26 March 2013

Mexican Chocolate and Date Breakfast Smoothie

I would not usually consider a smoothie to be a full breakfast, but this one is the exception. It is flavored with cinnamon and vanilla to give a wink and a nudge to Mexican chocolate, and it is deliciously thick and rich. It is also slowly digested helping you feel full longer because of the quality nutrition; high protein content and healthy fats from the cashews and avocado, potassium from the banana , antioxidants  and mild, natural stimulants from raw cocao powder (so you can skip the coffee!) and no added sugar thanks to the dates. For a completely raw smoothie, use seeds from half a vanilla pod instead of vanilla extract. Eat with a spoon and don't forget to sprinkle unsweetened cocao nibs and chopped dates on the top. The chewy and crunchy addition is phenomenal!

I am going to keep this short because I am enjoying a trip back to the US indulging in quality time with family and friends. I could not be enjoying their company more, but it is still hard to feel balanced in mind and body when traveling and out of my normal routine. So to start these days away off right I try to get plenty of sleep, drink lots of water, keep my yoga routine, and treat myself to a yummy green juice from Whole Foods (also highly recommended!) a few of the mornings to take the place of this smoothie. But if you are at home, this smoothie is an excellent way to start the day. It is genuinely good and good for you.

Mexican Chocolate and Date Breakfast Smoothie
Inspired by My New Roots' raw chocolate milkshake

Serves 1

1/3 cup/40 g cashews, soaked in water overnight then drained
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. vanilla paste/extract (or seeds from 1/2 vanilla pod)
4 dates, pitted
1 heaping tsp. cocao powder (unsweetened cocoa powder will work
1 small banana
1/2 avocado
4 ice cubes
1/2 cup/ 150 ml almond milk, rice milk, or water

To Finish
Cocoa nibs
Chopped dates

Add everything to a blender and blend on high until smooth. Poor in a tall glass and top with unsweetened cocao nibs and chopped dates. 

17 March 2013

Red Vegetable Pozole

My German language classes bring people together from all corners of the world; Tibetans, Eritreans, Romanians, and Spanish, to name just a few. We often discuss (in our half intelligible German) what the culture and food is like in our home countries. Outside of German class I also enjoy our group of expat friends that is quickly forming. Remember when I invited the girls over here? Recently we met up again, this time at someone else's house outside of St. Gallen with views of the mountains, and for a potluck where we each brought a dish from our home country.

Since moving to Switzerland, instances like these have really forced me to think about the food culture of my childhood. As an American, I have bucketed my food identity as a melting pot of sorts, as American identity at large so often is regarded. This identity is especially true when compared to the more specific and directed culture and food identity of my expat friends coming from countries spanning Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

But I also like the melting pot that is my country; nothing beats the diversity, the inventiveness, and the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, which is also reflected through the food. The cuisines vary by region and represent the vibrant and dynamic culture behind them, ranging from Baja California on the West coast, a fusion of Mexican flavors and fresh, light California fare, to the seafood centric New England cuisine on the East coast boasting chowders and clam bakes.

Growing up in the Southwest, the predominate food of my childhood inside and outside of my home was a fusion of Mexican and Southwestern cuisines. Think along the lines of tacos, frijoles, enchiladas, chile rellenos, pozole, stuffed peppers, taco salad, salsa, and guacamole. (Even my grandmother would use chili powder in her cabbage stew!) Wikipedia summarizes the root of Southwestern cuisine very well:
 "It comprises a fusion of recipes for things that might have been eaten by Spanish colonial settlers, cowboys, Native Americans, and Mexicans throughout the post-Columbian era."

One of my favorite words in the English language is fusion. To me a fusion of cultures and cuisines represents the act of acknowledging gray area; that views and ways of doing things are not rigid, but rather can be blended together to create something far more interesting and unique. Fusion is what my country represents (we are all immigrants after all), my childhood cuisine represents, and what I love to do in the kitchen today.

I chose to bring this pozole to the potluck mentioned earlier. Pozole is a traditional soup or stew from Mexico made of hominy, pork or chicken, chili peppers, and several garnishes. I blended some favorite Mexican and Southwestern flavors to make a vegetarian version that will hopefully appeal to you as well; hominy, chipotles in adobo, ancho tomatillo salsa, and loads of vegetables.

I crave these flavors, they are comfort food to me. I may not be able to find great authentic Mexican restaurants here, but there is one Mexican store called El Sabor, owned and operated by a husband and wife team who imports a lot of familiar Mexican products. The woman, who is herself Mexican, also sells her homemade tamales and locally-made corn tortillas in the store. This store is my saving grace when I want to make something like this pozole.  

Hominy is whole dried corn kernels that have been soaked and cooked, a process called nixtamalization. Once cooked, it has a fairly neutral flavor, and the texture is soft but with a slight, but pleasing bite to it, not all that different from the texture of chickpeas. Hominy is sold in dried and cooked forms in large supermarkets or on Amazon, but if you absolutely cannot find it, you could substitute fresh or frozen corn or chickpeas. This would, however, be a wide departure from actual pozole, so I would encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for hominy when traveling!

Red Vegetable Pozole

Notes: This is spicy. If you prefer it less spicy, start with half the amount of chili powder called for and use only the adobo sauce from the canned chipotle in adobo.
The measurements for liquid in this recipe are simple. Once tomatoes are added to the soup, use the empty can to measure the water/vegetable stock and the salsa.

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. chili powder (substitute 1/2 of the amount with chipotle chili powder if you have it - it adds a wonderful smoky flavor)
1 Tbsp. sweet paprika
1 tsp. cumin
2 carrots, halved and sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 chipotle chili from a can of chipotle in adobo, chopped (or a spoonful of only the adobo sauce)
30 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 1/2 cans (use empty tomato can) water or vegetable stock, or a combination
30 oz can hominy, rinsed and drained (or dried hominy, soaked overnight, then cooked in water for 1-2 hours, until soft)
1/2 can (use empty tomato can) ancho tomatillo salsa (optional)
1-2 tsp. salt
2 firm zucchini, quartered and sliced
Spoonful honey
Juice of 1 lime (optional)
Handful fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot or dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add onions and next three spices. Stir to coat with olive oil and saute for a minute. Add carrots, garlic, and season with salt, and saute for a few more minutes. If the pan is looking dry add a touch more olive oil or a splash of water.

Stir in the chipotle, or just adobo sauce if you prefer less heat, and next 5 ingredients (through salt). Simmer covered for 15 minutes. Add zucchini and honey in the last 5 minutes of cooking.

Taste and adjust for seasoning, adding another drizzle of honey and/or lime to balance, if necessary. If not using the salsa, you will definitely want to use the juice of 1 lime and handful fresh, chopped cilantro. Ladle into wide bowls and serve with toppings.

Ancho Tomatillo Salsa

Notes: The salsa is optional if you don't have all the ingredients on hand. The ancho chilies add richer, smoky base notes and the tangy tomatillos balance the smoky and spicy notes. But for a quicker version the same flavor profile can be achieved from the chili powder, chipotles in adobo, and an extra addition of lime and cilantro at the end.
With that said, if you do make the salsa you will be rewarded with having the base for several more potential meals already prepared, as this makes much more than what is needed in the soup. I used the salsa along with black beans, guacamole, pickled jalapenos, and feta to top nachos. And later turned the remaining few cups into a mole sauce; simmered with onions, celery, oregano, a cinnamon stick, and unsweetened cocoa powder. Add chicken, black beans, or vegetables to the sauce and serve over rice topped with feta and toasted pepitas (pumkin seeds).  

1 package dried ancho chilies (~4-5 chilies)
30 oz. can tomatillos, drained (use fresh if you have access to them, ~10 medium tomatillos)
1 tsp. cumin
1 garlic clove
Spoonful honey, or to taste
Salt & pepper to taste

Remove stem and seeds from dried chilies and place in a glass bowl. Cover with boiling water and let soak for 10 minutes.

Remove chilies from the water and add to the food processor or blender along with the remaining ingredients. Add a few splashes of the chili soaking water and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust for seasoning and balance of spice and sweet.

Toppings (these are required!)
Crumbled feta or queso fresco
Crispy tortilla strips (cut corn tortillas in thin strips, drizzle with a small amount olive oil and cook under broiler for 5 minutes, watching carefully so they don't burn; they will get crispier as they cool)
Diced avocado
Fresh cilantro, chopped

10 March 2013

Brie Panini with Cranberry-Walnut Bread

Migros is a widespread supermarket chain in Switzerland. And this being Switzerland, it has quite an impressive baked goods and prepared sandwich counter. I frequent the fish counter weekly which is right next to the prepared sandwiches, so I am always eyeing a tasty looking brie sandwich with fruit and nut studded bread. I don't know if they press the sandwich to order but for months now I have been wanting to make a pressed version at home using homemade bread. And alas, I finally have and I sure am glad I did.

Pairing cheese with a sweet-ish bread for lunch may sound weird to some, but think of a cheese board where nuts, honey, quince paste, dried fruit, and an assortment of cheeses share a platter just begging to be eaten together. They're paired together for a reason.

This sandwich is simple; it requires minimal ingredients so each ingredient should be quality. There are three components; the whole grain cranberry and walnut bread, brie, and orange-balsamic dipping sauce. Paninis are best when the slices of bread are not too thick and the filling is kept to a minimal. Overstuffing the sandwich is not what we're after when pressing. The objective is to get a crispy outer with a delicate, cheesy, and flavorful middle pressed into a thin, somewhat flattened warm sandwich.

I would have loved to add a few thin slices of pear on top of the brie, but by the time I remembered to pick up some at the store my hand basket was overflowing, and I knew I would not possibly be able to fit one more thing in my bike basket and bike home with it all. But I usually add pear when I make a panini and would highly recommend it here as well.

I just recently started making my own yeast bread. The logistics of bread making have not appealed to me, that is, until recently when I came across a few different no-knead recipes. And I'm telling you, this one is a winner. It is damn simple to execute and so satisfying to have an end product that reminds you how self-sufficient you are. I've adapted the technique to streamline the process a bit more and added dried cranberries and walnuts to the base recipe. That being said, if you need a quicker meal and have access to good quality cranberry or raisin-nut bread (or a gluten-free bread if necessary) at your bakery, by all means go that route.

Now for the dipping sauce; this is an essential component, please don't skip it! Warm, crispy, gooey paninis are not the same without a thick, sweet, and tangy sauce to dunk them in. It is a simple blend of good quality balsamic vinegar, orange marmalade, walnut or extra virgin olive oil and grainy mustard. Nothing more than a vinaigrette really, but it makes the world of difference.

Brie Panini With Cranberry-Walnut Bread

Panini Assembly

Notes: You do not need a panini press to make a panini. Simply use a stove-top grill pan/saute pan. While grilling the first side lay a piece of foil over the sandwich and press down with a second pan to flatten. Place a heavy canned item in the top pan to weigh it down while the panini cooks so that you don't have to babysit it.

Brie, sliced
Cranberry and walnut bread, thinly sliced
Pear (ripe but firm), thinly sliced (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil for brushing bread
Orange-Balsamic sauce for dipping
Preheat panini press, grill pan, or saute pan over medium to medium-high heat.

Cover the bottom of one slice of bread with brie and layer a few slices of pear on top of the brie if using.   Cover with the other slice of bread, pressing gently. Brush both sides of the sandwich with a little olive oil and transfer to the hot press or pan. Grill until the outside of the bread is golden brown and toasted and the cheese is just melted (approximately 3-5 minutes for a panini press, 5-7 for a grill/saute pan). If using the latter, flip the sandwich over half way through to brown on the other side.

No-Knead Cranberry-Walnut Bread
Makes 1 large round loaf
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

Notes: I chose a combination of spelt and whole wheat flour, but Green Kitchen Stories says the recipe also works using only one type of flour or other flour combinations, so feel free to experiment or use what you have on hand. Incidentally, spelt flour is a great choice for those who can tolerate gluten but have a wheat sensitivity. 

2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 tsp. dried yeast or 3 g active yeast (the size of a pea)
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. honey
2 3/4 cups (400 g) whole spelt flour
2 cups (300 g) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
Extra flour for folding
Polenta or course cornmeal for sprinkling
1 oven proof dutch oven, cast iron or ceramic pot (approx 5 1/2 quart) or deep cast iron skillet

Place water in a very large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast to dissolve. Next stir in salt and honey until well mixed. Sift flours into the water mixture and mix together until all is combined. It will look loose and messy, but that is normal. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise (in room temperature but free of drafts) for 12-15 hours.

After rising, the dough should have bubbles and feel sticky. Sprinkle a little flour over the dough, and working in the bowl, incorporate the cranberries and walnuts, gently folding the dough over itself and dusting with flour as needed. Re-cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 2-3 hours (in room temperature).

When there is about 30 minutes remaining, preheat the oven to 500°F (250°C) and place the dutch oven (no greasing needed) with the lid on in the oven. When the oven is fully preheated, remove the dutch oven, sprinkle the bottom with a thin layer of course cornmeal or polenta (this will facilitate easier removal once cooked), and pour the dough into the hot pot. Sprinkle more polenta around the edges of the dough, then cover with the lid and place it back in the hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then lower to 445°F (230°C), remove the lid, and bake for another 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven, let cool in the pot for 30-45 minutes (the cooler it is the easier it will be to remove), loosen the sides with a spatula and turn the dutch oven upside down over a cooling rack to release the bread. Let cool completely before storing.

Orange-Balsamic Dipping Sauce
Serves 2

2 Tbsp. aged balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. cold-pressed walnut oil (or extra virgin olive oil)
1 scant tsp. orange marmalade (or apricot jam)
1 heaping tsp. grainy mustard
Pinch salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste and adjust for seasoning, sweetness, and tartness. Serve in individual bowls for dipping. 

01 March 2013

Herbed Lemon Oil with Avocado

Nestled in a valley just below the mountains, St. Gallen's weather pattern is at best, strange and unpredictable. But one thing is for sure; in the 8 months I have lived here, it seems like we get more rain, more fog, and more snow than other neighboring areas. The low-lying, dense fog makes itself at home for a few weeks in the late Autumn, and then the snow clouds take over from there. A full day of sunshine in the winter is rare, but the experienced take the cue and head for the mountains. There you get above the clouds and feel alive again underneath the bright, all-consuming sun. Who cares that the temperature is well below freezing. The point is to work with the season; snow shoeing, winter hikes, sledging, and skiing are at the ready.

In between our trips to the mountains, I crave nutrient-rich, immunity-boosting meals that are as satisfying from the inside-out as they are from the outside-in. This herbed lemon oil provides vitamin C from the lemon and chili, healthy fats from the olive oil and avocado, and if drizzling over fish or poached eggs, essential Omega-3 fatty acids. And did you know that tarragon has one of the highest antioxidant values of all common herbs?

The oil is great drizzled over steamed broccoli, poached eggs, roasted root vegetables, grilled Halloumi cheese, or fish. Maybe even try it over fresh mozzarella slices as an antipasti platter. This time I spooned it over a simple fish en papillote, the recipe for which I have also included below.

Herbed Lemon Oil with Avocado
Serves 2

Notes: This makes enough for 2 generous servings, but it can easily be doubled. If doubling, I suggest adding twice the amount of all ingredients except for onion and chili. Of course use your judgment, but a little raw heat goes a long way especially if you're making this ahead of time. For a less spicy version, remove the seeds from the chili before chopping.

2 Tbsp. red onion (~ 1/2 very small onion), finely diced, or 1 shallot
Zest and juice of 1 juicy organic lemon
1 small red chili, minced (or big pinch red pepper flakes)
2-3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Handful tarragon, chopped (~ 1 small bunch)
1/2 large ripe avocado, diced
Salt and pepper, to taste

Mix first three ingredients in a small mixing bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. The lemon juice will remove the raw bite from the onion. Whisk in oil, then gently stir in the remaining three ingredients. Taste and adjust for seasoning.

This can be made 30 minutes ahead of time and left out on the counter for flavors to combine. 

Simple Fish en Papillote
Serves 2

Notes: Salmon or a white, mild-flavored fish such as tilapia, halibut, cod, or flounder work well here.

2 fish filets, preferably sustainably raised (~1/2 lb/350 gr)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375° F (190° C)

Place fish filets just off center on a piece of parchment paper that is long enough to fold back over fish. Season fish lightly with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Fold parchment paper over the fish so that the two ends of the paper come together. Seal the ends by making tight folds all around, overlapping the folds as you go, to make a sealed half-moon shaped pouch. This allows the fish to steam in the oven.

Place the pouch on a baking sheet and cook in the center of the oven for 12 to 18 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish. The fish will flake with a fork when cooked.

                                     Courtesy of sodelulushiou.com