The Simple Things: Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

Sometimes it’s the simple things that matter. I’m at a point in my life (i.e. one year until I graduate from college) where suddenly it seems like the “big things” take precedence. And then I take a step back and I see this:

…a still pond on a perfect summer’s day…

…a surprise thunderstorm…

…Robin’s egg blue nail polish…

…and a fabulous, fresh, seasonal, and simple dinner.

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus is a new favorite of mine, despite the fact that my pee smells after eating asparagus. Nonetheless, roasting fresh asparagus with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and a spritz of balsamic vinegar is a way to showcase this vegetable.

Balsamic Roasted Asparagus

1 lb. asparagus, cleaned and trimmed

1/4 cup olive oil

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and pepper

1/4 cup  balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place asparagus in a Ziploc bag and pour olive oil into bag. Shake until the asparagus is coated. Place on baking sheet and sprinkle the cheese on top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for minutes 12-15 minutes until asparagus is tender but crisp. Remove from oven and drizzle vinegar before serving.

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Blueberry Corn Salad

Before I knew much about food, I figured the category “Fruits and Vegetables” should be two categories, “Fruit” and “Vegetables.” But after tasting salads such as arugula and watermelon or even mango salsa, I have realized that fruits and vegetables complement each other. Maybe you are saying “Duh” or maybe you have not ventured into this world of fruit/vegetable hybridity, but nonetheless I can’t wait to continue experimenting. A good rule of thumb is that if the fruit or vegetable grows at the same time of the year, the produce will likely go well together. Think: tomatoes and cucumbers (drizzle with olive oil and vinegar). Simple, but delicious, flavors.

In the case of this Blueberry Corn Salad, evidently blueberries and corn are showcased. The spice of the jalapenos, which stung my hands for twenty-four hours, and the sweetness of corn, plus the tang of blueberries is fantastic. I used a white onion, despite the recipe calling for a red onion. Other than that, I followed this recipe.

Mamma Maria, Boston

For Mother’s Day, I treated my mom to a wine tasting tour of the North End. My whole family ended the tour with a spectacular dinner at Mamma Maria, which is one of my parent’s favorite restaurants. This was my first visit and from the impeccable service, to the fabulous food, I can’t wait to go back. We were seated in a private dining room, since my mom had called earlier that week requesting a table near the window. They ended up seating us in a small room with just a four-person table–an awesome surprise.

The bread was fresh, and the pesto homemade:

We ordered the Antipasto Tower, which was a hefty $56, but oh-so-worth it. I tasted my first oysters ever, which were mind-blowing. The mozzarella is imported from a farm in Italy. The cheese was the creamiest, most delectable piece of mozzarella I’ve ever eaten.

Scallops cooked with blood orange were also a favorite part of the “antipasto tower.” Perfectly cooked, with a little crunch and citrus flavor.

My entrée was wild-mushroom ravioli:

My parents both ordered the Clam and Crab pasta:

The take-away message: wow.

If you are in the North End (and are willing to spend some dough on a meal), eat here. You will not regret it.

Poolville Country Store, NY

As mentioned many times before, going to school in upstate New York leaves much to be desired in terms of culinary experiences. On the one hand, I save a considerable amount of money. On the other hand, it’s easy to see how students can subsist on Ramen noodles.

However, I got a chance to visit the Poolville Country Store, a bed and breakfast that serves way more than just breakfast. As a birthday treat, my parents came to visit and took me to this quaint spot for lunch. They specialize in locally-sourced foods, and most of the menu items were vegetarian or pescetarian, both plusses in my book. (Although, it does make one wonder how you get fresh “local” seafood when you are hundreds of miles from the ocean.)

We were first served a few squares of blueberry crumb cake. Buttery, rich goodness.

Unsure of whether or not it was lunch time or breakfast time, I settled on savory tastes despite my two cups of coffee and this blueberry treat. We ordered polenta fries, smothered in gorgonzola cheese on a bed of mixed greens. Salty but so fabulous, this dish makes me want to experiment more with polenta. The shrimp and vegetable rolls were also fabulous, with a smattering of wasabi aioli that was flavorful. My only complaint was that the menu spelled “shrimp” incorrectly.My caesar salad was standard, though the (single) anchovy on top was appreciated. It’s unfortunate there weren’t more anchovies to really bring out the flavor. I had a large bowlful of lobster bisque which was delicious, though salty. Lastly, a taste of this crab cake made our meal complete. Moist, tasty rounds of crab served with lemon aioli were fantastic. All in all, a pleasant, filling, delicious experience…particularly for upstate New York.

 

Green Things, Roasted

The best thing about being back at school, other than my brilliant Creative Writing Workshop, is that I finally have an oven. I am (most certainly) making my way in life: first going from an oven-less kitchen with a less-than-desirable electric stove top, then to an kitchen with an oven and a more desirable electric stove top. Next stop: commercial-grade eight burner gas stove. I kid, but I do dream.

During one of my sweeps of the internet for recipes and food photos, I decided to google: recipes for one person. I was surprised to find that there are very few sites with somewhat appealing recipes for one person. Of course, there is the recipe for a dozen cookies that could easily be mistaken for one serving.

Disappointed and with few ingredients available, I opted for a green, filling, and perfectly-sized meal: couscous and roasted broccoli. Why had I never thought to roast broccoli before? It is by far one of the best ways I have ever eaten broccoli.

Roasted Broccoli

2 florets of broccoli

3/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp olive olive

Juice from 1/2 lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss broccoli with garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. Place broccoli on baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the broccoli starts to brown and is tender when pierced. Drizzle with lemon juice and serve.

At last, Black Beans (and a Quinoa Salad)

As you may know from previous posts, there seems to be a black bean shortage in Australia. Boy, are those Aussies missing out on my favorite protein-packed legume. Now that I’m home, you can imagine my excitement as I swiped cans of black beans into my cart at the supermarket. It probably looked like I was preparing for a winter storm, or a fiesta for one thousand hungry guests. Instead, I planned on making a Black Bean Quinoa Salad.

It is nice to see some color from onions, pepper, cilantro and corn (even if it is canned) at this time of year. I added more salt than the recipe calls for, seeing as I didn’t believe a quarter teaspoon would be enough for the massive amount of salad the recipe makes. By massive, I mean I had to use the biggest bowl in my kitchen which barely fits in the refrigerator. Nonetheless, the salad tastes great as leftovers, as the dressing keeps the salad moist and delicious. And an added benefit is that this salad is supremely healthy, filled with beans and veggies, as well as the super-food quinoa.

Black Bean Quinoa Salad

Adapted from Eat, Live, Run

2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 red onion, chopped

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1 can corn

1 cup uncooked quinoa

1 large avocado, diced

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped

Juice of 3 limes

2 tsp cumin

3 tbs extra virgin olive oil

sea salt, to taste

 

Cook quinoa according to package (typically 1 cup uncooked quinoa to 2 cups water, bring water and quinoa to a boil then simmer for 15 minutes). Let cool.

Mix black beans, onion, cilantro, pepper, avocado and corn in a really large bowl. Toss.

In small bowl, whisk together lime juice, cumin, extra virgin olive oil, and salt.

Add quinoa to salad. Pour dressing over and toss.

Grilled Mediterranean Portobello Burgers

It seems most children enter a phase of self-awareness, when they start to be conscious of their fashion, friends, toys, homes, and general appearance.

When I was little, I was embarrassed by our family’s barbeque grill.

The dingy charcoal grill had aluminum foil covering the gaping hole at the bottom of charcoal basin, and a bottle opener held in place some other broken fixture. My friends had gleaming, stainless steel, propane-fueled grills. My parents always insisted that “charcoal grills taste better.” For a child with just-blooming taste buds, this did not matter. Our grill looked like crap.

Over the years, our family replaced the barbeque with a new charcoal grill, though the appliance stores seem to carry fewer charcoal grills and more and more propane grills. My tastes evolved, and I came to realize that charcoal does actually taste better (despite whatever carcinogens we inhale by this mode of cooking). More importantly, I realized that our dilapidated grill was better than the fancy-schmancy grills because it had a story. That grill was ours. It was special. It was our family’s version of the poor-little-scrawny-Christmas-tree-that-nobody-wants. Aluminum foil and bottle opener included.

I no longer eat Nathan’s hot dogs, a staple to my diet in the summer when I was little, nor do I eat barbeque chicken or grilled Italian sausage. Instead, I have found meatless ways to enjoy our old-school grilling methods. Whether it be grilled bruschetta or vegetable kabobs, the taste of charcoal-grilled foods will always transport me home.

Below is one of my favorite recipes for Grilled Mediterranean Portobello Burgers, which is more like a sandwich since I serve it between two pieces of fresh ciabatta bread. Garlicky, meaty, and yet light, this meal has become a staple when grilling.

Adapted from: Eating Well

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 portobello mushroom caps, stems and gills removed

4 large slices ciabatta bread

1/2 cup sliced jarred roasted red peppers

1/2 cup chopped tomato

1/4 cup feta cheese

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups romaine lettuce

Mash garlic and salt on a cutting board with the side of a knife until it’s a smooth paste. Mix the paste with 2 tablespoon oil in a small dish. Lightly brush the oil mixture over portobellos and then on one side of each slice of bread.

Combine red peppers, tomato, feta, vinegar, oregano and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium bowl.

Grill the mushroom caps until tender, about 4 minutes per side; grill the bread until crisp, about 1 minute per side.

Toss salad greens with the red pepper mixture. Place the grilled mushrooms top-side down on 4 half-slices of the bread. Top with the salad mixture and the remaining bread.


 

 

 

 

 

Easy Shrimp Scampi and a Food Court

The food court at the Pitt Street Mall in Sydney is perhaps the wildest food court I’ve ever visited. I mean that in the best way possible. The walls are a shiny black granite-like material, making you feel like you’ve landed somewhere glamorous. It also makes it seem like the food court is endless, which in some respects it is. Check out the ice cream sundaes and smoothie station below:

Concerning the shrimp, I trekked down to the major supermarket about a mile away just to buy frozen shrimp. Call me crazy, but it was the best decision. Not only did I get shrimp, but I also purchased some yummy quinoa flakes.

As a student who occasionally (i.e. most of the time) wants a fast meal and one that requires little cleaning, I loved this lightened shrimp scampi dish. The best part about this recipe? It’s made using just a microwave. I served it with brown rice because I didn’t have pasta around. I also added more baby spinach than the recipe called for. The shrimp I purchased were smaller than I imagined, but at least they were cooked, peeled and deveined. On a different note, all shrimp in Australia are called prawns, despite the distinction between the two fish.

Microwave Shrimp Scampi

Serves 1

12 small-medium frozen shrimp, cooked, peeled and deveined

1/2 cup spinach leaves, chopped

1 tsp olive oil

1/2 tsp butter

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp dried basil

1/2 lemon, juice

salt and pepper, to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a large microwaveable bowl. Toss to coat shrimp. Microwave for 1 minute. Remove and mix again. Microwave for another 1 minute 15 seconds. Serve over pasta or, as I did, rice.

The picture does not do this dish justice, but believe me, it’s delicious, quick, easy, and oven-less.

De Medici, Bruges

Here’s another post about the glorious subject of food poisoning.

Last summer, I traveled to London with my parents where we Indian-restaurant-hopped. This would be my family’s version of bar hopping. We ate not one, not two, but three Indian meals in a row. I love Indian food, with all of its comforting deep-fried pakoras and hearty baingan bhartha. However, three meals really knocked my body out. Not in a sitting-on-the-toilet sense, but rather a nasty-food-poisoning sense. I spent the next twenty-four hours in bed trying to keep down some British biscuits. Soon after this troubling Indian food experience, we managed to take a train from London to Bruges, Belgium. I couldn’t stomach much, but we were served a most impressive meal aboard the train. Airlines could learn a lot from this:

When we arrived in Bruges, the weather was dreary so we stopped in a quaint restaurant, De Medici. This tea room and “sorbetiere” was small, cozy, and inviting. Oh, and it’s not Indian food. I ordered an herbal tea:

They served our party a dish of cured ham and olives, compliments of the house. While I don’t eat meat and my mother and I both don’t like olives, my father enjoyed this tremendously, and just the thought of a little amuse-bouche was a nice touch.

I ordered a simple mozzarella and tomato sandwich, something which my stomach could handle. Drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served with a side salad with a hard-boiled egg, the plate exceeded my expectations. De Medici is the perfect cure for an Indian food-eating marathon.