Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fusilli with Mushrooms, Greens, and Sun Dried Tomatoes

Really, if you've ever eaten a meal with me, you definitely know two things: firstly, that I'm a strict vegetarian (no, I won't pick the pepperoni off pizza), and secondly, that I hate mushrooms and olives. I will pick them out of any dish because there's something about their texture that I just... I just can't.

Well, big news. Like, earth-shattering. I like mushrooms now. 

I have no idea how or why I suddenly tolerate them. Throughout my years, I tried a mushroom every few months only to realize why I hated them so much. But within the past six months, I've sort of enjoyed eating them. I even bought some when I was grocery shopping last month. I'm a whole new person. 

This new discovery led to my lunch the other day--I wanted something fast and yummy. My typical weekday meal consists of a grilled cheese and tomato soup, and I was sort of looking for something a bit more grown-up. This simple fusilli with mushrooms, greens, and sun-dried tomatoes hit the spot perfectly.

For one serving, you will need:
 -1/2 cup of fusilli
 -1/2 cup of mushrooms (precooked or fresh)
 -1/2 tsp minced garlic
 -1 tbsp chopped sun dried tomato
 -2 big handfuls of greens
 -1/2 tbsp olive oil
 -salt and pepper to taste

This is not much of a recipe, more like a combination of ingredients into one dish. Does that make any sense? But this is super customizable and you can really put whatever greens and such that you'd like in it.

Your very first step will be to boil your water and cook the pasta until al dente--start making the vegetables once you've put the fusilli in the boiling water.

Start by heating your oil over medium-high heat. Once that's all hot, add the garlic and move it around for approximately fifteen seconds. Then throw in your mushrooms, and cook until they're softened. 

Then, add your greens and sun dried tomatoes. Cook until the greens have wilted. 

Your pasta probably should be done by now. Take a half-cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Do not drain!

Add the drained pasta to the skillet and cook until everything is well combined. Add a bit of the pasta water if you'd like to make it a bit more moist or saucy. You could potentially add a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and some cheese if you'd like, just for an extra punch of flavor.

Put it in a bowl and consume immediately! It's pretty simple, but it tastes good and hits all the major tastes. Maybe next time, I'll add some more spices besides salt and pepper. I think some red pepper flakes would add a nice little kick. Next lunch!

It took about twenty minutes from start to finish. I loved the starchiness of the pasta, the earthiness of the greens, and the complexity added by the sun dried tomatoes and the mushrooms. Now that I'm eating mushrooms, it's like there's a whole new food group to explore! 

And, yeah, mom, you're right; I suppose I eventually learned to like mushrooms. Savor the moment. I will never admit this again.

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Laguna Beach

In what's becoming a President's Day tradition, my roommates and I got away from school for the long weekend. J's grandmother lives in a beautiful house in Laguna Beach, so we headed down on Friday afternoon with a quick pit stop at In-N-Out. Tradition, right?

In the true spirit of Valentine's Day (or Galentine's Day), we headed out for a romantic dinner (ha) at Gelson's. We picked some stuff up at the deli, then headed back to eat and watch the sunset.

Embarrassingly enough, after dinner, I fell asleep on the couch right as the Olympics started, and only roused myself to wash my face and slip into bed properly for the night.

The next morning dawned bright and early, so we nabbed ourselves a spot on Aliso Beach right at the crack of 11:30 am. Since I don't really do sunbathing, I went for a jog in the sand while J and N soaked up the rays.

When I re-joined my friends, I did some thrilling assigned reading on the kuru disease in Papua New Guinea and eventually burrowed under a towel because I thought I was burning. Why I live in Southern California sometimes escapes me, I will say.

We spent the afternoon doing a spot of shopping downtown, I got in a spot of reading, the usual. I read Sun Tzu's The Art of War and got through about 75% of Dale Carnegie's influential How to Win Friends and Influence People. Don't worry, I'm still working through it before I go to bed every night!

For dinner, we drove to downtown Laguna to eat dinner at El Ranchito, a Mexican restaurant. We waited for our table outside... gotta love Southern California in February!

After a twenty minute wait, we were seated and greeted with some fresh tortilla chips. Don't mind if I do!

Naturally, we ordered some guacamole to share. It was great--very simple with huge chunks of avocado. It was a huge bowl, came with extra chips, and we devoured the lot before our entrees came!

J ordered the Baja Bowl with sautéed vegetables. She thought the portion was perfect and that the vegetables were "very nicely sautéed". She says she would definitely order it again! She had no complaints about it.

N ordered the same Baja Bowl, but with Carne Asada instead of vegetables. While she did really enjoy it, she thought it was too salty. Logical reasoning led to the thought that it may have been the steak that made it that way--while I think she enjoyed it, the bowl was not finished. Interpret that as you may!

I ordered the veggie fajitas. Just as J vocalized about her vegetables, I thought mine were sautéed wonderfully. The marinade was truly excellent. Unfortunately, El Ranchito cooks their rice in chicken broth, so I went without. The black beans were fine, and the (not pictured) tortillas were pretty good. A very solid dish!

Before heading home, we stopped for a coffee at Koffee Klatch.

We all got various lattes--I ordered a Chai Tea latte, N a regular latte, and J a raspberry Chai Tea latte. While my and J's lattes were truly excellent, N's was a bit too sweet. However, it was good enough that we went back on Monday!

Similarly to Friday night, we watched the Olympics before crashing embarrassingly early. Hey, it was a vacation!

Now Sunday, J and I actually got up sort of early. We headed to the Dana Hills high school track for a bit of a run. After we drove home in the sunshine, we got ready with N, and then the three of us took J's grandmother out for lunch at Taco Surf. It's her favorite restaurant, so we treated her as a "thanks for letting three college students take over your home for the weekend" sort of thing.

Like all of the best restaurants, we were greeted with food before we even ordered. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of ordering the guacamole. It was really not that good. It tasted sweet somehow, and not like avocado. The guac had a runny, strange consistency... not ideal. It didn't even look good on camera.

Luckily, before we knew it, our food arrived. J ordered the veggie tacos, which were apparently a perfect amount of food, and very tasty.

Grams got the huge chile relleno, which she apparently gets every time she visits Taco Surf. She loves it! The inside was absolutely stuffed with cheese. I debated ordering this, I will say, and I'm kind of craving a chile relleno now. Next time!

I decided on the very colorful and delicious taco salad with sautéed vegetables in the absence of meat, with balsamic dressing on the side. I only used a tiny splash of the dressing, since the vegetables had a marinade that permeated the rest of the salad. Let me tell you, the salad was awesome. I couldn't finish it--so many vegetables, textures, tastes... I would definitely order it again.

N ordered the three tacos, one each of Baja fish, regular fish, and carnitas. While they were all allegedly good, the carnitas were apparently amazing. The carnitas are a specialty of Taco Surf, according to J and her grandmother, and N thinks deservedly so!

Happily full, we dropped Grams off at home before heading to Fashion Island for an afternoon of shopping. We stopped at Whole Foods deli to grab dinner, then went back home to begrudgingly do some homework.

As the sun set, we had an impromptu photo shoot, as well as a proper shoot for J's fashion blog.

What a wonderful place to rest for a weekend. I woke up during the night and saw the moon reflecting beautifully off the ocean. I swear this isn't real life.

On Monday, after I took a brief trot around the neighborhood, we packed up the car, grabbed coffee at Koffee Klatch, and headed back to Los Angeles.

In somewhat related news, this exact weekend and posting date marks the first birthday of a Chef in College. I've hit over six thousand page views in the past year, and it's amazing to think that there are so many people besides my parents who care about my life.

To everyone who has read a post, liked, commented, followed one of my recipes... thank you for your support. What started as a simple way to keep track of what I do and what I make has turned into something so much more.

This weekend was a magical way to celebrate my plunge into the blogging world. I'm so grateful for it all.

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Monday, February 10, 2014

Bean Dip

Last week's Superbowl had absolutely no meaning to me. I'm a fair weather Patriots fan at best, so this whole football thing was maybe more about the commercials and food than the actual game. Well, scratch that. It was entirely about the commercials and food. I made bean dip from this recipe to bring to my friends' party, since I don't like showing up empty-handed. I placed it on the counter with a bag of chips without any fanfare and walked away... within an hour, the dish was scraped completely clean.

It's not the prettiest dip, but it's delicious and really quite cheap. You can easily make this as spicy as you'd like, and I'm sure you could add things like finely chopped bell peppers, other small vegetables, or even some ground meat. Think of it like the inside of a taco, in dip form.

Fast, easy, and really dang good, I highly recommend this for your next gathering. A group of hungry boys demolished this, but it could easily be halved for a slightly less ravenous crew.

You will need:
 -8oz (1 package) of cream cheese, softened
 -1 cup of sour cream
 -2 (16oz) cans of refried beans
 -taco seasoning mix, to taste
 -hot sauce, to taste
 -1/8 cup of chopped fresh parsley
 -1/2 of an onion, chopped
 -2 cups of cheddar/monterey jack cheese

Oven temp: 350˚F

You'll start by taking your softened cream cheese and fully mixing it with the sour cream. I took a picture for this but it looked completely nasty. You just want them to combine to make a nice, smooth texture. I'm sure you get it--you don't want any weird clumps of straight cream cheese hangin' out.

Add literally everything else and mix together very well. I ended up adding the majority of the taco seasoning as well as a fair amount of Tabasco and Frank's Red Hot sauce. Overall, probably a few teaspoons of each sauce. I wanted to make sure that the flavor of the beans didn't completely overpower the other tastes in the dip.

Maybe self-explanatory, but make sure everything is well combined and mixed. You want an even distribution of all the components. Who ever wants to bite into a mouthful of straight parsley?

Transfer to an oven-proof receptacle. I used a 9" cake pan, but you could definitely use a 9" x 13" pan to have a thinner layer of dip.

Top with cheese and pop into the oven for twenty or thirty minutes, until the cheese is melted and starting to brown.

Remove from the oven and serve hot with a fat handful of tortilla chips. You could even dip crunchy vegetables, or slather this onto a burger. The options are endless! I was hoping I would have some leftovers to put into a breakfast burrito the next morning, but unfortunately, I couldn't.

When football starts up again in a few months, I'll definitely be thinking of this for a crowd-pleasing dip. So easily customizable to your tastes, not too messy, and inexpensive! Just make sure you get a few bites before it all disappears.

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Umami Burger

Recently, J, N, and I had a little girls' night out. We dressed up, hopped in an Uber, and traveled downtown to the fabled Umami Burger, famous for their culinary exploration of the fifth taste--umami! It's one of the five basic tastes, along with sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. According to Wikipedia, umami is a word borrowed from Japanese, which can be translated "pleasant savory taste".

We were seated immediately at a cute little table, and made ourselves at home. It's so nice to get away from school, even if it's only for a few hours. Umami Burger is certainly a cool place to sneak away--think lots of exposed wood, cool bar, friendly waiters, very Los Angeles.

As we pored over the menu, our awesome waiter served our drinks and delivered their umami ketchup. Curious, we all sampled straight from the spoon to see what was so different about this ketchup from normal Heinz. I would say it was more like a marinara sauce in taste, rather than ketchup. It was tasty, but I wouldn't have exactly defined it as "ketchup"... I suppose there's not a better word. We enjoyed it so much with our meals that our waiter had to bring over extra!

Up first came J's sweet potato fries. Slightly sweet and wonderfully crunchy, we all noshed on these quite contentedly. Oftentimes, sweet potato fries can get a little soggy after cooking, but these maintained a great crunch throughout the short time it took us to devour the lot. After our meal, we agreed that these were the best fries out of the three we tried.

Next, N's fries came out. She told the waiter to "make 'em manly"--aka smothered in beer cheddar, bacon, and onion strings. I didn't eat these because of the bacon, but N and J both agreed that they were sinfully good. I do have to say, it's pretty hard to go wrong with cheese, onions, and potatoes.

Finally, my fries! I got the classic Umami thin fries, which were crisp but still very potato-y. Is that how anyone else quantifies their fries, by their potato-ness? I am definitely not the only one. Anyways... these were just plain good fries. Well executed, and a great accompaniment to my meal.

J and I both ordered the same entree, the lentil sloppy joe. It was a heck of a lot of food, and we both cleaned our plates. Even when I ate meat, I was not a fan of the sloppy joe... but this has totally changed my opinion. The lentil, mushroom, and tomato mix was topped with umami-ed crema, cheddar cheese, onion strings, and jalapenos. The bun was great as well--nicely toasted, great flavor, all that jazz. Each bite was a really great combination of all of the "five flavors", and I personally think that the jalapeno added the perfect amount of bite.

J loved hers as well. She said that the sloppy joe's main strength was its consistency. Many vegetarian options lack a general density, "when it doesn't really feel like you're eating anything", according to her, and this meal was extremely hearty. J also praised the tomato flavor of the lentil mixture.

N ordered the straight-up truffle burger. While it came out looking less than impressive, it apparently tasted quite nice. There was truffled cheese, garlic aioli, and truffle cheese on this baby, but N thought it could have done with more truffle flavor. She still ate it all very happily, and it was apparently a very perfectly cooked burger. She also praised the bun... she particularly wanted that classic "U" stamped on top!

After we demolished our entrees and our fries, we settled the bill and decided to stroll up Broadway a ways to digest. We popped into Urban Outfitters to do a spot of shopping, then, with slightly lighter wallets, carried along down the street until we came to Bottega Louie. Known for their awesome desserts, we grabbed a few, ordered coffee, and headed back home to enjoy our spoils.

J bought this monster macaron, which was the usual almond flavored with vanilla cream, raspberry jam, and fresh raspberries. She praised it heavily for being light yet very flavorful.

N ate two regular-sized macarons--salted caramel on the left, and raspberry on the right. She said that the salted caramel tasted a bit burnt, which was a huge bummer, but the raspberry was apparently incredibly delicious. Luckily, she ate the salted caramel first, and saved the best for last!

To finish it all off, I ate a little mini hazelnut chocolate thing. I have no idea exactly what it was, but it was like a very dense, fudgy-frosting thing inside a chocolate shell. It was extremely rich, but incredibly good. My pastry was really small, probably about two inches in diameter, but I savored each tiny bite.

It was a fantastic, laid-back girls' night out, complete with delicious food and great company. While it's a bit of a splurge meal, we all loved being off campus and having a well-executed meal. Downtown LA is really going through a revival. There's all sorts of shops, cool restaurants, and things to do besides just offices. I go to CrossFit downtown, and have the firsthand chance to see the dozens of restaurants, clubs, and stores that look interesting. Whenever you have a chance, I recommend exploring Downtown a bit. It's changed a lot in the past ten years, and I think you'd be surprised to see some of the cool things it has to offer.

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