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Greek Yogurt Extravaganza

17 Apr


This week I gave in to my deep love for greek yogurt.  If you haven’t used it in recipes, you’re missing out.  Besides the obvious parfait and breakfast uses, it’s a great, healthy substitute in many recipes that use mayo or sour cream.  I decided to search for a recipe that involved both salmon and greek yogurt.  My main gal, Martha Stewart, came through for me with a recipe for Roasted Salmon and Herbed Yogurt.  With that recipe in mind, I thought asparagus would be a good side dish, and heck why not use greek yogurt with the asparagus as well.  A quick google search, and I decided to go with an asparagus soup.  I modified a recipe from whole foods for Creamy Spring Asparagus Soup substituting greek yogurt for sour cream.

The two dishes were relatively simple, but for timing I enlisted my favorite sous-chef.


Chris as given the task of snipping parsley and dill from our potted patio herbs, and then chopping them into tiny bits.IMG_0933

He then mixed the herbs in with our greek yogurt of choice, Fage.


Meanwhile, I chopped the light green and white parts of our gigantic leek, and then browned the pieces in a bit of butter.


While the leek browned, I peeled and chopped a yukon gold potato into one inch strips.


After about ten minutes, I added the potatoes and chicken broth to the leeks, and brought the liquid to a boil.


I then reduced the heat, added the chopped asparagus, and let the mixture simmer until everything was nice and tender.


While the soup simmered, Chris mixed together the herbs, greek yogurt, dijon, salt and pepper.


Everything for the salmon was ready long before the soup, so Chris stuck the yogurt mixture in the fridge and relaxed while I prepped the blender.  I had some time to spare, so I improvised and chopped a bit of garlic for the salmon.


With approximately 10-15 minutes to go on the soup, Chris placed the salmon in a baking pan, covered in the herbed yogurt sauce, and topped it off with chopped garlic.  He couldn’t resist giving our three cats a taste of raw salmon.  They are definitely sushi lovers like their mama and papa.


Once the potatoes and asparagus were tender, I poured the mixture into a big blender and set it to purée.  Chris finished off the purée and then complained about how tightly I put on the top to the cat rubbing up against his legs looking for more delicious, raw fish.


Once pureed to our satisfaction, I poured the soup back into the pot and brought it to a boil.  The timer sounded for the salmon just as I finished the soup.  Could we have actually timed everything perfectly tonight?  Unfortunately, no.  Chris cut into the salmon and found it still a bit raw in the center after 15 minutes at 450.  We had to stick the salmon back in the oven for another 10 minutes, and that was even a bit too much.  It amazes me how quickly fish goes from undercooked to overcooked.


Before realizing the salmon needed more time, I had spooned the soup into bowls, and topped it with croutons, parmesan, and freshly ground black peppercorn.  Not wanting our soup to get cold, we finished it off while the salmon baked.  It was absolutely delicious!  I loved the flavor and texture, and the topping I improvised was perfect.  It tasted like spring in my mouth.


When the salmon finished, we cut a small portion for us each, added a bit of lemon, and sat down to finish the latest Game of Thrones episode.  The salmon was delicious.  I always worry about salmon tasting fishy, but it didn’t at all.  The garlic roasted perfectly on top, and was a great addition.  The herbed yogurt was fresh and moist.  Overall a fantastic dish, and I’m sure it would have gone great with the asparagus soup.



My Favorite Cold Weather Soup

10 Mar

  Back in college, I worked at Mimi’s Cafe and became addicted to their corn chowder.  When I lived in Long Beach, I decided that I wanted to make my own and see how it turned out.  I found a recipe on for Gramma Brown’s Corn Chowder.  It is a fabulous, rich soup that beats Mimi’s chowder any day.  Since then, I have made this soup several times and tweaked it to include my favorite spices.  I also usually make the soup without bacon, but I decided to add it as a special treat for a few wonderful people this time around!

To start, I cooked the bacon until almost done, and then sautéed it with onions and celery.  I usually add a bit more celery than the recipe recommends.  I also add more carrots.  The result is more of a hearty stew, than a soup.


This being the first time in well forever I made bacon, I did not have the foresight to first chop it and then cook it.  I ended up cutting it into pieces in the pan while it simmered.  The pan I used is well-loved, so I didn’t worry too much about adding a few more scratches.

I then transferred everything to a big pot with 4 cups of low sodium chicken broth and cooked it with the carrots and potatoes.


The final step involves adding the milk and a paste of flour and water.  This thickens it up and makes it creamy.  You can add more flour if you like your soup thicker, but I think the flour plus the starch from the potatoes are plenty.


Once everything is nice and soft and hot, you can top it off with some salt, pepper, and any other spices you’d like.

IMG_0890   I typically add a bit of cayenne, onion powder, and basil.  This gives it just the right amount of kick.  This soup is fairly easy and it always gets rave reviews.  This time around I added a side garnish of chopped tomatoes, avocado, and lime juice.  Some chose to add it to the soup, others just ate the avocado, but all in all I think it went over well.  I also like to buy or make a round loaf of sourdough and serve it warm with the soup.  Let me know if you think of any more exciting spice combos or interesting ways to serve it!


When Pigs Fly: Apples and Pork Loin

20 Jan

Orange and Herb Turkey Cutlets Pork Loin with Maple-Sautéed Apples

I never thought the day would come.  I cooked and ate pork for dinner!  Over the past five years, Chris has encouraged me to taste and eat foods I never thought I’d try.  While pork is common, I have generally stayed away from it since re-entering the meat-eating world after 9 years of vegetarianism.   When shopping this past week, we couldn’t find the turkey cutlets that I wanted for this dish.  I browsed the meat section, and instead found these beautiful rather lean looking pork loins.  With my heart set on the recipe, I caved to Chris’ delight and bought them.


  The recipe is from my Flat Belly Diet cookbook, and honestly it looks like a pork recipe that uses turkey to make it healthier.  We rubbed the pork with spices and browned it in a skillet.  It was browning too fast, so Chris had to turn down the heat and cook it for a bit longer to get it right.  The apples were pan-fried with maple syrup, cinnamon and pepper.  The flavors were bold and the pork lean enough for my palette.  We served it with a bit broccoli, which I severely over-salted (sorry Chris!).  Not a bad first go with pork loin.  I just might have to try it again.


My Very First Thanksgiving Dinner

20 Jan

This past year Chris and I offered to give my mom a break and make Thanksgiving dinner for the family.  Thanksgiving with my family is usually small (just the immediate family).  We spend the day snacking on appetizers and playing games.  My mom pops in and out of the game while cooking dinner.  Mom’s dinner varied slightly over the years, but it was always delicious.  The staples of the dinner were turkey, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, and pie.  This year I kept the spread the same, but changed the recipes to add my own twist on the evening.

My sister, Heather, and my boyfriend, Chris, were the perfect helpers for the day.  Heather chopped like a pro and Chris took charge of the turkey and dessert.  They both chipped in and helped out when needed, and delegation was super easy with my 5 page plan right in front of me.  The plan included guidelines for timing, ingredients, materials, and step by step instructions.


As you can see, the type A side of my personality was in full force.


The menu consisted of a herb butter turkey and gravy, creamy cheesy potatoes, crispy shallot and green bean casserole, herb bread vegetarian stuffing, and pumpkin pie.  It was hard work, but the day went flawlessly and everyone really enjoyed the meal.  Here’s to many more years of good food and good times with family!  Scott and James – We missed you this year.  Hopefully you’ll be chipping in and enjoying the dinner with us again soon!


Getting Fresh With Pasta

10 Jun

After a long day of plugging away at my thesis, I decided it was time for a break.  My brain was mush from flipping back and forth between French and English, counting correct and incorrect responses, and graphing it all.  As a runner now, my head immediately went to carbs for an energy boost.

I opened the cabinet in search of some dry pasta, but we were fresh out.  Instead I found this:

Chris’ mother had given me an amazing, wonderful variety of pasta tools for Christmas the past year.  Chris had tried to make his own egg pasta using the food processor a while back, but it didn’t go so well.  He over mixed it, it formed too much gluten, and it was a big sticky mess.  Apprehensive, I decided to try my hand at it using the egg pasta flour.  Maybe it’s cheating, but I’ve gotta start somewhere.

It worked!  I mixed the ingredients in a medium-sized bowl with a hand mixer, and then gently kneaded the dough, adding a bit of water as needed, until I had this magnificent ball.  Thrilled I called Chris over to help me set up the pasta roller.  He put everything together, while I rolled out the dough.

Next step, flattening and cutting the dough.  I did my best to shape the dough into more of a rectangle than oval shape, but I wouldn’t say that I succeeded.  Chris rolled the machine while I fed the dough through and caught it at the other end.

Yes, that’s my foot in the corner, and yes I am hiding from the camera.  You really don’t want to see me after a day of thesis stress.  Through the machine one more time, and voilà!

I set the pasta aside for a bit, while we prepared a protein and vegetable for our meal.  Before starting the pasta, I decided that I would lightly bread and pan fry boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I put them in a mixture of vinegar and spices to marinate in the fridge earlier in the evening, so they were ready to go by the time I finished cutting the pasta.  I also sliced the breasts in half to thin them out.  They’re so thick that when Chris tries to cook them during the week they always come out raw in the center.  I used my favorite three bowl method: Egg, Flour, Bread Crumbs.

You can see our California EVOO in the background there.  I recently listened to a story on NPR about olive oil.  The regulations on imported oils aren’t very strict, so you don’t really know what you’re getting.  California, however, has very precise tests that oil must go through to verify that it is as advertised.  We save it for dressings, dips, and drizzles, so that we can really appreciate the flavor.  These breasts were pan-fried in just a bit of canola oil.  I made sure that the oil was hot before cooking the chicken, and I used our skillet so that it would brown nicely on the outside.  Unfortunately, I was not skilled enough (and the chicken was not flat enough) to get an even all-over brown.

In the meantime, Chris made his new favorite oil and vinegar salad dressing (based on yet another story we listened to on NPR), tossed it with some red leaf lettuce, and we tossed the past in the now boiling pot of water.

I tossed the cooked pasta with a bit of EVOO, salt, and some of my favorite spices, plated it, and placed the chicken on top.  The final product looked fresh and smelled amazing.

Chris absolutely loved the pasta.  He exclaimed, “Oh my gosh love, this is so good,” more times than I can count throughout the meal.  I really enjoyed the fresh pasta too, but I’d love to get it even a little thinner next time.  Judy and Fred Guidotti, thank you so much for the wonderful gifts!  Chris and I loved the pasta and can’t wait to make more!

The Quest for The Crispy Breakfast Potato

2 Apr

Looking at our past posts, I realized that we’ve neglected a very important meal – BREAKFAST!  With our busy lives, breakfast usually consists of a cup of coffee (or two) and maybe a Greek yogurt with jam or granola or nuts or a banana.  However, the weekends sometimes afford us the time to cook up something delicious.  Chris and I trade-off more than collaborate when it comes to breakfast.  Chris has perfected his hollandaise sauce, and he boiled the perfect 6 minute soft-boiled eggs.  I make the best, from scratch fluffy buttermilk pancakes ever, I like to experiment and elevate other dishes like huevos rancheros, and I have a love and obsession for baking muffins.

Starving and looking to fuel up for a big training run (I’m running a half marathon in May eek), I went to our kitchen and gathered what was left from the week.  Recently we decided to switch from our usual microwave meals from Trader Joes to more fresh vegetables, fruits and lean meats from Whole Foods.  I had pushed Chris to do this for a while, and I think my fitness/running goals finally convinced him.  The sticker shock was a bit much at first, but we discovered that the quantities were larger and that the food we bought lasted us longer.  My first find in an adorable, tiny Whole Foods paper bag: 3 russet potatoes.

My other finds: eggs, ciabatta bread, low-fat cheese, a red onion, and a fresh tomato.  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?  That’s right! The perfect ingredients for Ciabatta Egg Sandwiches and Crispy Breakfast Potatoes!  I’ve tried to perfect my breakfast potato crisping skills for a while now, and this time would be no different.  I crossed my fingers, closed my eyes, and…oh shoot I should probably look before I start peeling and dicing.  In my usual fashion, I tried to only cut off the parts of the potato that were going bad and ended up nearly peeling everything (yea I’m kinda picky when it comes to brown spots).  I also rinsed the potatoes until they water ran clear and dried them off as best I could on some paper towels.  I read somewhere that if they’re too wet they’ll boil or steam and not crisp when you cook them.  I then diced the onion, tossed it in with the potatoes, and added oil, paprika, and Italian spices (too bad we don’t grow our own herbs – we want to, but we haven’t started this yet).

I decided to bake the potatoes in a jelly roll pan for 45 minutes at 475 degrees, stirring it every 15 minutes or so.  In the meantime, I started a fresh pot of water in our kettle to make our new favorite french press coffee and set the other ingredients aside.  About 10 minutes before the potatoes finished, I took out my silver dollar pancake pan and used it to make scrambled eggs fit for a sandwich.  I always beat my eggs with a bit of cream or milk and season them with basil, salt, and pepper.

Just as I finished the eggs, the timer went off for the potatoes (super proud of my timing this go in the kitchen).  When I pulled the potatoes out, they look golden and slightly crispy but certainly not crispy enough.  I stabbed one with a fork, cooled it, and took a bit.  Bleh totally bland too!  Rescue time.  I heated and seasoned a frying pan and then added the potatoes and some low-fat cheese.  Sure enough they started to crisp up perfectly and evening and the extra flavoring did the trick.

Last but not least, I toasted the ciabatta bread in the oven with the tomatoes and cheese on top, layered the egg sandwiches, and plated the potatoes.

I called Chris over, apologizing for the kitchen that looked more like a disaster zone, and we sat down to feast.  Oh wow, the potatoes were amazing.  This will go down as the day that I perfected the breakfast potato.  Chris couldn’t stop raving about the potatoes.  I think he would have been happy with just a whole plate of them.  The sandwiches were decent.  The eggs definitely could have been better, and the bread was a bit dry, but the tomatoes were a nice fruity touch.  Afterward, I had a few eggs and tomatoes left.

I put these suckers on top of a small plate of potatoes and heated them up for breakfast for us the next morning.  The flavors were great together.  Chris ate around his egg, devoured his potatoes and asked for more.  Big surprise :).

*All photos in this post are courtesy of Chris’ new IPad 3

Delicious Seared Leg of Lamb, with a Promise Never to Make Colleen Squeeze Blood Oranges Again…

21 Feb

After a 10 mile hike in Irvine on a Sunday we were positively famished.  Valentine’s day had passed earlier in the week and we had agreed to cook during the weekend to celebrate the passing of another wonderful year.  The problem with hikes, is that after you finish them, you (or at least I) merely want to go home, take a shower and pass out.  We agreed to head over to Whole Foods to shop, under the assumption that if we had fresh ingredients on hand we would actually cook (versus resorting to Jack in the Box appetizers when we got hungry).  We were thinking that rabbit might be a good choice (we saw a couple cotton-tails on our hike), but didn’t really know what we were going to cook.  We decided to let Whole Foods inspire us.

We arrived and strolled through the produce section (which is magnificent if you’ve never been).  We decided to first choose a protein and then base the rest of the dish around it.  Colleen had found a recipe for pork tenderloin, but found that they didn’t have it in stock! No pork tenderloin? Whole Foods…you fail.  Regardless we chose a delicious (and slightly gigantic leg of lamb).  We found a recipe on for Mint and Feta Stuffed Leg of Lamb and decided to run with it.  For veggies, we grabbed rainbow chard, carrots, sweet potato, and regular potato.  I had a crazy idea for a starch/carbohydrate side dish that I wanted to just kind of go with and figure out as we went along.

I butterflied the leg to start the process.  If you’ve never done this before, it’s actually pretty hard to screw up.  Sharp knife? Check.  Leg of lamb? Check. Basically you just split it open and then hammer it down to thin it out.  The idea is that you want to try to make the leg as uniformly thin and flat as possible so that it is easily “rollable” and will thus cook evenly.  While I did the butchering, Colleen mixed together feta cheese and fresh organic mint leaves – accidentally leaving out the blood orange rind. We then collaboratively spread the mixture evenly over the top of the lamb.

I grabbed some cooking twine and after rolling the lamb up nicely proceeded to secure the roll with a number of strands.  Some of the Feta tried to escape, but a length-wise tie kept most of it in.  If you’re doing this, make sure your twine is nice and tight (when I seared the leg a bit later, some of the filling did melt out because I hadn’t really cinched it down).  After cinching the lamb, I seared it on all four sides, six minutes per side.

Meanwhile… Colleen was working on the reduction sauce.  Step one? Juice the blood oranges.  If you’ve never squeezed blood oranges, you’re in for a treat.  I didn’t know exactly how many we needed – just that we needed a cup of juice.  Since I’d never had the pleasure of juicing them before, I didn’t know how many we would actually needed.  I got lucky, because we bought about 12 of them and ended up with slightly more than 1/2 a cup.  I recommend that you buy lots of them.  More than you think you need.  You can always end up just eating them.

Blood oranges look like red-speckled mini oranges on the outside – but it’s the inside that is really unique.  When cutting them open, it’ll seem like the orange is alive.  Don’t worry, the ruby-red “blood” that comes out tastes tart and delicious – like any other fresh squeezed juice you’ve had.  Side note: if you squeeze them by hand, people may accuse you of murder.  Check out Colleen’s hands:

We then moved on to the side dish and sauce.  I washed and peeled the carrots, sweet potato and regular potato.  I had thought that a mash might go great with the lamb.  Especially one that was semi-sweet, but not sickly so.  Colleen found a great addition to grow the “seed” of my concept.  It was a delicious combination of cream, milk and butter infused with threads of scarlet colored saffron.  It perfectly complimented the sweetness of the mash while adding a savory complexity.

I deglazed the pan that we had used to sear the lamb with a cup of Westberg Cellar’s Turtle Rock 2008 “Willow’s Cuvet” Pinot Noir and started reducing it.  Westberg Cellar’s is a tiny, tiny, TINY winery that is open once a month in Paso Robles, CA.  We lucked upon it after a friend’s wedding in 2011.  When we stopped there it was an “off weekend” when they shouldn’t have been open.  The gentleman pouring informed us that they were waiting for a limo that had arranged for a private tasting.  The lightweights in the limo never showed, but we surely enjoyed the afternoon – and discovered the amazing varietals they create.  I’m not generally a fan of sweeter reds – but this Pinot is an absolute exception.  When you drink it delicious flavors of raspberry, strawberry, blackberry…and well…berries – lots and lots of berries dance on your tongue.  Divine!

Back to the sauce!  When it had simmered down by about half, Colleen added the blood orange juice, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar, and the she let it simmer on low heat, stirring it often.  It started to thicken up to a nice consistency about 20 minutes later.

The leg of lamb finished up its 40 minute stint in the oven.  When I removed it, I discovered that we need a new oven mitt, because for the first time the Pyrex burned me through the mitt and I grabbed the other end of the pan with my bare hand in reflex.  This was painful.  Regardless, the lamb was perfectly cooked, and it sliced down nicely.  The mash ended up a fantastic orange color with a light, semi-sweet flavor that was the prefect background to the more intense flavor of the lamb (although the potatoes were slightly undercooked).  Colleen sautéed the rainbow chard with garlic, sherry, and sea salt.  We plated the chard as a bed for the mash and lamb.  Colleen drizzled the blood orange pinot reduction over the top as a final touch and voilà – gourmet cookin’ on a Sunday night.  As we plated the meal, Colleen exclaimed, “the gremolata!”  In all of the attention to detail that this dish required, it was forgotten along with the blood orange zest.

We sat down at our table and enjoyed our meal with the rest of the pinot.  Colleen really enjoyed the lamb, but was slightly dissatisfied with the veggies (both the mash and the chard) being slightly undercooked (which is mostly due to the timing aspect of cooking that we are still perfecting).  I raved about my meal most of the night.  “Love, this is the best lamb dish I’ve had a in a very long time.  It’s like restaurant quality!”  All in all, this meal was a success.  Future notes – don’t forget the rind, invest in a juicer, tie up the lamb a bit better, and start the veggies sooner, and remember the gremolata!

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