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Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Arugula

20 May

I am a person of routine. From my brand loyalties to my beauty regime, I like the same things over and over and over again. The same love for the familiar extends to my meal choices.

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The greens base for my lunch salads has been Romaine for a solid six months now and I’ve been perfectly okay with it. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me to change things up.

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Last Thursday, while perusing Trader Joe’s and rocking out to the Shakira radio on my Pandora (my hips don’t lie), I spotted a big sign advertising the big bags of peppery arugula and stopped in my tracks. Glancing from the package of Romaine hearts in my hand to the weed-y arugula, I contemplated a break in routine.

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Feeling rather daring, I tossed the lettuce aside and reached for the rocket, as if I were making a big decision and not simply deciding what I’d be bringing for lunch this week. Still, it felt almost naughty to break up the monotony and since then I have been finding excuses to put arugula on everything, including grilled cheese.

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Now normally the only thing I like my grilled cheese is cheese, cheese, and more cheese. I make an exception for butter’s guest appearance but the real star of the show is the warm, melted creaminess of hot cheese on crisp bread. It just screams comfort and I was making a calculated risk by adding any semblance of health to the mix.

Still, the peppery greens were calling to me from the fridge and I am glad I didn’t resist because the spiciness of the arugula really balances out the creaminess of the cheese while adding a nice satisfying crunch to go along with the bread. The colors don’t look bad either.

If you’re wary of adding salad to your sandwich, have no fear – this recipe has more than enough cheese to make clear what the main attraction is. A combination of parmesan, mozzarella, and sharp cheddar blend in a complex medley of saltiness and richness to make this a truly sophisticated grilled cheese.

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Grilled Cheese with Tomato and Arugula

Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients:

  • 1 small Roma tomato, sliced
  • A small handful of arugula
  • 2 slices bread of choice
  • 1 Tbsp. butter, softened enough to be easily spreadable
  • 1 oz. of each sharp cheddar, grated parmesan, and shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. Spread the butter on one side of each bread slice.
  2. Heat a large skillet over low-medium heat.
  3. Put 2 bread slices in the skillet, buttered-side down.
  4. Layer half of the cheddar, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese on each piece of bread.
  5. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the cheese melts and the bread is golden (not burnt!)
  6. After cheese is melted, remove from skillet and place on plate then top with arugula and sliced tomato.
  7. Close sandwich and cut diagonally.

Including instructions for a grilled cheese seems a little silly, but the art of the grilled cheese does take some work – it’s a delicate balance to make sure the cheese is melted without burning the bread. In my experience, it is absolutely necessary to spread butter liberally on each side of the toast to keep it golden and crispy.

If you’re a grilled cheese purist, do me a favor and go on a limb like I did with my salad – change is good for the soul.

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[Recipe] Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto

14 May

My boyfriend has a few things in his life he loves immensely. The first is soccer – playing, watching, discussing – he lives the sport. He loves soccer so much that he agreed to play back-to-back games on a Saturday morning, with the first game starting at the ungodly weekend hour of 8 AM.

The second is pesto. He eats just about everything and in large quantities (case in point: he managed to polish off a 4-pound container of strawberries in just over 24 hours last weekend), but nothing quite gets his heart palpitating like that delicious, basil-green sauce.

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Being the youngest child of an Italian mama, he’s had his fair share of quality Italian food and pesto is no exception. This makes him a bit of a snob and he turns his nose up at any jarred/store-bought varieties of the stuff, declaring it decidedly inferior to the freshly ground sauce made at home, particularly with basil leaves that had been plucked from the plant just moments before.

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We usually make pesto in large batches and freeze it in small Tupperwares for easy access to pesto pasta or pesto cream sauce. We make quite a bit of it, but the last time it happened was at the end of August, so he’s had to go without for a few months now and it was quickly becoming unacceptable.

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After a trip to Costco led us down the nut aisle, he put his foot down and declared that we would spend the rest of the afternoon making pesto. Having no other plans, I agreed and picked up the requisite 5-pound bag of walnuts, but not before contemplating the pignoli sitting just adjacent.

You see, I am a bit of a purist when it comes to food. I am of the opinion that you shouldn’t try to “fake” a recipe and I would much rather plan my daily eats knowing full well that I’ll be indulging in full-fat, dairy ice cream rather than processing a frozen banana and pretending it’s the real thing. I have no problem with people making protein “frosting” or pseudo-cupcakes, but please don’t flood my Instagram saying it “tastes just like the real thing!”

It doesn’t.

But I digress; my original point is that I like to make food the way it’s meant to be made, particularly with Italian cuisine because they are notorious (along with the French) for cooking things just so because that is how it has always been.

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Pesto comes from the Italian region of Liguria, specifically Genova, home of a certain Cristoforo Colombo. The name comes from the Italian word pestare, which means ‘to pound or crush’ in the remote past conjugation (nerd alert). An official recipe for the paste that originated with the ancient Romans was first published in 1863 in  a book titled, La Cuciniera Genovese  by Giovanni Battista Ratto and if you go to the south of France, you’ll find a similar recipe for pistou, though they don’t use nuts.

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The traditionally accepted way to make pesto is using a marble mortar with a wooden pestle (pestle/pesto – get it?). First, garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream, then basil leaves are added and ground until creamy. The cheese is added at the very end, with some extra-virgin olive oil to help it along the way.

And it is for this reason that I always feel a twinge of guilt when Stefano and I have our pesto parties.

Stefano grating away

Stefano grating away

I am a fake.

That is, my pesto is decidedly not how it is supposed to be made.

Granted, my only real flaw is that I replace pine nuts with walnuts and parmigiano-reggiano with pecorino romano, but they are crucial ingredients and any Italian I know would be insulted that I dare call my impostor sauce ‘pesto’.

Not a mortar and pestle.

Not a mortar and pestle.

However, my dietary choices are dictated more by my bank account than Italian gourmands, so I will have to live with myself knowing that I am a gastronomic phony, a culinary charlatan.

Be that as it may, I will share with you my recipe for Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce in the hopes that you can save a few dollars and enjoy this with a bit more piece of mind than I can.

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Poor (Wo)Man’s Pesto Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups (tightly packed, around 2-3 oz.) fresh basil (if you really wanted to break tradition, you could substitute a peppery arugula *wince*, but whatever you do, don’t use dried basil)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (spring for extra-virgin)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled

Directions:

  1. I always start by sticking the garlic in the food processor and giving it a few pulses, so it gets minced and then adding the nuts to get those chopped up, as well.
  2. Add the basil and get that mixed in before adding the olive oil.
  3. Add the olive oil in a consistent stream as the food processor is going. This ensures that you get a nice, smooth product at the end.
  4. After the mixture is well combined, add the cheese at the very end.
  5. Eat immediately or store in Tupperware in the freezer to use at a later date. I like to add a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep the pesto from turning a brown color. Pro-tip: Freeze pesto in an ice cube tray for easy to use portions!

You can make extra and freeze it in an ice cube tray and then you have individual portions of pesto!

If you’re curious, here is the “official” pesto recipe, as decided by the Genova Pesto World Championships.

Mediterranean Shrimp and Orzo Salad

4 Apr

Stefano’s school has spring break this week, so I have been able to spend much more time with him than I usually do. My gym time and blogging has been kind of thrown out the window as a result, but he is so worth it. Getting to spend time with him during the week is such a luxury – we can even make dinner together! Last night we put together a meal that was too good not to share and it was so unbelievably easy to make – we cooked, ate, and cleaned up in under an hour! Never mind the fact that both of us are vacuums when it comes to eating and it may take normal people a little bit longer to eat, but it’s still wonderfully quick dinner that feels like it should have taken more time than it did.

Orzo is one of my favorite pastas. It’s widely used around the Mediterranean basin and is the base for the best comfort soup of all-time, an Egyptian recipe called Shurbat Lisan Asfour, or Bird Tongue Soup. It’s named for the shape of the noodles, which look like the tongues of little birds. What is great about orzo is its versatility: you can use it to make a soup more hearty, as a rice subsitute, or as a pasta. Orzo, which actually means barley in Italian and can thus be quite confusing, is called risoni (big rice) in Italy. It goes by kritharáki and manéstra in Greek cooking and is known as arpa şehriye in Turkish kitchens.

Naturally, I like to pair it with Mediterranean flavors and this dish is a perfect blend of light and refreshing ingredients and won’t leave you feeling “heavy” the way many pastas do. This recipe is very forgiving and I encourage you to play around with it: maybe substitute grilled zucchini for cucumber or try sundried tomatoes in lieu of fresh ones. What is brilliant about Mediterranean cooking is the ingredients are simple but the flavor combinations produce a final meal that is multifaceted and complex.

Mediterranean Shrimp and Orzo Salad

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Serves 4 (6 if used as a side)

Ingredients:

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For the pasta:
  • (1) one pound bag of orzo pasta (99 cents at Trader Joe’s!)
  • one pint cherry tomatoes
  • 4 Persian cucumbers (or two English cucumbers)
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (we start with the big chunk and crumble it ourselves, but you can always buy it pre-crumbled)
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, deveined
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (or just use a tablespoon of pre-minced)
  • Parsley or basil for garnish (optional)
For the dressing*:
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons whole grain dijon mustard (this has a kick!)
  • 2 tablespoons hummus
  • freshly ground black pepper

*I really played around with the measurements of the sauce so they’re not exact – feel free to fiddle and find a combination of flavors that is most appealing to you.

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Instructions:

  1. Cook orzo according to instructions on package (it cooks like pasta) then drain well.
  2. Sautee shrimp in butter and garlic. This is a fast process so be careful not to overcook the shrimp!
  3. Add orzo to large mixing bowl and top with cooked shrimp, diced cucumber, sliced tomatoes, and crumbled feta cheese.
  4. In a separate bowl, add lemon juice, EVOO, mustard, hummus, and black pepper and mix until well combined. The texture should be easily pour-able, but not too runny.
  5. Pour dressing over the orzo pasta and mix until the pasta, shrimp, and veggies are coated.
  6. Top with more feta or garnish (parsley or basil would work very well).

Buon appetito!

[Recipe] Baked Flounder with Rainbow Chard and Avocado

26 Mar

During the most recent Costco adventure with Stefano, I took a wrong turn while looking for ice cream sandwiches and stumbled upon the frozen fish aisle. For some reason, cooking fish has always seemed daunting to me and I usually leave it to the professionals when I go out to dinner. Lately I have been experimenting with making fish at home and I have had good success with salmon (one down!). I ended up coming home with some frozen flounder fillets where they were promptly placed in a corner of my freezer and forgotten. I think I avoided the flounder for so long because I had horrible visions of eating this little guy…

How can you eat that face? The “fish are friends, not food” motto from Finding Nemo comes immediately to mind. Eventually, curiosity got the better of me and I was able to put aside the Disney-fueled, finned friends fantasy (try saying that repeatedly) in order to give it a go.

Because I wanted minimal prep time and I was trying not to use too many ingredients hoping to keep the authentic flavor of the fish, I decided to make it in the oven. Minimal work on my part, simple, and delicious.

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Baked Flounder with Rainbow Chard and Avocado

  • 2 thawed flounder fillets (they’re fairly thing, so two fillets is good for a meal)
  • 5 oz. rainbow chard (I used the pre-washed, pre-chopped Kaleidoscope Chard from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Sprinkles of salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you’d like
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  1. Set your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. As your oven is pre-heating, places the fillets on a sheet of aluminum foil and rub with olive oil, then top with seasoning and lemon juice.
  3. Fold the aluminum foil up into a packet and pop in the oven for 25 minutes.
  4. Just before the fillets are done, rinse the rainbow chard and put on plate (without drying!) in the microwave for about 1 minute. The water left on the leaves will lightly steam the chard and cause it to wilt, making a perfect bed for the fillets.
  5. Unwrap the foil packet, place fillets and added juices on bed of chard and add sliced avocado.

If you’re like me then you’re going to have more avocado than anything else, which is not a bad thing. If you don’t want to consume a whole avocado, feel free to only add a few slices as a garnish. The creaminess of the fish pairs very nicely with the texture of the avocado.

You could dress the chard, but I don’t see the need because the juices from the fillet add a nice subtly flavor to the greens without being overpowering.

Total time? 30 minutes, most of which was spent anxiously waiting for the fish to be done. Weeknight meal success!

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Skyline and Sasquatch

8 Mar

It’s Friday, Friday! This week really flew by, thanks to our impromptu “snow storm” on Wednesday. I am looking forward to the supposed 60-degree weather that’s supposed to be visiting town. Then again, after Wednesday’s apocalyptic fail, I really shouldn’t believe anything the weatherman says anymore.

After my run last night (3.1 miles/28 minutes), I came home and made another gargantuan salad. Right after I finished, my roommate said she was making Skyline and asked if I wanted to try it. I had no idea what it was, so of course I said “yes”. As she was making it, I grilled her on what exactly I was going to be consuming.

IMG_2162[1]Apparently, Skyline is a quintessential Cincinnati meal, as based off of a chain of local restaurants in Cincy, though they have expanded and now have stores in Indiana, Kentucky, and Florida. It was first invented by a Greek immigrant in 1949 and is now a culinary staple for the lovely people of southwest Ohio. As was explained to me, there are specific ways the chili can be made:

  • Cheese coneys (a hot dog topped with Skyline Chili, mustard, onions, and cheese)
  • 3-ways (spaghetti topped with Skyline Chili and cheese)
  • 4-ways (choice of beans or onions added)
  • 5-ways (beans and onions both added)
  • Burritos made with Skyline Chili (called the Chilito)

I was first introduced to Skyline in the form of another popular Cincinnatian staple: “Skyline Dip.” It is made with layers of cream cheese, canned Skyline Chili, and shredded cheddar cheese and then baked for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. My roommate made a batch for the big Seahawks-Redskins football game and I ate half the pan without batting an eye.

Our particular variation last night was four-ways with spaghetti, chili, shredded cheese, and onions. Delicious.

Despite double dinner last night, my tummy was grumbling for breakfast this morning. The omelette I made was definitely one of my more successful attempts – they usually fall apart when I try to flip them so the eggs end up looking like more of a frittata or hash. Everything stayed in once piece this time!

IMG_2165[1]Three eggs with sauteed mushrooms and spinach on the inside. On top, I spread a wedge of Garlic and Herb Laughing Cow cheese and topped it with some smoked Sockeye salmon so it was a 2 in 1 breakfast: omelette on the inside, cheese and lox on the outside. The only thing that could have made it better is if the whole thing was wedged between two bagel slices.

Did I just say that? I watched too many episodes of Best Food Ever during our Wednesday vacay. This gem of a television show brought my attention to the Sasquatch: a half-pound burger wedged in between a grilled cheese sandwich and a BLT. Yes, it’s a real thing. You can find it at The Lodge in Scottsdale, Arizona.

It’ll set you back $16.50 but hey, then you don’t have to eat for the rest of the week.

What meal is your city known for? Have you ever been to a restaurant that was featured on a television show?

Seattle has a couple of places that are “famous” – Paseo has the best Cuban sandwiches ever and Beth’s is the diviest diner, but boasts a 12-egg omelette. Yes, 12 eggs. PLUS all their meals come with unlimited refills of hash browns. Why did I leave that city?

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In case you were wondering, it weighs about 10 pounds.

So tell me about the crazy restaurant items you’ve encountered – have you ever done something ridiculous like a TurDucken?

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[ via Tumblr]

The craziest my family ever got was having a goose for Thanksgiving dinner. It was scrumptious, like having a turkey with only dark meat (my fave).

Now that I’ve made myself simultaneously hungry and nauseous, I think I’m going to call it quits and wish you all a very pleasant weekend. Spring is almost here, I can feel it!

Lots of love,

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