It's what's for dinner - Edamame & Herb Salad

Time really does fly by. When I was little, I remember hearing grownups say how fast time passes as you get older, buuuut I never actually thought that one day I would be a grownup (I still don't believe it). Like it or not, grown up I have become, and now I am the one complaining about where the year has gone, why the leaves are already turning because I swear I was just imbibing in a wee too much bubbles on NYE and wondering why I haven't written more posts here for you all.

My solution - a quick recipe every week of something that I actually made for dinner.* Not something I slaved away at or even a meal that took a lot of planning. It will be a dish or a cocktail (let's be real here, I work in retail...cocktails ARE a necessity) that is quick, easy and most of all delicious. This week, my new go to protein packed edamame and herb salad!

*Don't worry, there will still be longer posts too - epoisses sauce anyone?

Edamame & Herb Salad

For a heartier salad, add crumbled feta, shavings of Fiore Sardo (or any harder sheeps' milk cheese like aged Manchego), toasted hazelnuts or the protein of your choice. 

Serves 1, as a main salad (or 2 as a first course or light side)

 

1 cup baby arugula leaves

1/2 cup parsley leaves, removed from stem

1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly torn

1/4 cup fennel fronds, roughly torn

1/2 cup fennel bulb, thinly shaved

3/4 cup shelled edamame 

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper, to taste

 

In a medium serving bowl, combine all ingredients except lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients and add to reserved salad mix. Toss lightly so everything is coated. 

 

Eat this salad with anything or on its own - I enjoyed it with roasted pork tenderloin and a zippy chimichurri sauce!

Eat this salad with anything or on its own - I enjoyed it with roasted pork tenderloin and a zippy chimichurri sauce!

Grandma Rose's Meatballs

Every time I make meatballs I think of my Grandma Rose. She wasn't related by blood, but I will forever remember the fiery Italian-American woman across the street as my grandma. There are a few things that truly stick out in my memory of her - playing Rummikub, the big fig tree in her backyard, selling homemade mini muffins for an exorbitant price ($1.50/ea) to her and her church ladies,  the gray mush of over-cooked broccoli she would force upon me, and most of all, her meatballs. She couldn't cook vegetables to save her life, but man, she knew how to make a mean plate spaghetti and meatballs. 

Though I have made some minor changes to the recipe, they are still hers at heart. I hope these meatballs make you proud, Grandma!

Me, as a wee little one, and Grandma Rose - October 1987

Me, as a wee little one, and Grandma Rose - October 1987

Grandma Rose's Meatballs

The one major change to Grandma Rose's original recipe is that instead of using seasoned breadcrumbs out of a can, I use white bread soaked in a little bit of water. The bread absorbs the liquid and makes for a juicer, more moist meatball.

I usually make a double batch of these and freeze half of them after baking. To cook frozen meatballs, just toss them into a pot of simmering marinara sauce and let them defrost slowing in the hot, bubbling sauce (it takes about 30-45 minutes on low).

Serves 4-5 ( or enough meatballs for about 1 pound of spaghetti)

 

1 cup white sandwich bread or soft baguette, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1-2 slices depending on the size of the loaf)

2-3 tablespoons water

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated

1/4 teaspoon fennel seed, slightly crushed

1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes

2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large egg

1/2 pound ground beef, preferably ground chuck

1/2 pound ground pork

4 cups homemade marinara sauce (recipe follows - shhhhh...I won't tell Grandma if you use a jar of your favorite store-bought tomato sauce)

 

Preheat oven to 400°.

For the meatballs - In a large mixing bowl, combine bread and water. Let stand for 10 minutes until water is fully absorbed. Here is where it gets messy - with your hands, crush bread until it resembles a coarse paste. Add garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano, fennel seed, pepper flakes, parsley, salt, pepper and egg. Stir to combine. Add beef and pork, mix with your hands until the seasoned bread mixture is fully incorporated. Be careful not to over mix - no one likes tough meatballs! 

Using a tablespoon, portion meat and roll into balls. Transfer meatballs onto greased baking sheet (make sure it is a sheet with a lip to catch any juices or grease as the meatballs bake) placing them about 1/2-inch apart. Bake for 15-17 minutes until meatballs are cooked through (at this point, you can cool the meatballs and freeze them for a rainy day).

While the meatballs are baking - Over medium heat, warm marinara sauce in a large saucepan big enough to hold the sauce and the meatballs. When sauce comes to a simmer, reduce heat to low. Add baked meatballs directly to sauce, stirring gently to coat. Let meatballs simmer uncovered in the sauce for about 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld. 

Serve hot over a big, heaping plate of pasta* and top with a smattering of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

 

*Let's talk a little bit about pasta. Skip the Barilla or any of the pasta that is made in mass-quantities with teflon dies. Just like teflon non-stick pans, the sauce will slide right off the pasta. I use spaghetti from Italian company, Rustichella d'Abruzzo, which is made with bronze dies. This pasta has a rough surface that sauce will stick to making for an ideal spaghetti and meatball experience. You can find Rustichella d'Abruzzo pasta at your local specialty food store or online

 

Easy Homemade Marinara Sauce

This sauce comes together in about a half hour. I don't like overly sweet tomato sauces, but a touch of dark brown sugar rounds the sauce out quite nicely. Makes approximately 4 cups.

 

1 28-ounce jar or can whole tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar

1/2 cup water

2 large sprigs fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes, optional

 

Place both the whole tomatoes and the liquid from the jar in a large bowl. Using your hands, lightly crush tomatoes. Set aside.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent but not browned, about 5-7 minutes. Move onions to one side of the pan, add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil and garlic to the empty space in the pan. Sauté garlic for 30 seconds until lightly golden. 

Add reserved crushed tomatoes, water, brown sugar and stir to combine. Add basil and pepper flakes (if using) and bring to just below a boil. Turn down heat and let sauce simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes. Remove basil stems before serving. 

 

I love you, Grandma Rose.

I love you, Grandma Rose.


Summer Panzanella + tomatoes galore

Tomato season is here! Tomato season is here!

I have to admit, the first time I see the tomato stand pop up at our local farmers market, I get more excited than I should. My eyes widen as I look at the bounty of bright red, dark purple, vibrant orange, yellow and green fruit in all shapes and sizes. My mouth salivates as my mind wanders to bruschetta piled high with chopped tomatoes and basil, caprese salad, salsa and, of course, panzanella. 

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to this traditional Tuscan salad. It is typically made with bread and tomatoes, but I find that you can use the technique year-round with any seasonal produce. In the fall, I will toss the croutons with butternut squash, baby spinach and dukkah spice. The winter brings caramelized oyster mushrooms, bitter radicchio and a drizzle of aged balsamico. Spring ushers in a salad studded with asparagus, favas and english peas and finished with a bright, lemony dressing. And then there is summer, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes. 

Summer Panzanella 

Every tomato has a different flavor profile -bold, juicy brandwine, sweet-like-candy sunbursts and bright, tart zebras just to name a few. Take advantage of this season's bounty and use a couple varieties (I usually use 3-4 types). Create more visual appeal by cutting them into different shapes - slices, wedges, large dice, halved cherry tomatoes (you eat with your eyes first after all!). 

Serves 2 (or one very hungry tomato-loving person)


Dressing:

juice of half a lemon

1 small clove garlic, crushed & minced finely

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt & pepper, to taste


Salad:

1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

2-3 slices rustic french bread (I like Acme Sweet Batard)

3-4 medium heirloom tomatoes, cut into a variety of shapes (slices, wedges, large dice)

1 small persian cucumber, thinly sliced

1/2 avocado, cut into wedges

2-4 ounces burrata cheese, optional

1/4 cup basil leaves, torn

Big, flaky sea salt, for garnish*


To make the dressing, place all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

To prepare the croutons, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add slices of bread and fry until a light golden brown - about 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and cut into large croutons, or for a more rustic look rip them into bite-sized pieces.

To assemble the salad, arrange tomatoes, cucumber, avocado and croutons on a large platter. If using burrata, pull apart and drape strands across the salad. Drizzle dressing over everything. Garnish with torn basil and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.


*Note: I used Hawaiian Black Sea Salt for drama, but any salt with large flakes  will work here (such as Maldon or, if you are feeling fancy, fleur de sel). Besides heightening the sweetness of the tomatoes, you want the finishing salt to add crunch and texture.


Memories of Corn Salsa

The official start of summer is only a couple weeks away and that means corn salsa season! It is going to be 90 degrees in Oakland tomorrow, so I feel like my favorite season has already started. This salsa is what summer should taste like. I guarantee you will be eating this one straight out of the bowl.

When I was growing up, I would go to my neighbors house and sit and watch them making this salsa full of sweet corn studded with red bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro and spicy serrano chiles. We would then pile it atop blistered flour tortillas topped with melted mozzarella. Moments like these are what made me love food and cooking. A special thank you to my neighbors - Kathy and Dickie - for teaching me how to make this sweet taste of Sacramento summers.

Corn Salsa

This salsa will become your BBQ, picnic or potluck staple. I have been making this salsa since I was 8 years old and whenever I make it, people ask me for the recipe, so here it is! The secret here is a finishing drizzle of really good, fruity extra virgin olive oil. Try Lucero Ascolano (available at The Pasta Shop in Oakland and Berkeley, California).

 

4 ears yellow corn, shucked

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

3 medium heirloom tomatoes, finely diced

1 serrano chile, seeds removed, minced (if you like more heat, like me, leave the seeds & veins in)

½ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

juice of 1 medium lime

a drizzle of good, fruity extra virgin olive oil

 

Over high heat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cleaned ears of corn and cook for 3 minutes. Drain ears and rinse under cold water until they are cool enough to handle. Cut kernels off the cob placing them in a large bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the corn and mix to combine. Season with salt to taste. The uses for this salsa are endless - simply serve with chips, mound atop quesadillas, use to adorn a piece of grilled fish...or like I said, eat it straight out of the bowl with a spoon!

Bee's Knees Cocktail + Runny Honey

This refreshing cocktail of gin, honey, lemon juice and egg white is absolutely swoon-worthy. The two things that set this drink apart are the honey simple syrup (so endearingly called “runny honey” by bartenders) and the egg whites. The runny honey adds sweetness and complexity while also complementing the herbaciousness gin and the vibrant lemon juice. 

Up until recently even thinking about a cocktail with egg white in it made me squeamish. Raw egg in a drink*? The only image that this conjured was Gaston from Beauty and the Beast singing "when I was a lad, I ate 4 dozen eggs every morning to help me get large" and muscle men who put eggs in their power shakes. Not the most appealing images. Then one night, I had a pisco sour at La Mar in San Francisco (a combination of Peruvian brandy, simple syrup, lemon juice, bitters and egg white). The cocktail was light and frothy - it was amazing! Here, the egg white does the same thing giving the Bee’s Knees a meringue-like airy quality. If using raw eggs still makes you uncomfortable, you can leave them out (the cocktail will be a little heavier in texture, but delicious nonetheless).

Alright, let’s shake things up…

 *Read more about egg white safety

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Bee's Knees Cocktail

Makes 1 cocktail

 

1 egg white

3/4 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce "runny honey" (recipe follows) 

2 ounces gin

 

In a small bowl, whisk egg white until frothy with soft peaks.  Combine lemon juice, runny honey, gin and whisked egg white in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake with gusto for 20-30 seconds.  Strain into a chilled martini glass.  

 

Runny Honey

Makes 1 cup

 

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup honey

 

In a small saucepan, heat water and honeyover medium heat until honey is completely dissolved.  Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before using. Store in an airtight jar for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.

NOTE: You can easily infuse this syrup with herbs such as thyme and lavender. Just add a few whole sprigs of your herb of choice to the hot runny honey. Let the herbs steep in the hot syrup as it cools and voila! herb-infused runny honey. 

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A Delectable Debut + Fish Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

Welcome to From Head to Table, my fellow fearless foodies. This blog has been a long time coming and I am so excited to share all of my culinary adventures and crazy epicurean concoctions with you!  Let's dive right in, shall we?

Summer = Fish Tacos. Give me a sunny patio, some fish tacos - crispy fish, crunchy cabbage, lots of lime - and a cold Pacifico and I am a happy, happy girl. However, I am not a big into deep frying, so I lightened these up by sautéing the fish and topping the tacos with a vibrant cilantro pesto instead of the traditional crema.

I highly recommend making a double batch of the pesto because it is that good. I usually find myself sneaking spoonfuls of it as I am cooking the fish. Other than eating it by the spoonful, use it on sandwiches, toss with pasta or drizzle over grilled veggies.

 

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Fish Tacos with Cilantro Pesto

Makes 8 tacos

 

¾ teaspoon cumin

¾ teaspoon sea salt

1 large clove garlic, crushed

Zest of 1 large lime

3 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 pound pacific rock cod, or other white fish (i.e. tilapia, halibut)

 

Cilantro Pesto 

2 cups cilantro leaves & stems, roughly chopped

2 green onions, roughly chopped

1 serrano chile, roasted & seeded

1 medium clove of garlic, chopped

¼ cup walnut halves

Juice of 1 lime

1/3 cup of fruity extra virgin olive oil 

 

8 corn tortillas

1 large avocado, sliced

1 ½ cups red cabbage, shredded

1 cup homemade pico de gallo (recipe follows)

 

In a small bowl, combine cumin, salt, garlic, lime zest and 3 tablespoons olive oil to create a paste. Brush paste over fish fillets coating completely. Refrigerate and marinate for 1-3 hours.

While the fish is marinating, make the pesto. Pulse cilantro, green onions, chili, garlic, walnuts and lime juice in a food processor. On low speed, slowly drizzle in olive oil and process until smooth. The pesto should still retain a little bit of texture. Set aside.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil until almost shimmering. Lay fish fillets in pan (do not overcrowd, do this in batches if necessary) and cook 3-4 minutes per side depending on the thickness of your fillets. The fish should easily be able to flake apart. Remove fish from pan and cut into 1 ½-inch pieces.

To assemble tacos, mash two slices of avocado onto the warmed tortilla. Top with a couple pieces of fish, shredded cabbage, a hearty drizzle of cilantro pesto and pico de gallo. 

 

Pico de Gallo

Makes approximately 2 cups 

When I was little, my neighbors would make the best corn salsa at the height of summer - their secret, a drizzle of good, fruity extra virgin olive oil. To this day, I always finish my salsa with a touch of olive oil. The inherent fruitiness of the oil brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes and rounds out any salsa. 

 

3 heirloom tomatoes, chopped

½ small red onion, finely chopped

1 serrano chile, seeded & minced

¼ cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Juice of 1 small lime

¼ teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon fruity extra virgin olive oil

 

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, onion, chili, cilantro, lime and olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

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