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Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Arugula

20 May

I am a person of routine. From my brand loyalties to my beauty regime, I like the same things over and over and over again. The same love for the familiar extends to my meal choices.

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The greens base for my lunch salads has been Romaine for a solid six months now and I’ve been perfectly okay with it. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to change things up.

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Last Thursday, while perusing Trader Joe’s and rocking out to the Shakira radio on my Pandora (my hips don’t lie), I spotted a big sign advertising the big bags of peppery arugula and stopped in my tracks. Glancing from the package of Romaine hearts in my hand to the weed-y arugula, I contemplated a break in routine.

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Feeling rather daring, I tossed the lettuce aside and reached for the rocket, as if I were making a big decision and not simply deciding what I’d be bringing for lunch this week. Still, it felt almost naughty to break up the monotony and since then I have been finding excuses to put arugula on everything, including grilled cheese.

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Now normally the only thing I like my grilled cheese is cheese, cheese, and more cheese. I make an exception for butter’s guest appearance but the real star of the show is the warm, melted creaminess of hot cheese on crisp bread. It just screams comfort and I was making a calculated risk by adding any semblance of health to the mix.

Still, the peppery greens were calling to me from the fridge and I am glad I didn’t resist because the spiciness of the arugula really balances out the creaminess of the cheese while adding a nice satisfying crunch to go along with the bread. The colors don’t look bad either.

If you’re wary of adding salad to your sandwich, have no fear – this recipe has more than enough cheese to make clear what the main attraction is. A combination of parmesan, mozzarella, and sharp cheddar blend in a complex medley of saltiness and richness to make this a truly sophisticated grilled cheese.

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Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Arugula

Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 1 small Roma tomato, sliced
  • A small handful of arugula
  • 2 slices bread of choice
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, softened enough to be easily spreadable
  • 1 oz. of each sharp cheddar, grated parmesan, and shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Spread the butter on one side of each bread slice.
  2. Heat a large skillet over low-medium heat.
  3. Put 2 bread slices in the skillet, buttered-side down.
  4. Layer half of the cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese on each piece of bread.
  5. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the cheese melts and the bread is golden (not burnt!)
  6. After cheese is melted, remove from skillet and place on plate then top with arugula and sliced tomato.
  7. Close sandwich and cut diagonally.

Including instructions for a grilled cheese seems a little silly, but the art of the grilled cheese does take some work – it’s a delicate balance to make sure the cheese is melted without burning the bread. In my experience, it is absolutely necessary to spread butter liberally on each side of the toast to keep it golden and crispy.

If you’re a grilled cheese purist, do me a favor and go on a limb like I did with my salad – change is good for the soul.

[Recipe] Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto

14 May

My boyfriend has a few things in his life he loves immensely. The first is soccer – playing, watching, discussing – he lives the sport. He loves soccer so much that he agreed to play back-to-back games on a Saturday morning, with the first game starting at the ungodly weekend hour of 8 AM.

The second is pesto. He eats just about everything and in large quantities (case in point: he managed to polish off a 4-pound container of strawberries in just over 24 hours last weekend), but nothing quite gets his heart palpitating like that delicious, basil-green sauce.

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Being the youngest child of an Italian mama, he’s had his fair share of quality Italian food and pesto is no exception. This makes him a bit of a snob and he turns his nose up at any jarred/store-bought varieties of the stuff, declaring it decidedly inferior to the freshly ground sauce made at home, particularly with basil leaves that had been plucked from the plant just moments before.

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We usually make pesto in large batches and freeze it in small Tupperwares for easy access to pesto pasta or pesto cream sauce. We make quite a bit of it, but the last time it happened was at the end of August, so he’s had to go without for a few months now and it was quickly becoming unacceptable.

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After a trip to Costco led us down the nut aisle, he put his foot down and declared that we would spend the rest of the afternoon making pesto. Having no other plans, I agreed and picked up the requisite 5-pound bag of walnuts, but not before contemplating the pignoli sitting just adjacent.

You see, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to food. I am of the opinion that you shouldn’t try to “fake” a recipe and I would much rather plan my daily eats knowing full well that I’ll be indulging in full-fat, dairy ice cream rather than processing a frozen banana and pretending it’s the real thing. I have no problem with people making protein “frosting” or pseudo-cupcakes, but please don’t flood my Instagram saying it “tastes just like the real thing!”

It doesn’t.

But I digress; my original point is that I like to make food the way it’s meant to be made, particularly with Italian cuisine because they are notorious (along with the French) for cooking things just so because that is how it has always been.

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Pesto comes from the Italian region of Liguria, specifically Genova, home of a certain Cristoforo Colombo. The name comes from the Italian word pestare, which means ‘to pound or crush’ in the remote past conjugation (nerd alert). An official recipe for the paste that originated with the ancient Romans was first published in 1863 in  a book titled, La Cuciniera Genovese  by Giovanni Battista Ratto and if you go to the south of France, you’ll find a similar recipe for pistou, though they don’t use nuts.

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The traditionally accepted way to make pesto is using a marble mortar with a wooden pestle (pestle/pesto – get it?). First, garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream, then basil leaves are added and ground until creamy. The cheese is added at the very end, with some extra-virgin olive oil to help it along the way.

And it is for this reason that I always feel a twinge of guilt when Stefano and I have our pesto parties.

Stefano grating away

Stefano grating away

I am a fake.

That is, my pesto is decidedly not how it is supposed to be made.

Granted, my only real flaw is that I replace pine nuts with walnuts and parmigiano-reggiano with pecorino romano, but they are crucial ingredients and any Italian I know would be insulted that I dare call my impostor sauce ‘pesto’.

Not a mortar and pestle.

Not a mortar and pestle.

However, my dietary choices are dictated more by my bank account than Italian gourmands, so I will have to live with myself knowing that I am a gastronomic phony, a culinary charlatan.

Be that as it may, I will share with you my recipe for Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce in the hopes that you can save a few dollars and enjoy this with a bit more piece of mind than I can.

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Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (tightly packed, around 2-3 oz.) fresh basil (if you really wanted to break tradition, you could substitute a peppery arugula *wince*, but whatever you do, don’t use dried basil)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (spring for extra-virgin)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled

Directions:

  1. I always start by sticking the garlic in the food processor and giving it a few pulses, so it gets minced and then adding the nuts to get those chopped up, as well.
  2. Add the basil and get that mixed in before adding the olive oil.
  3. Add the olive oil in a consistent stream as the food processor is going. This ensures that you get a nice, smooth product at the end.
  4. After the mixture is well combined, add the cheese at the very end.
  5. Eat immediately or store in Tupperware in the freezer to use at a later date. I like to add a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep the pesto from turning a brown color. Pro-tip: Freeze pesto in an ice cube tray for easy to use portions!

You can make extra and freeze it in an ice cube tray and then you have individual portions of pesto!

If you’re curious, here is the “official” pesto recipe, as decided by the Genova Pesto World Championships.

[Recipe] Tuna Salad Bell Pepper Cups

24 Apr

I awoke Monday morning with no idea of what to pack for lunch. Pickings were slim because I hadn’t gone to Trader Joe’s on Friday to do my weekly grocery, so I had to get creative. Stef and I had made a quick trip to Costco over the weekend for some essentials (hello, giant containers of toilet paper) and one of the purchases was a 6-pack of red bell peppers. Haphazardly, I threw together some stuffed bell peppers that were portable and involved very minimal prep time.

Before bed last night, I posted this on Instagram:

TunaSaladBellPepperI awoke to find a number of people on Twitter asking for the recipe. I didn’t even think to include it because it was so simple – really just a mishmash of ingredients on hand that went well together. But, due to popular demand, I am posting it in real recipe form for those who are interested in recreating it. Feel free to add or remove anything you’d like – this is an art, not a science!

Tuna Salad Bell Pepper Cups

Serves 1

Ingredients

  • 1 bell pepper (I like red, but you can choose any color – although green might be a little bitter for eating raw)
  • 1 can albacore tuna, drained
  • 1 Tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 dill pickle, chopped (you could easily do sweet – I love the vinegar flavor this adds!)
  • 1 tsp. stone ground or yellow mustard (for a nice pepper-y kick)
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

  1. Cut bell pepper in half vertically (so you end up cutting through the stem) and remove seeds.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine tuna with yogurt, mustard, pickle, and tomato.
  3. Add salt and pepper to taste. I found it didn’t really need salt between the kick of the mustard and the brine from the pickle, but to each his own!
  4. Divide tuna salad in two and fill each bell pepper half with half of the tuna salad.
  5. Eat immediately or store in refrigerator.

Like I said, I packed this for lunch, so the flavors had a little bit of time to mix in the fridge and the result was a crisp, crunchy bell pepper “cup”! It transported easily in a Tupperware and none of the filling fell out (it was packed in pretty tightly). Perfect for an easy, on-the-go lunch and you can have it done in five minutes flat! The yogurt gives the salad a similar texture to mayo without all the fat which keeps this lunch extremely light, but filling. Between the yogurt and the tuna, this is a massive punch of protein and will keep you full through the afternoon.

Buon appetito!

 

 

Burrata Caprese and Why Spooning is Better

22 Apr

Long-time readers of my blog will be very aware of my publicly declared love for burrata. So you can imagine my excitement when Stefano and I found a big ol’ tub of it at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market the other weekend.

IMG_2425[1]$13 later (worth it!) and I couldn’t wait to get home to eat it all up. Also in my possession was an $11.50 wedge of cheese and a salmon empanada. My eyes are a little bigger than my stomach.

Stef, for all my rants and raves, has yet to experience real burrata. Most of the stuff we have encountered thus far has been fresh mozzarella stuffed with ricotta cheese. While delicious, this is not the stuff of legends. The truly mind-blowing burrata experience is when the mozzarella has been made within the past couple of days and is stuffed with the leftover shreds of mozzarella and fresh cream. You can die happy now.

When he asked me how we should eat it, I had fully intended on just digging in with a spoon until I had reached dairy Shangri La. The skeptical look on his face told me that there was no way in cream-filled hell that  I was going to get away with that. So I did the next best thing and made a caprese salad with it.

IMG_2435[1]I knew as soon as I cut into the cheese that it was going to be a rather messy affair, but we managed quite nicely. On a bed of sliced tomatoes and topped with fresh basil, a drizzle of EVOO, and salt and pepper, this was the least adulterated burrata that Stef would allow.

IMG_2436[1]Hello, creamy delicousness. This is the best burrata that I’ve been able to find in the DMV area – it comes from the Blue Ridge Dairy Co. in Leesburg, Virginia and I knew it was going to be good when they had fresh buffalo mozzarella and smoked mozzarella, too. While buffalo mozz is still number one in Stefano’s heart, I am so happy that I have a chance to indulge in the buttery creaminess that is fresh burrata without having to fly back to Rome – even if I have to spend nearly $15 to get it!

The verdict on the caprese? Still delicious (and the EVOO and S + P are a must), but I maintain that the best and only way to eat burrata is with a spoon and a smile. Because spooning is always better.

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Mediterranean Shrimp and Orzo Salad

4 Apr

Stefano’s school has spring break this week, so I have been able to spend much more time with him than I usually do. My gym time and blogging has been kind of thrown out the window as a result, but he is so worth it. Getting to spend time with him during the week is such a luxury – we can even make dinner together! Last night we put together a meal that was too good not to share and it was so unbelievably easy to make – we cooked, ate, and cleaned up in under an hour! Never mind the fact that both of us are vacuums when it comes to eating and it may take normal people a little bit longer to eat, but it’s still wonderfully quick dinner that feels like it should have taken more time than it did.

Orzo is one of my favorite pastas. It’s widely used around the Mediterranean basin and is the base for the best comfort soup of all-time, an Egyptian recipe called Shurbat Lisan Asfour, or Bird Tongue Soup. It’s named for the shape of the noodles, which look like the tongues of little birds. What is great about orzo is its versatility: you can use it to make a soup more hearty, as a rice subsitute, or as a pasta. Orzo, which actually means barley in Italian and can thus be quite confusing, is called risoni (big rice) in Italy. It goes by kritharáki and manéstra in Greek cooking and is known as arpa şehriye in Turkish kitchens.

Naturally, I like to pair it with Mediterranean flavors and this dish is a perfect blend of light and refreshing ingredients and won’t leave you feeling “heavy” the way many pastas do. This recipe is very forgiving and I encourage you to play around with it: maybe substitute grilled zucchini for cucumber or try sundried tomatoes in lieu of fresh ones. What is brilliant about Mediterranean cooking is the ingredients are simple but the flavor combinations produce a final meal that is multifaceted and complex.

Mediterranean Shrimp and Orzo Salad

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Serves 4 (6 if used as a side)

Ingredients:

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For the pasta:
  • (1) one pound bag of orzo pasta (99 cents at Trader Joe’s!)
  • one pint cherry tomatoes
  • 4 Persian cucumbers (or two English cucumbers)
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (we start with the big chunk and crumble it ourselves, but you can always buy it pre-crumbled)
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, deveined
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or just use a tablespoon of pre-minced)
  • Parsley or basil for garnish (optional)
For the dressing*:
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain dijon mustard (this has a kick!)
  • 2 tablespoons hummus
  • freshly ground black pepper

*I really played around with the measurements of the sauce so they’re not exact – feel free to fiddle and find a combination of flavors that is most appealing to you.

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Instructions:

  1. Cook orzo according to instructions on package (it cooks like pasta) then drain well.
  2. Sautee shrimp in butter and garlic. This is a fast process so be careful not to overcook the shrimp!
  3. Add orzo to large mixing bowl and top with cooked shrimp, diced cucumber, sliced tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese.
  4. In a separate bowl, add lemon juice, EVOO, mustard, hummus, and black pepper and mix until well combined. The texture should be easily pour-able, but not too runny.
  5. Pour dressing over the orzo pasta and mix until the pasta, shrimp, and veggies are coated.
  6. Top with more feta or garnish (parsley or basil would work very well).

Buon appetito!

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