Monday, August 16, 2010


\Many Central and South American cuisines have their own versions of this dish.  Some use raw fish, marinated in acidic juices that "cook" them; others use cooked seafood - but the kind that I fell in love with while I was visiting South America was Ecuadorian ceviche.
What makes Ecuadorian ceviche?  Well, for starters, it focuses mainly on cooked shrimp, so for me, it was love at first taste.  I adore shrimp!  Then, add in some tomato, lime, and avocado (and a few more ingredients)...and top with fried plaintains and popcorn!  Yup.  You heard right.  Popcorn, folks.  And it MAKES the dish.
So, when I had some new friends over for dinner the other night, I thought I would pull out the stops.  I love having an excuse to cook for anyone, so I planned a gourmet menu, starting with ceviche as an appetizer.  So yummy, and when you serve it in martini glasses, it looks extra special.

Ceviche recipe:
3 medium tomatoes
1 small red onion
3 Hass avocados
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 red pepper
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce (adjusted to taste)
2 serrano peppers
3 green onions
1 lb of shrimp (cooked, tails off)

Start by broiling 1 tomato, the red pepper and half of the red onion for about 20 minutes, until the skins of the tomato and peppers are blistered and blackened.  Slip the skins off, remove seeds, and chop roughly.  Add to a food processor with the lime and orange juice, serrano peppers, and tabasco.  Blend until smooth.
Finely chop the remaining tomatoes, red onion, green onions, avocado, and mix with the shrimp.  Pour the sauce over the top, salt to taste, and refrigerate until cold.  Serve cold, and top with fresh popcorn (plain, not buttered or salted) and fried plaintains.  A taste of Ecuadorian perfection!

p.s.  I'll try to get better about taking pictures of what I cook...I'm horrible because by the time I'm done with it, all I want to do is eat it!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Zucchini time!

As the summertime starts to heat up into full swing, one of the veggies that you will suddenly start seeing a lot of is one of our green favorites - zucchini!  At this time of year, it pretty much goes into just about everything that I am cooking, but after just moving into a new house and having a somewhat bare pantry, I was faced with the challenge of coming up with a main dish that would satisfy two girls starving after unloading boxes all day using the only veggies in the house:  zucchini, onions, and mushrooms.
Luckily, I also had a can of tomato sauce - Muir Glen Organics, my favorite, which I was very happy to find here in FL as well; and the tiniest bit of shredded mozzarella cheese, left over from pizza night..  So I created my own twist on an italian classic, eggplant parmesan.  Subbing the zucchini in for the eggplant, it turned out very well!  It seemed lighter than classic eggplant parm, because instead of getting mushy like the eggplant, the zucchini retains a little bit of a crunch while still having satisfying soft pieces.

The Recipe:
2 medium-large zucchinis
1 1/2 cups greek-style yogurt (this is just what i had in the house)
Dried dill
Dried parsley
Garlic powder
Soymilk (also, just what I had in the house)
Progresso Seasoned Breadcrumbs

I sliced the zucchinis into long strips, probably about 1/8th inch wide - enough to get about six strips out of a zucchini, slicing the whole squash lengthwise.  Then I mixed the yogurt with enough soymilk to make a thin paste, added about 2 tbsp of dried dill, 2 tsp dried parsley, 1 tbsp garlic powder and a sprinkle of salt.  Dipped the zucchini slices in the yogurt mixture, then in the breadcrumbs, and then fried them in a small amount of canola oil.

At the same time, I chopped the mushrooms and an onion and added them to the can of tomato sauce, along with garlic powder, dried basil, dried chili flakes - all to taste, but be careful on the amount of dried chili flakes you use - go slowly!

After the zucchini was done frying, I layered the strips in a pyrex baking pan, covered them with the tomato sauce, sprinkled the bit of mozzarella on top and baked in a 350 oven for about 20 minutes.  Yum!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

San Diego travels (part 2): Sushi!

This one was a little bit harder.  While I love sushi, in most of its fishy goodness, Bekah doesn't really go in  for the raw fish, so I was hoping to find a good sushi restaurant that had a wide and interesting vegetarian section to their menu (the cucumber and avocado rolls, while tasty, can get a little bit boring).  We had recently been spoiled by excellent veggie sushi in Santa Cruz with some friends, and were hoping to re-create some of the magic in San Diego.
Oh my goodness.  This took hours!  Searching yelp, google, and chowhound suggestions for vegetarian sushi in san diego led me down a path of few and very predictable results...until I stumbled onto the website for Sushi on the Rock.
At this point, seeing that they had an entire vegetarian section of their menu, and that it contained ingredients other than egg, cucumber and avocado was enough to sway me.  We drove out to La Jolla, and after some adventures trying to find free street parking (we were finally successful), climbed the stairs to the second floor location and were excited to chow down on some sushi.
Between the two of us, we ordered four rolls.  We did go ahead an order one shrimp roll, which took some convincing, but since it is not raw, and also in this case, covered in coconut, didn't require twisting an arm.
The rolls were: the coco roll, which was coconut crusted shrimp, avocado, cucumber, and sprouts, topped with toasted coconut; the baby conehead: spicy tempura japanese eggplant, cucumber, sprouts, and yamagobo; the picante, which had tempura fried green beans, cilantro, avocado, serrano chilies, sprouts, and salsa; and the green room, which had asparagus, avocado, cucumber, sprouts, and yamagobo.
My hands down favorite was the spicy tempura eggplant, although the combination of the salsa with the sushi roll was very interesting.  Bekah's surprise favorite was the coconut shrimp, although smother anything in coconut and i'm pretty sure that you could get the girl to eat it. ;-)
The rolls were a decent size, although I would say a little bit on the small side for the price.  They were on par with what you would find in Davis, comparably, but way more expensive than anything you would find in Santa Cruz.  Although with the type of restaurant, you were also paying for the patio view of the ocean and the location (La Jolla) with the hip decor and atmosphere.
Overall, definite thumbs up for the quality and inventiveness of the veggie sushi; if you are a fish fanatic, probably not you're cup of tea.  Don't go expecting any great bargains, but a great atmosphere and really good, friendly, fast service.

And the next time you make veggie sushi at home - try some salsa on top!

San Diego travels (part 1): Indian night!

Recently back from a trip to San Diego for work where we had the opportunity to check out the socal foodie scene.  Wanting to get a good picture of San Diego dining, I spent some serious time scoping Yelp for good places to eat.  We were there for three nights, which gave us time for mexican, indian, and sushi.  :)
The first night we arrived we were exhausted and so went straight to the whole foods for the time honored standby of hummus and veggies that we could eat while collapsed on the sofa in our hotel room, happy to be out of the car after an obscene number of hours spent driving through gridlocked LA traffic (yay for construction and accidents).  On a happier note, we had managed to stop in San Luis Obispo on the way down and had a lovely brunch at the Big Sky Cafe...more on that in a later post.
The second night, however, we were ready to hit the town for some good food.  And being somewhat poor and depending on a travel stipend meant that we were in the market for good food at reasonable prices.  After checking out yelp for some good suggestions on indian restaurants near our hotel, we settled on trying one called Punjab Indian Restaurant just down the street.
From the outside, it was very unassuming, tucked in a little strip mall.  As soon as we walked in the door, however, delicious aromas were coming from every direction (as was the bollywood music videos playing on the tvs).
My friend and I both decided to splurge on the vegetarian thali, which was consisted soup, two vegetarian entrees, naan, a samosa, two veggie pakoras, raita and rice pilaf.  Our waitress also brought out a complimentary potato appetizer and some chutneys when our main meal arrived.
Everything was really delicious - between the two of us, our four vegetarian entrees were the daal makhni, bhindi masala, malai kofta, and aloo palak.  We asked for medium spicy, which was perfect - i love spice, but bekah not so much, and the level was enough to satisfy both of us.  The flavors were really rich and complicated, and lent themselves well to blending and eating rolled up in naan...and really, is there any other way to enjoy indian food?
Topping off the meal was a tasty rice pudding and there was more than enough for leftovers - all together, the meal totalled just over 34 dollars for both of us and fed us a meal the next day.  Next time you're in San Diego, check out this little gem - don't be turned off by it's location!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tasty Chocolate Chip Cookies

Okay, I can hear you groaning now.  The tagline is for local, farmer's market produce and here are these recipes for brownies and chocolate chip cookies?  I promise, I've got two real standards, and due to the popular demand, I thought I would disseminate them and try to convince you all to keep reading. ;-)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 12 oz bag chocolate chips

Note:  this recipe is really easily halved, which is usually how I prefer to make it.  Then all the cookies fit on one sheet and you don't eat too many!  I also have started saving a small amount of cookie dough in the freezer to slice up and mix with vanilla ice cream for chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. :)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start by beating softened butter, both sugars, eggs, and vanilla together until smooth.  In a separate bowl, mix the remainder of the dry ingredients (not the chocolate chips) and then beat in slowly.  When it is mixed, add in the chocolate chips.

Bake at 350 for 11 minutes.  The cookies will still be soft and will need to sit for a few minutes after you pull them out of the oven.  If they look REALLY not done, you may have to cook them a little longer, but I have never had to bake them longer than 13 minutes.

Again, excellent with vanilla ice cream!
enjoy. :)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Seriously Addictive Brownies

As much as this pains me, I have had so many requests for this recipe that I am finally going to part with it...

Nina's Best Brownies:
2 eggs
1 stick of butter
3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate (3 squares)
1 cup of sugar
2/3 cup of flour
2/3 cup of chocolate chips
3 ounces (2 shots) of Torani peppermint syrup, or 1 tsp peppermint extract

Preheat oven to 325.
Melt stick of butter and chocolate squares (i usually do this in a pyrex measuring cup in the microwave). Put in a larger bowl and add sugar and eggs, and beat until smooth. Add flour, torani, and chocolate chips and beat until just mixed.
Pour into a 9" square pan that has been greased and floured. Bake, for about 45 minutes. Depending on your oven, this will take longer or shorter (mine, depending on the day, can take up to an hour). I usually start checking at 35 minutes. But they are done with a knife or toothpick comes out clean. Just remember that you have put chocolate chips in them, so you might want to check a couple spots, because melted chocolate chips can fool you!

Even better with vanilla ice cream in a brownie sundae...

Yummiest Chicken Taco Filling

One of my favorite foods to make, especially for a night with friends, is tacos. It is pretty easy to cook up a couple of different fillings and then let people assemble their own meal. I usually estimate enough for three tacos per person (more if you have friends that are exceptionally hungry, or you know, football players...)

My standard taco fillings and toppings are:

Refried beans
Grated cheddar cheese
Plain yogurt (or sour cream, if you prefer)
Vegetarian filling - chopped green and red peppers, zucchini, corn, mushrooms, and spinach seasoned with garlic, chili powder, and cumin.

The rest of this post will be devoted to the chicken, but I will put in a plug here for making your own fresh guacamole. It is really easy, and so worth it. The best guac is really simple!

To make mine (now in the molcajete, but it is also really simple to make in a bowl): mash 4-6 fresh and RIPE avocados, depending on the size of your crowd. Make sure that the avocados are ripe - easily squishable when you touch them, otherwise you will get tough, stringy bits in your guacamole. Once you have mashed the avocados, add a little bit of salt, 1 chopped tomato, and a dash of hot sauce such as Tabasco or Cholula. Then hide it from hungry occupants until it is time for the tacos, otherwise you won't have any ;-)

But, on to the main subject of this post: the chicken! I have finally concocted a way to make taco chicken filling that makes it the one bit of filling that is never left over (sadly)...
I start with a package of boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I prefer the thighs because I feel that they have a richer flavor, but feel free to use whichever is your favorite. As always, I choose chicken that has been raised organically and free-range, and I encourage you to do the same.

I start by boiling the thighs in vegetable broth (this seems counter-intuitive, but this is because I usually only keep veggie broth in the house, if you have chicken feel free to use that!). I do enough water to coat the chicken, which usually ends up needing two cubes of bouillion. I boil them for about 15-20 minutes, uncovered, and then use the shredding attachment on the food processor to shred the chicken (allow the broth water to keep boiling off while you are doing this, because you are going to reduce it). Shred the chicken, and add two canned chilies in adobo sauce (go ahead and shred them into the chicken). Add a little bit of the adobo sauce (a partial spoonful) to the shredded chilies and chicken and then add this mixture back into the pot of boiling broth. Keep boiling until almost every bit of the liquid disappears, and add a very small bit of oil to the pan. Be cautious - this is the point where you need to be monitoring and moving the chicken pretty continuously, otherwise it will stick and burn to the bottom of the pan. Just keep everything moving, and within a minute or two you will have juicy, crispy, deliciously flavored chicken!