Seafood Saturday Feast, plus Basil Margaritas and Grilled Corn Salad

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A few months ago, a friend mentioned starting a series of outdoor dinners, in our back yard. She did this in a sly way, first by complimenting my cooking, then by raving about our scenic yard. I was flattered, but saw right through those compliments. Who would cook? Clean? Run around refilling drinks and getting people napkins? The friend suggested the group would take turns hosting these get-togethers, we'd call it "Friends and Fresh Air" and it would be great.

Months passed and this "Friends and Fresh Air" concept didn't go anywhere. That is, until I had a craving for seafood. I wanted something fresh and delicious. I wanted to eat outside. So here I was, willing to host the first "Friends and Fresh Air" affair.

In the morning, the husband and I set out to find seafood. We ended up at Bristol Farms, where we stocked up on mussels, calamari steaks and a whole bass. We held up the line at the fish counter for a good five minutes, and got the stink eye from lady behind us. Once home, I didn't want to spend too much time on the seafood. Everything was fresh, so the plan was to keep it simple, maybe herbs, lemon and butter.

The fish was the easiest. I stuffed it with lemon slices, thyme and rosemary. Seasoned it with smoked sea salt and pepper, and it was ready for the grill. The calamari steaks were soaked in milk, then coated with eggs and breadcrumbs and pan fried. These were a bit fussy, my breadcrumbs weren't feeling too cooperative. And the mussels were prepared traditionally, with lots of garlic, pepper flakes, white wine, clam juice and butter. These were everyone's favorite. It could be because they looked so pretty in a big white bowl, topped with fresh parsley.

Other highlights of the evening include basil margaritas and a grilled corn and bacon salad. Let's start with the drink. I used the handy 1-2-3 Margarita recipe, but to it I added the basil lemon syrup, featured in my birthday post, and lots of fresh basil, which I muddles with syrup. The basil flavors were subtle, but there. A pretty refreshing take on the margarita.

The grilled corn, bacon and avocado salad was also a pleasant surprise. I came across the salad on Joy the Baker's cute little blog, and decided it would be great for outdoor seafood fest. And it was. Grilled corn is delicious, period. But adding good bacon and creamy avocado makes it even more so. I definitely suggest giving this tasty recipe a try over summer.

With the first "Friends and Fresh Air" dinner behind us, I am patiently waiting for my invitation to the next soiree.
Grilled Corn, Bacon and Avocado Salad
adapted from http://joythebaker.com

4ears of shucked corn
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (I left these out, since we had a tomato allergy amongst us)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 avocados, diced
5 sliced crisp cooked bacon, diced
juice of 1 or 2 limes
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
a good sprinkling of chili powder and smoky paprika
butter lettuce or iceberg lettuce leaves

1) Shuck corn on the cob of all their husks and strings.  Grill corn, and let cool.  Slice corn kernels from the cob.
2) Add corn kernels to a large bowl.  Add green onion, diced avocado, and diced bacon.  Squeeze in lime juice.   Season and add olive oil.  Stir to combine.  Taste and re-season if necessary,
3) Serve lettuce leaves alongside the salad. 


Summer on a Plate

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I love dining outdoors. At least until about 9:30 pm, at which point, I usually finish eating, and the mosquitos begin nibbling on me. Last week, to welcome summer, we spent an evening outdoors, eating summer salads, grilled squash, mini artichokes and honey mustard chicken.

I did very little to prepare for this meal. After waking up from my early evening nap, I prepped my mini, purple artichokes, a recent find at the Altadena Farmer's Market, and steamed and sauteed them in olive oil, with salt and pepper. I also openend a bottle wine and took some photos. More dinner like this please.


Squash and Chorizo Frittata

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There's still plenty of squash in our fridge, and more is being picked from the garden almost daily, so the squash recipes continue. This was a quick weeknight meal, using leftovers. Everything, but the chorizo, was grilled or pre-cooked the day before, and thrown together for a fast and delicious frittata.

The chorizo really makes this frittata substantial, but if you're looking for a lighter, veggie version, feel free to leave it out. I used only mozzarella here, my first time using the cheese for a frittata, and I probably wouldn't do it again. It was cheesy, but I prefer something with a bit more sharpness, like a feta, or monterey jack.

I served the frittata with a side of roasted red cabbage, and we spent another evening with squash. Many more to come.
Squash and Chorizo Frittata

5 eggs
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon sour cream
1 - 1 1/2 cups of cheese
2 chorizo links, casings removed
4 small yellow potatoes, sliced thin and sauteed in olive oil
2 pasilla peppers, grilled, skins and seeds removed
1 small crookneck squash, sliced and grilled
1 small zucchini, sliced and grilled
olive oil
salt and pepper

1)Preheat your broiler to high. In a large cast iron pan, or some other pan that can go into the oven, cook your chorizo.
2) While browning the meat, prepare your egg mixture. Beat your eggs lightly, then whisk in the milk and sour cream. Season with salt and pepper.
3) To the chorizo, add your pre-cooked vegetables, starting with the potatoes. Once all the vegetables are warm, pour in the egg mixture, add the cheese and cook over medium heat until the eggs begin to set, 3 or so minutes.
4) Pop into the broiler for another 7-10 minutes, until golden brown.


Summer Soup #1: Grilled Zucchini Take 3

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It's hot, I am feeling lazy and craving cold cocktails. Must mean that summer is here. We have lots of squash in our kitchen, about 20, all different shapes and sizes. So this week, is squash week. We'll be eating squash in one form or another every day! Aren't you excited? I have to make sure we don't tire of this summer vegetable, considering we've got loads more coming from the garden.

The week started off with a delicious grilled zucchini soup. My third attempt since last summer, and this was the best version by far. My previous soups, were missing something, so this time around I added a couple of golden potatoes, and it made all the difference. The texture was smooth and creamy, without any cream. I did my best to capture the recipe below. 

What's next? Frittata. Stay tuned. Buy some squash.

Grilled Zucchini Soup

2-3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 small golden potatoes, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2- 3 large zucchinis, grilled and chopped
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2-3 tbsp curry powder
a handful of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream, optional

1) In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium high heat and sauté onions and garlic until translucent. Add the remaining vegetables, except for zucchini and cook for another 10 minutes. Add curry powder and stir.
2) Add the zucchini, stock, thyme and season. Bring to a boil , cover and simmer about 20-30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender. 
3) Use an immersion blender and purée the soup until smooth.  Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
4) Serve with a spoonful of sour cream.


A Day in Ojai: Music in the Park

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I like Ojai. It's a cute little town, where there's not much to do, except when the annual music festival happens. Then people show up to listen to music. And that's exactly what we did. We drove up on Sunday and drove down on Sunday. When we weren't driving, we ate, drank and listened to classical music. Now I'm not what you may call a true appreciator of classical music. I would say I'm barely an appreciator at all. But, I like a good picnic, and I like my friends. And I defnitely don't mind sitting outside listening to music while drinking wine and eating salami.

When we got to Ojai, we had a few hours to kill. First we walked around town, this took all of 15 minutes, then we decided to grab a drink before our picnic. We ended up The Hub. Although the bartender couldn't keep track of our five drinks, luckily, Alan, our newest friend, paid for these drinks, which we all knew we'd have to pay for in other ways. The price? Pool with one of the beautiful ladies. There was only one lady amongst us who was adventureous enough to play. The rest of us watched in great discomfort. Not only were both the pool players bad, but a sketchy character, right out of the TV show Prison Break was giving us all the stink eye, and moving closer to Alan. The game ended just in time, and after an awkward hug between Alan and our friend, whose pretty peach top he really liked, we ran out.

Thankfully, once we made it to the park and layed out our picnic blankets, the only panic we experienced was whether we had enough bottles of wine. After a quick discussion and someone using a sophisticated mathematic formula, it was determined three bottles, was simply not enough wine for five people, over a two-hour period. The men were sent for more wine, the ladies set out the edible goods, and music in the park had officially began. And it ended without anyone of us getting shanked. We can only hope Alan made it out of The Hub with a similar fate.
The lady in the pretty peach top.


Weeknight Salads

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You might have noticed that I haven't been posting so much recently. Or maybe you haven't. I'm not sure how observant you are. But, it's true, the posting has suffered due to increased evening working and working out. Instead of rushing home to make dinner, I am now rushing around or rushing to the Rose Bowl. And when I get home, I usually look in my fridge and then settle for a snack, popcorn, and a drink, whiskey. It's like I'm back in college, except my gourmet popcorn is from Whole Foods, topped with fancy sea salt. And I'm sipping on fine whiskey, with perfectly square ice cubes, instead of drinking Jack out of a flask. It is important to maintain classiness, even if one is lazy and tired.

On the days when I'm not too tired to eat, I typically prepare myself a quick salad, like the one above. On this particular night, I sauteed squash, then threw together butter lettuce, blue cheese, kidney beans, and olives. I had an orange vinaigrette left over from earlier in the week, and along with my squash, I called this salad dinner, probably (definitely) wishing I was eating fish tacos instead.

On another note, I have started reading War and Peace. Even though I am a huge fan of the Russians, I have avoided this book for a long time. It is big and intimidating, 1200+ pages. And usually, big books don't scare me, but there was something about this one that just didn't call out to me. So, I ignored it, letting it's heavy weight impress guests who browsed our bookshelves. But recently, I have been disappointed with the books that have crossed my reading path. I don't think I've enjoyed reading anything since finishing John Updike's Couples, many months ago, which not unlike Revolutionary Road  left me disguested with the world. But at least it was engaging, in that depressing, exhausting sort of way.

And now, I think it's time to let the Tolstoy do his trick -- bore me with long, confusing names and have me wishing I was living in a cold countryside estate, knitting my days away. Although, I am already having a hard time keeping track of the characters, at page 8, my goal is to finish this monster story by the summer's end. Good luck to me!


The Big 50 - Seafood and Cake

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It is a weird feeling to sit across the table from my parents and realize there's 20 years of difference between the three of us. My mom, right in the middle, just turned 50, almost old. My dad, nearly 70, is old for sure. And me at 30, starting to look old to my parents. I can see the look in their eyes, the one that says, "At your age, we were blah blah blah." The husband later pointed out that when we first met, at the innocent age of 14, my mother was already 34 years-old. Yikes. I closed my eyes, and pictured myself with a 10 year-old kid. Yikes, again. Luckily, when I came to, there was a full glass of wine to greet me, and remind me that I have no other responsibililties tonight, except for doing the dishes. A complete relief.

To celebrate this milestone in my mother's life, I decided to make dinner. Something fancy, but simple, since I'd be cooking after work on a weeknight. I headed to Bristol Farms for lobster, and after selecting three tails, I knew exactly the response I'd get from my mom ("Lobster so little"), so I decided to purchase a couple of calamari steaks as well. Once home, I soaked the calamari in milk, and seasoned my breadcrumbs with paprika, salt and pepper. The soaking technique tenderizes these steaks and keeps them moist during the cooking process. I have to say, the calamari was the highlight of the meal. And a steal compared to the price of lobster.  

Along with the seafood, we enjoyed a salad, roasted potatoes and brussel sprouts. Lately, I have been par-boiling my potatoes before popping them into the oven. I've found this saves time, and ensures the potatoes cook through. As a potato lover, I get really sad when I bite into an undercooked potato. For dessert, we had chocolate ice cream with berries marinated in sugar and cognac, and red velvet cake, served with tea.

My mom's big birthday bash was planned for the upcoming weekend, but it felt nice to celebrate in this quiet and cozy way first. It's been a long time since we sat down, just the three of us, and talked, ate, without the mention of babies. I knew this would not last, so I savored every minute, even when my mom impatiently blew out her candle before we finished singing happy birthday.