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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Tuiles - My First Daring Bakers Challenge

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When I joined the Daring Bakers last month I was really nervous thinking about what would be my first challenge. I was happy to find out that the January challenge (my first one) was Tuile. Tuile is a French cookie that is quickly baked and while warm they are flexible and can be shaped anyway you like. Well, maybe not anyway, but there are many options.

This month's challenge is brought to us by Karen of Bake My Day and Zorra of 1x umruehren bitte aka Kochtopf. They have chosen Tuiles from The Chocolate Book by Angélique Schmeink and Nougatine and Chocolate Tuiles from Michel Roux. We were given a few options of batter to choose from and had the freedom to bend it and shape it anyway we wanted to.

I chose the sweet, vanilla-flavoured batter. Being my first challenge, I wanted to play safe...

Originally I was going to bake a mousse to go together with my tuiles but after tasting the first batches I thought they made perfect tea cookies. They are light, not too sweet and if made right they have a nice crispiness that goes perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon. They reminded me of something I used to buy on the streets in Brazil as a child (beiju), only the brazilian ones were 10 times bigger. They were shaped as cones and we would hear the guy passing buy on the streets, kind of like the ice cream man.

I used a cut off cereal box to make a round stencil. To shape my tuiles I chose to use a wooden spoon handle. Immediately after the cookies came out of the oven they are released with a spatula and wrapped around the handles of the spoons. It worked very well (you have to work quickly though, as they set fast too). The most challenging part for me was to find the right amount of baking time that would make the tuiles crispy without burning. That is because they are so thin that they cook pretty fast and can burn around the edges. It took me a couple of times trying, and then it was ok.

Overall I think it was a great first challenge, I was already having nightmares about 4 tier cakes, homemade breads, delicate French pastries, complicated pastry creams and mousses... But the tuiles were just what I needed for my first challenge! It gives a little confidence boost to know I was able to make it without any major complications. I have a feeling I will need that confidence for next month's challenge... But that's for later.

Thank you Daring Bakers for allowing me to become part of this fun group and for al the help and support.

tuilles 2tuilles 3tuiles

This is the recipe I used, it is adapted from the book “The Chocolate Book”, written by female Dutch Master chef Angélique Schmeinck.

65 grams / ¼ cup / 2.3 ounces softened butter (not melted but soft)
60 grams / ½ cup / 2.1 ounces sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 sachet vanilla sugar (7 grams or substitute with a dash of vanilla extract)
2 large egg whites (slightly whisked with a fork)
65 grams / 1/2 cup / 2.3 ounces sifted all purpose flour

Oven: 180C / 350F

Using a hand whisk or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (low speed) and cream butter, sugar and vanilla to a paste. Keep stirring while you gradually add the egg whites. Continue to add the flour in small batches and stir to achieve a homogeneous and smooth batter/paste. Be careful to not over mix.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to firm up. (This batter will keep in the fridge for up to a week, take it out 30 minutes before you plan to use it).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or grease with either butter/spray and chill in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. This will help spread the batter more easily if using a stencil/cardboard template. Make the round shapes (I used a 4 inch round) and bake for about 5 to 6 minutes (the original recipe says anytime from 5 to 12 minutes), watch carefully during the last minute to avoid burning them.

Immediately after removing the cookie sheet from the oven, release cookies with an spatula and quickly wrap the around the handles of wooden spoons. Place spoons over a cooling rack and let cookies take shape. Carefully pull cookies away from the handles when they are cool and set.

Before proceeding with the next batch, make sure the cookie sheets are cold, I actually place them in the freezer for a minute or so and then carried on making the next round.

I had to have a few tries first to figure out the oven time and the thickness of the cookies. Once I knew all that, I probably got about a dozen cookies.

silueta3

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Banana and Strawberry Chocolate Drizzled Skewers

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banana strawberry skewer

 

This is our alternative to fondue. We love having fondue, whether it is at home or at a restaurant (we happen to live two blocks away from one...). But what does a fondue lover does during the summer months or when money is short to spend on fondue? The skewer you see on the picture is my answer to that.  I think bananas and strawberries go really well together, and what fruit doesn't like to be covered in chocolate?

I take some chocolate chips, melt it in the microwave and stir cream until the right consistency. Sure it can be done on the stove using a double boiler but the idea here is to have as little work as possible. The strawberries are washed, dried and leaves removed. Bananas are chopped into fairly large pieces. Once the fruits are in the skewer, it's just drizzle some chocolate and let it set.  Yum!

banana strawberry skewer1

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ricotta and Tahini Dip

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ricotta tahine dip

I made this dip for a potluck party we went last weekend. The theme of the potluck was Lebanese food. I had already made some hummus last week, so I decided to make a different dip this time.

This ricotta-tahini dip is really great. Originally it is made with chopped onions but I like using green onions instead, they add a great flavour. This is a great alternative to the old ranch dip, think of that next time you make a vegetable platter. I also use is as a sandwich spread, after all it is just dressed up ricotta... making it couldn't be easier:

Ricotta Tahini Dip Recipe:

1 (14 oz) container of ricotta

3/4 cup of tahini

3 small green onions, chopped

1/2 teaspoon of salt (or to your taste)

olive oil

Blend the first 4 ingredients in the food processor. Slowly add olive oil until you get a creamy dip consistency. Keep refrigerated.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Brazilian Açai in the Bowl (Açai na Tigela)

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acai

First things first. It is pronounced a-sigh-EE, with the emphasis on the EE. Not a-SIGH-ee, as it is in a certain TV juice commercial. Well, now that we got that straight, let's talk about açai.

Açai is a berry that grows in certain palm trees in the Amazon rainforest. Considered a super food, açai is low in sugar, high in antioxidants, good fats, protein, vitamins and carbohydrates. This little fruit has it all. It is not a surprise that it became so widely popular here in the States where people continue to look for good-for-you, healthy foods.

Brazilian indigenous tribes have been using açai for centuries to cure many health problems. Over the centuries, this berry made its way from the tall trees fromthe jungles of Amazon to Brazilian's modern kitchens. What you see on this post is the açai in the bowl (açai na tigela), which is the most popular way of eating açai but Brazilians, specially from the north region use açai in various ways including with fish dishes.

Here in the U.S. we can find frozen pulp of açai in many supermarkets. Of course there are also juices, ice creams, smoothies and sorbets flavoured with açai, but if you really want to take as much advantage as possible of it's nutritional value, try using the concentrated frozen pulp. Here in Seattle I buy Sambazon frozen pulp. They come in packages of 4 individual portions of 100 grams (3.53 oz) each called smoothie packs.

Here is how it looks like:

acai frozen

In Brazil the typical açai bowl is mixed with guarana syrup which is loaded with caffeine. I normally have my bowl of açai for breakfast and so I figure my coffee (which are also Brazilian beans) have enough caffeine for me.

To make my version of the Açai in the Bowl you need:

1 individual (100 grams) package of frozen açai pulp

1 banana

a splash of soy milk

granola

Break up the frozen açai pulp in large pieces and place it in the bowl of a blender. Add half of the banana and the soy milk. Blend it until smooth. Pour into a bowl and top it with the remaining banana, sliced and granola. This makes enough for one bowl. The recipe is easily doubled or tripled.

Useful Notes:

  • The same açai bowl can be made with different fruits like mangoes.
  • You can make a drinking smoothie by adding more liquid to the recipe.
  • Açai stains. It's colour is very strong so you will end up with a dark tongue and perhaps even lips (depends on how much you have I guess). Not recommended on a first date.
  • This is NOT a sweet treat (unless you load it with sugar, of course).

acai2

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Valentine's Day Breakfast Idea

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heart eggs

This photo is from last October, when Andrew and I celebrated our second anniversary. The flowers were my present from him, and the breakfast was mine for him. I am a believer of celebrating life special dates, but that doesn't necessarily mean expensive presents or fancy restaurant dinners.  

I made this breakfast back then and thought I would share the idea here since Valentines Day is coming soon.

The heart-shaped eggs were made with a pancake/egg shaper, I think they turned out very cute. I kind of burned the toasts....but if you look closely, it says I ♥ YOU. It is just something you press on the bread before toasting it.

heart eggs 1 heart eggs 2

 

I bought both these items at Urban Outfitters, but I am sure they are available at kitchen supply stores. Unfortunately I don't have the original packaging anymore and therefore can't really say what the brands are.  Here is a look at them:

heart stuff

They cost me very little and I was able to make something unexpected and surprise my valentine for breakfast. You can do the same.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Chicken Gyros

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pita 2. cropped chicken gyro 1cropped

chicken gyro

 

Ok, so if you are Greek and know better, maybe you wouldn't call this a gyro. But I thought it would be so much nicer to tell Andrew that he has Chicken Gyros for dinner, rather than chicken sandwich on a pita with yogurt-cucumber sauce (which is basically what it is). Don't you agree?  This chicken gyros (?) are easy to  prepare and pretty healthy too. The yogurt sauce and feta cheese bring a good amount of calcium, the chicken is lean protein and there are lots of veggies in the sandwich too. A great meal.

I used only  a quarter of a chicken breast for each sandwich. I think it is enough, I like to balance the amount of meat with lots of fresh produce.

Chicken Gyros Recipe:

makes 4 gyros

 

You will need:

1 chicken breast

2 tomatoes, sliced

4 lettuce leaves

slices of red onion

crumbled feta cheese

4  pita, Greek type (not the pocket type)

 

For the cucumber-yogurt sauce:

plain yogurt

cucumber

chopped garlic

olive oil

salt and pepper

 

Make the chicken:

Pat dry and season the chicken breast with salt and pepper.  Brush it with some olive oil (or use your hands to spread the oil). Grill chicken on a hot barbeque or indoor grill until cooked, about  12-15  minutes total.  Set aside.

 

Make the cucumber-yogurt sauce:

I really don't know the exact proportions for making this sauce, I guess it is up to your personal taste.

You can shred or dice the cucumber. Mix it with the plain yogurt and the garlic, season with salt and pepper and drizzle a little olive oil. Mix until combined. This sauce can be made in advance and kept in the fridge, it will actually improve the flavours in it.

 

Assemble the sandwich:

Quickly warm the pita breads so they are easier to roll.  You can do this in the oven, microwave or grill. Whatever way you choose, it should take less than a minute.

Drop a spoonful of the sauce on the bottom of each pita. Slice the chicken into strips and divide it into 4 portions. Place one portion on each pita over the sauce. Top it with the tomatoes, the lettuce leaves and the slices of onion. Sprinkle them all with crumbled feta and wrap the pita bread.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Yakult

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First of all, let me make it clear that I am not making any money nor have I been asked to talk about this product or review it. This is simply me, wanting to share something I like with you.  We all heard that consuming probiotics helps regulate our digest system, keeps us regular and  it is good for our overall health and immune system. This is just another way you can get your daily dose of healthy bacteria!

So what is Yakult?

yakult4 copy

According to Wikipedia, Yakult  is "a Japanese probiotic milk-like product made by fermenting a mixture of skimmed milk with a special strain of the bacteria Lactobacillus casei Shirota."

Here is what I know about it:

  • Yakult contains it's own probiotic (live, friendly bacteria) called Lactobacillus casei.
  • That means you cannot get it from any other products, even yogurts.
  • It tastes great, just a little bit sweet (very little)
  • They come in small individual 2.7 oz bottles.
  • I love to peel the lid off and just drink it straight from the bottle.
  • It is gluten-free.

How do I know Yakult?

I grew up drinking it. These tiny bottles can be found in every grocery store and super market in Brazil. I have  enjoyed the taste of Yakult  since my early ages and I continue to enjoy it. Until this day, every time I visit my family back home my mom makes sure there is a pack of Yakult waiting for me in the fridge.

Unfortunately they are not that popular here in North America.  When I was in Vancouver, BC I found them at the H Mart downtown. Here in Seattle I was so happy to see Yakult at the Uwajimaya store. These are both Asian grocery stores.

You can find out more about Yakult on their site, including the complete nutrition info and where to find it in the US.

I hope you get to try it and if you do, let me know what you think!

Cheers!

 yakult 2 copy

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Grilled Eggplant with Crispy Crust

Pin It eggplant steak 1

 

This is a typical meal for me at home: a simple,  "no-recipe required" type of dish. Since I often have eggplant on hand, this is a dish I made several times and with many variations.  The one pictured here was made using homemade hummus and sun-dried-tomatoes. I like to pair it with a green salad for a quick and healthy meal.

This is more an idea rather than a recipe itself.

I will highlight the steps, although I think it is really simple:

1 - Slice the eggplant longwise into steaks about 1 inch thick. Season with salt and pepper and brush with olive oil.

2- Grill or roast them until cooked, but still somewhat firm and holding its shape.

3- Top the eggplant steaks with whatever you want. Some options are:

  • chopped sun-dried-tomatoes
  • fresh sliced tomatoes
  • hummus
  • basil leaves
  • spinach leaves, cooked or raw
  • white beans or white bean pure
  • ground meat, or bolognese sauce
  • sautéed mushrooms
  • leftover risotto or rice

 

4- On a dry skillet over medium-low heat, mix bread crumbs or Panko with a drizzle of olive oil and fresh chopped parsley and cook until lightly toasted.

5- Top everything with the Panko/breadcrumb mix and reheat it quickly either back on the grill or in a hot (400 degrees) oven foe about 5 minutes.

 

eggpkant steak

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mongolian Beef

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mongolian1

This is one of Andrew's favourite dish to have at any Asian restaurant. I have  made it for him in a couple of different ways, but the goal was to be as close to a restaurant meal as possible. It's a nice way to treat yourself or someone you love without shrinking your wallet's contents (or having to face any ugly winter weather outside).

I use only one wok to make this version of Mongolian beef, good news if don't really love cleaning up pots (who does anyway?). The thickness of the sauce is up to your liking, the longest you cook it for, the thicker it will get. Thinning it out with water is also an option. I tried this dish with flank steaks, sliced crosswise and also with pre-cut stir-fry meat which is cheaper. According to Andrew (the tester, taster and Mongolian Beef expert), the flank steak is a better choice. Still on Andrew's expert opinion of the dish... I add  half of a teaspoon of red pepper flakes to it and it gets a "2 stars"  in spiciness.

 

Mongolian Beef Recipe:

makes 2 servings

You will need:

 

1 lb of flank steak, thinly sliced crosswise

1/4 cup of cornstarch

3 teaspoons of canola oil

1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger (about 1/2 inch piece)

1 tablespoon of chopped garlic (about 2 -3 large cloves)

1/2 cup of water

1/2 cup of soy sauce (I use low sodium)

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

3 large green onions, sliced crosswise into thirds

 

 

Prepare the meat:

First, make sure the steak slices are dry (pat them dry) and mix them with the corn starch. Using your hands or a spoon, move them around to make sure all pieces are coated. Place beef slices in a strainer and shake off excess corn starch (see picture bellow).

Make the sauce:

Heat half of the oil in a large wok at medium-high and add the garlic and ginger. Immediately add the soy sauce, water, brown sugar and pepper flakes. Cook the sauce for about 2 minutes and transfer to a bowl. Don't worry if the sauce doesn't look thick enough at this point. The corn starch in the beef will thicken it up later. 

Cook the meat and assemble dish:

Turn the heat up and add the remaining oil to the wok. Add the beef and cook, stirring until it is all browned (this is a quick thing). Pour the sauce back into the wok and let it cook along with the meat. Now you can choose to cook it down and reduce the sauce or leave it thinner. Add the green onions on the last minute so the green parts will stay green and the white parts crunchy.

Serve it hot with rice.

 

mongolian prep Use a strainer to help shake off excess corn starch from beef. They should be lightly coated, not over coated with corn starch.
   

 

monolian 2

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cheddar Cheese and Beer Soup with Garlic Toast

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cheddar beer soup

I had this recipe page in my pile of "to cook" for far too long. It is from an old issue of Real Simple magazine, and when I say old, I mean about three or four years, when I used to buy the magazines. I don't do that anymore, Andrew has convinced me that buying magazines is an expensive habit. Besides, many of the magazine's contents these days can be easily found on the web (in fact I found this recipe's link on the magazine site).

This soup was really good. I made it on a cold and rainy day and it felt like the perfect thing to have. I wanted to use some white sharp cheddar but couldn't find any so I made it with the yellow one, still sharp though. What I liked most about this soup is that it is kind of creamy because of the cheese, but it also has pieces of vegetables for you to sort of bite on. The beer taste is very subtle (use a very light beer, please), but you can certainly taste a little bitterness from it. It is a good combination. I hope you'll like it.

Cheddar and Beer Soup Recipe:

adapted from here

serves 4

You will need:

4 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/2 onion, chopped

1 stalk of celery, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup of all-purpose flour

2 cups of vegetable broth

2 cups of whole milk

1 12 oz bottle of light beer

3 cups of grated sharp cheddar

1 1/2 teaspoon of salt

1/4 teaspoon of pepper

1 tablespoon of sugar

Heat a large pot over medium heat and melt butter. Add the onions and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add celery and carrots and cook for another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for a minute more.

Add the flour, stir quickly and add the broth. Keep stirring while adding the milk and beer. Bring it to a gentle boil, soup should thicken slightly. Add the cheese and season the soup the salt and pepper. Simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to dissolve the skin that forms on the surface.

Top it with come more grated cheese and serve it hot with garlic toasts.

Note:

To make the garlic toasts, place bread slices (any kind you want) in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 10 minutes. Remove and rub a peeled garlic clove on the toasted slices.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hummus

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hummus
I love Middle-Eastern foods and hummus is no exception. But I never managed to make some good hummus at home, and to be honest, even at restaurant sometimes hummus can be disappointing. A good hummus for me needs to be moist and smooth and not have a major ingredient flavour overpowering the others, like lemon, cummin or garlic. That is exactly how my past attempts were, dry and too garlicky, or too lemony... To try and moisten it up I often added more olive oil but still didn't get what I was looking for.
When I read Mercedes post and recipe about Hummus, I knew that my search for the perfect hummus was over. If you are interest in making  good, authentic hummus, I encourage you to read her post, it is super informative and she gives lots of variations to the Hummus bi Tahine, which is the one I made (and the most common one). It was a real surprise for me to find out that a hummus recipe doesn't use both tahini and olive oil. It is either one or the other. Most of the recipes I see call for both, and believe me, I looked (and tried) at a lot of hummus recipes.
I made half of the original recipe from Mercedes,  because I am the only hummus-eater here at home.The bowl you see in the picture is all of it, about 2 cups.
I love this hummus and I am very excited to be able to share this recipe with you.  Enjoy it!

Hummus bi Tahine
adapted from the blog Desert Candy

I used:
1 15 oz can of chickpeas
1 teaspoon of salt
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup of  tahini
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
olive oil and paprika for serving at the end

First prepare the chickpeas:
Rinse and drain the chickpeas and transfer to a pot. Cover it with water by one inch or so. Gently rub the chickpeas with your hands to loosen their skins and remove the ones that come off. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the chickpeas are very soft. Drain and reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Remove any other pieces of skins.

In the food processor, add the tahini, lemon juice, salt and garlic and process for a couple of seconds. Add the chickpeas and process until it's all incorporated. At this point the hummus is probably on the dry side. Add the cooking water, about a tablespoon at a time and pulse. Keep adding cooking water until it gets to the desired consistency.
Transfer to a bowl or serving platter, make an indentation and drizzle some olive oil. Sprinkle with paprika and voila!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Grilled Asparagus and Poached Egg Salad

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asparagus poached egg salad 2

 

Here is a super-quick, super-healthy meal, perfect for those days when time (or disposition to cook) is not really on your side. That happens to me often, and it is so easy to just settle for  a grilled cheese, but having a good meal always makes me feel better, and having too many grilled cheeses in a week make me feel like I am not really looking after myself... My trick then is to keep lots of vegetables in the fridge that are easy to prepare as well as washed, ready-to-eat salads.

Asparagus and eggs are always a good combination, I often have scrambles eggs with sauteed asparagus and roasted tomatoes  for lunch. This time I poached my egg (oops, that didn't sound right...) and used one of those bagged mixed salads.

This dish took me no time to prepare and it is so easy to make I even feel a bit silly posting a recipe for it, but here it goes anyway.

 

Grilled Asparagus and Poached Egg salad Recipe:

 

A handful of asparagus, tough ends trimmed

1 large egg

Mixed greens or your salad of choice

Lemon vinaigrette (*see recipe bellow)

Parmesan shavings

 

 

Heat the grill.

To poach the egg:

Fill a large pot with water about 3 inches deep and bring it to a simmer. Add a splash of white vinegar to the water and use a spoon to make a gentle swirl. Crack the egg in a small bowl, cup, ramekin or a soup ladle. Be careful to keep the yolk intact. Lower it into the water and cook until done, 3-4 minutes.

Meanwhile, coat asparagus with olive oil and grill for about 10 minutes, until they are cooked but still firm. Dress the salad greens with the vinaigrette. 

Plate the salad by layering the greens, then asparagus and topping it with the poached egg. Add fresh Parmesan shavings and season to taste.

 

* Lemon Vinaigrette:

Use 1 part lemon juice, 1 part olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Shake it well.  Sometimes I add dried oregano to it, or Dijon mustard.

 asparagus poached egg salad 3

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Apple Crisp and Birthday Thoughts

Pin It crisp 2

 

Today is my birthday! Yeah!!! Happy birthday to me! I always loved my birthdays, I am happy to think that I lived one more year, and I feel that a new year has started for me all over again.  My mom says such feelings change once you turn fifty... I don't know about that, maybe she is right, maybe not. But I have a lot of birthdays to celebrate before that date comes anyway, and I intend to enjoy them all. For me the year starts now, this is when I make my reflections, think about what happened over the past year, and perhaps even make a few resolutions for myself.

Here is what my resolutions list might look like:

 

  • Resolution number one: do not make resolutions.
  • Then the list would go on with things like eat less sugar, volunteer more, exercise more, read more, watch less TV, get a job, etc, etc...
  • The last resolution reads: when feeling overwhelmed with life and its tasks, go back to resolution number one.
    Tonight  I am having a double chocolate cake from my absolute favourite  Seattle bakery, after all, birthdays only come around once a year. But that is ok, for all the other days of the year, there is always Apple Crisp. I love this dessert because it is healthier and easier to make than most baked desserts.

                   

                  crispapples

                  Apple Crisp Recipe:

                   

                  I made this with a mix of Braeburn and Granny Smith. If you want to go even lighter, swap the ice cream for low-fat frozen yogurt. This crisp can be baked in advance and reheated. This recipe uses a  2  1/2 quart size dish, enough for 6 servings.

                   

                  You will need:

                  For the apple filling:

                  6 cups of peeled, cored and chopped apples, about 6 small ones (**see note)

                  2 tablespoons of sugar

                  1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

                  1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

                   

                  For the crisp topping:

                  1 cup  (155g) of all purpose-flour (or use 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white)

                  1/2 cup (45 g) of old fashioned oats (not quick cooking)

                  1/3 cup (90g) of  sugar

                  1/3 cup (75g) of packed brown sugar

                  1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon

                  1/4 teaspoon of salt

                  1/2 cup (1 stick, 125 g) of unsalted butter, melted

                   

                  Preheat oven to 350 degrees (180 C).

                  Have two medium size bowls ready. In one of them, mix all ingredients for the filling and set aside.

                  In the second bowl, add all the dry ingredients from the toppings and whisk until all combined. Pour melted butter in and stir until crumbs form.

                  Lay the apple filling in a oven-proof dish and top it with the crisp topping.

                  Bake it for 35 minutes or so.

                  Let it rest for about 10 minutes before dishing it out. Serve it with ice cream.

                   

                   ** Note: mix lemon juice with the apples as soon as they are chopped to avoid them from getting brown.

                   

                  crisp 1

                  Monday, January 12, 2009

                  Caldo Verde

                  Pin It caldo verde

                   

                  When Cabral's fleet arrived in Brazilian lands some 500 years back, they brought along many things, like their cultural habits, language, religion and also their culinary traditions. They taught Brazilian Native Indians how to dress, pray, eat, talk and just "be civilized", among other things. In exchange, they got our lands. Not a bad deal, right?

                  The fact is that you cannot speak of Brazilian cuisine  without mentioning Portugal. Portuguese influence is quite strong inside Brazilian kitchens. We eat lots of cod (which the Portuguese taught us how to preserve in salt), we buy pasteis de nata at local bakeries and we love caldo verde.

                  Caldo verde literally means green broth. It is a very simple yet delicious soup made with a base of oil, water, onions and potatoes. To me this is one of the ultimate comfort foods. It is amazing how a few simple ingredients can make such a wonderful soup.The verde part comes from very thin stripes of collard greens. The soup is normally topped with pieces of linguiça, but here at home I have it vegetarian and add the meat only in Andrew's bowl of soup.   A quick look at the ingredient's list and one also notices that this is a very inexpensive dish to make.

                   

                  The traditional way, with smoked Portuguese sausage

                  caldo verde andrew

                   

                  My vegetarian version, just omitting the sausage and adding a few crackers on the side

                  caldo verde mine

                   

                  To most important element of  caldo verde are the collard greens, they must be slices ultra-thin. I put together a step-by-step with photos on how to prepare them, hope it helps.

                  Caldo Verde Recipe:

                  You will need:

                  2/3 cup (150 ml) olive oil. I used extra virgin because the oil plays a big part on this soup

                  1 large yellow onion, chopped

                  5 medium size  starchy potatoes, peeled and quartered

                  2 garlic cloves, chopped

                  1 quart of water

                  2 1/2 teaspoon salt

                  1 bunch of collard greens, washed and thinly slices (see Preparing Collards instructions bellow)

                  Portuguese smoked sausage, or any sausage of your choice, cooked and sliced

                   

                  1 - Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-heat, add the onions and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes or until  onions are soft.

                  2 - Add the potatoes, cook quickly for a couple of minutes.

                  3 -  Add the water and salt starting with 2 teaspoons and adding the rest if necessary at the end. Bring it to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook until potatoes are completely cooked.

                  4 - Blend the soup: there are many ways to do it. You can use an immersion blender  directly in the pot or you can transfer the soup in batches to a blender and blend it. If you like a chunky soup, leave some pieces of potatoes whole. What I do sometimes is to leave the soup simmering for long enough that the potatoes start to fall apart. You can add more water if you think it's too thick.

                  Taste the soup and adjust salt if necessary, add fresh pepper to taste.

                  Place a handful of collards on the  bottom of each bowl and pour soup. Make sure the soup is extremely hot, as it will flash cook the greens. Top it with the slices sausages, if using.

                   

                  Step 1                                                                          Step 2

                   base1 base

                  Step 3                                                                         Step 4

                   waterblending

                   

                   Preparing Collard Greens for Caldo Verde:

                  First, wash and dry the leaves.

                  collard prep 

                  Remove the tough middle stem

                  collard prep2

                  Pile leaves and roll them like in the picture, making log shapes

                  collard prep3

                   

                  Chop logs as thin as you can. On this case, there is no such thing as too thin. for this soup, I also like to run the knife once on the opposite direction, such as to chop the leaves, just to break them a little bit. It makes it easier to eat the soup, instead of long strings.

                  collard prep 4

                  Friday, January 9, 2009

                  Ants on a log

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                  aunts in a log

                   

                  I recognize that for many people this little snack is quite common. It seems to be this way here in the U.S. But for me, this is a new discovery. I never had ants on a log.  In my mind I picture parents and grandparents making this snack for little ones: "look, it is like ants on a log!" And the child is so excited to take a bite of the log and make some ants disappear. Pour little ants!

                  I think it's the cutest thing, and it also makes for a pretty healthy snack. For mine, I use peanut butter sometimes, other times I use cream cheese. And for the little ants, they can be anything from raisins, to currants to dry cranberries. Maybe there are others way of making them but I only know those ones ( I accept suggestions though!)

                  Perhaps one day I will be making those cute snacks to someone little too!

                   

                  To make them:

                  Clean and cut celery stalks into pieces. Fill each piece with peanut butter or cream cheese. Top them with raisins, currants, cranberries.

                  Enjoy and have fun!

                  Thursday, January 8, 2009

                  Roasted Acorn with Sage Cream and Maple Syrup

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                  acorn 1

                  I think the January weather here in Seattle (and by that I mean rain, rain, clouds, and more rain. Did I mention rain?) is starting to get on my nerves. I don't really feel like doing much and don't even consider going out of the house when it's pouring down outside. I guess I should be reading more books or working on some of the many baking projects I have in mind, but I am not. I am just feeling very lazy these days. I am telling you all that to justify that this is going to be a very short, straight to the point post, pretty much just a recipe. Nothing wrong with that, right?

                  About the dish: it makes for a great side dish, it's very seasonal and the maple and sage taste great together. The cream can be a little heavy, so I drizzled a little bit and had the rest on the side.

                  acorn

                  Roasted Acorn with Sage Cream and Maple Syrup:

                  adapted from Williams-Sonoma Holiday Entertaining book

                  You will need:

                  1 corn squash

                  1 tablespoon of olive oil

                  1/2 teaspoon of each salt and pepper

                  1/2 cup (4 oz, 125 ml) of heavy cream

                  1 tablespoon of sage leaves, chopped

                  1 tablespoon of maple syrup

                  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

                  Slice the acorn into 1 inch thick slices and scrape out the seeds. Place slices on a baking sheet and brush them with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 40 minutes, or until cooked but still firm.

                  While the squash cooks, make the sauce by simmering the cream with the sage leaves for about 15 minutes.

                  When acorn squash is done, pour some of the cream over and drizzle with some maple syrup. Serve the leftover cream sauce on the side.

                  Wednesday, January 7, 2009

                  Blueberry Muffins

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                  blueberry muffins

                   

                  I feel really good every time I eat blueberries. Even if they are tucked inside a muffin. And I feel even better if  they are home made muffins. Blueberry is considered a super food due to its high amount of anti-oxidants. I use fresh ones when they are in season  and frozen ones when they are not. In fact, I actually freeze fresh ones during the end of summer when the prices are cheaper and they are abundant.

                  I guess most people might already have their own recipe for blueberry muffins, but I will share mine anyway. The recipe is adapted from a Martha Stewart baking book, surprisingly named Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook :)

                  Here it goes:

                   

                  Blueberry Muffins Recipe: (makes 12 standard size muffins)

                  You will need:

                   

                  1 stick of unsalted butter at room temperature (see note)

                  2 cups of all-purpose flour, or 1/2 cup whole wheat and 1 1/2 white

                  1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder

                  1/2 teaspoon of salt

                  2 cups of blueberries, fresh or thawed if frozen

                  1 cup of sugar

                  2 eggs

                  1 teaspoons of vanilla extract

                  1/2 cup of milk (I normally use 2% because it is what I drink)

                   

                   

                  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

                  Grease and flour a 12-cup muffin pan by either using cooking spray (I use the butter with flour kind) or by buttering and flouring them, tapping out excess.

                  Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

                  Using an electric mixer (with the paddle attachment) beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time and add vanilla.

                  Turn mixer speed to low and add flour mixture slowly until incorporated. Add milk slowly and mix on low speed until just combined. Do not over mix batter (if you feel you did it, just let it rest for about 15 minutes before moving on).

                  Sprinkle the blueberries with a little bit of flour, no more than a teaspoon, just to coat them. Shake off excess flour. This step will prevent the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the muffins.

                  Fold in blueberries carefully into the muffin batter. Use your softer spatula and be gentle not to break them.

                  Pour batter into prepared muffin cups. (At this point you can choose to sprinkle them with some sugar to give an extra crunch and sweetness to them. I tried both ways and I prefer it without the extra sugar).

                  Bake for about 30 minutes. Test it by doing the toothpick test, it should come out clean if inserted in the center of a muffin.

                  Let cool and remove from pan.

                   

                  Note: I am pretty good at planning ahead what I want to bake, but sometimes I still forget to leave the butter outside for softening. On that case, I put it in the microwave and heat it in 5 seconds intervals. It normally takes 3-4 times to get to the right consistency.

                  Tuesday, January 6, 2009

                  Grilled Avocado, Portobello and Pico de Gallo Sandwich or, as I call it: A Mexican Double-Decker

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                   mexican sandwich 1

                   

                  I believe some of best things in life happen when we don't really plan it. That is exactly the case here. I had some leftover pico de gallo in the fridge and no more tortillas to go with it. A quick look at my kitchen showed me an avocado resting on the fruit basket, a bag of my favourite multi-grain sliced bread on the counter and some sharp cheddar in the fridge.  And like magic, a new sandwich was created!

                  It was pretty wet outside so I decided to use my indoor grill pan. Frankly I think it is a big pain in the neck because our ventilation system sucks and every time I grill indoors our  entire 700 square feet apartment gets foggy and smelly. It takes hours to "de fog" the place.  So with that in mind, I decided to grill not just the mushroom, but also the bread slices and the avocado as well. Don't ask...

                  Grilling the avocados make them warm (duh...) and also a little charred, which I love. I grilled the bread slices too because I had this image of nice grill lines on my sandwich so I threw them on the grill too.

                  You can find ready-made pico de gallo in many groceries stores. I make my own and I added the recipe at the end of this post.

                   

                  The result was one big, yummy and even nutritious sandwich that I am sure I will be making again.

                  mexican sandwich

                  Mexican Sandwich Recipe:

                  What I used,  for one huge double-deck sandwich

                   

                  About 1/2 cup of picco de gallo (recipe follows)

                  1 Hass avocado

                  1 Portobello mushroom        

                  2 slices of sharp cheddar cheese

                  2 slices of multi grain bread

                   

                                         

                  Drain the pico de gallo of any excess liquid, set aside.

                  Heat grill to medium-high. Clean mushroom and remove the stem. Brush it with oil and grill it until tender and cooked, turning once. Remove and slice it.

                  Peel and cut the avocado in half. Spray the grill with cooking oil and place avocado halves, being careful not to "break" them. Leave it on the grill until you get nice marks, about a minute or so. You may try and turn them, but I found it to be a little bit messy. Remove from grill and slice it.

                  Grill the slices of bread.

                  Put the sandwich together buy layering the avocado slices, the pico de gallo, cheese slices and the portobello mushroom.

                  Enjoy it!

                   

                  Pico de Gallo Recipe:

                  5 ripe tomatoes

                  1/2 red onion

                  1 handful of cilantro

                  1/3 of a jalapeno pepper

                  Chop al ingredients and season with salt, pepper, olive oil and a dash of lime juice. For best results, let it rest for at least 30 minutes for the flavours to blend.

                  As an alternative for the sandwich, you can always just use good old sliced tomatoes and onions, but keep in mind that if you don't add cilantro you will be missing out on a major Mexican flavour.