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!