Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nuts and Persimmon Couscous

There are many recipes for couscous dishes in the Mediterranean cuisine. Some are savory, with vegetables, and some are sweet, with nuts, fruits, or raisins. Today, here is my version of a traditional nut couscous dish. It is spicy but also almost sweet. It can be served with grilled meats, vegetables, or as a dish on its own. I like it on its own the most, because it is very pure and this way you can taste better its rich ingredients: the butter and the saffron, and better appreciate the flavor of the nuts in the couscous.

This type of couscous is also made with dried fruits, besides nuts. But instead of dried fruits I decided to use fresh persimmons, which are now in season. Because persimmons can be very sweet at the peak of the season, to contrast their sweetness, I added preserved lemons to the salad. Here it is a very simple yet flavorful dish.

Nuts and Persimmon Couscous

1 cup couscous,
1 cup hot water,
1/4 tsp salt,
1/2 cup blanched almonds,
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios,
4 dried seedless dates chopped (optional, if persimmons are very sweet),
a pinch of saffron threads,
1/4 tsp ground cumin,
1/4 tsp cinnamon,
1/4 tsp ground cloves,
1/4 tsp ground coriander seeds,
a pinch of cayenne pepper,
1 persimmon, peeled,
4 slices of preserved lemons, cut into small cubes,
2 tbsp olive oil,
2 tbsp butter,
fresh mint to garnish.

1. In a small pot bring to boil water with olive oil and salt. Take off the heat, add couscous, mix, cover, and set aside for about 10 minutes.
2. Heat the butter in a medium-sized frying pot. Add saffron and nuts and fry stirring until the nuts are brown.
3. Add dried spices to the nuts and cook for about a minute. Toss in the couscous and heat everything together for two minutes.
4. Cut persimmon into quarters and then in halves, and mix with the couscous.
5. Add preserved lemon cubes and mix everything together. Garnish with chopped mint.

Serve warm or room temperature.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Easy Apple Cake

Apple cakes are one of my favorite fall desserts. Easy and seasonal they are always appreciated. I have recently tried a recipe for a traditional Italian apple cake. The cake was so easy that I managed to make it quickly on a Saturday morning to be ready for a morning coffee.

I used local Golden apples but a more sour type would work better as the base of the cake is quite sweet. Besides the apples the recipe calls for golden raisins and pine nuts. Raisins were a nice addition to the cake but I think that, instead of the pine nuts, I would prefer it with almonds, because they are more crunchy.

Easy Apple Cake

3-4 Golden apples, peeled, cored and sliced into thick slices,
3/4 cup all purpose flour,
1 cup sugar,
2 tbsp pine nuts or slivered almonds,
1/4 cup golden raisins,
6 tbsp unsalted, melted butter,
3 eggs,
1/2 cup milk,
1 lemon,
1 tsp baking powder,
1 tbsp butter for the form,
1 extra tbsp flour to dust the baking form with.

1. Grease a 10-inch baking form with butter and dust with flour.
2. Preheat oven to 350F.
3. Soak the raisins in a warm water for about 10 minutes until soft.
4. Break the eggs in a bowl of a standing mixer. Add sugar and beat them until they are mousse like.
5. Pour in milk and cooled butter, then add shaved lemon peel and flour mixed with baking powder. Mix briefly until smooth with a mixer.
6. Add the drained raisins and nuts and mix with a spatula. Transfer the batter to a baking form.
7. Arrange the quarters of apples on top of the cake and bake it for about 45 minutes.

Let it cool down and serve.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Baked Rice with Pumpkin and Feta

This light and colorful rice dish is a perfect recipe for this pumpkin season. It comes from the Mediterranean cuisine. I found it in one of the Italian magazines which I brought from Italy. The dish is quite similar to risotto and calls for the risotto type of rice, preferably Carnaroli or Arborio. It is started as risotto, but because it is then baked in the oven, it does not require constant stirring. It is made with Feta cheese instead of Parmesan and finished with two garnishes—fried sage leaves and pine nuts. Sage adds extra flavor and aroma to the delicate taste of rice, pine nuts bring in some crunchiness to a smooth texture of the dish, so it is worth adding both to obtain that full and rich taste at the end.

Baked Rice with Pumpkin and Feta

1 cup risotto rice (if available Carnaroli),
1 lb peeled and cut into small cubes pumpkin,
1 medium onion, chopped,
1/2 cup white wine,
2 and 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock,
1/2 cup Feta,
1 tsp hot pepper flakes (optional),
2 tbsp roasted pine nuts,
3/4 cup milk,
2 tbsp butter,
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
12–16 sage leaves.

1. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pot. Add pumpkin cubes and fry for about 2–3 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.

2. Preheat oven to 325 F.
3. In the same frying pan heat another 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add onion and fry until transparent. Add rice and toast together for 1–2 minutes. Pour in wine, and let simmer until wine evaporates.
4. Add pumpkin and stock to rice, season with salt and bring to boil.
5. Transfer rice to a large baking dish and bake for 20–25 minutes.
6. In a medium bowl crumble Feta and mix with roasted pine nuts and hot pepper flakes if used.

7. In a small pot bring to boil 2 tbsp butter. Add washed and dried sage leaves and fry for 2 minutes.
8. Remove rice from the oven. Pour in milk and gently mix and bake for another 10–15 minutes.
9. Once again remove rice from oven and spread Feta crumbles on top. Bake for 5 minutes until Feta melts.
10. Remove rice from the oven, finish with melted butter and sage leaves and serve.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Three-Milk Cake (Tres Leches)--an Easy and Light Version

Tres leches is a famous cake from Latin America. Last year, I tried it for the first time. It was delicious and seemed very simple, so I recently decided to replicate it. I looked up different recipes, ask a Latino friend about ingredients, and finally came up with my own version of it. Last night, I served it to a friend who considers tres leches one of her favorite cakes. She said that the best tres leches she ever had was from a South American restaurant in Chicago, but when she tried mine, she admitted that it was even better, and asked for a recipe.

As always, I made my version lighter and less sweet than the traditional recipe calls for. As a base, I used my own sponge cake, which does not contain any butter although it features in many tres leches recipes. I use this sponge cake base to make a birthday cakes. It is light and easily absorbs all kind of liquids that you wish to saturate it with.

I used exactly three milks--evaporated, condensed, and whole milk, and no heavy cream, which I only used for decoration. With all those changes, the sweetness of the cake turned out to be perfect, that is the way I like it. I served it not with candied fruits but with fresh raspberries which gave it bit of tartness and nice presentation.

Three-Milk Cake (Tres Leches)

For a 10" sponge cake:
4 large eggs, room temperature,
2/3 cup sugar,
2/3 cup all purpose flour,
1 tsp baking powder,
2 tbsp natural breadcrumbs,
1 tbsp butter.
For the three-milk mixture:
1 14-oz can evaporated milk,
1 can sweetened milk,
2/3 cup whole milk,
1 tsp vanilla extract,
1 cup heavy whipped cream,
2 tbsp sugar,
raspberries or any berries you like.

1. Preheat oven to 325F.
2. Grease the bottom and the walls of a baking form with butter and dust with breadcrumbs.
3. In a bowl of a mixer place eggs and sugar. Beat until pale yellow and almost stiff.
4. Mix flour with baking powder and sieve into the egg mixture. Gently fold in until well incorporated.
5. Transfer to a baking form and bake for about 40 minutes, until set and gold on top. Let it cool completely.
6. In a large jar mix all the milks and the vanilla essence.
7. Transfer the cake to a serving plate with at least one-inch high walls. Using a wooden skewer poke the cake several times. Slowly pour over the milk mixture making sure that outside walls are also well soaked with it.

8. Cover the cake and let cool in a refrigerator overnight.
9. Whip the heavy cream with 2 tbsps of sugar until stiff. Spread on top of the cake, decorate with fruits and serve.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Zucchini Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

A few years ago a friend gave me as a gift a spiralizer, a simple tool which makes any long vegetable into spaghetti threads. At the time I got it it was not available in the US stores. In the past year or two a spiralizer became easily available in many American stores so today I decided to post a recipe for a vegetable dish with the use of a spiralizer.

Many vegetables, for example carrot, squash, cucumber or zucchini can be spiralized. My favorite became green zucchini which I make often in the fall when local big zucchinis are available. And in that case the bigger zucchini the better. I make a zucchini spaghetti which is a simple dish of fried zucchini with tomato sauce on top. This is not only an easy dish but also almost entirely made of fresh and pure vegetables, an excellent dish for any fastidious vegan and gluten- or lactose-free diet believer. I shred some Parmesan on top of the sauce but the dish is very tasty also without it.

Zucchini Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce

6 large green zucchinis,
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil,
4 medium tomatoes,
1 small onion, chopped.

1. Blanch tomatoes in hot water, peel off and cut into cubes.
2. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium pot and add onion. Fry on a medium heat until transparent. Add tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes.
3. Spiralize the zucchinis.

4. In a large frying pan heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add minced garlic and fry until gold. Add spiralized zucchini and fry on a high heat tossing it often until all the water evaporates. Zucchinis should be cooked but still firm. Do not salt them as they will release too much water and become very soft and overcooked. The bigger zucchinis the less water they will release.

5. Turn off the heat and season the zucchinis with salt and pepper. Transfer them to the plates, spoon the tomato sauce on top and serve.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Cauliflower in Tahini Sauce

The start of the cauliflower season prompted me to write today about a very simple yet delicious cauliflower dish. It comes from Lebanese cuisine. I have made it quite often ever since I tried it first at my friend's the past summer. Almost everyone who tasted it complemented an interesting and unusual combination of cauliflower and tahini. I have been often asked for the recipe, which I share today.

The whole secret of the dish lies in the right combination of the tahini sauce ingredients. The sauce should be not too thick and rather tart in taste to contrast the mild taste of the cauliflower. Cauliflower can be cooked or roasted, and it can be just white or, in one of the now fashionable yellow or purple color to make it more fancy.

I make this dish often just as a lunch dish and eat it with pita bread, but it can also be served as a side dish to accompany grilled meats.

Cauliflower in Tahini Sauce

1 large cauliflower,
4 tbsps tahini paste (available at Middle Eastern groceries),
3-4 tbsps freshly squeezed lemon juice,
1 garlic clove, minced,
salt and pepper to taste,
fresh chopped parsley.

1. Cook cauliflower until soft but still firm. Drain.
2. Pour tahini paste in a medium bowl. Add 4 tbsps of water, then start adding lemon juice, alternating with more water to obtain a creamy sauce with the consistency of a heavy whipping cream. Add minced garlic and season with salt and pepper.

3. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower and finish with chopped parsley.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Coconut Pudding with Exotic Fruits

This coconut pudding, coming from the Brazilian cuisine, is another dessert that is very easy to make and is also very attractive in presentation. It is an ordinary pudding, just flavored with coconut milk, which gives it an exotic taste. It can be garnished with all kinds of fresh fruits sauces, including ones made of strawberry or raspberry, but I think coconut goes very well if paired with passion fruit and mango, or either one, especially since both of them grow in Brazil.

The whole secret of the preparation is in the right proportion of liquid and starch. It should be set but not too hard or too runny. The original recipe that I found in one of the culinary magazine did not work too well and the pudding collapsed after being removed from the dish. I added then an extra tablespoon of cornstarch which helped to make it more firm. If you like, you can add shredded coconut flakes to the pudding, or if you like it smooth you can do without them. It is also handy that this dessert can be made even two days ahead.

Coconut Pudding

(For six servings)
2 cups whole milk,
1/2 cup coconut unsweetened milk,
1/2 cup half and half,
1/2 cup sugar,
1/2 cup sweetened coconut flakes (optional),
3 tbsp corn starch,
2 fresh passion fruits,
2 champagne mangoes.

1. Pour all the liquid in a medium pot. Add sugar and cornstarch and mix until blended.
2. On a medium heat bring the liquid to boil mixing constantly until bubbles start forming. Simmer for about 2 minutes.
3. Turn off the heat and add coconut flakes, if used.
4. Dip 6 small dishes (you can use ramekins) in a cold water to prevent the pudding from sticking to them.
5. Divide the pudding between dishes and cool down to room temperature, then chill in a refrigerator until well set, preferably overnight.

6. Peel off the mangoes, cut two slices of flesh from each and slice into strips.
7. Cut passion fruits in halves and using a spoon remove the seeds and juice.
8. To serve, flip over the pudding on the plate. Divide the passion fruit content on top of each and finish with mango slices.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Spinach and Jerusalem Artichokes Salad

Almost always around this time of the year I post a recipe with Jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes). Although in certain stores they are now available all year long, a true season for them comes in the early spring.

Today, this is a recipe for a simple salad. I came up with idea to roast Jerusalem artichokes like I roast beets. If the are young and fresh they do not need to be peeled and only require a good wash. If they are bigger and softer it is better to peel them off. Then they should be coated with olive oil and lemon sauce and roasted until slightly brown. I mix them with baby spinach, toss some roasted walnuts on top and sprinkle with lemon dressing. And the salad is ready.

Served with good prosciutto or beef carpaccio it can be served as a nice starter. Served on its own, it can make a nice lunch dish.

Spinach and Jerusalem Artichokes Salad

1 lb Jerusalem artichokes, finely sliced,
one 6 oz bag of baby spinach,
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted,
2 tbsp olive oil,
juice from one lemon,
2 tbsp. walnut oil,
salt and pepper.

1. Preheat oven to 400F.
2. Mix olive oil with juice from 1/2 of a lemon, and salt. Pour over the sliced Jerusalem artichokes, toss them well and spread on a baking tin.
3. Bake for about 20 minutes until the Jerusalem artichokes are light brown.

4. Cool them down. Transfer Jerusalem artichokes to a bowl and mix with spinach.
5. Mix the rest of the lemon juice with walnut oil, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the vegetables. Mix gently. Finish with walnut oils and serve.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Roasted Bell Pepper and Onion Tart

This tart is very popular in my home and always appreciated when by my guests. Probably because it reminds a pizza, which almost everyone loves.

I make it on a short crust base, but without the typical for tarts high walls and creamy egg filling. Instead, it is rather flat and the topping is made just from vegetables and cheese.

However, it requires a special touch that makes the whole difference--a homemade crust. I always make the dough for my tart crust in a food processor but the secret of the crust's delicate and flaky texture comes from rolling the dough several times afterwards and letting it chill in a fridge.

You can finish it with any topping you like. Sometimes, I just spread onion with herbs and pancetta, or seasonal vegetables. In any event, it always tastes great served with green salads and a glass of wine.

Roasted Bell Pepper and Onion Tart


For a 13-inch pizza dish crust:
2 and 1/2 cup all purpose flour,
1 and 1/2 stick unsalted butter,
1 tsp salt,
3/4 cup iced water,
2 tbsp lemon juice.

3 bell peppers,
2 large onions sliced,
1/2 cup sour cream,
1 cup of grated Gruyère or Cheddar,
fresh thyme leaves,
2 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper to taste.


1. To make the crust, put flour, butter, and salt in a food processor. Pulse until crumbs form.
2. Pour in water with lemon juice to the crumbs and pulse for about 30 seconds, until a sticky dough forms.
3. Transfer the dough to a flour dusted surface and roll to a large rectangle. Fold the rectangle in three, cover with plastic foil and refrigerate for 20 min.
4. Roll the dough again on a dusted surface and fold in three. Repeat rolling and folding three times, then again cover with foil and refrigerate for the second time for 20 min.
5. Repeat rolling and folding again and chill the dough for the third time for 20 minutes. Once made, the dough can be refrigerated up to one week prior to use. Take it from the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.

1. Preheat broiler to very high and char the peppers on all sides. Transfer to a dish with a lid, and let cool to room temperature.
2. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the onions until transparent.
3. Peel off the peppers, remove seeds. Cut into strips and add to the onion. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the tart:
1. Preheat oven to 375F.
2. Roll the dough on a flour dusted surface to the size of the baking form.
3. Grease the dish with butter and transfer the dough to the form.
4. Spread the cream on top of the dough, and then spread the mixture of peppers and onion on top.
5. Cover the top with grated Gruyère and thyme leaves.

6. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the sides of the crust turn gold.

Serve cut like a pizza with green salads.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

White Beans with Greens and Tomatoes

Although dry beans often come to mind as a winter, comfort food, today's recipe for a bean dish is a perfect transitional dish from winter to spring. It is not a very rich as a bean dish can be, thanks to fresh herbs, spinach and tomatoes.

Bean dishes are quite popular in the Mediterranean cuisine, especially northern Italian. The inclusion of Feta cheese suggests that this one comes actually from the Greek culinary tradition.

White Bean Baked with Greens and Tomatoes
(Serves four)

1/2 pound dry cannellini beans, which must be washed and soaked overnight in water,
1 medium onion,
1/2 bunch of spring onion, finely chopped,
1/2 cup chopped dill,
6 oz bag of baby spinach,
1 lb plum tomatoes, cut into small cubes,
1 cup crumbled feta cheese,
6 tbsp olive oil,
salt and pepper.

1. Put the beans in a large pot, cover with water and cook on a medium heat until beans are cooked but still very firm. Drain the beans and save about a cup of water.
2. Preheat oven to 375F.
3. In a large frying pan heat 2 tbsp of olive oil. Add chopped onion and fry until transparent. Toss in spinach leaves and cook them until wilted and water evaporates. Add chopped spring onion and dill and cook together for about 2 minutes.

4. Mix the beans with cooked greens. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to an oven proof dish.
5. Drizzle the remaining 4 tbsp of olive oil on top of the beans. Pour in about half a cup of the leftover water from cooking the beans. Cover the top of beans with chopped tomatoes and sprinkle with crumbled feta.

6. Cover the baking dish with a lid or aluminum foil and bake for about an hour, until the beans are soft. If the water evaporates and beans are still hard, add extra water and let it bake a little longer.

Serve hot alone or with country breads.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Celery Root Mousse with Mortadella

Celery root is a popular vegetable in Poland, so I have known it since my childhood. In Poland, it is mostly used to prepare soups and a vegetable salad with mayonnaise. Celery root is also quite popular in French cuisine. For instance, I ate a celery root gratin and a marinated celery root as a salad. Recently, I also found some recipes with celery root in the Italian cooking magazines.

During my recent trip to Italy, in one of the restaurants I visited, I saw a celery mousse being served. It looked very interesting and elegant so I tried to recreate it at home. Celery root has much more flavor than celery stalks and it takes a somewhat sophisticated taste to appreciate it. In this particular dish it tastes very pure and almost bland, but it complements the dish very well as it contrasts the taste of a flavorful mortadella. A small bowl of mousse served with bread of can make a great dinner started or Sunday lunch.

Celery Root Mousse with Mortadella
(Makes 4-6 servings)

1 medium celery root peeled and cut into smaller cubes,
2 small shallots,
2 tbsp olive oil,
1 cup light cream,
salt and pepper,
4 slices very thin cut imported Italian mortadella,
2 tbsp slivered Pistachios.

1. Heat the oil in a frying pot, add chopped shallots, and fry until transparent.
2. Add pieces of celery, cover with water, and cook for about 20 minutes, until celery becomes soft.
3. When the celery is already soft and water almost evaporates, add cream, salt and pepper, and let it all simmer for about 2 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat, cool down slightly and purée with a hand blender.
5. Divide mousse among small glass serving bowls and cool to room temperature.
6. Cut mortadella slices in half, then into strips and top the mousse.

Sprinkle with pistachios and serve with bread.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Chocolate Cream

This chocolate dessert is so impossibly simple and wonderfully delicious at the same time that it can be served to finish any elegant dinner. I make it very often for my kids who love everything chocolate. Good chocolate is all you need to make it. And it can be the chocolate you favor.

It can be made with bitter chocolate or, as I like it, milk chocolate, or combination of different pieces that I usually find in my pantry hidden and forgotten. I used recently leftovers of Swiss and Belgian chocolates and it turned out to be sublime. Obviously, you can eat those pieces hard but I think eating molten chocolate with a spoon is even more indulging.

I serve this dessert in very small glass cups that my friend recycle for me after desserts she buys, but small vodka or liqueur glasses would work as well. I sprinkle it with salt to bring out the taste of chocolate.

Chocolate Cream
(Makes 6-8)

8 oz good quality chocolate (about 2 tablets) broken into smaller pieces,
1 cup light cream,
3 tbsp unsalted butter room temperature,
3 tbsp grated chocolate to decorate,
Fleur de sel or Himalayan pink salt.

1. Pour the light cream and 1/4 cup of water in a small pot and, on a low heat, bring it to the boiling point.
2. Add the chocolate and stir until chocolate melts completely. Take it off the heat and add butter. Stir again until a smooth cream forms.

3. Divide the cream among small glass cups and let chill for 4 hours.
4. Serve decorated with grated chocolate and sprinkled with a tiny amount of salt.