Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What are you craving?

When I saw this post on Slashfood, I couldn't wait to post about it on Live to Eat. While I'm a big fan of because of the ability to search for recipes by multiple ingredients, Cookthink offers a whole new spin on the recipe search. The new "what are you craving?" tool allows you to search not just by what ingredients you want to use, but also according to what you're craving based on the ingredient, dish, cuisine and mood - could it be any more prefect for a pregnant woman?

I thought I'd give this a test drive since I've been thinking about how to prepare that whole fryer I have thawing for dinner tonight. I did a quick search for a chicken dish prepared on the grill that's "mind-boggling." So what did Cookthink have in mind? Well there were a lot of results to choose from but some of my delicious options included:

Yogurt-Mint Chicken
Spicy Grilled Whole Chicken
Red Curry Chicken Breasts
Roast Chicken with Sweet Plum Sauce

My only disappointment is that not all of my results were for "grilled" chicken (though I'm sure all of the recipes meet the "mind-boggling" requisite). Some were sauteed, while others were pan-seared, etc. But all in all, the recipes look delicious and have me craving some juicy chicken - this might just be my new favorite kitchen tool!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Weekend in the Virginia Countryside

My husband and I recently spent a weekend in the Shenandoah Valley, just an hour away from our home in Vienna. It was a perfect weekend getaway - the weather was amazing and it was a short drive that resulted in a beautiful change of scenery and some time to relax. The easy drive was especially nice given the price of gas these days and it enabled us to spend a little more on the food!

Along the way, we stopped for lunch in Leesburg. We decided to try The Lightfoot Restaurant and were pleasantly surprised to find that they not only have beautiful indoor dining
but also a quiet patio for outdoor dining. With the nice weather, we opted to sit outside, despite the awesome interior. Many items seemed to have a subtle Asian influence but for the most part the menu offered traditional American-style dishes. Everything on it looked exciting and as it turns out, the food was delicious.

We started with fried green tomatoes topped with jalapeño cheddar cheese, sautéed shrimp and a Szechwan chili cream. Following the appetizers, I had the Chinatown Salad- loaded with fresh veggies, chicken and crispy Chinese noodles, it was the perfect summertime lunch. My husband indulged a little more (I'll admit, I was a bit jealous) and had the BLT&C sandwich - smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and provolone cheese. So simple yet I couldn't have made it better in my own kitchen. Other entrees that were hard to resist include a Chesapeake crab and ham Reuben sandwich, a meatloaf sandwich with red Thai curry mayo and crisp onions, and a grilled cheese of the day. I'm looking forward to my next stop in Leesburg!

After another pit stop (this time at the Tastee Freeze in Berryville), we checked in at the french country inn, Villa la Campagnette, in White Post, VA before heading off to its sister (and original) inn, L'Auberge Provencale, for dinner. A visit to the inn and restaurant has often been compared to a visit to Provence in France. I haven't been to Provence but I already like White Post, VA better because I don't have to actually travel to France to enjoy the beauty - what could be better than that?

In addition to the amazing view of the Shenandoah Valley, L'Auberge is also a four-diamond award-winning restaurant (note: jackets are required for men... something unbeknownst to us until we got there). Not only is much of the food locally grown in Virginia, but many of the herbs and vegetables on one's plate can actually be found growing less than 20 yards from the inn. Talk about fresh. The dinner was a prix fixe meal and though pricey, we did not leave unsatisfied. The food was perfect and was truly a special treat that will from henceforth be reserved only for very special occasions (read: we can't afford to go more than once every five years).

The most pleasant surprise of the weekend, however, was the breakfast we awoke to at the Villa. After our decadent meal the night before, I wasn't sure I could actually fit more food into my stomach but alas, I managed. Also prepared at the L'Auberge restaurant, we were served this elegant meal poolside amidst beautiful gardens. The meal included quail sausage, an "eggroll" omelet with fresh vegetables inside, tender potatoes, cafe aulait, fresh squeezed orange juice and a variety of breads with the best raspberry jam I've ever had. (Seriously, I could have eaten this jam right out of the jar - I suspect it was also a local product.) We left the inn at noon and didn't eat again until the evening.

All in all, we had a wonderful stay in the Shenandoah Valley despite the fact that I couldn't drink copious amounts of Virginia (or French) wine while sitting on the front porch of L'Auberge or near the pool at the Villa. I certainly won't forget the food and from now on, I will be driving less so I can save my pennies for another visit to the countryside!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Making Bread...

Has never been so entertaining! Check out this posting on the Accidental Hedonist... I think it's an excellent tutorial on making bread from scratch.

Pleased to enjoy!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wacky About Watermelon

Maybe it's the hormones or maybe it's the 100 degree weather we've been having, but I've been wacky about watermelon lately. Although I do hate cutting the fruit, it's been well worth the effort - I've been blessed with one juicy and sweet melon after another.

However, last weekend house guests brought over a not-so-sweet melon that left me wondering what to do with the 5 pounds of pink flesh that weren't so enticing to eat. After a little experimentation, I found that watermelonade is the perfect use for that under-ripe watermelon.

The basic recipe for making this refreshing concoction:

In a blender, puree 4 cups of cut melon with the juice from 2 juicy lemons and a spoonful of sugar. Add more sugar to taste (depending on just how under-ripe your melon is) and blend. Pour through a sieve to separate the pulp and seeds and serve over ice. YUM!

According to the Farmer's Almanac, there are a few ways to tell if a watermelon is ripe:

1. Thump it. If the watermelon sounds hollow, it's ripe. This is difficult for less-gifted ears.
2. Look at the color on the top. The watermelon is ripe when there is little contrast between the stripes.
3. Look at the color on the bottom. A green watermelon will have a white bottom; a ripe melon will have a cream- or yellow-colored bottom.

Apparently I'm not the only watermelon fanatic out there - check these sites for more watermelonriffic recipes and information:

Watermelon Raspberry Lemonade
Agua Fresca
Grilled Watermelon
Other Watermelon Wonders

Thursday, May 8, 2008

I've Been Vegasized

Make that "Vegas-sized." Yes, I just got back from a 3 day trip to Vegas for work and am at least 3 pounds heavier than I was when I left. Granted, I am pregnant but even for a pregnant woman that's a bit much! But things are bigger and better in Vegas... so why shouldn't I join in on the fun?

I have to admit that when I first heard I had to go to L.V. during my 5th month of pregnancy I was not especially looking forward to it. Also known as "Sin City," I would certainly not be partaking in all that the oasis in the desert had to offer... But then I remembered that Vegas has changed quite a bit in the 15 years since I visited. Luxury hotels and fine dining dominate the scene now - you'd be hard pressed to find a steak and lobster dinner for $8.99 like the one I remember having on my first visit. Nearly every restaurant features one of the world's top chefs. With a little planning, Las Vegas has the potential to be an epicureans dream.

With that in mind, I set off to plan my culinary tour of the city. First, I booked my stay at THEhotel at Mandalay Bay and scheduled an early flight so that I would have time to dip my toes in one of America's best pools before having to work. THEhotel has plush accomodations, with very dark and contemporary decor - it was often hard to tell if the lights were on but perfect if you're planning to have a hangover the whole time you're in Vegas. And so after checking in and doing a quick change into my bathing suit, my culinary adventure began with Thai spring rolls by the pool that satisfied my hunger after waiting at the airport cab stand for 2 hours. Maybe it was the cross-country flight and the long wait for a cab, but those were the best spring rolls I'd ever eaten.

Two of my favorite hot spots during my visit:

  • Bouchon - I'm usually very skeptical of french food (I often think it's overrated) but this is a Thomas Keller restaurant and arguably one of the best eats in the country. I expected it to be very stuffy but the atmosphere very lively. My table of four and I shared the pate de champagne and rillettes aux deux saumons (fresh smoked salmon on toast points). Though not generally a pate lover, I had to make a conscious effort to share this with my colleagues and restrain my hand from stealing the whole plate. The salmon was also delicious with a smoky but clean finish. For dinner I selected the Boudin Blanc - a white sausage with potato puree and prunes - knowing that I would never make fresh sausage myself and if I did, it probably wouldn't be this good. I was correct. The rest of my table ordered the Truite aux Amandes (pan-roasted trout) and all of them raved. Though I was completely sated from my meal, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share dessert - profiteroles, or puff pastries filled with vanilla bean ice cream and covered with chocolate, and a selection of sorbets. Overall, Bouchon lived up to its reputation and left me with fond memories.
  • Zefferino - It seems unthinkable to me not to eat Italian while in Las Vegas, so that's what I did. Every hotel had at least one restaurant to choose from, but after reading reviews I settled on Zefferino's in the Venetian Hotel. I immediately took to the history of the place really enjoyed it's authenticity - I'm convinced that there were actual Italians working there in all capacities, which is unusual for any Italian eatery in DC. The service was excellent and the food was wonderful, too. My seafood pasta offered rich scallops and shrimp that were cooked perfectly (much appreciated after one too many meals with tough, fishy-tasting seafood).

Although it will be a while, I'm already excited about my next trip to Vegas and where I will eat - any recommendations?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Eating for Two: My Love-Hate Relationship with Food

Pregnancy has certainly changed this Foodie. For the last 9 weeks I've been unable to eat much food, let alone write about it in this blog. But as I transition into the second trimester - a milestone at which point I'm told all-day "morning sickness" miraculously ends - I'm hopeful I can rebuild my relationship with food. However, I fear it will take some time... because food and I have definitely been on the outs these days. Food aversions, nausea and indigestion have made foes out of many old food friends, and I dare say I haven't eaten the most well-balanced and nutritious diet in the last 3 months.

So here are my top 7 pregnancy foods in the first trimester:
(*Note: nutrition and recommended pregnancy "super foods" were not considered in the creation this list. These are merely the foods that I could actually stand to eat.)

  1. Velveeta. Never having purchased this divine processed food product pre-pregnancy, I found that for several weeks it made everything taste better - I used it melted as a dip for my saltines, as a topping for the one serving of vegetables I ate in February, and in tasty grilled cheese sandwiches.
  2. Port Salut cheese. Yum. Paired with wheat thins, it's mild flavor, soft and creamy consistency kept me coming back for more. Unfortunately, this is one of the more sophisticated foods I've eaten in the last 3 months.
  3. Cheezits. These sustained me when saltines got boring, which happened pretty quickly.
  4. Annie's White Cheddar and Macaroni. (Are you noticing a trend here??? There's no shortage of cheese-products in my diet...) Instant and easy, this was a saving grace at times of insatiable hunger (and nausea).
  5. Apples. I manage to eat one of these every day. Cripps Pink, Gala and Braeburn are the varieties of choice. One of 2 super foods to actually make this list!
  6. Milk. Thank goodness it is so nutritious.
  7. Cereal. Just about any kind will do at breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I know I'm not alone in this... what got you or your spouse through the first trimester? Share your story with us!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Salads are Boring

Over the years I’ve shared meals with a host of people that I don’t know well and for whatever reason, they don’t know me too well, either. Inevitably, I’m asked what I do for a living to which I respond, “I’m a dietitian.” And each time I get the same reaction:

The person stiffens up and says something to the effect of, “Oh, well then I don’t want you to see what I’m eating... you’ll probably think it’s terrible.”

Then the dreaded, “So what do you think about the (you fill in the blank) diet?”

And so the conversation goes...

First, let me say that I could care less about what other people are eating – it’s not my job to judge. Those same people that are concerned about my impression of their eating habits are the first to make a comment when I don’t order a salad – “what, no salad for the dietitian??” Let me just be honest and say that I think salads are, for the most part, boring (unless loaded with creamy dressing, meat and cheese) and it’s rare that I order a salad as a meal.

Second, I’m tired of fad diets. My motto is: everything fits in moderation. Suffice it to say, I do eat a little of everything in moderation. And I love food.

To a dietitian, there are two kinds of people in this world: those who eat to live and those who live to eat. I respect those who eat to live and often forget to eat or choose to do other things with their time for various reasons... I, on the other hand, wake up in the morning thinking about what I’m going to have for dinner. Each unto his own...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


I've just spent the last few days with a friend who only eats a few bites... nothing more, nothing less, no matter how irresistible the food is.

I've heard of people doing this "willpower" thing- a practice in which a person can have a plate in front of them, teeming with delicious food, and not take more than a few tasting bites before putting the fork down for the duration. Quite frankly, I'm appalled by this kind of behavior.

Yes, you guessed it: I grew up in a "clean your plate club" kind of family. We didn't necessarily overeat but we ate all that was put before us or we felt guilty about it. I didn't know any different until I began studying nutrition in college and became much more aware of what it means to actually over eat. It was at that point that I started using smaller plates, which made for smaller portions, so I could still be an official member of the "club."

Going to restaurants, however, presents a challenge when faced with maintaining my membership status. Portions are generally huge - though I've found that price and portion size are inversely related - and it's more difficult to maintain self-control if the food is especially good (as the chicken curry at a local Indian restaurant was on Saturday night). As a foodie, I live to eat... but as a nutrition professional, I'm also conscious of not eating too much.

So I'm posing this question to the other health-conscious foodies out there: how do you manage not to overeat?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Apple Magic

I’ve been eating a lot of oatmeal this winter, thanks to a Costco run last summer – I now have more quick-cooking oats than I know what to do with. To keep things interesting I’ve made Swiss oatmeal (a la The Corner Bakery), oatmeal pancakes, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and various quick breads that use oatmeal. However, I’ve found that there’s nothing better than a bowl of hot oatmeal on a winter morning, topped with crisp apples sautéed in a little butter and brown sugar... yum.

Unfortunately in making this hearty breakfast earlier this winter I found my Costco-sized bag of brown sugar to be hard as a rock. Faced with this dilemma time and time again, I’ve tried different methods of keeping brown sugar soft. Plastic bags, canisters and terracotta discs that claim to keep it fresh - none of which actually did a whole lot. And then I discovered the apple.

I placed an apple in the brown sugar bag, sealed it shut and let it work its magic. In less than a day, the three pounds of brown sugar were no longer hard as a rock. I switch out the apple every 2-3 weeks and replace it with a new one.

Note, in the interest of full disclosure, I work for the apple industry which means that I eat a lot of apples and I frequently experiment with them in cooking. Consequently, I may talk about them periodically on Live to Eat. But this blog is not about apples – although I am continually amazed at the fruit’s versatility and ability to protect and heal the body – it is about food.

Check out this excellent recipe for Apple Harvest Oatmeal.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

3 Reasons for Making Pizza at Home

Friday night is pizza night in our house. Homemade pizza. Yes, we make pizza together and then settle in for a movie on the couch. It's a tradition that started with my husband's family, and he's been doing it for more than 30 years - not a bad tradition to marry into since I've always been a fan of pizza.

But the idea of making pizza is slightly intimidating for those of us who are used to pizza arriving in 20 minutes or less, usually on a night when there aren't 3 hours available to prepare a meal (yes, that's how long it takes from start to finish). You may be asking why anyone would venture to make pizza when it's so easy and convenient to have someone else do all the work... well I have my reasons why, as it turns out, pizza night is worth the time and effort.

  1. Stress reduction - after a long week of work, it's great to take out your agressions on a ball of dough. Sometimes we cheat with a pre-baked crust like Boboli, but the best pizza dough is made by our Breadman Pro bread maker (which is sorta cheating, too, but...). It's very forgiving when you take a rolling pin to it, punch it and pound on it until it's flat. Drinking a glass of Malbec while doing so also helps to reduce stress.

  2. No need to compromise - ordering pizza should be easier but there's always discussion about what to get ("no anchovies, please...," thick or thin, meat lovers, cheese lovers or veggie lovers?) and compromising can be a challenge. In making homemade pizza, anything goes. Everyone has equal opportunity to "decorate" their own (or half of their own) pizza with whatever they so choose. Last night, in fact, I topped my thin-crust pizza with handfuls of cheese, leftover ham, fresh pineapple and sliced red pepper, cooked until golden brown, while my husband opted for olives, mushrooms, peppers and ham. YUM!

  3. It's just more fun - we actually have fun making pizza. It's fairly low stress which means you can't screw it up, even if you're not much of a cook. This is also nice because I've often left out key ingredients (e.g. baking powder when baking cakes) or added the wrong ingredient (e.g. salt when it calls for sugar) because I was busy talking to guests or family while cooking. Pizza night is a good opportunity for families and friends to hang out together, get creative in the kitchen, drink a glass of wine and enjoy the delicious fruits of their labor.

Buon Appetito!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Behold, My New Favorite Kitchen Tool

Where has this been all my life?? The Williams-Sonoma 11-Ball Tip Whisk is officially my new favorite tool in the kitchen, thanks to my mom who also had the same revelation and gave me one for Christmas. I love this whisk.

I've used this to make a thick roux, pancake batter, omelets... it's perfect because unlike other whisks, food doesn't get stuck between the wires. At $24, it's bit on the pricey side but completely worth it. The only drawback is that it doesn't come in a variety of sizes.
I have a small kitchen so I don't want a lot of clutter, but I'm always looking for those multi-purpose, time-saving devices that make cooking more enjoyable...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

UPDATE: The Luckiest Meal Ever

Based on the meal I just ate, 2008 promises to be the luckiest year ever... no, it's not because the traditional New Year's Day lucky meal was so delicious. In fact, it was quite the opposite - this was the most disappointing meal I've made in a very long time, one in which everything burned. But we ate it anyway, all in the name of good luck. And on the bright side, there's nothing like a terrible meal to make you appreciate good food.

I'm not really sure how it happened but it might have something to do with the 40 year old crock pot I used to cook the hoppin' john. As for the kale... well, I have no idea how I managed to burn it. But one thing is for sure: after eating charred kale that smelled of old cigars, hoppin' john with burnt ham and peas, and dry, lackluster cornbread, I think my husband and I deserve a little extra luck this year.

Lucky New Year’s Meal

Today I’m busy preparing the traditional New Year’s Day lucky meal of black-eyed peas, cooked greens and pork. Now I have no idea if this meal really brings me luck but I’m afraid to find out what happens when I don’t eat it. My mother, a native Virginian, has made the traditional Southern version of this meal for as long as I can remember -even if I had force a few bites of collard greens and hoppin’ john down as a kid in order to reap the benefits, I did so. And, all in all, I’ve been a pretty lucky person.

So this year I’m trying a couple of new recipes in hopes that this meal is as tasty as it is lucky, which is a challenge when you’re working with bland black-eyed peas. They are, of course, an important part of this meal because they symbolize wealth, but I’ve decided that they are among my least favorite legumes so it’s fitting I only eat them one time a year. To give them some flavor I’m spicing my hoppin’ john up with the addition of some Cajun seasoning and ham because pork represents prosperity. It’s my own variation of a Cooking Light recipe that is delicious on its own (see below).

Maybe it’s because the cooked greens also symbolize wealth, or “greenbacks,” that I’ve come to like them much more as an adult than I did as a kid. I’ve also discovered that greens are an excellent vehicle for bacon (which, by the way, makes everything delicious) and are much more enjoyable when loaded with salt and fat. Though my mom never made them this way, true Southern greens are slow cooked with fatback, ham hocks and/or bacon. Being fairly health-conscious (as a dietitian and all) I’ve decided to sauté kale with onions, salt and pepper and top it off with cooked, crumbled bacon. Real bacon, since (thankfully) I’ve finally realized that turkey bacon just doesn’t cut it.

One of my favorite blogs, DC Foodies, has a good synopsis of the lucky meal traditions.

Hoppin’ John
2 16 oz packages frozen black-eyed peas
2 cups hot water
¾ cup sliced green onions
¾ cup chopped red bell pepper
2 t hot sauce
1 T Cajun seasoning
Generous pinch of salt and pepper
1 vegetable-flavored bouillon cube
1 cup cubed ham
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with onion, undrained
2/3 cup uncooked converted rice
½ c slice green onions

Combine first 9 ingredients in crock pot and stir well. Cover and cook on high 4 hours. Stir in tomatoes and rice, cover and cook 1 hour or until peas and rice are tender and liquid is absorbed. Stir in green onions.

Yield: 6 servings

Best of luck in the new year!