Dinner

Vietnamese Food, Anyone?

Chayote

Chayote~ they come in white and green

We have a real passion for Vietnamese food, in this house. Usually, we go out to eat it, and if we’re hungry and there happens to be a pho house around, we are almost sure to go in and try it. We usually order the same thing too, just so we can compare and contrast. I go for the green papaya salad, and Monty goes for lemon grass chicken or shrimp vermicelli. We have a couple of favorite places, such as Super Pho, which is one of our favorites. Let me show you a few examples:

Summer rolls are de rigueur for appetizers

Summer rolls are de rigueur for appetizers

I have a real passion for peanut sauce, too.

 

The best green papaya salad… how I love it

The best green papaya salad… how I love it

 

Lemon grass shrimp… get those chopsticks ready

Lemon grass shrimp… get those chopsticks ready

 

As you can see, all of this food looks super-light, healthy and refreshing. Now that you understand that we have a passion for this cuisine, you’ll understand why I’d be interested in learning a bit about learning how to cook some of this, myself.

I’m very lucky in this, on two counts. The first count is that Monty works with someone who grows chayote on his property, and last year he gave us a few. I had no idea what to do with it, so I ended up making a Mexican-stye soup with it. (Chayote sounds Mexican, doesn’t it?) Well, I did learn something, after I cooked that, and here’s where the second count of luck comes in.

I have a very, dear Vietnamese friend name Jess. When she saw my post last year, she got excited because her mom used to make chayote for her—so in her eyes, it’s comfort food! As I’ve found out, it is Mexican, but as it turns out, it is also very popular in Asian cuisine. The good about this food is that it’s very low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. It’s also a good source of niacin, vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, zinc, copper and manganese. That’s a lot of nutrition for a little squash! There isn’t much of a bad about this food, except that it excretes a sticky substance while peeling it,  that can feel a bit odd… almost like the feeling of superglue. The sensation can last a few hours, but I promise that it’s harmless.

Now, I’ll give you another warning: This recipe is not hard and fast, which means if you want to try this, you’ll need a brave heart. I did make this last week for dinner, mainly because I wanted to get a feel for the recipe. Jess tells me that the usual ratio is 2 chayote/1 egg. I was hungry for eggs so I used 2 chayote/2eggs… no regrets here! Today, I made it for lunch, and I truly enjoyed it. It’s very easy to throw together, and delicious. Another warning to the brave: this recipe uses fish sauce. A lot of people are put off by the smell when they first open a bottle, but I promise you that it won’t taste like you think it will. Fish sauce is a very common ingredient in Vietnamese, Thai and Filipino cuisines. Adding the lime and sugar to the condiment really changes the flavor, and give it the “umami” flavor that is so treasured in these recipes.

What I will do is give you the measurements that I used today for lunch. It was all I ate, so consider this two portions, if you are serving something else with it, such as rice or a salad.

Very few ingredients are needed for this

Very few ingredients are needed for this

What you’ll need:

1 Tablespoon cooking oil (I used olive)
3-4 green onions, chopped into long pieces about 2 inches long (you’ll want to use the green ends)
2 chayote, peeled and ends chopped off and discarded (you’ll want to discard the seed, too)
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed  lime juice
2 eggs
Freshly ground black pepper

Prep the fish sauce condiment to have it ready. Simply mix the fish sauce, lime and sugar in a small bowl.

Slice the chayote

Slice the chayote

Slice the peeled and seeded chayote.

 

Add the chayote to the green onions

Add the chayote to the green onions

Heat the oil in a skillet and sauté the green onions for a minute or so, then add in the chayote and allow to cook. I liked mine just when it became soft. Add in the fish sauce/sugar/lime condiment and continue to cook for another minute.

 

Add eggs

Add eggs

Drop the eggs in, one at a time.

 

Stir the eggs into the chayote

Stir the eggs into the chayote

Stir the eggs into the chayote and cook stirring, until the whites become solid.

 

Add pepper

Add pepper

When eggs are cooked, add pepper and serve.

 

Serve

Serve

What could be simpler?

 

Makes an easy lunch

Makes an easy lunch

This makes a super, easy lunch or a nice, light supper.

 

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit!

Bon appétit, and thank you, Jess!

 

 

Not-So-Traditional Chicken Enchiladas

Remember that grilled chicken I made a couple of nights ago? Well, we enjoyed a little bit of that on that night, but the main reason I made that was to make a big batch of chicken enchiladas.

Shredded, leftover grilled chicken

Shredded, leftover grilled chicken

 

If you are looking for traditional Mexican enchiladas, you had best go elsewhere, because I will come out right now and tell you, that I’ve taken a few shortcuts and liberties with these. I’m not making my own sauce here, and I put some canned beans in mine, which I’m pretty sure isn’t done in a real, Mexican household.

But what I will tell you is that they are delicious, and they work quite well for me, because they don’t take up my entire day (or my entire energy) to make them. They also freeze really well, so on those days when neither one of us feels like cooking, we just take a couple out of the freezer, heat them up and serve with a salad.

Enchiladas also offer a lot of flexibility as to what you can (and want) to put into them. These ones will have two types of Mexican cheese—queso fresco and queso quesadilla. I really like the queso quesadilla melted over the top, so that’s what I’ve used, as well as a bit of that mixed into the more crumbly queso fresco, inside the enchiladas. I mentioned that I like to put beans into mine~ you can use black beans, pinto beans, pinquito beans, or what ever you like. I am also adding some chorizo with my chicken mixture, this time.

Whatever you decide to put into them, I highly recommend that all ingredients be ready, when it comes time to assemble them. Make it easy on yourself! Please note also, this is usually pretty messy and a bit time consuming, but I always think the results are so worth it.

For the ones I just made, here’s what I used. All ingredients amounts are approximate:

12 flour tortillas (I’ve mixed white and whole wheat flour ones)
16 ounces red chile enchilada sauce (I like Rick Bayliss’)
2-3 cups cooked, shredded chicken
¼ pound chorizo, casing removed
½ white onion, chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, diced small
1 10-ounce can whole, green chiles, sliced lengthwise
1 or 2 15-ounce cans beans, drained, but not rinsed~ I’m using some pinquitos and some seasoned pintos, for this
5 ounces queso fresco cheese, shredded
5 ounces queso quesadilla, shredded, divided use

For garnish:

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped
½ cup sliced olives
3-4 green onions, sliced width-wise
2½ ounces queso quesadilla cheese

Prepare a large baking pan or dish (13″x9″x2′ is good) by giving it a good coat of cooking spray. You might also need another small baking dish, just in case you manage to make more enchiladas than your pan will fit.

Mix all 5 ounces for the queso fresco and about 2½ ounces of of the queso quesadilla together. The remaining 2½ ounces of the queso quesadilla will top the pan of enchiladas before baking, so set that aside.

Cook the chorizo with onion and jalapeño

Cook the chorizo with onion and jalapeño

Remove the casing from the chorizo and place it into a small skillet, along with the white onion and jalapeño. Cook over medium-low heat, breaking up the sausage as it cooks. When finished cooking, add to the shredded chicken and gently mix together.

When you are ready to assemble, get out a pie plate and pour the enchilada sauce into it. This is also probably a good time to pre-heat the oven to 350º F.

Dip the tortilla into the enchilada sauce

Dip the tortilla into the enchilada sauce

Dip a tortilla into the enchilada sauce and coat both sides. This will make the tortilla soft and pliable, and will also keep it moist during baking.

 

Roll 'em up, right in the pan

Roll ’em up, right in the pan

Place the wet tortilla directly into the pan. We’re going to roll them up right in the pan, and it’s going to save a whole lot of mess, believe me.

 

Place some chicken near the center

Place some chicken near the center

Put some chicken in there. This is probably a little bit too much, but we learn, as we go along. The first ones are usually really big!

 

Add a spoonful of beans

Add a spoonful of beans

Next, add a spoonful of beans.

 

A couple of strips of chile pepper

A couple of strips of chile pepper

Then, add a few strips of the green chile.

 

A good sprinkling of cheese

A good sprinkling of cheese

Top with cheese. Again, this is probably a bit, too much.

 

Tuck in the ends and roll

Tuck in the ends and roll

Tuck the ends on the sides in and roll, also tucking the ingredients into the tortilla, and place it seam-side-down in the pan. Yes, you are using your fingers. This is what I’m talking about when I say messy.

 

Roll 'em up along side each other

Roll ’em up along side each other

Continue those steps,  until you run out of whichever, though usually the space to put them in, is the first thing to go.

 

You might need another little pan

You might need another little pan

I ran out of room this time, mainly because I’m trying to make as many as I can. So just have a small pan ready, in case you need it.

 

Sprinkle with cheese and your favorite garnishes

Sprinkle with cheese and your favorite garnishes

Sprinkle with cheese and garnish as you please. I love uncured black olives, cilantro and scallions.

Cover the top of the pan with foil and bake at 350º for about 45 minutes. Take the foil off and allow to bake for about 5 more minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes or so.

This makes 10-12 servings.

Serve! They go great with a salad

Serve! They go great with a salad

Serve. I find salad and wine make the perfect accompaniments.

 

It's hard to beat homemade enchiladas

It’s hard to beat homemade enchiladas

 

Not-So-Traditional Enchiladas

Not-So-Traditional Enchiladas with beans

 

Good and messy, until the very end.

A Marinade for Mexican-Style Chicken

I’ve been craving some homemade enchiladas lately, and though there are easier ways to prep the chicken, I thought it’d be nice to whip up a marinade and grill it. A little bit of smoky flavor is added, and then because I’m using citrus, there is a lovely bit of tang!

A little citrus makes it tangy

A little citrus makes it tangy

 

This recipe is not specifically meant for chicken enchiladas, so I would encourage you to try it any old time! You can marinade in the chicken in the morning and then grill it in the evening.

It was originally meant for about 6 chicken thighs, but it can be easily doubled, for a very, large whole chicken. I actually made 1½ portions, because my whole chicken was small.

This is easy:

¼ cup orange juice, and you can squeeze this yourself, for a more natural flavor
1 Tablespoon lime juice
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 clove garlic
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano, though regular oregano will do
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon very, finely, minced cilantro

6 chicken thighs (or in my case, a whole chicken)

Combine all ingredients (except the chicken, of course) in a large measuring cup and whisk together.

Wash the chicken thoroughly with water and pat dry inside the cavity (if it’s whole) and the skin, with paper towels.

Place the chicken in a re-sealable plastic bag and pour the marinade over it. Massage the marinade into the chicken so that it’s well coated with it, then place in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Turn the bag over a couple of times while it’s chilling to make sure all sides are covered by the marinade.

When ready to cook, discard the marinade and put the chicken skin-side-up on the grill, away from the fire.

Meet Juicy-Lucy! She's been on for about an hour, at this point

Meet Juicy-Lucy! She’s been on for about an hour, at this point

Still cooking, and she's still looking good

Still cooking, and she’s still looking good

 

Remove when juices run clear when the thighs are pierced with a knife, or in the case a whole chicken, the temperature reaches 180º.

About to come off the grill, a crispy skin is a tasty thing

About to come off the grill, a crispy skin is a tasty thing

If it’s a whole chicken, let it rest covered for about 15 minutes.

Serve with your favorite Mexican sides.

In my case, chicken enchiladas coming soon!

A Taste of India for Meatless Monday

Dal for "Meatless Monday"

Dal for “Meatless Monday”

I’d been thinking pretty strongly of going back to doing “Meatless Mondays,’ mainly because I’m up for another knee surgery. I figure since I have the time to do it, why not get as healthy as possible? Yes, I will have my transgressions, but I am already upping my veggie intake, and plan on finding healthier options for other foods, between now and the next couple of months.

One of the things that I tried a couple of months ago, that I really wanted to try again is red dal. Dal is a split lentil, and a stew is usually made with them, seasoned accordingly to whatever South Asian country they are made in. The last time I made it, I used yellow split peas, and since then, I’ve heard that the flavor is much better using the real thing.

One of the really good things about this recipe is that it’s easy enough for a week night. It comes together very easily, and cooks quickly. It is also very high in nutrients and fiber.

Red dal lentils, turmeric and Bengali Five Spice

Red dal lentils, turmeric and Bengali Five Spice

I really feel like I’ve scored, since I live very close to a store that sells Indian goods and groceries. I had the pleasure of walking in there recently and finding an incredible array of foods I’d never seen before, especially since they also sell a lot of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean foods. I took a good walk around the shop, nonchalantly looking for the Bengali Five Spice that I was seeking, and realized that I would just have to ask for it. Well of course, it’s known by another name: Paunchpuran. The owner led me to its spot on the shelf.

Paunchpuran is a mix of nigella sativa, cumin, fenugreek seeds, mustard seeds and fennel seeds. I have no idea what the ratios are of any of these ingredients to make up this spice mix, so I was quite happy to be able to find it. He also had to lead me to the red dal, and I was also thrilled that he had it available.

While I was in the store, there was a couple shopping, and as I got in line, the man asked me what I was making with the Bengali Five Spice. I told him I was going to attempt making red dal. He smiled and told me that he was from Bengal, and that I would love it. So nice to have such encouragement!

Getting home, I opened the bags of my new goodies. The dal has an aroma like no lentil I’ve even come upon, and the Panchpuran has a delightfully pungent smell.

If you’d like to try this, this is what you’ll need:

1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
3 plum tomatoes
1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 medium white onion, (yellow will do) finely chopped
1/2 cup carrots, finely diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons Bengali Five Spice mix
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lime
cilantro, stemmed and chopped for garnish

———————————————————–

Drain the dal, after rinsing

Drain the dal, after rinsing

Rinse the dal in a sieve and rinse thoroughly with water. Set aside.

In a lage pan, sauté the chopped onion in the coconut oil, until it’s tender and translucent. Add in the chopped carrot and cook for about 5 minutes. Next, add pressed garlic and cook for another minute. Add the Bengali Five Spice, stirring to combine and cook that addition, for about 5 minutes.

Add the water, the dal and the bay leaf and bring to a boil. Allow to gently simmer for at least 30 minutes.

Score the tomatoes

Score the tomatoes

While the dal is simmering, prepare the tomatoes by peeling them. This keeps people from getting those obnoxious little bits of rolled up tomato skin in their teeth. There is an easy method of doing this. Put a small pan of water on to boil. Cut off the core end of the tomato, score the skin in a couple of places, then plunge the tomatoes (I do them one by one) into the boiling water for about a minute. Then pull them out and allow them to cool slightly.

The skins will peel right off

The skins will peel right off

Voilà! The skin comes off super easily.

 

Add the tomatoes, turmeric and lime at the end

Add the tomatoes, turmeric and lime at the end

Maybe 15 minutes before it’s ready to serve, add in the turmeric, lime juice and tomatoes. Salt to taste.

 

Serve, and get your India on!

Serve, and get your India on!

This goes well served with naan bread or jasmine rice.

 

We like this with naan bread

We like this with naan bread

 

Garnish with a sprinkling of cilantro

Garnish with a sprinkling of cilantro

This recipe is also easily doubled, and I did just that, because I know there is a real lentil lover in the house. It makes great leftovers for lunch, too!

 

Bring on the marigolds!

Bring on the marigolds!

 

Satisfying a Craving for Seafood Cakes

I’m craving seafood cakes! What I mean is not necessarily crab cakes, (they are still too expensive, though they are in season now) but maybe some scallop & shrimp cakes. We managed to find some bay scallops on sale this past weekend, and I’ve decided that I’m ready to try something new. I figure I’ve made crab cakes before with great success, so I will have a good time playing with these. One day, I’ll have my crab again, but these should do fine.

Shrimp & bay scallops

Shrimp & bay scallops

I’m thinking that since I have about a half pound of scallops, I’ll need about a half pound of raw shrimp. Bread crumbs will be in order, as well as an egg to bind everything together. The innovative part comes with the seasoning… You can always add what you like, of course, and maybe that’s one of the best things about making something like this.

Here’s what I used:

1½ cups bread crumbs, divided
1 egg
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 teaspoon whole grain or Dijon mustard
Sriracha or other hot sauce, at least 1 teaspoon (or more!)
½ pound shrimp, peeled & deveined
½ pound bay scallops, rinsed well
1 rib celery, finely chopped
4 green onions, finely sliced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
Lemon, for squeezing and garnish

———————————————————————–

First, prep your seafood by chopping them together.

Chop them together

Chop them together

 

Prep the veggies

Prep the veggies

Prep the celery, scallions and parsley to have them ready to go by chopping them.

 

Whisk the eggs with seasonings

Whisk the eggs with seasonings

In a large bowl, whisk the egg, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, Old Bay seasoning, and mustard until well blended. Add in the shrimp, scallops, celery, green onions, parsley, and ½ cup of the bread crumbs. Mix together.

 

Form patties and coat with bread crumbs

Form patties and coat with bread crumbs

With your hands, shape seafood mixture into 8 patties, about ½-inch thick. Spread the remaining cup of bread crumbs onto a plate and dip the cakes into the crumbs, pressing gently to adhere.

 

Ready to chill

Ready to chill

Now, here’s my chance to test a tip I heard about recently. These kind of seafood cakes tend to fall apart in the pan, when you start to cook them, and there is supposedly a way to prevent that. This method means letting the patties sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes or so. So, call these cakes ready to chill!

When you’re ready to make them, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Place cakes in skillet and cook over medium heat for about 7 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom. Carefully turn the cakes over with a spatula and cook for another 7 minutes or so, until they are lightly browned on that side.

Golden brown and intact!

Golden brown and intact!

I’m glad to say that the little chill trick worked, by the way. These cakes came out perfect.

 

Don't forget the dry, white wine…

Don’t forget the dry, white wine…

This is a perfect main course that you can serve with a little bread and a salad. Don’t forget a nice Chardonnay or Fumé Blanc… Ferrari-Carano makes a really nice one.

 

Good for dinner...

Good for dinner…

Would make a nice appetizer, too

Would make a nice appetizer, too

 

You can also make a little vinaigrette, if you like, with some olive oil, garlic, rice wine vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, a little mayo and some fresh dill. The ratio for vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. I didn’t measure, so you’ll you’ll have to do it by taste.

Try it dressed with vinaigrette

Try it dressed with vinaigrette

 

Makes 7-8 cakes, though you could make them half-sized for appetizers. Got leftovers? Got lunch tomorrow!

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

I’m in the mood for roast chicken, and it’s probably because I’m feeling the “winds of change” blowing. Yes, it finally feels a bit like fall here, because the winds finally started up again, and it looks like a bit of rain may be coming with them. This usually means that I’m ready and willing to fire up my oven again, since it’s not so hot outside.

Roast chicken with lemon, garlic and herbs

Roast chicken with lemon, garlic and herbs

I have a favorite roast chicken recipe, that I clipped from a newspaper, many years ago. That’s not a great source to acknowledge, but It’s the best I can do. But, I’ve also made it so many times that I know it by heart. It is Roast Chicken Stuffed with Rosemary, Lemon and Sage.

 

Olive oil, lemon, garlic and herbs

Olive oil, lemon, garlic and herbs season this chicken

What makes it a favorite are the herbs and garlic that are tucked under the skin with olive oil. Then the roasting process starts with the chicken placed in the pan breast-side-down, so that those herbs get heated up first, the skin starts getting a bit brown from the start, and your kitchen starts getting really fragrant! The chicken is also stuffed with rosemary, more garlic and chunks of lemon, so the meat is permeated with wonderful flavor. I love this recipe so much, that back when I was single, I made it almost every Sunday for a year. I would feast on it the first night, and have chicken sandwiches for lunch for a week. If there was any left by the end of the week, it would go into soup.

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 medium to large whole chicken
Fresh rosemary, 3-4 5-inch sprigs
Fresh sage, 3-4 large leaves
Fresh parsley, a small handful
5 cloves garlic
olive oil
1 lemon, cut into slices or wedges (I’m using Meyer lemons~ more is good for garnish, too)
Salt & pepper
Trussing pins and string

Potatoes for roasting along side, if desired…thinly coat them with oil or cooking spray to keep them from sticking

——————————————————————–

Preheat oven to 400°.
Prepare a roasting pan with cooking spray or a thin coat of oil. Thoroughly wash the chicken, removing giblets and neck from cavity. Pat dry with paper towels, and stuff the cavity paper toweling to dry the inside. When dry, rub salt inside the cavity.

Loosen the skin from the breast meat

Loosen the skin from the breast meat

A spoon can be helpful

A spoon can be helpful

Very carefully, without tearing the skin, loosen the skin of the chicken by gently running your fingers up under the skin of the breast. You also want to break the membrane that binds them together in the center. (The backside of a teaspoon can help break that membrane, if necessary.)

 

Tuck the wings

Tuck the wings

Fold and tuck wings beneath chicken.

 

Loosely stuff the cavity with garlic, lemon and rosemary

Loosely stuff the cavity with garlic, lemon and rosemary

Alternate placing rosemary sprigs, (crushing them first should release oils to enable them to give off more flavor) lemon wedges or slices, and the remaining three whole, smashed garlic cloves loosely into the cavity, until it is just full. Stuffing them in tightly will just take longer for the chicken to cook, and it’s not really necessary.

 

Mince the parsley, sage and garlic

Chop the sage, parsley and 2 cloves of the garlic together, until you have a small pile of finely minced herbs.

 

Tuck the herbs under the skin

Tuck the herbs under the skin

Next, carefully pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil under the loosened skin, gently massaging the outside of the skin to spread it underneath. Then, carefully put the herb mixture under the skin, again gently massaging the outside to try spread it evenly. If you can manage to do this without breaking or tearing the skin, then you are going to have a great roast chicken!

 

Pin and truss~ you can probably do this better than I can

Pin and truss~ you can probably do this better than I can

Truss chicken with pins and tie with string, tuckng the tail inside, being very careful not to stab yourself~ those buggers can be very sharp.

 

First roast it breast-side down

First roast it breast-side down

Salt & pepper all sides of the chicken to taste, then place breast-side down into the roasting pan. You can add some lemon slices to roast if you like, also~ they make a nice garnish. Roast for about 15-20 minutes, then remove from oven. Lower oven temperature to 350°.

 

Flip the chicken

Flip the chicken

Carefully flip the chicken over so it is breast-side up, and place back into the oven to finish roasting, about 1 – 1½ hours, depending on size/weight of the chicken. The chicken is done when juices run clear.

This is also a good time to add some potatoes to roast along with it, if you’d like. Just make sure that they are coated in a little bit of oil,  so they don’t stick to the pan. The oils and juices of the chicken will give them plenty of moisture, as the chicken cooks more.  Just be aware that this may add some to the cooking time.

 

Let it rest

Let it rest

When the chicken is done cooking, cover it and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.

 

Rosemary & lemon stuffed chicken

Rosemary & lemon stuffed chicken

Serve with potatoes

Serve with the potatoes

Remove the potatoes with a slotted spoon and put them into as serving bowl.

Remove pins and string from chicken before serving, and carve it up. Enjoy!

 

Flavorful and juicy!

Flavorful and juicy!

Leftovers make a great sandwich!

Leftovers make a great sandwich!

As I said before, the leftovers make wonderful sandwiches!

Time for Fall Comfort Food

The season has changed, and I feel a sense of bittersweetness. I tend to feel this emotion around this time of year, and this year it is stronger.  Perhaps this feeling is due in part to our trip to San Francisco last week, mainly to make peace with Monty’s stepfather. He is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and though he’s doing better since we went to visit, we know how this goes. The rest of the bittersweetness is from visiting my home town and making the absolute best of it. The best news is that San Francisco experiences what is known as “Indian Summer,” which makes up for the fact that the real Summer in the City means fog~ lots of fog. It was pretty foggy while we were there, but that was okay with me, too. Fog is iconic in San Francisco~ it’s also really nice for taking photographs and avoiding lots of harsh shadows. What was really nice, was that it was relatively warm, so it wasn’t such a shock coming from Hawai‘i.

Penne pasta

Penne pasta

Now, we are home, and I’m feeling the need for comfort. Since I still have a nice chunk of gruyère cheese in the fridge, I think it’s time to make some baked pasta. For this recipe, penne is the pasta of choice. I think almost all of us who grew up in America, grew up being served  a dish something like this. I know my mom would make something similar, though without the gruyère… this cheese makes it more elegant. Because this is baked, the cheese melts into the meat sauce and pasta, making it almost akin to an Italian mac & cheese, except there’s not so much cheese. And, there’s meat. I guess the main point is that it’s comforting.

 

Simple ingredients

Simple ingredients

You can also make this vegetarian style, simply by omitting the meat and using more mushrooms, instead. Ready for comfort? Here’s what you’ll need:

1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil

½ pound mild Italian sausage

½ pound lean ground beef

salt and pepper to taste

½ cup small diced yellow onion

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 pound cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or use a mixture of mushrooms)

2 tablespoons brandy or Amontillado sherry (red wine will work in a pinch)

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil

1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano, or ¼ to 1/3 dried

1 to 1½ tablespoons minced fresh marjoram, or 1 teaspoon dried

1 pound penne pasta

¾ cup grated Parmesan

2 to 3 teaspoons minced flat-leaf parsley (optional)

1½ cups grated gruyère cheese

————————————————————————

Brown sausage and hamburger

Brown sausage and hamburger; add onion

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown sausage and ground beef, season to taste. As the meat browns, break up the large chunks into smaller pieces. Push meat to one side of the skillet then add the onion. Cook until it’s translucent, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium, then add garlic and cook for about a minute or until aromatic.

With meat still to the side, add mushrooms to the onion-garlic mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until most of the moisture has evaporated and mushrooms are tender, about 3-5 minutes.Stir together the meat and mushrooms. Add brandy and cook about 30-45 seconds.

 

Cook the sauce

Cook the sauce

Add tomatoes, oregano and marjoram. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until flavors have blended. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated, if need be, just rewarm before continuing with recipe.

Heat oven to 350º. Spray or coat a 9-by-13-inch casserole or backing dish with cooking spray or oil; set aside.

Cook pasta in well-salted water according to package directions; be careful not to overcook. Mine was a bit overcooked, as you can see… the pasta is splitting. Life goes on…

stir in Parmesan and parsley

Stir in Parmesan and parsley

Drain pasta and mix with sauce, then add the Parmesan and parsley. (I put all of it into a huge bowl and very thoroughly mix it all together). Taste and adjust seasoning again, if necessary.

 

Sprinkle Gruyère on top

Sprinkle gruyère on top

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Spoon the mixture into a casserole dish, top with grated gruyère and bake for 15-20 minutes, until pasta is thoroughly warm and cheese has melted. This makes a very large amount, so you can serve a crowd of about 10, or freeze the rest for another night. You could also easily cut the recipe in half.

 

Ready to serve

Ready to serve

Try serving with some sautéed tomatoes and zucchini

Try serving with some sautéed tomatoes and zucchini

I sautéed zucchini with tomatoes to serve with this. Perfect! I love tomatoes, so a few more are good in my book.

 

True, American comfort food

True, American comfort food

Can you say "cheesy goodness?"

Can you say “cheesy goodness?”

This makes wonderful leftovers, too

This makes wonderful leftovers, too

More Zucchini? Here’s Another Way to Fix It

I must admit that every time I see a zucchini, I can’t help but think of my grandmother. She would grow it in her backyard, and she always seemed to have tons of it. We had it nearly every time we went to her house for dinner, and she would send some home with us.

I still love zucchini. It is an easy weeknight vegetable to prepare, simply because it can be quickly sliced and steamed, though it can also be stuffed, grilled, put into pasta, soups and bread. It’s good for you, too!

One of my favorite ways to fix it is into a gratin with potatoes and sausage. It takes a bit of prep work, since the veggies need to be sliced very thin and then blanched beforehand, but it is a treat that you and your family will enjoy. It also has wonderful Gruyère cheese in it, which makes it good enough for company.

Mmmm… Gruyère!

Mmmm… Gruyère!

 

The flavors in this dish will depend on the type of sausage you use. I used sweet Italian, because that’s usually what we have in the freezer. But, experimentation is a good thing! You can also assemble and partially bake this dish ahead. If refrigerated, bring the gratin to room temperature before baking it or allow additional time. Leftovers can be frozen, but I usually end up polishing those off for lunch!

To make it:

1 teaspoon kosher salt + more as needed

¾ teaspoon black pepper

1½ teaspoon chopped fresh or generous 1/3 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

1 pound potatoes, about 2-3 potatoes, depending on how large or small they are

3 ounces Gruyere, grated, about 1 cup

½ pound lean sausage, in bulk or removed from the casing

Large pinch smoked paprika, to taste

Large pinch cayenne pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon olive oil + more as needed

1 small yellow onion, very thinly sliced, about ½ cup

1 to 1½ teaspoons minced garlic, about 2 cloves

1 to 1¼ pounds summer squash, such as patty pan

1 teaspoon chopped parsley (optional)

½ cup whole milk

1 pound tomatoes, coarsely chopped  (about 2 large tomatoes)

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Preheat the oven to 400°. Prepare an 8-inch square pan (I used a with a light coat of oil or pan spray; set aside.

Mix thyme, salt and pepper

Mix thyme, salt and pepper

Combine 1½ teaspoons kosher salt, pepper and thyme in a small dish; set aside.

 

Slice potatoes very thin

Slice potatoes very thin

Peel potatoes and cut into 1/8 -inch-thick slices, using a mandolin if available, keeping them in water until ready to cook to prevent oxidation. Par-cook the potatoes in batches, either by blanching, steaming or microwaving, until they are translucent and fairly soft (but you should still be able to pick them up without breaking). Drain.

 

Layer potatoes and sprinkle with salt mixture

Layer potatoes and sprinkle with salt mixture

Layer the potatoes in the pan, slightly overlapping the slices; season each layer with some of the salt-thyme mixture.

 

Sprinkle cheese over potatoes

Sprinkle about 1/3 of the cheese over the final potato layer.

 

Combine sausage, paprika, cayenne and salt to taste in a skillet over medium heat (you may need to add a little oil if the sausage is extremely lean). Brown the sausage, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. When done, transfer to a bowl.

Slice onions very thin

Slice onions very thin

Add onions to the same skillet, along with a little more olive oil, if needed. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions soften and begin to caramelize, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 to 45 seconds. Add this to the sausage in the bowl, mix to combine, then spread over the potatoes. Top with another 1/3 of the cheese.

 

Slice zucchini very thin

Slice zucchini very thin

Cut the squash crosswise into 1/8 -inch-thick slices, then par-cook similarly to the potatoes.

 

Layer zucchini over cheese

Layer zucchini over cheese

Layer the squash over the onion-sausage mixture, sprinkling each layer with some of the salt-thyme mixture and parsley. Pour the milk over all.

 

Layer chopped tomatoes on top

Layer chopped tomatoes on top

Chop the tomatoes into ½ -inch pieces, reserving any juices. Cover the squash with the tomatoes and juices and a final sprinkle of salt-thyme mixture. I actually used fresh thyme leaves for this last layer, just because I had them.

Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the dish; cover loosely with foil. If desired, place a baking sheet (optionally lined with parchment) under the pan to catch any drips. Bake until the vegetables are tender and easily pierced with a skewer, about 1 hour, depending how much the vegetables were par cooked.

Remove dish from oven, remove foil and parchment; if needed, bake a bit longer to evaporate excess liquid then sprinkle the remaining cheese over the tomatoes. Bake, uncovered, until cheese melts.

Straight out of the oven, it may seem that there is a lot of liquid in the pan, but much of it will be absorbed as the dish rests. Cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Light and satisfying

Light and satisfying

Serve. So beautiful! This is really nice with a green salad.

 

Delicious!

Delicious!

Look at those lovely layers of the harvest!

 

Zucchini, Potato & Tomato Gratin

Zucchini, Potato & Tomato Gratin

Serves about 6.

Enjoy!

A Refreshing, Exotic Salad

Okay, it’s time to get a little exotic, here. You might have noticed that I have a passion for passionfruit, though we call it lilikoi, here. The season is in full swing right now, and there are lots of wonderful things that can be created from these tangy, little fruits.

The passionflower is very exotic looking

The passionflower is very exotic looking

As you can see, the flower is quite exotic-looking. The many varieties have different colors and shapes, all of them interesting and colorful.

 

You can see how the fruit forms from the flower

You can see how the fruit forms from the flower

The fruit is interesting too, especially when you see how it is formed from the flower. You know it’s ripe when the skin turns yellow, red or purple.

Anyway, it has a tangy, citrusy flavor that lends well to desserts, as well as sauces and dressings. I also has a bazillion seeds inside, which you will either love for their texture or dislike for their quantity. I personally love them, but I really like texture in my food. The season lasts here from about late June until December, and believe me, I buy enough when I see it to collect the juice and pulp for future use. I really miss it, when it can’t be found.

People tend to make sweets from the fruit, but I’ve made a point of finding lots of savory recipes to use them. This is a salad dressing that I found online, and fell in love with. I couldn’t find the absolute source, just because I found it shared many times. So, to the creator of this, wherever you are, thank you!

Passionfruit (lilikoi) is easily scooped out, once cut

Passionfruit (lilikoi) is easily scooped out, once cut

The salad is made from local ingredients;  you may have to substitute a few things, but if you use your imagination, you will get pretty close. You can likely find frozen passionfruit juice in your local store.

 

Mango and peppers

Mango and peppers

I couldn’t resist buying these beautiful peppers. I’m going to use the red one in the salad.

If you’d like to try, here’s what I used:

For the Salad

4 cups fresh, local, baby greens
1 cup micro greens (if you can find them)
1 mango, diced
½ cup diced sweet, red pepper (or rainbow peppers, if you can find them)
1 small or ½ large avocado, sliced
¼ cup finely sliced red onion

For the Dressing

½ cup fresh strained lilikoi pulp & juice (I kept the seeds in)
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1/8 cup raw local honey
½ teaspoon of your favorite sweet/hot mustard (I like dijon)
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup olive oil
pepper to taste

Start with some greens

Start with some greens

The fresh, local greens come first, of course. This is a lovely mix of lettuces, herbs and baby spinach~ they may be fragile, but they have a lot of flavor.

 

Add micro greens

Add micro greens

Add the micro greens~ they give a nice, herby flavor.

 

I added sweet, red pepper

I added sweet, red pepper

Here’s the red pepper!

 

Lilikoi juice~ I like the seeds, too

Lilikoi juice~ I like the seeds, too

Make the dressing next: measure the lilikoi juice into a jar.

 

Measure dressing ingredients into a jar

Measure dressing ingredients into a jar

Add the rest of the dressing ingredients in with the juice and cover.

 

Shake it up!

Shake it up!

Shake until blended. The mustard should help to emulsify it the dressing.

 

Add avocado last

Add avocado last

Add the onion and avocado last, then add the dressing.

Greens with mango, avocado and lilikoi dressing

Greens with mango, avocado and lilikoi dressing

Serve on salad plates.

 

This makes a very, nice salad to serve with beef or fish

This makes a very, nice salad to serve with beef or fish

I found this combination uniquely wonderful!

 

Add shrimp to make it a full meal

Add shrimp to make it a full meal

If you’d like to make it a full meal, add some shrimp and top with a bit more dressing.

 

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It’s delicious~ enjoy!

A Recipe Created from Eavesdropping

Title sounds kind of sneaky, doesn’t it? What happened was I just happened to be at the farmers market, waiting in line by two women talking about the offerings that morning. One of them picked up a long squash and asked her friend if she had ever had said variety of squash with pork & ginger. She went on  and on about how utterly delicious it is and how easy it is to make. “Hmmm,” I thought to myself. I didn’t buy one that day, but the next time I saw one. I bought one and went home to research.

Chinese long squash and ginger

Chinese long squash and ginger

 

That was last week. What I managed to make was so simple, easy and delicious, that I absolutely have to share it. It was also so good that we’re having it this week, too! From what I found out, this is actually a localized Chinese recipe. This is a simple stir fry with two kinds of vinegar in it, but don’t worry if you can’t find the Chinese black vinegar~ it is just as delicious using balsamic. I’m sure the vinegar helps to tenderize the pork, and it also gives the dish a nice, tangy flavor. I served this with some brown rice and some steamed Chinese broccoli, that I also found at the farmers market. This broccoli has a slightly bitter taste that goes well with the sweetness of the sauce. It’s also chock full of vitamins and nutrients.

This serves 4-6, depending upon what you’re serving with it. The leftovers are very tasty, too.

To make the stir fry:

1 (about 2-pounds) long squash

2 tablespoons peanut oil (or any other heat tolerant oil)

1 tablespoon fresh ginger,  peeled and minced, or grated

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  pound pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and chopped into 2-inch strips

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (or balsamic, if not readily available)

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Garnish with:

½ cup chopped green onions

½ cup chopped Chinese parsley (cilantro)

————————————————————————————

You can peel ginger with a spoon, to get to the places between "knobs"

You can peel ginger with a spoon, to get to the places between “knobs”

Here’s a quick tip for the ginger: peel the spaces between the “knobs” with a spoon. It’s much easier and less wasteful, than using a knife.

 

Chop the squash into bite-sized pieces

Chop the squash

Chop the squash into bite-sized pieces and steam.

 

Drain the steamed squash

Drain the steamed squash

Steam the chopped squash in a steamer (or a microwave) until just tender. Drain and set aside.

 

Stir fry the grated ginger and pepper flakes

Stir fry the grated ginger and pepper flakes

Heat the oil in  a large skillet over medium heat and add the ginger and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute.

 

Add the pork to the ginger and peppers

Add the pork to the ginger and peppers

Increase heat to medium high and add the chopped pork~ cook for 4-5 minutes.

 

Combine sauce ingredients

Combine sauce ingredients

Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients with a whisk. Pour the mixture into the pork and stir, coating the pork. Cook until the sauce thickens, (a couple of minutes) then add in the squash, tossing to coat with the sauce. Top with green onions and cilantro and serve. The freshness of the garnish really makes it extra special, so do yourself a favor don’t leave it out!

 

I'm serving this on the side

I’m serving this on the side

I’ve also chopped and steamed some Chinese broccoli (gai lan) to enjoy with it. This is much leafier than “American broccoli,” and a lot less expensive, too.

 

Chinese broccoli

Chinese broccoli, a. k. a. gai lan

 

Chinese long squab with pork and ginger

Chinese long squash with pork and ginger

 

A lovely, light, flavorful dinner

A lovely, light, flavorful dinner

 

Serve with rice, if you wish, and another veggie. We're loving the Chinese broccoli that's in season.

Serve with rice, if you wish, and another veggie. We’re loving the Chinese broccoli that’s in season!