Lunch

Sorry your car is at a 45-degree angle in a ditch….try the muffins?

I shouldn’t complain about the hours I work. I mean, I lived with two djs. I’ve seen how exhausted they are after setting up for an event all day – heavy lifting, making sure sound works correctly, usually doing all this under the sun in black t-shirts – only to have to stand on their feet for five hours or more at night for their gigs. I’m used to not having Mr. Right in bed next to me when I head for sleep and not being able to say goodbye to him when I leave for work in the morning. It’s a working relationship. Shit happens. I’ve got so much respect for those ladies and gentlemen dating chefs, bartenders, bouncers, dancers, and the like. Snaps to all of you for making the commitment to making it work.

That being said, work weeks get stressful. I work 6-7 days a week. Yes, I realize that means I have no days off occasionally. Once again, shit happens. When I’m not at one museum, I’m at the other. I used to work for a contemporary photography gallery on top of those two museums. If I’m not at any of those places, but still not home? I’m either at the ice rink or in the dance studio – teaching and trying to convince my non-teenage body that I can still move in a way that’s moderately aesthetically pleasing.

I really, really shouldn’t complain. Real talk, I love it all. That being said, the vacation we just took to visit my family in Sacramento and spend time in Napa and San Francisco was needed.

A moderately accurate representation of my inner self during this trip.

Mr. Right and I spent an entire day shopping for food and alcohol while Hey-Telling (for those of you who don’t have this app, get it – it’s a walkie-talkie throwback to Nextel phone days) one of my best friends who was planning on joining my family’s celebrations.

My grandmother lives on a farm. I don’t mean this sarcastically, her house is literally in the middle of a functional field. The aftermath of a sunflower crop was everywhere while we were visiting.

In order to get to her house, one turns off the main road onto a smaller road….then off the smaller road onto a dirt road. It’s not exactly over the river and through the woods, but it’s far enough.

“If directions to your house include the phrase, ‘Turn onto a dirt road….you might be a hillbilly.'”

Heard it all before; trust me.

The outskirts of the field surrounding my grandmother’s house are lined with an irrigation ditch. A corresponding irrigation road runs alongside this. Do you see where the story is going yet? Since my girlfriend hadn’t been to my grandmother’s house since the summer following my freshman year at UCLA, she accidentally turned onto the irrigation road instead of the road leading to the house. A few yards into the turn, she realized she’d made a mistake, attempted to reverse, and…..

Damn. Festive firework added for this lovely lady’s privacy. Speaking of which, I love this woman.

Thankfully, no one was injured and we were able to make use of my AAA service. It took two tow trucks and two burly men quite a bit of effort to get the car back onto the road – as it turned out, only the front left tire was keeping it from going in the water – but the guys sent to help us in the 103-degree weather were nice, and my friend’s car didn’t even get wet.

After we were solidly dusty, they followed us back to my grandmother’s house for a plate of food. (I mean….it was the least we could do.) I also made sure to pour the poor girl an oversized glass of wine to go with the plate of carbs I shoved in her direction.

Muffins don’t fix everything….but they definitely help.

Garlic & Sun-Dried Tomato Corn Muffins (adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis)

Ingredients:

  • Two 8.5 packages Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix (Don’t judge. Life must go easy on us, and our food sometimes. Besides, a lot of technology and money went into the box cake/muffin mix to make it taste good.)
  • 2/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes – chopped into small pieces
  • 2 cups thawed frozen corn kernels
  • 3 cloves (or 3 tablespoons, if you’re working with the Costco-type of jar) minced garlic
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup sour cream
  • 2 large eggs – beaten

Turn an oven to 375 and place paper liners in a muffin baking sheet.

Mix the dry ingredients together (the muffin mix, sun-dried tomatoes, corn, and garlic). Mix the wet ingredients together (the milk, sour cream, and eggs.)

Combine the dry and wet mix together. (As you can tell, this recipe is extremely difficult. Please note the tone of voice I’m saying this in.)

Bake for 15 minutes ish, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out without any gunk on it.

Serve with the comforting beverage of your choice. Also make sure your car is safe, while you’re at it.

I had to get in on the fun. And obviously, UCLA girls rock.

Fifty Shades of Salad #5: Mediterranean Vinaigrette (and a Moderately Serious Post About My Mother)

My mother loves fresh vegetables, especially tomatoes grown at my grandmother’s farm in Sacramento. She still finds it amusing that the bumpy, multi-colored tomatoes too ugly to sell for profit and only used for family meals are now the expensive “heirloom” varieties in stores and farmers markets.

I didn’t develop an appreciation for tomatoes and salad until my senior year of high school. Strange, but true.

My mom is awesome. I talk to my parents as often as possible, and can honestly say there are no secrets between us. Nothing is off-limits with them. From a very young age, they drilled into me their desire to always know – the sex, drugs, and Kim/Kanye elements of everything I do.

Don’t worry. She’s not this mom.

My parents let me experience things for myself before asking them for help. This is especially emotional for me to process now, since some of the stuff I pulled couldn’t have been easy to watch. It was recently the three-year anniversary of a very intense brain surgery my mother had in 2010. Needless to say, I’m feeling very nostalgic and had some tears to spare earlier.

Mediterranean Vinaigrette for Any of Mom’s Salads:

Whisk together 2 tablespoons Red Wine Vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon Mustard + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste + 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Mash in 1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese.

Whisk in an additional 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley + 1 teaspoon dry oregano + 1 diced plum tomato.

This vinaigrette goes wonderfully with any Mediterranean-type chicken recipe.

Tell whatever motherly figure – family, friend, etc. – that you love them.

Love you, Mom. Real talk.

Fifty Shades of Salad #4: I know it’s a lot, but I’m giving you bacon.

Bacon (n.) – [BAY-KON]

the back and sides of the hog, salted and dried or smoked, usually sliced thin and fried for food

Idioms:

“Bring home the bacon” – i.e. to provide for material needs, be successful or victorious

According to urbandictionary:

Delicious strips of juicy, pork heaven. Served often at breakfast with eggs, but perfectly good served alone and at any time of day.

Bacon is delicious. It’s enough to make one-night stands stick around for breakfast and keep hangovers at bay until you can sink back into the safety of your pillow. Or if you’re me, it’s enough to make the busiest week of the museum year (my Monday and Tuesday consisted of dealing with 1,168 and 1,248 visitors respectively….and that was only the beginning….) go away when eaten in bed while watching “How I Met Your Mother,” “Daria,” and “Friends.”

Try this vinaigrette for a hint of decadent happiness without compromising calories.

Whisk together 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, pepper to taste, and 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Once emulsified, whisk in 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese, 3 slices of crumbled cooked bacon (try to find thick cut bacon….it’s got the best texture), and 2 tablespoons chopped green onions.

Crispy nuggets of love.

Finally getting my hair cut tomorrow. After which I plan to lounge about in the sunshine while watching 90s TV reruns on my laptop.

Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll also be filming my first video blog entry. Any suggestions for things to cook? Or advice on how to look skinny on camera?

Fifty Shades of Salad #3: Roasted Garlic Salad Dressing

October 2013: The Month of Garlic. At least that’s what it seems to be turning into. I realize the month is just beginning, but I’ve been craving strong, garlicky flavor with everything…..on fries….on macaroni and cheese recipe….and in salad dressing. I’m not fighting any vampires, and at least the person most likely to smell my garlic breath is consuming all these things with me?

I’m ordinarily strongly opposed to salad dressings that take longer than one minute to make. I made an exception for this one because I wanted an excuse to roast garlic. If you’ve never tried roasted garlic, there’s no time like the present. Our Awesome Former Roommate and I have both admitted to eating an entire head of roasted garlic by ourselves. Because we’re awesome.

(And vampire slayers.)

Oh, right. You’re here for the salad. Go make the vinaigrette, already.

Instructions:

Slice the top off 1 head of garlic and drizzle with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Wrap in foil and roast at 400 degrees until tender (about 35 minutes). Place a baking sheet underneath the foil ball of garlic love in case any of the oil drips out. Once tender, let cool and squeeze out the cloves – they should be golden brown and delicious looking.

Combine 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, pepper to taste, and 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a blender, food processor, or magic bullet until smooth.

Add the peeled roasted garlic cloves and 3 tablespoons grated parmesan and blend again.

No vampire or wooden stake necessary for serving.

No Edward Cullen in sight.

Fifty Shades of Salad #2: Scallion White Wine Vinaigrette

Maybe I’m not the biggest White Wine Vinegar fan? Maybe I’m craving whole grain mustard instead of a singular texture? I’ll try again with my work salad today. Regardless of my “meh” feeling, this one got the seal of approval from various gentlemen visiting our apartment – all claiming willingness to have this dressing again.

While I’m thinking of it: what are your opinions on bottling homemade salad dressings for Christmas gifts? I’m not trying to start a holiday panic; I’m trying to think ahead. I always see the most interesting glass bottles and other eclectic craftsy things on sale during the summer. Is it because people are too busy flocking to beaches and vacation destinations to craft things? People who are talented at this sort of thing (crafting), please fill me in….

The original version of this recipe in my notes called for one raw shallot, but multiple years of avoiding green onions in my stereotypically-Japanese-American favorite childhood snack of miso soup has made me use them in en masse.

P.S. If you chop an onion while it’s submerged in water, your eyes won’t tear up. Stay happy! Cooking is fun!

Scallion White Wine Vinaigrette

Whisk together 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste + 3 green onions, tips cut off, thinly sliced + 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

I’m Not Julie or Julia, but I Still Like Potatoes

The first recipe Julie Powell made from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking before writing that blog-then-book-now-movie “Julie and Julia” was potage parmentier – potato and leek soup.

In an attempt to convince Mr. Right that reading this book wasn’t a complete waste of my time, I decided to prepare the recipe that inspired a blog, book, and mediocre romantic comedy.

Two problems:
First, Mr. Right isn’t the biggest fan of leeks. 
This point was driven home by the leeks at the market looking anemic and sad. Frustrated enough to seek out an extra bottle of wine to drink while cooking, I returned to the produce section and grabbed a ton of green onions.

Second, Awesome Former Roommate is….vegan. Thankfully this is primarily for health reasons, so I don’t feel like I’m killing his soul when I bring home thick-cut bacon and goat cheese logs.

Still, why is this a problem? Julia Child’s recipe for potato soup only calls for three ingredients besides water and salt: potatoes, leeks, and….butter.

I didn’t think this one through all the way. Clearly. Cut to me staring glassy-eyed at shelves of butter and butter-substitutes, mindlessly chewing on my cell phone case and hoping what I put together won’t be disgusting. My eye falls on a tub of something called “Smart Balance Buttery Spread: Made with Olive Oil. 100% Vegan.”

I know somewhere my parents, Anthony Bourdain, Paula Deen, and every other chef in existence is shuddering. I know guys…..I’ve failed you. I promise I use real unsalted butter, like a good girl. The recipe in my head had already been screwed up, so I grabbed a box of vegetable stock and hoped the soup would taste like something besides boiled potatoes. (I can feel all of you shuddering. My head is hanging in shame as I write this.)

Less than an hour later, there was much rejoicing in the kingdom, and Smart Balance has become a fridge staple ever since. Huh.

Not Julia Child’s Potato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter or Smart Balance Olive Oil Spread
  • 3 to 6 bunches green onions – sliced thin, tips cut off, both white and green parts
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 6 cups (about 1 box) vegetable stock
  • 1 and 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes – peeled and sliced as thin as possible
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put a large pot over low heat and melt the butter. Add the green onions and cook until tender (make sure to stir them around so they don’t burn) – 3 ish minutes – then add the garlic and stir up until things start smelling divine (30 seconds at most).

Pour in the chicken stock and drop the potatoes in the pool. Cover and simmer until the potatoes pierce extremely easily with a fork.

Remove pot from heat and puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth. Pour back into the pot once smooth and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Once it’s ladled out you can garnish it with fresh herbs or (if you’re not vegan) sour cream or cheese.

Mr. Right insisted on garnishing mine with sour cream, but I promise this tastes perfectly lovely plain. As you can see, we like cheese. For once, he consumed more cheese than I did.

“That Depends….Are You in?”: Gazpacho as Fresh as Will Smith On That One Show

Lately, the weather in LA has been sporadic at best. This past week has consisted of me lounging on the roof in a bikini like a 1960s music video in 91-degree weather, shivering in the fetal position in the morning, and yesterday….it rained. Whine, whine, whine.

Cut to: 91 degrees in LA.

As a result of the heat, I don’t feel like moving, but have promised to make dinner. My ever-helpful boyfriend perkily asks what I’m thinking of making while watching me stare blankly at the contents of the fridge. I realize I’m going to have to go to the market. Damn it. I was hoping to not have to dress in socially-appropriate clothing once I changed out of my fierce work attire. Wait! Maybe I can make something with what’s here….Let’s see: cilantro and chicken sausage over here….eggs on the top shelf…..are there tortillas? Maybe if I add some cumin and….

“Babe? Did you hear me? What do you think you’re going to make?”

My guy. Always punctual. 

I made up an excuse. “I’m just waiting to see if someone else (i.e. Awesome Roommate) is in. I have to know if I’m cooking something vegan or not.” Awesome Roommate looks up – not having processed the selfish nature of my dilemma – and says, “What are you making?” Which is obviously the most helpful thing he could have said.

“I’m not sure. That depends….are you in?”

“I’m in!”

Perfect. I’m cooking a vegan meal with a fridge primarily consisting of chicken sausage and eggs.

The heat wasn’t helping things. I decided to combine as many fresh ingredients as possible for something light, refreshing, and fantastically cold: gazpacho. Cooler than Wendy Peffercorn.

Lotioning and oiling….oiling and lotioning.

Tomato and Watermelon Gazpacho

Ingredients:

  • 4 medium tomatoes – chopped
  • 4 cups diced seedless watermelon
  • 1 cucumber – peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper – chopped
  • 3 green onions – sliced
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil and mint
  • 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

We almost ate this as a salad because it looked so beautiful.

Combine all ingredients except the olive oil and vinegar in a large bowl. Season with kosher salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the olive oil and vinegar. Puree in batches, then strain (trust me, straining this mixture is important – chunky gazpacho is gross) into a large serving bowl. Chill for 1 hour before serving.

So fresh, so clean….like the OutKast song.

Fifty Shades of Salad #1: A Classic Vinaigrette for an Anything-But-Classic Day

Bad days suck.

It started with spilling foundation on one of my favorite dresses (thank you for alleviating my fears, Tide To-Go) and ending with a sleepy Mr. Right closing the window of my car onto three of my fingers. (OW.)

What’s your favorite comfort food? I don’t necessarily mean the classic image of comfort food – mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, any form of dessert or potato chip….those things are all delicious, but they don’t magically make everything better. At least not for me.

When everything still gloomy and poignantly over-dramatic, I need chocolate milk (and I mean adding Ghirardelli syrup to regular milk, not that nasty pre-mixed nonsense , a large salad, or Thai food. (Not all at the same time, though. That’s just gross.)

Whilst brooding and annoying Mr. Right, who was being saintly and doing numerous things to make me feel better, i.e. dunking me in a hot bath with ice on the side for my injured finger and a glass of wine, I flipped through my notebooks, magazines, and books in search of something interesting to drag me out of my funk. I discovered I had over fifty different versions of…..salad dressing.

What the hell? How did that happen? Real talk, that’s just sad….

Hence the following:

fiftyshades

Not saying it’s as awesome as Neil Patrick Harris. But at least it’ll get me through bikini season with a healthier body?

Classic Vinaigrette

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar + 2 teaspoons Dijon (any texture will do) + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt + pepper to taste – Then whisk in 1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Also remember that the best salads are simple. It’s about adding the right pop of flavor to the fresh produce at hand. For best results, spoon the dressing over your salad one tablespoon at a time.

Ahi Poke: “IT’S RAW!”

So what is this raw thing you’re about to try making? Poke (that’s pronounced “POH-KAY”) is a Hawaiian appetizer. The name comes from a word meaning “to section”/”to cut.” In this case, cutting ahi tuna into cubes, marinating it in a few things, and eating it. No heat. No grill. No problem.

Time to watch “Lilo and Stitch” with my bowl of happy.

This recipe is a layup. It’s an easy lunch, snack, dinner….and I admit, I’ve had it for breakfast. Eat it plain, over rice, or as a taco. Make it with a fish other than ahi. Change the seasoning. Mess around. Do whatever you desire, young grasshopper. Just make sure the fish of a good quality – your nose is your best bet. Buy from a source that has a high turnover rate. The more fish they’re selling, the more often they’re either going to the market or having it shipped to them. Use your nose, buy smart, buy safe. It’s not as scary as it sounds.

Mr. Right calls this “Island Goddess Food.” I call it guaranteed seconds.

Ahi Poke

Ingredients:

  • Ahi Tuna
  • 1/2 cup Maui onion – finely diced (If you can’t find a Maui onion, yellow onions are a great substitution)
  • 1/4 cup green onion – finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce (low sodium? Up to you.)
  • 5 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 chilis at your desired heat level, finely diced – OR – 1 tablespoon sriracha – OR – 1 tablespoon sambal
  • salt/pepper to taste

Rinse tuna under cold water and drain on a paper towel. Dice into even square chunks – how big is up to you…i.e. how big a piece of raw fish do you feel comfortable putting in your mouth?

Put into some sort of container with a lid – add all other ingredients and toss to combine. Chill in your fridge for at least 10 – 15 minutes.

Ideas for customizing your poke, courtesy of my favorite place to get it when I’m not making it: Poke-Poke on the Venice Boardwalk. “The Surfer’s Sashimi,” indeed.

Conquering the Artichoke

From what I’ve heard, restaurant chefs consider artichokes a layup. Clean it. Grill it. Fire-roast it. Serve with festive dipping sauces. Boom. Another customer taken care of. Simple, right? Gaze wistfully into the distance, because unfortunately, it hasn’t been as simple of a journey for me as I’m making it out to be.

I’ve tried steaming artichokes. I’ve tried cleaning artichokes. I’ve even gotten over my fear of lighting my maxi-dress on fire while attempting to grill artichokes.

My mother and Mr. Right’s mother thought I was crazy. “You can steam them in the microwave and it’s just as good.” I’m sorry ladies. Been there. Done that. I lack the patience to babysit a microwave and make sure nothing explodes. Plus I’m not entirely certain how to use one. Is that bad? Moving on…

The chefs in my life thought I was lazy. “Dude, I can turn an artichoke in like twenty seconds. Watch.” The scar on the inside of my thumb came from that one, bro.

Things were looking bleak. One evening while zoning out and watching “Top Chef” reruns, someone from Season 9: Texas called out a buzz-phrase: “Roman Style Artichoke.” I glanced up in time to see….leaves? A pan sauce?  I turned to Food Network for guidance, and oven-braised my first-ever successful artichoke.

Roman Style Artichokes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon
  • Artichokes – as many as you’re going to eat
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine – An important note about cooking with wine: Buy cheap, but not so cheap that you won’t be willing to drink whatever is left in the bottle after you’re done cooking with it. The lush in me refuses to let wine go to waste sitting in your pantry.
  • 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup H2O – that’s water, for our less scientific-minded learners
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1/3 tablespoon dry oregano)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

Pre-heat oven to 350

Fill a bowl big enough to house the artichokes with water, and squeeze the lemon’s juices into it. Toss the leftover halves into the bowl when you’re done squeezing.

Partially clean the artichokes by cutting off the tops, snipping the sharp tips off the leaves with kitchen shears, and removing leaves from the steam, and any tough-looking leaves from the bottom layer. Then slice the artichokes in half and scrape out the choke (the hairy part in the center.) Put the artichoke halves into the lemon water for 2 to 5 minutes.

Remove the artichokes from the water and put into a pot with the cut side facing up (the insides should be looking at you in all their blank canvas glory.)

Add the wine, olive oil, water, salt, garlic, and herbs to the pot. Bring to a boil.

If you’re lucky enough to have a stove-to-oven pot, place the pot in the oven and cover.

If you’re a plebian like me, use tongs to place the artichokes in a baking dish, then pour the pot’s contents over the artichokes. Cover with aluminum foil and transfer to oven. Roast for 45 minutes or until the stem flesh pierces easily with a fork.

When the artichokes come out of the oven, drizzle with olive oil, pepper flakes, and the braising liquid (i.e. the juices left over in the baking dish.)

I never knew success could be so soft and herbaceous.