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!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday Dinners: Moroccan/Spanish Chicken for a Crowd

These days feel surreal. Walking around outside is a stark reminder of last week’s hurricane; so many trees and wires dangle, and blocks of darkness are still among us. Now it’s chilly…and so the lack of electricity, hot water—and heat—will create  another surge of serious consequences. And yikes, now another storm is coming? 

Amidst a mood that feels somewhat apocalyptic, we celebrate the support and love of friends and family we have nearby, and the food we are thankfully able to  enjoy…together. In this spirit, I bring you today’s recipe.

On Saturday I was back to work, and told our wonderful office assistant (that would be Brian!) that I was going to be cooking for a crowd; he generously shared his standard dinner party recipe (or one of his favorites, right, Brian?!) which as earned him accolades from many guests! So when I fought the market crowds on Saturday evening, it was with the objective of buying all the ingredients to make what he calls Moroccan Chicken.

And here’s when I become a hypocrite: I always suggest that people follow a recipe the way it reads the first time they make it. I tell them that the first one should be by the book, and then, once they’ve made it, they can start with variations. But I rarely do that. Such was the case with Brian’s Moroccan Chicken.  Basically, I took his recipe and changed it based on what I had on hand—and based on taste! I made it for 16, but I’m sharing a recipe for about 6. Hope you like it!

Moroccan-Spanish Chicken (Sorry! Couldn’t think of a clever name for this dish… Still thinking!)

Serves about 8

10 to 12 chicken thighs, with skin on (The skin bit is optional…I actually did some with/some without. Also, you can use other pieces of chicken.)
All-purpose flour
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil for frying
Paprika (love my new Spanish paprika…)
Zest from about 2 lemons—or about 1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons capers
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 red onions
12 cinnamon sticks
4  cups white wine
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups pitted prunes

Dust the chicken thighs in flour with a bit of salt and pepper. Heat a sauté pan (or two!) with enough oil for frying several pieces of chicken at a time. Cook the chicken, skin side down first, until browned, about 6 minutes per side, sprinkling some of the paprika on top of the pieces once you flip them. Transfer the pieces to a lightly greased backing dish (the pieces will have grease from having been cooked in it!). Arrange the chicken on a single layer. Sprinkle the pieces with lemon zest and capers. Set aside.

You can deglaze the sauté pans (or a deeper pan because you’ll be adding liquid!) with some white wine, OR you can get a clean one (or clean one!). Heat a bit of oil (I used the oil from the chicken—which then had a bit of orange from the paprika!) and sauté the garlic, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Add the onions. After a few minutes, once they’ve softened, add the cinnamon sticks, cumin, and white wine. Let simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Add the chicken stock, heat, and season. Add the prunes and let cook until plump and warm, just a couple of minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Ladle the wine/onion/prune mixture evenly over the chicken. Bake until the chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes to an hour.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Plated--with Parsley-Rice and Salad

Here we're the table with dear old friend Wady, and his brother  Gonzalo. Both travelled from Costa Rica to NY for the Marathon...and stayed for dinner!