Monday, November 29, 2010

Leek and Beef Soup--Another Eintopf

Sometimes we enjoy a labor intensive and sophisticated cooking that brings a "wow!' comment, but sometimes, especially after a long weekend that was most of all about cooking, a simple and easy meal is all we dream of. I do not expect that those two, or really three ingredients already sit on your refrigerator shelf, but you can get them on the way home and later, without much effort, enjoy a hearty, fulfilling meal. This soup certainly belongs in the eintopf category, as it is a rich wholesome dish in itself.

I got this recipe from my godmother. Ironically all her life she was everything but a good cook. She had a great style and taste, which was particularly striking years ago, in the most difficult economically times. She was funny and easy going. She had a business talent and was running a very profitable jewelry store, one of the biggest in northern Poland. Although we are not related, I claim to have inherited from her my "good eye" for jewelry of all kind.

After I told you all that about my godmother, you should not be surprised that I was rather apprehensive, when she called me to share this recipe. But on one busy day I decided to give this culinary experiment a try. And the result was surprisingly good, especially for the few ingredients it required.

I cannot give you the true origins of this recipe but, since my godmother is of German descent and traveled often to Germany, it likely comes from there, but perhaps not and it is just an invention of the busy generation.

This soup is so simple, that I am sure one can experiment with it endlessly--a different type of cheese can be used, or some spices added, vegetable or beef bouillon cubes, or anything extra. But if you decide to stick with the original version, it is still quite interesting. My own addition was to spice it up with a lot of freshly ground pepper and a full spoon of Italian herbs. It tastes great with a nice French country bread, but when I prepared this soup for today's post, I served it with a very fresh baguette and this worked perfectly well too.

Leek and Beef Soup
(Serves four)

1 pound of lean ground beef,
3 leeks,
3 wedges of The Laughing Cow creamy cheese, or any European equivalent,
salt, pepper,
1 tbsp of dry Italian herbs, or at least oregano,
1 cube of vegetable bouillon,
2 tbsp vegetable oil,

1. Wash leeks thoroughly, to make sure that all the dirt has been removed from between the leaves, and cut them into thin slices.
2. In a saucepan heat the oil and fry beef until gold.
3. Add leeks to the saucepan and saute them until they become transparent.
4. Turn down heat a notch, add herbs, salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper. Cover the meat with water (about 4 cups) and cook for about 30 minutes or until soft.
5. You can add a vegetable or beef bouillon cube at that moment.
6. When meat becomes soft, add three wedges of cream cheese and let the soup simmer until the cheese melts completely.
7. Serve the soup with fresh bread.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Basmati Rice with Coconut and Lime--Delicious Warm or Cold

It has been very quiet in my neighborhood, as it is only on holidays. There was not even much traffic on the black Friday, probably because nowadays you can buy everything on the Internet, without looking for a parking spot and waiting in long lines at the cashiers. People are not shopping for food, still finishing the remains of the recent feast, but I am already looking forward to trying something different than we ate in the past weeks. And I need to hurry up, as soon enough Christmas food aroma will overtake my kitchen.

Recently, while going through the pile of Metropolitan Home magazine, in search of a minimalistic garden furniture idea, I found a recipe that intrigued me right away. Did I tell already that I deplore terribly that this magazine has been discontinued? I loved not only the architecture and the interior ideas it proposed, but also the culinary recipes it featured on its pages once a month.

One of them, salmon in green sauce, has been in my repertoire for years and became my guests favorite salmon version--interesting in taste, easy, and elegant. Today's coconut rice is my new hit which came from Metropolitan Home. I made it already several times and tested on friends . So far, it was loved by everyone, including my picky kids and already a couple of friends asked me to share that recipe. Originally, it was supposed to be a salad, and I am sure it will be a wonderful summer meal, but these days I serve it warm as meat accompaniment.

Basmati Rice with Coconut and Lime

2 cups basmati rice,
2 tbsp vegetable oil,
1 small onion diced,
2 garlic cloves minced,
2 tbsp grated ginger,
1tsp turmeric powder,
1 can (13-14 oz) unsweetened coconut milk,
1/2 cup unsalted roasted cashews chopped,
1 bunch spring onion, thinly sliced,
2 limes,
salt to taste.

1. Rinse rice well in cold water.
2. Heat the oil in a saucepan, adding onion, garlic, ginger, and cook until onion is soft.
3. Stir in turmeric and add rice. Saute for about 3 minutes.
4. Add the coconut milk, 2 1/2 cup water, and about 1 tsp of salt. (If you use a rice cooker, first transfer the rice mix to the cooker and then follow with coconut milk and water).
5. Bring rice to boiling, reduce heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until all the liquid evaporates.
6. If you serve it warm, add cashews, spring onion, and peel and juice from one lime. Mix and serve decorated with lime wedges. If you serve it as a salad, cool down the rice and serve cold.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pear and Cranberries Tart--Not Only For This Weekend

Thanksgiving for me, and probably many other people coming from Europe, is not about typical American food. It is mostly about a four days-long weekend, meeting friends during these days and maybe finally having time to read a book that has already been renewed twice at the library and for which I have already had to pay a fine.

Last week, after I came home from a party, I found a message on the phone from my neighbors and friends with an invitation for a Thanksgiving lunch. There is nothing I could be more grateful for! Even better news is that it is not only going to be a delicious feast as always, but most of all VEGETARIAN!!

I made a couple of times the whole Thanksgiving meal myself, and I have witnesses--the invited guests, who could testify that all the dishes were wonderful and innovative, including a turkey breast roasted with rosemary and lemon. But I just feel like betraying myself and my guests, by cooking something that I do not try while preparing it and do not eat when it is ready. Ironically, I mean the turkey.

My all contribution to that lunch will be a cake. I still cannot decide between my no bake pomegranate cheesecake or pear and cranberries tart. I will make both and since the hostess prepares a pie I will probably decide to take the cheesecake. This way, on Friday morning I will have a piece of that tart with my morning coffee.

A simple pear tart seems bland to me. Adding sour cranberries to it compliments the sweetness of the pears nicely and makes the tart taste neither too dull nor too sour.

Pear and Cranberries Tart


Crust (for 10'' round baking pan)
2 sticks butter, cut into smaller pieces.
3 cups flour,
1/4 cup sugar,
2 egg yolks,
2 tbsp cold water,
pinch of salt.

Fruit Topping
3-4 soft pears, peeled, seeded, and cut into thin slices.
1 cup fresh cranberries,
2 tbsp ground almonds or bread crumbs,
1 cup sweet cream,
2 eggs,
1/3 cup sugar.

1. In a large bowl put flour, salt, and butter, and working with hands make crumbs.
2. Mix egg yolks with sugar, until the mixture becomes smooth and pour it into the bowl.
3. Finally add cold water and form a dough (you may dust your hands with flour to make the dough less sticky).
4. Wrap the dough in plastic foil and chill it in a refrigerator. The dough can be made even a week ahead.
5. Take a cold dough from the refrigerator and leave for 20 minutes in room temperature to let it soften.
6. Roll it out to the size of the baking form on a surface dusted with flour and fill the tart form.
7. Preheat oven to 375F and bake crust for about 20 minutes, or until it starts to turn gold.
8. Mix together eggs with cream and sugar.
9. Take the crust from the oven, sprinkle it with ground almonds and cover with pear slices.
10. On top of the tart scatter cranberries and cover with egg and cream mixture.

11. Continue to bake for another 20-30 minutes.
12. You can serve it when it is still warm.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Festive Potato Wedges--Thanksgiving Snacks and More

I know that this time of the year I should try to do something with sweet potatoes, but I have not yet found my way of preparing them. But since Thanksgiving cooking is all about hearty, traditional food, I felt that instead of trying harder than I should to figure out what to do with sweet potatoes, I could offer you a snack made of ordinary white potatoes, which could be easily incorporated into this holiday's menu.

Ordinary potatoes are a staple food to many people all over the world. They are also a great basis for many versatile dishes and I intend to post recipes for potato dumplings and noodles, which are a specialty of several national cuisines in Eastern Europe. Some of them require a bit of effort and time to make. Today, however, I chose to post something easy enough to serve it as an impromptu party snack.

I think that this recipe makes ordinary potatoes look attractive, and gives them a festive seasonal flavor. If you like potatoes anyway, you will certainly like this simple snack as well, if you don't like potatos, please give it a try and maybe you will discover their hidden valor.

Potato Wedges

4 medium white potatoes,
2 brunches of fresh sage,
about half a pack of lean bacon.

1. Cut potatoes in wedges about 1/2-3/4 inch thick.
2. Boil potatoes in salted water until soft, but just a notch short of being perfectly soft, drain them and cool down a little bit.
3. Heat oven to 400 F.
4. Cut bacon stripes in halves.
5. Place a leaf of sage on each potato wedge and wrap around with a piece of bacon. Secure the wraps with wooden toothpicks.
6. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes or until potatoes turn a little bit gold and bacon becomes fried.
7. Serve as starter or party snacks with a glass of beer or wine.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Spicy Pecan Cookies--Something out of Nothing

Last Friday I attended an exhibition of South African bead jewelery and met several South African ladies. Talking to them brought back to me the memory of the friend whom I met in Switzerland. She was born in Portugal, but spent most of her life in South Africa. I must admit that she had a huge influence on my culinary education to the point that I could call her my culinary mentor. Some of the best dishes I still cook today come from her personal cookbook. Many of them come from Portugal, where she spent her summers, others come from several other countries she lived in.

I watched and admired her when, with a little bit of touch and nice presentation, she was able to arrange a tea event, or a nice lunch, often out of nothing. She taught me many good host's do's and don'ts that I try to follow every time I have any guest in my house. On top of all that she was also the one who introduced me to a wonderful South African wines, especially from Stellenbosch or Nederburg. I still like to serve it to my guests if I can only buy it here.

Unfortunately, I have lost touch with her, but I hope to reconnect again one day. I am sure she would be very proud of me writing this blog (especially in English). Thinking about one of the Romy's golden rules not to waste any food, I came with an idea of making spicy cookies, from an old and dry piece of blue cheese that got lost in my refrigerator. The inspiration came from the well known nut cookies. I used some pecans that I always associate with Thanksgiving pies, and I just added cheese, salt, and a little bit of rosemary to turn them into wine accompaniments. Here is my experiment.

Spicy Pecan Cookies

1 stick butter,
1 cup flour,
1 tsp salt,
1 cup minced pecan nuts.
coarse sea salt,
a brunch of rosemary.
about 4 oz of blue cheese, but I am sure that any will do, for example, Parmesan or Cheddar.

1. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and working with hands make first crumbs which as you work will turn into a dough.
2. Form a dough into a log, wrap in the food foil, and chill for half an hour.
3. Heat oven to 375 F.
3. Cut a cold dough into a quarter inch thick slices and arrange on a baking tin greased with butter.

4. Spread salt and rosemary on top and bake for about 20 minutes.

Serve cold on small plates, as they are very short. They taste particularly well with a glass of red wine (especially a good Nederburg).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Afghan Spinach with Coriander--or the Other Way Around

Until last year I was seeing my Afghan friend every week. We got together on Fridays at the stables, where our sons had therapeutic horseback riding classes. But she recently moved out and she stopped coming to the stables because of the heavy traffic. I miss her very much. We used to have very interesting and passionate conversations about our lives, kids, fashion, and cuisine, while our sons enjoyed the horseback riding and our younger children were also having great time playing together. Sometimes, especially on the traditional Muslim holidays, she cooked one of her national dishes and I was getting a portion of it to try with a detailed instruction on how to serve it. This way I have become acquainted with Afghan cooking.

Afghan cuisine is similar to the traditional Polish cuisine in that they are both very seasonal, probably because of harsh winters and limited access to fresh vegetables. Among my favorite Afghan dishes are leek dumplings and orange rice with carrot, and I would like to post them one day. What I like about Afghan cuisine is the spices it uses, like coriander, mint, or turmeric.

Last week for the first time I cooked an Afghan spinach dish, based on the recipe I got from my friend. According to this recipe, spinach can be combined with meat (beef, veal, or lamb) or can be prepared as a vegetarian dish, and this is the way I made it. The ample use of coriander makes this dish truly special. I love coriander, and always add it generously when a recipe calls for it, but using two bunches of coriander makes me think that perhaps coriander, rather than spinach, is this dish's primary ingredient.

Coriander and spinach are nowadays available all year round, but somehow this recipe seems very autumnal to me. Both vegetables need to be cooked slowly in a generous amount of oil until they turn dark green, almost brown, like autumn leaves.

Afghan Spinach with Coriander

2 bags spinach, chopped,
2 bunches fresh coriander, chopped,
3 bundles spring onion--green parts only, chopped,
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves crushed garlic,
1 chili pepper,
1 tsp dry ground coriander,
1 tsp turmeric,
1/4 cup canola oil,
salt and pepper.

1. In a heavy duty pot heat oil and fry onion and garlic.
2. When onion becomes transparent add the dry ground coriander and turmeric. Mix well and cook for about 2-3 minutes together.
3. Add to the pot chopped spinach, mix with the spices, and cook until all the water evaporates and the spinach becomes soft.
4. Add to the spinach spring onion, fresh coriander, chili pepper, salt and pepper, and some extra oil, if spinach is too dry.
5. Simmer all the greens on a low heat for about 40 minutes. Serve with rice.

If you wish to put meat in that dish, it should be added to the mix of onion and dry spices. Cooking spinach with meat takes 1.5-2 hours, and it should be cooked on a very low heat.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Simple Chocolate Cake--Breakfast for Those Who Don't Eat Breakfasts

Honestly, I have not had much time for my blog lately between doctor visits with my kids, social events, and other projects, including a perpetual home improvement activity. I have hundreds of recipes and pictures waiting ready to be posted, but no time to turn them into posts. For that reason, today's post will be about breakfast, since when I was sitting in doctor's waiting room early this morning, I realized that I did not even have the time to have a cup of coffee before I left home, which most of the time would be all I have for breakfast.

It is said that a nice breakfast gives you a good kick for the whole day. It is probably true, but not being a breakfast person, I can't really confirm that. I know many people who start a day with a big meal that can keep them going through lunch time, and often even until dinner time. There are different traditions of eating breakfasts--muesli in Scandinavia and Switzerland, cereal in America, soft-boiled eggs in Germany, a toast in England, a croissant in France, and--most unhealthy of all, I suppose--a sausage in Poland. This tradition I noticed is still being cultivated aboard Polish Airlines (LOT) flights. When during these frugal times, on most European connections, passengers have to pay for a sandwich or a coffee if they choose to have breakfast at all, the passengers of LOT are served freshly grilled sausages with cheese, filling the entire airplane with their unhealthy yet appetizing aroma at no additional charge.

Although my breakfast usually starts and ends with a cup of coffee, I like to have a piece of pastry with it, if I have one. And even though I will not have many recipes in the "breakfast" category, today's post is about a simple cake that I love to have for breakfast.

Simple Chocolate Cake

2 sticks butter,
6 tbsp water,
4 eggs,
4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder,
1 1/2 cup flour,
1 cup sugar,
2 tsp baking powder,
1 tbsp vanilla extract,
2 tbsp bread crumbs.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Mix butter, cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla extract, and water in a saucepan. Heat over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and all the ingredients blend into a homogeneous mixture.
3. Separate egg yolks from whites.
4. Take a saucepan from the heat and add yolks. Mix gently and pour 1/2 cup of the mixture into a separate cup and put aside (this will be used later as icing).
5. Whip whites until stiff and add to the remaining mixture.
6. Mix flour with baking powder and add to the chocolate mixture.
7. Grease a round cake form with butter and sprinkle with bread crumbs.
8. Pour the mixture in and put in the oven for 45 minutes.
9. Take the cake out of the oven, let it cool, take it out of the form and pour the remaining chocolate mixture all over it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Butter Chicken--My Quintessential Indian Dish

I was standing in the line to the register at an Asian grocery store, which I visit frequently to get some less common vegetables and spices. There was an Indian man just behind me standing with his daughter who looked about six years old. As the customer ahead of me was taking a long time to check out his groceries, I started to inspect the items that the man behind me had in his cart. I peaked with curiosity at the exotic Asian vegetables he chose--small eggplants, hot peppers, mangoes, fresh coriander. And also chicken breasts, garlic, potatoes, and rice. I could only imagine what a delicious Indian dinner will his family have tonight. Maybe dal, maybe spicy eggplants, some samosas, biryani meat? I was imagining some thick and creamy Indian dishes, I almost felt the aroma of the basmati rice, covered with a spicy curdled yogurt sauce, and a piece of freshly baked naan with that.

I was almost drooling as I thought about all the lovely and fragrant possibilities and the aromas of coriander, curry, and cumin when the man's phone rang. He answered and after exchanging with somebody on the other end a couple of sentences in his native tongue, he switched to English and turned toward his daughter: "Mommy asks what you want for dinner--pasta or chicken nuggets?".

That was the best example of what a united world we live in today. There is neither rice nor potatoes on every table, but pizza, hot dogs, or pasta, no matter, if we are Asians, Arabs, Americans, or Europeans.

Nevertheless, my senses were still inspired by his shopping list. When I got home I have decided to cook an Indian dinner to satisfy my craving for all these spices. Butter chicken is almost always my first choice, as my sons both like it as much as I do.

I know that there are many butter chicken recipes with individual influences deriving from various family traditions. Mine is just another one, coming from an Indian friend, and it is a version that my family happens to love.

Butter Chicken
(Serves 4-6)

2 lb chicken breast tenderloins, or chicken breasts,
3/4 cup natural whole yogurt,
1/2 tsp chili powder (if you like it more spicy),
3 bay leaves,
1/4 tsp ground cloves,
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon,
1 tsp garam masala,
4 green cardamom pods,
1 tsp ginger pulp,
1 tsp garlic pulp,
1 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce,
1 1/4 tsp salt.
6 tbsp butter,
1 tbsp oil,
2 medium onions sliced,
3 tbsp fresh chopped coriander,
4 tbsp cream--heavy whipping cream tastes better but single cream can be used as well.

1. In a large bowl place the yogurt, ground almonds, all the dry spices, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and salt. Blend all the ingredients thoroughly to make a homogeneous yogurt sauce.
2. Put the chicken into the yogurt sauce and set aside.
3. Melt together butter and oil in a frying pan.
4. Add onion to the pan and fry for about 3 min.
5. Add chicken to the mixture and fry for about 7-10 minutes.
6. Stir in a half of coriander and mix well.
7. Pour over the cream and stir in well. Bring to the boil and cook for another 5 minutes.
8. Garnish with the remaining chopped coriander and serve.

I like to serve it with the plain basmati rice, naan bread, accompany by the Indian carrot salad or cucumber salad.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rosemary and Himalayan Pink Salt Focaccia

A friend walked in to my house the other day, bringing with her a gust of the cold wind. As I opened the door she inhaled deeply the aroma that was filling the whole house from the basement to the second floor. "Mmmm... Smells like home" she commented. Indeed, is there anything that smells more homey than a freshly baked bread?

As the cold, too cold days arrived unexpectedly I forgot quickly about all the frozen desserts that I did not have a chance to post yet. All I dreamed of was a piece of warm cake, maybe one based on yeast? Or even better a piece of warm bread. I looked through the window at my gigantic rosemary bush bent by the strong wind and I instantly knew what I wanted to do.

From the youngest age, I have felt the urge to bake. I watched my grandmother bake and later helped her make hundreds of different cakes and I have never been afraid of experimenting with baking. I was only ten years old when, as a first person in my family, I made my own pizza from scratch. Of course it was a Polish version of it, based on a very thick crust and rich in sausage. But those first tries gave me the confidence to make more sophisticated desserts, and later also breads.

It is kind of funny how baking with yeast is different from other ways to bake. I know people who can make absolutely the best yeast cakes, which are light like feather, with different seasonal fruits, or with poppy seeds (e.g., for Christmas) but are not able to make any other kinds of cake. And I have met some, who bake excellent sponge cakes, but their yeast cakes are heavy, and often slack-baked. I still cannot reproduce the perfect yeast cakes my grandma made, but did OK with the Italian and Polish breads.

I haven't made focaccia for 20 years or more, so with some curiosity, I tossed all the ingredients in my Kitchen Aid mixer and let it work.I left a dough to rise for an hour, finished with fresh rosemary and finally salted with the Himalayan pink salt which is acclaimed to be the purest salt on earth. I put it in the oven and in half an hour the focaccia was ready. Before it even cooled down completely my two friends and my son were fighting for the last piece of the warm bread, licking their fingers to pick up every last grain of salt from the baking tin. There was nothing easier to make and more enjoyable on a cold November evening.

Rosemary and Himalayan Pink Salt Focaccia

3 1/3 cup white flour,
1 1/2 cup warm water,
1 packet of fast rise yeast or about 3 dry yeast.
4 tbsp olive oil,
2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves,
1 tbsp coarse Himalayan or sea salt.

1. Place all the ingredients in a Kitchen Aid food mixer.
2. Using the bent arm attachment (see picture below), mix all the ingredients for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and shiny.

3. Cover the dough with plastic foil and let it rise for an hour.
4. When the dough doubles in volume, put it on a working surface dusted with flour and stretch to make it one-inch thick.
5. Preheat the oven to 400F.
6. Sprinkle the baking tin with a little bit of olive oil and put the dough in it.
7. Finish the top of the focaccia dough with rosemary leaves and coarse salt.
8. Put it in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
9. Take it out of the oven and let it cool down a bit before serving. Of course you can also eat it cold, but it's best when it is still warm from the oven.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Brussels Sprouts in Béchamel Sauce--a Taste from the Childhood Garden

When I saw stalks of Brussels sprouts at my local food store, all my childhood memories came back to me at once. Brussels sprouts, with their very intriguing way of growing, for some mysterious reason, were the only vegetable thriving in my parents' garden. We tried to grow absolutely every vegetable that was known in Poland at that time, but the only vegetable that ended up being impressive were the Brussels sprouts. To my deep disappointment, we never managed to see various lettuces we planted to turn into lettuce heads. And I did not know at that time that a baby salad mix was considered more desirable in the culinary world than a lettuce head and cherry tomatoes were more sweet than those on the vine. I guess we considered their size rather than their taste as the proof of quality.

While being famous for the love of cabbage, we have never befriended Brussels sprouts. You can spot them occasionally on a Polish table, served with buttered bread crumbs, but compared to other cuisines, their presence in our culinary tradition was timid to say the least. Therefore, when I think Brussels sprouts I feel completely free to choose how to make them. From various experiments I have conducted with Brussels sprouts, I concluded that they tasted best when baked in béchamel sauce.

Brussels Sprouts in Béchamel Sauce

2 lb Brussels sprouts,
2 tbsp butter,
2 tbsp white flour,
2 cups milk at room temperature,
1/2 cup shredded Fontina cheese,
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg,
salt and pepper to taste.

1. Cook Brussels sprouts in salted water for 5-10 minutes. Drain.
2. Heat the oven to 375F.
3. To make béchamel sauce melt butter in a saucepan, over a medium heat.
4. Add flour and using a whisker mix until the sauce becomes smooth.
5. Pour in at first 1/2 cup milk whisking continuously. Add the remainig milk gradually, and let the sauce simmer on a low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time to prevent it from burning.
6. Take the saucepan off the heat, add nutmeg, salt,pepper and Fontina cheese.
7. Place Brussels sprouts in oven proof dish and cover with the sauce.
8. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the sauce starts bubbling and becomes dark gold.

Serve with a tomato salad and white bread.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jicama and Cabbage Salad--the Best of Two Worlds

In the first week of October, my sister came to visit us for three days. Of course, I wanted to be a good host and cook something that she would enjoy. The problem is that, although we grew in the same home, we are very different, especially when it comes to the culinary taste. As a child, she was the biggest picky eater any mother could imagine and, unfortunately, she has stayed that way. If you can imagine a person cutting the fat out of a perfectly lean prosciutto, that would be her. Almost in every dish there would be something that she finds "suspicious".

After going through hundreds of dinner ideas, I got discouraged and decided to go with the flow. My refrigerator is always full, especially now when I write a food blog, and any accidental guest can find something attractive there. When on a sunny day I was shooting my herring salad on the deck she did not even look in that direction; she has never had a piece of fish or any sea food in her mouth. Later that day I made a salad, also to take pictures of it. Surprisingly, it instantly became a culinary highlight of her visit. It would not be an exaggeration to say that she ate almost the whole huge bowl by herself over these three days. This salad blends perfectly the familiar with the exotic: our old good cabbage and beets with jicama and avocado that come from a completely different world. Jicama is the least known ingredient, which tastes like a mix of a pear and a radish, but more subtle than any of the two.

I was intrigued by this recipe from the moment I saw it probably already ten years ago. Since my cabbage recipe has been on of my biggest hits so far, from Mauritius to Copenhagen, I think it is a good moment to share this salad with those who check this blog.

At first, it seems that this salad won't be easy to make because it includes too many ingredients, not to mention two dressings, but most of them are either in our kitchens already or can be easily found in every supermarket. I modified slightly the original recipe by making the avocado dressing more thick and spicy, which turns this salad into a wonderful lunch meal in itself.

Jicama Purple Salad
(Serves 4-6; adapted from "Mexico: The Beautiful Cookbook")

1/2 jicama cut into thin sticks (about 1 cup),
1 lb red cabbage (about half of the medium-sized head) thinly sliced,
1 medium raw beet thinly sliced (if you have a julienne slicer it would work best)
1/2 medium onion tiny sliced,
1 bag (6-8 oz) baby spinach,
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds.

Oil dressing:
2 tsp soy sauce,
1/2 cup corn oil,
2 tbsp cider vinegar,
1 tsp dried vegetable bouillon,
1 tsp dried oregano,
1 tsp dried tarragon.

Avocado dressing:
2 avocados flesh,
2 garlic cloves minced,
2 tbsp lime juice,
1 cup sour cream,
1 tbsp chopped chives,
salt and pepper.

1. In a large bowl mix cabbage, beet, spinach, onion, and jicama.
2. Prepare the oil dressing by mixing all the ingredients in a a small bowl.
3. To make the avocado dressing, puree avocado,lemon, and cream in a blender. Transfer to another bowl. Add chives and season with salt and pepper.
4. Pour the oil dressing over the vegetables and mix until all are covered with it. Add sesame seeds and mix again.
5. Serve on individual plates with a couple of spoons of the avocado dressing on top.

This salad can be eaten just with bread or to accompany roasted or grilled meats.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pumpkin Risotto--Halloween Leftovers

Now, when the kids' excitement is gone, we are left with pounds of candy and pumpkins still sitting on the porch. This is the once-a-year occasion when I have a pumpkin at home and can experiment with it. I have already exceeded my own expectations and posted two recipes from the pumpkin family--Squash Gnocchi and Curried Pumpkin Soup also made from Butternut Squash, which could be enough tribute to the most popular ingredient in the American cuisine, but I still have that orange, scary face looking at me from the porch. And the more I look at it the more tempted I am to cook my first truly pumpkin dish--Pumpkin Risotto. I completely forgot about it, when writing the post about my pumpkin shyness. But then, I found this recipe when I browsed in my old recipes notebook.

Years ago, I had a wonderful and delicious pumpkin dish--it was a pumpkin risotto, made by Alessandra, an Italian friend who now lives in Paris. Not only it was the best pumpkin dish I have ever eaten, but also one of the best risottos I have ever had. It was a cold and rainy February day in Paris and with a bunch of friends but we were lucky to be invited to her place for dinner. We were all tired, cold, and hungry and this smooth and warm dish with a glass of a good red wine was the best that we could have dreamed off that night. Later I obtained from her that recipe but, until now, never tried to make it myself.

Risotto like pasta can be made almost with anything. The basic preparation steps are are more or less the same, and just the additional ingredients and the finishing make a difference. I will stick to Alessandra's recipe though as the Italian family recipe is the best reference.

Pumpkin Risotto
(Serves six)

1 1/2 cup Arborio rice,
2 cups grated pumpkin,
4-6 cups vegetable or chicken stock,
2/3 cup white dry wine,
6-8 shallots or 1 large onion,
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and extra for finishing,
2 tbsp oil,
4 tbsp butter,
2 tbsp chopped parsley,
2 tbsp crème fraîche or sour cream,
salt and pepper.

1. Heat the vegetable stock in a pot and keep it hot while preparing risotto.
2. In a frying pan melt butter and oil. Add chopped onion and cook for about 3 minutes until soft and transparent.
3. Peel the pumpkin, grate it at a grater with large holes, add it to the fried onion, and cook together for about 5 minutes.
4. Add rice, stir it together, and cook until the rice becomes almost toasted.
5. Pour in wine and cook until it is absorbed.
6. Add the first cup of the hot stock to rice and cook until the rice becomes dry.
7. Repeat by adding the stock cup by cup, waiting until each portion gets absorbed. After you use 4 cups of liquid try if the rice is soft, but still al dente. If you still feel that the grains of rice are hard inside add another one or two cups of stock and cook for a little longer. The whole process should take 30-40 minutes.
8. When the risotto has the desirable softness turn off the heat. Add Parmesan and crème fraîche, stir, cover the pot, and let it stand aside for 5 minutes.
9. Serve with freshly shredded Parmesan and pepper on top.

I happen to have in my refrigerator some truffle butter brought from France--you can buy it at the Paris airport. I put a teaspoon of it on each portion, which made this simple risotto more festive and sophisticated.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Persimmon Panna Cotta--from the Greek Gods

Panna Cotta and Tiramisu certainly belong to the most popular Italian desserts. They are on many restaurants' menus, even those that are not Italian, like a good coffee, which everyone loves, regardless of the food that is served. There are many variations of Tiramisu. They all use Mascarpone cheese but differ in many other ingredients. The same happened to Panna Cotta, which has mutated into many versions and is served with many sauces. Last time, I had Panna Cotta in a small Italian restaurant in London's Portobello. I had a very good espresso and a very nice berry Panna Cotta. The fruit sauce was a little bit too sweet and strong, but since it was not an after-dinner dessert, but an afternoon snack, it did not seem too heavy after all and its richness was neutralized by a strong coffee.

I do not think I can come up with any new variation, that Italians do not know already, but as I pass a persimmon tree growing on my street and watch its fruits turning into more and more orange every day, I thought about making Panna Cotta with persimmon sauce.

Persimmons are acquired taste, but I do like their tomato-like look as well as their sweet and tart taste that stays on a tongue for a while. I eat them by pounds as any fruits, make salads and will try in more desserts. When I was about to leave Switzerland, Japanese persimmons (kakis) became very popular there and were often served with cheese platters instead of the traditionally used grapes, pears, or figs.

For this Panna Cotta recipe I combined cream with yogurt, to add contrast to the sweetness of the persimmons, which when ripe can be honey sweet. Here is my seasonal Panna Cotta variation with the sauce made of persimmons, which the ancient Greeks called Diospyros, that is the Fruit of the God. Let's try.

Persimmon Panna Cotta
(Makes 6 portions)

2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream,
1 cup Greek yogurt ( if you want to cut on calories 0 % fat will be suitable)
1/2 cup sugar,
2 tsp unflavored gelatin.
3 persimmons.

1. Sprinkle 2 tbsp water over the gelatin and let it stand for about 10 minutes.
2. Pour two cups of heavy whipping cream in a pot, add sugar, and heat on the medium heat until sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boiling point.
3. Take the pot off the heat, add gelatin, and stir until it dissolves in the cream.
4. In a separate bowl mix yogurt and the remaining 1/2 cup cream.
5. Add the hot cream to a yogurt mixture and gently combine.
6. Divide the cream over 6 individual ramekins and cool for minimum of 4 hours.

7. Peel off persimmons and puree them all but one half.
8. Take Panna Cotta from the ramekins (you may need to dip the ramekins in the hot water for 5-10 seconds) pour over the persimmon pure, decorate with persimmon slices and serve.

On the picture below I put just a little bit of sauce, but when I was eating it I added much more of it and Panna Cotta was even more delicious and the taste of the persimmons was more detectable.