Pumpkin Carving and Chili Night 2012

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Now in its fourth year, this annual tradition keeps getting bigger and better. This year, there was an addition of prizes, dessert, and more pumpkin carvers. I also started knitting a new scarf, my first of the season!
A sugar pumpkin from the garden. My simple fall decor.

I use four different types of beans -- chili, pinto, kidney and black.
Peppers, also from the garden.
This year, I added beer to my chili for the first time. Not a bad idea. 
Butcher paper laid out to catch pumpkin guts, brilliant. I am sad this wasn't my idea. 
The carvers. We had a record six this year. 
Chili toppings.
 The husband's ghost octopus with only seven tentacles. 
First-year contestants. 
The winning pumpkins: "Floating in Space" and "Moon spider". Titled by me. 
The winners with their prizes (left to right). Best Overall (space) and Most Artistic (spider).
The husband's bread pudding with a whiskey sauce. A nice way to end the evening. Although, I think the official ending was with whiskey shots. 


Grilled Cheese on Olive Bread and Salad

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This grilled cheese sandwich was one of the best I ever had. I used the husband's leftover olive bread, and paired it with a French, Swiss-like cheese. There was lots of butter and cast iron. On the side, we had hearty salads with kidney beans, cucumbers, and olives, topped with more cheese, pecorino, and a mustard vinaigrette. A perfect weeknight meal I wouldn't mind having more often.


Fall Dinner Party: Duck Ragu

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I've been wanting to make duck ragu since July. But, I thought it would be better as a cold weather dish. So, I waited for the temperatures to cool down. And waited. Now, as I type, it's 86 degrees outside, but last weekend, the weather cooperated and it was chilly (low 70s!) and rainy. Perfect duck ragu weather.

I saw this recipe at the gym, the only place I get to watch cable TV these days. It was on the show "Extra Virgin" with Debbie Mazar and her hot Italian husband. It looked fairly easy to make, and they were having so much fun doing it. I did not have as much fun as them cooking up this dish. Now that I think back on the episode, I am pretty sure it's not that they were having so much fun, it's that I was not having any fun on the treadmill, so anything that did not resemble exercise looked like a blast.

Luckily, despite the fact that making this ragu did not feel like a party, in the end, the dish tasted as great as it looked on TV, making my Fall dinner party a success. But, don't get me wrong, there was nothing unpleasant or difficult about making this dish. It's a hassle-free recipe that pretty much cooks itself, with some cooperation from you. The result however, is amazing. This could be the best duck ragu I ever had. But, don't take my word for it. One of my guests remarked, "Best in the world! I want to eat it every Saturday." I couldn't have asked for a better endorsement.

The rest of the menu was simple. We started off cocktail hour with cider whiskey drinks, cheese, olives and homemade bread. For dinner, there was a shaved Brussels sprouts salads with a lemony vinaigrette. And I roasted mini zucchinis and my leftover brussels sprouts with olive oil. There was wine and more of the husband's bread, with olives and herbs de provence. We ended with coffee ice cream and Italian waffers. And a sing along. Not part of my menu, but I let it slide.
 Coffee ice cream. There were some complications, but, it tasted great.
 The husband baked 12 pounds of bread. I'm not sure why so much.
 Clean those bones!
The brussels sprouts salad that was eaten too quickly to be photographed. But it was a perfect accompaniment to the duck, light, crisp and lemony.
 Mr. Napkins
Duck Ragu
Via http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/debi-mazar-and-gabriele-corcos/index.html

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 duck legs and thighs (I couldn’t find thighs and used breasts instead)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 red onion, finely chopped
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 clove garlic, finely chopped (I doubled the garlic)
1 1/2 cups red wine
One 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, blended
Pappardelle Pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Parmesan, for serving
Finely chopped fresh parsley, for serving
1) Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet or Dutch oven.

2) Sprinkle the duck legs with salt and pepper. Sear in the hot pan until golden brown and crisp, 10 minutes. Remove to a plate.

3) Add the carrots, celery and onions, and saute until soft, 3 minutes. Add the thyme and garlic, and saute until fragrant, 1 minute.

4) Add the red wine. Use the back of a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits from the duck; this will add to the flavor of the finished sauce. Cook for 2 minutes, then stir in the tomatoes, some salt and pepper and bring to a gentle simmer. Add the seared duck back to the pan and cover. Simmer gently until the duck is extremely tender and falling off the bone, 1 hour and 30 minutes.

5) Remove to a casserole dish to cool. Remove the skin and bones and discard. Chop the meat finely and add it back into the tomato sauce, adding a half a cup of water if it looks dry, and simmer, covered for 40 minutes.

Serve over Pappardelle. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil, and top with freshly grated Parmesan and parsley.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad

1/2 small red onion
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups Brussels sprouts (use larger sprouts if possible)
1/2 cup finely grated pecorino romano

1) Soak the onion slices in a small bowl of cold water for 15 to 20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

2)In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, mustard and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. Set aside.

3) Trim all of the Brussels sprouts, cutting off any bruised outer leaves and slicing off a good portion of the hard root end. Using a mandoline, shave the sprouts one at a time. When you're done, use your fingers to gently separate the leaves so that the shredded sprouts resemble a very fine slaw.

4) Put the sprouts in a serving bowl and toss gently with the onions (which you've now drained) and the dressing. Fold in the pecorino, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve immediately, before it starts to wilt.


K-Town Adventures

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When our friends lived in Korea Town, we hated visiting them. Parking was always a nightmare. The drive over was unpleasant. Their apartment had a strange mini door next to the bathroom. But, all that is besides the point. The point is, if we wanted to see them, we had to make the occasional trip to K-Town. And it so happened, the food around their neighborhood was delicious. In particular, they introduced us to the best bibimbap around at Gamjabawi. This little stand is located in a food court at a strange Korean  mini-mall, creatively called Koreatown Plaza.

Every time I've visited this Plaza, it's been near-empty. I am puzzled how the stores, selling strange, but high-end goods stay in business. The food court however, is almost always busy, with people sitting over various size and color bowls of steaming noodles or rice, or other things I don't recognize.

Yesterday evening, I spent a couple of hours in the Plaza with a group of friends, exploring the deserted shops, and eating delicious food. I captured our outing with my new phone, which actually has a good camera. Apparently, they've been making these type of phones for years now!
 Three amazing levels. Faded pink tile, bright yellow lights, and there's even a water feature.
 I love house slippers, and had to try my hardest not to buy a pair in red flannel, and blue and green.
 Grilled, plastic food anyone?
 Owl tea pots and cups.
 Gotta have some Crunk Juice in grape flavor.
 Not sure what is going on here, but those teeth are incredible.
 Sisterly love. I wonder what the man on TV is talking about? He looks sad. 
 Steamed pork and vegetable buns. 
 She's excited.
 The best bibimbap, it's appropriately #1 on the menu. 
We tried the potato pancake too. We like to eat.