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Thursday, March 31, 2011

White fish (pangasius) fillet in cream-wine sauce

Light and airy, with a strong lemon and white wine flavor, balanced by French herbs (tarragon and thyme), this is easy to make and very enjoyable. Quite a feast-y way to get your valuable fatty acids and proteins :).
We had this next to fresh chunks of delicious carrot bread.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Basic carrot cake bars (American)

I love carrot cookies. The flavor and consistency added by carrots in bread-cake compositions is hard to beat by anything else. Sometimes even chocolate can't compare.
Carrots, although they may seem unusual in baked stuff, are actually a medieval European tradition, due to their wide availability in those times when sugar or other sweeteners were hard to find or expensive. Carrot cakes are believed to originated in Sweden, but have become popular through the immigrants bringing them to the emerging States of America. Today they are practically a staple in most pastry shops and cafeterias throughout USA.
This is the basic version of a fast and easy dessert without any other added flavors but pure sweet carrot. Enjoy.

P.S: If you're looking for a posh-up version of a festive cake using a carrot cake base, why not try our carrot and clementine cake :) ?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pork stir-fry (with bell pepper, broccoli, carrot) (Chinese)

The most basic of Chinese stir-fries. All you need is a good wok and spices (oyster sauce, soy sauce, fresh ginger and garlic, lemon juice, dried chili peppers, salt and pepper) and a little time. All the flavors will come together in a lovely way. I think this is the best stir-fry we ever made.
If you're worried about the heat, I would estimate that with the directions here (and a moderate amount of pepper) the dish has a medium heat. If you want more add the whole chili pepper, if you want less just limit the amount of pepper you grind into it and completely remove the chili.
We watched Time Machine (2002) after a relaxed cook session with the stir-fry. It was a nice evening :).

Monday, March 28, 2011

Caprese skewers (Italian)

A new way of serving the caprese salad. It is simple combination of delicious and fresh ingredients, so specific to Italian cuisine, and - coincidentally or not - so much in the colors of the Italian flag. All you need is some long wooden skewers, fresh basil, cherry tomatoes and mini-mozzarella (it could also work with regular sized mozzarella). This can work both as a salad and a starter. Enjoy :)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Pancetta & artichoke pizza

We're a lot into artichokes lately and we wanted to give this a try. We've put together some tomato paste with lots of garlic on a dough and topped it with fresh pancetta and halved artichoke hearts (oh, the drama! :D). It turned out delicious. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Melanzane alla parmigiana (Italian aubergine - eggplant - casserole with Parmesan)

I truly think this is the best thing I've tasted in a long, long time (previous stuff on the blog included). Eggplant (aubergine) is one of the best veggies out there, and the combination with Italian cheeses (Parmesan and mozzarella), basil and tomato sauce is heavenly. It should be on the menu at least twice a week by my book.
The recipe is traditional in Southern Italy and it spread across the globe. It comes in different variations (more loosely called simply Parmigiana), but the one based upon eggplant is the earliest recipe created. 
Adapted from Jamie Oliver, via the lovely girls from Kiss the Cook.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Zucchini and coconut muffins

I like the idea of using sweet stuff (like fruit) in savory dishes (like you didn't know that already :P) and now I'm trying to also do the reverse and incorporate in desserts ingredients usually used in savory dishes :D. Like veggies. This is one of the attempts and more are to follow :).
Very easy to make. You'll have the golden crunchy muffins in no time.
Inspired from the Essen und Trinken magazine, No 2/2011. 

Note: The zucchini flavor is not very powerful in this combination, but not completely faint either. Its texture is more remarkable though, green and chewy and crunchier than anything else. Anyway, the main thing you will taste will be the coconut, have no doubt about it :).
Also, the batter and preparation method are quite different from most other muffins and cupcakes. Don't be scared, it's easy and fun.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Green pasta and pesto souffle (gratin)

The easiest way to enjoy delicious pasta with a little cheese oven-baked, without too much work. Our favorite comfort food and little snack. Just boil some green pasta (ours were penne with 25% zucchini and spinach), put them in heat proof bowls, mix with a little green pesto from the jar and grated emmentaler cheese and whatever else tickles your fancy (like our pickled mustard, for instance) and place it in the oven :).

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ruladă de pui cu spanac (My mom's chicken and spinach roulade) (Romanian)

Today we're having a special feature, one of my mom's specialties. My mom is not the traditional housewife type, she'd always rather read a book than cook or do some other house-related chores (a quality which I luckily inherited). She graduated Letters with an British literature specialty (and a minor in French) and has been my source of inspiration, culture and quality criticism for all I can remember. Not that we're neglecting my dad :)
Returning to the food, when she does cook (because we all have to eat eventually) she does it surprisingly well for someone who doesn't make this their life pursuit (another trait which apparently I did inherit). Her dishes, even the traditional Romanian ones, were also imbued with lots of creativity and refined French touches. This is one of such creations. Enjoy. :)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Asian white fish (pangasius) fillet with sesame noodles

A spicy creamy Tikka masala fish fillet, next to noodles enriched with a Chinese sesame sauce, all served with fresh cucumber to balance the taste off. Not too hot, not too sour, but rich and flavorful. Not to mention that it's reasonably light and really healthy. Sounds like the ideal meal. :)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Carrot bread (with walnuts)

Quick and easy, with no waiting for the dough to rise or other time-consuming feats. Delicious, full of fibers and healthy. 
Occasionally crunchy from the walnuts, with an undistinguished flavor (le je-ne-sais-quoi) from the carrots. 
A lovely side for many dishes (like fish and white sauce, for example, the way we had it). 

Recipe adapted from the Good Food Magazine Romania, February 2011 issue.

Mousse au chocolat (French chocolate mousse)

If you've ever had it at a restaurant you know this is the ultimate dessert and the ultimate chocolate treat. Airy and delicate, infused with strong flavors of coffee and cream and a little rum, no other chocolate dessert can be a match for the mousse. I'll stop here, you should taste this as soon as possible and nothing I can say can compare to the real deal. 
It's easier to do than it looks. Cross our little mice hearts :)
Adapted from the mistress of French cuisine, Julia Child, via David Lebovitz

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Caribbean romance (cocktail)

Another tropical cocktail we tried and liked. Original recipe here. With amaretto, white rum, orange and pineapple juice and grenadine (pomegranate) syrup. 

Vegetarian chili tacos with avocado salsa (Mexican)

Chili (usually chili con carne, so not a vegetarian one) is a spicy classical bean stew of Mexico. Filling up some taco shells with this yummy mixture and serving them along a avocado salsa (a crossbreed sometimes done between salsa and guacamole) is the perfect starter to a lovely afternoon meal or a snack treat. The weather is not as warm as we hoped, to be able to get out of town again, like we did last weekend (went for a walk into Pfungstadt and Eberstadt, had a lovely walnut ice cream I'm not going to forget very soon), so the warm spicy tacos were a nice consolation for staying indoors. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Parmesan cream potatoes

A lovely combination if you're a fan of Parmesan and creamy potatoes. We cooked in the evening, after work, and enjoyed it watching 3 House M.D episodes, along a couple of orange caramel windmills. They were delicious, pretty light and very Italian-tasting, matching the spring which is unwinding outside.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Orange caramel pastry windmills

Pastry windmills baked with a good dose of home-made orange caramel (recipe here) that becomes molten and imbues their every bit with flavor and a little sweetness. A nice alternative to the regular windmills with jam or marmalade that one can find in pastry shops.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Brie, walnut and caraway salad

At our friend Laura's suggestion, we finally got around to make a salad that combines cheese and walnuts in a typically French manner. The caraway seeds bring flavor and a herbal spiciness to the Brie and walnuts, the salad leaves add freshness, and the red wine vinegar balance the overall taste giving it a sour hint. Overall, this was truly perfect. Not a side-dish type of salad, but wonderful as a main course or starter. Enjoy.
Note: The caraway and cheese combination is a classic in Romanian crackers ;).

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Green apple and peanut butter muffins

There's a lovely spring outside. Not too warm, nor too cold, but airy and delicate and with the best of both winter and summer. Just like these muffins. Warm and rich, with cinnamon and cloves and winter spices (without overpowering the rest of the flavors, like in most spiced sweets), but also fluffy and airy and fresh with the sour tangy taste of green apple. The green apple's taste and juiciness balances the somewhat dry mouth feel of the peanut butter and makes the whole picture wonderful.
Another point of these muffins was to make them with a little molten peanut butter concentrated on top of them (like the lava in a sweet, sweet and velvety volcano...), rather than spread the whole thing throughout the muffin until it lost its distinct taste.
(They were also a nice way to use up the half of peanut butter jar stuck in the fridge).

Also, a feat I'm quite proud of, the apple pieces didn't sink away at the bottom of the muffins (like it happens in most sweets that use fruit chunks). See proof below :D

Yes, that's my hand. And my shoulder (in my graveyard pattern T-shirt :D). And MY half of muffin. If you want any, make it yourself. Instructions below :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sahne liquor cocktail (Cream cocktail)

Yes, this is our favorite so far. Creamy and extra creamy and sweet and heavenly. We had one of those German cream liquor bottles (Sahne likör), some milk and extra whipped cream and so this came up a couple of nights ago. I swear this should be labeled as dessert instead of drink, but I'll go conventional. About this as least ;).

Monday, March 14, 2011

Smoked salmon and cucumber starters

Smoked salmon starters are always popular and elegant. Not to mention (again) that we love smoked salmon and that it's very healthy. This is an extremely easy way to spruce up some fancy-looking starters or to enjoy your favorite fish ingredient, like us ;). You just need half a large cucumber and half a brick of cream cheese with herbs (or garlic, or both) and some pretty-looking cocktail sticks (toothpicks if you really can't find any).
Idea inspired by the Good Food Magazine Romania, December 2010.

Another smoked salmon starter idea here (serving it on lemon-herb butter toast).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Salata z Boczkiem (Polish Wilted Lettuce Salad with Bacon Vinaigrette)

The combination between the freshness of lettuce and the crispy smokiness of a bacon vinegraitte (with red wine vinegar and roasted onion and sugar) is so beautiful and seems so natural to Western tastes I'm surprised that only the Polish and Hungarian (they have a version of it) thought of it. 
This isn't one of those complete-meal salads, but a salad to keep company to a main course. We had it with a dish of vegetarian wild rice. It was yummy and not hard to make. If you're a fan of the bacon yourself you should try it, we loved it.
Barely adapted from here

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pricomigdale (Romanian walnut biscuits)

This is the ultimate way to get rid of egg whites. Given that most dessert recipes call for egg yolks people usually end up saving lots and lots of egg whites in their freezer that never end up being used... :). Well, this is the way to go. 
Now, about the cookies: really delicious and easy to make. My mom's recipe (spiked a little with rum by me... :D) that made some of my childhood's days. Mainly a simple meringue (egg whites fluffed up) with grounded walnuts and some sugar. Yum.

Wild & red rice with bell pepper and almonds

Wild rice is so healthy and cool. Discovered by the Native Americans, it's mixed with black seeds (the "wild" part) which are actually grass seeds rather than real rice. Full of fibers and vitamins. Red rice is another favorite, with more whole goodness and a delicate hint of flavor. So we bought a mix of basmati, red and wild rice and decided to give it a delicious and healthy go with bell peppers, freshly roasted almonds and grated Parmesan. Really, really delicious. You must try this as soon as you get the chance. :)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Orange bread with chocolate swirl filling (Romanian low-sugar cozonac)

The "cozonac" is a type of semi-sweet Romanian bread with a variety of swirl fillings, ranging from walnuts, honey, raisins, chocolate, Turkish delight and so on; typically made for Easter and Christmas.  The one we made here aimed more for a bread taste and we used less sugar than traditionally used. That is mainly because the recipe was adapted (putting more orange flavor into it, sweetening the glaze etc) from here, and those girls probably didn't know that what they're making is what we call a "cozonac" and has more sugar. 
The second reason we chose less sugar is the fact that we plan to have another scrumptious very sweet dessert and we prefer to think of this as just a "snack bread" for between meals. Flavored with orange and chocolate. Yum. 
But if you want to have the traditional "cozonac" it's easy - just triple the quantity of sugar in the recipe and other than that follow the same instructions. And it's really easier than it looks. :) Anyway you like it, enjoy:

Smoked salmon salad with egg, rucola and avocado

The healthiest dish possible. Full of greens with a little touch of good quality proteins (from the egg) and fats (from the almost raw salmon and avocado). Full of Mediterranean flavors from the salmon, cucumbers, capers, spices, avocado and the arugula (rucola) salad leaves. This truly was a feast. You really should try it.
Adapted from here

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Chicken and avocado salad

A delicious and healthy way to use roast chicken and greens and get all your proteins and vitamins in one light dish. The major advantage of it is the fact that because of the avocado (creamy and full of healthy fats), this salad requires no dressing at all and is still delicious. That coming from Bogdan who's a sauce and dressing junkie. Really no need for dressing. And the combination with the lemon is... well, we all love guacamole, don't we ? ;)
No need to blab more about it. Enjoy :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Amaretto (almond) liquor cupcakes

Yes, more cupcakes with booze :D. The amaretto liquor gets mostly baked out, but it gives the chocolate-y cakes a wonderful almond flavor and a strong almond aftertaste. 
More boozy sweets here:

Italian Sunset

The name of this cocktail comes from its pretty orange-red layers, of amaretto, orange juice, mineral water and grenadine syrup. Barely adapted from here. Tangy and fizzy with just a hint of alcohol. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Pasta with spicy mascarpone sauce, mushrooms and artichokes

If you ever wanted to use a mascarpone sauce for pasta in a spicier version, I'm proud to announce I developed the ideal one. Goes wonderfully with fresh mushrooms and canned artichoke hearts. Very fast thrown together. The sauce can also be used for your favorite steak or salad or whatever tickles your fancy. Enjoy.

Easy home-made Raclette (French - Swiss)

You've probably heard that they eat a lot of cheese fondue and melted cheeses of all sorts in Switzerland. The Raclette is one of those special treats (also found in France, given that the Raclette cheese itself is French), requiring a very elaborate melting process, followed by pouring it over pickles and serving it warm. But since Raclette cheese is also easy to find in stores, we figured we'd give it a go at home and the result was up to our expectations and more :).
If you want a nice chronicle on how does the Raclette dish traditionally gets done and served the Swiss way, read David Lebovitz.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Amaretto Colada

We love amaretto, and pina colada (especially in baked sweets :D) and we most of all love cocktails because we're not much for drinking such strong stuff on its own. The result last night was this Amaretto Colada.
Note: Yes, I know, the mermaid is impossibly cute.

Easy Chicken Tacos with Guacamole (Mexican)

We first had these at a lovely Mexican place close to the railway station in Worms (Luther's town). Then we sampled them again at Enchilada in Darmstadt. And we were once again convinced we adore them. This is the easy version of making them at home. Just fill the tortilla shells with spicy chicken and caramelized red onion bits, add cheese and a dollop of fresh guacamole and you're done :).

Friday, March 4, 2011

Goat cheese salad with paprika dressing

Something fast to throw together when starving and out of time. Plus, I've fallen for goat Gouda since the Oeufs Cocotte  and I wanted a salad to compliment it :). I'll admit I used one of those bags of salad greens already washed and chopped and pre-packed, but it's easy to make this salad from scratch too. Also, try to include in it field salad (it had a certain taste depth that goes wonderfully with tangy cheeses or tomatoes). Back in Romania I've only had it a couple of times, picked up straight from the forest during picnics with my family. It was called "grâuşor" (little wheat). It's lovely (if you want another salad using it try our easy Light and colorful field salad).
This one is a salad to enjoy both on its own and as company to a main dish. Enjoy.

Orange jam&liquor Linzer torte (Austrian/German and Hungarian)

The German-Hungarian Linzer torte is a very old cake recipe commonly made in Austria and Hungary. The oldest written recipe for it (at least the oldest one found yet) dates back to 1653 and was written by the Benedictine monks in Admont Abbey (Austria). Just like in the case of the lovely Lebkuchen, monks were the ones who (most probably) invented and preserved the secret of making them. The abbey's library is still to this day the largest monastic library in the world and it couldn't be completely explored yet, which explains why the recipe for the Linzer torte was found only recently. Until the discovery, a recipe dating from 1696 from Vienna was the oldest so far.
As you can see, this lovely nut-pastry tart filled with tangy jams (traditionally red fruit jams, but we felt like orange) has a lot of history. I love foods seeping with history, not that I'd mind modernist cuisine achievements, but the old foods seem more... legendary. With a story to tell. And their age doesn't seem to take away their appeal to the modern palates so... they're still as delicious as they can get. With centuries of recipe-perfecting behind. A firm thumbs up.
What changes we've made: well, we already mentioned we used orange jam, when blackcurrant or other red fruit jam would have been more appropriate to tradition. Also, we've added orange liquor. Yes, booze :D. I've recently read studies that proved that a little hint of alcohol, even if it gets baked or cooked out completely, leaves behind some healthy substances that, in addition to being healthy and to carry all the flavor the booze had in the bottle, stimulates our palates making them more receptive to all taste. Thus, the booze and food combination we always loved has just become perfectly justified :).
The torte looks quite rustic because we lacked the patience to roll the dough and cut the strips for the top lattice so we just made some tubular strips of dough with our hands. Lazy, I know. But still delicious nonetheless.

Other than that, the pastry has all the traditional goodness you can get. And yes, enough talking, here's the recipe. Enjoy :)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Oeufs Cocotte (French oven-baked eggs)

Oeufs Cocotte (sometimes also called Oeufs en Cocotte) literally means "Chick eggs", "Cocotte" meaning "little chicken" and being a sort-of endearing term or an insult (depending on the context) addressed to girls :)). The English-speaking world usually calls it "Parisian shirred egg".
The recipe for this delicious baked egg is very basic: 2 tablespoons of cream, one egg, salt and pepper (the mandatory ingredients), plus optionally a little slice of ham, tomatoes, herbs, cheese or whatever tickles your fancy. 
We added goat cheese, parsley and cherry tomatoes to ours (loosely adapting a recipe from here) and served them with Home-made crackers (and we highly recommend using crackers, toasted bread pieces or grisini instead of spoons :D). 
As you can see, the recipe is very versatile and healthy. Try ours and feel free to make your own, almost every combination will be good for sure :)

More French goodies:
French onion soup.

Fastest home-made crackers (the cheat version for Romanian sărățele)

A great way to use up puff pastry left-overs (like the ones you get from making Pissaladiers or Pigs in a blanket) or to whip up some home-made crackers in no-time. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blue Skies cocktail (Milk and Blue Curacao)

Considering my personal experience with this warm milk drink (or non-alcoholic cocktail, call it what you may), I may just as well name it "The Forbidden Milk". I had a strange experience in my pursuit of it :)
I first had it in a small charming bar called Arcade in the Bucharest's Old Town (Lipscani area). It was my first time going there (in a March just like this one, in 2007, when the magazine I was writing for gave all ladies a free afternoon for Women's Day). When I looked at the menu I wanted to try one of the Hot milks, but all the other flavors seemed a little to conventional - chocolate, hazelnut, white chocolate etc. Don't get me wrong, they're great, but when I saw something simply labeled "Blue Milk" I had to try it. After the first sip I was charmed. I asked the waiter what it contained and he replied "Blue Curacao". I knew that was an ingredient in cocktails, but had no idea it was derived from oranges because the flavor, although tangy and sweet, was much richer and intense than a plain orange one.
Well, after savoring another cup of the pretty pretty milk (did I mention blue is also my favorite color?) I got up and left thinking I will return and enjoy it many other times. But fate had fated otherwise :))
It may sound funny, but all my attempts to return to the magical place - that served the milk I was hooked on - were in vain. I mean, I literally went in circles around the place on more than one occasion without being able to find it. The bar was very much still alive and enjoying a lot of customers but I couldn't find it anymore. I complained to my friends, they drew me explicit simple maps on how to get to it (and the area is not complicated at all), they even went there from time to time (but, of course, anytime just not when they were with me :)) ) but all in vain. I felt like in one of Mircea Eliade's novels (like La Foret Interdit) - when the character gains access in a magical place without being able to return to it ever again - thus I feel like naming this drink "The Forbidden Milk".
You can imagine my joy when we bought some cocktail ingredients and the first thing I wanted to make with the Blue Curacao syrup was not some fancy alcoholic tropical cocktail but my beloved milk drink, which, as I found out later, is called "Blue Skies". You must try this. Now. :D

Pigs in a blanket (British)

Funny name, huh? I find foods with funny names soooo cute. More are soon to follow, like "Little lies" (Romanian "Minciunele") or some cookies called "Boy-bait" (ha-ha!) and lots of other funny-named surprises. 
Pigs in a blanket are a traditional British starter, especially for fall and winter holidays (at Christmas for instance their presence on the table is a must). A meal wouldn't be complete without pigs in blankets (little sausage bites wrapped in puff pastry) or, even funnier, pigs in pigs (using bacon slices for wrapping rather than pastry). Our other favorite, which we've talked about before, dates wrapped in bacon and oven-baked, are apparently called "devils on horseback" in the English tradition. The world is full of savory anthropo-linguistics :)
Variations exist, of course. Here, we made these simple two-bite hors d'oeuvre yummier by adding a touch of creamy mustard. The ingredient list thus counts three. Couldn't be simpler ;)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Chicken with peanut butter sauce (Thai)

The peanut sauce is a very special Asian treat, found in many local cuisines. There are many variations on it: a Indonesian peanut sauce is served over a salad called gado gado,  a Chinese one served over noodles(that one is tempting, maybe we'll do it soon) and this one, the way they do it in Thailand: a spicy version served over chicken or tofu. 
We used basic ingredients like peanut butter, soy sauce, lemon juice, garlic, curry and chili powders and so on. Traditionally you can also add coconut milk in the sauce, but we wanted to keep it a little lighter. Also feel free to add - or not add -  sesame oil, fish or oyster sauce, rice vinegar or curry paste to it without being afraid you'd break tradition. Thai kitchen is all about fusion ingredients :) so as long as it's on the list of commonly used ingredients you ca be sure they do it in that version as well.
The chicken we had here was delicious and rich and velvety. You must try this.

Peanut butter hot chocolate milk

After taking a few sips of this, plain hot chocolate will taste too water-y and too lacking of the full mouth-feel the addition of peanut butter provides. The base is that of a good hot chocolate with a little addition of spice, sweetened with honey and beaten with the peanut butter until foamy and soft. Delicious, delicious, delicious. 
Optionally, it may be topped with whipped cream but it's amazing on its own as well. I mean, we all know how well chocolate and nutty go together. Just think Nutella or our scrumptious Marliesen torte.  :)

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