Crispy Gnocchi al Pesto

I love Italy with every ounce of my being. If I cannot be cocooned in its boundless warmth soon, I’m certain my heart will burst. Of course, when you voluntarily leave your career to switch directions, working as an unpaid intern and low-paid writer – whilst living off savings, it’s slightly more difficult to jet set in a fashion to which I am accustomed. Spoiled brat sob story aside, I find it nearly impossible to pick a favorite region of Italy: all are different, but yet so similar, warm, and so…Italian. Rome exudes passion. Tuscany envelops you in il bel far niente (the beauty of doing nothing). The magnificence of northern lake country, with the perfectly mirrored Julian Alps spanning from lake to sky, confirms the existence of God. Venice sighs palpable heaviness shrouded in achingly beautiful, neglectful melancholy, while simultaneously igniting resound perseverance. The Italian coast combines Rome’s passion, Tuscany’s il bel far niente and the Julian Alps’ tremendous beauty with nostalgic childhood glee and blue seas for splashing.

I arrived on my première Italian holiday via train from southern France. My general destination was Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera.  Cinque Terre – whose name means ‘five earths,’ is the epitome of Italian simplicity. Set against a backdrop of sea melding with earth in perfect harmony, the panorama is a seamless procession of blue sea to purple, pink and yellow houses, to green mountainside dotted with lemon groves, ending with a mirrored blue-hued sky. The day I pulled into the Riomaggiore train station was the day that I fell in love. How could I not? I’d finally witnessed a tangible sensation of the word ‘majestic’ and I never want to let it go.

On the train, I met a boy (oh stop with your dirty mind…he was like my little brother and this is a PG love story). We got on well and decided to bum around together for a while – hey, it’s cheaper and more entertaining. Then we met a two-guy-one-girl trio, canceled our respective sleeping arrangements and set off with recently acquired flagons of wine in search of a communal house. (I repeat, this is a PG story but do stay tuned for the Rome segment…). The wine, purchased at the train station, was some of the best I had tasted in my staggering 21 years of vino-sity experience. God, I love Italy. We found a little white house nearly hidden by latticed purple flowers. Two stories, one bathroom with a shower over the toilet and three beds. We were home. We handed our money over, threw our backpacks down on whatever shut-eye vessel crossed our respective path first, changed into slightly less trainified clothes and ventured on towards the night. Our journey – one meandering through tunneled cobble streets sandwiched between the Mediterranean on the horizon and lemon-studded, terraced cliff sides – led us to an unassuming seaside café. We acquired a couple new friends on the walk and all sat down to a table that ALREADY HAD DECANTERS OF WINE ON IT. I repeat, I love Italy. You can’t help but love a place that serves wine like it’s bread…alongside fresh bread and pressed olive oil. If you can, you kick puppies.

In addition to a small selection of delicious antipasti, there were two main options. Americanos likely just rolled their eyes at the lack of selection, but simplicity is the pervasive theme in Italian cooking. It’s always quality versus quantity here.

I was utterly ill-prepared for my first meal in Italy. I had ordered gnocchi al pesto. As many potato variations as this half-limey girl has eaten over the years, I’d never had the pleasure of an introduction to gnocchi. Sacrilege, this is. When the waiter flourished bowls and bowls filled with what I would soon refer to as ‘Heaven’, I sat, staring at my food – ravenously – but with unexpected, involuntary restraint.  It was simply too beautiful to devour without appreciation. It’s a unique restraint achievable only before a truly glorious meal. Something clicked. Food is meant to satisfy your heart and soul, not be a utilitarian endeavor. It should bring you health, gratitude, satiation and joy. 21 years spent as a picky eater and Italy changed me in one hour – I finally got ‘it.’ Eventually, wine-induced hunger wins out, you fervently thank the food gods – and maybe God too – for the morsels that will soon grace your mouth. Then you dig the heck in. I put one piece on a fork, lifted it to my mouth and ate my first gnocchi dotted with pesto.

My heart will never be the same. The gnocchi was perfectly light, fluffy and airy with enough substance and chew to make it as satisfying of oxytocin. To this day, the pesto that I had in Cinque Terre cannot be beat. It’s not possible to make better pesto – don’t bother trying. Ligurian pesto is the Dyson of pesto. I’m convinced they ground up leprechauns to make their pesto so brilliantly green. To be cliché – it makes the Emerald City look shabby. That meal marked a dramatic turning point in my culinary experience. Specifically, it was the impetus for the culinary passion that would eventually launch this blog. It was the meal that made me want to be a chef, and more importantly, made me realize that maintaining ingredients’ intergrity is paramount.

Fast forward ten years and I appear to have culitvated a habit of cooking Italian foods to alleviate some of the heartache I feel from being stuck on this side of the pond (my fourth and most recent visit was in 2009). I have been making Bolognese and pomodoro and zucchini blossoms and this crispy gnocchi like crazy for months now. I’m not entirely sure what made me throw the gnocchi into the frying pan one night. I remember having vague recollection of seeing a crispy version of a regional gnocchi in Cooking with Italian Grandmothers; but really, I prefer the textural contrast of crispy gnocchi with a soft, pillowy inside. Plus, the cast-iron was sitting there all lonely and idle. This non-Paleo sanctioned dish of glory comes together in about five minutes and there are boundless variations you can make. Five minutes assumes that you are using previously made gnocchi that have been frozen – you can use a trusted store bought version (when I don’t have homemade gnocchi in the freezer, I use fresh, store made sweet potato gnocchi from Whole Foods). You can throw in whatever veggies, herbs or protein that you have on hand or leave them out completely. I have made crispy gnocchi in a Tikka Masala sauce before – further proving its versatility.

Versatility aside, my absolute favorite way to prepare this gnocchi is with pesto (Central Market’s pesto is my fave). Usually, I throw in peas and zucchini and basil and toss with shaved pecorino. The following recipe is a vegetarian, green, crispy gnocchi dish that will please everyone.

Crispy Gnocchi al Pesto

Serves 4

Crispy Gnocchi

One package of favorite Gnocchi (suggested Sweet Potato Gnocchi)

One-half cup favorite pesto (suggested Central Market basil pesto), plus more if desired

Two Cups frozen or fresh peas, optional

One Large zucchini, quarter into quarter-inch sections

One-third cup shaved or grated Pecorino Romano

Eight to 10 basil leaves, julienned

One tablespoon olive oil

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Heat salted water, bringing to a boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, sear the zucchini in a bit of olive oil over a medium high heat (salting lightly) for about three minutes. Once water boils, prepare gnocchi according to instructions – generally this will take no longer than two minutes and the gnocchi will float to the top of the pot. You will also add your frozen peas to the boiling water with the gnocchi. Strain the gnocchi and peas and add to the zucchini pan. Sear the gnocchi until crispy on both sides, taking care not to let it sit too long or it will begin to break. Stir in pesto and turn off the heat. Top with Pecornio Romano and basil and cracked black pepper to taste. Buon Appetito!

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Laab

Some people claim, “I do not care for Asian food.” That’s plain absurd. When I hear that asinine statement, I find eye-rolling to be the best evasive tactic for knocking sense into the commenter with a wok. Simply put: if you don’t like Asian food, I don’t like you (and I think you might kick babies for fun). Asian food hits the mark on nearly every check list: flavorful, cheap, filling, comfort, exotic, depth and complexity of flavors, healthful, vegetable filled, quick cooking, and so on and so on. Most importantly – nearly every ingredient in most Asian dishes (minus meat and noodles/rice) is a CANCER FIGHTER. Good food that fights all the bad shit carcinogens that we cannot help but stuff our faces with in the West? In!

Rant over, for now. Laab is a dish that fulfils all the aforementioned criteria of why Asian food is awesome. Laab is a Loatian dish (Thailand has a version as well) that is nothing short of a damn miracle on a plate. Traditionally, it is made with some animal variety (bawk, quack, oink) – minced or ground – cooked with traditional Asian ingredients. I’m partial to making a huge batch and using it in different applications or freezing it (because I have leftovers so often). I like to make lettuce wraps with lots of crunchy veg on top and serve it with a generous variety of toppings and sauces. You can use whatever meat you desire: pork is most flavorful but least healthful (pork actually has very little nutritional quality), chicken or turkey will be most waist-and-other-diet friendly. I believe I used ground turkey and ground chicken thighs and I did not hear any complaints. The beauty of this meal is that you can indulge and feel damn healthy doing it.

I typically add yellow squash and zucchini to up the nutrition factor. The combo you are trying to achieve is a salty-sweet-spicy-acidic combo that perfectly blends each element yielding a balanced bite that offers depth of flavor. Use your palate and add more sugar if you added too much fish sauce, take down the heat with less jalapeños (I personally prefer to use very little jalapeños in lieu of Sriracha) or give it some extra acidity.

Laab

Serves 4-8

Larb

Two pounds ground pork, chicken or turkey (or a combo or these)

Three Garlic Cloves, finely minced

Two shallots, finely minced

One Yellow Squash, halved and sliced

One Zucchini Squash, halved and sliced 

One Jalapeño, seeded and minced (reserve one quarter unminced for garnish)

Two tablespoons Fish Sauce 

One tablespoon Hoison Sauce 

Good pinch of brown sugar

Juice of one lime (lemon can work as well)

Decent squirt of Sriracha 

One tablespoon vegetable oil (hot chili, sesame and grapeseed oil also work)

Half-cup chopped cilantro

Half-cup chopped mint

Half-cup chopped basil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

One head of lettuce (Boston, Romaine or Butter are my favorite), separated into leave

Garnish 

Veg: Paper thin Radishes, Julienned Carrots and Julienned Cucumbers

Herbs: Mint, Basil, Cilantro

Sauce: Hoison, Soy, Sriracha 

Chopped Peanuts

Crispy Shallots 

Lime Wedges 

Jalapeños sliced very thin

In a bowl, mix the ground meat, garlic, shallots and minced jalapeño. In another bowl, combine a lime juice, fish sauce, hoison sauce, brown sugar and Sriracha and mix well. Heat the oil to medium heat in a large skillet and add squash (if using), lightly salting them. Let them cook about three minutes and remove from skillet. If more oil is needed, add and let heat. Once hot, add the meat mixture and brown over a high heat – stirring to break the mass up. Cook about five minutes or until there is no longer any pink remaining in the meat. Turn heat off, and add the the liquid mixture, the squash and zucchini and herbs to the pan. Mix well then let it all soak in for a few minutes – adjust any seasoning as you wish (and add salt and pepper).  Let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer the meat to a bowl; stir in the herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Prepare the garnish platter of lime wedges, hoison, Sriracha, soy sauce, sliced radishes, julienned carrots and cucumbers, fresh mint, basil, and cilantro, crispy shallots, Jalapeños and peanuts. Serve with lettuce as a build your own lettuce wrap.

Man Mussels

Man Mussels

I’ve never been particularly ‘girlie.’ Try as I might to emulate Audrey Hepburn’s elegance, chromosomes had other plans for me. I am not dainty. Nor am I graceful (on the contrary, I’m normally a bull in a china shop).  Sure, I can dress the part as occasion demands, but I am not delicate. I prefer yoga pants to A-Line skirts. I’m so far from subtle that I should probably  reacquaint myself with the definition of the word. Point – yes I have one – is that I do not generally adhere to traditional gender roles because I have a tomboy nature. I have always believed women can do everything that a man does better  just as well.  Given my propensity to not conform to anticipated gender traits, it was slightly shocking to realize that I have a juxtaposed habit of being gender-ly judgmental about food. Something about this dish made me aware of my cognitive stereotyping and categorization of certain foods and dishes according to whether I, quite arbitrarily, deem them masculine or feminine. I was a bit horrified by this realization until I found an ally  in none other than Fabio Viviani who mentioned something about his cookbook incorporating “dainty lady food.” (I would attribute this article, but apparently EaterAustin wants it to be top secret and I cannot find it).

Here is the thing: No matter how many females dominate kitchens or grills around the world, the criss-crossed thought waves that emanate from this brain render grilling as a man’s duty. His skill. His forte. Does that mean that women can’t do it? Hell no! Women can rock a grill as good as any man. Heck, Top Chef mainstreamed women rocking a grill alongside men and beating them! But grilling, to me, has a masculine connotation and is a “masculine” duty. I cook my steaks in a cast iron on a gas stove. Like New Yorkers with their stoves, I have used a grill for storage space before. Kebabs are a manly dish to me (possibly because it is just grilled meat and possibly because – if you have a dirty mind – you can make the argument that they are somewhat phallic). I have an engrained – entirely stereotypical – belief that bacon is ‘manly.’ Maybe, this is because men go ape-shit over bacon. Maybe, it’s because I was not a huge bacon eater growing up and, thus, did not associate it with femininity  – or maybe I jusst have classic ‘Daddy didn’t eat enough bacon issues.’ I will save the analysis for my therapist, suffice it to say bacon is manly. Similarly, I have some weird signal in my brain that goes off when ‘smoke’ is introduced into a dish. Smokey equals manly. Lady dishes are tea sandwiches, clear broths and veluote’s, salads (except taco salads), ceviches and all manner of desserts.  For your sake, I am going to assume that you get the point…

I coined this dish  ‘Man Mussels’ because they are robust and quite the opposite of the delicate white wine garlic-based mussels that are ubiquitous (for good reason). Even when swimming in a flavorful broth, mussels have always come across as delicate and feminine to me. Generally, the liquid is light, crisp and bright and invokes visions of springtime ladies lunching. Doesn’t help that mussels are served alongside dainty little forks. When I conceptualized this dish, I actually intended to make two preparations of the mussels. I wanted the [feminine] preparation incorporating white wine, butter, shallot and other deliciousness. I also wanted to try something new. I had been on a tomato binge recently and wanted to create a tomato-based, robust, smokey, savory and fully satisfying mussel stew (to complement the insanely cold May in Texas). Only the latter preparation happened. The result: “man mussels.”  I threw in all manner of pantry (cannellini beans) and fridge items that either needed to be used (roasted carrots) or added nutrition (kale and spinach) and ate my two pounds of pure man mussels as a stew with homemade French bread for two days…(it would have lasted for three, but I couldn’t stop eating it). Don’t be scared by the number of ingredients – this is incredibly simple to make. You can have your fish monger clean the mussels for you, or you can do it yourself using these instructions. whatever you do – do not eat mussels that have not opened during steaming/cooking and be sure to use the mussels within 24 hours of purchase (preferably within 2-3 hours).

Man Mussels

Serves 4-8 depending on serving size

mussels

Two pounds very fresh mussels, rinsed and debearded

Three cups dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc

One can Muir Glen Crushed Chipotle Tomatoes

One Tablespoon Turmeric

One Teaspoon Thyme

Red Chili Flakes to taste

One Can Cannellini Beans

Three tablespoons Butter

Two Cups Chicken Stock (homemade preferably)

Three slices of thick-cut, applewood smoked bacon, diced

Two large shallots, sliced thinly

Four cloves garlic, minced

Six carrots, previously roasted (optional)

One pint cherry tomatoes

One cup kale (optional)

One cup spinach (optional)

Squeeze of lemon juice

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Fresh Herbs, such as basil or cilantro, to finish (optional)

In a large sauté pan or dutch oven, heat a couple good glugs of olive oil and one tablespoon butter over a medium heat. Add bacon and crisp the chunks, remove from pan to bowl reserving drippings. Add the garlic, thyme, and shallots and sauté until glassy – about five to eight minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil to reduce slightly, then – after a couple minutes – add chicken broth, crushed tomatoes and cherry tomatoes bring to a simmer. Add the turmeric, red chili flakes, remaining butter, salt and pepper to taste and the reserved bacon. Let all that hang out in the pan for a few minutes and then get all glorious, then add beans, carrots, greens and spritz with some lemon. Then turn the heat to medium and add the mussels. They will cook quickly, opening in about two minutes give or take a minute. DISCARD any mussels that do not open – unless you feel like getting sick because that is what unopened mussels can do to you. Remove from heat and serve with fresh herbs and hot, fresh bread.

Meat Sauce

Taste buds are a funny thing. To say that I was a picky eater during my formative years is a colossal understatement. I subsisted mainly on cereal and PB&H sandwiches (honey girl all the way – to this day I do not touch jelly). Additional food groups, consumed during my youth were: meat and potatoes (English dad), tamales and popcorn (Venezuelan mom) and massive quantities of pasta (swimmer). As an early-college student I lived off of pretty pasta, cereal, PB&H, Totino’s pizza rolls, Taco Bell (a fact which is possibly one of the greatest regrets of my life to date) and Chick-fil-a. The list of foods that I would not eat was as long as the Monday after the Superbowl until my mid-twenties. On that list: any tomato-based sauce.

I never ate tomato sauce. EVER. I ordered pizza sans sauce. I pitched fits, reusing to eat anything that I even thought included tomato sauce (this lead to many full-blown tantrums over lasagna that I refused to eat even out of politeness at friends of my parents). In all fairness, my tomato sauce aversion was not irrational picky-ness. When I was 11, I got the flu after spaghetti night and threw up red sauce for three days (all over white carpet much to my mother’s dismay). From that day forth,  the sight of tomato sauce sickened me. Until the past year. I started small, eating my pizza with a light layer of tomato sauce, dipping my Rocket Pockets in Meaty Porcini Marinara and eating copious amounts of tomato soup. But recently, I have been on a full blown tomato-based sauce kick. I have experimented with Pomodoro sauce, but my biggest craving (and it is a damn strong one) has been for meat sauce. So strong this craving has been that I made meat sauce four times in five weeks (and hoarded every batch). This intense craving is [thankfully] not pregnancy craving-related, so I have only by taste buds to blame – however bewildered that makes me (and anyone who has known me longer than a year or two).

I have altered the versions a couple times and each one has been sensational. I personally like my veg to be a little less processed because I like to bite into a carrot every now and then, but feel free to process the heck out of the veggies to make the sauce more silken. I added miso paste to two batches to up the umami factor with very tasty results. Between the umami-packed miso and the Parmesan cheese rind, which lends a unique depth of flavor that cannot be emulated, the meat sauce has that awesome “Je ne sais quoi” quality that coaxes you to have bite after bite. Whether that is a good or bad thing is up to you (I do know that I have put on some pounds that are directly correlated to my increased sausage intake). Feel free to include miso and rinds if you have them on hand, but the meat sauce will be just as spectacular in their absence. Brief side note, you can now buy Parmesan cheese rinds at HEB.

In an effort to cut calories and ingest something of nutritional value, I typically eat my meat sauce with spaghetti squash versus pasta. Feel free to use fresh or dried pasta, squash, polenta or baked potatoes as your meat sauce vessel. I actually ate meat sauce soup on a least 10 different occasions. Don’t judge – I  love my meat.

 Meat Sauce 

Serves 4-6 (or one if you are me)

meat sauce

One medium yellow onion

One and one-half large carrots, peeled and cut into one-inch pieces

One celery stalk, cut into one-inch pieces

Ten garlic cloves

One 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes

One pint Cherry Tomatoes, divided

One-Fourth cup Olive Oil

Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper To taste

Crushed Red Pepper, to taste

One-Half Cup Flat Leaf Parsley

Two Tablespoons Fresh Oregano

One pound hot Italian Pork Sausage (bulk or removed from casings)

One pound ground beef

One tablespoon tomato paste (plus a squeeze or two more)

One scant tablespoon Miso Paste (mellow) Optional

One Parmesan Rind (optional)

Two cups water (or beef stock)

One spaghetti squash, halved, seasoned and roasted

Ten Basil Leaves, Julienned

Three-fourths cup Pecorino Romano

In a large food processor, pulse onion, garlic, celery, carrot, oregano, and parsley and pulse until finely ground.  Transfer to a small bowl and reserve. Using the food processor, puree the tomatoes (juices included) until smooth. Heat oil in a large dutch oven (or other heavy pot) and add sausage and cook until browned (about four minutes). Add beef seasoned with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning (latter being optional) and brown until no longer pink. Transfer meat to a plate using a slotted spoon and reserve. Add reserved veggie mix to the pan, season with salt, and cook for about eight minutes (stir often). Combine tomato paste with one cup of water (or stock) in a small bowl and add to the pan, scraping the bottom bits. Reduce heat and simmer until liquid is nearly evaporated. Add tomato puree, crushed red pepper, half of the cherry tomatoes, one [additional] cup water – or stock – and the browned meat to the pan and bring to a boil. Upon achieving a boil, immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Add more water as necessary to ensure that the meat remains nearly submerged the entire cooking time.

Once the meat sauce has simmered for two to three hours, add the cheese rind and miso paste if using. Check for salt and pepper content and adjust as necessary throughout the cooking process. Simmer for an additional two to three hours and remove from heat. Roast remaining cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper whilst the squash is roasting. Serve with roasted spaghetti squash (or other meat sauce vessel of choosing), topped with Pecorino Romano and Basil.

Stacked Caprese

I am a person who is generally at a loss for anything failing to fit neatly into my interpretation of “common sense.” The irony abounds considering I have only slightly more common sense than Paris Hilton the majority of the time. Caprese salad, while wonderful, has always put me at a loss for two reasons. First, I feel like stacking the ingredients versus laying them out in a row on a beautiful, yet flat, plate complicates the eating process and degrades the integrity and flavor of the ingredients. In order to get all the delicious ingredients on your fork, you are required to push your food around and it is just more work and it destroys the “eye appeal” of the dish. This problem is accentuated by the American style of eating – us English eaters just mush everything onto the back of our forks anyway. Second, the addition of a couple julienned basil strips does not a salad make. Salad, under andiland guidelines, is defined by some combination of vegetables being present on the plate. Tomato is a fruit; mozzarella is cheese; basil is an herb. The combination is not a “salad” (likewise, I do not believe that cut fruit mixed together in a large bowl is fruit “salad” – it is fruit people) and the dish does not belong in the “salad” section of a menu.

To address these offenses, I introduce a “common sense” approach to a classic appetizer – the Stacked Caprese.  I am not saying a stacked version does not exist (I just have never seen it so fail to believe that it does, in fact, exist).

An extra twist on this classic is roasted tomatoes. As much as I love raw summer tomatoes, there is something about roasting them that my renders my palette extra juicy. I also used burrata which is a delectably creamy mozzarella-esque buffalo cheese (the center is in fact cream filled). Here is a bit more on burrata’s qualities (warining: you will most certainly drool, so try to read in solitude or with another cheese lover who can empathize). Between the creamy cheese, which is rendered even more slightly melty (yes that is a word in andiland) and gooey when layered between the hot tomatoes, and the small nuggets of roasted garlic, your mouth will scream “take me to pleasure town.”

Stacked Caprese APPETIZER (aka not salad)

Serves 4

caprese

  • Two On-the-Vine Summer Tomatoes
  • One to two garlic cloves finely mined
  • Burrata cheese
  • Fresh Basil, julienned
  • Moudlen finishing salt
  • Fresh Ground Black Pepper
  • Good quality Olive Oil
  • Good Quality Balsamic Vinegar (sub pre-made Balsamic Syrup if you have it on hand)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the tomatoes into semi-thick rounds (a half to a whole centimeter), seed, and lay flat on a foiled baking dish. Drizzle with minced garlic and olive oil and season well with kosher salt and pepper. Roast until slightly caramelized (and nicely roasted), about 30 minutes and remove. Give the tomatoes a slight sprinkle of the finishing salt (taste first to ensure the salt content will not be too high). Slice the cheese thinly (less than a half centimeter) and reserve. Gently begin stacking the roasted tomato, cheese, tomato, cheese, then tomato. I love fresh basil so I add a ton, but adjust to your preferences and add the julienned basil to the plate (both atop the stack and around the plate). Grind the pepper over the plate. Lastly, add a drop or two of the balsamic vinegar (or syrup) to the plate. You add it directly to the stack (or even each layer), or dot over the plate and stack. Decide according to your preference for vinegar, but the acid is crucial to the dish.

Balsamic Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes

Balsamic Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes

My idea of a perfect snack is a big bowl of steamed green beans. I really love green beans. My favorite way to eat them is actually the most boring: steamed and absolutely naked save a squeeze of lemon juice. Strange coming from a flavor freak/chili belly like me. I blame my true-to-form Gemini personality! This side dish (or snack) is incredibly simple, irresistibly tasty, and EASY. The key to maxing out the flavor and, thus, satisfaction is to buy fresh veggies, preferably from your local farmer’s market, and use the best oil and vinegar you can get your hands on. It sounds cliché, but the best food really does come from the best ingredients.

Balsamic Green Beans with Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 2-4

One pint of Cherry Tomatoes, rinsed and dried
Half pound of green beans, rinsed and trimmed
About a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Two tablespoons dried basil
Good olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 350. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and spread the tomatoes out on it. Drizzle the tomatoes with about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil, sprinkle with a large pinch of salt, the basil, and pepper to taste. Bake tomatoes for 15-20 minutes, until just bursting.

Whilst the tomatoes are hanging out in the oven, steam your green beans. This should be done about 10 minutes prior to removing the tomatoes. Steam for about three to five minutes until bright green and tender (I like mine to have some crunch so I go easy on the steaming). Whilst the beans are steaming, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl with fresh water and ice and one tablespoon of salt. Upon removing the beans from the pan, plunge into the ice bath to arrest the cooking process and preserve the color of the beans.

Combine tomatoes and beans in a serving dish. Season with salt and pepper to taste (should not need much salt). Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and the oil. Stir to coat well.

Somen with Ginger Scallion Sauce

This past Saturday I had made plans to go to my friend Susanna’s for dinner. This small feeding experience quickly turned into a 10 person dinner party. This expansion was a) totally predictable and b) fervently welcomed (I heart my friends)! Most of you undoubtedly know that it IS HATCH GREEN CHILE SEASON (!!!!!!) and I have been getting requests, and cravings,  for hatch green chile mac and cheese and hatch green chili pulled pork.  Susanna and I planned, in the wee hours of the morning, to make that for dinner. So when I woke up at two in the afternoon, at which time I  grouchily reprimanded her for keeping me up chatting until the wee hours of the morning, I was forced to ask what the backup plan for dinner was because pulled pork was not happening until three am the next day (at the earliest).  Luckily,  Susanna had a request for Larb (or Laab depending on your region) from Big Jimmy, so the plan was to do an Asian menu: Larb as the appetizer; veggie stir fry, Somen noodles, and marinated flank steak. As the day wore on I added General Tso’s chicken to that list due to the insatiably strong resistance of a craving I could not keep at bay. The menu changed again when J and K Bear, fresh off the plane from Alaska, brought over 20 pounds of fresh salmon. I have to say this was the best menu addition! The salmon was fresh and delicious and complimented the meal perfectly. The flank steak was abandoned in the fridge to be enjoyed later in the week.

The main reason I was excited about Asian, apart from it’s generally being awesome sauce, was because I got to re-browse through Momofuku. It is a Greek tragedy, but Momofuku has been accumulating dust since I have run out of cookbook browse time (well free time is one issue, the reading of the Hunger Games, 50 Shades, and Millennium Trilogies really sucked up most of my cookbook browse time). Travesty, I know. The book inspired me to make the somen as a separate dish from either the stir fry or protein. Somen with Ginger Scallion Sauce. The result, though adapted to utilize available ingredients, was delicious and easy peasy. As the book states, the sauce can top anything from noodles to meats and can be used for a few days. If serving with noodles, remember to serve with side accoutrement of sriracha, somen dipping sauce or soy, and hoison as the sauce is not liquid heavy – and because those ingredients are just plan tasty.

Note: you can use homemade crispy shallots or the store-bought brand Lars Crispy Onions. Additionally, you need to use a neutral oil – such as grapeseed – so that the other flavors are not overpowered. I did not have grapeseed and used peanut and olive oil. It’s  fine, just expect the oil to carry the more predominant flavors of the oil than with grapeseed oil.

Somen with Ginger Scallion Sauce

Serves 8-10

Somen, three bunches
Dried shallots
Light soy sauce
Hoison
Sriracha
Ginger Scallion Sauce

Ginger Scallion Sauce
Adapted very slightly from Momofuku

Two bunches green onions, thinly sliced
Large knob of fresh ginger (finely minced it should be about a half cup)
One and one half teaspoon light soy sauce
Three Fourths Teaspoon Sherry Vinegar ( I used a half teaspoon Sherry Wine and a fourth teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Three fourths teaspoon salt, adjusted to taste
One fourth cupgrapeseed oil (I used half peanut, half olive)

Boil water for noodles as instructed. The noodles should take a maximum of three minutes to cook, so make sure to cook them after you have prepared the sauce.

In a medium bowl, combine the green onions, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, and oil and mix well. Add salt slowly and taste before adding more. Adjust flavors according to taste (for example I used a bit more ginger and added some soy sauce). Reserve and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes so that the flavors can hang out and get all awesome. When the noodles have been cooked, top them with the sauce and LIGHTLY Drizzle Soy sauce around the sides of the serving bowl and mix together well. Top with the crispy onions and serve with soy (or favorite noodle base), sriracha, and hoison so that everyone can customize their noodle bowl!

Southerwestern Salmon Salad

Due to the constant and unbearable heat, I have found myself craving green beans, salads, and cold fish. These cravings should, in theory, be a waistline blessing, yet I seem to be missing the benefits. Sigh. Moving on. On the bright side, this salad was delightful, healthy, fast, and fresh and I am tempted to make this a bi-weekly star in my summer food rotation.

Note: After briefly wrestling with the idea of making cilantro-jalapeno vinaigrette, I decided I just did not have the kitchen fortitude. It only takes a few minutes to make vinaigrette, but it had just been one of those days. I think that something along those lines would be fantastic with this salad. Instead, I used Girard’s Light Champagne Dressing, in my opinion is likely the best dressing ever bottled en masse. Use whatever you like or have on hand to make the meal more satisfactory and simple. Also, use the seasoning of your choice on your salmon; a simple salt and pepper season is fine. I used salt, pepper, a touch of adobo, red pepper flakes and lemon juice.

Summer Salmon Salad

Serves 1-2

One three to four ounce fillet of Salmon or Char, seasoned as desired
One cup Arugula
One and one half cup Spinach
Half cup Black-bean Corn Salsa (I left out the bell pepper)

One small tomato, seeded and diced
Five tablespoons jicama, diced
Freshly torn cilantro, to taste (I added a good handful)
One half avocado, diced
Dressing of choice

Sear the salmon to desired doneness in hot oil of choice (or bake it if you prefer). In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well to incorporate all elements. Once the salmon is cooked, place gently onto the greens and drizzle with lemon juice and/or dressing.