I know I complained about the weather in my last post, and my ploy seems to have worked. It’s now gloriously sunshine-y, and creeping up into the 70s. Hello, DC that I love – all glorious three weeks before it becomes so hot and muggy you start walking around with a scarf and a fleece again – to protect yourself when you enter the arctic tundra that is DC office buildings in the summer. #firstworldproblems
Of course, the one downside to the beautiful change in seasons is the slow creep away from those hearty, soul-filling foods. When my sister visited a few weeks ago (how surreal is this: the LAST time I will see her before I become a MOM), we spent almost a full day planning out a menu (clearly, we’re sisters, and daughters of our mom), and took full advantage of one of the last cold blasts of the winter season. OK, now I’m really ready for summer.
Lentil & Kielbasa Soup (an Ina Garten special)
- 1/2 pound green lentils
- olive oil
- 2 large onions, diced
- 2 leeks, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt, pepper, red hot chili flakes
- 8 stalks fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 4-6 stalks celery, diced
- 4 carrots, diced
- 10 cups chicken stock
- a big squeeze tomato paste
- 1/2 – 1 pound kielbasa
- big splash red wine
- to serve:
- parmesan cheese
- green onions
- Wash the lentils, and then, in a large bowl, cover them with boiling water. Allow them to sit for about 15 minutes. Drain.
- In a large pot over medium heat, heat olive oil and then saute onions. After a minute or two, add the leeks, the garlic, salt, pepper, red hots, thyme and cumin, and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Add celery and carrots; saute another 10 minutes.
- Add chicken stock, tomato paste, and drained lentils. Cover and bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer (uncovered) for about an hour – until the lentils are completely cooked through. Add kielbasa, red wine, and simmer until the kielbasa is hot. Adjust seasonings – and serve with your choice of topping.
As you can imagine, this soup gets even better when it sits overnight, soaking up all the goodness. If it’s not spring/summer yet where you live – make this. It will NOT disappoint.
Two things happened last week that could have put a real cramp in our babymoon-style. (Yes, turns out I will do anything to take a vacation, including calling it a babymoon.) In early December, I bought us tickets to St. Lucia. I don’t know what it is about that island, but I have always wanted to go. Maybe because my parents went when I was a kid, and I’ve always thought: man, when I grow up, I’m going to St. Lucia.
- Zika virus. If you haven’t heard of this yet, count yourself lucky, because it means you haven’t been on the phone with cheapcaribbean.com fighting to get a refund. Turns out Zika is a mosquito-borne virus – ripping through the Caribbean right now – that only infects pregnant women. And then causes massive birth defects in babies. Remember: St. Lucia. Babymoon.
- Winter Storm Jonas. If you’re not familiar with DC – the whole city shuts down when we get something vaguely resembling snow. My hometown mayor, Marty Walsh, actually just said “I feel bad,” and then offered to lend my adopted town some snow plows. Seriously.
So, instead, we pulled a last minute audible and spent the last few glorious days basking in the Southern California sunshine, hiking in the desert. (Take that, mosquitoes.) Turns out, Joshua Tree National Park really is all it’s cracked up to be.
Then, we came home. One look at the snow piles in the street & we knew, Marty’s help or not, we won’t be seeing our car until spring. Only Ina could fix this mess.
Mixed Mushroom & Barley Soup (adapted from Ina Garten)
- 1 bag dried mushrooms (I had porcini)
- olive oil
- 2 onions, chopped
- 3 carrots, peeled and diced
- 3-4 stalks celery, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup pearled barley
- 2 containers mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini and white button)
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 6 cups broth (veggie, beef, chicken, whatever you have)
- 10 stalks thyme, tied together if you can
- large handful parsley
- salt, pepper & crushed reds
- 2 tablespoons butter (optional)
- Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and pour about 2 cups or so boiled water over them, to reconstitute them. Set aside while you prep the veggies and get the rest of the soup prepared.
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot. Add onions, carrots, and celery, as well as salt, pepper, and crushed reds, and saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and barley and cook, stirring for about two minutes. Add the mixed mushrooms (not the reconstituted dried ones just yet) and the red wine, cook for about five minutes.
- If the dried mushrooms aren’t sliced nicely yet, now’s a good time to strain them (reserving the mushroom water!) and chop them. Otherwise, dump the whole thing (mushrooms + water) into the soup pot. Add the broth, thyme, parsley and and a little more salt and pepper.
- Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for about 45 minutes or until the barley is tender.
- At the very end, it’s a little decadent to add a dollop of butter – not necessary, obviously. Discard the thyme, adjust seasoning, and serve with a bit of parsley on top.
Not going to lie, after a few days of In & Out burgers and shakes, my body was grateful for this type of sustenance. Not only good, but good for you. Of course, now that we’ve been home a few days…I could use another babymoon.
If I ate less chicken salad, I’d probably be wealthier. If I walk anywhere near a deli counter, or a sandwich shop, or a brunch menu with chicken salad on the menu, it’s game time. Part of the reason I love going home so much (other than of course seeing my parents, hi M+D) is because my dad always has a container of chicken salad chilling in the fridge. I. Love. Chicken. Salad.
It’s a bit surprising, then, that I’ve never actually made it myself. I was in New York a few weeks ago, eating a chicken salad sandwich on a fresh, delicious sesame seed bagel with my sister-in-law, and she mentioned that sometimes she made chicken salad for herself.
This was an earth-shattering revelation.
For some reason, I have always assumed that magical chicken salad makers just lived at the deli/grocery store/farmer’s market, just waiting for their opportunity to hop me up on too much mayo.
But no. I could make this delicious, addicting, amazingness myself. So I did.
Homemade Chicken Salad
- 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- for the poaching liquid:
- fresh herbs (I used some thyme)
- 1/2 onion
- 3 garlic cloves, smashed
- 2-3 stalks celery, washed and chopped
- 2-3 green onions, chopped
- handful parsley, chopped
- about 1/2 cup mayo
- about 1/2 plain Greek yogurt
- about 2 cups red grapes, sliced
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- salt + pepper to taste
- optional: handful toasted nuts
- Add chicken and all poaching liquid ingredients to a pan and bring to a full boil. Turn down the heat and poach gently for about 10-12 minutes (the chicken should be white all the way through).
- While the chicken cooks, prep your veggies and grapes and place in a large-ish bowl.
- Remove chicken from the poaching liquid when done; discard liquid + contents. Let chicken cool a bit, and then cut into little cubes. Add to the veggies.
- Add mayo, yogurt, lemon, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and taste – add whatever’s missing.
- Put your delicious, amazing salad between two pieces of toasted bread, a slice of red onion, and a large Romaine leaf. Fall in love.
HOW WAS THIS THE FIRST TIME I MADE THIS!?!?!?!
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the epic bridal shower my mom threw for one of her BFF’s daughters. She made lobster paella and smoked salmon canapes. We drank champagne and rose. I left home feeling happy, full, and totally in awe.
So, it was sort of a hubris-filled idea to host a bridal shower for one of my BFFs this past weekend. You will note from the picture below what was not on the menu: lobster paella or smoked salmon canapes. (Obvi on the champagne and rose, though).
For everyone’s benefit (and so that I’d actually have something to feed 15 people), I stuck to some tried and true standards. These are truly the go-tos in our house: I realized as I was posting this that every single item is something I’ve already posted about here. Which tells you I’m either really uncreative, or just totally confident in these recipes. Probably both.
(I think) it turned out beautifully. And most important, my friend Sasha seemed really touched.
I hope everyone went home happy and full. Unfortunately, I was already home, which means I was also in charge of cleaning up.
Good thing I had lots of leftover champagne and rose. And basil vodka lemonade. (Main idea: create a basil-infused simple syrup by boiling 1 part water, 1 part sugar and 1 big handful basil. Add to lemonade, another handful basil and a big old splash of vodka. Start showering/TPing the bride/asking the embarrassing “how well do you know your future spouse” questions.)
I neglected to write a “planning” post this week – whoops! I actually DID plan out our meals, too…though with only a couple of nights of cooking needed (we are headed to MIAMI! this weekend), I took a bit of the easy way out. We did a lot of recycling and reusing chez nous, and we’re still dining on leftovers. For example, this pasta salad, which I made to bring to a friend’s impromptu BBQ on Sunday evening (another reason to love spring: impromptu BBQs).
This “recipe” is an absolute go-to. I remember making it for the first time with my mom probably ten years ago, and it’s become a staple at the yearly beachside bonfire we host with a bunch of family friends. Of course, the first time she made this, my mom was just using up vegetables she had in her fridge – I don’t get my propensity to throw things together and call it dinner from nowhere, you see. There are, however, two secrets to elevating this from grocery store pasta salad to the kind of pasta salad to end all other pasta salads. See if you can spot them.
The World’s (well, in my humble opinion, anyway) Best Pasta Salad
- 1 box curly pasta – my favorite is Cavatappi
- 1/2 jar sundried tomatoes, in oil – coarsely chopped
- 1 bell pepper, sliced (orange adds a nice pop of color!)
- 1 can corn, drained, or ideally, 2-3 stalks of fresh corn, kernels cut off
- 1 small container cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 red onion, chopped
- one bunch green onions, chopped
- handful of spinach
- 2-3 stalks celery, chopped
- a goodly amount of Parmesan cheese
- fresh herbs: cilantro provides a gorgeous zing, but parsley and/or basil also good options
- a good squeeze of anchovy paste (*leave out if making a totally vegetarian version*)
- salt, pepper, crushed reds
- balsamic vinegar
- olive oil
- Boil water for pasta; while you’re waiting, prepare/wash/chop all of your veggies, and place in a LARGE bowl, EXCEPT for your sundried tomatoes.
- Cook pasta according to directions. While the pasta is still warm, toss with the veggies – and then add your sundried tomatoes and a bit of the oil it comes in. Give it a thorough toss.
- Whisk together your dressing and add to your pasta. Finish off your salad with Parmesan and a generous dose of herbs. Serve warm or chilled – it won’t last long either way.
This one’s a go-to for good reason. I made an extra large batch on Sunday, taking most of it to the BBQ and leaving a bit behind for me and the Husband. By Monday evening, I had (very generously) left him two (full!) strands of Cavatappi. I am such a great partner, sometimes.
PS: You can obviously add olives to add brininess, and whatever else your little heart desires. I have and enforce a strict no-olive policy chez nous.