Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Simple Holiday Meal

Christmas Eve was a hectic day in my house! My mom and I spent the vast majority of the day baking cookies and wrapping presents. When it came time to think about dinner, we realized we hadn’t planned out our Christmas Eve menu like we usually do. A busy day, mixed with our lack of preparation led us to throw together a quick meal of whatever we had in the fridge. Despite the way it came about, our Christmas Eve dinner turned out to be simple and scrumptious.

Herb Frittatas Topped with Home Style Potatoes and Goat Cheese

For the Potatoes:
8 Small red potatoes cut into small cubes
1/3 Cup olive oil
4 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 Small onion chopped
For the Frittatas:
8 Eggs
4 Tablespoons of a mixture of basil, thyme, marjoram and oregano finely chopped
6 Tablespoons goat cheese
6 Tablespoons milk
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Topping:
Goat Cheese

First, get the potatoes going. Place them in a microwave safe bowl and toss them with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the microwave until the potatoes start to soften but aren’t falling apart. I set my microwave to the potato setting and set it to two potatoes. This starts them cooking a lot faster than on the stove. Drain the potatoes.
Melt the butter in a skillet at medium-high and add the onion and rosemary. Cook for a few minutes and then add the potatoes. Let the potatoes sit without tossing or stirring them for at least five minutes. This will allow them to brown. Keep them in the skillet, tossing them every five minutes until all of the potatoes have been browned.
Meanwhile, mix together the eggs, herbs, goat cheese, milk, salt and pepper for the frittatas. Heat a small, oiled skillet to medium high. Pour in about 1/3 cup of the frittata mixture into the small skillet and make sure it covers the whole skillet. The mixture will begin to set and when it does, flip it over to cook the other side. Transfer to a plate and keep it in a warm oven. Repeat until all of the mixture is used up.
To serve, top a frittata with the potatoes and then crumble some goat cheese over top.

This dinner was so easy and was really delicious. It’s such an easy meal to adjust to what’s in your fridge. You can change the cheese or the herbs or do away with potatoes all together and top it with whatever strikes your fancy! Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Oh There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cooking is therapy to me, as is writing. After a rough quarter, I’m ready to get back in the swing of things and return to my blog. Sorry for the unexpected hiatus.

I have been longing for winter break for weeks and now that it’s here, there's nothing more I could ask for than to be right where I am, doing exactly what I'm doing! I’ve spent most of my days with my girlfriends, cooking and baking and just being happy to be near them. My friend, Kaelee, stayed with me for a few days and one day we woke up ready to bake! We made a delicious brunch and invited Alyssa over to feast. Later that day, Alyssa, Kaelee, Staecy (and later on, Christina) and I baked from 4PM to 12AM. Kaelee said she wanted something peppermint-y and as Staecy announced, there isn't enough peppermint for other people to use this winter because we took it all to bake 203948 peppermint desserts. Sorry!

Brunch started out with a simple question-"What do you want...eggs or pancakes?"-so then we started brainstorming and things sort of got out of hand...but in a completely delicious sort of way.

Simple Scrambled Eggs

Orange Muffins with an orange glaze (from the back of Trader Joe’s All Purpose Baking mix)

These muffins were so delicious! Way to go Trader Joe's and Kaelee.

Cinnamon-Banana Stuffed French Toast

This was so simple and so tasty. I made French Toast and while I had that going, I melted butter in a skillet and added bananas, cinnamon and sugar. Then I mixed together some cream cheese with sugar until it was smooth. To serve, I topped the French Toast with the cream cheese mixture and the bananas. So delicious! Sorry for the lack of measurements.

Peppermint Crunch Cookies
Recipe From Two Peas and Their Pod

2 Cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 Teaspoons baking powder
1/2 Teaspoon salt
1/4 Cup canola oil
4 Ounces 99% unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 Cups granulated sugar
4 Large eggs
2 Teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 Candy canes-crushed up

First combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Combine the oil, chocolate and granulated sugar and blend on medium speed with an electric mixer. Add the eggs and vanilla as the mixer is running. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed. Once everything is combined, place the bowl in the freezer for a few hours or over night.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line your baking sheets with parchment paper.
When the dough has been chilled, roll the dough into 1 inch balls and roll each ball into the crushed candy cane pieces, so that all sides are covered. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared sheets.
Bake for 10 minutes. The cookies will set up so even though they don’t look quite ready at 10 minutes, they will stiffen up. If you leave them in longer, the cookies will get too hard.

I tried one of these right after they came out of the oven and I didn’t really like them. The next morning, my friends were eating them and saying how good they were and so I tried another and it was so much better! It’s actually a pretty great recipe for easy holiday cookies. I highly recommend them.

Peppermint Meringues with Chocolate Ganache
Adapted from 17 and Baking

The recipe on this blog really gave us a hard time! We didn’t get the meringue to stiffen until the third try. Here is the very adjusted recipe.

For the Meringue:
3 Large egg whites
1/4 Teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 Cup sugar
1/2 Teaspoon pure peppermint extract (see extract notes above)
Red gel food coloring
For the Chocolate Ganache:
3/4 Cup heavy cream
4 1/2 Ounce semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

Beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and peppermint extract together until it is frothy and then slowly add 1/4 cup sugar while still beating the mixture at a high speed until the mixture thickens. To test to see if the meringue has stiffened enough, take the beater out of the mixture and if peaks form and remain standing, it has stiffened enough. If the peaks fall back down into the mixture, it's not ready.
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and dollop spoonfuls of the meringue mixture onto the paper. With a clean paintbrush, paint stripes of food coloring onto the dollops.
Bake for about 1 hour and 40 minutes. They will be crispy but not brown at all. Let them cool.
When the meringues go into the oven, begin making the ganache. Bring the cream to a simmer. Place the finely chopped chocolate in a bowl and when the cream starts steaming, pour it over the chocolate. Let it sit for five minutes and then stir the mixture to make sure all of the chocolate is melted and mixed with the cream. Let the mixture sit at room temperature. It will start to thicken and should be the perfect consistency once the meringues are out of the oven and cooled.
Once the meringues are cool, spread ganache onto the bottom of a cookie with a knife and then top with another meringue to make little sandwiches.

These came out so delicious! We learned that if you leave the sandwiches with the ganache filling for too long, the meringues will absorb the moisture from the ganache and they will be a gooey mess! Good to know. So only prepare the amount of sandwiches that will be eaten at that time. Save the rest of the meringues and the ganache separately—the meringues in an airtight container at room temperature and the ganache in the refrigerator.

Peppermint Patties

Adapted from Erin Cooks

This was so much fun to make! I’d never made candies before, besides peppermint bark, so it just felt really cool to be making peppermint patties.

For the Peppermint Dough:
1 Egg white
4 Cups powdered sugar plus 1-2 cups for kneading and rolling
1/3 Cup light corn syrup
1 Teaspoon peppermint extract
Cornstarch for dusting
For the Chocolate Shell:

24 Ounces semisweet chocolate chips
2 Tablespoons of shortening (This is optional and I would suggest not using it. All it does is make the chocolate more glossy and considering shortening is ridiculously disgusting, it’s just not worth it.)

Beat the egg white with an electric mixer until it is frothy.
Slowly add the powdered sugar while still blending. This will be really, really dry and messy. Think about it-one egg white for 4 cups of powdered sugar! That's a pretty ridiculous wet to dry ratio. The powdered sugar will be everywhere.
Add the corn syrup and 1/2 tsp of the peppermint extract and knead it together until the dough is smooth. Add more powdered sugar until it isn’t sticky.
Dust a flat surface and a rolling pin heavily with cornstarch. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4-1/6 inch thick.
Using cookie cutters, cut the dough into whatever shapes you want. After cutting out the shapes, take the extra dough around the edges and knead it back together and roll it out and cut more shapes. Repeat until there isn’t enough dough left. Place all of the shapes onto a cookie sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper. Let them sit in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes.
Melt the chocolate chips, the other 1/2 tsp of peppermint extract and the shortening, if you want, in a double boiler over medium heat. Once it’s smooth, turn the heat to low.
To coat the dough shapes with chocolate, it works best to place the shapes on a fork-they will be stiff from being refrigerated-and dip the fork and dough into the chocolate until the shape is completely covered. Lift the dough out, still on the fork, and let the excess chocolate drip off and then set of the lined cookie sheet. This makes a complete mess but is still a lot of fun
Chill the patties for at least 30 minutes on the cookie sheets, in the fridge. Store in containers in the freezer-they taste the best when they’re really cold.

Whew! What a day! A lot of love and a lot of baking. It's good to be back home and it's good to be back in the blogging world! Happy holidays everyone.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Before the Season Ends

I called my mom the other day to make sure the Zucchini season hadn’t ended yet…thankfully it was not quite over. I got a large zucchini from the farmer’s market so I could make zucchini cakes before the season is over.

Zucchini Cakes

Adapted  from Life's Ambrosia

1 Large zucchini grated
1/2 Cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Cup bread crumbs
A pinch of ground nutmeg
1 Teaspoon paprika
3 Cloves garlic, minced
1 Egg
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

After grating the zucchini, remove the excess water by placing it in a colander and pressing on the zucchini with paper towels.
Mix all of the ingredients, except olive oil.
Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Once heated, add patties by scooping a spoonful and flattening it into a circle on the pan. Cook until golden brown. About 3-4 minutes per side.

My first set were too soggy so I added some more bread crumbs. I paired it with an easy salad with green apple, avocado, parmesan cheese and lettuce and a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. It tasted light and refreshing but was still satisfying and fulfilling. Enjoy!

Making use of Everything.

Caitlin had two peaches that were getting too soft. I had frozen berries…what to do? Fruit crisp of course! Definitely the best thing to make when you have lots of fruit and nothing to do with it.

Peach and Berry Crisp
1/2 Cup oatmeal
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1/4 Cup flour
1/2 Teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 Cup butter
2 Peaches peeled and cut in slices
1 1/2 Cup berries (we used raspberry and blackberry)…or however much you want really
Honey to taste

Combine the oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Add the butter slowly until the mixture is crumbly. Put the peaches and berries in an 8x8 baking pan and cover with as much honey as you want. Add the mixture on the top and more honey if desired.

Bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until the juices from the berries start to bubble along the edges and the topping looks crispy.

Using My Bread

I made a lot of sandwiches this week with my loaf of homemade bread. Here are a few.

Croque Madame 
Adapted from Kiss My Spatula
2 Slices homemade bread
4 Ounces cheese (I used cheddar because it was what I had on hand)
A few slices of good quality ham
1 Garlic clove, sliced in half
1 Egg

Butter the bread and cover with cheese and ham on the butter-free side. Cover with the other slice of bread, butter side out. Grill in a Panini-maker-type-appliance or on a skillet until both sides are golden brown and the cheese is melted.
Meanwhile, make an egg either basted, sunny side up or fried. I like mine basted because the yolk is still runny but there’s no gooey white part left. To do this, crack your egg in a greased skillet without breaking the yolk. Season the egg with salt and pepper and add a few tablespoons of water to the skillet and cover with a lid for a few minutes till there is a white film covering the yolk but the yolk is still runny.
By this time, the sandwich should be ready. Take it off the grill and rub the garlic over the warm bread on both sides. Top with the egg and enjoy.

Cheddar and Apple Sandwich
Adapted from Real Simple

2 Slices homemade bread
Spicy-brown mustard
Thinly sliced cheddar
Several pieces of thinly sliced green apple

Spread the mustard on the slices of bread and top with the remaining ingredients and sandwich between the slices of bread.

Another variation of this sandwich is to use a bit of sour cream instead of mustard and then to grill it in a Panini press or on a skillet. This way was so good. I was inspired by a crepe that I get from Crepeville that has cheddar, green apples, sour cream and nutmeg. I didn’t add nutmeg to this sandwich but it would probably be delicious!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Domesticity Day

Right now, I’m sitting at my kitchen table, surrounded in candle light and pleasant smells. When I woke up this morning, I dubbed the day as “Domesticity Day”. As Jane Austen puts it “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort”. I feel like I’ll have a lot of these days this year. So I made the schedule for my holiday: Mixed Berry Fool for breakfast, Bread for the afternoon and General Tso’s Tofu for the evening (interspersed with listening to music, cleaning, watching movies and chatting with friends). I’m waiting for my bread dough to rise for a second time so I thought I’d take this chance to start my post.

I really don’t know what fool is…I’ve never really heard of it. I also didn’t follow the recipe accurately A) because the quantities were in grams B) because I didn’t have a sieve to strain the berry seeds out—I don’t mind seeds anyway. This is a perfect breakfast though. Honey has become one of my new favorite ingredients. Here’s my version of the dish

Mixed Berry Fool with Honey
Adapted from Greedy Gormand
(for a single serving)
1/2 Cup frozen frozen raspberries and black berries, thawed
2 Tablespoon honey
1 1/2 Cup Greek-style natural yoghurt or plain yogurt
1/4 Cup granola, crushed biscotti, crushed cookie or crunchy cereal—any thing that is tasty and gives a good crunch.
Extra honey for topping

In a blender or food processor, blend the berries and honey until they are smooth.
In a bowl, mix the berries with the yoghurt. The proportions don’t really matter to me…make it how you like it—more or less yoghurt.
Spoon the yoghurt mixture into a serving glass and top with as much honey as you want and whatever you want to give it a crunch.

What a perfect start to my lazy day. Nice and refreshing. After my breakfast, I got ready for the day and headed back into the kitchen to make bread. I grew up making bread from scratch with my mom and brother and I’ve always loved the process but it has been many years since I’ve made any and I’ve never made it from scratch on my own—though I have made it many times in the bread machine. I absolutely love the feel of bread dough in my hands. I prefer to mix all of the ingredients and knead the dough with my hands—it looks so perfect when it’s in the mixer and I can’t resist my urge to pull it out and do it on my own…so I do. The day has been full of many calls to mom: “How warm should the water be to mix with the yeast and sugar? It says 105-115.. how do I know what that is!?”, “Can bread loaf dough be made into rolls?” etc. Overall the process has been so relaxing. Mix the dough, knead the dough, let the dough rise, clean the kitchen, relax by candle light, deflate the dough, shape the dough, let the dough rise again, sit down to write my blog…I love it. Currently, the dough is rising for a second time and I am so eager to put it in the oven. Baking bread is definitely a test of patience—it smells so good! Can’t I eat it now?

I just put the bread in the oven…now time for another 35-45 minute wait while I sit and enjoy a glass of farmer’s market apple juice.

(Somewhat) Julia Child's White Bread 
Adapted from Une Gamine dans la Cuisine, Originally from Juila Child

2 1/2 Cups water (105-115 F)
1 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1 Tablespoons. sugar
7 Cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoons salt
1/4-1/2 Cup unsalted butter softened

Pour 1/2 cup of the water into a large bowl and mix with yeast and sugar till it looks foamy. Let it sit for 5 minutes until creamy. Add the rest of the water and 3 1/2 cups of the flour into the mixer with the dough hook (If you have one). Mix slowly until blended.
At this point it got hard for me to use the mixer. I don’t have much experience with them and they kind of freak me out. We don’t have a dough hook…as far as I can tell so it got hard to mix with a normal hook. I took the dough out and did the rest of the mixing by hand.
Add the rest of the flour until the dough comes together. (If it doesn't add a tbsp of flour at a time till it does.) Add salt and mix for 10 minutes (or do half in mixer and half kneading) till dough is smooth and elastic.
Now add butter 1 tbsp at a time (dough may come apart, but mixing will pull it back together). The butter needs to be at room temperature for this to work.
On lightly floured surface, shape the dough into a ball then place in a large buttered or oiled bowl. Turn dough so it is completely coated in the oil and then cover in plastic for 45 minutes to an hour at room temperature, till it has doubled in size.
Butter 2 loaf pans. Make sure they are buttered well! Deflate the dough, cut in half and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a rectangle.
With the short end facing you, fold the dough into thirds like a sheet of paper to go into an envelope, creating a roll. Pinch the seam closed, and pinch the ends enough so it will fit in the loaf pan. Drop in the loaf pan seem side down, and repeat OR…..
Make a set of rolls. Cut the remaining dough into nine even sized pieces. Do the same rolling technique you did with the bread loaf with each individual piece. Place them in rows in an 8x8 or 9x9 pan.
Cover the loaves with buttered plastic wrap and allow to rise again in a warm place (80°F) for 45 minutes, until they double in size.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and put the rack in the center of the oven. Bake for 35-45 minutes until they are honey brown.
Immediately turn out of pans onto a rack to cool. I was so nervous that my bread wouldn't come out or that it wouldn't be strong enough and it would break but everything went smoothly.
I like to melt a little bit of butter over my bread when it comes out.

The smell of the bread in the oven was completely irresistible. I don’t think I’ve ever been more satisfied by anything I’ve made than I was when I took the first bite of my bread.

After a day in the kitchen baking, it is time to make some dinner for myself. I have never actually cooked tofu or many Asian dishes but I definitely enjoy them so I might as well attempt my own. This General Tso’s Tofu looked delicious to me.

General Tso's Tofu 
Adapted from Grumpy's Honeybunch

For the Tofu:
1 Brick extra firm tofu
3-4 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon oil
For the Sauce:
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
3 Tablespoons Hoisin
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
3 Tablespoons Ketchup
2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce
1/2 Cup water
1 Tablespoon. Sesame oil
6-8 Green onions, sliced
3 Tablespoons fresh ginger finely chopped
Hot pepper flakes
Prepared rice to serve with (Jasmine is my favorite)

Squeeze the excess water out of the tofu by placing it between a bunch of paper towels and then pressing a pan over it to squeeze everything out. Let it sit like that for 20-30 minutes.
In the meantime, mix together the first 6 ingredients and the
While waiting for tofu to be squeezed dry, mix together the first 6 ingredients of the sauce along with the hot pepper flakes and set aside.
Cut the tofu into desired sizes. Coat lightly with cornstarch and fry in the oil until browned and crispy. Remove and set aside
Wipe the pan clean and then add sesame oil, green onions (reserving some for garnish) and chopped ginger (mmm). Fry for about 1 minute. Add the sauce mixture and bring to a boil and then simmer for about 3 minutes. Add the tofu back into the mixture. Coat the tofu completely. Serve with rice, garnished with extra green onions.

I am so happy with how this turned out! It’s definitely a new favorite. My holiday was a success and now I’m looking forward to making plenty of sandwiches with my bread and having some delicious leftover tofu.

Friday, September 11, 2009

First Roommate Dinner

I moved into my new home last Monday. I absolutely love my apartment. My parents and Alyssa came to help me move in and I couldn’t have done it without them. I am definitely surrounded by a lot of people that I love and care about. I am living with three girls that I lived with last year. We get along really well and living together again only seemed natural. It was so nice unpacking all of the kitchen supplies and organizing the kitchen so that it would flow nicely and knowing that this would be my kitchen.

Tuesday, I went shopping with my roommates to get the staples—flour, rice, spices, honey, sugar, vinegar, etc. It felt so good to have a well stocked cupboard with all of the supplies to make delicious food. Tuesday night we had our first roommate dinner something that we want to make a monthly event. Our menu: Lemon Crème Fraiche Gratin, Autumn Apple Pear and Goat Cheese salad with Pecans, and Chocolate Covered Strawberries. It was so much fun using our new kitchen. It’s small and definitely meant for one person to function normally in it but we’re all comfortable with each other so it was fine maneuvering around each other. Melissa started making her salad while I did dishes and watched. Hillary and Caitlin stepped in once Melissa was done and made their incredible dessert. Once people were out of the kitchen, I took over. The pasta I made is one of my new favorites. Over the summer, Alyssa and I got together to make pasta and I was in the mood for something with Crème Fraiche and Lemon so we adjusted a Capellini Gratin recipe that simply used parmesan and cream and we made it our own.

Lemon Crème Fraiche Individual Gratins

1 Pound angel hair
1 Container crème fraiche
1 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
Zest of 2 lemons (meyer lemons are especially good)
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
Sea salt
Black pepper
2 Pinches of nutmeg
3 Tablespoons butter
Reserved pasta water
2 Large leaves of basil
1/2 Cup bread crumbs

I start by bringing a large pot of water to boil. Add a little bit of olive oil and salt to the water. Set the oven to 435
While it is coming to a boil, butter two muffin tins.
Cook the pasta al dente.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the crème fraiche, ¾ of the the grated cheese, 3/4 of the zest of the lemon, the lemon juice and the seasonings.
Using a pasta serving spoon, spoon the pasta out of the water and into the cream mixture. Next add the reserved pasta water. I have never paid attention to how much water I add, but I can tell you it’s a good amount. A lot of the water you add will become absorbed into the pasta and you will want extra sauce left at the end to fill up the muffin tins so you’ll want a lot of liquid. I know I use at least 4 cups of reserved water. If you realize when you’re nearing the end that you’re going to need more sauce than you anticipated, just add more at that point. This is why I love cooking—it’s an art to me, not a science.
Take a fork and swirl some pasta onto it. Transfer the swirled pasta into the muffin tins. This takes a couple tries to get it right and it’s a bit messy but the end result is worth it.
Melt the butter and mix it with the bread crumbs. Top each individual gratin with bread crumbs, a little bit of the zest, basil and parmesan. Not add some liquid into each muffin tin till you can see it showing through the pasta.
Put in the oven and bake until the top is golden and bubbly. Let it cool for a few minutes before serving.
Of course, if you don’t have the time to construct the individual servings, you can skip the muffin tin part and simply put it in a large pan and bake it that way.
*The store by my house did not have crème fraiche so instead, I used mascarpone and added a little bit of milk and more reserved water than I normally would. It worked out just fine.

I love the way that these look at the end. It really doesn't take too much work either. The sauce is so easy so it's really just the construction that takes some effort. Usually Alyssa and I tag-team the construction but since she wasn't here this time, Caitlin stepped in and helped me with the toppings.

Melissa's salad was delicious.

What's better than chocolate covered strawberries for dessert?

All of the food was delicious. It was a perfect first meal in my new apartment.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Morro Bay 2009

Morro Bay is one of my favorite places on earth—of the places I’ve been, that is. I love the small town feel, the friendly people, and of course the view. Every year, my family goes on a trip to Morro bay. We go with another family and with one of my best friends. It’s usually a total of at least 9 people, but sometimes more. We rent a house and stay there for a few days. This year, between my brother studying abroad, my mom working two jobs, and having visitors throughout the summer, we weren’t able to plan our yearly trip with the 2 families (+the extra Vock daughter). Instead, my mom, Patty (the mom in the other family), Alyssa (the extra Vock daughter), and I went, just the four of us. We rented out this condo-type apartment that we have wanted to stay in for years but it was just too small for the 9 of us. The Inn is on the embarcadero and each condo has its own patio RIGHT on the water. It is pure bliss. One of the best parts of getting a house or a condo instead of a hotel room is the kitchen! Yeah, they’re never stocked with what you need and you often have to improvise, but hey—there’s a stove, a sink, an oven and a fridge. I can get by. On our first day, like always, we had lunch at Rose’s. They have the most incredible garlic fries, which we always order with extra garlic. We made a rule a long time ago that everyone HAS to each the garlic fries so that we all smell like garlic and no one feels self conscious. It works out pretty well. I had some really good fish and chips that were lightly fried and not too greasy. Rose’s is on the water and we always sit outside and watch the seals and otters as we eat our grub. That evening, after a day of kayaking and laying on our patio (and taking time out to each some delicious homemade guacamole—my mom’s recipe: just avocados, chopped cucumber, garlic and a little bit of lime juice), Alyssa and I made dinner. Alyssa and I call our yearly Morro Bay trips our “Anniversary” because it was three years ago that I invited her to come with and we found out that we are kindred spirits. But Morro is magic and bringing Alyssa and I together was just one of it’s many tricks. Alyssa and I have an intense love for pasta. And I really do mean intense. We wanted to make one of our old favorites and something that would warm us up on a cold, coastal night. We decided on Spinach and Ricotta Fusilli. Mmmm mmm.

Spinach and Ricotta Fusilli
Adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine
3/4 to 1 Pound spinach
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Small scallions, chopped
1 1/4 Cup ricotta cheese
1 Cup half-and-half
3 Pinches nutmeg
1 Tablespoons butter (optional)
1 Pound dried fusilli
1/2 Cup freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt and olive oil. This will flavor the pasta a bit.
Give the spinach a rough chop just so that there won’t be any huge pieces. The spinach will wilt in the end so it’s not a huge deal what the sizes are.
Heat some olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped scallions and cook for a few minutes until softened. (I get shallots and scallions confused so once I used shallots accidentally and it gives it a heartier taste—good for fall and winter. Both are delicious though.)
Add the spinach to the skillet along with some salt and pepper. Cover the skillet to steam the spinach until it is wilted.
In a small bowl, combine 1 cup of the ricotta, half-and-half and nutmeg. Alyssa and I love nutmeg so we do 3 pinches but if you’re not into it, then use less. But let me tell you, it is so good with 3 pinches. Mmm!
Stir the ricotta mixture in with the spinach. If you are using butter, it goes in now. We did not add it by accident and it was still delicious. Season with some salt and pepper. At this point, let the sauce cook until it thickens. You can use your judgment for however thick or thin you want it. But I would be careful to not make it too thin. Plus, you’ll be adding reserved water later, so keep that in mind.
Meanwhile, cook the fusilli according to the directions on the box.
Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
After the pasta is drained, add the spinach mixture and the left over 1/4 cup ricotta. I like adding this at the end because the ricotta in the sauce loses it's texture and I really like having a bit of that texture in the final dish. Then add enough reserved water to let the sauce coat all of the pasta. Reserved water is something I learned about a few years ago and it is really one of the most useful tricks I know. It keeps sauces creamy while thinning them out. The starch from the pasta is the key to the reserved water but the salt and olive oil that is added in the beginning also helps, I think.
Stir in the cheese and serve!

We paired the pasta with a simple salad and some delicious garlic bread that I made by mixing butter, olive oil, garlic, parsley and salt and spreading it over fresh French bread and baking in the oven.

We ate on the patio, by candle light and everything was peaceful and satisfying.

The next day included delicious scones, made from a mix from Bette’s Diner in Berkeley, Alyssa’s and my favorite coffee (a tuxedo mocha with carmel syrup) and a trip to SLO to visit our friend, Amanda and have some frozen yogurt (tart flavored yogurt topped with kiwi, granola and honey). I miss Morro Bay already, but it has energized me for the beginning of a new school year and a whole lot of change.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Here I Go

Cooking keeps me grounded. It makes sense. When everything else is chaotic and I can’t seem to find my peace…cooking can calm me down. So over the last few months, as the idea of blogging has been mulling around in my head, I knew from the start that I wanted to write about food. Cooking helps me fully experience my emotions. It soothes my anxieties and excites my mind and my senses. Writing (the other concept that attracts me to blogging) is an entirely different cup of tea. I’m not sure how to explain the feeling it evokes in me, which is ironic because what I love about writing is how it helps me to articulate my thoughts and my feelings. Without words, I would be lost and so the mastery of words has always been compelling to me—almost spiritual. The manipulation of words to express exactly what you mean is an art and one that makes me feel in control and at peace. The human mind is complex and immense and words can never quite give emotions justice but they sure can come close when used in the right order. I’m not sure if I’m starting this blog out of my love of food or out of my love of writing…or both…or if it really even matters. All I know is that I want to write and cook and eat and then share my love of these art forms with the people that I care about.

“The most solid advice for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough”
-William Saroyan