A Girl & Her Food


Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet by Chef Gavin Kaysen

After traveling A LOT recently, I desperately wanted to get back into my kitchen to cook a comforting dinner. For inspiration, on my flight back from Cayman Cookout, I read the January issue of Food & Wine. One of the articles, “Hot Dish Challenge”, featured Chef Gavin Kaysen and his Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet.  The pictures looked mouth watering and I knew it was something I wanted to try. Harissa is a spice from North Africa made of cumin, coriander, caraway and other spices, and is incredibly earthy and comforting.   I thought it was a brilliant way to add some creativity into this classic dish.

For those of you who don’t know Chef Gavin, I highly recommend you get on board.  I was lucky enough to meet him at a James Beard Foundation's TasteAmerica event in Minneapolis a few months ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  Not only is he extremely talented, he is one of the most humble, funny and sweetest Chef that I have EVER met.

The recipe calls for thick-cut bacon, merguez sausages and rustic bread, so naturally  I headed to Publican Quality Meats to pick up those ingredients for Kaysen’s Cassoulet.

Harissa-Spiced Cassoulet 



1/2 pound thick-cut bacon, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely diced
1 celery rib, finely diced
2 medium carrots, finely diced, plus 2 large carrots, cut into 2 1/2-inch lengths
14 ounces dried cannellini beans (2 cups), soaked overnight and drained
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Twelve 2-ounce merguez sausages
        (I purchased mine at Publican Quality Meats)
2 large sweet potatoes (1 1/4 pounds), peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
3 turnips (3/4 pound), peeled and cut into 2 1/2-inch pieces
4 ounces rustic peasant bread, crusts removed, bread cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
2 tablespoons minced parsley
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Plain yogurt, for serving


In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, cook the bacon over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered. Add the onion, celery and diced carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning 
to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the beans, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to moderately low and simmer the beans until al dente, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, add a generous pinch of salt and let stand for 30 minutes. Drain the beans, bacon and vegetables and transfer to a bowl; reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°. In a small skillet, toast the cumin, coriander and mustard seeds over moderate heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant and the mustard seeds begin to pop, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer 
to a spice grinder and let cool. Add the smoked paprika and crushed red pepper and grind the harissa blend into a powder.

Wipe out the casserole and heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in it. Add the merguez and cook over moderate heat, until lightly browned all over, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Do not wipe out the casserole.

Add the sweet potatoes, turnips and large carrots to the casserole. Season with salt and black pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 5 minutes. Add the harissa spice blend and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Stir in the bean mixture and the reserved 2 cups of cooking liquid and bring just to a simmer. Arrange the merguez on top. Cover and bake the 
cassoulet for about 1 hour, until the beans are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from the oven and uncover the cassoulet.

Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, toss the bread, parsley, lemon zest and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and black pepper. Sprinkle the bread over the cassoulet and broil until golden and crisp. Let the cassoulet stand for 10 minutes before serving. Pass yogurt at the table. Enjoy! 


Cayman Cookout: Chef Ludo Lefebvre's Chocolate Souffle Demo & Recipe

I LOVE chocolate soufflés, and that says a lot as I don't generally have a sweet tooth.   More and more, however, it seems that this classic dessert is dying.  I disapointedly never see it on menus, and that includes French restaurants. Am I going to have to travel to Paris just to indulge in this delicacy? I wish, but that's not realistic...

Baking is not really my thing.  In honesty, I HATE to bake!  Well, maybe hate is a bit strong, but it is just that I am not very good at it...  And frustrated.  But, 2016 is the year I promised myself to change that statement.  As one of my New Year's resolutions, I promised to bake more, and attempt at mastering the art and science known to be the soufflé.  

Ironically, during the Cayman Cookout, Chef Ludo Lefebvre demoed how to make his chocolate soufflé with bittersweet chocolate sauce.  Obviously, he immediately had my full attention. I thought while watching and listening to Ludo's demo intensively, I could take that knowledge back to the kitchen and make a soufflé easily. 

Oh... how wrong I was.  A soufflé is so temperamental, it felt like the only thing I did was look at it the wrong way.  It was quite the challenge for me. I failed so miserably 2 times, that I had to call my pastry chef and artist friend, Anna Posey, to give me a few words of advice and raise back up my confidence.  I'm not sure that it worked.  Maybe this week I should start my baking hobby with something easier like a sugar cookie.  Hope you have better luck!  As they say, nothing good in life comes easy...

Chocolate Soufflés with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce (adapted from Crave by Chef Ludo Lefebvre)

serves 4

Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce:

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
2 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Whipped Cream:

1/2 cup of heavy whipping cream 
2 teaspoons granulated sugar 

Chocolate Soufflés:

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted 
3/4 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 large egg whites
Powdered Sugar (for sifting) 

For the bittersweet sauce: 

Stir in the cream and chocolate in a heavy small saucepan over medium low heat until melted and smooth, about 1 minute. Set aside. 

For the whipped cream

Whisk the cream and sugar in a large bowl until soft peak form. Cover and refrigerate. 

For the chocolate soufflés: 

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Use a pastry brush to coat the inside of 2-4oz. ramekins or 1-9 oz. ramekin with butter and then coat with the 2 tablespoons sugar. I used my hands to coat the ramekins as Chef Ludo demoed coating in an upward moment (bottom of ramekin to the top). 

In double boiler over a medium heat melt the chocolate, until melted and smooth. 

While the chocolate is melting, beat the egg whites in an electric mixer, over medium speed until a  stiff peaks forms. Beat in the 1/2 cup sugar into the egg whites and beat until blended. Take the melted chocolate and beat it gentle into the egg white-sugar mixture. Give it a few folds to make sure the chocolate is incorporated, being careful not to deflate the egg whites. Fill each ramekin with the mixture. Bake in the oven for 14 minutes. sift with powdered sugar. Serve immediately with chocolate sauce and whipped cream. 


California Dream Eater Day#1: San Diego #DreamEats #VisitSanDiego

Visit California exclusively invited me, A Girl & Her Food, for a five-day individually tailored road trip January 25-29 through San Diego, Temecula and Newport Beach to become fully immersed in “California Restaurant Month”.  I have never travelled to these cities and was truly excited to check them out!

First stop, SAN DIEGO!  

Visit California nailed my car rental... a Ford Mustang from Avis.  It was a beauty, and it was going to eventually take me up the coast to LA.  Nothing like driving in style.

Although I was dying to cruise around, my body was starving.  I immediately drove to the North Park neighborhood to grab a bite at Breakfast Republic.

Breakfast Republic has been raising feathers in North Park, as a top spot to enjoy the most important meal of the day. Serving tasty takes on American classics such as Oreo Pancakes, Chicken Wing Breakfast Bowls and S’mores French Toast, they are an innovative breakfast destination that locals and visitors are flocking to when they’re in search of a fun and unpretentious place to begin the day.   And for me, that meant diving straight into the mushroom 'n pesto benedict.  It jumped straight off the menu and into my belly I think.  Button and oyster mushrooms, red bell peppers, spinach, hollandaise and pesto... and I added on shrimp. What a way to begin my day!

2730 University Avenue San Diego, CA 92104

After breakfast, me and the Mustang headed to Pacific Beach, to check into Tower 23 Hotel, the place I would call home for 1 night (although I wouldn't have mind staying for several nights).  Tower 23 is a modern and chic hotel overlooking the ocean. Each room has it’s own glass paneled balcony or patio with ocean views.  I was greeted with a gift bag, charcuterie and wine! What a treat!!! 




Tower 23 Hotel 
723 Felspar St, San Diego, CA 92109

I wanted to hang out beach side and bask in the warm Californian sun all afternoon but had to stick to my #dreameats itinerary.  I quickly freshened up, and headed to PrepKitchen in Little Italy, as it was named one of San Diego’s “Best Restaurants” in 2014 by San Diego Magazine.  In addition, Prepkitchen Little Italy is the largest of the restaurant trio with a full service bar and private dining room. The resteraunt serves artisanal, farm-to-table cuisine and is open for lunch and dinner daily, as well as brunch on the weekend.  The entire menu looked devine, but since being in San Diego I knew I wanted to try the fish tacos.  Prepkitchen has yellowfish tacos, which are locally caught, and served with guacamole, pickled red onions, jalapenos, cabbage, and crème fraiche.  I also ordered a salad of roasted beet and spinach, that was tossed with goat cheese, avocado, almonds, tangerines and balsamic vinaigrette. Everything tasted as good as it looked and as good as it sounded.  Great start to my trip.

1660 India St, San Diego, CA 92101

 After lunch, I headed back to Tower 23 Hotel to unwind before dinner, which was to be held at the iconic Coasterra Restaurant. Coasterra is San Diego’s premiere bay front dining destination with delicious Mexican cuisine. 

Outdoor Patio

 Our night started with an order of table side guacamole of crushed avocado, tomato, red onion, cilantro, cracked black pepper, cotijas, lime and Serrano in a molcajete. 

We then devoured the ahi tuna tostada (yellow fin tuna glazed in garlic and sesame, soy sauce, avocado, crispy corn tortilla, coleslaw, Spanish peanuts and cilantro), a crowd favorite according to Chef Deborah Scott. 

Ahi Tuna Tostada
 And then finally for the main course, as recommended by Chef, the Mar y Tierra - Cedar River natural beef short rib, Oaxacan mole, lobster risotto cake, grilled asparagus, and lobster claw... and yes it was out of this world.

880 Harbor Island Drive
San Diego, CA 92101

And this is how my first day of excessive eating in San Diego went down! My next stop is Temecula


Becoming a Guest California Dream Eater

Visit California exclusively invited me, A Girl & Her Food, for a five-day individually tailored road trip January 25-29 through San Diego, Temecula and Newport Beach to become fully immersed in “California Restaurant Month” during January 2016.

With so many dream food experiences being offered throughout the month of January, Visit California’s official “California Dream Eater,” Chase Ramsey, needed help in exploring the full bounty available across the Golden State during this period.  

As one of six “Guest California Dream Eaters” my mission was to experience all things culinary. Enjoy cuisine made by innovative chefs using local ingredients, meet the farmers growing this produce and engage with culinary artisans using #dreameats on my Instagram handle @agirlandherfood_ and tagging with @CaliforniaDreamEater.

As an added benefit, @CaliforniaDreamEater hosted a loop giveaway with the six selected "Guest California Dream Eaters" prior to the beginning of California Restaurant Month giving indifivduals a chance to win one of two $500 gift cards. Users just needed to follow @CaliforniaDreamEater and all participating Guest California Dream Eaters to be eligible. 

During the month of January, @CaliforniaDreamEater hosted a second Instagram contest encouraging diners to use #dreameats on their California Restaurant Month food photos for the chance to win one of sixteen $50 gift cards.

I can't wait to share all my adventures with you in an upcoming post!


Chef Jeff Mauro's BBQ Chicken with Cheesy Polenta

Chef Jeff Mauro is opening his first EVER restaurant, Pork & Mindy’s, which is located in the Bucktown/Wicker Park neighborhood, this December. I can’t wait, as his delicious eats will be just steps away from my door!!! Therefore, I’ve teamed up with Jeff to make one of his favorite recipes in A Girl and Her Food’s kitchen using Pork & Mindy’s line of sauces. The BBQ chicken with cheesy polenta is quick, easy and a comforting dish for a weeknight dinner or Sunday supper, it may come in handy during this weekend's snow storm! 

BBQ Chicken with Cheesy Polenta


4 bone-in chicken thigh and leg or chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 thick cut slices pancetta or bacon, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped 1 ½ cup Pork & Mindy’s sweet sauce
2 ½ cups chicken stock
1 ½ cups milk
  1 cup quick cooking polenta
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
  Chopped fresh basil leaves for garnish


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, poultry seasoning, and Italian seasoning.
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium skillet and brown the chicken a few minutes on each side to put some of its flavor and drippings into the pan, then transfer to oven and roast 15 minutes more or until juices run clear. Meanwhile, add 1 more tablespoon olive oil to the pan and cook pancetta or bacon, if using, until crisp.
Add onions, cook 5 minutes then add the Pork & Mindy’s sweet sauce and ½ cup chicken stock, reduce heat to low and let sauce simmer 5 minutes more. Bring remaining 1½  cups stock and milk to a boil, whisk in polenta and season with salt and pepper. Whisk polenta 2 to 3 minutes until it thickens, stir in butter and cheese, and remove from heat.

Remove chicken from oven and turn in barbecue sauce. Fill shallow bowls with polenta Top with chicken, spoon extra sauce over chicken and garnish with some chopped basil leaves. Enjoy! 


Spaghetti Squash “Fideos” With Chipotle, Chorizo, Crema And Avocado by Rick Bayless for Macy's Culinary Council

Macy's Culinary Council hosted Chef Rick Bayless for a Fall cooking demo along with a book signing. Chef Rick made the most delicious spaghetti squash “Fideos” with chipotle, chorizo, crema and avocado.  After having a taste of his "Fideos" at the demo, I had to recreate the dish at home and it's become one of my favorite weeknight meals. It's super easy to make and it can be prepared vegetarian! 


1 large (about 2 ½ pounds) spaghetti squash, cut in half from stem to blossom end, seeds scraped out
8ouncesfresh Mexican chorizo sausage, casing removed (about 1 cup)
1 15-ounce can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, drained
1canned chipotle chile en adobo seeded, stemmed and roughly chopped
1tablespoon chipotle canning sauce (adobo)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1cup chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
About 1/4cup Mexican crema, sour cream, crème fraiche or Greek-style yogurt
About 1/3cupgrated Mexican queso anejo or other garnishing cheese like Romano or Parmesan
1smallripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into ½-inch cubes
A handful of cilantro leaves for garnish, if you have them


Wrap each spaghetti squash half in plastic wrap, poke a couple of holes in the plastic, place in the microwave and cook at 100% power for 10 minutes, until the squash is soft. (My microwave has a rotating carousel; if yours doesn’t, you’ll need to rotate the squash every minute or so.) Remove and let cool, still wrapped, for 10 minutes. Remove the plastic and use a fork to scrape at the exposed insides, working in the direction of the “grain,” freeing the spaghetti-like strings into a bowl or deep plate.  Discard the skin.
In a very large (12-inch) skillet, cook the chorizo over medium heat, stirring to break up any clumps, until it is browned and done through, about 10 minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to scoop the chorizo into a small dish, leaving behind as much fat as possible. (You need about 2 tablespoons for the next step; if there’s not enough, supplement with vegetable oil.)
In a blender, combine the tomatoes, chipotle and canning sauce and blend until smooth.  Set the chorizo-cooking pan over medium heat, add the garlic and stir for a minute or so, until it releases its aroma, then pour in the tomato mixture.  Raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring almost constantly, until the mixture has darkened and thickened noticeably, 7 or 8 minutes.  Stir in the broth or water and bring to a simmer.  Taste and season with salt, usually ½ teaspoon depending on the saltiness of the broth. Add the spaghetti squash, stir carefully to coat it with the sauce, then stir in the crema (or one of its stand-ins) and half of the cheese. Transfer the fideos to a large pasta bowl and top with the remaining cheese and the reserved chorizo. Dot with the avocado, strew on some cilantro leaves if you have them and carry the bowl to the table—you’re ready to eat something pretty special.
Going Vegetarian: You can simply leave out the chorizo (and cook the sauce in vegetable oil) or you can replace it with a generous cup of diced zucchini or other summer squash.  Brown the squash in a little olive oil over medium-high heat, scoop it out as you would have the chorizo, and continue with the recipe, sprinkling the browned zucchini over the finished dish.

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