Monday, December 22, 2008

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Sometimes, a photo can just jump out, grab you by the stomach and make your taste buds go bonkers. As a food blogger who reads TONS of food blogs, I’m constantly exposing myself to these types of photos. It’s a dangerous thing, but like any drug, the more I’m exposed to it the more I want. Gorgeous food photos are as addictive as crack- not that I know firsthand how addictive crack is…..but I watch Intervention so I have a good idea….! (Ok, that was meant to be a joke). Foodgawker exists for a reason- people love to see photos of delcious food.

Well, looky here at a perfect example of food porn/crack photo:

The minute I saw the gorgeous cover of January’s Gourmet Magazine, all plans to make gnocchi for supper went out the window and I knew I had to have spaghetti and meatballs. I mean, would you just LOOK at this?? How can anyone resist, especially with the chill outside (the Los Angeles chill, which I know you’re all laughing at but 45 F is bone chilling to us wimps)? I grabbed two containers of homemade marinara out of the freezer and dashed off to the store to buy everything I needed.

I did tweak the recipe a bit- instead of using veal, pork and beef I just used beef and turkey. Otherwise I was pretty faithful, cutting the recipe in half because the original recipe makes enough to feed a small army. It’s a classic recipe, and although I’d made similar versions in the past I had never added lemon zest to any meatball until this one.

I formed the meat into ¼ cup balls………

Browned them in a hot pan……………

Then drained the fat and poured my marinara into the same pan, loading it up with the browned meatballs and letting them simmer for 20 minutes………

OY, how good did the house smell?!?!?! SO GOOD!

I boiled up some whole wheat spaghetti and tossed it with some of the marinara that had been stewing with the meatballs, then topped the pile of pasta with a few of them and finished it all off with a grating of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil.

It was everything I’d hoped for and more. The meatballs were tender, juicy and flavorful, and the lemon zest really added something special. Eaten with some crusty bread, a salad and a glass of red, it was the perfect supper on a cold evening.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Dinner At Home With Friends........

Don’t get too excited by the excellent quality of these photos- they were not taken by me nor do they signal the beginning of any Gorgeous Photography Era of Tuna Toast. I wish I had an eye for beauty and composition but unfortunately I did not inherit my father’s sense for photography. These were all taken by my good friend and honorary little bro, Dylan, of the blog Eat, Drink & Be Merry and his beautiful lady, Jeni, of Oishii Eats.

Cory, creeping downstairs to join the party

We’d been wanting to get together with Dylan and Jeni for awhile and finally got the chance to last week when they came over to our house for dinner. I made oxtail ravioli while Dylan snapped away at my cat, Cory and our house. I wish I could shoot half as well as he and Jeni, and hope one day to learn how to see the world as they seem to see it. It's amazing how lovely everything looks in well-composed photographs, isn't it? We had lots of food, wine and great conversation and I think even the usually prissy Cory had a grand ol’ time.

Here’s the night as told by the amazing photography of Dylan and Jeni- enjoy!

Me, cooking away in the kitchen. Yes, I do realize that the bar needs to be cleared off so we can actually use it as a bar!

The food:

A little Prosciutto di Parma to nibble on...

My favorite pate from Nicole's Gourmet Imports in South Pasadena

The ravioli ready for their hot water bath...

J sprinkles a classic gremolata (parsley, lemon zest and minced garlic) onto his ravioli

Oxtail ravioli served up.

A simple green salad always rounds out a meal at our house

The people:

Cory, sitting next to J's beloved upright bass which he hasn't named yet

Dylan and Jeni, in the one slightly unfocused and fuzzy photo because, you guessed it, I took it!

J and I, sitting in our backyard

After awhile we noticed that Cory wasn't anywhere downstairs, so I took Dylan and Jeni up to our bedroom to show them Cory's hideout....

...under the covers of our bed!

It was a wonderful night with good food, friends and now these lovely photographs - thanks Dylan and Jeni!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Buenos Aires: Club Eros Restaurant- Sometimes Ya Just Gotta Go With the Flow

I’m what you’d call a research maniac/planner when it comes to travel. If I’m going to spend 6 days in France, I want to make sure I’ll eat the best baguette, the best foie gras; see the most gorgeous churches and sunsets and generally pack the time with as much good stuff as possible.

The upside of this is that I don’t miss out. The downside of this is that I miss out. Does that make sense? You see, I spend so much time trying to stuff in all of those places I’d read about that I may not leave enough breathing room to simply let a country show me what it has….organically. Exhaustion is also an unpleasant side effect of trying to shove multiple restaurants, parks and nightlife into a few short days.

Last month’s Buenos Aires trip was no different, and I went armed with my list of five tapas bars that I’d somehow deluded myself into thinking we’d hit during our very short, two-day visit. I’d never been to the gorgeous city and had fantasies of sitting at a wine bar, glass of Malbec in one hand and a croqueta de pollo in the other. As most of you already know, I have a fondness for small bar food, and Buenos Aires is known for tapas so I was as happy as a baked clam.

Well, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. In my old life, I would have been so frustrated but one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my go-with-the-flow husband is that sometimes spontaneous events end up being way more fun than all of the stuff that was meticulously planned in order to guarantee a good time. It’s very wise advice that has been proven to be completely true over and over again……even during our trip.

To be fair, we didn’t have much of a plan that night except to get a great dinner in Buenos Aires. Since we were in a group of seven friends, I didn’t want to chirp in and insist we go to this tapas bar or another; I wanted to get to Palermo (a neighborhood FILLED with great restaurants) and then innocently point to a few that fit my criteria for a good tapas bar. As we strolled around my eyes darted from one cute restaurant to the next, but just as I was going to meekly suggest a place, a local woman came up to our group and started speaking to us in Spanish. None of us speak the language but between my three years of high school Spanish and a few of the others’ knowledge of a few words and phrases, we managed to understand that she was telling us where to eat. She said she saw us and just had to tell us to stop, don’t go to any of these pretty places but instead to a place where all of the locals eat. She kept saying that it was “ugly” and not much to look and something about soccer being played there (!?!?) but that if we really want to experience good, local grub, that we must go. I have to admit a tiny part of me felt disappointed as I waved goodbye to the sparkly lights of a nearby tapas bar, but I was excited at the prospect of some awesome food.

Eros- the restaurant

We came upon Club Eros, the place the woman recommended, and it was part restaurant, part in-door soccer club. It was filled with locals and we were the only gringos in sight. There were tables set up inside the main restaurant, then even more in a sort of enclosed patio which also had the soccer stadium which was separated from the diners by a few iron gates. Every seat was filled and the owner/waiter was darting around trying to get everyone’s orders and get the food out as quickly as possible. He saw us and immediately set up a plastic picnic table and some plastic chairs- all of the restaurant’s tables were the same….Wal Marty white plastic sets. We had a great view of the soccer stadium where men and boys kicked the ball around. After taking our seats, we just told the owner that we’d love to eat the house specialties. He said, “Salad. Steak. Fries.” We nodded in agreement, ordered a few bottles of Malbec and waited eagerly for our food.

Mmmmm, yummy wine, and only $3 a bottle!

The wine was quickly brought out and we were just finished toasting when all of a sudden, I heard a loud CRACK and look to my right to see my friend Jess on the floor, broken plastic chair beneath him. All of the soccer-playing kids came running to the gate and started laughing and the entire restaurant broke into applause. It was quite a moment. Jesse stood up, took his bow and the owner quickly replaced his chair with a new one. It was hilarious, but I think we all sat in our chairs a little stiffer- after all, Jess is very thin and if he can bust a chair, any of us could!

Hey, sometimes chairs break in restaurants ok?

Hahahahah! Kids who were playing soccer run to see what the commotion is all about

Onto the food- the salad and fries were served family-style and both were simple and delicious. The fries were short little nubs that were perfectly fried, and the ketchup that accompanied them was rich and sweet. Our thick, grilled steaks came out and we all dug in……….holy cow (no pun intended). Juicy, medium rare, meaty deliciousness with the right amount of smoke… was, quite possibly, one of the best steaks I’d ever had. We pretty much sat in silence as every last one of us finished everything on our plates.

Big, juicy steak that was as good as it looks in this photo.....YUM.

Everyone chowin' down

For dessert we shared a few things- a couple slices of insanely rich chocolate cake, two piles of dulce de leche and three servings of a thick, firm cheese served with a mango jelly. A few more bottles of wine later and everyone was floating on food coma clouds. Happy times!

Firm cheese and fruit paste for dessert

Ok, now the kicker- six steaks, 1 grilled chicken, fries, salad and dessert for the bunch, plus four bottles of Malbec, a couple of waters…………drum roll please....around $67 USD. YUP. Incredible. We were floored.

234 Argentina pesos = $67 USD

Thanks to the intervention of that lady, we had the best meal of the trip. The entire experience was perfect in every way, and would have been entirely impossible had I stuck to my plan to go eat tapas that night. So my New Years resolution is to improve my “go with the flow” ways and sometimes let the universe lead me….ok, that’s enough hippie talk as I don’t have hippie bone in my body!

Club Eros
Uriarte 1609, Palermo Soho, Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires
Tel. +(011.54.11) 4832-1313

Monday, December 01, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was a small yet lovely affair with my family (J's family lives up north) at our house. I cooked, we ate and it was a nice, intimate holiday.

I started the prep one day in advance, and the whole process was so stress-free that I found myself standing around both Wednesday and Thanksgiving, wondering if I had forgotten something. I mean, I didn't cook for an army but still managed to make a lot of food. It just didn't feel like I did. Strange, but nice, I guess!

Wednesday: I made a simple brine for Herman (our 20 lbs turkey) by combining water, kosher salt, brown sugar, bay leaves and peppercorns:

Then I baked the cornbread for the stuffing:

Thanksgiving morning was just about getting Herman out of the brine, patted dry and into the oven, drying out the cornbread, steaming the potatoes and prepping the veggies:

SO Herman cooked up really quickly (brined, unstuffed birds tend to do that) so everything was ready a little early. Here's the meal:

Turkey: Not sure why I bought such an enormous platter since I served the bird sliced, but I guess every holiday table needs a big 'ol plate!

Mashed potatoes: I was thinking of doing roasted fingerlings instead but my sister said that it wouldn't feel like Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes.

Cornbread stuffing: easily my favorite part of the meal. Slightly sweet, homemade cornbread studded with chewy bits of Spanish chorizo which I rendered and cooked the added veggies in. I could eat this everyday, but my waistline probably wouldn't be too happy about it.

Gravy, Salad with Candied Pancetta & Roasted Butternut Squash and Green Beans with Lemon Zest. Yes, you read that right. Thick cut pancetta tossed with a mixture of brown sugar, crushed garlic, salt and olive oil cooked until crispy and carmelized. I just cooked the butternut squash in the rendered pancetta fat. C'mon, it's a holiday!

Dessert was made by my sister but we didn't take a photo- it was a lovely sweet potato pie with sweet sour cream. YUM.

After we ate we just sat on the sofa and watched back-to-back episodes of Three Sheets. Seriously, how on earth do I get that guy's job? Travel the world and drink. Sounds good to me.

Hope you all had a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lil' Parlor Pizzeria, South Pasadena

[Taking a short break from the South America posts for a minute as there are a million photos to sort through. I should have some more posts up soon!]

I’ll be totally honest and say I’ve never been a fan of Steven Arroyo’s restaurants. I never “got” Cobras & Matadors after several trips there, and my two visits to his South Pasadena wine bar 750 ml never did it for me either. I haven’t heard a lot of positive things about his downtown place, Church and State, so I thought maybe it best for me to stay away from that one as well.

So why did I try Lil’ Parlor Pizzeria, the new pizzeria opened in the old 750 ml space by this very same restaurateur? There is no real thin-crust, wood-fired pizza in my neighborhood, and the 7 minute drive from my door to the South Pasadena restaurant made it easy to at least give the place a shot. Other than sushi, Italian is my favorite food on the planet; thin crust, lightly dressed pizzas are near the top of that list along with a pile of al dente parpadelle clinging to some sort of slowly braised ragu.

J, my friend Ikea (not his real name but it’s a nod to his Swedish heritage) and I strolled in at around 7:30 PM on Friday night. We were warmly greeted and I immediately noticed the giant leg of prosciutto that sat on the counter, ready for me to dive into. Ok, maybe it wasn’t waiting for me but it was a good sign that maybe, just maybe Steven and I have a future together (as restaurateur and customer, of course).

We sat down, placed our orders and the wine was quickly brought to the table. Although J’s glass was filled well to the middle with his white wine, my glass was filled less than a third. Ikea suggested I take a sip, look at the waiter and say “Mmm, good, I’ll take this one!” and then give the glass back as if I was simply given a taste and that I wanted more. Although the idea was appealing, I figured I’d just sit this one out and hope that my next glass was more half full than half empty.

Appetizers: J ordered the heirloom tomatoes w/ burrata, and although I thought it a bit late in the year for the tomatoes I didn’t say anything. I should have. Look, you can spread burrata on a rusty iron and it’d still be divine. But even the rich creamy heavenliness that is burrata couldn’t save the grainy, bland heirlooms. We left most of it untouched.

Ikea fared far better with his baked ricotta w/ peppernata, aged balsamic and olive oil. The slab of baked ricotta was extremely mild and could have used some salt, and although J dubbed it as “tofu,” Ikea seemed happy with his choice.

I ordered the charcuterie plate – a nice selection of salami and prosciutto plus some pepperoncinis, olives and cheese. Very good, nice portion and nice selection.

Now for the pizzas:

Ikea went for the “Old School,” a pizza topped with pepperoni, tomato sauce, mozzarella and oregano. He deemed it delicious and thoroughly enjoyed every bite.

J was the real winner here- his “The Woods” pizza looked so bare upon first glance that I was worried, but powerful flavors coming out of the fresh chanterelles, smoked onions, fontina and rosemary were unbelievable. We kept looking at it, then tasting it, just wondering how such minimal toppings could pack such a punch. Truly delicious. I’m craving one as I type this actually.

I, unfortunately, lost the pizza battle with my Margherita pie. The “roasted tomato sauce” was bland and as grainy (oddly!) as those heirlooms and there was barely a smidge of mozzarella. Yeah, I know, I said I liked minimal toppings but, in the words of Oliver Twist, “Please sir, may I have some more cheese?” (minus the cheese part). Luckily I had some of the prosciutto and these incredibly sweet peppers left from my charcuterie plate so I doctored it up and it was fine.

I have to say, even though it was a hit and miss, I’d definitely go back to Lil' Parlor Pizzeria. The crust is the key- it’s tasty, it’s perfectly thin, it’s beautifully crusty without being too hard and the yeasty flavor of good bread runs deep. As always, I’d take into consideration that the restaurant is still fine tuning since they’d been opened less than a week when we went. All things considered, the pies are good and that’s what I want- a good pizza place near my house. I hope the margherita gets a little better and they stop serving mealy tomatoes, but that mushroom pizza alone is worth making the seven minute drive for……….heck, it’s worth making an hour drive for. Oh, and my second glass of wine was indeed more of the "half-full" variety.

Lil' Parlor Pizzeria
966 Mission St,
South Pasadena, CA

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Last snapshots of Bogota

A few last shots of Bogota, Colombia before I continue the posts on South America with the next destination of my recent trip: Buenos Aires. I truly loved Bogota and plan to return there to see more of it's wonderful culture and people!

Casa Vieja
- a restaurant offering traditional Colombian food........ this bowl of ajiaco, a thick potato soup with chicken, potatoes, corn on the cob and garnished with cream and avocado.

The new face of Bogota. If you squint just a bit, you'd think you were on Rodeo Drive....

....and speaking of new faces of Bogota:

Hooters, the proud new addition to the city. My friend and guide Carolina said she was happy that Hooters had come to Bogota, since it's a sign that other new American businesses will likely follow.

.......and the smiling new faces of Bogota Hooters?

Have you ever seen such gorgeous Hooters girls in your life? I haven't, and these beautiful ladies were more than happy to strike a pose.

Girls making jewelry to sell........

A trip to the Museo Botero.....

...where we saw works by both Botero, famous Colombian artist (here, in a self-portrait) addition to Botero's extensive personal collection of works by other this one by Salvador Dali...

...and speaking of art...this is just one of many sculptures around the city which are located high above the ground

A local fruit called lulu:

The church in the main plaza:

Messing around at the Presidential Palace...

View of the Andes from the plane.....on our way to Buenos Aires- posts coming up next!

Until then...........