Ally

With so many chefs prostituting themselves through the media these days, everyone has a favorite chef much like they have a favorite actor or singer. There's the die-hard Bobby Flay fans, the Rachel Ray worshippers and don't forget the Eric Ripert groupies along with many more. Each to their own, I say. Personally, I enjoy Bourdain's caustic style but my heart truly belongs to pastry chef, Johnny Iuzzini. Hot, talented and creates incredible sweets? *Swoon* Well, tonight's my lucky night since Iuzzini will be gracing the screen on Top Chef once again.  If you miss it, don't despair you can catch him on Hulu:  Iuzzini on Top Chef, DC   I know of one person who'll be drooling over more than the desserts while watching this episode.




PS Don't forget to catch him on the new show Top Chef: Just Desserts coming out later this year.
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Ally
Recently, we went camping up at Morningstar Lake (just past Foresthill, nestled in the Tahoe National Forest). We caught several trout using Powerbait and my boyfriend, an avid fisherman, patiently showed me how to gut my first fish (oh yes, I did!). The innards are a bit slimey but nothing to work yourself up over; however, no one mentioned to me that sometimes AFTER you've pulled all the guts out of a fish, it can still twitch and flop about. If you can ignore me dropping the fish and squealing like a complete wus, this video is actually pretty decent as a step-by-step guide to gutting a fish.



(* camera work done by one of my favorite 11 year olds! Thank you, Z!)
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Ally

 
One of the benefits of having friends that love food is that the majority of them are incredible cooks. One of my favorite kitchen dabblers is Undercover Caterer (if you haven't checked out her blog, you should!). Last summer, she brought a plate of her Peach-Bourbon ribs to a get together and the sauce was so mind-blowingly delicious that the whole lot of us were licking our fingers after downing each rib. Unfortunately, it was the tail end of peach season when I got to sink my teeth into those tasty eats and I had to wait patiently for the season to roll back around again. Anyhow, first chance I got this summer, I scurried down to the farmers' market and got me some juicy peaches. I was a bit worried about how this recipe would turn out as I've never cooked ribs before but they came out fall-off-the-bone-tender and the sauce was just as fantabulous as I remembered.

Undercover Caterer's Baby Back Ribs with Peach-Bourbon Sauce

For the ribs:

- Heat oven to 250 degrees.
- Mix 3/4 cup of dry rub with equal amounts of brown sugar.
- Pat your ribs dry, apply rub to all sides of the rack, wrap them tightly in foil and place them on a rack above a baking sheet.
- Roast for 2.5-3 hours, testing for doneness. They should be tender and pull away easily.

For the sauce:

2 T butter
1/2 red onion, about 3/4 cup minced
6 white or yellow peaches- peeled and coarsely chopped
2 T apple cider vinegar
1/3-1/2 cup of dark brown sugar, depending on the sweetness of the fruit
1/3 cup chicken stock (I used veggie stock since that was what I had on hand)
1/2 cup ketchup
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 t Dijon
1 T Sriracha Sambal sauce (the chili-garlic kind with the green screw top lid, not the rooster sauce)
2 T fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup of bourbon

- Melt butter in saucepan and saute onions until soft.
- Add chopped peaches, bring to a simmer and cook about 4-5 minutes.
- Add in the rest of the ingredients except for the lemon juice and simmer another 20 minutes, until it thickens.
- Add lemon juice to taste.
- Using a stick blender, blend until mixture is smooth.
- When the ribs are done, you can glaze them then finish them off on the grill for a smoky flavor.
Ally



This summer I took the initiative to plant a few herbs and vegetables. My dill died almost immediately: however, my basil and parsley took off like a wildfire. So, between my harvest of homegrown basil and the basil I bought while I was at the farmer’s market this week, I had enough to whip up a few batches of pesto. I figured it’d be nice to have some on hand for when I make homemade pizzas or when I’m feeling lazy and am craving some pesto pasta mixed with fresh summertime veggies.


Baby Basils

Presto Pesto
Yields about 3 cups

Ingredients

6 cups fresh basil leaves, packed tight

1/2 cup Parmesan-Reggiano, grated

2/3 cup walnuts, chopped

5-6 garlic cloves, minced or smashed

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

5-6 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

sea salt & fresh ground pepper, to taste


Instructions

- Combine basil leaves, walnuts and garlic in food processor and pulse until finely minced.

- With the machine running slowly add the oil through the feed tube and process until the mixture is smooth.

- If you plan to freeze your pesto, skip adding the cheese until you're ready to use it. Otherwise, add the grated cheese and process very briefly.

- Add the lemon juice. Give it a few good pulses.

- Season with sea salt & pepper. Process.

- Transfer to jars or airtight containers.

- Refrigerate.

Ally



Most people gravitate towards beef, chicken or pork for their protein but for me given a choice, it’s always been shrimp. Ah, shrimp! I’ve had a love affair with shrimp in all it’s forms since I was a kid. Shrimp scampi….mmmm! Shrimp cocktails…yes, please! Shrimp on the barbie…pass me another, mate! How can you tire of these tasty crustaceans when there’s such a multitude of ways to prepare them? Shrimp are also low in calories and saturated fat; not to mention, a good source of B12, vitamin D and selenium. Best of all though, shrimp are fairly simple to cook and are easy on the wallet (you can get a 1 lb. bag of tails on, uncooked, shelled shrimp at Trader Joe's for about roughly $9). Now if you disagree with all of the above, just take your shrimp-hating self over to God Hates Shrimp as I'm sure you won't appreciate what's to follow. ;)

For tonight’s dinner, I decided to prepare some chili, lemon and basil shrimp with Israeli couscous. To add some color, I stir-fried some fresh Chinese long beans that I bought at the farmer’s market on Sunday.

(serves 2 generously)

For the couscous:

Olive oil

1 cup Israeli (pearl) couscous

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1 1/2 cups chicken broth (I substituted veggie broth)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

- Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.

- Add the couscous and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it starts smelling a little toasty.

- Add the lemon juice and stir until the lemon juice evaporates. (Reserve the lemon zest for the shrimp.)

- Add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer then turn the heat to low and cover the pan tightly. Cook for 15 minutes, then take off the heat and let the pan sit, still covered, until you are ready to serve the couscous.

For the shrimp:

4 large cloves garlic, minced

Pinch red pepper flakes, to taste

1 pound cooked shrimp, deveined and tails removed

1 cup loosely packed fresh basil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper



- In a 10-inch sauté pan, heat another drizzle of olive oil over medium-low heat.

- Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes and cook gently for about 5 minutes, or until the garlic is golden and fragrant.

- Pat the shrimp dry, turn the heat up to high, and add the shrimp to the pan.

- Cook quick, turning the shrimp frequently and stirring the oil and garlic into the shrimp.

- As soon as the shrimp is heated through (about 3 minutes), turn off the heat and stir in the basil and the lemon zest.

- Season the couscous and shrimp to taste with salt and pepper. Serve the shrimp on a bed of couscous, and eat while it's hot!

Ally

Would you describe your decorating style as quirky? Is kitschy your middle name? Then I'll let you in on a little secret....check out Fishs Eddy. What's a Fishs Eddy you ask? Well, I'll let you know IF you promise to keep it on the DL. Fishs Eddy is a cute kitchenware shop in the Flatron District of New York.  I'll be honest I've never had the opportunity to set foot in the business' brick and mortar glory; however, I've poured over their website for years and quite simply...it rocks. The selection ranges from the standard dinnerware and flatware to glassware and serveware. What makes them unique though are the creative designs of said products-- whether you fancy Alice in Wonderland dishtowels, multi-colored pill adorned coasters, New York inspired mugs or just some everyday Kitchen Weapons cereal bowls; Fishs Eddy has them all. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, the array of themes offered up by this small shop are dizzying. There's definitely something for everyone. Where else could you find Heroes of the Torah and Strip He glasses just one click away from each other?






Ally

Tired of tart lemonades, sugary colas and plain old iced tea? Looking for a new refreshing summertime beverage? Recently, while raiding the frozen food section at Trader Joe's, I was given a sample of their TJ's Pomegranate Green Tea. Now, I think I'm addicted to this stuff and am stockpiling my fridge with it like it's going out of style. It's low in calories, tastes great and both ingredients have been associated with reducing heart disease. How can you go wrong with that?

If that alone doesn't convince you, click below to read about other green tea and pomegranate benefits:  
Ally


What vegetable is low in calories, high in antioxidants, a good source of vitamin C and has it's own yearly festival? That's right, asparagus!

If you're looking for a super easy, but healthy side dish to prepare---look no further. I've made this dish several times for dinner parties and it's always gone over well.

Quick & Easy Garlic Roasted Asparagus

2 lbs. asparagus (I prefer the thinner stalks)
3-4 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T minced fresh garlic
2-3 t fresh lemon juice (in a pinch I've used the bottled stuff)
Fresh ground pepper
Salt

* Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

* Wash asparagus thoroughly and snap off coarse ends.
* Cut stalks  into bite-size pieces.
* In an oven-safe dish, toss asparagus with olive oil and garlic.
* Season with salt & ground pepper.
* Place in the oven and bake 15-20 minutes, stirring once. Remove once asparagus becomes tender.
* Take the dish out. Toss asparagus with lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Ally
During my recent move, I somehow lost or misplaced my two shopping bags. These bags were nothing special but served their purpose and were super functional for trips to the farmers' market or grocery store. So for the last week or so I've been perusing various websites in search of a new replacement tote. Who would have thought there were so many cute ones to choose from? I haven't made my purchase yet, but I've listed a few that have caught my eye.

What kind of bag/tote do you use for your shopping trips?

Envirosax Flora Bag $8.50



Reuseit  Recycled Rice Bag $9.95



MelangerieNYC State By Food Tote Bag $25.00



Ally


There'll always be days that you're too tired, too sick or just too lazy to cook. So when you do have days when you feel the urge to bust out your apron; you should take advantage of the mood and whip up a big batch of something so that you can freeze a bunch of it...or if you're like me, feed all of your friends. I mean really, who doesn't love a homecooked soup, sauce or casserole?

One of my favorite sauces to make and share is bolognese sauce. It's simple to make and quite healthy. When I first started making it, I used Ms.Big Head's (aka Giada De Laurentiis) recipe from Everyday Italian as a template. Over time I tweaked this and that and found a version that worked for me. 

You can find the original recipe here:  Giada's Simple Bolognese. My version complete with tweaks is listed below.

Bolognese Sauce

Ingredients

½ cup olive oil
2  (28 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes (I like to use Muir Glen's Organic Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes)
2 medium onions, diced
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 lbs. ground beef
½ cup flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
¼  cup basil leaves, chopped
Salt
Fresh ground pepper
Tapatio sauce
Red pepper flakes
½  cup red wine

Instructions

* In a large skillet heat the olive oil.  Add the onion and garlic and saute over medium heat until the onions become very soft, about 8 minutes.

* Raise heat to high and add the ground beef. Saute for another 10 minutes, until all the pink is gone.

* Add the tomatoes, parsley and basil. Stir.

* Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Add red wine and a couple splashes of Tapatio.

* Allow the sauce to simmer on medium low heat until it thickens, about 30 minutes.

Ally



Before life got too hectic, a group of us girls used to have a dinner club. We'd get together from time to time, pick a food theme and then each of us would pick a recipe that fit the theme. We'd bring our ingredients over to the designated host's home and then drink wine and chat while preparing our dishes. The last supper club we held consisted of a Greek / Turkish theme (yes both, since we couldn't decide on just one). Dishes that were prepared were a delicious pastitsio, yummy lamb koftas, a flaky pan of baklava and an overflowing platter of treats (dolmas, pita chips and a range of homemade dipping sauces- hummus, dill, tahini).  For my contribution, I decided to try my hand at spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie. It was the first time I had ever worked with phyllo dough and I ended up loving it. Not only did this recipe make it into my recipe box, but it's now one of Mr.S.'s favorite dishes.

* The recipe I use is from Chubby Hubby's blog with a few modifications. You can find the original recipe here: Chubby Hubby's Greek Spinach Pie. My version is listed below. The picture above is from the batch I made the night of dinner club.

Spanakopita

2 pounds fresh spinach
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese (I like the ones pre-mixed with Mediterranean herbs)
4 ounces large-curd cottage cheese
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup dill, fine chopped
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper
14 sheets phyllo pastry (this can be found in the frozen pastry section of your supermarket)
2 sticks of unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped green onions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

* Wash the spinach thoroughly and pull off any woody stems. Drain, but don't dry.
* Place the spinach in a large pot with about 3-4 T of water.
* Place the pot over a low flame, cover and allow the spinach to wilt, this will take about 5-6 minutes.
* Place spinach in a colander, press and drain off any excess water.
* Then put the leaves in a pan and cook over high heat, drying out the spinach.

* In a bowl, mash the feta and cottage cheeses together with a fork. Add in the eggs, spinach, dill, and nutmeg. Salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.

* Find a baking tray or pan a little smaller than the sheets of pyllo. Brush it with the melted butter. Place half of the phyllo sheets, one on top of the other, at the bottom of the pan, brushing each sheet one at a time with the melted butter, letting the sheets come up along the sides.
* Spread the spinach mix evenly on top.
* Then cover with the remaining sheets, brushing each one individually, including the top one, with the melted butter.
* Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until crisp and golden.
Ally

It's BBQ season and you're scrambling for something to bring that doesn't have the words, "RUFFLES," emblazoned on it or that will spoil in the hot sun. An easy, tasty, colorful dish I like to throw together is quinoa salad. What the heck is this quinoa, you may ask?  Quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") was once called the "the gold of the Incas." It's an amino-acid rich seed that has a slightly crunchy flavor and mildly nutty taste. It's healthy for you in a multitude of ways - it's gluten-free, high in protein (it's a complete protein), and a terrific source of manganese, magnesium (good for migraine sufferers), iron, phosphorus and copper.  Best of all it tastes great.
[ The picture above is of a batch of quinoa salad I made for a BBQ party Saturday night. ]


Quinoa Salad


1 cup quinoa, rinsed well
2 cups veggie stock
1 medium sized orange bell pepper, diced
1 medium sized yellow bell pepper, diced
1 large tomato, seeds removed & diced  (or a handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved)
½ cup pitted kalamata olives
¼ cup lemon juice
2 T olive oil
1 ½ t minced fresh garlic
Salt and pepper to taste

*sometimes I throw in a few finely sliced green onions.



* In a sauce pan bring the quinoa and veggie stock to a boil. Cover, lower heat to simmer. Cook approximately 10-15 minutes, until liquid is absorbed.
* Transfer into bowl and cool.
* Dice 1 yellow or orange bell pepper, 2 medium sized tomatoes. Set aside.
* Cut pitted, kalamata olives into halves.
* Mince 1.5 teaspoons of garlic.
* Add 2 T olive oil, ¼ cup lemon juice and 1 ½ t minced garlic to cooled quinoa. Mix thoroughly.
* Add peppers, tomatoes and kalamata olives. Toss together well.
* Season with salt and pepper.
* Refrigerate.
Ally
If you're a coffee junkie like me, you're always looking for ways to enhance the maximum flavor out of that tiny bean. A few months ago, my boyfriend got me turned onto french pressed coffee...OMG, where has this been my whole life? Sure, the stuff I brew in my ancient Mr. Coffee is good but man, oh man the french press makes it so much better!

Anyhow one of my favorite coffee/tea equipment companies, Bodum, currently has a great french press on sale at Crate and Barrel. They've been reduced from $29.95 to $19.95 and come in three cute designer colors.


Ally

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Ally

I love summertime at the market. The selection increases and the tables seem to overflow with a multitude of bright colors. It makes me want to dance down the aisles and shout out, "So long root veggies and tubers, hellooooo juicy berries and ripe melons!" while kicking hipster moms with their 6 by 6 strollers out of the way. If you haven't been to the farmers' market in Sac, you're missing out. There are a few weekday markets in Midtown now that the weather's nice, but my favorite is the W Street location on Sunday mornings. What's nice about the W Street location is that it's in the shade, provides plenty of parking, has a good array of vendors (fruit, veggies, fish, meat, flowers) and there's an asian farmers' market kitty corner from it (great for picking up essentials like ginger, peppers and herbs).

* Here's a great site for locating a Sacramento farmers' market by you:  Certified Farmers' Markets
* Info on the Oak Park location can be found at : Oak Park Farmers' Market
* In a hurry? Kaiser Permanente now has a few small farmers' markets in front of select facilities, where you can swoop in and pick up some produce: Kaiser Farmers' Markets


(Photo by Julie Davis Photo)
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Ally

This year the National Park Service is offering several fee-free days at over 100 National Parks. It's the perfect excuse to make your favorite picnic recipe and grab a few friends (or pack up the kids) and spend the day enjoying some sunshine and fresh air.

Visit A National Park 



(Photo from Suzy Sputnik )
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