Monday, May 30, 2011

Wasabi Marinated Steak--Just Before Grilling Season

Memorial Day marks the beginning of grilling season in America, which has definitely started in DC where we have been enjoying beautiful weather, prompting us to spend time on the deck and cook outdoors.

I am not a great grilling expert, but I have no more excuse not to learn it. My deck has undergone a major renovation and my new outdoor kitchen is almost finished. To justify its existence I will eventually start to grill and soon enough I will start posting my first grilling recipes.

The other night though, I was still frying my steaks on a frying pan. I suppose they can be also made that way on a grill, but it may be tricky for a beginner like me to recommend that as a variation. I fried them in rice bran oil and they came out very juicy and tender. I marinated them overnight in spices, including wasabi powder, which might have helped tenderize the meat.

Wasabi comes of course from Japanese cuisine. It is a green version of horseradish, which grows only in Japan. Although I do not eat sushi, I like the strong taste of wasabi, and I found this recipe (another one coming from Metropolitan Home) very appealing.

Wasabi which is a main and the most distinguished base in that recipe can be purchased in many grocery stores, especially in Asian food markets where it is very inexpensive, and is sold in large bags. It may seems that such amount is never going to be used, but my friends enjoyed those steaks so much that I have already made them three times and I am sure I will need another supply of wasabi before this summer ends. Trying recipe for the first time, I used beef brisket that you see on the pictures. On two other occasions, I used skirt steaks and they were more delicate and tasty.

Wasabi Marinated Steak
Serves 4-6

2 lb skirt beef or brisket,
2 tbsp wasabi powder,
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar,
2 inches of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated,
2 large garlic cloves, minced,
1/8 cup soy sauce,
1/3 cup peanut oil or rice bran oil.

1. Place a piece of steak in a shallow dish.
2. In a small bowl combine wasabi and oil until you obtain a smooth sauce. Add all the remaining ingredients and whisk to blend.
3. Spread that marinade over the steak on both sides. Cover and chill overnight. Turn it over once during that time so that the marinade penetrates the meat.

4. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat until smoking. Sear steaks 2-3 minutes on each side.
5. Transfer to a cutting board, let it stand for 5 minutes, then cut into thin slices against grain.

Serve with warm vegetables or a salad.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cold Tomatillos and Avocado Soup--A Green Gazpacho

After many rainy days we have suffered this month, suddenly we got caught in a very hot weather. With temperature above 90 F, it feels more like July than May. I have already prepared some recipes to post, but these hot days made me crave for a different food than I was planning to share, so I decided to make a cold soup to help myself cope with the heatwave and, by the same token, to start the summer cooking season.

There are many well known cold soups worldwide, and even in Poland, where summers are not typically Mediterranean, we have a couple of them with the leading cold beet and yogurt soup. It is absolutely my favorite--so very Polish and at the same time unique in the composition of vegetables and herbs used in it. My second favorite is the Spanish gazpacho, which I can also eat by gallons. Those wonderful, purely vegetarian soups not only help to chill, but also are very low in calories and healthy. Both are loved by my kids, who typically are not great vegetable eaters, so I am always very happy to make these soups as often as I can.

Being fascinated by food I look constantly for new and inspiring ideas. Recently, in a small Spanish booklet advertising pots, I found a recipe for tomatillos and avocado summer soup. It was a simple (two-ingredient) and a very exciting recipe. I could imagine how tangy tomatillos would complement the mild and delicate taste of avocados, and I have been curious to try this soup since winter. Finally, the right day came. I made it yesterday.

This soup is very original, even compared to other cold soups, not only because of the generous use of oil, but also because avocado makes it quite rich. If you are not familiar with tomatillos, you may be surprised how differently their taste than the regular red tomatoes. Because this soup is is more filling than a regular gazpacho, you can turn it into an interesting starter, for example at large outdoor party, by serving small amounts of it in petite glasses.

If you are a fan of cold soups please try this one and I do not think you will be disappointed.

Cold Tomatillos and Avocado Soup
Serves 6-8 people

2 lb fresh tomatillos,
2 ripe Haas avocados,
1 large garlic clove,
1/2 cup olive oil,
1/4 cup vinegar, preferably Jerez, but any white vinegar (e.g., cider or rice) can be used,
1 tsp sugar,
salt and freshly ground pepper.

1. Peel off the tomatillos from their "papery" shells. Cut them in quarters and place in a food processor.
2. Peel the avocados, remove the stones, and add their flesh to the food processor.
3. Add garlic olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, and run the processor until all the ingredients are pure and have the consistency of a cream soup.
4. Transfer the soup to a large container and chill for at least four hours before serving, but the soup would be even better on the next day.

Serve drizzled with olive oil on top.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Okra with Almonds--Spicy and Crunchy

I first tried okra in England and ate it quite often there. I had it mostly the Indian way, with a spicy tomato sauce--its acidity helps eliminate the slime that okra produces. Here in the U.S. okra is popular in the South, where it is served mostly deep fried and often breaded, or also in a rich tomato sauce. As always some love it--despite its rather bland taste and sliminess, but some do not see anything special in it. It's delicate taste may be enriched with spices, the same way it can be done with other delicate vegetables, like pumpkin or zucchini.

Last week, okra, or lady's fingers, as it is also called, showed up en masse in Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores in my area. It looked exceptionally fresh and green. This is not always the case with okra, which is a rather fragile vegetable and can get easily damaged in transportation. I bought a pound of it and prepared for dinner. I made it according to the recipe that I got years ago, probably in England.

Preparing okra this way seemed interesting as it has some Indian spices, but not tomatoes, which may overshadow okra's subtle taste. The okra I bought was very young and fresh and somehow not slimy at all. But if you are not so lucky, you can eliminate sliminess by soaking okra in vinegar for about 10 minutes. Also, adding a couple of drops of lemon juice to okra should resolve that problem.

I must say that the more often i prepare okra, the more I enjoy its taste and do not mind its slimy texture.

Okra with Almonds

1 lb fresh okra,
1/2 cup toasted, slivered almonds,
2 tbsp olive oil,
3 garlic cloves, minced,
2 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated,
2 tsp ground cumin,
2 tsp ground coriander,
1 tbsp red paprika,
salt and pepper.

1. Wash okra and cut the stems off.

2. If you use raw almonds put them on a hot pan and toast turning constantly until gold. Remove and save.
3. Pour oil into the same frying pan, heat it, add okra and fry for about 3 minutes.
4. Add garlic, ginger, spices, stir in, and cook together for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly so the spices coat the okra.
5. Add a cup of water, season with salt and pepper, and cook further for about 5 minutes, or until okra feels tender.
6. Add almonds and stir them in.

Serve with white basmati or jasmine rice, bread or by itself.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Shrimps in Garlic Oil--to Eat or Not to Eat

This dish is one of the first ones I made when I started this blog. I was not sure at that time what to post, so I cooked almost everything that came to mind. And I did this one even though I am not a big fan of shrimps. I cooked it, tried, and wrote down the proportions, hoping that someone may enjoy it. Good shrimps and scallops are very popular among the seafood lovers.

This recipe has been awaiting its turn for almost a year and since I have been recently very busy with finishing my new deck and outdoor kitchen and, ironically, I have been cooking less than usual, I decided to post this recipe now. It is another very easy dish that is ready in three minutes. I post it also because I like these pictures of the shrimps, perhaps more than I like to eat them.

Besides the good quality and fresh shrimps this dish is based on a very high quality olive oil, with a lot of garlic and piri piri that I had trouble to buy, so replaced it with chili peppers. Those who like shrimps and tried them prepared this way liked this dish very much. And half of the pleasure eating that dish comes from soaking a piece of baguette in the leftover oil and enjoying it with a glass of Spanish red wine.

Spicy Shrimps in Garlic

1 lb raw jumbo shrimps without shells,
1/2 head of garlic,
juice from half a lemon,
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil,
a couple of dried chili papers, or more depending on how spicy you want it to be.

1. Peel off garlic, squeeze lightly with a knife and chop. It is important not to crush it entirely but to chop it thoroughly.
2. Heat the oil, add garlic, and fry for 2-3 minutes, until it becomes gold.
3. Add lemon juice and chili peppers.
4. Add the shrimps, stir them in oil, and cook for 2 minutes until they turn pink.
5. Put the dish on a serving plate and serve with a fresh baguette.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Berry and Mascarpone Brulée--Not Only For Singles

Berries season has started. Before local berries fill up local stores, right now they are peaking in Mexico. I buy different berries almost everyday and if we cannot eat them all in the most tasty way (i.e., fresh), I experiment with different berry desserts. They are my favorite fruits so the list of desserts I make based on berries is almost endless and is still growing.

A friend asked me recently for simpler recipes for busy "singles" who are not very comfortable in the kitchen but sometimes would like to impress someone. I think this dessert would fall in such a category. Anyone can make it and I suppose anyone would love to eat it. And again it is just two ingredient dish, and the whole preparing takes literally three minutes. It can be done with raspberries or blackberries together, as I did it, but either one alone will work as well.

Since there is not much to talk about, here is the recipe.

Berries an Mascarpone Brulée
(Serves six)

One 8 oz box mascarpone cheese,
two 6 oz boxes raspberries,
two 6 oz boxes blackberries,
6 teaspoons brown sugar(a regular white sugar would work too, but I prefer brown sugar's "nutty" flavor),

1. Preheat a broiler or a grill until it is very hot.
2. Divide fruits between 6 separate shallow ramekins or place them on one large oven proof dish.
3. Top each portion with a tablespoon of mascarpone (or scatter it over the big dish) and sprinkle brown sugar on top.

4. Place under the hot grill and broil until the cheese melts, sugar burns slightly, and fruits release juice--it will take about 3 minutes, but be careful as it may easily burn.
5. Decorate with fresh mint leaves and serve warm.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Arugula and Lentil Salad--from London's Borough

I happened to be in London during the week of the royal wedding. "Happened" is the right word, as my visit was almost incidental. I was accompanying my mom on her trip back to Poland, and spent a few days in London on my homebound leg.

I was very lucky with the weather--70 F all the time and clear skies. I did wardrobe shopping at my favorite COS, watched Brits getting excited by the approaching royal wedding, and discovered a few places I had no chance to see before. One of them I heard a lot about was Borough. It is well known among foodies mostly because of its food market.

I got there on a sunny morning when vendors just started to open their stands. They were in a rush to take their produce from the boxes. I must say their fruits and vegetables were amazingly fresh looking. The merchants were slightly annoyed with tourists like me, obsessively taking pictures of what they had to sell rather than buying it. And what this market--not a big place at all--can offer is pretty impressive. You can prepare an excellent gourmet dinner party from the stuff you can get there, starting with sophisticated salads, through fantastic fish and meats, very fresh vegetables, and finishing with the best Swiss cheese and French wines.

This place must be impressive by any standards; many Italian and Spanish tourists were admiring the freshness and the variety of products sold and, like me, were taking pictures, perhaps for their own food blogs .

Borough market is quite a trip if you were to go there just to do your regular food shopping. And even an attractive neighbourhood may not be enough of an excuse to go there and shop for food, as I am not sure that walking through Miro exhibition at Tate Modern with a pound of fresh halibut or digging into a Shakespeare bookstore with an aromatic Comté would be an appealing idea. So I wonder who the everyday clients of the market are.

Around noon, when I was about to leave the market I notice a very long line at one of the stands. All that was sold there was one type of salad, that the lady selling it was assembling for the patiently waiting clients. It was lunch time so partly out of curiosity and partly out of a genuine appetite I also bought one such box, sat at the river bank, and ate its content. It was simple but tasty.

Arugula and Lentil Salad

4 cups of arugula,
2 cups of lentils (cooked or from a can),
2 carrots, shredded,
6 oz mozzarella,
1 cup(about 6-8 oz) grape tomatoes,
a few slices of prosciutto,
3 tbsp olive oil,
juice from half lemon,
2 garlic cloves,minced
salt and pepper.

1. Arrange arugula on a plate in a nest leaving an hole in the middle.
2. Mix carrot, garlic, and lentils and put them inside the arugula nest.
3. Throw on top tomatoes and mozzarella cut into small cubes.
4. Mix olive oil with lemon juice, salt and pepper, and drizzle over the salad.
5. Put on top prosciutto cut into slices .

Serve alone or with fresh bread.

And some pictures from Borough:

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Napoleons--Simply Delicious

For all the tales I heard linking this delicious pastry to Napoleon Bonaparte, the name is all they seem to have in common. He may have had a good chance to try them, but I doubt there is any historic document saying, for example, that they were his favorites. Some link the name of this pastry to Napoli, the city where it allegedly came from, while in Poland, the name is said to come from the name of the pastry shop located at the Napoleon Square in Warsaw, which was famous for its delicious napoleons. Anyways, I think everyone, at least in Europe, tried napoleons (in France known as mille feuilles), as they were first described already in 1651.

I remember them from my childhood in Poland. Those days, in most places napoleons were pretty bad. They were made with pale and hard pastry and filled with a very starchy cream. But there was one small family bakery in my hometown, which sold napoleons that could put you in a state of nirvana. Their delicate crunchy pastry leaves mixed in my mouth with a smooth vanilla cream and powdered sugar stuck to my lips and, almost always, nose. They were messy to eat, particularly straight from the tissue in which they were wrapped, with their delicate cream often running down on my clothes, but they were hard to resist, so I often spent my whole weekly allowance on them.

Many years have passed since those good days, but I still think that one of the best napoleons I ate were coming from that small pastry shop, which does not exist anymore. Since nothing I could buy matches that taste I started to make them at home. They have always been a huge success and so far no one who tried them refused to have another one.

They are easy to make, especially when you can get a good ready-made puff pastry. This shortcut would save you a lot of time without hurting the taste. The whole difference lies in a good, home-made, vanilla-infused cream that you fill the pastry with. For this, I use my very old recipe for a version of crème pâtissière that I use often, also to make profiteroles and some other desserts. Last time I made napoleons I served them with kiwi and passion fruit. Their zestiness complemented wonderfully the sweetness of the cream.


2 sheets of puff pastry (I always use Pepperidge Farm,

For the cream:
2 cups milk,
3 large egg yolks,
1/2 cup sugar,
half a stick vanilla pod,
1/4 cup corn starch,
1 tbsp white all purpose flour,
4 tbsp soft butter.

Pastry preparation:
1. Defrost pastry, lay it out on a working surface and, using sharp knife, cut into equal squares. I cut it first into three long pieces and then each of them into nine squares. From one sheet of pastry I get 18 small pieces, but you can make them bigger, and make 12 pieces from one sheet.
2. Preheat oven to 370 F.
3. Place squares on a buttered cookie sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, or until light gold and puffy. Cool them down completely.

Cream Preparation:
1. Place egg yolks in a heat proof bowl, add sugar and, using an electric mixer or a hand whisker, stir for about 2 minutes, until the mixture becomes pale and sugar dissolves a little bit.

2. Add flour and corn starch and stir again--at that point the mixture will become pretty thick.
3. In a medium pot heat milk with the vanilla pod cut alongside in half. Bring it to the boiling point, take out from the heat and remove the vanilla pod from the milk.
3. Add a little bit of hot milk (about 1/2 cup) to the flour and egg yolk mixture, and blend it in using a whisker. When the mixture becomes thinner follow with the rest of milk.
4. Transfer the mixture into the pot where milk was boiled and stirring it constantly over the medium heat, bring it to boil (to make custard). When first bubbles appear on the custard take it out from the heat and cool down.

5. When custard cools down to room temperature, using an electric mixer, add one by one all four spoons of butter, waiting until they blend in one after another.
6. Using a sharp knife, cut the puff pastry pieces horizontally. Fill each bottom part with a spoon of cream and cover with the top part.

7. Place on the serving plate and dust generously with powdered sugar.
8. Serve alone or decorated with kiwis, passion fruits, or raspberries. I usually assemble them just before serving--this way the pastry stays crunchy. If you fill the whole batch with cream and store at refrigerator, after several hours puff pastry will become soft.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fideos with Pablano Green Sauce--Pasta Mexican Style

Living in the US, the best way to discover Latin American cuisine is by going to Mexican restaurants, which are not only very popular here but also often very good and inexpensive. I like sometimes to have in my repertoire one or two original dishes that I can cook whenever I crave for such a taste.

In the Mexican restaurants I went to, I have never seen or maybe just never noticed, any dish based on fideos--Spanish and Mexican cuisine noodles. Since I am a pasta person, they always intrigued me when I saw them at my food store. Finally, not so long ago, I bought them for the first time. When I got home I started looking for the recipes. The most popular, repeated several times with few modifications, was a dish with fideos, tomatoes, and shredded pork. But I am not so much into the Latin cuisine reds. Rather, I am attracted to its greens--tomatillos, pablano pepper, avocado, limes, cilantro, or jalapeno chili. For that reason, I decided to make a green sauce for fideos, remembering it vaguely from a recipe for enchiladas that I cooked once a long time ago.

I prepared a sauce from roasted pablano peppers, tomatillos, and cilantro, to which I added ground pork. I baked the whole dish, topped with sour cream and cheese, in an oven. All the flavors-- aromatic pablanos, cilantro, and tangy tomatillos blended nicely with the mild noodles and the creamy cheese topping. Although the dish may seem quite complicated, in reality, it is rather simple to make and very rich and rewarding in the end. I added meat to the sauce but I suppose that even without this addition this dish would be great thanks to the variety of herbs and vegetables used in it and it would also be very filling especially with the cream and cheese sauce.

Fideos with Pablano Green Sauce
(Serves six)

1 bag (12 oz) fideo noodles,
1 lb ground pork or chicken,
5 garlic cloves,
1 large (26 oz) can tomatillos,
1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped,
3 pablano peppers,
1 jalapeno chili (optional, if you like it spicy)
1 tsp ground cumin,
1 tsp salt,
1 cup sour cream,
2 cups Mexican cheese blend,
4 tbsp vegetable oil for frying.

1. Put the whole pablanos under the hot broil and grill them until their skin becomes black. Remove from the oven and put them in a paper bag and close it. Let them stay in the bag for 20-30 minutes. After that time peel them, remove the seeds, and cut into strips.
2. Heat two tbsp of oil and fry fideos until slightly brown. Remove from the pan.

3. In the same frying pan heat one tbsp of oil, when hot add pork, season with salt, and fry until meat becomes light brown. Set aside.
4. Put tomatillos, garlic, cumin, coriander, and jalapegnos in a blender and have it work until all the ingredients are finely chopped.
5. Heat the remaining 2 tbsp of oil in a large casserole and add the tomatillo mixture to it. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until it becomes thicker.
6. Transfer cooked meat and the pablanos to the tomatillo sauce, add fideos, and mix all the ingredients.
7. Preheat oven to 400 F.
8. Transfer the whole fideos mixture to the large oven proof dish. Spread cream on top and sprinkle with cheese. Cover with the aluminum foil and bake for 30-35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes.