Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Lunch Touchdown with Till!

We are halfway through the week and Lil Till (Laura) and I enjoyed a delicious lunch at Wolfgang Puck Carolina Bistro. We ordered matching "sandwich duos" off of their lunch special menu which consisted of half of a basil chicken salad sandwich and a chopped vegetable salad topped with a flavorful citrus vinegarette. Our mouths were watering at the thought of our tasty meals being made to order, but nothing could have prepared us for the story that we were going to be able to come back and tell the office.

As we placed lemons in our diet coke, I looked over my shoulder only to see a familiar Charlotte sports figure sitting with a friend at the table next to us- Carolina Panther's wide receiver Steve Smith! Now if that wasn't a pleasant surprise. Till and I quietly maintained our professional, yet sunshiney composure as we decompressed from a hectic morning and fueled up for the rest of the workday. Had he not been deep in conversation with a friend, we probably would have fired up a quaint little conversation but alas, we just smiled knowingly at each other because of a local celebrity sighting (as we texted and tweeted like the giggly teenyboppers that we are at heart). I must say, at 5'9'', Smith was quiet and unassuming and a "compact class act". We always enjoy our 2 minutes of the day checking out the Star Tracks on, what a treat to be enjoying good food and delightful conversation and have a star track moment of our own. Another story to add to the adventures of NiNi & Till!

Celebrity sightings aside, Wolfgang Puck's Carolina Bistro is a great lunch spot and the lunch duos are an excellent value. Fresh and made to order, it never disappoints a foodie like myself. Another thing I love about this place? The motto; Live, Love, Eat!


Monday, July 27, 2009

A Nido Famiglia Favorite!

I just LOVE the fresh fruits and vegetables that overflow the kitchen in the summer. Cooking options are multiplied when you have items that are ripe off of the vine and direct from the garden. Very similar to the lovely recipe that my cousin Meg sent to me thatw as featured in the July 17 post, my family enjoyed our favorite summer pasta dish last night in celebration of Andi's 22nd birthday. This pasta might be the easiest recipe yet but is one of my personal favorites. We eat it as much as possible during the summer when the tomatoes are juicy and ripe and we can pick basil fresh from the garden!

1 lb. thick pasta (we love Colavita brand)

Several ripe tomatoes, diced

Fresh basil

Garlic (the more the better for the Nidos but this can be altered to your taste)
Salt & ground black pepper

Olive oil

Romano cheese to sprinkle on top

Mince garlic and place in pan with olive oil. Sautee until the oil starts to simmer and the garlic is cooked. Set aside. Dice tomatoes and cut up basil to mix in. Mix olive oil and garlic with the tomatoes and basil. Let this mixture marinate for a bit and leave at room temperature. Once pasta is cooked, toss with the marinated tomatoes and basil. Grate fresh romano on top.

From the Nido garden to yours...Ciao!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I Pamper My Eggs

Nutritionally speaking, eggs are quite possibly the world's perfect and most well proportioned food. One large egg contains approximately 77 calories, 5 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and a plethora of the ideal vitamins and minerals that your body needs to incorporate in a day's diet. Ever since I was little, I have kind of steered clear of eggs as the consistency always got to me and left an unpleasant feeling in my mouth. Understanding the value of eggs in a healthy diet however, I have maneuvered some exciting ways to cook some eggs up and enjoy them in the morning. I have to give credit to my favorite breakfast nook in Charlotte, Le Peep, for teaching me the term "pampered eggs". If you are challenged in the omelette making department like me, I suggest pampering your eggs, otherwise known as an egg scramble. This morning, I cut up some grape tomatoes, vidalia onion and sauteed them up with a tablespoon of olive oil. I added in a pinch of salt, fresh ground lemon pepper and oregano. After it all created a mouth watering smell in my kitchen, I beat up two eggs in a bowl and poured it over the sauteed veggies. Right before the eggs are completely cooked, I sprinkled a little smidge of cheese and enjoyed it with my cinnamon swirl coffee.

NOTE: the perfect omelette can be found in the Nido kitchen "homebase" where my dad, the omelette king, resides. He has his down to an art and even has the fancy pan to go along with it.

It's going to be a great weekend (it already started off perfectly last night with a dinner date at none other than the incredible Ilios Noche!) The magical weekend continues as we celebrate the 1st anniversary of Andi turning 21 on Sunday!

Happy Saturday! Ciao!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Grazie Mille!

Happy Friday! Just a quick side note to give all of my wonderful readers the opportunity to take note of my new blog header! Miss Laura Tillistrand (who I like to consider my "Blog Manager", as she has been the mastermind behind a lot of the Peace & Love in the creation of this site) got rather creative yesterday and surprised me with this fabulous new design. She is a gem and I love her to pieces (I love her SO MUCH in fact, that I ran around the gorgeous city of Chicago with her in December, in high heels and negative below freezing temperatures, to find "the bean" in Millennium seen in the picture below). I am trying to force her, politely of course, (only the best etiquette) to start a dazzling little blog of her own... Thanks Lil Till!! You are the best!

Delightfully Crisp!

I have never been a huge pop drinker, however, over the past few years, I have developed a special affinity for Diet Coke. I might even admit that I have become what I would consider a Diet Coke snob. Not so much snobby in a disrespectful and not so classy manner, but if I am going to indulge a little and stray from the healthier beverages of my choice, I want my Diet Coke to be of the highest and most refreshing quality possible.

Since D.C. is such a rare sip for me, I prefer to enjoy it either chilled in a can or if the stars are aligned and all is perfect in the world, from a good old fashioned soda pop fountain. I would proudly like to share with you all (most specifically those of you in Charlotte), that I have found Charlotte's Diet Coke Utopia, and its right around the corner! Subway located on Elm off of Ballantyne Commons Parkway provides what I would consider the most exceptional fountain D.C. I have ever tasted. The ratio of carbonation to syrup is 100% perfection providing the perfect crisp taste that serves as a nice beverage to accompany lunch or just to enjoy solely on its own as an afternoon pick me up. On my last trip there with Sara, I didn't even order a sub but went strictly for the D.C. I then proceeded to tell the nice young man working that their D.C. is perfection in a cup and literally flawless. He chuckled at me, which was no surprise.

All of you Diet Coke lovers just trust me and treat yourselves.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sometimes the risotto just needs to be by itself...

The art of making risotto is something that I strive to perfect as I expand my culinary horizons and delve into new tasty territories. Risotto is a traditional Italian rice dish and is so versatile that the possibilities are endless. One of my most favorite kitchen quotes ever comes from one of the most respected chefs (and person) in my incredible dad, Mike Nido! He says that you can't just make risotto, but that you must "love it into existence". He also often quotes from the food lovers movie, The Big Night, that describes a love for risotto so great that claims "sometimes the risotto just needs to be by itself.

The slow cooking process allows for the starches in the arborio rice to be released to ultimately give you the texture and taste that makes risotto so uniquely delicious. It has to be constantly stirred and taken care of like a baby to acquire, at the end, the perfect creamy consistency that tastes of nothing but the love you have put into it!

Risotto can be made as a side dish or like Ashley and I created last night in our Ballantyne kitchen, it can be a meal in itself. We used one of Emeril Lagasse's recipes and tried our second risotto concoction and it was truly a luscious dinner that was so good we could barely speak while eating it! This recipe was extremely easy to follow and took a total of 45 minutes from start to finish. Making the risotto was really like taking care of a baby but I truly savor my time in the kitchen so time is never an issue for me when it comes to good food. The end result is well worth the treat to your tastebuds!

Risotto con Peperone
Recipe from Emeril Lagasse; Emeril Live 2004

6 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 1/2 medium yellow bell peppers, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely chopped yellow onions
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions, green tops only
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked white pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 ounces prosciutto, finely chopped


In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook, stirring frequently, until cooked through but still slightly crunchy, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and the 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until opaque, 2 minutes. Add the wine and cook, stirring until the rice nearly completely absorbs all the liquid, about 1 minute.

Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the thyme. Add 1 cup of the hot stock, and cook, stirring constantly. Cook the risotto, adding more stock 1/2 cup at a time as it is absorbed, about 20 minutes total cooking time. Stir in the green onions and cooked bell peppers after 15 minutes cooking time. Season the risotto with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper. The rice should be slightly al dente.

Remove from the heat. Discard the thyme sprigs. Add the cheese and prosciutto, and stir well to mix. Adjust the seasoning, to taste, with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Raindrops on Roses

It has always been funny to me to sit back and watch as God places special individuals in my life at what always seems to be the most appropriate of times. I truly believe that each person that walks into my life is there for a purpose and will somehow impact my journey and will lift me higher and make me a stronger person than I was before I met them. Additionally, it is my sincere hope t hat I can do the same for those around me. I know that this post is veering away from food a bit but I promise, there are some tasty elements to be included for your enjoymentOn Thursday night, some of my favorite girls (Laura, Mary Katherine & Kealy) and I hosted a girls night sleepover for Sara to celebrate her last single days before she becomes Mrs. Chidester! (side note: for some reason, sleepovers will forever remind me of The Sound of Music when Maria and the children sing "My Favorite Things" as they sing and dance on the bed together in their pajamas while it thunderstorms outside) We had a mini Mexican fiesta and set up a huge taco spread including all the elements to make a perfect chicken taco. Laura made cupcakes so my "no dessert week challenge" went to shambles and I enjoyed not one, but two! Wine spritzers were enjoyed by all (as we talked in the third person and played truth or dare!)

Who said sleepovers were just for 12 year olds? I love these girls more than anything and I am so blessed to have them in my life. Others may think we are crazy but to us, it all makes perfect sense. I don't know what I would do without all of you beautiful ladies in my life. Here's to tea time, sugar plums, pinging, pretzels and hummus, clacking, snuggling, liking and loving, singing (and dancing) in our cubes, talking in the third person, 1:00pm after lunch dark chocolate, never have I ever-ing, and celebrating the most gorgeous bride to be! Can't wait until August 29th!


Friday, July 17, 2009

Back to Basics

My lovely cousin Meg just sent me the cutest email. This recipe that she sent is an old favorite and in honor of the delightful mood that encompasses my soul on Fridays, I thought I would share. Might I also note that this recipe calls for the most perfect food trio that my taste buds have ever met; tomatoes, basil and mozzarella. Heaven in my mouth. This recipe is not brain surgery or a complicated kitchen science experiment. Sometimes you just have to go back to basics where the simplest of flavors always do the trick. I think I might kick it up a notch and whip it up this weekend...

I wanted to share a simple yet delicious pasta recipe with you. I made it last night and it reminded me of why summer is my favorite season- freshest fruits and vegetables ever!

½ pint of cherry tomatoes
Small round of fresh mozzarella cut into chunks
½ lb of pasta
2 cloves of garlic sliced thin, a pinch of red pepper flakes.
Fresh basil leaves

Heat water, salt and add pasta – cook to al dente
Reserve ½ cup of pasta water
Heat a table spoon of good olive oil
Add garlic, pepper flakes- sauté for a minute.
Add cherry tomatoes
Season with salt and pepper
Cover and let it cook for 2-3 min on medium heat
Smash the tomatoes lightly when they soften – add reserve pasta water for a saucy consistency
Cook for 3-4 min.
Add pasta, mix well.
Top with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves….

Thanks, Meg!!!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Feeling a little fruity

While browsing through the August issue of Cosmopolitan, I came across some highly benefical information that I must share immediately! Fruit is a daily staple in the Nina diet but how did I not know all of these additional helth benefits of my favorite fresh friends? This news has not only made my day but given me more reason to stock up on all things fresh and wonderful while making my weekly trip to the grocery store, especially during the summer when everything is nice and juicy!

  • You probably already know that strawberries contain a plethora of Vitamin C but did you know that these red beauties also contribute to firmer skin? The Vitamin C helps produce the natural collagen found in one's skin. (Strawberries-my most favorite of all fruits, are a wonderful mid-morning snack but I also love them in my morning protein shakes that I have been enjoying for breakfast!)

  • Not only are blueberries a premium source of antioxidants but they also help create a glowing summer complexion. They are loaded with Vitamin E and help mousturize your face! (I love these berries atop a perfect cup of Greek yogurt and a friendly drizzle of honey)

  • Feeling peachy? Peaches pack in lots of Vitamin A and help in cell production while also helping to reduce that extra damage your skin is getting in the sun during the summer months. (For a homemade beauty potion, try this recipe, also from Cosmopolitan's August 2009 issue: Puree 2 pitted peaches and mix with one tablespoon of olive oil and add in brown sugar, Stir up all ingredients in a bowl and create a paste like concoction to make a fresh facial scrub)

  • This might be the most interesting tidbit I discovered in my reading; rub a fresh tomatoe all over your face to reduce redness and scare away breakouts! Also loaded with Vitamin C and lycopene, tomatoes should make their way into your diet as well. (for one of my most favorite of all food marriages ever created, slice fresh tomatoes and alternate with slices of fresh mozzarella. Top with basil leaves (preferably from a garden). Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and ground pepper to taste. Pure flavors of Italy right here. It doesn't get much better than this)

Monday, July 13, 2009

I could give up chocolate, but I'm not a quitter!

I am a self proclaimed choc-o-holic. I could eat chocolate in mass quantities, all day, every day, with every meal but alas, this does not belong in the "healthy Nina lifestyle" that I have worked so hard to tweak and maintain. Nothing makes my tastebuds happier than a good piece of chocolate so why would I deprive myself of this luscious treat that I fall more in love with every day?

Over the past few years as I have refined my palate and learved to savor the flavors, I have discovered that a small piece of chocolate each day can go a long way. My daily chocolate fix is taken care of at approximately 1:00pm every day after the girls and I enjoy our lunches. I come back to my desk, make a cup of tea and have a small piece of chocolate to get me through the last half of a hectic workday. Every few weeks I pick up a new kind of chocolate to keep this time of my day interesting and eventful. I have tried everything from chocolate spiced with chili pepper, to 80% intense cacao chocolate to the simple bags of individually wrapped Dove Promises with a small inspirational quote found on the inside wrapper (often times mine read "Go ahead, have another", which in this case, I consider it permission for me to forget my health obsessed ways and I will then have a second!) If you are ever looking for chocolate with notes of fruit and hints of espresso, Dean & Deluca has a delightful assortment of chocolates from South America and Africa that are sure to make your tastebuds tingle. Dark chocolate is actually considered a "super food" and contains antioxidants and agents that keep your cardiovascular system in check and your blood pressure at a low level. If that isn't a reason to indulge I don't know what else is!

My most recent chocolate find is an enchanting Intense Dark bar from Ghiradelli called Evening Dream; "The luxuriously deep and velvety 60% cacao dark chocolate in Ghiradelli Evening Dream is infused with a hint of Madagascan vanilla delivering the perfect chocolate intensity. Experience a moment of timeless pleasure as the intense chocolate lingers and time stands still".

Who comes up with this stuff and what kind of education background do you have to have to be a writer on chocolate!? I would love to know who writes these little descriptions that personify chocolate in a way that makes you feel like it will change your world and solve all impending problems in life. I do know that these biographies on chocolate are written for the chocolate lovers like myself who just can't seem to get enough. And just when you thought that was wonderful, below is a description of the tasting notes:

"Impeccably matched 60% cacao, smooth dark chocolate is blended with prized Madagascan vanilla, specifically sourced to complement the distinctive chocolate. The light, floral notes of the vanuilla enhance the vibrancy of the creamy dark chocolate, mellowing the flavors and creating exquisite harmony"

One little piece might not cut it today.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pasta Makes My Stomach Smile

Biongiorno Amicis! Oh how I have missed my blog. It seems that time has gotten away from me and I have not had time to give my little blog any attention. I guess it has reminded me that I really am an adult with an adult job in the real adult world. Reality hurts sometimes...and leaves little time for playtime and blogging! Alas, I am back!

On Wednesday night, Ashley came up with a delightful dinner idea that came out to be quite possibly one of the best pasta dishes that we have ever concocted. As I strive for the ever so healthy diet, I could never be one to completely cut out all carbs out of my life as I feel that would make me a very sad girl, not to mention that a proper Italian should never be deprived of pasta! Every couple of weeks I need my fix and this dish was perfect. A light summer pasta toss with an abundance of flavor that cooked up in no time. Here is what you need:

Grilled marinated chicken breast

Vine ripened tomatoes, cut in medium size chunks

Fresh garlic, minced

Fresh Basil

Artichoke hearts, quartered

Crumbled Feta Cheese

Olive Oil

Whole grain penne

The chicken breast can be marinated in the marinade of your choice and grilled, then cut up and set aside. Make sure you begin boiling your water for your pasta when you start cooking so that you can toss it in when your sauteed goodness is ready for action!

Start with the most basic way in which many great meals are born; sautee olive oil and garlice until the garlic begins to simmer and cook. Add in tomatoes and artichokes and let simmer for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add in chicken when all of the ingredients in the pan seem to be happy and well seasoned. When pasta is done cooking, drain and pour in the pan where the chicken and its sidekicks have been getting ready. Right before you start to toss it all together, sprinkle the feta on top and toss away!

This is guaranteed to make your stomach happy.

Peace Love & Pasta.