Tuesday, June 29, 2010

heavier things

We were bad tonight. We didn't have any veggies with dinner. Just burgers. Cheeseburgers, actually. With bacon. And it was fun.

There was a small hint of goodness to these Rosemary-Sage Burgers - the fact that they came from a Self Magazine email. I don't remember what possessed me to subscribe in the first place. I'm sure it was some headline like, "How to Tone Your Abs Without Crunches." But the occasional fun recipe comes through, and this was the first I've tried.

There would be much I would change about this burger, but it didn't stop us from having two each. (Don't judge). First, it was a little drier and more well-done than I usually like a burger, but with the addition of pork in the mix, I didn't want to take my chances. Second, I thought there was an overwhelming amount of rosemary in the mix. So much, I didn't taste any sage. Hopefully the freezer will kill some of that rosemary - I couldn't get the ground meat in any smaller package than 1 pound each, so I had 4 extra patties to save for later. When I finally get around to using them, I'll also use a stronger cheese. I had chosen Muenster so as to not overwhelm what I thought was going to be a light burger, but it does hold its own. The bacon stays, though. Bacon always stays.

Monday, June 28, 2010

let's take off our fancy pants tonight

Last night, half of Kingsize and I tried out a hip, new-ish restaurant downtown to celebrate their music being featured in an LA Film Festival movie, The Wheeler Boys. While we savored our cocktails and drooled over their extensive menu, we were sadly underwhelmed by our food order. I think I'll end up giving it another shot since we probably just ordered wrong (like I said, massive menu), but it may be a while to shake the disappointment of a pasta dish that sounded stupendous, but was just kind of blah.

All day long today, I've wanted to redeem pasta-dom, and I feel like I have with this Pasta with Parsnips + Bacon. While the title and the ingredients are very straightforward and even plain, the combination elevated the dish.

The first thing Matty said was, "Huh. I had forgotten about parsnips." So right. Those humble "white carrots," when pan-fried in bacon drippings, caramelized to a sweet smokiness. One of the comments on the source recipe was that Niman Ranch bacon was too smoky, but we'd have it no other way.

I managed to limit myself to one serving, but only because I was too sick to go to the gym this morning. I may drag myself tomorrow, if only to have the leftovers for lunch.

Pasta with Parsnips + Bacon
from Serious Eats

1/4 lb. bacon or pancetta, chopped
2 T. butter
2 lbs. parsnips, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
8 oz. pasta
1/4 c. chopped green onion (or parsley)
Salt and pepper
Grated parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, add the chopped bacon to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook until the bacon is browned, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and let drain on a couple paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.

2. Turn the heat to medium and add the butter to skillet with the bacon fat. Add the parsnips and cook for about 12 minutes, stirring often. They should be lightly browned and very tender. Turn off the heat.

3. Cook pasta according to the directions on the box. When done, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water and then add the pasta directly to the skillet with the parsnips. Turn heat to high and add about 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water, the bacon, and the green onions. Cook for 1 minute, stirring often. Add more of the cooking water if it looks too dry. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

the brightest green

This salad was supposed to be yesterday's dinner. Matty and I had both agreed that what we needed after a Friday night that included overindulgence at Mongolian BBQ (and pie), and a Saturday afternoon that included drowning our US Soccer sorrows in cheap Chinese take-out, was a pile of leafy greens, and that was it.

Sadly, our best intentions lost out to the siren call of The 101 on the way home from Matty's gig with the lovely Kathryn Ostenberg, and we happily (albeit guiltily) filled up on a breakfast burrito (for him) and mac and cheese for me (with a side of spinach - healthy!)

I vowed to be good today, though - so good I've already had this Kale + Arugula Salad twice. Once before yoga and once after yoga. No recipe, really - just the greenest things I could find in the fridge - a bunch of curly kale, a box of arugula, green lentils, a few blue cheese-stuffed olives, and a tiny leftover wedge of blue cheese. All of it was tossed with just some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, topped with cubed avocado, and a runny fried egg.

And even though I had dressed the salad yesterday afternoon in anticipation of it being dinner, the salad still held up after being in the fridge overnight. Oh sturdy greens - what can't you do?

Friday, June 25, 2010

this one's for you

Weird food confession #3 (for a refresher, #1 and #2): I don't like apple pie. Like, at all. It's not necessarily apple's fault - I just feel that there are so many other more interesting pies out there. I'll never pick apple over pumpkin, or any berry, or my latest favorite, pineapple. But I do love pie. More than I love cake or cookies or brownies. (But maybe not as much as ice cream).

Luckily, we have friends who agree. When BN saw the aforementioned pineapple pie, she demanded her own - this one something berry-rific and seasonal. We finally settled on a Lemon Raspberry Tart, and enjoyed it with glasses of white wine after a dinner out.

Her fiance Jason said it best: "This pie is better than I ever thought it could taste." I completely agree, although I have to say that I knew this pie was going to be exceptional from the moment the scent of the deliriously buttery crust wafted up to me as I was pressing it into the tart pan.

The tart takes a little time as the crust needs to be frozen, but the dough is a dream to work with, and needs no rolling. It baked up crisp but substantial, and was the perfect contrast to the silky custard (blended up just fine, and I didn't need to strain it before adding the cream) and the bright raspberries. I'm so happy to be able to add another winner to my repertoire - one more step away from those damn apples.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

we rock the party

Choir parties are the best. Especially when your board is completely comprised of foodies. But because of that, I have nothing terribly exciting to report on my end, especially when I took one look of the gorgeous home-grown heirloom tomato and burrata salad our hostess had made and nearly drove myself and my tray of Mozzarella Skewers back home. They're barely blog-worthy, but I thought they came out pretty so I wanted to share.

They were heavily inspired by these Rosemary Skewers, but does anyone know where I can get that much rosemary? I mean, every grocery store now has herbs in those tiny little plastic containers, and the ones at Trader Joe's had about 5-6 sprigs in each box. How do I not spend an arm and a leg on 10+ packages of rosemary if I'm trying to feed a crowd? Does anyone sell loose rosemary? Am I just shopping in the wrong places?

Anyway, so no rosemary flavor, no uber-cute presentation. I just took mozzarella balls, sliced-up roasted piquillo peppers and plain black olives and threaded them on multi-colored party picks. And because they were otherwise fairly plain, I marinated them overnight in olive oil and a few shakes each of red pepper flakes and dried basil. God, I shudder at how "Semi-Homemade" this is all sounding, but hey, I'm still going to enjoy the leftovers tonight.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

i am older and wiser now

I can't remember the last time I had a tostada. I feel like it had to have come from an elementary school cafeteria. Time to elevate: Black Bean + Salmon Tostada. Let's start from the bottom up:

- Tortilla shell: I was feeling lazy, and I swear I've seen stacks of tortilla shells at Trader Joe's before, but either mine was out of stock, or I was just dreaming up ways of making my life easier. Ended up following the recipe - spraying both sides of tortillas with vegetable oil spray, and baking them for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. To be honest, I had no faith that they would come out correctly. I was sure they would just be slightly warm, terribly greasy, pale tortillas, but I must report that I have never been more pleased to be wrong. Crispy deliciousness.

- Black beans: If there is one thing I hate washing more than the blender, it's the food processor. I was not about to process a can of black beans when I could just buy a can of refried beans. And you know what, the Trader Joe's refried beans were actually delicious. The last time I had refried beans was probably the same time I had that last tostada, and that for sure was not delicious.

- Arugula: I still have leftover cabbage in the fridge, and a) I'm pretty sure it's not good anymore, and b) I'm kinda over it. So instead of a cabbage slaw, I decided to use up some arugula I bought on a whim the other day. The peppery kick was a nice contrast to the rich beans.

- Slow-Cooked Salmon: Oh boy. I thought I had found my salmon nirvana with Alice Waters, but I may never cook salmon any other way again. Mine didn't come out quite as gorgeous as Jaden's, but that silky texture she talks about was all there. There's not quite as much toothsome-ness, but the first thing that popped in my head to compare it to was smoked salmon. I don't know - it just tastes very, um, pink. That's a good thing.

I didn't get terribly creative in the seasoning department - I sliced up some onions for the base, but couldn't serve them - they were still raw. I brushed the salmon with my leftover South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce, and it added just the right amount of kick without overwhelming the flavor of the fish.

- Toppings: Avocado, sour cream and (not pictured) sliced black olives left over from an appetizer I'm prepping for tomorrow.

We obviously ate more than we should have, as we often do. This time, I didn't feel quite so bad about it - everything was delightfully healthy. Might have to make Tostada Night part of the rotation, playing with the toppings, although it'll be hard to top this salmon.

Monday, June 21, 2010

accentuate the positive

I had a post all written about how much I hate my local grocery store, how I couldn't believe ten of the dozen mussels I bought for this Hard-Shell Clams with Parsley Pesto dish were DOA, and how I wasn't ever going back there again. This post was intense - I was likening my relationship with the store to that of my 19-year-old self and a bad boyfriend - always going back even though I knew no good would come of it.

Then I decided to let all the anger go and focus on how great dinner it was. It didn't deserve my negative energy. So let's celebrate the food!

A couple of additions and changes to make this a more complete meal. I needed carbs, and didn't want to do a pasta side, so I riffed on the parsley pesto idea and used the large bunch of cilantro I had in the fridge to make a cilantro pesto that I swirled into Ginger-Cilantro Rice. This was absolutely perfect. Fresh from all the green, but still felt rich from the slick of sesame oil. The first thing I thought of was how delicious this rice would be with just a fried egg on top, and the second thing I thought of us was easy it would be to jazz up leftover take-out rice with this cilantro pesto.

I also threw in a couple extra goodies to put under the broiler. First I lined the pan with stalks of broccolini, sprinkled on some olive oil, salt and pepper, and topped the greens with both clams and mussels (Matty went and got me more from a REAL grocery store), as well as a couple slices of a tiny lobster tail that I just couldn't resist at Whole Foods. After about 10 minutes, all the clams and a few mussels had opened, so I took the pan out from under the broiler and shook it around a high flame on the stovetop until the rest of the mussels opened up.

Looking forward to making this again for company. The presentation belies how easy the prep is, and it's just fun to serve out of a communal dish and eat with your hands a bit.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

better in time

Last concert of the season. First peaches of the summer. Campton Place Coffee Cake from Desserts by the Yard, which just happened to be an MMC donation premium we were offering at the concert. Perfect.

I made this in a 13x9-inch pan for ease of transport and serving. It's easy to cut a rectangle into 64 smaller rectangles, but I wasn't about to try to slice a bundt cake 63 times, especially when I was running around an hour before call time thinking I had no concert attire (don't worry - I found a dress that I thought my sister had stolen from me in the bag she returned it to me in in the back of my closet).

The cake was very rich and very moist, but my biggest regret is not having peachy peaches. This recipe was made for mid-summer farmers' market peaches, not mid-June Albertson's peaches. They smelled pretty enough, but they were pretty flavorless. I think I just got excited about the idea of summer peaches a little too early.

Even the people who raved about the cake said they would never have guessed peaches were an ingredient, and I felt that was almost the point. Don't worry, though - I'm pretty sure I'll be making this for brunches to come with all kinds of seasonal fruit. Berries might be particularly good with the cocoa-sugar filling. Damn it! Why did I settle for those crappy peaches?

Monday, June 14, 2010

naughty girl

Can someone let me come over to their house and try to roast a chicken? For the life of me, I can't figure out whether it's me or my oven. I would love to blame the oven, but most of my other oven creations turn out okay. I just can't bear to think that I can't master something as basic as roasting a chicken. I've pretty much all but given up on the idea, but I couldn't resist the novelty of roasting a chicken the "naughty" way.

Sadly, this again was a frustrating chicken experience. I think I overfilled my bundt pan with tiny potatoes and Brussels sprouts, so the chicken wouldn't sit up properly. And my chicken must have been on some sort of diet-exercise regimen that I would love to hear about, because the slick of chicken fat that was supposed to make the roasted vegetables so irresistible was nowhere to be found. Rather (most likely because of the overfilling), I got sad gray Brussels and super "rare" potatoes. The chicken breast came out perfectly, but as I got into carving it (another basic skill I have no clue about), I realized that the legs were also still pretty "rare." Luckily, it was just the two of us for dinner, and the chicken breast over the veggies were quite enough for dinner. The legs went back into the oven and then straight into the fridge for Matty dinners while I'm at rehearsal the next few days.

The saving grace of the meal was the South Carolina Mustard BBQ Sauce, some of which I separated out for serving, and some of which I periodically basted the cooking chicken with. I used a spicy brown mustard because I prefer it to the ballpark kind, and left out the bay leaf because I was out.

It was a marvel, really, even though I only cooked it for 15 minutes. I loved how spicy it came out - in very different ways, from the mustard and separately from the cayenne. I loved the sweet notes of brown sugar. I may have to commandeer a piece of meat the next time Matty fires up the smoker just for this sauce, and per Elise's recommendation of slathering it on catfish, I'd love to try it as a marinade/glaze for Whole Roasted Catfish.

P.S. I just realized this chicken looks a lot like me after a day at the Rose Bowl Flea Market with no sunscreen - way golden on top, pale on the bottom. Poor chicks, both of us.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

lighter than air

I've felt terribly decadent lately. I think it all started with our mini vacation last weekend (and by vacation, I mean taking Friday off and being away for the weekend) that included some fairly exquisite dining. I actually don't think we were all that bad this past week, but recounting our Memorial Day barbecue is what guilted me into finding a healthier option for tonight's dinner. This Spicy Butter Steamed Bass tasted clean and light, a perfect foil to last night's steakhouse food coma where I very nearly literally fell asleep in my chair.

In fact, it tasted almost too light. I mean, I wasn't expecting too much out of steamed fish, but I couldn't help the feeling that something was missing - something that could have made the flavor rounder without losing that clean feeling. I racked and racked my brain - oh yeah. I forgot the butter that goes on top of the fish. Doh.

And speaking of things that go on top of the fish, I think a sure way to NOT forget the butter next time is to pulse the serrano, ginger and lime zest into a paste and rub that into the butter to make a spread/marinade for the fish. I didn't find it particularly appealing to chomp down on a ginger matchstick or a mince of pepper. I think a more uniform distribution of flavors would be more pleasing. I'd also spring for the sea bass next time - wasn't terribly fond of the red snapper substitution, but rather enjoyed the catfish I used to supplement when the grocery store ran out of snapper.

Friday, June 11, 2010

you gotta take the good, the bad

I cannot BELIEVE it has taken me this long to tell you all about our Memorial Day barbecue! I also cannot believe that I have eaten since then. Without further ado...

Burrata Cheese with Olive Salsa, aka the easiest party trick known to humans. Whizz two kinds of olives and basil in the food processor, stir in olive oil, and if you manage to not just sit and go at it with a spoon, you sprinkle it over and around luscious burrata and amaze all your friends. I served it with store-bought Melba toasts, but by the end of the evening, we were all just going directly fork-to-mouth.

I have already made this Cabbage + Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts again since the barbecue. It's incredibly addictive. The only fussy thing about it is the need to salt the cabbage and let it sit for 2 hours. You could serve it raw, but I rather prefer the more wilted cabbage. If you're going to have a long prep day anyway (like most of our barbecues will), it's nothing to let it sit while you're doing other cooking, and by the time it's ready, you just whisk a couple dressing ingredients together and serve. I find it absolutely imperative to have the peanuts, but I didn't serve them together because one of our friends doesn't like nuts. Obviously, avoid your allergies, but I imagine toasted almonds, pine nuts and pepitas would also be great in the salad.

Unfortunately, not all barbecues can be perfect. This Arugula Potato Salad was a last-minute addition to the menu because I am forever feeling like I don't have enough food to serve my guests regardless of the size of the menu I already have planned. And when I saw that photo, I swooned - it looked rich, creamy, and had dreamy green things like arugula and dill in it. I tasted it warm right after the first toss, and it really was rich, creamy and dreamy. And then I put it in the fridge as directed, and instead of the flavors melding, everything just congealed into flat, predictable potato salad. I felt the arugula became goopy and gross. That said, I'd happily make it again and just serve immediately.

And sadly, this barbecue came with, not one, but two, disappointments. I have to take the blame for the failure of this Southern-Style Mac and Cheese, although I do have to say that there wasn't too much that seemed Southern about it. Not that I could claim to know, but a little dash of Worcestershire that can't be tasted in the final product along with some grated onions doesn't a Southern dish make. But hey, back to it being my fault: in the juggle of prepping the other dishes, I neglected to notice that the instructions only ask me to boil the pasta for 3 minutes. Rather, I cooked them to the point of doneness. And what happens when put completely cooked pasta in with all that cream and cheese is that none of the liquid gets properly absorbed, and you end up with extremely soupy pasta after the 30 minutes of baking time called for. So what do you do? You stir and pray. And put it back in the oven for another 30 minutes. And another. And another. And 2 hours later, something barely passable will make it out of the oven. It won't be cute, but it won't be cheese soup. You won't have leftovers, but you'll kick yourself the entire time that you didn't make the Truffled Mac and Cheese that you had been eyeing.

But redemption comes in the form of a Creamy Pineapple Pie with Brown Sugar Meringue. I die just looking at these photos. I want to make another one right now. And then I want to keep the whole thing for myself. And by the way, how cute does the pie look in my vintage Bauer pie plate? So. Cute.

I mean, it's the embodiment of summer. I don't normally like cooked pineapple (get away from me, Hawaiian pizza), but apparently if I puree it and make a curd out of it, I can't stop "testing" it. I thought my tiny vintage pie plate wouldn't hold all of the curd, and got excited about the prospect of having leftover curd to attack with a spoon, but sadly, the pie plate held every last drop.

And that meringue. Probably the most impressive meringue of my life. And while I could easily have had the filling in just the graham cracker crust (or on a graham cracker, for that matter), the meringue added this ethereal suggestion of brown sugar that tied the whole pie up perfectly. Brandon thought I had added booze to the meringue, that's how complex the brown sugar made it taste. I didn't, but if ever I needed an improvement for next time, there it is.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

nothing can replace it

So Matty went and got wings after rehearsal this afternoon. WITHOUT me. And apparently they were good. He totally owes me. I'm thinking Thursday night for Game 4.

But whatever. I can make my own bar food. And by bar food, I mean deep-fried stuff. Because you're not going to get Tempura Scallops at a bar. (And if you do, I would like to know what bar you go to. Please and thank you).

No recipe, really. Just well-dried, salted and peppered scallops dipped in my standard tempura batter of equal parts flour and beer (plus a little turmeric and salt), fried in vegetable oil until golden. And served over Cabbage + Lime Salad with Roasted Peanuts minus the spinach, plus 2 packages of bean curd noodles. Because I'm crazy like that.

It was the perfect meal for the girl who didn't get other deep-fried foods today and the boy who ruined his appetite for dinner by having wings at 4p. :P Just enough scallops to be a little indulgent, but balancing it all with a refreshingly light and citrus-y pile of cabbage underneath. Almost makes me forget about the chicken wings.

Monday, June 7, 2010

a simple love like that

Comfort food. I like it. A lot. Probably more than is good for me. But think of the alternative - I would be pretty cranky if I didn't eat as well as I did. And people are too used to nice Ngoc for me to have to unleash cranky Ngoc.

So when I ended up late at the office and heard that Matty was going to be even later out of his gig, I picked Fettucine Alfredo. It was definitely an evening for buttered noodles with cheese. And nothing else.

Except that my conscience get the best of me, and realized that the post-dinner guilt of not having any vegetation would outweigh any pleasure gained from those fatted carbs, so I roasted some broccoli. But then Matty texted that he was going to be even later, so I snacked on aforementioned broccoli to the point that it was going to be ridiculous to actually serve that tiny of an amount. So I roasted some Brussels sprouts to toss in. And that made dinner at 10:00p just about perfect.

Word of caution - if you don't toss quickly (or don't sprinkle the the Parmesan evenly), it will clump up. I got a few, but I was hungry, so I ate the clumps. They were delicious. But I understand that if you're serving to company (cheapest, easiest dinner party ever!) and want a beautiful presentation (especially if you don't hide the noodles under greens), you'll want to be careful.