Monthly Archives: October 2012

smoked sausage and shrimp alfredo recipe

Creamy pasta… let’s just call it “carbo-loading”

Do you feel cheated? You’ve been coming to this blog and reading about exercise, salad dressing, training for races. And now, here you are, gazing at a photo of something so obnoxiously indulgent that just looking at it might make you fat. It doesn’t fit, does it?

Well, I have two words for you. Balance, and indulgence. Vegetables are great, but nobody can eat them all the time. Just make sure that when you slip up, it’s worth it. (Have you ever been suckered into eating something that’s simultaneously terrible for you and awful-tasting? I’m talking grocery-store-bought birthday cake for a coworker’s birthday. Awkwardly standing around the conference room, you have to eat a little slice just to be nice. But every bite is a chore, and you’re mad about it because the cake is dry and crumbly and completely canceling out the run you planned to do that afternoon. It doesn’t even taste like it’s worth those calories). (I think that was more than two words).

Through 37 Cooks and Teet’s Food Store, I got hooked up with some great smoked pork sausage. It’s a natural pairing with shrimp: the flavorful sausage lends smokiness to briny, fresh seafood. This is one of those meals that evolved because I’m carbo-loading for my next race. And because a creamy, cheesy Alfredo sauce needs to be on the menu at least once per year. How’s that for efficiency?

Don’t think of Alfredo sauce as something that you can only have at restaurants. It’s shockingly easy to throw together at home, and you’ll love the results. Seriously, if you can bring cream to a simmer and then stir in a few more ingredients, you can make this dish in ten minutes. Of course, parmesan cheese is the traditional choice, but with that big sausage flavor coupled with a little Cajun seasoning, you’ll have delicious results using milder Asiago, fontina, or any combination of those.

You’ll want to pay careful attention to the timing on this. I’d set out a pot of water to boil before doing anything else. When it’s hot but not quite boiling yet, begin warming the cream. If you time things right, you’ll begin adding butter to the simmering cream when the pasta has just a couple of minutes to go. After a little bit of whisking, you’ll be able to add perfectly al dente pasta to the mixture, stir in the cheese, and dig in. It’s so easy and delicious, I promise you’ll think twice about ordering that $18 alfredo pasta dish next time you’re eating at an Italian restaurant.

If you still feel guilty about eating this, just call it carbo-loading.

Smoked Sausage and Shrimp Alfredo
serves 3-4
Ingredients

1/2 pound fettucine pasta
1/2 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 pound Teet’s smoked pork sausage, sliced into coins
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Slap Ya Mama seasoning
4 tablespoons butter, cut into four pieces
1/2 cup shredded cheese (Parmesan, Fontina, mozzarella), divided
Bring a large pot of water to boil. When it boils, add fettucine and cook until almost done – about eight minutes. Drain but do not rinse.
In a medium saute pan heated over medium-high, saute sausage coins until just crisp and a little bit of fat has rendered. Remove to a spare plate and reserve. To the still-hot pan, add shrimp and saute until just done. Put it with the sausage for just a little while
Meanwhile, in another saucepan, heat the cream with Slap Ya Mama seasoning until it comes to a simmer. This works best at medium heat. After little bubbles appear, lower the heat to just about as low as it gets. Add pieces of butter one at a time, whisking after each addition until fully melted and incorporated into the sauce. Turn the heat off completely. By this time, the pasta should be just about cooked – add it to the pot and mix it all up. Add most of the shredded cheese, leaving some for garnish. Stir it well to melt everything. Then add the reserved sausage and shrimp. Stir until everything is mixed well and heated through.
Serve topped with reserved cheese and, if desired, fresh-ground black pepper.

running my second 5k, and honey-balsamic vinaigrette

Legs running a 5K

These are the legs of a tired runner

When I first started this blog, many of my posts discussed exercise: my desire to exercise, my struggles to stay motivated, my tendency to make excuses that allowed me to gain weight. Then, as it often does, my focus drifted to things that were more fun to write about. Things like cooking. Traveling. And of course, all of the random adventures that I create for myself. It was easy to neglect writing about exercising, because I simply wasn’t exercising.

Something changed towards the end of July. I was even heavier than I’d ever been before, and becoming quite miserable. Looking in the mirror was depressing. Putting on clothes was depressing. Even eating was depressing, since I felt guilty every time I so much as looked at food and wanted it. I felt like I was so heavy that I didn’t deserve to eat.

Well, I don’t know what sparked it, but something snapped. We’d been religiously attending two classes at the gym: a core class that targets muscles in the abs, and a cardio kickboxing class that’s just an overall barn-burner of a workout. But I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted to see. Then I made the decision to start jogging at least once per week. And I dedicated an adorable puppy dog calendar to tracking my exercise.

By the end of August, I could look at my calendar and see at least four documented workouts per week. It felt great. Somehow – despite an off week when I was struck by cellulitis after scuba diving – I managed to maintain the pace through September. And all of a sudden, I started to notice changes. My clothes fit a little better. I could wear the tighter T-shirts that had been shoved to the back of my closet, and when I put them on with jeans, I wasn’t as self-conscious about my belly straining the fabric. I went jeans shopping – usually a traumatic, depressing experience – and came out with a pair in my target size that fit comfortably and perfectly.

What’s more, I started to enjoy running. This was shocking, to say the least. There was no sign of the aches and pains that plagued me when I’d randomly run every six months. I think it’s beacuse I started slowly and built up my muscles gradually. Beyond being pain-free, running has actually felt good. I finally understand the runner’s high, that feeling of elation that you get from breaking a sweat. This has been the strangest thing of all. In the past, running felt good for the first five minutes. Then it just hurt. Now, after about four months of practice, it’s bearable. And afterwards, when the endorphins kick in? It’s all worth it.

As fun as it’s been, I need to be proactive about making sure this hobby sticks. That’s why I signed up for my first 5K: the Atlanta Monster Dash. Yes, I get to don a costume for this race, and that’s the only reason I’m doing it. Well, there is one more reason. The fear of embarrassing myself will get me out the door and running well before the race. At one point in my life, I did a sprint triathlon with the goal of simply finishing. I met my goal, and felt good about it, but there’s room for improvement. Now, I’m ready to be competitive.

In a hilarious twist of events, after signing up for the first run, I signed up for another 5K that would actually take place before it. That event was somewhat painful, but went well overall. Afterwards, I was ready to break another record. Unfortunately, I just learned that the Monster Dash 5K is not a timed event. This works out well for a few reasons. First of all, Xavier is running with me, and the lack of timing will allow us to relax and enjoy the experience. Second, there is trick-or-treating on the race course – this means we can indulge in some candy! And that brings me to my next point.

I’m always going to love decadent food, both preparing it and eating it. (Yes, I’m already excited for Hannukah to make potato latkes, and it’s only October!). But it’s much easier to eat well when you’re in training mode. After a long run, you don’t want to negate your efforts by chowing down a double cheeseburger or half a pizza. So I’ve been making a point to eat lots of entree salads lately. It’s nothing fancy. There’s always some Romaine or green-leaf lettuce in the house, and usually some combination of cucumber, tomato, avocado, carrot, and pepper. I’ll rinse and chop whatever’s around. If there’s protein in the house – chicken tenders, shrimp, whatever – it’ll get a quick saute over high heat, after a dusting of whatever spices I feel like grabbing.

That would be a complete meal in itself, except lately lots of studies have come out saying that salads are actually healthier when you eat them with dressing. I’m no nutritionist, but I can tell you that the nutrients in vegetables are better absorbed into your body when they can bind to fat molecules. In light of this information, you should whip up a quick honey balsamic vinaigrette. Okay, it ups your calorie intake. But it also adds bright, complex flavor to the whole meal. And it makes the salad so tasty that nobody complains about only salad for dinner.

Recipe: Honey-Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp honey
1 tsp shallot or 1 small garlic clove, minced (optional)
1/2 to 1 cup neutral-flavored oil (canola, grapeseed)
A few tablespoons olive oil (or substitute walnut oil, avocado oil, something flavorful)

In a medium bowl, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, Dijon, honey, and shallot or garlic (if using). Alternatively, use a handheld immersion blender on a low setting.

Drizzle in the neutral oil, little by little, whisking or blending throughout. With each addition of oil, whisk until emulsified before adding more. When the texture is just about right, add the olive oil. Finish with a quick blast of the blender or just a little bit more whisking.

Toss with lettuce and veggies, then enjoy.

(Note: when I follow this recipe, it makes enough to dress quite a few salads. You’ll likely have leftovers. They’ll keep well in the fridge for at least a week, encouraging you throughout to make more salad!)

shrimp and grits with smoked sausage recipe

This photo makes me hungry…

Now, y’all know that I live in Atlanta. I’m still a Northerner at heart – you’d be hard-pressed to find a Southerner who loves hockey as much as me. But after more than two years here, I’ve adapted quite well to my new home. Let’s just say I recently attended a country concert in cowboy boots, and it felt completely natural.

One thing that the South is known for is a down-home dish called shrimp and grits. You can find it on the brunch menu of many restaurants down here. I’m not the biggest fan of grits, as a rule, but shrimp are one of my favorite things. And for some reason, when I was out to brunch a few weeks ago, shrimp and grits kept calling to me from the menu. Its voice was louder than that of the crabcake benedict, so I acquiesced. Man, was it good. The shrimp were perfectly tender and flavorful, but the grits almost stole the show. Studded with bacon and cheddar cheese, they were so much more than a foundation for seafood.

When I came across some yummy Georgia shrimp at the butcher shop, the idea to make my own shrimp and grits popped into my head. But instead of bacon, I wanted to use sausage. Some of y’all (yeah, I said y’all! This is a Southern post, after all) know about 37 Cooks, a fun group I was lucky enough to join a few months ago. Well, that group was recently sponsored by Teet’s Food Store down in Louisiana. They sent us a whole bunch of delicious sausage. My family has enjoyed it so much that was a no-brainer to incorporate that. And while many recipes call for cheddar cheese in the grits and green onions on the shrimp, I used Emmenthaler and chives. It worked so well that I just have to recommend that combination.

Grits are incredibly fast and easy to prepare, and so are shrimp. Be sure to cook them quickly over high heat; that’ll keep them tender. This brunch comes together so fast that you’ll want to have the mise en place set up before you even turn on the stove.

Shrimp and Grits with Smoked Sausage
serves two
Ingredients
1/2 cup grits
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup Emmenthaler cheese, shredded
4 ounces smoked pork sausage, sliced into coins (Teet’s is very good)
1/2 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined (about eight big ones)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 small clove of garlic, minced fine
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
Salt to taste
Method
In a small saucepan, prepare 1/2 cup of grits as directed on package.
Meanwhile, in a small saute pan over medium heat, cook sausage slices until crisp and fat has rendered. Remove and reserve, keeping as much fat as possible in the pan. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp. Be careful to cook until just done – a couple of minutes per side until they curl and are opaque. When the shrimp are finished, add all at once the parsley, chives, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to taste. Stir a couple of times to coat the shrimp, then take the pan off the heat.
When the grits are finished, stir in the butter, cheese, and sausage.
Serve by plating the grits and arranging shrimp on top.

Adventure: Running My First 5k

Crossing the finish line of my first 5k

I look like I’m dying as I cross the finish line.

Here I am trying to reformat my blog, to feature more recipes related to my adventures. And since I’ve actually been exercising lately, I wrote a whole post about my plans to run a 5k. The post ended with a lovely recipe for salad dressing: power food at its finest. Since the race was planned for the end of October, I wrote my post and put it on ice. I needed to make salad, photograph it with dressing, and then post that sucker with enough time to motivate me to stick with my workout plan.

Then I kept getting emails at work about a fundraising 5K that the university’s cancer research center was sponsoring. The registration fee was reasonable and included a sweet long-sleeve shirt. The race was two weeks earlier than the one I was already planning to complete, but on a whim, I decided to go for it.

That was how I found myself at the starting corral of a road race for the first time in my life.

I’ve been training for the Monster Dash 5k with the goal of breaking 30 minutes. On the morning of the university event, I was terrified. Although I’ve competed in my share of athletic events, they never depended exclusively on my physical fitness and preparations. (The triathlon didn’t count – I was competing just to finish, not to perform). What if I wasn’t ready for it? I was short two weeks of training, after all. All morning on the way to the race, I debated whether or not to shoot for my goal, or save the effort for the Monster Dash in two weeks.

To make matters more exciting, I had been convinced that the race started at 9:00 am. My amazing cheering section and I arrived at the course at 8:00 or so. We took our time retrieving my bib and exploring the scenery. At one point, we noticed that someone was leading a group stretching session. Then we noticed that everyone was slowly migrating towards the starting line. “Let’s check it out,” we decided, and that’s how two non-racers wound up in the chute. They said farewell and left me there, and as I jogged in place and tried to stretch my calves, I casually asked the girls behind me why we were lined up so early.

“It’s 8:30!” I said. “Are we supposed to just stand here for another half hour?”

They looked at me like I was dumb. “Um, the race is starting now.” Sure enough, I heard a horn, and the crowd slowly began to move through the gate.

It was slow. Packed elbow-to-elbow with my fellow runners, getting through the gate was quite an ordeal. But finally we were through, and I began jogging cautiously. The first mile was a mess: I passed quite a few people, and in turn was passed by some. I tried to ignore that and focus on maintaining a sustainable pace. Fortunately, running slowly has never been a problem for me, and I happily succeeded at my goal.

Things picked up at the mile marker. Since I was listening to music from my iPhone on an armband, and using my Nike Running app to track my progress, I received a welcome interruption in the form of my pacekeeper. (Use that app if you can. It’s amazing). Fortunately, my pace was right on target with a 10-minute mile. I was feeling pretty good, surprisingly. So in that moment I reconsidered my goal of breaking 30 minutes and upped the ante a little bit. The course was starting to clear out, and I enjoyed having a little more space to myself. To make things more exciting, I passed my cheering section around the two-mile point.

Goofy smile for my cheering section

Seeing them made me happy, so I waved and mugged like a champ as I passed. But then things got a little dicey. Suddenly, I discovered, I couldn’t breathe so well. My legs burned and struggled and fought as I tried to make them move. I had reached a stage of utter exhaustion.

So I’m going to estimate that the last six minutes of the run were spent in sheer panic as I wondered whether I could keep going. This part of the course was sort of twisty with lots of turns. I tried to remember where the finish line was, and with every turn I peered ahead anxiously, just hoping to see that gate. Although I really wanted to stop running, I repeated in my head, “Keep going! Keep moving!” And surprisingly, I did. It was really an exercise in mental toughness, just trying to forget the pain and focus on finishing strong. Those of you who have been running for years already know this, I’m sure – but hey, for my first race, it was quite an experience!

In the end, I crossed the finish line with a gun time of 29:56.07. It was awesome, because I saw my cheering section as soon as I was through – such a relief! I could hardly breathe, and I wanted to puke, but I managed to gasp “Guys! I beat my goal!”

And the next day, when results were posted online, I learned that I’d not only beat my goal, but crushed it: my chip time, or total time on the course, was 29:30.23. It wasn’t easy, and it hurt like hell, but it felt surprisingly good at the same time.

Next, I’m competing in the Monster Dash 5k in just a week. I would like to break 29 minutes at this race, so my training plan will include some sprints during my longer runs. We’ll see what happens.

You can kind of see me behind a streamer at the very end

french onion soup for one recipe

A delicious and fulfilling meal for one

For most of my life, I’ve lived with roommates. It started with my parents and brothers and continued through college, where I shared tiny rooms and decrepit houses with other young women. I didn’t mind the shared space. At times, I even enjoyed it. And there were funny memories, of course. One cold morning my junior year roommate arose early for a run. Pre-LASIK and without glasses, I half-woke to chat with her while she got dressed. At lunch that afternoon, she informed me that now she really knew how blind I was without contacts: she had been naked from the waist up throughout our entire conversation. The laughter that followed was worth the awkwardness of sharing your most intimate space with a friend.

After a year in Atlanta – and more roommates – I decided it was time to spread my wings and have my own place. When I moved back to Philly for post-bacc, I was excited to get my own apartment in Center City. It was awesome, as anticipated. I could watch TV in my underwear for hours. I didn’t have to clean up my dishes until I was good and ready to clean them. And I didn’t have to clean them after someone else had used them and left them dirty. There was no noise if I didn’t want noise. And if I decided to eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s for breakfast, nobody judged me. The solitary life was pretty sweet. I wouldn’t have another roommate, I promised myself, until I moved in with the person I planned to be with forever.

Fast-forward a few years, and now I’m living with that person – and, as of last month, his daughter too. I’ve grown used to falling asleep next to a comforting presence, and to pretty much never being alone . Our little duplex is full of life, if you count the three of us and my puppy. I can’t pretend that the sounds of blasting pop music don’t annoy me sometimes, but I’ve gotten used to it.

That’s why the last couple of days were so weird. I had the house to myself while my roommates were on a school trip, and it was eerily quiet and lonely. Even Riley, the pup, seems bummed by their absence. We lay forlornly on the couch together all evening, shifting only to advance through Netflix episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta,” a show that’s shockingly entertaining to watch in marathons when the house is man-free.

There’s another thing I can do when the house is empty, and that’s cook offensive things. One such thing is onions. Now, I love onions and many meals I prepare are completely based on them. Curry? Ecuadorian potato soup with cheese and avocado? Potato latkes? There’s a trend here.

Thyme and bay leaf perfume the broth

While my housemates enjoy the fruits of onion-fueled labor, they hate the process. Every single time those onions hit a hot pan and begin to sizzle, the roommates complain that it makes their eyes burn. Even when they’re in another room, the fumes apparently travel throughout the house and cause eye-scorching. I’ve never noticed this myself, but perhaps I’m immune after years of cooking.

Regardless, when I was left alone with a bit of beef broth, my dinner menu was clear. French onion soup for one: a worthwhile endeavor.

I began with a medium onion, slicing it into thin ribbons.

Onions, whole and sliced

I added those ribbons to a little pat of butter in my brand-new tiny saucepan.

On low heat, they cooked down and finally caramelized. Towards the end, I added a small clove of garlic that I’d minced fine. When the onions were soft and brown, I splashed them with dry white wine. It bubbled away immediately.

Onions, almost cooked down

I added about a cup of beef stock, a little sprig of thyme, and about half of a dried bay leaf. They came to a boil, then I turned the heat down low and let my soup simmer. With a few pinches of salt and a turn of black pepper, I had the perfect amount of soup for a solitary dinner.

Soup, almost ready to serve

Some love to top their French onion soup with croutons and cheese, broiling it until the cheese is crispy and gooey all at once. Personally, I’m not a fan. Even when toasted, croutons absorb lots of broth, turning a lovely bowl of soup into alternating bites of wet bread and onion. I prefer the complete soup experience. For this meal, I topped my bowl with a small handful of Emmenthaler cheese and stuck it under the broiler for a minute. Some of the cheese browned, some sank and melted – it was still tasty.

Soup and Emmenthaler, minus crouton

(I am not a fan of butane torches, since they can impart an odd gas flavor into the food. Yours might not – in that case, use it! If you don’t have a torch or a broiler-safe ramekin, you can still achieve the melted-cheese effect. Place a piece of toast on some aluminum foil. Pile the toast with cheese, and pop it under the broiler until the cheese is browned. Stick that cheesy toast on top of your soup and enjoy).

It is a hearty meal that brings comfort to solitude.

Nothing like a spoonful of French onion soup

(If you’re lucky enough to live with folks who enjoy the scent of cooking onions, feel free to double – or quadruple! – this recipe).

Recipe: French Onion Soup for One

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon butter
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • Splash of dry white wine
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1/2 bay leaf
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Small handful grated cheese (Emmenthaler, Gruyere, provolone, etc)

Method:

Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute, stirring frequently, until soft and brown: 20-40 minutes, according to your taste. When the onions are almost ready, add garlic and continue stirring. Splash with white wine and adjust the heat to medium-high. Allow to come to a boil, and then add beef stock, thyme, and bay leaf. Let boil again, then turn the heat down to a simmer and let the flavors meld for at least 10-20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Top with grated cheese and enjoy!