27 February 2008


Growing up, I always preferred cold cereal to oatmeal. Crunchy cereal swimming in milk seemed more satisfying than a warm bowl of soft and often bland porridge. Lately though, I started thinking that oatmeal deserved another chance because A) it's cheap B) it can help reduce your cholesterol and C) why not?

After a few weeks on the quick cook oats (which were less mushy than the instant kind but still pretty tasteless) I came across a package of steel cut oats at Trader Joe's. The price, $2.69 for 21 servings, was right so I tossed it in the cart. Steel cut oats (often called Scotch or Irish Oats) are the whole oat grain, chopped into pieces instead of being rolled into flat little disks like most quick cooking oatmeal. In addition to a chewy texture, steel cuts oats may take longer for your body to digest since they are in a more natural form leading to less rapid release of sugars aka- you feel fuller longer and your blood sugar doesn't spike.

The only issue with the steel cut oats is the cooking time- 30 minutes, something I think few of us have in the morning. Luckily my friend M--- came up with a way to cheat (although he actually doesn't remember telling me this). You can soak the oats overnight in the cooking water, then pour the whole think into the pot the next morning, cutting the cooking time to about 20 minutes. Also- I've started prepping 2 or 3 breakfasts worth of oats at once and popping the leftovers into the fridge in bowls; then I can just pull one out and nuke it for a minute or two and add a bit of brown sugar or, for a treat, some golden syrup and milk and breakfast is ready.*

Steel Cut Oats
Makes 4 servings, can easily be halved or doubled

1 c. steel cut oats
4 c. water
pinch of salt
milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, golden syrup, ect. for topping

- Before you go to bed, put the oats and water in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

- As soon as you wake up, pour the oats and water into a small pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for approx. 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

- The oats are done when they are chewy but not crunchy; start tasting at 20 minutes and stop cooking when they are done to your liking. Stir in the pinch of salt and serve. They'll firm up as they sit.

- Serve with milk and your favorite toppings.

*In the interest of truth I should add that while I prep the oats at night, Zach is pretty much always the one that starts them in the morning since I can never seem to get myself out of bed....

26 February 2008

Galactic Cupcakes

Today is my birthday and S-- was kind enough to make me these cupcakes. As you can see, they have chocolate frosting (my favorite) but what you can't see are the raspberries hidden inside the cake (thanks Kat at A Good Appetite for that idea). The office sugarfest will take place later this afternoon and I'll let you know how they turn out (and hopefully convince S-- to share her recipe with us too).

Update: I have just eaten my second cupcake (the first had an orange star, the second neon green- just in case you were wondering). They are really as good as they look. The frosting is actually a ganache so it's quite thin and not overwhelming and the raspberries inside give a great tart counterbalance to the rich chocolate and cake.

20 February 2008

You say tomato...

I ended up bringing home some cherry tomatoes last week (from the same event that sponsored the election rice). I wouldn't actually buy tomatoes in February in Virginia since I know that they will be tasteless pale red masses, but since they were free I didn't want to throw them out.

Neither Zach nor I are particularly huge fans of raw tomatoes even in the summertime so I knew I had to cook them somehow if we were actually going to use them. Luckily, from everything I have read, tomatoes don't loose any of their nutritional value when cooked like some other vegetables. I decided to try to make my own oven dried tomatoes. (Many so called 'sun dried tomatoes' are actually dried in ovens or kilns but 'kiln dried tomatoes' just doesn't have the same ring to it...)

As you can see, I had very few tomatoes and thought that I should try to save energy by firing up the toaster oven instead of the regular oven. I used the wire rack to elevate the tomato halves from the pan in the hopes that it would help them cook faster. I set the toaster to 250F and kept it going for about 2 and a half hours. In the end, the tomatoes had reduced to dark red disks of intense tomato flavor (though they didn't look quite so cheery as beforehand which is why there is no 'after' picture). I think that they will make their way onto pasta or perhaps into a sandwich with mozzarella and basil.

17 February 2008

Election Rice

Last Monday I had a work event before class, just a little reception after a lecture. I always try to have some healthier options available and at this one I ordered a vegetable tray... that no one ate. I'm not sure what that says for the general state of health of our attendees, but it did mean that I could bring the leftovers home.

It was also the night before the primary and since I volunteer as an election officer in Arlington County, I needed to make and pack enough food to last me all day. I was thinking about what to make on the ride home after class when one of my friends suggested a fried rice with the leftover veggies. When I got I discovered that Zach had some leftover white rice from Chinese takeout. I don't usually use white rice but at ten o'clock on a night before I had to get up at 4:45, I wasn't in the position to be picky.

I've never made a fried rice before so I consulted quickly with Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals: Volume 2 for an idea of how to make it and get the general proportions. I ended up lightly scrambling 2 eggs in a non-stick skillet, then sauteeing onion, peppers, and squash. I tossed about 1 T. of curry powder into the veggie mix, then thought it looked too dry and chipped some frozen lowfat coconut milk out of a plastic bag in the freezer and added that too.
There was a bit of broccoli left, which I quickly boiled in salted water. I added the rice and eggs and the final product was really bright- canary yellow rice, bright green broccoli and red peppers and made for a great lunch the next day.

Election Rice
1 small takeout container of white rice (or the equivalent)
2 eggs
1/2 small onion, diced
1 bell pepper, cut into largish chunks
1/2 c. squash or zucchini, diced
1 small head of broccoli, chopped into florets
a few button mushrooms, cut into quarters
1-2 T. curry powder*
1/4 c. lowfat coconut milk
2 t. olive oil

- Boil a few inches of water in a small saucepan. Add a fat pinch of salt and the broccoli. Cook for 2 minutes or so, until the color has set in the broccoli but it's still crisp.

- Beat the eggs and scramble them in a large skillet over a medium flame. They should still be quite runny. Take them off the heat and put them back in the bowl you scrambled them in.

- Wipe out the pan, return to medium high heat and add 1 t. olive oil and the onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes and add the bell peppers and mushrooms. When the mushrooms start to brown add the additional teaspoon of olive oil and add the curry powder and sauté for one minute.

-  Add the coconut milk and broccoli and stir to coat all the vegetable.  Add the rice and mix till well coated and heated then gently stir in the eggs.  Serve hot (also keeps pretty well for lunches)

* I had curry powder on hand but I think that curry paste would work well too, you might just have to adjust the amounts to get the strength of curry flavor you are looking for. 

15 February 2008


Yesterday a new cupcake bakery opened in Georgetown. Creatively named 'Georgetown Cupcakes', my co-workers and I had been looking forward to it for a week (which was how long we knew it would be opening). We made plans for an office field trip and decided 1 o'clock would be a good time to go; after lunch, so hopefully we wouldn't be tempted to eat too many cupcakes. Then, at 12:55 my co-worker S--- got a call from one of her friends. He was at the bakery and there was a "Sold Out of Cupcakes: Reopening at 5:00" sign on the door.

We were distraught. Not in the least because we had all promised at least one person a cupcake (or in S---'s case, about 5 people...). Something had to be done so we walked down to Baked and Wired. I had never gotten cupcakes there before since I think the price ($3.50 each) is sort of extortionate but, with it being Valentine's Day and all I decided to splurge and buy Zach and I a cupcake each.

Mine was the chocolate one and I got a coconut one for Zach. The cake itself was a rather normal cupcake size and slightly on the dry side (I think that they had been refrigerated at one point) but it seemed as thought the cake was merely a vehicle for the icing. The chocolate was so rich and chocolaty that I ended up taking half of it off. Zach, on the other hand, managed to eat all of his pink buttercream with soft coconut on top.

Baked and Wired
1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW

Georgetown Cupcake (very cute website)
M and Potomac, just across from Dean & Deluca's

13 February 2008

The Foodie Blogroll

Another chance to discover a whole lot of great blogs written by people who love food... If you have a sweet tooth check out Airy Fairy Cupcakes (I don't know how she gets the icing to look so nice) and if you want to take a quick trip the to city of lights take a look at Lunchtime in Paris.

Don't forget that you can sign your blog up too-- and there is even a forum to meet other blogger hosted by The Leftover Queen on her website. Just click the link above for directions on how to join the blogroll and to get to the forum.

11 February 2008

Speedy Pasta Bake

Pasta is my go to dinner item- whenever I don't know what to eat or didn't plan for a specific meal, I turn to pasta. It's quick, goes with just about anything and did I mention it's quick?

A few weeks ago, it was shaping up to be just another pasta and red sauce night when I thought- why not make a pasta bake to use up some of the leftover veggies in the fridge? (I don't know if this happens to you, but I always seem to end up with a quarter of an eggplant, half a bell pepper or 3 button mushrooms left over-- amounts too weird to use for much of anything). I started the water boiling and then chopped up the vegetables and satueed them in a bit of olive oil and herbs de provance for a change from the regular basil and oregano taste. Then I added some leftover red sauce and, since there wasn't quite enough of it, added some diced tomatoes with their juice. I mixed in the pasta and decided it needed just one more color and since I didn't have frozen peas, mixed in some baby spinach.

I poured the pasta mix into a casserole and topped it off with a low-fat 4 cheese blend (also leftover from another project- I'm not usually one for low fat cheese) and a bit of grated parmesan as I was afraid the low-fat cheese might not melt well. The whole thing went into a 400F oven for about 25 minutes and came out golden brown and quite delicious-- definitely a great dish to clear the fridge out with...

09 February 2008

Great Cooks Blogroll

There are so many great blogs out there-- sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming to find ones that talk about things that you are actually interested in... that's where the Great Cooks Blogroll comes in.  It's a blogroll all about cooking and food (obviously) that helps likeminded foodies find each other.  Check on some of the blogs listed on the sidebar, or add your blog to the roll-

08 February 2008

Quinoa Couscous Salad

Last night I needed to cook dinner but I also needed to get to the gym, desperately. I wanted to make something before I left that we could eat at room temperature when I got back. The protein was taken care of, or rather would be since Zach could put a piece of salmon into the oven while I was gone, so we just needed something to have on the side. I thought couscous, in a salad form, with some peppers that I nabbed from a catered event at work.

Once I got home I realized that the bag of Israeli couscous was nearly empty so I decided to make the salad with couscous and quinoa. Quinoa (keen-wah) is a grain originally from the Andes that has become sort of hip lately. It's very small and round and cooks quickly, plus is one of the most complete vegetarian protein sources out there. It doesn't have much of a taste on its own so its a good substitute for white rice or other starch, especially if you're looking for a bit more fiber and protein... but let me get back to dinner.

I rinsed the quinoa and started it cooking in enough water for it and the couscous (which I added part way through the cooking). While that was going, I sauteed some onion and then added red, yellow and orange bell pepper, which cooked just for a few minutes, so it would retain its color or texture. To dress the salad, I made a lemon vinaigrette. When the grains and pasta finished cooking (I left them a bit on the al dente side since they were going to sit for at least an hour before dinner) I mixed them into the veggies, added the vinaigrette, threw in some raisins for sweetness, then literally ran out the door to get to class at the gym.

When I got home the salmon was just coming out of the oven and the salad had cooled to room temperature. It was bright without being overly acidic and light- it would make a great lunch on top of some mixed greens. You could even add some chopped parsley (which I didn't have on hand) or feta (which I did have but forgot about) for some added color or flavor.

Quinoa Couscous Salad

For the salad:
1 C. quinoa
1 C. Israeli style couscous
1 small onion, diced
2 bell peppers, your choice of colors, cut into short, fat strips
2 t. herbs de provance
2 t. olive oil
2 handfulls of raisins

For the dressing:
Juice of one lemon
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. mustard
1 t. honey
1 t. herbs de provance
salt and pepper to taste

- Rise the quinoa (if your brand calls for it) and add it to a saucepan along with the recommended ammount of water to cook it and the couscous. (ex. my couscous calls for 2 C. of water per 1 C. quinoa AND the couscous needs 1 C. water for 1 C. couscous, so I added 3 C. water to the pan.

- Bring the pot to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cover. Wait 4 minutes and then add the couscous and replace the lid. Set your kitchen timer to 9 minutes

- Meanwhile heat the olive oil for the salad in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it becomes translucent. Add the bell pepper and herbs and cook for another 2 minutes.

- While the onion and pepper cooks, wisk all the ingredients for the salad together.

- When the timer goes off, add the quinoa/couscous mixture to the veggies and pour the dressing on top and toss in the raisins. Mix well.

- Serve hot or at room temperature as a side or over some mixed greens for a light supper or lunch.

07 February 2008

Pancake Tuesday

Outside of New Orleans, I don't think many Americans do much to celebrate Fat Tuesday (although I wouldn't really know much about it, not being Catholic, but this is my impression) but this year my friend K* invited us to a pancake party. Her family keeps up a lot of Polish traditions and eating pancakes on Fat Tuesday is a tradition there (and apparently in Britain as well) and since it was Super Tuesday as well, she decided to have a party. The pancakes we had aren't the fluffy kind you eat for breakfast, but rather a variety of crepe.

Crepes are not exactly party food, the problem being that you are tied to the stove as you cook them one by one, but if you have a bigger kitchen, and someone can can keep you company and refill your wineglass as you cook, then it's not so bad. The batter takes about 2 minutes to make, and each crepe about another minute in the pan than off it goes onto someone's plate for a topping of Nutella, berries, golden syrup, butter, sugar, honey, whipped cream, jam or any combination of the above.

French purists might blanch at the recipe below, as it calls for gasp! an egg and milk, which are not all that traditional. It's actually Zach's recipe, one that he developed when he was studying in Hungary and didn't have much time or money to spend on food. Give it a try- crepes make a nice change from pancakes for breakfast or even dinner. You could put a bit of shredded cheese and ham in to make them savory, or even crack an egg onto the finished crepe and let it cook in the pan (I have never had much luck with this last one, but you might).

Oh- I should note- Zach says the first crepe out of the pan is always a mess... I have heard some people says it's the one for the dog, to keep him happy while you are eating dinner later.

Hungarian Style Crepes

1 C. Flour
1 C. Milk
1 egg
a little butter for cooking
tasty toppings

- Mix ingredients well in large mixing bowl. The batter should be rather runny- thick enough to coat a spoon but nearly as thin as water. You may need to add a few tablespoons of water, depending on your flour and how dry the air is.

- Heat a 10-12 in. non-stick skillet over medium high heat. When the skillet is hot, put a little butter on a paper towel and wipe it over the entire bottom of the skillet.

- Using a 1/2 C. measure, scoop up some batter with your right hand. Lift the skillet (obviously by grasping the handle, using a pot holder if needed) with your left hand. Pour the batter into the pan while moving it in a tilt-a-whirl motion to get the batter all around the pan.

- Place the pan back on the stove and cook until the crepe looks a bit bubbly and the bottom in brown. Use a spatula to loosen the edges and then flip the crepe over. Cook for an additional 30 seconds.

- Slide the crepe onto a plate, add some toppings and eat.

Note: If you can seem to get the batter to cover the whole pan you have two option: either use a bit more batter or, if the crepe seems a bit thick, add a bit more water to the batter to thin it out.

01 February 2008

Restaurant Week

Restaurant Week developed in DC to help restaurants fill their tables during the August congressional recess and has since evolved into a twice yearly event where for $20.08 for lunch or $30.08 for dinner (the cent value changes with the year that we are in) you can enjoy a three course meal at many area restaurants.

I haven't been overly impressed with my choices for restaurant week in the past considering that dinner for two people, with tax and tip ends up being around $80 but this year things were different. I looked for a restaurant that I knew we could never normally afford and that I'd read some good reviews of and ended up with the choice of Farrah Olivia in Old Town. Some of you might have heard of its chef, Morou Ouattara, as he was a competitor on the FoodNetwork program- The Next Iron Chef, but that it another story.

My story is of dinner in a little square dining room with big windows on both sides. Of a goat cheese terrine with red pepper sauce as an amuse bouche and deconstructed sushi with soy soy pearls for starters. Of the most delicious, smoky porkchop served on creamy lentils and carrots and of a rich dense brownie with marshmallow topping alongside a quenelle of beetroot ice cream. Of tiny jam thumbprints and little raspberry jellies that you are really to full to eat but have to just try anyway. Of food that makes you laugh as you realize that the couscous is really tiny bits of fried yucca and grits can be the vest thing you have ever eaten.

Even the final bill couldn't spoil the happy ending to this tale.

P.S. The presentation was the best I have ever seen in my life. As I cannot figure out how to get the pictures off my phone, I'll have to give you a link to the restaurant's website instead. Take a look at their gallery- you will be amazed.

Farrah Olivia
600 Franklin St.
Alexandria, VA 22134