Monday, February 06, 2017

200 Posts - A Milestone!

200 posts! 200 posts, and 10 years! It's a milestone, isn't it?

I started this recipe blog back in February, 2007 because of some conversations I had with some newly Orthodox women on the now silent Orthodox Women's yahoo group. These women were worried about what to feed their families during Lent, and some of us older women gave them some ideas. I committed to posting what I fed my daughter and myself, with recipes, each time I cooked something, and What I'm Cooking Now was born. It seemed to be helpful and I enjoyed blogging, so I kept it up. I soon realized, though, that as I told anecdotes and wrote down how I cook, I was making a virtual cookbook of family recipes and lore for my daughter. So, in a way, this blog is a love letter - to my daughter, who is now grown and a co-author of this blog - and to my mother, grandmother and aunties, from whom I learned to cook and to eat. 

Food is necessary to live, it's true, but it is also a creative act. You can open a can of beans, put it on the table, and you have provided food for the body. You can open that can of beans, add some onion, garlic, chopped carrots, celery and peppers, salt, pepper, basil, a splash of vinegar and a bit of olive oil, tasting to make sure that it is delicious, put it in a pretty plate, surrounded with slices of baguette, and you have provided more than only food for the body. If you serve it to those you love, and sit together to eat it, and thank God for it, you have provided food for the soul as well as the body. 

Culturally, I'm an Italian American, and in my culture, lovingly prepared food is a sign of love. A meal around the table is how the family bonds are strengthened. Once I moved far away from my large, extended Italian family, I tried to recreate the sense of belonging, of acceptance, of satiety in my own home. My home became a gathering place and I made a new, large, extended family of people with other food customs. I've traveled the world through what is on my plate. I've broadened my horizons while broadening my taste buds, and this has only enhanced my life. 

My family, both sides, are immigrants from Italy and French speaking Canada, ultimately from France. I married a man whose family on both sides were immigrants from Lebanon and Syria. Our best friends grandparents were from Russia. We lived in an area with many restaurants run by immigrants from Viet Nam, India, Cambodia, Pakistan, Japan, China, various places in Africa, and every country in Europe. My husband lived in Germany and Thailand. We were adopted by a big, fat Greek family, and we not only learned to dance the sirto and tsamiko, but to cook and eat Greek style. We ate the world, and the world is a tasty place, indeed. 

When my grandparents immigrated to the United States, they brought their culture with them, and this culture informed how they interacted with each other and with the world. This culture included music, art, language, history, and food. The first generation in this country - my parents and their siblings - lost much of the music, art, and history, but learned the language (to a greater or lesser degree), and my generation has lost the language entirely. What is left to tie us to our roots? It is the food - the food is what is left. When all aspects of your culture have passed into history, you still have the food to let you know who you are and where you came from. I now live in a place where many natives do not have any idea of where their family came from, and in the United States, everyone comes from somewhere else. I wonder if the fear of immigrants so prevalent today is because the understanding that we are all immigrants to this land has been lost.  I often think how poorer my life would be if I didn't have a sense of where I came from. 

I have sometimes described myself as a foodie, and I am.  I like food. I like everything about it. I like the taste, I like how it looks and smells, I like thinking about what I'm going to cook and who I'm going to feed. I like planning and shopping. I like opening my fridge or pantry, seeing lots of food, and knowing that I am ready to feed hungry people at a moment's notice. I can always put a little of this and a little of that together and end up with a tasty and filling meal. I like my gadgets and experimenting with them. I like the act of cooking - the chopping and mincing and measuring and stirring. I like to eat, too. I like the aroma of the food, I like how pretty it is, I like the mouth feel, the taste.  I like new tastes and flavors, as well as those flavors that are so well known that they are a part of my DNA. Food is fun. Food is creative. Food is not love, but the act of cooking for someone is. When you cook for someone, when you create a meal from the vegetables and meats and grains in your pantry, the end result is greater than the sum of the parts. As you cook and stir and measure, if you are attentive to this one thing that you are doing, it is almost like a prayer. 

I come from a long line of strong women. In my heart, I am holding my daughter's hand on my left, and my mother's hand on my right. She is holding her mother's hand (Josephine), and she is holding her mother's hand (Angela), and she is holding her mother's hand (Angela) and on and on...  Our hands are working hands, scarred, burned, scrubbed clean, short nails. Our hands prepare food to nourish our families, and in so doing we are creating a life, a home, a place of physical and spiritual refreshment. We are participating in some small, mystical way, in the act of creation.  Food is more than fuel, so much more. 

As I write up and post recipes, I tell stories about the food, about my family, my history, my memories, memories of a time and a place and people that are long gone. As I write these memories down, I get to relive them, and by reliving them, I reconnect with a part of myself that may have been forgotten, or may lie dormant. As I write these memories down, I also am writing a love letter to those times and people. Writing things down is forever, and as I write these little snapshots of my life, I am ensuring that they will live on into the future, so in a way, I am a keeper of family history, like a bard of old, only instead of poetry, my medium is food. 

So, I will keep writing in this blog. I'll keep posting recipes, and cooking methods, and little stories. I'm doing this for myself, and I'm doing this for my daughter, who has lived her entire life far from the extended family, so she will understand better where her parents and grandparents came from.  My hope and prayer is that anyone who reads this blog enjoys the stories, and cooks the food for their family. 

I'll end with my mother's favorite Italian proverb:

Sette cose fa la zuppa, cava fame e sete attuta, empie el ventre, snetta il dente, fa dormire, fa smaltire, e la guancia fa arrossire’
‘Soup does seven things, it takes away hunger and thirst, fills the stomach, cleans the teeth, makes you sleep. makes you slim and puts colour in your cheeks’
So, make some soup, feed your family, talk around the table, and put some color in your cheeks!

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Fragrant Quinoa Pulao

It's official. I'm obsessed with my Instant Pot. Is there anything that it can't do?

It's a new year, and I made an inventory of the various foods I have in my pantry, freezer and fridge, and realized I have a fair amount of quinoa. I keep buying it because I know it's high in protein, which is good for fasting periods, but I never cook it.  Yesterday, was the day to cook the oldest package of quinoa, which was prewashed and just under 2 cups.

I had watched a YouTube video on how to make quinoa pulao which looked tasty, and I adapted it to what I had on hand and to the instant pot. Keep in mind, that quinoa cooks quickly, so once you add the quinoa to the pot, you can easily cook it on the stove top - just follow the package directions for the timing, but use the proportion of 1 part quinoa to 1 1/2 parts liquid, if you want fluffy quinoa. You can also substitute rice in this dish.

Don't be afraid of the long list of ingredients - it's mostly spices, so measure your spices out first, and then get cooking.  If you don't have all the spices listed, I'll make some suggestions at the end of the post. Use any neutral flavored oil - I used coconut oil.  Use any combination of vegetables, but make sure you use a minimum of 3 cups, 4 would be better, IMHO, and frozen veggies are fine. Just use what you have - I had frozen corn and broccoli. I probably should have chopped the broccoli a bit, but I didn't.

This recipe makes a very fragrant, but mildly spiced pulao. You can amp up the heat according to your taste, of course, but the mildness means that it will go well with nearly every meal.

2 C quinoa (rinsed well, if not pre-rinsed)
2 Tbs oil
1 Bay leaf
3 cardamom pods *optional, but can substitute ground coriander
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 tsp black pepper, or 4 peppercorns, crushed
1/4 tsp ground cloves, or 4 whole cloves, crushed
1/4 tsp turmeric

Over medium high heat, saute the above spices in the oil for 2 - 3 minutes
1 medium onion, minced
1 Tbs minced ginger
1 Tbs minced garlic
1 green chile, seeded and minced (I didn't have this, so I used 1 dried chili arbol - you can use a couple of pinches red pepper flakes, too)

Add the above to the spices and saute until the onion is translucent
Add the quinoa, and saute for about 5 minutes, to toast it a little bit.

You'll need to keep stirring, or it will stick. You could add more oil, but I didn't want to do that, so I kept stirring every minute or so.

Add 3 - 4 cups of veggies: peas, corn, carrots, broccoli, sweet potato - whatever.

You can add beans or legumes, too as long as they are already cooked

Mix in the veggies, and then add the final group of spices:

1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt

Mix in the spices, saute for just a minute or two, then add the liquid:

3 C water or broth (scant)
1/8 C lemon or lime juice

For Instant Pot: cover, set on high pressure and cook for 4 minutes, use natural pressure release.  Fluff with a fork

For top of stove: cook quinoa according to package directions, using the same proportions.

You could make this in a rice cooker, too, but you'll have to look up the timing for your particular model.

Subtitutions: Make sure you use garam masala, but you could substitute some pumpkin pie spice mix for some of the other spices, using your judgement. I wouldn't really recommend using "curry powder" instead of garam masala, unless it's a particularly tasty and fragrant mix. Many curry powders have a high proportion of turmeric to the other spices, to give the impression that you are getting more spice than you actually are, and too much turmeric simply tastes like dirt. So, I stay away from curry powder most of the time. (I do have some in my spice drawer, so do as I say and not as I do, ok?)

I measured out the spices according to the different steps, measured out the quinoa, veggies and water, and, chopped and minced everything, before I started cooking. Think of this more like a stir fry, where you need to have everything ready before you cook.

I had two bowls for lunch and it was delicious - very fragrant, the tiniest bit of heat, and mild.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Non-Beef and Barley Stew in the Instant Pot

This was a riff on a recipe from Straight Up Food that I saw on Facebook.  It depended heavily on lots and lots of mushrooms for it's meatiness, which I did not have, so I did what I always do - wing it.  I seldom have a disaster when I wing it, and sometimes, I get serendipity.  Today was serendipity, for sure - it was absolutely fantastic, and tasted curiously meaty,

I had about a half cup of barley that I had been meaning to put into soup, so today was the day.  I already knew that I was going to make the soup in the instant pot, and since the pot really intensifies flavors, I didn't bother sauteing the onions and garlic - I just dumped all the ingredients in the pot, poured the liquids over and put the lid on. I didn't even stir it, but it came out perfectly.

I needed to use up my potatoes, some old carrots and slightly limp celery. Never let it be said that Josie Cieri's granddaughter threw food away if she could help it!  Here is the recipe:

Non-Beef and Barley Stew in the Instant Pot

7 or 8 smallish potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2 inch dice
1 small head celery
4 large carrots, chunked
1 large onion, chopped
1/4 C tomato paste
1/4 C Better Than Bouillion Mushroom Base (or veggie broth of your choosing)
1/2 C pearled barley
1 1/2 heaping Tbs minced garlic
1 Tbs dried Italian herbs (yes, I do have a small supply - I just never use them for Italian food, mostly because I am Italian - but Herbes de Provence would be yummy, too)
1 heaping Tbs paprika (next time, perhaps the smoked paprika?)
1/2 tsp dried rosemary
5 C water
1 C wine (yes, I finished the bottle - it was a pinot noir)
frozen peas
no salt and no pepper

Threw everything into the IP, locked the lid in place, and pressed the soup button. 30 minutes later, it was done to perfection.  I stirred a half pound of frozen peas into it, and called it done.

This was very substantial and thick, and quite filling. I think it could be flavored any number of ways, and when I'm eating meat again, I'm going to cube some beef stew meat, add some pickles and pickle juice and dill and call it Rassolnik (Russian Pickle Soup) which sounds weird but is truly yummy.

Next week, I'm going to replace the Italian herbs with dill, use any old veggie broth, keep the paprika and rosemary, add a little beer maybe, some cabbage, and use up two cans of diced beets that I have. A splash of vinegar or lemon juice in the bowl, and I'll have something quite borscht like.

If you don't have an instant pot, check it out. I've had a lot of appliances: I've used four different stove top pressure cookers, numerous rice cookers, steamers and crock pots, and quite honestly, absolutely nothing can compare with the instant pot.  It is absolutely, hands down, my favorite appliance.  I don't get paid to sing the praises of the Instant pot - I'm just a really, really satisfied customer.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Eddie's Favorite Boston Baked Beans

My Dad loved baked beans, and for him, they had to be baked beans or nothing at all.  It's the Boston thing, you know?  His mother grew up in Canada and came to the US shortly before she married, and she knew her way around a bean pot.  I grew up eating Boston baked beans on Saturday nights, usually accompanied by baked ham with pineapple sauce, and occasionally with a steak, but never, ever with franks. My father loved hot dogs, but they were a quick lunch and not dinner, at least not in our house. My Dad had a few culinary quirks and three were that he enjoyed baked beans as an accompaniement to fried eggs and toast on Sunday mornings, beans on toast, and as a sandwich filling on Mondays.

When I married, I began experimenting in the kitchen, and adapting tried and true recipes to my husband's taste and mine.  My kitchen is full of all kinds of crazy gadgets, and I enjoy adapting recipes to the different gadgets I own, too.  My Dad loved my baked beans, and he confided to me that they were better than my mother's, and his mother's, too, so this recipe is a winner, for sure.

I first made baked beans the old fashioned way, baking them in the oven in my mother's bean pot. Then I got a crock pot, and I adapted the recipe. Then I got a stove-top pressure cooker and adapted the recipe again.  Now I have an electric pressure cooker (an InstantPot) which cooks at a lower pressure than the stove top pressure cooker I have, and I need to adapt the recipe yet again.

Today is the seventh anniversary of my Dad's death, and in remembrance of his delight in sniffing the air and saying, "I smell BEANS! Someone must love me!", I made Boston Baked Beans in the InstantPot.  I may play with the recipe a bit more because they came out a little too juicy, but I will update this page when I do.

My Dad's favorite uncle, Uncle Amedee Gallant, used to make a fantastic variation which we simply called white beans, in which he substituted maple syrup (the real thing - the guy made his own maple syrup up there in Plaistow, NH) and white sugar for the molasses and brown sugar. He upped the mustard, too and added a couple of bay leaves.  He used to cook his beans for 24 hours on top of his woodstove in his knotty pine man cave that he built himself. Sometimes he used bacon instead of salt pork.  I really loved Uncle Mede and his cooking. Yum.

If you have time to soak the beans, you can make them in a crock pot or bake them in the oven.  If you are using unsoaked beans, you will need to use a stove top or electric pressure cooker.

If you can't find salt pork, or don't want to use it, you can use 8 oz of raw bacon, sliced into 1/2 inch bits.  You could use a ham bone or sausage or ham hock, and it would be delicious, but very different from Boston baked beans.

Different ways to initially cook the beans, prior to adding the ingredients:
1. Soak overnight, then:
     a.  cover with water and boil on the stove till the skins pop
     b.  pressure cook according to your cooker's instructions

2.  Unsoaked, dry beans can be pressure cooked, using your pressure cooker's instructions

Boston Baked Beans

1 lb or 3 Cups small white beans, such as navy beans

1 very large onion, chopped, at least 1 C
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 - 3 tsp dry mustard
3 Tbs ketchup
1/3 C dark molasses
1/3 C brown sugar
8 oz salt pork cut into 1" cubes

Wash and pick over the beans.  Precook as above.  Drain.

Retutn beans to pot. Add all other ingredients plus water. Stir well and cook as below.

Old Fashioned way:
Drain precooked beans and put into your bean pot. Add the ingredients plus enough water to just cover the beans and stir well. Put the salt pork on top. Cover the pot and bake at 250F for at least 8 hours without disturbing it - no stirring, no lifting the cover to see how it's doing.  At the 8 hour mark, take the cover off and put it back for another half hour.  This gives the characteristic crust on the top which is absolutely the best part!!!!!

Crock Pot:
Drain precooked beans and put into your crock pot. Add the ingredients plus 3 C water. Stir the salt pork into the beans.  Cover and cook 4 hours on high or 6 hours on low.  OR, you can soak the beans, don't bother precooking them, and toss everything into the crock pot.  If you do that, you will need to cook them 8 hours on low or 6 hours on high. Check halfway through to make sure there is enough water.

Pressure Cooker at 15 lbs pressure (stove top)
Using UNSOAKED beans, cook beans in about 6 cups water at 15 lbs for 25 minutes. Quick release. Drain beans. Return to pressure cooker.  Add 2 Cups water and all other ingredients. Bring to 15 lbs pressure again, cook 25 minutes, use quick release.  Check to see if it needs more water, or if it needs some liquid boiled off and check for salt as needed.

InstantPot Electric Pressure Cooker (at 11 lbs pressure which is the standard)
Using UNSOAKED beans, place beans and 8 cups water in pot. Cover. Press manual and cook 30 minutes. Turn keep warm off. Use natural (slow) release for 10 minutes, then quick release if the pot won't open. Drain beans and return to InstantPot. Add ingredients, plus 1 - 2 Cups water (I used 2 cups and it was just a little too much - next time, I will try 1 1/2 Cups). Stir in the salt pork. Cover the pot, press Manual and cook for 25 minutes. Use quick release.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Vaguely Southwestern Chicken and Rice

Last night, the green beans and the carrots went bad.

This was especially frustrating, since I had just come from Trader Joes to get chicken.

The original plan was to have baked chicken with veggies and rice on the side, but since that wasn't happening, it was time to get creative.

I don't have a well-stocked pantry. This should probably change. Fortunately, I had exactly one can of tomatoes.

What I ended up doing was making a chicken and rice bowl. I melted butter in a saucepan until it browned, sauteed raw rice with salt and paprika until it get crispy, and added the entire can of tomatoes and one cup of water (the tomato juice made up for the rest of the liquid). I let that cook.

Meanwhile, I diced the chicken and browned it with Cajun seasoning. I like chicken almost burned, but that's a personal preference.

The chicken was done before the rice, so I just combined it all in the pot when the rice was finished cooking. The paprika gave it a nice smokey flavor, and what was initially emergency rations turned into a meal Boyfriend now requires I make regularly.

Mac & Cheese & Stuff

DD here!

I've been working full-time for over a year now. Most evenings I get home not too exhausted and a healthy dinner with all the major food groups gets made. Some days, it does not.

When Boyfriend doesn't feel like covering (we swap kitchen duties every other day), we have our go-to low-effort meal: Mac & Cheese with Other Stuff Added.

Other stuff can be whatever you want, although I usually go for sausage (Aidell's Cajun Style Andouille is a particular favorite). I saute the sliced sausage with either broccoli or green beans in olive oil until everything browns and caramelizes and add it to boxed macaroni and cheese, cooked according to whatever the side of said box says (we like Annie's Cheesy Taco Mac and Cheese best, but it's hard to find in our little Safeway. I add Cajun seasoning if I can't find it.).

It's filling, at least mildly nutritious, and only takes ten minutes from start to finish.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tikil Gomen - Ethiopian Cabbage, Carrots and Potatoes

Many years ago, on the west coast, my church became home for a while to a group of Ethiopians.  Every once in a while, they would have a dinner on Saturday night and on Sunday, the entire hall and kitchen smelled delicious.  Finally, Tennie cooked some lunch for us at the church, and the mysterious aromas and tastes kept me going back to the line again and again. Fast forward a few years, and a friend named Poindexter and I used to drive up from San Jose to Berkeley to hit the used bookstores and eat as the Blue Lotus, probably the best Ethiopian food I've ever had.  Alas, the Blue Lotus lives no more, but I will never forget all the different dishes I tried there.  We went there at least twice a month, and after a while, the proprietor would simply bring us food to try without us having to order anything. Man, I loved that place.

Now that I live in a place that is not as diverse, I miss a lot of the little mom and pop ethnic restaurants that I used to frequent. Wherever I go, I look for Ethiopian, Eritrean, Cambodian, Indian, Pakistani, Thai, Polish, Russian, Romanian, Arabic and Vietnamese food.  I was so spoiled in San Jose, and I didn't even know it.

Last night I read a food blog which featured a recipe for Ethiopian cabbage, carrots and potatoes and I knew that was going to be my dinner tonight. I had a small cabbage, a few potatoes and carrots that really needed to be used, a large onion, and a collection of spices that would make a sultan weep. The problem was that I could tell that recipe was going to be really, really bland. Isn't google a wonderful thing? I googled the recipe, looked at about 4 recipes, and winged it in my pressure cooker.

First thing, you should measure out your spices.  Then you should peel the potatoes and carrots (save the peelings, onion skins and ends for broth). Chop everything.  Next, heat the oil in the pot over high heat, stir in the onions, garlic and ginger, then the potatoes and carrots, then the spices and saute, and lastly, toss in the cabbage, stir to combine, add about 3/4 C water, stir again and lock the lid in place. Bring to pressure and let 'er rip for 9 minutes exactly. Quickly bring the pressure down, open the pot stir and taste for salt and pepper. I ended up adding about 1tsp of salt and a squirt of Sriracha, just because I am addicted to Sriracha.  Alas, no injera in my house, so I'll eat it with a tortilla.  How is that for fusion dining?

This was so amazing!!!!!!!!  It took about 15 minutes to measure and chop, about 3 minutes to come to pressure, 9 minutes at pressure, and about 2 minutes to come down from pressure. Basically, this is a half hour meal.  Add some cooked chick peas if you want.  This would be amazing as a bed for a poached or baked egg, or as a cold topping for a strange, but delicious bruschetta.  At least I think so.

Here are the ingredients:
2 Tbs olive oil
5 carrots, peeled and sliced thick
1 onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
half a medium
cabbage, chopped
1 tsp curry
1/4 tsp black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp turmeric
1 inch minced ginger
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp mixed Arabic spices (cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg)
1 tsp ground cumin

Friday, April 17, 2015

Pascha Cheese 2015

The never ending saga of Pascha cheese continues.....

This year, I used 2 lbs of whole milk ricotta and my vitamix, and it was the best ever, texture wise, AND it was so yummy and chocolately.

First, I put the cream in the vitamix together with a small jar of room temp nutella, the vanilla, and a stick of room temp butter (the salted kind).  I whizzed it at high speed till mixed well and fluffy, using the tamper. Then I added the ricotta, again using the tamper, and added just one or two tablespoons more of cream.  It became so smooth!  I turned it out into a big bowl and stirred in the sugar.  I tasted it, and stirred in a couple more spoons of unsweetened cocoa powder. I packed it into my cheesecloth lined mold, set my brick on top and let it drain.  It drained very very little liquid and kept it's shape after unmolding, even hours later.

So there you have it!  It was yummy, and exactly the right amount for my little red plastic mold. No photos of it unmolded this year, unfortunately.

Here is a link to an all inclusive post about Pascha Cheese. It includes a link to directions on how to make the quark, or tvorog, itself, and links to my two favorite recipes.  Rebecca's has eggs, and Diane's does not.  This year's effort was a riff on Diane's recipe.