My Favorite Quesadilla

No, I don't think anyone needs a recipe for a quesadilla. All you need to do is melt cheese in a tortilla. You can make them in the microwave, under the broiler or in a skillet. (My roommate last year actually had a designated quesadilla maker.)  You can keep them cheese-only, fill them with extras or put all the fun stuff on top. To each his own, really.

But let me tell you about my own.

My favorite quesadilla starts with a hot cast iron pan. With a little olive oil, I cook sweet bell peppers, onions, mushrooms and diced jalapeno. Salt and pepper. I push that to the side and lay down a tortillla…ideally it is a Trader Joe's Truly Handmade tortilla. I add shredded Monterey Jack (not a ton) and put the vegetables on top to melt the cheese faster. When the cheese is gooey and the tortilla slightly crisp, I slide it on a plate, squeeze fresh lime juice all over and fill the quesadilla with cilantro before folding it in half. Depending on the day, I might also smother the whole thing with sour cream.
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So, no, you don't need a recipe for a quesadilla. But if you were looking for some inspiration, just gaze at that photo a little longer.

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Grilled Cheese with Butternut Squash, Onions, Balsamic Syrup

Harvest Melt

Los Angeles, great city that it is, has a gourmet grilled cheese truck that announces its location on Twitter each day. My coworker Aaron had been keeping tabs on it, so when it came near the office he drove me and our other coworker Allie to the parking lot where the truck had set up shop. We had to wait in line for 25 minutes, but we weren't disappointed. Aaron got a sandwich filled with mac-and-cheese, Allie had brie and pears on cranberry-walnut bread, and I had the Harvest Melt: Gruyère, roasted butternut squash, leeks and balsamic-agave syrup. Brilliant.

Harvest Melt

Yesterday Allie came over and I tried to recreate the Harvest Melt in all its glory. I'm happy to say it was a success.

The grilled cheese was so good, so satisfying, that I didn't even think about other food until dinner. A rare occurence for me. But the squash, the onions, the balsamic… the cheese… the perfectly grilled toast… Pause for a few moments of reverie.

Even better, I don't need to use Twitter or get in a car to have one.

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Tomato Crostini with Goat Cheese and Taleggio

I get a little dizzy thinking back to how good these simple little toasts were. I mean, they're just cheese on cheese on sauce on toast, but they are much, much more. They're heavenly. I first had these at the Chef's Academy cooking demo . I liked them so much, I had to recreate a version of my own.

Chefs Leo Goodloe and Suzanne Winn made a killer sauce from scratch, and I went with some from a jar, but it didn't matter. The goat cheese and taleggio really make this. I mean, seriously, how amazing is cheese?

These toasts are a great appetizer for a party or a delicious snack for yourself.

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Empanadas with Swiss Chard, Ricotta and Bell Pepper

empanadasThe great thing about empanadas is that anything goes. Whatever you have in the kitchen can be sealed in dough, then baked or fried. It's a fun way to play with flavor combinations.

I knew I wanted swiss chard and ricotta together. I had some shallots, so in those went. Some salt, pepper and lemon juice to bring out the taste of everything. I found the chard to be a little bitter still, so I diced some red bell pepper and added that for sweetness. It worked! Flavor and color balance with one addition.

empanadas

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even if you end up with a tasty but monochromatic empanada filling, it doesn't matter because it all gets wrapped up anyway. (I've been working on my empanada sealing technique. It's not quite there, but I have a few weeks left to master it before I leave Buenos Aires.)

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Goat Cheese and Jalapeño Polenta with Black Bean Salad

jalapeno-polenta-bean-salad

This dish started because I wanted to do something with polenta. I turned to Plate Online, which has recipes from many well-known chefs and restaurants. I saw a recipe for goat cheese polenta fries and another for soft polenta with jalapeños and bleu cheese. I had goat cheese in the fridge, and I don't care for bleu cheese unless it is with something really sweet, so I combined the two ideas.

Then I remembered I had black beans soaking in water already (As my friend Kat noted, of course that would be something I would do, start soaking dried beans one night for no particular reason).

I googled polenta and black beans and saw an idea to put a black bean salad on top of creamy polenta. So that was it, I bought a bell pepper and lime, then made do with everything else I already had.

The result was very satisfying. I loved the flavor of the polenta. The beans and bell pepper offered contrasting texture, and the guacamole was a cool balance to the spice of the jalapeños. I would have liked some fresh cilantro but the store didn't have it. I used a good amount of ground coriander in the salad, though.

All in all, a tasty dish, and a nice alternative to rice and beans.

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