Real

 

I’ve been down. The more I look at food/cooking blogs out there, melting and sizzling media accounts, minute-videos of how to make the “best dishes ever”, the more I realize I can’t keep up. The fakeness is real! I’ve been self-duped by a bunch of images, videos and endless stories that made me almost believe that I ,too, can make perfectly perfect looking real food.

Sadly, I tried. Luckily, I realize that I’m just too real to be fake.

I’m disappointed. I don’t have as many Instagram followers as I thought I could have. It may be because I fucking suck at pictures, creative #hashtags, catchy post phrases, and who knows what else. I’m an Instalooser and I know it! But I love to cook, and I make good stuff. I’ve been doing it for a long time and for the right reasons.

I have 17 precious blog followers. Seventeen!!! Two of them are my kids. The rest are…not sure who they are because I still can’t figure out how to see who subscribed to this stupidly complicated WordPress blog. Maybe because I’m not tech savvy. Maybe because I don’t do ‘give aways’. Maybe because I can’t write, spell or know how to SEO. But I keep doing it so my kids–and whoever else thinks it’s worth it–can look back at some of these life moments and feel inspired to cook, eat, and share.

In the abstract—which is to say, if I had all the time in the world and I didn’t need to attend to all but those parts of human life I chose to handle myself– the walnuts would be perfectly aligned in the salad, my apron+hair+nails would be impeccable, and my posts would be shining with sparkles.

Unfortunately, I do not live in the abstract, but rather here in reality, where I am sorry to report that a perfectly fake portrait is kind of a pain in the ass to keep up. It requires a special set of behaviors, camera lenses, routines and energies. I cook. My kitchen is messy, my aprons constantly dirty, and my nails…what nails?

Don’t get me wrong here: A well ‘seasoned’ presence is great, and there are so many inspiring food/cooking blogs, vlogs, instas, and stories out there. But I do realize it takes time, money and a pinch of bullshit to make it work–all three I don’t have!

I’ve been down but I’m proud– proud of my cooking, my pictures and writing. I own them all. The successes and the failures. I cook. I share. I document it. It’s sort of my own legacy. It’s messy and unpopular, but it’s REAL!

Roasted Kabocha and kale salad

This salad is like fall in a plate. Hearty roasted Kabocha, sweet pomegranate seeds, and slightly wilted kale all combine for a filling salad.

But before we dive into this fall recipe, meet my favorite winter squash: The Kabocha. This super versatile squash is perfect for roasting, stuffing, and souping (not sure that’s a real verb.) It looks like pumpkin’s green stocky cousin but it doesn’t taste like pumpkin at all. It has an unique flavor and more of a sweet potato texture. If you haven’t taste it yet, give it a try!  You most likely to find it at Asian markets and it’ll be cheap–especially during fall and winter. Definitely ‘dealicious’! 

Oh, can we briefly discuss this sweet+tangy+warm dressing?!! So simple and so good. And you want it warm because it helps make the kale slightly softer, giving it the right texture for those of us turned off by the coarse greens. Top it all with some fresh-grated Pecorino to add a creamy spin to the salad and there you have it. Fall perfection!

Roasted Kabocha and Kale Salad

  • Serves: 4
  • Category:

Ingredients

  • 1 medium unpeeled kabocha squash (about 3-4 lb.), cut into 1/2-in.-thick wedges
  • 4 tablespoons fresh pomegranate seeds
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 bunch green curly kale
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Grated Pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut Kabocha in half. Remove seeds. Cut into 1-inch vertical slices. See pic for reference.
  2. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on a baking sheet. Place Kabocha slices, drizzle 2 tablespoon olive oil over it, sprinkle salt and pepper (aprox. 1/4 teaspoon of each). Toss it gently with hands to coat. Cover with foil. Bake at 375°F for 10 minutes. Remove foil; bake 15 more minutes or until pumpkin is tender and browned, turning once.
  3. While the Kabocha roasts, thoroughly rinse the kale in cold water, soaking if necessary to remove grit. Tear the kale into chunks. Give it a good spin or shake to remove excess water and place it in a large salad bowl. Reserve.
  4. Remove Kabocha from the oven. Let it cool off slightly. Peel the skin and cut into small cubes. Reserve.
  5. Heat the remaining olive oil (2 tbsp) in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Season with some salt (1/2 tsp) and pepper. Remove from heat, add the balsamic vinegar, and poor over the kale in the salad bowl. Toss, and toss, and toss some more until kale is a fully coated and a bit wilted. Add the Kabocha cubes and pomegranate tossing it slightly.
  6. Finish by topping it with the Pecorino or Parmesan cheese. Serve it warm.

 

Brown butter butternut squash Alfredo

I’m not going to bore you with an elaborated blog story about how I ended up with too much butternut squash and how I’m now challenged with putting it on everything I’ll cook for the next couple of weeks. Simply put, fairly big butternut squashes were 99 cents EACH–great ‘deal’– so I bought a lot of them. Now, I have them all in my counter, looking at me as if they expect to become something more than soup!

I started downsizing my butternut squash stash with this brown butter butternut squash Alfredo recipe. Although I called it “Alfredo” this isn’t exactly the right name tag for this sauce. It’s not “real” Alfredo! The original stuff is much different than the Parmesan-heavy and delicious but pretty generic cream sauce normally described as Alfredo.

Tagliolini nests was the only pasta left in my pantry so that’s what I used, but you can use any kind of stringy pasta (fettuccini, spaghetti, even angel hair.) As long is cooked in water with loads of salt and ‘al dente’ it’s all good!

Roasted butternut squash always turns out sweeter and flavorful but it does take time. If you are in a hurry you can simply boil it for 15-20 minutes. Once your butternut squash is cooked, blend it with the milk and cream.

The last ingredient to be added to the sauce is the cheese. I used a mix of parmesan and Catamount Hills cheese–you can read more about it here) Parmesan and asiago can be a good combination too but if you only have Parmesan so be it! I transferred the pasta directly from the boiling pot to the sauce pan. Toss and twirl and lift and toss and twirl some more. Eventually the cheese will be melted and smoothly coating the pasta.

Serve it immediately!  Don’t wait. Plate it hot. Eat it hot. Even better with some chilled white wine!

Brown butter butternut squash Alfredo

This creamy brown butter butternut squash Alfredo is rich, sweet, and so autumn good!

  • Serves: 4
  • Category:

Ingredients

  • 1 medium size butternut squash (about 3 cups of roasted or boiled squash)
  • 16 ounces tagliolini nests (fettuccine, spaghetti, angel hair, any stringy pasta)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 cup 2% or whole milk
  • 1/2 cup Catamount Hills cheese (or swiss, sharp white cheddar, or parmesan)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • salt and pepper (white and black) to taste
  • 1 generous dash of fresh grounded nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Start by roasting the butternut squash (cut in half, drizzle olive oil, roast center side down.) If you choose to boil it, peel and cut the squash in small cubes and cook for 15-20 minutes.
  2. Bring 6 quarts generously salted water to a boil.
  3. Once butternut squash is cooked, puree the pulp with milk and a full dash of salt. Reserve.
  4. Cook the pasta uncover according to package time. Approximately 3 minutes before pasta cooking time is complete start making the sauce.
  5. Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Continue to cook butter until browned. Add garlic; saute until fragrant and sizzling, about 2 minutes. Lower the heat.
  6. Add the puree until into the garlic butter. Grate fresh nutmeg over sauce, add pepper and more salt if needed. Reduce heat to low; stir until hot but not boiling. Keep warm over low heat. Add cheese and mix slightly.
  7. Using tongues, transfer the pasta directly from the boiling pot to the sauce skillet. Toss and twirl and lift and toss and twirl some more until the cheese melts and the sauce coats the pasta. Use pasta water to thin out the sauce if needed.

Hard cider braised chicken tacos with avocado apple pomegranate salsa

Another Tuesday. Another taco dinner. But these ‘no ordinary tacos’ were by far one of the best I’ve ever prepared.

Ohhh the avocado pomegranate salsa! It’s like ” Hey Summer, meet fall.”  This gorgeous salsa (and I rarely use the word gorgeous) is great for dipping, topping, or just looking at!

Chicken loves hard apple cider, especially when braised in it. And the chicken turned out as tender as crockpot pulled chicken without having to let it sit in a crockpot overnight. In order to achieve all the gloriousness of braising,  you must deglaze the pan and scrape up all the browned bits. Don’t skip this step. The bits are full of flavor that you want to incorporate into the sauce.

Can we talk about this salsa some more? How can three ingredients get along so well? Avocado, apple, and pomegranate with a little help of Poblano pepper, green onions, cilantro and lime juice. That’s it! So simple and yet so frigging good. I don’t consider my kids picky eaters, but I totally thought this salsa was not going to impress. Boy was I wrong. We ended up fighting for the leftover on a epic tortilla chip battle where everyone won.

Hard cider braised chicken tacos with avocado apple pomegranate salsa

  • Serves: 4
  • Category:

Ingredients

For the Chicken

  • 3 chicken breasts (aprox. 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 small onion (chopped)
  • 2 chipotle chilies in adobo (minced)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • salt to taste (I used aprox 2 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 cups hard apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon molasses (optional)

For the salsa

  • 1 chopped apple of your choice (I used Fuji)
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 2 chopped green onions (white and green part)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Poblano pepper (can substitute for green bell pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon or more of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • juice of 1 lime

Instructions

  1. Add the chicken to a bowl. Add the minced chipotle, smoked paprika, cumin, and salt. Toss and coat chicken with seasonings.
  2. Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the chicken and sear on both sides until browned. Remove and reserve. Reduce the heat slightly and add the onions and garlic cooking it slightly.
  3. Pour in the hard cider. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan, add the chicken breasts, cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until the chicken is tender and cooked through.
  4. As the chicken braises, make the salsa. Add all the ingredients to a bowl. Toss well to combine, taste and adjust if needed. Cover and store in the fridge until ready to serve.
  5. When the chicken is done cooking, remove it from the pot and shred it. Add the shredded chicken back to the sauce in the pot and toss.
  6. Add the shredded chicken to a warmed tortilla (I used corn tortilla and warmed it directly in the stove burner) and top with the salsa. Sprinkle chopped cilantro.

 

 

Chai pumpkin bread with Chai tea icing

While some wait all year for the warm tastes of nutmeg and pumpkin, I get exhausted by the pumpkin spice everything on fall everything, and everything food in fall. However, I too drank the pumpkin Kool-Aid and embraced the season I like the least–my ‘Making peace with fall’ entry explains.

This Chai pumpkin bread is my contribution to the pumpkin everything marathon 2017. It’s so good that I’ll consider baking this again…in summer. And this Chai tea icing is everything! Everything!

Pumpkin bread with Chai tea icing

Ingredients

For the bread

  • 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2/3 cup canned pumpkin
  • 2 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 cup brewed chai tea (brew 2 bags on one cup of water to be concentrate)

For the icing

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brewed chai tea
  • 1 drop of vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Start by brewing 2 bags of Chai tea on 1 cup of water. Reserve.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter/baking spray a 9X5 loaf pan.
  3. Stir together sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin, and Chai tea in that order.
  4. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl. Add dry ingredients into wet mixture slowly.
  5. Place batter in the loaf pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on baking rack.

For the icing

  1. In a bowl whisk together the powdered sugar, Chai tea, and vanilla. Add some milk to smooth mix up if necessary. Drizzle the glaze over the top, slice and serve.

 

 

7UP lemon cake recipe

Baking is usually not fun for me, but when my daughter asked to bake something fun together I caved in. It was her free afternoon Friday and she wanted to bake with me. No musical.ly. No YouTube. The kid wanted mom and daughter bake time!

So, I started scrolling the baking recipe index in that corner of my brain that I don’t normally go to very often. What was that soda cake? Fanta or Coke cake? She doesn’t like Coke. Or Fanta. Wait, was it 7Up? Yeah…it was. We are making 7Up cake! Fun enough, right?

Now, I’m not a big fan of making things ‘not from scratch’ but when it comes to baking, the easier the better. This recipe is definitely easy, quick and so tasty you forget all the artificial flavors and ‘who knows what’ ingredients in a cake box, pudding box and 7Up alone. But I figured we eat pretty healthy around here so opening a box once in a while won’t kill us. We did it. It was fun and pretty delicious.

7UP lemon cake

Ingredients

For the cake

  • 1 box of yellow cake (I used Duncan Hines)
  • 1 box of lemon pudding 4oz
  • 3/4 cup 7UP
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil

For the icing

  • 1 cup confectioners sugar (for thicker icing use 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon 7UP
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 325F degrees.
  2. Spray 10-inch cake pan with nonstick cooking spray (I used a bundt cake pan)
  3. Combine all the cake wet ingredients thoroughly than ad cake+pudding mix.
  4. Mix by hand or at low speed with a mixer until fully combined.
  5. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake for about 40-50 minutes
  6. Let it cool off completely before removing cake from the pan

Icing

  1. In a small bowl, combine sugar and 7UP. I made the icing a bit runny so it would further moist the cake. For thicker icing use an extra cup of confectioner's sugar.
  2. Add milk in little by little until you've reached desired consistency.
  3. Pour icing over cake and serve.

Roasted Brussels sprouts recipe

This is how you clean up Brussels sprouts bad reputation. Roast them with some sage infused brown butter, add chopped hazelnuts, finish with a drizzle of honey. There you have it! Crunchy, nutty, salty and sweet, full of texture and flavor!

Start by browning the butter. Melt it slowly over medium heat swirling occasionally to brown it evenly. When the butter starts to foam and turn tan throw the sage in. Let butter turn brown lightly and remove.

Dress the sprouts with the brown butter, salt, pepper, and chopped hazelnuts and they are ready to roast.

Roast at 400F for 15 minutes. Toss them around halfway. Place it on a serving plate. Drizzle with honey. Heaven!

Roasted Brussels sprouts with sage infused brown butter, hazelnuts and honey

  • Prep Time: 30m
  • Cook Time: 15m

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts slightly chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 4 small leaves of fresh sage (the more you like sage the more you can add)
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Clean and trim Brussels, then halve them. If they are small you can leave them whole. Place Brussels sprouts and chopped hazelnuts in a mixing bowl.
  2. Place butter on a fry pan and brown it+infuse with sage as per blog post.
  3. Add butter to Brussels and hazelnuts, tossing to coat. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place Brussels on a baking sheet and roast for about 12-15 minutes minutes, tossing them halfway to roast evenly.
  5. Once Brussels are tender and lightly toasted remove from the oven, place in a serving plate/bowl and drizzle with honey. Add salt or pepper to taste.

Venice Biennale: Viva la arte Viva

As if Venice isn’t mesmerizing enough, it also holds the Biennale known as the ‘Olympics of the art world’, showcasing the work of what seems thousands of international contemporary artists. Art porn at its best in the most beautiful cities in the world. It’s mind-blowing even for those who don’t dig art.

Here is a glimpse of what we saw at the 57th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.

Lee Mingwei; The mending project. The art project started after 9/11 when the artist used mending as a way to transform negative into something positive. Mingwei invites visitors to bring in a damaged clothing item who the artist himself or a volunteer repairs with random colorful threads.

Martin Cordiano; Common Places. I think this shows some sort of space and volume relationship or conflict, but all I could think is how much I wanted to touch these giant balls of chalk.

Maha Malluh; Food for Thought “Amma Baad”  From far away this work looks as if it was made with tiles, but once you get closer you can see the 2,400 colorful audio tapes arranged in a way to spell the Arabic words for temptation, forbidden and struggle. Apparently, those are religious tapes, made for women by religious leaders and containing speeches on how women should act. 

Mind-blowing hyperrealist sculpture by Carole A. Feuerman

Davenport “Giardini Colourfull”

Zilia Sánchez, Las Troyanas is installed in the Dionysian section of the Arsenale, a space dedicated to celebrating the female body and its sexuality.

Werken by Bernardo Oyarzun at the Chile pavilion. More than 1,000 Mapuche kollong masks used in Chilean ceremonies.

No idea who this was but it was all about perspective and it was super cool.

This was complicated, grotesque, and disturbing to me. E.T. meets The Martian at Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Roberto Cuoghi and Adelita Husni-Bey.

“Horse problem” by Argentinian artist Claudia Fontes. Notice the rock looking sculptures in the floor around and behind the main piece. One of my kids interpreted them as being horse poop.

Italy family trip: Some of our favorite eats

Rome

Avoid tourist menus, they say. It was definitely easier to stick around the big landmarks and eat in the historical center, but our favorite places were away from the multitudes where “menu turistico” is considered an abomination.

We found out about the Testaccio area the day before we left Rome and we literally went to town. Testaccio is a foodie’s dream where you come to eat real Roman food, with real Rome locals, made by real Romans.

Links: Pasticceria Barberini in Testaccio, Gelateria Millenium, Mordi e Vai.

Venice

Venice is the most beautiful, picturesque and unique place I’ve ever seen. It’s magical and mesmerizing. I heard about the Venetian rat-swimmers, the rotten smells of the canals and the mediocre overpriced food. All myths, except for the food.

We were deliberately ripped off almost everywhere–but I didn’t care. Venice is Venice. Even still, we managed to eat some traditional specialties and have some euros left to spare on gelato.

Links: Trattoria alla Madonna, Gelatoteca Suso

Florence

Florence is simply beautiful. The art. The Duomo. The history. The food. It seems practically impossible to have bad food in Florence. Maybe we got lucky–which makes me love Florence even more– because anywhere the tourists outnumber the locals the odds are stacked against you.

My short love affair with Florence started at first bite. Call me crazy but all the Michelangelos and Boticellis had nothing on the Fiorentine food.

Link: Acqua al 2

Somedays we were just too tired, too hot, too cranky and we ate dinner in our Airbnb home! Shopping local ingredients and prepping some of our meals was one of the highlights of this trip to me. Sure Italy was memorable but nothing made me happier than sitting at the dinner table after an adventurous day, sharing memories and food with the people I love the most!

Italy family trip: Highlights of a dream

As I sit here, scrolling through thousands of pictures from our trip to Italy, I feel like it was all just a dream. Fourteen days that lasted a second. In a blink of an eye. I want to go back and do it all over. I want the tastes, smells, foot blisters, curiosity and magic of all again and again.

I feel this family trip deserves a series of posts. The food alone can be anything from a love letter to a novel—and I want to write both in half-ass Italian.  Beyond words, it was a pretty visual trip. Here are some of the highlights: