'Tis the Season for Dining Al Fresco

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Ahhhhhh, it's here. Summer. With it comes the heat, soft hum of ceiling fans, meals outdoors and breezy cocktails.

I've been indulging in variations of the gin and tonic. Gin and tonic with Thai basil, with tarragon, or cucumber and even apricots. I've also spent little time in front of the stove. And we've been eating cheese, salads, cold cucumber yogurt soup and grilling just about everything.

The backyard is pleasant and tranquil in the evenings (except for tonight, it seems we have young neighbors that snuck into our hood and are having too much fun for Altadena, singing "Happy Birthday" loudly on a Thursday night!). But on a regular night, it's easy to be transported to different place, with crickets chirping noisily and all the lofty greenery enveloping the yard. You feel secluded and carefree, your only worry being the next drink and who's eventually going to wash the dishes.

Below are photos of recent meals and drinks, enjoyed with family and friends (and their little ones!) al fresco.
The 5:30pm Friday cocktail face. Cheers!


Eggplant Bolognese

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Despite what the weather outside might be like, I am always in the mood for a plate of hearty pasta. Pasta anytime, all the time, is pretty much how I roll.

On this particular evening I went with an all vegetable version of pappardelle with eggplant, roasted peppers and pine nuts, finished off in cream. Although it required minimum skill and effort, this pasta does take some time. You gotta salt the eggplant, then let is sit for at least 30 minutes, then, rinse it before it's ready for the pan. Salting brings out some of the bitterness, and gives your eggplant a better texture, so it's worth to do it.
Eggplant Bolognese
Serves 4

1 lbs pappardelle
2 large eggplants, cut into small chunks or strips, I like the skins, but if you don't, you can peel them
1 large can tomato sauce
1 tbsp tomato paste
heavy cream, I used nearly a cup, but you can use however much you'd like
3 tbsp roasted pine nuts
roasted peppers, sliced into thin strips
red pepper flakes
4 garlic cloves, sliced
fresh basil, handful
dried Italian herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil)
olive oil
salt and pepper

1) Salt your eggplant and set aside a colander for 30 or more minutes. Rinse and dry before use.
2) In a large pan with olive oil, add garlic and pepper flakes. Toast a minute, then add more olive and your eggplant. Eggplant loves oil, so you might need to add more as you go.
3) Cook your eggplant on all sides, until golden, then add your tomato paste and tomato sauce, and Italian herb mixture, salt and pepper. Cover and cook for 20 or so minutes, until your eggplant is soft. Add in your roasted peppers
4) Meanwhile, cook your pasta according to package instructions.
5) Add the cream and pine nuts to your eggplant and cook for another 5-8 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Add your pasta to the sauce and toss. Using additional pasta water in the sauce, if needed.
6) Served with fresh basil and Parmesan shavings.


Turkey Patty Over Greens

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I am eating a popsicle and trying to decide whether I should clean and reorganize my closet after 6 pm on a Sunday. It would be the productive thing to do. But being productive isn't always the most fun choice. I could eat more popsicles and finish watching Arrested Development. We'll see where this post takes me.

I am not about eating bread-less burgers. I love me a bun. I never consider my carb intake. I do however consider my laziness. Sometime, often, I get home and I don't want to ever leave again. And that's what happened on this particular evening. I formed my patties, I looked around, I thought about running to the market, then I decided to just eat the spinach in the fridge. Who says laziness is a bad quality? It can lead to healthy dinner choices. (Yesterday, I ate tofu over beans because I didn't want to change out of pajamas after 7 pm. Boo-yah.)

I knew a burger salad needed additional jazzing up, so I caramelized onions, fennel and bell peppers for a tasty topping that brought the dish together. To my ground turkey I added chopped celery, bell pepper, green onion, garlic chives, garlic powder, salt, pepper, paprika and cumin. My salad base consisted of baby spinach, goat cheese, tomatoes and avocado. 

We were both surprised at how delicious and satisfying this quick meal turned out to be. I might be trying other versions of burger salads soon. Next time intentionally.