Archive | October, 2012

Bacon Avocado Grilled Cheese

31 Oct

For my birthday a few months ago, I received one of my new favorite kitchen tools. My mama and Conniesan sent this to me —

It is glorious for grilling sandwiches or paninis. It presses the sandwich down so that you can get a wonderful crispy crust on your bread and gooey, melty cheese.

The other day, I was craving a good grilled cheese. It was “cold” in San Diego, which means it probably was about 65 degrees and something warm and cheesy sounded delicious. Over the weekend, I had purchased a large bag of avocados from a local farmer and still had a few leftover that I decided to use in this sandwich. I also had chipotle cheddar cheese from earlier in the week, and like always, some bacon in the freezer. So it came to be – a bacon avocado grilled cheese.

For the bacon, I used my favorite sweet and spicy bacon recipe.

Sliced up the avocado and the cheese and went to work!

Making a grilled cheese is pretty basic — but this new kitchen tool is the secret to making it perfect.

For me, this was the grilled cheese I was looking for: crispy, buttery bread, melty cheese, creamy avocado, and spicy, sweet bacon. Perfection!

I also recently made another grilled cheese sandwich that I paired with the butternut squash soup that I highly recommend. It as made in the exact same way but had mozzarella cheese, eggplant slices (cooked in the oven for about 15 minutes with olive oil, salt, and pepper until tender), and basil leaves. Also, glorious.

I have a feeling that as this cooler weather continues, I will be exploring with many more soup and sandwich combos!

The Boyfriend Rates It: 4. Cheesy, creamy, crispy…and bacon. All perfectly pressed together.

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Chilaquiles – My absolute favorite breakfast

27 Oct

It has been roughly one year since I very first tried chilaquiles. The boyfriend took me to a restaurant in Hillcrest to watch football on a Sunday morning and we ordered this. He was hesitant since his mama seriously makes the best chilaquiles ever, but I was eager to try to them. To me, this first introduction wasn’t so bad, but I remember him telling me that they were less than mediocre and had soggy chips. Now, I understand. I am obsessed. I could talk about how much I love this dish and probably eat it almost every day for breakfast. Oooh, and with a spicy michelada, it is like heaven almost.

The other day, one of my students brought me some chilaquiles in order to make me not realize that she walking into class an hour late. I think I opened my mouth to ask her for a valid reason for the tardy, but then I saw I had a gift, shut my mouth, and traded her the lunch I had packed for the chilaquiles.

You would think that this would satisfy my craving. It did not. All it did was make me want to cook some more for breakfast over the weekend.

Now, I learned how to make this recipe from the boyfriend. And by that, I mean he called his mom, asked for the recipe, and then bossed me around in the kitchen. This is what he calls “supervision” and he thinks that we are equals when it comes to the meals we share as a result. He believes this lie because he tells me how to make certain Mexican dishes that I didn’t grow up and didn’t experience until him, yet, I do all the actual cooking and he just stands over me and tells me what to do. So, while the credit must be given to boyfriend’s mom (not him), I certainly don’t claim to make them nearly as well.

For chilaquiles, you basically have a few things to do: fry chips, make salsa, and then combine it all together for the final product.

Making the chips is easy. You will need:

– Corn tortillas, cut into triangles
– Vegetable oil for frying

I usually use six small tortillas for two servings.

I like to keep my oil on medium heat so that I don’t burn the chips and they stay golden crispy. When all done, they look like this –

And yes, those are cooking ohashi in the background. This is Mexicanse, after all. Beside, cooking ohashi are long and make it very easy to flip the chips over and to remove them from the hot oil without splashing or getting oil burns (which has definitely happened to me in the past).

Next, the salsa. The ingredient list for the salsa is:
– Tomatillos
– Tomato
– Onion
– Garlic
– Chile de arbol

To start, I diced half of one white onion and minced about four gloves of garlic and cooked those in oil in a large skillet.

Then, add as many chile de arbol as you would like. I think I added about 10 this time, and it had a kick, but definitely not an overwhelming heat. The boyfriend even told me I should have made it spicier. This is a hard one sometimes, though, because you can’t really taste the heat until the final step when you blend everything.

If you have a mortar, I know boyfriend’s mom grinds her chile de arbol first. I am lazy and skip this step. Plus, my “supervisor” never showed me this step until I was already used to the method I am explaining now. So, add the chiles.

Add the tomatillos. I had about five and cut them in halves or thirds, depending on the size.

I cook all these things on about medium heat so that they don’t burn.

I also add about half a cup of water to this mixture to help break the ingredients down. The water also helps to make a smoother salsa, since without it, it can be rather thick. When you start to blend it together, you probably should add more water to make it the consistency that you like. To help with the breaking down of ingredients, I even sometimes use a potato masher on the tomatillos.

Cook it down till it starts to look like this:

Then, adding salt, pepper, and water to your taste, blend until it looks something like this:

As the last step, I also like to mix (not blend) in some chopped cilantro. I think everything tastes better with cilantro.

And final step…(finally!)…is to cook your chips and eggs together. For this final step, you need:

– Your chips
– Leftover oil from the frying of chips
– 3 eggs

Use a little of the left over oil from frying your chips and heat in a skillet. Beat the eggs with salt, pepper, and a little milk. Once your pan is hot, pour the eggs evenly on your chips.

Let the eggs cook for a second. Now, this is the piece that is a challenge for me. Once the egg starts to cook, you need to flip the chips over so the remaining egg can cook on the rest of the chips. DON’T STIR and don’t cover your chips. I had the hardest time making these my first few times and tried both those things in the hopes that it would make the egg stick to the chips — it doesn’t. Then, boyfriend’s mom showed me (in a frustratingly easy way) to flip the chips. I haven’t mastered this yet, and I still have some chips with lots of egg and some chips with no egg, but I am getting better.

When the egg is cooked, I like to add shredded cheese to the chips while they are in the skillet so it melts quickly. Then, move to your serving dish.

I top my chilaquiles with salsa, sour cream, and avocado slices. In my opinion, it is best served with refried beans (cook your own! I am converted – I will never eat canned refried beans again) and a spicy michelada. Mmmm….michelada.

The Boyfriend Rates It:4
The 5 goes to my mom on this one, but these are still delicious. The salsa is great tasting and spicy and that is really the key to great chilaquiles and of course light crunchy chips.

Happy Hour: Brie Puff Pastry, Orange-Beet Salad, and Stuffed Peppers

26 Oct

Every Friday, I make happy hour at home. For one, it is waaaay cheaper than going out to happy hour all the time. And secondly, it lets me make a few small things that I don’t have time to make during the week. Sometimes I get my ideas from when I eat something delicious at happy hour and try to mimic it and sometimes it comes from reading a lot of blogs and magazines about entertaining. Happy hour Fridays are definitely the meal that the boyfriend and I look forward to all week. After a long week at work, it is perfect to come home and cook a few fun recipes and open up a few bottles of wine — and for a fraction of the cost of the exact same thing at a bar or restaurant!

So, for this most recent happy hour, I made three dishes:
1) Goat cheese and cilantro stuffed red bell peppers
2) Orange and beet salad
3)Puff pastry wrapped brie with caramelized onions

The goat cheese and cilantro stuffed bell peppers were super easy. I got the idea from being at one of my favorite restaurants where they offer stuffed piquillo peppers. I am so cheap, that although those sounded tasty, it also sounded super easy. I opted out of trying them at the restaurant and added it to my list of things to make.

Since I already had red bell peppers in a jar at home, I chose to not buy piquillo peppers and just use what I had. I tend to have jarred bell peppers at home because they make a great hummus. For this recipe, you only need three ingredients:
1) Jarred red peppers
2) Goat cheese
3) Cilantro

I then let the goat cheese get to room temperature so I could mix it easily with the chopped cilantro. Then, simply stuffed the peppers with the cheese mixture and baked them in the oven at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until the cheese started to melt a little.

The beet salad is also an idea from the same restaurant’s menu. I have made beet salad a few times but usually with argula. In the past, I have had really negative opinions about beets because when I was in high school, I loved the movie Harold and Maude. In this movie, Harold eats beets and it is a huge turn-off from the vegetable. (If you have never seen this movie, I highly suggest it. It is a beautiful, if highly unconventional, love story. And the soundtrack is possibly the best ever — it’s all Cat Stevens. Ah, I want to watch this movie right now!)

Anyway, my older brother told me to try beets because he had an amazing beet salad. I was still reluctant. Then, I went to the above discussed restaurant, saw it on the menu, and boyfriend and I decided to try it. Now, to recreate it…

For this recipe, you need the following:
– 1 bunch of beets (about 3 bulbs)
– 2 oranges
– Olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar
– Walnuts

To begin with, slice the beets.

Aren’t they an amazing color? Don’t wear your favorite white t-shirt as you do this though. Beets have a beautiful color and that beautiful color might stain your shirt.

Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and coat the beets with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until they start to release their juices. I always taste test one until it is soft, but still has a good bite to it.

Next, take one orange and juice it. Then, combine with olive oil, sugar, salt and pepper to taste for the dressing.

With the other orange, do your best to make nice slices. I can’t do this yet, so mine ended up being chunks. But whatever, it tasted the same.

For the walnuts, get out a pan on medium heat. Add the walnuts and once they start to toast, add a pinch or two of sugar until the walnuts start to caramelize. This only takes a second so don’t ignore your pan! Otherwise you will end up with burned walnuts and those aren’t delicious.

Then, it is just a matter of plating. Layer your beets, top with oranges and walnuts, and then pour the dressing. Since I already had goat cheese from my stuffed peppers, I also added a little goat cheese. If you want more of a salad feel, I think arugula at the bottom of the dish would add that perfect peppery bite to contrast the sweetness of the orange. Plus, I just really like arugula.

And, for the puffed pastry brie dish. Last year, I went to a Christmas party and one of my friends had made something similar. I don’t remember what her toppings were, but the combination of flaky puff pastry with melted brie cheese was stellar. My favorite Tia has also baked brie with pine nuts on top before that I really enjoyed with crusty bread slices. So, for this happy hour, I decided I wanted to incorporate those ideas. I read a bunch of recipes for sweet versions of this, but I wanted something savory. I decided to go with onions — I think I saw this somewhere, but can’t give the appropriate credit. The recipe that I saw and saved was for a sweet variation.

To begin with, I went and bought Pillsbury puff pastry. This stuff costs a lot more than I expected – $5 for 2 sheets. I may have to start looking for a recipe to make and freeze my own for future recipes because this recipe is definitely one to repeat for me.

To start, I had to caramelize the onions. This is a bit of a long process, but nothing is challenging about it. I took one medium sized white onion and sliced it. Then, I took my cast iron pot and melted a little bit of butter with some olive oil. Once the onions started to cook a little, I added some cracked black pepper, salt, and a tiny bit of sugar for the sweetness. Since the onions take over half an hour to caramelize, it is really important that you cook them on a low temperature and stir frequently. I also added a few tablespoons of water throughout the cooking process to make sure the onions didn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. At the very end, I added a dash of balsamic vinegar. Rachael Ray always deglazes her pan to get whatever goodness has stuck to her pan, and I decided to use that logic with this. I almost used red wine. I think that would have been a good choice also, but I voted against it and drank the wine instead. I mean, it was happy hour!

When it was defrosted, I cut the brie cheese in half and laid one half of it down with the rind side down. Then, I took the caramelized onions and layered them on the cheese.

Layer on the other half of the brie cheese…its like a cheese and onion sandwich..

Then, wrap it up in the puff pastry. When you bake it, make sure to put the seam side down.

Then, like everything else I cook, bake it at 350 degrees. I think it took about 20-25 minutes. I basically just waited until the top of the puff pastry was golden brown. I think that goldness would have been improved if you brushed it with egg white, or whatever bakers do to make their pastries have that nice golden sheen, but I didn’t do that.

The best part is when you cut it open and all that cheese comes oozing out….

I am a little ashamed about the fact that between three people, we cleaned off all three of these plates. Not to toot my own horn, but it was pretty delicious. Now, what am I going to make for happy hour at home next time?

The Boyfriend Rates It: 5, It is even better than it looks! The pastry was crispy and flaky and oozing with cheese and sweet onions, orange-beet salad was bold and refreshing and the stuffed peppers were amazing ( I love goat cheese.) Cant wait till next week 🙂

Thai Green Curry

21 Oct

When I was in Thailand, I took an amazing cooking class and learned (finally) how to cook my favorite Thai dish — green curry. I have attempted to make this dish several times and it was always a fail. When I make Japanese curry, I always buy the packaged curry mix because it is what my mom always did (I will continue to always do this because it is my mom’s style and isn’t mom’s food always the best?). In that same thought, I had used prepared green curry paste to make Thai Green Curry. However, in this choice, was my mistake. Making curry can be a bit time consuming, but oh-so-worth it.

To make the curry paste, you need the following ingredients:
15 Thai green chiles (must be green to maintain the green color)
1 shallot, sliced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 TBSP ginger (in Thailand, we used galangal, but I have not seen this at local stores, even the Asian ones)
1 tsp Kaffir lime peel (again, I can’t find this so I used regular limes — it definitely changes the flavor)
1 tsp coriander seed
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp shrimp paste
1/2 tsp salt

If you have a mortar, grind all these ingredients together until they create a paste. Alternatively, you can use a blender. However, I really do believe that grinding the ingredients breaks down and blends the flavors together better.

My cooking instructor told us that you can keep this in the fridge for about 30 days. You can also freeze it for about 2-3 months, but if you freeze it, cook it in a little oil first to release the flavors again.

Then, comes the actual curry.

To make Thai Green Curry, you will need:
1-2 Chicken breasts, sliced into thin pieces (the thinner, the faster it will cook)
2 tbsp of the green curry paste you just made
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup of mixed vegetables — my favorites for this dish are eggplant, baby corn, and bamboo shoots
5 Kaffir lime leaves (I can’t find these, but this is what we used in the class)
10 leaves Thai basil (I substituted the sweet basil that is easily found in grocery stores)
7-8 Thai green chiles (adjust this depending on your spice tolerance)
1/2 TBSP fish sauce
1/2 TBSP soy sauce (the original recipe calls for 1 TBSP of fish sauce, but I don’t love that flavor so I half it with shoyu)
2 tsp sugar

Thai green chiles. If you noticed the dried red chiles, those are for red curry paste. The same recipe, with the switch out of these chiles, will give you red curry instead of green curry.

Directions:
1. In a wok, bring the coconut milk and the green curry paste to a simmer.
2. Add the chicken. Remember, this needs to be sliced THIN so that this cooks within a few minutes.
3. Add your vegetables and cook.
4. Add fish sauce, shoyu, and sugar to taste.
5. Add the kaffir lime leaves and basil.
6. Keep tasting and add more salt and/or sugar to your taste. Let simmer for a few more minutes and then it’s ready!

Serve with a bowl of white rice and enjoy!

The Boyfriend Rates It:4
I didn’t grow up eating curry but it is one of my favorite dishes. I mean, it has heat from the Thai chillies and a little bit of sweet from the coconut milk. Whats not to like. It is a dish with many layers and complex flavors.

Spicy Sweet Bacon

20 Oct

This is the best bacon you will ever eat. I promise. It is that delicious. It is also the only way I will even cook bacon anymore. Plain bacon just doesn’t cut it — the only exception is when I am cooking a meal that uses bacon.

When I was in college, I was a live-in nanny. Sometimes, the dad of the family would wake up on a Sunday and cook breakfast. Both parents were excellent home cooks and excellent restaurant eaters. They are probably the reason that I like to eat gourmet food and attempt to cook at home these days. Them, and my Tia. They are the only “foodies” I knew until Top Chef shows came out and I started actually hearing the word “foodie.”

But, back to the bacon. He showed me how to make this and for that, the boyfriend is eternally grateful. When I go to the grocery store and bacon is on sale, I buy two packages, divide four pieces per plastic baggie, freeze them, and can pull these out whenever pork is calling our name.

If I were to make a large batch, I would put these in the oven since the temperature is more even and cooks the bacon slower. However, I only ever cook four slices for the boyfriend and I and cooking that in a pan is much easier.

To start, you need your bacon.

Then, for the spicy:

Cayenne pepper. As much or as little kick as you like. I also sometimes add cracked black pepper to this mix.

Next, for the sweet:

Brown sugar. Again, as much or as little as you would like it to be.

Then, without any oil in your pan since bacon has plenty of its own fat, lay your bacon slices down and cover with the cayenne pepper and black pepper first. I like to cook the bacon just a bit before I add the brown sugar because the sugar does burn quickly.

Cook your bacon on medium heat until it is almost done so that the sugar doesn’t burn and that you get a crispy piece of bacon. Right before it is ready, I turn up the heat to get that last bit of carmelization from the sugar, and because honestly, I like crispy bacon. It grosses me out when the fatty pieces are there. Too chewy.

Once the bacon is down, DO NOT put it on paper towels the way that you normally would to soak up the excess bacon grease. Remember, it is sticky sugar. And be prepared to eat your share quickly before the significant other in your life ravages it all!

Now, for you, this may seem extra crispy. However, I despise fatty chunks left over on bacon, so this is exactly what I want my bacon to look like. And it is superb. Go make some. Right now. Eat it for dinner, for breakfast, hell, eat it with ice cream for dessert. It is perfect.

The Boyfriend Rates It: 4.5 Bacon, sweet and spicy. I just like my bacon a lil less burnt.