Thursday, September 25, 2008


The new thing, I hear, is "staycations" - vacations where you stay at home.

I present to you Blogcations: a thoroughly modern concept of vacationing where it's perfectly acceptable to check your email, update your Facebook status, and even catch up on the blogs you're too busy to write when you're not on vacation!

I am blogging right now from Ocean City, NJ. I'd love to qualify "Ocean City, NJ," with adjectives like "sunny," "balmy," and "gorgeous," but as I type, the wind is howling outside at speeds of 50 MPH (15 MPH faster than the speed limit anywhere on the island). Rain is pelting the windows of our beach house, and the ocean looks downright angry (as Ross would describe it, "Victory at sea").

A few photos of the Ocean City boardwalk below, before the weather became inclement:

Despite Mother Nature's blatant disregard for my ONLY vacation of the year, I present to you the first annual Ocean City Beach Vacation Blog, or: Ribeye Steaks with Papaya-Pear Sauce and Stuffed Bell Peppers.

There are two outstanding food stores on the island, Luna Sea, a natural foods and vitamin store, and the Super Fresh Superstore - a traditional grocery store with two enthusiastic "supers" in its name!

Ross is really excited about buying steak:

Ross wanted Ribeyes. At Luna Sea, they were about $13 each, so we decided to get our produce and a few other things there (we had heard from a friend that they got their produce in every Wednesday), and submit to traditional farming methods by buying the meat at Superfresh (it was, in fact, both super and fresh).

Since it is our beach vacation, and we were (ostensibly) going to be spending time in bikinis (especially Ross - he just loves to wear bikinis), I wanted to keep the side dish light, hence the brown-rice-stuffed bell peppers.

Without further ado:


3 ribeye steaks, at room temperature
salt-free herb rub (I used Organic brand Original Salt-free all-purpose rub)
1 bunch fresh parsley
olive oil for cooking the steaks in a pan
1 c. brown rice medley, uncooked
1 T. butter or olive oil for the rice mixture
1 small white or yellow onion
1 small can diced mild green chiles
2 green (or any kind) bell peppers
1 medium fresh tomato
1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper
1 small jar papaya chutney (or substitute another kind of chutney if you can't find papaya)
1 and 1/2 fresh red pears (or other pear variety)
About 3/4 c. wine
About 2/3 c. balsamic vinegar
dash red pepper flakes
splash of white wine (for the rice stuffing)


Preheat oven to 375. Cook rice according to package directions.

In a large bowl, mix diced onion, green chiles, and diced tomatoes. When rice is done cooking, stir into the bowl until well-mixed and add salt and pepper to taste.


Cut green peppers in half and remove seeds, stem, and ribs. Fill each half with the rice mixture and place in a baking dish. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes, until onions become tender and green peppers begin to soften.


In a small saucepan, combine wine, balsamic vinegar, diced pears, papaya chutney, and a little salt, pepper, and dash of red pepper flakes. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for about 45 minutes, until pears begin to break down and sauce reduces and thickens to applesauce-ish thickness. Squeeze in the juice of a half a lemon and stir in before serving.


Preheat about a T. of olive oil in a grill pan or nonstick pan over medium-high heat, and season both sides of the room-temperature steaks with salt, pepper, and salt-free seasoning. When the oil is hot, place steaks in the pan, cooking to desired doneness (about 3-4 minutes on each side for medium doneness, depending on the thickness of the steaks). Flip and cook on the other side.


Serve steaks with a stuffed pepper each, and spoon sauce over each steak (do this tableside, for a little flair, if you want). Top with a little fresh chopped parsley.


CONNIE: The steak is great. This is the best stuffed pepper I've ever had. I don't like when everything is stuffed too tight in there.

ROSS: It was a Rib-bulls-eye. Good job.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: 8 stars. I always give myself props when I can not ruin steak. It's always heartbreaking to destroy something so delicious (and expensive), so when they're cooked to a perfect doneness, that earns stars. I liked the stuffed pepper. It's not the most fearless thing I've ever made, considering I've made many of them, although I did buy sundried tomatoes to put in them, and when I rehydrated them, I tasted one, and it tasted like I've always thought raccoon dung might taste (I know you're wondering how often I've ruminated about the taste of raccoon dung). I threw those out and used the fresh tomato we had on hand at the house. The peppers were a good, light complement to the steak, I thought.

Despite the uncooperative weather, a vacation is a vacation (a bad day at the beach is still better than a great day at the office), and it was nice to have time to indulge in a home-cooked meal.

Thanks to my guests/hosts!

More soon...

From Justin to Kelly...One Year Later

This blog is a very special one. Not only because it's my 50th (!) post, but because it's in celebration of my dear friends' Kelly and Justin's (almost) first year together (Justin, stop shaking like an Italian greyhound).

They met when I brought them together last summer for some really bad Thai Chicken Soup (which they were great sports about), and here we are, one year hence, eating chicken all over again!

Let's see what's changed in the last year: Kelly's hair is darker, Justin and I no longer work directly on the same account, and Kelly got an unexpected one-month sabbatical from her job as Chicago's duchess of print production, only to return when they realized they couldn't live without her daily fabulosity! So, to be succinct, not much.

I almost forgot: we moved! This is our new apartment:

And to celebrate how sometimes, things staying (almost) the same are really what make you the happiest, I present to you, my blog's post-hiatus relaunch meal: Thyme-Roasted Chicken Breast with Warm Rice and Spinach Salad. (If my blog had sound effects, you'd be hearing triumphant horns right now.)

The hummus we ate as an appetizer:


4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, fat trimmed off
6-7 sprigs fresh thyme
salt, pepper, and a little olive oil for the chicken
1 and 1/2 c. uncooked brown rice medley
chicken broth to cook the rice in (use to replace the cooking water, if desired)
1 T. butter or olive oil for the rice mixture
2 red onions, sliced into half-moons
1 T. olive oil, to caramelize the onions
1 and 1/2 bags baby spinach leaves
1/2 c. pine nuts, toasted
Squeeze of lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
2 c. grape tomatoes
2 T. oilve oil for the tomatoes
2 T. balsamic vinegar
8-10 small marinated mozzarella balls, drained of most oil
chopped fresh parsley for garnish


Preheat the oven to 375. Place the chicken breasts in a baking dish, and season with salt and pepper, and drizzle a little olive oil over the top, rubbing it in. Place in the oven, and cook until juices run clear (about 30 minutes).


Wash and drain the grape tomatoes. Place in a baking dish, and drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper, tossing to coat. Bake for about 45 minutes at 375. The last 5-10 minutes of baking, nestle the marinated mozzarella balls into the tomatoes and let them bake until they begin to melt.


Slice the red onions into thin half-moons, and cook them in a little olive oil over medium-high heat for about 20-25 minutes, until they caramelize (get nice and brown and soft).


Cook the rice mixture according to package directions. When almost all the broth has been obsorbed, stir in the spinach leaves, toasted pine nuts (just sautee them in a dry pan for about 8-10 minutes until they begin to brown), and caramelized onions. Add the squeeze of lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir until the spinach leaves wilt, and then leave the lid on until you're ready to serve.


Place a chicken breast on each place, and spoon some of the tomato-and-mozzarella over it, getting some of the juicy sauce on there, too. Serve the warm rice salad as a side dish. Garnish with some fresh chopped parsley.


KELLY: Very good. I like the melty mozzarella in the tomatoes.

ROSS: I thought the chicken and tomatoes had excellent synergy. It's nice not to eat out.

JUSTIN: I thought the tomatoes were really good, but I could've used even more sauce. And normally I don't like onions, but these tasted really good - but I wish they were chopped up into smaller pieces, so I could've just tasted them, andnot felt like I was really eating onions.

MY VOTE ON MY DISH: 6 stars. I thought the chicken was nice and lean, although I think I should've taken it out of the oven about 10 minutes earlier. And I also should've more closely watched the mozzarella - I wanted it to be melty, but not so melty that it completely disappeared and sunk to the bottom of the baking dish. I wanted them to still be recognizable as balls of cheese. The tomatoes were tasty, though, and I thought the rice salad came out well. The squeeze of lemon balanced out the sweetness of the onions. Overall, tasty, filling, and healthful, without being too heavy.

I stupidly forgot to take pictures of our guests of honor, Justin and Kelly, but here's a picture of them from awhile back:

(They are still just as lovely.)

We tried out the new dining room table (which is to say, we ate off our coffee table since we no longer have a "dining" table), but it held up our plates just fine.

We drank a great pinot noir that Kelly brought (she has a knack for picking out great wines with screwcaps), and of course, toasted to a great year behind us - and hopefully to another one ahead.

Thanks to my guests!

More soon...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

But Oh, Oh, Those Summer Nights

Summer has officially (OK, 4 days shy of officially) come to an end. Which officially means my unofficial Summer Blog Hiatus has officially come to an unofficial end, too.


Let's take a look back at what I was doing this summer instead of blogging about cooking, shall we?

I was spending 10 hours in Montrose Park having a Fourth of July BBQ:

I was lounging in my (old) backyard, taking pictures of the late-afternoon sun:

I was attending quite a few other BBQ's, like this one at Ecole's swanky downtown pad:

I was playing hookey from work to take two-hour bus tours around Chicago:

I was celebrating Sarah's brithday...

...with everyone who ever went to the Creative Circus!

I was going dancing with Jesse, Jess, and Leigh, followed by a 5 AM breakfast at Melrose Diner:

Ross and I partied at our friends' Steve and MaryBeth's beautiful wedding:

Then we partied some more at the highlight of the Chicago ad communitiy's summer, the Optimus Party:

A few days later, Leigh (and my other wonderful friends) helped me celebrate my 26th birthday!

And my best friend Alisha came to visit!

I know that sharing all the fun I had doesn't make up for the fact that I have left my (admittedly small) fan base hanging all season, but I hope you'll all stay with me through the fall and into winter (when there'snot as much fun to be had, and therefore lots more time to sit at home and upload pictures all night).

And the good news is, coming up within the next few hours, I'll be posting two new blogs! And they're actually about cooking!

As I sit here in Ocean City, NJ, listening to gale-force winds howl outside (what little respect Mother Nature has to my piddly two weeks of paid vacation per year!), I'm reminded that you have to seize the good times - and good weather - before they're gone.

Summer flew by (and this vacation - summer's last hurrah - is flying by even as I type), but I'm looking forward to a cozy winter in a new apartment, with new blogs, new recipes, but - of course - old friends to share them with.

If you haven't been over as a blog judge in awhile, give me a call. We'll set it up.

More to come! Peace...
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