pasta milano: savory, simple + delicious

IMG_4886IMG1231
Believe me when I say that this is one of the days where I don’t want to leave the house. Right now I’m content with streaming episodes of The Twilight Zone and preparing my lunch for the week. The benefit of an Odyssean work commute and an office park where one has to drive to the nearest Starbucks, is the need to bring your own lunch. This necessity prevents me from ordering a daily slew of garbage. This necessity makes it imperative that I potter about the kitchen on Sundays, filling plastic containers with fresh food, salads and a little sweet.

On deck this week is a little pasta milano. I have to say that out of all the cookbooks I’ve purchased while in Australia, hers has proven to be a star. There’s no real flash in this book, rather, Janelle Bloom offers a steady stream of meals that are simple to make and satisfy the palate. From fried chicken to protein-packed salads and quick fixes (free-form Bolognese pie and Turkish pockets stuffed with spinach and feta), I’m excited to cook my way through the book and share my finds with you.

So this week you’ll find me munching on pasta, sipping on my green smoothies, and savoring homemade cookies.

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Janelle Bloom’s Fast Fresh & Fabulous, with significant modifications*
500g (1 lb, 4 links) chorizo
2 tbsp olive oil
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp dried chili flakes
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken (or beef) stock
400g (1lb) pasta
1/4 cup mascarpone
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
50g pecorino romano cheese (1/2 cup), grated

*Cook’s Notes: The recipe called for an additional 1/4 cup of heavy cream, which I eliminated. I also dialed up the shallots and chili flakes and used homemade tomato sauce I had on hand. I also used chorizo sausage instead of Italian sweet sausage.

DIRECTIONS
Using a sharp knife, remove the sausages from their casings. Roughly chop the sausage meat and set aside.

Heat oil in a large frying pan (or a cast-iron skillet) over medium heat. Add the shallots, with a touch of salt, and allow them to cook until lightly golden (3-5 minutes), stirring occasionally. Increase the heat to high, and add the sausage meat to the pan, cooking the meat for 4-5 minutes, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until browned. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook, stirring, for one minute.

Stir in the tomato sauce and stock. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly. While the meat is cooking, cook pasta until al dente. Drain and return to the saucepan.

Combine the mascarpone and parsley and stir into the meat sauce. Add the pasta and pecorino cheese to the meat sauce and stir over heat until well combined. Season with salt, pepper and serve.

Untitled
IMG_4888IMG1231

one-pot chorizo, spinach + lemon risotto

donotreblog
donotreblog

IMG_4842IMG123
Remember risotto? The simply, yet arduous dish that required you to linger? One false move and invariably you’ll end up torching the rice? Remember the dish that gave you an bicep workout? I certainly do, and never did I think that I can shove a pot in the oven and twenty minutes later, voilà!, creamy, satiny arborio rice.

Today, I’m making dinner for two, and I decided on this simple dish from Australian television show host + cookbook author, Janelle Bloom. Her book is chockfull of simple, delicious dishes that don’t require a laundry list of ingredients. Sticky ribs, pizzas, lasagnes, protein-packed salads, and sumptuous sides and divine desserts, Janelle reminds me of the old Ina Garten, before Ina phoned in her recipes. {heaves sigh} I’ll be making quite a few more savory dishes from this book as the dessert section is a tad light, but for now enjoy this easy-peasy one-pot risotto.

Merry Christmas!

INGREDIENTS: Adapted from Janelle Bloom’s Fast Fresh & Fabulous
4 chorizo sausages (approximately 1lb/16oz)
1 shallot, roughly chopped
2 cups (400g) arborio rice, rinsed
4 cups (1qt) chicken stock
1 handful spinach, roughly chopped
2 tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
zest from one lemon
1/2 cup parmesan (or pecorino romano) cheese
Salt/pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F. Use a knife to split the sausage casings and peel each chorizo sausage. Discard casings. Roughly chop the sausages and set aside.

Heat the oil in an overproof saucepan (I used a Dutch oven) over medium heat. Add the sausage meat and shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, 4-5 minutes, until lightly golden. Add the rice and stir to coat. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil.

Remove the pan from the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid or foil. Transfer to the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes or until the stock is almost absorbed. Remove from the oven.

Stir in the spinach and parsley. Cover and stand for 1-2 minutes until the spinach has wilted. Stir in the lemon zest and cheese and season with salt + pepper. Serve pipping hot!

IMG_4847IMG123

butternut squash macaroni + cheese

IMG_3786IMG123
So, I’m a little distracted. I still can’t believe that in three days I’ll be on a plane to Fiji. My impending trip, coupled with a lengthy reflective post I’ve drafted, a novel that needs reworking, and a work project en media res, has me splintered. I’m viewing my trip as a beacon of sorts, one that will allow me to get myopic about where I need to place my energy in the coming months. Unfortunately, I booked my trip during Fiji’s rain season (note to self: don’t book holidays on your phone while mourning the loss of your pet), so I’ve decided to book an impromptu segue flight to Melbourne, Australia. All of this can certainly be filed under problems of the First World variety, but still, I’m distracted. Unfocused. Rushing to get things sorted out before my departure.

Not to mention, I’m all broken up about leaving my Felix, my little man.

Untitled

This week you’ll find me buttoning up on a work project, packing, settling in my lovely house guest/cat sitter, running errands like a mad woman, sitting in Los Angeles for a day layover, and then boarding a flight to Fiji, Australia, and hopefully I’ll cultivate some clarity along the way.

In the interim, enjoy this simple + savory squash mac and cheese, which is legitimately as good as the real thing.

INGREDIENTS: Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart, slightly modified
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1 cup homemade or low-sodium canned chicken stock, skimmed of fat
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat penne)
6 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
4 tbsp Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1 ounce)
3 tbsp fine breadcrumbs
1 tsp olive oil
Olive-oil, cooking spray

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine squash, stock, and milk in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Mash contents of saucepan; stir in nutmeg, cayenne, and salt, and season with black pepper. Stir to combine.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles; cook until al dente according to package instructions, about 8 minutes. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl; stir in squash mixture, cheddar, ricotta, and 2 tablespoons Parmesan.

Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish (4 inches deep) with cooking spray. Transfer noodle mixture to dish. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan, and oil; sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.

Cover with foil, and bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, and continue baking until lightly browned and crisp on top, 30 to 40 minutes more. Serve immediately.

IMG_3784IMG123

cooking ragout + time with friends

IMG_3604IMG123
Nothing pleases me more than spending time with friends. I bury the cell phone and make a point to listen to my friends, really listen, instead of waiting for my turn to speak. Over the years I’ve learned that time is perhaps our most precious commodity, and the moments I spend with my friends are sometimes infrequent, but always, always, important. These are the times when can be our most naked selves, when we can say all the things that we’re frightened to say out loud.

This past weekend, I had a couple over for a roast chicken dinner, brunch and yoga with an old friend, and spent Sunday hanging upside down in aerial yoga {more on that to come} and making delicious Italian food with my friend, Hitha. Having just returned from a very dee-luxxxeee holiday in Italy, replete with wine tours and cooking classes, she recreated a vegetable ragout that had me lapping up my dish in a way that was too shameful for type. I’m also tickled that she plans to document her family experience for my burgeoning magazine, Kindred Spirits.

Already excited for 2014…

IMG_3605IMG123
IMG_3608IMG123
IMG_3613IMG123
IMG_3590IMG123
IMG_3594IMG123
IMG_3597IMG123

linguine bolognese + novular concerns

IMG_3143IMG123
It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, The dark threw patches down upon me also; The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious; My great thoughts, as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre? would not people laugh at me? — from Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”

If you asked me that week in April, when I stood on the shoreline of a beach in Biarritz and looked out into the horizon, watching the waves fold in on one another, what my novel would be about, I would’ve waved you away and said, I’m writing a story about a girl who sets a woman’s hair on fire. And that would be the end of it. Come nightfall, I made it my habit to visit the barnacles. They bound themselves to enormous rocks along the beach. I leaned in and desperately wanted to touch them, wondering if I too would be part of this attachment. I didn’t end up touching the barnacles for fear of infection, but I took photographs of them, watched dozens of videos online, and I didn’t stop to think about why I was fixated on these rather grotesque creatures, I just thought: there’s something here. I just don’t know it yet.

And that’s how I write. It’s instinct. It’s an image broken to pieces and rebuilt in my head. My state is one of constant reconstruction. Of voices and scenes that play out in technicolor, and then I write everything down, and the next day the voices come back and revise all the lines. So that week in France, I thought: I’m writing a book about attachments, about betrayal and hurt, as seen through the lens of two families destroyed by infidelity.

Yet, as soon as I made this novel something, as soon as I tried to define it to someone who had asked, it suddenly became the opposite of what I said it would be. In novels, and in life, I’ve learned that it never is what you intend it to be. The novel, over the course of six months morphed into something demonstrably different. Something I haven’t yet tackled stylistically and formally, but attempting to do so now. I have a few very close and trusted readers, and they’ve prodded me with pitchforks to go on my way, but three characters have emerged from the original seven (I tend to be a character writer rather than a plot writer; I create great people and see what mischief they rustle up), and I can’t stop thinking about them. Their voices are a constant, and I’m now at 100 pages, and finally, the real shape of the book is starting to emerge.

For those of you who are remotely interested in this stuff (because I can go on for days, just ask my non-author friends), I’m attempting to write a book that operates (and needs to succeed) on three levels. There’s the surface story — a family ravaged by an affair and the consequences that unfold as a result, as told through the voices of three broken children, one of whom has psychopathic and sociopathic tendencies. So there’s all this charcoal scenery and movement and things happen, people’s hair gets set on fire, things are torched and people are maimed with tweezers (it’s not that bad).

Then there’s this whole other level, where I’m trying to attribute the voices of folks like Jim Jones and lines of poetry as dialogue, giving yet another distinct layer to the characters and a richer meaning to the kind of people they are, and more importantly, what they thematically represent. In a span of 100 pages, I’ve managed to weave in Don Delillo, Jim Jones, Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, Carnival of Souls, Kazuo Ishiguro, among others. Not simply as a nod to great work, but as a means to translate and understand these characters via history.

On a final level, I’m trying to create two characters who are mirrors of one another. Not doubles, per se, but an inversion of a self. And the idea here is that I’ve got to make the two selves whole. All roads must converge at the end.

Yet, if you were someone who just opened up the book and read the story and didn’t see all of this, it would be okay. However, if nesting dolls are your thing, this book would be enjoyable too.

I’m home today, recovering from a cold, taking a break from an avalanche of work, and I’m readying this book for partial submission to publishers — my close readers and agent feel that strongly about the potential for this novel, which pleases me enormously. However, I’m not insane in the fact that publishing is a tough business, even more so for experimental fiction, so I’m not getting my hopes up. It would be nice for this book to see light.

Here’s hoping the hand plays out. As a little morsel, something new I just wrote, below:

His pants fell below his ankles as he began to run. James ran to where she left her clothes – paper denim shorts and a shirt embroidered with flowers – and scooped them up and flung them out the window. The rain persisted like a victory, which staunched the blood coming from between her legs. She was behind from where she stood and found herself looking back. She thinks of the smallness of a child’s hands.

They lay in bed, glowing from a single lamp that she kept flicking on and off. The evening descended, piece by piece.

“I know I’m not supposed to say this, but I love you,” Kate said.
“They say it’s better without gloves on.”
“Did you hear what I said?”
“I heard you fine. You know,” James said. “You’re beautiful in all the right places.”
“What are the wrong places?”
“Ask your mother.”

INGREDIENTS
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb ground sirloin
1/2 lb ground pork
1 yellow onion, rough chop
4 cloves garlic, rough chop
2 carrots, rough chop
2 ribs of celery heats, rough chop
1 28-ounce can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can organic tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
2 cups red wine (I tend to use a full-bodied Cabernet)
1 bay leaf
6 sprigs fresh oregano, chopped
3-4 tbsp of sugar, to taste (adjust based on the acidity of your tomatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup basil, torn
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (you can opt to use vegan butter)
1 pound linguine
1/2 cup reserve pasta water

DIRECTIONS
In a large pot (I used my Le Creuset dutch oven), heat olive oil. Make sure you have enough to thinly coat the pan, and that your pan is searing hot. There’s nothing more criminal than boiling beef, so use a large pot and ensure that it’s scorching hot. Once you have the heat of Hades, toss in your meats, flavor with salt and pepper and stir gently with a wooden spoon to break apart the met.

While your meat is browning (5-7 minutes), blitz your mirepoix — onion, carrots, celery — and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped. It’s important that all of your veggies are roughly the same size because no one wants a huge hunk of carrot or onion in their pasta bowl. NO ONE.

After your meat has browned on all sides, deglaze the pan with the wine and add your veggie mix. Cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaf, sugar, water and oregano. Bring all the ingredients to a simmer and taste. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Simmer covered for about 2-4 hours. When the sauce is done, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a hefty pinch of salt to the water then add your pasta. Stir and cook until al dente. Add the pasta to the sauce; be sure to save some pasta water in case you need some. If the sauce is too thick, add the water until the desired consistency.

Remove from heat. Add the butter and basil. Drizzle each serving with some extra olive oil. DIG IN.

IMG_3142IMG123
Untitled

comfort food of the gods: cacio e pepe

IMG_3083IMG123
I’m bogged down by the remnants of jet lag, a cold and horrendous allergies amidst an avalanche of deliverables. Right now, all I crave is a cashmere blanket, a bowl of pasta, a good book + my kitty.

Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery. Until then, savor another indulgence of the carb kind {reconsidering renaming this space love. life. carbs.}

INGREDIENTS
3/4 pound of orecchiette
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 tsp freshly ground pepper (adjust to your taste)
a bit of the pasta cooking liquid (about 1/4 to 1/2 of a ladel-full)
1/2 cup of freshly ground pecorino romano

DIRECTIONS
Bring salted water to a boil. Nigella Lawson once said that your pasta water should resemble the Mediterranean, and I’ve always kept this axiom in mind when making pasta. I typically add in a few tablespoons to a medium-bowling pot.

Cook the penne until al dente (or two minutes less than the package instructions). In a separate pan, cook the butter in the olive oil. Add pasta to the skillet. Toss in cheese, some of the pasta water, and cracked pepper.

IMG_3089IMG123

easy eats: arugula pesto pasta

IMG_3131IMG1231
2 cups arugula, packed | 1 cup basil, packed | 1/2 cup walnuts | 2 garlic cloves, chopped | 1/4 pecorino romano cheese | 1/3 cup + 2 tbsp olive oil | 1/2 tsp cracked pepper | 1/2 tsp Maldon salt | 1 lb of pasta | 1/2 cup reserve pasta water | blitz ingredients, add to al dente pasta, add pasta water, if needed. Sprinkle cheese + cracked pepper on top

ricotta chive + parsley pesto pasta

IMG_2972IMG123
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity and instinct. In January, I had a series of conversations with one of my two mentors, which was fraught with anguish, insecurity + doubt. Four years ago, I was confident, outspoken, strong-willed and determined, however, with the passing of each day, my job, and more specifically, my boss, made me doubt myself. Made me think that I was lesser than I was. While I take responsibility for the fact that people only affect you to the degree in which you allow them to, I couldn’t help but think that the years had been stolen from me. That I was, to a certain extent, manipulated. While I created the buttons, my boss knew how to push them to the point where I felt it was difficult to breathe. So when I sat down with my mentor, and spoke plainly about leaving, I wondered aloud about my self-worth.

Who would hire me? To which he responded, Are you fucking kidding me? Are you really being serious? The question isn’t who will hire you, it’s whether you’ll find something, a love, a passion, that will make you happy. It took a long time to absorb the weight of those words and believe that my greatness was possible, even when I had been lead to think otherwise. I needed to literally get out of the country and put some distance between myself and all the events that transpired after my leaving, including severing ties with people whose bitterness and anger threatened to pull me under, but now I’m finally at a place where I know my value and am unapologetic about shouting it from the rafters.

This weekend, as I made this dish for the work week ahead, I thought about a very exciting opportunity to lead a very formidable brand’s global social marketing efforts. The job was audacious in every sense of the word, and I contemplated picking up my life and moving out west, but something was off. Something didn’t feel right about it all, and before I embarked on a final round of interviews I pulled myself out of the running.

I wrote my very wonderful HR contact, and my potential boss, that the timing wasn’t right. I’d spent so long trying to architect a life where I’m able to write, build this postage stamp of an online home, and consult, that I’ve become protective of this life, and feel as if this opportunity would usurp it.

Naturally, I had a mini (translation: major) panic attack after I sent the emails, because there went the sense of security. There went the sure thing. Until I had lunch with my other mentor, who presented something even more ambitious. Something I wouldn’t have to pursue until the new year.

Try the idea out for size, she said. Think about it. Let’s keep talking.

Because when you deliberately close one small door, a giant one flings open. And it’s only when you allow yourself the space, clarity and quiet, then you’re able to listen, make choices about which doors to open and close.

INGREDIENTS
1 lb of ground sirloin, seasoned with salt + pepper
2 cups parsley, chopped
1/2 cup chives, chopped
1 cup walnuts, toasted
1/2 pecorino romano
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 lb whole wheat pasta
1/4 cup pasta water, reserved
1 tbsp pecorino romano for topping

chives

DIRECTIONS
In a large skillet, fry the sirloin until brown, approximately 5-7 minutes. While the beef is cooking, boil the water for the pasta. Ever since Nigella Lawson said that pasta water should resemble the waters of the Mediterranean, I’ve been diligent about adding salt.

In a blender {or as luck would have it, a Vitamix), add all of your ingredients and blitz until you have a silky smooth pesto consistency. Stir in your ricotta cheese until well-blended. Set aside.

Before you drain the pasta, reserve 1/4 cup of water. Add the pasta to the beef, then add the pesto and the past water, and stir until all of the noodles are coated.

Serve hot with a sprinkling of cheese.

Untitled
IMG_2974IMG123
IMG_2959IMG123

pumpkin, marjoram + ricotta risotto with pumpkin seeds

IMG_2993IMG123
You should know that this risotto was a triumph on many levels. Initially, I wanted to tackle a risotto where quinoa was the star, however, after a long discussion with a friend, who probably can prattle on about food just as long as I could, she reminded me that we often try to make quinoa the replacement for pasta and rice, when it should be celebrated on its own merit. Yes, we do spend time talking about grains in excruciating detail. Don’t even get me started on our involved discussion regarding free-form crusts — it’ll bore you to tears.

While it’s true that I’ve made many risottos, the lemon flavor that the marjoram brings, as well as the creaminess of the fresh ricotta, delivered a dish that was far superior than what I’ve made before. Make no mistake, you will eat this standing up, leaning over the stove, ladling large spoonfuls of creamy, steamed rice in your mouth.

Don’t you dare apologize.

The second triumph came in the form of photography. Long-time readers of this space know that I’ve made investments over the years in equipment and self-taught tutorials — all in an effort to show you the beauty I see in a dish (its textures, aromatics, composition), as if part of my heart could be imbued onto a photograph, which would serve to connect me to you. I’m a minimalist when it comes to taking photos of food, as I fervently believe that what’s on the plate is always the star of the show. I care less about scenery and people and the like, and only go in for moderate styling — nothing that would interrupt the headlining act.

So, after fiddling with whiteboards, bounced light and napkins, I finally captured photos of the dish that not only required little editing (the beauty of natural light!), but was the complete and utter visual evocation of how I feel about this dish.

From me, to you.

INGREDIENTS
1 qt (2 pints) low-sodium, organic/local chicken stock (or you can use vegetable)*
1 shallot, finely diced
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
1 cup of arborio rice
4 tbsp of pumpkin puree
2 tbsp fresh ricotta cheese
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted
1/4 tsp sea salt; 1/4 tsp pepper
*1 quart is the equivalent of 32oz or 2 lbs

IMG_2984IMG123

DIRECTIONS
In a large sauce pot, bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Keep this pot next to our sauté pan, as you’ll need to continuously ladle from the stock to the skillet, so proximity is key.

In a large sauté pan (translation: a skillet that can hold 3-4 quarts), sauté the shallots and salt on medium heat until translucent (1-2 minutes). Add in the marjoram and stir for another 30 seconds. Pour in the rice and cook until the rice is translucent and browns slightly, approximately 1-2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low. You do not want burned onions or rice, so if this starts to happen ladle in liquid immediately. Do you want to sob over burnt risotto? My guess is NO WAY, NO DAY.

Add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir, and stir, and stir, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Keep ladling in the liquid in increments until all of the water is absorbed and the stock is thick and creamy. Remember, risotto isn’t a dish that will cook itself, it requires dedication, so be prepared to stand in front of the stove stirring for 20-30 minutes. I’ve been blasting Radiohead in these sorts of parallel parking scenarios.

In a small skillet, brown the seeds until fragrant and toasted (1-2 minutes).

Once all of the water has been absorbed, stir in the pumpkin, and pepper until the risotto transforms into a satiny orange. Mix in the ricotta. Stir for a good minute and serve hot.

IMG_2992IMG123

cozy in the kitchen: my fall recipe round-up {old favorites}

Recently Updated4
There is nothing that brings me greater joy than nubby sweaters, hot coffee, crisp autumn mornings and cozy socks. Autumn is my preferred time and a cold sky turning leaves a terracotta is my preferred landscape. Many of my adventures have occurred during this season, and I’m thrilled that I can now crank the oven and revisit some of my old friends. If you’ve got a recipe worth sharing, definitely drop a line in the comments field.

Pumpkin Spice Rolls | Pumpkin Proscuitto Sage Risotto | Sweet Potato Soup with Coriander + Sage | Tomato Soup with Orzo | Baked Squash with Millet | Kale, Apple + Roasted Squash Salad | Roasted Squash and Sage Sausage Pizza with Smoked Gouda | Pumpkin Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage Sauce | Pumpkin Pull-Apart Bread | Pasta Bolognese