Monday, August 31, 2009

Second Helping: Welcome, Purple Soup

We've all felt like melting on a hot pot while eating delicious pizza and sipping wine last Friday. The end of Summer surprised us with a punch of heat. But never mind. It was wonderful to be with friends talking and day-dreaming about the near future, while kids were tamed by Herbie Rides Again , the movie. But today is Monday and all that hot atmosphere seems to be left behind. I've been thinking all day to become vegetarian, vegan or something else that excludes animals. And then I rushed to the kitchen to prepare a soup. A Purple Soup. On the back of my mind I knew I would have the help of nice and expensive Reggiano Parmeggiano and nice pasta for the kids.

Purple Soup

Probably whatever is available in your fridge will make this soup a huge success as far as you have purple cabbage, purple onion, and some celery, and good grated cheese -- the predominant ingredients. Darienne asked me last time if a pressure cooker would be a good acquisition. If you aim to have one, I recommend a Lagostina, Italian, sturdy and not dangerous. I've been using mine since 2003, and gosh that pot rocks!

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 purple onion, sliced
1/2 purple cabbage, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 clove garlic, halved
2 yellow zucchinis, chopped
1 (12-oz.) can organic diced tomatoes
1/2 gallon of filtered water
4 tablespoons of kosher salt
2 cups of kid's dry pasta (alphabet, stars, rings, or any small, kid-friendly pasta)
baby spinach to garnish
shaved Reggiano to garnish

In a stock pot or pressure cooker, stir-fry onions, cabbage, and celery in hot olive oil. Add all ingredients and fill pot with water (from 1/2 to one gallon depending on the capacity of pot). Cook over medium heat for 25 minutes in a pressure cooker and about 50 minutes in a normal stock pot.
Add pasta and cook for 8 more minutes.
Top each bowl with spinach and cheese.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Second Helping: The mystery of Za'atar

The smell of hot pitta bread covered with Zahatar (or Za'atar) sends me back to Old Yaffo, Israel. It was certainly not the first time I was introduced to the beautiful mix of herbs, spices and seeds. But staying on the line of Aboulafia, the Arab bakery, waiting to be served gave me the impression that Zaatar was one of the tastes that should stay with me forever. And so it did. Today I use it on many recipes. Mixed with feta cheese and olive oil to dress a salad, inside lentils and also just in the simple way of being spread in hot pitta bread with olive oil. One of my favorites is with sweet yams.
The Israeli zaatar will mainly bring a mix of oregano, thyme, marjoram,salt and sesame seeds. Sumac is added to some family recipes coming from Lebanon, and some from Palestinian recipes, as I learn form some websites, can come with caraway seeds. As with well kept family recipes, each Za'atar can have its own variations depending on the creativity and background.

Yam with Za'atar

I use always the small orange yam or sweet potato, but I believe it can also work with white sweet potatoes or even butternut squash.

6 medium jewel yams or sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon water
Kosher salt to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon za'atar

Cook yams or potatoes on microwave in the baked potato mode with the water on the bottom of the pan, counting each 2 yams as one potato. After ready wait about 15 minutes and heat olive oil in a shallow skillet. Cut each yam in half and sprinkle both sides with salt and za'atar. Leave it to golden each side for about 5 minutes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Playdate Special: Carne Gelada, it tastes so familiar!

Here's a toast to one more year of being a full-blown-full-time mom. Celebrating the years to come I have today my best friend to help. She came from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to our birthday that is just one day apart...She asks me what I am planning to cook. I wonder. Around the alleys of my local TJ's nothing really inspires me. All of a sudden, amidst frozen fish from somewhere in the Pacific and Atlantic, I have a vision. I need something familiar. Something that brings me the flavor of home birthdays dinners. I recall one of my favorites: cold beef with onions, olives and oregano.

The nostalgic memory of family gatherings was there. I consult Renata, my friend for more than 25 years, and she approves. I leave TJ's with olive oil, red onions and a medley of olives. After a brief search in the Internet, I found the best translation for my beef cut - I just knew it in Portuguese- and also many good recipes similar to what I want to cook. Headed quickly to Safeway, and ordered the cut at the counter: Round Eye Beef. And putting all of those objective feelings and intuitive thoughts I began to cook.

Dessert was also a retro experience. One of my mother-in-law staple, known as the Pink Pudding is the choice. At the end of our lunch, many clean plates came from the kid's table. Spirits were elevated and a broad smile was in every body's faces. For me it was a very special occasion of communion of my past and my present with my family and my new and old friends. What a sweet way to celebrate my birthday! Dinner time came and the same menu was shared with my friend- the birthday girl - and husbands. We had a great time and indulged toasting with glasses full of California Merlot and hope for many creative years on the go.

Three Times O's Beef or Carne Gelada

This recipe has to be prepared one night before serving. After cooked, beef sliced and sunk in a new marinade to absorb all flavors of the chosen spices and herbs. During lunch we all agreed that the plate is just like jazz. Meaning that we can improvise and soak the beef in any kind of good ingredients, from capers to mushrooms.

3 pounds round eye roast
4 teaspoons Kosher salt
4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 pinch fresh ground pepper
1 cup raw carrots, coarsely cut

Overnight Marinade :
1 large purple onion, cut in slices (divided in 4)
1/2 pound olives (divided in 4)
1 tablespoon oregano (divided in 4)
3 tablespoons olive oil (divided in 4)

Sear the whole piece of beef in hot olive oil, garlic and salt. When all the circumference of the beef is seared- and even a bit charred- in high heat, fill pan with enough water to cover it. Add celery, carrots and bay leaf, close pan with a heavy lid and cook for about 45 minutes in medium flame. If using a pressure pan cook beef for about 25 minutes. Remove beef from pan and after about 15 minutes slice it in thinnest way you can. If you have an electric knife this will be even easier. In a bowl put one layer of beef and the 1/4 of olive oil, Onion Slices, Olives and Oregano as preparing a lasagna. Let it sleep, covered in the fridge, for at least 12 hours before serving.

Second Helping: As Time Goes By Pudding

Pink Pudding

For pudding:
1 can condensed milk (use condensed milk can as a reference for all contents of cans if they have different amounts)
1 can of light coconut milk
1 can evaporated milk
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin powder

For fruit sauce:
16 fresh cherries, halved and pitted
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup apple juice
1 teaspoon orange zest

Dissolve the gelatin in evaporated milk heating it on a pan over low heat up to all granules have been dissolved with a help of a whisker. In a bowl on the side, mix coconut milk with condensed milk. Add warm mix of gelatin and evaporated milk to coconut and condensed milk mix up to when liquid looks smooth. Cool in a Pyrex or plastic mold for at least 8 hours before serving.
Simmer fruits in juice for 25 minutes, and use cold sauce to cover pudding after taking it out of the mold.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Playdate Special: Pesto Magic!


Classic basil pesto has long been one of my favorite ways to dress up a simple pasta dish. Who doesn't love the bright flavors of summery basil beautifully blended with Parmesan, olive oil, and garlic?

Everyone else in my family, apparently.

But that hasn't stopped me. I work basil into much of my summer cooking, but more often than not my pesto features other flavors my boys enjoy more. Begin by thinking of it as green sauce and then start playing. Experiment with mint, cilantro, parsley, sage, lemon thyme -- keep going, you can think of more. Try them alone or in combination. Incorporating spinach is a nice way to get some extra-good veggies into your kids. As for nuts, try walnuts, pistachio, pumpkin seed, or leave the nuts out entirely.

090813_CPE_pesto_2090813_CPE_pesto_3It's easy to get snobby about pesto, insisting everything must be hand-chopped and that you must grate fresh Parmesan and use a lovely olive oil and mash it together by hand. But I find it easier to be practical and remember that I'm cooking for preschoolers, and a husband who eats like a preschooler. I use the Parmesan in the green can for family meals and mix everything up in the food processor. And I always make way more than I need, freezing leftovers in an ice cube tray for a quick and easy taste of summer all year long.

Lemon balm pesto has become our hands-down favorite. Our favorite preparation involves tossing the pesto with Trader Joe's tri-color ribbon pasta; a cup of shredded, cooked chicken; and a cup or so of halved cherry tomatoes from the garden. It's a rare no-complaints dinner for our family -- and the boys' friends devoured it at our playdate. Every single child, however, rejected the pan-roasted green beans I served with it. Can't win them all.

Lemon Balm Pesto

You can add pine nuts or walnuts if you wish. I sometimes throw in a bit of lemon verbena for an even sunnier taste.

3-5 cloves garlic (more or less depending on taste), peeled
3 cups packed lemon balm leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil (or more)
a squeeze of lemon
6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
pepper to taste

Rinse lemon balm well. Pat dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels and remove leaves.
Set up food processor (you could also use a blender). With machine running, drop in garlic cloves and continue running until garlic is minced.
Add lemon balm leaves and salt to food processor. Process until finely chopped. While machine is still running, slowly pour in olive oil and add a squeeze of lemon. Adjust olive oil according to your preference.
Add Parmesan cheese and process briefly. Add pepper and more salt as desired.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tips and Gadgets: My New Best Cooking Companion

This is all about the frying pan I just got as a birthday gift. It is round, elegant, can go to the oven up to 350 F and has wires of copper on the bottom. The original desire for a gift was a copper skillet - just like the ones I see at Ratatouille or on my favorite cooking show at Food Network. But before I assaulted my in-laws budget asking for a jewel as a birthday gift (the pan costs about U$ 300), I decided to try an alternative for 1/8 of that price. It is the Performance T-Fal.

My first dish cooked on it was a family favorite: garlic prawns. Inspired by the party atmosphere on the night before my in-laws leaved, a new ingredient was addede: white style Belgium beer, this one a Mendocino Micro-brew Summer White Ale, wonderful. The product of my gift was devoured in less than half an hour.

Bohemian Prawns

Choose large or jumbo raw prawns and don't forget to have a Belgian white beer style in the fridge to help to deglaze all the goodness from the bottom of the pan.

2 pounds raw farm-raised prawns, shell on with tale
1 tablespoon TJ's powdered California garlic
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 stalk spring onion
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon whole pink pepper
1/2 bottle white Belgium beer

Marinade prawns with oil, salt, garlic and salt for at least half an hour. Heat pan on high heat. Add prawns and turn to other side when they start to become orange. Leave on the pan up to when they start blackening. Add pepper, lower the heat, and pour in the beer. Once you smell that most of the alcohol had evaporated, simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve hot.


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