Italian Grilled Cheese

Italian fare has always been a comfort food to me. The pastas, the bruschetta, the caprese salad, they’re all so simple yet produce such delicious flavors, it’s impossible not to become hooked. Strangely enough, all these years of Italian cooking has made it feel like second-nature, much more so than my own native Korean cuisine. In fact, Italian is kind of the natural language that my gastronomical mind speaks. Maybe it’s because Italian food is an endless victim of Americanization, constantly appearing in jars of spaghetti sauce, as the ubiquitous pizza pie or as the standard fettuccine alfredo, which Americans have butchered by the way. Just something about Italian naturally aligns with American, and therefore the food I always eat.

So even as a Korean girl who grew up eating Korean food, Asian flavors are often foreign and difficult to grasp while pasta is just another meal of the week. Funny how being Korean-American has affected my palate.

Having this proclivity for Italian food, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my refrigerator is always stocked with fresh mozzarella, salami and prosciutto, that I have a basil plant sitting on my kitchen windowsill and that a plump can of tomatoes always waits in the pantry.

This grilled cheese was the perfect vehicle to combine these abundant ingredients, and made a quick lunch too. I used a sliced sourdough bread (my favorite) and slathered each exposed side with mayonnaise (not butter!) to create a beautiful, even crust that didn’t burn and tasted wonderfully buttery. It’s my tip of the day, that mayonnaise, so keep it in mind whenever you make grilled cheese in the future.

Italian Grilled Cheese

Servings: 1 grilled cheese

Ingredients:

2 slices of your bread of choice (I used sourdough)

4 slices of fresh mozzarella or enough to generously cover one slice of bread

1 slice of prosciutto, 2 slices of salami (you can change the proportions and combination to whatever you prefer)

2 slices of tomato (this does add a good dose of moisture a.k.a. can result in some sogginess, so emit this if you’d like)

4-5 leaves of fresh basil

Mayonnaise to coat the bread

Directions:

1. Layer all the ingredients inside your sandwich.

2. Then, slather mayo onto one side of bread, making sure to go all the way to the edges.

3. Place the sandwich, mayo side down, onto a hot pan. You don’t need any oil.

4. While that side is toasting, slather the side up with mayo as well.

5. Flip over when the first side is golden and then cook the sandwich until the other side is toasted and the cheese is melted. Try to press the sandwich down while it’s cooking to create a panini-effect. I used my potato masher to do that.

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Fish Tacos with Cumin-Mint Mayo

There’s nothing simpler and more wonderful then a good taco. I still remember my first one, devoured at a New York street market, juicy carnitas drizzled with spicy salsa enfolded by a warm corn tortilla. Hot juices dripping down my chin and fingers, light heat spreading over my tongue; I greedily polished it off in three short bites. Two years later and the taste still lingers in my mouth, the memory still fresh. It was one of those perfect summer days. Warm and balmy, spent with a few friends browsing an outdoor market and eating homemade popsicles (I had hibiscus-berry) while shopping for cheap jewelry. The days spent doing nothing are always the best days.

I was watching Aarti Sequeira’s (Aarti Parti) old Youtube videos the other night and got hooked for hours. I mean literally until 5 a.m. When she did a demo on her fish tacos I knew I had to make them – they looked so easy! With most of the ingredients already in my kitchen and backyard, there was no excuse not to.

With coriander-chile-marinated white fish, tangy cabbage and an addicting cumin-mint mayo dressing, these tacos have an Indian flavor that’s irresistible. Having a few avocados on hand, I fixed up some quick guacamole as a side and the meal was complete. For someone who’s never made anything Indian-inspired, this dish feels really special and different from the normal pasta. I recommend you try it for new flavors you’ll never forget!

Fish Taco Recipe found here: Aarti Parti (if you want a video demonstration from her, here it is)

*I didn’t have ancho chile powder so I just used McCormick’s “Mexican Chile Powder.” Instead of garlic powder, I grated in a fresh garlic clove. You can just mince one in instead if you don’t have a grater.

*Instead of banana peppers, I served the tacos with diced tomatoes, diced red onion, chopped cilantro and the cabbage in the recipe. Seriously delicious!

Guacamole

Ingredients:

2 Avocados

Juice of 1 Lime (you can use less if you want)

1/2 Tomato, cubed

1/4 White Onion, diced

As much cilantro as desired (I was liberal)

Directions:

How to cube your avocados: Slice the avocados in half down the length of the avocados and twist them open. Take your knife and cleanly lodge it into the pit with one quick hack. Twist the knife to the side and the pit should slide right out. Then sliced a grid into the avocado with vertical and horizontal lines, and scoop out the flesh with a spoon into your guacamole bowl. You should have cubed avocado in no time! (Here’s a video demo)

1. Do this with one avocado first and mash up the cubes until smooth. Then cube in the second avocado and mash this in lightly to keep some of the chunky texture. It’s the combination of smooth and chunky that I really love in guacamole.

2. Then throw in the onions, tomatoes, lime juice and chopped cilantro and mix the whole thing together.

Voila! Easy as that! Some people forgo the onions and tomatoes, claiming to be guacamole purists. If you align with that crowd, go right ahead and follow that ingredient list. Enjoy!

Mushroom Marsala Redux with Savory Crepes

If you want savory, this is it. Sweet red onions shrunk down to slivers of caramelized goodness; velvety, earthy mushrooms cooked until buttery and soft; marry them together in creamy marsala sauce and tuck inside the fold of delicate crepe. Yes, indeed, that sounds like savory. It’s quite a mouthful, but it’s a delicious mouthful, created on a day when I couldn’t find anything decent in the fridge.

When I say nothing decent I mean: no meat, no bread, no cheese. What’s a girl to make without the basics? Okay, okay. I know there has to be something. I just really like my meat, bread and cheese.

Lucky for me, I happened upon the pleasant surprise of oyster, shiitake and baby bella mushrooms sitting inside the vegetable crisper, courtesy of a solo trip to the supermarket by my mom. And I thought what better way to cook these than make a marsala sauce?

Add some chicken and a sprinkle of chives, maybe a little parmesan, and you have a full meal in front of you. Unfortunately, I had no chicken, or chives or parmesan…so the photos are pretty bland (and not very well-taken, I apologize). But at least the recipe I’m giving you isn’t! Enjoy, and let me know what you think (this chicken marsala recipe is the first on the blog that I wrote up on my own).

Crepes (Recipe adapted from Alton Brown at Food Network)

*I suggest making these crepes when you’re halfway through with the chicken marsala, at step 5 or 6.

Servings: About three 12-inch diameter crepes

Ingredients:

1 egg
1/3 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Flour
1 1/2 Tablespoon Butter
Pinch of Salt

Directions:

1. Blend all the ingredients together in a big bowl.

2. Let it rest for about 10 minutes so that the air bubbles in the batter subside.

3. Heat up a non-stick pan to medium heat.

4. Grease the pan with a little pat of butter.

5. Take a ladle and pour in one ladleful of batter. Swirl the loose batter around the pan or push it gently with the ladle to create the shape that you desire (a circle, duh).

6. When little bubbles start to form in the batter, it’s ready to flip. (Remember, the first one is always the mess up crepe. After the first messy one, I promise the rest should form easily.)

Chicken Marsala

Servings: 1 person

Ingredients:

1 Small Chicken Breast
2 Baby Bella Mushrooms, sliced
2 Shiitake Mushrooms, sliced
2 Oyster Mushrooms, sliced
1/4 Medium Red Onion, roughly chopped or sliced
1/4 Cup Marsala Wine (I used Holland House’s Marsala Cooking Wine – I definitely recommend it but with a warning: it’s pretty salty)
1-2 Tablespoons Milk or Heavy Cream (whatever you have on hand; I had milk)
Canola or Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1 Tablespoon Grated Parmesan
1 Tablespoon Fresh Chives, chopped

Directions:

1. Pour some canola or olive oil into a pot and cook the chicken breast until fully cooked. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Remove chicken onto a side plate and let rest at least 10 minutes. Then slice.

3. Add more oil into the pot and sautée the red onions until translucent. Scrape the bits left by the chicken into the onions.

4. Add the sliced mushrooms and sautée until they soften and reduce down in size. Season with salt and pepper.

5. When the mushrooms have developed some color, add the marsala wine. Let the wine reduce by half.

6. Add 1 tablespoon of milk or heavy cream. Taste and if you find the marsala too strong for you, add another tablespoon. I found 1 tbsp to be enough though.

7. Let simmer and thicken to the consistency you want. Remember you want enough sauce to coat the chicken and then some. Taste the sauce and if needed, season with salt and pepper.

8. Finish off with a pat of butter and mix until blended.

9. Add the sliced chicken and thoroughly coat the chicken with sauce.

10. Serve on top of or wrapped inside crepes with a sprinkle of grated parmesan and fresh chives.

Bacon and Scallion Potato Hash

This summer, mornings have felt mostly spiritless, but every once in a while, I wake up with a spark of inspiration. And when that happens, I make breakfast. A real breakfast, which in today’s case was: bacon and scallion potato hash, smoked salmon with dijon-mayonnaise dressing, and a soft-boiled egg.

What’d you say? There’s no egg in the photo up there? Yeah, I forgot the egg. Sorry, I’m still a newbie.

Anyways, the beauty of potato hash is the simplicity. Throw together what you like and you’ll have a hash that you like. In this case, I sautéed some sweet white onions, tossed in a little bacon, cubed boiled potatoes, and rosemary and finished it off with the refreshing crunch of sliced scallions. And I gotta say, it was delicious. Along with some toasted sourdough bread and a soft-boiled egg, the meal was a success in my book.

I recommend playing around with flavors. Maybe use sweet potatoes, sage and pancetta or do a classic ham, green and red pepper combo with a fried egg on top. Have fun with it!


Bacon and Scallion Potato Hash

If some of the seasonings and herbs for this dish (the cumin and rosemary) don’t seem to make sense together it’s probably because they don’t. I tend to use a lot of random things to see how they turn out and this dish was pretty yummy so I won’t fib and am giving you the exact ingredients I used.

Servings: A generous one-person meal, at least for this small Asian girl

Ingredients:

2-3 slices of bacon, diced. I also like to cut off some of the fat and reserve it for cooking rather than eating.
1 medium boiled potato, cubed
1/2 small onion, diced
1 scallion, sliced
2 sprigs of rosemary, the leaves taken off and finely chopped
A few dashes of cumin
Salt and pepper

Directions:

1. Heat a pot of well-salted water and bring it to a boil. Then boil your potato until fully cooked a.k.a. fork tender.
2. Let the potato cool until you can handle it and then cube into 1/2 – 1 inch cubes.
3. Sautée the bacon until it develops color and is a bit crispy. Throw in the separated pieces of fat as well – that stuff is flavor! Remove the bacon, making sure to keep the rendered fat in the pan, into a separate bowl. And throw out that extra fat.
4. Toss in the diced onion and rosemary with the bacon juices until the onions are translucent.
5. Now put in the cubed potatoes, your cumin, salt and pepper into the pan. Sautée together while pressing down the potatoes to slightly flatten them into disks and create a crust. Taste everything and adjust the seasoning to your liking.
5. When the potatoes are crispy and brown, and the onions have more color, throw in the bacon and bring it up to temp. Then, toss in your scallions and mix everything together.
6. Plate and enjoy!

Dijon-Mayonnaise Dressing for the Smoked Salmon

Ingredients:

Lemon juice
Dijon mustard
Mayonnaise
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Directions:

Do a 1 to 1 to 1/2 ratio of dijon mustard to mayo to lemon juice, respectively. Pour in a bit of olive oil to loosen up the dressing but be cautious with it. Do a little at a time until it tastes right and is quite loose. Season with salt and pepper if necessary.