Tuesday, September 28, 2010

things aren't the way they used to be

The weekday red meat detox continues with Mark Bittman's Avocado Salad with Ginger + Peanuts. Except I forgot the peanuts, barely used any dressing, left the avocado in halves and filled them with smoked clams. So not Mark Bittman's salad at all.

Can we please talk about the smoked clams, though? I was originally going to make Crab-Stuffed Avocados, but I didn't want to make two grocery stops (the good avocados live in a place where I can't get crabmeat). I thought of going with canned tuna to keep costs down, but that didn't excite my tastebuds. I took the leap of faith when I saw the clams on the next shelf down.

Boy, were they good. Rich and more smoky than fishy, which is always a plus when you're going out later. The 3 oz. package was enough to fill both avocados, and the whole shebang on top of some leftover kale made a fairly decadent dinner. Between the avocado and the olive oil the clams came in, I barely dotted my kale with more than a few drops of the very potent ginger dressing. It would definitely be very good if I kept my salad truer to the original, but this dish kind of became a beast of it's own, and the ginger wasn't quite necessary.

Monday, September 27, 2010

maybe it's better this way

I'm overseas for the next two weeks, which means I will miss good ol' American football. That's two Monday Night Footballs, a USC home game, and a whole Sunday of gridiron. I went to the hotel gym today and was flipping through the TV stations, and it completely flabbergasted me out when I made it all the way around and couldn't find SportsCenter. It's all for the best anyway - I didn't need to squeeze in any more coronary damage like I'm wont to do around football games.

This Taglierini with Basil, Green Beans + Squid from Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone was the perfect break from such damage, and was part of my eat-good-during-the-week-so-you-can-splurge-on-weekends plan. Amazingly simple, amazingly delicious. Light and lovely.

I went to an Asian grocery store to get squid, but I took one look at them, and couldn't/didn't want to deal with them, so I picked up frozen calamari rings instead. I used as much basil as I could from my poor pathetic plant, and made up for it with a massive amount of chives. I think the fresh herbs were key to this dish - they enlivened what are otherwise fairly basic ingredients.

This was also delicious two days later, cold, standing next to the refrigerator. Just FYI.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

like the deserts miss the rain

I'm taking a break from the Katy Perry food blogging to contribute to Week 1 of Fall Fest: Spinach. It's not that I'm dead on ideas for the last song on Katy's record; actually far from it - I've got ideas galore. Just haven't had the time or the right combination of ingredients in the house. Will get to it soon - hopefully this weekend!

We've been in a bit of a red meat detox since the beginning of football season. And by "we," I mean "I." I eat terribly on the weekends (Week 1: bacon-wrapped hot dogs and sausage sandwiches; Week 2: hot wings and rib-eyes), and by the time Tuesday morning rolls around, I wake up wondering how I'm not in cardiac arrest.

Not that lasagna is the greatest way to avoid cardiac arrest, but this Spinach + Black Olive Lasagna feels positively ethereal by normal lasagna standards. I made a few filling substitutions, but nothing major:

Spinach + Black Olive Lasagna

1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
2 T. olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 14-oz. cans diced tomatoes
1 t. dried basil
1 t. dried oregeno
1/4 t. red pepper flakes
1/2 c. sliced black olives
1 15 oz. container ricotta
1/4 c. Parmesan
1/4 c. olive tapanade
1 egg
24 oz. fresh spinach, cooked
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 lb. fresh mozzarella, grated

1. Saute the onion in 1 T. of olive oil. Add some salt. Let the onions get soft and develop a bit of color, then add the garlic and cook for one minute more. Add the canned tomatoes and dry herbs. Bring to a boil and let simmer.

2. Meanwhile, saute the mushrooms and bell pepper in the other T. of olive oil. When soft and slightly golden, set aside.

3. Add red pepper flakes, olives and wine to the sauce. Taste. Adjust any seasonings. Continue to simmer.

4. Combine the ricotta, Parmesan, olive tapanade and egg. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Set aside.

5. Mix spinach with cooked mushrooms and bell pepper. Set aside.

6. To assemble, start with sauce in a 13x9-inch pan, and arrange noodles, vegetables, ricotta and mozzarella in your preferred order. End with noodles, sauce and mozzarella.

7. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 45 – 50 minutes.

It was so light, I almost didn't feel right calling it "lasagna." It's just so tied in to luscious meat sauce that I truly felt I was missing out. Don't get me wrong - it was delicious, but I still felt kind of empty after eating it. I think it'd go great as a side to meatloaf. :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

hummingbird heartbeat

Day 11 of food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: Hummingbird Heartbeat.

Love this song. It's so joyful. It is to your heart what this Hummingbird Cake is to your tastebuds. (I know - bad segue. But honest sentiment).

Now I don't know why it's called a hummingbird cake, either. Most folks says it's because a) the cake is so good, it'll make you hum; or b) it's so sweet that it's compared to the nectar hummingbirds feast on. I don't really know about either being true about my particular cake (not that it wasn't good), but I still think it's a cute name.

And look how versatile it is! Above is that it looked like baked in full-size muffin tins and served for breakfast this morning.

Here's what it looked like baked in mini-cupcake tins, frosted with melted white chocolate and festively sprinkled as an engagement party gift for my cousin and a welcome-to-the-neighborhood gift for our new neighbors:

And what they'll look like tomorrow when I bring them into the office for my co-workers:

I was initially a little turned off by the inclusion of bananas in the batter because I wasn't looking to make banana bread, but the flavor just about disappears in the final product. If anything, it's the pineapple flavor that shines through the most. I omitted the walnuts because I don't like nuts in my baked goods. I also replaced the vegetable oil with an equal amount of applesauce in an attempt to be healthier. I'd love to try this with honey as a sweetener, but since that would throw off the liquid ratio, it scares me a bit. I'll try with at least brown sugar next time.

I can't imagine having this as a 3-layer, cream cheese-frosted cake. I would be overwhelmed with guilt. I thought the full muffins (or 2 of them) were the perfect amount for breakfast, and the frosted mini-cupcakes were a nice tea-time treat.

Hummingbird Cupcakes

Nonstick vegetable spray
All-purpose flour, for pans
3 c. self-rising flour
2 c. granulated sugar
3/4 c. applesauce
1/2 c. finely chopped pecans
2 very ripe large bananas, mashed
8 oz. crushed pineapple, with juice
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 t. ground cinnamon
4 large eggs, beaten

1 lb. confectioners' sugar
8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 T. milk, or more if needed

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray and flour mini cupcake pans.

2. Prepare the cake; in a large bowl, stir to combine self-rising flour, sugar, applesauce, pecans, bananas, pineapple, vanilla, cinnamon, and eggs.

3. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans. Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until the tops spring back when gently pressed with your fingertips. Start checking at 20 minutes.

4. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 10 minutes.

5. Prepare the frosting; in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and 1 tablespoon milk on medium speed until frosting is smooth. If needed, add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to achieve the proper spreading consistency.

6. Spread frosting on cooled cupcakes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

you don't have to be a shell

Day 10 of food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: "Pearl."

I thought an oyster dish for a song about a metaphorical pearl was too obvious, so I went with other shellfish plus other seafood to follow along with the theme of being more than just a shell: Salmon in Saffron Mussel Sauce. How could I resist - four of my favorite things. Salmon. Saffron. Mussel. Sauce.

Salmon in Saffron Mussel Sauce
Serves 2

1 T. olive oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 8-oz. skinless salmon fillets or steaks
1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. vegetable broth
1/2 c. salsa
1/2 t. saffron threads, crushed
3/4 c. whipping cream
1 garlic clove, minced
1 bay leaf
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. fresh lemon juice

1. Start by preparing the salmon; Preheat to 250F. Season salmon and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.

2. Toss the onion in olive oil, and layer on bottom of oven-proof dish just big enough to fit the salmon. Place the salmon on top of the onion. Cook for 30 minutes.

3. Combine mussels and wine in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cover and cook until mussels begin to open, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer mussels to large bowl. Discard any mussels that do not open.

4. Add vegetable broth, salsa, saffron, cream, garlic, bay leaf and cayenne to any remaining pan juices. Simmer over medium heat until sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add mussels in shells; stir until heated through, about 2 minutes. Stir in lemon juice.

5. Place 1 salmon fillet on each of 2 plates. Divide mussels among plates. Spoon sauce over salmon and mussels.

I mean, seriously. For being completely thrown together, the sauce was amazing. We basically went through an entire olive loaf just to finish up the sauce. It'd probably be great in pasta as well - perhaps with just shellfish.

Monday, September 6, 2010

i still hear the flames calling out my name

Day 9 of food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: "Who Am I Living For?"

I can see the heavens
But I still hear the flames
Calling out my name

I know girlfriend wasn't talking about a barbecue, and I hate to trivialize such a soul-searching song, but once I decided to blog through this record, I immediately thought of firing up the grill for this one. And what better occasion than Labor Day, especially since we could not for the life of us figure out the last time we had people over around the smoker. (It was Memorial Day - literally had to scroll through the blog to figure it out).

We started out with a chips/salsa/guacamole, a selection of fine cheeses, and this Melon-Mozzarella Salad. The market-fresh cantaloupe went divinely with the honey-lime-mint dressing. The cheese was just bonus. Cheese is always bonus.

I wish I had photos of the four courses of meat that went into the smoker, but you can put a camera in front of your boyfriend, but you can't make him blog. Use your imagination:

- rib-eye roast with a soy-Coca Cola-brown sugar marinade
- beef short ribs, as many wrapped in bacon as possible from the package we had
- dry-rub brisket (courtesy of Jeff)
- bacon-wrapped pork loin (also courtesy of Jeff)

On to the sides and desserts:

Remember when I was a big ol' tease and wouldn't tell you about the savory appetizer I made for the Girls Drawin Girls wrap party? Well, boom. Mac + Cheese Cupcakes.

Yep, I said it. I doubled the recipe and got about 72 mini cupcakes. Just a couple notes, more for me than anything - I've made them a few times now, so I know their little kinks:

- Cut the cornstarch by a quarter (so use 3 T. if you're doubling the recipe) - 4 is a bit much and makes the end product a little gummy, especially the leftovers.
- Use a really strong cheese. This is not the place for bagged pre-shredded cheese. There's so much milk in the sauce that the cheese needs to stand up to it. I used a smoked Gouda this time. Perfection. I imagine a truffled cheese would also work well.
- To successfully remove the cupcakes from the tins, make sure you grease them well and let them cool for a good while. Basically, if they're too hot to touch, they're too hot to remove. They'll still be delicious, but they won't retain their shape, and that's the whole point.

Someone at the party suggested I line the tins with bacon before filling with mac. I'm just pissed I didn't think of it first.

And what better way to wash all of that down than with three desserts:

I'm so proud of how gorgeous this Fresh Fig + Raspberry Tart came out. I was so distracted by its beauty that I forgot to add the honey over top, and while I think it would have brought out the flavor of the figs (which were good, but not over-the-top good as last week's farmers market figs), it might have put the sweetness factor over the edge as the raspberry jam was doing its bit.

A big hit (and an after-thought) was Dorie Greenspan's Soft Chocolate + Raspberry Tart from Baking: From My Home to Yours.

Nary a dent was made in my Costco supply of raspberries from the previous tart, and we were missing a chocolate dessert. I was going to throw them into brownies, but I could not pass up this tart. I just used plain ol' Nestle semi-sweet morsels, and it turned out great. Would probably just faint and die if I used any better chocolate (although that's a risk I will be taking in the future - all super-dark chocolate and raspberries - sigh).

And this Plum Torte. So easy, it should be a crime. It's completely unassuming (so much so that shortly after taking this photo, I had to dust it with powdered sugar just for a little more visual interest). But it's completely no-nonsense, from the prep to the aesthetic. I didn't expect the plums to completely disappear into the cake - not that that's a bad thing, just a surprise. Loved the barely perceptible crunch of the cinnamon sugar topping - who knew cinnamon and plums went so well together. You could dress it up with a little whipped cream for a casual dinner party, or serve up a nice cold slice with a cup of tea for a late-afternoon snack, or dare I say, breakfast.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Day 8 of food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: "E.T."

I love this song. I played it on repeat for ages the evening the single was released. And ever since that night, I've had no idea what to cook for it. Even Google didn't help, other than to come up with cute images of food in alien molds or nasty-sounding alien-themed cocktails.

Since I was now on my own, I wandered the grocery store aisles in search of the most alien-looking produce, and I landed in the wild mushroom section. From top to bottom above, I picked out maitake, chanterelles and oyster mushrooms.

Mixed and matched enough to make up the pound required for this Wild Mushroom Pasta with Gin-Cream Sauce.

It was good. We-each-had-three-servings good. And it all came together really seamlessly. I set my cup of vegetable stock (to keep it completely vegetarian) to reduce in place of using a demi-glace, started the water boiling for the pasta, and got my saute pan while I roughly chopped the mushrooms. In the time the veggies took to cook, the pasta went in, and the reduced stock was ready. By the time the pasta was cooked, the cream sauce was done, and it was just a matter of tossing everything together.

The gin (I used Beefeater) is not a very pronounced flavor, but I didn't mind. All of the mushrooms were flavor enough. And we didn't even have to feel guilty about having so much of it since the only "bad" thing in this entire dish is a half cup of cream. Also great to have an impressive vegetarian option in the repertoire.

Wild Mushroom Pasta with Gin-Cream Sauce
from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook
Serves 4

1 lb. mixed, fresh wild mushrooms (oyster and something else)
2 minced shallots
4 minced garlic cloves
2 T. olive oil
1/2 t. ground coriander seed
1 head Treviso radicchio, chopped, or 1/2 head of the round variety
3 T. gin
2 T. demi-glace, or 1 c. low-sodium chicken stock cooked down by half
1/2 c. heavy cream
salt and pepper
grated lemon zest
short pasta, such as farfalle or orcchiette

1. Get a kettle of water for the pasta hot. Add enough salt to make it taste like the sea.

2. Get a pan hot. Add the mushrooms to the dry pan and shake often, essentially stir-frying. They should squeak. Soon they will begin to release their water. Turn the heat down to medium-high and cook for another minute.

3. Add a little salt, the olive oil and shallots, toss to combine and cook until both begin to color. Add the garlic and radicchio and cook another 1-2 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water.

5. Add the gin. Let this boil down a few moments, then add the demi-glace and coriander seed. Swirl to combine and bring to a boil.

6. Add the heavy cream, swirl and boil this down until thick. Turn off the heat and toss with the pasta.

7. Grind black pepper and sprinkle lemon zest on at the end.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

never one without the other

Day 7 of food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: "The One That Got Away."

This was another one that I had some trouble with - not much food imagery except:

Used to steal your parents' liquor and climb to the roof
Talk about our future, like we had a clue

Which I think is just so sweet. It made me think - if I were going to have a rooftop rendezvous to talk about the future, what would I bring? It would definitely be more than liquor. And while it's always easier to talk about the important stuff while drunk, I'd probably keep it to the ginger ale we had with lunch today. I'm afraid of heights - liquor on a roof sounds like a bad idea.

And the main course would this amazing luscious BLT - made also in honor of the greatest holiday I never knew existed, International Bacon Day. A nod also goes out to Ms. Joy the Baker for reminding me of that simple pleasure.


bread: Challah from Albertson's. I've forgotten why I got it in the first place, but I'm so glad there was plenty left for sandwiches. I sliced them fairly thin - basically just enough to hold everything else together. And oh yeah, I toasted them in the residual fat from cooking the bacon.

bacon: Just some standard Oscar Meyer stuff. 6 slices of the stuff. Decadent.

lettuce: Organic butter lettuce. You know, the stuff that comes in the plastic container with the root bit still attached. Luscious.

tomato: Gorgeous USC-striped heirloom from the Farmers Market - I don't even like raw tomatoes. However, I will make exceptions for late summer heirlooms.

Oh bacon, don't ever leave me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

whatever helps you sleep at night

Day 6 of food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream: "Circle the Drain."

There isn't much to go from here, and it's hard to think of matching food ideas when all you want to do is jump around yelling this chorus while wishing you had these words for every self-destructive ex you've ever had. The only thing I had to go off of was the imagery of "circle the drain", so I chose to make a roulade. I'd normally go for steak, but I figured turkey could reflect the lyric, "Whatever helps you sleep at night." You know, with the trytophan and all. Too big of a reach?

Anyway, while there are plenty of roulade recipes on the Interweb, nothing was quite what I wanted, so I took the basic idea of them, made a stuffing that is normally what one would use for Beef Wellington, and served it with green beans and pan-fried gnocchi.

Turkey Roulade a la Wellington
1/2 lb. mushrooms, diced
olive oil, butter or the bacon fat you had from this morning
1 turkey breast (about 3 lbs.)
1/4 lb. foie gras
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Saute mushrooms in the fat of your choice. After they have released their juices and are well-browned, remove from heat and let cool while you work on the turkey.

Butterfly the turkey breast and pound with a meat mallet until of fairly uniform thickness. Here's where I got into some real trouble - pieces of it kept falling off, so I ended up with three random-sized pieces to roll up.

If your foie gras isn't frozen like mine was, spread it all over the surface of the butterflied turkey, leaving about an inch border all around. If it is, just crumble it as best you can. Top with the mushrooms. Here's where I ran into some more trouble - everything went everywhere. I'm not quite graceful enough to be rolling up whole pieces of meat like that. I apparently also did a poor job of pounding it thin, so the uneven thickness also did me in. And I had forgotten to get string to secure everything, and while my skewers did their best, filling went everywhere.

When you've finally wrestled the turkey into submission, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and heat up some more fat in an oven-proof skillet. Brown the roulade on all sides. Pour in the chicken stock, add a little salt and pepper, cover the skillet and bake for about an hour, or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the roulade reads 160 degrees. My mini roulades were done in about 45 minutes, so start checking around that time. Nothing worse than overcooked white meat. *Shudder*

When the roulade(s) are done, lift them to a cutting board to rest. Return the pan juices to a high flame and reduce to about a cup. Add about a Tablespoon of flour to help quicken the thickening process.

Slice the roulade and serve with the gravy.

Because filling had gotten everywhere, there was only the occasional flavor of foie gras within the turkey. I think most of what it did was enrich the gravy, which was quite delicious. I mean, it's not going to compare to bacon-wrapped smoked turkey, but not too shabby for oven-roasted stuff.