Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Kind of Grilled Cheese

It only took us three days to go through this entire loaf of H&F Bread Co.'s dark, earthy, Pumpernickel bread. It toasted up quite nicely for my take on the grilled cheese sandwich (to wrap up National Grilled Cheese month)... inspired by one of my previous posts.

I'm calling it: The Islander.

The Islander

The Islander

8 slices of pumpernickel bread
6-8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
8oz cream cheese
1/2lb deli-sliced black forest ham
4 Ataulfo mangoes (these are sweeter and less fibrous than the Tommy Atkins variety, but if you cannot find Ataulfo mangoes, you can use whichever are available)
3 large shallots, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh cilantro
salt and pepper, to taste

Place the thinly sliced shallots into a bowl of cold water for a few minutes, to remove some of the sharpness. Drain and place onto paper towels or a clean dish cloth and pat dry. 

Wash the mangoes and cut into thin slices.
*Even though this video shows them cutting Tommy Atkins mangoes, which are large than Ataulfo mangoes, the same principles apply when cutting any mango.

Heat large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Spread one side of each bread slice with butter. Place 4 slices butter-side down in pan and spread each with 1 tablespoon cream cheese.

Top each with a few slices of ham and sliced mango. Season with salt and pepper. Add thinly sliced shallots and a few leaves of cilantro.

Top with another bread slice, butter-side up. Grill, turning sandwiches once until bread is golden and cheese is melted. Serves 4.

Monday, April 23, 2012

David's Take on Pork & Beans

Pork & Beans

I can't take the credit for all of the dishes that come out of my kitchen these days. While most of the stuff on my blog is definitely my doing, there is a much more experienced and talented palette at my side.

So, I'll post a few of David's creations here and there, sans recipe, for your culinary inspiration and stomach's desire. Why no recipe? Some chefs don't like to freely give away their secrets, especially on their carefully tested (or magically concocted) recipes. I have to respect David's wishes. I ask him *politely* if he minds if I post a recipe that he comes up with, and if he gives me that look... I just post a photo. Another reason is that David usually cooks as he goes (without a recipe in mind), and his recipes tend to have more complicated-than-I-feel-like-typing steps.

Luckily for me, even after a 50+ hour week in the restaurant, he still wants to come home and cook. This was dish #2 to come out of our massive pork shoulder buy. 

David's Pork & Beans

It's David's take on pork and beans. Braised and seared pork shoulder with cranberry beans, watercress (can't get enough of these two) and chimichurri. Being from The South, this was not at all what I envisioned when tossing around ideas about doing a variation on the classic dish. It was light and fresh, packed with flavor, and dare I say it, pretty damn healthy.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Importance of Eating Seasonally

There are plenty of reasons why one should eat seasonally. Without a doubt one of the main reasons is flavor. Take a mango for example, which, a few months ago, would not only cost you twice as much as it does today, but would also not shower you with the amazing sweetness that a perfectly ripe mango can offer. I adore mangoes. Probably due to the fact (ok, mythical fact) that I fell from the mango tree - which is where my mom told me I came from.

A few weeks ago, Ataulfo mangoes started appearing at our international farmer's market. Native to the Philippines and Mexico, they're smaller, bright yellow, luscious, and buttery. Unfortunately, they were all imported from Mexico, but alas, it's difficult to find these type of mangoes in the U.S. (mangoes grown in Florida are usually Tommy Atkins).


This same time last year, I was in the Philippines visiting the other half of my family for the first time since 1995. Sixteen years. My cousins who once were small enough for me to tote around on my hip were now sharing a beer with me at the dinner table.
I forgot a lot of things about the Philippines... the sights, the sounds, the smells... well, I may have purposely dismissed some of that from my memory.


I forgot, or maybe just never realized how good the food really was. Everything seemed new to me, except for my Lola's house... and the taste of a perfectly ripe mango.

Lunch on the Beach

Nothing beats the bang! thump, thump... thomp of a mango falling off of the tree and rolling down your roof... then bribing your little brother to climb up there and get it for you. That's right, they are so ripe that they fall off the tree. None of this picking it 2 weeks before it's ready so that it holds up through shipping and processing crap.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Broccoli, Leek & Red Pepper Quiche

Veggie Quiche

I have a lot of odds and ends in my kitchen today, mostly vegetarian. Basics like carrots, onions, and celery. Some broccoli crowns. A couple of Ruby Red grapefruit and Cara Cara oranges. Potatoes. Coconut milk. Randoms things like Jerusalem artichokes and tomatillos stare me in the face saying "C'mon, eat me already!"

The easy way out would be to run to the grocery store and buy something to go with, say, the potatoes. Steak or chicken perhaps. Toss in some broccoli and I've got a decently balanced meal. That's all well and good... but there's no real effort involved, and it also means I would need to spend more money.

Right, now, I can't really afford to be picky.

I knew returning to the States from living in Europe for a year and a half would be difficult. Especially in this economy. I knew finding a job in my original field -interior design- would be unpredictable. I picked up a few decent contracting jobs with my previous design firm for the first few months back in the States, but now find myself back at the drawing boards. In between sending out resumes and typing up cover letters, I'm focusing on getting back to my blog. The last 8-10 months were a rapidly-changing and at times, emotionally-unstable ride, and the words just weren't flowing as freely as I would have liked.

I got my mojo back... but for now the biggest challenge is creating delicious meals on a veeerrrry *tight* budget. Riding on my savings and "emergency fund", coming up with inspiring dishes takes some real planning and dedication. In my last post, I mentioned that David and I had endured a month-ish long vegan stint. In doing this, we actually opened our eyes to how much money we spend on meat and dairy products. Our weekly grocery bills went from fifty dollars down to about thirty. We bought local produce that was in season, which not only saved even more money, but ultimately tasted better too.

Another amazing benefit? I haven't gotten sick in months. My parents always harp on me to take my vitamins, but with flying between countries, visiting family on holidays, and the onset of pollen season here in Atlanta, by now I would be cuddled-up in my comforter with the sniffles. I don't know if it was a weak immune system or the quality of my diet, but with the change in my eating habits has come a change in my heath... for the better.

Ok, back to the food in my kitchen.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Cranberry Beans with Spinach, Red Watercress and Citrus

Cranberry Beans & Purple Watercress

My dad would laugh if he knew how often I eat beans these days. Growing up I loathed the thought of the little legumes. My chili had to be solely meat-based. I didn't care how much bacon was in those baked beans, and don't even get me started on limas. They just weren't my thing. 

My dad is the undisputed "Bean King" of the family. When visiting me in Paris, we shared long conversations on pintos, kidneys, and navies over a few bottles of red. He would lecture my broke ass on how buying beans instead of steak could save me enough money for retirement. He even wants to write a book about them. He harmlessly jokes about David's background... but I think we all know who the true "Beaner" really is here.

At the start of 2012, David and I challenged ourselves to become dietary vegans - meaning no animal products whatsoever, for one month. The goal was not to just mindlessly substitute our meat and dairy products with "veganized" alternatives, but to focus on eating real food. This posed as an all around food challenge. Finding various sources of our daily nutrients meant... crap... eating beans. The 30-day (ok, I lasted as a true vegan for about 3 weeks) vegan kick completely changed the way I saw food. We ate a lot of beans that month. Chickpeas so far have been my favorite, feeling the least "beany" out of them all. Plus, I can't get enough of Yotam Ottolenghi's hummus recipe in his new book, Plenty. I've truly come to appreciate the nuttiness of azduki, and the versatility of the common pinto.

Attempting to eliminate our canned food intake completely, David and I have abstained from using pre-cooked canned beans. One problem. I become easily frustrated with cooking dried beans. A lot of time and planning is involved in the process. First the beans must be soaked (usually the night before), then cooked for what seems like forever (depending on the bean, of course), and if you don't cook them at just the right temperature, you're left with a super mushy bean with a toothy skin. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Key Lime Tarts

Key Lime Tarts

I got schoolgirl giddy when I passed by a sign at a local bakery that read, "KEY LIME SEASON IS HERE!" O.M.G. Key Lime Pie. WOOOT! If you've ever tasted key lime pie, and I mean real key lime pie (you know, with key limes) you know there's almost nothing that can beat that lip-puckering tart/sweet combo. Regular limes just don't cut it.

Sliced Key Limes

The thing about key limes is that they are annoyingly small. To get a good cup of juice you have to go through the agony of squeezing about 2 pounds worth of limes. Without the aid of a juicer or reamer, it can be a bit of a nightmare. Of course, I have neither. I found it helpful to slice the key limes in half and first press them in a bowl with the palm of my hand, to get most of the juice out, then tackle the last few squeezes with my fingertips.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Crispy Yellowtail Snapper with Red Watercress and Citrus

Purple Watercress & Yellowtail 

I'm a Florida girl at the core. I love blindingly sunny weather and wearing flip-flops all year round. I pledge to live out the second half of my life somewhere along a beach, and when I die, hope to be sprinkled across the sea.

I adore great seafood.

Yellowtail Snapper

I also adore great citrus... and good Lord, Floridians know great citrus.

I can't put into words the deliciousness of a blooming lemon tree... or how perfect life feels when a grapefruit is sweeter than an orange... or the joy I get from puckering my lips at the thought of key lime tarts.

Living in Atlanta means I'm too far away to pick the oranges right off the tree, but close enough to get some real Florida citrus from my local farmer's market. I've been looking forward to those early spring months when Mother Nature tells us it's time to boost our immune systems with vitamin C. The powdery blanket of pollen which has turned all the cars in the parking lot a pale shade of yellow let's me know that time is finally here.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Gnocchi from Scratch - First Attempt


Damn I love gnocchi. It brings me back to 2005 when I studied abroad in Florence. I would sit at this small cafe across the street from school, and trade a couple of meal tickets for a fantastically fragrant bowl of the basil and garlic coated potato pillows. It's one of my favorite smells. I can still taste it when I close my eyes. And still, to this day, I have not tasted another pesto gnocchi recipe that has topped it.


Keeping that taste at the back of my palette, I set out to make it myself. I know what I want it to taste like, now how am I going to pull it off?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Step Back and let the Chef do the Cooking

There are times when a person has to know when to step back... 

Final Plating

... and this time, that person was me. 

One thing I've learned from living with other foodies is that things can't always be your way, especially when it comes to cooking. It took a long time, and a broken relationship or two for me to appreciate something as simple as stepping back and letting the other person take the lead. I guess I'm kind of OCD in that that way.

The good thing about past relationships though, is that you learn (hopefully) from those flaws and failed experiences. With new relationships, you test yourself. You react how you normally wouldn't react, and you do what you normally wouldn't do, and maybe... just maybe, you realize it wasn't entirely their fault.

So I put myself to the test. Last week, one of my good friends from college came into town, and she graciously opened up her swanky bachelorette pad (and kitchen) for David and I to just have at it. If David cooked the dinner, she said, she'd pay for all the ingredients. Pretty sweet trade-off. A free meal of whatever we want to cook, in a gas-stove, kitchen-island, counter-tops-for-days dream kitchen? Ideas swirled in my head of what we could cook. Steak? Risotto? CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN?!?!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Perfect Meal for When You Don't Want to Cook

My after hot yoga power boost!

There are those days when I just really don't want to cook. No, seriously! Usually they're the days when Atlanta traffic likes to make my afternoon commute an hour instead of twenty minutes, or after seventy-five minutes of sweat inducing bikram yoga... I just don't have it in me to make anything worth eating. That's when the fast food drive thru lights start flashing. Not good.
I know it's hard to want to cook for yourself. Especially something that's good for you. I've had my share of popcorn dinners with a side of gummy worms. Whether you're cooking for just yourself, or a bouncing off the walls family of 4, this dish is something easy enough for even the busiest of busy bodies. And with all of the rich iron and veggie protein, it'll fill you up without slowing you down.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Secret to Dating a Chef

Dating a chef is tough. They seem to always be working on those "romantic holidays"... you know, Christmas, New Years Eve, and of course... Valentine's Day. So instead of sitting around and moping about it (which I felt myself starting to do yesterday), I got in the kitchen and made him a little midnight snack for when he got home:

Midnight Valentine Chocolate Soufflés with my Baby

Do something sweet for your luvvy. It doesn't have to be Valentine's Day.

Recipe is here.

Enjoy :)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Leaving Never Never Land...

Crap, is it really February 2012 already? Where has the time gone? I've said it a million times, and yes, I'm saying it once again, the past 6 months have been a crazy whirlwind of ups and downs. Should I recap how I ended 2011?

Where did I even leave off? Wow. Right around my birthday, was it? That far back? I didn't realize it had been that long. This might take a while.

After my birthday, a lot of things started to happen like rapid fire. I previously hinted at a certain chef who threw me a birthday dinner party so delicious I had to wipe my drool off the table... yeah, that chef (*giggles to herself*). Well, as much as we fought it (which is difficult to do in a romantic and beautiful city such as San Sebastian), that relationship started growing into something a bit more... dare I say it... serious...

I mean, come on. HE CAN COOK.

... and he's got some pretty sweet dance moves. Geez.

To be honest, I'm not really that difficult to catch... if you make me laugh, communicate, and feed me (the biggest factor being FEED ME), I'm putty in your hands. But I've never met someone with the same passion, if not a bigger passion for food, than I do.

We ended our summer with some experiences most food-lovers would have wet-dreams about...