Thursday, 23 October 2014

All Squashed-Up!

Zucca Arrostita con Riso Nero, peperone & Paprika Affumicata
Roasted Butternut Squash with Black Rice, Peppers & Smoked Paprika

 

This was a day that demanded some kind of reward by the time I made my way back home and was able to fix some supper- it was one of those days where it seemed that everything that COULD go wrong, DID go wrong. But making myself something good to eat made things feel a little better... it always does!

What I decided to make was a small, butternut squash, which I gather is one of the favorite and most preferred varieties in the USA... and I have to say that now I understand why! Here in Germany, we tend to love the Hokkaido pumpkins as they are so tasty, colorful... and don't need peeling... but you know- these Butternuts do give them quite a run for their money!

 

I decided to pair mine with some deliciously "nutty" tasting black rice- more chewy and flavorful by far than regular white rice- and do you know what? Although the thought had really not crossed my mind as I made it... this would make a pretty awesome Halloween party dish! Even though the only thing about it that is scary is how frighteningly good it tastes!

 

Just 1 small butternut squash, 1 cup of rice, 2 very small peppers in red and yellow, a little parsley, a little time, about 2" of fresh ginger, 1 shallot and about 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika powder were all I needed to make 2 modest, yet filling portions.

 

It took me just a little longer than half an hour to make this- maybe 45 minutes to cover the nominal prep-work and time to serve it... which is practically no time at all really! Such a fun dish as well as being to pretty and tasty too- I think this is really one that you might want to try out soon!

 

The ingredients for the flavoring of the rice need to be diced as finely as possible, ready to sizzle together in a little oil...

 

I began by halving the squash, scooping out the seeds and scoring the flesh with deep, diagonal cuts, before rubbing it with olive oil, seasoning generously with salt and freshly ground pepper, and then baking, with the cut surface facing upwards, in a preheated oven at 200°C for 25-30 minutes.

 

In the meantime, I popped the rice into a saucepan to boil for 25-30 minutes too and in the meantime I finely chopped the peppers, the shallot and the ginger, ready to prepare them so that they would be ready to add to the rice at the end. I fried them all together, with a little olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper, a little nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne. As soon as the shallot had become translucent and then begun to turn brown around the edges, I turned off the heat and let them sit and rest... whilst I got busy finely chopping the parsley and plucking 3-4 sprigs of thyme, ready for my garnish later.

 

After 30 minutes, both the squash and the rice were ready- which was really good as I was beginning to get really hungry- and especially so after I took-in the wonderful aromas! The rice was now tender and chewy, with a red-black hue to it and just begging to have those colorful peppers, the fresh parsley and the smoked paprika powder added... and as soon as they were mixed together well, it was ready to be filled into the hollows in the squash halves and to be served!

 

I scattered them with plenty of fresh thyme and a added a good, extra sprinkle of smoked paprika powder and enjoyed them steaming hot and scrumptiously smooth and delicious- perfect in combination with the nutty and chewy rice! People- you need to make this! Try it by Halloween at the latest- and enjoy!

 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Steam a Little Dream for Me

Steamed 5-Spice Pork Buns Made of Pizza Dough

 

Innovation- not desperation! That's what being a good cook is all about! Anyone can grab a recipe book, go out and shop for the ingredients they need and follow the rules... but for me, it is all about looking at what you have and then deciding what's the best thing you can make with them? Or the most fun and most different!

So, sure... I could have just put a topping on the roll of pizza base I had in the fridge and have made an easy supper. But I also had more of the pork loin from the other night left over and as I hadn't thought to freeze it, did not want it to go to waste.

And so I did this. Pretty cool, huh?


 

Although I have never eaten them, I have often seen and heard of steamed buns and always liked the sound of nice, big, soft and juicy dumplings with a juicy filling- and it seemed like a great idea this cold and rainy evening! A little fun, a lot of comfort and an easy, satisfying meal- and just one frying pan and my bamboo steamer to wash! Yep- I liked the sound of that on a week day night!

 

So for 8 yummy dumplings, I needed a half roll of store-bough pizza dough, around 200g of lean pork loin, 1 onion, some fresh ginger, 1 fresh chili pepper, 1 tablespoon each of Hoisin and sweet chili sauce, 1 tablespoon of 5-spice powder, some fresh parsley and some toasted sesame seeds. I added a little extra soy sauce for seasoning... and because I like it hot- some Sriracha sauce at the end for an extra kick... but I will let you decide on how you decide to enjoy yours!

  

Fluffy, steamy, hot, spics and irresistible! Get ready to burn your lips in your impatience- haha! Because these are best when they are piping hot!

 

So- let's get started and get busy chopping the pork and the onion nicely and finely... and the ginger and chili ultra fine! I used about 2" of ginger... and made sure to discard the seeds from the chili as they were suuuuper hot!

 

Fry the onion, pork, ginger and chili together until the pork has all turned white and the onion has become translucent, then add the stalks of the parsley, finely chopped, the sweet chili and Hoisin sauce, the 5-spice powder and plenty of freshly ground pepper.

 

Simmer together for 3-4 minutes, then add the finely chopped parsley leaves and a little soy sauce and water, stir thoroughly and turn off the heat. By the time it has cooled off, 7-8 minutes later, the juices will have soaked into the pork and become a smooth, slightly sticky and very yummy and spicy sauce.

 

Simmer together for 3-4 minutes, then add the finely chopped parsley leaves and a little soy sauce and water, stir thoroughly and turn off the heat. By the time it has cooled off, 7-8 minutes later, the juices will have soaked into the pork and become a smooth, slightly sticky and very yummy and spicy sauce.

 


Next step is to cut your pizza dough into squares of around 3 1/2- 4", ready to fill and pinch-together...

 

Simply spoon a good teaspoon of filling into the center of each square of dough and then fold the edges closed- don't worry about it being neat... but don't over-fill them or the filling will seep out and you'll regret it! Haha!

 

No need to fuss too much, just pluck the ends of the dough together and pinch them shut, before placing upside-down into a muffin paper, ready to steam. You may want to add a little rub of sesame oil to the dough to help it not to stick to the paper, if your wrappers are not grease-proof.

 

Set into their wrappers, upside-down, your little buns, dumplings, or whatever you prefer to call them are ready to be steamed for 15 minutes until they are fluffy and ready to serve...

 
 
Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds as soon as you remove the lid and the buns are still soft and slightly sticky... and rush to get them served up nice and hot! Mind your fingers now!

 

I gave mine a sprinkle of chopped parsley for color and a touch of freshness... but mainly because I didn't have cilantro at home, which would have been better- drat! And a nice squeeze of Sriracha sauce to make them extra hot!

 

And oh yes- that juicy filling was flavorful with the 5 spice and the mixture of sauces- a perfect, fun and also frugal feast! As so often... what's not to love? Go ahead- and enjoy!

Monday, 20 October 2014

2 Awesome Autumn Salads

Insalata di Puntarelle & Melograno con Insalata di Fagiolini "Mung" Rossi
Puntarelle & Pomegranate Salad with Lukewarm Red Mung Bean Salad


 

Salad, at this time of year? Well- yes! Especially if it is a salad of Puntarelle, which are just coming into season right now!

One of my favorite greens, crunchy and deliciously, slightly bitter Puntarelle are an absolute must any time they are available on the market here- because it really isn't often! I made then in the traditional Roman manner, but added pomegranate, also in-season, to give a new twist, a blast of color and a load of added flavor!

And as it is getting to be rather chilly now- a warm salad of red mung beans on the side... Experimental and fun- and pretty delicious too!



I recently read a story online about the pro's and con's of soaking beans overnight, which I found to be rather intriguing... as the results of many tests they reported on confirmed that there was no great amount of time-saving at the end of the day- maybe 15-20 minutes... and no improvement in flavor to be had by taking a whole night to prepare the beans in. So I didn't. I boiled them straight from the bag- and they were just fine!

 

For my supper tonight I needed 1 small head of Puntarelle, 1 cupful of red mung beans, 1 carrot, 1/2 stalk of celery, 1 shallot, 1 lemon, a sprig or two of thyme, a squeeze of anchovy paste from the tube, some fresh parsley and a half of a pomegranate... and around 1 hour of cooking time.

 

I prepared the Puntarelle salad dressing in the traditional way using anchovies (I used a paste this evening), lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of sugar and plenty of pepper... the perfect dressing for these mildly bitter greens... it's just one of those things that works perfectly! It doesn't taste fishy at all- the anchovies just bring the perfect seasoning into play which makes this recipe rock! Trust me!

 

For the beans, I needed a fine dice of celery, shallot and carrot...

 

I fried the vegetables together in just a little olive oil, with a sprig of thyme, until the onion became translucent. I then added the beans, salt, a bay leaf and enough water to cover them. I brought them to the boil, reduced the heat to a simmer and let them gently bubble away whilst I prepared the Puntarelle.

 

But after an hour of gently simmering away, this is what they looked like- ready to have a little finely shredded lemon zest and more olive oil added and be dressed up ready for serving... but we will get to that in just a moment!

 

... because first, we need to snap those little bulbs of Puntarelle apart and then slice them up as finely as we can! Same goes for the lemon zest... a little bit of a chore I know- but so worth it!


The dressing was the zest of 1 whole lemon, 4 tablespoons of olive oil, a half teaspoon of sugar and a heaped teaspoon of salty anchovy paste and plenty of coarsely ground mixed pepper... simply stirred together... terrific!

 
 
Simply mix the pomegranate seeds in with the finely sliced puntarelle, add 2/3rds of the dressing and mix thoroughly. Set to one side for the flavors to combine and intensify and go set the table whilst those beans finish boiling... then add the other third of the dressing to them, a good pinch of finely chopped parsley... and get ready to serve and to enjoy!


 

Colorful, flavorful, healthy and delicious!

 

I love to try out something new... don't you?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Autumn Glory

Filetto di Maiale, Polenta, Cicoria & Pastinaca
Pork Loin, Polenta, Chicory and Parsnip


 

Such a special, yet simple supper this evening! 2 little slices of lean pork loin, basically, 1 cup of polenta, 1 parsnip, 1 shallot and basically, the leaves that I would otherwise have discarded from the Puntarelle that I will be enjoying tomorrow evening... amazing what a little feast they turned into!

Drat! Now I have already told you what the ingredients were- haha! Along with a little nutmeg and milk for the polenta and thyme, white wine and good olive oil for the rest, these simple ingredients made for a perfect, quick Autumn meal... Word!


 

I kept this dish butter-less and do you know what? It was still terrific! I relied instead on just a little good olive oil, added at the end, to infuse the ingredients with a rich, Mediterranean flavor. Which was frankly better as well as being lighter than the usual butter and cheese excesses that polenta often is.Try tasting your ingredients rather than overpowering them with other flavors that you "love", like butter and cheese. It's just a suggestion! Because you know, in my humble little opinion... as tasty as all of those typical dishes may be- they are, as well as being pretty unhealthy... also pretty one-sided and boring! There! I've said it!

 

Here you go... the ingredients. feast your eyes... I already slipped-up and typed them up for you once- haha! But basically... they are so simple they need no further explanation.

 

The only sauce you will need for this will be the juices from the pan, enriched with white wine and honey- the flavors of the meat juices, onion, thyme and parsnip make for a lovely dressing... which I forgot to add when I took my photos this evening- aargh! But I did re-heat my meat in them before enjoying it- hehe! And yes- they are very, very good!

 

It is a little matter of multi-tasking, this meal- so here's how to begin. Start off by scrubbing, slicing and boiling the parsnip in a little more than 2 cups of water for 5 minutes. In another saucepan, start boiling the chicory, which you need to wash thoroughly and then cut down into 2-3" pieces.

After 5 minutes, remove the parsnip from the water, set it to one side and then add 1 cupful of polenta to the water, which is be now nicely infused with parsnip flavor. Stir it in well and then add salt, pepper, nutmeg and enough milk to bring it to the right, creamy consistency, then turn down the heat and let it simmer very gently for the duration of the cooking time, stirring occasionally.

As for the chicory- it will be absolutely tender and perfect after 10 minutes. Once you have drained it, add salt, pepper and olive oil and set it to one side, nice and warm, and give it time to soften up a little more, soak up the olive oil flavor and become even more delicious.


 

Whilst that is happening, quickly brown the pork slices in a little hot olive oil, then add plenty of pepper and thyme, the shallot and the parsnip and a dash more olive oil.

Fry at a high heat for 2 minutes from each side, keep the parsnip and shallot slices moving and then deglaze the frying pan with a good splash of white wine. Once the initial bubbling and steaming and boiling has subsided, add a little honey, stir through gently, and after just a couple of minutes more... you will be ready to serve!


 

Nice, pure, simple and delicious flavors and ingredients- that's what my kind of cooking is all about! I hope you all really enjoy!

 
 
And there you have it- a complete and deliciously balanced meal in less than 30 minutes!

 

Anyone for seconds?

Open Top Getaway!

Crostata di Sfogliia ai Cachi & Mirtilli Americani
Lattice-Topped, Persimmon & Cranberry Puff-Pastry Tart


Sometimes, Mother Nature gives you a helping hand, by producing lovely, fresh, sweet and delicious fruits for you, like these perfect, sugar-sweet persimmons for example...

But sometimes, it is a funky little kitchen gadget, like my nifty pastry-cutter here that will make things possible...

The you have the wonder of pre-made, perfect puff pastry of course...

And when you have it so easy, with that kind of help at your hands... why on earth would you look for ways to make things any more difficult?

You wouldn't! You would make a pastry like this in next-to-no-time!


 

I am not normally one for gadgets- but this one is just FUN! What's not to love about being able to cut a pastry fishing net out with one slight of hand and to cast it over something sweet and yummy, ready for baking? Nothing! Nothing, I say! Love, love, love all the way!

 

2 ripe persimmons, 1 roll of puff-pastry, 1 handful of cranberries, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1-2 teaspoons of powdered sugar for dusting... and no need for anything more. No fuss, no extra fat or sugar- just simple and delicious food!

 

There is plenty of butter in that puff-pastry... it is what makes it so deliciously fluffy and light and golden yellow when it is baked- which is why I say that there is no need to add any more. Let the pastry be pastry, the fruit be fruit and you are on my page of the food bible... and trust me- it makes for a good read and is based mostly on facts and common-sense!

 

Step one- peel, slice and relatively finely dice the persimmons.

 

Pop the diced persimmons into a saucepan along with a handful of chopped cranberries- I cut each of mine into 4 to have the kind of size that I wanted... if the pieces are too large they will be too overpowering in their flavor and this way they blend perfectly. Add the cinnamon and literally just a teaspoon of water and keep stirring for 2-3 minutes, before turning off the heat and setting them to one side... that is all you need to do!

 

Next, cut the pastry into 2 pieces- one smaller than the other, basically a 1/3rd - 2/rd cut. The reason being of course, that you will cut the lattice slits into the smaller one and then stretch it out to the same size as the larger of the two.

 

A little like this!

 

Next, spread out the filling nice and evenly, leaving a good couple of inches all around the outside edges.

 

Carefully lift the latticed-lid on top, press down the edges and then fold them upwards to create a thicker edge that can puff-up and outwards whilst it bakes. To hold it together securely, simply pinch the corners together... and then pop your terrific tart into a pre-heated oven at 180°C for 15-20 minutes until fluffy, crispy and golden brown.


And of course... add a nice sprinkle of powdered sugar- why not?!! You haven't done anything else naughty yet, except for using that pastry...

 

...that lovely, delicious pastry! Oh my does that look good!?! Time to enjoy all y'all!