Saturday, January 27

Escarole & Walnut Pizza

Last night a couple of couples came over for dinner and to talk about doing effects for our movie. I figured that since it was Friday night and I wanted to keep it casual, so I decided to make it another pizza night. Sick of pizza recipes yet? Well I did a couple of my standards and then added the Escarole and Walnut Pizza. I think it's my new favorite. Here's the recipe:


1 recipe pizza dough
4 walnuts, chopped coarsely
Walnut oil
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 small red onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small head Escarole, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces
Balsamic vinegar to taste
pinch of chili flakes
5 oz Fontina cheese, grated

While the dough rises, preheat oven to 350. Toss the walnuts in a splash of walnut oil and roast for about 5 min.

Heat 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet and saute onions for 3-4 min until softened. Stir in garlic, escarole, salt and cover. Reduce heat and let cook down for a few minutes. Adjust salt and add vinegar, chili and pepper.

Preheat oven to 500 and warm pizza stone for 20 min.

Shape dough, place on parchment paper and cut around dough. Brush with olive oil. Distribute most Fontina, cover with escarole, walnuts and the rest of the cheese.

Bake for 12 min until the edges are nicely browned.


Thursday, January 18

All the News...

I have been writing...just not here. Sorry. I know I haven't been very good about blogging this week. A lot of other things have been going on, I'll try to list them in order of importance.

1) We finally (FINALLY!) got enough commitments from investors to move forward with our feature film project. It's called PRESENCE. I just paid our attorney his retainer and he's drawing up the official paperwork as I write this. Needless to say, after about three years of working towards this, Bryan and I are pretty excited. This leads me to tell anyone who's interested that we'll begin blogging about our filmmaking experience. Last summer I planned to do this on our Drifter Pictures blog. The same first blog is still there. This will be updated soon.

2) I'm finally (FINALLY!) almost finished with my novel. I've been working on it since last summer and last weekend my mom came to LA to spend a couple of days editing it with me. She was incredibly helpful and I have one final polish to do, probably this weekend, before I start sending it out to agents and publishers. I know most writers would take longer on their polish but the fact is I don't sweat the small stuff. I like to move forward, and besides, it's a teen mystery novel, not exactly Graham Greene material.

3) I am an official SAT tutor. I can teach you how to take the SATs, and how to improve your score. It's taken a bit of prep time to do this, but now I'm just waiting to be assigned my first students.

4) Our neighbors are moving to Austin. While I'm sad to see Polly and Charlie go because I like them a lot, this will mean that Mel now has the backyard. She is thrilled. We had kept her somewhat confined before because we share a yard with the front house and Polly was allergic to dogs, but now, the landlord is telling all the potential tenants that Mel has free reign in the yard. It's nice when landlords are cool like that. We've really lucked out with this place.

5) I haven't been cooking or gardening lately (see #'s 1, 2 & 3) so I've been lacking in the material for this site. Things are beginning to feel like they're settling down, and finishing my novel will help, so I'm sure I'll be returning to these, or at least to cooking, very very soon.

In the indomitable spirit of the NY Times: That's all the News that's Fit to Print.

Friday, January 12

Spinach Lasagna

As promised, here's my recipe for Spinach Lasagna. By my I really mean our recipe (mine, mom's and, oh yeah, Deborah Madison, from whom we cribbed this).

I'm going to explain this in the order in which I usually make it (which is rare because it does take some time). These amounts work in my mom's big lasagna pan, I'd halve most of it for a smaller pan. Also, I made an obscene amount of pasta dough thinking I'd have a ton extra. Because I made this without the benefit of a pasta machine (I had stolen my mom's years ago so now hers lives in LA), so the noodles were divinely thick. I hand rolled them out. You probably wouldn't need to make this much dough if you were using a machine.

In Order:
I have to admit that mine is different every time I make it. Basically I use whatever veggies are in the fridge and about to turn on me (I've made it with fennel and zucchini and all sorts of crazy things) For a recipe like this though it would go something like:

Olive Oil
2 leeks, cleaned and diced
1 carrot, diced
1 purple or yellow onion
Some garlic cloves crushed
1 celery stalk, diced
1 LARGE can of diced tomatoes
A cup-ish of red wine
Splash of balsamic or red wine vinegar
maybe some sugar
2-6 fresh tomatoes (depending on what's on hand) - I don't bother to peel and seed these, I just toss them in the processor and process them for a few pulses
Herbs: basil, bay lead, oregano, a twig of fresh thyme if possible, salt, pepper etc.

So it's pretty basic: Heat the olive oil. Saute the veggies (up to the canned tom's) until they're soft. Add the canned tomatoes, fresh tom's, wine, vinegar, sugar, and herbs and let simmer until it thickens. Sometimes I'll also add veggie broth and then let that cook down. For this lasagna, I made all of this the night before I assembled it and let it just sit on the cold stove overnight. (This is what I then processed a few days later to make the pizza sauce)

Next step: I make the Pasta dough (I quadrupled
this recipe, but for a small dish I'd just double it)


1 cup all-purpose flour (I'm not going to preach about this anymore, but seriously, BUY ORGANIC STONE-GROUND FLOUR - it will taste better)
1 large egg
1 tsp olive oil
some water, maybe

You know the drill. Mound the flour, make a well. Beat egg & oil in well, gradually incorporating the surrounding flour. Get all the flour mixed in and then add a few drops of water if it needs to be brought together.

Kneed for 10 minutes. Cover and let rest for at least 1 hour.

While the dough is resting, I move on:


The key with this is really the lemon zest. It makes the dish divine. DO NOT LEAVE IT OUT...otherwise you'll end up with just your average, if tasty, lasagna.

2-3 bunches of spinach, thoroughly washed (you can substitute frozen or baby, but it won't be as good)
Olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves
Salt, pepper, nutmeg
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 cup Parmesan
2 tsp lemon zest

Chop spinach. Saute onions & garlic in oil. Add spinach and salt. Cook until wilted; move to a bowl and combine with cheeses, eggs, parley and lemon zest. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.


Grate 8-16 oz of mozzarella cheese. We always use regular, though the recipe suggests fresh, which I will be trying next time.

Now I make the sauce for the bottom and top of the lasagna:


2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups milk
Salt, pepper and nutmeg

Melt butter and add the flour. Cook over low for 2 - 3 minutes to get rid of the starchy flavor of flour. Stir constantly. Scald the milk in a separate pan and then and stir it into the butter combo. Whisk away! Season and cook on low for 15 min, occasionally stirring until thickened.

ROLL OUT YOUR DOUGH and cook the pieces in boiling water. Don't leave them in a heap, they'll stick. Rinse in cold water and stretch out over kitchen towels.


I always butter the pan just in case. Then spread half of the bechamel over the bottom of the pan. Follow with a layer of noodles. Now some tomato sauce and a layer of cheese. Now the Spinach. Then noodles. Now a layer of spinach filling. Noodles. Tomato sauce and cheese. Noodles. Filling. Noodles. On top should be Bechamel and some extra cheese. Maybe even a grating of Parmesan.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes, covered with tin foil, and then another 25 with the foil off. (this is what the recipe says, but we find it takes twice that time. Also I baked mine for 20 minutes with foil - to cook the eggs then let it come to room temp and froze it for a couple of days. We let it sit out for a day before we reheated it, leaving the tin off to brown the top)

Good times. Great Lasagna.

I should go into advertising.

Wednesday, January 10

Pizza! Pizza! Pizza! and the SATs

Ok I'm back. Sorry for the delay in getting more of these recipes up online. I've been studying for the SATs.

SATs!?!?! you exclaim, upon reading this. You're no high school Junior! What are you doing?!?!

Well, let me tell you. I just got a job tutoring for the SATs. I did this back when I was in college but it didn't pay well enough to balance out the cost of gas to get to students' houses. Now, however, the folks I used to work for have formed a new company that only hires experienced SAT tutors and pays them about 3xs the going rate. So it's a no-brainer. I'm in.

I spent the weekend in training and was supposed to go in and do a pretend lesson with my trainer to determine my pay rate, but he's sick and so here I am, posting recipes.

I last posted about the Enchiladas I made on Christmas Night, so that brings us to the day after Christmas. Another full day of entertaining, Christmas Post was a day filled with lunch with Kristie and her new husband and stepdaughter, and then dinner with the Reynolds (my mom's side of the family). So we'll do lunch today. I figured that as there was a seven-year-old coming, the safest and most fun thing would be pizza. So pizza it was.

First of all, if you remember from before, I posted a recipe for Grape and Gorgonzola Pizza that I adapted from Gourmet magazine. I'm a huge, huge fan of this recipe, though it's not really the kind of thing you want to eat more than one or two slices. I thought a plain cheese would be safe, as would a veggie pizza. Because there were 10 of us I made an additional pesto pizza.

Here's the breakdown:

For the Dough (I quadrupled this recipe)
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour mixed with 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cups warm water (105-115F)
1 tsp salt
1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Pizza stone and parchment paper are ideal!

Make Dough: Stir together yeast, 1 Tbsp flour and 1/4 cup warm water and let stand until mixture appears creamy on surface, 5 min. (If mixture isn't creamy get new yeast)
Whisk salt into 1 1/4 cups flour in a large bowl, then add yeast mixture, oil and remaining 1/2 cup warm water. Stir in enough flour (1/4 to 1/2 cup) for dough to begin to peel away from side of bowl. (this dough may be stickier than others you're used to)

The dough also rises

Knead dough on a floured work surface with floured hands, adding flour as necceassary but as little as possible, until dough is smooth, about 8 - 10 minutes. Form dough into a tight ball and dust with flour. GENEROUSLY dust the inside of a bowl with flour, place dough in bowl, cover with a damp towell and let rise in a draft free place until doubled in bulk about 1 1/2 hours.

Shape Dough and Make Topping: At least 45 minutes before baking pizza, put pizza stone in the oven and preheat to 500F. Don't punch down dough. You want to work it as little as possible at this point. Gently stretch it out into a circular shape and place on a parchment lined pizza peel. Cut the parchment so that there is about an inch extra around the dough. Now top!

For the Toppings

Pizza Sauce
I made this myself from scratch by using my basic tomato sauce recipe leftovers from the lasagna. I'll post that recipe tomorrow along with the lasagna recipe. For now, suffice it to say that I processed the sauce until it was smooth.

Cheese Pizza
I used Fontina, Mozarrella and some Parmesan on this pizza, along with the sauce.

Veggie Pizza
This had a similar blend of cheeses over sauce, but then I also added sliced mini bell peppers, purple onions, marinated artichoke hearts, thinly sliced tomatoes, and some goat cheese.

Pesto Pizza
I'm embarrassed to say that I used pre-made pesto sauce from a plastic container from Jimbos. I just didn't have time to make mine from scratch. Over the pesto I used whatever cheese I had leftover and that pizza was finished.

The key was really the order in which these were served as I could only cook one at a time. Cheese came out first, in case any young ones were starving, then the veggie, grape and gorgonzola and finally the pesto. The pesto was really my extra one, but even that got almost completely consumed. What was leftover became appetizers for dinner.

It was the kind of cooking day that had the first group of people leave at the exact same time the next group arrived. Intense. No one ever said Christmas was meant to be restful. If it was, we'd all go to spas.

Tomorrow....more recipes.

Friday, January 5

Black Bean Enchiladas for Christmas Dinner

Christmas afternoon Bryan's parents and siblings came down to the house. I planned to do something easy. Ha! Perhaps I should have tried making something I had made before, but no, I only believe in experimenting on guests, especially if they're family.

I actually made the black bean chili that was to be the filling for the enchiladas the day before. I adapted the recipe from the one in Greens (leaving out the parts where I roast chilies to make my own chili powder). Once completed on Christmas Eve morning, I let it sit in the pot all day and night, since there was no meat in it, it was just fine. Here's the recipe:

Black Bean Chili

2 cups black beans soaked overnight (this is a really important step, I've screwed up this dish a couple of times before because I didn't soak the beans overnight)
1 bay leaf
4 tsp ground cumin
4 tsp dried oregano
4 tsp paprika
1 tsp cayenne
2 Tbsp red pepper (chili) flakes
3 Tbsp veg oil
3 medium yellow onions diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large can diced tomatoes, with juice

Sort beans from stones, rinse well, cover and let soak overnight. Next day, drain, cover with fresh water by an inch and bring to a boil with the bay leaf. Lower heat and let beans simmer while you prepare the rest.

Heat the oil in a skillet, and saute onions over medium heat until they are soft. Add garlic, herbs and spices and cook 5 min. Add tomatoes and juice. Simmer everything for 15 min, then add mixture to the beans and, if necessary, enough water so the beans are covered by 1 inch. Continue to cook the beans for an hour or so, keeping an eye on the water level.

When the beans are cooked taste and add salt and cilantro. Eat, use or let sit.

So once I had this chili, It was going to be easy to make black bean enchiladas, just add tortillas and cheese right? Wrong. I decided I'd be tricky and make up my own sauce for the enchiladas because I'm generally not a huge fan of enchilada sauce. Here's my secret recipe:

Ashley's Secret Enchilada Sauce

3 bell peppers (orange and yellow) roughly chopped
2 leeks, washed and chopped
4 tbsp butter
1 cup white wine
2 Tbsp sugar

Melt the butter in a skillet. Add bell pepper and leeks and saute for 5 min until they soften. Add wine and sugar and let cook down for 10 min until they turn a little syrup-y. Scrape into Food Processor or blender. Process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper as necessary.

That's it. Then to make the enchiladas (which in truth didn't really hold together that well because I didn't steam the tortillas first) cover the bottom of a baking pan with some sauce. Dredge a corn tortilla in the sauce. Place some chili and cheese (Monterrey jack worked nicely) in the tortilla and roll so that seam is at the bottom. Continue until pan is full. Cover with sauce and more cheese. Bake at 350 for about 30 min or until the cheese is melty.

Serve hot!

Wednesday, January 3

Christmas Morning Menu

After having spent all of Christmas Eve Eve shopping and cooking and then Christmas Eve cooking, I came down Christmas morning and fixed everyone breakfast. Mom will tell you that I woke up and came downstairs with a recipe in my hand. She's not lying. It's like a sickness.

Bagels with Cream Cheese and Tomatoes
Arugula, Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Frittata
Potato and Onion Cakes (Martha Stewart)

The bagels with cream cheese and tomatoes are obvious so I can't even create a recipe. As for the frittata, I think it would have been better with fresh tomatoes, but the sun-dried were tasty anyway. There were 7 of us so I beat 15 eggs with a dash of cream, a handful of chopped arugula, a cup of shredded Fontina (or Monterey Jack, I can't remember now) and a couple of Tablespoons of chopped S-D Tomatoes. I heated Butter in a pan until the foam subsided, added egg mixture, lowered heat, covered and let sit for about 15min. Because it was so big, I didn't bother with flipping it, but set it under the broiler instead. This was served with hot sauce.

These are divine. I got the recipe from Martha's magazine.

2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened, plus more for tin
1 Tbsp packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp Red Wine vinegar
2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
1 small red onion sliced into rounds
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes, coarsely grated
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 400F. Generously butter a muffin tin. Sprinkle each cup with salt, pepper and 1/2 tsp sugar. Drizzle each cup with 1/2 tsp each vinegar. Put a rosemary sprig in each cup and cover with an onion round (I ended up with quite a few outer onion rings as the rings you use should be the size of bottom of the cup). Set aside.

Toss potatoes with chopped rosemary and egg yolk, season with salt and pepper. Divide among cups. Dot with butter.

Bake until potatoes are tender and well browned, about 30 min. Remove and let cool 5 min. Run a knife around the edge of each cup, invert and serve.

These are so much better than has browns because the sugar and vinegar caramelizes the onions perfectly. They have a ton of flavor and not nearly the butter of a normal side of breakfast potatoes. So good. I wish I had a picture. But there you are. I didn't take any over Christmas.

Tuesday, January 2

Jan 2: The Inauguration of the Bar-B-Q and other News on the Food Front

I can think of no better way to spend an evening in January than barbecuing, if just for the fact that we live in a place where barbecuing in January is no big deal. Take that places that snow.

Go Baby Go!
Anyway, Greg gave us a fab new barbecue for Christmas (he had witnessed first hand the sad state our previous barbecue had fallen into - in our defense we did find the thing on the side of the house when we moved in and I spent a long day trying in vein to clean it up) and we thought it was high time we broke it in. After all the carbs and cheese that made up Christmas Eve, Christmas and Christmas Post, we were in need of some good ol' fashioned grilled fish. A trip to the downtown seafood market found us picking up some great halibut steaks and scallops for tomorrow (I just discovered I like them thanks to Xinyu).

By the way, the downtown seafood market is way better than Santa Monica Seafood, if just because it brings out a much wider cross section of clientele. Instead of being filled with bourgie Westsiders, this is filled with the real folk who work in the warehouses, live on the streets or are in business suits from working in the high rises downtown. Infinitely better and much more our speed. But I digress.

So now we have a working barbecue and until it starts raining again, we'll be using it regularly. But on to the aforementioned recipes from Christmas. I'll start in chronological order as best I can over the next few days.

Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
Pamplemousse Cocktail (Gourmet Magazine)
Roasted Asparagus (me)
Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese (Well Fed blog)
Leek and Mustard Pie (Greens)
Tilapia with Balsamic Butter Sauce (Gourmet Magazine, I think)

Pamplemousse Cocktail
(makes 6)
7 tablespoons water
5 tablespoons pomegranate juice
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoons honey
1 1/2 cups vodka
3/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
18 fresh mint leaves

Bring first 4 ingredients to boil in small saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. *can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated

Combine pom mixture, vodka, grapefruit & lime juice and mint leaves in a large pitcher. Fill with ice. Stir. Strain drink into Martini glasses. Serve!

Roasted Asparagus
I tossed asparagus with olive oil and garlic salt, placed in a roasting pan and set in an oven set to 450. We tossed the asparagus several times during the 15-20 min they cooked. It was served on lettuce and halved pear tomatoes tossed in champagne vinaigrette. Easy.

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese
This recipe is on Grant's blog called Well Fed. You should read this blog for really tasty things. I've liked everything I've cooked from it. CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE RECIPE.

Leek and Mustard Pie
Here's the thing about this recipe. It calls for tart dough, the recipe for which includes Crisco. We didn't have any Crisco and besides it full of trans fat which is, as we all know, as evil as eggs and meat once were but now maybe aren't. At any rate, I searched google for butter pie crust and made up a recipe. I can't even tell you because I also screwed it up but suffice it to say it involved butter, flour, salt, sugar and some ice water. The filling's the thing:

5 cups leeks (1 lb, trimmed) cut into 1/4 inch rings
3 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup white wine
2 eggs
1 cup creme fraiche
3 Tbsp coarse ground mustard
6 oz Gruyere Cheese
(here the recipe calls for Chives, which I didn't until now notice, but I actually added some Rabini - only because I found it at the farmer's market and was excited because I'd once spent an entire morning trying to track it down for a recipe - I blanched, chopped and added it too)

Get your dough ready.
Wash the leeks well (cut in half to split and get all the hiding dirt out). Melt the butter, add the leeks and cook 2 min, stirring.
Add wine and salt, cover, reduce heat and cook slowly until tender. 15 min. Check halfway thru and add more wine if necessary. Season with pepper.
Beat the eggs and stir in creme fraiche, mustard, leeks and grated cheese (and maybe those greens)
Preheat oven to 375F. Pour custard into shell, smooth top and add the illusive chives.
Bake pie until top is firm and golden brown. (this takes about 45min - 1 hr or about the time it took me to take a quick shower and dry, but poorly style, my hair - hence the ponytail).
Let sit 5 min. Serve. Eat. Go back for seconds.

Tilapia with Balsamic Butter Sauce
I didn't really follow the recipe very closely here so I'll improvise this. Basically I took about 1/4 cup of balsamic and red wine vinegar (I ran out of balsamic, hence the addition of the red wine vinegar) and reduced them with a little bit of butter for about 5 min. Once the vinegar was thick and syrup-y I whisked in about 1/2 stick of butter. This was the sauce drizzled on the fish and in the container beside them.

For the fish I washed, dried, salted and peppered the fillets, heated a bit of olive oil and pan fried them for about 3 min each side. Then I served them with the sauce on a warmed platter.

See how hard that was?


Check back tomorrow for Christmas breakfast - or as I like to call it BreakFEAST!

Monday, January 1

Happy New Year!!!

I think 2007 is going to be the year.

Stay tuned for all the holiday recipes from the cooking-fest that was Christmas. I'm a little exhausted at the moment, but you better believe some sweet (and savory) recipes are coming your way.

Thanks for reading in 2006.