Archive for February, 2012

Photo of the Day


© Dina Avila


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© Dina Avila

Did you know that there’s a right way to cook pasta? I’m not sure if the way you, perhaps, do it, or the way I’ve been making it for years is necessarily wrong, but there is definitely a right way. A specific chain of events that can lead to the perfect bowl of pasta. Some of this may be redundant or, not surprisingly, a duh moment for you. For others? It may very well be a revelation. Or at least noteworthy.

© Dina Avila

I love pasta. It’s beautiful, versatile and cheap. I am embarrassed to say that for a few years, way back when, I didn’t eat pasta. Not at all. Why? Stupid, mostly. I think it’s called the Paleo diet now, however.

The tools needed for this perfect bowl of pasta are few. A large pot that leaves enough room for the pasta to move freely in as it boils. Fresh water. Sea salt. A colander. Oh, and whatever pan your cooking your sauce in. Keep a ladle near by as well.

It goes like this: Bring salted water, about two teaspoons of salt per quart, to a rolling boil. Add pasta. For the love of God do not break it. Cook pasta until just before it’s al dente. Al dente meaning “to the tooth”-just barely under cooked. In the meantime, by the way, you’ve got another large pan with your sauce cooking. Right before al dente, ladle out one to two ladlefulls, of your starchy pasta water and pour into your simmering sauce. This will thicken your sauce and give it body. Drain your pasta into your colander, and toss pasta in with your sauce. There it will cook to it’s final moment of al dente. If you’re not using a sauce, like my recipe below, you still want to drain your pasta at the moment before al dente as it will continue to cook whilst in the colander. And perhaps even a bit on your plate.

That’s it! Simple, no? Believe it or not, it does take a bit of practice and I am, by no means, an expert. Specifically, understanding, read: tasting, your pasta to see how close it is to al dente  is important. Keep in mind, whole grain pastas may take more time to cook longer. Fresh pasta, only moments. Sauces, well, that’s a whole other ball game. And probably a whole other post. I will say this. Think regionally when considering sauce for specific pasta. A pasta from Liguria? Ligurian style sauce. The sauce is, generally speaking, built around the style and shape of pasta so the pasta can carry the sauce efficiently, and dare I say, beautifully.

Now if you’re looking for inspiration I highly recommend the quirky and visually exciting book:  The Geometry of Pasta by Caz Hildebrand & Jacob Kenedy. If you have a pasta machine (which I sadly don’t), this book offers you the added bonus of A-Z recipes and instruction for more than a hundred fresh pastas and the sauces that go with them. Cool, eh? In the meantime, check out their groovy animated website.


PS If any of you lovely readers are pasta experts, do correct me if I’ve gotten something wrong. Also, any tips or advice are freely welcomed!


Trofie Pasta with Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Trofie is a Genovese pasta that is twisted into little spirals. Perfect for a pesto.

Linguine, if you happen to have some on hand, is a reasonable substitute.

If you’re not a fan of arugula’s bitterness, as I am not, the trick is to soak it in a bowl of ice

 water and let sit in the fridge for about and hour. Run it through a salad spinner after you’ve drained it.

Takes out the bitterness and gives you a crisp firm leaf.

1/3 pound dried Trofie pasta


4 oz fresh arugula

2 garlic cloves, smashed in a mortar with a bit of sea salt

1-2 cups freshly grated pecorino romano

1 cup walnuts

2/3 cup olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened


1-2 oz, about 2 slices, thinly sliced and finely chopped prosciutto


Cook pasta to the instructions listed above.

Place your arugula, crushed garlic and cheese in your food processor and work to a fine paste.

Add the walnuts and process until smooth.

Add the olive oil, butter salt and pepper to taste.

Let the pesto sit for a minute or two and then taste to adjust.

Serve over pasta peppered with prosciutto and with a lovely, slightly chilled Lambrusco. My new favorite wine, by the way.

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© Dina Avila Photography

© Dina Avila

Brussels Sprouts have been the theme in our corner of the world lately. Mustardy roasted Brussels sprouts at Grain and Gristle and Brussels sprouts pizza at Oven and Shaker, twice in one week, I might add. And for some reason we want more. Earlier this week I attempted my own Brussels sprout pizza with some success. It was a melding of lingering inspiration from Oven and Shaker and adaptation from a recipe in this month’s Martha Stewart.
But that’s not what this blog post is about. This recipe was inspired by the gorgeous cookbook, Moro East of which I wrote a little about in this post.

The Brussels aren’t the star of the dish here, the chicken most definitely is, but they do stand out. I swapped the original Lebanese inspired recipe’s listing for baby onions and pine nuts for whole cloves of shallots and walnuts but changed little else. Expect for the addition of the Brussels, of course.

This dish is rustic and hearty and perfect for midwinter. Charred and tangy I would even consider going a little heavy handed with the sumac or perhaps add a generous squeeze of lemon to brighten it up.


One Pan Roasted Chicken with Sumac and Brussels Sprouts

If you’re not familiar with sumac, it is a wonderful bright magenta and tangy spice made from

ground sumac berries commonly found in Middle Eastern recipes.

I think you could easily substitute lemon juice, but it is worth it to seek out this spice.


4 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium chicken, preferably organic or free range, broken down into 8 pieces, skin on

6-8 whole shallot cloves, peeled

10-12 Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered if they’re large

2 tablespoons sumac

2 oz walnuts

3 tablespoons water


Preheat your oven to 425

Warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in an oven proof skillet over medium-high heat.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper and place them in the hot skillet, skin side down.

Brown them thoroughly  on both sides.

Remove the chicken from the pan and pour off the oil. Reduce the heat to medium.

Place the shallots and Brussels in the hot pan with a tablespoon of the sumac and the last tablespoon of olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken, skin side up, on top of the shallots and Brussels.

Sprinkle the walnuts and final tablespoon of Sumac over the chicken.

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes until the chicken is cooked and tender.

Place the chicken in a serving platter, add the water to the pan with the shallots and Brussels and give it a good stir to make a bit of a sauce.

Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve hot perhaps over a bed of farro with a glass of a thick old world red.

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@ Dina Avila Photography

@ Dina Avila Photography

Ok, not really. This is not a Valentine’s Day post, but it is a delicious one!

With the current circumstances in my world (caring for a healing friend), I’ve been on the lookout for recipes that would be great in large batches. Soups, stews and chilis. I’ve had chili on my mind since Adam and I spent a very wintry, blustery weekend in a little cabin on the coast last month. I was fighting a cold and the sea was angry and we spent our days playing games, sipping tea and watching Top Chef Texas. I suspect you can figure out where the chili part comes in.

Sadly I have no pictures of that weekend to share and I’m just too embarrassed to tell you what happened to them. Instead, as we go there every January for Adam’s birthday, I’ve shared a couple pictures from that little cabin on the coast. One of our most favorite places in the world.

@ Dina Avila

© Dina Avila

This chili is delightful and versatile. It’s one of those meals that while eating it you think of all the variations and possibilities. The original recipe comes from this month’s Food and Wine, but I feel I’ve adapted it enough to (almost) call it my own.


Beety Turkey Chili


Adapted from a recipe by Chef Art Smith in Food and Wine Magazine

If you like heat I suggest pumping it up. I have two jalepenos in the recipe, which I deseeded

worried that it would be too hot for my friend. I think the chili would

have been more interesting with the heat from the seeds.

I baked the beets for about a half an hour instead of a full hour. I wanted them to retain some firmness

before tossing them in to cook with the chili.


1/4 cup olive oil

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey thigh

4 shallots, about 1 cup, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 teaspoons smoked paprika

2 jalapenos, de seed and coarsely chopped

2 medium carrots, coarsely chopped

3 beets, baked and coarsely chopped

1 28 oz can of pureed tomatoes

4 cups cooked pinto beans, or 3 15 oz cans

3/4 cup beer or lager. I used Deschutes Red Chair

1 1/2 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Salt and pepper

In a large stock pot warm up half of the olive oil.

Add the turkey and cook until browned.

Remove the turkey and transfer to a bowl.

Warm up the rest of the olive oil in the stock pot and add the shallots.

Cook until softened and starting to brown.

Add the garlic and all of the spices and cook, stirring until fragrant.

Return the turkey to the pot and stir in the carrots, beets, jalapenos, tomato, beer and beans.

Bring to a boil and stir in the broth and vinegar.

Cover and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper and perhaps a few chunks of yummy bacon and serve hot.

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It’s funny how your world can change in a heartbeat. One minute you’re doing your thing, making pictures, cooking, sleeping. The next, you’re in the hospital watching your oldest and dearest friend in the depths of a medically induced coma with every tube and gadget known to the medical world attached to her. Not even breathing on her own.

It went down like this. Saturday morning, January 7th, I’m sipping tea and about to jump in the shower when I receive a message from B’s sister-in-law. B collapsed in a café. Cardiac arrest. Do you know that moment? When all of your senses and emotions go into overdrive and you’re not sure what is reality and what is shock and am I asleep and dreaming? I’ve had that feeling two other times in my life. The first time is when my now very ex-husband came home to tell me he was cheating on me. The second, when my folks called to tell me that my father had prostate cancer. Adrenaline rush, shaking, dizzy, cross-eyed, what the fuck. Dad, thank the Lord, made a full and successful recovery. First marriage, thank the Lord, did not.

B was in the hospital for 26 days. Twenty Six. The first week her brother, sister in law and me sat by her bedside in the CICU for 5 plus hour shifts (I suspect her brother was there for many more) watching the beeping and buzzing lights. The sound of an automatic blood pressure machine, by the way, now fills me with dread and nausea.

I feel like I got a hard and fast education in nursing. Those nurses (any nurse!) by the way? Rock stars. Simply rock stars.

Do you know what it’s like to watch someone’s eyes as they struggle to step out of narcotic stupor? They had B on 4 (or was it 5) hardcore narcotics. As they slowly weaned her off of them, she’d occasionally open her eyes and it was like I could see her swimming in her pupils trying to reach the surface, only to sink back down into the deep dark depths of where ever the heck she was. Crazy.

Fast forward and B’s recovery, especially after they took that blasted ventilator out of her throat, is strong. Although, her heart is not. Plus the pneumonia. So she stay’s in the hospital for another solid week before the cut open her chest and rewire her heart. Triple bypass. She’s only 47.

In the meantime, her brother and I share the mildly unpleasant task of walking her dogs. Mildly unpleasant because one of the dogs is more than a little insane.

This is her.

Sweet and loving some of the time, but near impossible to walk. She tugs and pulls on the leash and quite literally stops every two feet to look around. Barks and runs at anything on wheels. And joggers. Oh wait, I forgot to mention that her previous owners had her debarked. But that doesn’t stop her, oh no. She constantly and I mean constantly barks like a giant squeak toy. Squeaking from both ends. Yep.

She’s gone now. After much deliberation and discussion on how she is in fact a danger to B (tugging, pulling, always underfoot, stairs), we took her to a woman who helps place displaced pets. I have no doubt someone will fall in love with her and she will be their one and only and she will be riding in a pink stroller with the word “Princess” emblazoned in rhinestones on it. No question.

But then there’s Harvey. A little Westie a little Shitzu, as B puts it, he’s like an oversized Toto. Sweetest, smartest dog ever. I am smitten.

Harvey and I take long walks together in the early morning. Since Pookie has moved on, I’ve been able to sip tea and make a few pictures with my iPhone. Of which you see in this post.

He is always by B’s side. He rarely barks and is one cool pup. When B is fully recovered, Adam and I are going to take her and Harv to the beach. He’s never seen a beach.

B is home now and has been for about a week and half now. She is on the mend, but it is a slow and frustrating (for her) process. Her heart and lungs are simply tired and any purposeful striding on her part leaves her out of breath and fatigued. She’ll get there. Her brother and I are continuing to walk Harv and many of my days are spent helping her simply live her life. Dishes, dog walks, errands. In the middle of all of that, I’m working. Making pictures and earning a living. Keep your eyes peeled on the New Seasons (website and weekly flyer) right around Mardi Gras, by the way. Also, take a look at (and like!) St. Honore’s Facebook page for a glimpse of what I shot for them for Valentines day. As always, of course, on Eater.

So, this is where I’ve been. Yeah, I’m tired and could sleep for a week, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except, of course, that B never got sick in the first place. By the way, get your heart checked. Get your cholesterol checked, exercise and eat lots and lots of veggies. Take good care of yourself because disease, as we are so intimately aware of now, does not discriminate.

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1859 Magazine

Hey folks!

I know I haven’t been around much, and I will be back in the kitchen and cooking and shooting soon, but for now I thought I’d share a few photos  that I took (and outtakes) of the uber eco (everything is repurposed), uber green geothermal Corey House in North Portland that were published in this month’s 1859 Magazine. If you live in Oregon check it out!

@ Dina Avila

The architect and his beautiful wife

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