Pets and Other Things

I am not 25 any more. I can’t function on three hours of sleep for days on end and still have a spring in my step. Stress wears me down more than it use to and I’m counting the weeks until I finish grad school and can focus on just one thing at a time again.

Bob and I knew this semester would be rough – work full time, intern and class. We were prepared for it, but the reality is that I’m just tired. The kitties and Arthas help, but when I worry about the little ones playing around Arthas’s head, or using him as a launching pad for to the couch (I’m looking at you, Alinea) I do wonder about the wisdom of adding two kittens to the house at this time.  But then they curl up with me or I see Tigger playing with them or cleaning them and I know it was the right decision.  … So … cute pet pictures:

I am also behind on taking notes on wine. I have some that I remembered, but others that I just totally forgot. So .. for the wine I’ve had recently that didn’t make an individual post because I lost track of time …

IMG_20170928_182938.jpgThis Pinotage and Shiraz blend was fantastic. I’ve had wines from Spier before and generally liked them, but this was just amazing. Both Bob and I loved it and found it really easy to drink. I’m a fan of Pinotage in general and was surprised at how good this blend was. And for an $8 bottle of wine, I am definitely picking this up again.

The Furmint was ok – not as good as the bottle we had from Weekly Tasting, but not bad. It has some interesting notes and is easy to drink. As the weather gets cool

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er (well, cooler for Florida) I’m sure I will be drinking less and less white, so this was a bit of a last nod to summer.

I’m sure there has been more wine, but I didn’t take pictures of the bottles so I don’t have them to post.

On the food front, it has been Hello Fresh boxes or old stand by meals. Poor Bob has not had any experiments in a while and I miss exploring different combinations. Unfortunately I just don’t have the energy to search for new recipes, shop for all the ingredients and then make a totally new recipe right now. What I have been cooking has been pretty good, but basic:

I will admit the pesto pizza was fantastic – spinach pesto with mozzarella and pecorino cheese.  So good.

Not the most exciting catch-up post ever, but right now I will take it. I am looking forward to January when I can slow down a bit, enjoy the babies more and experiment with food more. I’m looking forward to going to work just for the hours I’m to work and not add many more hours for internships. I’m looking forward to reading something just because I want to read it and not because I’m researching and I’m looking forward to not feeling guilty for taking a morning to myself since there is so much work to do. I am definitely not 25 anymore.

 

Couscous Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that scare home cooks. I learned to not be afraid of risotto after making a baked risotto a few years ago. It came out just fine, and actually pretty good, so I moved on to the regular stove-top version. Despite all of the warnings I heard on various tv food shows over the years, it turns out that risotto really isn’t hard. Yes, it takes time, and yes, you need to watch it, but it isn’t an hour of constant stirring. In all honesty, it is hard to get perfect, but it is also hard to screw up. Risotto, if you are just aiming for a good meal, is easy.

I decided to try something a little different. I love pearled or Israeli couscous – it has texture, structure and can accommodate a ton of different things added to it. Since it is pretty simple to cook, I tried to make it in a risotto style – and it worked. Bob loved this dish and he is not generally a fan of couscous, but the pearled variety is heartier and he apparently likes it. The leftover spinach pesto really brought this dish together and it made a great, filling meal. The only thing I need to do next time is make more of it – I want leftovers and I think it would make a great salad the next day (no microwave needed).

Couscous Risotto:

  • 1 cup pearled couscous
  • 1 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 shallot
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup spinach pesto
  • 3 tablespoons grated pecorino cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • oil or butter

Bring the vegetable broth to a boil, then cover and reduce heat just to keep warm. Slice the shallot and split the tomatoes in half.

In a medium pan heat oil (or butter – about 1 tablespoon) until hot then add shallot and tomatoes and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes begin to break down and the shallot is soft – about 5 minutes. Add the couscous to the pan and cook, stirring to coat, about two minutes. You want the couscous slightly toasted. Season with salt and pepper.

Add about 1/2 of the broth to the pan and stir until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Reduce heat to low and add the rest of the broth. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the broth has been absorbed, about 8 minutes. If the couscous isn’t cooked through, add about a 1/4 cup of water, stir and cover.

Remove from heat and add cheese. Mix. Add pesto and combine well. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed (some vegetable broths provide enough flavor so you don’t need any more here). Makes 2 servings.

Cheesecake with Cherry Curd

I love reading blogs, especially blogs that contain really great food ideas. I sometimes make those dishes very close to instructed and sometimes I take the inspiration from them and do my own thing. (It doesn’t always work, but when it does … )

Cheesecake is a favorite dessert in our house, but with only two of us I have a hard time making one. We just don’t eat it fast enough to justify making it, so I was super excited to find Andrea’s small batch cheesecake at Cooking with a Wallflower. (If you aren’t reading her blog, you should be – the photos alone are worth it, but she also has fantastic recipes.) I’m not sure why I never thought to reduce the size of the cheesecake, but it is a genius idea – and so simple.

I did make a few adjustments – I added made a slightly different crust (one I’ve made before and really love), added whipped cream to the cream cheese for a slightly lighter texture, baked it in a larger, but shorter pan, and made a cherry lime curd to go over the cheesecake so that I would also have a filling for mini pies if I wanted later. Trust me, if you are going to go through the trouble of pitting cherries, make enough of something for two dishes.

So here is my version of the cheesecake – Bob called it my best effort to date. Given that he has devoured other cheesecakes I’ve made in the past, this is high praise. He actually gushed over this one.

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar

Mix all ingredients and press into a pan – I used an 8×6 baking dish – lined with parchment paper. Place in the freezer while you work on the cheesecake batter.

Cheesecake:

Heat over to 325 degrees.

  • 2 8oz packages cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Beat the cream cheese and butter together until soft. Add the egg and whipping cream and mix until everything is incorporated and smooth. Mix in vanilla extract.

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake at 325 degrees for about 50 minutes. Turn off oven, open door slightly and allow to cool in the over for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating. (I took the cheesecake out of the pan using the parchment paper here and let it cool on a wire rack for just over an hour.)

Cherry lime curd:

Follow Diane’s recipe here.

Summer Caprese

Now that school is back in full swing, the last bit of summer starts to fade. Yes, it will be hot in Florida for a while yet, but fall is beginning to make its presence known. The mornings are just a touch cooler, the evenings have a nice breeze and the afternoon rains, while still here, are not arriving every day.

It was with this as a backdrop – that first morning when there was just a hint of chill in the air – that I decided to have one last celebration of summer. At the farmer’s market with mom I picked up some beautiful red and yellow tomatoes. (Not Jersey tomatoes, because those really are the best, but you can’t get them in Florida, but these were far better than grocery store tomatoes.) I found a not so pretty, but definitely ripe, peach to add to the salad and picked up some little mozzarella pearls at the store. To this I added some basil from my garden and a touch of salt and balsamic glaze. It was the perfect summer salad.

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TMP Sandwich

There are days when I surprise myself, sometimes even in a good way. I was thinking a lot about lunches to pack when school starts back up again (and kittens, but that is another story) and kept trying to think of things I could take that do not require a refrigerator or a microwave. I don’t know about anyone else, but work-place fridges and microwaves are a little suspect most days, and in all honesty, I really don’t want most of my lunch time to be taken up with waiting for the microwave.

So the sandwich. Yes, I’ve done versions of this before, but I may have hit on perfection with this one. I tried a new way to make eggplant bacon and a new pesto concoction and the combination was incredible. Bob said the balance of flavors was perfect and he didn’t mind eating the same thing for lunch two days in a row.

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For the eggplant bacon I used the marinade recipe from Oh My Veggies. Instead of cooking the eggplant in a frying pan (which I’ve done and they come out great) I cooked them for about an hour in a 200 degree oven, sort of like dehydrating. The texture was prefect and the eggplant held up for the next day. The slices need to be very thin for this method, but for eggplant bacon, thinner is better no matter the method.

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I forgot to take my kale pesto out of the freezer and I didn’t want to make a tomato mozzarella sandwich without some pesto. I had a little basil, but not enough to make a full batch of pesto, and I had spinach in the fridge that I needed to use up, so spinach pesto it was. And oh my goodness was I glad I did this. The pesto was bright and tangy and pretty much perfect.

The sandwich is your basic tomato-mozzarella sandwich combined with a vegetarian version of a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich. Start with a good bread – I like ciabatta bread myself, but any you like will do. I toasted the bread under the broiler for a few minutes to get it nice and crispy and eliminate any issues with stale bread. To the bread I added 1 tablespoon of spinach pesto to each slice then topped with the eggplant bacon, mozzarella and tomatoes. That is pretty much it. I made these as open-faced sandwiches to keep a good balance of bread to filling and it worked well.

Spinach Pesto:

  • leaves from two stems of basil
  • 1 large handful spinach leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 oz. walnuts
  • 2 oz. toasted almonds
  • <1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil (about 3 tablespoons)

Place basil, spinach, garlic, lemon juice, nuts and cheese in a food processor and pulse until the leaves of the basil and spinach as fine. scrape down the sides and add oil, salt and pepper and pulse until the pesto is well combines.

 

Summer Salad

I love summer food. Tomatoes, peaches, corn, zucchini etc. are some of my favorite foods and they are fresh during the summer. Admittedly Florida is a little challenging vegetable wise in the dog days of summer, but there are still plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to be found.

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When I saw the dark cherry tomatoes at the farmer’s market, I knew I had to make a sale out of them. The ripe peach cried out to be paired with them, so I made an herbed vinaigrette using the chives, oregano and parsley from my garden. I roasted a little corn, chopped up some manchego and tossed it all together. It was lovely.

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Mock Chipotle Sofritas Salad

About once a quarter a group of us at work have a Friday in lunch together. We order something, pick it up and try to have a rallying lunch. One of our go-to places was Chipotle and I was pretty excited when then added a vegetarian protein. It ticked all the boxes for me – spicy, touch sweet and really filling. The lunch in tradition changed a bit this past year and we did more eat what we brought as we had lunch together, which is great for a variety of reasons, but I did somewhat miss the salad. Yes, I know Bob and I could go and get lunch or dinner one night, but I scoured the internet for for a way to make it at home and found a recipe that looked possible. I also found a copycat recipe for the chipotle-honey vinaigrette that I love on the salad. So … I decided to try it since I had a little time one weekend.

I didn’t use as much tofu as the original recipe called for, although I did make all of the sauce to cook it in. I didn’t want to have a lot left over if this didn’t work, so I just used about 7 oz. of tofu and that was enough for Bob, myself and one leftover portion. When I make this again, I will probably use one whole package of tofu so we have more leftovers.

For the meal, I recreated most of the salad the way I order it. I used red leaf lettuce, rice, diced tomato, cheese, the sofritas and dressing. I was going to fry up some onion and orange pepper, but decided against it, and the corn salsa I made wasn’t good – I think the corn had a bad case of freezer burn. But the overall effect was good. Very good. Better than Bob expected good.

I will say this – going out for this is way easier than making it. It isn’t hard, but there are so many pieces to it – blistering the pepper, making the dressing, making the sofritas, making all the parts that go on to the salad … and I cheated and used pre-shredded cheese! I’ll make it again, but it will not be in the quick weeknight dinner rotation.