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A couple of months ago, my parents told me that they were thinking about going to visit my brother for Christmas… they live in Boulder, CO. I was so sad! I have spent every Christmas with my parents… only one time we were not together. And then I thought about the Christmas Eve dinner… my mom and I always make the traditional Romanian dinner together and I have never actually made any of the dishes on my own. I could not have Christmas Eve without the traditional dinner! I asked my mom to write the recipes for me so I could make them.

The dinner includes 7 dishes. It seemed a bit overwhelming to make all of them, especially since some are pretty time consuming. I decided to make my favorites… grâu, bob, and colțunași. I also debated about making the smoked fish dish, but decided on making a simple fish instead. And I did have a helper… sort of.

Grâu means wheat in Romanian. The dish is made with this wheat, which my mom found at a local Greek store. She experimented with a few over the years and the current one seems the best.

 

You have to soak it in boiling water over night, then you change the water, let it come to a boil, and then bake it in the oven for about an hour. Once baked, you add sugar, finely chopped walnuts, and poppy seeds. My mom also adds chopped walnuts, but I forgot to buy some so I did not add it. I actually liked it better without the chopped walnuts.

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Bob is pretty much just fava beans. You sauté onions and garlic with some salt and pepper, then you add the drained fava beans, and sauté until all of the liquid is absorbed. My sister mentioned that she skinned the fava beans before cooking them, so I tried that. It was kind of a pain to do, but perhaps it did help with the digestion.

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Colţunaşi, which means dumplings in Romanian, is definitely my favorite dish from this dinner. I look forward to it all year. They are super tasty but also the most labor intensive. I have been helping my mom make them for years. The most labor intensive part is rolling the dough and actually pinching them. It would take my mom and I hours to make. We had an assembly type line in her kitchen… my dad would roll the dough, my mom would cut the squares and fill them, and I would pinch them. We would make anywhere from 200 to almost 300 of them. Crazy, no!?! :) Then one year, one of us bought my mom the pasta attachment for her Kitchen Aid mixer. That was the best gift ever! It cut our colţunaşi making time in more than half.

The dough is very simple… flour, salt, a bit of oil, and water. The filling includes finely chopped granny smith apple that is mixed with poppy seeds. To finish them off, you add some sautéed onions on top and mix them. I made 84 colţunaşi this year. I think that it took me about an hour to make them, so it was not too bad.

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The traditional dinner also includes two types of fish dishes. Both include lots of onions and a bunch of smoked and non-smoked fishes. I decided not to make them. Instead, I got some Mahi Mahi filets, but I was unsure exactly what to do with them. After a quick text with my brother, he told me to sauté some onion, add a few lemon slices to the pan, add the fish filets, pour a bit of white wine, put the lid on the pan, and cook them for a bit until done. And that is what I did. :) It was super tasty!

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Our friend Yokko joined us for dinner. She brought a Cauli Cream Spinach dish, which was tasty and it went really well with the rest of the dinner.

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I am proud to say that the dishes were a success! I must admit that I was kind of stressed out about making them. I was unsure if they would come out as good as my mom’s. I was also worried about ruining the dinner… that would have been a bummer, especially since my parents were not around either.

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Merry Christmas… or La Multi Ani, as we say it in Romanian. It was also the first day of Chanukah, so Happy Chanukah!! :)

 

 

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I have been cooking a lot of pasta lately. Julia tends to prefer it over rice. In an effort to have something different, I decided to make a rice dish. I needed some kind of a sauce, so after searching in a few of my cookbooks, I came across the Peanut Dragon Dressing recipe in the Isa Does It cookbook. It seemed super simple and I pretty much had all of the ingredients.

I do have another peanut sauce recipe that I really like and I have it made many times… it is the Peanut Sesame Noodle from SmittenKitchen, but that requires fresh ginger, which I did not have at the time. I suppose that I could have just omitted the ginger from the recipe, but I was kind of excited about this new recipe.

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As I mentioned, the recipe is super simple… it requires smooth peanut butter, garlic, some water, rice vinegar, soy sauce/tamari, agave, sriracha, sesame oil, and some salt. I did not have agave so I decided to use maple syrup instead. Also, I did not use the sriracha, since Julia tends not to prefer spicy foods and I used garlic salt, since I do not care for raw garlic.

The recipe also mentions to blend all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender… I did that the first time that I made it (I used a food processor) and it made a royal mess. It was liquidy enough that it oozed all over my counter. A blender would have definitely been better. I no longer do that. I simply whisk it and it is just as good.

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I love this sauce since it is so versatile and easy. The dish is now part of my weekly routine. I have served it over rice (I love jasmine rice!) and topped it with any vegetables that I have on hand… grilled/steamed broccoli, steamed carrots, avocado, steamed green beans, grilled zucchini, fresh tomatoes… the possibilities are endless! I have also topped it with some grilled chicken and some peanuts. Using some sautéed/grilled shrimp and tofu would work just as well.

The first time that I made it, it turned out a bit thick, so I have been playing a bit with its thickness… I added a bit more water to it the second time that I made it and it worked out well. It does thicken even more if you store it in the refrigerator, but of course you can thin it with a little more water before serving it.

I always search for easy weeknight dinners and this one is definitely a keeper. And Julia has converted… she is now a rice eater. :)

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Another variation of the dish…

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I cannot roast a chicken for the life of me. It is super true! I have tried it numerous times over the years with no success. It always ends up way too dry. I have a fear of it being under cooked, so I tend to roast it way longer than needed.

A while back I got food poisoning from uncooked chicken. It was the worst experience! It was so painful that I could not move. If I made just a slight move, I would get the worst stomach pains. I spent the entire day motionless in the fetal position. I do not wish that pain even on my worst enemies, if I had any. So now you understand.

I have tried several recipes, with no success… even a Martha Stewart recipe! I have been successful with roasting chicken pieces, mostly chicken thighs. I guess that you cannot really overcook chicken thighs since they tend to be more fatty.

As I was walking thorough the grocery store a few weeks ago, I was eyeing this whole chicken. “It would be so nice to roast an entire chicken in order to have leftovers for the week.”, I thought. I also thought about just buying a premade rotisserie chicken but I decided that roasting my own would be so much better. So I took it. Since I have no clue about how to break down a chicken and do not really care to attempt it, I asked the butcher at the grocery store to cut it down for me.

As soon as I got home, I contacted my brother (who is a chef). “I have this entire chicken. How long will it take? An hour at 425 degrees?”, I asked. His answer changed my life… ok, maybe not my life, but definitely shed all my fears about roasting a chicken. :) It really did!

Before divulging all the secrets, I have a disclaimer, which is that I own a convection oven, so my roasting time may differ from your oven. Ok, so here it goes…

First, do not roast a chicken whole. Roasting a broken down chicken allows each piece to cook independently, especially the breasts, which take the longest. Also, never add lemon juice or any acid during the cooking process.

Second, submerge your chicken pieces in a brine. I have been using about 6 cups of water and 1/2 cup of salt. You can certainly use more or less depending on the size of the chicken. I let it sit in the brine for no less than 15 minutes. If you let it sit longer, go easy on the seasoning during roasting.

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Third, after adding some olive oil and some salt and pepper, roast the chicken in a preheated 425 degree oven until the pieces reach about 150 to 155 degrees. For me, that is anywhere between 20 to 25 minutes. The thighs reach the temperature faster than the breasts. I have to let the breasts roast about 5 minutes or so longer than the rest of the pieces. If your oven runs hotter, check it earlier. The trick is to reach that temperature, so check often if needed.

Fourth, once the pieces reach the 150 to 155 degrees, remove them from the oven and let them sit for 10 minutes. Do not be tempted to do anything with them at this point. Just let them sit.

Fifth, once the 10 minutes are up, put the chicken back into the oven and continue roasting it until it reaches the recommended 165 degrees. For me this is anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes. Again, the trick is to reach the 165 degree temperature, so check often if needed.

Sixth, once roasted, remove the chicken from your pan and squeeze some lemon juice over it. This will give the chicken that great lemony flavor, which I love.

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This is the best roasted chicken that I have ever made and tasted. I really mean it! I made it 3 times so far and every time it has come out fantastic. The meat is super juicy and delicious! It was so good in fact, that each time I made it, we almost ate the entire thing. :)

Next time you are craving roasted chicken, give this a try… you will not be disappointed.

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Every February and March I think about visiting a maple tree farm. Then somehow I forget about it. Perhaps it is because usually February and March are super cold and I do not feel like being outside to check out the maple trees. Ha!

Vermont is always associated with maple syrup, but we have a lot of maple tree farms in New York too. There are a slew of them in the Finger Lakes. Just do a search on the New York State Maple Weekend’s website and you will be amazed. You do not have to drive too far to find a maple tree farm.

One of the most popular spots is probably Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn. Every year the Inn serves a pancake breakfast with their new batch of maple syrup. I know folks who go there every year. The pancake part probably made them popular… who does not like pancakes with maple syrup? About 6 years ago, we decided to give them a try. The Inn is a drive, so when we visited it we bundled the trek with a hike through Letchworth State Park. Hiking through Letchworth in the winter is super pretty. I loved seeing the frozen water near the falls. Then after a 45 minute wait outside in the frigid cold but luckily sunny day, we made it in. The pancakes and the maple syrup were pretty good, but I was not sure if the long drive was worth it every year.

Last weekend was Maple Weekend in New York state. I decided to check out what farms are in the area so we can take Julia to learn how maple syrup is made. After searching on the New York State Maple Weekend’s website, I was surprised to find out how many farms are just in my area, let alone in the surrounding counties. I was super excited to find that there was a farm 5 minutes away from my house on Log Cabin Road.

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I actually had an idea that there was some kind of a maple tree farm around there. Whenever I ride my bike from home, I like to ride on Benson Road, which leads into Log Cabin. Benson Road is super pretty! It reminds me of the Adirondacks… super wooded and the trees’ canopies form an umbrella over the road. Towards the end of Benson right before Log Cabin there is always a little stand on the left side of the street with a maple syrup and honey sign. Since I was always on my bike, I never stopped, but I always told myself to go there with the car. But of course it always escaped my mind. There is another little stand on Willis Hill Road too, which I have never stopped there either since I am always on my bike when I pass by it.

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So last weekend we drove to the maple tree farm. We found out that the farm is called Kettle Ridge Farm and they make maple syrup, collect honey, sell eggs from their farm chickens, and are trying to grow shiitake mushrooms. How cool is that?!? The farm is family run by a father/son duo.

Julia loved learning how maple syrup is made. Eating a pancake with the maple syrup was even more exciting! And checking out the chickens was the highlight of her trip, especially since she was able to feed them. :)

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The tour of course included tasting the maple syrup. It was definitely delicious! One of the surprising things that we found out during the tour was the fact that the color is based on the weather during the tapping season. It has nothing to do with the boiling process. Apparently, the color of their maple syrup this year was light, then it got darker, and then it got light again. Interesting!!

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Maple syrup color ranges…

This morning I decided to make pancakes in order to taste test my usual maple syrup, Wegmans Organic Maple Syrup, with our new found maple syrup. Kettle Ridge Farm’s maple syrup was a clear winner. The maple syrup is more complex and flavorful.

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I am very excited that I found the farm. Who would have thought that I can find delicious maple syrup that is made 5 minutes from the house! Love it!

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During the holiday break, Joel and I decided to go to Orange Glory for lunch. However, when we arrived, it was closed. I was very disappointed since we do not get to go there very often and their food is amazing. They are only open for lunch during the week, which is not very practical for us.

And then Julia announced that she had to go to the bathroom. You cannot ask a toddler to hold it while you drive to another restaurant. So Julia and I ventured to Hart’s Local Grocers, which is around the corner from Orange Glory. As we were walking toward the bathroom, we passed by a large sign that advertised a bunch of sandwiches. “Oooo!”, I thought. After Julia successfully went to the bathroom, I walked back to the car and told Joel that we should check out Hart’s.

The menu included a bunch of sandwiches, but both of us settled on the Hart’s Signature Breakfast Sandwich, which included 2 fried eggs, avocado slices, arugula, pancetta, and sriracha mayo. It sounded amazing… and after taking a bite, it tasted just as amazing!! The roll was soft and warm, the pancetta added the right amount of saltiness, the arugula added a nice peppery flavor, and the avocado… well , anything tastes amazing if it has avocado on it

We have gone back to Hart’s for the sandwiches several times since that visit. Then a few weeks ago, my friend Kristin was visiting and we decided that we should make the sandwich ourselves.

IMG_5334I must say that our version was a success! It was super simple to make… mix a bit of sriracha into some mayo, then spread it on the bread. Fry 2 eggs, breaking the yolk so the yolk is cooked through. To assemble the sandwich, you add the fried eggs to the bread and top them with the pancetta, sliced avocado (sprinkled with a little salt), and a handful of arugula. That’s it!

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Although my version was super tasty, it was a little different. I do like the roll that Hart’s uses… it has a semi-soft crust and a soft interior. I use whatever bread I have on hand, usually a farmstyle bread or a soft-sided Italian bread. The pancetta that they used was thicker than the one that I used. When I bought the pancetta, I was unsure about how thick to get it so I chose a thin slice. I would do a thicker slice next time. It would add more of a substance to the sandwich.

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Since Hart’s is a bit of a drive, I can now enjoy the sandwich anytime. In fact, I just made it today for lunch.

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As I was cooking dinner the other day, Julia enthusiastically said, as she was pushing her little chair towards the counter “Can I help you cook?”. “Sure!”, I answered. I was making veggie burgers. She helped me mix the mayo with the pesto and then she spread the pesto mayo on the buns. She also helped me add the cheese slices, the avocado slices, and the tomato slices on the veggie burgers. It was a good first dish to help with and she was very proud. She ate half of the veggie burger, which is a lot for her.

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The next day she asked to help me cook again. This time I was cooking a curry soup from the Isa Does It cookbook. I showed her how to chop the onion, garlic, and ginger. When the oil was warm, we added the onion and sauteed it until soft. We added the garlic and ginger and cooked it a bit more.

The next required ingredient was rice. Joel helped her scoop the rice into the strainer and then we rinsed it. We then added the broth and the rinsed rice and she helped me stir.

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Once boiling, we added the curry paste and the cubed sweet potatoes. When the soup was almost done, she helped me add the spinach leaves. She loved this part… she loved grabbing the leaves and placing them in the pot. I let her do it a few times, since she grabbed small bunches.

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The soup was super tasty! It is the second time that I made it and this time tasted the best! :)

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I have a thing for gnocchi. I have had it for a long time. Soft pillowy melt in your mouth goodness… yum!!

I have never had the guts to make them from scratch. I usually buy the Gina Italian Village Potato Gnocchi, which are pretty good. But whenever I go out to a restaurant and they offer home made gnocchi, they taste so much better. My favorite have been at Good Luck, as I mentioned in a previous post.

A long time ago, my friend Karen, who is a super cook, invited me over for gnocchi. She shared her trusted recipe and showed me how to make them. The process was not very difficult, but it was time consuming. Her gnocchi were super tasty! She sent me home with the recipe, which I filed in my binder and thought about it every time I made the store bought gnocchi.

While browsing my new cookbook, Isa Does It, I found a recipe for a sweet potato gnocchi. After reading it, it did not seem too difficult and she mentioned that the total hands on time was 30 minutes. “Ooo! That is not too bad!”, I thought. Since my birthday was this past weekend, I decided to make them for my birthday dinner with my parents.

What I liked about the recipe is that you roast the sweet potatoes. Also, peeling the roasted potatoes is super simple. Once your potatoes are roasted and peeled, you mash them and then add miso, olive oil, salt, corn starch, and flour.

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The recipe required 1 1/2 cups of flour and noted that the dough should not be sticky. I found myself adding a bunch more flour since my dough was super sticky. Not sure why that was. I think that in the end, I used an extra 1/2 cup or more of flour. It was still a bit sticky in spots, but it was manageable.

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Once the dough was at the desired consistency, I removed the dough from the bowl and sectioned it into smaller rounds, rolled the rounds into strips, and then cut little pillows. Rolling the dough was a bit tricky since it was somewhat soft. I found myself rolling some of the strips between my palms instead of on the counter. Also, as suggested, I tried to score the pillows using a fork so they resembled the traditional gnocchi, but was unsuccessful. The pillows were soft, so perhaps that was the reason.

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I doubled the recipe since I wanted some leftovers, so I ended up with a lot of gnocchi. Since I doubled the recipe, it did take me longer than 30 minutes to make them.

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Cooking them was very quick. Just like any fresh pasta, you only cook them for a few minutes and once they raise to the top, you can drain them. I removed them using a slotted spoon as suggested. I was afraid to drain them in a colander, thinking that they might stick or fall apart.

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The recipe also included a creamy tarragon sauce with brussles sprouts. Instead of cooking the brussels sprouts in a pan, as required, I decided to roast them, since it is simpler and I love roasted brussels sprouts.

A vegan cuisine basic seems to be soaked cashews. Apparently it is used in a lot of sauces and soups. It gives the dish the creamy consistency and it is also a thickener. I decided to use coconut milk instead, since I did not have enough cashews and forgot to buy more.

For the sauce you sauté some onion and garlic and then add some white wine and cook it until the alcohol evaporates. Next you add the chopped tarragon and cashew mixture (this is where I added the coconut milk). Since coconut milk is fairly liquidy, I made a little roux and added it to the sauce, which thickened it nicely. I finished the dish with some pan-seared scallops, since I was in the mood for some fish/seafood.

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The dish was tasty. It looked really pretty! I found that both the gnocchi and the sauce were pretty mildly flavored. I wonder if the cashews would have added a little more substance to the sauce. I think that next time I will add some (ignore if you are vegan!) prosciutto or pancetta to the dish. Some sprinkled Parmesan cheese would also be a very nice touch.

Nonetheless, I was pleased with my dinner. And, my mom made my favorite birthday cake, which completed the dinner.

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Happy birthday to me! :)

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