Cranberry Raspberry Pavlovas

Now that the holidays are long gone, I have no excuse but to jump back into work and start making (aka eating) a bunch of new recipes. All for you, of course, because that’s the type of person that I am. I’m willing to sacrifice everything by stuffing my face, day in and day out, just so that you can have something to look at. Something new to try out in the kitchen and something to look forward to. With the new year, comes a promise to post more because I know I’ve been slacking, somewhat. But believe me it’s all for good reasons and exciting new prospects—both in my personal and professional life. I think that this year should be all about breaking out of our comfort zones in the kitchen and trying out new recipes and techniques. Let’s stop being scared of certain dishes or ingredients and just dive into a new us. That new us being fearless cooks and bakers because this year, we’re going to be the best cooks and bakers we can be.  This year, we’re going to wow our friends, family and loved ones with dishes that aren’t only delicious but look incredible as well. This year, is going to be a great year because we’re going to make it a great year.

It was difficult for me to think of the first post for the new year. Well, if I’m being completely honest, it was hard for me to jump back into work altogether. My brain was still on holiday mode and the yearning to continue doing nothing at all. Bowling, museums, movies, drives through the coast for Friday morning hikes, spontaneous homemade meals and lounging around on the couch watching movies with that special someone, makes it somewhat difficult to want to do anything else. Am I right, ladies and gentlemen? It wasn’t until I actually got back to working that I realized how much I missed it. “Welcome back, Jonathan,” I told myself. To which, I of course responded, “Thank you! It’s good to be back.”Sometimes I have conversations with myself because I’m weird like that, but we’ve already established that, haven’t we? Don’t judge.

Anyhow, enough about that. So here we are, the first post of January 2014. A dessert post at that, because I know how much you all love dessert posts. I wanted to share one of my favorite desserts with you but with a winter twist because although it might not seem like it’s winter here in Los Angeles (80+ degrees and all), I know for a fact that it feels like winter has taken over all around the midwest and east coast. It’s not a winter dessert in that it’s warm and comforting but more so about the ingredients we’re using. If you’ve ever had a fear of separating eggs and whipping the whites to make meringue, well then you’re in luck because this recipe is all about that. Let’s take a step towards that 2014 resolution we were talking about earlier. It’s time to get over that fear and conquer it like no one’s business. Like we’ve been conquering fears all our lives, and to a certain degree I guess we have been. We do it every day, even when we don’t think we are. It’s the way of life. Just like it’s the way of life for me to eat a dozen pavlovas and not feel any guilt whatsoever. Come on, let’s make some pavlovas together and then we’ll eat them all because that’s the way life wants it to be.

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Potato and Caramelized Onion Gratin

This is for all the last minute Thanksgivingers out there. You know who you are. The ones that are just barely planning things out. Maybe even the ones who haven’t thought about it at all, not for a second. This post is a last minute salvation to all those people out there that are experiencing a cry for help. HELP. I’m here to help, don’t worry. I can’t make your turkey for you (although I wish I could), but how’s about another side dish idea? Those always come in handy, right? Just yesterday I gave you a Sausage and Mushroom Wild Rice post that will be perfect right there on your dinner table next to your turkey. This potato dish is a nice alternative to mashed potatoes or even served with mashed potatoes. Why choose either/or when you can have both?! I’m totally okay with the idea of eating potatoes on top of potatoes because if you recall, I have an undying love for this vegetable. This side dish will go great with the rice and turkey you already have planned out for the big gathering. And if you haven’t bought your turkey yet, well then at least you’ll have rice and potatoes on the table. I wouldn’t mind that. Sounds like a perfect meal to me.

Sometimes you just need a simple recipe to keep up your sleeve for all those days when you find yourself in a cooking rut or bind. A quick and easy dish that will wow someone’s face off. Like ka-POW, there goes your face. It was just wow’d off. We all need recipes like that because life happens, even when we don’t want it to, and you don’t know what to do about it when it does. Perhaps you’ll get unexpected guests over for dinner one night (RUDE), or maybe you just need to whip up something in a hurry because you have a million other things to do and the last thing you want to do is slave away in the hot kitchen. Well, make this gratin and you’ll be good to go. Start incorporating it into your cooking repertoire because I can guarentee you that you’ll fall in love with it. You’ll be amazed on how fast and easy it is to put together, yet it’s packed with so much flavor. Make a quick sandwich and serve this alongside it. Grill up a piece of fish and eat it with a large helping, or two, of this awesome dish. I won’t tell anyone, I mean after all, what are friends for? This year, not that much different from every year really, I’m most thankful for potatoes. For being so incredibly delicious and easy to to cook with. This Thanksgiving, it’s all about you. Now let’s get cooking.

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Sausage and Mushroom Wild Rice

Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Like in a few short days, around the corner. I’m sure that’s the last thing you want to hear right now because you’re probably panicking and worrying about everything turing out perfect and you feel like you might cry at any moment because it’s just too overwhelming. Or maybe you’re pulling out all of your hair because you still haven’t done the grocery shopping, and you don’t even know what you’re going to make yet, and you’re having a bunch of people over for dinner, and you just don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, and you feel like the world is ending. No? Maybe, I’m just projecting here. I’m still refusing to believe Thanksgiving is here. To me, this Thursday is just like any other day. The year just, whoosh, flew by. Although I do have to admit my stomach is starting to get really excited because I can’t wait to stuff my face with copious amounts of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and dinner rolls and this here rice recipe I’m about to share with you. Oh and let’s not forget about all the pumpkin pie I plan on eating. Yeah you read that right, it’s just a carb fest. A carb-a-thon. I’m pretty sure that when the first Thanksgiving took place, it was their full intention, for this holiday to be nothing but carbohydrates. Carb party. One way ticket to Carb Town. I’m not mad at that though. Yeah, yeah, I’ll eat a few veggies here and there (for my mom’s sake). More like I’ll put some on my plate and when no one is looking just feed it to the dog. I’m totally kidding, I don’t even have a dog, but if I did you better believe he’d love vegetables. I’ll just hide the veggies somewhere else. Like under my placemat or onto my sister’s plate. She’ll give me her turkey and I’ll give her my veggies. It’s a win-win when someone you know doesn’t eat meat. If you don’t have a vegetarian friend, you’re missing out on all the wonderful eating opportunities that comes with it. Go out and find a vegetarian right away.

Thanksgiving, in all seriousness, happens to be my favorite holiday because it’s a holiday centered around food. What can be so wrong about that? It’s also a holiday (like most, I’m sure) centered around family and friends and loved ones. I added the “loved ones” to that line just in case you don’t love certain family members or friends and you just can’t stand their faces or something. See? I’m looking out for you. I’ve got you covered. I’ve also got you covered in the recipe department. If you’re tired of the same boring dishes year after year, around the Thanksgiving table, or if your family refuses to eat another green bean casserole or mashed potatoes (don’t include them in the loved ones category because they’re crazy) well, then you can switch things up this year by trying out this wild rice dish. I think that it compliments all the traditional turkey day flavors perfectly. But maybe I’m just biased because I made this and it’s the new post and I’m trying to sell it to you like a used car. That could be true. But do you really want to take that chance? This could be your new favorite Thanksgiving side dish for all you know. This could be the deciding factor for your boyfriend or girlfriend to propose to you (probably not, but I’m really trying here). I don’t think you should take the risk of not making it this year. That’s it. It’s settled. It has been decided—I’ve decided for you, trust me. You’re going to make this dish in just a short few days. No no, no need to thank me. It’s my job to make these types of decisions for you. All I ask is that you dedicate your Thanksgiving meal to me. Right before eating, just stand up and say, “I want to take a moment to dedicate this meal to the man who made it possible. The man who created this wonderful wild rice dish you’re all about to enjoy. The man who changed my life. Jonathan Melendez.” That’s not asking for much right? I think it’s pretty reasonable. But enough about me, sheesh, you all sure know how to talk my ear off. Let’s get cooking. Thanksgiving is around the corner. Like in a few short days, around the corner. We’ve been here once before…

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Potato Tacos

My oldest sister tends to not eat meat from time to time, and from time to time I mean like every day. Something I’ve had to come to terms with and accept. Oh she’s not strictly vegetarian or anything like that. She just prefers to torture me by not eating meat or chicken or pork. Talk about total weirdo. Gosh how embarrassing, I can’t believe we’re related. Alien alert. I kid, of course. There’s nothing wrong with being vegetarian. Insert my mother telling me, “be careful what you say because you’ll probably end up married to a vegetarian for the rest of your life.” And as luck would have it, I’m smitten with a vegetarian, go figure. Thanks mom! If I didn’t love meat and chicken and pork myself, basically all foods, I’d be one too. I just wouldn’t have the will power or strength to give up certain things like bacon and pepperoni. Did I mention bacon? My sister does have a soft spot for seafood though, which makes up for it I guess, but that’s a whole other story for another time.

Said sister also happens to really love potatoes. One time, she even went as far as to say that she could eat potatoes everyday, in every which way imaginable. It went something like this, “I could eat potatoes every day, in every which way imaginable.” Whoa just like that. She’s the type of person who could eat mashed potatoes with a side of fries and potato salad and not care about what people think. On Thanksgiving she pretty much only eats mashed potatoes and gives thanks to the people who invented mashed potatoes. Talk about climbing Mt. Starch, but you know what, I’m okay with that. Mostly because I’d be right there with her eating all those potatoes until the end of time. Although I’d have a side of tater tots on top of all them other taters on my plate. We’re potato loving people, what can I say? Perhaps in another life I was a potato? I was going to say potato farmer but somehow potato came out and I was too lazy to fix it. Maybe I was a potato though. I’d probably make a good potato too, just give me a couch and stand back. Ba rum bum pisshh. If I was a potato in my past life—which I’m not saying I was but I’m not saying I wasn’t either because you never know—I was most definitely probably a russet potato because let’s be honest, good ol’ russets are the best potatoes. We grow big and are perfect baked and stuffed with sour cream and butter and cheese and bacon and chives served with a gigantic steak on the side. Yes I did just say “we.” Us fellow potatoes that is.

I wish I could say I invented potato tacos. Mostly because I’d be rich and famous and people would love me and my name would be synonymous with a totally delicious dish that involved potatoes—something I was in my past life, did you know that? But also because I might’ve already told people I invented potato tacos which isn’t necessarily true. I mean, Jonathan Melendez Potato Taco Inventor just sounds so cool, right? That’s what my business cards say. The first time I had potato tacos, actually, was when I was younger. My potato-loving sister dated a guy whose mother made amazing potato tacos. In my opinion she should have stayed with the man just for that alone, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyhow like I was saying, my sister’s boyfriend’s mother knew how to get down with potatoes and subsequently changed my potato obsessed life forever. Cut to me now telling people I invented potato tacos and was a potato in my past life. Just you wait until my high school reunion rolls around. I’ll totally spread those lies like no one’s business. I’ll also exit the reunion in a helicopter, right after my big dance finale. And if you get that movie reference, you and I are now best friends. Let’s have potato tacos for dinner, yes? I’ll tell you all about how I invented potato tacos and what life was like for me in Idaho as a russet potato.

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Grilled Caesar Salad

Let’s talk about thankfulness, shall we? I’m full of it. Appreciation that is. Gratitude—that’s what I got. I’m really grateful for all of you. Each and every single one of you. Yes, you. You take time out of your day to read my blog, follow my pictures and crazy antics, try out my recipes and have stuck with me through my crazy schedule, at the moment, and lack of posts. Let’s face it, anyone who can make it through all my bad jokes and puns and still come back for more is a-okay in my book. We’re actually best friends now. Get used to it. You leave comments and share stories and give me ideas and although it seems that at times (lately especially) I don’t read them, I want you to know that I do read them. All of them. I appreciate them, even the ones full of criticism. Those make my work better. Your comments are what I look forward to the most when I’m lying in bed at 2 in the morning—okay it’s more like 10 in the evening because this old man gets really tired, but it feels like 2 in the morning. It’s hard at times to respond to everyone, throughout all the social media sites and on the blog itself. I try my best though.

Over the last few months, I’ve been working a lot, helping a friend with her second cookbook, helping said friend shoot some videos (which are incredibly awesome just you wait) playing with said friend’s cat (I’m obsessed, don’t judge me) packing, moving from home and unpacking. Being an adult is crazy to me, not because I’m getting older but because it’s so much work. It’s so much hard work. How do you fellow grown-ups do it?! I remember fourteen year old me wishing I was older so I could do all sorts of things (bad things, sorry mamma!) and now that I’m about to be twenty-five I think, “Why was I in such a hurry to grow up?” If only I can talk to my fourteen year old self, I’d say “Hey young self! Don’t grow up so fast you dummy. Enjoy your stress-free, school-only life while you can! It won’t last!” I’d also tell myself that green corduroys with a green shirt and green shoes is never acceptable. Like ever. What can I say, I went through a crayon phase. Needless to say, I’ve lacked on my work on this here ol’ blog and on the newsletters. I’ve had this post sitting on my computer for weeks now and I’m finally getting around to sharing it with you. Sure summer is now officially over and grilling season is long gone, but let’s celebrate the end of summer and go out with a bang. One last hoorah for the road. Adios sun and hello orange and yellow trees and chilly breezes. Oh I live in LA, I forgot, so I guess I should say, hello year round green trees that show no season. It’s the idea of autumn that I love so much. Plus guess what, with autumn comes so many great holidays centered around food. Warm cozy sweaters, not green I promise. And tons of cups of steaming hot chocolate, topped with mounds of whipped cream and cinnamon. Always cinnamon.

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Gazpacho: Two Ways

I don’t have the best memory. Okay that’s putting it mildly. If I’m being honest, I have the worst memory ever. Like on the planet. In the history of memory having, I’m at the very bottom. I envy my sister who can seriously remember things from inside the womb. It’s scary how much she can recall from when she was tiny and itty bitty. We’ll be talking about something in particular and then all of a sudden she’ll bust out a memory and include when, where, what she was wearing, what she had said and what she was doing on a specific date. She’ll say something like, “Remember when I was born, I came home from the hospital wearing that yellow bunny onesie and played in my crib?!” Okay I exaggerate. I on the other hand, can’t even remember what I ate yesterday. This is not an exaggeration. I have very little recollections of my childhood. I mean sure I remember a few things here and there and bits and pieces of certain moments when I was young, but for the most part my mind’s a blank. My sisters will gladly tell you that I was oblivious as a kid. Always wandering off and in my own world, never paying attention. I guess this is what happens when you’re the only boy and the youngest in the family. There are certain things however that I do remember. Like the traditional putting up of the christmas tree. Putting the tinsel one strand at a time, we weren’t allowed to throw clumps of shiny tinsel all at once. The fact that my mother would only make soup on the hottest days of the year. How I couldn’t sit still for the life of me and was constantly moving around, jumping, grabbing, or pushing buttons as a kid. The way my mother would hide our halloween candy (in her closet up above the shelf) giving us only one piece a day. Talk about torture. It took about 2o minutes for my sister and I to find it, climb up and sneak a few (okay like 10) pieces of candy a day. Sorry mom. I also recall the constant watching of a certain movie. This movie in particular probably defines my entire existence. Not only because it was released the year I was born but because we’d watch it all the time to this day. It is by far the fondest memory I have. Now that I’m older it’s definitely one of my favorite films.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a foreign film from Spain by Pedro Almodóvar —hands down his best work of all time. I learned two things from watching this movie so often throughout my entire life. One, that no one is as badass as Pepa Marcos and two, gazpacho can solve all of your problems in more ways than one. This dish will forever be synonymous with that movie for me until the end of time. Whenever I hear someone mention gazpacho or if I see it on a menu somewhere this movie and the spiked gazpacho with 25 or 30 sleeping pills will come to mind. So here we are today making not one, but two gazpacho recipes. There’s a scene towards the end of the film when the police are asking the main character what exactly is inside the gazpacho. I remember wanting to make it (minus the drugs of course) as she listed off the ingredients in it. “Tomate, pepino, pimiento, cebolla, una puntita de ajo, aceite, sal, vinagre, pan duro y agua. El secreto está en mezclarlo bien.” The secret is in mixing it well she claimed, and she’s right. I also remember thinking what in the world is gazpacho. It looked like plain ol’ tomato juice to me. It’s cold soup friends. Wonderfully delicious cold soup. So I’m giving you two gazpacho recipes. My take on this classic Spanish dish. Perfect for the summer weather. The first is a chunky watermelon gazpacho served with grilled shrimp and the second is a traditional smooth gazpacho, just like in the film.

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