Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dessert: Grand Marnier Grilled Plums, and Family Reunion

Fresh from the garden. Photo courtesy of my sister L.K.

After all grilled food I shared yesterday it was only natural to post some dessert.  Although my plan was to share with you my biscotti recipe, my morning conversation with my parents and my sister made some changes to my posting schedule. 
They were having an unexpected family reunion at my parent's house (unexpected meaning it wasn't planned, but many relatives showed up: often happens in our house!), and she sent me a picture of the table, nothing fancy, just an usual late summer meal: stuffed peppers, some meat, garden vegetables, feta cheese, mushrooms (oh, my mother's mushrooms: she makes it amazingly delicious, and she picks them too), some antipasti in the very low right corner, and roasted plums in the middle. 

Nothing fancy... Photo courtesy of my sister L.K.

Roasted plums? That sounds interesting, and what about grilled plums? Yes, I can do that now! 
As soon as my Skype conversation was over, I went back to the kitchen to create. I didn't have all the ingredients for those beautiful roasted plums my sister made, so I made my own.

1 lb (500 gram) any plums, halved and pit removed
2 tablespoons Agave nectar, or sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier 

*Note: alcohol evaporates during cooking process, but you can skip it if it's not appropriate for you)

In a bowl combine all ingredients and place on a grill for 4-7 minutes. 
Here is another advantage of panini grill with adjustable plates: I was able to place plums cut side up to prevent juices from leaking, and I also set the top plate just to touch the plums, without squishing it. 

I decorated grilled plums with whipped cream and some sprinkles. 

To some degree I felt as I participated in the family reunion, thanks to Skype. 
Does your family has spontaneous evens, or it is always planned?

See you,

Monday, August 27, 2012

Grilled, Breville, and Ariosto

Grilled potatoes with cilantro and smoked salt.
Note: potatoes were boiled first, then grilled.

I finally got something to grill on, nothing fancy or big, just a simple Breville panini grill, that I lovely call "my crocodile". 

Breville Panini Grill, my crocodile...

As soon as I unpacked it from the box, I put it to work: I was craving grilled vegetables all summer long. In went eggplants (aubergine),  zucchinis (courgette), and jalapeno peppers. 

Asian eggplants and zucchinis, mixed in Ariosto seasoning and olive oil before it went on the grill
Then I grilled some chicken breast for my meat lovers. 

Chicken breast and jalapeno peppers 

Then it was time for a grilled cheese sandwich with grilled vegetables and grilled onions. 

Cheese, grilled vegetables, basil, and grilled onions sandwich

And for dinner I made grilled potatoes with smoked salt and cilantro to accompany lentil and vegetables entree.

Grilled eggplants (aubergine)
with minced shallots in balsamic vinegar, and lentil Ariosto

Some time ago I received a free samples from Ariosto and have been trying it on different vegetables, legumes, and meats. 

Ariosto Seasoning 
This time for both, lentil and vegetables, I used Ariosto seasoning for potatoes, which has a wonderful combination of salt, garlic, rosemary, sage, juniper, basil, marjoram, oregano, laurel, coriander and parsley. 

I need to confess: this is my second Breville panini grill. First one I sold when we were moving cross-country: big mistake on my side! 
Each time I saw this grill in a magazine or at Williams Sonoma store, I would blame myself for selling it. About a year ago Breville came out on the market with a new version, 25% larger and improved (although to me there wasn't much to improve, I loved my old crocodile!), and I couldn't find a peace before I had it again. 
So when I received a Williams Sonoma gift card for my birthday, I knew what it's going to be, and a happy smile shone on my face. 
My favorite features of Breville panini grill: 
- adjustable height control of the top plate;
- adjustable angle of the bottom plate (wonderful to drain all the fats from grilling eggplants);
- super easy to clean.

A beautiful visitor...

What do you liked grilled? 

See you, 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Puff Pastry Rolls

My post today was suppose to be about vegetables. Grilled vegetables to be exact. But no vegetables were grilled. More on that later.
Instead I invite you to have a bite of those ricotta cheese and dill rolls.  They are very easy and quick to make: one package of puff pastry, a cup of ricotta cheese, one egg, a tablespoon of dill, a little salt. Mix all together, spread the filling on the dough (package of puff pastry usually comes with two sheets of dough, so the filling is enough for both), roll it, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, brush the top of each "floret" with egg wash, and bake 15-20 minutes in 400F oven. 
I call it an emergency feast when I have to change my dinner plans and make something really quick but somewhat fancy. The filling can be sweet or savory, better yet make one sheet savory, and another fill with jam to make a dessert. Possibilities are endless here! 
Usually I don't go for a store bought dough, the only exceptions are puff pastry and filo dough. I am in the process of mastering my puff pastry. I've done it twice and it's a long and labor intensive way that requires more practice. I am learning from Julia Child's book, where folding butter in the dough, then cooling, then folding again is required. 

If you know any shortcuts, please, do share!

See you,

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Kitchen Arts and Letters

Before I left to New York, I made a list of places I wanted to visit. I knew we wouldn't have too much time, so I limited my list to two places: Carlo's Bakery and  Kitchen Arts and Letters, the bookstore that sells cookbooks. Not a cookbook section, not a small shelf, but a whole store, floor to ceiling of cookbooks.
A heaven for any cook, from a professional chef to a kitchen rookie.

How could I miss that? From their webpage I've learned that they offer more that 13,000 titles: all about food, cooking, food history, wine. Who needs a candy store when there is a cookbook store, which actually sells books on how to make candies too?!

We came to the store during the odd hours (in a big city slang meaning before or after the rush time), so the store was all to us. A friendly sales person was helpful in navigating us through the shelves, while we were just gasping for air when we saw books we wanted to have. The same sales person assured us, that if we can't find it in the store, to ask: they most definitely have it in is another area, as there's not enough room on the floor to keep all titles.
For a bookworm as I am, I want to have such a collection of cookbooks in my office, which would be conveniently located next to my big  dream kitchen. 

We spent quite some time in the store, lingering over colorful pages and interesting facts on food anthropology. And we both found some books that we couldn't live without any longer. One of them is The Georgian Feast by Darra Goldstein, book on history, traditions and food of Republic of Georgia with over one hundred recipes, some of which I am eager to share with you in the coming months. 

I can't wait to come back to the store one day soon! 

Do you have a favorite bookstore? 
What books do you prefer to buy?

Kitchen Arts and Letters accepts special orders and would conduct a search for out-of-print books without charge. 
Kitchen Arts and Letters
1435 Lexington Avenue,
New York, NY 10128

Monday 1-6:00
Tuesday - Friday 10-6:30
Saturday 11-6:00

Phone: 212-876-5550
e-mail: letters@kitchenartsandletters.com

* I have no affiliation with Kitchen Arts and Letters, and I was not compensated in any way for this post. 
All thoughts and opinions stated in this post are 100% mine.

See you,

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back to School

Our morning on the first day of school looks like this:

Time to wake up!

Who, me?

I am almost... One more minute, please...

no, no, I am not sleeping... I am almost there...

I think most of the kids look at their books the same way
 on their first day of school... :)

Tomorrow our teenager starts his senior year of high school. 
Where did the summer go?! :)

See you,

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Cheese Muffins

A few posts ago I teased you with some photos, and now it's time to share the recipe for those muffins many of your were so fond about. They are easy to make, and no stand mixer required. I personally do all mixing by hand. 

Cheese Muffins


3 cups  (470 g) plain flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, beaten
2/3 cup (150 ml) olive oil
1 cup (250 ml) milk
1 cup (100-125 gr) shredded cheese (I used Swiss, Pecorino Romano, Feta, Mozzarella)
1 Tablespoon dried dill (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F (190 C). Grease a 12 cup muffin pan with butter.

2. In a large bowl combine together the flour, salt, baking powder, and dill. Stir and set aside.

3. In another bowl , whisk the eggs, then add oil and milk and whisk again. 

4. Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture, add the egg mixture and shredded cheese (any cheese of your choice), and mix all ingredients. Do not overmix! 

5. Fill the cups with the batter, and level it with the rim.

6. Place in the middle rack in the oven, and bake 20-25 minutes.

When muffins are golden brown in color and springy to the touch, insert a toothpick in the center: it should come out clean. 

Cool it for 5 minutes (if you can), and enjoy with butter or raspberry jam. 

* This recipe was highly adapted from The WS Baking Book.


See you,

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Julia!

Share your love 

Julia Child is a legend, she is a chef of all chefs to whom I refer each time I need an answer.
In the modern world there is way  too many concerns about the high levels of fat in French cooking, introduced by Julia. When I hear it, I always say: "Nevertheless, Julia happily lived almost 94 years, so I'll take it". Julia herself advised to eat in moderation. "I would rather eat one tablespoon of chocolate russe cake than three bowls of Jell-O", she said.
Her cooking style,  her attitude and playfulness won my heart from the very first episode I watch after I purchased a DVD  The French Chef with Julia Child. I go to Julia not just for recipes, inspiration, and techniques, but for joy and to lift up my spirit. 

Listen to what Julia said to Letterman, when he asked her: Have you cook anything that turns awful?

With my spirit lifted, I improvise myself. 
For Julia's 100th Birthday I made a Rabbit Saute with Red Wine, Mushrooms, and Onions, adapting her recipe for Boeuf a la Bourguignonne (Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volume one).

Rabbit Stew

"This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook - try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!" 
- Julia Child, My Life in France

"...no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing."
- Julia Child, My Life in France

Happy Birthday, Julia! 

See you,


Friday, August 10, 2012

Pickled Watermelon Rind

Ever since I saw on Kitchen Riffs pickled watermelon rind recipe, I couldn't stop thinking of it.  Then last weekend we bought watermelon that was not as tasty as it should, or simply as expected. Perfect to put pickling recipe to the test. 
But instead of following John's recipe, I went Google, and found this.

Omitting ginger, I followed the recipe. During the process I couldn't wander of ratio: 2 cups vinegar and only 1/2 cup  sugar? It didn't make a clear sense to me, nevertheless I proceeded. 

That evening I proudly set my creation in the center of the table for our dinner. We tried it, and run away from the table to spit it: it was just pure vinegar! 
I didn't through pickled watermelons away, instead, I added another portion of watermelon and radish, poured all the liquid from the jars, diluted it with more water and sugar to balance the vinegar, mixed all fresh and pickled ingredients together, covered it with pickling liquid, and then spooned back into the jars. 

Next day we tried it again. It was much better, and edible: we could taste watermelon and radish, and not the vinegar.  great condiment for salads, meat, sandwiches, or whatever else  you  use pickles.

Although the corrected recipe worked, both, teenager and Mr. I.V. asked why did I make it with the vinegar? Then teenager added: "make the one grandmother makes". 

Yes, why it didn't come to my mind to look into my mother's recipes? I couldn't call her that day: it was an early morning where they live and I don't think mother would understand that I really called her to find out her pickled watermelon recipe at 3 AM. 
She would call me back all day to ask me what happened.  So, to keep my mother worry free, I didn't call. Instead, I looked at my recipe book, and what did I found? 
In my mother's handwriting the pickled watermelon recipe, that she cared to write when she was here last January! 

I haven't done my mother's pickled watermelons yet, I still need to talk to her about some details, and then I will share the recipe with you. 

Have you had any cooking mishaps lately? 

How did you handle it?

See you,

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

"The Best Tuna Salad..."

Salmon salad as I run out of tuna... :)

In 2001, when I just moved from New York to Seattle, I was desperate for any job, and when the opportunity to work in the renovated food court of University of Washington came, I was on board the very next week. I was a prep cook before we would open, and then I served the  food to a thousands of hungry students in exchange of their cash. 
If you ask me which part I liked better, I couldn't tell you as both experiences were joyful. I loved watching our chefs at work (there was an Italian section called At Home, where all meals were prepared from scratch every morning), from whom I've learned some tips and tricks around the kitchen, including my knife skills. 
I also loved the atmosphere during serving time: cheerful, bright, and smart. 
Few years later, when my language skills improved and I got all my educational papers translated and in order, I left the HUB (that's how we called our food court) to pursue my career goal at other job. But the sentimental feeling of my years in the crazy yet delicious and fascinating student environment never left me. 

I started with a simple tasks in the kitchen, and with my skills improving, responsibilities grew. My proud moment was when I was asked to make a tuna salad, following the recipe. I did it one morning, then the next, then morning after that. Then I decided to play with the recipe, just a tiny bit (nothing can hurt a tuna salad, right?)
On our huge spice/herb rack I found a jar with rarely used dry dill. It took me a second to think of my tuna salad.  I felt like a kid who just found a jar of candies: my eyes were shiny, my face was stamped with a big happy smile. The basic recipe for tuna salad had just a few ingredients: tuna, celery, pickles, red onions, black pepper, and mayonnaise. I added dry dill, and reduced amount of mayo (to me the salad didn't look pretty, swimming in all that mayo).  Customers loved it, and it came to the point when I had to double the amount of salad for the day. 
That's when the Chef came in with the recipe check.  Oh, no! Busted! I was standing in the corner, head down, making myself as invisible as possible. Zillion excuses run through my head before he started to talk to me. 
He was standing there, smiling: "Let me try the best tuna salad everyone is talking about", he said. 
What? Did I hear it right, "the best tuna salad"? "Everyone is talking about"? I knew it was popular because we sold more and more of it, but the best?! and to hear it from the Chef? I was so proud, I was so happy! it was my little victory and one of the best awards. 
I told the chef what I did to the original recipe. He approved it with a smile. Then he asked me if I want to learn how to make pastry, but for this I would have to come to work two hours earlier in the morning. Who could refuse such offer? Not me... The very next morning I came to work two hours earlier, to make pastry, then to continue  later with my tuna salad. 

Pickled watermelon rind (recipe in the next post)

Tuna salad

250 gr canned tuna (or salmon )
100 gr diced pickles (experiment with pickled watermelon rind)
1-2 tablespoon dry dill (it has more aroma)
1-2 tablespoon Vegenaise
2 clove garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

In large bowl combine all ingredients, and you don't have to measure exactly (can of tuna, 2-3 pickles),  taste to adjust seasoning. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours and eat! 

Cheese muffins (come back for the recipe!)

See you,

Friday, August 3, 2012

Quick Pickles

July and August, when daily temperature is above 40C, gardening is put on hold. The only "gardening" I do during this hot months is sprouting and micro greens. Luckily, a unique micro climate of the Ozark Mountains keeps somewhat reliable supply of cucumbers and tomatoes, and other vegetables at the local Farmer's Market. I bought some cucumbers to make a quick pickles, that Mr. I.V. has been asking for quite some time. I make it old fashioned way, using just water, salt and spices. Then I leave it to ferment for 3-4 days, and it's ready to eat. 
I remember when I lived with my parents, my mother  would make a 3 liters (a little under a gallon) jar early in the morning, put it outside, and then she came back from work, pickles would be ready to eat.  Mother calls it "young pickles" because they haven't developed enough sourness. The longer you leave pickles to ferment in the brine, the more sour they become. 

For the brine I use my mother's recipe: 30 gram (2 tablespoons) of sea salt (or pickling salt) diluted in 1 liter of water. 
To keep pickles crunchy I wash them, then place in a container with icy cold water in refrigerator overnight. On the bottom of the jar place dill seeds, garlic cloves, bay leaf, coriander seeds, black pepper, and any other spices you like: experiment and improvise! 

Then add the cucumbers, and pour the brine over it to cover the cucumbers. Taste the cucumbers next day, then day after that, and then day after that again. Enjoy them as they ferment, then after a week move  (if you have something left) the jar to refrigerator to slow down fermentation.

Basil seems to like hot weather: this bouquet I cut today from my garden. I let it dry, although I've never dried Thai basil before.  Have you?

See you,

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Organizing Photos

Another day Teenager decided to clean our computer and then upgrade it. He gave me a task I though would be easy to accomplish in an hour or two. All I had to do is to transfer my photos to an external hard drive. Well, easier said than done: it took me tree days to organize all my files before I could let him erase all data (he said computer would work better if he did so). 
I was postponing this project for quite some time, and I am glad teenager insist to do it now.  Before, I had my photos stores under the name of the post, which wasn't convenient when you need to find and eggplant under who knows what name.  Now I have all photos in folders, named by a subject on the photo. I am putting this to a test and I hope to find a photo of an apple in Apples folder. 

What is your photo organizing system? 
Do you keep your posted photos or you delete it from your computer?

See you,