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Monday, October 27, 2014

About fish, freezers and more. Did you know...?



A few weeks ago a close friend drove a couple of hundred kms to attend a cooking course we had booked as a birthday present for each other for our 2013 birthdays, so a little over a year later. Considering we live far apart and three out of four of us have young children, we didn't do too bad!

The course was all about cooking fish and we really enjoyed it: not only was the chef sociable, interesting and experienced, there was also a good vibe during the lesson and I had a great time with my girls.

I personally am not scared to cook fish, I actually find it pretty straightforward, they key being to not
overcook it in my opinion. Also, I am not in the least squeamish when it comes things like innards and eyes. Truth be told, I am much more scared of getting egg whites to reach the perfect consistency.

We made two simple, yet very tasty recipes that I will tell you more about in my next post. What I really liked about the course, however, was the preamble.

If there are two things that do slightly intimidate me about cooking fish, knowing  how to buy a fresh, sustainable and healthy specimen is the first, closely followed by cleaning and filleting it. I usually cook fish whole.


The right way
 
Of course, I know that if I go to the renown fish monger downtown and pay four times more than average for wild Alaskan salmon for a special occasion, his fish will be fresh and top quality. But what about feeding my kids on a daily basis without spending more than I would at my favorite sushi place and still bringing a healthy, sustainable meal to the table?
 
Both my fears were addressed during the course: I learned how to fillet a seas bass, but given it looked like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre had taken place at my work station, I think I have to practice a lot more before trying to teach you how to do it. And, the chef gave us a lot of interesting and useful tips that I want to pass on to you. 


The wrong way: Texas Chainsaw Massacre style

He started from the more obvious things, like how to tell if the fish you are buying is fresh. As he spoke,  I realized that things that were a given to me, weren't for others and viceversa. I also learned some things that seem obvious once you know them, but that can be a real eye-opener when discovering them.

There is so much more to learn in the kitchen than just plain technique, and this learning process never ends. So I hope you too will find something useful in this post too. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

We can all make a difference

Foto source: Nexive
 
Maybe not all of you know this, but yesterday was the 2014 World Food Day.
 
As explained on the FAO website, the World Food Day is celebrated each year on the 16 October because that is when the Organization was founded back in 1945. The objectives of this day, among other things, are to raise  public awareness of the problem of world hunger and strengthen solidarity in the struggle to fight hunger and poverty.

I was asked a couple of days ago if I was interested in writing about a local charitable initiative to help spread the word and happily accepted. Any kind of contribution, no matter how small, can help raise awareness and as a food blogger I also feel a certain responsibility towards all things concering food and waste.

I did not receive any compensation for this post, but I strongly believe in these initiatives and try to apply my beliefs to my everyday approach to cooking. I try to cook seasonal, local, sustainable meals.
 
As a mom with a growing family, I also try to cook on a budget, although I do invest more on ingredients like eggs, meat and fish (and by doing this I simultaneously try to sustain local farmers and producers). I counterbalance the cost by cooking a lot with seasonal vegetables and fruitlegumes and grains
 


 
The recipes I post usually do not require expensive or extravagant ingredients but when I do buy more "exotic" ones, they are usually staples I find myself using over and over again (spices, fish sauce, miso paste, sesame oil etc.). I try to avoid waste and use leftovers whenever possible.

When I got the email about Nexive's collaboration with Siticibo, the programme launched by Banco Alimentare,  I was excited.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pumpkin, Swiss chard and ricotta gnudi (a low carb alternative to ravioli or gnocchi)


After an extrememly warm and sunny September, fall has arrived in all its glory. I can tell by the orange and yellow leaves and the chestnuts covering the sidewalks of the city, I can tell by the variety of apples, mushrooms and pumpkins at the store. I can tell by the plentiful rain, my runny nose and my desire to eat something a little more substantial and comforting for dinner.
 
Enter gnudi.
 
If you are wondering what gnudi are, think of the love child between a raviolo* and a canederlo (or knoedel in German).
 
To be honest, they aren't really closely related to canederli, because gnudi don't actually contain any bread or bread crumbs. They are however reminiscent of them in looks and they share their versatility: you can make them choosing from a wide range of ingredients and you can serve them in broth or with a variety of sauces.
 
But when it comes to the actual preparation, they are much more akin to ravioli, so perhaps the best way to describe them is telling you to picture a naughty raviolo in its birthday suit.
 
 
 
Gnudo is indeed Tuscan dialect for nudo, which means naked in Italian. So gnudi are none other than dumplings or delicate gnocchi (out go the potatoes, in comes the ricotta) made using the same ingredients you would employ for stuffing ravioli, with just a small addition of flour to hold together the fragile ricotta pillows while they are cooking. I used regular flour, but you could probably substitute it with gluten free or no-carb options if you needed/wanted to (rice flour, chickpea flour etc.).
 
Basically, gnudi are a shortcut and they have the added bonus of being low carb. Sure,  butter and Parmesan cheese make a hefty apperance in the recipe, but the true bulk of gnudi is ricotta (which is not a cheese per se) and vegetables. So what it comes down to is that when you are making gnudi you are actually making a quick and pretty healthy vegetarian meal.
 

 

Spinach and ricotta are traditional ingredients for gnudi, but pretty much any leafy green will do and many other vegetables come to mind, from zucchini to eggplant and mushrooms. What is really key is squeezing as much excess water out of the vegetables as you can.
 
You can also swap cheeses: pecorino would work well and so would feta in my opinion.
 
And then there is the sauce: melted butter and Parmesan cheese are a classic, but psssst, if it hadn't been a week night meal (we usually try to keep those reasonably healthy and light), I probably would have fried up some pancetta and served the salty, crunchy morsels scattered over the gnudi. Bacon and pumpkin? Yum.
 
A cream and/or cheese-based sauce would work really well too, if you aren't counting calories. Blue cheese or a raw milk mountain cheese would be perfect to add some character to the ricotta base. And if you are going down the zucchini and eggplant road, a nice tomato sauce would be perfect.
 
 
 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Variations on a theme: quince compote, jam, jelly and syrup

 

Quince is one of those almost-forgotten fruits that you usually do not come across at a supermarket. You may be lucky enough to find some at a farmer's market, but usually you either get them from a tree in your own back yard or from friends, who are usually happy to part with some of their bounty.
 

 
 
I fall into the second category. When we were in Piedmont a couple of week ends ago, we left with a large carton of produce that included four quinces. I had never cooked with them before and didn't even know whether they were ripe or not. I did some reading and learned that they are ripe when they turn a nice yellow hue and smell sweet and floral. Don't expect them to turn softer, however, because they stay rock hard even when they mature. Another handy piece of information I collected is that if you are using them to make preserves, they don't need to be fully ripe.
 

 
 
Something elso you probably already know about this fruit is that it cannot be consumed raw. Once it is cooked, however, it can be used in many ways: to accompany savory dishes (pork roast, game, blue cheese anybody?) or in desserts. They work well in pies and tarts, but you can also lightly poach them with vanilla or spices or cook them longer into a compote or jam like I did.


 
 
A fun fact: did you know that the word marmalade originally comes from the Portuguese word for quince - marmelo - as quince marmalade, very popular in Medieval England, was usually imported from Mediterranean countries and only actually started being made there much later, towards the Sixteenth century.

Anyway, after checking on my quinces daily for about ten days, I decided to make something with them. They may not have been fully ripe because they did smell floral, but only faintly. I wasn't too concerned really, since I was going to make a jam out of them.
 
 
 
I washed the fuzz on the skin off and started chopping and cleaning, which was probably the most strenuous part of the whole process. They are hard little suckers (mine were also all inhabited by a few wiggly creatures: let me just say the cleaning did not only involve the core and seeds).
After the lengthy operation there were still over two pounds of flesh from the four specimens, a little more than the amount indicated in Family Spice's recipe, which I followed as a guideline, although I decided to use less sugar than suggested because I don't like things that are overly sweet. I may even consider using less next time.

 
 
I then took the recipe a step further and made different variations on the theme by straining a little here, processing a little there and even adding some water. The last logical step would have been to make membrillo, the Spanish quince paste/cheese, by further straining the blended jam through a fine mesh sieve and then cooking and baking it until no moisture was left. But I was frankly a little tired  satisfied with what I had and decided to call it a day.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fette Sau BBQ - Williamsburg, Brooklyn





Our very recent trip to the US was filled with great food (some of which you may have seen on Instagram and Facebook), beautiful places and people we love.

There were long beaches, big waves, lakes, farmland and the great urban marvel that is New York. We grilled aged steaks in our backyard, had sweet and buttery corn on the cob, NY bagels and pie. We picked berries that never made it to dessert and ate our favorite Thai food twice. We drank pink, ice cold wine and some really good beer. We had our share of delicious burgers and lots of sushi.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Multigrain seed no-knead bread

 
 
More questions from a five-year old.
 
Son: "Mommy, what does your saliva taste like?"
 
Me: "...".
 
After some thought:
 
Me: "I'm not sure, pretty neutral. I guess like yours".
 
"So does everybody's saliva taste the same?"
 
"Yes, sweetie. I think so". I wasn't about to tell him I had made my small contribution to research on that in my day.
 
What I do know for sure, however, is that  not all breads taste the same. Definitely not.
 

 


I've posted recipes for no-knead bread before. A wholewheat recipe and a wholewheat oatmeal recipe, but this is my favorite to date. So I had to let you know about it.
 
I followed a general recipe from this website (which only slightly differs from my usual recipe in quantities and rising time) but using my own ingredients. I really liked the mix of flour and grains I used but I am sure that the extra proofing time was key for the lovely crumb.

Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup oat flour
1 cup 6-grain rolled cereal
1/4 cup flax seeds
1 1/2 cups luke warm water
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp yeast
 
In a large bowl mix the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and stir until your dough looks shaggy.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (I put it in my oven) for up to 24 hours (the recipe says between 8-18 but I left it for almost 24 hours).
Preheat your oven to 450°F/225°C.
Turn the dough (which will have risen considerably and look bubbly) onto a well floured surface and shape into a ball, making sure you dust flour on your hands beforehand. Cover again with plastic wrap.
Thouroughly heat a Dutch oven/Le Creuset in the oven for about 30 minutes and then proceed to put the dough in.
Bake covered for thirty minutes and then another 15 minutes uncovered so the crust turns a nice golden brown. To be sure it is ready, tap it: it should sound hollow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Raisin, caper, browned garlic and anchovy sauce

 
 
Having kids means you will hear a lot of funny and often embarassing questions being asked.
 
My son recently asked me I take my breasts off at night.
Say whaaaat?
It turns out he actually meant my bra, but it made for a pretty funny 10 minutes.
 
Yesterday he asked the new girl who helps us with the cleaning if she has a job. I immediately went in for damage control because I had a feeling where this was going. I explained that what she was doing was her job. So he answered he meant a real job, in front of a computer. I told him there are many jobs and only a small part entail sitting in front of a computer. I reminded him of our book that tells us about all the different jobs that people have, and how important each and every job is to make the world go around. She added that she has a computer but she is lucky enough to be able to use it to play instead of work.
 
Then, later, when we were at the supermarket at the cured meats and cheese counter, after listening to the girl who was serving us complain that she practically lives in the supermaket because she has been working so much lately, he asked her where she slept. On the floor or on the crushed ice of the fish counter (maybe he thought it was the coolest spot in the supermarket).
 
Recently we bumped into the father of a classmate of his and he asked him if he was her grandfather.
 
 
 

 
 
On the other hand, my kids never embarass me when it comes to food. Whether we are invited somewhere or in a restaurant, they eat pretty much everything they are served. I can experiment any new recipe and they will usually eat it without a problem. Of course there are things they are not crazy about, but they are not many and if they have to they will eat them.
 
When it comes to my husband, there is really only one thing he doesn't like: raisins. So even if this  simple, yet very tasty sauce made with capers and raisins had caught my eye on Lorraine's blog a while ago, I had to wait till his soccer night to try making it.
 
I set off with the idea of exactly replicating it but ended up making some changes and came up with a pretty different sauce altogether. Very good, if not promising in looks.
 
The first change I made was to fry the garlic slivers until golden brown because something about the idea of raw garlic simmering in water put me off. I then set aside the garlic-infused olive oil and blended it with the other ingredients instead of using plain olive oil as indicated. My last variation was to add anchovies. I felt the sauce could use a little extra savory punch and that the anchovies would nicely balance out the sweet and sour.
 
Lorraine's sauce was definitely more appealing to the eye, with its bright green and reddish brown flecks, but this one's flavor was good enough for me to insist you try it before I find a way to make it look more stylish!
 
We had the sauce with roasted zucchini, raisins and quinoa. Since we had some leftovers I ended up drizzling some on red peppers as an appetizer a few evenings later and husband grabbed one before I could warn him. Once he was chewing I didn't have the heart to tell him... but he really seemd to like it. Surprise honey!

 
Ingredients (makes a small jar's worth)
35gr capers, rinsed
35gr raisins
4/5 anchovy filets
1 small clove garlic, thinly sliced (but use more for a more pronounced flavor)
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
1 to 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
salt, if needed
 
Pour the olive oil into a small saucepan and when it is hot, fry the garlic slices until golden brown. Set aside the garlic infused olive oil for later, leaving the garlic in the saucepan.
Add in a cup of water, the previously rinsed capers and the raisins and bring to a low simmer for about 15 minutes (add some water if it gets completely absorbed).
When the raisins have plumped up nicely, transfer the ingredients to a blender. Add the garlic infused olive oil, the vinegar (I added it a tbsp at a time because I wanted to make sure the vinegar in the capers wasn't too strong), the anchovy filets.
Blend until it is smooth. Taste and add salt or vinegar if needed.
You can serve this on roasted vegetables or with raw vegetables as a dip, or any other idea that tickles your fancy.