Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest appearance...Chrissy's here!

My sister, Chrissy is visiting LA this week and all she wanted was a home cooked meal from her sis. After she hopped off her plane at LAX (with her dream and her cardigan), we went to the grocery store to pick up a few essentials. We decided on chicken and veggies -- but not just any old chicken and veggies. We opted for bacon wrapped chicken, stuffed with spinach and mozzerella cheese. We also cooked some brussels sprouts with bacon pieces and sweet potatoes with rosemary for our side dishes. It was a delish din that hit the spot.

Here is a pic of me preppin the chicken breasts...slicing them open to stuff with the fresh spinach and shredded mozzerella cheese. I recommend a smaller opening to actually stuff the chicken, that way it stays more compact.

 
Chrissy did a FAB job wrapping the chicken breasts in the bacon slices we picked up at the meat counter. I was quite impressed.
 
 
Here I am placing the brussles sprouts in the oven while balancing the chicken in my other hand...quite the multi-tasker. 
 
 
 
We tossed some EVOO and partially cooked bacon bits in with the brussles and cooked them for about 35-40 min on 325 degrees.  As for the sweet potatoes, we drizzled some EVOO on top, added fresh rosemary and tossed it all together. We cooked those for about an hour on 350 in the main oven.
 
Here is a before (left) and after (right) pic of both the sweet potatoes and the brussels sprouts. They were so amazing!
 
While the veggies were cooking, we sautéed the chicken on a low heat (covered) so the thick chicken breasts would cook thoroughly.  Instead of coating the pan with EVOO, we cooked the chicken in the bacon fat from the first batch of bacon we cooked -- which was added to the brussels sprouts. After about 40 minutes, we drained the juices and fat from the pan and turned up the heat so the bacon and chicken would brown and crisp, adding some nice flavor.  Here's a pic before we drained the juices.
 
 
Finished product!  Yummy! :)
 

Thanks for listening! Off to go hang with Chrissy.....slash lounge on the couch watching Covert Affairs in our sweatpants. :)

Shaz
 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Farmers Market - Eggplant

Greetings!!  

I am excited about this post because I am cooking one of my most favorite foods in the entire world -- eggplant. 

My friend and I ventured to farmers market in Westwood on Thursday. It is located near the UCLA campus, so it's typically pretty busy. As soon as we arrived, there was a vendor with tons of bags of 3-4 pieces of eggplant for $3! I didn't think twice and immediately picked one up. I also grabbed some freshly made eggplant hummus from one of the vendors -- and also a bag of fresh basil for $1. I remembered I needed some fruit for the house, so I grabbed a couple green and purple plums and a few apples. They are all so fresh and delicious this season.

I was also in search for some olive bread since I had the eggplant hummus, and although none of the vendors had any left, I found the last loaf at the bake shop on the same street. It's called Le Pain Quotidien and ironically, there is one next to my house in Marina del Rey.  Here's the website: http://www.lepainquotidien.us/#/en_US/locations/california/westwood. Chrissy, we should visit them this week when you visit - they have great lattes! :)

So, in case you couldn't guess - I will be posting today about cooking eggplant! I don't have any particular recipes for eggplant parm or eggplant lasagna, but I prefer tons of layers of eggplant with sauce and basil and cheese -- whatever you want to call it, works for me. Here are the veggies and sauces I am starting with, followed by a few cooking steps and tips. 

 
I start out with peeling, slicing and salting the eggplant slices and leave them sitting for at least an hour or two. The purpose of the salt on the eggplant is to draw out the moisture -- it makes for less chewy eggplant. You also want to slice it really thin. After you salt the slices and draw out the moisture, either ring them out or pat them down with several paper towels. They should be real wet. Here are a few pics of the slicing and salting process.



 
I then move on to my marina sauce -- and I use both canned or jarred sauce and diced tomatoes. I then sauté peppers and onions (similar to my "olive oil, garlic and wine" page) and when they are softened, I add them to the sauce. I then top it off with a ton of fresh basil and fresh ground pepper. I let the sauce simmer for at least two hours. Typically, I move on to something else around the house since I have a little bit of a wait.




After a few hours -- and after ringing out the eggplant, this is what it looks like.  It doesn't look super appealing, but you will be thankful you did all this once you sit down to eat it.


After a few hours, it is finally time to begin the layering process.  I start out with a drizzle of EVOO and a generous spread of marina sauce to coat the bottom of the dish.  We don't want anything to burn or get stuck to the bottom of the dish.
 
I then add the eggplant, some parmesan cheese, crushed red pepper, fresh ground pepper and more basil. This is all "layer number one". I make sure the eggplant is flat so it cooks evenly. After you do layer number one, REPEAT.



 
I continued these layers about 3 and 1/2 times...until I ran out of sauce.  I topped it with some provolone cheese -- because that's all I had.  You can also throw in some ricotta in between slices, or mozzarella....but we opted for a lighter version.

 
I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and once it was ready, I cooked the eggplant lasagna for about 45 minutes to an hour. Feel free to cover it so the cheese doesn't burn -- depends on your oven. It is imperative you let it sit for at least 30 minutes before slicing into it because of all the juices.  You want all the flavors to absorb. And honestly, it will probably be even better tomorrow night! 

 
 
We will be having just the eggplant as the main dish, but feel free to cook up some whole wheat pasta and/or some meatballs to have on the side. Super yummy dinner while watching the Red Sox in Game 4!!!!  GO SOX!
 
xo,
Shaz

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pasta pasta pasta...yum!

Happy 29th birthday to John Lawlor Bosch!!

The other night, I was craving some serious penne alla vodka, so Jim made a pit-stop at the grocery store to grab a few necessities. He picked up heavy cream and some turkey sausage. I had the penne pasta, vodka, marina sauce and some seasonings. I took a few pics of the process....here's how it went down:

As I mentioned in my "Olive oil, Garlic and Wine" page tab, this is my typical start to my Italian dishes. This time, however, I used a little different order. To start, I tossed in some EVOO, garlic and some onions to the pan. I let those sit for a few minutes while I started boiling some water for the penne. I went with some mezze penne.


 
Instead of my usual "wine" ingredient next to get the sauce working, I remained in the booze category by choosing a Russian vodka. I always cook with whatever booze item I would actually drink. For example, don't cook with a plastic bottle of Gordon's vodka if you can't stomach it with soda water and a lime. Same goes for wine.  Don't use the stuff that'll give you that ripping headache in the morning. I recommend using items you actually enjoying consuming. :)
 

I then started working on my ground turkey. I typically toss it in a bowl and separate it with a fork.  I like when it's really broken down in small pieces. I then seasoned the turkey with some garlic salt, a little basil, an EVOO drizzle, and even a few breadcrumbs.

 
I added the pasta to the boiling water and cooked it for about 15 minutes. I, unlike my dad, like the pasta 'al dente'. According to my training days at Vinny's, al dente means 'to the tooth' (direct translation), so that means it's a little tougher. Ideally, when you have leftovers, your pasta can then absorb all the yummy sauce and soften up a bit. 
 
I also added the turkey sausage to the pan and let it brown with the onions. After it was predominantly browned, I added a few tablespoons of vodka on very high heat so the alcohol burned off. Big photo cred to Jimbo who was changing our kitchen light fixtures while I was cooking dinner!
 
 
After the booze burned off, everything was really smelling delicious. I added some simple marina sauce from a jar....and let it simmer for no more than 2 min or so. Here is where I finally added some wine in the recipe. Jim's Grandma, Mary always suggests 'rinsing' out the sauce jar with some red wine rather than water for flavor. So that's exactly what I did. I then poured in about a cup of heavy cream to the pan and stirred it thoroughly. I added some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper and turned off the heat.
  

The turkey sausage vodka sauce is now complete!  YUM.

 
I strained the mezze penne and added some to three different bowls. I then poured the vodka sauce over the pasta. I love to have several bowls for leftovers during the week, rather than always digging into the same bowl night after night. I find that kind of gross.
 
 
A few garnishes that compliment this dish are some shavings of asiago cheese and fresh basil. Asiago cheese is an Italian cow's milk cheese that can have different textures, according to its aging, I recommend the aged asiago (Asiago d'allevo) because of the crumbly texture and the flavor is reminiscent of Parmesan. The aged cheese is also delicious in salads, soups, and other sauces. If you don't have Asiago, then go ahead and use Parmesan.
 
Oh, I also added the rest of the sauce to the original jar for later use. Don't forget about it though, because there is meat in the jar. It won't last very long.

 
This is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It was actually the first entree choice when I first visited Vinny's before I worked there. They used MUCH more fennel then me, but it was still delish.
 
Enjoy!! :)
Shaz

Monday, October 14, 2013

Holiday Weekend Fun!!

Holiday weekends....what is better than that!?  Three days away from the mayhem, the work, the drama and the early morning wakeups.  I had a visitor this weekend, my friend Abby from the east coast. She had a work trip planned the Tuesday after Columbus Day, so she stayed with us for a night. We watched the Red Sox, ordered Thai food and just relaxed. It was great.

On Monday, we thought we should do something outside to work up a sweat a little bit. We decided on renting kayaks. When we arrived at the rental place, we aborted that plan and decided to rent a boat. It was awesome.





With that, I wanted to keep you all posted on what I am into these days.

1. What I'm Watching:  Scandal and all Red Sox post season games...



2. What I'm Listening To:  "Pistol Annies" Pandora station - This band features Miranda Lambert and my favorite song is "Hell on Heels". The station also plays several Miranda country songs like "White Liar" and "Over You". Big fan of her. She was actually at the Jason Aldean concert that Chrissy and I went to at Fenway over the summer!!



3. What I'm Eating:  Protein protein protein.  I am really scarfing down almonds and soy protein smoothies in the Magic Bullet...which is a great invention. And also this new drink, both in this strawberry/acai flavor and the lemon and ginger flavor, too:

 
All for now, nothing too exciting to report. I made a penne alla vodka (Vinny T's recipe) which I will be posting soon.  See ya.  Go SOX!
 
Shaz

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Happy Birthday Jimbo! Coronado Visit

Jim just celebrated his 29th birthday on October 2nd.  He was in class until about 10PM that night, so my friends Sarah and Nicole came over for a girls night.  We made yet another spaghetti squash dinner with veggies and enjoyed an evening of #sobertober.  Sarah is running in the Big Sur Half Marathon next month, so she wants to refrain from drinking for the next 4-6 weeks.  Nicole and I are big supporters (and great friends) so we are joining her in sobertober. It has surprisingly been great. I feel refreshed and have a bit more energy than usual. I am quite enjoying myself. :)

Instead of celebrating with Jim on 10/2, we decided to road trip down to Coronado (an island off San Diego -- think MV to Cape Cod). We left early Saturday morning and stayed one night.  It was simply gorgeous. We spent a ton of time outside going on runs and enjoying the view. We even stopped by the Stone IPA Brewery with some friends. We can't wait to go back!

 




The Marriott in Coronado had an amazing firepit with a sweet view of the skyline. We enjoyed a few cocktails while we watched the sun go down. It was so relaxing and very much needed. Jim just registered for the Patent Bar exam on 11/13/13 so a little R&R is exactly what he needed. He takes the actual CA bar exam the last week in February. Good thing we soaked up a little of this before all that happens....




Bye Bye Coronado...!  Maybe next visit we can hop on one of these boats! :)


We stopped at Camp Pendleton to visit the ONLY Dunkin Donuts in the state of California!!  We were SO excited...until we got to the door and noticed a sign that read "system shutdown" for a few hours.  I was so mad that in my mind, I read "government shutdown" and complained for about 45 minutes. Then Jim decided to tell me it had nothing to do with the government, their computers just stopped working. Hehe woopse. :)



Til next time.......
xo
Shaz

Friday, October 4, 2013

It's October?!

I've been AWOL for the last few weeks, because I had to travel out of the country for work and then flew to Boston for a few festive occassions!  My Dad's birthday is 9/23 and my Mom's birthday is 9/24...and it was my mom's 60th birthday this year! We went to one of her favorite Chinese Food restaurants. She thought just myself, Jim, my Dad and her were going but turns out we invited the whole extended family! It was so fun. Here are a few pics of my trip back east.

My mom and her sisters:

 
My mom blowing out the birthday candles with some help from Jason!!  And photobomb by my girl Kayla. ;)


Kelsie put 11 of these on my neck...she loved it.  We were best buds at dinner.


It was nice to see my friends and family and also be home for the beginning of fall. Fall is the best season in Massachusetts because the weather is so gorgeous with the air so crisp and fresh, the leaves are changing -- and then there is of course apple picking and everything "pumpkin". Whether it be carving pumpkins, or pumpkin spiced lattes, or pumpkin muffins or pumpkin frozen yogurt. ??? Yes, I had pumpkin frozen yogurt while at the Phantom Gourmet festival on Lansdowne in Boston on 9/29 with my friends Julie and Katie. I didn't love it. I feel like pumpkin flavored items should be warm and comfy and cozy...not cold or remotely healthy.

My happy place -- Lansdowne Street at FENWAY PARK:


My favorite sandwich when I am home is an "LT"...a lettuce and tomato sandwich on white bread with light mayo. They are the absolute BEST when my mom has fresh tomatoes in her garden.  And a shout out to my Aunt Julie who gave me a few tomatoes from her garden, too!  "LT" sandwiches are the best!


We were also able to spend a few days down the Cape, because Jim's cousin Kara got married! It was a beautiful wedding, it was so "cape cod". Jim won the centerpiece of our table, because his birthday was just five days after the wedding.  Here are a few current pics of the house. We bought a new rug for the living room because the floors were getting destroyed.


 
The wedding venue with a gorgeous view of the cape cod beaches and sunset:
 
 
It is unreal that it's already October. Where does the time go?  I feel like we were just celebrating NYE with the Bosch's in the Dominican!  We have some exciting months ahead -- a few visitors, a trip home again for Thanksgiving and then traveling to Florida with my sister in December for a different twist on Christmas this year. It should be a great ending to 2013.
 
:)
Shaz