I have to say college was an absolutely amazing experience for me! I made some of the best friends I could ever ask for (most of which I still keep in touch with and see as often as possible), I spent four years on one of the most beautiful campuses (I terribly miss living in Southern California), my college had delicious food…. oh, and I learned stuff.
Looking back there’s only one thing I might have missed out on: an epic, party-filled spring break. Every year I opted to go home and see friends and family while most people in college so often went to Mexico (or somewhere warm) for more festive and rowdy adventures.
While it may have taken six years since college graduation to actually make it to Mexico, I finally did!
A dear friend from college and her fiancée planned a destination wedding and decided Cabo San Lucas was the perfect location. While I would have gone anywhere in the world to see these two amazing people walk down the aisle, I was especially eager to go to Mexico. Who wouldn’t want to escape the rain and cold of the Pacific Northwest to experience 80-degree weather on the beach?
The past week has been a whirlwind of packing, laundry, travel, and most importantly, seeing old friends, making new ones, and sitting poolside with unlimited cocktails. We stayed at an all-inclusive resort and I have to say it was so hard to not gorge ourselves on all of the food (and perhaps cocktails) constantly surrounding us. Watching the couple getting married was definitely the highlight, but I certainly didn’t mind living out my spring break fantasies of party buses, clubs, pools, and friends.
Still wearing shorts and flip flops, it was rather sad to touch down back home in Seattle and nearly freeze walking to my car. While I would rather still be on vacation forever, I’m sure my waistline is appreciative to be back home where I’ll be on a more sensible diet.
Air-runn’s Greenish Smoothie
- 1/3 of an English cucumber, diced
- One cup kale (I use frozen because I think it blends better)
- 1 cup plain kefir (or 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup milk)
- 3/4 cup milk (I use rice) use more for a thinner consistency, less for a thicker consistency
- 1 cup blueberries
- 1 teaspoon matcha (green tea powder)(optional)
- 1/2 scoop protein powder (optional)
Place kale and milk in a blender and blend until very smooth (I find this a necessary step as if I blend everything together at once, the kale doesn’t get fine enough—a problem you probably won’t have if you have a Blendtec or Vitamix or professional grade blender—which I do not).
Add remaining ingredients to blender and mix until smooth.
Sometimes I can be a bit goofy when thinking about anniversaries. I have a weird memory and I recall milestones of the oddest events. For instance, I dislike driving on the day marking the anniversary of my first flat tire, I eat sushi every year on the day commemorating the first time I had sushi, and I always try to spend time with my close friends on our friendiversaries.
I recently celebrated a year of having my Dutch oven in my life. Enamel coated cast iron was one of the best additions to my kitchen and it’s come in very handy during the cold winter and fall months. I love dishes made in a Dutch oven since, for the most part, they tend to be relatively simple. Most of the time you start by browning proteins and vegetables, covering in a liquid, and simmering stovetop or baking in the oven for hours on end. While making these dishes isn’t a fast process, the majority of the cook time is hands-off. Best of all you sit back and enjoy the delicious aromas coming from the kitchen as food slowly cooks.
While I’ve already shared a 6-Hour, Lamb and Short Rib Ragu (which I declared one of the best things I’ve ever made), here’s another ragu! Is this one better? Not necessarily better, but just as good. It’s equally delicious and despite having similar ingredients (lamb, wine, and tomato), this recipe manages to be incredibly different. Red wine gives it a decidedly different taste than white wine (slightly bolder and fruitier) and the addition of aromatics (rosemary and thyme [both of which hold up very well when cooked for long periods of time]) give the dish an earthy, herbaceous, slightly piney and peppery taste.
I made this to serve with sweet potato gnocchi (after seeing a similar sounding dish on the specials board of one of my favorite restaurants). The light sweetness of the gnocchi was a great juxtaposition to the richness of the ragu. If you’re not up for making gnocchi, this was also delicious served over pasta. If anything ragu improves on the second day as the flavors have melded together and leftovers also freeze quite nicely, so no need to worry if this isn’t all served on the day it’s made.
Adapted form The Kitchn
- 2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunks
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 onions
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 8-10 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 big carrot, peeled
- Olive oil
- 2 cups red wine (I used a Zinfandel, but use any red wine you enjoy drinking)
- 1 28-ounce can tomatoes (I prefer San Marzano diced)
Pat the lamb chunks dry with a paper towel and liberally coat with salt and pepper, set aside. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, mince garlic, finely chop carrot, remove thyme and rosemary from stems and finely chop.
Place a Dutch oven or an ovenproof heavy pot over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add the lamb and brown, working in batches if necessary. You want the lamb to get nicely browned on all sides.
When the meat is thoroughly browned, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are golden. Add the rosemary, thyme, garlic, and the carrots. Cook for 5 minutes.
Add wine and simmer until liquid has reduced, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275-degree oven for 3 to 4 hours. The longer it cooks, the better it will be. When ready to serve, go through with two forks and shred any remaining chunks of meat. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.
Serve with sweet potato gnocchi or pasta.
A few months ago a bunch of friends and I took a cooking class together. It was a really fun, laid-back night that involved various work stations where we helped prepare everything from gnocchi to roasted pork to caramelized apple tart. After 90% of the meal was done being prepared, we all sat back with a cocktail, let the professionals finish up the cooking, and ate family style. Best of all we left with all of the recipes and instructions for what we made, including sweet potato gnocchi.
While I had made gnocchi before, I had never made sweet potato gnocchi. I fell in love with the taste and texture and I knew I would be making these babies at home.
Really, there’s nothing difficult about making gnocchi, it can just be a slightly tedious process. One step I’ve taken to quicken up the process of making gnocchi is to forgo rolling gnocchi on either a gnocchi board or fork (this is the step that gives gnocchi ridges). The rationality behind giving gnocchi ridges is that it helps sauce stick. While I can’t argue with that logic, it’s honestly a step I don’t find to be entirely necessary. Sauce tends to stick well enough and who minds sopping up leftover sauce with a crusty piece of warm bread (that’s my favorite part)?
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Adapted from Blue Ribbon Cooking Classes
- 2 pounds of sweet potatoes (or yams), rinsed, patted dry, pierced all over with a fork
- 1 12-ounce container fresh ricotta cheese (that has been drained in a sieve for 2 hours [to ensure excess moisture has been expelled])
- 1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons lightly packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoons salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour (plus more for dusting surface)
Bake sweet potatoes in a 400 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until potatoes are cooked through and tender.
Once potatoes are done, let cool slightly, cut in half, and scoop flesh into a medium bowl. In class I was told that you could just mash sweet potato. Something about the gluten in russet potatoes is different and it’s recommended you not mash those, but mashing sweet potatoes is fine… alternatively you could process them in a food mill or rice them using a potato ricer. You should have 3 cups.
Add strained ricotta, parmesan, brown sugar, salt, and nutmeg and mix until incorporated. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.
Turn dough onto a floured surface, divide into 6 equal pieces. Rolloing between palms and floured work surface, form each of the 6 pieces into a 20-inch long rope (approximately 1 inch thick), sprinkling with additional flour as needed if dough becomes to sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces (I used a bench scraper but a knife works just as well).
Do ahead: At this point you can flash freeze the gnocchi on a baking sheet before placing in a ziplock bag and freezing for several months (no need to defrost when you’re ready to cook). It’s important to note that these should be cooked as soon as possible or frozen immediately. I didn’t find that they held at room temperature or in the refrigerator very well.
To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. In batches, cook gnocchi for a few minutes until they float and rise to the top (about 5 minutes). If cooking frozen gnocchi, they will take closer to 6 or 7 minutes to cook.
These are quite delicious served with a simple sauce of brown butter and sage but I mainly made these to serve with ragu. The sweetness and pillow-like consistency was a great juxtaposition with the rich, meaty, hearty profile of a ragu.
Spice and heat is something so incredibly personal. Everyone seems to have a different opinion and preference and I think it’s close to impossible to make a recipe that involves spice that can be appreciated by everyone.
Take the chili recipe I posted last week. I thought it had a mild heat, but it was so spicy for a family member that they couldn’t eat it. While of course I had to (just slightly) harass that person for having no heat tolerance, it really made me think about what is considered spicy and not.
While I like to think I have a decent heat tolerance, I don’t really eat a ton of spicy foods. Far too often I find food is spicy just for the sake of being spicy and reaches heat levels that mask and hide more subtle flavors. When eating or cooking spicy foods I am typically incredibly picky when giving my seal of approval. I’m pleased to say I found the following recipe to be close to perfection in its level of heat. A bit of heat, but not so spicy as to mask some of the earthier, smokey flavors of the dish (as a bonus, it wasn’t too spicy for someone with a much lower tolerance to spice).
Brands of harissa can be incredibly different in their level of heat, so use your own judgment and preference when adding it. I always say start with a smaller amount; you can always add, but you can’t reduce. I used Mustapha’s (found at a local, organic store), which is Mediterranean style (harissa is originally Tunisian). You should be able to find harissa at most specialty stores.
Roasted Chicken with Chickpea-Harissa Stew
Adapted from Bon Appetit; generously serves 4
- 8 chicken thighs (with skin and bone)
- A few drizzles of olive oil (no more than a tablespoon)
- Salt and pepper
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup harissa (see above note)
- 1 heaping teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 2 14.5 ounce cans of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- Chopped Italian Parsley for garnish
- Sliced lemon for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a Dutch oven (or large skillet that can go from stove-top to oven), heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, and in two batches (to ensure you don’t overcrowd), sear chicken thighs on each side until golden brown (should take about 5 minutes per side). Remove chicken and repeat with remaining chicken thighs.
Once chicken has been browned, remove excess fat from Dutch oven (leave about a tablespoon). Add onion and cook for a few minutes, just until it’s just started to soften and take on color. Be sure to scrape up any flavorful browned bits at the bottom of the pan. Add garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add tomato paste and cook for a few minutes, until tomato paste has taken on some color. Pour in harissa, sugar, stock, and chickpeas. Bring to a simmer. At this point I tasted for heat. I started out with a heaping tablespoon, but decided to add a smidge more.
Arrange browned chicken on top of chickpea mixture (skin side up) and bake (uncovered) for approximately 20-25 minutes. Serve with chopped parsley and lemon wedges.