Friday, February 27, 2009


4 words to the wise

I noticed on my paystub today that I was receiving about $20 more then I normally do. This is due to the stimulus plan, no doubt. I had no idea I would see such an immediate change in my paychecks. Since I don't make over $250k (nor do I know a single soul who does), I get to enjoy taking home an additional $500 or so a year. Thanks Obama :)

Oh and my condolences to Joe the plumber (not that I've ever heard of a plumber making close to that either).

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Food recycling

7 words to the wise

My food blogging has tapered off in recent weeks. This is due to my intolerance for standing for long in one spot and I do apologize. I haven't been cooking much at all. Nor did I really cook last night, but last night's dinner brings up a subject I thought I'd talk about today that sees a lot of action in my house – food recycling.

What do you do with your leftovers? Do you take them as originally eaten for lunch the next day or do you remake it into something else?

Often we just bring our leftovers for lunch. I do love a hot, home cooked lunch! Last week you saw that I made pork chops and black bean soup. Last night, when I decided again that I didn't feel like cooking, I surveyed the contents of my fridge. I dumped the sliced pork chops into a small sauce pan. Then I drained most of the liquid off the black bean soup and dumped the beans, onions and carrots into the pot. I sprinkled garlic and chili powder in the pot and heated over medium heat. Next I grabbed a can of whole green chiles and roughly chopped them. I poured all this into two flour tortillas with some shredded cheese and rolled them up. I topped off our green chile pork burritos with lettuce and black olives. Dinner was done in under 10 minutes.

While this isn't recipe-worthy because it was made with leftovers you wouldn't have (unless you cooked exactly what I cook, when I cook it), I thought it prompted a worthwhile topic for discussion. So tell me, do you recycle food?

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Pork chops with olive artichoke tapenade

5 words to the wise

This concoction was made up from searching my pantry and fridge last night. I didn't have time to marinate the chops and I didn't feel like baking them. This turned out fantastic and was super easy and quick. The chops were moist and I loved the combination of the buttery tapenade with the natural flavor of the pork. Of course, you have to like olives and artichokes...Pork chops with Olive Artichoke Tapenade
Makes 4 servings
6 quarters of marinated artichoke hearts (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice (I use the bottled stuff)
1/2 cup pitted black olives

4 boneless pork chops
kosher salt
crushed black pepper

Combine first 5 ingredients in a food processor and chop. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Heat a grill pan or frying pan over medium-high–high heat. Sprinkle salt and pepper liberally over both sides of the chops. Place in hot pan and cook 3–4 minutes, flip and cook 3–4 minutes on other side. Remove from heat and allow to sit at least 5 minutes before slicing against the grain and covering with the tapenade. Enjoy!

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Magnolia Grill - Ninth street, Durham

3 words to the wise

Finally I get around to blogging our Valentine's dinner experience at Magnolia Grill. I'll try to make it worth the wait. It's funny that this comes just shortly after the announcement of the Barker's nomination in the Outstanding Restaurant overall category for the James Beard Awards (more info here). I regret to tell you I didn't take my camera, therefore, no photos accompany. I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I'd been looking forward to this dinner for two weeks (actually more like two years). We had an early reservation and the restaurant only had a handful of tables filled when we arrived around 5:30. It was filled with natural light and the music was low. The ambiance was relaxing. We were seated at a half-booth. This is one of those long benches that line an entire wall, where they throw table after table alongside it and flank the other side of the table with chairs. I experienced similar seating in Panciuto in Hillsborough (also a fine dining restaurant). I have to tell you, it's my least favorite seating setup. It's not as intimate as I'd like, and fellow diners can't help but look at what's on your plate with curiousity (since they're a whopping 2 feet away), myself included.

The host pulled out the table for my husband to sit down and then pulled out my chair. It was a nice touch. An extensive menu was placed in both of our hands and the hard selection began. For me, I'm limited with cheeses and seafood (not for much longer though), so it was a bit of an easier choice, but had I not been, I would have taken much longer to make my selections. The only complaint I could muster about the entire dining experience was that we waited quite awhile for our server to come and offer drinks initially. After that, she was top notch.

For my first course, I selected the smoked Eden Farm Berkshire pork belly in Sorghum-bourbon glaze on baby butterbean fondue with red mustard greens and pickled turnips. When this arrived, I was pleasantly surprised with not only the presentation, but the portion size. It was substantial for $10. I've never had pork belly before and I expected it to be mostly a big slab of fat, but it was quite meaty. It had a very subtle smoked flavor that was so well balanced with the sweetness and acidity of the bourbon glaze. The butterbean fondue reminded me slightly of the mashed peas I ate while in London. They were a nice accompaniament, both color and texturewise to the rest of the dish. The greens and turnips were minimal in comparison to the forementioned components but added lovely texture, color and subtle flavor to this excellent starter.

My husband had the cannellini bean soup with Carolina shrimp, apple bacon, escarole and roasted peppers. I tasted it and while it was very very good, I was happy to have all of my first course to myself !

For my second course, I ordered the grilled Maine scallops in red wine essence on couscous carbonara with oyster mushrooms, roasted root vegetables, apple-smoked bacon and arugula. I am not even slightly exaggerating when I say these are the largest scallops I have ever seen. There were two of these monsters on my plate, which again was beautifully presented. They must have totalled near a half pound together. They were the most perfectly cooked scallops I've ever eaten. They weren't gritty, or even slightly chewy. They were seasoned to perfection. Their perfect texture was well complimented with the meaty oyster mushrooms and the earthy root vegetables. The couscous was also a welcome punch of texture. It was the largest couscous I've ever had (the grains about half the size of barley). I also adored the red wine essence that graced this dish. It was a perfect dish and I ate every bit of it.

One of the things I really appreciated about the experience was that the server knew all of the dishes well, and she offered information about how things were prepared and made sure we were okay with them. For example, she mentioned that the scallops were grilled and just slightly translucent in the center and wanted to know if that was okay with me. For my husband, who ordered the grilled Berkshire pork rib chop in Bourbon jus on cornmeal spatzle with sweet potato, turnips, country ham and southern greens, she noted that they typically served this medium rare (reddish-pink) and inquired if that was acceptable to him. He opted for medium, which was perfect to his liking and he too ate up every bit of his dish.

The food was served warm, not hot, perfectly cooked. They pay attention to such small details here, that you definitely feel the difference between eating here and somewhere else that also uses fantastic local ingredients, like Piedmont. For example, when returning from my visit to the ladies room, I found the napkin I had left balled up on the table, refolded. It's small touches like this that make the extra money spent feel worth it. For two courses for the two of us, and a bottle of Pelligrino, the bill totalled out around $75. Add tip to that and we topped out around $100. I look forward to going to Magnolia Grill again for a special occasion in the future. It was the perfect dining experience.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Capital One sucks

29 words to the wise

Let me preface this with saying that I've had my credit card with Capital one for about 9 years. In that time, I've never ONCE paid late. I charge a lot to it, every month and pay it off about 2-3 times a month. I understand how credit works and the necessary evil that revolving credit is. That being said, I suppose they don't make much money off me. I rarely carry a balance over to the next month. I don't transfer balances and I don't get cash advances.

I've enjoyed a fixed rate of 7.9% for 9 years on this card. That was, until yesterday. You see, I received a piece of mail, looking exactly like the daily junk mail I get from (insert any credit card company name here). It looks a lot like one of those privacy statements they send you annually, in a slightly oversized envelope, bulk postage, mass mailed. I decide to open it.

Here's what I'm treated to (I'm paraphrasing here):
Dear capital one cardholder,
Due to recent economic conditions, we've reviewed our cardholder's accounts. Due to the length of time you've held your account and the length of time you've had your interest rate, we are increasing your purchase rate, cash advance rate and default APR effective January 2009. New rates are: Purchases 17.9% variable, Cash advances 24.9% variable and default APR 29.9% variable. You can decline this change by calling the number listed, which will close your account as of May 14, 2009.

EXCUSE ME??????????

In other words:
Dear customer,
Due to our irresponsible lending practices, and despite being bailed out by your tax dollars, we've reviewed your longstanding good account. We've decided to penalize you without warning, against your will, and in a manner in which we hope you won't even notice. If you decide not to bend over and take it up the ass, please phone this automated phone line, as we don't value your long-term customer relationship with us enough to actually speak to you.
Sincerely yours,
Capital One

To which I only have this, hormonally-enraged response.

Dear Capital One,
Sincerely yours,

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Black bean soup - a non-recipe

1 words to the wise

Yesterday I slow cooked black bean soup. I soaked the beans (a 1 lb bag) overnight. I drained and poured them into my new gigantic crock pot. Then I chopped up an onion and about 2 carrots and added them to the pot. I added 7 cubes of chicken boullion, a tbsp of ground cumin, and about 8 cups of water. I cooked it on low for 8 hours and then added a tbsp of garlic powder, salt and pepper to taste, and cooked on high for another hour. Sorry there are no photos and I didn't document exact amounts, but these spices were right and the beans were cooked perfectly!

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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's day from chocolate heaven

2 words to the wise

After our scrumptious dinner at Magnolia Grill last night (more on that later), I opted for a chocolatey cake at Whole Foods instead of one of the desserts on the menu. I was not disappointed. This was a chocolate cake with layers of strawberry mousse, iced with chocolate ganache, and topped with a lovely chocolate heart and chocolate colored strawberry. This was really a large piece of cake, or what they call a mini-cake. It took hubby and I (okay mostly me) 2 days to eat, but it was absolute heaven and not overly sweet. Whole Foods knows how to do dessert, and despite being a little pricey for a mini-cake, it was a great deal compared to paying some 2 or 3 dollars more for something much smaller in a restaurant!

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Martha's slow cooker pot roast and trusting your inner chef

5 words to the wise

Did I mention I got a new crock pot? We purchased a lovely stainless steel and ceramic 6 quart crock pot a couple of weeks ago. It's beautiful and even has a timer. While at the store this weekend, I decided it was time to crock pot a roast. If you've never cooked a pot roast all day in a crock pot, you're missing out. It gives you the most tender roast you'll ever eat. Usually I cover my roast and veggies in a mixture of broth, cream of mushroom soup, lots of garlic and some sage.

I've been trying to venture out of my comfort zone on dishes lately though and actually follow some recipes. The other day I found the recipe for Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker Pot Roast, and after reading all the stellar reviews, I figured I'd give it a try. Nevermind that I questioned the minimal spice and the complete lack of liquid. This recipe had raving reviews and I was following it exactly.
All I can say is that you should always listen to your inner chef. The people that raved about this recipe must have only made roasts in those reynold's bags prior to this recipe. Granted I cooked this 2 hours less then the recommended 10 hours (my crockpot timer only goes up to 8), but that honestly wouldn't have made a huge difference. The flavor was subtle but still managed to be a little tart from the worcestershire. The liquid "gravy" that everyone raved about was just a greasy, flavorless broth (don't worry, I used it to make a tasty gravy which saved the meal). The roast itself was the driest thing I've ever pulled out of a crock pot. It wasn't very tender either.

Popular recipes and beautiful photography don't necessarily make for a great meal. Lesson learned. The roasted potatoes on the other hand, were out of this world. I cut some gold potatoes into thick wedges, tossed them in some olive oil, kosher salt, pepper, thyme and crushed garlic. I roasted at 475 for 15 minutes on the low rack in my oven. Then I flipped them and roasted for 10 minutes more. Yum!!!

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valentine's Day - an excuse to celebrate with food

4 words to the wise

There's a restaurant here in Durham that I've been wanting to go to for almost 3 years now. Magnolia Grill has received much critical acclaim and the menu always looks so inventive and tasty, without being too bizarre. Budgetwise, it's definitely a special occasion place.

Normally we regard this holiday as a greeting card holiday and wouldn't bother trying to fight the crowds for a meal, but with baby quickly approaching, we decided to go for it this year. Plus we're going a day early so it shouldn't be quite as bad. I'm looking forward to getting dolled up and digging in! You can bet I'll be reporting back on my experience.

How about you? How (or even) will you celebrate the day with food? Baked goods, chocolates, heart shaped pancakes, a special dinner at home? Do tell!

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Monday, February 9, 2009

Photo of the Day - food shower

3 words to the wise

Our baby shower was Saturday. There was a ton of food (wonderfully arranged by my hubby's step mom). We had fruit trays, cheese trays, chicken salad croissants, veggie trays and of course, dessert trays (these were my favorite).

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Chicken tamale casserole - future cooking

3 words to the wise

I know what you're thinking, hasn't she already done one of these? The answer is NO. I made a chicken enchilada casserole and a chicken enchilada soup. Both of which were nothing like this.
I was turned on to this recipe by a fellow pregnant lady from my birth board and I just have to pass it on. As I was making it (almost exactly as specified), I was thinking to myself, this is going to be weird and bland. I was WRONG. You can find the recipe over at Cooking Light. The only changes I made are as follows:
I used 1 egg instead of the egg substitute
I added 1/2 tsp garlic powder
I used canned regular sweet corn
I didn't drain my chiles (to make up for the moisture missing from not using creamed corn)

The modifications I made were due to what I had on hand (and my love of garlic) and it was still really good. I was shocked that it tasted so much like chicken tamales and without the work! Oh and it's only 350 calories per serving. This was so easy. I threw a pound of partially frozen chicken breasts in the crock pot this morning with 4 bouillion cubes and 4 cups of water. When I came home, I shredded the chicken. EASY. This would be fantasic for a potluck too. My hubby wasn't thrilled by the sweetness the cornbread mixture lent to this dish, but I really liked it alot.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Get on the big screen this weekend

1 words to the wise

Want to be an extra in a locally filmed movie? They're filming a small indy film at Northgate Presbyterian Church in Durham this Saturday. Free cookies and doughnuts! More info here.

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Baked macaroni and cheese

12 words to the wise

Hmmm it appears I'm in the mood for comfort food. This was a first attempt for me. Again, I modified a Joy of Cooking recipe. I really want to tell you to avoid making homemade macaroni and cheese, that it's difficult and not very good, but unfortunately, I can't. This was AWESOME.

It was really easy. I can see this is going to be a problem for me. I loved the subtle kick the cayenne pepper gave it. I stood in the kitchen eating out of the dish before it got washed. I just couldn't walk away. The flavor was great and the texure was perfect.Baked Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
Makes 6 main dish servings
8 oz. elbow macaroni, cooked until just tender in salted water
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 cups skim milk
2 large shallots, minced
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp paprika
2 1/4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs

Melt butter in large saucepan over med-low heat. Add in flour and whisking frequently, cook for 3 minutes. Gradually stir in milk, shallots and spices and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring often.

Melt butter for topping (either in microwave or stovetop) and stir breadcrumbs in butter until well coated.

Preheat oven to 375. Stir in 1 3/4 cups of cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in cooked macaroni. Pour into greased 1 1/2 quart casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Bake 30 minutes or until breadcrumbs are lightly browned. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Quaker True Delights – Tastemaker Program

5 words to the wise

As a foodbuzz featured publisher, I get contacted to participate in all sorts of fun things they're working on. One of the programs I signed up for late last year was the tastemaker outreach program. As part of the program, they will periodically offer up goods to sample, and with each opportunity, it's at my discretion to opt in or not.

I received my first products to try last week, the new Quaker True Delights granola bars. I received two samples each of three flavors, honey roasted cashew mixed berry, dark chocolate raspberry almond, and toasted coconut banana macadamia nut.I didn't try the last flavor, I gave both bars to my husband because I'm just not a fan of banana flavored anything. He informed me though that it was fantastic and had pieces of real dried banana, not artifical banana flavoring.
The other two granola bar flavors I tried were equally great. As you can see from their photos, they have large chunks of real fruits and nuts. No imitation berries here. I liked the tartness of the mixed berry combined with the mellowness of the cashews.My favorite flavor though was the dark chocolate raspberry almond. Dark chocolate chunks and raspberries, how can you go wrong? What I loved most about all these products was that they had mostly natural ingredients, whole grains, a low calorie count (140 per bar) and tasted GREAT. My only complaint is that I might like them to be a little larger, but they are the size of a traditional granola bar so I suppose I can't complain afterall :)

We actually saw them at the grocery store last weekend, so I know they're out. Go check them out, you won't be sorry.

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cheesy scalloped potatoes and ham - future cooking

11 words to the wise

I'm still stocking up my freezer with easy to reheat foods. This weekend I made scalloped potatoes and ham. I first made this dish by using boxed scalloped potatoes and some cubed ham back in my early twenties. My grandmother recommended the combination to me and it's had a special place in my heart ever since.

How I make it has evolved quite a bit over the years, along with my cooking, and my quest to eat healthier. As simple as it is, this is one of my husband's favorites. I usually serve it with corn or collard greens. It's very easy to make, great for feeding masses inexpensively and is very much comfort food. To make this vegetarian, I suggest using frozen thawed peas or corn in place of the ham. I think those combinations would be great too.
Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes and Ham
Makes 6 entree servings
6 medium potatoes, washed and sliced 1/8" thick (I used Yukon Gold)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 can condensed cheese soup
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup (could use cream of chicken too)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
1/3 cup skim milk
1/4 cup sour cream
12-16 oz cooked ham, cubed (I just buy the cooked ham steaks)
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Bring large stock pot of salted water to boil. Gently lower potatoes into pot and cook 5 minutes. Drain and remove from heat.

Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl, mix together all other ingredients, except grated cheese, until well blended. Gently fold in potatoes and lightly stir until evenly coated. Pour mixture into a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 40-45 minutes. Broil until cheese is browned to your liking. The sauce will look runny. Remove from heat and allow to stand at least 10 minutes to thicken before serving.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Corn fritters

12 words to the wise

These corn fritters have been a favorite of mine and a huge hit whenever I serve them, for years. The recipe is adapted from the Joy of Cooking. If you don't have this book, I highly recommend it. Joy has so many great basic recipes that are super flexible.

I served these with a chili sour cream (sour cream mixed with garlic, salt, hot sauce, chili powder, cumin and paprika) in my superbowl assortment on Sunday.Corn Fritters (adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
Makes 24 fritters
16 oz. frozen corn, thawed and drained
2 egg yolks
2 tb flour
1 tb sugar
1/4 cup chopped chives or green onions
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
2 egg whites
2 tb oil

Combine first 8 ingredients in large mixing bowl and mix well. Gently mash corn a little with a fork until it's a little pulpy. In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until peaks form. Gently fold into corn mixture to make light and fluffy. DO NOT OVER MIX.
Heat oil in large skillet over med-high heat and drop in corn mixture by the heaping tablespoon. Cook 2 minutes on the first side (until golden brown).
Then turn and cook until golden brown on the other side. I'd like to tell you I never overcook these, but as you can see, I always have a few really dark ones. Even those taste good. Enjoy!

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