Category Archives: Pasta

Okinawa High

My second weekend in Okinawa finally provided me with time to do a little exploring.  I decided to take a scenic drive up to Cape Hedo, the northernmost point of the island.  I felt like it would be a good way to get a better feel of the island.  It was beautiful.  I can’t begin to describe how many times the scenery took my breath away.  The few photos I’m posting don’t begin to do it justice.

My original plan for the day also included stops at the Aquarium and the Nago Pineapple Park.  However, that turned out to be a little too ambitious so I only managed a stop at the Pinapple Park.  I had planned to grab lunch at a little Peruvian restaurant that is way up north, mostly so I could brag to Chino about how I ate at the only Peruvian restaurant in Okinawa.  And then it was closed.  My best laid plans are often foiled by fate.  So frustrating.

Along the way north:

Pineapple at the Nago Pineapple Park:

Cape Hedo:

A couple of observations from my second week in Okinawa:
— Minis are not mini in Japan.  They have a special class of mini car here which are easily identified by their yellow license plates.  Minis don’t make the cut.
— The U.S. Air Force, or at least the folks who run their pool on base, have not discovered the benefits of mandatory kiddie diapers in public pools.  Based on a few observations over an hour long visit, including a forced evacuation of the pool, seems like that rule might be in order.
— I found a quilt store while out exploring, but it was closed.  I’ve been back again since then and it was still closed.  I fear the proprietor is on vacation.
— I found a baby cockroach on my bed’s headboard before going to sleep one night.  Needless to say, I now have a rather complicated pre-bed ritual.
— The last time I took the trash out through the back door a snail fell on my head.  As a result, I now go out the front door and walk around to the back.  (Are you seeing a pattern of extreme wimpyness when it comes to me and bugs?)

Two weeks of eating out made me crave a good home cooked meal so Sunday night I spent some time in the kitchen and baked up an easy, delicious pasta sauce.

Baked Tomato Sauce (adapted from the Wednesday Chef)
Tomatoes here are on the pricey side so I did half a pound and used an 8×8 baking dish.  I thought the sauce was still good, but would definitely be better if you had more tomatoes.

1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. very ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 c. plain dry breadcrumbs
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmigiano
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. penne
1/4 c. loosely packed fresh basil lives, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Grease a 9×13 baking dish with some of the olive oil.  Place the tomatoes cut side up in the dish.

In a small bow, combine the breadcrumbs, Parmigiano, and garlic.  Cover the tomatoes with the breadcrumb mixture, making sure that each tomato is well covered. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake until the tomatoes are cooked through and starting to brown on top, 20-25 minutes.

Going into the oven:

Coming out of the oven:

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente.  Try to time the pasta so it finishes at about the same time as the tomatoes.

When the tomatoes are done, add the basil and stir vigorously to mix everything into a sauce.  Drain the pasta and add to the dish of sauce.  Add the remaining olive oil and mix well.  Serve immediately.

I’d go back again if I could.

I was talking to my sister Hillary last night and she mentioned that she thinks the current season of Top Chef is the best season yet.  I haven’t been watching it this season, but based on that as well as her recent experience eating at one of the contestant’s restaurants in historic Frederick, MD I decided to buy the season pass on iTunes and get caught up.

Hillary enjoying a memorable breakfast in Baltimore.

Hillary enjoying a memorable breakfast in Baltimore.

I admit, I’ve been totally sucked in.  I stayed home from work today because I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather, so it was a perfect opportunity to watch, oh, 4 episodes in a row.  I’ve watched Top Chef pretty regularly in past seasons, but I think she’s right.  This season has grabbed my interest much more strongly than previous seasons and I think I know why.  Michael and Bryan Voltaggio.  I’m just a little bit in love with both of them.  They are two of the best chefs on the show this season and have this kind of intense sibling rivalry that makes the challenges so much more interesting and entertaining.  Throw into the mix an amazingly talented female chef this season and it makes for some very good TV.

I mention all of this because Hillary ate at Bryan’s restaurant, Volt, this past weekend and claims it has made it onto her top 10 list of most memorable meals, and possibly even onto her top 5.  This summer, following a particularly memorable meal at Restaurant Eve in Old Town Alexandria, Hillary and I both compiled a list of our top 5 most memorable meals.  I’m lucky to have two sisters and a best friend who share my love of food and a willingness, upon occasion, to splurge on fine dining.  This means that I have enjoyed some particularly amazing meals.

I don't have a picture of Regan and I at a restaurant but she gets double props for being my fellow NASCAR fan.

I don't have a picture of Regan and I at a restaurant but she gets double props for being my fellow NASCAR fan.

It also means that I have sometimes spent quite a bit of money on a meal that didn’t live up to my expectations (or the price).  Restaurant food is such a complicated realm.  So many different elements have to combine to create the ultimate experience you look for in fine dining.  The ingredients have to be top notch, the execution perfect, the service flawless.  If any one of those elements is out of balance or just not up to snuff, the experience as a whole fails.  I suppose that is why the meals on my list continue to amaze me years later.  Its always a minor miracle, in my opinion, when a restaurant gets it all right, and when it happens, the memory of the meal stays with me for a very long time.

Carri at Bellagio Taiwanese restaurant in Beijing.

Carri at Bellagio Taiwanese restaurant in Beijing.

The following is my personal top 5 list, in chronological order, as well as some honorable mentions.

Top 5:

Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens, Quebec City, Quebec with Hillary (March 2004).  What I remember: An amazing baked goat cheese salad with a maple vinaigrette and their maple syrup pie.

Olives, Washington, DC with Hillary (sometime in 2005).  What I remember: One of the most amazing steaks I’ve ever enjoyed and fantastic chocolate cake.

Log Haven, Millcreek Canyon, Salt Lake City, UT, with Carri (November 2007).  What I remember: I actually don’t remember what I ate, just that all of it was amazing and the ambiance was fantastic.

Craftsteak at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, NV with Regan (December 2007).  What I remember: Everything!  Four courses to include a charcuterie platter, a truly amazing steak, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, broccolini, and to finish it off, a sorbet and ice cream sampler.

The Tasting Room at Restaurant Eve, Old Town Alexandria, VA with Hillary (22 June 2009).  What I remember: My first five course fine dining experience and every single element of the meal was amazing.  They even give you a copy of the menu you ordered, rolled up and tied with a bow to help you remember you meal.

Honorable Mentions:

— The first time Hillary and I had the fire-roasted artichokes at Houstons. We were obsessed with these artichokes for months and would call the restaurant before driving up to Bethesda to make sure they were on the menu that day.  Truth be told, I’m still obsessed with these artichokes and go out of my way with surprising regularity to enjoy them.

— The Polish restaurant in Montreal I ate at with Carri, Christy, Sara, and Lyn during our trip to Canada in November 2006.

— The first time I ate at Emmas.  Still my favorite pizza place.

— Carri’s birthday dinner at Helmands, October 2003.  I still crave their pumpkin appetizer.

— The Italian restaurant in Madison, WI Pops and I ate at during our cross country drive in April.

Elways in Denver, November 2008.  I ate at Elways alone on one of my many trips to Denver.  I’m always a little bit skeptical of celebrity restaurants, but this one lived up to, and even exceeded, my expectations.

Billy’s Chowder House in Wells, ME with Mom and Regan in September 2003.  Unfortunately, this was probably not one of Regan’s favorite meals, but my lobster was fantastic and it’s hard to beat the view from the restaurant.

Now that you know most of my favorite foodie experiences of the past few years, I’ll share with you something much more mundane.  The following recipe is my favorite new find of the past month.  I made it for a girls night with some friends and it was a hit.  Very simple, very tasty, and very easy to make.  Perfect for those of us who can’t be out enjoying the local fine dining scene at the present time but still want a delicious meal at home.

Orzo Final

Lemony Orzo with Tuna and Artichoke Hearts (adapted from Fine Cooking, Aug/Sep 2009)

Kosher salt

1 1/2 c. dried orzo

1 T. extra-virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

freshly ground black pepper

1 T. dried basil

1/3 c. dry white wine

2 7 oz. jars of artichoke hearts, drained and quartered

1/2 c. oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained and thinly sliced

1 5 oz. can water-packed solid white tuna, drained

3 T. sour cream

3 T. fresh lemon juice

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.  Add the orzo and cook according to the package until al dente.  Drain well.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, 1/2 t. salt, and 1/8 t. pepper and cook, stirring often, until deep golden brown, about 7-8 minutes.  Add the basil and cook for about a minute.  Remove the skillet from the heat and add the wine.  Return to the heat and stir well, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom.  Add the artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomatoes and cook just until tender and heated through, 2-3 minutes more.  Off the heat, gently stir in the tuna.

Transfer the hot orzo to a large bowl and toss with the sour cream and lemon juice.  Add the onion-artichoke mixture, mix well, and add salt and pepper to taste.  Toss gently to combine and serve.

Traveling On

Yesterday I left Salt Lake City to move back to Washington, D.C.  This move has been waiting on the horizon of my life for some time now.  The work assignment that allowed me to move back to Salt Lake was only for two years, and although it’s a little hard to believe, the two years are up and its time to go “home”.  I was incredibly lucky to be able to get to Salt Lake at all and I truly do feel that being able to be with my family these past two years has been one of the greatest blessings of my life thus far.

However, I can’t deny that over that time, there have been many days when I have missed dearly living on the east coast.  Last September I was in DC for a week and one day, when I found myself a little bored during a training, I compiled a list of the things I was going to miss when I left Salt Lake and a list of the things I was looking forward to once I returned to Virginia.  I’ve made a few changes, but for the most part, the lists have stayed pretty consistent.

Things I’m Looking Forward to Enjoying in Virginia:

  • Hanging out with my sister, Hillary

Hillary and I

Things I’ll Miss in Salt Lake City

  • Banbury Cross doughnuts
  • Cafe Rio – Especially their pork barbacoa
  • Fish tacos at Lone Star Taqueria
  • Gabby at Studio Nine – If you need a stylist in Salt Lake, definitely give Gabby a call.  She is amazing!
  • Kylene at Salon Dante’s spa
  • The outdoors, especially Big Cottonwood Canyon

Amri up Big Cottonwood Canyon


View of Zion Canyon from the hike to Angel's Landing


Snowshoeing up Big Cottonwood Canyon


Snowboarding with Kirk and Anne at Brighton.

  • My family
Hanging out with the kids.

Hanging out with the kids.

  • My friends

Carri and I with our Harry Potter tattoos at the King's English book release party.

  • My co-workers
  • Temple Square
  • The Blue Iguana – The Red Iguana gets all the publicity/hype, but I find that I am partial to the Blue Iguana, and as an added bonus, it’s usually less crowded.
  • Elaine’s Quilt Block
  • Whimsy Cottage – my absolute favorite quilt store, anywhere!
  • Material Girls
  • Szechuan Garden – Even though Jeremy claims he got sick after eating our New Year’s Eve leftovers (I mean, come on, eating leftover scallops is probably never a good idea), this is still my favorite Chinese restaurant in Utah.  And if my opinion isn’t enough for you, its also Gov. Huntsman’s favorite Chinese restaurant in the state.
  • Jazz games

The frisbee I caught at the Jazz-Rockets game.

As I prepared for my move, I realized that the thing I am likely to miss the most will be our family dinners.  Almost every Sunday my family would get together for dinner at my parent’s house.  Although I sometimes felt like these dinners killed my entire Sunday, I always enjoyed the opportunity to hang out with my family, play games with the kids, and most especially, try out new recipes.  My family is awesome about trying whatever I decide to whip up.  I know I can make just about anything and they will not only try it, but likely love it.

Christmas brunch with the family.

Christmas brunch with the family.

Two weeks ago, we had a final dinner at my aunt’s house with our extended family.  My aunt asked my sister and I to both make lasagna.  I can never do the simple thing, so I decided to make two lasagnas, both with fresh pasta that I made myself.  For one of the lasagnas I followed Heidi’s recipe, except that I used Molly’s sauce.  For the second lasagna, I decided to try an experiment.  I love butternut squash ravioli served with a brown butter sauce, so I decided to try that flavor combination in a lasagna.  I figured my aunt’s family wouldn’t touch the butternut squash lasagna because it might seem too strange, but I knew my family would give it a try and then share their honest opinion about how it turned out.  To my incredible surprise, it was a total hit with everyone.  I can’t wait to make it again.  Its a fairly involved recipe, but for a special occasion, I think it is well worth the effort.

The final product.

The final product.

Butternut Squash Lasagna

1 lb. fresh pasta sheets – I made my pasta, but that is a laborious process, so if you have access to fresh pasta sheets I would just buy them.
3/4 c. hazelnuts, toasted, skins removed, and chopped
2 c. parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 lg. butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/8” thick slices (I use a Kyocera slicer)
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 T. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Brown Butter Sauce – see recipe below

Thin the pasta sheets by running them through a pasta machine until you get to the next-to-thinnest setting.  If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can also thin them by running a rolling pin over them a couple of times.  Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.  Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with cold water and ice.  Set the bowl next to the pot and then spread kitchen towels across your counters.  Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add a few pasta sheets to the water at a time and boil just until slightly tender.  I usually boil mine for about a minute.  Remove the pasta from the boiling water and dump in the ice water bath.  Then take the pasta sheets from the water bath and spread out on the kitchen towels.  Repeat until all the pasta has been boiled.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the squash, garlic, and the olive oil and toss well.  Season with salt and pepper and toss to coat.  Spread the squash in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes, or until tender and slightly browned at the edges.  Remove from oven and set aside.

Once you have everything ready, assemble the lasagna by spreading a thin layer of brown butter sauce over the bottom of your baking dish.  Top with a layer of pasta sheets, another layer of the brown butter sauce, a layer of squash, a layer of parmesan cheese, and sprinkle with hazelnuts.  Repeat (pasta, sauce, squash, cheese, nuts) until you run out of ingredients/space.  Finish with a layer of cheese and nuts.  Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 35 minutes.  Remove the aluminum foil and bake for another 10 minutes.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.  (I put the lasagna together the night before and then baked it before dinner it was great, so it works fine if you want to make it in advance.)

Brown Butter Sauce
(from Everyday Italian)

2/3 c. unsalted butter
12 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 t. salt, plus more to taste
1/2 t. freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

In a large, heavy frying pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat until pale golden, about 4 minutes.  Add the sage or basil leaves and cook until crisp, about 2 minutes.  Stir in salt, pepper, and nutmeg.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.