Friday, July 29, 2011

pasta, mushrooms, white wine.

there are many possible routes to a dish. sometimes i'm inspired to make something because of a craving for a particular herb or vegetable. other times, running across an especially appetizingly photographed recipe online can send me into manic "must-make-this-immediately" mode. still other recipe ideas emerge from a trip to the farmer's market or recalling a taste from my childhood. 

and then sometimes, as with today's dish, inspiration comes from the deep (and fearful) longing to simply not. mess. anything. up.   

not to be a (self-) tattle tale, but yours truly hasn't exactly been on a roll lately with cooking. there was last week's attempted polenta casserole which took 2 hours and ended up as runny polenta soup. and then there's the cake i've been trying to make for the past three weeks that never fails to burn to a crisp on all sides while somehow remaining uncooked in the center. (note: the two successful re-attempted versions of these recipes coming soon!)

worst of all, when my culinary genius produces something practically inedible, i'm not the only one who has to grin and eat it. hence: the choice of a simple pasta dish for dinner this week. you start by searing mushrooms on both side in a pan with some garlic flavored oil, and then adding a dash of white wine at the end. throw in some arugula, fresh herbs, and pasta. toss together and eat!

below is sort of a step by step picture of what that looks like up to the step before adding the pasta.

this dish comes from one of my favorite healthy cooking blogs, dana treat. she prepares the mushrooms as a side, but making them the feature of a pasta dish takes hardly any additional work. the mushrooms end up incredibly flavorful, and greatest joy comes from getting a big bite of one of them with some of the pasta and greens. i love the dish as it came out - the only change i might make is adding in another handful or two of arugula (or spinach) for some extra vitamins.

pasta with mushrooms in white wine

oh-so-minimally adapted from dana treat

300 g angel hair pasta
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
450g (about 1 pound) mushrooms, stems trimmed and cleaned with a damp paper towel
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 big handfuls fresh arugula
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped roughly
1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped roughly
salt and pepper to taste

bring a large pot of water to a boil. salt and let pasta cook until al dente (about 3 minutes depending on your noodle). drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water.

heat a large non-stick pan over medium high heat. coat the floor of the pan with olive oil and add the garlic. sauté until the garlic starts to brown and let off an aroma. discard the garlic.

add the mushrooms to the oil. depending on how many you have, they should just cover the bottom of the pan. give them a toss in the oil and then let them sear on one side for about 4 minutes. once they are nice and sizzly on one side, turn them over and let them sear on the other side. once the pan is dry, pour in the wine. cook, stirring often, until the wine is mostly evaporated. at this point, add in the arugula and cook for another minute or two until wilted. turn the heat down to low.

add in the pasta, parsley, and oregano. give it a good toss, adding more pasta water if it seems a bit dry. salt and pepper to taste. serve immediately.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

saffron rice with a crispy potato crust.

the weekend started out innocently enough. friday night we were invited to our friend sogand's place for dinner. little did i know, however, that during that dinner i would become a rice and potato convert.

it's true that i've been living in sausage and potato land for three years. and while i'm never going to be sold on the former, the possibilities of the latter's deliciousness finally dawned on me during this dinner, as i dug into sogand's exquisite side dish of saffron rice with a crispy potato crust (known as tahdig). essentially, partially cooked rice is placed on top of a layer of potatoes sizzling in butter. as the potatoes brown, the rice steams. at the end, you mix in some dissolved safran to give the fluffy light rice a delicate flavor - and the potatoes, oh man, the potatoes. you've never tasted such flavorful, crispy, brown potatoes before.

needless to say, i became determined to replicate this heavenly dish over the weekend. the problem: saffron is not only hard to come by here, but also... what's the word for the far opposite of a bargain? filled with hope, i asked sogand where she got her saffron from. the answer: iran. i didn't know if i'd have time to pop on over there any time soon, so i turned to other options. my boyfriend and i were heading to the city of hanover the next day, and so it became clear that while the stated aim of the trip was to explore the city and enjoy ourselves, the reeeeal mission was to find saffron.

of course, hanover was beautiful and charming. (can't resist showing two pictures of the town hall and surrounding park).

but after wandering around and enjoying lunch and a stroll in the park (check out those lilly pads!), my personal highlight of the trip came an hour before we headed back to bremen, when i found a cheap supermarket that was selling little containers of the coveted spice for 2,50 euro. we headed back saturday evening, and sunday night yours truly whipped up a dish with potatoes for the first time in three years.

(note: though i wasn't able to snag a photo of the potato crust before we devoured it, they turned out very nice and crispy in the center while still slightly too pale around the edges. next time i'll leave them over the heat for even a bit longer so that the whole crust is as delicious as the center).

saffron rice with tahdig potato crust

2 cups basmati rice

2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon saffron in ¼ cup water

bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt. add rice and adjust heat to maintain a simmer. stir occasionally. when it’s nearly done, about 10 minutes later, drain it.

while the rice is cooking, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a wide skillet or non-stick pan. arrange the potatoes on top of the olive oil to cover the pan. pour the cooked rice over the potatoes and turn the heat to as low a heat as possible.

cook for at least 1 ½ hours, or until the potatoes are crispy. you can use a spatula to peek underneath. keep the dish on minimum heat for another half hour after that.

during the last few minutes of cooking, remove two cups of the rice and place in a small bowl. take the teaspoon of saffron dissolved in ¼ cup water and add to the bowl. stir until rice is well saturated (and a beautiful yellow color!).

remove skillet from heat and reintegrate saffron rice back in, making sure not to disturb the potato floor.

serve by cutting the potato-rice cake into pieces, making sure each piece has both some crispy potatoes and rice. alternatively, you can scoop all of the rice out of the pan and into a bowl, and serve the potato on top.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

a summer salad.

i make a lot of salads. it's safe to say that i consume a salad 6 days/week and put together about half of those myself. yet, frequency does not (i repeat, does not) breed variation or creativity. indeed, you probably couldn't pick out the salad i made yesterday from the one i made today, or last week, or 3 years ago. because well, they may just be the same salad: greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, and (the big highlight!!) tofu. dressed, every single time, with balsamic and olive oil. it's not that i don't want to try new raw veggie combinations - it's more an issue of habit and time-saving techniques. you say salad, i pull out the same 6 things from the fridge. 

but finally, dear friends, my (lifelong) salad rut was brought to a halt earlier in the week when i received a dinner invitation. it was requested that i provide a side dish, and instantly i knew: (salad) creativity was to be mine! 

i started by scouring some beloved cooking sites and stumbled across this recipe from a favorite blog of mine, bella eats. the salad called for a heap of cucumbers, which are overflowing supermarket bins here anyway, so it seemed like the perfect veggie to feature. i changed things around slightly, adding in green onions, toasted walnuts, and fresh basil at the end. the dressing is superb and comes together very quickly (and without the help of a blender!).

a final word of advice: definitely peel and de-seed the cucumbers. yes, it's 3 cucumbers. yes, it's a bit time consuming. no, i probably won't add this laborious step to my daily salad-making routine. but it's really worth it if you have the time and are interested in receiving an overabundance of compliments on the freshness, crispness, and overall deliciousness of your evening's side dish contribution.

a simple summer salad to impress

3 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 green onions, diced
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup finely chopped basil
2 peppers, diced
½ cup walnuts, halved and toasted
4 big handfuls greens

50 ml white wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 shallot, minced
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
130 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
peel cucumbers and slice them in half length-wise. scoop seeds out using a small spoon and cut into 1/2-inch slices. place in a colander in sink and sprinkle with some salt. toss to coat and let sit for 30 minutes before rinsing them very well. 

for the dressing, combine oil, vinegar, honey, shallot, mustard and garlic. salt and pepper to taste. in a large serving bowl, toss salad greens, cucumbers, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and basil together. 

toast walnuts in a small pan over the stove for about 2 minutes, until fragrant. add to salad along with the dressing. salt and pepper to your liking.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

vegetable stir fry with black bean sauce.

it's notoriously hard for me to commit to cooking pan-asian inspired cuisine at home. it just always seems like the list of ingredients i'm missing is longer than the list of ones already on hand. and whereas with pastas or salads i can tell which spices and oils are essential and which can be substituted or left out altogether, this same "expertise" has yet to extend into (westernized) thai or chinese cuisine. 

which is why i was really excited to come across a stir fry recipe that even i, in my humble and ingredient-limited kitchen, can easily throw together. the sauce consists of three ingredients: black bean sauce, soy sauce, and water. check, check, and check. 

you can choose which vegetables to thrown in according to the season or state of your fridge, and the dish can be served with any type of noodle or atop rice. we integrated the noodles with the vegetables at the end, but you could also keep it separate. light, flavorful, and versatile: after making an appearance in our flat for the first time a month ago, this guy already earned its place among the go-to staples. 

vegetable black bean stir fry

adapted from green kitchen stories 

1 zucchini, diced
1 eggplant, diced
1 broccoli head, chopped into tiny florets
1 red pepper, cut into long strips
4 handfuls of fresh spinach
3 tbsp sunflower oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 piece ginger, finely diced
1/2 chili (without the seeds)
1 medium-sized onion, sliced in long strips

1/2 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch basil, roughly chopped
1 bunch chives, roughly chopped

250 g rice noodles

5 tbsp water
4 tbsp black bean sauce
3 tbsp soy sauce**

heat the oil in a large non-stick pan. when it's hot, toss in the onion, garlic, ginger, and chili and fry for around 2 minutes, until onion softens. add in other vegetables and cook for another 7 to 9 minutes until al dente. 

meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook rice noodles for 3-6 minutes (check package instructions so as not to overcook them). 

drain rice noodles and add to the vegetables. add water, black bean, and soy sauce, and let simmer for another minute or two. remove from heat and stir in cilantro, chives, and basil. serve immediately.

**this dish can be gluten free - just check that the soy and black bean sauces are gluten free.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

an understated apple cake.

sad reality for this muffin lover: muffin tins are a pain to clean by hand. this is inherently related, of course, to the other sad reality of this kitchen, which is that it is not equipped with a dish washer. scrubbing dishes was never really an issue until i started baking. bowls, whisks, pans, measuring cups and spoons -  the sink would go from empty to overflowing in minutes flat. now i do my best to minimize the number of kitchen appliances necessary to create something tasty and wholesome. which is why you'll probably never encounter something like this if you hang around these parts. 

however, if you're looking for simple and minimal post-clean up baked goods, then you've clicked your way to the right blog! this low-maintenance and very comforting apple cake could be used to make muffins as well. it can also be veganized by substituting in about 1/4 cup applesauce for the egg. the cake stays good for days without drying out and makes an excellent potluck contribution. that said, my level of enjoyment was highest when i consumed it straight out of the oven.

summer apple cake

2 medium apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 egg

preheat oven to 350 F. mix all the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. add in the yogurt, egg, and oil and mix well. fold in the apples and vanilla extract and mix well. pour into a greased baking dish and bake for about 50 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

roasted portobello burgers.

even though it was only four years ago that i took the plunge from being a carnivore to a vegetarian, i very distinctly remember not liking red meat at a young age. it wasn't that i was morally opposed to it (could be giving this 10-year-old a tad too much credit!) or dreaded it like the plague. my heart would just sink a little when my mom mentioned burgers or steak for dinner. furthermore, as a young and budding culinary connoisseur, my exquisite taste drew me to other, more decadent, healthy and nutritious dishes, like mac'n'cheese or panda express. 

if only i'd known about portobello mushrooms back then.

or maybe i did know about them, but they also weren't cutting it (i mean, it's hard to compete with noodles in the shape of cartoon characters and cheese that comes from a powder). i'm glad i've finally come to my senses.

this recipe could not be simpler or more flavorful. a simple herbed marinade, a few plump mushrooms and buns, and some fresh, raw vegetables to go on top. we roasted our mushrooms in the oven, but a grill would give them a really nice smokiness and expedite the cooking time. the minimalist burger you see here is topped with some cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions. but some melted provolone, a dollop of mustard, or a scoop of hummus or guacamole would be very welcome additions.

roasted portobello burgers

3 portobello mushrooms
3 buns of your choice (featured above is a spelt ciabatta roll)
1 tomato, sliced
1/4 cucumber, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced

for the marinade:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 fresh rosemary sprig, finely chopped
1/2 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 juice of a lemon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

start by cleaning the mushrooms with a slightly damp kitchen towel. remove the stems and pat dry.

prepare the marinade by chopping the rosemary and thyme and mincing the garlic. place in a small bowl and add the olive oil, lemon, and salt and pepper. mix well.

assemble the mushrooms in a baking dish and brush with half of the marinade on both sides. place in an oven of 180 C and let roast. after about 10 minutes, remove them and re-apply the marinade. flip them over and place back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

remove from oven and test if they are ready by cutting off a slice. they should be juicy and the knife should cut through them without a problem. throw buns in the oven for a minute to warm or grill them.

assemble your burger as desired. eat alongside a salad, some more grilled vegetables, or my favorite: sweet potato fries.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

summer squash and leek soup.

yesterday was the perfect summer day.

my friend holly stopped by bremen for a visit, and i did my best to prepare a day full of stereotypical activities associated with daily life in a small, historic european city. as you can imagine, there was a lot of quaintness to pack in.

we kicked things off with a morning trip to the farmer's market, which was not only excessively charming, but also led me to the discovery that portobello mushrooms do indeed exist in germany. a sale on summer squash also obviated having to make any decisions about what to prepare on what i knew would be a cool, breezy evening. after a stroll through the old town, we sat down to a quiche and fresh vegetable picnic in the park. the pond, lilly pads, birch trees, and countless families ducky families helped set the mood.

we rounded out the afternoon with chocolate marzipan gelato (what else?!) in the marketplace and a mandatory visit to the bremen city musician statue. i'm horrified by the number of times i've taken this absurd picture clutching this silly donkey's legs.

dropping holly off at the train station that evening, i felt a sense of accomplishment: i made bremen look cute!

granted, it wasn't just me. the weather was certainly a deal sealer. summers in bremen - when they aren't acting out of line with rain and wind and clouds - offer a nice mix of warm days complemented by cool, bright evenings. this soup is perfect for such a night. the spices add a bit of a kick without overpowering the squash, and the carrots add a much appreciated sweetness. you could also throw a potato (or a sweet potato!) in for a thicker base. personally, in the summer, i prefer a thinner soup and a hunk of ciabatta on the side for heartiness.

summer squash and leek soup

2 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 onion, diced
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 leek, cleaned (!!) and diced
2 carrots, chopped roughly
3 deliciously plump summer squash, chopped roughly
5 cups vegetable broth
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tsp curry
1 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper to taste

¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh mint, roughly chopped

start by making your vegetable broth. i let some old carrot stubs and hunks of garlic and ginger simmer for a half hour to make mine, but you can also use pre-made stock or a powder.

when the stock is ready, take a large pot and heat the olive oil. add the garlic, onion, cumin seeds, and a pinch of salt. sauté until soft and pungent (about 10 minutes). add squash, carrots, leeks and stock, and bring to a boil. reduce heat and let simmer partially covered for about 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and almost falling apart. remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes (depending on your patience level!).

work in batches to puree the soup in a blender until smooth or just slightly chunky. transfer the puree back to a pot and thin with water if you like. add the ground cumin, coriander, curry, and turmeric. season with salt and pepper. simmer for 3-5 minutes.

chop fresh herbs and mix together in a bowl for garnish. serve soup immediately a dusting of herbs (and a small swig of olive oil, if so desired).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

the highs and lows of macarooning.

where have i been?! june was a crazy month spent frolicking around berlin from the early mornings to the late evenings. i really wish i could say that - amidst the chaos - i was able to cling to some normalcy through healthy, natural home-cooking. but the sad truth, my dear foodies, is this: way more than half of my meals were consumed outside of anyone's kitchen. that's right: i ate out. a lot.

to be fair, berlin has excellent culinary options! especially for an aspiring vegan or vegetarian, you'll rarely be left stranded empty handed (or stomached). still, i was starting to miss winding down my days by preparing meals from scratch, as well as sitting down peacefully to share them with someone. 
i also started missed baking! and while i've been holding back posting about these delicious macaroons for a while now, i'm glad to be making my reappearance (granted, onto my own blog..) with this recipe. 

the day i decided to make macaroons, i got a bit antsy about trying out something new and decided therefore to test out a few recipes. while the pictures above testify to the success of one of them, the photo below tells the story of 2nd baking attempt gone very, very awry.

presenting macaroon pancakes...

i wish i could say i know what went wrong with this poor batch. but truth be told, i haven't a clue. could have been the condensed milk, or perhaps a faulty measurement on my part. and while obviously i still devoured the entire batch in record time, i was happy to have the other less aesthetically disturbing batch on hand to offer friends and family. and the ridiculously easy recipe to share with you here!

choco-dipped coconut macaroons
as seen on epicurious

1 large egg white
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes
pinch of salt
100 g melted chocolate

preheat oven to 300 degrees F. grab a sheet of parchment paper.

stir together egg white, sugar, vanilla extract, almond extract, and a pinch of salt until combined. stir in the coconut flakes. divide mixture in four and using your hands, make four macaroon mounds. drop onto the parchment paper with about 2 inches of space between each one.

bake until the tops are starting to get oh so slightly golden, which should take approximately 15 to 20 minutes. remove and let cool. you can also leave the macaroons as they are now. but if you want to take things to the next level....

melt 100 grams of chocolate - i used semisweet chocolate chips. you can do this over the stove or in the microwave. once the macaroons have cooled for about 20 minutes, dip their bottoms in the hot and gooey chocolate. let them rest on their sides on the sheet of parchment paper until the chocolate has hardened.

try not to consume the entire batch all at once.