Author Archives: Emilie

Lets Get Saucy: Roasted Veggies with Horseradish Buerre Blanc

I am tired of being cold. There I said it. Yesterday was the first day of spring, yet last Sunday saw 4 inches of snow dumped on DC and we are expecting another winter event next week. I think what bothers me the most is the teasing – just days before the last snow storm it was in the 70s here and I was walking to the bus stop in the morning wearing a dress and cardigan. Mother nature, YOU ARE DRUNK, go home!!!!

Despite all the snow and horrible wind-chills, there is one sure sign that spring may really be on its way. Weekly asparagus sales at grocery store. It doesn’t matter if its fat or thin, if its on sale, I’m buying it – and probably devouring it within a couple of days. Although, the way I devour it will differ depending on the girth of the stalks. Thin, spindly stalks are great for stir-fry, quiches, and risotto because it cooks quickly; while the thicker stalks stand up better to roasting and grilling.

The asparagus season coincided with me finally perfecting burre blanc sauce. A deceptively simple mix of white wine, an acid (vinegar or lemon), and butter, it can go from perfect creaminess to a mess in a matter of seconds. After lots of practice though (and maybe a bit of wasted butter), I can whip up a simple buerre blanc without thinking about it. It does have to be used all at once, as reheating it leaves with an oily separated liquid, so I still only pull it out for full meals and dinner parties, and not for many meals for one. I like to whisk in a bit of horseradish at the end, giving the sauce a fresh bite at the end.

Roasted Veggies with Horseradish Buerre Blanc

Roasted Veggies with Buerre Blanc 1

1 bunch “fat” asparagus
1 bag frozen artichoke heart quarters
8 ounces baby bella mushrooms
olive oil
salt & pepper

Horseradish Buerre Blanc
¼ cup dry white wine
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
½ cup butter, cubed and chilled
1 tbsp prepared horseradish

1)     Pre-heat oven to 375ºF. Place frozen artichokes in a bowl of warm (not hot) water) to defrost. Once they have mostly defrosted, drain well, squeezing very gently to remove some extra water.

2)     Wash mushrooms and cut into quarter (for medium mushrooms) or sixths (for larger mushrooms). Place in a large bowl. Trim asparagus and cut into 1 inch pieces and add to the bowl with the mushrooms. Give your artichokes one last shake to remove water and toss with the asparagus and mushrooms.

Roasted Veggies with Buerre Blanc - prepped veggies

Veggies before I defrosted the artichokes…

3)     Drizzle vegetables with a tablespoon to 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Pour into a 9×13-inch casserole pan. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, until the leaves of the artichoke start to crisp.

4)     While the vegetables roast: In a small sauce pan, combine white wine, vinegar, and garlic. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the liquid has reduced by a little more than half (about 2-3 tablespoons of liquid remaining).

Roasted Veggies with Buerre Blanc - simmer wine and garlic

5)     Reduce the heat to low and begin whisking in the chilled cubed butter a piece or two at a time. In order to create a perfect creamy beurre blanc, the butter must melt slowly into the sauce. Generally, the constant addition of cold butter should keep the sauce from heating too quickly; if the butter does appear to be melting too fast, remove the pan from the heat source for a few moments while continuing to whisk vigorously.

Roasted Veggies with Buerre Blanc - finished buerre blanc

6)     Whisk in 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish and serve immediately.

Cheddar-Jack Cheese Crackers

Meet Rosie, the KitchenAid mixer. Yes, I name my cars and my kitchen toys.

Meet Rosie, the KitchenAid mixer. Yes, I name my cars and my kitchen toys.

Everyone, I want to introduce you to my newest toy, I’ve named her Rosie, after the Jetson’s robot. My mom has had an old school KitchenAid mixer for years and years, and I loved using it when I was growing up. So Tom, knowing how much I wanted one of my own, gave me a Professional 600 series this Christmas. Since we drove 20+ hours to Texas for 2 weeks over the holidays, we decided to wait to order the mixer until after we returned. Since getting the mixer, unpacking it, and happily reading the user manual from cover to cover, I have not had a chance to actually plug in Rosie and use her.

I knew I wanted to make something special to christen my new mixer, so I spent the intervening time considering my options. Rosie deserved something special – something I’d never tried before, but that had a high probability of being successful the first time around. I didn’t want Rosie to be tainted by bad mojo after all! I considered fresh English muffins or naan, homemade marshmallows, and several other options. Over the days, as I made my mental list of recipes, I remembered the delicious cheese crackers Tom’s dad made for the holidays and the many homemade cheese crackers I’d seen on Pinterest. Considering my love of cheese, homemade cheddar crackers were clearly the answer.

Cheese Crackers - Amazing finished product

I chose Joy the Baker’s sharp cheddar cheese crackers as my base recipe. Wanting to create added depth, and never one to shy away from cheese, I chose to add a couple of ounces of monterey jack cheese and several spices. I experimented with a few different sizes of cracker (mostly because I wasn’t very steady with the pizza cutter) and settled on 1×1 inch as my favorite size. Although this adorable fish shaped cutter may make an appearance if I find myself making this recipe frequently. The crackers were sharp and tangy and beautifully crisp fresh from the oven. Stored over night, they lost some of the crispness, but were still addicting.

Cheese Crackers - cheddar crackers fresh from the oven

Cheddar-Jack Cheese Crackers
8 ounces sharp cheddar
2 ounces monterey jack cheese
¾ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp paprika
4 tbsp butter, room temperature
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp cold water

1)      Finely shred the cheddar and monterey jack cheeses.

Cheese Crackers - Sharp Cheddar and Monterey Jack Cheese

Cheese Crackers - 8oz shredded cheddar and 2oz shredded jack cheeses

2)      Combined spices, butter, and shredded cheese in the bowl of your mixer and blend until a soft ball is formed.

Cheese Crackers - season with salt, pepper, paprika, and onion powder

Cheese Crackers - cream butter and cheese

3)      With the mixer on low speed, add the flours. The mixture will form course crumbs. Add the cold water a tablespoon at a time until soft, but not sticky dough forms. You may need a teaspoon or so more than 2 tablespoons.

Cheese Crackers - finished dough

4)      Form the dough into a thick disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes in the fridge.

5)      When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375ºF and line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

6)      Cut the dough in half and replace one half in the fridge. Roll the dough into a thin rectangle, thinner than ⅛ inch. When you think its thin enough, roll it one more time.

Cheese Crackers - roll dough very thin

Cheese Crackers - use a pizza slicer to cut 1in squares

7)      Using a cookie cutter or pizza cutter cut crackers that are about an inch in size. Use a toothpick to pierce the center of the cracker and then place on the cookie sheets. These will not expand out, so the crackers can be placed relatively close together.

Cheese Crackers - let the crackers cool

8)       Bake the crackers for 13 to 15 minutes, or until the edges just begin to brown. Let cool completely before serving or storing.

Homemade cheddar crackers for everyone!

9) Repeat the process with the second half of the dough or freeze the dough for later.

I Cannot Tell a Lie – These Cookies are Delicious

We may never really know if George Washington was able to tell a lie, since the story of him chopping down his father’s favorite cherry tree is a myth created by Washington’s first posthumous biographer Parson Weems (thanks Wikipedia for making me look smart!) We do know that he “[f]irst in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” (Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee’s euology of George Washington).  So in honor of this founding father  (who is also the only president of the 6 who owned slave to free his) and his fictional cherry tree, I bring you dark chocolate-cherry-oat cookies.

Chocolate Cherry Whole Grain Cookies - from aboveI first made these cookies in December as part of my annual holiday cookie bake and immediately fell in love with them. They are dense and chewy with a sweetness that is cut perfectly by the tart dried cherries and bitterness of dark chocolate. Did I mention that they are 100% whole grain? They are made with whole wheat and oatmeal – so feel free to tell yourself they are healthy. You wouldn’t be lying – per se.

Dark Chocolate Cherry Whole Grain Cookies
¾ cup old fashioned oats
3 tablespoons milk
½ (1 stick) cup butter, room temperature
⅓ cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
⅓ cup brown sugar, light or dark, packed
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
¾ cup whole wheat flour
¾ cup dried cherries
¾ cup dark chocolate chips

1) In a small bowl, stir together oats and milk. Set aside.

Chocolate Cherry Whole Grain Cookies - soak the oats (1)

2) Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, egg, salt, and baking soda.

Chocolate Cherry Whole Grain Cookies - beat in egg and vanilla

3) Add whole wheat flour, mixing until just combined. The stir in milk-soaked oats using a spatula or wooden spoon.

4) Stir in cherries and chocolate.

Chocolate Cherry Whole Grain Cookies -  stir in cherries and chocolate

5) Cover cookie dough and chill for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

6) Pre-heat oven to 375ºF and line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

7) Drop by rounded teaspoon onto prepared cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Bake for 13-15 minutes, until light golden brown.

Chocolate Cherry Whole Grain Cookies - place dough on prepared cookie sheet

8)  Cool completely and store in an air-tight container.

IMG_1892

Books for Cooks – Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat

You know, when I first thought of adding this little series of book reviews “Books for Cooks,” I thought it would be much easier than Ruth and I’s normal cooking and recipe posts. Boy was I mistaken – I forgot how hard “book reports” from elementary school actually are!

I recently finished Consider the For: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson. The book, published just over a year ago, is a light enjoyable read that takes a look at the innovations and inventions that have inspired and supported home cooks since the first fire was used to roast mammoth meat. As easy a read as it is, you walk away with a wealth of knowledge that you find yourself inexplicably sharing at dinner parties and brunch with girlfriends (or maybe that’s just me).

I was fascinated by the book’s focus on the humble everyday kitchen and its tools from sporks and chopsticks to refrigerators and toaster. Did you know, for example, that chopsticks as eating utensils are simply part of the evolution of Chinese food that resulted from the death of wood for fueling cooking fires. Chinese stir-fry, which is made of bite-side pieces of meat and vegetable, cooks quickly in the wok, whose concave bottom allows the food to be seared using a rather small fire. It is likely that chopsticks originated as a tool for stirring the food in the wok and eventually evolved into a utensil for eating.

I definitely recommend this book for anyone who is curious about the tools in their kitchen and how they came into being. It is an easy read that remains light and engrossing until you finally close the cover.

Holiday Gifts for Little Foodies

Growing up, one of my top 5 toys was the play kitchen my sisters and I shared. It was a homemade 2-piece set – simple plywood boxes built with doors and painted to look like a refrigerator and stove-topped oven. It wasn’t fancy like the Little Tykes plastic kitchens my friends had, with their attached phones and ironing boards, but it was spacious and more realistic, so I was happy.  We filled it with tons of plastic foods from apples to unidentifiable uniformly brown “meat” products and those awesome Fisher Price milk and juice bottles. It provided endless hours of fun, and while I don’t remember exactly when we got rid of it, that play kitchen is one of my clearest childhood memories.

It was with these childhood memories fresh in my head that I started Christmas shopping for nieces and nephews. After picking out some cool toys for the older ones, I started looking for a soft fruit and veggie sets designed for my niece who is under 2 and I quickly became overwhelmed by the totally awesome and amazing play food toys that are now available. While I may not be in the market for a brand new play kitchen and all of its associated accessories, I had so much fun exploring, I thought I’d turn it into a post for those of you who may have a few burgeoning chefs and foodies in need of their own kitchen set up.

Play kitchens for purchase1)Little Tykes Super Chef Kitchen ($80)  // 2)Kid Kraft Uptown Kitchen($144)   3)2 Step Life Kitchen($93)  // 4)Hape Playfully Delicious Gourmet Kitchen ($87)

DIY Play Kitchens1) Giggleberry Creations DIY Entertainment Center Play Kitchen // 2) DIY Pottery Barn Knock-Off Play Kitchen  // 3) DIY Play Kitchen from Nightstand  4) Play Kitchen From Ikea Parts

Once you have picked out the perfect play kitchen, its time to stock it. The basics for the perfect play kitchen fall under 2 categories. First you need a few basics for cooking up and serving fun and imagination. The 3 sets below are each a great price and will ensure every little chef has everything they need.

Toy dishes1)Children’s Stainless Steel Cookware Set($23) // 2)Toysmith Cooking Utensils ($11) // 3)Kidoozie Dish Drainer Set ($18)

Once you have dishes and silverware, your lil’ chef will need something to cook up and serve. I think its important to start with a amazing basics with multiple uses to stock the toy fridge and pantry. The Melissa and Doug 4 Food Groups play set, number 1 below, is a good all around starter set. If you want a more substantial starting place for you fledgling foodie, I encourage getting separate produce, meat, and bread sets. Really well curated bread sets were the hardest to find. While the sandwich set is a bit more specialized that I was going for, the collection of bakery items was the best out there.

Play Food Starters1)Melissa and Doug Food Groups Play Set – Wooden ($20) // 2)Ikea Duktig 14-Piece Vegetable Set ($8) & Ikea Duktig 9-Piece Fruit Set ($8) // 3) PlanToys Plan Activity Large Scale Meat Set ($16) // 4) Melissa and Doug Felt Food – Sandwich Set ($17)

If your favorite youngster has a well established play kitchen with dishes, produce, and more, you may be at a loss for what to buy. Don’t worry, there are tons of specialty toys for the little foodie who already has it all.

Fun Kitchen Toys for the Establish Kitchen

1)  Fisher-Price Servin’ Surprises Ice Cream Party Set ($19) // 2)  Homemade Felt Sushi Platter // 3)  Melissa & Doug Felt Cookie Decorating Set ($19)             4)  Homemade Felt Cheez-It Crackers // 5)  Hape Playfully Delicious Pasta Set   ($19)  //   6)  Homemade Felt Poptart Tutorial

French Onion Soup with Gruyere Croutons

It’s a SNOW DAY! And every snow day needs a warm comforting soup to enjoy after an hour of snowball fights and snow angles. My favorite soup is French Onion – which elevates the under-appreciated onion. Sure, nearly every dish we create is seasoned with some type of allium, whether garlic, shallots, or simple yellow onions. But they rarely get to play the staring role in a dish. Yet onions have such wonderful complex flavors that they really should get to steal the show more often.

French Onion Soup 3

French Onion Soup may seem intimidating with its gooey cap of cheese and deep brown caramelized onions, but it really a very easy soup to make. You don’t have tons of vegetables to chop and there are only a few steps – no meat to brown or rice to cook before adding. Nope, you only need onions, broth, a few spices, and patience. I avoid the somewhat intimidating cheese cap by floating gooey Gruyere croutons in my soup, which also ensures that you can enjoy a cup of soup at work a few days later. So take a chance and make your own pot. I promise its the perfect way to end a day of making snowmen and throwing snowballs.

French Onion Soup 2

French Onion Soup with Gruyere Croutons

2 pounds yellow onions
1 pound white onions
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp dry thyme
1 tbsp onion powder
1 cup wine
5  cups beef broth
2 cups water
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Gruyere Croutons
French baguette
olive oil or parsley pesto
shredded Swiss Gruyere cheese

1)     Peel and cut every onion from root to tip. Then slice thin half moons of onion and separate the half rings. Set aside.

French Onion Soup - slice the onions

2)     Add olive oil and butter to a large heavy bottom pot over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted into the oil, add the sliced onions and toss to coat all of the onions in the fats. Add a tablespoon of salt and half a tablespoon of fresh-cracked black pepper. Begin to caramelize the onions, stirring infrequently to keep the bottom from burning. About halfway through the caramelization process, when the onions our a very light golden color, add the dried thyme and stir well to incorporate. Continue to caramelize until deep golden brown – about 1 to 1.5 hours.

French Onion Soup - melt butter into oil French Onion Soup - coat onions in oil French Onion Soup - sweat the onions

3)     Once the onions have caramelized, add in 1 cup of dry red wine and 1 tablespoon onion powder, bring to a simmer, and cook for 5 more minutes.

French Onion Soup - carmelized onions French Onion Soup - add the wine to the carmelized onions

4)     Add the beef broth, water, Worcestershire sauce, red wine vinegar, and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook for at least 1 hour.

5)     With about 30 minutes left in the cooking process, preheat your oven broiler and place the oven about 9 inches below the flame. Slice the baguette into 1-inch slices and brush with olive oil or parsley pesto. Place under the broiler for about 5 minutes, until the bread starts to brown. Remove bread from the oven, top with Swiss Gruyere cheese, and put back in the oven until cheese just melts.

French Onion Soup - Guyere Croutons 1 French Onion Soup - Guyere Croutons 2

6)     Serve soup hot, with cheese topped crostini floating on top.

French Onion Soup 1

Holiday Gifts under $75

The $50 to $75 dollar range for gift giving is a rich with amazing, unique, and, frequently, hand-crafted kitchen tools and serving dishes. I love perusing the tabletop section of Houzz.com to find cool things from boutique stores I may never have heard of otherwise. Sure, sometimes people post things that are outrageously priced (seriously, $90 for a single coffee cup and saucer??) but it is still fun way to find gift-giving inspiration.

Kitchen Gifts Under 75- An Elegant Kitchen

1)  Mason Cash Large Mortar and Pestle ($46)  // 2)  Delta Decanting Wine Carafe ($64)  // 3)  Solid Wood Mezzaluna and Herb Chopping Bowl ($60)

I love to give beautiful practical pieces to friends and family for birthdays and holidays. Items like this mortar and pestle or this herb bowl and mezzaluna would be perfect to round out the kitchen of even your most elegant friend.  Mortar and pestles and mezzalunas are items that people frequently don’t think to buy for themselves, but once they own will find themselves turning to again and again. While an extra special wine decanter, like this one from Delta designed to maximize aeration with a stone cap that filters out sediment or errant cork pieces, are great for friends that enjoy a good bottle of wine.

As nice as it is to be able to find a single perfect item to give someone, I actually find it easier to give gift sets at this price range. There are many options for pre-made gift sets on sites like Williams and Sonoma, but I love to search websites and put together my own sets when I can. Below are 2 examples of great gift (one of which I may have already bought for someone on my Christmas list) that you can put together yourself.

Kitchen Gifts Under 75- Cheese SetRectangular Marble and Wood Cheese Board ($58) // Gold Cheese Knives ($29)

I may be biased, but cheese should be an FDA required food group unto itself, and cheese themed gifts are sure to be a hit with about 95% of the public (and that other 5%, well they have to entertain cheese lovers at some point, right?). Marble and slate make ideal cheese boards because they stay cool which helps to keep the cheese at an ideal temperature while it sits on an appetizer table. I am in love with this elegant marble and wood cheese board from Terrain, but am happy to report that you can find an identical one at West Elm for a mere $39! Which is convenient because these gold-toned cheese knives are also from West Elm. Together, the two pieces are $68 (plus taxes & shipping). You can always pick up some lovely cheese samples from your local cheese monger if you want to round out the gift.

Kitchen Gifts Under 75- Salt Block CookingHimalaya Salt Plate ($35)  //  Himalaya Salt Plate Holder ($15)  //  Salt Block Cooking: 70 Recipes for Grilling, Chilling, Searing, and Serving on Himalayan Salt Blocks ($17)

Have an adventurous chef on your Christmas list? The kind who will try to make anything once and loves to own specialty tools like pasta makers and creme brulee sets. Then click the links above  and buy this immediately. Himalaya salt blocks are a unique and fun way to infuse flavors into your cooking, and this gift collection is a great way for someone to experiment with the technique. The salt plate and the plate holder are both from Williams and Sonoma, although The Meadow and other online stores have a wider selection of salt block shapes and sizes. Normally, I would link to Amazon.com for a book, but Amazon is sold out, so order this salt block cookbook from Barnes and Nobel to get it in time for Christmas.

Holiday Gifts under $30

Sure, Christmas decorations and wrapping paper sets have been on store shelves for a month already, but in my family, the tradition has been to put up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. That makes today the official start of the Christmas season as far as I am concerned. This year, Ruth and I thought we’d share some of our favorite gift options in case you need a little inspiration.

We are kicking off this series today with some great under $30 items. This list is really great for any price-capped Secret Santa exchanges you may have coming up, or for a small gift to give on one of Hanukkah’s 8 nights.

Christmas Gifts Under $30 - Kitchen Gadgets

1) Three Tier Stacking Salt Box by Rachel Ray ($25)  // 2) Wine Pearls ($25)  3) Ad-N-Art Flavor It Glass Water Bottle ($14)

1)     I think we can all agree that holiday gifts should not be useful and enjoyable, but not overly practical – unless of course someone actually asks you to buy them a vacuum for for the Christmas, vacuums are never gifts. Many people would see something like this beautiful acacia salt box or the BlissHome Nigella Lawson Salt Pig ($29) as unnecessary or extravagant, which makes it the perfect gift for the cook in your life. It is beautiful and once they start using it, they will fall in love with how convenient it is,  just like Ruth fell in love with hers.

2)    These wine pearls, much like whiskey stones ($20) are a great way to keep your beverage chilled while keeping it from watering down. I like these pearls because the smooth unique design is perfect for delicate wine glasses because it creates an elegant presentation in the bottom of your glass while not scratching the surface. If you are shopping for a wine novice, this wine accessory kit ($24) is a good option for helping them foster their burgeoning love of vino . It includes a foil cutter, cork screw, bottle collar, stopper, and more.

3)  We should all be drinking more water, and with this nifty glass bottle with built in fruit infuser, there is no reason not to! It come in a variety of colors from grey to red and you can even pick up 2 yellow or blue ones from Overstock.com for $35 in case you want one for yourself. For the hostess in your life who always always has a pitcher of water on her perfectly set table, this  infusing pitcher ($25) had both the basket for holding fruit and re-freezable ice tube to keep the water cold.

Kitchen Gifts Under 30- Gourmet Samples

1) Peet’s Major Dickinson Coffee and Tea Sampler ($30) // 2) Fancy Mayo Trio from Empire Mayo ($21) // 3) 6-bottle mini wine sampler ($25)

1)     I was first introduced to Peet’s Coffee a decade ago, when I visited my friend in San Francisco for a week. For years after that, she would send me freshly roasted Major Dickinson’s Blend – my favorite – every year for Christmas. I can now get Peet’s coffee at the grocery store, but it is never as good as the freshly roasted beans I used to receive. Coffee from a local roaster makes, such as M.E. Swing Co. in D.C., also make great gifts.

2)     Artisanal or local specialty foods always make a great gift, whether from your city or not. A sampler of gourmet mayos like these form Empire Mayo are a perfect gift for sandwich lovers, while an olive oil dipping set ($22) for those who love great bread or haven’t experience great olive oil yet. Pickles from Gordy’s Pickle Jar, a D.C. favorite, can be ordered for $10 and are a really delicious gift.

3)     I have not tried the Tasting Room’s personalized wine bottle service, but I love the idea of it. The company is a membership club for wine lovers that sends subscribers bottles of wine based on their individual wine profile. To put together the profile, the Tasting Room sends you 6 mini-bottles of wine, that you then rate online. Your opinion of each bottle of wine is used to assemble your wine profile. For just $25, you can gift the 6 bottle sampler and the wine profile to a friend, and if they love it, they can then chose to subscribe to the service.

Kitchen Gifts Under 30- Kitchen Decor

1) Bamboo & Acrylic Folding Cookbook Stand ($17) // 2) Kitchen conversion print ($18) // State Themed Dish Towels ($15)

1)     When gifting a cookbook stand, look for one that can fold flat when not in use, to protect precious counter space. I selected the bamboo & acrylic one featured here because I love that the acrylic panel holds the pages still while protecting the pages from accidental splatter.  This  Joseph Joseph Folding Cookbook Stand ($30) folds up like a book and stores neatly right next to the cookbooks.

2)     Kitchen prints and artwork are great gifts, especially for friends or family who are still new to being out on their own and setting up their own kitchen. When buying decor like this, be sure you have an idea of the receiver’s aesthetic, otherwise it may fall flat. If they have a less modern tastes, this classy seasonal fruit and vegetable poster ($18) may be more to their liking.

3)     I first saw these fabulous state themed kitchen towels at Hill’s Kitchen here in D.C. and immediately snatched up several for family and friends who are a bit obsessed with their home states. If state themed towels don’t meet your needs their are other fun and beautiful dish towels, such as this cocktail themed one from Uncommon Goods for $14. BONUS: a pretty dish towel can be used as creative gift wrapping for another foodie themed gift.

 

Margarita Chicken Fajita

For the longest time, I did not understand what the difference is between a taco and fajita. But several Texans and Mexican food experts have since tried to set me straight, so let me try to explain the difference here.

A taco is a traditional Mexican dish made by wrapping a spicy filling made of beef, chicken, pork, or even fish in a flour or corn tortilla. It is served with condiments such as salsa, sour cream, avocado, and cheese.

A fajita is a Tex-Mex dish made by wrapping a spicy filling, such as beef or chicken, in a flour or corn tortilla. Often served with condiments such such as salsa, sour cream, avocado, and cheese.

Margarita Chicken Fajitas - assembled fajitas 1

Still confused? Yea the definitions are practically identical. A fajita is really just an American version of the traditional Mexican taco. True, fajitas are usually made with grilled skirt steak, but as this recipe shows, you can easily use marinated chicken breasts. For me, and most people I’ve talked to about this confusing subject, the defining characteristic of fajitas, and what really separates them from tacos, are the peppers and onions that get served with the grilled meats. These are frequently sauteed, although here I roast them because it is easier and lets me focus on the other aspects of the dish while they vegetables cook.

Margarita Chicken Fajitas -  assembled fajitas 3

Margarita Chicken Fajita
Serves 4

1 large green pepper
1 large red pepper
1 large yellow onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
marinated chicken breasts (see below)
1 package fajita-sized tortillas
1 avacado, pitted and thinly sliced
chopped cilantro
sour cream
salsa
shredded cheese

Marinated Chicken Breasts
½ cup jalapeno-infused tequila
¾ cup lime juice
½ cup  orange juice
1 tablespoon hot chili powder
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 lb boneless chicken breasts

Margarita Chicken Fajitas - marinade ingredients

1)     Begin by combining the marinade ingredients in a resealable gallon bag, close, and shake vigorously to mix together. Place the chicken breasts in the bag and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight.

Margarita Chicken Fajitas - combine marinade in ziploc bag

Margarita Chicken Fajitas - place chicken in marinade

2)      Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Slice bell peppers and onion into half inch wide strips. Toss peppers and onions together with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season liberally with salt & pepper.  Place in preheated oven and roast for about 20-30 minutes.

Margarita Chicken Fajitas - roast the peppers and onions

3)     While the vegetables roast, remove the chicken from the marinade. Carefully cut the chicken in half to create thinner slices of chicken. This allows you to cook the chicken at a relatively high heat so you get a nice sear on the outside and it cooks fully through.

Margarita Chicken Fajitas - slice the chicken

4)     Heat the second tablespoon of olive oil in large cast iron skillet or grill pan over medium high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the chicken to the pan and cook for several minutes, giving the chicken breasts a nice sear then flip and sear the second side. After about 5 minutes, lower heat to medium and cover the pan so the chicken can cook through. Remove chicken from pan when no longer pink in the middle.

5)     Carefully cut the chicken into diagonal strips and arrange on a platter with the roasted vegetables and other condiments. Serve with warm corn or flour tortillas.

Margarita Chicken Fajitas - the fajita platter

Margarita Chicken Fajitas -  assembled fajitas 3

Beef and Barley Soup

We’be been on a bit of a soup kick here at Chez Emilie as of late because we have both been suffering from a variety of colds, stomach bugs, and just the chill of late fall. Last week alone I made 3 different batches of soup, including my version of beef and barley soup, which was a big hit.

Beef and Barley Stew - finished bowl up close

When I first told Tom about the way I make the soup, he seemed a bit skeptical about the final result. Unlike many of the most common beef and barley soup recipes, my soup includes tomatoes and green beans; making it more like a beef vegetable soup with barley. It’s an especially great recipe for those getting over a cold or the flu because the tomatoes give an extra shot of vitamin C and magnesium to someone on the mend.

Beef and Barley Stew - finished stew 2

I prefer to use pearl barley in my soup, but that has been impossible to find recently, leaving me with instant barley as my only option. I use instant barley in this recipe, but I definitely encourage you to use pearl if you can find it. If you do use pearl barley, add it to the dish much earlier, as it takes about a full hour to cook, as opposed to the 15 minutes the instant barley takes. Regardless of whether you use instant or pearl barley, this is definitely a soup you should eat sooner rather than later, as the barley will continue to soak up the broth, even after you have refrigerated the leftovers. If that happens, you may need to add a bit more beef broth or water to the soup when you reheat it.

Beef and Barley Soup
serves 6-8

2 tblsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
3 medium carrots
2 ribs celery
¼ lb fresh green beans
1lb chuck shoulder roast
1 tsp Hungarian smoked paprika
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 medium dried bay leaves
6 cups beef broth
⅛ red wine vinegar
1 can (approx. 14 ounces) crushed tomatoes
salt & pepper
1 cup hot water
1 cup instant barley

1)     Begin by prepping your ingredients. Dice the onion and garlic. Cut the carrots and celery in to similarly sized pieces, about a ¼ to ½ inch in size. Cut the green beans into ½ inch lengths as well. Finally, cut the meat into ½ inch cubes. Set this all aside.

Beef Barley Stew - Prep the veggies

2)     Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven. When the begins to shimmer add onion and garlic and cook 4 minutes until soft. Then add the carrots and celery and cook for another 8 minutes.

Beef and Barley Stew - saute the onions and garlic

Beef and Barley Stew - saute the carrots and celery

3)     Add the beef to the pot and sauté for 5 minutes. Stir in Hungarian paprika, thyme, pepper, and salt.

Beef and Barley Stew - Brown the beef

4)     At this point there should be some browned bits forming on the bottom of the pot.  Add about half a cup of broth to deglaze the pan and use a spoon to scrape these bits off the bottom of the pot.

5)     Add the rest of the broth and the can of crushed tomatoes to the pot. Drop in the bay leaves. Add the cut green beans. Bring soup to a boil.

Beef and Barley Stew - Add the broth

6)     Once boiling, reduce heat and loosely cover the pot. I put the lid on a  bit of an angle so some of the steam can escape. Simmer for at least 1 hour, although I usually let it cook for 2 hours.

7)      About 20 minutes before serving, add hot water to pot and return soup to a boil. Add instant barley and simmer until cooked and soft.

Beef Barley Stew - stir in crushed tomatoes

8)      Serve hot with warm crusty bread and butter.

Beef and Barley Stew - finished stew 1