Let’s Talk Turkey Tacos!

There are so many exciting and nerve-wracking stages of relationships. Chris and I have been lucky that the early milestones of ours have been nothing short of successful and charming, and some form of food talk appears in almost every conversation we’ve had. With Kissing Cooks, it’s been quite the pleasure to discuss our inspiration and experiences with loved ones as we grow in readership through social media.

When Chris agreed to meet and have dinner with some of my closest gal pals and their families, it was a great night where the laughs were just as abundant as the yummy tacos. He won them over and I couldn’t have been happier since he’d basically won me on our first date months ago! Our hostess of the night, my friend Nichole, prepared ground turkey with a homemade taco seasoning. Chris and I were immediately intrigued by this prospect, especially since we frequently talk about the ideal ways to organize spices and herbs in one’s cabinet (mine, more specifically). Not to mention, this method allowed for us to save some cash on the sometimes sodium-heavy packet varieties on store shelves, so that we may rely on our own flavor preferences to dictate heat levels and what we’re putting into our bodies. Kissing Cooks is not just about the kissing or the cooking; it’s also about building up our repertoires as home cooks, and with that, we hope to do our very best to learn how dishes are made from scratch (in most cases, at least).

Alissa & Chris at the New Amsterdam Theater in NYC in January 2017, seeing Aladdin on Broadway. No human brains are actually harmed over the course of our relationship.

A week after our friend fest, Chris and I set out to establish our very own taco tradition by making turkey tacos. It should be said that we both have very different work schedules, and often, I have a little bit of prep time for sides and vegetables (really where my forte thrives) before Chris gets to my apartment. I confess: I usually nosh a bit here and there on a cucumber or cheese during the process just to hold me over.

When Chris called me on his way from work, he suggested an appetizer since it usually takes some time after he arrives to finally sit down to eat together and he was hungry. I was at a loss for a light, gluten free starter to have ready for him after his long day at the office (a lovely addition that I will always keep in mind for us to whet our palettes with in the future). Most of our meals at home together have included some sort of a salad that served just this purpose in the time before dinner was served. I’m only recently transforming my kitchen into a full-time gluten free zone, so I suggested to him that, along with a few other necessities, he pick up something festive, which turned out to be corn chip scoops and mild chunky salsa (both Tostitos), a more than appropriate choice for our south-of-the-border-inspired dinner.

Once the cooking was underway, Chris and I put to good use some of the thawed ground turkey I’d bought in bulk (and on sale). I had some extra corn shells (Ortega—of course gluten free), which made it feel like dinner was halfway ready for us that Friday night. When I researched the necessary ingredients for homemade taco seasoning (here), I was pleased to find that I already had most (garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, paprika, and sea salt) on hand, although Chris made the investment in the more potent and bolder flavors (chili powder, crushed red pepper flakes, and cumin) to keep for himself. These spices haven’t previously found a home in my pantry because, well, spicy + Alissa = no bueno. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a little kick on my tongue—the kick does not enjoy me; therefore, I’ve had to make healthier food choices to avoid a nasty monster that I’ve been facing for years now, better known as, acid reflux. In an effort to meet Chris’ spicy preferences and my own milder health needs, we adjusted portions and added the final product to our ground turkey, which was browning away in the pan within minutes of his arrival.

In addition, our meal included some favorite taco accessories, including light sour cream (Daisy), chopped iceberg lettuce and plum tomato, a finely shredded Mexican blend of four cheeses (Monterey Jack, cheddar, quesadilla, and asadero), salsa, spicy taco sauce (Ortega), as well as brown rice (Uncle Ben’s). Chris had the idea to season the rice with some dried cilantro, though we probably could’ve used a small squeeze of lime juice and zest (everything should have some zest) over it for a little extra authenticity.

I was also pretty happy to use many of my cute and mismatched mini bowls so that assembling our tacos with our favored accoutrements was easy to do and aesthetically pleasing for our carefully set and colorful table. Since I’d been feeling a little under the weather (darn allergies, or something like that), I opted to pair my delicious dinner with a tall glass of cold, filtered water, and Chris followed suit.

As always, there were plenty of leftovers to be saved for one more satisfying dinner. Ingredients like sour cream and the four-cheese blend would not go to waste either since these are essentials to my go-to anytime favorite dinner, cheese quesadillas (the first home-cooked meal I treated Chris to on our fifth date). Cleanup was a cinch, which only made it more obvious that turkey tacos will definitely be happening again for the Kissing Cooks in the future.

For dessert, Chris and I indulged in his homemade gluten free glazed brownies (Duncan Hines) that he very generously brought over to share with me. He knows all too well about my sweetest sweet tooth. We both highly recommend this amazing boxed mix, if you’re seeking gluten free alternatives to quell your baking needs, because it’s possibly the best gluten free brownie option I’ve tasted so far! With it, I enjoyed a hot cup of Throat Coat tea (Traditional Medicinals) with honey, as we watched the latest hilarious episode of New Girl and talked about our busy weekend plans of banana pancakes for Saturday brunch and attending The Chocolate Expo in Garden City on Sunday (which Chris will be writing about next!).

Maybe next time, our taco night will fall on a Tuesday for punny alliterative purposes, but really, aren’t tacos perfect for any night of the week? How do you like to prepare your tacos? What are your favorite taco toppings? We’d love to hear from our readers and fellow foodies about what inspires you to kiss and cook in the kitchen!

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.

A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo

Alissa & Chris for Oscar night in Saint James, NY in February 2017.

Inspiration comes in so many forms, especially when considering what to write. For Kissing Cooks, my mind (and heart, of course) is surging with ideas about how Chris and I can spend our time together—mostly for when we’re in the kitchen right now because it’s still winter here on Long Island and outdoor activities are a bit limited (though hopefully not for long). For us, the cooking routine and dynamics are interesting and new to explore because neither of us have ever had such kitchen chemistry with past partners, nor was the frequency and desire as excitedly present as we’re discovering. This is only further driving how we swap our inspirations, especially about all things creative, beyond shared cuisine too.

Alissa & Chris meeting Clinton Kelly at the Book Revue in Huntington, NY in January 2017.

Let’s get back to the food… Last week, I was watching an episode of The Chew, absorbing all the food information I could (like a student who dutifully attends a lecture—I’m no longer in school, which prompts me to seek education in any form I possibly can. My mind is always hungry for knowledge.). This is when I came across a seemingly straightforward and fast recipe for arugula pesto farfalle with chicken, presented by cohost Clinton Kelly (someone with whom I have greatly admired for a long time when it comes to fashion, food, and words). Clinton Kelly has already had somewhat of an influence on my relationship with Chris (see our About page for those adorable details), which made me all the more eager to explore how Chris and I could adopt this recipe as our own gluten free version.

Before I get into the who-did-whats of our food preparation, I’d like to address the fact that the title of this post is “A Muse Bouche: Pesto Festivo.” I pride myself as someone who appreciates language, both foreign and domestic. This title is not only a mix of French and Italian (two languages that have largely impacted my life in how I look at the world, write, dress, and decorate my apartment), but also admittedly, it’s misleading. An “amuse bouche” literally translates in French as a “mouth amuser” (as per Wikipedia), which is typically served in bite-sized form, like an hors d’oeuvre. While our mouths are thoroughly amused by everything having to do with kissing, food, and conversation, there’s nothing about this particular pesto-centric meal that qualifies it as a true amuse bouche. I’m clarifying to ward off anyone reading who has identified any misrepresentation of this appetizer course, which dates back to the 1960s. If further argument is needed, may I refer you to the first paragraph about how Chris and I are each other’s muses. And yes, wordplay is always invited to dinner!

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Secondly, “festivo” is Italian for “holiday.” My relationship with Chris began right smack in the middle of the end-of-the-year holiday season, and this has only been amplified by the fact that the decadence of awards season (movies, television, and music) also feels like a celebration. We’re such movie nerds that preparing for Oscar night felt like getting ready for a holiday in itself. In total, we saw three of the Best Picture nominees together (La La Land, Arrival, and Lion), and two individually (Chris: Hell or High Water and Alissa: Hidden Figures).

Alissa & Chris with Mr. Oscar himself (in mere poster form) while at the movies in Stony Brook, NY in February 2017.

So… Chris and I made plans to watch the Academy Awards together, as a time-friendly meal was on the horizon for last Sunday night, especially since I’d be at work for most of the day and couldn’t meal prep like I usually preferred to do. That, in combination with the fact that I love pesto (a consequence of savoring much of it in many different green forms during my time studying and writing in Florence), readied me for the challenge to switch farfalle out for brown rice fusilli (Tinkyada—I couldn’t find any gluten free farfalle at my local Stop and Shop), chicken thighs for grilled chicken strips (Perdue Short Cuts), and leave out the golden raisins all together (though I’m not opposed to using them in the future).

When I moved into my first apartment, my parents very generously gifted me tons of used and small kitchen necessities and appliances that were perfect for just such a bachelorette who wasn’t always so food-savvy (not that I really am now, but I’ve come a long way, if I may say so myself). Among these appreciated donations was a small 1.5 cup-size food processor (Kitchen Gourmet) that was stored and ignored for well over three years in my cabinet. Whenever I looked at it, I heard the whispered word “pesto” in the air, like the ghost of Christmas past was lurking in the shadows of my stacks of Cheerios boxes, haunting and taunting me to take on the challenge. Making fresh pesto never really seemed impossible; it was just never terribly urgent for me to explore, what with balancing two jobs, grad school, finances, an ever-changing personal life, and the need for sleep. That is, until now.

When Clinton Kelly (yes, I’m always going to use his first and last name, though we’ve met and hugged and shared some memorable laughs) whipped up his meal in mere minutes, I was determined to produce just such an effortless dinner for Chris and I to enjoy before the big night. Because my food processor is so small, it took a few more steps than I anticipated for the arugula pesto to come together. This entailed emptying out the grated Parmesan, walnuts (Diamond), garlic, and arugula from the bowl and refilling it with another round of the same unpulsed ingredients. Then I emptied that second mixture into the first batch so that the pesto could form with extra virgin olive oil in all of its gastronomic green glory.

Chris kept a watchful eye on the fusilli as we microwaved the chicken (time was an issue since there was also some red carpet watching and cleaning up to do before the ceremony started), while serving up some Riesling (RELAX, a new favorite of ours). Once all was ready, I spooned some pesto into our bowls first (as per Clinton Kelly’s instructions), followed by our pasta. We mixed the multi colored fusilli until all of its corners and curls were covered in the peppery arugula mixture, followed by the strips of hot chicken and topping it all off with dollops of part skim ricotta. There’s no such thing as too much cheese for the Kissing Cooks.

I needn’t capture how the rest of the night went. If you saw the Oscars, then you know. However, our pesto dish was a tasty success. No envelope mix up could deny that victory. Congratulations to all the nominees who worked so hard to present relevant and moving stories on the silver screen to audiences across the world, and inspiring Chris and I to learn more movie trivia along the way. The highly praised modern-day musical La La Land is a particularly special film for us; it was the first movie we saw in theaters (on our 15th date—who’s counting?—just two days after attending a meet and greet with Clinton Kelly who was promoting his essay collection, I Hate Everyone Except You). In addition, the film’s signature love ballad “City of Stars” performed by Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone was the first song we slow danced to (actually in the movie theater during the end credits—Chris’ idea!). The soundtrack and score to the movie is also often playing during our at-home meals, lending its magical musing to every step of our romance.

Alissa & Chris rehearsing their Kissing Cooks ways before seeing La La Land in Farmingdale, NY in January 2017.

For dessert, we each indulged in some vanilla frozen yogurt (Target’s ever-reliable Market Pantry brand) topped with chocolate syrup, dark chocolate sprinkles, mini chocolate chips (Nestlé), whipped cream, and maraschino cherries. Overall, it was an utterly enjoyable night of cooking, cleaning, couture, cuddling, commentary, and cinema. We couldn’t ask for more!

As always… stay kissing and stay cooking.