Girl + Fire = Food



Friday, December 30, 2011

Exploring Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Part VII

Read it from the beginning:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

This right here was a funny little group of palms in the backyard of our vacation rental. Notice that one of the trunks is missing a head?

It cracked me up. Headless Palm.

We spent the rest of our Costa Rican vacation living by the philosophy and enjoying the sensational tropical weather. It was raining and cold in Los Angeles while we soaked in this pool under the hot sun. Notice it's a mere hop-skip from the ocean just beyond it.

And avoided what we thought was an angry pig. It was just the docile mascot at Lola's Bar & Restaurant.

That's a fully grown man in the picture next to Lolita, as she's affectionately called. So you can imagine how large she is. And how very unangry she is. She was clearly bored by us.

As lovely as Lola's was (who doesn't love a bar on the beach?) it was clearly a tourist trap. Where outside of Los Angeles clubs do you have to pony up $12 for a drink? Lola's. L'sigh. Thankfully most of the other watering holes we found ourselves in were much more modestly priced. Beers were two bucks and came with a free snack or boquita. At one point I found myself eating tripe, which I usually detest, but for some reason was completely tolerable with Costa Rican beer.

But all good things come to an end. Eventually we had to come back to the States, back to work, back to $12 drinks everywhere. Though not before having one last $2 Imperial and Costa Rican nachos at the only non-fast food restaurant in the San Jose International Airport. At Malinche, you can have authentic Costa Rican food, but I was curious when I spotted nachos on the menu.

They tasted exactly like their American counterparts. Not surprising, I guess. The guacamole squeezed out of a tube was interesting. But the meat was really yummy. And that was my last Costa Rican meal.

A mere 2 hours later I was back on native soil. So far away from our private beach. Memories...

That was my winter vacation. Full of much drink, good food, great times, wonderful people, and a really huge pig. At least I came home with an awesome tan.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Exploring Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Part VI

Recap: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

The next leg of our adventure led us to what would become the absolute highlight of the entire trip: a homemade meal at the home of the Murillo family.

Carlos Murillo is an old friend of ours who had made the trip back to his homeland to act as our welcoming committee and unofficial tour guide. The Costa Rican people are without a doubt the sweetest, most gracious people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Carlos could be their king, he is the most affable, amiable, and friendliest person I've ever known. His family, even more so.

And what was waiting for us after the short ride down the hill from Volcano Brewing Company to his parents' house cannot be overstated: this was the best food we had the entire trip. THE. BEST. FOOD. Period.

Nothing beats a homemade meal, but it is even better still when it's made with love. And there was nothing but love and laughter in the Murillo home.

Love, laughter, and did I mention the delicious food? The aroma wafting from the kitchen was intoxicating the moment we stepped foot on the porch. It had nothing to do with the Shandies we'd just sucked down, either (though probably impacted the quality of these pictures...). We were HUNGRY.

His mom Flor made us piomono, a concoction of plantains, black beans, sugar, bread crumbs, and cheese unlike anything I've ever had (and she's promised me the recipe, which is forthcoming!). Plantains are one of my favorite fruits, which we eat too infrequently here at home (mostly because Puerto Ricans fry them and it's not exactly healthy). But in the span of two days, I'd already had them with every meal. It was like food heaven.

Señora Murillo was kind enough to wrap up the few extras that were leftover so I could enjoy them every day till I came back home.  I may have eaten a dozen or two...

There were also papas rellenas, potatoes stuffed with ground meat and egg. Think baked potato, but with a meaty filling. These aren't the Cuban-style papas rellenas I've been eating all my life, which are rolled in bread crumbs and fried. (Those are also very delicious, as my bill at Porto's Bakery every time I go in will attest to.) Instead these are baked.

You can't eat just one.

And then for dessert, Carlos' sister Joleny made flan a la Tilaran, a layered dish of condensed milk, cookies, pineapple and grapes (recipe also forthcoming!). Served frozen, it was the perfect end to a truly magnificent meal.

I can't wait to make this for my family.

Simple words cannot fully illustrate how grateful we were to the Murillos for hosting us in their home and serving us such an extraordinary lunch. We were welcomed and indulged just like family. And we joked just like family.

Throughout the wonderful feast, Carlos' papi Alvaro entertained us with stories of his days in California, working the port in San Diego. Pipa Gringo, as he's known to the citizens of Tilaran, is a bit of wise cracker. So later, when he told me that the word relajada (which in the Spanish that my parents speak means relaxed) meant I was saying I was a "loose woman," I didn't believe him. He's a jokester!

But Costa Rican slang being a little different than Mexican or Puerto Rican slang, I really had no idea I was calling myself a tramp! Thankfully, I was quickly corrected and learned not to repeat that again among any other Costa Ricans.

Talk about culture shock!

We were having so much fun, we almost forgot there was still a 2 1/2 hour ride to our final destination in Piñilla. So it was with heavy hearts that we left the Murillo clan and drove out to the beach. Where we spent the remainder of our time in-country zip-lining, exploring the local watering holes, or just lounging by the 45-foot pool next to our semi-private beach.

Oh, and trying not to get trampled by a huge pig...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Exploring Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Part V

Recap: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

After leaving the very lovely Lomos del Volcan and the volcano hidden by rain clouds, we piled back in the Fortuner and drove around a really big lake for a very long time. Lake Arenal is huge, but the only way to get to Tilaran was to drive three-quarters of the way around it.

Much to our surprise, as we were hydroplaning our way around the lake, we came upon this sign. And remember, we were on vacation! It demanded we stop to check it out.

What we thought we found was an abandoned hotel. Instead it's a former hotel with its own brewery, undergoing renovations by the same guys who own Witch's Rock Surf Camp in Tamarindo. It had also just opened two days earlier. They say life is about timing. Vacation adventures are just what life is all about. Do the math.

Once inside we were greeted by some very lovely ladies who were tending bar, but encouraged us to explore the grounds. Downstairs we found this beer still.

And then we tasted the beer.

Or, more like their beer concoction.

This is a Shandy: a Witch's Rock pale ale mixed with ginger ale and lemonade. The menu warns you: Watch yourself! It's easy to put these away quickly.

I managed to remember to take a picture before I was too far into this one. Now you know why I stick to scotch and other non-girlie drinks: I've learned sweet drinks are deadly. There is a reason the Shandy comes with a warning. It is delicious, but it's so very easy to forget that it's also an adult beverage.

And it also came with stickers! Because they had just opened, there weren't yet any t-shirts like we wanted. But we did come home with this nifty wench.

No, she's not just any sexy pirate. She's a Costa Rican pirate, dammit! And she'll serve you Shandies all night long if you're not careful.

Where's the food? What food, we were drinking Shandies!

But only two. We had to be careful after all. There was a home-cooked meal waiting for us in Tilaran. And we didn't want to ruin our appetites by drunkenly driving into the lake.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Exploring Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Part IV

Recap: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Day 2 in Costa Rica we woke up to a very rainy day. We began to believe that the stories about a volcano were mere rumors, made up by drunken tourists. The tree frogs we could believe, since we could hear them. But the volcano?

It must exist since it tweeted back at me when I posted this picture via That's proof, people. And this picture? Clearly steam rising from the volcano, covering it in a spooky mist.

Breakfast was delightful. Eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, sausage, toast, more plantains. And gallo pinto! We hadn't seen it on the menu where we ate our first meat-heavy meal, and it wasn't on the restaurant menu the night before. I'd asked our bartender and he assured me it would be available at breakfast. Seems I didn't really do my research before going. Gallo pinto is morning dish.


But then there it was, it all its painted glory, next to my fried egg. It tasted exactly like mine. Seems like I nailed it on my first try. Yay me.

And this is where we first had our taste of Salsa Lizano, which is the brown sauce above, on the egg. It's the Costa Rican equivalent of American ketchup, not in flavor but in ubiquity. This salsa is sweet (sugar is the second ingredient) and tangy, kind of similar to Worcestershire sauce. My father and I are currently trying to figure out the breakdown of spices. I'm convinced there's a good deal of cumin in it.

You can put this on anything, and are so encouraged. It was a tad too sweet for my egg, but I ended up putting it on just about everything else I ate the rest of the trip.

And bringing  home an unopened bottle of it too, of course. What's a vacation without souvenirs?

Exploring Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Part III

(Part 1 and Part 2, if you're playing catch up!)

Post-afternoon nap I woke up as we were entering the grounds of Lomas del Volcan, a very cute resort on the north side of the infamous volcano (and the location of this mural). Side note, if you find yourself traveling to Costa Rica, STAY HERE. It was $100 for a private bungalow and breakfast. The staff is remarkably sweet (as are all Costa Ricans) and the place is absolutely darling. There's also a volcano hiding behind it, for bonus points.

We unpacked and headed to the restaurant/bar. Because what else are you supposed to do when you import a bunch of duty-free American liquor in your luggage? American liquor just doesn't have the same appeal as a bar full of Costa Rican delights! Vacation philosophy.

Here is where we learned of a drink called guaro, commonly referred to by its brand name Cacique. It's made from sugar cane and is absolutely lethal. Served up like a double shot of tequila, replete with lime, it is not for the faint of heart or mere casual imbiber. Clear, smelling like it will kill you, it's reminiscent of grain alcohol. We decided not to indulge in guaro beyond the first sip, lest we burst into flames.

So we drank beer. And then I got sleepy again. My traveling companions were growing weary of my lethargy and insisted I wake up. So I switched to rum and coke, or as our bartender jokingly referred to it, a Costa Rica Libre. And wow, I suddenly had energy.

(For you Pepsi drinkers: I honestly cannot tell the difference, but you won't find Pepsi in Costa Rica. And it doesn't taste like Mexican Coke either, unfortunately. They import the same high fructose corn syrup variety Cokes that we get here.)

But wait, this is a food blog, yes? Dinner was a delicious ceviche with fried plantains:

And dessert was more plantains, but the sweet variety made from over-ripe fruit:

These were lightly charred but soft, unlike the ones served like chips for the ceviche. These were baked, which was something new for me (us Puerto Ricans like to fry them up good). And served with a strawberry sauce, a light cream, and butter. Quite the pretty presentation.

As an illustration of the graciousness of the Costa Rican people, our bartender and waitresses never once asked if we wanted to close out the tab, or made any mention of closing up. We were the only patrons in the bar till the wee hours (maybe? It's hard to remember between the time difference and all the Costa Rica Libres...) and yet they continued to indulge us until it we finally decided it was time to call it a night.

Somehow I woke up without a headache. Or a volcano...

Exploring Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Part II

The continuing saga of our trek through Costa Rica. If you want to catch up, part 1 is here.

Ah, Costa Rica. Sunday afternoon. Rainy, humid, hot, perfect.

We piled into a Toyota Fortuner (kind of like a 4Runner, but its Thai cousin) and headed up to the Arenal Volcano. We passed through little towns like this with a mini mart and a sleeping dog.

There are lots of Brahma cows across the countryside, which have large humps on their backs and also taste delicious. I know this because the first place we stopped to eat had much steak on its menu, so we ate much steak.

Lomo de res with fries (to appease the many American ex-pats?)

Lomo de res with potatoes and chips (typical food?)

And steamed veggies. My trainer would be so proud of me.

This is also where I was introduced to "la cerveza de Costa Rica" and what I would find myself drinking for the remainder of the trip:

That's a Pilsen in the background. My 3 traveling companions preferred it over the slightly more robust Imperial. I'm fine being the odd girl out. Imperial is delicious. (I learned later it's also referred to as águila because of the eagle on the label...kind of like Cazadores is referred to as "reindeer" in dive bars, because of said animal on its label. You learn something new every day.)

For more beer info, this gentleman from Texas gives a very thorough review of your Costa Rican options. Lest you be disappointed, of course we also drank bourbon. You can take the girl out of the country...

And then I fell asleep again and completely missed the ride through La Fortuna. Later on we finally discovered that Costa Rican beer makes me really, really sleepy. Who knew?

I can't tell you where we were when we had this meal, only that it was somewhere southeast of Arenal Volcano National Park. However, this sounds like a mighty good recipe for lomo de res (beef loin). It doesn't specify Brahma beef, but I would strongly recommend it (if you can find it).

Later on that day, we came upon a volcano! We think...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Exploring Costa Rica: Pura Vida! Part I

I love air travel. Yes, it's a huge pain having to go through security, and risking a TSA strip search, and not being able to open your duty-free alcohol right away. Oh, and the screaming babies! But I still love it. Planes fascinate me.

Day 1 of the trip to Costa Rica actually started in a fascinating metal bird, somewhere in the midnight airspace between Los Angeles and Miami. The trip from Miami to Costa Rica is only about 2 hours long, but the transcontinental flight between the left and right American coasts is best done on a red eye. It's so very long, and good for sleeping the night away.

This part of the trip is notable because it perfectly illustrated the philosophy that would define our entire time away: we were on vacation, enjoy it and drink up. The two men with us are huge bourbon fans, which meant we were instant friends. If you've been around the Girl + Fire playground for any length of time, you can educate a guess what whiskey + vacation means.

Waking up in Miami meant breakfast in Miami. And because of the holy vacation philosophy, what we were looking for at 6 am was not just any eatery, but one with a full bar. Miami International Airport knows how to deliver. At that time of the morning, the only restaurant/bar open was the one right next to our gate.

Airport breakfast:

This was brunch on a Sunday morning. Even though my body wanted to believe it was only 3 am, the sun was coming up quickly over the Atlantic. And, I was on vacation. The philosophy cannot be fought against.

There may have also been an egg croissant with bacon, then Cuban coffee to wash it all down with. But I don't remember, since I immediately fell asleep again after eating. And then I woke up in Costa Rica. That was a cool trick.

I love air travel.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Wontons

Have you gotten over your turkey hangover yet? What about the mountains of leftovers? American Thanksgiving being last week, the annual gluttonous tradition usually leads to lots and lots of Meleagris gallopavo but little patience for dried out turkey in the days that follow. How many turkey sandwiches can you really stomach?

My parents always host our Thanksgiving dinner, yet this year they took care of what would have been uneaten leftovers by not having any. 30 people at their house + a 17 pound turkey = a mere 3 cups of shredded turkey when all was said and done. Thankfully, because gratitude is the real point of the holiday, there was plenty of mom's jalapeno cranberry sauce afterwards.

She is, of course, Mexican, after all. And that stuff is good on everything.

I'd seen a segment on the local news that week about what to do with leftovers, and was looking forward to making the turkey and cranberry sauce wontons they featured.

Turns out I didn't follow the directions very well and it took forever to make little purses. It you just leave these as triangles, it probably cuts the time in half. But then you don't have cute little purses! After putting the turkey and gravy through the food processor, my mom and I spent about 20 minutes making 50 of the little packages. Imagine if I was making them alone! (Spoiler alert: I later made 20 of them by myself. It took half an hour...maybe I'm just really slow?)

First you shred the bird into bite-size pieces and add about a cup to the food processor with some gravy (and mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, etc). Depending on how thick your gravy is, you may need more than a half-cup to make a creamy consistency. Then run a bit of water to two sides of a wonton wrapper and add about a teaspoon of the turkey mix to it.

Top with a dab of cranberry sauce,

then fold the wrapper into a triangle.

Pinch the sides closed making sure you let any air out of the pocket. Bring the corners to the top of the triangle and twist.

Now you have little purses! The kind you don't need on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Then you have choices about what to do with the turkey purses: fry, bake, boil or steam. They'll cook up quickest in boiling water, but they'll taste best when deep fried. Baking gives them a nice crust without all the calories from frying.

You can also switch up the ingredients. If the traditional turkey/gravy/cranberry sauce is too boring, eschew the gravy and sauce for harissa and sour cream for a tangy alternative. Or add cilantro and yogurt. Do whatever your tastebuds tell you to do.

Note: 1 cup of the blended concoction yields about 20-30 purses.

Bake for a nice crunch.
Calorie-friendly steam or boiled purses.
Fried deliciousness.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mango Avocado Salsa

More Costa Rican food! The trip is just days away and I'm so very excited!! And so the experimentation with the native cuisine continues.

This right here is mango, avocado, and other edible friends making loveliness in a bowl. But the truth is that I cannot speak to the authenticity of this dish's Costa Rican roots. I was back at my parents' house when I made this and my dad took one look before claiming it was just guacamole. True enough, when I make my super special guacamole, I throw a peach in and call it a day. I'm Mexican, so that's authentic! People think it's crazy, but then they taste it and realize how crazy delicious it is. Trust me on that point.

This is pretty much the same thing but with mango. Although it isn't mushed to bits like the Aztecan offerings from our neighbors to the south. Deconstructed guacamole, anyone?

I came across this by letting Google do all the heavy lifting again. It's merely mango, avocado, tomato, red pepper, and red onion. The recipe didn't specify if the pepper should be a sweet pepper (like bells) or a spicy pepper (like chiles). I wanted a spicy pepper, but couldn't find a red one in my parents' kitchen (that was a first!), so I opted for a shiny red bell pepper instead. People who dislike and/or fear spicy food can go the same route.

I recommend removing the inner membranes and seeds from the tomatoes. Otherwise you'll end up with a soggy mess. And no one wants a soggy guac.

Take it to your next party. It'll disappear in minutes. Trust me on that point, too.

The recipe is here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gallo Pinto

I grew tired of pizza. That's an utter lie, but I'm trying to make myself believe it because my trainer had me cut all those delicious unncessary white flour foods out of my diet. So, now what?

Instead, I'm concentrating on my upcoming jaunt to Costa Rica! I haven't been out of the country in several years, and this trip came up at just the right time. I've been suffering from wanderlust, and now I get to feed it!

And my belly. Because there are plenty of flourless foods that are still delicious (like scotch...and cheese!). But what better way to prep for international delights than to sample the cuisine? I know nothing of Costa Rican food, so I figured I'd try my hand at some simple dishes before leaving, and see how closely I came to approximating them once I get to eat the real thing.

To start, I Googled Costa Rican Food. Immediately you get 80 million hits for something called gallo pinto. Gallo in Spanish (pronounced ga-yo) is a rooster, so you might have assumed this was some combination of chicken and pinto beans. But knowing that pico de gallo in Mexico is a salad of chopped fruits and veggies (not the tomato/onion mixture we know it as here), I imagined there was more than meets the eye here.

Turns out there are neither fowl nor pinto beans in this dish. Pinto means painted, and when this dish of cooked rice and black beans comes together, the rice takes on a little color from the beans (I cheated a bit by using brown rice since I didn't have white rice). A full understanding of the use of the phrase would require a broader understanding of Latin American culture, but Wikipedia gives one explanation.

There are 80 million variations of this dish, based solely on the Google results. This one had cumin and coriander in it, two spices I'm quite familiar with. But also some powdered ginger. That was a new spice combo to me. I love ginger, but have never had it with the other two.

I served this to my family (since I'm technically not supposed to have rice either...). My dad wanted more spice in it, but he can't eat anything without dousing it with some sort of pique (aka, hot sauce). The ladies liked it, though we all admitted that adding green salsa on top really was delicious (dad's bad influence!). My nephew, at the tender age of four, has become quite accustomed to the way Puerto Ricans eat beans (a post for another time), and asked for those beans instead.

I'm sure when I finally get to eat the real thing, it'll be something completely different from what I'm expecting. And that will be awesome.

The Gallo Pinto recipe I followed can be found here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Palak Paneer Pizza

I know it's been a little while, but we were talking pizzas for some time and guess what? We still are!

That ball of dough ended up yielding 4 separate personal pizzas. Four very different pizzas: one veggie-laden with roasted mushroom & cauliflower (the only way I'll eat cauliflower now), another with leftover BBQ chicken and my accidentally delicious harissa caramel sauce, a sweet and savory pizza with maraschino cherries, mango and brie, and now an Indian-inspired spinach and paneer pizza.

If you've read about my previous adventures with the deceivingly difficult-to-master Indian dish, you know the spice ratio is never quite right for my taste buds. This time, since I was making one very small pizza, I didn't quite know what was going to come of it.

Palak paneer is a North Indian curry made of a blend of onions, tomatoes and spinach, a few peppers for heat, spices, cream and topped with fried paneer (an Indian cheese similar in texture to firm tofu). The basic recipe has the vegetables sautéed with the spices, blended to a smooth consistency, and cream is added to temper the heat. The paneer is cubed then fried in ghee, and added as the topping. Sounds pretty easy, right? Don't be fooled!

Up to this point the spice ratio has never tasted right. I can't tell you what the "correct" amount of each is, and there are as many variations as there are people on this planet. I figure I'll keep futzing with it until the day my taste buds agree. And because this was going to top a pizza, I left the vegetables whole. Otherwise it would've become a pizza with a lot of sauce and little texture. Instead of sautéing the tomatoes, I used my fridge staple roasted grape tomatoes. And because I'm a bad Mexican without fresh peppers in the house, I substituted chile flakes (maybe a few too many...). It was an interesting flavor combo on top of a pizza.

But it tasted good. A bit spicy, but what's life without a little spice? The nice thing is that you can add more sour cream on top of the pizza if breathing fire like a dragon isn't on your to-do list today.

print recipe

Palak Paneer Pizza
Indian food on a pizza? Yes!
  • 1 package personal size pizza dough or 2 ounces of a dough ball
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon (more for heat) chile flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup sour cream (more if the heat is too much) 
  • 2 handfuls baby spinach
  • 1/2 cup roasted grape tomatoes
  • 4 ounces paneer cheese or tofu, cubed
1. Follow the directions for resting the pizza dough and preheating the oven.2. While the dough is resting, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the onion until browned. Add the garlic in the last minute to avoid burning.3. Mix in the spices and chile flakes and add the tomatoes and spinach. Cook until the spinach begins to turn a darker color (this happens quickly, don't let it get too wilted). 4. Add the sour cream and remove from heat. Mix so all the ingredients are thoroughly coated (the residual heat in the pan will melt the cream).5. Brush the dough with a bit of olive oil to keep the dough from absorbing too much liquid from the ingredients.Top the dough with the mixture from the pan. 6. Wipe the pan clean and add the remaining olive oil. Fry the cubed cheese until brown. Add to the pizza.7. Put the pizza in the oven and bake until the dough is browned, about 10-15 minutes.
Prep time: 5-20 minutes (depending on dough's resting time)Cook time: 15-20 minutesTotal time: 20-40 minutesYield: 1 personal size pizza

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fighting Like a Girl: Ghirardelli & Vino at District Wine

On Sunday, my very dear friend Oakley Boren hosted a very lovely wine and chocolate party at the very sexy Long Beach wine bar, District Wine. It was very fun. And quite delicious.

Sponsored by Ghirardelli Chocolate, the Intense Dark Pairing was in support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For every code entered at their website, Ghirardelli will donate $1 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

So we ate chocolate and drank wine to fight boobie cancer! We were also joined by a breast cancer survivor Melissa Keyes, who shared her story with us. Cancer didn't run in her family, she found it during a routine breast exam. It was a sobering reminder: ladies, check your boobies!!

Host Oakley, owners Mark & Angela, and cancer-kicker Melissa
There were three different chocolates:
  • 60% Evening Dream paired with the Frogmore Creek Iced Riesling from Tasmania
  • 72% Twilight Delight paired with the Taft Street Zinfandel from the Russian River Valley
  • 86% Midnight Reverie paired with the Layer Cake Malbec from Argentina

All of it intense. All of it marvelous. Mark and Angela know their vino and my favorite wines. I'm a big fan of both Zinfandels and Malbecs, but this time my taste buds favored the Riesling. I tend to stay away from sweet wines, but those Tasmanians and their devils put out a nice white.

We had choices of food bits, like dried apricots (great with the Riesling), parmesan and water crackers (made to eat especially with the Malbec), and marshmallows like I've never tasted (that went with EVERYTHING). Turns out they're called Plush Puffs and available at Fresh & Easy. Add these to your shopping list!

As a finishing touch we indulged in a the Toffee Interlude Dark Chocolate with caramelized almonds, with which we had the choice between an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout or the Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port from Portugal. I opted for the wine (I'm not one for dark, bitter beer). A nice end to a delightful afternoon.

I was also lucky enough to win a raffle prize of a tasting kit and three large bars of various Intense Dark chocolates. Expect to see future chocolate-flavored posts. Mmm, chocolate. And if you'd like to win your own tasting treasure trove, check out this post on Oakley's blog. You have till Saturday to enter to win!

As a side note, on Sundays District Wine also has a bottomless mimosa special for a mere $9. There is also cool abstract art on the walls, and yummy appetizers on the menu. Like pineapple and gorgonzola flatbread with balsamic vinegar. Or prosciutto bon bons. Fellow chocolate and wine lover Tina Cruz claims they're better than sex. I only wish I'd ordered them!

Know what's also better than sex? Not having cancer. So don't forget to do those monthly exams!!

Thanks to Oakley, District Wine and Ghirardelli for a relaxed afternoon. We should all spend more Sundays like this.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maraschino Cherry & Mango Brie Pizza

And we're still talking personal pizzas!

But this one won't be found on any typical pizzeria. It's a G+F kitchen specialty. A very personal specialty.

Again, I was working with what I had in the fridge. I'd cut up a mango for breakfast, so I still had some fingers. I love me some mangoes. And there was brie (a gift from the hotel I had stayed at during a recent eventit's like they did their homework!). I had discovered that this particular brie (a double cream variety) paired exceptionally well with my go-to Belgian white, Blue Moon. No orange necessary. But that's a story for another time.

(There may have been beer consumed with this meal. I can neither confirm nor deny that fact.)

Back to the ingredient list, food from the refrigerator: mango cubed, spinach, the gifted brie, Rachel's maraschino cherries, and caramelized onions. It basically was 5 of my favorite ingredients on flat bread. There was no way this could go badly.

It was delicious. The sweetness from the fruit and onions coupled with the richness of the brie married so nicely with the crispy spinach. And the cherries tended to burst in my mouth, like an explosion of happiness. Mmmm.

I will admit there were huge chunks of cheese on this pizza. I love cheese! I used nearly the entire 5 ounce wheel. You could probably scale back if you're not a rabid cheese-oholic.

print recipe

Maraschino Cherry & Mango Brie Pizza
A delicious combination of fruits, veggies and cheese on flatbread.
  • 1 package personal size pizza dough or 2 ounces of a dough ball
  • 1 wheel double cream brie
  • 1/4 cup mango, cubed
  • 1/4 cup maraschino cherries
  • 1/4 cup caramelized onions
  • A few spinach leaves
  • Olive oil for brushing on dough
  • Cornmeal or flour for sprinkling
1. Follow the directions for resting the pizza dough and preheating the oven.2. Spread the dough out to the desired thickness. Sprinkle flour or cornmeal on a baking sheet and place the dough on top.3. Brush the dough with olive oil to keep the dough from absorbing too much liquid from the ingredients.4. Cut the wheel in half and make thin slices. Use as much of the wheel as you feel is necessary.5. Top with remaining ingredients. 6. Put the pizza in the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbly and the dough is browned, about 10-15 minutes.7. Remove from the oven, pour a beer, and eat. Suggested pairing: a Belgian white like Blue Moon.
Prep time: 5-20 minutes (depending on dough's resting time) Cook time: 10-15 minutes Total time: 15-35 minutesYield: 1 personal size pizza

Thursday, September 15, 2011

BBQ Chicken Harissa Caramel Pizza

This pizza was a true concoction of simply what was in the fridge. It was just after our Labor Day barbecue and I had leftover chicken. And there was that delicious harissa caramel sauce. Mmm.

Once I learned Dorothy's trick for caramelized onions, they became a kitchen staple. Same with the roasted tomatoes (this bruschetta is a base for many meals in this house these days). So, of course, they were in the fridge and given an invitation to the pizza party. Because caramel and caramelized veggies just meld so damn well.

This experiment was good just by itself, with a little oregano sprinkled on top. And then I squeezed some lemon on it and WOW. I had invented my new favorite pizza.

It was a little sweet, sour, tangy, and all around perfect. With oozy cheese. Mmmm, oozy cheese!

I was making petite pies, enough for just one, but use more dough and a bit more of all the ingredients, and you can have a big ol' pizza pie.

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BBQ Chicken Harissa Caramel Pizza
A delightful blend of yumminess.
  • 1 package personal size pizza dough or 2 ounces of a dough ball
  • 1/2 cup shredded barbecued chicken
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup caramel harissa sauce 
  • 1/4 cup caramelized onions
  • 1/4 cup roasted grape tomatoes, marinated in balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Olive oil for brushing on dough
  • Cornmeal or flour for sprinkling
1. Follow the directions for resting the pizza dough and preheating the oven.2. Spread the dough out to the desired thickness. Sprinkle flour or cornmeal on a baking sheet and place the dough on top.3. Brush the dough with olive oil to keep the dough from getting soggy from the ingredients, then sprinkle with about half the cheese.4. In a small bowl mix the harissa caramel with the shredded chicken and spread over the cheese. Add the tomatoes and onions. Cover with the remaining cheese.5. Put the pizza in the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbly and the dough is browned, about 10-15 minutes.6. Remove from oven, sprinkle with oregano and the lemon juice. Cut and eat.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 personal size pizza

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Roasted Mushroom and Cauliflower Pizza

I spent a week making pizza almost every night because a ball of dough makes a lot of personal pizzas. I took the opportunity to experiment with a bunch of different toppings based on whatever was in the kitchen. It was fun.

This particular pie was inspired by Pamela of My Man's Belly. She had posted a pizza recipe using roasted mushrooms. I'd never thought about roasting mushrooms, but the idea intrigued me. I was out of shallots so I couldn't make her exact recipe, but I did have roasted cauliflower which, if you've been reading for any amount of time you know, is the only way I'll eat it.

I know that roasted cauliflower on a pizza sounds odd. But add in some shredded mozzarella, spinach sauteed with garlic, a little adobo seasoning, and 10 minutes later there was a pizza waiting to be devoured.

I used crimini mushrooms, but just about any mushrooms should work. Pamela used a mix. Do whatever you like!

So simple, yet so delicious. Thanks to Pamela for her inspiration. Turns out that roasted mushrooms are really good in lots of dishes!

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Roasted Mushroom & Cauliflower Pizza
Roasted veggies on a pizza pie.
  • 1 package personal size pizza dough or 2 ounces of a dough ball
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup roasted cauliflower florets
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups spinach, packed
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon Adobo seasoning (or regular salt & pepper)
  • Cornmeal or flour for sprinkling
1. Follow the directions for resting the pizza dough.2. While the dough is resting, heat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the mushrooms and cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and seasoning. Line a baking sheet with foil and spread the mushrooms and cauliflower out evenly. Roast for 20 minutes. Mushrooms will turn a deep brown and the florets will look burntdon't worry, they're supposed to! (If using a pizza stone, put it on the lowest rack while the vegetables are roasting.)3. While the vegetables are roasting, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the minced garlic but don't let it burn, about 1 minute. Add the spinach and sauté for a few minutes, until it wilts slightly. Remove from heat.4. Remove the pizza stone (if using). Check the instructions on the pizza dough and adjust the temperature accordingly.5. Spread the dough out to the desired thickness. Sprinkle flour or cornmeal on a baking sheet or the pizza stone (if using) and place the dough on top.6. Sprinkle half the cheese all over the dough. Add the vegetables, then the remaining cheese.7. Put the pizza in the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbly and the dough is browned, about 10-15 minutes.8. Remove from oven, slice, and eat.
Prep time: 20 minutesCook time:  10-15 minutesTotal time: 30-35 minutesYield: 1 personal size pizza

Friday, August 26, 2011

Harissa Caramel Sauce

The other day, I tried making pralines. It was a spectacular failure.

But I was left with a caramel sauce that was looking for a home. I had just attempted to make paneer, and though it crumbled more like cottage cheese than the solid store-bought variety, it was still edible. The idea for very simple paneer came from an episode of Aarti Party, where she made it look so easy. (I've since learned the secret to solid cheese was letting it drain for longer.)

In that episode she fried the cheese and then made a spicy sauce to serve it with. I figured I could adapt a spicy honey recipe for this, and it was the exact opposite of a failure. It was, simply, spectacular.

The spicy honey recipe came from this Moroccan recipe for eggplant, which I'm sure is delightful. But the caramel was super sweet, so to balance it out, this needed more of the spicy pepper, more spicy ginger, more spices period! Also, I've taken to cooking with coconut oil instead of olive oil.

So in increasing the ginger and harissa, adding coriander, using caramel instead of honey, and sautéing it all in coconut oil, we have a sauce I have fallen in love with. It makes a wonderful barbecue sauce, a glaze for paneer or...anything. Let me know what you end up putting it on!

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Caramel Harissa Sauce
Adapted from Girl Cooks World.

*For caramel sauce, see this recipe.
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 tablespoons  harissa
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup caramel sauce*
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
1. Melt the coconut oil in a pan over medium heat and add the garlic. 2. Sauté for about a minute (don't let it brown) and then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine.3. Cook until the sauce is thick and syrupy, about 3-5 minutes.

Yield: About 1/2 cup

Monday, August 22, 2011

Pralines Fail Becomes A Caramel Sauce

That right there looks like a cookie, right? Well it's not. It's overcooked sugar with pistachios in it.

It's what should have been pralines with pistachios in it. It is, in a word, failure.

I'd never made pralines, obviously. I have no idea why I decided to try them, or even look for a recipe online. But it turns out what I found, despite seeming very simple and straightforward, left out a very important step.

It's the step that turns syrup-like caramel into a more solid, praline-like existence that keeps its shape. The important step? Stirring. You have to stir the syrup until it loses its gloss then very quickly drop spoonfuls of it.

I didn't know that, and ended up with a mess of caramel-covered pistachios all over my parchment-lined baking sheets, trying to figure out why it was so syrupy. So I kept on cooking the last bit of caramel that was still in the pot, taking it up to hard ball stage (250° F) and it turned this nice dark brown. When I dropped it on the baking sheets, it firmed up immediately.

That's when I found another recipe, then a video, and realized the all-important stirring step. Too irritated to try again, I simply scooped up all the caramel and tried to find something else to make with it.

For once, I was able to improve upon failure and create something wonderful. But that's a story for another day.

Stay tuned.

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Caramel Sauce
Adapted from a Simply Recipes recipe for pralines. There will be bubbles and maybe some splatters while making this. Wear long sleeves!
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1. Mix together the sugars and baking soda in a 3-quart saucepan. Stir in heavy cream. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture reaches 235°F on a candy thermometer. (This is about 1°F over the soft ball stage.) 2. Add the butter stir until it is fully melted and immediately remove from heat. (Burned caramel is useless. Don't burn the caramel!)
Yield: approximately 2 cups

Friday, August 12, 2011

Marinated Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

This kitchen experiment was inspired by an appetizer I had at my birthday dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe earlier this year. They're turning all of 40 this year, did you know? I turned not-40 and was blown away by their bruschetta.

The secret to their dish is that they marinate the tomatoes in balsamic vinegar. Delicious, sour balsamic vinegar. Mmmm.

Ever since learning to turn tomatoes into raisins, I've been wanting to see how that would work in bruschetta. Balsamic-soaked, roasted grape tomatoes are perfect on their own. Throw them in salads, sandwiches, eat them by the handful. But marry them with cilantro and shallots, then add them to grilled bread? Hot. Damn.

Growing up here in not-Italy, I was under the impression that bruschetta is the toppings on the toasty bread. Turns out that's not true. The word bruschetta is derived from the Italian word that means to roast over coals. So those bottles labeled bruschetta are both lying to you and cheating you out of a really great fresh toasted and roasted dish. Don't buy them. Make this instead.

First you roast tomatoes, then marinate them in balsamic vinegar and a bit of olive oil overnight. Or, if you're like me and dare to forget they're in the fridge, let them sit for a week! Hell, just store them in the balsamic after cooking. You can reduce the marinade later and use it as a glaze or salad dressing.

Once you've waited long enough for the tomatoes soak up their tasty sourness, chop up a shallot and some cilantro. Mix them all in the the marinade. Then toast some sliced crusty bread and rub it with garlic. Top with a good Parmesan or an Italian truffle cheese. Enjoy your sexy dish.

Then stuff it in your pie hole.

The instructions below will give you enough for 1 person (about 5-6 slices). Scale as necessary.

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Marinated Roasted Tomato Bruschetta
  • 1 large French dinner roll (or any crusty bread)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup roasted grape tomatoes, soaked in balsamic marinade
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Italian truffle cheese
1. Roast grape tomatoes according to directions. Cover in balsamic vinegar and a dash of olive oil. Marinate overnight (or longer).2. Cut bread into 3/4-inch slices on the bias. Brush with olive oil and bake oil side up at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool then rub with a cut clove of garlic (or a whole head cut in half--it covers more surface area).2a. You could also simply toast the bread under the broiler, in the toaster, or on the grill.3. Add shallot and cilantro to the tomato marinade and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste (if you find it necessary, this is optional).4. Spoon the mixture onto each bread slice and top with a bit of grated cheese.
Try not to devour it all at once. You don't want to choke.

Yield: 5-6 slices