Posts Tagged ‘California food blog’

A Journey Down Green Bean Casserole Memory Lane

February 25, 2009

Green Bean Casserole: Complete with Fried Onions

Green Bean Casserole: Complete with Fried Onions

I miss New York. A lot. As a resident of New York City, I became very defined by my surroundings. When I first moved to Manhattan in 2004, I lived on the fifth floor of an old walk-up tenement building that was built in the mid-1880s and once served as the home to dozens of immigrants from Ireland, Germany and Italy who worked in the canneries along the East river, served the wealthy who resided in the mansions along 5th Avenue and who tirelessly worked to build and develop the Manhattan we know today. Looking out the only window in my apartment that had a view, I saw the huge and beautiful stain glass window of St. Stevens Catholic Church, a church that was built on 28th street in 1853. While I am not a very religious person, I felt very blessed to live next to St. Stevens. Over the four years that I lived in this apartment, I never grew tired of looking at the Church and with my every glance at it, I felt more connected to my City and came to better appreciate and understand the history of the neighborhood and its former residents.

The views from my Pasadena apartment are very different from what I saw in New York. From my living room, I see the most perfectly shaped palm tree. I often wonder how old it is and how with the development of our condo complex it was never cut down. From my back patio, I see the San Gabriel mountains. While I love and appreciate the scenic views I now have, a palm tree and a mountain range cannot tell me about Pasadena’s history or some of its early settlers.

Recently, I have been thinking a lot about my new surroundings, looking at the views, and missing what I left behind. I know that my sense of place in Pasadena will come with time, but because I cannot take a quick jaunt back to New York for a visit, I have been doing a lot of comfort cooking – making those dishes that remind me of home.

Growing up, one of my all time favorite dishes was green bean casserole, a recipe that my father claimed came from his grandmother, Mom-Mom. Believing that it was a family recipe passed down through the generations, Mom-Mom’s Beans, for me, became such a novelty, even though my mother did not make them often. When they were served, I remember savoring each bite of french-cut green beans smothered in cream of mushroom soup, covered with crispy fried onions and fervently hoping that there was always more on the stove for seconds. Accompanied with a roast chicken, green bean casserole was my ultimate comfort food.

Up until this past weekend, I cannot remember the last time I had Mom-Mom’s green bean casserole, despite the memories of its taste, flavor and preparation seeming so fresh in my mind. I remember opening a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and mixing it in to steaming green beans. I remember the popping sound that the lid of the French’s French Fried Onions made as it opened. And I remember trying to sneak some of the fried onion rings that were left in the can after the casserole was put in the oven to bake.

This past weekend, after really missing New York all week, I made Mom-Mom’s Beans. Believing that her beans would culinarily transport me back home, I carefully prepared them, baked them until the top layer was just slightly crispy and served them next to a delicious roast chicken. Within seconds, all the anticipation and expectation of Mom-Mom’s delicious beans were shattered. They were not at all as I remembered. They were bland, boring and completely uninteresting. I am not sure if my palate has evolved from when I was 12, but after a few bites, I understood why my mother rarely served Mom-Mom’s beans…

Although I tried (and perhaps desperately tried) to resurrect comforting memories from my past, eating Mom-Mom’s Beans reminded me that what we remember isn’t always as it seems. While I miss my old New York apartment on 3rd Avenue and its views of St. Stevens Church, I must remember that I cursed the 5 flights of stairs I had to climb to get to it on a daily basis. While I believe my recent nostalgia of New York has perhaps lead to my recent blogging hiatus, I am glad that my culinary journey down green bean casserole memory lane has taught me that my surroundings here are still new, and that my sense of place and comfort in Pasadena will eventually come – and may come with a view of a perfectly shaped palm tree.

Until next time…


Roasted Tomatoes: A Remedy for an Out-of-Season Craving

January 14, 2009

A Winterized Caprese Salad with Roasted Roma Tomatoes

A Winterized Caprese Salad with Roasted Roma Tomatoes

We always want what we can’t have. For some, that may mean wanting to drive a Ferrari, rather than a Honda, and for others, wanting the latest designer handbag rather than the knock-off sold on the street. Believe me, I have wasted my fair share of money on several pleather “Prato’s” from the corner of 17th and 5th, but notwithstanding, my wants and cravings are generally food related. I remember being quite young and sick with the flu and craving a huge chocolate milkshake, despite exhibiting all of the traditional flu-like symptoms. Today, while I may have learned to curb unrealistic cravings while sick, I find myself craving and wanting certain types of fruits and vegetables that are out of season – like a juicy heirloom tomato in January.

It has been unseasonably warm in Pasadena recently (unseasonably warm for me – perhaps 80 degree weather is normal in January, but I haven’t quite accepted that yet), and as a result of this weather, I have started craving summer produce and summer dishes. The other day I had a tremendous hankering for a Caprese salad. During the late summer months when tomatoes are peaking in their season, there are few things finer than a plate of big juicy tomatoes smothered with fresh basil and mozzarella. Mmmm….I can almost taste the acidity of the balsamic vinegar….. Unfortunately, and contrary to what the sunny and warm whether seems to be telling my palate, we are in January, not July, and those beautiful heirloom tomatoes are just not around.

Knowing full well that my desire for a traditional Caprese salad was next to impossible to have, I decided to make a winterized Caprese salad. Although grocery stores always carry tomatoes year-round, I rarely buy tomatoes in the winter because they are no where as flavorful as a tomato that is fresh, local and in season. The tomatoes at my grocery store this time of year – even in sunny California – are a few shades lighter than the deep red we see during the summer and early fall months, they are generally harder, and they always lack a lot of flavor. Why wouldn’t they – they have been sitting on a boat, a truck and a pallet in the back of your local grocery store for days.

Despite a January tomato’s bleakness, I have discovered that they are not completely useless and flavorless, and actually, can be quite tasty and satisfying with the right preparation. Roasting tomatoes, for example, really brings out a winter tomato’s flavor and tenderizes the tomato while it is roasting. For my winter Caprese salad, I roasted Roma tomatoes coated in extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.

After a few attempts at roasting tomatoes, yes a few attempts, I had tomatoes that were full of flavor and very juicy. I will let the pictures below tell the story, but Roma tomatoes roast best in a 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes. After the tomatoes have finished roasting, let them cool completely before tossing them with mozzarella, basil and your favorite balsamic dressing. A winterized Caprese may not be an exact remedy for your out-of-season cravings, but roasting winter tomatoes is certainly one way of satisfying what we can’t always have…especially in January.

Until next time…

Tomatoes Roasted for 15 Minutes Too Long

Roasted Tomatoes Take 1: Tomatoes Roasted for 15 Minutes Too Long

Too High of Heat

Roasted Roma Tomatoes Take 2: Too High of Heat

Not Your Mother’s (or Grandmother’s) Meatballs

January 8, 2009
Spaghetti and Meatballs

Ultimate Comfort Food: Spaghetti and Meatballs

One of my favorite meals is spaghetti and meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs, similar to a perfectly roasted chicken, is my ultimate comfort food. Interestingly, spaghetti and meatballs is not one of my favorite comfort foods because I grew up eating the dish, or because I have a special memory of a family member laboring over making meatballs. I have grown to love the meal on my own and find that I am quickly transported to a gastronomic euphoria by the smells of meatballs bubbling in homemade sauce on the stove.

I once said in a previous blog that a meatball is like a souffle: if it isn’t perfect, it just isn’t. With that, meatballs, for me, are little gastronomic gifts that can vary in significance based on the quality of the meatball. A store-bought meatball, or one that is made in haste with the minimum ingredients, is not very significant. It is like a $10 pedicure – a quick fix for the craving but doesn’t come with much pleasure. Conversely, a homemade meatball that is moist and has layered flavors from a trifecta of meats and fresh seasonings, one in which you can almost taste the labor that went into making it, is a very significant culinary gift. This latter meatball is a kin to the signature pedicure at a very nice day spa – completely satisfying and completely comforting.

A homemade meatball that is made exactly to my liking doesn’t come with ease or frequency. Actually, I tend to make them as often as I treat myself to a pedicure at a fancy day spa. But, after salivating over the cover of this month’s Gourmet magazine, the special Italian-American issue featuring a very appetizing bowl of spaghetti and meatballs, I was hungry for homemade, traditionally prepared, meatballs. Also, knowing that we had some house guests arriving after Christmas, spaghetti and meatballs seemed like the perfect meal for post-holiday gluttony. Here is a link to the recipe:

Using the recipe featured in Gourmet as a guide (I wanted to improvise a bit), I spent an entire morning making approximately 3 dozen meatballs – I wanted more than enough to freeze for later meals! The Gourmet recipe seemed rather traditional and called for using the three meats (veal, beef and pork), homemade breadcrumbs and lots of onions and fresh spices. I took the recipe’s advice and used a medley of meats; I agree that a blend of ground meat makes a much better meatball – they are more moist and flavorful than a straight beef meatball, for example. I did, however, cheat a bit and used store-bought breadcrumbs rather than making my own. I also cooked the meatballs a bit differently than the recipe advised. I browned the meatballs in a large skillet as directed, but rather than cooking the meatballs through in my sauce, I baked the meatballs until they were completely cooked. I found that this allowed the meatballs to maintain the delicious crispy texture they get when they are browned and also allowed me to easily freeze them completely cooked.

I’ll allow the pictures below to tell the step-by-step preparation story, but these meatballs were not your mother’s (or your grandmother’s) meatballs. There was something about the combination of ingredients – maybe the fresh oregano, or perhaps it was that I baked the meatballs; a technique that I believe may have locked in all of their freshness and created a sort of a molten chocolate cake effect – flavors gushing out with a slice of a fork – but whatever the reason, these meatballs seemed a bit new-age and hip, despite the traditional labor that went into making them. They were moist, earthy, light, and most importantly, completely satisfying and comforting…much like that signature pedicure at a nice day spa.

Until next time…

Sauteed Onions and Garlic with Fresh Parsley

Sauteed Onions and Garlic with Fresh Parsley

Uncooked Meatballs - Just Rolled and Ready to Cook!

Uncooked Meatballs - Just Rolled and Ready to Cook!

Browning the Meatballs in Olive Oil

Browning the Meatballs in Olive Oil

Baking the Meatballs - So Deliecious!!

Baking the Meatballs - So Deliecious!!

A Sauce-Smothered Meatball - Yum Yum Yummy!!

A Sauce-Smothered Meatball - Yum Yum Yummy!!

Season Eats: Beef Stroganoff

December 31, 2008

Rich and Delicious Beef Stoganoff

Rich and Delicious Beef Stoganoff

Happy Holidays! Perhaps this posting is coming a bit late – the days always seem to get a little crazy during the holidays. This year, George and I celebrated our first Christmas in California. It was an exciting Christmas for us – our first as a married couple, our first on our own without our immediate families and our first in moderate degree temperatures.

For me, Christmas, or better yet the whole winter season, is not so much defined by sharing it with family and close friends, but by the smells, sounds and cold temperatures that have come to shape my holiday season. There is a certain crispness to the ringing of a Salvation Army bell outside of Grand Central Station on a cold December day that is not heard when I enter my local Pasadena grocery store. The sound firewood makes when my Dad drops it on our back deck on Long Island in anticipation of building a fire cannot be replicated in our Pasadena condo. That sound, which resembles a drumroll on a tampered kettle drum is so perfectly pitched because of the dry salty cold air created by our proximity to Peconic Bay. The holiday season is also not complete without the aromas and smells of winter stews and soups bubbling on the stove in a warm kitchen.

While I may be thousands of miles away from a New York winter day, I am doing my best to bring my associations of the season to Pasadena. Recently, I made a big pot of Beef Stroganoff and let its rich sauce simmer on the stove to allow the fragrances of the beef broth and fresh oregano permeate the kitchen and apartment. Two of my favorite winter meals are Beef Stroganoff and Beef Bourguignon. I have a great Beef Bourguignon recipe and over the years have figured out how to turn Beef Bourguignon into Beef Bouguign-Yum. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Beef Stronganoff and every time I make it, I blend together several different Stroganoff recipes creating my own version – the version I remember eating on cold winter nights back East.

Unlike other stews that taste better when cooked slowly, Beef Stroganoff can be made in about 45 minutes. Beef Stroganoff is also different from other winter stews as its ingredients are not cooked simultaneously in one pot; the dish requires that individual attention be paid to several of its ingredients. I have seen ingredients and spices vary by recipe, but my favorite Beef Stroganoff is quite basic – it is simply sliced sirloin, mushrooms, onions and the sauce, which is a beef broth and wine reduction seasoned with fresh oregano, tomato paste and salt and pepper. Of course, any Beef Stroganoff would not be complete without its piece de resistance – a little sour cream added at the end. The sour cream adds a nice blushness to the sauce making it warm and rich for any winter night dinner.

I have included my recipe, which as previously mentioned, is a blend of several recipes.

Beef Stoganoff
Serves 6

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 pounds sirloin, sliced
1 large onion sliced or 2 small onions sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/4 cup of sour cream

Began by slicing the sirloin into 1/3 inch strips about 2 inches long and seasoning the meat with salt and pepper. Set the seasoned meat aside.

Seasoned Sirloin - Set Aside and Waiting to be Browned

Seasoned Sirloin - Set Aside and Waiting to be Browned

In a large skillet or small dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of butter. Add onions and saute until tender and translucent. Remove onions and set aside.
Sauteeing the Onions

Sauteeing the Onions

In the same pot, add remaining butter and mushrooms and saute until tender. Remove mushrooms and set aside. Add olive oil to the skillet and add meat. Brown the meat on all sides – about 3 minutes per side.
Browning the Sirloin

Browning the Sirloin

Add the mushrooms and onions and stir together. When the meat has browned, sprinkle in flour and stir. Add beef broth and wine and blend together. Stir in tomato paste, oregano and season with salt and pepper. Let simmer for 20 minutes until liquid as reduced and thickened. A few minutes before serving, add sour cream and parsley and blend together.
Blending the Sour Cream and Parsley

Blending the Sour Cream and Parsley

I serve Beef Stroganoff over egg noodles, but the dish could easily be served over rice or steamed greens.

While our Pasadena nights are not as cold as a winter night in New York, this Beef Stroganoff dish certainly makes the holiday season smell and taste just the way I like it!

Until next time…

Risotto: A Labor of Culinary Love

December 18, 2008

Risotto with Shallots, Basil and Pecorino Romano

Risotto with Shallots, Basil and Pecorino Romano

Risotto is one of my favorite dishes and I clearly remember my first risotto experience. I was 22 years old, a first-year in law school and dining at Elda’s on Lark, a sort-of-swanky restaurant in the more hipster and trendy section of Albany, New York. I don’t exactly recall my risotto dish at Elda’s – I believe it was made with mushrooms and asparagus, but two memories resonate from that night at Elda’s. I remember fretting over whether I had enough money in my checking account to pay for the meal with my debit card rather than my credit card, and second – and much more important than money – I remember thinking, for the very first time, that I could not only replicate the risotto dish at home, but that I could probably make it better.

I have always been interested in cooking and in food, but it wasn’t until my early twenties and really living on my own that I started to appreciate and experiment with food. After my dining experience at Elda’s, I taught myself how to make risotto and found that learning the proper technique is a lot like riding a horse. You may fall off every now and again, but if you don’t get back in the saddle and try again, you’ll never learn.

Risotto is a labor of culinary love and is not your ordinary rice dish. Risotto has a creamy and rich texture, and when prepared successfully each individual rice grain should have the slightest bite to it. Cooking risotto requires an adherence to an established method of preparation in which flavors are built on top of each other resulting in a rice that is creamy – not because cream is used as an ingredient, but because the broth is added to the rice in a way that gives the starch in the rice a creamy texture.

There are so many ways to prepare risotto – it is much like a pasta sauce as almost anything can be added to it to build flavor. My favorite recipe is one that is very simple and uses shallots, fresh basil and Pecorino Romano cheese. Here is my recipe and preparation narrative.

Risotto with Shallots, Basil and Pecorino Romano
Serves 4

1 cup of Arborio rice
2 1/4 cups of chicken broth, heated
1/3 cup of dry white wine
1 medium shallot, diced
2 tablespoon of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup of Pecorino Romano cheese
salt and pepper

In a small saucepan heat chicken broth until simmering, reduce heat and continue to simmer.
In a medium saucepan, begin by heating the olive oil and butter. When heated, add the shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender and translucent. Add the rice and saute for approximately 2 minutes until the rice is coated by the oil and butter and begins to brown slightly. Add the wine and cook until the wine is absorbed into the rice. Begin adding the heated chicken broth, about 1/3 of a cup at a time, each time letting the rice absorb the broth.
The risotto will be done when there is a slight bite to each grain, but otherwise tender and cooked through.
When the rice is done, remove from heat and blend in basil and Pecorino Romano cheese.

I like to add the basil at the end so that it’s flavor and freshness is preserved. I also find that adding the basil last adds a layer of texture to the risotto that is in slight contrast with its creaminess, which for me, seems to make this simple recipe a bit more complex. This recipe can also be made with red wine (which was used in the risotto featured in the included pictures) – a nice alternative during the colder months as red wine tends to add a warmer and richer flavor than a white wine. But whether you use white or red wine, or whichever ingredients you choose to build your risotto’s flavor, be prepared to fall off the horse a few times. Getting back in the saddle and trying again will be rewarding. Risotto is pure pleasure on a plate and with practice, its preparation becomes a true labor of culinary love.

Until next time….

Saute Shallots in Butter and Oil

Step 1: Saute Shallots in Butter and Oil

Add Rice and Brown Slightly

Step 2: Add Rice and Brown Slightly

Add Wine and Allow Rice to Absorb Wine

Step 3: Add Wine and Allow Rice to Absorb Wine

Add Basil and Cheese (cheese not pictured)

Step 4: Add Basil and Cheese (cheese not pictured)

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potato, Blue Potato?

December 12, 2008

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potatoe, Blue Potato!

One Potato, Two Potato, Three Potatoe, Blue Potato!

It is so easy to get stuck in a food rut, especially when it comes to cooking weeknight meals. We all have our old recipe standbys that we seem to cook over and over again; sort of like a CD that is stuck on repeat in a stereo. Week in and week out, that one chicken dish or that one pasta sauce recipe is resurrected and another same-old meal is had.
The Flesh of a Blue Potato

The Flesh of a Blue Potato

I was having one of those stuck-in-a-food-rut episodes recently and on a recent stroll through the produce department of my local market I discovered blue potatoes. A potatoes potential, culinarily speaking, is limitless. From mashed potatoes to baked potatoes, to roasted potatoes to gnocci, potatoes are culinary building blocks. But despite this, I have always treated potatoes rather simply, sticking to mashed or roasted potatoes. Boring? Maybe. But for quick and easy cooking, discovering blue potatoes certainly made my go-to recipes a little more interesting!

There are so many different varieties of potatoes, from the well-known Russet potato, to the various whites, yellows, reds and purple potatoes. Blue potatoes are fun little heirloom potatoes that have a deep blue skin and a vibrant purple flesh. For those of us who eat with our eyes, their color may actually fool you. A blue potato does not have, to my novice palate, a flavor that is all that different from a Yukon Gold, for example. While there is a bit of a distinguishing sweetness in a blue potato, they offer more of a sex appeal for your plate rather then your mouth, which is exactly what we need sometimes to pull us out of a cooking rut.

Blue potatoes can easily turn your everyday mashed potatoes into something new and different. Rather than mashing Russet potatoes recently, a side dish that I have made for years, I mashed garlic infused blue potatoes and found them to be gastronomically cathartic. It was an easy switch that made a familiar side exciting and inspiring. Blue potatoes also roast very well. Roasting blue potatoes with a little olive oil and coarse sea salt is very satisfying and once again, makes a go-to side dish seem like a new culinary experience.

Roasted Blue Potatoes and Carrots

Roasted Blue Potatoes and Carrots

Discovering blue potatoes was exactly what I needed to pull myself out of my cooking rut. I realized that I don’t have to reinvent my weekday menu to overcome a cooking malaise, but simply using a different variety of a vegetable, or in my case a potato, can make all the difference.

Until next time…