Monday, June 4, 2012

Summer Quinoa Salad

Lately I've been experimenting a lot with fresh and filling summer salad recipes, and this one has quickly become a favorite. I love quinoa because it's healthy, hearty and filling but still satisfies my cravings for delicious, delicious carbs. I love this salad because the dressing & veggies marry together so nicely to create a tangy punch of flavor in every bite. Added bonus: it's totally vegan, which is just nice in case you ever need a vegan option at your summer barbecue.

Summer Quinoa Salad

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 lemon
2 T olive oil
1 large clove garlic
tomatoes - I use about 6 - 7 cherry tomatoes or 2 romas or 1 big beefsteak
1 avocado
1 can sliced black olives
handful of parsley OR cilantro
1/4 c chopped red onion
1/4 c chopped roasted red pepper
1 cucumber
salt & pepper to taste

Pour quinoa & water into a saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer, cover, and let simmer until quinoa has "bursted" and is tender to eat, about 10 - 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Mix dressing: Squeeze out the juice of one lemon, throw in a healthy pinch of kosher salt & freshly ground pepper, and grate or press in a clove of garlic. Whisk in the olive oil. It's about 2 Tablespoons, but do a little at a time until it tastes like it's balanced out the tang of the lemon juice without getting too oily. I will usually just mix my dressing in the big bowl I'm going to put the salad in so I don't dirty up too many dishes.

Dice up your cucumber nice & small--I reserve about 1/3 of my cucumber dices to feed Duncan as a healthy snack, but you should feel free to chuck the whole thing in there. Chop up your red onion, roasted red pepper, avocado & parsley/cilantro, add them to the bowl. Again, I just put them in with the finished dressing. Depending on what kind of tomatoes you're using, dice 'em up, throw 'em in. (If I'm using cherry tomatoes I'll just quarter them.) Drain your olives and add them too.

Now, at this stage, your quinoa may or may not still be warm. I'm usually so hungry that I throw the warm quinoa into the bowl, mix it up & eat. Mac, however, prefers this salad when it's all totally cooled. I leave it up to you. Either way, combine the quinoa with the veggies and dressing, salt & pepper the whole thing to taste, and serve. This will feed four - five hungry people if it's the only thing they're eating, and obviously more if it's a side dish. If it's just for you, it will keep for a couple days--the lemon juice in the dressing helps keep the avocado green.

Final note: I would have posted a picture of this pretty salad, but it literally got eaten too fast and I missed my chance. Next time!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Click-o de Mayo

Mac and I formed our company, Click Communications in May 2007. So every year we celebrate the survival & success of our little enterprise with a big Cinco de Mayo-ish BBQ in the backyard.

In honor of that event, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite recipes: Guacamole and Kalua Pork.

First, the guac. I've gotten lots of "I don't generally like guacamole but I like yours" compliments on this recipe. It's not super fancy, and not even much different from the traditional recipes you can find just about anywhere. I basically just paid close attention to our waiter at El Cholo while they made it tableside, replicated it from memory, then played with it til it was my own.
What you need:
3 ripe avocados (or 1 avocado as big as your head, like the one pictured, left)
2 limes
small handful of cilantro (1/2 cup ish?)
1/2 red onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 jalapeno pepper
coarse salt (like kosher)
black pepper

Because I'm often making this for parties, I'll often do the whole thing in the food processor just to save time. If you don't have one or like a chunkier style to your guac, then you'll want to start by prepping all your flavors.
  • Give the cilantro a rough chop
  • Dice the onion fine
  • Dice the jalapeno fine--then WASH YOUR HANDS before touching anything. Seriously
  • For the garlic, I do this Rachael Ray style, and grate it into the bowl. All the flavor, no giant chunks of garlic, and no waste from the press. A fine dice will also work here.

Get all your flavors together, then cut up your avocado. This is pretty close to how I do it, although I prefer a proper-sized chef's knife to a small paring knife, and I just scoop the goods out with a spoon once I dice it. (Tip: You can learn how to do just about anything in the kitchen on YouTube.)

Alrighty. Next. Juice your limes into the bowl--this'll help you mush up the avocado better--and stir all your ingredients together. Season the whole thing up good with a couple healthy pinches of salt & black pepper. Then taste & check. I find that if I'm missing anything, it's usually salt, black pepper, and/or garlic, so if it doesn't taste perfect to you, start with one of those three.

And that's it! You can add tomatoes if you really want to, but I don't. Personal preference.

Now the Kalua Pork! I'm sure you're wondering, Why the Hawaiian recipe for the Mexican holiday? Well, we have the tiki bar in the back yard & like to add a little island flavor where we can, of course, but the main reason? It's FREAKING DELICIOUS.

It's also ridiculously easy. Here's all you do: follow this recipe. BUT! The last time I made this, I got it started the night before a party, and when I checked on it the next morning I discovered that A) it was already shredding & falling to pieces in the slow cooker and B) it needed more liquid smoke. So, to do this my way, follow that recipe, but about halfway through, shred the pork and stir in about another tablespoon or so of liquid smoke to taste. If it turns out anything like that last batch, you, too, could have guests picking bits of pork out of the slow cooker with their fingers and making their own doggy bags to take home.

To marry this recipe with our Mexican holiday party, however, I was thinking of creating a "Kalua Pork Taco," putting the pork in a soft taco shell with a tropical salsa made with, like, pineapple and Maui onions. How does that sound to you? I think it sounds deeeelicious!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

we have this thing down to a science

It's Awards Season, everyone! Which means I have decided to peek out from under the pile of work where I've been hiding to talk Oscar Party.

Mac and I have been throwing this party together for years. I think since 2002? It was whatever year Will Smith was nominated for his role in Ali, because that was the year we came up with the punch (get it??) recipe that would become the Almighty Funch.

Needless to say, by now we have this thing down to a science. So for those of you who can't make it or are looking for ideas on throwing your own shindig in your corner of the world, here are my tips:

1. A clever, ambitious menu is fun; a short & easy one is better. A couple years ago, I created a deconstructed ratatouille appetizer that was delicious, but super complicated (you bake the ratatouille using the recipe from the movie, toast up some olive-oil-drizzled crostini in the oven, and pile the hot veggie goodness on the bread, and top with a dollop of goat cheese). The year before that I sauteed up a hot, savory filling for lettuce wraps that turned out to be highly involved tricky to assemble & eat. Both of those years, those complicated offerings were part of extensive, fabulous menus, I spent the entire party in the kitchen, and all my friends bitched about it. Last year, I shortened the menu, made MORE of each item, and spent twice as much time watching the show and chatting with friends. No one noticed or cared about the shorter menu, and no one complained about not seeing me. More importantly--I had a much better time!

2. Prizes, prizes, prizzizes! The easiest way to get everyone into the spirit of an awards show--even when the show itself sucks which, let's face it, is often likely--is to put money on it. You can print ballots from the official Oscar site or make your own. The person with the most right gets a nice wad of cash--we do a $10 buy-in. We also do prizes for the runners up and a booby prize for whoever gets the least right--these are all made up of donated swag, so if you don't have the connections? Save your money. Mostly, people just want the cash.

3. The easiest way to decorate for your party is with your guests, I always say. For awards night, we encourage cocktail & party attire as well as movie-inspired costumes. The costumes usually win the Best Dressed award, a prize we will often purchase & assemble, but is still pretty easy. Books about the history of Oscar attire, Vogue magazine, and/or a bottle of nice hooch is sufficient to support the honor of being the most dazzling/creative/brave soul of the party.

4. Multiple Viewing Options! People like to watch awards shows differently. Some are into the whole peanut gallery thing; others prefer the quiet. We offer a variety of options. If you're having 20 or more people to your party, I think you need at least 2 TVs. We offer 4-5. It's probably overkill. There's one in the living room for the rowdy bunch, one outside for smokers & people who want to cool off, a quiet room for the live-bloggers & people who take it more seriously, and one in the kitchen for, well, me. We've also done 1 in the garage in the past, but we're so not cleaning the garage this year so I think we'll stick with the very reasonable four.

5. Keep decor classic & simple. Black table cloth, white platters, gold stars. A plastic red "carpet" for people as they walk up to your place is always a nice touch, and you can find them at most party supply stores. Our personal touch to the decor is the Best Picture Centerpiece, comprised of a variety of fun, symbolic objects to represent each film. With 10 Best Picture nominees this year, this centerpiece will be even more dominant than ever.

And honestly? That's it. Not to untoot my horn and encourage anyone to be less impressed with our efforts, but that really is all there is to it. Have fun at your parties on Sunday, everyone! Maybe I'll even find the time to let you know how ours goes down.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Hot, comforting soup.

I'm back! And so is cooler weather. Granted, that means snow in Minnesota & Colorado and 50 degrees and rain here in LA, but regardless of how thin or thick skinned you are, it's autumn. Which means it's time to hunker down and cook!

I have a bunch of "fall recipes" that I love, but the first thing I want to start cooking is soup. Hot, comforting soup. These are two of my favorites.

1. 15-Minute White Bean Soup.
Yes, you really can whip this up in 15 minutes if you have everything ready to go, and be eating hot, hearty comfort food in no time. I love this recipe because it's made up of staples I like to keep around the kitchen all the time anyway, including scallions, lemon, broth (veg or chicken), and canned white beans. Yes, I keep cans of white beans in my pantry at all times. Do you know how much you can make with them? Lots! Including this soup.

NOTES: Martha's recipe makes enough for 2 people to eat just this as a meal, or 4 people to have small bowls on the side of something else. I always double it so Mac & I have lunch the next day, regardless of whether I serve it with something else or not. Also, you can shred some cooked chicken into this soup pretty easily to create a "protein style" soup that's a little more filling, if you want a heartier meal.

Click the link above for the full recipe. Thank me later.

2. Spicy Pumpkin Soup
This is a recipe my friend Eyad got from a friend of his that used to write for JANE magazine. And as a former Sassy aficionado, that makes both Eyad and this recipe a little cooler in my book. It's also super fun because it's SPICY. You can control how spicy it gets, of course, but the point is that the balance of the sweet pumpkin with the spicy chipotle pepper is super yummy. Add a dollop of creamy sour cream to finish it off and you're in comfort food heaven!
  • 1 Medium pumpkin or 2 cans of cooked unsweetened pumpkin--I just use the cans.
  • One yellow onion
  • 2-3 tsp Olive oil (or preferred cooking oil)
  • 1 chipotle pepper from can of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced--trust me, one is enough! If you're a wuss, try the recipe with half a pepper.
  • 1 dollop of adobo sauce, about a tsp or so (again, depends how spicy you want it)
  • 4 cans of chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1/4 cup of sour cream (optional)
  • Salt to taste

NOTE: If you choose to use fresh pumpkin, slice in half remove seeds and surface stringy membrane insides, place both halves face down in baking dish about a 1/4 full of water, and cook at 350 for probably 20-30 minutes, or until soft--remove outer peel and place flesh aside until needed. I did this recipe once with fresh pumpkin. It was good, but kind of a pain, and canned pumpkin works just as well.


1) Dice yellow onion, heat up your olive oil in a soup pot on medium heat, then cook your onions until soft and slightly browned, about 8-10 min. I sprinkle a pinch of kosher salt on them to help them soften and a turn or two of fresh ground pepper to season them up--optional.

2) Add ONE chipotle pepper, diced, w/ a dollop of the adobo sauce the pepper comes in.

3) Add broth, keep at medium heat, do not boil.

4) Add Pumpkin, stirring all together.

5) Add additional salt to taste, if desired.

6) Stir and heat until hot, avoid boiling.

7) Blend with a hand-held immersion blender, or place entire mixture in a food processor and blend until smooth (place a kitchen towel over opening at top of processor, letting a small slit of air out. Be careful, mixture is HOT).

8) Return mixture to soup pot and place on simmer. Taste soup and if too spicy, add a bit of sour cream. If too salty, add more broth--etc--whatever your taste preference.

9) Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream floating in soup, maybe a piece of toasted bread and a drizzle of olive oil.

Enjoy! I like to serve this spicy pumpkin soup with grilled cheddar cheese sandwiches on pumpernickel bread for a delicious, Halloween-style meal.

And there you have it! Two of my favorite soups for fall! Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

life is busy, too

This blog has really brought into focus just how much hosting, entertaining, cooking and advice-giving on all of the above I actually do in any given time. Since my last entry, we had friends over for a BBQ, I tested two new recipes, we had a friend in from out of town, and I spent one entire evening brainstorming and planning parties with a couple friends.

And the rest of my life is busy, too.

So! That's, like three different entries I came up with in one week:
  • Light & Healthy BBQ Recipe Experiment
  • Party Planning for the Inexperienced: Getting Started
  • Hosting Out of Town Guests

Any preference on where I should start?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

the proper storage of your tomatoes

Anyone else watch The State on MTV in the 90s? Hilarious, random stuff, and it's coming out on DVD this month which is very exciting. And while other fans of the show may go on about "pudding" and "Doug," I am reminded of another sketch featuring Michael Ian Black as Captain Monterey Jack, lecturing the cool kids on the proper storage of their cheese.

I am reminded of this, because I'm here to talk to you about the proper storage of your tomatoes.

See, because as much as I'm all, "I'm going to start a blog about entertaining and cooking and give advice & stuff!" I still screw stuff up all the time.

Like, I'd heard that you shouldn't put your tomatoes in the refrigerator. So when I bought some on Friday, I left them out. But here's a key thing I didn't know--if you leave your tomatoes out in the plastic bag you bought them in, you'll have a moldy, wet mess faster than you can say Wet Hot American Summer.

So, as a gift from me to you, I looked it up: you keep the tomatoes in a brown paper bag, and they'll last up to 5 days, according to this.

You know, I don't care what the guys from "The Pearl Jam" do with their tomatoes. But in the future, mine are going in a paper bag.

Final note: if your tomatoes get a little soft or wrinkly before you use them, freeze them! You can put them in a homemade marinara sauce later on. And then you can dip your meatballs in it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Q and A: 30th birthday celebration

Hi Dinah,

As the queen of all things party I could really use your expertise. I am starting the adventure that is planning my 30th birthday celebration and I am trying to figure out menus/drinks. It is looking like I might be doing more of a cocktail hour than BBQ, but it all depends on how I fit the budget. Do you have any secrets for where you shop or how you come up with your ideas?

Right now it looks like we are going for a “Glamorous 30's,” black/white/red cocktail party theme. Everyone in swimsuits, but glammed up with great hair, accessories, etc. Should be a blast!!

What do you think?


Honey, I think that party sounds fabulous!

I think the key to any successful shindig is to keep it as simple as possible. I even shortened the menu for this year's Oscar fete, and did anyone notice? Nope.

First of all, I think you need a signature cocktail that you can make in big batches and either serve over ice or shake up to chill before serving. “The Christini,” if you will. What's YOUR favorite cocktail? Start there, find a couple recipes, put your own twist on it, and voila! Signature drink! This is a fun research process, what with all the tasting in advance. In fact, I think we should get together with some options—black vodka, raspberry vodka maybe, cranberry juice, pomegranate juice, maybe some creme de cassis, and something sparkling like 7-up or champagne—and see what we come up with. In fact, I want a Christini RIGHT NOW. Is it too early to start drinking?

As for the rest of the menu, there's a couple ways to play off the 30's or black/white/red theme. With the 30's you've got the Depression (depressing) or maybe a super old-school Hollywood thing you could do, which means you could just serve whatever you want and give it cute names like Greta Gumbo. Hell, you could serve Shirley Temples--no cleverness required!

Personally, I would lean more towards the black/white/red theme because it’s easier (and probably cheaper). What about a pasta salad made with pasta shells, black olives, tomatoes and roasted red peppers, and a little Parmesan cheese? Dress it with Italian dressing and some salt & pepper--yummy! You've got Oreos that are black & white, all manner of red fruits & veggies...lots of possibilities.

I recommend brainstorming like crazy until you have a whole bunch of ideas, then group them all up and see what will go well together and what will be the EASIEST and CHEAPEST. Also, keep your menu as short as you can: entree, salad or side, snacky/chip & dippy item, something sweet, and that's it. Maybe make sure there's something for the vegetarians, if you're so inclined. If you're expecting a big turnout, just make stuff in big batches.

Beyond the menu & drinks (which, by the way, I have officially just now decided should be the Christini, Shirley Temples, champagne and nothing else--people can bring their own beer or whatever), I'd recommend just a handful of key decor items to bring out the theme. Costume parties are genius, because then your attendees decorate the place themselves with their costumes. But for something like this, I think I'd hunt down some cheap-o feather boas (at costume or party supply stores) to place around strategically--red, black & white. Do your plates, napkins & tablecloth in the theme colors (cheap versions from the grocery store or party supply store are what I use). Anything else really depends on your space & budget. Do a quick walk-through of the party space, close your eyes and visualize what your ideal party would look like, and boil it down to its key elements.

So now that I know you're having the coolest party ever, when is this shindig? I gotta get it on our calendar! :)