Archive for October, 2010

When I think of pasta salad, I think about those depressing potlucks: tables laden with potatoes swimming in mayonnaise, industrial quantities of supermarket taboule, and at least five different pasta salads made with (ick) three different colors of rotini. Everyone precipitates themselves on the bite-size pigs in a blanket, before pushing the rest of the food around with their forks, telling every guest that “their pasta salad is by far the best,” and that they “couldn’t possibly eat another bite.”

This pasta salad is different. My dad made up this recipe, and it’s delicious!

You’ll need:

  • cooked pasta, hot or cold
  • 1 can of tuna (per half box of pasta)
  • cucumber and/or celery, chopped
  • 1 can of corn
  • sriracha
  • onion powder
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped, or garlic powder
  • pepper

Cook the pasta as instructed on the box and drain it. Mix pasta with the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl. I wouldn’t add cucumber if you’re having a hot pasta salad. If you’re having it cold, add a dash or two of rice vinegar. If you’re having it hot, you might add a little olive oil.

That’s all there is to it! Oh, and let us all make an effort together, and stop bringing pasta salads to potlucks. Veggie trays are a better alternative.




Because they’re from Hamburg. Well, not really.

I’ll leave you to argue about that, and give you the recipe! The measurements I gave you may seem flaky, because I just eyeball the ingredients. Hamburger is not rocket science. Puff pastry is rocket science. You can’t ruin ground beef.

You’ll need:

  • ground beef (1/4 pound per burger)
  • some chopped onion (about 1 cup per pound of beef)
  • oatmeal, quick or old fashioned (about 1/3 cup per pound of beef)
  • egg (about 1 per pound of beef)
  • any seasoning you like: garlic cloves, garlic salt, pepper, salt, lemon salt, bbq sauce, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, chopped green pepper, green onions, thyme, rosemary, curry powder, cayenne pepper, chili powder, anything!
  • buns, if you’re a bun person (I like my burgers nude)

Combine beef, egg, oatmeal, onion (minced) and seasonings of choice (I went for chopped garlic cloves, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper) in a medium bowl. Hamburgers have more soul if you mix with your hands, so don’t be a sissy. Form into patties as small/large as you want (1/4 pound to 1/3 pound is a good serving).

Cooking time. Sebastian insists on using the cast iron grill, which is a pain in the ass to clean, but healthier (drains out all the fat) and gives better results. Because I HATE cleaning cast iron, I just use a regular pan. Heat it up, spray with a tiny bit of olive oil, put patties on the pan (this would be a good time to brush them with your favorite BBQ sauce, if you wish) and cook for 10 minutes on one side (no flipping!), or until they look like this:

Flip and cook 5-10 minutes on the other side. Sebastian is a cheeseburger kinda guy, so he adds a slice on his patty right after the flip. We’re not bun people – we usually use whole wheat wraps, but tonight was a nude-burger night, and even then he couldn’t finish his third pounder! Here‘s the beef.

Dear World,

As of yesterday, I’ve been very good. I made the bed, vacuumed, did dishes, walked to the supermarket and produce store (40 minutes one way), did not give in to sweets (not even double-stuffed oreos) walked back loaded with my healthy groceries, and went to the Y to swim laps. Then, it was time to make lasagna.

Making lasagna is easy. It doesn’t require any particular skill or special equipment. People hype it up and make it sound so impressive, but really, it’s not hard. However, there are many steps to making a lasagna, some of which you can do a day or two in advance, although it does taste so good when everything is nice and fresh. If you want to anticipate, you can make the met sauce the day before.

For the meat sauce, you’ll need:

  • 1 pound ground meat (I used beef, but chicken and turkey are as delicious – for veggie lasagna, substitute with spinach)
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
  • basil (dried is ok, fresh is excellent)
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • chopped onion (about 1 cup)
  • paprika
  • cayenne (powdered)
  • salt & pepper

Grease a large skillet with 2 tbsp olive oil, and saute the onion for 30 seconds. Brown the beef, then transfer to a medium saucepan, along with the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Mash in the garlic, and add some salt, pepper, basil, paprika and cayenne to taste. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, and cover pot with lid. If you are preparing this in advance, refrigerate, and heat up when you’re ready to use it.






Another thing you can do a couple hours in advance is boiling the lasagna. Yesterday was my first time using oven-ready/no-boil pasta, and it turned out great! I’d recommend it. And I’ll let you on a secret: supermarket brand whole wheat pasta tends to be 100% whole wheat, as opposed to “whole grain” brand name pasta!

Next, the bechamel sauce. I insist that this part is not hard, but it requires your UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. Turn your back on it just for a hot second, and you’ll create a white volcano. Also, I would not recommend doing this in advance, because it tastes SO MUCH BETTER when it’s fresh!

For the Bechamel Sauce, you’ll need:

  • 5 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp all-purpose white flour
  • 4 cups milk (whole milk is usually better for cooking)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • two pinches of white pepper (if you don’t have any, it’s worth the investment)
  • salt (to taste)
  • 2 cloves of garlic

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter on medium heat. (by the way, if you’re baking the lasagna in the oven, this is a good time to preheat your oven to 375˚F). Add the flour, and cook until golden brown (4-7 minutes), whisking at least every 10 seconds. While you’re doing this, heat the milk in another pot until it’s not (NOT boiling). When the roux (that’s the butter-flour base) is golden brown, start adding the milk one cup at the time, whisking continuously (this will be your workout for the night). The sauce is ready when it’s thickened enough that an inserted spoon comes out completely coated.

And now, for the fun part: assembly time! I lightly greased my crock pot with vegetable oil. If you’re baking yours in the oven, line the bottom & sides of a baking dish (big enough for lasagna pasta to fit) with aluminum foil, and preheat your oven to 375˚ F. Layer of pasta, layer of meat sauce, layer of bechamel, layer of pasta, layer of meat…you get where this is going. I usually work it out so that the top layer is covered with pasta and lightly with bechamel. If you care for parmesan, you can dust the top layer with that as well (fresh grated is even better).

For baking in the oven: cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil and cook for 1 hour. For crock potting: cook for 3-4 hours, or until a fork goes straight through the pasta.



It’s really that easy! 

A Thinner Me

Dear World,

I worked out today! [insert applause here] It felt good. Well, not the waking up at 5:15 AM part, and not remembering how the burn feels. But being productive at 6:30 AM, that felt great.

No cooking today. Sebastian made breakfast – he always makes breakfast, because in his opinion, I can’t fry eggs properly. And he’s right. So I make tea and sit back while he expertly flips our over-easies, no spatula or anything! He learned it from Alton Brown’s “Good Eats” (we love that show).

Maybe I’ll scrounge up something interesting for dinner, but right now, lunch is looking like PBJ and a V8. Sorry! More recipes as soon as I have time to revisit the produce shop.

With love,

– Viola –

It’s been a rough couple of days. Got into a big fight with Sebastian, had to deal with Toby eating all our food and putting the cheese in the silverware drawer. Also, spent too much money. So taking a couple hours to make jam and just clear my head turned out to be a great idea.

Here are the 5 easy steps to making jam:

  1. ROTTEN FRUIT IS GOOD. The secret to good jam is, believe it or not, is to start with overripe fruit, fruit that is just beginning to rot. Not moldy, though! Slightly brown is ok. Also, pairing your fruit with herbs, spices or other fruits is always a good idea.
  2. PICK YOUR FRUIT. Most any fruit is alright. All berries are good. Apricots and plums make great jam. Stay clear from citrus fruits and apples – that’s marmalade and apple butter, a whole other story. I’ll get to that some day. Today, I used cantaloupe with ginger root and peaches with fresh mint. Peeled, removed seeds/pits, chopped into small pieces. If you like your jam with chunks of fruit, cut one third of the pieces into bigger and larger chunks (2″x2″).
  3. SANITIZE THE JARS. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP! Sebastian got me some mason jars. I washed them with soap, and then boiled them in water for two minutes, with the lids. When preserving anything (especially acidulent foods like jam), you must sterilize the jars. When they’re done boiling, turn off the heat, and keep in hot water until canning time. Dry jars with paper towels before canning the preserves.
  4. You’re gonna need a lot of sugar. If you’re feeling fancy, buy the sugar with pectin, sold for jam-making purposes. Simple, white sugar does the trick for me. How much you use will depend entirely on what kind of fruit you’re using, how ripe your fruit is (hopefully, very), and how sweet you like your jam. 
  5. Taste as you go! After adding the chopped fruit to a pot with some freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon), I added sugar 1/4 cup at the time, tasting between each addition. I grated some fresh ginger root into the melon while it was cooking, and simmer the peaches with 10 big mint leaves (I removed the mint right before canning).
  6. Don’t leave, and don’t touch. Once the fruit starts bubbling, bring down to a simmer, and cooking for a long time, until the fruit gets nice and mushy, and reduces in volume. Since I don’t use sugar with pectin, my jam will stay pretty liquid until it’s spent a night in the fridge. Also, don’t touch. Sugar + hot fruit = third degree burns.

And those, my friends, are the five simple steps to making jam. Decorate your mason jar with a cute cloth top and a label, and give one to your boss/neighbor/milkman. Or hog it, why not. There’s nothing like homemade jam.

My father taught me the art of improvised cooking.. He does read and follow recipes on occasion, but generally, he just makes it up as he goes. Most of the time, it turns out great, but sometimes, it doesn’t work out. It depends on your gut and your luck.

Today, my luck and gut served me well (so far). Sebastian’s friend, Olivia, came to pick up a set of timpani she’d let the boys borrow. I invited her to stay over for lunch, and much to my delight, she accepted!

First, I tested one little gnocchi from last night (refer to previous post for recipe), but the dough hadn’t survived in the fridge overnight. So I started to make some of my dad’s ZUCCHINI FRITTERS.

You’ll need:

  • two or three zucchinis (washed, not peeled)
  • one or two eggs
  • flour or cornmeal (1/4 – 3/4 cup)

Grate the zucchinis into little strips (not too thin). Mix with enough egg and cornmeal so that the zucchini sticks together (you have to feel for it, I can’t give you a good measurement). Then, I drop silver-dollar pancake sized dollops on a heated skillet with just a tablespoon of olive oil, and fry the batter on each side until golden brown.

While I was doing the fritters, Olivia insisted that she should be put to work, too, so I asked her to chop some onion and the rest of the portobello mushrooms I didn’t use last night. We sauteed the mushrooms and onions in a little olive oil, and added a little balsamic vinegar when they were almost done (about 5-10 minutes). When they were done, we put the mushrooms aside in a bowl. Then, I pulled out some week old homemade pumpkin bread (not terribly fresh, but still good!), and toasted about four slices in the same pan used for the mushrooms, with a little olive oil.

I served the mushroom on top of the pan-toasted pumpkin bread, and the fritters in little stacks with sriracha. How’s that for a pretty healthy meal? And for a vegetarian lunch, it was quite filling! We bonded over good food, and decided to get drinks this coming Tuesday after work. Oh, and we’re going shopping this afternoon. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, guys, but I think Olivia might turn out to be a friend!

With enthusiasm and love,

– Viola –

Dinner last night was a SUCCESS! In my excitement, I forgot to take pictures, I’m sorry to say. But man, it’s so good to be cooking again!

The zucchini soup was the easy part. 3 zucchinis, thinly sliced (washed, not peeled), and some minced onion (about 1/3 of a yellow onion). Cover with some of that broth you have handy in your fridge (refer to this post –>, boil until the zucchini gets mushy (about 5-10 minutes). If you don’t have broth, use salted water (though broth is SO MUCH tastier!). Transfer to blender and puree (just 5-10 seconds), and then transfer back to pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. I meant to add some curry powder, but forgot.

Next, the chicken. Also easy! Rubbed three boneless breasts with olive oil, pepper and salt, baked at 400˚F, 10 minutes on each side. Portabella mushrooms were brushed and sliced, and tossed into a pan with some olive oil. after browning them on medium-high heat for a couple minutes, put heat on low, and pour some balsamic vinegar (about 1/4 cup) over the mushrooms. I let them cook on low heat for 5-7 minutes, and arranged them on top of the chicken breasts when those were done.

And finally, la pièce de résistance: pumpkin gnocchi with butter sage sauce. Just typing that makes my mouth water. I used the flesh leftover from last weekend’s jack-o-lantern carving (2 sugar pumpkins’ worth of flesh), which I’d baked for an hour at 400˚F. I mixed in some flour (a cup or two) until it turned into a soft dough. I boiled some water in a large pot [Rule of Italian cuisine: always use biggest pot in the house for cooking pasta] and melted some butter with a few fresh sage leaves in a small saucepan. When the water came to a rolling boil, dropped in little bite-sized balls of dough. As soon as they floated to the surface, I removed them with a slotted spoon (had to scoop as I went), drizzled them with the butter sage sauce, and served them immediately to Sebastian and Fabian, who didn’t complain! The one fault was that I’d forgotten to sprinkle a little kosher salt on the gnocchi before serving, so they were a little bland.

Recap: fun cooking, good dinner, happy roommates. Now, I really must clean the house, because I may be entertaining guests for both lunch and dinner!

Laters, world! Love,

– Viola –

So I got off my ass and got to baking. Found this recipe on the Quaker Oats website, decided to tweak a little.

I used:

  • 1 1/3 cups instant oats
  • 2 cups white all purpose flour (I mixed 1 1/2 cups whole wheat with 1/2 cup white flour)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp fresh or 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground ginger (my idea!)
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup white sugar –> I replaced this with 3/4 cup honey, it was a GREAT IDEA!
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup pure pumpkin (canned, or freshly cooked)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • optionally: raisins, walnuts, or chocolate chips

Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Mix the dry ingredients (oatmeal, flour, baking soda, and spices) in a medium bowl, and put aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar/honey with an electric mixer until the mixture thoroughly becomes light and fluffy. Add the egg, pumpkin and vanilla (I don’t actually measure it out, I just give a generous splash). Your mixture should look like this:

Add the dry ingredients in two installments. Mix briefly with the electric beater, then finish mixing with a spoon.


If you have raisins or nuts (or even chocolate chips), now’s the time to add them. The cookies are also fine plain. I save the chocolate chips for drizzling (see instructions below).



Using two tablespoons (or a small ice-cream scoop), form little balls of dough and display on a cookie sheet (NOT GREASED! the cookies won’t stick, they have a crap ton of butter in them). Each ball should be about 1/2 – 1 inch apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until edges begin to brown. I like to cool the cookies for two minutes on the tray (they keep cooking, even outside the oven), then transfer them to a cooling rack, or a paper towel.

While the cookies were cooling, I microwaved four small handfuls of chocolate chips until they were melted (pausing every 30 seconds  to stir – it’s VERY easy to burn chocolate). What I should’ve done then was spoon the chocolate into a pastry bag, using the thinnest nozzle available. Since I’m kind of a cheapo and don’t own a pastry bag, I went with a plastic ziplock sandwich bag – just snip a tiny bit off the corner, and viola! You have a 7 cent pastry bag. The result? Very good, until the bag split and released a large chocolate slug on the cookie I was attempting to drizzle. So, if like me, you’re too cheap to get a real pastry bag (or don’t want to deal with cleaning one up), just drizzle the chocolate from a knife. The bag makes the lines very neat, though.

2:57 PM: Got back from the produce store with fresh sage, ginger root, zucchini and a sweet onion. Taking a lunch break (leftover pizza) in front of the TV, watching “The Ramen Girl.” I figured that watching a bunch of foodie movies could restore my love for cooking, since they got me inspired to start in the first place.


  • Tampopo: This beautiful japanese movie focuses on the art of making ramen. Composed of small, humorous, sometimes unrelated scenes, it will make your mouth water. Watch out for the…ahem…interesting interludes.
  • Julie/Julia: Another very inspiration flick about Julia Child and Julie Powell. Both of these women just make me want to cook, cook, and cook more. Plus, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep are wonderful!
  • Chocolat: This one may be pour in cooking scenes, but is a good insight on the temperament of a cook at heart.
  • Ratatouille: I couldn’t believe that any animated movie would make me salivate as much as this one has! Totally charming, very inspiring.
  • Simply Irresistible: Poor acting, not a lot of actual food scenes, but I love the idea of provoking emotions through food.

There are other movies, but these are the ones that stand out the most in my memory.


Enough sitting on the couch all day. Enough abusing my Netflix “instant watching” privileges. Enough “spoons of peanut butter” and V8 for meals. It’s time for a change.

Today, I woke up one hour earlier than I usually do (9 AM). I wrote an e-mail to my mom while finishing the movie I’d started last night. Then, I brewed myself some genmaicha-macha blend, and, gathering my courage…I cleaned the fridge. There were findings of all kinds; fuzzy, moldy, so furry I should have named them before throwing them away. I was left with mostly vegetables, leftover chili (refer to the “lazy chili” post from yesterday) and pizza, and a jar of my homemade plum jam (recipe to come, some time in the future).

Now, it’s shopping time! Laters.

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