Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Food Diaries

I keep a journal for my recipe ideas. This is the special notebook that I use to write down food ideas and ingredient combinations that come up in my head at random times… while driving, running (it makes me forget that I don’t like running very much), taking a shower, right before falling asleep or in the morning, during TV time, or even during savasana.  
There are rare moments when I actually have the luxury of time to indulge in my food fancies. This is when I pull out my food journal, sit down, and write down the recipe coming to life in my head. I list the ingredients and then write down the cooking process and approximate cooking time for each ingredient. My excitement builds up and I have the urge to start cooking or baking right then or go to the store to pick up an important ingredient or two that I don’t have around. For the most part though, I try to think up recipes for food ingredients that are already in the refrigerator or pantry.
Most of the time, my food turns out great. Sometimes, my food turns out fabulous and worthy of sharing and that’s what I share in my blog. Sometimes, it turns out ok and is nothing to rave about. Sometimes, I just happen to whip something together and it turns out really good, but I didn’t take the time to write it down and those are the times when I say “Darn it, I should have written this down so I can share it on my blog.”
Over the past couple of months, I have been cooking a lot. Some recipes come from my favorite cookbooks or food blogs, and some just came together because of the need to use up all the food ingredients that I hoard. Hopefully this post will serve as an idea bank for you. Some of the combinations may sound weird, but they are really good. Cooking is chemistry… It is important to make sure that ingredients complement each other, one ingredient that does not go well with the others could ruin an entire dish. When your purpose is to showcase a particular ingredient, adding seasonings that enhance its flavor is good, but make sure that the essence of the main ingredient is not covered up with too much seasoning. The trick is to start with less, taste as you go, and then add a little bit at a time until it tastes perfect.
Let’s cook on friends…!    
Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Nectarines
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Soba Noodles with Eggplant and Mango recipe from Plenty

I have made this recipe thrice. Each time I used different proportions of the ingredients for the sauce and garnishes and substituted a couple of ingredients. What I learned was the following: this dish is really best with mangoes; use jalapenos if you’re a fan of spicy food, use the milder poblano peppers if you’re not; it is best to follow Ottolenghi’s suggested amounts for sauce ingredients; and Thai basil tastes way better than the regular basil as a garnish for this dish.
Plum Greek Yogurt Cheesecake
I wanted proof that cheesecake can still turn out good without actually using cream cheese and this recipe proved that true! I shared this with my book club members and they loved it. However, I didn’t use Jenna’s dough recipe here and regretted that decision because my own dough wasn’t so great.  
Fussili with Creamy Corn, Green Beans, and Tomatoes

This pasta dish turned out so wonderful! It was so simple too… I cut off corn kernels from the cob and stir fried it in olive oil and garlic, added fresh green beans, poured a good amount of heavy cream, and added handfuls of cherry tomatoes. Good stuff!
DFJ’s Roasted Zucchini with Bread Crumbs and Parmesan
This is one of the many uses for zucchini that I absolutely love. It is a DFJ special and is super simple and easy. First, prepare the topping, which consists of bread crumbs, freshly grated Parmesan, and maybe some brown sugar. Top this on zucchini sliced into coins, pop it into an oven preheated to 400 degrees F, and roast for 10-15 minutes. The topping should be slightly browned but not burnt. Makes for a quick and crowd-pleasing appetizer!
Summer Skillet Stir-Fry

When corn is in-season, it is so freakin’ good with anything and everything. This simple sauté of fresh corn kernels, eggplants, and bell peppers seasoned with cumin, paprika, salt, and pepper was crazy good!  
Chocolate Coated Strawberries

Uh, I don’t know why I was so late to the chocolate covered berry party??? My first time ever to make these decadent babies. Just you wait strawberries of 2013! I will be coating every inch of you with dark chocolate!
Dressed-Up Spaghetti Sauce

Prego Italian Sauce boozied up with wine and loaded with chopped eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and kale. Yes, please!
Beets with Carrot Greens on a Bed of Mashed Potatoes

Do not throw away those carrot greens, they are delicious. This is a simple stir fry of garlic, onions, beets, carrots, and carrot greens! This sweet, earthy stir-fry is even better when served on a bed of rich and creamy mashed potatoes.
Zucchini Veggie Loaves
Inspired from Susan Branch’s Stuffed Zucchini recipe from Heart of the Home

My coworker, Diana, has been giving me giant zucchinis from her garden. This was one of the ways I made use of them: turning them into veggie loaves. I just cut the giant zucchinis in half, removed the core, and chopped it up to add to the vegetable sauté. Then, I chopped up an onion, a large mushroom, a carrot, a bell pepper, tore off chunks of stale bread and sautéed them all in olive oil and garlic. After seasoning the sautéed vegetables with salt and pepper, I placed them on the zucchini boats and baked them in the oven. When they were ready, I garnished the tops with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Delicious all-in-one meal!   
Homemade Spaghetti Sauce
This sauce is as simple as it can get and very good! I was so proud of myself for following Olga’s recipe as closely as I could when I realized that I missed the very first step, which was to prepare tomatoes for the sauce by boiling and then pureeing them. I ended up just boiling the tomatoes and mashing them, but the sauce still turned out wonderful. Try it and experience real Italian style tomato sauce. 
Beef Bourguignon
One Sunday afternoon, I opened my Mastering the Art of French Cooking book with full intentions of following Julia Child’s recipe for beef bourguignon. However, when I read the directions, I got more and more overwhelmed by the whole process. It just seemed too tedious! So, I searched online and came upon Jenna Weber’s take on this French dish. This recipe has a much simpler process and produced a really wonderful beef bourguignon worthy of praise! Thank you Jenna! 
Homemade Pad Thai
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Pad Thai recipe from Essentials of Asian Cooking

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to make pad thai at home. It really wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be! This pad thai was good but I want to make it again with less fish sauce and tamarind paste. There was a little too much of both and I found it borderline overwhelming. DFJ thought it was perfect though, but it didn’t taste quite right to me. I will have to remake this and share the recipe when I get it right.   
This post was quite a mouthful, but I hope you guys enjoyed reading it!


  1. I love seeing this smorgasboard of food you've been cooking up! I've made that Ottolenghi pasta before and loved it. I need to try some of the rest of these!

  2. Holy moly busy bee!!! These all look fantastic! Cheesecake with no cream cheese? I am SO intrigued. I NEED to try this out!

  3. Beautiful gallery of dishes Margarita! All of them look delicious!

  4. This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information... Thai Food Recipes


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