LA by Food and Turkey Tacos

Earlier this month, I went to visit a cousin who lives in Los Angeles. It was my first time to visit California which was exciting all by itself, but the fact that my cousin is an LA native made it all the more exciting. Over the course of my four days there, we went to the beach, did massive sight-seeing, went on fun adventures, and above all else – we ate really good food! While I didn’t think of it before I went, so there is not proper documentation, now I know that I want to chronicle the food on my trips to share with you all along with my recipes. I will do a better job in the future of providing visual aids to the tasty tidbits I will bring back to you. In a few weeks I’m headed to Abilene, TX. Honestly, I’m not sure what I will eat that will be worthy of sharing, but I’ll do my best to bring back something delicious.

We ate a lot of places – Asian fusion, Mexican, sandwich shops, smoothie places, and so forth. Two of the places we ate where I took photos were Barney Greengrass at Barneys New York and Musso & Frank Grill. Barney Greengrass is on the rooftop of Barneys and it’s beautiful up there. Check out the view from our table! I ordered a chicken sandwich with olive tapenade, mozzarella cheese, and artichokes with a delicious side salad. My cousin ordered a cobb salad with brisket! Yep – brisket! Weird, I know. He said it was pretty good, actually. I polished off my sandwich and my salad while visually feasting on the hills of Hollywood. It tasted fresh, a little salty and briny from the olives and the artichokes, chewy from the bread, and creamy from the cheese. Chicken is an odd flavor to try to describe, but it was good, moist chicken! It’s definitely a sandwich that I would like to emulate here in my own kitchen in Central TX.

In the window at Barneys

We look good and so does our food!

My yummy sandwich!

What our eyes feasted on!

The last night I was in LA, Bob took me to Musso & Frank Grill which is the oldest restaurant in Hollywood. It opened in 1919 is sort of hard for me to wrap my brain around. It’s older than my grandparents. Charlie Chaplin ate there – he has a special booth. The waiters there are trained in the art of waiting – the art of customer service. They aren’t aspiring actors or singers looking for their big break. They are committed to creating the best experience for their patrons. One side of the restaurant is the bar side and the other is the grill side. You can sit at the bar or you can sit at the grill to watch them make the steaks and other cuts of meat. We sat on the bar side at a circle booth and people watched. Bob had the prime rib and I had the filet mignon, both with sides of baked potatoes and we shared broccoli with Hollandaise sauce. We also got cocktails which come in these tiny martini glasses AND they bring you the rest of the cocktail in a little jar to keep on the table! Mine came on ice as it was a chilled beverage. It was as cute as could be! When our steaks came, I had really be mindful to eat it slowly so that I could really savor how tender and flavorful it was. I kid you not, it was one of the best pieces of meat I’ve eaten in a long time. Heck, it was all good so we wasted no time in devouring the deliciousness.

Oldest in Hollywood, baby!

All cocktails should be served this way!

Beef: It's what's for dinner!

Waste not, want not.

Late last week I had my debut as a guest blogger on my friend Julie’s blog, Elisharose News. I’ve known Julie most of my life and only recently learned that I am one of her favorite people. It brings me joy and is humbling to know she thinks so highly of me, and that she was willing to post a recipe I sent her for Turkey Tacos. Seriously, y’all, go over and take a looksee; you won’t be disappointed. I made the dish for Sunday dinner, and then proceeded to eat the leftovers every day for the entire week. No lie – I ate the same lunch every day and didn’t get tired of it. It was as delicious Friday as it was Monday. While you’re over on Julie’s blog, check out her Tuesday Tips because she’s got lots of great nuggets of information for how to live a simpler and more healthy life. Deep in my heart, I want to be a writer so being a guest blogger was a small step toward feeling a little more like a “real writer” than I did before. Thanks so much, Julie!

Happy eating, everyone – wherever you are!

Baked Chicken and Onions

I made this dish recently as a welcome home meal for my grandmother who was returning to her house after being in nursing home rehab all summer long. We invited her best friends to join her, my mom, and me.  When it was time to serve dinner, I got nervous cooking for everyone, but it turned out just wonderfully. Folks had seconds, and everyone had very complimentary things to say during the meal. Mary even wrote down the recipe before she left that night so she could make it at home, too. I think that’s an excellent compliment. I’ve also made this dish to take to friends who had just had a baby so I think it travels well also. There are two variations in the marinade, and I’ve made both so I’ll share how they each turned out along with their pluses and minuses. Give both a try to see what works for you!

Baked Chicken and Onions

1 fryer chicken/4 bone-in chicken breasts/2 lbs of chicken strips (I had chicken strips so that’s what I used.)
1 medium-large onion
1/3 cup flour
Generous pinch of ground rosemary
1 cup boiling water
¼ cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
4 tsp lemon juice
¾ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp poultry seasoning


1.       Marinate your chicken in a zip-top bag in the fridge using either Step A or Step B.
A.      You can marinate it in the sauce ingredients (the last four in the list) and then add the sauce to the pan before baking. It adds a nice brown color to the chicken, but it can get too salty very quickly with the soy sauce.
B.      You can marinate your chicken in Italian salad dressing. Just give a quick rinse before proceeding with the next steps. The brown color is missing, but it stays moist and not overly salty.
2.       Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3.       In a brown paper bag, put the flour and rosemary. Add the chicken pieces, fold over the top, and give several good shakes so as to coat the chicken with flour.

4.       Brown the chicken in a sauté pan for a few minutes on each side. You are looking for a slightly browned finish, but they don’t need to be fully cooked. (I used an electric skillet because that’s what my grandmother has. At home, I would have used a regular skillet.)
5.       While the chicken is browning, slice the onion into thin rings and put them in a thin layer on the bottom of your baking dish.

6.       Combine the last four ingredients to create your sauce if you didn’t do that to create the marinade during Step 1.
7.       Put the chicken on top of the onion layer; add in the sauce and the boiling water.
8.       Cover tightly with a lid or foil, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. If you are using bone-in chicken, it will take closer to 45 minutes to cook. I took the chicken out halfway and turned the strips over so that both sides were in contact with the sauce which helped create the lovely browned look for the chicken. This is not necessary though – purely for aesthetic reasons.

Temperature Tip: When you bring meat out of the refrigerator where it’s been marinating, let it rest on the counter for a while to come up to room temperature. It will cook more evenly in the pan if you let it warm up a bit. It is totally acceptable to let it sit on the counter for somewhere from 30 minutes to an hour. I was at a BBQ class once, and the instructor-chef-man said he lets his beef rest at room temperature for 2 hours without being worried about bacteria or anything. All the chefs and cooks on Food Network also recommend taking the chill of the meat. If you put cold meat in a pan to cook, the outside will often cook much faster than the inside which leaves you with dried-out or burned meat. That’s not good eats.

I am a big fan of Penzey’s Spices (see their link on my left side bar!), and for a few years, they put out a magazine, Penzey’s One. It was a wonderful magazine full of stories about people and the role food plays in their lives. They would highlight certain regional areas or find a theme to gather recipes around. This recipe originally came from a grandmother who was given the recipe on her wedding day in 1948 by her mother. (Penzey’s One: Volume 1, Issue 2, 2005) Even though I’ve changed it just a bit to reduce the salt, I still like that this recipe has history and that there is a connection to a family in the New England area who also eats this. Thanks Barbara Sands for sending Penzey’s your recipe, and thanks to Penzey’s for publishing real life recipes. Happy eating!

Nutritional Content: 2 strips and some onions
Calories: 141
Fat: 1 g
Carbs: 4 g
Protein: 26 g
Iron: 6%

Fast Flax Tilapia

When I am in a time crunch for food and searching for something to make, tilapia is often the answer. Even if it’s still frozen, it can be quickly defrosted in a pitcher of water while I’m prepping the rest of dinner. It cooks pretty quickly too, which is always a bonus in my world. I keep a bag of fillets in the freezer so there is always a quick and healthy meal on the horizon. The inspiration for this dish came from a friend of mine who is a self professed “HEB pre-prepared food cook.” so you know it’s easy. She also makes it with salmon which is quite tasty. It’s nice to have a versatile recipe, yes? Well, let’s use the word “recipe” loosely and go with “formula,” perhaps. Remember my encouragement to experiment in making dishes your own. Here’s how I make Fast Flax Tilapia.

Deliciously crispy tilapia!

Fast Flax Tilapia

1 4-oz tilapia fillet
1 tbsp ground flax seed
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (the powdery kind)
1 tsp light olive oil

1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Rinse and pat dry your tilapia.
3. In a small bowl, mix the flax seed, cheese, and oil until it resembles a paste.
4. After laying your fish on your cooking surface (I generally prefer to line mine with foil.), spread your flax paste on top of the fish, using all the paste.
5. When the oven is ready, pop in for 8 – 10 minutes. Check it after 8  minutes to see if it looks like a crust is forming. It will crisp up some more after you pull it from the oven, but it should be on it’s way to crispy when you pull it out.
6. Let it rest for a minute or two and then dig in!

You could leave out or reduce the oil if you like, but I find it helps to get the topping crusty. It’s a bit more dry and crumbly without – but still tasty. Alternatively, you could leave the cheese out or substitute a different kind of ground seed, if that is your preference. I haven’t tried it on shrimp or scallops, but I am certain it would be delicious. This is a great template to build on.

A note about defrosting: Please, please, please for the love of all that is culinary – do not leave your meats on the counter to defrost. That’s just an invitation for all kinds of badness and none of us need that in our lives, now do we? Instead, place your frozen meat (or other food) in a bowl or on a plate and set it in the fridge to thaw. I cannot recommend the receptacle to hold the item highly enough. This can save you from all sorts of unfortunate leakage all over your fridge. The thickness of the product you are defrosting usually dictates the amount of time needed for defrosting. I have found, however, that most (but certainly not all) meats will be defrosted by the time I get home from work if I’ve remembered to take it out of the freezer the previous night before I go to bed. Items like shrimp, scallops, tilapia, rice, etc., really only need the time while I’m at work to thaw out. Sometimes I forget to pull my chicken or beef from the freezer the night before. If this is your story too, do not despair. Keep the item in a zip-top bag, press all the air out, and put it in a tall glass, bowl, or juice pitcher with cold water. Put it in the fridge and head to work secure in the knowledge that it will be thawed by the time you get home. I’ve never come home to a meat in this situation that was still so frozen I could not make dinner. It works every time. Shrimp and tilapia can be defrosted in this manner when you get home from work if you have 15 minutes to let them rest in the cold water. I do not understand the chemistry by which cold water helps to defrost a frozen food, but I do know that it works. So my friends – please use this knowledge to your advantage in keeping dinner close at hand and food-borne illnesses far far away. Happy (& safe!) eating!

Nutritional Information – 1 4-oz fillet

Calories: 200
Fat: 10 g
Carbs: 2 g
Protein: 26 g
Fiber: 2 g
Calcium: 9%