Summer Whole Wheat Pasta with Corn, Tomatoes, & Tuna

Good Thursday morning to everybody!

I confess that I didn’t intend to write this much at the outset, but once I got started I realized that I have so much to say to you today, mainly about one ingredient in particular.  I think this delicious pasta got me excited and I have rambled, and I apologize.  Please feel free to skip straight down to the recipe, or continue reading for what I consider to be interesting information on what comprises about 0.4% of our body’s weight.

So before I let you go on your merry way and continue your beautiful life, I am going to impart some information to you.  As I’ve mentioned before, since January I’ve been working as a cook and teaching assistant at Haven’s Kitchen, a beautiful cooking school and private event space in NYC.  Working here initially was not only exciting to me (I felt like I finally got the job I always wanted!) but so scary that I felt like a person with no hands constantly trying to grip a knife – I was trying to find ways to work efficiently, but I had no idea how to do so.

As an avid home cook for over 6 years, I have enjoyed testing out recipes, playing around with my food, and cooking for friends and family at my leisure.  Stepping into Haven’s Kitchen represented the first time I was working side by side with some of the best chefs I know (ok, fine, all of the best chefs I know), who harked from such amazing restaurants as Per Se, WD-50, and Le Bernardin.  Restaurant chefs operate on a different level and get a different kind of high than home cooks do from spending time in the kitchen, and lets just say we didn’t speak the same language.

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Summer Egg Tortilla with Zucchini, Almonds, and Prosciutto

Here is a recipe I made for lunch the other day, highlighting one of my favorite summer ingredients: zucchini, a type of summer squash.  Its soft, dark green exterior gives way to a meaty and flavorful interior that tastes delicious as is with just a splash of lemon juice and a bit of salt, but which also tastes great in a number of salads, soups, sautes, and roasts.

I decided here to saute it quickly and combine it in an egg tortilla of sorts (think more of an egg wrap) with toasted and sliced almonds, feta, and prosciutto.  I chose not to use the Italian-style prosciutto from where the ingredient’s name finds origin, opting instead for a Spanish style prosciutto, or “jamon Serrano,” whose thin and flavorful slices provide a melt-in-your-mouth texture and a delightfully salty ham taste.

The egg wrap itself has fresh chopped herbs mixed in so every bite packs a punch.  I made this for a lighter lunch but you can instantly make this dish more substantial by wrapping all ingredients up in a soft, pillowy tortilla.

You will have leftover zucchini, which I recommend tossing with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper and serving as a side salad with your egg wrap.  Enjoy!

Summer Egg Tortilla with Zucchini, Almond, Feta, and Prosciutto – serves 1

  • 2 eggs (large organic preferably – from local farmer even better!)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped herbs, such as chives, parsley, cilantro, or mint
  • 1 small handful sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small zucchini, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 slices prosciutto, shredded with your hands into bite-size pieces
  • 2-3 tablespoons feta cheese

1. In a shallow bowl, whisk eggs vigorously until well combined. Add herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk to combine.
2. Heat a small skillet on medium heat. Add almond slices and toast until browned and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove almonds from skillet and set aside.
3. Return skillet to medium heat and add half of butter, cooking until it starts to bubble. Add half of zucchini and a pinch of salt. Cook until zucchini is golden, stirring frequently, about 4-5 minutes. Remove zucchini from skillet.
4. Add rest of butter. Once butter is melted and just starting to bubble add eggs, and don’t stir. Tilt pan occasionally and slide eggs toward center of pan to let uncooked egg slide to bottom of skillet. Once bottom side of eggs has set, use an inverted plate to flip it over (place plate over skillet – flip eggs onto plate, slide eggs back into skillet so uncooked side is facing down). Cook about 30 seconds longer, or until eggs have just set.
5. Slide eggs onto plate. Top with prosciutto, feta, zucchini, and almonds. Roll and hold in place with toothpicks. Enjoy!

Lemon Chicken with Asparagus and Avocado

I’ve been missing in action recently, a situation which has presented itself before since this blog’s inception in August of 2009.  This time my absence is due to my new-ish job at Haven’s Kitchen, where I work as a teaching assistant and sometimes as a prep cook for catered events there.

It’s been hectic mainly because I’ve been busy learning how to act as a professional cook and not as a home cook.  The differences between these two types of cooking are numerous, and I’d like to share with you the top 5 most important things I’ve learned about working in an industrial kitchen, and how it differs from cooking at home.

1. Salt your food.  I mean, really salt your food.

  • More salt goes into one dish in a night than I’m used to using in the span of a week- to give you an idea of what I mean,  take the amount of salt you think is appropriate for a dish, triple it, add a few more pinches, and then you’re just shy of the right amount. I suggest you not eat out anymore if this fact scares you.

2. Time is of utmost importance.

  • In my mind, this is the essential difference between a home cook and a professional: at home, you don’t want to spend hours making dinner, but you could if you wanted to.  At work, taking a long time to complete a task is a sign of inefficiency and inability to work properly.  I’m still getting used to this one.

3. Season as you go. Taste everything, every step of the way.

  • I hear almost every teacher say it during classes, and I see chefs doing it during service time for events – every dish should be tasted and seasoned from the very beginning to right before being plated.  This might seem strange to those who cook at home, but it ultimately makes sense:  in order to control the final result, you need to monitor the dish’s taste along the way.  Salt, salt, salt!

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Shrimp Fried Quinoa

Senior year of college I lived with ten other girls in an 11-bedroom house.  Suffice it to say that we were a group of “strong-minded” Cornell women, infringing upon other roommates’ personal space and sanity with less than stellar cleaning habits and oftentimes downright rude clothing theft (which we considered silent “borrowing” at the time).

The other day over drinks a few of us were laughing about the fact that almost all of us now live alone, in very clean spaces.

Clearly that experience left a lasting mark on all of us, so this post is dedicated to my fellow Cornell alum/solo-dwelling/sanity-seeking former roommates, whom I will always admire for going through all that we did.

Now let’s get to the food: this is a seriously good meal which you may consider strange to make for one person.  I can’t decide whether I agree with you, but regardless you can easily double this recipe and enjoy it with a significant other, good friend, roommate, etc.

If you’re wondering, the answer is yes: you can most definitely substitute another cooked grain for quinoa, with certain ones immediately coming to mind such as faro, brown rice, wild rice, spelt, millet, or couscous.  Cook each and every one according to package instructions and you’ll be golden.  On Friday I discovered a fantastic and fool-proof way to cook quinoa, in which you cook it like pasta and drain it once fully cooked – no need to worry about adding the perfect amount of water.  Amazing, I know.

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Blackened Salmon with Feta-Yogurt Sauce and Golden Couscous

This recipe was particularly fun to make, and especially fun to photograph.  For some reason I ended up putting it on my floor, taking a photo of it there, and then sitting in the same spot and eating the whole dish.  There is a small window of time, usually around 2pm, when sun manages to find a small crevice between all of the tall New York City buildings and floods into my second floor apartment, and therefore onto me.  I love sitting and eating under the sunshine during this brief moment, which is what I was able to do today.

The truth is that I just got back from a relaxing and much-appreciated vacation with my mom and sister in Barbados, and I’ve got fish on my mind in a major way.  Almost every meal we ate there featured grilled fish – usually mahi mahi, snapper, or dorado – lightly seasoned and served with plenty of Scotch bonnet hot sauce (my new favorite hot and slightly sweet sauce, in case you’re wondering).  For this reason the only recipe ideas that were swimming in my mind were fish, spicy, and sweet.  Thus was born this recipe which I am delighted to share with you!

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Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Farro, Walnuts, and Raisins

I have two important things to say:

First, I try to always give credit where it’s due, which obligates me to credit this amazing salad to Julia, head chef at Haven’s Kitchen, even though I wish I could say that I came up with this one on my own.  A few Friday’s ago we were preparing food for a wedding rehearsal dinner, and while I was busy manning the deep fryer station – popping out zeppole’s, risotto fritters, and deep fried fingerlings to many hungry and happy diners – I noticed Julia making something amazing out of the corner of my eye.  I wasn’t too sure, but I was pretty sure I saw all of my favorite major actors: beautifully roasted cauliflower florets, chopped parsley, toasted nuts, plumped up raisins, and farro, one of my more recent grain obsessions.  After a few bites I knew I had to try and make some version of this salad, and I thought to myself, who better to make it for than my lovely mother, here on a visit from San Antonio?

Which brings me to my next important point: lunch with a fabulous lady!

Two champagne glasses and a hearty vegetarian meal = bliss!

Given my random work hours I was able to free up my Thursday and pull this together to have lunch with the leading lady in my life, my mama.  She loves vegetables and fruits like me, so I stewed up some roasted butternut squash soup with roasted wild mushrooms (yes that’s right, it’s sitting in the gorgeous Staub cocotte that my sister Yasmin bought for me for Xmas), roasted mushrooms on the side, and of course this yummy salad for which I’m about to give you the recipe.  And of course there is also champagne.  With my mother there will always be champagne.

Although we were quite stuffed after our lunch (there may have been some rolling and laying) we were both satisfied and felt that the salad had one of those magical abilities to fill you up yet make you feel lighter at the same time.

The recipe is for two, which is inevitable because of the size of cauliflower heads.  But it holds well for lunch or dinner the next day, and you can always make it to share with someone else, someone who is deserving of your amazing cooking!

With love,

Ashley

Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Farro, Walnuts, and Raisins – Makes 2 servings

  • 3/4-cup farro
  • water or vegetable broth (amount varies according to farro package instructions)
  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 1 small head cauliflower
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2-cup walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons golden raisins, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes (you can also soak in tea if you want to get crazy)
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh parsley (save a few stems to cook with faro)
  • 1 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Place faro in a small saucepan. Cover with water, and add bay leaf if using. Cook according to package instructions.
3. Meanwhile, remove cauliflower stalk and cut florets into small, 1/4-inch pieces (you want them to become roughly the same size as the farro).
4. Place cauliflower on a lined baking tray and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Roast until cauliflower is golden brown, about 10-12 minutes, tossing once halfway through roasting.
5. Place walnuts in a small skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until just starting to brown and become fragrant, about 4-5 minutes.  Remove bay leaf from cooked farro (if there is excess water in pot, drain farro in strainer).
6. In a bowl, combine farro, cauliflower florets, raisins, parsley and walnuts. Cut lemon in half and squeeze juice from one half over salad. Drizzle with remaining tablespoon olive oil, toss to combine, and season with salt and pepper. Share with somebody you love or save the rest for lunch the next day.

Fennel and Cod in Soy Lime Sauce

Only five ingredients in this beauty!

Like I said, this recipe only uses five ingredients (not counting salt and pepper).  So if you’re thinking that this is a fancy, experience-required recipe, you can guess again!

Before we get to the recipe I would like to show you how I cut my fennel, in case there are some of you at home (or at work now) who are not familiar with cutting this flavorful, licorice-tinged vegetable.  Some of my friends are interested in cooking (here’s looking at you, Olivia!) and have become quite good at it.  Other good friends of mine are either too busy, don’t see the point, or are intimidated by getting started in the kitchen.  I used to fall into the latter category.

But I think you have to ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen?  You will fail miserably – that is almost inevitable in your early cooking career.  But you will also pick yourself up and try it again, and once you get the hang of it you’ll find that you’re not only good at it, but that it’s also more rewarding than you ever imagined.

Anyways, to properly cut fennel, first start with a full stalk, which you can buy at most grocery stores.  Smell the fennel – perhaps it will remind you of those black licorice-flavored Twizzlers you never liked?  Don’t worry, that flavor is very mild once mixed with the soy sauce, lime, and honey.

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Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Pancakes

I’ve been missing for the past two weeks or so, but I promise I can explain!

You see, I ended up getting a job that I adore (I almost didn’t write about it here for fear of jinxing it), where I help talented chefs teach classes and purvey their knowledge upon interested epicures. It’s an amazing place that’s run by even more amazing women, and I feel pretty darn lucky to be a part of it.

Haven’s Kitchen is a cooking school, specialty food/coffee shop, and event space that just opened on west 17th street in Manhattan (check out this great writeup on it by the New York Times).  If you live in the area, please come in and say hello -  based on the fact that you’re reading this blog I know you’d love it there, and if I’m around assisting classes I’d love to say hi to you!

So I’ve been spending a fair amount of time at Haven’s Kitchen recently (even when I’m not working, I like to hang out there – every one’s just so nice!), but I had today (Friday) off and I decided to treat myself to a first class, over the top, lazy morning.  As I think you can agree with me, lazy mornings are perfected only when pancakes are involved.

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Gougères – Cheesy Puffs with Gruyère, Mimolette & Chives

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cook simply for the sake and pleasure of it.  That is, after all, what this whole blog is about – learning to enjoy cooking and treating yourself to healthy and delicious meals.  But sometimes I like to cook to impress the pants off people.  And it works out really well when the food you make to impress people is deceptively, almost shockingly easy to make.

That’s how I feel about gougères, which is the fancy French name for what are essentially puffy, cheesy little dough balls.  They look so elegant and taste so light and refined that I always feel like a super fancy chef when I make them.  The reality is that these guys are pretty basic and easy to make once you get the hang of it, but we won’t tell your friends that, ok? OK.

Before making gougères I started making cream puffs for my dad and me (that was actually my very first post on this blog!), which are filled with a rosewater cream that he and I both adore.  When I moved to France, I discovered the savory version of cream puffs, which has the same “choux pastry” base and which are often served as little “amuse-bouches” at bistros and restaurants in Paris.

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Perfectly Easy Poached Eggs (plus a recipe)

I wonder if you feel the same way I do about eggs: since I was a kid, I’ve loved eating any kind of egg with a runny center, whether it’s poached, overeasy, or softboiled, purely for the pleasure of dipping my bread in the oozing yolk that’s been sprinkled generously with salt.

By the time I got around to making my own eggs and experimenting with poached eggs on meals, I encountered a problem almost immediately: poached eggs were a lot harder to make than I ever imagined.  I always assumed that eggs were the easiest thing to master, but I slowly realized they’re actually one of the hardest.  When I was taking classes at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, one of the chefs joked that the hardest dish for a chef to master is scrambled eggs.  Now I get it.

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