Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tuscan Tortellini Soup

I love making (and eating) soup. No matter whether it's blowing snow or scorching heat, I'll never turn down a good bowl of soup. There are just so many reasons to love soup. Let's explore this.

1. What's more comforting than a bowl of warm broth and a hunk of crusty bread? Ok, maybe a cup of hot chocolate is a close second, but let's be honest here.
2. The combination possibilities are endless. You can take the most random ingredients and flavors and throw them in a pot together, and 9 times out of 10 you'll get something delicious.
3. If it's homemade and broth-based, you can almost guarantee that it's healthy. It's pretty hard to screw up broth and vegetables. (Just be sure you always use low sodium canned ingredients whenever you can.)

The thing is, I used to think making soup was all-day ordeal. Soup, to me, meant something that needed to simmer on the stove for an hour or two to taste good (and granted, some do). But this soup took that idea and blew it out of the water. It can be ready in a just half an hour. Oh trust me, it still tastes like it took that two-hour bath, but without all that waiting. Who knew you could have something comforting, filling, and healthy - and this damn delicious! - for dinner in 30 minutes? Rachel Ray would certainly be proud.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bacon-Pancetta Potatoes

The gym I go to has these lovely televisions attached to about half of the cardio machines. Being able to watch TV definitely makes those half-hour cardio workouts a bit easier, especially for someone like me who doesn't get broadcast television at home. And I bet you'll never guess what my favorite channel to watch while I'm on the treadmill is... hmm... yup, Food Network. Yes, it's a bit ironic, but that's part of the fun for me. There's something especially masochistic about watching Ina Garten make cheesecake while I run my guts out, tehe. Plus, it gives me great inspiration sometimes... like this amazing potato recipe.

Yes, these babies are fried.

Yes, I used the grease from the bacon and pancetta.

No, these are not healthy.

But... these are quite possibly the best potatoes I've ever eaten.

See, I, like, Jessica over at How Sweet It Is, have an obsession with bacon. No, I don't have four packages of bacon in my fridge right now like she does, but when I see a recipe that includes bacon I simply can't resist. And while, yes, the potatoes are the center of attention in this dish, the bacon and pancetta should definitely get awards for supporting roles. And if you so desired, you could easily double the amount of bacon and omit the pancetta, but to me, the combination of flavors takes these potatoes from ordinary to damn-near gourmet.  

Trust me, once you try these you'll never go back to ordinary fried potatoes. You'll be finding all kinds of excuses to make these for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. So what if you'll need to run an extra mile on the treadmill when you're done? It'll be nice excuse to watch more Food Network. :)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Engagement-Versary at Ono

One year ago today, on a warm spring afternoon, Dane took me to go look at a house a friend of his had for sale. The house was adorable - a little bit of a fixer-upper, but we didn't mind. It was the first house we'd ever looked at together - as a decision to be made together - and it really got us dreaming about having a space all our own, and of creating a life together.

On the drive home I asked Dane, "Don't you think we ought to be married before start talking about taking on a mortgage together?" It was an honest question with no real suggestive intention, and I didn't really think anything about it from there. 

The sun was shining on our little balcony when we got home to our apartment. It was warm and beautiful, and totally inviting... I didn't think anything of it when Dane asked me to come sit outside with him. 

Then I noticed he was acting different. He was nervous. Dane doesn't get nervous. 

"You know, I think you're right," he said. "I think we should be married before we take on a mortgage together." And then he got down on one knee.

I don't remember exactly what he said - I was too shocked. All I remember is the words "will you marry me?" were somewhere in there, along with a pretty little solitaire diamond ring. 

It was a simple proposal - no flair, no production. But it was honest. A genuine request, from one soul to another. And it meant more to me than any candle-light dinner or scrolling marquee. Of course, I said yes. :)

We immediately called our closest friends and family to share the news, with many responses of joy and excitement for us. That night we out to dinner at Applebee's to celebrate, and then we came home and watched a movie... a simple, comforting end to an honest, exciting day.

It's crazy to think a year has passed since then! Where did the time go? A lot has changed in such a short time, too - Dane became Belegarth President, I started working as an RT, I'm about to graduate and start working full time, and the wedding plans are all but done! Less than 4 months to go now until the big day... we can't wait!

To celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime momentous occasion, we went out for a nice dinner at what has become our favorite restaurant - Ono Hawaiian Cafe.

Up until a few months ago, we had never eaten here. We'd driven by hundreds of times and heard dozens of rave reviews... I don't know why it took so long for us to try it. But when my mother and I tried their catering samples at one of the wedding shows, we knew we had to hire them for the wedding. Their food is expensive, no matter if it's catered or in the restaurant, so we had to cut some corners to be able to afford it. (That's why you'll be seeing a post in a couple of weeks about the party I'm throwing to entice my friends to help me assemble my invitations, tehe.) When Dane came with us for the official tasting he agreed... this food is worth every penny.

We like it so much we've eaten there 3 times in the last 2 months. :)

Allow me to introduce you to these little guys - kalua pork sliders. If you're going to get an appetizer at this restaurant, jump in with both feet and order these. To describe them as heavenly would be an understatement. Start with toasted Hawaiian sweet rolls. Add pork that's been wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted until it falls off the bone. Top it with sweet house BBQ sauce, crispy fried sweet onion, and a wedge of grilled pineapple. You won't feel like you need anything else after this.

But you'll want more.

All three times we've been there Dane has ordered the same thing. They call this meal Pupukea, named after the owner's hometown. It's a plate of flank steak marinated in a homemade kona brew sauce and grilled on the hibachi, served with sweet coconut rice and your choice of an extra side. (They offer stir fried vegetables or fried onions, but Dane loves the rice so he always just gets an extra scoop.) And there's good reason Dane always sticks with this dish... it's freaking amazing. And I usually don't like steak, so that's saying something. :)

I, on the other hand, always try something different every time we go. The first time we went I had a noodle salad with coconut shrimp, and the second time I had a sweet butter leaf salad with papaya, strawberries, and teriyaki chicken. This time I decided I wanted some rice too, so I went for an entrée with more of the amazing kalua pork. (This one's called "kahana" in case you were wondering. All of the entrées are named after the owner's favorite places.) And if you're thinking "Wow, that looks like a lot of food," you're right! I wound up taking more than half of it home with me. I can't wait to eat it for lunch. :)

By the time we finished dinner we had no room for dessert, but their pineapple upside down cake sounded delish!

Thanks for celebrating this momentous occasion with us! We're both very excited to be moving on to the next chapter of our lives very soon. :)

And I hope we've given you enough incentive to try Ono if you ever come to Boise!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Market Saturday & Shrimp Caesar Salad

My local Saturday market is officially open for the season! I just so happened to have opening day off from work, so naturally, I had to go. I always have a great time at the market, even if I don't buy anything... there's just something so simply satisfying about getting up a little early on the weekend to enjoy some sunshine and fresh air with people who appreciate the same good things in life that I do. Plus, this year I'm really going to make a more conscious effort to eat locally. We all know how good it is for the environment as well as the local economy, and, let's be honest... the flavor of truly fresh food just can't be beat.

Of course, there's not much in season right now (at least not in southern Idaho) aside from spring greens, but there were lots of lovely starts! Seeing all of the brand new tomato plants and herb starters and fresh-picked tulips really made me wish I had a yard so I could garden!

My best friend (and maid of honor!) Sydney and her fiancée, Corey, shared the fun with me, and the company could not have been better. :)

After the market, Sydney joined me at home for a little homemade Caesar salad with lemon pepper shrimp! This is another recipe I've been dying to try - knowing that the boy wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole - and it seemed like the perfect lunch to enjoy on a beautiful spring day (while Dane was out of town, haha). And perfect it was! Light, full of complex flavors, and surprisingly filling, this salad lived up to every expectation. ...and, of course, it tasted even better with market-fresh romaine and a glass of St. Chapelle (local!) soft white wine, and the pleasure of wonderful company.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meatball and Pepper Heroes

Ok, so I'll confess... these aren't the most photogenic works of culinary art. In fact, they're hardly even polite to eat, since much of the saucy goodness will inevitably wind up on your face and your hands. But don't let the mess and bad pictures fool you, friends - these meatball subs are spectacular. Just make sure you invest in some heavy-duty napkins before you dig in. :)

I've been on the hunt for a good meatball recipe for quite some time, and I was not disappointed by this one at all! True to Ellie Krieger form, this recipe is packed with flavor and healthful goodness in just the right proportions. I was hesitant to try it at first since it included shredded carrot in the meatballs themselves, but I was surprised to find that this addition easily replaced some of the usual breading you'd include and was hardly even noticeable. For those of you with children or otherwise picky eaters in the house, this could be a really good trick to sneaking them more veggies! Ellie's recipe included a homemade sauce that sounded too smoky for my taste, so I simply substituted some jarred marinara that I happened to have in the cupboard, with much success. The sandwich recipe is easily adaptable for anyone's tastes, but I was mostly excited to find such a healthy, flavorful way to make meatballs... and you can bet I'll be using it in the future for other meatball-worthy recipes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cinnamon Twists with Lemon-Honey Dipping Sauce

Step over, Dane... I have a new love. Puff pastry. I mean, really... where has this stuff been all my life? I can't believe this is the first recipe I've ever made with puff pastry. I've seen lots of recipes that include it over the years, but I'd never actually tried working with it until today. Hahahaha... now I'm going to have to keep myself from making every recipe including puff pastry known to man.

These little twists are fantastic. They were the perfect addition to our usual Sunday morning breakfast of maple bacon and coffee. Lightly crunchy on the outside, flaky and airy on the inside, with a hint of cinnamon-sweetness... they were delicious dipped in the accompanying dipping sauce or simply dunked in coffee. I will warn you though, the dipping sauce is very lemony. I think next time I'll use less lemon juice, or I might even leave it out altogether and use a little brewed coffee to replace the needed liquid. But with or without the sauce, you need to try these twists. Make them today. They're too easy and too delicious to wait.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sweet and Sour Pork

I'm on kind of a sweet-savory sauce kick these days. Damn you, irresistible sloppy joes for getting these flavors stuck in my head! Then I was pondering this amazing, super sweet, completely unhealthy mandarin sauce from my favorite Chinese restaurant back home... when I stumbled upon this recipe. I took one look at the list of ingredients and was instantly intrigued. Apple juice concentrate... really? That's unusual. And pineapple juice? And brown sugar? How much sugar is in this recipe? Needless to say, it is very sweet. But it was just what I was looking for. And at under 500 calories per serving, I'm happy I don't have to feel guilty about the indulgence. :)

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