Grilled Red Snapper and Sage Butter Beans

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There are many meals that never make it on the blog. Some are not photogenic, others are just boring, and many others that are eaten in haste after a long day, and never get their close up. Although this Korean-style fish, has already made an appearance here, it is so good and easy to cook, I thought it deserved another mention, because it so happens it has become a regular at our dinner table.

I like the idea of grilling whole fish, and slowly picking at it, throughout dinner. I think cooking the entire fish, with bones and all, makes it tastier. I used the same ingredients as before, and along with it, served a watercress salad and butter beans cooked with sage in tomato sauce. That's another great thing about this fish recipe, it lends itself well to a lot of side dishes.

Let's move on to the giant beans. There's something about sage and white beans. Something delicious. We first tried a similar recipe years ago at a local Italian restaurant, and since then, have been recreating versions of it at home. First, I sauteed some garlic and fresh sage. Then I added my can of beans, a small can of tomato sauce, a bit of tomato paste, sage powder, salt and pepper, and let the beans cook for about 10 minutes. Top off with a bit more olive oil, and you've got yourself some tasty beans.


Quinoa, Kale and Beet Salad

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This is a hearty salad, like most kale salads are, but it's also fresh. The lemon juice, and there's quite a bit, really lightens it up. I made a large batch, and learned that this salad ages gracefully, marinating itself in the fridge.

I cooked a cup and a half of quinoa, let it cool and added two roasted beets, and about two cups of kale. Season to taste with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice and enjoy as a side dish, or a filling lunch salad. Fast and delicious.

Garden Visit

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On Saturday, we paid a visit to the husband's satellite farm, I mean garden. I have not been to the site in many months. But since my last visit, the yard has been leveled, partitioned and an irrigation system installed. It is rather impressive, with rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and peppers. There's even corn and artichokes. I cannot wait for the summer harvest. 


Avocado Tuna Salad

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Avocados makes life better. And to this salad, an avocado adds a fresh, creamy texture. I was actually hoping to make a tuna salad wrap that particular evening, but the husband decided to take all 10 leftover tortillas to work (eye roll). So, I improvised with some lettuce from the garden.

This tuna salad version has black olives, green onions, pickled ginger and cucumbers and fancy dill mustard. An easy weeknight meal. Make a bunch and eat it for lunch during the week.


Meatloaf Showdown and Blog Anniversary!

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Today marks the three-year anniversary of this little blog. Who knew that three years would go by and I would be no closer to my fantasy of being a kept woman? I guess this only means I must continue to blog away until the husband gets his act together.

In honor of this anniversary, I have a special post on a recent cooking showdown between a friend and I, for who can make the best meatloaf.

If you're picturing Iron Chef, don't. This was nothing like that. We prepared our loaves in our respective kitchens, and came together at our home to cook and enjoy our creations. So there was no sweating and looking over our shoulders. We had no real idea what our competitor had in store. I tried to be sneaky and sent my friend a recipe I was planning on NOT using. Just to throw her off. I think it worked a little. She thought I was going to keep things simple, but instead I had a few surprises up my sleeve.

Let me start off by saying I had never made meatloaf before. The first time I tried meatloaf, I was in my mid-twenties. I found it a bit strange. Just like when I ate a sloppy joe, I simply didn't get the concept. But, there's plenty of things I will never understand, and I'm not much of a dweller, so when the opportunity came up for Battle Meatloaf, I took it.

I'm really not sure who initiated the meatloaf competition. I bet it was our husbands, who would participate only by eating. It's a nice job if you can get it. But once we had a date set, I knew one thing, I must win. I like a healthy competition, and so does our friend, so there was a lot at stake, mostly trash talking and bragging rights. Although I had no doubt I would win, I played it cool, you don't want to appear too cocky. Besides, she had an interesting take, along with a tasty loaf, it just happened not to be as delicious as mine. So, there you have it, I WON. It's wasn't by much, but first place is first place. And it allowed me to gloat.

Her meatloaf -- she used a mixture of beef, veal and pork. The secret ingredients? Wild mushrooms, sauteed in red wine. Gourmet, right? The loaf tasted like Thanksgiving. It was very Fall. Her texture was good as well. I'll give her that. But, there was no glaze, no sauce, no gravy. I brought this up after seeing the loaf. And there was some talk of her making an impromptu glaze at my house, but that wouldn't have been right. That's something you need to plan for. Her loaf was baked in pan, and shaped like an oval.

My meatloaf -- I also used a mixture of beef, veal and pork. I wanted to take a traditional recipe, but have a few delicious twists. Instead of onions, I used shallots. Instead of using just regular breadcrumbs, I added panko as well. In went Worcestershire sauce, which always makes my Shepard's pies delicious. For herbs, there was dried thyme and fresh parsley. And of course, I had to have a glaze, ketchup, brown sugar, HP sauce, mustard powder and cumin. I did some research and went for cookie sheet cooking method, lined with a wire rack and foil, allowing the fat to drip down. And my loaf had a more traditional shape.

To summarize, I'm going to steal the husband's words, who sent us a kind email the next morning:

Your respective recipes were exceptional.  Though only one winner could be chosen, I must admit those were the finest meatloaves I've ever eaten.  I think Patrick would agree that was an honor to just stand by, drink, get drunk, and then eat these wonderfully prepared dishes that we contributed absolutely nothing to.

He's so diplomatic! But if you read between the lines, what he's really saying is:

My wife's meatloaf kicked ass! Nice try 2nd place meatloaf, you lose! Patrick and I are lazy drunks, who didn't help at all. You two deserve better.
The wire rack set-up.
Her meatloaf prior to baking. Looking kind of dry.
My loaf prior to baking. All glazed up and ready for the win. 
The loaves playing nice in the oven.
The first night, I made mashed potatoes, and had a chance to use my newly acquired ricer. These potatoes were incredible. I used a whole head of roasted garlic, sour cream, butter and half and half.
My loaf post baking.
Her loaf over potatoes, with glazed carrots. Looking good. Just not first place good.
The next day, for leftover meatloaf, I made mashed cauliflower. Same concept as the potatoes, but here I used an immersion blender. This puree was pretty amazing. I can see it going well with all kinds of red meats.
We also roasted some cabbage, drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper. It only takes about 30 minutes, and makes for a tasty side.
Here are the meatloaf slices side by side. Although they look similar, don't be fooled, one is a winner! Good try, unglazed, mushroom meatloaf. Maybe next time.
Meatloaf coma. Or, I had too much beer, mezcal, mai tais and wine coma.


Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon & Peas

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Friends are good to have. They make for good company, play tennis with you and usually have a TV for Mad Men viewing. Since our TV situation is so grim, we've been watching the show at our friend's house for a few seasons now. One day we just invited ourselves, and a new tradition was born - occasional Sunday night Mad Men parties. Usually this means having beers and watching the show, but recently, we've stepped it up by adding dinner. Our first Mad Men meal was a decadent Mac and Cheese, with cheddar, Hungarian pepper bacon and peas.

I wasn't in the mood to follow a recipe, so instead I decided to use the sauce technique from the recent veggie and cheese dip, and apply it to this macaroni bake. The cheese sauce is not only easy, it's also fool-proof. And bacon always adds a ton of flavor. The peas were a whimsical touch. I wanted something green and round in there. They did the trick, adding a fresh sweetness, and lightening up this cheesy dish. The general consensus was, this was a delicious version, and we should always have dinner with Mad Men. The host, who did zero cooking, said it best, "These dinners work out very well for me."
Macaroni & Cheese with Bacon & Peas
Serves 6

1 lb of pasta, something fun shaped
1 1/2 cups of cheddar, shredded
1 1/4 cups of milk
2 tbsp flour
pepper bacon, I used about a 1/2 cup
1 cup peas
olive oil
bread crumbs
salt and pepper

1) Cook your pasta according to package instructions. I usually under-cook by a couple minutes, since there's baking involved.
2) Cook bacon, and set aside. Hungarian bacon is not very fatty, so once I removed the bacon, I added some olive oil to the pan, and then the flour, making a roux. Then I slowly added the milk, stirring frequently.
3) Keep stirring your milk sauce, until it thickens noticeably, maybe 5 minutes, turn off heat, and add your cheese (reserving a handful for the top) and stir until it melts.
4) To your sauce, add the bacon, peas, and pasta, taste and season with salt and pepper. Mix everything thoroughly, and top with breadcrumbs and the remaining cheddar, sprinkle with paprika.
5) Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until golden.


Wine Trips & Nostalgia

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I remember the first wine trip the husband and I took. We were barely 21, easily intimidated and had no clue what we were doing. But we liked tasting wines, seeing the beautiful vineyards, and road trips. So we started going regularly, with our friend, the official wine-tasting third-wheel. And pretty soon, we had a system down -- where to stay, where to eat, what music to listen to, what snacks to bring (gold fishes are a favorite), and how to charm the pourers into bringing out their reserves. The three of us, we ruled the tasting rooms.

But with time, things changed. Our palates, our friends, our expectations. With our third-wheel moving out of state, wine tasting also moved on. New friends, new routes, new wineries. Although the mission of wine tasting is still intact -- have fun, drink wine -- and we do this well, I do get nostalgic for the feel of the trips with our third-wheel friend. All this reflection is probably due to my recent aging milestone, but whatever the reason, I do miss our friend.

And now back to present-day wine tasting. Paso Robles is beautiful in the Spring. Green and warm, with fake-looking skies of cottony clouds. We usually stay in Cambria, on the water, where it's cool and foggy, and the lagoon monster, that only the husband has laid eyes on, lurks. This trip, I got a chance to explore the seashore, late at night and early in the morning, and the coast is painfully breathtaking -- scary and stunning at the same time.

The last few times, we've traveled new roads to new vineyards, shielded by shade, and surrounded by melancholy walnut trees, covered in droopy, grey moss. My new favorite part of the trips is seeing these trees, fuzzy and motionless, standing their ground.

Below are photos from a recent trip; new memories for nostalgia down the road.
Moonstone strolling.
Cruisin' in the Benz.
A new favorite, Sea Chest Oyster Bar.
Cambria seashore.