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Endless Sushi, A Bloody Nose, and Lamb Two Ways

26 Apr

It’s been a busy weekend, to say the least.

It all started last Thursday with one of the best days I’ve experienced since moving to Oregon: Momiji’s all-you-can-eat sushi night.  They were celebrating their one-year anniversary (I remember being just as excited when they posted their Grand Opening sign), and Rob and I definitely took advantage.  For about $28 a person, we were able to order and eat as much sushi, sashimi, and cut-rolls as we wished.  Sounds like a great deal, right?  Well, by itself, $28 worth of sushi is still a whole lot of sushi to eat, and we started realizing this as our bellies quickly expanded.  But did that stop us?  Heck no!  It’s all-you-can-eat sushi, baby!

An hour and $126 worth of sushi later, we rolled ourselves out the door, drove home in a foggy state of fullness, and plopped on the couch to let digestion do its thing.  While, Rob can avidly tell you, I was a kid in a candy store in the restaurant, it’s going to be a long time before I eat hundreds of dollars worth of sushi again (by a long time, I mean, like, maybe a week).

As Good Friday called for its traditional Fillet O’ Fish (and late-night helping of moose tacos – not so traditional), and the weekend rolled around, I was given another opportunity to indulge in fantastic food.  After all, it was Easter weekend.  Growing up, Easter was always a big deal in our house.  My sister and I searched the house for hidden eggs, only just a few years past the point of being “too old,” and my mom would always give us a Cadbury Cream Egg, even though she couldn’t stand the sight of them (it looks like a chocolate covered raw egg!).  So this year, while I knew we wouldn’t be searching for eggs, I thought we could still celebrate the season with great food.

There are certain times when I’m in the kitchen, or when watching one of the many cooking competition shows on TV, and think nothing bad better happen right now.  It’s usually during crucial moments of poaching or toasting or can’t-walk-away-from whisking.  Usually, nothing bad happens.  Usually.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel quite right.  The weather had graciously changed for the better, and I was still a bit sinusy from the past week’s cold.  As I was making breakfast – one of my favorites: poached egg on top of mustardy roasted asparagus with English Muffins – I decided to take a moment to relieve some of the pressure in my sinuses by blowing my nose.  So, with water starting to boil, asparagus almost finished roasting, and the English Muffin nestled warmly in the toaster, I quickly ran to the bathroom.  What followed was the definite oh-bleep moment I had in past times wondered about.  A bad thing had happened at the wrong time in the kitchen.

To spare any of my more queasy readers (and, this is a food blog after all), I’ll skip the gory details just to say that I had a nose-bleed of epic proportions.  Simply, it was gross.  Also a mess.  And as I’m standing over the sink trying not to faint from rapid blood loss, the very familiar ring of the smoke alarm sounds, reminding me that 1) I have very specifically-timed food cooking, and 2) I’m about to burn the house down.  Again.

So with tissue rammed against my face, I ran to yank the over-heating toaster cord out of the wall, push some button on my range hoping it turned off the oven, killed the flame on the stove, and started wildly flapping a towel around the air near the alarm, trying to herd the smoke towards the open back door.  Finally, silence.  With a physical and audible sigh, I made my way over to the kitchen to survey the damage.  The only burned items were some small asparagus spears and a beyond-crisp English Muffin.  At which point a second realization kicked in – oh yeah, my nose was still gushing.

After a rest on the couch, and waiting for platelets to do their clotting thing, I tried breakfast again.  This time with success.

Easter diner was much less dramatic, and much more comfortable.  But it did test my skills in the kitchen. We had Lamb Two Ways: shanks braised in red wine, and a leg roasted with herbs.  Simple spring veg of green beans, asparagus and mushrooms in a simple white wine and butter sauce accompanied just perfectly, with a sweet potato and thyme soufflé to round out the meal.  Dessert was also a hit (that is, after a boil-over of butter and milk) consisting of Almond and Cardamom Rice Pudding with Rhubarb Compote.  With enough Easter candy to go round, our friends, their 2-year old son, Rob and I had a great time.  In taste-testing the two techniques used on the lamb, we preferred the texture of the Roast better, but both had amazing flavor.

So, after an exciting weekend, last night was easy: Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with homemade Tomato Soup.  It was fast, easy, comforting and yummy, so I’ll include it here for you to enjoy.  But while cooking, please don’t hope for something bad NOT to happen – you just might jinx yourself and end up with a bloody nose!  Enjoy!

Broccoli Pesto Grilled Cheese Sandwiches (makes 2 sandwiches) 

  • 4 slices whole wheat sourdough bread
  • 1/2 c Broccoli Pesto (recipe to follow) 
  • about 3-4 slices Pepper Jack cheese
  • 1 slice prosciutto 
  • 1 tbsp butter, divided into fourths 

Broccoli Pesto (makes about 2 cups) 

  • 1 med head broccoli, florets cut off 
  • 4-5 bunches fresh basil 
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil 
  • s&p 

To make the pesto, boil water in a small pot and drop in the broccoli florets.  After about 1 minute, strain the broccoli and “shock” them in ice-cold water (this is called blanching – it keeps the bright green color of the veg).  After completely cooled, dry the broccoli as best you can, and add it, plus the basil leaves, garlic, and a pinch of s&p to a food processor.  Add some olive oil to get the blade moving, but then slowly pour in the rest of the oil while processing, until the mixture resembles a paste.  Taste for seasoning, and either use immediately, or store in fridge for 2-3 days. 

To make the sandwiches, spread a layer of broccoli pesto on each slice of the bread.  Add the cheese and slice of prosciutto, and top the sandwich with the other slice of bread.  Butter the top of the sandwich before putting on the grill.  Place the sandwich on a hot grill pan, butter side down, with a weight on top (another heavy pan or heat-proof dish).  After browned on the bottom, butter the other side, and flip, and weigh down again.  After both sides are golden, cut and serve with Tomato Soup. 

Tomato Soup (serves 6) 
Note: this is a very bright, tomato-y soup.  If you enjoy a richer soup, roast the tomatoes for about 20-30 minutes at 400 degrees beforehand, and add cream after blending the soup.   

  • 10 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 c fruity white wine
  • 2 c low sodium chicken stock 
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • s&p 
  • grated parmesan cheese for garnish, optional. 

In a large pot, saute the onions in the olive oil with a touch of salt and pepper.  Once translucent, add the garlic, and stir (do not let the garlic burn).  To deglaze the pot, add the white wine, and then add the tomatoes.  Turn the heat to medium, and cover, until tomatoes have popped and given off a significant amount of their juices in the pot.  Add the herbs and the chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Then, turn down heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes.  

To blend the soup, either use an immersion blender, or process in a blender in batches.  Once blended, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, and serve.  


Weeknight Pizza Remix

8 Feb

When I was growing up, my mom had some pretty fantastic go-to meals.  Her pan-fried chicken breasts were awesome, the chicken “drumsticks” with green beans was a classic, and her tuna noodle casserole – out of this world.  But one of my favorites (and one she still makes for me whenever I visit) are English Muffin Pizzas.

I’m not sure how or when this meal was created (I think by my Nana), but she often made it during a weeknight when Jenn needed to be picked up from soccer practice, and my basketball practice ran late, and there was still homework threatening late-night hours if it wasn’t quickly attended to.  I can only imagine what it feels like as a parent to have a nutritious dinner on the table on nights like that.  I remember jumping into the hot shower after practice dreading the pre-calculus problems that should have been done way prior to it being dark outside, all the while feeling exhausted from the many “suicide” runs Coach made us do for “conditioning.”  I would take my time – too much time – showering and step out to be greeted by one of the best food smells: toasted Thomas’ English Muffins with marinara sauce and melted American cheese – the Kraft kind.

Mom served it with an Italian salad, but I always ate the salad last as to not miss out on the straight-from-the-oven goodness.  The English Muffin would crunch, the cheese would stick to the roof of my mouth, and the taste was so familiar, so comforting, that it gave me the warmth and energy to attack those pre-calculus problems before bed.

Well, last night was one of those nights where I jumped into the shower after a decent pilates/yoga class (where I found I really need to work on my balance – I looked like a drunk penguin trying to balance on one foot) wishing I had that English Muffin Pizza waiting for me afterwards.  Alas, I realized I had no English Muffins (and only the Thomas’ kind would work), no marinara, and I think our Kraft singles might have seen their last days a few months ago.  My best ideas come to me while I’m in the shower, and I think most people would say the same thing (though they may not outwardly admit it).  It’s a good thinking spot – relaxing and warm, just comfortable.  Craving the English Muffin Pizza and not able to have it, I pondered the never ending question – what to make for dinner?

I had my leftover soup for lunch, and didn’t want to double dose in the potato starches, and being that The Bachelor was going to start in an hour (much more fun than math homework), something quick, easy, and healthy were necessary.  Remembering the Italian Flatbread dough I had pre-made and saved for times just like this, I toweled off, made a flurry of a mice en place, and whipped up a Raw Italian Pizza.

Now, this “raw” pizza is not the never-to-exceed 118 degrees Raw.  I call it raw because of the length of time it takes to cook the sauce: 15 minutes.  Don’t get me wrong, this is no 4 hour bolognese and will not have the same depth and sweetness that tomatoes take on after being exposed to heat for an extended period of time.  But being a tomato lover, especially now when they are nowhere near seasonal peak goodness, the canned stuff is the best bet.  Good plum tomatoes are canned at their peak, retaining that juicy, tangy, acidity that raw tomatoes are known for.  So, a quick hot bath with some excellent Chianti did the trick for a tangy 15-minute sauce.

Now the toppings – something simple, elegant, and loaded with flavor: pesto.  But this isn’t your usual pesto.  Using blanched broccoli as the base, this pesto combines healthiness with a flavor so intense you’ll never go back to simply basil pesto.

Layered with baby spinach leaves and shaved parm, this rustic looking flavor bomb left Rob and me chewing and speechless at the dinner table.  Granted, it did not take place of Mom’s English Muffin Pizza, but it was definitely worth the try!

Raw Italian Pizza
-With the below ingredients, you will also need baby spinach leaves (or another green of your choice), and shaved Parmesan Regiano cheese.

Italian Flatbread (makes 3-4 large, very thin flatbreads)

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 c all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 c whole wheat flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2-4 tbsp water
  • s&p

Mix all ingredients in a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, until mixture forms a ball.  Turn out onto floured surface, and knead for about 7-8 minutes.  Slice into 3-4 pieces, and make them into disks.  Wrap with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 30 minutes (after rested, dough can be put in freezer to use at a later date).

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll out dough into a rustic shape (I just let the dough do it’s thing – you’ll break apart the flatbread, like a lavash, later), until very thin, about 1/8 of an inch.  Sprinkle with a bit of s&p.  Bake for about 10 minutes, until browned and crispy.  Dough will start to bubble in parts, but that is ok.

15-minute Tomato Sauce (watch out – this sauce is addictive.  You will want to put it on everything)

  • 1 28 oz can whole plum tomatoes in juice (unsalted, unseasoned)
  • 2/3 c good Chianti or Sangiovese wine
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • s&p

NOTE: When you want to get all of the juice from the can of tomatoes, pour in the wine to “wash” the sides of the can (above picture).  That way you make the most out of all of your ingredients.  Heat all ingredients in a large saucepan on high heat, for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring and breaking apart whole tomatoes with wooden spoon.  Sauce will reduce and thicken, become sweet, tangy, and remain very tomato-y.

Broccoli Pesto (makes about 1 packed cup)

  • 1 medium head of blanched broccoli (heat cut florets in salted boiling water for 2 minutes.  When bright green, quickly remove and shock in ice water to stop cooking)
  • 1/4 c basil leaves
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • 1/3 – 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor.  Add a bit of oil to get the blade moving, and once ingredients are pulsed, pour the rest of the olive oil in a thin stream into the feed tube while processor is running.  Taste for seasoning.  The final texture should be like a paste.

*** Assemble the ingredients: flatbread on the bottom, top with tomato sauce, baby spinach leaves (or other green of your choice), a dollop of pesto, and shaved parm reg.


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