Monday, February 27, 2012

a trio of simple and healthy salads

It's easy to get carried away with comfort meals during Winter. I've spoken with friends on the East Coast and when they're chilled to the bone all you want is a giant bowl of pasta or a hearty stew to warm you up. 

It may be a bit warmer here in California, but this is typically my hardest season of work. So after long nights, I feel like I totally deserve to eat that burger and fries..right?!

This past weekend, I whipped up some seriously simple salads. I made 3 times as much as we could eat in one sitting, so we had healthy leftovers to grab for all weekend.

With all this healthy salad eating, it left plenty more room for eating luxurious desserts like this one. Seriously so good. I am such a softie for nutella.

There are three distinct recipes below. I made them all at once, and it took about an hour. I suggest starting up the roasted tomatoes and cooking the quinoa first. Then prepare the rest of the veggies and dressings.

Garbanzo Bean, Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula, and Parmesan Salad
serves 4

1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed
1 8 oz container of grape tomatoes
1.5 ounces shaved parmesan
1 lemon, juiced
A handful of arugula
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Set the oven to 375. Cut the grape tomatoes in half and spread on a baking sheet. Drizzle on olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast until softened and slightly juicy, about 30 minutes.

Mix together rinsed garbanzo beans, roasted tomatoes, lemon juice, and arugula. Set aside until it comes to room temperature. Top with parmesan, salt, and pepper. Taste the salad and see if you would like any more seasonsing (lemon juice for acid, parmesan for creaminess, or salt/pepper.)

Radicchio, Corn, Avocado Salad
serves 4

1 small head radicchio
2 ears of corn
2 avocados
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lemon, juiced

Cut out the radicchio core. Slice radicchio thinly. Cut the raw kernels of corn off the ear. Cut up the avocado into cubes about 1/2 inch in size. Mix together all ingredients. Top with olive oil and lemon juice. Mix together gently to not break apart the avocado.

Quinoa and Pistachio Salad with Citrus Herb Vinaigrette
serves 4

1 cup quinoa (I used tricolor, but any color will do)
1/2 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup chopped green onion
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons whole grain mustard
2 lemons, juiced
Salt and pepper

Prepare quinoa according to package in a large pot. Whisk together the olive oil, mustard, and lemon juice. Mix in the chopped herbs and the pistachios. Once the quinoa is cooked and has soaked up all its cooking water, immediately add in the herb vinaigrette and pistachios and place the lid back on the pot in order to let the quinoa soak in all the flavors, about 5 minutes. Remove quinoa to a separate bowl and let come to room temperature.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

citrus pudding with rosemary cookies

This past weekend I celebrated Mint Love Social Club's blogiversary with a fabulous dinner party. Natalie's parties never disappoint - there were champagne cocktails, beautiful flowers, and a skillfully prepared dinner by her fiance Chris.

Oh and there was Muji - their adorable Boston terrier - who brings a smile to my face even on the worst days.

A few weeks, over a few glasses of wine, Natalie and I brainstormed decorating and food concepts for the party. I offered to take over dessert. It had to be something light and seasonal that would complement a rich dinner of roasted lamb shanks.

I came across this recipe for citrus pudding and thought this would be perfect way to round out the meal. Citrus flavors to cleanse the palate with just a bit of creamy decadence from the pudding.

I used a combination of orange and lemon flavors, instead of the meyer lemon, and I left the citrus zest in the pudding to add some texture and stronger citrus flavors.

The rosemary shortbread garnish is a favorite of mine served at Pizzeria Mozza. Josh was a champ and made the cookies all by himself - no easy feat - and they turned out perfect.

Citrus Lemon Pudding
(recipe adapted from The Galley Gourmet)
serves 8

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 1/2 cups whole milk
3 large egg yolks,
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

In a medium saucepan, whisk together sugar and cornstarch. Add the milk, egg yolks, zest, and salt. Whisk until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently at first and constantly toward the end, until thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in the juice and butter. Continue to whisk until pudding has come to room temperature. Divide into 8 service dishes and loosely cover in fridge for at least 3 hours or up to 3 days.

Top with homemade whipped cream.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

mini pretzel dogs

I went through most of my childhood and adolescence sort of despising hot dogs. I mean, what kind of kid was I?

My Freshman or Sophomore year of college I was introduced to a Costco dog. There was some hesitation. Some looks of "I'm terribly sorry, but there is just no way this is happening." And some whiny "do I really have to eat this?" comments.

One bite in, I was hooked.

I had been missing out on such a fantastic American tradition. There was some lost time to make up for.

I came across this recipe on one my favorite food blogger's sites - Joy the Baker. It's simple and satisfying. I made up a giant batch and defrosted them for easy lunches on the go. You could also make them extra tiny and serve them at your next cocktail party.

We added a bit of parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper on top of our boiled pretzel dogs, right before they hit the oven.

We tried getting fancy with the sauces but found that there's truly no better combination that hot dogs, ketchup, and mustard.

Friday, February 17, 2012

an oscars cocktail party menu

(image via twig and thistle)

Do you feel that? The anticipation in the air? That's me. Squirming in my seat because I can't wait for the Oscars.

I mean, really, what's there not to love? The dresses. The speeches. The return of Billy Crystal! 

(image via bon appetit)

What better way to spend this evening than with a few friends over cocktails and crostinis (and of course, competitive betting over each category's winners). 

I've put together a menu - just elegant enough (but not overly stuffy)  - for a cocktail affair with gussied up popcorn (duh, it's the movies), crostinis, and champagne. 

(image via zested)

If you need any ideas for decorating for an Oscar party, please immediately head over to Twig and Thistle for an amazing party spread.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

cupcakes and wine tasting at sarloos and sons

This past weekend I enjoyed a day of wine tasting to celebrate one of my closest friend's birthdays. We headed up to Los Olivos in a limo with about 18 friends, enjoyed some delicious homemade breakfast sandwiches and mimosas, and stopped by three wineries. Of course, there was the obligatory stop at In n Out on the way home.

The second tasting room of the day was Sarloos & Sons - one of my absolute favorite wineries in the area. They have delicious wines, amazing stories behind each bottle, and beautiful labels. Sarloos' Extended Family (pinot noir) won me over, and I left with a bottle to bring home.

Sarloos also offers a pretty unique tasting option - cupcake and wine pairings. Enjoy Cupcakes puts together a flight of six brilliant miniature cupcakes. Each cupcake is meant to be paired with six unique wine tastings. The caramel corn cupcake with vanilla bean cake, caramel filling, vanilla frosting, and caramel corn garnish was ridiculously good.

The cupcake and wine tasting is such a fun getaway and Sarloos' tasting room staff could not be nicer. I've gone for a weekend holiday with Josh and all of my best girlfriends for my bachelorette party. Both times have  been memorable experiences.

Sarloos & Sons
2971 Grand Ave
Los Olivos, CA

Monday, February 13, 2012

incredible tacos at taco asylum

I headed down to Orange County this past weekend to meet up with my Mom for lunch. She's been going on and on about this taco place called Taco Asylum at The Camp that has unique and gourmet tacos (like grilled octopus, ghost chili pork, and cow's heart - to name a few.) They offer a taco tasting with 8 mini versions of their tacos. The tasting menu is set - no alterations - and includes tacos like their short-rib, duck, and steak.

We opted for ala carte tacos.

First up was the curried paneer with a naan tortilla, raita, and tomato chutney. Paneer is an Indian cheese (it's a fairly common vegetarian protein option). This taco was insanely good. The paneer was crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle. The naan tortilla had some chew to it and the sauces added a great punch of flavor.

Next was one of the restaurant's favorite - the wild mushroom with an herbed tortilla, garbanzo puree, parsley salad, and fried chickpeas. Everyone around us had at least one of these on their table. The mushrooms were rich and meaty and complimented perfectly by the creamy garbanzo puree. The fried chickpeas were such a fun textural addition since they sort of popped in your mouth when you bit into them.

(left: wild mushroom, right: pork belly)

Last up was the pork belly with a flour tortilla, carrots, onion, cilantro, and daikon. This was sort of the banh mi of tacos except the vegetables weren't overly pickled. The taco included thick pieces of sinfully soft pork belly. I added a bit of the restaurant's hot sauce to get that heat I love from banh mi's. Delicious. I will be trying to replicate this at home.

Taco Asylum has three wonderful hot sauces - mild, hot, and very hot. I recommend you try them all and find the right one for you. The "very hot" is not kidding around, but it's oh-so-good.

They've got some awesome beers on tap and wines in kegs (they're good - I swear- my mom got a glass).

Taco Asylum
2937 Bristol St, B102
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
11a - 11pm

Friday, February 10, 2012

a valentine's day menu

Josh and I have spent our fair share of Valentine's Days out at restaurants. We've suffered through the crowds, absurdly priced dinners, and fairly standard menus (filet mignon and flourless chocolate cake, anyone?).

(image via tiny urban kitchen)

A few years ago, we started the tradition of cooking in on Valentine's Day. Each year we pick a recipe that we've been dying to make that requires lots of "together" time in the kitchen. We make appetizers, open a good bottle of wine, and spend a few hours slowly putting together a delicious meal while blasting our favorite music.

It's comfortable, less expensive, delicious, and romantic. You should give it a try.

(image via bon appetit)

This Valentine's menu would be absolutely perfect for a night in. The spice on the pork rub has a bit of a kick, which pairs so well with the citrusy brussel spouts and the creamy potatoes. Make just one portion of the chocolate mousse and share it with two spoons.

To sip on:
A bottle of Syrah (Aresti @ $16)

To munch on while you're cooking:
Baked Spiced Chickpeas

For dinner:
New Mexican Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Ancho Sauce
Margarita Potatoes
Sauteed Brussel Sprouts with Lemon and Pistachios

For dessert:
Julia Child's Perfect Chocolate Mousse with Homemade Whipped Cream

Prep Ahead the Night Before:
- Mix up the pork's spice rub and leave in a ziploc bag
- Make the bourbon ancho sauce
- Parboil the potatoes and store in a tightly covered dish in the fridge
- Mix together the margarita sauce and store in the fridge
- Peel the brussel sprout leaves and store in a tighly covered dish in the fridge
- Make the chocolate mousse

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

surprisingly simple chicken meatballs

The meatball:  common fare in such classic settings as cocktail parties and mafia movies.

The one thing that bothers me about meatballs is how simple they seem and yet how poorly they can turn out.  I usually shy away from ordering them because the chance that they arrive dry and one-note is pretty high.  After stumbling upon a great article about meatballs in the NY Times, I decided to try my hand at one of their simple recipes involving a few common ingredients (read: I was feeling lazy).

Chicken Meatballs (adapted from NY Times)
yields about 16 meatballs

1 lb. boneless chicken thighs
1 oz. semi-hard Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh Italian Parsley
1/2 Medium Onion, cut into chunks
2-3 garlic cloves
1 egg
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
AP Flour
Lemon Wedges (optional)

Place the chicken in the freezer while preparing the other ingredients (this makes it easier to chop in the food processor).  Put the Parmesan, parsley leaves, garlic, and onion in a food processor and process until finely chopped. [Warning:  do not over process or else the water from the onions will render your meatball mixture useless.]  Add the egg, chicken, and heavy pinch of salt/pepper, and continue to pulse until the chicken is coarsely ground (barely beyond chopped; again avoid wringing out the onions too much).  Take the meat mixture and shape into one-inch meatballs, pressing no more than necessary.

Prepare a large skillet with the olive oil over medium heat.  Once the oil is ready (begins to shimmer), dredge the meatballs one by one in the flour and add to the oil.  Turn the meatballs as each side browns until a nice golden crust has formed (12-15 minutes).

Serve hot or at room temperature.  I enjoyed these meatballs over a number of courses, first simply with lemon, then with an easy herb white sauce (butter, flour, milk, s&p, herbs), and finally with a marinara sauce on a baguette as a sub sandwich.  Heather even said that she would use this recipe to make delicious chicken burgers for a summer party.  Whatever you choose, the meatballs are simple to make and came out very juicy and flavorful thanks to the onions, garlic, and Parmesan.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

featured on green wedding shoes

(our wedding menu - image via nicole caldwell)

I was recently featured on one of my favorite wedding and party blogs - Green Wedding Shoes. Be sure to check out my article, "Six Tasty Tips for a Foodie Wedding."

I absolutely love planning dinner parties and had a blast planning the menu for our own wedding. After a great blog brainstorming session with my friend this past weekend, I'm going to be adding a weekly feature of "recommended menus" for all types of dinner parties. I'll be starting this Friday off with a suggested Valentine's Day menu for a romantic night in.

Monday, February 6, 2012

momofuku milk bar corn cookies at home

Momofuku Milk Bar is an awesome bakery in New York that makes completely unique desserts like cereal milk-flavored soft serve and crack pie. They make these addictive corn cookies that I crave year-round. They taste somewhere between corn flakes and corn meal.

I used to travel to New York pretty frequently for work, and I would drag my coworkers on late night subway rides or long walks through the city just to get my hands on this cookie. They're truly that good.

I was overjoyed when I walked in Williams Sonoma and saw that they now sell the mix for these cookies (ahh!). All you need is the mix + 1 egg + 2 sticks of butter. I'm sold.

The mix is fabulous and the cookies taste just like the bakery's fresh version. The box includes fairly detailed mixing and baking instructions. Follow them closely and you will have cookies that are slightly crispy around the edges and soft and chewy in the middle (i.e. perfection).

Thursday, February 2, 2012

fire at night cocktail

Blood oranges are seriously winter's candy. And beautiful.

Mix with a bit of muddled basil (for that herbacious freshness), agave (for the balancing sweetness), and some tequila (so you can call it a cocktail).

The result is truly delicious. Refreshing, fresh, and swoon-worthy. Make this tonight. It's Thirsty Thursday, afterall.

Fire at Night Cocktail
1.5 ounces anejo tequila
1 ounce blood orange juice
Heavy 1/4 ounce lime juice
2 barspoons light agave nectar
2 dashes peychauds bitters
3-5 fresh basil leaves
Garnish: blood orange peel

Muddle basil leaves gently (or else it can become too aromatic = bitter) with the blood orange and lime juices. Add remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into tumbler with fresh ice. Garnish with blood orange peel.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

homemade grenadine (cold process)

One item that has been lacking in our bar for a few months is a fresh batch of homemade grenadine (made with real pomegranate juice, not corn syrup and red #6). I think that grenadine is still an under-appreciated part of cocktail culture; a good grenadine can create a vibrant cocktail with great depth of flavor, whereas a bad grenadine can create a muddy cocktail both in color and balance.

I usually follow the "hot process" for making grenadine, which involves using 100% pomegranate juice and adding 2 parts juice to one part sugar and reducing the mixture by half over medium low heat. The result is a thick and rich syrup and a little can go a long way in a cocktail. My problem with this method is cutting the process at the right sweet/tart balance can be difficult and the result can lose some of the bright fruit flavor through the cooking process.  The result is closer to a pomegranate molasses rather than a pomegranate syrup.

I recently read about a shortcut for another method to make grenadine, the "cold process." The shortcut cuts the process down to about 10 minutes (even shorter than the hot process) and maintains the freshness of the pomegranate juice by keeping the juice cold throughout the process.  The secret: an immersion blender!

Simply take a desired amount of 100% pomegranate juice (not sweetened or from concentrate) and place in a LARGE bowl.  Measure out an equal amount of sugar and mix in one-quarter to one-third at a time until each addition of sugar is completely dissolved.  In a sanitized bottle or air-tight container (I like empty spirits bottles), pour the resulting ruby red syrup into an air-tight container or bottle and refrigerate.  This should stay fresh for at least 3 months.

Bright and fresh grenadine just in time for Valentine's Day cocktails.  Stay tuned for my Perfect Ward Eight recipe using this grenadine.

Happy February!