"One of the delights of life is eating with friends, second to that is talking about eating. And, for an unsurpassed double whammy, there is talking about eating while you are eating with friends."
~Laurie Colwin 'Home Cooking'
Jen, her husband Brad and son Bek
I have known Jen for simply ages. She is one of my sisters' closest friends and I in turn have been lucky enough to call her a friend of mine as well. She is incredibly creative and a wiz in the kitchen. As you will see in her interview she is forever trying out new cuisine and has zero fear when it comes to cooking. It is always so much fun to see what she will bring to a party to share for it is always something so fun and not the average potluck fare. A menu that might be different and strange to you is an exciting adventure to her. It's wonderful!
Back in 2004, Jen and her husband Brad welcomed to their world their 11 month adoptive son, Bek from Kazakhstan. They are a beautiful family of three, but decided that they needed even more joy in their lives. So they have begun another adventure of adopting their second child, but from Korea this time. If you would like to read more about their amazing journey, please visit Jen's blog Heart and Seoul. What an exciting path they are on!
So for todays Fridays, Feasting with Friends I am delighted to introduce you to my friend, Jen Sale.
What is your favorite thing to cook?
To date it’s usually something ethnic, but there is so much out there! Vietnamese or Thai noodle dishes, Indian curries, French confits, reductions and emulsions, spaetzle noodles with nearly anything, homemade pizzas, enchiladas with red chili sauce. I also love to put a fried or poached egg on just about anything and anything that includes potatoes. I go through phases when I discover a new ingredient or cuisine. For months I cooked Thai food, then Russian and eastern European and then…so much food, so little time!
How about your least favorite thing to cook?
Processed food, food made without passion or thoughtfulness, food with more chemicals than love.
What is your favorite local restaurant and what is one you are dying to try out?
Naming one singular favorite would be tough, but I’ll try to narrow it down! Empress Taytu, India Garden, Siam Café, El Tango Taqueria, Aladdin’s. I have been wanting to try Sweet Melissa in Rocky River. I went in and checked it out – menu and ambiance both look interesting and promising!
Music and food go together so beautifully. You are hosting a dinner party, what would be on your playlist?
Hmm well it might depend on both the guests and the type of food I was serving; but probably a mix of some sort that might include The Killers, The Strokes, Muse, Amy Winehouse, Wilco, the Avett Brothers, The Beatles, Feist, Silversun Pickups, Bob Dylan, Peter Tosh…
What would you choose to be your last meal on earth?
You know I’ve read this question before in the Plain Dealer and always enjoy reading people’s answers and have thought about what my answer would be. It’s a hard question..I mean YOUR LAST MEAL ever. Ever! I think it might have to be Julia Child’s Lobster Thermidor, that buttery, creamy, mushroomy, topped with French gruyere concoction. A healthy plop of some rich garlic mashed potatoes and a green salad…after that I’d be ready to die and with the butter and cream content I just might not have a choice!
What are you currently reading?
Peter Mayle’s “Anything Considered” and Tracy Chevalier’s “Remarkable Creatures”.
What is your favorite Kitchen Gadget?
I’m not a big gadget person and think you can do pretty much everything you need to with a good chef’s knife, a whisk and your hands. I do love Williams Sonoma’s rubber spatulas though, great for everything from scrambled eggs to sauces to cake batter.
Do you have a signature go-to dish?
Depends on season/event, but I have a few I make over & over; French potato salad, Chinese peanut noodles (I think I could live on these – ask your sister Bonnie and she’ll tell you we actually did live on them for 2-3 days straight!), grilled Portobello panini with goat cheese and green olive pesto, homemade potstickers.
What is your favorite thing about the Cleveland area?
The availability of great ethnic eats; Within a few miles radius you can pick up fresh Chinese noodles or Korean kimchi and homemade pita bread right off the factory line; homemade tortillas and dried chilis!
Do you have a favorite meal from your childhood and do you cook it today?
My Hungarian grandmother’s “palacintas”, similar to a French crepe. Also her stuffed cabbage, halushka, chicken paprikash…she was a culinary superstar and I learned so much from her and my mom! I can remember my mom and my grandmother cooking all day and me standing behind them and watching all day! Also in my early 20’s (that’s still childhood, right?) I was an au pair for a family in Northern France. I learned more about cooking from her than from any cookbook I’ve read or restaurant I’ve worked in. Food is truly and expression of love and art for the French and to this day I still cook the dishes I learned from her. Lunch and dinner both included a green salad with “true” French dressing which became my duty. For nearly two months I made this salad twice a day; a mixture of oil, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, chopped fresh herbs, salt and pepper, toss with frisee and pass around the table with cheese plate. Heaven!
And a simple grilled cheese with tomato and mayonnaise is still pure childhood delight!
Top 3 Movies of all time?
another tough question…. only 3?! Star Wars, The Graduate, Goodfellas
What was your happiest moment in life?
In a tiny town in the northern most part of Kazakhstan when our son Bek was handed to us!
Where do you do your grocery shopping?
I can never find everything I need all in one place. Heinen’s, Nature’s Bin, Giant Eagle, Trader Joe’s and various ethnic markets. Also the two farmer’s markets in Lakewood and my parent’s garden in the summer time!
What is your favorite guilty pleasure when it comes to food?
Potatoes, Butter and Cheese!
Can you tell me about what you are most proud of?
If you’re talking in general terms in the big picture of life? That would have to be our son Bek. Not only him, as our son and a human being, but enduring the process of adoption that brought us to him! It was amazing and exhausting and stressful and exciting. If you’re talking food? Mastering Julia Child’s mayonnaise by hand, with only a whisk and a lot determination and elbow grease!
Do you have Culinary Resolutions that you would like to accomplish this year?
Just to keep cooking, learning and exploring. I would like to try injera, the Ethiopian flat bread made with the teff wheat flour. And although I’ve experimented quite a bit with it, I’d like to try more dishes from our son’s birth country, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. With a new baby on the way from Korea, I’d like to experiment with Korean food as well.
One word that best describes you is: hungry
We are super lucky! We get two yummy recipes today. Thanks Jen!
Grilled Portobello & Goat Cheese Sandwiches
This panini-style sandwich pairs the earthy flavor of the portobellos with the mild, tangy goat cheese and salty, robust green-olive pesto.
1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup pitted green olives, such as manzanilla, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. walnuts or pine nuts
1 small clove garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup plus 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 small to medium portobello mushrooms, stemmed, gills removed, and wiped clean
4 soft round rolls, such as Portuguese or kaiser, split in half
4 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
Heat a panini or sandwich press according to the manufacturer’s instructions. (Alternatively, heat a nonstick grill pan over medium-high heat.)
While the press is heating, put the basil, olives, nuts, and garlic in a food processor and process until finely chopped. With the motor running, add 6 Tbs. of the olive oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube and continue to process until thick and smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Brush the mushrooms with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put them on the press, pull the top down, and cook until softened and browned, 3 to 5 minutes (or cook in the grill pan, flipping once). Transfer to a plate and let cool slightly.
Spread the pesto on the bottom halves of the rolls. Put 2 mushrooms on each and then some cheese. Top the sandwiches with the other halves of the rolls. Brush both sides of the sandwiches with the remaining 2 tsp. oil.
Put the sandwiches on the press pesto side up, pull the top down, and cook until browned and crisp and the cheese is melted, 5 to 7 minutes, depending on how hot your machine is. (If using a grill pan, put a heavy pan on top of the sandwiches and cook, turning the sandwiches over once.) Carefully remove from the press and serve.
NOTES: I don’t have a panini press but I do have a grill pan and it works great! Sautéing portabellos that come pre-sliced works well too. The pesto alone is worth making, delish just spread on baguette or crackers or on any kind of sandwich. I don’t bother getting the pitted olives but use the standard pimento stuffed green olives. I like the color it adds too. I don’t bother chopping the olives or garlic as it all gets thrown into the food processor anyway! Removing the gills is crucial so you don’t get a black runny mess on your lovely white goat cheese! Just take a spoon and lightly scrape the underside, the gills will fall right off.
Banh Mi is Vietnamese street food. Essentially it’s a spicy sub sandwich.
1/4 cup rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. honey or sugar
1/2–1 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup thinly sliced radish
1/4 cup shredded carrot
steak subs or 1/2 baguette, split in half lengthwise & butter
1 Tbs. low-fat mayonnaise
1 tsp. red chile sauce, such as sriracha
1/4 tsp. tamari or soy sauce
1/2 cup baked Asian-flavored tofu, thinly sliced, or stir-fried tofu cubes (Leftover chicken, pork or beef works too!)
2 6-inch strips cucumber (long vertical strips or matchstick works)
6 sprigs cilantro
6 cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced
4 lettuce leaves, torn
Combine vinegar, honey or sugar, and red pepper flakes in small bowl. Add radish and carrot, and stir to mix. Let stand 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter insides of baguette & place on baking sheet, and crisp 3-5 minutes in oven. Cool a few minutes.
Spread mayonnaise on both sides of bread. Sprinkle with red chile sauce and tamari. Fill with tofu, cucumber, and cilantro. Drain carrot-radish mixture, and spread on sandwich. Top with tomatoes and lettuce, and season with salt and pepper. Press top half of baguette on sandwich, and slice sandwich in half.