Monday, September 23, 2013

Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower

I love this dish. I love that it was super easy to make. I love that it was delicious, filling, and felt fancy.  I love that I spent less than $10 on a meal for the husband and I.

The shrimp scampi portion of this dish is from the simply wonderful Simply Recipes.  This part can't be any easier to make.  Defrost some frozen shrimp, heat up some butter and olive oil, add garlic and red pepper flakes, add shrimp and white wine, and let wine cook out. After the wine cooks out, you are done. I wanted to make sure that we used good, fresh butter so I picked up some KerryGold Garlic and Herb Butter from the store.  Because the butter had garlic, we didn't end up adding any garlic to the dish which was a mistake. The KerryGold Garlic and Herb butter was delicious but both of us noted that the dish could have used a bit more garlic. So toss in some minced up garlic no matter what. It was important to me that we used good, fresh butter because nothing ruins a dish more than using butter that has been sitting in the fridge and is tainted with the aroma of other food.

The roasted cauliflower could not have worked any better mixed up with the pasta and the shrimp.  Since we have been trying to cut back on our pasta intake and up our vegetable intake, roasted cauliflower has been a bit of a savior. It is delicious without over-powering a dish and it blends in well with simple pasta dishes.  I love roasting the cauliflower until the edges burn a bit. The cauliflower gets sweet which pairs great with the savory flavors of the shrimp scampi.

How did we make this dish for under $10, you ask?  All items were purchased at Harris Teeter and pretty much all on sale. The frozen shrimp was on sale for 50% off and we only used half a bag.  The KerryGold Butter was on sale for $1 per stick.  The Dreamfields low-carb pasta was $2.79 for a box and we cooked up 1/3 of it. The cauliflower was $2.99.  The parsley was from my herb garden and the white wine was a gift from a friend.  

Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Roasted Cauliflower

1 head of Cauliflower
Canola oil (we use canola oil spray)
1 pound large shrimp, shelled
2 tablespoons olive oil 
6 tablespoons of KerryGold butter 
1 Tbsp minced garlic 1/2  
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes 
1/2 cup white wine 
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley 
Cooked Spaghetti
Freshly ground black pepper to taste 

Heat oven to 350F.  Cut up cauliflower into 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces and place on cookie sheet.  Coat with a spray of canola oil and place in hot oven.  Roast for 20 minutes. Stir cauliflower around and then roast for another 20-35 minutes or until the edges of the cauliflower have browned. Turn off oven and open up the oven to let some of the heat out.  Close oven and keep cauliflower warm in the oven until the pasta is ready.

Defrost shrimp and pat dry.  Heat up olive oil in a skillet (medium heat) and add butter.  Once the butter starts to foam, add the minced garlic and the red pepper flakes.  Cook for about two minutes or until the garlic browns a bit.  Add the shrimp and cook until pink.  Add white wine and cook on high for 3 minutes. Flip shrimp and cook for another minute. Toss in chopped up parsley.  Place cooked spaghetti in a platter and pour shrimp and liquids on top. Add roasted cauliflower. Salt and pepper to taste and toss everything together. Enjoy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Vernick's Minty Peas and Bacon on Toast

On a trip to Philly awhile back, Marshall and I got to visit a restaurant called Vernick and had one of the best meals we had ever eaten.  The restaurant aims for "simple yet refined cooking" and they hit the nail on the head.  Everything was prepared with careful hands and the presentation was impeccable.  Every dish was memorable.

One dish in particular held a special place in Marshall's heart: Peas and Bacon on Toast.  The pureed peas had a hint of mint and the creamy mixture was spread over toasted, good bread and topped with the thinnest pieces of fried bacon.  Marshall tried to replicate the dish for dinner one night but his experiment didn't work. It didn't have the right amount of mint and wasn't as creamy as what we ate at Vernick.

To Marshall's (and my) delight, Food and Wine Magazine printed the recipe for these delicious toasts and we found out what we missed in the experiment. We didn't have cream cheese.  Cream cheese added a bit of tang and really rounded out the flavor of the peas.  We made the peas and bacon toasts as instructed and we have one edit to the recipe.  It is pretty tough to get bacon cut as thin as they have theirs cut so we suggest frying or baking the bacon until it is crisp.  Then place the bacon on top of the puree and broil it carefully so that some of the fat from the bacon drips onto the toast. Make sure the bacon doesn't burn.  Enjoy.

1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup lightly packed mint leaves, plus chopped mint for garnish
Kosher salt
Cayenne pepper
Four 1/2-inch-thick slices of sourdough bread
Extra-virgin olive oil, preferably fruity, for brushing and garnish
12 thin bacon slices (6 ounces)

Preheat the oven to 400°. In a food processor, combine the peas with the butter, cream cheese and the 1/4 cup of mint. Pulse until nearly smooth; season the pea butter with salt and cayenne. Brush the bread with olive oil and arrange the slices on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast the bread in the oven for about 8 minutes, turning once, until lightly golden but still chewy in the center. Transfer the toasts to a work surface; leave the oven on. Spread each toast with about 1/4 cup of the pea butter and top with 3 slices of bacon. Arrange the toasts on the baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes, until the bacon just starts to render. Turn on the broiler and broil the toasts 6 inches from the heat for about 3 minutes, until the bacon starts to brown. Garnish the toasts with olive oil and chopped mint and serve warm.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Finding Pho in Downtown DC

Skimming through my twitter feed in the middle of a work week, I often see a posting that either says "Ugh, I could really use a bowl of pho right now" or "If only there was a pho delivery service."  If you work in downtown DC, the closest quality, soul-warming bowl of pho is in Rosslyn at Pho 75 or in Columbia Heights at Pho 14. (And if you know of a location that has spectacular pho in downtown DC, please leave a comment and let me know where you had it. I have yet to find it.)

The only way for me to have a good bowl of pho for lunch during the work week is if:

1) I bring it myself.

The broth is packed separately from the noodles and the meat. The broth is heated up using the microwave and then noodles and meat are placed in afterwards and then microwaved some more though not too much as the noodles expand and suck up the broth and ruin your bowl of pho. This is a delicate process. Plan to hog the microwave from co-workers for at least 15 minutes. Also, prepare to face any wrath for making the office will smell of pho.

2) I buy it from a food truck.

Working near a major park where food trucks can park is a big perk.  On a regular basis, I have a variety of great food steps away from my office.  There are three pho food trucks that I have seen around DC; PhoNation, Pho Wheels, and Pho Junkies.

My co-worker Kevin loves PhoNation and regularly visits them on Fridays when they are parked at Farragut Square (which, by the way, if you are in your twenties and single, Farragut Square is a great place to lunch on Fridays. Young folks everwhere. It is like going to club but in daylight. "Hey honey, can I buy you a Curbside cupcake?") 

I was really skeptical about eating pho from a food truck but I must admit that the pho from PhoNation is good.  The broth has a strong, beefy flavor and you can taste a hint of spices in the broth.  The noodles are not gummy nor are they undercooked.  PhoNation has a really organized system; noodles are heated up and placed into a plastic container, the meat, onions, and cilantro are added on top, and the broth is kept heated in a dispenser so that it is easy to pour into the plastic container. The basil, slice of lime, slices of jalapeno, and sprouts are packaged neatly in a little baggie for easy pick up. The hoisin sauce and Sriracha chili sauce can be found on the side of the truck where you can pour as much as you like into to-go sauce containers.  The process from ordering, paying, and getting the food is easy and quick.

So until pho shop owners can make like ramen shop owners and open up locations in downtown DC and serve quality bowls of pho, stop by the food trucks and give them a whirl.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Masala Chai Tea

I have become mildly obsessed with Masala Chai Tea and it is all because of Aroma Indian Restaurant in Foggy Bottom. After finishing our meal, my friends ordered some tea while I ordered dessert. They both sighed deeply after taking one sip and exclaimed how delicious the tea was. I took a sip from one of their cups and immediately ordered a cup of my own. The waiter brought out the teapot and I could see the whole spices that were brewed in the tea. Since that dinner, I have craved a cup of Masala Chai tea everyday. 

At Trader Joes, I picked up Red Chai Tea bags and brewed a cup once I got home. So disappointing. The tea had very little flavor and barely had a hint of spice. I brewed two tea bags per cup and still found it bland. A friend gave me some Tazo Chai tea bags (the ones used at Starbucks). The flavor was stronger than the ones from Trader Joes but not nearly the heavenly taste of the tea I had at Aroma.

I started asking around to see how people made their teas at home. A friend told me that a friend of hers simply crushes some cardamom pods, brewed them with some Lipton tea, and added milk and sugar.  A co-worker, who visits India often to see his family, told me that making the tea with whole spices is the only way to go. I mentally made plans to visit an Indian market to pick up all of the spices. 

Suddenly today, it hit me that I had all of the spices I needed to make this tea. Most of the spices are the same spices I use to make pho. Eureka!

10 cardamom pods, crushed
10 whole cloves
1 anise star
2 cinnamon sticks
4 black tea bags
4 cups of water

Place water and spices in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add black tea bags and simmer for another five minutes. Strain into a tea cup and add milk and sugar to taste. Enjoy. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Cold Bowl of "Cereal"

I used to plan my life around eating a bowl of cereal.  I grew up lactose intolerant and there were certain dairy products that I could safely eat but there were some that would bring terrible pains to my stomach: sour cream, goat cheese, and milk.  But I loved eating a cold bowl of cereal so much that I would plan a night in just so that I could indulge in a bowl or two. I didn't care about the stomach pains.  It was worth it.

Now that Marshall and I are changing our lifestyle, cereal and milk no longer show up as items on our grocery list.  Most cereals are loaded with sugar and milk has a fair share of sugar in it too.  So our pantry shelves no longer have those colorful, tall boxes on them anymore and I miss them so.

Last week, Ashley and I had a chance to talk to Robert Morton from Power Supply about his lifestyle change.  He talked about how Crossfit changed his life and he talked about integrating the Paelo diet into his family's lifestyle.  I loved that for his kids, it wasn't about pushing them to eat their vegetables. It is on the table and a part of their lives and they enjoy it.  He was leading by example.

Something else caught my attention and it was when he talked about breakfast and something he typically eats.  He assembles a bowl of fruit and walnuts and pours some almond milk on top.  He talked about how the motion of eating this bowl of fruit was similar to eating a bowl of cereal for him.  I thought about this for a long time and it really hit me how much emotion is involved in eating.  Food has so many connections to memories, feelings, and feelings of comfort for me.  The motion of eating a bowl of cereal was so delightful to me because I made it a treat for so long.

For the past few nights and this morning, I made myself a bowl of "cereal." I filled a bowl with blueberries, raspberries, and some slivered almonds and filled it up with cold almond milk.  As I ate the bowl, I thought about how I felt and whether it felt satisfying to me.  The first bite was always a shock to my palate (it literally thought, "what the hell is this?" But after bite number three and bite number four, the sweetness from the berries kicked in and the crunch from the almonds started to register.  It felt like I was eating a bowl of cereal. It tasted good.  It felt good. I felt satisfied.

And, no stomach ache.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Chix on 14th and L Street

It has been a week since we started eating a modified Paleo diet and Marshall and I have seen some results.  The scale has informed us that we both have dropped weight and I'm feeling more comfortable in my skin (funny how you don't notice that you were uncomfortable until  you treat your body a little better.)  One of the biggest hurtles of eating a modified Paleo diet is keeping up with all of the cooking and cleaning. I'm actually beginning to feel cooking fatigue from the constant cooking and cleaning.  From the start, I knew that we would have a hard time cooking three meals a day so I decided to stick with cooking at least breakfast and dinner. Until we get a handle on those two meals, we will have to either bring leftovers for lunch or we will just have to go out and buy it (some of the dishes we have cooked keep well for lunch the next day but many of them are not dishes that taste good heated up in a microwave.) We have a lot of great options for lunch since both of us work in downtown DC.

And lucky for me, Chix opened their second location a couple of weeks ago and it is located a block from my office. The chicken breast special is $8.99 and it comes with a grilled chicken breast and two sides (I ordered the roasted sweet potatoes and the green beans.) The meal was very filling. It was so filling that I could only eat half of it and saved the rest for another meal.

The thing I like about Chix is that it is almost impossible to make an unhealthy choice. Their menu is full of flavorful and healthy options that will provide you all the vegetables and protein you need. It will be one of my go-to lunch restaurants from now on.

1121 14th St. NW.
Washington, D.C.
Monday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Washington Green Grocer

Living in DC gives me access to a number of places to shop. I forget how spoiled I am until I talk to a relative or a friend who doesn't live in a big city and hear about how they are making a special trip to the "city" to buy something they really wanted.

The problem with having access to so many shops is that I can spend a full day running from shop to shop looking at new items and figuring out what is a better deal. By the end of that day, I'm too tired to do any real cooking ( or real exercising).  It occurred to me that it is such a waste for me to spend time shopping and the come home too exhausted to cook the things I spent so much time shopping for.

So, since Marshall and I got some big health news, I really started to analyze my life and have been trying to strategize to make cooking at home and exercise a priority. In order to avoid highly processed foods, we are going to spend more of our time cooking at home. That also means a lot more time cleaning (praise The Lord for the invention of dishwashers.) 

And here is when the magic fairies from Washington Green Grocer comes in. This business model is amazing. They have a great website where you can place your order online and they deliver groceries to your door. They make eating healthy so easy.  Since I am pretty thrifty, I spent some time comparing their produce prices to local grocery store prices and found that they are more than reasonable when you factor in the cost of gas and time spent shopping.

Here are five reasons why I love Washington Green Grocers:

1) You can order a box whenever you want to. There is no obligation to "subscribe." This is pretty rare for produce delivery services.

2) They know "hip food" - Washington Green Grocers always seems to know about good food in DC. They carry Border Springs Farm lamb which is used by some of the best restaurants in DC and  is some of the best lamb I have ever eaten.  They also carry Trickling Springs dairy, which is dairy from nearby Pennsylvania. (If you ever get a chance to buy ice cream from Trickling Springs, do yourself a favor and buy as much as you can. They make the most amazing ice cream.) You can even order Kombucha through them!

3) You can choose from a variety of boxes including a "Local Only" one - Since Marshall and I are watching our sugar intake, we are limited to specific kinds of fruits we can eat. So we subscribe to a weekly "all vegetable" box.  We have some friends who feel strongly about eating local produce so they can choose the "local only" box that only included produced that is sourced locally. There are ten different boxes you can choose from.

4) "Always" and "Never items" - You can choose fruits and vegetables that will "always" be included in your box (like cauliflower because we cook with it all of the time) or vegetables and fruits that are "never" included in your box (like cucumbers for me since I am allergic).

5) Recipe Kits - Talk about making life simple! Green Grocers also sells these Recipe Kits which include everything you need to make a dish.  For instance, Mexican Shredded Beef Tacos, or Carrot Ginger Salad, and even juice kits so that you can have everything you need to make a healthy drink.

Washington Green Grocer is just a great service and I feel lucky to have them.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Souper Party

A lot has happened since my last post. Marshall and I got married, we had an amazing and fun wedding, we went on a mini-moon, we survived the holidays, and life just kept presenting us one surprise after another. (Don't get too excited, I'm not preggers and don't plan to be for a little while longer.) (That note was for you, Dad. Mr. Iamtooexcitedtobeagrandpaagain)

For awhile, I was considering changing my blog to another name. I even started a new Blogger account and started working on the new layout. Then it came time to change my Twitter handle and I couldn't do it. It didn't feel right. For the last few years, I've become attached to Thrifty DC Cook and I've met people who refer to me by that name and not my real name.

So, I've decided to stick with Thrifty DC Cook and keep posting my food adventures here but will also include other things that may not be food related that are equally as interesting.

Yesterday, my friend Joy threw our third annual soup party. Every year for the last few years, one of our friends would host a soup party where each guest would bring a pot (or crockpot) of soup. It is the perfect party for cold days. We had vegetarian chili, beer and cheddar soup, chicken tortilla soup, lasagna soup, lentil soups, and so much more. The best part is, Joy ordered to-go containers so that all of us took home a variety of soups for lunches next week.

This year, she also included a cookie exchange. I've been trying to be good about my sugar intake so I only sampled one cookie. It was a Sage cookie by my friend Brian and it was fantastic.

My contribution was a Roasted Butternut Squash and Peanut Butter Soup with Sunflower Seeds. The peanut butter might sound strange but it gives the soup a depth of flavor but doesn't overpower the butternut squash. Here is the recipe:

For the soup
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and diced into 1 inch chuncks
3 bulbs of shallots with skin taken off
4 cups chicken stock
1 ¼ cup of half'n'half
1 tablespoon of creamy peanut butter
Salt and pepper

Garnish with sunflower seeds.

Preheat ovento 375F

Place butternut squash and shallots on a baking sheet and drizzle the canola oil on the squash and run your hands through it to be sure that the canola oil is evenly distributed. Roast for 45 minutes. Take out of the oven and allow to cool.

Place two cups of the roasted sqaush,  the three bulbs of roasted shallots, and two cups chicken broth into a blender and blend until smooth.  Then place in large pot and place the rest of the squash and broth into the pot and use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. (It may seem like a waste of time to blend in two steps but I really wanted a smooth-textured soup and was not sure if the shallots would be thoroughly blended by the immersion blender. So I did it in two steps just to be sure.)

Bring the pot to a slow simmer and simmer for 20 minutes.  Then swirl in a tablespoon of peanut butter. Add the half 'n' half.  Salt and Pepper to taste. If you like a spicy kick, add a bit of ground cayanne pepper.

Ladle into a bowl and top with roasted sunflower seeds.  Enjoy.

I followed this Jean Georges recipe but roasted the butternut squash before I cooked it in the chicken broth. Next time, I think I might fry up some sage leaves to add as a garnish.