Hollywood Bowl Picnic, Starring Orzo Salad

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For me, summer doesn't begin until we attend our first Hollywood Bowl concert. I was trying to recall last summer, but nothing stood out. Then I remembered why. There were no Bowl concerts. Last summer was my "broken elbow summer", where I consumed large quantities of Vicodin and entire seasons of TV shows (like Breaking Bad and Californication) from the library while wasting away on the couch. The only clear memories are that of pain and the husband attempting to blow dry my hair for me. Fortunately, this summer all my limbs are in tact, I can hold my own blow dryer, and we can once again enjoy concerts under the stars.

Now I'm not a classical music fan. So when the husband won tickets to see Gavrylyuk Plays Tchaikovsky, I was not exactly thrilled, but it had been so long since our last concert at the Bowl that I wanted to make the most of it. Don't get me wrong, I like classical music just fine at appropriate times. Like when it's raining and you're driving, or when it's raining and you're trying to fall sleep, or when it's raining and you're stranded in some cabin in the mountains without any other music options. But as we sat in our very nice seats, on a very clear, RAIN-FREE evening, drinking and enjoying the food, I quickly realized this was going to be one very long night. 

At first, I was so involved in the wonderful meal I had prepared, that 10 minutes into the concert, I turned and asked the husband when the real band was coming on. I laughed at myself, then sadly realized, this is it, there is no other band. The food had magically transported me elsewhere, unfortunately, it did not transport the orchestra elsewhere.

Once the fact that I had another TWO AND A HALF hours of this rain music in store for me had sunk in, deep, I poured myself more wine and began to enjoy the evening. If you have been fortunate enough to attend a movie, play or concert with me, you know I am full of hilarious comments. I am not one of those loud, crazy people who disrupt the show. I am respectful enough to be heard by only one person who is sitting directly to my right, yet I am obnoxious enough for that one person to hate me as the evening draws near. It's my charm. Right away, I could not help but notice that the 20something year-old Alexander Gavrylyuk resemebled the scary Nosferatu. Once that connection was made in my mind, the jokes followed, and flowed freely, like the wine, until the husband shushed me, and I noticed I had gulped down the last drop. To console myself, I turned to dark chocolate and people-watching. 

But enough of story time, let us discuss the food. Because that's what the Hollywood Bowl is really about. We had a great meal -- prosciutto and olives for the shuttle ride, pita sandwiches to start (turkey for the husband, black forest ham for me), orzo salad for intermission, and for dessert, dark chocolate and berries in cognac and sugar. Although I did not cure my own prosciutto, I did manage to make the rest of our dinner, in 45 minutes, after a long day at work and before our shuttle departure. Now, I know it would have been easier to grab everything ready-made from Whole Foods, but there's a certain pleasure in preparing the meal yourself. It just ends up tasting better. And I make one mean sandwich!

The orzo salad was the star. I had made it once before, but simpler. This time, I added more flavor and texture with black olives and sun dried tomatoes. Because this salad tastes great at any temperature, it's great for a picnic, or a very long classical music concert, where you're not allowed to go back to your seat should you happen to take a bathroom break at the wrong time.
My favorite sandwich condiments, good mustard and eggplant caviar.
I marinaded strawberries and red and golden raspberries in sugar and cognac overnight. This makes for a great dessert, or   topping for my morning yogurt.
The spread.
Starting the evening off with overpriced beer.
In high school, I won his heart with my sandwiches. With time, they have only become more delicious.
Summer Orzo Salad
Serves 4

2 tbsp butter
1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
handful of black olives, chopped
handful of sun dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

1) Melt butter in heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in orzo and saute until lightly browned.
2) Stir in chicken stock and bring to boil. Cover. Reduce heat and simmer until orzo is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 15 - 20 minutes.
3) Mix in olives, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and basil. Season with salt and pepper.


Steamed Mussels with Chorizo and Peppers

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Mussels are not photogenic. It must have taken me 30 shots to get a handful of decent photos. But, despite being blurry and ugly on camera, freshly steamed mussels are quiet delicious, and make a quick weeknight meal. And in person, the dish was a pretty sight, with bright colors and a glossy broth.

There's little work required to make steamed mussels taste good. Butter, garlic, wine and loads of parsley. But, this time I wanted something different. Something special. The husband had doubts. He thought, why mess with a good thing? He couldn't foresee the deliciousness that lay ahead. But, I'm aware that not everyone can be a visionary. After finding Spanish chorizo and roasted bell peppers in  my fridge, I decided I must show him the way.
First, I browned the chorizo in a few drops of olive oil, then I added bell peppers. 
Next, I added garlic, butter, the clean mussels, and white wine, red pepper flakes, along with salt and pepper. After the wine had a few minutes to evaporate, I covered the pot and let everything steam for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once your mussels have steamed and opened, taste the broth, add a dab more of butter, adjust the seasoning (if necessary) and top your dish with lots of chopped parsley.
Make sure to have plenty of crusty bread on hand. And a spoon, or ladle for all the delicious broth. The broth was spicy, smoky and tasted of the sea. Nothing like a well-seasoned broth to bring the dish together.
The 1 1/2 lbs of mussels made for a substantial dinner. Add to that bread and wine, and you've got yourself a fancy weeknight meal for two. If it's just the two of us, we like to eat our mussels directly from the pot they were prepared in, spending more time sipping wine and chatting, and less time cleaning dishes.


Rigatoni with Spicy Sausage, Roasted Peppers and Sun Dried Tomatoes

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I believe the shape of your pasta can make or break your pasta meal. I started off thinking penne would work here, but as my sauce began to develop, I quickly realized I needed something heartier, something holier. Not sure if holier works here, but that's beside the point. The point is, let your sauce dictate the style of pasta you use. Your sauce and pasta should work happily together, like a newly married couple, hugging and spooning, oblivious to the world around them and the tough times ahead.

You might be looking at this dish and thinking it's too hearty and heavy for summer, but, it isn't. Trust me. The sun dried tomatoes, roasted peppers and especially the basil add a summery freshness to this dish, and make this pasta meal one you can enjoy every season. Although, there's nothing better than a spicy sausage pasta on a cool November evening.
Drinking while cooking is a must.
Rigatoni with Spicy Sausage, Roasted Peppers and Sun Dried Tomatoes
Serves 4

1 lb of rigatoni
2-3 spicy Italian sausage links, casings removed
2-3 roasted bell peppers, sliced thin
handful or so of sun dried tomatoes, sliced thin
couple of handfuls of black olives, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
couple of handfuls of fresh basil, I used two kinds, julienned
2, 8 oz cans of tomato sauce
1 tbsp of tomato pasta
1 tsp dried rosemary
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 cup of grated Parmesan

1) Start your sauce by browning your sausage in a little bit of olive oil, breaking it up as it cooks. Add garlic after a couple of minutes, then your peppers and sun dried tomatoes. 
2) To the above, add the tomato pasta and sauce, dried rosemary and seasoning. Cover and simmer for 15 or so minutes. Then add olives.
3) Meanwhile, boil your water, salt and cook the pasta until al dente. 
4) Transfer your cooked and drained pasta to the sauce, add some more olive oil, and cook for a couple of minutes. Add some pasta water if needed. Shut off the heat and add about half of the cheese.
5) Plate your pasta and garnish with plenty of the fresh basil and Parmesan.

Enjoy with some red wine!


Attempt at Breakfast: Yogurt and Jam

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I have a hard time with breakfast. We've never really got along. I love to sleep in, I'm grumpy in the mornings, and I don't have an appetite until about 11:30 am. So, it all adds up to me skipping the MOST important meal of the DAY. Which is bad news. Or so everyone tells me. I get lectured on this quiet a bit. Which makes me dislike breakfast even more. But, I got so tired of hearing about it, I've decided to eat up.

I've tried different foods, but nothing seemed to stick. That is, until I came across the simple yogurt and jam combo. It's easy, fast, and after three weeks, I'm still managing to put something into my body between 9 and 10 am. That is probably the best it's ever going to get.

I can't say this is the most delicious meal of my day. I'd much rather have potatoes and bacon at around noon, but, it's probably good for me. Oh, and sometimes I add some granola into the mix, just to spice things up.


Secret Turkey Burgers

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I was craving turkey burgers. It's kind of an odd thing to crave. At least for me. But, the last time I made them at home, they were so good, I figured it was time to do it again. But better. After purchasing my ingredients and inviting guests, I drove home thinking of ways to enhance my turkey burgers and make them extra good. I went over recent meals in my head, and the one that stood out, with its surprise ingredient, was my last tuna salad attempt. Pickled ginger. Of course. It took my tuna salad to the next level, and I was convinced it would do the same thing for my burgers. I was right.

There's a lot that goes into these burgers, because ground turkey can be pretty boring and dry on it's own. So don't be afraid when looking at the list of ingredients. It's all there for a reason. To make this one juicy and tasty burger. A turkey burger you can proudly serve to your friends.

Now I didn't tell our friends what was in these burgers, but after they showered me with compliments, and I made them play the guessing game, I revealed my secret ingredient. By that point, we were tired and tipsy, but I could tell they were truly impressed with my ginger trick. They just didn't say so out loud. But their eyes gave it away.
These turkey burgers were so good, our friends fell in love all over again.
Super Good Turkey Burgers
Makes 4 burgers

(The below are my approximations, so don't be afraid to use your judgement, unless you have bad judgement, then go ahead and send me an email, and I'll try to help)

1 1/2 lbs of ground turkey
1-2 celery stalks, chopped fine
1 large roasted bell pepper, chopped fine
scallions, 2-3, sliced thin
a good handful of breadcrumbs
1-2 tbsp of picked ginger, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tbsp mustard (I used spicy brown)
paprika, cumin, salt, pepper - according to your taste

1) Combine all your ingredients, and shape into patties. Don't play too much with your meat and overwork it.
2) Grill for about 5-6 minutes per side. There are a lot of pink ingredients in these, so don't overcook, thinking they are not done. They are supposed to be juicy.
3) Serve with your favorite toppings. And cheese. Cheese is a must.


1-2-3 Margarita

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My friend, and past coworker, makes great margaritas. I always assumed since he was from Mexico, he had secret knowledge or an ingredient that made his margaritas so good. Well, it turns out, the secret is Limeade, from Ralphs. His recipe is so simple, yet so delicious, that after a couple of sips, you don't care what's in it. You forget about everything, smile, and enjoy yourself. Que es esto Ralphs?
I like to make fancy cubes, by adding berries or lemon to my ice cube trays.
1-2-3 Margarita
Makes a healthy pitcher

1 can of Limeade Concentrate
Using the same can
2 cans of gold tequila
3 cans of water
Couple of splashes of triple sec
lime/lemon for garnish
kosher salt

1) Combine the first 4 ingredients, and stir.
2) Salt the rim of your glass. Add ice, garnish and pour yourself some margarita!