Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A lesson in Curry

My friend T is from India. Well, that's a misnomer. One of my greatest pleasures in life is when someone asks T where she's from and she replies "Canada." Which is true.

T's mother, who was born in India and emigrated to Canada before T was born, makes fantastic Indian food. Which makes T the go-to expert on Indian food. Not that she often shares this expertise. It most often comes out in reference to one particular Indian specialty. Mention that your favorite Indian dish is curry and a look of complete and utter disdain crosses T's face (and she is an expert at this face....she also uses it when you mention you purchased your shirt from Marshalls/TJ Max/Target). She begins her curry diatribe.

See "curry" isn't an Indian dish. Rather it refers to a whole host of entrees. Curry is the Indian equivalent of gulash, or stew. Curry refers to any mix of spices and meats that are prepared together. Curry does not even need to contain curry powder!

This curry is a mix of spices, chicken, and coconut milk - and not a dash of curry powder to be found anywhere. It is a classic curry because of its preparation/consistency. It is also a delicious curry - of course I am partial to coconut. T would be proud.



Coconut Chicken Curry
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 1/2 chicken breasts cut into 2"cubes
3/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 Tbsp crushed ginger
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper to taste

1) Heat canola oil in large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken cubes and cook 2-3 minutes, or until partially cooked. Remove chicken from skillet and set aside.
2) Add onion, ginger, and garlic to pan. Cook until onion is lightly browned. Add cayenne, tomato, and coconut milk.
3) Return chicken to skillet. Reduce heat and simmer covered until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
4) Stir in cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with basmati rice.

Happy Halloween! (A pictorial greeting)

Happy Halloween!!!!!!!

For me, one of my favorite Halloween traditions is carving Jack O'Lanterns. We spread out a big black garbage bag and put on a scary movie. Carving Jack O'Lanterns in the dark (a necessity for the scary movie part) is tricky work. Good thing we have years of practice. Neither Jon nor I use patterns. Normally his pumpkins are outstanding. This year, mine definitely was the more impressinve of the two. I was going for "Werewolf" but this fellow is a little more cat-like than I had planned.

Poor Ringo doesn't get to wear his Halloween costume this year. His cone interferes with the moose antlers. But like any good mommy, I already had taken some pictures of him in the costume pre-eye surgery. I guess it'll have to do. As you can see, he still got a treat, even though it wasn't Halloween. Spoiled puppy.


I don't dress up for work or school. But that doesn't mean I don't share in the Halloween spirit. Last night Jon and I made dirt cups to bring in to our co-workers. I wish I would have taken pictures of the assembly line we had going with me in charge of the pudding and Jon in charge of the cool whip. I quickly learned Jon is not amazing at either division of ingredients or refraining from licking the serving spoon. I was a quick enough learner to put myself in charge of the cookie toppings. I was not a quick enough learner to stop several gummy worms from going missing.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My camera battery died ;-(


I managed to get this little snap shot in before the battery went, but was unable to get a picture of the tofu, mango, and veggies that served as the main course. Forgive me. But this little side salad was quite the kicker.

Sriracha is a thai hot sauce made from chilis, garlic, vinegar, sugar, and salt. It's red and comes in a big plastic bottle with a green lid. Jon is addicted to the stuff. He puts it on his eggs, his potatoes, his chili, and pretty much anything he can. The sriracha in this salad adds a lot of spice. I especially like it with the cool cucumbers. Nice change of pace from your ranch dressing!

Thai Salad
1/2 cup sesame ginger dressing
1/2 tsp peanut oil
1/4 tsp sriracha
lettuce
1 tomato, cut in wedges
2 scallions, sliced
1/4 cucumber, sliced
1 avocado, cut in wedges

1) In a small bowl, combine dressing with peanut oil and sriracha.
2) In a large bowl toss greens with remaining vegetables.
3) Drizzle with dressing.

Tricks and Treats

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I think it must be the theater major in me that loves dressing up and being someone else. It's also the kid in me. When you're 10 years old you can dress up like a fairy and run around town and everyone smiles and says "how cute." When you're 20-something years old, dressing like a fairy and running around town leads to a completely different reaction.....no one says "how cute" mostly they say "get inside and lock the doors - that crazy fairy lady is running around again." But on Halloween, everyone is 10 years old.

This is a very disappointing Halloween for me. Mostly because its the first year ever I'm not dressing up. There doesn't seem to be much of a point. We didn't go to any parties, and I won't be home for work early enough to catch the trick-or-treaters. Jon has a costume, Ringo looks like a monster, but for me Halloween will just be another Wednesday.

That does not stop me from getting into the spirit though! This weekend was Halloween-fest at home. We rented scary movies, carved pumpkins, and made Halloween type treats. My new favorite Halloween treats? Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds with Black Bean Dip. They capture both the flavors and colors of the season.


Wrapping Halloweenfest up on Sunday night me and the OC girls headed up to LA to hang out with the super-cool LA chicks for Kareokefest 2007. I tried to make cute "Orange" looking cookies to represent. They didn't turn out so hot. Instead I brought cookies with orange frosting. I hate sugar cookies. If I am ever found dead on the floor of my kitchen there can be only one reason - the sugar cookie has finished me off.


Kareokefest 2007 was fun and amazing. I'm not the only one to think so. Please check for more details here and here.







There were goodie bags, great food and even better company. The music rocked all night long and the very talented women rocked harder. I think everyone had a great time. I know I was exhausted when the night ended! It really made my Halloween!
Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds with Black Bean Dip



1 sweet potato
olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup black beans
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 Tbsp cumin

1) Preheat oven to 425.
2) Line 2 baking pans with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
3) Slice sweet potatoes (I used 1 and it gave me about 30 slices) and place in a single layer on the baking pans.
4) Brush sweet potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake 18-20 minutes.
5) While they're baking, combine 1/2 cup black beans, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1/2 tbsp cumin in a food processor.
5) When sweet potatoes are done, put a little dollop of the bean dip on each round.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Steak - the other red meat

For some reason, I have short term memory loss when it comes to lemongrass. I used it a lot when I was first cooking and making a large amount of dishes with lemongrass. I remember it being difficult to cut, and very flavorful. I also remember liking the flavor.

Fast forward to this weekend when I decided to throw some lemongrass in my steak marinade. I geared myself up for cutting, only to discover these stalks sliced very easily. Huh. Threw the pieces in my marinade and let it sit overnight. Cooked them the next day and the smells wafted through the kitchen. Smelled good!

And then there was the first bite. Yeah. I'm not so much a fan of the lemongrass. Jon's not either:

Jon: What are these green things?
Kate: Lemongrass.....I don't think I'm such a big fan.
Jon: The marinade is great though, do you think the lemongrass added a lot to it?
Kate: I dunno.
Jon: Well if it didn't next time leave it out. But if you think it did, maybe you could just strain the marinade before adding the steak.

I think my husband may be a genius.



Steak with lemongrass
1/8 cup fish salt
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/8 cup canola oil
1 stalk lemongrass, finely minced
1/2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 lb skirt steak, cut into 4" x 1 1/2" strips

1) In large ziplock bag combine all ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.
2) Heat broiler. Broil steak for 4 minutes, turning over halfway through.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

As you may remember, Southern California is ablaze. Things have gotten better, but in some areas its hard to believe that because of the ridiculous amount of ash in the air, on cars, on EVERY surface. Since my home is safe, I've been trying to keep in touch with others in more dangerous zones. When I asked one of my San Diego friends if she needed anything, she quickly responded that she needed someone to take her mountains of persimmons off her hands.

I happily obliged, thinking I would get a couple of the sweet fruit. She presented me with a bag overflowing with persimmons - enough to last me the winter. She cautioned me to wash them well, since they were covered in ash.

Persimmons are orange-y fruits that resemble little tomatoes. The insides have the consistency of plums, but a very different taste. I like to describe them as a cross between a peach and a cinnamon stick. I usually eat them plain, but have been dying to try them mixed with another firm fruit in a pastry. I started the pairings in my head - peach, apple, pear. A trip to the supermarket revealed that peaches are no longer in season, so I loaded up my cart with apples and pears and took them home to play.

My first adventure was a pear and persimmon pie. I was a little nervous since I'd only made pie crust once before - and that time I brought it to a party where the hostess didn't serve it, so I don't even know if the recipe is any good! I made the crust, loaded it up with the filling, and threw it in the oven and crossed my fingers.

The results were AMAZING. I kept poking and prodding to make sure the fruit was getting cooked enough, and even sniggled out a little persimmon slice "to check it". Once I'd done that I had a hard time waiting for dessert. The pie was perfect! Wouldn't change a thing and oh so easy to make. The pears and persimmons worked really well in creating a sweet flavor that neither overpowered. It was just a sweet filling, and a very flaky crust. It might be the best thing to come out of the San Diego fires!


Pear and Persimmon Pie
Crust:
1 1/4 cup AP Flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 Tbsp butter, cut into small pieces and frozen
2 Tbsp shortening
Ice Water

1) Combine flour and salt in food processor. Pulse 3-4 times.
2) Add butter and pulse 8-10 times.
3) Add shortening and pulse 5-7 times.
4) Add couple of tablespoons of water, just to moisten. Pulse 3 more times. Repeat this step.
5) Place dough in large ziplock bag and shape into disk 5 inches across. Seal bag and refrigerate half an hour.
6) Place sheet pan and 2 pie pans in freezer
7) Remove dough from fridge and while it's still in the bag, roll disk to 10-12 inches across.
8) Remove pans from freezer. Place dough (in bag) on sheet pan. Use a knife to cut both sides of the bag, and peel back the part that covers the dough.
9) Place one pie plate on top of the dough right side up. Holding pan in place slide other hand under sheet pan and flip the whole thing over. Then take away the sheet pan.
10) Place other pan, inverted, on top of dough and push gently down. Flip the whole thing back over again.
11) Form crust and use a fork to poke the bottom of the crust 6-8 times.

Filling:
2 pears
2 persimmons
1/2 cup sugar
juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbsp cinnamon
2 Tbsp AP flour

1) Preheat oven to 425.
2) Peel pears and persimmons and slice thinly. Add lemon juice.
3) Combine sugar, cinnamon, and flour and combine with fruit.
4) Pour filling into unbaked pie crust.
5) Cook for 20 minutes
6) Sprinkle topping over top and cook for 5 more minutes

Topping:
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter, cut into small piece.

1) Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt in food processor. Pulse 3 times.
2) Add butter, pulse until crumby.

Team In Training

There's a new fad in Orange County, marathon running. There's a group of girls on the Nest who are training for the LA Marathon. While I'm not one of them, I am taking part in some of their training and runs. Next month we're running the Turkey Trot - a 10K race in Dana Point. You'll recognize us by our nifty team jerseys ;-)

Today we had a get together to discuss upcoming fundraisers, meetings, and those jerseys I just mentioned. Hosted by Diane, she also provided a masseuse which was really appreciated by the other girls. Poor inelastic vein Kate had to sit out once again to save being in pain for days later.

At Diane's request we all brought "running training friendly" food. I made Jerk Chicken because it's high in protein, and gets its flavor from all the spices instead of fats and sugars.



Jerk Chicken
1/3 cup olive oil
1 jalepeno, chopped
1/4 cup green onions, minced
3 Tbsp white vinegar
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
3/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless, chicken thighs cut into 1 1/2" pieces

1) In a large ziplock bag combine all ingredients. Refrigerate overnight.
2) Heat broiler. Broil chicken 6 minutes, turning over halfway through.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Taste of the Tropics



Tonights dinner was very fruity. And not just any fruit - tropical fruit. The only thing we were missing was the pineapple!

Broiled shrimp with mango salsa was spicy and sweet. And I wanted to try to make some coconut rice to go with it, because what goes with mango better than coconut? I looked at some recommended recipes and ultimately just decide to pour some coconut milk into my rice cooker with the rice. It came out perfectly.

And are you ready for one of Kate's handy dandy cooking tips? I always make my marinades in ziplock bags. Then you just add the main ingredient (chicken, beef, shrimp) and you can actually moosh it about to get everything coated and refrigerating it becomes cake.

Jon liked this dinner, although he said the shrimp were tasty enough on their own that they didn't even need the salsa. I guess that's a complement....although now I'm not so sure what to do with the extra salsa I've got in my fridge. Guess I should go pick up some tortilla chips!


Broiled Shrimp
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup parsley
1/4 cup basil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp creole mustard
1 tsp dried mustard
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
24 jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1) Combine all ingredients in ziplock bag, refrigerate one hour.
2) Heat broiler. Broil shrimp 4 minutes, turning over half way through.


Mango Salsa
1 Tbsp canola oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 jalepeno seeded and chopped
1 tsp crushed ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ripe mango, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/6 cup fresh orange juice
1 tsp light brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

1) Combine all ingredients but salt and pepper.
2) Place in fridge for 30 minutes to let the salsa do the flavor tango.
3) Season with salt and pepper

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mystery Meat


Okay, so this isn't really a mystery meat to me, cause I made it, but let's play a little game. There's a saying that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks, it's probably a duck. Dinner last night looked like steak, smelled like steak, and tasted like steak.....does that make it steak?


Nope! It's a total "fool you" dish. I made Basalmic Chicken with mushrooms and it was delicious!!! But the basalmic vinegar colored the chicken to a steak-like brown. The smell of it drew my neighbors (and a friendly UPS man) to my open window asking what on earth smelled so good and could they please come over for dinner. Jon had to be told twice during dinner that he was eating chicken. I think the mushrooms help to throw off the taster, since steak and mushrooms go together like, well, steak and mushrooms. This dish really couldn't have been any easier and the fact that in drew in people from the streets and tasted great means it will go into me "impressive meals for company" pile.....now when are the ILs coming over again?

Basalmic Chicken with Mushrooms
3 Tbsp Basalmic Vinegar
2 tsp Creole Mustard
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 chicken chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tsp olive oil
6 mushrooms, cut in half
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup chicken broth

1) In a medium bowl combine 2 Tbsp Vinegar, Mustard, and garlic.
2) Add chicken pieces and mix to coat thouroughly.
3) Heat 1 tsp olive oil in nonstick skillet. Add chicken and marinade. Cook until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken to plate.
4) Add 1 tsp olive oil to skillet. Add mushrooms and saute 1 minute. Add 1 Tbsp vinegar, thyme, and chicken broth. Cook until mushrooms are a dark brown color. Serve mushrooms over chicken.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Banana-rama

I found a new treat at Trader Joes this week. Plantain chips! Plantains are like bananas, but without the sweetness and overpowering flavor. They're a little firmer and starchier and are used a lot in South American cuisine. When the plantains are sliced and fried they make tasty little snacks!

Plantain chips are great on their own, but they're also great with a cilantro yogurt dip. The tanginess of the dip really complements the chips. And the green and yellow are just so dang gunned purty together.

Cilantro Yogurt Dip
1/2 cup plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 cup pesto
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
juice of half a lemon
salt
pepper

1) Combine all ingredients and chill before serving

Arrrrgggg Matey


I love limes. Love love love limes. My friend Des is the same way. There's a running joke among our friends that neither of us will ever get scurvy.

Scurvy is a sailor's disease. Or in this case - pirates. Since One-Eyed Willie is still moping around the house, its fitting to have a pirate meal. I dedicate this dinner to Ringo.

Taking care of him is actually pretty easy - except the three times a day when he needs his eyedrops. The hour before I start watching the clock and dreading each passing minute. When its time to do the deed, I chase him around the apartment till I can try to pin him down and wrestle with his head while I try to put in the eyedrops. Its a huge feat of acrobatic gymnastics. Its frustrating, and by the end both of us are in tears.

So you've noticed a lot of easy dinners this week. I don't have energy for anything else. Easy dinners usually involve me stealing an idea from someone else's blog. That way I don't have to be creative on my own. Tonight was no different. This one's from Tara. And tonight I added the magic extra - alcohol. Don't worry. It has lemon in it, so I won't get scurvy.



Step 1
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to 1/2" thick
  • 2 limes
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Squeeze the juice of the limes into a large Ziploc bag and add cilantro, garlic, honey, and olive oil. Close the bag and squeeze contents to incorporate. Add the chicken and refridgerate for 8 hours.

Step 2

  • 6 oz Monterey jack cheese, sliced and divided in half
  • 1/2 roasted red pepper, cut into 1/2" strips
  • 1/2 loaf ciabatta bread (or other artisan or thick-sliced sourdough bread)
  • mayonnaise
  • chipotle chili powder
  • olive oil

Pre-heat grill and panini maker. Slice the bread into two equal pieces then slice open through the soft part of the bread. Drizzle some olive oil on to each piece of bread, place oil-side down on the panini maker, and close the lid. Grill chicken while bread is warming.

When chicken is cooked and bread is slightly browned (but not toasted), spread some mayo (to preference) on all slices of bread (the soft side only) and sprinkle with a minimal amount of chipotle chili powder (a little goes a long way!). Place a couple pieces of cheese on the bottom slices of bread, add a few strips of roasted red peppers, then top with chicken. Add more peppers, cheese, then top with the other sides of the bread.

Carefully put sandwiches back on panini maker and close the lid, pressing down slightly. Try to evenly distribute the weight of the lid over the sandwiches so that they aren't squishing out on one side. Remove sandwiches when cheese is starting to melt down the sides of the sandwich (takes about 3-5 minutes).

Prep time: Step 1 - 10 minutes; Step 2 - 10 minutes

Inactive prep time: 8 hours

Cook time: 12 minutes

Serves: 2


Pirate Punch

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water

1 cup raspberries

1 cup rum

1 cup tonic water

juice of 1/2 lemon

1/4 cup sugar


1) Combine 1/2 cup sugar and water in pot over low heat, stirring until dissolved. Increase heat to medium and let simmer for two minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.
2) Combine sugar water with raspberries in pitcher and crush raspberries.
3) Add rum, tonic water, lemon juice, and sugar.
4) Serve in ice filled glasses

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Other White Meat

Things are crazy here in Southern California. I stayed home from work to take care of Ringo, and it turns out it was a very wise decision. Sunday night wildfires broke out across Southern California - Los Angeles, San Bernadino, here in Orange County, and San Diego. We're lucky enough to be in a part of Orange County that is fire free, but its early yet. The Santa Ana winds keep changing the direction of the flames and every time they seem to be controllable, a change in wind sends them raging in another direction. My parents live about 5 miles from the fires in Orange County, but were also not evacuated as the fire began to move inland and south. In San Diego things are even worse. I was thankful I stayed home as city after city was evacuated.

With all this craziness, it was another salad night last night, but this time, instead of chicken, we turned to our second favorite meat - pork. I had picked up some pork filets this week and thought this would be a great way to use them. Plus Jon came home from work very hungry so we needed something quick.

With the temperatures in the 90s, winds blowing at 50-70mph, a salad is just the right temperature. Jon especially loved the pistachios sprinkled on top. He felt it added a nice flavor. As we ate our salads we huddled together on the couch and thought about how thankful we were to be safe. Our thoughts go out to those who are less fortunate than we, and I hope all the evacuees can return home safely soon.

Honey Mustard Pork Salad
3 pork filets
3 Tbsp Mustard
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp olive oil
romaine lettuce
orange, peeled, and divided in sections
honey mustard dressing
1/4 cup pistachios, peeled and chopped

1) Combine mustard and honey. Coat pork filets with this mixture.
2) Heat oil in large skillet. Cut filet into 1/2 inch pieces and stirfry until lightly golden brown and cooked through.
3) Chop romaine and place in bowls with orange sections. Top with pork. Drizzle with dressing. Sprinkle pistachios on top

Taste the Rainbow


I'm not a big fan of pasta salads. I think that's because growing up, all the pasta salads I had at bbqs and picnics were loaded with mayonaise -an ingredient I never learned to love.

However, as I got older, I realized pasta salads didn't have to use mayo. Sub in a little olive oil and vinegar and pasta salad becomes a great light dish.

This is a very kid friendly meal, because its so colorful. Red, yellow, green, purple. That always makes me feel super healthy too. Of course, the added sugar takes away from that healthy feeling.


Rainbow pasta salad
3/4 cup fresh green beans, cut into pieces
3/4 cup wax beans, cut into pieces
1/4 red onion, chopped
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
3 cups cooked pasta
3/4 cup cherry tomatoes
salt
pepper

1) Combine beans and onions.
2) Add oil, vinegar, and sugar and mix well.
3) Add cooked pasta.
4) Add tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste.
5) Refrigerate before serving

The One-Eyed Wonder

Friday night I grilled some pork tenderloin on my handy dandy grill pan. I forgot to turn down the heat and soon our little apartment was filled with smoke. No problem, a few open windows and a fan and we were right as rain. Except Ringo. Poor Ringo - his left eye was so red.

The next day his eye was still pretty red and he slept a lot of the day. "I don't think he's feeling well" I told Jon. Then he started getting some yellow/green discharge. Great. Our pup has pink eye.

Sunday I took him into the vet to get some drops for his eyes. Except, the vet said he didn't have pink eye - the redness and discharge was the result of 40% of his cornea being rubbed off. I learned a lot about eyes yesterday.

Turns on the cornea is made up of 3 layers, a water soluble layer sandwiched between 2 water-insoluble layers (for those who don't do science, this means the water layer can't get through the outer layers). Ringo's missing 40% of that top layer. Now, the cornea can repair itself, but it doesn't have a direct blood supply to do so. Instead it relies on the blood vessels in the whites of the eye. This means it takes a looong time to repair. The vet suggested a surgery so that the eye could repair itself more quickly.

Dogs have a third eyelid. Back before they were domesticated, this was a transparent lid that would come up as dogs ran through underbrush to keep the foliage out of their eyes. Now that dogs don't run wild, this eyelid has become opaque and unnecessary (kind of like our appendix). This eyelid is very vascular, so by lifting it up over the eye, it protects the dogs eye and allows the cornea to repair itself more quickly.

The surgery was over in a few hours and Ringo was able to come home last night. Which was trying in itself. He doesn't like coming off anesthesia too much. And around 5 AM he came out and couldn't figure out what the thing around he neck was and he wanted it OFF. For the next two weeks he has to wear an e-collar and get 4 different eyedrops in his eye three times a day. The poor thing is so miserable. He can't go for walks, he can't play with other dogs, and he can't even chew his toys!

We've been trying to tell him this is all part of his Halloween costume since the vet will put his eyelid back down the weekend after Halloween. I don't know if he buys it though.




Sunday, October 21, 2007

Homegrown Gourmet: Soups


It's that time again! This month is hosted by Meg of Joy Through Cooking. I'll remind you first of the rules,

  • Anyone can play!

  • A theme will be picked by the host. Participants will make a dish that follows the theme and that somehow represents their home region- town, state, area. Representation can feature a local ingredient, be a traditional dish from your area, or be a creative twist.

  • Participants will have 3-4 weeks (host discretion) to complete their recipes and post them to their blog (or email the pics and text), and notify the host. The host will then post the results and then let everyone know via email or message board the results are up!

  • An explanation of your dish is required; it can be a story about the local custom or ingredient, how you came about eating/ making the recipe, or an explanation about how your creative dish fits the theme.

  • Fresh and local foods are encouraged!

  • When the round is done, the host will announce their favorite dish by updating their blog. Favorite is completely subjective to the host- no one expects the host to make and taste test all the dishes, it is just something that strikes the host's fancy! The creator of the fave gets the honor of hosting the next round, if they so choose!

This month's Homegrown Gourmet was definitely challenging. See, Meg won last month's sandwich challenge and is hosting this month. She picked soups for this round because she wanted something perfect for fall. Well, that's all well and good for Meg who's on the East Coast, but here in Southern California, fall is something you see on television, and most of the time "fall" is created by talented studio technicians who paint leaves and import fans to create the perfect autumn breeze.

Southern California is not known for its soups. I blame this squarely on the weather. While soups certainly make their appearance on rainy winter days (and yes it rains here in California....it rains ALL winter long - bleh), these are transplant soups, brought by the many immigrants who make their way from the blustery colds of Manhattan, Boston, Chicago. They sit in cafes, watching the rain, and eat their soup while reminiscing of snow falls and below zero temperatures.

So I turned to California "ingredients" not wanting to use avocado again and become that girl. And that's when I began thinking. Not only am I a resident of California, but I'm a resident of Orange County (there is no "THE" in OC).

Orange County is so named because of its primary crop - oranges. While orange groves have been replaced by housing developments, it still seems an apt ingredient to use to represent my "homegrown gourmet."

Now how do you incorporate oranges into a soup? Well my all time favorite soups to make are squash soups - acorn squash, butternut squash.... I usually throw in some apples for flavor, so why couldn't I use orange? And the squash that would go especially well? Pumpkin! So pumpkin orange soup it was!


Pumpkin-Orange Soup

1 cup canned pumpkin

1 cup vegetable broth

juice of one oranges

1/4 cup dry sherry

1/4 onion, chopped

1/3 cup diced celery

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground coriander

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt


1. Puree canned pumpkin, vegetable broth and orange juice in blender or food processor. Set aside

2. In a large soup pot, heat sherry over medium-high heat. Add onion, celery and garlic and saute until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add spices; cook, stirring, 2 minutes.

3. Add pumpkin mixture and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat

4. Transfer 1/2 cup of soup to a small bowl and stir in yogurt. Return to pot and blend well.

5. When soup is cool, place in blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

6. Return soup to pot and heat until warmed through.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tofu? It's not even Friday!

I love garlic. Love love love it. My mom's the same way, but unfortunately, as she's gotten older, she just can't handle it any more. I feel sorry for her. Garlic is one of those things that flavors a dish without really adding much else. It's absolutely perfect for tofu which lacks its own flavor. Just gets niiiice and garlicy. mmmm little garlic cubes of goodness.
This recipe is especially easy because really, all you do is add the garlic sauce to the fried tofu and in almost seconds dinner is ready. Perfect for a work night. Unfortunately I didn't make enough for leftovers, which I was pretty bummed about, given that this was sooo good.
Garlic Fried Tofu
1/2 pckg of extra firm tofu
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup steak sauce
1/8 cup water
1/4 onion, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
salt
pepper

1) Cut tofu in half and place on paper towels on a plate. Cover with paper towels and another dish. Let sit for 30 minutes to drain out water. (Brownie points for the class if they remember why we do this)
2) Combine all other ingredients and whisk.
3) In a large saute pan, heat 1 Tbsp of oil. Add tofu. Cook until the tofu is golden brown on all sides.
4) Add sauce. Bring to a boil, and lower to a simmer. Let simmer a little bit and then serve.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Home of the Big Salads


Jon had a really rough day yesterday that involved him leaving the house at 2:30AM. He had eaten dinner the previous night super early so he could be in bed by 6PM. (He needs at least 8 - usually 9, hours of beauty sleep to look as good as he does) Last night, I figured his food schedule would be a little off, so I wanted something light and easy for dinner. In my family that always meant "big salads" which is what we called entree salads. Big salads could be made of any ingredients, but they always had some form of protein in them. This one has grilled chicken. In light of my tropical yearnings, I threw in some pineapple too. Jon was pretty impressed. Here are some choice quotes:
"I don't think I've ever had mint in my salad before."
"This is really healthy huh?"
And just in case you were thinking it didn't go over so well......
"I really like when you make things like this for dinner." Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww



Tropical Grilled Chicken Salad
Baby spinach
12 mint leaves
salt
pepper
Fresh pineapple
Grilled chicken
Avocado, peeled and sliced
Basalmic vinaigrette

1) Heat chicken and pineapple until warm.
2) Combine spinach, mint leaves, salt, and pepper
3) Place greens on plates and top with chicken, avocado, and pineapple
4) Pour dressing over the chicken



Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Breakfast of champions

If you haven't figured out by now, I have a killer commute. I bitch about it enough that it should be common knowledge. Most days I eat breakfast in the car right around Del Mar since that's when traffic stops. It gives me something to do when I'm done counting my fingers and toes. Usually I have a lovely piece of toast with some cheese - but I'm trying to spice it up a bit.

So smoothies are the perfect answer.
Protein? Check
Fruit? Check
Easy to eat in the car? Double check!

Plus its a nice way to use up some of the frozen fruit I tend to accumulate.

Raspberry Banana Pineapple Smoothie
1 banana, quartered
6 oz pineapple juice
1/2 cup vanilla nonfat yogurt
1 cup frozen raspberries

1) Combine all in a blender until thick and smooth.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Give Me Two Pina Coladas


It's been one of those days. First it rained. Now anyone who's ever driven in Southern California can tell you - rain is a sure fire omen for doom. They skies may just as well have been dropping the sign of the beast. Because as soon as the first drop hits the pavement, everyone in Southern California slams on their brakes and proceeds at 7 mph. Nevermind that its lightly sprinkling. Nevermind that it rained the evening before and is currently not raining. It makes the freeways a nightmare.

Needless to say I was late to work. It only got worse from there. So when I came home I wanted to be as far away from the dreary California weather and drivers as possible. Think sun. Think Carribean, and think alcohol. I made a tall frosty fruity drink, and sat back to watch tv. What a way to unwind. I kept up with the island theme by serving steak I had marinated in Soy Vey's Island Terriyaki, garlic, oil, ginger, and honey. It was oh so Pacific Island. Now if I could just get that warm trade wind........


Mango Raspberry Cremesicle
2 cups ice
1 can frozen oj, thawed
1/2 pint mango sorbet
1/2 pint vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup vanilla vodka
1/2 cup raspberry vodka

1) Combine all in blender until smooth
2) Pour into a pitcher
3) Serve is hurricane glasses