Dill carrots with honey butter

Who says that cheap eating has to be boring? Not me, that’s for sure! Honey and dill on carrots is one of my favorite combinations by far, so tonight when I was poking around in the fridge, checking out my meager selections, I saw the carrots and was instantly inspired. I quick-marinated some broccoli in store bought Italian dressing that was hiding behind the ketchup, pulled out a pat of butter to come up to room temperature, and dug around until I found a can of cannellini beans (gotta have protein!). Overall, it wasn’t a bad meal by any means, but the carrots were definitely the star of the show. Honestly, though, I think anything that’s smothered in honey butter is going to taste delicious!

Dill carrots and honey butter

  • 1 bag baby carrots
  • 2 teaspoons fresh or dried dill (I used dried because I had it on hand, but I recommend fresh for the best result!)
  • kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Toss the carrots in a large saute pan over medium-high heat with a little bit of butter. Salt and pepper them. As they cook, stir them frequently (I like my carrots a little charred on the outside and still crunchy on the inside). Mix together the honey and the rest of the butter until the honey is evenly incorporated. When the carrots are tender on the outside, add in the dill. Plate the carrots and then top with a little bit of the honey butter.

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Or more than a little bit…it’s okay, it’s on carrots. Not unhealthy, right? Riiiiight.

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Caprese Crostini with a Balsamic Reduction

Want to impress guests..and yourself? I don’t even like tomatoes, and I devoured these! The combination of the salty mozzarella, acidic tomato, peppery fresh basil, and bittersweet balsamic glaze is a classic for a reason! I made these this past summer during peak tomato season, so the tomatoes were perfectly ripe, right out of my parents’ garden. I personally like to de-seed the tomatoes prior to use just because I like the texture more that way – but you definitely don’t have to.

Caprese Crostini

  • 1 fresh French Baguette, sliced thinly on the bias
  • 3-4 fresh roma or heirloom tomatoes (depending on size), sliced and de-seeded
  • 1/2 log fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
  • a handful of basil, cut in to a chiffonade for garnish
  • Extra virgin olive oil for garnish
  • salt and pepper, to taste

For the reduction:

  • 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar de Modena (I prefer Alessi brand)
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the balsamic vinegar in a medium sauce pot over low heat. Place the baguette rounds on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 10-12 minutes or until crusty. As they bake, slice and de-seed your tomatoes. Slice mozzarella pieces about the same size as the bread rounds, and chiffonade the basil so everything is ready to go.

Once your balsamic vinegar has reduced by about half its volume (you should be able to see a line on the side of the pot where it started versus its volume now), add in the honey and whisk. Let the mixture cool down. It should be slightly syrupy, which is the goal.

Once the baguette is crusty, top with the mozzarella and return them to the oven for a couple minutes (keep an eye on them, you want the cheese to just start to melt). Pull them out of the oven once the cheese is molten and top each crostini with a slice of tomato, a few strands of basil, a sprinkle of salt, freshly cracked pepper, and a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.

How to make the Perfect Margarita

Okay, real question: Who doesn’t love a margarita? I have a little bit of an obsession with them. Any time I go out for a drink, I’ll usually get a marg – unless I don’t want to drop ten bucks on one drink! That’s why I memorized the best recipe for a perfect margarita. I’m no bartender, but if you love tequila and the salty sweetness of an ice cold margarita, this is the perfect recipe to keep stored somewhere in your brain.

The best way to remember this recipe easily is “3,2,1.” That’s three parts tequila (I prefer a silver tequila; my go-to is usually Jose Cuervo Silver or Hornitos Plata), two parts triple sec (from Dekuyper to Grand Marnier, whatever is within your budget will work just fine), and one part sweetened lime juice. Garnish with a twist of lemon and lime and a salted rim for the most convincing drink. Do you need an actual recipe for this one? It’s cold, it’s alcoholic, and it’s downright good, no matter how you mix it.

For those of you who absolutely need a flavored margarita (I’m guilty of it sometimes, I get it), just add either a puree of your favorite fruit or a flavored syrup. 13707742_10153550403971386_4996261802357246199_n

Happy drinking from me to you! 😉

Lemon Thyme Risotto

One of my favorite dishes, hands down, is risotto. Stirring the rice frequently creates a luscious, creamy sauce, and the Italian dish pairs extremely well with assertive flavors. My favorite risotto to make is a lemon risotto with parmesan cheese and fresh thyme (pictured). I’ve realized that people who chaperone their food a lot (a la helicopter parenting) succeed at making the best risotto – like my boyfriend. He cooks when he’s hungry, and he’s impatient until it’s done. That being said, he loves to stir to pass the time…and since risotto requires a lot of attention and stirring, it’s the perfect dish to keep him occupied while I figure out the rest of dinner!

Two key factors for making the best risotto are:

  1. Heat your stock to a low simmer on the stove top so when you add the stock to the rice, it doesn’t stop the cooking process.
  2. Never use water for cooking the rice – stock only! You want to infuse the rice with as much flavor as possible. I suggest a vegetable stock for the best (vegetarian-friendly) result, but a lot of professional cooks use chicken stock (also acceptable).

I’m going to provide a recipe for my favorite lemon thyme risotto, but feel free to play around with strong flavors that compliment each other well! Some other suggestions are asparagus and parmesan, tomato and basil, or lemon and garlic. I’ve made a broccoli cheddar risotto before too, which was very delicious (if a little less traditional).

Lemon Thyme Risotto

  • 1 lemon, zested and cut in half (reserve zest separately)
  • 1 cup arborio rice (available in the international section of most grocery stores)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock, if you must)
  • 1/3 cup white wine – any kind will work
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Begin by heating a large saute pan over medium heat with the butter. In a stockpot, heat up your stock to a low simmer. Add the onion and sweat until the onion is soft. Add the garlic and the rice and stir to coat evenly in butter. Let the rice brown briefly in the pan, then add the wine. Once the wine is absorbed, begin adding stock slowly (about 1/4 cuip at a time). As you add the stock, stir the rice well. The nice thick sauce is created by the grains of rice rubbing together and releasing their starch, so the more you move the grains around, the better the final product will be. Continue the process of slowly adding stock and stirring fairly constantly until the rice is tender and the sauce is thickened (about 25-30 minutes). Depending on the weather, you may not need all of the stock – your best bet is to taste test a grain of rice to see if it’s done. After the rice is done, hit it with a generous squeeze of lemon juice, the zest of the lemon, salt, pepper, parmesan cheese, and thyme. Stir well, and it’s ready to serve! I suggest topping it with toasted pine nuts or toasted almonds for texture and protein.

Vegan Coconut Curry

Oh, man. I discovered curry a couple years ago and I have never looked back. It’s rich, spicy, creamy, hearty, and just hands-down delectable. There are numerous preparations, but this is by far my favorite. I won’t say that this is a traditional curry based on the basic, inexpensive ingredients I chose. But hey, I’m a college grad paying my loans and sometimes a nice, cheap meal is exactly what my stomach (and bank account) needs!

This particular curry is vegan thanks to the coconut milk. I usually add tomato paste or tomato sauce to my curries, but this one is just coconut milk and a lot of spices. If you have never tried curry before, this is my go-to recommendation. It’s sweet, spicy, and full of flavor.

Vegan Coconut Curry

  • 1 can full-fat coconut milk or coconut cream (I prefer Goya brand)
  • vegetable stock (or water) as needed to thin the sauce
  • 1 large potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 of a medium-size yellow onion, julienned
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas*
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red curry paste (I prefer the paste over powder because it has a stronger flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, for color
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • a dash of dried ginger

*Note: You can add or omit a bunch of other vegetables, like bell pepper, mushrooms, asparagus, bean sprouts, fresh roma tomatoes…the list goes on.

Begin by boiling the potatoes in salted water until tender. As they boil, prepare your mise en place. Chop all of the veggies. Add the onion and garlic to an oiled saute pan over medium heat. Saute for 2 minutes or until soft. Add the can of coconut milk and all of the spices (except garam masala). Add stock or water and then allow the sauce to reduce. Once the sauce has reduced and thickened up a little, add the vegetables and cook until soft. Finally, toss in the cooked, drained potatoes and stir to coat. I like to serve this over some salted basmati rice with caraway seeds, but you can eat it as a stew or with noodles as well!

 

Pizza Night!

Last week my partner and I were trying to decide what to make for dinner…we wanted to do something we’ve never done before, he suggested pizza, and we both agreed in a nanosecond that homemade pizza was the choice! For him, we made a pepper, pepperoni, and pineapple pizza, which he said was delicious. I’m not sure about the combination myself, but it’s been years since I’ve eaten pepperoni so I don’t know that I can weigh in on that! For myself, I decided on a classic margherita pizza. Regrettably, we didn’t make our own crusts – definitely something we will be doing next time. For the sake of time (we were hungry, damn it!) we used pre-made, pre-rolled crusts reminiscent of cheap frozen pizza crust. Good thing I pulled out all the stops for the toppings!

The reason I chose a margherita combination is because not only is it a delicious, classic combination, but for Christmas, my partner’s parents surprised me with some 18-year aged balsamic vinegar de Modena from a local oil and vinegar shop called Vinaigrette.

To make the pizza,  I layered down a generous amount of sauce (“Never enough sauce!” in my partner’s opinion), drizzled the sauce with an herb-infused extra-virgin olive oil, dotted that with fresh mozzarella pearls, a seeded and diced roma tomato, and kosher salt and fresh-cracked black pepper. In to the oven it went, and right when it came out I drizzled a generous amount of the syrupy, mellow balsamic all over the pie. Garnished with a chiffonade of basil, this pizza was hands-down one of the best I’ve had, topping-wise.

The nice thing about pre-made crust is that it lends itself well to a quick dinner that everyone loves with a lot of options for both creativity and restraint. Picky eaters can make their own ‘za, and meat-lovers can go all-out without bugging us veg-heads. I’ll keep you all posted for my first attempt at pizza dough!

Creamy Vegetarian Corn Chowder

This soup is my go-to if I’m feeling under the weather, or if I’m just craving comfort food. I never use an exact recipe and just use what I have on hand, which makes for a quick preparation. The general recipe I base the broth on is one I’ve come to find makes the richest, silkiest product, and all of the vegetables (aside from the corn, of course…it is a corn chowder, after all) are simply suggestions. Feel free to substitute any vegetables listed for any you may have on hand.

Creamy Vegetarian Corn Chowder

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 full-sized carrots (depending on size), peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 2 ribs of celery, washed and diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 1/2 cups milk or heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 carton vegetable stock, or powdered vegetable base prepared in to 16 ounces of stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh thyme
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • cayenne pepper to taste (omit if you don’t want spicy soup! I usually use about 1/8 of a teaspoon)
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • fresh chives for garnish
  • oyster crackers for garnish

Begin by sweating down the onions, celery, and carrots over medium to medium-low heat with garlic until the onions are translucent. Hit the onion mixture with the stock and the potatoes, and let it simmer until the potatoes are tender.

While the vegetables simmer, whisk together the milk or cream and the flour (I prefer cream…I mean, who doesn’t? It makes an extremely rich broth compared to milk alone). I never have an exact measurement of how much milk and how much flour, but the mixture should be relatively thick but still liquid enough to pour. This will be the thickening agent for the chowder.

Once the potatoes are tender, add in the frozen peas, corn, bell pepper, thyme, basil, cayenne, salt, and pepper. Be sure to taste your soup prior to salting because most pre-made stocks are very high in sodium. I usually only add a dash at the very end if it needs it. Let it come back to a low boil and then slowly add the cream-flour mixture while stirring the soup continuously. The key here is to not add the cream to the soup too quickly, or it might curdle because of the heat. You may not need all of the cream mixture – add about half of the mixture first and see how thick your chowder is first. If you want it thicker than that, continue to add the rest. Some days I want a very thick chowder, and other days I feel like a more thin broth, so it just depends on how you like your soup.

Let the soup simmer until it thickens, at least 15 minutes, and then garnish with oyster crackers and fresh chives (or your favorite soup accompaniment). This chowder also pairs well with a grilled cheese – of course!