Category Archives: home cooking

Thomas Keller’s Marinated Skirt Steak

We recently had some friends over for dinner so we’d have an excuse to open up some wine that we received as a present.  Our friend Jesse’s parents, who live in Boston, were kind enough to send us some T-Vine Psychedelic Rooser Zinfandel-Petite-Sirah, so we invited Jesse to come and share it with us.  What goes well with such big, bold red?  Beef!

Skirt steak.  It certainly isn’t the prettiest of cuts- all scraggly and uneven- thin in some places and thick in others.  However, it’s one of the most flavorful, beefy parts of the cow and also happens to be J’s favorite, so when I was trying to figure out what to cook for the meal, J jumped all over the gorgeous photo in Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home cookbook and it was decided.  The unglamorous, unpopular kid in the class of steaks would be the main course.  Hmph.
I’ll admit that the amount of olive oil in Thomas Keller’s marinade made me gasp a bit…I mean, 2 CUPS?  I reassured myself that the cut of meat itself had little fat and that most of the marinade would be wiped off anyway, so I went ahead and used the entire 2 cups.  The oil is flavored with rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme before the steak bathes in it for a few hours.  Sounded good to me!  
I needed some pretty sides to go along with the steak, and found some gorgeous little heirloom potatoes at the Pasadena Farmer’s Market which I promptly picked up.  An array of colorful carrots and some fresh arugula also caught my eye, as did some apples and ruby grapefruit.  If you’re ever in a cooking slump,  just hit your local farmer’s market to get inspiration- it works for me every time!
So here’s what we had:
Beecher’s Honey Hazelnut crackers with gruyere cheese.  I’d never had these crackers before and picked them up since they were two for one at Whole Foods.  Holy cow- they are sturdy, nutty and really dangerous since it’s hard to stop eating them.  I like a nice, crunchy cracker and these went so well with the salty cheese.  Instant favorite.
Arugula, red onion and ruby grapefruit salad.  The combination of the spicy greens with the sweet, juicy grapefruit was a hit with the guests.
Salt roasted baby potatoes.  I’d seen this on many blogs before, and was intrigued by the idea of salt-baking, like you would a fish.  I mixed up some Kosher salt with rosemary, then set the potatoes in a bed of it.  My best friend said they looked like little, colorful stones, and the flavor of the rosemary really permeated the potatoes.
Roasted carrots tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper.  I’m a total sucker for multicolored carrots, especially when they are smaller in size.  They are so visually stunning and make an easy side dish to pretty much any meat or fish.  
Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home Marinated Skirt Steak (with the potatoes!).  After wiping off most of the marinade, I just seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper, seared them for a minute on each side and finished them off in the oven for about seven minutes.  I skipped bathing them in butter part in the recipe because, after stewing in all of that olive oil for hours, I didn’t think it was necessary.  Not that I’d know anything about cooking better than Mr. Keller!  I just felt WE didn’t need it, let’s put it that way.  It was tender and tasty nonetheless.  After the potatoes were done I just tossed them with a little olive oil and chives.
French Apple Tart.  This month’s Saveur featured this recipe by Sara Moulton, along with a step-by-step pictorial on how to achieve the beautiful pattern.  It was actually really easy, and the only ingredients in this are flour, butter, apples and sugar.  Simplicity at its best.  
Everything turned out well, and the wine was amazing.  After a couple of hours eating and drinking, we called it a night, red teeth and all. 
Hope you all have a great weekend!

Japanese Dinner + The Blowtorch!

About two years ago, J bought me a blowtorch for my birthday.  No, I’m not going all Flashdance on you with dreams of becoming a food-blogging welder- he figured I’d need it in case I ever wanted to brulée something.  I think the main motivation for him to buy me the torch was because he wanted me aburi something.  Aburi means “flamed” in Japanese, and if you go out to sushi often you’ve probably seen the chef whip out his blowtorch and lightly sear the top of a piece of salmon, toro or mackerel.  The heat of the flame melts the fat in the fish and creates a beautiful, soft, fatty flavor and texture.  If you haven’t had the chance to try any aburi sashimi or sushi, make sure to request it next time because it is, in a word, heavenly.  

Luckily my mom sent us home with some of her world-famous shime saba on New Year’s Day, so I only had to take it out of the freezer, let it thaw, then go all Jennifer Beals on it (ok, I’ll stop with the Flashdance references now!).  To be honest, the reason why I’d never used the blowtorch before was because I was scared.  Visions of a propane explosion in my kitchen (and in my FACE!) kept me from ever even taking it out of the box, but after receiving assurances on it’s safety from my dad and my chef friend, I finally decided to use it.  The verdict?  Let’s put it this way: Once you torch something, you’re hooked.  At least I am.  Now I always look for things to brulée!

So here it is- my first foray into the world of blowtorching food:

Pretty cool, right?  Anyway, here’s the rest of the meal:

I had some beautiful King Trumpet mushrooms which I sliced, brushed with a garlic/soy/agave/sake mixture and grilled in a pan:

I did the same for some yams I had laying around:

Cold, silken tofu topped with ginger and soy sauce:

Japanese cucumber, sugar snap pea and onion salad with sesame dressing:

A couple of Japanese condiments: on the left, taberu rayu, which is the hottest condiment in Japan right now.  Not “hot” as in Scoville scale, but as in it’s super popular.  Rayu is chili/sesame oil and has been around for ages; taberu means “to eat” in Japanese, and taberu rayu is the chili/sesame oil we all know and love combined with toasted garlic, sesame seeds, dried shrimp and other goodies to make to chunky, so you can actually eat it.  My best friend Mika gave it to us, and ohmahgawd it is downright addictive.  As if there aren’t already enough Japanese condiments that make you want to eat buckets of rice!  I could probably eat five pounds of rice with spoonfuls of taberu rayu mixed in.  Seriously good stuff.  The one of the right is shichimi tōgarashi, or seven flavor chili pepper, which is great on yakitori or grilled vegetables.  

The star of the show, aburi saba:

The table:

If you have any great recipes involving the use of a blowtorch, let me know!  I’m totally hooked.

Recipe: Miso Glazed Salmon

If you’ve ever dined at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve probably had a miso-glazed fish of some sort..most likely miso-glazed cod.  It’s ubiquitous on most Japanese or sushi restaurant menus, and I really think it’s because it is just plain delicious.  The dish is also very easy to prepare and uses ingredients found in most Japanese kitchens, so you can see why it’s a regular on so many menus.  Now it can be a regular in your household too!

White miso paste- check!
Mirin (sweet cooking wine)- check!
Agave nectar- che….wait, huh? (read on for the recipe!)

J loves it when I make Japanese food, so I thought I would surprise him with this dish.  I kind of mixed things up a little by adding Ginger and Garlic Braised Boy Choy as a side dish, since I rarely even buy boy choy.  I have nothing against it, it just doesn’t fall on my “must-have” items, but one of my new year’s resolutions is to start cooking more creatively (read: stop making the same things!) so I’ve been making an effort to pick up items I wouldn’t normally buy.  Hello boy choy, welcome to my kitchen!

So I used Irish blogger Donal Skehan’s recipe for bok choy.  I know…you’re like, “An Irishman’s recipe for Chinese cabbage?”  I’ve been reading more Irish blogs since my sister moved there (and became an Irish blogger herself) and it happened to catch my eye, plus it looked pretty authentic to me, so why not?!  Also, Donal seems to have such respect for vegetables (he grows his own bok choy) and I liked how the recipe let the cabbage shine more than anything (oh, another thing- this guy is poised to become the Jamie Oliver of Ireland- no joke- check out his blog!).  It was simple, came together quickly and was delicious to boot.  I had such great luck with it, perhaps next time I need to make colcannon I’ll get the recipe from a Chinese blog.

On to the salmon!  I made a simple mixture of white and red miso paste, agave nectar (instead of sugar- it’s already liquid and mixes better, plus it’s better for you!), minced ginger, a touch of sesame oil, mirin and a touch of soy sauce and slathered it onto the salmon fillets to marinate in the refrigerator for an hour.

After a few minutes under the broiler, it was done, and the ginger aroma wafted through the house…yum!

To add a bit more “meat” to the meal I sauteed some sliced shiitake mushrooms in a tiny bit of butter, then splashed it with mirin and soy sauce.  Serve everything with a nice, heaping scoop of fluffy brown rice and you’ve got a quick and healthy meal, but mostly you’ll make it because it tastes really great!

Miso Glazed Salmon

2 TBS white miso paste
1 TBS red miso paste
1 tsp dark toasted sesame oil (make sure it’s dark- the light totally lacks the flavor necessary to make this)
1 1/2 tsp agave nectar (if you use honey, make it 2 tsp since it isn’t as sweet)
2 tsp minced ginger
1 TBD mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine- you could use sweet vermouth or sake)
1 tsp soy sauce
4 6-ounce salmon fillets, skin off or on, depending on your preference

Mix the first seven ingredients together in a bowl until smooth and well combined.  Put the salmon in a dish and slather the entire mixture onto all sides of the salmon.  Cover and refrigerate for an hour (you could do it less if you like, but I think an hour is good!).

Preheat your broiler, cover your cooking surface (sheet pan, etc) with aluminum foil (for easy cleanup!) and spray the foil with cooking spray.  Lay the salmon skin-side down if you have skin on it, making sure to leave a nice coating of the marinade on the fish and broil for about 4 minutes.  Flip the salmon carefully and broil for another 3-4 minutes.  Alternately, you could do this in an oven- 425 degrees, 4 minutes per side.

Garnish with sesame seeds if you like, and serve.  I highly recommend serving it on a hot pile of rice (brown, white, jasmine, whatever!) since the miso glaze goes really well with it.

Recipe: Healthy Lasagna (made with tofu!)

In my last post, I wrote about tweaking recipes in order to make them lighter and/or healthier. In the comments section, fellow Los Angeles food blogger Diana mentioned she often does the same thing, and was recently thinking about trying out tofu as a substitution for ricotta cheese in lasagna (adding that it might be a “crazy” idea!). Not so crazy, Diana (and PS, great minds think alike).  I’ve used tofu as a substitute for ricotta for about two years now, and I’m not sure what prompted me to try it, but I find it works pretty well in place of cheese and other creamy elements in a dish. I happened to make lasagna last night, so I figured it was the perfect opportunity to finally post about it.

Now, I’m sure there are a few Italian grandmothers rolling over in their graves….although, come to think of it, real, authentic lasagna doesn’t even contain ricotta but instead is layered with béchamel, cheese and sauce, so maybe it’s safe to post the tofu idea here.  I never did like the thick, brick-like layers of heavy ricotta in lasagna too much but feel it definitely needs a creamy element, so tofu is a lighter yet still substantial way to achieve that. Don’t get me wrong- I don’t always want a lighter version of lasagna, but if I’m making it at home on a weeknight, I figure it’s a good way to watch the calories. And honestly- it’s really, truly delicious and you won’t miss the ricotta! I do use real, high-quality parmigiano-reggiano in this because a little goes a long way, and to me it’s essential in the flavor of a good lasagna. That said, when combined with whole wheat lasagna sheets and fresh marinara sauce, this lasagna is almost as healthy as a turkey sandwich so you won’t have to feel like you’re overindulging. It’s true!

There are a couple of important things to remember when using tofu instead of cheese. 1) It requires a bit of planning ahead since you have to strain the tofu, preferably overnight and 2) Season, season, season! Tofu doesn’t have much flavor on its own (ok, it’s basically flavorless) so be generous with your salt and other seasonings.

Here’s the list of ingredients, followed by a step-by-step recipe with photos.

1 14 oz package of SILKEN tofu (don’t buy firm, extra firm…make sure you get the silken tofu!)
1 bag baby spinach
¾ cups grated parmigiano-reggiano, divided
1 ½ tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
5-6 leaves fresh basil
1 egg
3 links Italian-style turkey sausage (I used Jennie-O spicy Italian turkey sausage)
5 to 6 cups of your favorite marinara sauce (I used homemade- Mario Batali’s recipe is my go-to sauce- I just make a big batch and freeze it in several containers and pull them out as I need them)
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles (I used whole wheat)

The night before: Scoop the tofu into a fine meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth or a sturdy paper towel (like Viva). Cover it with the overhanging cheesecloth or paper towel; set another smaller bowl on top to weigh it down slightly and leave in the refrigerator to strain overnight.

The next morning, you’ll probably have almost a cup of liquid- all drained from the tofu!  I’m not sure if you can see all of the liquid in the photo above, but it’s a good amount.  If you don’t strain it, all of that liquid will make for a soggy lasagna, and who wants that? 

Preheat the oven to 425.

Bring water to a boil in a pot; add the spinach for just 30 seconds, then put the spinach in an ice-cold water bath. Once the spinach has cooled, squeeze out all of the water.

Put the strained tofu in the food processor along with the spinach, half the parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, basil and egg. Whiz until smooth. Set aside.

Heat up a medium sauté pan. Take the turkey sausage out of the casing.  The easiest way is to just slice the casing open with a sharp knife, then ‘unwrap’ the meat inside directly into the pan. Break up the sausage until it crumbles and is fully cooked; set aside.

Side note: You can use regular no-boil lasagna noodles, but if you want to kick up the fiber, use whole wheat.  I’d never seen whole wheat, no-boil lasagna noodles before (a year ago it was hard to find regular whole wheat lasagna sheets, much less no-boil ones!) but I saw these at Figueroa Produce and snatched them up!  They’re organic AND whole wheat, taste fantastic and have no grainy texture at all.

Set up your work station: Line up your 13 x 9 (I used a slightly smaller one) baking dish, the tofu mixture, the crumbled sausage, marinara and remaining parmesan cheese.

Spray the baking dish and start by putting about ½ cup of marinara at the bottom of the dish. Top with 3-4 no-boil noodles, making sure not to overlap, then top that with about ¾ to 1 cup of the tofu mixture, 1/3 of the crumbled sausage, a light sprinkling of parmesan and repeat until you have three layers.

Of course you can make as many layers as you wish; just make sure to finish off the top layer of lasagna noodles with marinara sauce and a nice handful of grated parmesan. I like to leave the corner edges exposed without sauce- even with no-boil noodles, you get nice, crispy edges so I highly recommend you try it that way!

Cover the baking dish with foil (or use a bigger baking dish, like I did, since my lasagna was layered right to the very top of the dish!) and bake for 40 minutes.

Uncover the lasagna and bake for another 15 minutes until the edges are crisp and the top is golden brown.

Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before slicing. Enjoy!

If you wanted to leave the spinach out and add in more basil to make a more herbaceous tofu mixture, you could do that as well.  It’s really up to you- if you wanted it to be garlicky toss in a few cloves before processing, or even squeeze in some roasted garlic for a rounder, milder flavor.  You can also make it vegetarian by leaving out the turkey sausage, or use pork sausage instead of you have a love affair with The Pig.  The only rules you need to stick to are to strain the tofu, squeeze out any excess liquid from whatever vegetables you add and make sure to use the egg (it firms up the tofu layers nicely). 

If you try this, let me know what you think!  Personally, I love this version, and I hope you enjoy it too.

Pig’s Head Bolognese


I’ve written about my addiction to cookbooks before, and I’m not lying- if I spy a beautiful, hard-covered cookbook filled with glossy photos of beautiful food, it’s virtually impossible to turn away without buying it.  Ditto if I see one online, especially if it’s won a James Beard Award or is highly recommended by a chef or food personality I admire.  So you can imagine how quickly I grabbed Il Viaggio Di Vetri: A Culinary Journey as it sat alone on the top shelf of the cookbooks section at Borders.  After all, it was written by Marc Vetri of Philadelphia’s Vetri Ristorante, which Mario Batali called, “possibly one of the best Italian restaurants on the East Coast.”  Suzanne Goin once said “I do pretty much whatever Marc [Vetri] tells me to do.”  Yup, count me in.

I’ve never been fortunate enough to dine at one of Marc Vetri’s restaurants, but had heard he makes some of the best pasta in the United States.  After inviting my parents over for a family dinner, I started flipping through the pages, looking to see which fresh pasta I would try and recreate from Vetri’s many recipes.  However, one recipe in particular caught J’s eye, Pig’s Head Bolognese, and although it was one of the few pasta dishes in the book that called for dry, semolina pasta, I couldn’t deny the power of the pig and chose it being my journey into cooking a la Vetri.

So, who do you call when you need a pound of ground pork jowls?  Say it with me now, “McCalls Meat & Fish Company.”  I got on the horn with Nathan, asked him to order me a pound of pig’s jowl and to please have it ready for me to pick up in a couple of days.  No problem, he said, then even suggested I take an extra one, not ground, to perhaps cure some of my own, homemade guanciale.  Although I appreciated the vote of confidence, I wasn’t sure if I could find a place to hang the cured meat at a steady 55 degrees for over three weeks, so I declined.  But maybe one day I’ll get into the art of charcuterie.

I arrived to get my ground up pig’s jowl and will admit to you that, at first glance, was a bit….scared.  I knew jowls were fatty, but holy pig, the thing looked like a bag of ground…well, fat.  Even Nathan sort of looked at me like “yup…..well…” and I asked him whether or not he felt it would cook down to virtually nothing, if I should supplement it with some regular ground pork, etc.  After some thought, he advised me to follow the recipe to the letter since he, too, felt if it was a Marc Vetri recipe, it would probably work out great.  So with that, I grabbed my bag of fat and headed home.

I’m going to post the rest of this post in photos, just to show you how it cooked down, melted the aromatics and came together to make a gorgeous bolognese:
Here’s the meat, as it looked when I got it from McCall’s:

Into the pot it went:

Starting to render down:
10 minutes in:

20 minutes in:

Adding the aromatics and herb sachet, which I made from a coffee filter:


Vegetables in the pot:


Contiuning to break down:

At this point, add the remaining ingredients- white wine, 1/2 cup tomatoes and a couple of old parmesan cheese rinds, which I always save for soups:

After a couple of hours in the oven on low temp, here’s what came out:

All of the onions, carrots and celery had basically melted into the sauce, and although you can see a layer of grease, it wasn’t too oily/fatty when tossed with the hot pasta:
How was it?  It was soooo delicious- the collagen and fat in the jowl meat made the sauce so unctuous, deeply flavorful and rich, but not too rich.  The flavor from all of the ingredients really came together, and I think the addition of the parmesan rinds is key to this recipe.  We all loved it, and J and I sat on the sofa two days later and wolfed down the leftovers cold right out of the tupperware. 
For sides, I kept it simple and served Mario Batali’s marinated zucchini, which I think calls for waaaaay too much seasoning (a tablespoon each of pepper and salt!) so, even though I cut it down, it was a bit overpowering:
And a simply sauteed brocolli rabe with garlic and a dash of red pepper:
There’s something about Italian food that always makes me feel at home, and I’m glad I’ve been introduced to the world of Marc Vetri’s cooking.  I can’t wait to try out his other recipes!

Quick And Easy: Shrimp Soft Tacos

Over the weekend, I attended Artisanal LA, a gathering of local food artisans showcase their handmade items. I sampled a LOT of yummy food, met some incredible people and took many photos, so I’ll be posting more about the event later. In the meantime, I got a chance to use one of the things I purchased while I was there and I wanted to share it with you.

Chef Zarate (of Mo Chica fame) was selling one item- a Peruvian salsa called anticucho. The minute my parents and I tasted a bit of the fiery marinade we all decided to bring a bottle home. At the moment I wasn’t sure what dish I’d use it for, but when I got a sudden craving for shrimp tacos the next day, I thought of the anticucho and got cooking.

Since I used a bottled marinade, I don’t really have a recipe for you, but if you don’t use something pre-made you could always dust your shrimp with a mix of chili pepper, a touch of cayenne, cumin, ground coriander and garlic, then sear them off. I tossed my raw shrimp with the
anticucho, salt and pepper and let them sit for about 30 minutes before cooking them quickly in a hot pan.

After making a quick cabbage and red onion slaw by tossing the veggies with some cumin, rice wine vinegar, ground coriander, salt and pepper I put nice, heaping piles of it on warmed flour tortillas and topped that with the shrimp. I finished each taco off with a creamy dressing made from smashed avocados, greek yogurt and a touch of Kewpie mayonnaise.

anticucho added a great kick to the tacos, and I’m looking forward to trying it on flank steak, chicken and fish. Now I wish I would have bought 10 bottles!

Recipes: Meatballs Marinara + Garlicky Kale Bruschetta


Lately, I’ve become the kind of person who’d rather eat a little bit of many things, rather than a lot of one thing. At restaurants, I usually prefer to order two or three appetizers than feast over a big entrée, and I’ve never met a tapas bar I didn’t like. I also find that appetizers tend to be more interesting than main dishes, but that’s just my opinion. How else am I going to get my tuna tartare and caramelized onion pizza and asparagus with a poached egg in one sitting? Food rules be damned, I love to mix and match mini foods into the perfect meal.

At home, it’s a little harder to eat this way, since it requires preparing several different dishes. However, with a little extra thought and planning, it’s totally possible, and I made one such meal the other night.

I used my last bit of ground turkey to make mini meatballs which I seared off before letting them braise in some homemade marinara sauce.

In addition to mini meals, I like mini pots, like this one J bought me last year. Cute right?!
The black kale I’d purchased at the farmer’s market last weekend was going to be part of a farro salad, but I just wasn’t feeling it and remembered reading about an Italian bruschetta made with greens- perfect for a little tapas-style dinner- so I just made my own version of that:

Roasted baby carrots pop up often on my menus because I love how sweet and concentrated they get in the oven:

J uncorked a bottle of Chianti and we enjoyed our multi-mini-meal very much.

Turkey Meatballs Marinara

½ pound ground turkey (lean, not extra lean, works better since it still contains a bit of fat)
½ onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tsp thyme
Splash of red wine (optional)
3 large basil leaves, chopped
2 TBS chopped Italian parsley
1 slice of bread soaked in ¼ cup of milk
¼ cup grated parmigiano reggiano
Salt and pepper
2 cups of your favorite marinara

Put the ground turkey in a medium bowl, set aside.

In a small pan, heat up a bit of olive oil and sauté the onions, garlic and thyme until the onions are soft. Add a splash of red wine, cook until it is completely evaporated. The onions will be nice and red!

Add the onion mixture, basil and parsley to the turkey; take the bread soaked in milk and break it up with your fingers and add that to the turkey as well, then add the parmesan, salt and pepper. Incorporate all of the ingredients with your hands.

Make the turkey mixture into 1 or 2 inch meatballs. Heat up some olive oil in a pan and sear the meatballs on all sides. Once they are brown, add the marinara, turn the heat down to low and let the meatballs simmer in the marinara for about 10 minutes. If the marinara is too thick you can add a bit of chicken broth, red wine or even water to thin it out a bit.

Garlicky Kale Bruschetta

1 TBS olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
A pinch of red pepper flakes
1 bunch black kale, ribs removed, chopped
Salt, pepper
Splash of balsamic vinegar
6 slices of multigrain bread, baguette, whatever bread you like, brushed with olive oil and toasted.

Heat the olive oil in a pan on low heat, then add the garlic and red pepper flakes to the oil. Don’t burn the garlic, but let the warm oil infused with the flavors for about 2 minutes.

Add the kale to the pan and toss with the oil/garlic/flakes. It will wilt pretty quickly. Add salt and pepper to season. When the kale is nice and wilted, add a splash of balsamic, stir again. The balsamic will reduce very quickly. Turn off the heat.

Top each slice of toast with a mound of the kale mixture. Enjoy!

Recipes: Butternut Squash Soup and Turkey Stuffed Mushrooms

After over a month of letting this here blog lie dormant, I’m back (again!) and hoping to update more frequently. The redesign isn’t really much to write home about, but I wanted a brighter, lighter look for Tuna Toast and this is what I came up with! So I hope you’ll come back around and check it out from time to time.

Cool weather is upon us, even here in usually-sunny Los Angeles. I’ve always loved cooler weather, and it’s nice to actually feel the seasons change for once! Watch, now that I’ve said that we’ll get some freaky heat wave next week which wouldn’t be too surprising, but I hope the grey clouds stick around because it’s more fun to spend long hours in the kitchen.

One of my favorite things to make this time of year is butternut squash. Sometimes I’ll just roast it and eat it with garlic, salt and pepper; other times I’ll toss it with farro and make a warm, fall salad. Last night was particularly chilly and it made me crave soup, so I decided to prepare a pureed butternut squash one that I’ve made in the past. It’s pretty simple and involves only a few steps.

To go with the soup I made another staple – stuffed mushrooms. I love making these because you can tweak them based on whatever you need to use up in your refrigerator or pantry; this time I had some leftover ground turkey so I made them meat-based, although they’re perfectly good vegetarian style as well.

I’ve included the recipes for both, and if you add some garlic-rubbed multigrain bread and a green salad, it’s a healthy and hearty supper, perfect for fall.

Pureed Butternut Squash Soup

1 small to medium butternut squash
3 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
1 TBS olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
4 to 5 sage leaves, chopped (you can use a teaspoon of dried if you don’t have fresh)
4-5 cups low salt chicken broth or veggie broth
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400. Peel the butternut squash, cut in half lengthwise and use a large spoon to scoop out the seeds. Chop the squash into 1 inch cubes and toss in a bowl with the garlic cloves, olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay onto a sheet pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until tender.

While the squash is roasting, heat a bit of olive oil in a pot and sauté the onions and celery with some salt and pepper until translucent; add the chopped sage and stir. Add the stock and bring to a simmer.

When the squash is ready, add it and the garlic cloves (which will be buttery soft at this point!) to the pot, bring to a simmer, turn off the heat. If you have a hand immersion blender, use it to puree until smooth; alternately carefully ladle the hot soup in batches into a blender and puree until smooth. Reheat and serve.

Turkey Stuffed Mushrooms

6-8 larger crimini or button mushrooms
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ onion, minced
2 sage leaves, chopped (you can use ¼ teaspoon dried if you don’t have fresh)
½ teaspoon thyme
Splash of vermouth or sherry (optional)
¼ pound ground turkey
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Pull the stems from the mushrooms, then use a spoon to scoop out some of the gills. Mince the gills and the stems, set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a small pan and add the garlic, onions, minced mushroom stems/gills, sage, thyme, salt and pepper and sauté until soft; add a splash of vermouth or sherry if using until it evaporates. Set mixture aside to cool a bit.

Spray both sides of the mushroom caps with cooking spray or drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper. This is very important since mushrooms tend to be pretty bland and they need the seasoning!

In a small bowl, combine the ground turkey with the cooled mushroom stem mixture, then take a small spoon and scoop it into each mushroom caps, rounding the tops out.

Place the filled mushrooms on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray; bake 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your mushrooms.

Note: If you want to make these vegetarian, increase the amount of onion to 1/2 of one, then add 1/4 cup bread crumbs and a tablespoon or so of egg (add more if you need more moisture) to the onion/mushroom stem mixture and fill the caps with this.


Sticky Toffee Pudding (and some other stuff)

Sticky. Toffee. Pudding. Each word is so appetizing, don’t you think? When you put them together, “sticky toffee pudding” is, in my opinion, quite possibly the most mouth-watering phrase on any dessert menu…and I’m not really a dessert girl. “Sticky toffee pudding” always conjures up sweet, caramelized, ooey-gooey, warm, luscious, moist, decadent, buttery rich goodness and it’s a wonder I’d never had it before I made it the other night for some friends. Strange, isn’t it? Especially since I’d consider myself to be a “brown” dessert type- anything with brown sugar, caramel, toffee, whiskey sauces or maple syrup always grabs me before anything of a chocolate variety. I guess I just don’t see it on menus often and usually find myself staring at some divine version on TV shows like The Best Thing I Ever Ate or Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. Go figure.

Well, I’ve popped my sticky toffee pudding cherry, folks- for both eating and making it! A friend of J’s brought over a bag of honey dates, and although that friend meant to take them home to New Jersey, he left them in our fridge, unfortunately for him, but lucky for ME! You see, dates are the key ingredient in sticky toffee pudding, and eyeing the bag of big, fat, plump dates and having a dinner party scheduled were all the reasons I needed to get baking.

After searching under “sticky toffee” on Tastespotting (thereby getting sucked into all the photos of deliciousness for way longer than I had planned!) and promptly settled on this recipe since it was easy and didn’t include “extras” like crystallized ginger or chocolate. I wanted my first sticky toffee pudding experience to be a pure one- no bells and whistles, please! I baked the puddings in individual ramekins and drizzled the sauce (to which I did add a splash of cognac….hey, booze makes everything better, ok?) onto the still warm cakes and tucked them away until dessert time.

Before we could dig into the sweets, we had to have dinner first. I think it came out well, but there were a couple of things I was unhappy about….

Seared scallops with fava beans, fresh corn, brown butter and white wine sauce:

Once again I found myself shucking a bunch of fava beans and asking the veggie gods WHY it’s such a process to get these tiny little green gems onto a plate. I almost always get enticed by fava beans if I see them at the farmer’s market and this time was no different, but after shucking, blanching, cooling and unpeeling them I made a mental note to not do this again for awhile, and since they are no longer in season, I won’t be! The corn was sweet and crisp, and the scallops were HUGE and incredibly sweet, but I was bummed that I just didn’t give them enough time and heat to get a really nice crust going. However, they tasted good and were tender so I guess that’s what matters.

Pasta with shrimp, zucchini and seafood marinara:

I was super pleased with this sauce- I basically took the gorgeous shrimp out of their shells, then fried the shells in a bit of olive oil slow and low, then added a ton of sweet garlic before straining the oil and adding it to crushed San Marzano tomatoes. It needed only a touch of salt and pepper to round it out. After caramelizing some chopped zucchini and searing the shrimp in more olive oil I just added the sauce to the shrimp, then the cooked pasta to the sauce. Unfortunately I overcooked the pasta a few seconds too long, and although it did retain a bit of a bite, I prefer my pasta super AL DENTE. Again, not a “fail” by any means, but in the future I’ll make sure to time my scallop searing/deglazing/plating and pasta cooking/dressing/plating better.

As always, a salad completed our meal (oh, and a baguette, of course!). I don’t know about you, but no supper is complete for us without a salad. We eat one every single night, whether we eat in or out. I guess it’s for health, but it’s mainly because I feel a deep, black hole on my menu if a salad isn’t included.

But back to our sticky toffee pudding, which basically erased any memories of overcooked pasta or under-seared scallops (and any health benefits of a green salad)! It was as rich, moist and sweet as I’d imagined and the hint of cognac in the warm sauce combined magically with the melting vanilla bean ice cream to create one, amazing party for our taste buds. You really live up to your name, Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Where have you had the best sticky toffee pudding?

Mongolian Barbecued Lamb Chops with Chinese Mustard Sauce

Ah, LOST. Last Sunday marked the end of six seasons filled with mystery and adventure, sometimes confusion, dare I say a bit of frustration but mostly amazement and real attachment thanks in large part to the incredible characters that made up the heart of the show. I’ve watched LOST since day one and have grown to love Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Charlie, Faraday, Hugo, Juliet, Desmond, Jin…even Vincent, Walt’s loyal dog. Speaking of Vincent….when he laid next to Jack……..oh…my….tears.

Anyway, sorry to anyone who doesn’t watch LOST, but let’s face it- even non-fans of the show knew last Sunday’s finale was a major event in television history. J and I had been anticipating it and planned to watch it in the comfort of our living room. Such a momentous occasion called for a special meal, so I flipped through my new cookbook (I know, I know… I bought another one!) called Big Small Plates, by Napa chef Cindy Pawlcyn. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile you know of my love for tapas- small plates- so the minute I saw this book showcasing appetizer-portioned food packed with tons of flavor, I knew I had to pick it up. There are so many wonderful recipes, but the Mongolian Barbecued Lamb Chops with Chinese Mustard Sauce caught my eye…and I knew just the place to get my lamb- McCall’s!

I called to see if McCall’s had lamb, and they mentioned they had a nice, California baby lamb rack- perfect. I know I’ve been posting quite a bit about this place but it’s really a cook’s dream. Beautiful meat and seafood carefully chosen by two food-loving chefs who are passionate about what they do. They always ask what you plan on making, remember you from the last visit and ask how your dish turned out, and often have suggestions on what to cook with your purchase if you’re in need of some inspiration. I never thought that going to a butcher shop would be fun, but any visit to McCall’s is not only pleasant, it’s educational to boot.

The recipe was pretty simple and I had almost all of the ingredients necessary. I didn’t marinate the chops overnight since I didn’t have that much time- next time I’ll start the day before. I also used a grill pan since my grill still hasn’t gotten a nice, spring cleaning quite yet.

The chops were beautiful, tender, succulent….there’s something about eating meat right off the bone that is so satisfying. J and I polished off the whole thing, and we’re not embarrassed to admit it!

For sides, I had an idea to make green chile mashed potatoes, so I just whizzed some diced green chiles with a few cloves of roasted garlic and butter. These were seriously incredible- since the chiles are broken down to a liquid puree, you don’t really even milk to get a nice, smooth consistency. They were slightly tangy, smokey and had just a small kick which went well with the sweet Mongolian BBQ sauce on the chops.

Green salad with Japanese sweet onion dressing:

Roasted asparagus with salt & pepper- simple but delicious.

My plate:

J and I sat through the entire 2 hour retrospective, then watched the 2 ½ finale….I know there were mixed reaction to the way LOST ended but I, for one, thought it was a beautiful tribute to a show I’ll miss very much.

In 24 hours, we’re off to visit my sister in Ireland and also hop over to Portugal for a few days! If you have any Lisbon or Porto recommendations please post them in the comments!

Bon Voyage!