Paella Pasta Salad

I’ve always wanted to make a paella for the site. It’s something I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while now. I’m a sucker for rice, in any shape or form. In any recipe, really. My motto is, the more rice the better. Serve it to me every single day for the rest of my life and I’ll be happy as a clam (pun intended). I began brainstorming recipe ideas this past week and for some reason paella kept popping up in my head. Perhaps it was a sign pointing me to make paella, because the time had come for me to finally make this recipe happen. It could’ve been a sign, but really if I’m being honest, it was my stomach doing all of the thinking because I really just wanted an excuse to eat paella this week. Go figure. Anyhow, there I was brainstorming when it hits me, “Jonathan! You should make a paella but create it with a twist because there are a million paella recipes already out there!” Just like that, that’s how it happened. Word for word, and I know what you’re thinking, yes I do talk to myself in first person. It’s what I do. 

Aside from talking to myself, I’d also like to point out the fact that it’s currently the third of November. The THIRD of NOVEMBER people!!! Where did the end of October go? This whole time change thing over the weekend has got me all sorts of confused. Sure it’s just one hour of a difference, but still, my mind is taking a bit longer to adjust. I don’t know what is what anymore. The only thing I am sure of is the fact that it’s finally getting chilly here in Los Angeles and all that means is that I get to eat more comfort foods that warm me up inside. Pasta is my favorite comfort food of all. Especially hot pasta baked with lots of cheese. Yes, I’m referring to mac and cheese. Why didn’t you just say that Jonathan?!!? What can I say, I like to be cryptic sometimes. 

Okay so this paella pasta salad isn’t served hot and yes I know there’s no cheese involved, so what’s so comforting about it? It’s no mac and cheese, that’s for sure. Well, it is a pasta dish loaded with all of the meats and all of the seafoods. What’s not comforting about that?!?! You tell me! What isn’t comforting about that, huh? Huh? Well? What have you got to say for yourself? This recipe is comforting because it’s pasta mixed with sausage, ham, chicken, shrimp, mussels and clams! It’s so filling that it should be illegal, but not really because I’d really like to eat this until the end of time, and I think you should too. 

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Beef Sausage and Peppers Tacos w/ Avocado Cream*

I have a confession to make. It’s a sad and terrible confession but one that I should get off my chest, right here and now. Why prolong the inevitable? Sure it’s embarrassing, but maybe I’m not the only one out there with the same belief. Or I guess I should say, with the same belief that I used to have. I don’t anymore because now I’ve totally seen the light. I used to think cooking with sausage was a big hassle. It was daunting and scary to me because I felt like I just never knew what to cook with it. I was in a slump, friends. A cooking slump, and those are the worst kinds of slumps to be in. I mean, a guy can only eat so many hot dogs before you begin to get tired of them. So I wouldn’t really make anything else with sausage. I always bypassed it at the grocery store, not wanting to put that pressure on myself. Whenever I’d pass through the sausage aisle, I’d look away. It was too much for me to bear. Of course I would always end up getting chicken because, in my mind, it was the easiest thing to cook with. “Jonathan, just grab a couple of chicken breasts and call it a day,” I would say. Just like that too. I like to talk to myself in first person sometimes. If you recall my Roasted Autumn Vegetable Pot Pie post, my friend Jenny can attest to always having chicken at my house. It was starting to become a problem. So one day I got the courage to start exploring more with smoked sausage. In part because anything smoked is just plain delicious (have you met my friend bacon?) but mostly because sometimes—and by sometimes I mean like all the time—I get lazy in the kitchen and just want something quick and easy to whip up so I can devour it as soon as possible. Can you blame me?

So there I am one day at the grocery store, walking—no, stomping, that sounds a lot better—towards the sausage aisle with determination in my eyes. Really it was a glint in my eyes and a light bulb over my head, because I finally had an idea as to what I can cook with sausage. It wasn’t that hard to come up with, really. I just started thinking of all the delicious things I enjoy eating and then I’d mentally swap out the main ingredient for sausage. I did that until I got the perfect match. You all know my love for doughnuts, however, cake doughnuts with a sausage glaze just didn’t sit well with me. So just like that, sweets were out of the question. Sausage lasagna with a creamy béchamel sauce with seven different cheeses sounded amazing. I was just about to pick up the eighth cheese when I came to my senses. “Jonathan, you don’t have that kind of time on your hands to make a lasagna! You need something quick and easy!” So out the window went that plan. Then all of a sudden someone threw a package of tortillas at my face and BAM just like that, tacos were in my future. Oh and not just any tacos, my friends, but angus beef smoked sausage tacos.

After about fifteen of the most stress-free minutes I’ve ever encountered in the kitchen, I sat down to eat my beef sausage and peppers tacos with all the toppings you could possibly think of. And right there, between my fifth and sixth taco, I realized cooking with sausage isn’t all that difficult at all. In fact, it’s ridiculously easy (and tasty too). So now every time I go to the grocery store, I don’t avoid the sausage aisle. In fact, I go over and wave at it, picking up a few packages of Hillshire Farm along the way. “Hello delicious smoked sausage,” I yell out. Don’t worry, I look around before talking to the sausage to make sure no one is looking at me. I’m not that crazy. Okay maybe a little crazy. Crazy for smoked sausage tacos that is.

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Roasted Autumn Vegetable Pot Pies

I’ve often wondered what my life would be like as a vegetarian. Would I be the best vegetarian out there? In case you were wondering, I’d be the worst vegetarian. On the planet. Would I have more energy and be healthier? Maybe. I could always use more energy to continue on my quest to take over the world. (I’m only partially kidding about that). I’d definitely be doing my part for the animals. I wouldn’t be terrified anymore that one of them was going to kill me in my sleep. (Not really a fear of mine). Because I’ve eaten meat my entire life, I’m assuming it would be very difficult for me to just become a vegetarian all of a sudden, out of the blue. I’ve grown up on it and I can’t picture myself giving up red meat, chicken and pork forever. Permanently, never again? No way. Don’t even get me started on seafood. I don’t think I could survive life without fish tacos. I’m from California, they’re a staple in my diet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I eat red meat every single day of my life. What am I, a T-Rex? I wish. I think it would be a problem if I did chomp my teeth into a steak everyday, but every once in a while I do crave red meat. I gotta have it. To be more specific, I crave a really good beef burger with a homemade bun and thin and crispy fries every now and then. I’m probably the only person who suffers from such cravings, right? Have to be. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to eat good ol’ beef burgers if I were a vegetarian, and that makes me really sad. That’s my number one hesitation with becoming a vegetarian. A life without burgers or a nice piece of steak is a sad life for me. In all honesty, most often, I end up eating chicken on a day to day basis. To the point where a good friend of mine refuses to come over for dinner anymore because she claims I’m always forcing chicken down her throat whenever she visits me. “If I eat anymore chicken, I’m going to fly the F out of here.” Total lie by the way. It’s like 95% chicken and 5% other stuff when she comes over, not all the time as she likes to claim. She’s an exaggerator. Now though, I do it on purpose and tell her we’re having something else and then I get her into my house and serve her chicken with a maniacal laugh. She totally likes it.

I know I’d never survive as a vegetarian. I’ll be honest and straight forward with that confession, right off the bat. I love all food way too much for that kind of commitment, but every now and then—a few nights a month because that’s all my body will allow—I like to make a vegetarian meal. It’s nice to get more vegetables into my system, because let’s face it sometimes I really forget to eat veggies (sorry mamma), and it’s the perfect excuse to get out of my comfort zone in the kitchen as well. It forces me to think outside of the box. It also allows me to diversify this tiny blog of mine with dishes that you guys would actually like to try out. It wouldn’t be fair to you if all I gave you were the same meat, chicken and pork filled recipes that were heavy and super rich. Really, I’m just sneakily expanding my net and trying to coerce more people (The Vegetarians) to follow my blog. World domination remember?

So this one is for all the vegetarians out there. Even the semi-vegetarians that say they’re vegetarians but have a soft spot for bacon every now and then when no one is looking. Yeah, you know who you are. I think vegetarian food gets a bad reputation. Mostly because people spread nasty rumors about it being bland and boring. And by people I mean me. I was spreading those rumors, but in my defense, that was before I grasped a good understanding for vegetarian meals. One day while I was eating potato chips disguised in a rice cake bag, I had an epiphany. “Jon, you’re about to have an epiphany,” I told myself. “Vegetarian food doesn’t have to be boring and bland. It can be flavorful and tasty and hearty. Why, you don’t need meat in your life at all!” Then I slapped myself in the face and threw my drink in the air because that was crazy talk talkin’. Of course I need meat. But the first part of that epiphany was totally true. So I decided to come up with some filling veggie-centric recipes that would satisfy the vegetarians in my life, and at the same time fit the bill for those carnivorous animals like myself. So I bring to you, drumroll please, ba da ra rummmmm, VEGETABLE POT PIE!! Wait, I’m not giving it any justice. I present to you, ROASTED AUTUMN VEGETABLE POT PIE. You can thank me now. And by thanking I mean, you can now name your next child after me, if you have one. If you don’t, then you can change the name of the one you already have. You laugh now but when you actually taste this dish, don’t be surprised when you start calling your child Jonathan. Just a fair warning.

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Beer Battered Fish and Chips w/ Spicy Remoulade

When I was a child I didn’t really care for fish and chips. Okay if we’re being honest, I hated the dish. Well just the fish, the chips I loved. What kid doesn’t like fries dipped in copious amounts of ketchup? Whenever we’d go on family trips to the beach, on the way back, we’d stop by the local seafood restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway. My mom and older sister would order fish and chips or shrimp and chips or fish tacos. My middle sister and I would end up getting a burger—because um hello burgers are delicious—but it was because we were those bratty kids that threw tantrums and yelled out at the top of our lungs, “Seafood is yucky! I DON’T want smelly fish! I HATE FISH AND CHIPS!!” Then we’d start crying and running around the restaurant throwing things off the tables and knocking people’s trays from their hands. Food would fly everywhere. Everyone would stare at my sister and I running amok and shake their heads and cover their mouths in shock. Okay I really wasn’t like that as a child. It was all my sister! I’d just stand back in horror and astonishment and pretend I wasn’t related to her. I’d join in with the crowd and ask “Who is that crazy animal? Who does she belong to?” Okay that really didn’t happen either. But the burgers, those totally happened, sans tantrums or crazy antics.

As I grew up and realized that seafood wasn’t the enemy, I began to love fish and chips, and not just for the chips. I fell in love with the battered and fried fish as well. Who would have thought? And so began a love affair with seafood. All seafood. Everyday seafood! (But not really because of the high levels of mercury). These days I can’t get enough of seafood and I deny ever getting a burger on those family excursions, while my family ate fish. “What burger? Nick ate the burger, I loved fish and chips. It was my favorite dish!” Thankfully nothing was filmed and they have no proof. Seafood and I were best friends when I was a child. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now I know that spring is in full effect and we should be eating lighter, healthier, fresher meals. But really, who doesn’t have a soft spot for deep fried beer battered fish? Oh wait, and chips? This guy certainly has the biggest soft spot for it. And hey, at least I didn’t deep fry my chips. They’re oven roasted my friends, so completely healthy right? I’m doing my part for spring. Now go make some fish and chips and invite me over, I promise I won’t throw a tantrum.

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Roasted Shrimp-Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I think that sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves when it comes to planning and making dinner day after day. We stress out way too much over something that shouldn’t be stressful at all. When it all boils down to it (pun intended) cooking shouldn’t be complicated. In fact, it should be fun and enjoyable. That can be easily accomplished by simply turning on some music and drinking a glass (maybe two or three) of wine while you cook. That would totally make any task more enjoyable, to be quite honest. Mowing the lawn with a glass of wine. Vacuuming the house with a glass of wine. Reading a book with a glass of wine. Dancing on the kitchen counters with a glass of wine. Oh, if you’re completing all those tasks while drinking, you’ll definitely end up dancing on those kitchen counters. But we’re talking about dinner here. So let’s talk about dinner. Week after week we wrack our brains so as to come up with something new and exciting to make for ourselves, our family and our friends. We’d like nothing more than to make something different. Something we’ve never cooked before, but above all, something that is easy to whip up and doesn’t take long before we get to devour the end result. More and more we find ourselves in a cooking rut and are so desperately trying to get out of it. We face the inevitable question, mostly asked to us, “What is for dinner tonight?”

We peruse the grocery store aisles looking for inspiration. What calls out to us? No doubt the same boring recipes we always make, week after week. The similar humdrum dishes that have no pizzazz (yes I just said pizzazz. I’m bringing it back. Tell all your friends). More often than not, I end up making everyday a Taco Tuesday. It’s my go-to dinner idea. In my defense, you can wrap anything in a tortilla and top it with cheese and guacamole and you’d have yourself a prey-ty fantastic dinner. But when the awful day comes when you’re tired of tacos (gasp!!), hamburgers (what?!), and pizza (never!!) and they just don’t call out to you anymore like they used to, then the time has come to step out of your comfort zone to make something deliciously simple. But what is this delectably effortless dish I speak of? Well, roasted shrimp-stuffed poblanos of course. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you incorporate shrimp and cheese into any dish, you’ll have a winning recipe, hands down. Without a doubt. Not to mention a satisfied crowd. But if you’re cooking for just yourself, well then, you my friend are the luckiest of us all because you don’t have to share your stuffed peppers with anyone. We envy you because you have more for yourself to enjoy. After all, my days are spent contemplating how I can eat all the food without sharing. I’ve yet to come up with a good solution for that one. One day though, one day (insert evil laugh here).

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Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

Oh so you have been bragging to all your friends have you? You have proclaimed yourself the pumpkin master and informed everyone that you can make pumpkin anything. Well your friends have decided to put you to the test by telling you to host a pumpkin dinner party. Each dish has to have pumpkin in it, in some way, shape or form. Now you are up a creek without a paddle, and you are afraid your boat will hit an iceberg along the way. Causing you to sink in front of all your friends. Having them all stare in awe and shock with their mouths’ agape. Sure it is one thing to tell everyone you are a pumpkin genius, but it is a whole other league to actually be one. First of all, you need to find new friends. If they are inviting themselves to your house and ordering you to cook for them, and you are agreeing to do it all the time, well then you have bigger problems on your hand than a little pumpkin dinner. How would they like it if you invited yourself over their house and demanded they cook? Granted, you should not have been bragging in the first place. You have no one to blame but yourself.

So now the big day has come and you are freaking out. You have realized that perhaps you are not so savvy with that orange squash, as you thought or as you led them to believe. Sure you have dessert covered. Who does not know a thing or two about pumpkin desserts? That is a walk in the park. It is the easiest route to take. The easiest way to transform that gourd. Let us turn our attention to the main course, however. The biggest part of the dinner. You are worried that you cannot make a delicious savory dish with the star ingredient are you not? And you should be. You have every right to be nervous. I would be if I were in your shoes. I am not going to lie to you, it is very difficult to get people to like pumpkin in savory dishes because everyone goes into it with the misconception that it will taste like dessert. Stop crying and shaking your head! You have nothing to worry about. I am here to help you. Lucky for you I am a pumpkin master. Together we will get through this. Together we will conquer. Now buck up. Shoulders high. Raise that chin, proud like you know what you are doing. You have to have confidence. Put on your apron. Grab a spoon and a whisk. Cross your arms. Turn and look at your reflection on the oven. You are a master. Okay that is enough, you have a dinner party to throw. What are you doing just standing there looking like a fool with your arms crossed holding a whisk and spoon?!?! You need to start working! You are behind!

The best way to make people like anything, I have found, is to drench it in butter and cheese and cover it in a creamy sauce. Throw in some pasta and your are golden. Stop giving me that look of confusion. It is simple really. You are going to make Pumpkin Mac and Cheese. It has everything that most people enjoy. Tie it in with some autumn flavors and you are good to go. What do sage and thyme and pumpkin scream out to you? Yes that is right, Thanksgiving. It spells out Thanksgiving. So it does not really spell out Thanksgiving, but you get the point. You are going to wow your friends with this dish.

You have put together the sauce—which is now a beautiful light orange color thanks to the pumpkin—and are now mixing in the pasta. Stop eating it. This is for your pushy self-inviting friends. Throw the mac and cheese into the ramekins, hurry. Sprinkle on the sage breadcrumbs. Stand back. Look at that. Admire the pumpkin mac and cheese. Does it not look delicious like I had promised? Does it not smell fantastic? Okay, what are you doing? Enough standing around. Pop the tray in the oven. These have to bake. Your friends are due at any minute! Look at yourself! You are a mess! There is flour on your face. Cheese sauce in your hair. Pull yourself together! You cannot let your friends see you like this! Go change!  The door bell rings at the same time that the oven timer goes off. Just in time. Your soon-to-be-ex-friends are finally here and they enter with a look as if they know they have won. Little do they know you had an ace up your sleeve. Let the party begin.

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