Friday, April 30, 2010

After Work Snack: Cucumbers & Crackers

Inspired by my favorite deli breakfast (everything bagel toasted with scallion cream cheese and cucumbers), here's an after work snack that's good enough to serve at a party:
Trader Joe's Pita Bite Crackers
Cream Cheese
Thinly Sliced Cucumber
Seasoning Salt
Fresh Dill

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arroz con Gandules (Pigeon Peas and Rice)

Sometime last year I was browsing the Goya selection in some grocery store somewhere, and noticed the Pigeon Peas. Seeing as rice and beans is somewhat of a staple in a vegetarian household, the same old black beans do tend to get a bit dull. So I threw this new unheard of can of peas into the basket, and went home to research recipes. After checking the Goya website, and a few other recipes for Arroz con Gandules, I decided I could just cook these the same way I do the black beans. They came out great, but I rarely go into an actual grocery store, so I forgot all about them. 

But here they are again, simple and healthy and great leftover.  This recipe is actually so easy, my husband cooked it this time (although I seasoned it) as I recovered from my Bikram class and fried some over-ripe bananas. I think he might be capable of cooking if I had more patience to teach him things.

Pigeon Peas and Rice
1 T Canola or Vegetable oil
1/2 Onion, chopped
1 clove Garlic, minced
2 Tomatoes, chopped
1 14oz can of Pigeon Peas (Gandules)
Adobo seasoning
Dried Oregano
Lime wedges
Brown Rice, cooked (may take up to 1 hour to cook)

1. Heat oil in a deep skillet over medium heat and saute onions 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook another 3 minutes. Keep heat low enough that the onions and garlic don't brown.

2. Add tomatoes and cook 2-3 minutes. 

3. Add pigeon peas and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes. Add a heavy sprinkling of adobo over the pan, a tiny pinch each of cumin, oregano and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper, tasting and adjusting all seasonings as needed.

4. Serve over rice with a lime wedge. Squeeze lime juice over beans. 

Fried Bananas: Heat butter in skillet. Cut banana in quarters and sprinkle with brown sugar. Fry in butter, flipping once and sprinkle with white sugar. Add a splash of vanilla extract and fry until bubbly and bananas brown. Serve with powdered sugar.

Friday, April 23, 2010

French Breakfast Radishes

When we were in Paris we had brunch at Rose Bakery in Le Marais, and I discovered a new favorite food. The great thing about eating around the world, is that you inadvertently try new things. This popular brunch spot served scrambled eggs over cheese scones with two sides: green salad and radish salad. I've never been a fan of radishes. I was somehow unaware there were any varieties besides the spicy round ones I pick off salads. These looked similar to the radishes I know, but I decided to bite into one anyway. These were a totally different flavor - they had the crunch of the radish I know, but none of the spicy bite. They were like little bursts of crunchy freshness in between bites of egg and scone. I knew they were some kind of radish, but wasn't sure what they were called until I googled them at home.

After brunch that day, we went to the market to gather food for our Easter raclette. When I saw the radishes at the market I knew I could recreate the salad easily. I love when a dish shows off the main ingredient in such a way that you can look at it and know exactly what you're about to eat. So I kept it simple (which seems to be the food trend in Paris), and followed exactly what I had tasted the day before. I hope I can find them someday here in NYC, because I could really enjoy eating them every single day. 

French Breakfast Radish Salad
1 T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1-2 tsp Cider Vinegar
Salt (used Pink and Gray salts, but Sea Salt would work too)
Black Pepper
1 T fresh Parsley (flat leaf) Chopped

1. Remove tops from radishes, and wash in cold water to rub off the dirt. Slice each lengthwise in half.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil, and just blanch the radishes (drop in radishes, leave for 2 minutes).
3. Drain and rinse radishes immediately in cold water. 
4. Transfer radishes to a bowl, and drizzle with Olive Oil, 1-2 tsp cider vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. 
5. Toss with fresh parsley and serve in a bowl garnished with sprigs of parsley.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fast Chicken Rotelle Soup

I don't know which stupid thing I did today was the worst. Maybe it was the two cups of coffee that I knew would hurt my stomach. Maybe it was the heels that were too high to walk in, when I know they'll hurt my feet. Maybe the mango lassi that I drank when given to me, despite my intolerance for yogurt. Maybe eating too much Indian food at the party. Whatever it was left me curled up in a corner. When we finally got home tonight I made myself a simple chicken soup to make up for all the junk.

Fast Chicken Rotelle Soup
1 Chicken Breast, cubed
4 C Low Sodium Chicken Stock
1/2 C Onion, chopped
1 large clove Garlic, chopped
2 Carrots, sliced
1 C Swiss Chard, chopped
Salt, Pepper, and Seasoning Salt (or poultry seasoning)
1-1/2 C Tricolor Rotelle or other short or curly pasta
1 C water (optional)
Grated Parmesan cheese

1. Heat stock in a saucepan. Frozen chicken breast can be thawed in the boiling stock in about 10 minutes, and removed to cut and then boiled an additional 5-10 minutes. Boil raw cut chicken about 10 minutes.
2. Add onions, garlic and carrots. Boil another 5 minutes,stir in the swiss chard and season with salt, pepper and seasoning salt.
3. When chicken is cooked through, add pasta and boil gently according to directions (10-12 minutes).
4. Add remaining water and adjust salt if necessary.
5. Serve with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Eating Paris

 French Macarons
My husband and I spent Easter weekend with our very good friends who've recently moved to Paris from NYC. From Switzerland, we planned to take the seriously fast TGV straight into Paris. Unfortunately, my husband tends not to listen to my advice, and refused to look into train reservations ahead of time. Normally I wouldn't take such a cheap shot at him in my blog - but believe me - he deserves it. We found ourselves hauling 3 suitcases through Luzern rail station on Thursday only to find all the trains were sold out. I guarded the luggage while my husband negotiated with the ticket agent, ready to run to our departing train. He came back shaking his head, and I didn't even have to say "I told you so". We hauled everything 1/2 a mile to a Europcar rental office, only to find out we could only drive to Paris if we were willing to part with about 700 Euros. We were lucky they had any cars at all to rent, they informed us, as Easter weekend is a very serious Holiday. Um, did I tell you? I told you. Solid ammunition to be used FOREVER. We hauled back to the train station, and as a last resort, proceeded to book 4 separate connecting commuter trains to land us in Paris just in time for dinner. Seven hours, and no cafe car, and not nearly enough water. It was a tough trip, but we made it! And my husband will NEVER disregard my well researched advice again.

As soon as we debarked in Paris Gare de L'est, we saw my friend's husband waiting to receive us. He handed us Metro tickets he had organized for us and we were efficiently on our way to their apartment to get ready for dinner. And then the eating of Paris began.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Red Potato and Leek Soup

Leeks at Marche des Enfants Rouges in Paris

The first two days back from vacation, I was lucky enough to be off from work for Passover. I managed to fit in a trip to the Union Square market. After our trip to the market in Paris, I was all psyched up to eat fresh healthy food. The hot weather tricked me into thinking I would find a plethora of produce at the market, but it was mostly root vegetables, squash and apples. I saw some leeks and thought of the previous night's episode of Iron Chef: Battle Leek. The only vegetables that survived in our vacation were potatoes, so I figured I'd use them in a soup with the leeks. Although I felt strange making a hearty soup in 75 degree weather, it was the perfect thing for my jet-lagged husband and my post-Bikram light meal. 

Inspired by the simplicity of the foods we had in Paris, I kept the soup very simple to focus on the main ingredients. I cut the stock with water to make it less salty, but added some leek and onion parts to give it more flavor. I also partially blended the soup to leave it chunky to show off the potato skins and leeks. I like when you can look at a dish and know right away what it's all about. This soup only took about 30-45 minutes to make and came out great. We'll definitely be having this again soon.

Red Potato and Leek Soup
3-4 servings

2 C Vegetable stock
2 C Water
Outer layer of each leek
5 cloves garlic, peeled
Outer layer of or ¼ C of onion
4 Large Leeks
1 lb Red Creamer Potatoes, diced (do not peel)
2 T unsalted butter
½ C buttermilk or ½ C whole milk + ½ tsp Lemon juice
Chopped fresh Chives

1.    Heat stock and water in a saucepan with tough discarded layers of leeks and onion, and a few garlic cloves.
2.    Prepare leeks by cutting off the dark green parts, leaving the lighter green and white parts. Remove root end. Slice in half length-wise and rinse layers under cold water to remove dirt. Slice into smaller pieces.
3.    Saute leeks in butter in stock pot, about 8-10 minutes over low-medium heat.
4.    Add stock and potatoes and bring to a boil.
5.    Simmer until potatoes are tender, about 10-15 minutes.
6.    Turn off heat and use an immersion blender to partially blend the soup. Aim to blend about half the contents, leaving half chunkier.
7.    Add buttermilk and season with salt and pepper as needed. Heat through and serve garnished with chopped chives.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Vegetarian Bar Food: Seitan Nuggets and Sweet Potato Fries

Before my husband and I left for vacation we were working longer hours, leaving us feeling tired and stressed. They were the kind of days that you really want a beer and some fatty food to smooth out the nerves. However, we were trying to eat at home, knowing we would be eating every meal from restaurants the next week in Europe. Instead of heading to the bar, I decided to bring the bar food home - vegetarian and fresh made, of course. The fridge was pretty bare, but luckily I had one lone sweet potato rolling around the drawer and a bunch of fake meat options. I don't usually fry anything in oil, but I figured since we were eating vegetarian we could let that rule slide this time. The package of seitan made way more nuggets than I expected, but they were so good we ate the entire bowl of them. 

Sweet Potato Oven Fries
Heat oven to 450F.
Cut sweet potatoes into even sized pieces. Drizzle olive oil onto a sheet pan and place potatoes in a single layer. Drizzle oil over potatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper and a tiny pinch of sugar. Roast until crispy and browning, about 20 minutes. It helps to turn each of the fries individually at least once, so they brown evenly. 

Breaded Seitan Nuggets
8oz package Traditional Seitan
2 eggs, whisked
1/2 C flour
1/2 C Italian seasoned dry breadcrumbs
1/2 C Panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp Dried Italian seasoning (or a pinch each (dried): thyme, basil, oregano, parsley)
1/2 tsp Adobo seasoning
Salt & Pepper
Canola oil
1. Chop Seitan into nugget sized pieces

2. Place 3 bowls in a line. Bowl 1: flour with a little salt & pepper. Bowl 2: whisked eggs. Bowl 3: Bread crumbs and seasonings. I've discovered that mixing regular bread crumbs with panko makes the perfect crispy crust that sticks in place through cooking.

3. Using tongs, transfer a few pieces of seitan at a time into bowl 1 to dredge in flour. Transfer to bowl 2 and moisten in the egg. Roll each piece in bowl 3 to coat with crumbs. Place on a plate to await frying. 

4. In a deep skillet, pour canola oil to come 1/2" up the sides. Turn heat on medium-high. Drop a test bit of egg/crumb mixture - when it begins to sizzle and brown the oil is ready. Or insert a wooden spoon into the oil from time to time - it will release bubbles when the oil is hot enough. Reduce heat if oil starts to smoke at all.

5. Using clean dry tongs, transfer nuggets to oil and fry in batches, turning once, until golden and crispy. It should take about 5-7 minutes per batch - taste one from the first batch to make sure the seitan is neither too moist or too dry inside and adjust cooking time if needed. Drain on paper towels.

6. Serve with dipping sauce like honey mustard, bbq, or buffalo sauce.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Exploring Switzerland

Zurich, Switzerland 

It's been a while since I've posted. Partly because of a big project at work leaving me sick of the computer. Partly because I just returned from a week's vacation in Switzerland and Paris with my husband. I meant to post from abroad, but we were pretty exhausted after walking each day, and wifi connections were few and slow. But we managed to see lots of things, eat lots of foods and take lots of pictures. It was a slightly random itinerary, since we had little time to plan. We settled on 3 nights in Zurich, 2 nights in Luzern. From those, we took day trips to Bern and Engelberg to ascend Mount Titlus. The remaining 3 we spent with our friends in Paris through the Easter holiday. 

What I like most about travel is that it reminds you of your place in the world. We are so focused on our freedom in America that we become closed minded in our ways. Our capitalist society is so centered on work and money that we forget to simply live our lives the best way possible. In Europe, shops close for lunch, close early, close on several days of the week and holidays. I can't imagine how they make time for profit - but I also can't imagine such a relaxed life!  Elsewhere, people take time for formal pleasantries in conversation, time for choosing the right outfit, and time to choose the right produce to eat. I'm not saying American culture is inferior - but when you travel you see things more clearly about where you come from. But here I am being close-minded myself, seeing as I have hardly traveled in my own country.

Meanwhile, the trip and all it's lessons are fading fast in memory. Here are some highlights:

Europeans love scarves. These were hanging at a market in Zurich.

We could not understand why all the food is so salty in Zurich. There's melted cheese everywhere - they really do love their stinky swiss cheeses. This is a "Hawaii Toast": 2 pieces of white bread, 2 pineapple rings, 2 cherry tomatoes covered in 2 pounds of cheese. Top with Paprika and Rosemary. Then take a 2 hour hike to another mountain in order to get back to the hotel. Smart.

 While relaxing with some Barolo at Barrique, we noticed the local gay style was very geek-chic with a twist - ankle exposure is a rule not an option. Bright socks earn bonus points.

 I could live on these. Before breakfast, afternoon snack, dessert - we went through a few boxes. Soft cake cookie with fruit gel topped with chocolate. There are several versions such as Pim's and other private label brands - which means it must be a staple food in Swiss culture - right? Exploring the Swiss store Migros was quite fun. They are everywhere, and that's where most people get take-away lunch as well as anything else you need from groceries to panties to paper.

An awesome local wine: Lunaris Chorb Rheinau 2006 - from Zurich made with a variety of grape only grown in Western Switzerland. Goes well with the "welcome" fruit bowl at the Grand Hotel National in Luzern.

This is not me on drugs. This is me inside a glacier at 10,000 feet.

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