In My Kitchen: February-Asparagus Soup FTW

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This past week I made a really dope chicken shawarma-esque recipe out of the NY Times in an attempt to create my take on Max and my favorite chicken shawarma plates from Al Wazir Chicken in LA.   When Max lived in Hollywood, we used to go there just about every other day!  Aaaand now I’m homesick and craving Al Wazir.

I healthied it up a bit by adding some extra veggies and made a Greek yogurt-garlic-lemon juice-mint sauce.  Anyway, that was fun. Max and I both crave chicken shawarma on the reg, and we are constantly saddened by the total lack of shawarma up here in SF.  If you have any leads on places we should check out that might change our mind and rival our beloved Al Wazir (or even Zankou, if we’re slummin’ it), PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do tell.

Ya know, I try to keep this from becoming a total food blog, because I could do that.  It would be pretty boring, but it could be done. And I have another post (another freakin’ soup post at that) that I plan to create this month, but I absolutely could not not tell you about the asparagus soup I made to go with my chicken shawarma because it is NUTS good.  Like restaurant-good.  And it is ridic healthy and stupid easy and quick to make.  I definitely emailed the recipe to my mom, so you know it’s the best of the best.

So let me just direct you to the recipe, which has approximately 3 steps, but is basically sauté onions in butter, add asparagus and chicken stock, boil, remove from heat, add cream cheese (or Greek yogurt, which I used and works like charm), blend with hand blender.  The end.

Also, you should probably check out Skinnytaste and see what’s up.  I haven’t had a chance to go browsing, but I will when I’m looking for my next meal inspiration for sure.  Looks like a goldmine!

 

In My Kitchen: January-Detox Enchiladas

 

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The last few months, or rather the last third, of my 2015 was a mess.  I thrive on order and routine-it keeps my anxiety at bay, yet I disregarded every single schedule I had put in place in favor of taking lots of naps and watching way too many hours of TV.  And I LOVE TV, so that is really saying something.

The holidays are just one more reason to throw up your hands in defeat when you realize you’re in for days, if not weeks, of straight partying and there is no escape from the aftermath in the form of leftovers.  You can’t really fight it, so you just give in.

In my case, I had let go of all of the things and controls I instituted in my life that kept me feeling on-top-of-it.  Things I don’t really “like” doing, but I do because I like the way I feel once I’ve done them.  Things like exercising regularly and cooking healthy meals for myself. Even writing consistently in this here blog!  I was bloated, yet empty, yet full of excuses.  And no one likes to be bloated AND empty.  Not cool.

So I guess that’s why so many people press the reset button come January.  It may be possible clear your social calendar a little bit so you can actually focus on treating yourself right with the holiday celebrations and entertaining finally over.

Look, I know there is no magic date on the calendar that makes it the right time to “do better” at life.  I mean, ideally we’d be striving for our best selves with each new day, right? But with a new year it does feel kind of right to make a new start or at least resume doing the things you know are right for you, personally.  Plus, everyone else is doing it and that makes it easier.  Jump on that bandwagon if it helps.

Since December 28, 2015, I’ve been a very good girl.  I’ve been eating well and going to the gym three times a week.  I even finally took that boxing class I’d been dying to take!  P.S. Boxing is so much fun!  I’m incorporating it into my exercise regime as a regular thing.  Hitting stuff rocks!

But on the culinary side, one of the first big successes of 2016 has been these detox enchiladas.  I’m not quite sure what makes them “detox” as opposed to just a healthy alternative to the ridiculously fattening regular enchiladas we all know and love, but I gave them a try because they sounded good and I like the word “detox”.  Makes me feel good. Plus-KALE.  So much kale.  It can’t be bad.

Big success over here because, not only did I eat and enjoy them, but Max did, as well!

I grabbed this recipe from a website called Joanne Eats Well With Others, so I will direct you there if you’re going to be taking this on. I am giving her and her site full credit for adapting this recipe and writing it down, and I hope that satisfies her requirement that I do so 🙂

In essence, the recipe just takes the unhealthy components of your tradish enchiladas with a green goddess dressing and replaces them with healthier alternatives.  I always like this method of preparing dietetic food because I like those familiar tastes and experiences, but clearly don’t want all the fat, calories, and processed carbs.  So it is along the same lines as cauliflower bread recipes and zoodles.

The filling is chickpeas, onion, corn, and Ro-Tel, plus herbs and spices.  I, however, misread the recipe before going shopping and forgot to purchase Ro-Tel, so I just used leftover salsa I had in the house, and it totally worked, though I’m aware this accidental substitution did add sugar that I didn’t need.  I also added half a chicken breast chopped up into super small bits to sort of lull my husband into submission.  Half a chicken breast spread throughout a 9 x 13 casserole dish, does not a lot of chicken make, let me tell you, so it was really just about the fact that it was in there at all.  Once you cook all that together, you let it cool and then add in a little bit of low-fat cheese, so the inside looks melty when you bake it.  That’s it-easy filling.

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You wrap those up in corn tortillas, which sounds easier than it is if you want them to look pretty at all, and then pour the “green goddess dressing” over the top.

I’m not sure if there’s a trick to this, but I found the wrapping process frustrating, and I cursed at those tortillas like a foul-mouthed sailor. I curse quite a lot in the kitchen, actually. Maybe it’s just me. The problem was that, even though I heated the tortillas in the over as called for, they kept cracking or wanting to unwrap and spill their contents all over the baking dish. I was dismayed at how ugly and unprofessional they looked when they were sitting there dry, but there is a happy ending.  No worries.

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The mess I made of things while I was trying to get these babies wrapped and tucked in there! 

 

A quick note on Green Goddess dressing. It is a salad dressing, typically containing mayonnaise, sour cream, chervil, chives, anchovy, tarragon, lemon juice, and pepper, so it is green and creamy.  Appropriately, it is said to have originated at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in the early 1920s. There are now all sorts of bottlings and variations, but they tend not to be healthy because there has to be something really creamy in there like mayonnaise, sour cream, or sometimes tahini.

This recipe is like the green juice equivalent of Green Goddess dressing, as it uses kale, green chiles, veggie stock, scallions, and low fat greek yogurt. All good things.

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That’s a VitaMix full of kale, people.

Add a light sprinkling of low-fat cheese you used in the filling to the top of your enchiladas now covered in the dressing and bake it. You’ll see that no matter how ugly and cracked your dry enchiladas looked, this dish is very visually forgiving because when the sauce permeates the tortillas it all sort of smooths out.

The result is a very attractive dish that fed my family of two for a few days.  The inside is creamy AND spicy from that greek yogurt and the salsa and chiles.

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If you’re looking to start that diet in the new year, consider this dish as it is one of those meals that feels much more decadent than it is, and it will help ween you off the delicious, rich holiday foods you’ve probably now gotten used to.  I know I did.

Happy New Year!

Thanksgiving in LA

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So yesterday I had a bit of a meltdown.  Basically, I threw a tantrum and locked myself out on the balcony to cry.

Sometimes being up in San Francisco can feel just incredibly lonely.  Max is gone A LOT.  I don’t have the friends up here that I have in LA and every member of both Max and my family is down there, too!  In any event, my breakdown put Max through quite a tough morning, which is the last thing he needs, and as he rightly pointed out, my pouting was not helping me either.

I guess we all have those tunnel vision moments where the grass is looking mighty green on the other side and all you are able to see about where you’re standing is how it lacks in comparison.  I was missing my family and the connections I have with the people and places in LA that I simply do not have here; probably never will.  I think the feeling was especially poignant for me because I’d spent the entire week prior in LA with my family and lifelong, once-in-a-lifetime friends.

I flew down about 5 days before Thanksgiving because I wanted to spend some holiday time with my mom, brother and guncles before I spent the tail-end of the little break and the holiday with my Coane family.  This is the first year I won’t be with my family to celebrate my birthday, decorate the Christmas tree, or go to Candy Cane Lane. I can’t say I’m handling it super well.  A lot of spirits need lifting these days, and while I’m so so happy I can be there to lift them, the pressure does sometimes weigh on me.

We all know adulting is just stupid fucking hard.  “It is hard to be a human”, as Max would say.  This week in LA was wonderful in that I was allowed to pretend I’m not a real adult and be taken care of by my mommy. haha!  My family’s itinerary is always jam-packed, and this week was no exception. We saw great theater, shopped at malls with Christmas lights already up and Christmas music playing, watched old musicals with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, talked a lot, ate a ton, and I spent every night sleeping next to my mom and her dog, which is just so comforting for this 30 year old. I guess you never grow out of wanting to cuddle with Mom.  I didn’t have to pay bills, or do (too much) work, or tidy up or even make the plans for the day.  It was a vacation from real, adult life.

We even cleaned out my dad’s closet, which I REALLY did not want to do. But we all came together and did it as a group.  We ended up telling a lot of great old stories about my dad and doing a lot of laughing.  Just a small demonstration of how we have managed to get through all of this mess-do it together, enjoy the memories, share laughter and lots of love. Seriously, it really helps.

I was able to arrange to spend alone time with my brother and to enjoy a sushi dinner with my mom and Susan.  They are so similar sometimes in the way they endeavor to take care of those around them that I knew they would hit it off.  I also really wanted sushi since we can’t get it affordably up here in San Francisco.  Killed all the birds with that stone.  Mom and Susan loved each other with Mom adding “Susan is hilarious!” And she is.

On Thanksgiving morning, Max flew in to LA and I met him at his parents’ house in Santa Monica.  Along with my MIL, Amy, I prepared two of Max’s favorite traditional Thanksgiving dishes-leek bread pudding & Thomas Keller’s green bean casserole. Ok, I thought I had linked to these recipes in previous posts, but I can’t find them, so here ya go:

And I’ll just add-be careful not to use any other version of the green bean casserole recipe because they do tend to differ apparently, and if you have a picky loved one (Max, wink-wink), they will know the difference.

The leek bread pudding has become such a hit with my family that my brother just assumed someone would be making it this year, and when they didn’t, he was quite bummed.

Max’s Aunt Lisa and her family hosted a beautiful, bountiful Thanksgiving.  I’m so lucky to be a part of two great families and to get to spend such lovely quality time with all of them.

For that, and many other things, I sure am grateful.  I just have to remind myself of that next time I’m pounding my fists on the floor like a two year old.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

In My Kitchen October: Lemon Meringue Pie

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You may have noticed that last week was Max’s birthday.  You may also notice that it is now November, though the title of this post would suggest otherwise.  Max’s birthday is the ramp up to the holiday season; simultaneously my favorite and the most stressful time of year. We do our holidays big in my family and that includes birthdays sometimes.  I like to celebrate Max’s because I don’t really like to celebrate mine.

We started the birthday week off with dinner at Quince.  Spectacular! It was one of my favorite meals of all-time, and they were lovely enough to make a special birthday dessert for Max. Thursday was Max’s actual birthday.  He was working, of course, but I gave him a small gift in the morning before work.  Get your mind out of the gutter! It was a fancy tie bar.

Friday while Max was at work, I baked his favorite pie, lemon meringue.  This Chowhound recipe is the one that I followed. I really liked the idea of doing a graham cracker crust because I felt a lemon custard needed something to contrast it.

The graham cracker crust was a snap to make-I mean, crushed grahams and butter. I, of course, added a ton of extra salt because nothing is ever salty enough.

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Glistening with butter!

Glistening with butter!

I will say, though, that pressing it down into the dish without leaving gaping holes was a little tough.  A small adjustment here or there often moved more of the wet mixture than I meant it to.

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So then the crust in the dish goes into the over to bake, and it’s custard time!  It was my first time making a custard-first time for a lot of things, so I was super cautious and literal about the non-stop whisking while the mixture is over the burner and boiling.  I liked that the recipe called for real lemons and lemon juice and used lemon zest, as well.  Whether the pie was made with real lemon juice was the first question out of Max’s mouth upon seeing it.  I know my audience.  Squeezing/juicing lemons, however, I could do without.  I’ll refer you to my comment regarding weak wrists. I could have used the stand mixer, but I wanted to use it for the meringue, and even though I work very cleanly, I also didn’t want to deal with cleaning all the attachments.

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NON-STOP

NON-STOP

After the crust has cooled, you pour the hot lemon custard into the crust.  This was a real pretty time in the life of this pie. That has to cool, so I started on making my first meringue.

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I don’t know what all the fuss is about.  I was pretty nervous to make a meringue.  People say it is very difficult, but I think it was only difficult in a world before YouTube and the Internet, because there are all these different stages and you have to stop mixing the egg whites at a precise time or risk overdoing it.  Hell, I didn’t know what “soft peaks” were supposed to look like exactly, so I looked it up and the site walked me through all the different stages of meringue.

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Internet.

Internet.

When it looked like the picture and acted like the description underneath the picture, I stopped mixing and poured the meringue onto the now-room temperature custard and crust.  This was another good-looking period for this pie.

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Then you stick it all back into the oven until the meringue is toasted.  Again, gorgeous.

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Next time I make a meringue pie, I would use all the meringue the recipe made and build it much higher than I did.  I am not actually either a lemon dessert or a meringue fan, myself, so I really didn’t know what it was supposed to look or taste like.  That said, I’ve now eaten the majority of it.  Oh well.

Hair needs some height!

Hair needs some height!

Aside from that small note for future reference, I’m happy with the way it turned out.  It tastes kick-ass and is a feast for the eyes.  Right? So pretty.  I think I have a crush on this pie.

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Happy 30th Birthday, Max!

You better grab some lemon meringue pie before I eat it all! Haha!

In My Kitchen September: Lamb Stew

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Ok, so technically it is now October, hence the double post today.  I have a different idea of what I’d like to post for an “In My Kitchen October” post, so this has to go up right now.

Even though the weather has only shown it in the last few days (and seems to be back to its warm self today), Labor Day and the end of August signal the start of Fall to me.  Even if I have to force it.

I knew I wanted to make a stew, so I was sitting in bed looking up recipes, when Max looked over my shoulder to see what I was researching.  “Stew,” he said, “is all technique.  You don’t need a recipe.”  I insisted that I, in fact, did need a recipe while he may not, but he started narrating the process to me instead.  At the end, I still had tons of questions-like “when do the beans go in? after or before the greens?” and “how long should I let the meat rest after I’ve removed it from the stew before shredding it and putting it back in?”  He must have felt sorry for me (or wanted to make sure it turned out well so he could eat it), because the next morning he got up earlier than usual and helped me with most of the heavy-lifting.

Laying it all out so Max could chop it :)

Laying it all out so Max could chop it 🙂

Showing me how it's done.

Showing me how it’s done.

He showed me proper technique for cutting vegetables because chopping is lame and boring and I’m GOING to injure myself one of these days.

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"This is your only chance to add color to the meat"

“This is your only chance to add color to the meat”

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Then he flowered and browned the lamb and got the stew going.  I told him we should make a video of him coaching me Food Network style, but it was early in the day for him and he was in no mood for that. Side note: I don’t know why we decided to go with lamb.  Lamb is really more of a spring thing to me, but whatever.

Before the shred.

Before the shred.

After that, I was on my own to finish it up and use my own judgement as to when to pull the lamb out.  I worked and waited and tested to see if the meat was “falling off the bone”, my indicator that it was done.  Once it was, I pulled it out and let it rest until it was “cool enough to handle” when I shredded it, removed the bone and put it back in.

So now everything that already in the stew is cooked; the heartier veggies and the meat.  I added the beans next and when I was ready to eat it-super last minute-I added the collard greens.  Max suggested that ideally you’d put the greens in each individual portion as you heated it up to keep the greens’ texture, but come on, I’m not having that.  Trust me, it is still excellent if you put all the greens it at once.

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I think a stew is a classic that needs to be served up to your family at least once a year in the colder Fall and Winter months.  Max and I ate on this one batch for over a week! I mean, not every single day, but you know what I mean.

May this serve as your inspiration to go forth and stew!

In My Kitchen: Peach Pie

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Dude, you guys, it is August 31st, the last day of August, which means if I am going to do a post on what was happenin’ in my kitchen in August, it has to happen right now! Especially because we’re talking peach pie.

To me, peach pie is the ultimate summer baking item.  My mom always made peach pies in the summertime, and they really aren’t appropriate for any other time of the year.  So amazing with vanilla ice cream that it really would be a shame to miss having a homemade peach pie this summer!

As always, I disclaim this post by saying that I am no pro in the kitchen (especially considering the types I hang around with these days) and that I’m always far too prideful of my kitchen successes just because they don’t suck.  So with that in mind, let’s all admire my INCREDIBLE peach pie! haha

So, this here is the recipe I used. I highly recommend it.  This other attendant link wasn’t on the site when I was baking, but I just read it now and definitely suggest you read this part too.

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Everyone warns about making pie crust from scratch.  Dear God, don’t over-develop that gluten! But, since I hardly understand what that means, I was kind of naive when I went into this process.  I think that was probably for the better because, from what I understand from this “what I learned” post, some of the technique may not be what seasoned bakers are used to.  I echo the sentiment.  Trust the technique! Trust Ben!  (Ben Mims is the author of the Summer Peach Pie recipe on Saveur that I used.)  I didn’t overthink it-didn’t know to-and my crust was not only easy to make, but literally perfect.

Some people may not need that S'mores frappacino, but I sure did.

Some people may not need that S’mores Frappucino, but I sure did.

So here’s what ya need:

For the pie crust:

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 sticks chilled unsalted butter, cut into 12-inch cubes
12 cup ice-cold water

For the peach filling:

12 cup granulated sugar
14 cup corn starch
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. bourbon
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. kosher salt
12 tsp. ground cinnamon
14 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
4 lb. peeled and pitted peaches, thawed if frozen, chopped or cut into thin wedges
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw, to garnish

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Also, no one told me this until after I complained about my pie filling, but all the peaches should be ripe.  In other words, do not go to the farmers market or grocery store, buy your peaches, and try to cook your pie that night, because under-ripe peaches make the pie filling too starchy; almost like it needs more time to cook.  According to my mother, who makes many pies, you can also put them in boiling water for a bit and then blanche in cold water, and it helps get the skins off and also brings out more of the juices.  I happened to have had two peaches that were already ripe that I had intended to eat, so at least some of my peaches were amazing.

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I had never made a lattice pattern before and, for some reason, I expected that might be hard or something.  It’s not.  Super easy.

To me, the hardest, or more accurately, the most tedious part of this whole event is cutting up the peaches.  My knife skills are sub-par to the say the least, so whenever a lot of chopping or slicing is involved, it gets old for me real fast. For anyone worth their salt in the kitchen who doesn’t have issues cutting peaches (haha), this recipe should be an even greater success than mine was and should take you no time or effort at all basically.

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I was able to share my pie with our good friend Eugene and his girlfriend Lishon when we went to Eugene’s loft in Oakland later.  We paired it with Ben & Jerry’s-to die! In fact, some of us reheated the pie in the microwave, which even solved the problem of the slightly under-ripe filling.  All in all, a job well done, Megan. See-that’s that pie pride, right there.  I only wish I had some pictures of us all enjoying it to share.

Pie Pride!

Pie Pride!

As we move into fall, I’ll still be taking some looks back on summer activities yet to be logged here.  It will be a good way to keep the summer alive into September.

In My Kitchen: Zucchini Noodle Bake & Tuna Stuffed Peppers

As I sit here sipping my vanilla malt that I ordered “to-go” after finishing my tuna melt & fries, (Yes, I have done that more than once) I thought it would be a really great time to talk about healthy eating. haha.

At this time, I’m still too self-conscious to talk about how I maintain my figure, so to speak, but I have absolutely no trouble talking about food.  I fucking love food.  A great deal of my world revolves around it.  While this can be absolutely wonderful, it can be a double-edged sword situation.  Quality problems, what can I say?

My work around is that I try to eat pretty cleanly and avoid carbs during the week (unless there’s a good reason not to-or even a halfway decent reason).  However, I’m not super great in the kitchen and I resent all time spent cooking for myself alone, so I try to make things that are healthy, but also very quick to throw together in the evening.

I just wanted to share two of the bigger successes I’ve had in the kitchen recently when cooking for a party of 1.

Zucchini Pasta Bake

In my July 10 post about the Heart of the City Farmers Market, I mentioned that I had picked up some zucchinis.  Zucchini pasta/zucchini noodles are all the rage these days.  (Side note: Have you all noticed that they’ve started selling shredded cauliflower at the markets for use in making pizza dough, etc.?  I’ll have to look into it more, but I’m guessing that you still have to cook it, which still leaves you with having to dry it-the truly difficult part.  I can toss my own damn cauliflower in the food processor for the extra money, thanks).  I’ve done them a ton since I started with the cleaner eating a while back.  I make enough zucchini noodles that I received a veggie spiralizer from my mother for my bridal shower.

Nothing to this one-I simply had some mozzarella balls that needed finishing up, so I bought the zucchini with this dish in mind. You simply “spiralize” the zucchini, which is my favorite part because it creates beautiful green ribbons, toss in some olive oil in a pan to soften slightly, and then dress them however you would any pasta.  Seriously, it could not be simpler.

I’ll admit, “spiraling” 4 zucchinis is a little hard for me.  I think I have weak wrists.  It is most evident when trying to generate torque to turn keys in locks and/or ignitions.  Weird. But hey, I get by 🙂

This was my first attempt at baking zucchini noodles.  The recipe simply required that I skip the step where I soften the noodles in the pan.  Cool-make it easier.  Fine by me.  I put the raw “noodles” in the baking dish, mixed in sauce and some greek yogurt, and broke up the mozzarella balls for a rustic look.  I was imagining trendy pizza when I was arranging the cheese.

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The dish came out tasting lovely and looking kinda pretty, if I do say so myself, but word to the wise, zucchini noodles (and spaghetti squash noodles) will always be wet.  I either drain the excess moisture or simply ignore it and don’t eat the last few bites.  I mean-whatever.  It’s like a few more bits of VEGETABLES for God’s sake.  Let them sit in their own fluids. Bwahaha!

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Finished product.

Tuna Stuffed Peppers

So here’s something super DUPER freaking easy that turned out much better than anticipated.  This is a riff on someone else’s recipe, but since it no longer resembles that recipe at all, I’ll just explain what I did.  You can always Google how to make a tuna stuffed bell pepper if you’re really curious.  You’ll be ok.

So for this one, you stick the bell pepper (I chose orange, but its happy summertime and you have choices in your produce right now, so make them thoughtfully!) in the oven on broil.  The pepper gets kind of soft and bubbly.

While that’s goin’ on, you mix your tuna filling.  Mine was comprised of (surprise, surprise) tuna, cottage cheese (trust it), chopped olives, red onion, lemon juice, and a quick shot of olive oil.  I didn’t measure-nothin’.

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When your pepper comes out of the oven you de-seed it and cut it in half, stick the tuna mixture in there and then shove it back in the oven on bake this time.  You’re not really cooking anything at this point, just warming through, so keep it in there until it’s warm, yes? Then enjoy.

I hope you are all making the most of this summer produce.  I, personally, have been in smoothie mode this past week.  Such sweet berries and stone fruit in season right now!  You all go eat your fruits and vegetables, ya hear!

Don’t mind me, I’m just finishing slurping down my malt!