Monday, February 23, 2009

Celebration = Food????

The past few weeks have been overwhelmingly celebratory...and I have LOVED every minute of it! I guess it all started with a fun tradition of Baking Day with my two best friends. Every year at Christmas time, we set aside one day to spend together, talk, bake, and then personally deliver the goods to our families. We even have matching embroidered aprons. Yea...we're pretty intense.

This year, however, Christmas got to be a bit busy so we had our official Baking Day for Valentine's Day. We baked homemade sugar cookies with almond extract. We even hand sifted the dry ingredients! Then, we decorated them with lots of LOVE!

Little did I know, that my wonderful friends and family had a SURPRISE BIRTHDAY PARTY planned for me! I thought we were delivering Valentine's cookies to my friend, Elizabeth's parents' house, but when a walked into their house, there were about 30 people yelling "Surprise"! It was completely unexpected, and really one of the best gifts I have EVER received! I absolutely LOVE the people in my life!

The Mediterranean menu that my sister and friends prepared for my SURPRISE PARTY. Greek chicken, pitas, hummus, olives, vegetables, cheeses, feta/cranberry/nut salad, artichoke dip, etc. Also, there was a Chef's Market fresh strawberry cake!!

J. Alexander's is one of my favorites - the consistent quality and the wide variety offered on the menu without being too overwhelming.
This was a Birthday Lunch with my co-workers. J's famous mac 'n cheese, grilled zuccini, cauliflower/brocolli, and orzo & wild rice with berries and nuts.

Momma Sue comes through once again! Grilled asparagus sandwiches with Havarti cheese on Morrocan olive bread. I made the salad of baby spinach, strawberries, and homemade orange vinagrette.

Compliments of Whole Foods Grocery:
*Grilled Swordfish with capers and sundried tomatoes*
*Cous Cous with raisins & olives*
*Butternut squash risotto cakes*
*Broccoli rabe with fresh garlic*
*Pluots & blueberries*

Dinner to celebrate our TWO YEAR ANNIVERSARY
at MAD PLATTER in Germantown.
*I ordered roasted duck with gnocchi, butternut squash, chorizo, and honey reduction.*
*Jordan had grouper with P.E.I. mussels and andouille sausage.*
It was elegant, but really tasty. The flavors were perfectly complimented by one another - the sweetness of the honey with the creamy butternut squash and melt-in-your-mouth duck meat.

CELEBRATIONS continue...
BRIXX Wood-Fired Pizzas for Cori's 25th Birthday!
Thin Whole Wheat crust with peppers, onions, mushrooms, mozzerella, and broccoli.
There is no substitute for the flavor the wood burning oven gives these pizzas.

the perfect birthday cake for my friend, cori

Colorful SUNDAY BIRTHDAY LUNCH with the gang!
Jan's chicken fajitas
Grilled peppers and onions
Yellow rice
Homemade fresh guacamole

More than just the delicious things I have eaten throughout all of the celebrating, I love to look back on the memories made with the people I love. I am surrounded on a daily basis by amazing, talented, caring, hilarious, creative, sincere friends. (And that is just mentioning a few characteristics!) It is truly a blessing to have people in my life who care about me enough to take part in these events. These are the people who remind me each day of how lucky I am and how full of happiness my life is.

Also, we give each other an excuse to EAT! I love that the people around me generally appreciate meals together, like to try new foods, and understand the importance I place on what I eat. Thank you to all who helped make the past few weeks one big party!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Espana tiene mi corazon...

Tapas 101

Turkey "Cubans" - pulled turkey with roasted garlic & homemade pickles on grilled bread

"Pan con tomate" - bruschetta with mango, tomato, and basil

"Gambas a la Plancha" - grilled shrimp in a spicy red pepper sauce

"Gambas a la Plancha"...Chicken Samosas with Tamarind Sauce...Yuca Potato & Chorizo Croquetas (these potato & sausage fried balls were authentic!)

Plantain Fries with lemon aioli
Tapas, (n.): small plates of bites of food originating in Spain; usually accompanies any beverage purchase free of charge

During my semester of study abroad in Spain, I had the absolute pleasure of experiencing some of the most authentic, delicious national cuisine. It was a unique situation that not many people find themselves in. Since I was living in the country for four months I really had the time to delve into the true culinary world of Espana. Only by living in a country for an extended period of time can one get the slightest grasp on the culture, traditions, people, etc. Even then, there are mysteries yet to be uncovered. One more reason that the intrigue of travel continues to beckon...

Tapas bars were one of the pleasant surprises that I discovered. In Spain, bars are the normal venue for grabbing a quick lunch or afternoon tea, a meeting place for study groups or friends, or a watering hole for families with babies in tote. This is all to illustrate that a Spanish "bar" is nothing like an American bar. They are an integral part of Spain's culture as well as the social interaction among the natives. Bars are where one could grab coffee with a close friend, order a breakfast pastry and hot chocolate before class, or meet an executive for a job interview. It is also not atypical to see children running around the stools with an orange Fanta and baguette of bread. The Spanish bar is a social gathering place, a shelter in which the warmth of an espresso is offered from the biting winter cold, a safe haven that provides comfort, a lifesaver on a dehydrating hot summer day...The Spanish bar is one defining factor of SPAIN!!

So, this past Friday, I was excited to try a new tapas lounge in Nashville with some girlfriends of mine. This newest addition to Belmont Boulevard is called CHA CHAH. It took me back to my Spanish days...Granada, Sevilla, Segovia, Barcelona, Madrid... Some of the menu items were definitely fusion or adapted for American tastes, but there were a few that I felt were authentic...well, at least as authentic as I've had in the States. It was such a fun night, and of course, as you have seen, I have photos to share. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Comfort Foods

So, I love to cook.
The challenge now is finding the time to actually get in the kitchen to do it! Between work, events, social activities...LIFE in general, it is difficult to put cooking on my priority list. By the time I make the hour drive home I am ready to grab dinner and move on to the next item on my agenda for the night.
However, when I do have the opportunity to try a new recipe, (and EAT it afterward, of course), I definitely take it!
I especially like to cook with the people I love. The following pictures are of meals I have recently cooked with friends or family. Cooked with LOVE, meals made and enjoyed at home in good company give me such a sense of comfort. There really is something relaxing and mildly therapeutic about preparing the food that is capable of providing your energy and nutrition for your LIFE. It is also one of the best chances to take time to connect and catch up with a fellow chef...working together to prepare food you are going to enjoy TOGETHER is such a precious experience to me. Certain cooking experiments have resulted in some of the best belly laughs, inside jokes, enjoyable afternoons, sincere talks, dinners I never wanted to end, and many lasting memories...I cherish these times! Not to mention, they have also provided some great pictures and some GOOD EATING!

Honey wheat flatbreads with ricotta & mozzerella cheeses, marinara, and baby spinach. These delicious and healthy pizzas were cooked with Jordan.

Frying up some huge homemade hush puppies at our Fish Fry. Seriously, though...I think next time we might not need to form them as big as softballs!
My best friend, Elizabeth, and I somehow got the duty of going outside in the cold New Year's Eve air to man the fryer. We took one for the team...all for the food :)

THANKSGIVING DINNER is always a family affair. Mom, Julie, and I combined efforts, like always. This year, I came up with a recipe for cornbread dressing...homemade buttermilk cornbread from scratch, boiled eggs, onions...
Last year, I experimented with roasted chestnuts in a French bread dressing that was incredible!

This is a recipe shared with me by a dear friend. Oatmeal is definitely my "comfort food"...warm, hearty, filling...I love it!
Variations on this dish are endless, and I love coming up with new ideas. This recipe includes vanilla soymilk, dried cranberries, toasted almonds, cinnamon, flaxseed, and applesauce.

This was a meal that my mom prepared this fall. Curried butternut squash and garlic collard greens. YUM!
Despite her claims, I think she is one of the best cooks in the world. But maybe I'm a bit partial??...It isn't that she makes anything "fancy" or "gourmet" on a daily basis. However, Sumalee's cooking is consistently tasty and HEALTHY. Her Asian background, (lots of seafood, fresh vegetables, tofu, foods with very few preservatives), mixed with a habit of using olive oil and plenty of GARLIC attributes to the light fare that I am used to from our home kitchen.
On that's time for a snack...