Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Roasted Fig and Mascarpone Tarts

Fig season is at hand! I've been wanting to buy figs for awhile now but the price tag (usually at least $5 for a basket) kept me at bay.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


This is my second attempt at making gazpacho in as many weeks. The first one had potential, but the recipe called for the tomato mixture to be pureed, then strained. After straining the soup, it was so thin it resembled a juice more than a soup. Without the vegetable puree to add texture, the flavor seemed lacking as well. I was disappointed to say the least, but when I had a friend over for dinner this past weekend, I decided to try my hand at this chilled soup one more time, to accompany a side of Asparagus and Red Corn Salad.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Asparagus and Red Corn Salad

My friend Dave came over for dinner on Saturday. I didn't want to use the oven at all, so I decided to make a couple of cold sides to accompany a main dish that could be cooked on the stove top.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Pad Thai Sauce with Marinated Pork, Grilled Vegetables and Rice Noodles

Please excuse the terrible lighting. By the time I finished cooking it was dark outside :(
I love Pad Thai. LOVE IT. But I've never been able to match the flavor of homemade Pad Thai with restaurant Pad Thai. According to the ninety bajillion recipes I've looked at online, this is because I don't have any tamarind paste.

Tamarind paste helps authentic Pad Thai achieve the sour/sweet taste that makes it so addictive, but even though I live a reasonable distance from Thai Town in LA (the largest concentration of Thai people anywhere in the world outside of Thailand!) I can't find tamarind paste anywhere in Santa Monica. Someday I will force Nate to go to Thai Town with me so I can raid some of the grocery stores there.

I love grilled vegetables...
In the mean time, I found a recipe for Pad Thai sauce without tamarind that claims, "The original pad Thai didn't contain tamarind at all (the makings of pad Thai being brought to Thailand via the Chinese)."


The sauce is sour, sweet, and salty, and though it doesn't taste exactly like the take-out Pad Thai I'm used to, it was delicious!

I served the sauce with rice noodles, grilled pork chops marinated in soy sauce, honey, and garlic, and grilled peppers, eggplant, and green onions. The garnish of lime wedges, peanuts, and cilantro helped liven up the appearance AND flavor of the dish. I heartily recommend this recipe, and it has Nate's seal of approval too.

Pad Thai Sauce
1/3 C Chicken Broth
3T Rice Vinegar
Juice of 1 lime
3-4 T Brown Sugar
2T Fish Sauce
1T Soy Sauce
1/8 tsp Pepper
1 tsp chili-garlic sauce

Whisk all ingredients together. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly reduced; add cooked noodles and let simmer in the sauce for a couple of minutes to soak up the flavors; add vegetables. Serve on a plate garnished with lime wedges, crushed peanuts, and cilantro. 

Delicious grilled eggplant, peppers, and green onions. I want to marry my grill pan (DON'T TELL NATE)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hungarian Pepper, Paprika Chicken, Orzo and Romaine Salad

Sometimes it's just too hot to turn on the oven. In my probably-fire-code-violating apartment that doesn't have a vent over the stove, it's too hot to turn on the oven, or use the stove top for more than 20 minutes, for most of the summer.

I end up making a lot of salads for dinner, but they can get boring after a while. So, when I got back from my vacation and saw that Nate had gotten a bag of brightly colored, sweet Hungarian peppers from the Farmer's Market, I was excited. After some extensive web searching I found a recipe that seemed promising. I had to turn on my grill pan and boil some orzo, but other than that there was no cooking involved. I even skipped the side of toasted baguette that the original recipe includes, because even the toaster oven is too much to handle when it's hot out ( 

The result was a tangy, filling, and interesting salad that satisfied my hunger pangs, taste buds, and imagination. What more could a girl ask for?

Hungarian Pepper, Paprika Chicken, Orzo and Romaine Salad

Chicken tenders are rubbed with garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper, then grilled. When the chicken tenders are done, take them off the grill pan and add the peppers, cooking until they are crisp-tender and have some grill marks. Squeeze half a lemon over the chicken and peppers and set them in the fridge to chill.

The orzo is cooked with sauteed onions and chicken broth until tender. Drain and drizzle with some white wine vinegar. Let chill, then toss with a head of chopped Romaine lettuce. I added about 1 T olive oil and the juice from 1 half of a lemon to the lemon/orzo mixture. 

Make a bed of the lettuce/orzo mixture, then layer the chicken, peppers, and a sliced tomato on top. 

The result is tasty, healthy, refreshing, and best of all - COLD!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Eating in Galicia: Nate's Guest Post

In June, Nate went to Spain to record the music for the movie Invasor. Knowing how badly I wanted to be there to explore the sights and flavors of Galicia, he promised to take pictures and document his favorite meals, so he could share them with me, at least visually, once he returned.

Gastronome Gone Galicia 
by Nate Underkuffler

At midday I could feel all the heat of Iberia pouring forth from the land and colliding with the undulant swells of the Ensenada Del Orzan. The water was sparkling and iridescent, lunging and swaying without respite towards the sun. The coarse quartz beach lay against the age-old stone and concrete rampart of the city’s promenade as a pile of finely-washed translucent gravel, swishing beneath the bare feet of beachgoers.

This being a travelogue of Europe, we quickly reach the subject of describing the people and their myriad eccentricities…. I can barely find a person under the age of 50, but the amount of exposed skin might exceed the modesty of an American 20 year old on spring break.

The heat may bombard us from the arid heart of Iberia, but the Atlantic sea breeze pushes right back against it; and on “The Groyne” it’s the ocean that securely claims authority. The salty air washes like a transparent extension of the cresting swells from which it originates, filling every winding, narrow cobble-stone paved alleyway in the city of A Coruña.

 As a stout Galician waiter hastily delivers me a platter of the reddest and sweetest, tiniest little shrimp you’ll ever taste (freshly yanked from the bay that morning), I can nearly see a crust of sea salt condensed from the air and accreted with loving embrace upon every window ledge and doorframe. My olfactories barely detect a distinction between the aroma of the array of tiny crustaceans adorning my plate and that of the greater ambience.
The sweet shrimp of Galicia
(These guys did a pretty decent job of embodying the 'old world charm')
It’s a damn fine place to dig into a plate of shellfish, this oft-overlooked maritime corner of Europe. A Spain that isn’t particularly Spanish. A resource-rich oasis on a typically resource-exhausted continent that isn’t particularly rich. Or particularly continental for that matter; most at first glance would be apt to mistake this for the emerald isle or maybe even California’s central coast; as long as you ignored the almost goofy rickety thicket of concrete and glass architecture. The Romans technically claimed it, but really only to satisfy their famed desire for completeness. The Arabs never really noticed it was here. And the Spanish national government has always had more than it could handle with the far more unruly provinces of the peninsula to give the little corner of Galicia much notice.

I was there to record with their Orchestra, which turned out to be a world-class assemblage of musicians ranging in origin from Bulgaria to Pennsylvania. The graciously arts-supportive government of Spain gave us free reign of the orchestra for an entire week for the purposes of promoting the Spanish film industry, and we were more than happy to take them up on the offer to inject our modestly-budgeted film “Invasor” with a healthy of dose of symphonic muscle.

But the food. Oh the food! It was heavy, light, fresh, fermented, diverse, traditional, daring and celebrated. Everything good grub should be. Here are some highlights: 

A typical lunch, delivered to us at the recording studio and presented Tapas-style:

THIS is a casual peasants’ lunch in Galicia:

Sardines wrangled from the bay strait into the sports-pub where I snacked on them like french fries while watching España trounce France in the world cup (yeah, it was legit):

Padron Peppers from Padron itself (it’s down the street) that have laid eyes upon a select few elements: a lush field, a touch of exquisite olive oil, a hot pan, and a few hefty chunks of Atlantic sea salt: 
Editor's Note: "I think your Padron Peppers are just as good...if not better!" -Nate

Lots and lots of flaky-soft pescado:

Lounging by a pool on the outskirts of Madrid at the end of a 100-degree day nursing a pitcher of ice-cold gazpacho:

Home-made empanada and Spanish omelet (true mainstays of the diet):

Pay your respects to the one and only Iberian ham sliced table-side:

It's Europe man; wheel out the obligatory life-affirming cheese platter: 

And a proper burn-it-all finale to the week, where the whole city runs around like maniacs on the beach for a night of leaping over giant bonfires. Truly, a land free from Lawyers:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tapas Sunday: A Farm Fresh Feast!

This Sunday, Nate and I visited the Underwood Family Farms. We had quite a lot of goodies to choose from for our tapas extravaganza!

I started off by making this "Magic Sauce," a blend of olive oil, garlic, paprika, thyme, rosemary, oregano, lemon juice, salt, and crushed red pepper.

I decided to make some Roasted Baby Blue, Red, and White Potatoes. I tossed them with about 2 TBSP of the sauce, then roasted them at 400° for about 20 minutes, shaking the pan halfway through. I sprinkled the potatoes with salt, then served them on the table with the rest of the sauce for dipping.

Nate stepped up to the plate and made some Fried Green Tomatoes! He worked off of this recipe but made some modifications along the way. He did a great job! The crust was crunchy and not greasy, and the tomatoes were just tender enough. We dunked the tomatoes in the amazing garlic/basil dip I got from Brothers Mediterranean Food at the Farmer's Market.

Next up, I made Stuffed Red Cherry Peppers Wrapped in Bacon. Oh yeah. I cut the tops off the peppers and scooped out the seeds. They are a little spicy without the seeds, and REALLY spicy with them! I then cooked the bacon on one side in a frying pan (1 slice per pepper). The filling consisted of 2 T cream cheese, 2 T goat cheese, and 1 T "Magic Sauce," mixed together until smooth. I stuffed the peppers with the cheese, then wrapped them in the slices of bacon, with the crispy side of the bacon facing the pepper (since the outside would get crispy in the oven). I baked them at 400° for 10 minutes, until the peppers were mostly tender and the cheese was nice and gooey.

Last but absolutely not least, we had a platter of Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes and cherry tomatoes, drizzled with Magic Sauce and sprinkled with salt and pepper.

We served it all with some wedges of fresh pita bread from the market and a glass each of chilled Pinot Grigio.

Not a bad spread! Though we couldn't finish any of it (except for the peppers). Let's just say I'm pretty excited about my heirloom tomato and pita bread lunch tomorrow!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Underwood Family Farms - A Pick-Your-Own Adventure!

On Sunday, Nate and I walked to the farmer's market. He stopped a moment to chat with one of the people working at the Underwood Family Farms stand (which we patronize every week), and she mentioned that the selection at their you-pick farm was really wonderful right now. Nate asked if I wanted to go next weekend...but then we realized that I would be gone for the next two weekends!

In a fit of spontaneity, we left the farmer's market, walked home, got in the car, and drove the 45 minutes to the Underwood Family Farms. It's a gorgeous drive to Ventura County, the chapparal-covered Santa Monicas making way for the golden grass covered and boulder strewn mountains surrounding the Simi Valley, each range seemingly taller than the last.

We made it to the farm, and the bounty did not disappoint.

Tomatoes and peppers of all sizes and colors were the true stars of our yield, though we also picked some eggplant and raspberries.

Sun-warmed and so, so sweet!

We made fried green tomatoes, and a batch of spicy pickled green tomatoes!

Obviously after such an amazing haul, we had to make some delicious snacks for Tapas Sunday! Stay tuned to see what we ate...In the mean time, if you are in the Los Angeles area, I can't recommend a trip to Underwood Family Farms enough!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Frosting

Nate has a sweet tooth. A horrible, horrible sweet tooth. Personally I try to refrain from eating a lot of sweets (I would choose cheese over chocolate, if I had to pick a vice), but thanks to Nate I am constantly churning out dessert after dessert. 

On the one hand it's fun, because I get to keep my baking skills up to chop. But on the other hand, it's dangerous, because even if you aren't crazy about sweets, it's impossible not to have at least one slice of, say, homemade butterscotch pie...

Anyway, the pie was finished a few days ago, and Nate decided he wanted whoopie pies next. I've never made them before, and I think the only time I've ever had one is when Starbucks inside our grocery store is giving away their pastries at the end of the day. I used this recipe for the cookie/cake part, and this recipe for the filling, with a slight modification (see below). 

Chocolate Whoopie Pies with Salted Caramel Frosting

First, mix together the dry ingredients: Flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Beat the butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla until smooth and fluffy.

In a small container, mix together 1/2 cup lukewarm coffee and some buttermilk. Alternating between adding the flour mixture and the coffee/buttermilk mixture to the butter/sugar mixture. Once mixed, put into a bag and pipe onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet, about 2 inches apart.

Take out of the oven and let cool completely.

Make the frosting. I made the frosting from this recipe, but whipped 1/2 cup heavy cream and folded it into the frosting at the end, to achieve a nice fluffy texture. Put the frosting into a pastry bag and pipe onto one cookie/cake round, then top with another, pushing down until the frosting reaches the edge.

The cake is dense and moist, the fluffy filling is sweet and salty in a way that helps cut through the richness of the cake. Highly recommended, especially with a cold glass of milk or iced tea!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chopped: Chiles de Arbol, Kumquat, Nopales, Sage, Ice Cream Cone, and Marshmallow!

Chopped round 2 was so much better than Chopped round 1!

Nate chose 6 secret ingredients this time, although I think 4 is what they usually do on the show. I had to talk him out of including a jar of green been pickles I made months ago, and some plum-vanilla brandy that is still steeping in a jar in the cupboard.

The Chopped ingredients were:

 Stale gluten-free marshmallows and stale ice cream cones from the cupboard:


Nopales, aka diced cactus paddle:

Dried Chiles de Arbol:

And a bunch of fresh sage.

I knew that the kumquat and chiles would go together well, but I was honestly just pissed off about the marshmallows. They were stale and gross and sickly sweet, and I didn't want their flavor to taint anything! But rules are rules.

I immediately knew that I would throw the ice cream cones into the blender and use them as a crunchy crust for some beef we had in the fridge. I toasted them up a bit (which consisted of me putting them in the toaster over, looking in with dismay to see that they had started melting, then letting them cool until they were extremely crispy) then blended them to a coarse meal, and set aside.

I wanted to make an Asian-flavored dipping sauce for the beef tenders, so I minced some garlic and ginger and threw it into a sauce pan with about 5 Chiles de Arbol and a dash of canola and sesame oil. I then added about 10 thinly sliced kumquats, 2 TBSP of peach-jalapeno jam, about 1/4 cup soy sauce, and a splash of white wine, and brought to a simmer. I cooked until the flavors had melded and the sauce was slightly thickened. It had a great salty, garlicky, sweet and spicy flavor. 

In the mean time, I needed to do something with the nopales! Nopales are sort of acidic in flavor. The thing that makes them really challenging to cook with is that they are mucilaginous, like okra or aloe. I blanched the nopales in boiling water, then rinsed with cold water. 

I decided to make a light, refreshing salad, since the tempura was all fried and heavy. I added a few tablespoons of rice wine vinegar and a sprinkle of sugar to a bowl, then added the nopales, a cucumber cut into chunks, some diced yellow bell pepper, some sliced kumquats, 2 sliced scallions, and about 1 T chopped fresh sage. I mixed it all together, then put it into the fridge so the flavors could meld while I worked on the other ingredients.

I had gotten some asparagus, purple "green beans", and yellow bell pepper at the farmers market. I decided to make some tempura to go along with the dipping sauce. 
Ready for the batter...
The tempura batter consisted of 1 cup flour, 1 1/2 cups sparkling water, and 1 TBSP cornstarch. Super simple, the batter makes for an ultra light, crispy crust. 

I sliced up some chicken, then in batches, dipped the veggies/chicken in tempura batter and fried in about 1-2" canola oil, turning once, until crispy and slightly golden. I drained them over some metal cooling racks that I usually use for cookies. 

Then I salted and peppered the sliced beef, dredged it in a beaten egg, and coated it in ground ice cream cone. I fried the beef in oil until crispy on both sides, then drained over a cooling rack.

With all of the secret ingredients used up except the marshmallow. I knew what I had to do...I threw the marshmallows in what was left of the tempura batter, then fried them on either side for about 30 seconds. 
Deep fried marshmallows..."YUM".... :(

The Results

With the exception of the sickly sweet, oily marshmallows (part of your balanced American diet), the rest of the meal was pretty good!

I would definitely make the dipping sauce again, and the tempura batter worked perfectly. The only problem was that a lot of it was cold by the time we ate, since I had to fry everything in very small batches thanks to my teeny tiny stove. Surprisingly though, the batter was still crispy once cold!
Dipping Sauce
Tempura! Chicken, purple green beans, yellow pepper, and asparagus.
I would make the refreshing side salad again too, only without the nopales. Their texture is just too funky for me... I would sub in some green bell pepper. Apparently nopales are used in a lot of soups/stews, where their mucilaginous qualities melt into the broth and help thicken it. In the salad, they were just kind of gooey and unappetizing, although their tangy citrus-like flavor worked well with the rest of the ingredients. The chopped sage actually complemented the other ingredients in the salad perfectly - it has a sort of bitter, piney flavor that helped tone down the acidity of the kumquat and nopales. 

For Nate, the real stand out was the ice cream cone crusted beef. The sweetness of the cone complemented the beef nicely, and it had a nice crispy crunch to it. 
Ice cream cone beef tenders...who knew!
When all is said and done, Chopped is super fun and I can't wait to do it again! There's something so satisfying about taking a random group of ingredients...
And turning them into a tasty meal!

(again, fried marshmallows not withstanding!)