Pasta with Squash, and Grilled Beets with Goat Cheese

Pin It Every other Sunday, I get most of the day to myself. It's nice. Sometimes I get bored, but mostly I tire myself out either in the kitchen or in front of the TV. Today, I was productive. Not only did I make a fancy dinner, but also chicken enchiladas for a rainy day, if it ever gets cooler than 80 degrees here in Southern California.

This weekend, I also sorted through my cooking magazines, a year's worth, and finally cut out the recipes I would actually make. I have to tell you, there weren't all that many. But this pasta with butternut squash and sage was one of them. This one came from Cook's Illustrated. My mother-in-law gifted this magazine to me last Christmas, and after almost a year, I still can't figure out if I like their recipes. Most of the time they seem so long and too complicated. But I think that's their thing. Trying to prove to us how many tests they've done, and what they've learned, very rarel is it groundbreaking. After reading through some of their recipes, I often think to myself, why would they even test this technique, it doesn't even make sense!

I made a few changes to the recipe. I used more sage and bacon, and skipped on the almonds.

Pasta with Butternut Squash and Sage
5 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
12 large fresh sage leaves, minced
1 medium butternut squash, more or less two pounds, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 tbsp butter
6 scallions, sliced thin
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
1 tsp sugar
2 cups chicken broth
1 lb of penne pasta
3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, and more for serving
salt and pepper
1) Cook bacon in a large skillet, until crisp. At the end, add half of the sage. Move mixture to another plate.
2) To the bacon fat, add squash and let it caramelize, stirring occasionally, a total of 10-15 minutes. Add butter to squash, along with scallions, nutmeg, sugar, salt and pepper, the rest of the sage, and cook for about 3-5 minutes.
3) Add broth and begin to simmer until squash is tender, about 3-5 minutes.
4) Meanwhile cook the pasta, al dente. When the pasta is cooked, transfer it to the skillet with the squash. Add some pasta water if you need to adjust the consistency. Add back bacon and sage mixture, and toss with cheese.

To accompany my pasta, I also grilled beets, and topped them off with goat cheese.
Grilled Beets with Goat Cheese
Makes enough for 4 people, however I just plated a few for myself
5 medium beets (I like to use red and yellow), sliced thin
olive oil
salt and pepper
goat cheese, about 2 oz
1) Wash and peel beets. Slice and brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
2) Grill for about 4 minutes a side.
3) Top with cheese, slices or crumbled.

So the pasta was good. It wasn't great. But it was hearty and tasted like Fall. Thank god there was bacon. I'd make it again, for a squash lover.

The beets were delicious. There's really not much you can do to ruin the beautiful union between beets and goat cheese.

French Toast, for me, not by me

Pin It Earlier in the week, the husband baked two delicious breads. One was gone quickly, the other one, we didn't get through as fast. So on Saturday morning, I woke up to find the husband hard at work on some french toast, using his bread.

The toast was probably the best he's ever made. I think it makes all the difference to use a good, stale bread, thick cut. After teaching him how to cut an apple, which he was completely clueless about, we got to eating.

He verbally told me this recipe earlier, so here it goes.

French Toast, a la husband
6 large slices of bread (can't do Wonder Bread here folks)
1 cup of milk
3 eggs
1 1/2 tbsps of melted butter, and more butter for the skillet
1 tsp of vanilla extract, or other extract if you prefer
1 tsp of salt
1 tbsp of sugar or honey
pinch of nutmeg, optional
pinch of cinnamon, optional
powdered sugar, for fanciness

1) Combine all your ingredients together, except for the bread, of course. Beat.
2) Soak each peace of bread on both sides for about 30 seconds.
3) Heat some butter in the skillet, and cook each bread for about 3-4 minutes a side, until golden.
4) Top with powder sugar and enjoy with maple syrup.

Friday Night Fish Tacos with Guacamole

Pin It I had been in the mood for some fish tacos all week. And I had everything on hand. So I declared Friday fish taco night! Now you might first wonder, what kind of fish do you use? Well, I go all out for Captain Gordon's battered, crispy fillets. Made with? Some kind of white fish!

To me, fish tacos are all about the condiments, so unless I'm feeling super fancy, frozen fish fillets are just as delicious with my red and white sauces.

Red Sauce
For 6 tacos
1 (8oz) can of tomato sauce
1 dried guajillo chili
salt and pepper to taste

Roast chili on the stove top, until blackened. Blend ingredients in a food processor.

White Sauce
For 6 tacos
3 tbsps of sour cream
2 tbsps of mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, minced

Mix ingredients together.

With both of the sauces they are better when chilled for an hour or so. You will also need some finely shredded cabbage, and some lemon to squeeze on top of your tacos.

With the abundance of avocados in all the markets, that day I also made fresh guacamole. I didn't have any tomatoes, and the ones at the market were so pathetic looking, that I skipped on them all together.

Makes a bowl full. (I told you these recipes were rough.)
3 large avocados, cut into chucks and mashed
1/2 an onion, diced into medium chunks
3 garlic cloves
handful of cilantro
juice of about a lime (taste as you go)
lots of salt, a little pepper
1 tomato, diced into medium chucks, not a big deal if you don't have one

You basically combine the ingredients together, taste, adjust the seasoning and enjoy.

Another Belated Brother(in-law) Birthday Dinner

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My brother-in-law also turned 21 this year. But unlike my brother, his taste in food is a little bit more sophisticated. In celebration of his birthday, he asked for my chicken curry. And on the side, I decided to make the thai-style ground pork, which my friend had made for us before, both mentioned in a previous post.

I have to say, the pork was the true star of the dinner. The curry was tasty, but I made the mistake of buying coconut milk from Henry's Market. And as it turnes out, Henry's brand coconut milk is... not good. I mean I'm really to blame here. I should have known better. Henry can make some decent bread and potato chips, but it was asking too much of him to make a good coconut milk. I bet he's never even seen a coconut. Oh well, I've learned my lesson. And here's some advice, buy your coconut milk from the Asian stores. Also, that night, I forgot to add lemongrass. Oops.

Since I've mentioned these recipes before, but never in recipe format. I'm going to break things down today. Both took me about 2 hours to make, with prep and all.

Thai-Style Pork (Paht ka pow moo)
1 1/2 lbs of pork
5 cloves of garlic, minced (we like a lot of garlic, I started off with 3 cloves, but ended up adding more)
2 thai chilies, minced (or 1 serrano)
1 tbsp of grated ginger
1/2 lb of green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 tbsp of oyster sauce
2 tbsp of soy sauce
1 tsp of fish sauce
red pepper flakes
handful of thai or purple basil
salt and pepper to taste (not too much salt, since all the sauces above are salty)
vegetable oil

1) Heat you skillet with some vegetable oil, and add the garlic and ginger for a minute or two.
2) Add the chilies and red pepper flakes, stir to release flavors.
3) Add pork, and cook through. Once meat is no longer pink, add the sauces, and stir to coat.
4) Add the green beans, and cook 3-5 minutes. Taste, and season if necessary.
5) Add basil before serving.

This can end up a little greasy. So if you'd like, you can drain some of the fat.

Chicken Curry
4 large chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch strips
4 small potatoes, peeld and cut in half, microwaved for about 5 minutes
2 cans of coconut milk
2 cans of chicken stock
3 carrots, cut into large chunks
1 (8oz) can of bamboo shoots
1/2 packet of frozen peas
thai or purple basil
1 stalk lemongrass (don't forget it), I grow some, but you can also use the dried stuff
1 aneheim chili or 2 thai chilies, cut into strips, or circles
3-4 tbsps of green or red curry paste
3 tbsps curry powder
1 inch piece of ginger, cut into chunks
vegetable oil

1) Heat your oil in a pan, and cook chilies for a couple of minutes. Then add chicken, and curry paste and cook until chicken is no longer pink.
2) Add potatoes and carrots and cook another couple of minutes before adding ginger, the coconut milk and chicken stock. If you notice there's a lot of liquid, don't use all of your stock. The liquid should barely cover the meat and veggies. Add curry power, lemongrass, and bring to boil.
3) Simmer with lid closed for 20 or so minutes, then remove lid and simmer for another 20 or so, until it thickens.
4) During the last 10 minutes, add bamboo shoots and peas.
5) Add basil before surving. (You can also use cilantro as well, which I've tried and it's pretty good).

Serve with rice. Taste as you go, you can also add more curry paste or powder or even tumeric if the flavor is not rich enough.

The leftovers the next day, with some kim chi, were even better.


Grilled Talapia & Green Beans

Pin It Last night we had a simple, but delicious dinner of grilled talapia, grilled green beans, wild rice and avocado.

So there's something about touching fish that I don't enjoy. I'm fine with red meats, and poultry. But fish feels funny, and alien. I had to clean and decapitate my fish, which was no fun, and then stuff it with goodness. Now typically I would just describe what I did in some detail. But. Apparently, people like recipes. And even though I'm bad at following them, and even worse at remembering ones I created, I'm going to give this recipe thing a shot. Just keep in mind, these are rough recipes.

My husband and I have been reading Julia Child's "My Life in France." Actually, he reads, and I listen. This is the first time we've tried this, but we decided this would be a nice thing to share before dozing off to sleep each night (cute right?). So every night, well almost every night, he reads for about 30 minutes, and I snicker at his French pronunciations. It's a good time.

The point here is that we learned Julia was nuts. She's a very scientific cook. Unlike what I have seen of her on TV, in her earlier days, she's spent days perfecting a recipe, and measuring out her ingredients, and testing her kitchen gadgets like a mad scientist.

I do not measure often. Sometimes. But not often. And I add things last minute, and omit. So bare with me, as I give this recipe deal a go, and feel free to change what you'd like. I won't take it personally.

Grilled Talapia (for 2)
2 fresh and plump talapias, whole
2 lemon slices
2 tablespoons of butter (more of less 2 slices)
2 garlic gloves
a handful of cilantro
salt and pepper to taste
some olive oil

After cleaning my talapias, I placed them on some aluminum foil (sprayed with cooking spray)and stuffed each one with the above ingredients (divide them up). I poured a bit of oil on each one, then folded the the foil to create a steam pocket, and grilled the fish for about 25 minutes.

Grilled Green Beans (for 2)
1/2 lbs of green beans (trimmed)
green onion
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil

My husband called these the best green beans ever. He's even talking about making some for Christmas dinner. They are simple, smoky and special (I managed to use three S words.)

So you gather a bunch of beans, and tie them up with green onion. Drizzle with plenty of olive oil and seasoning, and grill for about 15 minutes, turning them as you see fit.

Now the whole tying with green onion thing is hard. But I saw it on TV, and had to try it. I have failed once, and given up, but this time it worked. And the grilled onion was delicious as well.

The rice really needs no mentioning, it was filler, and I used a Trader Joe's mix. But I liked the taste of fresh avocado with the fish. It was nice and creamy.

Make sure to drink plenty of white wine!


Creepy License Plate

Pin It So today as I was stuck in traffic on the way to work, I happened to pay attention to the small black car in front of me. I first noticed that there was a little stuffed skull and bones toy hanging from the back window. I thought oh cute, decorating the car for Halloween, not my deal, but people really love this holiday in America. Then, I noticed the license plate and was totally creeped out. I wish I was more alert at 8 am in the morning, but I'm not (I should not be able to drive until at least 10:30), so I didn't get a picture. Here's what it said:

Top Frame: Embalmers
Bottom Frame: They make you last longer

Seriously? Do you need to make that kind of statement about your occupation? Do you need to creep out sleepy drivers on the freeway by sharing your passion for pumping dead people with chemicals? Just tell me that you'd rather be hiking or skiing, so I don't have to change 3 lanes in bad traffic to get away from your death car.


Split Pea Goodness

Pin It I am stubborn, and even though it's insanely hot out, I'm pretending Fall has started and continuing to make soups. Now the weather report for this week is again not looking good, with temperatures in the 90s, but I have to make curry for my brother-in-law on Wednesday, so I think it's time for air conditioning again.

Today, I made enough split pea soup to last for a couple of days. I found peas in my pantry, and got going with chopping the vegetables. I looked up a few recipes, all looked so simple, and picked a Julia Child one.

Although I didn't follow the recipe exactly (good thing too, it called for way too much water), I did use the suggested ingredients, just in different quantities. In went onions, garlic, two ham hocks, celery, and a cheese cloth filled with herbs like parsley, thyme, and bay leaves. I didn't have all spice berries, but I added some ground all spice after pureeing.
The soup was surprisingly tasty for being so simple. But after shredding in some ham from the hocks, and topping off my bowl with toasted bread croutons (also know as lazy croutons), it was satisfying and delicious. I ate my soup, and sweated in my hot kitchen, while cursing this beautiful California weather. Where did last week's rain go?

Pasta and Lebanese Style Stuffed Eggplant

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Yesterday, my husband's friend came over to dinner. I wanted to make some pasta, but also try a new recipe. I had spotted a stuffed eggplant recipe on Smitten Kitchen last week, and after getting some free pine nuts from a friend, I decided to go for it.

The recipe is simple enough. It calls for baby eggplants, rice, beef or lamb, pine nuts, allspice, onion, garlic, tomatoes, chicken stock, and parsley and lemon for garnish. I had some extra stuffing left, so I stuffed a bell pepper as well.

Once stuffed, you place your veggies in a simmering skillet with the the tomatoes, stock, onions and garlic, and let things cook for almost an hour, turning carefully a couple of times.

The dish was pretty (see top picture), but I think I used a little too much rice. Here's what I would change. I would try lamb instead of beef next time. I would add some tomato sauce to the meat, not just the sauce. To the sauce, I would add tomato paste. And I would do a mixture of eggplant and zucchini. The three of us finished off the dish without a problem, so I'm still deeming it a success. It can however be more successful.

My pasta on the other hand, could not have been more successful. I've mastered the sauce. And this time, in addition to the Hungarian bacon I now use in all my pasta sauces, I also added some sweet and spicy Italian sausage, along with artichokes, olives, lots of garlic, crushed pepper flakes, and purple basil in the very end.
The sauce simmered for about an hour. I added some dried herbs like rosemary, thyme, and basil and played around with the seasoning. At the end went in the pasta, which cooked with the sauce for another 5 minutes or so.

I'm pretty bad when it comes to remembering to take photos. So I didn't take one of my nice-looking plate, but take my word for it, it was a pretty sight. With some Parmesan on top, the pasta was perfect, and the eggplants really popped with freshly squeezed lemon over the stuffing.


Potato Leek Soup: with food before and after

Pin It I've been meaning to make a potato leek soup all week, so yesterday I went shopping during lunch, bought too much stuff, invited a few friends over and got going right after work.

I first cooked up some bacon, and set it aside.
Leeks are such dirty things, so I had to wash them very well. Then I sauteed the leeks and some garlic in the bacon fat.
Then went in potatoes, a stalk of celery, a bay leaf and seasoning. Pretty simple. Two cans of chicken broth and you let it all cook for 20-30 minutes. After that came out my handy immersion blender. And for a final touch, you add heavy cream, and a bit of butter, and cook for 10 minutes longer

With the meal we had my husband's bread.
Prior to the soup, we had some Russian caviar, smoked salmon, Bulgarian feta, with some bread and butter. Like peasants, but not the very poor peasants.

And for dessert, one of our friends brought over desserts from Susina bakery - a brownie, a blondie and raspberry tarts. Yum.

It was a simple, and homey dinner. One made better with friends who bring over beer and dessert. Ahh, what are friends for?


Asparagus Soup, with Cream

Pin It I like my soups creamy, not too creamy, because I like to taste what I'm eating, but creamy enough so that there's this nice faded look to them.

My asparagus recipe soup is simple, lots of asparagus, chicken broth, fresh thyme, garlic, a bay leaf, salt and pepper. All this is brought to a boil, then simmered for 10 -15 minutes, and pureed.

Then, I add cream, some freshly ground nutmeg, and a little butter, and cook it for an additional 5 minutes. Then I eat it. Usually with bread. Preferably with some delicious home-made bread by my husband.


Wine Tasting in Paso, We Like It

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For many years now, we've been going to Paso Robles for their Harvest Festival to celebrate my friend's birthday. And even though she moved away, that didn't stop us. She flew back for this great occasion, except on the wrong weekend. Although we didn't get to enjoy the Harvest Festival, we did get to enjoy wine tasting, and each other (ahhh).

Our usual trip consists of my husband, my friend and myself. This year there were more of us, and a mini van. This year we also got to try a lot of new wineries and we broke up with old favorite. But that's life.

The highlight of the trip was Cass, recommended to us by our local wine and cheese store. Cass had beautiful gardens, some big boob mannequin in the men's room, which the boys enjoyed, pretty wine pourers, really tasty wines, AND the most important, they let you do the tasting while sitting down outside. We didn't really realize how important this was, until experiencing it.

I hope as our friend ages, like a fine wine, she will continue to fly back here for an annual wine trip. Because we realized that our other friends can't hang after two wineries, and just want to nap on lawns.


The Meal That Started It All: Ca l'Isidre

Pin It The night started off badly. We were caught in a downpour, with no umbrellas, when we got to our hotel room, I felt sick. Sick to my stomach, a bit shaky, a bit dizzy. I had no dry shoes left, so when my husband called to confirm our reservation at Ca l'Isidre, I was secretly hoping we weren't going to be able to get in. But we did. I was told to "pull it together, woman". So, I drank some overpriced club soda from the mini fridge, put on a pretty dress and flip flops, and headed out to dinner.

Ca l'Isidre is known to some as the best restaurant in Barcelona, and for me it was the best meal of our Spain trip. With fancy art work hung on their walls, by famous Spanish artists, the place was ultra-conservative and stuffy. All eyes were on us as we entered, after having struggled with the heavy door. So things started off a bit shaky. But luckily, we ended up with a great waiter, Pep, who took a liking to us, and we to him. After talking to him, we learned Pep had met Mark Bittman and had taken him to the market, and then back to their kitchen, so that Bittman can learn to make the restaurant's famous fish soup and steal it for his book.

Anyway, back to the food. The amazing food. We both started off with a lobster ravioli in a sea urchin sauce, served with a side of a basil sauce. The dish was so delicious and unique, and rich. And it was very pretty, as you can see above.

I then ordered the fillet with a reduced port sauce, with a side of caramelized onions, and an apple, with apple jam inside. It was sweet, and saucy, and rare. It was the best meat I have ever had. And I don't really like onions, but these tasted like apples, they were incredible.

The husband had baby goat with pearl onions, in a heavenly gravy. I ate some of his as well. But we both decided I was the winner with my dish.

We had a bottle of wine, and then port to go with our desserts. Yes, desserts. Because as you have probably guessed by now, there was no moderation in Spain. We pretended every meal was our last, and that euros were play money.

I had a rich and decadent chocolate souffle. My husband had the cheese plate. Are you getting the picture that he really likes cheese?

Then we also had a tray of desserts that were on the house. They were pretty and delicious.

Ca l'Isidre was the first restaurant that gave us a glimpse into the fine cuisine of Spain. And Pep, our server, was so nice and helpful, he wrote down recommendations of other restaraunts to visit based on where we would be traveling. Those too proved to be the most memorable meals of the trip.

So, are you travelling to Barcelona anytime soon? If so, definitely eat here. And make reservations before you leave. Also, pack a pair of heels, 'cause this place is too fancy for flip flops.