Saturday, March 31, 2012

Soba Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms--Japanese Style

The moment I tried soba noodles I knew there was something familiar about them; they are made of buckwheat flour. Buckwheat is a very popular in Poland type of gluten free kashi, that is served in many vegetarian or meat dishes. I have always liked it very much, but for my kids buckwheat's aroma is too strong. But when I once cooked soba noodles, they liked them very much, even plain just with soy sauce. I usually use them to make a vegetarian dish, which I enrich with a kind of omelette, cut in strips, and added at the last moment.

It was a Japanese recipe that I learned from one of the best Asian cookbooks I have ever seen. I bought it years ago in London for just 5 pounds. I think it was printed in Australia and had the greatest recipes and most beautiful pictures that could impress any food lover even today. After moving out of England I used that book as my culinary bible for all Asian recipes and learned most of my Asian cooking from it.

When I came to the U.S. I lent it to a friend of mine. Unfortunately, our relation loosened when I got busy with my first son and soon after that she moved out of DC area, we lost touch, and I have never got my book back. And whenever I desperately need it for all its wonderful recipes, a Polish proverb "A good habit is not to lend" comes to my mind. It could never be more true. This soba noodles dish is only inspired by that book, as I do not remember all the details after 15 years. Nevertheless, I make it pretty often these days and enjoy very much. Japanese cherries, which bloomed recently all over DC, made me want to share this recipe.

Soba Noodles with Shiitake Mushrooms
(Serves four)

About 8 oz (two bunches) of dried Japanese buckwheat noodles,
A bunch of spring onion, sliced,
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms,
1 inch of fresh ginger, grated,
3 garlic cloves, minced,
3 tbsp rice bran oil,
4 tbsp low sodium soy sauce,
2 eggs,
1 tsp spicy chili crisp (which is chili marinated in oil),
1 tbsp black or roasted sesame seeds.

1. Beat two eggs with a pinch of salt and make a flat omelette. Cut it in half, put each half on top of the other, and slice them to create thick ribbons.
2. Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add soba noodles and cook until soft for about 5 minutes.
3. Wash shiitake mushrooms, remove stems,and cut into slices.

4. Heat oi in a large frying pan with high walls. Add garlic and ginger and fry them for about 3 minutes. Add sliced mushrooms and fry them (sauté)until they first release some juice and later turn gold. It will take about 10 minutes. Pour in soy sauce, chopped onion, pepper, and chili crisp.
5. Drain cooked noodles on a colander. Add to the pot with fried mushrooms and mix gently.
6. Add sliced omelette. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve.

I like it very much with seaweed salad or fresh cucumber in rice vinegar.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Georgetown Chocolate Cupcakes--with Mint Frosting

Ever since I tried cupcakes I have known that I would not have ever any relation with them. The amount of butter and sugar, especially on the icing, exceeded at least ten times what I was able to accept in any dessert. The cake was usually too dry, with excessive frosting that was greasy and sweet was the only impression I had after trying them. But of course my American son, as most of kids, loves them deeply. He asked me several time to make them but I was able to resists his request with an argument that they did not come from my culinary culture and I was not good at making them.

Last winter, on probably the coldest weekend that season, I was shopping in Georgetown. Suddenly, my attention caught a very long line of people, the freezing weather notwithstanding, similar only to those I remember from my youth in the communist Poland. The line was formed in front of a small corner shop, which I have already heard of, called "Georgetown Cupcakes". I got curious what was so worth the sacrifice of so many citizens of the Western civilization, but it was too cold and I decided to try them on another occasion, when it would be warmer and less busy.

Then not long ago I was in Georgetown again, one weekday morning. I was only second in the line and I bought four different cupcakes to try and judge. I did not yet have lunch that day, and when I came home I just cut a quarter of each cupcake and ate them instead. I have to admit that, maybe also because I was so hungry, they tasted surprisingly good. They were still a bit too sweet for my taste but they were moist, and I could taste a good quality chocolate, real butter, and limes.

When Philip saw them he got ecstatic. After eating half of each he voted that they were best he ever had. His favorite was the red velvet cupcake. Then he asked if i could make them for his birthday. I dug the whole Internet and found a recipe from Georgetown Cupcakes. It was a chocolate version which I decided to make with mint icing, which they did not have on their list of cupcakes. They turned out pretty good and the mint icing gave them an interesting twist. I was quite pleased with my first cupcakes ever.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Mint Icing
(Makes 12 regular size cupcakes)

(Everything should be room temperature)
1 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour, sifted,
1/2 tsp baking soda,
1/4 tsp salt,
1 cup whole milk,
1 tsp vanilla extract,
1 stick of good quality, sweet unsalted butter (I used Keller's),
1 and 1/4 cup sugar,
2 large eggs,
1/2 cup good quality cocoa powder.

1 box (8 oz) cream cheese,
1/2 can (7 oz) sweet condensed milk,
2 tbsp sweet unsalted butter,
3 tbsp mint syrup or mint essence and a natural green food colorant( optional).

1. Place butter and sugar in a bowl of standing mixer with a paddle attachment and let it work until the mix turns into a smooth cream. During the whole process of making a dough, scrape it from the walls of the bowl often in between so all the ingredients are incorporated and there is no residue at the bottom of the bowl.
2. Add eggs one at the time, beating the mixture well each time.
3. In a medium bowl sift flour, salt, and baking soda. In another bowl mix milk with vanilla essence.
4. Add flour in two steps, alternating with milk mixture. Stop the mixer, add cocoa powder at the end, running it at first on a low speed, than beat it faster, scraping the walls of the bowl several time.
5. Preheat oven to 350F.
6. Fill up a muffin pan with paper cupcake liners. Fill each of them with a dough up to 2/3 of their height.
7. Bake for 18-20 minutes until the top is set.
8. Let them cool down.


1. Place a soft cream cheese in a mixer bowl. Add half can of the condensed milk. Mix well with cheese until it becomes smooth. Add soft butter and mix well again. At the end add mint syrup or essence and colorant if you wish and beat until well incorporated.
2. Squeeze the frosting on top of the cupcakes using a pastry bag.

3. Decorate on top with chocolate and serve.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Carrots with Pine Nuts--Italian Way

There is a carrot dish probably in every culinary tradition. There is also one in Polish cuisine. We cut carrots in cubes, cook in a little bit of water, and thicken with butter and flour at the end. I love carrots prepared that way, especially with typical Polish dishes, for instance meatballs or chicken and potato puree. And I eat it always like that when I go back home. My mother makes it from very sweet and young carrots that she buys at the farmers' market and serves them always with meats.

But somehow I do not prepare carrot this way anymore at my home here. Most often I make Thai style carrots with roasted almonds or recently even more often I make carrots with pine nuts, a dish that comes from the Italian tradition. Carrots prepared this way are a bit drier, rather sautéd than cooked to a very soft stage and that is what I like a lot about this dish. I enjoy vegetables more when they are cooked al dente rather than completely soft or mushy as we often do it in Poland.

I remember my Italian friend cooking carrots in a very similar way, almost without water, but she did not add pine nuts. I also like to add chopped sage, which makes the mild carrots almost spicy. They taste great just with roasted baby potatoes or as a meat accompaniment.

Carrots with Pine Nuts

1 lb of carrots,
1 medium onion, chopped,
2 tbsp pine nuts,
2 tbsp olive oil,
1 tsp brown sugar,
4 tbsp Marsala or any red wine,
salt and freshly ground black pepper,
1 tbsp chopped sage(optional)

1. Peel off the carrots and cut them into slices.

2. Heat the oil in a medium pan and add onion. Fry for about 3 minutes. Add carrots and sprinkle with sugar. Let the vegetables caramelize a bit.
3. Add about half a cup of water, salt and pepper, and let it all cook on a medium heat until most of the water evaporates.
4. Add red wine and let it cook again for about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat, add pine nuts and chopped sage if used. Serve warm.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Indian Eggplants in Coconut Sauce

Very often, especially during the summer, I buy eggplants, preferably, the smaller Italian eggplants, and make all kind of dishes from them. My favorite are two: Afghan, topped with yogurt sauce, and Italian, stuffed with ricotta and finished with fresh basil.

But although at the Asian store I often pass by a stand with baby Indian eggplants, only recently I bought them for the first time. I did not know any particular recipe calling for them but my culinary intuition was telling me that they would of course taste great in Indian spices but also cooked in the coconut milk. I did not want any tomato in it as all the eggplant dishes I make already call for them.

The most popular recipe for cooking these eggplants in coconut milk also called for broth and curry powder or a mix of different spices. I chose to use a combination of spices and finish it with fresh green curry leaves. They gave that dish a very unique taste that may be intriguing to those who are not familiar with curry leaves. This rich and spicy, but also a very delicate dish, as baby eggplants flesh is even more delicate than in the regular eggplants, became instantly popular in my home.

Yesterday, I made it again, but instead of curry leaves, which are not always easily available, I used coriander leaves, which I always have in my refrigerator. A friend, who happened to taste my dish last night, liked it a lot. That encouraged me to share this recipe today, as despite many spices it calls for, it is a very easy and wonderful dish.

Indian Eggplants in Coconut Sauce
(Serves four)

2 lbs (about 12) baby eggplants,
1 medium onion, chopped,
4 garlic cloves, grated,
about 1 inch fresh ginger root, grated,
1 can (13.5 oz) coconut milk,
2 cups vegetable broth,
4 green cardamom pods,
4 cloves,
about 2-inch long piece of cinnamon,
1 tbsp ground coriander,
1 tsp ground cumin seeds,
1 tsp ground fennel seeds,
2 tsp turmeric,
salt and pepper to taste,
1 green chili, chopped,
2 limes,
3 tbsp vegetable oil,
1/4 cup chopped curry or coriander leaves.

1. Wash and drain eggplants. Cut off the stems and cut each eggplant into four pieces. Sprinkle with salt and set aside for 10 minutes.

2. Heat oil in a large frying pan with high walls. Add chopped onion, grated ginger, and grated garlic. Fry for about 3 minutes until onion becomes transparent.
3. Once eggplants release some juice, dry them with a paper towel and add them to the pan. Fry for about 3 minutes until eggplants dry a bit. Add ground coriander, cumin, fennel, and turmeric. Fry until spices coat well the eggplants. Add the rest of spices--cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon stick, and mix with eggplants. Follow with chopped green chili. Let it fry for another minute.
4. Add two cups of broth to the pan and let it boil. Pour in a can of coconut milk and bring it to boil. Turn the heat to low and let everything simmer for 15-20 minutes until eggplants become soft. You need to try them a few times as they should be soft but not overcooked and mushy.
5. Add ground pepper and salt to taste. Add chopped curry or coriander leaves.

Serve with rice and lime wedges (to be squeezed over the eggplants).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cauliflower Salad--Crispy and Spicy

When I saw these very white and fresh cauliflowers on the seasonal display last week in almost every food store in the area, a long forgotten salad came to my mind. Somehow, I have not made it for a long time. Attracted to many vegetables that I did not know in Poland I have tried something new all the time and sometimes these familiar and beloved vegetables became forgotten. These days I eat cauliflower mostly when I am in Poland. It is usually made in my favorite and most classic way--with butter and breadcrumbs, accompanied by a tomato and onion salad.

But cauliflower is a very versatile vegetable that can be served in many different dishes. This salad is one of them. I ate it for the first time years ago in Switzerland. One of the international organizations cafeteria was serving it for lunch. My mum liked it so much that we replicated it at home. Then, years ago, we made it pretty often. Here I do not remember making it ever although it could be a nice accompaniment to grilled meats, or served alone as a spring lunch salad.

As I did often in other case, I made some changes in the original recipe to make it lighter. The original salad was made with mayonnaise but since these days it is not "cool" to eat mayonnaise, I mixed it with yogurt, which tastes very nice with curry that is used to spice up the salad. But if you are not afraid of calories you can fallow the original recipe. It is also important not to overcook the cauliflower. It should be just blanched and still rather raw and crunchy.

Crispy Cauliflower Salad

1 medium cauliflower,
1/3 cup Greek 2 percent yogurt,
1/4 cup mayonnaise,
1/2 tbsp medium hot curry powder,
1 tsp turmeric,
salt and pepper to taste,
1/3 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves (optional).

1. Separate small cauliflower florets from the the whole head. Cut off the stems as much as possible to leave only the pure small florets.

2. In a large pot boil water with 1 tbsp of salt. Put in the cauliflower florets and bring the water to boil. Soon after the water boils drain the cauliflower on the colander. Let it cool it completely.
3. Meanwhile, make a dressing. In a small bowl mix yogurt and mayonnaise until they combine (or you can use just the mayonnaise). Add spices and make a smooth sauce. If you like, chopcilantro and sprinkle it over the cauliflower. Let in marinate in a refrigerator for about half hour and serve.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Easy Lime Cream--with Berries Soaked in Crème de Cassis

In the first months of blogging I posted a recipe for lemon possets--a lovely and extremely easy dessert. But maybe because of the typically British name, which does not say much to others, this dessert did not become as popular as some others I shared and as it deserved. Recently, I have been busy with many other things in my life, so whenever I have friends over I have been making this dessert, as one of the easiest I know. Last time, while preparing lemon possets I made some changes and experiments, which made it taste even better and, in my opinion, elevated it to the top three desserts I have ever made.

At the same time, for the last few weeks I have been having a new culinary obsession--Crème de Cassis. I recently bought a bottle of it and I tried it with different desserts. I love the taste of blackcurrant and delicate spiciness of the not too strong alcohol combined in that liqueur. Blackcurrants are very popular in Poland and remind me of my childhood. They grew in my parents yard and every summer we made from them preserves, juices, and sometimes liqueurs. If you asked me, I would call them a Polish national fruit.

Last week, while making possets I used limes instead of lemons. It spiced up even more the taste of the cream. Then I thought about adding some extra color to that dessert. I mixed two boxes of very sweet blackberries and blueberries and added a bit of Crème de Cassis and let the fruits soak in it. When I tried it later, they were so good that I made a dessert of their own. But when I put them together with sour lime cream and soft biscuits they were irresistible. I never recycle old posts, because I have already dozens of them waiting to be shared, but the modifications I recently introduced to that dessert made it taste so new and delicious that I think it is worth to bring it up again in the new light.

Lime Cream with Berries Soaked in Crème de Cassis
(Serves six)

1 and 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream,
one lime, preferably organic,
1/2 cup sugar,
6 oz box of blueberries,
6 oz box of blackberries,
1/3 cup creme de cassis,
mint leaves for decoration,
3 fresh lady fingers biscuits,

1. Place heavy whipping cream and sugar in a medium pot. Mix and bring to boiling on a medium high heat. Let it boil for about 5 minutes while stirring it often. You have to be very careful as at the beginning the cream will rise and may spill. You need then to take it from the heat for a couple of seconds and put it back on. Eventually, the mixture will become thicker and it will boil safely. Afterwards, take it of from the heat and set aside.
2. Wash the lime well and using a peeler remove thin stripes of the peel for decoration. Cut the lime in half and squeeze out the juice. Add the lime juice to the cream mixture, stir well, and let it cool to room temperature.
3. When the cream is cold divide it between six small dishes and place in a refrigerator for a minimum of four hours, but it can be done even a day ahead.
4. Half an hour before serving, mix berries, pour over them some Crème de Cassis and let the berries soak in it.

Later divide them between six small bowls and decorate with mint.

5. To serve, take out the lime cream, decorate with lime peel, and half a of the biscuit. Place the bowls with cream and fruits on medium plates and serve.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sweet Baby Peppers--Quinoa Stuffed

I must admit that, when it comes to food, I do make a lot of compulsive shopping. Mostly it concerns fruits and vegetables. I go to grocery stores without any plan what to buy. I just look which of the sold produce looks fresh and appetizing. And when I see them so colorful and fresh I buy them in huge quantities just for their look and I will worry at home what to make of them. Unfortunately, some of the vegetables, delicate cilantro for example, sometimes go bad in a drawer of my refrigerator. Sometimes my capacity is just not large enough to use everything I buy, although my diet is mostly vegetarian. But sometimes such shopping leads to culinary inspirations and new discoveries.

Two days ago, I walked in the Asian grocery store where I buy many of my vegetables and I saw bags of baby bell peppers. They were perfect, shiny, and colorful. They were the size of hot peppers or chillies. I had no idea what to do with them, but I grabbed the whole two-pound bag. I came back home and the only dish that came to my mind was stuffed pepper. But because they were so unusually small I thought about a special stuffing--quinoa, which is also tiny. I added fresh oregano, and feta cheese, to spice up this rather mild grain. I used a generous amount of fresh black pepper but did not add any salt as feta is very salty, although you may add extra salt, depending on your taste. During the baking a bit of stuffing got out of the peppers but nevertheless we enjoyed this simple gluten free dish very much.

Sweet Baby Pepper--Quinoa Stuffed
(Serves four)

2 lb baby peppers,
1 cup cooked quinoa (1/2 cup of raw quinoa)--I used the multicolored organic quinoa,
1/4 lb Feta cheese,
1/2 bunch fresh chopped oregano (about 1/4 cup),
freshly ground pepper,
1 garlic clove, minced,
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
fresh parsley leaves, chopped.

1. Cook quinoa according to instruction--one part quinoa and two parts of water. Let it cool down.
2. Wash and dry the peppers. Cut the ends with the stems, remove seeds and membranes from inside.

3. Preheat oven to 400F.
4. Put feta cheese in a medium bowl and using a fork or fingers make small crumbles. Add quinoa, pepper, garlic, chopped oregano, and mix well until a smooth and sticky paste forms.

5. Stuff each pepper with quinoa paste.

6. Pour oil and about a quarter cup of water on the bottom of a medium oven-proof dish and place peppers on it. Cover with aluminium foil and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until the peppers dry out a little bit.

Serve with chopped parsley on top and accompanied by green salad with mustard dressing.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Radish Salad--With Exotic Dressing

For a very long time I have been trying to convince my kids to eat radish. No success so far. One prefers cucumbers, the other tomatoes but none of them is into radish. I have a lot of sentiment for radish, which years ago, in early spring was often the only fresh vegetable available in Poland and the first one that was growing in my parents yard. As a child I loved it sliced on bread with butter, just sprinkled with salt and dusted with dill. The other times we sliced it and together with fresh aromatic cucumbers served on farmers or cottage cheese. A little bit similar to that is one radish salad I posted some time ago with ricotta salata, one of my favorite spring salads.

The other day I bought two very fresh and pink bunches of radish, hoping that this time at least one of my boys would like it. But I was left with all the beautiful radishes for myself. That was an opportunity to try a new recipe, which I found in my always inspiring Met Home magazine. It was called Moroccan. All the ingredients were indeed coming from the Moroccan cuisine but it was new to me that radish was popular also over there. Radish made that way is mostly marinated in a special sauce and then topped with goat cheese. Without that topping it can be served as any dinner and meat accompaniment. Radish served with sweet goat cheese and bread make a very satisfying whole meal, which I really enjoyed last Saturday.

Moroccan Radish Salad

2 bunches radish (about 4 cups) sliced,
4 oz of goat cheese, room temperature,
1/4 cup sliced, toasted almonds,
1/4 cup sliced dried apricots,
1/4 cup minced scallions,
2 tsp rice vinegar,
2 tsp lemon juice,
1 tsp harrisa (North African chili paste available in Middle Eastern groceries),
2 tsp honey,
1 shallot, minced,
1 garlic clove ,minced,
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil,
3 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, chopped,
salt and pepper.

1. Wash radish and slice it.

Place in a medium bowl. Add chopped cilantro and mix.

2. In a small bowl mix vinegar, lemon juice, harrisa, honey, shallot, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over the radish.

3. Put goat cheese in a small bowl and press it with a fork until soft. Add almonds, apricots, scallions and extra pepper. Mix well. You can do that using an electric mixer.

To serve, divide radish between four plates, top with goat cheese and serve with bread.