When taste satisfaction and ease of cooking are both present in any given dish, that is culinary genius in my book. When it comes to the little effort part, not all vegetables play nice. Eggplant, for instance, can be quite intimidating to cook with. It is large, has a thick, dark exterior, spongy interior and a unique texture. When I started cooking seriously, I purposely steered away from this mysterious vegetable. However, being a lover of Italian and Mediterranean cuisine (which often substitutes eggplant for meat due to its heartiness and texture), it wasn’t long before I embraced it fully. Here, we feature a stand alone Italian eggplant dish, a mix of Eggplant Parmigiana (minus the frying part) and Eggplant Lasagna (minus the noodle part). It comes together within a matter of minutes when the eggplant is prepared beforehand (which is recommended so it can fully cool and maintain its shape). This dish is a perfectly pleasing comfort food and true contender as the main course.
You will need:
2-3 medium size firm eggplants, 1 and a half inch slices
olive oil, salt and pepper
1 cup Italian tomato sauce
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup Parmigiana, shredded
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, ripped or julienned (ribbon cut)
I recently had a unique opportunity to work with a talented, local L.A. sommelier, Heather Willens. Together we set up a wine tasting paired with carefully selected food for a group of eight guests. It is a rare treat to have a trained sommelier describe what you are experiencing when enjoying wine because they are so well versed in the specifics. They understand and can explain the origin, environment and fabrication of the grapes, all key factors in winemaking. The experience of wine tasting becomes elevated as you swirl, smell and sip. You can be transported and find connection to the land, culture and people of a region just by tasting the wine. Now pairing that experience with food is inviting another level of flavors that should sensitively co-exist in balance. For food to work with wine and vice versa, the pair should enhance and effectively cancel out each other, neutralizing the palate for a new experience with each bite and sip. We collaborated on taste profiles and eventually settled on a menu of six distinct wines. We focused on wines that had been hand-crafted with care (like the food) and made in small batches from sub regions throughout the world. I wanted to have small elegant plates of well thought out food pairings and try for a perfect match with each wine. Also, an important factor, which reflects most of our menu choices, is the food be made (or at least prepped) well in advance for easy plating. For dessert, I opted to serve a platter of assorted chocolates, an easy and delicious way to finish off the evening. Here is the wine and food menu. Continue reading →
A proven test for recipe success and knowing I have something special, is when my entire family (toddler included) enthusiastically digs in and enjoys a meal. Two additional factors for me, besides being absolutely delicious, are high nutritional value and ease of preparation. This poached salmon recipe hits the mark on all counts. The health benefits of incorporating fatty fish like salmon in our diets are widely publicized, for instance: the importance of Omega 3’s, high protein and essential amino acids. Here, the simple asian inspired ingredients such as: ginger, soy sauce and Mirin, enhance the salmon, creating a winning combination of contrasting flavors that are in balance. There are subtle components of acidity along with salty and sweet flavor profiles that don’t overwhelm, but compliment the succulent fish beautifully. The poaching method, a very easy form of cooking fish, makes for a moist, melt in your mouth texture. Stay mindful of rule #1 when it comes to fish preparation and that is: do not over cook. I like using fresh wild Alaskan salmon, like sockeye, king or coho. Make sure all the ingredients are fabricated beforehand and your table is set, because once you start cooking, the whole process is over in about 15 minutes. Fast, easy, delicious, inspired, toddler approved and very much good for you. What is there not to LOVE?
You will need:
1 pound of salmon (deboned and cut into filets)
3 to 4 cups of water
1/4 cup of rice wine vinegar
3 inches of fresh ginger
2 green onions
1 clove garlic minced
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of canola oil
2 teaspoons of Mirin (can substitute with granulated sugar)
When I think of spring, I think of beautiful blooms and fresh, delicious salads preferably served along with crunchy, scrumptious croutons. I am a big fan of croutons because they add extra dimension, texture and flavor, to the otherwise simple salad. Crouton comes from the French word, croute, used both as a noun for the name and verb for the process of transforming bread into crust. Usually, I can’t resist a fresh baked baguette for this reason and whenever possible, make my own croutons to go along with our daily salads. I love having them pre-made and stored (they keep very well) in the refrigerator ready to use with whatever mixture of greens we choose to dress up. Try a fun approach and play with how you slice the baguette, creating long or short diagonal cuts of thin or thick slices. I like cutting the baguette diagonally at 120 degree angle with a half inch thickness. This technique forms long sophisticated strips and makes for a delicate crunch. Three ingredients and about 15 minutes creates a simple, perfect, and essential element to the bounty of spring.
Whenever I am dining out and Huevos Rancheros is on the menu, it doesn’t matter what time of day, I will order it. I am not alone, most Californians have a deep affinity and/or guilty pleasure for Mexican food. We have all grown up with it and we can’t get enough of it. Our friendly Hispanic neighbors have shared their culture, food, and inspirations so openly with us. We, in turn, have taken that and put a California flare on what is a constantly evolving cuisine. You haven’t had Mexican until you have had it California style, fresh and loaded with flavor. That being said, there is a real movement of healthy, well-balanced interpretations of classic Mexican entrees like Huevos Rancheros. I was recently at Cafe Vida in Culver City and there it was, like an old friend staring longingly back at me. I ordered it, ate every last bit and couldn’t stop thinking about it for the rest of the day. There is a lot of room for interpretation with this dish, but there are always the same core ingredients: the tortilla, beans, salsa and perfectly fried egg. Without further ado, here is the iLee version of a classic favorite, Los Huevos Rancheros.
Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables during the winter months. It is fairly neutral and can easily be incorporated into sauces and in this case, sweet and savory pancakes. It is an easy vegetable to “slip” into any dish which helps boost the nutritional value. As a mom, you’ve got to love that. My sister purees it and adds it to spaghetti sauce so her kids could have the benefit of more vegetables without the fuss. Here, I cook it separately and incorporate it into this sweet and savory pancake that travels well and is delicious both warm or cold. Even your pickiest eater will love, love, love it. For added flare, serve it with a sweet chutney or preserve.
Kale abounds at the farmer’s market this time of year and its detoxifying properties make it a great new year staple to incorporate into one’s regular diet. This salad recipe elevates kale to new heights and has quickly become one of my all-time favorites. The sweetness of the balsamic vinaigrette and the substantial and earthy mix of greens, grains and legumes is the ultimate super food that satisfies the most discerning palates and non-vegetarians alike. As with most cruciferous vegetables, kale can be hard to eat in its raw form. Here, the kale is massaged with lemon juice to remove the bitterness and soften the leaves, creating a silkier texture that compliments and highlights all the ingredients in this unique and filling chopped salad. Easily a 6 serving dish, make sure to save some for the next day as the kale stays firm, all the flavors marinade and its even better the second go around. The Balsamic and Red Onion Vinaigrette is a simple and very special recipe that you can find here as a separate post.
You will need:
1 bunch of curly kale washed, dried and stalks removed
2 cups of cooked quinoa
2 cups of cooked chickpeas or 1 can of garbanzo beans
The galette is my ultimate “go to” during the holiday season or any festive time that calls for a homemade dessert. I am not much of a baker and this easy dough recipe makes anyone look like a pro and the slight imperfections are really what make it perfect. A gallette is a basic free form crust with either a sweet (fruit) or savory (caramelized onions) filling. A cornucopia of apples are available at your local farmer’s market this time of year and fresh fruit makes the best topper for this crust. To keep things easy, I split the recipe up in two parts by making the dough the day before. This calls for a bit of thinking ahead and is really worth it, because the dough is better and the process is much easier overall. The result: naturally caramelized, balanced sweet and tart flavors of baked apple gently cradled in buttery, flaky crust. Easy perfection every time without the hard work. Don’t you just love it?
For the Dough you will need:
2 cups of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 1/2 sticks of cold unsalted butter cut rough cubes
1/4 cup ice water
For the Filling you will need:
2 large or 4 small granny smith apples
1/4 cup sugar plus 1 tablespoon to sprinkle on top
1 tablespoon of heavy cream to brush on edges of crust (optional)
The basic ingredients in a spring roll are: grain, protein and vegetable, which makes it a balanced meal all its own. This recipe is vegan and naturally gluten free, with the added health benefits of cleansing herbs. Cilantro helps detoxify our system from harmful metals and mint is an effective aid in digestion. This is clean food for your body and soul. Spring rolls are typically served as an appetizer along with a dipping sauce. They can also make for a satisfying snack, nourishing lunch option or a fun side dish to any Asian inspired meal. Keep in mind that when this dish comes out, you will have everyone’s attention in the room simply because they are visually beautiful and unique. The mint and cilantro pack a powerful flavor punch and are happily subdued by the neutral tofu and tangy, velvety peanut sauce. The texture of the rice noodles and paper are soft with an element of crunch. Everything here works and plays together nicely. There really is no going back to a traditional fried roll so prepare yourself.
For the spring rolls you will need:
4 oz rice vermicelli
8 rice paper wraps
6 oz tofu sliced into thin spears
1 – 2 avocados sliced
1 cup cilantro leaves rough chopped
1 cup mint leaves rough chopped
2 green onions white and light green parts chopped