That extended vacation from Google was quite nice. But… it’s 1:40 am and I still feel like I have a ton of work to do.
Cooking store-bought zucchini isn’t anything like cooking summer squash from the garden, so this definitely brought back some great memories from the house on Capitol Hill. It feels like it’s been ages.
I have a deadline in the morning, but Adriana (the bestie from middle/high school now roommate) and I have a date with Caroline Wright’s Twenty Dollar Twenty-Minute Meals tomorrow. So I need to make sure I have a couple of free hours in the evening to cook a proper dinner!
So, all that being said, I’m going to refrain from writing a full post tonight. I have a playlist and a fun twist on my own personal comfort food in store for you this week. No more of this letting-weeks-without-blogging escape my grasps.
And hopefully, you’re getting more sleep than I am this week!
I know, I know what you’re thinking. I chose this life. Womp, womp. I did. And I love/hate it (mostly love).
Until tomorrow, you have this: Sara Forte’s shrimp with herbed quinoa. Her book called for cous cous, but I only had quinoa. So we made it work.
Last weekend, I took a fairly impromptu trip to Miami.
It’s a place I had been meaning to visit, and there’s just something about February that makes me want a break. I love the winter, but a nice warm weekend is a treat a girl needs.
So I left work a little early on a Friday, trained up to Baltimore, and hopped on a quick little flight to the F-L-L. Dave, a friend I’ve known since our debate club days at different high schools, picked me up from the airport, and brought me straight to Little Havana.
It wasn’t long before I found myself booking flights back to Miami. In fact, it wasn’t more than a few hours after I landed in Florida.
We went to a great little hostel on Miami Beach named the Broken Shaker — an old hotel with a laid back, twinkle light-entranced pool and outdoor hangout area. The cocktails were perfect. The bartender even gave us one for free, which didn’t happen very often to the two guys that were showing me around town. Anyway, around 3 AM, I found myself just basking in the cool seventy degree Miami breeze. There was a little bit of salsa dancing on a street corner, and just being able to wear my neon yellow shorts put me in a mood that I almost didn’t recognize on myself.
And right about then, I decided. Yes, Dave, I’ll be back here for your birthday. Four weeks away? No problem.
I pulled up the Kayak app on my iPhone and booked the flights right then and there.
It wasn’t entirely an “Oh my god I drunkenly booked a vacation” moment the next morning, because I was only a gin-and-ginger or three in, and I remembered making the decision very clearly. But I did wake up laughing, and checked my email to find that the timestamp actually read 3:48 AM.
I really don’t have a problem with going back to Miami. I actually can’t wait. I even left my heels there, knowing that I could just retrieve them in a month.
Roasted butternut squash, penne, and pistachio pesto, adapted from the Sprouted Kitchen
One large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tsp. olive oil or melted coconut oil
Paprika to taste
8 oz. penne pasta
(About) 3 cups chopped spinach
1-2 cloves garlic
Zest and juice of one lime
1/3 cup pistachio nuts
1 serrano chile, with seeds according to how spicy you like them
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup basil and spinach (I used a mix of both)
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and boil water in a large saucepan. Season the water with salt.
On a large rimmed baking sheet (maybe two), drizzle olive oil over the butternut squash, and toss with paprika, salt, and nutmeg. Using a pastry brush, coat each piece to make sure everything gets a little bit of seasoning. Bake for about 30 minutes until the edges are brown (or black – I like them a little charred).
Cook your pasta. Al dente is good.
In a food processor, combine the garlic, lemon zest and juice, pulsing a few times. Then, add the serrano, pistachios, herbs, and cheese. Drizzle olive oil through the oil dropper as the processor is chopping, and grind in salt and pepper as necessary.
In your large saucepan, combine your pesto, some of the pasta water, and spinach. When entirely mixed, add in your pasta.
Serve with fresh parmesan cheese. Hold on to winter, but just enough to enjoy this seasonal dish, because spring will be here before we know it.
When I was a little girl, 99 percent of the vacations my family took were camping and backpacking trips, high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Sometime in my awkward middle school years, I joined the men in my extended family for a fairly strenuous hike — one pass led to a lake, which led to another pass and another lake, at which point, we broke out the topographical maps. My dad and I continued to a higher lake. Our yellow labrador, Jake, followed us; it was a few miles of what I would essentially call hellish gravel stairs.
We arrived at the top to find a pristine, semi-alpine lake that was likely a result of continually melting snow. I was hot, deceptively sunburnt, and exhausted (as was Jake). So Jake and I went swimming. The water chilled me to the bone, but it was worth it — even while doused in a sub-degree alpine lake, I found myself just staring, soaking up the landscape, sun, water, and snow. My dad used to tell me to remember those views and to store them in my memory, for the days that I’d find myself stuck behind some desk with some mundane task, so I’ll always have these memories to fend off office frustration.
And he was right. The frustration, just like the peace of mind, is always temporary, and will fade out when memories like this fade in. Sometimes, I forget this sanity tactic in situations where I need it most, like behind my desk, amidst passive-aggressive office e-mails and fluorescent lights that leech onto the melanin in my skin.
But the frustration passes. The winter, the summer, the anger, the bliss: they all pass. It’s like a good hot yoga class. Your hips burn, your calves feel like they are going to burst free from your legs, and you almost give up on the hope of ever being comfortable again. But then you breath out, relax your muscles (or your mind), and upon realizing that every single solitary aspect of life is temporary, you are no longer stuck in that god-forsaken rut.
I just spent a whirlwind of a weekend in Cupertino, for the first wedding of my twenties. On the ride back to the San Francisco airport, amidst rolling hills dotted with age-old oak trees, I soaked in the landscape, and my heart ached. While the attendees dear to my heart are scattered across the country, many of them not far from me in Washington, there is something to be said about everyone traveling across the country to celebrate the love two of our friends share with each other. Amidst the wine and the whiskey, there’s solace in simply being with the people you love, and the ones who make you feel loved.
Tomorrow, I will struggle to face a newly launched website, and a likely deluge of emails with reports of glitches, typos, and miscellaneous fires to put out. I’ll be thinking about the rolling hills of a state that I love visiting but will probably not settle in, and I’ll be taking pride in learning to enjoy whiskey on the rocks with the boys.
2 cups cooked French lentils
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Pinch of fresh or dried thyme
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup packed basil leaves
2-3 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
zest and juice of one lemon
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
If your lentils are not cooked, boil them in water for about 20 minutes, until they are soft. Strain them, and let cool.
Once cooled, pulse grind the lentils in a food processor until they turn to mush. I love that word. Mush.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, cheeses, garlic, parsley, thyme, and breadcrumbs. Once evenly mixed, add the lentil mush, and stir to mix well. Let the mixture sit and continue cooling for another 15 or 20 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and make your pesto. Pulse-grind the garlic and pine nuts in a food processor, and then add the basil leaves, grinding until the mixture starts looking like, well, pesto. Add the cheese and lemon zest/juice. Use the dripper on the top to slowly add the olive oil, while the food processor is running. Slip in a pinch of salt and pepper each, and set the pesto aside.
Now, using your hands, start rolling the lentil mixture into 1 inch balls. If the mixture is too wet, just stir in more breadcrumbs.
Once the baking sheet is covered, brush the tops of the meatballs with some olive oil, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve over pasta with the pesto sauce, or just eat them by themselves (that’s what I did). I do have a hunch, though, that they would make fabulous vegetarian meatball sandwiches on a good French baguette.
This weekend, I experienced Washington’s first “blizzard.” The office reeked of anticipation for what you would expect to be a wind-chilling, biting, frozen-cold type of storm. When I think blizzard, I think of Christmas movie blizzards, where the storm is so bad that Santa can’t cut through it with his magical sleigh. Right?
Wrong. In Washington, this blizzard was just a full day of pleasant snowfall. I kid you not–there was absolutely no wind, and it wasn’t so cold that my eyelashes felt like they were freezing off. It was actually, really nice. Oh, except for the fact that the roads were barely even salted at 4 PM when I trekked out in the snow because we were out of wine.
How were all the liquor stores open until 10, but the grocery stores were all closed by 2 PM on account of the blizzard? I don’t know. DC in the snow reminded me of Los Angeles in the rain. Everything had completely shut down… it was pathetic.
My best friend scheduled a stopover in Washington on her way to Miami and Bolivia. I had stocked up the kitchen in anticipation of cooking with her, but only regarding the baking realm. So we had to scrap up the remainders of my kitchen, two weeks removed from the grocery store, in order to make a blizzard lunch. This is what we came up with.
WHAT YOU NEED:
2 cups basil leaves
2-3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
3/4 cup artichoke hearts
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
oregano, salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup whipping cream
2/3 cup tomato sauce
As much broccoli as your heart desires (we used about 3/4 lb.)
~1 lb. fusilli
handful of feta cheese and pine nuts to garnish
WHAT TO DO:
First, chop the basil, garlic, and pine nuts together in a food processor. Then, add the artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, and parmesan cheese. With the processor on, add the olive oil slowly through the hole in the top. Transfer to a sauce pan and heat on low, adding olive oil as necessary.
Begin boiling water in order to cook the pasta. Since we were snowed in, we had to use frozen broccoli, which we heated in a saucepan to defrost, using a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and ground peppercorns. When the broccoli was finished cooking, we added it to the pesto sauce, along with the tomato sauce. Let that simmer on very low heat for 5-10 minutes. I added a bit of oregano, salt, and pepper until the sauce had the flavor I was going for.
Finally, add in the cream, stir evenly, and then mix in the cooked pasta. Garnish each dish with a sprinkle of feta cheese, pine nuts, and oregano for aesthetic presentation.
It’s true, I’m infatuated with the combination of home made pesto and feta cheese. Considering this is my second savory post has both those ingredients, you’ll probably see this combination come up again relatively soon (I can assure you of this, since I already have my next non-dessert recipe planned).
Maybe I’m just on a pesto-feta kick. Maybe not. The “kick” has lasted at least four years. Anyway, normally I include sun-dried tomatoes in the chicken, but a friend came over for dinner, so I thought I’d mix it up and relocate the sun-dried tomatoes into couscous as a side dish. Note to self: experiment when you are not cooking for anyone else… especially friends donating their photography skills, like the one that joined me for dinner that night.
Not that the couscous wasn’t enjoyable… it was okay. I’ve adjusted the recipe to include almonds, pine nuts, basil, and oregano. Will post later. These pictures really focus on the couscous, but the meal was all about the chicken. Use your imagination to understand how awesome the stuffed chicken is–It blew my photographer’s mind (in his words, anyway).
WHAT YOU NEED:
Preheated oven to 350 degrees
Appox. 8-inch baking dish
2 breasts of chicken
1/2 cup pesto sauce
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3-4 artichoke hearts (either soaked in water or oil, both work well)
2-3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup white wine of choice
salt and pepper to taste
WHAT TO DO:
First, chop the artichoke hearts into small chunks, maybe a quarter of an inch big. Then, dice the sun-dried tomatoes into similar pieces. Combine the artichoke hearts, tomatoes, pesto, feta, mozzarella, and olive oil in a regular-sized serving bowl, and toss thoroughly. I prefer to just use my hands to mix this–it’s easier. Just make sure your hands are clean.
Then, carefully make an incision into the side of the chicken breasts, parallel to the cutting board, and slice open a pocket as large as you can without piercing the other sides of the meat. Fill each breast with as much of the stuffing as you can, and press down to seal. Place both in your baking dish, drizzle with a little olive oil, pesto, salt, and pepper, and then baste in the white wine for flavor and moisture. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, or until the juices run clear. For decoration, pull the dish out 5-10 minutes before it is ready, and sprinkle some leftover artichoke-pesto-feta mix on top of each, and let it bake for the remaining time.
Last night, I ran out of my basic pesto. I know, it’s a grievous event. And then, I realized that I only have half the amount of basil that I’d normally use. So I rummaged around my refrigerator, and found a package of spinach in the bottom drawer–luckily, also, because it was probably on the verge of rotting. Pesto-ing the spinach would save it. I tend to freeze half of my pesto batch anyway (and you should too, it keeps very well). Otherwise, I’m fairly capable of finding other people to share the pesto with.
Eat, and you shall never buy lazy-man’s pesto again.
WHAT YOU NEED:
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup spinach leaves
~1/2 cup olive oil
~1/2 cup parmesan cheese
~1/2 cup pine nuts (or walnuts, or almonds… it depends on your preference)
2-4 peeled, chopped garlic cloves
More garlic (yum!)
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes OR red or yellow bell peppers
(or some combination of the two. Let your taste buds and experimentation guide your pesto adventures).
In the food processor, chop the garlic, nuts, basil, and spinach. Once it has reached a fine and consistent texture, add the parmesan cheese, then slowly add olive oil as the machine is grinding. Food processors almost always have a little hole on the lid, designed specifically for adding oil to things like this. It regulates the rate at which things are added to what’s being chopped/ground. After the olive oil is added, with the food processor off, take some sort of utensil and scrape the sides of the container down to help mix everything in. Then, let the food processor work its magic for 1-2 minutes. Your pesto should be amazing by then.
One of the best memories I have about growing up in Southern California definitely has to do with the summers–being able to cook with homegrown vegetables (poolside, of course) had me convinced that I would never leave. So much for that.
It’s not that you can’t grow vegetables out here… I’ll just have to wait six months to do so. But for now, I can live with southern hemisphere imports and greenhouse organics. For the most part, the weather has been fairly cracked-out. Every time I’m convinced that it’s actually winter, the heavens open up and a clear sixty degree day falls upon us, much like last weekend.
And today, it rained. Womp wooomp. Sadly, it’s December and I think the warmth may be gone for good. Outside the boundaries of my kitchen, anyway.
The roommates generally blast the furnace, thus turning my centrally-located bedroom into a kiln. In turn, I blast the oven and the dishwasher, and fog up windows all over the house. It’s hot, and always smells good–the perfect escape from the heinous rain. In the meantime, this is a little slice of a homegrown Los Angeles summer.
WHAT YOU NEED:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active yeast
1 cup warm water
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 package Trader Joe’s pizza crust
(let’s be realistic… whoever condemns pre-made or boxed mixes obviously doesn’t spend enough time at their day job)
1/2 cup pesto sauce (unlike dough… homemade pesto is a kitchen staple. Recipe to come soon!)
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
1.5 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 zucchini, VERY thinly sliced
2-3 tomatoes, also very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon basil flakes
Salt and Pepper
WHAT TO DO:
I’m going to assume you are buying ready-made pizza dough, because that’s what I do. It’s way easier, and it’s cheap. So if you need to know what to do from scratch, check Epicurious.
First, pour olive oil on a pizza pan or a baking sheet, and spread evenly using your fingers or a brush. Then, spread the dough as thin as you can, covering the entire sheet. The yeast makes it hard to do–I like to pick it up from one edge and let gravity stretch it down, while rotating the edge you are pulling from. That usually does the trick.
Use a fine cheese grater to grate the garlic clove evenly over the dough, and sprinkle the olive oil over it as well. Then, top the pizza with the feta and mozzarella, tomatoes, and vegetables. Sprinkle the basil flakes over the top, and add salt and pepper as you deem necessary.
I prefer to slice the zucchini and tomatoes as paper thin as possible, for visual aesthetics, mostly. But the zucchini will definitely cook nicely if it’s cut into thin slices… we used a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini tonight, and it came out perfectly. I highly recommend keeping one of those around.
Once you’ve decorated your pizza, slide into the oven and let it bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until the zucchini looks crisp and the crust is golden.