Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean-Style

Pot ‘O Beans, Mediterranean Style

We left you hanging in October, due to a swarm of continuous activity gearing up for Discretion Brewing’s opening in January. Our apologies. Now here we find ourselves in early December. We hope you had a warm, festive, delicious Thanksgiving with the people who are dearest to you. Are your holiday decorations up? Have you checked any gifts off your list? The temperatures are dropping, the rain is coming, and it’s the perfect weather for a big pot o’ beans.

Beans are a versatile protein that can be thrown in a pot with any cuisine’s flavor profile. Think of them as a blank canvas. As they cook, your house will smell fantastic and make you feel good about yourself. It’s true.

Photo from the Rancho Gordo website.

Photo from the Rancho Gordo website.

The beans
– If you’re going to make beans the star of the meal, you’ll want to use dried beans. Quality is key –  I love using Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. Soak them the night before you want to cook them.

The flavor base – Heat olive oil in deep pot. Add diced onion, garlic, and whatever cubed veggies fit with your theme, along with the spices that you think might compliment them – think fennel, carrots, oregano, rosemary, thyme. Or Jalapeño peppers, cumin, coriander, chile powder.

The cooking liquid – Nothing beats home-made stock. We roasted a chicken a couple days ago in anticipation of this dish, using spices and ingredients that we thought might compliment it. Don’t have time to roast a chicken? Store-bought chicken stock will do. Or beer (good beer) is a wonderful cooking liquid (says the girl who’s involved in opening a brewery).

The finish – A squeeze of lemon; a squeeze of lime; a splash of vinegar. A little acid adds a bright finish to your pot o’ beans.

The accompaniments – Did your beans take a turn towards Mexico? Serve with warmed tortillas and cubed avocado on the side. Did curry make its way into the pot? Try store-bought naan (Stonefire naan is a great brand) warmed in the oven and brushed with melted butter. Did you go the Mediterranean route like we did? Serve with crostini.

By all means, use this recipe as a guideline. Feel free to experiment with ingredients. Serves 4-6.

Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean Style

Pot O’ Beans, Mediterranean Style

(This is a recipe we’ve made several times without measuring anything, but this time I referred to this recipe from Martha Stewart, in order to give you some correct ratios. Enjoy!)

1/2 lb. dried heirloom beans (such as pinto or cranberry)
extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 a fennel bulb, diced
1 large carrot, diced
rosemary (about 2 sprigs, chopped)
dried oregano
dried thyme
salt & pepper
4 cups chicken stock (preferably home-made)
1/2 a large lemon (we used a Meyer lemon from our tree in the front yard), zest and juice.

  • The night before you want to make your pot o’ beans, don’t forget to soak them! Place the dried beans in a bowl and cover with cold water (by 2 inches or so). The next morning, drain and set aside. Oh crap! You forgot? It’s ok – for a quick soak, cover beans in a saucepan with water. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain. Phew.
  • Heat 2 TBS. of olive oil in the bottom of a deep pot. Cook onion, garlic, fennel, carrot, 1/2 tsp. salt, freshly ground pepper, and any other add-ins until onion and garlic are soft, about 5 minutes.
  • Add beans, 4 cups broth, and another 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat. Simmer, partially covered, until tender, 1 to 2.5 hours, depending on type of bean (our cranberry beans took 2.5 hours). Add more liquid during the cooking process, if necessary.
  • Add the zest of half a lemon (we used a vegetable peeler and added several big pieces of  zest that we removed before serving). Taste and add more salt to taste. Add the lemon juice if you desire. Serve with crostini on the side – we rubbed slices of sweet baguette with garlic, brushed them with olive oil, and threw them in a 350 degree oven until crispy and golden (turning once), about 12 minutes.

Korean Short Ribs with Kimchi and Greens Namul

My husband is a sucker for grocery store samples, which is why last weekend after trying a bite of Mother-in-Law’s Napa Cabbage Kimchi, a big jar of it found its way into our cart. We’re no strangers to the spicy, pickled, fermented cabbage that bubbles as you open the jar, reminding you that it’s happily alive with probiotics. In fact, we were fortunate enough to have our first taste of the stuff in Korea, where it originated. It didn’t take long. We were hooked.

With the jar of kimchi now in our cart, we decided a Korean-inspired dinner was in order. What a coincidence that our butcher recently started carrying Korean short ribs! Also called the “flanken cut,” these beef ribs are cut straight through the bone and are about 1/2 an inch thick, making them ideal for quick cooking. The marinade is a tasty combination of puréed Asian pear, soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, sesame oil, and garlic, and the ribs get even more flavor from throwing them on a charcoal grill. White rice and our kimchi were obvious accompaniments, but we went in search of another Korean side dish, and found the perfect one – namul (or namuru in Japanese, which you often find as a Bento Box filler). You blanch greens, squeeze out the liquid, roughly chop and throw in a bowl with sesame oil, garlic, and salt. So simple.

Our recently married friends (congrats, M+T!) joined us for this Korean-inspired dinner, and we successfully got them hooked on kimchi as well. The jar boasted a good 16 servings, but the 4 of us polished it off in one evening.

Korean Short Ribs

(Slightly adapted from The Paupered Chef)

3 lbs. short ribs
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 Asian pear, peeled and diced
1/4 cup mirin
1 TBS. brown sugar
1 TBS. sesame oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped

  • Place the diced asian pear in a large bowl and purée with an immersion blender (alternatively, use a food processor or blender).
  • Add the soy sauce, mirin, brown sugar, sesame oil, and garlic. Whisk until combined.
  • Put the short ribs in the bowl with the marinade.  Toss until coated evenly with the marinade.  Refrigerate for 3-5 hours.
  • Prepare a charcoal grill for high heat. Have a squirt bottle handy (I will explain in the next step).
  • Remove ribs from marinade and place on the grill. Cover. Because of the fat content, you might find that they flame up a little bit. That’s where our squirt bottle came in handy! But then they calmed down and cooked nicely, about 3-5 minutes per side. Serve with Greens Namul (recipe below), kimchi, and steamed white rice.

Greens Namul

(From Just Bento)

2 cups or so blanched greens (we used 1 large bunch of young, tender dandelion greens, and 2 bunches of spinach. Get more than you think you’ll need because they cook down a lot)
1 1/2 TBS. dark sesame oil
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 large garlic clove
1 TBS. toasted sesame seeds
Optional: pinch of sugar
Optional: chili oil

  • Before blanching your greens, first wash them very well to get all the grit off of them. If your greens have stalks, cut the tender part of the stalk thinly. Discard the tough part of the stalks, if any.
  • Bring a pot of water to boil. First put in the stalks, then the greens that take the longest to cook (we threw our dandelion greens in first). Boil for 1-2 minutes, then put in the spinach. Boil for another minute or less. You don’t want your greens to turn to mush.
  • Turn off the heat. Drain the greens well, then add cold water to refresh and cool them. Drain again and squeeze out the moisture well. Roughly chop. Transfer to a bowl.
  • Grate the garlic clove on a fine grater, or smash it to a pulp with a knife (we did the latter). Mix with the salt and oil. Use your hands to mix the garlic mixture into the well drained and squeezed out greens. Mix in the sesame seeds. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt if necessary, or adding a little bit of sugar if the greens are too bitter. If you want it spicy, add a few drops of chili oil.

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese and Olive-Caper-Pepper Relish

A couple Saturdays ago we were making scrambled eggs for breakfast, and while we weren’t looking, Levi grabbed the cumin from the spice rack, unscrewed the top, and sprinkled some into the eggs. It threw me off (though I was thankful he chose the cumin over the cinnamon). Dustin ran with it. He added some chopped kalamata olives, onions, peppers, and tomatoes and called it a Mediterranean scramble. Then he served it over toasted pita bread spread with goat cheese. Brilliant. Thanks, Levi, for unintentionally (or intentionally?) pointing us in the direction of an awesome breakfast.

Last summer we grilled portobello mushrooms and filled them with goat cheese, fresh tomatoes, and basil. We thought they would be pretty hard to beat. The weekend after the Mediterranean scramble incident, we filled the same umami-packed mushroom caps with goat cheese and a relish made from capers, olives, grilled red peppers, garlic, oregano, and olive oil. The flavors are reminiscent of a Muffaletta sandwich, but a vegetarian version; the portobellos, of course, standing in for the cold cuts. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the combination of capers and olives and how their brininess brightens up grilled meats, seafood, pasta dishes, and in this case, grilled mushrooms. Before grilling them, I added a few dashes of soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, just to add a little depth of flavor.

While the weather is still nice, and the grill is accessible, try this meatless meal that boasts of bright flavors and easy preparation (make the relish ahead of time!) And make sure your spice lids are screwed on tight if you have a toddler accompanying you in the kitchen 😉

Grilled Portobello Mushrooms with Goat Cheese & Caper-Olive-Red Pepper Relish

(Inspired by Levi’s addition to our scrambled eggs, and the “Vegetarian Muffaletta Wraps” in the book The Fifth Taste – Cooking with Umami; Serves 3-4 – we had some extra filling after stuffing our 3 mushrooms)

3 large portobello mushrooms
Olive oil for brushing
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce
Salt & Pepper
1/2 a small red bell pepper
1/4 cup roughly chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup roughly chopped Spanish olives with pimentos
1 1/2 tsp. minced capers
2 tsp. minced fresh parsley
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
4 oz. soft, fresh goat cheese, at room temperature

  • Prepare a charcoal grill for low-medium heat (by controlling the vents to allow the coats to die down).
  • Twist the stems off the portobello mushrooms and scrape the gills out using a butter knife or spoon, discarding stems and gills. Brush or drizzle the mushrooms on both sides with olive oil, a splash of soy sauce, and a splash of Worcestershire. Set aside.
  • Remove the seeds and ribs from the bell pepper half and brush or drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  • In a medium bowl, toss together the olives, capers, parsley, garlic, oregano, and olive oil to combine.
  • When the grill is ready, grill the red bell pepper until blistered and soft. Remove from grill, cool slightly and roughly chop. Add to olive-caper mixture.
  • Grill the portobello mushrooms gill-side down for 5-7 minutes and until nice grill marks form. Flip so they are cap-side down and continue to cook for several more minutes or until almost tender. Carefully spoon some goat cheese into each mushroom cap and spread  into a thin layer. Spoon the olive-caper-pepper relish on top of the goat cheese. Cover the grill and cook until the mushrooms are tender and the filling is warmed, about 2 minutes.

Taqueria Pickles

When I go to our favorite taqueria in town, I look forward to raiding the salsa bar after we pick up our al pastor tacos or carnitas burritos. Although I love the mild green tomatillo salsa, the smokey chipotle salsa, and the brightly colored salsa fresca, I go straight to the escabeche – pickled jalapenos with carrots and onion. They are so hot that one little bite of carrot needs to be chased with a big gulp of horchata, but they are so, so good. So good in fact that we decided to share the love this year by making our own version of “taqueria pickles” to give to our close family and friends for Christmas.

We turned to Alice Waters’ book The Art of Simple Food for guidance. It’s one of my mom’s favorite cookbooks and one that I often borrow because I love the simplicity of her recipes and how they highlight seasonal produce. While dining at Alice Waters’ restaurant Chez Panisse a couple years ago, I ordered a fall fruit bowl for dessert. The waitress presented me with a wooden bowl containing several sweet dates and a couple small seedless tangerines. This humble-looking dish was the perfect way to end a meal and paid tribute to the season. If you haven’t heard of her, Alice (let’s pretend the two of us are on a first name basis) is the pioneer of the “slow food movement,” which celebrates local, sustainable, fresh, and seasonal produce of the best quality. If you can’t make it out to Berkeley, California to eat at her restaurant, you should at least treat yourself to one of her cookbooks. It’s because of her that we pay attention to the little signs at our grocery store that tell us where our produce comes from.

We used Alice’s method for fresh-pickled vegetables, but added a generous amount of sliced jalapeños, as well as whole cumin seeds and coriander seeds to make them more “taqueria-style”. We also decided to can them so they’d last longer. Our taqueria doesn’t add cauliflower to theirs, but we thought it would be delicious – it was! (And since it’s in season, Alice would approve).

I also want to dedicate this post to Dustin’s grandma, who taught us the canning process. We love you and want you to know we’ll continue the annual canning tradition of making your bread & butter pickles, chile sauce, and strawberry jam! ❤

“Taqueria Pickles” (Spicy Pickled Jalapeños & Carrots)

(Adapted from Alice Waters’ recipe in her book The Art of Simple Food and the blog Simply Recipes)

jalapeños, thickly sliced
carrots, thickly sliced
red onion, sliced
cauliflower, cut into florets

apple cider vinegar
distilled white vinegar
bay leaf
coriander seeds
cumin seeds
dried oregano
garlic cloves (un-peeled)
garlic cloves, peeled and halved

  • Wash, trim, and cut your vegetables.
  • For about 3 1/2 cups pickling brine*, combine 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1 cup distilled white vinegar, 1 3/4 cup water, 2 1/2 TBS. sugar, 1/2 a bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds, 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds, pinch of dried oregano, 2 whole garlic cloves, 2 peeled and halved garlic cloves, and a pinch of salt.
  • Bring brine to a boil, then add the vegetables in the order of their cooking time, beginning with the vegetable which will take the longest. Add the carrots first and cook them until they are cooked through but  still a little bit crisp (simply scoop one out to test – about 20 minutes). When you think the carrots have about 10 minutes left to cook, add the jalapeños. Add the sliced onion and the cauliflower florets when you think the carrots are almost done – they will take only a few minutes.
  • If you want to can the pickles – transfer the hot vegetables into mason jars, and fill the tops of the jars with brine. Screw the lids on the jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let them sit on the counter until you hear them “pop!” Then you’ll know they’re canned! Once opened, they’ll keep for a couple months in the refrigerator.
  • For refrigerator pickles, allow the vegetables to cool completely after being removed from the brine. Once the vegetables are cool and the pickling brine has cooled to room temperature, divide the vegetables between mason jars (or to another container) and cover with brine. Refrigerated, they will keep for a week. Enjoy with your favorite Mexican dishes.

* When we made our pickling brine, we didn’t measure any of the ingredients, but we kept in mind the ratios from the original recipe. Alice calls for 1 1/2 cups white wine vinegar (which, she says, you can easily sub with red wine vinegar) but we used apple cider vinegar and distilled white vinegar after reading other recipes for pickled jalapeños. We also didn’t use quite as much water as the recipe calls for. When it comes down to it, feel free to tweak things here and there. Taste the brine before you add the vegetables and add more sugar or vinegar or whatever you think it needs. Have fun with your food, and enjoy pickling the bounty of the season.

Butternut Squash Tart with Caramelized Onion, Rosemary & Coppa

Take-out was a temping last minute dinner option, but instead I found myself searching the freezer for something that I could turn into a suitable meal. We had planned to eat dinner at my parents’ house, but a wind storm ripped through Santa Cruz that day/evening, knocking out power to many, and even bringing trees down on top of houses. Luckily, the latter did not happen to my parents’ house, but no power and a tree blocking their road meant a definite plan B.

Back to the freezer search. The first thing that caught my eye was puff pastry, an impulse purchase I had made last week. How fortuitous! I decided I wanted to make some sort of puff pastry tart or “pizza.” Now, what to top it with … ah! Half a butternut squash, peeled and cubed that I froze last week. This would do. I added some fresh rosemary from the garden, caramelized our last onion, and cut up some coppa (one of our favorite charcuterie offerings from El Salchichero) to add a little salty kick. This rustic puff pastry tart was a success. Feel free to adapt this for whatever needs to get used in your freezer on a stormy evening. It would also make a lovely appetizer when cut into squares.

Butternut Squash, Caramelized Onion & Rosemary Tart

(Adapted from A Cozy Kitchen)

1 yellow onion, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cubed butternut squash
Flour, for dusting work surface
1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1/4 cup coppa, diced (can also use salami, or cooked, crumbled bacon or pancetta)
Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (enough for sprinkling on top)
Mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 ounces)
Fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt and pepper

  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  • In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and a little pad of butter over medium high heat. Once oil is hot, add sliced onions and pinch of salt. Cook until caramelized, about 25-30 minutes, stirring frequently. When onions are a beautiful light golden brown color, add a splash of balsamic vinegar. Stir to coat the onions, then remove from heat.
  • While onions are caramelizing, place cubed butternut squash (if frozen, defrosted first) on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until tender with a fork, stirring halfway through. Turn oven heat down to 400 degrees.
  • On a floured surface, roll the puff pastry into a rectangle (or square – whatever – it’s a rustic tart!) Carefully transfer puff pastry onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, lightly “score” the pastry dough, 1-inch in from the edges. Then using a fork, poke holes inside the markings. This will ensure that the outside trim puffs up and the middle stays flat. Bake for 15 minutes, or until slightly golden brown.
  • Scatter mozzarella cheese and some the Pecorino Romano over the puff pastry. Next, top with the roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, rosemary, and sliced coppa. Finish with a little more pecorino. Sprinkle with salt & pepper.
  • Return to oven and bake for 15 minutes more, or until cheese is melted and edges are golden brown. Slice and serve.

Portobello Mushrooms with Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Filling

This Thanksgiving we survived an 8 hour car ride with a toddler down to San Diego, where Levi had his first zoo experience. He was excited about every animal he encountered but was especially enamored by the elephants. Once Levi was tuckered out, we headed back to my mother-in-law’s house, where we watched plenty of football, drank plenty of San Diego micro-brews, and had quite a feast: a turkey breast roulade stuffed with brandied fig & cranberry stuffing, gravy, sweet potato gratin, and sautéed brussels sprouts with pancetta, shallot, mushrooms, and balsamic (which actually converted one member of the family who was a self-professed brussels sprouts hater. I was so proud). For dessert we indulged in a vanilla bean cake with salted caramel frosting. It was a wonderful evening and we went to bed feeling thankful for family and the way in which good food and drink bring us together.

As we’re entering the Christmas season and there’s a definite chill in the air, I’ve been allowing the oven to do most of the cooking in the evening, which frees us to relax and focus on the things that are important, like playing with our ever-changing, ever-moving 19 month old.

Spinach-artichoke dip is one of my favorite appetizers to bring to parties, so I associate it with festive gatherings. We were pleased to bring that spirit of festivity into a weeknight dinner. Portobello mushroom caps are filled with a spinach-artichoke filling and then topped with seasoned panko breadcrumbs. The end result is nothing short of comforting – the perfect hybrid of stuffed mushrooms and spinach-artichoke dip. For a side dish, I roasted some cubed butternut squash with olive oil, thyme, and sage. Even Levi could not resist their caramelized edges. A salad of mixed greens with apple & pomegranate seeds completed the meal.

We wish you many comforting meals during this season of Advent (break out the good wine!) with the people you love, enjoying every last bite.

Portobello Mushrooms with Creamy Spinach-Artichoke Filling

(From the Dec 11/Jan 12 issue of Fine Cooking)

3 TBS. olive oil 
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (1 TBS.) 
4 medium portabello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed*
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 TBS. mayonnaise  
1-1/2 tsp. fresh thyme
9 to 10 oz. frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry**
9 oz. frozen artichokes, thawed, lightly squeezed dry, and chopped*** 
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/3 cup finely grated Romano cheese

* Fine Cooking recommended using a butter knife – it worked great!
** I used fresh baby spinach, sautéed, squeezed, and roughly chopped
*** I used marinated artichokes for more flavor, drained and roughly chopped

  • Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 450°F.
  • In a small bowl, combine 2 TBS. of the oil and about two-thirds of the minced garlic. Brush the insides of the mushroom caps with the garlic oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Arrange the mushrooms oiled side up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until just tender, about 10 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the cream cheese, mayonnaise, and 1/2 tsp. of the thyme with the back of a wooden spoon. Stir in the spinach and artichokes and season to taste with salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, combine the remaining garlic, 1 TBS. oil, and 1 tsp.  thyme with the breadcrumbs and cheese.
  • Spoon the artichoke mixture evenly into the mushroom caps and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake until the crumbs are golden-brown and the filling is hot, about 10 minutes. Serve immediately.

Green Bean Casserole, Revamped

Green bean casserole never made an appearance on our Thanksgiving table when I was growing up. It was as foreign to me as cranberry sauce out of a can. One night when I was in college (because I was curious what the fuss was all about), my roommate and I made green bean casserole, following the recipe on the french fried onions can. It tasted pretty good – but what doesn’t taste good when you’re a college student, you’re hungry, it’s late at night, and you need an excuse to take a break from studying macro-economics (which I never passed, sadly, but that’s a whole different story). Anyway, we thought that the best part of the casserole was the french fried onions on top, but other than that, it was nothing to write home about …

… until today, when I find myself writing about green bean casserole because it’s recipe swap time again.  The theme was Thanksgiving side dishes, and I just so happened to get a variation of green bean casserole from Nichole of The Cookaholic Wife! I did something a little different this time with the swap. Instead of following the recipe to a T, I was inspired by the recipe I was given, particularly the introduction where Nichole shared that she isn’t a huge fan of cream of mushroom soup in a green bean casserole, but might consider adding fresh mushrooms instead. What a great idea! Especially since we’re at the peak of wild mushroom season. I love the orange-y hue of chanterelles, as well as their earthy, umami flavor, and knew they would be the perfect thing to add to this casserole.

Instead of using regular green beans, we had these beautiful romano beans from a local farm that inspired me to take the casserole in a slightly different direction. These beans, a far cry from the canned or frozen beans that often end up in a casserole, didn’t want to compete with a {albeit delicious} mass of cheese. So, instead of using the cheddar & provolone in the original recipe, I decided that a sprinkling of grated Pecorino Romano cheese was a nice modest addition to the casserole, adding a little cheesy taste without making the dish too heavy, and allowing the green beans to really shine through in all their local, organic glory. And the french fried onions? Well, of course we had to keep those. How often do you have a good excuse to buy a can of french fried onions (unless you’re in college)? The crunchy, golden brown topping is a nod to the traditional casserole, while what’s underneath celebrates the bounty of the season.

I didn’t really measure anything while making this casserole, but wrote the recipe in such a way that you can easily adapt it, depending on how many green beans and chanterelles you have.

Green Bean Casserole, Revamped

(Adapted and inspired by The Cookaholic Wife)

Romano Beans (or regular green beans), washed, trimmed, and cut into bite-sized pieces
Chanterelle Mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
minced garlic
dry white wine or sherry
heavy cream
fresh rosemary, chopped
fresh sage, chopped
salt & pepper to taste
Pecorino Romao cheese, grated
French fried onions

  • Blanch the cut green beans in boiling water for several minutes (romano beans are longer and wider than regular green beans so will take longer), until almost tender. Drain and set aside.
  • Add some butter and a drizzle of olive oil to a pan over medium-high heat. When the butter foams, add the sliced chanterelle mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to turn golden-brown and the mushroom liquid (if any) has evaporated, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add a couple splashes of white wine (or sherry) and cook, stirring, until it evaporates. Add a good amount of cream to the mushrooms and cook, stirring, until it has reduced slightly and has nicely coated the mushrooms. Stir in fresh sage and rosemary. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the blanched beans to the pan with the mushrooms and stir so that the beans are evenly coated with the cream sauce. Pour everything into a baking pan. Top with a thin layer of grated Pecorino Romano cheese, and then a nice generous layer of french fried onions. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes or until heated through and top is golden brown. Cover with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking if the top is browning too quickly.

Curried Sweet Potato Hash

Writer’s block. Why me?  On a good day I can write three paragraphs about something as simple as a grilled cheese sandwich. On others, like today, I feel like I can’t even do justice to the 6th Anniversary meal that we enjoyed at Casablanca this past weekend, other than it was delicious / exquisite / flavorful / [enter your favorite food adjective here].

I can tell you that ocean views, micro-brews, crispy calamari, and baked mac ‘n triple cheese were involved, and that as we consumed these things, we looked out onto the very beach where we took our wedding pictures and said “I do.” And I’m not sure which was better – the strawberries and honeyed ricotta sandwiched between two delicate, buttery house-made shortbread cookies paired with a local pinot noir? Or the opportunity to eat out as a couple, minus the high chair? Let’s just call it a tie.

Since I just confessed my recent lack of words, it’s a good thing that this curried sweet potato hash doesn’t need a verbose description. Hash isn’t a particularly glamorous dish, but it’s easy and comforting, which is what I’ve been needing lately. Cubed potatoes and sweet potatoes are the base, to which you add a colorful melange of chopped red peppers, onions, mushrooms, and spinach. The curry powder/heavy cream/Worcestershire mixture that you pour over the vegetables adds that “mmm, what’s in this?” element  to the final product, and elevates the hash from its usual place on a breakfast or brunch menu to what I deem a suitable weeknight dinner.

The original recipe includes leftover cooked chicken or turkey, but I wanted to make  a vegetarian hash for a “meatless Monday” so I increased the amount of potatoes. If you want to try the turkey or chicken version, reduce the amount of potatoes to 1 1/2 cups and add 2 cups cubed, cooked turkey or chicken. I’m definitely going to be making this again after Thanksgiving! I served our hash with skillet cornbread, a salad, and of course a couple glasses of wine. Cheers to the simple meals today, memories of extravagant meals in the past, and hopefully more eloquent descriptions of meals in the future.

Curried Sweet Potato Hash

(Slightly adapted from “Cozy Turkey Hash” in The New Basics Cookbook)

3 cups cubed, cooked potato (a mixture of white and sweet)
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
2 big handfuls baby spinach, roughly chopped
3 TBS. chopped fresh parsley
5 TBS. heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 TBS. vegetable oil + 1 TBS. butter

  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Combine the  potatoes, onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, spinach and parsley in a large bowl. Toss well.
  • In another bowl, stir together the cream, egg, garlic, Worcestershire, curry powder, paprika, salt, and pepper.
  • Stir the cream mixture into the potato mixture and let stand for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Heat the oil and butter in a 10-inch oven-proof nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the potato mixture, cover, and cook until the bottom is set, about 5 minutes.
  • Transfer the skillet to the broiler and broil until the top is set and golden, 5 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 2-3 servings.

Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

I failed to produce a grocery list before we entered the store last Sunday. Luckily, the order in which we strolled through the produce section determined the menu. It was hard to miss the pile of huge portobello mushrooms, dwarfing the other fungi varieties around them. We decided that their savory, rich umami flavor would make them a perfect alternative to meat on this particular evening and make them a good match for a charcoal grill. Now that we had our blank canvas to work with, we just needed to decide what to put inside their vast caps. The smell of fresh basil wafting from behind us got our attention and into the cart went a beautiful verdant bunch. Levi tried to grab it as it went in; the smell must have captivated his little senses as well. Next, my eyes were drawn to a stunning heirloom tomato, the colors of an orange and yellow sunset. Even though the classic combination of caprese was becoming our inspiration, we decided to deter a little and use a soft goat cheese called fromage blanc instead of fresh mozzarella.

Every bite of these stuffed charcoal-grilled portobello mushrooms was bright and summery, with that underlying rich portobello flavor. On the side I made a simple rice pilaf and a spinach salad with sliced white peaches.

Goat Cheese, Tomato & Basil Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

(Adapted from My Recipes)

2 portobello mushrooms
balsamic vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
1 large heirloom tomato
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 TBS. chopped fresh basil
1 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
your favorite soft goat cheese, such as fromage blanc
a couple handfuls of baby spinach leaves

  • Prepare a charcoal grill.
  • Using a spoon, scrape the brown gills out of the mushroom caps. Discard gills. Remove and discard stems. Place mushroom caps on a large plate and drizzle both sides with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
  • In a small bowl, toss the chopped tomato with the garlic, fresh basil & oregano, and a little splash each of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Set aside.
  • Place mushroom caps, stem-side down on an oiled grill grate and grill for about 5 minutes on each side, or until soft.
  • Fill the caps with a few spoonfuls of goat cheese and spread so that it covers the bottom of the mushroom caps evenly. Lay a small handful of baby spinach leaves on top of the goat cheese, followed by a few spoonfuls of the tomato mixture. Cover and grill for 3 minutes more. Remove from grill and transfer to plates. Sprinkle with a little more chopped basil and serve.

Chorizo-Rice Stuffed Zucchini Boats with Queso Fresco

The first zucchini of the season is here! We usually like to grill it and serve it as a side dish, but we thought these zucchini deserved to be the main component of the meal. We halved them and scooped out the insides, which we added to a flavorful mixture of sautéed onion, garlic, jalapeño, crispy breadcrumbs, spinach, cooked rice, and the real star – House-cured Spanish chorizo from El Salchichero, which infused everything with a spicy and smokey flavor. We stuffed the zucchini boats with the chorizo-rice mixture, topped them with mild, slightly salty queso fresco (“fresh cheese”), and then they were ready to set sail – into the oven! This simple weeknight meal is easily adaptable. Feel free to add different kinds of chopped vegetables to the filling, or use browned ground beef, turkey, or pork in place of the chorizo. Serve with a green salad and enjoy the beginning of summer produce season!

Chorizo-Rice Zucchini Boats with Queso Fresco

(Serves 2-3)

4 medium zucchini (or 6 small), stems cut off and halved lengthwise

2 TBS. olive oil + more for drizzling
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small jalapeño, minced (discard seeds and membranes if you prefer less heat)
dried oregano, to taste
1 link of Spanish chorizo, diced
a couple big handfuls of baby spinach
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 cup cooked rice
salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 oz. queso fresco, or more to taste

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Over a medium bowl, use a spoon to scoop out the insides of each zucchini half. Reserve 1/2 the insides of the zucchini (you can compost the other half, or use in zucchini bread or muffins, etc). Place your zucchini “boats” on a foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, rub the seasoned oil all over the zucchini halves. Set aside.
  • In a large skillet, heat 2 TBS. olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and jalapeño and sauté for 1-2 minutes more. Season with oregano.
  • Add the diced chorizo and cook until it’s golden on the edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the reserved zucchini insides and the spinach, and cook until spinach wilts. Add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring, until they begin to turn golden. If the bottom of the pan becomes too dry, add a splash or two of liquid. Beer works well (if you happen to be enjoying one while cooking as we were), but so does water or chicken broth.
  • Stir in the cooked rice until well incorporated. Remove from heat. Taste and season with salt & pepper to your liking.
  • Fill the zucchini boats with spoonfuls of the chorizo-rice mixture. Using your fingers, top with crumbled queso fresco. Drizzle a little olive oil over the tops of the stuffed zucchini boats. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the zucchini is tender (test with a fork) and the cheese is lightly browned.

Spicy Pork with Asparagus & Chile

I enjoy meat – don’t get me wrong – but I’d also be perfectly happy with a main course that consisted entirely of cheese. Because of this, I often let Dustin decide what protein we should have with dinner. When he came home from the butcher shop (yes, the same place I’ve mentioned in several posts now) on this particular night with some course-ground pork, I immediately thought of stir frying it with some asparagus. It is spring after all, and we’d just been talking about how much we miss the beautiful cherry blossoms in Japan, so I had Asian food on my mind. Later, I was casually flipping through the new issue of Bon Appetit and lo and behold; there was exactly what I had in mind: Spicy Pork with Asparagus & Chile. It was meant to be. In true stir-fry nature, this dinner comes together quickly, so make sure all of your ingredients are chopped, measured, and ready to go. We loved the flavor of the pork, seasoned with soy sauce and sherry (we didn’t have any Chinese rice wine, alas), with the crisp-tender asparagus. Some red jalapeño chile added some heat, which was balanced by the savory and sweet flavors of oyster sauce and honey. Next time we would actually add a little more honey, as well as a little more heat. I’d have your Sriracha bottle handy when you’re eating, or better yet, add some to the oil when you add the chile and ginger and let it really infuse the oil.

The first thing I do when I sit down for dinner is start cutting everything on my plate into little bits, so that I can give them to Levi. (But the other day I found myself doing the same when it was just me and my lunch! I realized what I was doing and laughed at myself). The good thing about this meal is that the ground pork could go straight from my plate to Levi’s. Only the asparagus had to get the special knife treatment. I couldn’t resist taking a picture of my little foodie’s version.

Spicy Pork with Asparagus & Chile

(From the April 2011 issue of Bon Appetit)

3 TBS. soy sauce, divided
1 TBS. Shaoxing Chinese rice wine or dry Sherry
2 tsp. cornstarch
12 oz. ground pork (preferably coarsely ground; sometimes labeled chili-grind)
3 tsp. Asian sesame oil, divided
12 oz. thin to medium asparagus spears, trimmed, cut on extreme diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
1 red jalapeño chile, minced with seeds
1 TBS. minced peeled fresh ginger
2 TBS. oyster sauce
1 tsp. honey
2 green onions, thinly sliced on diagonal
fine sea salt

  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine, and cornstarch. Add the pork and toss to blend.
  • Heat 2 tsp. of the oil in a heavy large wok or deep skillet over high heat. Add asparagus, chile, and ginger. Toss until asparagus is crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer asparagus mixture to plate.
  • Add remaining 1 tsp. oil to wok. Add pork mixture and stir-fry until browned, using wooden spoon to break up pork into small pieces, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Return asparagus mixture to wok. Add remaining 2 TBS. soy sauce, oyster sauce, and honey. Stir-fry until pork is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Add water by tablespoonfuls if it becomes too dry.
  • Add green onions; toss to incorporate. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve over steamed rice.

Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard & Feta Galette {made with teff flour}

Confession: I have an irrational fear of working with dough. There’s so much that could go wrong – I could add too much water; It might not come together correctly; It could get too warm to work with; It could stick to the rolling pin and tear, etc. And yet I know that both my husband and I are very detail-oriented people, and also very good at following directions, and so, of course, our dough always turns out fine. All that worrying for nothing.

This savory galette was inspired by the “sweet potato, swiss chard, and feta tart in a teff crust” in Fine Cooking. We don’t have a tart pan, so a nice, rustic galette seemed like the way to go. Teff is a grain that we’d never heard of before. Did you know it’s the smallest grain in the world? It’s also naturally gluten free (note: this recipe is not, as it is combined with regular flour), and it has a nutty flavor that (according to Fine Cooking’s article) is reminiscent of hazelnuts to some and artichokes to others. Interesting! We found the former to be true. This galette’s interior was filled with a delicious sweet & savory combination of roasted sweet potato, swiss chard sautéed in garlic, caramelized onions, and salty feta, which all went beautifully with the buttery, nutty crust that reminded us of either a really good biscuit or a perfect shortbread cookie — or a combination of both!

We probably could have trimmed off a little of our dough before folding it over the filling, as it covered up more of the middle than we envisioned. I guess the amount of dough needed for a crust is more than you need for a galette. Live and learn! I also found some guidance on Smitten Kitchen for the cooking time and temperature for a galette, as well as how to assemble it.

You should head to your nearest natural foods’ store and check out the bulk section. If you see teff flour, try it out and add a new grain to your repertoire!

Sweet Potato, Swiss Chard, and Feta Galette

(Adapted from this tart in Fine Cooking. Serves 4, or 2 with leftovers for breakfast or lunch)

For the Dough:
5-1/2 oz. (1 cup) teff flour
4-1/2 oz. (1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp. table salt
6 oz. (3/4 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces*
4 to 5 Tbs. ice water

* We used salted butter and added a little less salt than indicated

For the Filling:
1 large sweet potato
3 TBS. extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, peeled, halved, and sliced lengthwise into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Kosher salt
1 1/2 TBS.  balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large bunch Swiss chard, thick stems removed, greens roughly chopped
6 oz. feta, crumbled
Crushed red pepper flakes
1 large egg
Freshly ground black pepper

  • In a food processor, combine both flours and the salt. Pulse until combined. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles small peas. Sprinkle 4 TBS. of the ice water over the flour mixture and pulse until the dough just comes together. If it seems too dry, add tiny amounts of the remaining water until the dough comes together. Transfer dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap, and using it as an aid, form dough into a thick disc. Wrap it in the plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 min. to an hour.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Scrub the sweet potato and poke it a few times with a fork. Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast until you can pierce it with a fork. Cool, peel, and cut into a 3/4 inch dice.
  • While the potato is roasting, heat 2 TBS. of the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until they soften and develop nice dark-brown charred spots, about 10 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until they caramelized, about 10 minutes more. Add 1/2 TBS. balsamic vinegar and cook until it glazes the onions. Transfer onions to a small bowl and wipe out the skillet.
  • Heat the remaining 1 TBS. of olive oil in the skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant and just beginning to color, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, add the chopped chard and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring, until chard is completely wilted, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining 1 TBS. balsamic vinegar over the chard and toss it until the vinegar cooks away, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl.
  • Add the diced sweet potatoes to the large bowl, as well as about three-quarters of the cheese, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. Toss gently. In a small bowl, whisk the egg with a little pinch of salt and pepper and add to the bowl as well. Mix together.
  • Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Unwrap and roll the dough on a lightly floured surface into a 12-inch circle. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet. Spread filling over the middle of the dough, leaving a border (ours was a little wide; ideal would be leaving 1 1/2 inches). Scatter the caramelized onions on top of the filling, as well as a little more cheese. Fold the border over the filling, making little pleats in the dough to make it fit; leave the center of the galette open.
  • Bake galette at 400 degrees until the crust is done and the cheese on top is nicely browned, about 30 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving plate. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature (aka it’s ready when you are! awesome!) Add a simple salad and you have a well-rounded vegetarian meal!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chanterelles and Cream

First, sweet potatoes & cream, and now, brussels sprouts and cream. Notice a pattern?  Last weekend we ventured a few miles up the coast to the pumpkin patch. After picking out our pumpkins (quickly, because it started drizzling), we went over to a little cart loaded with squash and other vegetables for sale.  It was hard to say no to some beautiful brussels sprouts that were still on the stalk!

I’m pretty sure that people who say they hate brussels sprouts haven’t tried them roasted until lightly browned and nutty in flavor, tossed with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms, a splash of white wine, and a generous splash of cream. It’s quite the luxurious-tasting side dish. I think it would make a wonderful Thanksgiving addition, but it was also perfect for a weeknight dinner, along with some grilled pork tenderloin and rice pilaf. Refer to the original recipe (which serves 6) for specific measurements. I just used it as a guide and adapted it for the amount of brussels sprouts and mushrooms I had.

Roasted Brussel Sprouts with Chanterelles and Cream

(From the Oct/Nov. 2010 issue of Fine Cooking)

a couple good handfuls of brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
olive oil
kosher salt
a handful of chanterelle mushrooms, halved if small, or cut into 1-inch wedges
1/2 a shallot, thinly sliced
a splash of dry white wine
a generous splash of cream
freshly ground black pepper

  • Place the halved brussels sprouts on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Toss to coat. Season with kosher salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven until lightly browned and tender, about 20 minutes. Set aside.
  • Add a drizzle of olive oil and a little butter to a skillet and heat over high heat. When the butter foams, add the chanterelles and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown and tender and the mushroom liquid (if any) has evaporated, about 5-8 minutes. Season with salt and transfer to a plate.
  • Set the skillet over medium high heat and add another little drizzle of olive oil and little more butter. Add the shallot and a little pinch of salt and cook until tender and golden, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the splash of wine and cook until reduced by half, about 1 minute. Return the chanterelles to the pan and add the brussels sprouts and some cream. Add some freshly ground black pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream thickens a little and nicely coats the brussels sprouts and chanterelles. Serve immediately.

Levi at the Pumpkin Patch!

Sweet Potato Gratin & Breaded Pork Chops

“If you’re afraid of butter, use cream” — The Julia Child quote that came to mind as I was happily (and liberally) pouring cream over my baking dish of layered sweet potato slices, seasoned with chopped sage, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Then I dotted the top with butter and thought, “How about both?” Vegetables turn heavenly when they’re baked with cream and butter. What’s not to love?

No marshmallows here (the idea itself offends me), but we love how the sweet potatoes speak for themselves in this simple, seasonal dish. I got the inspiration from the Fall for Vegetables article in the Oct./Nov. issue of Fine Cooking, but used this recipe for the cooking time and oven temperature.

Sweet Potato Gratin

Sweet potatoes
Fresh sage, chopped
Kosher salt & Freshly ground pepper

  • Butter a gratin dish. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • Peel your sweet potatoes and slice thinly (you can use a mandoline, if you have one, but I didn’t so I just sliced them by hand to about 1/4 inch or less).
  • Layer sweet potato slices in your gratin dish.  Sprinkle each layer with fresh sage, salt, and pepper.
  • Add cream to just below the potatoes, dot with butter, cover with foil, and bake until almost tender, about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake until nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes more. Let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Breaded Pork Chops

It’s incredibly easy to make your own breadcrumbs. In Japan we always used panko (which, did you know, is made from crustless white bread?) but here I throw some leftover baguette pieces in my food processor, add some sage and oregano, process it, and Voilà! Italian breadcrumbs; Perfect for breading boneless pork chops. Just season your pork chops with salt, coat in beaten egg, dredge in the homemade crumbs, and fry in olive oil until golden and crispy on both sides. Add a salad and a big spoonful of sweet potato gratin, and you have a comforting meal for a chilly evening.

Grilled Cornmeal Crust Pizza with eggplant, summer squash, goat cheese, prosciutto, and caramelized onions

I can’t believe it’s October already. There’s finally a little chill in the air, and for the first time in ages I heard “chance of showers” on the weather.  Yay! It’s funny to think that at this time last year, I was 2 months pregnant and had a strong aversion to pizza and anything that involved cooked vegetables.

Anyway, so last Saturday was really lame. It might have had something to do with my trip to the dentist earlier that day, where I learned of some impending fillings that I must deal with in the near future  :(.  Then I was feeling down about being in a dinner rut, and being a poor meal planner.  Fast-forward to Sunday — a much better day.  It started with a productive morning at the climbing gym with my mom, and then out of the blue a wonderful dinner idea dawned on me while I was sipping my Black IPA from Santa Cruz Mountain Brewing.

New Leaf Community Market sells these delicious cornmeal pizza crusts in packs of two. Aha! Two blank canvases on which to create the pizza of our dreams! We combined some grilled end-of-summer eggplant and summer squash with sliced fresh tomatoes, caramelized onions, goat cheese, prosciutto, fresh oregano, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Aha! A simple dinner. Worthy of company even! Some good friends of ours were in town, so we invited them over, made a quick salad, threw the pizzas on the grill to warm and crisp up the crust, opened a bottle of organic red wine (thanks, guys!) and enjoyed our masterpiece. I was happy to end the weekend on a joyful note.

  • Caramelize the onions. Peel 1 small onion, cut it in half, then place cut side down and slice lengthwise. Coat the bottom of a wide sauté pan with olive oil and a little butter. Heat over medium high until oil is shimmering, then add your onions. Cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onions turn dark brown, but don’t burn. Turn the heat down if it looks like they’re going to burn. 1 onion took about 20-30 minutes to caramelize. When they look pretty much done, add a small splash of balsamic vinegar to bring out the taste of the onions and sprinkle them with a little kosher salt. Delicious.  Transfer to an air tight container and store in the fridge until pizza time.
  • Chop some prosciutto into little bits and fry in a little olive oil until lightly browned. Transfer to a small bowl. This can be done ahead of time as well.
  • Preheat a charcoal grill.
  • Slice the eggplant and summer squash and drizzle with olive oil. Grill until done and nice grill marks form. The squash takes a little longer than the eggplant. Set aside.
  • Make the pizza! Start with laying some thinly sliced fresh tomato on the crust, followed by the grilled eggplant and squash slices, some caramelized onions, prosciutto, goat cheese, fresh chopped oregano, and a sprinkling of Parmesan Reggiano. Place pizzas on the grill and cook until the crust is golden, about 12 minutes. Remove from grill, slice, and enjoy.

and of course, an updated picture of Levi, still in his PJs on a Sunday morning.

Goodbye Summer, Hello Fall “Steak & Potatoes”

Levi turned 5 months today. He recently rolled over for the first time and surprised the crap out of himself (not literally).  In all the excitement of watching my little boy go from newborn to smiley guy, I feel like summer never happened. Now it’s September and I can hardly believe it.  It’s hard to completely let go of summer when you feel like it never happened, but also when there are still beautiful tomatoes and summer squash at the farmer’s market and in the CSA box. I don’t care what the calendar says. But looking at all the fall issues of food magazines got me craving sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and other fall produce. I decide to create an “in between seasons” dinner — steaks, tomatoes, and zucchini on the grill, and a sweet potato side-dish in the oven.

Fine Cooking helped inspire me.  In their Cooking by the Calendar article, they featured a late-summer meal that involved a quick grilled steak, brushed with a mixture of mustard, brown sugar, salt & pepper. We used that marinade on a new york steak. Then Dustin found some beautiful heirloom tomatoes that we halved and grilled for just a few minutes, giving them a delicious smoky flavor, while preserving their tomato essence. The summer squash was locally grown and a nice companion for the tomatoes. The sweet potatoes taste like my favorite ravioli dish, without the ravioli. Roasted sweet potato cubes are tossed with brown butter & sage. This might be my new fall side dish! The entire meal was flavorful, colorful, and bridged the gap between summer and fall. Now I think I can bid farewell until next year.

Steak with Quick-Grilled Heirloom Tomatoes & Summer Squash

1 new york steak (about 1 lb for 2 people)
1 TBS. extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling over the veggies
1 TBS. Dijon mustard
1 TBS. brown sugar
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 heirloom tomatoes, halved
1 summer squash, halved

  • Prepare a medium-high heat charcoal grill. In a small bowl, combine 1 TBS. of the oil, the mustard, brown sugar, and some salt & pepper. Brush all over the steak and set aside.
  • Drizzle and rub the cut tomatoes and squash with olive oil, and season with salt & pepper.
  • Grill the steak, flipping once, until medium rare (until the steak reaches 130 to 135 degrees). Transfer to a plate, cover with foil, and let rest.
  • Grill the  squash and the tomatoes, cut side-down for a few minutes, until some nice grill marks form. Take the tomatoes off the grill, and cook the squash just a few minutes longer.
  • Slice the steak against the grain and serve next to the tomatoes and squash, and these delicious roasted sweet potatoes with brown butter and sage.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Brown Butter & Sage

(Adapted from the Oct./Nov. issue of Fine Cooking)

2 sweet potatoes
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
fresh sage
butter (about 2 TBS)
splash of orange juice

  • Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into bite-sized cubes. Toss with olive oil and salt. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender.
  • Meanwhile, cook chopped fresh sage and a pinch of salt in melted butter until butter browns.
  • Add a splash of orange juice (or a squeeze of lemon, if you have one) and toss with the potatoes.

Tabbouleh Salad with Lemon, Mint & Chickpeas

“Hot Hot Hot! The Elephants are hot!” — the opening of one of Levi’s (Mommy’s) favorite books. These words popped into my head this morning, not just because I have the entire book memorized and often get it stuck in my head, but because the news informed me that there is a heat advisory in effect today from noon until 8pm. It’s not uncommon for Santa Cruz to see several chilly weeks in August and then experience a heatwave just as kids are starting school again.

There aren’t any elephants around here, but Mommy is hot; Levi is hot; the kitties are hot! That’s why last night we wanted a no-cook dinner and something Tabbouleh-ish was our inspiration. We’ve never cooked with bulgur before. It’s a delicious, quick-cooking grain with a nutty flavor. Adding fresh herbs, fresh seasonable vegetables, and some chickpeas for extra protein made it the perfect meal for a hot evening. The recipe below made enough for the two of us, with enough leftovers for 1 lucky person’s lunch.

Tabbouleh Salad with Lemon, Mint & Chickpeas

(Adapted from the recipe from Bon Appetit, as seen on Epicurious)

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup bulgur (cracked wheat)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 large green onions, chopped
2 TBS. chopped fresh mint
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

  • In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the bulgur with the boiling water. Cover and let stand until bulgur is tender and water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.  (Alternatively you can add the bulgur to 2 cups of cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer, covered, for 12-15 minutes. Drain and transfer to a bowl).
  • Add the tomatoes, cucumber, parsley, green onions, mint, and chickpeas to the bowl of bulgur.  Add the olive oil/lemon juice mixture and gently mix with a wooden spoon.  Taste and season with salt & pepper to your liking.
  • Let sit for at least 30 minutes so that the flavors can blend. Serve with a simple green salad.

Levi is 4 months old!

[1st post-baby dinner!] Grilled Red Trout Fillets, Artichokes, and Salad with Grilled Lime Slices

Hello oishiifood followers.  This is a guest post by Dustin.  As you all know, Brianna does most of the writing for this wonderful collection of recipes we’ve come up with/tried.  I’m usually the “behind the scenes” guy doing my part in the kitchen and behind the camera.  So it’s a treat for me to share this recipe with all of you!

We made this dinner while my dad was up visiting his new grandson.  It was actually the first dinner we made since bringing Levi home so I wanted to do something easy but also extremely delicious! My dad and I left Brianna home with Levi and went to our local market (Shopper’s Corner).  I saw these beautiful red trout fillets and asked the butcher for two pounds (there were only 3 of us but I figured my dad and I can pack down the food).  When we got it home and I unwrapped it.  I couldn’t believe how much two pounds of fish really is!  Needless to say, I have a habit of getting way too much protein when left to my own devices and two pounds was about a half-pound too much for the three of us.  We also got some organic artichokes, zucchini, and a spring salad mix.  Now that I had all this fish, I had to figure out what to do with it.  I knew I wanted to grill the artichokes and the zucchini so I figured why not grill the trout too!

*One thing to note about my cooking style is that it’s very organic and not very precise.  I just kinda go with it.  So you’ll have to forgive the imprecise measurements and trust your instincts if you try this recipe!


1/2 pound of red trout fillets per person
a few cloves of garlic, minced
a good dose of olive oil
a healthy pour of paprika
salt and pepper
juice of one medium meyer lemon (ours was home grown!)
zest of 1/2 of one meyer lemon
long metal spatula

  • Set the trout out on a baking sheet.  Allow to come to room temp.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl combine all the other ingredients.  It should have a nice syrup like texture.  If it’s too watery throw in some more paprika and olive oil!
  • Once the marinade is ready, get down and dirty with those trout fillets.  Rub that stuff on there like there’s no tomorrow.  Each piece should be coated evenly.  Allow to sit (on the counter or in the fridge) for at least 15 minutes.  The lemon juice may turn the top of the fillets a grayish color, don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal.
  • Once the grill is heated up and ready to go, throw on the fillets.  Cover the BBQ and let those guys cook for a little while (depending on thickness around 4-7 minutes).  Here comes the tricky part, flipping the fillets.  Time to get out (or go buy) a long metal spatula.  Trout isn’t the heartiest fish, in fact it’s pretty delicate.  The flipping part of this is kinda like punching through a board (you know like karate kid), once you commit you have to go all the way.  Cook on this side for another 2-4 minutes.
  • That’s it!  You should now have some incredibly scrumptious fish ready to serve.


This is the first time that I actually cooked my own artichokes believe it or not.  I mostly just made it up  as I went after reading conflicting things online about the best way to grill them.  It worked out pretty dang nicely if I may say so.

at least 1/2 an artichoke per person
1 small lime or lemon
olive oil
salt and pepper

  • Get a large pot, fill it with water, and get it boiling.
  • Meanwhile, cut off the top 1/2″ – 1″ of the artichokes depending on size.  Two things to note here: 1) Use the sharpest knife you have, these things are tough!  2) You should see a tiny bit of purple in the center of the now cut off top, though different varieties may look slightly different).
  • Use that lime or lemon and juice up the “injured” leaves.  Place the artichokes in a large bowl of cool water, squeeze the rest of the lemon or lime juice in there, and let them sit for about 10 minutes or so.
  • After their soaking time is up, hold them upside down in the cool water bath and plunge each one up and down in the water while rotating from side-to-side for a bit (it’s gets out all kinds of dirt and bugs and stuff) and then toss them in to the boiling water.
  • Cook for about 15 minutes or until the base of the large leaves feel somewhat tender and the whole thing is noticeably more flexible.
  • Allow to cool.  Then cut in half on the vertical axis (through the stem, top to bottom).
  • With a spoon, scoop out all that hairy looking stuff.  Don’t go too deep into the base though, that’s the “heart” and it’s delicious!  Get rid of the smallest rows of leaves as well, the ones with really spiky feeling tips that come out with virtually no resistance.  Put the artichokes on a platter and drizzle with a little olive oil, add some salt and pepper, and they’re ready to grill!
  • Grill “open” side down for about 5-7 minutes or until you see some nice grill marks and they just look so mouth watering you can’t bear to leave them on the grill a moment longer.
  • Serve with mayonnaise for dipping.

Salad with Grilled Lime Slices

Lettuce of your choices (we used a spring mix, red leaf would be great too) for however many people
Greek style yogurt
juice from 1 medium lime
Agave nectar
1 medium lime thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper
salt and pepper

  • Grill the lime slices until they start to caramelize a bit and you see some nice grill marks.*
  • For the dressing, combine a good dollop or two of the yogurt, the lime juice, a healthy drizzle of agave nectar, and salt and pepper in a bowl.
  • Toss the lettuce, sliced bell pepper and the dressing in a large salad bowl.  Dish.  Then throw a couple of the lime slices on there to make it look pretty (and taste amazing too)!

*the grilled lime slices are equally good with the trout fillets!

Asparagus, Fried Eggs & Parmesan with Farro Pilaf

Spring is here!

I love it when bundles of thin, tender asparagus appear at the store, which sounds funny now because I didn’t care for asparagus until just a few years ago. Apparently I can’t get enough of it this week because just last Saturday we were eating at our favorite neighborhood restaurant La Posta, where I had the most intriguing salad: crisp asparagus spears with thinly sliced kumquats and watermelon radishes, pistachios, mint leaves, and a sherry-shallot vinaigrette; a combination I never would have put together in my own head, but was wonderful, especially with the mint – it brought little surprise bursts of freshness in each bite and I was reminded that it’s spring! Which means the baby will be here in like 4 weeks … ahhh!!  crazy!!

Anyway, what was I saying?  Oh yes, with asparagus still on the brain, we decided to enjoy it on Monday night as well, this time with one of my favorite accompaniments – fried eggs. A homegrown meyer lemon brought some additional brightness to this dish – half of which was squeezed over the plated asparagus, and the other half tossed with some arugula on the side. The farro, which I had recently discovered last Easter and raved about in this salad, made a nice pilaf, with its chewy texture and nutty flavor. We also had some garlic toast on the side – we buttered 2 slices of sourdough and added some chopped garlic, then broiled until bubbly and golden. We’re pretty sure if you make this for dinner sometime this week, you’ll be happy you did.

Asparagus, Fried Eggs & Parmesan with Farro Pilaf

1 cup farro
1 TBS. butter
1 1/2 cups broth
1 bunch of asparagus
2 eggs
a handful of grated Parmesan cheese
1 meyer lemon (or regular lemon)
a couple handfuls of arugula
olive oil
salt & pepper

  • In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, heat the butter over medium high heat until it foams. Add the farro and stir until coated with butter and just beginning to turn golden, about 5 minutes. It will also smell nice and toasty. Add the broth. Cover, and simmer until farro is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 30-35 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, wash the asparagus and trim the ends: Hold the asparagus toward the tough end and bend. The place where the spear snaps will separate the tender part from the tough part.
  • Prepare a bowl of ice water and bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the asparagus in boiling water for just a minute or two. Immediately remove and place in ice water to stop the cooking. Remove asparagus from the water, dry, and divide between two plates. Squeeze half a meyer lemon over the plated asparagus and season with some salt & pepper.
  • In a frying pan, fry 2 eggs in some butter or olive oil so they’re just how you like them (but we’re partial to a runny yolk). Season the tops of eggs with some salt & pepper. Transfer fried eggs to the plates, on top of the asparagus. Sprinkle some Parmesan on top.
  • Toss some arugula with the other half of the meyer lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, and a little salt & pepper. Add the arugula salad and the farro pilaf to the plates and enjoy a nice, spring meal!

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

It’s that awkward time in between winter and spring where in an attempt to somehow magically control the weather, I wear dresses and flip flops, but end up freezing. Really, the reason I want it to get warmer is so I can wear dresses instead of maternity pants. But I can be patient. In the meantime, plum trees are blooming all over town and they’re beautiful and remind us of Japan. We can also take advantage of the last of the winter produce, like all those root vegetables that are crying out to be roasted until they’re sweet, nutty, and caramelized.

In this pasta, we simply toss orecchiette (I know it means “little ears”, but I like to call them “little hats”) with cubed roasted root vegetables (we used sweet potato, parsnips, carrots and beets but use whatever combination you like), pine nuts, and goat cheese, resulting in a hearty pasta with a touch of creaminess. Soon we’ll have fresh peas, asparagus, rhubarb, and fava beans galore, but until then, enjoy the flavorful vegetables in this dish!

Orecchiette with Roasted Root Veggies, Pine Nuts & Goat Cheese

a couple small golden beets with greens – beets peeled and cubed, and greens washed and roughly chopped
1 small sweet potato, cubed
a couple parsnips, cubed
1 carrot, cubed
a few cloves of garlic, unpeeled
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
a handful of pine nuts
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 lb. orecchiette pasta
1/2 cup chicken stock, warmed
soft goat cheese, crumbled to taste (we used a log of Cypress Grove goat cheese)

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Give your beets about a 10 min. head start in the roasting process (they take a bit longer than the other vegetables): Place on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil. Season with some salt & pepper and throw in the oven (not literally).
  • While beets start roasting, toast the pine nuts in a large skillet, stirring frequently until fragrant and golden. Set aside. Place the other cubed root vegetables and the garlic cloves on another baking sheet and toss with olive oil. Season with a little salt & pepper. Place in the oven to join the beets. Roast until all veggies are tender and caramelized, 20-30 min (depending on how small they are cut), stirring once or twice during that time.
  • In the same skillet that you used for the pine nuts, sauté the beet greens in some olive oil until wilted. Season with a little salt & pepper, and squeeze half a lemon over them.
  • Get some water boiling for the orecchiette. Cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain and add to the skillet with the beet greens.
  • When the veggies are ready, remove from oven. Pick out the garlic cloves, and peel and chop (when cool enough to handle). Transfer the roasted veggies to the skillet with the pasta and beet greens. Add the chopped roasted garlic. Gently toss everything together, adding a little chicken stock at a time to keep the pasta moist. Add the pine nuts and goat cheese (to taste) and gently mix in (it’s ok if the goat cheese melts. It makes the pasta nice and creamy). Divide among bowls with some Parmesan cheese on top, if desired. Serves 2-3.