Summer Salad: Starring Heart of Palm, Artichockes, Tomatoes and Cucumbers

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Lettuce has just not been doing it for me lately. I've been enjoying other greens -- watercress, sprouts, arugula -- and leaving lettuce out of my salads. 

The green in this salad is basil. Lots of it. I've enjoyed using fresh herbs this summer, and this salad is a good example of a lettuce-free, substantial first course.
Summer Salad
There's really not much to do here except chop and toss. Well, wash, chop and toss. I'm listing the ingredients I used, but it's really up to you how much of each ingredient you want. I like lots of cheese and olives, but you might want more tomatoes. So adjust accordingly.

Cherry tomatoes
Heart of Palm
Black olives
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar (this is where you want the good stuff)
Salt and pepper


Tofu and Vegetable Stir Fry

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Now that we're moving out of Monrovia, I'm getting pretty sad to leave behind our little town. It's been so nice to walk everywhere -- library, grocery store, movie theater, the husband's work. We even got two new bars this past year, both one block from our place. And, best of all, there's the Produce Exchange. 

The husband has been involved with this small group of foragers and produce enthusiasts for many months now. The Exchange occurs the first Saturday of the month, and residents are encouraged to bring their homegrown goods and exchange them. But if you don't have a yard, or simply don't grow anything, you can still stop by and take your pick from the offerings. The husband always comes back with several bags of goods -- grapefruits, chard, green beans, lemons...

I am normally still sleeping while all this superb sharing is going on. But, last month, I woke up early enough and walked the three blocks to the corner of Ivy and Palm. The set up is minimal, people are friendly, and the public very suspicious. It was entertaining to watch folks walking or driving by and looking on with doubt and suspicion.

Here's what a typical Q & A went like:

Public: What's is this about? Are you selling these items?
Produce Ex: No, we are the Produce Exchange. What you see here is available for free.
Public: Free?
Produce Ex: Yes. Monrovians bring over their homegrown produce to share.
Public: But, what if I don't have any produce to share?
Produce Ex: That's alright. You are still welcome to participate and may take whatever you like.
Public: (look of surprise) But how do you make money?
Produce Ex: (as patient as ever) This isn't about money. It's about sharing produce and getting to know your neighbors.
Public: (this goes either two ways) Um, no thanks OR Wow, really? That's great.

It was funny.

Point of this long intro? Well, the beautiful green and yellow beans you see below are from the Exchange. I think the carrots might be as well. I used these fresh vegetables for a simple stir fry weeks ago. But am only now getting to writing about it.
Along with the vegetables, I added firm tofu to the mix, lots of garlic, ginger, oyster and soy sauce, and served it all over steamed white rice. A nice, light dinner. And made with (some) free vegetables!


Packing Sandwiches

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I didn't realize how awful moving would be. If I had known, I might of considered staying for another year or so, and enjoying my summer sitting out on the balcony, instead of trying to navigate through rows of boxes.

Over the weekend we packed our art. Our friend, an actual artist, with a degree and all, came over and neatly wrapped everything for us. He separated what he called the "valuable stuff", which included his piece, and the "other stuff". I was allowed to pack the "other stuff".

After an hour of intense art packing, we were ready for lunch. I quickly made turkey, Swiss and avocado sandwiches on rye bread. The were delicious, especially accompanied by Full Sail Pale Ale, chips and tomatoes from the garden. This is pretty much the fanciest meal I've made in the last two weeks.


Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto

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First there were endless turnips, then green and yellow squash, now it's butternut squash. I like butternut squash. I like it baked and grilled. It always reminds me of sweet potatoes. I was pretty sure the husband would not like it, as he hates squash and sweet potatoes, but I was determined to make him eat his own harvest.

It has been too hot to bake and our grill has run out of gas. Since we are in the process of moving, it hasn't made sense to get a new tank. Before packing up my cookbooks, I found two butternut squash recipes in Giada's Kitchen. I got this cookbook at a work holiday gift exchange, and it has served me well.

When I first saw the recipe for butternut squash and vanilla risotto, I thought it sounded too weird. But, then I reread the recipe and decided to give it a try. Good thing I did, this dish was delicious. The husband called it "possibly the best thing you've made... maybe".
At first, adding vanilla bean really scared me. With the butternut squash being already naturally sweet, I wasn't sure how the flavors would work together. But I can tell you now. They worked like magic. The vanilla bean really balanced the squash, and added a nice richness.
I have previously complained on here about making risotto because it takes a long time. The only way I've learned to deal with this is to prepare myself. I add another 20 minutes to what the recipe time says, pour a glass of wine, and turn the TV on. Then I stand, and drink, and look longingly towards the couch.
Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto
Adapted from Giada's Kitchen

4 cups vegetable broth (I used chicken)
1 large vanilla bean
3 cups peeled cubed (1-inch wide) butternut squash, about 12 ounces
2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 tablespoon
3/4 cups finely chopped onion (I used shallots)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or medium-grain white rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (more never hurts)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

1) Begin warming your broth in a medium pot. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and add them, and the bean, to the broth. When the broth comes to a simmer reduce the heat to low.

2) Add the butternut squash to the simmering broth and cook until tender, 5 minutes (I'm not sure what  Giada's did to speed this up, but it took me 15 minutes). Using a slotted spoon remove the butternut squash and set aside. Turn the heat on the broth down to very low and cover to keep warm.

3) Meanwhile, in a dutch oven, or heavy pan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until tender but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes.

4) Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth and stir until almost completely absorbed, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking the rice, adding the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and allowing each addition to of the broth to absorb before adding the next, until the rice is tender but still firm to the bite and the mixture is creamy, about 20 minutes total. Discard the vanilla bean. Turn off the heat.

5) Gently stir in the butternut squash, Parmesan, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and salt. Transfer the risotto to a serving bowl and sprinkle with chives

As always, serve your risotto immediately. It also tasted great the next day, but the texture was off.

So, if you also want your loved ones to think this is probably, maybe the best dish you've ever made, then give it a try. It's really good.


Shanghai-Style Noodles with Shrimp and Vegetables

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I love noodles. The thick, chewy Shanghai noodles are my favorite at Chinese restaurants. I found these fresh noodles in the refrigerated section at a local Asian market. I wasn't convinced I could get the noodles to taste like those at the restaurant, but, I proved myself wrong.
Usually, I have these with pork and spinach. But I had neither at home. Instead I used my handy freezer shrimp, green beans and broccoli.
I sauteed the shrimp first with salt and pepper, and set them aside. At the same time, I cooked the noodles in boiling water for about five minutes, drained them and also set them aside. These fresh noodles cook quickly, so keep your eye on them.
While I had the shrimp and noodles going, I started my stir fry. Lots of garlic and ginger, and oyster sauce. The oyster sauce gives the dish a nice, gravy-like sauce. Its what makes home stir fry taste like restaurant stir fry. I also added soy sauce and hoison sauce. Then went in the vegetables, and some water. After the vegetables were cooked, but still crisp, I added the noddles, shrimp and a little more oyster sauce.

It hard for me to measure when I make stir fry. You kind of have to go with your instincts and add what is missing, making sure the sauce coats all your ingredients.

The husband and I were both surprised at how well this quick dish came together. The noodles were tasty, the vegetables crisp, and the sauce coated everything perfectly. One less reason for ordering take-out.


Grilled Tarragon Fish

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Here's the thing about buying fish at the Asian markets, unless you are a fish expert, it's difficult to be certain what you are getting. And how it will be prepared for you.

Now I'm pretty sure I bought Red Snapper, and I'm even more sure I asked for my fish to be cleaned. But unfortunately, the butcher and I miscommunicated somewhere along the way, and he did not gut my fish or cut the head off, like I had asked. I was not thrilled about spending 15 minutes prepping my fish. However, in the end, it turned out so well that my grumpiness melted.
I wanted to use the remainder of my tarragon, and I was tired of herb salads. But I wasn't sure if tarragon and fish went well together. I googled a few recipes and very loosely based mine on one by Jacques P├ępin.
I roughly chopped my tarragon, garlic and shallots. Then I added lemon zest and juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, and spread my mixture over and inside the fish.
I placed the fish on aluminum foil, made a pouch and grilled it for about 15 minutes. The pouch kept things nice and moist, and made for easy clean up.
I was surprised at how well the flavors came together, and would definitely make this again. It was a little different than the norm, and made for a light and tasty meal.


Rosy Grapefruit Sorbet

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Dear Readers,
You are thinking, another guest blog so soon? Well, yes. The husband has been making sorbets all summer, so it was about time I captured photos and forced him to write something. I've been busy packing. And since the husband's packing skills are. . . umm. . . not as great as his writing skills, I made sure to maximize his talents. It's what a good wife does. This is by far my favorite sorbet he makes. It tastes fancy, but is very simple. It reminds me of cotton dresses, wheat fields, and tire swings.

Sorbets. They’re not ice cream, but when it’s really hot, sorbets are arguably better, easier to make, and if you follow my advice down below, cheaper. Essentially, you take fruit juice, sweeten it, and freeze. That’s it. No vanilla beans, custard, milk and all that stuff. Ice cream is more work, and more work does a disservice to summertime.

I’ve been making a few sorbets lately, but by far the most successful one pairs rosemary with grapefruit. I have informally been calling it Rosemary’s Grapefruit, but the wife doesn’t think it’s clever. Maybe it’s not, but could you do better? She hasn’t yet. Naming aside though, the rosemary acts to chill out the extreme tartness of the grapefruit, and ends up imparting a slightly savory flavor.

I use a pretty simple ratio for this recipe, mostly because I like to keep recipes in my head rather than write them down. But, for you dear readers, here it is in writing.  
Rosemary’s Grapefruit (or Rosy Grapefruit) Sorbet
Makes about 2 pints

2 cups of grapefruit juice (and some pulp if you’d like)
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
2 rosemary sprigs
2 shots of tequila

In a small pot, combine the juice, water, sugar, and rosemary. Bring to a boil, and then simmer on low for 10 minutes. Let steep for an additional 10-20 minutes, toss in some tequila, then chill (the juice, that is). At this point, you can either place the juice in an ice cream maker for about 25 minutes, or put it in the freezer. If you opt for the freezer, just make sure to scrape/mix it every 30 minutes while it’s freezing to incorporate some air.

Congratulations, you’ve made sorbet.

Oh right, and why are my sorbets cheap? I forage for my fruit. The wife calls it stealing, but English is her third language, so what does she know? Foraging ensures the fruit is ripe, and that the juice will be superior to store bought. I make two pints of sorbet for about $0.25. You probably have some neighbors with grapefruits around, maybe even some rosemary too, so don’t be shy.
-The Husband


Rainbow Salad

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I was really serious about not wasting my tarrogon in my last post about herb salads. A few days after the original creation, I made another colorful and refreshing salad.
Pretty simple really. Lots of fresh herbs (and watercress), tomatoes, avocado, radishes, cucumbers and shallots. I made a quick vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar and grape seed oil, and crumbled feta on top.
Here's what I learned from this salad -- sliced shallots make a delicious addition. I usually put shallots in my dressing, but this was even better.

Homeless Housewife

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It finally happened. Our beloved condo has sold, and we have 28 days to clear out. After many months of keeping our place looking like a museum, in just two days it already looks like a messy storage unit. Today, I sadly packed my cook books.

As you can imagine, this moving deal has affecting my blogging. There has been a lack of cooking, snapping photos, and writing in my mind as I eat dinner. Because at this time, my mind is only thinking of packing, and buying a house. I've been so unfocused, I even let the husband make a list of important things to consider (below). Apparently we have different priorities, because buying a house is listed as the last item on his list, with a question mark.
Let me remind you readers of why we decided to move:
  1. The husband wanted a yard to grow our food. (I hope he can grow me some potato chips.)
  2. The husband wanted more light indoors. (Light is overrated.)
  3. The husband wanted to be able to pee in the back yard. (I prefer indoor plumbing.)
Now let me tell you who's not too concerned about packing or moving. The husband. Wish me luck.


Sourdough Blueberry Pancakes

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Dear Readers,
Prepare yourselves. The husband wrote a guest blog. You see, I took these beautiful photos of his pancakes, and I had nothing to say about them. I woke up. I was handed a plate. I marveled. I took photos. I ate. And that was the extent of my involvement. But I couldn't have photos and no text. So with threatening on my part, and a deadline of 11 pm today, the husband came through, with 30 minutes to spare, and joined the internet community. He then spent his 30 extra minutes calling me Doogie Howser.

King Arthur had his search for the holy grail, Odysseus just wanted to go home, and Fox Moulder never stopped looking for the Truth.

But me, I’ve been on the search for the most perfect blueberry pancake in existence. It all started years ago when I was on a camping trip, driving around small cities looking to eat breakfast (we were tired of cereal), when we stopped at a nondescript diner. I had eggs or something boringly decent, but The Wife, she ordered something like Aunt Jenny’s Famous Blueberry Pancakes. And her plate came, and it was beautiful. The pancakes were flaxen-hued, having spent some ideal requisite time cooking in butter, while the blueberries peekabooed out, tantalizing my taste buds as I looked longingly at my wife’s plate. At some point, she realized that the world had stopped for me, that there was just those pancakes and my desire to eat them. So as not to toy with me any further, she let me have a bite, and I’ve been thinking about that bite ever since. That was 10 years ago.

Since then, I tried other restaurants, but they disappointed. I tried to get back to that same diner, but it’s like it vanished from the earth, like it had never existed it all. Or maybe I just forget the directions to the place. Regardless, I was heartbroken, depressed, uncertain how to continue in the breakfast world. I spent a lot of time like this on weekend mornings, until dawn broke one Sunday and I woke up with the realization that I was my best hope at getting back to that perfect bite of a blueberry pancake.

Well dear readers, I’m going to level with you: I have yet to unlock the mystery of Aunt Jenny’s Famous Blueberry Panckes, or whatever they were called. But what follows is the closest I’ve come to it; besides, it’s a good recipe in its own right. So free yourself from the boxed pancake mix and try this recipe on for size. Oh yeah, it uses a sourdough starter, which you can look up on the internet for instruction on how to mix one up. Or you could just wait for my next guest blog for my complete instructions on sourdough starters.
Sourdough Blueberry Pancakes

The key to this recipe is remembering to start it the night before the breakfast will be served, so the sourdough tastes really build.

Night before:
1.5 cups of sourdough starter to a bowl (read nancy silverton or check the internet for how to make one)
1.5 cups of flour (white or wheat, depending on taste)
1.5 cups of whole milk

Breakfast morning:
Before serving, add to the previous night's bowl,
2 egg yolks (keep the egg whites and whisk till foamy, then fold in at the end of mixing the other ingredients)
2-3 tbsp of maple syrup (the real stuff)
2 tsp of baking soda
1tsp of kosher salt
1/4 of melted butter

At this point, taste the batter. It should be sour and rich and semi-smooth. Adjust ingredients according to taste. You could add vanilla extract, sour cream, bourbon, more syrup, etc. Just make sure the batter consistency is good. Be creative, but when you add blueberries (or any other fruit), do so once you ladle the pancake batter out onto a greased pan. Flip, cook, and enjoy.
-The Husband