Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spiced Lemon Cilantro Chicken Soup

Since it is springtime, I thought I would make this fresh, colorful soup to celebrate.  This soup has all sorts of flavors that are my favorites: acidity from lemon, bright tang from tomatoes, exotic warmth from spice and chicken... and of course, fresh cilantro.  Plus it used a bunch of ingredients I already had in my pantry, and as an extra boon it gave me an excuse to use adorable little israeli couscous.  Well, it wasn't really an excuse, as much as a decision.  When I first came across this recipe, it used orecchiette noodles instead; sorry little ear-shaped pasta, but I don't really like you.  (Although the translation is cute, isn't it?  Orecchiette in Italian literally means "little ear.")     

Anyway, more to the point, this soup was just the sort of warm, fresh meal I was craving.  Plus, I got to chop to my hearts content using my new cutting board!  (Isn't it pretty?)  

Having taken the time to make my own chicken stock before, I know that homemade broth has a full-bodied flavor that only comes from hours of simmering and reducing; there is really no comparison to canned broth.  Which is why I was particularly interested in trying out this recipe since it enhances store-bought broth by a quick simmer with loads of spices and fresh vegetables.

How to Chop an Onion Like a Pro

*After a discussion with some friends this weekend, I thought I might include a page on my site with some kitchen tips and "how-to's."  I am just getting started with the content and adding the new page, so check back for an update.  For now, I hope this is useful! 

1. Start with your onion on the cutting board.  Do not peel it.

2. Slice off the sprout/stem end of the onion, but leave the root attached and intact.  If you prefer, you can cut off a portion of the root (leaving the root core attached), but I find it easiest not to cut it at all.

Dining out for Life 2010

Hey friends!  Just wanted to make you aware of an event happening tomorrow, (Thursday, April 29) where just eating out at your favorite restaurant can help to fight AIDS.  Here in San Diego, Dining Out For Life 2010 is sponsored by The Center, but this event is going on nationwide.  The Dining Out For Life event brings together restaurants, bars, and their patrons, to make a difference in AIDS prevention.  On their website, you can find a list of 100 local San Diego restaurants that will donate at least 25% of their proceeds to The Center's HIV/AIDS services and prevention programs.  Think of all the people eating out, 25% is quite a contribution!    

As an extra bonus, if you are feeling more generous, check out this offer: 

"Make an additional donation of $25 or more on Thursday, April 29 and become a member of our 20% Off Tuesdays club, exclusively for supporters of The Center's Dining Out for Life® San Diego! As a member, you will receive 20% off of your table's food bill on Tuesday evenings throughout the year (July 1, 2010 - May 31, 2011).

20% Off Tuesday locations as Feb. 27: Banana Leaf, Bangkok Thai Bistro, Bombay Exotic Cuisine of India, Busalacchi's, Gulf Coast Grill, Horton's Bar & Grill, Masala Spices of India, Moonsoon, Pizza Fusion, Soltan Banoo Restaurant, Spread, Terra Restaurant, The Merk Restaurant, URBN Coal Fired Pizza."   

That is a pretty good deal if you ask me!  And maybe you were going to eat out tomorrow anyway... so pick one of the participating restaurants, make a reservation (they are sure to be packed), and feel good about yourself for doing your part to help fight HIV/AIDS.  Remember, there are Every little effort counts!  

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ginger Spice Cookies

I think that cookie-eaters fall into two camps: those that prefer their cookies chewy and soft, and those that like a cookie with a little crunch.  Obviously many people enjoy all cookies, and there are certainly as many shades of grey (or golden brown in in cookie-speak) in between a soft and a crunchy cookie as there are different types of people.  But if forced to choose, I think you could definitively say if you are one type or the other.  Think about it now... Do you prefer a soft chocolate chip cookie or a Thin Mint with some bite?  A chewy molasses spice cookie or delicate lemon shortbread?  Arguably tough choices.      

Me?  I fall into the soft and chewy camp, although I certainly never deprive myself of a Thin Mint straight out of the freezer.  If you fall into the latter group, these Ginger Almond Wafers will appeal to you most, though they are sure to please even the most die-hard chewy-cookie fan.  I can attest to that fact myself, and I also have the opinions of several other professional cookie-eaters (you know who you are).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cherry Rhubarb Chutney... with Brie and Crusty French Bread

Ok, so I know I should tell you all about rhubarb, and how it is in season now, and how its tartness is the perfect antidote for what seemed like a long winter.  And I will tell you.  But first, I have to say one thing: this recipe is perfect for eating at a meeting of The Finer Things Club.  If you don't know what I am talking about, then you undoubtedly have never watched The Office and have never longed to be part of the group honoring all things finer.  Still don't know what I mean?  I think Andy says it best: "The Finer Things Club is the most exclusive club in this office. Naturally, it's where I need to be. The party planning committee is my back up, and Kevin's band is my safety."  At Dunder Mifflin, if you love food and you love culture (and need a break-room respite from Michael Scott), then you belong in The Finer Things Club.  Unfortunately, you would be in the same boat as poor Andy Bernard since they don't allow new members.  But just maybe... if you brought them this chutney, some quality Brie, and fresh-baked french bread... they might reconsider.  

Alright. I have gotten my Office reference out of my system, so lets be serious and talk about rhubarb.  This plant is actually related to the sorrel and is in the buckwheat family, which technically makes it an herb although it is almost always cooked as a fruit. Rhubarb has a natural growing season from around March to October, but many people seem to think that the winter crop from December to March has a better looking pink color, more tender stalks, and a less tart taste.  During the winter, rhubarb plants are "forced," which means that they are transplanted to dark, hot environments to speed up their growth. (For home gardeners, this can be accomplished by covering the plant with a forcing pot or a wastebasket.)  Either naturally grown or forced, rhubarb is at its peak right now so hurry to the market and get some.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Miso Salad with Baked Tofu

My boyfriend is in town for 6 weeks (happy dance!), so it is no surprise that the amount of sugary goodies I have been consuming has skyrocketed.  He has an insatiable sweet tooth and I can't say I have the inclination or the will power to refuse him.  In my opinion, the sure cure for this type of overindulgence is to eat a healthy meal with lots of veggies. (And then of course, reward myself for making such a nutritious choice by having a cookie for dessert.)  So in the hopes of rescuing what fitness I have left, I decided to make this Chopped Salad with Baked Tofu.  And then go out for a run.   

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Citrus Layer Pie

Are you ready for another grapefruit recipe?  I hope so, because this citrus layer pie is sweet, silky goodness.  

Over Easter weekend, I had planned to host a small brunch party with some close friends, but I was worried about the time it would take to make the apartment "party-ready."  So when a good friend and co-worker invited us over, I eagerly accepted.  He was particularly keen on celebrating the holiday since it was his son's first Easter experience.

Little Viktor Diego Tautz is just under 8 months old this month, and although he can't yet run through the yard on his own, he likes to cruise around in his baby Jeep Liberty that is almost as cool as the new Jeep his dad drives. For Easter he was excited to spend time with his good friend Peter Cottontail and to hunt through the yard for hidden, colorful eggs.  He needed a little help to find his gifts from the Easter Bunny, but that was mostly because he was more interested in the grass than in finding presents. (Already a true outdoorsman!)  Diego still has a few years to go until he can enjoy the champagne, cakes, and yummy citrus pie with the rest of the adults; however, in short time he will join the ranks of children all over the world who celebrate this sugar-laden holiday by eagerly scarfing down Cadbury eggs and chocolate bunnies. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

Oven Roasted Grapefruit-Cilantro Chicken

Have you ever roasted a chicken before?  If your answer is yes, then you have experienced what I think is a singular pleasure: after more than an hour of sitting around doing absolutely nothing, you get to open the oven and pull out a gorgeous, golden roasted bird.  Your family, friends, or guests will oooh and ahhh as they appreciate the beauty of your creation.  Their mouths will water in anticipation as they breathe in the aroma of freshly cooked chicken, herbs, and spices.  Meanwhile, you (the triumphant chef) can give a careless toss of your head and say, "Oh, it was really not hard at all!" And you can say that because it is the straight truth.   

Until about a year and a half ago, I had not experienced this pleasure for myself.  When I was growing up, my mother or grandmother roasted a turkey every year for thanksgiving, but we never had a whole roasted chicken for a special occasion or a Friday night dinner.  Because our thanksgiving turkey took such a long time to make (and more likely because my one-time personal attempt at turkey roasting was a debacle), I mistakenly assumed that producing a successful roasted chicken must be a tricky thing that required some kitchen magic.  Oh how wrong I was!  The recipe that convinced me to conquer my chicken anxiety was Ina Garten's "Perfect Roast Chicken" from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.  This was one of the first cookbooks I ever received, and it remains at the top of my list of favorites; I have yet to try a recipe from this book that is not satisfyingly delicious and deceptively simple all at once.  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Avocado and Red Grapefruit Salad

With 20 pounds of grapefruits to consume from our trip out to Anza Borrego, I went in search of recipes online.  I hit up all my favorite food blogs, but for most of them, an entry of "grapefruit" in the search box came up with a short list of zero recipes.  Even searching on common cooking sites returned only a handful recipes, and many of them were not to my liking.  I quickly realized that the grapefruit seems to be the black sheep of the citrus family. 

I wonder why this fruit has such a stigma?  Though the outside of a grapefruit is often misshapen, the waxy rind always greets you with a cheerful blush and hides a jewel-like treasure of fruit within.  Even the delicate pink juice is a special treat.   

Friday, April 2, 2010

Desert Fruits

While many cities in the US are experiencing the last of winter’s snowfall or early spring showers, San Diegans have the pleasure of enjoying gorgeous April weather and our yearly wildflower season (Midwesterners, just try to hide your jealously). Here in Southern California, where the region is by definition a desert, sparse rains in the winter are enough to saturate the ground so that wildflowers bloom from around mid-February to mid-April.  The flowers are especially beautiful out in Anza Borrego Desert State Park and Borrego Springs, where cacti are in full bloom and some fields are absolutely covered with flowers.   Since my boyfriend had never been out to the desert, we went for a short camping trip last weekend.