January 28, 2009

Shrimp and snow peas stir fry - Mancare chinezeasca de creveti si mazare (teci)

When i took a break from posting from the end of November till January, i also took a break from reading my favorite blogs and i'll tell you now why. We tried to keep the Lent before Christmas, which is about 6 weeks, and for me it is pretty hard. Gabriel doesn't seem to mind or wonder like me. I always think about food and i always crave food, especially when i see beautiful photos, so i decided not to look, to make it easier for me and avoid the temptations. I feel sometimes is very easy to go thru the day without feeling hungry for something that i am not supposed to have, but there are so many other days when i feel i will faint if i don't eat some cheese or eggs or anything else, but vegetarian dishes. The food doesn't have to be boring during Lent, but it could be, especially if you feel that you are running out of ideas and i always feel like that. I wrote down so many recipes and ideas so i could have them handy for fasting before Christmas or Easter, but when time comes, i feel so uninspired for the majority of the time, and in the end, there are about 15 dishes that i keep on making, with small variations, for the whole 6 weeks.
At least during the Lent before Christmas you are allowed to have fish on Sundays, but for the lent before Easter, which is just about 5 weeks away, i think there are only 2-3 times when fish is ok. And since we really are not vegetarian people, just veggies and fruits, grains, beans, rice and no meat, fish, eggs or dairy could be cumbersome. That's why i have to confess that my success rate is not very good yet, but at least i am trying. And when we couldn't do it, we tried not to have meat, but just dairy, fish or eggs.
And in spite of our ( please read my) failure to fast the whole period, we felt wonderful every time when we succeeded, and i say that without a bragging tone, as that would defeat the purpose, isn't it?
Now, since we are here, the menu is richer because we have year round all these wonderful veggies, which taste pretty decent even in December. And on top of that, we have seafood. In Romania the shrimp, mussels, clams, squid and calamari are not food for Lent. But then again, they are not common foods at all, and until some years ago they were not available not even frozen. I know there is a big dispute about shellfish being allowed or not. The orthodox Greeks accept it and so do some orthodox Romanians who say that it is not the same with fish, it has not blood. This being said, you can't have shellfish during lent to the point where you stuff yourself and indulge with this food which for some is even better that meat, because again, that is no abstinence. But from time to time, i make a soup or different dishes, using shrimp, mixed shellfish, mussels or clams to have a more consistent meal. I haven't cooked squid or calamari at home, except for some rings, only once, and if i remember it right, it wasn't during Lent.
Before i go on with my shrimp stir fry, i remember when 2 years ago, my friend Lili wanted to fast, too. We went to her house one night and she was happily telling us how she was able to do it for about a week, while she was eating some meat, so we started laughing. And she replied serenely that meat is not a problem for her, she could give it up at any time for weeks, without craving, (and indeed there were weeks when she didn't eat any), so that's why she didn't feel she had to stop eating it. But for that whole week she gave up eggs, which are her favorite food, and she was proud for being able to abstain from them for so long, and that's how she was fasting :))).
Back to the shrimp. I have told you so many times that we like Chinese food. And Gabriel really loves Chinese food more than any other ethnic food that we found here in LA. I don't think there has been not even one dish that he would say he wouldn't order again. I like Chinese food too, to the point where i started buying all these ingredients, sauces, condiments, and cookbooks to try to make some recipes at home. And some of them came out really good. Others, not so much, but i am not giving up.
I love the stir fry, i like that the veggies remain crunchy, and i find the recipes versatile - it could be shrimp for the two of us, but chicken, beef or pork for Clara, too, and i could whip something up depending on what is in my fridge, or i buy ingredients especially for one recipe or another.
This time, i had the snow peas and some red bell pepper, but they could be replaced with anything you like - broccoli, asparagus, mushrooms, zucchini, eggplant, bok choy.... I love adding some fresh ginger, garlic, bamboo shots, water chestnuts, and bean sprouts, depending what i make and if i didn't forget to get some. I got a full load in my pantry of oyster sauce, black bean, garlic-chili, hoisin, sweet & sour, cornstarch and soy sauce, and i use them either following a specific recipe, or not really.
Snow peas are one of my favorite greens. I never had them before back home. We have pea pods (which here are called sugar snap peas), but we buy them to shell the peas, or at least that's what i knew back then and i've seen everybody do. For those of you who don't know what snow peas are, here are some things i found online: snow peas are also called Chinese peas, Chinese snow pea, edible-podded pea, mange-tout pea (i love this mange tout, i found them called this way in some european cookbooks)The snow pea is a legume, a variety of pea eaten whole in its pod while still unripe. Snow peas are thin, crisp, bright green pods, almost translucent. They are tender and sweet and have a crisp, firm texture. The tiny peas inside are small and flat. Sugar snap peas on the other side, are sweet, tender pods that have fully developed plump, rounded peas inside. They are thicker and could be cooked as they are (sometimes they need to have the string on the side removed) or they could be shelled and only use the peas.

Shrimp and snow peas stir fry

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
half an onion, cut into thin wedges
1 medium red bell pepper cut into strips
2 cups fresh snow peas, tips and strings removed
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon black bean sauce
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

Add the cooking oil to a wok or a large skillet and cook the ginger and garlic over medium-high heat about 15-20 seconds. Add the onion, bell pepper and snow peas and cook and stir for about 3 minutes or until the vegetables are crisp tender.
Take the vegetables out of the wok with a slotted spoon. Stir together in a mixing bowl the soy sauce, oyster sauce, black bean, cornstarch and water. Add to the wok and let it cook until slightly thickened and bubbly.
Add the shrimp. Cook and stir about 3 minutes or until the shrimp is pink. Stir in the vegetables for one more minute, until heated through. Make sure you are not overcooking it, as the shrimp will be chewy and the veggies soft and wilted. Serve with plain white or brown rice.


Read more!

January 26, 2009

Sausage and beans cassoulet with roasted peppers - Carnati cu iahnie de fasole si ardei copti

This is one of those times when i am sorry there is such a big gap between our cuisines or cooking styles & trends, the Romanian and the American one, because i am not sure how good of a job i'll do when telling you how Romanian this food is. Just as much as the pancakes with bacon and eggs are the American breakfast, or the steak and the apple or cherry pies are culinary staples here.
It wouldn't be so hard if I was Radu Anton Roman. And again, who heard of him here, besides the Romanians who live now on this side of the world? Unfortunately, you cannot find to many things online about his books and there is no biography written in English, or at least I didn’t find it. But for the Romanians who read these lines, here is an interview which i didn't read until two months ago. To make an out of line comparison to somebody American foodies know, he was like Michael Ruhlman, more of a " food poet" ( i found this somewhere, don't remember the source now, but that's how my comparison was born), story teller and historian than recipe author, but not a chef.
Radu Anton Roman put together the most amazing and representative book with traditional authentic Romanian recipes and had a Tv show traveling the country and finding our gems. His book has a wonderful style, it's just like a story that brings back in front of your eyes an archaic Romania, with its people and their traditions, customs, and superstitions, their wisdom and humor, their songs and poems. All the richness of our culture and history, combined with our culinary treasure, which we, the new generations did not get to know and live. Reading his book and watching his televison show for about two years before i moved here, made me realize how little I know about us and what a petty is that today we are so far away from that old Romania. I am not talking about the physical distance, but about the distance between the past generations and us, with our rush of being like any of the western civilizations, our rush to deny and forget who we are and where we are coming from. Moreover, it was a lesson for me that indeed we have our own Romanian cuisine, and he brought it on our tables again. His wit, charm and gift of story telling were a treat, and his anthology is a legacy cherished by so many of us, who discovered again the charm and beauty of Romania.
The back cover of the book has a quote from Jacques Yves Cousteau, who, discovering our ‘extraordinary "tchiorba" (thicker soup) and our to dream of "tourta" ( kind of a cornbread)’, said that ‘not only the world doesn’t know almost anything about Romania, but that the Romanians don’t know their miracles. As a cuisine, at least, you are a very rich people in our so called poverty’.
And the editor talks about how this book helps showing our culture through the act of cooking, intertwined with our symbolism, mysticism and traditions and how it carries you to the pan with the feeling that your ancestors will tell you what and when to do. All of this clarifying for you the troubling question: is there a Romanian cuisine? with a subtle, but well proven answer: YES.
In the opening of his book, Radu Anton Roman writes about how only a few of us today still cook Romanian food. I blush thinking that these lines were written for me... "it seems the Romanians apparently don’t love their cuisine. All of grandma’s goodies lie in dusty, abandoned recipes notebooks. We eat pizza, hamburgers, kabob or sushi. Why? For the same reason people drink cheap bad vodka from bottles with colored labels on them, instead of savoring the Romanian authentic superior plum brandy." He talks about how our recipes might not be original or unique, because after all we are part of Europe and have always been. But even the recipes we got from others, we made them our own, to the point you don't even recognize what could they have in common, besides their names. Our musaca, stuffed cabage rolls, crepes, soups and meatballs were not ours, but they are "sediments" of the Otoman occupation, or French, German, Greek, and other influences. We made them our own "discretely arranging" the original recipes, "tailoring" them like hand-me down clothes that don't fit.
This post is a come back to my roots, a confession about most of the food i actually cook and we eat in our home, but don't take pictures most of the times, because it is not very good looking. I know it sounds vain, and maybe it is. But if there are many others like me, visual eaters, and if those by chance would stumble upon this blog, my pictures would not make them crave any of those foods, or at least not yet. So, from now on, i'll try my best to cook, photograph and post more photos of Romanian foods.
In the mean time, since the next posts will not be Romanian recipes at all, consider this my mea culpa and my pledge of allegiance.
Ohhh, and please don't laugh at my smug snobbish attempt of finding an English title for this using the french cassoulet, but it was the closest i know to what this food is really like. I followed the recipe from Radu Anton Roman's book as much as i could, but there were some changes i made because i couldn't get or didn’t have all of the ingredients. That's why the one below is not the exact one from his book.

Sausage and beans cassoulet

1 -1.5 lbs smoked meat (pork ribs, hocks, shanks, or turkey drumsticks/ wings)
1 lb smoked sausage
1 - 1.5 lbs beans (I use baby lima, but any other kind you like or have works well)
1 onion diced
1 bell pepper diced
2 carrots shredded
14 oz can (420 g) crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon pepper paste
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/4 cup oil (I use sunflower, canola or grapeseed)
1 cup white wine
fresh dill and tarragon

Soak the beans in cold water over night or at least for about 4 hours. I cook the beans in cold water and after they boil for about 3-5 minutes, I drain them and throw away that first water.
Cover the beans again with cold water, about 3 quarts, add the smoked meat, bring them to a boil, then lower the heat and let them simmer for at least an hour.
After an hour take the smoked meat out, and add the onion, carrots, bell pepper, oil, pepper paste, dry thyme, bay leaves and the wine and let it simmer for another half an hour. Stir from time to time to make sure the beans don’t stick and burn on the bottom.
Cut the smoked meat into pieces if you have a larger shank, ribs or turkey drumsticks and put them back. When the half an hour passed, add the crushed tomatoes and the meat and let it simmer for another 20 minutes or so, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the beans. The sauce should not be too watery, but not too dry either, if needed add a little bit of hot water.
In a separate fry pan saute the smoked sausages, which could be served either on the side or added to the beans in the last 10 minutes of cooking.
Add fresh tarragon and dill if you like and serve with some pickles or a salad.
Possible side dishes:
- assorted pickles or sauerkraut salad,
- coleslaw ( red and white cabbage and shredded carrots, fresh dill, oil, vinegar, salt & pepper),
- roasted red bell peppers (broiled, peeled and marinated w oil, vinegar, sliced/minced fresh garlic, salt & pepper)
The beans are even better with a glass of red wine, like a Caubernet Sauvignon.

Read more!

January 20, 2009

Back to blogging and cooking - Inapoi la blog si gatit

First of all, let me thank all of you that continued to check for a new post for the last two months, i appreciate your good thoughts and words and although i took a pretty long time to get back on track, here i am again. And thank you for pushing me to come back to my senses and shake off the deeeep blues and laziness.
I think you should know how much it had to do with your standing by me, your encouraging and true friendship, especially when i wasn't such a wonderful or true friend myself. Now, when you'll see what comes next, i hope you are not going to change your mind about encouraging me to continue :)))) ( see, i've got some sense of humor.....)
No recipe in this post, this is a promise and an apology for not wishing you guys when i should have Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!

We had a really wonderful Thanksgiving in November, over the top as usual, as my friend Liliana has no limits when it comes to how much food we should prepare. I am so sorry that i didn't make time to take any pictures this year, but i'll put together in a post the ones from '07, you'll see i am not exagerating at all.

Christmas Eve was spent with some friends and lots of kids, and we were so lucky to actually see Santa again this year, which made Clara soooo happy (yes, we still believe even though we are in our 30's, but isn't he amazing???? we all fell in love with him 4 years ago). We then had other friends over on Christmas day at our house, which seemed smaller than ever with about 20 people at the table, but that's how it should be and how we like it. We cooked so much for the holidays and everything was perfect, and i have some pictures to prove that, coming up later.
New Year's Eve was another big party, at our friends house and everybody had an amazing time. We are blessed to have so many wonderful friends, and as much as we felt so bad about not being with my parents this year either, it was first time when we had my sister with us and i couldn't be happier that after 6 years we've spent the holidays together.
Last week I was treated and surprised by all my dear ones with a birthday party at my sister’s house (and it couldn’t have meant more than it did, so thank you again, if you guys stop by here... I love you all and thank all of you for what you did and for being in my life), so it was a slap in the face that reminded me how all my worries and unwarranted depression should go away, as indeed it’s all without any good reason whatsoever and it has lasted enough.
I have a couple of photos from Christmas that I wanted to share with you, and I promise that I’ll be back maybe tonight or tomorrow with a post, photo and recipe from the ones I took in the past 2 months, as I think I have some good ones. Or at least I consider them good thanks to the optimism that hit me and I hope it will stay around for a loooong time.

In primul rand, as vrea sa va multumesc tuturor celor ce ati trecut pe aici cautand un post nou in ultimele doua luni. Va multumesc pentru gandurile si cuvintele voastre bune, si pentru ca m-ati facut sa-mi recapat cheful si sa-mi ies din asteniile prelungite si lenea ce m-a cuprins. Si desi mi-a luat cam mult sa ma reapuc de treaba, iata-ma inapoi.
Vreau sa va spun cat de mult inseamna ca ati fost langa mine, incuranjandu-ma si fiindu-mi buni prieteni, mai ales cand eu nu am fost un prieten bun sau adevarat. Sper numai ca vazand posturile ce vor urma de aici inainte vezi fi multumiti de ce cititi si nu regretati ca m-ati incurajat sa merg mai departe :))) ( ahm, ceva urme de umor anemic). Postul asta nu are nici o reteta, e doar o promisiune ( facuta mie) si o cerere de scuze pentru ca nu v-am urat atunci cand trebuia Happy Thanksgiving, Craciun fericit si un An nou bun!
Am avut un Thanksgiving minunat in Noiembrie, ca de obicei de exceptie, pentru ca Liliana, prietena noastra, nu are nici un fel de limite cand e vorba despre cata mancare trebuie sa pregatim. Imi pare rau ca de data asta nu am facut poze, dar am sa pun intr-un post pozele din 2007 sa vedeti ca nu exagerez cu nimic.
Ajunul Craciunului l-am petrecut cu aceeasi prieteni cu care ne adunam de 5 ani acum, cu multi copii, si spre bucuria netarmurita a Clarei, am avut bucuria sa-l vedem in carne si oase pe Mosul ( da, noi credem in Mosul desi avem este 30 de ani, si ziceti si voi daca nu e atat de minunat, ne-am indragostit de el cand l-am vazut prima data in urma cu 4 ani). Am avut apoi alti prieteni invitati la noi in ziua de Craciun, si casa a fost atat de mica pentru 20 de oameni la masa, dar asa e frumos de sarbatori, nu? Am gatit mult de sarbatori, totul a iesit bun, si am si cateva poze si retetele de rigoare pe are o sa le postez in zilele ce vin.
De Revelion, alta petrecere mare, la prietenii nostri unde intotdeauna toti ne simtim de minune. Suntem de-a dreptul binecuvantati sa avem atatia prieteni buni, si desi ni se rupe sufletul de sarbatori sa fim departe de parinti, din nou, anul asta a fost prima data cand am fost impreuna cu sora mea de sarbatori, dupa 6 ani lungi, ceea ce ne-a facut foarte fericiti.
Saptamana trecuta, am fost rasfatata si surprinsa de toti cei dragi de aici cu o petrecere la sora-mea acasa (si vreau sa va spun dragilor, in caz ca treceti pe aici, ca nu putea insemna mai mult pentru mine surpriza asta.... Va iubesc mult si va multumesc tuturor pentru ce ati facut si pentru ca sunteti parte din viata noastra), care a fost palma ce m-a trezit si mi-a adus aminte cum toate grijile mele si tristetile nefondate ar trebui sa dispara, pentru ca sunt intr-adevar fara de motiv si au durat destul.
Am cateva poze de la Craciun pe care le impartasesc cu voi, si promit sa ma intorc diseara sau maine cu alt post, poze si retete din cele pe care le-am facut in ultimele 2 luni, unele fiind bune - bunutze. Sau cel putin asa le vad eu :)) datorita optimismului ce m-a lovit si sper eu ca va sta cu mine mult timp de aici inainte.

Read more!