23 December 2012

Apple Glӧgg

On Christmas Eve we will be sipping this Swedish drink under the tree, toasting to the year wrapping up and the year to come. In Nordic countries, Glӧgg (with slight spelling variations depending on the country) widely refers to a warm, mulled wine, served with a spoonful of raisins and blanched almonds at the bottom of the glass.

Many countries have a variation on mulled wine, including but not limited to: Glϋhwein (Germany, Austria, Netherlands), Vin Chaud (France), Sıcak Şarap (Turkey), Caribou (Canada), Kan Zake (Japan), Wassail (England and USA). But if you are not familiar with the culture and don't speak the language the name won't mean anything to you. That is why I love discovering cross-cultural commonalities through food and drink; they are visual representations of a culture that surpass language and communication barriers allowing one to get a glimpse of the preferences, influences, and traditions of a country, possibly even finding a familiar and common ground with his/her own culture.

There is a Swedish-inspired coffee shop in St. Gallen called Oya Bar that I enjoy visiting with girlfriends. Unlike many charming Swiss buildings in the historic center, Oya Bar has an open, airy floor space and a clean design. The staff are friendly and the shop attracts other like-minded customers looking for a cozy, informal setting to enjoy a chat with friends and a warm beverage or soup of the day. 

courtesy of atebo.ch 

courtesy of annabelle.ch 
This is where I was introduced to Glӧgg and specifically Apple Glӧgg. I would not have ordered it by seeing the name alone. It was being prepared for a woman ahead of me, and once I saw the cinnamon stick go into the glass and nuts and dried fruit added to a bowl and placed on the serving tray, that was it for me! Apple cider was the base instead of wine, and the flavor was similar to a barely-spiced Wassail, or mulled cider, something my family made during the holidays when I was growing up. But the raisins and blanched almonds were a fun addition I had not tried before. I decided it was a festive idea for the season and snapped some photos with a plan to make it at home.

I am waiting for Christmas Eve though, so my intention here is to share a few ideas for your own interpretation instead of a recipe. Anyways, I feel much more liberated and empowered when I creatively piece together a recipe rather than rigidly follow one step by step! And I want you to feel that way too.

Here is my loose plan:
Simmer apple cider (or cloudy, unfiltered apple juice) with spices and orange or cranberry juice for about an hour over low heat, covered. Once it is heated stir in a few splashes (or to taste!) of desired liqueur. Of course the alcohol could be left out if you need an alcohol-free version.

Ladle into a mug with a cinnamon stick and a spoon. Serve in a bowl on the side blanched almonds and raisins (or swap out raisins for dried cranberries if you like) so people can spoon as much as they like into their mugs.

Spices & Flavors (add any combination that sounds good to you):
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Cloves
  • Ground cardamom or smashed cardamom pod
  • Thin orange slices or orange peel (be careful not to take the bitter white part)
  • Few splashes of orange juice or cranberry juice
  • If you absolutely must, you can add some maple syrup, honey, or sugar but keep in mind you want the flavor of the spices to come through and not be overwhelmed by sweetness

  • Amaretto
  • Calvados (apple brandy)
  • Brandy
  • Rum
  • Orange liqueur

Here's to embracing variations on a familiar tradition through the eye's of another culture and finding common ground with others around the world!

17 December 2012

Avocado and Mango Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette

If you're in need of a light and refreshing, almost tropical element added to your short and dark wintry days, this salad will quickly become your new best friend. It is creamy from the tahini dressing and avocado, sweet, juicy, and slightly tart from the mango, and crunchy from toasted pine nuts. These flavor and texture elements in one bowl, contrasting and complimenting each other in a balanced way, are what elevate this salad from average to magical.

This was my welcome-to-Switzerland-for-the-holidays salad for my mom. She bravely left a pleasant 50° Fahrenheit (10° Celsius) winter behind to venture across the Atlantic only to receive a frigid welcome of -10° Celsius (14° Fahrenheit). She's such a trooper! So I wanted her to feel more at home with this bright and cheery salad. Don't worry, I also gave her a warm bowl of soup. But this salad could also be a festive and maybe unexpected addition to your holiday spread!

Avocado and mango are definitely in my Top 5 Favorites list. Fortunately, the avocados around here are pretty consistent, but to my delight recently the small, sad bin of mangos moved from the outskirts of the produce department to front and center, multiplying in volume. I figured they must be pretty tasty, and I decided to snatch up a few without yet knowing what I would do with them.

Few of us are lucky enough to live right where avocados and mangoeare grown. So, let's get one thing straight about buying locally when it comes to these two wonders. I buy seasonally and locally as much as I can. For one, I want to feel connected to the natural rhythm of nature and enjoy the peak freshness of produce. I also want to support small-scale local farmers to ensure their ongoing success and show my appreciation for having access to produce and dairy products cultivated and produced in a way that is friendly to the environment, animals, and our bodies. BUT, there are two exceptions. I will shamelessly buy mangos and avocados wherever I am and in whichever season I find myself, assuming the cost is still reasonable and they are ripe and tasty. Hypocritical? Maybe. But will you care after trying this salad? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

Fortunately some mango varieties (i.e. the common thick-skinned mangoes often sold in super markets) are grown year around in some parts of the world. Same goes for avocados. But if mangos are not looking good or not available in your market right now you can substitute segments from a few oranges or blood oranges.

And if you live in Northern Europe or the Midwestern/Northern U.S. and are really desperate for a tropical reprieve you can substitute toasted, chopped macadamia nuts for pine nuts. But most importantly you want the nutty crunch, so when it comes down to it any old toasted nut will do.

Cheers to magical salads!

Avocado and Mango Salad with Tahini Vinaigrette
Serves 4 as a side salad/2 as an entrée salad

Notes: I added crumbled feta the first time I made this, but I didn't think it was necessary and chose not to include it in the recipe. The salad is arguably better without, but I will leave that decision up to you.

Tahini Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp. tahini paste
2 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Drizzle of honey
2 Tbsp. mild olive oil, walnut oil, or avocado oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 large ripe but not overly ripe avocado, diced
1 medium ripe mango (or 1/2 large), sliced in long thin strips then halved
Several big handfuls Mache leaves (or other tender greens like Boston/Butterhead or baby spinach)
3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted

In the bottom of a large serving bowl, mix all ingredients for the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust the level of acidity and sweetness to your liking. Remember, you want the vinaigrette to be slightly more acidic at this stage because the flavor will be diluted a bit once tossed with the salad.

Add salad ingredients and toss gently with salad servers or two large spoons. Serve immediately!

08 December 2012

Offerings From Cinque Terre: Part II - Quick Brioche Minis

I really don't know where the last year has gone, but the holidays are upon us once again. What are you doing to prepare?

Thanks to my husband our house is now festive and cheery; lights hang across our windows, our silver and red table centerpiece found its' way to the dinning table, and a few Santa figurines are standing watch around the house. We took a day trip to Konstanz (southeastern Germany border) to visit our first Christmas Market and met up with friends who drove up for the day as well, where (to our surprise, and theirs too) they got engaged! We all came back that night to toast under our newly strung lights to their engagement and to having partners in life.

These Quick Brioche Minis are another reason to celebrate this holiday season. Little parcels of decadence that come together quickly and make for a great holiday gift to a neighbor or friend or allow for a break in the day to gather people together for an afternoon treat with a bottle of bubbly. Really people, we don't need a grand excuse to enjoy Champagne or Prosecco!

These treats were another creative product from our fall holiday at the Cinque Terre B&B (read Part I here) that I made a mental note to make. Our hostess, Laura, made these for our breakfast on the last day. The first bite of the pastry delivered a soft, subtly tangy, and buttery dough with a not-too-sweet local berry jam rolled up inside. It was rolled perfection. But as this was baking and required more exact measurements, I knew I had to ask for the recipe. Laura came out of the kitchen and in one fluid breath explained you mix together equal parts flour, ricotta cheese, and butter with a little sugar, no salt, and then roll the dough out. That was it. When I asked for the name, she said it didn't have one but then said, "I guess I'll call it a quick brioche". Brioche is a characteristically rich and buttery yeast bread, so this name made sense to me as the pastry obviously had A LOT of butter. 

In anticipation of the approaching holiday and wanting to share an idea for a balanced but indulgent treat, I went to work recreating this at home. I experimented with the proportions and used half the amount of butter called for and swapped regular white flour (all-purpose) for a combination of spelt flour and whole wheat pastry flour to provide a less refined, more substantial base. Of course all white flour,  a combination of white and whole wheat pastry flour, or a whole-grain gluten-free flour mix can be substituted. Nevertheless, this is a wet dough so you will want to work quickly and continue flouring the surface, dough, and rolling pin to prevent from sticking when you roll out. Use your favorite jam filling or sweet spread. I used strawberry jam for half of the recipe and Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread) for the other half. Nutella was my favorite and I would highly recommend it here.

Quick Brioche Minis
Serves 28-32 minis

3/4 cup spelt flour (I used light spelt flour)
1/4 whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup ricotta, at room temperature
8 Tbsp. butter (113 grams), at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar

Your favorite jam and/or Nutella

Icing sugar to finish

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit (180° Celsius)
For the dough, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment mix together all ingredients until just combined. Be careful not to over mix. Pour out onto a floured work surface and bring dough together with your hands, forming a ball and flouring the dough as needed so it has a smooth, non-sticky surface. Divide dough in half. Set one half aside and roll out the other half to ~1/4 inch thickness. Rotate dough after every few rolls and flour the surface and dough as needed to prevent from sticking.

Cut 2 strips down and 2 strips across to yield 9 squares. Cut diagonally across each square to form ~ 16-18 triangles. (This is simply a guide, so make as many squares as you would like).

Spread a thin layer of jam or Nutella on each triangle and roll dough towards the pointed end. Place rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 15-17 minutes, or until the tops are just beginning to get lightly golden.

While the first set bakes repeat steps with the other half of the dough. Transfer cooked minis to a cooling rack and serve warm with a dusting of icing sugar.

02 December 2012

Simple Tomato Soup with Orzo

Sometimes we need something for dinner that is simple and quick but still comforting. Friday was one of those days. It is unofficially officially winter here. We are enjoying our second snow of the season already, and after two days of relentless snow fall, an accumulated foot+ of this powdery goodness is now piled up in our corner of the world. Admittedly I was waiting in excited anticipation for the snow to begin. It is absolutely gorgeous to look at and provides a great backdrop for winter sports. And now that it has fallen I look across the valley and I hardly recognize the city anymore with it's new winter outfit. It has literally been transformed into a winter wonderland.

If you could not tell already, I really enjoy winter and snow. But there are a few downsides, as there is to anything worth loving. The change in barometric pressure can trigger some pretty harsh headaches and the snow prevents me from getting around town by bike safely (my main form of transportation), leaving me with the option of taking the bus. Swiss public transportation is probably the most reliable in the world so this is a perfectly feasible option, unless of course you are running late for your last day of German language class and you cannot rely on your bus to also be running late!

So by Friday night after two days of snowfall and dropping temperatures, you can imagine how this soup came in handy. The recipe is adapted from Ina's cookbook noted above. I don't own it but had a peek at it's content on Amazon. Ina is a trusted source for foolproof and simple but delicious recipes, so I'm not surprised she came out with this cookbook. I added sweet and rich balsamic vinegar to balance the tomatoes' acidity and buttermilk for richness instead of cream, which worked beautifully in the soup.

It wasn't until I sat down and slowly, methodically started to slurp up the soup that I realized how much of a calming effect it had on me and decided I should share it with you. My headache dissipated, I finally felt like I could wind down from the week, and suddenly everything was right in the world again.

Simple Tomato Soup with Orzo

Serves 6

Notes: Serve with a grilled cheese sandwich. I enjoy whole grain bread with gruyere cheese and whole grain mustard. Ina suggests making grilled cheese croutons. Cut the grilled sandwich in small cubes and top individual soup bowls.

3 Tbsp. good olive oil
3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (I used canned whole, peeled tomatoes because that's what I could find)
1 (15-ounce) can crushed or diced tomatoes
Salt and black pepper
3/4 cup whole wheat orzo or other small, short-cut pasta (or stir in cooked brown rice at the end)
1 cup buttermilk

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Deglaze the pan with balsamic vinegar, and stir onions to coat. Add the stock, tomatoes, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

If using whole or diced tomatoes puree soup with a hand blender or transfer, in batches, to a food processor or blender and puree. Return soup to pot and bring back up to a gentle boil.

Add orzo to the soup and stir to make sure it does not stick to the bottom. Cover and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally and checking that the soup stays at a gentle boil, until orzo is cooked through but not mushy (it should be al dente).

Stir in the buttermilk and simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Serve with grilled cheese or grilled cheese croutons.


25 November 2012

Offerings from Cinque Terre: Part I - Cauliflower and Leek Gratin

Combine the hominess of a really well-run B&B with incredibly generous and gracious hosts, who among other things served wonderful home-made meals, and you get this extraordinary agriturismo on Italy's Cinque Terre coast - Sostio A Levante. The property is tucked deep into the hills overlooking the Mediterranean and the car-free villages of Cinque Terre dotted along the coast below. 

The B&B's agriturismo label, popular throughout Italy, insures guests will have a slower-paced holiday off the beaten tracks with beautiful views of the surrounding landscape, insight into the local food culture, and at least one if not two exceptional home-made meals a day using local, seasonal, and many home-grown/locally-produced ingredients. Think lemon and kiwi trees scattered about the property, olives ripening in the backyard waiting to be cold-pressed into extra virgin olive oil, and grapes growing on the hill below the house for wine.

We stayed at this B&B for our fall holiday, and in between hikes through hills lined with vineyards that led down to the Cinque Terre villages and day trips to Lucca and Pisa, we were spoiled at mealtime by our hosts, Luca and Laura.

One of the evenings we joined them for dinner, a version of this cauliflower and leek gratin was served for our first course. It came out in individual gratin dishes, bubbling at the edges with browned, crispy bits on top. When it was served I thought it was pasta in a cream sauce. It was nowhere close. In fact, after the first spoonful I was still in question because it did not taste how I expected it to taste. It looked heavy and cheesy but it was refreshingly light and creamy. I detected the texture of pureed cauliflower and the subtle flavor of leek, but it was thinner than a cauliflower mash and thicker than a pureed leek-cauliflower soup. It was leaning towards a gratin with it's browned top, but it wasn't the type of gratin we often think of with sliced, layered vegetables baked in cream and cheese.

I could not place it in any one category, and I liked that it marched to the beat of its' own drum. A few more spoonfuls, and I was hooked by this delicate, uncategorizable dish.

I'm calling it a gratin here because frankly it needed a name and I don't think you would have been very impressed with me if I left this post blank. But even with a name, allow it to speak for itself if you try it. 

I took the base concept from that night of cauliflower and leeks blended into something between a mash and pureed soup and came up with this version. I knew I wanted it to have a bigger mouthful and a slightly more dynamic mélange of flavors, so pureeing the vegetables with soaked cashews added some unctuousness while the orange, lemon, and nutmeg added brightness and depth.

Suggestions: Make the puree a few days ahead, then all that is left to do at mealtime is placing it in ovenproof dish(es), sprinkling with cheese and olive oil, and browning under the broilerThis would also be great as a starter or side for a holiday meal. Serve it in individual ramekins or gratins, and your guests will feel festive and special eating it but will still feel good after eating it!

Cauliflower and Leek Gratin
Serves 4-6 as a side/starter

Notes: The desired consistency of this dish is more of a thinned out mash rather than a pureed soup. So when you puree the vegetables keep in mind you want just enough liquid to aid the blender but not too much so that the mash becomes soupy. Reserve any stock you remove from the pot before pureeing in case you need to add some later. Otherwise, leftover stock can be strained and kept in the refrigerator for another recipe.

1 head of cauliflower, divided into small florets and tender part of stem thinly sliced
2-3 cups good quality vegetable stock
2 leeks
1 pear, chopped
1 large garlic clove, halved
3/4 cup raw cashews, soaked in water for at least 4 hours
1/2 - 1 tsp. each salt and pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Juice and zest of half a small orange, or to taste
Squeeze of lemon, or to taste
Small handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for grating over top
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling over top

Over medium-high heat, bring 2 cups vegetable stock to a simmer in a small soup pot or a large, deep sauce pan. Add cauliflower and make sure stock comes about halfway up the cauliflower but no more (add 1/2 cup more stock at a time if needed); you want the vegetables to partially boil and partially steam in the pot. Place the lid on and adjust the heat to simmer for 5 minutes, or until cauliflower is just beginning to soften.

While the cauliflower cooks, prep the leeks. Discard the green root end and keep the white and light green stalk. Remove outer layer of stalk, halve stalk lengthwise, and slice. (Size does not matter as it will all get pureed at the end.) Swish the slices around in a big bowl filled with water to allow any dirt between the layers to sink to the bottom.

Stir in leeks, pear, and garlic, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until vegetables are very soft. The vegetables will release water as they cook, so you should not have to add more stock, but check once while they cook to make sure the pot is not dry.

Remove from heat, drain extra liquid (see note above), add drained cashews and puree with a hand blender. Stir in salt and pepper, nutmeg and the next 4 ingredients (through parmesan). Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. If you want the puree to have a richer mouthful, you can stir in a little butter or cream. Spoon puree into any kind of shallow dish(s) that will go under the broiler (individual gratins or ramekins, pie dish, etc). Sprinkle over a generous amount of parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Place under the broiler for 3-5 minutes until cheese has browned. Serve with parsley sprinkled on top, if desired.

20 November 2012

Muhammara Stew

I love nuts. I have always liked nuts, but as an adult I have come to crave their crunch and deep, buttery flavor brought out from toasting. As a child I remember watching my mom enjoy a spoonful of peanut butter after dinner sometimes, but at the time I didn't understand what was so great about it. Now, I cook with nuts all of the time. I rarely make a salad without them, they are never excluded from my granola or oatmeal, I love using almond flour when baking and often experiment with nut bases for sauces, stews, and dips. With their healthy fats, gorgeous flavor, and versatility in the kitchen, what's not to love.

Walnuts are front and center today. They are combined with roasted red peppers and a few other important ingredients* to make Muhammara, a sauce that provides smoky, sweet, and nutty base notes for this stew. Muhammara is a traditional Middle Eastern dip for pita but is now used in various ways throughout the Middle East. I first made Muhammara for Aari's pasta dish which inspired me to turn the sauce into a stew.

By the way, you are really getting two recipes for one here. Muhammara is excellent on its' own tossed with pasta, used as a dip for vegetables and pita, or spooned over grilled fish. But when it is combined with red lentils, chunky vegetables, and chickpeas it becomes a very satisfying and cozy winter meal. If you make the Muhammara a day ahead, the meal will come together even quicker.

*Pomegranate molasses is a really special ingredient in the Muhammara. In fact it's a special ingredient period. It is made by boiling down juice from a tart variety of pomegranates until a thick syrup is formed. It can be found in whole foods stores and Middle Eastern markets, and a few teaspoons in a dish give a unique sweet-tart flavor that just cannot be replicated by anything else.  It is also highly versatile and among other things it can be used in vinaigrettes,  stirred into rich soups, and drizzled over ice cream.

Muhammara Stew

Serves 6-8

Notes: Unfortunately you cannot see the red lentils in the dish, but they still serve a purpose in my opinion by adding a bit of texture (provided they are not overcooked) and heft to the sauce as well as additional protein and fiber. However, a nice variation would be to swap out the lentils for 1 cup of cooked yellow split peas, stirred in at the last minute.

2 Tbsp. walnut oil (or olive oil)
1 red onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1 red chili (sometimes called Fresno), chopped
1 Tbsp. cumin
2 tsp. coriander
1/4 tsp. chili powder
4 medium carrots, sliced thinly on a diagonal
4 cups vegetable stock, divided (or half water, half stock)
3/4 cup red lentils
1oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 small-medium sized zucchini, halved lengthwise, then halved again and chopped into large bite size pieces
1 head of cauliflower, florets separated into bite size pieces
1 recipe of Muhamarra (see recipe below)
Juice of 1 lemon
Big handful cilantro, chopped

In the largest high-sided saute pan that you own (I love this one), saute onions and chili in oil over medium heat until onions begin to soften, 2-3 minutes. Add the three spices, garlic, and carrots and cook for several minutes until  the spices are fragrant (add a little more oil at this point if the pan looks dry). Season with salt and pepper, then add two cups vegetable stock and lentils, turn heat to medium-high, cover with lid, and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the lentils have soaked up most of the stock  and the carrots have softened slightly. 

Add remaining two more cups stock along with the chickpeascauliflower, zucchini, and Muhamarra. Cover and cook another 10-15 minutes, depending on how big you cut the vegetables. You want the vegetables to still have a little bite to them when you are finished cooking.

Remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice and cilantro, and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve with cooked quinoa or rice. And if you are so inclined, pass pomegranate molasses and/or chopped walnuts at the table.

*You may need to have a heavier hand when seasoning if using water only.

Adapted from Aari's Muhammara Pasta recipe

Notes: If you make this as a stand alone sauce for pasta or a dip, add a few tablespoons of walnut oil or extra virgin olive oil to the mixture before blending.

6 jarred, roasted red peppers
1 cup toasted walnuts
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in olive oil
2 tsp. pomegranate molasses
2 tsp. cumin powder
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
Juice of half a juicy lemon
2 garlic cloves

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days if making ahead of time. 

18 November 2012

Puffed Quinoa Granola

I didn't plan to write a post about granola because it seems so mainstream now, and I was afraid of sounding like a broken record in the blog world. But I tweaked my usual recipe a bit this weekend  to dress it up for guests we had, and I enjoyed the result so much that I wanted to share it with you.

I recently found puffed quinoa at my local Reformhaus (the German equivalent to a health food store). I bought a bag, already having in mind wanting to increase the nutrient level, and in particular the protein level, in my normal granola. With a few exceptions, I usually choose whole grains/oats rather than their processed, quick-cooking counterparts since the nutritional quality diminishes during the processing. But from what I have read, the puffed quinoa retains much of the nutrients and complete protein quality that quinoa is so famous for. So eat up! 

Home-made granola is a frequent visitor in our kitchen. I make it once or twice a month to add variety to my weekday breakfast rotation of bircher muesli and steel cut oatmeal. I serve myself a generous helping and mix in full-fat plain yogurt, some berries, and I'm good to go. This is perfect as is, and I will continue to have granola this way. But for our friend I made a granola parfait. For little additional effort creating a parfait made it feel so much more special, and I have to admit it was really fun to eat. Just layer yogurt, mashed berries with a little honey (or good quality jam), granola, and repeat.

Granola is a blank canvas. You should make sure you have enough liquid (oil and liquid sweeteners) for the amount of dry ingredients, but other than that, the mix and proportion of nuts, seeds, grains, and dried fruit can be tweaked to your liking. So if there are certain ingredients in this recipe that would otherwise deter you from making this, please don't let it. This just happens to be my favorite mix.

Puffed Quinoa Granola
Serves 6-8

2 cups (195 g) rolled oats
2 cups (68 g) puffed quinoa
1 cup (75 g) unsweetened coconut flakes (optional)
1 cup (120 g) slivered almonds
1/4 cup (34 g) sunflower seeds
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cardamom
Big pinch salt
4 Tbsp. coconut oil (or a neutral flavored oil)
3 Tbsp honey
2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
3 Tbsp. unsweetened applesauce
2 tsp. pure almond extract
2/3 cup (80 gr) dried cranberries (or other dried fruit of your choice)

Preheat oven to 350°F (176°C).

Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat warm oil and the next 3 ingredients (through applesauce). Whisk together to incorporate, remove from heat, and mix in almond extract. Pour liquid over oat mixture and stir well to combine.

Spread mixture evenly on a large cookie sheet lined with a silpat, foil, or parchment paper. Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, until starting to brown. Remove from oven, flip granola over with a spatula and cook for 1-2 more 10 minute intervals, depending on how toasted you like your granola. After each 10 minutes, remove from oven and stir around so all sides are browned. 

Once cooked, remove from oven and let cool before stirring around so some clumps will form. Stir in dried fruit and transfer to an airtight container to store. This granola will last for a good week. 

18 October 2012

Thai Vegetable Stew With Paneer And Chickpeas

We just had the most enjoyable weekend with friends who came to visit. It was the perfect time of year for showing them around our little city on bikes and going for a long hike to soak up the beauty of fall in Switzerland. The hike was strenuous but rewarding with breathtaking views and welcome surprise finds of a lake tucked into the mountain valley and a house built into the side of the mountain. 

There is something extremely satisfying and reflective about enjoying the company of close friends amidst a backdrop of natural beauty.  It reminds me of how enriching it is to have good relationships in life and how important it is to show appreciation for them.

That evening we returned home and after warm showers we sat down to enjoy this Thai stew.  It was warmly-spiced, comforting, and nourishing, perfect for a cool Autumn evening after a long hike. This was my way of communicating to our friends that their visit was special. 

Thai Vegetable Stew With Paneer and Chickpeas
Serves 6 

Notes: If you want a richer flavored stew you can substitute the vegetable stock for a can of coconut milk and omit the yogurt at the end. 
I recommend drizzling pomegranate molasses over the stew at the table. Read more about the molasses here. Using it like you would a finishing oil really elevates the flavors of the dish and gives a unique sweet-tart flavor I felt the dish needed. But if you cannot find it, a drizzle of honey stirred in at the end before serving and an extra squeeze of lemon at the table should do the trick. 

2 Tbsp. extra virgin coconut oil
1 package Paneer cheese, cubed
4 small, firm zucchini, sliced 1/4" thick (thick enough to maintain shape and some bite when cooked)
3 stalks of lemongrass, halved with outer layer and green stalks removed
1 bunch of scallions (4-5 pieces), chopped reserving 1/4 for rice
1 large red chili (sometimes called Fresno Chili), sliced reserving 1/4 for rice
1" piece of ginger, grated
2 cloves of garlic, grated
2 14 oz. cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups good quality vegetable stock
1 medium butternut squash, roasted*
1 large bunch each Thai basil & cilantro, chopped reserving 1/4 of bunch for rice
1/2 cup natural plain yogurt
Juice of 1/2 large lemon
1 tsp. soy sauce
2 cups black rice (I used organic Forbidden Rice, but Black Japonica will work here too), cooked according to package directions
1/2 cup roasted cashews, chopped
Pomegranate molasses for drizzling at table

In a medium non-stick pan over medium-high heat, saute Paneer cubes in 1 tsp coconut oil until the sides are golden brown and crispy. Remove Paneer from pan and set aside.

In a large high-sided saute pan over medium heat, heat the remaining coconut oil and add zucchini, scallions, and lemongrass. Saute for several minutes, season with salt and pepper, and add chili, ginger, and garlic. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute. Add chickpeas and stock, stir to combine, cover with lid, and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes or until zucchini is cooked but still has a bite to it.

Gently stir in squash and the next 5 ingredients (through soy sauce). Taste sauce to adjust flavors to your liking.

Serve over black rice, topped with chopped cashews and a drizzle of pomegranate molasses.

Black Rice
Once rice is cooked, add salt and pepper to taste along with the reserved chili, scallions, herbs, and juice of half a lime. 

*Peel and cut the squash into large bite size pieces. Spread in an even layer on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and roast with olive oil, salt, pepper in 400° oven for 10-15 minutes, until they are just barely fork-tender

08 October 2012

Black Rice Pasta with Fresh Tri-Tomato Sauce

I was thinking of a way to enjoy the last of the seasonal tomatoes before they all but disappear from my farmer's market, and this pasta dish hits the spot. Three tomato varieties are combined to create a pleasingly fresh but complex flavor, one unexpected for a barely-cooked sauce. The tomatoes gently simmer over heat just long enough to make a sauce that delicately coats the pasta but that still retains the bright flavor we all love in a light fresh summer tomato sauce. Be generous with the basil and Parmesan shavings.

A note about the black rice pasta. Of course quinoa pasta or regular pasta would be equally delicious, to name just a few, but I was in the mood for a dramatic looking pasta dish. I also love that the black rice pasta is nutritionally dense making for a nicely rounded dish. I made this a meal with a walnut and zucchini Carpaccio salad on the side. 

Black Rice Pasta with Fresh Tri-Tomato Sauce
Serves 4

1 lb large tomatoes (approximately 4-6, depending on the size)
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
several pinches of red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, dabbed with paper towel to remove most of oil and sliced
2 Tbsp. capers
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Big handful basil, torn
1 lb black rice pasta* 
Parmesan cheese, for shaving at the table

Score large tomatoes and drop in boiling water for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander and rinse under cold water. Skin the tomatoes and chop. Add the pasta to the same boiling water and cook according to package directions.* 

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil for one minute, then add chopped, skinned tomatoes, and gently stir to combine. Add sun dried tomatoes and capers and cover to simmer for 3 minutes. Remove lid, add salt, ground black pepper, and cherry tomatoes. Cover again to simmer until cherry tomatoes are warmed through and barely starting to soften (2-3 minutes). Taste sauce and adjust seasoning, if needed. Throw in the basil and gently toss with pasta. 

Serve immediately topped with Parmesan shavings and more freshly ground black pepper. 

*Box sizes of black rice pasta can vary, but try to get at least 400 grams. Otherwise extra sauce is great tossed into a quinoa salad or spooned over grilled fish or vegetables.
Black rice pasta can go from al dente to gummy in a flash. So err on the side of under-cooking the pasta by a minute or so, and immediately drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process. Toss with a little olive oil if you're not quite ready to combine it with the sauce.

03 October 2012

Fall Harvest Soup With Two Grains

This is my first Autumn "transition" soup. It lies somewhere in between a light summer soup and a rich winter stew. But accented with the fall flavors of squash and apple it is gently luring me towards the season's bounty.

Apples are now overflowing at my market, which also means there is plenty of freshly pressed apple cider. The juice is sold in 1.5 liter bottles for 2.50 CHF. This cost-to-quantity ratio for something of this quality is unheard of here in Switzerland, except for apparently in Autumn when local apple orchards have a surplus of apples. This clearly made my day, and I started to think of ways to use the cider. My husband enjoys drinking it as is (yes, I did share some with him!), but when I have special seasonal ingredients I like to work them into a recipe as a way of celebrating their uniqueness even more.

So I decided to use the apple cider along with apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan for a sweet-tart component in the background of the soup. The sweet acidity contrasts nicely against the starchiness provided by cooking the grains directly in the soup. I used half of a very large acorn squash, but you could swap it out for your favorite squash variety. Butternut squash would be lovely here, but please avoid overcooking it so that it doesn't become mushy!

Enjoy your transition into fall!

Fall Harvest Soup With Two Grains
Serves 4-6
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 red chili (sometimes called Fresno)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
2-3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup apple cider
1 medium Acorn squash (or another squash variety of your choosing such as butternut or buttercup), chopped into bite-size pieces
6 cups of liquid (a mix of good quality vegetable stock + water, or all water + a few organic no-salt added vegetable bouillon cubes)
3/4 cup pearled barley
1/2 cup millet
1 15 oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lemon
Plain yogurt or ricotta, dressed with lemon, salt & pepper
Pumpkin seeds, if desired

In a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion, chili, and garlic in oil, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften. Stir in salt and pepper to taste and spices (through cinnamon). Cook another minute until spices are fragrant and beginning to toast. Stir in tomato paste and warm through, then deglaze the pan with apple cider vinegar and apple cider.

Add chopped squash, season with salt and pepper, then add the liquid. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the barley, cover again and simmer for 10 minutes. Finally, add the millet and cannellini beans and simmer another 10 minutes or until the grains are cooked al dente.

Taste broth, adjust for seasoning, add lemon juice, and serve. Pass yogurt or ricotta at table to dollop on top as well as pumpkin seeds, if desired.