Saturday, February 26, 2011

Return of the (chipotle) mac

Something about a brisk and sunny Saturday afternoon just makes me want to open the windows and spend some quality time in the kitchen. Today we revisit my favorite kitchen experiment - Chipotle Mac!

As always, this tasty treat just needed a little help to make it all the mac it could be.

Chipotle Mac
5 c medium pasta shells, cooked
6 tbsp butter
6 tbsp flour
2 1/2 c 2% milk
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground mustard
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 tbsp adobo sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 c gruyere, shredded
1 c vintage English cheddar, shredded
1 c extra sharp cheddar, shredded
3 tbsp panko
1 link chicken andouille sausage, chopped and browned
3 tbsp scallions, chopped

Combine milk, ground mustard, garlic powder, pepper, chili powder and bay leaf in a small saucepan and keep warm over medium low heat.

Heat butter and adobo sauce in a pot over medium low heat. Slowly whisk in flour. Once flour is incorporated, slowly pour in warm milk, whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Remove from heat and stir in cheeses.

Coat pasta with sauce and pour into a baking dish. Sprinkle with panko, sausage crumbles and scallions. 

Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 375. Remove foil and bake at 425 for another 5-10 minutes or until top starts to brown.

I used whole wheat shells this time around and I think that was a really bad idea. I'm not a fan of whole wheat pasta in this dish because of the texture. Regular pasta works perfectly and honestly, if you are going to make some mac n cheese, go all out and rock the regular pasta. Just saying.

Since I made way too much cheese sauce than pasta, I scrambled and cooked up some 1/4 boxes of trottole and campanelle I had in the cabinet to make another batch. Way more photogenic and SO much better tasting. Ahh. So what if it's a random mix of shapes? It tastes amazing!!

Re: sausage crumbles - I first thought of bacon crumbles, but I had chicken andouille sausage in the fridge. It's tough since the chicken sausage is already cooked, so make sure you chop it up well in order for it to brown nicely. 

Of course, if you have some regular andouille sausage lying around, feel free to slice it out of the casing and brown the crumbles that way!

Have you tried my chipotle mac yet? I think it's about time you did!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Presidents' Day...Napa Style.

This past weekend I celebrated the much needed long weekend with my cousin who was in town from New York. Since it was her first time in the Bay Area, a trip to Napa was absolutely necessary. I've really only been wine tasting in Napa once before (my very first trip to the area in 2007), so it was a pretty exciting day for me as well. Unfortunately the weather gods were not on our side and we woke up to a gloomy, rainy Saturday. 

Once we got up to Napa, the weather cleared up a little and we eventually found ourselves at winery numero uno - The Hess Collection
Hess is tucked away on super windy Redwood Road, just off Rt. 29 (the main highway) in Napa. Not exactly a picturesque drive after a storm, but it sure is quiet and off the beaten path. In fact, it reminded me of trips to the wineries in Healdsburg that required us to drive through these long windy roads that seemed to never end.

We walked up to the winery and the gardens were perfectly landscaped with fun sculptures scattered about - all of which I'm sure look even better on a sunny day. The main building was covered in ivy (or something like it?) and had these huge wooden doors that were as heavy as they looked! 

We were greeted by a very friendly host who told us that we had several options for our visit - we could head upstairs to check out the art collection, go straight to the tasting room, or join one of the scheduled tours for the afternoon. Since we were on a schedule, we opted to go straight to the tasting.

To our surprise, despite the bad weather, the tasting room was packed. We managed to find a small spot and for $10, we began our mix-match tasting of four Hess Collection and Artizen wines.

My personal favorites:

Hess Collection 2007 Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvee
Blend: 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Malbec, 4% Syrah, 4% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot
You all know I love blends. This one smells wonderful and I think it's the currant I like so much. The tasting notes mention carmel and molasses, but I didn't pick up on those...maybe I just need another taste :)

Hess Collection 2006 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon
Blend: 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 1% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot 
Ok, I either really love blends or I love how Hess blends their Cabs with Malbec. I liked this one almost as much as the Cuvee, but clearly I wasn't buying both. The black cherry and currant are very noticeable in this one and while I also prefer bold reds with lots of tannins, I thought this was a perfectly balanced red. The tasting notes say there are underlying flavors of graphite and cedar box...I don't know about you, but I haven't smelled or tasted graphite lately. Eeh.

Onto winery number two!

Located on Rt. 29 with all the other Napa/Rutherford wineries, Peju Province Winery greets you with a long tree-lined driveway that leads up to a very unique looking building - it looks like someone chopped off the top portion of a tower and plopped it on the grounds! 

After a little searching, I found out it's known as the Peju Tower and was designed by a Southern California architect named Calvin Straub in 1980(ish). Check out all the info here.

This might be one of the most informative and structured wine tastings I've been to in awhile. Upon arriving we put our names in with the host and were told we had to wait for the next available tasting. It wasn't too long of a wait and next thing we knew we were guided up a flight of stairs to the tasting room. 

The tasting room overlooks a ton of barrels and fits about 10 people comfortably per tasting station (there are two). Our pourer was super knowledgable and enthusiastic about the winery and the wines. He started off by saying he tells people to sip the wine three times - first to introduce the wine, second to taste the wine, and third to look for the specific flavors. 

My favorites:
2009 Chardonnay
Not a big chardonnay fan, but this is not your regular chardonnay. It's not oaky or buttery at all. In fact, it's crisp and light...almost like a sauvignon blanc. Hints of crisp apple and apricot. Very nice start.

Blend: Red & White
Our pourer started telling a story about how Tony Peju created this wine for his daughters who weren't really into the reds or whites and immediately I assumed we were going to taste a rose. Nope. I was introduced to a DELICIOUS red and white blend. Served chilled, this wine is slightly sweet and bright like a white wine, but not too sweet like a white zinfandel *gasp*. You definitely get a hint of refreshing strawberry and oh, it's SO good with everything. I imagine this would be perfect on a spring day. Or, you know, a gloomy day in February after wine tasting.

2006 Merlot
Blend: 90% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon
Normally I don't like merlot. I think it feels too slimy in my mouth and blech. Pass. This merlot, however, was surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe it's that hint o cab? I think so. It has just enough tannins in it to make my mouth happy, but not too much. I love. You should try it too. 

Tastings are $15 and the fee is waived when you make a $30 purchase. Totally worth visiting and buying since the majority of their wine sales are in the winery and through the wine club. 

We actually ended our wine tastings with Peju (I know, two is kinda wimpy!) so we could squeeze in a trip to the outlets. You think I'm crazy, but it's totally worth it. I went with friends to the Napa Premium Outlets over Memorial Day weekend and the sales were INSANE. Naturally I pointed them out to my cousin on the drive up and we decided that we could totally swap some wineries out to accommodate some shopping. Presidents' Day sales, hello! Do yourself a favor and knock out some shopping AND wine tasting on your next trip to Napa :)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Longest bike ride to date!

Exactly how long is a long bike ride?

As a newbie coming from the world of running, it's tough to figure distances out. I know 10 miles of biking is not quite the same as 10 miles of running, but what's a long ride? You know, the equivalent of a weekend long run?

On Sunday Jamie and I set off for what I mapped out to be a 20 mile ride to ice cream. I learned why I took that spill the other weekend (apparently I missed the side of the street without the Muni tracks where I should have been riding) and we zoomed through the Panhandle and Golden Gate Park. Aside from a mini mapping fail on my part (I forgot the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon was going on and we ran into a bunch of runners), we made it through the park a lot faster than expected!

We coasted along the Great Highway, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather, until we reached our final destination - Lake Merced.
Funny, it's not such a horrible trek when you're on a bike ;)

We parked ourselves on a sunny patch of grass
enjoyed a leisurely lunch, people watched, and I took random pictures.

After awhile, we decided ice cream just wasn't in the cards, so I came up with an impromptu route home...adding a little over a mile to our original route. Ah well. At least we were outside!

Check it out:
Total mileage: 21.1 - not too shabby!

Once we were home and clean, I decided I needed to whip up Ina Garten's Roasted Shrimp & Orzo. A friend made this for book club a couple weeks ago and I thought it was absolutely delicious.
I kinda threw it together without looking at the recipe and as it turns out, I was pretty close! I ended up poaching the shrimp instead of roasting them and I wish I had roasted them. I also subbed in a shallot instead of red onion and fat free feta because they didn't have the reduced fat kind I usually use. Note: full fat feta is totally necessary for this dish.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Springtime pasta in February

This wave of mild weather put me in an even bigger veggie mood than usual. For Jamie's farewell dinner, I combined some seafood I had in the freezer (a filet of cod and some shrimp) with a few springy vegetables and tomatoes to make a light sauce to top some angel hair pasta. Light, crisp and slightly spicy...perfect for this weather!

Springtime Seafood Pasta
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
4 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp white wine
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 c yellow squash, cut into thin half moons
1 c zucchini, cut into thin half moons
1/3 c tomato sauce
1 cod filet, cubed
15 medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tbsp basil, chopped
splash fish sauce
pinch brown sugar
salt & pepper
1/2 lb angel hair pasta, cooked according to package
parmesan cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pan and saute onions until they begin to soften. Add garlic and saute for about a minute before adding tomatoes. Cook tomatoes for 2-3 minutes over medium heat, add wine and red pepper flakes and cook for 2 minutes.

Add squash and zucchini and cook for 4-5 minutes. Stir in fish sauce and brown sugar. Add fish and shrimp and bring heat to medium low. Cook for another 3 minutes before adding tomato sauce, basil, salt and pepper. Let everything simmer for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over pasta with a slight sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sunny San Francisco Saturday

This weekend was perfect for being outside - temps in the high 60s/low 70s, slight breeze and barely any fog - so we dragged our tired selves out of the apartment for a brisk walk down to Fort Point.

I've run down to Hopper's Hands many times since moving here, but I've never really set foot in Fort Point. In fact, I didn't even realize you could go inside. Hm.

On the way, we ran into some folks taking advantage of the beach-like weather (though, I don't know about stepping foot in the icy cold bay)

We also stopped for a little snackie at the Let's Be Frank cart

I mentioned the crazy good Devil Sauce to Jamie before and we lucked out on this trip - they have a cart at Crissy Field! We split the Mutt Dog (half beef, half pork) and I thought it was a too mushy for me. I personally prefer the 'Hot' Dog (spicy Italian pork sausage).

Once we arrived at Fort Point, we walked in and wandered through the corridors

Up several sets of stairs

And once we made it to the top, we took in the amazing views.
Total mileage for the walk: 6.5

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Friday night fun

A long work week and Jamie's arrival clearly meant a Friday night happy hour was in order! A couple friends had mentioned a crazy deal at Maya in SoMa so naturally we had to check it out.

From 4:30 to close, 7-days a week, they offer $5 drinks (margaritas and mojitos), $3 draft beers, $20 beer buckets (5 beers) and $2 tacos (petite). I think the tacos are by far the best of the deals. They're bite sized, tasty and arrive pretty quickly (the pork belly was my favorite). Unfortunately, getting around to ordering these delectable treats is quite a feat. Even after the big happy hour rush passed, we still didn't get much attention from our server (and we were a huge table of 10, mostly ladies). Not cool.

So yeah, definitely check out the pork belly tacos because they are amazing. Savory, rich and slightly tangy. Just don't go starving after'll be waiting awhile.

After a couple hours of waiting at Maya, we moseyed on over to District on King Street. It was a pleasant little stroll (much needed after 6 tacos, which btw, make a nice meal) and I was excited to check out a new spot.

District had a strangely cozy, yet industrial feel to it and I loved the fact that it wasn't packed. A bunch of us grabbed a small table and settled in with a bottle of Siesta Malbec

At first, I thought it was too fruity and heavy, but after another couple sips, it grew on me...very nice surprise.

Overall, a successful night of fun snack and drink finds!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Work it out.

Well, I'm clearly not concussed since it's been over a week since my little spill and I'm functioning and posting. Again, ladies and gentlemen, don't forget to wear your helmets!

I'm also happy to report that my gross knee bruise is calming down and doesn't hurt that much. I can no longer use it as an excuse not to go to the gym haha. The gym and I are slowly getting acquainted, though I still think it's wrong to run on a treadmill when I live in perfect running weather.

I've started machine hopping partly in response to my gym ADD and partly so I don't overdo it on the running. Machine hopping at the gym means putting in some QT with machines I hate (read: elliptical, stair master, bike). A mere 10-15 minutes on each seems like such a chore to me :( It's slowly getting better the more I do it, but agh. So rough!

And so I present you with a few songs that have gotten me through recent gym trips:

History - Groove Armada (feat. Will Young)
Scared of Me - Fedde Le Grand
More - Usher
House Stabs - Luke Vibert
15 Step - Radiohead
Tighten Up - The Black Keys
Give a Little More - Maroon 5

Pretty random selection, I know. One of these days I'll get around to refreshing my running playlist...

What do you do when you're trapped indoors for a workout? What songs get you through a terribly boring workout?

Post lame-o workout, I found myself seriously craving a dinner sammich. Weird, right? Originally I planned on using my Guacamole Tuna Salad as a topping for greens, but agh...this sammich craving was way too strong!

*btw, still weirded out that Arnold is Oroweat here.

Topped one of these with some greens, followed by a couple spoonfuls of tuna and ta da! Dinner in 5! I was pleasantly surprised with my guacatuna salad (do you like how I've given it 3 different names?)...just enough saltiness, spiciness and creaminess! I was worried the carrot bits (I don't usually put carrots in guac or tuna salad) being weird, but they added a nice crunch. I diced them super small so the carrot taste wasn't too overwhelming. I highly recommend this recipe :)

Not only did I have a successful dinner experiment, but I also got another fun package in the mail...
New sneaks...times two!

So I tried the Inspire 7s on a couple weeks ago and sort of flipped out. I didn't like that they came up too high on my ankle and something just felt off about them. Boo.

I did some research on the Google and turns out they actually tightened things up a bit for a more secure ankle and arch. All that sounds great to me, but apparently my feet disagree :(

After that not so fun experience, I went online and tried to find a cheap pair of the Inspire 6s. I found them and ended up buying two pairs to tide me over. Phew. I don't know what I'll do the day I have to get new shoes :\

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

You don't say...

It's February already?? Crazy.

So Chef Jamie was out in full force recently and he sent me this recipe for Avocado Tuna Salad. He said his attempt (with some subs and add-ins) wasn't too flavorful, so I made a few modifications of my own. Tasty factor: TBD.

Avocado Tuna Salad
2 cans chunk light tuna in water, drained
3 tbsp carrots, finely diced
1 small shallot, minced
3 tbsp celery, finely chopped
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
2 tbsp cilantro, chopped
2 avocados, diced
1 chipotle chile, chopped
1 1/2 tbsp light mayo
1 clove garlic, grated
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients in a large container, cover and refrigerate overnight.

I must say, I took a little nibble before shutting the container and the chipotle pepper added just the right amount of heat. So glad I resisted the urge to splash some Texas Pete in there! O yes, did I mention Jamie brought me some much needed Texas Pete on his last trip?? I still can't believe they don't have it out here!

Cannot wait to make a lunch sammich with this mix! I love guacamole and I love tuna salad sammiches....this has great potential!

Have you made any crazy flavor combinations lately?