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The day has come. April 15th arrived and Uncle Sam wants to hear from you. For once I have taken care of my taxes way before the due date, which, as you know, ended up in my utmost indignation and relentless hiccups despite my wildest expectations. Nonetheless, since I no longer need to worry about 2009, I can focus on a bowl of whole-wheat comfort bathed in a juicy sauce of my choice.

Every week Jason and I do groceries on Saturday, and we buy either one whole chicken that will last for several dinners/lunches, or just a chicken breast plus a fresh fish fillet. Those take care of two to three dinners a week. The remaining days we follow a mostly vegetarian diet.

Usually around Thursday I glance into the depths of our refrigerator and panic as the only thing looking back at me is one sad veg (like zucchini or broccoli), a half-empty jar of capers, leftover mascarpone cheese and rapidly wilting dill. For a moment I’m startled wondering what to make for dinner. But then I run through the pantry and discover at least two variations of dry pasta kicking back in the drawer, a can or two of water-packed tuna (no salt added), maybe a jar of tomato puree, and to make the deal even sweater – there’s a bag of artichoke hearts in the freezer. In a basket there’s always a few onions and garlic cloves only waiting to get in the game.

It takes about 20-30 minutes to make a hearty meal out of the above-mentioned. During the time my pasta water boils in a large pot, I chop and sauté an onion, add drained and crumbled tuna meat, then capers, frozen artichokes, and cover it with my liquid tomatoes. I season the sauce with salt and pepper, maybe a touch of paprika, and let it all simmer together until the pasta is aldente.

Apropos pasta, for a chunky sauce like this, choose the kind of noodles that have ridges and holes allowing the sauce to wrap itself around and/or inside each peace and become one. It’s very sexy.

(Hearing the words, Cosmo lifts his head from the nap, sniffs around, and teased by the aroma coming from the kitchen he barks out loud: OOO, DID SOMEONE SAY SEXY?)

Turn off the heat under the sauce. Scoop about a tablespoon or more of mascarpone cheese and incorporate it into the sauce. Let it melt, baby, let it all nicely melt in. Add freshly chopped dill or parsley, and slowly toss in your cooked pasta along with about a ladleful of pasta water. Mix it all together and voila!

I can’t even describe how phenomenal that meal is. My advise to you is to make only as much pasta as you’d like to eat at one sitting. If you make too much, you’ll be huffing and puffing but you won’t be able to stop before the dish has disappeared from the surface of the Earth.

Here’s another variation of my pasta mid-week fix. Get yourself an Anaheim pepper (green bell pepper will do, too), chop it and toss into a blender with 2 cloves of garlic, chopped onion, a bunch of cilantro, good pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, a touch of chili powder, and drizzle in some olive oil. Mix it all into a green sauce.

Heat your skillet, add olive oil and sauté chopped zucchini (2-4, depending on their size), while your pasta is boiling away in a separate pan. Season it with salt and pepper and maybe a touch of smoked paprika (why not). When zucchini is semi-soft, add the green sauce and let it simmer together until the noodles are aldente. Toss the pasta into the skillet, stir, push everybody around, and serve!

Feel free to begin this dish with diced pancetta, letting its rendered fat to be the base for the zucchini. You can also add grated Gruyere cheese at the very end, or Parmesan if you prefer. Melted cheese will help bind your pasta with the sauce, turning the dish into a close-knit family.

Even when you think there’s nothing to eat in your house, think again. Check your cabinets; check the produce drawer in your refrigerator. From my experience, there’s always a lonely fellow left sending out RESCUE ME messages either by a pigeon, or in a bottle, or even coded in Morse, just dying to be devoured with pleasure. It’s just a matter of sautéing or fixing up otherwise.

I’m outta here. Da Vinci is exepcting.

How many times have I told you to cook with love? Really, how often do I mention within these posts the importance of sprinkling your food with fairy dust and passion crystals? There exists a direct correlation between your success in the kitchen and the amount of love spells dissolved in that pot on your stove. I stressed it enough over the months for you to think I would know better than to step into my cooking chambers all bitter, and with electric current of fury streaming through my spine.

Why, you wonder?

If you miss your best friend’s birthday extravaganza because your mate’s left part of the brain has grown twice in size over the course of one week due to work overload, and on top of that he’s drying out of hunger and thus turning into a pile of dust on a desk in his office as we speak, and you must forgo obeying the law while flying through all red lights of the streets of City of Angels rushing to him with a meal that will save his life, and you call your friend from the car with no headset (oops, another violation!) to let her know of the extraordinary circumstances causing your absence at the party, promising to make it up to her in the next few days, she should understand, right?

She didn’t. She was all “I get that Jason was stuck at work, but you could have shown your face at least”. Oh, Mother, when I heard that, a yellow puff of anger mixed with hurt snuck out of my wide open mouth. Really? I was so pissed that she didn’t give me the credit of the doubt, knowing how fiercely loyal I am, and understand that I must have had a damn good excuse to miss her Celebration Of Aging. And frankly, I don’t need to wait for her birthday to raise a toast for the three new wrinkles she’s developed, and the gray hair she’s grown …on her leg, way up there. And she also should know that the minute her boobs get soggy and her butt widens out of her mind so that she has to buy TWO airplane tickets to fly anywhere, and she gets stretch marks after her first childbirth that will resemble the fjords of Norway, I’ll be the first one to make her a FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH FRESH RASPBERRY SAUCE, and stick candles in it no matter the date. Because that’s the kind of friend I am.

In such a frame of mind, I crossed the threshold of our kitchen to make dinner – a pot of hearty soup, one of my favorites, the soup that Jason’s parents loved so much they took the recipe down and entered a soup contest with it in TEXAS. In all modesty, I must say that if there is anything I know about cooking, soup is IT. That’s my forte.

I started peeling my carrots and parsnips all the while thinking of my dear friend, that itzy-bitzy little thing with a big mouth, enormous heart, and a really dirty mind. I crisped some pancetta and sautéed chopped leeks with an onion in a big pot. I tossed all the veggies in along with a few lightning bolts of anger and a dash of salt and pepper. I added two legs of chicken, a handful of spices, and completely engaged in the dialog in my head. From that point on, I have no recollection of the events that took place in my kitchen. I was so busy picturing myself as an old(er) woman with a handful of grandkids parked on the floor around my rocking chair, while telling them the story of a beautiful friendship wasted over …nothing.

The soup was done, and ready to serve. I took a spoonful to taste, and almost spat it back into the pot. It was absolutely disgusting. It was the most repelling thing I ever made. My poor soup, it took it all in – all the bitterness that I got out of my system, and dumped into the pot along with the veggies et al. There was no way to fix it. All I could do was to flush that sour and bitter mixture down the toilet, and drive to see my girlfriend to hug the hell out of her, and give her the birthday gift we both worked on with Jason, and tell her how much I wished I had been there to help her blow the candles, dozens and dozens of them. So many in fact, that the fire marshals arrived, the real ones this time, and not the touring Chippendales in disguise.

When we hugged it all out, I gasped “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. Are you still upset?” She quickly cut me off “Don’t even sweat it. I was PMS-ing”.

I know PMS. You don’t mess with a woman who is PMSing, period. (No pun intended.) And you definitely don’t want to mess with a woman that is PMSing ON HER BIRTHDAY.

Long story short, I have no recipe to share with you today, as I used it all up during my ANGER MANAGEMENT session with self.

Cooking is therapeutic, have I not told you?

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VERONICA!

It may come as a shock to some of you, but I do not cook. I mean, I do but I don’t. Everyday, I mean. Wait. Let’s go back. I love to make food. From the first step of washing and peeling, through chopping, then sautéing and seasoning, to stirring and tasting I engage as if I were watching a season finale of Grey’s Anatomy. There are times when I bury myself in the kitchen for days and cook my heart out. I strip, mix, whip, bag, massage and flip until my legs shake and I lose my breath… for a moment.

Alas, however satisfying the experience, I must step aside for a day or two to recover, recuperate, and relax. On those days Jason (and myself, who am I kidding) has a chance to go out and take care of the culinary sentiments Agi doesn’t necessarily tend to – good sushi, authentic Mexican cuisine, or a good ol’ American burger. And I tag along for a chance to try something new, cleanse my palette, and even to get inspired.

Last week I reached one of those culinary climaxes, and I was COOKED OUT. I had nothing left in me to power through another dinner in the house. I needed a breather. Jason very generously offered to take care of dinner and whipped out his wallet. Neither one of us wanted to be responsible for choosing a restaurant in case it turned out a total failure. We decided to write down potential eateries on pieces of paper, fold them up, and throw them into a hat.

Chantel's Hat

I shoved my whole arm inside, stirred around the votes, tried to FEEL the answer with my fingers, and finally pulled out our vote. It read: SUSHI. I liked what I saw as it was MY handwriting. Jason didn’t oppose, however he still wanted his vote to be considered. I dove in once again and searched all around the bottom of the hat for another strip of paper. I got it at last, unfolded it and read out loud: SUSHI.

That’s it. All Jason wanted was to show how unanimous we are in our thinking. So cute!

It was getting really late, and certainly past our mealtime. Our stomachs started growling at each other and I knew that any minute they would jump at each other’s throats. With no further ado, we hurried to a nearby Japanese restaurant called Shintaro – a staple in the neighborhood, but a new joint for us, since we’re relatively new to the hood. Thank god, the sushi was stupendous and calmed down the CRANKY HUNGRY BITCHES within us just in time before disaster struck.

The next day we got caught in Santa Monica running errands. It was close to 6pm when we realized we never had real breakfast or lunch. After a quick debate, we arrived at this earthy new restaurant called Kreation Kafe where they serve fresh organic produce from a local Farmers’ Market, organic beef, free range chicken, wholesome teas…you get the idea. The food was EXCELLENT and well worth fasting a whole day before feasting on this full and healthy meal.

Sunday rolled in, and became JUST ANOTHER MANIC PRE-MONDAY, filled with running around with no time to breathe. Come dinner hour, we looked at each other and I couldn’t believe the words that came out of my mouth:

“Do you want pizza?”

“YEAH!” Jason exclaimed with the expression of utmost shock mixed with a hint of adoration painted on his face.

And just like that, we ended our weekend of dining out with an artificial blob of pizza from a street-corner burger joint. It was stomach-wrenching and disappointing on every level possible. Not only did the pizza guy take our money upfront, then didn’t RECALL us paying for it, and refused to release our dinner in a box, but the pizza was ABSOLUTELY TASTELESS. Furthermore, it then made itself at home in my intestines for an unmentionable amount of time, making me feel not only constipated, but PREGNANT CONSTIPATED.

I missed my cooking toys. I missed spending time with my knives and chopping boards. The weekend seemed longer than it really was, and I needed to start the new week with something healthy and delicious. And even though it took a whole three days, I eventually reached our kitchen, and upon arrival I scrutinized the pantry to establish a dinner potential. I quickly devised a plan: SEARED TUNA OVER FORBIDDEN RICE WITH AN ORIENTAL FLARE.

I’ll walk you through the steps should you decide to flatter me by copying thy menu one night.

Forbidden Rice, aka Thai Rice is black, and as such presents itself with glamour and style on a plate. Cook it accordingly to the directions on its package. For extra flavor, add a couple of dry bay leaves to the pot and obviously season the water with salt. Chicken or vegetable stock are excellent substitutes for water, and certainly bring an extra layer of flavor to the whole dish.

For the fish, you want Sashimi Grade Tuna Fillets. Wash them in cool water and pat them dry-ish using a paper towel. Place the guys in a plastic zip-lock bag or a shallow glass/ceramic container, add enough low sodium soy sauce to cover the flesh, and close it up. Store your fish in a refrigerator for 1-2 hours, and let it marinate and soak up all those salty flavors. Clearly, you should prep the fish first, followed by the rice, and not the other way around. Are you confused yet?

When the rice is perky and bubbly in the boiling liquid on your stove, and the fillets are done marinating, heat a grilling pan (or any non-stick frying pan really) and get the tuna out and onto the pan. Violent sizzling is the music you want to hear. Sear the fish for 2 minutes on both sides, and the edges – for about 30 seconds each. Use a pair of clasping tongs to help stand your tuna on its sides.

Don’t forget about your vitamins and enzymes stored in everything that’s green, leafy AND EDIBLE. A little salad on the side of your plate will serve as a nutritious smiley face to your dinner.

Tuna

I’m afraid this is it. I wish I could say something more to make the dish sound more complicated. It’s just not. I keep saying – this is COOKING FOR IDIOTS with an IDIOT (me) COOKING.

Bon Appetit!

I am a cow. Or at least I have four stomachs like one. There must lie a hidden explanation somewhere in between those two possibilities that is responsible for the phenomena I actively participated in at the dawn of this evening.

I am genuinely embarrassed to admit in public how much food I deposited into my system a few quarters of an hour ago. But I will… in the effort to apply self-punishment. A plate the size of our dining table, and we have a dinning table of astronomical dimensions mind you, was placed before me (by yours truly, to be quite frank) filled with a scrumptious meal I humbly put together. The goods were shaped into a monumental cone, oozing a fragrant ruby red sauce and topped with a mist of fresh minced herbs. I wasted no time and sank a hungry fork into the mountain of food in front of my eyes.

The minute I tasted the first bite, a blissful quiet came over my entire being. The second gnaw only confirmed that state of mind. “I am so happy right now!” – I exhaled amid a series of hurried nibbles.

Once I finished committing the crime of stuffing my guts with this delicious meal, I sat at the table for circa half an hour and moaned. I moaned quietly for the lack of room for oxygen in my lungs. Those spongy bags, filled with life-affirming air, got progressively smashed against my ever-expanding stomach, like the face of a person walking into an impeccably clean glass door they didn’t notice, their steps observed in slow motion. Droplets of sweat scattered my forehead while I sniffled and grasped for air.

In the middle of the 37th moan (approximately!) I heard my blackberry vibrate ecstatically on a nearby coffee table, and its red eye winked at me flirtatiously. “You’ve got mail” – in my mind I heard it announce in the ancient voice of AOL, now as dead as Latin. My natural curiosity, so characteristic to that part of the human population born with a pair of X chromosomes, overruled the brain, and propelled my body forward. However powerful, the curiosity must stand down in the presence of the laws of physics. My body, unable to lift itself under the weight of its overflowing stomach, plunged right under the table with uncanny force. BAM! The pain from the fall pinched my butt, but who could possibly care when the phone was still blinking! From my vantage point beneath the table it now seemed silly close, yet still out of reach of my outstretched fingers. Damn it! I gauged the distance, calculated the effort, then curled into a fetal position and rolled myself over to the edge of the couch. From there it was EASY. One impetuous swing of my arm and the phone was mine again. PHEW!

A few minutes later the euphoria descended and adrenaline levels dropped, and I realized the inhuman amount of pressure I had applied upon my precious insides. Instantly I panicked, and a terrorizing thought crossed my mind – INTERNAL BLEEDING!!! I froze. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. One minute passed. Tick-tock. Tick-tock…3, then 9 minutes crawled by. I was still breathing. Another 15 minutes of that intensely silent lingering and the outcome was confirmed – I WAS ALIVE!

I then issued a long and echoing baritone of a burp that further released some space among the four chambers of my cow stomach, and I was able to breathe at last. Now, by no means do I intend to gross you out with this detailed report. All I hope for, truly, is that you understand the enormous relief I was granted by that simple, and oh so natural, digestive explosion. Only now was I able to extricate myself from the floor underneath the coffee table and beside the green couch, and somewhat steadily relocate to the writing desk in our bedroom. The events of the evening must be logged and archived for future generations to draw examples of behaviors less desired!

A vivid blush floods my face when I realize all that drama was stirred around my … balls. More precisely, meatballs sans the meat. Voluptuous boulders of ambrosial veggie balls rested randomly on the sides of the mountain of spaghetti, all bathed in a creamy and rich marinara sauce. Ah, the memory… !

Beet Soup It all started with the soup season in our house. My poor Jason has recently suffered from a minor and yet annoying physical condition (details of which I shall keep to myself) that forced him to rethink his diet. After thorough research and analysis of various dietary options he committed to soups exclusively. Luckily, I had learned a few tricks in that department, and so I was able to entertain him with a different lunch and dinner menu over a period of a couple of weeks.

soup Such monotony, however, forced me to exercise my creative muscle in order to keep it fresh and interesting each day. One morning, while peeling carrots for another vegetable soup, I reckoned that I might mix things up a little. I pulled out a food processor, purèed some of the veggies, and cooked the rest in big chunks in the ocean of soup. On that sunny morning my Cauliflower Soup, which nota bene is absolutely phenomenal, was brought to life.

It’s not the soup, however, that the tale is about. The purè of cooked vegetables, which are a staple in all my soups, turned out to be so flavorful and comforting on its own that I decided to translate it into an entirely new dish. As of today, I tested, tasted, and – dare I say it – perfected the recipe of Agi’s Veggie Balls.

Agi's Balls

I will now reveal the secret, and share it… with you… because I am such a giver… and I care about your well-being. And hell I am proud of myself, too!

Start with the following ingredients:

- 4 medium carrots

- 2 medium parsnips

- 4 celery stalks

- large leek

- large onion

- 4-5 cloves of garlic (peeled + smashed)

- 2 dry bay leaves

- 4-5 peppercorns

- 3-4 strings of fresh thyme

- 1 cup of water

- 1 tbsp of coconut oil (unrefined)

- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan, and add peeled and diced onion. Sautè for 5-10 minutes, and toss in the garlic. Now add into the pan the rest of the vegetables, previously cleaned, peeled, and roughly chopped. Throw in bay leaves and peppercorns with thyme, add water, and season with salt and pepper. Cook all until aldente. You do not want your veggies soggy and mushy. Turn the heat off. Discard the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Drain all liquid.

Now prepare the following ingredients:

- 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans

- 2 eggs

- 2 tbsp of grated ginger

- 1/2 cup of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

- 1/2 cup of chopped fresh dill

- 1 cup of organic bread crumbs

- 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

- 1/3 cup of grated Fontina cheese

- 1 tbsp of olive oil

- 2 tsp of red paprika powder

- 2 tsp of cumin

- 1 tsp of turmeric

- 1/2 tsp of ground nutmeg

- 1 tbsp of dry marjoram.

Place your cooked vegetables in a food processor along with drained and rinsed garbanzo beans and pulse into a coarse mass. Scoop it all out and into a large bowl, then add all the remaining ingredients except for the eggs and cheese. Mix well using a spatula. Now break in the eggs and stir everything well. Throw in grated Parmesan and Fontina and combine with the rest of the party in the bowl.

Preheat the oven to 400°. Coat your sheet pan with a layer of non-stick spray, add a sheet of wax paper, and treat it with the spray again. Using a teaspoon, scoop a small amount of the veggie mixture and place it into your clean hands. Now roll it into a small ball and set on the sheet pan. Continue until all mixture is formed into an army of veggie nuggets. Brush each ball with a drizzle of olive oil to prevent it from burning. Place into the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes (depending on the size of your, ahem… balls).

Baked Veggie Balls

Serve immediately with whole wheat, organic Spaghetti Marinara, sprinkled with a handful of fresh parsley and dill. I BEG YOU, however, to pace yourself! Definitely use caution when plating your meal. The aroma that will fill your house may intoxicate your reasoning, and all sense of proportions might get lost. Be wary! And learn from my mistakes.

Agi's Balls

Bon Appetit Everyone!

“What’s for dinner, baby?”

“Umm, I don’t know yet. Let’s see what we’ve got in the fridge…”

That’s usually how the whole creative process of cooking begins in our house. I dive into the refrigerator, then poke my head in the pantry, sniff around, scratch my forehead, wiggle my mouth back and forth, and then I hear the wheels turning – my mind is brewing a dinner menu.

Jason and moi

It’s a tough and rigorous journey that nevertheless takes my mind for a ride through different stages of bliss each and every time. The whole production is commenced in peace – chopping crunchy vegetables is a meditation. Just like that, I enter a zen state of mind while prepping all ingredients of my dish. Deciding on what spices to use suddenly stimulates my brain, and the excitement slowly begins to build as I marry all elements together. I let the time and heat work their magic. Then I scoop a teaspoon full of flavor to taste, let the flavors wrap around my tongue, and… euphoria. I reach the peak.

That’s why I cook.

At times it’s an exhausting exercise but always fully satisfying the same way you may find a good work out at the gym, or a Sunday morning love-making with your mate. Either one may be concluded with a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a slice of a homemade blueberry curd cake. Is there a better way to start a day?

I should introduce myself. Well, it’s complicated. My name is long, and Polish, and a mouthful. Call me Agi, just like all my American peeps do.

Another character in the story you’ll be hearing about is Jason. He’s a white boy from Texas. He’s well mannered, funny, cute as a button, hot with his shirt off, with a BIG voice and a sharp mind. He’s my best friend, my lover, my mate. He supports whatever idea springs out of my head. He makes me giggle like a 6 year old, or laugh out loud and uncontrollably prompting our neighbors to slam shut their windows. He shares his world with me, teaches me new things each day, and gives inspiration for another meal I’ll build from scratch. He’s the love of my life and the adoptive father to our 3.5-year old pup, Cosmo.

Cosmo loves carrots

I’m dying to share with you the stories of my creations – the circumstances, the processes, the textures and colors, everything to the very last bite. Even though I’ve gone through a 6-week crash course in the traditional French culinary art, I tend to search for lighter fare. In my world there’s little or no cream, butter, or white flower. I choose whole wheat, whole grain, organic, free range, grass fed, locally grown ingredients, when available. I recycle. I use water with caution. I turn off the light behind me. I keep my car tires full and unplug chargers when not in use. I like it healthy and green style.

My promise to you is to keep this blog alive, bursting with flavors, colors, and endless recipes. I hope to keep you interested. I hope you’ll keep coming back for more. I hope to hear back from you.

Bon Appetit and Carpe Diem!

Agi

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