Zucchini Grilled Cheese

Zucchini Grilled Cheese


Over the weekend, as I normally do on Sunday mornings prior to running errands and grocery shopping, I was perusing Smitten Kitchen’s blog.  Over the years, Deb’s recipes have never failed me and coming off of a successful layer carrot cake high, I was eager to find another recipe to attempt.  With zucchinis being ever so present in June / July, I decided I’d try her Zucchini Grilled Cheese recipe.  Man, am I glad I did.

I won’t bother with rehashing the instructions and recipe as I literally copied hers word-for-word this time and it only involves approximately five steps and patience before you’re rewarded with cheesy, healthy(ish) goodness.  There’s the option to make them in sandwich form or, as an open face tartine, as I did.  If you ever need a relatively simple, vegetarian weeknight meal, this is definitely it!

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Traveling Abroad: Valencia, ES – Edition

Apparently calling myself out and saying I’m bad at posting regularly doesn’t actually affect me.  Since April, we’ve been cooking less, but traveling more.  This time, it was off to Valencia, Spain and Le Mans / Montmirail, France for a wedding with a quick layover in Paris (because how can you skip Paris when in France).

As soon as we landed at CDG, we zipped off to Le Mans / Montmirail, FR for our friends’ weekend wedding.  Friends got married, food and (plenty of) wine was drunk, and festivities ensued.

After 2 days in Le Mans, we drove back to Paris for a night before our trip to Spain.

Neither my fiancé nor I had ever been to Spain before and initially when we were trying to decide where to spend 4 days, we were actually leaning towards Italy.  However, as I was obsessively looking at flights / prices to Italy, I noticed that we would have to either pay to check our luggage or, store it at the baggage lockers near CDG – neither of those options seemed great.  Then, I stumbled across an Air France flight from CDG to Valencia, ES that was cheap AND included 1 free checked baggage item – I was sold, and off to Spain we went!

Valencia was gorgeous and the warm weather a nice change from the overcast, almost-about-to-rain temperatures of France.  The architecture was quintessentially European with its ornate Gothic stone work and charming windowsills flower boxes.  We explored Malvarossa Beach, Mercat Central, and the Cuidad de las Artes y las Ciencias / Oceanogràphic – all by foot (and one uneventful bus ride).

One of the main highlights of this trip however, was our dinner the last night in Valencia at El Poblet.  As Lonely Planet puts it: “Run by noted chef Luis Vallis Rozalén, El Poblet offers elegance and fine gastronomic dining at prices that are very competitive for this quality. Modern French and Spanish influences combine to create sumptuous degustation menus.”

We opted to go with the Festival menu (there are two to choose from) and it began with a presentation of Rose Petals and Apple Tonic Gin.  From there, we continued through the 15, FIFTEEN, course menu – each course just as beautiful and delicious as the last.

There was beautifully cooked sea urchin which I’d never had before and surprisingly, loved. Delicious tomato snow, ashes rice, wild strawberries, and a particular favorite of ours was the misty forest which arrived with great fanfare and an accompanying “misty forest” [dry ice] for ambiance. Compared to one Michelin star restaurants in the Bay Area that easily reach $200-300/person, pre-wine pairing, the cost of the menus at El Poblet were reasonable (approx. €80-115/person) and the service was nothing but gracious.  By the end of the meal, we were both thoroughly stuffed, and satisfied, after our nearly four hour long meal.  While I wouldn’t necessarily say El Poblet is worth flying to, if you find yourself in Valencia or the surrounding area, I would definitely recommend making a reservation.

 

Valencia isn’t a small town by any means nor is it as large as Barcelona or Madrid which made it a perfect destination for a quick getaway from France.  Despite our complete lack of Spanish / Catalan-speaking abilities (I only learned so much “Californian-spanish”), we were able to get around on public transit and by foot, buy food at the local markets, and explore without any issues – Overall in Valencia, the people were friendly, the food was delicious, and the weather was gorgeous.  What more could you ask for?

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Traveling Abroad: Taipei, TW -Edition

Martyrs’ Shrine

I’ve been bad at posting so I’ll be working my way back-and-forth through all the things I meant to post but never got around to doing so.  Back in March 2017, my fianceé and I (along with his parents) spent a week in Taiwan.  Despite Taiwan being a small island, we could’ve easily spent more than a week just exploring Taipei City and the surrounding areas.

Taiwan is known for its eats, and it did not disappoint.  We probably ate ungodly amounts of xiao long bao (小笼包) and mango shaved ice (芒果冰).   Ice Monster was a particular favorite but honestly there was so much delicious street food that we could’ve easily spent a month just trying all the food.  There was a vendor near our Airbnb in Zhongshan District (中山區) that sold Taiwanese Egg Crepes (蛋餅) for approximately 30-35NT (~$1-1.50 USD) depending on what toppings you wanted added – i.e. basil, onions, or oysters.  I’m pretty sure we ate there for breakfast at least 75% of our trip.  In addition to the shaved ice and xiao long baos, we had sesame oil noodles (麻油雞) that were cooked in such strong rice wine, I’m pretty sure we walked out of the street stall slightly tipsy.  And then there was all the beef noodle soup (牛肉麵) that we ate that was amazing – no matter if you were buying at a street stall for 200NT or at a department store (of which Taiwan has many) for 400NT.

With all the food we consumed, we obviously had to get out and explore by food.  However, Taipei makes it relatively simple with a metro system that is efficient and relatively top-notch as well as a bus system that functions…functionally.  We were able to make it out to hike up to the top of Elephant Mountain (象山) for a view of Taipei City as well as a 30-45 min harrowing, windy bus ride and 30 minute hike to Wulai Falls.  The views were gorgeous despite some rain showers and some smog (or fog, but it was most likely smog).  There were a few other places such as Yangmingshan National Park that we wanted to go to but simply didn’t have enough time.  Our last destination before flying back to SF was Beitou Hot Springs which were really quite spectacular.  I would have included pictures except the drizzle from the sky and the steam coming from the underground hot springs basically rendered all pictures foggy and, steamy – essentially it would’ve just looked like a posted a picture of white clouds.  There is a Beitou Hot Spring Museum that is open to the public, and FREE. It’s not particularly large but worth a walk through if you’re already in the area.

 

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Savory, Succulent Stovetop Steak

Somedays, all you want for dinner is a solid, salt-and-peppered steak (with a side of vegetables, of course).  My two favorites cuts for meats nowadays for nearly mistake-proof steaks are the classic filet mignon or a nice ribeye steak with some solid marbling, bone-in optional.  If we’re going off of cost, I’d definitely recommend the ribeye as the marbling throughout that particular cut of meat lends itself to beautiful, “fat = flavor” result.

I highly recommend getting a good cut of meat because if you do, all you’ll need to cook a delicious stovetop steak is salt, pepper, a touch of oil/butter, and garlic (optional).  I used to go the stovetop-to-finish-in-oven method and while it works, if you can get away with only using the stove, why wouldn’t you?  One of the most important things, I’ve started doing is taking the steak(s) out 30-45 mins prior to cooking to allow them to come closer to room temperature.  About halfway through the resting period, I season with ample amounts of salt and freshly ground pepper.  Once they’re about room temp, heat up your cast iron – I use Lodge cast iron skillets which are quite reasonably priced – and when its nearly “there”, add your oil (canola, vegetable, or safflower oil work great – but probably not olive/coconut oil due to low smoke point).

When its starts shimmering, lay down your steak.  If there’s no immediate “sizzle”, the oil probably wasn’t heated enough in which case, remove the steak and allow oil to heat, and repeat.  Some guides will recommend that you flip the steak every 30 seconds or minute – I tend to follow more of the let is sizzle and build that delicious crust for ~3 minutes on one side, then flip and let sizzle for another ~3 minutes – working off of the assumption the steak is around 1-2” thick.  Only after those ~6 minutes (you should adjust for thickness of steak) do I start the regular flip-every-minute.  I know there are those that are able to test how cooked a steak is simply by touching — I simply have not managed to figure it out yet so I cheat with a cooking thermometer; if you don’t already have one, usually a decent one doesn’t cost too much and they’re useful for all sorts of cooking-related matters.  I usually aim for a steak that’s around 140–150 °F which is about medium-cooked.  If you prefer closer to medium-rare, aim for 130-140 °F and likewise for medium-well, aim for 150–155 °F.  When the thermometer reads around 130 °F, I’ll add some freshly chopped garlic and a pat of butter (usually around 1 tablespoon-worth) and start basting the steak to completion.

Once all that’s done and it’s the right temperature, remove from any source of heat (including the cast iron itself) and let the steak rest for approximately 5 minutes prior to eating. Once rested, bon appétit!

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Pork Chops with Dijon Sauce

Ever get home and just want to whip something easy and (relatively) healthy together in 30 minutes or less? Found this recipe in Wini Moranville’s book, La Bonne Femme, and la préparation est tout simple.

I served the pork chops with a side of brussels sprouts (boiled in water and sautéed with butter/salt/pepper) but most any vegetable would do well as an accompaniment.


pork chops with dijon sauce

Pork Chops with Dijon Sauce (serves 2)

What you’ll need:

  • 2 bone-in pork chops
  • 1/2 tablespoon of butter
  • tablespoon of oil (I used safflower but most oils should be fine)
  • 1 large shallot, sliced
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 1/2 cup of chicken stock
  • salt + pepper for taste

What to do:

  • Approximately 20-30 mins prior to cooking, I take out the pork chops, pat them dry, then salt and pepper them (this time, I actually added a little garlic powder too – but that’s purely optional).
  • Add the oil to the pan and heat it up on medium heat until simmering.seasoned pork chops
  • Add the seasoned pork shops to the pan and let it cook for approximately 8-10 mins per side, flipping only once.
    • NOTE: depending on the thickness of your pork chops, the cooking temperature will vary anywhere from 4-10 mins per side.  A good way to check? When the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145F degrees it’ll be perfectly moist and juicy inside).
  • Take the pork chops off the pan and set aside.
  • Using the oil in the pan (remove excess oil – you only want a sheen of oil), add the sliced shallots and sauté until translucent.  Add the white wine and chicken stock, bringing to a boil until the sauce as reduced a little.
  • Add the pat of butter and dijon mustard to the pan and mix with a silicon whisk – adjust sauce with salt/pepper/dijon/etc for taste.
  • Pour the dijon sauce on top of the pork chops and serve.

Bon Appétit!

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Homemade Pizza, from Scratch

A few weeks ago, my coworker shared with me her pizza secret — Trader Joe’s makes a pizza dough (that comes in regular, whole wheat, AND garlic + herb) that is easy to bake and yields pretty amazing results.  For $1.29, I’d say that’s a steal.  Making pizza, and especially the dough, has always been slightly intimidating but I figured I should give pizza dough-making a try in the wake of a successful baguette-making attempt (more on that in a later post); the fact that I currently have approx. 20lbs of flour at home (thank you, Costco!) also convinced me to try.

I’ve been loving King Arthur Flour’s recipe site and found a simple pizza dough recipe to try.  I ended up halving their recipe and was left with the perfect amount of dough to feed 3-4 people (the equivalent of two half sheet sized thin crust pizza).

While the whole process might seem time consuming and troublesome, I’d say it’s definitely worth trying at least once.  Worse case, if things go wrong, you can always run out to Trader Joe’s with $1.29 (+tax) and salvage dinner 🙂


 

homemade pizza

Homemade Pizza Dough (+ whatever toppings your heart desires) – adapted from KAF

What you’ll need:

  • 2.75-3 cups of all purpose flour
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water
  • 0.5 tablespoon of sugar
  • 0.5 tablespoon of salt
  • 0.5 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 0.5 tablespoon of instant yeast

What to do:

  • Grab a big bowl and add in your water.  Then, add in the sugar, salt, olive oil, and instant yeast.
  • After giving the above solution a good mix until dissolved, slowly add in the flour.  I would start with 2.75 cups of flour and only add more if needed; you want a slightly tacky dough, not a super dryIMG_1893 one.
  • When all the flour is incorporated, lightly flour a flat surface and start kneading the dough by hand until you have a smooth, elastic dough; it took about 7-10 mins for this batch.  You could use a dough hook/stand mixer for but such a small amount (and such little kneading), it’s hardly worth the trouble washing the stand mixer.
  • Oil up a large bowl (you’ll want to ensure there’s room for the dough to rise) and set the dough inside.
  • Cover the bowl with a cloth/saran wrap, and let the dough rise for 1-2 hours (see? it’s a perfect, fast weeknight dinner!)
  • While the dough is rising, I use this time to prep my pizza toppings.
    • Easy Option #1 – caramelized onions, prosciutto, and parmesan (using olive oil as the “sauce”)
    • Easy Option #2 – basil, fresh mozzarella, + an egg (sauce: mix of tomato sauce, balsamic vinaigrette, + pepper)
  • When the time is up, gently remove the dough from the bowl and, with a knife, slice into two balls (each should be a little smaller than a half sheet baking sheet – assuming you make them thin crust).
  • Preheat your oven to 450F/230C.
  • On a lightly floured surface, slowly roll out ball #1 of your dough. You want to roll from the center, outward.  Roll it out, pick it up (carefully), lightly flour surface, and flip it over – repeat 2 to 3 times.
  • I find it’s easiest to get the dough to “stick” to your baking sheet if you lightly oil it up and then spread the pizza dough on it directly.
  • Pile on your toppings/sauce and when your oven has hit 450F/230C, pop it on in.  Bake for 15-18 mins (mine only took 15 mins this time).  You’ll know when the pizza is done; the crust is so thin, it’s really just a matter of the ingredients melding and “baking through”.
  • Bon appétit!
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(Petites) Pommes de Terre au Four

Need a simple side for dinner or an easy-to-make 4th of July BBQ dish? Look no further!


This particular dish was based off of Ina Garten’s Rosemary Roasted Potatoes recipe but lacking rosemary, I had to make due with some thyme that I had at home.  Prep took an entire 10-15 minutes but you’ll have to wait a good 45-60 minutes (the original Ina Garten recipe says 30 minutes but my baby yukon potatoes were still crunchy on the inside so I kept them in for another 15-30 mins).

Roasted Thyme Potatoes (the recipe is easily doubled, or tripled)

You’ll need:

  • 1.5 lbs of baby yukon potatoes
  • 3-4 tbsps of olive oil (and more if needed for basting)
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 1 tsp of pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp of chopped thyme

What to do:

  • Give the baby yukon potatoes a good wash and trim off the ends of the potatoes.
  • Preheat the oven to 425F/215C degrees.
  • Next, taking a (paring) knife and holding the potato length-wise, cut from top to bottom within 1/4 inch of the bottom taking care to space out the slices approx. 1/8 inch apart.
  • Setting the potatoes aside, mix all the other ingredients together in a small bowl.
  • Before setting the potatoes in the baking dish, roll them individually in the small bowl of olive oil/thyme/salt + pepper.   Line the potatoes up so the sliced side is facing upwards – as pictured above.
  • Pop the dish into the oven and set a timer for 30 mins; it took nearly 60 mins for mine to be done but it might’ve just been a glitch in my oven (I think I also had chicken in the oven at the same time for a short period).
  • Remove from oven, and enjoy! (we ate ours with a side of Kensington’s ketchup)

 

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Summertime in NorCal

a cacophony of colors


While living in California often means you can basically get whatever veggies or fruits your heart desires, year-round, there’s still something special about summertime.  In particular, there’s something special about the smell of stone fruits and flowers lingering about at farmers’ markets and the mélange of colors that fill the stalls.

With so many flavors and smells enticing me, I foresee an adventurous summer of cooking before me — I’ll do my best to document it all!

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Tarte aux Pommes

Tarte aux Pommes

While apples might be more associated with Autumn, I couldn’t wait to try out this (relatively) simple tarte aux pommes/apple galette recipe.  I adjusted it a little bit (i.e. the original recipe calls for making a glaze with the apple skins) but it still turns out wonderful – especially if eaten fresh out of the oven.


Ingredients:
  • 1-2 regular sized golden delicious apple (although I suspect most kinds would work) – you’ll want to peel, core, and slice the apples
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • dash of cinnamon (optional)
  • 6 tablespoon of softened butter cut into 1/2 in. chunks (do not microwave <- you don’t want melted butter for good tarte dough)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of melted butter (this’ll be the glaze)
  • 2-3 tablespoon of chilled water (just pop a cup of water into the freezer for 15-20 mins prior to making the dough)
  • approx .1 tablespoon of sugar for drizzling

What to do:

Mix the flour, sugar, and salt together (add dash of cinnamon if you want). Then, using either a pastry blender (or two forks work just as well), cut in the softened butter until you’re left with bits of butter no bigger than a pea and it’s well mixed.  Slowly drizzle in the chilled water (I was 2-3 tablespoons of water bc depending on weather sometimes you don’t need 3 tablespoons of water; adjust as needed).  Kneading the dough until everything is incorporated, pat the dough into a flattened disk (approx. 1 inch thick) and saran wrap/put in fridge for 30-45 mins (minimum) OR, if you’re in a hurry, you can freeze it for 15 mins (I’ve done it both ways and it turns out fine).

Then, while the dough is chilling, core, peel, and slice the apples. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Flour the table/parchment paper.  Roll out the dough until it’s approx. 8-10” (depends on how much dough you have – you want it thin but not overly so).

Spiral the sliced apples making sure to leave a 1.5-2” edge, drizzle a little of the melted butter (and cinnamon if you want). Fold the edges of the dough over the apples and drizzle the rest of the butter on the dough/apples.  Sprinkle sugar on the pastry dough and apples (approx. 1 tablespoons worth – but you can adjust how much you use depending on how sweet you want it to be).

Spiralized Apples
Spiraled Apples – surprisingly difficult to do

Put inside the oven for 45-ish minutes – rotating the tarte every 15 mins.  Should be done when the apples have a slightly caramelized edge/dough is golden-ish brown.

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10 Minute Recipe: Thai Basil Beef (with Rice)

I’ve been on a mission to find simple, delicious one pot wonders and stumbled across a Bon Appetit recipe for Thai Basil Beef.  I finally tried a simplified version of the recipe a few days ago and it was a success; Bon Appetit’s recipe called for a fish/soy sauce + lime juice drizzle which I did away with.

Thai Basil Beef
Thai Basil Beef

Ingredients (to serve 2):

  • 1/2 – 3/4 lbs of ground beef
  • a dollop of olive oil
  • 2 cups of chopped basil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced finely
  • 1 cup of chicken/veggie stock
  • a dollop of chili pepper sauce (personally, I love Yank Sing’s Chili Pepper Sauce)
  •  julienned carrot (approx. 1 cup worth)
  • salt & pepper for seasoning

How do I make it?

  • Note: I served the thai basil beef with rice so before I started cooking the beef, I went ahead and started the rice in the rice cooker.
  • Add the olive oil and diced garlic and set to medium heat.
  • Once the oil is sufficiently hot, add ground beef and start browning the meat.
  • Season the ground beef and then pour in the chicken/veggie stock; let it cook on med/high heat for 5-10 mins.
  • Add the chopped basil and cook until slightly wilted.
  • Add the chili pepper sauce (as much as you want)
  • Cook until all cooked through then serve on top of rice.
  • Garnish the bowl with the julienned carrots, and enjoy!
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