Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cut Finger. Hospital

You guys would be proud of me today.  

Today, I faced one of my fears.  The squash.  Just about a year ago, I was attempting to make my first batch of spaghetti squash the night before finals, when my finger slipped and got in the way of my knife.

Not a pretty site.  Fast forward a few panicky moments of running through my apartment with my hand above my head, holding a towel.  My roomie was nowhere to be seen, so I called my neighbor and classmate, Lindsey.  But not before I left Katie a message so she wouldn't worry
Don't you love Patrick's addition to my message?
(You may be wondering why I can still take a picture of this....I scribbled it in permanent marker....we save it for the memory...)

Fast forward to getting lost on the drive to the emergency room, a panicky phone call with my parents going something like this:

"Yes, I cut my finger, Mom"
"No, not on a bagel...I know how dangerous those can be."
"No, not on spaghetti, on a spaghetti SQUASH"

Once we got to the emergency room, they brought me right through.  The conversation went something like this

"Yes I cut my finger"
"No, not on a bagel"
"No, not on spaghetti, on a spaghetti SQUASH"
"Yes, I guess there really is a first time for everything"

Love deja vu.

This was also the night before my first final as a grad student.  i joked to my doctor that I was just a little nervous about the test, when he reminded me that I was in a hospital, and there was no place for jokes.

This was just not my night.

Fast forward to today, when I attempted to face another member of the squash family: the Butternut variety.  I wanted to make a savory, yet healthy fall soup, so I scourged the internet in search of the perfect recipe.  I combined a few of them and made my own concoction.  

And it ended much more happily.  Squash: 1 Rachel: 1   

I'll take it.

Butternut Squash Curry Soup 
By: Me!

2 butternut squash
1/2 stick of butter
1/2 onion
1 shallot
1 garlic clove
1 qt chicken stock
1 qt veggie stock (make sure you use low sodium of both stock varieties)
pinch nutmeg
1 tsp curry 
1 tsp brown sugar
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.  

Dice onion, shallot, and garlic clove.  
Peel and cut butternut squash.  And for those who are a little scared to cut into a hard, dense squash (*ahem*), here are some tips.  Cut off top and bottom of squash--this definitely was not as hard as the spaghetti squash, just watch those fingers!  After that, peel back the skin and lay on the cutting board
Run your knife through the squash three times, then cube it across into 1 inch cubes.
Lay on pan and roast for 45 minutes, until it looks like this 
Melt butter in a pot.  Add onion, shallot, and garlic to melted butter and stir until translucent, about 3 minutes.  
Add stock to vegetables and bring to simmer.
Once the sweet potatoes are done cooking, transfer to a food processor and pulse until blended.  Strain the broth (put in another pot) and add onion mixture to the food processor as well.  You also may need to add a few cupfuls of broth to the food processor to ensure a smooth blend.
Transfer squash mixture to original pot and gradually add the remaining broth.  
Add the nutmeg, curry, brown sugar, and milk to the soup.

I was so happy with this soup.  It was light (with milk instead of cream), savory, and a little spicy from the hit of curry.  I cannot wait to eat this for the rest of the week!  What also surprised me was that the only thing I needed to buy for this was the squash--everything else was on hand!
Bring on the squash!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Fall Cravings

Apparently there is a shortage.

A pumpkin shortage.

I was a little slow on the uptake, which is especially unfortunate since I have been craving the tastes of fall wayyy before today.  Nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice... *sigh*

To satisfy this craving I searched everywhere for canned pumpkin.  Trader Joes, Wegmans, everywhere!  The only thing in the stores were cans of the pumpkin pie filling, filled with extra sugar and who knows what!  I ended up at Giant today after work, and the shelves were empty...except for this
One can of pumpkin. 
One dented can of pumpkin.  
But I was desperate and bought it anyways.  You bet that I will be using it this weekend. ; )

P.S.  I also got this to satisfy the pumpkin craving
So on to dinner---

Since I couldn't experience fall through pumpkin (non-latte/beer form!), a nice, cozy dinner was the second best!  I was craving something hearty, yet easy to make after a long day at work.

Marinara Pasta Bake
1/2 cup of marinara sauce (I used Chelsea's recipe!)
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1/4 cup chopped mozzarella
handful of basil, thinly sliced
1 cup of cooked pasta
parmesan cheese, optional

Preheat oven to 400 F.  Cook pasta according to the directions (subtract 2 minutes from the cooking time so it won't overcook in the oven!).  Meanwhile, prepare and chop ingredients.

After pasta is cooked, pour into a baking dish.  Pour sauce, mushrooms, mozzarella, and basil in the dish as well.  Mix well.
Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted.  Grate parmesan cheese on top and enjoy!!!
Look at the cheese factor on this dish!! It is so savory and comforting, and so easy to boot!  The basil adds hints of freshness to the dish as well.  The mushrooms make it a tad bit filling, and you can always add sausage or hamburger as another option! The pasta is cooked perfectly, and it is so filling that all you need is a side salad and the meal is finished in less than 20 minutes!
One more cheese shot ;)
Ok last one :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Who is your Worst Critic?

Today, I went running.  Thursdays are our "long run" days for our marathon training.  We started gradually after a summer of not-so-many-runs, and today we reached 6 miles.  A hilly 6 miles.
I must confess, my friends, this was no easy run.   I struggled every step of the way, but didn't walk.  I felt like I worked as hard as I possibly could, but I still couldn't help thinking about the half-marathon that I ran four short months ago.  How could I be having so much trouble running 6 miles when I did THIRTEEN?  

I was so disappointed during the first half as I could tell that I wasn't at my optimal fitness level.  I kept blaming myself, thinking negatively every step of the way.  I just wanted to get it over with and didn't have the runner's high that I often felt during my half-marathon training.

But then, a song came on my ipod: Chris Daughtry's "Over You".  Now this song is obviously describing a breakup, but the chorus really stuck with me.  
"Well I never saw it coming.
I should've started running (no pun intended!)
A long, long time ago.
And I never thought I'd doubt you, 
I'm better off without you,
More than you, more than you know"

I consider myself a fairly secure person.  I always pride myself in how other's can't make me feel insignificant or insecure.  But one person I never thought to look out for was myself.  I was my worst critic.  I was the person who made me feel like a failure on this run.

Today, I realized that while running is a time for my thoughts and musings, I was wrestling with a few demons.  I kept filling my thoughts with negativity, and instead of being happy for finishing such a hilly run in a pretty good time, I could only think about how I couldn't go faster--how my body was struggling.

I am better off with all of that negativity.  After that song came on, I realized that I needed to change my frame of mind.  People say that running is 80% mental and 20% physical--boy are they right.  

Today, I realized that I not only needed to exercise my body, but my mind. For the rest of the run, I started thinking more positively.  I began thinking about all the things I was doing right...and before I knew it, I was at the street where I live.  Not only did I pick up my pace with the mental weight that I threw off, but I was happier and more satisfied with the run.  I felt thankful for this run, because every following run I will be on the lookout for when my mind starts to turn down the negative, discouraging path.  

So today, I challenge you to look into yourself and think about the qualities you love about yourself.  I challenge you to question whether you are your biggest and worst critic.  And if you are, change it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Blog for the Soul

Remember those "Chicken Soup for the Soul" books? 

It was this series of books that was composed of short stories submitted by people all over the country.  Some titles included:

Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul
Chicken Soup for the Soul: True Love
Even Chicken Soup for My Dog's Life!

Those stories made me laugh, cry, and contemplate things about my life.

I don't really know what made me start thinking about these books recently.  I must admit that I have been more homesick than usual recently being away from everyone I care about, and these books were just another memory of that home so far away.

I don't mean to make this a sappy post at all, but I realized recently that I began to feel more "down" than my normal peppy self and not be able to shake that feeling.  I barely even wanted to cook because while I used to cook to get the stress out of my life, I realized that in the process of doing so, I stopped enjoying cooking.  Studying psychology myself, I should have known that this association would happen.  

But I also realized that this isn't me!  I am upbeat, optimistic, and enthusiastic; not depressing or negative.  I realized this today when I cooked dinner with my roomie--it was Taco Tuesdays and we had so much fun just eating.  It wasn't anything extravagent to say the least, but it was delicious just the same.  At the very basic level, I found a fun moment that I will remember for some time.

So I decided to challenge myself.  I am challenging myself to nurture my "soul" (see the connection!?) and think about the good things that I am experiencing right now, down here in D.C.  I will enjoy cooking and the amazing city that is a short drive down 66.  My life will not revolve around the three days every five or so weeks that a loved one comes to visit me.   It will revolve around my love of school, cooking, and of myself.

And don't worry folks, there will still be recipes.

Like this.... oh and like this.

But there will also be posts about my days down here away from my family.  If you just want the recipes, that's okay too--there's a page just for you ; )

So my first start today will be a little announcement:

I will be running a marathon next March : )

I will be training with a good friend of mine and focus my frustration and homesickness in another place besides the kitchen.  I am very excited to do this, and have a few races before that, like the Army 10-Miler and the Hot Chocolate 15K.  So this blog will also be about my training as well.

So bottom line---I will be a happier, healthier Rachel.

Thank you for dealing with my little rant, and I am glad to be back in the blogging world!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Ultimate Comfort Food

Hope everyone's three day weekend was amazing!!! Now tomorrow, the real world....

Mine was spent relaxing and getting prepared for the start of another school week.

I don't know about you, but I love school (the case of the typical grad student, aka NERD).  Still, I love classes more than reading, and the beginning of school sometimes starts slowly for me, when a copious amount of reading is involved.

I also love Fall : )  The cool, crisp days, the beautiful foliage, and the pumpkin spic lattes fall-themed foods and drinks....*sigh*  Still, I hate to know that summer is at an end (not so much the weather, but the long days and trips to the beach).

Whenever you have these conflicting emotions (or is it just me?), all you need is one thing.

Chocolate Chip Cookies.

And not just any cookies....

THE BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I realize that everyone says their cookies are "the best cookies," but mine take the cake (or cookie?).  Whenever I go back to Massachusetts, I get a quick hug from my dad, then one request: the cookies.  I am required happy to make another batch to take to work.

Confession time.

Even though they are THE BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies, they aren't really "mine".

Nestle Toll House Cookies
By: Nestle Toll House

2 1/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups chocolate chips
1 cup nuts (I don't put these in...purist all the way!)

Preheat oven to 375F.

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.
Beat butter, sugars, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Add eggs one at a time, beating in between.
Beat in flour mixture to sugar mixture. 
Add morsels.
Drop onto baking sheet. 
Cook for 10 minutes.
And you can stop there.


Add two flavors of ice cream (half chocolate, half vanilla) and make ice cream sandwiches!
I stored these individually in the freezer so we could snack all week.
Sooooo good! So much better than the traditional treats:
One more of these, and I guess I am ready for fall and school : )

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Grilled Pizza Party!

Need a fun, easy idea for a Labor Day Party?!

A few weekends ago when I was at home, my family and Pat and I had a make-your-own-pizza-party!

I followed this recipe for the pizza dough and cut up various toppings and spread out different sauces and everyone went to town!

Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water
1 package yeast
1 1/4 cup water, room temperature
2 tbsp EVOO, plus more for greasing the bowl
4 cups bread flour (I used all-purpose)
1 1/2 tsp salt

Place warm water and yeast in a measuring cup. Let sit until yeast dissolves and swells, about 5 minutes.  Add room temperature water and olive oil and stir.
Add flour and salt in a bowl.  Slowly add liquid ingredients to the flour mixture.  
After the ingredients are combined, knead dough with hands (or mixer if you were home in VA!) for 5 minutes.
And knead.
And knead. Then flex your muscles : )
Roll dough into a bowl and cover in an oiled bowl for 1 1/2-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Deflate dough and cut into 6 separate mini pizzas.
(sorry, no picture.... too.excited.)

Now you are ready for the fun part!  Make sure to grease your grill extremely well with olive oil so the dough won't stick.  Also oil one side of the pizza dough.

Place oiled-side down on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes, or until brown.

Add toppings:
Pizza sauce, pesto, carmelized onions, chicken, bacon, cheddar  cheese, mozzarella cheese!
With the cooked side facing up, make your pizza!  Return pizzas to grill for 4-6 minutes, and serve!
This was such a fun night, everyone!  My parents and Pat really got into making their pizzas "their own".  Not only did it take no time to cook the pizza, but it tasted amazing!  The dough was perfectly cooked and browned on the edges--my favorite part!
The most attractive pizza of the night! Courtesy of Papa Gourmand!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Cajun Deviled Eggs

There is a certain restaurant in Arlington that is one of our go-to lunches.

Bayou Bakery.

Not only do they have fluffy, sweet beignets, and the perfect Cuban sandwich with layers of meat and sour pickles sandwiched between two slices of buttery bread, Bayou Bakery provides one of life's simplest pleasures: Deviled Eggs.

These are such a yummy appetizer or light lunch for any egg lover (or even a person who, like myself, thinks eggs are only really necessary for baking).  These really stole my heart with the cajun seasoning instead of the standard paprika that is sprinkled across the eggs.  

You can only guess my surprise when I heard that the Occasional Oenophile sought to create imitations of these beauties.  The result: utter perfection.  They taste just like the ones from Bayou Bakery!

Now if only she can find a recipe to imitate the beignets....

Cajun Deviled Eggs
Inspired by Bayou Bakery's Deviled Eggs

6 Eggs, hard boiled and cooled
~2tbsp light mayonnaise
1/4tsp salt
One half batch of Bobbie Jean's Cajun Spice Mix (or your favorite Cajun mix!)

Slice eggs in half, remove yolks.  Mix yolks with mayonnaise and salt (I like to whip them).

Fill egg white cavities with yolk mixture.  Sprinkle with Cajun Spice Mix.
Chill for one hour or more.
Enjoy :)