Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Love, Hate Relationship with South East Asia

Being a travel addict, I read a lot of travel articles. They inspire me, help me re-live certain experiences and give me good ideas for my next trip. In all that I have read so far, there is one phrase in particular that has really stuck with me; if you you do not like where you are or what you are doing, etc...change what you like. 

It works. And it's practical for every day life but especially so when traveling. There are so many curve balls that will be thrown at you and they can really make or break your trip if you aren't able to change your perspective or adjust your attitude. I for one have to admit I struggle with this. I am now, much better than before but it can be hard to quiet the demons in our brains that try to prevent us from enjoying the experience for what it is.  

There were many things that pissed me off or irritated the hell out of me (and still do).  It's hot and humid as hell. It's dirty, it's loud, there are bugs everywhere, the traffic is insane and it smells. So when I was having a moment of anger or frustration and feeling extremely conflicted because I wanted to be happy and not mad, I was reminded by a little voice in my head that said, "change what you like." 

I draft this message sitting at the bar of my hotel in Siem Reap. I've been alone for much of the trip and while I enjoy solo travel, I have to say there have been quite a few moments and hours of loneliness. So therefore, plenty of time to think and get lost in my thoughts. On the tuk tuk ride from the airport to the hotel I was reflecting as I only have a few days left. What have been the highlights? And what will they be after the next couple of days? I couldn't wait, so I decided to start writing them now. 

1. The cooking class in Bangkok. I absolutely loved the entire experience. From getting picked up in an air conditioned van, to the shopping at the market which was the cleanest one I visited and that it was all produce from local farmers if possible. My classmates where a hoot and given that I'd been alone for 3 days at that point I welcomed the chance to talk to anyone with whom I could have a full conversation with. And of course the food, it was delicious.  I'm looking forward to re-creating them at home. 

2.  Having dinner and Thai whiskey with the locals. Taking a tuk tuk to who knows where, 30 mins outside of Bangkok. While driving there I'm thinking to myself, what the hell am I doing? What would my friends and family think?  "That is dangerous, Diana." That's what they'd say. Or careless maybe. Well, I didn't think so, nor did I care and as it turns out, it was just fine. 

3. Swimming in the Andaman Sea.  Have you seen the movie The Beach? Yeah, ahem I was there. It's a little slice of sticky heaven. 

4. Sitting on the balcony of a Cambodian flat with three German expats drinking beer and talking mostly American, but world politics. 

I don't know that I can change what I like. But I am thankful that at least I can find tolerance and adaptability to be able to truly enjoy what this magnificent place on earth really has to offer. 

So for now and for the next four days I will like:
- having sweat run down my ass with out doing anything remotely physical
- the smell of urine in the street
- mosquito bites and the relentless itching they cause me
- excessively loud club music and street noise
- having to squat over a hole in the ground to relieve Mother Nature and discovering there is no toilet paper, you have to buy it (and be sure not to throw the tissue in the toilet, please use the trash can)

I do not like these things. I do not like them at all. But I suspect that after I'm home and the jet lag has worn off, I shall miss these things very much. Because you don't get Thailand and Cambodia without them. Yes, I'm sure I will miss them very much indeed. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Recreating Croatia; Seafood Pasta

One of my favorite meals and things about Croatia was the access to freshly caught fish, right out of the Adriatic. Most of the restaurants frequent the local markets and buy their fish there. In Dubrovnik I had seafood pasta that was hands down one of the best I’ve had. La Pasta is a little joint tucked inside of the Radisson hotel; if I make it back to Dubrovnik, I’ll likely have to stop in for a repeat of it.
I haven’t attempted to recreate this meal yet, but tonight is the night. Will, who accompanied me in Dubrovnik also had this dish and agrees it was one of the best of the trip. He’s coming over for dinner tonight, so seafood pasta it is!

I’m using a recipe from Food Network (Giada’s Grilled Seafood Pasta Fra Diavolo) as a guide because I want to knock this one out of the park (and I really don’t want to screw up expensive seafood).
I pretty much adapted the entire recipe and you can find it here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/grilled-seafood-pasta-fra-diavolo.html

Here’s what I modified:
I added two cloves of garlic to the chili oil because I heart garlic and I just felt like I wanted a little more of its presence in the dish.
I love tomato sauce. This recipe doesn’t make the sauce very saucy. So I pulsed the tomatoes and chili in the food processor just a few times to get it chunky but not pureed.
Rather than using store bought pasta, I make fresh linguine. It’s so much better and it just makes sense to use the pasta maker that Will bought me for Christmas. This is how I make it:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
½ tsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
On a board or in a bowl add flour and create a small well in the middle for the eggs, oil and salt. With a fork, slowly mix in the flour until it becomes a ball or until you can handle with your hands. Gather the dough into a ball and knead until it is smooth, 5-10 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap for at least 20 minutes. The dough can be stored in a refrigerator for 24 hours, but make sure to bring it back to room temp before rolling out.
Cut the dough into fourths and press flat until about ¼ inch thick. Run each piece of pasta through a pasta rolling machine, adjusting the setting each time. I usually go from 0-6 on my Marcato. Then cut the pasta as desired or using the linguine cutter.

P.S.: you may need to add more water to the dough if it’s dry. Add water in very small doses; e.g.: ½ tsp at a time. Dough is temperamental so sometimes the recipe is fine as is, others (like today) required 1.5 tsp water more.
P. P. S: when you are cooking the pasta it will not take as long as store bought. Let it boil for about 3 minutes and check it after. Once it’s floating on the top its ready.

And since it is summer, let’s have a light and yummy dish; stone fruit shortcakes. 

Now, if only we had some Posip!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Heat Wave

Let me begin by caveating the following statement: this is not a compliant, it's just a fact. It was a HOT week. It’s been 90 degrees in Huntington Beach for the past week. To put this in perspective, I do not have air conditioning because 90% of the time, we don't get above 75 and generally have a cool beach breeze to keep us comfortable. The buildings are older which means insulation and double pane windows are minimal if existent. At 3 in the afternoon, it's hotter in my apartment than it is outside. I digress. So needless to say, stepping anywhere near my kitchen aside from grabbing a piece of fruit or ice has been completely out of the question.

I haven’t cooked in a week. I’m having withdrawals.

There was only one remedy: cook something fabulous. So here it is.

Braised short ribs over barley risotto and mashed cauliflower.

First start by making the short ribs. You can use any recipe you'd like but I generally like to go old school and stay close to a recipe like Anne Burrell's. Sear the meat, cook an onion, celery, garlic and carrot paste until browned adding tomato paste then reducing with wine and transferring to the oven for a couple of hours until the meat is almost falling off of the bone.

The barley risotto was an inspiration from Bon Appetit. I love risotto and have been looking for a way to make it a little more healthy. First roast the barley in the oven for about 7 minutes (if you are roasting at the same time your short ribs are cooking. Otherwise heat the oven to 350 and roast for about 8-10 mins). Treat the barley just like you would a rice, risotto (onions, stock, etc...). I didn't use white wine and I don't think that you need to, although I certainly do not think it would hurt to add some. To get the veggies inside, blanch some fresh spinach and parsley. Cool, rough chop then puree in a blender or processor. After the risotto is cooked, add a clove of chopped garlic, lemon zest and juice and the veggies. Then slowly add in Parmesan at the end.

The mashed cauliflower is one of my staples. Cook a head of chopped cauliflower in boiling water until tender enough to pierce with a fork. Drain, then put the cauliflower, a half of a garlic clove, olive oil, 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste. If you happen to have a little cream or milk around, feel free to add a tablespoon or two for that extra creamy texture and flavor. Please add herbs to this if you have them around! I love thyme, chives or rosemary. Remember, you're basically making mashed potatoes!

Hint: If you want to make this vegetarian, leave off the short ribs. 

Compile your layers of flavor and texture and, enjoy!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Cook the Cover

Sometimes we need to write about what we love. Sometimes we just need to do it. I haven’t been writing much, but I’ve been very fortunate to be doing what I love, love, love, over the past few months. Getting settled into a new job; one that took a lot of soul searching to find, traveling, getting back into my fitness routine and having the time I need to cook the way I like.

Please accept my apologies, dear friends for the lapse in sharing, but I had to take a few to focus on Diana.
As I’m easing my way back into this, I figured I’d do so by sharing one of the “little things” that truly delights me; a brand new shiny issue of Bon Appetit.  

Every month I look forward to finding the latest Bon Appetit in my mailbox. It’s is one of my favorite sources for recipes, tips and trends. I am always inspired the recipes in each issue and will usually cook at least one, if not many. As of late, I’ve really enjoyed the cover recipes. They challenge me and they never displease or disappoint.  

My friends are leaving for a trip to New Zealand. These special friends of mine are some of those who truly influenced my cooking passion and skill. Not to mention the fact that they made me a kick ass risotto before I went to France. So it was a win / win situation for me to get to cook the cover, return the favor and send my friends off with a proper, home cooked meal; savory short rib pot pies.

I take no credit for this beauty, but I highly recommend you try it.

Here’s the recipe, some photos of the process and a few thoughts and enhancements by yours truly. “Bon Appetit!” http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/short-rib-pot-pie

In my opinion, don't take any short cuts with this one.

Find pearl onions – they are a clever way to get that deep, delicious flavor. Seek them out if you must.
Make homemade pie crust - shortening and butter, is there any other way? Really? 

And maybe, if you happen to have it on hand, use truffle salt. The recipe calls for Maldon but this seemed like a good excuse to start using the truffle salt I brought back from France. No need to go to France to find it, (it is worth it). You can find either at a specialty food store. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Do What Makes You Happy

Years ago (I say years because it makes it sound like a long time ago, but it really wasn't) I would have starved if it weren't for Trader Joe's. They have a delightful selection of easy, pre-made and fresh items that you can throw together to make a fast, healthy and yummy meal. Since I started cooking, I have been trying not to take short cuts and make everything myself because I want to learn and I need the practice.

As you know, making a "proper dinner" which should include protein, vegetables and a starch can be a two hour production. I love that. But my schedule during the week unfortunately does not. I've really been struggling with that. Because I love to cook and I love the two hour production, it's my therapy. But I make myself crazy trying to fit it in during the week which then completely defeats the purpose.

So tonight, it dawned on me - there can be a balance of easy, fresh, healthy and quick if you combine say marinated white fish from TJ's and your own asparagus and sweet potatoes. I embraced the old and new school in me.

Do what makes you happy - even if you have to modify it to get the result you want.

Old school:
Just buy the fish from Trader Joes and follow the directions (it's in the frozen section)

New school:
Pureed sweet potatoes, my modified version of Rachel Ray's mashed sweet potatoes and sauteed, steamed asparagus with shallots

Pureed sweet potato ingredients:
About 1 pound of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 Tbsp butter
1 banana
1 orange, zested and juiced
1 cup chicken stock
Dash of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Boil potatoes until tender, drain and reserve. Return the pot to the stove over medium heat. Add butter and bananas and add the juice of the orange, reserve the zest. Allow the juice to cook out (about a minute). Add potatoes to the pot and add the stock. Cook for about a minute then transfer to a food processor. Mix on low for about a minute. Add nutmeg, orange zest and salt. I threw in a splash of milk. Mix again until it's the consistency and taste that is to your liking.

Saute a sliced, shallot in a bit of olive oil. Add asparagus and cook together until shallots become soft and fragrant. Cover the pan with a lid to steam the asparagus until they are soft but still have a crunch. (2-4 mins). Use med-high heat but be careful not to burn the shallots.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

14 Days, 5 Countries, 9 Cities - Part I

During my previous travels, I’ve always found time to write. Whether it is on a train, people watching at a café or on the flight home, I’ve found an hour or two to contemplate, reminisce and jot down recent revelations and memories. This trip, that really didn’t happen for me. There were a couple of points when I was somewhat worried that my days and memories might blend together, they didn’t. I have to say, I’m glad I got over the worry. For one, I was in incredibly good company. This is the first trip I’ve taken with friends where their presence played a huge factor into why the vacation was as wonderful as it was. Two, it gives me topics to write about now and to re-live; my favorite post trip activity (which also is a good cure for post vacation blues).

When I travel, there are always things I learn about myself; what to do, or not and how to lose (or adjust) my expectations and go with the flow because what I just learned in this country will no longer be applicable or relevant in the next. So this is the first of a multi-part blog post on the lessons learned, tips, highlights and fun stories from my adventure abroad.

To give you an idea of my itinerary, first let me tell you it was a little crazy. I actually enjoy this kind of travel because I’m not very good at relaxing or sitting still. I live by the beach for goodness sake, and do you know how often I actually go down to just sit on the sand, by the water and under the sun to read a book? Not enough. I digress. Anyways, on this trip, I finally learned how to relax. I learned to let go of all the crap that is the noise in my brain. You see, when you are sitting next to a clear, blue-green sea and there are no emails, laundry or other nagging errands to run, there is nothing else to do but sip a cocktail, read a book, engage in random conversations with your friends, take little snoozes in the sun and be incredibly thankful for the moment you are living in. Aside from learning how to sit still and just enjoy life, here are a few other things I’ll remember for next time.

Part I – General Lessons for Every Trip
  1. Pack smart. If you decide to check a bag, make sure that you bring a carry on that allows for you to pack for extra days. In my instance, I had a 12 hour layover in Amsterdam (which was intentional) so I knew that I would want to take a shower and therefore have clean clothes. I also had this crazy intuition that my bag would be lost and as luck would have it, it was. Well, it didn’t get lost so much as just left in LA. At any rate, I trusted my gut and had all of my beauty, hair and unmentionables in my carry on so when my bag never arrived, yeah sure I was frustrated but certainly wasn’t pissed off or stressed about how I was going to survive the next few days.
  2.  Rent a car. One of the highlights of this trip was being able to come as go as I pleased and spend extra days / nights in places I didn’t want to leave. This also provided pre-paid transportation to Bosnia and Herzegovina not to mention the shear adventure of driving in foreign countries. My friend discovered that Medjugorje (if you are a devout Catholic, you should read about this place) is near Mostar and we were able to spontaneously visit it. Oh – and I got to drive on the Autobahn! I realize that renting a car may not be a feasible option for every trip and I've only driven in Europe, but I would advise you at least consider it.
  3. Get to know the locals. We learned that Medjugorje was close because we engaged with anyone that had the time and patience to talk to us. We would have seen the signs on our way to Mostar, but we probably never would have gone if not for talking to them. These people are now our friends whom we plan on keeping in touch with and hope to visit when we return. I always try to pride myself on attempting to speak the local language for the basics: hello, please and thank you because: 
    • I don't want to be perceived as the stereotypical American
    • I don't want to be treated as one and
    • Most people really want to help you. I've been humbled by the generosity of people from all over the world and it's the least I can do to take a few moments to get to know them; their name, where they are from and if they find people like me interesting or annoying. Don be offended if they respond with the latter. :)
  4. Travel by yourself. Even if only for a day or two, do it. Navigating through streets, train stations, etc where you don’t speak the language and are out of your comfort zone forces you to go deep inside. To practice the courtesy’s your mother taught you when you were two, to trust your instinct, to lose your arrogance when you’ve screwed up and to adjust your attitude because the place you’re in isn’t going to change, you have to. I have very vivid memories of the moments when someone noticed that I was lost or struggling and offered to help me without my solicitation. In hind sight, I’m sure I had looks of horror on my face so no words were needed. Still, I’ve found myself in predicaments here in America and let’s just say – there were no knights in shining armor. But seriously, if anything, spending a few days traveling by yourself will leave you with an immense amount of gratitude for the simple things in life we often take for granted.
Hvala vam za čitanje moj blog 

For those of you that are actually interested in the details of the craziness, here it is:
  • 12 hour layover in Amsterdam
  • 1 day in Budapest, overnight train to Prague
  • 2 days in Prague
  • Fly to Split, Croatia, pick up rental car and drive to Dubrovnik
  • Stay inside of the city walls for 2 nights and 2 days, pick up friends at the airport on the 2nd day and head to hotel outside of Dubrovnik
  • Chill out, swim in the Adriatic, eat, talk, laugh for 2 days
  • Drive to Medjugorie and Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovenia for the day
  • Drive to Split from Dubrovnik and enjoy dinner and night scene
  • Take a ferry to Hvar for the day
  • Drive from Split to Budapest with a stop in Zagreb
  • 2 days in Budapest
  • Fly home via Amsterdam
 Ah yes, now I am remembering why I didn’t have that much time to write.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Rosemary cod with plum-tomato sauce and roasted red potatoes

I can't believe it. I'm leaving in four day for Europe. As such I must have at least one or two home cooked meals before I leave. I found this delightful and easy recipe in Better Homes and Gardens. I threw the potatoes together with the same ingredients plus fresh garlic and shallots because I had them and needed to use them.

Ingredients for fish:
6 plums, halved pitted and chopped
1 lb tomatoes, chopped.
1/2 cup malt vinegar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 to 2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary plus 1 sprig
1 Tbsp butter
4 5 to 6 oz cod fillets
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. in a large bowl combine plums, tomatoes, vinegar, lemon juice, fish sauce, 1 Tbsp of oil and 2 tsp rosemary. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 mins
2. In a large skillet heat butter, remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and rosemary sprig over medium-high heat. Sprinkle fish with salt and pepper. Add fish to the skillet. Cook about 6 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork (turn once halfway through cooking)
3. Transfer fish to a platter and spoon plum-tomato sauce over.

Ingredients for potatoes:
6 red potatoes quartered
Fresh rosemary
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 shallots rough chopped
Toss with olive oil
Kosher salt
In a 9 x 13 dish, bake at 350 for 45 mins

I used heirlooms because they add a little burst of color, but you can use any kind you like or have on hand.
I added potatoes to the dish for a little starch
The tomatoes and plums need to sit for 30 minutes so I did the potatoes while they were getting their flavor blend on