checking in

Have you given up on your new years resolutions yet?! I'm kinda just getting started. I TRY to be healthy - key word being try. I have a hard time because I love food SO MUCH. After the 90 day detox I was feeling rebellious. I over indulged and I've realized that I'm heading down a path I don't really want to go. The past few months have been tasty and glutinous. So I'm back on track - for now. I got back into my Barre Method classes and it has me wanting to eat healthier and make better choices (you know, minus those paddy's day themed cupcakes I'll share with you next week). All about moderation, right?! 

I came across the idea for this dish back in July when a blogger I follow posted this recipe. I love asian food but I'm not a fan of peanut sauce. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of peanut sauce... creamy, salty, and oh that texture!!! BUT I HATE peanut, absolutely can't stand it. So when I saw that she made the dish with cashew butter instead of peanut butter, I immediately thought, GENIUS! I of course had to put my own spin on the recipe and I have to say, it rocks! A little bit of tang from greek yogurt and fresh lime juice really make the dish. I add in some siracha for a subtle kick and a pinch of brown sugar to balance it out. This was my go-to recipe while we were on the detox (minus a few ingredients that weren't permitted) but I have to say I prefer it MUCH better with the dairy and citrus. I hope you give this easy asian dish a try! 

Side note - don't be turned off by some of the ingredients if you've never heard of them. Edamame is a tasty vegetable that's actually an immature soybean. That might sound a little scary but it's not. It's a very mild flavored bean with a creamy texture. Siracha is that red sauce you see at most asian restaurants. It's just a hot sauce so it's easily substituted if you don't have any. See all the improv suggestions below! Also, this is great cold the next day for lunch as leftovers!

asian noodles with edamame + tangy cashew lime sauce
adapted from very culinary inspired
yields 4 - 6 servings (depending on your appetite)

for the sauce:
½ c. cashew butter
¼ c. greek yogurt
1 t. grated fresh ginger
2 scallions (white + green parts)
2 T. lite soy sauce
2 T. rice vinegar
1 T. Siracha
2 limes
1 T. brown sugar

for the dish:
8 oz - 1 package soba noodles
¼ c. pasta water
¼ c. cashew pieces
½ c. frozen shelled edamame
2 T. chopped scallions
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
2 T. basil thinly sliced
lime wedge (optional)

In a food processor, dump your sauce ingredients and blend the heck out of it. If you don't have a food processor, that's ok. You can finely chop your ingredients and mix by hand, use a blender, or even egg beaters. Just make sure if you do the latter that you chop your scallions and ginger as small as you can first. Once mixture is smooth and creamy, set it aside.

In a large pot, bring your water to a boil. Dump your noodles in (make sure you remove the paper wrappers around them... I didn't see them, doh). While your noodles are cooking, slice up your red bell pepper. I like mine nice and thin so they're easy to eat. Dice 'em, chop 'em, whatever you want! In a small pan, place your cashew pieces and toast them up. Make sure you don't let them go too long. They'll start to turn golden brown in places and you'll smell them. That's how you know they're done. Right before the noodles are done cooking, drop in your frozen edamame. Cook for one minute more (or whenever the noodles are done to your liking).

Grab a bit of that pasta water before you drain the noodles. Dump the noodles and edamame back in the pot after you've drained them. Pour the sauce over and give it a good toss. Add in the reserved pasta water a little at a time until you've got a nice creamy sauce. Remember, you can always add more so go slowly! 

Top with scallions, bell pepper, basil, cashews, and a lime wedge! Ta-da! Easy asian noodles. So easy in fact, you can make the sauce a few days ahead and assemble the rest later. I make a batch on the weekend for a quick weeknight meal. Once the sauce is made it literally comes together in 15 minutes. Talk about convenient! 

improv style:
soba noodle?! who keeps that on hand? not to worry, you can use your favorite noodle... even spaghetti noodles will be just fine! if you're gluten free try it with a rice noodle and tamari instead of the soy. rice noodles are little more delicate but it still works just fine! cashew butter is spendy. if you like peanut butter, use that instead! you could also try this with any other nut butter (almond?!). if you do, let me know how it turns out! if you don't have greek yogurt you can use plain non-fat yogurt or even sour cream (light, fat free, full fat) whatever you want. if you're dairy free you can leave it out. that's what i did on the detox. i really like the tang and consistency that the yogurt gives the dish though. no fresh ginger?! i think this is a pretty important ingredient. i buy a big hunk of it and keep it in the freezer so it doesn't go bad. if you don't have any you could try dried ginger but i really recommend you go out and get yourself a hunk of the fresh stuff! same goes with the rice vinegar. you could use another type but rice vinegar has a nice subtlety to it. in a pinch i would use white wine vinegar. if you don't have siracha you can use dried pepper flakes, your favorite hot sauce, cayenne, or if you're not into spicy, leave it out. you can adjust the heat to your liking. this version is VERY subtle on the spicy front. if you don't like scallions, leave them out. you can put your favorite veggies into the dish. it's really flexible. 



My youngest sister Carolyn LOVES potato soup. She requests it multiple times a week. So earlier this week when it was freezing and I was missing home and my family, I turned to this soup. 

My potato soup is slightly different from my moms due to my picky sister's preferences (love you tutti). I have a feeling this is the version my mom would make IF she didn't have to deal with so many people to please. It's a chunky potato soup with salty chunks of ham and a subtle sweetness from caramelized leeks and onions. I like my soup on the hearty side but this recipe is easily adapted to your soup preferences. 

potato soup
yields 7 cups

2 leeks
1 large onion
4 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
¼ c. flour
1 c. white wine (i like chardonnay)
4 c. milk
6 potatoes peeled and diced
16 oz (1lb) ham diced

In a medium sized saucepan, add oil and butter and melt over medium heat. Once heated up, add your diced onions and leeks and cook them down until they're transparent. 

While your onions are cooking down, peel and dice (cut into cubes) potatoes. I've taken the lazy route and skipped the peeling part to much regret. I think it would probably depend on the type of potato you use. If it's a yukon gold or red potato it might work. I say take the extra step and peel those babies! 

Once your onions are cooked down, add in the flour and stir until the flour turns to a thick paste. Cook for about 1 minute and then add in your white wine. Give it a stir and then add in your milk. Add your potato cubes and cook at a gentle simmer until potatoes are fork tender about 20 minutes depending on the size of your chunks. 5 minutes before serving, add in your diced ham chunks. My first thought was to add it in the beginning so it would flavor the soup but it actually dries out the ham and that ain't cool. 

improv style:
if you don't have leeks, you can leave them out. i like doing a mixture of the onion family for the subtle flavor variants but it will taste just fine without. if you want to lighten up the soup a bit you could make it with chicken or veggie stock instead of milk and add a hint of cream at the end or greek yogurt. i think this soup would be even more awesome if you made it with buttermilk. you can leave the ham out if you want it to be vegetarian. sometimes i throw in frozen corn or peas into the mix and that's good too. 

if you like your soup on the thinner side, add more liquid. you can also puree the soup before you add the ham chunks if you're not into the chunky thing. i like my potato soup rustic. this is an easy recipe to adjust to your taste. you could even do a twist on a loaded baked potato and do bacon and chives with cheddar cheese on top, mmmmm!


a sweet for your sweet

Valentines Day is coming up soon. I've never been a big fan of the day until I met my current boyfriend. Honestly, V-day was notoriously a HUGE disappointment for me before him. I dated the typical jerk who didn't ever go out of his way to do special things for me. So when I met Matt, I told him NO VALENTINES DAY BULLSHIT. We're not celebrating, we're not doing anything, I might give you a call, that's it. Ha! Even long distance dating (He was in Singapore, I was in Miami) he wouldn't let me get away with that. February 13th not one, but two bouquets of gerber daisies (my fav flower at the time) showed up at my door with a card that said "Happy non-valentines day" - very funny. In fact, it kind of melted my heart, but also made me a little cranky. This guy thought he was so clever with his little loophole. The next day, some of Ina Garten's pancake mix showed up with a note. Not only did the dude not listen to me, he sent me a gift of food... I know the saying goes that a way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but it's so true for me too! 

To this day Matt and I have never had a "typical" Valentines Day celebration. Going to a fancy restaurant, paying for a crazy expensive pre-fixe menu, dealing with everyone and their mother's brother being out that day, AND all of the overly mushy crap? It's just not us. We take turns every other year "running the show". One year I made a big comfort food meal and topped it off with a pumpkin brioche bread pudding with crème anglaise and a bourbon caramel sauce. He's been asking me for it ever since. I really need make that again and share it with you, it was to die for! Last year it was Matt's turn and our first year in Chicago together. He took one from Oprah and did "Mo's Favorite Things" (in the awesome high pitch Oprah voice). This year it's on me again and I'm not exactly sure what my full plan is. But I do know one thing, it will definitely make our bellies happy. 

When I think of a typical V-day dessert my mind goes to chocolate, heart shapes, and red velvet. Matt likes chocolate alright but it's not his #1. He happens to love crème brûlée - me too for that matter! So this dessert was with him in mind. But I couldn't just do plain crème brûlée... I'm usually a purist but I wanted to give it a twist, do something a little extra special. And that's when it hit me... I love cream in my tea in the morning. Naturally the custard base would pair beautifully with my favorite earl grey. And with that I give you earl grey crème brûlée. It's a fun twist on a classic (when you're looking for something just a little different). If your Valentine isn't a chocolate person, maybe give this recipe a try! And if they are a chocolate person, try my quick molten chocolate cakes. They're easy, gooey, and hit the spot every time!

earl grey crème brûlée
adapted from paula deen
yields 4 - 6 servings (depending on your dish size)

1 pint (2 c.) heavy cream
2 tsp. loose leaf earl grey leaves (or 1 tea bag - I used teavanas earl grey creme)
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise 
4 egg yolks
¼ c. sugar + 4 - 6 TBSP for the brûlée top

In a medium saucepan, heat cream, tea, and vanilla bean over medium - medium low heat for 10 minutes. You want it to heat up the liquid but not simmer or boil. Basically you're warming the cream so that the flavors can infuse. Set aside to cool for another 10 minutes. 

While the liquid is cooling, beat your egg yolks in a bowl until they turn fluffy and light. It will take about 5 minutes on high speed. Once it turns a pale yellow and thickens, slowly add in a ¼ c. sugar. Beat for another 2 minutes until it's well combined and the sugar dissolves into the eggs. 

After your cream mixture has fully infused, strain it through a fine mesh sieve. You don't want any tea leaves getting into your beautiful custard! Discard the vanilla bean, it's done its job. Slowly pour the cream into the egg mixture while beaters are on. If you're not coordinated enough for that, pour a few small batches at a time into the bowl (it's called tempering). You just want to make sure you don't scramble the eggs at this point. 

Once mixture is combined, strain it one more time to make sure you get any cooked egg pieces out (cautionary measure to make sure you tempered properly). Place your ramekins or whatever dish you want to use in a baking pan with deep edges. You're going to cook the custard in a water bath so that it cooks evenly. Pour custard mixture into ramekins or dish. Place warm or hot water half way up the sides of the dish and pop into the oven for about 30-40 minutes depending on how deep your dish is. You'll know it's done cooking when the custard just wiggles a bit but doesn't look runny. Let them cool to room temperature and then pop them in the fridge for at least 4 hours and up to 2 - 3 days in advance. 

Right before serving, pull out of the refrigerator and top with about 1 TBSP of granulated sugar. You want to get a nice thick sheet of brûléed sugar on top. I found when I lightly dusted the sugar I didn't get quite as much of that crunch. Use a blowtorch and gently graze the flame across the surface of the custard in a circular motion. I find that when i quickly move the torch over the sugar it melts more evenly caramelizing the sugar instead of just burning it. If it starts to get a little too deep in color, pull the torch away for a few seconds and then start again. This will make sure you end up with crunchy, tasty sugar and not black, burnt flavored brûlée. 

improv style:
you can make any tea flavored crème brûlée you like. this recipe is a great base custard to impart your favorite flavors into. if you omit the tea leaves, you'll have your basic vanilla crème brûlée. from there you can go crazy... tea, liquor - think gran marinier or chamboard, citrus - grapefruit, lemon, orange, coffee, chocolate... you get the idea?! you'll be able to tell how your custard will taste by dipping the tip of your finger in and checking*. If the flavor isn't strong enough, add more. remember, you can always add but you can't really take away. the first time i made this recipe i used WAY too much tea and the custard tasted like a tea leaf. 

*since raw eggs are used in the custard, taste at your own risk. 

if you don't have vanilla beans you can use 1 tsp vanilla extract instead. you can also use raw sugar or brown sugar for the top. 

if you don't have a blowtorch, that's ok too. you can put the broiler on it's highest setting in your oven and place them for a few seconds underneath to melt the sugar. i will say that i don't like the results as much because it warms up the custard slightly. you could always try popping them into the freezer for a few minutes before to prevent that. i bought a cheap blowtorch from the hardware store for $10 and it will last WAY longer than one of those expensive/fancy "chef" torches you get at a cooking store. also, if you don't have crème brûlée dishes, a standard ramekin will work just fine. if you don't have those either, any oven safe bowl or dish will work. you could make one giant casserole dish if you wanted to be all romantic and share a dish. this would never work in my family as we're all dessert hogs :)

if you want to cut the recipe in half and make it for 2, just steep the tea back for slightly less time so that you don't overpower the mixture. i personally like making a batch for 4 so that i can eat it 2 nights in one week :) that's just me...