More Creative Cooking


Experimentation and creativity while cooking become really important when you are home and going out and about does not seem a very safe option.  Here are some photos of two recent dishes I created for dinner.

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Many people do not like certain vegetables, two of which are my favorites, beets and Brussels spouts.  I remain convinced that people do not like them because no one has ever cooked them in a way they find palatable. These two vegetables keep well in the refrigerator so they are good for buying in this time when many do not want to go to the grocery often.

To create the above dish, I sautéed several chopped garlic cloves in olive oil with the chopped beets.  Cook these until nearly done, then add the sliced Brussels sprouts.  It takes longer to cook the beets and garlic than the Brussels sprouts.  You want the Brussels spouts to be tender but do not over cook.  This particular day I added basil essential oil to taste and served the dish over pasta from Italy.  When I want something more spicy, I sprinkle berbere (Ethiopian spice) over the vegetables instead of using basil or other Italian spices.  Sometimes I serve this over rice instead of pasta, e.g. when I use berbere.  This provides a delicious vegan meal and is easy to prepare.

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One of my favorite dishes includes cod loins.  I create many different versions by changing the vegetables used and the spices. For this one, I first sautéed garlic in olive oil until golden, added chopped beets and sautéed until they were tender.  Then I added the cod loin and chopped red bell pepper and chopped poblano pepper.  At the last minute I added a handful of frozen green peas and sautéed only until they were hot.  Once again I used basil and added lemon essential oil.  The pasta is bucatini from Italy.  If you like cheese, grate fresh parmesan or asiago over the dish.

Covid19–Creative Cooking


This is post number six as I continue to quarantine.  I’ve lost tract of exactly when I last went to the grocery–not for at least three weeks.  In an effort to avoid going unnecessarily, I’ve come up with all sorts of creative cooking by looking to see what I can find in the pantry and refrigerator and inventing recipes, using what I already have.  Here are three of my inventions.

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When I was in Italy last November, I ate pasta with lemon creme sauce in two different restaurants in two different cities.  I have managed to duplicate it using bucatini from Italy, lemons, and heavy cream.  For two servings, cook about 1/2 pound of pasta.  While pasta is cooking, use a potato peeler to peel of strips of rind from one lemon.  Chop these strips into smaller pieces.  Cut the lemon into quarters.  When pasta is al dente, drain.  Turn down the heat and melt 1/4 stick butter in the pan, add drained pasta and lemon rind.  Take the lemon quarters and squeeze the juice into the pasta, add cream to taste–do not add too much. If you do not have cream–this time I had none in the refrigerator, do not worry.  It is yummy without it.

I was out of most salad ingredients so the above salad is chopped cilantro topped with feta cheese, various kinds of olives, and olive oil.

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While scrounging around in the freezer compartment, I found half pound of hamburger. I defrosted that and found a can of kidney beans in the pantry. I sautéed the lean hamburger in olive oil, then added the kidney beans.  I did not have any tomatoes or tomato sauce so I dumped in a little organic ketchup.  After stirring this together, I added berbere, a complex and a little hot spice from Ethiopia.  I served this on top of basmati rice from Pakistan–I buy this in ten pound bags at an international grocery.

The salad ingredients were a gift from a friend who had to harvest all his arugula and lettuce because of freezing weather. While both of us were outside, he handed me a bagful of these goodies.  I added some red cabbage I already had.  Finally, I grated asiago cheese all over the top of everything.  Cheese is a favorite food so I always have lots on hand.

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The other food I always keep in the freezer is fish, usually salmon and cod loins.  For this recipe, I defrosted the salmon and marinated it in teriyaki sauce and chopped up some onions and crystallized ginger.  I sautéed the onions in olive oil, then added the salmon and crystallized ginger.  When the salmon was almost done, I added some chopped, frozen,  poblano peppers (when I knew this stay-at-home order was likely, I bought a lot of poblano peppers and froze them) and arugula.  I served the finished dish over basmati rice.

Sometime in the next month or so–no definite date yet–my memoir/cookbook will come out, “You’re Gonna Eat That!? Adventures with Food, Family, and Friends.” It is filled with recipes using ingredients and methods I have learned in travels and growing up with my mom. Many of the recipes are vegetarian and could be vegan with minor adjustments.

Italy–Spaghetti with Lemon Cream Sauce


My favorite pasta dish in Italy was like none other I have eaten anywhere.  The first time–and the best dish–was in a little restaurant along the side of a narrow street in Amalfi.  The Amalfi Coast is famous for its lemons and where they create the best limoncello.  Therefore, it is not surprising that they created a pasta dish featuring lemons.  When I returned home, I experimented to recreate it.  First, the spaghetti–yes, they called it spaghetti–was considerably thicker than spaghetti in the US.  I guess it was homemade.  I did find a reasonable substitute here, bucatini from Italy.

Here is my recipe for two people:

1/2 lb. bucatini made from durum wheat semolina

1 lemon

heavy cream or half and half

lemon essential oil

butter

Cook the pasta as directed on the package.  While the pasta is cooking, using a potato peeler, peel strips from the rind of the lemon and cut into small pieces. If not using lemon essential oil, juice the lemon.  After the pasta is cooked and drained, place back in the pot with a couple tablespoons of butter and stir until butter is melted.  Add the lemon rind and lemon juice or essential oil to taste.  Add the cream carefully–just enough to make a little sauce.  Serve and grate parmesan or asiago cheese on the top.

Serve with a nice green salad.

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Farther up this street just below the school, we found the restaurant where I ate the spaghetti with this sauce.

 

 

Cooking in Italy


After spending most of the day exploring Pompeii, we rushed back to Sorrento for an evening cooking class up on a mountainside above the main part of the city. We made eggplant parmesan and  cheese ravioli. Their take on the eggplant dish was different from any I have seen in the US.  They had sliced the eggplant on the diagonal and already cooked it.  Each person received several pieces of the already cooked eggplant and a bowl of their homemade mozzarella cheese.  We were instructed to place a teaspoon of the cheese in the middle of each piece of eggplant, roll it up, and place it in a small casserole dish with their homemade tomato sauce already in the dish.  Instead of layers of eggplant, sauce, and cheese, this was rolls of eggplant filled with cheese atop a tomato sauce in a casserole dish which they baked while we made ravioli.

For making the ravioli, in front of each person they placed a pile of a couple cups of flour and dishes of water and oil.  We were instructed to add the oil and a little water to make a stiff dough.  Then we were told that the key to really good ravioli dough (and I am guessing any pasta dough) is to knead it a lot.  Yes, to do all this, we had to use our hands.  After the dough was thoroughly kneaded, we patted it out into an oval and then ran it through a pasta maker several times to make it thin.  We laid this rolled dough on the table and then with a ravioli cutter, we cut circles, filled them with mozzarella cheese, but not too much.  The key is to get just the right amount of cheese so you have enough but can still fold it over and seal the edges with the cheese inside.  It must be sealed thoroughly so it does not fall apart when being boiled in the salty water.

The owner asked my grandson to help cook the ravioli.  Here he is working away.

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After the ravioli was done, we all sat down and enjoyed the eggplant, the ravioli with their homemade tomato sauce, and their local wines.  Making both dishes was much easier than I expected.  And fun.  The evening was filled with joy, laughter, and good company.

 

 

 

Italy–the Amalfi Coast


On one of our day trips from Sorrento, we headed down the Amalfi Coast.  For years I have seen photos and told myself, “Wow”.  No photo can do this coastline justice.  The highway is excellent but narrow.  On many of the turns, only one vehicle can proceed.  A large bus cannot travel this highway.  Even with the small ones we took, the driver would often honk as we turned a corner which we could not see around.

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We stopped at one of the few turnoffs along the highway and took a short hike down to an overlook.  This is the town of Positano. I took the following photos while at this overlook.

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I love bougainvillea and all colors grew everywhere.

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Looking across the Mediterranean.

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The land is rugged with both new and ancient buildings hanging off mountainsides and cliffs.

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A closer view of Positano.

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Another view across the Mediterranean.

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The highway, houses hanging off the edge, olive trees, lushness everywhere.

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It was a stormy looking day.  We kept thinking it would rain but luckily it did not.

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The Amalfi Cathedral in the town of Almalfi.  Its design is unique and shows the cultural influence of the Muslim world with whom the town was a major trading center for centuries–arches, gold and green.

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A typical street in Amalfi.  We walked all the way up this street to just below the school, found all sorts of delightful shops, and ate our favorite food of the entire trip.   My favorite was spaghetti with a lemon creme sauce.  Recipe comes later.

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Near the sea looking up into the city.  The large building up on the slopes is now a cemetery but used to be a monastery.

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Same spot as previous photo, just looking the other direction.

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We were supposed to take a little boat trip out into the sea but it was too rough.  Ema, my daughter, walked all the way out to the end of the pier.

The water was so high I thought perhaps it was high tide.  I was told it was not.

 

Today I asked my daughter and grandson what/where was their favorite in Italy.  We all agree, Amalfi. I also loved Capri–more about there later.

Dinner Tonight


After several days away from home, I made a quick, tasty, vegetarian dinner this evening.

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Since I am leaving for California early Wednesday morning and did not want to buy more food, I used what I could find in the refrigerator:  Brussel sprouts, red bell pepper, poblano pepper, broccoli, onion.  I found a container of pepitas in the pantry and added some of those as well.

1/4 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 small poblano pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped

1 red bell pepper, deseeded and coarsely chopped

6 Brussel sprouts, sliced

Several broccoli florets

Olive oil

Basil essential oil or dried basil

Pepitas

Pour enough olive oil in skillet to cover bottom and heat on medium low.  Add onions and saute until carmelized.  Add Brussels sprouts.  When sprouts are about half done, add remaining ingredients and six drops of basil essential oil.  Saute until tender but still bright colored.  Toss in a handful of pepitas.  Serve over pasta or rice.

I served this with pasta and grated asiago cheese on top.  Although I frequently use parmesan for grating, I actually prefer asiago.  Without the cheese, this is vegan.

 

Vacationing in New York City-Part One


Earlier in June, my daughter, grandson, and I went to NYC for ten days.  We had no particular plans, stayed about three blocks from the East River in Midtown, conveniently only a couple of blocks from the subway so going up and down Manhattan was easy.  We did not do a lot of the usual touristy things.  Mostly we wandered around, exploring.

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This is a view from the hotel room on the 18th floor.  Yes, there are people living in some of these buildings, complete with patios, patio furniture, and in some cases plants.

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The first evening we traveled way downtown, got off the subway at Spring Street, and walked to a soba noodle place which had many vegetarian options–my grandson is vegetarian. We liked it so much we intended to go back but somehow never accomplished that. I would recommend this place for those who like Korean, Japanese, etc. food.  Sadly, I do not recall the name.

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The next day we went downtown again and did something touristy, had lunch in Little Italy.  We had no idea which restaurant to pick so picked this one:  Caffe Napoli.  My grandson liked their cheese ravioli with marinara sauce so much, he ate two entire platefuls.  I had the beet salad.  I am not a bread eater normally but liked theirs so much with the olive oil and herbs that I could not stop eating it. This place was a hit for us so we went back in the evening several days later.

After lunch we took a very long walk through Soho over to Washington Square Park. We spent quite a lot of time there people watching.

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If you have heard of the college, New York University (NYU), and have never been there, you might be surprised to discover it does not have a campus in the usual sense.  Its “campus” is comprised of buildings around and near this park.

Twice we ate at a place close to the hotel:  Clinton Hall at 230 East 51st Street.  They have good veggie burgers and a giant salad served in a huge beer stein, among a variety of options.  They also provide all sorts of games you can play while waiting on food, etc. I would not recommend this place near or on the weekend, however, unless you like loud.  It is a very popular hangout for young, professional people and was so noisy then that we could not even talk to each other without shouting.

One touristy thing we did was take the subway uptown to Central Park and eat lunch at Tavern On the Green.  The salmon patty was excellent.  It was a sunny day, the guests seemed happy except for one man who demanded to be seated in a part of the restaurant that was closed.  He did not succeed. The meal was good, the atmosphere sunny and pleasant. It was relaxing and fun.

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Three times we went uptown to the Barnes and Nobles on 86th Street. We also visited the one at 555 Fifth Avenue.  We are book people, and it seems we end up at book stores everywhere we travel.  My grandson had to stop buying books because of concerns about luggage being over the weight limit. The most unique bookstore we visited is Kinokuniya just across from Bryant Park.  I highly recommend this place.  Not only do they have all sorts of books both in English and Japanese, but they also sell various Japanese art items some of which are very beautiful.  I had to seriously restrain myself. My daughter and I sat in their cafe, I drank matcha latte, and we watched the activities across the street in Bryant Park while grandson explored the huge graphic novel area.

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An “Italian” Evening–One


Two weeks and one day ago, Martina arrived from Milano, Italy, to live with me until the end of the school year.  We have discovered astonishing similarities:  we both sing and play the piano, we love vegetables and fish, we read books.  Tonight my grandson and daughter are coming over for Italian food.  We went grocery shopping today, bought pancetta for pasta alla carbonara.  Because my grandson is vegetarian, we purchased Morning Star “bacon” and will make a separate vegetarian version for him.

As we planned this repast, I learned that in Italy everyone eats several courses unless in a very big hurry.  Course one includes various little goodies like cheeses, nuts, salami, often thought of in the US as antipasto, but it can include many other things.  Each person obtains a drink of his or her choice and snacks on the goodies and converses.  There are separate courses that follow:  pasta, meat or fish, salad, and finally dessert.  Italians eat dinner late, e.g. 9-9:30, which reminded me of Argentina where people also eat late.  I like to eat late unlike many people in the US.  However, we won’t eat that late tonight, more like perhaps 7:30 or whenever we get everything done.

Right now as we await the arrival of my family, Martina and I are sipping tea while she works on a dystopian short story she has to write for English class–she is a senior here–and I write this blog post.  The snow from last evening has mostly melted and the sun is setting.  Martina loves Panhandle of Texas sunsets and sunrises.  I will take photos of the food and post them tomorrow.

 

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Pasta with Kale and Portabello Mushrooms


Earlier I took a hike across my little canyon and up the hill where I plan to build a fence so people will not drive where they are not supposed to drive.  Driving there causes rather bad erosion.  Walked back to the barn, fed the horses, and returned to the house, then noticed hunger.  This afternoon I bought some Tuscan kale and wanted to try it out.  Here’s my creation:

Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped

3-4 medium size portabello mushrooms, sliced

3 large Tuscan kale leaves, center stem removed and chopped

Pasta–your choice.  I used rigatoni but my favorite is conchiglie from Montebello Monastery in Italy which has been doing this since 1388 or so they claim

Greek oregano

Ricotta cheese

Cover bottom of a skillet with the olive oil.  Add the onions, mushrooms, and chopped kale stems.  Saute until the onions are translucent and the kale stems are cooked but still crunchy.  While this is cooking, tear the kale leaves into bite sized pieces.  Take two dried oregano stems and lightly remove and crumble the leaves and florets into the skillet.  Discard the stems.  Add the kale leaves to the onion mixture and saute.  When done, kale leaves will be tender but still a bright green.  Pour over the pasta and place a dollop of ricotta cheese on top.

Note:  I grow my own Greek oregano and dried a bunch on my counter top this week–I live in a dry climate so this works.  I took two stems with the dried leaves and flowers still attached and stripped off the leaves and flowers and crushed them with my hands directly into the skillet.  Greek oregano is very mild.  You might want to use less of other oregano.  Without the ricotta, this recipe is vegan.  I used whole milk ricotta; I never buy low fat anything.  I tried to learn to like whole wheat pasta but gave up.  Quinoa and corn mixed pasta is ok, but give me the real thing from Italy.

 

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This photo illustrates the dried Greek oregano.  I will have to decide whether to store like this or take it all off the stems and crush it.

Chicken with poblano peppers, sun dried tomatoes and pasta


This recipe is posted as a tribute to Klara Kamper, from Austria.  Klara is an exchange student and nearly every week she has come over to ride my horse, Rosie.  After riding, I fix dinner.  Of all the different dinners I have fixed, this is Klara’s favorite.

4 pieces boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces

2 large poblano peppers, deseeded and diced into bite sized pieces

1 large purple onion, chopped

5-6 pieces sun dried tomatoes, chopped into a large dice

Olive oil

Herbs de provence

Cover the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil.  Saute the onions until done.  Add chicken and more olive oil if necessary.  With your fingers sprinkle herbs de provence over the onion/chicken mixture.  When the chicken is nearly done, add the poblano peppers and sun dried tomatoes.  Saute until the poblano peppers are cooked but still a nice bright green.  You may also add mushrooms if you like.  Serve over your favorite pasta.  My daughter does not like herbs de provence so when I cook this for her, I use a  mixture of oregano, basil, and marjoram.

I am very, very picky about pasta.  My favorite is organic Montebello pasta produced by Monastero Di Montebello, Isola del Piano, Italy.  I especially like the conchiglie.  However, I use their spaghetti and other shapes as well.

This is Rosie.  She will really miss Klara who leaves for home on June 25.

 

 

 

 

Rosie, who "adopted" Star after Miracle died.

 

A friend joined us to see the horses and for dinner.  Apparently, she took this photo just before I served dinner.