September 29, 2008

Always in love with Salmon - Homemade cured salmon

Back in April i found a recipe for cured salmon, so i decided to make it at home, since we love so much the smoked and the cured one that you find in the supermarkets.

I gave it a try then, for my friend's surprise birthday party (which i will put together in a post some time this week) and we liked it so much, that i tried to make it again. I know you could use different ingredients for the cure, but the dill in this one is our favorite, although i still want to try something else next time.

I made it again this last weekend, when we've got together for a BBQ, and it was very good. Plus everybody finds it amazing that you prepared it at home and wants to know how.
What i found when we were munching on it, talking about the smoky seasoning i used for the BBQ chicken, was that i could have added something from the beginning, but it didn't even cross my mind - smoked sweet paprika, just a bit, which could give the cured salmon the smokiness it was missing. This was an Evrika moment for me (daaahh, is that the spelling for my very dumb moment?) and i am happy Lili came up with the ideea. If you like a spicy smoky cured salmon, add some chipotle powder, we loved it both ways.

You could also use more cracked pepper, or anything else you like; use lime zest instead of lemon and you'll get a more mexican taste, some cajun seasoning for a southern one, but don't forget to share the results or new ideas, please, like we did with the smoked paprika :).
I had a piece of salmon of almost 2 pounds and for the cure used a mix made from:
1/3 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground pepper
zest from one lemon ( you could definitely use more)
one bunch fresh dill chopped finely

Rinse and ry the salmon, then place half of the salt mixture in a glass baking dish, put the salmon on top, then cover it with the rest of the salt. Cover the dish with plastic foil and put it in the frige for 48 hours. Pour out the water from the baking dish about twice a day. Rinse it in cold water when you are ready to serve it.

We love it on toast or bagels, with cucumbers, creme fraiche or sour cream, or a mix of either cream cheese or goat cheese with heavy cream (until you have kind of a mousse), red onion, capers, more dill, lemon to squeze over the fish.
It is great with pasta and in sandwiches or quiches as well.


Somon sarat (neafumat)

Noua ne place foarte mult somonul afumat, iar in aprilie am gasit o reteta pt. peste facut la saramura pe care am incercat-o atunci pentru ziua surpriza a prietenei mele ( un post pe care tot vreau sa-l pun impreuna de mult timp, poate reusesc saptamana asta). Pestele a iesit excelent, asa ca am mai facut reteta de mai multe ori de atunci. Ingredientele de la saramura pot fi adaptate dupa gustul si preferintele fiecaruia, numai ca noua ne place mararul foarte mult, asa ca nu am schimbat reteta pana acum.
Vorbind cu prietena mea despre condimentele folosite pentru puiul facut duminica la BBQ, am descoperit insa ca as fi putut adauga si l-ar fi facut mai bun - boia/ paprika dulce afumata. Un pic de tot, cat sa-i dea gustul ala de afumatura care ii lipseste. Sau daca va place putin picant, folositi boia iute afumata.
Daca va place, puteti pune mai putina sare si zahar, si mult mai mult piper macinat proaspat mai grunjos. Se poate inlocui coaja de lamaie cu limeta, sau condimente cajun pentru o saramura "sudista". Orice idei incercati, nu uitati sa impartasiti rezultatele, asa cum am facut noi cu paprika aici :).

Pentru un filet de peste de aproape 800 g am folosit
70 g sare grunjoasa
50 g zahar brun
o linguritza piper macinat
o legatura marar proaspat tocat marunt
coaja rasa de la o lamaie (sau chiar mai multa)

Se pune pestele la marinat intr-un vas de sticla pe jumatate din amestecul de sare si condimente si se acopera cu restul de sare si condimente, se pune o folie de plastic deasupra si se da la frigider aproape 48 de ore. Se scurge de apa lasata la fiecare 12 ore. Se spala incat sa se inlature sarea si e gata de servit.
Noua ne place pe paine prajita, pe covrigi, cu felii de castraveti, crema fresca, smantana, sau un amestec de crema de branza sau branza de capra cu smantana dulce lichida (incat sa iasa un fel de mousse), ceapa rosie, capere, marar, felii de lamaie.
Este foarte bun si cu paste sau in sandwichuri si tarte/quiche.

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When i was a kid, my mom and my grandma, and all of my friends' mothers and grandmas, were baking a lot. They were exchanging recipes, they were making lucious desserts with cream, fruits, cheese, nuts, layered, baked on the back of the baking tray or in it, cakes, and everything else you could imagine. Most of the times, especially after the ingredients were rationalized, they had to deal with how to substitute one thing for another, and they still managed to make up recipes for desserts with less or no eggs, less or no butter, but they still came out good.

Now, that i am in their shoes, baking desserts did not come so naturally to me. And i know it will take years to be at least half the bakers they are..... I am a little bit scared every time when i make something. I don't think i figured out the magic/ chemistry of the baking, so i am always amazed when something comes out perfect, and i cannot say what went wrong when i fail. That doesn't mean that i am not willing to try, though. Baking desserts or cooking some savory dishes, or whipping up some appetizers, it's still all exciting if my guys or my friends like them.

So, i started shy, looking out for recipes, even collected some of my mom's and my grandma's and i am still waiting to have time to make some of them. I found some recipes that come out perfect every time, they are easy to make and we liked them so much, that i am happy to say i am baking dessert today.

This is one of them, and i found it on Kraftfoods website looking for some dishes for a brunch - Blintz Cake, and made it at least ten times since then. It is very easy to make, never fails, it is fluffy, light and tasty. I added more lemon zest and vanilla to the cheese filling.

Blintz Brunch Cake
2 pkg. (8 oz. each) Cream Cheese, softened ( i use 33% less fat)
1 container (15 oz.) Ricotta Cheese
5 eggs, divided
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted
1/4 cup milk
1 Tbsp. CALUMET Baking Powder

Preheat oven to 325 F for a glass baking dish and 350 for a metal one.
Beat cream cheese, ricotta cheese, 2 of the eggs, 1/4 cup of the sugar, lemon peel and lemon juice in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until well blended; set aside.
Place flour, butter, remaining 3 eggs, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, milk and baking powder in separate large bowl; beat with wire whisk until well blended. Spread 1/3 of the dough onto bottom of greased 13x9-inch baking dish; cover with cream cheese mixture. Gently spoon remaining dough over top.
Bake 45 minutes or until center is set. Cut into 16 pieces to serve. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if you like it.


Blintzi - prajitura cu branza

pentru coca: 250 gr faina
230 gr unt topit
3 oua
115 gr zahar
1 lingura praf de copt

pentru umplutura:
450 gr urda (ricotta)
2 pachete crema de branza Philadelphia
2 oua vanilie
60 gr zahar
3 linguri zeama de lamaie
1 lingura coaja de lamaie
1 lingurita esenta de vanilie
Se incalzeste cuptorul la 170C (325F) pt. vas de sticla termorezistent sau 180C (350F) pt. vas de metal.
Coca- Se amesteca faina, praful de copt, zaharul si ouale cu mixerul, apoi se adauga treptat untul topit. Iese o compozitie foarte moale, dar o sa vedeti cu nu are nici o problema la copt.
Intr-un castron se amesteca toate ingredientele pentru umplutura si se freaca cu mixerul ca sa se omogenizeze crema Philadelphia. Se pune 1/3 din coca intr-o tava dreptunghiulara unsa cu unt, cam de 30cm X 20cm, apoi umplutura de branza, iar deasupra se toarna uniform cu lingura restul de coca. Se coace 40 de minute.
Se lasa sa se raceasca, se taie felii si se pudreaza cu zahar pudra. Este foarte usor de preparat, extraordinar de pufoasa si fina.

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September 24, 2008

Pasta love

I am back.
School started again, we are four graders now, a busy time at work, new rules and forms that i am learning, possibly looking for a new job starting January, fighting the blues (funny thing, blue is not my favorite color, but definitely the blue hue is around me a lot, sometimes more than i like it or can handle it), all these together kept me away from posting. Not enough time, not enough motivation, but now hopefully i am getting the hang of it again, enough to make time for the blog as well for more exciting cooking.
We still ate these past weeks, i kind of cooked, most of the time because i had too. And this shows big time. You know that saying that you have to cook with love and when something tastes really good the special ingredient is love and passion? I believe that's sooo true. At least in my case the food is not the best when i am lacking the excitement. I either burn the food, forget to add something, add something else twice, and so on.
There were still some good meals, nothing too pretentious, but i have some pictures for them. Then, i have been shopping last weekend with Clara at a wonderful Italian shop where we found so many wonderful things, which will be part of some future posts.
I am sorting now thru the pictures took in the last 3 weeks. There will be probably 2-3 different posts, because some have a recipe, some don't.
Let's start with my zucchini ribbon salad, the Greek pasta salad and the homemade fresh pasta.
The zucchinis (2 green and 2 yellow) were too fresh and good looking to cook them. So, i sliced them lengthwise on a mandoline, made a balsamic reduction (which i tasted about 15 times, until there was only half left to drizzle over the salad), added some toasted pine nuts and shaved some peccorrino cheese on top ( after i took the picture, honestly). It took only a couple of minutes to make, but it was soo good.

The Greek pasta salad was for dinner one of the nights when i didn't really feel like cooking. I used some colored rottini, with tomato and spinach flavor, feta cheese, red bell pepper, cucumbers and tomatoes, green olives and Kalamata olives, olive oil and about 1-2 tablespoons of rice vinegar. It was light and quick to made, and also quick to disappear.

And now the homemade pasta. Cristina is guilty of getting me so nuts about making pasta and craving it so badly. She is the one who started making all different shapes, and tell you the regions where they come from, and how the simple combinations are actually the best, that she got so many of the girls from the RC forum to start making their own pasta. That's when i got the pasta machine and i think it is one of the most precious things in my kitchen. So i started making pasta with Clara.
First time, before getting the machine, we made cavatelli, and i am sorry i cannot find the pictures anymore, which means we'll have to make them again. Clara had so much fun rolling the dough and then pull with her fingers, plus she was proud she helped cooking the dinner. It was clear how this pasta tasted so much better then any other before. Next, i bought the machine and i could say just like she said, that i have never had a better pasta in my life than the fresh fettuccine and the capellini (angel hair) we made at home. It tasted so good, it had a bite to it, the texture from the semolina flour is so different from the dry pasta i used before... It is even a pitty now to drown them in sauces, or maybe at least not in the store bought sauce anymore.
We had the capellini with just parmesan, lemon zest, butter, and pepper (no picture now, but sometime again this coming week), or with some fresh tomato, roasted garlic, basil and parmesan. I cannot wait to make the carbonara and so many others which i am sure will taste ten times better with the fresh pasta. Not to say about the spinach pasta that is on the list, and also some raviolli or tortellini, we'll see.
The first pasta dish is fettuccine with a sauce made with onion, garlic and fresh tomatoes, some italian herbs and shaved cheese.

The second pasta dish i made a while back, but i thought to add it here, is made with cremini mushrooms, thyme and cognac, and some grated parmesan cheese. I made the pasta dough using dry shiitake mushrooms, which i turned into a powder and replaced 1/3 of the flour in the pasta dough recipe with the mushroom powder.

Until now, i was lucky to find pasta flour in my supermarket, it is a mix of flour and semolina. But last time, i didn't find anymore, so i used half all purpose flour and half semolina flour.
The recipe for the pasta dough is very simple:
2 1/2 cups pasta flour (or half and half all purpose and semolina)
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon oil
about 2 tablespoons water
I mix the ingredients in a bowl (tried to mound the flour on the and knead them for about 5 minutes, until the dough is elastic and smooth, not sticky anymore. I wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes. Then, divide the dough in 4-6 pieces, and work with one at a time, the rest staying under the plastic wrap so it wouldn't dry out. Each piece is flattened to about 1/8" or 3-4 mm, then dusted with flour and put it through the pasta machine according to their instructions (i start at 6, put it twice at this thickness, then go lower one step each time, and put it twice thru 2). I don't have a drying rack, so i either put them on hangers or lay out on a cookie sheet dusted with semolina flour. Be careful to keep the strands separate, otherwise they will stick together and not dry out as they should.

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September 1, 2008

Corn chowder - Supa-crema de porumb

My vacation is over. Hopefully, i am now rested and ready to go back to work. Spending time with Clara was really needed before school starts again and since my last vacation was over 8 months ago, a break from work was long over due.

We went back to Oceanside, for a week at the beach and tanning, doing nothing and being as lazy as possible. And that's exactly how this past week has passed. I am still not ready to face my desk tomorrow in spite of all the rest and laziness, but what can you do? I wish i was a kid again, i promise i would be so happy of going back to school and not complain about the vacation being gone so fast, but i don't think this helps me feel less miserable. On the other side, clara is so excited to meet her new teacher and her new coleagues, so at least one of us is doing better.
We have been eating out a couple of times, but except for the icecream desert, we were so dissapointed by all the food we had. It's either that the people we've asked did not know good places, or maybe we weren't lucky, but nothing stood out. We have tried an American diner, a Mexican seafood restaurant and one of the fish & chips places in the harbor, all pretty bad. The food from the dinner was blaah, the seafood was overcooked, we ended up asking for more quesadillas being still very hungry, and the fish & chips were so greasy.... The rest of the times i fixed something quick for lunch, dinner, and for the first time a whole week of breakfasts. We went to the farmers' market on Thursday and picked up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, yellow wax beans, blueberries and strawberries. We made blueberries and mango pancakes and enjoyed our breakfast out on the balcony each morning, right on the beach.

Before we left, i made a corn chowder, but i didn't have the time to post anything. I have been waiting for along time to make this soup but i was waiting for corn to be in season to be very sweet and milky. I looked for a recipe for a long time, and i found a couple that i liked, so i decided to combine them and then made some other changes, so now it is a completely different recipe. I liked how creamy and tasty it came out, and i am sure when some crab or lobster is added to the list of ingredients, it's even better, but i made it without any seafood so clara could eat some too. I've read recently about using the corn cobs to make the stock, so i kept them and boiled them, it was a marvelous idea.

Corn chowder

8 corn on the cob - cut the corn off from 7 cobs, and keep the cobs to make the stock. The 8th cob will be grilled and the kernels used for garnish)
1/2 white onion diced
1 celery stalk diced
1 carrot finely grated
1 fennel bulb diced
250 ml heavy cream
400 ml chicken stock
salt & pepper to taste
smoked paprika

garnishes: 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro and 4 slices bacon, cut in small pieces
Shave the corn from seven of the cobs and reserve the kernels for later. Place the cobs in a pot with enough water to cover them, add a little bit of salt and boil them covered for about 20-30 minutes. This water will be used for the soup. Take the cobs out of the water and scrape down any bits of corn left on them and add this to the shaved kernel.
Saute the onion, celery, fennel and carrot together, until all softened. Add the shaved reserved kernels and saute for a couple of minutes, then add the chicken stock, salt and pepper and 450 ml from the water in which the cobs were boiled and let it simmer over medium heat for about 30 minutes.
In the meantime, grill the last cob (the 8th one), then cut off the kernels and reserve them for garnish.
Add the cream to the soup and let it come back to a simmer, then remove from heat.
Puree half of the soup in a blender, until creamy, then mix it with the rest of the soup that was not blended. If you prefer a creamier soup, puree the second batch as well.
Serve the soup hot, garnished with cilantro, bacon bits, grilled kernels and sprinkle a litle bit of smoked paprika.

You could add seafood to this soup. If you want, you could use the seafood to make the stock, boiling it for a couple of minutes with the cobs, then take it out of the water, remove the shells and reserve thw meat to be added to the soup after it was taken away from the heat. And for garnish you could use some chopped scallions and shredded cheese.


Supa - crema de porumb

8 stiuleti de porumb (se taie boabele de porumb de pe 7 stiuleti si se pastreaza stiuletii pentru zeama de supa. Al optulea se pune la gratar, sau intr-o tigaie fara grasime, si boabele se folosesc pentru garnisit)
1/2 ceapa alba tocata marunt
1 tija de telina verde tocata marunt
1 morcov dat pe razatoarea mica
1 radacina fenicul (anason) tocata marunt
250 ml smantana dulce
400 ml zeama de supa de pui
sare si piper dupa gust
boia afumata

Pentru garnisit trebuie cateva linguri de coriandru proaspat tocat marunt si cateva felii de bacon prajit si taiat bucatele.

Se taie boabele de porumb de pe sapte stiuleti si se pun intr-un bol, iar stiuletii se pun la fiert intr-o oala, cu apa cat sa-i acopere si putina sare, si se fierb acoperiti cca 20-30 minute. Apa aceasta va fi folosita pentru supa. Se scot stiuletii de porumb din apa si cu lingura se "rad" si ultimele bucatele ramase si se adauga la restul de boabe de porumb.
Se soteaza ceapa, telina, feniculul si morcovul impreuna, timp de vreo 10 minute, pana sunt foarte moi. Se adauga boabele de porumb si se mai calesc cateva minute, apoi se toarna peste zeama de supa, sare si piper si 450 ml din apa in care au fiert stiuletii de porumb, si se lasa sa fiarba la foc mic aproape o jumatate de ora. Intre timp, se pune la gratar ultimul stiulete, apoi se taie boabele si se pastreaza pentru garnisit.
Se adauga smantana dulce la supa si se lasa pana ajunge iarasi la punctul de fierbere, apoi se da la o parte de pe foc.
Jumatate din supa se pune in blender si se face crema, apoi se amesteca cu restul de supa. Daca va place o supa mai cremoasa, se poate pune in blender toata supa, pe rand.Se serveste fierbinte, garnisita cu bucatele de bacon, coriandru proaspat, porumbul la gratar si putina boia afumata.

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