November 6, 2008

Butternut squash soup - Supa crema de dovleac

Now that fall is here to stay, i love the color of the light this time of the year, it looks pale yellow, and it casts a warm glow to everything. The only thing that i don't like, is when the sun sets. I love the colors of the sunset, but the dusk feels so sad, sudden and overwhelming when i barely leave work to go home.

I was reading the last number from Saveur, and i was carried away by the article "In The Heart of France" wrote by by David McAninch (here is the article from their website). I haven't been to France yet, but i would love to go, especially to see the country side, to see if what i imagine France to be like and smell like is real or not, and to see the charm of this place as described in this article and its pictures, because it was more enchanting to me than so many others seen until now. Of course i still want to see Paris, walk around until my legs hurt and taste the amazing macarons, it wouldn't be France without them.
Reading the pages from Saveur the other night, made me dream of the beautiful time to come, the cozy warm nights at home and the wonderful foods of the season. And most of all, made me miss Romania and my family, and it brought so many memories back. If i would have been born here, used to seeing the ocean and plam trees all year long, i wouldn't probably miss fall or winter. At least, I am happy that the last street on the way to my job is probably one of the few streets in west LA that have beautiful shedding trees, some sort of maples with a white bark, which now look pretty yellow and are getting ready to strip. I love to see them every day and i cannot believe how beautiful they are. Both blocks to the left and right of them have really tall palms, bending in the wind, just like you see everywhere in this city.

Although i don't have a favorite season, i have things that i love about each. For fall is Thanksgiving, apple and pumpkin pies, cinnamon and spices, the thick and warm soups and stews, which make you feel warm and make your house smell amazing.
When i saw the butternut squash at the market, i knew immediately that i want to make a soup out of it. I brought it home, excited, and told Gabriel what i was planning to make and he smiled and said : "sure, pumpkin soup is what i wished for all my life, that's food to crave for...." I rolled my eyes at him, and decided that i will make it anyway. I like pureed soups and i like roasted butternut squash, but i never used it for soup before. I only made soup with the mexican squash and italian zucchinis and i knew they were ok with that, so decided to give it a try.
Last night, i made the soup, not planning to add to many things to it, because i wanted to taste like squash mainly. So, after i pureed it, i tasted it and didn't like it at all. And if i don't like it, then for sure Clara and Gabi wouldn't eat more than a spoon. It was too sweet, more like baby food, and i don't say that i a good way.
That's how i decided to make it a bit more savory and add some flavors, and picked out nutmeg, ginger and all spice. To cut down the sweetness, i used the borsch powder, which i have found at the Polish store from Santa Monica, and also got more from my mom. But i found a recipe on the Saveur's website for the squash soup and they suggest canned tomatoes, which i am sure would have worked just fine if i didn't have the borsch.
Now, about the borsch (Romanian "bors"). Here is a link from wikipedia, where it explains that the Romanian bors is a sour soup, not the same with the Russian, German or Polish soups, and all the others. The powder that i am talking about is a concentrate, like the chicken or beef bouillon cubes. There is a veggie one and a white (from sour cream) one.
The beet chips - i made them for Clara last night. She loves the ones i get from Trader Joe's, made from beets, yams, parsnips, and other root vegetables, so i bought 4 beets, peeled and sliced them really thin and baked them for about 45 minutes at 250 F, just sprinkled with salt, until dried. Clara helped with them, loving the stains on her fingers and bragging how she eats healthy chips, without any oil or preservatives. Plus that she learned the word crimson last week, and she kept on saying how the beets have this wonderful crimson color :)))). I was happy, because she is not a big fan of beets, never ate them roasted or boiled, only when i added them to a soup, so she doesn't know about it. We'll make some more this weekend and i'll take some pictures.
I also added some toasted almond slivers to the soup, but after I took the photo, and i loved the crunch and nutty flavor brought to the soup.
Clara and Gabi ate a little, but still didn't like it. What was that they didn't like? "that it wasn't chicken noodle or any meat and veggies kind of soup. " "but I used chicken broth to make it..." "but the meat taste is not there, nor any meat pieces...." "but you could make it again for yourself, mom, maybe not this much, and something else for us?!"
So, unless i find someone else to eat this with me, i am not going to make it again soon, even though it was really good. In the meantime, chicken noodle and other meat and veggie soups.

Butternut squash soup

3 tablespoons oil
Half of a large onion, chopped
2 carrots, shredded or chopped
1 parsnip, shredded or chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 lbs butternut squash, either cut in half and seeded, or peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water (about 1 quart/1 liter)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon all spice
salt and pepper
1 cup tomato sauce or 2 tablespoons Polish or Romanian borsch (borscht) concentrate

toppings: heavy cream or sour cream , chives, beet chips and toasted almonds slivers

Preheat oven at 375F (190C). I cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise, and seeded them, but you could also peel them, remove the seeds and cut the squash in cubes. Put the halves or cubes in a baking dish or roasting pan and bake them for about 45 minutes to an hour, until softened and caramelized. The roasting intensifies the flavor and also the orange color.
Saute the onion, carrots, parsnip, celery and bay leaf in a medium 2-3 qt pot, over medium heat, until softened.
Pour over the broth and let it boil about 10-15 minutes, then add the squash (if baked in halves, spoon out the flesh and throw the peel), the tomato sauce or borscht powder, the nutmeg, ginger, all spice, salt & pepper and let it simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender, until smooth (cover the lid with a kitchen towel to hold the blender and to avoid any burning accidents). Return the soup to the pot and thin with water or broth if it’s too thick.
Serve hot with a drizzle of cream, beet chips, toasted almonds and chives.


Supa crema de dovleac

Read more!

Mussels in a Coconut Thai Broth - Midii in sos thailandez cu lapte de cocos

I love mussels, and pretty much all seafood. The only ones that i am iffy about are the oysters, but i don't turn them down. It's just that i like them not too large, not too many, and served like shooters - with a bit of lemon or lime juice and a bit of tabasco or spicy cocktail sauce. All the others, shrimp, clams, mussels, lobster, crab, any kind of fish, are more than welcome, at any time, preferably in larger portions. I would choose them over red meat at any time.
I cooked mussels lots of times before, but somehow i have only two other photos in my folder, in seafood combo dishes. I'll get to them some time soon. I like the mussels to have some broth so i could eat them with fresh crusty bread, and i love the sea smell and taste of the sauce from the mussels. Any broth - made with wine, beer, tomato sauce, cream or coconut milk - is really good.
And these dishes are not only good, but definitely presentable as an appetizer or a main entree for any casual or fancy gathering. The flavors could be played with based on your favorite herbs and cuisines. Go French with just white wine, shallots and thyme, Italian with some tomato sauce and fresh parsley, Asian by adding the ginger, or Thai - with the lemongrass, curry and coconut milk. Make them spicy or mild, as you like.
The taste, flavors and the bread dipped into the sauce, makes this one of my favorite comfort foods. The broth has a wonderul rich taste and beautiful yellow color, and the chilli gives it a bite. And don't forget the glass of chilled white wine by its side, it's definitely better :))
This time i mixed the wine and the coconut milk for the broth, but you could go with just one or the other, and play the other ingredients by ear if you don't like the Thai theme. You could also use heavy cream instead of coconut milk, but i would use then 1 1/2 cups of white wine and only up to 1 cup (250 ml) cream. If using just coconut milk, and no wine, add at the end some acidity - lemon or lime juice.
This time i don't have a recipe link, i mixed a couple and made it to our liking. It made 4 appetizers.

Here is a link about cleaning mussels, with very good advice and step-by-step photos.

Mussels in a Coconut Thai Broth

2 tablespoons oil
½ onion, finely chopped (you could also use one shallot or one leek, only white and light green parts)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 3-4 pieces, smashed with the side of the knife
the zest of one lime
one 1 ½ inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced or chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 can coconut milk (~300ml)
1 cup dry white wine
1 ½ pound mussels, scrubbed
salt and pepper
1 red chilli, thinly sliced
1 green onion, sliced on diagonal
fresh cilantro, chopped

In a large saucepan, saute the onion and cook until softened. Add the garlic, and after a minute the curry powder. Add the coconut milk, wine, ginger, lime zest and lemongrass, and bring the sauce to a boil.
Add the mussels, cover the pot, and let them cook over low heat for about 3-5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until all the mussels open. Transfer the open mussels to your serving bowls, discarding the ones that didn’t open.
Continue cooking the broth, uncovered, simmering over low heat, until reduced by half. Season with salt and pepper and add the chilli slices.
Strain and pour the broth over the mussels. Sprinkle with cilantro and green onion and serve immediately with fresh crusty bread and lime wedges.
Midii in sos thailandez cu lapte de cocos

Imi plac midiile, si de fapt toate fructele de mare. Singurele la care sunt mai mofturoasa sunt stridiile, dar nu le refuz nici pe ele. Doar ca imi plac cele de marime potrivita, sa nu fie prea largi si prea multe, si sa le mananc proaspete, sorbite dintr-o inghititura stropite cu zeama de lamaie sau limeta si putin sos picant sau cocktail. Restul, creveti, scoici, midii, homar, crabi, si absolut orice fel de peste, sunt mai mult decat binevenite, cat mai des si in portii cat mai mari. As alege fructe de mare oricand in locul carnii rosii.
Am gatit midii acasa de multe ori, dar nu stiu de ce nu am decat doua poze in albumele salvate, si alea de feluri de mancare unde le-am combinat cu alte "pescaresti". O sa ajung intr-o buna zi si la ele. Imi plac midiile sa aiba un fel de sos, zeama, sa le mancam cu paine proaspata, si imi place mirosul si gustul de mare pe care il ia sosul de la ele. Orice sos - facut cu vin, bere, suc de rosii, smantana dulce sau lapte de cocos- este foarte bun.
Si pe langa ca sunt foarte gustoase, felurile astea sunt si foarte prezentabile, servite ca aperitiv sau fel principal (o portie mai serioasa) la orice masa, fie ea mai putin pretentioasa, sau mai formala. Iar aromele si condimentele pot fi alese in functie de verdeturile voastre preferate si inspiratia culinara. Incercati o varianta franceza cu vin alb, ceapa de apa (esalota) si cimbrisor proaspat, italiana cu sos de rosii si patrunjel proaspat, asiatica - adaugand ghimbir si coriandru, sau thailandeza cu lemongrass, praf sau pasta de curry si lapte de cocos. Si daca va place mancarea care pisca putin la limba, adaugati ardei iute sau ceva condimente care sa le faca picante.
Gustul, aromele si painea muiata in sos, fac felul asta una din mancarurile mele favorite, care iti da o senzatie minunata de comfort si caldura. Zeama are un gust atat de bogat, de un galben minunat, iar ardeiul iute ii da "musca" numai putin. Si nu uitati un pahar de vin alb rece servit langa, asa sigur totul are un gust si mai bun :))
De data asta, am amestecat vinul si laptele de cocos pentru zeama, dar se poate folosi numai unul din ele, iar restul ingredientelor se modifica dupa gust. De asemenea, se poate folosi smantana dulce lichida in loc de lapte de cocos, dar atunci as folosi o ceasca si jumatate de vin si numai jumatate de ceasca de smantana (mi se pare mai grasa decat laptele de cocos). Daca folositi numai lapte de cocos si nu adaugati vin, la sfarsit s-ar putea sosul sa aiba nevoie de putina aciditate - stropiti midiile cu putina zeama de lamaie sau limeta.
De data asta nici o reteta la care sa va trimit, ci o combinatie pe care am facut-o dupa gusturile noastre. Din ingredientele de mai jos au iesit 4 portii de aperitiv.
Aici este un link unde gasiti sfaturi cum se curata midiile, cu poze pentru fiecare pas. (Daca are cineva nevoie de traducere, trimiteti numai un comentariu).

Midii in sos thailandez cu lapte de cocos

2 linguri ulei
½ ceapa tocata marunt (sau puteti folosi ceapa de apa - esalota sau chiar un fir de praz, numai partea alba si cea verde deschis)
1-2 catei de usturoi tocati marunt
un fir de lemongrass, taiat in 3-4 bucati, strivite cu muchia cutitului
coaja rasa de la o limeta
o bucata de vreo 3-4 cm de ghimbir proaspat, curatat de coaja si taiat feliute sau tocat mai mare
1 lingurita praf de curry
o conserva lapte de cocos (~300ml)
250 ml vin alb
700-800 g midii proaspete, curatate bine (sau congelate, folosite direct de la congelator, nu le lasati sa se dezghete pana le puneti in oala)
sare si piper
1 ardei iute rosu, taiat feliute subtiri
un fir de ceapa verde, taiat in feliute subtiri pe diagonala
2-3 linguri coriandru proaspat, tocat

Intr-o cratita mai larga (in care sa incapa mai tarziu midiile), se caleste ceapa pana e translucenta. Se adauga usturoiul, si dupa un minut praful de curry. Se amesteca apoi laptele de cocos, vinul, ghimbirul, coaja de limeta si bucatile de lemongrass, lasand sosul sa dea in clocot.
Se adauga midiile, se pune capacul si se micsoreaza focul, miscand cratita ocazional, timp de vreo 3-5 minute, pana s-au deschis toate midiile. Se scot midiile in bolurile in care o sa le serviti ( sau unul singur mai mare) si se arunca cele care nu s-au deschis.
Se lasa zeama sa fiarba, neacoperita, la foc mic, pana se reduce la jumatate. Se pune sare si piper dupa gust si feliutele de ardei iute.
Se strecoara zeama si se toarna peste midii. Se presara coriandru si ceapa verde pe deasupra si se servesc imediat cu paine proaspata si felii de limeta sau lamaie.

Instructiuni speciale:

Midiile trebuie gatite in aceeasi zi in care au fost cumparate. Se desfac din pachetul sau punga in care au fost impachetate imediat ce este posibil, sa respire, altfel mor. Se spala bine de tot in apa, frecandu-se carapacea sa se indeparteze toate depunerile, se taie "barba" care iese din carapace si se lasa putin in apa rece cat sa se indeparteze nisipul din ele. Se scot usor din castronul cu apa incat nisipul sa ramana la fund, nu varsati castronul cu ele sa se scurga nisipul inapoi.

Inainte de a le gati, se arunca midiile care sunt sparte, precum si cele care nu se inchid cand sunt lovite cu degetul. Dupa ce au fost gatite, se arunca toate cele care nu s-au deschis.

Read more!

November 4, 2008

Boo-Hoo-Hoo, Halloween time - Mini Mac-n-cheese and "Waxed apples" - Macaroane cu branza si "Mere ceruite"

I dont' know why, but Halloween it is not one of my favorite hollidays. Actually, i don't consider it a holliday like the others are, i find it silly, commercial and a lot of times, the costumes are to blame as well (you should see how some of the girls from Clara's school dress on this day, i was really wondering, how could their parents let them wear stuff like that, or better said, how could they let them wear so little....) But Clara is excited, she cannot wait to go trick-or-treating every year, to pick her costume, and stay late counting her candies.

Her first costume was a snow fairy, really cute, ivory and gold, probably the only white costume at the parade they have at school each year. Next year she asked us for something black, so she picked a Spiderella costume. For the third grade, she didn't want black anymore, because it seems that is not so original when at least half of the kids wear black costumes, so she chose a pirate costume, since last year the Pirates of the Caribean were en vogue. This year, she wasn't really sure, but then she read a book at Barnes & Nobles and decided - this year we'll have a kimono.

My boss brought her a beautiful pink silk robe from Hong Kong last year and she wanted to transform that in a kimono, so we bought some black silk, with a red embroidery, and a red wide ribbon, to put together our outfit. A little bit of cutting and sewing (this is our first tailoring attempt, the past years we bought the costumes), and here she is after running two laps for the parade.

She was happy that her classmates thought her costume so original, even though her hair was all over the place, and i got there too late to put any make-up on her, except for a little bit of black eyeliner.
Later that day, i crashed with a terrible migraine and Clara went with Gabriel trick-or-treating. They never went alone until now, we always went with other friends, but this year, some of them moved farther, others went to a birthday party, so we did not have any companions. Everything worked just fine, Clara and Gabriel know how to have fun and i was their only problem - i called them about 10:30 to ask if they are on the way home as it's pretty late and she had a long day. They came in about 20 minutes, upset that i had them come home too early!!!!! Hopeless party people, that's my guy and my girl, and i am party killer, it seems.

Last year i made for Clara's class chocolate cupcakes with a spider web frosting and a fondant spider. This year, thinking how much sugar the kids get to eat in one day, i tried to come up with a healthier alternative and a snack for their after school party.
So, i made "waxed apples" - apples coated in white chocolate with some colored sprinkles and icing on top. The white chocolate looks like the apples were dipped in melted wax, and it is not so hard as a caramel coating.

I stuck a lollipop stick in each apple, dipped them in melted white chocolate, let them dry about 5 minutes, then dipped in orange sprinkles and drizzled them with green, black and purple icing. I put them in bags only in the morning, to make sure the coating is really dry.

For the party i decided to make the all time favorite mac-n-cheese in a snack size, so they could eat it without forks and plates. That's how i found this recipe here and made it triple, using a regular size muffin pan, not the mini version recommended in the recipe.

We live only 2 minutes away from school, so the snacks were still warm when i got there, and they disappeared immediately. At least they had some food besides all the cookies, cupcakes, chips and candy, and it was not the one made from the box, which made these mac-n-cheese even better.

Ohhh, i forgot to ask, who wants some candies? We have about 5 lbs of every possible kind :))

Three-Cheese Mini Macs (Recipe by Grace Parisi)

1/2 pound elbow macaroni
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for brushing
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (1 packed cup) ****
4 ounces deli-sliced American cheese, chopped **** i used 8 oz of a mix of cheddar, mozarella and colby, shredded
1 large egg yolk **** because i made the recipe tripple, i used 2 egg yolks and one full egg
1/4 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika

1. Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the macaroni until al dente, about 5 minutes. Drain, shaking off the excess water.
2. Brush four 12-cup, nonstick mini muffin tins with butter. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano; tap out the excess.
3. In a large saucepan, melt the 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour over moderate heat for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, whisking, until boiling, about 5 minutes. Add the cheeses and whisk until melted. Off the heat, whisk in the egg yolk and paprika. Fold in the macaroni.
4. Spoon slightly rounded tablespoons of the macaroni into the prepared muffin cups, packing them gently. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano on top.
5. Bake the mini macs in the upper and middle thirds of the oven for about 10 minutes, until golden and sizzling. Let cool for 5 min­utes. Using a small spoon, carefully loosen the mini macs, transfer to a platter and serve.

The recipe can be prepared through Step 4 and refrigerated overnight.


"Mere ceruite"

Am infipt un betisor de acadea in fiecare mar, l-am rostogolit prin ciocolata alba topita, la-m pus pe un gratar 5 minute sa se intareasca ciocolata, apoi l-am dat prin cristale de zahar portocaliu, iar pe deasupra am picurat niste galzura de zahar pudra, colorata mov, negru si verde. Le-am lasat asa pana dimineata cand le-am pus in pungute si legat cu fundite sa le duca Clara la scoala.

Mini briose de macaroane cu branza (Reteta lui Grace Parisi)

250 g macaroane micute, de 2-3 cm
20g unt nesarat, plus mai mult pentru uns forma de
50g parmesan ras 2 linguri faina
225 ml lapte
120 g Cheddar cascaval ras ***
120 g branza topita, taiat in cuburi *** eu am folosit in total 250 g de branza rasa, un amestec de trei feluri, cheddar, mozzarella si colby, fara sa mai pun branza topita
1 galbenus *** pentru ca am facut reteta in cantitate tripla, 2 galbenusuri si un ou intreg
1/4 lingurita boia afumata

1. Se incalzeste cuptorul la 425 (218C). Intr-o oala cu apa clocotita sarata se pun macaroanele la fiert, pana sunt al dente, timp de vreo 5 minute. Se scurg de apa, fara sa se clateasca.

2. Se ung formele de briose cu unt si se tapeteaza cu 2 linguri parmesan ras. Se scutura excesul.

3. Intr-o craticioara se topesc cele 20 g unt. Se presara faina si se face un rantas, prajind -o vreo 2 minute. Se amesteca cu telul adaugand laptele pana incepe sa dea in clocot si se ingroasa, vreo 5 minute. Se adauga branza si se amesteca pana e topita toata. Se da la o parte de pe foc, se adauga galbenusul si boiaua afumata. Se adauga macaroanele fierte si se amesteca bine.

4. Se pun macaroanele in formele de briose, fara sa se apese tare pastele. Se presara restul de parmesan pe deasupra.

5. Se coc in treimea de sus a cuptorului aproximativ 10 minute, pana s-au aurit deasupra. Se lasa sa se raceasca 5 minute. Cu ajutorul unei linguri se scot "briosele" din tava si se pun pe platoul de servit.
Reteta poate fi preparata cu o zi inainte pana la pasul al 4-lea, pastrandu-se in frigider peste noapte.

Read more!