Babes, What’s for Dinner: Caprese Steak atop Spinach Salad

It’s always been my dream to go to French cooking school.

So, Husfriend got me the next best thing as a wedding gift – French Canadian cooking school…online.  :)

This was one of the lessons that I tweaked and the result was phenomenal.  It made us feel very fancy.

What you will need:

  • 4 thick 6 oz steaks, trimmed of any excess fat or gristle
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 4 generous tablespoons mascarpone cheese
  • 2 tablespoons gorgonzola
  • 16 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup dry good-enough-to-drink white wine
  • 2 tbsp Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 oz spinach (about 4 handfuls)
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper, freshly ground

Before cooking, let the steaks sit out of the fridge for about an hour to come to room temperature.

To cook the dish, preheat a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium to medium-high heat. We used our beloved cast iron braiser.  While the pan is heating, liberally season the steaks on all sides with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot, add enough oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan, followed by the steaks. After about a minute and a half, turn the steaks over.

Continue to cook, turning the steaks every couple of minutes until done. Each time you turn the steaks, make sure you place them in the same spot so you don’t burn the glorious little flavor bits, the sucs, on the bottom of the pan – very important.  Continue flipping the steaks for about 5 to 10 minutes. The time will depend on the thickness of your steaks and how you like them cooked.  I have found that undercooking them ultimately yields the perfect doneness since they’ll be tented (and will continue to cook a little) while the sauce is being made.

When the steaks are done, transfer to a plate and tent and vent with a few slits.

If you’ve burnt your sucs, I’m not sure how’d you proceed from here.  Burnts sucs will yield a bitter sauce and starting sucless will yield less flavor.  :(

Assuming the sucs are nice and golden, add the tomatoes and let cook for about 30 seconds then deglaze with the wine.  Let the wine reduce, until it is a bit syrupy.

Then add the garlic and stir to combine. Once the tomatoes have softened and just start to break down, season with a bit of salt and pepper. At this point, turn off the heat and bring the tomatoes and sauce together in the center. Dollop on the mascarpone and sprinkle on the gorgonzola.  The residual heat from the pan will soften and slightly melt the cheeses. Finish the sauce by sprinkling the parsley and 2 tablespoons of olive oil over top.

While the cheese is melting, toss your salad with the balsamic, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper, to taste.

Just before serving, squeeze some lemon juice over the sauce. Place a bit of the salad onto a plate and top with one of the steaks. Spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce over each steak and serve.

Buon appetito!

Babes, What’s for Dinner: Caribbean Jerk Tri-Tip with Brown Rice and Peas

Husfriend is a well-traveled man who has been to many places on this planet.

I, on the other hand, not so much.  Aside from having been born in a land-locked country far, far away, I pretty much have only been to Tijuana, Mexico where I was detained by the US Border Patrol on my first visit.  I’m lucky like that.  I didn’t have it as bad as the poor girl who was made to spread eagle in her Quinceañera dress though.  :/

Of all his travels, Husfriend especially enjoyed the Caribbean.  Despite his pasty whiteness, it was as though he had returned to the motherland.  He loved the vibe and food.

For him, this recipe is as close as it comes to the original.  We’ve made it often.  This was the first time it was done with cow.  We usually have it with chicken.

The marinade is super simple and comprised of many things that we often already have around in the kitchen.

  • 1 medium onion
  • 3 medium scallions
  • Scotch bonnet (or habanero) chili peppers, to taste – 1 pepper is spicy, 2 is über spicy
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon allspice berries, coarsely ground
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Pulse everything in a food processor or blender until you get a watery paste.  This will yield approximately 3 cups of marinade.

Place in container with the meat for as-long-as-possible marination.  We did a 2-lb tri-tip for two nights in the fridge.

When it’s time to eat, start with making the rice and peas first.

  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup brown basmati rice
  • 1 cups water
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • kosher salt, to taste

Sweat the onions and garlic in the oil.  Then stir in the rice until it absorbs the oil, about 5 minutes.  Add the liquids and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, covered, until the rice is tender, about 15 to 17 minutes.

Fluff in the remaining ingredients and salt to taste.

The steak can be grilled or cooked in a broiler.  We opted for the broiler this time.  Cook your steak until the desired doneness. Take your tri-tip out when it reaches 145° for a medium-rare steak, or 160° for a medium steak.  Be sure to rest (the meat) before slicing.

Enjoy, mon!

Babes, What’s for Dessert: Gluten Free Cheesecake with Salted Caramel Sauce in Mason Jars

There are few things in the world that I enjoy more than the Golden Girls.  The Husfriend can attest to (and is befuddled) as to how I can never tire of watching my favorite foursome.  They were having senior sex in the city long before there was Sex in the City.

As an homage to my favorite ladies, we’re making cheesecake.  Our first foray into cheesecake-making turned out pretty good.  We used a gluten free almond tart crust that was decent.

However, the crust wasn’t crusty or graham crackery enough so we gave it another go.

All of the ingredient quantities will yield 20 half pint cheesecake jars.

This recipe was tweaked for a gluten free graham cracker crust.

  • 1 2/3 cups gluten free bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon (it makes a diff)
  • ¾ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon xanthan gum
  • 1/3 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • 5 ¼ tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 ¼ tablespoons cold water
  • 2 ¼ tablespoons honey
  • ¾ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325°.

Whisk together the cold water, honey and vanilla.  Set aside.

Combine all the dry ingredients in a mixer.

Then mix in the butter until it’s fully incorporated.

Then add the honey mixture until all is doughy.  If the dough is too dry, add a little more cold water, a teaspoon at a time.

Next, press the dough onto the bottom of each jar for the crust.  To get the same amount of crust into each jar, I used my 1/4 cup measuring cup as a mold then cut each piece in half.

Bake for about 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool.

I begrudgingly omitted the mascarpone from this recipe for the filling as I already had a gigantic 3-lb brick of cream cheese to use up:

  • 3 lbs cream cheese, room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs, room temperature

In a large stand mixer, cream everything together except for the eggs which are to be added one by one at the end until all is combined.

Then pour the filling into each cooled jar, leaving some room for sauce.  I did just under ½ cup of filling for each jar.

Place all of the jars on a large heavy duty baking sheet. Place baking sheet in oven then fill the baking sheet to the brim with water. Bake for half an hour.

Transfer the jars to a baking rack.

Time for the salted caramel sauce…

I’ve used this recipe twice now and it has yielded gorgeous lusciousness each time.

  • 1 ½ cups of granulated white sugar
  • ½ cup of water
  • 1 cup of whipping cream
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of salted butter
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Swish and swirl often until it reaches a medium amber color.

Remove from heat, and pour in the cream. Be forewarned – it will scarily bubble.

Give it a whisk, then add in everything else.

Whisk again ’til smooth.  Let cool.

Top each cheesecake jar with the caramel sauce and let cool completely before closing with the lid and band.

Refrigerate until time to devour.  It was even tastier the next day.

This is the lone ranger that remained.  We gave the rest away to our friends.

Some Cheese with My Whine, Please

Lately, life’s been a little rough – some patches larger than others.

In no particular order…

My father passed away.

While zooming downhill at CicLAvia, I was thrown off my bike by Oblivious Oliver perpendicularly turning into me and now, both knees are scarred, left elbow is nice and gnarly and my left hand is always feelin’ a little hinky.  The funbags were the only thing that kept my chin from making friends with the asphalt.  Being that we were only 40% of the way through the 20+mile ride, I had to hastily brush the gravel out of my wounds, trek on and rely on adrenaline to numb the pain.

The irises in our window box that Husfriend’s friend from Montana was so kind to send has been hosting some gnats that have long overstayed their welcome.

Our hanging fruit basket has become suicidal and comes crashing down as it pleases, full or not.

The water damage to our ceiling and walls caused by our neglectful upstairs neighbor was finally “fixed” by one of the resident handymen whom Husfriend has dubbed “Glue Sniffer.”  Of course, a little spackle and paint would fix soaked 100-year-old lath and plaster walls.  So now, the moisture and stains have seeped through to the surface and it looks worse than before.

The kid that lives up there is overweight, uncoordinated and likes to run around to boot.

Nothing new but the dog always hogs the bed.  She’s cute so I pretty much let her do whatever she wants.  Bad, I know.  She’s also tiny so I’m always mindful of snuffing her in her sleep so I never really get to sleep.  :/

And today, she’s not speaking to me.  She’s upset that I sprinkled 0.35ml of water (aka flea meds) on the back of her neck.

I did get a break though.

I broke my tooth.  A quadrant of my molar is just kicking it in the back of my mouth, hanging on by whatever is not its root.

So, I went to the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.  For those that aren’t in the know, the school offers dental work for less than half of what it’d normally cost in exchange for your soul.  Kidding.  Sort of.

Basically, you eventually become assigned to a doctoral student who meticulously works on your mouth as their assignment.

I say “eventually” because my first 3-hour visit consisted of waiting in line in hopes of becoming a patient as they only accept 14 new patients per twice-daily session. more waiting, an oral cancer screening and x-rays.

Within 4 four weeks, I will be notified of the date and time of my second visit with my assigned student dentist for another 3-ish hour session where they’ll study my mouth and hash out a game plan.

Then, 4 weeks after that, my fractured tooth will finally be fixed.

I just hope I don’t swallow it before then…

Babes, What’s for Dinner: Rosemary Chicken with Pancetta

Our new favorite show is “Two Greedy Italians” from BBC Two.  It’s a fun show that follows two old chefs, Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, around as they explore their roots in Italy.

They make the most amazing-looking food on the show.  Unfortunately, the recipes aren’t posted anywhere so the following is our attempt at recreating the featured deliciousness that Gennaro made with wild pheasant.

Considering that there aren’t too many wild pheasants roaming around Hollywood, we had to make do with some organic chicken drumsticks that were on sale at Sprouts.  Even with the organic chicken, the entire meal ended up being about $3 per serving and this configuration can serve two gluttonous individuals or three normal people:

  • 4± tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup of all-purpose flour
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 ½ lbs of bone-in chicken (in this instance, breast may not be best)
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary (ours were from our window box)
  • 12 slices of thinly sliced pancetta (about two slices per piece of chicken)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed with skin on
  • 1 dry chili pepper, broken up
  • 1 cup of Chardonnay (or any good-enough-for-drinking white wine will do)

First, fire up a skillet on medium high heat with enough olive oil to coat the bottom.  Any heavy skillet with a lid or braiser will do.  We used our rarely-used cast iron tagine and it worked perfectly.

Season the chicken with the salt and pepper and lightly coat with flour.  Shake off the excess and brown the chicken in the by-now-should-be-hot-enough skillet.

Once the chicken is browned on both sides, lower the heat to medium-low, and add the chili pepper, garlic, pancetta and rosemary sprigs.

Cover and let cook for 5 minutes.

Then, add the white wine, cover and let cook for 30 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare its perfect accompaniment, polenta.

  • 3 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 cup of coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of unsalted butter

Bring the water and salt to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in the cornmeal. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the butter, and stir until melted.

Serve the chicken (and garlic) atop a healthy dollop of the polenta and be sure to drizzle with the braising liquid.

Buon appetito!

Dream a Little Dream of He…

I dream of him often.  I never see his face, but only hear his voice.

I awake thinking that life as of late has been a dream.  That these past few weeks haven’t been real.  That I’ll call home and hear his voice again.

I don’t know what these dreams mean, if anything.

I guess all it really means is that I really miss my father.

Once Upon A Time…

So many of the best parts of me are from my father.  He is strong, smart and crafty.  He taught me, through example, how to navigate this life.

Over 30 years ago, he escaped a communist war-torn country in the still of the night with his wife and 4 small children, the youngest of which was still a few weeks old.  That infant happened to be me.

Growing up, I’d always been his right-hand lady.

When my little sister moved in (from the hospital), I watched as my father wove a hammock for her to sleep in.  I slept underneath that hammock so we could have more space in our tiny one-bedroom house.

As a kid, under the watchful eye of my sister, I played beneath a cove of trees at the beach while my father, mother and older siblings braved the hot sun to collect soda cans to recycle as added income for the family.  They’d walk miles and miles each day, carrying giant trash bags fulls of cans, amongst the bikini-clad strangers.

I was there when he fell from the rooftop of our rental home trying to repair the leak that the landlord had endlessly promised to fix.  I ran to get my mother and amongst all the commotion, I watched as the blood that invaded his brain escape from his ears.  My first-grader self was then too young to know the extent of the damage that required an induced-coma and brain surgery.

I was there with grommets in hand when he built his own truck camper shrouded in sheet metal that unbeknownst to my 2nd-grader self then, embarrassed my teenage siblings so.  He would drop them off at school in all its gleaming gloriousness.  To make sure they got to school on time, he’d drop them off at the very front of the school steps and as they climbed out of the back, the homemade plexiglass door with just-a-little-too-tight hinges smacked them in the butt.  :)

I was there when all the years of hard work paid off and we had our own home where we raised chickens in our backyard in the middle of the city.  He gave me my own chicken to look after that he dubbed Nerdy Nelly.  My father recognized that Nelly wasn’t like the others.  She was a loner that liked to be held.  He also recognized the special bond I had with Nelly and our other chickens.  When chicken was on the dinner menu and I didn’t partake, he understood.  He’d come to my rescue when I burst into tears after my sister taunted me about the family eating my friends.

I was there when he did all the landscaping for our home.  I still have the scar and tetanus records from when a particularly large tree branch fell on my arm as I watched my father from below.

My father has always been my biggest supporter.

Despite being a new immigrant and having limited English skills, he was at every single parent-teacher conference.

And although we didn’t have much money, he always encouraged learning and there never was a budget cap for books.

When I joined Science Olympiad, he came home with a giant box of straws so that I could get a head start on bridge-building.

When I came home and announced that I was going to be a vegetarian for a year, he surprised me with a case of mac and cheese.

He dropped me off and picked me up from grade school, middle school, high school and even college, every day.

My father is the king of making-do.  What we didn’t have, I didn’t notice.

When I had asked about a 7-11 Slurpee, he suggested we go home and make it ourselves instead.  We threw ice and orange slices into the blender and made a delicious smoothie.

He helped with all of my school projects, building the best miniature car out of things we had around the house – an old plastic lychee box with barbecue skewer axles and cardboard tires held on by beeswax bolts.

And, on my fifth-grade field trip to Coronado Island, I had the biggest and best gleaming white kite that he fashioned from heavy-duty trash bags and hand-carved bamboo rods.

25 years later, back on Coronado Island, my father married me and the Husfriend last autumn.  He even sang at the reception.  :)

My father always made everything better.

And now, I wish I could make it better for him…


Yesterday, Pepsi exchanged our change for some handy household items.

We opted for $59.50 in Amazon credit instead of paying the nearly 10% fee.  These Coin Stars are very smart.  It’s either take 10% of my money up front or entice me to eventually spend 100% of it.  Not bad.

With our shiny new Amazon credit, we got some cedar balls, a set of washer hoses, a hose mender to attach said hoses to an adapter that’ll convert our full-size washer/dryer to a portable unit that’ll attach to the kitchen sink, some cloth strainer bags to make homemade almond milk and a wireless switch outlet.  I would say that’s a pretty good haul for “free” money.

I’m very much looking forward to receiving our new stuff.  It’ll mean some minor and major fixes to the abode to make life a little bit easier.

I’m excited to make some homemade almond milk.  Husfriend wants to try walnut milk too.  Looks pretty easy and I’m sure it’ll be tasty so we’ll see…

The wireless switch outlet is basically a remote control for anything that you plug into it.

I like that it looks like a traditional switch that’s missing its wall.  :)

I had one for the living room lamp but it finally crapped out.  I tried replacing the battery, which was dated 2007, but it still didn’t work.  I’ve had it for over 10 years.  I’d say that’s a pretty good run for a <$20 device.

Speaking of changes, Walter the Washer had his name changed to Stan.  My friend Sara suggested it and I think it’s very fitting considering he’s moved in with Dorothy.  Hehe.  :)

When the hoses and the mender arrive, we’ll finally be able to use our washer/dryer.  We’ve been through so many incarnations as to how to connect it to a water source.  My sister‘s man, Nathan, is a general contractor and he explored some water line options for us.  The original idea was to have the washer/dryer in the dressing room opposite the bathroom where it’d share a permanent water connection with the bathroom sink.  However, it turns out that the plumping is so old that he wouldn’t have been able to connect a new water line to the current plumping without it basically crumbling to pieces.

So, the washer/dryer has now been moved into the front hallway closet.  It was a surprisingly painless move considering the doorway is 27″ wide and the washer/dryer is 27″ wide.  I removed the entire door, set it aside and summoned the Husfriend to help slide the washer/dryer into place.  The magical furniture sliders from Home Depot really helped with sliding that puppy across the carpet with ease.

At one point in time, before our time, our kitchen had a window between the refrigerator and counter.  Apparently, seismic retrofitting meant having to sacrifice the window.  To allow more light into the kitchen, they cut a hole in the opposite wall for what we now call the service window.

When you walk in the front door, the “laundry room” closet is to your right and the service window into the kitchen is to your left.  This will be the conduit for which water will travel to and fro the kitchen sink.

Note the old fashioned icebox that we believe used to drain directly into the sink.  I think it’s pretty nifty.  We now use it to house our pots and pans.

Although our kitchen is small, I think it’s laid out very well with neatly-packed-to-the-gills cabinets that extend all the way to the ceiling and numerous drawers.

I did a little of my own retrofitting and turned an old built-in ironing board cabinet in the kitchen into a spice cabinet.

I imagine it was from the days of yore when the women folk were required to live in the kitchen with one hand cooking, the other ironing and one hip supporting a tot.  :/