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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Cooking for One

My dinner from two night’s ago hardly constitutes a “recipe”. It’s a meal I made frequently as a senior in college – when I’d get out of class at 10pm and barely be able to lift a finger, let alone cook up something fancy. And it’s great when you’re only cooking for yourself.

Margherita Omelettes (as I’ve just now decided to name them), also remind me of living in Italy – minus the ridiculously fresh and juicy tomatoes and the tiny, quaint kitchen I used to cook in. My hostmother, Franca, always prepared herself lighter meals for dinner (think: soup and fresh bread or a small bowl of ravioli with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano). I, in turn, followed suit. Most of the time, it was only because I was still full from the entire pizza I’d consumed at lunchtime. Paired with a glass of red wine and a simple salad of mixed greens dressed in good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, this is the kind of meal that looks and tastes gourmet, but only takes about 7 minutes to prepare.

Perhaps it’s stating the obvious, but keep in mind that for best results, you want to try to use extra-ripe cherry tomatoes. Mine were even starting to get a bit shriveled – don’t worry, that’s how they should be.

Margherita Omelette

3 eggs

1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

1) Heat a medium-sized pan on medium-low heat.

2) Beat eggs; pour into heated pan in an even layer.

3) Sprinkle Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, basil, salt & pepper onto egg layer.

4) Once eggs have set (2-4 minutes), fold over to create omelette. Cook on both sides for a couple more minutes, or until eggs are cooked to your liking.

5) Serve with simple salad and enjoy with a glass of red wine.

While dining with friends and family has its perks, there’s nothing quite as relaxing as fixing yourself a fresh meal and dining solo. Everything else takes a backseat and for a brief and perhaps fleeting moment, life can be about you and that omelette.

Buon Appetito.

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I’ve always been a sap. For as long as I can remember, my emotions have tended to get the best of me. I cry during most movies – even funny ones. I cry listening to a particularly moving tune or remembering a wonderful and distant memory. Heck, I even cry when the weather changes (case in point: I got a little teary-eyed at the color of changing leaves on a recent visit to the east coast). And yes, I’m the type of person that has read many of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Hey, at least I didn’t just say that I’ve read almost all of the Nicholas Sparks books (although I have read The Notebook – but come on, who hasn’t?). And yes, I cried during that, too.

Call it what you will, but the Chicken Soup for the Soul books are friggin’ heart-warming. It really is like feeding your soul chicken soup – comforting, delicious, and wholesome. And the best part is, they have a book for almost every stage of life – there’s Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul, Chicken Soup for the Sister’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Dieter’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Parent’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul – even Chicken Soup for the Menopausal Soul. Kinda weird, right? But I’m sure that it’s carrying at least one menopausal woman out there through those hot flashes – and hopefully, not warming her heart too much.

In any case, chicken soup – the real stuff – is also great to eat. And since this is a food blog, and not a book blog, I want to tell you a little bit about this easy and delicious recipe passed down from a family friend.

In my opinion, this stuff is far better than any of the books in the Chicken Soup series, precisely because it soothes both the soul and the taste buds – a double whammy! It’s also great for a cold, wintery night like tonight – “wintery” by California standards, of course. This recipe is open to interpretation and taste – in other words, my mom doesn’t use measurements because she’s a pro and much of the recipe below stems from my inner control-freak unveiling itself and trying to assign numbers and quantities to everything. So do with it what you will, but just know that it’s hard to screw this up – if you want more veggies, feel free to add more; if you want more wine (ya boozer), pour the whole bottle in, for all I care.

So here it is – I hope you enjoy. Take THAT Oprah’s Book Club!

Megan Phelps’s Chicken Soup for the Food-Lover’s Soul

Ingredients

1 cup onion, chopped

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped

1 1/2 cups celery, chopped

About 3 1/2 cups white wine (or enough to cover the veggies)

64 fl. oz. chicken broth

1 rotisserie chicken, shredded

1 cup wild rice

3 cups water, salted

Salt & pepper to taste

1) In a large pot, sauté onions in olive oil on a medium-high flame; add chopped carrots, celery, salt and pepper and stir until onions become translucent.

2) Pour in white wine until vegetables are just covered. Lower heat, cover pot and let simmer for about 20 minutes, or until wine has been reduced.

3) Add chicken broth & shredded chicken to pot; cover and let simmer on medium heat for about 30-45 minutes.

4) While soup is stewing, pour rice and water in a separate pot and cook according to package instructions (until all water is absorbed by rice).

5) When rice is done, add to soup, stir, and serve.

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Recipe for Time

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about making time for the things I love. It’s a strange predicament if you really think about it; first of all, time cannot be “made”. You can make bread, money, or even love, but you cannot make time. Time simply is.

The second reason why this phrase really irks me is that I hold a lot of resentment towards not having enough time to do the things I really want to be doing. Perhaps this is my own fault, but I’ve got an inkling I’m not alone in my frustration. Why should I have to “make” time to do the things that bring me joy? It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? I should be scrambling to find time to do the things that I don’t really want to do. Or better yet, I shouldn’t feel obligated to do them at all. Alright fine, I’ll stop “should-ing” on myself.

The reason I bring all of this up is because I’ve been telling myself lately that I need to “make time” to blog about what I love; food. I’ve had this nagging feeling for the last few weeks that I couldn’t blog unless I had something “worthwhile” to blog about (e.g. a cool recipe, an outrageously good meal, etc., etc.). Everyday I’d note how long it had been since my last posting and with a twinge of guilt, I’d grumble something about my growing list of To-Do’s and how I didn’t have the time nor patience to play around in the kitchen – not when there were so many other things I needed to do that I didn’t want to be doing! Huh?

Inspired by the words of Molly Wizenberg of the renowned food blog, Orangette, I realized that perhaps I should try and blog more regularly as a way to simply write about whatever food-related thought comes to mind that week; without the pressure of having to come up with a groundbreaking recipe or to dine at some new, obscure eatery that everyone else in L.A. is probably already blogging about. So that’s what I’m going to do.

And so in the spirit of low-pressure blogging, I wanted to share a simple meal I recently enjoyed in the company of two dear friends. I say it is “simple” perhaps because my only duty was to bring (and drink) the wine. With seemingly no effort at all, my friend whipped up a delicious spread of sweet potato gnocchi sauteed with beet greens, pine nuts, and red onions, and sprinkled with some parmesan cheese. The salad was comprised of mixed greens, beets, and fennel and was tossed in a lovely homemade vinaigrette.

In the interest of time, that’s all I’ve got for today. I’m sorting out the ways in which I might be able to spend the majority of my time pursuing the thing I love most and I encourage you to do the same. But, if you do happen to stumble upon a way to “make” time, do pass it on to me.

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No, I yam not a failure.

Blame it on the cool, drizzly weather that Los Angeles has been experiencing as of late, or the baskets of yams I encountered at my local farmer’s market last week, but my usual craving for root vegetables has gone up by a notch or two. A staple during my “starving college student” days, I’d often bake a yam, smother it in butter and cinnamon, and call it a day (or a meal). But now that I’m living with the ‘rents, I not only have the luxury of throwing other ingredients into the mix, I also have a plethora of kitchen appliances to choose from! Yipee!

Quick breads make me feel like I am really somebody. It’s kind of weird; I feel much more accomplished after baking a loaf of bread, than I do baking most other things, for some strange reason. Maybe it’s the size of the baked good that I rest my inner baker’s sense of self-worth upon. Whatever it is, I decided that a yam quick bread would do the blog (and my tummy) some good. Restaurant reviews have quickly taken precedence over the ol’ food blog, and if I have any hope of taking Meal Muse to the next level of culinary know-how, I need to take my pots and pans out for a test drive once in a while. So…a yam quick bread was in order.

Now, part of owning a blog, in my opinion, is the ability to unabashedly admit when you’ve messed up. I don’t know many food bloggers whose dishes ever come out crappy (or so it seems). I, for one, would like you to know that this bread was an utter baking blunder. The recipe I consulted was from an old, dilapidated cookbook my mom owns, appropriately titled, “Quick Breads”. I followed the recipe to a tee for the most part, save for the fact that I used mashed, roasted yams rather than a 16 oz. can of sweet potatoes, omitted the nuts, and added a bit of water since the dough seemed very thick and dry. So maybe I didn’t follow the recipe to a tee. The result? A very goopy bread. A bread pudding, if you will. But not in the good way.

Before things went awry…

After literally baking this bread for two hours (covering it with foil for the last 20 minutes so as to avoid the top getting too brown), I threw in the towel. The metal skewer I was using to test the “done-ness” of the bread, simply refused to come out clean. Even as I type this, the loaf sits on the stove, mocking me, daring me to cut into it and expose the mushiness inside. Whatever, yam loaf. Screw you.

In the spirit of interactivity, I want to open this post up for discussion. Why, oh why, was this loaf such a failure? I’m not giving up faith in my baking abilities, but as I sit at the kitchen table trying with all my might to suck it up, my ego is undoubtedly bruised. Here’s the recipe. Have at it. And please know that I yam terribly sorry.

Sweet Yam Quick Bread (don’t try this at home….seriously)

Ingredients:

2 cups Pamela’s baking & pancake flour (gluten-free flour)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup orange juice
1 egg, well-beaten
1/3 cup oil
16 oz. yam purée (about 2 large yams)

For the yam purée: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap yams in foil, place on cookie sheet and bake for at least 45 minutes, or until you can easily pierce with a fork. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, peel skins off, and mash in a bowl. I like to add a bit of butter to get that creamy consistency. And because butta makes everything betta.

For the loaf: Combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix orange juice, egg, oil and sweet potatoes together well. Add this mixture to dry ingredients. Add in about 1/2 water. Stir until just blended. Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes (or in my case, two, long and tortuous hours). Cool in pan for about 10 minutes.

Despite my shame, I decided to cut into the loaf to show you all what exactly I mean by “goopy bread”.

Oh, the horror! Where did I go wrong, dear reader?!

P.S. – Just so you don’t think I’m a total loser, I need you to know that my Tahitian Squash loaf came out perfectly! But you’ll have to wait until my next “Farmer’s Corner” article comes out to read about that one!

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Giada in the House

I don’t know about you, but I crave certain foods pretty consistently. For those of you that know me well, you know chocolate is one of those foods. I. Need. Chocolate. Pretty much everyday. It usually looks something like this: the clock strikes 4 pm and my afternoon slump kicks in.  The carrot sticks and hard boiled egg I packed are not gonna cut it (again).  The next thing I know, I am on a mission, stopping from cubicle to cubicle, hands outstretched, foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog, searching for something – ANYTHING – chocolatey.  Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. But seriously, it’s like a force outside myself takes over. Obey the force, and all will be well. Disobey and, well, you don’t wanna know what happens…

Burgers are another food I crave pretty consistently. I’m not sure if it’s the meat, the bun, the cheese, or all three that really get me going, but I love ’em. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t find myself longing for one at least once. For the sake of my waistline though, that’s one craving I don’t often give in to (chocolate, on the other hand, has antioxidants). What’s a girl to do when her favorite foods are chocolate and cheeseburgers?! I’ll tell you what!

Giada. Some of us know her for her fine Italian cookin’, others of us know her for her (ahem) generous bust that seems to fall into every ragu she prepares. NONETHELESS, my friends, her newest cookbook has become a go-to in our family for tasty recipes. So a couple of nights ago, when my hankering for a burger refused to let up, I decided to turn to good ol’ Giada to quiet the near-revolt in my belly. Chicken burgers with garlic-rosemary aioli. Before you start flailing your arms, screaming words like ‘blasphemy’, and getting yourself all up in a tizzy over a chicken burger, let me assure you that I am not giving up real beef burgers. This is by no means meant to substitute for the real thing. It’s damn good in its own right, but it ain’t beef. Although the recipe calls for ground chicken, we only had ground turkey on hand but it still came out pretty tasty. Half of the aioli is mixed into the meat itself, infusing the patty with an awesome flavor, and also keeping the meat moist. I’m not a fan of mayonnaise, but the garlic and rosemary sufficiently masked its taste. Also, take note: we didn’t have any on hand, but I imagine the spiciness of the arugula that this recipe calls for would balance out the richness of the patty quite well – it got a bit too rich by the end.

Chicken Burgers with Garlic-Rosemary Aioli
From Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California
Serves 4

Ingredients

Aioli:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 clove garlic, minced

Burgers:
1 pound ground chicken
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
4 sandwich rolls or burger buns*
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup arugula, divided

1) For the aioli: in a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise, garlic, and rosemary; set aside.

2) For the burgers: preheat a gas or charcoal grill or place a grill pan over medium-high heat. In a large bowl, add the ground chicken, salt, pepper, and 1/2 the aioli. Using clean hands, gently combine the ingredients and form the chicken mixture into 4 patties. Place the burgers on the grill and cook for about 7 minutes on each side. Transfer to paper towels and let rest for a few minutes.

3) Brush the cut side of each roll with the olive oil and a teaspoon of the aioli. Grill for 1 to 2 minutes until slightly golden

4) To assemble burgers: spread a dollop of the remaining aioli on the tops and bottoms of the toasted buns. Place the chicken burger on the bottom halves of the buns. Top each with 1/4 cup of arugula and finish with the top half of the bun.

*I bought ciabatta buns for this recipe, but I think they were a wee bit crusty for a burger – I like a softer, sweeter bun, but feel free to experiment with any type.

Enjoy!

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If you’re at all like me, the word “casserole” makes you cringe and think of your old Aunt Lulu’s broccoli and cheddar casserole.  You know, the one she brought over every Christmas (the day you’d inevitably be forced to wear that ugly-ass sweater she bought you). It was the type of dish that never quite looked edible (forget photogenic) and made an actual splatter-like noise when it plopped from the serving spoon onto your plate. I actually don’t have an Aunt Lulu and I don’t think I’ve ever had broccoli and cheddar casserole – but that’s beside the point. Point is, don’t let your casserole woes interfere with what I’m about to disclose. Cuz this stuff is tasty.

Growing up in a house with a personal fitness trainer has not been easy, folks. As a child, I constantly compared my brown-bag lunches to those of my friends. Sitting around the lunch table in the school yard, I would often sulk and think to myself, “Why do they get Ranch Doritos and I get carrot sticks?” or “How come they get Coke/Capri Sun/Sunny-D and I got stuck with this lousy soy milk?” And don’t even get me started on the embarrassment of having friends over and trying to explain my junk-food-less cabinets – and yes, I’m STILL bitter that my mom never bought me one damn box of Cap’n Crunch cereal.  Hmph!  Anyway, I’ll admit, the older I got, the more appreciative I became that Mom raised me the way she did. Once I started learning about food and the value of good nutrition, I realized how right she’d been all those years. Not only that, but nutritious, fresh, wholesome food tasted GOOD. And made me feel great.

Now, I’m not one to turn down a dessert (EVER) nor am I one to abstain from ordering something really rich or fattening at a restaurant – facts you should all know about me by now. I’ve done my share of calorie-counting and stressing out about portion control, but the bottom line is, I love food too much to be so high-strung about it. And I’m not gonna NOT eat something I want. My day-to-day meals are pretty darn healthy and I’m an active girl – so I ain’t trippin’.

The challenge we face in this household is making our healthy eats also be tasty eats – a skill not everyone has mastered. I’m about to give you one easy, healthy, and DELICIOUS way of doing just that. This recipe was given to my family by a close friend and fellow foodie. It’s become a favorite over the years – I even made this in college, so you know it has to be easy. As with many casseroles (probably even Aunt Lulu’s, believe it or not), the longer you let it sit, the better it tastes. Sometimes we make it a day in advance, stick it in the fridge, and reheat the following day. YUM.

Baked Barley & Kidney Bean Casserole
Recipe from Donna Furey

Ingredients

1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 cup barley
2 cups vegetable broth
2, 15-ounce can beans (kidney or black)
1 1/2 cups enchilada sauce
16 ounces cottage cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped, canned green chiles
1/2 12 ounce package soy chorizo (available at most grocery stores)
1 cup shredded jack cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. chopped green onion

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2) Saute garlic and onion in pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray over medium heat for about 2 minutes.

3) Stir in rice and cook, stirring until rice begins to brown, about 2 minutes.

4) Stir in broth, cover and let simmer until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes. Fluff rice with fork, stir in beans.

5) Spoon 1/2 cup enchilada sauce into 2 quart casserole dish. Spoon 1/2 of rice and beans over sauce in an even layer. Pour another 1/2 cup enchilada sauce over rice, then spread cottage cheese over top.

6) Sprinkle with chiles, soy chorizo and the 1/2 cup jack cheese. Spoon remaining rice mixture over cheese and pour remaining 1/2 cup enchilada sauce on top.

7) Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.

8 ) Uncover, sprinkle with 1/2 cup jack cheese and return to oven for 10 minutes.

9) Remove from oven, sprinkle with cilantro, green onions and sour cream (optional). Serve with tortillas.

Healthy food never tasted so good…


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Oh My, Peach Pie!

My friend Kate and I don’t exactly embody your average 23-year-old.  While most young women our age can be found painting the town on Friday nights, engaged in sometimes-regrettable behavior, we were in the kitchen, unabashedly baking pies, plotting blog posts, and advising one another on our finances. No shame in that.

Peaches are at their peak right now, so Kate suggested it would be a delicious and blog-worthy endeavor to bust out our aprons and make some peach pie for her BBQ last night. Equipped with our perfect peaches, the Joy of Cooking cookbook, and a chilled bottle of chardonnay, we went to work.

Although our recipe didn’t specify, I suggested we peel the peaches using a tip I learned from my nectarine jam-making adventures. Side note: as an amateur cook, it’s not often that I know how to do much of anything without a recipe in front of me (except for scrambling eggs), so I was pretty proud when I pulled this little pearl of wisdom from my bag o’ tricks: boil a large pot of water and place whole peaches in for about 2-3 minutes (longer if they are less ripe); remove and let sit in an ice bath for another 2-3 minutes, after which time the skins should slip right off. That right there is straight-up innovation. Who’s afraid of straying from a recipe? Not this girl.

Peach Pie
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

For the crust:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2/3 + 2 Tbsp. Crisco, chilled
4 Tbsp. cold water (plus 1 tsp. to 1 Tbsp added)

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine flour and salt in a large bowl.  Add the Crisco, combining until the mixture resembles a course meal.  

2) Add the 4 Tbsp. water, kneading the dough until it comes together in a nice, little ball. You will probably have to add a couple more teaspoons of water to get the dough to cooperate.  Careful not to over-knead the dough, then cover and set aside in the refrigerator to chill.*

3) Remove dough from refrigerator, divide in half and set atop a lightly floured surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out.

4) Place pie dish upside-down on dough, then flip dish and dough over, trimming off any over-hang.

5) Roll out other half of dough, then cut into 1/2 inch strips and set aside.

*The longer you are able to chill the dough, the more manageable it will be when forming the crusts. Some recipes advise chilling for 24 hours, but we only did it for about 20 minutes and didn’t seem to have too much trouble rolling it out.

For the filling:

5 cups fresh peaches
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. flour

1) Remove pits from pre-skinned peaches and slice. Pour peaches into pie crust.

2) Combine egg, yolk, and sugar and beat until smooth. Add flour, making sure there are no lumps.

3) Pour egg/sugar mixture over peaches in pie crust.

4) Carefully handling the 1/2 inch dough strips, weave over the peaches, creating a lattice crust. Again, this will be easier and the strips will be less likely to break the longer you are able to chill the dough. But if you’re as impatient as we were, just piece-meal the strips together and make it work.

5) Bake for 5 minutes at 400 degrees, then lower heat to 300 and bake for 50 more minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

We let the pies cool for 24 hours before serving ’em up with some vanilla ice cream. Perfect summer’s eve dessert and a beautiful way to end a lovely BBQ with lovely friends.


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