Monday, March 28, 2011

Roasted Shrimp With Feta & A Greek Salad

Do you ever get so sick of the same old go-to recipes you make? I was feeling that way last week. I was in search of a new meal that would excite my taste buds and the person I was cooking for. I wanted something easy, fun, casual, interactive, pretty to look at, rustic and of course delicious. With all that in mind I skimmed all of my cookbooks with hope that I would come across something that had a couple of those characteristics. I found the exact kind of dish I was looking for in Ina Garten's cookbook "How Easy Is That"? Ina's recipes never seem to disappoint me!
What I love about this dish is you can assemble it early in the day and throw it in the oven before dinner. It has a Greek combination of tomatoes, garlic, oregano, wine and feta. It sounds like strong ingredients but they do not over the power the dish and rather enhance the flavor of the shrimp. I used peeled shrimp but left the tails on to give it a more rustic look. This is the perfect meal if you want to entertain a group of 4 people. Not only does it look beautiful but it tastes ridiculously good and it is so easy! At the Adams Avenue Farmers Market I found a vendor who had mini loaves of parbaked ciabatta bread. They were 90% cooked so all I had to do was throw them in a 400 degrees oven for 10 minutes, and serve them hot. They are the perfect edible utensil to soak up all the delicious sauce with.

I also wanted something green to go with the main course. I decided to make a Greek Salad which consisted of arugula lettuce, hothouse cucumber, red bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, grape tomatoes, red onion, kalamata olives, and marinated white beans from Wholefoods Market. I left the feta cheese out of the salad because the shrimp dish has plenty of feta, but if you make this salad by itself add feta. It is so great and this salad dressing might be my new favorite!
Greek Salad Dressing

1/4 cup good red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt & 1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil
Whisk together the first 5 ingredients and slowly poor in the olive oil whisking constantly to create an emulsion.
Toss the salad with dressing and set aside for 15 minutes to soak up the flavors.
Roasted Shrimp With Feta
4 tablespoons good olive oil, divided
1 1/2 cups medium-diced fennel
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon Pernod (I left this out)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 (16-20 per pound) peeled shrimp with tails on
5 ounces good feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (I didn't use all of the bread crumb mixture)
3 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 lemons

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a 10-12 inch heavy oven-proof skillet over medium-low heat. Add the fennel and saute for 8-10 minutes, until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes with liquid, tomato paste, oregano, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes.Arrange the shrimp, tails up, in one layer over the tomato mixture in the skillet. Scatter the feta evenly over the shrimp. In a small owl, combine the bread crumbs, parsley, and lemon zest with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle over the shrimp.Bake for 15 minutes, until the shrimp are cooked and the bread crumbs are golden brown. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the shrimp. Serve hot with the remaining lemon cut into wedges. How beautiful is this meal? Using a spoon just scoop some on your plate and I promise it will blow you and your guests away.Enjoy!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Some Secrets Should Be Kept A Secret

Saturday morning I was checking my email and in my in box I noticed a new email, the subject line read the letters: “BLT”. I’m not talking about Bacon Lettuce Tomato, but I am talking about the underground secret supper club called Black Label Table.

I have been trying to get a reservation with them for a couple months now and was so excited to be notified that there was a cancellation of 4 people for this Saturday night March 19th dinner! They could take me and my +3 and I could not wait to experience what I anticipated to be just about the coolest concept to hit San Diego. With a name like Black Label Table I was expecting a high ranked and a high end meal. I simply could not wait.

Black Label Table was created by Adrian Huth, Jim Lee and Evan Rumble. A group of friends who love food, wine, community, and creative expression decided to mix their culinary visions and talents together and offer an alternative dining experience that allows for culinary freedom and a chance to share a meal with other like minded people.

They launched in November of 2010. They announce the dates of the monthly

dinners on the BLT Facebook page. The first 20 guests who RSVP and make a $25.00 “donation” will get a seat at the dinner.

Pretty alluring right! Well it lured me right in and my fabulous +3!!

The concept unfolded as follows: I learned of the location via email, was told to call the hostess once we arrived and to wait for someone to come get us. I loved the whole mystery of not knowing where and with whom we were going to dine.

We showed up and were escorted in by one of the chefs Adrian. I must say the urban loft location downtown was pretty insane. We brought 2 bottles of wine to have with dinner and we gave them to Adrian. He admired our choices in wine and said they would be served with the main course. We were served Champagne and Mardi Gras beads were placed around our necks. I knew then that the cuisine was going to be Southern! Praise the lord! I love southern food. Could this night get any better? If only they took our coats from us? Oh well. We just found a spot on the vintage orange couch and piled them up. We listened to the beautiful voice of a

live instrumental guitarist and noticed a band setting up. We were told live jazz music for our listening pleasure while we dined. Good music and good food.

We were all on top of the world!

Then we noticed the cats. Yes cats. One of my friends is allergic to cats and the sneezing started in. We were all over stimulated with everything that was happening around us, a psychedelic light show on the ceiling, vintage art work and furniture, live music, photography, chefs, the bead girl in a tight dress, and random couples who seemed to know each other…there was no way we were going to let a couple of cats ruin our evening.

Before dinner, we were entertained with a few songs by the amazing voice of Krista Richards accompanied by Dave Kemp on the keyboard & drums. Her voice

blew me away! Loved her.

We sat down somewhere around 7:00 and 7:30. We started with Oysters 2 ways. One was broiled with hot sauce butter and the other was raw with Meyer lemon. They were good. The sauce that the cooked oyster was in was fabulous. I drank it right out of the shell. We were served some ginger Champagne cocktail which hit the spot.

Between courses we were served white wine, some gin drink with an orange peel in

it, and Abita beer. Yeah you can say we were having good time. How could we not

triple fisting it? Not sure where the beer, wine and drink pairings were falling into place with the meal. It was put in front of me without explanation and the waiter didn’t know what some of the mixed drinks were. It would have been nice for the chefs to explain the meals and the drinks they paired them with during each course. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

It also would have been nice to have some bread with maybe a Cajun butter & water between meals but that was not taken into consideration. About an hour later we were served Gumbo with shrimp, andouille sausage and craw fish. Now the soup was warm which was good but when I think of Gumbo I think of a rich, thick, flavorful soup. This soup was not made with any thickening agent and was more a thin broth. I would have been fine with a broth version of gumbo but there was no flavor. Luckily one of my friends had some kosher salt that came off her plate from where the oysters were served. She threw it in her bowl to add some flavor. I found myself really wanting to like the soup and trying to convince my friends and myself it was good but then eyeing below my

friend’s dish for more salt. The shrimp was flavorful though.

At this point we were hungry and ready for the main dish which was Steak Diane with roasted kale, & maitake mushrooms. Waiting for our 1 of our 2 bottles of red wine to be served to us we noticed that the chefs and wait staff (if you want to call it a wait staff?) were enjoying some red wine. Interesting? The music was a jammin, guests were a laughin and a drinkin, and we were a starvin with a strong buzz that was a killin fast as we were watching Chef Evan break dance. What the hell was going on here?

Finally we got some red wine served to us (not what we brought though) and by

this time it must have been 9:30. Watching Chef Evan plate our food with his

hands after his crab crawl / head spin was an unsettling sight. Then the Steak Diane arrived. One of my friend said a loud “Seriously” after her plate was put in front of her. I looked and thought it was a joke. Is this an amuse-bouche or some kind surprise appetizer between meals? To my disappointment it was the main dish. It was the smallest portion ever served on planet earth. I am all about small bites but they need to have big flavors. I ate the whole cold meal in 2 bites and it was nothing to die for. I like the roasted kale. Two of my friends opted to pass on it and were ready to walk out at this point but I convinced them to stay and promised I would buy them all carne asada burritos right after dessert. Dessert came out pretty fast after the main course which is the strangest thing to me because usually you want to have some time to relax before dessert. Thankfully it came quick because we were all over it at this point and it was 10:00. We each got the same dessert but there was no consistency to how it was plated or the portions. In fact the Portions and consistency were way off all night. When the server put the dessert down in front of me he said, “I don’t know what this is”. My friend said to him “it's bananas foster”. I mean really? The servers should be educated on what is being served to the guests. It was supposed to be bananas foster, rum, vanilla bean gelato but isn’t gelato cold? The bananas were not ripe, sour, and grainy and the gelato was melted. We each took one bite, grabbed our coats and headed straight to El Zarape Taco Shop where we all got burritos and nachos. Best meal of the evening.

As I thought through it, this concept could be an amazing one if it was executed right. So many things were done wrong and honestly I could go on and on. It didn’t help that one of my friends is an event planner, one is in marketing and development, and the other is an amazing cook and foodie. We all know what customer service and good food is. Getting us wasted is not enough for me with a name like Black Label Table. This was supposed to be a “high ranked and high end” culinary experience but the food seemed to be the least important thing on the menu. I am keeping in mind this dinner was created out of a non-commercial kitchen and not too much space for washing dishes, prepping, cooking, and plating but that is really no excuse for a lack of tasty food.

In the end my friends and I had a great time together and laughed at the disappointments but it was not a culinary black label event for me and my lovely +3. We never did taste the red wine we brought. I supposed the staff drank it.

Oh, there was one authentic thing about the “Nawlins Theme Black Label Table

Dinner”. The Abita Beer from New Orleans, Louisiana….and it was amazing!

One of my friends said it right. “It was almost like they were celebrating success before they succeeded”. He hit it spot on.

Thank you to my fabulous +3. You inspire me everyday.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

An Non-Traditional Irish Surprise

When I think of Saint Patrick’s Day I think of 2 things.

One: Wearing the color green to avoid being pinched.

Two: Corned Beef and Cabbage…hallelujah!

Last week in my Catering and Management class I learned that my teacher was Irish as he jokingly said, "class might be canceled next week due to it being Saint Patrick’s Day". No word of that happening yet so this Saint Patrick’s Day I plan to be in class and not at the local Irish Pub. (sad face)

I stayed after class that day to speak to him and ask him if he knew of any classic Irish traditional meals that I can blog about for Saint Patrick’s Day. That is when the alarming discovery happened. The “authentic” Irish dinner of corned beef and cabbage is not Irish! How could this be? Ever since I was a kid my mom & grandparents boiled the peppery corned beef & cabbage with potatoes and served it with whole grain mustard. I was hearing it from an Irish man himself and after some research discovered it’s TRUE!

When Irish immigrants, fleeing the great potato famines, arrived in the Northeast they couldn't find, or afford, the traditional cuts of meat used for their beloved braised dinners. Corned beef and cabbage is an American meal. The original Irish recipe actually used a type of lean bacon, made with a cut of pork similar to Canadian bacon.

Corned beef came into the picture as a lower-cost substitution, to replace the more expensive and harder to find cut of pork. Why corned beef? New York’s early immigrant populations lived in very crowded neighborhoods, and there was a close proximity between the Irish and the Jewish communities. As history has taught us, when you put two ethnic groups living close to each other culinary traditions are borrowed. That is what happened. Corned Beef is basically a brisket flavored with peppercorns…and being Jewish know that us Jew’s looooooove a good brisket. No wonder I was brought up on this “Irish” dish.

Finding out this huge Irish Surprise I thought it was fitting to share this recipe with you! If this isn't an Irish Surprise I don't know what is. It comes from Arena Blake from The Nerds Wife.

Irish Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce


This bread pudding is light & moist with sugary cinnamon topping. It is topped with a caramel whiskey sauce to add a bit of heaviness to it.

Check out the raisins and the crispy top! I bet its even great without the caramel sauce.

To see the full recipe click here.

Enjoy and Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Japan On My Mind

My St. Patrick’s Day post is going to have to wait because right now other matters seem much more important to me. It might seem strange to write about world affairs on a food blog but I can’t help and think about the tragedy that has happened in Japan. Today I feel lucky that all my friends and family are safe and healthy but I can’t help and think about so many in Japan who are not as fortunate today. I have watched tons of footage of the earthquake and tsunami and my eyes see it but it just does not seem real. Being so far away and removed from it all its easy for us to go on with our day to day lives and not think about the suffering that is happening in Japan from this natural catastrophic event.

So I am asking you to open your eyes and hearts. A little will go a long way. Here a tons of organizations that you can donate too. Choose the one that is best suited for you and donate today. Don’t forget the Animal Rescue’s too (towards the bottom). There are animal rescue groups and groups where animals help to rescue people. Our furry friends need our help too so don’t forget them.

Thank you.

The American Red Cross. Using your cell phone, you can text-message donations of $10 to the agency. Text the letters REDCROSS to 90999 to make the $10 donation, or visit the organization’s website.

The International Medical Corps is putting together relief teams, as well as supplies. You can donate here. Or, you can text MED to 80888 to donate $10 to emergency relief efforts.

Save the Children is accepting donations for its Children’s Emergency Fund. You can text “JAPAN” or “TSUNAMI” to 20222 to donate $10

GlobalGiving, based in Washington, D.C., is providing relief and emergency services to victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Text JAPAN to 50555 to donate $10.

The Salvation Army, which has had a presence in Japan since 1895. You can text JAPAN or QUAKE to 8088 to make a $10 donation to the Salvation Army’s relief efforts.

Mercy Corps is accepting donations to help survivors of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami through our longstanding partner, Peace Winds Japan.”

You can text “MERCY” to 25383 to donate $10.

World Vision, with a staff of 75 in Japan, is a Christian humanitarian organization focused on easing the emotional and psychological stress that children face during disasters. You can text “4JAPAN” or “4TSUNAMI” to 20222 to donate $10.

Doctors Without Boarders, an international group, already has teams working in Japan. To donate, call 1-888-392-0392

Habitat for Humanity call 1-800-HABITAT

The U.S Fund For UNICEF is raising funds to help children in Japan. Donations accepted a website, or by calling 1-800-367-5437

AmeriCares has dispatched a disaster relief expert to the region to assess the health care needs and is prepared to send medicines, medical supplies and humanitarian aid as necessary. Donations: 203-658-9500

International Rescue Committee, based in New York; phone donations to: 1-877-733-8433

Baptist World Alliance/Baptist World Aid. To donate by phone, call 703-790-8980

Catholic Relief Services. To donate by phone, call 1-80-736-3467

Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, based in San Dimas, CA., “has activated is Disaster Coordination Center in Tokyo…Right now, Tzu Chi offices in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan sustained minor damages,” but the two offices are open as service centers. To donate by phone, call 1-888-989-8244

Animal Rescue

The International Fund for Animal Welfare 1-800-932-4329

World Vets (veterinarians) offers veterinary aid around the world in collaboration with animal advocacy groups, veterinarians abroad, other governments and military organizations. The organization has a Japan Disaster Relief web page where you can donate.

The U.S based National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which normally recruits rescue dogs and partners them with firefighters and other first-responders, has sent search teams to Japan. Call 1-888-459-4376 to donate or visit the group’s website.

The Japan Cat Network, which has started in 1993, is dedicated to helping Japan’s stray and abandoned cat population. It is also one of three groups that are part of Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support, which includes Heart-Tokushima and Animal Friends Niigata. You can find the Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support group on Facebook.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Curried Spaghetti-Squash-and-Chickpea Toasts

While searching for recipes for my Vegan Challenge (which is now over...thank god!) I found this recipe in Food & Wine Magazine. It is so versatile. You can serve it is as an appetizer on toasts and give a whole new meaning to Bruschetta. Your guests will not be disappointed with the curry flavors bursting from this colorful appetizer. Or you can serve this very filling vegetarian dish as a meal, minus the toast, and you have a healthy low carb high protein meal.
Spaghetti squash gets its name because once cooked you can use a fork to pull the flesh into long strands just like Spaghetti. It most definitely my new favorite thing to make.
Curried Spaghetti-Squash-and-Chickpea Toasts
1 small spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds), halved & seeded
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt & fresh ground pepper
1 yellow onion chopped
1 carrot finely chopped
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
one 15 ounce can chickpea's, drained
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
grilled peasant bread and toasted pumpkin seeds for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the halved spaghetti squash cut side up on a baking sheet and brush it with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, Season with salt and pepper. Roast the squash for about 45 minutes, until the flesh is tender and lightly browned in spots. Let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the chopped onion and carrot and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until they are just softened, about 5 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, crushed red pepper, grated orange zest and curry powder, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the drained chickpeas and the water and simmer until the vegetables are very tender and the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Using a fork, rake the squash into strands. You should have about 2 1/2 cups of squash. add the chopped cilantro and squash to the curry and season with salt. Serve the curried squash over the grilled peasant bread, garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds.Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Not Sure If Its Love?

I went to Loving Hut tonight on El Cajon Blvd. with a friend of mine and I cant say that I loved it. It is an all vegan restaurant. I think the concept is great! Be Veg, Go Green, Save The Planet.
The food was just okay to me. Since I have only been a vegan for two days I am not sure if I want to jump in and try the soy chicken or the soy ham. I had soy cheese this week and I wanted to throw up! I would rather have no cheese at all then soy cheese. Cheese is something I can eat as a meal with a baguette and wash down with a bottle of wine. I can’t eat faux cheese. It’s just not happening. With that said I am not sure I am enjoying the whole faux meat thing either. Baby steps people! I can do tofu, legumes (beans), veggies, and whole grains. That’s all great. Soy shrimp…I’ll pass thank you.

What I did LOVE is that every item on the menu had a picture with it. You can check out the full menu here. It really helped when ordering and everything looked so good on the menu. I think it took us 20 minutes to decide what to order partly because it all looked great and partly because we didn’t want to make the wrong choice.

We started with the Loving Hut Special Rolls which was Vermicelli, mint, soy paste dip with salted bean curd and pineapple sauce with peanuts. This was pretty good although I have had better spring rolls before. I think I even make a pretty good spring roll myself. Although I did seem to finish them off without any problem.

We also had a small house salad which was huge and came with a ton of lettuce. It would have been nice if it was half the amount of lettuce and more vegetables. It was okay, lots left over and not good enough to take home.

The Lemongrass Soy Chicken was recommended to me and looked like real chicken in the picture but I played it safe and went with the Lemongrass Tofu. Fried tofu, fresh lemongrass, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro and mix seasoning aside brown rice with sesame seeds. I didn’t love the texture of the tofu. I have had friend tofu before but this was really hard on the outside. I think it was deep fried not pan fried? The flavors were minimal and nothing spectacular. Again I seemed to finish it but not sure if that had anything to do with:

  1. I am vegan for the week and pretty hungry by the time dinner rolls around or B. If I enjoyed it? I think I am leaning towards A.

My friend ordered the Cherish Green Bean with carrots with a light ginger sauce and brown rice. This was pretty good. The green beans were fresh and crispy.

I think I would give this place another try. Maybe I didn’t order the right thing and maybe there is some incredible dish I missed. Or maybe this whole vegan thing is pretty foreign to me and my palate is being tormented with something new? Who knows? It wasn’t awful but wasn’t my new favorite that’s for sure. My friend did mention that when she doesn't want to eat a lot for dinner she will go to Loving Hut. Thinking she said that because she didn't really enjoy the food therefore she won't eat much? Not such a good thing.

One thing we noticed as we were leaving. Every single person in the restaurant, young and old, was as skinny as can be. Hummm… that’s one reason to go back right?

Loving Hut

1905 El Cajon Blvd. San Diego, CA. 92104