Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

We went to a local Oktoberfest last Saturday evening.  We’re glad we went since we hadn’t been before, but we probably wouldn’t go again.  Conditions were less than ideal — it was hot outside and very, very crowded — which likely contributed to us not enjoying it all that much.  And maybe we’re old (okay, fine, we are old), but standing in long lines in the heat — first to get coupons, then to get food, then to get drinks — wasn’t our cup of tea.  Let’s just say we didn’t share the enthusiasm of the guy in front of us in line, who, after procuring his coupons, declared to his buddies “Let’s get sh*t-housed.”  It wasn’t a total loss, however.  The chicken schnitzel was good and Dan got to keep his commemorative beer stein.

Aside from soup, we’ve never really cooked with lentils.  But we’ve heard how nutritious they are and want to work them into our diet more often.  Lentils are high in fiber and protein and are known to help lower cholesterol.  They’re also low in calories and have almost zero fat.  How could we not eat more of these little nutritional powerhouses?  We adapted this recipe for a lentil/rice side dish that is as delicious as it is healthy.  Seriously, Dan had seconds it was so good.  We’ll definitely make it again and will post it here soon.

Aside from Christmas, I typically don’t do much seasonal decorating around the house.  But I couldn’t resist the bag of little orange and white pumpkins I recently spotted at the grocery store.  Placing tiny gourds on tables here and there provides a cheerful touch of Fall in our home.

And speaking of Fall, honeycrisps are in season!  With just the right amount of tart and sweet, the honeycrisp is by far our favorite apple variety.  They’re not available year-round (possibly making them taste even better), so enjoy them while you can.

Parchment-Roasted Fish

This fish dish is more technique than recipe.  Mastering a few cooking techniques can really broaden your kitchen repertoire, perhaps more so than solely focusing on trying new recipes.  Although I unfortunately couldn’t find the exact quote, Dan recalls hearing or reading an assertion from Chef Michael Symon concerning the importance of technique:  Learn a recipe and you can cook 1 dish.  Learn a technique and you can cook 100 dishes.  Chef Symon’s premise rings true with this method of cooking fish.  The first time we made it, we used this recipe from Ina Garten.  We’ve made it about 4 different times now, varying the flavors and ingredients each time, but always achieving perfectly-cooked and delicious fish.  The key is wrapping the fish (and whatever herbs or seasonings you want and/or thinly sliced veggies) drizzled with a little olive oil into a parchment-paper-package and baking it in the oven until the fish is cooked through — about 12-15 minutes (the perfect cooking time for this dish in our oven appears to be exactly 13 minutes.)  And aside from being a foolproof method for properly cooking fish, the parchment package is an interesting way to serve the fish — almost like a present on a plate.

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Sangria Soy Tri-Tip

This week the Steelers took on the Oakland Raiders.  Oakland doesn’t really have a particular food for which it is known (at least not that we could find), but since it is located in Northern California, we decided to look to that region for a cuisine to cook in this week’s Steeler Opponent-City Challenge (S.O.C.C.)  When we think Northern California, we think about our trip to Napa, where we discovered the world’s greatest tri-tip sandwich (among other amazing food.)  We’ve grilled tri-tip before (the classic Santa Maria style), but wanted to try a new recipe this time.  Not so coincidentally, I found this recipe after searching the Internets for Oakland Raider tailgate food.  We adapted the marinade by using red wine and orange slices for sangria-esque flavor instead of sangria, and we reduced the quantities since we were using about 2 pounds of tri-tip to feed 2 people, rather than 18 pounds of meat for 54 servings as contemplated in the original (tailgate) recipe.  Aside from doing the math to reduce the marinade ingredients, the second most difficult aspect of this recipe is having to wait to eat it.  We marinated the tri-tip for about 18 hours (it doesn’t need to marinate that long, but at least for a few hours), and it was hard to be patient after smelling the marinade ingredients mixed together:  red wine, soy sauce, jalapeno, shallot, garlic, ginger and orange slices.  These components combine well to impart complex flavors to the beef — a nicely pungent heat from the jalapeno, shallot and garlic; some saltiness from the soy; richness from the wine; and bright freshness from the ginger and orange.  The marinade would be just as good with other cuts of beef too (top sirloin, london broil or flank steak maybe) if you can’t find tri-tip, which can be costly and/or difficult to find outside Northern California.  The key is the delicious marinade.  Much like the key to the Raiders’ win this week was the field goal in the final seconds of the game (sad face.)

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Last weekend we went to a concert at a venue about 30 miles from our house in an area we don’t frequent very often.  When trying to decide where to eat dinner on the way to the concert, we realized we would be driving right by our old neighborhood and couldn’t resist the opportunity to see how things have changed since we moved away 6 years ago.  We drove by our old house and were happy to see it looking very well-kept and seemingly loved (little white lights strung through the trees along the big hill in the back make us think the current owners enjoy their time out there), then headed over to the dining and shopping area called Bishop Arts District for dinner.  Back when we lived near there, Bishop Arts had just a handful of restaurants and shops, so we were blown away to see how much the area has grown.  We tried a great new (to us) sushi place and spent a good bit of our delicious meal lamenting the fact that we ever moved away.  We’ll just have to go back and visit more often.

The awesome thing about music is that there is something for everyone, no matter your particular taste or preference.  We’re all free to listen (or not listen) to whatever we want.  Dan and I both happen to like Mat Kearney’s music a lot, and this was our second time to see him play live.  We enjoyed it very much.  We also enjoyed the opening act, Andy Grammer.  We had heard a few of his songs before, but didn’t realize it until he played them at the concert, which was a fun way to recognize his music.  We called it a night after Mat Kearney’s set and didn’t stay for the headlining band.  We have nothing against the group Train (gotta respect musicians who can make the cheap rhyme work as well as they do), but never intended to stay for their show.  Seeing Mat Kearney, getting a bonus set from Andy Grammer and beating the traffic on the drive home was more than worth the price of admission.

We tried a new recipe this week for “scallops gratin.”  Our execution needs a little work (although they tasted great, somehow the finished gratins had too much liquid in them), but our favorite part was using our new gratin dishes.  It’s amazing how cooking something in its own little serving dish makes it seem so much more fancy.

We successfully grew and harvested an eggplant!  We only have one plant that (so far) only yielded one vegetable (the cut eggplant above is ours), so we had to supplement with a couple of baby eggplants from the store.  Unfortunately, the stir fry recipe we tried with the eggplant was not so successful (we blame the miso.)  Oh well — win some, lose some.

When I cleaned out my purse the other day, I found an old fortune-cookie fortune I had saved that reads:  “Don’t be afraid to take that big step.”  For someone like me — shy, devoted to  routine and prone to getting stuck in a rut — the key aspect of this advice is not necessarily taking big steps, it’s mustering courage to step outside my comfort zone in ways both big and small.  I taped the fortune to my laptop, where it can provide inspiration and motivation, instead of languishing in my bag gathering lint and lip gloss residue.


Orecchiette w/ Pulled-Pork Sugo (w/leftover pulled pork)

“Sugo” means sauce.  Cooking an entire pork shoulder on the smoker means a lot of leftover pulled pork.  Combining the two and adding veggies and delicate, ear-shaped pasta seemed like a pretty good idea.  So we adapted this recipe and were delighted by the resulting dish that is reminiscent of bolognese, but with different texture and more smoky barbeque flavor.  We also appreciated how easy it was to make — especially using leftover pulled pork (although the original recipe includes instructions for roasting the pork if you don’t have any leftovers) — with basic ingredients:  onion, celery, carrot, garlic, dried oregano, tomato paste, white wine, chicken broth, cannellini beans, cider vinegar, a bay leaf and orecchiette pasta (you could use other types of pasta, but the little orecchiette cups soak up the sauce really well.)  As delicious as pulled pork is on its own, we really liked the flavor and texture that the shredded pork brought to this unique pasta dish.

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Manhattan Clam Chowder

The Steelers played the New York Jets this week.  Continuing with our Steeler Opponent-City Challenge (“S.O.C.C.” for short), it was a little daunting to try to pick a dish indigenous to New York, a city known for its food and diversity of cuisine.  When we think New York, no singular food automatically comes to mind.  The city has entire neighborhoods centered around different types of cuisine, from all over the world.  Ultimately, we decided to go with a dish that purportedly originated in New York, and is named after its oldest, and perhaps most well-known borough.  Not to be confused with its creamy cousin from New England (hmmmm, do the Steelers play the Patriots this season??), this version of clam chowder has a clear broth base, with tomatoes to provide its signature red color.  Famed chef and food writer James Beard supposedly once characterized this version as “that rather horrendous soup called Manhattan clam chowder . . . resembles a vegetable soup that accidentally had some clams dumped into it.”  We respectfully disagree.  Although we were initially a lot more familiar with the New England style of chowder (and like it very much), we found the Manhattan chowder to be equally good in its own way, with sweetly rich tomato flavor balanced out by the salty clams.  Just as there are die-hard fans of particular football teams, there are people who likely side with Chef Beard in their unwavering preference for New England clam chowder versus the Manhattan version.  But we feel there is room for both in our little food world.  (Unlike our feelings for other teams in our little football world — suck it Jets, Steelers win!)

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Friday Favorites

Some food-related (mostly) things we enjoyed this past week:

Thanks to a cool front last weekend, we enjoyed a lovely lunch on the pretty patio at Patrizio.  Fall is on its way and we are so happy to be able to spend time outside, after being cooped up in the (blessed, beautiful) air conditioning all summer.

This is what half of the kitchen often looks like when I cook, especially when it’s a new and complicated (for me) recipe.  Not pictured — the sink/island half of the kitchen, covered with mixing bowls, cutting boards and just about all our kitchen utensils.  While the actual cooking (and dishes!) part is not my favorite, the sense of accomplishment when the meal turns out to be delicious makes it all worthwhile.

Speaking of accomplishments, for the first time all summer, we finally had enough okra ready to harvest from our garden at around the same time, such that we could use it in a side dish, without having to supplement with store-bought okra.  Perhaps next year we should plant more than 3 okra plants . . .

Dan had a quick overnight business trip this week and forgot to bring his iPad (the horror!)  He stopped in the bookstore at the airport for something to read on the plane, and was delighted to find the latest work by Spanish novelist, Carlos Ruiz Zafon.  Turns out that it’s a sequel to one of Dan’s all-time favorite books, The Shadow of the Wind.  He loved the sequel and finished it on the plane ride home — within 24 hours of having bought it.  Forgetting his iPad turned out to be a happy accident after all.