Napa On My Mind

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It’s been way too long since my last post.

It’s not that I haven’t eaten anything worth writing about, it’s just that writing about anything lately has felt like a chore.

I blame it on the Texas heat.

So, I’ll do what I’m sure every blogger before me has done and apologize, promise to be more consistent with my posts, pick myself up and start eating – I mean writing – again.

Ok, now that that’s over, on to the business of food. Or in this case, wine.

I had the true pleasure of being asked to attend a conference (work related, I promise) in Napa Valley earlier in this month.

Yes, yes, I know. Tough life.

Napa Valley Peach Salad Carmelized Peach Grilled Peach Goat CheeseThe four days I spent in the valley were mind-blowing for a food-lover like me. To be sure, the conference was doused in wine. Every meal included at least 2-3 varieties, paired perfectly with each course. In short, it was exquisite.

Before visiting Napa, I would have labeled myself a “beer guy.” That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy wine before, but my love for craft brews runs deep. But I left Napa with a different perspective on wine, and it’s been on my mind ever since.

Reflecting on my trip, there’s so much to share – some of it hard to articulate. Sort of like a complex bourdeaux, perhaps?

Distilling it down as best I can, I think I was most struck by three things:

  1. I drank better wine while in Napa than I’ve ever chosen to drink before. And I noticed a big difference in the way it tasted and the way it made me feel afterwards. Perhaps those headaches I used to get when drinking wine had something to do with the less-than-$10 price tag. I guess you get what you pay for.

2. Good wine and good food are awesome together. They sort of create that “better than the sum of its parts” anomaly.

3. White wine is the bomb. Before Napa, I turned my nose at white wines – chardonnays, reislings, sauvignon blancs, etc. The types I had tasted were either too fruity or so chilled they tasted flat and flavorless. The white wines I had in Napa were crisp, flavorful but not overly so, refreshing and very smooth.

Peach_WineSo, I did what most Napa tourists have probably done, and I ordered two overly-priced bottles of white wine from Chimney Rock, one of vineyards I sampled while in Napa. Shipping was a nightmare, not to mention a risky venture (wine doesn’t do well in extreme temperatures, and we’ve been living in extreme temperatures all summer here in Houston). But it was worth it. The wine – Sauvignon Gris, an unusual grape not often bottled by itself, but usually used in blends with other grapes – was just as amazing as I remembered it being in Napa. And it’s great with food, too!

One of the dishes I ate while in Napa, which was paired with a dry chardonnay (but would work well with a sauvignon gris or pinot grigio, too), was a carmelized peach, fried goat cheese and friseé salad. I re-created it at home and it was just about as delicious as the original.

The dish is all about a balance of flavors and textures – the sweetness of the peaches is complemented by the tartness of the goat cheese and friseé, the softness of the peaches is juxtaposed by the crunch on the fried goat cheese and bristliness of the friseé. A bonus – it’s very easy to make.

Here’s the recipe:

Carmelized Peach, Fried Goat Cheese and Friseé Salad

*Serves 2

Ingredients:
• 2 firm peaches
• 1 “log” of goat cheese, frozen or very well chilled
• Panko bread crumbs
• 1/2 cup flour (for breading)
• 1 egg
• friseé (or you can use curly endive or even arugula)
• 1/4 turbinado sugar (aka “sugar in the raw”)
• red wine
• 2 tablespoons of olive oil
• 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

Set out two plates and a bowl. Put 1/2 cup of flour in one plate, and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs in the other. Crack the egg into the bowl and scramble with a fork or whisk.

Cut the goat cheese log into 5-6 thick-ish slices. Bread each slice by coating first with the flour, dipping in the egg wash, then coating with the bread crumbs. Set each breaded slice on a plate and then refrigerate once all slices have been breaded.

Napa Valley Peach Salad Grilled Peaches Carmelized Peaches Goat CheeseHalve both peaches and remove the pit. Tip, if you cut the peach perpendicular to the clef, it makes removing the pit a ton easier! Once the pits are removed, dip the cut end of the four halves into a shallow bowl or plate with the turbinado sugar so each cut end is coated with sugar, then set aside.

Heat a sauteé pan on medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter.

When the butter/oil mixture has melted and is just slightly smokey, add the peaches to the pan, cut side down. Allow the peaches to carmelize, which will take 5 minutes or more. The pan will probably begin to smoke, which is okay, but don’t let it get too smokey.

Peaches Carmelized Peaches Grilled Peaches Goat Cheese Napa ValleyAfter the peaches have formed a nice, dark, sugary crust, de-glaze the pan with a few generous splashes of red wine. Allow the wine to cook down into a thicker liquid – similar to a balsamic vinegar.

Turn off the heat and set aside.

Heat up another pan with the remaining tablespoon of oil and last two tablespoons of butter. Place the breaded cheese into the hot pan and cook just until both sides are crispy and golden.

Arrange a handful of greens on a salad plate and place 1-2 warm peach halves and 1-2 fried cheese slices on top. There should be plenty of wine-sugar liquid left in the original sauteé pan. Drizzle this over each salad and serve while still warm. Be sure to pour yourself a glass of dry white wine and enjoy!

Peaches Salad Carmelized Peaches Grilled Peach Goat Cheese Napa Valley

 

 

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How to Photograph Food: Tips From a Pro

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Maintaining a food blog has it’s perks: it’s an excuse to cook and eat great food (as if an excuse was needed), try out new recipes, and share kitchen tips and insights with other food-lovers. But, believe it or not, writing a food blog has its challenges.

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

One of the biggest challenges I encounter – and I’m not alone – is taking great-looking photos of the food I cook. If it’s not bad lighting, then it’s poor staging or monochromatic food (which might taste great, but just doesn’t look that appetizing). Hoping to improve my food photo skills, I began following several accomplished food bloggers and photographers on Instagram – ‘grammers whose photo feeds overflowed with amazing-looking dishes and cocktails.

One of the best, in my opinion, is photographer Gabrielle Geiselman.

A close collaborator with food blogger and cookbook author Joy Wilson (also known as Joy the Baker), Geiselman’s feed is peppered with images of scrumptious-looking baked goods, sexy cocktails, and gorgeous shots of the Irish Channel, the particular district in New Orleans she calls home.

I’ve admired Geiselman’s photography for a while, and on whim reached out to her via email to see if she would share some tricks of the trade with an aspiring food blogger. She obliged, and generously offered a smorgasborg of tips, musings and candor.

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

I was struck by how important a sense of place is to Geiselman – she takes photos in both New Orleans and Los Angeles (I doubt two cities could be more different from each other than these two). Both cities not only serve as the subjects of so many of her photos, but their “spirits” all but embody her work. Her photos, particularly those from Mardi Gras, can be boozy, sweaty and hangover-inducing – or light and delicate, like a pillowy meringue or lemon curd.

I could go on… but instead, I’ll let you read about Gabrielle in her own words – enjoy!


O&M: How long have you been taking photos?

Geiselman: I got my first camera when I was 12. I shot for two years and then didn’t come back to it until I was 22 and embarking on a trip to India for college.

O&M: You live in New Orleans, but do you also spend time in LA? Those are such different cities – your photography must pick up on that. What’s it like taking photos in such different places with such different people?

Geiselman: Well, I spend the lion’s share of my time now in New Orleans but do still work in Los Angeles often. I like the juxtaposition of the two cities and their energies: Los Angeles is tough, fast and constantly pushing. If there is an ease to that city, it’s not one that I sense. It pushes me harder, inspires me and is full of wildly interesting, diverse people who always have some project to collaborate on. But I find after a few weeks I REALLY miss the ease of New Orleans. I’m consistently drawn back to the slow seep of humid mornings and rainy afternoons on my porch. It gives me the time to let all those racing thoughts I have in Los Angeles get a little breathing room. It’s also a much more family-centric vibe for me: crawfish and BBQ’s, long runs in the park and waking to the sunlight cracking through my old cypress shutters. There is an undeniable familiarity for me here, and it makes it safe to try new things.

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

O&M: Your portfolio includes fashion photography, portraits, photographs of musicians, and of food. Do you have a favorite subject to photograph?

Geiselman: No. For many years I couldn’t imagine shooting anything other than music. It was in my blood. It was WHO I was. I grew up on Ike and Tina Turner and old Rod Stewart – those albums were my babysitters when I would stay with my dad. My first concert was AC/DC (Yeah, thank God for my older brother’s taste in music), and so becoming a live Rock photographer just seemed natural. As I got a little older, my other influences, especially fashion, took center stage. I also became very close with Sheri Bodell who is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant fashion designers in the business. That relationship really helped me flourish and take on skills I would not have had a chance to experience with Rock ‘n Roll. Most recently, shooting food came out of not only coming back to New Orleans and being SO inspired by what everyone here is doing, but also out of my own interest in cooking and recipe development. I’ve been very inspired by my two dear friends Jessica Bride and Joy Wilson. Working with them has opened up a whole word of styling and shooting that has been really thrilling.

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

O&M: Do you take a similar approach to photographing fashion or doing portraits as you do to photographing food? If not, what’s the difference?
 
Geiselman: The primary difference is light. I rarely use artificial light in food photography. I use strobes and flash all the time in my other work, but I find that using reflectors and ambient light with food works best for me. I also allow myself to be a lot more swayed by subject matter with food – maybe it’s because I’m still fairly new at it, but I find that there is a lot more latitude to push what I see with food. When I’m working with portraits, someone comes to the table with who they are and usually the magazine or label comes to the table with needs. Then I’m forced to find that perfect moment of falling in love between the two. With food I feel a little more freedom.

O&M: What’s your favorite type of food and/or drink to photograph?

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Geiselman: I do love shooting cocktails. They are fun to style – of course, champagne is fabulous.

O&M: What do you look for in food or drink when you photograph it?

Geiselman: Texture and a way to light it to create drama. Irrespective of if it is a high key shot or something stark and dark, I’m always looking for the drama, the edge.

O&M: How do you get your shots to look so good? The colors so vivid, the contrasts and shadows so perfect? (Million dollar question, right?)

Geiselman: I do a LOT in-camera. I never will be able to understand when people refuse to shoot on manual – especially now! When I got started it was film and all manual. I have presets for color and some minor adjustments in the contrast department, but am still shooting manually ALWAYS. Also, shoot in RAW people! I recently saw a very well known photographer turn in .jpegs as deliverables to be edited for a job where I was one of the shooters. That just ties the hands of the editor. Raw images have SO much more information in the file allowing one to really have a lot of latitude. I also edit all of my images myself and find that with food photography in particular, Lightroom has been my best friend. And truth be told, I shoot much of my Instagram with my iPhone 6 and edit with Camera+.

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

O&M: What’s the best time of day to photograph food?

Geiselman: It depends on where you live. I live on a corner, facing downtown, so for me the best time is the morning or late afternoon. Hazy or cloudy days are my VERY favorite. That’s one of the things that makes New Orleans so magical – we have constant “God Light,” that diffused, beautiful, warm light, and I adore it. I’m always chasing that!

O&M: Best location?
 
Geiselman: My Studio in the Irish Channel.

O&M: Tips on angles you should take when photographing a dish?
 
Geiselman: It really depends on the dish and it depends on the light. Right now, obviously overhead shots are really popular. I will usually shoot things from five or six different perspectives. It’s like anything else that is intuitive, it often takes a few attempts to find the “pocket” of the shot, but when you are in it, you just know.

Image Courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image Courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

O&M: If you could critique what you see on many other food blogs and offer advice on something they’re constantly missing, or doing wrong, what would it be?

Geiselman: I think there is beauty in chaos. My eye gets exhausted by LOTS of props, or things in the shot that just simply don’t belong there (here’s a tip from my friend Jessica Bride: “if it isn’t in the recipe get it off your plate”). These types of shots just start to feel cookie-cutter, cluttered for the sake of looking “styled,” and in the end they seem to lack focus. Working with Joy and Jessica, I have learned a lot about the power of effortless chic, and let me tell you – it’s not so effortless. Often, I think its just one of those things you’ve got or you don’t.

O&M: Should food bloggers us their iPhones or real cameras?

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Geiselman: I’m torn on this. I use both myself, but must admit sometimes using my phone just seems like cheating. My phone doesn’t have the ability to sense light or deal with shadow the way my camera does. But with that said, I love using my phone like a Polaroid. When I started, we pulled Polaroids a lot to get a sense of an image, and I like using my phone for that. But if I have the time, I’m always going to reach for my camera.

O&M: What do you use?
 
Geiselman: I have never shot a frame that didn’t come from a Canon. I’m diehard. The glass is tack sharp and the fastest out there. When I die, I want to be buried with my 50MM. I currently shoot a 5D MKII with either my 50MM 1.2 or my 24-70 2.8 both L lenses.

O&M: When staging a shot, what should a person look for?

Geiselman: Color, light, texture and drama. Drama comes in so many forms, it’s difficult to quantify.

O&M: In addition to taking photos, you cook yourself. What are your favorite dishes to make, favorite cocktails to mix up?
 
Geiselman: I love making very rustic, local stuff, and its what I always return to. Steak, rice and gravy in the winter months with a cold Abita Amber. During the summer, I’m all about the BBQ. I actually make my own BBQ sauce in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep. I love champagne with a little St. Germain and meyer lemon during the warmer months.


Hungry for more? Check out Gabrielle on Instagram at @gabriellegeiselman.

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

Image courtesy of Gabrielle Geiselman

 

Homemade Ice Cream

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Homemade Ice Cream Recipe Southern CookingGo ahead and dust off the ice cream maker that’s been hiding in the cabinet since your wedding day. Then kick yourself for never using it before, and get ready to turn over a new leaf.

It probably goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway): homemade ice cream is ridiculously easy to make and even more ridiculously delicious.

Homemade Ice Cream Southern CookingWith just a handful of ingredients and a little creativity, you can create sweet, creamy ice cream with all sorts of inventive flavors – combinations way more gourmet than what can be found at the grocery store.

The key to great homemade ice cream involves flavor infusion – adding herbs, teas, coffees, nuts, or fruits to the hot cream and allowing the combination to steep for an hour or so. The result is an ice cream with subtler flavors that don’t overpower the original sweet cream base.

For my first batch of homemade ice cream, I chose to flavor it with roasted peanuts. Sounds crazy, I know, but man was it delicious! I think I might try coffee or spearmint flavors for my next pint.

Here’s the recipe:

Homemade Ice Cream (recipe borrowed from A New Turn in the South)

Yields one pint.

• 1 2/3 cups whole milk
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• Pinch of salt
• 3 egg yolks
• 1/2 cup peanuts (raw)

Homemade Ice Cream Southern Cooking*Note, before starting this recipe, place the water-filled bowl that comes with your ice cream maker in the freezer and allow it to completely freeze solid. This should take about 4-6 hours.

Roast a half cup of raw peanuts in a frying pan over medium heat. Toss as you roast them to prevent burning – roast until some color begins to appear and your kitchen begins to smell almost like popcorn is cooking. About 7-10 minutes. Place the roasted peanuts to the side to cool.

Pour milk, cream, 1/4 cup of sugar and salt into a sauce pan. Warm the mixture slowly until it begins to steam. Don’t allow the mixture to boil or scald – cook for about 8-10 minutes, then remove from heat.

Homemade Ice Cream Southern CookingRough chop the cooled peanuts and place them in the hot cream mixture and cover with a lid. Leave the mixture to steep for 30 minutes to an hour. Then transfer to the fridge or freezer to cool.

Once the mixture has cooled – after about 45 minutes to an hour – pull it from the fridge, strain the liquid to remove the chunks of roasted peanut, and slowly pour the mixture into your ice cream maker as it starts to spin. Allow the mixture to churn for 30 minutes or until the ice cream reaches the desired consistency. Spoon the mixture into a Tupperware container and pop it into the freezer until you’re ready to eat it! Enjoy!

Homemade Ice Cream Southern Cooking

An Ex-Pat’s Guide to Eating Well During Masters Week

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Best Restuarants Augusta Georgia Masters Week Where to Eat Restuarant GuideIf you’re lucky enough to be visiting Augusta this week for the annual Masters Golf Tournament, chances are you’ll try to squeeze every possible hour of your stay into time spent on the grounds of the Augusta National. And for good reason – snagging a ticket to see the Masters is harder than breaking into Fort Knox, I’ve heard.

But, if you do have the time – or your luck runs dry and you find yourself without that promised ticket – it’s well worth your while to visit a few of Augusta’s tastiest eateries.

As an ex-pat of the Garden City, and as someone with a discerning palate, I’ve put together a short but foolproof list of restaurants you must try if visiting Augusta during Masters Week.

Best Restaurants Augusta Georgia Masters Week Where to Eat Restaurant GuideTakosushi
Located in Surrey Center, a trendy shopping development just a mile and a half from the Augusta National, Takosushi is a surprisingly perfect mash-up of Southwestern fare and Asian (Far East) cuisine. Sushi fans will delight in the extensive list of both common and creative makimono rolls, sashimi and other raw delights. Those who favor Tex-Mex flavors can sample the strip steak tacos, pasolé or tamales.

When my family lived in Augusta, our house was just a few blocks from Surrey Center, and Takosushi was a regular on our date night circuit. Our favorite dishes include: tempura-fried asparagus, green chili queso dip, Cary’s Roll, Jesse’s Roll and Crazy Roll.

Tip: If you’re not sure what to order, ask the server to pick a few rolls out for you – the more creative the roll, the more delicious it’s bound to be! Also, Takosushi is tiny. No, seriously, it’s very small. Prepare for a wait on the weekends, or skip the wait and call in your order to-go.

Location: 437 Highland Avenue, Augusta, GA 30904 • 706-736-9191


sheehans-irish-pub-augusta-gaSheehan’s Irish Pub
I’ve shared my love for Sheehan’s before, but I’ll share it again – I love everything about this place: the beer selection, the food, the ambiance, the location, the people behind the scenes.

In college, I worked in the kitchen at one of Chef John Beck’s – Sheehan’s owner – previous restaurants. We served southern/cajun-inspired cuisine and, thank the Lord, the same dishes are on the menu at Sheehan’s today. When Joanna and I weren’t dining at Takosushi on the weekends, chances were it was Sheehan’s.

Our favorites from the menu include: the Green Jacket Salad, fried green tomato salad, chili friend shrimp, shrimp and grits cake, honey lacquered duck, catfish Louisianne.

Tip: Sheehan’s fills up quickly, so make a reservation ahead of time to guarantee you’ll have a seat when you arrive.

Location: 2571 Central Avenue, Augusta GA 30904 • 706-364-1234


Best Restuarants Augusta Georgia Masters Week Restaurant Guide Places to EatFarmhaus Burgers
The perfect ending to a long day in the sun is an expertly grilled burger. Grab one at Farmhaus, a craft burger establishment located in an old storefront in the heart of historic downtown Augusta.

Farmhaus’ burgers aren’t for wimps. In fact, Farm-Hoss would have made for a better, more accurate name. All kidding aside, these burgers are legit. Choose from a variety of meats and toppings to create your own one-of-a-kind burger, or choose from an assortment of prepared creations. Big “kids” can even pair their burger with a creamy – and boozy – grown-up milkshake.

My favorite burger is the “Farmstyle,” which includes applewood-smoked bacon and a sunny side-up egg. I hear the Gorilla Milk milkshake, which contains a healthy quantity of tequila, vodka and kahlua, is really tasty.

Location: 1204 Broad Street, Augusta, GA 30901


And there are many other restaurants around the city worth checking out, if you have time… or the appetite for it.

If sushi, burgers or cajun cuisine don’t strike your fancy, try these restaurants on for size:

Yo Pizza
Salsa’s
The Indian Queen
Sunrise Grill

Easter Brunch with a Southwestern Twist

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Migas Eggs Benedict Recipe Easter BrunchGrowing up, holidays were opportunities to cook something special. On Thanksgiving, we’d usually bake a challenging or particularly delicious pie. Desserts were a favorite during the Christmas holidays, too.

For Easter, we’d focus on brunch. Eggs Benedict was a staple, and was usually accompanied by sweet rolls.

A few years back, my mom made a new dish for Easter brunch: Eggs Benedict Baskets. This twist on the classic dish involved creating “baskets” out of English muffins, stuffed into muffin tins and baked to retain their shape, filled with sautéed spinach, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.

It was delicious, easy to make, and memorable.

This year, my parents and youngest brother flew to Texas to visit us for Easter. I volunteered to cook Easter brunch. My goal was to prepare something that featured the Tex-Mex flavors so common to Southeast Texas, but to also pay homage to more classic Easter dishes, like Eggs Benedict.

I threatened to make Huevos Rancheros, but in the end I settled on a mash-up of Migas (a common Mexican breakfast dish) and Eggs Benedict.

Migas Eggs Benedict Recipe Easter BrunchI borrowed the “baskets” idea from my mom’s dish, but instead of using English muffins to form the baskets, I used corn tortillas stuffed into muffin tins. Inside the tortillas, I placed a sautée of chorizo (Mexican sausage), poblano peppers and collard greens (a combination I borrowed from The Lee Brothers). On top of the sausage-pepper-collard mixture was a sunny side-up egg drizzled with chipotle hollandaise.

Man, was it good!

The crunch of the tortilla combined with the spicy-smoky flavor of the chorizo and poblano sautée resembled the first bite of a classic hard taco. Sunny side-up eggs are the perfect accompaniment for any Mexican dish, so the addition of an egg resting above the sausage and peppers was like the cherry on top of this dish. Topping it all off with the buttery, lemony and slightly spicy chipotle hollandaise sauce elevated the dish to something truly memorable. I’ll definitely be making this again!

Here’s the recipe:

Migas Benedict

• 6 soft corn tortillas
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 8-ounce tube chorizo sausage (get the soft kind, not the pre-cooked, hard sausage)
• 2-3 poblano peppers, diced
• 1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
• 1 teaspoon diced garlic
• 1 1/2 pounds collard greens, cleaned and roughly chopped
• 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
• 10 eggs
• 1 stick of unsalted butter, melted
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
• 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Place a dutch oven or large skillet on the stove at medium heat. Pour oil into the pan and heat until shimmering. Pitch chorizo into the pan and cook, breaking up the sausage into small bits. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Add chopped poblanos and onions, as well as diced garlic, cooking for another 5 minutes.

Add half of the chopped collards and mix in to the sausage-pepper mixture. The collards will begin to wilt, just like sautéed spinach. When there’s room in the pan, add the remaining collards and sautée until wilted. Stir in the red wine vinegar and cook until evaporated, then remove the mixture from stove.

Spray PAM into a six-muffin jumbo-sized muffin pan. Stuff the tortillas into the pan, making little “baskets” with each tortilla. Add a few spoonfuls of chorizo-pepper-collard mixture into each basket. Crack an egg on top of the sausage mixture in each basket and place in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

While the baskets are cooking, make the hollandaise sauce by cracking the remaining four eggs, separating the yolks from the whites. Quickly whisk together the lemon juice and egg yolks, then slowly pour in the melted butter, whisking quickly along the way.

Place the mixture in the microwave for 2 minutes, stopping every 20 seconds or so to whisk the mixture and prevent the eggs from scrambling. Stir in the chipotle powder and crushed red pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once the eggs have firmed in the oven, pull the baskets out and allow them to cool slightly. Remove from the muffin pan, drizzle with hollandaise and enjoy! We ate our baskets on a bed of grits, just slightly seasoned with salt, pepper and butter.

Migas Eggs Benedict Recipe Easter Brunch

Simple Weeknight Dinner: Steak and Butternut Squash Quesadillas

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Last week, the rains that soaked Southeastern Texas for most of February and March finally stopped. The sun came out and the temps began to rise.

It’s felt like spring here in Houston for the past few days, and we’re loving every second of it.

Good weather requires spending time in front of the grill, so tonight I threw a steak on the burner, roasted some butternut squash and whipped together an unlikely, but delicious combination: steak and butternut squash quesadillas.

Steak and Butternut Squash Quesadilla RecipeThis dinner took less than an hour to prep and cook, required minimal ingredients, and captured the delicious flavors of fall, spring and summer in every bite.

For sides, I roasted whole brussels sprouts tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, and mixed up a small bowl of homemade guacamole. Perhaps a strange assortment of flavors, but hearty, delicious and for the most part healthy nonetheless.

Steak and Butternut Squash Quesadilla RecipeHere’s the recipe:

Steak and Butternut Squash Quesadillas (recipe courtesy of Real Simple)

• 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, cubed
• 1 pound strip steak (we used London Broil)
• 2-3 cups cheese (try a mix of sharp cheddar, monterey jack and/or pepper jack)
• Large tortillas (gluten free or flour)
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon pepper
• 1 teaspoon chili powder

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. Peel and cube butternut squash (remember to scoop out the seeds before cutting), or purchase pre-cubed squash. Word to the wise: the smaller the cubes, the quicker and more completely the squash will cook through.

Steak and Butternut Squash Quesadilla RecipeToss the cubed squash with 2 tablespoons olive oil and a half teaspoon of salt and pepper. Spread the squash out on a cookie sheet and place in the oven to roast for 10-12 minutes (or longer if needed).

While the squash is roasting, start your grill. (If using a charcoal grill, light the coals before cutting the squash). Season steak with chili powder, salt and pepper. Once the grill reaches a steady temp of 450 degrees, place the steak over the flames. Cook for about 5 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 130. It’s okay if your steak is undercooked; the quesadillas will spend a few minutes in the oven before mealtime, so the steak can continue to cook then.

Pull the steak from the grill; around the same time, pull the roasted squash from the oven. Your kitchen should smell pretty amazing right about now.

Allow the steak and squash to cool slightly. Then, cut the steak into thin slices. Lay out a tortilla, sprinkle a handful of the cheese mixture onto half of the tortilla. Arrange a hearty portion of squash and steak on top of the cheese. Add more cheese then fold the tortilla in half to create a sandwich. Repeat this process a few more times until all the steak and squash have been used up.

Steak and Butternut Squash Quesadilla RecipeArrange the quesadillas on a cookie sheet and cook in the oven for another 8-10 minutes, or until the tortillas become crispy and begin to turn golden brown. Pull from the oven, allow the quesadillas to cool slightly, cut into triangles and enjoy!

Steak and Butternut Squash Quesadilla Recipe

Become an Economist – Make Chicken Salad!

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Chicken salad reminds me of grad school – actually, it reminds me of a particularly challenging economics class I took while completing my MBA.

If you’re fortunate enough to have taken an economics class in college (I’m serious – I LOVED economics), you’ll remember the concept of the “trade-off.” The trade-off, in a nutshell, boils down to the idea that in business (and in life) we must decide how we will spend our limited time and resources, trading between various activities to reach a desired goal. We can’t do everything we want to do, so we must trade-off, or compromise, to accomplish anything at all.

Chicken salad is a “trade-off” meal. Here’s why – it can be made in bulk, easily providing an entire week of lunches and snacks, which saves you from having to prepare a lunch each morning. I, for one, have enough to do each morning before evening thinking about making lunches. Making a large quantity of chicken salad ahead of time (say on Sunday evening, for example) saves me considerable time as I rush to get out the door.

One of my favorite chicken salad recipes combines chicken, apples, grapes, celery, curry powder and Greek yogurt. I usually make this with the leftovers from a roasted whole chicken or rotisserie chicken, which makes this quick and easy recipe even easier. Serve with pita, flatbread, or even crackers – it’s delicious with just about any type of bread. I’ll most likely eat this with gluten-free sandwich bread.

Chicken Salad Apples Celery Grapes Curry RecipeHere’s the recipe, borrowed from Runner’s World:

Curry Chicken Salad with Apples, Grapes and Celery

• 3-5 cups shredded chicken
• 2 cups diced red apple (honeycrisp tastes best)
• 2 cups chopped celery
• 1 cup red seedless grapes
• 1/4 cup diced onion
• 1 cup plain (unflavored) Greek yogurt
• 1/4 mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon curry powder
• 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
• Salt and pepper to taste

Chicken Salad Apples Celery Grapes Curry RecipeCombine chicken, apple, celery, grapes and onion. In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, mayo, curry and red pepper flakes. Mix dry and wet ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Chicken Salad Apples Celery Grapes Curry RecipeTip: If you like your chicken salad sweeter, add less onion or more apple or grapes.