Posts Tagged ‘Dining & Drinks’

A Trio of Pizzas

Last night Evan and I had a few friends over for dinner and I made pizzas — three of them. I’ve been working on perfecting my pizza recipes, and we have some clear favorites so far.

Bell Pepper Pizza

Bell Pepper and Onion Pizza

This has been one of our favorite pizzas pretty much since the first time I made pizza from scratch. We love it so much we make it every single time we have pizza and we haven’t gotten bored of it yet. The secret is that the peppers and onions are marinated in a little bit of red wine vinegar, garlic and olive oil. I make a fresh pizza sauce, use mozzarella cheese and finish it off with some fresh basil. It’s a modification from the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. Simple and delicious!

Pear and Caramelized Onion Pizza

Pear and Caramelized Onion Pizza

I made this pizza for the first time yesterday, and I was thrilled with how it turned out. It’s a pear, caramelized onion and pine nut pizza with provolone and parmesan cheese. I cooked the onions for close to an hour and added some balsamic vinegar at the end, and then sauteed the pears briefly in that same pan and with a little bit of rosemary. I also brushed the crust with garlic and olive oil before I put the cheese on.

Mushroom and Zucchini Pizza

Mushroom and Zucchini Pizza with Goat Cheese

I’ve made variations on this pizza a couple of times. It has mushrooms and zucchini sauteed in olive oil, garlic and oregano, mozzarella and fontina cheese, and a little goat cheese added after baking. It also has the same tomato sauce I made for the pepper and onion pizza.

Since I first started making pizza, I’ve also found a new dough recipe that I like a lot. It’s from The New Vegetarian Epicure and I’ve made it three times now — it always turns out light and fluffy, and I’ve started folding over the edges to make a nice rim around the pizza. I also use the sauce recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure, which has lots of fresh tomatoes and herbs cooked down into a very flavorful sauce.

OK, now I want to make more pizza…

Simple and Delicious Lemon Dill Tofu Filets with Avocado Salsa

The simple ingredients (minus tofu and avocado) that give flavor to the tofu fillets and avocado salsa

The simple ingredients that give flavor to the tofu fillets and avocado salsa

Wednesday night, I decided to make a quick tofu dinner. I don’t cook with tofu too often — maybe once a month — and I typically just make some sort of stir fry. But I had bought fresh dill and lemons at the market, and I had some green beans, tomatoes and lettuce from my veggie delivery that I wanted to use, so I decided to do something a little different — more akin to a fish dish than what I typically do with tofu.

I started by creating a green bean, tomato and curly lettuce salad. I boiled the beans until they started to get tender, then drained and dried them. Then I created a shallot vinaigrette from a recipe in the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. Their big secret is taking a minced shallot, macerating (soaking) it in 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar for at least 10 minutes, thn combining it with about 3/4 cup olive oil and adding salt and pepper to taste.

I also started just drying out the tofu. I took a block of extra firm tofu, took it out of the package, put it in between paper towels and placed a heavy frying pan and a cook book on top of it. This would really help press out the water, help the tofu be able to absorb more flavors, and make it easier to cook.

I ended up letting it sit for longer than planned since we decided to meet some friends for drinks down in Venice Beach, so the tofu was pressed for 2-3 hours.

When I got back, I sliced the block of tofu into 4 pieces (once through the thin side, once through the center, so I had pieces that were about 2x3x.5 inches). I heated up a nonstick pan, and when it was medium-hot, I added the tofu. I cooked it until it was nicely browned (about 4-5 minutes) on the bottom, then turned it over.

Once the second side started cooking, I spooned over some of the shallot vinaigrette (enough to cover the top of each tofu filet), a generous amount of fresh dill and the juice of half a lemon. I also put some thin slices of lightly cooked lemon on top of the tofu add some more flavor.

I made a quick avocado salsa by chopping avocado into small pieces, tossing with the vinaigrette, dill and the remaining lemon juice.

When the tofu is nicely crispy and brown on the bottom, serve it topped with the avocado salsa, and put the salad on the side.

The dish tasted wonderful. The salad was nice and light. And the tofu was some of the best I’d ever had. Drying it out for so long made it brown really easily and gave it a much denser and more satisfying texture than it normally has, though without making it too hard or dry. The flavors were simple and traditional, and it really tasted like a fish filet — without any fishy taste. Best of all, it was super easy and it looked beautiful. I can’t believe I didn’t take a photo.

More Cooking Fun: Baguettes, Brownies and Homemade Pizza

I’ve still been on my cooking kick, baking bread and trying out new recipes. Last week, I decided to bake baguettes again, and this time they came out looking perfect, though slightly undercooked for my taste — they were cooked all the way through, but I would have liked a thicker crust.

4 perfect looking baguettes

4 perfect looking baguettes

As for dinner with the baguettes, I decided to try out some recipes from my new Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. I made a very tasty grapefruit, avocado and endive salad, as well as a summer squash and corn pasta, which tasted sweet and fresh (unfortunately I didn’t take photos). I really enjoyed both recipes and would make them both again. They were really simple but had a lot of flavor, and I love that the cookbook gives really free-form instructions in the recipes, which makes it hard to go wrong.

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

These are the brownies Maryn made, but mine looked pretty similar!

For dessert, I made the Tartine brownies that we first tried when Maryn and Brian came over for dinner. I found the recipe on the No Special Effects blog, and they turned out really tasty and rich, though somehow not exactly like the ones Maryn baked (maybe I baked them a little longer than I should?), though I don’t think anyone was complaining. They were really decadent and rich, and had a flaky top and moist, soft interior.

Putting the pizzas into the oven

Putting the pizzas into the oven

This week, I decided my dough of the week — I have been making some sort of bread at least once a week for a little while now — would be pizza dough, and I had a few people over for an impromptu pizza-making party. I found a recipe for whole wheat dough in The New Basics Cookbook (I would have likely referred to How to Cook Everything again, but I didn’t have it handy because we’re housesitting), and made up a batch with enough to make four individual-size pizzas. The dough was easy enough, and I just pressed it out by hand. I made a simple tomato sauce by doctoring up a canned sauce (also a recipe froms The New Basics Cookbook), shredded up some mozzarella cheese, and sliced mushrooms, tomatoes and red peppers. We also had garlic, olives, basil and carmelized onions to put on the pizzas. All the combinations were delicious — especially the ones with the caramelized onions. I only wish we had more leftovers… I’ll definitely be making pizzas again soon, and trying out some different crust recipes. The whole wheat crust was good, but it doesn’t have that classic pizza taste.

Our pizza leftovers -- boy were they delicious the next day

Our pizza leftovers -- caramelized onion and mushroom, and red pepper, tomato and basil -- boy were they delicious the next day

What should be on the menu for next week?

Playing a Little Catchup: News and Reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, so I figured I should do a quick catch-up for anyone who feels they’re missing out. Things have been busy over here in the past few weeks, so there’s plenty to catch up on.

One of Evan's first pictures of Pittsburgh

One of Evan's first pictures of Pittsburgh

The biggest change is that Evan took a job that will bring him to Pittsburgh for 3 months. This pales in comparison to leaving for Budapest nearly two years ago, back in the time when I didn’t even know exactly how long we’d be apart, but it’s still a bit sad for me and it will be an adjustment. He just left this morning — on a 6 a.m. flight — and I’m going to be heading out for my first visit April 22.

Evan also just launched a new site about assistant editing and Avid tips and tricks. It looks really professional and clean and already has tons of useful information.

Though this week was busy workwise and I’ve also started a design class at UCLA Extension, there were some fun events leading up to Evan’s departure, like playing with his cousin’s new King Charles Cavalier puppies (so adorable!), seeing a movie and going out to eat. Here are some of the highlights.

villageidiotWe went to The Village Idiot twice. Once to check it out before deciding to have Evan’ going away shindig there (I’d been there, he hadn’t), and the second time was for his party. This gastropub, which is unusual for LA, offers interesting dishes — I had a beet and horseradish greens salad, acorn squash risotto and ginger bread budding with Guinness gelato (amazingly delicious and different) — a nice wine and beer list, and a fun atmosphere. The wallpaper in the back rooms is covered in stags, and as we found out, it gets quite crowded on a Friday night, so if you want to enjoy your food, have dinner there earlier in the week.

The goodbye party was a nice gathering of lots of friends. It was tough to get to talk to everyone and the room was realy bustling, but we were there until closing time, enjoying the company and the beer.

We also went to eat at the Gardens of Taxco, which we’ve been meaning to try out for months. This Mexican restaurant is quite the experience. With no menus — just a choice of meats and veggies for your five-course meal read off by an animated, showboaty waiter — you’re surprised at every step along the way of your dinner. And it just makes ordering that much easier. We had quesadillas with delicious quacamole, soup, tacos and enchiladas, and Evan had carne asada while I had a chile relleno and a zucchini taco, along with rice and beans, of course. There were also the requisite chips and salsa, as well as some pickled vegetables. I was also serenaded by the guitar player, singing a very sweet song Evan requested.

We were surprised to find that the restaurant doesn’t serve hard alcohol, which meant no margaritas, but they make their own guava-wine margaritas. It wasn’t a perfect replacement, but they were pretty tasty — and they come by the liter! (We shared, of course).

For Evan’s last day in town, we went to the park and played some frisbee. I have very little talent when it comes to throwing or catching things, or sports in general, but I’ve been improving. Then we ran some errands and went to dinner. Evan didn’t want anything too stuffy, so we headed over to the Panini Cafe. As we were walking toward the restaurant, I had the strangest sense of deja vu, and then it hit me — this is the last place we ate before he left for Budapest. Strange that it was completely unintentional. When he was leaving for Budapest, we went for lunch with his grandparents; this time we went for dinner on our own. We like the place, with its relatively quick service and tasty sandwiches, salads and kabobs. I just couldn’t believe we were really back there again, in nearly the same situation.

I’ll try to post a bit more regularly, and I’m sure I’ll have plenty to talk about after my first trip to Pittsburgh and to Syracuse (we should be heading up there the weekend I’m in town). After 2 and a half years, I’ll finally see Evan’s hometown. I think it’s about time for that. And I’ll finally get to check out the ever-mysterious Wegman’s.

If you have any recommendations for things to do or places to eat in Pittsburgh, we’d love to hear them.

Dinner for 9 in a Tiny Kitchen

Now I know 9 people doesn’t sound like a lot, especially when I think back to my mom’s holiday feasts for crowds of 20 or 30, but when your kitchen is tiny and you only have 7 chairs in the apartment, it’s quite a feat to pull off a sit-down meal for a group of friends.

Our friend Caroline brought over some extra chairs, so we all had a place to sit at the table, and I got to work cooking pretty early in the day. On the menu:

  • Butternut Squash Soup
  • Bread (which I forgot to serve, though Orso baked some mini cheese puffs which were delicious and we did eat)
  • Salad (which I also forgot to serve — just plain forgot it was in the fridge all ready to go)
  • Stuffed Peppers
  • Baked Eggplant
  • Herbed Rice
  • Pear Clafouti with Vanilla Ice Cream

The cooking was hectic and used a ton of pots and pans, but it wasn’t too bad. The soup turned out perfectly — and was my first pureed soup made with our new immersion blender. The stuffed peppers, a dish I’ve been making for a few years now, turned out a little watery — I blame increasing the recipe and the oven not being as hot as it says it was. The baked eggplant basically tasted like an eggplant stuffing you could serve on Thanksgiving, not my favorite dish, just because I’m not a huge stuffing fan, but it turned out well. And the rice was just what was needed to accompany the pepper.

Everyone’s favorite dish, though, was definitely the pear clafouti. I didn’t even know what a clafouti was until a day or two before the dinner party, but Evan’s parents have made them, so I looked up a recipe. It turned out to be remarkably simple, requiring few ingredients, and I was able to bake it while we ate and serve it hot at the end of the meal.

It came out of the oven puffed up and golden, a sort of fruit-filled pancake souffle. And despite how decadent it tasted, it actually wasn’t too unhealthy, with no butter or oil save for what greased the pan, and made with non-fat milk and non-fat yogurt instead of whole milk and cream. Of course, we did put ice cream on top, which made the dessert extra delicious, especially since the clafouti was still steaming as we served it.

messy kitchen

The devoured clafouti (only a few crumbs left) and our storage-space stovetop

The clafouti was supposed to take only 20 minutes to cook and ended up taking about 40, but I think my oven was having an off night and wasn’t as hot as it should be.

Of course, we didn’t manage to get any photos of the food before it was devoured. I was busy checking everything in the kitchen and Evan was busy entertaining everyone else. We did get a couple photos of the aftermath, which show just how small a space we were working with — we have to use the oven as extra counter space, the cookbooks were on the floor outside the kitchen for most of the night, and we used every piece of silverware we have, as well as almost all the pots and pans, baking dishes and plates.

messykitchen1

The other side of the kitchen. Yup, that' all the counter space we have.

We finished up the night with a Wii Sports and Outdoor Adventure tournament. There was some impressive tennis and boxing and some hilarious mine-carting, too.

Playing Wii after dinner

Playing Wii after dinner

MLK Weekend in Mammoth

Last weekend, Evan and I went to Mammoth with two of our friends. We drove up early on Friday so we beat all of the traffic and had a super easy drive because it had been warm for a while and hadn’t snowed, so no ice, no snow and no chains.

Saturday, we had a great, full day of skiing and snowboarding. Evan and I went all over the mountain in the morning, then stopped for lunch — where we coincidentally sat RIGHT next to my uncle and cousins — and met up with our friends in the afternoon to get some more runs in.

That night we had a delicious dinner at one of my favorite Mammoth restaurants, Petra’s Bistro. The four of us had a table by the fire, and Evan and I shared a roasted beet salad and some Navarro Chardonnay, and then he had a salmon dish while I had some gnocchi with butternut squash. Our friends had venison and pork and loved their dishes as well. For dessert we headed back to the condo since Evan and I had baked a chocolate almond cake from a recipe his parents often use, and though it turned out a little flatter than theirs — we folded the egg whites in a little too much — it was delicious with its raspberry jam topping. I’ll definitely be making it again.

Sunday was another great ski day. The snow was pretty fast and quite hard-packed in some places, but we stayed under control and I don’t think either Evan or I fell the whole time. We spent more time up at the top and on the back side of the mountain, which I had never even explored. It was beautiful and sunny, too, and we met up with my uncle and cousins again for lunch.

We didn’t make it a full day — we headed in around 3 instead of 4 — since our legs (especially mine) were really exhausted from spending so much time on both steep and overly flat runs, which both make my muscles exhausted. I do much better on a normal intermediate/easier advanced grade. Still, it was good to challenge myself, and though Evan is a much better skier than I am a border, I was able to stick with him all day — provided that he’d wait for me a bit.

That night, we cooked dinner — nice and easy rancher’s pasta (pasta with sun dried tomatoes, olives and goat cheese) and salad. We also had some more cake and started a bit of a board game marathon, playing Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit and Catch Phrase.

Monday we debated whether or not to ski and ultimately decided to go for brunch at The Stove where we had enormous omelets, waffles and pieces of french toast, which were all really delicious. Then Evan and I took a short hike at Hot Creek, which was delightfully empty — every time I’ve been there it’s been super crowded. And then we drove home, thankfully without any traffic again.

Evan should be posting some more photos soon, including some of Hot Creek.

Florida Roundup: Grandparents, Gators and South Beach

Sorry that I still don’t have the Florida photos, but I do have this one we took with the point-and-shoot in South Beach, and I suppose I may as well put into writing our 6 days in Florida while they’re still somewhat fresh.

We spent the bulk of the time visiting with my grandparents in Palm Beach and Boynton Beach (both sets of grandparents live there — at least in the winter), taking walks around the golf course and down the beach, eating at various restaurants, including Palm Beach’s Taboo and Couco Pazzo, and sitting by the pool. My aunt Marla was also in town, so we got to spend time with her, and the three of us shared a fantastic piece of key lime pie, with the densest meringue I’ve ever had, at the Four Seasons.

It was Evan’s first trip to Florida, so had to get in some traditional sights. We spent an afternoon at the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, a small man-made preserve where we went for a nice walk on an elevated platform above the water. We saw lots of turtles, herons, egrets and other birds. We also saw three alligators–a giant one, a medium sized one and a little baby–and two impressively large iguanas. Wakodahatchee was only about a 10 minutes’ drive from my grandparents place, and a really nice place to wander around for a bit.

We also spent a few hours one afternoon driving around Palm Beach to see the beautiful beachfront mansions, the stately Breakers hotel and the super-upscale Worth Avenue while my grandma played tour guide. It’s really a gorgeous place to tour around.

Our only real trip away from the Palm Beach area was down to Miami Beach. We had lunch outside at the News Cafe, then walked along the beach, Collins Avenue, and Lincoln Road, checking out the shops and enjoying the art deco buildings. We rented lounge chairs and relaxed on the beach, then went to Puerto Sagua to get some Cuban food for dinner. Unfortunatly Cuban food isn’t very veggie-friendly, so I ended up having a potato omelet and some fried yuca, which left me yearning for something green and healthy. I suppose I should have ordered a salad to go with it. Next time I’m there, I’d love to check out the Wolfsonian museum. It was near closing time when we walked by, so we just went into the store, and it looks like they have some really neat design objects.

This trip was really nice and relaxing, and it was great to spend some more time with my family — and finally introduce them to Evan, too. Evan’s still traveling, actually, and he’ll be on the East Coast until nearly New Year’s while I’m holding down the fort, or rather, the two-bedroom apartment, in LA.

We should have some pictures up soon — look forward to seeing the alligators and iguanas.