Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Butternut Squash Pasta Salad

Butternut squash and pasta are equally fantastic; however, when they come together in restaurants there's usually a lot of butter and sugar involved. I managed to figure out a way to make them work together without heavy doses of brown butter sauce, and here's the result.

Butternut Squash Pasta Salad Ingredients:
-12 oz (before cooking) whole wheat penne pasta
-2 tbsp olive oil
-8 oz diced butternut squash (I used pre-cubed butternut squash in a bag from Trader Joe's)
-12 oz cremini mushroooms
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-1 yellow onion, diced
-1 tsp oregano
-1/2 cup basil, chopped
-1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
-salt, to taste
-grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Before I tended to my veggies, I got the penne boiling in some water per instructions on the pasta package.
First, I sauteed the mushrooms in cooking spray over one medium-high heat burner, until the mushroom juices ran, and then I drained the juice and turned off the heat. In a separate pan, I sauteed the onions and garlic over medium-high heat with the olive oil, salt, pepper and oregano. I sauteed this mixture until the onions were translucent. While those 2 pans were going, I gave the cubed squash about 3 minutes in the microwave (in a microwave safe bowl with about an inch of water at the bottom and saran wrap over the top).  Once the squash had softened in the microwave, I put it in a well-sprayed frying pan with the already cooked onions and garlic. Then I added the basil, and stirred over medium heat until the squash was soft.
After the squash was softened to my liking, I added the cooked penne pasta and the mushrooms, so everything could mix together in an extra-large pan over low heat for several minutes.
To top it off, I grated some parmesan on top. In this instance, I served the pasta salad vegetarian with healthy baked chicken on the side. (Click here for that chicken recipe).  If you don't want to bake the chicken, you could also poach chicken breasts and shred them up, then mix them in the pasta salad. I've eaten this salad both ways and was pleased with each result (though I must stay, I'm kind of obsessed with the baked breaded chicken).

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Pesto Pizza

Q: What does one do when there's tons of fresh basil in the fridge and it must be used up before going bad?? A: Make pesto pizza!

Pesto Pizza Ingredients:
-1/2 cup broccoli (mine started frozen, and I heated it up before it went in the food processor)
-1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
-1 clove garlic, minced
-1/4-1/2 tsp salt (I like salty stuff so I err on the side of 1/2 tsp. That being said, it's much easier to add more salt than it is to remove salt)
-1/4 cup walnuts
-1-2 tbsp olive oil, to make it the right consistency (I always try to get away with a lesser amount to reduce fat)
-1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
-Trader Joe's plain pizza dough
-1 large tomato
-4 slices turkey bacon

Before I start, I'll let you know that the first time I made this, I used too much broccoli and the amount of pesto was a bit overwhelming, so for your sake I've reduced the quantity of ingredients to what I think is the right amount (I used the above quantities the second time I made this and the pesto amount was just right). If for any reason you still have too much pesto, I suggest you use it ASAP because mold grows quickly on fresh basil that's met with olive oil! I sometimes use excess pesto for breakfast the next morning, wrapping it up in a Trader Joe's organic white wheat tortilla with egg beaters and pressing it on my panini press. Anyway, I digress. Back to the pizza.
First, pre-heat your oven to 425. Press out the dough on a well-sprayed pizza stone or cooking sheet.  Then put the broccoli, basil, parmesan, walnuts, oil, garlic, and salt in a food processor and chop it up. Don't blend it too much because you want the consistency to be a little bit chunky. Spread it out on the dough, then chop the tomato into rounds and place it on top of the pesto.
Then dice up the turkey bacon, spray a frying pan, and get those bits nice and browned.
Once the bacon is crispy, sprinkle it atop the pizza and put the whole thing in the oven at 425 degrees for about 15 minutes (check it to make sure the crust is nice and crispy when you take it out). If you like cheese more than I do, you may want to add shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the whole thing before it goes in the oven.
After about 15 minutes, you'll have yourself a healthy and delicious pizza pie. I sprinkled extra basil on mine to polish off my basil stash. I also added red pepper flakes for extra spice. I recommend eating this all at once because the pesto can spoil quickly, or if you want to save it for another meal, I recommend freezing slices and then popping them in the microwave when you want to finish them off. I've frozen slices before and they'll still delicious when re-heated.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rainbow Quinoa Salad

This is summer salad post #2!  Another great picnic dish that I brought to the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday. 

Rainbow Quinoa Salad Ingredients:
-1 cup (before cooking) quinoa (I used white, but you could also use tricolor quinoa if you prefer)
-1 can black beans
-1 red bell pepper, diced
-1 yellow bell pepper, diced
-1/2 cup fresh mango, diced
-1/2 cup red onion, diced
-1 clove garlic, diced
-2 limes, zested and juiced
-2 tbsp red wine vinegar
-2 tbsp honey
-dash of salt and pepper
-1/4 cup fresh cilantro
First I got my quinoa cooking over the stovetop. Then I started chopping.
And peeling cilantro.
And chopping some more.
After drying my tears from the onion, I put all of the chopped ingredients in a bowl into which I zested and juiced the limes.
Then I drained my black beans...
And added those to the bowl.
At which point my quinoa was done cooking, so I added that.
Then I added the vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper (to taste) into the bowl and stirred it all around.
And tasted the colors of the rainbow.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Thai Barley Salad

Over the weekend, I made salads to bring to a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. They are both great for summer picnics!  Here's the first one.

Thai Barley Salad Ingredients:
-9 oz (before cooking) barley
-1 cup diced mango
-1 large carrot, grated
-1/4 cup fresh cilantro
-1 cup edamame
-12 oz fresh chopped cabbage (I used green cabbage, but purple would work, too)
-1/2 cup peanut butter (I used Better n' Peanut Butter to save calories)
-1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
-1/4 cup soy sauce
-1/4 cup honey
-2 tsp grated ginger
-pinch of salt and pepper

To start, get the barley cooking in boiling water. To save myself time, I bought this quick-cooking barley from Trader Joe's. It still took more than the 10 minutes indicated on the package to fully cook it, but overall the required time was a lot less than the usual 45 minutes required to cook barley. (I think I let this cook for about 20 minutes in total).
I also got out my edamame for starters, because it started frozen and I needed it to thaw at room temperature.
Then I diced up my mango.
And put the mango in a bowl with the cabbage and grated carrot.
Added some chopped cilantro on top.
Then added the barley once it was finished cooking and had cooled to room temp (the cooling time is important; don't add the barley to the fruit and veggies while it's steaming hot, or the cabbage and cilantro will get all sad and wilted).
I mixed up the dressing while waiting for my barley to cool.
In a small bowl, I whisked together the peanut butter, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and honey with about 1/3 cup water to thin it out a bit. Then I added a dash of salt and pepper, plus 2 teaspoons of grated ginger.
Once I had mixed and incorporated the dressing, my edamame were thawed. So I got to work popping edamame shells, adding the beans to the salad bowl and discarding the shells.
Then the salad was ready to eat!
If you really like peanuts, you could also add some chopped peanuts to the salad for extra crunch, but I thought it was great as is.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Portland

Last fall, I visited my cousin in Portland, Oregon and we had an awesome time eating and drinking our way through the city.  I wasn't too thorough in my photo-taking, but I'm recapping some of the highlights here (and I had to start with the Stumptown coffee because we consumed Stumptown all throughout the weekend).  But anyways, while we weren't caffeinating, we were fooding and boozing.  I'll start with Lardo. We went to Lardo on a post-hike lunch. After hitting the trails with this puppy...
... We'd definitely earned ourselves some beers. This Hard Apricot Cider was the perfect post-hike treat, and it held me over until my delicious pork sandwich arrived. 
I got the Korean pork shoulder sandwich because it came with housemade kimchi and I'm a sucker for Kimchi. It was supposed to have mayo, but as per my usual I asked for a mayo-free sandwich.
Because this post is going in no particular order, I'm now backtracking to our first night in Portland... We began our adventure with Pok Pok. This dinner was delightfully spicy and oh-so-good. We shared a number of the restaurant's specialties. We got the Kai Yang (Lemongrass-stuffed hen served with sweet and sour and tamarind sauces), the Papaya Pok Pok (Salad seasoned with lime, chili, tamarind, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts and shrimp), and Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce wings (I don't normally eat wings, but everyone raved about this, and for good reason)! We also got a seasonal brussel sprout dish to amp up the veggie component here, and we got sticky rice to soak up all remnants of each delicious sauce that coated these dishes.  
Where does one go after a super spicy meal? Well to ice cream of course!  Keep in mind, we were in Portland in fall. It was not warm outside. Yet Salt & Straw had a line out the door and around the block. After trying their ice cream, I understood why. The glory of being there close to Thanksgiving was that we got to try everything from turkey ice cream, to stuffing ice cream, to sweet potato casserole ice cream, and spiced apple cider sorbet. (Don't worry, we also tried their staple flavors including Stumptown coffee bourbon and strawberry balsamic, among others).
I can't write this post without mentioning the Brew Cycle. This vehicle passed by my cousin's apartment every morning, and its riders were always very jolly (who wouldn't be jolly pedaling a giant beer keg around Portland)?! We didn't have time to do it, but I am determined to ride it the next time I'm in town.
Speaking of happy hours, we hit up the Sand Bar at Fish Grotto for a pre-dinner snack. Before I present the food photo, let's take a moment to appreciate the pine tree outside of the "Sand Bar". I love you Portland.
This was quite possibly the best value I've seen at a happy hour, and I've happy-houred my way through many UCLA hotspots over the course of 7 years as a Bruin. OK seriously, I got a really good mai tai for $3 and we got this delicious crab dip with warm pita bread. And they did not skimp on the crab; this dip was very meaty.
Next up, Little Bird. This restaurant was known for it's burger, so I went out on a limb and had my first beef burger in years. And I don't think any other beef burger will measure up. The meat, the onions, the house pickles, the slaw, the brioche bun... the tastiness... Mm.
Our weekend finale included a trip to Voodoo Doughnut. We waited in line with the crowd to get a Captain Crunch glazed doughnut...
Which was well worth the wait. That thing got devoured quickly. No shame.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Bestia

Last week, Justin and I finally tried Bestia.  Justin made a reservation in February, for the end of May.  Case in point: this place is on a lot of angelenos' must-try lists. I was a little skeptical about going because the menu is full of dishes with unusual meats as well as cheese. I'm not a cheese lover and I mostly eat white fish and chicken, both of which are too ordinary for Bestia's menu.  That said, I chose to go vegetarian for a night, and I thoroughly enjoyed my food choices here.
First up was the beet salad pictured above. It had arugula, kumquats, pistachios, gorgonzola, and creme fraiche, all topped with mustard vinaigrette.
Salad #2, pictured above, was a farro salad with shaved cauliflower, avocado puree, pickled sweet chili, mint, and shaved montasio cheese.  
The next dish that came to our table was the star of the meal. Quadretti pasta with mushroom ragu, carrot tops, lima beans (I think they used a fancier term for them which I'm forgetting), and soffrito (which I learned is a light vegetable-based sauce). I'm willing to go out on a limb and say this is the best pasta I've ever had. The quadretti was thick and doughy (in a very good way), and I could tell that it was made on the spot with very fresh ingredients.  The sauce was unlike any pasta sauce I've had before; it was very very flavorful. And the mushrooms were cooked to perfection.  The carrot tops were so soft and sweet that I would have mistaken them for pureed sweet potatoes if I hadn't seen "carrot tops" on the menu.
Finally, we couldn't resist the pizza.  Bestia's margherita pizza was delicious.  They don't allow any modifications to their dishes at this restaurant, so I let the cheese in even thought I would normally ask for the pizza without cheese. That said, the cheese wasn't overwhelming.  I loved the way Bestia made the fresh tomato sauce the star of the pizza. And let's not forget that the crust was cooked to perfection. Thin yet chewy, just the way I like it.  Bestia for the win.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Cherry-Sauced Chicken

This pistachio-crusted chicken with cherry sauce is a cure for simply-grilled chicken boredom.  But it's still healthy.  It's also a great way to use up red wine that's been open a little too long to drink all on its own... If I'm being perfectly honest, that's why I first tried the recipe. I was unwilling to let 1/2 cup of leftover Charles Shaw wine go to waste. I'm that neurotic.

Cherry-Sauced Chicken Ingredients:
-1/3 cup breadcrumbs
-1/2 cup pistachio nuts (without shells)
-dash of salt & pepper (to taste)
-1/4 cup egg whites
-8 chicken breast tenders
-1/2 cup red wine
-1 cup orange juice
-1 cup vegetable broth
-1/4 cup dried cherries (cranberries would work, too)
-sides of choice (I used spinach tossed with slivered almonds and balsamic, plus lemon orzo)
For starters, get crackin'!  Remove pistachios from their shells and run them through a food processor with your breadcrumbs.  Pour the mixture into a bowl for dipping, adding a dash of salt and pepper for extra flavor.  
Pour egg whites into a second bowl, then dip the chicken tenders into egg whites followed by breadcrumbs. Spray a baking sheet and lay the chicken tenders on the baking sheet. Bake the tenders in an oven at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked all the way through.
While the chicken is baking, make the cherry sauce. First put the red wine and dried cherries into a frying pan over medium-high heat, and let the red wine reduce as you stir it around for several minutes. Once it's begun reducing, add the OJ and veggie broth.  Continue stirring it around over medium-high heat, and make sure it doesn't bubble and burn in the edges of the pan.
The first time I made this recipe, I used dried cherries. The second time, I used cranberries. The sauce was still equally delicious.  This dish pairs well with many sides. Sometimes I make it with sweet potatoes, and sometimes I do orzo. In this instance, I cooked up some orzo in a pan with lemon juice and lemon zest, which paired well with the citrus-y flavor that the cherry sauce gets from the OJ.
I also mixed up some greens with balsamic dressing.
Once my plates were ready and the sauce was properly reduced, I topped it off by drizzling cherry sauce on top. Voila.