Archive | February, 2012

Orecchiette With Fresh Tomato Sauce – Bonus Post

27 Feb

It feels like a pasta kind of week.  And even though this is more of a summer dish, it is one of my favorite go-to’s all year.  The sauce is easy to make.  Orecchiette feels like an occasion pasta (even though it cooks pretty much just like the other types!).  The addition of the spinach makes it a good excuse for a one dish meal, especially on those days when that’s all you have time for.  And maybe, if we make it often enough, we can wish away the winter.  We’ve done a decent job of that so far this winter, anyway.

Orecchiette with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Olive oil

1 garlic clove, whole

2-3 cups of cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

2-3 cups of spinach

1 cup of chicken or vegetable stock (optional)

1-2 tablespoons of fresh chopped basil

1/2 cup fresh mozzarella, chopped into bite-sized pieces

2-3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese

Salt & pepper

3/4 pounds of orecchiette pasta, cooked al dente (Generally speaking, you should not stir pasta too much as it cooks because it brings out the starch and makes it chewy.  One good stir at the beginning is enough.  But, orecchiette tend to stick together.  So, stir a few times throughout to be sure the pasta is not sticking.)

Directions:

Heat a skillet to medium heat.  Coat with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Sauté garlic clove, 2-3 minutes (if the garlic starts to brown, lower the heat).  Add tomatoes.  Sauté until tomatoes soften and skin starts to break.  The tomatoes will naturally make a sauce.Add spinach.  Stir in spinach until wilted.  

If the sauce is dry, add stock.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove and discard garlic.  Add pasta, basil, and mozzarella cheese.

Toss.  Add to bowls.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

Simple.  Easy.  Delicious.  Have a great week!

Temporal Distortion

24 Feb

Abe shared this with me as a reminder that we are tiny organisms on a small green rock floating through space.  Very serious for a Friday afternoon.  But beautiful, too.  Enjoy!

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/36684976″>Temporal Distortion</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/dakotalapse”>Randy Halverson</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

And now that you’ve thought deeply about your existence, what are you up to tonight?!

Habaneros

17 Feb

On our second night in Mexico, we went on the hunt for an authentic, low key Mexican restaurant.  We had eaten in a more upscale place attached to our resort the evening before (the authenticity of which was questionable) but were looking to eat where the locals eat.

Trip advisor told us to go to Habaneros, a small restaurant with only a handful of outdoor tables and an awesome thatched roof.  Trip advisor is generally reliable (such a good idea for a site, by the way – functional social networking – my favorite) so we went.  The restaurant itself was not particularly fancy (or not at all) – and exactly what we were looking for.

There were two fabulous things about Habaneros: the food and the owner, Mario.

The menu at Habaneros has basically nothing on it.

Our server told us they would bring out a few different things to try, if we were OK with this.  Not ordering is our number one favorite thing to do in a restaurant, so we were definitely OK.

We started with chips and guacamole.  I love how simple guacamole is in Mexico – mashed avocados, a sprinkling of queso fresco, and a little salt.  Nothing more.

Next, they brought us a sample platter with: a soft taco with grilled vegetables and a poblano cheese sauce (secret ingredient, “el queso de Philadelphia” – i.e., Philly cream cheese – chef’s own invention – not so authentic, but delicious);  

a chicken tostada with caramelized onions, sour cream, and queso fresco;

and a torta with cochinita pibil (pig exception!) with pickled red onions and fresh avocado. Each was simple, but flavorful and exiciting.  So delicious.

While we were eating, the owner of the restaurant (also the chef), Mario, came out to chat with us.  He was wonderful.  Warm and friendly and genuinely interested in getting to know us.  He is a graphic designer from Mexico City who moved to Cancun and opened a restaurant for fun.  He loves cooking for friends and family, and you become one of those (or both) when you eat there.

[Photo Credit: Trip Advisor (I was so sad I didn’t get a picture of Mario, but glad I could lift one!)]

At some point during dinner, our warm Mexican evening turned chilly, with torrential downpour.  Habanero’s charming thatched roof leaked a little (even more charming, right? – isn’t that what a thatched roof is supposed to do?), and the wind blew the rain directly at us.

There were some cabs on the main road, across from the restaurant, but fewer and fewer passed by as the rain continued on.

We talked to Mario for another bit, hoping to wait out the rain.  When it was clear we wouldn’t (it rained all night), Mario ran off, pulled his car around, and told us to get in.  He was going to drive us back to our hotel.  Now, this was meaningful in its own right.  We were basically stuck there otherwise.  But it was also a gesture – an affirmation – of what we felt the whole time we were in Mexico – that the people are wonderful and warm.  Would that ever happen in the States?   Ever?!

When we were getting out of the car, we asked him if we should move to Mexico.  He said we shouldn’t move to Mexico if we didn’t want to enjoy life.

Love.

Valentine’s Day Love

13 Feb

Valentine’s Day bonus post!

Abe and I will both be out of town (on different coasts) this week, so we made some impromptu Valentine’s Day plans on Saturday night at Keefers with Adam and Jen.  (If you are looking for a proper steak and some great sides (frites, au gratin potatoes, grilled asparagus), Keefers is among the best I’ve had in Chicago.  Nice ambiance in there, too.  Fireplace, big bar.  Perfect for Valentine’s Day.)

Then on Sunday, which was decidedly lazy, we thought we’d spend the evening preparing a low key Valentine’s dinner.  The main meal is such a side note in this case, because, while it was good, it had nothing on dessert.  So, here we go: butternut squash ravioli with tomato sauce (traditionally you will see butternut squash ravioli with a butter sage sauce, but I like how the sweetness of the butternut squash works with the tart tomato sauce – with a healthy addition of fresh chopped basil and parmesan cheese, this is a cleaner, more complex way  to enjoy this dish (and red sauce is nice for Valentine’s Day, anyway)) and Brussels sprouts with (turkey) bacon.  In all, a satisfying meal.

The highlight, by far, was the dessert.  Earlier in the day I recalled a goat cheese and chocolate dessert I had seen Bobby Flay make on FoodNetwork years ago.  Instead of searching for that dessert, specifically, I searched goat cheese and chocolate and found the most amazing thing you could ever imagine.  Goat cheese and chocolate chunk blondies!  Beyond delicious.  We ate a significant amount of batter – super tangy with the goat cheese – yum – and seriously contemplated whether we should bake the blondies at all.

The recipe can be found here and below.  Please make these on Valentine’s day for maximum love!

Ingredients:

8 T unsalted butter, cold plus a bit more for the baking dish

8 oz fresh, young goat cheese (we assumed this just meant fresh goat cheese – not aged – and it seemed to work fine)

1 c granulated sugar

1 c light brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

1 egg yolk

1 T vanilla

2 c all-purpose flour

1 t baking powder

0.5 t kosher salt

1.5 c bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips (we used chunks!)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9×13 inch baking dish. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the chilled goat cheese, chilled butter and both sugars on medium-high speed for 6 minutes. Starting with cold ingredients builds structure and allows you to beat in a lot of air. So run the machine the full 6 minutes.

In the meantime mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.

Once the butter and cheese are fully creamed they will be light in color with a slightly broken appearance. This is good, the air I mentioned has transformed the sugars. At this point lower the speed and beat in eggs, egg yolk and vanilla until just combined. Turn the machine off and scrape the sides of the bowl.

Fold in the flour mixture in three divisions.  Followed by the chocolate chunks. 

Spread the thick batter into an even layer across the prepared dish.

Bake about 30 to 35 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool on rack, then cut into 18 squares. May be store covered up to 4 days.

Happy Valentine’s Day!  What are your plans this week?!

(Last year around this time we were enjoying a super underground vegan supper club and a chocolate Nutella cake from msupermom on a perfect day in San Diego!)

Accidentally In Love

10 Feb

I grew up in San Diego.  Because of this, for a long time my idea of Mexico was limited to those west coast border towns – TJ and Rosarito Beach.  Fun in high school.  Less so later in life.

[Photo Credit: Tijuana.com]

Abe and I got married in the fall of 2008.  We didn’t take our honeymoon until the next March, 2009.  (As an aside, when we were on our honeymoon, I got an email from Ali that Cole had passed away in a car accident.  And that is the subject of this brilliant documentary film, coming out any day now . . . .)

This is the genesis of our honeymoon location: Abe was involved in a contentious case with an opposing counsel who hated him.  If you know Abe, you know that this is completely unheard of.  He’s the most likable (lovable!) person ever.  This opposing counsel happened to be a world traveler.  On break during a deposition, Abe asked him to name his favorite vacation spot in the world.  He said Maroma Resort and Spa in the Mayan Riviera, Mexico.  In all the world, he chose Mexico.  On his recommendation, we took a gamble and honeymooned there (gamble because it occurred to us on our way down there that he might have been messing with Abe).

Maroma was beyond spectacular.  By far one of the most amazing places I have ever been.  The beaches are incredible.  The food, for me, was so unique, because even the most exquisite, fine dining experience was still accessible and had a home-cooked feel.  Everyone at the resort was warm and friendly, too (when you arrive, you are greeted by first name and a margarita on the rocks).  Lovely every which way.

Last week, Abe’s mom invited us to join her in Cancun, not far from Maroma, for the weekend.  She has a timeshare down there where she spends several weeks out of the year.  It’s cold and grey in Chicago so we went without hesitation.

Again, completely in love with Mexico.  

Just outside of Cancun, there are these beautiful little towns with artful, designed beach houses and town squares (very European feel – interestingly, given the proximity, there is little American influence in the aesthetics of the houses, store fronts, and town plazas – it’s the Spanish influence that is apparent).  And then of course, there are the beaches.  White sand, clear blue water.

I think we are destined to go back to Mexico.  And stay a while.

Ridiculous Super Bowl Burgers

2 Feb

We’ve done a fancy burger on Professional Chicks before.  (And, actually, as I look back at that post I see that it’s titled “You’ve never had a burger like this before.”  Too bad.  Because that was exactly what I was going to say about this burger.  Word for word.  I guess it will just have to be true for both.)

Here we go: good quality hamburger topped with Saint Andre cheese, mashed avocado, almond slivers, and honey.  Seriously.  And just in time for the Super Bowl.

Ingredients:

1 pound of 85% lean ground beef;

4 oz or so of Saint Andre cheese, sliced (This cheese is the most delightful thing, by the way – it is a rich cow’s milk cheese (similar to a Camembert) but whipped with sweet cream.  Love.);

1 avocado, mashed;

1/4 cup of slivered almonds (you can toast these for a nutty flavor – I like them pure);

A drizzle of honey for each burger;

Wheat toast

Directions:

Heat pan (or grill, if you live somewhere where that is a reasonable thing to do in February) to medium high heat.  Generously salt and pepper the ground beef.  Form 2 large or 3 medium-sized patties.  Cook to desired temperature (if you are brave, medium rare is really good when you’re using good quality meat).  (Side note: I have to admit, we cooked our burgers in the coconut spread.  Weird, definitely, but we are determined to use it at whatever cost.) 

Toast bread (I always double them up so they’re crispy on the outside and soft on the inside). 

Assemble burgers on toast with cheese, avocado, almonds, and honey.  Side of broccolini.  Eat.

Delicious.

If you try this recipe, or any variation, let me know what you think!

Happy Super Bowl!

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