Creamy Asparagus Risotto

Risotto is one of those dishes that sounds super fancy–and it definitely tastes luxurious!–but is actually far easier to make at home than most people think. In fact, it doesn’t even need cream or milk to make it creamy. You just need to buy the right kind of rice and give it a little love and attention and you’ll be whipping up some restaurant worthy risotto in no time. Flavor it with your favorite mix-ins like roasted asparagus, caramelized onions, roasted butternut squash or more. Bon appetito!

Ingredients

  • Arborio rice, 2 cups — you must use arborio rice for this dish. Arborio rice has a super high starch content and this is what makes your risotto creamy and delicious!
  • Garlic, 5-6 cloves chopped
  • White wine, 1 cup
  • Chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to keep it vegetarian/dairy), 4 cups — if you wanted to do a super rich and earthy mushroom risotto, you could make some mushroom broth by rehydrating dried porcini mushrooms for a truly luxurious risotto dish!
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan (or nondairy substitute such as nutritional yeast), optional but always worth it
  • 1 cup of Herb Roasted Asparagus (or your favorite mix-in)

Directions

  1. Heat the stock in a saucepan and add any flavorings you’d like to it such as herbs, lemon juice, spices etc.
  2. Sauté garlic in olive oil until fragrant and slightly brown. Season with salt and pepper
  3. Add rice and toss to coat. Sauté the rice so it gets nice and toasty. This will give it a wonderful and deep flavor later on
  4. Add about a cup of white wine of your choice — you can also use champagne, sparkling wine etc. Just make sure it’s something you like. If you wouldn’t drink it, don’t cook with it! The flavor will just concentrate as it’s cooking
  5. Stir the rice, and once it’s absorbed the wine, start adding about a cup of broth to the rice and stir it around
  6. Every time the rice absorbs the liquid, it needs to be stirred. As it cooks and gets stirred, it will start to release its starches which creates the creaminess that is characteristic of risotto
  7. After about 18 minutes, you will have added several cups of liquid and the ride should be creamy and have expanded. Give it a quick taste for seasoning and to make sure the rice is al dente (should have a little bit of chew left)
  8. Now would be the time to add anything to the risotto like some roasted asparagus, maple roasted butternut squash if you wanted to go sweet, or anything you like
  9. Turn off the heat and add some nutritional yeast (if meat meal) to give it some umami or a cup of grated Parmesan cheese if a dairy meal and stir.
  10. Serve while still warm. To reheat, heat risotto into a saucepan with a 1/4 cup of water and stir until steamy and ready to inhale

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Cooking With Curry

I love coming up with new ways to cook with some of my favorite ingredients, especially comfort foods. To me, a big wok full of curry is super comforting and was one of the dishes I made all the time when I moved into my first solo apartment. It’s warm, earthy, spicy and makes me feel good all over. Plus, it’s amazing for leftovers! So, when Mama Lam’s, a local food vendor making and selling their own Malaysian Curry Paste that I had the pleasure of meeting at the annual Queens Taste, event contacted me about partnering up, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to try cooking with their homemade, Malaysian curry paste and curating a couple of dishes to use their product in.

Photo May 26, 7 48 44 PM (1)

I decided to create a curry themed meal featuring Mama Lam’s Curry Paste two ways—a Pistachio Crusted Curry Salmon and a Curry Noodles with Crispy Tofu. Check out the recipes below and also watch my YouTube cooking demo here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PCoQ8uLQYU.

Photo May 26, 7 48 59 PM (1)

Pistachio Crusted Curry Salmon

  • 4-6 salmon filets (skin on)Photo May 26, 4 41 17 PM
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finelyPhoto May 26, 4 43 42 PM
  • 1/2 jar of Mama Lam’s curry paste
  • 1 tbsp Sambal Olek or another Southeast Asian chili sauce—Sriracha works fine.
    • I recommend not skipping this ingredient, even if you don’t like spicy food. The fish has a warming heat and it is very much tempered by the coconut milk and acidity of the lime juice
  • 1/2 can of coconut milk
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 tbsp of ginger, chopped
  • 1 stalk of lemongrass, cut into pieces–you can also use 1/2 tbsp of chopped lemongrass from a tube. You’ll find this near the fresh herbs in the marketPhoto May 26, 4 42 29 PM
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 2 cups of roasted pistachios, shell removed
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/2 tbsp of black pepper
  1. Create a marinade with the chili sauce, ginger, garlic, lime juice, coconut milk, lemongrass, oil, salt and pepperPhoto May 26, 4 48 24 PMPhoto May 26, 4 49 46 PM
  2. Marinade the salmon for at least an hour and up to 4 hours
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  4. Crush the pistachios with either your hands or a mallet. A rolling pin works well too—this is very cathartic and a great way to take out your aggression. Ha!
  5. After the fish has soaked, dip the salmon into the pistachios and coat on sides and top with the nuts
  6. Place the salmon skin side down on a greased baking pan and bake for 20 minutes until the crust is set—The fish should be cooked through, but still a bit pink in the center and very moist. It will continue cooking for a few minutes once it comes out of the oven
  7. Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice over the topPhoto May 26, 7 48 29 PM (1)
  8. This fish is delicious served all on its own with a fresh salad or some roasted asparagus, but is even better with some Curry Noodles!

Curry Noodles with Crispy Tofu

  • 1 package of firm tofu, 14oz
  • 1 pound of broad rice noodles
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 2 yellow onions, chopped
  • 1 eggplant—chopped into bite sized pieces. I love to use Japanese or graffiti eggplant for this dish not only because of the beautiful color, but also because it has less water in it than an Italian eggplant, so it’ll be sweeter and stay firmer when cooked downPhoto May 26, 5 04 02 PM
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp of fish sauce
  • 1/2 jar of Mama Lam’s curry paste
  • 1 tbsp of Sambal Olek chili sauce
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped (reserve some for garnish)—also called green onion or spring onion in some supermarkets
  • 1 can of coconut milk—do not use reduced fat as the texture and thickness of the sauce will be off. Plus, coconut milk is a healthy fat
  • Vegetable or peanut oil—any high heat oil will do such as canola, corn, grapeseed oil, etc.Photo May 26, 7 14 11 PMPhoto May 26, 5 02 58 PMPhoto May 26, 5 05 58 PM
  1. The first step of this dish is to make the crispy tofu—who doesn’t like their tofu crispy?
  1. Tofu has a lot of water, which is why it usually tastes bland. In fact, the biggest mistake that most cooks make when handling tofu is not getting rid of the excess water. This will never work! Even if you just want to marinade the tofu you’ll still  need to do this stepPhoto May 26, 4 40 18 PM
  2. Put the tofu between two paper towels and press. Repeat this process 2-3 times, and then let the tofu sit between the towels for at least 20 minutes to really draw out the moisture
  3. Heat up your wok until it starts to smoke a little, then add the oil. It’s important that you don’t add your oil before this as you don’t want it to bubble up and burn youPhoto May 26, 7 14 05 PM
  4. Add the tofu to the wok and spread it out in a single layer—you should hear it sizzle. If there’s no sizzle, then your wok isn’t hot enough and your tofu will steam instead of crisp up
  5. Let the tofu cook on one side for a couple min, then mix it up and repeat this process a few times until it’s crispy on all sides. This shouldn’t take longer than 10 minutes or so
  6. Put your tofu on a plate and place aside for later on
  7. Heat your wok back up on the stove while you get the rest of your ingredients ready
  8. Add some more oil, then add the garlic, ginger and scallions—this is the holy trinity of Asian dishes!
  9. Let these sauté for a minute, then add the curry paste and heat through, followed by the onions, peppers and eggplant
  10. Let the veggies cook for a few minutes, then add the fish sauce, chili sauce and coconut milk and stir until it becomes a homogenized sauce
  11. Cook the curry for at least 10 minutes or longer depending on how thick you like your sauce—as it cooks the flavors of the salty fish sauce, spicy chilis, earthy curry and more will concentrate
  12. Meanwhile, drop the rice noodles into some salted boiling water—off the heat—and let soak for 5 minutes
  13. Add the par-cooked noodles to the curry and toss together in the wok
  14. Let the noodles and curry cook together as the noodles absorb the sauce and meld together into one cohesive dish
  15. Garnish with the crispy tofu, fresh cilantro, chopped scallions, and some chopped peanuts or pistachios if you’d like to tie the two dishes together even more
  16. Eat while still hot or add some sesame oil and have as a cold salad the next day for lunch. Yum!

Enjoy these dishes together with a Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad for a fabulous Southeast Asian inspired dinner at home.

Photo May 26, 7 48 50 PM (1).jpg

You can order Mama Lam’s delicious Curry Paste here: https://www.mamalams.com/shop-1/curry-sau

To watch the cooking demo for these recipes, click here or watch below.

Philly Pho ‘Ph’est

Pho Cali 
1005 Arch Street
Philadelphia, PA 19107

entrance

Once again, I am on the hunt for “pho”-tastic bowls of delicious pho from all over. What can I say? I’m a pho-colic. (#Copyright) One of my old reliable spots where I know I can go for a tasty, steaming bowl of pho anytime is at Pho Cali, located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Philadelphia.

wall deco

interior

Pho Cali has very fast service, big portions and a revamped interior—very modern, but still typical layout for the neighborhood. While it’s not a huge place, there are about 50 seats and usually a seat available. Each of the tables is outfitted with its own condiment tray filled with traditional pickled jalapeños, Sriracha sauce, sambal olek—a Southeastern garlic and chili paste, among others, as well as packets of chopsticks, a squeeze bottle of hoisin sauce and Asian soup spoons. Very convenient. While this place might not be as cheap as some of the places on Washington Avenue in South Philly, but you’re also paying slightly extra for Center City location. Typically it’s about $6.50-$9.50 for a bowl of pho. Still cheaper than a lot of other places.

summer rolls

Pho is delicious. Fact. But it tastes even better when it follows some sort of tasty appetizer. Not only does the starter whet the palate, but it also stops me from inhaling the entire bowl of pho in like five point two seconds flat. Is that a world records? One of my favorite appetizers here is the Summer Rolls with Shrimp and Pork or Tom Cuon. The summer rolls are wrapped in a thick chewy wrapper of pliable, soft rice paper. It’s stuffed with big chunks of shrimp, though not a ton of pork, and lots of vermicelli noodles to help fill it up. The dipping sauce was pretty thin and a little bland on its own, but after adding a bit of the sambal, tithe flavors really popped. The heat made the earthy, peanut overtones of the sauce pop. Very fresh appetizer and at $3.95 for two rolls, it’s a pretty good deal.

pho

Up next is the pho. I usually go with the Deluxe House Combo (Dac Bet Xe Lua). For $9.50 you get a huge bowl of food. It might be more expensive than some Vietnamese restaurants, but you get a lot of bang for your buck. The broth is very clean and clear, and doesn’t feel greasy or heavy. At the same time, the soup gives you a blank canvas to work on—perfect to doctor up with some chili sauce, hoisin, lime, herbs, etc. There’s a good amount of noodles and meat—especially for the price—mostly brisket and flank steak. There are also scallions in the soup, which isn’t seen everywhere, but gives it a very mild onion flavor.

garnish

Pho Cali always provides a super fresh plate of traditional noodle soup garnishes including basil leaves, sliced jalapeños, bean sprouts, and lime wedges. The basil gives the soup a slight floral note as well as a sense of freshness, the bean sprouts help cool the soup down, the jalapeños give it s nice bite, and the lime helps cut through some of the fatty meat. I also add hoisin to sweeten it up a bit and chili sauce, which flavors the broth over time. The heat of the broth not only cooks some of the beef, but also helps release the spice from the chilis. By the end of the bowl, I’m ready to gulp down the leftover broth, which is deliciously full of concentrated flavors from all the add-ins.

Overall, is this the best pho house around? No. Is it always tasty and able to satisfy my pho-holic cravings? Oh yeah! Next time you’re in Philadelphia’s Chinatown and craving a meaty, comforting noodle soup, head on over to Pho Cali for your “ph”-illing of pho.

Searching for Pho-land-ia on the UES

Vietnaam88
1700 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10128

So I have a confession to make. My name is Jon, and I’m a pho-aholic. Yes, I am plagued with this unquenchable desire to find delicious bowls of pho across the land. I yearn for overnight beef broth with just the right touch of fatty content, the perfect slurpable bowl of noodles, and, of course, lots of meat. Sometimes I’ll have a great bowl of pho in a fancy restaurant in Hong Kong, sometimes I’ll find it in a small neighborhood noodle shop in the city, and sometimes it will be in a strip mall in a sketchy looking neighborhood. No matter—if it’s delicious, then it’s where I want to be.

Photo Nov 21, 8 16 48 PM

I actually found this place through another Vietnamese restaurant in another part of NYC. Up in the Morningside Heights neighborhood near Columbia University, there is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese eatery called Saiguette. At this joint, it’s taking tight quarters to a whole new meaning. There’s window counter seating for about four people—maybe 6 anorexic individuals, but the food is super legit. It is clearly meant to be a takeout and delivery hotspot, and it is. Their food is spicy, flavorful and feels very authentic. In fact, they were written up as a top pick for cheap eats and great Vietnamese food in NYC by Grub Street.

Photo Nov 21, 8 16 59 PM

While Saiguette is super small, with its own brand of fierceness, Vietnaam is their sister restaurant and basically Saiguette all grown up and rebranded for the Upper East Side. t resembles many Asian restaurants that can be found around New York City. There is a large dining room with many tables crowded together by a long booth, and other stand alone tables dotted around, with some sort of Asian inspired decoration to make it stand out. At Vietnaam, there is a beautiful bamboo divider wall between the kitchen and the dining room. It does make the restaurant feel unique, and also serves another purpose of separation of spaces. While the atmosphere might be different—and oh how I missed the squeeze necessity and precarious balance required for the small window stool of Saiguette, I got over that nostalgia quickly since I had a whole table to myself. What a luxury!

Photo Nov 21, 8 18 17 PM

Vietnaam offers a number of Vietnamese staples—from steaming bowls of pho to overflowing plates of vermicelli noodles to aromatic curry dishes or elevated banh mi sandwiches. Regrettably—actually totally not a hardship at all!—it requires multiple visits (or palates perhaps) to try everything that looks good on the menu. They help you out a bit with this by subtly (i.e. overtly) encouraging you to order extra food by making all food 10% off while dining in during lunch. Yesss! Don’t mind if I do, which I did.

Photo Nov 21, 7 11 09 PMThe Summer Rolls appetizer (Nem Chao on the menu), one of my favorites, were a solid choice. They were fresh and didn’t seem super cold, which was good. Often I’ll order some fresh or summer rolls and they are like ice—how long have you kept these in the refrigerator bro? Appetizer foul 😦 The summer rolls here, though, were fresh, with crunchy lettuce and a chewy and elastic rice paper wrapper. They were filled out nicely with a mix of veggies, vermicelli noodles, shrimp and lettuce—though I wish there was a bit more shrimp. The accompanying peanut hoisin sauce was delish; creamy, nutty, spicy and had a wonderful mouthfeel as it coated the roll. These also came with a second sauce—a more traditional nuoc cham sauce that was spicy and vinegary that highlighted the crisp lettuce and soaked deep into the roll’s filling. Wonderful way to start a meal.

Photo Nov 21, 7 18 02 PMIf going for the summer rolls and trying to be “healthy”-ish, then an order of Nem, or Vietnamese fried spring rolls, was absolutely necessary—if only to maintain proper food karma. The spring rolls were super crispy. As I broke through the crisp outer layer, the steaming hot filling of ground pork, shrimp, taro, glass noodles, mushroom and jicama that was both tender and firm filling filled my mouth. The skin was still chewy with a thick texture, and though they were fried the rolls didn’t feel too oily. They were served simply with some of the ubiquitous nuoc cham sauce to give them a fresh finish, though for a couple of extra dollars you could add some cucumber, lettuce and herbs to the dish. I love how it’s so no frills—more authentic that way I think. They also cut these up into bite sized pieces, so easy to eat, which was good since it was a generous portion.

Photo Nov 21, 8 14 22 PMAnother favorite starter from Vietnaam, is the Laksa. Laksa is a curry and coconut milk based soup that is not exactly Vietnamese in origin, but actually from Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines. In the last few years, it has become much more well-known and popular all over Asia, as well as the rest of the world. One reason that this soup rocks is that it is so comforting when done right—they do it right here! It feels like a warm Southeast Asian hug, and will warm you up from the inside out. The broth is creamy and a bit frothy with some tang from the lime, warming heat from the curry, an aromatic aroma and a sharper heat from the accompanying chili sauce. The chicken was cooked perfectly, though they do a shrimp version as well  (or even vegetarian or tofu if need be). They’re all delicious and this makes for perfect leftovers. Not your grandma’s chicken noodle soup!

Photo Nov 21, 7 25 18 PMFor the main event, and what I judge every Vietnamese restaurant by, is the pho (pronounced “fuh”). Nowadays, you can find multiple varieties of pho—shrimp, veggie, chicken and even some fancy types such as one made with a Porcini mushroom or duck base. They’re almost always tasty, and if you’re looking for a unique spin on the classic bowl of pho, I highly recommend the Mushroom Pho at Stock in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia or the Pho Bo Satee at Nha Trang One in NYC’s Chinatown. The mushroom pho is as hearty and comforting as a beef based soup, but lighter at the same time. It’s also super earthy from the mushrooms and manages to make the tofu in it taste delicious—a great vegetarian or vegan option. The pho bo satee from Nha Trang One is spicy from an infusion of peanut sate sauce. The sate gives it a wonderful depth of flavor and thickness to the broth. It also has that wonderful peanutty note that many people love about Thai dishes—think a rice noodle soup version of a beef sate appetizer.  Back to Vietnaam….I ordered the Spicy Pho, which I usually don’t do since I like to spicy up the bowl myself. The pho was spicy but still mild—I added additional sriracha sauce to mine. The chili oil used to spice up the soup gave it a vibrant red color, and left a slow, lingering heat that made my lips tingle by the end of the bowl. The broth itself was clean tasting, which means they did their homework and skimmed the fat, but also had a lovely unctuousness to it that we all secretly crave. The bowl was filled with lots of noodles and meat—fatty brisket, firm, but not rubbery beef meatballs, and thinly sliced beef eye round that is placed into the piping hot bowl of soup raw and cooks on its way to the table. This was a big bowl of pho, so it was worth the hefty $12 Upper East Side price tag. I’ve returned for many more bowls of pho.

Vietnaam is a hip, fun place to eat at if you’re on the Upper East Side. They give generous portions, quick service, tasty dishes. Is it the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever had? Hmmm…hard to say, but it was definitely some of the best in NYC. Only thing missing was perhaps that certain “je ne sais quoi” that its sister restaurant, Saiguette, has as a hole-in-the-wall joint. Come to Vietnam if you’re ready for a grown up bowl of pho and other Vietnamese favorites..

Recipe: Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Sorry I’ve been away for a few weeks, but work’s been crazy! This recipe is actually inspired by all of the craziness. I wanted something that was not only delicious, but also comforting. This lasagna is packed full of roasted vegetables, so it’s also a healthy dinner to serve your family. This recipe might seem like it has a lot of steps, but all of them are simple and can be multitasked. So if you want to feed a crowd, or have a lot of leftovers–which are delicious!–try this recipe for Roasted Vegetable Lasagna.DSC00340DSC00341

Ingredients:

  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes—my favorite brand is San Marzano for its inherent sweetness, but any brand should be fine
  • ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 ½ teaspoons of dried oreganoDSC00369
  • 1 tin of anchovy filets—it’s important that the anchovies are packed in oil as opposed to water since you want to flavor and richness of the oil to help flavor the sauce. Flat filets are also easier for melting into the oilDSC00368
  • 4-5 medium garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 pound of grape tomatoes—quartered whole tomatoes or cherry tomatoes could work in this dish too, but grape tomatoes are a nice size and roast beautifully in the oven
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound of cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered depending on size
  • 2 small to medium zucchini, cut into half moons
  • 2 small to medium yellow squash, cut into half moons
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 large onion, chopped roughly
  • 1 pound of ricotta cheese—it might be tempting to use low fat here, but use whole milk ricotta—trust me, you’ll taste the difference!
  • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese—shredded or grated as long as you’d eat it on your pasta
  • 2 eggs
  • 10 oz package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained—Make sure you squeeze as much water out of the spinach as you can
  • 1 box of oven ready lasagna noodles
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella—one of those Italian blends works too
  • 1 small ball of fresh mozzarella (optional)
  • Olive oil

To Cook:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degreesDSC00345
  2. Toss tomatoes with 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 teaspoon of oregano and salt, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  3. Spread tomatoes on a sheet pan and roast for 15-20 minutesDSC00343DSC00344
  4. At the same time, use a second, larger sheet pan for the zucchini, squash, pepper and onion and increase to 2 tablespoons of oil, 1 tablespoon of salt, 2 teaspoons of oregano, and 1 teaspoon of pepper
  5. Roast the veggies for around 30 minutes, while you prepare the rest of the components for the lasagna
  6. Drop the heat to 375 degrees when the veggies come out of the ovenDSC00363DSC00362
  7. While the veggies are in the oven, add enough olive oil to a big sauté pan to coat the bottom and heat on medium-high heatDSC00370
  8. Add anchovies to the pan and break them up with a back of a wooden spoon—Don’t skip this step! Even if you don’t like anchovies, the high heat will melt the filets into the oil and it will give needed background and depth to your sauceDSC00371
  9. Once the anchovy is melted, add the garlic and brown for about a minute or twoDSC00372
  10. Add the mushrooms—it’s important for mushrooms to be spread out for them to brown evenly. If they’re too crowded in the pan, then they’ll start to steam and turn rubberyDSC00373
  11. Once the mushrooms have cooked, season with a teaspoon of salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper,½ teaspoon of oreganoDSC00375
  12. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan and stir—you want the seasonings to be evenly spread throughoutDSC00374
  13. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer until the roasted tomatoes are ready to come out of the oven, and then transfer tomatoes to the sauce
  14. Continue to simmer for another 5 minutes
  15. While the sauce is finishing up, you can work on the ricotta layerDSC00364DSC00365DSC00366
  16. In a large bowl, add ricotta cheese, parmesan, eggs, and spinach, as well as a teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepperDSC00367
  17. Whisk all the ingredients together for about 3-4 minutes
  18. Time to assemble the layers! In a 9×13 baking dish, spoon a bit of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish
  19. Add the lasagna noodles to the dish in a single layer all the way across—I shingled a little and also got creative by using one noodle that I cracked to fill in empty crevicesDSC00378
  20. The next layer should be some more tomato sauce
  21. Next up is a layer of the roasted vegetables
  22. After the vegetables should be a layer of the ricotta mixture—don’t skimp on the ricotta!DSC00377
  23. After the ricotta comes the cheese layer—add about ¼ of the bag of mozzarella cheese over the ricottaDSC00379
  24. Repeat the layering another 3 times, and top with a layer of noodlesDSC00380
  25. For the final layer, add a thick layer of tomato sauce all over the top, followed by the rest of the cheese, and a handful of parmesan—for my top layer, I actually like to use some fresh mozzarella since it melts so beautifully and makes for a beautiful presentation
  26. I place the whole thing onto a larger sheet tray so that if there’s spillage, it doesn’t go all over the oven floorDSC00383
  27. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees, uncovered, for 30-35 minutes

DSC00384Let it cool for at least 5-10 minutes before you cut into it. In fact, lasagna is a great make-ahead dish that you can keep in the fridge for up to 2 days before heating it. If you plan to refrigerate, make sure you add an additional 10-12 minutes to the cooking time. Also, this makes for a pretty saucy lasagna, but if you want you can reserve some extra sauce and spoon it over the top of each piece as it’s served, and garnish with some extra parmesan. Now who wouldn’t want a piece of that beauty? Buon Appetito!

Key Lime Pie

I learned pretty late in the day that people were coming over for  offer and dessert after dinner. I didn’t want to just serve them fruit or store bought cookies, and decided on one of my favorite pies–key lime pie. This recipe is derivative of many other basic key lime pie recipes, so I can’t take credit for the idea. Sometimes you just don’t want to mess with a classic. I made 2 pies, so the ingredient amounts were doubled, but I’m listing it as a single pie recipe. This dessert is delicious all on its own, but tastes even better with a big dollop of homemade whipped cream!

DSC00281

Graham Cracker Crust:

  • 1 sleeve of graham crackers
  • 6 tablespoons of melted butter
  • 1/4 cup of white sugar

Filling:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 whole eggs
  • Lime zest—zest the whole lime, but reserve a few pinches for later
  • 1/2 cup of key lime juice—I might have to turn in my foodie card, but I actually like the sweet tanginess of bottled key lime juice. Just make sure it’s a quality brand!
  • 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk

To Make the Pie:

  1. Mix together the crust ingredients until they take on the texture of wet sand
  2. Press the mixture into a pie tin or dish and bake at 325 degrees for about 10-12 minutes
  3. Let the crust completely cool before proceeding to the next stepDSC00282DSC00284DSC00285DSC00286
  4. For the filling, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and mix until it becomes a homogenous blendDSC00291 DSC00292
  5. Pour into pie crust so that it goes almost to the top edge, but leave a slight border all around so you can see the crust. Plus it saves room for whip cream!DSC00293
  6. Chill for 10 minutes to slightly set, and preheat the oven to 325 degrees
  7. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes—make sure it doesn’t brownDSC00333
  8. Immediately transfer from the oven to the fridge for at least 3 hours, and up to overnightDSC00339
  9. Garnish with whip cream, a sprig of mint, and a sprinkle some reserved lime zest before serving

Recipe: Braised Lamb Shanks with Moroccan Lemon Couscous

I recently attended the 2015 International Food Bloggers’ Conference in Seattle, organized by Foodista. Until I actually got on the plane, I was waffling back and forth on whether to actually go. I kept thinking to myself—will they like me? Does my blog have a relevant and unique voice? Will I learn anything? As a matter of fact, I had an amazing time and learned so much. So much so, that you should expect to see a major uptick in the frequency of blog posts 🙂

2015-09-19 16.37.06One of my favorite sessions was all about lamb. We got to hear all about the versatility of lamb, the variety of cuts available, insider cooking and butchery tips, and even got to sample some delicious lamb pate, lamb’s cheese and cold smoked lamb loin. Yum! So, when I got home, I was inspired to put my own spin on a lamb dinner. While lamb chops and rack of lamb might be more prevalent, and often seen on your favorite steakhouse’s menu, lamb shanks are the unsung hero of the lamb family. All they need is a little TLC and time, and they become tender, succulent and out of this world delicious. My version of braised lamb shanks is great for entertaining guests at an elegant dinner party, impressing that special someone, or even cooking for your family—perfect for the slow cooker! I serve mine with Moroccan inspired, lemon couscous and homemade pita chips (see recipe here), but feel free to substitute mashed potatoes, creamy polenta or any number of sides. Enjoy!

DSC00271DSC00209Ingredients:

  • 4 medium to large lamb shanks—you should be able to find these in the meat section of your grocery store, but if not, then you could just ask your butcher. Short ribs could be a good substitute, but they won’t have the same presentation
  • 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of AP (all-purpose) flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sliced onion—minced onion works fine too
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 6 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 bunch of fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 package of fresh mint
  • 2 large Spanish onions, chopped
  • 5-6 large carrots, cut into chunks
  • 5 medium garlic cloves (or 4 large cloves), chopped
  • 1 can of chickpeas, drained
  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lb. package of cherry tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups of red wine—use something you’d drink, since the flavor will end up concentrating as you cook out the alcohol
  • 4 1/2 cups of chicken, veal or beef stock—I only had chicken broth, but veal or beef is really the best to use in this recipe
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 2 cups of couscous
  • 1/4 cup of slivered almonds
  • 1/2 cup of dried dates, halved or quartered

Lamb Shanks:

  1. Pat the lamb dry, this will help them stay moist when you cook itDSC00218
  2. Mix the flour, cinnamon, pepper, salt, turmeric, dried parsley, dried onion, cumin, and a teaspoon of chopped rosemary (about 1 sprig) in a medium-sized bowl
  3. Coat the lamb in the seasoned flour mixture—this will do double duty for you by helping make a crust on the lamb, and also thicken up the braising liquid into a sauce later on
  4. In a dutch oven or heavy bottom pot heat oil—use a neutral oil since you’ll require a very high cooking temperature to sear the outside of the meatDSC00220
  5. Add the lamb shanks—in batches if necessary—and brown for a few minutes on all sides. Contrary to popular belief, the sear does not “lock in the juices,” rather it helps make a great crust and caramelizes the spices on the outside of the meat DSC00223 DSC00224 DSC00225DSC00226
  6. Once the shanks have browned take them out and put aside on a plate—don’t clean out the pot. All of those delicious drippings and brown bits on the bottom of the pan = flavor!DSC00227 DSC00228DSC00229
  7. Add a bit more oil and add in the chopped carrots and sauté for another couple of minutes, then add the garlic and one onion to the potDSC00230
  8. Cook for a few more minutes, and then add the chickpeasDSC00232
  9. Once the veggies have started to brown, it’s time to deglaze the pan—deglazing means you add liquid (in this case tomatoes, wine and broth) in order to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pot
  10. Add the crushed tomatoes, and bring to a simmer
  11. Add about 1 1/2 cups of red wine and 1 cup of the stockDSC00239
  12. When it starts to bubble slightly, it’s time to add the lamb back in, and don’t forget the meat juices DSC00235Add the roasted tomatoes, as well as a few sprigs of rosemary and parsley to the pot and give it a big stir
  13. Let the pot simmer on medium for about 20-25 minutes uncovered—this helps cook out the taste of raw broth and wine. Give it another big stir and move the lamb and veggies all around the pot
  14. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, reduce the heat to medium low and let it braise for at least 2 hours—you should stir the pot every 25-30 minutes, but don’t mess with it too much. This is important spa time for your meaDSC00263
  15. After a couple of hours, the meat will super tender and following off the bone—In fact, your shank bones should look like they’ve been frenched, which means the end of the bone is cleaned of meat so you can hold it like when you order rack of lamb at a fancy restaurant DSC00265
  16. Remove  the lamb shanks, and crank the heat back up to medium to medium high for another 5 minutes uncovered. The sauce will continue to thicken a bitDSC00267
  17. Plate the lamb shank with the bone prominently displayed, and smother the meat with the braising liquid that’s chock full of carrots, herbs, onion, garlic, chickpeas and meat that’s fallen off the boneDSC00269
  18. Garnish with the gremolata, and serve alongside some couscous and some homemade pita chip for dipping

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Gremolata:

  1. Mix together about 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary (about 2 sprigs), and zest of a lemonDSC00245 DSC00254
  2. Use as garnish for heavy dishes, and add when it’s still hot—the gremolata will not only help cut through the richness of the dish, but also perfume the plate as the heat slightly cooks the herbs and lemon peel

Couscous:

I like my couscous a little more moist and stuffing-esqe as opposed to many recipes that like each of the couscous pearls to be separate from each other. Try it my way, and if you don’t like it, then go back to the other way next timeDSC00255

  1. In a medium-sized pot, add some oil
  2. Add the remaining onion to the pot and start to sweat the onions
  3. Season with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprikaDSC00258
  4. Saute the onion until it starts to brown and caramelize
  5. At this point, add 3 1/2 cups of chicken stock and the juice of both lemons to the pot. Increase the heat to medium or medium-high
  6. Bring the liquid to a boil, and then add the couscous. Stir to make sure all of the couscous is covered, and not sticking together
  7. Turn the heat off and cover the couscous
  8. After 4 minutes, add the dates, slivered almonds, as well as the remaining parsley and mint
  9. If the couscous seems dry or not soft enough for you after 5 minutes, add some more stock or lemon juice, stir and cover again for a few minutesDSC00261 DSC00262
  10. Serve the couscous garnished with some lemon slices and a squeeze of lemon over the top

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