Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Salad, L.A. Style

Boooo! Happy Halloween! And Samhain to any of you practicing the Old Religion! Wherever I have lived in the past, this weekend was the true harbinger of Fall: crisp air, chilly nights and bundling up for trick or treating or at least for handing out candy at the door.

But I live in L.A. now where Halloween is simply a formal excuse to dress even sexier than you normally do - indulging in that fantasy of a slutty nurse or French maid or a Marlborough man or a Chippendale stripper. With the balmy weather, it hardly feels like Fall to me.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup with Pomegranate

Butternut squash is much loved by those with a sweet tooth; it's in its name, butter nut! Roasted or pureed into soup, this squash is so delicious. I love to add a bit of spice and when I came across this post suggesting the pairing with pomegranate seeds, I knew I had to try it!

Pomegranates have always intrigued me, ever since hearing the Greek Myth of Persephone and Hades and how eating only 6 seeds from the pomegranate he offered her saved her from living in the Underworld for the full 12 months of the year. However, not having lived near the Mediterranean or a similar climate, I have rarely had a chance to buy them. Of course, they are ubiquitous in Southern California and in season in the fall. (I find that so odd since they seem tropical and summery to me, but what do I know, having never lived where they grow!)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

French Lentil Soup

Lentils are one of my favorite legumes. While technically called a "pulse" because they are only cooked after being dried, they are lumped in with all beans. I have been fascinated with them since childhood because they were such an odd shape. My dollhouse had a cookie jar with lentils as the cookies, and I have never been able to shake the thought of them as such!

Of course lentils are the opposite of cookies - earthy, toothy and savory. When the cooler weather begins to arrive I always crave this lentil soup. It's quick and yet rich and with the addition of a splash of vinegar - either the traditional red wine or the sweeter balsamic - it never fails to warm me body and soul.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gringo Enchiladas

I confess that there are some dishes I like to make more than eat; chili is one of them. So much of the preparation for a chili is about chopping - onions, garlic, chilies, celery, peppers - my favorite part of cooking. As a result, creativity with chili leftovers is always a challenge. Here is a new way of using them up, enchiladas!

I call these "gringo" enchiladas since they are so far from a traditional recipe that it's almost an insult. However, they are delicious and the truth is that it is hard to go wrong when you wrap chili in a tortilla, spoon spicy tomato sauce over it and bake it topped with cheese. Fantastic!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Corny Chile Cornbread

Cornbread is one of those great, homey, comfort foods that I have only just begun to appreciate in the past couple of years. Too often it can be dry and crumbly and catch in your throat. So unappetizing!

But then I discovered a couple of secrets, like adding pureed squash (pumpkin, winter squash of any type) and substituting it for some of the oil often used in traditional recipes. Buttermilk or yogurt also keeps it moist and suddenly I was a convert. It is one of those easy "quick breads" to make and is especially fun when you have a cast iron pan to bake it in.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thai Chicken, Kale Corn Soup

There is a reason that I buy certain items that many people would deem "exotic" simply to have them on hand so that I can whip up certains dishes, just because I'm in the mood.

Thai Curry Paste * Kefir Lime Leaves * Coconut Milk * Fish Sauce

All are essential ingredients for any style Thai soup or curry. For the lime leaves you usually need to visit an Asian grocery store, but the rest you can find in your local grocery store. Thai Kitchen is the brand of coconut milk, curry paste, and fish sauce that I use, and they come in organic versions if you prefer. Of course you can leave out the lime leaves, but it really makes it taste so much more authentic. And the best part is they are freezable so it's worth hunting down a local Asian grocery to find them to stock them in the freezer.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Naked Apple and Carrot Slaw

As I have mentioned before, I work at Co-opportunity, Santa Monica's Food co-op as the Cheese, Wine and Specialty manager. Sounds like a glamorous job, right? You probably imagine me swanning around the store, tasting cheese with a glass of wine in one hand and chocolate in the other, tempting customers with all of the above. So far from the truth!

I awake most mornings before 6:00 am in order to arrive at work to receive wine deliveries and restock the shelves before the store is too full of customers. But I always want to eat a healthy and satisfying lunch. Needless to say, much improvising happens in the kitchen in the predawn hours when I am whipping up said lunch from what is available. Enter this new salad.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Classic Caesar Salad

Caesar salads are never hard to find, whether you are in a restaturant, at a salad bar, or looking to pick up a prepackaged salad. You can even purchase Caesar salad dressing (with or without the anchovies). But I wanted to experience a true, classic, made from scratch Caesar dressing and salad. It was both fun to make and surprisingly similar to making aioli or homemade mayonnaise (which no one has ever mentioned).

The classic version of the dressing is prepared by mashing salt, raw garlic and anchovies into a paste, adding a raw egg yolk, lemon juice, and Worcestershire sauce and then slowly adding olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Strikingly similar to homemade mayonnaise. Like aioli, it has the piercing raw flavor of garlic but surprisingly, it is the anchovy that mellows out that raw flavor.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Chipotle Kale and Chick Pea Soup

Kale continues to be the ruling super vegetable - people buy it even when they don't know what to do with it because it's so good for you! Packed with vitamins A and C not to mention calcium, it also detoxifies the body and is loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids, which help your body stay healthy and fight off disease.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but does it taste any good? Yup, sure does. Kale is one of those earthy greens that loves meat flavoring (like collard greens and ham hocks) or soy sauce or any sort of umami taste. Smoky spicy chipotles fall into that category and that's just what I did here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lamb and Coriander Chutney Pasty in Hot Water Pastry

One of the best parts of spending my junior year of college in Paris was traveling to other places. I spent Christmas in Italy, Easter on the Riviera and Spring Break in the United Kingdom, where I ate my first "Pasty."

Pasties - which look like a turnover but have savory rather than sweet fillings - are amazingly delicious and the traditional street food of Cornwall and Wales. I had them in Penzance (yes, of the same fame as the pirates of); pastry dough wrapped around seasoned meat (lamb, beef) or potatoes, turnips, and other root veggies. So good!

I recently came across a post in the food blog world (cannot remember exactly where) that reminded me of these treats and when I noticed that they were made with a dough called "Hot Water Pastry" I knew I had to give it a try.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cucumber, Strawberry and Mint Salad

I hate it when the weather gets to me; I get whiny and out of sorts and uninterested in cooking, which is highly annoying for me and everyone around me. Los Angeles had a heat wave a couple of weeks ago; we hit 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the last week of September. It was insane! And I am so ready for Fall food and cooking, so I was doubly grouchy. Fortunately, I was able to snap out of it when my sister brought home some beautiful strawberries.

Fall in Southern California is really a second Spring and the strawberries were gorgeous. But I was in the mood for a salad, not simple fruit snacking. I also had some gorgeous Persian cucumbers and thinking along the Persian line decided to combine the sweet strawberries with some fresh herbs - cilantro and mint - and the crunchy cukes. I had some jalapeno and threw that in, knowing that the sweetness of the berries would offset the heat of the pepper. Superb!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mushroom Shepherd's Pie

I never thought twice (even once?) about shepherd's pie until I became deli manager at Just Food Co-op and realized that I needed some more options for the hot bar menu. For those of you who have never worked in food prep, steam tables (what keeps a hot bar hot) are hard task-mistresses. Pasta is never good in a hot bar; not only does it sit and overcook for hours but cleaning it will have you cursing every god you can think of and their future progeny. Casseroles, stir frys, and baked items of any sort from any cuisine imaginable, are a hot bar's best friend. Shepherd's pie was a natural.

Ask any British person and they will tell you that shepherd's pie is made with seasoned lamb, topped with mashed potatoes, and only sometimes cheese. Supposedly it originates from its namesake; a one pot meal for shepherds to take up the mountain with their flock. It was a way to use up leftovers from roast leg of lamb and include some vegetables as well.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pita Pizza - Quattro Stagioni

Pizza is probably my favorite food. I could eat it everyday; with new toppings, new crusts or simply the same thing over and over and over again. I really love it. But sometimes I just want it now, no waiting for dough to rise or defrost. That's when I make lazy pizza, pita pizza.

One of my closet friends introduced me to pita pizza - a South Asian from New Delhi no less! It is truly a life saver when you need a pizza fix. I even love this cold (but then again, I love any pizza cold as well as hot, and warm, and room temperature.... you get the picture.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Raw Kale Salad with Avocado

I am the first to admit that I am not always as open as I would like to be when it comes to food fads. I can have strong opinions - which I do not force on others by any means - but they usually rule my eating world. Raw food falls into this category and until my sister made me an amazing raw kale salad, I was definitely a skeptic.

I had always thought that kale was one of those vegetables that was meant to be cooked - along with parsnips, potatoes, and the like. Turns out that if you apply the same principles used to "cook" cerviche, it works quite well with kale; the acidity of lemon transforms the kale into a lovely wilted green salad. Who knew!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Seared Ahi Tuna with Cajun Seasoning

A couple of weeks ago when I was vacationing on Block Island my sister made this recipe and unfortunately I didn't get a photo then. Happily we are roommates so when I mentioned how much I loved this dish she made it again! Such a lovely sister!

I know this is one of those dishes that is ubiquitous in all levels of restaurants, but with good reason; it tastes amazing and is so easy and quick to make, it's almost a crime. It is two ingredients and takes less than 10 minutes total from opening the package, to dredging the fish, to cooking, resting and slicing. Fantastic!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Padrone Peppers with Pickled Vegetables

It's Padrone Pepper season again! I wrote about these lovely peppers last year and last week was the first time I had seen them this year so I snatched them up. I knew they wanted a simple preparation but I wanted to add something more. I thought spicy, fried peppers and pickled veggies seemed like a natural combination. Tossing the hot peppers with the Sotto Aceto (below vinegar) vegetables, I got spicy and tart with crunch and savory-ness. Amazing and fun side dish!

Fried Padrone Peppers with Pickled Vegetables

15 padrone peppers
2 cups pickled vegetables
1 tablespoon olive oil

In large skillet heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add peppers and toss to coat. Cook for 7-10 minutes, tossing every couple of minutes to allow the sides to brown/burn evenly. Remove from heat and salt well and toss with pickled vegetables and serve.


Recipes currently inspiring me:

Zucchini and Linguine with Bacon Corn Pesto at Cinnamon Spice and Everything Nice
Morning Glory Muffins at Ladyberd's Kitchen
Fried Green Tomatoes with Shrimp Remoulade at Closet Cooking