Kale and Artichoke Dip

So long spinach. Goodbye. It was nice knowing you. Until next time. You’re out of the picture. You’ve been replaced by a new green. Something much more marketable and hip and tasty, and do you want to know something, spinach? People really love the new you, too. It’s sad, but true. They can’t get enough of it. It seems to be everywhere right now. No matter where I turn, BAM, I run into it. You can’t escape it, spinach. You’re done. Cooked. No one wants you anymore. You were popular, what, in the eighties? You’ve had a nice run though, so you can’t complain. I think it’s better to go while you’re still on top. While people still remember you with admiration and nostalgia. Take the high road, on your way out. It’s the only sophisticated thing to do. One day you’ll look back at this moment and think to yourself, “Everyone was right to trade me in. I am a loser. I’ve reached my full potential.” It’s okay though, cheer up spinach. Think of all the happy and healthy times you brought all those people throughout the years—that is before kale came into the picture and stole all of your thunder, rendering you pretty much useless and unwanted. Word on the street is that even Popeye the Sailor Man is getting all his strength from kale these days. Talk about hitting rock bottom, spinach. Hitting the cold hard concrete. In the pouring rain. Shut out with nowhere to turn to. 

There there spinach, don’t cry. It happens to the best of us. You should be happy that kale is getting its chance in the spotlight. It’s nice to share. Between you and I, spinach, I think it’s just a fad. People in this town like to jump on band wagons. You see, in no time they’ll get bored of kale, throwing out words like “one note” and “non-versatile.” I can see it already. You’ll be back on top…eventually. Oh spinach, I’m not saying it’ll be tomorrow or anytime soon. I’m sure it’ll be a long while before people forget about the wonder that is kale. It’s pretty magical, but I’m sure you don’t need to hear that right now.

I guarantee you though, that there will come a day when everyone drops kale like it’s hot. It’ll lose its cool factor and they’ll move on to something new and exciting. Something bigger and better. That’s where you come back in, spinach. You swoop in with a new and improved look. A rebranding so to speak. When Popeye comes running back, you say, “Get lost Sailor Man! I don’t need you!” Get yourself a new spokesperson and reinvent yourself. That’ll win America’s hearts back once again. Then you’ll slap kale in the face and send it running back to the dark hole from whence it came. You’ll have the last laugh, dear ol’ spinach. I know it’s difficult to see that right now because of all the tears and anger towards kale, but you’ll see how right I am. Hey! I know what will cheer you up! I made some dip, maybe you’d like some. Dip always makes me feel better. I tried out this new recipe. It has artichokes and lots of cheese and this deliciously wonderful green in it. Oh what green, you ask? You don’t know it. It’s a new green, spinach. Something out of this world. You’re still number one though (in my heart), and that’s all that matters.

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Brussels Sprouts and Apple Quiche

I’m going to be completely honest with you all right here, right now. I feel like you need to hear my confession. I’m currently knee deep in denial friends and I can’t help it. It’s not even the good kind of denial, it’s the bad kind. I actually don’t know if there’s a good kind of denial but I feel like there might be, and if this was the good kind I’d sure know about it. So I’ll reiterate, it’s not the good kind. I refuse to believe or even acknowledge that it’s mid-November already. I don’t want to even think about saying it out loud because I feel like if I do, then that’ll make it real. It’ll put it out there and I’m not ready for that kind of permanence. Seriously though, where has the time gone? Where is it heading so fast? Hey time, slow down a bit yeah? Why are you in such a hurry? You’re moving way too fast for my taste. I feel like it was Thanksgiving and Christmas 2012, just yesterday. I keep asking everyone I encounter—from the cashier at the grocery store, to the mailman, even the dog on the street—”Can you believe it’s almost the end of the year already?!” They responded to me just as shocked as I was, except of course for the dog. He just looked at me and tilted his head to the side. Probably thought I was a piece of bacon or something. The sense of time lost on him no doubt. Memo to myself, I need to think more like a dog and lose my sense of time. Added to my to-do list.

The thought that Thanksgiving is just around the corner is giving me anxiety and it’s starting to sink in. It’s creeping up fast and I have not yet begun to prepare myself for this gigantic holiday. Don’t get me wrong, physically I’m prepared. I’m always ready to eat large amounts of delicious turkey and sides and pie until I can’t move anymore and all I want to do is take a nap or eat some more. (Whichever comes first.) If I could, I’d do that everyday of my life. I’m totally kidding (but not really). Thanksgiving happens to be my favorite holiday—just in case you didn’t already know that—second of course to the 4th of July. But we’ll save that conversation for another time. This isn’t a 4th of July post. So at the moment Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. That’s all you need to know. Someone might need to slap me a couple of times to shake me out of this trance though. My mind still thinks it’s summer, and I have the unusually warm weather here in LA to thank for this. It’s mid-November, it shouldn’t be this hot! Get it together California, you’re killing me!

As my mind tries desperately to get into the right mindset for the upcoming holidays,  I decided to let this post give me the inspiration and boost I’ve been looking for in order to prepare myself for all the cooking and eating (and eating) that’s sure to come soon. I figured that if I used ingredients typically found around the Thanksgiving table, I’d be able to get inspired and get my act together. So I bring to you this Brussels Sprouts and Apple Quiche. I think it screams Thanksgiving without beating you over the head with it. It’s more like “Oh hey, morning after Thanksgiving meal! You look mighty tasty,” instead of, “Oh wow this is like Thanksgiving exploded all over the place,” and that’s something I can totally get behind. I don’t know if this post really helped or not. Just continue to lie to me. Let me be in denial for a few more days. I’ll deal with it next week, but for now I’m going to eat this quiche and pretend that it’s not, absolutely not, mid-November and I think you should do the same. We’re all better off this way.

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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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Caprese Panini and Roasted Tomato Soup

I have the craziest soup stories of when I was a child. Nothing out of this world crazy, like all I ever wanted to eat as a kid was soup or anything like that. This is a whole other level of crazy. This kind of weirdness I blame on my mother, and now of course I’m sure my mom is somewhere reading this thinking, “Oh naturally, the mothers are always the first to get blamed.” But the truth of the matter is that this is in fact her fault. Where should I begin? I guess I should start from the beginning and when I get to the end, I’ll stop. You should know that I only like eating soup on the hottest days of the year. No that’s not a typo, you read that right. The hottest days of the year. That’s when I want a steaming bowl of soup the most. Not on cold rainy days, like normal people; no I crave soup when the sun is blazing and when we’re all wearing nothing but shorts and tanks. When it’s so hot outside and you’ll do anything to cool off, that’s when I want soup. In the worst possible way. When you’re drenched in sweat because it’s so freaking hot and when the last thing you’ll want to do is eat soup, that’s when I’ll want nothing but soup.

So where does my mother come into this picture? How is it her fault you ask? Well she would only make soup for us on the hottest days of the year. We’re talking about full-on big pot of soup boiling away on the stove while the sun is baking the world outside. I’d be playing in the backyard while my mother cooked, and I remember staring up and seeing the windows full of condensation and steaming from the heat radiating not only outside but inside as well. I knew she was making soup. We all knew. Her reasoning behind it—and to this day I have the same reasoning now because of her—is that the heat from the soup will cool you off. Heat cancels off heat. I’m not sure if and how that works but somehow it made sense. I didn’t question it, and if there was anything I learned as a kid, it was that mothers are always right. Write that down.

So there I was, little ol’ young me drinking my hot soup on a hot day not knowing that something was off. Thinking that every kid ate soup on scorching sunny days. Totally normal. Of course I ate the soup without hesitation because if I’m being honest, it’s the best soup I’ve ever eaten. My mom makes really great soup and I’m not just saying this because I’m throwing her under the bus here.  Now that I’m older I’ve come to the realization that hot summer soups, isn’t a thing. No matter how much my mom wishes it were. So for those of you who love soup during the cold seasons—what an odd thing to crave on cold days really—I decided to make a soup post. Much like everything in life, soup is a lot better with a side of bread. Bread wasn’t enough for me though so I decided to make this soup with a side of a sandwich. An accompaniment of a sandwich wasn’t sufficient enough for me however, so I decided to serve the soup alongside a panini. A boring panini wasn’t going to cut it, so I stuffed this one with lots of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes and a homemade basil spread that is super addicting.  Although soup is only tasty when it is served in the summer (thanks mom) I’m willing to overlook that little tidbit because this soup and sandwich combo is up there on the deliciousness scale. Get at it folks.

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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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Mediterranean Couscous Salad

Let’s just face the cold hard facts. Sometimes it’s way too hot to get in the kitchen and rattle them pots and pans (sorry Bill Haley) over the fire or heaven forbid, turning on the oven. Talk about torture. On those days I just don’t eat. No I’m kidding (mamma, of course I eat). On those days I actually try not to cook. I guess I should say I don’t like to make extravagant meals, slaving away in the kitchen for hours on end, because I actually do cook, they’re just super fast dishes with minimal actual “cooking” involved. Not to mention, who wants to eat a hot meal when it’s deplorably hot outside as well? I don’t folks, I don’t. That’s when these easy and refreshing meals come into the picture. Recipes that cool me down without making me spend too much time in the heat of the kitchen. Recipes that are super easy to put together, and utilize ingredients I already have on hand in the fridge or pantry because the last thing I need is to have to go to the market to buy ingredients for dinner. Is it too much to ask for to have such recipes at my disposal? No, not really. That’s totally reasonable. Yes I just answered my own question and no I’m not ashamed of it. Welcome to the inside of my head ladies and gentleman.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the fact that I’ve put up a healthy recipe on here. High-fives and pats on the back are totally appreciated. I’ll even accept some A-OK’s and thumbs up. I mean I deserve brownie points for such a feat. Cue the flying pigs. Start the freezing over of hell. For the greater part, most of my recipes are rich desserts that are full of butter and sugar and chocolate and you know what, there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what breakfasts of champions are made of. I just don’t want you guys to think that’s all I bake and cook and eat so I thought I’d show some variety with this dish, which I happen to make at home all the time. It’s a hit. Just ask my family, they’d tell you, “It’s a hit!” I may or may not have paid them to say that, no big deal. So why not let it be a hit at your house too? You can even take all the credit, go ahead I’m giving you permission. When someone asks you how’d you come up with such a delicious recipe you can say you made it up. “I don’t know how I come up with such things. I surprise myself sometimes. I guess I’m a genius.” Look at that, I’m even telling you what to say. Free of charge. You can pay me by making the recipe and trying it out for yourself. And if you want to invite me over to help you eat it, well I won’t complain.

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