Spinach Polenta With Crispy Sauteed Mushrooms

I could seriously snack on these mushrooms all day long; they are buttery and crispy and add so much flavor and texture to creamy, cheesy polenta! Making them is pretty simple and really only requires a good pan that distributes heat really well, cast iron is my go to! Make sure you don’t over crowd the pan and don’t panic when all your butter disappears in the pan! Mushrooms are like a sponge and soak up liquid like crazy…eventually they hit a saturation point and all that stored liquid comes rushing out. This liquid will evaporate with more cooking and what is left is a concentrated, flavorful, crispy mushroom.

 

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Polenta is also pretty simple and makes for a great change up if you feel like all you cook are potatoes and rice.  It’s similar to grits; both are essentially dried corn pourage. The difference is: to make grits you take the dried corn and soak it in lie, (the same way you make masa from hominy) re-dry it, and then grind it into a meal. Polenta is just ground corn (corn meal).  You get more corn flavor with polenta, but grits cook faster. I like polenta for its flavor. When buying corn meal for polenta you have two options, you can buy plain old corn meal or you can buy (usually imported) dry polenta meal which is just a slightly finer ground meal than regular corn meal.  I typically just use plain old corn meal; I did however run it though my spice grinder for a minute just to get it a little finer. 

 

Crispy Mushrooms

  • 1 package mushroom (I used Cremini Mushrooms)

  • 3 tablespoon butter

  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In a cast iron pan on medium/high heat melt butter, add sliced mushrooms and salt and pepper, stir till fully coated in butter.  Spread the mushrooms in the pan to ensure maximum contact with the pan and cook for about 3-4 min.  turn over mushrooms and cook for another 3-4 min. stir again and crisp for another 4 min.  or till desired crispiness. Mushrooms should be golden brown in color and smell like toasted butter.

 

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Spinach Polenta

  • 1 cup Corn Meal (or dry polenta)

  • 2 cups Milk

  • 1 cup Chicken Stock

  • 1 bunch of spinach (about 2 cups)

  • ½ cup Parmesan Cheese

  • ½ cup Butter

  • ½ cup Cream

  • 1 tablespoon Olive Oil

  • Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor blend together spinach, olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, set aside.  In a pot with the heat off add milk, chicken stock, butter and corn meal.  Place on stove and slowly bring to a low boil/simmer, cook for 20 minutes stirring often to prevent sticking and clumping. Pull off heat and add parmesan cheese, spinach puree and cream.  Stir together and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with crispy mushrooms. Makes about 2-3 servings.

 

Homemade Pizza (3 ways)

Ok, what follows are my tips and tricks to making restaurant style pizza at home!! Just remember Pizza is Love!!

First, use a pizza stone. Pizza stones make for the best crust and even cooking which means you can turn your oven up higher to get melty, toasty cheese without worrying about your pizza being in too long. DO NOT under any circumstances buy an expensive $30+ specialty pizza stone! Instead, do what I did and go to the hardware store and get a ceramic floor tile! They are about 12”x12” (the perfect size for an oven) which is much bigger than any pizza stone I have seen. This is nice because you don’t have to worry about placing your pizza perfectly on that small stone or it falling off leaving you with a mess on your hands. Make sure to get a tile that is high heat resistant with a smooth surface and to clean it really well be for use.

Second, use a pizza paddle! This is mostly a convenience thing; it’s so much easier to get your pizza in and out of the oven with one. But if you don’t want to spend the money you can use a sheet pan turned over with parchment paper. When you are ready to put it in the oven, carefully slide the pizza with the parchment paper onto your pizza stone. To remove pull the parchment paper and slide back onto your sheet pan. If you are using a pizza paddle the trick to removal is one quick confident fluid motion. I learned this the hard way. The first time I used a pizza paddle I got panicked and went to slow…I ended up pushing the pizza off the stone and onto the heating element...fire ensued and it was a disaster. Confidence is KEY when using a pizza paddle.

Third, hot AF (as flip) oven. Seriously, set your oven to as high as it can go! Mine goes to 550 degrees!  If you have ever been to a place that makes wood fired pizza you will know what I’m getting at, the delicious char!! Wood fire ovens can reach temps of up to 900 degrees. So crank those ovens!!

Forth, par-bake your crust. Doing this adds a few more steps but it makes the dough easier to work with once it’s partially cooked. You can load on the topping and not worry about your soft dough getting stuck to the paddle. You really only need to bake it about 2 minutes; I included this step in the recipe instructions as well.

Fifth, use a good sauce. A few tips for making good sauce: most importantly use good tomatoes! I used San Marzano tomatoes which are the gold standard in the restaurant industry. Also, sometimes canned tomatoes can have an acidic, metallic taste to them which does not make for good pizza.  Two ways to fix this are 1: use a good dash of sugar which helps bring out the sweetness of tomatoes. And 2: you can use the smallest pinch of baking soda, the baking soda will actually change the ph balance of the tomatoes from acidic to alkaline.  You will be amazed at how well this trick works! I included my sauce recipe with a contingency for both the sugar method and the baking soda method. It’s all about tasting and seeing what it needs.

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Tomato Sauce Recipe

  •     2 Cans Tomatoes (San Marzano)
  •     4 Cloves Garlic
  •     1 Bunch Fresh Basil (about 4-5 leaves with stems)
  •     1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  •     ¼ Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes

Optional:

  •      1 Teaspoon Sugar
  •      Smallest pinch of Baking Soda

Place all ingredients in a pot. Simmer on medium heat for 15 minutes. Pour into a blender and blend till smooth. If you like a chunky sauce chop garlic and basil finely before adding to tomatoes, no need to blend.

Pizza Dough

  •      2 ½ Cups Warm Water
  •      ¼ Cup Olive Oil
  •      ¼ Cup Honey
  •      2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
  •      1 Tablespoon instant yeast
  •      4 cups White Flour
  •      2 Teaspoons Salt

Add water, honey, yeast and whole wheat flour to stand mixer, mix for two minutes then add white flour, olive oil, and salt. Mix for another 8 min. cover and let rest 20 minutes before using. This recipe uses instant yeast so it’s ready to use almost immediately.

Now that everything else is covered, here’s the actual pizza recipe:

Topping options:

  •      Tomatoes
  •      Fresh Mozzarella/ Regular Mozzarella
  •      Pepperoni
  •      Sausage
  •      Olives
  •      Pineapple
  •      Ham
  •      Basil
  •      Sliced Onions
  •      Parmesan Cheese
  •      Fresh Arugula
  •      Balsamic Vinegar
  •      Garlic Olive Oil
  •      1 Dough Recipe
  •      1 Sauce Recipe

Pre-heat oven to 550 degrees with pizza stone in oven. Pull off knob of dough about the size of a baseball and roll it out on a well floured surface using a rolling pin. Dough should be about a ¼ inch thick maybe thinner if you like thin crust. Place dough on floured pizza paddle and slide dough onto hot stone. Bake for two min. remove from oven and arrange topping of choice while crust is still on pizza paddle, once arranged slide pizza back onto pizza stone and bake 8 to 10 min.

 

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Combination options:

Margarita

  •       Tomato sauce
  •       Sliced Tomatoes
  •       Fresh Mozzarella
  •       Basil (add fresh basil to hot pizza after it comes out of the oven)
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Hawaiian

  •       Tomato Sauce
  •       Regular Mozzarella
  •       Pineapple chunks
  •       Ham
  •       Sliced Onions
  •       Chopped Basil

 

Veggie

  •       Garlic Olive Oil (as sauce)
  •       Sliced Tomatoes
  •       Fresh Mozzarella
  •       Chopped Basil
  •       Fresh Arugula (tossed with Balsamic Vinegar, Garlic Oil, salt and pepper. Added to the pizza after baked)

Meat

  •       Olives
  •       Sausage
  •       Pepperoni
  •       Tomato Sauce
  •       Mozzarella
  •       Parmesan Cheese

 

Spicy Korean Chicken

There is a misconception out there that good Asian food is difficult to make at home, that it requires 101 ingredients per dish and that it will never taste as good as takeout without the MSG.  Well I’m here to tell you that is basically all lies! With a little know how and a few key ingredients it’s much simpler than you might think.

The key ingredient to this dish is gochujang paste; which is red chili paste that contains glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt, and sometimes sugar.  It’s a Korean food staple and has become one of my most favorite things to cook with! I have used it in kimchi, soups, marinades, and this spicy Korean chicken recipe. The inspiration for this recipe came in culinary school. All of us students were learning to break down chickens, having cooked the breast the day before, the thigh and drumsticks we used for fried chicken. We were left with a large amount of wings to figure out something to do with. My chef instructor Chef Kim, (who is Korean) fried up the wings and tossed them in a sauce he made with gochujang, honey, and a little salt. They were so delicious, that afterward I went straight to an Asian market and bought some gochujang paste. I jazzed up the sauce a little till I got the perfect balance of spicy, sour, and sweet! And instead of wings I use cubed up chicken thighs. This is seriously one of my family’s favorite meals.   My brothers say every time I make it “there is never enough”. In the picture it looks like a lot because I double the recipe, regularly it feeds 4-5 

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Spicy Korean Chicken

·         5 Chicken Thighs

·         3 Tablespoons Cornstarch

·         1 Egg

·         Salt and Pepper to Taste

·         3 Tablespoons oil (cooking)

·         2 chopped green onions (garnish)

Sauce

·         2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce

·         ½ Teaspoon Red Chili Flakes

·         1 Clove Garlic (minced)

·         2 Tablespoons Honey

·         1 Tablespoon Gochujang Paste

Cut chicken into one inch pieces, place in bowl with cornstarch, egg, and salt and pepper, mix together to create batter around the chicken. Set aside. In another large bowl combine soy sauce, red chili flakes, minced garlic, honey and gochugang paste with a pinch of salt and pepper, whisk together to form the sauce. Set aside. In a frying pan heat cooking oil (I use avocado oil) to meadum/hight heat. Cook chicken in 2-3 additions making sure not to over crowd the pan, after about 3 min each side remove to paper towel lined plate. Once all chicken is cooked dump into bowl with sauce, toss together till chicken is thoroughly coated with sauce. Serve with rice and a sprinkle with chopped green onions.

Zuppa Toscana Soup (My Way)

When I tried the Zuppa Toscana soup at olive garden, back when I was a teenager, the first thing I did afterward was go straight home and try to recreate it! After many years and lots of research and development, I have finally arrived at a recipe I like better.  It’s super simple to make and somehow transcends the seasons, it’s a good summer soup as well as a great fall/winter soup!

As with most things in life food is only as good as the ingredients you put into it. I used fresh lacinato kale (dinosaur kale) form the garden, whole cream (from a local dairy), organic potatoes, homemade chicken stock, and fresh herbs from the herb garden on our deck. I did use canned corn because it’s all we had at the time I was making this but fresh corn cut from the cob would make it especially delicious.

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Zuppa Toscana

  •      2 Quarts Chicken Stock
  •      Whole Medium Onion (diced)
  •      3 Cloves Garlic (minced)
  •      1lb Italian Sausage
  •      ½ Teaspoon. Red Pepper Flakes
  •      3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
  •      2 Bay Leaves
  •      1 Tablespoon Fresh Parsley (finely chopped)
  •      5-7  Potatoes 
  •      1 Cup Cream
  •      1 Larch Bunch Kale (woody stems removed, chopped)
  •      1 Can Corn or 3 Fresh Cobs (corn cut from cob)

In a large pot cook onions and garlic 1 min. on medium heat. Add sausage and brown. Add thyme, bay leaves, red pepper flakes and cook for a minute to bloom spices.  Pour in stock and diced potatoes; bring to a boil and cook potatoes at a good simmer till potatoes are tender, about 8 to 10 min.  Add chopped kale and corn cook for another 2 min. finish with cream and chopped parsley.  Serves about 6-8, soup can be frozen for up to 3 months, if you are planning on freezing it reduce the cook time of the potatoes to about 5 min.

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Sea Scallop Pasta With Spinach And Pistachio Pesto

Pesto is one of the best things to have on hand for delicious meals in a pinch. When I make pesto I like to make a large batch and freeze it for later.  Another thing I love about pesto is how versatile it is, it’s so easy to exchange ingredients for different varieties and flavors, for example I have used walnuts or pecans in place of the classic pine nut. I have also experimented with the basil, trading it out for parsley, kale, green peas and even nettles (which was delicious).  For this recipe I used spinach and tarragon for the greens and pistachios for the nuts.

When making pesto its easiest to use a food processor, though you can manually chop all the ingredients if you don’t have one. I basically just throw all the ingredients, except the olive oil, in the food processor and pulse till fully combined and until it's the consistency I want, (I like it with some texture, not completely smooth) then I add in the olive oil at the end and mix it slowly. Sometimes if you over mix olive oil it can taste bitter that’s why I mix it at the end.

A few tips for cooking scallops: I used small bay scallops because that’s what was good at my grocery store. These tips also apply for cooking larger diver scallops as well (maybe ever better). Make sure you clean and dry them really well, a dry scallop is critical for searing an browning, all the excess liquid will end up only steaming and you won’t get any color. Salt and pepper them lightly and make sure you pan is hot!! If your pan is not hot enough they will stick bad! Don’t over crowd your pan, they need room for the steam to dissipate or again, you won’t develop color. Scallops cook really quickly and because they are so small they carryover cook after you remove them from the pan so only cook them for no longer than 3 min. on each side depending on the size. For my small scallops I only cooked them about a min on each side.

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Spinach Pistachio Pesto

  •       2 Cups Packed Spinach
  •        ½ Cup Tarragon Leaves
  •       3 Cloves Garlic
  •       ½ Cup Parmesan Cheese
  •       1 Cup Roasted (unsalted) Pistachios
  •       ½ Olive Oil
  •       ½ teaspoon Lemon Zest
  •       1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
  •       Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor add all ingredients except for the oil, pulse till combined and the texture you like. Add the oil and pulse to combine. Store in an air tight container in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for 3 months.

Scallop Pesto Pasta

  •       1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
  •       ½ Cup Pesto
  •       ½ Cup Cream
  •       1lb Scallops
  •       1 Package Pasta (about 12 oz dried)
  •       ¼ Cup Reserved Pasta Water
  •       Salt and Pepper To Taste

Cook Pasta as directed on package with plenty of salt in the water. Heat cast Iron pan (heavy bottomed pan) to medium/high heat, add a little oil and gently layer in washed and dried scallops. Cooking in 2 to 3 additions, sear the scallops for about 1-3 min (depending on size) gently turn and cook another 1-2 min. remove to a plate and cook the rest of your scallops. In the same pan add in the cream and stir to remove and dissolve the bits from the pan. Add in the pesto and pix till sauce comes together, add in the cooked pasta and toss in the sauce. Add a little pasta water to loosen in needed. Top with cooked scallops and micro greens. Serve immediately. Make about 5-7 servings.

 

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Chicken Enchiladas with Homemade Salsa Verde

Don’t tell my mom, but I have never had better Mexican food then when I loved in San Diego! Everything was so fresh and authentic. I worked as a pantry chef In a high end restaurant, everyday someone in the kitchen was put in charge of what’s called “family meal” using up any leftovers he or she makes a meal for everyone on staff before dinner service starts. Usually nothing fancy but always delicious! Especially when our Sou chef was in charge! He was form Mexico and learned all he knew from his grandmother and years of hard work in restaurants all over Mexico and California.  I learned this salsa Verde recipe from him.  This recipe is basically a combination of my mom’s tried and true enchiladas and the salsa verde tricks I learned in the restaurant. 

Last summer we had jalapenos coming out of our ears; we made a LARGE batch and bottled it!  It’s been the go to quick and easy meal option all year!! Also as a disclaimer I don’t traditionally roll the enchiladas like most recipes call for.  We layer everything together almost like a lasagna. This trick I credit to my mother who having 6 hungry children needed to get dinner on the table fast! The method stuck mostly because it is fast and easy and it all tastes the same no matter how you roll it…or don’t……

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Salsa Verde

  •       1 bunch Cilantro stems and all
  •       1 large Onion
  •       5-6 Cloves Garlic
  •       Juice of 1 Lemon/Lime
  •       5-6 Jalapenos (Seeded if you don’t like it to hot)
  •       Large pinch of salt

Rough chop everything, place in blender with the lime juice and salt to taste, blend till smooth. At this point you can eat it with chips, put it in your tacos or make enchiladas with it!

  • Chicken Enchiladas
  •       1 package corn tortillas 
  •       3-4 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  •       1 recipe salsa Verde
  •       1 cup sour cream (or Greek yogurt)
  •       5-6 large chicken breast (if thighs use 7-8)
  •       1 teaspoon chicken base (better then Bullion)
  •       2 tablespoon corn starch (mixed in to your sour cream)
  •       1 can black olives (chopped)

Set oven to 375. In a large pot cook off the chicken on medium to high heat with a little olive oil, add in the salsa Verde, sir to combine. Add sour cream and corn starch mixture to chicken. Cook for about 3-4 min to allow sauce to fully thicken. Take off heat. In a 9” by 13” baking dish spoon a little of the sauce (without chicken bits if you can) in the bottom of the pan. Layer in tortillas to fully cover the bottom of the pan. Add about a 1/3 of the chicken mixture and spread it around. Sprinkle on about 1/3 of the olives. Sprinkle on a thin layer of cheese (saving most of it for the top) add another layer of tortillas and repeat till pan is full. I usually get about three layers of everything. Cover with remaining cheese and bake at 375 for 20-30 min. (every oven is different) 

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