Monday, December 24, 2012

Dramatically Seared Green Beans

I still remember when I first came across this recipe in 2008. It was sometime before Thanksgiving, so NPR had devoted programming time for holiday recipes. Melissa Block was interviewing the venerable Mollie Katzen for some side-dish ideas for the Thanksgiving. What Thanksgiving isn't complete without green beans? 

The idea behind the dish is a simple one. Thanksgiving is hectic enough that you want a few easy-to-make dishes that can be prepped and even cooked ahead of time. This green bean dish is precisely that. The ingredient list is short: green beans, garlic, chili flakes, salt, pepper.  The flavors are bold, but the freshness of the green beans shines through. Plus it's versatile. It tastes great fresh out of the pan or at room temperature. 

Now, I know Christmas is right around the corner. But even though the dish was inspired by Thanksgiving, it's perfect anytime of the year. The recipe below includes mushrooms, because, well, mushrooms are awesome. So consider these Dramatically Seared Green Beans if you're looking for a simple, fresh, and flavorful side dish - no matter the time of year. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cheese Fondue

Alright, confession time. Growing up, cheese fondue was my absolute favorite meal. Now, in elementary school, we'd sometimes have these assignments where we filled out worksheets. Sometimes these worksheets would ask you to write your favorite food. Without exception, when presented with this question, I knew in my head what to write: cheese fondue. But, tragically, when I was really young I didn't know how to spell cheese fondue. Looking back, I'm not sure where I got tripped up. It's not a hard word. Perhaps there was some question about whether there was an "e" on the end. 

So, when presented with this question, rather than write cheese fondue, I would write pizza. Hey, it's cheese and bread. And I like pizza. So I wrote pizza. 

Well, now with the benefit of spellcheck, let me say for the record: cheese fondue is awesome. What's not to like? It's a mixture of white wine, cheese, and garlic. You dip crusty bread into it. You can also dip vegetables. It's a GIANT POT OF MELTED CHEESE. 

So, today's recipe is for cheese fondue. It's simple and delicious. And truly, it's not that hard to spell. 

I feel like this might be obvious, but it's worth mentioning: splurge for some really good cheese here. I like to use a nice Emmental or Gruyere. It's sometimes nice to mix the two.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sesame Seared Ahi Tuna

I've said it before and I'll say it again: there's nothing quite like fresh fish. And when it's fresh, the simplest preparation will suffice. Yellowfin tuna, also known as ahi, demonstrates this principle perfectly. With just the barest minimum of preparation, the flavor of a fresh piece of ahi is sublime. Its ubiquity and popularity in sushi restaurants is a testament to how good ahi can taste served rare. In other words, less is more. 

Today's recipe is for sesame seared ahi tuna. You start out with fresh tuna steaks, preferably never frozen. Don't skimp on the quality, since the tuna is served rare. The fish is then lightly marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, honey, and sesame oil. Sweet, sour, salty, and sesame - if you will. The marinade, which also serves as a dipping sauce, is just enough to bring out and highlight the intrinsic yumminess of rare tuna. 

The fish is then given a generous coating of sesame seeds before being cooked. And when I say cooked, I don't really mean cooked. You really just want to sear the ahi, leaving the middle quite rare. What you get is a wonderful contrast of textures, with the buttery smooth interior juxtaposed with the sesame crusted exterior. Just a dab of wasabi brings the right amount of heat to heighten the already fantastic flavors.

This is the kind of recipe that hits all the right notes: fresh, flavorful, and most importantly, simple. It's a staple in my kitchen. Give it a shot, and it might just become one in yours too!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grilled Marinated Flank Steak

You could say Mark Bittman and me go way back. How to Cook Everything, perhaps his most popular cookbook, was given to me as a gift in college. It was my first "real" cookbook. The recipes are, for the most part, pretty basic. Since then, I've learned how to do more complicated things in the kitchen. But, even today, I still find myself going back to it pretty often. Why? Because sometimes basic is all you need! 

Take this recipe for grilled marinated flank steak, for instance. Flank steak, if you're not familiar with the cut, is usually fairly lean, with a good bit of chew. The flavor is decidedly beefy, which means strongly flavored marinades play well with the cut. It also lends itself to a very simple preparation, which makes Bittman's marinade recipe one of my go-to flank steak marinades. 

And if nothing else, this marinade is a combination of strong, assertive flavors. You start out of with a couple of healthy squeezes of fresh lime juice. Added to that are a couple swigs of fish sauce, which imparts a pungent but pleasant aroma to the marinade. Finally, some fresh grated ginger and minced garlic is thrown in to round out the marinade. 

Then, a half hour later, you're ready to grill the flank steak. The results are simple, aromatic, and most importantly, tasty!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Banana Bread with Toasted Walnuts and Chocolate Chips

Bananas are undoubtedly one of my favorite types of fruit. And apparently, I'm in good company. A perfectly ripe banana is always a welcome addition to my morning bowl of Cheerios! But, an overripe banana? No thanks. So what do you do when you've got a bunch of overripe bananas? Well, it's time to make some banana bread!

This recipe for banana bread is outstanding. And, more importantly, it's downright simple to make. Bananas take center stage here: you start out with 3-4 overripe bananas. Added to that is some brown sugar - not too much brown sugar. Just enough to heighten the bananas innate sweetness. The batter is finished with a splash of bourbon and vanilla, and then a sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon. Texture is important here too, so I gild the lily a bit and stud the top of the bread with toasted walnuts. Oh, and because chocolate is never a bad thing, some chocolate chips are folded into the bread.

The recipe is versatile too. Don't like walnuts? Fine, leave them out! Don't like chocolate? Well, I won't judge you.

So, treat this banana bread recipe as a canvas of sorts, onto which any number of additions will likely be delicious. In any case, what you'll end up with is some incredibly moist and flavorful banana bread.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Chipotle-Smashed Sweet Potatoes

Nothing beats a good plate of mashed potatoes! Truth be told, growing up, it was probably my favorite dish at Thanksgiving. It might still be my favorite! But as I've gotten older, I've also developed a taste for a different kind of mashed potato: something more textured and flavorful.

This recipe is a riff on the classic dish of mashed potatoes, with some very tasty twists. Instead of white potatoes, it calls for sweet potatoes (or as some supermarkets are wont to label them, yams). Added to that are chipotle peppers for a kick of heat. Then it's just a matter of throwing in some salt and butter to smooth things out. Finished with a sprinkling of chives, the final dish hits all the right notes: sweet, salty, and spicy!

It's not as smooth as whipped potatoes. As the name suggests, it's smashed, so expect hearty chunks of potato in the assembled dish.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Simple Roasted Carrots

Especially with fresh vegetables, it's nice to go back to the basics. And with root vegetables, one of the most basic (and reliable) preparation methods is roasting.

Roasting heightens and highlights the simple sweetness inherent to many root vegetables. The hot oven quickly burns off excess moisture, leaving a more concentrated flavor. The kicker? The high heat preparation gives the carrots a caramelized and crispy skin.

Applying this method to young carrots is especially fantastic. The carrots are soft on the inside, chewy on the outside. The flavor is subdued but assertive: there are hints of garlic, thyme, and red wine vinegar. And they're addictive! Like a tin of a certain kind of potato crisps: "Once you pop, you can't stop!" 

Feel free to play around with different herbs. Dill is wonderful here, as well. The nice thing about roasting is that you can really tinker with the flavor profile. There is only one rule: use herbs, oils, and spices sparingly. Let the vegetable's natural flavor shine! If you can't get small young carrots, you might want to add a little honey to the roasting pan. Large carrots may not be as sweet as fresh young carrots.

Below the jump, it's Simple Roasted Carrots.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Cheesecake-Marbled Brownies

I'm a big fan of brownies. And these brownies? Fantastic and decadent. It's what a brownie should be!

Unlike my last brownie recipe, which is fairly balanced, these brownies go beyond fudge-like - it's like biting into pure chocolate. The best part? The chocolate is marbled with generous swirls of cheesecake filling. That balances out the otherwise intense notes of chocolate. And to gild the lily, the brownies are studded with chunks of dark chocolate.

A note about serving the brownies: I like to bake these up and then chill them overnight in the fridge. The flavors seem to take on a new depth when chilled. Which makes sense when you think about it. How is cheesecake usually served? Cold. I think the mellow flavors from the cream cheese mixture emerge with a more pronounced "oomph" when served cold.

And as a practical matter, the brownies are much easier to slice and dice when cold.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Looking back at all the baking that I've been doing, there's a common theme emerging: chocolate. Okay, so I like chocolate. You might even call me a chocoholic. If you're a chocoholic, you're in the right place! And guess what? This is a judgment-free zone, so don't be afraid to flaunt your chocoholism. 

So, chocolate cookies. Chewy? Crispy? Which one do I prefer? It's chocolate ... it doesn't matter. 

That said, these are a lot different than my last cookie recipeThese are chewy chocolate chip cookies. The chocolate-to-dough ratio is a lot more mellow. So they're very balanced. The texture is chewy but forgiving. There are strong notes of brown sugar and vanilla in the dough, which, overall, makes for a very pleasant cookie. Most importantly, the chocolate is fantastic! I used 70% Valrhona, in the shape of small discs (or "feves"), from Whole Foods. Because of the shape, each bite offers the promise of hitting a solid pocket of gooey chocolate!

So what's your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe? Are you a chewy or a crispy kind of person? Let me know in comments!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Tzatziki Potato Salad

Now, I'll admit to not being a huge fan of traditional potato salad. Don't get me wrong, I'm no mayo-phobe. On a sandwich? Fine. In a salad dressing? Great. But mixed with potatoes? Not really. It might because the result is usually a potato salad that is heavy and rich. To me, not really the ideal dish to bring to a summer picnic or barbecue. 

This Tzatziki Potato Salad is a unique take on something classic. Compared to the traditional potato salad, it's something decidedly different. To start with, it's light and refreshing. It combines cool cucumbers with Greek yogurt, a little bit of fresh lemon juice, and garlic. Oh, and a few pounds of potatoes. The result is a dish that's not just fit to be a side course, but something hearty enough and delicious enough to be the main course!

That said, it'll do fine if you need something to share for your next picnic or potluck. Best of all, it's dead simple to make. And it can be made in advance and travels well. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chocolate Walnut Brownies

Making the perfect brownie is difficult. Some people like them so fudgy that you need a spoon to eat them. Other people like their brownies super cakey.

Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, these brownies are an attempt to bridge the gap between too hot and too cold, and find something ‘just right.’ So, they are neither too fudgey nor too cakey. Put simply, it’s a classic brownie, albeit perhaps kicked up a notch.

These are chocolate brownies with toasted walnuts.  They’re chewy (bordering on fudgy), with intense notes of chocolate. They’re also slightly cakey, but without being dry. The interior is pleasantly moist. And because of that, the recipe is forgiving in the oven. If you’re the type to worry about over-baking your brownies, this is your recipe!

Finished with a generous coating of toasted walnuts, these chocolate brownies are a simple and satisfying treat!

P.S., I made 1/3 of the pan without walnuts, so if you’re a brownie purist, I can promise you they’re still pretty awesome, even without toasted nuts.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Golden-Crusted Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts have a poor reputation. Mostly, I think it’s because people have had them poorly prepared.  For instance, if you overcook Brussels sprouts, they’ll begin to release an unpalatable sulfurous smell. So don’t overcook them. Also, many common preparations for Brussels sprouts call for boiling them. That’s a recipe for disaster.

But cooked just right, Brussels sprouts can be quite tasty – sweet, salty, and nutty.

This recipe, if it can even be called a recipe, requires just a few ingredients and a skillet. The result? You get crispy Brussels sprouts that are a rich golden-brown on the outside and tender on the inside. Dusted with a light sprinkling of cheese and you have a little bit of heaven in a pan.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Truth be told, I’ve been looking for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe for quite some time. Well, now, I’ve found it!

The recipe is adapted from the justifiably famous Jacques Torres cookie recipe. Friends have described it as, no joke, the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I was, needless to say, skeptical. I mean, how much can you really improve on the classic Toll House recipe?

It turns out, this recipe does a lot to improve it! For one thing, it goes heavy on the chocolate. This isn’t a butter cookie with a few sad, lonely chocolate chips mixed in. No, this is over a pound of good quality Belgian chocolate. The original recipe called for special Jacques Torres chocolate discs. I substituted that with a bar of Trader Joe’s excellent pound-plus dark chocolate.  When the bar is chopped roughly, you get a range of finely ground chocolate and larger chunks. The result? Each bite, though bursting with rich chocolate flavor, is enticingly unique.

The recipe also calls for the cookie dough to be chilled for at least 24 hours. Why? It’s allows the dough to properly moisturize.  It turns out that the original Nestle Toll House cookie recipe, according to lore, also called for the dough to be chilled overnight. I know it’s hard to wait for cookies, but the wait is worth it.  

The kicker? The cookies are finished with a sprinkling of sea salt. The salt adds depth and dimension to the dark chocolate. It really takes these cookies to a whole new level. Are these the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had? Yes!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Baked Shrimp with Tomatoes, Feta, and Herbs

A great philosopher once said: “Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbeque it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it.” Truer words have never been said. 

Whether it be pan fried, deep fried, or stir fried, there are any number of tasty preparations! There's pineapple shrimp, lemon ship, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich.

That’s about it.

This dish highlights what makes shrimp so appealing. The shrimp itself is bathed in a hot broth of tomatoes, feta, and fresh herbs. It emerges slightly buttery, with a hint of sweetness. The smell? Slightly briny, and a smell that is reminiscent of the sea. In a word: heavenly.

The best part? It takes less than 30 minutes!

When you’re ready to eat, be sure to have some crusty bread around. The sauce is so good, you’ll definitely be coming back for more!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Chickpeas with Tomatoes and Potatoes

Chickpea? Garbanzo bean? Chana? Call it what ever you want. It's my favorite legume! The reasons why are actually simple. 

For one, it's got your back in all kinds of situations, like a good neighbor. It's right there when you need it, whether it be for hummus, curries, stews, or salads. Beyond its versatility, it's dirt cheap to buy. Even if you forgo the dried route and go with canned beans, you won't break the bank to put together a tasty meal. Finally, it's nutritious, chock full of complex carbohydrates and protein. 

This dish, Lebanese in origin, is something like a symphony of flavors. Individually, none of the ingredients are that exciting. In fact, the ingredient list is deceptively short. Just a few pantry items and fresh herbs are needed. But, when combined together, a few simple ingredients take on a surprisingly complex flavor. 

The dish itself echoes the versatility of the legume. It can be served hot or cold. Want it as a side dish? The flavors meld well with a number of meat courses. Want it as a main vegetarian course? Great! It's more than capable, perhaps with a small side salad. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Soba Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu and Roasted Pepper

The calendar has ticked over to June, and we’re rapidly approaching the start of summer! But at least here in Los Angeles, the weather is already heating up. For me, this means it’s time to start making more salads! And not just the leafy kind! 

This is a Buckwheat Noodle Salad with Grilled Tofu and Roasted Pepper. It comes courtesy of Deborah Madison, a preeminent vegetarian cookbook author and chef. The recipe itself can be found in the fabulous Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. You can read my review of the book here. If you’re in or from San Francisco, she founded Greens Restaurant, which remains open today. She also, I might add, graduated from my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz!

The salad combines soba noodles, tofu, sweet roasted peppers, with a slightly hot and slightly sweet sauce to make a dish that is light but satisfying. It’s also a great way to get someone to try (and perhaps enjoy) tofu. More importantly, it's also really easy to cook. Some hot dishes require expert timing so that everything is done and ready at the same time. This? Not so much. It comes together cold, so you can compose it at your own pace. Need something to kick off the summer with? This might be the ticket!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mom's Chocolate Cake

Sometimes a cake is just a cake. Well, this isn’t just any ordinary cake. Why? For one, it only shows up on special occasions, be it birthdays, anniversaries, or graduations. It made its first appearance (for me, anyway) on my first birthday. As the name of the cake implies, my Mom made it. And it was delicious – I think! I can’t be sure because pictures seem to show that I got more chocolate on me than in me. 

In the years since then, she's been making it for different occasions, and each iteration seemingly better than the last. In a way, each cake is imbued with the joyful memories of celebrations past. It gets better every year!

The cake is deceptively simple. The layers resemble a fairly classic devil’s food cake. It’s moist and chocolatey – not too sweet. The twist? It incorporates beets, which seem to lend it a deeper and more lasting moistness. In between the cake layers, there is a generous spread of apricot preserves. Add on a splash of Kirschwasser and you’ve got a delightfully fruity cake filling. On top and on the sides is a rich and heavenly chocolate ganache. And when spread over the cake, it adds a delicate and velvety burst of intense chocolate flavor. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Red Bean Curry (Rajma)

If you’ve been checking this blog regularly, you might have gotten the impression that most of the recipes hail from Western European cooking traditions, be it France, Italy, or Germany. While it’s true that many things here would fit right in at your standard California restaurant, that’s not all there is on offer.

As it turns out, many of the dishes that I love to cook are inspired by cultural references from many parts of the world. Now, I don’t claim that any of them are authentic. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. In any event, authenticity is a fraught concept, so no need to worry about it. 

What we've got here today is a variation of one of my go-to dishes from Smitten Kitchen.

What is it? It's red bean curry, or Rajma. It's blends hearty kidney beans with a deliciously spicy tomato sauce. And with a couple fresh ingredients, it transforms a couple pantry staples into a very solid weeknight meal that can be thrown together in about 30 minutes. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

10-Minute Oatmeal Pancakes

Everyone has moments when they want to do absolutely nothing.

Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Having just finished final exams, I recently had to navigate that nadir. But, we all still have to eat. Problem? You bet. Eventually the jars of peanut butter run out. And until Taco Bell delivers, sooner or later something will need to be cooked.

For every problem, there is a solution. Well, these pancakes are that solution. What do they have going for them? To start with: they're dead simple to prepare. Quick and easy. No folding and no whipping involved!

More importantly, they help you start the day off right. Good nutrition is a great way to start to getting out of a funk. Now, I'm not a doctor, but I do read a lot of Wikipedia. I'm fairly sure these pancakes are the cure for something.

What's in it? You've got oats, eggs, milk, and fruit. Oh yeah, and a small pat of butter. Overall, pretty good stuff - nutrient rich and nutrient dense.
So feel free to head over to Taco Bell later for some Locos Taco. You've earned it!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"Best Ever" Brownies

[UPDATE 7/31/12: Recipe is up (brownies are outstanding!)

Just a quick study break and one time announcement. Because of final exams, there won't be any posts until late next week.

In the meantime, I've set up an Atom feed (below) for my blog if you want to keep up with it on Google Reader (or similar). Likewise, you can follow me on Twitter (@matteitelberg) for upcoming recipes.

Upcoming recipes, after finals are over, include these "best ever" brownies. Hyperbole? Yeah, probably. But they are really good. Three types of chocolate, including chocolate chips. Did I mention there's chocolate? 

Also, there are a couple recipes on the savory side: Rajma (Kidney Bean Curry), 10-Minute Oatmeal Pancakes, and Mushroom Bourguignon. 

Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Orecchiette with Fennel and Tuna

Comfort foods - everyone has something (or several things) that fit into this category. In some cases, perhaps it's a dish that evokes some fleeting memory, growing ever distant. Or perhaps it's a recipe passed down from generation to generation, providing an indelible link from past to present.

Or maybe it's simply an dish that you've grown to love over several years. For me, this is that dish. It's inspired by pasta con le sarde, which traditionally uses fresh sardines, pine nuts, fennel, olive oil, and breadcrumbs. Well, this is fairly similar. It consists of canned tuna, pine nuts, bell peppers, fennel, onion, and raisins. And it's fantastic, trust me. Like many things I cook, the recipe comes courtesy of Jacques Pépin, so you know it's legit. 

Why comfort dishes right now? For me, cooking itself is a kind of therapy. It's a break from studying and class. And it's something that produces immediate, tangible results. That's something you don't see every day in school. The results here? It's hard to describe. The way the flavors meld makes the dish better than the sum of its parts, which are admittedly nothing out of the ordinary. The raisins provide a hint of sweetness. The pine nuts add nuttiness and crunch. And the fennel and fish make the perfect pair. It just all works

Plus, this time of the year marks the crush of final exam prep. Dishes that make enough food (like this) to feed six or provide leftovers are much appreciated. And hey, it's orecchiette pasta! It's trending as the go-to pasta shape for all things toothsome and tempting.

Let's give it a go! 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Corn, Two Ways

Boiling water is easy, right? Well, that's really all you have to do with this recipe. Oh, and add salt. And then butter. It's simple steamed corn, courtesy of Mark Bittman.


No, wait. Now, don't get me wrong, steamed corn is great. Especially when it's fresh. But what about grilled corn? Hard to do when you don't have a grill (like me), right? It turns out Mark Bittman has us covered here too.

Enter indoor 'grilled' corn. It's cooked in a skillet with small knob of butter until it's browned on most sides. And you know what? It's pretty good. It's not grilled corn, but when you live in an apartment and don't have an outdoor grill, sometimes you have to make do with what you have.

So here you go, corn two ways: steamed or grilled.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Zucchini Risotto

Mistakes happen. I've made this dish tons of times. I mean, I have it committed to memory. And yet I made a mistake. I forgot to put in the diced onions before the rice went into the saucepan. Scandalous, I know. Sure, I was talking on the phone and so I may have been distracted. As the risotto was cooking, I noticed that there were an awful lot of leftover diced onions on my cutting board. Wait, all of my onions are on the cutting board! Shoot.

It's when things like this happen that I remind myself of something Julia Child once said: "The grand thing about cooking is you can eat your mistakes." One of my favorite moments from The French Chef comes from "The Potato Show." Have a look, you can also see Meryl Streep doing her Julia impression.

"You can always pick it. And if you're alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?"

She's absolutely right. Most mistakes are edible. But also, if you're afraid to make mistakes you'll never improve in the kitchen. Failure and success go hand in hand, and you'll never enjoy the latter if you're afraid of the former.

Alright, this is starting to sound like a bad motivational speech. Let's get to the recipe!

Oh yeah, I ended up throwing the onions in because I caught the mistake early. There was enough time for them to cook down and soften in the risotto. And you know what, it still tasted great!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Butternut Squash Velvet

Velvet? Okay, this is really just butternut squash soup. But it's really, really good soup. And hey, velvet does make it sound fancy, right?

For some reason, soups always seemed mysterious to me. When my Mom made soup when I was younger, I never watched it being made. As far as I was concerned, soup either came out of can or it emerged from the kitchen, the result of an alchemical process beyond my limited muggle abilities.

It turns out, soup isn't that hard to make. You cut up some ingredients, put them into a stock pot, cook it for a while, and then you blend it. When you do this with butternut squash, what you get is a soup that is pleasantly sweet, salty, and savory. It's also hearty enough to round out a light meal.

Most importantly, it's a great way to start making soups. There are more difficult soups out there; this isn't one of them. This recipe may not reveal the secret to turning metal into gold, but it will get you turning fresh vegetables into tasty soups in no time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Asparagus Pesto

Sometimes when you're on a budget, you have to cook with what's fresh. A couple days ago, I had set out to the grocery store with one type of dish in mind, but immediately I noticed a huge display of gorgeous asparagus. Not the thin, sad kind that's flown in from Argentina, but the kind grown right here in California. I thought for a second. Yes, it's early April! Asparagus season had begun. My mind then turned to one of my favorite asparagus dishes - asparagus pesto.

Everyone knows about traditional pesto (pesto genovese) made with garlic, basil, olive oil, crushed garlic, and Parmesan cheese. But that's only one kind of pesto, albeit the most familiar.

It turns out that pesto is just the generic term for anything made by pounding. It can actually be made with any number of ingredients. For instance, there are cilantro pestos, sun-dried tomato pestos, and olive pestos.

Well, this is asparagus pesto. The best part? It takes only thirty minutes to prepare. And when you're done, you have a sauce that is distinctive and different. It's also something that can be used for weeks (it freezes well) on any number of dishes.

Sandwiches? Check.
Pasta? Of course.
Dip for vegetables? Why not.
Straight out of the bowl? I won't tell anyone if you don't.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ratatouille with Penne

It's not often you can say you were inspired to try a dish because of an animated rodent. Well, here goes: I saw Remy cook Ratatouille and I wanted to make it! It's weird the way Pixar films seem to affect people. Don't believe me? Here's someone who actually put balloons on their house, Up-style.

I've known about Ratatouille (the dish) for a while, even before seeing Ratatouille (the film). And it's a daunting dish. I once attempted Julia Child's justifiably famous Ratatouille casserole. It was an unmitigated disaster. To start with, it's a difficult recipe if you're still trying to feel your way around the kitchen. It requires each element to be cooked separately, before arranging it in layers in a casserole dish. Simply put, it's a project, more appropriate for a special occasion and a long afternoon. It's not a dish that you can just throw together, let's say, after work or school.

Enter Jacques Pépin. If you know me, you know Jacques Pépin is my favorite public television chef by a clear margin (sorry Julia!). On television, he's charming and humble. And he's a great teacher. If you haven't seen him in action, I really encourage you to check out some of his episodes - they're up on YouTube. In fact, you can watch the episode from which I took this recipe here.

More importantly, his recipes never fail. Ever. Trust me when I say you must try this recipe.

Unlike the traditional Ratatouille, all the ingredients here are cooked together in the same pot. All you need are some fresh vegetables. Combine those with some pantry staples and thirty minutes later you have a perfectly tasty Ratatouille - without the muss and fuss of the traditional recipe.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Baked Halibut with Orzo, Spinach, and Cherry Tomatoes

I still remember waking up at the crack of dawn to head out fishing on the weekend as a kid. The captain of the boat I worked on was a grand, ungodly, godlike man. There were some harrowing voyages, to be sure. If it weren't for the first officer, Starbuck, I don't even know if I would have made it.

Wait, no. That's Moby Dick. And my name is not Ishmael.

As it happens, despite growing up on the beautiful Monterey Bay, I couldn't swim for the longest time and I hated seafood. Apparently being so close to the actual Cannery Row didn't make its mark on me.

Well now everything's better. These days I try to cook with seafood as often as my time and budget allows. Luckily, time is hardly ever something that precludes fish. Fresh seafood shines when simply prepared. This dish is exactly that.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cottage Cheese and Yogurt Pancakes with Blackberry Compote

Pancakes are something you see across many cultures. The French have their crêpes; the Germans have their Pfannkuchen; and IHOPs have their endless stacks of buttermilk deliciousness. 

And me? I have my cottage cheese and yogurt pancakes. You see, I have nothing against a traditional stack of fluffy and floury pancakes. They're delicious. But they also tend to make me sleepy. And while that's not always a bad thing, some times you actually need to do something on the weekend.

These cottage cheese and yogurt pancakes? They're just the right combination of light, filling, creamy, and fluffy. What's not to love? Most importantly, they're easy!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Fresh Tuna Salad

Fresh Tuna Salad

Life can often be hectic and harried. That's why it's nice to sometimes pause and slow down. Often it's during those slow moments that you really see some of the truly amazing things around you.

The weather in Los Angeles has been spectacular as of late. It seemed like a good time to resurrect what might be considered a summertime dish - the tuna salad. But this tuna salad is decidedly different - and I think, better. It uses fresh tuna rather than canned tuna. In other words, it's basically a variation of the classic salade Niçoise. 

What I like most about this particular salad is that it exemplifies how important it is to use fresh produce and good, quality ingredients. Often the best dishes are the simplest dishes.