Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Wicked Good, Wicked Easy, Meat Lasagna

I am sure there are plenty of recipes for lasagna out there, but I concocted my own from a combination of recipes that were lying around and it came out really good! It was relatively quick because I used the "oven-ready" noodles that you just bake right out of the box. I did learn however that if you're going to use those noodles that all parts of the noodle must be covered with sauce, otherwise they don't get soft. I came up with a little trick where I actually put the lasagna in the broiler for 3 minutes at the end and the cheese on top got all bubbly and crisp!

Wicked Good, Wicked Easy, Meat Lasagna
Serves two people for 3 days or 3 people for 2 days

  • 8 oz of oven-ready lasagna sheets (the kind you don't have to boil first.

  • 1 lb ground beef (I used 96% lean and it came out great)

  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

  • 28 oz of your favorite pasta sauce like Classico, Barilla, or Trader Joe's. Please don't use Ragu or Prego or anything with corn syrup, please!!

  • 15 oz can plain tomato sauce like Contadina, Pastene, or a store brand (again, no corn syrup)

  • 15 oz ricotta cheese

  • 1 large egg

  • 3 Tablespoons freshly cut herbs like basil, oregano and Italian parsley OR
    2 teaspoons dried herbs

  • Salt and pepper

  • dash nutmeg

  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella (I use part-skim)

  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese or if you don't have that, use pre-grated parmasan or romano cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

  2. Lightly brown the ground beef with the garlic in a skillet. Don't overcook, it should be rare since you're going to bake it for 45 minutes. Drain.

  3. In the mean time, mix well the ricotta, egg, herbs, a little salt and pepper, and a dash of nutmeg.

  4. Add your 28 oz pasta sauce to the beef and heat on low for a few minutes until just warm.

  5. Start layering your lasagna. Pour about 1/4 can of the plain tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch pan and spread it all out. This will be like your glue.

  6. Layer 3-4 sheets of the pasta, whatever fits.

  7. Spread on 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, then sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella.

  8. Spread on 1/3 of the meat sauce.

  9. Repeat steps 6-8 two more times.

  10. Now, take the last sheets of pasta you have and lay them on top.

  11. Pour the 3/4 can of plain sauce over the top, make sure every piece of pasta gets wet.

  12. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 cup of mozzarella and the 1/2 cup of parmigiano reggiano.

  13. Cover the whole thing with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, turn the temp up to 375 and cook for another 15 minutes, the last 2-3 minutes of which, if you have a broiler, put it right under there. Don't turn the heat to the broil setting, 375 is hot enough. Keep a close eye on it so that it doesn't burn.

  14. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before cutting into it.

  15. You're done! Serve with a salad!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Honey's Kettle Fried Chicken

Honey's Kettle on UrbanspoonWe finally hit up Honey's Kettle Fried Chicken in Culver City to see what all the fuss is about. You probably don't need me to tell you this is place is good since everyone pretty much agrees, but I thought I'd post about it anyway.

I'm from the Northeast, so I wouldn't really be able to say how authentic or whatever this place is, but they definitely make it the way I like it. See, I HATE KFC and those other places that don't make the outside/skin crispy enough. If it isn't real crispy, it's left on my plate.. what a waste! But Honey's was downright crunchy! I could eat every single piece of skin (I guess that is not so good health-wise!). Also, the white breast meat managed to stay very moist.

For sides, the biscuits are great, not greasy at all, with a golden flavor and served with real honey, which was something new for me and quite delicious. The mashed potatoes were OK. I thought they needed some more salt, but what surprised me with it's deliciousness were the green beans! They were cooked in bacon grease with little bits of garlic, onion, and other veggies as flavoring. They were better than mom's (sorry).

For atmosphere, you're really better off taking it to go if you don't live too far. We hung with the locals and watched a boxing match on their big screen. Kinda gross watching someone's eye get ripped off when you're trying to eat, but it was an experience.

Honey's Kettle Fried Chickena
9537 Culver Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232

Also in Compton!
2600 East Alondra Blvd
Compton, CA 90221

Rachael Ray's Five Spice Sesame Sliced Tuna and Avocado

This recipe has all of my favorite flavors so I had to try it. It's pretty quick and easy to prepare.. it's one of Rachael's fifteen minute meals from her latest book. I also added an asian cabbage salad and some rice to the complete the meal, which added some extra time, but not too much.

Chinese five-spice powder is wonderfully aromatic and sort of like Indian curry: once all the spices come together it really creates a new flavor and you don't really taste the individual spices. It contains cinnamon, star anise, fennel, ginger, and cloves (plus mine has white pepper and licorice.. that makes seven but go figure).

Five-Spice Sesame Sliced Tuna and Avocado
Serves 2-3

  • 1/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 tamari (aged soy sauce)
  • 1 avocado
  • (optional) little bit of lime juice
  • 2 Tablespoons veggie oil
  • 2-3, 4-6 oz tuna steaks (ahi or albacore)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese 5-spice powder
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds
  • 1/4 chopped chives
  • Lettuce or cabbage to serve with if you are not making the cabbage salad below.

  1. Combine the vinegar, honey, and tamari in a small saucepan. Bring to a bubble over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer for 6-7 minutes, until syrupy. Remove from heat.
  2. Halve and peel the avocado, then slice or cube them, whichever you prefer. If you have lime juice, squeeze a little bit over them to prevent browning.
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet over high heat. Season the tuna with the 5-spice powder, salt, and pepper and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side for rare, 5-6 minites for well-done. Combine the sesame seeds and chives in a shallow bowl. Slice the tuna thick and turn each slice in the sesame seeds and chives to coat.
  4. Serve with lettuce, cabbage, salad and or rice. Drizzle with the balsamic-soy dressing.

Asian Cabbage Salad
Serves 4

  • 1/2 small-medium green cabbage
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 Table spoons toasted sesame seeds
  1. Chop the cabbage (don't forget to peel and toss the top layer as well as toss the core).
  2. Toss everything together except for the sesame seeds.
  3. Sprinkle the seeds on when serving.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Grilled corn muffins like Nana used to have..

I've been feeling very nostalgic lately when it comes to my food. Maybe I just miss home, or maybe it comforts me to know that this place called California is beautiful, but I come from a land where folks don't wear sunglasses when it's cloudy. Anyway, I've had a serious craving for corn muffins lately.

My first job (not counting the paper route) was at Lolly's Bakery in East Boston when I was 14. I worked there all day every Saturday and Sunday selling layer cakes soaked in rum flavoring and filled with boiled cream and strawberries, Cannoli, St. Joseph's Zeppole, and Neapolitans. I tied up boxes with string until my fingers bled (literally, I wore band aids for the 2 years I worked there). The boss loved me because I could memorize the price of every amount of pastry from 1-12 (it was easy, everything was 6o cents) and I was always on time even though my dad had to drive me while Stella was always late and she lived across the street.

Although I did try everything once or twice, I didn't make it a habit of eating the baked goods at Lolly's because, like most teenage girls, I thought I was fat when I only weighed 115 pounds. The boss, who mildly harassed me regularly, one day asked if I wanted to get in on a pizza him and Sal were ordering for lunch. "No, thanks", I said. "You watchin' your figure?" he asked. "Yeah" I said. "Well, it's not going anywhere!! haha!!" he laughed. Very funny.

I never figured out who Lolly was. But whoever he was, he taught Sal how to make awesome corn, raisin bran, and blueberry muffins. They had sugar, they had fat, they were how muffins used to be. I loved the smell of them, and sometimes I nibbled on one in between old ladies asking me for "apricot bow-ties, the fresh ones that just come out". Little did they know I had dropped an entire tray of apricot bow-ties on the floor and the boss told me to put them back on the tray and sell them.

My grandmother used to send me down to the corner greasy spoon for a "grilled corn muffin". It seemed like a strange thing the first time. I went down there and watched them cut it in half, put a huge dollop of something that looked like butter on the big flat frying grill he was using to cook bacon on, and fry the muffin top and stump upside down while he pressed them into the "butter" with a spatula. He put it all in a white wax paper bag that was soaked with grease by the time I got it back to Nana. She always had Howard Johnson's corn toasties in the freezer, which was the kids' version of the grilled corn muffin, and she served them to us toasted with butter.

I don't know why all of this has suddenly come into my head, but my sudden nostalgic hankering has recently turned into a craving. I 've been running around town asking bakeries if they have corn muffins, and every time they look at me as if I'm nuts. I found one or two that were OK at some random places, but nothing worth mentioning. I finally found some at Von's. I picked one up along with a blueberry muffin. Apart from the pizza-crust like sprinkling of corn meal on top which is just weird, it was pretty good! I ate the top in the car on the way home and then grilled the stump in butter the next morning. It was like hugging my grandmother, well, she wasn't much of a hugger, let's say it was like watching my grandmother have a smoke, walking in the Fall leaves, and having a delicious breakfast all in one.

[I was looking for Ho Jo's corn toasties online so that I could post a link for you folks and I came across this rant from an East coaster who is going through the same thing I am. (The Internet just confirms that no matter what you are going through, someone else is too.)]

The whole experience has really been a kind of "back to my roots" project, and it feels good. It makes me wonder, if corn muffins and tuna sandwiches and chicken cutlets are so good, why don't I make them more often? I think I will.

Father's Office does indeed have the best burgers in town

Father's Office on UrbanspoonWe dropped $42 on a couple of burgers and fries last weekend (not counting any tipping). While it's hard to deny how ridiculous that is, it's also hard to deny how awesome they tasted.

Father's Office is located on a posh street in Santa Monica and has a strange set-up. It's a small, narrow place with first-come, first-serve seating. So, if by the time you get your $42 worth of food you don't find a seat, you're eating it leaning against a wall. As lovely as the hard-wood wall is, it really doesn't make up for it. Luckily, we got a seat.

We got two burgers the only way they make them (with caramelized onions, applewood bacon compote, gruyere, matag blue cheese and arugula). They were AAAAWESOME!! I couldn't stop thinking about those burgers for days. Almost equally delicious was the garlic aoli which comes with the shoe string french fries. We also got the sweet potato fries which were good, but not a must in my book. Their service wasn't great.. they bring things out as they're made so you never know what you're going to get first, last, or at the same time. We didn't get the sweet potato fries (while they brought out plenty to folks who came in after us) until we were done with our burgers. They have a very long list of micro-brews, which is the other draw to this place. I got the Speckled Hen which was perfect (good if you like golden, thick beers).

They've also got a nice list of fancy small plates (mostly Spanish, tapas-like dishes) like House Cured Spanish White Anchovies and Dry Cured Spanish Mountain Ham. We might try getting one of these next time and splitting a burger and fries (they are BIG).

I've heard this place is mobbed at happy hour. Although, for $10 a beer, how can you walk out of there happy? We happened to go on a Saturday afternoon and it wasn't so bad. I'd go again.. even with the price.. the burgers were just that good. I hope my mother's not reading this, she'd say, "Well Alexis, you LOVE to spend money!"

Father's Office
1018 Montana Ave.
Santa Monica, CA 90403
310-393-BEER (2337)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Westside Plant Nurseries for Fresh Herbs

In my opinion, nothing adds that extra sumthin' sumthin' to cooking like fresh herbs. Even if you're cooking with the last frozen and canned morsels you have in the house, adding fresh herbs just makes everything come to life.

To that end, it's time here in southern California when the nights aren't so cold and buying herb plants to leave outside your door ready and waiting for a quick snip is doable. My challenge will be preventing the delicate basils and cilantros from burning up in the mid-day sun.

I thought I'd share with you two of my favorite places for plants and herbs. They are both Japanese owned and right next to each other (not counting the Chinese Baptist church in between them) on Sawtelle Blvd in West Los Angeles between Santa Monica and Olympic Blvds, on the west side of the street. Pop into both of them and get what you need, as each has a different selection.

Be sure to go to the back of Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery and stroll their amazing bonsai garden. You may want to treat yourself to one!

Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery
1905 Sawtelle Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90025

1935 Sawtelle Blvd
West Los Angeles, CA 90025

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Rachael Ray's Italian Fish and Chips with Organic Tomatoe Salad

I guess we're still on a fried fish kick here because we just made some for dinner. We used a recipe from one of Rachael Ray's newest cookbooks: Just in Time (more 15, 30, and 60-minute meals). Now, this isn't my mom's recipe for fish and chips (she just uses eggs and Italian breadcrumbs), but it came out really well. I changed the recipe just a little, and substituted cod for red snapper. Cod is the amazing fish which I think is best for "fish and chips" because it just has those huge flakes. I also cut the recipe almost in half and turned the topping she made into a salad. I hope you like it, we did : )

(At the bottom of the post is a picture I took today of one of the flowers in our courtyard. I don't know what the plant is, but it has red leaves almost year-round and in early Spring these amazing light pink flowers just pop out and their petals start falling from the tree like snow. Today the clock "sprang forward" and it seems all the plants knew. At the beach, there were amazing bright yellow flowers and lots of other kinds.)

Italian Fish and Chips with Tomatoe Salad
Serves 2-3

  • 3 medium, red potatoes
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup, plus 3 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh, chopped rosemary
  • 1 lb cod
  • 1/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 2 garden or organic tomatoes
  • Handful of fresh, flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tablespoon finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup croutons (preferably homemade and not made with much fat or seasoning)
  1. Preheat the oven to 450 F. Cut up your potatoes into wedges and place on a cookie sheet. Drizzle 1.5 T EVOO on the potatoes. Sprinkle the chopped rosemary, crushed garlic, and salt and pepper over the potatoes and toss. While you're waiting for the oven to heat up, you can make the salad:
  2. Wash and dry the parsley, then chop. Chop the tomatoes, place in a bowl with the parsley. Squeeze in the lemon juice, 1.5 T EVOO, salt and pepper. Add the croutons now if you like hem soft, like a bread salad (I do.)
  3. Put the potatoes in the oven and cook for 14 minutes. During the first 12 minutes, get the coating and fish ready:
  4. On a plate, mix together the cornmeal, flour, cheese, and lemon zest.
  5. Cut the fish into 3 pieces. Sprinkle a little bit of salt and a lot of pepper onto each side of the fish. Coat the fish evenly with the cornmeal mixture.
  6. Once the potatoes have cooked for about 12 minutes, heat up the remaining 1/4 cup of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When it's hot, add the fish.
  7. Cook the fish about 4 minutes on each side until deep golden brown.
  8. When the fish and potatoes are done, you can place them on a brown bag to soak up the excess oil.
  9. Serve with homemade tartar sauce (mayo mixed with relish) and lemon wedges.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes with Cinnamon "Cream Cheese" Icing (Vegan)

It's funny what ends up happening when I run out of milk and therefore can't eat my Kix for breakfast, and can't make any baked good with milk for that matter. Vegan cupcakes to the rescue!

I decided to adapt the pumpkin chocolate chip cupcake recipe from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World to try to make things just a little bit healthier. So, I substituted agave nectar for some of the sugar and whole wheat pastry flour for some of the white flour. Because of the extra liquid in the nectar, I was also able to cut the oil in half. I also used less chocolate. Not too shabby, huh?

Pumpkin Chocolate Chunk Cupcakes
Makes 12

  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (use the Libby's canned, the Trader Joe's organic canned has a totally different texture)
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light agave nectar
  • 1/4 cup soy milk
  • 1 t vanilla

  • 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 t baking powder
  • 1/2 t baking soda
  • 1/2 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1/3 cup chocolate chunks, chips, or a cut up chocolate bar
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease or put liners into 12 muffin cups.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the first set of ingredients (all the wet ones).
  3. Now, gently stir in the dry ingredients with a fork. Don't over stir and don't use an electric mixer.
  4. Fold in the chocolate.
  5. Evenly distribute the batter into the muffin cups and bake for 23 minutes.
  6. Let cool in the pan for 3 minutes, then take them out and place them on a cooling rack.
  7. Now, I am supposed to tell you to let them cook completely before frosting but I think a warm, muffiny-like cake such as this dipped into the creamy frosting would be just fine.
Cinnamon "Cream Cheese" Frosting
Frosts 12 cakes generously (could make less)

I've made this basic recipe many times and trust me when I say that it tastes JUST like real cream cheese frosting. I think it actually tastes better. You never even have to tell folks it's vegan.. I usually don't.
  1. Easiest with a KitchenAid Mixer, cream together the margarine and cream cheese until just combined.
  2. Mix in the sugar 1/2 cup at a time until smooth and creamy.
  3. Mix in vanilla and spices.
  4. Frost as you wish!! Store tightly covered in the fridge.
If you want to know how to make the cute little fondant flower.. that's in the next post. : ))