Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall soup

Is there anything better than soup and fresh bread on a rainy day?  Soup simmering in a slow cooker all day filling the house with the aromas of your childhood is pretty good.  I thought soup was a good idea; it's pouring out which I love and take advantage of when we get them so soup it was.  I decided to throw it all into the slow cooker; so much less work.  I started by coating the entire crock with olive oil, added a half chopped red onion, about a cup of shredded carrot, vegetable broth and crimini mushrooms.

Next I oven baked a squash and once it was done I scooped that into the soup.  I threw in a cup of shredded green cabbage and locked'r down for a couple of hours.  It took no time to fill the house with the warm smells of soup cooking.  I love that; knowing that dinner is being made whether I am present in the kitchen or not.  I am really starting to like this slow cooker thing.

After several hours I opened it up and had a taste.  Always be very careful when you taste food made in the slow cooker, it's freaking boiling.  So; the soup had a lot more flavor than I had anticipated.  I added some white wine; wine is almost always a nice addition.  Then thought about my flavorings; you can go many different way with a soup like this.  Being that it was raining and reminding me very much of a day back home I decided to go the turkey soup route.  I got out the poultry seasoning and added about a tablespoon; just the smell brings me back to Thanksgiving dinner.  I added some salt and pepper and that's it; lid back on until dinner time.

I will serve it with a nice loaf of fresh whole grain bread with a some Tuscano cheese.  For dessert?  Fresh baked Oatmeal cookies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I'm lucky enough to work in a non-profit organization with very a diverse and wonderful staff. Eating lunch in our break room is always an interesting culinary adventure. Almost every day for lunch, each one of us has different type of cultural or ethnic food. It's common that in one afternoon there will be Iraqi, Lao, Turkish, Ethiopian, Chilean, Ugandan, Mexican and Italian food- all at the same table. This is not the type of office where people are brown-bagging a turkey sandwich and an apple.

It's always exciting to see what everyone brings and to hear how they make it. We all automatically become foodies- the staff has no choice, it's just all so interesting. To me, the Ethiopian dishes always smell the best. I love Ethiopian food and the dishes in our lunch room usually consist of potatoes, greens, or cabbage with warm smelling unfamiliar spices that I can never put my finger on.

As you can tell, I view my co-workers lunch box contents very warmly and think of each day as a fun, world food experience. That was until today. Today has stunted my culinary curiosity. I hope this isn't permanent but I find myself longing for the scent of microwaved Lean Cuisines the elementary school PB&J's. I smelled a food so awful today that any time I recall its scent, I get goosebumps- seriously.

The food that destroyed my nasal passage and has left me in nauseous convulsions is called Pahdek. I can't think of how to best describe this edible concoction so I've decide to leave the details up to Wikipedia: "Padek is a traditional Laotian condiment made from fermented or pickled fish that has been cured. Often known as Laotian Fish Sauce, it is a thicker, seasoned fish sauce that often contains chunks of fish in it. The fermentation takes a long time, giving Padaek a rich aroma similar to fine cheeses..."

Let me start my rant by saying that I'm not a complete Asian food amateur, I know all about the complexity of fish sauce and how commonly used it is in many cuisines. But Lao fish sauce ain't no ordinary, slightly aromatic, mildly fishy sauce. This isn't the thin, clear fish sauce most of us Westerners are used to. This is a black, thick, insanely fowl smelling substance. I love my amazing Lao friend who excitedly explained to me this morning that she brought her favorite sauce to work. Next, she told me that her mom warned her not to bring the sauce to work and that she was nervous about how other staff members might judge its smell. "Who cares what they think!" I naively assured her, "It can't be that bad- we're used to all the random ethnic food smells!" Oh god, was I wrong. So, so wrong.

I consider myself to have a pretty open mind and invited my friend to open her sauce as we all ate together. The moment she cracked the lid I felt like I was slapped across the face with a dead body. " Oh my gosh, I'm sorry but that smells really strong," I commented trying to be as polite as possible.

"Wait no, that smells like VERY, strong. Wow, I don't think I can handle that being right next to me!" I said, then timidly asked my friend if she could try to keep the lid closed and move down a few seats.

Everyone at the table simply could not believe how intense this stuff smelled. Let me attempt to describe the many odors that create the intricate Lao fish sauce smell: dead fish (duh!), bile, blue cheese, vinegar, a polluted river, parmesan cheese, more fish and finally, a touch of garlic.

I learn something new about food every day in my office, but I never expected to become acquainted with smell of death in a busy San Diego non-profit. If you take anything away from this story, I hope it's that if you ever hear someone from Laos talking about Pahdek- You'll save yourself and start running away. Run farther and faster than you've ever ran before.

*image from: www.nowthatsnifty.blogspot.com/2009/07/298-condiments-from-around-world.html

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Red snapper

I made snapper last night; a first.  I've made many types of fish but never this one so I got out my trusty laptop and had a look around at what others do with this fish.  Seems like blackening spice and red pepper are the trend so I set off to try.  I cut rings of onions and threw them in the pan; tossed them around until they were lightly browned and set them aside.  I got the snapper out; washed it and patted dry, squeezed lemon on each piece and salt/pepper.  I sprinkled lightly with Cajun blackening seasoning and added the onion on top.  Then poured the olive oil that I had cooked the onion in over the top of the snapper.  Popped it into the 400 degree oven for about 20 min.

As a side I decided to try something new as well; it's squash season and we are big squash eaters.  I got some puff pastry at Trader Joe's, time to stock up on it as they only carry it in the freezer dept. this time of year.  So I cooked the squash; stirred in butter, salt and pepper.  I rolled the squash in the puff pastry and topped with some pecans.  I love puff pastry; I've got a lot of Scottish blood in my veins so this is my excuse.  :)  Anyway it turned out amazing; great alternative to just simple squash and it was very easy.  It too cooked about 20 min. in the 400 degree oven.

Now for the snapper; it was really good, lightly seasoned and very moist and tender.  Being that I am not actually a big fish fan; I do not like the fishy taste of some fishes.  Halibut is by far my favorite although this was pretty darn good.  It was light in flavor, not fishy.  It had a more meaty texture than Halibut and a little more flavor.

Dessert?  Apple cheesecake.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Cooking weather

It's chilly and raining; two ingredients much sought after for being in the mood, the cooking/baking mood, at least for me that is.  I love cooking when it is cold, dark and rainy out.  I like cooking most of the time but if it's really hot; forget it.   Last night was a bit different; I left cooking to the last minute.  I'd been busy doing other stuff and finally ran downstairs to ponder dinner.  The mushrooms caught my eye; that was that.  I started simmering them in a pan with some garlic.  Once they made some nice brown stuff on the bottom of the pan I poured in a good amount of wine to pull that flavor off the surface of the pan and into the sauce. 

Once everything was simmering nicely I added tomato sauce, Parmesan reggiano, fresh basil, salt and pepper.  I let that simmer for at least 20 and threw the pasta on.  Made a quick arugula (of course) salad with a pile of fresh tomatoes and poured myself a glass of wine. 

Tossed a little extra mozzarella cheese on top with some fresh basil; done.  I do love Italian.  

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Il fornaio

After a crazy week; a not so great week, I needed a break so my hubby took me to Il Fornaio.  It is one of my favorite local restaurants.  Il Fornaio is located in Irvine on Von Karman Ave.; an easy get to restaurant off of  Jamboree exit at the 405.  When we got there last night it looked like maybe a wedding reception was going on; I didn't realize that they held events like that here.  The valet parking is validated before you leave making it very nice to drive right up to the front.  Happily there was lots of room inside and we got a lovely table by the window. 

The service is good here; prompt and friendly.  As soon as we sat and ordered our wine; which I cannot remember the name of now but was amazing, they brought us our bread with olive oil and balsamic.  Oh; and we always order butter with our bread as well, there really is nothing better than good bread and butter.  Last night they had a new bread in the basket; it was a delicious white bun filled with green olives.  I cannot remember the last time I tasted bread quite as good as this and I will be trying to find the recipe.  It was soft and filled with flavor plus the added olives as well.  Yum.  This tasty treat is located to left of the basket.

I really didn't need to look at the menu; I always have the same dish, I love it and look forward to it specifically.  I have the Cappellacci di Zucc; butternut squash filled raviolli with tomato and brown butter sauce, walnuts and crispy sage leaves, delicious.  The crispy fried sage leaves are to die for; very different but something I look forward to with the raviolli.  I'm not sure how many times that I have had it but not once have I been disappointed.

 My husband often has the same dish as I but this night he had their Restaurant week special; which includes an appetizer, main dish and dessert.  His first course or Antipasti consisted of grilled scallops, shrimp and calamari drizzled in pesto sauce.  We shared the dish; it was plenty big enough for two and delicious.  The scallops were so tender that we barely had to chew; simply enjoy.  The next dish was his main course which was a double breast of chicken; roasted potatoes and spinach.  The chicken was amazingly tender; spicy yet not firey. 

Finally the piece de resistence which was a decadent hazelnut frozen custard like dessert; drizzled in chocolate, fresh whipped cream and topped with candied orange.  It was a delectably rich, creamy and amazing as well. 

A decaf coffee to go with the dessert and we had enjoyed another wonderful meal at Il Fornaio.