Category Archives: home cooking

Quick Bites: Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos

Wanted to share with you a really delicious, vegetarian taco that I made at home, inspired by ones I had at the uber-healthy-crunchy-granola restaurant, Cafe Gratitude. Although I like their food, I can’t say I’m a fan of the names of dishes. I mean, I feel kind of silly asking the waitress for one order of the “I Am Awesome” with a side of “I Am Gorgeous.” I mean, hello- I already know these things about myself and don’t feel the need to remind everyone. Just kidding. Seriously- it is kind of ridiculous when tacos are called “I Am Transformed.” And for the record, I don’t know how happy the food makes people- last time I was there I saw a very pissed off Jeremy Piven chuck a menu across the counter and storm off after learning Cafe Gratitude doesn’t serve decaf. Guess someone wasn’t feeling very grateful that day. Sheesh.

To be fair, I kind of was transformed after trying the, um, “I Am Transformed”- Two seasonal corn tacos with caramelized butternut squash, black beans, sliced avocado, salsa fresca and cashew nacho cheese. They were slightly sweet from the squash, spicy from the beans and salsa and nutty from the corn tortillas. Since I wanted to eat them again but didn’t feel like spouting off how transformed I was, I thought I’d make them at home.

The process was relatively simple but time consuming: I roasted one butternut squash, scooped out the flesh and whizzed in the food processor with garlic and a bit of cayenne pepper. Made pico de gallo (onions, tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeno, salt). Opened a can of black beans, rinsed well, then tossed with some salsa verde (my touch!). Piled everything onto my new favorite Ezekiel sprouted corn tortilla, then topped with a bit of crumbled cojita cheese.

They tasted pretty much identical to the ones at Cafe Gratitude- sweet and spicy, creamy and fresh. I’m glad I was able to recreate these, but I have to admit I may still have to pop over to Cafe Gratitude in a pinch- roasting a butternut squash takes time. After all, I can’t be waiting forever to be transformed.


Healthy Twist: Quinoa Pasta Mac and Cheese

I’m always trying to find ways to make my favorite comfort foods healthier, and now- thanks to the wide variety of higher fiber, lower sugar and generally all around better-for-you alternatives to pasta, breads and other foods, it’s getting a lot easier.

Continue reading

The Green Burrito: Falafel Collard Wrap

I’ve been meaning to make Andie’s baked falafel for awhile now, and finally got around to it last weekend. J and I loved them so much, I whipped up a double batch tonight, and took the opportunity to try another idea I’ve been toying with: to use collard greens as the wrap instead of pita or a tortilla. Hmm…

Continue reading

Healthy Asian Plate: Salmon, Vegetables and Forbidden Rice

I suppose it seems strange that something so healthy contains something that is forbidden. Apparently, this black, whole-grain rice (it’s more purple in color, actually) was eaten exclusively by the Emperors of China back in the day (like, waaaay back in the day) so it was dubbed “forbidden” to lowly farmers or pretty much anyone ranked below royalty. Hm, maybe we can rename it “1 Percent Rice?” Wait, I guess that would lead people to think it contains only 1% rice. Ah well. Continue reading

It’s 2012, The Year of Blogging; The Year of Whole Foods

Whoa…has it really been…THREE MONTHS since my last blog post? Thank goodness Google remembers my password to WordPress for me- it’s been that long, ya’ll. It’s been so long I actually forgot the 6th anniversary- November 11- of this here Tuna Toast blog! I’m a bad blog mom, seriously.

Continue reading

Recipe: Baked Tofu Egg Rolls

Did you know it’s currently National Vegetarian Week? If ya didn’t, now ya do, so go out there and eat a carrot or ten!

I do love myself a beautiful piece of rare meat now and again, but I find that I cook vegetarian more often than not even though I’m not consciously planning it. I guess it may have to do with the fact that I don’t really know what I’ll be cooking on any given week and therefore rarely buy meat or fish on my weekend shopping trips and prefer to buy it the day of when I figure out what’s for dinner. Add that to the fact that I’m usually running behind, and it leads to me making our meals out of whatever we have on hand, which is always vegetables and some sort of protein that keeps well for longer periods than fresh meat, like tofu, cheese or beans. Continue reading

Recipe: Spring Vegetable Frittata

I hate to start off a Sunday afternoon post with a rant, but I just have to get it out. I’m done paying money for bad meals and mediocre food. Just done. It seems I’ve had some bad luck especially when it comes to breakfast or brunch outings (there have been a few dinners as well, darn it!), and I guess it’s partially my fault for trying to tweak a scramble so it’s made with egg whites or to ask for “easy cheese.” Maybe I should just order an omelet the way it is without adjustments. But even as I type that sentence, I’m not totally convinced that trying to eat relatively healthily at a restaurant is reason enough for a bad plate of food. What restaurant these days doesn’t offer a “substitute egg whites” option anyway? They all do, right? Grrrrr….. Continue reading

Healthier, 134-Calorie Cheesecake

Ed note: Hey, welcome to the new, improved, Doppler 12,000 version of Tuna Toast! It’s nice to finally be here, and I’m so glad you’ve joined me. Read more about this blog and other new, exciting (well, to me!) happenings by clicking on the “About Me,” “Catering/Baking” or other tabs.

I know what you’re thinking.  How can healthy cheesecake be any good?  After all, the best thing about a cheesecake is how dense, rich and utterly sinful it tastes. Which is exactly why I tried to create a slightly lighter version- so I could experience the goodness that is cheesecake much more often.  And guess what?  It worked!

Continue reading

Cappelletti In Brodo

I have a lot to cover in this post, so I guess it’s best to get started!

Before I get into this pasta making experience, I wanted to share with you the experience I was lucky enough to have had with Todd and Diane, AKA White On Rice Couple.  As their many loyal blog readers and Twitter followers know, T&D are extremely talented and gifted photographers, cooks, teachers and just all-around awesome people.  They are also master GIVERS.  I say this because I have been the recipient of their generosity more than once- most recently at their inaugural Food Photography Shoot Out where they invited a few bloggers to come and learn the tricks of their trade, for free.  I learned so much I can barely even begin to put it in this blog, but the biggest lesson I took away from the seminar was that my photos should tell a story.  So I’m trying to keep this in mind from now on when I post photos on this blog, and I hope you’ll all give me feedback on where I can improve (and also what’s working!).  Their words about telling a story made me rethink my blogging a bit- I haven’t included a whole lot of personal information in my blog so far, but I think I may allow myself to be a bit more open in this space from now on.  I mean, words should tell a story too, and maybe after five years my story should include more than just one about making this dish or that dish.  Anyway, many thanks to Todd and Diane for sharing their wisdom, knowledge, humor and confidence with me and the others- I know we’re all better for it and I hope I make you guys proud!   Here’s some of the pics I took during their workshop:

So, since we’re on the topic of telling a story, my story, to be exact, here’s what’s new….well, new to you all, over the last couple of months.  If you’ve been reading Tuna Toast for awhile, you’ve probably gathered that I work in entertainment television, I’m married to a musician, have a cat, lived in Tokyo for a long time and love to cook.  All of those things are still true, except for the first thing: I was laid off at the end of last year.  Before you throw me any pity parties, let me tell you that A) it wasn’t a total surprise and B) it was the extra kick in the pants I needed to pursue my true passion, FOOD.  Don’t worry, I’m not signing up for The Next Food Network Star or making plate after plate of green beans on a line in a kitchen.  I thought long and hard about a field that marries my media experience with my love and knowledge of food and came to a conclusion, which I’ll share with you I as progress a bit further into my journey.  Let’s just say I’ve started an internship to dip my toe into this new adventure, and I’m loving every minute of it!  To wake up excited about work is a feeling I’d been missing for quite awhile, and it’s really, truly a great thing.

Ok, so you’re like, “Can you get to the FOOD already?!”  Yes yes- these lovely little cappelletti were a triumph for me personally, because although I’ve been making fresh pasta for a couple of years, I’d never really gotten mine to the al dente consistency that pasta, ALL pasta, should have.  I’ve played around with recipes that use type 00 flour, use a mix of semolina and all purpose and ones that use oil and eggs and even others that use only eggs, but I’d never gotten that wonderful, chewy texture out of my homemade pasta.  Until now!!  At the aforementioned Food Photography Shoot Out, I was whining to a fellow blogger about how soft my homemade pasta is.  She happened to be Italian, and told me that most pasta recipes tell you to fold and roll the pasta dough through the thickest setting three times, which is true and therefore what I’d always done.  She said Italian grandmothers fold and roll their pasta through the thickest setting at least fifteen times before moving on to the thinner settings since it builds up the gluten in the dough.  Viola!  It made perfect sense and I couldn’t wait to go home and try it.

I’d spied these beautiful cappelletti on Jul’s Kitchen and immediately added it to the top of my list of dishes I’d like to make, which I save on the desktop of my MacBook because, well, I’m a big dork and that’s just what I do.  I made the filling – a combination of ground beef, ground pork, sausage and mortadella, Parmesan, bread crumbs and egg- the day before.  If you could have smelled the kitchen when that mixture was cooking you’d think you’d died and gone to Italian Heaven, I tell you.  It was a pretty good start to what would become a great dish.

The next day I was eager to start the pasta but wanted to decide what type of sauce would be good for the cappelletti so I was looking around the internet when I discovered that 99%, if not all cappelletti, was served en brodo, or in broth.  I’d had my heart set on a marinara but didn’t want to upset any Italian grandmothers, so I researched at length to find a recipe for the perfect brodo.  I realized that the Italian broth for this dish was always made with meat, which was new to me.  I’d made broth before but always from bones, not actual hunks of meat, and I felt a little bit guilty purchasing large slabs of brisket, beef shank with tons of meat on it and chicken just to stew in a big pot of water but I did it anyway.  OMG, am I glad I did.  The meat, onion, carrot, celery and Parmesan rinds (I always keep them and let me tell you- they are the key to this broth!) made the richest, tastiest broth I think I’d ever made.

I made the pasta as instructed by my fellow blogger, and it was far more forgiving as I was rolling up my cappelletti that any other pasta I’d made in the past. It was much more elastic and could take on more filling since it was so durable.  What a difference the extra rolling made!  I wondered if it would hold the texture after I cooked it…

It did!  It was perfectly al dente and kept its shape nicely.  I was so happy to have finally figured out the key to a nice, chewy egg pasta.  The combination of flavors of the different meats in the filling with the broth and a nice dusting of Parmesan was really magical, and I can see why this rich pasta is served in broth instead of coated with a heavier sauce.  It was a great balance of flavor and texture.

For dessert, I made another recipe I’d “clipped” from a blog: David Lebovitz’s Goat Cheese Souffle.  I’m a huge fan of light, fluffy Japanese cheesecake and I knew from the ingredients that this would have a similar flavor.  I made the mistake of putting my souffles too close together so they did ooze a bit, but otherwise they were light, slightly sweet and just cheesy enough.  I’d definitely make this again and maybe serve it with fresh berries.

So, that’s the end of the story, at least for today.  I hope my photos did a better job of telling it than in my previous posts, and I will definitely work harder to become a better storyteller, both with the pictures AND the words!

Now go and make this cappelletti!

Super Bowl Food

Ah, The Super Bowl.  It might be the second biggest eating “holiday” in the U.S. after Thanksgiving.  I’m not really sure where the tradition of stuffing your face while watching football started, but I’m not complaining about it!  I mean, any excuse to eat while watching TV can’t be bad (for your soul…but it could be bad for the body!) plus the food gives the football haters something to focus on while the others scream loudly at the television as if the referees can actually hear them.  Which is probably why I made SO much food yesterday.  As you may know from reading this blog, J is a musician.  As you can probably guess, none of his musician friends watch sports of any kind.  So the food was the reason they came, while only a couple of us actually watched the game.  It was a win-win for everyone (OK, maybe not the Steelers…oh well…).
I don’t know why I but I always make way more food than necessary, whether it’s for a special occasion or just a regular ol’ night.  You’d think I was cooking for the Duggars (that family that has like, 100 kids) but I guess I always feel it’s better to have too much that too little.  Of course during the 4th hour of cooking I often wonder what the hell I was thinking, but then I get out of the weeds and it all works out.  Isn’t that the joy of cooking?!  I just have this need to feed people…it’s what makes me happiest, so I’ll come up with any reason to cook mountains of food as long as there are people willing to eat it.  
Since we only had a few people over, I sent each person home with enough food to last them a week.  I think next time I’ll take it down a notch and remind myself that our guests aren’t bears and do not need to eat enough to sustain themselves until spring.  
Here’s what we had:

Lobster salad in endive cups.  Normally I make this with crab, but J and I bought a 5 pound lobster at Shun Fat El Monte Superstore for under $20, so I figured why not?  Do you know how much a container of dungeness crab meat costs?  A lot more than this giant specimen of a lobster!  The claw meat was amazingly tender and worked really well in this dish.



Two kinds of empanadas: 1) Soyrizo, corn and cheese empanadas and 2) Butternut squash, black bean and salsa verde empanadas.  I find it’s easiest to keep a lot of party dishes vegetarian friendly, and as long as they’re satisfying, the meat eaters won’t even notice.  I took a shortcut by purchasing empanada dough discs from Figueroa Produce- they sell three kinds, all in their freezer section.

Lightly blanched green beans and asparagus with sesame dip.  I just whizzed one block of silken tofu in a blender with some Japanese toasted sesame oil, sesame seeds and sesame salad dressing.  It was thick and delicious- try substituting silken tofu for mayo in your next dip recipe and you’ll see how creamy it is!

Italian sandwiches: Tofurky Italian Sausage sliced thin, provolone cheese, mixed greens and pesto.  I made big sandwiches the day before on ciabatta bread, wrapped them tightly in plastic wrap and compressed them with cans, then unwrapped them the day of the party and sliced them into smaller sandwiches.

Guacamole and three kinds of salsa: I made the guac- you can’t have a Super Bowl party without it- and bought the salsa from Cacao Mexicatessen in Eagle Rock.

Japanese fried chicken drumettes: My mom used to make these for my sister and me on special occasions like birthday parties, and they are absolutely my favorite kind of fried chicken.  Just marinate the chicken in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, garlic, ginger and green onions for a few hours, coat them in a mixture of equal parts flour and potato starch, then deep fry (I used peanut oil).  You don’t need any sauce since the flavor is built right in.  DEEEELISH!  I garnished it with some extra chopped green onions for color.

Ina Garten’s Macaroni and Cheese: Easy to make in advance so you just pop it in the oven 30 minutes before guests arrive.  Always a hit.

Here’s the whole spread:

What did you eat on Super Bowl Sunday?