Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Chicken Sausage, Sweet Onion, and Fennel Pizza

March 31, 2010
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I love pizza.  It is probably my “desert island” food; I could eat it every day and not get sick of it.  And I like all makes and models of pizza.  Thin crust, thick crust, New York style, Chicago deep dish, Tombstone, shi-shi boutique pies – there’s a time and a place for them all.

Sometimes, when Papa John is calling my name, I fight the urge to splurge and throw together a healthier (relatively) “homemade” pie instead.  This version came from a Cooking Light feature, and the flavors were really terrific – the fennel, which I can normally only tolerate in VERY small quantities, was mellowed by caramelization and by the inclusion of sweet onions.  The saltiness of the sausage was just right, and even the small amount of cheese was enough to provide a creamy, melty element.  My only mistake?  Using a whole-wheat Boboli pizza crust (I know, I know).  It just never crisped up properly, so next time I’ll stick with a regular non-wheat crust, OR I’ll attempt to make my own!

  • 3  ounces  chicken apple sausage, chopped
  • 2  teaspoons  olive oil
  • 1 1/2  cups  vertically sliced sweet onion
  • 1  cup  thinly sliced fennel bulb (about 1 small bulb)
  • 1/4  teaspoon  salt
  • 1  (12-ounce) prebaked pizza crust
  • 3/4  cup  (3 ounces) shredded cheese (the recipe suggested Gouda, but I used Gruyere) 
  • 1  tablespoon  chopped fresh chives

Preheat oven to 450.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage to pan; sauté 4 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove from pan.

Add oil to pan. Add onion, fennel, and salt; cover and cook 10 minutes or until tender and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.

Place pizza crust on a baking sheet.  Top evenly with onion mixture; sprinkle with cheese, and top evenly with sausage. Bake at 450 for 12 minutes or until cheese melts.  Sprinkle evenly with chives.  Cut pizza into 8 wedges.


Recipe: Shrimp, Pink Grapefruit, and Avocado Salad

March 24, 2010
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I was pretty excited to post about this salad, but then on Monday night in Salt Lake City, I had the best salad of recent memory (at Bambara, recently voted the best restaurant and best chef of SLC).  It was a roasted beet salad, which isn’t really noteworthy on its own – I mean, come on, everyone and their brother has a beet salad on the menu these days – but the dish was striking in that each and every element was perfectly executed.  The red and yellow beets were impeccably roasted, the goat cheese was beyond creamy and decadent, the greens were fresh, the blood orange vinaigrette was really nicely seasoned (and the salad wasn’t dripping with it), the orange supremes were a delicious citrusy touch, and the toasted hazelnuts on top delivered a much-appreciated crunch and nuttiness.  The salad was also beautifully plated, which I’ve come to appreciate even more after attending a recent food styling workshop.  Anyway, it was quite impressive, especially since I don’t normally get excited about restaurant salads.

Back to MY salad…I made this a couple of weeks ago, when I saw avocados on sale and was determined to find a way to use them.  The dish isn’t a culinary inspiration like my salad at Bambara, but it’s a satisfying and healthy meal (and definitely substantial enough to serve as a main-course dinner, as it did for me).  The crunch of the hearts of palm balances out the soft avocados and grapefruit, and the flavors are nice and balanced (though my hubs said he wanted some sort of spicy element in the dish).  It’s easy to make and tasty to eat, so give it a go!

  • 1 pink grapefruit
  • 1 teaspoon grated zest and 1 tablespoon juice from 1 orange
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 14-ounce can hearts of palm, drained, rinsed, and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 ripe avocado, pitted, skinned, and sliced thin
  • 2 heads Bibb lettuce, leaves separated

Cut ends from grapefruit.  Slice off rind and white pith by cutting from top to bottom of fruit.  Holding grapefruit over bowl to catch juices, cut between membrane and pulp of each segment.  Set aside segments and transfer 3 tablespoons juice to large bowl.

Add orange zest, orange juice, shallots, and cumin to large bowl with grapefruit juice.  Slowly whisk in oil until combined.  Season with salt and pepper.

Season shrimp with salt and pepper and saute in olive oil over medium high heat.  They cook quickly, so pay attention!

Add shrimp, hearts of palm, avocado, grapefruit sections, and lettuce to bowl with dressing and toss to combine.  Season with salt and pepper.  Arrange salad on individual plates and top with remaining ingredients.


(Another) Field Report: Washington, DC

March 19, 2010
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Though I travel a fair amount for work, there isn’t really an expense account situation going on.  Rather, I get a fair per diem that is meant to sustain rather than to entertain.  Some of my colleagues like to eat on the cheap and save as much of their per diem as possible, but me?  When I’m on the road, I eat as high on the hog as I possibly can for the money I’m allotted, and I am usually willing to spend some of my own dough to experience the cuisine of whatever city I happen to be visiting.

Recent business brought me to our nation’s capital, a veritable food fairyland for me.  Not only do I think DC holds its own as a culinary destination, but I lived there for three years and I still have a lot of local friends and contacts, so I’m usually pretty up-to-date on what restaurants are rockin’ out.  Here’s what I ate and what I thought about it…

Sunday: Upon arriving, my hetero life mate, Lexa, took me to Comet Ping Pong for some pizza and beer (natch).  It seems to be a great neighborhood joint, and very family friendly.  The beer list is varied and interesting, though they were out of a couple of my top choices.  They claim their pizza is “New Haven- style,” which I don’t really get (probably because I’ve never been to New Haven), but it appears to be a thinner crust pie.  We ordered the “Smoky,” with mushrooms, smoked Gouda, smoky bacon, and melted onions, and it was pretty delicious.  The service wasn’t anything to write home about, and the prices were a touch high, but it’s a great gathering place in a residential area that doesn’t have much else.

Pizza was just the opening act on Sunday – steak was the headliner.  Ray’s the Steaks, to be specific, in its shiny new Arlington digs.  The Sunday night special ($25 for a three-course meal, and there is a decent amount of choice) is a frickin’ steal, but I knew I wasn’t going to be interested in dessert, so I just ordered a cup of the crab bisque and the hanger steak, rare, with sauteed garlic.  The bisque was as good as it has ever been, with a perfectly creamy texture and a flavor that was simultaneously rich and light.  And, of course, it had what seemed like POUNDS of fresh crab meat.  As for the steak, it just doesn’t get any better than Ray’s, especially for the price.  Traditionally, hanger is a tougher cut of beef, but Ray’s finds a way to make it deliciously tender (a hint: follow the suggested cooking temperatures on the menu, they’re there for a reason).  With the garlic and the accompanying (complementary) mashed potatoes and creamed spinach, I had everything I ever needed on a plate.  I was just sad that I couldn’t finish the whole thing, and that I knew it would be a while before I could come back.

Monday night found me at the bar at Vidalia, one of my old favorites.  I had the bar to myself, which was kind of disappointing (not only does it mean less money for the deserving restaurant, but it also means I was unable to strike up a random conversation, which is part of why I love sitting at bars), but the meal more than made up for it.  From the regular menu, I started with the olive-oil poached monkfish cheeks, which were light and refreshing and perfectly textured.  I moved on to the free-form lobster ravioli, which was ridiculously decadent – and absolutely chock-full of impeccably cooked lobster (claw and tail).  Finally, from the bar menu, I wrapped things up with the “Korean BBQ” pork belly with kimchee, served on a pancake.  Now, I’m not usually the hugest fan of kimchee, and I didn’t start out enjoying this version.  But somehow it grew on me, especially when combined with the out-of-this-world pork.  Combined with a glass and a half (gotta love options in terms of pour sizes) of a deliciously dry Basque white, the meal was simultaneously refined and comforting, and it reminded me of why Vidalia was one of my fine-dining standbys.

On Tuesday night, I was picked up and whisked to Wheaton, MD, for a night of Vietnamese deliciousness at Mi La Cay.  This was an event organized by some folks on donrockwell.com, a food and dining message board of which I’ve been a member for a few years.  It is a wonderful online community, and I truly wish we had something similar in Atlanta.  The event was a “$20 Tuesday,” which meant that we were going to eat all-inclusive for twenty bucks.  And eat we did!  For $20, we tried summer rolls (pretty standard, though others said the peanut sauce was delish), beef wrapped in grape leaves (delicious, and unlike anything I’ve ever had before), Vietnamese spicy hot and sour soup with shrimp (perfect for a cold, rainy night), roast duck soup with egg noodles (great flavor, but I got a lot of bone and gristle in my portion of duck, so it was hard to eat), stir-fried lemon-grass chicken (very tasty), French-styled beef cubes marinated in whiskey and peppers (a little heavy on the whiskey), grilled beef, pork, and chicken (my absolute favorite, no question – so tender and flavorful!), and a Vietnamese pancake with bean sprouts.  There were a few other dishes that I couldn’t eat due to heavy peanut content, but I still had PLENTY of food to enjoy.

For happy hour on Wednesday, I headed to Againn, a new (to me, anyway) gastropubby concept.  The bar was already pretty packed when I arrived at around 6:30, but it’s a shockingly comfortable space, even when busy.  The beer list is interesting, though, as a dedicated hop-head, I wish there had been more hop-crazy options on draft; to be fair, they did have some of my favorites in bottles.  The group (also a bunch of people from dr.com) ordered a bunch of food, and I tried a little bit of everything – the crispy fried brussels sprouts were darn tasty, and I don’t even like brussels sprouts very much.  I guess you can make just about anything better by deep-frying it.  The hot dog was the perfect little bar snack, especially with many beers.  I had bites of the fish and chips, the chicken pot pie, and the skate, and everything was very good.  One of the best features is the 4-7 PM happy hour, during which certain bites and beverages are only $5 (the options change frequently, I’m told).  The servie was awesome, too, so I’ll definitely keep Againn in mind when I return to DC.

I’ll be leaving for Salt Lake City on Sunday, but I hope to post some recipes while I’m gone.  Have a wonderful weekend, all!


Barley Salad with Apples, Cranberries, and Pine Nuts

March 15, 2010
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I’ve been keeping a food and exercise diary for a while now, and as I reviewed my entries the other day, I noticed that there was a direct correlation between my weight fluctuations and my carb intake.  I’m not going to go all Atkins on your asses, have no fear – after all, it is triathlon training season, and I need proper fuel – but I realized that I should be incorporating more complex carbs and healthier grains into my diet in order to satisfy my starchy cravings.

This recipe from Food & Wine magazine came at the perfect time.  It’s a great make-ahead base for really delicious meals – just grill some chicken breast or bake some fish, and voila, you’ve got a balanced lunch that will make your co-workers jealous.  The first step is when you cook the barley and scent it with the thyme and onions (and you could certainly serve it just like that, if you prefer).  Then you add the “dressing” and the mix-ins (for flavor and texture), and the dish really comes together.  The original recipe calls for pomegranate seeds, but I couldn’t find any – and actually, the dried cranberries made a wonderful substitution, as there was plenty of juicy crunch from the apples.  This should keep for about a week in the fridge – if it dries out a bit, just add a little more oil and vinegar to spruce it up.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups pearled barley
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 3/4 cups water
  • Kosher salt

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the barley and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly toasted; the grains will turn slightly opaque just before browning. Add the onion and thyme and cook over low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups of water and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and bring to a boil. Cover and cook over very low heat until the water is absorbed and the grains are tender, about 25-30 minutes. Fluff the grains and discard the thyme sprigs. Season the grains with salt.  Allow to cool completely.

  • 1/3 cup pine nuts, preferably from Italy (2 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 small shallot, minced (2 tablespoons)
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups thyme-scented
  • 1 large tart apple, such as Honeycrisp, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the pine nuts in a pie plate and toast until golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

In a bowl, whisk the oil with the vinegar and shallot and season with salt and pepper. Add the Thyme-Scented Short-Grain Brown Rice, pine nuts, apple, pomegranate seeds and parsley; toss before serving.


Rites of Spring

March 9, 2010
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Hello, again, internets!  After a cold, dreary week in DC (which I will write about soon), Atlanta’s 70-degree weather yesterday was just what I needed to re-energize.

I have lots of recipes to share with you all, and I have restaurant reports from Atlanta and Washington, but all I can think about is the (hopefully) soon-to-be-harvested spring bounty.  Asparagus, radishes, ramps, avocados, morels, shad roe, stawberries…oh, my!

It’s not that I don’t love root veggies and winter greens (and hearty, slow-cooked meats), but for me, spring is one of the most exciting times to eat.  What do you love about springtime eating?  What ingredients are you just dying to get your hands on?  Spill in the comments!


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