cilantro bruschetta on prosciutto

I had the pleasure of dining at a fantastic Tapas restaurant in East Village this Friday with my boyfriend at a place named The Barrel, where among many delicacies they served some excellent bruschetta.  Inspired by the way their tomato topping seemed to burst with freshness on my tongue, I decided to give it a go in my own kitchen, despite my lack of basil.  It turns out cilantro works just as well!

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Cilantro Bruschetta on Prosciutto

Ingredients: (serves 4)

1 large tomato, diced into 1/4″ cubes
1/2 large yellow onion, diced
shredded mozzarella cheese
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 baguette, or equivalent bread
prosciutto, thinly sliced
3-4 leaves cilantro (original recipe uses basil), chopped
parsley flakes

Using a sharp knife, dice the tomato as small as you can.  Aim for 1/4″ cubes, and be sure your knife is sharp – dull knives tend to mash the tomato, releasing the juices onto the cutting board, which we don’t want.  We want the juices to explode in our mouths with each bite!

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Next, chop up the raw onion and add it to the mix.  An alternative to using raw onion is to saute it lightly before using on the grill – this gives it a less crunchy, but sweeter flavor.

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Add the minced garlic, chopped cilantro, parsley flakes, salt, and pepper to the mix and drizzle with lemon juice.  Blend, and set the topping aside.

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In a medium skillet, brush both sides of each baguette slice (or French bread, or sourdough in my case) with olive oil and heat until both sides are lightly crispy.  On a plate, top each slice with a generous spoonful of bruschetta topping and mozzarella cheese, and serve with prosciutto garnished with cilantro.  Enjoy!

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homemade pizza margherita

So I came to the realization that winter is probably not coming to Virginia this year.

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Or Massachusetts, for that matter.  Although there are still two weeks before I’m back on Harvard’s campus, it seems pretty safe to say that it can only get warmer from here on.

On the other hand, that gave me the perfect excuse to wake up early (i.e. 10:30 AM) this sunny, spring-like Saturday morning to prepare lunch for my family.

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When I was younger, we would often play Mahjong, Texas Hold’Em poker or Scrabble together late into the night, squabbling over pieces and laughing over hilarious betting strategies.  We seldom pull out the board games now that the four of us are so busy, especially with me living away from home, my brother in high school and my parents constantly busy and/or traveling with their work.

But if there’s anything that came close to those memories as a family bonding experience, it was making our own pizzas together this afternoon.  Across the four of us, I swear you can tell Hu’s pizza is Hu’s (ha. get it?) just by gazing upon the toppings.  It’s as if each were a culinary representation of our own diverse personalities, right down to the colors and quantities of what we chose to adorn them with.

My brother, who prides himself on being able to down a whole bottle of Tabasco sauce in one go, decided to top his pizza with an entire minced jalapeño pepper.

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It ended up tasting delicious, proving that more is always merrier, especially when it comes to spicy food.

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My dad never developed a taste for cheese, but his adaptive nature and resourcefulness always made me wonder why restaurants never served more Asian-American fusion dishes.  (You’ve got to love a dad who can cook!)  Although he originally declared himself “not hungry,” he ended up loading as many toppings onto his pizza as could possibly fit, including jalapeño pepper, Chinese linked sausage, and walnuts!

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His pizza was also by far the most photogenic of ours.

My mom has been feeling sick recently, so for us I made classic pizza margherita, a rich blend of olive oil, fresh basil, mozzarella cheese and juicy tomato slices. (sound familiar? I’ve recently become obsessed with the caprese combination!)

While I generally consider myself an adventurous and ambitious person, sometimes you just need to indulge in comfort food in all of its familiarity.

And when it comes down to familiarity, there is nothing more comforting than knowing that although the world has a plan for each of us this next year, for the moment, we are united at home.

At least, for now.

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Homemade Pizza Margherita

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Pizza Dough

Ingredients: (makes 4 medium-sized pizzas)

3.5 to 4 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon sugar
1 envelope instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1.5 cups water, 110 degrees F
2 tablespoons olive oil

Pizza Margherita

Ingredients: (serves 3)

9-inch thin pizza crust
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3-4 large basil leaves, cut into strips
2 small tomatoes, sliced thinly
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste
other custom toppings (I used Chinese linked sausages and jalapeño peppers)

Pizza Dough:

Combine the bread flour, sugar, yeast and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine. While the mixer is running, add the water and 2 tablespoons of the oil and beat until the dough forms into a ball. If the dough is sticky, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a solid ball. If the dough is too dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a smooth, firm ball.

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Grease a large bowl with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, add the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm area to let it double in size, about 1 hour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cover each with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.

Pizza Margherita:

Preheat the oven to 450 F.  Grease up a cookie sheet and roll the pizza dough out to about 1/4 inch thickness. Use a brush to spread olive oil around it, making sure to get the crust!  Disperse the finely chopped garlic evenly, and then spread tomato sauce and layer evenly with mozzarella cheese.

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Place the thinly sliced tomatoes and basil leaves across the entire pizza, seasoning to taste.  (Optionally, add some minced jalapeño).

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Bake the pizza in the oven for about 10-15 minutes, or until sufficiently crispy and melted to your liking. Add a little Parmesan cheese and enjoy!

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braised balsamic chicken with bacon rotini pasta

Today I surprised my family by making a full-course dinner consisting of two dishes: braised balsamic chicken  and a variation of this penne pasta with spinach and bacon.  Having still not finished the blueberry yogurt cookies and apple pie from two days ago, I thought it would be a good idea to transition into cooking “real” food (a.k.a. attempt to cook meat without hideously charring it to bits).

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As it turns out, dinner was a success!  The chicken came out perfectly juicy and the pasta light and crunchy with bacon bits.  As I was clearing away the dishes, my mom jokingly suggested that after tonight’s dinner, she might never have to cook again.  Ha!  Good one.

Braised Balsamic Chicken with Bacon Rotini Pasta

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Braised Balsamic Chicken:

Ingredients: (serves 4)
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves, cut into pieces
ground black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tomatoes, vine or roma, diced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Season chicken breasts with ground black pepper and garlic salt.  Heat olive oil in a medium skillet, and brown the onion and seasoned chicken breasts.  Pour tomatoes and balsamic vinegar over chicken, and season with basil and thyme. Simmer until chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear, about 15 minutes.

Rotini Pasta with Bacon:

Ingredients: (serves 4)
1 (12-oz.) package of rotini pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 slices bacon, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tomato, vine or roma, diced

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.  Add the rotini and cook until tender, 8 to 10 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water (so the noodles don’t stick) and set aside.  Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon until browned and crisp, and then add garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, and cook until heated through.  Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl, and toss with the remaining olive oil, and the bacon and tomato mixture.

roasted tomato caprese grilled cheese with balsamic vinegar glaze

caprese: [kuh-prey-zey, ‐zee]
adjective, prepared with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil leaves and drizzled with olive oil: a caprese salad; caprese sandwiches; pizza caprese.

a.k.a. SAVORY DELICIOUS GOODNESS. I’m talking Panera-Bread-worthy. Oh my god.  A few weeks ago I tried a similar version of this recipe with avocado as a substitute since basil wasn’t lying around, but after a huge shopping spree at Costco today, I had all the ingredients I needed for this godly creation.

…and boy am I pissed I only made two.

Roasted Tomato Caprese Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze

grilled cheese tomato caprese 2

Ingredients: (serves 2)

4 slices sourdough bread
2 tomatos (vine or roma), cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
3-4 ounces fresh mozzarella
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
12-15 basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Place tomatoes on a nonstick baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast the tomatoes for 45-50 minutes.  Meanwhile, add balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes until liquid begins to resemble syrup.  Pour vinegar into a bowl and set aside to sit.

Once tomatoes are finished, brush both sides of each slice of bread with olive oil and place into a large griddle over medium heat.  Add mozzarella cheese to one side, followed by tomatoes, followed by basil leaves, followed by cheese and bread.  Grill until cheese is melted and each side is golden and crispy.

Once the sandwiches are finished, serve immediately and drizzle with balsalmic glaze. Enjoy!

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