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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Baco Flatbread


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How could you not want something described as a “gyro-pizza-taco”?

When I read the LA Times piece about the baco last year, I made a mental note and a digital bookmark to come back to it. Since then, the chef who invented the baco, Josef Centeno,  has opened another restaurant in LA, and the baco is back in the press. Though I haven't made it yet to the Lazy Ox Canteen for an official baco, I baked up some of Centeno's signature flatbread and created some sandwiches of my own. (For something fun to do, read the Lazy Ox menu.)

From what I've read, there are two things that make a baco a baco. First is the bread. Like my naan recipe, this flatbread calls for plain yogurt. What's different is the addition of lime juice, ginger, garlic and dried lavender. Second is the mix of sauces and international influences:

  • In addition to the original baco, now made with pork belly and red wine-braised paleron (pot roast), Centeno makes four variations. The vegetarian baco centers on crisp Japanese eggplant; lamb sausage baco has croquettes made from potato and morcilla (a Spanish blood sausage) and caraway-pepper sauce; the el pollo baco features chicken escabeche (marinated chicken) radicchio and zhoug, a spicy chile sauce from Yemen; and the pesco baco is a tasty composition of panko-crusted albacore, pickled onion, and four (count them) different sauces. (From the LA Times)

After I made the bread, we did a Mexican-spiced chicken with fresh tomato-avocado salsa, the ginger-lime-lavender yogurt mixture, and a smoky homemade chili sauce. Another afternoon I filled one with a mixture of chicken, pork and sausage in a sweet Vietnamese sauce, along with lettuce, cucumber and tomato in a Persian yogurt-based dressing, and the spicy chili sauce — basically whatever leftovers I found in the fridge.

So now that you have the flatbread recipe, what will you put in your baco?

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Salsa Verde Baked Cod with Pineapple-Poblano Salsa

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Call this my California comeback meal.

I cooked very differently in Argentina. I used almost exclusively Argentine products, except some spices I brought with me. I was cooking meals for me and only me, so I was less adventurous, plus my kitchen was less stocked. (Ask Marissa, who said she’d never seen a fridge of mine so empty.) And when I went out for meals, it was mostly for Argentine or Italian, nothing with much spice. So I looked forward to the flavors I’d return to in Los Angeles.

pineapple-poblano-salsaCilantro, lime and chilies — one of my favorite combinations, common in Mexican and Indian cuisine — came together in two components of this fish. First, a salsa verde, which cooks with the fish, then a pineapple and roasted poblano salsa served on top.
Does it need both? Maybe not, but we had produce to use up, and the two salsas work together nicely. The tomatillo sauce keeps the fish moist while baking, and I loved the sweet, sour and spicy addition of chunky pineapple-poblano salsa.

We served the fish with cilantro rice, quesadillas and a salad with my cilantro-lime dressing (used before on an Ahi Tuna Tostada and Fiesta Quinoa). The meal was very California, and I liked it.

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Goan-Style Roast Chicken and Gingered Split Peas

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Cilantro, lime, garlic, ginger, jalapenos, cinnamon and cloves…

If that ingredient list doesn't get you excited, then I don't know what you're doing here. Now, imagine all those cooking together on a chicken. Smelling that in the oven for an hour and 20 minutes was the best and worst thing ever — tortuously incredible. It was worth the wait though. This Goan-style chicken came from a recipe from chef Floyd Cardoz of Tabla in New York. I had to make it when I read that ingredient list.

Normally I would resent spending $1.50 on 40 grams of cilantro, but a 5-pound chicken only cost US$3, so I can't possibly complain. I recently calculated that I have spent $200 on two months' worth of groceries in Buenos Aires. That includes several items that will last me the rest of my time here. When I don't cook at home, I mostly get street food, which will fill me up for $3 or $4. I love it here.

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But back to the chicken, it was incredibly tasty. I ate it with gingered split peas and chapati, an Indian flatbread. A very satisfying dinner with plenty of leftovers.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Lime, Chili and Bacon

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Do you know how many variations of butternut squash soup there are? I really was surprised to find so many different recipes for something I had thought was pretty standard.

Do you start with mirepoix (carrots, celery, onion) or just squash? Do you simmer the raw squash in stock or cook it in the oven first? Do you add cream? Flavor it with nutmeg or something else? You probably can’t go wrong. I’ve yet to try a butternut squash soup I didn’t enjoy.

But here’s one more version, and I only share it because in my searching I didn’t see a recipe exactly like it. I’m always trying to do something a little different, and I’m happy because this soup is simple but has a few elements to make it interesting. A quick breakdown:

  • Squash and onions (if you have a flavorful stock, I say don’t bother cutting up anything else)
  • Vegetables are roasted for deeper flavor
  • No cream to weigh it down
  • Lime juice serves as the acid (instead of commonly used apple cider)
  • Crisp bacon or pancetta pieces make each bite better
  • Cayenne or chili powder for kick


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Ginger-ade

I have a growing obsession with ginger. It’s a strong flavor, but I love it. Ginger ale is the only soda I still drink. Reed’s Ginger Brew or Bundaberg’s Ginger Beer are even better.

I tried making my own ginger ale after finding a recipe at An Hour in the Kitchen and I had whey leftover from making cheese. Then I tried a ginger beer recipe from a Caribbean cookbook I found at the library. Waiting for the proper chemical reactions to take place wasn’t my favorite, so I started experimenting.

I came up with something I call ginger-ade. It’s not ginger ale, ginger beer or ginger juice, but a very flavorful ginger drink. It’s ginger-infused water, mixed with honey and other fruit juices. And you don’t have to wait a few days for the mixture to ferment. (If you want bubbles though, add soda water.)

The recipe can be tweaked depending on your tastes and what you have on hand. I’ve made versions with orange juice, limeade and pineapple juice. However you do it, the result is a tangy, refreshing drink that’s a mix of citrus, spice and ginger. And it makes your stomach feel amazing.

Also see: Ginger Berry Ice Cream

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