Friday, October 30, 2009

Listen Up

A quick lesson in language etiquette completely and unofficially and probably-with-too-many-exceptions-to-be-taken-seriously made up by me:

We have all been there. You are talking to a friend, listening to a news anchor on the TV or radio, sitting in a church sermon. Then all of the sudden, out of nowhere, the person speaking in a perfectly clear American accent blurts out a pronunciation of a word in an over-enunciated foreign accent. For example:

"Oh yeah, I love Panera Bread Company. They have really great breakfast foods. Have you ever tried their KWAH-SAHNTS?"

"In an effort to start open communications with several political groups in the country, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived today in PAHK-EE-STAHN."

Look, you do not have to pronounce words from other languages or even names of countries the way people in those countries would pronounce them if you are not actually speaking the language. People in Cuba do not drop words like "my-am-ee" in casual conversation. They say it the way it naturally comes to them: "mee-ah'-mee".

The obvious exception to this would be when pronouncing a word where the letters in the original language are pronounced differently to an unrecognizable extent. For example:

Ropa Vieja - In Spanish, the "i" makes an "ee" sound and the "j" makes an "h" sound so the name for this delicious dish would be nearly unrecognizable if you pronounced it, "Ro-pah Vee-jah" or "Ro-pah Vay-jah", the way you might be inclined to. The correct pronunciation is "Rope-ah Vee-eh-ha" and it is what is for dinner tonight!

Ropa Vieja is one of my favorite Cuban foods. It is shredded flank steak in a tomato-based sauce. It is full of flavor and easy to make. It is definitely a comfort food, especially when served piping hot with black beans, rice, and and type of fried plantains. Unfortunately, this dish does not photograph to well, but you know what they always say....

Don't Judge a Book Ropa Vieja:

(5 servings)

1 small can tomato paste (about 6 oz)
1 small can tomato sauce (6 to 8 oz)
2 bell peppers (I used one red, one green)
2 Cups chopped tomatoes
1/4 C red wine vinegar
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced (this should make about 2 tbsp)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 large onion, sliced up in 1/2 inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs flank steak
Bay Leaf

Mix all ingredients besides the meat together in a large bowl. Add the meat to the bowl, coating it (I mixed it around with my hands).
Transfer everything to a slow cooker and cook on low for about 7-9 hours.

Serve with rice, beans and plantains.

UPDATE 11/4/09:
I completely forgot to mention the capers. This is optional, but it makes a great addition: Use a spoon or a cup to lightly smash open some capers (about 1/4 C). Then fry them in hot oil for about 1 to 2 minutes until crispy. Put the fried capers on top of the dish right before serving.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Brunch Club October: The Pumpkin Patch

How far will people go to decorate for Halloween?

"A 75-year-old dead man sat decomposing on his Marina del Rey balcony for days because neighbors thought the body was part of a Halloween display and didn’t call police."

This is a story Andy brought to our attention at brunch last Sunday. According to this article, the body was in plain view for all to see. Other articles claim the gun shot wound to the man's eye was thought to be self-inflicted.

Call us lame, but we were not ready to go to such great lengths this year to decorate for Halloween. We stuck with good ole fashion pumpkin carving.

One very sweet dog sat aside and watched.

But first came the feast. Hosting brunch has become a huge deal these days. Sube hosted this week. Let me just say that at this rate, our once-a-month brunches may be my only meals I eat. I feel like I am still stuffed 4 days later. Here is the breakdown:

The Bite Me Favorite for this Month goes to:

Fried Cheese Grits by Sube

I mean...come on. I don't need to explain why this was nothing but awesome.

Collard Greens and Gruyère Dip Baked Inside of a Pumpkin by BreAnna

Crepes and Sugar by Sube

Savory Corn Pancakes by Sube

Carrot Cupcakes by Natalie

Apple Crisp by Emily

Delicious Cake with a Fancy Name I Don't Remember by Sueb

Portuguese Sweet Bread by Sube

Hummus by Sube

I cannot believe this, but I did not snap a picture of Andice's dish...AGAIN. They brought delicious pumpkin pancakes. DELICIOUS.

Everything But Pumpkin Frittata by Lindzachary

12 large eggs
olive oil (for coating pan)
1 large zucchini, sliced thinly
1 large potato, sliced thinly
2 small tomatoes(one chopped, one sliced for the top of the frittata)
1 C feta cheese
1 onion
1/2 C chopped black olives
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
2 mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1/4 tsp paprika
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion, green peppers, garlic in a large cast iron skillet (at least 13" in diameter)over medium/high heat for about 2 minutes.
Add the potatoes and and continue to saute for another 2 minutes.
Add the zucchini, mushrooms, olives, and the one chopped tomato and saute until all the vegetables are tender.
Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl. Then mix in the paprika, salt, pepper, and 3/4 C of the feta cheese (reserving 1/4 C to sprinkle over the top).
Once the veggies are finished sauteing, turn the heat down to medium and pour the egg mixture over them into the skillet.
Gently place the tomato slices over the top of the fritatta in the skillet, and sprinkle with the remaining feta cheese.
Keep the skillet on the stove top for about 5 minutes, and pre heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Move the skillet into the oven to bake until the eggs are set (about 10-15 minutes).
Turn on the oven broiler for 2 to 3 minutes (just enough to barely toast the cheese on the top of the fritatta.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Florida People

I am on a plane on my way back to Los Angeles from Florida.

I spent a good ten days in the random Florida weather. It was all over the place from unbearably-hot-humid-sunny → hot-light-rain → overcast-thunder-lightning → pouring-down-while-I-am-driving-rain →cold-windy-but-sunny → perfect (on the day I flew out).

Florida is the craziest state. There used to be a segment called “Germany or Florida” on the morning radio show I used to listen to every morning in Los Angeles. Someone would read a story about a crazy old man who lived with 300 snakes or a woman who ran her husband over with a car seven times in a hotel parking lot. The three radio show personalities would have to guess whether the story took place in Germany or Florida. There really are enough weirdo things going on between the two places to keep this game interesting. It was never clear to me how serious the crazy problem in Florida was until I moved away. When you live there, you just assume everywhere else is the same, but you are just not hearing about the crazies in other states because they are not local. But when I moved across the country and was still hearing about wacko random news stories that went down in Florida, I realized what was going on. Here are a few of my favorites:

UF Student Tasered at Kerry Forum
Astronaut Charged With Attempted Murder
Debra LaFave
and so many more...

Don’t get me wrong. I love Florida. I grew up there. It is my home. It is just funny how many ideas people in California seem to have about Floridians (some true some not). I have been asked if I had alligators in my backyard when I lived there. And you know what, I did. At my parents house, there is a little pond with a woodsy area out back, and let’s just say I would never really feel comfortable allowing my little nieces to play out there. Zach wrote a crazy article during his last year in school that referenced some of the crazy things alligators eat…babies are far from being out of the question. I was out for a jog on the sidewalk in the middle of a lightning storm last week, and there was a small alligator staring at me from the water’s edge, about 20 feet away. It doesn’t get much more Florida than that folks.

Obviously, there are not alligators roaming around most residential areas in Florida, but it happens. There are so many idiosyncrasies that I must make another list. Here we go, You know you are a true Floridian if:
1. You can close your eyes during the summer and not be able to tell whether you are in a steam room or just outside.
2. You can name at least 5 notorious serial killers that struck in your state.
3. You know the difference between a chomp and the tomahawk.
4. You feel that it is okay to go out in the lightning as long as there is no thunder within a couple seconds of each bolt.
5. The water at the beach feels more like a mild hot tub and less like the ocean.
6. The north is “The South”.
7. You know there are no beaches in the Florida Keys.
8. You can see the sun rise and set over the water in the same day.
9. It is weird if it rains for longer than 5 minutes.
10. It is weird if it rains only once in a day.
11. Seasons refer to sports not weather.

There is no such thing as “fall” in Florida. I referenced this in a previous post about it “still being summer in Florida”. The leaves do not change colors, the weather rarely cools down, and the people definitely continue wearing white and flip-flops well through the holidays. Floridians are really forced to take things into their own hands.

They light candles, they decorate, they…I mean we… make pumpkin recipes all to feel like we are a part of the fall season. Oh, and because pumpkin recipes are the best.

For the Love of Florida Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

(makes 24, recipe from

3 1/3 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
3 C white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground nutmeg
16 oz canned pumpkin puree
4 eggs, beaten
2/3 C water
1 1/2 C semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease 24 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking soda, sugar, salt and nutmeg.
In a separate bowl, beat together pumpkin, eggs and water. Stir pumpkin mixture into flour mixture; beat until well blended. Fold in 1 cup of chocolate chips.
Pour batter into muffin tins, filling almost to the top.
Sprinkle 3 to 5 chocolate chips (the remaining 1/2 C) on top of each muffin (this just makes them look nice)

Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Little Helpers

"Hold my hand Buela so you don't get lost", my niece said as she looked up at my mom, gearing up to make her way through the crowd of people in Old Town, St. Augustine. Olivia (we call her "Livi") just turned three years old, but I cannot imagine what life would be like without her. I would also never have realized important things like the purple horsie on the carousel is the best horsie in the whole world and that eating superman ice cream makes your tongue turn blue (even if you just sneak a small really is incriminating). Even though I live across the country, I think about her everyday.

I don't have any cute quotes for you yet from my second niece, Charlotte. She is just shy of six months and the sweetest little baby. She let me walk around the house with her in my arms for almost an hour. I mean, if you know babies, you know that is not something they let you do if your name is not "Mommy". She is adorably chunky which I can appreciate since I was a nice "healthy size" when I was younger (except I am sure she will grow out of it before I did). Even though this is my first time being with her, I have felt connected to Charlotte since the day she was born.

These two girls are so precious to me and the obsession of their paternal grandparents, affectionately known as "Buela" and "Grandpa".

I introduce to you these girls because without their help, we may not have been able to enjoy the recipe for this posting. Livi was a little helper in the kitchen, crushing pita chips into bread crumbs and taste testing the carrots, pasta, and cheese. She also actually ate the finished product so I can confidently mark this recipe as "kid friendly". Charlotte didn't do much in the kitchen, but she did sit in her little baby chair playing with her toys and smiling. It was just so darn cute. I think you will agree.

Something to Smile About Greek Baked Ziti

(slightly adapted for budget and convenience from a Rachel Ray recipe)

1 pound ziti
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound ground beef or lamb
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped or grated
1 tsp ground thyme
2 pinches ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
4 tbsp butter, divided
4 tbsp flour
3 cups milk (not skim)
2 pinches ground nutmeg
1/2 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 C crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 C pita chips
1/4 C flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Boil pasta according to box instructions for "al dente". Drain and set aside.
In a separate large pan, brown meat over medium heat until no longer pink.
Add onions, carrots, garlic, cinnamon, thyme, allspice and salt and pepper to taste to the browned meat and continue cooking until veggies are tender (about 5 minutes).
Add canned whole tomatoes to the meat, breaking them up into the meat mixture with a spoon.
Allow meat sauce to simmer for about 10 minutes.
In a separate pot, heat 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat. When butter is melted, add the flour and cook for 1 minute.
Use a wire whisk to add the milk, nutmeg and pinches of salt/ pepper.
Simmer sauce until it thickens (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and add the Parmigiano Reggiano and a 1/2 C of the feta cheese to the sauce.*
Crush pita chips into chunky crumbs by placing them in a plastic ziploc bag and getting an adorable three year-old to firmly tap the bag with her plastic sippy cup (you can in fact do this yourself if you don't have an adorable three year-old on hand).

Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl and toss with the remaining cheese and parsley. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and add it to the breadcrumb/cheese mixture.
Toss the cooked pasta with half of the white sauce. Transfer half of the pasta to a casserole dish and pour the red sauce over top. Cover the red sauce with the remaining pasta and pour the remaining white sauce over the top of the dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb-cheese mixture over everything and bake until light golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes.

*Parmigiano Reggiano is a pretty expensive cheese. I replaced most of it with feta in this adaptation, and I bet it would be fine if you just went ahead and replaced it all with feta. I have to be honest; I left the feta out of the dish and replaced the Parmigiano Reggiano with Romano and Parmesan this time (this is the second time I have made it), and it was much better with the feta.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Once Upon a Time

"Hey, let's celebrate your birthday on Friday. How about Frenchy's?", he said casually. She didn't realize how much he had invested in that particular casual suggestion. What if she decided she wanted to go elsewhere for her birthday dinner? He knew her too well. She would never turn down the chance to eat at one of their favorite restaurants on Clearwater Beach.

Friday night could not come quickly enough. The ring sat in its box on the desk, in his pocket, on the nightstand just screaming to be on her finger. Everyone knew except for her.

The sun was setting when they arrived at the beach. It was particularly beautiful, bringing peace to the end of a stormy day. "Let's go down to the sand. I want to give you your birthday present", he said.

The box was not shaped like a camera as she expected. The Bible inside the wrapping was engraved with her future last name. "Oh my. That is beautiful. Thank you so much", she said.

It was not until he opened the book and began to read that she realized this was it. She began paying close attention to the moments that seemed to start speeding by. She wanted to remember everything.

He asked her if she wanted to marry him. She said yes. Then he asked her if she wanted to see the ring. She said yes to that as well.

Her parents were there, ready to pop out of their disguises as soon as they were signaled. They were dressed as a homeless couple with nice cameras. This is exactly the way she would have wanted it.

They engaged couple left the beach and headed to a party at her parents house where about 25 of their closest friends waited to congratulate them. The party guests brought food. One particular party guest brought cake.

Happily Ever After Engagement Cake

(cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen, frosting recipe from All Recipes)

4 1/2 C cake flour
3 C sugar
5 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 C pureed frozen strawberries
8 egg whites
2/3 C milk
4-5 drops red food dye

1/2 C unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 C confectioners' sugar, sifted
2 tbsp milk

Cake Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pans. Line with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and strawberry puree and mix to blend the ingredients. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes; the batter will resemble strawberry ice cream at this point.

In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, milk and red food dye to blend. Add the whites to the batter in two or three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate after each addition. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans.

I only had two pans so I had to bake the third pan after these were done.

Bake the cakes for 30 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert and turn out onto wire racks and peel off the paper liners. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least an hour.

Frosting Directions:

Cream room temperature butter with a hand mixer until smooth and fluffy. Gradually beat in confectioners' sugar until fully incorporated. Beat in vanilla extract.
Pour in milk and beat for an additional 3-4 minutes.

Assembling the Cake:

Once the cakes are completely cool, use a long serrated knife to trim off the rounded tops of each cake to provide a flattened surface.

Spread frosting between each cake layer as you stack them.

Continue generously icing the cake on the top and outside, smoothing icing out.

Decorate and serve it up.

Congratulations to the beautiful couple, Jonathan and Megs. I could not be happier for you, and I wish you all the best forever and ever!

...and they all lived happily ever after.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's Still Summer in Florida

It would be an understatement to say I have been stressed lately.

While I am not always diligent about this, I try to live a stop-to-smell-the-roses kind of life. I have been particularly bad with this lately so I wanted to take a minute to review the positive things. I realize this is somewhat cheating because this would not technically count as stopping to smell the roses, rather smelling them as I blog my way through a new recipe. Oh well...what's that other saying? Oh yes...kill two birds with one stone.

FAMILY: I do not get to spend much time with my family. They live in Florida, and I live in California. I am visiting them this week, and while I miss them all the time when I am away, I cannot be happier to be with them now.

OPPORTUNITY: As stressed as I get thinking about the future, I can be grateful that I have the opportunity to pursue what I want to do for now. I am really giving it a shot.

COOKING: I never saw this coming. I never realized how passionate I would become about cooking. It is something that has grown on me, and I am glad to have a means through which I can share my experiences.

ZACH: The most supportive, loving and fun person in my life is also my boyfriend. Lucky me.

WEDDINGS: One of my best friends in the whole world, Christy, is getting married. It just makes me so happy. I am not gonna lie, I am also happy that she picked out amazing bridesmaid dresses.*

*I am also encouraged by the fact that ther last time I bought a bridesmaid dress from this particular store 1 1/2 years ago, it was three sizes bigger than the size I bought for this wedding.

GATORS: The University of Florida was my school, and the Gators are my football team. They are amazing. I am seeing them this weekend. Enough said there.

SUPPORT: This is something that may go unnoticed when everything is going according to plan. Let's just put it this way: support seems to be coming out of the woodwork right now, and I feel very blessed to have that.

So maybe life is too hectic most of the time to stop and smell the roses. That is why people have come up with a way to package rosewater in a bottle so we can put it in our food and smell it on the go.

If you have never had anything made with rosewater, I say you are in for a treat when you try this. It may not be for everyone, but I think it is very refreshing and even delightfully fragrant. And what better way to relax than with a cup of tea. If you live in Florida, you will want to make this as iced tea as I did since it still seems to be summertime here according to the thermostat. But if you live in a place where you actually are experiencing a change in the weather, you may want to try this as a hot tea.

This recipe is based off of the iced tea my dad ordered at a Lebanese restaurant in Tampa. I asked what was in it so I could make an attempt at recreating it and hopefully share it with you.

Stop and Smell the Rosewater Iced Tea

(makes 8 cups)

2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp rose water
8 tea bags (you can use green or black)

Mix the sugar, water and lemon juice in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.
Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat.
Allow mixture to simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved (stir frequently).
Once the sugar is dissolved, add the rosewater, and mix well.

In a separate pan, bring 8 cups of water to a boil.
Once water is boiling, remove from heat, and add the tea bags.
Allow tea to brew according to box instructions (about 3-5 minutes)

Pour the sugar/rosewater mixture into the tea.
Taste for sweetness. You may add as much sugar as you like. If you would like the tea sweeter but are watching your calories, I recommend adding a packet of artificial sweetener to your cold cup of tea later on.

Transfer to a pitcher and refrigerate until cold. Serve over ice.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


For anyone who questions my man and my comitment to one another, let me just say we are approaching our one year anniversary of a joint Costco membership. Buying in bulk? That is love. When you can look someone in the face and say, "yes I will eventually use all of this" as you hold a 60-roll package of toilet paper, you know you have arrived as a couple.

Ah, Costco. Is it the free samples in every other isle? Is it the pizza they sell outside? Is it the favorable prices? Or is it just the option to buy candy bars in bulk (not that you ever would, but still there is the option)?

I started shopping at Costco last year as I got more into cooking and decided to be better with money. I have a good system going on, buying certain things about once every month or so from Costco and only buying produce, cheese and a few random parishables from the grocery store every week. Meat is something I have been able to save on through this process. I still buy fresh meat from the grocery store for specific meals, but I buy frozen chicken and ground beef by the 10 and 5 pound bag, respectively on the cheap at Costco. For this reason, I find myself leaning towards recipes that are made of chicken and ground beef. Imagine that.

Well, the big Costco trip was coming, and I wanted to get rid of those last two pounds of ground beef to clear the space in the freezer. When I asked Zach what dish I can make with ground beef, he replied "Beef Stroganoff". Seeing as how beef stroganoff is not made with ground beef, I eliminated that as an option (even though it does sound tasty for the future anyone have a favorite reipe?). Finally something clicked; this resulted in me clicking away on the internet for recipes for picadillo. Picadillo is a tasty Latin American dish of ground beef with a bunch of goodies mixed in. You can eat it over rice, with potaoes, alone or even as a filling for tacos and empanadas. We ate it with black beas and plantains. I made the whole two pounds of it, and we ate it for days.

Crunch Time Picadillo

(adapted from an allrecipes recipe)

3 lbs ground beef (I cut this recipe down by a third since I wa susuing 2 lbs)
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp garlic, minced
1 red pepper, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
2 C raisins (optional...I left these out because oddly enough "somebody" I cook for specifically HATES the way rasins plump up when they are cooked)
16 oz green olives (stuffed with pimientos)
12 oz tomato paste
1/2 C water
3 oz of capers (optional...I would not use these if you include the raisins)

Brown the ground beef in a large pan.
Add onions and garlic to the meat and cook for 3 minutes.
Add all other ingredients, and bring the heat down to med-low.
Allow to simmer as long as you like or at least until all the vegetables are nice and tender.