Category Archives: Food

Coincidence

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Salad.  Yum!

Salad. Yum!

A friend and colleague is in town from Kosovo. Instead of having her to the house, per routine, I decided we should go out to dinner. No kids around would allow us to have more meaningful conversation and, plus, I could do it after Little Elephant hit the hay.

I choose a tiny little restaurant that I like because of its lack of menu, fabulous food, and the ability to hear your table mate. Also, assuming you eat early enough (which I generally do), it usually isn’t too smoky.  We arrived, sat down, and 5 minutes later, the Prime Minister walked in.  Given that the restaurant has about ten table, we were just next door.  Certainly made me look like the good host and like I know where to eat in this city.  Shh!  Don’t tell her that it was a fluke!

Meal and company was often.  Hopefully she will come back so we can test out other places in the city.

Irish Soda Bread– how my Mom makes it

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Wow! I had planned to share at least 5 good recipes this month.  Without actively following my original goals– I actually met this one.  I think I posted three (mushroom bisque and two recipes with pomegranate).  I also linked to a ginger trifle and, posting one last one today, will help me reach my official goal! Yay me!

Irish Soda Bread (How my Mom makes it).

I wish I could tell you where this recipe is from (beyond a clipping in my Mom’s cookbook binder).  But, it is delicious.  Really, I should make it more often.  But then I would be missing the Corned Beef and Cabbage to go with it.

IrishSodaBread

PS Bonus recipe posted by me this month over at VillageQ!

A tally of overseas thanksgivings

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday; the time of year I get nostalgic for living in the US. I love the food. I love the family. I love the friends who are family. It is the perfect holiday- no religious connotations, no stress of gift giving, just food and loved ones.

Of course, being the wanderer I am, many times I have not made it home. Here is the rundown of Thanksgivings abroad:

  • 1996 (Chile)- I honestly have no idea what I did. I was 16 and hadn’t reflected yet on what I was missing.
  • 2000 (Chile)- Cooked thanksgiving dinner with my friend Melissa for my roommates and friends, 4 men. We greatly underestimated how long it would take a turkey to cook and had to confiscate car keys and cell phones to avoid a pizza dinner.
  • 2002 (Moldova)- Thanksgiving with the other Peace Corps volunteers. Cooked dinner for 200+.
  • 2003 (Moldova)- Thanksgiving with the other Peace Corps volunteers. Cooked dinner for 200+. Harder the second time as the cooks through I was too young to know how to cook and kept “helping”.
  • 2007 (Chile)- Thanksgiving with some friends at Marisol’s.  Lots of food.  Lots of drink.  Salsa dancing.
  • 2010 (Kazakhstan)- Had dinner at my boss’ house with his boss and senior management. Still not sure how I got invited, but had a great time.
  • 2011 (Kazakhstan)- Cooked duck over at Jim and T-raz’ place. Great friends. Great fun. Little Elephant’s first thanksgiving.
  • 2012 (Albania)- Turkey from the cafeteria. Very low-key as we were waiting for my brother-in-law to arrive and celebrate. We did. Just one month later!
  • 2013 (Albania)- Toddler play date while parents gobble turkey legs, mushroom bisque, two types of potatoes, cranberry dressing, ginger trifle, and a thrown together meal. It may not be quite as elaborately planned, but then again, what is with toddlers?  And, turns out, with a few foodies, not elaborately planned can turn out delicious!
Photo: Clare Says All Rights Reserved

Photo: Clare Says
All Rights Reserved

 

Recipe: Mushroom Bisque

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I grew up eating this bisque; it is one of my favorite soups and certainly ranks up there as comfort food.  That said, I rarely make it.  It tastes so rich and decadent that I forget how simple it truly is.  In fact, today, I made it while my daughter sat by my side.  Once everything was chopped and cooking, we read a few books.  Then, I returned to the kitchen.  My point?  It was simple and hands off enough that I could complete it without the 2-year-old having a melt down because Mommy’s attention was elsewhere!  Even better?  She loved it!

  1. Chop 1 lb. mushrooms (even better if you mix types of mushrooms).
  2. Add 3 cups chicken broth (4 cubes).
  3. Add 1 onion whole (sometimes I use two or I use read onions).
  4. Simmer 15-20 minutes.
  5. Remove Onion.
  6. Melt and heat 3 tbs. butter, add ¼ cup flour.
  7. Add 1 cup milk.
  8. Stir until thickened.
  9. Whisk into mushroom mix.
  10. Add ¾ – 1 cup heavy cream (sometimes I use whole milk or whatever I have). Salt, pepper, paprika or 1 tbs. parsley
  11. 1 tsp sherry (optional)
  12. Heat gently. Do not boil.

Pomegranate heaven

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Pomegranates grow freely here in Albania and we are certainly loving this!  Being used to pomegranates being a super expensive treat that we only get once in a while, having enough to experiment with is a huge treat!  Not to mention, watching how much my daughter loves to eat them, fist fulls at a time.

First, I have now learned how to get the seeds out in a timely and less messy fashion.

I also have tried a few recipes.  Here are “win” and my “fail” as it came to pomogrante recipes.

Win: Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate

  • 7cups Brussels sprouts, sliced in half and any discolored leaves removed
  • Olive oil to toss
  • 2tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3/4cups pomegranate seeds, about half a large pomegranate
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a mixing bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with a few drizzles of olive oil. Spread the sprouts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, cut sides down. Roast for 20 minutes, or until the sprouts are tender and deep golden brown on their cut sides and showing some crispy edges.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the maple syrup, vinegar and salt together. Remove the baking pan from the oven. Drizzle the syrup mixture over and use a spatula to lift the sprouts and gently toss to coat. Spread evenly again.
  3. Return the baking pan to the oven and roast for another 5 minutes. Combine the Brussels sprouts with the pomegranate seeds in a serving bowl and enjoy.

**Note: I love Brussels Sprouts to begin with.  Also, I used frozen sprouts because that is what I had on hand.  It worked although I am sure would have been better with fresh.  I think my proportions were off and I had too many pomegranate seeds— but I liked it that way!

Fail: Roasted Pomegranate from Williams and Sonoma Appetizers cookbook

Roast a pomegranate in a preheated 400°F or 200°C oven until cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Split in half and drizzle with lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, and honey. Sprinkle with salt and minced fresh mint.

**Note: The first few bites were actually quite good.  The mix of sweet, salty, and sour.  However, it grew old and I can’t imagine finishing one or having it often.

 

 

Hungry and trapped!

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(Delicious looking sushi in the photo not from the restaurant referenced below; used under creative commons license)

I don’t know what it is about driving, or rather bring driven, that makes me sleepy. I am easily lulled into dreamland as soon as we get moving. So is my daughter. This is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, naps! Yay! On the other hand, once she is asleep, we are car-bound.

I take a lot of naps in the car with her. I write blog posts on my cell phone (like this one). Sometimes, I remember to being a book or work to do.

The worst, however, is when I am hungry. Especially if we had been on our way to a restaurant.

Today, I knew this would happen. And I had a huge craving for sushi. So, I tried something new. I called and asked if they delivered. They didn’t. They did do takeout, so I asked if they would just step out and I could pay at my car.

Huh?

The woman answering the phone had a strong accent, the connection was bad, and my request was random. I tried again.

Huh?

Finally, she understood and then shouted the request in Japanese to one of the servers. She agreed.

Thanks Ginza Sushi! The rainbow roll is great and eating in the car while my daughter naps is even better.

Becoming it all (and making amazing cakes)

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Sometimes, with huge spurts of energy, I want to be one of those Moms who makes the coolest cake and is a Do-It-Yourself guru. The kind who you can’t tell it was DIY. The topic of DIY oscillates  Sometimes I want to be able to carve wood, update kitchens and bathrooms, or builds multistory tree houses. Other times, I want to return to sewing or learn how to bake amazing cakes.

This past week I came across Rosie Cake-Diva‘s amazing Facebook page!  Not only does she show of her talent, but she has step by step instructions on how to make really cool cakes.  While I will never to get her level, I think I could make a polka-dot cake.  Here are examples:

PolkadotCake

And this is what the directions look like— Please note that I have cut off part of the instructions on purpose so that you go and like her Facebook page.  I do not know Rosie. I have never had her cakes.  She is not sponsoring this post.  I just think it is so amazingly cool that she is teaching me, that I want to support her.

HowToPolkadotCake

Pretty cool, right?

Cobbler

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THE MINIMALIST; Easier Than Pie: Make It Cobbler
By Mark Bittman
Published: September 6, 2006 in the New York Times

FOR most of us, the two-crust fruit pie is a thing of the past, a calorie-bloated hassle that buried its contents under a mound of dough, and so dry that it begged for ice cream the way some cookies need milk. Tarts, in which the crust is enriched by an egg or two, are preferable, but they require work, patience and even a bit of practice.

Enter the cobbler, in which a very rich, quite sweet crust is spooned over sweetened fruit and baked until browned. The topping resembles cookie dough and turns golden as it bakes. Though the results are undeniably inelegant, they’re completely irresistible.

A cobbler can be made with nearly any fruit, with the exception of the most delicate, like strawberries and raspberries. Late-summer peaches and nectarines are fantastic, as are early fall apples and pears. Perfect, at this moment, are blueberries, which have a tartness that perfectly complements the sweetness of the dough.

I produce the dough in a food processor, but you can easily make it by hand. Soften the butter a bit first, then cream it with the sugar, stir in the egg, and then mix in the remaining dry ingredients all at once. In the food processor, this takes 3 minutes; by hand it might take 5 or at the most 10.

A few options: You can spice the blueberries with a little bit of cinnamon (no more than a teaspoon), or with a mixture of cinnamon and other ”sweet” spices, like ginger, allspice, ground cloves and so on. Better, to my taste, is to add a teaspoon or more of grated lemon zest to both blueberries and dough.

No matter how you season the cobbler, though, it will remain so moist and rich that ice cream becomes a luxury rather than a necessity.

Blueberry Cobbler
Time: About 1 hour

4 to 6 cups blueberries, washed and well dried, or other fruit (I like to mix fruit and berries– I know that apples, pears, peaches, plums, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currents all work as does adding some candied ginger).
1 cup sugar, or to taste (I use less because I never mix the fruit with sugar. I only put 1/2 cup in the dough)
8 tablespoons (1 stick or 120gr) cold unsalted butter, cut into bits, more for greasing pan (ou don’t need to Greece if you have nonstick or enamel pan)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch salt
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F or 190 celcius. Toss fruit with half the sugar and spread it in a 1 1/2-inch-deep lightly buttered 8- or 9-inch square or 9-inch round baking pan.
2. In a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, salt and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and pulse (or mix by hand). Add butter and process for 10 seconds, until well blended. Beat egg and vanilla together by hand and add to mixture.
3. Drop mixture onto fruit by tablespoonfuls; do not spread it out. Bake until just starting to brown, 35 to 45 minutes. Serve within an hour or so.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

I usually make this in a long rectangle pan and it never lasts long. For a 9×13 pan, I make a double recipe. I have successfully used: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches, mangoes, apples, pears, and plums. Frozen fruit will work as well.

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Here are two cobblers before going into the oven. These were made with fresh strawberries and peaches. Notice how the batter doesn’t cover the whole cobbler– no problem it will melt and get everywhere once cooked.

 

Spicing up the Holiday Cookie Exchange

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sweet & spicy walnuts, originally uploaded by the boastful baker.

I have a huge sweet tooth and cookies, of all kinds, top my favorite food chart. That said, I decided that for the holiday cookie exchange, I wanted to spice things up. Just a little something spicy to cut the sweetness between trying all my neighbors’ goodies.

As well as gingerbread cookies, I brought a little bowl of Cocoa-Chile Candied Walnuts. This is my own adaption to a recipe published by Hershey’s chocolate.

Ingredients:
1.5 cups walnut haves
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons sugar (separate from sugar listed above)
1 cup boiling water
2 tablespoons hot cocoa mix (or 1.5 tablespoons cocoa powder)
4 tablespoons Chili powder
Slightly less than ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (closer to ¼ if you don’t love spice)

Steps:
1.Dissolve ¼ cup sugar in boiling water. Leave walnuts soaking for 15 minutes. Drain.
2.Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Once well mixed, toss in walnuts. Shake well.
3.Place coated walnuts on a cookie sheet and cook at 350 for 15 minutes. Stir or shake mid-bake if you remember.
I can’t say they were a hit, but the host did like them (and kept them). Guess I need to make a new back soon!

***Please note the picture is not mine; I forgot to take one. These are beautiful in any case and if you click on the link the photographer gives you her recipe.

Mixed fruit with Riccotta cheese

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Mixed fruit with Riccotta and Cream, originally uploaded by Sam Felder. Please note that this is not my picture.  When I make this, I try and put equal parts fruit and cheese mixture. 

It is always interesting when I move to a new country to figure out what ingredients are available locally and how I can adapt my tried-and-true recipes to the local market. Here in Albania, I have access to wonderful Italian cheeses and good local fruit (changing with the season). Our new favorite dessert is Crema di Ricotta alla Frutta Fresca or basically ricotta cheese with whatever fruit I can get my hands on.

This recipe is loosely based off of something on the Williams Sonoma Website. My husband loves this desert because it is not too sweet. I love this dessert because my daughter will eat it and it is very healthy. I love this because no matter what is available, it makes the fruit even tastier.

Ingredients:
•2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (if you can get fresh, this is best—however, the recipe will also work with ricotta that is so old you don’t want to use it for anything else because it was forgotten in the back of the fridge)
•1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
•1.5 tsp. vanilla extract
•Pinch of ground cinnamon
•3-4 cups of fresh fruit cut up (a little lemon juice or orange juice will keep fruit looking good)

Directions:
In a bowl, using a fork, beat the ricotta cheese until smooth and creamy. Beat in the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla and cinnamon until blended.

In a small bowl, combine fruit. Using 1 or 2 spoons, toss well, being careful not to bruise the fruit.

Spoon the fruits into goblets or other attractive serving vessels. Top each serving with an equal amount of the ricotta mixture (note the ratio should be 1:1 not like the photo). Serve immediately. If you have extra, combine put cheese and fruit in fridge separately. Combine when ready to eat.