a push-back-the-fall appetizer!

It’s Labor Day, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on summer!   I don’t know about you, but though I love the fall, I’m not ready to welcome it with open arms quite yet…

Back in July, my dear friend Arielle sent me an intriguing watermelon recipe.  I had been meaning to try it all summer, and in a scramble to relish the season today, I decided to finally throw it together.

Classy Watermelon

This is what Arielle says:

1. Chop up watermelon into bite size pieces and place in a festive bowl.
2. Sprinkle with a dash of pink sea salt.
3. Top with fresh basil and goat cheese crumbles.
4. Drizzle with a light dusting of balsamic and…

VOILA! A savory way to enjoy a sweet summer treat!

*This is especially lovely with a bandol (bone dry, from the south of France) style Rose wine. 

Happy summer!

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sauce workshop!

One of our wedding presents was a cooking class!  We were given a list of choices, and finally decided on a “sauce workshop.”  The workshop was quite an experience!  The beginning was a little funny as we all stood around waiting for everyone to arrive.  We read the handout, adjusted our aprons, and stared at each other around the room.  Once the class started, however, it was a FRENZY of action for two-and-a-half hours!  I thought about the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen,” and marveled at how it all worked out somehow.

The class was full of characters.  Across the room, there was a Matt LeBlanc look-alike who kept confusing me when I’d see him out of the corner of my eye.  Our instructor reminded me (in looks and personality) of a (much nicer) Sue Sylvester.  She meant business, and definitely knew her stuff.

The most interesting character was our third teammate, “Stephanie.”  I put her name in quotation marks, because that is what her name tag read… and so naturally, that is what we called her for the entire class.  It wasn’t until the end that we figured out that she had replaced a Stephanie who couldn’t make it last minute, and had just decided to wear that name tag (and answer to that name) anyway!

“Stephanie” was super cool.  She was shorter than me, a grandmother, and an amazing cook.  I told her she needed to start teaching these classes herself.  “Stephanie” was very respectful of the chef teacher, but was constantly telling us everything she would do differently, as well as any additional tips she knew.  She had a quiet voice, so we would strain to catch these great bits of wisdom.  I was THIS close to asking her for her phone number after the class, because I would love to cook with her on a regular basis!

The instructor taught us about the mother sauces.  Apparently, tomato sauce is a fairly recent change to the list.  The first dish we made was Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis.  Even though it was a sauce workshop, we spent awhile making the crab cakes.  I definitely appreciated learning this, however, so no complaints from me!  Also, I actually found the same recipe we used here.

Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis

Here are the other three recipes we made: Seared Salmon with Raspberry Beurre Blanc (maybe my favorite sauce), Cilantro-Pepita Pesto with Seared Pork (this pesto was awesome), and Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce (the instructor ended up demonstrating this one since we were running overtime).

Seared Salmon with Raspberry Beurre Blanc

Cilantro-Pepita Pesto with Seared Pork

Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce

The class was great, and it really whetted my appetite (ha) to learn more about sauces.  Seriously, I had no idea that there was SO much to learn.  Here is one website I found that does a good job of explaining the basics.  I learned a lot of great cooking tidbits, like how to cook salmon in a pan, how to cook great gravy (hold back 2 degrees so that it can keep cooking off the heat, then strain it through paper towels), and the art of slowly adding ingredients.  Cooking classes are the best.  What a great present!

mexican, mexican, mexican.

I have SO much Mexican food to share!  Next post, I promise to move on to something else.  :)

Last weekend (not this past weekend, but the one before), I made my favorite casserole for our friends who just had a baby.  Here is a link to the recipe for the Southwest Pasta Bake…. I just call it “Mexican Lasagna.”  Tired of making the same old boring casserole?  Here is something that will wow your audience.  I made extra to enjoy with my dear friend Arielle, who was in town from Seattle.  We had a yummy South African Sauvignon Blanc (wine maker: Zafrika) from Trader Joe’s, which complimented the meal nicely.

Mexican Lasagna

Next, quesadilla madness.  Are you surprised?  I obviously love quesadillas.  :)  We had friends over a week ago, and this was the spread… Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Cabbage Slaw… (I know they are called “tacos,” but I really made them more quesadilla-like!)

Crispy Black Bean Tacos with Feta & Cabbage Slaw

That’s Mexican rice in the crockpot, that our friend Sarah brought along.  I promise I will post the amazing margarita and guacamole recipes at some point!  A staple for Chris and I’s food life.

Tonight, I made similar quesadillas (with tomatoes added and pepper jack cheese, instead of feta).  I also wanted to share this Corn & Avocado Salad, from this month’s Real Simple issue.  Light and easy!  I used green onions instead of scallions.

Corn & Avocado Salad

The next meal will be more Italian-based… my other favorite cuisine besides Mexican.  :)

asparagus, goat cheese, & mushroom quesadillas!

I haven’t been cooking a lot this week.  We were out of town in Blacksburg last weekend, and let me just say that if you ever are in Blacksburg, you MUST go to Gillie’s for breakfast.  I love everything on the menu, but usually order the Red Earth (homemade salsa on top of scrambled eggs on top of potatoes!).  I need to recreate that sometime.  Anyway, this week has just been a busier one of leftovers, eating at Panera, eating at National’s Park, etc!  By the way, we totally missed these new vendors at the stadium.  That’s okay, Ben’s Chili Bowl is still pretty exciting.

I did want to share one of my favorite easy and quick veggie meals.  I consider myself a flexitarian (yes, that word is for real!), so I love eating vegetarian whenever I can.  Here is a recipe for goat cheese and asparagus quesadillas… and I always add mushrooms!

Asparagus, Goat Cheese, and Mushroom Quesadillas

I’m starting to wonder if I only eat the same ingredients all the time?  I do love asparagus, goat cheese, and mushrooms.  :)  You can make these in a pan on the stove, but I’ve started using our little George Foreman grill instead.

I’m making a Mexican casserole this weekend for our friends who just had a baby, and then we’re having a couple over for Mexican food on Monday… so those are my next cooking adventures!

mexican tuesday.

Whenever Chris and I have no plans on Mondays, we make Mexican food and margaritas!  As I posted, we had our friend over for dinner last Monday, but we were free the next night, so we decided to postpone Mexican food a day later this week.  Usually, I make some pretty basic quesadillas, and then lots of dips to go along.  This week, I was inspired by Chipotle to try out making barbacoa (spicy beef) tacos!  I found this recipe for slow cooker barbacoa, and let me tell you… it was wonderful coming home after a long day of work to the smell of this cooking!

Barbacoa Cooking in the Slow Cooker

To be honest, it probably didn’t turn out as spicy as I would have liked… but we couldn’t really tell in the mixture of ingredients once the tacos were assembled.  We wrapped the shredded barbacoa, grated pepper jack cheese, and chopped peppers in soft tortillas (wheat).

Barbacoa Taco

On the table, we had spicy salsa and homemade guacamole to add in.  We also always make our margaritas from scratch!  At some point, I will post the easy recipes for homemade guac and homemade margs.

a sediment-al night.

Monday night, we had a dear friend over for dinner to drink a special bottle of wine that he gave us for our wedding!  A 2000 Domaine Cros Minervois Vieilles Vignes.  Most wines people buy these days are made to drink right now.  This wine is unique (for modern wine-drinking), because even at 11 years old, it was still hitting its peak!  All wines were once made this way… built to grow better with time.  Very cool.

The 2000 Domaine Cros Minervois Vieilles Vignes

I didn’t do the best job of pairing the meal with the wine (steak probably would have been a better fit), but the cheese I selected for a pre-dinner appetizer matched beautifully.  I highly recommend this French Morbier cheese, bought at Trader Joe’s!  It was stinky, pungent, and it brought out lovely dark berry flavors from the wine.  The vegetable streak through the middle of the Morbier is crazy!  (Crazy good.)

The French Morbier Cheese

Even though the meal might not have been the best choice for the wine, it sure was delicious!  I served prosciutto-wrapped grilled chicken stuffed with goat cheese & herbs, along with sautéed squash, steamed broccoli, and French bread.  The chicken was as easy to make as it is to write out!  I took chicken breast fillets, made a slit with a sharp knife, then stuffed in goat cheese (this particular cheese came already mixed with fresh herbs… you could also mix in your own!).  I tried to seal up the opening as best possible, then cooked the fillets in our George Foreman counter grill for about 5 minutes.  After that, I took the chicken out and carefully wrapped each fillet in prosciutto.  I cooked the chicken for about 2 more minutes, and the result was delicious!  It was like the prosciutto had been welded on — yum!

Prosciutto-Wrapped Chicken, Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Herbs

It was a sediment-al night, because I have never seen such crazy sediment from a wine!  Truly an Old World style wine.  :)

Sediment!

steak & potatoes {spanish style}

I studied abroad in Spain four years ago, and fell in love with the country!  Early on in our relationship, Chris and I went on a date to Jaleo, “the renowned tapas restaurant of José Andrés.”  Oh my goodness.  One sip of the sangria, and I was transported back to Spain!  The tapas were amazing, and I have since fallen in love with the food at every restaurant of his.  Chris and I actually had our rehearsal dinner at the Jaleo in Crystal City, and it was SO delicious and fun!

Anyway, I could go on and on about Chef José Andrés, and I’m sure I will write more entries on his food.  We had some friends over for dinner on Saturday night, and I decided to make it Spanish-themed and use recipes by José!  His Made in Spain cookbook was the inspiration.  I made red wine sangria, beef tenderloin with picón cheese, sauteed green asparagus (white asparagus probably would have been more authentic!), and mashed potatoes with manchego and olive oil (that recipe can be found here).

Steak w/Blue Cheese Sauce & Asparagus

Here you can see most of the entire meal… I’m not sure why I put the mashed potatoes in a bowl when everything else was already on the plate!

Steak w/Blue Cheese Sauce, Asparagus, Mashed Potatoes w/Cabra Cheese, & Sangria!

There were a few adjustments.  I used ribeye steaks (cheaper) and Moody Blue Smoked Blue Cheese (from Screwtop!) for the sauce.  I also used Cabra cheese for the mashed potatoes (also from Screwtop) instead of Manchego.

Sangria!

What a fun night of Spanish-style food with our friends!  By the way, check out this new temporary restaurant of his that is opening up soon.  It’s going along with the National Archives’ exhibit, What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?  I can’t wait!