Beet Salad!

I don’t know about you, but I seem to have forgotten that this little indulgence of mine started out as a food blog… So how about a beet salad, to make up for missed cooking experiences?

I realize beets can be a polarizing ingredient, but guess what, I ¬†unabashedly love this root vegetable, I am Eastern European after all. It is somewhere encoded in our genes to love beets… and pickles… and fermented cabbage… yum ūüėČ

Here’s a great recipe for the transition period between summer and fall. Hopefully you can still find fresh herbs at the farmer’s markets, and root vegetables will be making it onto the scene.

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Beet Salad
Interpretation of a Whole Foods recipe

4 large (~5 medium) beets
1 small red onion
1/4 c fresh dill (loosely packed)
2 t roasted sesame oil
2 T olive oil
salt & pepper (to taste)
dash of allspice and coriander
1/2 T honey

1. wash beets and place in a pot (do not peel, but remove greens if applicable), cover with water and bring to a boil
2. reduce heat and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until you can easily stick a fork in them
3. meanwhile, wash dill and combine with oils, honey, and julienned onion (video tutorial for julienned onion below)
4. once beets are tender, drain the water and rinse under cold running water for 2 minutes or so
5. if beets are cool to the touch, it’ll be easy to peel the skins by hand, maybe using a knife to create an incision. they should still be relatively warm in order to soften the sliced onions once combined
6. cut beets in half and slice, just like the onion in the video, at a thickness around 1/4″
7. combine oil concoction and beets, add spices and salt/pepper to taste

It’s not entirely necessary, but the salad can rest over night, or for a few hours to let the flavors infuse and combine

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Everybody Loves Ramen

Felt an incredible rush of inspiration today. It’s currently finals week here at JWU, after the incredible mess this semester turned out to be, I’m feeling a bit burnt out and I need a little unwinding. Insert Ramen! Chowder (Boston’s online foodie resource) tweeted a city ramen guide sometime last night, yes I’m using the same corny title – all credits go to them, and the thought of brothy soup has lingered on my mind into this midday. So before I plunge into the vast sea of studying I have planned, I’ve decided to try my hand at Japan’s staple dish.

Let me point out, I don’t know too much about the specific techniques and which authentic ingredients to use for traditional ramen. It’s a vague concept I’m adhering to. The concept of intensely flavored broth, soft, delicious noodles, and toppings galore.

Referred to Anthony Bourdain (my go to guy, whether that’s a good thing or not – I can’t say) for a bit of clarification:

Here’s a prime example of kitchen improvisation. I didn’t do any grocery shopping tailored to this recipe, just had to go with what I had available. So forgive me if the¬†ingredients¬†seem a bit bizarre, it’s delicious, I promise. A bit of neutral oil (canola, vegetable) in a hot pan, half an onion (sliced), 4 cloves of crushed garlic, and a 1″ section of dried chili pepper from my mom’s summer garden – I doubt you have dried chili peppers from my mom’s garden though, so a sprinkle of chili flakes will do. Added 1 tsp each of paprika and powdered mustard, and 1 tablespoon of dried oregano. Deglazed with 3 tablespoons (1 oz.) of soy sauce, added _ cups of water, 1/4 cup of dill pickle brine, 4 dried shitake mushrooms, and 2 3″ pieces of knotted dried kombu. Stirred up the witches brew, brought to a boil, then lowered heat and simmered for about 30-45 minutes. Boiled the noodles at the 10-minutes-left point, strained and sectioned into bowls. Poured broth in until noodles were covered, and “garnished” with sliced button mushrooms, chickpeas, and some unfrozen veggie medley (carrots, peas, and green beans).

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Basically, throw anything into the broth (ideas), salt at the very end according to your taste, and top with whatever your heart desires! I was in NYC last winter, it was cold and rainy, and incredibly unpleasant, but on our way back to the apartment we stopped by this little shop for some warmth and nourishment. Suddenly the clouds parted, the sun shined¬†brightly, and people started dancing in the streets! If only…

NYC Ramen

And now, I move on to hospitality marketing, because that just sounds so enticing.

p.s. More ramen to look at! The Mind of a Chef

Late January

As I begin writing, my roommate’s cat has decided that he deserves my attention more than this blog post…

Cat

I had the extreme pleasure of making the most delicous salad the other day, but more on that in a bit. A dear friend visited me in Providence this past weekend, and it turned out to be the ultimate opportunity to try out a few places that have been destinations of mine for a while. Brickway on Wickendon has been on my list since I discovered Wickendon Street, it’s very close to my apartment, the decor’s neat, and I’m always on the prowl for a good breakfast place. Basic impression; sastisfying food – nothing worth raving about, had a breakfast burrito that I enjoyed because it was stuffed with good stuff, but was definitely missing some seasoning.

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We also took a little trip to Pastiche, I have no idea what took me so long to get here! This gourmet bakery has a very unique cafe like set up, we enjoyed some hot chocolate and wonderful pastries. Besides the superflous amount of whipped cream on my banana cream pie, this was the best slice of pie I have had in a very long time. There wasn’t much to it, but I think that was the point. The bananas were at perfect ripeness, simply sliced, topped with a little pastry cream (I assume), then piled high with whipped cream, and finally drizzled with caramel. What I experienced that day was a dessert that treated its ingredients properly and heightened the unique flavors of each component.

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RI has a great wintertime farmer’s market located in Pawtucket. It get uncomfortably crowded, but it’s worth the discomfort to get farm fresh eggs, some fresh produce, and other goodies like RI honey, pasta sauce, seafood, and meat products. This was the first time I had been since last year, my work schedule prevents me from going the 2 days it’s open during the week. It was here (and Whole Foods) that we picked up the ingredients for the incredible salad mentioned before. Basically, it’s composed of a rich and creamy avocado base, spiced roasted carrot body, and fresh sprout accent.
Carrot SaladThe,¬†friend who was visiting had bookmarked this recipe so we decided to prepare it for lunch. The recipe¬†comes from the New York Times, and is adapted from the restaurant ABC Kitchen, which has been on my Manhattan list for a while as well. As per usual, didn’t follow the recipe exactly, so here are my variations:

  • Ground cumin’s all I had in my spice cabinet
  • Substituted chili flakes with some hot sauce (representin’ MA made food products!)
  • Missing red wine vinegar, so used balsamic instead
  • The “other” sprouts we used were pea sprouts, baby pea plants!
  • And left out the sour cream and pumpkin seeds, we just didn’t feel compelled to purchase them.
  • The flavorings here are basically like a marinade, so puree it all and just toss the carrots in it before roasting.

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

iNGREDIENTS

  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound medium-size carrots peeled
  • 1 orange, halved
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 avocado, pitted, peeled and cut in thin wedges
  • 1 ¬Ĺ cups packed radish or other sprouts
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons roasted hulled pumpkin seeds

PREPARATION

1.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a small food processor or a mortar, pulse or pound the garlic with the cumin, thyme, chile flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 3/4 teaspoon pepper to make a paste. Add vinegar and 2 tablespoons of the oil, and mix well.
2.
Arrange carrots in a roasting pan and spread spice paste on top. Place orange and lemon halves, cut side down, on carrots. Roast until carrots are tender and starting to brown, about 45 minutes.
3.
Using tongs, arrange carrots on a serving platter. With a dishtowel to protect your hands, squeeze juice from the roasted orange and lemon halves into a measuring cup. You should have about 1/2 cup juice. Beat in remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle some of this sauce over the carrots.
4.
Arrange avocado over carrots, then scatter sprouts on top. Drizzle with reserved sauce, top with dollops of sour cream and a sprinkling of the seeds. Serve.

Tonight, I made some soup with this salad in mind. I incorporated balsamic vinegar, thyme, and garlic roasted butternut squash and sweet potatoes, as well as cumin and turmeric sauteed beans and carrots.

Squash Potato Soup

Have a great week everyone, make something delicious and savor it for a while in between   whatever hectic-ness your life might entail!

p.s. If you enjoy reading these random little blurbs, please do Follow, you can submit your email to be notified whenever I write a new post. I can guarantee that there will be no flooding of inboxes, seeing as how it takes me close to 2 weeks to write something new. Also, I insist that you comment, I would love to get some conversation going!

Freeform!

Recipes are important, I’m not challenging that. But to cook without a recipe is incredibly liberating. I find it that much more satisfying to use the knowledge I have collected from my¬†experiences¬†to create something unique. The way I see it, the best way to approach cooking is to focus on the basics. Rather than tackling any recipe we can get our hands on, we should repetitively test the elementary takes on our favorite foods. Once an understanding of the function of each ingredient in a dish is established, swapping things in and out becomes more of an adventure than a terrifying experiment. I found this recipe the other week. When a friend came over for dinner, we made a variation of this baked pasta dish, using the same ingredients but altering the amounts and sometimes their forms.
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We sauteed one fennel bulb until tender and added a small head of raddichio to cook for just 2 minutes. I don’t know about you, but I can never find large pasta shells in the supermarket. Instead we used 16 ounces of this cool looking lumaconi¬†shaped pasta, cooked it al dente, mixed it with12 ounces of ricotta, 6 ounces of fontina, salt & pepper, the¬†saut√©ed¬†vegetables, some dried oregano as well as a dash of cayenne pepper and the juice of 1/2 a lemon, and about half a jar of pasta sauce. Threw it in a preheated oven set at 350 degrees F, and baked it covered for 10 minutes and uncovered for 10.

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Please forgive the poor quality photos from my phone, it really tries, but sometimes it just can’t make it. I promise to employ the use of my actual camera next time.

In this recipe, there are a few key aspects. The pasta, the vegetables, the cheese, the sauce, and the flavorings. If you have something to fill each of these categories, you have yourself a meal. The pasta and veggies have to be cooked to just tender before baking, because they will get another round of cooking in the oven. Grab whatever’s in season! Some root vegetables, like beets and turnips, would be delicious here, those dense suckers might take some extra time on the stove though. Ricotta’s a good cheese to start off with because it’s relatively mild and coats everything well, but then add any kind of unique cheese you like (fontina’s tasty and melts excellently). Ideally, I would’ve used homemade tomato sauce, but winter isn’t tomato season, so I would prefer to use my favorite jarred sauce – Trader Joe’s Vodka Sauce! Test spices and herbs with a bit of your cooked veggies to get a flavor combination you approve of, and when it comes to the pasta, think small shapes, rounded to catch all the cheese and veggies.

In the end, it’s all about experience and a bit of bravery. Try and try again, until those methods and ratios are engraved into memory. I feel like the kitchen is the only controlled environment within which you can throw all caution to the wind. Throw in a bit of this, a bit of that, try some elaborate recipe just for the heck of it, and at the end of the day no one was hurt (hopefully), and you got a meal out of it. While there’s always a fear of failing, of the food turning out awful, it’s important to note that there are many factors involved in cooking. One thing goes wrong and it very possibly might set off a domino effect, the only step you can take next is to try it again, focus on what you’re doing, and hope it turns out better this time.

p.s. Just remember kitchen safety:

^ I can’t decide if that’s too morbid or not…

The Holidays

And so, the holiday season has come and gone. I always look forward to this time of year. Forget about gifts, Santa Claus, and even it’s religious significance. Christmas is my excuse to go all out; watch silly movies, decorate everything with bulbs, lights, and evergreen, burn candles scented of¬†pine and “frosted cranberry”, eat fantastic food (lots of it), smother my family and friends… and not bat an eyelash, it’s all acceptable for this short span of time. This year, Christmas seemed to have arrived abruptly at the front door, and left just as quickly without much sentiment.

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But the food! Dinner always leaves a lasting impression. Christmas Eve brought cabbage dishes, beet soup, pierogi, various fishes (pickled, fried, and baked), and the traditional vegetable salad. Christmas day was a three course buffet of epic portions. Food coma inducing, for sure. I was responsible for a few things, here and there, but I would like to share a most delicious recipe. Best suited for summer, when zucchini is abundant and fresh as can be, this tart is savory, creamy, and incredibly flavorful. This was actually my first foray into gluten free cooking, and let me say, I was not disappointed at all. This crust, using brown rice, millet, and quinoa flour, is the tastiest crust I have ever had the pleasure of consuming. And look at all those healthy ingredients, they let the mind justify the butter and cheese indulgence. This recipe is from La Tartine Gourmande. I never followed the blog, but the cookbook is so beautiful, I couldn’t resist – even if I had a very narrow knowledge of what cuisine it feature.

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I did make some variations to the recipe, follow whichever you think sounds best.

  • Instead of marjoram, I used dill.
  • I added the Swiss cheese,¬†shredded¬†Emmentaler, to the ricotta mixture, and just layered the zucchini nicely.
  • Had to use millet flour instead of buckwheat flour.
  • Used lemon juice (from 1/2 of a lemon) instead of lime zest

Crust:

90 g brown (or white) rice flour
50 g buckwheat flour (used millet here instead)
40 g quinoa flour
1 1/2 teaspoons xantham gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon of poppy seeds (optional, I left these out)
6 tablespoons cold butter
1 egg
3 tablespoons cold water

From the book:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle blade, combine the flours, xantham gum, sea salt, and poppy seeds (if using). Add butter and beat on medium speed nutil crumbles form. Add the egg and continue to beat until incorporated. Gradually add the water while beating until the dough detaches from the bowl and forms a ball… Refrigerate for a minimum of one hour ¬†before using. If it’s in the fridge for a few hours or overnight, take out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before using.

Filling (a bit of an adaptation):
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 tablespoon chopped marjoram (substituted for dill)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Finely grated zest of 1/2 organic lime (used the juice of half a lemon)
Sea salt and pepper
1 small green zucchini, thinly sliced
1 small yellow zucchini, thinly sliced
3 ozs swiss type cheese (shredded)
1 tablespoon honey
Olive oil

Roll dough and line a buttered tart pan, poke holes with a fork a few times along the bottom. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Use some kind of pie weight, I placed the bottom of a smaller springform pan and that work just fine, remove the weight halfway through bake time. Combine ricotta, herbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and shredded cheese. Fill crust, doesn’t necessarily have to cool, and layer zucchini slices, alternating colors. Glaze with a bit of a honey and olive oil mixture. Bake for about 20 minutes until zucchini is tender and the swiss cheese has melted in the mixture. You may have to cover the crust edges to prevent from burning. Remove and let set (~10 minutes) before serving warm.

It’s exciting to be to be identified as a cook, spice sets¬†and serving dishes were on my list of gifts received! I promise to put those spices to good use, they actually went into a carrot cake I made for Christmas day. Wishing all the best in 2013,

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

p.s. Les Miserables, in my humble opinion, is a great dramatic movie. There are scenes that lag a bit, and my attention was lost, but there were others that had me laughing, crying, and mesmerized. Hats off to the cast for their INCREDIBLE acting and relatively enjoyable singing.

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p.p.s. If you have any affinity for Spain, food, travel shows, cooking shows, Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, or Gwyneth Paltrow, you must watch Spain… on the Road Again. I remember it first airing on PBS and it was my father and I’s favorite thing to watch. I received the the whole series on DVD for¬†Christmas¬†this year and I have so gratefully been reminded of what an amazing show it is. It’s not pretentious or even too indulgent, they visit cheese, olive oil, and wine bodegas, cook wholesome simple food on open fire grills at spur of the moment¬†occasions. It’s such a pleasure to watch, rent the DVD’s right away, you will not be disappointed.

Brie en Croute

To whet your appetite, sort of… Here’s something awesome I watched recently, one of my favorite things about Singin’ in the Rain is the chemistry between Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly, they are hilarious together!

In an unbelievable turn of events, after Hurricane Sandy came Nor’easter Athena! In the spirit of snow and cold weather I want to share a favorite warm, melty, and crispy appetizer of mine: Brie en Croute. Made of 4 ingredients, all store bought, it is manageable while still being delectable. This dish basically consists of brie, topped with nuts and any chutney, all encased in puff pastry. There is room for homemade-ed-ness though. Homemade brie and puff pastry may be a bit of a stretch for the home cook, however it is easy to customize your Brie en Croute with a homemade chutney (savory) or jam (sweet). My favorite store-bought choice would have to be Stonewall Kitchen’s Old Farmhouse Chutney, especially in this season. There is lots of wiggle room here to alter the same dish’s flavor. Although I do not like referring to Paula Deen as a culinary authority, it is her recipe that I use:

Brie en Croute Recipe from foodnetwork.com

Courtesy of http://transcendentvictuals.blogspot.com/
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry (package comes with 2 sheets)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped¬†pecans¬†or¬†walnuts
  • 1 small (8-ounce)¬†wheel¬†Brie
  • 1/2 cup¬†raspberry¬†jam
  • 2¬†eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Defrost 1 sheet of¬†puff pastry¬†for approximately 15 to 20 minutes and unfold (place remaining sheet in freezer for later use).¬†Meltbutter¬†in a¬†saucepan¬†over medium heat. Saute nuts in butter until golden brown, approximately 5 minutes. Place nuts on top of Brie and spread¬†jam¬†on top of nuts. Gently roll pastry with a¬†rolling pin¬†to increase the size of the sheet 1 to 2 inches in each direction. Brush both sides of the sheet with beaten egg. Center the wheel of Brie on top of the pastry sheet. Bring all four corners of the sheet together above¬†Brie¬†and twist slightly to form a “bundle.” Tie gathered pastry with kitchen/cooking string (tie string in the form of a bow), arranging pastry until you are satisfied with the “bundle” shape. Place “bundle” on an ungreased¬†cookie¬†sheet and bake for 20 to 25 minutes until pastry is golden brown. Serve with top-quality crackers.

*forgive the Food Network for thinking you may not know what a raspberry is, those hyperlinks stayed through the copying and pasting process.

p.s. I don’t know about you, but anything any British comedian talks about, I find immediately fascinating. Stephen Fry builds a printing press.

Risotto, Risotto, Risotto!

An introduction, you only need to watch until about 3:30 (This one’s for you, any David Tennant fans out there):

Risotto is a dear friend of mine. People are always asking me, “what’s your favorite thing to cook” which has got to be one of the hardest questions in the world for me to answer. I love cooking as a whole event, not a specific recipe. Chopping vegetables, sizzling onions, dashes of allspice… this is why I love cooking. Its sounds, smells, the focus it requires, and the creativity it inspires.

If I had to pick one dish though, only one, it would be risotto. It’s a slow process that requires constant attention. You know how people say having children brings you a new feeling of being so entirely needed? Well risotto is a lot like that. It’s like a baby, satiated by one ladle of broth until absorbed and then crying for another. I wholeheartedly recommend going to your local wine shop and picking up a nice bottle of white for this recipe. Ask for a recommendation and be sure to mention that you’ll be using it for a mushroom risotto. Perhaps you want to place a limit on price range, but remember, the cooking process requires time, so you might as well enjoy the rest of the bottle while you stir, stir, stir!

Only picture I had of my dear mushroom risotto! Here’s is the plate at last year’s holiday dinner. Risotto’s is back left, our magnificent homemade pierogi front left, classic veggie salad back right, and some cabbage front right. I did mention that I’m Polish, right? ūüėČ

While there are many variations you can consider, like another personal favorite: beet risotto, I offer to you a mushroom recipe. It calls for cremini and chanterelles for flavor and white button mushrooms for substance. Creminis (young Portobellos) tend to be widely available and by all means use fresh chanterelles if you feel so inclined. I happen to have used them in their dried fashion more often than fresh. My polish family and our friends are notorious for foraging for fresh chanterelles (a.k.a. corki) at Myles Standish Forest in Carver, MA. Also, after rehydrating the dried chanterelles, you can incorporate that flavorful soaking liquid into the dish. Just be sure to scoop gently because some dirt/sand will likely have settled to the bottom.

Risotto Specific Tips:

  • Stir constantly, seriously, no joke. Don’t leave that baby alone. You’ll ensure even cooking and get that essential creamy texture by doing so.
  • Be sure to scrape any lingering rice kernels from your pot edges. These guys left behind will harden and result in the occasional rock in your fantastic finished dish. Which just might result in a broken tooth at the dinner table, and nobody wants that.
  • How do you know when to add more broth? Look for this: as you stir the rice and create valleys, pay attention to the liquid remaining. Once you hit the stage that your utensil (I prefer a wooden spoon) reveals the pan, and liquid slowly seeps from the rice, you know you’re ready for more.

Here is a little tip regarding spice. If you do not already do so, toast first thing and build from that base. Applying that bit of dry heat at the beginning really opens the flavors encased in your spices and releases the oils they contain. Once you’ve reached that fragrant stage, just add the oil and begin to saute as per usual. When it comes to garlic in a recipe, I prefer to add it a little after the onions have started to cook. Garlic seems to be one of the easiest things to burn and once you do, there is no going on from there. Burnt garlic has to be one of the most awful flavors.

Mushroom Risotto

1 onion
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
olive oil
1 cup of Arborio rice
¬ľ cup of dry white wine
4 cups of vegetable broth
1 ¬Ĺ to 2 T of butter
0.5 ozs. dried cremini mushrooms
7 ozs. white button mushrooms
7 ozs. chanterelles mushrooms (dried or fresh)
3 tbsp of chives
freshly grated Parmigianino Reggiano
salt and pepper
nutmeg
sweet paprika

  1. Mise en place: set up broth on the stove, boil water and soak creminis, chop onion, garlic, chives, and clean and slice button and creminis. Measure out wine, rice, and butter.
  2. Heat pot, and toast paprika with a dash of nutmeg. Start with about a teaspoon and you add more to the final product if you so desire. Add olive oil. Once hot enough, add onions and begin sautéing, 2 minutes in, add garlic. Sauté until translucent.
  3. Add rice and stir until coated and a little toasted, then add wine and stir until absorbed.
  4. Add a ladle full broth and stir until absorbed, repeat about 3 times including liquid from soaked mushrooms. Right after last addition, add mushrooms (including chopped chanterelles) and chives. Stir to combine and add salt, pepper, nutmeg, and sweet paprika to taste. Cook until rice has absorbed enough liquid and is still firm, and you’ve reached the consistency you desire.
  5. Take off heat and stir in butter, then add parmesan.

While all that seafood is not exactly my cup of tea, look at that risotto technique! One day my friends, one day, we all need something to aspire to ūüôā

p.s. Here’s a crazy article regarding the James Beard conference going on tomorrow called “Creating a Better, More Sustainable Food World We Can Trust”, quiz yourself on how much you know about our agricultural industry.

Back Burner Cooking

So this is the first time I would call my roommate situation a success. We’re pretty much all on the same page; looking to do well in school, aiming to keep our place clean, cooking fanatics, etc. Our schedules keep us super busy though, so we hang out almost exclusively when we walk to our […]