Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Other Vincent Price

Finally a post that isn't about food! A few days ago I showed you some of our newly displayed artwork, which included a portrait of actor Vincent Price. The painting was a gift to Justin for his birthday (way back in March) since it is well known around here that Justin loves all things horror + film, and especially Vincent Price movies. In case you're wondering, I do not share in this passion for horror. The day I go to a horror convention with my boyfriend will be the day after he survives a Glee concert with me. And I don't even want to see Glee in concert. It just sounds like something he'd really hate as much as I would hate a convention of all things horror.

Knowing this tidbit of information about Justin and his interests, it shouldn't surprise you to hear that he gave his dog the name Vincent Price. Side note: Vincent was adopted from the pound before Justin and I met and his original name was Becks. Weirdly coincidental, huh?


My introduction of Vincent Price is long overdue. I talk about my baby Chula non-stop, but talking about the other dog in our household requires a bit of a back-story, hence the procrastination. Even though this isn't something I've talked about on the blog before, if we've chatted in real life recently then you most likely know all about the hot mess that is Vincent. Don't get me wrong, he is adorable. And sweet. And quirky. He likes to sit like this for the fun of it. On the stairs, on the couch.... anywhere he can sprawl his back legs higher than his front. Not even joking.



But somewhere deep inside that huge head of his, he has issues. When Justin and I first started dating, he let me in on a few of Vincent's bad habits that appeared to be signs of separation anxiety. Despite the fact that he chewed on clothing and broke free from a handful of crates he was being trained to stay in while Justin was at work, I thought he was a sweet little guy. I mean look at that face and those stumpy little legs! It wasn't really until we moved in together that I realized what I had signed up for.


That, my friends, is what this dog is capable of. On that fateful day Vincent was inside of the crate before we left for lunch, and by the time we got back he had bent a few metal bars with his teeth and then ultimately chewed or dug his way out of the hole he created in the corner of the crate. We were gone maybe an hour to an hour and a half. His face was scratched and bleeding from squeezing his way out so aggressively but he didn't care, and was pretty darn proud of himself. Even with a chain locking the door closed because he'd figured out how to open the door from inside the crate, he showed us just what he thought of our attempts to contain him. Now you know why I call him Houdini. And why I say he has issues.

You might be asking yourself, "Why do they insist on putting him in a crate when he so clearly does not want to be crated?" The answer is simply that we do not make enough money to replace all the furniture he destroys when left to wander the apartment alone. In the year that we've lived in our current place together the causalities have included an armchair, a set of curtains, a basket that held the dog toys as well as all of the dog toys, remote controls, a Timbuk2 bag, a blanket and numerous shirts. After a few weeks of coming home each day to a new set of destruction (and a sad day for me when I came home to discover he had swiped my pumpkin bread from the kitchen counter and ate the whole loaf, plastic wrap and all) we knew we'd have to crate him when we weren't home. We also knew we'd need some sort of extreme prison to cage this beast.


Enter the most expensive crate you've ever seen. I'm pretty sure it was built to cage wild animals. No really, we had to buy it from a hunting website... It appears small in the photo but it's actually quite large and spacious. But the key to this crate's success is that it is made entirely of aluminum and it has a lock, with a key. Despite Vincent's extreme craftiness, he has not been able to escape this crate. We thought we had finally found our solution to Vincent's separation anxiety fueled destruction, but then he introduced a new way to voice his unhappiness at being left alone for any period of time - barking.

Vincent's journey with separation anxiety has been a long one, one that has included trying every possible item recommended, including dog walkers to get him out of the house for few hours while we're at work, bark collars, anxiety medication, another dog for company (Chula), etc. You name it, we've tried it. I can't tell you how much money we've spent or how much stress we've endured trying to help Vincent overcome his anxiety. I thought about applying to be on the show It's Me or the Dog many, many times.

Until recently though, we were just treating the symptoms of separation anxiety, and not the root of the issue. Because we can't be with Vincent every hour of the day and we want him to be as relaxed alone as he is when we're with him, we sought the help of a professional dog rehabilitator. Believe it or not, this is where the story gets really weird. Look for a follow-up post detailing our experience with the "dog whisperer" as Justin calls him. Keep in mind that we're still talking about this guy who weighs all of 40 pounds.


Will we be able to exercise the demon out of this handsome little devil? Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

This is Not Texas Chili

Today wasn't cold by any means, but I made chili anyway. I have no regrets about this. I also decided on a Halloween costume and hung some artwork that's been sitting around since August so it's been quite the productive Sunday.


The middle piece (which is of Vincent Price, Justin's favorite horror movie actor) was created by my talented and beautiful friend Kelly. This one was custom for Justin but you can check out all of her awesome work online at Retrowhale.com.

Now back to that chili. I hope I don't lose my Texas heritage card by saying this, but I put beans in my chili. Yes, beans. And I use ground turkey instead of beef. Gasp! Call me California, but I've always preferred the addition of beans to most soups and especially a good hearty chili. Trust me, with the bold spices this chili provides, you'll still end up with plenty of flavor using leaner turkey meat.


I improvised a little on today's recipe with great results. If you're still reading and not in the process of ex-communicating me for straying from the Texas way, the recipe I ended up with is below. We enjoyed this on the balcony with a great Chinese White Ale.



I'll admit that I mostly bought this beer because the bottle was so darn cute, but I ended up loving the refreshing ale after all. Winning.

Not Texas Chili
Adapted from Real Simple

1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1 large onion, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded (if you can't stand the heat) and diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups (around 32 oz.) beef broth
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained
1 15 oz. can white kidney beans, drained
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Over medium heat, add the turkey to a large heavy-bottomed pot and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and jalapeno, stirring until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add the beef broth and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder and tomatoes and reduce heat. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Add beans, salt and vinegar. Let simmer, partially covered, for approximately 30 - 45 minutes. The broth will reduce while simmering so simmer more or less according to your desired consistency.

Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and shredded cheese and/or slices of avocado. If your toppings will be salty (salty cheese or corn chips) you may want to reduce the amount of salt in the chili to balance it out. Serve with cornbread. 

So what do you think? Can I still hang with you, Texas?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Creamy Cauliflower...Don't Hate Me


I already know you're going to hate me for saying this, but if you live in Los Angeles then you know what I'm talking about when I say that sometimes I miss a gloomy day. Our weather doesn't vary much at all. Oh hello, another sunny and clear day...I'm over it. After months upon months of the same weather, I find I really crave a cloudy day in a bad way. I want an excuse to skip my evening work out and just head home, cook up something warm and comforting and lay under a blanket with the dogs while watching America's Next Top Model without guilt. So earlier this week while I was leaving work and seeing hints of gloom and fog in the hills I knew I had to take this opportunity while it lasted. I was going to go home and make the epitome of comfort food - mac and cheese.


Now since I wasn't going to be exercising on top of eating mac and cheese for dinner (totally normal for a 27 year old, right?) I knew I'd need to get my veggies in somehow. I remembered seeing this recipe from Mark Bittman and I already had a cauliflower in my fridge (because I'm in love with them, duh) so it was meant to be.



This recipe may be a bit controversial if you're expecting traditional mac and cheese with the addition of cauliflower. In reality, it's more of a pasta with cheese-like sauce. But you know what? That works for me. Even though the cheese sauce is made with pureed cauliflower, vegetable stock and only half a cup of cheese compared to the pound of cheese and butter that would go into regular mac and cheese, it still fulfilled my craving for something warm and hearty and delicious. And I ate my veggies!



Next time you're in the mood for mac and cheese but you don't want to break the calorie bank, I would recommend giving this recipe a try. I used sharp cheddar and baked it in a shallow dish sprinkled with a little Parmesan and bread crumbs, but I think using a stronger cheese like Gruyere and baking in a deeper casserole dish or reducing the cooking time would make it that much more creamy and delicious.


 I love a good use of cauliflower, don't you? Anyone? Bueller?


Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Trip to Bouchon

If you asked me what my perfect day would look like, I'd need to get back to you in a few hours. I'm pretty indecisive as it is and I'd want to make absolutely sure I thought of everything before committing to such a bold statement as "perfect". But the one thing I wouldn't hesitate on telling you is the first thing I'd do upon waking up that day (which would happen naturally, without an alarm clock).


On my perfect day I wouldn't be concerned about a balanced breakfast and I certainly wouldn't be in a rush to be anywhere so I'd start my day with a hot latte and a chocolate croissant, enjoyed on a beautiful outdoor cafe patio. I'd slowly sip my coffee and nibble my baked goods at my leisure, taking in the fresh air and the scents of roasting coffee and baking sugar and butter, much the way I envision Parisians do. Maybe I'd even be in Paris. I'll need to visit Paris first and get back to you.

In the meantime, I'll settle for a trip to Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bakery, just opened in Beverly Hills. I've long been a fan of Thomas Keller's approach to food, and I'm still anxiously waiting on my chance to eat at one of his restaurants.


The Bouchon Bakery here is itty bitty. If you've visited the Vegas, New York or Yountville locations, you may be disappointed to find this broom closet sized bakery squished next door to Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills. But I'll take what I can get. 



My scrumptious pastries and frothy latte paired with the serene outdoor  area that links to The Montage made me long for a simpler life, where I could begin each day with such tasty peacefulness.



In reality, tomorrow I will reluctantly wake up to my alarm at 6:45 a.m., get ready, throw a Luna Bar and banana in my bag, pour myself a travel mug of coffee and head out the door to fight traffic for an hour to get to work. Sigh. I should live in Paris.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

End of Summer Pizza

Who else out there is loving Spotify? We're talking FREE access to millions of songs at all hours of the day. What's not to love about that? I will admit I was a bit peeved to discover that I couldn't listen to the same song more than like three times without paying for a subscription. How would I have found that out? Certainly not by listening to Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" on repeat while I baked a pizza... Don't judge.

This weekend I came to the sad realization that summer is indeed ending. I mean the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks may as well be the national indicator. While I'm looking forward to cooler weather and the Fall things that are already in swing (hello, college football) I will miss my favorite summer produce items like berries, tomatoes and corn.


The pizza I made this weekend was an ode to my sweet summer with a simple wheat crust and garlic tomato sauce from Trader Joe's, topped with my favorite mini heirloom tomatoes and corn that I cooked on my stove top grill.


Add a little shredded mozzarella and finish with chopped basil and you have yourself the perfect end of summer pizza.



I only wish I had thought of this combination earlier in the season. So long, sweet summer.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Texas Eats

As you know, last month I was a busy, busy bee. What you may not know is that I was still able to squeeze in a trip to Texas for a wedding and to see my family. The wedding was an amazing opportunity to reunite with my college friends, many of whom I hadn't seen since I graduated five years ago. The trip as a whole was also my chance to fulfill cravings for the Texas grub I miss while I'm over here on the West Coast. I hit many of my favorite spots - Fuzzy's Taco Shop, Home Slice Pizza, Rudy's Bar-B-Q, etc. and tried some new ones as well.


That, my non-Texan friends, is called queso. While "queso" simply means "cheese" in Spanish, we use it to refer to a heavenly cheese dip, prevalent in Tex-Mex cuisine. Queso is usually served with tortilla chips and mixed with salsa and/or sausage. It boggles my mind that California hasn't hopped on this train of deliciousness. I miss it so much that I rarely eat Mexican food in Los Angeles because I get too depressed when there is no queso to be found on the menu.


I got my queso fix in Dallas, immediately upon landing in Texas. And then again in Austin, just to cover my bases. In Austin, my mom took me to a new-to-me spot on South Congress called Hopdoddy. Their focus is on real, natural food. They're known for their burgers, which are made from all natural, Black Angus beef that they grind fresh in-house each day and place between buns they make themselves daily as well. I loved the concept and the atmosphere already, but once I took my first sip of the Oreo shake, I was sold on how tasty and satisfying house-made everything really is.



Remember that queso thing we discussed earlier? Hopdoddy's chili cheese fries are made from hand-cut fries served with a side of chili con queso. I loved this approach since by dipping the fries yourself instead of having them pre-doused, you eliminate the soggy factor. Genius! PS, I split all of the pictured items with my mom so it's practically a healthy meal, no?


I love going back home to the dishes I love and discovering new favorites when I can. I may or may not have packed a pound of Rudy's brisket in my suitcase to bring to LA. I can't confirm whether or not it's in my freezer right now, waiting to be enjoyed by Justin and me when the craving for BBQ strikes. 

More than the tastes of home, I miss the loved ones who live there. After watching 9/11 specials on TV all evening, I'm reminded of how precious life is and how everything we love can change in an instant. I'm lucky to have moments like these where my family is all together and hope we can reunite again soon.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cooking With Quinoa

If you enjoy quinoa, you will love this recipe. And if you haven't cooked with quinoa before, then welcome to the party! (PS, Spell check doesn't recognize quinoa, pronounced kee-no-wah or KEEN-wah, as a word for some reason. Get with it, spell check.)

Quinoa is similar to a grain and makes a great replacement for pasta, couscous or rice. I enjoy it served hot with vegetables or cold in salads. Besides its great nutty flavor and chewy texture, quinoa's nutritional value appeals to me in that it is one of the few plant foods that provides complete protein. The thought of a quinoa salad for my Labor Day beach picnic sounded loads more appealing than a soggy pasta salad so I turned to the New York Times Recipes for Health Quinoa and Wild Rice Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing. The first step is to rinse your quinoa. As you can see, I used red quinoa because that's what I had in the pantry.


I've always been told its essential to rinse because quinoa contains a bitter tasting coat. Recently I've learned that most packaged quinoa has already been pre-rinsed, but I still like to run some water over it and let it drain through a cheesecloth first. I treat it like rice and throw it straight in the rice cooker with two cups of water per every one cup of quinoa. The Cuisinart babysits it while I prepare the other ingredients.



This recipe combines wild rice with the quinoa to provide a variety of textures. Thanks to Trader Joe's I had wild rice in the freezer, ready in the microwave in three minutes flat. (Hi Chula!)


Once the quinoa was cooked I mixed it with the rice, red bell pepper strips, diced cucumber, garbanzo beans (swapped for edamame because I didn't have any) and scallions. Then I prepared the dressing and tossed it all together and let it marinate in the fridge overnight. You can serve the salad right away but mine was for the beach picnic the next day and I actually found that its flavors were even more pronounced after it spent the night in the fridge. The flavors of the sesame oil and ginger stood out the most and I loved the bright colors in this dish. And to think, I didn't even like ginger a few years ago!


This recipe makes a HUGE batch so it's perfect for sharing. My leftovers from the picnic may or may not have sand in them though :( Fun fact: I used the word "quinoa" fourteen times in this post. Fifteen if you count this one.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Beach Picnic

Happy Labor Day! I hope everyone is enjoying the long weekend as much as Chula is.


We took the dogs to Malibu yesterday for a picnic on the beach. How many dogs get to spend Labor Day in Malibu? Spoiled. Don't get me started.


It was surprisingly chilly at the beach so while I bundled up, our surfer friends braved the cold water in search of some waves they could ride.



Back on the beach I unpacked my picnic, which included chicken salad sandwiches made with leftover roasted chicken from Friday night, a quinoa and wild rice salad with ginger sesame dressing and a simple dessert of stone fruit with mint and ginger lime syrup. 

I usually find that it's unnecessary to muss with the already perfect flavors of a fresh, ripe peach or plum. But pulling a few whole peaches from your picnic basket isn't quite as impressive as presenting a beautiful fruit salad bursting with unique flavors and vibrant colors. Ask yourself, what would Ina do? While this isn't Ina's recipe, it reminded me of something she would prepare for her many sophisticated beach activities. 

The super easy recipe can be found at Serious Eats. I was surprised to find that the addition of the infused syrup and mint took regular ol' fruit to a whole new level. I must warn you though to never, ever turn your back on cooking sugar and water. The first batch of my syrup burned while I stepped away to check Facebook and then I had a really fun time cleaning hardened sugar crystals from my sink and pan. So fun.

Your next healthy and easy picnic dessert is served.


I learned another lesson yesterday about wearing sunscreen. Even when it feels like it's 60 degrees and windy, you are indeed getting sun exposure at the beach. The one area of your body that was not covered (your legs) will get burned and it will not be pretty. 

In better news, Chula learned to surf so now she's officially a California girl.



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Denver Eats

Most people probably visit Denver to hike, ski, mountain bike, rock climb, kayak, etc. We got our exercise in Denver by hiking up to Red Rocks and then by taking a walking beer tour. There's a time for active vacations, but when we arrived to 90 degree heat our outdoor activities transitioned to culinary adventures instead. Which is always fine by me, let's be honest.

Since we were staying in LoDo, most of our restaurant choices were within a few blocks of our hotel. We lucked out finding Hotel Teatro through a deal on Jetsetter.com. The location was perfect for walking to Larimer Square, the 16th Street Mall, the breweries and restaurants. And we sure did a lot of walking to counteract all the glorious eating.

Sam's #3 from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Bacon in the Bloody Mary!

Mona's

I'll go into more detail about my favorite meals of the trip, if ya don't mind. We wanted to treat ourselves to one "fancy" meal where we could dress up and have a leisurely dining experience. We chose Rioja based on reviews and conversations with the hotel concierge. It had a cozy atmosphere with a diverse bread basket so I knew I was in for a treat. Even though the dishes Justin and I ordered were fairly straightforward, the couple next to us ordered the tasting menu, which looked really creative and tasty and I could easily hear all their approving comments from where I was sitting. 




We chose well with Rioja. Everything was delicious and beautifully presented in generous portion sizes. My next favorite meal of the trip was our breakfast at Snooze. Even on a Monday we had to wait about half an hour for a seat at this popular breakfast spot, but it was well worth it. I heard they were famous for their pancakes so I knew I'd be sampling those, but I never feel quite fulfilled by a breakfast that is entirely sweet so I chose to order a breakfast sandwich and swap the hash browns for a pancake. The pancake I chose (and it was a hard choice) was the Blueberry Lemon Bar pancake with fresh blueberries and oatmeal, topped with honey yogurt sauce and whipped lemon butter. Such a beautiful combination of sweet and tart, combined with the lovely variety of textures the oatmeal in the batter provides. This pancake quickly moved up to the top of my favorites list. The breakfast sandwich was unique as well, with eggs and sausage between a pretzel roll with a smoked cheddar cheese sauce. Even the coffee at Snooze was exceptional.




I only wish Snooze were closer to home. I may have to attempt to recreate that pancake myself to curb my craving. I'll be sure to let you know how that one goes.