Photos of the Week

 

 

My photos this week come from center city Philadelphia. With the bustle of Nutcracker, the holiday season, and lots of lovely visitors I have not had time to venture further than a few blocks for new scenery to photograph. I will be heading home in the New Year and intend to full up all my spare time with picture taking. (I will have a lot of spare time). Until then, enjoy these and  have a Happy New Year!!

 

 

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A Tasty Collision of Christmas and Hanukkah

Yesterday was Christmas but it feels like it was all a dream. For the third year in a row I was unable to spend Christmas with my family. Thankfully though, I had friends in the same situation (because we are all slaves to the Nutcracker) that I spent the holiday with. I also got to play hostess and cook for everyone. That was especially rewarding for two reasons: one, I love to cook and it is hard to cook elaborate multi-course meals for just one person on my busy schedule, and two, being busy in the kitchen helped keep my mind off the fact that I was yet again not with family.

Ironically, I got all my recipes from my new cookbook “The Food Matters” Cookbook by Mark Bittman. I got it as a Hanukkah present just a few nights earlier. Yes, we celebrate both holidays in my household. I am superbly happy with my new cookbook. Mark Bittman is a professional food writer for The New York Times and has a weekly column in the paper titled “The Minimalist”. He also has authored How To Cook Everything and Food Matters. Having read a few of his articles and seen many of his recipes in the Times I have taken an interest in his approach to cooking. Now I can really take the ground running. He emphasizes using fresh  ingredients, mostly vegetables and whole grains with just a hint of animal products here and there. Seeing as this is how I prefer to eat, I won’t be making any drastic changes to my diet. Just welcoming more favorite dishes.

I picked recipes for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. On Christmas Eve it was just me and my roommate Harrison having a cozy night in so I only made one dish, a Mushroom and Pasta Frittata. Along with it we had brie, oven roasted sweet potatoes, and a very tasty pear and cranberry crumble that Harrison made. The frittata was very simple to make. I only used one pan, aside from the pot I used to cook the noodles, and from start to finish it took only about an hour. I was a little interested as to how the addition of the pasta would affect the dish but it turned out rather spectacularly. The pasta and mushrooms were the stars of the dish and the egg was merely there to bind it all together. The sage was an excellent bonus too. It made the dish taste like Christmas!

salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

about 1 1/2 pounds mushrooms, sliced

black pepper

8 oz any long pasta, uncooked, preferably whole wheat (which I happened to have in the cabinet), or 4 oz (2 cups) cooked pasta

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced (I ended up just using half the onion)

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 eggs (I wound up using 4 or 5 because 2 just seemed to disappear and I wanted to be able to taste the egg)

2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried

Start off by boiling a pot of salted water to cook the pasta if it is not cooked already. Put the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and stir. You can cover the pan if you have a lid and turn the heat down to medium-low to let the mushrooms cook and release some liquid. About 5 or 10 minutes. If you don’t have a lid like me it will work just fine (almost exactly the same) to leave it uncovered. Remove the lid if you put one on and let the juices bubble for a few minutes until they boil off. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook it all until the mushrooms are dry, shrunken, and begin to crisp. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the pasta. Beat the eggs with the sage and pour it over the mixture. Let it sit undisturbed for about 10 minutes until the eggs are just barely set. If you are using a pan that is oven safe you can slide it in to a 350 degree oven for a few minutes. I just left mine on the stove. It can be served hot or at room temperature.

Christmas morning I indulged on some scones that Harrison baked then slobbed around for the afternoon until it was time to start making dinner. On the menu: Mini Potato-Parmesan Rostis and Sesame-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Chicken. Boy do I love me some Brussels sprouts! The Rostis, as Harrison pointed out, were a nice little homage to Hanukkah because they were very similar to latkes, these were baked though instead of fried. They would be equally appropriate as an appetizer or as a side dish depending on their size. The cookbook doesn’t recommend this but coming from years of latke eating experience they would taste great with a little sour cream or applesauce if you want to pump up their flavor a little bit. They weren’t bland on their own but help could also be appreciated.

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan or muffin tin

1 1/2 lbs waxy potatoes (like new or red potatoes), peeled if you desire, I left mine unpeeled for added texture

1 onion (I used half red and half white because they were already hanging out that way in my fridge)

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary or thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon whole wheat flour (I just used all-purpose flour because I didn’t have whole wheat)

salt and black pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 12-cup nonstick muffin tin or a large baking sheet with some oil. Grate the potatoes and onion then squeeze them dry with paper towels. Put them in a large bowl and add the herb, Parmesan, and 1/4 cup of oil. Sprinkle in salt and pepper and mix until well combined. Evenly distribute the mixture into the muffin cups then press down firmly. If you are using a baking sheet, press the mixture into 12 evenly sized mounds. Bake for about 30 minutes until they are crisp and golden. Let sit for about 10 minutes before removing them from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.

I got those in the oven and out of the way before starting on the Brussels sprouts and chicken dish. In my preparatory shopping trip I overlooked the sesame oil and didn’t realize until everything was closed for the holidays so sadly that didn’t make its way into my dish. It was still successful with vegetable oil instead but the sesame oil certainly would’ve helped enhance the sesame flavor and made the dish richer. Regardless, it was quite delicious. I served it with a little bit of soy sauce and some lemon wedges. You can also cook up some rice or soba noodles to serve under it but we had the potato rostis (and an overwhelming number of scrumptious desserts) so I decided it wasn’t necessary. This dish is also assemble in its entirety with the use of just one pan. Gosh I love that. It makes clean-up a breeze.

3 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

8 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into small chunks

2 tablespoons minced ginger

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 pound Brussels sprouts (I added a few extra sprouts because I just love them so much)

1/2 cup stock, white wine, or water, or more as needed

salt and black pepper

soy sauce, for serving

lemon wedges, for serving

Begin by toasting the sesame seeds in a large, deep skillet over medium-low heat, shaking the pan often until they begin to brown but don’t burn. It should take 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the seeds from the skillet and set aside. Add the vegetable oil to the skillet and turn up the heat to medium-high. When it’s hot add the chicken and cook until it browns a bit on the outside, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the ginger and cook just a minute or so until it becomes soft and fragrant. Remove the chicken and ginger from the pan and set aside. Without wiping the pan, add the sesame oil, Brussels sprouts, 1/2 cup stock, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles gently. Let it cook until the sprouts and just tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Check it every so often and add more liquid if needed. Uncover and return the chicken and ginger to the pan. Raise the heat so the liquid bubbles off and the chicken and sprouts become glazed and eventually browned. Try not to stir too often and just let it sit there happily and get all brown and delicious. Once it’s gorgeous, give it a quick stir and add the sesame seeds that you toasted earlier. Serve hot or at room temperature with the soy sauce and lemon wedges.

The evening was a huge success. My food was enjoyed, Harrison made a delicious apple tart, and we had 2 guests who brought cookies, cheese, and wine. Boy did we dine. I feel like this is just the mild start to my future of hosting dinner parties.

 

 

This Mac and Cheese Is All Grown Up

It is the middle of December, Hanukkah begins tonight at sundown, Christmas is in 5 days, I am deeply consumed by Nutcracker performances, and it still hasn’t snowed. What’s with that? Regardless, this is quite a magical time of year. Families are getting together, hot chocolate is in abundance, blankets litter the couch, and I find myself desiring anything warm and comforting. Yesterday’s desire was macaroni and cheese. Completely from scratch of course.

A few weeks ago on an afternoon break I sat down in front of the TV to watch the Food Network. (One of my favorite stations). Ina Garten, better known as the “Barefoot Contessa”, was making the most delicious looking macaroni and cheese. An avid fan of cheese, I was immediately awe-struck and fell in love with the idea of making (and consuming) it myself. It took me a few weeks to find the time and muster up the energy but yesterday I finally made the commitment. We have friends visiting and I was feeling hostess-like so I seized the moment and made macaroni and cheese for everyone. The recipe that Ina Garten has posted on the Food Network website serves only two people so I roughly increased all the measurements, trying to keep them proportionate. Here is the link to the recipe on Food Network and also what I did.

Grown Up Mac and Cheese

1 lb. thick-cut bacon

kosher salt

2 bags ziti

3 cups non-fat milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons flour

about 5 oz. Gruyère cheese, grated

about 7 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, grated

about 7 oz. crumbled blue cheese

1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs

To begin, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the bacon on a cooking sheet that has sides because it will come out swimming in hot grease. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bacon is beautifully brown. Set aside. Once it has cooled you can break it apart into bite sized pieces.

Put a pot with water and a bit of salt on the stove to start boiling. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. As that is going, Pull out two more pots. Hopefully you are well stocked in the pot department. In a smaller one, heat up the milk without letting it boil. In a larger pot, melt the butter. Once the butter is melted add the flour and whisk for about 2 minutes. lowly add the hot milk and stir for another 2 minutes as it begins to thicken. Turn off the heat and add in the cheese, bacon pieces, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir. If you succeed at multi-tasking (for me everything finished at the perfect times) all components should be ready to be combined at this point. Mix the pasta and the sauce together and pour it all into the baking dish of your choice. Sprinkle the parmesan and bread crumbs on top and slide it in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and the sauce is nice and bubbly.

Consume and be amazed. It was just as delicious as I was hoping and I am very proud that my first homemade macaroni and cheese was a success. The crowd went wild.

 

 

 

Photos of the Week

This week I am sharing more pictures that I took in Ottawa. I am in the full swing of the Nutcracker here in Philadelphia (I have 6 shows coming up this weekend, three on Saturday alone) and I haven’t gotten a chance to take more pictures. It is on the top of my to do list though. I am hoping to find a location outside of downtown in which I can wander around for hours and still be finding new, interesting things to photograph. Those are some big shoes to fill but I’m hoping it will be possible. Until then, here is another taste of Canada.

Photos of the Week

The photos this week were all taken while I was in Ottawa. I came back with over 200 pictures to go through from that short little trip. Yikes! I am still getting overwhelmed by going through and editing them. I have passed over and rejected many already too, I had several duplicates and some pictures just didn’t look that good on a larger screen. Here are some of my favorites (of the ones that I have gotten to already). Enjoy!

Between the shows

Somehow during my marathon of a weekend performing in Ottawa I found time to do a little exploring of the city. My schedule was quite packed.  So much of my day was taken up at the theatre. We arrived Wednesday night, Thursday night we had our first performance after having rehearsals all afternoon. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we had two shows each day. If I didn’t have the desire to explore Ottawa it would have been all too easy to spend all day at the theatre and all night at the hotel. But then I likely would’ve lost my mind much sooner in the weekend. Ottawa had some very interesting and unique places that I am very glad I took the time to experience.

Friday afternoon was the longest break we had all weekend. Our first show was a school matinée performance. It began at 11:30 which means we were done by 1:30 and ready to explore. From the National Arts Center where we were performing we took a quick two block walk to the grounds of Parliament. We spent a long time standing outside taking pictures before we realized we could actually walk inside the gate and inside one of the buildings. The buildings were so grand and important looking (how fitting) and laid out on the perimeter of a lovely courtyard. The tallest building, with the clock tower, that faces the street was open for visitors to enter. Of course security was secure and we were only allowed to see very select areas of the building but the interior was just as magnificent as the exterior.

Our next stop was some food. For the last day or so I had been hearing other dancers raving about a little cafe called Scone Witch. What makes this wondrous establishment unique is not just their delicious scones but that the diner may choose to turn his or her scone into a sandwich. There is a small (yet perfect) number of choices to decide among for the scone flavor and also what the innards of the sandwich will be. I chose to get tuna fish salad with tomato, lettuce, and black olive paste on a feta and chive scone and added a bowl of chickpea and rosemary soup on the side. Boy was it delicious! I am always a big sucker for baked goods and turning it into a sandwich just makes it irresistible. The scone was perfect and fluffy from the feta. The salty wonder of the black olive paste was a nice touch to balance out the creamy tuna. The soup had a magnificent rosemary flavor. It was too good to handle and well worth the near 15 minute walk it takes to get there. While I was there I also got a sweet scone (lemon poppy-seed) and cream. How could I not? That was also so delicious I got a few more to take with me that I somehow made last to the end of the weekend.

My next Canadian culinary adventure took place on what I believe was Saturday night. (If I am remembering correctly). This time we waited until after the performance to indulge ourselves in the greasy goodness otherwise known as poutine. Poutine is a Canadian specialty. The traditional serving consists of french fries covered in cheese curds and gravy. It would have been just as satisfying to go with the original but when presented with many more interesting flavor combinations at the Somke’s Poutinerie I had to go with something wild. The final choice was the Nacho Grande. Loaded on the my french fries was cheese (of course), chili, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers. Ay carumba! Thank goodness I was sharing because if I ate the whole serving by myself I likely would have had some serious issues. Never before have I enjoyed soggy fries as much as I did while I was eating that dish. With each forkful I aimed to get fries and all of the toppings at once for the full flavor experience. It disappeared rather quickly and left me full and incredibly satisfied. Good thing we waited until after the show was over to be so gluttonous.

I have just one last addition to my food adventures in Ottawa and that is the By Ward Market. This half indoor, half outdoor market place was a mere 3 minute walk from our hotel and was the source of my coffee and breakfast every morning as well as being a interesting place to wander around and observe. There were many specialty stores lining the perimeter and clustered in the middle was a strip of small bakeries, cafés, and restaurants ranging in cuisine from Greek to Indian. If I had had more time in Ottawa (and a fully equipped kitchen) I would have happily gotten all my food from the stores at this market.

Look! I had my own corner backstage!

Half Hour Call

This weekend I am on tour in Ottawa, Canada performing George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker with the Pennsylvania Ballet. How awesome is that? We arrived around 8 on Tuesday night after an excruciatingly long 10-hour bus ride that was not without a few frightening moments. The first happened just one hour into our journey. The built-in DVD player on the bus stopped working halfway through our first movie. Fabulous. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to occupy myself for 10 hours without a movie or two. I don’t think I was alone either, no one was pleased that it broke. After two hours of driving, per union rules, it was time for our first 20 minute rest to get off the bus for a snack, bathroom, smoking break, or other desired activity. Wonderfully, by some stroke of magic, the DVD player was fixed and in full working condition as we all piled back on to the bus. We were saved from a slow boredom-ridden demise. We got back on the road and things started running smoothly again. We stopped again, this time we had an hour for lunch so I made sure to get in a good 20 minutes or so of power walking around the mall where we stopped. Back on the bus again. The sun went down. We crossed the border. Everyone was allowed to enter Canada. We stopped again. But wait, we weren’t at a rest stop, we were on the side of the road. The lights turned off. The bus stopped running. Everyone searched for answers with panicked looks. It was pitch black outside and we were stopped on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. (Yes this sounds like a scene from a horror movie but this truly happened). I was expecting us to be there for a while. Maybe we ran out of gas? The lights came on and off a few more times until finally the bus engine started purring again. As we pulled back on to the road a voice from the front of the bus called back informing everyone to unplug everything from the outlets on the bus. Apparently all the electronics was too much for the bus to handle. Interesting. Two movies and one more (actual) rest stop later and we finally made it to our hotel. The bus was unloaded and room keys were passed out. Almost all the dancers have rooms on the same floor of the hotel. Once we all got settled my roommate and I roamed the halls and gathered a group together to go out and explore Ottawa. We didn’t wander very far because it was dark and rainy but we went far enough to get Canadian dollars from an ATM and have dinner. The travel day was done and now the fun begins.

The next day we had leisurely morning, class at the theatre wasn’t until noon. We took class on stage and started right away into a full day of rehearsals. The first few hours were devoted to Act 2. Being mostly dancing and few logistics there was not much stopping. We were given a short break for dinner before starting the rehearsal of Act 1. Having many more features such as children, growing trees and a battle, the first act rehearsal had much more stopping and starting, but that was expected.

I love being in the theatre. It is such an exciting place to be and it means that I am (or going to be) performing. Performing is my favorite part of being a ballet dancer. It brings me such a feeling of elation that words just cannot describe. It is my happy place. When I am on stage nothing else matters but me and what I can give to the audience. The Nutcracker is a particularly special performance because this production is more often than not the first ballet many young children attend. I hear stories all the time of professional dancers who realized they want to pursue a career in ballet after seeing their first ballet: The Nutcracker. I want to be the reason that a little child in that audience turns to his or her parents to beg for ballet classes.

Tonight is opening night! We are in Ottawa from December 1st to the 4th then return to Philadelphia for a full run of performances starting on the 10th and running through the 31st. If you are interested in going to a show check out Pennsylvania Ballet and support the arts!