**Pasta & Grains**
**Pasta & Grains**
Kale, like brussels sprouts, are one of those vegetables that have had a complete 360 in their public perception. (Whoever’s their PR camp is doing one helluva job.) I swear, a decade ago, kale was just a garnish I pushed aside with my fork while I was eating my country-fried steak at Claim Jumpers. But now, the curly leaves are sprouting up everywhere. It’s a staple at any restaurant–as a sauteed side complimenting rotisserie chicken, slow-cooked to resemble the buttery and savory Southern-style collard greens–or sold at any Whole Foods in bags of crispy kale chips seasoned with Herbs de Provence.
I know deep down that this newfound love for kale over the past few years may indeed be a fad, but I really do love the seaweed-like kale chips, and some macrobiotic restaurants make the best kale salads I’ve ever had–especially the one at M. Chaya in Los Angeles. Their salad is a tangy peanut dressing coating the curly leaves, coupled with slivers of peanuts and strips of red onion. Plus, kale lowers cholesterol and aids in cancer prevention. Count me in–I want to live to 100.
So, I’ve been obsessed with making a kale salad similar to that M. Chaya one. I ran across a recipe in LA Weekly by a chef of a different restaurant, who forayed in the world of macrobiotic cooking after his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It’s a touching story, and out of this situation came something beautiful–a recipe that can be shared with others to help them in their quest for living healthier as well. His recipe uses almonds instead of peanuts, and the dressing has a similar tanginess to it, yet it’s different in that it relies on a tahini, miso, and lemon dressing–creamy and served best warm or cold. The shredded carrots make for a vibrant and colorful salad, coated in this creamy dressing. It’s quite pretty, and perfect to bring to a nice picnic in the park, which I’m planning to do since summer is just around the corner.
Note: I made just a minor tweak to his recipe.
For the dressing:
1⁄4 cup white miso
1⁄2 cup sesame tahini
1 lemon, juiced
3⁄4 cup water
2 tsp. grated ginger
1 tsp. chopped garlic
1⁄2 tsp. chili sauce (optional)
Ground black pepper
1. Add all the ingredients in a blender and mix well. Refrigerate for up to a week.
For the salad:
12 oz. of kale, washed and chopped
1 cup shredded carrots
1⁄2 cup whole almond
1. Bring water to boil in a 2-quart pan. Blanch the kale. Drain and then set aside to cool off.
2. In a large bowl, mix the kale, carrots, and dressing to taste.
3. Separate the salad onto 4 plates, adding more dressing around the salad and whole almonds for garnish.
Is it just me or does it feel like there aren’t enough hours in a day to do everything you want to do?
From working to hanging out with friends and exercising…or whatever it is you do on a daily basis, it’s easy to stray from any dieting or budgeting plans, and to say, “The hell with it–I’m going to gorge on that immaculate, double-patty (!) Big Mac slathered in thousand island dressing or that juicy bacon-wrapped hot dog topped with overflowing chili cheese.” (BTW, those are specifically my guilty pleasures.)
Luckily, I stopped myself from devouring either item the other day after a late gym workout–even though I was starving and LA street dogs stands are on every corner tempting me like sirens–and decided to venture into the world of making wraps instead. Mind you, I’m not usually a fan of wraps, and the only one I’ve ever truly enjoyed is the wild salmon with asparagus one at M. Chaya, a wonderful macrobiotic restaurant in West Hollywood. That M. Chaya dish was the inspiration and foundation for my rendition that I lay before you today: a whole wheat wrap chock-full of creamy tuna salad, combined with fragrant herbs and ribbons of sweet, shredded carrots, mixed with asparagus stems and slices of cucumbers, giving it that satisfying veggie crunch.
What I found was that I was able to make these wraps in about 15 minutes, taking about the same amount of time it takes to drive to the local McDonalds and wait through the drive-thru, and packed them for lunch for the next day, with time to spare to catch up on my TV shows! Easy peasy. Also worth mentioning, this wrap tastes much better after a night in the fridge, when all the flavors have melded together and the veggie juices moisten everything as a whole. Simple, healthy, and tasty.
Adapted from AllRecipes.com recipe.
Yields 4 servings
2 – 5 oz. cans of tuna in salt and water, drained
2 pieces of whole wheat lavish bread
1 persian cucumber, cut in half and sliced into 1/4 inch x 3 inch slices
4 asparagus stalks, ends removed, cut in half
1/4 cup shredded carrots (I just use a potato peeler and peel ribbons of carrots to use)
7 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp of dried onion powder
2 pinches garlic powder
1/4 tsp of curry powder
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried dill weed
1/8 tsp black powder
1. Boil water in a small pot and throw in asparagus stalks for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, add the tuna and fluff with a fork until pieces are flaky and separated. Add in the carrots, mayonnaise, parmesan, onion powder, garlic powder, curry powder, dried parsley, dried dill weed, and black powder. Mix thoroughly.
3. Lay out a piece of lavish bread on a flat surface or plate. At the bottom of the bread, spread 1/4 of the mixture across from left to right. Lay four slices of cucumber across the top. Roundly and tightly fold over once until the tuna is covered. Spread 1/4 of the mixture next and lay four pieces of asparagus on top. Roundly and tightly fold over until it is covered, and then keep rolling the rest of the bread.
4. Take two toothpicks and poke in each end of the wrap, holding the spiral together. Using a knife, cut diagonally in the center. Wrap in saran wrap and put in the fridge.
6. Repeat steps 3-4 for the remaining lavish bread.
I have been on an obsessive quest to make the perfect pasta sauce for years, and I am happy to report that I finally perfected it tonight.
I’ve gotten to the point where I no longer buy any pre-made pasta sauces anymore because, frankly, who needs to? Although slightly daunting, creating your own pasta sauce–and not relying on those Prego jars that are chock full of salt and sugar that never quite fit to your refined palate–surprisingly becomes an art form. It costs the same or even less than pre-made sauces, and takes just an extra 30 minutes to make. And by extra, I’m talking about the added time tacked on from opening a stubborn jar lid.
Personally, I enjoy a pasta sauce full of sauteed garlic and onions, ribbons of fresh basil, and crushed tomatoes, brought together with a sauce base that’s on the sweeter side with lighter acidic notes. However, I’m sure other people like saltier sauces, hate onions, have a love affair with fresh oregano and parsley, and like whole tomatoes. So be it. Experiment, adjust, forage. Sometimes, my cooking is based on what I have left in the fridge and what falls into my weekly budget, so, as the saying goes, no two snowflakes (or pasta sauces) are alike.
I may also be prone to use more basil nowadays because I just bought my first basil plant this year, and it’s the only plant sitting on my balcony. I usually announce to my boyfriend that I’m “harvesting” when I head outside to grab a few leaves.
Also, to be noted, the meatballs in this recipe only use beef because honestly, I can’t be bothered to buy ground veal (I’m not quite that bourgeois yet), and I wanted a simpler recipe. Do not fear though, the result of mere beef balls will be just fine, once you throw in some breadcrumbs and freshly grated parmesan cheese. “Voilà!” as the French say–why I’m speaking French when I’m making an Italian dish, I don’t know. But, bon appetit!
Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe.
Yields 5-6 servings
For the meatballs:
1 lb of ground beef
2/3 cup of Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup of freshly grated pecorino romano (or parmesan), with extra for garnishing later
1 tsp of kosher salt
1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp of dried parsley flakes
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup of warm water
Vegetable oil and olive oil
For the sauce:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1-1/2 tsp of minced garlic
1/2 cup of good red wine (such as Chianti)
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
7 to 8 basil leaves, cut into thin ribbons
2 tsp of dried parsley flakes
1-1/2 tsp of kosher salt
1/2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp of sugar
1/2 tsp of dried pepper flakes (optional if you want some spicy kick to your sauce)
For the pasta:
1 lb of angel hair pasta (preferably Barilla brand)
For the meatballs:
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, bread crumbs, pecorino romano, salt, pepper, parsley flakes, egg, and water. Mix and combine.
2. Using your hands, form the mixture into 2-inch balls. You will have about 12 meatballs.
3. Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.
For the sauce:
1. Heat the oil in the same pan.
2. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
4. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes.
5. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, parsley flakes, salt, sugar, pepper, and dried pepper flakes (optional).
6. Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through.
For the spaghetti:
1. Right when you return the meatballs to the sauce, boil 4-6 quarts of water over medium heat in a large pot, add in the angel hair pasta and cook for 4-5 minutes until al dente.
2. Drain and rinse with cold water.
3. Serve the pasta with meatballs and spaghetti sauce, and sprinkle a little extra grate pecorino romano/parmesan over it to taste.
I have to admit–I have a routine whenever I go to Trader Joe’s. I usually go a little before lunch, lurk around the food sample section (the more cooking involved, the better! I could care less about chopped-up squares of banana bread), chat it up with the person serving the samples, walk away, get a coffee sample with soy milk, and then discreetly go back to get a second helping–hoping that nobody notices. To rationalize this, I think to myself that the sample server and I are homies by this point, so they won’t mind.
This is just how I roll.
Over the weekend, I ran across a Traders Joe’s dish that was so delicious, healthy, and well-balanced in flavor that I bought all the ingredients they placed in front of the sample stand–something I rarely do. The dish blended savory couscous with hearty black beans, black olives, crumbled feta, and Goddess dressing, into a slightly tangy and light meal that took me less than half an hour to make tonight for dinner. I served it with a side salad dressed with a garlicky balsamic vinaigrette…and poured lots of red wine for drinking.
Yields 6-7 servings
3 cups chicken broth
2 tbsp of olive oil
2 tsp salt
12 oz box of couscous
3.8 oz can of sliced black olives, drained
15 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 bottle of 8 fl. oz Goddess dressing
2 oz. feta crumbles (Mediterranean style preferred, but regular feta works too)
1. In a medium-sized pot, combine chicken broth, olive oil, and salt. Heat until boiling.
2. Add couscous to the pot. Remove from heat and cover with lid.
3. Let stand for five minutes.
4. Lift lid and fluff couscous with a fork.
5. Add to pot olives, beans, feta, and Goddess dressing. Mix well and serve.
Some of the things I love about my local Silver Lake Intelligentsia coffee shop are the rich roasts, froth art, and the black-vested and curly-mustached baristas who look like they just stepped out of a 19th-century-era steam punk graphic novel.
Whenever I step into my favorite shop, I usually pick up a rosemary and bacon biscuit to go along with my morning coffee. So, you could imagine my disappointment when my buddy offered to grab me one on the way to work, but showed up with a chive biscuit instead. A…CHIVE…biscuit (which, by the way is also pretty delicious and probably in the cards for my next baking adventure, but I’m being whiny for dramatic effect). It’s no rosemary and bacon biscuit though.
What’s a girl to do when she has a craving for a baked good that her coffee shop no longer carries? She makes it herself and satiates her hunger whenever she damn well pleases! (Well, maybe not whenever; biscuits are usually listed in the “Paula Deen” category.)
This is a quick and simple recipe that you would be able to make in time for any breakfast before you hear the first pair of footsteps coming down the stairs. Impress your family; entertain your guests. These flaky biscuits are balanced between the sweetness of the batter and the sharpness of the cheese, with herbs and smoky crisp bacon bits mixed in. Although baking biscuits may seem daunting at times and the worries that might run through your head are, “What if I make them too dense or too dry?” don’t fret because if you follow these instructions to the T, everything will be fine and you’ll look like a pro-cook. The best part about these “rustic” biscuits is that you don’t have to roll them into a perfect log and cut them–the magic is in the home-baked “rustic” look.
Adapted from Running to the Kitchen recipe.
Yields 13 biscuits
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp white sugar
2/3 stick of cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
3 slices of bacon, cooked until crispy, then finely chopped
1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese, plus extra for topping
3/4 cup of milk
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Do not grease the sheet.
2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients–flour, salt, baking powder and sugar–and then mix.
3. Add the cubed butter into the dry mixture and use a fork to mash together until it’s well-combined and looks like coarse meal or a crumbly mixture.
4. Add the rosemary, bacon and cheddar cheese in mixture and mix.
5. Pour in milk. Mix ingredients together (I prefer to mix with my hands and pat it together), but be careful to not overmix or else the biscuits will become too dense. Don’t knead the dough. The batter will look slightly dry, but don’t worry – it’s supposed to look that way.
6. Lightly coat hands with flour. Spoon out about 1/4 cup of the dough, shape it together into a ball (it doesn’t need too look like a perfect ball so it’ll have that rustic look), and then put it on the baking sheet. Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. Lay each ball about an inch away from each other.
7. Sprinkle extra cheddar cheese on top of the balls.
8. Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until cheese is lightly browned. Serve immediately.
Forget about meatloaf or warm apple pie; when I think of comfort food, wontons are among the first things that come to mind. Nothing makes me feel better after a long day out in the cold like a hot bowl of chicken broth soup with little packages of joy floating on top, adorned with ribbons of bok-choy or gai-lan (also known as Chinese broccoli). After all, directly translated from Cantonese to English, wonton means “swallowing clouds”, and if made correctly, these heavenly little meat-filled pillows will taste just like that.
A traditional Chinese staple stemming over 1,000 years, wonton styles vary from region to region, all with different fillings from pork to shrimp to vegetables. The versatility of how they’re prepared as well as how they’re eaten is expansive. I usually make a large batch of wontons, freeze them, and then take them out whenever I want to boil them in some soup, boil them without soup to dip in soy sauce, or even just deep fry them.
When I was growing up, it was sort of a family tradition for all of us to sit together, chat and laugh, and wrap wontons. My parents would usually comment on how we were wrapping them incorrectly or putting too much filling in them – giving us perennial adjustments. At the time, I thought they were being overly critical, but now looking back, I think they were just trying to teach us how to do it right, so that the filling wouldn’t explode out of the wrapper when we boiled them. Fair enough. What better way to learn how to do something right than to get told you’re making a mistake?
My recipe comes from my father, who makes it seem like making wontons is as easy as riding a bicycle. The marriage of shrimp and pork for this dish is sealed together by a dash of sesame oil and soy sauce with a handful of chopped green onions. Once you get the hang of wrapping them, you’ll find yourself making these wontons quickly.
I find wrapping wontons rather therapeutic (a weird side of me where I enjoy assembly-line sort of work), but the one thing I don’t enjoy very much is deveining shrimp, which should be done. I have to admit that although it’s gotten easier the more times I do it, it still takes me awhile. Don’t be discouraged though and read this tutorial or watch this one (if you need to…because you could be a professional deveiner for all I know!) on how to devein shrimp.
1 16 oz. package of square wonton wrappers (can be found in your local Asian grocery store) – yields about 45-50 wrappers
1/2 lb. of ground pork
1/2 lb. of shrimp, peeled, deveined and chopped
2 – 3 stalks of scallions, thinly chopped
1/2 tbsp of soy sauce
3 tsp of rice vinegar
1 tsp of sesame oil
1 tsp of granulated sugar
pinch of salt
pinch of black pepper
1. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and set aside.
2. Preparing the filling: In a medium mixing bowl, add the pork, shrimp, scallions, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly using one hand.
3. Wrapping the wontons: There are a few different ways to wrap wontons, but I prefer wrapping them like triangles (the easy way) or wrapping them as the boat style (just one extra step!).
–Triangle shape: Put one wonton wrapper in the palm of your hand positioned as a diamond pointing upwards. Put half a tablespoon of filling in the center. (Do not overfill the wonton because they will fall apart when you cook them.) Using a spoon, add a thin layer of egg wash alongside the two top edges of the wrapper. Fold the bottom to the top, forming a triangle, pushing out as much air as possible, and then pressing the edges together to seal it.
–Boat style: Perform the steps of the triangle shape. Add egg wash to one of the two side tips and overlap one side over the other. The shape will look like a little boat with a pillow of filling in the center.
4. Repeat folding instructions until all the wrappers have been used. Put wontons in a single layer on a baking sheet until finished.
5. Cook the wontons as desired:
–To eat wontons alone without soup: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over low-medium heat. Add the wontons in the water (making sure there is enough room for them to move about freely) and gently stir every couple of minutes (to ensure the wontons don’t stick to the bottom of the pot) for about 5 to 8 minutes. You will know when they’re done when they float to the top. Check the wontons for doneness. When the wontons are done cooking, drain the pot and then and put the wontons in a bowl. Serve with soy sauce for dipping.
–To eat wontons in soup: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over low-medium heat. Add the wontons in the water (making sure there is enough room for them to move about freely) and gently stir every couple of minutes (to ensure the wontons don’t stick to the bottom of the pot) for about 5 to 8 minutes. You will know when they’re done when they float to the top. Check the wontons for doneness. When the wontons are done cooking, drain the pot and then and put the wontons in a bowl.
While the wontons are cooking, boil chicken broth with some salt and pepper to taste in another pot over medium heat. Add in some sliced bok-choy or gai-lan in the boiling soup for a few minutes until tender. Ladle the soup and vegetables in a large bowl and then add five or six wontons to each bowl. Garnish with some chopped scallions.
–To eat the wontons deep-fried: Heat oil in a deep frying pan to 360 degrees F and add wontons in small batches to the oil. Deep fry until they turn a golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove the wontons with a slotted spoon and drain the oil on paper towels on a plate.
–How to freeze wontons: Wrap a baking sheet with saran wrap. Put each wonton in a single layer on the baking sheet (without overcrowding them so they don’t get stuck together). Leave the baking sheet in the freezer overnight. In the morning, remove the wontons and put them in a bag and keep them in the freezer. Do not defrost the wontons if you want to boil them, but do defrost them if you want to deep fry them.
–What to do with excess filling: If you end up with any extra filling, a good way to use it up is to roll about a tablespoon of filling into a ball – sort of like a mini-meatball, and repeat until all the filling is used. You can boil these meatballs in soup or freeze them the same way as you’d freeze wontons to use later.