Posted by: Hil | July 17, 2013

Signature Summer Salad

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This salad is how I convinced the Lemonator to introduce salads as a regular part of our dinner rotation.  It’s extremely simple, but something about the combination off textures, temperatures and flavors really works.  Crunchy salty bacon, sweet tomatoes and balsamic, and savory, juicy chicken play very well together.  Every restaurant serves some variant of this, but the homemade version is much better because you can eat it while the chicken is still hot and the bacon is still fresh and crunchy.  Preparing it just before eating also enables you to make a hot bacon dressing which is one of the yummiest and easiest things to do with a homemade salad.

Ingredients:

  • Spinach, arugula or mixed greens.  (The freshest you can get, preferably from the farmers market.)
  • Cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Chicken breast or tenders
  • A few slices of bacon
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper

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The thing that makes this a summer dish is really the tomatoes.  You really need fresh, sweet  cherry tomatoes to make the flavors sing.  When I get a good batch from the farmer’s market, I always plan on this salad.  Halve your tomatoes and season them liberally with salt and pepper.  With salads, separately seasoning each component is key to maximizing flavor.

The final assembly of the salad can go pretty fast, so I like to have my plates of salad greens and seasoned tomatoes ready to go before I start with the hot ingredients.  You can use any greens you like here—I wouldn’t do a crunchy lettuce, but spinach, arugula or any kind of normal salad mix is fine.  Go by whatever is freshest at your farmers market—the quality makes a big  difference here.

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Next:  bacon!  Cut a few slices into lardons and cook them until they are crispy and the fat has rendered out.  Fish the bacon pieces out with a slotted spoon and place them on a paper towel to drain.  Reserve the grease!

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Next, season your chicken breast liberally with salt and pepper and then cook it in the bacon grease.  Keep you heat high enough to create some nice browning on the outside.  I like to use white meat for this because I think it balances better with the the fatty saltiness of the bacon better than dark meat.  Hard boiled egg–cooked until set but with just a touch of orange still in the center—is also a yummy variant.

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When your chicken is done cooking, set it aside to cool ever so slightly.  You will now need to move quickly.  Pour the bacon grease over your salad greens.  This will wilt them a bit and impart a wonderful depth of flavor that is hard to get in salads.  (You knew there was a reason the Lemonator requested this salad all the time).  Sprinkle your crunchy bacon bits over the top.  Cut your chicken into strips or chunks and add to the top of the salad.  If you are moving quickly, your chicken will still be warm, which takes the salad from good to great.  Finish with balsamic vinegar and, if desired, more salt and pepper.  Take a bite—making sure to get a bit of everything on your fork—and enjoy!

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Posted by: Hil | July 6, 2013

Behaving Myself Breakfast

The last month has been a happy blur—keeping busy at a new job, visiting with people passing through town for the summer, and trying to soak up as much summer as possible.  Lots of late snacking lunches at my desk in between meetings.  Lots of eating out with visiting friends and family.  Lots of home barbecue when we can call dibs on the communal grill fast enough.  It has been wonderful.  It is also time for a good-for-me-food kick—at least until the next event to celebrate.  More produce, more protein, more water.  Less snacking, desserts and eating out.  Balance in all things.

Any good recalibration begins with breakfast.  Some people do the fruit for breakfast thing when they are eating light, but I am a big believer in the power of eggs.  They fill up your belly so nicely and trick you into eating vegetables first thing in the morning.  Starting the day with protein somehow makes it easier for me to avoid snacking later.   So today was an order of behaving myself eggs.  Step by step instructions below.

Step one:  Make coffee.  Nobody can be expected to make breakfast without coffee.  Add cream.

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Step two:  Procure chopped vegetables. Zucchini is great for this kind of thing because it keeps for awhile in the fridge, cooks up pretty quickly, and is cheap and in season right now.  Feel pleased that you had the self-knowledge and foresight to prechop a zucchini, knowing that you would have no inclination to chop vegetables first thing in the morning.

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Step three:  Procure a small quantity of soft cheese, which will make everything creamy and delicious.  My mama likes cream cheese in her scrambled eggs.  I like feta and goats cheese when I have them, which I do not at present.  Because it is in our fridge, lasts forever, and is lower in fat, and is creamy and yummy in eggs, we select a wedge of laughing cow cheese.

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Step four:  Saute your zucchini in a sliver of butter with eggs over medium heat.  You only need a tiny sliver, but I think that butter is by far the tastiest thing to scramble eggs in.  If the butter starts to brown, lower the heat.  Season with salt and thyme.

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Step Five:  Rescue coffee from curious cats.

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Step six:  Check the zucchini for doneness.  They should be soft but not mushy and the edges should be just beginning to carmelize.

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When the zucchini are done, pour two eggs (beaten with a splash of cream or milk) over the zucchini.  Cut laughing cow wedge into chunks and deposit them around the pan.  Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Keep in mind that the cheese is salty, so season accordingly.

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Step seven:  Stir eggs, watching the heat to make sure they do not overcook.  Think to self that a omelet would have looked prettier on the blog.  Remind self that self should have suggested that before stirring commenced.  When eggs are glossy and set, remove from pan and serve.  Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

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Step eight:  eat!

Posted by: Hil | June 1, 2013

Is It Summer Yet?

My stomach apparently thinks so.

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This weeks’ lunch:  cucumber, cherry tomato and avocado salad dressed lime juice and topped with chilled shrimp.  Refreshing and delicious.  No idea how I managed to find tasty cherry tomatoes at the farmers market this early in the year, but I’m not complaining.

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With the warmer weather, the Lemonator has been barbecuing steak.  Lots of steak.  Sometimes we compromise and put it over spinach salad with tomatoes and balasamic vinaigrette.

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And I have been feasting on lots and lots of fresh strawberries.  I only wish strawberry season lasted longer.

Posted by: Hil | May 27, 2013

Eat See Hear

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We spent last Friday at Eat See Hear, a summer series of outdoor movies, live music and food trucks.  We got there early to stake out a spot for our picnic blanket and grab some food before the lines got too long.

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The array of food truck options was pretty overwhelming—about 10 food trucks and 2 dessert trucks, plus an entire truck full of slurpees.  Everything looked delicious, but I really wish that the event planners had brought a few trucks that didn’t have adorable hip signage and overpriced food.  Taco trucks are very nostalgic for me—whenever I’m back in my hometown, we have to venture over to the taco truck that hangs out across from the DMV, which makes some of the best burritos and tacos I have ever tasted for ultra cheap prices.  (My mouth is watering just thinking about it.)  In my not so humble opinion, the food truck should be a noble conveyer of delicious, hot, unpretentious, cheap food.  I do not understand why a phenomenon that was already perfect needed to become fancy and gourmet and cute.  Variety is the spice of life, and I can appreciate the occasional gourmet food truck for fun and variety, but not to the exclusion of their more humble (and usually more delicious) counterparts.  As I stared at the array of shiny, brightly colored food trucks in front of me, all I could think was:  But where are the tacos?!

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When I got over my frustration about the absence of tacos, I decided that hot dogs would also be an acceptable food for a summer evening.  We headed over to Dogtown Dogs.  They had an interesting looking variety of hot dogs for between $5-$7 a piece.  Expensive for a hot dog, but I just pretended that I was at a ballpark.  I ordered the Dogtown Dog ($5), which came with lots of whole grain mustard and was topped with a fennel and roasted pepper slaw.  Credit where credit is due: this was very yummy.  I’m not much of a hot dog person, but once in a while a craving strikes, especially during the summertime.  The hot dog was very juicy and flavorful, the whole grain mustard was excellent, and the slaw provided a nice crunch and brininess.  The slaw had some dill in it, so the overall effect with the hot dog was subtly reminiscent of relish.

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They were very generous with the mustard.  For me, that is a good thing!

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The Lemonator had a “Morning Commute” dog—bacon wrapped hot dog with fried egg on top and a side of tater tots.  The hot dog was the savory meat lover’s concoction that you would imagine.  I did not try his tater tots, but the Lemonator reported that they were tasty.

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Maybe next time we will take a tip from our neighbor and save money by blowtorching our own hot dogs from home.  Yes, he actually has a blowtorch:  take a close look at the picture!

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I have heard many tales of the deliciousness of the Cool Haus ice cream truck, so I had to check that out as well.  The basic idea is that you can pick your cookie and your ice cream flavor to create a custom ice cream sandwich.  Service was quick and friendly.

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I went with marscapone ice cream studded with balsamic figs between chocolate chip cookies.  The whole thing comes served in an edible wrap (seemed like rice paper?), presumably to be hip and to cut down on waste from napkins.  The ice cream was delicious, although I wish there had been more of the yummy figs in the mix.  The mascarpone flavor was great, the texture was creamy, and it wasn’t too sweet.  The basamic figs, when I got a bite, were rich and delicious.  The cookies were meh and the overall sandwich was awkwardly constructed.  There was too much ice cream and it was very soft, so it was very difficult to get a bite without ice cream squishing out through all of the sides.  The wrapper just tasted like paper on its own, although it tasted good and mochi-esque when soaked in the escaping melted ice cream.  I wish I could have just ordered a dish of that ice cream on its own, because that was worth repeating.

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As the sun was setting, the live act took the stage:  Derte Verde.  The performance was great—melodic rock music that was catchy but with unexpected quirks in rhythm and sound that kept it from being clichéd.  You could hear a lot of eclectic influences in the music—the Lemonator and I kept trying to figure out who they reminded us of and kept coming up with wildly different references point each song.

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After the music, it was time for the movie:  The Princess Bride.  I love that movie (who doesn’t?)  and it was fun to watch it with a big outdoor group where the crowd could cheer for the most quotable lines.  I think that entire movie is extremely quotable, but we seemed to have a crowd full of Inigo Montoya fans—his catchphrase elicited the loudest cheers.

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All in all, a very enjoyable way to spend a summer evening.

Posted by: Hil | May 12, 2013

Finding a Groove

Lately, I’ve started going back to one of my favorite hip hop dance classes.  I love the class because it is fun, positive, designed to be accessible to beginners and drop-ins, but actually teaches you some fun choreography.  The steps aren’t hard, but the pace is quick.  You have to be able to wrap your head around the choreography quickly without getting bogged down.  And even more than that, you have to learn to avoid overthinking things and trust that the movement will make sense in your body if you just go with it.  Whenever I’m away from the class for awhile, it takes me a few classes to get my head back in the right space to absorb the steps and just dance.  I think cooking can be much the same way:  if you know how to chop, saute, grill and roast, then cooking isn’t hard—it just takes some practice and momentum to be able to figure out what to make without overthinking it and stressing yourself out.  Lately, I’ve been trying to make time to cook at home more.  It’s a work in progress, but I’m gradually finding my way back to the place where putting thing together feels more natural and automatic.  Relatively speaking at least.

As we were cleaning up from last weekend’s Cinco de Mayo dinner, an alarm bell went off in my head:  what am I bringing for lunches this week?  Fruit and string cheese were well stocked in the fridge.  I quickly threw together a weeks worth of pistachio-raisin mix.  For a main dish, beans are always a good default option.  Per my formula, I decided on that pepper that needed using for my red veggie (sauteed to make it sweeter) and arugula for a green veggie.  Feta needed using up, so in that went.  I still had lots of leftover Meyer lemon juice, so that was the basis of my vinaigrette.

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I didn’t make ahead a big batch of soup or curry this week as I normally do, so this week needed to be full of quick improvised dinners.  Monday night was easy—leftover tacos.  Tuesday night, the Lemonator thawed some frozen chicken tenders to sauté and blanched some green beans.  (I did make my weekly farmers market and grocery runs, which helps with improv nights.  And green beans last  a while in the fridge).  To our dismay, the chicken started sticking and drying out in the pan when we went to cook it.  Dried out, unevenly browned chicken tenders are not an appetizing dinner.  Pan sauce to the rescue.  I deglazed the pan with sherry (I always have sherry on hand for emergencies of this type), added a handful of fresh thyme, a generous jolt of dijon mustard, a pat of butter, a splash of half and half, and my secret ingredient: finely diced Serrano chile peppers leftover from Cinco de Mayo. I gave everything a stir to combine the ingredients and coat the chicken, then let the chicken cook the rest of the way through. 

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I love making pan sauces and this one was really yummy.  Sherry and mustard add great depth of flavor quickly and go with almost any protein.  Thyme is my all-time favorite herb.  But the real surprise was the Serrano pepper.  It married really well with the mustard.  You could taste the pepper from the first bite, but the heat came through later at the back of your throat as you chewed.

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Wednesday night, the Lemonator started cooking up whole wheat spaghetti and bacon for spaghetti carbonara before forgetting that we were all out of parmesan cheese—and we make our carabonara with plenty of parmesan cheese!  Trying to think of another way to incorporate bacon and pasta, I decided to play with the flavors of a club sandwich.  I sliced up deli turkey and added it to the pan of bacon towards the end of cooking.  (I’m sure shredded turkey or chicken would be even better, but I went with what I had on hand.)  When the pasta was cooked, I tossed it with lemon juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, mustard and (don’t tell the Lemonator) a tiny bit of mayo.  Finally, I heated the pasta and meats together in a pan, seasoned with salt and pepper, and added a big handful of arugula to wilt down at the very last minute.  The Lemonator laughed when he tasted it.  It really tasted like a club sandwich!

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No creativity left in my brain on Thursday night.  For me, rice bowls are a great healthy-but-comforting way to raid the pantry when I’m tired.  Normally I make them with brown rice, but we were all out so we used white.  Toppings are frozen peas and diced carrot (cooked in the microwave), canned tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil and lots of sambal oelek chile paste, which makes everything taste better.

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Saturday brunch was baked eggs.   The base is diced tomatoes sautéed with with minced garlic, diced serrano peppers, and a spoonful of canned corn.  Then, I put the tomato mixture into two ovenproof ramekins.  The idea is to make depressions in the veggie mixture into which you can crack the eggs.   Then you bake at 350 for about 15 minutes or until the eggs are set to your liking.

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Next time, I would make these in bigger shallower dishes so that the eggs stayed in their discrete pockets and did not spill all over the top in a messy and not terribly pretty fashion.  But they tasted great!  I recommend serving with toast so that you can scoop the egg-tomato mixture onto it.

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Sunday night dinner…

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Lentil soup with lemon juice and thyme.  You can’t be creative all the time.

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Last but not least, happy Mother’s Day to Blueberry Mom.  Thank for teaching me to love food and make a mean pot of lentil soup.  This blog would not exist without you.

Posted by: lemonator | May 6, 2013

Homemade Tortillas

Lemonator Here.

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By now I’m sure you’ve seen Hil’s post on our Cinco de Mayo festivities.  She’s asked me to follow-up with a recipe for homemade tortillas.  Lets begin with the recipe.

  • 3 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup shortening
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • ~3/4 cup hot water

To make:  Combine all the dry ingredients, then cut in the shortening until the dough is crumbly and soft.   Add the hot water and knead/stir periodically until the dough sticks together easily, but is not moist.  I ended up needing a little more than the 3/4 cup to get it to the right consistency.  Be careful at this step not to add too much liquid… it makes actually making the tortillas a sticky, messy affair.  Let the dough rest for ~1 hour to let it relax and be more pressable.

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We got a tortilla press a few years back from Blueberry Sis, and I definitely recommend one for making tortillas, especially corn tortillas.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the masa to create them this time around, so another blog post on that will have to come later.  If you don’t have a tortilla press, you could also use a rolling pin (in fact, I recommend having one on hand anyways, as I will explain later).  It won’t be as easy to get the round tortilla shape, though.

Even if the dough is at the right consistency, it will probably stick to the tortilla press after you press it into a tortilla.  In order to prevent this from happening, you should line your tortilla press.  I’ve seen a lot of people say that wax paper is the best, but I’ve found that using a gallon ziploc is even better.  Just cut out two circles in the ziploc that will each cover one side of your press, and you are ready. 

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Take a small handful of dough (about 1/16th of the total for each tortilla) and place it on the press.  Depending on your press, you might want to put it closer to an edge or the center as you see how the tortillas are coming out.  For mine, right in the center works great.

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And PRESS for all you are worth!  The perfect amount of dough is such that you can just see the tortilla sticking out of the press when you are finished.

 

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Open the press and peel off the plastic.  This should be a very easy process… if it is sticking at all, it means you have too much water in your dough and should knead in some more flour before trying again. 

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Continue until you have made all of the dough into tortillas.  Heat a pan up to medium heat.  For each tortilla, give it a once over with a rolling pin to get it as thin as possible.  If it is thicker, it will come out more like Naan, which are also delicious, of course, but NOT tortillas.  Make each tortilla one at a time, heating each side for ~1 minute and then removing from the heat and starting the next one.  If you look carefully, you can see the edges starting to brown right as it is ready to flip.

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And flip!

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Serve hot, preferably with taco fixings! 

Hil wants me to make her a whole wheat version next… for that, I’ll have to be sure to roll out the dough even more, as I’ve found it more difficult to get thin whole-wheat things in the past.  I’m sure it will be delicious, though!

Posted by: Hil | May 6, 2013

Cinco de Mayo Recap

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The Lemonator and I do not need much excuse to make tasty Mexican food for dinner.  And as excuses go, Cinco De Mayo is a pretty good one!  After mass, we dropped by the farmers market to pick up veggies for the week and lots of citrus. 

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When preparing a meal like this that involves lots of citrus juice, I think it makes matters a lot easier to spend some time juicing lots of lemons and limes at the outset so that you can just measure and pour later on.  This is one of the few times when our electric citrus juicer comes in handy (a largely neglected birthday present for the Lemonator.

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The cook must not go hungry during her preparations, so chips and salsa were in order.  I tend to forget that I cannot be trusted around chips and salsa.  That and French bread.  Put some in front of me and it is gone before I know what hit me.

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First, we put some of that lime juice to good use in our shrimp aguachile:  lime juice, finely diced serrano pepper, crushed garlic and salt over fresh shrimp.  Make sure that your shrimp are deveined!  I hate deveining shrimp and was happy to find that mine had already been deveined for me.  Mix together the lime juice, peppers and garlic, then pour them over the shrimp.  Bonus points if you puree the peppers and garlic with the lime juice, but I liked the way the little flecks of pepper looked against the shrimp.  Season with salt.

I figured out after I took this picture that I would need a lot of citrus juice to get the shrimp to “cook” evenly.  You want everything to be covered by the citrus juice.  I have heard that this dish is sometimes served quite raw, almost like sushi, but I prefer to let the citrus juice cook the shrimp more.  Leave for several hours in the refrigerator, tossing occasionally to ensure even cooking, until the shrimp is pink and has a cooked texture.  As with any raw product, obviously be careful that you are using very fresh shrimp.  If you don’t like the idea of eating raw fish, you can also use cooked, but I would reduce the marinate time to more like 30 minutes or an hour to avoid making the shrimp rubbery and tough.

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When they are done, they will look pink and cooked and pretty.  Serve them with a bit of the marinade.  They are delicious like this as an appetizer—cold and zesty and refreshing.  To make them into a meal, you can pile them on top of a tostada with cucumber, red onion and avocado.

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And more of our citrus juice goes into our margaritas.  I like to use equal parts tequila and orange liquer over ice, topped with a mix of lime and Meyer lemon juice and about a teaspoon of agave nectar.  Per Nicole’s suggestion, I added just the smallest amount of orange juice to my citrus juice mixture. 

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For salt rim, dip the glass into a bit of water…

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And then a bit of salt.

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Much better than sweet and sour mix.

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The Lemonator assigned himself the responsibility of making skirt steak tacos with homemade tortillas.  Recipe for the tortillas to follow.

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I topped mine with chipotle garlic hot sauce and minced onion.  The tortillas were incredible—warm, freshly made tortilla has to be on my top 20 list of the world’s tastiest foods.  The Lemonator has promised that he will (1) blog the recipe and (2) attempt to make some for me using whole wheat flour next time.  I can’t wait.

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Posted by: Hil | May 5, 2013

Poem for Sunday

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love is more thicker than forget

more thinner than recall

more seldom than a wave is wet

more frequent than to fail

 

it is most mad and moonly

and less it shall unbe

than all the sea which only

is deeper than the sea

 

love is less always than to win

less never than alive

less bigger than the least begin

less littler than forgive

 

it is most sane and sunly

and more it cannot die

than all the sky which only

is higher than the sky

 

–e.e. cummings

Posted by: Hil | May 4, 2013

Mint Juleps

Blueberry Mom LOVES the Kentucky Derby.  She always watches and is known to throw parties on Derby Day.  I’m not sure why.  She is not Southern or particularly into horses.  I can think of three possible reasons for her love of the event.  1.  She loves sports of all types.  2.  Her beloved borzoi is frequently mistaken for a horse by small children.  3.  Bourbon is her favorite spirit and Derby Day is a perfect excuse to have a mint julep party. 

In Blueberry Mom’s honor, I whipped up a mint julep for Derby Day.

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Traditionally, you muddle the mint and sugar to make a mint julep.  Blueberry Mom and I think that muddling alone does not impart adequate mint flavor to cocktails.  Mint  simple syrup is far superior.  (Ditto for mojitos).  Take approximately four sprigs of mint, cover with 1-2 tablespoons of water and 1-3 teaspoons of sugar or agave nectar, depending on how sweet you like your drink.  Microwave for one minute.  When the wilty boiled mint comes out then you can take a spoon and mash the mint to release the flavorful juices into the syrup.

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Next, fill an 8 oz. glass with crushed ice.  If you don’t have crushed ice on hand, you can put ice cubes in a freezer bag and smash them up with a kitchen mallet.  Et voila.

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Next, bourbon.  I like Woodford Reserve, which is the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.  Add 1 1/2 shots of  bourbon to your glass.  You want the ice to start melting down to dilute the bourbon.  Next, add the minty syrup to taste.  Stir.

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Garnish your glass with a sprig of fresh mint, sip slowly and enjoy!

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The Lemonator would like it to be known that today is also another important day:  Star Wars Day.  I told him that I was unfamiliar with that holiday.  “Well, it’s May 4th, you know,” he explained patiently, as though this would elucidate matters.  I told him that I had no idea what he was talking about.  The Lemonator sighed:  “You know!  Like, May the Fourth be with you!”

Posted by: Hil | May 4, 2013

Salad and Salsa

Last night, I dragged a reluctant Lemonator to a salsa dance class. I am a dance dabbler: I love to try out different styles of dance and have never gotten particularly good at any of them.  Partner dances—swing, salsa and other ballroom style stuff—have always been my favorite. I took a lot of ballroom classes in college and have missed it since then. So when I learned about a beginner level salsa class that was starting up, I begged the Lemonator to come with me.  He protested.  I promised him dinner at Tender Greens beforehand as an incentive.  That seemed to do the trick.

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Tender Greens is a Southern California chain that the Lemonator and I really love.  Everything is fresh, flavorful and prepared right in front of you.  The basic backbone of the menus is the five types of grilled “hot stuff”—roasted vegetables, herb chicken, barbecue chicken, seared albacore tuna, and steak.  You can choose to have the “hot stuff” on a big salad, in a sandwich with roasted peppers and a side green salad, or on a plate with a side salad and mashed potatoes.  They also have a variety of special soups, salads and tarts depending on whatever is in season.  All options are delicious and affordable.  The Lemonator always orders the same thing:  grilled steak and red peppers on ciabatta bread with a side of Caesar salad.  I stole a bite—yum. 

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He also obviously needed to order some mint lemonade. A different kind of liquid courage!

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For my part, I went with a special:  arugula salad with roasted peppers, fennel, chickpeas, a skewer of grilled lamb and tzatziki sauce.  Delicious. 

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We also love Tender Greens because it is one of the only places we can share dessert (all housemade, incidentally).  With some narrowly specified exceptions, the Lemonator will not eat fruit, chocolate, whipped cream, custard or frosting.  Needless to say, this puts limits on dessert sharing possibilities!  He will, however, eat the deliciously moist lemon olive oil cake that Tender Greens serves.  I’m not normally a cake person, but I like this one very much because it is very moist and not too sweet.  We shared a piece.

Then, it was on to salsa!  To the Lemonator’s relief, our instructor took things from the very beginning and the crowd that showed up was very easy going.  The instructor was very good at communicating the basics of how to get through the moves.  We had a lot of fun and will probably go back next week.  It’s nice to be able to get up and move around after being stuck sitting down at a desk all week—what better way to celebrate the start of the weekend?

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