Dining Out: Voodoo Magic in Downtown Portland...And Some Kickass Tacos Too

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And that just about sums it up...

...thanks for reading!

Just kidding.

This past weekend The Hubsters, Little Girl and Little Boy and I ventured south into Portland. I've been obsessed with Voodoo Doughnuts since seeing the episode on Portland on No Reservations, so I was extremely excited to go. So excited, that I dieted for a full week in anticipation. And good thing I did.

We made the 3.5 hour treck down on a crisp Saturday morning, arriving in the smack middle of downtown Portland shortly after noon.

Blue skies, warmer weather...the day was turning promising. I loved all the cool architecture and random ornately carved gargoyle thingies:

There was such a sense of Other Time. Despite the massive amount of people (we managed to arrive in the middle of a farmers market), and uncomfortably large presence of skeevy homeless people (one dude actually walked into this chick in line in front of me), it was a breath of drug-infused fresh air to check out the different buildings and spirit of the town.

Yes, Portland is "weird."

It's anarchy at its finest: a total disregard for "normalcy" to the point where you're wondering what actually defines "normal." Unmasked, unrefined, unkempt at times...everyone walked around being themselves with unabashed confidence. It was terrifyingly refreshing. I didn't realize how uptight I was before I went here. And my conclusion: I'm seriously uncool.

I contemplated this as well as various other thoughts during the 2 hours I stood in line outside of Voodoo Doughnuts. The line, predictably, ran way past the corner and onto another street.

And did I mention it's located next to a porn store?

Good times.

I held our place in line while The Hubsters ran out with the kids to grab some food. I expected some sort of hot dog or vegetarian fare to greet me in 15 minutes, but instead I got this little piece of heaven:

That would be a Nutella-Marshmallow Waffle Sandwich.

Oh my fucking god. This was amazing. Although I was hoping for some serious savory to combat my upcoming consumption of vass quantities of sugar, I could not resist my most favorite of ingredients -- Nutella. Crispy vanilla-scented waffle filled with warm nutella and gooey melted marshmallows...holy shit this was waffle at its finest. For 3 glorious minutes I didn't mind the fifth bum asking me for money.


The line moved at a glacial pace, so I sent The Hubsters and The Kids back to the air-conditioned car to do work and watch a DVD. That was about as much scenery as these three were going to take in, so might as well move on and start doing something constructive I say.

So I stayed and braved the line -- in heels, mind you -- while a gaggle of annoying high schoolers with a particularly irritating Russian exchange student continued to bug the ever-loving shit out of me for the next hour and half. "Blah blah...my dad drives a Prius....blah blah my calculus teacher sucks...."

Shut...the eff...up. I don't give a shit. All I can think of is glazed with sprinkles.

Two years later I finally rounded the corner and saw the sign:

It was like a beacon of hope. At this point, and seriously baking in the now You're So Much Hotter Than I Thought When I Got Dressed This Morning sun, I was beginning to seriously question my sanity. I've gotten to this point? Standing in line for 2 hours for fucking doughnuts? Really?

These better be worth it....these better be worth it...

Made it inside! Check out the menu at the front:

Of course I wanted one of everything, but The Hubsters gave me strict rules vis-a-vis one $20 to limit my purchases. He chose wisely, because I was certainly capable of ordering every single doughnut and justifying my gluttony by blaming you people reading this. So I had to carefully select, editing down my choices to what I thought sounded and looked most interesting. Plus one "normal" vanilla sprinkles doughnuts for Little Girl and Little Boy.

I ended up with the famed Maple Bacon -- maple glaze, crispy bacon; the Voodoo Doll -- chocolate ganache, raspberry filling, frosted face; and the Diabolos Rex -- chocolate doughnut, chocolate glaze, chocolate chips and frosted pentagram. Tee hee.

Of course the bacon was up first...


Verdict: SO worth the 2 hour wait. SO worth the 3.5 hour drive. SO worth gaining these 10 pounds.

Best. Doughnuts. Ever.

Yes, that means better than Dunkin Donuts.

Kicks Winchell's ass.

Donut guy in L.A. who? Who gives a shit. I don't. I got Voodoo. And I don't' mind almost getting Hepatitis C from Bum #22 to get them.

The maple doughnut was perfectly fresh -- soft and chewy with little resistance to the bite, the glaze was not overly-mapled and the bacon was smoked and crispy. I wish they had more bacon on there though. The voodoo doll was seriously the best doughnut ever. Super soft and chewy again with the best chocolate glaze I've had in my life. It wasn't too sugary and had a distinct flavor of chocolaty goodness. The raspberry filling was To Die For -- sweet and tart and gooey and wonderful. And the frosting was delightful. The Diablos Rex is the best chocolate doughnut I've had, hands down. Light and moist cake doughnut with perfectly balanced chocolate flavor again, that wonderful chocolate ganache, and thick piping of sugar frosting with an economical sprinkling of red sprinkles. SO wonderful. So evil. So good it's bad. And it's good to be bad.

And they were cheap! Most doughnuts were $1!!! With the more elaborate Cock n Balls and Tex-ass around $5. But these are 3 and 6 doughnuts respectively combined into one large, unabashed Super Doughnut.

Definitely worth checking out next time you're in Portland. And if you go, tell me and I'll go with you.

But our culinary tour did not end there...

As we drove through downtown we noticed a Boulevard of Food Trucks:

God hear our prayers, dearest people. Cheap, fast, good food without roaches and E. coli!!! All in one place!!!

We had a taco tour. Some Mexican style tacos (one carnitas, one asada):

And then some korean tacos:

Have to be honest here. Love the flavors going on with the Korean one but the corn tortilla was out of place. Hated it. Distracted too much. Found it rubbery and weird in comparison to the fabulous marinated kolgi and kimshi slaw. Why hasn't anyone done crispy tacos? I think that would go a lot better!
We stuffed ourselves, nay gorged on a plethora of tacos and fluffy doughnuts. And the entire day, counting The Waffle Of Life, cost us under $25.
Loving this new trend for food trucks and cheeky breakfast foods.
Now where to next?

Cole Slaw Redefined: Spicy Asian Cole Slaw with Chicken and Avocado

I love cole slaw. I think it's a seriously underrated salad. If done right, it can be insanely flavorful and the perfect accompaniment to any main dish, especially bbq or grilled meats. I make a few different versions of basic cole slaws, but the other day I got inspired to satisfy my Asian craving and decided to combine the two. Adding some leftover grilled chicken from the night before made a simple side dish into the main event. You can add the chicken or leave it out, or substitute shrimp for a vegetarian version. It's very colorful, extremely flavorful, and will healthily satisfy your Asian craving without having to go the route of noodles and rice (although I love that too).

Spicy Asian Cole Slaw with Chicken and Avocado
1 Chinese cabbage
1 red onion
3 carrots
3-4 scallions
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped
3 cooked chicken breasts
2 avocados
1 cup good mayo
2 limes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp sriracha hot sauce
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
Run the cabbage under water to remove any dirt; peel off any outer layers of cabbage that look unappealing and throw away. Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise, then cut out the tough stem. Cut the cabbage into 1/4 inch thick slices and dry very well (using a salad spinner works best). Set into a large bowl.
Peel and cut the onion very thinly and add to the cabbage. Peel the carrots and grate them using a box grater (conversely, you can buy a bag of pre-shredded carrots), and add to the bowl. Cut the scallions thinly on the bias (this means at a diagonal) and add to the bowl along with the cilantro. Take the chicken breasts and either cut into cubes or shred using two forks or your fingers. Cut the avocados in half and remove the pit. Remove the flesh with a spoon in one large piece and cut into 1/2 inch sized cubes. Add both to the mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste, then give a good toss to combine, careful not to break up the avocado.
To make the dressing, whisk together the mayo, the juice of both limes, garlic, ginger, sriracha, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Taste and adjust with salt, pepper, and sriracho to taste. Pour dressing over the cabbage mixture and toss well, carefully coating the salad with the dressing but not breaking up the avocado. Rough chop the peanuts and add to the slaw on top. Top with toasted sesame seeds and serve.
The salad can be served immediately or refrigerated for later. If doing that, I recommend not adding the avocado and peanuts until right befor serving so the avocado doesn't brown and the peanuts stay crunchy.

Jalapeno Hush Puppies with Lime Cumin Dipping Sauce

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I love making these for appetizers especially if I've got the smoker going for a big bbq. They're very easy to make and the dipping sauce whips up in seconds. Only thing is you can't make them in advance; you need to fry them up fresh and serve them immediately. I'll usually invite people into the kitchen with me and offer them a beer or cocktail while I work my magic. Then we all snack as they come right out of the oil!

Jalapeno Cheddar Hush Puppies
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup scant all-purpose flour (about 3 heaping Tbsp)
1/2 jalapeno, finely diced
2 Tbsp scallions, finely sliced
1/3 cup sour cream
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
juice of 1 lime
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
peanut or vegetable oil for frying
Whisk together the cornmeal mix, egg, milk, and flour until well combined. Then fold in the jalapeno and half of the scallions (reserving the other half to go into the dip). Set aside to thicken.
To make the dipping sauce, simply combine the sour cream, leftover scallions, garlic, cumin, and lime juice into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve.
While mixture thickens, heat your oil. Preheat your deep fryer if using. Conversely, take a medium-sized deep pot (a Dutch oven works great) and place enough oil so that it stand 3 inches thick (this is basically going to take one full bottle of peanut oil or 1/3 of a bottle of vegetable or canola oil). Heat on high until temperature reads 375 degrees on a candy thermometer or until hot.
Place the cornbread mixture into the hot oil by the teaspoon fulls -- simply take a normal dinner teaspoon and grab some of the mixture, then gently drop it into the hot oil. Be careful not to overcrowd the pot when frying; it's best to work in batches to ensure a high temperature for frying. Cook the hush puppies for about 4 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking process. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Finish frying up the batches and serve hot.
My Notes:
As I've mentioned ad nauseum before, the heat in the jalapeno lives in the seeds and ribs of the pepper. If you want it spicier then leave the ribs and seeds intact; if milder, then carefully remove the seeds and ribs and just use the body (i.e. "green part") of the pepper instead.
To toast cumin seeds, simply place the seeds in a shallow frying pan and heat on low heat until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Promptly remove and set aside. (if you leave them in the pan they will continue to cook and burn)
If you don't like scallions, you can certainly omit them from both the batter and the dip and just add another clove of garlic to the dip. Similarly, if you have lemons on hand and not limes, then go ahead and use the juice of half a lemon instead.

It's Bacon!!!!!! The BLT Mishy Style

Friday, August 27, 2010

I love big sandwiches. Sometimes I just want an obscenely large, so thick I can't possibly get it all in one bite, just Monster of a sandwich. I want it messy, big, bold in flavors and colors, and In Your Face Goondess.

I also love bacon.

Like, I love bacon. It's the Sexy Temptress, wearing hickory smoked lingerie, tempting even the staunchiest vegetarian to "experiment" with the Other Team.

I like it crispy with a little chew, thick, smoked, and on or with everything. And because of my love of bacon, I love the classic BLT sandwich. Bacon, lettuce and tomato. Perfect combination. Pretty to look at! But it's not enough. I need more.

I need avocado.

And thiny sliced red onion.

And a bright basil-mayo slathered on freshly baked French bread to bring it all home.

I need, the mother of all BLT sanwiches. I need Titan: A Mishy's BLT.

The Titan BLT
12 strips of thick cut, hickory smoked bacon
1 avocado
1 large yellow heirloom tomato
thinly sliced red onion (to taste)
3 leaves romaine lettuce
1/4 cup mayo
2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped fine
1 clove garlic
splash white balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
freshly baked french bread loaf

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Place a cooking rack on top (the ones you use for letting your cookies cool is perfect for this), then place bacon on one even layer. Roast in oven about 20 minutes, or until preferred doneness (chewy - take it out earlier; crispy - take it out later). Set aside.

Peel and pit the avocado, then slice it in 1/4 inch slices. The thinner the slice, the better they'll stay on the sandwich! Set aside.

Slice the tomato into 1/2 inch thick slices; conversely, because these tomatoes are so large, they won't slice off in the sandwich easily so you can cut nice, thicky juicey cuts. Set aside.

Combine the mayo, basil, garlic, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl, whisking to combine. Set aside.

To assemble the sandwich, cut the bread loaf in half lengthwise. Spread the mayo on both sides of the bread. Layer bacon on both sides as well - 6 on each. On the bottom slice, add two tomato slices on top, then avocado, then red onion to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Then the lettuce on top of that, then two more slices of tomatoe on top of that. Next, carefully place the top half with the bacon and mayo on top of the tomato layer, creating a huge sandwich. Very gently press down to combine it, and add a couple of toothpicks if you like to keep it together although it should have no problem staying together on its own.

Very carefully, cut the sandwich into two huge portions and serve.

Spaghetti with Kale, Pine Nuts and Parmesan

This is often a dish I make in winter when kale is at it's peek and bittery deliciousness, but I coudln't resist the gorgeous kale at the market and had to make it. This is a very simple recipe using only a few ingredients, so make sure those ingredients are fresh, good quality, and at their peek. No skimping on cheap Parmesan here -- pony up for the imported stuff please!

Spaghetti with Kale, Pine Nuts and Parmesan
1/2 pound spaghetti
1 bunch kale, stems removed and roughly chopped or ripped by hand
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes in oil
1 Tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp toasted pine nuts
Parmesano-Reggiano for garnish
red pepper flakes for garnish (optional)

Cook spaghetti according to package instructions.

While the spaghetti cooks, heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saute pan. Saute the onions on medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted, about 4 minutes. Be careful - kale has a lot of water in it and it will "pop" when introduced to the hot oil. Don't be afraid of it, just be ready for it. Once the kale has cooked down in volume and become wilted and soft, add the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the drained spaghetti directly in the kale mixture and toss with tongs, coating the spaghetti with the kale and olive oil. Add more oil if necessary. Top with pine nuts and toss again.

To serve, simply portion out the pasta and top with a very generous shaving of parmesan cheese and a sprinkling of pepper flakes if using. Serve hot.

My Notes:
I have the pepper flakes at the end because this way I can make this dish for my kids to eat as well, then top it with heat for me and The Hubsters. If you're making this for just adults, go ahead and add the pepper flakes right in with the garlic and sun-dried tomatoes so the heat will infuse better throughout the dish. Or omit it completely as well.

You can also use Romano cheese for the end. I use both equally when making this dish throughout the year.

Sweet Jesus, I Wanna JAMmin' Wid You: Drunken Fig Jam

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's ok...I'll let you finish the Bob Marley song in your head...I'll wait for you...

A new "foodie" friend named Lisa passed along her recipe for Drunken Fig Jam. Lisa's the writer of a fabulous food blog called Buen Viaje. It's a Must-Check-Out.

The first word alone has got me converted. Sweet figs infused with heavenly cognac or brandy? Yes please!

Conserving your own fruits (aka "making jam") seems tedius and labor-intensive. I'm not gonna lie - it is. The jam-making part is easy enough, as everything boils together in a large pot for a time. The hard part is all the sterilizing you must do. Yes, it's imperitive to boil the jars and all of that so you get rid of all the nasty bacteria. We're making jam here after all kids, not cheese. So that part in and of itself has scared people away from the canning process. But if you can get past it, it's really worth it. And it's not that hard.

Here's a link to an excellent article about picking, preparing, and canning figs.

DRUNKEN FIG JAM from epicurious

2 lemons

4 pounds ripe fresh figs (preferably black), stemmed, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 9 cups)

4 cups sugar (I cut this down to 3 cups)

3/4 cup brandy or Cognac

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

Using a vegetable peeler, remove peel from lemons (yellow part only) in long strips. Cut peel into matchstick-size strips (about 3 tablespoons). Combine lemon peel, figs, sugar, brandy, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt in heavy large deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to 6 cups, stirring frequently and occasionally mashing mixture with potato masher to crush large fig pieces, 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot clean 1/2-pint glass canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch space at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe jar threads and rims with clean damp cloth. Cover with hot lids; apply screw bands. Process jars in pot of boiling water 10 minutes. Cool jars completely. Store in cool dark place up to 1 year.

Grown Up Peaches n Cream

Monday, August 23, 2010

I love super easy desserts, especially in summer when it's 90 degress outside and the last thing I want to do is heat up the oven to bake something. So, I love a throw-together dessert using fresh fruits and minimal effort. I found this recipe on Foodnetwork and had to repost. Use with sweet, ripe peaches. A smallest pinch of cinnamon wouldn't hurt in the whipped cream either!

Boozy Peaches and Cream

Toss 3 sliced peaches with 1 tablespoon brown sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract; set aside until juicy, about 30 minutes. Whip 1 cup heavy cream until it thickens, then beat in 4 teaspoons brown sugar. Add 4 teaspoons bourbon and beat until soft peaks form. Layer the peaches and cream in dessert glasses; top with toasted pecans.

Food Truckin': Seattle's Maximus/Minimus

Friday, August 20, 2010

I love everything about these guys.

From the unabashed reverence to pork (vis-a-vis their awesome braised pulled pork to their It's Hard Not To Chuckle metal pig truck), to their criminally refreshing drinks, Maximus/Minimus is everything "right" about food trucks.

I grew up in L.A. A food truck was aka "The Roach Coach," so called because you were guaranteed to be served a greasy not-that-great burger and fries by a friendly cockroach on the counter. Other experiences involved some of the most seriously fucked up bouts of food poisoning in my life. One such particularly cruel incident involving an emergency carne asada taco with grilled jalapeno on my way up with the Hubsters to Yountville for our wedding anniversary. What transpired 24 hours later was the most wicked food poisoning EVER, whereby I got to see my gorgeous dinner from Bottega before me again (this time in the toilet) and didn't get to sample even one of the pastries we brought home from Bouchon Bakery.

Not cool.

So given that and a history of bad food truck experiences, I shyed away. But I could not ignore the hilarity and absurdity of this truck in downtown Seattle a few weeks ago.

I felt an instant connection, nay...a compulsion to head over. And since we found a parking spot literally ten feet away, I saw it as a sign it was meant to be.

And it so was...

Behold, my Pork Maximus with extra Hurt, Maximus Slaw (chipotle and cilantro) and a gorgeous Maximus to drink (ginger lemonade -- sweet, tart, with a hint of spicy ginger). So good in fact, my 21 month old son refused to relinquish the Maximus drink, and took down the Mac n Cheese made with local Beecher's cheese (aka Best Cheese Ever) faster than a canteen in the desert.

And my brother who was visiting town got the Pork Minimus (a sweeter and tangier version of my spicier and onion/pepper-themed Maximus) with Minimus Slaw (honey-mustard, fennel, cranberries and mint).

Both were killer.
Seriously loved.
Maximus/Minimus offers few but perfectly executed options:
  • pork or veg sandwiches
  • spicy or mild slaw
  • posole (which I was bummed they were out of when I was there)
  • mac n cheese
  • ginger lemonade or hibiscus nectar iced tea

All are awesome. The pork was tender melt-in-your-mouth, which is hard to achive in my opinion if you're not smoking it. The Maximus had a full-bodied flavor of spice, from heat at the front of your tongue (I'm guessing some cayenne!) that worked all the way back into your throat. The slaw was crisp and a little tangy, not at all overpowering. Chipotle when done in too much quantities can end up tasting bitter I think, and this retained it's pepper goodness without overpowering the cabbage and radish. Cilantro was a nice touch too. The Minimus slaw was equally refreshing, especially if sweetness is more your liking.

The drinks were perfection -- an expertly crafted combination to wash down the myriad flavors your working on between the sandwiches and slaws.

I was extremely pleased with the end result and am a convert and will most certainly have again. And I hope next time they have the damn posole!

So if you're in Seattle and see Maximus/Minimus, yes...take it from me...it actually is worth the wait in line.

Oh ya...and no food poisoning this time!

Week Night Yum Yum: Steak a la Hall with Grilled Asparagus, Onion Rose, and Mesclun with Cranberries and Bleu Cheese

A super easy grilled dinner that's perfect for the weeknight or last minute weekend dinner party is this menu. The steak recipe is courtesy of our friends Melissa and Andrew Hall, who made it for us when we went over to their house eons ago when we first met and lived in California. It was an awesome dinner -- perfectly simple, flavorful, and delicious -- and I often go to this menu for my own family or when I entertain guests.

The recipe calls for flank steak, but you can easily use skirt steak as well. Just adjust the cooking time if you're using the thinner skirt steak. And sweet onions (Maui, Walla-Walla, Vidalia) are the best grilled this way, as the charcoal brings out the natural sweetness in these onions. You can certainly roast the asparagus in the oven, but I love just throwing them on the grill along with everything else. No need to dirty a sheet pan unnecessarily! The recipe for the salad can be found here towards the end of the post on mesclun salad.

Have fun!

Steak a la Hall
1 flank steak (they usually come in one large piece)
olive or vegetable oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup bleu cheese (recommended: roquefort, gorgonzola, or point reyes)

Preheat grill to high (or set charcoals evenly in the bottom of your grill).

Brush the flank steak with the oil to evenly coat. This will help the seasoning stick to it. Generously sprinkle the steak with salt and pepper and set aside.

Once the grill is hot enough so that you can only keep your hand there for a second or two, it's ready. Place the steak down and cook. It's ready to be flipped when it comes off easily from the grill; if it's sticking, then it's not ready to be flipped so continue cooking. Flip and cook the other side until you can remove it easily also. This technique will give you a perfect medium-rare steak. If you want it cooked more thoroughly, then leave it longer, adding about 2 minutes for each degrees of doneness (i.e., 2 more minutes will give you medium, 4 minutes will give you medium-well, 6 minutes will give you a shoe). Remove and let stand 2 minutes so juices can redistribute. If you're going to use a thicker cut of steak (rib eye), then you'll need to cook the steak longer.

While the steak rests, make the bleu cheese sauce. Simply melt the butter in a saucepan or in the microwave and then add the blue cheese. Then serve on the side for the steak, or slice the steak into 3/4 inch slices against the grain, and lay out on a serving platter. Then pour the butter-cheese mixture over the top and serve immediately.

Grilled Asparagus
1 bunch asparagus
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cut off the tough lower stems from the asparagus and discard or freeze for later use (to make cream of asparagus soup). Drizzle the asparagus spears with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then give a good toss. Grill on high heat until light char marks are achieved, about 5 minutes, turning often. You can season the asparagus up to a day in advance before grilling. Serve immediately.

Onion Rose
2 large sweet onions (recommended: Vidalia, Maui, or Walla-Walla)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Remove the skins of the onions and carefully cut off the top and bottoms of each onion, leaving a nice clean globe. Cut the onions in 1.5 inch thick slices. Brush both sides with olive oil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Grill on high heat until nice char marks are achieved, about 5-7 minutes total, turning once or twice during cooking time. Let stand a minute. To make a rose shape, simply gently push down in the middle of the onion ring until you make a rose shape. Serve hot.

My Notes:
Roquefort, gorgonzola, and Point Reyes are the bleu cheeses I've found are the best for this because they have a higher cream content and therefore melt easier. If you wanted bigger pieces of bleu cheese in the sauce, you can certainly use a stilton or similar cheese. But if you wanted a really creamy bleu cheese sauce, then go ahead the the roquefort, gorgonzola or Point Reyes.

Again, this recipe is written for a flank or skirt steak. They are cheaper cuts of meat with lots of flavor. You just need to know how to cook them and more importantly, how to cut them properly. When serving, make sure you cut the steak against the grain. This means, finding the fibers of the steak (they'll all go in one direction), and then slicing into the steak directly perpendicular to that direction (hence, cutting across the grain). This will give you moist and tender slices. If you cut with the grain (i.e. in the same direction), then you'll cut tougher pieces of meat.

A Dessert To Die For: Nutellino

Oh ya. It tastes even better than it looks. It's...in one word...orgasmic. And extremely simple and low maintenance to do! All you need is some store-bought pizza dough, nutella, fresh strawberries and chocolate syrup. That's it. And it's the most satisfying, amazing dessert when you have a chocolate craving that you will go to again and again. You can think of it as a chocolate calzone. My favorite time to make it is on a cold, rainy or snowy night. Brings back memories...

Back when Andrew and I lived in Connecticut we used to stop by this small Italian cafe down the street where we lived called Capriccio. It was a tiny cafe -- a small counter in the back, providing a window into the even smaller kitchen in the back with one small oven. The dark tiled floor held ten tables...maybe...max -- modern metal tables with metal chairs so comfortable. And if a game was on, you were sure to be able to cheer on Italian soccer from the corner of the room. The front of the cafe was all glass -- in summer they'd open up the glass windows all the way, tripling the cafe's size; in winter you had full view of the snow coming down outside.

Here I had my first Limonatta. And they made the best fresh pizza and tomato soup I'd ever had. And this insanely good dessert, nutellino. Andrew and I would sit in the small cafe for hours, talking about our day and planning trips to Europe over a piping hot margherita pizza and soup, sharing slices and spoonfuls of hot tomato-garlic-basil goodness. Then we'd top it off with this special dessert.

I'm so looking forward to making it again this winter with my kids as we watch the snow come down outside. And pizza and tomato soup for dinner for sure.

1 plain store-bought pizza dough
nutella or your favorite chocolate-hazelnut spread
1 egg, lightly beaten
kosher salt or other sea salt
1 cup fresh strawberries, sliced
confectioner's sugar
chocolate syrup (recommended: Hershey's)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the pizza dough into 4 equal parts. Roll one piece out into a disk, about 1/2 inch thick. Spoon about 2 heaping tablespoons of nutella into the center of the lower half of dough, leaving about 1/4 inch border. Brush that border with the egg, then fold the other half of the disk over the nutella, matching up the borders. You want to create a half-moon, or traditional calzone shape. Then using your thumb or a fork, firmly crimp the sides of the calzone to seal it together. Repeat this with the other pieces of dough until you have 4 nutella-filled calzones.

Place the calzones on the parchment-lined baking sheet, evenly spacing them out. Brush them each with some of the egg, then sprinkle a small amount of the salt on top. The salt will give a nice contrast to the sweetness of the dessert, and bring out the chocolately flavor. Bake in oven 13-15 minutes or until they're puffed up and golden brown. Remove and let stand to cool 2 minutes.

To serve, place each calzone on a plate. Top with strawberries (it's ok if some fall off to the side). Dust the calzones with some confectioner's sugar, then give a generous drizzle of the chocolate syrup. Serve hot.

My Notes:
This combination of nutella-strawberry-pizza dough is really perfection. I actually caution you this time to deviate from this recipe. Just stick with it. You cannot improve on it. It is perfect and you will love it. I promise you.

Some similar recipes have you make a nutella-ricotta cheese mixture for inside. This is tasty too, but I really prefer this recipe. I love nutella and this is unabashed, in-your-face nutella flavor that is uncompromised. I feel ricotta cheese sort of waters it down. But if you love it then go ahead and mix the nutella with some drained ricotta cheese.

If you have to, you can garnish with a small sprig of mint. If you must..

Oysters on the Half Shell with Ass On Fire Sauce


You either love 'em or hate 'em. That's the truth. But if you love 'em like I do, then you'll love this post with some great tips for preparing fresh raw oysters with a super spicy sauce to go with those briny goodies.

Andrew brought home some local Washington oysters from our neighborhood Whole Foods last week and I had nothing to prepare for a traditional side sauce. Usually you'll serve a classic mignonette or a spicier cocktail sauce or just some freshly grated horseradish. Or you could do an Asian soy-ginger-scallion sauce. Point it, I had a little for all of these but not enough to make one sauce completely. So what did I do? I combined them all into one super spicy sauce that was awesome.

Warning: this recipe is extremely spicy and not for the faint of heart. Seriously -- it is atomic level -- so don't mess around with it if you're new to the spicy and detest the heat (for some ungodly reason). But if you like spicy foods, then this is right up your ally and you'll fall in love. Would go great with simple boiled shrimp too for a shrimp cocktail.

Raw Oysters with Ass On Fire Sauce
12 raw oysters
3 Tbsp ketchup
1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 lemon - juice of one half, other half reserved and cut into wedges for garnish
1 Tbsp sriracha hot sauce
1 tsp prepared wasabi

Combine the ketchup, vinegar, lemon juice, sriracha and wasabi in a small bowl. Chill until ready to serve. Can be made up to a day in advance.

To serve oysters, pop open the shells using an oyster knife and glove or heavy kitchen towel. A tip is to have your fish guy/girl pop the seal for you at the market (this is done by inserting the knife into the lip of the oyster shell and breaking the seal), and then you can finish opening them at home right before serving. To do this, run your oyster knife (or the sturdiest butter knife you've got) in between the lip, separating the shell into two pieces. Run your knife then under the oyster meat to seperate it from the shell. Place the half shells with oyster meat on a plate of crushed ice and serve immediately with the sauce and lemon wedges for garnish.

My notes:
Other traditional accompaniments include freshly grated horseradish -- horseradish root peeled, then grated with a microplane -- and a squeeze of lemon juice; tobasco sauce or your favorite hot sauce right on the oyster; mignonette sauce (combination of very finely chopped shallot, red wine vinegar, a small pinch of sugar, lemon juice, black pepper and finely chopped scallions); traditional cocktail sauce (ketchup, horseradish (freshly grated or prepared), lemon juice, hot sauce, and worcestershire sauce) or asian (soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, scallions, garlic, ginger).

Watermelon Granita

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I got a lot of positive feedback on the watermelon post, so I thought I'd post another quick recipe using watermelon for a super refreshing granita, courtesy of Emeril's website. It's really simple to make and is wonderful as a cold dessert or palate cleanser between courses for a fancier dinner party. If you wanted to spruce it up even more for the adults, you can add vodka or champagne as well.

Watermelon Granita

5 cups peeled and seeded watermelon chunks (from about a 3-pound slice of watermelon)

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Place the watermelon chunks in the bowl of a blender or a food processor, replace the top, and blend on high speed until very smooth. Turn the blender off.

Transfer the watermelon puree to a mixing bowl and add the sugar and lime juice.

Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer the mixing bowl to the freezer and freeze for 30 minutes.

Remove the bowl from the freezer and use a fork to scrape any ice crystals from the sides of the bowl. Stir to incorporate the crystals. Return to the freezer.

Repeat this scraping procedure every 30 minutes, or until the consistency is "snowy" when scraped with a fork or spoon, at least 4 hours. Then scoop into bowls or dessert glasses and serve.

YIELD: 6 to 8 servings

Everything You Wanted To Know (or not) About: Watermelon

Monday, August 16, 2010

For me, right up next to tomatoes and corn for summer staples is watermelon. I remember as a kid, my dad carefully selecting them at the store by tapping on them and listening to the hollow sound they made. I had no idea what he was doing, but I still do the same thing today if nothing more than for the ceremony of it.

Watermelons are perfect. When ripe (and in season!), they're sweet and juicy and can quench any hot summer day's thirst. They pair perfectly with food, from casually cut up into chunks in salads or thinly sliced "sashimi" style with rare ahi tuna. My favorite is just cutting them into wedges and having at them outside in a bathing suit.

But did you know more about your favorite summer fruit?

It's actually of the same family that squash and pumpkins come from. Along with cantaloupes, this family of plants grow on vines on the ground. Watermelons are often oblong in shape and green with stripes, but can also be dark green and have red or yellow flesh inside.

Watermelons are also insanely healthy. An extremely low-calories treat, they are also highly rich in Vitamins A & C, and rich in beta-carotene and lycopene. Despite their sweet taste, they're only 6% sugar and rest water (!) so they're great to hydrate with in summer!

Watermelons originate out of southern Africa where it can be found growing wild even to this day. There is also historical evidence the Egyptians consumed watermelon regularly, as seeds were found in Tutankhamen's grave. Historians believe the Moors brought watermelon into Europe, and the European settlers together with African slaves eventually bringing it to North America where it thrives today in California and the south.

Watermelons come in many different shapes and sizes today. Although the traditional form is the small sphere or oblong green with stripe we all know, Japanese farmers have managed to cultivate square and pyramid shaped watermelons by placing them in glass forms of that shape, and letting the fruit grow inside. Flesh can also range from deep red to bright yellow, and sweetness ranging from extremely sweet to bitter.

The entire watermelon is edible, although for obvious reasons the sweet flesh is our favorite to eat. The hard rind is also edible, although pickling it helps to break down the tough rind and make it easier to eat. To this day the Chinese and American South serve dishes with pickled watermelon rind. The Chinese also serve a dish whereby they stir-fry the rind with garlic, chilies, and rum. And the juice can even be fermented into wine!

There are many things you can do with a watermelon. But here are two recipes to get your started, one using watermelon as a savory and one for a cocktail. The first, a take on my favorite summer drink The Mojito, uses it as a sweetener and color agent to give the mojito a pretty pink hue. The second recipe is a classic summer salad my grandma would make us often growing up. The classic pairing between watermelon and feta cheese is very Mediterranean, and I promise you'll love it!

Have fun!

Watermelon Mojitos
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cold water
fresh mint
1 cup peeled and seeded, roughly chopped watermelon
3 limes, juiced
good quality rum
soda water or sparkling water

Heat the sugar and water in a small bowl on the stovetop and bring to just under a boil. You want to dissolve the sugar but not cook it. Set aside.

In a cocktail shaker, gently bruise a good amount of mint leaves. Add the simple syrup while still hot -- by adding it hot, it will help extract the essential oils in the mint, infusing the syrup with the minty flavor. Add rum to taste (1 shaker can do 2 drinks, so 1-2 shots per person is good for a milder to stiffer drink), lime juice, and some ice cubes. Cover and shake until well combined and cold.

To serve, place some watermelon in the bottom of the glass and gently crush it with a fork. Add some mint to taste and add ice cubes. Pour the rum mixture on top and top with soda water. Garnish with more mint. Serve cold.

Watermelon and Arugula Salad with Feta Cheese
about 2 cups watermelon, peeled and seeded and cut into cubes
1 bag arugula (or spinach is ok)
1/3 cup cubed feta cheese (recommended: Valbresco)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
toasted pine nuts

Combine the watermelon and arugula in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with feta cheese and pine nuts, and drizzle with olive oil. Toss very gently and serve immediately.

My Notes:
This goes awesome with grilled chicken or a grilled white fish like halibut, or can be a substantial main dish for a light summer supper on its own. You can certainly substitute spinach for the arugula if you can't find it, but do try to stick with one or the other; mixed lettuces will overpower the delicate flavor of watermelon and the excellent balance of flavor between it and the feta cheese.

Oven-Roasted Salmon with Heirloom Cherry Tomato Summer Salad

Friday, August 13, 2010

I'm a big fan of heirloom tomatoes. Their exquisite juiciness and amazing rainbow of colors makes for the most festive and simplistic of summer dishes. I also love cherry tomatoes. Not only for their concentrated sweet flavor reminiscent of candy, but also for their low maintenance -- you don't even need a knife to cut them in half to prepare them!
So when late summer's bounty brings me heirloom cherry tomatoes (!), I squeal like a little girl and grab them all. The colors, the sweetness, the endless options...they are truly summer's favorite fruit. I grabbed some recently at my local Whole Foods (yes, complete with girlish squeal and all) and ran home to make dinner. On the menu: local Coho salmon, the tomatoes, and an avocado. And thus this following recipe was born.
I'm writing it a little differently this time -- not giving out specific proportions but rather guidance for you to manipulate the recipe according to how many people you are serving. This is very much an easily served dish in that the ingredients are directly proportional to the amount of people you want to serve.
Oven-Roasted Salmon with Heirloom Cherry Tomato Summer Salad

fillets of salmon (skin on), 1 6-oz fillet per person
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
potlach seasoning or smallest pinch of each: paprika, cayenne, red pepper, brown sugar, thyme
hickory salt (optional)
assorted heirloom cherry tomatoes, about 1/2 cup per person
1 jalapeno, sliced very thinly*
scallions, sliced very thinly --about 2 scallions per person
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1-2 avocados (1/2 avocado per person)
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped (to taste)
1 lime, juiced
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place some olive oil in a small glass container. Brush both sides of the salmon fillets with the olive oil. Set on a baking dish lined with aluminum foil (for easy clean up!). Season the flesh-side of the salmon with kosher salt, black pepper, potlach seasoning and hickory salt to taste. Bake in oven for 10-30 min depending on thickness and size of fish. A good rule is 10 min for every 1/2 inch thickness.
While the salmon roasts, make the salad.
Combine the tomatoes, scallions, jalapeno, garlic, avocado, and cilantro to taste in a bowl. I love cilantro, so for just my husband and myself I will use an entire bunch of cilantro, but you go ahead and put as much or as little as you like. Season the salad with salt and pepper to taste. Add the lime juice and drizzle some olive oil -- enough to wet the salad but not totally saturate it. Give it a good toss and it's ready to serve.
To plate, place salmon fillet on center of plate and spoon the salad over, with juices and all. Or serve the salad on the side of the salmon.
Salmon may be served hot out of the oven or at room temperature. Salad can be done up to an hour before but no more than that.
Serve with crusty bread if desired or as is.

*The heat in peppers lives in the seeds and "ribs" of the capsicum. So if you want your dish spicier, then add the seeds and all; if more mild, then remove the seeds and ribs with a knife. Not all peppers are created equal either, and their spiciness will actually depend on how hot it was outside when they grew. So take a taste before you cut and determin how much (or how little) of the pepper you want to actually use in your dish. The worst thing is to ruin a wonderufl dish by adding too much heat!

Oh Bring Me A Figgy Sandwich!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Since figs are in season now, I thought I'd write up a quick recipe using them. One of my favorite sandwiches of all time is a fig-goat cheese-prosciutto on chiabatta bread sandwich I had at Salumi up here in Seattle. It's a perfect combination between sweet, salty and savory. And it's light. I mean, it doesn't sit heavy and overstuff you. It's quite pleasant on multiple fronts. It's perfect for a light dinner or picnic at the park! You can use fresh figs. I like marinating mine in a little balsamic vinegar that adds a sweet acidity, and a little drizzle of honey for some sweetness. Conversely, if you can't find fresh figs or don't want to go through the trouble, you can certainly use fig jam like Salumi does. Either way, make sure all the ingredients of this sandwich are fresh and good quality. There are no measurements specified with this recipe because it can all be done to taste and to desired amount. So go for it!

Fig, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Sandwiches
chiabatta bread
thinly sliced imported prosciutto
creamy goat cheese (recommended: Montrachet)
marinated figs (recipe follows) or fig jam

marinated figs:
fresh figs
balsamic vinegar
couple cracks of freshly ground black pepper

Cut the bread in half lengthwise.

If using the marinated fresh figs:
Using your finger nails or a sharp pairing knife, peel the skin off the of the fresh figs and slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Place in a bowl. Drizzle with a little balsamic vinegar and a little honey, to taste, and the black pepper. Toss to coat and let stand 5 minutes. To assmeble the sandwiches, spread out the the marinated figs on a single even layer on one piece of bread. Top with a generous portion of sliced prosciutto. Spread the cheese on the other bread and then "sandwich" the two portions together to make a sandwich. Cut and serve.

If using fig jam:
To assemble sandwiches, spread some of the fig jam on both sides of the bread. Add a generous layer of prosciutto on one slice of bread and a generous portion of goat cheese on the other, then "sandwich" together. Cut and serve.

Week Night Yum Yum: Grilled Tuna Bruschetta Style

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A few weeks ago I had beautiful tomatoes to make bruschetta for dinner. But I didn't have bread. I did have two gorgeous tuna steaks I ended up not making the day before that I had to use up. So, I combined both dishes and thus Grilled Tuna Bruschetta Style was born. A combination of lightly seasoned grilled tuna steaks with a sweet Roma tomato, onion, basil and olive salad on top satisfied the cravings and saved me the carbs! The sweet tomatoes were balanced out nicely with salty green olives I added in, and the gorgeous juice got soaked up by the grilled tuna. And if you want the bread, you can have it on the side.

Grilled Tuna Bruschetta Style
2 tuna steaks
sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + extra for salad
juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
freshly ground black pepper
4 ripe but firm Roma tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup white or red onion, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1-2 Tbsp green Spanish olives

Bring tuna out of fridge and wash then pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides liberally with salt and pepper to taste.

Make the quick marinade for the tuna. Combine about 1/4 cup of olive oil, the lemon juice and Dijon mustard in a shallow baking dish. Add tun and coat on all sides. Cover and let stand to marinate at least 15 minutes, up to 4 hours (in the fridge if longer than 15 minutes).

Make the bruschetta salad. Combine the tomatoes, onion, basil and olives in a bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a drizzle of olive oil (about 1 Tbsp) or enough to just coat the salad. Toss and set aside or cover and refrigerate if using later. (can be made up to 2 hours in advance).

Preheat your grill or stovetop grill to high. Sear the tun steaks, about 3 minutes on each side for medium-rare. Remove and top with the tomato salad. Serve immediately.

My Notes:
Swordfish steaks can be substituted easily here as well. Frankly any fish would work - white fish, salmon, etc. But make sure to note cooking times will vary according to what fish you use!

If you don't have fresh basil you can also use 1/2 tsp fresh chopped oregano and even some fresh thyme. But basil is the traditional herb for a bruschetta style salad.

You can also use cherry tomatoes instead of Roma. I don't recommend using heirlooms or big beefsteak ones as they'll be too juicy, and will make the salad and fish too soggy. Stick with Romas chopped up or cherry tomatoes halved.

Everything You Wanted To Know (or not) About: Figs!

Figs are in season!!!!
Figs are a Love 'Em or Hate 'Em kind of fruit. Their deep red flesh are dotted with many tiny seeds (like the outside of a strawberry) and have a leathery texture to their skin that some people don't find very appealing. But they also have a deep sweetness to them, and when roasted or caramelized, only gets intensified making them ideal to flavor vinegars and balance out acidic dishes.
Their history goes back a long time. I mean a long time. Figs were one of the first plants cultivated by humans, as verified by various fossils dating back to a Jordan Valley village in 9200 BC. In fact, this find predates the domestication of wheat, barley and legumes, and thus may be known as the first ever piece of human agriculture!
Fast forward a few thousand years and you'll find figs to be a very popular ingredient used in Roman cuisine. Simply cut into salads and eaten in conjunction with almonds and fresh cheese, they were an official Go To Snack for the Roman people every day and for feasts. It was also recorded by Pliny The Elder that dried figs were used to force-feed geese to produce fois gras. In fact, Roman fois was called iecur ficatum which roughly translates to "liver of figs."
Dried figs continue to be consumed by the populace today, gaining in popularity over the years. Pureeing dried figs then combining with a good balsamic vinegar, leaving to ferment at least 2 weeks then straining the mixture is a way to make fig-infused balsamic, which is excellent for salads using bitter greens of winter like frisee and raddichio. They serve excellently in sauces to both add a sweetness and texture if you puree it, and pairs very well with roasted meats like pork and chicken. In fall I like to cut some up and add it to my granola. You can even add them to red wine along with various spices and orange peel during the holiday season to make a fig-flavored mulled wine.
But they are awfully pretty when they're fresh. So much so that I find them hard to bite into. Almost too irresistible, yet I manage to power through it. A classic combination for fresh figs that are now in season is to serve them with a good imported prosciutto and some creamy Gorgonzola cheese. If you want to take it a step further you can stuff a little cheese inside a fig-half and then gently wrap it with the salty prosciutto. Goes excellently with a sweeter white wine on a cooler August night.
Which ever way you do eat them, if you pick up fresh figs from the market make sure you consume them within a couple of days, as fresh figs have a very short life after being picked off the tree. Green skin turning towards purple means it's perfectly ripe; green is rather underripe and completely purple probably means they are overly ripe.
And don't forget that bottle of white!

Peach Cobbler: A Simple and Traditional Recipe for Summer's Perfect Fruit

It's summer. One word: peaches. They're sweet, slightly tart, and a perfect fruit for desserts. Although they can play supporting cast to many other fruits, sometimes it's great to have them take center stage alone. No better dessert to accomplish this than a traditional peach cobbler. The following recipe comes from Footnetwork and is an easy, straightforward, and honest version of a peach cobbler and tastes delicious.

Peach Cobbler recipe by Kristina Williamson, Schooner Ellida, via Foodnetwork

Cobbler filling:
4 cups peeled and sliced fresh peaches (blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds to remove the skins)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon flour

Cobbler crust:
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon brown sugar, for topping
Whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Generously butter a 1 1/2-quart shallow baking dish. Place the sliced peaches in the dish and sprinkle with brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and flour. Mix gently and spread evenly again. Bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile combine all dry ingredients for cobbler crust in a bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers, to make the texture like coarse crumbs. Add buttermilk and stir to form a soft dough.

Remove fruit from oven and drop rounded spoonfuls of dough on top. Sprinkle with last tablespoon of brown sugar and return to oven. Bake until fruit is bubbly and crust topping is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.