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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Southwestern Pappardelle with Corn, Avocado & Cotija

Yesterday I had a foodie epiphany: basic ingredients ("salad ingredients" for example) that are normally relied on in traditional dishes, are being used in new ways in the food world. I am sure many of you are aware of new chefs transforming old classics such as tater-tot hot-dish and turning them into a gourmet, fine dining affair. This type of rebellion is healthy and is the very thing launching us forward onto bigger and brighter things. Sticking your nose into the past and refusing to look ahead is no way to live. In my kitchen, a little rebellion can lead to increased creativity and foodie bliss. To get back on track here, I developed a delicious pasta with chopped avocado, roasted corn, red onion, cotija cheese in a tangy sour cream cajun sauce. Many of the best dishes are created without recipes. This one is certainly a keeper. It is hard for me to rewrite the exact recipe.  I'll give you the sauce ingredients and you can fashion your own rebellion!

Somewhat accurate sauce ingredients:
- sour cream
- whipped cream cheese
- milk
- fresh lemon juice
- garlic
- cajun spice
- hot sauce

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Five Spice Pork & Noodle Bowl

Last week I was inspired by the amazing five spice calamari at Chin Dian. I knew I had to use my Chinese five spice (includes star anise, clove, cinnamon, pepper and fennel seed) at home to make a pork and noodle dish in the works. Five spice is very powerful and potent on its own, so it's important to use the spice as an accompyment to sweeter, milder ingredients. In China, five spice is often used as a dry rub on fattier meats, which have the ability to hold up to its powerful flavors. I wanted to bring a sweet note to the dish, so I created a marinade of orange juice, honey, soy sauce, garlic, scallion and five spice powder. I cut up pork and placed it in the marinade overnight, to allow full obsorbtion of the nauanced sweet and spicey flavors. To accompany my five spice pork, I stir-fried baby carrots, water chestnuts, broccoli, baby bok choy and onion in a reduction of my marinade. I also used flash fried egg noodles as the base of my dish. The resulting meal has just the right hint of spice, without overpowering the rest of the ingredients. I would definalty use this marinade again for seafood, or even vegetables. This recipe is a must try!

Rachael's Five Spice Orange Marinade
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
4 tbsp honey
1/2 cup minced scallion
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp five spice powder

Whisk ingredients together and pour over meat for a marinade, or reduce in sauce pan for a glaze or stir-fry sauce- delish!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Four Bean Chili for the Soul

It never helps to start the week out sick as a dog. Where does that saying come from anyhow?? Some people say that dogs get sick all of the time because they eat everything in sight from socks to bird droppings... who knows. What I do know for sure is that when I am feeling sick, a big bowl of steaming hot soup is all I want. Yesterday I began pulling out all of my "soup" ingredients and got to work on a chili. I had on hand a variety of beans: black, refried, white and garbanzo beans. I also had nearly 2 1/2 cups of beef broth I needed to use up. I always like to keep a few bags of frozen vegetables in the freezer for stir-fry's or soups, and happened to have a bag of my favorite, fire roasted peppers and onions from Trader Joe's- with the words, "COOK ME" written all over it! The recipe I provide for you below is not exact and is only a general account of the process, as I did not measure or count ingredients as I went along. I hope you can follow the recipe enough to try it on your own with a good dose of experimentation ;). 

(serves 7-10)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 strips bacon, chopped
1 cup diced carrot
1 bag frozen fire roasted peppers and onions, or fresh
3 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup finely minced cilantro 
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp pepper
2 1/2 cups beef or vegetable broth
1 1/2-2 cups water
2 cans diced tomatoes, one with liquid and 1 without
1 can white beans, pureed without liquid from can 
1 can garbanzo beans, without liquid 
1 can black beans, pureed without liquid from can 
1 can refried beans 

GARNISH: sour cream, cheese, avocado relish: diced with red onion and a squeeze of lime. 

Add oil to large dutch oven or soup pot over med/high heat and add chopped bacon and carrot. Saute until bacon browns, add bag of peppers, garlic and spices. Saute until aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add Beef broth, water and bring to a boil. Once soup is at a boil, add in tomatoes and beans and stir until well combined. Bring to another boil and then simmer on low with the top on for 20 minutes. When ready to serve, garnish bowls with sour cream, cheese and avocado relish. Soup can be refrigerated and reheated for about a week. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Sticky Beef & Rice Bowl

Whoever coined the term, "simple is better" hit the nail right on the head. Often times in life as well as cooking, we tend to over think and over complicate recipes and our own challenges resulting in a muddied mess. In relation to the meal prepared above, fried rice and beef is something I always make when I am running out of time or ingredients. Fried rice is so simple, I could make it in my sleep yet tastes so delicious without much of an effort. I always use flank steak in my beef recipes especially for stir-fry's because it's relatively inexpensive and with the right marinade, can be transformed into a delicacy! Check out this simple and delicious recipe below:

Flank Steak Sesame Soy Marinade
Large piece of flank steak, cut on the diagonal into thin strips
1/4 cup sesame oil 
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sugar 
2 tbsp rice vinegar 
3 tbsp minced garlic
2 tbsp minced ginger 
1/2 cup diced scallion 

In large bowl, whisk oil through scallion. Place steak strips in a large sealed baggie and pour marinade over. Seal and refrigerate over night, turning bag 2-4 times to ensure meat to properly coated. To cook, heat large skillet with a small drizzle of vegetable oil over high heat. Quickly sear each side of beef- careful to not overcook. 

Simple Fried Rice
4 cups brown or white rice, cooked and cooled
2 tbsp vegetable oil 
1 tbsp butter
2 eggs 
2 cups vegetables of your choosing
2 tbsp hoison sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tbsp chili garlic sauce
1/2 cup diced scallion 

Heat large wok or skillet over high heat add vegetable oil and rice. Allow rice to crisp, without turning more that 2 or 3 times. Now, add butter and form an opening to the pan in the center and crack in two eggs. Scramble eggs into rice to combine. Add veggies, and remaining ingredients. Stir- fry for another 5-10 minutes until rice develops a light brown color. Plate with a few beef strips on top and enjoy! 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chin Dian Cafe

Five Spice Calamari 
Chow Mai Fun 
Chicken and Chive Dumplings
Yesterday my mother took me out to lunch at a restaurant called, Chin Dian on 1500 East Hennepin Avenue. I love trying new restaurants, especially if the cuisine has an Asian influence. Chin Dian has been in the neighborhood for a few years and sits on a small corner lot four blocks off of 35W. The restaurant is owned by a married couple, Thomas and Nina. Their combined backgrounds stem from Malaysia, India and China, blending their cooking flavors and techniques to create a flavor packed menu full of surprises. It is not often you find Vermicelli noodle salad, Sesame Chicken, Nasi Sambal and Samosas all featured on the same menu. For a girl like me, this menu is perfection ;). The interior is small but cozy featuring a colorful bar mural and paper lantern luminaries.  They offer beer, wine and serve both lunch and dinner Monday through Friday and Dinner on Saturday. We begin by ordering their 5-spice calamari. After a short wait, the calamari arrives on a place with sauteed scallions, ginger and onion. The calamari are lightly fried and tossed with an intoxicating aroma of sweet and spicy Chinese 5-spice which typically includes star anise, clove, cinnamon, and ground fennel seeds. The calamari were some of the best I have had due to the delicious spice rub and lightly battered calamari leaving you to taste the subtly of the seafood while enjoying the complexity of flavor simultaneously. Next, we order the Chow Mai Fun, consisting of thin rice noodles, onions, bean sprouts, egg and scallions in a house curry sauce. We also order their homemade steamed chicken and chive dumplings. The Chow Mai Fun tastes similar to Singapore noodles with a slightly richer, spicier curry- delish. I am a dumpling fanatic, leading to harsher criticism on the faint nuances of dumpling making. The dumplings served to us at Chin Dian hit on every note. They were delicate, light, flavorful and paired with a perfectly balanced soy dipping sauce. It is easy to taste the difference between a fresh dumpling rolled in fresh wrappers, placed in a steamer seconds before plating and a pre-packaged frozen dumpling de-thawed seconds before they arrive kicking and screaming to your plate. I was impressed by all three dishes I sampled as well as the swift and kind service we received. I will be returning just as soon as I can convince my husband join my for a sweet and spicy dinner date ;). 

Click here for a link to their website!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Dinner: Bacon Wrapped Scallops & Potato Gnocchi

Happy Valentine's Day! Dinner tonight celebrates love in many ways. First of all, I LOVE to cook, secondly, I LOVE to cook for my lovely husband and thirdly, I LOVE to blog! Deciding on a meal for my honey was simple. He loves Italian food, especially gnocchi as well as bacon and seafood. What is more sensual than a scallop?! Legend has it that the Greek goddess Aphrodite was carried to earth atop a scallop shell. Since then, scallops have been classified as an aphrodisiac, meaning a food that increases sexual desire. I wanted to use a sweet and sour glaze for the scallop to counter the saltiness of the bacon. As for the main event, gnocchi- I decided to saute kale, onion, bacon, and garlic to pair with the pillowy potato gnocchi. I usually come up with recipe ideas while at the grocery store. I browse for what's on sale, what looks fresh and what catches my eye. Kale caught my eye because of its beautiful deep green color and health benefits. Kale is rich in vitamins and minerals proven to reduce the risk of cancer. I have been dying to cook with macadamia nuts ever since I returned from Hawaii. I toasted the macadamia nuts in this dish for a textural and earthy element. I wanted the gnocchi sauce to be fairly simple, allowing for the ingredients to shine through, so I made a quick brown butter. The meal was fantastic but the company, even better ;). 

Bacon Wrapped Scallops with Sweet & Sour Glaze
2 jumbo scallops
1 piece bacon
1/4 cup cider or rice vinegar
3 tbsp soy 
3 tbsp sugar 
3 tbsp ketchup
1 tbsp sesame oil  
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tbsp ginger 
1/2 cup chopped scallion

Preheat oven to 425. Combine vinegar through scallion in a bowl and whisk. Wrap each scallop with 1/2 piece of bacon and seal with a tooth pick. Brush scallop on both sides with sweet and sour sauce and bake at 425 for 20-30 minutes until cooked. Serve with sweet and sour sauce on the side for dipping.

Potato Gnocchi with Kale & Macadamia Nuts 
(serves 4)
1 air-tight bag potato gnocchi (found at Trader Joe's)
4 tbsp olive oil 
1 bunch kale, chopped and washed 
2 pieces bacon, diced
1 yellow onion, sliced thin
1 head garlic, chopped
1 cup macadamia nuts, chopped 
1/4 cup butter 
1/4 cup minced basil
Salt, pepper
Fresh parmesan cheese 

Cook gnocchi by package directions, set aside. Roast garlic head in tin foil, cutting top layer off and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 425 for about 20-30 minutes or until lightly browned. Blanch kale in boiling salted water and cool in ice bath to dry. In a large skillet heat 1 tbsp olive oil and cook onion and bacon until tender. Remove onions and bacon from pan. Heat remaining oil over high heat. When pan is screaming hot, add kale and flash fry until slightly crispy. Add onion and bacon mixture to pan along with the basil, butter and spices. Heat until butter lightly browns. Add cooked gnocchi and toss to coat. Plate with a sprinkling of cheese and chopped macadamia nuts. 

Monday, February 13, 2012


After another successful cabin weekend, I am officially ready to conquer the week ahead. There is nothing like slow cooked food, great company, and a juicy read to rejuvenate you from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. In honor of slow food, I decided to make a beef stroganoff, a Russian dish of sauteed beef in a sour cream sauce. Stroganoff is creamy, comforting and delicious when you take the time to build flavor. I used a recipe I found online, adding a few secret ingredients here and there. Here and only here will I reveal the secret to my stroganoff success. Two hints, 
1: Dijon mustard and 2: dried herbs. If you are desirous of a more detailed description of my secret success, shoot me a comment on this posting. For breakfast my mother made a roasted sweet and idaho potato hash with crisped bacon followed by a fried egg, yum! I am a sucker for a good hash, especially when the dice is thick (as pictured) and not minced into a mysterious glob. For dessert, I knew I wanted to make an apple pie, since I had never made one before. My mother is an expert pie maker and walked me through the steps. We used a traditional recipe, adding a few secrets. My mother insists, the best apple pies are made with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a few dices of butter stuck into the pie before the final top crust is placed and using milk as glaze for the pie topping coated with a dusting of sugar. Whalaahh, not too hard after-all ;) Saturday night we ventured out to a new ice bar near by. I was expecting to see a few heat lamps inside this outdoor bar but no, true their the name, ice cold! The decor was carved intricately by ice into a bar, banquet, chairs, chandelier, even ice shot glasses! On the menu they serve hot and cold cocktails, beer, wine, oysters and sushi. I loved the concept, but could not imagine standing around sipping a cold-tini while freezing my butt off for very long. As I sit here on Monday morning I leave myself with the mental note: "you must do this R & R again often!" 
*Recipes can be found at the bottom of this post. 







Friday, February 10, 2012


Hey guys! Just wanted to give a quick shout out to all the the folks who enjoy this site. Thank you so much for your support. This is something I love to do, and it's been quite rewarding to share that with you. 

This weekend I am heading up North to my families cabin where there is always delicious food to be found. I plan on making beef stroganoff, apple pie and much much more, so stayed tuned for Mondays postings!


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Meat n' Potatoes ;)

If you're in the mood for a stick to your ribs delicious dinner, this one is for you :) As I often try, I took neglected ingredients from the freezer and pantry to create a well polished meal. Tonight, I found mini golden potatoes, yellow onions, bacon, chicken breast and whole wheat bread crumbs. In my household, I tend to cook enough allowing for leftovers throughout the week. There is nothing better than extra potato hash with eggs in the morning. In my experience, the key to saving a buck or two is by extending your ingredients for extra meals through the week. For example, I made extra chicken breast which can be added into a salad for a mid-week lunch. 

Meat n' Potatoes (well...chicken n' potatoes really!)
(serves 2 with leftovers)

2 tbsp olive oil 
2 cups quartered mini potatoes
1 cup caramelized onions (sauté 20-30 in olive oil over low heat)
2-3 slices bacon, diced 
1/2 cup minced or frozen basil (frozen cubes now available at Trader Joe's :) )
2 tbsp minced garlic 
1/2 tbsp dried basil 
1/2 tbsp dried oregano 
Pinch salt, pepper, sweet paprika
2-3 chicken breasts, thawed 
1/2 cup alegro marinade, or marinade of your choice
1 egg, whisked and placed on plate
1 cup bread crumbs, places on plate

Place thawed chicken in marinade and let soak for at least one hour in the refrigerator. Heat large skillet with olive oil and add potatoes. Heat over medium heat for 5-10 minutes until lightly browned. Add bacon and seasonings and sauté until bacon is cooked through. Add caramelized onions and sauté 2 more minutes. Remove from pan. When chicken is finished marinating, soak in egg mixture followed by bread crumbs, to coat. Place chicken in frying pan used for the potatoes and fry over medium heat until done, flipping twice. Plate chicken underneath a shallow bowl of potatoes and garnish with sour cream or your favorite sauce. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Paella Paella!

Last night I attempted to make and try paella for the first time. A family I work for was generous enough to gift me with a full paella set for Christmas. I have always wanted to try paella but never had the occasion. Believe it or not, I even travelled to Barcelona without trying my hand at this Spanish delicacy. I knew this new gift would be my opportunity. Paella originated in Valencia, on the Coast of Spain in the mid-nineteenth century. Paella is traditionally cooked over an open flame in a wide, shallow skillet. Paella is cooked with rice as the binding ingredient, green vegetables, saffron, sweet paprika and seafood or meat. Saffron is the critical ingredient in traditional paella. It is native to Southwest Asia and grows from crocus flowers, and is know as the most expensive and potent herb on the market. Saffron looks like tiny ribbons of orange and red, creating a coloring agent. Saffron has a very strong and unique flavor combining aromas of smoke, earth, sweet, and bitter. It is easy to add too much saffron to a dish because of the high potency.  In my paella I may have added a few strands too many, which nearly overpowered the subtle seafood flavors. I also had trouble using my paella pan. I put the round, shallow pan over two burners on medium heat and began to smell burning. Most recipes tell you to put your pan directly over heat, so I was at a loss as to my next plan of action. Part of the reason behind using a round shallow pan is to crisp the bottom layer of rice. Unfortunately, I had to use a standard frying pan, which didn't give me as much char as I would have liked. The recipe I used was for a seafood paella. The recipe was easy to follow and provided good tips. I would recommend this recipe, with a cautionary warning to stick to their measurements, especially with the saffron. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bacon & Pea Pasta

Last night I threw together a simple pasta dish with bacon and peas. I used applewood smoked bacon adding sweet and smokey notes to the pasta. The fresh peas add great color, (after all we eat with our eyes!) and texture. I used rigatoni, but you can use any type of noodle. I like rigatoni for the fact that the shape lends well to absorbing sauce. If you are looking for a quick dinner fix, this recipe is for you ;) 

Bacon & Pea Pasta
(serves 4)
1/2 bag rigatoni, or other pasta
4 slices of applewood smoked bacon
1 cup fresh peas
1/2 cup fresh or frozen minced basil (frozen basil cubes available at Trader Joes!)
2-3 tbsp butter 
1/4 cup milk 
3 tbsp cream cheese 
3 tsp minced garlic
Salt, pepper, dried basil 
1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Boil pasta by package directions. Fry bacon in large skillet until cooked, then set aside on a paper towel to soak up remaining grease. Leave a thin coating of bacon grease in the pan and add your peas, basil and butter. Saute over medium heat until well blended, then add milk, cream cheese, garlic and herbs into pan. Bring to a boil while mixing and then simmer on low. Chop up your bacon and add to your sauce. When pasta drains, keep a few tablespoons of pasta water to add to your sauce. Toss your cooked pasta and sauce together. Plate with a sprinkling of parmesan and enjoy!