Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we have enjoyed this past week:

BK Patio

We stayed at a hotel last weekend while visiting family in Brooklyn, and our room had the largest balcony/patio for a hotel room (especially by New York standards!) we have ever seen.  It may have been bigger than the room itself, and had cool city views.  It’s probably for the best that cold and rainy weather kept us from spending any time out there, since the priority of our visit was hanging out with the world’s cutest red-headed nephew.

Shake Shack

Strictly for burger research purposes, we squeezed in a quick trip to Shake Shack while in Brooklyn.  Similar to In-N-Out and Five Guys, the eatery is famous for its legendary burgers, but unlike those other two, Shake Shack’s menu has more variety, including hot dogs and frozen custards.  We went with the basic cheeseburger, which was definitely comparable to that of In-N-Out and Five Guys.  But which burger do we ultimately prefer?  Inconclusive.  The Best Burger Inquest continues and will require more extensive investigation.

More chicken, no sauce

Not much makes Dan happier than when people enjoy his cooking, even more so when one of those people is his 2 year-old nephew.  We cooked our beef taco recipe (minus the cayenne pepper to make it less spicy), used ground turkey instead of beef (still delicious!), and told the little guy that it was chicken (per his dad’s instruction.)  I originally made the rookie mistake of spooning the taco meat over rice, which apparently is not very appealing to the toddler palate.  But our nephew tasted the “chicken” anyway, loved it and asked for more, but “no sauce.”  He probably ate four or five (kid-plate-sized) helpings, much to his aunt and uncle’s delight.


After an embarrassing number of failed attempts, we finally trapped a feral cat in our backyard, for purposes of getting her fixed and preventing future feral cats.  She was a trooper throughout the whole thing, and didn’t make a peep during the car rides to and from the vet.  Outsmarting an alley cat with some tuna and a spring-loaded wire cage feels like a far greater accomplishment than one might expect.  Take note, feral cats in our neighborhood:  have trap, will spay and neuter.


Skillet Baked Ziti w/ Turkey Sausage

Until now, we didn’t have a signature or go-to recipe for baked ziti, and didn’t really eat it all that often.  But we like that it has similar components as one of the all-time most comforting of comfort foods — lasagne — with red sauce, cheese and pasta; but without the time and effort commitment of its layered comfort cousin.  We recently picked up a copy of one of Cook’s Illustrated’s special-issue magazines “Skillet Dinners,” and were pleased to find a recipe for baked ziti among its pages of one-pot wonders.  We also appreciate that the dish is easy enough to make on a week night, with simple ingredients:  a 28 ounce can of whole, peeled tomatoes; a pound of Italian sausage;  5-6 cloves of minced garlic; 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes; 3 cups water; 3 3/4 cups ziti or penne pasta; 1/2 cup heavy cream; 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese; 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (or 2 tablespoons dried basil) and 1 cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese.  We used Italian turkey sausage instead of the pork variety and loved that the resulting dish still had all of the comfort, but less of the calories and fat.

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Do the Irish really eat corned beef

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year, we made homemade corned beef.  Quite a change from many, many years ago, when we marked the occasion by attending the annual local parade, then doing some serious day-drinking at the block party event that followed.  With age comes wisdom.  And less hangovers.

Tiny tomats

We took advantage of the recent warm weather (and hangover-free Sunday morning) by planting our tomatoes for the season.  We filled 3 big barrels with good garden soil and planted a couple varieties of grape/cherry sized tomato plants, along with a few basil plants.  Fingers crossed that we have as much success with them as we did last year.

Wine tasting

I attended a lovely wine tasting with old friends (thanks for the invite, Sue!) the other night at a cool little venue.  The wines (from Benovia Winery) were outstanding, I had one of the best bites of lamb ever, and catching up with people I love but don’t get to see nearly often enough made my heart happy.


Also heart-happy, Lowly the Worm is super excited to be all packed and coming with us on our trip to New York this weekend to visit with our adorable (and adored) nephew T and his parents.  Can’t wait to see you guys!



Homemade Hummus

Whenever we go to visit Dan’s younger brother and his family in New York, our sweet sister-in-law always makes it a point to stock up on hummus from the Middle Eastern specialty food shop in their neighborhood, because she knows how much we love it.  It’s the best we’ve ever had, and we’ve never been able to find anything that comes anywhere close here in Dallas.  So Dan finally decided to look no further than our very own kitchen, and researched a bunch of recipes for us to make hummus at home.  He chose and adapted this recipe, mainly because it divulges the secret to “ethereally smooth hummus” (so smooth that it’s the clever name of the recipe), the likes of which we’ve only ever encountered on our family visits to Brooklyn.  It may sound strange and unnecessary, but the key to getting butter-smooth consistency in homemade hummus is to peel the chickpeas before putting them through the food processor.  Now that we know this trick for getting foolproof smooth texture, the only challenging aspect of making homemade hummus is experimenting with flavors and varieties.  But that’s also the fun part.  We started with a very basic version flavored with garlic, tahini, lemon juice, salt, olive oil and cumin.  This will be our go-to favorite, but we look forward to trying other versions and flavor combinations — maybe a spicy one with jalapeno, or a peppery one with roasted garlic and red bell pepper.

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Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

Actually, we should probably call this dish “chicken with 20 cloves of garlic,” since we used chicken thighs instead of a whole chicken and cut the recipe in half.  Either way, it’s a lot of garlic.  But don’t worry — you won’t need to make a dessert out of gum, breath mints and mouthwash after eating it — the garlic becomes sweet and much less pungent when you cook it for a long time.  Although it takes time to make (browning time for the chicken and the garlic, then about 30 minutes simmer time for both, plus several minutes to finish the creamy sauce), this dish is well worth the effort.  The sweet garlic adds flavor to both the chicken and the rich sauce, which elevates this dish to the level of dinner party fare.  And it provides a built-in party trick when your guests are shocked by how much garlic they’re eating, without any overwhelming garlicky flavor (or post-dinner garlic breath.)

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Holy guacamole

We’re always excited to try new Tex-Mex restaurants, and have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Boca Chica in an area of town where we often spend time on the weekends.  Boca Chica specializes in “modern Mexican food” in the form of tapas (small appetizer plates of food), so it’s sort of a hybrid Mexican and Spanish style cuisine.  But they also have guacamole, which is our go-to standard by which we measure whether a Tex-Mex (or Mexican/Spanish hybrid) restaurant is any good.  We only tried the regular guacamole, although they have specialty versions as well.  The verdict?  We’ll definitely be back.  The guacamole was super fresh, with just the right amount of tomato, cilantro and heat.  Dan also enjoyed the ceviche sampler, but it was a bit fishy for my taste.  In addition to tapas, they also have a nice variety of tacos, salads and tortas.  And an extensive selection of tequilas, of course.

Saving daylight

Say what you will about Daylight Savings time (and if you’re like us, you will say a few choice curse words when the alarm goes off that first Monday morning), but having an extra hour of daylight in the evenings is a wonderful thing.  (At least until summer, when all we want is for the sun to go down so it will “cool off” to the high 80s already.)

Salmon eggs

We enjoy smoked salmon for breakfast a lot, usually served on a toasted English muffin with cream cheese and a little bit of chopped red onion.  We have that particular breakfast often enough that it gets a little boring.  I also tend to get bored with scrambled eggs.  So why not combine the two, top with a few dollups of creme fraiche (basically fancy sour cream) and add a couple slices of toasted homemade bread for an out-of-the-box, opposite-of-boring breakfast?  We did, and it was delicious.

Onion salad

We experimented with a new side dish this week — balsamic glazed onions over fresh spinach.  We used Mario Batali’s recipe from his book “Simple Italian Food” for the onions, which were good, but the recipe needs a little tweaking.  The onions didn’t get quite as soft as we would have liked, and the balsamic vinegar turned into more of a sticky paste (stuck to the cookie sheet) than a “glaze.”  But we salvaged the onions, placed them on top of a bed of fresh spinach drizzled with olive oil and more balsamic, seasoned with salt & pepper, then squeezed a little lemon juice over all of it to brighten up the flavors.  Once we get the technique down for the onions, this side dish will be a keeper.

Here, kitty kittySomething else we’re experimenting with this week:  trapping a feral cat so we can take it to the vet for a little procedure to help prevent future feral cats.  Cue the Crazy Cat Lady jokes in 3, 2, 1…  We have a couple of stray cats that hang around our backyard for some reason (perhaps to drink from our pool.  But more likely because we I feed them.)  So we are attempting to do the right thing by working with a “trap, neuter, release” organization to help reduce the feral population, one kitty at a time.  To do this, we have to lure the cat into the trap, keep it in the trap overnight and take it to the vet the next morning.  Apparently our technique of “luring the cat into the trap” needs a little work, as our first attempt was hugely unsuccessful.  Not even close.  But we’ll keep trying.  In the meantime, I should probably also begin working on my “kittens: free 2 good home” poster.

Fish in Crazy Water

Cooking (and eating) seafood in a broth sounds a little, um, crazy.  But if you like delicate, perfectly cooked fish in a rich, slightly spicy yet sweet tomato sauce, then it’s actually very, very sane.  Add a couple slices of grilled or toasted crusty bread to soak up the excess broth, and it couldn’t make more sense.  We came across the recipe in a recent issue of Food & Wine magazine and were intrigued to try it, especially when we discovered that “fish in crazy water” is a translation of the Italian “pesce all’acqua pazza.”  If you know us, you’re familiar with our motto that “Everything is better in (or from) Italy.”  So we couldn’t NOT try this dish.  And we weren’t disappointed.  Not only was it delicious, but the recipe is also easy to make (provided you have the time required to simmer the broth — about 45 minutes) for a light and healthy Mediterranean-style dinner. Continue reading “Fish in Crazy Water”