Thursday, June 28, 2018

Tasting notes from a delicious Portuguese vacation

Viewing Porto from the top of the Torre de Clérigos
We kicked off summer with a little Europe getaway, during which we spent a few days exploring Portugal. It was an awesome trip with no shortage of beautiful sights and fantastic food. Here are some of my tasting notes.

Porto was our first stop in Portugal and is the country’s second-largest city (Lisbon’s the biggest). We had less than 48 hours to explore but covered a lot of ground during that time and enjoyed getting to know Portugal’s second city on foot. Walk across the Ponte de Dom Luís I, which spans the Douro River, for great views of Porto and also to check out Vila Nova de Gaia’s restaurants and port wine tasting rooms.

We enjoyed a delicious lunch with great Porto views at Taberninha do Manuel. Their beef stew was robust and garlicky, and I also loved their salt cod fritters (we found these delicious starters on menus throughout the trip), but perhaps the most memorable part of our meal was the gut-busting Francesinha. This traditional Porto sandwich featured sliced white bread, steak and linguiça, all covered in a thick beer and tomato sauce and plenty of melted cheese.

Behold, the Francesinha (and this was just my half of the sandwich)
We unexpectedly ran into our friends’ parents while visiting the Porto Cathedral, which was a pleasant surprise. They gave us a rundown of their favorite local finds, including A Grade, which turned out to be a wonderful spot near the river but tucked away down an alley. I loved their caldo verde (a soup with potato and greens) and fried hake which, despite its intimidating appearance, made for quite a tasty meal.

The baddest fish in the whole damn town (and quite delicious)

After Porto we made our way south to Lisbon, where my favorite restaurant was Zazah. Located in the Principe Real neighborhood, Zazah has a hip, modern vibe, charming service and a menu packed with delicious, shareable dishes and creative cocktails. Our group of 18 (yes, 18!) left full and happy. Everything on the dinner menu was delicious, but my personal favorites were the wild game croquettes, the mashed potatoes with truffles, the mushroom gratin and the grilled, sliced sirloin.

The Time Out Market Lisboa is a must-try destination when visiting Lisbon. This massive food hall, located in the Mercado da Ribeira market hall, houses dozens of fantastic food vendors. Going here with a group is great because everyone can cruise around and order on their own, then convene at one of the hall’s tables to enjoy the meal together (and, if you’re lucky, your friends are willing to share bites of their dishes).

Top picks included:

  • Marlene Vieira -- Bacalhau a Gomes de Sa (sautéed codfish and potatoes with onion, egg and olives) 
  • Cozinha da Felicidade -- Croquetes de Pato, Compota de Laranja (duck croquettes with orange jam)  
  • Alexandre Silva -- Perna de Pato Confitada (confit duck leg with honey, orange and thyme glaze, parsnip puree and watercress)   
  • Santini -- probably the best hazelnut ice cream I’ve had in my life.  

A few of us tried to eat at Bairro do Avillez but they were booked solid, so we set out on foot to find another dinner option that could accommodate us without a reservation. After a bit of wandering we found Tapas Bar 47, which turned out to be quite the fun, low-key spot. The gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) and sautéed mushrooms (also with lots of garlic) were my favorite dishes.

We spent one day touring the town of Sintra, located outside of Lisbon. We had a busy schedule and only had only a short break for lunch between destinations, so we popped into a little cafe called A Padaria, where we grabbed some quick sandwiches and drinks, and enjoyed our lunch seated on the steps of the Palacio Nacional de Sintra.

Our lunchtime view from the steps of the Palacio Nacional de Sintra
On our final night in Lisbon, we checked out Casa de Linhares, one of Lisbon’s Fado houses. Fado is a type of Portuguese folk music that dates back to the 19th century. We fully enjoyed a night of beautiful, mournful music paired with a delicious tasting menu. It was a great way to close out an overall fantastic trip!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Onion-Dijon Burgers with Gruyere and Baby Greens

I love a good cheeseburger, but don’t necessarily want it served with a big ol’ bun. I love carbs as much as the next person, but too much bun detracts from the deliciously seasoned patty, melty cheese and other toppings. I want just enough bread to hold everything together so I can still eat the burger with my hands -- anything more than that and you run the risk of either wasting food or going into a food coma.

With that in mind, I wanted to use something for this recipe that didn’t have too much bulk but other than a standard sesame-seed bun. I got excited when spotting some ciabatta rolls at Trader Joe’s, but they were massive, so I opted for the pane rustico, a broad, flat loaf that I could cut into eight pieces to make reasonably sized buns. Can’t find pane rustico? Ciabatta’s a great alternative.

While the topper on the burger pictured above might look a bit tall, I promise that this bread has some air to it and smashes down quite nicely when you pick up this deliciously juicy burger and take a bite.

Onion-Dijon Burgers with Gruyere and Baby Greens
Serves 8 
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons plus one teaspoon dijon mustard, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 cups diced yellow onion (from 1 large onion)
2 pounds lean (90/10) ground beef
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 loaf pane rustico or any broad, flat loaf (like ciabatta), cut into eight pieces and sliced
Sliced gruyere
Baby greens salad mix
Equipment: 2 baking sheets and 2 skillets or frying pans

Use a fork to whisk mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons dijon in a small bowl and put it in the fridge until you’re ready to build the burgers.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread slices in a single layer on two baking sheets and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in skillet or frying pan over medium heat. Cook onions, stirring often, for 7-8 minutes, until dark golden brown. Transfer onions to large mixing bowl and add ground beef, remaining dijon, salt and pepper. Combine mixture with your fingers and then form eight patties.

Add one tablespoon oil to the skillet you used to cook the onions, and the remaining oil to your second skillet or frying pan. Use your spatula to move the oil around so the surface of each pan has a consistent, light coating. Cook patties (4 to a pan) at high heat for 4 minutes before flipping. Add sliced gruyere and continue to cook patties for an additional 4-6 minutes or until they’re cooked to your liking.

Once you’ve flipped the patties, put bread in the oven and toast for 3-4 minutes and remove from oven.

Build each burger with two slices of bread, one patty, a handful of baby greens and a good smear of the dijon/mayonnaise spread.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Golden Beet Salad with Cotija and Pepitas

An upcoming trip to Mallorca and Portugal has motivated us to tweak our eating habits a bit -- gotta look good when visiting those beautiful, sun-kissed beaches! This means we’re stocking the fridge with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies and eating LOTS of salad. I like that there’s a lot going on with this salad, between subtly sweet golden beets, sharp onion, creamy avocado, salty cotija cheese, snappy pepitas and a citrus-y balsamic vinaigrette. It leaves you feeling happily full but not weighed down.

Golden Beet Salad with Cotija and Pepitas 
1½ pounds golden beets, roots and stems trimmed
½ cup unsalted pepitas
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice (from half an orange)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ medium red onion, sliced thin (I used a mandoline)
2 large avocados, halved and sliced
8 cups spring mix
1 cup crumbled cotija cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wrap each beet loosely in aluminum foil and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Put the beets in the oven and roast until tender when poked with a fork, 60-90 minutes (depending on how big your beets are). Remove beets from oven and set aside to cool.

Put pepitas on a separate baking sheet and place in the oven for 4-5 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant. Remove pepitas from the oven and set aside to cool.

Make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, orange juice and balsamic vinegar.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove them from the aluminum foil. Peel the beets (wear gloves if you don’t want the beet juice to stain your hands). Cut the beets into a large dice.

Divide vegetables, cotija and pepitas evenly among four plates, drizzle with salad dressing, and serve.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Grilled Chicken Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing

I’m not typically an impulse buyer at the grocery store. I have my weekly menu planning down to an art and do a great job sticking to my shopping list...until I show up at Trader Joe’s. They do too good of a job of creating new, reasonably priced items that pique my interest and before you know it, I’m buying things that weren’t on my list. This is how I ended up bringing home a bottle of Trader Joe’s Yuzu Hot Sauce, which touts itself as “simultaneously spicy and citrusy fragrant.”

For someone who can tolerate a mild-to-moderate level of spice, this sauce has plenty of kick for my liking. Using it in the salad dressing (that also doubles as a marinade) for this colorful salad is a great way to enjoy a little heat along with lots of other fresh flavors.

Grilled Chicken Salads with Spicy Citrus Dressing
Serves 4 

For the salad dressing: 
2 tablespoons Trader Joe’s Yuzu Hot Sauce
½ cup fresh orange juice (from 1 large orange)
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
1 teaspoon cumin
1/3 cup olive oil, plus extra for grilling
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon lime zest
Salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

For the salad: 
1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
¼ head green cabbage, shredded
¼ head red cabbage, shredded
2 carrots, grated or sliced into ribbons
1 red bell pepper, sliced thin
4 green onions, sliced
2 avocados, sliced

Combine ½ cup of the dressing with chicken breasts in a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Let chicken marinate in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Refrigerate remaining salad dressing.

Once chicken has marinated, preheat the grill at medium-high heat. When you’re ready to grill, first oil the grill by oiling a folded paper towel, holding it with tongs and rubbing it over the rack. Use a fork or tongs to remove chicken from marinade and place chicken on the grill. Grill the chicken, flipping once, until cooked through, about 10-12 minutes. Transfer chicken to a platter or cutting board and let it sit for a few minutes before slicing.

Divide chicken and vegetables among four plates and top with remaining salad dressing.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Lemony Shrimp and Asparagus with Cheesy Polenta

This recipe is the perfect combination of what I love about winter cooking and spring cooking, and it’s great for this time of year when we’re still getting rain in the Bay Area but the daffodils and irises are pushing up.

On one hand you have polenta, which is perfectly cozy and comforting and just what I want slowly simmering on the stove when it’s cold and dark outside. But then you also have bright, springy flavors thanks to shrimp quickly cooked with tender asparagus and some zippy lemon. It’s the best of both worlds!

Lemony Shrimp and Asparagus with Cheesy Polenta 
Serves 4-6 
1 quart chicken broth
1 cup polenta
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sliced shallots (from 3 large shallots)
1 tablespoon butter
1 pound asparagus, cut into one-inch pieces
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring broth to a boil in a large saucepan. Gradually add polenta, stirring for a minute, before reducing heat to low and covering the saucepan. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring the polenta for a minute every 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in the grated Parmesan and lemon zest.

While polenta is cooking, heat olive oil in large frying pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until shallots have softened and started to brown. Add butter to the pan to melt before adding asparagus and cooking for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add shrimp and cook until pink. Remove pan from heat, stir in lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Distribute polenta evenly among bowls, followed by shrimp and asparagus, and then garnish with Parmesan.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Kale Salad with Spiced Chickpeas and Sunflower Seeds

I’ve been working on this recipe for a few weeks now, and I’m happy to report that I’ve finally nailed it. As I’ve said before, I love a snappy salad with plenty of sass, and this one has plenty to go around. 
A few things I want to mention about this recipe:

  • Massaging the kale helps to tenderize it a bit. 
  • While the chickpeas are more spiced than spicy, if you like your flavors on the milder side you can try using half the recommended amount. 
  • You might end up with extra dressing, but it’ll be OK in the fridge for a couple days. 
  • I like mine on the thicker side of things, and it’s also great as a dip with raw veggies. 
  • Add a cup of cooked quinoa to make the salad even bigger and heartier. 
  • This recipe yields 4 entree salads or more as a side.

Kale Salad with Spiced Chickpeas and Sunflower Seeds 
For the salad: 
1 bunch green curly kale, washed, stalks removed and leaves sliced
1 cup shredded red cabbage (from ¼ head)
1 cup grated carrot (from 2 carrots)
½ cup raisins
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Half a lime, juiced

For the spiced chickpeas and sunflower seeds:
2 cans chickpeas, drained and toweled off
2 tablespoons olive oil
1½ teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon salt
⅓ cup raw, shelled sunflower seeds

For the dressing: 
½ cup avocado (from 1 avocado)
¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin
2-3 tablespoons water

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Start by preparing the salad. In a large bowl, add kale, cabbage, carrots, raisins, salt, olive oil and lime juice. Massage ingredients for a minute and then set aside.

Next, prepare the chickpeas and sunflower seeds. In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas with olive oil, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne, coriander and salt, until chickpeas are evenly coated with seasoning mixture. Place on a baking sheet and bake for 18 minutes. While chickpeas are in the oven, toss sunflower seeds in the same bowl used for the chickpeas to pick up any remaining spices. After baking chickpeas for 18 minutes, add sunflower seeds to baking sheet and bake for 2 more minutes before removing baking sheet from the oven.

Once the chickpeas are in the oven, make the dressing by blending the avocado, Greek yogurt, cilantro, lime juice, garlic, olive oil and cumin in a food processor. Thin the dressing with water to desired consistency by adding 1 tablespoon of water at a time.

Toss salad mixture with dressing until coated to your liking (I used ½ cup) and divide evenly among plates. Top each plate with spiced chickpeas and sunflower seeds.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Quinoa Breakfast Casserole with Andouille and Greens

It’s all about the proteins with this breakfast casserole. Between the eggs, quinoa and some spicy Andouille, you’re getting quite the protein punch. Add a bunch of beet greens for even more healthy goodness! Don’t have (or don’t like) beet greens? Use a bunch of kale or chard instead. Can't find Gruyère? White cheddar or Monterey Jack would also taste great.

Quinoa Breakfast Casserole with Andouille and Greens 
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
8 ounces andouille sausage, cubed
1 bunch beet greens, chopped
1 cup cooked quinoa
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated Gruyère

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a baking dish (I used an 8-by-8 glass dish) with butter or non-stick spray. Heat olive oil in a frying pan or skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook for about a minute, until fragrant. Add Andouille and cook until browned, 4-5 minutes. Add beet greens and quinoa to the pan and cook for another minute or two. Add mixture to baking dish, followed by eggs. Top with grated Gruyère and bake for 20-25 minutes, until eggs are set.