All posts in Umami

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

Once upon a time, I wrote a blog post for my chicken piccata recipe. I was inspired to share said recipe after a rather unsatisfactory experience at California Pizza Kitchen. As a child of the internet, I always make sure to blast my blog posts on every social media channel possible. The strange thing about Twitter, though, is that you never get much feedback on the 160 characters you send out into the interwebs. That is, unless you’re dealing with a brand that’s just as social-savvy as you are. Here is a little conversation I had back in June with my dear friends Elijah and @calpizzakitchen:

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Side note: For even more Twitter drama, check out Brand Party, a hilarious “social” experiment orchestrated by a friend of a friend who decided to wrangle his favorite brands into one weird-as-hell interaction.

The point is, while CPK simultaneously embarrassed me in front of my friends followers, I decided to invite my home-state inspired chain restaurant back into my life. After all, it’s not called California Piccata Kitchen. Plus, CPK is one of the only decent places to eat in the food court near Emerson.

In particular, I’m hugely supportive of CPK’s tortilla soup. It’s spicy and creamy and punchy all at once. Plus, they don’t hold back on the tortilla strips, which are – as are most fried things – outrageously fantastic.

Homemade tortilla strips

The other day, after my last first day of classes (Woah! I’m almost a real person!!), I headed to CPK for some warm tortilla soup. As I’ve recently been on a soup kick, it got me thinking that I should try to make my own. I mean, you can’t beat four bucks for a bowl of soup, but, clearly, CPK and I are now frenemies and I’m just as competitive as they are Twitter-smart.

I did my research and read countless recipes for chicken tortilla soup. After taking bits and pieces from several of them, I scrapped all the bookmarked recipes and came up with my own.

The result was truly something else. As a tomato based soup, this dish is naturally hearty. The corn gives it a sweet crunch and the black beans and shredded chicken give it body and flavor. Sautéing the onion, garlic, pepper, and spices makes the whole thing fragrant and authentic. Seriously, this soup is good eats.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Side note: I’m extremely afraid of hot oil. This was the first time I’ve used grape seed oil and I now swear by it. No popping, bubbling, or burning, because grape seed oil has a super high smoke point. The tortilla strips were crunchy and not too greasy. This recipe calls for plenty of strips, mostly because you’ll be munching on them as you prepare the soup.

CPK tortilla soup

The other toppings – avocado, sour cream, and cheddar cheese– add some nice creaminess to balance out the bold flavors in the soup. I’d also recommend testing out cilantro, lime wedges, and queso fresco.

the pantry raid

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • ¼ cup grape seed oil
  • 4-6 small flour tortillas, cut into strips
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 Serrano pepper, remove seeds and cut into small pieces
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • ½ cup canned corn, rinsed and drained
  • ½ cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • Cheddar cheese, grated
  • Sour cream

1. Heat oil in a small frying pan. Add tortilla strips and turn to coat. Flip occasionally until browned and firm. Place on a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil. Continue until all strips are fried.

2. Heat cooking spray or olive oil in a skillet. Add chicken and turn occasionally until cooked through.  Let cool and, using two forks, shred into long strings.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Sauté onions over medium heat until just opaque. Add chopped pepper and spices and sauté until fragrant.

4. Add crushed tomatoes, chicken broth, corn, beans, and shredded chicken. Allow soup to simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes.

5. Serve topped with tortilla strips, avocado, cheddar, and sour cream.

Cornish Game Hens with Herb Rub

cornish game hen recipe

If you’ve ever read my writing or had a conversation with me, you’ve likely witnessed my addiction to hyperbole. I don’t exaggerate about everything, just the best things. The best things ever, in particular. My informal title is “Spokesperson For Everything” because I tend to label anything remotely awesome, “The best thing ever.”

I’m fairly generous with this label. There are a lot of best things ever. By simple mathematical standards, this means that there are few things that are not the best ever. Let me tell you, Purdue is at the very top of that short list.

In case you didn’t know, roasting chicken is just about my favorite thing to do (it’s the best ever). I love experimenting with different marinades and rubs, watching the skin change color and get all crispy, smelling the flavors throughout the whole house, and putting it on the table. I mean, what’s more badass that being able to cook an entire effing bird? Probably a lot of things. Though, as far as I’m concerned, this is it.

A couple of months ago, I decided to roast myself a chicken. I went to the grocery store and saw a plump Perdue bird. Manager’s special! I should have stopped there. I’ll spare you the slimy details, but in so many words, this bird was pumped with more hormones than all the 15 year old girls in the world put together. It was sticky and fat and while the outside got tough and dry, the inside stayed raw and slippery. I threw the whole thing away and went out for Chinese, where, in retrospect, I ate some more questionable chicken.

I know it wasn’t my fault, but this experience really took its toll on my self-esteem. I took a long sabbatical from roasting chicken after that and solemnly swear that I will never ever buy another Perdue product. I suggest you do the same.

The anniversary of my learning how to roast a whole chicken just passed. Last year at Christmas, I somehow managed to only get gifts encouraging me to learn this new skill. I got a Spanek vertical roaster, thermometer, baster, injector…all the good stuff. This holiday season, with my Purdue experience in mind, it was tough not to think back to last year’s festivities. Lo and behold, my wonderful father knew just the thing to get me out of my funk. He gave me this amazing meat thermometer that tells you when your meat has reached the appropriate temperature. No more arbitrary timing or opening and closing the oven. This was a game-changer.

With my new tool, I’ve learned a new trick. Cornish game hens are tiny little chickens and they are the latest “best things ever.” I mean, who doesn’t want to eat a mini chicken? They’re a little more gamey, but mostly more flavorful and juicy.

herb roasted chicken

This wet herb rub is the perfect companion for the hens. Because everything is blended together in a food processor, all the flavors meld to create a tangy, spicy, and earthy flavor.

herb butter

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The infused butter soaks into the chicken so that every bite has that awesome herb-y taste. What could go wrong? Especially when you have a psychic thermometer that tells you when your food is done.

game hen recipe

I get it: roasting a whole big bird is kind of intimidating and it’s a lot of food. But you have no excuse not to make a Cornish game hen. It’s easy, delicious, and won’t leave you with more leftovers than you know what to do with.

thyme butter chicken

And with that, here’s my rendition of a recipe that’s been floating around the food-blogosphere.

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • 3 Cornish game hens
  • 4 sprigs rosemary*
  • 8 sprigs thyme*
  • ¼ cup parsley*
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, melted
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt & pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400o
2. In a food processer, blend rosemary, thyme, parsley, garlic, butter, lemon juice, salt, and pepper until combined. Mixture should be slightly thick with a little residual liquid.
3. Clean hens thoroughly and pat dry.
4. Truss them. (I’m not even going to try to explain this one. Let YouTube do the talking.)
5. Use a spatula or your hands to cover each chicken, front and back, with the wet rub.
6. Bake in a roasting pan for 50 minutes, until a meat thermometer reads 165o.
7. Let rest for five minutes. Use a sharp knife and kitchen sheers to cut in half, along the breast bone, or serve whole.

* Best to use fresh herbs

rosemary garlic chicken

Seasoned Greek Yogurt Chicken

greek yogurt chicken

It’s no secret that I like food. In fact, you could say that I love it. However, all foods are not created equal. Some ingredients are just better than others, or at least in my opinion. Food is all about opinions, really. I can’t stand olives, and you probably think I’m crazy. On the other hand, you might try to tell me that eating raw garlic is nuts, and I will vehemently disagree with you. Then, I will eat a raw clove of garlic to prove you wrong and will regret having done so moments later as my lungs seem to contract and twist and make my spine hurt. However, I will stand my ground. I digress.

The meal I’ve put together here is great. Not only does it taste delicious, but it’s also made with ingredients I desperately love. I’m literally emotionally cheating on each one of these ingredients with the others.

Let’s start with the chicken. Cooking with chicken is great. Once you get past the slimy membrany grossness, it’s the most wonderful protein there is. As my grandma says, chicken is a blank canvas.

That leads me to the Greek yogurt, another blank canvas with which the most beautiful art can be created. It’s good for you and can almost always replace sour cream, which is not.  Also, it is one of those diverse foods that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The pure white color makes for the perfect base in this spiced recipe.

On that note, let’s talk about paprika. I could use smoked paprika on just about anything. It livens up the flavor of whatever you’re cooking and adds an amazing vibrant color. Cayenne does the same, while adding a sharp kick to any recipe.

Sautéed shallots are a godsend, bringing a rusty taste to salad dressings, omelets, and obviously, this dish. With more flavor than plain old onions, I always opt for shallots and sweat them in a frying pan to mellow out their bold flavor.

Last, but not least: garlic. As I mentioned earlier, I love garlic. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I love it more than avocados. This diverse member of the lily family is delicious when roasted, sautéed, or just plain raw. Each preparation gives it a totally different flavor but always gives you that awesomely spicy garlic breath. I know, you think I’m crazy. I thought we had already established this!

Put all these fantastic ingredients together and there’s no not loving this dish. Slow roasting the chicken allows it to absorb the spicy yogurt mix, which makes the chicken crazy juicy.

paprika chicken recipe

The cheese melts within the sauce, but doesn’t burn. Instead, it makes the coating extra creamy and helps it stick to the chicken when served. I’m telling you, love is real, and I found it right here, with this spiced and spicy Seasoned Greek Yogurt Chicken.

healthy chicken recipe

Ingredients (serves one)

  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • ½ cup 0% fat Greek Yogurt
  • ½  shallot, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 small handful grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350o Fahrenheit.

2. In a small frying pan, heat olive oil over low heat. Add minced shallot at sauté until just tender, but not brown.

3. In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt, sautéed shallot, cayenne pepper and smoked paprika, stirring vigorously until fully integrated. Next, stir in cheese.

4. Place raw chicken in a small baking dish and spoon yogurt blend on top. Use your hand to fully coat chicken.

4a. If desired, you may roast baby red potatoes in the same dish. First microwave the potatoes in 2 cups water for 2 minutes. Drain water and quarter potatoes. Coat with olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper and surround chicken breast with potatoes.

5. Bake for 20 minutes. Then turn heat to 400o and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and gently remove chicken from pan. Serve immediately, while that cheese is still super melty.

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Blistered Italian Stuffed Peppers

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I’d like to think that I’m a pretty adventurous eater. Among the list of strange “foods” I’ve consumed are crickets, frog legs, pork belly, chicken liver, and a million other things that, had you gone back in time and told my parents, they would have never believed. See, I used to be very particular. Ask me to take a bite of non-baby carrots and you’d be crazy. Try a piece of sushi? Yeah right. Get anywhere near me with a slice of multi-grain bread and you’d be a dead man.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve outgrown that phase, and in some ways I have. I’ll try just about anything you put in front of me on a plate, in a bowl, on a skewer, you name it. Well, just about everything. Until now, I’ve had a strict aversion to stuffed peppers. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. I like peppers, I really do. I like stuffed things, too! Give me a couple profiteroles or a burrito and I’ll be one happy girl. But there’s always been something about stuffed peppers…

I’m being melodramatic here. I only actually learned about stuffed peppers this year, when Matt suggested we make them for dinner one night. For some reason, my stomach was very turned off from this idea. I couldn’t give you one reason why, even if I thought really, really hard about it. He promised me he knew how to make ‘em real good but I kept my foot down. After going through this routine a few times, he learned to suggest other dishes, most of which I was happy to experiment with.

So it came as a big surprise to him when, just the other night, I suggested that we make some stuffed peppers for dinner. The second I said it, I was surprised too. I’m still not sure what sort of chemical imbalance was neutralized that afternoon, causing me to readjust my moral code so drastically, but thank goodness, because I think I’ve found my new favorite meal.

These Blistered Italian Stuffed Peppers bring me back to my time in Italy, when every single vegetable tasted just-picked and so sweet. That is, except for the avocados. Never buy an avocado in Italy, I mean it.

Packed with protein and nutrients, this is an all-in-one dinner. Rather than use tomato sauce, I roasted fresh cherry tomatoes and then squashed them to create a chunky puree.

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This helped the quinoa, veggie, and sausage mixture hold together and added complexity to the flavor. For even more structure, the shredded mozzarella mixed in create a sticky “glue” that makes scooping out bites of this magic mixture such fun to eat. The mozzarella on top and the exterior of the peppers should look almost equally blistered, lending a smoky hint to this refreshing dish.

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I love this meal because it packs a lot of punch in a small package. There are so many flavors and textures and colors…I can’t believe I’ve been missing out for so long! I’m sure my (now conquered) fear of stuffed peppers is mine alone, but in addition to trying this recipe, I encourage you guys to tend to something you’ve been avoiding for a while. It might be the best (or in my case, most delicious) thing you’ve ever done.

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Ingredients (serves 4, or 2 with leftovers for lunch)

  • 4 bell peppers with flat bottoms (buy a variety of colors for a nice presentation)
  • 1 cup red quinoa
  • Approx. 2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 sweet Italian sausages
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 medium ball fresh mozzarella
  • ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs

1. Preheat oven to 450o Fahrenheit.

2. Place quinoa and two cups water in a small pot. Stir to ensure all the quinoa is submerged. Heat until boiling. Cover and turn flame down so water is simmering.

3. Once the quinoa is set up, gently toss tomatoes, 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and salt in an oven safe dish. Bake until quinoa is finished cooking, about 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, slice the tops off of peppers and remove seeds. Chop pepper tops into small pieces and set aside. Arrange topless peppers in a baking dish lined with parchment paper or tinfoil.

5. While quinoa and tomatoes are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, remove sausages from their casings and sauté until cooked. Make sure to break sausage up into small pieces. Set sausage aside.

6. Sautee chopped peppers in the same skillet, until just barely tender, about 3 minutes.

7. By now, tomatoes should be roasted. Remove from oven and turn heat down to 375o. Use a cocktail muddler, potato smasher, or back of a wooden spoon to smash tomatoes into a chunky purée.

7. Slice four ¼ inch discs from mozzarella ball and shred the rest.

8. Add quinoa, tomato puree, sausage, and red pepper to the skillet holding sautéed peppers. Fold to incorporate, adding shredded mozzarella once everything else is evenly distributed.

9. Carefully spoon quinoa mixture into hollow peppers until full. You will have some left over for lunch tomorrow. Place one slice of mozzarella atop each pepper. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes.

10. Sprinkle Panko crumbs on top of now melted cheese, rotate dish in oven, and bake until both mozzarella and peppers have dark blistery spots on them, about 15 more minutes. Remove from oven, let cool momentarily and top with basil chiffonade (fresh basil leaves sliced into thin strips).

 

Minty Vietnamese Steak Salad

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During the school year, my time to spend raiding pantries is fairly limited. I’m either in class, selling skin care products, or studying and by the time the weekend rolls around, I’m about ready for a waiter to ask me what I’d like to order. While I cook plenty of meals in between, it’s tough to find a moment to buckle down and write about it.

Now that it’s summer, I’ve got a lot more time for this here blog. Don’t get me wrong; I’m plenty busy. I’m about three weeks into my internship at Marlo Marketing, where I help out on the restaurant PR team. In other words, I spend my days scouring food blogs, restaurant reviews, and Eater/Thrillist/Urban Daddy newsletters for any mention of one of our beloved clients. Translated, this means I’m always hungry. While working 9 to 6, five days a week really takes it outta you (seriously grown ups, how do you do it?!) the good news is I get to leave my work at the office. So, when I get home, I have time to cook, snap photos, and write to my heart’s content. If you’ve been paying attention, that explains the higher frequency of posts, as of late.

Combing through all of these magazines and articles for mention of Clio, Tavern Road, Shake Shack, or any of our other tasty clients exposes me to a lot of other delicious ideas, such as recipes for sour cream swirl brownies and panzanella salad. While reading Daily Candy one afternoon, I stumbled upon a recipe for Vietnamese Noodle & Beef Salad imagined by designer Diane von Furstenberg’s personal chef, Jane Coxwell. I’m a big steak enthusiast, but usually stick to what I know (salt & pepper, seared on each side and then flash broiled in a cast iron skillet), but I’ve been on an Asian food kick lately (get at me, fish sauce) and this looked too good to pass up.

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It stayed on my “Recipes” Google Doc until just yesterday, when, after coming home from the beach and feeling drained from the summertime sun, all I wanted was something refreshing and light. I opened my handy dandy Google Doc and re-discovered this awesome recipe. After flaunting my fancy new tan lines on the walk to and from the grocery store, I whipped up a variation of the recipe that I’ll surely make again and again. With a few Asian cooking staples in your kitchen like rice vinegar, fish sauce, and soy sauce, you’ll only need to pick up a couple of other ingredients and you’ll have yourself a sweet, refreshing, and umami rich meal.

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This recipe is incredibly easy to whip together and can be made in 20-ish minutes. The rice vinegar dressing that’s poured over the salad soaks into the medium rare beef and saturates it with a sweet-meets-salty flavor.

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Though the beef is heavy, when paired with chewy rice noodles, velvety avocado, and refreshing mint leaves, you won’t feel weighed down when you’re done eating. The soy sauce marinade that coats the noodles unifies the lighter ingredients and the steak with a slight umami flavor that’s simply mouthwatering.

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Side note: This salad goes great with a minty lemonade cocktail. Muddle one sprig of fresh mint at the bottom of a glass. Add ice and fill with lemonade. Pour in one shot of white rum, such as Bacardi, and mix.

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Ingredients: (serves 2)

For the steak

  • ½ pound top sirloin steak, about 1 ½ inches thick
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the noodles

  • Dry rice noodles (as much as you’d like)
  • 1/8 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Juice of ½ a lime

For the Dressing

  • 1 tablespoon minced (or zested) ginger
  • Juice of ½ a lime
  • 4 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh chives, scallions, or cilantro (which is what Coxwell suggests), finely chopped

Other ingredients

  • 1 ripe avocado, cubed
  • 2 sprigs fresh mint, washed and de-stemmed

1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a jar and set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a medium size skillet over high heat. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of steak. Once oil is shimmering, add steak, cooking for 3-4 minutes on each side, until medium rare. Set aside.

3. Boil water in a medium pot. Cook rice noodles for 4 minutes, or according to package directions. While noodles are cooking, thinly slice steak  on the diagonal (against the grain).

4. Drain noodles and place in a bowl. Pour in soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice and gently toss to coat.

5. Serve noodles in personal bowls. Top with avocado and whole mint leaves. Lay strips of steak over the top. Shake jar of dressing and then pour over the steak and noodles. Garnish with a single mint leaf and serve immediately.

Zesty Chicken Piccata

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I know I’m being that annoying girl who won’t shut up about her amazing vacation, but bear with me while I share one more L.A. story.

I have this friend ,Patrick. He’s just about the most charismatic, outgoing, lovable, politically incorrect, dapper guy out there. This guy has so many friends that I feel like I’m out with a celebrity when we walk through UCLA’s Westwood Village, where he lives. Patrick is one of those friends whom you’ll see twice a year (not by choice, but because of geographic obstacles) and it will feel like no time has passed since the last bi-annual visit.

This time, we met up for dinner. I wanted pasta, so because I’m a diva, I dragged Patrick from restaurant to restaurant in Westwood to scour the menus for carb-tastic bowls of noodles that would please my picky palate. After teasing literally every hostess in Westwood, we wound up at California Pizza Kitchen, which I have unsuccessfully tried to convince my East Coast friends is merely called Pizza Kitchen in the Golden State.

I ordered the chicken piccata, thinking it might be a wee bit healthier than the rest of the heavy cream infused menu items. However, what was delivered to me looked like an entire fried chicken plopped onto a disheveled nest of angel hair pasta. Naturally, I ate the whole thing.

Let me tell you, this was not chicken piccata, at least not the chicken piccata I’m used to eating, which is only slightly breaded and full of lemony tang, acidic capers, and far less than the stick of butter used in CPK’s rendition.

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Fast forward to last night, when Patrick and I had one of those cross-country psychic moments when, after not talking in weeks, we text each other at virtually the same moment to say hello. Coincidentally, I was planning to make chicken piccata last night.

My recipe for chicken piccata is dedicated to California Pizza Kitchen. Seriously guys, if you follow this recipe instead of yours, you’ll save a helluvah lot of money on butter, so maybe you won’t have to charge so much! Also, no one needs to eat three whole chicken breasts, not even me.

This chicken is tender and juicy. By pounding the chicken into a thin fillet and dusting with flour, it soaks up all the yumminess from the garlic, butter, white wine, and chicken broth. Served on top of a (non-disheveled) nest of angel hair pasta and drizzled with the super rich reduction sauce, this meal is filling, yet refreshing. That fresh lemon juice wakes up the protein and carb rich meal and the white wine in the sauce lends a slightly fruity flavor. Serve with a glass of the leftover wine on the side and you’ve got yourself a meal.

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Ingredients (Serves 2)

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons salted butter
  • 3 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ¾ cup white wine (I use Chardonnay)
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • ½ package angel hair pasta

1. Heat water and a hearty amount of salt in a medium-sized pot.

2. Rinse chicken breasts. Place between two sheets of plastic wrap/waxed paper or inside a Ziploc bag. Using a small frying pan or malate, pound chicken breast to ¼ inch thick.

3. Spread flour out on a dinner plate. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper then dredge in flour, covering both sides.

4. In a medium-sized sauce pan, heat 2 tablespoons butter and all of the olive oil. Once simmering, add garlic and sauté for roughly 30 seconds.

5. Add chicken breasts to skillet. Cook for three minutes on each side.

6. Add pasta to boiling water and stir occasionally until al dente, about three minutes. Then drain.

7. Remove chicken from pan, turn heat to low, and add remaining butter, lemon juice, chicken broth, and wine. Use a wooden spoon to scrape browned bits from the bottom of the pan. If sauce seems too thin, add a sprinkle of flour and stir to incorporate.

8. After sauce has thickened, about two minutes, place chicken back into pan, turning to coat with sauce. Add capers to sauce.

9. On each plate, create a nest of angel hair, using a slotted spoon or your fingers to shape into a circle.

10. Place chicken on top of angel hair nest. Garnish with a lemon wedge and serve immediately.

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Nam Pla Marinated Pork Chops

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At first glance “fish sauce” sounds like an ingredient you’d want to steer clear from. There are a few foods out there that should just remain in their natural form, if you know what I mean.

That said, fish sauce is actually a godsend. Ever wonder how an Asian dish gets that (for lack of a better word) Asian taste? For most Southeast Asian cuisines, the answer is usually fish sauce. Other interesting ingredients in Asian cooking that I’m not quite ready to explore yet are egg shells and oyster sauce. I’ll take my eggs over easy and my oysters with a champagne mignonette, thank you very much!

While I really do want to convince you to try your hand at these Nam Pla (Thai for fish sauce) Marinated Pork Chops, I feel it to be only fair that you understand what you’re getting yourself into. Fish sauce is made of fish (usually anchovies) and salt that has fermented for one to two years. Here you were thinking you had to keep fish refrigerated at all times, and now I’m telling you to leave it on your counter for two years? I know, it’s a lot to take in. In Iceland (yeah, they’re on the fish sauce bandwagon, too), they realized that  would make for one smelly kitchen, so they buried the fish underground, at least 5 feet deep, for over a year.

As for me, I just pick up a bottle at my local Asian grocery store and save it for special occasions when I’m feeling rather brave in the kitchen.

My personal stash of Nam Pla was getting a little dusty when I came across a recipe for Vietnamese Pork Chops in Bon Appétit’s latest issue. The photo looked too good to be true, so I put my big girl pants on and strolled on over to my (non-Asian) grocery store for some pork. Sorry Super 88, I’m just not ready to explore that part of our relationship yet.

I made a few tweaks to the original recipe such as using center-cut pork loin chops (which allow for a more complex texture) instead of thick-cut bone-in chops, substituting olive oil for vegetable oil, plus a couple other things we’ll get to later.

By marinating the chops for at least an hour, they soak up all the rich flavor of that (not-to-be) dreaded fish sauce, which totally changes flavor when pan-fried. The result is a tangy, crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside (none of that cardboard stuff your grandma made you eat) chop, that will have you second guessing whether you actually put that nasty fish sauce in there in the first place. But fear not, that unique Asian flare you taste is all thanks to our trusty fermented fishy friends.

This meal is ridiculously easy to prepare, only requiring a few ingredients. Pork chops are fairly inexpensive, so if your kitchen is stocked with the staples, you won’t have to fork over too much cash to make this meal happen. Because the flavor in these pork chops is so intense, I served mine with white jasmine rice. As an added bonus, you can turn that marinade into a dipping sauce. Feel free to set the table with straws though. You’ll want to slurp up every last drop.

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Adapted from Bon Appétit’s Vietnamese Pork Chops

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 1 large shallot, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup fish sauce (preferably nam pla, the Thai variety)
  • 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 1-1 ½ inch thick center-cut pork loin chops
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • 1 fresh lime

1. In a shallow dish, whisk shallot, brown sugar, fish sauce, vinegar, and pepper.

2. Rinse pork chops and pat dry with a paper towel. Pierce meat all over on both sides using a fork. (This will allow that yummy marinade to soak in and tenderize the meat)

3. Place chops in marinade and turn to coat. Place in fridge for one to two hours, turning meat frequently.

4. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.

5. Remove pork from marinade and season with sea salt. Don’t use too much because the marinade is already pretty salty.

6. Pour marinade into a small saucepan and heat over low-medium heat, stirring often. Make sure to bring marinade to a boil for at least five minutes to destroy any harmful bacteria from the raw pork.

7. While marinade is reducing, cook pork chops in heated skillet, about four minutes on each side. When flipping, make sure the meat down side has a nice char on it. If it doesn’t, leave the first side face down for another minute before flipping.

8. Remove pork from skillet and allow to rest five minutes before serving. Meanwhile, pour dipping sauce into two ramekins.

9. Serve immediately with a wedge of fresh lime.

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Cast Iron Linguiça & Cannellini Stew

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Emerson is a hipster’s paradise. While most college students wear UGGS with sweats to class, we wear combat boots and high waisted skirts. While most colleges have concerts with big name performers, our shows feature bands you “probably haven’t heard of.” And while the “hot guy” major at most colleges is Economics, Emerson’s got the film kids.

Though I study the subject that is just about the farthest from film of any that Emerson offers (Marketing Communication), I squirmed my way in to the inner circle of the film students. How did I do it? I started dating one of them.

Matt is a film nerd, if I’ve ever met one. He claims to have learned how to kiss from watching French movies as a kid and knows the names and works of just about every director worth noting. Seeing as he’s about to graduate, he’s hoping to join their ranks in the near future.

A “thesis” is a far cry from what Emerson students have to complete in order to graduate. Each major has a specially designed capstone project, from novel writing to musical directing. Matt was accepted into a special class that has allowed him to write, direct, and edit his own film.

Who We Were is a romantic drama about Lucy (played by Nicola Cauro) and her struggle to understand what love means to her. That is a very very simplified version of what it’s really all about, but I guess you’ll just have to check out the film when it’s ready! As the director’s (marketing major) girlfriend, it is my responsibility to shamelessly plug this sucker wherever and whenever I can. As his food blogging girlfriend though, it was also my responsibility to feed the crew.

I had never worked in craft services before, so this was a huge learning experience. Enrique Rivera, the film’s uber-talented producer, gave me a few pointers: no pizza and lots of meat. Little did he know then that we’d be shooting one of the scenes in a pizza parlor, but Otto serves only the fanciest of pizza, so exceptions were made.

Due to a rather unforgiving budget (donate here!), my menus required a bit of work, but there was one night when I had an opportunity to show off. Back before all the madness of location scouting, script editing, costume designing, equipment renting, actor rehearsing, and a million other things I get dizzy thinking about, we decided to break the ice with an amazing dinner for the film’s core crew. I must say, I set the bar high for this project.

Along with plenty of wine, I served a spring salad with warm bacon vinaigrette and linguiça and cannellini stew. Production Designer, Jenell Randall finished off the night with “Sweet Baby Jesus Cakes” which I’m still begging for her permission to share the recipe with all of you. Just think butterscotch and dates and let your imagination wander.

This stew recipe brings back fond memories of that night, which was full of energy and excitement for the upcoming weeks of filming. I can’t say I was able to serve the rest of the crew such fancy meals, but what they don’t know can’t hurt ’em.

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Linguiça is a cured Portuguese sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika. As such, this recipe uses a good amount of both to make the flavors burst. In order to smooth out these bold flavors, I use cannellini beans, which create a velvety texture when mashed in the stew. And just to mix things up, I’ve infused the onions and oil with thyme for a “green” flavor. If the hint of thyme isn’t enough green for you, the sautéed spinach should do the trick.

This recipe is adapted from Bon Appetit’s “Chorizo and White Bean Stew.” 

Ingredients
• 1 large white onion
• 5 cloves fresh garlic
• 2 cups water
• 1 bullion cube
• 2-4 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 lb. linguiça (found in most grocery stores)
• 5 springs fresh thyme (stem on)
• approx. 30 ounces canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 tablespoon paprika
• 3 cups fresh spinach

Directions
1. Slice onions and chop garlic. For a tip on onion slicing, see below.*
2. In a small pot, boil water. Once boiling, add bullion cube, stirring occasionally.
3. In a large cast iron skillet (a regular skillet will work, too), heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat.
4. Cut linguiça links into ½ inch slices and sauté in skillet until mostly cooked through, about eight minutes. Remove linguiça and set aside.
5. In the same skillet, add thyme sprigs, stem and all. Then add onion and garlic. Pour in another glug of olive oil, if skillet seems dry. Cook over medium, heat, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and almost completely opaque.
6. Add chicken broth, beans, and paprika. Once simmering, use the back of a spoon, a potato masher, or a cocktail muddler to mash about half of the beans in order to thicken sauce. Let the mixture cook for about eight minutes.
7. Add linguiça back to skillet, folding it into the stew.
8. While stew simmers on medium-low heat, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pot. Add spinach, and cover, stirring occasionally, until almost sautéed (should it say wilted), about 1 minute.
9. Serve stew immediately, placing a heap of spinach over each helping.
Note: Remove thyme sprigs before serving, if desired, or leave them in as garnish.

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*Excerpt from Cooks Illustrated. Maybe I’m behind the times, but I found this very helpful. “How to Slice It: Onions: 1. Trim off both ends of onion. 2. Turn onion onto cut end and slice in half, pole to pole. 3. Peel each half, place cut-side down, and slice with grain (pole to pole).”

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Garlicky Rosemary Roast Chicken

On Wednesday, at 10 A.M. sharp, Winter Break will officially be over. Back I go to the world of over-committing myself and running around Boston like a madwoman. Last night, with just a few days of peace left, I decided to see the culmination of this break’s theme come to life. That theme? Roast chicken.

It was Christmas Eve in Woodside, California. Every year, aunts, cousins, professional taxidermists, and so on, gather at my grandparents’ beautiful home, complete with a horse-filled stable, a huge backyard, moss covered trees, and so many dogs and cats it’s hard to keep track. Every year we descend upon Nana Abby and Grandpa Arthur’s peaceful lives, eat copious amounts of guacamole and bask in the glory of the giant Christmas tree surrounded by gifts.

This year was a little different. The cousins were in Hawaii, Aunt Sarah was in India, and Chant, our family horse, had just recently passed away. The gang was smaller this year, so we decided on a low-key Christmas. The spiral ham I’d been dreaming about for weeks would not grace the beautifully decorated table this Christmas Eve. Instead, below the polished silver Reindeer, whose antlers held flickering tea light candles, was a giant platter of freshly carved roast chicken.

My dad and his rabbi sister had been charged with the task of preparing these chickens; a sort of shift in power, as Nana Abby usually prepares our Yuletide meal. Though disappointed in the lack of swine, I decided to take this opportunity by storm. I asked Dad if he could show me how to roast a chicken. The answer was yes, so I proceeded to follow him around the kitchen for a couple hours (along with my oh-so-beloved Labradoodle), nagging him with questions like “How much does a chicken cost?” and “Where do you get a Spanek?” and “Is it ready yet?”

Dad showed me the ropes and by the time he was carving the actual thing, I was no longer his Sous Chef but rather the carcass picker. You try being in a delicious smelling kitchen all day and not getting antsy!

When Christmas morning rolled around, the inventory under the tree was less than usual. We had decided to do a White Elephant gift exchange this year, (also called a Yankee Swap) so everyone brought one wacky gift and wrapped it without labels or cards. We all picked based on numbers we chose out of a hat…you know the deal. The trading rules were strict at first, but we all ended up haggling with each other at the end to get what we wanted. I found myself with an owl mask (don’t ask), until my very vegetarian-bordering-on-vegan aunt asked to trade. See, she didn’t want the owl mask exactly, but she had wound up with a chicken making kit and wanted nothing to do with it. As the resident foodie, she thought of me first. This was the first chicken gift of Winter Break 2012/2013.

The second was just as unexpected. One morning, a few days later, I asked Dad what he was up to during the day. “Oh, nothing,” he said suspiciously. “Whaaaat do you mean?” I said. “Don’t worry about it. It’s a surprise,” he said with a little smile. I decided to shut my mouth, though in my head I was thinking, “Nikes! Nikes! Nikes!” All day I dreamed about the awesome new kicks I’d sport at the gym back at school. When 5p.m. rolled around, he waltzed into the living room with a Sur La Table bag in hand. “Here ya go,” he said, reaching in and handing me a shiny, new, state of the art meat thermometer! It wasn’t what I was expecting, but hey, I was one step closer to roasting a chicken!

Later came the Spanek, an amazing cooking tool from Dad’s favorite store, Amazon.

On my last night in sunny Los Angeles, I visited a childhood favorite for some good n’ garlicky Cuban food. I’ve been going to Versailles since I was a kid, always splitting the #6 (extra rice, no beans) with whichever parent I was with. Since Mom’s in Idaho now, I went with Dad. We ordered the usual, plus a bottle of Mojo: the super secret, ultra amazing sauce that coats their moist chicken. But I’ll save that for a rainy day, or rather, a super busy day when I don’t want to make a fancy marinade like the one below.

Flying back to Boston, I had full cavalry of accoutrements with which to conquer the illusive beast that is a whole chicken.

However, with all my tools and a month’s worth of built up gusto, nothing could prepare me for the task of cleaning the raw chicken. There I was, yesterday afternoon, standing in front of my kitchen sink, holding a whole, four pound, raw chicken…slime and all. My hands gripped it tentatively under its wings. I stared at its pink de-feathered flesh, contemplating the life of the carcass I now beheld. It was foul. Ha.

I pulled through, removing its innards with my eyes half closed, and head turned away. As I washed the slime off my hands, I felt like Lady Macbeth. “Out damned spot!”

I was scarred for all of 30 seconds, for the sweet smell of the marinade I had just concocted soon masked the scary looking chicken. Cover anything in garlic, and I swear all will be well.

Later that night, as the chicken roasted in the oven, it filled my entire apartment building with its scent: sweet, garlicky, and juicy as all hell. At the end of the day, I felt triumphant. I mean, c’mon, a whole chicken is pretty intimidating!

This roast chicken is moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. It’s economical and you will be left with plenty of leftovers. Don’t feel weird about the soy sauce in the recipe. It adds saltiness, but mostly helps the skin get all crispy and ridiculous. Garlic and rosemary are the resounding flavors, with just a hint of tang.

Ingredients
·      ¾ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
·      ¼ cup Low Sodium Soy Sauce
·      Zest of one lemon
·      2 sprigs fresh rosemary
·      4 cloves fresh garlic
·      1 teaspoon ground black pepper
·      ½ teaspoon sea salt
·      1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds)
Special Equipment
·      Spanek (get yours here!)
·      Baster with screw on “injector” (this one looks good)
·      Baster brush
·      Meat thermometer (I have this one. Thanks, Dad!)

1. In a jar, combine olive oil and soy sauce.
2. Mince garlic and add to jar.
3. De-stem rosemary. You can do this easily and quickly by holding the sprig with the points facing toward you. Hold your index finger and thumb at the end closest to you and squeeze, pushing away from you, down the stem. All the leaves will fall right off. Add rosemary to jar.
4. Zest a lemon using a microplane zester (next on my wish list) or the finest option on a cheese grater. Add zest to jar.
5. Add salt and pepper, seal jar, and shake.
6. Remove chicken from packaging and rinse with cold water. Make sure to remove the innards from inside the chicken.
7. Place chicken in a gallon sized freezer bag and pour in marinade. Use your hands to coat the chicken in the garlic and rosemary.
8. Seal bag and set aside in fridge for six hours.
9. Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
10. Remove chicken from bag and place on Spanek, legs down. Make sure the Spanek is set in a pie dish or something like it.
11. Use the baster brush to coat the chicken in the marinade from the bag and pour whatever is left over the chicken.
12. Place in oven. Every fifteen minutes, use baster to coat chicken with the runoff in the pie dish. Use the injector to get those juices under the skin and into the meat. Check the temperature using your meat thermometer. The chicken is done when it registers at 165 degrees, after about one hour.
13. Remove from oven and let stand for 5-10 minutes.
14. Remove from Spanek, carve, and enjoy!

Bacon, Spinach & Gruyere Quiche

It’s been almost a year since my last Pantry Raid. A year ago, I was living in Rome, with a ginormous kitchen to call my own and a teensy tiny fridge to share with six other girls. Since then, I’ve raided quite a few pantries, including my Dad’s in Los Angeles, my Grandma’s in Tarzana (Deep Valley), my Mom’s in Idaho, one in Tahoe, another in San Francisco, and a few in Boston. It’s been a busy and delicious year, if you hadn’t guessed.

In September, I moved into my first Boston apartment. The kitchen is…cozy, with less legroom than my Roman abode offered but just enough to cook up a storm. Oh, and UPDATE! My childhood dream came true when Grandma Carol hooked me up with the best housewarming gift ever. That’s right folks, I am the proud owner of my very own KitchenAid mixer, in beautiful retro pistachio. She is amazing and I love her. Grandma’s not bad either.

But alas, all baked goods does not a healthy diet make (though imagine if it did). I’ve used skillets, saucepans, whisks, bowls, tongs, Tupperware, and a LOT of dishes to whip up three meals a day for me and whomever else I’ve coaxed into dining with me (it’s not actually very difficult). Without a meal plan, I’ve had to do this a lot, which means I’ve learned a thing or two. For one, crock pots are amazing. For two, great steak takes a skillet and an oven. For three, the difference between light cream, heavy cream and everything in between is fat content, which is necessary for thickening sauces. And for four, this girl can use a LOT of olive oil.

In the past year, I’ve learned about molecular gastronomy and how to roast a whole chicken. I’ve learned that sautéed spinach is the best thing ever and that rice pilaf is a close second. I am still in love with Trader Joes.

But stocking your own pantry makes for a lot less fun in raiding it. Which is why my inaugural 2013 post is not a Mermaid Lounge creation, but rather a Vermont one.

After a crazy semester of classes, extracurriculars, Statistics tutoring (don’t ask how), and a lot of good beer, some friends and I piled into Matt’s Saab and headed to the land of maple syrup: Vermont. We had rented a cabin from airbnb.com (I highly recommend this site for travelers on a budget/with a big group) and stocked up on the best ingredients for a delicious weekend of home cooking, skiing, and board games. I swear, Bon Appétit woulda had a field day with us.

Oh, and by the way, the world was allegedly ending while we were there. What better place to be eaten by zombies/abducted by aliens/condemned by an awful disease than in rural Vermont? If it had to happen, this was the place.

There were five of us. When the apocalypse struck, Matt would be the hunter and Emily the gatherer. Elijah would ration supplies and Liz would keep morale high. Naturally, I would be the chef.

When there was no apocalypse to be seen, heard, or felt, we went on eating and skiing and drinking and eating and playing Monopoly and drinking some more. We sat on the floor and played game after game, taking breaks only to refill on “Dam Sours,” our take on the Amaretto Sour (think whiskey, amaretto, simple syrup, lemon juice, and cider). We stayed up until all hours of the night and traversed the backwoods in search of fallen trees to climb and babbling brooks to cross.

I skied for the first time since age six, and consequently was covered in bruises the next day. I made it down the mountain without falling maybe once and more often than not found myself flying off the side of the slope into the forest. What can I say? I’m a tree hugger!

As far as food went, we each contributed at least one of our specialties. Matt made his famous chili, I made some ridiculous rosemary potatoes, Elijah made oven bacon (of which we do not speak), Liz perfected the Dam Sour, but Emily took the prize. I love a good Trader Joe’s quiche, but her’s put TJ’s and any other contenders’ to shame.

With bacon woven together at the bottom of the pie crust, topped by sautéed spinach perfection, and then finished of with creamy, eggy, cheesy goodness, this recipe is not only melt-in-your-mouth amazing, but pretty easy too! And that’s coming from a girl whose overall après ski condition was not in the best shape.

Emily whipped this thing up, with me as her sous chef, in no time, and thanks to Elijah’s distaste for quiche, I was happy to indulge in seconds.

Make this Bacon, Spinach & Gruyere Quiche for friends and family as a warm “good morning” or a refreshing après ski snack. And do it soon! You never know when the world might end…

Ingredients
·      6 pieces bacon
·      ½ cup chopped shallots
·      1 ½ bags spinach
·      1 cup half & half
·      3 large eggs
·      ½ teaspoon salt
·      ½ teaspoon black pepper
·      ¾ cup shredded Gruyere cheese
·      1 deep dish pie crust

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Cook bacon in an ungreased skillet until slightly crispy, but still pliable. Remove from skillet and degrease with a paper towel.
3. Place three pieces of bacon alongside each other in the piecrust. Then weave the other three pieces perpendicular to them. Set aside.
4. In a large pot, sauté the chopped shallots over medium heat in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until flimsy and see-through. Add the spinach and cover the pot for 30 seconds or until the spinach begins to wilt. With a wooden spoon, move the spinach around until it has mostly been coated with oil. Continue to stir and turn spinach until it is bright, shiny, and just past the point of crunchiness. Remove from heat and use tongs to place the spinach on top of the woven bacon in the piecrust so it is distributed evenly.
5. In a medium sized mixing bowl, use a whisk to combine half & half, eggs, salt, and pepper. Then gently stir in the shredded Gruyere. Pour mixture over spinach and bacon so that it seeps into all the nooks and crannies.
6. Place in the oven for about 35 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and the cheese has created a nice browned topping. Let cool for ten minutes, cut into wedges, and serve immediately.

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