along the lines of a grapefruit Italian stallion.  We swapped sips and the verdict for all was good – so good that round two followed soon. 

Pour me up another round

For appe-teas-ers, we ordered the calamari, which has the perfect spicy kick, seared tuna, mini sliders, and butternut bisque.  Hands down, the butternut bisque takes the cake.  There was an extra special sweet flavor from the addition of some liquor, and I will be attempting to recreate this sometime next week.  Post to follow!

butternut bisque

 
 
 

Blue steel and seared tuna

For dinner, we ordered a few different things, but my favorite was the no crash brown rice risotto, filled with sautéed mushrooms.  We decided to go big with the dinner course and order a bottle of wine.  We chose the African Spice Route “Chakalaka” – “boom” was heard around the table, which means we really enjoyed it.

Anyone have a pen? Must add "boom"

 

I decided to make use of a Sunday football afternoon.  Football Sunday’s mean cooking for me, and football for B.  I decided to use this time to prep my lunch for the week.  No microwave at work so trying to get creative with some cold lunch salads.  This week – orzo pasta salad with grape tomatoes, artichokes, cannellini beans, dressed with a lemon basil oil. 

Orzo pasta salad

Ingredients:
1 ½ cups of orzo, which yields about 3 cups of cooked orzo
1 15 oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 ½ cups grape tomatoes
1 cup of artichoke hearts marinated in oil, chopped
1 cup of feta cheese, crumbled
salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes to taste

For the lemon basil oil:
½ cup basil leaves
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon of oil from artichoke hearts
1 garlic clove
1 lemon, juiced

  • Cook orzo according to package directions, drain, and rinse under cold water to cool. 
  • In a large bowl, combine orzo, grape tomatoes, cannellini beans, artichoke hearts, and feta cheese. 
  • In a small food processor, combine basil leaves, olive oil, garlic, oil from the artichoke hearts, and lemon.  Blend until you see a liquid dressing.  Pour over the orzo salad and stir until well incorporated. 
  • Season with salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Don’t be afraid to drizzle some additional olive oil over top.  Store in airtight containers and serve chilled or at room temperature.

Horsing Around is Just Dandy

I didn’t cook anything today for the first time in a while, but the day was full of tasty delights nonetheless. 

Started my day with a run on the bike trail which was so flooded from Irene.  I was in my own world with my ipod blasting tunes into my ears and giving my feet a beat to run with, when a trooper approached me and told me I was to leave.  I didn’t realize but at the time they were blocking off this road so nobody could drive through – oops – not sure how I sneaked through before, but it was tricky getting out.

Irene created a flood smack in the middle of a wooded area

 

Just a week ago this water was covered in lilly pads from being stagnant - now its flooding up the bike path!

 
Post run, I was famished.  I decided it was a good idea to make a mini trip up to Saratoga for some Plum Dandy healthy frozen yogurt with fresh fruit toppings I’ve been itching to try.  Walking to Plum Dandy, I passed the all natural health food store which had a mini lunch buffet – I obviously couldn’t resist the beets… or the pesto…
 

Love beets - on my plate or in my juice!

 
 
Ok, moving on to Plum Dandy – my new favorite place, I wish it wasn’t in Saratoga.  All natural frozen yogurt.  Some delicious looking flavors – but I choose 1/2 vanilla (my favorite) and 1/2 traditional plain yogurt (very healthy).  You serve yourself at the fixings bar – I choose fresh berries, kiwi, dark chocolate, and these little passion fruit/tea balls that pop in your mouth and spill out their juice.  Amazing.

My new favorite treat - I hope someone will take me there VERY soon

 

Hanging with the Saratoga horse while eating my yogurt!

 
 As I was sitting outside “horsing around”, eating my yogurt on a bench, BJ called me and told me that 87 South was closed due to flooding.  I had to fend for myself and find an alternate, much longer road home.  With nothing to do and nowhere to be, I didn’t mind all that much.  Not looking forward to my summer coming to a close – next week I will be in full swing when school starts back up.  Ah I love the summer – and now certainly an advantage of being a teacher – many more summers off to look forward to – just have to get through this dump of a teaching economy first!
 

We decided this Long Island wine is buttery, buttery, oaky - we are true wine spectators.

 
 On my drive home I found out our good friends were faced with evacuating their apartment because they live right on the river and the water was rapidly rising.  Thankfully the water did not reach their apartment – but they stayed with us and we had a fun dinner out to one of our local favorites, Yoshi Sushi.  With some encouragement from our friend, I tried some new sashimi that I wouldn’t usually order (eeeek) may have looked frightening but tasted delicious.   Oh, and the wine from Long Island was a delight – such a delight in fact that I wrote about it in my wine journal (given to me by Tara ❤ ) and the restaurant owner informed me that it is a good thing I have a future husband on my hands because keeping a wine journal, in her opinion, is just crazy.  She seemed very pleased and relieved to find that BJ knows of this “crazy wine journal” and still wants to marry me anyway. 
 

I love wasabi

 

I know some of you my gasp - mom especially - but these raw slabs of fish were surprisingly delicious

 
 

Come on Irene

Chocolate peanut butter cups for breakfast

Steel cut oats are a vehicle for chocolate peanut butter cups for breakfast! Well, not exactly, but sort of.  You will think you are eating peanut butter cups for breakfast – just the super healthy, stick to your ribs, and give you lots of energy kind of version

 For one serving:
½ cup steel cut oatmeal – cooked according to package directions
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

 Combine peanut butter, honey, and cocoa powder together, stir, eat.  You won’t be disappointed.

PB cup oatmeal

 

Peach Scones

I had some delicious looking peaches just ripened to perfection sitting on my table.  What beautiful peach scones these would make, I thought to myself.  I looked out my window feeling discouraged because of the rain/wind storm from Tropical Storm Irene and feared I would be giving up my Sunday trip to the Fresh Market.  Lucky for me, BJ has a truck, is a great driver, and wanted to explore the flash flooding.  Off to Fresh Market I went – I was one of the only people in the store, crazy – No, excited – yes.  Like a kid in the candy store I had the whole place practically to myself.  I grabbed a few necessities, a few non-necessities, and was off.  Back to our tiny kitchen to create the scones – smeared with some of the lemon curd I picked up at Fresh Market this morning.  My belly feels happy. 

These scones are just peachy

Ingredients:
2 small ripe peaches (about a cup worth)
2 cups of unbleached all purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup cane sugar
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
6 tablespoons of butter, cut into small pieces
2 eggs
½ cup of vanilla yogurt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup half and half
2 tablespoons cane sugar

  • Preheat your over to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper you could grease your baking sheet. 
  • In a large bowl, mix flour, salt, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, and baking powder.  Cut in the butter – I used a fork to do this.
  • In another bowl, beat together the eggs, yogurt, and vanilla.  Add to the dry ingredients.  Finally, add the peaches and mix until combined. 
  • The texture is somewhat sticky, so I decided to make drop scones instead of the fancy triangles.  Drop large balls of dough onto the baking sheet (lined with parchment paper).  Using a pastry brush, brush some half and half onto each of the scones, and sprinkle with cane sugar.  The half and half, I learned from my Mom, allows the tops of the scones to turn golden brown. 
  • Bake for 15-16 minutes. Watch for the tops to be golden brown.  

Like Mother, Like Daughter

I was partially inspired to create these peach scones because in my Mom’s kitchen, she had already been busy in her kitchen creating one of our all time favorite recipes – blueberry raspberry scones with lemon drizzle.  They are to die for.  One of the first things I tried cooking when I decided I wanted to learn to cook eight years back – they have been one of our most loved breakfast treats ever since.  I’m pretty sure my mom makes a better version than me – she is hands down the best cook I know. 

My mom's amazing scones

Blueberry/Raspberry Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut into chunks
1 cup half and half, plus more for brushing the scones
1 cup frozen blueberries
1 cup frozen raspberries
(The frozen berries don’t bleed when mixed into the dough – if you use fresh, you may have a pink/purple version of these scones)

Lemon Glaze
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/2 lemon, zest finely grated
1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

  • Sift together the dry ingredients.  Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the dry ingredients (I don’t have as many fancy kitchen tools as my mom, so I use a fork for this part!).  The mixture should look like course crumbs.  Make a well in the center and pour in the half and half.  Fold everything together just to incorporate; do not overwork the dough.  Fold the blueberries and raspberries into the batter.  Take care not to mash or bruise the berries because their strong color will discolor the dough.
  • Press the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 10 x 5 x 1″.  Cut the rectangle in half then cut the pieces in half again, giving you four squares.   Cut the squares in half on a diagonal to give you four triangle shapes.  Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and brush the tops with a little half and half.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown.  Let the scones cool a bit before you apply the glaze.
  • Place the lemon juice, lemon zest and butter in a microwave-safe bowl.  Heat in microwave on high for 30 – 45 seconds or until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm.  Add the confectioner’s sugar and whisk until sugar dissolves.  Add more confectioners’ sugar to thicken glaze if desired.  Drizzle the glaze over the top of the scones.  Let scones set for a few minutes before serving. 

Middle Eastern Inspired Chicken Meatballs

These meatballs were inspired by the Middle Eastern, specifically Lebanese food I love to eat.  BJ is Lebanese/Italian so I try my best to cook some of the recipes – falafel, tzatziki, kibbeh, moujadara (I still struggle to pronounce this), and I’ve even tried my hand at grape leaves.  Some of our favorite ingredients incorporated into those recipes are pine nuts, lemons, cumin, all spice, onion, garlic, and parsley.  I combined these things, with a few extras to make these meatballs – which were sooo good – I watched most of the plate disappear before my very eyes, and the rest were gobbled up for a late night snack.  I will definitely be making these again.  The lemon version of tzatziki was a must for dipping and drizzling.    

Just a side note – I’m thankful that Irene only knocked out our power for a total of three minutes.  With the scones baking and the meatball making – I would have had a total meltdown if the power went out.  It is not unnatural for me to have a mini melt down and be upset if I mess up a recipe, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped, or I spill something in the kitchen – but this would have been different altogether because it would have meant: A. No dinner, at least not the one I wanted, and I really did not want PB&J and B. It would have also been a wasted trip into the flooding roads to pick up these items at the Fresh Market.  THANK GOODNESS that did not happen, nobody wants to see a meatball meltdown.  The lights flickered throughout the entire time we cooked dinner – but luckily stayed on!

Into the pan you go!

Ingredients:

One pound ground chicken – I may try ground turkey next time!
½ cup chopped parsley
¼ cup chopped basil
½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
½ cup toasted pinenuts
3 or 4 sundried tomatoes, not packed in oil, chopped up
½ yellow onion diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg
½ cup golden raisins, chopped up
sea salt and pepper
½ teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon allspice
Olive oil, for sautéing

  • Heat olive oil on medium heat in a heavy bottom sauté pan.
  • Combine all ingredients, except for the olive oil, into a large mixing bowl.  If you aren’t afraid of getting dirty, use your hands and mix together.  Roll into small balls, about the size of golf balls.
  • Drop, one by one, into the pan and watch them sizzle and turn golden brown.  Flip to cook on each side.  Cook for about 12 minutes, or until cooked through.  Drizzle with lemon tzatziki – recipe below.

 Lemon Tzatziki
2 containers of plain greek yogurt
1 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon lemon zest
pinch of sea salt
2 small garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Feta Fettucine

One of my go to meals this summer – reminds me of spanakopita – a savory greek pastry dish with feta and spinach – but this is the pasta version. 

Ingrediants
One box of good quality fettucine
Extra virgin olive oil
One 5oz box of spinach (which actually cooks down a lot, so if you like more spinach go for 10 0z)
One large block of feta cheese in water (organic whole milk really tastes the best)
Seasalt
Black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes
Chicken cutlets (I used 4 small for 2 people – adjust accordingly!)

  • Wash and steam the spinach until wilted – drain and set aside in a large serving bowl
  • Boil a pot of water and cook fettucine according to directions
  • While pasta is cooking, heat evoo in a large saute pan – salt and pepper your chicken – cut into large strips and saute in EVOO until done
  • Drain pasta,reserving 1/4 cup pasta water and place in bowl with spinach.  Pour pasta water over pasta.
  • Drizzle pasta with about 1/2 cup olive oil, and sprinkle liberally with seasalt, pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes – mix together
  • Crumble that fresh feta on top – mix again
  • Add the chicken – mix again
  • If you love basil as much as I do, add a pile of chopped basil ribbons on top – serve and enjoy!I also served up a side of tomato salad – chop tomatoes, add red onion, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, olive oil and some yummy flavored balsamic vinegrette!

Cooking Yesterday Away

Fall is sneaking around the corner – I feel it when I wake up.  I immediately need a blanket because the breeze from the open windows is still rolling in.   I see it in the stores when I pass displays of pumpkin spice coffee (mmm I purchased my first batch yesterday).  I decided to start yesterday morning off with a fall treat to chase away the chill from the rainy day.  

Baked grapefruit – so simple – so good

Baked Grapefruit

1 grapefruit, ruby red or golden
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Sprinkle of brown sugar or cane sugar
Drizzle of good vanilla syrup

Preheat the over to 400 degrees.  Cut the grapefruit in half.  Drizzle with vanilla, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Bake for about 8 minutes until the top looks slightly darkened.  Enjoy

My Favorite Knife - Furi coppertail - Thanks mom 🙂

 
I love dinnertime – it’s the end of the day – time to come together with friends or family.  Last night was BJ’s (my fiancé) first night home from traveling for work and I decided to cook him a healthy meal.  A look at the menu: Lemon panko chicken cutlets, Greek pasta salad, and I had a special juice request to fill, which I decided to call “Drop the Beet” but I will include that in a later post! 

Greek Pasta Salad

 1 box of rotini pasta
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 handful of black olives, diced
Half of a small red onion, peeled and diced
3 roma or plum tomatoes, diced
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup nayonaise (vegetarian version of mayonnaise)
Sea salt and pepper
Block of Feta cheese
2 generous handfuls of Italian parsley

  • Cook pasta according to directions.  In the meantime, dice green pepper, red pepper, olives, onion, and tomatoes.  Add to a large bowl.
  • Whisk together ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, ¼ cup nayonaise (vegetarian version of mayonnaise).  You can, of course, use real mayonnaise.  Add some sea salt and black pepper.
  • Drain and cool the pasta.  When cool enough, add to the bowl with diced vegetables.  Pour the olive oil mixture over top and mix thoroughly.  If it still looks dry, add some more olive oil.   Now for my favorite part – the parsley – rip off two generous handfuls from your bunch of parsley, chop real fine, mix into the pasta.  Top it all off with sea salt and pepper – and, for the best part – add some fresh crumbled feta cheese to bring this together.  Love, LOVE, fresh feta cheese.  Cool in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

 

Lemon Panko Chicken Cutlets

Two tablespoons olive oil
One and ½ cups of panko bread crumbs
Two eggs, beaten
One tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese
Six chicken cutlets
Sea salt and pepper
Lemon halves

  • Heat the olive oil in a pan; my personal favorite would be all-clad
  •  Beat together the eggs and Parmesan cheese in a large bowl.  The Parmesan seems to give the eggs a better consistency and helps the mixture stick to the chicken.  Pour the panko crumbs into another large bowl.
  •  Rinse and dry chicken cutlets.  Dip cutlets into egg mixture, and then dredge both sides of the chicken into the panko.  Place the chicken aside.
  •  When the oil appears to shine, but is not yet smoking, place the chicken cutlets inside.  Cook for four minutes on each side, or until completely cooked through.  Transfer the chicken to a plate and immediately sprinkle with sea salt and pepper, and squeeze a liberal amount of lemon juice over top.  Serve.  

Cayenne Chickpea Soup

Delicious, spicy, heart healthy, hearty chickpea cayenne soup - that was a mouth full to say, and a delightful mouthfull to eat

I am what some may consider a bit of a health nut or picky eater – I wouldn’t say I disagree.  With the return from summer vacations and a few indulgences, as well as this week off from work, I decided to dedicate this week to healthy clean eating and exercise.  I prefer using organic products in my cooking (insert comment about picky eater here).  Not only does the food taste better, but in all reality it is better for your body.  I like my food with no antibiotics, pesticides, or growth hormones thank you very much.  Not only was this soup made with all organic food products, but it was also (mostly) vegetarian, it would have been completely vegetarian if I could have resisted topping my bowl of soup with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, but a healthy girl can only be so good, you know?  The garbanzo beans packed a punch of protein in this soup, and the cayenne pepper adds that strong spice that also kicks your metabolism into high drive, or so I have heard/read, and it can’t hurt to try!

You will need:
2 tablespoons of quality olive oil
1 organic red onion, peeled and diced
3 organic carrots, peeled and diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Three 14 oz cans of organic garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
Two 32 oz boxes of organic vegetable broth or chicken broth
One 28 oz can of diced tomatoes with juice
1 Tablespoon of cayenne pepper (if you like things spicy like me go for 1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons)
3 bay leaves
Sea salt and black pepper
Parmesan cheese to top

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a large pan.  Add the red onion, carrots, garlic, and thyme.  Give the vegetables a stir and let them heat through for a few minutes until they appear translucent and the aroma fills the kitchen. 

Add the garbanzo beans, tomatoes in their juice, bay leaves, and cayenne pepper.  Give another stir.  Add the vegetable stock and season with salt and pepper.  Turn the heat up and let the soup come to a boil.  Reduce heat and let the soup simmer for twenty minutes. 

Fish out those bay leaves and toss them away. Ladle soup into a bowl, let cool slightly, and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  Feel free to add some hearty toasted whole grain bread, and enjoy.