Tuna Salad Wraps with Red Slaw

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I can't say I am sold on tuna salad. Not yet. But obviously, I am trying. This time, I decided to give the wrap a chance. I am a sucker for wraps. Put it in a tortilla, especially a spinach one, and I'll gladly eat it. So here I used some wheat Trader Joe's tortillas. This definitely made the tuna salad better. For me.

I started by combining the basic ingredients -- tuna, mayo, sour cream, mustard, celery, black olives. Then, I did a taste test. Something was missing. Green onions? Sure. I added some of those. But something else was needed. Last time I had used pickled onions, and they were delicious. This time, I had no pickled onions, so I opened my fridge and went on a hunt. I contemplated using my pickled cucumbers, but decided against it when I found pickled ginger. We bought a jar at a Japanese store a while back to add to our noodle soups, and forgot all about it. Once I popped open the jar, I knew I had stumbled upon something special. This was going to take my regular tuna salad and make it extraordinary. I was right.

The ginger added a unique, crispy, fresh, yet pickled flavor. It was pretty amazing. Along with my tuna salad wrap, I quickly threw together a red cabbage slaw. Nothing fancy or too difficult. I added garlic, green onions, dill, mustard, champagne vinegar, olive oil and lemon juice. Then I salted and peppered it pretty good, and let it sit in the fridge for about an hour. The crunchy salad was a nice accompaniment to the wrap. All in all a pretty successful dinner.


Red Lentil Soup with Ham

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It seems I forgot yet another anniversary. This blog turned two years old on May 14. And I paid it no attention. Two years, and 353 posts later, and I'm still not a housewife. Although I do have a house now, I don't feel any closer to my fantasy. If anything, that mortgage payment is only going to postpone my dreams of daily brunches, mid-afternoon dusting and cooking three-course dinners for a long, long time. I guess that leaves me exactly where I am now. Working by day. Preserving lemons by night (more on this later).

So happy anniversary dear blog! Hope you all enjoy this red lentil soup. I made up the recipe based on my fridge and pantry contents, and despite its simplicity, it was pretty tasty and perfect for the chilly weather we've been having.

Red Lentil Soup with Ham (or not)
(Unfortunately, I paid little attention to measurements as I made this soup, so below are some approximations)

2 cups of red lentils, picked through and rinsed
3 garlic cloves minced
2 large carrots, diced 
3 stalked of celery diced
2-3 tbsp curry powder
4 cups or so of chicken stock
olive oil
salt and pepper
2 slices of black forest ham, diced
sour cream (optional)

1) In a soup pan, heat olive and cook carrots and celery for about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook another minute. Then add curry powder, stir to coat vegetables.
2) Add lentils and chicken stock. Season, cover and simmer for 20 or so minutes, until lentils are looked.
3) Puree soup. Taste, adjust seasoning, add diced ham, and cook for another few minutes. 
4) Serve with sour cream. Or without.


Beet Risotto

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Pink food doesn't appeal to me. It looks unnatural. So when I made this risotto, and it turned out so very pink, I thought to myself, do I really have to eat this? But, I'm glad I put my pink issues aside and dug in. It was absolutely delicious. Creamy, a bit sweet, a bit cheesy, very comforting. 

It all started when I had roasted beets left over. Since beets are a bit messy to deal with, I tend to roast as many as I can at a time, so I don't end up with pink hands every few days. There's really no better leftover vegetable. You can add roasted beets to salads, have them with goat cheese, layer them into sandwiches, mix into pasta sauces, or make a simple risotto dish, that looks fancy enough to appear in a magazine. I suggest all of the above. And if you are fortunate enough to be married to a gardening junkie, who brings you home beets from his various satellite gardens (he just started another one at a co-worker's house!), then you end up with young, tender beets that are delicious without any embellishments.

Although risotto takes time, your patience here will be rewarded. I highly recommend this dish. 

Beet Risotto
Adapted from marthasteward.com
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, heated
2 medium roasted beets, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Coarse salt and ground pepper

1) In a heavy medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Cook shallots, stirring often, until soft, about 5 minutes.

2) Add rice; stir to coat. Stir in wine; cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth; simmer, stirring, until almost all is absorbed. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding more, about 25 minutes total. Sometimes more like 40.

3) Stir in beets, butter, and Parmesan; season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.


Sandwiches With Roasted Beet Salad

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Last week when I was visiting the parents, they were in a midst of an argument about gift giving. They were going to a dinner at a relatives house, and my dad suggested taking a bottle of vodka, knowing the host would enjoy such a gift. My mom wanted to buy some sort of dish (I'm talking ceramic!). I was asked to weigh in, and as I tend to do, I agreed with dad. Now, I'm not going to lie to you. I almost never see eye-to-eye with my mom on anything. Because she's often just plain wrong. Or has some really strange ideas. In this case, we had a showdown on gift giving. 

My mom quickly declared us "inappropriate" for even suggesting to take booze. I pointed out most "Americans" do this. She huffed and puffed. I also pointed out the husband and I often will take a bottle of wine when invited to dinner. She glared at me and stated, "Don't bring me wine for a present. You can keep your wine." I replied back, "Most of my friends brought over wine for my birthday this year, and it was great." She immediately declared all as "alcoholics!" Me, the husband, the friends. Anyone and everyone who has ever given a bottle of booze as a gift were "evil alcoholics" in my mom's mind. I tried to move on from the booze gift idea, before being sent to AA, and suggested some nice olive oil. In reply, I got laughter. "What, they can't buy their own oil?" I gave another example of receiving a bottle of nice olive oil and fancy vinegar for my birthday, and got this retort, "Your friends must think you can't afford to buy your own food. No way. I will buy a platter. It will last." 

So that's really what it comes down to. Tangible gifts. My mom wants to be remembered. She's terrified of death, and so in a way, this makes total sense. Food and alcohol are enjoyed and gone. The moment, is not my mother's style. 

If you're wondering what this all has to do with this sandwich and beet salad post, I was just getting there. Patience. For my birthday, as I already mentioned, I received some fancy currant balsamic vinegar. I was super excited about this gift. Because, I don't need any more platters, and enjoy the moment, especially a delicious moment. And this balsamic sure made my quick mid-week meal a real treat. The vinegar was thick, syrupy and sweet. It paired perfectly with beets, goat cheese and toasted walnuts. Our black forest ham sandwiches had great dill mustard, muenster cheese and spinach. The meal did not last. But the moment was delicious, and the friends who gifted me the vinegar, fondly remembered.


Korean Condiment Bowls

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If you're lucky enough to live near a Korean market, well, you're lucky. We kind-of-used-to live near one in Monrovia. But no longer. It's a bit of a trek for us now, although when we go, we stock up. The brother-in-law took us to a great Korean market last weekend, after a visit to Happy Feet for a one-hour foot massage. After consuming dim sum for brunch, in honor of Mother's Day, a foot massage was the ideal way to help us digest.

The Korean market was next door and there, the husband and I, purchased our favorite condiments -- kim chi, pickled cucumbers, sprouts in sesame oil and spinach. It has been a while since our last kim chi attempt at home, and I have to say, this cabbage kim chi although tasty, lacked something. The husband thinks it's ginger.We agreed our kim chi was much more balanced.

We had no real dinner plans that evening, so I made a pot of white rice (yes, there's rice in these bowls, it's just hiding) and added our condiments on top of the rice. Simple. But so delicious. We felt so healthy eating all these vegetables. Although, I was dreaming of bulgogi, it was nice to eat a meat-free meal, after gorging on dumplings for brunch. As I mentioned earlier, it's all about balance people.


The Pittsburgh BBQ Sauce and Ribs

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Last year, at around this time, we took our first trip to the East Coast. It was pretty great. We visited New York City. Watched friends get married in Central Park. Ate a lot of food. Drank a lot. And did way too much walking for my LA feet. Before heading home, we made a stop in Pittsburgh to visit friends. We did more eating and drinking, but thankfully not much else. Well, the husband did get to see a statue of Mr. Rogers. And as you cal see below, he was pretty happy about it.
The husband enjoying Mr. Rogers.
And this is our friend. He's passionate about pork.
The best part about the trip, for me, were the ribs. Our friend, who enjoys cooking, brewing and yelling really loud in a metal band, made the most delicious marinade/BBQ sauce, which he used on ribs. The sauce stuck with me. And finally, I asked him for the recipe.

I received an email with some estimates. It read:

Sorry, I still can't find the actual recipe I used, but I think this would be a close approximation!
3 cups dark beer (I used an oak aged stout but pretty much anything dark will be fine)
3/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup black strap molasses
1 tsp canned chipotle pepper + some adobe sauce
1 tbsp tamarind paste (not completely necessary...you could use like 2 tsp of a "softer" vinegar like apple or rice vinegar (I prefer rice vinegar))
1 small onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed, chopped, whatever
1-2 tsp paprika (I love paprika so I usually go for like 2-3)
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin

Do the onion thing until they're soft, translucent, etc.  add the garlic and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the beer and cook until reduced (you don't need to go wild reducing it by half since you'll be added the molasses later, which will thicken it up), about 15-20 minutes, simmering.  Add the tomato paste and chipotle.  Cook for another like 5-10 minutes. Let cook and transfer to blender or food processor. Blend it up until everything is smooth. 

Smother your ribs with this concoction, wrap it in saran wrap and then wrap it in foil.  Reserve some for brushing the ribs with later.  Place in the fridge for like 6-8 hours.  Or if you're in a hurry I'm sure and hour or two will be fine.

You can either bake or grill these.  Honestly baking might be easier to maintain and control temp.  Somewhere around 400-450 would be fine.  Or you can throw them on the grill, turning them when the outside is crispy, but the inside is still juicy (and cooked through). 


I reread the recipe several times. Because something seemed missing, and I pay attention. The molasses. I smelled sabotage. I emailed my "friend" back and got this nonchalant reply, "Oh sorry.  You can add the molasses when you're reducing the beer." But I saw right through it.  

When I had finally purchased enough ribs, invited rib eaters to dinner and found molasses, I got to work. I adjusted the above estimates (less beer, a lot more more chipotle peppers and adobo sauce, more spices, more molasses, tomato sauce instead of paste), tasting as I went, and ended up with a super delicious sauce. It was sweet, spicy and smoky. Considering it was my first attempt, it was perfect. I slathered the ribs with the sauce, covered them with plastic wrap and foil, and let them marinade overnight. The next day, I baked the ribs for about 20 minutes, before transferring them to the grill. Then, I brushed them generously with more sauce before serving. They were delicious. Although I would cook them longer in the oven next time.

I have sauce left over, which I popped in the freezer. It's got such nice, complex flavors, I think it would go well with a lot of dishes, such as roasted potatoes or tacos. I can't wait to use it again. When you try this receipe for yourself, because you should, I suggest taking the "taste and go" route. Enjoy.


Put a Crab Cake On It: Soba Noodles with Peanut Sauce

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A friend recently pointed out I use crab cakes like hats. I took this to mean that I am awesome and can accessorize. And it probably also means that I still have trouble calling something "dinner" unless there's some sort of meat involved; even if that "meat" is a Trader Joe's frozen crab cake I keep in my freezer at all times.

I am a sucker for crab cakes. And like a hat, I think a crab cake really dresses up a meal. Especially noodles. Here, I have soba noodles with napa cabbage, carrots, green onions, ginger and garlic. I made a quick peanut sauce with peanut butter, soy sauce and chili powder. It was easy and fast. But that crab cake sure made it look fancy.

Get yourself a square plate, and you can charge $16 for this meal. I was kind enough to feed the husband at no charge, although he did pay with his time by doing the dishes. A total deal.


Chard and Squash Pasta

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I could never give up carbs. Because life without pasta would not be worth living. When I get home and have no plans for dinner, I can usually look in the fridge and pantry and come up with a delicious pasta dish. It's comforting, and there are so many variations, it never bores me.

For this dish, I used some leftover chard, from a whole week of chard dishes, and yellow squash. After sauteeing the stems and squash, I added the chard greens, tomato sauce, garlic, olives and basil. Simple and fast. Oh, and cheese. It's nice to always have a chunk of Parmesan in the fridge. You just never know.

This dish was hearty and made for great leftovers the next day. That's another plus for pasta. You can forget it in your fridge, find it days later, and it's still delicious.


Asparagus-Ricotta Tart

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It has been a couple of weeks since my last post. Since then, I have grown older, hosted Easter dinner, got a haircut and purchased a new laptop. I am most excited about the laptop. It allows me to watch Netflix in bed, and I used it as an excuse to redecorate two rooms, creating a little office for myself, in which I currently sit, staring at my finely framed Monet.  And hopefully, now that I don't have to share a computer with the student husband, I will blog more often.

But back to food, and Easter dinner specifically. This was our first year hosting. The lamb contest tradition continued. Although it was hard to say who won with so much good food on the table. We roasted the husband's home-grown carrots, had swiss chard with chickpeas, pilaf, and this year I tried something new -- an asparagus tart. Or asparagus pizza, what my father-in-law kept calling it throughout the meal. I quickly forgave him on the account that he's old and because he declared it the most interesting dish of the day. Interesting it was. And delicious. And pretty to look at with the little spears poking out. The tart tasted fresh and cheesy. It was simple to make. So I will definitely to serving this again.

My picture taking wasn't too great for this post. But since I had filling left over, I made more mini tarts later in the week and documented that as well. Enjoy!

Asparagus-Ricotta Tart
adapted from www.epicurious.com

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1 egg, beaten to blend
1 pound slender asparagus spears, trimmed
1/2 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces thinly sliced soppressata or other salami, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I omitted this altogether, opting for a vegetarian side dish)
2/3 cup grated Comté cheese (about 3 ounces), divided (I used Gruyère)

1) Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out pastry on floured surface to 13x10-inch rectangle. Cut off 1/2-inch-wide strip from all 4 sides. Brush strips on 1 side with some of beaten egg, then press strips, egg side down, onto edges of pastry to adhere, forming raised border. Brush border with egg; reserve remaining beaten egg. Transfer to baking sheet. Chill while preparing filling.
2) Steam asparagus just until crisp tender, about 3 minutes (I boiled mine for about 5 minutes). Transfer to bowl of ice water to cool. Drain. Cut off top 2 to 3 inches of asparagus tops; set aside. 
3) Coarsely puree remaining asparagus stalks in processor. Add remaining beaten egg, ricotta, 3 teaspoons oil, and salt;process until thick puree forms. Transfer to bowl; stir in salami and 1/3 cup Comté cheese; season with pepper. Spread mixture evenly over pastry. Sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup Comté cheese. Toss asparagus tips with remaining 1 teaspoon oil; arrange tips over filling.
4) Bake tart until filling is set, about 25 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.