The 'Fresh Produce of the Month' event that I host myself is themed on oranges this month (as a reminder, the deadline for participation is March 2nd!)
I love oranges by themselves as a fruit. I found it amazing that such a wonderful, juicy and colorful fruit peaks in season in wintertime, when everything is kind of dark, and most of the fresh produce is earth-colored..
So I wanted to celebrate this fruit with a dish that just shows it in its delicious beauty. I remember that when I was a child, my grandma used to make every once in a while a super simple orange salad. She would simply slice oranges and add olive oil and salt on them. So here is my slightly modified version of it..
Insalata di arance / Orange salad
Making it is the easiest thing in the world: slice oranges, juicy and sweet ones, and then sprinkle with pieces of raw sweet onions, black olives and parseley. Season with olive oil and salt. It's really delicious, if you've never had it, you should try it. I found out it's also a typical Turkish food (there was a very similar version on the Turkish cookbook I used recently).
I think this entry could also be a good one for the 'Waiter, there's something in my...' event, themed on 'seasonal salads' this month.. there's nothing more seasonal than oranges. I'm not sure if they'll be ok with not being greens in it, but.. we'll see. :)
Monday, February 25, 2008
The 'Fresh Produce of the Month' event that I host myself is themed on oranges this month (as a reminder, the deadline for participation is March 2nd!)
The theme of this month's 'click!' event is flour. Wonderful idea.. and so many possibilities! I really didn't want to miss this event, but I've been too busy recently in order to actually work on taking pictures. So I decided I'd make a collage of pictures I took in the past of my creations. What I'd like to underline by doing this is how amazing is the variety of things that can be made with flour. In the end, I chose to shrink the collage down to two pictures, representing the two most important things that can be made with flour, in my opinion: bread and pasta!
You can visit the gallery with the other amazingly beautiful flour-centered pictures here
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Nicola lent me an amazingly pretty Turkish cookbook, and so last week I decided to prepare an all-Turkish dinner. Most of the things that really inspired me were the appetizers: in Turkey there are a lot of interesting so-called 'Meze', which include dips, finger food, and nice little dishes to start the dinner with. If you make enough of them (like I did....), they seem to provide by themselves a wonderful dinner. I loved the dips in particular: so easy to prepare, different in taste, and delicious!
I'll show here a few of them, starting with this delicious walnut and pomegranate dip, which will also be my entry to the 'A fruit a month' event, based on pomegranate!
Salsina di melograno e noci / Pomegranate and walnut dip/Muhammara
'Muhammara' is Arabic in origin, and can be also made with lemon juice instead of pomegranate juice. This recipe and the following ones come from the wonderful book 'The complete book of Turkish cooking', by Ghillie Basan, which I strongly recommend to anyone interested in learning about this great cuisine.
To make this dip, you can either use a mortar and pestle or, if you're lazy like me, a blender. :) Pound/blend roughly one cup of walnuts, 1 garlic clove, and 1 tsp cumin seeds, roasted. Add ~1 slice day old bread, soaked in water, and 2 tsp tomato paste. Add also 1-2 tsp sugar, 1-2 fresh chillies or 1 tsp chili powder and 2 tbsp pomegranate syrup. Instead of buying some premade syrup, I blended one whole pomegranate and added it to the dip.. So my dip looks quite different from the picture in the book, as it is less liquid. Finally, add ~1/2 cup olive oil (I added much less than that), and serve with a decoration of parsley leaves and warm pita bread! I made this dip twice (both times using the whole pomegranate, as I thought it made it really good). The second time I didn't add any hot spices, and it was still delicious!
So this dip goes to Sra at 'When my soup came alive' for the 'A fruit a month' event that she's hosting, themed on pomegranate.. great choice, Sra!
The second dip I'm presenting is based on cheese and yogurt.
Salsina di formaggio e yogurt / Cheese and yogurt dip/Pasa Ezmesi
This is even easier than the other dip: just mash a ~9 oz piece of feta cheese or 'Beyaz peynir' (I couldn't find the latter, unfortunately), add ~1-2 tbsp yogurt (I actually added more, as I thought it was too solid otherwise), 1-2 tsp hot paprika, 1 small bunch parseley leaves, finely cut, and salt to taste. Serve with hot pita bread and lemon wedges, to sprinkle on every bite.. Again, this dip was so good that I already made it twice, once hot and once not, with great results in both cases. Not sure why I decorated it with mint instead of parsley.. :)
I prepared a few more delicious dips, but I have no pretty pictures of those. So, instead, I'm going to describe the last meze we had: Manti! I was very excited at the idea of making manti since I first read about it on the blog 'I love Turkish Food'. Recently, also my friend Elif posted about them. I thought of them as a sort of 'ravioli' Turkish style, but after I really looked up the recipe, I found out about a fundamental difference: Mantis are baked! Ravioli are boiled. Also, the dough for Mantis is spread a little thicker than ravioli, and the traditional shapes are a little different, although I'm sure there are many possible others. The filling that was recommended in the book is not a very traditional one (I was told by Elif), but we all thought it was delicious - and it's vegetarian!
Manti ai ceci / Chickpea parcels
To make the dough, mix 4 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 egg yolk and 1 whole egg. Add as much water as you need in order to obtain an elastic dough. Knead for ~10 min, and then let it rest for ~ 1 h. Prepare the filling: you'll need to have ~14 oz pre-boiled (better than canned!) chickpeas. Mash them (I had to add water for this), and add 1 tsp cumin seeds, crushed, and 1 tsp red pepper or paprika, and salt to taste. For the sauce, saute one onion and 2 garlic cloves in 1 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp butter. Add 1 red chilli, finely cut, 1-2 tsp sugar, and 1-2 tsp dried mint (I added fresh mint instead). Then, stir in 14 oz canned chopped tomatoes, and cook until thick. Adjust with salt and remove from heat. For the yogurt sauce, you'll have to mix ~6 tbsp thick yogurt with 2-3 garlic cloves, crushed.
By the time you're done with all this, one hour should have passed, and you can start making the manti: roll down the dough till very thin (we used a rolling pin), and cut it into small 1" squares. Spoon a little of the chickpea filling, and close the edges forming a litter pyramid:
Place the mantis in a buttered oven pan, and bake at 400 F for ~15-20 minutes, till golden. Then, add vegetable stock to it. For this dose of mantis, you should add a total of ~2 1/2 cups stock, so divide it depending on how many pans you made. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, till almost all the broth is adsorbed. Then, serve with yogurt, tomato sauce, and chopped parsley on top.
These mantis are addictive! Elif told me that the dough was right, and also the slightly crunchy consistency of the manti. She never tried the chickpea filling and she really liked it too! So, I was very pleased at this success. To give credit to the right people, I only prepared the sauces and the filling for this - Lucas, Vardha, Filipe and Vlasta did all the rest of the job while I was finishing to prepare the dinner!!! Great job guys!
Sunday, February 17, 2008
One of my passions, other than people, science, and cooking, is music. I recently started going back to sing in a wonderful choir here in Berkeley. It's the choir that sings at the 9.30 Mass at 'Newman Catholic Center'. I'm absolutely amazed by how good this choir is. Some people study music, but most don't, and yet, they can just read a song altogether, and something usually good just comes out. After a few practices, we can sing wonderful pieces. This morning, we sang a song that's amazingly touching... I want to share it, as it's so beautiful. It's 'Sicut Cervus' by Palestrina. I found a video of it on You Tube:
I love how all the voices melt together, coming in at different times, like a wave that moves you towards something higher. The words are in latin, from Psalm 42, v.1, and it's really just a simple sentence: 'Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontem aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te, Deus.' ('As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.')
We'll also sing another wonderful song for Easter, 'Haec Dies', by Byrd. I found this too on YouTube:
This is very happy and a lot of fun to sing (it's for Easter, the day of the Resurrection for Christians). This too is just one simple sentence: 'Haec dies quam fecit Dominus: exultemus et laetemur in eia. Alleluia.' (Psalm 118, 'This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.'). I'm really excited thinking about when we'll be able to sing it as well as this choir!
Friday, February 15, 2008
I found out about the existence of a 'no-no' list written by an Italian chef for Americans opening Italian restaurants in the USA. It's really funny, so I thought I'd share may comments on this blog..
You can find the complete list here. First of all, I must say I do agree with most of his suggestions, but I think it's really funny the way he gives some of them.. Here are some examples.
'Do not put Caesar Salad on your menu. It is a Tex-mex hybrid not an Italian delicacy, as often Americans believe.' I must say I really agree on this. I was completely surprised when I found out what Caesar salad was in the first 'Italian restaurant' I went to in the USA ('Olive garden'........). I really dislike the huge amount of sauce and the usually bad quality cheese they put on top of completely tasteless lettuce..
'Do not put on the menu “small, medium or large” for pasta portions. Pasta is not a style of underwear.' This cracked me up!!!!!
'Do not serve garlic bread. Instead, you can make a civilised bruschetta but without butter and minced garlic. 'The idea of a 'civilised bruschetta' is also particularly funny.. And I must admit, I love minced garlic and olive oil on toasted bread (no butter) - it may not be the classic bruschetta, but it's a wonderful approximation of it.
'Write the menu in correct Italian. Avoid ridiculous names such as Sophia Loren's Fillet or Tagliatelle alla Pavarotti.' This is definitely a good suggestion..
'Do not put garlic in every dish and avoid serving Parmigiano indiscriminately, with risotto with crustaceous, shellfish and other seafood pasta.' I couldn't agree more on this. Pizza with garlic and parmigiano is definitely a no-no!!!
'Avoid red and white chequered tablecloths and paper serviettes artistically folded or put in the glasses. Avoid garlic or the empty Chianti flask hung on the restaurant's wall. 'Ehehehe, this is also really funny :)
'Avoid serving cappuccino and latte macchiato with dessert as much as you can. 'I find it hilarious the way he suggests this: 'avoid this as much as you can'.... :) I guess if someone really asks for it, you cannot completely refuse. :) But I do agree, ending a meal with cappuccino (or even worse, having cappuccino with your meal) is not Italian style. We have cappuccino for breakfast. Still, I must admit: if someone really wants it, why not?? :)
When Sunita launched 'Star Anise' as the theme of her 'Think Spice' event, I was really happy. In fact, I bought a little bag with this wonderfully-looking spice, and still didn't get to try it. I had no exact idea about what to do with it. It seems like an anise-tasting spice would go well in a dessert, but it's Lent, and I decided I wouldn't eat desserts for this time of the year (ehm, I'm not that strict, but I didn't want to make one myself, at least, unless there was a really super special occasion). So, looking for savory recipes involving star anise online, I found out that the Vietnamese soup 'Pho' is intensively flavored with this spice. Traditionally, it is made with beef. Still, I managed to find a vegetarian version that I preferred to try. What inspired me a lot about this dish was the use of spices like star anise and cloves, and also, the fact that it's served with a lot of 'complementary items' such as bean sprouts, green onions, lots of herbs, sauces, which everyone can add at his/her own taste. I thought it was a really neat idea.. so here it is, if you want to give it a shot too!
Pho vegetariano / Vegetarian Pho
The original version is here. I didn't change much of it, but I'll report it here for easiness.
Prepare the broth: quarter a small onion (do not peel it), halve 2 shallots, unpeeled, mince 8 garlic cloves (I peeled this), and roast them in a pot together with 4 cloves and 2 star anise pods (I added a little more), one 1" piece of fresh ginger, finely cut, and 2 small sticks of cinnamon. Mix every once in a while and keep roasting till the onions start to brown. Then, add 3 tbsp soy sauce and 8 cups of vegetable broth (I used 2 bouillons and 8 cups of water). Simmer over low heat for ~25 min. Then, filter and discard the solids. I think the pieces of onions and shallots were still quite good, so I kept those. Taste the broth and add salt if you'd like to. In the meanwhile, boil ~3/4 lb rice noodles in a large amount of water. According to the recipe, one needs 20 minutes to cook them, but 10 were enough for me. Drain. Stir fry 8 oz of pieces of tofu in another pan.
When ready, place ~1/4 of noodles in a bowl, add 1/4 of the tofu, and ladle 1/4 of broth on top. Repeat for 3 other bowls. Serve together with finely cut scallions, bean sprouts, Hoisin sauce, chilli sauce, lime wedges, whole leaves of fresh mint, cilantro and/or basil leaves (mint is the best, in my opinion).
This soup is an absolute delight. The taste of the anise and cloves is wonderful in the broth. Pay attention not to add to much hoisin or chilli sauce, or you'll cover it. The mint, scallions and bean sprouts are so refreshing. It's a feast, and it's so pretty that it deserves to be shown again.
Of course this recipe goes to Suganya for her 'Think Spice' event, thanking her for pushing me to find a good use for such a wonderful spice.
I know I haven't posted in a while - longer than usual! I've been really busy in this past couple of weeks. So now the list of posts I want to add is really long..
I decided I'd start with my recent passion: cooking using recipes that I read on fellow food bloggers. This allows me to learn a lot of interesting dishes, in particular from Indian cuisine, which I already mentioned I want to start getting acquainted with.
So here are a few more experiments in Indian (and not) cuisine inspired by food blogs!
Curry di ceci / Chickpea curry
Bee and Jai from 'Jugalbandi' published here the recipe I used to prepare this delicious dish. I was so excited! For once, I had all the spices the recipe asked for! I couldn't find black chickpeas, though, so I had to use the regular white ones. Nevertheless, this curry was absolutely delicious. I am in love with chickpeas, and this is really a must try if someone likes them too. I found myself more comfortable preparing this than my previous Indian experiments. I think I'm starting to learn how to play with spices a little bit! Thanks Jai and Bee!
Tajine di ceci e zucca con cuscus al cocco e chutney al cocco / Chickpea Pumpkin Tajine With Coconut Couscous & Coconut Chutney
Still on the chickpea crave wave, I cooked this amazing dish that Meeta at 'What's for lunch, Honey?' describes here. I decided to try this recipe one night, as I found out I would be able to use interesting ingredients that I had bought thinking about future use, and still didn't get a chance to try, such as coconut milk and fresh ginger. At the same time, this recipe allowed me to finish up some of the leftover turban squash (which I substituted pumpkin with) and coriander I had, which were going to go bad otherwise.. Last but not least, it looked quick and it was perfect for a night when I arrived late at home. Indeed, the dish was fast to prepare, even though it's composed of three separate parts (Lucas and I were pretty happy about this nice variety). All of them are wonderful. I think my tajine was a little more curry-like than it should have been, because my leftover squash was precooked, and quite soft. Still, it was delicious. I particularly loved mixing the cous cous with the chutney.. Next time, though, I'll try to use dry chickpeas. I find they have a really better taste than the canned ones. Thanks Meeta for such a wonderful recipe!
Curry di melanzane e patate dolci / Eggplant And Sweet Potatoes Curry
This is another recipe that I spotted while I was preparing the last roundup for the Fresh Produce of the Month. It's by Suganya at Tasty Palettes, and you can find the original recipe (which involves squash, indeed) here. I prepared it on another night when I didn't have a lot of time to cook. It was a good choice! For a change, though, I decided to use sweet potatoes instead of squash. To be honest, I did have squash at home, but I was too lazy: peeling and cutting a squash is a hard task for me some times, and the sweet potatoes looked like a promising substitute! Indeed, they were. I used two potatoes instead of the amount of squash suggested by Suganya. We enjoyed this dish a lot - I served it with rice, as I didn't have any flat bread. It didn't have as many spices as the other Indian dishes I prepared (I may have put less of the final mixture of ground spices), so the taste actually reminded me of some Italian side dish, but with an exotic touch given by the spicy taste in the background. Thanks, Suganya, and I'm going to try this again with squash and paying closer attention to how much of the final spice mixture I add :)
Now here is a question to all the food bloggers around: what exactly defines a curry? In my ignorance, I thought a curry was supposed to be on the liquid side. More like a Thai green curry, to give an example. Yet, a lot of the curries I found recipes for (like the two I wrote about in this post) are much thicker. So, this is my general question. More in details, I recently went to a Chaat place named Vik's, in Berkeley, well-known for its authentic (and inexpensive) fast-food-like Indian dishes. Almost everything we tried was served with 'cholle', defined as 'chickpea curry'. Still, the cholle at Vik's was really nothing like the Chickpea curry that I prepared myself according to Bee's recipe. It was much more liquid (and also somewhat sweet, I recall). So, what's the difference in the two curries? Is it just a regional or personal preference?
Thanks to anybody who wants to comment on this :)
Monday, February 04, 2008
The time has come for me to publish the roundup of this last 'Fresh Produce of the Month' event, which was centered on squash!
This month we have a really wonderful collection of recipes, which will give you great inspirations for your next squash-containing dish! Here they are, in the same order I received them:
Dhivya at 'Culinary Bazaar' presents a 'Garlic and Butternut Squash soup', which smells delicious through the computer screen!
Namratha at 'Finger licking food' introduces us to a 'Spicy bean soup', with different types of beans and squash, and many spices which make this soup unique.
KayKat at 'Cooking from A to Z' presents a 'Squashed acorn squash'. Curious to see what this is about? Check out her post and then you'll be tempted to try and make such a simple and delicious dish.
Archana at 'Archana's kitchen' keeps the soup trend up with a wonderfully looking 'Spicy Pumpkin Soup'. The cinnamon and cilantro tree adds a beautiful and I'm sure tasty touch to the soup!
My own entry was a typical Italian 'Risotto alla zucca/Squash risotto', which I prepared with Ambercup and Carnival squash, together with blue cheese to add creaminess and more taste.
Bee and Jai at 'Jugalbandi' use pumpkin seeds to prepare a wonderful-looking 'Cabbage and Peas Poriyal with Pumpkin Seeds'. Read the entry not only to find out how to make this, but also if you want to laugh :)
Suganya at 'Tasty Palettes' brings a 'Eggplant And Pumpkin/Butternut Squash Curry' to the squash feast! I love Indian curries, and this is already on my 'to-try' list. :)
Zlamushka at 'Zlamushka's spicy kitchen' participates with a really interesting 'Squash with sesame seeds' Korean stir-fry, which is part of an amazing looking Korean meal that she put together.. I'd love to try this too!
Nupur at 'One hot stove' gives a twist to traditional lasagna by preparing 'Roasted squash-onion lasagna'. I'm sure it tasted as good as it looks - check her post out also if you want to learn about no-boil lasagna sheets!
Meera at 'Enjoy Indian Food' adds a 'Bhoplyache Bharit - Acorn Squash Dip' to this collection of recipes. Simple, healthy, and great-tasting. What else could one ask for?
Dhivya at 'Dhivya's cuisine' presents a 'Mixed Squash Curry', which she prepares with Chayote squash. A type of squash that I still haven't tried, and this recipe could be a great occasion to extend my horizons. :)
Last but not least, dear Meeta at 'What's for lunch, Honey?' treats us with a 'Chickpea Pumpkin Tajine With Coconut Couscous & Coconut Chutney'. A delicious combination of ingredients and spices.
And.... arrghh... I missed one entry! I'm really sorry, Asha! Asha from 'Aroma!' sent a wonderful combination of 'Thatte(Plate) Idlis with Butternut squash stir-fry and Cilantro chutney'. The three parts of this dish look amazingly good! I've always heard that Idlis were really hard to make, but the way she describes the preparation looks simple! The thought of them combined with butternut squash stir-fry and cilantro chutney just makes me salivate. :)
Thank you so much, everybody, for taking part to the event and creating such a unique and intriguing collection of squash-centered recipes! If you enjoyed reading this roundup, you may want to think about taking part to the next Fresh Produce of the Moth event, which will be centered on... oranges!
Similarly to squashes, oranges nowadays can be found all year round. Still, their peak season is wintertime, and before winter is over I'd really like to dedicate one of our events to this delicious citrus fruit!
(this beautiful picture was taken by Wikipedia under Gnu License)
If you'd like to participate, follow these simple rules:
1) Put a post on your blog with a recipe involving oranges. Add a link to this post on my blog and mention that it's an entry for the 'Fresh produce of the month' event. If you like it, feel free to place the logo of the orange-centered event on your post.
2) Send me an email with a link to your post, your blog homepage and your name. My email address is chemcookitATgmailDOTcom. Specify 'Fresh produce of the month' as subject.
3) If you don't have a blog just send me an email with your recipe and if you have a picture of the food you made, that's even better. I will add it to the round-up as well.
The deadline for this event will be March 2nd.
PS - If I don't answer your email or post a comment on your blog entry within three days, please send me another email or post a comment on this blog. Since now I have the comment moderation feature activated, hopefully I shouldn't miss any more entries!!! I'm really sorry if this ever happens again.
There is a very exciting contest going on, organized by Culinate, and called 'Death by chocolate'. The winner wins a chocolatey trip to Napa Valley for two, to attend the Copia Center’s annual Death by Chocolate Festival, and if no travel money is required, also a dinner for two at the famous 'French Laundry' restaurant. So, how could I not participate? Especially because I have an entry which cannot be beaten:
Cioccolata calda alla Torinese / Hot chocolate Torinese style
Dear readers, this is not your common 'hot chocolate'. This is melted heaven. Every time I have a foreign guest in my home town, Torino, I bring them to one of the few real places where they can taste it, and enjoy their expression when they first take a spoonful of it. No one can know what hot chocolate Torinese style is, unless they have tried it. Torino is well-known for chocolate: the famous 'Gianduiotti' come from there..
(picture taken at 'Baratti e Milano', a very famous cafe in Piazza Castello, one of the most beautiful squares in Torino)
.. and there are many small chocolate factories born there in the XIX century. Hot chocolate is a specialty that every Torinese person drinks on Sundays, during wintertime, in elegant cafes like 'Fiorio'.
I thought I would never be able to reproduce this type of hot chocolate at home, but I recently found out how to do so. The trick is to use real dark very good chocolate to begin with. So I started with Venezuelan 80% dark chocolate and broke it into pieces (about 1/4 cup). I then added a small piece of butter (about 1 tbsp), and ~ 2 tbsp heavy cream. I put it on the stove, with very low heat, and added sugar while it was melting (maybe about 1/4 cup total). I also added 1 tbsp Nutella, to give the typical hazelnut flavor that Gianduja Torinese chocolate has. Then, I added enough milk to get the drink of the right consistency: liquid, but very dense (check out how the cream is floating on top, in the first picture I posted). It's probably another 1/4 cup, more or less. The chocolate must be served with sweetened whipped cream on a side. The person drinking it is supposed to add it to the chocolate little by little, enjoying it while it's melting.. a pleasure for the taste buds as well as the eyes!
So, what do you think: is this entry worth of winning the best chocolate-centered entry for the 'Death by chocolate' contest? If so, please vote for me!!!!! If I win, I promise that if you stop by the Bay area and you voted for me, you'll be treated with a Hot Chocolate Torinese style at Marta's cafe. :)
When you vote, you too automatically enter the draw, and you can also win the same two tickets for the chocolatey tour of Napa Valley. The deadline is February 8th, so.. hurry up!!!