Posts Tagged ‘Pasadena’

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…

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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: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Spaghetti-and-Meatballs-351190

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…

Persimmons: Not to be Confused with Small Pumpkins

December 10, 2008

The Beautiful and Wonderful Persimmon!

The Beautiful and Wonderful Persimmon!


Meet Persimmon. Pronounced, per-SIM-un, not, per-sinn-amon, like cinnamon. Seriously, what a culinary faux-pas on my part, but I blame geography. I just could not buy fresh persimmons when living in New York City and therefore, I have never had to try to pronounce the fruit’s name. Outside of perhaps the Upper West Side’s food Mecca, Fairway (on a rare day), and some of NYC’s finest restaurants, I have never seen, and obviously have never eaten, a persimmon. And yes, I now regret the last 30 years…persimmons are a mouthful of magic!

A Hachiya Persimmon

A Hachiya Persimmon

My first close encounters with a persimmon occurred at the South Pasadena Farmers’ market this October. It was only after complimenting the farmer on his cute little pumpkins did I learn that persimmons are in no way related to squash, but they are their own fruit with many different varieties. Persimmons are in season in the Fall and we generally see the two most common persimmon varieties: the Hachiya, which is recognizable by its acorn shape; and, Fuyu, which looks like a squat tomato or small pumpkin. I have yet to eat the Hachiya variety of persimmon, but I had my first Fuyu persimmon and at first bite, I was in love.

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A Fuyu Persimmon - similar to a small pumpkin, right?...:)

The Fuyu persimmons can be a little tricky for naive fruitarians. With many types of fruit, like pears or peaches, we know when they are ripe because there is a softness to them. Fuyu persimmons, conversely, are ripe when they are firm and can be eaten as is – much like an apple. This really through me for a bit of a loop. Before I first tasted a Fuyu persimmon, my instinct told me that its firmness would make it as unedible as an unripe nectarine, for example. Surprisingly, while there is a definite initial bite to a ripe Fuyu persimmon, there is an immediate tenderness in the fruit’s flesh that does not necessarily have a solitary taste. Sounding sort of like a sommelier, a Fuyu persimmon has a nuttiness to it which is offset by soft hints of honey and apricot. Its just delicious!

Coming from the East coast where apples dominate our farmstands in the Fall, I had no idea that persimmons were so versatile and offered such a diverse culinary palette. A little recipe research shows that persimmons pair well with almonds and walnuts and would make a great salad when tossed with greens. The pulp of persimmons can also be used in baking, much like pumpkin puree is used when making pumpkin bread or cookies. I am anxious to try baking Christmas persimmon cookies – an interesting concept for a California cook as it gives your holiday cookie a very seasonal meaning…

So while I may have spent years thinking that a persimmon was pronounced differently and shared the same genus as a pumpkin, I look forward to exploring its flavors. Hopefully I’ll have a good persimmon recipe to share soon!

Until next time…

Gobbling Up Some Tasty Turkey Cookies

December 2, 2008

While Thanksgiving may be behind us, the memories of my turkey cookies are still fresh in my mind. I made some decorative turkey cookies for Thanksgiving this year, and for my first go-around on creating and decorating edible turkeys, I did a decent job. Baking and decorating cookies is without a doubt an art form and truly requires a special talent, which I think I have in me, but with [a lot of] practice, I can become a better dough roller, frosting applier and icing piper.

Baking, unlike cooking, is very methodical. A baking soda miscalculation, or a slight flour overdose can really wreak havoc on your recipe. At least with cooking, we can taste our dish along the way and make changes to the recipe as needed. With baking, it is a sort of win-win or a complete loose-loose situation, and since I am not all that methodical and exact, I have treaded lightly when it has come to baking. Trying to overcome misconceptions that I have that bakers would also make good rocket scientists and mathematicians, I spent approximately 8 hours working on my turkey cookies. Fortunately, the time paid off!

I began by making a basic sugar cookie dough and refrigerating the dough to let it set. Once the dough was cooled, I rolled it out on wax paper until the dough was about an 1/8 of an inch thick. I then stamped the dough with my turkey-shaped cookie cutter and placed the cut out dough on an ungreased baking sheet. The cookies baked for about 10 minutes on a 350 degree oven.

Turkey Shaped Cookie Dough

Turkey Shaped Cookie Dough

Baked Turkey Cookies

Baked Turkey Cookies

After the cookies were baked, I let them cool for about an hour on a cooling rack. While the cookies were cooling, I made a royal icing using meringue powder, rather than egg whites, which are traditionally used in royal icing recipes. Meringue powder is a substitute for egg whites and I find it to be a bit more user-friendly than egg whites. Meringue powder is, however, a bit tricky to find, and I have yet to see it for sale outside of specialty or baking supply stores. I bought mine at Sur la Table in Pasadena, but if anyone can recommend a good baking supply store in the Pasadena area…..

Once my royal icing was made, I separated it into two bowls. In one bowl, I left the royal icing white, as-is, and used it for piping the white borders on my turkey cookies. In the second bowl, I added orange food coloring, which I used for the icing on my turkeys. I need a bit of practice using food coloring and I don’t think I added enough orange dye. My cookies, when dry, had a pinkish hue to them, rather than the autumn-orange color I wanted. Once my cookies were dry, I began applying the orange icing to them. Following the advice of one recipe I found, I tried dipping my first cookie face side down into the icing hoping to get an even application of the icing on the cookie. This did not work as the recipe indicated and I was left with icing blobs on the cookie. Perhaps my icing was too thick, but I found that using a small paintbrush and hand painting the icing on the cookies worked the best. This method was ridiculously time consuming, but until I figure out a more efficient method, I think I’ll stick to using the paintbrush.

Painting Royal Icing on the Cookies

Painting Royal Icing on the Cookies

After applying the orange icing to each cookie, I let the cookies dry for another hour or so. Once dry, I piped the white royal icing around the edges of each cookie, as well as giving each turkey an eye and a little feather detail. Piping, which is about as methodical as baking a wedding cake, was a bit overwhelming for me. Although I only put a little icing in my piping bag, I could not keep the icing from spewing out over the top of the bag like a geyser and it seemed like every line I made on the cookies came out in different widths and lengths. Fortunately, enough cookies were aesthetically presentable, and the rest of the turkey cookies were left for George to gobble up!

Turkey Cookies!

Turkey Cookies!


Decorating the turkey cookies, while challenging, was so much fun. My plan is to get a head-start on my Christmas cookies, hopefully improving on my dough-rolling and icing-piping techniques!

Until next time…

Sugar Cookies
1 cup of butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
Cream the butter, sugar, and vanilla together. Blend in the egg and mix until blended. Add the flour slowly, mixing until combined. Refrigerate the dough, preferably over night, or until cooled and set.

Meringue Powder Royal Icing
1/4 cup of meringue powder
1/2 cup of iced water
1 pound powdered sugar
Mix Meringue powder and iced water until soft peaks form. Add sugar slowly, mixing it until combined. Add food coloring as desired.

Egged-On By Eggplant

November 18, 2008

Beautiful Baby Eggplants

Beautiful Baby Eggplants


I have been going a little gung-ho with the local farmers’ market recently. My seasonal clock has not quite adjusted to the California growing season, and I just cannot get over that I can still buy local produce this late into November. I’m used to buying brussel sprouts and perhaps a few lingering heads of cauliflower this time of year in New York, not the variety of fruits and vegetables that are still adorning the farmers’ markets in the Pasadena area.

I have scouted out many of the farmers’ markets in and around Pasadena and discovered these beautiful organic baby eggplants at the Old L.A. Farmer’s Market in Highland Park. Highland Park, which is just minutes down the 110 Freeway from Pasadena, is one of the oldest settled areas in Los Angeles. Nestled right next to the Arroyo Seco, Highland Park seems to be a culturally diverse, hipster kind of community, and reminded me a little of Astoria Queens, without the el train.

Feeling right at home in my Queens away from Queens, I couldn’t resist buying these baby eggplants despite the fact that I generally steer clear of them unless prepared by someone else. I find eggplant to be a lot of work and I lack the patience to properly salt and soak them to remove some of the vegetable’s natural bitterness. However, these baby eggplants were so purple, so fresh and so delicious looking, and averaging about an inch and a half to two inches tall and roughly an inch wide, I anticipated them being tender and sweet and not as bitter as the larger eggplant we commonly see in the market. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

My plan was to slice these baby eggplants width-wise, season them with salt, pepper and paprika and sauté them in a little olive oil. This is my go-to preparation with many vegetables, especially yellow squash and zucchini. I really love sautéed vegetables and seasoning them with paprika really adds a nice flavor when blended with the olive oil. So I got to work on sautéing my eggplant, foregoing the laborious salting process. Big mistake. Due to my eggplant naiveté, I did not realize that salting eggplant not only tenderizes the eggplant meat, but pulls out some of its water content making it less permeable to absorbing oil used when cooking.

A few minutes into sautéing my eggplant, I found that I had to add more olive oil because the eggplant had absorbed all of what was in the pan, and despite using a non-stick skillet, my eggplant turned crispy and stuck to the pan’s surface. Although my eggplant did not cook into tender slices of perfectly seasoned eggplant, I did learn two important culinary lessons. First, eggplant, no matter its size should not be subjected to culinary short-cuts. And second, I may have inadvertently invented something new – eggplant chips! Perhaps my culinary disaster could turn into a snack-food revolution?!

Until next time…

Lamb Kabobs: Skewering a Memory

November 14, 2008
Yummy Lamb Kabobs and Rice Pilaf

Yummy Lamb Kabobs and Rice Pilaf

Before moving to Pasadena, George and I were living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. We were only Upper West Siders for a brief time – George lived in our UWS apartment for five months before moving to California; I was there for eight months. It was a short living stint, but a very memorable one.

Our apartment was just north of the tony Upper West Side, but provided ideal access to Central Park, relatively inexpensive parking (inexpensive for NYC), the express 2/3 train and, last but not least, good restaurants. There was a Mediterranean restaurant a few blocks away on Amsterdam, a small bistro-style restaurant that almost had no presence – meaning, you could walk by it and not notice it was there. But inside, the restaurant was warm and inviting – a sort of clean, well-lighted place, and almost had the ambiance of eating in someone’s home. The menu was limited – a few fresh salads and signature starters like humus and Babaghanoush, and for entrees, a few tangine dishes and traditional kabob combinations.

The restaurant’s lamb kabobs were really quite good and I found myself thinking about them recently. Before long, my thoughts turned into a craving for lamb kabobs, which then lead to NYC nostalgia, which then became how can I satisfy this craving, which finally lead to how can I duplicate those memorable lamb kabobs from the Upper West Side?

Not really knowing all that much about the seasonings the restaurant used on their kabobs, I decided to keep mine simple as I really wanted to enjoy the lamb’s flavor and tenderness. I bought some good quality lamb from my local butcher, cubed it myself and seasoned it simply with a little extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. I skewered the lamb with fresh red bell pepper, red onions and cherry tomatoes and grilled them until the meat was about medium in temperature. The simplicity of the seasoning really accentuated the lamb and the grilled vegetables married perfectly with it. To round out our Mediterranean meal, I made a quick Greek yogurt dipping sauce that couldn’t have been easier to make and tastier to eat! By combining a cup of Greek yogurt, diced cucumber, a bit of dill and surprisingly, a few dashes of cumin, the dipping sauce was the perfect complement to the lamb kabobs and brought the memories and flavors of our old Upper West Side neighborhood to our Pasadena living room!

Until next time…

The Comforts of a Roast Chicken

November 8, 2008

The Magical Roast Chicken - With Oranges!

The Magical Roast Chicken - With Oranges!

I have said this before, but there is something quite special about a roast chicken (see also, The Magical Roast Chicken, 10/2006 archive, http://www.chefs-in-the-city.blogspot.com).  A roast chicken can be as simple or as decadent as you wish, but one thing is for sure, you can never take away its humility. It seems funny calling a chicken humble, or at least calling its traditional method of preparation humble, but a roast chicken is my ultimate comfort food. A roast chicken has a way of calming me; fond memories are resurrected with its smells and flavors, and it often seems like a bad day can be turned into a good day with a simple bite into its crispy herbed skin.

So much can be written about the magical roast chicken – most of which I will save for other postings. I do want to mention that Julia Child praised a good roast chicken and now that I am living in her birthplace of Pasadena, I find it difficult to not think about her young life here, especially as her grandparents’ path to Pasadena was much like my ancestors journey across this country to California. I want to devote a lot of this blog to her, of course many others have, but I find the irony remarkable that our lives while generations apart have someone crossed paths.

But, alas, the humble roast chicken! Even though my husband and I have had so many good changes happen so quickly in our lives recently, it is easy to get sidetracked by some of the difficulties we now face. I was a bit bummed out the other day, mostly because I am still unemployed, and decided that we needed a comforting dinner, one that would take my mind off of life’s stresses. Turning to the dish that comforts me the most, I roasted a chicken – a citrusy chicken because after all, from apples to oranges…

The inspiration for my orange-infused roast chicken came easily. If lemon and chicken pair together so well, why wouldn’t oranges and chicken? With that, I began by thoroughly washing a whole chicken and patting it dry with a paper towel. I placed the whole chicken in a greased roasting plan, along with some nice roasting vegetables of carrots and onions. I then thinly sliced a few pieces of orange and slid the slices under the chicken’s skin. I wanted the oranges to not only infuse flavor into the chicken, but also keep the meat moist. I then rubbed butter over the top of my chicken, seasoned it with salt, pepper and thyme, and then juiced half of an orange over my chicken. I cut the remaining orange into wedges, placed a few of the wedges in the chicken’s cavity, and left the other wedges to roast in the pan with the carrots and onions. I did add a bit of white wine so there was some liquid in my roasting pan.

While the chicken was roasting (25 minutes a pound on a 325 degree oven), I basted the chicken with melted butter – not too much, but enough to brown the skin and make it crispy! When the chicken was done, it was time to make the gravy, because after all, what’s a roast chicken without the gravy? Keeping within my theme of orange-infused chicken, the base of my gravy was the orange juice and wine that remained in the pan. I added a bit of chicken stock and thickened it with flour. The gravy was light and flavorful and coupled with the orange-flavored meat, the roast chicken smelled and tasted like California. With my first bite, hints of citrus and thyme brought happiness to my mouth and comfort to my day. So while the flavors of my roast chicken may have reflected our new home, its special comfort certainly brought me back to what is home.

Until next time..

Cooking Carnitas: An Undefeated Season

November 2, 2008

My Nittany Lions are having quite the season. Ranked #3 nationally, Penn State is leading its Big Ten Conference and may be well on its way to playing for the National Championship. As a new Pasadena resident, I would personally prefer Penn State to play in the Rose Bowl this year, but Coach Paterno definitely deserves a chance at a national title.

Go Penn State!

Go Penn State!

Penn State football is a huge part of my life. As a student, there was nothing better than football Saturdays in State College, PA, and I will never forget how magical Beaver Stadium became with 100,000 cheering fans in it. But game days were not always just about a big win. The day was about spending time with friends, tailgating in the stadium’s parking lot and grilling hot-dogs and hamburgers – or in my case – schlepping a pot of baked beans across campus to a friend’s tailgate! Over the course of four years, I developed a few fall football Saturday traditions and today, no one can come between me, my television and my kitchen when Penn State is playing!

So much about a college football game is the game-day food! From wings and pizza to chips and beer, I think every college football fan gets a pass from eating healthy when there is a football game to watch! When living in New York City, it was easy to find a neighborhood bar sponsoring a Penn State party during the game, or find a restaurant that would deliver wings and pizza to our doorsteps in time for kick-off. But now that we are living across the country in California – in USC and UCLA territory – we haven’t yet found a Penn State presence in Pasadena or a restaurant that delivers greasy bar food.

But we are not letting this stop us from celebrating football traditions. Instead, we are putting West coast twists on our game-day menus and watching Penn State beat Ohio State from the comfort of our own apartment. For the past several football Saturdays, George and I have slow-cooked carnitas, and in the spirit of the football season, my carnitas are undefeated! We got the inspiration for making carnitas after having them for the first time at a party this past summer. The host slow-cooked her carnitas in a crockpot overnight, which turned the pork into shreds of tender juicy goodness. Thinking that the recipe could easily be duplicated and believing that carnitas were appropriate for a California football menu, I set out to master carnitas.

Before heading out to the local market, I did a quick online recipe search for carnitas so I had a sense of the ingredients I would need to buy at the market. Knowing I needed onions, celery, garlic and a few key spices like cumin and bay leaves, I was not clear on the cut of pork I needed. Fortunately, I found that my local butcher not only knew a lot about chopping chuck, but also knew a thing or two about cooking carnitas! The butcher – a professionally trained chef – advised that I buy two pounds of pork butt over other cuts of pork as the pork butt tenderizes well in a slow cooker and provides a lot of rich flavor as it has a higher content of fat.

Carnitas In The Making!

Carnitas In The Making!

On Friday night, we began preparing our carnitas. Cubing the pork and chopping the garlic, onions and celery, we covered all the ingredients with a liberal amount of chicken broth in our slow cooker. We added some salt and pepper, cumin and two bay leaves and let the carnitas simmer on low all night. By Saturday morning, the slow-cooked pork was tender, easily shreddable and looking like a sure win for our game-day snack! A few minutes before we were ready to eat our carnitas, we transferred the carnitas into a large skillet to cook off some of the excess liquid. I also found that by sauteing the carnitas, the seasonings were really able to absorb into each other. We served the carnitas in corn tortillas with a little dollop of sour cream. They were so delicious, and for me, a big win on a new West coast football tradition. Go Penn State!

Until next time…