Monday, May 31, 2010

Spicy Macaroni and Cheese

Is there anyone in the entire world who doesn't like mac and cheese? It's got two of the best possible food items combined into one magnificent, simple dish: pasta and cheese. There are endless combinations for making this dish your own, from the boxed variety (only acceptable when you're in a rush) to upscale versions made with truffle oil (a little over the top, by my standards). While I enjoy the homemade baked versions, especially if there's a breaded top to crunch through, this recipe is chock full of veggies and flavor and done in a skillet. The original idea is from the Pioneer Woman, whose website defines sinfully delicious, but I scaled back some of the spiciness, and added more vegetables. Hey, everyone could use extra veggies in their diets!
Everything about this recipe works: the pepper jack cheese melts perfectly into the rotini curls, the onions and red peppers make a delicious pair, and the corn adds some sweetness to the spice of the cheese and salsa. We've always got leftovers, but they seem to go pretty quickly.
I have no idea who eats them. Honest.

Spicy Mac n Cheese (adapted from Pioneer Woman)
4 c. (1 bag) curly pasta (use your favorite; mine's rotini)
1 onion, diced (red, white, yellow, again it's your pick)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 c. salsa
1 bag frozen corn
2 c. grated Pepper Jack cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
Dash of red pepper flakes
1 c. half and half
Olive oil
Salt and Pepper

1. Boil pasta until al dente. Drain, and set aside.
2. In a large skillet, add olive oil. Saute onions, pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes, and corn over medium heat until slightly soft. Add salsa and stir until heated through. Turn off heat.
3. Add pasta, half and half, and cheese. Stir gently, and taste. If needed, season with salt and pepper.
4. Serve gigantic portions into bowls and eat up!

We usually just eat this as our meal, and it is completely filling. However, if you're a meat lover, some ground beef or spicy sausage would be great to round this meal off!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Casual Friday Squared

Gap button-down
Target shorts
Michael Antonio sandals
Vintage belt
Anthropologie earrings

It took a long time for me to be okay with the denim on denim craze that is sweeping the nation.
All right, perhaps not the entire nation, but celebs and other people in pictures seem to really pull this off, and I figured, "How hard can this really be?" The mission was helped along by this top, purchased during a buy one, get one free sale at Gap. Is there anyone who could resist a deal like that? The button-down is surprisingly light for the summer, and the color doesn't pair perfectly. This is key in making denim work together; no matchy-matchy here. The shorts were originally knee-length, but we petite girls can't really pull that off.

This belt holds some significance for me. My sister surprised me with it a long time ago (probably 10 years?), after I'd said I loved it at a Tennessee vintage store. It's so completely lovely: the little flowers with their cute colors, the embossed leaves, the funky brass buckle. Seriously. And the best part is, it looks exactly the same when Haley bought it ten years ago, and probably hasn't changed since it was made in the 70s. Accessories should always come with a story.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Green Olive-Lemon Chicken

Okay, I'm going to level with you: I hate cooking meats. Even fish is just too much for me to deal with sometimes. During the process, I'm just sitting there thinking, "This is going to be undercooked and someone is going to get sick and then their stomach will just fall right out and it will be all my fault for not just making a stupid salad!" My man usually has to step up to the plate if we're going to have steak or pork or mahi-mahi. He's a saint for several reasons.

This recipe, though, is soo good, I'm willing to face my fear of cooking chicken. Lemon and green olives are a perfect flavor combination: slightly tart and salty, and the lemon helps detract from some of the bitterness of the olive. Serve over white or brown rice. Trust me. You don't want to waste any of the delicious sauce, full of shallots, white wine and cumin. I'm going to eat leftovers of this meal while typing this post.

I made a couple of changes to the original recipe, but they're small and done because I don't have a zester.

Lemon Chicken with Olives (adapted from Real Simple, here)
2 Tbsp. flour
Juice of 1 lemon*
1 tsp. cumin
Salt and pepper
1 lb. chicken tenders
3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 c. green olives, halved
3/4 c. white wine

1. On a plate, combine the flour, cumin and 1/2 tsp. salt and pepper. Coat chicken with flour mixture, tapping off any excess.
2. Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken in two batches until golden, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plat.
3. Heat remaining oil in skillet, and reduce heat to medium. Add the shallots and cook until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add olives, wine and lemon juice, and bring to a boil.
4. Place chicken back into skillet. Simmer, covered, until the chicken is cooked through, 4-6 minutes.
5. Enjoy!
*When squeezing lemons for their juice, just use a mini-strainer to catch the seeds. Plus, mini things are ridiculously cute, even if they're kitchen utensils.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Let The Great World Spin

2009's National Book Award winner is poignant, lyrical, and spellbinding. McCann's book mostly takes place in August 1974, when Philippe Petit tightrope walked between the Twin Towers in NYC, however the event is not at the forefront of each narrative. Although it's called a novel, I would prefer to classify this book as a series of vignettes that are connected by a handful of characters you would not expect to be in the same circle. McCann has done a beautiful job of telling each narrator's story: a monk who has unexpectedly found love with a Guatamalan nurse, the mother who has lost her son in Vietnam, an older woman who takes two young girls into her home. Ten chapters, separated by descriptions of Petit's walk, make up the book, and eight of them are excellent. Two, "Tag" and "Etherwest", didn't seem to fit in as well, and I found myself skimming the pages quickly to get to the next chapter. Don't let that deter you from picking up this gorgeously written novel; not only will you look smart reading an award-winning book, you'll want to devour every word on McCann's page.

Two lines in the book stuck with me: "All respects to Heaven, I like it here" (the title of the first chapter), and "I gave them all the truth and none of the honesty" (p. 303).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Summer Happy Hour

Anthropologie top
Urban Outfitters skirt
Anthropologie shoes
F21 earrings
H&M clutch

Happy hours are wonderful because you can dress up or down, depending on where you sip your cocktails. On Friday we celebrated a friend's birthday by going for a drink at Circle Bistro on Washington Circle, which means I got to go for the dressed up route! These heels are absolutely fabulous, but killer on the feet after more than a few blocks, making them perfect for the very short walk to the lounge. I wanted to keep the rest of the outfit simple so the shoes really stand out; the earrings are just to bring some red up to eye-level. Massive earrings are a must at cocktail hour.

I would briefly like to note that the Barefoot Russian drink at Circle Bistro is perfect for summer. Super refreshing, and full of pineapple juice!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Banana Pudding Pie

To be quite honest, John Paul and I should not be allowed to live together. We love each other a whole bunch, and laugh the vast majority of the time, but we also eat TONS of baked goods because neither of us has the willpower to resist a good dessert suggestion. So when I mentioned last week that I was craving banana pudding, John Paul immediately seconded the idea, leaving me no option but to find a decadent, refreshing banana pudding pie recipe to satisfy our enormous appetites.

Oh, did I ever find a delicious summer dessert. I started off with a pie crust made from Nilla wafers, filled it with vanilla pudding and bananas, and even added a little sweetened condensed milk to finish it off. To make the pudding thicker, I used half and half, which does sweeten it more than if I'd used just milk. If you're not crazy about really sweet desserts, use just milk, or bypass the sweetened condensed milk. Obviously, it's not healthy in the least (although the bananas add a bit of potassium; can that please count?), but it is perfect after lunch on a hot day, when baking dessert is too much work. And, really, we can't be expected to eat salads all the time, anyway.

Crust (From Country Living, here)
50 vanilla wafers (I used 70-80 mini wafers)
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
5 Tbsp. melted unsalted butter
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350. Combine wafers, sugars and salt in food processor and pulse until finely ground. (If you don't have a food processor, use a blender or put everything in a big Ziploc bag and crush with your hands. Or feet, there's no judgment.) Stir in butter and vanilla, then press into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool.

Pudding* and Banana Filling
2 packages instant vanilla pudding (you can make your own; I'm just a bit impatient)
1 pint half and half
1 1/2 c. 2% milk
1/2 c. sweetened condensed milk
3 bananas, thinly sliced

Combine half and half, milk and pudding mix into medium bowl. Whisk for two minutes, until smooth. Spread sweetened condensed milk onto bottom of crust. Add 1/3 of the pudding, place banana slices in one layer on top of pudding, then repeat two more times. After pie has been assembled, chill in refrigerator for at least two hours. Serves about 10 slices.

*I used Trader Joe's instant vanilla pudding, which calls for 1 3/4 c. milk for each package, and two packages filled the pie crust perfectly. Double check other pudding brands' prep instructions if you're iffy about the filling.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Brown & Black, Living in Harmony

Urban Outfitters dress
Anthropologie belt
Piperlime sandals (Michael Antonio)
H&M earrings

I know it's a big fashion no-no to pair brown and black, but rules are meant to be broken. Lately, I'm loving the medium brown and black combination; maybe because it's not used often, it looks fresh. I had a light lunch with a wonderful friend, and used the opportunity to change up the usual jeans and a t-shirt uniform I don for our meetings. This dress is several years old, but is light and looks great with a belt to spice things up. The belt was a sale find, and I've worn it with everything from cinching baggy sweaters to dressing up casual frocks (like this one) to accessorizing for holidays (it was a hit for Easter). Mia joined in the modeling. She really does have the face for it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cheddar Cheese Drop Biscuits

Maybe it has something to do with so many meals spent in southern Georgia, but there is a huge portion of my soul that can only be fulfilled with biscuits. Buttery, rich, and perfect with soups, salads, jams...they're really all-purpose. Not that I need any justification to bake homemade biscuits.

Which is exactly what I've done twice in the past week. This recipe is quickly becoming the go-to comfort food pick, mostly because it is full of butter AND cheese. It only requires one bowl. Mix with your hands, no biscuit cutters needed. Can it possibly get any better? According to John Paul, it really can't. If presented with a choice between these cheddar cheese and scallion biscuits and finding out how LOST ends, the finale would lose. And he REALLY wants to know how it ends already.

Cheddar Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits* (From Smitten Kitchen, here)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. (3/4 stick or 3 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups crumbled cheddar cheese (you can add another 1/2 cup for a super-cheesy biscuit)
4 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Preheat oven to 450°F. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in cheddar cheese and scallions. Add buttermilk and stir until just combined.
Drop dough in 12 equal mounds about 2 inches apart onto a buttered large baking sheet, or one lined with parchment paper. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 16 to 20 minutes.

*If I may make a suggestion for day-after biscuits: cut them in half, toast, put a poached egg on each half, and top with paprika. If you have a bad day, you certainly can't blame it on this breakfast.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Slaughterhouse Five

I've been talking about how wonderful this autobiographical novel is since senior year of college. My Modern American Novel teacher deserves my deepest thanks for assigning it during my penultimate semester; why hadn't anyone else recommended it before? How had I not realized the genius, humor and grace with which Vonnegut tackles his subjects? Since the first reading, I've read it yearly, and really, truly think everyone should have someone force this book on them.

The book centers on the bombing of Dresden during World War II, which Vonnegut was actually present at. Billy Pilgrim is Vonnegut's alter-ego, and "has come unstuck in time"; throughout the novel, he ventures back and forth between his present life in the 1960s and his time as a prisoner in Germany. He was captured by German soldiers, and brought to Dresden, where he survived the fire bombing by hiding in an underground slaughterhouse. Oh, and he's been traveling to and from Tralfamadore, an alien planet where he and a beautiful actress are on display in a zoo. I know what you're thinking: an autobiographical, science fiction novel of a tragedy of epic proportions? Vonnegut mixes all of these aspects beautifully. It is also sprinkled very sporadically with sketches like this one:
It's one of the great novels of the late twentieth century, and relatively short. Not a bad way to while away an afternoon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Arugula Salad with Beets

I love salads. Veggies are my favorite food group (well, some of the time, anyway), and I'm a sucker for a well-constructed bowl of greens. I get cravings for my mom's chef salad, Katie Lee Joel's pesto pasta salad, and now Hook's arugula salad with beets. For no particular reason, beets were not part of my culinary vocabulary until last October, when I ate at Hook for my man's birthday and ordered said Hook salad on a whim.

Completely wonderful! Beets have a perfect natural sweetness that contrasts nicely with the subtle spiciness of arugula, and the whole thing is topped off with crumbled goat cheese and a sprinkling of nuts. The flavors are great for any season; just change up the dressing if you get bored with it. I've made this recipe several times, making little adjustments each time (adding cucumber instead of avocado, walnuts instead of almonds), and it just gets better and better!

Don't be afraid to add an ingredient or two to the salad, as long as it doesn't overwhelm the beets. Trust me, they're the standout of this salad.

Salad Recipe (these measurements are approximate, rather than exact):
2 cups arugula
3 beets, sliced*
2 oz. goat cheese
1/4 cup almonds, chopped
1/2 avocado, pitted and diced

Place arugula and beets into bowl. Crumble goat cheese over, topping with almonds and avocado. Toss with dressing (recipe following). Enjoy with a slice of challah, or some other delicious thick-sliced bread, if you've got it lying around.

Honey-Beet Juice Vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Leftover beet juice (see note)
1 Tbsp. honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a clean jar, cover with lid, and shake vigorously for 30 seconds. Voila! Top salad with desired amount, and save the rest (if any) for another salad, or sandwich.

*I get beets already cooked and peeled vacuum-sealed with some of their juices. Don't toss the juice! It's a great addition to the dressing, if only for the gorgeous pink color.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Concrete Jungle

Gap shirtdress
Piperlime (MIA) wedges
Forever 21 belt
Mexx purse
Banana Republic ring
Vintage necklace

The weather in DC as of late has been absolutely gorgeous! Sunny with a bit of a breeze, which is perfect for this dress. Though listed as "feather gray," it's really more of a khaki, and looks great with pops of color (like the pink bag!).
And can we please discuss the shoes? I'd been on the lookout for brown wedges for the summer, and bought these on a bit of a whim online. They're definitely going to be my go-to shoes for the coming months: they add four inches to my short stature, go with everything in my closet, and are incredibly comfortable. Seriously. It's hard to believe, but the platform under the toe offers support, and the straps keep my feet firmly situated in the shoe. I'm in love!

Friday, May 14, 2010


My favorite place to get French toast in Florida is TooJay's, a Jewish deli. Seriously, it is superdelicious: thick-cut challah bread dipped in egg, grilled to perfection, topped with confectioner's sugar, tons of butter and syrup. Pardon me for drooling; I really should have worn a bib to talk about breakfast treats.

What makes the French toast so out of this world is the challah. It's a dense, egg-based bread that can be baked as a loaf, rolls, knots, even just a plain ball, but the most impressive way to serve it is as a thick, massive braid. It's beautiful: pale yellow on the inside, chewy, and will make all of your dreams come true.

A little over the top? Maybe.

I finally decided to bite the bullet and make my own challah a couple of weeks ago. John Paul and I ate the entire loaf in two days. (What can I say? We really like carbs.) It's perfect toasted with jam for breakfast, lunch or a mid-afternoon pickup. It's also surprisingly easy to make! I used my standing mixer's dough hook to knead the dough; if you don't have one, the dough only requires 5-7 minutes of hands-on kneading. I used the Williams-Sonoma recipe, but had to fiddle with it a smidge when I ran out of all-purpose flour (substituted half the flour for whole wheat).

If you have an afternoon free and want your kitchen to smell wonderful, try baking some bread. Not only will your friends, boyfriends and dog (if you have one) love you a little more, but it's amazing what can happen with a little yeast, flour, and eggs. Kind of reaffirms your idea that everything is going to be just fine.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

This Is Where I Leave You


Think of this as a less neurotic Nick Hornby (who I also love dearly). This is the story of the Foxman family’s shiva after their patriarch’s death. Judd, the third child of four, recently separated from his wife after finding her mid-coitus. With his shock jock DC boss. In their marriage bed. For a week, he is forced to go back home to mourn his father’s death, along with his overbearing, TMI-sharing mother, miserable older brother Paul, unfulfilled older sister Wendy, and unpredictable young brother Phil. They haven’t been together in years, and secrets are revealed, punches thrown, and lots of confrontations had.
Tropper is hilarious; his writing never feels forced, and I found myself chuckling throughout the novel. I won’t lie- there are some pretty graphic descriptions of sex (though not gratuitous) and strong language, but it goes so perfectly with the tone of the book. This would be a great summer read, or something to take on a trip. I’m already reading another one of Tropper’s books; is there anything better than discovering a great newish author?