Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dreaming of Palm Springs

It is dreary outside, dark, gray, cold, windy, raining, and I feel like the weather is now really getting to me. Normally, I am such an optimistic trooper, even in the longest winter, but this endless array of weather that wants me to be cuddled up indoors when I see people with Magnolia trees on the west coast makes me want to cry. I can’t take it anymore. It is these moments when I want to uproot and move back to a drought stricken California, like here in Palm springs, and yes, after 10 years in Maine, it does look a bit dry and not green at all. Nothing much seems to grow, naturally, while there is an abundance of green, trees and lushes lawns and coastal waters and lakes in Maine without anyone having to do anything. If…. you can cope with the winter.

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But the light, the wide horizons, the freedom, of Palm Springs and the desert, get me every time.

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Maybe, just a vacation, for a few weeks, to recharge those depleted happy hormone reservoirs.

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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Boston Strong

It is a bit eerie and sad to walk around the Boston Marathon finish in 2015. The sidelines and audience benches are all up, it is another 2 days, the runners’ expo tents are busy, the tourists pouring into town, many people obviously runners, the European ones clad in adidas gear, and there is a great excitement in the air. I never knew what a big deal the Boston marathon for Boston really is. Still, the nerves are raw from 2 years ago, the memories too vivid. Special, make-shift memorials are erected where the bomb exploded, but in true Boston strong fashion (similar to the NYC tenacity), the show (and life) does go on.

Each store along Newbury Street and Boylston Street had these Boston Strong potted Daffodils.

Good luck for the runners! Unfortunately, it looks like it will rain on Monday.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Light and warmth infused humans

Sometimes I feel humans are not much different from plants. When do the plants in the garden know that it is time and safe to grow those leaves and flowers? They don’t have a calendar. It is sensing based --- sensing that it is warm and that there is plenty of sunshine. Humans are similar --- as soon as we ‘feel’ (sense) that the temperatures rise to a certain degree, the sun shines long hours and it is warm consistently for a few days it seems like we are infused by some life nectar, too, which provides energy to run long distances and go places.

At least that is what happens to me and what brought me to Boston.

In Boston, a lot more people seem to feel it.

While the nature here at Boston Commons is on the cusp of blooming, the people are more than ready to get in the streets and eat outside again.

The city gets ready for more long distance runners…

The finish of the Boston marathon.

It feels a bit eery,sad and raw to walk by all those stores and places where just 2 years ago this terrible tragedy happened. But then, Boston is boston strong, and everyone does their best to put it behind them.

The Apple watches are in store, but not ready for sale yet. I am not sure about the Apple watch; it seems to be able to connect to an Iphone via bluetooth to get messages?! Or do they have wifi? That would make them interesting.

Spring is here, at least for a few days because we get spring showers. But the snow seems to be done for the season. Halleluja!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Goddess Green Kale Hummus

Waking up this morning, the light coming in through the bedroom window was so low that I knew I would need to keep the lights on all day. In an effort to make the best out of this rainy, snowy, dark Easter Saturday, I designated it to be a ‘pajamas day’, an in-house day, cozy in front of the tv with endless netflix movies, never needing to wear any ‘real’ clothes and no need for make-up either, getting some work done, and otherwise just lingering. Sounded great.

Recently, I figured out that a neuro-fuzzy logic rice cooker is the perfect device to cook dried chickpeas without having to plan ahead and soaking them first. A slow cooker takes about 12h without soaking, a pressure cooker 45min but I feel compelled to watch the dangerous device; electric pressure cookers are about $100 but all of them are really big (6-12 cup) and I do not need another gadget. So, I tried the rice cooker last week and in one normal rice cooking cycle it also cooked dry chickpeas to perfection.

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These are channa masala (black chickpeas) which I picked up in an Indian store. About 1 cup of dried chickpeas, plenty of water (I filled about half the pot), 2 bay leaves and putting it on basmati rice cooking.

With my second batch of chickpeas, I made hummus for the week, but not just any hummus, a goddess green hummus with kale. So simple, and so good!

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Green Goddess Kale Hummus (makes ca. 2 cups)

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas, liquid reserved, otherwise some water 
  • 1/2 tsp fleur de sel (or kosher salt), or to taste
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup tahini  (sesame paste)
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp reserved chickpea liquid (or water)
  • 3 large handfuls of chopped lacinato kale
  • Olive oil, for drizzling
Place all ingredients into a food processor (except the salt) and process until the hummus is coarsely pureed. Add water as needed to make the hummus come together and get the right consistency. Scoop into a bowl and drizzle with a good quality olive oil.  

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hello April

The spring is slowly forthcoming this year. The days are longer, sunnier, but there are still 2 feet of ugly snow on the ground almost everywhere. Not in the south of Maine, though. They are snow-free, mostly.  It is April and I have hopes that by the end of the month it might actually feel like spring. I try not to be one to complain, because, afterall, this is life, and every day wasted with looking at the negative and wanting something else, is never coming back. So, why not make it a day to remember.

With the lack of blog posts, you probably have realized that I have been less than inspired to cook lately. A real inspiration slump. I do not care to bring lunch and I do not even care to grab lunch, and then I eat a candy bar I have in the office. My excitement went on spring break and never came back. Maybe, I just need a major change, but I don’t know what this could/should be. Summer?

So, I leave you with things I found on the internets in the hope they might inspire me (or you);

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Eats in April. And meals.

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Ready for Austrian Royal sweets? These are crepes, the Austrian version. The dough is sweeter than the dough of crepes, but otherwise they are quite similar. Always filled with some apricot or strawberry or raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar. (Original name: Palatschinken, for instruction check this post). (Equally fabulous: Kaiserschmarrn, Nocken and Viennese Apple Strudle. This one deserves a photo of its own. )

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Easter is on its way. Please only buy chocolate bunnies for the kids. Not real ones.

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And now I will enjoy the sunny day and a half, because the weatherman says, the Easter weekend will be a big natural make-over, with plenty of rain and then a new layer of immaculate snow. Old man winter is still refreshing his make-up. His real name seems to be Dorian Gray.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Baked Ziti

It was a get-together with plenty of good friends and good food, and a surprise birthday girl. I decided to contribute something Italian, since it is hard to compete with all the authentic Indian, Bengali and Sri Lanka cooks. – Lasagna was first on my mind, but I switched to Baked Ziti since it is easier to serve buffet-style. It came out great, but next time I will add more sauce and cook it less long, since it starts to dry out during reheating. Tasty, nevertheless.

Baked ziti consists of precooked pasta, a meaty tomato sauce and a ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan mixture, ultimately all mixed, layered and baked until bubbly.

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I cooked a mixture of pasta, and added 2 bay leaves to give them extra flavor.

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The meat sauce with tomatoes.

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The mixture of ricotta, shredded mozzarella, parmesan and 1 egg, all mixed. Then add the pasta.

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Add most of the meat tomato sauce (but leave 4 cups for layering)>

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Prepare the dish.

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Bake until bubbly.

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Baked Ziti

  • 1 package of pasta (typically 1 pound)
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 dash of sweet vermouth (optional)
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 ts dried thyme
  • 1 ts dried basil
  • 1 ts chili flakes (and a dash of cayenne if you like it hotter)
  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small can of tomato sauce
  • 1 15oz container of part skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 packages of shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • fresh mint or parsley or basil

Cook pasta with salted water for about 9min (slightly undercook).

In a large pan, sautee the onion and garlic in the olive oil, and once softened add in the meat, and break it up with a large spatula. Brown it from all sides. Then add in the tomatoes and tomato sauce and the herbs and spices. Simmer for about 20min.

In a separate large bowl, mix up the ricotta cheese, 1 pouch of mozzarella and parmesan with the egg with a fork. Just mash it up. Add in the pasta, and mix through.

Once the sauce is done, reserve about 4 cups, and mix in the rest of the sauce to the pasta.

Layer half of the pasta mix in an 9x13 inch oven safe baking dish. Even out, and then layer half of the sauce on top, and half of the mozzarella from the second bag. Add the second half of pasta, even out and finish with the remaining sauce and mozzarella.

Preheat oven to 375F, and bake dish for about 25min. To get a brown crust, turn on the broiler for 1.5min at the end of baking. Sprinkle with fresh mint before serving.

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

Vegetable Biryani

Old man winter decided to put on a layer of fresh make-up before he was ready to leave the party. Oh, boy. Another 10-14 inches today after he looked a bit haggard after loosing about 1-2 feet of snow last week.

One of my favorite dishes lately is the Indian vegetable biryani. A biryani is an Indian equivalent of ‘mexican rice’ or an Italian risotto, a layered, and flavored rice dish with spices and vegetables (there are also meat varieties). For me, the vegetable biryani is the best option. It is a great side during the week, or a main dish, right out of the oven.

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A biryani is cooked in a layered way. The basmati rice is pre-cooked separately but not fully cooked, and the vegetables are seared and flavored, and then both parts are finished off together so that the flavors melt.

It can be made with any kind of vegetables, but carrots, cauliflower, beans, even potatoes are a traditional Indian version. A biryani also has plenty of fresh herbs such as mint and cilantro, and a hint of saffron for a nice color and flavor. Cardamon, tumeric and garam massala round out the flavors.

First, the basmati rice is washed several times until the water runs clear and then soaked for 30min (a must for fluffy basmati rice!). It is then cooked with a very salty water that is also flavored with cumin seeds and a bay leaf. However, it is undercooked (!) and done in about 10min.

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The next step includes preparing the vegetables: sauteing them in flavored ghee and mixed with herbs, and rounded out with yogurt. Once prepared the rice is layered over it.

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There are 2 layers of rice, each one is sprinkled with more herbs spices and a fried onions. The last layer of hot, steamy rice gets an additional drizzle of saffron steeped in hot milk.

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The dish is covered with a tight-fitting lid, and steamed for about 15min until the rice is fluffy and the vegetables fully cooked.  For serving, a section from top to bottom is best to serve both vegetables and rice.

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Vegetable Biryani (makes about 6 servings)

Rice:

  • 1 cup good basmati rice, rinsed several times, and soaked for at least 20min
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 TB salt

Bring 1-2 quart of water to a boil, and add the bay leaves, caraway seeds and salt. Add soaked rice and cooked until about 3/4 done (about 12-14min).

Also steep a few strands of saffron with a half cup of the hot, salty water in a separate cup.

Vegetables:

  • 2-3 TB (GMO free) canola oil or ghee
  • 1 TB whole black pepper corns
  • 1 ts cumin seeds
  • 1 potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cubed
  • 1 small cauliflower, cut into florets (or 1 bag frozen)
  • 1 cup fresh fenugreek leaves (if available, otherwise omit)
  • 1 TB fresh dill leaves
  • 2 TB jarred ginger and garlic paste

In a heavy bottomed large pot (that will contain the entire dish) with a tight fitting lid, heat the ghee or oil, and add the spices and the vegetables from above and cooked for 5 min until softened. Now, add

  • 2 small green chili, diced (you can also use jalapenos)
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, julienned (cut into very thin long stripes)
  • 1/2 ts cayenne powder
  • 1 ts tumeric powder
  • 1 ts salt

Add these ingredients, mix well and cook for another 3 minutes. Now, turn down the heat. Add

  • 1/2 cup of frozen or fresh green peas
  • 1 cup long, skinny French beans
  • 1 cup of plain cow milk yogurt
  • 1 ts garam masala
  • 1 ts green cardamom powder
  • 1 TB melted ghee
  • mint leaves of 2 springs
  • handful fried onions (home-made or store-bought)

Mix all these ingredients. Using a perforated large spoon laddle the pre-cooked rice on the vegetables (a bit of liquid is good because it is the only liquid added to finish off the dish). Layer on about half of the rice. Add to the rice layer

  • 2-3 TB chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 ts ground coriander
  • 1 ts garam masala powder,
  • 1 ts green cardamom powder
  • a few fresh mint leaves (chopped)
  • fried onions

Now layer rest of rice – and a last layer brown onions, garam masala, cardamom powder, the saffron soak in water, and 1-2 Ts melted ghee, drizzled over the biryani.

Seal the pot – and cook on stovetop on medium high for 2-3min (until steam comes out). Lower flame and cook another 10-12min. (Don’t cook on high heat for too long, because the biryani will burn quickly since it does not contain much liquid).  

Serve.

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Out and about–Spring break in Maine

Spring break is over, and winter decided to put on a new layer of make-up. He was looking a bit haggard, but decided to refresh his complexion before leaving the party in style. One of my spring break adventures included the New Balance factory store in Skowhegan which had a 40% off sale (on the factory seconds).

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This is the New Balance factory and, like with LLBean, much is still hand-made right here in the USA.

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Unfortunately I came on the second day of the sale, rookie mistake, and the “middle of the road” sizes of the nice shoes were already gone. A lot of 6s and 11s in this blue beauty.

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It is no surprise that plenty of people trek to Skowhegan for the sale. 40% off 39.98? Not bad, not  bad. I could not really find any signs of ‘seconds’, the merchandise looked perfect.

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Available in my size, but a bit too Florida colored for me.

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I finally settled on these, they are amazing, the fresh foam model. Love.

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Even more love for these cuties. The adorableness.

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It was then off to Freeport which was quite deserted. I don’t think anyone comes to Maine for spring break, and even the Mainers are gone.

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In the old days, maybe it was different.

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Fell in love with the new flatbreads at Panera bread. Soooo good!

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Repurposed an inexpensive bulky bag at Forever XXI as camera bag.

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Only batted my eyelashes at this bag.

And now I try to be patient for spring to come, in the next weeks, months.