the spaghetti and meatballs that saved my life

There is a lot to be said about good comfort food, but today I’m just going to say one thing. A plate of spaghetti and meatballs saved our livelihood.

To elaborate: I had a bad day at work. I had to run errands for work after I left the office. It was raining. I had a headache. I was supremely grumpy. But, I got home and sat down to a plate of spaghetti that was so comforting, so delicious, so soothing that upon eating it my plans to not return to work the next day (or ever) magically disappeared. Thank you spaghetti and meatballs (and Jordan) for preserving my sanity and my paycheck!

And just one culinary note: A mixture of ground beef and ground pork is essential for a heart-healing meatball. And don’t skimp and buy the 5% super-lean stuff – 20% fat is where it’s at.



un wok

When I was living in Argentina – land of meat, meat, more meat and sausage – my host mom would often try and oblige my very un-Argentine desire to eat vegetables. One of her concoctions to meet my green-loving needs was a rice, vegetable and chicken dish she called “un wok”. I’m certain she called this dish a wok because it contained rice and was seasoned with soy sauce instead of table salt – it doesn’t get more Asian than that. I enjoyed it and its higher proportion of vegetables regardless.

Jordan and I made “un wok” last night using some leftover chicken, veggies from our CSA and of course, soy sauce and rice. Our adaptation of Josefina’s wok added a few additional seasonings, but was equal to hers in its vaguely asian quality.

Un Wok
1 cup leftover chicken, cubed or sliced
broccoli, sliced
carrots, sliced
green garlic, sliced (or regular garlic, minced)
white rice

For the sauce:
Mix some soy sauce, sriracha, sweet chili sauce, and fresh ginger together in a small bowl. We just guessed with this sauce and added a bit more of each ingredient until it tasted good. You can’t really mess up this pan-asian dressing.

In a saucepan, make rice according to package directions. In a sauté pan, sauté chicken in a little olive oil until it is warmed. Pour sauce over chicken and toss. Add vegetables and sauté a few more moments until al dente. Pour the saute over rice. Ta-da! Un wok!



leek and tomato chowder with dover fillets

Remember these georgeous leeks from our CSA box?

We got around to using them this past Sunday in a delicious soup. I wanted something with leeks and tomatoes, Jordan wanted fish. This soup was our delicious compromise. It is also a really quick dish to throw together and only uses one pot, a bonus for a Sunday night.

Leek and Tomato Chower with Dover Fillets

According to Jordan, something becomes a chower when you add potatoes to it. I decided to not verify the accuracy of this statement because I like it’s simplicity. Isn’t he cute?

2-3 large leeks, sliced and rinsed of their grit
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 medium potatoes, diced 1 carrot, diced
1 quart vegetable broth
1 16 oz can of diced tomatoes
A bay leaf, chili flake, salt, peper
2 – 3 dover fillets, or other mild, flakey white fish
Lemon, for serving

Sautee the leeks in a little butter and olive oil until they are soft. Add garlic and carrots and sautee for a few more moments.

Add tomatoes, chili flake and a little salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes. Add broth, bay leaf and potatoes. Cook for another 15 – 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Salt and pepper the fish fillets. Lay them on top of the simmering soup. Let them sit their quietly poaching for about 6 minutes, or until the fish is opaque. Serve with a squeeze of lemon and some fresh bread.

This soup was delicious, fresh and seasonal. I also have to say that I am pretty impressed with Jordan’s ingenuity on the fish-cooking method. It was perfectly moist, the delicate texture was preserved, it looks awesome and was super easy. Can you ask for more?



pasta with kale, parmesan, and portobello

I used to have a phobia of cooked greens. I thought they were gross, mushy and sea-gunky and so I religiously avoided them for years. And then I moved in with Jordan, who happens to like cooked greens. And then we joined a CSA. And now I have winter greens up to my eyebrows!

Guess what dear friends … I’ve embraced cooked greens. I actually like them now. Yep! Amazing! My fear has dissipated because I have learned the secret to cooking greens so that they are edible (delightful even) and the exact opposite of the greens I once feared.

The secret: Blanche them quickly in boiling, salted water. They cook, yet they retain their texture and don’t become a gloppy indistinguishable mess.

Pasta with kale, parmesan, and portobello

Put a pot of water to boil. Once boiling, add a hefty handful of salt and your kale. Boil the kale for 3 minutes. Pull it out with a slotted spoon and set aside (it will continue to cook a bit while it sits). Add your pasta. Cook according to package directions. Meanwhile, sauté a little garlic in olive oil. Crack an egg in the serving bowl, set aside. Grate a little parmesan or pecorino, lemon zest and chop any herbs you have lying around.

Turn on the broiler. Broil your portobello, 7 minutes per side. Slice.

After the pasta is al dente, add to your sauteed garlic. Toss. Pour this into your serving bowl and toss with egg, cheese, zest, herbs and kale. The egg and cheese combine with a little of the residual pasta water to make this awesome, super easy sauce. Top with portobello and more cheese and serve.

Note: You can easily omit the portobello or replace it with another protein. We didn’t really think it’s flavor melded with the other ingredients. But, don’t forget that kale! Turning icky greens into a delicious dinner is the whole point!



alice’s cauliflower soup

Boy oh boy, cauliflower is in season! This week at the farmer’s market we purchased a huge head of cauliflower. It was at least basketball sized … and only cost $1. Talk about bang for your buck.

Jordan and I really enjoy cauliflower, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from prior recipes. This week we decided to fall back on an old favorite – cauliflower soup. We’ve made this recipe several times, but this is its first debut on the blog. Why you ask, if it is so delicious, has it never be discussed? Because the pictures I’ve taken up until this point have all be so ugly that I couldn’t bear to post them.

This recipe is from Alice Water’s Chez Panisse Vegetables, which is a fabulous cookbook. Each chapter highlights a vegetable, explains its taste and season, and then offers a few simple recipes for how to best prepare it.

French Cream of Cauliflower Soup, from Chez Panisse Vegetables
1 large cauliflower
1 onion
2 T butter
4 T creme fraiche
chervil (I never can find chervil, so we’ve used parsley and chives)

Cut off the stem of the cauliflower and any green leaves. Break into florets, wash in cold water.

Peal and slice the onion thin. In a soup pot, stew the onions and florets in butter with a little water for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, without letting them brown. Add water to cover and cook for 25 minutes, covered over medium heat.

Puree the soup in a blender or using an immersion blender. Reheat gently until just under boiling. Add the creme fraiche and season with salt and nutmeg to taste. Serve very hot with herb garnish.

Yep, that simple, and it is amazing!  You don’t even need to have stock on hand (Awesome, since I more often than not forget to buy it). If any of you end up with gigantic heads of cauliflower, most probably larger than your own heads, try out this recipe. It is perfectly simple and the true cauliflower flavor shines through.


Update: We enjoyed six meals from this single batch of soup! $1 cauliflower + $0.50 onion + $4.50 creme fraiche = about $1 per meal!


oven roasted fish with citrus

Tonight’s dish was inspired by a recipe in The Chronicle for a quick week-night dinner.  I prepared it as directed in the recipe last week and with my own twist this week.

Oven roasted fish with fennel and grapefruit, or with lemongrass and ginger
1 – 2 fillets of a mild, white fish (I used rockfish)
2 T fronds from a nice, fresh fennel bulb OR 1 stock lemongrass, cut into slivers
1/2 grapefruit, juiced OR 1 t fresh ginger, minced and 2 T lemon juice
2 T butter, cut into small pieces
Salt and pepper
Lemon, for serving

Preheat an oven to 350 degrees. Place fillets on a large piece of tin foil. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the fillets. Lay the fennel fronds on top of the fish. Crinkle the sides of the tinfoil up a little and squeeze the grapefruit juice onto the fish. Top with the butter and close the foil package. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes, until the fish is just flaky. Be careful when opening the foil packet, the steam inside is really hot!

Serve fish with a fennel salad OR cabbage salad and a grain. We had wild rice the first night and jasmine rice the second time.

Conclusions: Tasty, seasonal, super easy and pretty healthy (although not the most photogenic). This recipe is also incredibly adaptable to different seasonings and flavors …  it may just become a weeknight favorite.



spaghetti alla carbonara

Let me begin by saying that this is one of those perfect dishes; nothing is wrong with it, nothing needs to be added and nothing needs to be taken away.  Spaghetti alla carbonara is a wonderful mix of egg, pancetta, parmigiano reggiano, and black pepper which form a silky sauce for the pasta.  Not only is it a perfect meal, but it’s quick and easy to make.  Before I get to the recipe I’ll give you a sneak peek into my past and what this dish means to me.

When I was a young food nerd on my first (and hopefully not last) trip to Europe, I given some excellent advice from my father: “eat as much spaghetti alla carbonara as possible because it’s very difficult to find in the US.”  I did.  In fact, I believe I at spaghetti alla carbonara five times during my six days in Italy.  This was back in 2004, and I’ve only tried to recreate the magic once.  My first attempt probably wasn’t long after the trip and needless to say, it wasn’t quite as good as the stuff from overseas.  Fortunately, since then I’ve become much more proficient in the kitchen and, inspired by the amazingly fresh eggs in our CSA box, I decided to give it another go.

It really is an amazingly simple dish, but I still used a recipe for guide.  Emily recommended the version from Ruth Riechl’s Garlic and Sapphires, which immediately appealed to me due to her substitution of bacon for pancetta.  Now I’m sure some people would find this blasphemous, but I prefer the flavor of bacon and I think that the use of pancetta may have been my downfall all those years ago in my first attempt.  So, with the pork issue sorted out, it’s time to get cooking.

First, bring a large pot of water to boil, then add a nice handful of salt and pound two-thirds of a pound of spaghetti.

Meanwhile, cut bacon into 0.25 inch slices and cook them over medium heat.  Add 2 or 3 cloves of garlic cut in half.  Allow the bacon to render its fat and start to crisp at the edges.  Don’t cook it like you’re serving it for breakfast because you need it to be soft to incorporate into the sauce.

While the bacon is cooking, in the bowl you are going to serve the pasta in whisk two eggs together and add a pinch of salt and a pretty good amount of freshly ground black pepper.  Then grate about half a cup of parmigiano reggiano into another bowl (don’t skimp here, buy the good stuff).

When the pasta is done cooking reserve about a quarter cup of the cooking liquid and add the drained pasta to the egg mixture in about three batches, mixing each time.  This tempers the eggs (cooks them slowly) so they don’t curdle.  Once all the pasta is in, remove the garlic from the bacon and add the bacon, its fat, and the parmesan.  Toss it all together and add some of the reserved water if it needs it.  Serve immediately with more parmesan and pepper.  We enjoyed ours with Acme bread and more CSA stuff: a salad with spinach, watermelon radishes, carrots, and a simple balsamic vinaigrette.

Conclusions:  Awesome!  Just as good as Italy.  If you execute it properly, without over-thinking it, and use good quality ingredients, it will be perfect.

Also, if you have one of those pasta spoons with the long tines, it works really well when adding the pasta to the eggs because the pasta still holds onto some of the water so you don’t have to add it later.



sage grilled cheese

You all know how much I love Alice Waters and Julia Child (as in I’m totally obsessed, think they are beyond awesome ladies, and wish I could meet them) … well, I have a new crush to add to that list: Judy Rodgers. Judy rocks and so does her cookbook The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.  Recently, Judy taught me the importance of salting early (do it, it will improve meat ten-fold) and how to make this incredible grilled cheese.

Everyone love grilled cheese because there is absolutely nothing bad about it. Well, this recipe is no exception.

Sage Grilled Cheese, from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Makes four sandwiches

About a dozen fresh sage leaves
2 T olive oil
1/2 t fresh black pepper
8 slices 1/4 inch thick from a chewy, peasant-style bread (we used a sour batard)
4 oz Fontina or Swiss Gruyere, coarsely grated or sliced thin

Chop the sage. Place it in your smallest saucepan, add the oil, pepper and set over low heat. Warm to the touch. Turn of heat and let the oil infuse while you assemble the sandwiches.

Blanket the bread with cheese, taking care to bring the cheese all the way to the end. Top with another slice of bread. Lay a heavy cutting board over the sandwiches to press them for about 20 minutes.

Preheat a griddle or cast-iron pan over low heat.

Use a brush to spread the oil on both faces of the sandwiches. Add to the pan and cook until golden, 2 – 3 minutes per side. Keep the heat low so you don’t burn the sage or pepper.

Eat while still hot!

Conclusions: I love you Judy! Way to take something that is already great and make it even better! So simple, so perfect. Totally worth the extra few minutes of prep. I mean, look at that sandwich!



quick mac and cheese

Since the weather has been so nice here in SF, Emily and I have spent much of our time outside with our dog Willow.  This was great all last weekend until it came time for dinner on Sunday.  We didn’t want to go out, but we didn’t feel like cooking up something worthy of a typical Sunday dinner;  mac and cheese felt like a perfect compromise.  Typically, mac and cheese is made with a béchamel sauce in which you add cheese to make a basic cheese sauce for your noodles.  This still seemed like too much work, but I wasn’t about to make that stuff that comes from a box with the little bunny on it that Emily likes.  Inspired by the pasta dish we had a couple weeks prior, I thought it would be nice to make the sauce with ricotta to thicken it rather than a béchamel.  I started by cooking some bacon that had been cut into lardons (I almost forgot to mention this was mac and cheese with bacon, of course).  After taking out the bacon and setting the fat aside, I slowly heated up about 0.5 – 0.75 cup of cream.  Now, my loyal reader, you must be thinking “But Jordan, what will you do with that glorious bacon fat?!”  Of course I’ve thought this through, and mixed the bacon fat with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese for a delicious, bacony, cheesy topping.  Back to the sauce: the cream is over a low flame and I’ve added about 0.5 cup of ricotta, 0.5 cup of grated fontina, and 0.25 cup of grated parmesan until melted together to a fairly thick sauce.  If the sauce is not sufficiently thick, add more of the cheeses to your taste.  Season with salt, pepper, and a very small sprinkling of nutmeg; it sounds weird, but it’s classic and tasty even though you don’t really taste the nutmeg, if that makes sense.  Add the sauce to about 0.5 lb of cooked pasta of your choice (Emily picked fusilli, which would not have been my choice, but she didn’t know that … until now).  Sprinkle on the topping and bake at 375 degrees until the top is crisp and looks like this:

Conclusions:  This version was much quicker and easier to make than traditional mac and cheese without sacrificing flavor.  On the downside, the ricotta prevents the sauce from becoming perfectly smooth and so you don’t get as much gooey, cheesy goodness either.  I’d make this again, but if I have the time I’ll go all out and do the béchamel.