A Few of My Favorite Things

Happy Friday! I'm looking forward to a low key weekend filled with seeing out of town friends. No recipe today, but a few photos of my favorite things! Enjoy.

How pretty are these plates? I bought them at Crate & Barrel Outlet.

I've already used the plate for mushroom omelet served with a side of tomato salad. And what's that tray? It's just an old cookie sheet!

Gorgeous tulips I bought earlier this week. The grocery store checkout guy asked if the flowers were for someone special. Yes! Me!
A super quick meal I made Wednesday night: enchiladas using store bought sauce, rotisserie chicken, pink beans, cheese and pitas! Oh, and there is arugula inside too!
And finally, check out a project I did in my living room: birch decals!!! Love how they turned out. Birches always remind me of my childhood in Russia.

What are some of YOUR favorite things? Happy weekend!


New Restaurant in Union Market in DC: Dinner at Bidwell

One of the great blogging perks that I've mentioned before is being invited to try out new restaurants. Who would ever say no to that? Last night I had a chance to have dinner at the newly opened Bidwell located at Union Market and take my friend Cecilia as my +1.

If you've never been to Union Market, GO! It is full of casual dining options, produce stands, great lifestyle store and even a place to sharpen your knives.

Bidwell, however, is the first full service sit down restaurant that is not only open for lunch and brunch, but also for late night dinner. It has minimalistic dark décor, beautiful silver toned silverware and white plates that make the food the star of the show.

A few facts {from Union Market website}

  • Chef John Mooney’s restaurant gets its name from General John Bidwell, an Army general in the 1800′s and founder of Chico, California. An avid farmer, he developed the Bidwell heirloom melon, a gold medal winning flour, and California’s first commercial raisin crop.

  • The Bidwell menu features Chef John Mooney’s signature dishes with Southern flair.

  • Mooney has traveled the world as a chef working at DC’s Red Sage and Raku; W Hotel New York’s flagship restaurant Heartbeat; as well as India’s first organic restaurant, PURE by Michel Nischan. He also brought aeroponic practices to his New York City West Village restaurant Bell, Book & Candle, where he was named a 2011 StarChefs.com Rising Star Sustainability Chef.
I cannot wait to check out the rooftop garden that Bidwell is planning to build in March, but for now let me share a few of my favorite dishes from last night's dinner.

Cecilia and I got to sit at the chef's table overlooking the open kitchen. I was amazed at how smoothly the kitchen ran: no yelling, no running, no fires. Everyone was in their element doing their job. The manager, Scott, guided us through the menu and we also had each dish explained by Inez who was in charge of the kitchen.

The simply described Lobster Taco with avocado-tomatillo salsa was served warm and had a great amount of kick to it that was balanced by the cheese inside the dish {lower left corner}. Surprisingly, despite the heat in the dish, the sweetness of the lobster wasn't lost. And that avocado-tomatillo salsa? I could eat a bowl of it!

Next came the Pear Salad with pecans, Point Reyes blue, raisins and mixed greens. Add a poached egg, and it'd be a perfect lunch.

The Marinated Fluke Sashimi {bottom right} was a beautiful dish of sliced white fish with mint, chives and cilantro with a light citrus dressing and fresh grapefruits.

Bidwell has a meat slicer from the 1920s! It's incredible that such an old machine is still functioning and produces such beautiful results. I think Cecilia wanted to take it home ;)

The meat platter {upper right corner on the photo below} included Bentons Country Ham, La Quercia Heirloom Procuitto and Finocchiona. My favorite was the procuitto which was thicker than the ones I usually eat and had a great smoky flavor. We also had a few cheeses.

And who would say no to oysters? The thing that impressed both Cecilia and me about oysters in Bidwell was how clean and expertly shucked they were. I could have eaten a few dozen: will need to come back.

The two meat dishes that I liked the most were the Grilled Lamb Chops and Crisp Pork Belly. I ate the lamb chop like a lollipop: it was so tender it did not require a knife.

When the pork belly was served, Cecilia and I thought it was fried tofu. It wasn't. I was surprised that the pork belly wasn't greasy or fatty. It had great flavor and went well with a side of apples, shaved fennel and sweet onion.

This was a superb dinner. I cannot wait to come back for brunch and try Housemade Burrata and Raclette Grilled Cheese with sourdough and slow poached egg.

Thank you so much to Bidwell and Gail Schoenberg Public Relations for a wonderful dining experience.

Disclosure: Cecilia and I were guests at Bidwell and our dinner was complimentary. We left a tip. All opinions are my own.


What to do with Plantains? Baked Plantains with Avocado Dip Recipe Perfect for Meatless Monday

I love plantains! My friend Laura makes the best fried plantains: they are so good, she always makes sure each person gets the exact amount so there will be no fighting over the last piece! Alas, Laura lives in CA and I don't get to see her often enough.

Thus, I'm left making my own plantains. I've fried them in the past and even made Puerto Rican Lasagna with plantains, but this time I decided to bake them for a healthier version.

What to do with Plantains? Baked Plantains with Avocado Dip Recipe

olive oil
2 super ripe plantains, peeled, sliced into 1/2" rounds
chipotle chile pepper

for the avocado dip
1 avocado, flesh removed
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 tablespoons water
1/2 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
salt to taste

queso blanco, shredded
cilantro, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. Brush a cookie sheet with olive oil. Place plantains on the cookie sheet and season with salt and chipotle chile.

3. Bake plantains for 20 minutes, then turn, season and bake for 5 more minutes.

4. Puree the ingredients for the dip.
5. Serve baked plantains topped with queso blanco and cilantro with a side of avocado dip.

These baked plantains were awesome! I do recommend you eat them immediately because they get soggy as they sit around. These could be a fun appetizer or a side dish. You can also melt the cheese on plantains and then top with fresh cilantro.

Have you cooked with plantains? What did you make?


Low Carb Stuffed Peppers

Growing up, my parents often made stuffed peppers. My dad always made his stewed in tomato sauce, while my mom wasn't a big tomato sauce fan.

Last week I decided to make stuffed peppers, but make my version a bit lighter. For the filling, I used vegetables, ground turkey, just a little bit of orzo and queso blanco. Those were just the ingredients I had in my refrigerator: you can use ground chicken or ground beef, whichever vegetables you have, and another variety of cheese. Be creative!

Low Carb Stuffed Peppers
Serves 4-6

2 teaspoons olive oil
3 carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
kernels of 3 corn
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 pound ground turkey
1 cup cooked orzo
1 cup diced queso blanco
4-6 red peppers, cored, parboiled
toppings: sour cream, chopped parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
2. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the carrots, onion, green pepper and corn and sauté for 10 minutes.
3. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper and paprika. Add the ground turkey and sauté until the ground turkey is no longer pink.
4. Add the orzo and diced cheese. Mix together.

5. Fill the cooled parboiled peppers with the filling. {I had only 3 peppers, but you'll have enough filling for at least 5!}
6. Put the peppers into an oiled baking container: make sure they are standing upright.

7. Bake the peppers covered for 30 minutes and for 15 more minutes uncovered.
8. Serve with sour cream and fresh parsley.

What do you like to stuff your peppers with?
Have a great weekend!


Tuna Nicoise Stuffed Olives: Stuffed {The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook}

I love stuff. Sometimes I'm worried I may become a hoarder...

What kind of stuff do I love? Jewelry, flowers, kitchen toys, shoes, candles, etc. I also LOVE food stuff and food stuffed in food. Stuffed peppers, stuffed cabbage, stuffed French toast...what's not to like?

So when I got a chance to receive a preview copy of Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook by Dan Whalen, I was thrilled.

Dan is the man behind The Food In My Beard blog and now he has a book!! I've actually met Dan when I was in Boston a few years ago and am so happy for his success.

Each recipe includes a heat number and pig-out number: I really liked that idea. The pig-out number is more fun than seeing the calorie count, right? And the heat number is pretty explanatory. There are great photos, clear directions, and a back story for each recipe. You'll find recipes for stuffed breads, stuffed pasta and rice, stuffed meats, stuffed veggies and fruits, stuffed sweets, and a few basics like fresh pasta dough.

WARNING: after looking through the book you may feel like you've gained 10 pounds. Some of the recipes include Loaded Potato Pierogi, Hamburger Stuffed with Mac and Cheese, and Pork Belly Stuffed Cornbread Bites. But there are some lighter recipes as well, and I decided to try one of those.

Tuna Nicoise Stuffed Olives: Stuffed {The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook}
Recipe from Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook by Dan Whalen

Tuna Niçoise Stuffed Olives
Makes: 25 olives

Heat: 0
Pig-Out Scale: 3.5

1 egg
5 green beans
6 ounces (168 g) cooked tuna
½ vine-ripened tomato, seeds and insides removed
Juice of ½ lemon
1½ teaspoons mayonnaise
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
25 of the biggest olives you can find

Prep the Egg and Beans: Place the egg in a small saucepot and cover with heavily
salted, cold water. Bring to a boil. When the water comes to a full boil, drop in your
green beans. After exactly 1 minute of boiling, remove the pot from the heat; 2
minutes later, remove the green beans and stop the cooking by dropping them into
ice water. Allow the egg to sit in the hot water for 10 minutes total after removing
from the heat. Put your egg into the ice water to stop the cooking.

Make the Filling: Flake up your tuna and chop it up really small. You want this very
uniform and small so it can fit into the small olive cavity. Dice your tomato, green
beans and hard-boiled egg very small as well. Add them to a bowl along with the
lemon juice, mayonnaise and mustard, and mix well.

Stuff It!: Get your olives out of the brine and ready to stuff. If you decided to torture
yourself by buying olives that still have their pits, go ahead and take out the pits.
Hope you have an olive pitter! Because there is only a small hole and cavity that you
are going to be stuffing, you need to find a small utensil to really pack the stuffing in
there. I used the end of a chopstick. Take a little bit of the tuna mixture and place it
over the olive hole, and then stamp it in there like you are loading a cannon. Serve
these little guys on a super fancy charcuterie plate at your next party!

About Olives
Traditionally, and quite obviously, this salad uses the Niçoise olive. This particular
olive is a bit too small for stuffing the way we want. The best and most common
variety for this recipe is the Cerignola olive, but other large olives include the
Sevillano, Ascolano and Barouni varieties.

This was so delicious! Of course stuffing olives isn't an easy task, but once in a while for a special party it's definitely worth it! If you don't want to stuff olives, please still make the tuna salad and just add a few chopped olives. This recipe has a great flavor and is so much more fun than your typical tuna with mayonnaise and celery.

What's YOUR favorite food to stuff?


Pistachio Macaroons: The Macaroon Bible

Earlier this month I received a bible. The Macaroon Bible that is! It's a super cute book filled with zillions of variations on a classic coconut treat written by Dan Cohen, the owner Danny Macaroons, which I really want to visit one day.

Whether you are a fan of espresso, or spiced pumpkin, or want to bring back the memories of camp fire s'mores into your home, there's a recipe for you in The Macaroon Bible.

If you've followed my blog, however, you know that I LOVE pistachios, and so it's not surprising that the first recipe I made from Dan's book was the Pistachio Macaroons.

Pistachio Macaroons: The Macaroon Bible
Yield: twenty-four 2-inch macaroons {I made mine larger: 18}

One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 ounce pistachio paste (if you can't find pistachio paste, grind 1 cup unsalted roasted pistachios until paste-like)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
One 14-ounce bag sweetened shredded coconut
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup pistachios, toasted and chopped


1. Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
2. In an extra-large bowl, measure out 10 1/2 ounces by weight of the condensed milk. If you don't have a scale, use approximately 8 ounces (1 cup) by liquid measure. Add the pistachio paste and vanilla. Incorporate with a rubber spatula. Add the coconut to the condensed milk mixture and combine until thoroughly mixed.

3. Add the egg whites and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer (or small bowl if you're using a hand beater) and whip on medium-high until very stiff peaks form, 2 1/2 to 3 minutes.
4. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. After it's combined, push the mixture into one big blog to make it easier for you to portion out the macaroons.
5. Dip 2 spoons into a small bowl of water, shake them off, form mixture into balls approximately  1 1/2 inches in diameter, and place them on the baking sheet about 1 inch apart. (You can also form them by hand, but be sure to wet your fingers frequently). Sprinkle the chopped pistachios onto each macaroon.

6. Place the sheet into the oven to bake for 20 to 25 minutes. After about 22 minutes, start checking for coloring. Look for an even, light golden color and for the undersides to be nicely tanned.

7. Remove from the oven and let the sheet rest on a cooling rack, leaving the macaroons on the sheet until they're cool enough for you to pull off (about 2 minutes depending on how sensitive your fingers are). Transfer the macaroons to the cooling rack to let cool completely. The macaroons will keep at room temperature 3 to 5 days, for about 3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, and for a few months if stored in an airtight container in the freezer.

My thoughts:
  • This was a super simple recipe to make! I did not feel like searching for pistachio paste, so I made my own.
  • I used salted roasted pistachios, which I'm really happy that I did because the macaroons were really sweet. It's dessert, so nothing wrong with that.
  • I made my macaroons larger because I used a metal scoop and then rolled them with my hands. I ended up with 18 macaroons and baked them for closed to 30 minutes.
  • These were a huge hit with my friends and I can attest to the fact that they freeze well.
  • I wonder if you can make the same recipe using 1/2 regular coconut flakes and 1/2 sweetened ones...opinions?

Have you tried adding fun flavors to your macaroons? What's your favorite combination?

Disclaimer: I received a copy of The Macaroon Bible for review purposes. I received no monetary compensation for this post. All opinions are my own as always.


Olive Herb Bread: Does Experimenting in the Kitchen Pay Off?

It might not surprise you that I'm not a huge gambler. When I went to Vegas for my 30th birthday, almost 5 years ago (OY!!!!), I think I only used $5 in a slot machine, and then I was done. What can I say, I'm not a huge risk taker. This dislike of risk taking applies to many parts of my life, but that's a conversation for another day.

A few weekends, ago, however, I decided to take a little risk and make bread. In of itself, baking bread is not a huge undertaking. You really just need to follow a trusted recipe closely and hope that your yeast isn't old and doesn't get killed by too hot of the water. BUT I decided not to follow a recipe precisely, but add a few things to it instead! I'm such a rebel...not ;)

I took a great recipe from Ruhlman that I successfully made last year, and added a few things.

Olive Herb Bread: Does Experimenting in the Kitchen Pay Off?

Here's what I did: I added 1/4 cup chopped herbs (combination of cilantro and dill), 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives, and 2 teaspoons za'atar to the dough. I added all of these fun ingredients as the dough was being mixed in my food processor.

Here's what it looked like. Pretty, right? And it smelled amazing. It looked a bit wetter than I remember the original dough looking, but I figured that's what happens when you add the extras.

I waited impatiently for the dough to rise, and it did so, but it did not double. I tried not to panic and not to scratch the entire project, although I was tempted. Instead, I added a bit more flour to the dough, kneaded it, and then baked it in a smaller Le Creuset than the recipe called for because my dough ball was quite a bit smaller.

Guess what? The bread turned out awesome! It was dense and chewy and had a great crust. I loved the bits of olives and the flavor of the herbs and za'atar. In fact, I sprinkled the bread with za'atar before baking it.

All in all, this was a successful gamble! Next time, however, I think it'd be best to add the olives and the herbs after the dough has had a chance to rise.

What are some of the risks/gambles you take in your kitchen?


Get Your 5 Servings of Vegetables Soup: Collard Greens Soup with Chickpeas and Cauliflower

I love vegetables and am pretty sure I get five servings of them a day. Do you? If you want an easy way to prepare and cook vegetables that's also delicious, make my Collard Greens Soup with Chickpeas and Cauliflower. Not only is this soup full of nutrients, it's completely vegetarian and is perfect for Meatless Monday.

Collard Greens Soup with Chickpeas and Cauliflower
Serves ~6
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, cut into coins
16 ounces chopped collard greens
salt & pepper
pinch of red pepper flakes
1 head cauliflower cut into florettes
2 cups cooked chickpeas (I used the ones I cooked myself)
2 red potatoes, cut into size-bite chunks
32 ounces vegetable stock

1. Heat the oil in a heavy-bottom soup pot. Add onions and carrots and sauté until the vegetables get a bit of color.
2. Add the collard greens and sauté until they have wilted. Season with salt & pepper and red pepper flakes.
3. Add the cauliflower, chickpeas and potatoes. Pour in the vegetable broth and enough water to cover the vegetables.
4. Bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer covered until potatoes are cooked through.

I was surprised at how flavorful the soup turned out and am guessing most of the flavor came from the collard greens and cauliflower. You can eat the soup as is with a few slices of bread, or add a bit of sour cream and/or sriracha.

Go eat your vegetables!!!

What was the last soup you've made?


What to do with Leftover Skirt Steak? Make a Sandwich!

I spent New Year Eve with my friend Cecile. We had Russian potato salad, salsa and chips, olives, a few cheeses and of course sparkling wine. Cecile brought a zillion mini desserts and skirt steak with chimichurri. Everything was delicious, and we had plenty of leftovers.

So what does one do with leftover steak? I made a steak sandwich!

What to do with Leftover Skirt Steak? Make a Sandwich!
baguette, sliced, toasted
cooked skirt steak, thinly sliced
Havarti cheese
sliced avocado
sliced hearts of palm
pickled onions

1. Spread both slices of the baguette with chimichurri.
2. Layer the rest of the ingredients. Make a sandwich.
3. Slice in half. Consume.

I loved this sandwich! It was great with hard cider ;)

Happy weekend!!!


Cooking with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Deliciously Simple: Salmon with Potatoes and Snow Peas

I typically cook with olive oil, but when I was asked to create a recipe using I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!® Deliciously Simple™ spread, I was happy to test out this product in my kitchen. Fortunately, my tub of Deliciously Simple™ did not come with Fabio ;)

Since this was my first time trying this product, these were my initial thoughts:
  • First, Deliciously Simple™ has no artificial flavors. It's actually made with simple ingredients such as canola oil, palm oil, nonfat yogurt and palm kernel oil. Basically, it's not a fake concoction, which is great because I don't like fake things!
  • Second, Deliciously Simple™ has a soft consistency which makes it perfect for spreading on your morning toast. Isn't it the worst when you have your toast torn apart by unsoftened butter?
  • And third, it helps add a rich creamy taste and flavor to your dishes. Who would not want that?

I decided to use Deliciously Simple™ in three different applications: roasting, searing, and sauteing. Because that's what I do: I go overboard ;) That's how I came up with a well rounded meal plan: Salmon with Potatoes and Snow Peas.

Salmon with Potatoes and Snow Peas
Serves 2-3

for the salmon
3/4 pound Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon
1 tablespoon Deliciously Simple™
1 garlic clove, microplaned
1 teaspoon chopped dill
1/2 lemon, sliced   

for the potatoes
2 teaspoons Deliciously Simple™ {you may need depending on the size of your cast iron skillet}
3 red potatoes, thinly sliced

for the snow peas
8 ounces snow peas, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon Deliciously Simple™
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill


1. For the salmon, preheat the oven to 350F.
2. Place the salmon on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
3. In a small bowl, combine the Deliciously Simple™, garlic and dill. Spread the mixture on top of the salmon and top with lemon slices.
4. Bake the salmon for about 12 minutes {less if you like your salmon raw in the middle}.

2. For the potatoes, melt the Deliciously Simple™ in a hot cast iron skillet. Layer potatoes in a single layer and cook for 10 minutes on one side and an additional 5-7 minutes on the other side until the potatoes are cooked through and are crispy. Lightly season with salt.

3. For the snow peas, blanch the snow peas in boiling water, then saute in a bit of Deliciously Simple™. Add lemon juice and dill to cooked snow peas and serve along side the salmon and potatoes.

This could not have been simpler!

After using the Deliciously Simple™, here are my thoughts: it was incredibly easy to use in all three applications and added great flavor to the food. The only thing that I had to keep in mind was that it was already salty. I had to make sure not to add too much salt to my food on top of Deliciously Simple™. But overall, I'm a happy camper!

Disclosure: This post was sponsored by  I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter® through their partnership with POPSUGAR. While I was compensated to write a post about I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter® Deliciously Simple™, all opinions are my own.