Thursday, April 25, 2013

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

As much as I love eating healthy, I have some big downfalls… one is the Munchie’s Snack Mix (Cheetos, Doritos, Rold Gold Pretzels, and Sun Chips). I have never bought a bag of it in my life, but every time I spot one at a party, I can’t get enough of it. After a long day at work, changing my name at the DOL office, and watching the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers on the news, DFJ and I went to a party at my coworker’s house last Friday. There I devoured three full plates of the said snack mix and downed it with some beer. It was so awesome and gross at the same time.

So, on Saturday, I vowed to treat myself better… and made a salad. There is not a more befitting word to describe this salad, but spectacular. Spectacular! That may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. The latest cookbook in my ever-growing collection is a treasure: Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. This salad should be reason enough to buy the book.

The salad starts off with some red onions and dates marinated in white wine vinegar. These flavors magically come together in 20 minutes… pickled crisp onions and sweet chewy dates are pretty fabulous together!

Everything becomes even better when we fry some pita pieces and chopped almonds in olive oil and butter then flavor it with sumac, chili flakes, and salt. Buttery, smoky, spicy, and salty crunches… who needs bacon? Not me!

We will need some baby spinach, lots of it! Toss everything together, add a good douse of olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch or two of salt, and voila, the most amazing salad ever!

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds (Serves 4 as a starter; Serves 2 as a full meal)
Slightly Adapted from Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s recipe in Jerusalem

1/2 of a small red onion, thinly sliced
pitted dates 50 g, quartered lengthwise
1/2 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 pinch of kosher salt

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
80 g raw almonds, coarsely chopped
1 whole wheat pita bread, torn into 1 inch pieces
1 teaspoon sumac
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

90 grams organic baby spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt

Put the sliced onion and dates in a small, nonreactive bowl. Pour in the vinegar and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Using your hands, mix everything well together, and gently separate the onion slices. Allow to marinate for at least 20 minutes.

While the onion slices and dates are marinating, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Heat the butter and olive oil in a medium size nonstick pan over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, toss in the almonds and pita bread pieces. Cook for about 6 minutes, stirring often, until the almonds are fragrant and the pita pieces turn a nice and crispy, golden brown. Turn off the heat and move the pan away from the stove. Season with sumac, chile flakes, and salt. Stir well to evenly spread the seasonings. Move the almond and pita bread mix to a large, serving bowl and let cool for 4-6 minutes. This will prevent the spinach leaves from wilting upon contact.

Prepare the fresh lemon juice while the almonds and pita pieces are cooling down. When everything is ready and you are ready to serve, gently toss the spinach leaves and almond-pita mix together using your clean hands. Add the red onion slices, dates, olive oil, lemon juice, and a pinch or two of salt. Give everything another gentle but thorough toss.  

Serve as an impressive starter or as a superbly delicious and healthy, full meal.    

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spiced Chickpea Spinach Salad

Many of us are lucky to be alive and shielded from the evils of the world. The sentence that follows is as much of a reminder for myself as it is for everyone else: Even if it’s a struggle, let us give everything we do our best shot, it’s the least we can do for our fellowmen in need.

Let’s take a moment to think about all the events that happened over the past week… The terrifying Boston Marathon explosions and the riveting hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers; the unexpected explosion of the fertilizer plant in West, Texas; and the devastating earthquake in the Sichuan Province in China.

These tragedies are hard to fathom especially when we are not in the midst of it. We question why our brothers and sisters have to suffer and go through this pain. Absolutely no one deserves any of this! We seek for reasons why these things happen and blame it on pure malice and carelessness of our fellow humans and the ruthlessness of nature. We want to fight back, seek justice, provide physical assistance, and give comfort.

But what can we do when we are too far away and have no means to lend a helping hand? Perhaps we can give donations, pray, and channel good thoughts. But we can also help by starting small… even as small as saying thank you for simply being alive. While we are alive, let’s tell our loved ones how much we love and care for them, let’s smile at strangers, let’s give a little more to our work, let’s do a little extra to relieve someone of his/her burden. We can make our existence mean something by emanating our goodness towards others… this could be contagious in the best possible way.

This week’s Food Matter’s Project is Mark Bittman’s Mediterranean Cobb Salad. Thank you Sara (Pidge’s Pantry) for choosing something simple yet so deliciously satisfying. This is just the kind of nourishment that we need during these trying times.

I am not a big fan of salad bars at restaurants. I find them terribly boring… iceberg lettuce with tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, canned olives, and ranch, Italian, or blue cheese dressing. Blah! With a quick glance, Mark Bittman’s salad would be in this category. However, if you look closely, there is something special about it: the fancy dressing with the anchovies and chickpeas. Unfortunately though, we don’t have anchovies at home and I wouldn’t know where to find it. So, I adapted his dressing a bit. The result is pretty amazing, very reminiscent of chimichurri with the added saltiness from the capers.   

I also did my own take on this salad to make use of the ingredients we had on hand and to include the spiced chickpea recipe in Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s Jerusalem. The chickpeas are a fun and hearty addition and the warm spices that coated them definitely add a depth of flavor to the salad.

Instead of romaine lettuce, I used spinach because we had tons of it. It’s also good to load up on some extra antioxidants! The usual fixings of tomato, bell pepper, and red onion were in the mix too and I tossed these with a hunk of feta cheese, crumbled with a fork, to add a nice, sharp bite to the vegetables.
To complete the salad and turn it into a full meal, I chopped up some soft-boiled eggs sprinkled with a heavy hand of sea salt, and added them on top. It was just the perfect touch!

This is definitely not your usual “salad bar salad”… it is so much more. A complete dinner by itself, delicious, filling, and chockfull of good stuff!


Spiced Chickpea Spinach Salad (Makes 2-4 servings)
Inspired from Mark Bittman’s “Mediterranean Cobb Salad”, The Food Matters Cookbook and Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s “Spiced Chickpea” recipe, Jerusalem

1/8 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon capers
½ teaspoon caper brine
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves, packed
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves, packed
1 tomato, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
½ of a small red onion, sliced thinly
70 g feta cheese, crumbled with a fork
80 g baby spinach
spiced chickpeas (recipe below)
2 soft-boiled eggs (or hard-boiled, whatever you prefer)
generous pinch of sea salt

Boil two eggs to your preference. I personally prefer soft boiled eggs. Shell the eggs, chop, and sprinkle generously with sea salt.  

While the eggs are boiling, combine the olive oil, vinegar, capers, caper brine, parsley, and cilantro in a blender or food processor. Purée for a couple seconds until it resembles a dressing-like consistency. Pour the dressing into a small serving bowl.

In a medium size bowl, gently toss the tomato, bell pepper, red onion, and feta cheese until well-combined. Set aside.

Assemble the salad on your serving plates. Start with a bed of spinach leaves, layer with the feta-flavored vegetables, then top with the spiced chickpeas and boiled eggs. Or, simply arrange each component alongside each other. Spoon a generous amount of dressing on top.

Serve with toasted pita bread or a hunk of good sourdough.  

Spiced Chickpeas
Very slightly adapted from Ottolenghi and Tamimi's "Spiced Chickpeas and Fresh Vegetable Salad", Jerusalem

110 grams dried chickpeas
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Place the chickpeas in a large bowl, sprinkle with the baking soda, and cover with about an inch of cold, running water. Let sit for ten hours or overnight, uncovered. Use a colander to drain the water and rinse the chickpeas in cold, running water. Move the chickpeas to a medium size pot and add water to cover about an inch. Cover and bring to a boil over medium high heat. When the water is boiling, skim off the foam, then partially cover the pot and continue to simmer over low heat, until the chickpeas are tender. The total cooking time is one hour. When the chickpeas are fully cooked, drain using a colander.

While the chickpeas are cooking, mix the cardamom, allspice, cumin, and salt in a flat dish with tall edges. Spread the spice mixture all over the dish and toss the chickpeas around to coat.   

Heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan. When the oil is hot, cook the spice coated chickpeas for 5-6 minutes, stirring often.  Turn the heat off and move the pan away from heat. You may leave the chickpeas in the pan to keep them warm. Serve with a salad.

Do visit Pidge’s Pantry for  the original Mark Bittman recipe and the FMP website for other delicious takes on this salad.

Have a great week my friends! My love to you all…

Monday, April 15, 2013

We Got Married!

Hello friends! There’s something big that I want to share with all of you…

DFJ and I tied the knot on a sunny Saturday afternoon two weeks ago. I feel so blessed to have this wonderful man by my side for the rest of my life… This is only the beginning of our adventures together and I am looking forward to so many more!  

My heart is full of love, gratitude, and happiness! So much goodness surrounds me everywhere I am and I really could not ask for more. We got married on April 6th, 2013 on the dock of my good friends’, Bette and Bill’s, lake house in Chelan, Washington. That day was a testament to how lucky I am to be loved and supported by such wonderful people.

Our wedding was a very simple and old-school celebration where every guest pitched in and had a big role to play. I have heard horror stories on how stressful wedding preparations can be and I honestly can say that my wedding day was one of the least stressful days of my life. I woke up happy and excited for what was about to take place with great faith that everything will turn out well.

There were some preparations that needed to be done and every one of us was eager to get started. I woke up early and prepared some hors d’oeuvres for the post-ceremony celebration: a smoked salmon, goat cheese, and caper paste and chocolate-dipped strawberries that my friend, Roslyn, helped me with. DFJ washed the grapes and I separated them into small bunches. After a lengthy breakfast with everyone and all the food preparation, I just shoved everything in the fridge and got busy preparing myself for the ceremony. DFJ and I went our separate ways to finalize our vows and Joe got busy preparing the order of events for the ceremony and his speech.    

DFJ’s mom did all the wedding flowers, made the most gorgeous bridal bouquet for me, made a sweet little bouquet for our adorable flower girl, and made the boutonnieres for DFJ and our officiator. We bought flowers from Safeway (they were perfectly lovely) which was what she used for the bouquets and boutonnieres. The leftover flowers plus Bette’s collection of twigs and branches that she picked up from road sides and daffodils from my dear friend, Sally’s, garden all came together so beautifully in various vases. DFJ’s dad generously paid for the delicious wedding dinner and wine at Sorrento’s Ristorante. Oh my, what a treat! My friends, Bette and Bill were our gracious hosts, who made us feel at home in their lake house and provided us with rooms, a hot tub, food, wine, champagne, and the wedding dock. On top of this all, they were busy picking up after our messes and serving lunches for everyone. Our friends, Joe and Roslyn, had the brilliant idea of signing Joe up online to be a minister. So, Joe was our wedding officiator and we couldn’t have asked for anyone better! DFJ’s Aunt Laur and Uncle Bill were our photographers (his aunt is a professional and I can’t wait to see our wedding photos) and their sweet little girl, Anika, was our flower girl. Laur also did my hair and while she was doing that, Bill took charge of her camera to take the photos while she was busy. Roslyn was very sweet to iron all the creases away from my dress and Joe took pictures of what was going on with my camera.   

While I was busy getting ready, DFJ was off somewhere polishing his shoes and getting ready himself. Being that I was in my own little world, I was pleasantly surprised to see the table beautifully laden with hors d’oeuvres: my smoked salmon paste on top of rosemary flatbread crackers, the grapes artfully placed around hunks of good cheese and crackers, the chocolate dipped strawberries that held up perfectly after being refrigerated for a few hours, bowls of pistachios, and fancy champagne flutes ready for some sparkling bubbly. Bette and DFJ’s mom have both been hard at work! The table, the rest of the house, and the wedding dock were graced with the loveliest flower arrangements, courtesy of DFJ’s mom and Bette’s roadside collection.

Soon after, everyone was dressed up and everything was all set. There was nothing else left to do but get the party started! My groom looked so dashing in his suit and tie… I could not take my eyes off of him and kept thanking my lucky stars! 

We had a short and sweet civil wedding ceremony held on a dock at Lake Chelan… DFJ and I followed our flower girl down the stairs to the song “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers. The music skipped some, but it was a perfect stop and go for photo shoots. Joe welcomed everyone and gave a good speech about marriage, Bette read 1st Corinthians 13:4-13, and Roslyn read my favorite Hafiz poem “I Want Both of Us”. DFJ said his vows first and his sweet words touched me deeply and made me laugh at the same time. We kept our vows secret from each other but somehow, it seemed like we had planned to insert the same key words in every sentence. When it was my turn to say my vows, I felt my voice starting to crack and it was all I could do to will myself not to cry. After the vows, we said our “I dos”, kissed, and became officially married. Bird seeds flew everywhere and got in my hair and the top of my dress, “Lover of the Light” by Mumford and Sons played and skipped, champagne was popped, photos were snapped, and everyone was merry!

DFJ and I were grinning ear to ear and we both decided that we couldn’t have asked for a better wedding ceremony than the one that just took place. Everything about it was who we both are and what we both believe in… each other, family, friends, nature, and all the love that surrounds us.

We went inside to enjoy our pre-dinner party and then drove to Sorrento’s Ristorante at Tsillan Cellars Winery. Laur and her family were already there and she took more photos of us around the beautiful winery grounds. When we all sat down to dinner, there were lots of dinner toasts and DFJ and I couldn’t thank everyone enough for their presence, love, and support. The wine was good, the food was delicious, and great conversations were shared. 


I got nervous when it was time to cut the cake because I wasn’t sure how it turned out… my worries were unnecessary because everyone loved it! Just in case you wanted to know, I baked our wedding cake on Friday, the day before the wedding… Beatty’s Chocolate Cake Recipe by Ina Garten with a Swiss Meringue Buttercream Frosting from The Pantry at Delancey flavored with a good dose of Elise Bauer’s Caramel Sauce recipe. It was simply divine!     

All throughout dinner, there was a man playing beautiful piano music and DFJ asked me to dance. So we danced to a few songs and our wedding party joined in. I felt so beautiful, special, and so very loved as DFJ held me in his arms and I love him so much for making me feel that way.

As much as I wanted the moment and that day to last, it had to come to an end… so we all said our goodbyes and headed off to our respective accommodations. When DFJ and I got back to the lake house, we just had enough energy to say goodnight to Bette and Bill and hang out with Joe and Roslyn for a few minutes before we went to our room. We snuggled in, talked about how wonderful everything was and how perfectly the day went, and smiled at each other with the full knowledge that life will take a new turn from here on out… and everything will just keep getting better when we are together.  


Monday, April 8, 2013

Not Your Usual Steak Fajitas

Hi Everyone! I am the host for this week's Food Matters Project and can’t wait to share with you another good Mark Bittman recipe… Not Your Usual Steak Fajitas! They are indeed pretty unusual, in a really good way.

So much has happened between the time I made this recipe and today. A lovely whirlwind of activities and events that I still cannot wrap my head around. I made this recipe ahead of time so I don’t have to worry about it this weekend… and my apologies for the late post. But here it is!

These steak fajitas remind me so much of the Filipino style escabeche that my mom makes during fiestas and birthday parties. It’s basically a whole fish, seasoned with salt and pepper, then deep fried in hot oil. And then, a sauté of garlic, ginger, onions, and bell peppers, with vinegar, water, and sugar is poured on top.

Although the ingredients for Bittman’s fajitas and the Filipino style escabeche are not quite the same, the flavors are somehow related. These fajitas are not seasoned with the regular fajita seasonings (cumin-cayenne-paprika-chili powder combination), in fact none of these are in the recipe! All the basic fajita fixings are present: garlic, onion, bell peppers, jalapeno, and carrots. In addition to these are two special ingredients that made it extremely delightful: crunchy jicama and fresh pineapple chunks in a tequila-lime sauce.  

A delicious sweet and sour dish complete with meat, vegetables, and a fruit! Every bite is full of crunchy and juicy caramelized vegetable-pineapple bites with tender steak pieces plus a nice limey bite. This tropical inspired dish will take you to a different place… white sand, blue skies, cool ocean breeze, and warm waters!        

These steak fajitas may be served with rice, corn tortillas, or both with a side of guacamole and salsa. Delicious from the moment they are scooped right off the skillet and even more so after a day or two!

Not Your Usual Steak Fajitas  
Mark Bittman, The Food Matters Cookbook

Makes: 4 servings        Time: 40 minutes

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 to 12 ounces beef skirt, rib-eye, tenderloin, or sirloin steak, thinly sliced
Salt and black pepper
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 red or green bell peppers, cut into strips
1 or 2 fresh hot chiles (like jalapeno or Thai), seeded and minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
8 ounces jicama, peeled and cut into sticks
2 large carrots, cut into sticks
1 cup cubed fresh pineapple (I used 2 heaping cups)
¼ cup lime juice
½ cup tequila or water, or a combination (I used tequila)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish
Warm corn or whole wheat tortillas, for serving, optional

1. Put a large skillet over high heat until it smokes, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and, a few seconds later, the steak. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and stir immediately. Cook, stirring every 20 seconds or so, until it loses color, just a minute or 2. Transfer to a plate.

2. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil to the skillet and reduce the heat to medium-high. Add the onion, bell peppers, chile, and garlic and cook, stirring, until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the steak.

3. Raise the heat to high again and add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, the jicama, and carrots. Stir immediately, then cook, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until the vegetables soften and begin to char slightly, 3-5 minutes. Transfer everything to the plate with the steak.

4. Add the pineapple, lime juice, and tequila to the skillet. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring to scrape any brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan, until the glaze thickens a little. Return all the vegetables and meat to the pan and toss to coat with the lime and tequila mixture. Garnish with cilantro and serve with warm tortillas.

Not Your Usual Chicken Fajitas. Use boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into ½ - to ¾ - inch chunks, instead of the steak.

P.S. Head over to the FMP website to see delicious versions of this recipe made by the other members! Have a great week friends!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Reverse Fondue

Yay for another Food Matter’s Project Monday! This week’s recipe, Reverse Fondue, was chosen by Lexi, the lovely cook behind Lexi’s Kitchen. To be honest, I was intimidated when I found out what the recipe was. Why fondue (with a whiny voice)??? I don’t have a fondue pot, it’s not happening. But, I was intrigued and curiosity got the better of me. What in the world is a reverse fondue? Also, after cooking off the Food Matters Cookbook for over a year now, I know how unfussy Mark Bittman is and that is why I love his cookbook and cooking style.

Sure enough, his version of a cheese fondue is totally easy and there are no fancy cooking pots necessary! This recipe involves a few simple steps: turn your oven on to 450 degrees F; chop some vegetables and stale bread pieces; place the veggies and bread pieces in separate baking pans; season them with olive oil, salt and pepper; then pop them in the oven to roast. Meanwhile, simmer wine and cornstarch on the stove top, add the cheese, and cook until it melts. When the timer goes off, the vegetables and homemade croutons are done and your cheese perfectly melty and creamy.

What?!? Yes, it’s that easy and quick! I put this dinner together on a busy Thursday night and it wasn’t overwhelming at all. Lexi has the original Mark Bittman recipe on her blog. I followed it closely and used some chardonnay and Gruyere cheese.          

This meal was fabulous. It’s a great all-in-one meal: filling, crunchy croutons with vegetables roasted to tenderness and a gourmet cheese sauce drizzled over everything. It’s fancy on the homey side and indulgent on the healthy side. Trust me when I say that this will become a quick favorite of yours!

Make sure to stop by the FMP website to check out how other members fared.

Happy Monday to all of you and happy spring break to me and all the other spring breakers!