Monday, September 10, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Apple-Cranberry Breakfast Quinoa

Taking inspiration from last week's quinoa cookie, a leisurely hot breakfast quinoa was made on an uncommonly chilly summer morning: apples, cinnamon, star anise, pumpkin seeds, and dried cranberries were all tossed in, and set to simmer. The result: honey-sweetened and milky-creamy, only a bit of maple syrup was added in the end to balance out a very tasty and wholesome breakkie.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Linguine with Chickpeas and Calamari

A lot of the new dishes that are tried out in kitchens are the result of a lack of imagination by the cook. Not a lack of culinary imagination, no, not that. Rather, the inability to imagine a flavour combination that is described in a new recipe. This is the case for me, and some friends as well.

When I hear a new recipe, and simply cannot imagine how the various flavors work together, but I know I adore all the dish's components (although, there are few tastes that I don't adore), it must be made.

Late one night, watching an Italian cooking show (my preferred method of learning the language) there was a segment on Linguine con ceci e calamaretti. The title seemed reasonable, but then I saw rosemary on the chef's counter. Really? Rosemary and calamari? Hmmmm...intrigue was set. A friend made it for me later that week, and I was amazed. The chickpeas are blended together with lemon juice to create a creamy base in which to coat the linguine, and no cream! And the rosemary danced between brightening up the chickpeas, and bringing out the calamari's bold side.

This week, I made the dish as part of an Italian dinner evening for some Czech friends. We started by sipping a Czech interpretation of the Italian spritz  (read: bigger and stronger), the classic caprese starter, the trendy ribboned zucchini salad, and the stage was then set for this simple, easy, yet slightly exotic pasta to wow. And it did. And it was eaten with much gusto.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Chocolatey Banana Bites - Times Three

Bananas may not be the summeriest of all fruit, but dipped in chocolate, rolled in crunchy bits, and frozen, they beat any icy treat on a hot summer afternoon.

A brief 40 minutes of slicing, melting, and rolling, a bit of freeze time, and a sweet kid-friendly treat awaits. I like it thawed out a bit, so the banana is soft, but others seem to prefer that cool banana center straight from the freezer.

 In the past, I've whipped these up even faster by leaving the banana whole, dunking it in the chocolate, a quick roll through nuts, and to the freezy bin. Yet when sharing, the bites are soooo much easier to pass around.

A great summer sweet-n-salty treat, and a very tasty way to reap some of those seed benefits: Vitimin E is abundant in sunflower seeds, and pumpkin seeds are little green packets of minerals - and great for men's health. It's no wonder banana bites have been dominating the blogosphere this year!

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Friday, August 10, 2012

Chocolate-Cranberry Quinoa Cookies

Quinoa, oats, nuts, and dried cranberries in a cookie makes them breakfast appropriate, post-workout ready, and diet friendly. And they are sweet enough that kids like them too! Whatever type of people are in your family, this is a cookie that works for all.
Sneaking protein-rich quinoa into baked treats boarders on genius, in my book anyways. I like a little bit of 'healthy' wherever I can get it.

Dark chocolate chunks and plump dried cranberries give them a definite sweetness. Almonds are toasted before used, to intensify their crunch and flavor.

They bake up nice and chewy, and make about two dozen very substantially sized cookies. I had two after a long run, which satisfied both a sweet tooth, and a need for a bit of carbs with staying power. They should keep well for a few days, but I doubt they will last that long.

Quinoa, what else can we sneak you in?

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Simple Salmon Laksa

A storm was making it's way through the southern villages of Czech Republic last Tuesday night. Luckily, we had soup. Not just any soup, but Laksa: a softly spicy, fragrant, Malaysian noodle soup. I hadn't thought of this soup since I was last in New Zealand, where it's made with some frequency, and most kiwis will tell you it's Indonesia's most appreciated contribution to their islands. Sources cite Malaysia as the country of origin, but also Indonesia and Singapore. Whatever the case, the influences are clear on the palate - a bit South-East Asian, a bit Chinese, and appreciated by all.

It reminds me of an incredibly tasty soup made last year, with shrimp and zucchini, but was much more involved due to the long infusion the spices had in the broth. This version, adapted from an 'express' cookbook makes a very tasty broth with less time by NOT chopping the lemongrass and straining it out, but simply giving it a few good whacks to bruise the stalks, and letting them steep whole. The flavour still gets into the broth, but with less time and effort. 
Baby bok choy is used, mainly because it just looks so cute while waiting on the counter-top, but the full sized variety would do just fine. We took heed from the Italians here as well, as the garlic is left whole, and scooped out at the end, as to not overpower.

This is a soup of soft, well-blended flavours, and only spicy if you want to add in the chili peppers at the end. It's a work-night favourite of my good friend who made it, as I saw the note 'Awesome!' scribbled in the corner of the recipe. And so it was.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dried Plum and Oat Muffins

Who can resist a perfectly crumbly, gently sweet, wholesome breakfast muffin? And when that very same muffin promotes a certain, um, regularity..well, that is the added benefit of including both prunes and oats in the same muffiny package.

Prunes get a bad rap in the states. Abroad they don't seem to have attained the same stigma of being just a bowl of something old and wrinkly next to grandma's bedside. Rather they can be a welcome addition to baked goods. 

Anywhere raisins are present, chopped prunes can be used for a bit more tangy sweetness and moisture.

In these muffins, toasted almonds give a bit of texture. Oats and a mix of white and wheat flour make them ideal for brekkie. Orange zest, cinnamon, and nutmeg give it a bit of zing. And it's all quite healthy with honey and Greek yogurt added into the mix. 

Careful when they are warm, their addictiveness hides how filling they are. Perfect for a post-run / workout bite too!

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fish Cake or Low-Carb Fish Burger?

What better way to power ourselves through the weeks than with a nice fish dinner? Unfortunately, most wallets do not support a steady supply of freshly caught whatever-the-trendy-restaurant-fish-is-at-the-moment. This does not, however, lead one to succumb to fish fingers. Even though I am sure there is a time and a place for reliving such frozen nostalgic goodness, I am even more certain that if you have 30 minutes of kitchen time, the tastiest and tangiest of all fish cakes can be on your plate in less time than a run to the supermarket's frozen aisle.

Fish cakes are what I dined on in university while caring for a well-off Jewish retiree, and they have always held this image for me. Food for discerning women.

I welcome a new age of fish cakes. In fact, I will start calling them fish burgers. I think more men will eat them this way. Burgers are manly. Burgers are burly. And since so many men I meet in Italy admit openly to being on a diet, they will also appreciate the bun-less low-carb aspect. It's a win-win. So while we know these are by definition fish cakes, just tell your family fish burgers are on the menu.

These are tangy. They've got zing from all angles. Horseradish, pickles, capers, and spicy peppers. Eaten with a fresh salad and a crisp, cold, mineraly glass of white wine, they go down with much more taste than any fish finger ever resembled. Fast, keeps the summer kitchen cool, budget-friendly, and most importantly, a fresh and bright taste with a crispy texture. Welcome, my new summer low-carb burgers. 

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Drink Your Peaches - With Bourbon Please.

Peaches are a hit on the menu right now. Peach and goat cheese salad. Peach salsa on fish tacos. Peach and Brie quesadillas. It simply goes on. So why not drink your peaches?

Hailing from the most excellent American state of Wisconsin, I've learned that the Old Fashioned classic can be slightly toyed with by replacing the whiskey with it's grape-based cousin, brandy. This week, having some bourbon in cupboard after the maple-bourbon muffin glaze experiment, I decided to use this, and to introduce another variation - peaches.

An Old Fashioned traditionally consists of whiskey, sugar, bitters, and lemon. More or less depending on your maraschino cherry predilection.

Here, the sugar is replaced by honey and smashed peaches, and the lemon with lime. Some mint is added in, so it takes on a Mojito-Old Fashioned vibe. Whatever the drink tradition may be, it hits the spot on Friday afternoon.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tapenade-Tuna Sandie

Looking to liven up sandwich time? In an effort to stretch the mid-week dollar, tuna is ending up back on my plate. This is not at all as depressing as it might sound. In fact, I look forward to tuna sandwiches as a simple and quick lunch that offers me those omegas and other fishy goodies, all in a can with a pop-top.

The saving grace, tapenade: a Provençal black olive spread. I simply cannot get enough of this tangy condiment. For years, a new jar would no sooner hit the shelf of my fridge before it was headed for the recycling bin...empty, and thoroughly enjoyed.

Here, tapenade livens up whatever best-quality tuna one can procure, married with a bit of capers and mustard, topped with vine-ripened tomatoes and crisp arugula, all stuffed in a fresh slice of focaccia bread. Heaven. For lunch. On a plate.

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Plum - Chili Salsa

A nontraditional salsa in a traditional way.

Fruit salsa reigns supreme in summer on either chicken or fish. Or even just with chips and blended drinks.

Whatever fruit is laying around, mix it up with a bit of jalapenos/chili peppers, lime, red onion, cilantro and/or mint. Add a tomato or some corn if you fear straying too far away from the salsa tradition. Let flavors mesh for a few hours. Devour.

In a salsa, anything goes. Yet concerning the temperature of it, I am a bit more of a purist. I prefer the cool freshness of a salsa atop my meat. Others may enjoy it heated with the meat for the final few minutes.

Either way, bring on the fruity spiciness that is mid-summer.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Banana Nut Muffins with a Maple-Bourbon Glaze

Some might splash in a little Baileys in their morning coffee. Jokes all around of tapping into ones Irishness. Living as an American abroad, I sometimes find myself tending to downplay such Euro familial connections, and instead, head straight for what America stands for. This morning, that happened to be maple syrup and bourbon. 

Yes, banana nut muffins livened up with some mapley-bourbon goodness. 

The muffins are fairly straightforward, with only a hint of maple and bourbon. But the glaze that transpired a few hours later, well, that makes them worthy of bringing to work.

For the first time, I used a bit of gelatin in a glaze. I think it helped the structure a bit. If you've got the extra ten minutes to wait around for it to 'bloom' in the water, I say give it a go. Otherwise, skip it, and the glaze should be a bit thinner, but still work out if the muffins aren't traveling far.

The deep maple-bourbon flavor marriage is grounded with a bit of whole-wheat flour and oats. Absolutely toothsome, and not overly sweet. Out. of. this. world.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Keep the Meat, Not the Heat.

It's seems to be hot in nearly every time zone. Conversations with friends afar keep drifting to 'Its just so hot in my country X.'

After weeks of wailing about the weather and devouring salads for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (and yes, I do mean breakfast), I craved meat. 

I recently hit upon what I consider to be summer-meat-ingeniousness: thin slices of beef, veal, or pork, wrapped around some veg, cooked for a mere ten minutes in a sauce of tomatoes plus broth, with a handful of fresh gnocchi cooking along in the same pan.
Complete dinner, twenty minutes tops, no oven, and one pan.

I am in roulade love.

For last week's version (with much prettier pictures), check out Veal Roulade with Herbed Eggplant & Peppers.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Weekend Chill {Watermelon}

The week finishes. The weekend arrives. Sometimes as early as Thursday. When we are lucky. Sometimes not.

This week finished with an abundance of watermelon in the kitchen.

One glance at the stacks of deep red triangles on the plate and I heard the sound of ice clinking in glass.

Watermelon-basil mojitos were made.

There was still more melon. What better to do while sipping our drinks than make watermelon sorbet? The blender was already out, just a bit more blitzing, mix with strawberry yogurt and the same simple syrup that was used in the bevvies, and homemade sorbet was in the works. No ice cream maker, no problem. Freeze in a shallow metal pan for five hours, then blend again with a bit of milk, and creamy sorbet was gracing my spoon by midnight.

I hope to post more weekend chill ideas using a single seasonal fruit for both cocktail and frozen treat. One moment of post-work blitzing, two very lovely ways to keep cool over the weekend.

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Friday, June 29, 2012

Eataly - Roma

There are countless reasons to adore this railway-station-turned-food-emporium. Four floors of Italian delights have been drawing in tourists and locals alike ever since it opened a week ago. And I am told they have been streaming in the front door in droves every single evening.

The only way to get a few decent snaps of the offerings was to go during the Italy-Germany Euro Championship semi-final. It was empty. Loved it. It was essentially a private tour of food, books and maps. We strolled, marveled, and dreamed of the baskets-full of goodies that will be our future bounty. Now is just an evening reconnaissance.

Eataly is of course cornering the whole local aspect. With so many products made in-house - buffalo mozzarella, gelato, and it appears even some beers. Wine is sold by the liter straight from the barriques mounted on the wall. Nearly every food station displays maps of Italy with regional designations of the specific product type colourfuly delinieated.

One display is particularly useful, a calender wheel of seasonal veggies specific to the surrounding Lazio region. Speaking of veg, by the produce they have a cute box plot of salads and herbs by the window. This lead one Italian friend to comment, "these designers have been around. This is so not Italian." I am sure she is right. Considering the success of New York's Eataly, it is clear much has been learned and seems to be successfully applied. Hopefully it sticks around.

The space itself is really quite impressive. One friend from New York couldn't get over the size of this place. "The one in Manhattan is like one-eighteenth the size!"

There have been articles floating about for months now discussing the revitalization it hopes to bring to the

Ostiense area. The unused rail terminal has been compared to many nasty things, and it all comes down to it being an eyesore lurking over the horizon. A lot of PR has been put out by Eataly on how their previous locations have elevated struggling urban neighborhoods by setting up shop in brownfield sites. And a big injection of cash does make for a striking launch.

The first two floors house a range of food items, kitchen tools, books, and small snack areas. The third floor has some proper restaurants, and the fourth was a bit empty, as it contains rooms for cooking classes. Notices for culinary courses were in Italian, but I would imagine English language ones could be on offer in the future.

The open-plan style works quite well for the space, allowing visiters to wander freely about. It seems also a bit unique to have the kitchen/prep areas so open. Everything normally kept in the back of house is instead only seperated by panes of glass. Transparency of production ties in nicely with the local element being touted.

Eataly, we will be good friends.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Veal Roulade {with Herbed Eggplant & Peppers}

Some days lead one looking for a filling plate of meat.

These days do not come as a surprise. They predictably stop by on the very same days where a 15K run was had under an eighty-degree morning Roman sun. Everything fueling that grueling wake-up had been burned off, and I was ready for lunch by 10am. And I wanted a proper lunch. Salads be damned.

People always joke about the vast quantities of food slim girls are able to put away. It's been like this for as long as I can remember. You know those skinny girls in middle school who rivaled their older teenage brothers at the dinner table? I do. Something about genetics, something about lifestyle, but it gives skinny girls the go-ahead to chow down for years. Then they grow up. They learn to fit in with the other girls by joining fitness classes, or cycling groups. They also learn to keep their mouth shut in the locker room when others are griping about the insurmountability of those last few pounds. But those skinny ones who were never really that good at keeping their mouths shout received enough eye-rolls and nasty fusions of back-handed compliments combined with jealous taunting. Some of them abandon the group fitness charade. But some of them love, love, love to eat. So they run. Eventually, they love this as well.

I've been looking for the perfect summer flavours toss on some nice veal the butcher had on offer this week. This recipe hits that. Roulades are formed with minced eggplant (peeled, to increase its softness), sweet red pepper, and a veritable fireworks display of herbs. Five of them to be precise. Some dried, some fresh. Simmered on the stove in tomatoes and white wine for a mere 20 minutes thankfully does little to heat up the kitchen. Along with some fresh bread rolls, this is exactly what today's post-run appetite needed. Next time, I think I'll purée the remaining vegetable filling with the tomato sauce, for a bit more refinement, but today, a simple and hearty summer lunch.

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

On Lakes and Salads

The shoreline is filled with bodies of all shapes and sizes. A clang rings out as a metal folding table is unfolded and an electric hotplate is ritually placed atop. A mum and a granny start a big pot of water boiling for the coming pasta. A couple of toddlers proudly bear their birthday suits and rush into the water. The lake is much different than the beach. Families load up the car with enough equipment to spend all week at the shoreline. Yet they are here just for the day.

Lake Bracciano is just north of Rome. At first glance, it seems a bit rougher, almost like you can feel the cramped flats on the outskirts of the city from where the families left early that morning. Teenage girls sport undergarments in place of swimming suits. Boys shout from open doors of a camper van, while at their feet a dog lies panting. There are more bald spots here than at the beach. More bad tattoos. More bellies. The shore is covered in black pebbles that are much too hot to lie comfortably on. There is no gentle aroma of fried fish, or the view of perky bronzed cheeks.

Of course, the games people play are the same. The coquettish ball tosses in the water. The shrieking, the yelling, and finally a mum scolding. The leisurely way one's stomach finally decides it is hungry. This is what I know. Lake food. Upon deciding to head to the lake last weekend, my hands went into action. Slicing any available fruit, tossing in some basil, and letting sit in the freezer until departure.

Hours later, after a swim (in water that was quite clear for a lake), when the stomach started to plead, the fruit salad was revealed. An Italian friend: "You have salad? With basil? On fruit?" Oh no. Another sanctum Italian food custom has been breached. This happens all too often.


Basil or no basil (mmm...or sometimes mint), fruit salad at the lake is comforting. I feel like in Wisconsin again. Almost.

For another freeze-friendly picnic salad, see last week's Green Bean and Hazelnut Salad.

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