Gougeres

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Cheese Puffs 2

Today is a perfect almost winter day.  The air is crisp and chilly and the sun is shining. Winters here in North Carolina tend to be very mild.  This means that when the temperature drops below 50 degrees, I feel that it is “freezing” and that I deserve and maybe even need comfort food.

Yes, I crave soups, stews, spicy things, and warm cookies.  But to me, the most comforting thing in the world is the combination of warm bread and cheese.  I have been known to enjoy many versions of this tasty treat.   Today I’m sharing my new favorite way to get the cheese and bread combo into my belly.  It has a name I can’t really pronounce, but I know that if Mama Esther ate one, she’d think it was the fanciest biscuit she ever tasted.

Cheese Puffs 1

Truth be told, they are even easier to throw together than biscuits.  No cutting butter into flour or rolling anything out.  Just stir the ingredients together, throw the mixture in your mixer (say that 5 times fast) and scoop out by the spoonful onto a pan.  The best part is that you can also make up a batch to keep in the freezer and just bake a few off as you need them.

Cheese Puff and Coffee

I made them recently to have as a treat with cocktails.  The next morning I warmed up a few, put a bit of prosciutto between each toasted half and served alongside soft scrambled eggs.  They are delicious on their own, but a slice of sweet and salty prosciutto makes it an even nicer treat.    What is your favorite comfort food?

Gougeres

Adapted from various sources including Epicurious and Saveur.

8 tablespoons good quality organic butter, cut into pieces

¾  cup milk

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 cup flour

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 cups grated gruyère or sharp cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine butter, milk, salt, and water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and remove pan from heat when butter has melted. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a thick dough and pulls away from the sides of the pan, several minutes. Return the pan to the heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes or more.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, being sure to incorporate each egg before adding another. The dough should be thick, shiny, and smooth. Add 1 cup of the cheese and beat in until well combined.

Use a tablespoon to scoop out mounds of dough and onto a nonstick baking pan.  Bake for 20-25 minutes.  You can slice one open to check the center for doneness, it should still be a bit moist.

Makes about 2 dozen

Pumpkin Risotto

It’s been over a month since I last posted a recipe.  I’m still cooking, I promise.  I’ve just been very busy with, well life I guess.  I imagine you can relate.  The most exciting thing I’ve been working on is a teacher training that I’m doing with Asheville Yoga Center.  I’ve practiced yoga for several years and have grown to love, even crave my time on the mat.

I signed up for the training several months ago without any real expectations of what it would be like.  I recently came back from the first of nine weekends that I’ll be spending in Asheville and it was amazing!  When I drove into town Friday afternoon, it was the most perfect fall day I’ve ever seen and Asheville is the perfect place to be on a perfect fall day.  I then spent three days in my bliss.  I crave movement, challenge, and growth and the weekend was full of all of these things for both my body and my mind.

The biggest gift I’ve taken from the weekend is a bit of peace.  We tend to spend a great deal of time worrying about things that have already happened or might happen in the future.  I am the first to do so.  I can’t even begin to remember all the time I’ve needlessly spent in angst about things that I either had no control over or that had already passed. I imagine that stress will always be present in our lives to some extent, at least until we do away with our iPhones. However, it’s nice to know that we have tools to limit the extent to which it pervades our lives.   Do you have a tool?  If not, maybe you can look for yours.  I don’t know what they are for everyone, but I suspect that most tools involve stopping for a moment in the midst of all the commotion.

Since we are talking about perfect fall weather, I give you the perfect fall risotto.  It’s not a traditional risotto because I use pearled barley instead of Arborio rice.  (Thanks to Heidi for that idea!)  It is simple and comforting on a chilly fall day and the edible pumpkin bowls are as delicious as they are adorable.  (Yes, you should eat the mini pumpkin.)  Risotto requires about 30 minutes of mindless stirring, a perfect time to hit the pause button.

Pumpkin Risotto

I had a bit of risotto left over and stirred some spinach in while reheating it and loved it, stir a bit in at the end if you want to add some greens.

6 miniature pumpkins

5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, separated

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 shallot, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

6 cups of vegetable stock

1 cup dry white wine

1 ½-2 pounds pumpkin or butternut squash, cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 cups pearled barley

½ cup Parmesan cheese

¼ cup crème fraiche

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Fill a roasting pan with about ½ inch water, place miniature pumpkins in the pan, cover.  Roast 45 minutes or until very tender.  Turn oven up to 400 degrees F. Cool pumpkins slightly.  Cut out the tops and scoop out the seeds.  Set aside until risotto is finished.

Put cubed pumpkin on a sheet pan and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.  Roast at 400 for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring once, until very tender.

While the pumpkin is roasting, heat the vegetable stock in a small saucepan and leave it simmering.

Put 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté the onion and shallot on medium heat for about 3 minutes, add the garlic and sauté another minute or so, until it has all softened.  Add the barley and stir until it’s coated with the olive oil.  Add the white wine and allow to simmer until the barley has absorbed most of the wine.  Adjust the heat at this time and add about 1 cup of stock and allow to simmer gently.

Add more stock, 1 cup at a time, allowing the barley to absorb most of the liquid before adding more.  This should take between 30 and 40 minutes.  It won’t be exactly like Arborio rice, it will seem a bit heartier and chewier.

When the barley has absorbed all the stock, remove it from the heat.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese and crème fraiche.  Add more salt and pepper if you’d like to at this point.  Spoon into the pumpkin “bowls” and serve with an extra dusting of Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6.

Mango, Macadamia, and Avocado Salad

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Recently my mother and I cooked for my grandparents.  Yes, the mother that doesn’t cook.  She’s branching out.  The thing is, she likes to grill while I find grills terrifying.  I try not to even stand near them due to an unwarranted fear that the propane may spontaneously combust.  That’s taking it a bit far, but you get my point.

I cook. I don’t grill.  I’ll leave the grilling to the men…and my mother.  When my grandmother, Mama Patti, arrived, she gushed about how excited she was to eat a meal at my mother’s house.  Apparently it was the first time she had been invited for a meal cooked by my mom.

I made a simple gluten-free pasta dish and this salad while my mom turned out perfectly grilled salmon and chicken seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Dinner was full of love and laughter.  My grandfather is quite possibly the best story-teller ever.  The thing is, I can’t tell you any of the stories he told.  They just aren’t appropriate for this space.  One day I’ll write a book about “Big Ray” and tell you all about him.  To me he is one of the most fascinating men in the world.  The only thing I’ll add is that the Hank Williams, Jr. song, “Family Tradition” has always made me think of him.

I knew Mama Patti would like this salad, but I was a bit nervous about feeding it to Papa Ray.  I watched him as he took the first few bites and I saw a puzzled look appear on his face.  I asked him what was wrong and he replied, “I thought that bean woulda’ been more cooked than that.”  I explained that it was a macadamia nut and supposed to be crunchy.  My mother and I then stifled our giggles.  So, be sure to warn your dinner guests about the nuts in the salad. They do look a lot like garbanzo beans, I’ll give him that.

This salad comes together so quickly and it was a nice change from the salads I usually make.  I found the original recipe on this site, I just simplified the dressing a bit.  Making it also reminded me how delicious macadamia nuts are.  Does anyone have a favorite way to use them that isn’t the classic cookie?

Macadamia nut, mango, and avocado salad.

For the salad:

3-4 handfuls baby arugula

1 mango, cubed

1 avocado, cubed

¾ cup macadamia nuts, toasted and salted

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon agave syrup

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

pinch of salt

lots of freshly ground black pepper

First, mix up the dressing.  I like to use a mason jar, and then it’s already in a storage container if I have any extra.  Just pour the lemon juice, agave syrup, olive oil, salt, and pepper into the jar and give it a good shake.

Toss the greens into a large bowl and top with the avocado, mango, and macadamia nuts.  Drizzle the dressing over the salad.  I don’t use all of the dressing, but you may like a bit more.  You can always pour a bit on and then leave some extra on the table for people to add if they wish.

Serves 4-6 depending on the other food you serve alongside

Ensalada de Garbanzos

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I love sports.  Well that’s not exactly true.  I don’t really know how to play any and my hand-eye coordination makes anything that requires catching or throwing a ball out of the question.  However, I do love trying new activities that don’t require a ball.

I’m a huge fan of yoga, particularly the hot kind. I like most things that get me outside: mountain biking, hiking, running, walking, and rock climbing are favorites.  I enjoy this fitness class when my schedule permits.  Tim and Stephanie are amazing motivators.  I’ve also enjoyed swimming and boxing in the past.

So, even though I try to stay away from tennis balls, I truly love sports, most sports.  I think my interest began with my dad.  He was a football player in high school and college and he’s a huge sports fan.  I think his passion for sports (both watching and playing) comes from the respect he has for those who dedicate so much effort and energy to something they love.  He admires excellence more than almost anything else.

His sport of choice after college was weight lifting.  He has always been very strong and has the expected stature of a man who has been lifting heavy weights for 35 years.  Since he has always loved sports and working out, he never really had to watch what he ate. Recently, he has put on a few pounds due to a very busy work schedule, the all too common problem of too little time, along with a happy marriage to a wonderful cook.

When I got back from Argentina, he decided to make a few changes in his diet and really dedicate himself to being more active.  He asked me for help with an eating plan.  The plan was super simple and requires no great sacrifice.  I asked him to eat whole foods, avoid sugary things (including fake sugar), and save alcohol for his one free day every week.  He has said that it is the easiest “diet” he’s ever been on.  I would not really call it a diet but a way of eating.

The view from my kitchen window.

He’s been on the program for four weeks and he has already lost 17.5 pounds!  He’s not losing muscle either, just yesterday we were in the gym together and he bench pressed 285 pounds with me as his spotter.  Not too bad for a 51 year old.

The last time I made this salad for him, he said I should share it with you.  I eat some version of it at least once a week.  It is so simple and I make a point to always have everything on hand to make it.  Feel free to improvise.  Add and subtract as you see fit.

This is something I turn to when I want to get a meal on the table in less than twenty minutes.  I often cook dried garbanzo beans and roast red peppers myself and of course you can do that.  But, I think it’s important to have a few five-minute meals up your sleeve.  Otherwise, eating clean can seem like too much of a hassle.  I promise you this salad will be on the table before you can get to McDonald’s.

Ensalada de Garbanzos

A Spanish friend of mine introduced me to the first incarnation of this salad.  Roasted red peppers and garbanzos are staples of Spanish cooking and also quite cheap. Perfect for our grad student budgets.  Leave out the tuna and you have a vegetarian meal.

1 can of garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

1 jar of roasted red peppers, sliced  *reserve 1 tablespoon of liquid

½ small red onion, chopped

¼ cup olives, sliced

½ avocado, cubed

1 can of tuna, drained

2 cups baby spinach

1 boiled egg, cut into eight pieces

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste

1 teaspoon oregano

¼ teaspoon cumin

a sprinkle of salt

lots of freshly ground black pepper

Combine garbanzos, peppers, onion, olives, avocado, and tuna in a medium bowl.  Drizzle with red pepper liquid, olive oil, vinegar, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano.  Stir to mix.

Put one cup of spinach into each serving bowl.  Scoop half the garbanzo mixture over the spinach and top with half of the egg.  Drizzle with a bit more olive oil if you wish.

**You can prepare the garbanzo mixture and save it in the fridge.  You then just have to pour it onto a bed of spinach and top with the boiled egg to have a meal in less than 2 minutes!

Serves 2

Blueberry Ginger Jam

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Have you noticed that when in season, blueberries taste just like candy?  I think this is true of many of the fruit family.  I recently read a book by Dr.Perricone who has been coined, the “blueberry and salmon” doctor because he wholeheartedly promotes the consumption of both for radiant health and beauty.  In his book, Forever Young, he promises that with a few changes to your diet, you can decrease wrinkles, dramatically improve the appearance of the skin, have more energy, less fat, and an improved mood.  Not that I’m particularly worried about wrinkles, yet. (Though, I don’t mind getting a head start.)  Nor did I really need another reason to absolutely love fresh, organic blueberries.

Even so, after reading his book, I felt compelled to buy and eat all the blueberries I could get my hands on.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.  There are some foods that just make me feel cleaner as I’m eating them.  Giant salads with a drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice are one, grilled salmon is another.  Blueberries fall into this category as well.  I love eating foods that are alive, and right now, blueberries are so alive.

The blueberries I bought were plump, juicy, and absolutely delicious.  They didn’t need any reworking, but I’ve already given you one overly simplistic fruit recipe. (First, cherries!)  I imagine you don’t read blogs to find out that fresh fruit is delicious eaten as is, right out of the bowl.  I got the idea to put blueberry jam on a goat cheese crostini on this blog via Foodbuzz, but the jam recipe is a bit of a combination of ideas.

It was delicious spread on a piece of toast slathered with goat cheese and even as an interesting addition to my peanut butter toast.  It makes just enough for 2-4 servings, so it would be perfect as an easy starter for a summer dinner for two.

*The bread in the picture is Men’s Bread.  I generally eat Ezekiel bread, but I used this as it’s what I had on hand.  Both are wonderful and nutty and a great choice with this jam.

Blueberry Ginger Jam

1 1/2 cup blueberries

1 tablespoon honey

1/2 tablespoon natural cane sugar

peel of 1/2 a lemon (sliced off, not grated)

1 teaspoon grated ginger

In a small saucepan, combine all the ingredients.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low.  Simmer for about 20 minutes, until thick.  Discard the lemon peel.

Serve warm or cold.

Cherry Almond Chocolate Clusters

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I will go ahead and apologize for writing two sentimental posts back to back.  I think we often reflect a great deal when we experience the loss of a loved one and as I’m still in that mode, it’s all I know to write.  I promise you a lighter post next week.  One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is all the people that have shaped me, guided me, and supported me throughout the past twenty seven years.  Mama Esther was one of them, then of course if you’ve read the about section, you know that Mama Jackie is another.  There have been so many, but today I’m thinking of my mother, my greatest cheerleader.

My desire to experience the world and live in new places is something that I’m sure would disappoint some parents.  I have not really chosen a conventional path.  I know this would worry some people, but my mother seems to think I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.  She understands and respects the life I’ve chosen.  When I call to tell her that I’m thinking of another move abroad to teach English because “I just have to see this place,” she understands and even thinks it’s cool.  She shows her support even though she worries and frets the entire time I’m gone.

I teach English as a Foreign Language at a community college here in North Carolina.  I teach because I love to teach.  It enriches my life and makes me happy.  When I discovered ESL at Wake Tech, I felt like I’d found my dharma.  I was working at least eight hours at a staffing agency each day and then I taught for three hours at the end of the day.  Even with an extremely full schedule and not quite enough sleep, I left school with a feeling of joy almost every night.  Last week I started back after five months away from Wake Tech and I’ve driven home each night with that same feeling of joy.  I can truly say that I love what I do.  My mom supports this and tells everyone she sees not only what I do, but that I’m most certainly the best at it.  I haven’t had the heart to tell her that generally this kind of bragging is reserved for parents of young doctors and lawyers.

My mom isn’t conventional either.  She didn’t pack my lunches, cook my dinners, or teach me to sew.  What she taught me was even more valuable.   She taught me, by her own actions, to be nice and respectful to people from all walks of life, a gift that makes every day more pleasant.  She has taught me about health and wellness, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually as well.  She taught me about sacrifice and doing things for others.  I particularly remember her taking me to a Reba McIntire concert when I was about 9 years old.  I was a huge Reba fan, but I’m pretty sure she would rather have listened to someone scraping their nails on a chalkboard.

Sometimes I’m almost embarrassed by how great she thinks I am, but recently I thought of something.  She is probably more aware of my faults than anyone else in the world, but like so many great mothers, she doesn’t let me know that she sees any of them.

These little snacks are a favorite of hers.  They are so simple it’s almost silly to call it a recipe, but I can’t describe how good this combination is.  I’ve tried several dark chocolate candy bars with the same combination of ingredients, but none compare to the awesome texture of crunchy almonds and chewy cherries you get when you make them yourself.

The original recipe is from Ellie Krieger, a registered dietician and Food Network host.

Cherry Almond Chocolate Clusters

Krieger’s recipe calls for toasting the almonds, I enjoy mine raw, but you should toast them if you generally prefer toasted almonds.  If you can’t find cherries, dried cranberries are a good substitute.

1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

½ cup dried cherries, coarsely chopped

6 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped

Toss the almonds and cherries together in a medium bowl.  Line a baking sheet with wax paper.

Melt half of the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water on very low heat.  Remove the top of the double boiler and stir the rest of the chocolate into the melted chocolate.  Replace the simmering water with warm tap water to maintain the correct heat for making the clusters.  Put the bowl of melted chocolate on the warm water.

Stir the almond and cherry mixture into the chocolate.  Use a tablespoon to scoop out clusters.  A heaping tablespoon is great for larger clusters and a level tablespoon for bite-sized clusters.  I like to make several of both sizes.  Put them in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to set.  You can store and serve them at room temperature.  They are also great cold or even frozen.

12-16 clusters

My Great Grandmother

Our family lost its matriarch today.  Mama Esther was 92 years old.  She might tell you she was 95 or 91, but I know that she was 92.  I’ll never forget that she was born in 1919.  It impressed me so much when I asked her as a child.  I remember thinking it was such a long time ago.  She was my great-grandmother and she certainly lived up to the name.

My family is from the South, but there aren’t really any Southern Belles in my bloodline.  The women in my family are tough, but they are tender and maternal at the same time.  Mama Esther and Daddy Wade had a farm.   Mama Esther worked right alongside the men in the fields, at least until dinnertime* when she went back home to prepare food for everyone.

*Dinner = What we call the bigger, better, slower version of lunch that is eaten in small towns in the South.

Mama Esther with my little sister.

I was her first great-grandchild and my mother says that she was very proud to have found out about my birth before anyone else.  Mama Esther got the call and quickly made a pig-pickin’ cake as that was my mother’s favorite.  Mama Esther could always be counted on to bring something delicious to a family celebrating the birth of a baby or even mourning the death of a relative.

This week I heard a great story about just that.  I’ve heard two versions with some slight variations in the details, but the gist is the same, I’ll condense the two here.

Several years ago my grandfather thought he heard the name of one of Mama Esther’s friends on the radio in the obituaries; we will call her Mary here to protect the innocent.   He mentioned this to my grandmother who then called Mama Esther to say, “Have you heard that Mary died?”

Well, Mama Esther had not heard the news, but she set out to prepare some food for Mary’s family.  She also called my aunt and asked her to come over so that they could visit the family together and leave the food, like the kind Southern women they are.

When they pulled into Mary’s driveway, they didn’t see many cars.  This was odd as it is common for people to bring food to a family that has just experienced a loss.  They assumed they were the first to arrive and got the food out of the car.  They knocked on the door and no one came, so they let themselves in.  When they got inside, they saw that there was no food on the table.  They thought this was strange, but they decided to go ahead and put out the food that they’d brought.

Right about this time, Mary walked out of her bedroom in a nightgown!  When she asked what they were doing, Mama Esther replied, “Ask Susan!”  After they attempted to explain to the very un-dead Mary that they were there to leave food because they thought she had died, Mary just laughed and laughed.  I’m sure Mary was glad to know that she would have such good friends when the time came.  My aunt felt terrible for several days after the ordeal and of course we have all learned a lesson.

Christmas 2011

It’s a funny story and I think it captures something about Mama Esther.  She was thoughtful, kind, and always up for a good laugh, even if that meant laughing at herself.  She showed how thoughtful she was every day, not just on special occasions.  I remember telling her that I really liked Italian sausage when I was about six years old.  For the next twenty years, if she knew that I was coming to eat at her house; Italian sausage was part of the meal.  She didn’t just do it for me either, she knew everyone’s favorites.  I believe this may be part of the reason that Sunday dinners consisted of three different meats and about ten sides followed by a choice (or combination) of two or three desserts.  The beverage, however, was non-negotiable.  Everyone happily drank sweet tea.

There are so many other sweet memories that I have of her.  Like the “baby biscuits” she used to make me with the left over biscuit dough and the day she gave me a flour sifter that was given to her as a wedding present over seventy years ago.  I still have and use that sifter.

Before I left for Argentina I had what would be my last conversation with her.  She knew I was going for a long time and as I was leaving she said, “I love you and I love all my family so much.”  I felt then that she was saying goodbye.  I know I’m blessed to have known Mama Esther for twenty seven years and today I’m trying to focus on that blessing.  We’re all better people for having known her.  I just hope she understood what she means to all of us.

La Paila Vegetable Sandwich

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The food that usually pops into your head when you think of Argentina is beef.  Argentina is famous for its delicious asado which is what we best translate as barbecue.  However, asado is so special that it deserves to be called by its Spanish name and not a translation.

A typical asado begins with a picada which is cheese, olives, and a selection of cured meats like salami and ham.  Then comes the main event.   First you eat grilled offal, chorizo, and morcilla.  Finally, the perfectly cooked meat (usually flank steak) is set out.   My personal favorite is mollejas or sweetbreads.  Sweetbreads in the US and Europe are generally served in a rich sauce or even fried.  Here they are simply grilled over a fire until they’re crispy.  With a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and sprinkle of salt, they are incredible.

As you may know, Argentina, like the US, is a country of immigrants.  Almost everyone I’ve met here tells me about a grandparent from Italy or Spain.  The Italians really left their mark on Buenos Aires, even the language.  A phonetic study of the porteño accent (the Spanish spoken in Buenos Aires) showed that it is actually closer to the Neapolitan language spoken in Southern Italy than any other language in the world.  Not only did they influence the language and the last names, but lucky for me, they also left their mark on the cuisine.  Great pizza and pasta are extremely popular, as are empanadas which have their roots in Spain.

All of these dishes are delicious and when you visit Buenos Aires, I hope you will try one of the many parrillas for great grilled meat, a pizza parlor for delightful pizza and empanadas, and a nice Italian restaurant for mouth-watering pasta.  Everyone you meet will have an opinion on the best spots, get a few recommendations and you won’t be disappointed.  As I said, these places are on every corner.   Restaurants like La Paila, however, are not.

La Paila is a restaurant near our apartment that specializes in food from the North of Argentina.  We’ve been there several times and it’s never failed us.  They almost always have live Latin American music.  The most common is beautiful Argentinian folk music.  The place is cozy and the wait staff is friendly.  It may sound strange, but traditional food, meaning from the provinces outside of Buenos Aires, is not so easy to find here.   I guess it’s like looking for Southern comfort food in New York City.  It’s there, but you’ve got to search it out.

We had one of our first meals at La Paila and it was as interesting and delicious as the rest of them.  Kevin had not yet learned Spanish, so the ordering was up to me.  I ordered a simple sandwich to start.  After taking one bite, he looked up at me and said, “This is delicious.  What is it, some kind of meat sandwich?”  I stifled a giggle and replied, “Um, it’s the vegetarian sandwich…”

It is true that it was incredibly savory and provoked the idea of meat.  Needless to say, this has been a running joke since the first week of the trip.  I might make a nice vegetarian soup, take a sip and then say, “What is this some kind of meat soup?”  The statement is followed by my own fit of laughter.  I’ve even used this joke with salads and cakes.  It just doesn’t get old, to me.

This sandwich is simple and doesn’t call for a sauce.  One of the things I have learned from both Spanish and Argentinian cooking is that when you start with great ingredients, you just need a knife and a bit of salt to make something delicious.   Obviously sauces have their place, but it’s not here.  Please give this a try without mayonnaise, pesto, or chipotle sauce and tell me what you think.

La Paila Vegetable Sandwich

I broiled the vegetables as I didn’t have a grill available.  Feel free to use a grill or a grill pan.  Just be sure that the vegetables are very tender for this dish, especially the eggplant as eggplant is actually toxic when consumed undercooked.

1 small eggplant, sliced ¼ inch thick

1 round or traditional zucchini, sliced ¼ inch thick

1 red pepper, cut into ½ strips

½ red onion, sliced

4 cloves of garlic, cut in half

goat or mozzarella cheese, crumbled or sliced respectively

4 tablespoons good-quality olive oil, plus a bit extra for drizzling

coarse sea salt

pepper

oregano

whole wheat baguette

Preheat the broiler to high.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on a large sheet pan; arrange the zucchini, red pepper, red onion, and two cloves of garlic on the pan.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil on top of the vegetables and sprinkle with coarse salt, pepper, and a pinch of oregano.  Repeat this process in a separate (smaller) pan for the eggplant.

Place the pans in the oven and broil for 5 minutes.  Check on the vegetables at this point and flip them over.  Repeat this process for about 15-20 minutes or until very tender.  Usually the eggplant takes a few minutes longer than the other vegetables.  If the vegetables are browning too fast, you can turn the broiler down a bit towards the end of the cooking process.

While the vegetables are cooking, slice the baguette into four parts and then in half and drizzle a bit of olive oil on the inside of the bread.  Remove the garlic from its skin and rub one on the inside part of the bread for each sandwich.  Place some of the vegetables on the bread and top with cheese (to taste) and then with the other slice of bread.

Heat a panini press or a frying pan and toast the sandwich for 2 minutes on each side.  Remove and devour.

Serves 2-4

Okonomiyaki (Japanese Pizza) and July 4th

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We had a party to celebrate July 4th on Wednesday.  We celebrated with old friends and new ones.  We had guests from the US, Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, France, even a Brit.  I wanted to share pictures with you, but sometimes I forget to take pictures when I’m having loads of fun.   I remembered around 2am that I needed to take pictures and when I went to do so, realized my camera battery was dead.  At first this bummed me out a bit, but I know that it’s a blessing to have friends that are so cool that I’m completely and utterly in the moment for hours before realizing that I need to capture it in some kind of permanent way.  Sorry I have no pictures of our Argentinian July 4th celebration.  I’ll at least give you the scoop on the food.

The guys were in charge of all things grilled.  That means hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, and sausages.  I made some mac and cheese and this potato salad.  My German friend Yvonne made some spiced wine and her Uruguayan boyfriend, inspired by a newspaper article about Southern cooking, made a homemade sweet potato pie!  Our French friend brought brownies and a fellow English teacher brought a great salad.  I also made some popcorn for people to snack on while the rest of the food was cooking.  It’s amazing how fast popcorn goes while people are standing around the kitchen chatting.  I know it’s a cliché, but the kitchen is always the preferred gathering spot, and I just love that.

As we waited on the grill masters, we plopped down on the ground in my entrance way (even though we have a lovely couch) and chatted about all sorts of things.  For example, did you know that the number of continents in the world depends on where you’re standing!?  Let me explain, for most people in Latin America, the Americas are considered one continent.  Ask a person from the US how many continents there are and he or she will usually say seven.  Most Latin Americans will say six.  Ask my Colombian friend David, and you’re down to five.  There’s no right answer here, it just depends on how you decide to break it up and where you went to school.  Even so, it was discussed and debated for quite a while and of course, the all-knowing Google was consulted and proved that everyone was right.

That led to another interesting discussion about the word American and all that it implies.  From there we moved on to lighter topics and even had a British accent contest that was judged by our British friend Ed.  You’ll be ‘appy to know that I won and the night ended on a very happy note.  For me it was a perfect gathering.  I love a respectful discussion of opposing opinions.  Add some good food and drink plus lots of laughter and it makes for a really nice night.

Yesterday we polished off all the leftovers from the party and when I opened the fridge today to decide what to make for lunch, I realized that we didn’t have a lot to choose from.  I saw one fourth of a head of cabbage, some leeks, a few eggs and lots of condiments.  I racked my brain for something to make with this combination.  I remembered a dish I hadn’t made in ages.  It comes from one of my favorite blogs and you can find the original recipe hereHeidi calls it a Japanese pizza because you can top it with what you like, but it really reminds me of a Spanish omelet, especially the cooking process.

I timed myself making this and without rushing it only took me 20 minutes from start to finish.  By that I mean the okonomiyaki was on the plate with avocado, cilantro, and red onion and ready to eat in 20 minutes.  It took another five to throw together a quick salad.  As I mentioned in my very first post, cooking is something I do several times a day.  I can’t afford to spend lots of time on every meal and recipes like this make me happy.  The next time you have a bit of cabbage left, try this out and then tell me what you like to top it with.  Oh, and how many continents do you think there are?

Japanese Pizza (Okonomiyaki)

I’ve used both red and green cabbage for this dish and both work well.  I use just a bit less flour than the original recipe calls for to keep it light and I don’t think it needs more, but feel free to consult the link above for the original measurements.  In my opinion this only serves two when you add a salad, otherwise I can eat it quite happily by myself.

2 cups cabbage, very thinly sliced

1 cup leeks, washed and chopped

3 heaping tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour

a pinch or two of sea salt

2 eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

**avocado, cilantro, red onion, lemon

Combine the cabbage, leeks, salt, and flour in a large bowl and mix until the vegetables are coated with flour.  Add the eggs and mix everything well until it is all uniformly coated with the mixture.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the oil.  Put the cabbage mixture in the pan and pat it down until it is very flat and uniform.  Cook for about 3-4 minutes on each side.  In order to flip the okonomiyaki, place a large plate on top of the skillet and turn it over into your hand, then slide the omelet back into the pan, press it down again with the spatula and continue cooking.  Both sides should be golden brown.

Once you’ve finished cooking you can top it with anything you’d like.  Heidi recommends chives and almonds.  I love it topped with cubed avocado, cilantro, and a squirt of lemon juice.

Serves 1 – 2

Onion Jam with Goat Cheese Crostini

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I love having company and I really love having people over for dinner.  A little while back I was informed at 8:30 that two of our friends would be joining us for dinner an hour and a half later. (Yes, they eat late here in Buenos Aires.)  I had just worked out, hadn’t had a shower yet and the cabinets and fridge were a bit bare.  I can easily throw things together out of nothing for the two of us, but I like to put a little extra effort into dinner for guests.

I did a survey of the kitchen and then a quick internet search.  I found “20 killer vegetarian appetizers” on the YumSugar website.   Most of them either required ingredients I didn’t have on hand or a bit more time than I had.  Remember, I still had to shower.  Then, I found this onion jam and goat cheese crostini recipe and I just happened to have enough onions.

Shadow Jam

After slicing the onions and getting them started, I hopped in the shower and Kevin ran to the store for a few last minute things.  I showered in record time, threw on my clothes and a bit of mascara.  We were having company after all.  (Ladies, I do recommend putting on mascara after slicing the onions as I shed more than a few tears.)  I finished up the onion jam just as the guests arrived.  The rest of the meal was so simple it almost made itself.  We had pasta with a homemade tomato sauce, plenty of parmesan cheese, a green salad, and crusty bread.

My theory for a casual dinner party is to keep it simple, everything should taste great, but at least one thing should be special or interesting.  This time the star was the onion jam.  We slathered it on crunchy little toasts and topped it with cheese or the other way around, it was a hit.

Not only is it simple and fast, but it can be made ahead of time which is the sign of a perfect party food.  When your guests arrive all you have to do is put it in a bowl and set out some cheese and crostini.  After all, you should enjoy your party too.

What’s your go-to recipe for entertaining?

The original recipe can be found here.

Onion Jam with Goat Cheese Crostini

You can substitute two shallots for one of the onions. I use red wine vinegar instead of white wine vinegar, but both would be fine.   

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 small to medium onions

Lemons zest and juice of 2 lemons

1 cup red wine vinegar

2/3 cup brown sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

1 baguette thinly slice

a selection of cheeses including goat and blue cheese

Heat the oil in a medium skillet.  Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook over low heat, stirring often.  Cook for 10 minutes or until they begin to soften.

Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, and sugar.  Cook over low heat, stirring often, for 45 minutes or until the majority of the liquid has evaporated.

Let the jam cool for 20 minutes before serving.  You can also make the jam ahead and refrigerate it until you are ready to eat.

Serves 8

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