magic mushrooms

I can’t say that I’m the biggest fan of the mushroom family. I searched through my recipe archives, and not one dish on here highlights mushroom as the chief ingredient. Not one. Unless you count the sloppy Joes from last year, and I still vote that those are more “beefy” than they are “mushroomy”. Also, I still vote that the cans of Manwich are f-ing awesome. Judge not.

So we’re back to this – a first, of sorts – a sandwich with a key ingredient – a big ol’ fatty chunk of a portobello mushroom. Watch out, people.

I’d like to also add though, that the pesto is certainly something to “shake a stick at”, too. Chris and I spent a good part of a recent Saturday morning cooking together for our second bout of our Turntable Kitchen subscription (the first included an excellent cioppino, if you missed the post). We rocked out to some lovely tunes (including Biggie Smalls! yes! and also some lesser knowns that I’m sure will lead to album purchases) and got our bags packed for one of our very favorite picnics yet.

If you’re in the Bay area when the sky is clear (which is most certainly a crap shoot in the summer, for sure), head over to Lands’ End, essentially the furthest you can go northwest in SF without falling into the ocean. Don’t steal our picnic spot, which is top secret, because it’s so awesome and we’ll go there as much as possible, but search carefully for lovely patches of land to plop down onto. You might have to do a little shimmie down some dirt to get to the spot, but I promise you it’ll be worth it.

If you aren’t in the Bay area, just go have a picnic somewhere else for cryin’ out loud. Picnics are fun almost anywhere, except maybe a swamp, or during high-tide, or a heavy sandstorm in the desert, but you know what I mean, right? Pack a hearty lunch and some snacks, too. You’ll want to stay a while. Also, pack some sunscreen, because I forgot and almost couldn’t focus on my Temper Trap concert later that night as a result of severe burning of the insides of my legs. Especially the right one.

I pulled through and enjoyed it, in case you were wondering…

Even if you’re a meat-eater, make sure this exact sandwich is packed – you won’t regret it. And toss in a small grain salad with some quinoa, farro, or even just peaches and lettuce. A soda? Or just some nice, cold rosé (we opted for both). If you have any treats stowed away in the freezer, this is a perfect time to take that out at the last minute, throwing it on top of all your other goodies because it was the best last-minute idea ever (in my case, it was a slice of that awesome Earl Grey cake).

At the end of the day, you’ll have a hard time figuring out your favorite part of the meal, because it’s all just ten times better, and so magical, when you’re eating it outside. And atop it all, the best part of that is the company (well…. maybe the view…if it was as awesome as ours!).

Portobello Mushroom Sandwiches
adapted from Turntable Kitchen; makes 4

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

1 c arugula
10-12 fresh mint leaves
1/2 c walnuts
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1/3 c grated Manchego cheese
1/3 c olive oil
fresh lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

2 large portobello mushrooms, cleaned with stems removed
olive oil
arugula for putting on sandwiches, optional
1 fresh loaf of ciabatta bread

make the pesto. combine arugula through cheese in a food processor. add some of the olive oil and process until smooth, adding more olive oil by the tablespoon if needed. add a squeeze of lemon juice, then adjust taste with salt and pepper as needed. process one last time until smooth.

oil and preheat a grill pan over medium-high heat. salt and pepper the mushrooms and brush lightly with oil. grill whole for about 5 minutes on each side, until tender. meanwhile, cut ciabatta loaf in half to create the top and bottom sandwich pieces. I like to scoop out some of the bread (which you can grind up and use for bread crumbs) so the sandwich isn’t so ‘bread’) slather pesto sauce onto the bottom of the bread (using almost all of the loaf, but save some for another use if you have a large loaf. you just want enough for the two mushrooms to cover, which will result in good-sized sandwiches but not ginormous.) and then add arugula, if using. put mushrooms atop arugula and then close the loaf and cut into 4 equal sized sandwiches.

Just the Two of Us

In almost 3 years of blogging, there are a lot of recipes around these parts. And among all the ones seafood-centric, not a one of them involves scallops.

This is going to change that, and majorly.

Chris and I usually do like everyone else and head out to a restaurant for Valentine’s day, whereby all the wait and cook staff forced to work that night provide somewhat lackluster food at dilated prices. It never stops us though – and it’s not like we go to restaurants we’ve been eyeing for years, or places we’ve never been to – we go to the same places we’d go any other weekend. That said, it seems just as reasonable to stay home and just be together, saving the tasting menus and parking hassles for another night.

So we did this year. I mean, at least this year Chris wasn’t about to hop on a plane and move to California without me for two months, right?! So there was certainly plenty to celebrate – a March and April free of selling a condo, shipping our belongings across the country, tempering territorial cats, living out of a suitcase, and apartment-shopping. Instead, months of continuing to settle in and absolutely adore everything different about this year was something definitely in need of appreciating.

So I decided it was well past time to make scallops. I picked up a half dozen oysters, too. We hung out in the kitchen together – me searing scallops and making this amazing lemongrass-tomato sauce, and Chris shucking oysters and putting together a nice, spicy mignonette to eat them with. We even ate at the dining room table like civilized folk. Or do civilized folk eat on the floor in front of the TV, desperately trying to catch up on episodes of Castle or CSI? Because if that’s the case, then we are ultra-civilized. I can’t decide…

Either way, I enjoyed the way things turned out that night. I enjoyed being home, a little music in the background, not having to worry at all that the cooks would serve me raw pork chop (V-day 2009) or that someone would propose in a super cheesy way nearby (V-day 2004) or that we’d be drunk and stumbling home in the cold (V-day 2011). We just ate together, the two of us.

And this dinner was freaking awesome, to boot.

Seared Scallops in Lemongrass-Tomato Sauce
adapted from Self Magazine, 2008 via Epicurious; serves 2 

this recipe was originally slated for 8, probably as an appetizer. I pared it down and made it for 2, but you’ll still have leftover sauce. it would go great on any seafood or even on pasta, so don’t throw it out!

time commitment: 45 minutes

printable version

2 T canola oil, divided
1/2 onion, chopped
4 stalks lemongrass, dry leaves removed, stems pounded; cut into 3-inch lengths*
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 red Thai bird chiles, finely chopped*
1 c dry white wine
1 can (14 ounce) whole tomatoes, plus juice
1/4 c Thai basil
1/4 c fresh mint
1/4 c cilantro sprigs
1/2 c baby arugula
Juice from 1/2 lime
10 jumbo sea scallops

*lemongrass and Thai chiles can be found abundantly in Asian markets (Thai chiles are sometimes in their freezer section) or in well-stocked grocery stores, like some good-sized Whole Foods.

Heat 1 t canola oil in a large, nonstick pan over low heat. Cook onion with a pinch of salt until translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in lemon grass, garlic and chiles. Add wine. Raise heat to high, then simmer 4 minutes. Add tomatoes and juice; break apart tomatoes. Simmer until sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove lemongrass and discard; puree the rest in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

Meanwhile, toss basil through arugula together in a bowl; season with salt and pepper. Whisk lime juice and 2 t oil together, then add to salad and sit aside.

Season scallops with salt and pepper. Heat a large nonstick pan over high heat 1 minute; add 1/2 T oil. Cook 5 scallops 1 minute; reduce heat to medium-high; cook undisturbed until golden, about 4 minutes. Turn scallops over; cook 3 minutes more. Remove from heat. Repeat with remaining 1/2 T oil and 5 scallops. Divide scallops and sauce and serve with salad.

Simply Refreshing

Years go by pretty quickly if you aren’t careful. Before you know it, you’ve been married for 5 years, and while it doesn’t sound like an extra-long time, it probably is when measured against marriages these days that last a year or two or often times much less, if you’re counting those drunken Vegas ventures.

Anniversaries for us usually equate to spending a quiet night together, just the two of us: dinner, a movie (that I always fall asleep to), and a card. We aren’t big gifters, but we acknowledge the day and make sure we’re extra-nice to one another. You know – no screaming or food fights or whatnot.

Since 5 years seemed like a bigger “accomplishment” than the prior 4, we once had big plans of spending a couple of weeks back in Italy – a week in Florence and perhaps another week north, somewhere a little more secluded than the moped-ridden streets of our favorite city. It seemed appropriate since we’d met there 10 years ago this summer, appropriate and we are long overdue for an international trip. But stuff happened, ya know? We moved across the country, we got new jobs which means limited vacation, and I must admit – we live in a pretty cool new area, so we weren’t that crazy about a big trip right now anyways.

So the Italian countryside got, well, the boot. But never fear – we still have plans for the ‘big event’. Last night, we bought lightbulbs from Home Depot, and that started off our wild and crazy weekend. But for serious, I did get some gorgeous strawberry-colored flowers, which is always fun in an office full of girls. I think we’ll take it easy on today, our actual anniversary, but first thing Saturday we’re headed to Sonoma where we’ll do none other than one of our favorite things: drink wine. We also have reservations at a fancy restaurant, and for the second time, we’ll see just how easy it is to hop into the car and head to wine country.

But at the end of the day, I’m just thankful to be married to this guy. Yes, he stresses over lightbulbs and yes, he plays video games with headphones on, but aside from those minor details, he’s nothing short of awesome. And being married to someone like that, for 5 years and hopefully 5,000 more, is easy to explain: it’s just refreshing, plain and simple.

Strawberry Soda
makes just enough for 2

printable version

time commitment: 5 minutes

8 strawberries
2 sprigs of fresh mint
juice from 1/2 of a small orange
2 T raw sugar (turbinado)
1 can club soda

in a large glass or shaker, combine strawberries through sugar. using a muddler or wooden spoon, muddle the ingredients until they are thoroughly mixed together. add a couple of ice cubes and the can of club soda (if you don’t have enough room for the whole can, just add what you can) and stir until drink is cold.

pour drink through a strainer into two tall glasses, and if you have more club soda, feel free to add the rest here, tossing in an ice cube if needed. voila!

Easy Does It

It seems that the month of February has begun to fly by much more quickly than I’d anticipated. Six weeks ago, we were finally talking openly about our big move, and at the time it was a bit surreal; there was certainly more talk than action those days. Shoot, the only action, per se, was putting our condo on the market, and when we did that we thought it may be the last of the pieces to fall into place, if ever – despite it being the first physical sign that we were, in fact, moving.

But miraculously, that so-called mountain of a task has turned out to be more of an ant hill, as the condo has (fingers crossed) been sold, pending some final paperwork and such. With that, an earlier-than-expected close date has ensued, and a couple more temporary moves have been added to the moving equation.

Chris starts his job tomorrow, and as I type he’s packing his suitcases to begin the journey we thought would never get here, but in contrast it snuck up on us and smacked us silly. This first week without him will be easy, because he’ll be back late Thursday night, at which time our condo, our home for a couple more weeks, will be filled with friends and we’ll party throughout the weekend, celebrating all the Chicago days we’ve loved and all the San Francisco days we’ve yet to encounter but will almost certainly love, in time, as well.

Needless to say, the past few weeknights have been spent in bars, in restaurants, at ‘one more’ wine class – a valiant effort to clear our Chicago bucket list, and the attempt was largely successful. But in doing so, the kitchen here has been barren, so much so that yesterday the dishwasher was full of coffee mugs rather than plates, spoons rather than forks and knives, and no tupperware symbolizing a hefty week of leftovers.

I usually relish the idea of a potluck party, an event I take advantage of fully by digging through my recipe clippings/ideas and whipping up something I’ve been eyeing for a while, like the arancini, but couldn’t find a reason to make at home. But on Thursday, I had no clue what I’d bring for the Friday event, and I quickly searched the recipe pages of a few blogs I read, easily tossing out any recipe that would take more than 30 minutes and involve any worrisome ingredients that might require special grocery store trips. I was even starting to wish I’d RSVP’d as maybe, so I’d have the opportunity to back out gracefully.

But I was reminded of our sort-of mottos for the past few weeks of craziness – take things one step at a time, don’t let the large details get to you; easy does it. It seems to work for lots of life’s issues – moving, house-selling, looking for new jobs, and even potlucks.

Citrus Salad w/ Feta and Mint
inspired by Smitten Kitchen; serves a party

time commitment: 30 minutes

this is a perfect winter salad, and it’s gorgeous for a dinner party, which is where mine was utilized. you can use any combo of citrus you want, really whatever looks pretty and isn’t full of seeds. adjust amounts based on number of guests – this will serve a large group or make for great leftovers.

printable version

1/2 red onion, chopped into very thin slices
1 pink grapefruit
1 yellow grapefruit
2 blood oranges
2 cara cara oranges
2 T fresh mint, chopped into strips
4 oz goat’s milk feta cheese, cut into small cubes/chunks
1 T red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil (amount varies – see recipe)
1/8 t dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
kosher salt

put onion strips in the bottom of a mesh strainer and position strainer over a medium-sized bowl. peel outer rind away from each citrus fruit, using a smallish knife, removing all the white pith from the fruit. cut each piece of fruit into 1/4″ thick wheels and layer citrus over onions in the mesh strainer (juice will slowly collect in the bowl and ‘pickle’ the onions slightly). let sit for a few minutes to drain a bit.

arrange citrus wheels neatly on a large platter, and top with onion slices. top with mint and feta. to the bowl of citrus juice, add red wine vinegar and enough olive oil to double the amount of liquid (probably ~2-3 T). add mustard, salt and pepper and whisk to create a citrus vinaigrette. pour over fruit prior to serving.

This is How I Roll

When I told you I was going pescaterian for a month, you didn’t think I was going to talk about super-healthy dishes for the duration of May, did you?

If you did, and it’s ok if you did, I wanted to layeth the smacketh down relatively early, so as not to further confuse anyone. I do not roll that way. And as a matter of fact, not eating meat does not necessarily = eating healthier, per se. Because, quite frankly, you might find yourself loading up on cows and cows worth of cheese instead, and I do love cheese. It is for that reason that I will never, ever understand why a vegan becomes vegan. But I’m not here to understand everybody, that’s for sure.

I am here to report on my recent feelings about eggplant, however. I’ve never been a big fan of meat imitators. I suppose I should retract that statement, since I like tofu and tofu is, by all accounts, a meat imitator. But veggies such as mushrooms and eggplant that make their way between two pieces of bread and are called “burgers” usually come off resembling mush and downright soggy messes. I’ve also never really liked eggplant parmesan, as it is again, too mushy and not reminiscent of the real thing, chicken parmesan, which is far more chewy, and in a good way, than eggplant.

Of course, the fact that I’m spewing this and that about eggplant and all its ickiness may seem strange since you’ve by now noticed that this recipe is all things eggplant. I never said I wasn’t a hypocrit, people. But to rewind a little, I did say that I’ve never been a fan. Never, until now. Or honestly, until our Seattle trip where I ate the crunchiest eggplant fries (fries!) that were flecked with sea salt and honey (honey!); fries that melted in your mouth and made you forget where you were, what your name was, and certainly that you were in fact, eating eggplant.

Those fries, I will perfect one day, but last Friday was not the day. The ones I made were (surprise!) mushy, cut too thickly, and water-logged (still edible though, with the honey on top).

In this case, you get the best of both worlds. You get the eggplant and the parmesan, and with those you get plenty of other goodness – swiss chard, kale, ricotta, and even mint. And instead of thick, spongy eggplant that’s breaded and fried so the oil gets soaked in too, you get baked, thin rolls that when folded up nice and pretty, look and taste a lot like stuffed shells, or lasagna, or something else equally yummy.

And oh yeah, the sliced mozzarella on top really seals the deal. Like I said, where I cut back in beef, I more than make up for it with cheese. It’s a give and take sorta thing – and somehow, I’m still on top.

Eggplant Parmesan Rolls w/ Swiss Chard, Kale, & Mint
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2010

this is an easily adaptable dish, honest. the original recipe called for chard and mint, and i added some leftover kale i had frozen away. you could also use spinach, which is probably more traditional, and instead of the mint you could use any other herbs. the tomato sauce here is canned, but you could easily make your own or add spices to the sauce if you so choose. do it up!

printable version

2 medium eggplants, trimmed, cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (or as close as you can get it)
kosher salt
1 bunch red Swiss chard, center ribs removed and stems removed
1 small bunch Tuscan kale (cavolo nero), about 2 c
2 large eggs
1 15-ounce container part skim ricotta cheese
1 c finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 T chopped fresh mint
freshly ground black pepper
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 8-oz ball fresh water-packed mozzarella, drained, thinly sliced

spread a layer of paper towels on cutting board or other flat surface. place eggplant slices down (1 layer), and sprinkle liberally with salt. let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. rinse eggplant slices to remove excess salt; dry thoroughly with paper towels.

position oven rack 5 to 6 inches from heat source and preheat broiler. line a large-rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared baking sheets (will take 2-3 rounds). brush both sides of eggplant slices with olive oil. broil 1 sheet at a time until eggplant slices are tender and beginning to brown, flipping slices once and watching closely, removing eggplant slices as needed if cooking too quickly, 3 to 4 minutes per side. remove baking sheet from oven, repeat as needed, and cool eggplant while preparing filling.

meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. add chard and kale to pot and boil just until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain; rinse with cold water. Squeeze chard and kale very dry, then chop coarsely. squeeze chard and kale dry again between paper towels. whisk eggs and pinch of coarse salt in medium bowl. Stir in chopped chard, ricotta cheese, 3/4 c Parmesan, mint, and black pepper to taste (I used close to 1 t).

spray a 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. spread half of tomato sauce evenly over bottom of dish. divide chard-kale-ricotta filling among eggplant slices, placing about 1 heaping tablespoon filling at short end of each. Starting the short end with the filling, loosely roll up eggplant slices, enclosing filling. Arrange rolls, seam side down, atop sauce in baking dish. spoon remaining tomato sauce over. place mozzarella slices in single layer over rolls. sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. if making in advance, cover with foil and chill until ready to bake.

preheat oven to 350 F. bake eggplant Parmesan rolls, covered with foil, until heated through, about 30 minutes if freshly made or 40 minutes if refrigerated. uncover and bake until brown in spots and sauce is bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. serve hot.

Battle Fig: What the Fig Just Happened?

Battle Fig group


Wow. I’d been going through withdrawal the last few months. You regular readers might remember those Iron Chef Battles? We hit the ground running, and our first event, Battle Basil, was super successful. The group decided to host monthly battles, and so the competitions, er, friendly powwows that involve cooking (potluck style) around a secret theme ingredient, continued. Next up was Battle Coconut, and after that, Battle Strawberry. Things were looking good for those monthly gatherings. And for me especially – I was pumped and ready for battle 4 since my strawberry pizza and strawberry-balsamic tart won first and second place at Battle 3.

But then Summer happened. And since over half of us are genetic counselors in our ‘real’ lives, summertime for many of us has translated to spending hours indoors in the confines of a smelly office or overcrowded coffee shop cramming words and concepts like “isovaleric acidemia” and “uniparental disomy” into our brains in hopes of obtaining board certification. Fortunately, I wasn’t one of them – this time. I took my exam two years ago, but I remember it because I remember what a horrible summer it was. And if you live in or have been to Chicago in the summer, it really sucks to miss out on the festivals, concerts, outdoor dinners, and tourist-watching.

Needless to say, we’ve been sans-Battle for the last two months, and I’ve been utterly saddened by that fact. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had an amazing summer, with trips to Hilton Head, Minnesota, Michigan, and the occasional visitor and thousands of concerts. But this past weekend, we finally pulled it together and managed to have a large enough group to battle it out (meanwhile those saddened studyholics still had to miss out due to the fast-approaching exam this week). And thanks to the the folks at FoodBuzz and Smirnoff, I got to host the event as part of the Smirnoff Summer Entertaining Extravaganza. To make it a smidge more entertaining, we invited the boys along this time since they’ve practically begged us to be invited (yes, begged. Pleaded. Whined. All of the above), simultaneously hoping one of them wouldn’t come through with a win. And so here goes – Allez Cuisine!!

fresh figs

Having won that last battle, I had the high honor of choosing the theme ingredient and given our previous cancellations, there were months to decide. That being said, there were countless permutations. I finally settled on Figs, a great late summertime fruit that goes well in both sweet and savory dishes. Having cooked with figs only once (in making ice cream, if that counts) I was in new territory as were many of the rest of the challengers.

For details on the rules of the IC Battles, click here.

fig pound cakeMoroccan chicken

All enthusiastic challengers arrive at 7. The first half hour is always a bit chaotic – people bust out their tupperware and fancy platters to construct their dish. Some dishes are ready as is, other need polishing, garnishing, even continued baking. Some need to be cleaned from transport leakage. For the host/previous winner, they have the upper hand and get to prepare on site, but they also have to organize the dishes and get them ready for scoring. No doubt though – we are in business mode for a bit. But by 7:30/8, we’re all drooling, listening to each other’s stomachs growling, and ready to put down our drinks and run to the food.

Battle Fig was, as the others, amazing. By the sites of the dishes, you’d never know most of us haven’t cooked with figs. Some grilled their figs, some served them alongside cheese, and some smothered them in chocolate. Every dish was unique with 12 total entries from 8 competitors. I made a couple of dishes, Moroccan Chicken Thighs and Eclairs w/ Almond Butter & Homemade Fig Preserves and also provided the cocktail, which was a Tuscan Lemonade Tea (Smirnoff Tuscan Lemonade w/ fresh-brewed iced tea).

goat cheese crostinigoat cheese crostini

Secretly, or not so secretly, we girls had hoped for a win against the boys. But in judging, we remained unbiased and judged according to the rules, reminding ourselves that we’re judging on taste in support of figs, and not taste just because it’s good. Or because a girl made it. After a couple of hours of tasting, scoring, re-tasting and re-scoring, in addition to socializing, getting to know one another, or just catching up, the scores were in and the Reigning Iron Chef was announced.

the spreadapple and fontina

Sadly enough, I was unable to keep my title and had to give it up for a second time. In giving up my title, I am relinquishing control – control to choose the next ingredient. But waiting in suspense, waiting those days before the next Battle for the Iron Chef email is like being a child and going to sleep Christmas Eve. Anticipation, and that feeling of excitement we thought only kids experienced during the sleepless nights waiting for Santa – the other side of the competition isn’t a bad feeling either.

But in addition, my next month will be spent with my husband casually (or not so casually) entering snide remarks into our everyday conversations. That’s because Chris, the ‘dishwasher’ in this household and seldom ‘cooker’, is the Reigning Iron Chef. He won it fair and square with his Lamb & Fig Skewers (recipe below). Those skewers, grilled to perfection and basted with a sauce of pepper, mint, and homemade peach preserves (ahem…) were worthy of the win. He is definitely the grill master in this house. And I may not have won, I may not have even placed, but at least that Iron Chef title is staying in the family. And there’s something to be said for that.

lamb and fig skewers

1st Place: Chris’ Lamb & Fig Skewers (above left)
2nd Place: Jim’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream w/ Fig Compote (not pictured)
3rd Place: Christina’s Fig, Apple, and Fontina Cheese Crostini (above right)

[the three photos above are courtesy of my friend, genetic counselor, fellow blogger and Iron Chef-er, Lindsay. Her camera is clearly nicer than mine, and she’s a better photographer to boot. Her husband, Jim, is the ice cream machine]

Grilled Lamb & Fig Skewers w/ Mint-Pepper Glaze
Adapated from Epicurious, 2007; serves 6 as a main dish

mint-pepper glaze:
2/3 c peach preserves
1/3 c red wine vinegar
1 T red pepper flakes
1 T lemon zest (~1 lemon)
1/4 c fresh mint, chopped

1 T whole cumin seeds (or ground)
1 T whole coriander seeds (or ground)
3 lbs boneless leg of lamb, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch cubes (you can decrease amount based on your needs)
12 fresh figs, halved vertically
1/4 c olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 T kosher salt
1 T black pepper

special tools:

~30 skewers (less if using less meat). If using wooden skewers, soak in water 30 minutes prior to using.

In small saucepan over moderate heat, stir together preserves, vinegar, red pepper, and lemon zest. Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool 5 minutes. Stir in mint and set aside.

Preheat grill to high with hood closed 10 minutes, then turn down to moderately high.

Grind cumin and coriander in coffee grinder (or use ground). Toss lamb, figs, and olive oil in bowl and add garlic, spices, salt and pepper and toss to combine. Thread onto skewers.

Arrange skewers on grill. Cook lamb to slightly less than desired doneness, turning once and brushing with glaze during last 30 seconds of grilling on each side, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare.


Hooked on Iron Chef now? You should be. To keep up to date with our Battles, join this Blog, subscribe to posts, or shoot me a message in the comments that you’d like updates. Battle 5 is scheduled for September 26 and who knows what that husband of mine will pick. With summer and exams over, it should be a big one!

If you’d like to start your own Iron Chef competition in your area, let me know and I can help with the details and provide templates. Or, if you’re in Chicago and want to cook for and eat with a bunch of strangers who love food, we’re happy to have you!

March (Mojito) Madness


Apparently March is the month for MADNESS. Prior to, and for a couple of years after moving to Chicago, we were hooked on NCAA basketball. HOOKED. Especially ACC and the Wolfpack. When I was in college, this guy (right) was our head football coach and the other goof (left) was the basketball coach. Following years of being mediocre in basketball, the Wolfpack finally decided to can the guy on left. Guy on right’s career was even shorter, but he did at least have a couple of great seasons, whether it was due solely to Philip Rivers or not.

NC State old basketball coachChuck Amato

Nonetheless, the Wolfpack fans have moved on. Me, in a way I gave up on them altogether (for the most part, I know – I am a horrible fan). Hubs, well he is utterly and mindnumbingly faithful, so he continued to watch once this guy (below) took over the b-ball team. While hopes were high, Lowe may have initially appeared to be “the savior” to NCSU basketball, but after his first season he hasn’t really come through as expected. Hence, March Madness, as I know it, doesn’t exist this year. Sniff Sniff. I didn’t even fill out a bracket – and I ALWAYS fill out brackets, even if I don’t know crap about the other teams. Sad indeed. We were talking the other day, once NC State decided they didn’t want to participate in the ACC tournament and lost in the “weed-in” game. Weed out for us…. But anyway, we decided, since NC State wasn’t coming through, the next best thing is rooting AGAINST UNC TARHEELS. We’ll see how that works once the NCAA tournament gets really going. Keep your fingers crossed, & Go Duke!!

This, obviously, brings me to the food portion of this post. Since March Madness in terms of basketball doesn’t really exist in my world this year, I will instead focus on MOJITO MADNESS – much tastier and much more satisfying! I absolutely LOVE mojitos, so below I’ll post a couple of mojitos I’ve recently made (one traditional and the other was part of the Battle Basil event). I’m also going to post a recipe for Mojito Chicken. I made it a while back and it was pretty yummy. One of my good friends is gluten-free, so I made it one night when he and his wife (if you ever hear me talk about Jennifer & Jon – this is them) were over. It’s amazing how many things you can make that are gluten-free and super scrumptuous. I initially thought that life without bread was not possible. Not true :). Anyway, I’ll post that below as well. Apparently they thought it was pretty good too b/c Jennifer asked for the recipe. Once she found out I was a “blogger”, she asked when the GF recipes would get posted, and she specifically asked about this one. So Jennifer, this is for you (and Jon…)!

P.S. – I will try to put quantities below, but I really don’t measure these drinks. Sorry!

traditional mojito

Traditional Mojito
serves 8 in pitcher

print recipe

4 limes, cut into small pieces
1 large handful of mint leaves (?1 cup)
8 Tablespoons of sugar (can also use splenda)
2 cups (yikes!!) of white rum
seltzer water

Combine limes, mint, and sugar in bottom of large pitcher (or divide among 8 highballs) and muddle away until there is a lot of juice in the bottom. Add rum and mix. When you are ready to serve, add the seltzer water. Don’t add it early b/c it will go flat. Pour into glasses with ice and garnish with mint and/or lime.


Orange-Basil Mojito
serves 8 in pitcher

print recipe

Same ingredients as above, except:
In place of limes, use 2 oranges
In place of mint, use basil.


Mojito Chicken w/ Roasted Asparagus & Almonds
Adapted from; serves 4


Olive oil cooking spray
2 bunches asparagus (2 pounds)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 pound cut-up skinless boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup rum (dark)
2 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest, divided
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup white rice, cooked according to package directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange asparagus on baking sheet and spray with cooking spray. Season with salt and black pepper. Roast 10 minutes. Top the asparagus with almonds and roast 5 more minutes, until fork-tender and almonds are golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and sugar and cook 3 minutes, until soft stirring with wooden spoon. Add chicken and saute 3 to 5 minutes, until golden brown on all sides. Add lime juice and carefully, off the heat, add the rum. Return to the heat and add lime zest, salt, pepper and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 3 minutes, until chicken is cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cook rice according to package instructions. When ready, mix in 1 1/2 teaspoons of lime zest.

Serve chicken, garnished with mint, over rice with the almond topped asparagus on the side.