New taco salad

I live on salads during the summer because it’s too hot to cook.  I’m also always on the lookout for something new.

I remember taco salads being very popular when I was a kid but I don’t see them much anymore.  The best part of the taco salad was the big edible fried tortilla bowl … but let’s not forget the lettuce greens, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, taco meat, and salsa too.  ;)  I was recently inspired to bring the concept of the taco salad back to our table after catering a taco bar lunch for 80 people and because D. often orders the California Bowl at Rubio’s (a plastic bowl containing rice, black beans, guacamole, salsa, lettuce, and a choice of protein: chicken, shrimp, or fish).  It’s such an easy concept–I can’t believe I didn’t think of making my own to-go lunch version!  It’s so versatile that I can have a different version everyday: Make it vegan, carb-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, or with meat, there’s a version for every mood and diet!  Move over Rubio’s, here comes something leaner (and better)!  ;)

My version of the California Bowl starts with this:

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Henni’s taco seasoning

(adapted from Alton Brown’s Taco Potion #19)

2 Tbsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1 1/2 tsp. hot smoked paprika or paprika
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. chipotle pepper powder
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano

Mix together and store in an airtight container up to 1 month.

To use, add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 Tbsp. taco seasoning, and 1/2 to 1 tsp. kosher salt (or to taste) to one pound of protein (e.g., beans, tofu, mushrooms, ground beef, ground turkey, chicken breast, etc.) when cooking.

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Henni’s California bowl
(inspired by D.’s cravings)

Recreating this California bowl (the new taco salad) for lunch to-go requires 2 containers (one small and one big) but it’s well worth the effort.  This can be prepared the night before.

In the big container, add any or all of the following, in this order (basically, add all wet ingredients to the bottom of your container and build delicate ingredients on top.  This way, the greens don’t get soggy):

Large container (salad)

Sour cream or plain yogurt
Diced tomatoes
Corn kernels (frozen, canned, or fresh)
Diced green bell peppers
Chopped lettuce, spinach, and/or cabbage
Diced avocado or prepared guacamole
Sliced olives
Chopped red onion
Shredded cheese
Chopped cilantro
Lime wedge (optional)

Small container (rice and protein)

Your choice of rice (white, brown, plain, flavored, etc.)
Your choice of beans (black beans, refried beans, chickpeas, etc.)Your choice of protein seasoned with taco seasoning (recipe above) (chicken, ground turkey, ground beef, tofu)

You will heat up the small container of rice and protein at work.  If you are using something like grilled chicken, you can add it to the salad container if you prefer to eat it cold.  Add the heated rice and beans/protein to your salad.  Mix the salad to incorporate the wet ingredients at the bottom of your container, watch the cheese melt into your rice, and enjoy!  Add a squeeze of lime, if you like!  For a treat, pack some tortilla chips to go with your salad.

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Bon appetit!

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!  Hope you had a nice BBQ and celebrated with fireworks, family, and friends.

Fattoush salad with kale

Fattoush salad with kale

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Grilled potatoes seasoned with merquen

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Grilled sweet corn (white corn with blue kernels, heirloom variety?–from a co-worker’s garden)


Grilled mini trumpet mushrooms and green bell peppers

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Korean style spicy baby back ribs

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Teriyaki chicken wings

Bon appetit!

The May garden 2015

As I walked through the May garden this morning, a song from nursery school popped into my head.  See if you can guess the song …















I can sing a rainbow,” was the inspiration for this post.  The song pops into my head every once in awhile, always at the oddest times, and always when I see an actual rainbow, but I realized I didn’t know anything about its origins.  Did kids in other schools learn the song too?  Do kids still learn the song today?  I looked it up and was surprised to learn not only was it very popular in the UK during the 60s and 70s but there are many more lyrics to the song.  I only ever learned the first few lines and always thought it was just a nursery rhyme!  :)

“Red and Yellow and Pink and Green,
Purple and Orange and Blue.
I can sing a rainbow
sing a rainbow
You can sing a rainbow too …”

And in case you were wondering how we got such colors in our garden, this is how it happened:  ;)

20150220_165656 (Small)I  hope that everyone has a rainbow in their May garden too!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  Welcome to our 9th annual Feast of all potatoes!  For the first time in the history of the Feast of all potatoes, I am sharing the feast with you *on* St. Patrick’s Day (a feat that will probably never be repeated)!

This year, our Feast of all potatoes was extra special because we had to travel all the way to Belgium in order to make it happen!

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Lasne, outside Brussels

When JL and L moved to Belgium last year, we were very sad because in addition to being our good friends, we also sowed and shared certain traditions together over the past 15 years that had become an integral part of our weekend ritual, which we miss very much.  Good traditions need to be kept alive so last month we traveled to Belgium to see our friends and to honor one of our favorite culinary traditions, the Feast of all potatoes!

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Feast of all potatoes 2015

Also, for the first time in the history of the Feast, Iron Chefs JL and Henni had to share Kitchen Stadium!  It was an unprecedented scene in Kitchen Stadium with 4 sous chefs (including knife-wielding 9 yr. old), potato peels flying everywhere, pots and pans sizzling away on all the stove burners, kitchen appliances being deployed in other parts of the house, and hungry pheasants in the backyard knocking on the windows!

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No, these guys were not on the menu!

By popular demand, I. and E. requested boxty potato pancakes.  The pancake batter involves liquefying the potatoes but due to electrical challenges, we did not have access to a food processor or a high power blender.  As a result, things got tense in Kitchen Stadium and I was ready to throw in the towel when Sous chef L. came up an ingenious idea to finely grate the potatoes before subjecting them to a handheld immersion blender.  Good thinking, L.!  :)

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These pancakes were a labor of love, requiring the assistance of 4 cooks!

As our tradition dictates, we enjoyed the pancakes with smoked salmon.  Happy birthday, L.! ;)

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In Europe, there are some cool kitchen gadgets that we don’t have, such as an electric soup maker. The closest thing I could find here was the Soyajoy G4 Soy Milk Maker and Soup Maker.  I might have to get me one of these toys!  To make this potato leek soup, Sous chef L. put water, chopped potatoes, and sliced leeks into something that looked like an electric kettle with built-in chopping blades.  She turned on the “kettle” and the soup cooked and blended itself in about a 1/2 hour!  Note: It took longer to render the pancetta and fry the leek toppings for the soup!

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Potato leek soup with pancetta and fried leeks

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Special croquettes from the local farmer’s market: Parmesan and truffle

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WINNER!  Herbed braised pork chops with sliced potatoes by Chef JL

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After dinner cheese board

As usual, it was a delicious feast and we marveled at how much food we could create for one meal.  But the thanks and accolades go to Iron Chef JL who actually did most of the cooking for this feast.  Thank you JL and L for making this happen for it was a very special feast indeed.  :)

Bon appetit and Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Disclaimer: I am a member of Amazon Associates.  This post contains links to Amazon.com and if you click on the link and purchase something, I get a few coins tossed my way.

La ferme du Hameau du Roy

One of the highlights of our visit to Brussels was a bakery in Lasne called La ferme du Hameau du Roy.  I’m so glad I don’t live near this bakery because not only is it dangerous for my waistline but also my self-control–losing either would not be a pretty sight!  Anyway, I am now forcing you to revisit La ferme du Hameau du Roy with me so that you too can feel your waistline expanding and struggle with the urge to eat your computer screen. ;)

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Quiches, tarts, and soups

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Liege waffles, pastries, croissants

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More pastries

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Fruit tarts and galettes

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More fruit tarts

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Is that the beginnings of a mille crepe cake I spy in the back? :)

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Cookies, sweets, and other fun goodies to go.  JL and L later sent us some hard candies and jellies from La ferme du Hameau du Roy.  They were not too sweet and quite addictive.  D. was especially happy.  Thanks JL and L! :)

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We left the bakery with a big bag of goodies!  Shall we take a peek inside the bags?

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Couque au beurre (Belgian croissants)

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Craquelin is a bread eaten in Belgium and the Netherlands.  It’s like a brioche with pearl sugar mixed in the dough. Pearl sugar is special because it doesn’t melt at baking temperatures.  Craquelin is sweet enough to be eaten on its own like a dessert.  It reminds of sweet Asian bakery breads but better!

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Sandwich mou (little soft bread rolls)

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Seigle (Rye)

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Pain au chocolat and tea for breakfast!

Hope you enjoyed the virtual bakery!

Bon appetit!

D. and I spent a week in Italy last month, where we had amazing food experiences and were overwhelmed by the number of gelaterias everywhere.  It seemed there was a gelateria on every street corner, each even more beautiful and inviting than the last.  Gelaterias are so popular that they open early in the morning (some at 8am!) and still serving late in the evening (midnight!).  I thought that Americans ate a lot of ice cream but in Italy, we spied people enjoying gelato all hours of the day (including breakfast) and night, never mind that it was also 35 F degrees out!  Brrr!

In the world of ice creams, gelato is my favorite, mainly because it’s not as heavy as traditional American ice cream, having less sugar and fat.  Gelato is required, by Italian law, to have 3.5% milk fat, and contains more milk than cream, and is served at a warmer temperature so it’s more like a soft-serve ice cream.  By comparison, American ice cream must contain at least 10% milk fat to be considered ice cream, by FDA definition.  In the end, it’s all about preference: Dense, silky gelato?  Or fluffy, creamy traditional ice cream?

This post is dedicated to my family who are all ice cream monsters and were looking forward to these photos. :)  These are not even the best of the best.  There were simply too many gelaterias to conquer, each one more beautiful than the next …

One of a zillion gelaterias in Italy

This shop makes a bold claim!

This shop makes quite a bold claim!  :)

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Click on photo for a bigger view! :)

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Click on photo for a bigger view! :)

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Can you tell, by the reflection in the glass, where this gelateria is?

Do you know where this gelateria is located?

... in the same city as above (Photo by N.)

… in the same city as above (Photo by N.)

Some gelaterias also offered other desserts

Some gelaterias also offered desserts

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… and cookies and pastries too!

While my family is crazy about ice cream, my sweets mission was all about the cannolo (pl. cannoli)!  This one was served at Majer in Venezia.

Yes, I was happy. :)

Yes, I was happy. :)


Cannoli and other vehicles for enjoying gelato

Buon appetito!

Best of Italy

I love Italy. I love the warm friendly people, the culture, the history, and of course, the delicious food. Not only is the food amazingly good but it is so affordable! With the exception of 2 restaurants, we didn’t have a bad meal in Italy.  We hit a culinary jackpot.

Our first stop was the magical floating city of Venezia …

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My friend T. once told me that if vampires exist, they live in Venezia.

Carnevale masks

Carnevale masks

We left Venezia the day before Carnevale so we missed the festivities but we experienced something even rarer (?).  Do you recognize this iconic Venetian landmark (try picturing it with pigeons and people)?  :)

Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square)

Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square)

Since Venezia was flooded the entire time we were there, we spent much of our time in Arsenale, away from the tourist center of things, dining and shopping with the locals.  :)  We found out that the city center has the worst food anyway.

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Eggplant Parmesan pizza at La Nuova Perla in Venezia

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Tagliatelle with pesto and chicken (Sottoprova in Venezia)

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Penne arrabiatta and papas fritas (Sottoprova in Venezia)

Our second stop was Roma.  This may be the most popular tourist attraction in Roma but it pales in comparison to …

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… St. Peter’s Basilica.  After visiting the Vatican Museums and seeing the Sistine Chapel (which, by the way, was so underwhelming and one of the worst museum experiences I’ve ever had), we almost skipped seeing St. Peter’s Basilica because our brains were suffering from art overload, something we didn’t think was possible!  We didn’t anticipate making a 2nd trip to Vatican City but we somehow ended up at St. Peter’s Basilica and are so grateful that we did.  St. Peter’s Basilica blew us away!  It was drop-to-your-knees awe-inspiring!  It was well worth the the 10 mile walk over cobblestones to get there and then climbing 551 steps up to the top of the dome.

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On our first night in Roma, we passed by a restaurant on Via del Teatro Pace (near Piazza Navona) where the manager was outside the restaurant trying to entice passersby into his restaurant.  A charismatic man, he claimed that Navona Notte was “the best restaurant in Rome” and if we did not like our meal, it would cost only €1.  That was quite a bold claim and in the end, he won over our nephew, M. who really wanted “pizza with ham.”  Happily, the manager took M. by the hand and led us into the restaurant.

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Wild mushroom and truffle fettucine (Navona Notte in Roma)

One of the daily specials was a Wild mushroom and white truffle fettucine.  I almost didn’t order it because when I asked the waiter, “Quanto costa?” (How much?)  He replied, “Trente” (30).  It was more than I wanted to pay for dinner since it was still very early in our trip but the promise of truffles and homemade pasta were hard to resist.  The dish was out of this world!  It ended up costing only €11 (say whaaa??) but it was so sublime that I would have gladly paid €30 for it.  My Italian language skills are poor but I am familiar with numbers and I clearly heard “trente,” not “undici.”  Regardless, I’m very happy I decided to “splurge.”  ;)

After 4 days of overindulging in cold cuts and cheese for breakfast, pasta and pizza for lunch, and more meat and cheese for dinner, we were in great need of fresh vegetables and vegan fare.  Eating cheese at every meal was too much, even for D. who loves cheese!  Having read about an acclaimed vegetarian/vegan restaurant in Roma, we decided to make our way to Ristorante Arancia Blu.  The meal was very good but it was still difficult to get away from the cheese.

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Courgette flowers stuffed with potatoes and Pesto (typical sauce of pounded basil, garlic, pine nuts, ewe’s cheese, parmigiano and oil) rolled in crisp rice spaghetti with green beans and mustard sauce

Stuffed courgette (zucchini) flowers were very popular in Roma.  I tried to eat as many different versions as I could!


Appetizer: Goat cheese stuffed red onion with butternut squash puree

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Parmigiana of artichokes in Parmesan shell with mint pesto

After bidding farewell to Roma, we headed for the medieval walled city of San Gimignano in Siena, Tuscany, to satisfy the medievalist in me.  :)  What a sight it must have been, to come upon this walled city as a medieval traveler, on a pilgrimage to Vatican City …

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So this is what it was like to come upon the walled city of San Gimignano …

San Gimignano is a very well preserved medieval town with extant examples of both Romanesque and Gothic architecture.  Unchanged from the 12th century, the town is currently home to 7700+ inhabitants and parts of it are open to tourists.

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At an unassuming fast food joint in San Gimignano, Pizzeria ibiga snc di bigazzi cristina e filippo, I had the best pizza slice ever!  (and D. enjoyed the panino too!)

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Proscuitto and mozarrella panino and a caffe Americano

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Zucchine e tartufo (zucchini and black truffle pizza)

Ahhh, Firenze!  I couldn’t wait to visit Firenze, the heart of the Italian Renaissance, birthplace of the great Italian poet Dante Alighieri, and home of the Medici Family.  Upon arrival in Firenze, I could feel the history and age of the city come alive.  I could only describe it as walking back in time.

Is there anything that says Firenze more than Duomo, Brunelleschi's dome?

Is there anything that says Firenze more than Duomo and Brunelleschi’s dome?  I didn’t think so!

Some people get excited about meeting their favorite rock star or Hollywood celebrity but I get excited about history.  I don’t often get moonstruck but as a great admirer of the Medici Family, I felt giddy and excited at the prospect of visiting Firenze.  I surprised myself!

Medici Family ceiling fresco at the Uffizi Gallery

Portraits of the Medici Family on a ceiling fresco at the Uffizi Gallery

We had some excellent meals in Firenze.  Tuscan specialties such as ribollita, panzanella, pasta e fagioli, pollo alla fiorentina were the order of the day but the dish that stood out for me was pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (paparadelle with wild boar sauce).

Our first excellent meal was at the Trattoria La Madia.  The complimentary bread was so simply delicious that it deserved its own photo.

Even the bread was excellent

Even the bread was excellent

Take a note of this extra virgin olive oil that even D. liked!  It was hands-down, the best olive oil we’ve ever tasted!  It also deserved its own photo.  :)

Excellent olive oil

Excellent olive oil

I was quite happy with just bread and olive oil but then the pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale arrived and it. was. soooo. good!  It’s a toss-up for the best pasta dish ever: I can’t decide if I liked the Wild mushroom and white truffle fettucine (in Roma) or the Paparadelle in a wild boar sauce better!  I would gladly eat both again in a heartbeat!

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Pappardelle al sugo di cinghiale (Paparadelle with wild boar sauce)

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Ricetta Risotto ai carciofi (artichoke risotto)

On our 2nd night in Firenze, we saw signs for Ristorante Pizzeria Lorenzo De’ Medici.  Being the moonstruck Medici fan that I am, how could I pass up eating in a restaurant that bears the name of the Lorenzo the Magnificent?  ;)  Like the restaurant in Roma, we were lured in by a friendly waiter.  This guy claimed they had “the best pizza in Firenze.”

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Lombardi pizza (proscuitto topped with fresh arugula, burrata, cherry tomatoes, Parmesan, drizzled with olive oil)

Guess what?  This was the best pizza that D. had during our Italy trip!  :)  The spaghetti alle vongole wasn’t bad either and I was also happy to finally get some seafood.

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Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams)

I can’t get over how delicious the pasta is in Italy.  It’s all handmade and the quality is so far superior to dried pasta.  My palate has been forever spoiled because there is no pasta at home that can rival what we enjoyed in Italy (except maybe hand pulled Chinese noodles!).  Even though we were starting to feel the effects of too much meat, cheese, carbs, I decided I had to taste one more pasta dish on our last day in Italy.  We headed to the Brown Sugar Lounge Bar on Piazza di San Firenze for lunch.  Most restaurants serve sandwiches or pizza for lunch so we had to find a full service sit-down restaurant to find pasta.

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Gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce

You may have noticed a distinct lack of vegetables in many of the dishes we ate.  This tagliatelle was an exception.

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Tagliatelle with fresh vegetables sauce

On our final evening in Italy, Good Fortune was smiling upon us because we found Impressione Chongqing, a Sichuan restaurant on Via Sant Antonino.  I was very impressed with the young Chinese wait staff who could not only converse in Mandarin and Italian, but also in English!

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Spicy boiled fish

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Sauteed Italian green beans

This meal was just what the doctor ordered and it was also one of the best Sichuan meals we’d ever had!  Not as spicy as some restaurants but the flavors were very good and I liked the local produce.  Therefore, I was very sad to learn that the restaurant has just closed down!  :(

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Outside our hotel window in Firenze

There ends our culinary adventure in Italy!  Be sure to check out my post on gelatos and other dolci.

Buon appetito and arrivederci!


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