Wednesday, November 30

Coconut-Lemongrass Mussels

I’m in a coconut milk phase (it has all the deliciousness of dairy, but much more guilt-free) thanks to this dish and thought I’d try my hand at coconut-lemongrass mussels. Steamed mussels are one of my favorite dishes for easy entertaining (see previous recipes here and here), and this unique Asian-inspired version is a great riff on the classic white-wine-and-garlic flavor. It’s quick to make but still full of complex, developed flavors thanks to the fish sauce, lemongrass, and clam juice. Don’t shy away from this recipe for its use of special ingredients, they can be found at most grocery stores and are quite inexpensive.

Coconut-Lemongrass Mussels:
  • Heat 1 tbsp. canola oil in a large pot. 
  • Add in 1 tbsp. minced garlic,1 tbsp. minced ginger, 2 stalks of lemongrass* and a pinch of red chili flakes and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
  • Pour in 3 c. coconut milk, 1 c. clam juice, 1 1/2 tbsp. fish sauce, and 1 pinch of sugar and bring to a boil. Check for seasoning.
  • Reduce the heat to medium and add in 3 lbs. of cleaned mussels** and place a lid on the pot.
  • Let mussels steam for 3-5 minutes, or until the shells open up.
  • Remove any mussels that haven't opened and sprinkle in 1 tbsp. chopped parsley.
  • Divide into bowls and serve with crusty bread.

Serves four (main course)
Serves six - eight (first course)
*Cut the lemongrass into 1" long slice and hit with the back of a knife to release its flavoring.
**Let mussels soak in ice cold water to rid them of any grit.

Tuesday, November 29

French Onion Soup

I fell in love with French onion soup during my senior year of high school, when I had an amazing bowl of it in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Since then I've had endless bowls (some good, some bad) at restaurants but never attempted to make my own - which is silly because it's incredibly easy to make. Just slowly caramelize onions and garlic, add in beef stock and beer, and simmer over the stove for a few hours. The best part is in the assembly, which combines the soup, toasted baguette, and tons of melted cheese. This dish will transport you back to France, or in my case, New Orleans.

French Onion Soup:*
  • Heat 2 tbsp. butter and 2 tbsp. olive oil in a large dutch oven.
  • Halve and slice 3-4 large yellow onions and add to the pot. Add in a bunch of fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook to onions over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until very soft and brown.
  • Pour in 4 c. high-quality beef stock, 2 c. dark beer, and 1 Parmesan cheese rind.**
  • Let the soup simmer for at least an hour, then remove the rind and the thyme bundle.
  • Meanwhile, cut*** and toast rounds of baguette, then rub with a clove of garlic.
  • Place one piece of bread in the bottom of a heat-proof bowl or ramekin.
  • Ladle soup over the bread, then top with another piece of bread.
  • Cover the top of the bread with a handful of grated gruyere cheese. Repeat with remaining ramekins.
  • Place in a hot broiler for 3-4 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling.****
  • Let cool for a minute, then serve.

Serves four
*Adapted from this recipe.
**I store the rinds from my Parmesan wedges in the freezer. Can be left out, but not recommended.
***Measure your ramekins to make sure the bread will fit inside before toasting.
****Watch carefully, the cheese can go from golden to burnt very quickly.

Monday, November 28

Weekend Review: Virgin Gorda

Harissa Grilled Oysters and Pork Belly from The Sugar Mill
View of the Bay from our Villa

I just got back from a week-long vacation in paradise, also known as Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, with my boyfriend and his family. It's a remote island in the Caribbean (we had to take two planes, a puddle jumper, and a boat to get there) and as a result, it's difficult to get a lot of fresh food delivered there regularly. I was warned that our meals might be hit or miss, but was pleasantly surprised by some of the delicious and inspiring dishes I had on our trip. I loved all of the region's fresh fish, which was the perfect thing to eat right on the beach on a warm night. I also got to enjoy some more innovative and modern cooking, like pork belly with harissa grilled oysters, that reminded me of the type of restaurants I love here in L.A. Now that I'm home, I can't wait to get back in the kitchen to try and recreate some of these meals,  although there's no way I can match the ambiance.

First Plate from the Pavilion's Thanksgiving Buffet - (clockwise) Shrimp Cocktail, Roasted Pumpkin Cous Cous, Asian Chicken Salad, Heirloom Tomato Caprese
Grilled Swordfish, Lentils, & Salsa Verde from The Sugar Mill
Roast Duck Breast, Potato Pancake, Champagne Cabbage, Orange Jus at The Sugar Mill
Sunset in Little Dix Bay
Made-to-Order Bananas Foster at the Pavilion's Thanksgiving Buffet
Lobster in a Coconut-Kaffir Lime Curry at Chez Bamboo
The Sugar Mill's Coffee Creme Brulee with Mocha Ice Cream

Friday, November 18

Quick & Easy Thanksgiving Dishes

Butternut Squash & Sage Soup

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, and unless you’re vacationing on a remote island (I can’t help but be excited for my trip to the Caribbean), you’re probably gearing up for cooking and eating more food than you have all year. Whether you’re hosting a large gathering or heading to your family or friend’s house, here are some festive and easy recipes to fill the Thanksgiving table. Since the holidays are supposed to be about enjoying time with the ones you love and not about stressing out over meal planning, each dish featured here is quick to put together or can be assembled way in advance of your guests arriving. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone - I'll see you in a week!

Spinach, Feta, & Pomegranate Salad
Stuffed Mushrooms
Perfect Mashed Potatoes
Caramel Apple Bundt Cake

Thursday, November 17

Apple, Blue Cheese, & Pecan Salad

My friend's family owns Fair Hills Apple Farm and sells some of the juiciest, sweetest apples I've ever had. I got a chance to visit her in Santa Barbara last weekend, and her mom gifted me with a ton of Fuji apples (my favorite variety) when we visited her at the farmer's market. This is one of my favorite fall salads and it's a perfect way to showcase the raw apples (although the apple pie I made was pretty tasty too). It's just as easy to make as a simple dinner salad but seems fancy, so it's the perfect dish to serve at a dinner party or bring to a potluck. There are just a few ingredients, so it really helps to use delicious apples and high-quality blue cheese.

Apple, Blue Cheese, & Pecan Salad:
For Dressing
  • Whisk together 1 tsp. mustard, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, and 1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar.
  • Slowly whisk in 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
For Salad
  • Combine 1 package of washed arugula,* 1/4 c. toasted pecans, 1/3 c. blue cheese crumbles, and 2 thinly sliced apples.
  • Toss with dressing and serve immediately.

Serves three - four (first course)
*Can substitute baby spinach or mixed greens.

Wednesday, November 16

Tex-Mex Mac & Cheese

A Tex-Mex spin on the comfort food classic, made with pepper jack cheese, corn, and two types of peppers

Tex Mex Mac and Cheese

I’m always writing down recipe ideas (on my iPad, on random stickies on my desk at work, by emailing them to myself) to serve as inspiration for future menu planning. I usually forget half of them until I look at my notes, but this idea for Tex-Mex mac and cheese has been living in the back of my mind for nearly a year. I finally tried it out when we had some friends over to watch Monday night football (my boyfriend is a die-hard Vikings fan) and it was the perfect game-day meal. The spiciness of the pepper jack cheese goes really nicely with the sweet bell peppers and corn, and I love the crunchy breadcrumbs on top. You can assemble the whole dish in advance and bake it right before your guests come over and any leftovers can be gently reheated in the oven.

More Tex-Mex Recipes:
- Corn, Zucchini, & Poblano Lasagna
- Roasted Chile & Cheese Egg Bake

Tex-Mex Mac & Cheese:
  • Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a pan and saute 1/2 chopped onion and 1 bell pepper until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside.*
  • Melt 1 tbsp. butter and toss with 1/3 c. panko breadcrumbs. Set aside.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add in 1 lb. of macaroni pasta.
  • Cook the pasta until it's underdone by a few minutes (usually 5-6 minutes total). Drain and set aside.
  • Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp. butter in a large pot. Whisk in 2 tbsp. flour and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Slowly whisk in 1 1/2 c. whole milk and continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, or until thickened.
  • Turn off the heat and stir in 1/2 lb. grated pepper jack cheese and 1/2 lb. grated white cheddar cheese.
  • Stir in the pasta, the pepper and onion mixture, 1 c. corn kernels,** and 1/4 c. roasted, chopped green chilies.***
  • Pour into a large baking dish and top with breadcrumbs.
  • Bake in a 375°F oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cheese is bubbling.
  • Cool for 10 minutes, then divide and serve.

Serves six - eight
*Can be done a day ahead of time and refrigerated.
**Removed from fresh ears of corn or defrosted from a bag of frozen corn kernels.
***From a can of roasted green chilies.

Tuesday, November 15

How To: Make Chicken Stock

If you’ve ever had homemade chicken stock, you know that it’s significantly more delicious than the store-bought stuff. I usually stick with the store-bought variety out of laziness, but in reality it doesn’t take much effort to make my own. There are two ways to make it: brown various – and sometimes unsightly – chicken pieces and vegetables in a large pot, then cover with water and simmer for hours (this is how I make the base of chicken tortilla soup) or take the carcass from a leftover roasted chicken and simmer it in water for hours. I used the carcass method because I had one lying around from this meal and because it’s the easiest way. Freeze the stock in resealable containers and use it to make soup, risotto, polenta, etc. The exact same recipe can also be used to make turkey stock with your Thanksgiving bird.

Homemade Chicken Stock:
  • Add the carcass of a 5 lb. chicken into a pot and cover with water.
  • Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 3 hours, or until concentrated.*
  • Remove the carcass and strain the stock. Discard any solids.
  • Return the stock to the pot and continue simmering for another 1-2 hours, or until reduced.
  • Divide into resealable, freezer-proof containers.**

Makes eight - ten cups
*Check on the stock and skim the top every once and awhile.
**Stock can be kept in the freezer for 6 months.

Monday, November 14

Weekend Review: Santa Barbara

Chorizo Quesadillas, Guacamole, Chicken Tacos, Poblano-Onion-Cheese Melt, & Salsa at La Super Rica

For a brief period in my childhood I lived in Santa Barbara, CA, and it's still one of my favorite cities in the whole world. I usually make a trip up there a couple times a year and always make sure to visit a few of my favorite restaurants. I went up this past weekend to visit one of my college roommates who recently moved there and had so much fun showing her some of my favorite haunts and discovering some of hers. First up was La Super Rica, which is home to the best Mexican food I've ever eaten. It's been a family-run operation for several decades (you can see the grandmother making homemade tortillas in the front window), was one of Julia Child's favorite restaurants, and features authentic no-frill Mexican food. For dinner, she took me to Olio Pizzeria and we felt like we were transported back to Italy with their thin-crust pizzas and lively ambiance. I was sad to leave, but can't wait to come back and visit again soon.

Smoked Mozarella, Sausage, & Onion Pizza at Olio Pizzeria
Chicken, Onion, Pepper, & Mushroom Fajitas at La Super Rica
Chopped Salad at Olio Pizzeria

Friday, November 11

Chicken, Brie & Arugula Sandwiches

My parents recently took a trip to Montreal and Quebec and returned with a bunch of great maple-flavored food gifts. We’ve already devoured the maple candies and maple syrup, but I’ve been waiting for something special to make with the maple mustard. This sandwich is perfect in its simplicity, which really allows the mustard and maple flavor to come out. The brie melts nicely into the mustard and bread and the arugula provides and great peppery note and slight crunch. I used leftover roast chicken, but this would also be a great thing to make with Thanksgiving turkey leftovers. 

 Chicken, Brie & Arugula Sandwiches:
  • Cut two ciabatta rolls in half and spread both sides generously with maple mustard.*
  • Cover the bottom side of the rolls with thinly sliced brie cheese.
  • Thinly slice a large cooked chicken breast and evenly fan out pieces on top of the brie.
  • Top with the other side of the roll and place in a hot pan.**
  • Cook for 3-5 minutes per side, or until bread is crispy and cheese melts.
  • Take off the top half of the roll and add in a handful of arugula to each sandwich.
  • Slice in half and serve with chips.

Serves two
*Buy maple mustard here or combine 1 tbsp. whole grain mustard with 1 tsp. maple syrup.
**Or use a panini press.

Thursday, November 10

Potato-Gruyère Gratin

There’s something about the holidays that are synonymous with indulgent potato dishes. Everyone knows about mashed potatoes and gravy at Thanksgiving, but in my family the holidays often bring out my mom’s potato-gruyere gratin. Because it’s a dish we mainly had on special occasions, I never realized that it was weeknight-easy to make. I like to make sure that it’s extra cheesy and garlicky, but feel free to customize it however you like. My favorite part is the brown-crispy top, so make sure to use a large shallow baking dish to maximize the crispy-to-soft ratio.

Potato-Gruyère Gratin:
  • Peel and slice 4 russet potatoes into 1/4" slices.
  • Meanwhile, brush a large, shallow baking dish with melted butter.
  • Place one a single layer of sliced potatoes in the bottom of the dish, then sprinkle with 1/2 tbsp. minced garlic, 1/2 tbsp. of fresh rosemary, and salt and pepper.
  • Sprinkle 3/4 c. of grated Gruyère* cheese evenly over the top, then splash 1/2 c. half and half over the top.
  • Repeat to form 2 more layers, then place in a 375°F oven for an hour.
  • Bake until potatoes are soft and the top of the gratin is golden brown and bubbling.**
  • Let potatoes cool for 10 minutes, then divide onto plates and serve.

Serves six - eight (side dish)
*A hard yellow cheese from Switzerland.
**If top gets brown too quickly, cover with foil and continue baking until potatoes are tender. Remove foil during the last 10 minutes of baking.

Wednesday, November 9

Cider-Brined Roast Chicken

It’s hard to believe, but Thanksgiving is almost here. This year, I’m celebrating with my boyfriend and his family by taking a trip to the Caribbean (which really gives me a lot to be thankful for). We’ll be on a remote island where there’s no possibility to make a traditional Thanksgiving meal, so I’ve been trying to fill the void by making Thanksgiving-inspired dishes for the next couple of weeks. First up was this roast chicken, which I would argue is just as delicious as (and much easier to make than) a roast turkey. I took the time to brine the chicken overnight in a combination of cider and herbs, leaving an incredibly juicy and flavorful bird. Since it’s so quick to cook and much more manageable in size than a huge turkey, it’s the perfect Thanksgiving roast for those of us cooking for a small group in a tiny kitchen.

Cider-Brined Roast Chicken:
  • Combine brining spices* with several cups of boiling water, then remove from heat and cool completely.
  • Meanwhile, remove the giblets from a 5 lb. chicken (preferably free-range, organic).
  • Place chicken in a large, plastic bag and pour in brine, 5 c. cold apple cider, and 2-3 c. ice water.
  • Squeeze all the air out of the bag and close securely. Refrigerate overnight and up to 36 hours.**
  • Remove chicken from the brine and rinse thoroughly with cold water. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
  • Place the chicken on a rack in a large roasting pan.
  • Stuff the cavity with 1 head of garlic, sliced lengthwise, and several sprigs of fresh thyme. Tie the legs together with twine and tuck the wings under the bird.***
  • Brush the chicken with 2 tbsp. melted butter and season lightly with salt and pepper. Pour 2 c. chicken stock in the bottom of the roasting pan.****
  • Roast the chicken in a 425°F oven for 90 minutes, or until the juices between the leg and the thigh run clear when pierced with a knife.
  • Remove from the oven and loosely tent with foil. Let the chicken rest for 15-20 minutes.
  • Carve the chicken into separate breast, leg, and thigh pieces.

Serves four - six
*I used Williams-Sonoma's turkey brine. You can also make your own using this recipe.
**Turn the chicken every once and awhile to evenly distribute the brine.
***If you don't have any twine, you can use unflavored dental floss.
****This will keep the drippings from burning at the bottom of your pan and will help keep the chicken moist.

Tuesday, November 8

Roasted Salmon with Scallion-Soy-Sriracha Butter

Ever since I wrote this post, I’ve been semi-obsessed with creating all kinds of flavored butters. I have a couple different types in my freezer right now, and I love how they can transform a boring meal into something special. In this recipe, a pretty basic piece of roasted fish gets kicked up with a Sriracha, soy sauce, and scallion compound butter. When the butter melts it forms a deliciously spicy, salty glaze over the salmon. A little bit of butter packs a lot of flavor, so this meal is still something you can feel good about eating whenever you’re in need of a quick and healthy weeknight meal.

Roasted Salmon with Scallion-Soy-Sriracha Butter:
For Butter
  • Combine 6 tbsp. of room-temperature unsalted butter with 1 tbsp. minced scallions, 1 tbsp. soy sauce, and several drops of Sriracha hot sauce.
  • Roll the butter in plastic wrap to form a log shape and place in the freezer until hard.*
  • Slice two 1/2 tbsp. pieces of butter from the log. Keep the rest for leftovers.**
For Fish
  • Place two boneless, skinless 6 oz. salmon fillets on a lined baking sheet.***
  • Brush the salmon with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.
  • Place in a hot broiler for 5-7 minutes, or until just cooked through.
  • Remove the salmon from the broiler and immediately place a piece of cold butter on top of each piece of fish.
  • Let the butter melt fully over the fish before plating.
  • Serve with rice and vegetables, if desired.

Serves two
*Can be made a week or more ahead of time.
**Try melting on top of roasted or steamed vegetables, grilled chicken, brown rice, etc.
***Lining the sheet with foil makes for easy clean-up.