Lunching in Tuscany

20140531-155554-57354274.jpgIt’s just starting to get hot here – like 100F hot – and thankfully the humidity hasn’t kicked into full steam mode.  Still, it’s hard to think about eating anything heavy, especially in the middle of the day.  And, who wants to slave over an oven or range when you’ve escaped the heat outside?

A few cans, a few minutes at the cutting board, and presto chango —

Insalata di Tonno e Fagioli (Tuna and Cannellini Bean Salad)

Now, pour yourself a nice, chilled white wine and pretend you’re in Tuscany!

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Chorizo for breakfast

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If I’m making breakfast for family and friends, I’ll make something sweet, because I like to bake, especially for company.  When it’s just me, though, I usually make something on the savory side. Back when I could eat eggs and dairy, I would make a pretty mean frittata or omelet.  Nowadays, its a tofu scramble with whatever is left in my vegetable drawer at the end of the week.

This morning, with a bunch of cilantro and an avocado, I didn’t exactly have the makings for a scramble, but I did have the inspiration for a flavorful hash.  Yes, a tofu scramble would be a lot healthier, but after a 25km hike with a 10 kilo pack, I decided to treat myself to this Chorizo Hash.  Don’t skip or skimp on the avocado!  It really balances the acidity and spice of the chorizo nicely.

O Valencia!

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I don’t remember eating dessert in Spain.  It’s not that there aren’t any desserts, but usually, I was so full and it was so late at night, that if I had room left, I tended to ask for fruit, like oranges with cinnamon and honey. This tart fuses those flavors.  Bright, citrussy, and not too sweet, it is the perfect finish to a sunny day.

Valencia Orange Tart

 

Getting saucy

Albóndigas en Salsa de Tomate (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)

Setas al Ajo (Garlic Mushrooms)

I’ve been craving paella lately, and it’s so much better when its shared alongside a good Spanish red and a lively conversation.  Sounds like the recipe for a dinner party!!!

If I’ve learned anything entertaining friends, it’s that not everyone shows up on time – maybe they get lost or maybe they’re just not obsessively punctual like yours truly.  So, I fix an appetizer or two that we can munch on as the group comes together.  The main course tends to be something that comes out of the oven after the last guest arrives or can stand the rest.  Or, occasionally in the case when I haven’t had time to prep the ingredients in advance, isn’t even close to ready and becomes its own entertainment as guests stand around my open kitchen watching me finish cooking.

Normally when I make paella, my tapas selection tends towards olives, marcona almonds, sausages.  This time, I decided to try a couple of warm tapas, Albóndigas en Salsa de Tomate (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce) and
Setas al Ajo (Garlic Mushrooms).

Note to self: buy more GF bread next time!!! The sauce on these meatballs was so good, one friend kept going back and scooping out one meatball and two or three spoonfuls of the sauce, which he would them mop up every last drop of with the GF bread I had toasted.  Another piled mushrooms on pieces of toast like bruschetta, so that the garlicky sherry sauce would soak in.

 

 

Cashew “Crack”

20140520-181207-65527791.jpgA colleague and good friend is leaving the island, and I wanted to do something to see him off, but my baking has been limited by an almost total lack of GF supplies.  I can find a flour blend or two, but they just don’t seem to be up to the task, and I can’t find xanthan or guar gum to save my life.

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with nut flours with great results (check out these Peanut Butter Cookies).  My friend loves cashews, and so I thought, “why not substitute cashew butter?”  At first I thought they might not have enough flavor, but a few tweaks and voila Cashew “Crack” Cookies, a wicked combination of crunchy and chewy that you can’t stop eating, even though you know you should.

 

Oh hammour

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It didn’t take long for me to start talking about food with my local friends. Everyone has their favorite kababji, but the food vaies only slightly depending on whether the spice blend used is Iranian or Iraqi influenced or Turkish or Lebanese.  More often than not, the decision on where to go seems to comes down to the juice and sheesha options.

After several days in a row of dinners consisting almost entirely of meat (and an occasional chicken kabob for good measure), I needed a change, or possibly more appropriately, an intervention.  The menu said hammour with citrus, coriander, and chile, and it mentioned a side of steamed vegetables, which in itself was starting to seem worth the price of the plate.  I freaked out a little when I saw the bright yellow sauce, but one taste, and I was won over.

Grilled Hammour (grouper) with Mango, Chile, and Cilantro Sauce

I’ve made this recipe a few times now, and the sauce was just as awesome on a grilled salmon fillet.  Watch out, though, the chiles sneak up on you.

Fisherman’s Masala


One of the best things about living on an island is the abundance of fresh seafood.  Even better, on this island you can find a plethora of whole and ground spices in the souk for pocket change.  Even though I know they won’t keep forever, I’m already daydreaming about what I will ship home when it comes time to leave (spices only…not the fish!).  And, since I can find all those whole spices, why not try my hand at making my own curry powders, like this machali masala.

Fresh tomatoes, on the other hand, are harder to come by since it’s so hot here, especially tomatoes that haven’t been refrigerated.  So, the other day made a chutney out of them, which I’ve been eating on pretty much everything until I can find a mold to make idlis.

Now, back to the seafood and spices…  Thakkali chatni is also a perfect complement to mild flavored seafood.  Put them all together, and you have a healthy, quick, and tasty weeknight supper.

Curry Dusted Scallops with Spicy Tomato Chutney

Love and peanut butter

Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter Cookies

I’ve been living in the mideast for a month now, and I’m slowly starting to get my bearings in the kitchen.  I’ve been able to find gluten free food pretty darn easily, but dairy free and egg free has been a nightmare, especially when I’ve got a craving for sweets.  No problem.  I’ll just bake.  …Except, I’ve been to nearly every decent sized market within 25km of the capital, and I can’t find xanthan gum or guar gum to save my (baked goods’) life.  And for some reason, the fact that I haven’t been able to bake (edible, non-disintegrating) cookies has made me miss my loved ones even more than usual.

I could just order xanthan gum online or have my parents ship some, but I need to bake now.  My first attempts at baking without xanthan gum were tasty but otherwise disasters.  I’m still trying substitutes like chia, but I need a lot more practice…and patience.

Then last night I remembered  that peanut butter cookies don’t need flour, and if they don’t need gluten in the first place, then I wouldn’t need a substitute.  And, since I’ve found peanut butter (and sugar) in every country I’ve ever been in, I may have just found a connection back home, regardless of where my oven is.

Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter Cookies

BTW, these make awesome sandwich cookies.  Try layering them with strawberry jam or chocolate spread just before serving.

Cooking in a whole new (old) world… literally

Lamb Koobideh Kebab I recently moved (temporarily) to Gulf for work. The weeks leading up to my flight were a bit nerve-wracking, not least because I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to eat.

Not that that has ever stopped me from exploring local establishments before, but at least I can usually muddle my way through reading the menu and knowing the local words for the things I can’t eat.  If all else fails, I try to go somewhere I might be able to see the food being prepared.  Since I can’t read a single word in Arabic yet, as my first local meal, I decided kebabs were a fairly safe and familiar way to start this new culinary adventure.  My server recommended the mixed grill, a plate of grilled meats and kebab with Iranian, Iraqi, and Bahraini seasonings.  It came with a small arugula salad, a drink, and all the bread I could eat, which my colleague did his best to devour all on his own with a large bowl of hummus.  I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much meat in one sitting.  It was just too good to stop.

One of the kebabs really surprised me.  At first, I thought it was from chunks of meat like the others, but it turned out to be ground lamb formed around the skewer.  When I saw ground lamb at the market near my place, I knew what my first experiment would be.

Lamb Koobideh Kebabs

Little pigeons?

Golabki

A dear friend of mine and I were talking about her Christmas vacation, and she told me about teaching her daughter their family’s tradition of making stuffed cabbage rolls.

If a 5 year old could learn, it was about time for me to.  Of course, I made a few tweaks, like using brown rice and replacing half the rice with lentils.

Warning: Golabki (“little pigeons” in Polish) take a little time to assemble, so they’re really not a weeknight dish if you don’t have a couple of hours to cook. The good news is that they’re not labor intensive, and you’ll be rewarded by the flavor that develops.  Oh, and if you think they’re good out of the oven, wait until you reheat them for a quick lunch.

Golabki (Stuffed Cabbage Rolls)

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