Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: The Warm Up

When there's so much focus on the main dish, the lead up can get lost. Well, that is, unless you are--as I am--fixated on dinner warm-up. Getting your guests palates ready for dinner should be part of the game plan. So here's what I've learned: as in the case of so many aspects of life--and meals--balance is key.

But, hmmm, let me step back for a moment.

This time of year is huge in my family; it's really the only time that ALL (siblings, cousins, nieces/nephews--and more!). AND, this year, we had FOUR generations of family. Those of you know me/my family know that so much of getting together  is about the food. Still, it's not about just one meal, but a series of meals. It's hard to plan everything all it once, and though here are some staples in our family (a main dish with fish on Christmas Eve, bagels and more fish Christmas morning, and some kind of pasta--used to be lasagna but now we're changing to accommodate different preferences/restrictions--with a meat sauce--as well as a veggie sauce), there's certainly lots of wiggle room. The important thing is that there always be food ready to make--and enjoy!

We had the pre-Christmas Eve dinner (which starred quinoa and roasted veggies), then Christmas Eve diner, Christmas Breakfast, and Christmas Day dinner...and it continues. Christmas Eve we had 32 people here (cozy--but fun!) and, because of crazy work schedules and more, we (thanks to by brother Peter's brilliant thinking and driving!) ordered several side dishes which, thankfully, made the multi-day meal planning so much easier.

Sofia, getting ready (and sporting her new Christmas scarf and earrings!). 

Wes,  doing the same (while donning his new Gargaglianos--the next generation T!)! 
So, on Christmas Eve, when the dinner was essentially focused on poached salmon, a big leafy green salad, broccoli-rabe, grilled vegetables,  and other lighter, veggie-ish fare, I decided to go a bit heftier on the warm up: my mom's 70s-style onion meatballs (recipe to come sooooooon!), some made with bread crumbs and cheese, others without, and Brazilian Cheese Puffs, Mango-Cilantro Salsa (will be making that one LIVE on Telemundo--on Buenos Días New York on Friday morning!).

On Christmas Day we enjoyed a variation on our traditional theme of lasagna: We made one batch of gluten-free pasta, one of tortellini, one sausage cooked in red wine with onions and assorted peppers sauce, and a vegetarian version of that as well. Both had a kiss of cumin and cinnamon (thanks to Steve's welcome influence, and after tasting his brownies, I will never ever not follow his suggestions!).

Tonight, it's up to cousins to cook...they're making carnitas (Mexican-style shredded pork tacos) with black beans, quinoa, and a big salad. Can't wait!

So, my friends, recipes will come! In the meantime--enjoy, and I will post some great New Year's Eve treat ideas on my Lo Hud blog,  Latin Twist  after showing them on TELEMUNDO on Friday!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Sunday Dinners: Condiments, Part 1: Cran-Raspberry Relish with Toasted Almonds-

My biggest comfort during most times, as with many of you, relates to food….

I can’t help but focus on my family, and the food of my family, and the beauty of one of my favorite “tools”: the condiment. It was Alexander Smalls (creator of Southern Revival Cooking, chef, entertainer, and singer extraordinaire) who first declared a love of condiments to me; I’ve since been saying the same. Condiments should enhance and complement your dishes. In some cases—as in this one—they’re good enough to eat on their own!

This one—my cran-raspberry relish—has been a family favorite since I started making it (which, honestly, was wow, close to 20 years ago!).  In fact  Sofia, my daughter, always asks for it…with or without something to go with it! When she wasn’t able to make it to Thanksgiving Dinner (she studies in Canada, and, well, they don't have the same schedules as here in the States!),  I made this relish for her, and froze it so that she could have it when she came home…which is exactly what she did.  Though traditionally I serve it alongside roast turkey, it works will with several different grilled or roasted meats and, hmmm…, probably with quinoa, too!

Cran-Raspberry Relish-Topped with Toasted Almonds

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: Quinoa as a Side or Star Player!

When I lived in Peru, I was introduced to many new foods I'd never heard of before: quinoa is one of them. Funny because I kind of forgot about it, until about ten years ago when Chef Rafael Palomino and I were working on our second collaboration, Nueva Salsa. (In fact, we have two quinoa salsas in that book!).

Though quinoa (pronounced Key-NO-ah) has been part of the diet of many Peruvians for centuries (and has been called the Mother Grain of the Incas), this nutty-flavored seed has only recently made its appearance in the United States. But, almost like mojitos (okay--I know I may be stretching a bit here!), it's taken many by storm.

So what is it about quinoa that's made it so popular? Well, it's flavorful, versatile, and boasts a protein content superior to most grains. On top of that, it's very easy to cook! In fact, it takes about 15 minutes.

I like quinoa with fish−and so I decided to make it on Sunday, when I made baked salmon. And, I'm happy to say, it was a big hit−even with my dad (who, as many of you know, is often my barometer as far as defining what's good!).
Here I also topped it with red onions and scallions, which I sautéed separately, in a little bit of oil, and with just a bit of white wine, salt and pepper. You can also serve it as a "bed" for your favorite fish, or combine it with a variety of vegetables (as you would cous-cous!) or even fruit (mango works well with quinoa!).

So, where can you find quinoa? At pretty much any health food store, large market, and at one of my haunts: Trader Joe's (actually there is a tri-color quinoa at Trader Joe's−and that's what I used here).

Basic cooked quinoa
(serves 8 as a side dish, 4 as a larger dish)

1 cup quinoa--rinsed well several times, and drained
2 cups water or your favorite broth

In a medium saucepan, combine the rinsed quinoa with the water or broth. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook about 10 or 15 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. It's easy to see when the quinoa is cooked  because  because the seeds display a little white thread that curls around them (as in the picture above!). Enjoy warm−or at room temperature.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Sunday Dinners: Baked Salmon--elegant, rich...and so tasty!

Let me start by saying that because I worked yesterday (had a delightful event—along with 29 other authors, at La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem….but that’s another story!), I knew I wouldn’t have my usual luxury of several hours to prepare dinner. Additionally, for some crazy reason, I’ve been craving fish (Fearless Leader-Trainer, Shawn—maybe this is because you said it was good for me!). That craving, and the combination of a short prep time, pushed me to baking salmon.

This is a super-simple recipe for a dish that is big in flavor. In fact, now I’m thinking that I’ll make it just like this for Christmas Eve (actually, now I’m thinking I might play with a kind of seafood paella—but served atop quinoa…but that, also, is another story!).  I paired it last night with steamed asparagus and snap peas, quinoa topped with sautéed onions and scallions, and chicory and red leaf lettuce with cucumbers, apples, roasted nuts, feta cheese and a light vinaigrette (and a multi-grain bread).

Here I topped my salmon with sautéed red onions and scallions--

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: Roasted Butternut Squash

It's something I hadn't been reaching for lately, but on Sunday I was reminded of why I like butternut squash. Truth be told,  I've been seduced (another confession!) by packages of pre-peeled butternut squash in the past. But this weekend, Michi, my lovely guest and former student (from many moons ago!) was visiting from Japan, and was curious about the peach-colored, pear-shaped, pumpkin like vegetable she saw at the store, so I was inspired to make roasted butternut squash. I was also reminded of it's tasty flavors, and that yes, pre-packaged, though convenient, can't possibly yield the same fabulous flavors!

Today I'm sharing my real basic recipe for roasting, but I'd also like to mention that you can use your roasted squash in other ways (in fact, I've got a recipe for toasted butternut squash salad in Mambo Mixers). Actually, for lunch today, I'm going to prepare the salad (as shown below!) where I've placed it atop Boston lettuce, with roasted almonds and pecans. I'll top it with a bit of light balsamic vinaigrette--and voilà, my lunch is made!

I'm sure you'll find ways to enjoy this squash...and please do let me know!

Roasted Butternut Squash

Serves approximately 6 as a side dish

1 butternut squash, sliced lengthwise
Olive oil
Coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place butternut squash halves on a large baking sheet, flesh side up. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over each piece. Season with salt. Sprinkle with a bit of cinnamon.  Roast the squash for about 35 minutes, or until flesh is fork-tender. Serve immediately, or reserve the squash for a future salad!

Boston Lettuce Topped with Chunks of Roasted butternut Squash  and Roasted Nuts (pre-vinaigrette!) 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sunday Dinners: Zucchini Ribbons with Pistachio Pesto

Zucchini Ribbons with Pistachio Pesto 
Bread, pasta, rice, and potatoes are some of my favorite things.  And yes, I did write Dr. Manny's "Hot Latin Diet," but, my friends, I don't necessarily live by those rules. Still, this week--and now on day 7 of early-morning cross-training (boot camp!!!), I've been trying to pay attention to what kind of "fuel" I'm using. Thanks to the guidance of our fearless 6 am leader, Shawn, I'm increasing this awareness. So, he pointed out that I've got to move some of my foods around, lighten up on some--and basically fine tune my diet so ultimately I can reap the energy benefits, both physically and mentally, of the foods I eat.

And this brings me to the creation of today's post. Well, yesterday I decided I would try to make my Sunday dinner a bit lighter on the starch end. This is the menu I ended up with:

Salad with Roasted Cashews, Pomegranate Seeds, Clementine sections, Red-leaf Lettuce and a Light Balsamic/Citrus Vinaigrette
Roasted Butternut Squash
Roasted Assorted Marble Potatoes with Rosemary
Roast Citrus-Ginger Chicken
Sliced Tomato with Fresh Mozzarella and Basil

AND--the dish I'll be writing about:
Zucchini Ribbons with Pistachio Pesto

Actually, I was inspired to make this last one also thanks to a conversation I heard when I was at work. You know I love pesto in its many incarnations, and though yes, I've put it on tomatoes and toast, I "forgot" about putting it on vegetables like zucchini. Now, you can make zucchini ribbons at home; all you need is a vegetable peeler. I cheated (?) with these: I found them at wonderful Hutchinson Farms on 22 in Eastchester (sorry...local, and also sorry because my friends, this is the expensive route for sure!). BUT now that I've tried 'em, I'll make them next time.

The result was great; all my guests loved them, and honestly, I don't think spaghetti was missed!

Zucchini Ribbons with Pistachio Pesto

Serves 10 to 12 as a side dish

olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
5-6  cups zucchini ribbons
White wine or water
1 cup (or more, according to taste), pistachio pesto

In a large-ish stockpot, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and cook until they become fragrant, stirring frequently. After a minute or so, add the zucchini ribbons. Stir and let warm thoroughly, about 3 minutes. Add about a 1/4 cup of white wine or water, lower the heat, and let steam until slightly softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the pesto and mix thoroughly. Serve warm or at room temperature (you can also prep ahead and reheat just prior to serving).

The Other Sunday Dinner Dishes! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: What to make you're not!

Fresh Hummus and Warm-toasted Pita Chips

I know that a lot of people are not especially into spontaneity, especially when it comes to people coming to their homes unannounced. But, well, that’s how it used to be—and still is—in places where cell phones/emails don’t control all! And, if you’re prepared—or can be prepared—it’s fun! My big thing about being prepared for unanticipated guests is related to food. Now, those of you who know me personally will be laughing at my restating the obvious: I  always want to be able to feed my friends, even if they do come by without a prior shout!  

So, in my case, I’m happy and quite lucky to be pretty well stocked in that department—thankfully—even when my kids aren’t home. I will share a few ideas with you in the coming weeks, but here’s one I made recently that worked well!

Now, here I’m sharing a recipe with garbanzos in a can; of course making them yourself is best…but, well, the reality of many of our crazy lives is that we might not be able to plan ahead for spontaneous visits (!), hence the canned bean suggestion.

The pita bread, one of my favorites, can be bought fresh, or bought and frozen (recipe for toasting follows the hummus recipe).

And finally, the touch of the pomegranate seeds is one of my favorites; I like the contrast of color, texture, and flavor. Besides, tart treats are readily available this time of year; you can find pomegranates in many markets, and the seeds are often sold separately. Another option is using a fresh herb like parsley—for both color and a bit of peppery flavor (depending on the parsley).

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunday Dinners: Turkey Soup with a Twist

I feel like I've been doing a lot of confessing lately. Well, here I go again: I didn't make this for Sunday dinner. In fact, it was my brother Peter who took the helm this week (made ravioli with a sage butter sauce, grilled sausages, and roast eggplant with tomato sauce and capers--a standard our mom used to make) while I just made guacamole and salad with a cider vinaigrette, and brownies...

But what I have been doing--really--is recreating and trying my best to finish up the food in the fridge. I am happy to report that my mission so far has been quite successful!

So today I'm going to share my recipe for turkey soup. (Actually I made it yesterday, and subsequently froze most of it--since we're all a bit tired of turkey!) This soup is easily adaptable for cooked chicken--or to stand alone as a hearty vegetable soup!

I'm also going to share a picture of my dessert platter (served yesterday, for 16!). As you'll see, there are some pieces of pecan pie (from Thursday) as well as some "new" brownies--with and without roasted coconut on top--and all with pecans. I also included some pretty sprinkled cookies (popular with the kids in attendance!). My point here is that leftover desserts can be reinvented, too!

Turkey Soup with Cilantro-without Plantains! 
With Plantains (well, one visible!) 

Turkey Soup

Serves 6 to 8+

Canola oil
2 red onions, coarsely chopped
1 leek, sliced
1 bunch celery, coarsely chopped
White wine
1 bunch organic carrots, coarsely chopped
3 to 4 quarts vegetable or chicken stock
About 2 cups cooked turkey, cooked and torn (bones can be included!)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ripe plantains, sliced (optional)

Heat about a tablespoon of canola oil in a stock pot. Add the onions, and leeks and stir. Add the celery  and stir. Let cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture starts to soften. Add a splash of white wine and let it absorb. Add the vegetable or chicken stock, and carrots. Let cook for about 15 minutes or until the carrots start to soften. Add the turkey and continue simmering. Add the sweet plantains as the soup is simmering and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, until the plantains are golden-ish and  cooked through. Serve in bowls, topped with cilantro.  

Dessert Platter of Brownies, Pecan Pie, and Pretty Sprinkle cookies! 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: Impromptu Artichoke and Red Onion atop Orecchiette

It was Monday night, the week of Thanksgiving, after work,  after fighting the masses who also needed to do Thanksgiving shopping after work. Yikes. So, I wasn’t exactly “prepared” to make dinner…but, well, I was hungry, as was Seth (my husband!). So, I took inventory and put something together. The results? A nice dish—I will make on purpose in the future...

Basically my thinking was this: I don’t have meat, I don’t really want meat (after all, we’ll be eating plenty o’ turkey on Thursday), I do want something green, and something with pasta.  So this is what I put together:

Orecchiette  pasta (“little ears”—or tiny bowl-shaped pasta)
Marinated artichoke hearts in jars
Red onions
White wine
Fresh parmesan cheese

I sautéed the red onions in a bit of olive oil, and after a bit, added the artichokes. After that, I added some white wine.

Meanwhile, I cooked the pasta. Once it was cook, I added it to the red onion-artichoke mixture, topped it with the cheese and chives, and voila, dinner was done!

Well, okay, I did make a leafy green salad with cucumber and toasted almonds, and a light vinaigrette (actually it was just white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper—and a squeeze of fresh lime).

On Tuesday I brought some for lunch, and Seth enjoyed it yet again, for dinner! (I was out teaching…) The mark of a successful dish? First and second-day pleasure. Yay! Another one has been added to the collection… Hope you like it! 

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sunday Dinners: Food for thought...and something to sip on!

I have to say that this Sunday, I didn’t cook Sunday dinner…. But, thanks to my dad, we did enjoy take out from a nearby Japanese/Chinese restaurant (love that option!).

After spending three nights in the Dominican Republic, I am happy to be home—for several reasons. But what I’m left with—and what I’d like to share—is the reminder that there are so many amazing people in the world; travelling gives us the opportunity to have connections that make this planet that much smaller. I’ve said that if we all tried each other’s food, there wouldn't be any more wars. Maybe I’m being naïve, because eating other’s food doesn’t eliminate the desire for power--- the human propensity for greed, but there is so much good out there, and so much that we need to realize as far as what reality is for many people. Yes, traveling out of our comfort zone doesn’t guarantee an understanding of others, but it does open that door.

I realize that I may be being a bit vague; let me elaborate. I had the wonderful opportunity of speaking—as part of my life as textbook author—to close to 500 people on the topic of teaching English. But what was it that people most reacted to? The real-life stories I shared of my personal experiences in the classroom. Why? Because everyone has experiences to share. All inhabitants of this earth have a story. And, though we can relate to some more than others, we’ve all got something to impart. Sharing those stories, and making those connections, gives me faith in humankind, especially when so much of what we hear is so distressing.

And this brings me back to today’s post…
After being in the tropics for just a few days, I became—as always—enamored with the people I met, and the flavors I tried. One of the things I was reminded of this cocktail: Jamaican Banana Cooler (click to connect--and pictured below).  Now, of course, I was in the DR—not Jamaica—but there is an overlap of fabulous flavors! I posted this on my Latin Twist blog—back in September—but am bringing it back for an encore (it’s from my book, Calypso Coolers!) . It’s a fun, festive drink that brings in a bit of the islands, and kicks off the holiday season! Enjoy!

The Jamaican Banana Cooler 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: Beets--and Salad

When I was little, and my mom made borscht  (a Ukranian-born red beet soup), I was totally un-enamored with it and frankly anything with beets. But, alas, things change. And though I've not yet dabbled in borscht, some of you know, that lately I’ve been playing with beets. I’m currently toying with a variety of beet recipes for the upcoming holiday season (I’ve posted my soup, and roasted beets).  When I was in Barcelona last month, I enjoyed beets—in color and flavor—on top of my salad (see the picture here!). So my friends, I’m sharing with you a combination of what I had there, and what I’ve been playing with!

Roasted Beet Salad

Serves 4 as a meal, 8 as an appetizer
A Beet, Olive, and Corn-Topped Salad from Barcelona

1 1/2 pounds red or gold beets (OR you could do a combination!)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons grainy mustard
2 tablespoons honey (or to taste)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon turbinado (brown) sugar (optional)
1/2 cup finely chopped basil leaves
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

6 to 8 cups mixed salad greens of your choice
Corn kernels (can be frozen, thawed, and caramelized)
Black olives, pitted and sliced or whole

Heat the oven to 375° F. degrees. Wash the beets, and cut the tops and bottoms off. In a large bowl, toss the washed beets with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt.  Place the beets in a single layer on the foil. Cover with another piece of foil and seal the edges. After about 45 minutes, begin checking the beets by piercing them with the tip of a knife.   Bake until beets are tender but not mushy, about 1 hour.  Cool and  peel them. Slice into strips (or use a grater for skinnier strips) and set aside. 

Prepare the vinaigrette: In a large salad bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, the balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, garlic, sugar, honey and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the salad greens and toss. 
Plate the greens, top with the beets, corn kernels and black olives (or whatever else you'd like--like onions and/or cucumbers!). Enjoy!

With Cary and Jamie--in front of our old school (University of Barcelona!) sipping beer--and waiting for our salads! 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sunday Dinners: Pre-Thanksgiving Veggie Roast!

Thanksgiving has always been my kids' favorite holiday. (Well, maybe Christmas snuck in for a bit there!) But seriously, that family get-together holiday--was the one that Sofia and Wes always loved. Though I'm pretty sure that most of it was due the family factor (like me, they like having everyone around!), a lot of it has also been the food.

Since I started making Thanksgiving, back in 1993, I've kept  and pretty much repeated a kind of core of recipes (balsamic-marinated turkey, cornbread sausage stuffing, cranberry-meets-raspberry and toasted almond relish, and a few more). This year, because of a few dietary changes in my family, I'm playing with some vegetarian dishes as well as other variations. And though I'm the first to tell you I regularly experiment on my friends and family--as far as trying new meals on 'em--this time I thought I might do some playing before the big day!

So on this Sunday, I made two dishes that I'll also make on Thanksgiving: one is a roasted vegetable dish (the one you'll see the recipe for here in a moment!), and the other is a Latin-style Chorizo-Apple "stuffing" (okay this one is so not vegetarian!), which I'll be writing about on my Latin Twist column on Friday.

This medley of local veggies, golden beets, cauliflower, and leeks, was a big hit! (And my love affair with golden beets continues! Here's the link for my  golden beet soup recipe, the one that started it all, which I posted on the 29th.) Hope you like this one!

Roasted Golden Beets and Cauliflower.
Serves 6 to 8

1 bunch (about five) golden beets
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large head cauliflower (about 3 pounds)
1 leek
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F.Wash the beets as best you can. Place them in a lightly greased pan, and just drizzle a bit of olive oil on top. Roast for about 40 minutes, turning from time to time (your home, by the way, will smell lovely!) until they feel tender to a knife pierce. Set aside. When cool enough to handle, cut off the knots, and into chunks. (I kept the skin on--for the most part--but you may want to remove it!)

Rinse cauliflower; cut into quarters. Cut off and discard leaves and cores; cut quarters into 1/4- to 1/2-inch-thick slices or wedges. Spread evenly on a baking sheet. Rinse and slice the leek, and springle the slices on top. Add a bit of olive oil, and some salt and pepper.

Bake the cauliflower approximately 20 to 25 minutes, turning every 10 minutes, or until cauliflower is  caramelized and slightly tender. Remove the cauliflower from the oven, stir in the beets, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Midweek Food Musings: The Salad as a Side, Tapa, and more...

Cucumber, Red Pepper, and Yellow Tomato Salad--with a Light Vinaigrette!

My trip to Spain reminded me of the beauty of the small plate. Trying many smaller dishes, as opposed to one larger dish, is a great way to dabble in an assortment of flavors. I welcome the "pairing" challenge of matching small plates together... A salad, whether it's paired with a Tortilla Española Pan con Tomate  or other dishes I've written about lately, should balance other dishes.Think color, texture, and of course, flavor.

The salad I'm showcasing above was created with the idea of balance; its components--cucumbers, red peppers, and yellow tomatoes are simple, tasty, and colorful. Lately I've been using the thin-skinned and crunchy cucumbers I've found at Trader Joe's There's something sweet and delicate about them, yet their crunch is bold. Red peppers are always a favorite--for both their color and flavor, and tomatoes, we wind down, they're not as sweet as their local cousins, but they are still a welcome  addition.

This salad, which was served alongside my  Moroccan-Spanish Chicken (from Monday's post!), offered the complement I was looking for; it married with the main dish, and didn't compete with it.
Rather than give you exact portions for this one, I invite you to play with the ingredients. By the way--I would have added fresh basil or another herb. (And if I "built" it with, say, garbanzos, I might have added fresh rosemary.) Would love to hear about your variations...

And, in the spirit of salads and pairing, do check this amazing spread out! This was the dinner my roommate from my junior year abroad (pictured below--then and now!) prepared for my friends Cary, Jamie and me--along with her husband Angel (who was our neighbor, back in the day!) and her lovely family....

Marga's Table--Gorgeous Salads, Cheese, Jamon with Melon, Tortilla Española, Pan Con Tomate 

Many Moons Ago! 

Ready to Eat: Jamie, Cary, Me, and our lovely hostess!